January was an arty and serious month for films viewed here at LERNER INTERNATIONAL: for the most part, a conscious decision to reinforce a more serious frame of mind, and to give myself more stimulating and thought-provoking input.
The Same-Ol’ Same-Ol’ just isn’t cutting it like it used to.
Man does not live by exploding robots, zooming cars and buckets of blood alone!
I needed cinema that exercised me; and gave me real stuff to chew on later.
[Because I’ve been very down lately—and maybe as a counteragent to all “ze zerious zinema,” as art-direction in today’s post, I’m using wonderful two-page splash-pages and title pages from a variety of comic books, with many from the pencil of Jack “King” Kirby.
Giving credit where credit is due, the majority of these images are from the highly recommended sites, Diversions of the Groovy Kind or The Secret Sun. Thanks!]
If not blatantly political, then the majority of the films I screened in this first month of the year could be interpreted as such (like Bernie, which does bring up the question of the DA’s improperly moving the case to get a “fair” trail). All could be certainly considered “thought-provoking.”
Meanwhile, lots of flicks by “big” name “important” directors, as well! Compared to previous months, several more “contemporary” pictures than usual, with more than a handful seen in an actual theater!
Then a bunch of weirdo foreign flicks so I’ll look cool…
(Films Listed in Order Screened)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012; Kathryn Bigelow) What a way to start the year! Maximum bummer in effect! Reviewed HERE (although I forgot to mention in my review that I still prefer—and recommend—Paul Greenglass’ United 93 (2006) in my post-9/11 feel-bad sweepstakes movies).
Orgo (1979; Gillo Pontecorvo) More political assassination. Like ZDT, we align ourselves with the killers and their often convoluted mission, but in this case we follow a mad, desperate act by men who know it could (should?) be ultimately futile but need to make a statement because otherwise their voices are never heard—as opposed to a vengeful colossus trying to heal wounded pride. (In other words, ZDT is a sort of sequel to Orgo.)
Interested in my Basque heritage, I think I’m more familiar than most with Orgo’s political background, which helped in my enjoyment of this neo-documentary about the 1973 assassination of Franco’s prime minister in Spain. Otherwise, viewers would be very confused, and possibly feel sympathy for the fascist target of the Basque terrorists, especially since some of the freedom-fighters are such disgruntled fanatics. (“Orgo” is Italian—the film’s language—for “ogre,” which was the nickname of the prime minister and the name of the mission, “Operation: Ogre.”)
Compared to his previous film, 1970’s very political but more “action-packed” Burn! or his masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, Orgo is quite measured in its pacing; but while the last film of agitprop maestro Pontecorvo shows his age, it doesn’t reduce his venom.
Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987; Robert Townsend) Laughed my ass off! Nuff said. Sole criteria filled.
More than “mere” spoof: a genuine steampunk-in-space opera combined with political satire—I felt like I was watching a young Paul Verhoeven in action, with its mad combo of sick, gross often politically incorrect political humor and well-executed on a limited budget effects work.
An Australian-Germany-Icelandic co-production, with a largely unknown cast (the most recognizable face is Udo Kier as the Moon-Fuhrer), Iron Sky is highly recommended; and a film I need to see again so I can comment on it more thoroughly. It deserves a more in-depth look!
Meanwhile, at the fab Atomic Anxiety, HERE’s the write-up that first grabbed my attention.
Fight Club (1999; David Fincher) Longer article forthcoming, I’ve got too much to say about this very misunderstood flick (and not in the way you might think), but in the meantime, read THIS.
Underworld U.S.A. (1960; Sam Fuller) a favorite, one that I watch every few years. Perhaps Sam Fuller’s meanest movie, as raw as a clenched fist, and just as angry. The flick is hilarious, but only if you can tolerate sick, sick, sick humor. Cliff Robertson is vicious beyond necessity.
Superb flick, and next time you watch it, consider how both crime fiction authors Donald Westlake (Richard Stark) and James Ellroy have used elements from this flick in their works: from the newspaperman’s direct storytelling, to the “crime as business” theme, to even the title! (Ellroy calls his trilogy about organized crime in America influencing politics and vice versa “Underworld USA,” starting with the excellent American Tabloid (1995) and ending with the superb Blood’s a Rover in 2009).
I’ve also previously commented about Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. HERE.
To Be or Not To Be (1942; Ernst Lubitsch) A messy, fascinating comedy that’s really only mildly amusing to me. Not my cup of tea, but I can see how a dark comedy about a Jewish theater group undercover in Nazi-occupied Poland, starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, could develop a cult…
Post Mortem (2010; Pablo Larrain) Wow, another intense film from Larrain about the CIA-backed coup that toppled socialist Allende.
