Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore (1998) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 05/23/2015

Felix has decided that Wes Anderson is his favorite director, and who am I to argue?  I really like Anderson’s films.  Some of them are favorites of mine as well.

I hadn’t seen Rushmore since it originally came out in 1998, the first of Anderson’s films that I saw.  Unlike Felix, I only had Bottle Rocket (1996) of Anderson’s films to seek out at the time.  I’ve kept up with him since then.  Felix is interested in moving through them and I thought Rushmore might be a good place to start.

It’s funny, what you remember and what you don’t of a movie that you’ve seen nearly 20 years ago.

I’d forgotten that this was the film that introduced Jason Schwartzman, or that he was actually a teenager back then.  I had recalled the battle between Schwartzman’s Max Fischer and Bill Murray’s Herman Blume over a teacher at the school.  I’d forgotten how pretty Olivia Williams was (she’s shown up in a couple of more recent films that I’ve seen, the awful Seventh Son (2014) and the intriguing Maps to the Stars (2014)).

Felix noted how some of Anderson’s aesthetics had yet to come into full development, which is true, though this is the first that I think we see of some of his theater and artifice, what I’ve referenced as cinematic dioramas.  You see this in particular in two pieces, the science fair displays and in Max’s many theatrical re-stagings of crime films.

The film seems to possibly be the most personal of Anderson’s films, though it’s hard to project on it like that, co-written as it was with Owen Wilson (as many of his best films have been).  Maybe it’s Wilson’s most personal film?  Max’s unending search for places in the school, clubs, teams, interests, while ignoring actual schoolwork, his eventual triumphant staging of elaborate dramas finds him his ultimate place in the world.

Felix enjoyed the film.  As did I.

An American Hippie in Israel (1972)

An American Hippie in Israel (1972) movie poster

director Amos Sefer
viewed: 05/21/2015

My ongoing journey through cinema has many roads, pathways, asides, spur of the moment outings, trajectories and landing spaces.  One particular trajectory that I’ve been following for about a year now has been a sojourn through the worst movies ever made.  I’ve used two primary lists as the guideposts, the original 1978 book The 50 Worst Films Ever Made by Michael and Harry Medved with Randy Dreyfuss, which was one of the first attempts at such a listing (though it’s amazingly inconsistent.)  But also, a more active and contemporary list, Wikipedia’s List of films considered to be the worst, which is a bit better, though there is such a heavy focus on films of the last 20 years that it does lack some perspective.

An American Hippie in Israel, had Medved and co. known of it in 1978 might well have been up for consideration, but it seems that this film languished in some obscurity until the internet came along and offered places for such cinematic turds to shine.

If it wasn’t for TCM Underground offering this one up, I’m not sure that I would have gotten around to trying to land it.  Considered the worst Israeli film ever made, it’s a wayward semi-political parable about hippie culture, imported from the States, though carrying with it an ideology that many of the flower children and others of that generation related with considerably.  Peace, love, sex, and drugs, man.  Vietnam is a bummer, War is a bummer, government is a bummer.  It’s freedom, man, freedom, that’s what we need.

Oddly the barefoot American traveler of the title hooks up with a rich gal and they screw and get real with one another, trek around and find other people who share their hippie vision.  Only the hippie, Mike (Asher Tzarfati) is hunted by two pale, gun-toting weirdos in oddly non-sequitur murder attempts that are apparently metaphorical as well as making no sense.

But in the film’s ultimate moments of truth, it turns out that all these visions of peace and paradise are a sham.  Once isolated by sharks on a small desolate island, Mike and hist girl and another couple devolve into warfare and chaos.

The beginning of the film is weird and slow but it builds up in the last third to some moments of utter hilarity.  I laughed out loud at the bizarre conversation between Mike and Komo (Komo, who doesn’t speak English, Mike who doesn’t speak Hebrew).  It’s very funny.  The sharks are also pretty hilarious.

It struck me as funny, too, that at a time when so many more successful counter-culture films were made (late 1960’s – early 1970’s), how tone-deaf and misguided this comic caper really is.

Definitely enjoyably bad.

BaadAsssss Cinema (2002)

BaadAsssss Cinema (2002) DVD poster

director Isaac Julien
viewed: 05/20/2015

A really pretty solid primer and overview of Blaxploitation cinema, featuring Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Gordon Parks, Larry Cohen, Samuel L. Jackson and Melvin Van Peebles and many others.   I don’t know what else to tell you about it other than it’s quite worth the while and a great starting point for delving into the genre, understanding its context and history, and getting a great sense of the stars and the films.  Definitely worthwhile if you are interested.

Pam Grier is such a fox.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie poster

director George Miller
viewed: 05/17/2015 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best movie of the year.

It’s a seriously fun two hours of near nonstop action and cars and violence.  I can’t say how awesome it is that 70 year old George Miller came back to Mad Max, as he’s directed all of the films in the series, though the last one thirty years prior, and has landed in 2015 with one of the most vital and entertaining action movies in years and years.

Kudos galore.

The Descent Part 2 (2009)

The Descent Part 2 (2009) movie poster

director Jon Harris
viewed: 05/16/2015

You know something extremely rare happened here for me.  having just re-watched The Descent (2005), H watched The Descent Part 2 (2009) with Clara at her behest.  The weird thing?  I had totally and utterly forgotten that I had seen the sequel before.  I not only had forgotten it before we started watching it, but nowhere through the film did I suddenly get jarred to recall that I’d watched it before.

For a movie I only watched five years ago, I’d say that that is something.

In writing about it before, I sort of hit the nail on the head.  It picks up right after the first one, lacks the surprise element that the original developed so well, and while it was not directed by Neil Marshall, the original film’s director, it’s actually reasonably decent for a sequel of lesser quality.

