what i watched last week

Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015). A low-fi movie (shot on iPhones) that makes the most of its budgetary limitations. The acting is strong, from the excellent leads Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, to cult actor James Ransone, to old-school Clu Gulager, in his 80s, who turns up in one scene. Baker is more interested in slice-of-life than telling a story ... there are a lot of shots of characters walking and walking and walking (interesting in itself since how often do we see people walking in L.A.?). There’s a new way to enjoy a carwash that I hadn’t seen before, which gets to the main selling point of Tangerine: we see a sub-culture that rarely turns up in movies, treated with open-ended honesty and no condescension. What makes it all work is Rodriguez and Taylor ... even when nothing is really happening (which is often), it’s a pleasure to listen to them jabber away. It’s reminiscent of New Wave Godard. #351 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014). Perhaps it says something that when I heard there was a character named “Gamora”, I convinced myself I’d misheard the name and a giant turtle was somehow going to be in the movie. And when I realized I was wrong, I was disappointed. James Gunn piles on the entertainment value ... for the first half of the movie, if not longer, the movie is a combination of non-stop action and clever dialogue. It’s exhausting. Gunn steadfastly refuses to pause for any kind of reflection, but the action scenes aren’t good enough to carry an entire film, and the dialogue isn’t exactly Whedon-esque. Most of the snarkiest lines are given to a raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper that is only marginally less annoying than George Clooney in Fantastic Mr. Fox. When Gunn tries to elicit emotion from the audience at the last minute, it’s far too late, although Vin Diesel does what he can playing Hodor, er, Groot, a tree that says the same thing over and over (“I am Groot”, with which Diesel does some interesting things). I can think of so many things I liked better than Guardians of the Galaxy, including most of the other items in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I have seen (including the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Firefly/Serenity, which does a much better job of giving us entertaining characters with depth who toss around snappy dialogue. #955 on the 21st century list, which is just pathetic. 5/10.


music friday: thirteen

We recently began watching a series called Thirteen, which revolves around the re-appearance of a woman who had been kidnapped thirteen years before. At one point, an old friend gives her an iPod with a bunch of songs from the time she missed out on, which inspired this, one song from each of the 13 years the fictional character was captive.

2003: OutKast, “Hey Ya!

2004: Franz Ferdinand, “Take Me Out

2005: Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone

2006: Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy

2007: Amy Winehouse, “Rehab

2008: M.I.A., “Paper Planes

2009: Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind

2010: Cee Lo Green, “Fuck You

2011: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep

2012: Taylor Swift, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"

2013: Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"

2014: Kendrick Lamar, “I

2015: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk


film fatales #16: citizenfour (laura poitras, 2014)

This Oscar-winning documentary is a confident piece of work. Not in its subject matter ... Laura Poitras is necessarily paranoid, as is her featured “character”, Ed Snowden. But Poitras assumes she has right on her side. She doesn’t hide her point of view. This is just as well ... the bias is built in.

This is especially important because Poitras is essentially working with Snowden, helping him make his information public. I’m reminded of Under Fire, where a news photographer played by Nick Nolte agrees to falsify a photo to help a revolution in Nicaragua. He knows he has crossed a journalistic line; he does it anyway, although not without some soul searching.

Poitras is inclined to be on Snowden’s “side”. For that matter, so am I. While she is always present, she is never on camera, so it’s possible to forget her role in Snowden’s “crime”. But even if you think Snowden is a hero, and Poitras a champion of the public’s right to know, you have to wonder what parts of the story Poitras is leaving out.

Again, I am one who thinks Snowden’s actions were good. I just wish I trusted Citizenfour more.

On the other hand, just before writing this, I saw a preview for an upcoming film, Snowden, written and directed by Oliver Stone. It is safe to say I am not a fan of Stone’s work. I expect he, like Poitras, will wear his biases on his sleeve. I don’t expect he’ll recognize them as biases, though, and I bet he uses “based on a true story” as an easy way to make that story fit what he wants to say. Which I suppose isn’t that far from Poitras, but if I am a bit mistrustful of Citizenfour, I am over-the-top suspicious of anything with Oliver Stone attached to it. #427 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)