Unfortunately I wasn’t home last night to round it off; so a day late and ever a dollar short, I present The Weekly Roundup for October 31st through November 6th, 2017.
Point Blank (1967)
I quite like all the John Boorman movies I’ve seen (even Zardoz) and this one continues that streak, although it’s not what I was expecting. I was prepared for a gritty crime thriller featuring a stoically masculine Lee Marvin, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how icy, violent (for the time), and often experimental this film is. It drops you into an already boiling narrative in kind of a surreal whirlwind and then moves into a brutalist neo-noir with Angie Dickinson. One of the first examples of Americans finally getting on the new wave–the film came out at almost the same time as Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde, which I’ve repeatedly heard referred to as an academic launching point–and, if one is to believe the stories, much of the film’s innovation came from Marvin (including the hiring of Boorman and ditching of the original script), which is pretty cool.
An excellent documentary about the street cats of Istanbul, Kedi isn’t just about looking at cute kitties, although there is a lot of that to be done here. While you’re watching the little fuzzballs scrap and scrounge, there are interviews with a handful of people who help care for them that verge into surprisingly philosophical territory with regard to the way we relate and communicate with other emotional beings, our responsibility and stewardship toward nature, and the way modernization is changing our communities across the globe. But it manages to touch on these subjects without feeling like its moralizing, and it’s full of the spirit of a really beautiful, old-world city.
Hullabaloo Over Georgie & Bonnie’s Pictures (1978)
I’m more aware of Merchant Ivory from their larger prestige pictures (The Remains of the Day, Howard’s End, A Room With a View) but if this is any indication, their smaller-scale work is still pretty lavish. The story manages to ruminate on history and memory, art, gender, colonialism, capitalistic modernism, and the pursuit of happiness, all within a breezy 83 minutes. It’s a quiet, conversational film–funny in a very dry way–but still full of vivid Indian color and music as the eponymous art collection is hounded over by characters with a variety of attitudes, motivations, and emotional baggage.
Polanski’s second feature is psychotic break as subjective experience and in that, it’s remarkably effective. Much of this is down to Catherine Deneuve–her Carol is impenetrable but wholly consistent, able to evoke shades of sympathy while still being unquestionably disturbed. The film follows her madness with a mixture of real and hallucinated images rendered equally unsettling (a particularly vivid example: the decapitated skinless rabbit gathering flies; one wonders if Adrian Lyne had this consciously in mind). Not a movie for the easily bored or faint of heart, but an interestingly raw example of a masterful control of narrative tension more fully realized in Rosemary’s Baby.
Broadcast News (1987)
James L Brooks’s second feature as a director (after Terms of Endearment) is simultaneously a deep character study of three frustrated, semi-functional workaholics, a charming and witty romantic comedy, an incisive satire/parody of such, and a love letter to a bygone era of journalism. The whole thing oozes sophistication from the almost tongue-in-cheek opening sequence that introduces the leads as children to the gentle, wistful epilogue. And all three leads are at the top of their game here–William Hurt is charming and conniving in a way that’s hard to pin down, Albert Brooks plumbs the contradictions of his frustrated persona, and in particular Holly Hunter makes her Jane’s emotional arc the center of the film (she should’ve gotten top billing here, she’s the lynchpin of the thing). I usually like James L Brooks–to the degree that I’m willing to forgive a lot in his lesser films–but this is him doing some of his finest and most insightful work.
A Passage to India (1984)
David Lean’s last film, an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s last novel (aside from the posthumous Maurice), is as I understand somewhat less ambiguous in its central action around which the story pivots. Here, Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee, along with Peggy Ashcroft–who won an Oscar for her role here–one of two cast members repeated from Hullabaloo Over Georgie & Bonnie’s Pictures above) as more clearly innocent of the assault on Ms. Quested (Judy Davis). Despite this (arguable) simplification, the film is still remarkably nuanced (with the notable exception of Alec Guinness as Professor Godbole). The difficult intersection of privilege and oppression, of Eastern and Western culture, of the personal and the political is rendered in Lean’s usual spacious lavishness. Stylistically the film feels almost out of time–watching it, its kind of hard to believe it came the same year as Ghostbusters and The Terminator–but the formal… archness, I suppose… only works to underscore the forces of propriety and expectation that drive the characters forward (and nearly consume them all).
9 to 5 (1980)
For the first half hour or so, this is the ’80s workplace comedy I was expecting, something like a slightly edgier predecessor to Working Girl, but firmly based in the real world. Then Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton (in her film debut) start passing the joint and embark on a series of increasingly elaborate fantasy sequences, a register change the film never looks back on. By the time it’s over, it ends up something like a bizarre thriller–a few tweaks and it could be a David Fincher film instead of a zany satire. Instead, the whole film–and especially Dabney Coleman’s piggish villain–hits a pitch somewhere between being too silly to be truly offensive or progressive and being incisive and ridiculous enough to still mostly land almost 40 years later.
Speaking of still landing… this film–Peter Bogdanovich’s debut–shares a chilling quality with Sydney Lumet’s Network, in that it has accumulated relevance beyond its time. It’s also in a category of films–like 8½ and Adaptation–that are about themselves. That’s Bogdanovich playing the director trying to convince Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff, himself in all but name) to be in his new horror film. This film will do away with Victorian monsters and make a statement about a new kind of horror, the kind where All-American young men like Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) go on murderous rampages for no easily-articulable reason. When these twin plots converge, the bullets are literally coming out of the screen itself in the kind of moment made tailor-made for undergrad term papers. It’s vital filmmaking, terrifying on a startling level, and probably my favorite film on this week’s list.