Virtual Bourgeois

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Archive for July, 2013

Summer Movies 2013 Pt. VII

Posted by Gerald on July 26, 2013

Summer Movie #62 – Dark Passage (Delmer Davies, 1947): This is the third of the films starring one of the great Hollywood on- and off-screen couples, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  It is directed by one of the all-time great writer-directors in Davies.  It also features a really interesting idea in that the first third of the film is all shot POV from Bogart’s character’s perspective.  It features good performances overall and effectively uses San Francisco as almost another character in the film.  All of that said, I can’t say the story seems very impressive to me.  The characters frequently seem to have weak or muddled motivations – and not in a realistic way reflecting human confusion.  Several people assist Bogart’s escaped convict, at considerable risk to themselves, for no better reason than he just seems like he’s a nice guy.  The actual murderer, played by Agnes Moorehead, seems to have committed two carefully planned murders for no other reason than being really vindictive.  None of this is impossible, but it just didn’t ring true for me.  The ending also rang false – he just escapes and then they meet in Peru and dance.  Roll credits.  I know quite well that this is a typical Hollywood ending, but it just SUCH a typical Hollywood ending.  Maybe I’ve just watched too many heavy films recently.  This is definitely worth seeing, but I can’t say I’m carrying much away from this one.

Summer Movie #63 – The Expendables 2 (Simon West, 2012):  It’s better than the first movie, which isn’t saying all that much.  At least it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously.  If you go in realizing that this is an exercise in creating big action sequences studded with self-referential one-liners and interspersed with moments of pure movie cliché, it can be fun.  Whedonverse connection: Charisma Carpenter is back in this one, and is completely wasted here.  Sylvester Stallone’s performance makes you realize the quality of Bruce Willis’s; while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s does the same for Stallone’s; Jean-Claude Van Damme’s does the same for Schwarzenegger’s; and Chuck Norris’s makes one appreciate every other actor in the film, including the extras.  In a movie where you really have to turn your brain off within the first ten minutes, or just stop watching it, Norris’s appearance strains credibility.  He shows up for no reason at all, except to provide a thin justification for an escape by our heroes and an opportunity for some “Lone Wolf” lines.  Still, if the idea of an entire movie whose sole purpose is to put Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Norris on-screen for a big gun-fight is appealing to you (it certainly was to me), this movie is going to be fun.  I’m glad I saw it… on Netflix.

Summer Theater Movie #9 – Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012): Wow.  In this documentary Polley uses the story of discovering her biological father and the wider tale of her parent’s marriage, her mother’s affair(s), and everything connected to that as just a launching point for talking about family and the constructed narratives of our lives.  It is brilliant.  She combines interview, narration, and constructed “home movies” to blur the lines of truth and memory – and thus show there really are no lines.  It is painful, funny, emotional, but not falsely sentimental.  It is supremely human.  I think I’ve got a lot more to say about this, but I’m going to need to think about it a bit, first.  Go see this movie as soon as you can.

Summer Movie #64 – The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012): The July of Whedon continues (I’ll now need to re-watch “Serenity” – darn).  I liked this even more the second time – which I can’t say has been true of any of the other superhero movies, although I’ve liked most of them.  Whedon has a gift for telling stories about heroes in a way that strongly speaks to me.  It is the theme that runs through “Buffy”, “Angel”, and “Firefly.”  I think “Dollhouse” was getting there, but not quite.  I actually think the best hero role in that series was Felicia Day’s character in “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two” – but I digress.  Here are a few random observations from this viewing of the movie:

I think that this attempt to tell a Hulk story worked better than either the 2003 Ang Lee movie or the 2008 Louis Leterrier movie is that it concentrated on the idea the Banner needed to accept that part of himself rather than overcome it.  He can’t tame the beast because the beast is him.  It also addressed the idea that the same rage and power he fears is what makes him able to do things other can’t – it makes him a hero.

I heard more of the jokes this time than last.

I agree with my good friend Steve that the extended shot during the fight in Manhattan was exceptional.  It was great in that it looked fantastic, gave you a real sense of the fight, and still told a character story.  Each of the heroes has his or her actions multiplied by cooperation with another – it visually tells the story of them becoming one team in a way no amount of dialogue ever could.  Also, it ends with Hulk punching Thor in what might be the best visual joke in a film full of good ones.

Damn, I love this movie!

