Monday, February 28, 2011

The Player (1992)

Meta alert! This movie about making movies had mad buzz when it came out in the early 1990s. Film god Robert Altman, whose previous mainstream offering was the fiasco Popeye, came correct with this cameo-heavy thriller/comedy/noir. Tim Robbins plays a studio executive who, when not deciding whether to greenlight gems like The Graduate II, gets caught up in all manner of seedy intrigue. I remember this one as being almost too clever and subversive to be believed, but I wonder how well it has aged? The business of movie making has changed so much in the past, gulp, almost twenty years, will the script still keep its hyper-modern edge? Will that Cher cameo carry the same charge? Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fever Dreams

I've seen The Wicker Man at some point but I apparently failed to write anything about it. That, somehow, seems about right. I'd also forgotten I'd seen the movie at all--and I saw it within the past 3 years and, most likely, within the past year. That also seems about right.

The only way I can describe this movie is that it's like a fever dream. It's strange and uncomfortable and you wish nothing more than to wake up and forget it ever happened. Apparently, I took the last part of that analogy seriously as I've only retained flashes of the film and I'm, frankly, horrified. But, I'm not horrified because the film was effective as a "horror" movie and it scared me. No, I'm horrified because it's a terrible terrible film and it scarred me for life with it's Euro-hippie creepiness and cheesiness.

This is one I'd like to vote off the island.

Why did we have to watch this one before we die? All the book offers is this: "The Wicker Man is a highly original combination of horror movie, murder mystery, pagan ethnography, and folk musical." I might agree with that if it were an effective representative of any of those genres. But, if we're playing fast and loose with rules, Rocky Horror meets all of those requirements, too. I think we have to replace this one with a more effective version of the combination of genres because I'm sure it's been done better since (and maybe before) this 1973 film. Tracy, any suggestions for a horror/murder mystery/pagan ethnography/folk musical replacement? Or is the combination of those things (and the 70s) that make this such a train wreck?

The Wicker Man: NSFW

Wow. I mean that sincerely. Goodness. I went into this one expecting a fun, cheesy, 70s horror schlock-fest. What I got was some bizarre amalgamation of naked hippie dancing and singing, clothed hippie dancing and singing, Jesus, a surprisingly handsome Christopher Lee, and one genuinely creepy image.

While watching this, I was alternately bored and bemused. So for a horror movie, I spent a pretty unconscionable time not being, you know, scared. My favorite parts of horror movies always are the scenes leading up to the point where everything goes to hell: the first few months at the Overlook in The Shining, the goofing around with the camera in Paranormal Activity, finding the video tape in The Ring--they're loaded with deliciously tense antici . . . pation (still love you Rocky Horror!) without being outright scary. Wicker Man is comprised almost ENTIRELY of those moments! It's ALL lead-up! And rather than finding that comforting (I scare very easy and usually spend most of my time watching horror films under an afghan), it was just incredibly boring. Aside from the first shot of the wicker man itself (which comes when there's about 2 minutes left to go), which I did find genuinely unsettling despite the fact that it's on the poster of the movie, I wasn't even a little bit nervous during this movie.

Which brings me to the dancing and singing, which was so profoundly silly that I had to reenact the landlord's daughter's banging of the walls dance at brunch this morning. Which in turn brings me to why this film could possibly be included in 1001. If you're going to watch a horror movie from the 70s, for God's sake, watch The Omen. It manages to be both ridiculous and frightening. But there are no scenes you can reenact at brunch to the disbelief of your friends. So the only reason I can scrounge up for Wicker Man's inclusion is day-after brunch fodder. Nat, got anything more substantial? And were you also reminded of the "Join hands and hearts and voices" scene from Dirty Dancing when the villagers are watching the Jesus-freak virgin burn? Oh, spoiler alert. Whatever. It's on the poster.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Wicker Man (1973)

Well, it looks like the poster is doing most of the hype-building for me. Hmmm, wonder what's going to happen with that man-shaped flammable totem with a little man-sized compartment in it? Could flesh be about to burn? In what I believe to be our first straight-up horror movie, it looks like most of the scares are going to come from what appears to be a pretty ham-fisted representation of the inherent evils of hippie culture. Sort of a horror version of Burning Man (coincidence?). I must say, I am excited so see a somewhat young Christopher Lee playing some sort of neopagan priest named Lord Summersisle, and how exactly this movie, dubbed the Citizen Kane of horror movies (presumably by someone who was a lot more impressed with Citizen Kane than I was), blends the horror and musical genres. And I like both Sleuth and Frenzy, so I've got a semi-open mind about this one. Don't take the brown acid!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Watch a B Movie

Two disclaimers: I read my brainmate's post before watching the movie and I wasn't in the best mood while watching (although I've seen this one a million times before).

