This past spring semester has been especially stressful for me, especially the latter bit. But once the mountains of essays, quizzes, and headaches came to a gradual halt, I was able to get back to doing what I loved best: watching movies! I live in San Francisco for school, and I move back home in Southern California for a couple months every year. Due to circumstances I won’t get into, I had quite a gap between when classes ended and when I was able to drive back home. This period spanned from about May 22 ’til June 6 – so basically about two weeks. Most importantly, I was out of work and very poor during this time. So during those fourteen days, I spent nearly all my free time watching movies. In total, I watched forty-seven “things” – mostly full-length films, but also two short films and three stand-up comedy specials – which is slightly above my normal average.
This post is dedicated to the ones that stood out to me the most. I won’t go over every single item I watched, but rather the experiences that I found particularly memorable, for better or worst. In essence, the good, the bad, and the so, so ugly!
Valhalla Rising (2010) – dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Watched on May 22
After being utterly amazed by Refn’s Drive back in 2011 (so much that it’s in the top 2 favorites of that year, as well as my all-time top 100), I’ve decided in the past few months to embark on more of his stuff. I was disappointed by Bronson, but Valhalla Rising is the one film, after Drive, that truly grants me a pleasant taste of his artistic style and vision. Saturated in Norse mythology and setting, it effectively explores the utterly corrupt human soul as seen from the eyes of one man. Its dialogue is exceedingly minimal, yet the atmosphere brims with a piercing rawness that sears within and leaves a lasting effect. In this sense, I was reminded of Herzog’s Aguirre: the Wrath of God, and indeed, the narrative arc and overall mood of this piece greatly reminisces that. My next Refn films intend to be his Pusher trilogy, which I have also heard excellent things about. Nonetheless, I am very excited to check out more.
Frances Ha (2013) – dir. Noah Baumbach
Watched on May 25
I watched Frances Ha the weekend it opened up at my favorite indie theater, completely unknowing of what to expect. From the initial black & white cinematography, I fell in love. Even more compelling was Greta Gerwig’s performance, who really composed a caricature of a 20-something who just seems to floating around, unsure of where life may choose to carry her. I had the utmost sympathy toward her position, and there were many moments where I truly felt I deeply connected with her character. Though I’ve read many comparisons of it to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, I didn’t get that vibe at all. I felt it to be more affiliated with films of the French New Wave, especially with its usage of music, episodic narrative, and dialogue. This quickly became my favorite film of the year so far (at least until about a week later, which I shall explain soon). I cannot wait to check out more from the director.
Movie 43 (2013) – dir. Steven Brill, Elizabeth Banks, et al.
Watched on May 27
Soon after I watched my favorite film of 2013, I watched my least favorite. Dear lord, this was atrocious. It falls in the extremely rare class of films that I’ve seen and find absolutely no redeeming factor in. Each segment runs on a single, flimsy “joke” (which are usually on offensive, unfunny topics, like child abuse and menstruation, among others) and continue on this “joke” until it’s beaten to the ground. It’s an absolute failure of an anthology film, and one of the most dreadful films I’ve ever watched. I’m just glad I had an entire bottle of wine in my system during my viewing – heaven knows I needed it.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – dir. Panos Cosmatos
Watched on May 27
An eyegasm and eargasm of the most brilliant sense. Beyond the Black Rainbow captures the look and feel of classic, stylish, futuristic sci-fi (think THX 1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey) with overwhelming success. Its psychological element is presented in the bizarre father/daughter-like relationship in the film which, beyond its external, reveals itself as controlling and abusive. The picture is completed with the inclusion of Jeremy Schmidt’s droning electronic score, which further adds onto the movie’s overall compellingly hypnotic pace. All in all, I loved it. Although its final third wanes a bit more than the previous bits, it truly is one of the more impressive, memorable sci-fi films I’ve seen as of late.
