Identity Crises: August ’14 in Film

 

BlazingSaddles c 15

Hey folks. Regrettably, this past month hasn’t been the greatest for me on terms of movie-watching. While I did watch 31 films this month – keeping with my personal minimal goal of one-film-per-day average – a good portion of these were rewatches. This is mainly due to me working so many hours and having an utter lack of brainpower to process anything new, settling instead for watching stuff in my personal collection with my boyfriend (who had watched some of these for the first time). I’m not complaining too much – unlike with my last post, I was actually able to finish this one on time! Anyway, here are a few personal highlights from this past month of August:

boyhoodI started off this month with a film that had been buzzing upon the lips of cinephiles for months, culminating at its release and nearly universal praise. Overall, however, I didn’t love Boyhood as much as everyone else seemed to. It could be that I just couldn’t relate to much of it (obvious gender discrepancies aside, my high school experience was completely devoid of the drugs, sex, and parties that others have gone through and, therefore, are often mainstays in much of these coming-of-age flicks). It could be that I didn’t find the overall work relatable on a general basis (much time is spent on covering as wide a scope as possible of this kid’s life; regrettably, little emotional impact was felt on my part, relative to the awe of its filmmaking technique). Nonetheless, I was impressed by the scope of technical ambition presented in Boyhood. Linklater took the painstaking process of continuity spanning several years and condensed it in a neat 3-hour package that – thanks to the brilliant editing work of Sandra Adair – paces itself seamlessly and feels only half its length. Although this one isn’t bound to make my top ten of the year, Linklater still remains one of the finest filmmakers working today and always a personal favorite.

last-supper-mashAnd now for my mandatory Unpopular Opinion of the Month: MASH. I hated it. This came as an absolute surprise (and disappointment) for me, since just last month I was left completely mesmerized by McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which Altman had released just a year after MASH. I heard from many that this was one of its best and the fact that it’s the only Altman film to win the Palme d’Or also excited me. Nevertheless, this film feels dated and save for a few scenes, I was completely bored through its entirety. However, my biggest issue came with its blatant misogyny, particularly with the narrative’s treatment of its few female characters, major or minor. I get that the military is an inherently chauvinistic environment and I get that the humor in the film is supposed to carry a certain amount or surrealism due to its episodic nature. Yet, I just felt really gross watching the film, as many qualities came off as horrifically sexist and mean-spirited, certainly catering to a particular brand of white male audience that would find such crass hilarious. As for me, I’d unfortunately categorize this as the first Altman I’ve seen that I legitimately hate. Here’s to hoping that there isn’t many more of these in the future.

vc-1993mividaMi Vida Loca is a film that has gained a certain cult-like status among the Latina/o community; I even remember some of my own family members being particularly fond of it. I happened to stumble upon the film recently and decided to give it a viewing. It’s essentially a fictionalized tale from the personal experiences of Latina women in the poor, often violent communities in Echo Park, CA. One of the first things I noticed was just how genuine the film feels in capturing the time and place of its subjects. Mousie and Shy Girl really felt like real young women I would pass by on the streets or find within my own family. This blooming sense of realism really made the narrative all the more compelling, and even more tragic when we see the crooked paths that are senselessly handed to these characters. The combination of artistic elements of Mi Vida Loca – mainly its voiceover narration and interesting editing choices – seemed to bring to mind the filmmaking patterns of Godard or Bresson. Overall, this film carries quite a punch in some rather unexpected ways, from its cinematic sensibility to its humanistic core. I find it really under-appreciated and I’d like to check out much more work from director Allison Anders in the near future.

2455304,WQZy+_3zKEKqOXl5vO6kkN3__LI8A6RGT2pvaepNS+wukgr0i6X53wH4ohwA3gAOZmSGjIltu8m8+putdBgbSg==Somehow, out of all the novelties and trends that emerged from the mid- to late-90s, I was never able to hop aboard the Spice Girls train. Sure, I know all their best songs like the back of my hand and always have for years, yet I happened to miss out on the bulk of their hype during its heyday. Thus, it had only taken me until this past month to watch their movie Spice World, which had been pounded into my skull by others as a bonafide, underrated camp classic. Turns out it totally is! Watching this film has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a movie all month. While the bubbly personalities of each of the girls is to be adored, much of the film’s best moments come from its wacky supporting cast. Alan Cumming is amazing as always. Richard O’Brien is at his O’Brien-iest here. Roger Moore gives no fucks as he sinisterly pets a tiny pig. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry have the best cameos. And the plot… well, I’m sure there was a plot in there somewhere, but I was having too much fun amidst the 90s-era silliness to really care. By all means, this film should have been abandoned and forgotten within the cold, black hole of existence that is the Spice Girls era – yet by some crazy miracle, it stays alive in the minds and hearts of so many. And rightfully so, as this movie remains as roaring of a good time as I’m sure it was for many a decade and a half ago. Spice up your life!