But, even though I've seen this a million times before and got a quick refresher from the recent Glee episode, I'd forgotten most of the movie. When I watched the Rocky Horror Glee my one complaint was that the episode wasn't just all Rocky Horror--that they didn't just recreate the movie within the episode. I retract that complaint. What Glee did was effectively pull the interesting and memorable portions of the film and create a shorter narrative that works, and, possibly, works better than the film itself.

My brainmate admitted to liking the first 40-50 minutes. I think I'd cut it off at 30. As soon as the elevator opened on the super "futuristic" laboratory, I was less than enthralled. But, that also makes a certain amount of sense given the sorts of movies I gravitate toward. I don't do cult sci-fi movies. Creature from the Black Lagoon? Nope. Godzilla? Tolerable but, eh. Metropolis? Shoot me now. So creating a "man" (who randomly comes out with some WAY low-waisted gold shorts and matching gold shoes)? Not that interesting to me. And the resulting alien situation wasn't super interesting either. I'd much rather watch a shiny song and dance movie. "Time Warp"? Totally my cup of tea.

Back around to my partner-in-crime's post and her comment about the film being about watching movies. I think that's right on target. The opening song is all about cult sci-fi movies: The Day the Earth Stood Still, King Kong, The Invisible Man, Flash Gordon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, The Day of the Triffids, Curse of the Demon, When Worlds Collide, and The Time Machine are all referenced either outright or via actors. Wikipedia actually has an article about it--although it seems less than complete--that shows how parts of these films are then used in Rocky Horror. I'd like to read the article referenced, though (from Vera Dika's Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film). So, Rocky Horror shows the viewer how these "transgressions" and sexualities have appeared on film before--in B movies--and is both a tribute and a send-up of those B movies.

The Criminologist/Narrator strikes me as a familiar sort of archetype but I can't place it. Regardless, he adds a sort of "normalcy" to the film and a figurative and literal instruction manual for Rocky Horror as well as B movies in general. He tells us what a B movie should have and how Rocky Horror is like those movies and making fun of those movies simultaneously AND, in essence, how we should view these movies. It's as if the viewer is being told, "This is a B movie. Watch the B movie and only expect a B movie" (something a LOT of movie critics need to be told about various genres--just substitute whatever genre you'd like for "B" but it's most often "action" and "rom com"). And, he literally gives us instruction on how to dance the "Time Warp."

So, what says 1001Movies? Well, for starters it says that Dr. Everett Scott narrates the film. Um, no--that would be our beloved Criminologist. But, why should we watch this one before we die? More or less, because everyone else has. The basic reasoning is that we should watch because Rocky Horror is the longest running film; it's been in theaters since it's release. At least the book is honest.

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

So, as I revealed in the bio, love this movie. Well, to be honest, love the first 40-50 minutes of this movie. The sci-fi bits at the end leave me cold. But I do so adore Brad and Janet's descent down the rabbit hole to a world that is totally unfamiliar (the only way the "alien" trope is meaningful for me), and their response is not to "other" (see my piece on Lovecraft for a definition) or colonize that world, but embrace it completely.

Don't get me wrong--this is not a "great" movie. But should it be seen? Absolutely. Its campy send-up of the alternate sexualities that were, at long last, becoming legible in the 70s is for me, exhilarating to watch. It's a sort of queering of The Wizard of Oz. The staid minister and acolytes officiating the straight-laced wedding at the beginning show up in the alternate universe of Frank's castle to strip (literally!) Brad and Janet of their heteronormativity. The night in the castle is comprised of perverse versions of a wedding (the awesome "Time Warp" party), a birth, and a honeymoon.

