|I first watched this over the summer and I find myself thinking about it on a regular basis even these 6 months later. I grew up near San Francisco, so I've been to Alcatraz a couple times but it was really only ever a landmark to point out or an image to be seen on tacky souvenirs. I never gave much thought to the men who spent their lives confined to the island (probably because San Quentin is much more present to me as the large operational prison of the area, somehow making Alcatraz less "real" in my mind). I had never heard of the story of the Birdman of Alcatraz, and I had no idea how much the story would stick with me.
It is a fairly long film, which I usually find intimidating, but I believe the careful, patient pacing strengthens the power of the film as the audience bears witness to the life of Robert Stroud, a man sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement after he murders a prison guard. The film itself is based on a book written about Stroud, and the "author" of the book performs an infrequent voiceover narration to move the story along.
The protagonist, portrayed by Burt Lancaster, is a quiet, contained, yet sometimes menacing man who exudes a determination to live his life as much on his own terms as possible. He is observant, intelligent, and when he discovers an injured bird in the prison yard, he finds he has a skill for taking care of these animals. Soon Stroud is breeding birds, studying their health and even publishing articles in scientific journals. As he forms a medicine company and his liberty grows, we see the backlash of the prison system. A former warden with a personal contempt for Stroud is in charge of restructuring the governance of prisons at the national level, and federal mandates are issued that include a ban on the keeping of pets. While these laws seem logical and reasonable at face value, the power struggle between the restrictions of prison and Stroud's quest for self-expression and fulfillment sparked a very emotional reaction in me. The ultimate topic explored by the film is that of autonomy, and enormous questions are raised. How should we treat those who have violated our societal expectations and caused harm to others? How do we understand the meaning and potential of rehabilitation? What does it say about ourselves if we choose to cruelly wield our power over the disenfranchised? Trust me, I could go on.
This is one of my favorite types of film, that which asks you to examine your own values and place yourself in the situation of the characters. The tagline for this movie "The story of a real and living man", which I find to be such a deliberate choice of words that grounds the entire film in stark reality. As far as I can see, the topics explored within the film will always be relevant to our society and absolutely crucial to address.
"Beach Rats" is the second biggest gay drama of last year, only losing to the award-winning "Call Me by Your Name".
Although this element is the main point of discussions about the film, for me, the main theme here is much more complex than "simply" a boy discovering his sexuality.
Frankie, beautifully played by Harris Dickinson in a total surrender of body and soul, spends all his time looking for ways to escape his reality. The only thing that matters to him is finding ways to become numb in relation to the world and his feelings.
The incurable disease of his dying father is the trigger for all the sadness around him. And the way he anesthetizes his pain is ironically drugging himself with the remedies used to reduce his father's pain and meeting older men who can give him the much-needed physical contact.
Frankie is gay although he doesn't want to assume. It becomes clear in his last meeting shown. I had the impression that he was especially sad to be putting someone "like him" in that situation.
After that, he sees a gay couple holding hands and realizes just how cowardly he is.
But that doesn't matter initially because when looking for men on the internet, he isn't after only sex. In fact, he uses his body and the promise of sex to attract older men who can give him the physical affection he so much desires.
It was clear to me in the motel scene when the man gently strokes Frankie's face and he looks as happy as a puppy. Finally getting what he wants. Also, in the way he holds tightly and smells the other man's body.
Moreover, there is still the fact that what is forbidden generates more satisfaction when conquered. This whole process of chatting online and meeting alone with these men, gives him much more euphoria than any drug he consumes.
His mother is obviously too depressed to offer comfort to him, and his sister is a child. Frankie knows that as a man, he has to be strong and take care of himself. So he moves away from his family and sleeps in the basement. He is afraid to show his weakness above all else.
But by using every possible artifice trying to ignore his pain (alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, painkillers, sex, games, the love of another person for him...) he fails miserably.
The feelings he represses and hides don't disappear simply because he ignores them. On the contrary, they pile up like a snowball going down a mountain.
He's not a bad person, but his pain is so big that it makes him selfish. He doesn't like the girl, but he still insists on keeping her around because he knows she likes him, and he needs as much affection as possible.
But, in the end, this is all just an allusion. And after his egoism hurts someone, he cannot hold it anymore.
