- Stonehearst Asylum (2014): Watched because my former housemate put it on while packing. I miss her, but I wish I had missed this movie instead.
- The Man in the White Suit (1951): Alexander Mackendrick again, with the kind of movie that earned him a reputation for being “that guy who does light British comedies” and led to people being shocked when he and Curtis made The Sweet Smell of Success. But both movies are made with the same assurance and skill! Mackendrick is so intentional about where he wants you to be focused, even when it’s offscreen. He’ll hold a shot on an empty hallway for five seconds in the middle of a chase scene just to let your anticipation build to the point of laughter. Joan Greenwood does great work as an heiress who turns people’s assumptions about her to her own ends, but I really loved Vida Hope as the salty union worker and foil to Alec Guinness’s nerdy privilege.
- Jet Li’s The Enforcer, aka My Father Is A Hero (1995): Rented for my intermittent movie club because it bridges a particular gap in my ad hoc 90s Hong Kong Kung Fu syllabus, with a jump from Jackie Chan to Jet Li by way of Anita Mui. Most of this movie is pretty much what you would expect from a mid-period Li vehicle: a functional plot involving tragedy, gangs and undercover cops, filled out by skillful and thrilling fight scenes where people look like they got hurt. What I didn’t know to expect is that the kid-who-also-fights novelty device gets pretty rough! This is a movie where a child gets slammed through a glass table and choked out more than once. That young actor, Mo Tse, had appeared with Li in The New Legend of Shaolin (1994) to great success the year before, so maybe they felt like they had to up the stakes on this one. Regardless, not a movie I’d recommend watching if seeing a kid get hurt bothers you. (It bothered me!)
Police Story 2 (1988): I got to see this on the big screen at the Hollywood Theater, presumably as some kind of promotion related to Criterion releasing a new edition of this movie and its predecessor. I don’t know what to say about it without sounding hyperbolic or trite. This is a work by some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, before and behind the camera, at the peak of their form. It is flawed work—in particular, the jokes can be broad, it glorifies police violence (as you’d expect), and I felt ambivalent about the treatment of its deaf character. But man, who else ever made diegetic music out of steel pipes bouncing off of human bodies?
I watched In the Mood for Love (2000) back in December, and it’s a minor pleasure to see Maggie Cheung slumming it as the damsel in this movie, just to get a sense of her amazing range. And also to see how many of her outfits would look current and stylish today. Maggie Cheung’s film wardrobe deserves an ongoing tumblr.
Grosse Point Blank (1997): Rewatch, of course, on a date to help fill in her Cusack filmography. This is one of the movies that is engraved on my brain. I was still in college the first time I watched it, and I didn’t end up going to my own ten-year high school reunion. But it still works for me and much of my cohort because I think it captures something common about having escaped the place you grew up: the realization that if you don’t look back, there are things you won’t see. And that you won’t be seen again the same way either.
In May it’ll be twenty years since I graduated, and the characters here now seem impetuous and unsteady to me, no longer dashing and cool. I wonder if the movie will seem more dated in another ten years, or will cross a threshold into being a period piece. But most of my favorite parts of it are throwaway bits: the transition into the Muzak version of “Live and Let Die” at the Ultimart, Benny Urquidez’s perfect delivery of his only line, John Cusack’s repeated sullen “…no” when the movie lets you expect a quippy rejoinder, Alan Arkin’s nonsense mantra recited through a mouthful of burrito, Joan Cusack’s cathartic computer mallet. To me, leaving space for little idiosyncrasies like that is a demonstration of care, and of respect for your audience.
- Paris is Burning (1990): Found on Netflix (!). I know the production of this movie is controversial, but I’m glad it exists. What an extraordinary document and what amazing people. I wish I’d seen it when I was younger, even though it probably would have scandalized me. (Or maybe I’m not giving Past Brendan enough credit—I certainly latched onto the queer aspects of Rent hard enough in 1996.)
The Favourite (2018): An interesting payoff to having now watched 75% of Lanthimos’s feature filmography. I took to this one much faster than the others, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the first one he didn’t write himself. It is also not a coincidence that my parasocial devotion to Olivia Colman—dating back to the first time Kevan and Holly showed me That Mitchell And Webb Look in London in 2007—is stronger than ever.
My experience with Lanthimos kept me on uneasy edge the entire time I watched this, and I think that worked to its benefit. His camera still feels as if it carries a lot of weight: the fisheye swivel he deploys several times, before popping into extreme close-up, is a great way to hammer the audience in the eyeballs. The man loves an eyeball hammer. Yet it’s much less a blunt instrument than in Dogtooth, and the performances he gets from his actors are less blunt too. In The Lobster (2015), Rachel Weisz performs a lot of thrumming strain, lust and fear, but they’re channeled through this kind of formal flesh-robot delivery he seems to ask of his whole cast via his script; he gets your nervous laughter from the sustained tension of distance. In The Favourite, with dialogue that darts and twirls instead of stomping, Weisz gets to apply dynamics to the same emotions. Even when her character is wearing a rigid court mask, she and Lanthimos show you glimpses of the toll on the human behind it. That in turn lets him dial the distance and tension up and down to great effect. I really liked this movie.
That is finally everything I watched in February! This is what I get for staying indoors all month. Now it’s halfway through March and I’ve only seen four movies, so maybe it will only be a couple weeks until my next bulletin, “Brendan Has An Opinion About Captain Marvel (2019)!”