Movie Diary, 1/8-2/11.
Last night I saw "Pitch Black". I knew this was a Vin Diesel sci-fi thriller from early in his career, perhaps even the movie that broke him, but I never thought much about it until reading an enthusiastic endorsement of it in sci-fi novelist John Scalzi's movie column at amctv.com. He was actually talking about sequels, and how the high budget sequel "Chronicles Of Riddick" had been a failure because it got rid of every successful element of its low-budget predecessor "Pitch Black". The stuff he said about "Pitch Black" made me think that I might be blowing it by not having seen it already, so I checked it out. I ended up really liking it! It is indeed a low-budget sci-fi horror movie, though nowhere near, say, "Primer" on the low-budget scale. Probably more like mid-range budget, a la "Firefly". And it's kind of grim, considering the unnatural light that most of the movie takes place in, and considering the freaky monsters that end up making it imperative that our crash-landed survivors of a spacecraft wreck get the hell off this planet and fast. Then there's Richard Riddick, Vin Diesel's character, a psychopathic murderer with a somewhat charming exterior who is sort of like a bodybuilder version of Hannibal Lecter. He's had surgery done to his eyeballs so that he can see in the dark, which ends up being the crucial thing that's going to save the rest of the survivors when it gets dark and the monsters come out.
This is hardly a classic moment in the annals of cinema, but if you like sci-fi horror, if you thought Ridley Scott's "Alien" was a badass movie, you really can't go wrong here. What I thought was pretty depressing, though, was the way the director takes this total attitude in all of the special features like "Pitch Black" was just a dry run for the far more impressive and important "Chronicles Of Riddick". He's all talking about how the Riddick character was introduced in "Pitch Black" like that's the only thing the movie has to offer. It's obvious that he thought "Chronicles of Riddick" would succeed on a larger order of magnitude than did "Pitch Black", and that he was doing this DVD feature work expecting people to be looking back at "Pitch Black" as a scrappy little movie that started it all, rather than a good movie that was followed by a much more expensive franchise-killing shitty one. The hubris just bleeds through the TV screen. I regretted that I'd ever checked out any of the bonus features within 30 seconds of beginning the first one.
But whatever, the movie itself is still good.
So I saw two movies over the weekend, and I need to write about them now before I see two more tomorrow and the ones from the weekend become impossibly remote in my mind.
Saturday night: "The Blue Dahlia". As a Raymond Chandler fan, I've been meaning to see this for years. It's his only original screenplay from his Hollywood years (though he also adapted Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers On A Train" [seen it, it's excellent] and James M. Cain's "Double Indemnity" [haven't seen it, hear it's excellent] for the screen. Oh, and IMDB wishes me to know that he also adapted Rachel Field's "And Now Tomorrow" for the screen--never heard of it--and that he wrote an episode of "77 Sunset Strip", of all things. Anyway), so since I've read all of his books, it was the last bit of his writing that I had never encountered. When I discoverd that it was coming on TCM over the weekend, I DVRed it with alacrity. I was not disappointed, either. It had that "I'm making this up as I go along" quality that marks all classic Chandler work, with random characters appearing and making connections to other characters and, in so doing, weaving a thick and tangled web of extraneous plot threads that spend most of the movie seeming to have nothing to do with each other. With about half an hour left in the film, I found myself thinking "I can't wait until this starts making sense to me." I've read a few Chandler stories that never did start making sense, and I was afraid that this one would turn out that way, but fortunately, it didn't. Instead, an event that occurred 15 minutes before the end of the movie brought the entire plot into sharp focus, then threw multiple false murder suspects at you before finally revealing a solution that made perfect sense but that I'd never have suspected. I'd say that "The Blue Dahlia" is one of Chandler's best plotting efforts, in fact. I'd rate it equal to his best novels, by which I mean "The Long Goodbye" and "The Big Sleep". "The Blue Dahlia" doesn't have the noirish feel that I'd have expected of a Chandler writing, which might have to do with the direction by George Marshall (whom I've otherwise never heard of... should I have? Chris? Hannah?), but that fact really had no impact on how good it was. I really dug it.
And by the way, no, you get no plot description beyond the super-vague stuff I already put in. It's almost impossible to talk about this movie's plot without spoiling significant portions of it. You should just go into it blind if you want the maximum effect.
