Travis Bickle on the Riviera 03 – March

In regards to the George Lucas posts – I may eventually write that post in the future, but I’ll be honest. I have had a lot going on in my life and the last thing I want to do right now is write about George Lucas. That last post, that’s pretty much all I have to say about Star Wars. For the rest of my life, maybe. Also while it may have gotten linked and read all over the place, I’m pretty damn sure talking about Star Wars is the easiest way to bring out terrible people outside of a themed episode of Dateline.

legend –  * = great, RW = rewatch, C = personal classic, X = garbage, T= theater, numerals = times watch over the year.
Current film count for all of 2011 is 72.
– – –
01. The Limey (1999) Steven Soderbergh – *, RW, III
Rewatch, this time with a friend who hadn’t seen it.

02. Serpico (1975) Sidney Lumet – *, RW
I haven’t seen it since I was a kid – watched it while having a mini-70s Pacino marathon. On this viewing it’s great to see how much of Pacino’s classic personality is developed in this rather than Scarface. Also, what emerges in the film outside of the obvious corruption stuff, which is delivered simply and directly. Lumet is the definition of a no-nonsense director. He films the movie and does it well, with no flourish or extraneous directorial spin. Sometimes that’s boring, but with this material it’s the best way to do it, considering how arch some of the cop shit gets. Chock full of every character actor you want to name. The secret of Serpico: he’s the ultimate 70s man. The weird, okay-with- everything-except-the-wrong-thing, the hitting on everything that moves in a bizarre way that only Pacino can (the “sheepdog” game that Pacino drops on the girl at the party is almost as weird Janet Leigh’s speech on the train in Manchurian Candidate if you think about what he’s saying), he dresses like an insane person, he isn’t interested in asserting his masculinity, and the problem he has with his women is that he’s TOO DRIVEN by his need to do what’s right. It’s kind of a strange movie to be a classic, and it is surely not the movie that Dog Day Afternoon is, but it’s solid.

03. Panic in Needle Park (1971) Jerry Schatzberg
Also part of the Pacino 70s day I had (I was thinking about watching all of them until that post popped up on This Recording a couple weeks back). His first starring role, the story isn’t quite there in the way that you wish it was – a document of a relationship between these two characters in the middle of a dry-up of heroin as they go to further lengths to maintain their relationship and their habit in equal measure. It’s not great, really. It is an amazing glance at 1971 New York, without any of the genre weirdness you have to take for granted in other 70s NYC movies, with faces and locations that are without a doubt locals and non-actors. The whole film is a long wait for it’s final shot, which is absolutely perfect and ranks the movie far higher than it would without it.

04. Cruising (1980) William Friedkin
Final Pacino flick. Friedkin clearly saw and enjoyed the Warriors, because many of the locations and even a few actors appear again from it. This is a movie about a cop who goes undercover to hunt a serial killer going through the NYC gay bondage scene. Pacino is game, and does a lot of great work in the film, but Friedkin is quite clearly disgusted by the thought of two men fucking and the film reeks of directorial ick. The opposite of the male gaze in most slasher movies (and make no mistake, this is one. Friedkin may be shooting gay clubs in New York, but the closest sibling to the work is Dario Argento’s Deep Red). Friedkin comes off here as the opposite number to the early Cronenberg films – instead of shooting women like the monsters, he chooses homosexuals. Friedkin is a profoundly skilled at his job, so the final experience is uncomfortable but incredibly compelling. And the bonus is that a specific music cue is used at two key points in the movie, and if you’ve seen Death Proof you kind of realize how great that Tarantino is at rewiring components of other people’s work into his own tools – of filmmaking, but also of criticism. It isn’t as easy as assessing Tarantino as a series of references and sly winks to cinephiles, because he isn’t just that. Every reference means something and is being used intertextually. Approaching it any other way is lazy and disingenuous, from remix videos to blog posts – if you’re just spotting references, you’re wasting yours and everyone else’s time .

05. Zombi 2 (1979) Lucio Fulci
06. The Beyond (1981) Lucio Fulci
07. City of the Living Dead (1979) Lucio Fulci
Lucio Fulci marathon. Couldn’t find a copy of The Psychic/Seven Notes In Black, but these three did the trick. There is a moment in The Beyond where for a second, in a dream sequence, the movie becomes this gorgeous lyrical dream, and then quickly goes back to shitty schlockfest. The problem is that from scene to scene those moments are completely unpredictable. In all of these films there is a pingpong between stone genius and utter shit from scene to scene, which is totally part of the fun in watching them.

