ALF Pogs: The Movie, directed by Steven Spielberg
Greetings, earthlings, welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my absurd attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching blockbusters, oldies, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. Hopefully there’s something here for you.
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.
Another week down, and I’m slightly closer to hitting triple digits. Hoping to get there before the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday, April 18 through Sunday, April 29. Jesse Lab and I will be covering the festival once it gets underway, and I should be able to catch a lot of movies (if I don’t burn out, 34) during that time.
For the next few weeks, just a reasonable stream of films, with the same mix of old and new. This includes the full filmographies of Lynne Ramsay and Lucrecia Martel in consecutive weeks, a four-hour Chinese arthouse epic, and movie in which John Cena butt chugs beer. Art, people. Art.
And so, onward.
80 of 300: Looking for Richard (1996)
Director: Al PacinoCountry: USASeen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)Wednesday, March 28th
Al Pacino wearing a backwards Scent of a Woman baseball cap while shooting hoops may be the most 1990s thing ever. Quaintly clunky in the way it breaks documentary formalism, Looking for Richard is a time capsule of mid-’90s attitudes on Shakespeare. The film’s at its best when engaged with the context and subtext of the play—or, given how Pacino delivers some lines, conshout and subshout. Pacino often plays extra-dumb when discussing Shakespeare, which made me roll my eyes a few times. Yet maybe this feigned ignorance is a nod to the teenager watching this in English class.
81 of 300: Ready Player One (2018)
Director: Steven SpielbergStarring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben MendelsohnCountry: USASeen at Village East Cinema (New York, NY)Friday, March 30th
What if The Matrix but also Captain N: The Gamemaster, yet somehow not as engrossing as either?
Ready Player One is like turning over a massive toy box from childhood and, instead of doing something fun or imaginative, simply cataloguing each figure before tidying up. There are interesting seeds of ideas about VR and corporate monetization of digital space, but those aren’t explored meaningfully. Instead, it’s an empty spectacle of nostalgia directed with competence but lacking engagement save for The Shining sequence. That seemed like the only pop culture reference Spielberg was invested in. During the final battle I thought, “Gosh, I don’t care about anything that’s happening to anyone right now.”
The film didn’t seem to question the idea of arrested development or the stultification of the imagination through the reverence for old IPs. I love old stuff too, and sure, geek culture is cool and whatnot, but the joy of playing as a child was the moment you could invent your own stories and cool moments with your action figures and building blocks. That translates into unique Dungeons & Dragons games, and to imaginative storytelling that is totally your own. Very little in Ready Player One captured the novelty of play or the unfettered creativity of the imagination. To be fair, I suppose the imagination does not worry about rights clearances for intellectual property.
There’s a dark undercurrent of corporate worship that never gets interrogated either. For Wade Watts, the key to success is reverence for a corporation and the minutiae surrounding its founder, James Halliday. It’s like the questionable hero worship bestowed on figures like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. On Twitter, BuzzFeed’s Alison Willmore observed:
It takes place in a world in which the only possible counter to an oppressive, malicious megacorporation is a benign one
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) April 1, 2018
Worship a tech CEO, and one day you may rule the world—look on my shelf of mint condition collectibles, ye mighty, and despair.
82 of 300: Scary Mother (2017)(aka საშიში დედა; Sashishi deda)
Director: Ana UrushadzeStarring: Nato Murvanidze, Dimitri Tatishvili, Ramaz IoselianiCountry: Georgia/EstoniaSeen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)New Directors/New Films 2018Saturday, March 31st
Odd, alienating, and visually precise, Scary Mother may wind up in my top 10 movies of the year. Centered on a middle-aged woman overcome with the desire to write, it’s also about this character asserting herself for what seems like the first time in her life. Urushadze captures that sense of possession and compulsion at the heart of the creative impulse. Manana must get this book out—her own story, reconfigured by her internal life—to the detriment of her banal stability. Scary Mother also addresses the doubts and fears of the people around her, and how women artists struggle against the confines of gender roles/expectations. Her husband is afraid how the family will be seen, her father admires the prose yet is startled by its frank obscenity. Murvanidze’s performance keeps Manana an enigma; an art monster emerging from her domestic cocoon, or simply a woman coming into her own.
83 of 300: Ava (2017)(aka آوا)
Director: Sadaf ForoughiStarring: Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Noohian, Vahid AghapoorCountry: Iran/Canada/QatarSeen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)New Directors/New Films 2018Sunday, April 1st
As the teenage angst of Ava unfolded, I noticed a change in the film’s aspect ratio. For a moment I was shocked that the Film Society of Lincoln Center would project a movie without the proper screen masking, but it was really a clever formal trick that Foroughi used to depict the narrowing possibilities in the title character’s life. By the end of the film, the aspect ratio is extra long, a rectangular space for our heroine closed in by lots of blackness. Ava hits many familiar coming-of-age beats about loneliness and uncertainty and conflict with parents, with moments of slacker ennui that reminded me of my own senior year of high school.
84 of 300: Drunken Angel (1948)(aka 醉いどれ天使; Yoidore tenshi)
Director: Akira KurosawaStarring: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Chieko Nakakita, Reizaburo YamamotoCountry: JapanSeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Monday, April 2nd
The first collaboration between Kurosawa and Mifune, Drunken Angel sits on the outskirts of the director’s masterworks. It’s a mini-masterpiece in own right, though, depicting the desperation of occupied post-war Japan. Mifune’s in command from the moment he appears, so imposing, expressive, and conflicted throughout. Shimura, another famous Kurosawa collaborator, operates as the movie’s hobbled conscience. At first drunk and cynical about survival, he is reminded of his duty by those who rely on him. In this corrupt yakuza town, at least there’s a few good people—stars and lights reflected on a cesspool.
85 of 300: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Director: Lynne RamsayStarring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. ReillyCountry: UK/USASeen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)Tuesday, April 3rd
We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my favorite horror movies of the 21st century. It’s about one of my greatest fears: what if I was the parent of an awful, evil child? On a second watch, the fog of dread is present from the beginning, and it’s only been heightened by current events. The nervous laughter from the audience took on a different tone. Sure, young Kevin’s sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies are sort of funny, at least until you realize why they’re not. Ramsay presents the story like an 18-year hostage situation, or maybe a home invasion that starts in the womb but simply does not end. Maybe that last idea explains why Swinton’s melancholy, guilt-addled performance is so haunting.