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what i watched last week

Drones (Amber Benson and Adam Busch, 2010). I watched this because the co-director is Amber Benson, for whom I have a long-lasting crush from her days on Buffy. As far as I know, it hasn’t played theaters yet … it’s been shown at some festivals, and I caught it On Demand via Comcast. It’s a wisp of a tale … I don’t like spoilers, but the premise is featured in all of the trailers, so I’ll just say it: it’s Office Space meets Close Encounters. I am not the world’s biggest Office Space fan, so your mileage may vary, but I found Drones to be congenial, if so low-key it almost disappears. The production team makes the most of the $500,000 or so they spent … the entire movie takes place on one set, for example. The acting is fine, there is little of the slapstick I find so boring in modern movies. It just lacks a certain something that would raise it to another level. (BTW, be warned that the Comcast On Demand version is in 4:3, while the movie is 2.35:1 … what Comcast has done is a travesty.)

Little Sinner (Gus Meins, 1935). An “Our Gang” short. This made a very big impact on me as a kid, which led me to finally hunt it down after all these years. Spanky, Buckwheat and Porky play hooky from Sunday School to go fishing. A total eclipse takes place, at which time a mass baptism occurs in the lake where Spanky hoped to fish. When I was little, that baptism scared me as much as it scared Spanky. Apparently, this one was removed from the “Little Rascals” series of TV reruns in the early 70s, due to what Wikipedia calls its “racial content.” The churchgoers at the baptism are black, but I don’t think that was what I found scary … it was the whole “baptize them in the lake” part, with the subsequent shouts of “Hallelujah!” from the baptized, that got to me (that’s not how we did it in my church). In 1979, it was returned to the TV package, minus the eclipse and baptism. I found the original online.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). A movie like this should seem even better after you’ve seen it. By that I mean, when a movie begs to be seen more than once, it is also begging to be analyzed incessantly, so the post-mortem becomes an integral part of our enjoyment of the movie. Now, I’m on record as generally disliking movies that require more than one viewing … it’s a concept that seems to encourage a level of fuzziness that can be too easily explained away as “well, you just need to see it again and it will make sense to you.” What’s odd about Inception is that I liked it more right after it was over, than I did once I gave it some thought. I looked over some of the reviews, and I was more convinced by the negative comments than by the positive ones, even though I came to those reviews with positive thoughts of my own. I will say that I loved the beginning of the scene with the train on the street … it came out of nowhere, just like it should have given the dreamscape. I wish Marion Cotillard had been given more to do. And I am quite impressed by the anal construction of the various dream depths … I believe Nolan really did know what he was doing. On the other hand, this movie didn’t just feel like a Philip K. Dick novel … that happens all the time … this one felt like a specific Dick novel, Eye in the Sky, one of his early works where eight people find themselves traveling in and out of the worlds inside each other’s minds. That book made far less sense than Inception, but that’s my point: a movie so involved with dreams should not make sense. Inception makes too much sense.

Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991). In the past, I’ve thought of this as one of Kathryn Bigelow’s lesser films, but now I’m not sure what I was thinking. Well, OK, it’s kinda stupid, and the surfer/psycho philosophy of Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi isn’t particular convincing, although Swayze himself is fine. What Bigelow succeeds at is getting the viewer inside the concept of “pure adrenaline.” It’s not just that the action set pieces are good … they’re great, actually … it’s that they are innovative, and always connect us to the adrenal rush. The wonderful surfing scenes are probably the most standard action segments in the movie. The foot-chase between Bodhi-as-Reagan and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah is remarkable, as exciting as any car chase, ten years before parkour started showing up in movies. And the sky-diving sequences are mind-boggling. On the one hand, I was a bit saddened to learn from the disc’s extras how they shot a lot of those scenes … no, they weren’t really diving. On the other hand, it wasn’t all fake, either, most notably when Swayze says “Adios, amigo!” and rolls out of the plane as the camera follows his drop and no edits are to be found. Those extras even had a nice bit that helped explain how Keanu can be such an effective presence on the screen when his acting chops seem to be absent. John McGinley says that most actors look for a way to grab the camera and make it pay attention, but Keanu just sits back and lets the camera find him. And it works because Reeves and the camera are in sync.

