Sex, Guns, & Bugs: April ’14 in Film

Another month is come and gone, and another batch of movies are ready to cover! I’m going to spare y’all the long introduction this time, since everyone knows what’s up. And also because I’ve got lots of other writing to do and barely any time to complete it. But enough hesitation; here we go.

Here are ten notable films I watched this month, with a few thoughts to go along:

I consider the works of Nick Park to be some of the most expressive, fun stop-motion animation out there, especially that present in his Wallace & Gromit films. This month I finally got around to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and, needless to say, had quite a lot of fun with it. The humor is just as dry and nonsensical as ever, and it also has what is probably one of Ralph Fiennes’ best performances ever. My love for animation marches on.

I’m really bad with westerns (no specific prejudice; they just generally don’t attract my interest) and when I asked people on Twitter which ones of the genre I should check out to potentially change my mind, I got a lot of enthusiastic responses for The Great Silence. After I viewed it, I could definitely see why. I think my issue with westerns is that many of their narratives tend to fall in the “good side/bad side” binary that often hinders their potential to really stand out as distinct in my mind. That’s hardly a fault of the films themselves, though, and I believe I’m just more attracted to the ambivalent bleakness to be found in The Great Silence. The atmosphere is just terrific, and made even more so by the breathtaking cinematography. Finally, Klaus Kinski is just so perfect in his role as the sly, sleazy villain (and he speaks English!).

Despite all I had heard about I Am Curious: Yellow prior to my watching it, I don’t think I could have ever been so adequately prepared. For the longest time, I had a pretty hard time trying to figure out what I loved so much about this film, and even now my mind still fails to draw adequate connections. But overall, I think it was just so awesomely weird and subversive in ways that I’ve seen few films accomplish successfully. The sex and sexiness in this film is completely off the hook – but I couldn’t see it being nearly as great of a film without it all. Its super dark sense of humor was also exactly my cup of tea. Hooray for anarchy!

My love for John Waters and his films will probably never grow dull; nonetheless, there’s still a number of his works that I’ve yet to watch. This month I checked out Polyester, and while it certainly doesn’t rank among my favorite Waters films, it’s certainly funny and weird in its own right. Divine completely shines here, even while straying away from famous “trash queen” roles to a more domesticated (albeit subversive) housewife. Edith Massey is also pretty terrific in this film, and it’s probably worth watching for her ridiculous scenes and crude dialogue itself.

9RTVI don’t know why I’ve never gone around to Can’t Hardly Wait, seeing that it’s the type of film I could imagine my mom completely fawning over. Truthfully, despite its apparent popularity around its release and its somewhat-of-a-cult-status now , I just thought it was alright. Some of the most enjoyable facets about it are traits that barely dwell below surface level – the awesome 80s and 90s music soundtrack, the familiar baby-faced stars, general nostalgia-inducing party scenes, high school dynamics that everyone loves in a good coming-of-age from of the late 90s. It certainly carves a nice niche for itself, separate from tons of other disposable, sex-obsessed teen flicks, and it really is a lot of fun at times. Still, it’s not exactly my type of film – although Lauren Ambrose’s character really hit close to my own personal high school experience!

Nicholas Roeg is a filmmaker with a certain style I can totally get behind. While I wasn’t very fond of Don’t Look Now overall, it’s hard to deny that its menacing, somewhat discomforting aura is truly compelling. Walkabout marks the first of his films I’ve seen that I legitimately love. This film along with Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock goes to prove that Australia has some of the most magnificent nature sights, whether it be in its mountains or outback. I honestly couldn’t properly reminisce the exact progression of narrative taken in Walkabout; I just know that I was totally enthralled by its visuals and its overall really cool atmosphere. Roeg seems to be really great at incorporating these trends in his films and I’m pretty excited to watch more.