Summer Movie Update – Marvel Double Feature of Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011) & Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston, 2011): I’ve reviewed these before, so I’m not including them in the count for the summer movies.  I was inspired to watch them by my viewing of “The Avengers” last night.  When I first heard about both of these movies, I had severe doubts.  In both cases, I was completely wrong.  Branagh pulls off an effective epic and I think the costumes even work – at least for the stuff on Asgard where everyone is dressed like that.  Johnston tells a great adventure story and doesn’t get lost in the action.  He also sticks a very serious ending.  What struck me watching them back to back is how each is about the main character finding what is heroic in himself, but in completely opposite ways.  Thor is stripped of his power, and thus learns humility and self-sacrifice.  He begins as an obvious hero, but has to learn how to take the true journey by setting others first.  Steve Rogers begins with no power, has it handed to him, and then has to learn both its potential and its limitations.  Much like Peter Parker in the Spiderman movies, he isn’t an obvious hero but has one inside him.  These movies are fun and uplifting.  “Captain America” also manages to be patriotic without being jingoistic – which is no mean feat.  I’ve now watched both of these a couple of times through, and I still enjoy them (as I did re-watching “The Avengers”).  I’ve never gotten much out of repeat viewings of and of the, much more successful, Spiderman or Iron Man movies (full disclosure, I haven’t re-watched either “The Amazing Spiderman” or “Iron Man 3” – so those could be different).  These three movies just make me feel better after watching them.

Summer Movie #65 – Triad Election [also Election 2] (Johnnie To, 2006): This film is a “sequel” to To’s 2005 film “Election” which I watched earlier this summer (Summer Movie #12).  Like that film, this is a stylish gangster drama centering on the election of the chairman of one of the triads.  It follows the (surviving) characters from the first film.  The man who won that election (Lam Lok, played by Simon Yam) is refusing to step down.  His main rival and eventual ally, in that film (Jimmy Lee, played by Louis Koos) is again running for the office.  Wackiness ensues.  It is quite powerful and actually made me think of “The Godfather” several times.  The film also features one of the most brutal on-screen killings I’ve ever seen – one as gruesome as the famous chainsaw scene in DePalma’s “Scarface” but more effecting because it is not played over-the-top and the man doing it is more like Michael Corleone and less like Tony Montana.  Louis Koos also plays the scene with the restrained emotion of Al Pacino in “The Godfather” and not with the scenery-chewing buffoonery of Al Pacino in “Scarface”.  But I digress.  This is an excellent movie and has gone further to solidify my admiration for Johnnie To.  He is not as well known here as John Woo, but he should be.

Summer Movie #66 – Z (Costa-Gravas, 1969): This film (which is in French) is a fictionalized account of the assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis, a center-left Greek politician.  This assassination set in motion a series of events which culminated in the military coup in Greece in 1967.  Costa-Gravas tells this story in two parts – the assassination itself and then an investigation by a magistrate who uncovers the plot behind it.  The film is tense and engaging, but also filled with moments of dark humor (not many films feature jokes about the Dreyfus Affair).  One interesting thing he does is to insert moments of memories into scenes, but without any of the standard visual cues (slow dissolves, soft-lenses, changes in lighting, etc…) that usually mark them.  Instead they are cut right into the scene, which gives them a powerful sense of immediacy.  The film ends on a realistically dark note as we see that while the magistrate uncovered the plot and indicted those involved – leading to political resignations and a shift in elections.  Political violence undoes all of it, culminating in a coup that leads to the arrests, and sometimes deaths, of the film’s protagonists.  This was just excellent and it is one of the few films to be nominated for Oscars both for Best Foreign Film and Best Picture.  I think I’m going to revisit another of Costa-Gravas’s films, “Missing” which I saw many years ago but not since.

Summer Movie #67 – A Technicolor Dream (Stephen Gammond, 2008): This is a documentary about the London Underground scene and centers on Pink Floyd.  The subject is more interesting than the documentary, which is mostly conventional interviews (of varying quality) and contemporary footage.  If you find it difficult to take 60s psychedelic culture seriously, this will not change your mind.  If you are interested in it, there is something to get from this.  Probably the biggest thing one carries away from this film is the not very original insight that Syd Barrett was everything for Pink Floyd in this period and that the other members were quite uninterested in the politics and culture of the underground movement.  This was not bad, but not great either.