orlando2

Before watching Orlando, I had seen Tilda Swinton in mainly minimal or supporting roles and had never even heard of director Sally Potter. Yet as this film shows, the creative output of the latter grants the former the perfect material through which she can exert her magnificent acting skills. As I’ve stated before, I am a huge fan of films whose narratives take advantage of the flexibility of gender identity and gender roles. The flawless androgyny that Swinton possesses makes her perfect for the role she is given, not only in appearance, but in the nuanced portrayal of a centuries-old lord inexplicably transformed into a female. This is what the story tells us, and we are willing and obliged to follow suit, since Swinton passes so well through each stage of the character’s tale. It is ridden with a certain bizarre type of humor that, truly, could only come out of a British production. Last but certainly not least, this has got to be one of the most brilliant visual pleasures etched onto celluloid. The costumes, hair, makeup, and sets all scream exuberance and truly reach a level of indulgence I could only hope to capture in my own works. I am unfamiliar with the Virginia Woolf work from which this is based on, but I’m compelled to imagine Jane Campion watching Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette after reading some of the ol’ Woolf herself and thinking, “Cool, I’ll make one of these too!”

The-Birdcage-2

Like many others, I was absolutely devastated upon hearing of Robin Williams’ death. His films (particularly Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jack) have brought me joy throughout my lifetime and hearing of his passing really felt like I had just lost a close longtime family friend. I joined the bandwagon of honoring his career by watching a film of his that night, settling on one I had never seen before: The Birdcage. Fairly recently, I had watched the French film of which this is a remake – La Cage Aux Folles – and enjoyed myself pretty well. However, one thing that irked me a bit about La Cage was just how dry the humor felt at times; I’m compelled to blame this on the translation gap that is nearly inevitable in viewing many non-English comedies. I’ve found in The Birdcage, however, that Williams fills in these gaps perfectly through his signature flamboyant silliness, this time playing a gay man struggling to hide his identity from the straight-laced parents of his son’s fiancée. While the plot was already rather smart and subversive to begin with, the subtle changes in material given to Williams’ character adds a whole other dimension to the film. This time, it’s actually really funny and all the more pleasing to watch! Further exemplifying just how empty of a space was left behind by the loss of one of the pinnacle comedic icons of this era.

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Superhero films have never – ever – been my thing. Luckily, I’m now dating a wonderful person who has been introducing me to the dense, fascinating world of comics, specifically those from Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. A year ago, I never would have imagined I’d be sitting in a movie theater watching Guardians of the Galaxy out of my own free will. Yet I watched it this past month. I was also driven to watch it by the substantial amount of positive buzz it’s gotten (and also cause it’s now the highest grossing film of 2014). While I certainly did not love it as much as everyone else seemed to, there’s no mistaking that it makes for an excellent, fun cinematic adventure. There’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t already been said, but to list off just a few thoughts: Vin Diesel as Groot is the best, Bradley Cooper’s voice acting was phenomenal, and the biggest flaw of this film is that there’s not nearly enough Djimon Hounsou.

princeSomehow I missed out on watching The Prince of Egypt at any point during my 2-3 year stint of after-school lessons at the Catholic church of my upbringing. I now identify as an atheist, but this does not hinder my ability to appreciate non-secular cinema for its artistic merits – of which is found in The Prince of Egypt in leaps and bounds. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that the artwork here is absolutely beautiful. The combination of traditional animation and special effects create so many sprawling images that capture the presumed scale of ancient Egypt in as realistic a way as possible. I am very familiar with the story and I think the writers did a great job in capturing the dark undertones that lie at the very core of a world driven by a wrathful God. The songs in the film certainly don’t reach the level of sing-a-long-ability that rival Disney Animation mastered during their recent Renaissance period, but the music is still rather well-written, well-performed, and absolutely fitting for the movie’s tone. All in all, it remains, to me, high up in the rankings with Shrek and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as the finest, most artistically enthralling outputs from the studio.

frank-movieI wasn’t sure what to expect when going into Frank. All I really knew about it was given to me from the performance Michael Fassbender & folks gave on The Colbert Report. Since it was playing at my theater, I decided to give it a go. I mostly really liked it, but it was not without its flaws. For one thing, I felt that the perspective of the film was misguided, placing its attention less on the peculiar titular character and more on the drab, boring protagonist played by Domhnall Gleeson. Besides Fassbender’s Frank himself, none of the characters really extended beyond their paper-thin personalities, with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who noticeably tried her hardest to work with the Material given to her. The film’s sense of humor was rather bizarre and didn’t always work (to be expected from a story of a bizarre savant musician wearing a huge plastic head), but for what the film was, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. The most enjoyable bits, undoubtedly, were the parts involving the band and the music itself, where it can certainly be shown how all the performers were comfortably in their element.