My experience with Daniel Johnston in relation to others is that there are quite a few evaders of his work who claim to simply not get it. Which is completely understandable, I feel; his work is obviously very personal and idiosyncratic, and I personally find its rustiness quite charming. The Devil and Daniel Johnston isn’t a perfect documentary by any means, but it is a quite saddening look at a distraught individual who is misunderstood by most, yet also cherished by many. I kinda disappointed me how his life was basically told through the perspective of others, while Johnston himself only had about 2-3 speaking parts. The inclusion of old archival footage and recordings was certainly a great touch, but it still would have been nice to hear stories of his fragmented life from his point-of-view. Nonetheless, it’s a solid doc, and a must-see for Johnston fans and appreciators.

Crank has a LOT of issues; the harshest of which being its explicit misogyny and racism (which, for some reason, seems to be vehemently ignored in a lot of writing about the film). Nonetheless, its premise and delivery make for a mindless, entertaining, jolly good time. The cool thing is that it doesn’t try to be anything more than such, which makes me hark back to classic exploitation flicks which follow this same suit. Sure it’s ridiculous, but with a premise such as this one, I don’t think I would want it any other way. And this is coming from someone who tends to avoid action films like the plague!

Animation time! This one is quite unusual, on many fronts. It’s a short film that was shown in my History of Animation course during our meeting on experimental animation. It is Zbigniew Rybczyński’s Tango and it is quite a treat. Purely an exercise on mathematic equation set to music and image, the number of layers involved in this narrativeless presentation is absolutely mind-boggling. In many ways, it is also an assault of the sense, as after a while, one simply stops trying to comprehend what exactly is going on and just goes along for the ride. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I personally found it rather awesome and even hilarious at times. Watch it here! (apologies, Facebook was the only place where I could find a link…)

The first two films I watched from Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant and The Driller Killer) left me painfully underwhelmed. But with Ms. 45, my expectations have been instantly heightened again. A lady with PTSD decides that she wants to kill every scumbag man in New York? I didn’t even realize that such forms of exploitation cinema existed, but now I need more! Any film that puts fierce ladies in roles traditionally typed as “male” roles is total game for me. This is probably the type of film I’d probably make if I ever decided to enter in the genre (or if I ever decided to make films period). Mostly, Zoë Tamerlis Lund simply made the entire ordeal worth watching. Her screen presence is absolutely magnetizing and I want to see more of her work.

Moving on, here is an accumulation of what I watched by year:

1880s – 0
1890s – 0
1900s – 0
1910s – 2
1920s – 1
1930s – 4
1940s – 5
1950s – 4
1960s – 10
1970s – 7
1980s – 16
1990s – 10
2000s – 14
2010s – 5

… and here is the complete list of films I watched this month (asterisks indicate rewatched):

