man vs. fly
the 21st century

what i watched last week

Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is much to like about this movie, beginning with the use of stop-motion animation … it was so effective, I honestly didn’t think about it as I watched, other than to note it wasn’t like a Pixar movie. The film was smart, the voices were good, it got in and out in under 90 minutes. So why wasn’t I more impressed? Maybe I’m just not a Wes Anderson fan … I’ve seen all but one of his films, only really liked Rushmore, and disliked Bottle Rocket. I found one aspect of Fantastic Mr. Fox perplexing. We were regularly reminded that foxes (real ones, and the ones in the movie) are wild animals, and wildness needed to be accepted. Also, their wildness stood in opposition to the crass materialism of the greedy capitalist humans. But Mr. Fox et al are not foxes at all. They walk on two feet, dress in human clothing, and seem to aspire as much as anything to living the life of an ordinary human being. The film is a celebration of the nuclear family, and how wild is that? If the animals’ wildness ever threatened to overwhelm them, we might have seen some interesting conflict. Instead, their ravenous eating habits are the only thing that separate these “wild animals” from the humans they are trying to emulate. 6/10. #81 (gimme a break) on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century.

Exit Through the Gift Shop. A clever “documentary,” although I confess I never felt like I was in on the joke. Perhaps, as one person in the film says, there is no joke. I understand why the crew putting Mr. Brainwash’s show together would never want to work with him again, but the rationale behind the various artists who come to dislike MBW is unclear. It is because he stole their ideas, if in fact he did? Is it because his success demonstrates something about the art world they didn’t like? I have no idea. His success is interesting, though, like if Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant set yet another trap for Karl Pilkington, only this time he parleyed it into a million dollars. Nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar. #188 on the TSPDT list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 7/10.

Walkabout. Walkabout is one of my very favorite movies, and is one of the reasons why, as a film major in the early-70s, I thought Nicolas Roeg was the best director. I recommend it highly to pretty much everyone reading this. But I want to talk about something else, related to the vagaries of memory (a consuming topic for me in recent years). When the film was released in America, five minutes were missing. Nowadays, when those five minutes are back and all versions of the film are intact, you will read reviews where the critic claims that the five minutes edited out back in the day were of the now-famous nude swimming scene by Jenny Agutter, only 16 when it was filmed. But I saw the American version back in the day, and I assure you, Jenny swam naked. At this point, my memory gets screwy. I remember seeing the full version for the first time, many years ago. And I remember thinking a time or two that I didn’t remember a scene (I didn’t know then that there were multiple versions). I am now convinced that what was edited out was scenes that showed the aborigine interacting with other white people before he came across the girl and boy. And this is a crucial point … as Agutter says in an interview included on the disc, he doesn’t find the kids quite as strange as they think he does (at one point, the girl tells her brother, “I expect we’re the first white people he’s seen,” which seems accurate if you don’t include the scene of him and the white woman). #664 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Restrepo. Filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington are clear about their intentions with this documentary of American soldiers in Afghanistan. They want to give us a respectful look at what those soldiers’ lives are like during wartime. We see actions heroic and mundane, we get to know the soldiers as individuals, we get a feel for the Afghan landscape. What they don’t show us are generals and politicians and experts explaining the purpose of our occupation of Afghanistan. So there is something existential about the soldiers, who believe in each other and who believe in accomplishing specific goals, but tend to limit their focus to the comrades and the here and now. There are similarities between this movie and David Simon’s HBO mini-series Generation Kill, but Simon has a different point to make, one he tends to slip into whatever project on which he is working: the foot soldiers try to do their best, but they are limited by the manipulations of their institutional superiors. So the soldiers in Generation Kill spend a lot of time complaining about how their leaders are stupid, even as they act as heroically as their counterparts in Restrepo. Nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar. 8/10.

Il Posto. I didn’t get this one. It’s in the neo-realist style, but comes several years after the peak of that genre. It’s a satire of sorts, like Office Space with amateur actors, but it is extremely subtle, so much so that, as I say, I’m not sure I got much of the satire. We’re supposed to see how the protagonist’s new job guarantees him a lifetime of alienation, and Sandro Panseri’s face gets some of this across … he has a blank look for almost the entire movie, but he has big dark eyes that hint at something deeper. But Panseri isn’t really acting … yes, I know, that’s partly the point of casting amateurs … and for me, the story never really goes anywhere. It reads better than it plays, and I can imagine Ermanno Olmi constructing his thesis and imagining it would make a great film. For many, he succeeds, but me, I give it 6/10. #942 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time.

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