Lobsters and Lemonade: May ’16 in Film

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Another month’s come and gone now. In particular, I watched a lot of films throughout May – fifty-four, to be specific. This is mostly due to Malcolm having picked up a pile of work throughout the latter half of May. Since I don’t really hang out with anyone else, and anxiety keeps me indoors a lot of the time anyone, this gives me a lot of time to read, watch movies, and listen to music.

Despite the fact that Malcolm spends most of every day on the computer with his own work, I somehow managed to find time to get back on my Billboard challenge again, beginning with an in-depth overview of 1974’s Hot 100. It feels so invigorating to be doing this again, and I also feel really good to be writing about each and every song on the list as an integral part of the music culture of the time. True, this results in really long posts, like the ten thousand words that arose from my thoughts on 1974’s music. But at least I’m finally getting back into something I enjoy, once again!

As follows, here is the complete list of what I watched last month, with asterisks indicating rewatches.

  1. Life of Pi (Lee, 2013)
  2. Respire (Breathe) (Laurent, 2015)
  3. Dirty Pretty Things (Frears, 2002)
  4. Black Sheep (King, 2006)
  5. Hell Comes to Frogtown (Jackson & Kizer, 1988)
  6. While We’re Young (Baumbach, 2014)
  7. Zardoz (Boorman, 1974)
  8. Scarface (De Palma, 1983)
  9. Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (Chytilová, 1966)*
  10. Unbroken (Jolie, 2014)
  11. Bowfinger (Oz, 1999)
  12. Prince Avalanche (Green, 2013)
  13. Too Many Cooks (Kelly, 2014)*
  14. W imię… (In the Name of) (Szumowska, 2013)
  15. Animal Farm (Batchelor & Halas, 1954)
  16. A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Melendez, 1969)
  17. Snoopy Come Home (Melendez, 1972)
  18. Bring It On (Reed, 2000)*
  19. Scary Movie (Wayans, 2000)*
  20. Viva (Breathnach, 2016)
  21. The Foxy Merkins (Olnek, 2013)
  22. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955)*
  23. Prisoners (Villeneuve, 2013)
  24. Nasty Baby (Silva, 2015)
  25. Death at a Funeral (Oz, 2007)
  26. A Talking Cat!?! (DeCoteau, 2013)*
  27. Heat (Mann, 1995)
  28. Hong quan yu yong chun (Shaolin Martial Arts) (Chang, 1974)
  29. Way Out West (Horne, 1937)*
  30. Capote (Miller, 2005)
  31. Out of Africa (Pollack, 1985)
  32. The Stepford Wives (Oz, 2004)
  33. Song One (Barker-Froyland, 2014)
  34. Adventures in Babysitting (Columbus, 1987)*
  35. Dear Frankie (Auerbach, 2004)
  36. The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)
  37. Switchblade Sisters (Hill, 1975)
  38. The Crying Game (Jordan, 1992)
  39. The Lobster (Lanthimos, 2016)
  40. Kinky Boots (Jarrold, 2005)
  41. The Guest (Wingard, 2014)
  42. Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (Lovers on the Bridge) (Carax, 1991)
  43. Tiger Eyes (Blume, 2012)
  44. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Timm & Radomski, 1993)
  45. The Big Lebowski (Coen, 1998)*
  46. Finding Neverland (Forster, 2000)
  47. Can’t Buy Me Love (Rash, 1987)
  48. Ba wang bie ji (Farewell My Concubine) (Chen, 1993)
  49. The Nice Guys (Black, 2016)
  50. Lemonade (Knowles et al., 2016)
  51. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Clooney, 2002)
  52. Ninja Terminator (Ho, 1985)
  53. Siu nin Wong Fei Hung chi: Tit ma lau (Iron Monkey) (Yuen, 1993)
  54. Chocolat (Hallström, 2000)

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Sometime around mid-May, I passed the halfway point for my #52FilmsByWomen journey. One thing this challenge has helped me realize is that finding and watching films by women really isn’t as difficult as the hashtag’s prospective would lead one to believe. In May alone, I watched a total of seven movies directed by women, one of which was Daisies, which I’ve seen numerous times, wrote in-depth about in the past, own, and could safely call my all-time favorite film. The others were films that I had been meaning to see for a while anyway, regardless of the assignment to watch more films by women. At this point, it’s become very clear that the challenge is mainly for those who tend to only watch is in high circulation or high critical regard throughout a particular year, the vast majority of which are made by male filmmakers. This is less of a struggle for me, therefore, since I already tend to watch films outside of these margins regularly. It’s still been really fun, though!

