Monday, July 31, 2017

Cat's Away: Sunday blitzkrieg

This is the sixth post in Cat's Away, an informal film festival of one I'm putting on while my wife is away in America.

When I wrote yesterday's post and entitled it "Saturday blitzkrieg," I didn't really think there would be a Sunday edition. But then my sister-in-law surprised me by taking a vague "after lunch" timing for returning my kids from their sleepover, and shifting it back all the way to 5 p.m., allowing me to watch a lazy Sunday afternoon movie in addition to the one I'd had planned for that morning, and two more later on at night. And this was even after I cleaned the house in preparation for their return. So in the end it was another four-movie day, or even five, I suppose, since the majority of Showgirls was watched after midnight the night before. A "blitzkrieg" if ever there was one.

Citizen Kane

When I do these movie marathons at the hotel, I always save a beloved favorite for Sunday morning, something I know so well that I can also be packing up my hotel room while watching it if need be. And given that the same basic structure applied for this marathon, albeit at my house rather than a hotel, I decided to do the same here.

Because it's one of only four movies I'll be discussing here, I won't go on at length about my personal history with Citizen Kane in this post. You can read more about that here if you're interested. What I will say is that on this, either my fifth or sixth viewing of the film, I loved it more than I have ever loved it before. I'm still discovering things about The Greatest Film Ever Made (screw you, Vertigo) and my love for it is still deepening. In fact, so enamored was I with it on this viewing that it gave me chills multiple times. It had been nearly eight years since my last Kane viewing in 2009. I can guarantee you another eight won't pass before I see it again.

I can't believe how much Welles packs into two hours. If Kane were made today -- I imagine someone like Paul Thomas Anderson might make it -- it would struggle to come in under three. So Kane is a brilliant example of economical filmmaking, in addition to being a brilliant example of just about everything else.

I also considered while watching it that Kane gains something from a viewing during the Trump era. The similarities between Charles Foster Kane and Donald John Trump were not lost on me anyway, but they were made manifest in moments like Kane's campaign speech right before his scandal breaks, when he swears that he's going to put his opponent behind bars. The crowd doesn't start chanting "Lock him up!" but they might as well have. Kane is also described as "the most loved and most hated man of his time," or something to that effect, which also describes Trump, though we are quickly forgetting a time when we loved him. Trump won the election that Kane couldn't, but I think there's a very real chance he comes to an equally miserable end, in a prison of his own making. (And speaking of learning new things -- somehow on all my previous viewings of the film I had failed to glean that Xanadu is in Florida. Because it's based on the Hearst Castle, I guess I thought it was in California. But the location makes Susan's line asking what time it is here, and then what time it is in New York, all the funnier, since it's the same time zone. Not too sharp, was she.)

I really want to write more but I must move on.

A Hologram for the King

When it became clear that my sister-in-law was not coming back with the kids right away and the house was looking pretty clean, I made a much happier spur-of-the-moment decision than the one to watch Megamind the day before. A Hologram for the King might have been something I prioritized watching in time to rank with my 2016 movies, given my love for its writer-director, Tom Tykwer. Yet it eluded me until this past week, when I saw it at the library and brought it home with me.

There have been a lot of movies in the past five to ten years that have featured Americans as fish out of water in the Arab world, and there have been both successful and unsuccessful ones. (This one even has a fish joke in it -- "What do you call a fish without an eye (i)?" "Fsssh." Yeah, that one sounds better spoken than written out.) A Hologram for the King is one of the very best of these, in part because it doesn't go for any cheap jokes and in part because it is so humanistic. Not going for cheap jokes doesn't mean it doesn't go for jokes, though. I laughed out loud ten to 15 times in this movie, as Tom Hanks indulges his fondness for the comedic in a way we haven't seen quite as much in the last few years.