  1. Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer, 1961)
  2. A Better Life (Weitz, 2011)
  3. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Park & Box, 2005)
  4. Battle in Heaven (Reygadas, 2005)
  5. W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (Makavejev, 1971)
  6. Four Lions (Morris, 2010)
  7. Page Miss Glory (Avery, 1936)
  8. Hell-Bent For Election (Jones, 1944)
  9. The Aristo-Cat (Jones, 1943)
  10. Zoom and Bored (Jones, 1957)
  11. The Critic (Pintoff, 1963)*
  12. Gerald McBoing-Boing (Cannon, 1951)*
  13. When Magoo Flew (Burness, 1954)*
  14. The Tell-Tale Heart (Parmelee, 1953)*
  15. The Great Silence (Corbucci, 1968)
  16. I Am Curious (Yellow) (Sjöman, 1967)
  17. Irma Vep (Assayas, 1996)
  18. Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992)
  19. Polyester (Waters, 1981)
  20. The Secret in Their Eyes (Campanella, 2009)
  21. Romance & Cigarettes (Turturro, 2005)
  22. La Mission (Bratt, 2009)
  23. What Have I Done To Deserve This? (Almodóvar, 1984)
  24. Yeelen (Cissé, 1987)
  25. Can’t Hardly Wait (Kaplan & Elfont, 1998)
  26. Oslo, August 31st (Trier, 2011)
  27. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (Perry, 2013)
  28. Zeitgeist: The Movie (Joseph, 2007)
  29. Walkabout (Roeg, 1971)
  30. Hocus Pocus (Ortega, 1993)
  31. The Right Stuff (Kaufman, 1983)
  32. The Driller Killer (Ferrera, 1979)
  33. Don’t Let Me Drown (Angeles, 2009)
  34. Singa Pura (Ang, 199?)
  35. Silencio (Arago, 1997)
  36. The Cameraman’s Revenge (Starewicz, 1912)*
  37. Muratti greift ein (Fischinger, 1934)
  38. Morpheus Mike (O’Brien, 1915)
  39. Creation (O’Brien, 1931)
  40. Jasper in a Jam (Pal, 1946)
  41. The Great Cognito (Vinton & Gardner, 1982)
  42. Sundae in New York (Picker, 1983)
  43. Augusta Makes Herself Beautiful (Varga, 1983)
  44. Dimensions of Dialogue (Švankmajer, 1982)*
  45. Madame Tutli-Putli (Lavis & Szczerbowski, 2007)
  46. The Bellows March (Dyer, 2009)
  47. Being There (Ashby, 1979)
  48. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Feuerzeig, 2005)
  49. Crank (Neveldine & Taylor, 2006)
  50. The Red and the White (Janscó, 1967)
  51. Broadcast News (Brooks, 1987)
  52. Dirty Laundry: A Homemade Telenovela (Ibarra, 2001)
  53. Pretty Vacant (Mendiola, 1996)
  54. Amer (Forzani & Cattet, 2009)
  55. The Man Who Planted Trees (Back, 1987)*
  56. OffOn (Bartlett et al., 1972)
  57. Schichlegruber – Doing the Lambeth Walk (a.k.a. Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style) (Ridley, 1941)
  58. Tango (Rybczynski, 1981)
  59. Vicious Cycles (Janson & Menville, 1967)
  60. The Nose (Alexeieff, 1963)
  61. ‘A’ (Lenica, 1965)
  62. American Time Capsule (Braverman, 1968)
  63. Frank Film (1973)*
  64. Luxo Jr. (Lasseter, 1986)*
  65. Red’s Dream (Lasseter, 1987)*
  66. Radio Dynamics (Fischinger, 1942)
  67. Allegretto (Fischinger, 1936)
  68. Choreography for Copy Machine (a.k.a. Photocopy Cha Cha) (White, 1991)
  69. Balance (Lauenstein & Lauenstein, 1989)
  70. New Book (Rybczynski, 1976)
  71. The Crowd (Vidor, 1928)
  72. Ms. 45 (Ferrara, 1981)
  73. Real Women Have Curves (Cardoso, 2002)
  74. Yellow Submarine (Dunning, 1968)
  75. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (Kroyer, 1992)
  76. The Decline of the American Empire (Arcand, 1986)
  77. Bedhead (Rodriguez, 1991)
  78. Las Marthas (Ibarra, 2014)

New-to-me: 68
Rewatch: 10

Total watched in 2014: 319
Total new-to-me in 2014: 282

Looks like I’ll be accomplishing my one-film-a-day average quicker than I initially expected. Wooo!

Now here comes my favorite part: worst film I watched in April. Believe it or not, WE HAVE A TIE THIS MONTH!

Battle in Heaven.

Call me vapid, but I simply did not get this film. I know there was a sort of spiritual element that ran throughout its course that was meant to serve some significance – but nope, did nothing for me. It’s just so dull and boring and listless in about a million different ways. Also, I probably wouldn’t even have hated it so much if it weren’t so blatantly gross and lewdly misogynous to its core. Seriously, I see no need to praise a film for any means if it so clearly objectifies and delegitimizes its one active female character, basically presenting her as little more than a giver and taker of sex. Metaphors be damned; this film is filthy.

Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.

I watched this film for the sole purpose of deconstructing it for a class – and boy, is there a lot to deconstruct. In fact, it’s immediately made one of the few films I’ve ever given a 1/10 rating to. It is SO BAD with its treatment of women, which has certainly a lot to do with the chauvinistic religious conservative that seems to lie in the heart of every Tyler Perry film. Essentially, a woman gets raped, but it gets played off as infidelity, which is apparently entirely her fault. And then she goes on a downward spiral of drugs and promiscuity. Final punishment: HIV! This film can go fuck itself. (Although the atrocity of Kim Kardashian’s “acting” brings at least a little bit of ungodly unintentional humor to the mix. But really, it’s just a terrible film.)

