February 2017 Movies, Part 1

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Easy Rider (1969)

I can see why this is considered iconic and historically important, but it didn’t really touch me, I guess, beyond that recognition. Maybe because I’m more interested in character-driven stories, and so the fact that Easy Rider doesn’t seem super concerned with the two main characters’ personalities or relationship with each other is frustrating. Instead, it’s using them as symbols and exploring their relationship to other symbols to say something about 1960s America. Which: sure, valid, just not quite my thing1. If we’re going for movies that are series of vignettes rather than super plot or character driven thing, I guess I prefer the vignettes to be more comic?

Main takeaways:

  • ’60s Peter Fonda was super attractive
  • ’60s Jack Nicholson was super…compelling. Man, I don’t even know. His voice in this is so obnoxious and yet also…?
  • The scene where the hippies explain the word “dude” was delightful
  • Definitely do not want to drop acid
  • How many more ’60s movies that feature motorcycle deaths and yet also really make me want to ride a motorcycle can I find?

 


Zoot Suit (1981)

Did not love, but it’s at least doing something semi-interesting and different. Basically, I can see how the structure makes sense as a very theater-y sort of play, but I’m not sure it translates that well to film? Still, young Edward James Olmos is magnificent; I’ve probably only seen him as Adama in Battlestar Galactica, who was, you know, great and well-rounded and everything, but much more quiet and contained. It’s fun to see EJO hamming it up, and the role definitely calls for it, since he’s not even playing an actual person, but rather an anthropomorphization of a subculture (more literally than the Easy Rider characters, too–the character is just called El Pachuco, but maybe not ever actually referred to by name, since he’s just, like, a narrative device).


Paterson (2016)

Yeah, solid. It’s unusual to see a movie about someone who’s basically satisfied with his life–in terms of career, romance, hobbies, etc.–and isn’t constantly grasping for more, isn’t it? I guess because there’s no drama in that, but somehow Paterson works, by committing to the slice-of-life concept and using the day-to-day routine of someone working a regular job (not the sort of glamorous freelancer with seemingly infinite free time for plot antics that we usually see in movies) to highlight the comedy/poignancy/whatever in the small moments–overheard conversations on the bus, small-talk with co-workers, random encounters with strangers.

Interesting how there were all of these plot threads that seemed like they would turn into major conflicts and then just…didn’t: e.g. Paterson’s not entirely pleased reaction to Laura spending money on that guitar, the whole veteran thing, the possible sexual tension between Paterson and the woman in the bar, Paterson’s bus breaking down, why Laura stays home all day and seems not to have a job (I legit thought there was going to be some big reveal that she was agoraphobic or dealing with some major trauma or a figment of Paterson’s imagination or something, but then she actually did leave the house to go to the farmer’s market, so…) It makes for a weird viewing experience, because all of this expectation–based on how we’ve been trained to watch movies–builds up. But instead, it’s all very low-key and blah blah blah “an ode to ordinary living”–and in “ordinary life,” I guess not everything turns out to be foreshadowing for some super dramatic conflict.


Yves Saint Laurent (2014)

Very much a “so what?” sort of movie.  There wasn’t enough insight into the characters or the creative process to justify its existence, I think, although there was some v. nice scenery.

(Also are overhead shots of dudes lying on diving boards some sort of gay cinema Thing–possibly in reference to David Hockney paintings?–or am I just way overanalyzing? There was a shot of YSL like that here that reminded me of the poster for Christopher and His Kind, but that’s probably not enough data to go on.)


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Some great architecture porn, which is maybe unexpected from the genre? The aesthetics are really so on-point though—from the baroque old-fashioned hotels to the super modern/minimalist sets (which make any streaks of blood left on the walls all the more effective) to the rooftop with the pigeons to the awesome catacombs/concert venue to that room with the tub and amazing light fixtures to the call center with all of the women in pink tops and tattoos to the art exhibits to John Wick’s house to etc. etc. Even the very opening shots of the city where you can clearly see a Victoria’s Secret and other real store names–it felt very intentional and not just in a product placement way, but in a way to establish…idk, authenticity? I suspect there’s something to the use of real, undisguised locations like those and the MoMa to contrast with all of the assassin fantasy underworld, as opposed to just using generic cityscapes to represent the “real world.”

The action was good, too, obviously. And the expansion of the John Wick mythology–not just the assassin underworld (although that is wonderful) but also his personal myth: all of the John Wick stories the other assassins tell and their validation on-screen, every time John Wick reveals another language that he speaks and kills someone in an even more ingenious way. And how he doesn’t give a shit about his reputation–he really just wants to go home to play with his dog and properly mourn his dead wife, and he’s basically just super irritated to have to keep going on car chases and killing people. Which is a good fit for 52-year-old Keanu Reeves, whatever one may feel about his acting in general.

This was my 29th Keanu Reeves movie, I think; I probably have a thesis in me somewhere about the specific quality Keanu Reeves brings to his action heroes, in comparison to some of his contemporaries. There’s the coolness and stoicism (up to debate whether this is always intentional or due to limits in emotional range, but does it matter if the effect works on-screen?) and I feel like–not as much macho posturing? But that might just be selection bias, as I’ve probably avoided seeing any movies where he played more aggressively macho characters (e.g. abusive husband, football player, baseball coach, racist cop) because they sounded unappealing. Still, his public persona doesn’t indicate the same type of fragile ego as, say, Tom Cruise, that makes every movie he’s put out after entering middle-age seem like a desperate reassertion of sexual viability.


Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Insane and delightful.

It does hit some of my rom-com writing pet peeves; that thing where characters who have just met and barely interacted with each other start commenting on each other’s habitual behavior (so that you can get a Significant Moment out of them acting against type for Love) and the whole wacky misunderstanding/snowballing lies/farcical aspects of the plot. But Gene Kelly dances with a cartoon mouse, so who gives a shit?

 

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This…happened.
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Oh boy, did it happen. (In case it’s not obvious, Gene Kelly is bouncing that cartoon mouse off of his biceps.)

I suspect that Anchors Aweigh is what people who hate musicals think musicals are like. There’s sort of, kind of, a “plot” but it’s mostly just vaguely connected song-and-dance numbers. And the cartoon sequence is, like, the epitome of that; ostensibly Gene Kelly is telling a story to the class of his love interest’s nephew? But really, it’s just a chance for Gene Kelly to get creative with choreography and to explore the technological possibilities of superimposing animation on live-action movies. (Not sure how advanced that was in 1945?). The whole movie is very clearly designed as a vehicle to let Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra do their respective things, and it’s maybe hard to reconcile with how we currently think of movies–like, what would the modern equivalent of that even be? Do we still have movie stars with very specific skill-sets that you can build a movie around while mostly ignoring things like “plot” and “character” and have it be a success? Maybe action stars who do their own stunts?

Also man, so much homoerotic subtext, which is perhaps always the case with the “sailors on leave trying to get laid” genre that Hail Caesar! so wonderfully parodies.

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This dress also happened and it was fabulous.

1. My feelings about Easy Rider were not quite as tepid as my reaction to Scarecrow, which is what automatically comes to mind when I try to think of what that genre of movie is–more specifically than just “road movie.” That said, god, what a Good Look this was for Al Pacino:

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Al Pacino in Scarecrow (1973)

^

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