Sunday night: "Waitress". I heard a whole bunch about this movie right when it came out, I suppose partly because writer/director/co-star Adrienne Shelly was murdered right after finishing it. Which is definitely a sad thing, especially considering how much I liked her movie. From what I can tell, it's the only major movie she ever made, too, which makes it even more depressing. I tried not to think about that whole thing while watching the movie, and I ended up having no trouble losing myself in it and enjoying it, but it's still a really sad thing that I'm probably never going to be able to separate from my impressions of "Waitress" as a movie.
That said, it's a really good movie. It revolves around a cafe in a small southern town, where Jenna (Keri Russell), Becky (Cheryl Hines), and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) work. This cafe bases the food it serves almost entirely around pies, and Jenna has a huge talent for coming up with original and interesting new pies. In fact, at a bunch of more introsepctive moments in the movie, she starts thinking up pies based on what's happening in her life and how she feels about it. I liked this technique a lot--thought it was a really nice way of depicting the character's inner thought processes without being too blatant about it. Anyway, the movie is about how Jenna hates her husband, the truly onerous Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and plans to save up a bunch of money, win a pie-baking contest happening a few counties over, and leave Earl to finally live the life she wants. Throwing a monkeywrench into this entire plan is the fact that she's inadvertently gotten pregnant. Meanwhile, Dawn goes out on a bad date with a guy named Ogie, who starts showing up at the cafe to pester her into going on further dates with him, while Becky starts having an affair with Cal, the kitchen manager. Joe, the cafe's owner (Andy Griffith, who is fucking awesome, if you can believe that), comes in every day to eat pie and harass Jenna about her life choices, though deep down you can tell he actually likes her. So, it seems, does her obstetrician, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).
This could have been a convoluted-plot movie, and I realize now upon reflection that there is a lot going on in it, plotwise, but because of the way Adrienne Shelly constructs the whole thing, it comes out more of a slow, sweet, character-driven movie, one that allows the viewer to understand the feelings and motivations of everyone involved. Even characters like Earl, Jenna's awful husband, don't always come off completely badly (though Earl comes off pretty horrible at least 90% of the time). One very subtle theme of the film, which I would imagine could be missed completely by some viewers, is the lack of choice in the lives of the working poor, especially when they're women. Jenna's attempts to put up with Earl long enough to scrape up enough money to leave him for good are heartbreaking to watch. I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll just say that there is some sort of resolution coming for all of the characters eventually, but a lot of the greatness of this movie is not in watching a plot come to resolution but just watching the day to day interactions of these people, and getting to know them as characters. I like it when movies are more about people than plots, and I liked this movie quite a bit. It's just sad to think that there won't be any more from Adrienne Shelly. Would that that wasn't the case.
"Gran Torino" is excellent. It continues in the sort of dark realist vein that has been his style for a long time, and tells the story of an old man who still lives in a Detroit neighborhood that all the other white people left a long time ago. His wife has just died, his kids are wondering if they'll need to put him in an assisted-living facility, and he sees both his kids and their children, his grandchildren, as spoiled brats he can't relate to. Despite the fact that his neighborhood has become a ghetto, he refuses to leave. He hates the Hmong (ethnicity native to the mountains of Southeast Asia) family who lives next door to him, calling them "gooks", "zipperheads" and other racial slurs throughout. After intervening in a dispute between one of the family's sons and a local Hmong gang headed by one of their cousins--which he does for his own selfish reasons--he becomes an unwilling hero to the families in the neighborhood. Throughout, he remains typical Clint--hardass bad motherfucker who carries a gun--only older, and um, more racist. Which makes it hard to feel sympathy with him at first, though I started to later on. I don't really want to say what happens after that, though I'm sure that any of you who have seen previews know that it involves intensifying tension between Clint and the Hmong gang. It didn't go in the direction I expected, which was nice, to see that the movie wasn't as predictable as I'd expected. Clint Eastwood manages to simultaneously play the sort of character he's famous for and subvert the standard elements of that sort of character. At first he does it by being openly racist and making it harder to root for him, but later on he does so in other ways that are equally unexpected--especially the way he handles the ending. Again, not getting into specifics, but you may be surprised. I was, and pleasantly so. This isn't the best movie Clint's ever acted in, nor the best movie he's ever directed. But it's up there. Not as good as "Unforgiven", but on a level with "Mystic River". And Clint's not the only awesome actor/character in the film--the teenage kids who live next door to him are pretty great in their own right. This movie is well worth seeing.
