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Tag: "film"

Mister Twister

[ 60 ] July 7, 2017 |

The story about Trump not having anywhere to stay at the G-20 meeting is hilarious to me because given what an unreconstructed racist our dear leader is, it is surprisingly close to the plot of the 1963 Soviet animated propaganda film “Mister Twister,” about a wealthy American capitalist who is outraged that he has to stay in the same hotel as people of color when he visits the Soviet Union.


Best Films of the 21st Century

[ 239 ] June 9, 2017 |

The New York Times decided to allow every website on the internet to set comment section records by choosing its 25 best films of the 21st century. And it’s predictably controversial. I’ve seen 18 of the 25 (and Mad Max is actually the next movie in my Netflix queue). Many selections I can’t disagree with. There Will Be Blood is amazing. So is Spirited Away. But Million Dollar Baby at 3rd? Really? Eastwood is the most overrated director in American film history. This film is completely fine. Good, even. But the 3rd best film in the last 17 years? Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t even a very good movie, outside of the cat. If you have to include a Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men or A Serious Man are far superior. I was fine with I’m Not There as a film, even for all its Baby Boomer Dylan wankathon mythmaking, but no. There are films such as The Gleaners and I and Silent Light that I might consider worthy. Three Times is just so damn slow though, much like many Taiwanese directors that so many people love today. Munich: no. Yi Yi: yes. I certainly have no problem with including an action film like Mad Max or a comedy like 40 Year Old Virgin, although I’m not sure I would pick it, it’s certainly a funny movie.

Throwing together what might be a Top 25 for me, with the understanding that I am weaker on the last few years because so much of my watching is at home and thus delayed. In no real order, although perhaps generally be stronger at the top and somewhat in order of date early on:

1) In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai, 2000 (how this was left off by Dargis and Scott is mystifying)
2) Yi Yi, Edward Yang, 2000
3) Talk to Her, Pedro Almodovar, 2002
4) Dirty Pretty Things, Stephen Frears, 2002
5) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry, 2004
6) Vera Drake, Mike Leigh, 2004
7) Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee, 2005
8) Tell No One, Guillaume Canet, 2006
9) Katyn, Andrzej Wajda, 2007
10) Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog, 2010
11) The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach, 2005
12) Tony Takitani, Jun Ichikawa, 2004
13) There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2005
14) The Baader Meinhof Complex, Uli Edel, 2008
15) The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino, 2016
16) Exiled, Johnnie To, 2005
17) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, 2007
18) Silent Light, Carlos Reygadas, 2008
19) A Christmas Tale, Arnaud Desplechin, 2008
20) The Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda, 2008
21) Sweet Sixteen, Ken Loach, 2002
22) Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt, 2010
23) Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold, 2009
24) The Missing Picture, Rithy Phan, 2013
25) Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal, 2006

There are many more that could be on this list–The 25th Hour, No Country for Old Men, You Can Count on Me, Blue is the Warmest Color, Clouds of Sils Maria, Mesrine, Carlos, 2046, 12:08 East of Bucharest, A History of Violence, etc., etc.

I think Inside Llewyn Davis would come in about 400th.

Rare LGM Beauty Advice

[ 2 ] June 3, 2017 |

Watching Agnes Varda’s wonderful Cleo From 5 to 7 again this evening and was reminded of this wisdom from the Lord.

This explains my Samson-like flowing locks.

Also, Agnes Varda is awesome.

Movie Violence

[ 95 ] June 3, 2017 |

This is a pretty great essay on the contradiction between hating real life guns and loving movie guns.

Psychologically, of course, this all makes sense. Penn, Peckinpah, even Porter (according to some interpretations) were attempting to make the viewer feel complicit in their films’ violence—something they assumed would provoke shame. But that’s not how movies work, or even stories. We only empathize with fictional characters in a compartmentalized way, imagining ourselves in their place right up to the point where it’s no longer convenient to do so. We can get all the thrills of gunning someone down with none of the guilt, and it frankly doesn’t matter whether we’re the hero or villain in that scenario.

It’s an allegiance that can shift on a whim, depending on who’s providing us with more cathartic pleasure. In the dark, we can indulge a fantasy of all-encompassing nihilism. So hell yeah, give us more guns! Bigger guns! Guns in each hand! Guns that have extra hands attached to them to hold more guns! Guns mounted on motorcycles! Guns popping out of boobs! Surreal, Salvador Dali guns, floating on the melting mirror of time glimpsed in a flamingo’s gun! Guns that, at first glance, look like our boring office-mate David, but then you flip him over and a barrel pops out of his ass and boom, now Dave’s a gun! Fuck yeah, guns!

