The 300 Week 11: THIS IS LARA!


In which I assert that Andy Warhol was a great visual artist but a garbage hack filmmaker

Hola, buds, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my harebrained attempt to see 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. Hopefully there’s something here for you to seek out and enjoy as well.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

I’m back in New York City and the normal routine of seeing a lot of movies. In fact, next week’s installment of The 300 should be pretty big since I’ll be seeing a few films at The Inaugural Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival, which opens tonight and runs through Sunday.

Eight classic works of film noir will screen at the Kit Noir Festival, most of them in 35mm. There will also be a special conversation with writer/director Paul Schrader. If you’re in NYC and love film noir, stop by the Lenfest Center for the Arts and give this a look.

And so, onward.

66 of 300: Foxtrot (2017)(aka פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

Director: Samuel MaozStarring: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan ShirayCountry: Israel/Germany/France/SwitzerlandSeen at Angelika Film Center (New York, NY)Wednesday, March 14th

There’s a solemn air of the absurd running throughout Foxtrot, which is structured like the eponymous dance or a Möbius strip. A family is told that their son has been killed in action, and they don’t take it well. We also get to see the son manning a military checkpoint, which feels like something from a Beckett play. I was struck by the balanced composition of each shot, and the quiet gloom that accompanied the absurd humor. There’s also a scathing rebuke of Israeli politics embedded in the film. Yet thinking back on the movie now to write this, it feels like it’s slipped a bit from my memory despite my initial admiration.

67 of 300: The Death of Stalin (2017)

Director: Armando IannucciStarring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea RiseboroughCountry: UK/FranceSeen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)Thursday, March 15th

The Death of Stalin is simultaneously a bumbling slapstick comedy, a Machiavellian political drama, and a chilling glimpse into the horrors of an autocratic regime. Every punchline is undercut by a brutal enemy list execution, and every totalitarian horror is enhanced by the clownish grotesques vying to rule. I’m not sure it all jells, but it’s an interesting juggling act of tones. My one gripe is that I wished Iannucci and his cinematographer had shot the movie on film. The glossy digital image makes everything look a little cheaper, and seems at odds with the period and feel of the movie.

68 of 300: Zoot Suit (1981)

Director: Luis ValdezStarring: Daniel Valdez, Edward James Olmos, Tyne Daly, Charles AidmanCountry: USASeen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)Friday, March 16th

Based on the play of the same name, Zoot Suit takes the real-life Sleepy Lagoon murder and Zoot Suit Riots of the early 1940s and uses them to explore Chicano identity in America. The movie plays out as if we’re watching it on stage. While this was done out of budget and time constraints, Valdez finds clever, creative ways to overcome these limitations. The stage on film inhabits a much greater space than it could in real life, its dimensions stretching or contracting to complement each scene both psychologically and metaphysically. This fascinating watch is built on the solid performances, including Olmos as the pachuco demigod who narrates the story.

69 of 300: Chelsea Girls (1966)

Directors: Andy Warhol and Paul MorrisseyStarring: Nico, Ondine, Mary WoronovCountry: USASeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Saturday, March 17th

I’d heard so much about Chelsea Girls for years: a film about Chelsea Hotel denizens and The Factory crew, but it was really two 16mm movies played side by side. I was excited to finally sit down and watch it, but damn, what an interminable pile of pretentious crap.

The individual films on each side of the screen are too repetitive to be entertaining. They’re like bad improv routines that go nowhere until the film reel runs out. Any synchronicity between screens is accidental; it’s all so slapdash and, worse, boring. There’s no meaning to any of it, only a kind of unwarranted self-regard. The only other Warhol film I’ve seen is The Nude Restaurant, which was similarly plagued by a heightened sense of its own charm. I like Warhol as a visual artist and pop art thinker, but he’s a home movie hack as a filmmaker. Just because your friends are interesting in real life doesn’t mean they can carry a three-and-a-half-hour movie.

But that said, there’s a kernel of promise in the otherwise unwatchable Chelsea Girls. Nico is so interesting to look at even though all she does is cut her bangs. Woronov (that steely glare) is also compelling on screen, which led to many cult roles in the decades to come. Mostly, though, Chelsea Girls made me appreciate the early movies of John Waters even more. Waters refined the slow awkwardness and peculiar monologues of the Warhol aesthetic, making these elements more artful through garish sensation, a subversive worldview, weirder characters, and a love of melodrama.

70 of 300: Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)

Director: Efrain GutierrezStarring: Efrain Gutierrez, Jose Armando, Margaret de Hoyos, Josephine M. FazCountry: USASeen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)Monday, March 19th

Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive! is the first Chicano film produced in the United Stated. While the story is rife with cliches about marginalized communities turning to crime (albeit, the cliches are true), there’s a sense of earnestness that overcomes many of the technical shortcomings. The best moments of the movie are when Gutierrez eschews the familiar narrative and shoots something more like a documentary essay. There’s a particularly memorable sequence near the end of the film in which Gutierrez—both as his character and seemingly as himself—addresses the audience from the heart in voiceover as he wanders the streets of his San Antonio neighborhood.

71 of 300: Tomb Raider (2018)

Director: Roar UthaugStarring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel WuCountry: UK/USASeen at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 (New York, NY)Tuesday, March 20th

Tomb Raider is clunky for the first 10 minutes, solid for about 30 minutes after that, but then devolves into a halfhearted pastiche ofIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The movie is exceedingly mediocre, with hints of something better buried deep in the screenplay. Vikander is an all right Lara Croft when given the opportunity, but the script keeps making her less capable and too uncertain of herself even as she’s grown as a hero over the course of the film. If anything, it’s nice to see Wu in a supporting role and Nick Frost in a cameo, which makes me excited for the next season of Into the Badlands.