Hey there, pilgrim, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my savage yet ultimately transcendental attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be seeing new releases, repertory screenings, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its glory. By having an open mind as a filmgoer, I hope you see something here you’ll want to check out.
As always, 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.
Another week brings me ever closer to 300 movies. I’m burned out (streaming is so convenient, guys, and I don’t need to get on the subway) but am determined to hit 300 and take a leisurely victory lap for the last few weeks of 2018.
My press credentials got approved to cover the 2018 New York Film Festival, so that should help with the tally. The lineup at NYFF is super-stacked, and includes Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA, Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Paul Dano’s Wildlife, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, and so much more. They also have Mariano Llinás’ 14-hour multi-genre mashup La Flor, which I may see. (Though as Gimi would remind me, it still only counts as one.) Look for a full festival preview and my first reviews from NYFF 56 in about a month.
On the note of film festivals, this might be the first week I haven’t used MoviePass since the Tribeca Film Festival. MoviePass is now like an evil version of Redbox. Only six movies are supported each day. Not all six movies are guaranteed to be playing in your area, and thus far no foreign films are supported. If you want to watch something else, you have to pay for it yourself. You can still see anything at e-ticket theaters with MoviePass, but you are limited to three movies a month. I wish MoviePass would revive the $40 plan from a few years ago to remain profitable, but no. Live stupidly by disruption, die stupidly by disruption. I miss Metrograph. Schedule permitting, I will be heading back there this weekend to catch something.
And so, onward.
215 of 300: Andrei Rublev (1966)
(aka Андрей Рублёв)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Anatoly Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko, Nikolai Sergeyev, Ivan Lapikov
Country: Russia (Soviet Union)
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Wednesday, August 15th
I’m struggling to find the right words to describe Andrei Rublev, Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic masterpiece. It’s an experience you must sit through yourself if you love arthouse films; a beguiling work of ecstasy and brutality chronicling the life of the eponymous 15th century religious painter. The images are sometimes stark, sometimes surreal, and always hypnotic. While watching the pagan frolic in the film, I was struck by its air of terrifying mystery; it’s what Andrei in this film must have felt, entranced by this untethered expression of lust and yet also frightened away by his own monasticism. And then there’s the Tartar raid, which is shot like a major Hollywood epic of that era but with such alarming savagery. The same is true with bellfounding chapter toward the end of the film. Extras fill each frame, creating the illusion of a camera there in the past capturing a centuries-old world. People are always fleeing or dying in those chaotic times. It’s no wonder Andrei might question his vocation in an era that God seems absent.
The new 4K restoration of the movie looks magnificent, and will play at the Film Society of Lincoln Center starting this Friday. The film’s coda is particularly startling now, and feels sublime as a capper to the rest of the film.
It should be clear by now that I love the transcendental style of cinema. The phrase was coined by Paul Schrader to describe long takes in films and the purpose they serve—if you observe an image long enough, it takes on greater significance and feels more meaningful. Like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (The 300 Week 31) or the films of Lucrecia Martel (The 300 Week 15), Tarkovsky’s use of the long-take trains the viewer to appreciate what is seen, how it’s shown, and what happens to the viewer internally and emotionally during the act of watching time unfold slowly. Andrei Rublev is like wandering an art gallery and sitting in rooms of paintings until each tableaux is known intimately and spiritually.
216 of 300: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Seen at AMC Village 7 (New York, NY)
Thursday, August 16th
I’m a bit conflicted about Crazy Rich Asians. I’ll start with my qualms. The movie is a by-the-numbers rom-com with some genuinely sweet moments. All the good characters are kind, all the bad are sociopaths. Rachel (Wu) attends a decadent wedding in Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Golding), initially bent on impressing his rich family. You can probably tell where this is going already. Awkwafina is memorable as Rachel’s best friend, and Michelle Yeoh smartly transforms her stately mien into spiteful iciness. Beyond the predictability, I felt uneasy by the opulence on display. These Asians are crazy rich as the title says, but the movie only superficially interrogates the ugliness of their lifestyle. Crazy Rich Asians wants to have it both ways when it comes to wealth. Sure these ultra-rich folks are terrible people and money can’t buy you happiness, but gosh, have you seen these beaches they’re going to? And what they’re wearing? Wouldn’t it be nice?
Even though I think the movie is just okay-at-best, I’m fully behind the movie as a work of Asian representation. Maybe the Asian representation is why I’m giving it a pass. I think this is the first time during a Hollywood movie I’ve looked at the big screen and thought, “You know, from certain angles, the co-star of this film looks like my younger brother.” There’s something touching and important about that moment of recognition. Oh, and the movie’s soundtrack features the song “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” twice, which reminded me how much I liked Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole. The Hole is nothing like Crazy Rich Asians.
217 of 300: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson
Seen at Frisbee Hill, Central Park (New York, NY)
Central Park Conservancy Film Festival
Friday, August 17th
As a child, I wasn’t really into The Muppets Take Manhattan. It didn’t have the same anarchic energy of The Muppet Movie or The Great Muppet Caper. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to love The Muppets Take Manhattan. I can now appreciate what it’s doing and saying, and can understand all of the industry in-jokes. I still don’t know if it’s my favorite Muppets movie, but it’s one that hits me hardest. The clipped lyrics of “Saying Goodbye” feeling like the sentiments of someone head down, slump-shouldered, and holding back tears. The cameos are much cooler—Gregory Hines and Joan Rivers are the highlights—and Pete’s bizarre speech patterns are a delightful word salad of sentiment-over-meaning.
