Sometimes you just need, like, a year-long break, you know?
Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) – It has the kind of pacing that rewards patience, and even assumes it from its viewer, which is nice. Someone called it 2011’s The American, and one can see why. It’s one of those “art-house” films that prioritizes narrative and formal elements above its status as “art-house,” and so it’s bound to please the cineastes and bum out the masses. Its aims are straight-up existential, in the trendiest sense of the term. The main character has no name and rarely talks, you’re sutured to him despite a storyline that could easily steal the show, and the film is guided by an overarching sense of, “why?” Its happy-ish ending may represent a minority voice in today’s popular existentialism, though. It’s really almost a throwback to the Western.
Nothing Sacred (dir. William A. Wellman, 1937) – A pretty early Technicolor venture, one that apparently slipped into public domain and so most prints don’t look so hot. (Netflix’s sure doesn’t.) It’s a pretty formulaic screwball comedy set mostly in a newspaper office, a la His Girl Friday, although its cynical critique of reporters and social powers at large raise one’s eyebrows. Even more so, when the narrative itself compromises its scruples and ditches the true story for the convenient one. Pretty clearly pre-WWII. It’s like Preston Sturges, but less smart and more carefree.
Scarface (dir. Howard Hawks, 1932) – Not totally sure of all the history, but it seems pretty clear that somewhere along the way, they were forced to turn this into an anti-gangster propaganda film. As a result, it’s a confused film. One senses that it wants to entertain by amping up the violence, but the morality inserted at awkward points by otherwise insignificant characters clashes with the film’s tone.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson, 2009) – The umpteenth viewing, but a rewarding one. Love that the film never lets go of the fact that its characters are “wild animals,” even as they dress impeccably, sell real estate to each other, and prepare foie gras for a feast. No one ultimately learns the lesson that Mrs. Fox tries to teach Mr. Fox, precisely because they’re wild animals. It ends with them doing exactly what they started the film doing. They’ll constantly be getting into trouble and endangering their lives, but as with all of Mr. Anderson’s films, that’s not the point. The point is that they have each other.
Dirty Harry (dir. Don Siegel, 1972) – So old school. Fascinating to observe the values that this film embraces and assumes in its audience. The law gets in the way. It’s just BS bureaucracy. What we need is a hero, half-cop, half vigilante (foreshadows to Robocop?), who will get the job done and ignore what The Man tells him to do. Clichés were born in this film. Mitchell gets a bad rap, perhaps rightly so, but shouldn’t Dirty Harry, too? Here, bad guys are pure evil, bureaucrats/politicians/cops are incompetent, and Harry is the Superman who comes to the rescue by ignoring protocol and firing way more rounds into the air than necessary. That video essay that went around a few years ago about “chaos cinema,” it applies here. The viewer always knows what’s going on here, as opposed, say, to the Bourne films of recent years. Also, sheesh, some serious voyeurism of women here that I can’t figure out. It may be such an old-fashioned film that it adds female bodies simply for male viewing pleasure.
La piel que habito / The Skin I Live In (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2011) – Finished this literally moments ago, so, still processing. Clearly, Almodóvar remains a woman’s director. The only man that’s really humanized is the one who makes a gender transformation. Men really are quite sinister very often, in this director’s world. This is a cynical film, a nihilistic one. Earlier films from Almodóvar are a little more careful not to victimize women quite as much. Almodoóvar’s usual themes, and some new ones, are active here, but the story takes over the characters in a way that doesn’t happen even in his recent films like Volver and Broken Embraces. Also, film studies isn’t the only one obsessed with bodies these days; so are the films themselves.