Drawn and Quartered

Another Lost Weekend Film Festival, another failure to hang. And this time Andy Gyurisin had actually made it easier to hang: one needed to attend only twenty-four of the twenty-eight movies to win accolades, admiration, and a nifty gold medal good for a ticket exchange next year. I could only do twenty-two. All right, let’s hear it: wuss, lightweight, girlyman, yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyone feel better?

It was, as usual, a well planned operation of chaos and mayhem. F’rinstance, when the launch team showed up in the morning to assemble swag bags, the voting ballots and other items had yet to be delivered. Yikes!


But, at the last minute, things arrived and the team swung into action:

Just in time because the lobby was quickly overrun by those wanting the best seats:














This relentlessly crazy person was first in line, by God:


And then the madness began: twenty-eight movies from Thursday through Sunday night, with about oh, say, ten or fifteen minute breaks thrown in here and there. It wasn’t a movie festival, it was a movie marathon.

The ones I saw:

  1. Borg vs McEnroe: proof that tennis is a snotty sport played by near-sociopaths who have managed to money their way out of prison and/or mental institutions. Good movie, though. I’d watch it again if nothing else was on.
  2. Good Time: proof that stupidity is all the way to the bone. This is one hugely entertaining calamity after another as Connie Nikas (played by the wondrous Robert Pattison) tries to get his mentally challenged brother Nick out of Riker’s Island after the two of them rob a bank. Connie’s idea, ya know; he wanted to buy a farm where his brother could roam free. He also interferes with his brother’s very beneficial treatment sessions. Connie’s one of those guys who conflates family loyalty with an excuse for all kinds of mayhem and mishap and, man, is there mayhem and mishap galore in this movie. Every thirty minutes or so, there is a complete new cast of characters engaged in Connie’s deranged plans. Definitely will watch it again.
  3. Rock Steady Row. This was the first of three secret screenings held over the weekend, the titles of which were more closely guarded than a FISA Court warrant. This is college. That’s all you need to know. It’s a running allegorical joke that only the guys who went to whatever college this is based on are in on. The saving grace is the delightfully maniacal performance by Logan Huffman as the head of the red fraternity, whose name escapes me. We all know a guy like that. Not a movie I’d watch again.
  4. Wonderstruck. One of those coming-of-age movies where you’re supposed to be short of breath and gasping at the Big Reveals. I was gasping from the urge not to vomit. Ben, a precocious youngster (they’re all precocious youngsters, ain’t they?) embarks on a journey by himself to find his father because his mother won’t tell him who his father is. Why? Who knows? There’s absolutely no reason presented as to why the identity of the father must remain this big dark secret. Indeed, the father turns out to be quite a good guy. What the hell, Mom? Can’t ask her because, you see, she died, carrying her incomprehensible and downright cruel reasons to the grave. So Ben has to move in with his aunt, who lives in a house right next door to his house, both on the same plot of land, apparently, and his house is bigger than the aunt’s so why didn’t they all just switch over? Got me. I guess it wouldn’t advance the proposition that Ben is Cruelly Treated by his Aunt and cousin, necessitating the whole running-away-to-find-my-father shtick. As if that wasn’t bad enough, superimposed over all this is a black-and-white sub-story involving Rose, a deaf girl who runs away to…well, we’re not really sure. Visit the museum where her brother works, I guess. See, Rose is also cruelly treated because her Dad doesn’t think 12-year-old deaf girls should run around New York City alone. And, get this, he wants her to learn sign language (why doesn’t she already know sign language?)! Yeah, cruel bastard, he. Oh, yes, Ben loses his hearing during a lightening strike, so I guess that connects the two stories even though there’s no reason why these two stories even relate…well, there is, but you don’t know that until waaaay later, long after you’ve lost interest. Oh yeah, the 1977 New York City blackout’s involved, too. What a godawful YA mess this movie is. I’d kick out my TV screen before watching it again.
  5. LA 92. This was a surprisingly good documentary about the 92 Los Angeles Rodney King riots, in the sense that it was not as political or polemical as expected, coming from National Geographic and all. Nope, just the stark facts, man. Except for one rather important fact, that Rodney King was drunk out of his mind and a felon driving under the influence which meant a parole violation for his armed robbery conviction and he simply did not want to go back to jail and refused, downright refused, to obey police commands. Was, indeed, actively fighting the police. Personally, I would have shot him. Would have saved 53 lives and billions of dollars in property damage. A movie that’s worth another look.
  6. I Kill Giants. It must be a symptom of my growing curmudgeon-ness because YA movies more and more irritate the crap out of me. This one was no exception. Overblown, over-dramatic and over-the-top treatment of an excessively self-absorbed ‘tween who magnifies her own sorrows beyond the very real sorrows of her family. I think a course of Thorazine would have helped. I will gouge my eyes out rather than watch this again.
