Oh, Hi There. We’ve been watching television and movies and things on the internet and we’d like to tell you about them. Consider it an advice column for the socially stunted.
OSCAR NOMINATED LIVE ACTION SHORTS (TH)*
Spielzeugland (Germany) – A rather pedestrian short about a German boy during the 1930s who’s been told by friends and family that his Jewish friend and piano partner will soon be taken away to “Spielzeugland” (“Toyland”). There are about 47 flashbacks and flashforwards during the 13-minute film, and shit doesn’t get explained particularly well. This won the Oscar, which is silly, because it’s a little exploitative, and not particularly well-made or inspired.
Manon sur le bitume (France) – The only non-narrative film in the bunch, more of a series of experiences playing out in a woman’s mind as she lies under her crumpled bike on the pavement after being plastered by a car. A “you should live every day as if you might die at any time” message, possibly playing out in the mind of a dead woman, in flashbacks. It is, in other words, Sunset Boulevard meets L’Auberge Espagnole. Siegfried Kracauer would have a conniption.
New Boy (Ireland) – Decent film about a refugee child from Africa on his first day in school in Ireland. Funny mostly for the reactions of the Irish children and their interplay with the put-upon teacher. Pretty standard, “charming” plot about making new friends in unlikely places.
Auf der Strecke (Germany) – The best of the bunch, at 30 minutes. Story of a man, Rolf, a security guard at a department store, who loves Sarah, a book clerk, from afar/through the cameras, but can’t work up the courage to talk to her more than in passing. Shit gets real halfway through, as Rolf rides the same train as Sarah and her male companion. Doesn’t shy away from human stupidity, emotion, and failure to connect.
Grisen (Denmark) – This film basically explores the tensions between recent Islamic immigrant populations to Western Europe and the “free speech loving” native European population; a row erupts in a hospital room over a picture of a pig on the wall. An ironic twist at the end seems to poke fun at all parties who are arguing about it, underlining our common humanity, etc. etc. This film was no doubt made in reaction to the Mohammed cartoon kerfuffle in Denmark two years ago.
* I realize that I sound cranky about these shorts; really, they were all “decent”, of course, because they all got nominated for Oscars, and maybe I’m just grumpy right now, but none of them had anything particularly groundbreaking or controversial going on. Three of them displayed some kind of concern, directly or indirectly, with the blurring of national lines and cultural divides in Europe. One could get the impression, watching them, that short films are only made in Europe, as well, which is a little odd. (TH)
The Weather Underground  – D: Sam Green, Bill Siegel. Documentary talking to members of the now-defunct Weather Underground, the militant splinter group from the Students for a Democratic Society. Mostly consisting of interviews then and now, it’s pretty amazing to see that cats like Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, and Mark Rudd are all more or less normal leftists in normal jobs now, and to think that at one point, they were on the brink of murder. Shit was real. Media critic Todd Gitlin makes several appearances as the apparent voice-of-past-SDS-reason, being rather sanctimonious about it, and more or less being right. (TH)
Dressed to Kill  – D: Brian De Palma. It’s no secret that I’ve got much love for a good chunk of De Palma’s career (starting with “Hi, Mom!” in 1970), and this, IMHO, is pretty much the beginning of the end, one of the last great strokes of his career. A masterful Hitchcock send-up with 80s thematic relevance like transsexualism, venereal diseases, et al, Dressed to Kill is a murder mystery, though it plays out more like a psychological horror film (did I mention De Palma worshiped Hitchcock?). A wild, highly enjoyable film, with an A+ cast featuring Michael Caine as a troubled doctor, and Dennis Franz as an NYPD homicide detective who’s just so fucking pissed at everyone all the time he makes his witnesses do all his legwork for him. If I actually dug any deeper into this film I’m pretty sure I’d be horrified by the conservative/fear-mongering attitude this film takes towards homosexuals, transsexuals, and everyone in between, but I’d rather leave it alone and enjoy the thrill of Nancy Allen being stalked by a cross dresser with a scalpel. (EM)
