Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cat's Away 2: Marathon within the marathon

Just a few more days/nights left of Cat's Away 2, the personal film festival I'm running while my wife is away -- a sequel to the one I ran in July/August.

There have been a lot of ways Cat's Away 2 has mirrored Cat's Away, and one of those is that my sister-in-law again took my kids for a sleepover on the Saturday night my wife was away. That has meant that from early Saturday afternoon onward, I was free to do any goddamn thing I pleased. And of course, I please to watch movies.

I've always got a boundless optimism at the start, when I think this time, finally, I will squeeze five movies into Saturday. But anytime I've ever done this type of thing, which has included trips to hotels to hold movie marathons, I have never made it to five on the first day. That could be because I have not purposefully chosen short movies (and did not this time), but it's also likely because I'm drinking beer and by some point in the second movie, I need a nap. Yesterday's experience fit that description to a T, and again I watched four movies before summoning myself off to bed.

The first of these was:

To Die For

I'd seen (and loved) Gus Van Sant's film when it first came out, but not seen it again since then. Strangely, I always think this movie came out in 1997, when actually it was 1995. What's so strange about that is not that I would get a date wrong, but that I always think with absolutely certainty that I ranked To Die For in my top ten of the year it came out. Not only that, but I feel like I remember seeing it in the theater in Rhode Island near where I lived in 1997. But this is impossible, since I didn't start keeping rankings until 1996, and, well, it came out when I was in my last year of college in Maine. Nevertheless, and despite writing this out now, I will probably make this mistake again in the future.

I had forgotten that To Die For was structured as a pseudo documentary, including interviews with various involved players. Of course, there's a lot of action pictured that could not appear in a documentary, so it's really just a stylistic affectation on Van Sant's part more than an attempt to contribute to the then-burgeoning genre of the faux documentary/mockumentary. In any case, the format totally works. I especially liked Illeana Douglas' interviews. In fact, this movie made me really miss Douglas' distinct contributions to cinema at large.

Speaking of the cast, I'd forgotten how many big names are actually in this. I remembered the likes of Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix, but I could not have told you Casey Affleck was in it, nor Kurtwood Smith, nor Holland Taylor, nor Dan Hedaya, nor Buck Henry, nor Wayne Knight. If pressed I might have remembered Matt Dillon. Anyway, it was a joy to see them all so young.

I really enjoyed catching up with this film again, it's a delight, but I was weirdly distracted during the movie. Who knows, maybe it was an early onset of that "this marathon is slipping away from me and I'm not making the perfect choices" paranoia.

Song to Song

If that kind of paranoia were setting in, it would have been the perfect chance to bump my second movie from the schedule. My 30-day iTunes rental of Terrence Malick's latest still had 20 days to go, and I had a sense that I wasn't going to like it all that much, having already written a borderline sarcastic review of his last, Knight of Cups (which you can read here if you're so inclined). I pretty much assumed I'd be able to recycle that review for Song to Song, which has not come out here yet and which I will be reviewing. But these "no kids marathons" have included such new-to-me comparative stinkers as The DUFF and Megamind in the past, so I have never shied away from a movie just because of its likely suckitude.

And suck Song to Song did. I'll save most of my vitriol for my review, but my God is this man clueless about the value of his work in the cinematic landscape. You can't remake the same movie over and over again without becoming a joke, but that's what Malick has done since The Tree of Life. I actually kind of liked To the Wonder, but the man descended into pure self-indulgence with Cups, and Song to Song just doubles down on that. (I suppose Voyage of Time was also in there, but as that was intended for IMAX I don't know whether to count it as an actual feature from him, and I didn't see it.) If not for Emmanuel Lubezki making his films so beautiful looking, who knows where he would be.