Before this Central Park screening, Frank Oz showed up in person to introduce the film, which was a pleasant surprise. I had no idea he lived in New York. “Only New Yorkers would come out for a movie despite the risk of a thunderstorm,” he said. The wind kicked up and the clouds came in throughout the course of the film, and I worried the movie would eventually be cut short. Sure enough, with just a minute or two left, the rain started. It was right before Kermit was about to haltingly say the big words. (If you have seen the film, yes, we were that close to the end.) Umbrellas went up in the crowd. Staff came out to bring down the inflatable screen and the picture cut out to a flurry of boos. A minute later as people were rushing off the lawn, the rain really came down for a spell.
Technically The Muppets Take Manhattan was not completed, but I’m going to count this in the tally. This is the nature of outdoor movie screenings when normal summer humidity exacerbated by climate change has turned your city into the tropics.
218 of 300: Shock Waves (1977)
(aka Almost Human; Death Corps)
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Starring: Brooke Adams, Peter Cushing, John Carradine
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Scary Movies XI
Saturday, August 18th
Shock Waves succeeds on its atmospherics, particularly with its iconic shots of Nazi zombies emerging and sinking into the water. The feel of the film is so eerie, and the cast is committed to the conceit of fighting a supernatural Nazi strikeforce on a deserted island. And yet I can’t help but feeling just a bit underwhelmed. British horror legend Peter Cushing makes an appearance in the movie but does little except for deliver exposition. The zombies have such a great, menacing look since Nazis are the ultimate bad guys, and yet the latent gorehound in me was hoping for more creative kills. We get a lot of drownings, but that’s it. For an elite squad, we also do not get a sense of their tactical superiority. They just lumber, strangle, emerge, and submerge. By the end, I was left wanting more, but was still all right with what was there.
219 of 300: Support the Girls (2018)
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Junglepussy
Seen at Dolby Screening Room (New York, NY)
Monday, August 20th
Support the Girls is like The Office but at Hooters. (The restaurant here is called Double Whammies.) It’s such a kind film and a subtly political one, so empathetic to its primary characters who are struggling to get by with their dignity intact. We open with restaurant manager Lisa (Regina Hall) trying to pull herself together before the opening shift starts. New minor crises mount by the minute and she tackles each with equal parts generosity and exasperation. Lisa is so easy to root for given her endless reserves of empathy. Her patience is admirable, and and we watch her deal with all the difficulties of putting other people’s needs first.
Hall’s wonderfully layered performance anchors the film. She holds multiple conflicting feelings at once almost every time she appears on camera, a heroic act of emotional plate spinning. You can read her character’s thought process in her eyes or the way she purses her lips or forces a smile. She’s got to keep it together, and she’s just barely keeping it together. How long before she breaks?
The supporting cast is great overall, but Richardson and Junglepussy are the standouts. Both characters are so fully realized from mannerisms to body language, and they feel familiar for anyone who’s worked a crummy retail, restaurant, or service job. Andrew Bujalski has captured the struggles of the strip mall working class in a way that’s both funny and endearing, but never pitying. More than The Office, Support the Girls reminded me of Joshua Ferris’ novel Then We Came to the End, which is also about office culture and the sense of family built outside of the home. Even though the jobs are different, that exploration of community in your working life is a thing of beauty, as bad as the job may be. The people (not the customers per se) are why you keep going.
220 of 300: The Terminator (1984)
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Seen at Bryant Park (New York, NY)
Bryant Park Movie Nights
Monday, August 20th
I was surprised that they showed an uncut version of The Terminator in public. The movie is still a lean and inventive action classic whose practical effects still work (except for a few of the rubbery fake-Arnold-heads). It must have felt like dynamite to catch that movie in theaters back in the 1980s. Schwarzenegger, a slab of stoic-yet-charismatic murder muscles, mechanically pumps bullets into all of his victims, including that memorable raid on the police headquarters. It’s still an iconic performance because of how few words he speaks; he is a force, not a creature. I was also struck by how much the plot of T2 is essentially a redux of this film, but done bigger and arguably better.
The best part of seeing The Terminator in public was hearing the crowd pop for iconic lines and moments. When nude Schwarzenegger walks around in the dark, a lot of wolf whistles. (Sadly, no objectification for Michael Biehn.) Cheers when Linda Hamilton first appeared on screen. You can guess the line the got the biggest reaction. My favorite crowd reaction, though, was during the love scene. Sarah and Kyle, drawn together by the desperate absurdity of their situation, draw closer, kiss, and sleep together. It is a clunky yet earnest moment that typifies the romances in James Cameron movies. Behind me, a little girl who couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9 said, “Ewww.”
221 of 300: No Vietnamese Ever Called Me N****r (1968)
Director: David Loeb Weiss
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Tuesday, August 21st
No Vietnamese Ever Called Me N****r still feels timely. Taking its name from a quotation misattributed to Muhammad Ali, the documentary examines the link between the black liberation movement and the antiwar movement of the 1960s, cutting between a New York City Vietnam War protest and interviews with three Vietnam veterans. Many of the people interviewed in Harlem in 1967 could have expressed similar sentiments if they were interviewed in 2017. Institutional and systemic racism is still a problem, and so is income inequality, and access to housing and education, and the disregard for black bodies and black lives. The veterans express similar sentiments, with one vet sharing a memorable, empathetic anecdote about his interactions with a starving Vietnamese mother.
Though focused on the antiwar movement, Weiss also takes the temperature of the pro-war crowd, offering an ugly portrait of the dangers of blind allegiance and unquestioned patriotism. In a striking moment, an elderly white couple observes the antiwar protest with admiration and support, while a sneering young man walks by waving an American flag, expressing disgust at people opposing the government’s imperialistic adventures in Vietnam. Later, we get a glimpse of a racist counter demonstration organized by a white supremacist political group. Maybe the past isn’t just prologue; maybe, like James Joyce wrote, history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.