Summer Movie Update – The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987): My friend Richard Edwards likes to say of Brian Keith’s performance as Teddy Roosevelt in “The Wind and the Lion” that if that character isn’t what Roosevelt was really like, it should be.  That is how I feel about Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in this movie.  I’ve seen it too many times to add it to the summer movie count, but I do love it.  Sean Connery’s Oscar-winning performance, the beautiful cinematography, the Armani suits, De Palma’s version of the Odessa Steps Sequence – I just love it every time.  I’ve been playing a game called “Omerta: City of Gangsters” where you take on the role of a mobster trying to get control of Prohibition-era Atlantic City (no “Nucky” Thompson, though) and it put me in the mood for a gangster flick.  This was it.

Summer Movie #68 – Plunkett and Macleane (Jake Scott, 1999): The director of this movie is the son of Ridley Scott and this, his first film, is solid evidence that directing skill is not inherited.  I like movies about 18th century highwaymen, the brutality of the British class system, all that stuff – not this one, though.  It isn’t so much bad as unfocused and dull.  This film wastes decent performances by some good actors (Robert Carlyle, Albert Finney, Liv Tyler, and more) on walking stereotypes (The Working Man Forced Into A Life Of Crime, The Corrupt Nobleman, The Fiery Noblewoman Who Could Not Be Tamed, etc…) and a predictable script.  If you would like to see a swashbuckler with the experienced guy, the young guy, and the spirited woman who all go have adventures together, check out “Nate and Hayes” (Ferdinand Fairfax, 1983) – which is fun.  If you want a nice mix of adventure and the whole commentary on the brutalities of 18th century England thing, see “Rob Roy” (Michael Caton-Jones, 1995) – which is good (but fairly inaccurate).  If you want to see a period piece about rogues and the social system of 18th century England, see Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” (1975) – which is awesome.  Oh, and if you would like to see someone direct a well-shot period piece for their first feature film – see Ridley Scott’s “The Duelists” which won him a Best Debut award at Cannes in 1977 and is similarly awesome.  Skip this movie.

Summer Movie #69 – Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937): Yet another classic that I’m just now getting around to watching.  This film is brilliant.  Renoir lays the foundation for almost every “POW escape” film that would be made for the rest of the 20th century.  Not content with this he uses a lens of humanism to examine the end of the old class system in Europe, anti-Semitism, and to critique the rising nationalism and fascism of his day.  He manages to do all of this while telling an entertaining story and avoiding any overt “preaching”.  I had the same reaction seeing this that I did with “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” – this movie really is every bit as good as I was told it would be.

Summer Movie #70 – The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003): This is an academy award winning documentary about Robert S. McNamara.  It is visually interesting and the subject is fascinating.  Morris manages to show parts of McNamara that explain a lot about his time in Washington.  Interviews with McNamara himself provide much of the film and he comes across as a brilliant enigma – by turns insightful but oblivious; open but defensive; open to his errors but unwilling to fully accept responsibility for them.  You also see quite clearly a man who thinks a lot about presentation; of himself and of the truth.  You see footage and hear tapes where he is divorcing the reality of the war from its presentation to the American people.  I don’t think this film either absolves or indicts McNamara, and that is its strength.

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Summer Movies 2013 Pt. VI

Posted by Gerald on July 12, 2013

Summer Movie #51 – Behind the Rainbow (Jihan El-Tahri, 2008): This excellent documentary deals with the political rivalry between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma for control of the ANC in South Africa.  The film uses this rivalry to give an interesting account of the transition of the ANC from an anti-apartheid liberation movement to a ruling political party and the compromises and problems that transition entailed.  The most interesting segment for me was the discussion of the corruption probes that eventually came to involve Zuma directly.  The interviews show the thin line that exists between “networking” and corruption and the way that people can dismiss illegalities because they see their actions as morally justified.  If you have ever been interested in the story of South Africa after apartheid, this is well worth watching.