Speaking of comedic Hanks, I couldn't help find some funny similarities between this and another fish-out-of-water film he starred in, that one more of a straight comedy: Splash. It started out with just me noticing that his character has the same first name, Alan -- and a quick perusal of IMDB tells me this is the first time Hanks has played a character named Alan since Splash. (He's Alan here and Allen there -- to-may-to/to-mah-to). But then there's also a scene in Hologram where Hanks goes swimming underwater hand in hand with a beautiful woman -- it just happens to be an Arab doctor rather than a mermaid. To-may-to/to-mah-to.

Harry and the Hendersons

Started the weekend with a movie about an ovesized ape, finished the weekend -- well, almost finished it -- with a movie about an oversized ape. Harry and the Hendersons didn't charm me as much as Kong: Skull Island did, but I did find it quite charming, if too long by about 20 minutes. This may seem like an even more random choice than Megamind was yesterday, until I explain the reasoning behind it.

See, my older son has just recently become fascinated with Bigfoot. I suppose it was a natural outgrowth of his recent fascination with the Loch Ness Monster -- fascination/horror, as he sometimes still tells us he has nightmares about the mythical Scottish beast. Unable to leave well enough alone, I went and showed him the Patterson-Gimlin film of Sasquatch on the internet. Fortunately, no nightmares yet.

Harry and the Hendersons struck me as an opportunity to capitalize on this fascination while keeping the nightmares at bay. I wouldn't have sought it out, but when I saw it on the library shelves it was definitely coming home with us. And I figured the kids would be disappointed to return from the sleepover at their aunt's, so I decided to arrange a special "pajama movie" for Sunday night. The rules: They had to get into their pajamas, and they could stay up to watch the whole movie if they wanted. If they didn't want to, they could go to bed. But I made it clear there would be no negotiations about other possible titles if they weren't enjoying it -- and then made it clear that the noises the younger one was making driving toy cars across the couch would not be tolerated.

The movie being too long was definitely something I felt more when dealing with fidgety children, but I ultimately was able to keep them on task and they both professed to like it. It took me 30 years to see Harry and the Hendersons, and I might logically have never seen it after that kind of delay and with its minimal enduring significance as a family classic. But I'm glad I did see it ... and also glad that I was not awakened last night by a six-year-old with Sasquatch nightmares.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

My final film of the day made an unintentional Pacific Northwest double feature with Harry and the Hendersons. It also allowed me to finally complete David Lynch's feature filmography.

This one was a purpose-driven viewing. Sometime after my wife comes back -- possibly not until September or October -- we are finally planning to start the new Twin Peaks episodes. Part of the reason we weren't all over them the moment they were released was the perceived mental work we would need to do to watch this series. I figured, what better time to give me a little relief on that perceived mental work?

Of course, I'd heard that it probably doesn't matter what you know, what you've seen recently to jog your memory -- you still won't know what's going on. And after finally seeing Fire Walk With Me, I'm inclined to believe that nothing there will really help me all that much. I enjoyed the Lynchian moodiness, as I do in all of his films, but I didn't end up all that interested in the events leading up to the murder of Laura Palmer. It felt like 135 minutes of demystification. I remembered my viewing of the original series well enough to piece together connections to those events, and to recognize, for example, that Moira Kelly is now playing Lara Flynn Boyle's character. (Did Boyle perceive herself to be too big of a star at that point to make this movie? It scarcely seems possible, but maybe she did.) But I felt myself not really caring, even when I did make connections with the things I remembered.

It turns out that Laura Palmer is not really that interesting of a character to spend that much time with. She works a lot better as a "pretty dead girl" than a flesh-and-blood person having a really bad week. I think part of that is due to the weaknesses in Sheryl Lee as an actress. She's not terrible or anything, but she seemed to verge on hysterics quite regularly, and I found that a little of her goes a long way. Also, I'm reminded that the actor who plays Bob, Frank Silva, is just not that disturbing. Bob, too, is more interesting as a person, an entity, we know very little about.

I found myself a lot more interested in the prologue, if you want to call it that, which features Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland as FBI agents. But they were in it only for the first 30 minutes, and in true Lynchian style, were never heard from again.

Also, I noticed Heather Graham's name in the credits and then failed to identify her. Disappointing.

Okay, I am ready for a one-movie day on Monday.

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