The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Leigh Brackett based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
(number 363)

Marlowe is introduced to us waking up in the middle of the night to feed his cat, who disdains the food offered so he has to go out and buy the nicer stuff. I mean, anyone who’s ever owned a cat knows that feel where the cat decides not to eat what’s offered. It’s a really cute ginger cat too. This sequence, and Marlowe’s grumbled complaints as he goes about doing exactly what the cat wants are what made me love him straight away.

The movie is a very low key Noir, bit different because of how it’s in the seventies. The tropes are totally familiar, the beaten down P.I. helping out a friend in the middle of the night, getting arrested, getting a bad feeling after hearing that his friend has killed himself after killing his wife and a long line of investigative stops.

I’ve loved mysteries in a low key way since L.A. Confidential blew my mind back in 1997. It’s not a passionate love I have for them, but a casual thing. Every now and then I’ll do something like read a classic Noir pulp novel or watch something like this. I enjoy the hardened characters so much, they’re so much fun to play in a roleplaying game which gives me an in to loving them a bit more.

The film is beautifully shot, especially the sequences in Mexico where the lushness of the landscape is shown off. The luxe interiors and the more claustrophobic crappiness of Marlowe’s own apartment.

Does it make me love the people? I love Marlowe. It’s hard to care too much about the other characters, because they’re generally fleeting, awful people or terrible dames. Dames makes me think of Sadie Doyle making fun of Franks’s friend Pterodactyl Jones who is a walking cliche based on characters like Marlowe. Good times. Movies like this both create and perpetuate these tropey stereotypes and dedicate themselves to them.

Bechdel test: None of the women talk to anyone but men.

Best line:

Harry: Those girls that live next door to you, you know what I think? I think they’re a couple of lesbians. That’s what I think.
Marlowe: well, what makes you say that?
Harry: Well, look at them up there, doing all those contortions together, and with no clothes on.
M: oh, they’re just doing yoga, I dunno what it is but it’s yoga.

Marlowe: Why don’t you go get a couple of sandcrabs and go stick them up your nose?

Marlowe: Nobody cares but me.
Terry Lennox: Well that’s you, Marlowe. You’ll never learn, you’re a born loser.
Marlowe: Yeah, I even lost my cat.

State of Mind: I dunno, I do love this kind of story but perhaps because of the familiar tropes it felt a bit predictable and was a bit on the slow side as a result. It’s good enough that I’ll watch it again though.

Watched movie count

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad
Written and directed by David Ayer

I’m trying a thing where I review movies which *aren’t* on the 500 list, because apparently people are reading these reviews and enjoying seeing my perspective, so… the first one you get is Suicide Squad. Some minor spoilers ahead…

This movie came out over halfway through a year stuffed with big superhero movies. We’ve already had MCU’s civil war, an epic X Men film and Batman Vs Superman. A lot of people I’ve spoken with have a certain amount of boredom with superhero films, it’s just been so thick and fast. I, on the other hand, feel like this is my time. I’ve been reading and loving superhero stories since I was given a second hand Xmen comic as a kid. As a teenager my friends and I would go and hang out at the comic shop and stand around and read comics without buying them (teenagers, am I right?) To me, the sudden popularity of superhero films makes it feel like people are making movies just for me, and I like that.

I’ve seen Suicide Squad twice: first on opening night at the Heroes for Sale special screening at Sylvia Park and second time at a sold out screening full of children and young teens at St Lukes. I enjoyed the movie both times. I am unsure why children under 10 were at the screening but hey, I’m not their parent.

I know there’s been a tonne of writing online about the portrayal of Harley Quinn in this film. Here’s my perspective. She one hundred per cent doesn’t need to be wearing tiny sparkly panties as her costume. Booty shorts would have been better, long shorts, her signature two colour leggings, all of these would have been better. For sure, especially because none of the male characters get the similar skimpy/fan servicey treatment. That shit needs to stop. And I’m not at all a fan of her using the word ‘pussy’ to tell guys they’re being cowardly. There’s a lot of baggage to that word. BUT having said that, I was super happy with the way Harley is shown in this film. For one, her relationship with the Joker isn’t abusive at all. He is as devoted to her, as obsessed with her as she is to him. She chooses to be with him, she chooses to jump into the acid and become like him. She also isn’t ever shown to be afraid of him, even when he’s about to torture him she just says “I can take it.” That’s huge. That’s a huge change to their relationship from almost all the source material and to me, that’s a brilliant change. If Harley’s going to be on the big screen I’mover the moon if it’s not a crappy 50 Shades style woman-with-no-agency situation.

Her fight scenes are awesome, she’s repeatedly shown to be capable and cool, and Margot Robbie plays her as charming and warm. There’s some problematic sexualisation, as I said, and some weird ‘crazy is kooky and cute’ stuff, but to be fair that’s pretty normal for Harley as a character.

I like the way the backstories are handled, I love seeing Bat-fleck show up a few times and I jumped up and clapped seeing Ezra Miller’s Flash speak. I like the way Deadshot’s tech worked, I liked the colour saturation and the soundtrack was off the hook – great theme matching to featured characters, and the action sequences all had real stakes, made sense to watch and were fun and interesting to watch.

The story is relatively small, especially compared to the other superhero movies released this year. It’s pretty much assemble the squad and have them run a single mission which goes a bit wrong. The villain is acting directly because of events in the movie/activation of the squad and there’s a cool Hell Boy 2 kind of aesthetic happening there. It’s a solid choice for an ensemble cast where every character will be relatively new to the majority of the audience.

I have some issues with Jared Leto’s Joker – not the least because of I have some issues with Jared Leto. But setting that aside, I didn’t think he had enough weight to him. As an actor Leto doesn’t have the gravitas that I want for the Joker. They didn’t put him next to Batman and I think that’s a good thing because I feel like Batman as played by Affleck could knock him over with a flick of a finger. He wasn’t scary… he wasn’t even particularly unhinged. At every point he had a plan which made sense and you could understand. I’m glad he wasn’t in more of the film just a background character, because if he’s going to go up against Batman I think he needs recasting.

Does it make me love the people? Harley, yep. Amanda Waller: hell yes! Slaaaaaay. Killer Croc, yeah.

I wasn’t expecting to love Diablo or Deadshot but the film gives them depth and humanity. I loved them both. Deadshot as a somewhat grudging leader of the team and his instant loyalty to the team is lovely. Diablo is haunted, a man who knows the extent of the power he has and is unwilling to weild it, like Luke in Return of the Jedi, sorta. Plus, the special effects when he does let loose are so freaking cool. Love.

Bechdel test: Yes, over and over. Harley talks directly to Amanda Waller and Katana (she talks to Enchantress as well but I think mostly about the Joker), Amanda Waller talks to June and Enchantress. Yeah, we’re so good. And in terms of representation how great is it to have a super team with three women on it (counting Waller on the side of the ‘good’ guys), and how cool is it to see a woman be the big bad in a superhero film? and how great to have a superhero team with a black guy AND a Latino guy AND an Asian woman AND a native American guy AND another black guy as a massive bad ass crocodile with good self esteem. The people with the most power in this movie are Waller (woman of colour), Deadshot (man of colour) and Enchantress (woman). Good times.

Best line:

Diablo: Don’t touch me.
Deadshot: I’m touching you! I’m touching you! Whatcha gonna do?
Diablo: You wanna see something? YOU WANNA SEE SOMETHING?
Deadshot: YEAH!
[Diablo goes berserk and shoots fire everywhere]
Deadshot: …I was trying to get you there. No hard feelings, right? We good?

Deadshot: Here’s to honor among thieves.
Katana: I’m not a thief.
Deadshot: Oh, she’s not a thief.

State of Mind: To me the backlash against DC movies is out of proportion to the films. Sure, they’re flawed but so are Marvel films. I am especially suspect of people slamming this film which is one of the first to have outstanding representation for gender and race. That aside, I find this movie genuinely fun and engaging, it flashes by with no dragging moments, but at the same time has room to breathe and down time which makes sense. I’m tempted to go and see it again, to be honest.

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou (an Andalusian Dog)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali
(number 360)

A surrealist short film (around 20 minutes) with Dali as one of the writers… well, this was always going to be strange. I have to say the initial images of eye violence immediately put me off, but there was some interesting stuff later on.

The movie skips around in time, seemingly at random and without any internal consistency, which I’m sure is a deliberate choice to say something about how time is a flat circle or something. The film is a Freudian free association story, much like that of a dream where things just seem to happen and aren’t questioned. Watching it I am compelled to find meaning in it though, which I’m sure means I’m watching it wrong. If the movie isn’t supposed to have meaning and I look for meaning am I interpreting images that are supposed to have weight or just imposing my own narrative instead. I feel my art history skills trying to rear up as I watch it.

The bit which was most compelling/confusing was probably the man pulling pianos with dead donkeys on top, and then it’s revealed that also on the ropes attached to the pianos are priests, looking confused (one of which was Dali, I think.) I mean. How do you get more surreal?

It’s made very beautifully with different filters, pretty use of images fading together and various different settings. There’s lots of references to classic art – people reading books with familiar classic paintings shown, recreations of paintings as well. The final images really reminded me of one of my favourite surrealist paintings The Uncertainty of the Poet, which was painted 16 years earlier. It could have been a reference, or it might not have, who knows?