08. Who Are You Polly Magoo? (1966) William Klein – *
Klein also directed Mr. Freedom, aka the most fucked up movie I have ever watched a dozen times for laughs. Polly Magoo is kind of a commentary on fashion, celebrity, film, television, art, artifice, politics, and film convention. Plotwise, this is kind of similar to Peter Sellers farces, and Godard/Truffaut new wave screwing around, and Warholian documentaries. The film shows that Klein is a genius at being an anarchist who hates everything, and in doing so got himself ripped off by everyone from Scorsese to Kubrick to Roman Coppola. The final theme song includes more puns than an issue of King City and any ten minutes of Spinal Tap COMBINED, and that is awesome.

09. Obsession (1976) Brian De Palma – *
If I were writing one of those spot-the-reference things on Kill Bill, I’d go “Genevieve Bujold writing on the plane!”, but that doesn’t matter what matters is WHY Tarantino would go for that moment, in a film that is not only full of points for him to pull from but De Palma and Schrader explicitly referencing Hitchcock (as always) and Point Blank (which I did not see coming), and it’s telling that a character on a plane writing is about reconciling a need for revenge with her love, both for the same man. De Palma famously broke Schrader’s heart by editing the incest element into a dream sequence, but the final film is still a horrifying transfer of Hitchcockian elements into a place Hitchock himself would never go. Though not as perfect as Sisters and not as trashy as Dressed To Kill, it is a Hitchcock film that Hitchcock himself would never have made, which is something that can’t be said for nearly every Hitchcock tribute film that hasn’t been made by De Palma. Obsession reminds me of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now in a lot of ways, and not just because of the way it uses it’s locations organically rather than as backdrops for action. The performances here are all-around great. Bujold especially, is a perfect actress for a romance, but her turn is not only believable but striking. And John Lithgow is awesome. My copy was pretty blurry, but I think some of it is the way it was shot.

10. Dance of the Drunken Mantis (1979) Yuen Woo Ping
Oh yeah, the fights are awesome.

11. Watchmen “Ultimate Cut” (2009) Zack Snyder – X
Yep. Unwatchable. You know the deal. I’m stupid for giving it a chance.

12. Winter’s Bone (2010) Debra Granik – *
This is, wow. I heard this was great, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it is. This is the kind of movie that you NEVER get to see, or at least I never do. This is the one I’ve watched the most recently, so I’m not sure if I’m still basking in the afterglow a little, but my immediate reaction is to think of this as something special. This is Granik’s second film, and aside from a dream sequence she is almost invisible as a presence here. There are two kinds of films where that happens – where it’s just a boring, rote, film. Or the kind of gutchecking story that needs no embellishment, delivered the way the story demands rather than the director. Ironically I’m writing about this with films by Lumet and Friedkin – both of which are the kind of director who understood that a Dog Day Afternoon or an Exorcist, while full of things that the directors could be known for on analysis, are completely invisible in the first viewing. This is the story of a young woman in the Ozarks, played by Jennifer Lawrence (who is going to be a big deal), who is taking care of her little brother and sister, and her disconnected mother. The ticking clock of the film is the need to find her father, who has had trouble with the law and meth, before his bond is up and they lose their house. Sounds simple enough a device, but instead of play for the drama, this entire film sticks with Lawrence. We are with her, we see things from her pov in every moment, and we come to understand the nature of her life in this place, and what it means to be this person there. What being a woman means, what silence means, the way people behave is 100% genuine and the casting is unimpeachable. This is some bad shit, and while John Hawkes makes a play for stealing the whole movie by showing how scary a wiry guy could really be (which hasn’t happened since… what, Oldman in the 90s?). This is so well-done I’m sure I’m ging to have to watch it again, but on first view, Lawrence may have joined the class of great bad ass performances without doing a single cliched “badass” thing throughout the film. Whatever her or Granik do next, expect it’s gonna be good.

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About sean witzke

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3 Responses to Travis Bickle on the Riviera 03 – March

  1. Morgan Jeske says:

    Hawkes was great. The scene where Garret Dillahunt pulls him over, man. “Is this gonna be our time?”

    Not that it matters too much, but I was kinda shocked this got a nod from the academy this year, being the kind of film it is (good, heh)

    Haven’t seen ‘Panic’ or ‘Cruising’. I might have to do a 70’s Pacino three-way…er, trilogy.

  2. Jared says:


  3. Bill Reed says:

    I knew you’d fall hard for Winter’s Bone. It’s not my speed, but it’s definitely yours.

    Zombi 2, there’s my bag. Schlock that transcends itself briefly and by accident. My parents thought it was a good idea to show me this movie when I was 10 or so– thanks, mom and dad– on giant RCA videodisc, an amazing form of home video lost to the winds of time, with sub-VHS quality. That’s how it’s meant to be seen. As it is, I ran from the room when the topless woman’s eye was impaled on a sharp chunk of wood. So indelible was that image I forgot about the zombie/shark fight entirely until I rewatched it on the same crappy videodisc more than ten years later. I need to peek in on more Fulci.

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