Right after I saw "Gran Torino", I saw "The Wrestler". God bless torrented screener copies, all saving me $20 and stuff. I personally thought "The Wrestler" was just as good as "Gran Torino", that Mickey Rourke was stellar in it, and that Darren Aronofsky easily surpassed the, um, kinda overrated "Requiem For A Dream" with this movie. I confess that, as someone who grew up loving wrestling and who has, in recent years, followed it pretty closely, especially on the more underground levels, I had some personal reasons for loving this film that other people may not relate to. First of all, I've got friends who are small-time wrestlers, so I've seen some of what the less lucrative regional wrestling circuit is like, and I really appreciated how true to life the film's depiction of it was. I also appreciated the fact that real wrestlers and real regional feds were used in the movie; the hardcore match in the movie, with all the barbed wire and stapleguns and stuff, featured Rourke wrestling real-life hardcore wrestler the Necro Butcher at a CZW event, Combat Zone Wrestling being the Philadelphia-based real-life heirs to the original ECW's hardcore stylings. I was particularly impressed with the way Aronofsky directed the wrestling scenes. I've seen plenty of footage of hardcore matches over the years, some of which were a bit much for me (the ECW barbed-wire match between Sabu and Terry Funk comes immediately to mind), but none of them ever grossed me out the way some of the scenes of Rourke's match with Necro Butcher did. The way Aronofsky gets up close and captures the details of the carnage outstrips anything I've ever seen on a DVD released by ECW or whoever, and the aftermath in the locker room, watching trainers remove staples and chunks of barbed wire from Mickey Rourke's back, was intense. It didn't so much make me want to barf, though, as it did bring home the kind of punishment these guys go through, often for very little compensation, just because they love it. That's why Mickey Rourke's character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is still in the wrestling business despite the fact that he's getting older, can barely make ends meet, and is starting to suffer the physical consequences of the strain he's put on his body for all these years. What this movie really manages to bring home to the viewer, in a way that hopefully transcends wrestling fandom and can reach anyone, is what it is that keeps a guy like Randy the Ram going year after year, despite the steady decline of his career. It's obvious that this is the only thing in his life that really makes him feel worthwhile, like he's doing something that matters. The problem that is the true focus of this movie is just how empty the rest of his life is. When he uses a tiny chunk of razorblade to surreptitiously cut himself during a match at the beginning of the movie (a common practice referred to as blading), the only person in his life that expresses any concern at the sight of the cut on his face is the stripper he regularly gets lapdances from (Marisa Tomei, who, like Rourke, shows acting chops beyond anything you'd expect of her). His attempts to convince the stripper, Cassidy (not her real name), to engage in a real relationship with him outside her stripper job are awkward, as are his attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood, who is awesome as always). I think Aronofsky, Rourke, and co. did the right thing by avoiding easy resolutions to the various depressing elements of Randy the Ram's life. This is not a story that deserves a sacrifice of bleak realism for an implausible happy ending. Also, the wrestling stuff I mentioned, use of real-life Jersey-area regional wrestling promotions (in addition to CZW, the excellent Ring Of Honor federation has a prominent role), might be cool to a nerd like me, but it's really just background. If I were describing this movie to a wrestling nerd, I'd probably tell them that it's a fictional counterpart to the documentary "Behind The Mat", but I think this movie has a broader appeal than "Behind The Mat" did. This isn't so much the story of a wrestler as it's the story of a man who is getting older without really ever achieving his original goals. That kind of thing happens to a lot of people, and I think, I hope, plenty of people will be able to understand and relate to it. I sure did, perhaps to an uncomfortable extent.
Oh, here's one interesting detail--I kept thinking that the guitar riffs that made up the film's score were snatches of Godspeed You Black Emperor songs. At the end of the movie, I discovered that the score was composed and performed by Slash. Who knew?