With Post Mortem, Larrain points accusatory fingers at both the bourgeois civil servants who turned a blind eye to the military’s vicious actions, as well as the left-wing intelligentsia who took the middle class/ bourgeoisie for granted, and essentially encouraged them to turn their backs on their neighbors out of a psychic jealousy and envy. Not as grotesque as Larrain’s previous screed against Chile’s 9/11, Tony Manero, Post Mortem is almost angrier.
You want to know what not to do when the revolution happens? Watch this.
Meanwhile, I cannot wait to see his upcoming No, about the ad campaign behind the referendum to hold free elections.
Slap Shot (1977; George Roy Hill) A classic American film, more resonant in today’s dog-eat-dog economics than it was in ’77. For me, a tie with The Bad News Bears (1976) for Best Sports Movie Ever (but in everyone’s top five, natch). Fast-paced and furious, the laughs are non-stop in this breathless movie.
Released a couple of months before Star Wars, all of Slap Shot’s good lessons about being a man in the contemporary USA were wiped away by Lucas’ sloppy Joseph Campbellian brainwashing. Sigh…
Watched because I knew screening this film again would be like jumping into the hot tub with some old friends. Ahhhhhh...
Holy Motors (2012; Leos Carax) Loved the first hour, especially the segment using Akira Ifukube’s score from the original Gojira, and the encounter with the fabulous latex contortionist Zlata. Meeeeeow!
But about the halfway mark, I became exhausted. And passed out, sleeping for about 15 minutes, during most of the Kylie M. sequence. Really enjoyed the last 20 minutes, though—but also didn’t feel like I missed that much. Loved what I saw, though; am completely perplexed, yes; but have a weird story to tell. Worthwhile overall.
Long Weekend (1978; Colin Eggleston) Not available on any standard home-viewing format, so snoop around the intertubes and watch this movie NOW!
A new fave: A film where every scene builds the tension, right from the very first frame. I bet watching this in a theater would be unbearable.
Another addition into the Feel Bad subgenre, after a certain point, you hate the main characters as much as nature does. It is as if Michael Haneke and Edward Albee joined forces to work on a remake of William Girdler’s The Day of the Animals (1977)—where the humans are the worst, constantly sniping at each other, and treating Nature like a garbage can—until, you know, animals attack…
Moody and stylish, with an incredible audio montage of animal and night sounds, Long Weekend also delivers plenty of scares. Really one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time, and a flick I intend to watch again.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” The Twilight Zone (1963; Richard Donner; written by Richard Matheson) reviewed HERE.
The Fury of Johnny Kid (1967; Gianni Puccini) Wow, Romeo & Juliet transformed into a Spaghetti Western that actually improves on the Bard: the young lovers live, and escape—and everybody else dies! Superb Mercutio stand-in with Lefty, an old desert rat with a hook for a hand. Basically unknown flick that’s worth hunting down.
Johnny Hamlet (1968; Enzo G. Castellari) On the other hand, this adaptation of the Melancholy Dane points out the worst aspects of the play—and compounds them by having our Prince routinely saved deus ex machine-style by a grinning gaucho idiot. Watch the first ten minutes for a cool dream sequence, then a cool beach shootout, and finally a cool gravedigger scene (in a cave—WTF?!?), but the rest was a drag. And I really wanted this Hamlet to die at the end!
Amour (2012; Michael Haneke) Haneke is motherfuckin’ PUNK ROCK.
Best movie of the year.
Can’t wait for the Amour action figures.
Reviewed HERE (at the very end).
Operation Filmmaker (2007; Nina Davenport) Watched under the recommendation of J. Hoberman’s book, Film After Film (more on that below).
A fascinating but infuriating documentary about Hollywood liberals “saving” a film student from war-shattered Iraq. The H’wood people think they’re doing a good deed, but soon their expectations of gratitude forthcoming are lost: it’s obvious that Muthana, the student from Iraq, is an utter and complete shit.
Personally, I think the filmmakers’ comparison of their experience with the “quagmire” of Muthana (an Arab slacker version of Belushi’s “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”) to that of the US govt’s outrageous invasion of the region as egotistical and self-aggrandizing. Maybe these people deserved to have Muthana dumped on them. The H’wood Krowd didn’t save a med student or student radical: They were expecting “grateful refugee,” and instead got “dumb-ass, self-centered frat boy.”