Around the start of the month, I watched Mélanie Laurent’s film Respire – also known as Breathe – and was completely wowed by it. It isn’t too often one comes upon a film that so succinctly touches upon the very real darkness the permeates through the pressures of existing as a teenage girl (the only one that comes to mind immediately is Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, but even that one may be a bit too stylized for its own good). I haven’t seen any other of her directorial efforts, but I’m so excited to see what else of her artistic vision she’s got to share.

I also watched The Foxy Merkins from Madeline Olnek, from whom I watched and loved an earlier film of hers Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. I’ve seen others compare her neurotic style to Woody Allen, but to do so would be of little respect to her truly distinct, fearlessly feminist style. Despite it being a comedy, her portrayal of sex work (particularly with lesbians) is painted with fine strokes, displaying genuine moments of sympathy and respect amongst awkward situation after awkward situation. She may not be one of my favorite working filmmakers, but her work is surely more charming than most.

zardoz

Probably against my better judgment, I got around to watching John Boorman’s bizarre cult classic Zardoz. I wouldn’t be the first to state how wildly incoherent this film is and I can’t say I was surprised by this element; nonetheless, I was still taken aback by… well, pretty much everything about it. Yet despite its overwhelming hodgepodge of truly bizarre, hallucinogenic imagery, there are some actually genuine concerns at play here, in regard to its message on a hard reconstruction of a fixed society. It’s too bad, however, that so much of this simply makes no sense upon a first watch, as its history of mass alienation so demonstrates. If anything, though, I would gladly watch this again for its mind-bending cinematography. This is one of the most 70s film I’ve ever seen.

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Along with the few other notable cinematic gaps I’ve filled this month, one of the most vital of these gaps is my eventual viewing of De Palma’s Scarface. It was one of the biggest films of the decade and solidified its rags-to-corrupt-riches storyline on which Scorsese capitalized in the 90s. One thing is certain: this is some of Al Pacino’s most brutal acting ever, although I wouldn’t rush to call it his best. On top of this, the portrayal of Miami in the 80s is one for the ages, brought to life with some great cinematography. Unfortunately, there’s very little else that the film really has going for it. The narrative hasn’t aged very well – anyone who’s seen any film of this caliber can accurately predict which direction it’s heading, and the film being nearly two-and-a-half hours long only works against it. On top of this, I couldn’t get past the portrayal and treatment of women through the duration of this whole film. I get that we’re supposed to be critical of these Cuban drug lords (which could have some racist implications of its own), but when the few women shown in the whole film are given little to no agency, it’s hard to stretch the sympathy into something formidable. I could understand why men love this film and I get why Tony Soprano’s image has become such a cult staple; all that just makes me wholly uncomfortable. I’ll stick to the Hawks original.

Bowfinger-DI

For reasons that are completely unclear to me, I have been slowly getting through Frank Oz’s directorial filmography. I watched three of his films in this month alone; unfortunately, those three were made well after his peak in the 80s. Now, I love The Dark CrystalLittle Shop of Horrors, and The Muppets Take Manhattan and I will gladly defend his strength as a creative visionary off the strength of those three films alone. Even his non-Muppet output like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, In & Out, and (to some degree) What About Bob? are perfectly solid and often very funny (well, maybe less so What About Bob?). Once we edge close to the late-90s, however, things get pretty thorny.

Bowfinger works off the strength of its actors and the collaboration of Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Terrence Stamp, and Robert Downey Jr. really works well with Martin’s fiery script. Oz does like its gimmicks, however, and the one in Bowfinger does wear itself down pretty quickly. Death at a Funeral – the next Oz film I watched – is a little better, with a much sharper ensemble cast and British humor that, though watered-down, is still hard to beat. The third I watched was, unfortunately, his remake of The Stepford Wives, which takes some truly introspective subject matter and camps it up to an atrocious, bottom-tier comedy. There’s still a few Frank Oz films I still need to watch, but overall he seems like little more than a mixed bag of a director.