And finally, here are my top five films I watched this past month!

5) Being There.

This film is so odd, it’s almost science-fiction. It’s truly a dark comedy if there ever was one, but also quite a brilliant social satire. It’s easy to see how some of its humor(?) wouldn’t work for a lot of folks, but personally it’s right up in my ball park. Never before have I seen Peter Sellers put on a performance so poignant and nuanced, and he does so magnificently in this film. I also really loved Shirley MacLaine in this film (but then again, I just plain love Shirley period). Some of my most favorite moments in Being There came in the form of music and sound, which seems to come across as coincidental as flipping channels on a TV – yet are mere illusions of the simple audial and visual artistry that the film embodies to its core. So weirdly charming.

4) The Red and the White.

I’ve been divorced from Russian cinema for far too long and The Red and the White has proved that I should get back into these wonderful cinematic trends of the Soviet era. The above screenshot doesn’t even close-to-adequately show how amazing the cinematography is in this film. Wonderful long takes, beautiful black-and-white aesthetic, dreary landscapes, multiple layers of action in a single frame… basically camerawork done right in every way. I’ve heard many people complain of how hard it is to follow, mainly because it doesn’t really follow a “story” and doesn’t even have a true protagonist. Frankly, I love it like this. It feels so much closer to reality, often in discomforting ways that are truly hard to admit. We don’t need to see violence and murder in our faces to feel its ripple effect. This is humanity and war at its ugliest.

3) W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism.

(I bet you read that as ‘orgasm’ the first time.)

I constantly on the lookout for films that are like one of my favorite films, Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, in any sense or any interpretation. I think this film is the closest I’ve come across so far, and in the best possible ways. It’s incredibly anarchistic and weird, propelling itself in almost a stream-of-consciousness way that still remains oddly rooted in some execution of reality. Simply put, it does not give a fuck. Sure there’s a lot of sex, but I think it’s applied to great effect and magnifies the politically hedonistic nature and themes addressed through its idiosyncratic figures. Refreshingly, these presentations of free love, masturbation, and plaster-casting transcend primal, id-embodied tendencies and becomes something that is actually of quite the intellectual nature. Then again, I was simply hypnotized by the frantic editing and vibrant colors that the entire ordeal willingly filters itself through. It’s all in the experience.

2) The Cameraman’s Revenge.

Okay, I’m kinda cheating a little bit, since unlike the others in my top five this is technically both a short film and a rewatch. Still though, I just love it so much. The fact that film is over a century old is pretty remarkable, considering how important it is to animation in general. Apparently bug-collector Wladyslaw Starewicz decided to use his insects as a sort of puppet show, filming a tale of adultery and jealously typical of any Hollywood melodrama. The amazing part is that is works SO well. These inanimate bug corpses have emotions and we can feel them emit from beyond the screen through some jittery editing that creates an illusion of movement. It’s also pretty awesome how filmmaking is a major aspect of the narrative, which also makes this film a huge stepping stone for meta-fiction! Take that, Sherlock Jr.!

1) Judgment at Nuremberg.

This film made my head explode with all the near-perfect/fully-perfect performances. Sure, it’s three hours in length and not exactly “light” viewing material – but it makes the greatest use of its length and breadth. It’s definitely performance-driven, but in all the best ways possible. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schnell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark… all tremendous performances. ALL of them! It’s also very refreshing to see a courtroom drama that never tempts viewers to sway to one side over the other. This film has different intentions, and as each layer is slowly peeled back, we are revealed not to political corruption, but to immorality that plagues humanity to its deepest core. The emotional punch of this film is remarkably well-balanced, and when it peaks, it remains super compelling. The late Maximilian Schnell gives some of the most hard-hitting monologues I’ve seen in any film; this echoes with the sentiment that the film as a whole is just incredibly well-written on so many different levels. This is a type of complexity I can admire, wholeheartedly.

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