Of course, as a sort of meek, intellectual type (read: snobby wuss), I’ve never been titillated by sheer arsenal alone—your Commandos and Cobras, your Schwarzeneggers and Stallones wielding rocket launchers and submachine guns in a loud frenzy of coked-up ’80s excess. Effete fop that I am, I like guns that have stories, so you care whose gun it is and why it’s gunning. In particular, I’ve always been drawn to the sorts of gangster films where the gun remains, primarily, a silent threat. My longest-held favorite movie is Goodfellas, whose characters are stabbed, stomped upon, shoved headfirst into ovens, and—in the case of the dorky Bruce—beaten with guns. Yet only Joe Pesci’s Tommy is crazy enough to actually fire one, even when his fellow wiseguys tell him to put it away. (In a bit of poetic justice, it’s only Tommy ends up taking a bullet to the back of the head.)

In movies like this—and in similar stuff I love, like The Sopranos—the gun is just a codpiece, conferring heft and swagger on these not-especially-tough-looking tough guys. To those with neither heft nor swagger, as I was when I first saw it as a 13-year-old boy, there was a natural psychological connection there. When I first heard Lorraine Bracco’s Karen say, upon being handed a bloodied revolver to hide, “I gotta admit the truth—it turned me on,” it sent a signal to my pubescent brain: Guns are cool. Guns are sexy. Girls want to have sex with cool guys who have guns. I was far less interested in what guns did to others than what they did for you.

I think I am going to have to watch a Wild Bunch/A Better Tomorrow double feature tonight and then launch some attacks against the NRA on Twitter before bed tonight.

Daddy, Do You Hate Me?

[ 81 ] June 2, 2017 |

If you were facing a loathsome Tory such as Theresa May and you had the great leftist filmmaker Ken Loach at your disposal, wouldn’t you use him? This is amazing.

I’m a huge Loach fan, even though his career is super inconsistent. As someone who loves agitprop in a completely non-ironic way, films like Land and Freedom and Carla’s Song are very enjoyable to me. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is epic. And probably his best films are his depictions of the down and out late 20th century British working class, most notably Sweet Sixteen. His later films have been pretty schmaltzly, but whatever. Looking for Eric was pretty OK.

Anyway, talk about an ad that pulls no punches.

When Marty Speaks, You Listen

[ 182 ] June 1, 2017 |

Your afternoon read is this Scorsese essay defending cinema as an art form equal to that of literature. A brief excerpt:

I also disagree with Mr Mars-Jones’s contention that any adaptation of a novel into a film can only amount to a “distortion” or an “exaggeration overall”. Of course, in one very important sense, he is correct. Alfred Hitchcock once told François Truffaut that despite his admiration for Crime and Punishment, he would never have dreamed of making a film out of it because in order to do so he would have needed to film every single page (in a sense, this is what Erich von Stroheim tried to do when he adapted Frank Norris’s McTeague as Greed). But sometimes, the idea is to take elements of a novel and craft a separate work from it (as Hitchcock did with Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train). Or, to take the cinematic elements of a novel and create a film from them (I suppose that this was the case with certain adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s novels). And some filmmakers really do attempt to translate a novel into sounds and images, to create an equivalent artistic experience. In general, I would say that most of us respond to what we’ve read and in the process try to create something that has its own life apart from the source novel.

Mostly Lost

[ 15 ] May 4, 2017 |


So this is a terrible day. But here is an essay on the annual event to try and identify old films that exist in pieces and it’s pretty dang cool.


[ 80 ] April 26, 2017 |

Jonathan Demme has died.

Fishing with John

[ 11 ] April 10, 2017 |

If you are up late, you should watch John Lurie and Dennis Hopper fish for the giant squid. And Dennis telling stories and eating sugar.

What Should Socialists Think about Godzilla?

[ 216 ] March 21, 2017 |


I am so excited that Jacobin movie reviews are not just a one-off. Evidently, having a Haymarket Books guy write film reviews about how socialists should think about popular movies is not a one-off thing. First there was the classically bad review of Get Out. And now, we have the all-important question about how socialists should consider monster films.

By setting most of Kong: Skull Island in 1975, just days after the end of the war in Vietnam, and by enlisting a Marine Corp helicopter regiment to transport a band of plucky scientists to the uncharted Skull island, Vogt-Roberts makes very clear that he’s not just making a monster movie. Not much for subtlety, the movie practically bludgeons us with its intention to do politics. Its marketing material, its inclusion of a character named after Joseph Conrad, and its plethora of lines aspiring to profundity (“What was this even for?” asks one of the soldiers; “We create our enemies” opines another; “You never come home from war” Hiddleston waxes during a pause in the action) all serve this purpose.

Vogt-Roberts thinks he’s riffing on Apocalypse Now, or maybe Heart of Darkness more directly, and it’s obvious that Kong is supposed to figure in his allegory somehow. But our king of the jungle’s symbolic content is more confused than it is polysemic. By Skull Island’s conclusion there is no question that viewers are supposed to be rooting for Kong as he does battle with both the skull crawlers and Samuel L. Jackson’s deranged Col. Preston Packard, but whether he represents the Viet Cong, or nothing other than himself, is anyone’s guess.

