Since the holidays, I’ve seen a lot of movies. Here’s a capsule rundown of all the ones I can remember.
Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette. This is famous for having been made in iMovies for a few hundred dollars. It might well be the first feature film produced like a videoblog. It’s a harrowing documentary of his mother and himself. His mother had received shock treatment in her teens and was never the same afterwards. This movie is an examination of her mom and her upbringing, his relationship with her and the grandparents that raised him, and his coming to grips with his own homosexuality. Because he is young enough to have come of age in the camcorder age, there is footage of him and that he shot from his very early teens up to present day. At one point, while he was 13 years old he performs a monologue as the character of an abused wife. It was downright disturbing, as were big chunks of the film. However, the overall effect was kind of uplifting as his love for his mother continued unabated despite her issues and some actions that are pretty unlovable. Highly recommended.
Metropolitan. This was a recommendation from Reel Reviews. I taped it and watched it right at XMas time. It was not a poorly done film, but I never connected with it the same way Mike Geoghegan seemed to have. Part of it has to do with the fact that the upper class New Yorker characters were so far from me in both status and geography that I couldn’t quite hang with it. The poor kid protagonist who gets adopted by the group is the only one I could really empathize with. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. Neutral.
The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou. I expected to love this movie. I’ve seen all the Wes Anderson films and I think each one got better than the previous one. This one breaks that pattern. I think it’s the worst of the four. I really desperately wanted to love it. All the 70’s nostalgia touches in his films pull me right in, and I used to watch the Cousteau documentaries and recognized a lot of the esthetic in the set design. I love most of the actors in it, and yet the whole thing never quite gelled into anything more than some isolated funny set pieces. In fact, the trailer basically contained all the same laughs as the film in a lot less time. Pass on this one unless you are completist, but revise your expectations way downward.
Man in the Sand. This was a documentary about Billy Bragg and Wilco making the original Mermaid Avenue album, where they took unfinished lyrics from the Woodie Guthrie collection and wrote music to complete them. This project yielded my favorite Wilco song of their career, “California Stars.” It was an engaging film, with some interesting behind the scenes actions with Bragg and Tweedy. I’ve been listening to the Billy Bragg podcast, which I find quite interesting. This kind of fills out some of what I’m hearing on it, as well as a lot of stuff about Woodie Guthrie that I didn’t know. Most of it isn’t very good, the way he up and abandoned multiple sets of wives and children. As Bragg says in some concert footage “I’ve learned not to make any excuses for Woodie.” If you care about Bragg, Wilco or Guthrie this movie is worth watching.
The Beguiled. I’d never seen this film although I remember Dave Sim referring to it in Cerebus 20 odd years ago as the only kind of Clint Eastwood film he would be interested in. The premise is that a wounded Yankee soldier during the Civil War is rescued and taken in by the ladies at a southern girls boarding school. This film is an excercise in creepy tension and has way more actual suspense than the torture porn of the Saw franchise and all films of that scumbaggy ilk. In a lot of ways, this is a perfect counterbalance to his more macho roles of roughly the same time period, the later spagghetti westerns and the early Dirty Harry films. Rather than shooting his way out of trouble, he has to try to manipulate everyone around him which does with mixed results. Highly recommended.
The White Balloon. When I was at University of Louisiana Lafayette, they did a thing called Bayou Bijou where once a week they would show foreign and independent films. It skewed heavily towards french language films for obvious reasons. One of the ones they showed and I wanted to see but just missed was this film. It’s got about the thinnest plot you can imagine occupying an entire movie. A little girl on the eve of the Persian new year festival wants to buy a goldfish and drops her money. Seriously, that’s it. It’s really more of a long vignette than an actual film, but it does a great job of capturing the characters of modern day Tehran. For similar reasons to why I love Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis series, it’s very good to see these tales of ordinary Iranians living their lives. In the USA we are supposed to have an opinion of Iran as a whole based on almost no actual knowledge of the place. Like Satrapi said in her lecture here, “If you understood that we laugh and cry for all the same reasons you do, maybe you will find it harder to drop bombs on our heads.” Seeing the customs and silliness and the stuff of sheer Persian mundanity is highly exotic to me and I loved every second. Highly recommended.