|DVRfest 2018 (11.09.18 - 11.11.18, 16 movies)|
|11.09.18||Phantom Thread||Paul Thomas Anderson||Oh shit it's time for another weekend of catching up on movies in the most gluttonous way possible, all in celebration of another year keeping this journal! This is the 14th one of these, making me old, this site old, this site's code VERY old, and this tradition officially respectable! As with the last handful of years, I don't really tape movies onto the DVR anymore, but that doesn't mean there aren't more than enough on all the various formats available for me to catch up on films that I've been meaning to see or that have fallen through the cracks of my viewing habits. So I invite you to follow along, dear phantom reader, as we spend the weekend rolling around in cinema.|
I figure there's no better way to set this year's one-person festival off than with PTA's latest, which I'd kind of been putting off because I'm afraid I wouldn't like it. I saw The Master at the Ritz in 70mm right before a Fantastic Fest and found a screener copy of Inherent Vice with bad color correction so I've been able to tell myself that certain circumstances hindered my enjoyment of those movies and that I'm really still a big PTA fan... but the subject matter of this one seemed like something in the alley on the other side of the city from the alleys that I usually hang out in (does this alley metaphor work? I don't think so I'm dropping it it's dropped). There's no getting away from it now. I have the house to myself, a pile of the most unhealthy snack foods they can legally sell, and the whole weekend of undivided attention ahead of me. Let's see how I like it.
Hey! Maybe it was my low expectations but I actually really liked this! There are a few levels here. From a filmmaking perspective, the movie is gorgeous and everything in the frame is wonderful and the music is so good that I sat in the dark watching the credits just to hear the piano. Then there's also this thinly veiled possibility that this movie could just be PTA writing himself as a genius craftsman entitled to act like a baby and his wife as the woman who gets to put up with all his shit. But finally, there's the tone of this movie in that I was never really sure where it was going to go. From starting out the first logo screens with this dissonant screech, I was constantly setting myself up for a very dark turn (as There Will Be Blood showed PTA is capable). Yet the story and setting also lend themselves close enough to that classic gothic romance template of Rebecca and Crimson Peak with the manchild guy and the overbearing sister and the house that becomes a prison... I was constantly expecting there to be a secret basement that the girl stumbles into. But then, a certain tea gets made which kind of subverts all those expectations and the movie turned again for me, now building toward the final moments when, in a not untwisted way, the film resolves as a sweet love story. It really helped not knowing anything about this movie walking into it. It made me quite a fan.
And while both lead actresses do a tremendous job, the most fun role was clearly Daniel Day-Lewis who gets to be amazingly cranky and dickish here. There are a few great eating scenes where you can read his annoyance so well. Just a wonderful job.
So yay! I'm super happy (and a little relieved) to like this movie so much. It's clear that PTA has matured into a master filmmaker. My fear was that his interests were floating toward the super niche world of, like, Visconti and shit, where modern audiences don't even have a chance of liking his movies. While this one certainly appears that way, I found it a really nuanced and developed movie in every way. Probably some Visconti but also plenty of Max Ophuls (I'm guessing), and maybe some Resnais? Or not, what do I know...
MOVING ON... Next up is... shit, what is next. Hold on let me make up a schedule real quick. We'll find out together!
|11.09.18||Southern Comfort||Walter Hill||OK I picked a bunch of movies, for today at least. Next up is this Walter Hill movie that I've been meaning to see for at least a decade. No joke, I think I'm on tape somewhere circa 2007 wondering how to get my hands on this. Now, thanks to the Internet, everything's everywhere and all it took was me remembering that I wanted to see it.|
This... is pretty great. A group of Louisiana national guard (played by a lineup of great early 80s actors) goes on a routine... test? mission? Ok so I don't really know what the hell they're doing out in the swamp but they go out there and things don't go well for them. At all. It's kind of like Deliverance meets Platoon meets... Predator? It's kind of hard to have sympathy for these guys because they're all idiots and it's totally their fault, but instead I felt a sort of dark comedic vibe as these guys get worse and worse off. Almost like an anxiety dream or something right down to the ending.
I've probably said this in my notes for all Walter Hill movies but he's made a career of solid dude movies with tough guys doing shit. I'm really happy to finally cross this one off my list.