Summer Live Movie #8 – Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon, 2012): Loads of fun, mostly due to some great acting moments.  There were lots of familiar faces from the Whedonverse – so I spent most of the movie going “Buffy…Angel…Firefly…Buffy & Angel…Avengers…oh, Dollhouse!”  It was interesting to see Clark Gregg as someone other than Agent Coulson.  Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the Captain of the Watch, was funny as always.  I’m always impressed by Alexis Denisof’s (as Benedick) willingness to embrace playing a fool, but then give him a serious core (as he did so well with Wesley on both Buffy and Angel).  Reed Diamond was great as Don Pedro – being dignified and mischievious and foolish by turns.  The core of the movie though was Amy Acker as Beatrice – clever then foolish, dramatic then comedic, often within the same scene – she was great to watch.  Not every scene worked (sometimes the movie is a bit too cute for its own good) but it was still a wonderful adaptation.  It was also interesting to compare and contrast this adaptation with Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version (which I really enjoyed).  I think seeing both gives a sense of how two different directors can bring different tones to the same material.  Branagh’s, unsurprisingly, was broader and more bombastic while Whedon’s was lighthearted and more intimate.  I strongly suggest watching both.

Summer Movie #52 – Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012): This movie is brilliant in the way it uses the tropes of the standard horror film while also twisting them.  It also asks a couple of uncomfortable questions along the way.  By showing this group of people who are creating a scenario and their reactions to what is happening, the movie is also holding a mirror up to me (and you) about the voyeurism involved in watching these movies.  The use of sexuality contrasting with violence is such a commonplace in horror films that the viewer has already agreed to participate in it just by buying a ticket.  We’re reminded of this as we watch the technicians watching the sex and the violence.

We’re also handed a serious question of morality at the end: Is the sacrifice of one innocent person worth the salvation of six billion?  Where does that one person’s right to live end in the face of the lives of everyone (literally everyone) else?  The question is put into even sharper relief as we are reminded that if this one person lives, he is just going to die along with everyone else anyway. “Do you want to die with everyone, or do you want to die for everyone?”  This isn’t an artificial question just created in a monster movie – it is whether to go to war, it is capital punishment, it is deciding who does and who does not get medical care or where the funding goes, it is even deciding whether we should have speed limits of 55 or 25.  These all come down to just how many people – and which ones – are going to die and what we are willing (or not willing) to do to prevent those deaths.  That is worth thinking a bit about.  That is a lot for a gory monster pic.

Summer Movie #53 – Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997): How much awesomeness can one movie contain? The answer is about this much.  Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson star in an Elmore Leonard story adapted and directed by Tarantino.  I just love this movie.  Outside of the typical Tarantino film references (everything from blaxploitation to The Graduate) and the great performances (to my mind this was a career topper for Grier and Robert Forster was fantastic), this movie is just plain well-crafted.  The scene where Ordell (Jackson) kills Beaumont (Chris Tucker) is wonderful.  The comic build-up that sets up a brutal killing for maximum effect is perfect.  Then the shot itself with a car moving out of frame on the right, then the camera cranes up to catch it coming back in from the left at a distance so we don’t really see what happens so much as hear it.  It is such a great shot.  Have I mentioned that I REALLY like Quentin Tarantino’s work?

Summer Movie #54 – Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976):  I saw this movie on TV back when I was a kid (read teenager – I was thirteen when it was released in theaters so I had to be at least fifteen or so when I saw it).  It disturbed me – I didn’t like it.  I also couldn’t stop thinking about it.  From a later point in life I can see that as a sign of something really being a piece of art.  It just won’t leave you alone.  You aren’t the same person after you’ve encountered it.  I’ve not seen it in many years now and – especially after watching these documentaries on underground film and music in New York in the 1970s – I thought now was the time.

The film is famous as a depiction of madness that puts the viewer into a feeling of being in a dream – or a hallucination.  It is also famous for how it creates echoes between the violence and madness in the main character with the violence and madness of 1970s New York and of 1970s America.  What really struck me is that even while depicting all of this, you still see Scorsese singing a love song to the city; maybe a love song to a psychotic girlfriend who doesn’t really love him back, but still a love song.  You can see it in the quirky characters, the little moments of daily life, the shots of architecture – he loves the city, even in its madness.  Another stray thought – I don’t buy the idea that the epilogue is a dying fantasy (sorry Roger Ebert) and evidently, neither do Scorsese or Paul Schrader (who wrote it).  Instead the ending seems a last act of madness; Bickle is embraced by the media as a hero where, if he had just been quicker at the political rally, the same media would be depicting him as, well, it later would depict John Hinckley (more about that below).  That orgasm (there really is no other word that so describes it) of vigilante violence is a result of his earlier failure – his impotence – and we can see at the end, in that last glance in the rearview mirror, that he is still as much of a ticking time-bomb as ever.  With that, I’m struck by the similarity to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  Both feature a madman in a mad and decaying world who comes to be lauded by that world in a supreme moment of social madness.  You’ve got to love 1970s cinema.  Finally, I couldn’t help but think of John Hinckley and in particular of how horrible that experience had to be for Jodie Foster.  The fear of being the focus of a madman had to be terrible of course, but also the feeling that work you are, justly, proud of has been tainted forever by association with madness and murder (again, similarities to A Clockwork Orange here) had to be almost as bad.  Also it had to be terrible to know that your name has become a sort of macabre punch-line.  I remember the endless comic allusions to the idea of doing something insane for Jodie Foster.

