By Oberst Von Berauscht –
Curious what else I’ve seen this year? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-
Update: After the testosterone-fueled Westerns Week I figured it was time to change things up a spell and focus on Women directors. The week was cut a bit short, because I had to Binge-Watch Daredevil Season 2. But I tried to run the gamut with my film selections.
131. Strange Days (1995)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
In the future of 1999, people swap and sell illicit memories recorded directly through their eyes. Using a device that links directly to your brain, you can experience these memories as if they were happening to you. Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) deals in these memories, selling discs containing videos of people having sex, performing extreme stunts, or doing crimes, but he draws the line at snuff films. One day, Lenny receives a disc that shows a man rape and murder a girl, and even worse, he straps one of the mind devices to the girl, forcing her to experience her own death through his eyes.
Kathryn Bigelow has had a seriously diverse career, from horror films like Near Dark, to big-budget action films like Point Break, to military thrillers like The Hurt Locker & Zero Dark Thirty. But this high-concept sci-fi action film is her magnum opus. The themes are even more relatable now than when the film was made, as it deals with a world where anyone and everyone could be filming you, privacy rapidly becoming nonexistent. Even more relevant is the film’s exploration of police brutality against minorities. The film was inspired in part by the increasing gang violence and the LA Riots of 1992, but can be translated to modern times easily through the Black Lives Matter movement. The film features solid supporting performances by Juliette Lewis, Michael Wincott, Tom Sizemore, and particularly Angela Bassett.
132. Slums of Beverly Hills (1998)
Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Natasha Lyonne plays Vivian Abromowitz, a teenage girl growing up in Beverly Hills, California. She lives with her father Murray (Alan Arkin) and older and younger brothers in a shitty apartment. One night, her father wakes everyone up and announces they’re moving to avoid rent for the month. Murray makes very little money, but is determined to keep the family in Beverly Hills so his kids can go to the better schools. Vivian is coming to terms with her own body, having just received her first Bra, and still getting used to having her time of the month, but the chaotic nature of her family is making it hard to adjust. And when her drug-addicted cousin moves in fresh out of rehab, things just get weirder.
One look at this wonderful and wise comedy, and you’ll probably agree Tamara Jenkins needs to direct more movies. Beverly Hills is a city known for having a wealthy population, and the juxtaposition between the high class city and the working class family is an inspired choice. Alan Arkin is moving as the aging father, the kind of man who never really caught a break in life. Murray may want what is best for his family, but to his detriment, he really doesn’t know how to make that happen. Slums is an uncommonly creative approach to the coming-of-age genre.
133. Triumph of the Will (1935)
Directed by: Leni Riefenstahl
I decided to include this film in my Women Director’s week because of the film’s historical significance and because the artistic designs behind the film are inarguable. Leni Riefenstahl was an immensely talented filmmaker who was unfortunately taken in by the NAZI machine, and became one of its biggest propagandists. Triumph of the Will painstakingly shoots the 1934 NAZI party congress in Nuremberg Germany, with numerous sequences re-shot and re-staged in order to make the event appear even more auspicious and tightly constructed. Triumph of the Will is important, and a valuable lesson for modern film-goers as it serves as proof of the way movies in the wrong hands can be used to manipulate the truth.
134. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
Directed By: Barbara Kopple
In 1973-74, the Mineworkers of Harlan County, Kentucky joined the United Mine Workers of America union and went on strike when their proposed contract to the company they worked for was flat-out declined. Director Barbara Kopple and some crew were there to film the events. The Mining company hired strikebreakers and scab workers, and the people of Harlan County rebelled. Mineworkers, their wives, and numerous supporters blocked entrances to the mine, and picketed for nearly a full year, despite the constant threat of violence. This documentary is one of the most fascinating pieces of American history recorded on film, chronicling the everyday struggles of the American Blue Collar worker, and their family. While the film cannot be said to be impartial, as Kopple spent most of her time with the workers, the incidents of violence on display against the workers by their employers cannot be ignored, nor easily forgotten. One scene in particular, in which the picketers are attacked with gunshots at nighttime, with strikebreakers attacking the camera crew, is haunting.
135. The Brothers Grimsby. (2016)
Taking a brief break from Woman Director’s week I had to review this comedy starring Sacha Cohen and Mark Strong. The full review of which can be read here.
136. CB4 (1993)
By: Tamra Davis
This comedy stars Chris Rock, Allen Payne, & Deezer D as Cell-block 4 (CB4) a Gangsta Rap group from the streets of Locash, California. At least that’s what they’d want you to think; in reality the members of CB4 are all from fairly middle-class upbringings, but realized they needed a gimmick to hit it big. Emulating groups like NWA and Public Enemy, they rise quickly to the top, but when the real gang-banger they based their image on breaks out of prison, they are forced to rethink their lives.
CB4 is notable for being the first major comedy to cover the Gangsta Rap subject in detail, and is full of cameos from real-life musicians like Ice-T, Easy-E, & Flavor Flav. The film is at its best during a series of mock documentary scenes that satirize the “Thug” culture built around the rap industry while paying tribute to the music that came from it. Unfortunately, the movie diverges from that at times into generic 90s humor premises. Also, much like another historically important satire The Hollywood Shuffle, the film features some infantile “Gay Panic” humor that has ages the film considerably. Still, director Tamra Davis manages to make the film work more or less in spite of these flaws, and she would go on to direct two other 90s cult comedy favorites in Billy Madison and Half-Baked.
137. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Billed as “The first Iranian Vampire Western”, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has more in common with David Lynch than Sergio Leone or Universal Horror. At its core, AGWHAAN is a character story about two people who live in a mythical Iranian town called “Bad City”, one a 20 something boy named Arash, the other a 20 something vampire with no name. The film is full of style and features a spectacular indie rock soundtrack. Director Ana Lily Amirpour chose black and white photography for the film, which is a perfect fit for the desolate nighttime cityscapes. Even though the film’s contemplative tone would suggest a slow pace, the film’s 101 minutes fly by amazingly fast. This is a must-see movie for the cinemaphile.
138. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Directed By: Beeban Kidron
This (literally) Trans-American Odyssey follows a trio of Self-styled Drag Queens Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes), Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze), & Chi Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) as they drive across country to get to Hollywood for the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant. Their car breaks down in rural Nebraska, but they are saved by kindly local Bobby Ray (Jason London), who takes them to the small town of Snydersville to get repairs. Faced with surviving the weekend in a sleepy little town, the three turn the town’s male-dominated culture upside down.
This cult classic from director Beeban Kidron seems ahead of its time upon modern viewing. Most films involving male characters who dress as women portray the act as something of desperation like Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire. And the humor from films like that tend to comes from gender-bending fish out of water humor. To Wong Fo on the other hand accepts its characters for who they are and what they want to be, dressing as a woman isn’t something they do because they are hiding from something, it is something they do because that’s who they really feel they are. The film’s plot fits the classic Hollywood trope of “Glamorous City folk meets country living”, and there aren’t a lot of surprises here. But Swayze, Snipes, and Leguizamo all give spectacular and honest performances, and that counts for everything.