Next up... as the sun is now down things start to turn a little dark. This should pair nicely with dinner.
|11.09.18||Raw Meat||Gary Sherman||AKA Death Line. I'm finishing tonight off with a Gary Sherman double feature starting with this thriller slasher hybrid thing about a trog type who eats people in an abandoned London underground. Aside from a great title theme (seriously, it's like Barry Adamson scored The Deuce), a snarky Donald Pleasance performance, and some decent gore... there's not a ton here. I thought I'd like it more than I did. It wasn't bad but did drag through the middle a bit.|
I'm starting to feel it but I've got one left. I've seen the trailer for this next one a bunch, remember the poster from video stores of my youth, but never actually sat down and watched it. That ends tonight.
|11.10.18||Dead and Buried||Gary Sherman||I totally fell asleep for this so had to finish it in the morning. Not exactly great festival protocol but good thing it's my festival and I do what I want!|
I'm glad I saw the second half of this with fresh eyes rather than half-asleep because it's pretty good! O Bannon and Shusett definitely took a page from Ira Levin and the lead is basically Roy Scheider in Jaws but the ending reveal is pretty awesome and Jack Albertson as Dobbs the funeral owner is really great. I do kind of wish the whole film wasn't smeared with fog but maybe it's just the transfer?
Anyway, I liked this quite a bit and am super glad to have seen it. Now the next time I see the trailer at the Alamo I can share the same smug grin as everyone else and nod along like "oh, yeah, this is a good one."
And now it's time for my favorite new tradition at DVRfest. This being Saturday, I've refreshed my stack of unwatched criterions and have my dice at the ready. I've got 3d8 movies ranging from spine number 17 to 888 and that's including Che and World on a Wire. How many will I get through? Which ones will I see? Let's roll the dice and find out...
|11.10.18||General Idi Amin Dada||Barbet Schroeder||Stack 1, position 4: Spine 153.|
I probably picked this up around the time that Last King of Scotland movie came out even though I never got around to seeing that either. It was probably a great surprise to see a leader of a country boast and posture like he does in this film back in the 70s. Watching it for the first time today, I just see shades of Hussein, North Korea, Putin, and Trump, which makes it less funny. Plus when he's on the jungle cruise boat pointing out all the crocodiles, you can't help but wonder how many of his enemies wound up in those waters. So there's a chilling aspect of it too. Wound and crossed together like that, Dada does make a great subject as he's easy to laugh and dance while you also know he's ordered numerous disappearances. Plus the rough narrative nature of a doc during the 70s just presents these random scenes, leaving it for you to stitch together the overall story. I found it a little long at times but ultimately pretty interesting.
|11.10.18||Mr. Arkadin||Orson Welles||Stack 2 position 1: spine 322.|
This is one of the bigger DVD boxes in the collection because Criterion, doing what they're famous for, packaged three different cuts of this movie along with the 240-page book that Welles wrote and adapted to film. I probably didn't love this movie enough to go through the commentary tracks and watch all three versions and all that... I just trust the folks at Criterion that whatever led to this "comprehensive" version that I watched were all in an attempt to appease the late Mr. Welles' ideal execution of his project. Welles is such an interesting subject from a cinematic archeology point of view. The back of the book even suggests that it was not exactly Welles who wrote it but "an uncredited English translation of a French text adapted and translated from Welles's writing by a friend and a ghostwriter." If this hadn't come up randomly I might've programmed a double feature with Netflix's newly-finished Other Side of the Wind and its accompanying doc to fully dive into the Welles rabbit hole. For now, though, I finally get to move this off the top shelf.
