|—||Roger Ebert in defense of The Phantom Menace.|
oh my god i love this. cannon films-level.
Moonrise Kingdom / On Sight
wowwww now i have to find a print of this. just fell in love with & wrote about this movie over at decentmess.
Films Seen in 2013:
#256. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Scorsese)
Brazen, bloated, maniacally funny, exhausting, redundant, and revolting. I don’t know how else to describe this film which is causing quite a stir and rightly so. If it didn’t provoke this kind of discussion and/or disgust than it would not have succeeded. It’s been said so many times but depiction does not equal endorsement. It’s an uncomfortable film for many reasons, mainly because Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter are constantly toeing the line between an unapologetic immersion into Jordan Belfort’s scummy lifestyle, in a way that is meant to feel infectious, and pulling back for that nasty transparency. Scorsese has always had a fascination with these types of hyper-masculine guys who turn their backs on the law in various ways. And that comes through, complicating things a bit, mostly for the better.
What the film lacks in layers it makes up for in audacity and a commitment to turning people off and on in fluid measure, and the experience of watching it is more than varied. Because this is a pitch-black comedy, a satire, and a film as ugly as they come. There are times we laugh at them and times we shake out heads in disbelief and times that we pull back in horror. But there are also times we laugh with them. Because we’re meant to. And you catch yourself. The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t just meant to condemn, to mirror the worst of man’s base instincts, and the mentality of American Dream as horror show. We are meant to enjoy watching them every so often. Not in a way that supports, but in a way that truthfully links us to these characters for being entertained on any level, even a critiquing one. The filmmakers and the audience are not placed above the goings-on no matter what our reaction is to what we see. That last shot couldn’t be more reflective of that.
And as a woman there’s an additional layer to watching all of this because this is a world where misogyny runs rampant, where women are either on Belfort’s three-pronged prostitution scale, or have (smartly I say) hitched their way to money through marriage or have fought like hell to become one of the boys. And then there’s the glorious Aunt Emma. But there really is no room made for us in the world of this film, and women are seen as objects to be defiled, put down, worshiped, or disgraced at every turn. Sound familiar? Because fucking seriously, this is the world we are living in. This is the mentality. And Wolf of Wall Street gives us a first-class ticket to a special kind of debauchery.
DiCaprio is blistering on a wavelength we’ve never seen from him (hell, never even come close to), and never thought him capable of. This is an extreme film with an extreme character and he’s been waiting to play this part for 7 years. He is all-in, unhinged in a way few performances are, keyed up for physical comedy and improvised distastefulness. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to watch him work; in many ways, it’s the performance I’ve been waiting his entire career for. In fact, this might be the most pitch-perfect cast of the year. Everyone is standout in their own way.
And as for the men, well, the funniest scene of the year might also be the most grotesque and pointed depiction of mankind I’ve seen since….ever? It’s the perfect example of Scorsese and the godly Thelma Schoonmaker committing to the subjective experience of Belfort but always, always, always pulling back the curtain in some way to reveal the pitiful reality. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are higher than their characters have ever been, on Lemmons, are seen from a distance; slobbering, writhing, screeching, fighting between a kitchen island, unable to reach each other, unable to speak with any semblance of coherence. Literally conquered by a phone cord and a piece of ham.
Laughter is the best medicine and the only way to present this story. It goes down smoother but with an amplified potency which, though I wish it had more of the kinds of stinging moments depicted in the brilliant head-shaving scene, makes for a film that pitches us right into the heartlessness of a rotted mentality that supports the notion that having money gives you carte blanche to stop being human.
October Screening 49: Pop Skull (2007)
I traced mumblegore further back to this early gem from Adam Wingard (again, You’re Next is so fucking good) about a heartbroken Alabama pill addict who lives in his parents’ possibly-haunted basement. There’s an epilepsy warning right off-top, assuring us we’re strapping in for a very disorienting experience. If you find the first seizurrific trip-out sequence at all annoying, just turn the movie off, because it only cranks things up from there. It’s been labeled as “acid horror” and that’s spot-on, so you can either get irritated or just go with it. I went with it gladly.
