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Monday Movies: Cassavetes Overload

I thought this would be a super-slow movie week, as The Girlfriend and I took a break from our relentless film schedule on Saturday to go to the symphony. Pierre Boulez conducted his own Livre pour cordes, Bartok’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra, and Stravinsky’s Firebird. The first was interesting though difficult, the second was more accessible and active but still challenging, and the third was basically dessert.

In any case, on Sunday we wound up watching two movies, and then I watched another on the train. That’s in addition to a stray one I half-watched this week, namely:

  • Ordinary People — this movie was ponderous without being insightful, so it makes perfect sense that it won an Oscar. The fact that the movie’s conflict came down to Mary Tyler Moore arbitrarily liking the dead son and hating the living one really clinched it for me — thank God dad and son were able to get rid of that castrating harpy!
  • Opening Night — I found A Woman Under the Influence to be amazing, as did The Girlfriend, so I thought Cassavetes would be a good candidate for one of my “light completism” projects. This one, however, made me wonder. A Woman Under the Influence had a tightness and coherence that Opening Night simply lacked — Gena Rowlands seemed to be insane more or less at random. I can see where he was going with it, but to my mind, it wasn’t a successful film.
  • Point Break — This one had some of the most intense and well-done action sequences I’ve ever seen, which almost pushed it to the “so bad it’s good” level. Yet it ultimately fell short by virtue of being way too long. There were some great scenes late in the movie that I wouldn’t want to throw out, but ultimately Patrick Swayze’s character, as well as Keanu Reeves’s underlying legal situation, wound up making no sense to me.
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie — I don’t know exactly what to think of this truly bizzare film, but it did at least strengthen my resolve on the Cassavetes “light completism” idea. (A sidenote: for the first time, I chose to watch a movie on the train on the way back to Kalamazoo, and so I of course had to choose one with plenty of nudity.)

Top three Netflix queue items currently (I cleared the deck this evening): Farewell My Concubine, Faces, and The Baader-Meinhof Complex.

What have you been watching?


January 25, 2010 - Posted by | Monday Movies



    I’ve been going through this list of the decade’s top 25 indie movies. I’m really not enjoying it at all. In fact, I think I’m going to give it up. Indie movies suck.

    Comment by Adam R | January 25, 2010

  2. If you liked Point Break, you’ll love Point Break Live!

    Comment by K-sky | January 25, 2010

  3. Adam, please don’t give up before you see Mysterious Skin, which was one of my favorite movies of the decade. There are others there I enjoyed a lot, but I can see where it might be unwise to take them all in a row.

    Comment by K-sky | January 25, 2010

  4. it seems a lot of classical concerts end with ‘dessert’. at least in my experience.

    the last thing i’ve seen is some like it hot. hope to see still walking & tulpan (japanese and kazahksatni respecitvely) at a great cinema in nottingham. have recently compiled a list of ‘classics’ that i need to fill my knowledge gap (including more old films like metropolis, the original day the earth stood still, all about eve as well as things like the big lebowski).

    Comment by sarah expletive | January 25, 2010

  5. (that said, there’s nothing wrong with dessert!)

    Comment by sarah expletive | January 25, 2010

  6. I watched Faces on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, it is bizarre; and a little like watching paint drying — well, that is, if you watch paint dry with people randomly laughing uproariously at really bad jokes. But, as is the case when Cassavetes is successful, he makes this drying paint vital to understanding the human condition. Three really stand-out performances seal the deal.

    Also watched The Lady from Shanghai. It’s really too bad the studio pillaged this film, as they did with most of Welles’ films. It’s got some really neat directing going on; but, at times, you’re more than aware of how chopped it was. I wouldn’t object to them re-issuing this one, like they did Touch of Evil about ten years ago.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | January 25, 2010

  7. Almost all classical orchestral concerts end with dessert, because that way people who don’t like “difficult” music can just come after the intermission.

    Yesterday I watched Primer, something I’d been meaning to do for a while but was finally prompted to do because of (of all things!) the time-shenanigans in the intermission in Homestuck. You know how people say it’s confusing? They’re right! I feel as if it should come with a chart explaining what the hell is going on in the last third, especially since one major clue to having at least a glimmer of understanding is given in one line of unemphasized voiceover and never repeated.

    Comment by ben | January 25, 2010

  8. I somehow watched Primer twice, and I found the constant flow of the “engineer banter” to be weirdly soothing. I also came to accept the confusion as a way of illustrating the multiplication of unintended side effects in a kind of feedback loop — altough after the second time I do feel a lot more confident about what the basic plot points in the last third were.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 25, 2010

  9. Given that the guy is an engineer, I assume that there really does exist a well-mapped-out plan of the action. I just wonder if there’s enough left in the movie to reconstruct it (especially how putting one machine in another works).

    I also saw Up in the Air, a movie I enjoyed.

    Comment by ben | January 25, 2010

  10. Glad you enjoyed Point Break. It is really the epitome of so bad it’s good for me, and man is it bad/good. I love the exchange where Roach is dying the airplane. I’d be curious about your thought on the Bad Boys franchise. Bad Boys 2 is one of my favorite movies of all time, but I have had difficult time theorizing why.

    Comment by Hill | January 25, 2010

  11. There is, indeed, such a map, and this paper looks like a promising, more digestible explanation of what happens. There was also a pretty good xkcd about ‘movie narrative charts‘ with primer serving as the punchline

    Comment by micah | January 25, 2010

  12. Faces is amazing. What’s neat about Cassavetes is how he can make a whole movie out of three or four scenes, and how all of them achieve that weird “emotional roller coaster” effect. The movie might seem boring the first time because you don’t know what to expect but future viewing should prove better. If you’re thinking of dipping into the Cassavetes scholarship though, don’t dip too much in Ray Carney’s. He’s a little nuts.

    Comment by Marc W. | January 25, 2010

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