For me the elephant in the room is that the kid is a film student—and not necessarily a bright one: when asked during his scholarship interview what his favorite film is, he replies “The Sixth Sense”—which might not be enough to reject him outright for some—but then the knucklehead cannot even articulate and explain why this film is his personal choice. [Cue Nelson Muntz laugh]
Dutchman (1966; Anthony Harvey) reviewed HERE (towards the end, sort of).
The Incident (1967; Larry Peerce) Classic, but almost forgotten 1960s social drama about a couple of young sociopathic hoods late one night torturing the living shit out of the passengers of a subway car. The strap-hangers are, of course, a cross-section of urban types all with their own problems (recovering dipso looking for work; angry black man; mousy teacher and overbearing wife; closeted queer looking for love; and so on).
Melodramatic and heavy-handed, the film succeeds because of its fast pace, vicious dialog (especially passengers to their spouses), and the utterly ferocious perfs by then newcomers Martin Sheen (babyfaced!) and Tony Musante (with some wild sideburns)—both of whom received “introducing” credits at the beginning of the film.
Of course, for folks look for a taste of The Big Apple from The Bad Old Days, this is a must-see.
The Shining (1980; Stanley Kubrick) reviewed HERE
P.J. (1968; John Guillermin) Groovy flick that needs to be rediscovered: George Peppard is the coolest, meanwhile this private eye tale is full of class war sentiment, with healthy doses of anti-imperialism and a freewheeling attitude about sexuality.
Breezy pic that hides a serious core; anchored by star George Peppard’s suaveness. He’s a white-trash former marine, who just wants to be left alone. Peppard’s PI PJ knows he’s no genius, but he’s savvy enough to suss most things out, and tough enough to take the inevitable clobbering (there’s a far-out scene with PJ getting stomped in a gay bar).
Co-star Gayle Hunnicut is a va-va-va-voom femme fatale, and villain Raymond Burr channels Orson Welles poorly but with enough campy gravitas. While largely shot on the Universal Studios lot, there are often some delicious location photography in NYC’s more sordid nabes circa 1967-68: man, DUMBO looked awful!
Thanks to Toestubber for gifting me this flick!
Red Hook Summer (2012; Spike Lee) Midpoint switcheroo really changes the film’s dynamics and turns a mediocre if pleasant “coming of age” story into a tragic life lesson. Spike Lee continues to be an iconoclastic localist, telling unique, even disturbing tales of the borough of his birth (Go, Brooklyn!).
Naturalistic performances really ground the movie (especially a magnificent Clarke Peters—Right On, Detective Lester Freeman!), which, since it’s a Lee “joint,” has many, many themes and subjects tossed into the mix.
Spike’s flicks have never been streamlined; why should this one be? Red Hook Summer is especially recommended for fans of Lee’s movies, and those interested in life in Brooklyn’s lower-income projects.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012; Wes Anderson) Delightful, sweet and whimsical—but also feels very, very calculated: like every moment was programmed to get as close to saccharine twee as possible, but pulls back at the last moment.
Perfectly programmed entertainment—so perfect it could have been computed by HAL 9000. And therefore, dishonest. Really, who is this for? What could have been a brilliant, genuine piece about “kids splitting the scene,” something that children could love for decades; instead feels like something made to make their parents nostalgic.
Fluffy and delicious as cotton-candy, and just as forgettable.
I’ll admit to having problems with nearly all of Anderson’s film (except The Royal Tennenbaums), so I am not his target audience.
All the President’s Men (1976; Alan J. Pakula) Just absolute, unstoppable genius filmmaking, deserving of all its accolades.
Spooky and grim, this is the third part of Pakula’s self-proclaimed “Paranoia Trilogy,” which also includes his Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (see below).
That said, the totally FUBAR thing about this film is that it tells us all about the dirty tricks that one certain political party keeps using again and again—the “ratfucking” covered in All the President’s Men—and yet nothing is or has been done about it. It’s even gotten worse!
Jeez, I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie drove Reagan to deregulate the media markets so his friends could control it on purpose.
Bernie (2011; Richard Linklater) Fun fluff anchored by unobtrusive direction (and Linklater isn’t one of my favorite directors usually); a fabulous performance by Jack Black that is both toned-down, but flamboyant: he’s really acting, and it is great to see him living up to his potential after coasting for so long; as well as raising some serious ethical questions. A nice way to spend an evening.
The Parallax View (1974; Alan J. Pakula) is beyond paranoid: they are out to get you in this metaphoric thriller about the political insanity strangling the land at the time, when figures from both left (the Kennedys, MLK and Malcolm X) and right (Wallace, George Lincoln Rockwell) were getting killed by “lone gunmen.” This picture is a fever dream reaction to the baaaaaaaaad juju in the air then.