Mondo Trasho (1969) – dir. John Waters
Watched on May 29
Because of the fearless approach his films take toward subverting against conventional expectations of beauty, glamour, and virtue, I fucking adore the films of John Waters. His early film Mondo Trasho is especially interesting to me, as it is told almost completely through various music montages and very little dialogue. It introduces aspects that his kind of cinema would soon become famous for – namely the usage of 50’s/60’s rock ‘n’ roll music and performances by Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Mink Stole. It’s so wonderfully experimental and surreal, with every bit of weirdness one could possibly expect from this kind of film. Waters is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, and one of my favorite individuals in general.
Team America: World Police (2004) – dir. Trey Parker
Watched on May 31
I finally got around to Team America, and was actually pleasantly surprised. I could probably call myself a “secret” fan of the Parker & Stone team, as I really enjoyed their approaches to musicals, like Cannibal! The Musical, The Book of Mormon, and even some episodes of South Park. This film demonstrates this flair through its various musical sequences that are often silly and plain ridiculous, but good-natured. In addition, this film also works as a rather effective political/social satire, a format that isn’t often seen in a very positive light this day and age. I would probably add this to my growing list of “hangover movies”, as it really possesses that vital rewatchability factor. Often, I didn’t even know why I was laughing; it may not always be as sturdy as it needs to be, but it is always entertaining.
Stalker (1979) – dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Watched on May 31
From the few films I’ve seen by Tarkovsky – Solaris, Ivan’s Childhood, and now Stalker – he truly comes off as the kind of filmmaker that one could depend on when looking for artistic influence and genuine panache for the artform. Stalker proves that Tarkovsky really loves to drench his film in pure atmosphere, and indeed it is this aura that is the primary driving force. Its nearly three hour runtime is pieced together through just a couple beautiful long takes, yet they all flowed together seamlessly and never actually felt like forced long takes. I love classic Russian movies partially for their unique cinematography, and this is a great example of such. It is also very image-heavy and, moreover, ambiguous to the point that questions are deliberately left unanswered by the very end. I love enigmatic films like these, and this has really become an instant favorite.
Before Midnight (2013) – dir. Richard Linklater
Watched on June 1
If you asked me a year ago, I never could have imagined that one of my favorite ever duo of films – Before Sunrise and Before Sunset – would work even more effectively as a trilogy. Nonetheless, the talents of Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke have once again proven magnificent in this newest chapter of the lives of one of my favorite fictional couples. It gracefully captures the charismatic charm of the original two, while also managing to be slightly darker in tone and, overall, the most realistic of the three. I instantly loved it and would watch it again, if given the choice. So far, this is my favorite film of 2013, and it’s going to be really hard for any other film to replace it, as I love it truly and dearly.
I wrote more about Before Midnight here.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) – dir. Eduardo Sánchez
Watched on May 3
The mother of all modern found-footage films. What I fail to see very often in horror cinema is an implication of what I believe to be one of the most terrifying fears of all: the fear of the unknown. Narratives are much more unsettling when not everything is spelled out for the viewer; they are forced to draw their own conclusions, where the human imagination knows no boundaries. This is what I loved so much about The Blair Witch Project. It was effective at being scary because of this severe lack of a true backstory and never once shaded completely within the lines. It feels realistic, and doesn’t succumb to what its target audience wants. I would definitely watch this again. It’s totally brilliant, and I think more people, inside and outside the horror fanbase, need to recognize this.
Babe: Pig in the City (1998) – dir George Miller
Watched May 3
Two of this films I watched during my 2-week movie marathon were Babe and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. Needless to say – or perhaps not – I enjoyed the sequel a bit more. I was astounded over how dark and adventurous this was, contrasting highly with the vibrant, cute, and cuddly original. Laden with an odd bit of social satire – hint: the human/animal boundaries are constantly at limbo here – it almost seems too bizarre to be marketed toward children. Then again, what could one expect from the director of the Mad Max films? Nonetheless, it is so very smart, thought-provoking, and resonating (there is a scene with a goldfish that nearly made me weep). However, it seems to have been peculiarly misunderstood and shunned nowadays. Methinks this should change.