Friday, January 31, 2014
Netflix This Movie! Vol. 62
Coming to America (1988, dir. John Landis) Coming to America makes me laugh more than any other movie and never fails to give me a big stupid grin the entire time I watch it. I absolutely love how silly it is and its impulse to be really strange. Comedies of this scale usually don't work -- they're too expensive, the star's ego is too big etc. but this is one where everything came together and it's just as funny to me in my 30s as it was in my 20s and teens. I actually get a little bit jealous when I watch this movie too because it's during the phase, for Eddie Murphy, that every comedian secretly wants which is when you're absolutely killing it and making it look easy.
Computer Chess (2013; dir. Andrew Bujalksi) Like the Chilean docudrama No, the indie film Computer Chess uses past technology to replicate the look of a specific time and place. In this case, the story of an early '80s computer chess tournament shot on analog videotape—starring Dazed and Confused's Wiley Wiggins and a cast of mostly nonprofessional computer-savvy players who make the Big Bang Theory "nerds" look like supermodels. The film focuses on the turning point in technology where computers started to out-think the humans programming them. The period details and black & white video give the opening scenes a documentary feel, but as the film progresses it gets weirder both in story and style. The end result is something more abstract, a dreamlike ensemble film about artificial intelligence and our evolving relationship with technology.
Big Rig (2007, dir. Doug Pray) I queued up this film about long distance truck drivers because of wanderlust; I wanted to see what life was like for these men and women who spend their entire life between the white lines of the highway, crisscrossing the nation. To a certain extent, this documentary does show that. But in showing the daily tribulations of these people, it also slowly paints a picture of the socioeconomic demographic that makes up America outside the big cities. The most interesting and surprising revelations to me were the statements that these people make about America and the nature of freedom. Most feel disenfranchised and unimportant, lost between the cracks. It's a startling image of how these people view their place in society. A truck driver who has immigrated from Poland puts the entire film in perspective with his thoughts. When asked what he thinks freedom is, he explains that it's being able to go where you want, when you want. Then he gestures out the windshield to the open California desert. This, he says, is real freedom. By the time the credits roll, we've watched these people travel to every corner of the nation: New York City to Portland, Arizona to Chicago. As one driver explains, they see more of America each day than many Americans do in their entire lives. This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I find it a fascinating look at how many Americans think and live. I've been thinking about it for days.
Where The Buffalo Roam (1980, dir. Art Linson) This film and I go way back. I first saw it my freshman year of college, before I even knew who Hunter S. Thompson was or had read any of his books. The film details some assorted adventures of famous Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray) and his attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta (Peter Boyle). Chaos rains.
This film made me want to know more about Thompson. This film inspired me to read all of his books and lobby my college buddies to do the same. This film caused me to do a bad Bill Murray/Hunter Thompson impression for years, mumbling under my breath at the slightest opportunity, "Just got here-- minutes ago."
I later bought the movie poster, where it hung in my dorm, then my spare bedroom, and finally my garage. I hung on to that poster for waaaaaaaay to long. I especially love the scene where Thompson trains his doberman to attack an effigy of Richard Nixon and chew on his crotch. In the words of Thompson, Nixon was so evil that even his funeral was illegal.
WARNING: It is not a perfect film, but for those of you who have overdosed on Johnny Depp and Benicio DelToro as Thompson and Acosta in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this earlier film serves as an interesting companion piece.
Director Art Linson only ever directed two films, this one and 1984's The Wild Life. Linson is more famous for producing Car Wash, Melvin and Howard, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Untouchables, Scrooged, Dick Tracy, Heat, and Fight Club -- an impressive resume. I have heard a story, probably apocryphal, about the first time Bill Murray met Hunter S. Thompson to prepare for this film. The story goes that Thompson tied Murray to a lawn chair and threw him in the pool. Murray almost drowned before he was rescued. God, I hope that's true.
Man of Tai Chi (2013, dir. Keanu Reeves) I wrote more about it here and Patrick and I talked about it on The Prestige podcast also. Get out there and watch it!
Nightmare Factory (2011, dir. Donna Davies) This documentary about KNB EFX Group -- and, more specifically, about Greg Nicotero -- sometimes feels like a commercial for The Walking Dead and other times resembles every other horror movie documentary because it has the same talking heads as the others: Romero, Carpenter, Landis, Savini. But the subject matter is so interesting (particularly for a horror fan) and Nicotero is such great guy and champion of all that we love that the movie wins us over. Lots of cool behind-the-scenes stuff, some funny stories and, by the end, a pretty swell tribute to the unsung makers of true movie magic.
Mom: Maybe Adam Riske should be your son.