It is also worth noting that while it’s not possible to read this version of Kong as a metaphoric stand-in for black men, the movie has hardly escaped the racism present in earlier incarnations. In fact, this very comparison slips back in by way of the decision to pit the entirely sympathetic giant ape against an ornery Sam Jackson hellbent on revenge. During their showdown the camera zooms in on the furrowed brow of Jackson and then of the ape, asking us to question which them is truly the monster.

And then there are the island’s indigenous inhabitants who get neither names nor lines — though, admittedly, their portrayal is less outright offensive than in the original (which is not saying much).

So, should socialists reject Kong: Skull Island for its inability to shed the racism inherited from its source material? And if so, does this undermine the allure of watching Viet-Kong smash down American attack helicopters? Others have addressed the issues of how to approach contradictory and even downright reactionary works of art more eloquently and at greater length than can be accomplished in this review, so I won’t attempt an answer to these questions.

Suffice it to say that if one goes in to this movie looking for a political perspective to get behind it will sorely disappoint. If, however, you go in looking for giant monsters fighting other giant monsters, Kong: Skull Island will more than meet expectations.

I’m glad that’s cleared up. One can just enjoy a movie and still be a socialist!

Mr. Mom

[ 110 ] March 8, 2017 |


Last night I went to a showing of Mr. Mom, the 1983 film about a middle-class man who loses his job and is forced to stay at home while his housewife restarts her job in an advertising agency and becomes a star. I had not thought about this film since I was a kid. And I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up. Keaton and Teri Garr are both great. Martin Mull plays a complete slimeball, which is perfect. Tambor is Tambor. Ann Jillian is a good comic seductress. Christopher Lloyd works very well in a very small role. Of course, the film is notable for its discussion of gender roles in the 1980s and for good reason. For those of you who haven’t seen it or forgotten about it, Keaton plays an engineer of some kind at a Detroit auto plant. He loses his job in the 1980s recession. Teri Garr gave her a previous career working in an ad agency. She manages to restart that career. That leaves Keaton at home taking care of the kids. All hell breaks loose. He loses his identity, she gains hers. He eventually comes to grips with the homemaking but her career is so successful that he feels left out and forgotten, a mirror of millions upon millions of housewives feeling the same. She deals with sexual harassment on the job. Eventually, the film ends (spoiler alert on a 34 year old movie!) in a farcical way that sells out the potential for female emancipation from the home on the job; it’s ambiguous whether Garr will still work but of course Keaton is rehired. It’s still pretty relevant today for a discussion of gender and work. Some of the comedy is pretty silly, but there is certainly nothing wrong with comedy as a way of getting at social problems and it isn’t so silly as to distract from it being not only a socially interesting movie but a good film too (although it doesn’t articulate a mass, class-based, anti-racist struggle against capitalism so what would a Jacobin review say!).

What I found interesting about Mr. Mom is that on top of this, it’s also a key film in depicting deindustrialization as it is happening. While focused on the middle-class and not the line workers, it is telling a very believable story for the early 80s–the disappearance of the auto industry. There’s a scene at a hiring agency with a bunch of manager types all looking for work and swapping recipes becuase they are all at home with no hopes and they laugh at the idea of finding work. To some extent this is a story of the United States in the recession but it’s also a specifically Detroit story as it focuses on the auto industry. Keaton takes pride in designing these cars (can we blame him for the horrible U.S. cars of the 1980s? Certainly it makes more sense than the ridiculous public narrative that the UAW is responsible, as if GM allowed the union to make production design choices) but while car designers will still be needed in the future, they may well not be in Detroit. Those jobs are disappearing, as is the basis of the Detroit economy. This obviously is not the focus here and there’s no discussion of this, but we can certainly read it back into the film.

Anyway, Mr. Mom is actually pretty good, 34 years after its release.

Robert Osborne, RIP

[ 63 ] March 7, 2017 |


The much beloved host of Turner Classic Movies is dead at the age of 84. Osborne is the kind of person no one can really say anything bad about. TCM is probably Ted Turner’s second greatest gift to the world (outside of his massive conservation efforts in the West). It’s certainly a better gift than the Wolf Blitzer News Network. But Osborne became the real face of TCM, bringing great movies to the broad public without commercials and in an always classy style. He provided great knowledge and great love to the films.

It’s also interesting to me that he came out of Colfax, Washington to become what he became. Colfax is a pretty awful town in southeastern Washington that mostly subsists on wheat farming. It’s true that it is probably the only town in the United States that is presently festooned with flags showing the face of Grant’s corrupt Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, so that’s exciting. But these stories of individuals escaping the deepest recesses of rural America to live these incredibly urbane and interesting lives is interesting.

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