I find myself kind of shocked that so many good actors still want to work with him. Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling are all at the tops of their games and the tops of producers' wish lists right now, and Natalie Portman is only a small step down from there. What could these people be thinking? During the movie I found myself imagining a hypothetical foursome for Malick's next movie, and came up with Robert Pattinson, Emma Stone, Channing Tatum and Kristen Stewart. The only thing ruining that theory is Pattinson and Stewart working on the same movie together. But it's a Malick movie, so they might not even need to see each other.

If it had been 90 minutes, that would have been one thing. But two goddamn hours and nine goddamn minutes??

Peeping Tom

It might have been five straight hours of Lubezki except I decided by random choice not to watch The Revenant. I put Peeping Tom and The Revenant, both of which are library rentals, in my hands, closed my eyes, swapped the boxes around enough until I could not remember which was which, and then held up the winning choice. I'm just as glad as even Lubezki's beautiful camera might have been too much for me for five straight hours.

Peeping Tom was a late contender for the lineup, as I only picked it up at the library a couple days ago. I decided it fit into the "movies I would have to explain to my wife if she were around" category. I first saw Michael Powell's career-killing movie about five years ago, and remember being very disturbed by it. When you factor in Psycho, 1960 was a crazy year for films that pushed the psychosexual envelope, and I thought it would be good to confront it again. (Psycho itself would have probably been the better choice, had it been available, as it's been something like 25 years since I saw that.)

I didn't remember the movie as well as I thought I did. I still like it quite a bit, but I was not as disturbed as I expected to be. The protagonist, Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm), is pretty weird, but I think I thought he was a bit more Norman Bates-like than he is. Yes, he's a perverted guy with a debilitating sickness that causes him to murder women with the knife end of his tripod leg (still a creepy and very phallic image), but I guess I thought he was a bit more sinister than he actually is. And I didn't remember the ending at all. Maybe it was one of those I watched late at night when I was falling asleep, and only thought I took it all in.

One thing I think is interesting is how little his love interest, played by Anna Massey, pays attention to her own radar for creeps. She sees a bunch of absolutely bizarre stuff from Mark -- that choice to show her the film of himself as a child with a lizard thrown on his chest is reminiscent of Travis Bickle's choice to take Cybil Shepherd to the porn movie in Taxi Driver, in terms of reading the room. Yet she still flocks to him. I suppose it's just a narrative convenience, but it makes her a sort of memorable character in a weird way.

Spring Breakers

And I closed with my fifth -- yes, fifth -- viewing of Spring Breakers.

I've said all I really want to say about Spring Breakers in numerous previous posts. You can check them out by following the tag at the bottom of this post. This may just be the fastest I've reached five viewings on any movie, as it's been just four years and five months since its release. But I can only guess as I really don't have anything else to compare it to. Actually, it likely loses that battle to Pulp Fiction, which I saw four times in the theater and surely once on video before five years had passed. But that's pretty damn select company.

I'd say I always learn something new about Spring Breakers whenever I see it, but I didn't this time. I was just reminded of how much I love it.

I did think it was an interesting viewing on the heels of Song to Song. I often think of Spring Breakers as a bit of a film in the style of Terrence Malick, and I think I probably don't even need to explain why. Breakers does the "pastiche of non-chronological images" film correctly, though. It doesn't adhere to an absolute chronology, no, but when the images are shuffled, they are only shuffled within a short window of time in the narrative. The overall thrust of the film is clearly forward, and the images captured by cinematographer Benoit Debie each say something different about where the characters are in the story. What makes Song to Song so infuriating by comparison is that the images would play just as well at any point of the story as any other, robbing it of a sense of a beginning, middle and end. Sure, there's a narrative throughline and a story you can see the contours of, but the overlapping and repeating structure of the film -- like, endlessly repeating -- gives it a sense of no definite narrative thrust and no momentum toward an ending. Its detractors may argue that Spring Breakers has no story, but they'd be fools. You can tell that even more clearly when Malick is the point of comparison.

Sunday: An anticipated three more films, and the return of my kids.

No comments: