Movie diary, 7/10/08-7/14/08
So last night, I saw "Glengarry Glen Ross". All I knew about it was that David Mamet had written it, and that a lot of awesome actors were in it. That was enough for me, as I've always enjoyed Mamet's writing, and it was not a disappointment. As with a lot of Mamet's work that I've seen, it just seemed like a showcase for a bunch of really well-drawn characters to have a lot of interesting and believable conversations. The way the incident that will become the hinge on which the plot turns is first brought into the movie is pretty subtle, and made a lot of sense to me. I was surprised and a bit upset by the twist ending, too. Al Pacino ended up not being in the movie as much as I expected due to his top billing, but the parts he was in were some of my favorites. As a friend of mine commented when I mentioned that I'd seen the movie, "that's a scenery-chewing movie." Pacino is always liable to chew some scenery, and he does a great job of it while he's onscreen. Also, I have to give props to Jack Lemmon, who gave a subtler but ultimately more affecting performance. Pretty great movie, on the whole. I'm gonna have to check out more of Mamet's stuff in the near future.
So I watched "Driller Killer" last night. I had thought I'd seen it before, and I guess I saw part of it, but it became obvious to me about halfway through that I never finished it. I think this is because I first saw it in 2001 or so, when I was watching a whole lot of 70s-era American and Italian horror movies, and I expected it to fall into a similar style. Therefore, the fact that it's such a strange movie really threw me and I couldn't get into it. Now that I'm watching a lot more 60s era Corman movies and 70s "New Hollywood" stuff on a regular basis, I feel like I have more of a context to understand this movie in. It reminded me of those two styles mixed together, really--the subtlety of narrative of early 70s New Hollywood, with the grotty low-cost sensibilities of Corman, except even grottier. It felt like the movie was made for about a thousand bucks. The analogy I would draw is this: if "The French Connection" is the Rolling Stones, "Driller Killer" is the Godz. In other words, so raw and unschooled that it's barely recognizable as descended from its influences. But, as anyone who knows me by now might guess, this all means that I loved it. I did, I fucking LOVED it. It drew me in from the very first scene, with the old guy in the church grabbing the main character's hand, which made no sense at all in the context of the movie or anything else but did a great job of setting the mood. The very last scene in the movie actually didn't do it for me, I must confess, because it seemed really unrealistic. It fit with the narrative a movie viewer might construct in their mind, but there were tons of holes in the logic of it. However, the rest of the movie was so great that it didn't really bother me at all, in the greater scheme of things.
You know, it almost doesn't even feel like a horror movie. Granted, dude kills people with a drill, but I didn't feel like the movie was about that so much as it was about the really bleak underside of trying to live as a starving artist in New York city in the 70s. The movie captures the city at its absolute worst, and while, due to a lot of the artistic stuff going on there at the time, it's easy for me to romanticize that period of New York's history, "Driller Killer" brought home the fact that it could sometimes be a pretty terrible place to live. Even before the main character snaps and starts killing homeless people with a drill, the movie makes clear that the whole city is somewhat menacing to people who have to live there. The band that moves into the apartment house and practices at all hours of the day and night with impunity is another sign of just how badly the whole place is falling apart. Actually, although it's much more of a straight up horror/slasher movie, I get a lot of the same vibe from the movie "Maniac", which has its killer wandering the streets and subways of New York at night too. In a lot of ways, it feels like the decayed environment in the city is what lets the killers in both movies get away with their crimes for so long.
So yeah, pretty great movie. Oh, and by the way, I tried to watch the commentary, expecting the notorious drunken Abel Ferrara ramblings to be funny, but instead the shit was excruciating. Basically like a drunk friend of yours is sitting on the couch next to you watching the movie and loudly reacting to everything that happens on screen without ever telling you much of anything that you can't figure out on your own. I lasted about 5 minutes with the commentary track--though I did watch his commentary over the lesbian shower scene, and whoever said it was super creepy and lascivious was right.
Saw "Sunshine" last night. My main thought coming away from that movie: fuck space. Space is scary. I guess it's just my fear of heights taken to the ultimate extreme; in space, I may not fall from a great height and splatter, but I may very well just hang there forever, which in a lot of ways is even worse. It's like falling into a bottomless pit, only it's infinitely cold and there's no air to breathe. Even if you get stuck in a spacesuit or even a malfunctioning spaceship, it's just a question of time. I don't ever want to go anywhere without air to breathe and ground to stand on.
So that's what "Sunshine" brought home to me, which I suppose speaks well for the job it did making clear what it would be like to be in space. It also made the movie into a horror movie for me, whether or not that's what was intended. The plot was pretty bleak anyway; the space mission in the movie happens because the sun is going out and plunging Earth into a permanent ice age. The crew of the ship needs to drop a huge nuke into the sun to bring it back to its former strength, or else the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable. Then, once they get most of the way to the sun, they detect a distress signal from an earlier mission that tried to do the same thing--a ship presumed lost 7 years earlier. The crew decides to try and rendezvous with that ship, and from that point, the entire mission slowly starts to unravel.
The story is very well told, and the spaceship environment is created realistically, without any gratuitous "wow!" moments or cheesy sci-fi effects. It's definitely the most plausible space movie I've ever seen, and it's made moreso by the way the characters casually use all of the technology without trying to over-explain any of it. In the end, all of the outer-space trappings of the movie become background, and it is revealed to be a subtle, character-driven movie about the way people function under stress and deal with things going wrong when they have a mission to carry out. I think this is a lot of why I like "Sunshine" so much. A lot of times, science fiction movies are primarily about setting and technology, maybe with some mystery or epic-quest type plotline thrown in. This movie is primarily about the people that inhabit it, and that puts it head and shoulders above the typical space movie. Highly recommended.