It was made for about $2,000 total, clearly one of those movies made by somebody who was going to make a goddamn movie, no matter what, and I love that about it. Its resourcefulness is evident in every frame. I didn’t mind the early digital look of it at all - if anything, it helped me feel more like a fly on the wall for this poor kid’s trip through hell. There’s a lo-fi intimacy to it that lulled me into a kind of comfortable familiarity, like I was hanging out in a high school friend’s basement, which made the movie the movie that much scarier for me once it started spiraling into spooksville.
Pop Skull is a unique, chilling & surprisingly personal movie that couldn’t help but get its director more work. If you have the tolerance for experimental cinema, I heartily recommend. (watch the trailer!)
And holy shit, that’s a wrap on October! Only took me another month to catch up on writing about it…
October Screening 48: Equinox (1970)
I was curious about Equinox due to the involvement of Dennis Muren, who wrote & directed most of it uncredited & went on to do visual effects for Star Wars. Even without him, though, reading that an old drive-in picture like this was an influence on The Evil Dead is more than enough to get me interested, so when I saw Criterion’s DVD of it on sale used at Amoeba I had to give this thing a spin.
It’s a fun watch, but for all intents and purposes it’s really just Dennis Muren’s VFX Demo Tape. In other words, a collection of stop-motion & cell animation setpieces (I’ll admit I was genuinely impressed by the giant blue dude, he looked so real) strung together by a vague story that leaves room for a lot of random monster stuff. Four teens on an awkward double-day-date find a creepy old book in the woods & accidentally bring occult forces down upon them. At a trim 80 minutes the shenanigans go down pretty easy, but it still feels aimless at times - about 20 minutes was shot to pad it out to feature length, and approaching a story with “what else can we say” is never going to make things riveting.
You could look at it as a segue from tame drive-in horror cinema to the coming years of Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw, when shit got a lot more harsh. Equinox is a fun little historical artifact nonetheless.
October Screening 47: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
There’s a great short story in Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts called “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead.” It’s actually a cute, nostalgic love story, one of the few non-horror stories in the anthology, it just takes place on the set of Dawn of the Dead during filming in 1977. I guess that makes it fan fiction, but it was good enough that I immediately had to watch Dawn of the Dead again as soon as I finished reading.
This movie never gets old to me. There’s some kind of intangible magic that keeps it timeless & memorable, defying outdated makeup effects or cheesy acting. The zombies are as certain & unstoppable a force of nature as cold winter weather, and their consumerist instinct to descend upon a shopping mall stings just as much if not moreso today (this would be a great pre-Black Friday watch). The story wanders around a bit, but that’s life in a shopping mall besieged by zombies. It’s pretty impressive that I got a better sense of how a zombie outbreak is affecting the world by watching Dawn of the Dead's four main characters for two hours than four seasons of countless boring people who can actually outside on The Walking Dead.
But I digress. This is the kind of movie that works whether I’m giving it my full, undivided attention, or cleaning my room, because it’s as thematically interesting as it is blood-splatteringly fun. For my money, that combination makes Dawn of the Dead the best zombie movie ever made.
October Screening 46: Black Swan (2010)
Real talk - I had to be dragged to see Black Swan in theaters. I was kind of cool off Darren Aronofsky after The Wrestler bummed me out so much, and I figured this would just be a dry, sad portrait like that but with a ballet dancer instead. The first shot of Black Swan took all those lesser expectations and kicked them off a bridge. The intense opening dream sequence was so unnerving, excessive, flashy and loud in all the best ways, and it dawned on me with a smile - this is a horror movie.
I remember hearing people screaming at the jump-scares and being thrilled to realize, wow, this movie has jump-scares! It dances in & out of reality without ever losing steam, taking us on a full-speed tour through schizophrenia with a helpless guide in Natalie Portman’s star ballerina who every other character seems to have devious plans about. Telling the story from her perspective is a stroke of genius, as we see what she thinks she sees, and almost begin to wonder if she even knows what “safe” feels like.
The camerawork is as impressive as the dancing, weaving effortlessly through the action, defying physics & lighting. The original score (and repurposed Swan Lake score) underlines the melodrama to great effect, and the performances are unbeatable. He makes a lot of movies about doomed people, but this is Aronofsky’s most fun meltdown to watch by far. I could never have predicted I’d love it so much, but here I am having watched it for the fourth time, still blown away. Black Swan is a great movie.