The movie, much like the story of the making of the film, is nearly incomprehensibly complex. I feel like the most stand-out Welles films, much like Terry Gilliam's oeuvre, are the films where a certain elegance arises out of his baroque genius. While the frame and the narrative are still unbelievably staged with expert attention to detail, the film as a whole becomes understandable on a simple level (rosebud's his innocence of youth). The not-so-successful pictures wind up drowning in the maelstrom of thoughts and ideas that must be a constant state in his brain. Or at least that's what it feels like for me while I'm watching. This movie is like it's on fast forward. Every shot is so involved and jarring, but there's no time to take everything in before there's some new visual stimulus, some new idea presented. The dialogue and story are too complicated and delivered with overwhelming layers of noise and movement that nothing really makes sense, and even as the film goes on and I think I have an understanding of what's going on, I have to second-guess myself that it's really true because everything's so frenetic. But I don't feel like the freneticism is intentional. I think that's just Welles' brain and way of making a movie. Maybe it's just in how I read it... because I feel like every frame is interesting and probably has a deeper meaning but it's just so much that the dots never quite connect.
What I will say is that this has to hit like a billion locations around the world. I can understand why he always had such trouble completing his projects because there's no compromise here. Pre CG, London is really London and those Spanish castles are really there in the background. You have to applaud the effort.
So my reaction to this is pretty mixed. I don't think it's successful as a piece of entertainment, but I do think it's extraordinary in many ways. Sort of like getting glimpses of genius through a fever dream.
Incidentally, I get the same exact feeling from his film essay F for Fake, except there I feel like he nailed that style and tempo. I think F for Fake may end up being my favorite film of his just because I so strongly identify every aspect of that film with what I think of Welles himself.
|11.10.18||Ministry of Fear||Fritz Lang||Stack 3 position 1: spine 649.|
There's another Fritz Lang movie in the stack and it's sort of my most dreaded roll. So I was happy to see this hit the player instead. As it turns out, Dr. Mabuse might have been more interesting even though it's a silent. This one plays out like a run of the mill wartime thriller with Ray Milland accidenting his way into a Nazi plot. It felt like Hitchcock lite to me, maybe most notable for precursors of much better noirs to come with Dan Duryea in a very small part.
|11.10.18||The Tales of Hoffman||Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger||Stack 1 position 7: spine 317.|
Woof. This is what I was afraid The Red Shoes would be: a full two hours of 100% unapologetic opera. There was a point, maybe twenty minutes in when the "prelude" ended, that I seriously wondered how I was going to make it through the whole two hours. Really the only thing that did it was marveling at the various cinematic tricks they used to augment the opera for the screen. I mean if you're going to film an opera then this is the way you do it. It's just a shame that I'm so averse to it as a genre. I think I don't have enough appreciation for the music so I need more story and the story is nowhere near fast or intricate enough for me. I mean, This movie is about three women this dude Hoffman loved: a puppet who comes apart, a possessed courtesan who tries to steal his reflection, and an opera singer (original) who dies of consumption. The end. And to make matters worse, the movie explains each act in text in the beginning! So from a story perspective, I was bored senseless. Again, I have the utmost respect for this film... it's masterfully made... opera fans should see it and own it (probably on blu, the dvd had vibrant colors but some artifacting), but it's not for me. That's a hard lesson learned.
Ok. Dinner time. I'm hoping to fit two more movies in tonight, so I think I'll only roll the dice once more then switch to a horror movie for midnight. So let's see what's...
|11.10.18||Che: Part One||Steven Soderbergh||Stack 2 position 2: spine 383.|
Ok, confession time. I originally rolled Che. But there's no way I'm starting a 5-hour movie at 9pm! So... breaking my own rules... I get it... but come on. And to make matters worse? The second role also came up Che! The fates are shaming me! You know what... what am I afraid of? fuck it let's do it.
Stack 2 position 6: spine 496
(notes on the movie itself in the entry for Part Two)
|11.10.18||Che: Part Two||Steven Soderbergh||Huh. These/this was pretty good. It's harder than I thought to think of this as one singular movie. Not only are they separated by time and location but also the visual look and style of each film are different (not to mention getting two entries in imdb). I think maybe half of these notes belong on the other entry, but I watched them together so for this time my feelings about them are also together.|
It's much harder to make a movie about losing that people will like. I'm not sure if the Bolivian movie can stand on its own without the Cuban movie to invest you. It's also interesting how much of a war movie both of these are. I was really expecting more biopic-ishness, but you don't really learn much about Che's childhood or anything like that. I guess his worldview and personal code are the things he's known for today and those manifest in his actions in war so in a certain sense this tells the tale without having to overexplain.
