This weekend was loaded with variety, including an acclaimed 2013 film, work from icons like David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman, a Michael Bay film (yes! Michael Bay!), a 70s sci-fi cult classic, and The Documentary You’re Looking For. This is the movie weekend that was.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Fruitvale Station is a film about the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a mass-transit police officer just after midnight on January 1, 2009. Rather than focusing on the shooting or the aftermath, which included riots and protests, director Ryan Coogler’s film opts to spend most of its time on Grant’s final day. The result is an impressive portrait of a person who was extraordinarily human, flaws and all. It’s Grant’s flaws that give the film its teeth. He’s not canonized. At various times, we see him in prison, we hear that he has cheated on his girlfriend, his own mother chides him for his lack of responsibility. In other words, just like all of us, he has made mistakes. And also just like all of us, he wants to correct his errors, which is what makes the finale so heartbreaking. It’s a very solid first full-length effort from Coogler.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pain & Gain (2013)
The company line amongst critics on Pain & Gain is that it’s Michael Bay’s attempt at a Coen brothers film. You don’t have to squint to see it. It’s a film about a morally bankrupt gang of clods who hatch a devious scheme, and then they blunder said scheme every step of the way. It works best in the final hour when everything spirals out of control. And yet for all of its Coeniness, Pain & Gain plays at other times like a spoof of Michael Bay films. It takes square aim at the over-the-top, patriotic, massively unsubtle, slow-motion and low-angle shot-filled previous work of Bay. I’m relatively sure it was intentional. It’s a better film than audiences are used to from Bay, certainly with more to chew on. But at the end of the day, you’re still watching a Michael Bay film. He can try to be the Coens and he can even wink and spoof himself, but it is very much HIS movie. You can make a gourmet dish using Spam but you’re still eating fucking Spam. I’d be very curious to see if this is a direction he’ll take his career because it’d be legitimately fascinating.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Elephant Man (1980)
My oldest brother and Karl Pilkington share one thing in common- an appreciation for David Lynch’s 1980 Oscar-nominated film, The Elephant Man. As such, I saw bits and pieces of the film when I was far, far too young to comprehend what it was about. I haven’t seen the film since I was 8 or 9 years old, and I didn’t even see the full film at that time. After going bananas for Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), I figured it was time to give his other black-and-white film from the era a try. Simply put, it’s an amazing film. Lynch and his crew do a brilliant job using sound- both foley and score- to amplify the terrifying reality surrounding John Merrick. The carnival atmosphere, full of ordinary humans turned into grotesques with their gawking, exploitive behavior, wraps a linear narrative about Merrick’s life in a blanket of surrealism. Both Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are tremendous in their respective roles, and the story is moving. From top to bottom, The Elephant Man is a major cinematic achievement. While I prefer Eraserhead, The Elephant Man qualifies as Lynch’s best and most fully-formed film.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Face to Face (1976)
Face to Face is the beginning of late-career Bergman, featuring 136 minutes of Liv Ullman’s psyche devolving into synaptic mush, complete with all of the usual Bergman trappings. That list would include a hellish dream sequence, coffins, death, ghostly visions, mirror image characters, and a character trapped in a closet. It’s like taking classic 1950s and 60s Bergman films and condensing them down into a sap of pure concentrated psychological angst. It comes off a little too on-the-nose, and Ullman’s wilting psyche becomes a bit tedious despite her powerhouse performance. Still, average Bergman is better than the best work of most other filmmakers (see Pain & Gain, for instance).
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Phase IV (1974)
It just wouldn’t be a movie weekend without the touching story of a giant colony of hyper-intelligent ants who team together to try to take over Earth. The only film ever directed by Saul Bass, Phase IV is most notable for a lot of amazing, painstaking nature documentary-style footage of ants. It keeps the film grounded a little rather than relying on bad special effects. There’s a scene where a praying mantis fights a few ants and it’s mind-blowing how intense and fun it was. Mind you, I wouldn’t call Phase IV a good film so much as it’s a mediocre and/or forgotten film that does a few things extraordinarily well.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
The People vs. George Lucas (2010)
The People vs. George Lucas is a very funny documentary about the unique relationship Star Wars fans have with its creator. A lot of the humor comes from the multitudes of fan films and parodies that the Star Wars franchise has inspired. At its heart, The People vs. George Lucas is a very fair documentary, presenting both points of view regarding many of the fan issues with the franchise. The engine behind it all is the nostalgia and love that people have, which is very unique. There aren’t many films or film franchises that inspire the kind of nerdy devotion that Star Wars does, and it’s lovingly on display here.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars