The 300 Week 2: Double Digits on the Dime


Ahead of schedule thanks to great repertory programming

Welcome back to The 300, a weekly feature chronicling my quixotic attempt to see 300 movies in theaters in 2018. Each week I’ll be checking out new releases, classics, and hidden gems playing at movie theaters wherever I am. Hopefully I’ll find something you may be interested in as well.

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.

Thanks to the sheer amount of old stuff playing in New York, I’ve managed to get a bit ahead of schedule by the end of week two, and with only one movie I regret seeing. There’s some good repertory programming coming up in the next few weeks, so expect to see Quad Cinema and Metrograph showing up a lot through February.

And so, onward.

10 of 300: Hard Eight (1996)

Director: Paul Thomas AndersonStarring: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. JacksonCountry: USASeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Wednesday, January 10th

Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut character study feels like he’s clearing his throat so he can make movies with his own voice. Hard Eight is solid yet dated; much of it plays like a checklist of post-Tarantino ’90s-indie tropes. That might just be a symptom of its era. The fingerprints of Anderson’s future work are here regardless, like the gliding camerawork, the relationships between father figures and surrogate children, and the makeshift family units. Philip Baker Hall’s performance and a brief Philip Seymour Hoffman appearance are the big highlights.

11 of 300: 1776 (Restored Director’s Cut) (1972)

Director: Peter H. HuntStarring: William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken HowardCountry: USASeen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)Thursday, January 11th

I never saw 1776 in high school like a lot of people my age. Instead my American history class watched the Civil War movie Glory. I can see why my teachers went with Glory. 1776 is a very campy and somehow very boring musical about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. I learned two things watching 1776: our founding fathers dressed a lot like Liberace and they never sang a memorable song. The director’s cut is 27 minutes longer (ugh) and includes a tune about the regressive evils of rich conservatives. Perceptive, relevant today, and yet so very boring.

12 of 300: The Wages of Fear (1953)(aka Le salaire de la peur)

Director: Henri-Georges ClouzotStarring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter Van EyckCountry: FranceSeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Friday, January 12th

The back-half of The Wages of Fear is a suspense masterpiece. Lowlife expats in a South American town risk their lives to transport trucks of nitroglycerine. If they don’t blow up along the dirt roads, it’s a ticket out of purgatory. Every bump and obstacle is a source of squirming, existential dread. Amid the thrills, Henri-Georges Clouzot threads an anti-imperialist sentiment that gets at the absurd heart of cutthroat American capitalism; we see it in the eyes of the marginalized natives, the ruin of the landscape, and the desperation of the film’s damned men.

13 of 300: Proud Mary (2018)

Director: Babak NajafiStarring: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny GloverCountry: USASeen at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn, NY)Saturday, January 13th

Proud Mary is case of “What could’ve been.” In a better world, the movie might have played out like Pam Grier in Leon: The Professional, yet director Babak Najafi and the three credited screenwriters don’t seem to have much of a connection to the material, squandering the promise in the setup. Even the action is merely serviceable. It’s a shame since Taraji P. Henson elevates every scene with her multi-layered performance as a conflicted hitwoman. The entire cast deserves a better movie; watching Henson develop a rapport with newcomer Jahi Di’Allo Winston is proof.

14 of 300: Six Sides of Katharine Hepburn (2017)

Directors: Oscar Boyson and Nate De YoungCountry: USASeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Sunday, January 14th

A feature-length video essay, Six Sides of Katharine Hepburn examines the actress as an enduring feminist and fashion icon. The points are illustrated with clips from Hepburn’s films as well as hundreds of other movies, including Mad Max: Fury Road (and it works). Hepburn is contextualized as someone frequently transgressing the on-screen and off-screen gender norms of the time. Today one might forget how scandalous it must have been to see a woman wearing trousers. This is a reminder of the politics of fashion statements, and an enjoyable work of Hepburn appreciation.

You can watch Six Sides of Katharine Hepburn online.

15 of 300: Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Director: George CukorStarring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Brian AherneCountry: USASeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Sunday, January 14th

Sylvia Scarlett is a bit of a mess, but it’s such a fascinating, charming mess that upends gender norms. Katharine Hepburn plays a young woman trying to pass as a man to help her father run a con job. Cary Grant is a scuzzy confederate in on their grift. Hepburn’s character seems so lively and comfortable in her own skin—so much herself/himself—as a man; by contrast, she wilts when demurring as a woman. I’m convinced David Bowie was inspired by this movie since some of Hepburn’s wardrobe is reminiscent of The Thin White Duke and the harlequin outfit in the “Ashes to Ashes” music video.

16 of 300: My Home Is Copacabana (1965)(aka Mitt hem är Copacabana)

Director: Arne SucksdorffStarring: Leila Santos de Sousa, Cosme dos Santos, Josafá Da Silva Santos, Toninho Carlos de Lima Country: SwedenSeen at Metrograph (New York, NY)Monday, January 15th

Swedish filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff took to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to tell this story of homeless orphans trying to survive. The film’s narrative was built around actual interviews with homeless youths. Sucksdorff’s camera captures the brief joys and general difficulties of daily life. One of the final shots of My Home Is Copacabana gave me the same melancholy feeling of a Giorgio de Chirico painting. There’s a rich metaphor early in the film as we watch a boy joyously flying his kite high atop a hill. In the air, vultures circle this lone kite. It’s a striking image, and an omen of the hardships to come.

17 of 300: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)(aka 장화, 홍련; Janghwa, Hongryeon)

Director: Kim Jee-woonStarring: Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-sooCountry: South KoreaSeen at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn, NY)Tuesday, January 16th

There is so much sumptuously orchestrated unease in A Tale of Two Sisters. Every image is well composed, the color temperatures deliberate, select sounds of the house calibrated to draw out and maximize dread. Even if I question how the story fits together, I’m captivated by the act of watching and listening. The family melodrama enfolded me into the heartbreak of the reveals. I still prefer Kim Jee-woon’s ruthless revenge film I Saw and Devil and his japchae western The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but there’s a reason A Tale of Two Sisters became a standout work of Korean cinema more than a decade ago.