Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Family Plot (1976)

Have I mentioned how much I love repertory cinema?  It's one of the things we don't have in Eugene, although the Bijou is currently experimenting with the concept.  Personally I don't understand why it's not more popular.  We seem to be in a golden age of cinephilia, though not of cinema, and I feel
like in any small city there should be enough people willing to pay to see classic old films on the big screen, with good sound, in the dark.  But no, not so much.

So since we're back in Cambridge, Mass., for most of September we've been hitting the Harvard Film Archive pretty regularly (the Brattle is on our list, too, but their offerings this month are a little disappointing).  Right now they're at the tail end of a summer-long Complete Hitchcock series, and Lord wouldn't that have been fun to do.  As is we're managing to catch a few, some we've seen and some we haven't.

Like Saturday, when we went and saw Family Plot, his last film.  We'd seen Frenzy, but hadn't even heard of this one, to be honest.  Had no idea what to expect.  And when it was done we still had little idea what we'd just seen.

It's a thoroughly delightful film, just weird as all hell.  It feels curiously dislocated in time, for one thing.  The fashions, the language (surprisingly racy for Hitchcock), and the cars all feel like the mid-'70s, and so do most of the actors' deliveries and mannerisms, but the rhythms of the film, the classical shape of the plot and the blithe unnaturalism of the presentation, make it clear that the director's sensibility was shaped long before.  But this all works for the film, I think:  Bruce Dern's seedy gangliness makes him seem in step with any number of '70s stoner films, allowing the movie to feel much more off-beat than it otherwise might have.  Similarly, William Devane's Snidely Whiplash-style villain works largely because Devane plays him cool, with a dead look in his eyes, even while his lips are smirking.

It's the car chase that'll really get you.  Maybe it is, as some say, a parody of the car chases so prevalent in '70s action flicks, but it actually works.  You feel that the technology is dated, and was even for 1976, but it's so fast, so effectively edited, and puts you in the driver's seat so unhesitantly, that it still works - most of the full theater I saw it in jumped.  And yet even while Hitchcock's making you bite your nails with the car careening down the mountainside, he's inviting you to laugh, with Barbara Harris climbing all over Bruce Dern, so insistently that it goes beyond funny into surreal.  You don't know whether to laugh, until they crash, and they crawl out of the wreckage unharmed - but he squeezes out in the most ridiculously awkward fashion, seemingly just for the hell of it.  It's one weird movie, and a great way to go out.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Runaway Bride (1999)

Mrs. Sgt. T likes the romantic comedies.  So do I, but not as much as her.  She loves them enough to want to own them.  But not all of them.  And I can't figure out why she likes some but not others.  I'll think I have it figured out, and in a store sometime I'll point to one that, in my mind, is just like one
we own, and she'll say, no, you don't get it at all.  And I don't. 

So we have a lot to talk about whenever we watch one.  Like, we just watched Runaway Bride, which I'd never seen all the way through, even though I've walked through the room several times, it feels like, while she was watching it.  This time I watched it all, and when it was over I asked her why she liked it.  Like, doesn't the misogyny bother her?  I mean, the Richard Gere character starts out by saying these heinous things about women in general, and about the Julia Roberts character in particular, and sure he loses his job, but on the level of the movie where it counts he never has to pay for it.  He's never humiliated, never has to apologize or say he was wrong.  Sure he gets away with it because Richard Gere's so damned charming, but meanwhile the Julia Roberts character basically has to go through this long bout of self-searching where she realizes that, yes, she has caused all her lovers, and even friends, to suffer because of her lack of self-awareness - that basically everything the Richard Gere character said about her was true except for the malice.  He never has to humble himself to find happiness and true love, but she does.

To which Mrs. Sgt T said, you're making the mistake of assuming he has anything to do with it.  He's irrelevant.  The story isn't about him.  It's a story about her - about the female viewer, if you will - and her own self-searching;  he's basically just an externalization of her own self-critical voice.  The only journey that matters in the film is hers.  It's not that the man gets off scot-free, it's that he doesn't have any meaningful existence beyond her.

I never thought of that.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Short Term 12 (2013)

The more I think about this film the more I find not to like.  A carefully multicultural cast of
characters that nevertheless manages to make the attractive young white people into saviors.  The way the lone black male among the Troubled Kids is held up first as a potential gangsta (only to be neutralized into a poetic rapper).  The way the elderly Latino couple are held up as exemplars of abundant family love.  The way the head of the facility is shown as naive and out-of-touch, because, you know, this is America and we hate intellectuals.  The way the most vulnerable of the kids literally wraps himself in the American flag at the end of the picture...  The film's full of noxious clichés, in other words, and the more you think about the film the more obvious they become.

That said, I really enjoyed the movie in the moment.  Expertly paced, shot, and acted, with characters that, while on the screen, seem to transcend their clichés.  And politically, unlike a more notorious recent troubled-school-system film, this one doesn't propose any facetious, destructive "answers."  It's impossible to come away from the film without the impression that we're underfunding our social safety net, allowing it to depend on the heroic efforts of those who choose to work for it for far too little money (which is why the film's decision to bash the administrator is so disappointing).  But how to fix it, when the real problem runs bone-deep in our society?  It's a commentary on America (which is why the flag at the end was so annoying - if you need to be bashed over the head with that message at the end of the movie, chances are you don't care anyway).

Worth seeing.  But preaching to the choir.  Is that a contradiction in terms?