Last night, I watched "End Of The Century", that documentary about The Ramones. It was well put together and an entertaining story. Of course, there aren't as many interview clips with Joey as with Dee Dee and Johnny, since Joey had died by the time they started making the movie, but they do a good job of presenting all sides of the story, from the points of view of all of the members (even Richie and C.J.) as well as interviewing plenty of other people who were involved in the story. Legs McNeil, Joey's brother Mickey Leigh, Joe Strummer, and a whole bunch of others all provided some pretty good insight. I don't know how appealing it would be to someone who doesn't find the Ramones interesting and enjoyable, but it's definitely not something I would describe as "for fans only", as the story of their formation and existence as a band is pretty interesting even when considered independently of their music. At least, I found it to be. That said, I think the Ramones are pretty good, so I'm not sure how good a judge I am of such things. But yeah, I liked it, and would recommend it to others.
The night before last I saw Eddie Murphy's second concert movie, "Raw". My friend Brandon and I have discussed this movie a bunch of times in the recent past, and he told me it wasn't as good as "Delirious", specifically because it has a huge stretch of rampant misogyny in the middle that he swore took up about half of the movie. I last saw it in 1994 or so, so I didn't remember that, but when I saw it was on Comedy Central the other night, I figured I'd watch it and see what I thought. Well, Brandon was right--the first 10 minutes were funny, and then the entire rest of the first hour was just Eddie Murphy ranting about how women only wanted money, and about how all men cheat and get away with it, and a few other relationship-related things, all of which were just, um, not funny. Seriously, I didn't laugh for like 45 minutes. What a bummer. Thankfully, he took an abrupt left turn about an hour into the movie and started talking about his mom making homemade hamburgers, which has always been one of my favorite Eddie Murphy bits of all time, so suddenly I was laughing my ass off the way I want to when I put on an Eddie Murphy concert movie. The rest of it was really good too, including the standard Eddie Murphy standup bit in which he imitates his drunk father (the bit in "Delirious" with his father drunk at the cookout is another of my favorites of all time), but Brandon's right--the lengthy overtly-misogynist stretch towards the beginning of the movie drags it down. Overall, it's really not that good.
Oh, and let me post something else, which I almost forgot about. Apparently TCM shows silent movies on Sunday nights as a regular thing. I happened upon this knowledge by accident but will be keeping an eye out for the fare they have on offer in future. Anyway, I caught an 11-minute short film from 1920 called "Manhatta" on there the other night. It was pretty awesome: shot in the late teens in Manhattan by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, two noteworthy still photographers of the time, it's just a lot of footage of various areas of Manhattan. A lot of it is shot from high places, some of which made me think "How the hell did they get that high?" It doesn't seem to be aerial footage, especially considering my knowledge of the state of aeronautics in 1920 or thereabouts, so I gotta figure they were up in some of the first skyscrapers, hanging out on the roof of the Empire State Building and stuff. Anyway, the really neat thing for me was just looking at what Manhattan looked like 90 (!) years ago, watching people walk around amongst trolley cars, early automobiles, and even horse-drawn carriages. Watching trains on elevated lines running through the Lower East Side or wherever. It was awesome. I'd love to see someone go back to the same places now and do a shot-for-shot remake, just to see how different it would all look. I'm not sure such a thing would even be possible, though. Anyway, for those of you who live in NYC or just like cities, it's worth tracking down just to get a look at some history, moving picture style.
Last night I watched "The Savages", a movie in which Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play two fortyish siblings whose father has to be placed into a nursing home. It's the kind of movie that is way more about the characters than any sort of ongoing plot, a real slice-of-life sort of thing that takes place over a long period of time. Linney and Hoffman are both awesome actors, so no surprise, their performances are top-shelf. The movie is the sort that some people would find pointlessly depressing, and I recognize that. I wouldn't recommend this one to everyone. However, for those of you who find the idea of dark character studies with occasional black humor entertaining, as I do, you really should check this one out. It's good stuff. It was written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, whom I'd never heard of before but who apparently also wrote and directed "The Slums Of Beverly Hills", another movie I really liked. Oh, and Chris from the Wire was in it too, and he had an African accent. So yeah, good stuff.
I watched Ray Dennis Steckler's first movie, "Wild Guitar", from 1962, this morning. It was posted on WFMU's Beware Of The Blog not too long ago, and I actually watched the Google video during downtime at work. It was pretty crappy on the whole, a dumb B-movie with ludicrous overacting and a hackneyed, facile plot, but it was entertaining for three reasons: 1) Arch Hall Jr. wasn't actually too bad at playing bluesy rockabilly (which is not to say that his songs in the movie were awesome, just decent), 2) Ray Dennis Steckler, acting under the name Cash Flagg, was actually really good in his role as the thug henchman, Steak, and 3) there were some sincerely weird directorial choices made, and it was worth waiting around for these moments to show up. Of course, it wasn't as weird as his later stuff obviously is (based on what I've read about it), and for the most part there was no room for any directorial fuckery, just straight-ahead stupid B-movie boilerplate, but when those moments happened, they were pretty entertaining. I guess I'm glad I watched it for no other reason than that I can say I've seen a Ray Dennis Steckler movie. That said, I don't feel like I'll really get the full Steckler experience until I see "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies".
