It Felt Like a Trap

I’ve spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I’ve been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).

It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features “Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA.” The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There’s no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis’ other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis — less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.

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B.I.F.F. Day 3

Last night’s films were quite a change from the bing-blang-blaow extravaganza that was Dogtooth, A Prophet, and I Killed My Mother. These two were also different in that both had Q&A sessions afterward with the film’s director. I’ve also used some forward-thinking and bought tonight & tomorrow’s tickets ahead of time so I can stop showing up 75 minutes early and still only get mediocre seats.

Petition - Poster2Petition

Country: China / France
Director: Zhao Liang
Length: 123 mins
Grade: B

Synopsis: “Since 1996 Zhao Liang has filmed the “petitioners,” who come from all over China to make complaints in Beijing about abuses and injustices committed by the local authorities. Gathered near the complaints offices, around the southern railway station of Beijing, the complainants wait for months or years to obtain justice. Peasants thrown off their land, workers from factories which have gone into liquidation, small homeowners who have seen their houses demolished but received no compensation, all types of cases are represented. The film was shot right up to the start of the Olympic Games, showing the persistent contradictions of China in the midst of powerful economic expansion.”

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Films Seen in 2008

Below is the full list of the movies I watched for the first time in 2008. There were 127 total (roughly 1 new-to-me movie every 3 days):
61 were documentaries (48%)
35 were dramas (28%)
18 were action/thrillers (14% )
12 were comedies (9%) 

First movie I saw: Juno
Last movie I saw: Slumdog Millionaire

Worst movie: Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Stupidest movie: Step Brothers

Oldest movie: The Mouse That Roared (1959)
Longest movie: Gandhi (188 mins.)
Longest title: Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation 

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A Scanner Up Project Darkly

I’m online again after being off while I moved again — I’m at 26 S Main St now so stop by if you’re feeling squirrelly.

Finally caught up with all the Up Series dvds; the latest (and likely last), 49 Up, isn’t on dvd yet.

Also watched Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly and last night put in The Laramie Project about the Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. Really sad — one of the hardest parts was hearing the policewoman who was the first officer on the scene: “He was covered in partially dry blood and blood all over his head – the only place that he did not have any blood on his face was where he had been crying.”

Sad story, mediocre movie. IIRC, this is now the 3rd pseudo-documentary I’ve seen, along with In This World and The September Tapes, and it’s a genre that mostly just annoys me. Mocumentaries are fine by me because it’s still fiction — it’s the half/half stuff that bothers me. In each of the three movies they would’ve been 10x better if they were just “regular” documentaries. Talent and time wasted on trying something too unique.

Tonight was A Scanner Darkly which was pretty kickass. Linklater pulled a bunch of mediocre actors up to an awesome level. Highly recommended, even for Remy who wrongly thought the rotoscoped animation would suck.

Movies etc

WSOP Main Event started today — I’m really excited for the next 9 days but obviously bummed I’m not out there. Next year, next year…

Yesterday I got to see some friends and (I mention this to make Trix jealous) hit up BW3’s for boneless wings. We rented Match Point which I hadn’t seen because I’d heard mixed things but someone’s whose opinion matters to me recommended it… and let me just say… WOW. So it’s 20 minutes too long but is excellent otherwise. At some point you realize that what you’re really watching is a classic Greek tragedy (Sophocles is even name-dropped once) — the opera soundtrack re-inforces this — and that the whole film is essentially great literature made visual. Match Point is vastly more enjoyable if you’re even vaguely familiar with tragedies and/or Shakespeare and approach the film with that mindset.

As expected, 28 Up was just really great. Most of the participants have married in the 7 years since I last hung out with them. I can’t even begin to describe how fascinating these films are. I see myself in one of the participants to such an extent that I can predict his answers to every question from the interviewer. He is me, and I know him, and I can’t put into words how eerie it is to watch myself (or the British version of a 28-year-old me in the 80’s).

I’ve uploaded a clip from the movie Songs From the Second Floor. The film is a series of short vignettes that are only loosely related — thus I don’t really need to set the scene or explain anything because I’m not pulling it out of context. It’s the key scene in the movie and I almost wrote an art thesis about just this part. Seriously one of my all-time favorite scenes from any movie. I was thinking today of other favorite movie scenes and immediately thought of “Ride of Valkyries” / helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now which is really just one of many awesome scenes in that movie. Most great movie scenes involve music so “Where Is My Mind?” at the end of Fight Club has to be on a favorites list as would the Mickey Mouse club theme song from Full Metal Jacket — can’t forget “Thus Spake Zarathustra” from 2001 either… Since I love lists maybe one day soon I will sit and come up with a real Top Ten of my personal favorite film scenes.

Playing blind

So I once played a poker tournament without ever looking at my cards (put a sticky on the monitor) — I finished 3rd out of 35. The other day I tried something else fun: I bet/raised the minimum every hand, every street. Finished 2nd out of 18 and was one bad beat away from winning. It wasn’t quite as fun as playing blind, but still pretty funny.

I’m reading Catcher in the Rye for the nth time. It’s so trendy to love this book that sometimes I forget how awesome it actually is. I really get along with misanthropes like Holden Caulfield and Hazel Motes.

Other media consumption: Green Street Hooligans with ol’ Frodo; I’d give it a 3.5/5 which is surprising because it’s got a 4.5 on Netflix and 7.3 on IMDB. I just think there are major flaws with the film. I’d read some of Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs so I was a bit informed on the subject but the whole time watching the movie I kept wishing I had just finished the book instead.

Next up is the documentary 28 Up, part of a truly extraordinary series. These films started in the ’60’s when the kids were 7. The filmmakers re-visit the same group every seven years to see how they’ve changed. The first, Seven Up, is bundled with Seven Plus 7 when, obviously, they’re 14. 21 Up was the best so far and I expect 28+ to keep getting better. AFAIK the latest is 49 Up but isn’t out on dvd yet. Just an amazing concept and well-executed, just really interesting stuff.