Benicio did great. I'm not sure what will serve as his best performance, but he killed it here. There are also other recognizable faces that pop up every once in a while, more in the second film than first, but mostly I was there with the revolucion. In the first film, I felt like Soderbergh couldn't help but look to Oliver Stone for inspiration, especially with the non-combat stuff like the interview and the UN, but maybe that's just because JFK and Nixon hold a monopoly on 60s-era politics films for me. That and the different film "stock" (I'm guessing they are just different filters that the video is run through these days?) but it's hard to credit Stone with that when Soderbergh also did it to great effect in Traffic.
What feels like long notes for a long movie. I liked this. It certainly held my attention for all 4-ish hours. I certainly had an easier time getting through it versus Tales of Hoffman, and now that it's over I'm glad the dice decided this because I probably wouldn't have ever sat down and watched it otherwise which would be a shame.
So that does it for the Criterion Random Roll and for Day Two of the fest. Day 3 will start with a double feature of documentaries that I have on the shelf.
|11.11.18||Bill Nye: Science Guy||David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg||Day three starts with this Bill Nye doc. A few things up front:|
1) i backed this on kickstarter. I think it's the last movie I'm going to back on kickstarter. Even when it's successful and they finish the film, they shop it around all the festivals looking for a buyer before they let their backers see it (unless you happen to be in a town where they're already showing it, as was the case with this and sxsw I believe). So by the time I actually get the blu-ray that I pledged for, literally everyone else in the world has seen it. It's a flaw. and
2) I backed this before his latest netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the Universe, aired. I didn't love that show so much so I'm hoping this doc delivers a bit more of what I want: background on the guy and his history and some humor and maybe a little more dignity and less preaching that he does on his Netflix show.
Ok all of that out of the way, let's watch.
So maybe i was being too harsh. This was good and I'm glad my name is somewhere in those tiny credits as helping to make it possible. Plus I did get a cool shirt... so there's that.
Anyway, yeah I liked this. It's pretty much exactly what I wanted. Some background, a little history, a little family, a little pathos, a little humor. It brought some interesting perspective to the Ken Ham debate and maybe a little scope to why Nye seems so outspoken about climate change these days. I'm probably biased because I agree with him (although not always. I think somewhere in my notes for when I read Michael Crichton's State of Fear or when I saw An Inconvenient Truth I was pretty skeptical), but to me this was an honest portrait of the guy.
Of course he's no movie poster... if only there was a whole documentary about movie posters.
|11.11.18||24x36: A Movie About Movie Posters||Kevin Burke||This played Fantastic Fest the year I was in Peru, and I've been meaning to see it ever since. I didn't kickstart this one even though it looks like everyone else at fantastic fest did. The movie is like one long ad for Mondo. I was really hoping for like 50% history and at least a mention of movie posters from around the world but instead, it's like 10% history which just serves as context to talk about Mondo and the niche industry it created. That and the production value of the movie is pretty lacking compared to Nye's film. Not that it's a comparison really, but it was noticeable.|
So... yeah. This was pretty thin. Not much to hang a movie on. You might say it... i dunno, some other poster joke. It was nice to learn that the big guy I see at the Alamo every year is named Pineapple. I wonder how many docs exist because of the Alamo and how long it will take before every person I know from there is on screen. So odd to a) see Tim Doyle on my home TV, and b) disagree with what he's saying. Chris Popkoff and Daniel Kerr, if you sit for an interview on some Weird Wednesday doc, please let me know.
So this is where my programming breaks down a bit. I still have a pile of movies but no real plan as to which I'll watch and when. I think I'll go purely by format right now and pick something else off the shelf as it's probably the last movie I have the house to myself for.
|11.11.18||Gambit||Ronald Neame||This is another one of those classic Alamo trailers they'd show in front of any heist movie. It has a classic tagline which is something along the lines of "Go ahead and tell the ending but please don't ruin the beginning!" (spoiler alert: there ain't shit in the beginning, but I guess "we'd appreciate if you didn't spoil the first third of the movie" doesn't sound as good).|
This was quite fun. Michael Caine in his prime, Shirley MacLaine at her most charming, and a bunch of lavish sets meant to be some exotic locale. And yes there is a bit of a turn which probably worked in 1966, but the second two-thirds is just as, if not more, fun. A nice little late afternoon jaunt of a movie.