FindingFela2-1I have been a fan of Fela Kuti’s music for a while and have followed the status of Alex Gibney’s documentary on him – Finding Fela – for a few months via his Facebook fan page. I finally watched it this past month and, overall, really enjoyed it. Sure it suffers from many of the shortcomings found in documentaries that attempt to cover the scope of an individual’s fascinating life. Much like last year’s I Am Divine (about the titular muse/GOD of John Waters’ films), Finding Fela tragically remains in safe territory, relative to the actual breadth of its subject’s persona. To sum it up, there were simply too many talking heads and not enough music. However, the material that is given to us is truly imperative for a viewer who may not be so familiar with the famous figure (especially since he’s not very well-known in the Western parts of the world). The documentary does have its strengths, particularly with covering the importance of Fela’s spirituality and how it ties with his musical talents. Sure he may have deserved better, but I don’t see much to shame about a documentary that is as informative as it is eye-opening and – let’s face it – entertaining!

Now for the total number of films I watched this week, arranged by decade, followed by the full list of titles watched:

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

  1. Boyhood (Linklater, 2014)
  2. Bernie (Linklater, 2012)*
  3. Safety Not Guaranteed (Trevorrow, 2012)
  4. The Straight Story (Lynch, 1999)
  5. MASH (Altman, 1970)
  6. Mi Vida Loca (a.k.a. My Crazy Life) (Anders, 1994)
  7. Footloose (Ross, 1984)
  8. The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976)
  9. Dirty Dancing (Ardolino, 1987)
  10. Spice World (Spiers, 1997)
  11. Orlando (Potter, 1992)
  12. Hugo (Scorsese, 2011)
  13. The Boondock Saints (Duffy, 1999)
  14. The Birdcage (Nichols, 1996)
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014)
  16. The Trip (Winterbottom, 2010)
  17. The Cable Guy (Stiller, 1996)
  18. Lilo & Stitch (DeBlois & Sanders, 2002)*
  19. The Prince of Egypt (Chapman et al., 1998)
  20. My Darling Clementine (Ford, 1946)
  21. Phantasm (Coscarelli, 1979)
  22. Tromeo & Juliet (Gunn & Kaufman, 1997)
  23. The Apartment (Wilder, 1960)*
  24. 20 Feet From Stardom (Neville, 2013)*
  25. The Other F Word (Nevins, 2011)
  26. The Road (Hillcoat, 2009)
  27. Frank (Abrahamson, 2014)
  28. Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995)*
  29. Finding Fela (Gibney, 2014)
  30. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)*
  31. Blazing Saddles (Brooks, 1974)*

New-to-me: 24
Rewatch: 7

Total watched in 2014: 530
Total new-to-me in 2014: 455

I’m not sure if my goal of 1,000 films watched for 2014 is within the realm of possibility, but I’m still thinking positively! Movies still remain a big part of my life and I’d like to stay in the habit of writing about them. Many thanks to those who still keep up with my posts, as infrequent as they have become. I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but I really do hope I get a chance to pick up the pace fairly soon!

Finally, here is my favorite film I watched all month:

379933331633Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

This is one of the films that I’ve probably rewatched the most out of the 2,000+ movies I’ve seen through my life. Each time I revisit it, I’m reminded of exactly why I’m so eager to return. Kubrick holds a rather special place in my development as a cinephile (as I’m sure he has for millions of others). A Clockwork Orange was my favorite flick as a young teenager, and my first viewing of Dr. Strangelove at 16-17 – I can never remember exactly when – helped me realize just how dense of an artform cinema can be, yearning to be picked apart and examined. The humor of Kubrick is highlighted by a sense of uneasiness and instability that I’m sure penetrated deeper during its genesis in the Cold War era. Peter Sellers’ multiple roles can be read as an extension of Freud’s psychoanalytic id/ego/superego theories (at least, that’s how I read it). Sterling Hayden’s anxieties may also be translated as a desperate means to keep a grasp on his repressed homosexual urges (at least, that’s how I read it). But I’m sure much of these have been reiterated time and time again, so I’ll digress. All I have to say is that there’s nothing about this film that fails to keep me entertained, from George C. Scott’s commie paranoia to Slim Pickens’ utter insanity. Then again, this film is utter insanity to the core, and for that I am so thankful.

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