I also love how the criminologist attempts to make Brad and Janet's odyssey fit into neat little boxes--the maps and diagrams and statements (very Foucault) that are wildly and hilariously contrasted with the delightful and sensual experience itself. The movie manages to tread the line between suggesting that a "crime" has been committed, and demolishing the worldview that would label the sexual shenanigans the film documents as such.

I was struck during this viewing at the importance of film and performance to the story. Nat, do you think the movie is arguing that movies provide a subversive space to explore these sorts of alternative lifestyles? Also, for those of you wondering, still have a mad crush on Riff-Raff.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Too Early, Too Late (1982)

This French gem (Trop tot, trop tard) was the original selection after the What Time It it There?/Paradise Now pairing but, alas, the film is apparently relegated to the depths of some film collector's closet--probably still on 8mm film--and is absolutely unavailable given the resources we have/know about. I couldn't even find a poster image.

I was able to dig up a little bit of info about it:

And, of course, the standard IMDB page:

I, for one, am devastated at not being able to see 10+ minutes of filming a traffic circle.

So, Rocky Horror it is!

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Now it's time for MY misspent youth. I loved this movie and watched it regularly throughout my junior high and high school years. Of course, I didn't completely get that behind the fabulous songs and naughty costumes was a heartfelt, and I feel ultimately successful, attempt to carve out a space for alternative and flexible sexualities that wasn't judgmental or fraught, but filled with joy and discovery. After all, when Freud introduced the term, perversion didn't carry the negative connotations with which it was almost immediately saddled by the sex police--it simply meant pleasure that didn't confine itself to heteronormativity. And Rocky Horror, by firmly inhabiting the genre tropes of horror (spooky house on the hill! mad scientist!) and sci-fi (aliens!) and musical theatre (everyone spontaneously bursts into song and dance!) manages to explore and endorse some pretty shocking arguments about sexuality that 1975 might not otherwise have tolerated. So let's hear it for genre fiction and letting our freak flags fly! Just to whet the appetite:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Paradise Now, or Waiting for Someone to Blow Up

I knew what this movie was about before watching it (of course) and seriously expected the woman to blow herself up at that check point in the first five minutes. But, no one blows up which is incredibly restrained in a film about suicide bombers.

This film as a whole was incredibly restrained in quite a remarkable way. There are a million and fifteen ways to exploit the situation for and against each side. That this movie manages to be exclusively about the Palestinian side without outright demonizing the Israeli side or exploiting either side is quite remarkable. Yes, we see the oppression but we do not see the spectacle of the actual suicide bomb. In that way, the film not only gives the viewer the "there must be another way" argument but the film enacts that argument. Said probably blows himself and the passengers of that bus to bits but we don't see it--we see the humanity left behind. The humanity that is unchanged save the mourning for the lost son/friend/potential love/comrade. The film shows us in a rather poignant way that suicide bombing doesn't reap the results promised and it avoids showing the viewer the terror porn that a suicide bombing would be in a film. After all, this is not a Michael Bay film.

Now, if the film perfect? No (a little editing of Said's speech before being sent out for the last time would have been lovely). But, this film is pertinent and that gets it my vote over What Time Is it There?

What Time Is it There, or Not a Re-Watch

I watched this one a few years ago and wrote about it then. I didn't like it then so I didn't rewatch. Here's what I wrote in June 2008:

This one seemed sweet: the description said the movie was to be about a 20-something man who is a street vendor specializing in watches meets a 20-something girl who then goes away (from Taiwan) to Paris; he's heartbroken and starts setting all of the clocks in Taiwan to Parisian time. Not so much.

So the guy is disturbed because his father has just died and his mother is slowly slipping into insanity as a result of the death and the Buddhist practices which encourages communication with the spirits, etc. The guy barely meets this girl who insists on buying the watch off of the guy's wrist instead of the bazillion he is selling. Literally they are only in the same place for minutes and exchange no words other than the perfunctory ones needed to purchase something. Yet the guy starts changing the clocks and watching French movies. But he also refuses to leave his bedroom to go pee so we see him peeing in a plastic bag (once) and a plastic bottle (once and then we see him "watering" a plant with the contents so he can re-use it). There are also simultaneous odd sexual encounters, the mother having a romantic dinner with the supposed spirit of her dead husband and then masturbating with something that seems to be of cultural import although I'm not sure what it was, the guy having sex with a prostitute in his car (after having drunk a whole bottle of French wine) after which they both go to sleep and she steals all of his watches, and the girl in Paris has a strange maybe almost lesbian experience with a woman she has just met (while vomiting in the restroom of a coffee shop) but has nevertheless moves her belongings from her hotel to this woman's hotel.