Up next is... hmm, what's next?
|11.11.18||The Autopsy of Jane Doe||Andre Ovredal||In the early days of DVRfest, a sizable contingent of what was in the backlog were horror movies taped for Halloween that I hadn't gotten around to yet. This year, there were a bunch of blog posts like 'best of the decade' or 'best of 2000s' and whatnot, typical clickbait crap. Of course I skimmed them, always on the lookout for hidden gems that I'd overlooked. This was on several of those lists and I procured it based on the cast alone. Mostly Brian Cox as a coroner was enough for me.|
It's pretty good! Quite a change from the CG-fest of Trollhunter but a good script, creepy yet new setting, and ultimately an interesting take on a familiar trope. I liked that Cox and Emile Hirsch were always on the same side, that the film never went to unsaid resentments coming out in some argument or whatever. I also like that at the first overt sign of weirdness they were both like 'fuck this shit.' Pretty good.
|11.11.18||Ghost Stories||Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman||Honestly my draw to this film was based solely on the fantastic posters used to market it. Not knowing anything about it, I sort of thought or hoped it would be a throwback anthology similar to the old hammer or amicus films. I guess that's kind of what it was, with a little less throwback and more Martin Freeman. I liked it pretty well and thought the end was earned and not trash. I could've used a bit more development of each of the individual stories but I also like how it's a pretty lean 90 minutes so lengthening them probably wouldn't serve the movie as a whole. In any case, good stuff.|
Ok. It's quarter to midnight and I have one last movie on the program. A movie I've had to nod and hide the fact I haven't seen it multiple times. Hopefully I've saved the best for last because it's time to enter
|11.11.18||Lifeforce||Tobe Hooper||Wow. I have to say, most films that gain some reputation never live up to the hype when you sit down and watch them. I guess it's just the subjective nature of art and how easy it is to let any preconceived notions affect your enjoyment. Lifeforce lives up to the hype.|
Mostly in its audacity of budget. I don't know that I've seen actual zombie movies with this many zombies, actual disaster movies with this much destruction, actual space movies with such complete and ornate spacecraft sets. Plus you have these puppeted shriveled dudes moving around and souls flying through the air and so much nudity and there's like a lazer gun? and a ritual sword dagger? and Patrick Stewart? It's like every 80s genre movie in one. Unbelievable that it exists.
Quite a movie to go out on too. Really the only thing I didn't like about it was Steve Railsback, but what're ya gonna do about that... Also a nice thematic connection to Autopsy of Jane Doe in that there's a beautiful woman lying naked on a table for most of it.
Gosh, not sure what else to say. I'll have to let that sit with me for a while I think.
So thus brings to an end another year of DVRfest, another solitary weekend of catching up on movies. I didn't fill my one slot of seeing something old this year but just ran out of time. Let's dump some stats and call it good.
16 movies in the past week (2.29/day), 18 in the past month (0.6/day), 95 in the past year (ouch) (0.26/day), and 3153 since the site started 14 years ago (0.62/day). Netflix still reigns supreme in terms of venue with 776 movies seen, but 'Internet' is fast growing with 355. Granted, sometimes i use that venue as a general catch all for various streaming services like HBOGO and whatnot so it's not all nefarious, but it mostly is. And I can't finish my notes for this fest without the obligatory mention of Peter Bogdanovich and his note cards. I forget how long he did his - 17 years? 18? - but I'm getting close. Of course, he finished because he had made Last Picture Show and Paper Moon and was probably too busy to keep a closet full of note cards updated and I work in a cubicle all day. So maybe since I'm not doing anything interesting with my real life, I'll keep these going till I die. Of course, with sites like letterboxd out there now allowing everyone to do this without the labor of printing note cards or writing a crappy php website, I'm not sure even a 30-year collection of thoughts on movies is interesting to anyone. It still remains interesting to me however so I will keep doing it. Plus, it's not such a burden when you only see 95 movies in a goddamn year. If you take out 30 for Fantastic Fest and 15 for this, that's like two movies a month. Jesus. I blame the Golden Age of Television that we're in... Anyway, see you next year.