Clara agreed.

Now, I wonder if I’ll remember having watched it again.

The Descent (2005)

The Descent (2005) movie poster

director Neil Marshall
viewed: 05/16/2015

The Descent (2005) was one of the more noteworthy modern horror films that I recall having seen in the past decade.  Frankly, it doesn’t come up a lot in life.  Director Neil Marshall went from promising director to one lacking great consistency.  I think he’s currently working on episodes of Game of Thrones, which actually seems like a good fit for him.

Anyways, I asked Clara if she was interested in watching a horror film and she said yes, so I suggested this one, which I recalled to be good.

It’s the story of an all-female sextet of cave divers for whom the exploration of an unknown cave system in the Appalachian Mountains goes awry.  And then gets invaded by some creepy crawlers.

One of the most interesting things about the film is that the creatures don’t show up until the final third of the movie, making their initial appearance that much more surprising and shocking.  Frankly, Clara was getting a bit scared.  She started asking if we could “not finish the film”, though I coaxed her through it.  By the end of the film, she was wanting to watch the sequel.

I still think that this is one of the better horror films of the century so far.  It’s not perfect but it’s original, and it’s crafted with a real build up to the eventual weird horror and mystery.  It does have some feminist quality to it as well, starring six strong women against a horde of evil, blind bat-men.

To each his own.

Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

Seeding of a Ghost (1983) movie poster

director Chuan Yang
viewed: 05/15/2015

Notorious Shaw Brothers’ bananas horror film, Seeding of a Ghost, most certainly has its charms.  It’s the wacky story of a cuckolded taxi driver, who is cursed when he accidentally gives a crafty wizard a ride.  Long, convoluted story shortened, his wife is raped and murdered and to seek revenge he employs his former evil fare to wreak revenge via black magic.

This includes several levels of reviving the corpse of his wife and eventually “seeding” her.  Um, yeah, that is what it seems to suggest.

There are lots of very kooky and pretty awesome traditional FX and some outréness of which to be quite proud.  Definitely worth seeing if you like your Hong Kong horror as coo-coo and outrageous as it gets.

I can’t recall when or where I first read about this film, but I think it goes back a couple of decades.  I’d never seen it before, but let me tell you, it’s a keeper.

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Maps to the Stars (2014) movie poster

director David Cronenberg
viewed: 05/10/2015

You had me at “David Cronenberg”.  I’ll still watch any new David Cronenberg film.  Doesn’t really matter what it’s about.  Well, actually, after Cosmopolis (2012), maybe I should temper that.

And, that said, Maps to the Stars is the second feature in a row for Cronenberg to feature Robert Pattinson, largely ensconced yet again inside a limo.  This time, though, he’s the driver and the subject isn’t Wall Street but Hollywood.  Cronenberg’s first film ever shot in the United States also features Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, and Olivia Williams.

It’s a funny, sordid affair.  I’d argue that the film’s ability to skewer Hollywood and Hollywood types is a bit more tin eared than other aspects of it.  Mainly, it’s a very dysfunctional family horror show, with a heart in Mia Wasikowska, who plays the scarred mystery girl who hunts the celebrities like a world-class stalker, but whose motives are more mysterious and bizarre.

It’s kind of weird but I liked it.  In fact, I think I liked it more than I expected I would.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) movie poster

director Brett Morgen
viewed: 05/10/2015

I’d been reading about Brett Morgen’s documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and felt interested.  21 years since his suicide, Cobain’s music and legacy have endured, and many films have been made about him.  This film was the first to be authorized by his estate, to feature the music of Nirvana, and to have a pretty full cooperation of Courtney Love and other friends and family.  It was also produced in part by his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.

Considering that I’d suffered through the insufferable Kurt & Courtney (1998), I felt I owed it to myself and the subject matter to at least see a film with some shred of integrity and dignity on the musician.  (I’ll never watch another Nick Broomfield film ever again).

The film is intimate, having access to tons of home video and personal papers, notebooks, audio tapes to augment the interviews and archival information.   In that sense, you do get a better sense of who Cobain was as a person.  Really, a cool guy, a loner, but into interesting stuff, the kind of person who might have been fun to hang out with and watch a movie with or something.

Because really, wherever you get your information about who he is or was, it’s a construct.  I recall when I first heard of Nirvana and when I first heard of people who had known Kurt in real life, the rumors and stories and whatnot.  There is still very much the real person behind all that.  A real person who got sucked into mainstream culture and celebrity essentially out of nowhere and succumbed to his many demons and shortcomings and fears despite his intensive gifts and talents.

Really, though, the film isn’t amazing.  In fact, it’s kind of long and drawn out.  Parts of it are more successful than others, and in the end, it doesn’t feel as definitive as it strives to be.  The intimacy is achieved, though, I would say, and I’ve been listening to Nirvana and appreciating them and Cobain more since watching the film than I have for some time since.

It’s one of those things typical in my relationship with popular music.  The more popular and ubiquitous it is, the harder time I have of having my personal relationship with it.  But I’ve had that with Nirvana and I’m glad to have reestablished our relationship.

Şeytan (1974)

Şeytan (1974) movie poster

director Metin Erksan
viewed: 05/09/2015

I’d heard about the Turkish knock-off of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), as well as a number of other 1970’s Turkish knock-off films, but I hadn’t ever seen them before.  Şeytan is essentially a pretty straight-up re-make of that classic, game-changing American horror film, but made on the cheap within the context of Turkish culture.

It’s quite marvelously bad, but I have to say that I regret maybe not having re-watched The Exorcist more recently to perhaps more fully appreciate the film’s rip-offs and variances more fully.

Quite entertaining in its way.