Does it make me love the people? I… I guess I really liked the androgynous woman who is poking the severed hand in the street. I dunno. No, I’d say this isn’t about human condition in the way I mean when I ask this question in relation to films.

Bechdel test: No, there’s no audible dialogue in this film and no characters are named.

Best line: No lines in the film. Best moment? Uhm. When the woman leaves the apartment and outside the door is a beach.

State of Mind: Well.. I’m very glad it was so short. I suspect some of those images will stick with me, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the film

It looks like you can watch it yourself here:

Watched movie count

Clerks (1994)

Clerks
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
(number 369)

The first time I watched this movie it was when I was 18 and at a sleepover. It was something like 3am and a bunch of us watched it, thinking it was so edgy and interesting and arty. I was annoyed I didn’t know what all the chapter title words meant. I remember watching it again when I was around 24ish, and feeling so smart that I now did know what all those words meant and understanding more of the sex content of the film and generally what was happening.

Then I watched it again in my thirties and I saw how poorly acted it is. How very much this is just Kevin’s Smith’s friends reciting lines we wrote, they aren’t so much having conversations as listening for the end of the other person’s lines and then saying theirs. It’s a subtle distinction to be sure, but once you notice…

Watching it again now it’s a mish mash of slut shaming, over the top vocabulary, whiny people, liberal use of swear words and slurs and generally infantile humour. Yeah, either this movie hasn’t aged well or I’ve aged past it.

Does it make me love the people? No, I can’t say it does. Having said that, I know I loved them when I was a student, when I was dealing with my own knowledge of my cleverness and the unfairness of the world for not just instantly giving me whatever I wanted just because I was so clever.

Bechdel test: No. Veronica is the most featured woman, followed by Caitlin, both of them only speak to men.

Best line:

Jay: I dunno dude, that Caitlin chick’s nice, but I’ve seen that Veronica girl doing shit for you all the time. I saw her rubbing your back, fucking comes and brings you food. Didn’t I see her change your tire once?
Dante Hicks: Hey-hey, you know, I jacked up the car, all she did was unloosen the nuts and put the tire on.
Jay: I dunno, she does a lot for you.
Dante Hicks: She’s my girlfriend.
Jay: I had some girlfriends too, but all they wanted from me is weed and shit. Shit my grandmother used to say ‘What’s better, fuckin’, a good plate with nothin’ on it… ‘ no wait I fucked up. ‘What’s a good plate with nothing on it?’

Jay: there’s a million fine looking women in the world and most of them don’t bring you lasagne. Most of them just cheat on you and shit.

State of Mind: Mehhhh, I’m so not into this film any more. I just… urgh. To me this is a snapshot of a life I no longer care about or connect to. Also there’s the whole thing where this is probably awesome watching high, but that’s not my scene. Kevin Smith definitely found that niche market and is happy there, and this movie found him that audience.

Watched movie count

The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch based on books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu
(number 370)

This is probably David Lynch at his least Lynchian, his most generally accessible. Sure, it’s all filmed in black and white and there’s weird stills and juxtapositions and elephants over a panicking woman at the start of the film but generally the storyline is straightforward and easy to follow.

As someone who hates to witness bullying, this wasn’t an easy film for me to watch. The inevitability of bad things happening was painful. In particular the home invasion sequence with drunk people abusing him was the most difficult sequence but generally it was uncomfortable and bleak.

It’s a story which is based on true events, and generally the themes seem to be that nasty people are really awful to each other and to those who are different. There was a sort of general: rich people are nice and poor people are awful, but then there’s contradictions to that – the other freaks bust him out of the second round of carnival captivity for example. I really don’t know how close to the truth it is, having done no research at all on the elephant man. It feels real enough, it’s all very plausible and like it’d happen again if such a person were to come into the public eye. One of those ‘we’re better than that, now’ things which totally isn’t true. Is this where I make a pertinent comment about how reality tv is just the same freak show spectacle all over again? Let’s pretend I did.

Lynch’s photography, editing and direction are pretty perfect to be honest.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah, how can you not love poor John Merrick with his unfortunate life and his gentleness once his voice is unlocked. I also love Treves, he’s trying so damn hard to do the right thing and he’s so unsure that he’s on the right path.

Bechdel test: No. There are a number of named women characters, primarily hospital staff like Mothershead, the nurses and Mrs Treves, Mrs Kendal, but they all talk to either John or Treves, or to each other about John.

Best line:
John Merrick: My life is full because I know I am loved.