An absolute must-see (and one I own), The Parallax View is a tricky and subversive film: Pakula presents star Warren Beatty succeeding in standard action scenarios (barroom brawl; car chase) early in the film; making us think his chances of success are even greater than we’d think, and then the director pulls out the rug in all sorts of nasty ways… Meanwhile, cinematographer Gordon Willis earns his keep making sunshine seem murky and threatening, and the editing structure keeps things twitchy by the subliminal extraction of single select frames at moments of seeming calm. Director/producer Pakula wouldn’t have been able to make such a polished, subtle and mature a film as All the President’s Men two years later if he had not gotten this cri de coeur out of his system.
Pakula himself told me (during a Q&A at Lincoln Center ages ago) that the borderline psychedelic bad acid trip of “Parallax Testing Film” was the last part of the film made: he had a vague idea of what he wanted to do, and left some space in the rough cut. Then he gathered “hundreds” of magazines and went through them with scissors, gathering images that reflected “LOVE,” “ME,” “LEADER” and other word/ideas, organizing them into a montage/collage of the primal collective-unconsciousness of the USA in all its schizoid glory.
In a lot of ways, The Parallax View reminds me of They Live (1988) (which I saw first): Both present proto-shlubs discovering the hidden world “behind the scenes” of the secret and deadly true controllers of the world.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002; Kathryn Bigelow) This propaganda film for the Red Navy came about 20 years too late.
Fans of underwater electric boats will be in heaven, however; Bigelow gets the viewer as grimy as the submariners: you can smell the funk. That said, the flick could be trimmed by 20 minutes, sometimes it tends to plod. People expecting “Indiana Jones & The Secret Soviet Submarine Squad” will be very disappointed. Watched as part of the whole Bigelow media-storm before the Oscars…
Lord Love a Duck (1966; George Axelrod) Whew, this stone-cold sui generis flip-out of a movie deserves its own post: forthcoming, I promise! Baaaak!
The Warriors (1979; Walter Hill) Currently available on Nflix Streamz, and thankfully the original theatrical version, and not the lamebrain “tweaked” reissue with the stupid cartoon-animation transitions and wipes. (Well, except for the replacing of Martha & the Vandellas “Nowhere to Run” and other songs with genero-soundalikes; damn those music rights issues!)
With The Warriors, Hill is at the top of his game artistically, philosophically and technically. Another of his early “Urban Existentials,” this film is purer than, say, The Driver, because The Warriors is more classical—it might as well be taking place 3,000 years in the past or the future.
It’s a theme Hill returns to routinely, but because the kids can only use their fists (and wits); they are forced to remain noble savages. All of which is complemented by the fantastic NYC location photography. I find The Warriors to be always exciting.
CONTRARIAN STATEMENT regarding The Warriors: If Cyrus had succeeded in taking over the city, how many days—hours?—would it take before we had a whole Jim Jones/Kim Il Jung work-camp bloodbath scenario going down?
Sheeeeeeeeeeit, Luther probably did us all a favor.
What Me Be Am Reading in January 2013 (in order of books read):
Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema? By J. Hoberman
Feynman by Jim Ottaviana and Leyland Myrick (an illustrated graphic novel biography of the late Nobel-prize winning physicist)
“Two Concepts of Liberty” by Isaiah Berlin
33⅓: “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by Drew Daniel
After the annoyances of the Holidays were over, I needed some serious and heavy brain food: lots of theory and criticism and political philosophy. Yum!
I needed it all: Hoberman’s superfantastic views on film (We Love Uncle J.!); Richard Feyman’s iconoclasm is on a cellular level—he should be everyone’s hero; Berlin’s pragmatic political views (from 1958) are a nice change of pace from the utopian neocon idealism and Randian selfishness that has nearly destroyed the country; and who doesn’t love Throbbing Gristle? (Not only that, Daniel’s mega-essay is written in a crystal brilliance that perfectly captures an “industrial” fan’s mindset at a certain age, at a certain time.)
If I may quote the motto of fanzine Murder Can Be Fun: “Read Hard or Die!”
That said, I apologize for the gaps in publication—
In addition to my concentrating more on my book,
production here has also been slow due to massive depression.
Honestly, I don’t remember being this down in years.
Is this what normal people feel like?
The finger of blame wants to be pointed, but I don’t want to do that; it would feel immature and counterproductive.
Was it the Checkered Demon that said, “I don’t mind waiting, but sometimes I get tired of smiling”?
If not, then it was me.