  7. In the Fade. Wow. Just wow. Diane Kruger is an international gem. She portrays a woman whose life is devastated by a couple of a-hole wannabe Nazis who kill her husband and son. Bad enough, but she is re-victimized by a  court system more interested in impressing other lawyers and judges by their nuanced interpretation of an obscure statute or two than anything like justice. Seems the justices have sniffily dismissed the concept of vengeance as gauche and bourgeois. Got a state to craft in their own image, doncha know. What the justice system seems to have forgotten is that it was established so we could forgo vengeance in favor of a fair weighing of the facts and a subsequent fair recompense of the wrongs done us. When the courts decide they are vehicles for social engineering instead, what do you think will happen? Watch. This is a movie worth seeing several times. Diane Kruger deserves an Oscar.
  8. The Endless. The second secret screening of the weekend, this is a film by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, two Film Club favorites for their previous titles Resolution and Spring. In this one, Moorhead and Benson cast themselves as two brothers who escaped from a cult decades ago, only to go back for a visit when they receive a video tape from a current cult member. Mind blowing story about time loops and other science fictiony themes handled in a low key manner. The only nit I pick is an important segment that is reliant on the film Resolution, so make sure you watch that before you watch this. I’d watch this one again as part of a Moorhead/Benson marathon.
  9. Along With the Gods. I love South Korean crime movies because they are over-the-top nuts. So, apparently, are South Korean fantasy/scifi movies because, Holy Hannah, this one is nuts. A South Korean firefighter dies on duty and must undergo a series of trials before he is allowed to reincarnate. Man, Buddhism is tough. And complicated. I thought my (WARNING! Shameless self-promotion ahead!) trilogy set in Heaven was complicated but this one wins. It’s a bit tough figuring out who’s who and what’s doing what to what but worth it. The CGI and swordplay alone make it worth it. Definitely would watch this again.
  10. The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.  This is a great movie ruined by its focus, its editing and its hubristic self-regard. Its focus is on the title character Sidney Hall, a 17-year-old writer of such power and greatness that merely glancing at one of his sentences induces orgasms. Or so we are led to believe. Sidney, who is a David Foster Wallace/JD Salinger amalgam gets a novel published through the machinations of his English teacher (yeah, that’s how it happens) and world peace and love breaks out until A Tragedy causes the wounded Sidney to become a hobo rail-hopping across the country and burning copies of his books in libraries and book stores…a hobo who owns a billion dollar exclusively-designed desert house, by the way. The Tragedy is what this movie should have been about, not the self-absorbed Sidney’s angst-ridden reaction to it. What dreck. What crap. This movie is full of contrived and artificially induced plot points, such as the stunningly beautiful girl across the street (Elle Fanning) who Sidney doesn’t even notice until months later. Right. Turns out she’s as insightful and brilliant and wonderful as he is, and she’s also a creative type, a photographer. Because everyone in La La Land is a brilliant writer or photographer, doncha know. There are no trash truck drivers or plumbers. And, of course, she is the subject of More Tragedy. Really, Sidney is a walking curse that society should jail for its own safety. Oh, yes, there’s ANOTHER brilliant writer involved in this, one whose words makes even Sidney Hall orgasm. La La Land has no dearth of brilliant writers, doncha know, all angst ridden and self-regarding except when they are regarding other brilliant writers. Really, we should all turn our lives over to them to manage. The eeeevil people are the parents, of course, and some vaguely right-wing politicians with a contrived censorship activity through which Sidney heroically suffers, because, you know, writers are Class Heroes Bringing The Truth (Christmas, does anybody involved with this movie actually live outside of a bubble?). One of those eeevil parents is the only intriguing character in this whole godawful mess: Sidney’s Dad who, in his silence, speaks volumes. I wish the movie had been about him. Nathan Lane is in this movie being Nathan Lane and has the best line in the entire movie: “It’s like throwing a party for Sylvia Plath.” Indeed, it was. I would not watch this movie again at gunpoint.
  11. Bombshell. It’s Hedy Lamarr (“That’s Hedley”). What more do you need to know? Definitely watch this again.
  12. Carpinteros.  Wow. Just wow. What a great movie about prisoners in the Dominican Republic and how they use a self-developed sign language to communicate across fence lines. The stunning Judith Perez plays Yannely, who you really don’t want for a girlfriend. Trust me on this. I can’t decide if her performance or that of Jean Jean as Julian Sosa is the better because they are both brilliant. Definitely will watch this again.
  13. Vuelven. Wow. Just wow. Another great movie, this one about the destruction wrought by the Mexican drug trade on the innocent, in this case a group of kids left homeless and orphaned by a local drug gang. Not only do they murder the kids’ parents with impunity, but they sell the kids into child sex rings. If it wasn’t for the orphans’ ten-year-old leader, Shine (wondrously portrayed by Juan Ramon Lopez) they’d all be dead or worse. Enter Estrella, a recently orphaned girl who brings with her three wishes, all of which devastate the orphans but bring a measure of justice, too. This is magical realism at its most tragic. Definitely going to watch this again.
