what i watched last week

We Are the Best! (Lucas Moodysson, 2013). This really belongs under the “By Request” banner, except I couldn’t actually remember who recommended it (hi, Rosalie!). “Charming” isn’t a word I normally associate with Punk, but this story, of young teenage girls in Stockholm in 1982 who identify with Punk, is charming above all else, even though it retains an affiliation with a movement that never wanted to charm. The three girls are outsiders, which in itself aligns them with punk. Bobo and Klara stumble onto the idea of forming a band, even though neither of them can play any instruments. They get access to a public rehearsal place that has a small drum set and an old bass guitar, and they are off, playing an awful racket while practicing their one and only song, “Hate the Sport”, which is both an ode to an oppressive gym teacher and a condemnation of all that is wrong in the global political world. (“Hate the sport! Hate, hate, hate the sport! People die and scream, but all you care about is your high-jump team! Children in Africa are dying, but you’re all about balls flying!”) Later they recruit a third, Hedvig, who has the advantage of actually being able to play guitar. The girls’ outsider status is magnified by the fact that by 1982, everyone tells them punk is dead. But they are locked into punk’s essence, as a culture and a musical genre that makes room for those dissatisfied by their condition. (That these middle-class girls actually have a decent life with decent families is both thankfully anti-clichéd, and true to life, since no one thinks well of their family when they are 13 years old.) The plot is ramshackle ... there is one live performance that evolves into Klara changing “Hate the Sport” into “Hate Västerås!” when their first gig, in Västerås, is poorly received (the crowd calls them communists, among other things). But the performances of the three girls are what makes the movie charming ... you could imagine any or all of them going on to greater things (it’s the first film for all three). I suspect everyone will have their favorite, but Mira Grosin as Klara gets my vote, perhaps unfairly, since the other two play more withdrawn characters while Klara is more explosive. #368 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014). It took awhile for me to lock into the film, but I enjoyed it once I gave myself over to it. It will remind you of any number of other movies and books. It’s The Big Lebowski as P.I., it’s The Long Goodbye with marijuana, it’s The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, it’s Cheech and Chong. It ambles along at its own pace. Joaquin Phoenix is amiably befuddled as the main character, and there are some fun cameos from a plethora of stars. Benicio Del Toro gives a reprise of his Samoan attorney from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. If Inherent Vice isn’t quite as good as the things it emulates, at least Anderson shows good taste in choosing what to copy. #371 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 7/10.

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982). There was a Devo video once ... it might have been “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise” ... during parts of the video, the band members were playing with a baby, and as I recall it, the baby didn’t look like it was having much fun. Fitzcarraldo was famously a movie where no one was having much fun. (I haven’t seen Burden of Dreams, so I’m going on hearsay.) Werner Herzog wanted to make a movie about an obsessed man trying to get a ship over a hill, and he did make that movie, but Herzog made sure that he also got a real ship over a real hill while the cameras rolled. Leaving aside stories about how insufferable Klaus Kinski was during the making of the film, I wanted to know the same thing I wondered about that baby in the Devo video: did all of those natives who Herzog used to make his movie have fun? What was it like to pretend to be slave labor in the movie, when “pretend” meant to actually do the labor? Everything is submerged to Herzog’s vision, and hooray for committed artists and all that, but I wasn’t surprised to learn that the natives eventually burned down the set. Meanwhile, the leisurely pace isn’t my cup of tea, but what’s worse is that Herzog denies us the payoff: we see the struggle to get the ship up the hill, and then suddenly, it’s on the other side going down the hill. I guess I wanted some of that leisurely pace to stick around for a bit so we could see the actual moment the ship crested. Nowhere near as good as Aguirre: The Wrath of God. #411 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.

Memories of Murder (Joon-ho Bong, 2003). 7/10.

by request: memories of murder (joon-ho bong, 2003)

(Requested by Kasey Ellison.)