I saw "No Country For Old Men" last night. Thought it was awesome. Like a crime novel happening in the middle of a western. Better yet, the plot was completely unpredictable. I did not foresee the fate of our hero, for one thing. Also, I gotta say, I think the conservatives who pick up on Tommy Lee Jones's speech about how the whole world's going to hell in a handbasket miss the point of the movie. When Sheriff Bell goes to visit his, uh, uncle? at the end of the movie, and his uncle says something like "The problem you've got ain't new. This country is hard on people." THAT's the point. If anything is.
Oh, and Javier Bardem as Chigurh was everything I expected and more. That dude is incredible.
I saw "Shadow Of The Vampire" last night. For those who don't know, this is a movie about F.W. Murnau making the film "Nosferatu", but "Shadow of the Vampire" posits that Max Schreck, who played the vampire, was a real vampire. It's a pretty neat concept, and with John Malkovich playing driven, brilliant, but extremely difficult Murnau to the hilt while Willem Dafoe exudes creepy menace at all times as Schreck, there's some good scenery-chewing acting going on too. The movie is really big on atmosphere, and has some great Wiemar-Germany decadence at the beginning, as well as some interesting, sometimes hallucinatory, atmosphere later on, once the cast and crew have arrived in rural Slovakia, where the majority of the film is being shot. I felt like the movie kind of fell apart at the end; in its effort to create a dramatic climax, it overplayed its hand and got a bit silly. But that didn't take away from the enjoyment I got out of the first hour and 15 minutes or so. Really, this movie is about atmosphere above all, and it has that in spades. Not for everyone, but if you think you'd find this sort of thing appealing, it's definitely worth a look.
Let me talk about "Wattstax" first, then.
I saw it in three sittings, the first half late Thursday night, then another half hour or so Friday afternoon right before work, finally finishing it on Friday night. I was expecting it to be a pretty kickass concert film, but it wasn't what I expected, and I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. First of all, about 2/3 of the movie is just random interviews, mostly with people who were living in Watts at the time the movie was filmed (1973). There was some slight mention of the Watts riots of 1965, but mostly the interviews were loosely themed discussions of random social issues. And uh, I wasn't too into most of them. Some highlights were provided in the form of occasional minute-long monologues by Richard Pryor, who didn't really focus on any particular issue and typically just ranted and told jokes. I also liked Jesse Jackson's big "I Am Somebody" crowd-participation bit at the beginning of the movie. But a lot of the interviews with non-famous people showcased viewpoints that I found kind of backwards. Especially bad was any discussion of sexual relations. I know feminism was starting to take off at this point in the social history of the United States, but you couldn't prove it by "Wattstax." For one thing, a lot of the men had some pretty intensely chauvinist things to say. More disappointingly, some of the women seemed pretty actively complicit in the chauvinist attitudes presented by the men. Everyone seemed to take it for granted that men cheated and couldn't be stopped from doing so, the discussion of which was juxtaposed with a performance of "If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right," by Luther Ingram, a song from the point of view of a married man with children who is in love with someone that's not his wife. That sorta weirded me out. So did some of the directorial choices, by which I mean that I haven't seen this many lingering shots of women's asses since watching Michael Bay's "Bad Boys II" last year.
Now, having said all of this, I did enjoy many of the musical performances, particularly those of The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes. One thing that was weird for me, though, was how halfhearted the film was about identifying performers. A lot of times I had to guess at who I was seeing play, because there was nothing in the movie that told me. No spoken intros, no title cards, nothing. Later on in the movie, when the bigger names came out, they were more clearly identified, but this was kind of ironic since it's not like I need a title card to tell me who Isaac Hayes is. It was the performers I was least likely to recognize who were least likely to be identified. But then again, considering how little of the film was actually focused on the musical performances, I suppose I wasn't intended by the filmmakers to even be concerned most of the time with who was playing. This might also be why many of the performances only featured pieces of songs.