Soooooo. The movie isn't all that great. It tries to hard to be enigmatic when there isn't anything to be enigmatic about. The mother is grieving. The son is grieving. The girl is lost in a foreign country. Not ground breaking. I do think the movie missed the real story within itself. The only part that actually got any sort of emotional response from me is the mother's attempts to keep her dead husband's spirit within the house by blocking out all of the light. Her descent into madness is interesting yet underplayed in the film.

I wouldn't watch it unless you're being silly and OCD about a movie list.


I Didn't Hate It, But I Don't Think I Got It

And I didn't by any means love What Time Is It There either. It was a strange viewing experience. Sort of like watching your screen saver for an hour and 45 minutes. Very rhythmic and slowly paced, which I suppose makes sense since it is a meditation on time. I thought it was interesting how they made the scenes rhyme--showing the characters in turn dealing with movement, and other people, and sex, and death. But I don't really know why. Is this supposed to be some comment on the Eastern and Western worlds? A philosophical exploration of time itself? If it's either of these, it explains why I'm not getting it.

The one character I found fully human and sympathetic was the mother, so desperately trying to escape time because of what it does to us--take the things we love, one by one. And that brings me to Paradise Now. I know it's only a coincidence that we've paired these two movies, but I think they speak to each other in an interesting way. What Time is a naturalizing account of loss and disappointment--it happens to everyone no matter where you might be living or who you are. But PN is very committed to a social/political explanation for the same phenomenon. The characters in the latter are suffering for a very specific reason that can (and the movie argues, should be) interrupted. I tend to respond more to social accounts of human suffering, but I think they both are probably in some ways true.

As for the list, I'm giving my vote to Paradise Now. I think though it might be clumsier--though I for sure found What Time boring, it was very skillfully and carefully made--it has the more urgent need for an audience, and is ultimately more rewarding. Nat?

The Personal and the Political

For me, this one went from great to good in the last fifteen minutes. I thought that the way the personal and political intersect in places like the occupied Palestinian territories (a phrase I use advisedly) was handled pretty masterfully up until the end (which I'll talk about in a second). The theoretical/political debates the characters had felt wholly natural, even in the extreme situations in which they found themselves. I recently rewatched The Social Network and found Sean Parker's "lives lived online" speech towards the end a little forced because I couldn't help but think "no one actually talks that way out loud." They write that way or speechify that way, but in normal conversation, if felt inauthentic (though on the off-chance Aaron Sorkin is reading this, I still love you and would like to go out). Paradise Now made me realize that for a lot of people, political arguments don't live in theory-land. They are desperately, perpetually, present. Along these lines, I thought the idea (as well as the character) of the suicide bomber managed to be both deeply symbolic and completely non-exploitative. The political IS the body in this movie, and to me, that feels very true for the historical moment of the film.

However, I did NOT like the articulation of this thesis by Said towards the end. That felt forced to me in a way that the rest of the movie didn't, and that reminded me of the Gault speech in Atlas Shrugged and Bigger's lawyer's endless closing statement in Native Son. I don't like it when things are said rather than demonstrated, particularly when I thought the rest of the film did a sensitive and nuanced job of showing rather than telling. I think the movie painted itself into a corner in a way, and I wasn't wholly satisfied with the resolution.

I haven't watched What Time Is It There yet, but I will put my vote in that this movie needs to be included in 1001. I think it would make an interesting pairing with Munich. I'm sure Nat and I will discuss the two together more, but I'd also like my brainmate's thoughts on one of the lines that I found really provocative: "The resistance takes the shape of the occupation." Do you think that's true? My first impulse is to say no--that there are a million ways to resist and most hegemonic regimes (not that I am in any way prepared to say that I believe Israel fits the bill, but that seems to be the argument of the movie) seem to be, at heart, sort of the same. But I wonder if that's true. Maybe it is so that the historical specificity of oppression does work in a dyad that shapes and is shaped by resistance. It's an idea I find really intriguing but in no way qualified to talk about intelligently. Your thoughts?