Cinebites #16

Welcome to my mini movie review series. I watch a lot of movies and I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on some of the things I’ve watched.

These are all SPOILER FREE reviews so you can enjoy these films at your leisure.

Son of Rambow (2007)

I think I picked this one because its plot summary seemed so outlandishly adorable and unusual. Directed by Garth Jennings (fresh off the just okay Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) the story revolves around two young boys forming a friendship while they make a sequel to Rambo: First Blood, a movie which neither of them has really seen. That description either fills you to the brim with whimsy and joy or you should turn away from this movie and never look back. It takes quite a while for this movie to start doing anything but it’s charming enough that its flaws don’t harm what is ultimately a fairly fun but not remarkable romp.

Final Verdict: There’s plenty to love here but the film itself is only 90 minutes and it probably could have been even shorter though I wouldn’t have minded sitting through a longer movie if only things could have come together better (or really, at all). There’s plenty of plot threads left dangling and lots of throwaway gags but there’s also a couple of real gems in this film that didn’t make me regret watching it. The main child actor is actually quite good and most of the other kids do an admirable job. I didn’t come away with too much from the film but it did remind me very strongly of childhood memories without too of that adult compromise to sully the perspective which is the downfall of movies about childhood so I’d give it a solid middle score.

Laurence Anyways (2012)

There are some real dreamy moments in this movie that made me want to hang onto it and never let go. Unfortunately there are also long, long, long sections of nothing. Clocking in at a whopping 168 minutes it needs to be edited down for sure. I saw a review call it “extraordinary and exhausting” but I think that gives it too much credit because at some point when the movie is going on and on no matter how beautiful a scene is if it’s just there and has no real narrative or emotional purpose it starts to detracts from the beauty of the scenes that contain actually meaningful beautiful things. What I liked the most about this movie though was the interplay between two main characters, their relationship felt as raw and messy as any complex relationship between two people trying to grow together while they also follow their own paths. Some things work so well in this film but for the most part I found the entirety to be missing the mark and I couldn’t put my finger on which item was tipping the scale in this overstuffed but surprisingly empty film.

Final Verdict: With a high degree of complexity for the main characters but a hilarious dream-like facade for the background characters this movie could do a lot worse then many of its peer. I love a lot of the technique but not always the final product. I wish I could stop harping on the fact that it’s just shy of three hours but I watched it in one straight shot without my phone and I felt it drag my soul down through the bleary waiting a few times. The highs never getting high enough for me to not want to check the clock. There is a wonderful movie that lives inside this movie, waiting to be teased out but I’m going to need longer to forget to parts in between where I starred at the screen and was very tempted to fast forward :/

Safety Last! (1923)

People are a little less familiar with Harold Lloyd as a silent era film star but he’s certainly up there. I’d seen a handful of his films growing up on Turner Classic Movies but I hadn’t seen Safety Last which is the iconic film so I figured I’d rectify that mistake because this work was finally released into the public domain last year (the first time any works had been released into public domain in two decades). And well, it’s a silent era romantic comedy about a man from the country side who is a go-getter. He moves to the city to make a better life for himself and his wife-to-be but finds that rags to riches isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s got gags and sights but ultimately it’s a cute story and an easy watch that is suitable for nearly everyone.

Final Verdict: This film is unmistakably perfectly 1920s and it encapsulates this strange comedy-horror vision of the American dream: get rich or die trying. I’m sure you can write an entire book on this movie about how the main character is so naive as to believe the idea that anyone can make if they just work hard enough despite being so poor and so overworked that he can’t afford rent, food, and a gift for his girl. Lloyd’s lovable everyday man is so clueless he doesn’t take power structures into consideration when pranking a cop, a situation which swiftly escalates out of control. In the film its played for hi jinx, as everything is, but most of these hi jinx are commentary on the difficult situations in the US leading up to the depression: overstuffed tram cars, a lack of working rights, low wages, and even the lack of opportunity in spaces outside of the city. I mean, also the movie is very fun and genuinely suspenseful so if you haven’t seen it before there’s almost no better time than now.

You, The Living (2007)

More a table of little morsels than a full meal You, The Living is a clever and cheeky set of vignettes about what it is to be living. Dark but humorous, dreamlike but often in the most mundane ways the film employs doors that open into walls and walls that fall apart into moving backdrops. All the while the people at the center of the film are bustling to and fro from errands, school, families, and even funerals. Accompanied by lively music both diegetic and not, it has the feel and the mood of a Monty Python film but a beat all its own. I was both pleased and bored by the film in certain parts but some of its charm is that because of the nature of the structure of the film it’s more like channel surfing than a movie, if a particularly scene isn’t to your liking then you need only wait a few moments more before something interesting comes up on the screen again.

Final Verdict: I want to make some grand statement that will tie the whole film together but somehow the thesis didn’t seem to come up as much more than a person softly laughing under their breath saying something like “isn’t it strange to be alive.” I liked this movie but it’s creeping pace makes it a hard sell and it hammers on a very specific note of black humor so hard that if this were a piano that key would crash through the floor from weight. I don’t tend to like films like this for whatever reason even (though if it existed, I would have gobbled up the book version of it) but there’s something meaningful that this movie is created in this medium because in the uncontrollable forward momentum of a film the ride does not stop even when you’ve exhausted the gimmick its feeding you. If you have any inkling towards black humor, surrealism, or to experience the slightly off-putting gloom that can sometimes hang over for the Nordic “way of being” this movie is a must see, for everyone else I think it would be a slog.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

I recently watched Ryan Murphy attempt to re-invent history in his Netflix collaboration Hollywood. To imagine history as kinder and better and filled with reflections of ourselves and our own stories is something I think has to be delicately done but it can be a powerful tool, especially minorities whose real histories were cut short or shafted and have been all but erased from the public memory. Where Hollywood fall short is how it is only concerned in pretending the past instead of considering the actual struggles of the time or how they reflect the struggles of today. The Watermelon Woman succeeds in both those categories because it imagines a complex and difficult past that we don’t just see uncovered, but understood. The main character, Cheryl, feels connected to a black actress who she can find only snippets of film of. This propels her to tell not only the story of the actress mainly known as the Watermelon Woman, but also the story of herself, a black lesbian film maker who is unsure of her present and her place in the future in one of the strangely charming films about lesbians that isn’t the usual Hollywood narrative.

Final Verdict: I absolutely adored this film even with its rough edges. 1996 was such an interesting time for LGBT rights and this films placement at the tail end of lost generation portion of the AIDS epidemic makes it an interesting touch point. AIDS claimed the lives of so many in the gay community that history and knowledge and generational trauma from this loss endures to this day I wonder if this film was made with that fact in mind, that people in the LGBT community would suffer losses of their history, erasures of their history through illness and stigma that would spark these perpetual cycles of young queer people having to go and find their history for themselves instead of being taught it or being able to learn it from other people in their community. The main character in this film finds herself through finding a gay elder and seeing for herself the intersections of racism, of homophobia, and of the systems that gate-kept her out of memory and they help bring her closer with her self identity and seeing a future for herself. Even though the titular Watermelon Woman isn’t a real figure in history it’s possible that someone like her had existed and we will just never know about her. It’s a great reminder that its our responsibility to keep making things, to keep cataloging our stories, to keep inspiring people with our art and our voices. I found this to be a strangely beautiful and inspiring film so I wish it were easier to find.

Also the movie has unrepentant 1996 energy *chef kiss*.

That’s all for this time! See you soon (hopefully) with 5 more films!

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