One other thing that was weird for me about this movie was that there seemed to be a real separatist attitude inherent in all aspects, from the attitudes of the people on the street being interviewed to the overwhelmingly black attendance of the festival to the de-emphasis by the film crew of the white members of the musical acts and the crew who put on the show. If you paid close attention, you could tell that there were white people there, but the film went out of its way never to focus on any of them. I think I saw one shot that included a white person who wasn't nearly hidden in the background, and it was about three seconds long and probably only occurred because it was of several white people who were, at the moment they were shown, taking a lead role in the musical performance being filmed. I'm sure there are some people out there who'd have a problem with me, a white person, being bothered by a movie filmed about a music festival in a black community de-emphasizing the role and presence of any white people in the production, and I guess that's as may be. But I was reminded of a comment made in a documentary I saw recently about the history of Stax Records. I don't remember who said it, but one of the musicians who had a big role in the early years of the label talked about how, in the early years, the label had been focused on bringing people of different races together, assuming that everyone had something to contribute, which had been symbolized by the mixed-race lineup of Booker T. and the MGs. Later on, the person said, the focus went away from diversity in racial makeup to an all-black experience that was more typified by the label's makeup during the Isaac Hayes years. I could really see that in "Wattstax," and honestly, it kinda weirded me out.
I guess it's a decent film from the purely documentary perspective, as it did a good job of capturing both Watts and Stax Records as they existed at the time. But I can't say that I was all that stoked to see the state of both Watts and Stax Records in 1973. Maybe that's fucked up, but it's how I felt.
"The Bridge"--this is a documentary about the Golden Gate Bridge and the people who commit suicide by jumping off of it. In 2004, the filmmakers set up multiple cameras focused on the bridge and by doing so, captured on film 24 different suicides and a whole bunch of other attempts. The movie consists of interviews with various people who were close to the people who committed suicide, mixed with actual footage of the suicides. I definitely had some thoughts while watching the film about the ethics of filming someone committing suicide without doing anything to try and stop them, and I also found myself thinking about how weird and upsetting it was that a lot of people seemed to walk right past these people committing suicide and didn't even notice, let alone do anything about it. But, of course, that's not entirely true. There was one point in the movie where they interviewed a guy from Pittsburgh who had been visiting the bridge and was walking along it taking pictures when a girl standing near him climbed the rail and started walking along the outer ledge to jump. The guy reached over the rail, grabbed her by the collar of her jacket, and pulled her back over the rail and onto the bridge. It made me feel a little bit better to see that part of the movie. Another really interesting part was an interview with a guy who had jumped off the bridge in 2004 and survived. He explained how he'd realized as soon as he'd done it that he didn't really want to die, and what he did in order to keep himself alive. It turned out that, among other things, what had saved him was a seal that saw him floating in the water and swam around him in such a way as to keep him afloat until the Coast Guard boats got there. This kind of blew my mind, because even though the guy was convinced that this was divine intervention, I'm not someone who looks at the world that way, and my thought was, "What led a seal to see this guy in obvious trouble and do what it could to help him?" It's not something I'd expect from an animal, necessarily.
There were a lot of interesting details in this movie, actually, but the main focus of it was on friends of the people who'd committed suicide, giving us an impression of what those people had been like when they were alive, and what had driven them to that act. It was interesting and informative but also, at least for me, pretty hard to watch. As someone who spends about 10% of my life feeling suicidal, I could relate to the experiences of a lot of these people, but in watching their friends and loved ones talk about them, it seemed really clear to me that they'd been appreciated, and that other people had really wanted to help them if they could. I could see the kinds of things in those people's lives that I myself am never able to see when I'm feeling at my lowest. It really brought home to me an idea that I often ignore or dispute in my mind--that there are a lot of people in my life who'd be devastated if I committed suicide. At the same time that this movie was incredibly affecting for me, and brought me to tears at multiple points, it was also kind of life-affirming, because it reminded me that there are always reasons to stay alive, even when you feel at your worst.