Comments

JPK

I agree with you entirely about Inception. I walked out of the theater fairly well impressed but it does not remain so in memory. Now I remember it as entirely too pleased with its own complexities and overly busy with gunfire and elaborate fights. (The one section did make me want to see On Her Majesty's Secret Service again, for better or worse my favorite of a franchise I never particularly cared for.) Last night I happened to see Eyes Wide Shut for the first time, and though I never thought of Inception in relation to it, it occurs to me now that that is the way to make a movie about dreaming: disconcerting, mesmerizing, weird, freaky, sexy, and scary. I didn't want it to end. I was altogether prepared to dislike it; sometimes low expectations can be one's friend.

Steven Rubio

It's funny, I complained a lot about Memento back in the day for being too pleased with itself ... the real conversation was about Mulholland Drive, but Memento was part of the discussion. I gave Run Lola Run as an example of a movie that was full of itself, but, as I said at the time, "I also sense a joyfulness from the film maker, as if they were saying 'look what we can do, isn't it the neatest thing, I want to share it with you' while with Memento or Mulholland Drive I sense little joy behind the self-promotion, as if they were saying 'look what we can do, we are the neatest thing, if you want to be cool like us you'll learn to like our self-indulgent movies.'" When I reminded my wife the other day that I gave Inception the same 7/10 I'd given Memento, she was startled ... based on my rants over the years, she assumed I hated Memento.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a fine film, with terrific action sequences in the snow ... I can see why you'd recall it in this context. It also has Diana Rigg, who is in her own way one of the greatest "Bond Girls." (I consider the top three to be Ursula Andress ... if Halle Berry had come first, I'd have chosen her, but she didn't ... Rigg, classy and hot ... and Michelle Yeoh, the one Bond Girl who could have actually played the lead role.) I don't hate Lazenby the way some do, but he's a weak link.

I haven't seen Eyes Wide Shut, but I'm not as high on Kubrick as many others. I think he made several great movies early in his career, ending with Dr. Strangelove, but I don't know that I've actually liked a single one of his movies I've seen post-1964, starting with 2001, and I think of him as overrated the way Ridley Scott is, except Ridley Scott at least keeps us awake. Even so, Eyes Wide Shut is the only Kubrick I've missed outside of the two B-pictures at the start of his career.

JPK

I understand all resistance to Kubrick, but he has been surprising me lately. When I sat down to look at 2001 again for a project it was with no small amount of dread for the drudgery ahead of me. But even as I kept counting the things that should not be working -- humans in ape suits, wooden dialogue, incoherent narrative, slow pacing, self-consciously trippy light show, etc. -- I found myself entirely pulled in. I had also forgot how funny he can be in the middle of all the ponderousness, as in the scene where the computer is being booted down ("Look, Dave, I can see you're really upset about this"). Maybe I'm ready for another try at The Shining? (Let's not get carried away :-) I think I like Mulholland Dr. and Memento more than you as well, but again, I understand the complaints. I had to see the Lynch a few times before it really clarified for me, and as you note above that's not exactly the most convincing starting point for a ringing endorsement. I certainly agree with you there, and also about Ridley Scott, who is almost always proficient but has been overrated for decades now.

Steven Rubio

Well, 2001 is on my to-watch list ... yes, I have one :-) ... I have it on Blu-ray but haven't watched it yet. I have many fond memories of it ... the soundtrack, for certain, and several sequences in the film. It's a movie we watched many times in the 60s, usually high on something. The Shining? Better that than Barry Lyndon. The three Kubricks I think are great are Paths of Glory, Spartacus, and Dr. Strangelove.

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