last post of 2011: kindle fire thoughts
#18: the maltese falcon (john huston, 1941)

what i watched last week

Welfare (Frederick Wiseman, 1975). Phil Dellio had this at #26 on his list of 50 Favorite Films, and he summed up a good portion of the movie when he described “three hours watching people argue, plead, and hiss invective at each other … ‘At each other’ is misleading—most of the time, people talk past each other in Welfare.” At times it seems like no one is listening to anyone but themselves … the result can hardly be called a conversation, it’s more like dueling monologues. To some extent, Welfare is a victim of its own excellence. The monotony and repetition is an essential part of the institutional experience of the welfare system, and Wiseman’s version of cinéma vérité pretends to transparency, so the film is often unbearable to watch … there’s a limit to how much monotony and repetition one can take. There is no narrative thrust, just an accumulation of same old same old, so that you could almost just take a 45-minute segment from the middle and get as much out of it. Except you’d miss the monotony and repetition that is the core of the film. Meanwhile, I left the film thinking I never, ever wanted to have to deal with the welfare system, which is why I found a comment at the IMDB a bit silly: “What I saw was a long line of people trying to swindle the system in some way, trying to get away with whatever they can, who all have a huge sense of entitlement in wanting their welfare checks immediately no matter what the rules are.” What I saw was a situation that most people would avoid like the plague … there are easier ways to swindle the system.

Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011). I was engrossed from beginning to end, found the acting top-notch (even though I have a serious personal problem with Zachary Quinto’s eyebrows, I do realize he’s good at his job), thought the dialogue was explanatory enough that I wasn’t all that lost. But I loved Inside Job, and I never once thought while watching Margin Call that I was seeing anything remotely as good as that documentary. I don’t pretend to know why.

In a Better World (Susanne Bier, 2010). The English title may describe Bier’s overall intentions. But the literal translation of the original title is “Revenge”, and I might have liked that movie better. Bier offers a complex look at masculinity and cultural influences, but in this case, “complex” means muddled. Another film with good acting, but not much else. Won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film … I would have voted for Incendies.

A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, 1959). This week’s entry in the Steven’s Creature Feature of the Week series (I’ve got to come up with a name for this, now that it’s been running for four weeks). This is the best of the lot so far, although as is often the case with little indie works that accomplish more than expected, it’s overrated by some. Barboura Morris smiles, Bert Convy ends up in a sculpture titled “Murdered Man”, and the immortal Dick Miller has the only starring role of his career. One of The Limeliters sings a Ewan MacColl song, and beatnik culture is presented with something resembling affection. Roger Corman shows just how much you can do with five days and $50,000, and gets us in and out in 66 minutes.

Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010). Documentary about Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten by five men, suffering extreme brain damage. He concocts his own therapy by building a 1/6th model of a Belgian village during WWII, using dolls and other paraphernalia. Hogancamp seems guileless, which one person in the film points out is crucial: the village would be entirely different if it were informed by irony. Director Jeff Malmberg manages to keep the irony out of his work, as well, leaving a deceptively slight tale.



You get at the paradox of Welfare well: the repetition is crushing at times, but it's that same repetition that gives the film its largeness. Same with Wiseman's Near Death, which is six hours of basically the same doctor/family-of-dying-family-member conversation over and over again. Amazed that that IMDB poster could come away with the impression that the clients in Welfare are engaged in some orchestrated swindle.

Steven Rubio

Yes, my desire to at least attempt to avoid stereotyping people means I won't draw any conclusions about the person who thought those poor fuckers were swindlers.

Charlie Bertsch

I really loved the Bier film. Why did you think it was "muddled?"

Steven Rubio

I didn't completely buy the connection between the Denmark scenes and the Africa scenes. It was obvious she wanted us to see the connection, but they came across to me as two different movies. I never understood how the actions of the African warlord reflected the actions of the fucked-up kid in Denmark. It was hard to miss the fact that Bier had things she wanted to say, but I never felt like I knew exactly what those things were. And I really didn't like the Pollyanna ending ... as I said above, I would have preferred Revenge to In a Better World. Having said all that, I still liked it OK, gave it a 7/10, which is a bit higher than the critical consensus for the movie.

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