Another solid entry from Bong, and once again I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know any longer why I continue to be surprised ... I’ve liked every one of Bong’s movies that I have seen, and each of them have refused to be held down to clear genre expectations. They are all different on the surface, as well ... I’ve seen four, and one was a monster movie, one was a mystery thriller driven by a mother’s love for her son, the third was an action sci-fi picture. And now there’s Memories of Murder, which came before the others. It’s a police procedural, a bit like the SVU version of Law & Order, although it more resembles the movie Zodiac. Bong is capable of anything.

Again, he smoothly blends genres. The local cops are, if not incompetent, at least crippled by the backwards nature of their small town department. They work like comic relief for much of the movie. A big-city detective from Seoul joins the case, and he accentuates the clumsiness of the local guys. But as the case progresses, his methods don’t work any better than his counterparts, and he gradually turns sadistic in his quest for truth. All of the policemen are so set on solving the mystery that their obsessions get in the way. Meanwhile, the body count of women sexually assaulted and murdered keeps rising. By the end, there is nothing funny ... it’s hard to even remember the comedy of the early sections.

Most of the film takes place in 1986. My knowledge of South Korea in 1986 is limited, so I have to rely on others. The general opinion seems to be that Memories of Murder does a good job of portraying life at that time. The military dictatorship was brutally oppressive, and this shows in contextual ways. When the call goes out for more forces to hunt down the murderer, the call is rejected because troops are needed to control a rebellion. Everyone assumes that the police torture innocent people, and indeed, questionable tactics are used by the “heroes” of the movie.

This is not a movie where you get to root for characters. What you want is for the mystery to be solved, and you understand the ways the police turn vicious as the case eats away at their insides. But there is no happy ending.

Thus far, Bong has demonstrated the ability to make very good movies, but for some reason, I wouldn’t put any of them in the “great” range just yet. He’s got time, of course, and he has yet to make a stinker. Even his American movie was good (Snowpiercer). Bong is reliably consistent, even though there is no telling what he’ll come up with next. #144 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (it even sneaks in at #998 in the all-time list). 7/10.

music friday: capitola

Spent a couple of days at the ball park with my brother, which, combined with some friends who are spending the upcoming weekend in Santa Cruz, put me in the mind to devote this week’s Music Friday to music my brother and I listened to when we lived together in Capitola in 1970-71. This list will feature rather extravagant songs ... we didn’t usually spend a day listening to nothing but the classics, but those are what come to mind as I prepare this.

Pink Floyd, “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”. Marmalade, I like marmalade.

Dave Mason, “Look at You Look at Me”. I’ve written about this enough times by now. The second guitar solo is one of my all-time favorites, and emulates the psychedelic feel more than anything else. Since I did a lot of psychedelic drugs then, this becomes an easy pick.

Janis Joplin, “Kozmic Blues”. Actually, I don’t remember which of Janis’ work we listened to the most, so I’ll offer this one.

The Velvet Underground, “I Heard Her Call My Name”. If my memory is correct, my brother found White Light White Heat in a garbage bin.

Boz Scaggs, “Loan Me a Dime”. Another one I’ve already written about several times. This is all about Duane Allman. There was an AM radio station that played music in the FM “underground” format. It went off the air at 6:00 each evening, and “Loan Me a Dime” closed off the broadcast day each time. The original of this on Scaggs’ album had Duane down in the mix ... if I have the story right, later remixes put Duane front and center, which was nice for hearing his work, but arguably not nice for the music as a whole. I think the link is to the original mix, but honestly, I’m not always sure.

Van Morrison, “Cypress Avenue”. This could be any of Astral Weeks, Moondance, or His Band and the Street Choir. The link is to a version that turned up on a televised special, which we watched at the time.

Otis Redding, “Try a Little Tenderness”. The Live in Europe version. The link is to a performance from a similar date. Sorry about the advertising on the video, but it’s one of his most over-the-top performances on the song.