If you haven’t seen this, you should see it.  It isn’t fun, it is great.

Summer Movie #55 – Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969): Here is another film famous for its depiction of New York at its decaying worst.  This is one of those notable movies I’d never seen before – the only X-rated film ever to win Best Picture.  It is a bit amazing to realize that the X-rating didn’t come from the horrifying sequence depicting a remembered rape or from the fascinating depiction of the various psychological associations that the main character has with sex.  No, it was rated X because of its “homosexual frame of reference” – an interesting phrase given the deep (almost manic) homophobia of the main character, Joe Buck’s (Jon Voight).  I’m not sure I feel qualified (or justified?) in passing judgment on whether the film itself is homophobic.  I think it could be argued both ways.  On the one hand we are shown a link between Joe’s rape and his homophobia which could be taken as a justification, depictions of violence against gays, and no gay character in the film is shown as anything but a “deviant”.  On the other hand, almost every character in the film is depicted as a “deviant” of some sort – which could be a statement about the whole idea.  At no point is the anti-gay violence emotionally justified by the film, even in the case of Joe’s attack on the character played by Bernard Hughes.  I’m inclined to say the film isn’t homophobic, but that is (as always) ultimately in the eye of the beholder.  Great performances all around are part of what makes this film work.  After seeing Robert DeNiro at his intense best last night (in Taxi Driver) and Dustin Hoffman burying himself in one of his signature roles tonight, I’m forcibly (and happily) reminded of what these men were before they became stunt casting for light comedies.

Summer Movie #56 – Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953): This is a very simple story about an old couple visiting their grown children in Tokyo.  On this simple frame we get ruminations about how parents and children can disappoint one another, how generations change, how family is so much more than blood.  All of this is done with little actual exposition or dialogue.  Ozu is quite comfortable with just leaving silence when people wouldn’t really speak and letting the audience figure out the inner dialogue of the person on the screen.  The pacing is slow and shows how much of life is not made up of big dramatic moments.  The camera angles are low and he is constantly shooting deep through different frames (doorways and windows, for example).  I think the camera might move once during the entire film – the shots are static and the actors move.  The result is beautiful, moving, and slow.  American movies usually show a story and we see life along the way in the best ones.  This is more like some of French New Wave where we see life happen and discover the story along the way.  I have this theory that American movies and television are fixated on redemption (or its failures).  There is no redemption here, especially at the moment it would always come in an American film – right after the death of a sympathetic character.  Instead, most of the characters learn nothing – they simply are who they are.

Summer Movie #57 – Winchester ’73 (Anthony Mann, 1950): I woke up early and watched this on TCM rather than getting out of bed – which is to say it was unplanned.  This isn’t a new one to me and I actually had my eyes closed through most of it.  You really can follow most of this movie on music cues and sound effects alone.  This is a famous western directed by a man who made a bunch of them.  It has the typical virtues and flaws one would expect of a western released in 1950.  Jimmy Stewart gives a great performance as the revenge-driven protagonist.  A young Rock Hudson has a minor role as an Indian (white guys in grease paint aren’t Native Americans) and a young Tony Curtis has a one-line role as a soldier.  Shelly Winters is the hot saloon girl with visions of settling down.  Will Geer, who was 48 at the time, plays a rustic old Wyatt Earp, which is notable given that Earp was 28 at the time the movie is set (it starts on July 4, 1876).  The conceit – that the eponymous rifle was a character in the film and following it allows us to unfold the story of two brothers in conflict – was interesting, but I’m not sure it really worked.  According to a little internet research, Fritz Lang was originally supposed to direct and saw the rifle as the main character’s sole source of strength.  That would have been interesting.  This was a competently made movie with some exceptional elements (Stewart’s performance and a somewhat dark tone in spots stand out), but not a great movie to my mind.