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I briefly mentioned my distaste for Out of Africa over on Letterboxd. While I still haven’t done enough research to fully elaborate, colonialism is still a very real, very awful thing and the way this film pushes that aside to focus on this dreadfully dull tale about romance and discovery is annoying at best, harmful at worst. From a filmmaker’s perspective, I could see how the use of costumes, on-location sets, and music would work to create such a lush aesthetic that would win over enough people for it to snag so many awards and nominations. It’s too bad this is all so artificially produced, though. This has to be one of the worst Best Picture winners ever.

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This month, I watched three 2016 releases in theaters. The first was Paddy Breathnach’s Viva which, while well-produced, was still a poorly-paced tale about a young drag performer’s wobbly relationship with his dying homophobic father. I guess I was set off guard by its advertising, which really emphasized the drag aspect of the narrative, when it’s just a background story that sets the stage for the real story, which is quite a downer. I think it could have been something with much more weight under a different director’s approach.

Luckily, however, this disappointment was balanced out by my viewing of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which I finally watched after actively anticipating it for at least two years. Simply put, it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Having been enamored by Dogtooth and Alps in the past, his truly bizarre sense of humor was very much welcome and I was happy to see that it translated well in his English-language debut. Though it’s undoubtedly surreal, it’s got a very humanistic sentiment in its core that was professed very honestly and creatively. This confirms my suspicious that Lanthimos is one of the most unique auteurs working today, and I’d give him another one or two films before this vision reaches peak greatness. Most importantly, I finally see what all the fuss is about Colin Farrell and I can’t wait to go back and watch all of his movies.

The third 2016 release I watched was The Nice Guys, which is also my first time embarking on a Shane Black film. The three leads create some rather interesting chemistry, which Russell Crowe as the veteran tough guy, Ryan Gosling as the sarcastic, incompetent detective, and Angourie Rice as the coolest kid in town. The Nice Guys is a pretty fun watch, even though its script can get a bit stale and awkward at times. I couldn’t have watched it at a better time though, as my current 70s culture and disco obsession made this one a real feast for the senses.

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During the latter parts of the month, I decided to veer away from my usual American fare and got into a few Chinese films. The first of these was Farewell My Concubine, an epic drama spanning across fifty years of tumultuous politics in China, while keeping character relationships at the firm center. I wrongfully assumed that it would be a romantic storyline between a man and woman, but the focus is mostly on the intense friendship between the two men who grew up together in the same oppressive actors troupe. The performances are great, particularly Leslie Chueng and Gong Li who give it their all. It’s a terrific tale of 20th century Chinese history told through the fascinating lens of opera; definitely worth a watch.

I also finally watched Iron Monkey, although it was the version released by Miramax which, to my understanding, cuts out about ten minutes and changes the music. At least the version I watched had the original dubbing. It’s a pretty awesome flick, telling the tale of some Robin Hood-esque character and the government’s struggles in getting him captured. The action scenes are totally mesmerizing, possibly among the best I’ve ever seen in a martial arts film. This really has me yearning to get back to watching Shaw Brothers films, especially the ones that utilize similar wire fight choreography.

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I couldn’t possibly close this post without even briefly mentioning my utmost love and appreciation for Beyonce’s Lemonade, which I finally watched this month. Initially, I was blown away by all the musical influences captured – gospel, blues, country, New Orleans jazz, 60s garage rock, and so much more. At its heart, though, is a monumental portrait of love and betrayal, through the ever-present filter of race and identity. It’s got some of the most intense imagery I’ve seen in a film recently, flowing through the abstract narrative like a constant coursing of painful emotions and experiences. Not to mention that every song on this visual album is an absolute banger, with it ending on a euphoric, hopeful note that makes the whole experience totally worth it. It’s clear that Knowles has got a vividly-realized artistic vision and is one of the most powerful, conversation-producing figures making art in this day and age. It’s going to take a whole lot for the rest of 2016 to challenge this masterpiece as the best of its year.

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