by request: memories of murder (joon-ho bong, 2003)
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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will have their favorite, but Mira Grosin as Klara gets my vote, perhaps unfairly, since the other two play more withdrawn characters while Klara is more explosive.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.

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