State of Mind: Is the ending a good ending? I don’t even know. I was mostly happy the film ended, to be honest. Anthony Hopkins did a brilliant job as Treves and John Hurt did a fantastic job acting under all that make up as John. It’s just generally so hard to watch and so sad, I don’t imagine I’ll watch it again in any kind of hurry. Maybe someday, in 20 years or something but. No. On the up side, I did get a lot of postcards written while I watched it.

Watched movie count

Predator (1987)

Predator
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas (who are brothers, it turns out)
(number 374)

The first ten minutes of this movie is just commandos gearing up and flying in helicopters. It is not so exciting to me. And to be honest, the arguments between the soldiers weren’t interesting to me either. I was hooked on Team Predator from the moment we first got Predator vision. It was cool and creepy and weird in all the right ways.

This film does a great job of a slow reveal, showing bits of monster, hints, weirdness, blood, close ups of it healing itself where you see just the relevant body parts before finally revealing what it truly looks like in a fleeting glimpse between camoflagued movements. I love a good slow reveal, like in Signs.

This is a really solid example of one of those movies where the team gets picked off one at a time. It made me want to play Geiger Counter. I found it really compelling when the predator disarms itself and reveals its face, having clearly decided Dutch is a worthy opponent. That’s something you never see in other alien/monster movies.

Does it make me love the people? I dunno. I was mostly rooting for the Predator, but I guess, yes. Yes, I liked Carl Weathers’ character, and Billy the mystic Native American who was just like ‘yeah, we’re all gonna die.’ I admire Dutch’s ingenuity and the sequences of trying to escape/outwit the predator were interesting, involving. It’s not exactly an arc where a person learns more about themselves, but about the world and the universe.

I loved the Predator, but I don’t think that should count for this particular question.. given my love for it is a kaiju thing, and not a human condition thing.

Bechdel test: There is just one woman in this movie and she doesn’t speak English for the first half of the film. She eventually does and says her name is Anna, but she’s the only woman so no chance of a pass.

Best line:

If it bleeds we can kill it.

Get to the choppah!

State of Mind: I really enjoyed that. I am creeped out more by the alien laughing with such a human voice at the end than by any of the rest of it. Definitely one I’ll consider rewatching at some point. Way more tense and tightly filmed than say, Army of Darkness, and some really interesting concepts. Tempted to watch the sequels, definitely going to read my Archie vs Predator comics.

Watched movie count

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

Rabbit-Proof Fence
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Written by Christine Olsen based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara
(number 366)

Urgh. Now here’s a cheerful movie, a part of Australian history which is truly horrifying. How can people be this awful to each other? How can one white dude be given possession of a whole race of people? He controls what they can purchase, who they can marry and of course, kidnap their children to train them as household staff or, if they’re pale enough, send them to a school to be assimilated as white. It’s sickening.

I thought I could sort of cope by playing pokemon at the same time as watching, but when the scene game where the girls were forcibly removed from their mothers I ugly cried. And I think that’s a hundred percent the correct reaction to those events.

The film is shot beautifully. Not so arty as to be alienating for a mainstream cast. Not so slow or dry as to be boring, but certainly stunning, eerie, full of love for the Australian landscape and incomparably aching in its storytelling. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it is an ache. The arc of the huge sky, the dryness of the desert, the meagreness of comfort, it all creates an aching atmosphere.

Does it make me love the people? How can you watch this and not love the three girls? Molly in particular? It’s a simple film, in terms of plot, but he characterisations on this incredible journey are impeccable. The way Molly looks out for each of them, the way she is so single minded about getting home, the clever ways she outsmarts the tracker.

Bechdel test: Yes, over and over. Molly, Gracie and Daisy all talk to each other about getting away, about what’s going on, about not going to catch the tran. Plus they talk to their mothers and Mrs Jessop at the camp.

Best line:

well, not exactly best, but one of the most telling and stark lines from the rehabilitation village.
“They’re checking for the pale ones, they’re more clever than us. They can go to a regular school.”

State of Mind: Harrowing, beautiful, hard to watch, depressing, uplifting. Actually it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it might be. That early scene was intensely painful, but from there it’s kind of a great road trip movie. I take some comfort in knowing that although this was truly horrible, it’s no longer happening. I know some of the kids in the stolen generations have been reunited with their families. But how does a country recover from such atrocities? And that it went on or what, almost 40 years? And more, most countries have stories like this, events like this in their pasts. It’s horrible. We have to do better. I think movies like this are essential for showing the human cost, and for hopefully stopping things like this happening in the future. I can hope…

I need cuddles. Thankfully, it’s almost time to head to the airport to go on holiday in Rarotonga!

Watched movie count