"Brazil"--saw this with Eric and Jojo, neither of whom had seen it before. I had been pretty underwhelmed by it in my initial viewing, but ended up enjoying it a bit more on the second time through, just because I was prepared for it to be as absurd as it was, and didn't go into it, as I originally had, expecting serious social commentary. Sure, there is some social commentary in the movie, no doubt, but it's easier to appreciate when you accept the movie on its own ridiculous terms and just settle in for a film that's mostly absurd. That being said, I ended up falling asleep for about 20 minutes towards the end of the movie. I'm as much for free and unfettered expression as anyone, and I'm glad Terry Gilliam got to make the lengthy version of this film that was true to his vision. But good grief, it is too long. And ultimately, no matter how silly it is at many points, it's really depressing. Even upon second viewing, this is still a film that I respect a great deal more than I enjoy.
"Super High Me"--This movie was made by comedian Doug Benson and some people who know him. It presents itself as a marijuana version of "Super Size Me", with Benson spending a month getting high constantly and using this narrative as a way to talk about the effects of marijuana and its current legal status in the US as well as a few other legitimate marijuana related socio-political issues. And to be fair, that's sorta kinda what it does. But mostly, this is a movie in which people, mostly Doug Benson, make assloads of jokes, mostly about marijuana. Doug actually spends a month before the month in which he gets high all the time not getting high at all, in order to provide a constrast to his month of constant stonedness, and that part of the movie is pretty funny, for sure. But once he starts smoking weed constantly, the movie gets fucking hilarious. I will admit that it's possible that I only enjoyed this movie so much because I hang out with stoners almost exclusively, and therefore am pretty attuned to the stoner viewpoint on life, but at least to me it seemed like a hilarious movie. I sure wouldn't expect it to make any grandiose political statements, although, to be fair, the parts of the movie that are about the struggles of medical marijuana shops in California to operate despite interference from the federal government were at least somewhat politically-oriented. Mostly, though, it's a silly movie full of pot jokes. And as a silly movie full of pot jokes, I rate it a success. Watch this if you want to laugh at a bunch of stoner hijinx, not if you're looking for a serious documentary about marijuana.
"Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade"--This was another documentary that covered similar territory to that of "The King Of Kong." It tracked down a lot of the people who were involved in the Life magazine photoshoot at Twin Galaxies arcade in 1982, the original crew of video gamers who had the highest scores back then. Steve Wiebe, "King Of Kong"'s hero, is not in this film for the reason that he wasn't involved in gaming back in the early 80s, but his antagonist, Billy Mitchell, is here. Despite being focused on far less than he was in "King Of Kong," Mitchell still manages to come off like a jerk, which I'm even more strongly convinced now that he is. Other characters from "King Of Kong," such as Walter Day, Steve Sanders, and "Mr. Awesome" Roy Shildt, also show up in "Chasing Ghosts," and some of them are given a good bit more screen time than they were in "King Of Kong." Rather than having a dramatic narrative the way that film did, "Chasing Ghosts" is just a documentation of the lives of a lot of those original video gamers as they are now. It takes an objective tone as a movie, but I couldn't help but be reminded of "Trekkies," another movie that takes an objective tone towards its subjects but still manages to highlight a lot of more laughable aspects of the people its documenting. Of course, there were also some sad elements of the movie. Seeing where Todd Rogers is these days, and hearing what's been happening to him in the intervening 25 years since the Twin Galaxies photoshoot was really quite depressing. And then there are other guys in the movie who seem to be doing great, like Leo Daniels, who is, to all appearances, some kind of gambler pimp with a fully functioning casino in his apartment. And then there's Roy Shildt, aka "Mr. Awesome," Who comes off like a total nutcase but is at least sincere and enjoyable to watch. On the whole, this was a fun movie to see, and while some of that is at the expense of those being documented in it, it's also hard not to like a lot of them. Except for Billy Mitchell, that is. What a douche.
"Sand And Sorrow"--this is a heartwrenching documentary about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. As someone who has heard the name thrown around a lot over the past several years, I learned from this movie that I was actually quite ignorant to the situation in Darfur. It gave me a good education about the history of the conflict and the severity of the problem in that area now. One thing that was interesting about the film was that Barack Obama appeared in it, back when he was still a senator and not running for president yet, and he was working to make the United States response to Darfur a more active and positive one than had come from the Bush administration. I'm not really sure how that's going to change now that he's president, but it gives me hope. In fact, I sent an email through the Whitehouse.gov contact form about the subject after watching the movie, but I haven't gotten a response back yet. I guess we'll see what they have to say.