Not Quite Hollywood

When I was a junior in college, I took a month-long January course on sociology and science fiction. Our prof–a nice guy, on a visiting gig–was striving mightily for a laidback, easygoing vibe, and we must have spent maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of the actual class time watching movies. One day, to discuss the relationship between social deviance and Foucauldian discipline, we were scheduled to watch A Clockwork Orange. But in the pre-Netflix, pre-internet stone age, you were subject to the horrible whims of the local video store’s supply. (And this was in a small town an hour from the nearest metropolis, the only-large-in-relative-relation Watertown… so, one video store.) And the morning our prof went to get Kubrick’s film, it was out. So he scrambled about the store, and happened upon a film called Escape 2000. The back cover noted star Steve Railsback (of The Stunt Man fame), set up a plot where in the future prisons take in all social deviants–thieves, rapists, but also commies, homosexuals–for a bleak system of rehabilitation.

We started watching. The prisoners each morning had to come out and chant “We are social deviants” (or something similar), while a big bald mustachioed badass guard shadowboxed in front of them, trying to make them flinch, and if they did he kicked the shit out of them. The prisoners took lots of showers, the women in particular apparently concerned about their hygiene. Best of all, the prisoners’ “rehabilitation” involved rich people paying to hunt them. One of the rich hunters–a particularly lascivious sleazeball–hunted with a mutant. That’s right: his weapon was a large mutant, and the rich guy commanded his mutant, when the prey was cornered, to eat off their toes, and the like.

I have to say this again: a futuristic prison movie where the prisoners are hunted by rich people, one of whom uses mutants as weapons. Continue reading Not Quite Hollywood

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

I almost tossed this into a comment on the Bronson/Majestyk post, as this is another gritty, casually-paced exemplar of a ’70s crime film. However, while that film certainly works, this film carefully, slyly sneaks into classic territory. You may think its depiction of a few subplots of Boston hoodlum subculture is simply on the same back-alley route, attentive to the grime and tough talk, en route to a few bang-up chases or gunfights. But we’re thrown into events, never given the narrative road-map: it’s like we’ve plopped down into a few late-fall, slate-grey days in the life of a shitty little cul-de-sac of criminal subculture in Boston, 1973. Everybody here seems to be nursing a hangover, the action is rarely overt (and even during a couple of heists, the emphasis is on unease rather than suspense), and all the violence is sublimated in dialogue that pops and pisses and moans and snarls without really ever taking the easy path to patter.

And the performances…. damn. Robert Mitchum is the heart of the film, but his Eddie Coyle–a sad sack tagged for a booze-truck heist, looking to avoid leaving his family for even that short stretch–is wandering around, doing a job here, having a drink there, unsure what’s what. Richard Jordan plays a slimy, sort of self-satisfied Treasury agent running a few informants; Peter Boyle is a barkeep hooked deeply into the crowd; the many lowlifes circling around are each perfect, particularly Alex Rocco and Steven Keats.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll note that the film ends with a short, opaque bit of dialogue–ostensibly some kind of philosophy-of-crime analogy that only sort of makes sense, but serves the purpose of all the conversations in the film: each guy wants something from the other guy, and they talk as if they’re really exchanging and transacting, even as they each carefully try to avoid giving anything away, grasping to get as much as they can. It’s a helluva good film.

“Always do the right thing.” “That’s It?” “That’s It.” “I got it. I’m gone.”

20 years on… So many great lines in this thing. A movie I loved then, and appreciate more and more as time goes on.

And how’s this for an image? Though like great lines, this one has ’em to spare.

Continue reading “Always do the right thing.” “That’s It?” “That’s It.” “I got it. I’m gone.”

The Class

I need to think more–and have more time to try to compose some kind of response to–Laurent Cantet’s The Class, but it is the best film I’ve seen in some while, even following my great experience the other evening with Happy-Go-Lucky. I could have watched the film for hours; it felt like we’d fallen into a world, and in its short running time the film worked the kind of wondrous challenging representation of the experience of public education undertaken over the course of the whole of season 4 in “The Wire.” (I actually have no idea how long the film was, as I felt both lost in it for some while and surprised/saddened as it came to a too-fast close.)

The first great film I’ve seen this year. And I guess actually better than anything I saw last year, to boot.

“He used my great-grand-dad’s whoring spurs….

….Apparently whores back then were kind of logy. From all the tuberculosis.”

Frisky Dingo initially began, as I noted here, as a documentary about supervillain Killface’s attempts to destroy humanity. But things took a turn at season’s end: the super-annihilator machine’s couplers melted, and instead of driving the earth into the sun, the earth was simply moved about three feet further from the sun. (Oops — SPOILER.) Stunned by this event but not so stunned as to lose his tremendous, talon-footed agility, Killface ran for president. Season two–Behold a Dark Horse–is a documentary about his campaign, his opponent Xander Crews, and the various political functionaries attendant. And little baby penguin Lamont. It is the finest political documentary ever filmed.

Curious Indeed

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a stunning technical achievement in filmmaking. In some ways it is a valentine to the grand pleasures of movie making, but director David Fincher has put his computers to use on a haunting, emotionally resonant, and deeply satisfying story full of heart and soul and loss and love. It’s a movie star movie—a sweeping, epic, Hollywood romance—and one of my favorite films of the year. Continue reading Curious Indeed

Synecdoche, New York

I just got a copy of 2666 from the library, and should be starting in on it, but I wanted to at least throw a few words down about Charlie Kaufman’s latest.

First off, the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman has to have the best homerun average in the game right now. Though I wish he’d get roles a little closer to Talented Mr. Ripley than the usual depressed shlub, this shlub is every bit as great as this guy or the guy from Happiness. Hoffman’s the center, but there’s a huge number of first-rate female performances here: Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Hope Davis – and then showing up late and re-igniting the whole movie again – Dianne Wiest and Emily Watson. This can be a frustrating movie I guess. Time is screwy, sores ooze, injuries mental, physical, psychological and self-inflicted are heaped on to a man who is so predestined for failure that his award of a MacArthur Genius Grant is almost summarily ignored by everyone.

But I’ll let Manohla and Roger say a little:
NY Times’ first line:

To say that Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” is one of the best films of the year or even one closest to my heart is such a pathetic response to its soaring ambition that I might as well pack it in right now.

Ebert’s Sun-Times opener:

I think you have to see Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely.

Having only seen it once, I can’t claim to get it all (I’ve actually learned quite a bit I missed by reading some of the better reviews after seeing it), but I can at least tell you some of the reasons I loved it.
Continue reading Synecdoche, New York

Heaven’s Gate (1980)

As I mentioned in the War Inc. thread, I’ve been watching several movies that are featured in the excellent documentary Z Channel, which I re-watched and loved.

So far the most surprisingly good one was Turkish Delight (1973), an early Dutch film by Paul Verhoeven starring Rutger Hauer as a sculptor. Funny, sexy, sad, believable. Alas, that led to another Verhoeven/Hauer rental, Flesh+Blood , which was bad enough to leave unfinished.

But speaking of really bad films – or films that have the reputation of being really bad – what do you kids think of Heaven’s Gate? We watched the usual cut of it (219 min) over the past two nights and I shake my head in disbelief at the idea that this could rank on anyone’s list of “worst” movies (except Joe Queenan, who is a born fuckwit (let the Google linking of Joe Queenan and fuckwit commence!)). More specifically, let me ask you this: Why is Heaven’s Gate considered a disaster and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven a masterpiece?
Continue reading Heaven’s Gate (1980)