Summer Movie #58 – Cloud Atlas (Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer. 2012): This movie seemed to polarize the critics, and I see why.  It is big and ambitious, and it doesn’t always succeed.  It also looks like it should be a big action movie, but is instead an examination of humanity and how our lives affect each other’s.  I have to say that, despite its flaws, I really liked it and think it will reward another viewing.  It is a demanding movie, with its non-linear structure that inter-weaves several narratives happening at different times.  You have to pay attention to it.  If you try texting and holding conversations, you are going to miss some of its subtle cues and turns.  You also have to think about it and remember what you’ve already seen.  In that it is very reminiscent of another movie I liked despite its flaws, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” (2006).  Like with that film, I’m inclined to think the reviewers who dismiss “Cloud Atlas” are blinded by assumptions about what an imaginative fiction film with a lot of visual effects is supposed to be.  These movies aren’t popcorn epics (and I do love popcorn epics).  They are both reflective of the best literary science fiction in that they try to use the genre to say something about being human, as does all of the best literature and art.  This movie is definitely flawed.  It is a bit bloated in spots and uneven in tone.  The use of make-up and CGI to reinforce the idea of the same people in different bodies over time doesn’t always work.  Still, there are great performances here and when the movie works – which is more often than not – it is sweet, sad, funny, and powerful.  It is also feature beautiful cinematography and effects as well as wonderful music.  I finished it with tears in my eyes.

Summer Movie #59 – The Atomic Submarine (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1959): B-movie goodness!  A nuclear submarine investigating mysterious attacks in the Arctic discovers a flying saucer piloted by a half-melted hairy eyeball and proceeds to kick its alien ass before it can trigger an invasion of the Earth.  Along the way a decent but misguided scientist learns that pacifism will just open the door to the alien menace to come.  There are a lot of similarities here to Irwin Allen’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” which was a couple years in the future.  This movie made me think about two things: 1) What is the deal with aliens with one giant eyeball? And 2) I really miss Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Summer Movie #60 – I Shot Andy Warhol (Mary Harron, 1996): There is a fine line between a sympathetic portrayal of someone and a defense.  I think this film walks that line quite well.  The film making and Lili Taylor’s performance show us a damaged person in Valerie Solanas, but one who is smart, energetic, creative, and oddly charming – in a frightening way.  We also see a person whose problems may well have been exacerbated by the atmosphere of the Factory, with its combination of creative energy and charisma with a disdain for writing, cliquish weirdness, and personal coldness.  The more I’ve learned about the Factory, the more I’m both intrigued and repelled by it.  I can’t seem to look away though, which would probably make Warhol happy.  I think Stephen Dorff gives the performance of his career as Candy Darling.  It was interesting to see faces I know well from TV series in a very different light here such as Jared Harris, Michael Imperioli, and Jill Hennessey.  Frankly, I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would, which is the same reaction I had after seeing Harron’s “The Notorious Bettie Page” (2005).  I’ve got “American Psycho” in my queue and I might need to check out “The Moth Diaries” as well.

Summer Movie #61 – American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000): I’ve caught bits and pieces of this movie on cable, but I’ve never watched the whole thing.  I should also say upfront that I am completely unfamiliar with the novel.  Also, I watched the longer un-rated version and not the theatrical release.  I’m not sure the whole movie works, but I’m still pretty impressed.  Christian Bale’s performance as Bateman is intense and fearless.  This film comes across on one level as a parody of 80s era excess, but I think there is more here.  Bateman is a sociopath who is constantly trying to mimic the emotions he doesn’t feel.  He talks endlessly about music as if he is reciting critical reviews rather than stating an opinion (perhaps he was, in the novel?) He is narcissistic and almost aggressively superficial – all very “80s era excess” in style.  More than this, his pretense at humanity fits in very well with the Wall Street/Ivy League crowd and their pretension.  But is this just a statement about the 80s, or is this a more subversive statement about class in America?  I’m really not sure.  I also think Harron did something interesting with the idea that we are dealing with a psychotic narrator.  Over the film the depiction of his violence becomes more extreme – but we are left at the end not knowing what parts of that have actually happened.  Bateman is clearly delusional, but the people around him are so self-absorbed and impersonal with one another that they are no more reliable as narrators than he is.  We have no third person from “Rashomon” here to tell us which parts are true.  The result is an ending that is even more ambiguous (or possibly just murky) than that of “Fight Club.”  I’m not sure all of this works as well as it might have – but it was an ambitious attempt in any case.

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