  14. The Death of Stalin. The third and final secret screening, this was a light-hearted look at genocide, repression, police states and all the other amusing aspects of tyranny and enslavement. Gee, what’s next, Springtime for Hitler? How ’bout a rollicking comedy and musical about the Middle Passage? Or Pol Pot’s killing fields? Good God Almighty. I spent the entire movie appalled as Beria (Simon Beale) and Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) jockey to take over from the just-deceased Stalin, from the slapstick attempt to move Stalin’s body to working their limousines into the funeral procession. I guess this is funny to a generation which knows nothing about the horror show that was the USSR. Won’t watch this again, comrade.
  15. Annihilation. This was the movie to which I looked the most forward and it was disappointing. Just was. It turned into a CGI-fest, the psychedelia of which was supposed to substitute for a plot. Look at the pretty pictures and don’t ask any questions. The ending sequence was simply ridiculous, and I was left with a vague sense that I needed to take a bath. Don’t bother looking for an explanation beyond “there’s a fungus among us.” I’m not even inspired to read the book. I’ll watch this again only if there’s nothing else on, because it was pretty.
  16. November. This is a movie best watched while you’re stoned. Cow-skull helicopters kidnapping cattle, does that give you an idea? Estonia needs dentists. Estonia needs more attractive people. Does that give you more of an idea? I don’t get stoned, so I won’t be watching it again.
  17. Bad Genius.  Outstanding effin’ movie. Edge-of-your-seat tension along the lines of The Talented Mr. Ripley or Rounders, but much lighter. A genius high school girl, along with a genius high school boy, plan to cheat on an international exam. But, as you know, no plan survives first contact. Watch this one over and over.
  18. Small Town Crime. Outstanding effin’ movie, this time about a drunken ex-cop (Oscar-worthy performance by John Hawkes) seeking redemption. Sound like a cliche? Not in this case. The cop, Mike Kendall, manages to get his partner and a kidnap victim killed while drunk on duty, and it is a measure of the fabled Cop Protection Society that he is not spending twenty years in jail for manslaughter. He is, though, thrown out on his ear, earning opprobrium and contempt from his fellow cops and he becomes a world class drunk, parking his wonderful Nova SS in his front yard (through the picket fence, of course) and in the middle of fields, waking up a couple of days later. But see, once you’ve gone Brotherhood, you always go back and Kendall yearns to slap on a badge once again. He gets his chance when he discovers a woman’s body by the side of the road. This is a straight up story of blackmail and sleaze, no twists and maguffins, more Fargo than Chinatown. One of those movies to watch again and again.
  19. Oh Lucy. Third outstanding movie in a row, this is a tragedy that you do not know is a tragedy until it’s about 3/4 of the way through. Up until then,  you think it’s a comedy of errors. It’s not. Man, heartbreaking and very well done. Definitely a movie to watch again.
  20. Jane. Someone found a box of unused film clips that Jane Goodall’s husband, cinematographer Hugo van Lawick, had left in a box and decided to piece them together into another Jane Goodall documentary. You’ll see why van Lawick left them in a box because they are posed shots of Jane looking through binoculars, climbing trees, washing her hair, looking through binoculars, walking through the jungle, looking through binoculars, playing with a chimp, looking through binoculars, and looking through binoculars. Only reason to watch this again is an attempt to induce an aneurysm.
  21. You Were Never Really Here. This was never really a movie, at least, one that had a point. I think it was a way for Joaquin Phoenix to show how much of a badass he is, and he is. But badassery usually needs a reason to believe and this is aimless. Best I can figure out, Phoenix plays badass Joe, who might be a badass because of Aaarmy training, sir, not really sure, who is trying to overcome a traumatic childhood by rescuing kids from their own traumatic childhoods in a way guaranteed to traumatize the children he’s rescuing. There’s some baffling political shenanigans going on, too. S’kay, because you get to watch badassery. I’d watch it again just for that.
  22. A Fantastic Woman. A much better movie than I expected about a gay transvestite – yep, that is the proper term until they get a chopadickoffame then they become transsexuals – who loses her older lover and is cast out on his (her, whatever) own. It made no attempt to convert me or declare his lifestyle as normal. Indeed, Marina (or Marisa as everybody else kept calling her) knows he’s not normal and he’s fine with that. So I’m fine with it, too. He is quite a compelling figure who demonstrates far more maturity and empathy than does all the straights in this movie, except for his dead lover’s brother. Not sure if I’d watch this again because I’m not big into love stories, regardless of orientation, but I wouldn’t turn it off.

Rumor is the next Lost Weekend will have thirty movies. Ah, more chances to fail.

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