National Basketball Association  – Since most of my movie watching time has been engulfed by NBA League Pass, I need to feel justified by putting this here. It’s been a pretty good season, Chicago Bulls notwithstanding, but I’m still concerned as to why some of the league’s worst teams are my favorite to watch (New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, etc.). I know why this is, i.e. D’Antoni’s (and now Genrty’s!) 7 seconds or less offense, Don Nelson’s complete wackiness, but like, fuck, man, I wish these teams were better. Even the god awful Pacers are fun to watch, especially when Troy Murphy is throwing down reverse jams and pumping out hella threes. One of these days an exciting team will win the NBA Championship, I swear to god. (EM)
Soylent Green  – I don’t know where it came from, but about a month ago I got in a 1970s dystopian scifi tizzy and put a bunch of them on my Netflix queue. They’re still arriving, apparently, because there are just so damn many of them. Soylent Green gets high marks for fucked-up-ness of premise, but other than that, it’s a doozy. There’s something terrifying in an incredibly cerebral way about being unknowingly fed the processed remains of dead people, but director Richard Fleischer did an excellent job of making it more laughable than unnerving. Oh well. At least Charlton Heston is dead now. Maybe he got turned into Bumble Bee tuna or something: “From my cold dead, chunk-light hands in water!” (BK)
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia [Season 3, 2007] One of the greatest things about television-on-DVD is coming home after a long shitty day and finding the little Red Envelope in your mailbox with Disc 1 of Season 3 of It’s Always Sunny in your mailbox, then sitting down and watching 3 hours of it in a row. However, I can already see the cracks showing. There are two different styles at work in the show, that of the un-selfaware straight-face original creators and cast, and the screwball mugging of Danny DeVito. The frequency off misfires between the two is increasing, and I wonder how long the show can hold up under the weight of its biggest (smallest?) fan and self-invited guest. That said, there is something transcendently funny about Danny DeVito yelling “I’m gonna trip balls!” over and over again on the DVD menu. Also, the Aluminum Monster v Fatty Magoo might be the funniest episode ever, probably because it throws the show’s everyman unassumption out the window and puts DeVito – as Frank – in charge of a sweatshop populated by Eastern European immigrants, into which group Charlie rapidly assimilates in comedic babushka. (BK)
Vice Broadcasting System [2007-2009] This is seriously the best thing on the internet. It’s a video channel of nothing but documentaries (and a few music videos for the kinds of terrible bands Vice likes). So far I’ve watched docs about Donk music in the north of England, Gorgoroth and Swedish black metal, Dancehall in Kingston, toxic dumping Brooklyn, and some guy who runs a “body farm” for forensic research. Not to mention the Vice Guide to Travel stuff I watched last year in which the magazine’s co-founder Shane Smith travels to gnarly places you’re not supposed to go to, like North Korea (!), Chernobyl, and the Congo (not the good Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, which is horrible enough, but the other country next to it simpy called “The Congo” because it’s just straight wild). For some reason, a couple of years ago, Vice had fallen off my radar and I lost a bit of respect for the magazine as it went further down its weird self-righteous wormhole, but these documentaries have seriously blown me away. <3 (BK)
Gomorra  – D: Matteo Garrone. This film should be subtitled “Nessun più torvi” (None More Grim), because of all the various cinematic looks at the worldwide drug trade over the past ten years (Traffic, City of God, Maria Full of Grace, etc.), there are none more grim (maybe Matthieu Kassovitz’s Le Haine comes close). Seriously, everything about this film is empty and nihilistic, but the sets in particular were amazing. Bombed out huge old buildings, marshland by the sea, housing projects that look like giant cruiseships/Blade Runner outtakes from the daytime, only dirty, broken, and without lifejackets, dingy back offices, sweatshops…the list goes on. The Mafia drug trade in the Naples area is ostensibly the subject of the film, but that ends up octopussing out and touching all manners of shit (literally) – shipping, stripping, fashion, Scarlett Johansson, toxic waste, and immigration. (Come to think of it, Gamorra is sort of like all of The Wire compressed into 137 minutes and moved to the south of Italy). Everyone is implicated directly or indirectly, too. Nobody escapes history, connections, or straight violence in the world onscreen, and title cards at the end of the film let everyone know just how fucking real it all is. A great film. (TH)