The beautiful final scene shows the moment where Frankie finally gives up trying to feel nothing, but it took him so long to take this attitude that the place once dormant now is a desert of hopelessness.
Everything around him is alive, pulsating and shining, but it is as if he's in another dimension. Trapped in his own void, he is forced to face himself truly naked: without friends, without girlfriend, without family, without drugs, without the heat of a hug...
No one and no drug can help him now. He has to face his feelings alone.
"Beach Rats" is an excellent character analysis, with a complex and sensitive portrayal of the most intimate feelings a human being can have. And all this would be impossible without Harris Dickinson's courageous and delicate performance.
|I often lament about my tendency to second-guess (sometimes fifth- or sixth-guess) my dislike of a movie that has some acclaim to it (a great director, a core fanbase, etc). So I rewatch it thinking, "It couldn't be as bad as I remember, right? Maybe I just didn't get what the director was going for." And then I kick myself for being an idiot and wonder why the hell I keep rewatching movies I know I don't like.
THIS is why.
Trust me, I'm as surprised as anyone. I've been disappointed by this movie more than once, but I actually liked it this time. "Hi, my name is Curtis, and I like Godfather 3."
Maybe it's my age. In my forties, I've started to develop a deeper understanding of just how much one's values can shift the closer to the grave you get. The things you think are important start to change, sometimes pretty radically. So I found myself connecting with what Coppola the aging director and Corleone the aging mobster were trying to do in this movie.
One could argue that Coppola fails just as badly as Corleone, but I was left with a real appreciation for their effort, both of them.
Anyway, I guess now it's time to rewatch Rob Zombie's Halloween again. Fuck me.
|You know how you sometimes finally see a movie (or hear a band) that's credited by your favorite artists as being very influential to them, but it ends up being disappointing by comparison?
This is NOT that.
Cannibal Holocaust had me right from the start. I fell in love with that overly-sentimental music playing during the opening credits (the rest of the score was pretty kick-ass too). And I loved the voice-over about cannibals in the jungle played over establishing shots of Manhattan (especially the shots of the Twin Towers). I loved the mix of traditionally shot narrative footage with found footage and documentary footage.
I especially loved how the use of real footage of executions and animal killing upset me so that when the white documentarians start raping and murdering, I felt palpable disgust instead of just intellectual disapproval. Instead of a safe movie experience where I can walk away clean and righteous in my moral condemnation of fictional characters, I'm left feeling dirty and complicit in the myriad crimes of the "civilized" world.
Last thing I want to comment on is the found footage aspect. I've had a love affair with found footage since "The Blair Witch Project" came out. Shortly after that I stumbled onto "Man Bites Dog". It's amazing to see how everything I love about the genre can be traced back to this movie made 20 years earlier. Even some of the stuff I don't love ("Why are they still shooting?" and "Who added the movie score to this footage?").
So glad I squeezed this one in before my Shudder subscription expires.
|"Ok, Lara, we need you to help defend our village from the heavily-armed marauders."
"Right, we'll need four deer hides..."
"Deer hides? How will that help?"
"Deer hides, four of them."
"Fuck the deer hides."
"Yes, four of them."
"But, the village? I need to save it?"
"Yeh, now go get four deer hides."
|If you see only one mash-up of Shutter Island, Frankenstein, incest, Aphex Twin videos, The Shining, Vitamin Water, Sigmund Freud, spooky castles, Marathon Man, and Japanese eel porn make it Gore Verbinski's "A Cure for Wellness".
No doubt this steaming pile of cinematic goulash is cobbled together from a dozen better and more cohesive films. But a good meal is a good meal. Sure, it might not be brain food - or even good for you - but after chewing on it for the night I found it quite tasty. Jaw-dropping German locations and breathtaking aesthetics, generally outstanding digital effects, solid performances (DeHaan struggles early but gets his footing, Isaacs is a delight, Goth and her wicked overbite kick ass), and a go-for-broke story that has too many ideas for its own good but still knows how to party. Sadly, the driving narrative of business and how it relates to stress, obsession, and (phony?) wellness gets abandoned for, um, whatever that batshit ending with "The Baron" is. Love it or hate it, it's undeniable that Verbinski goes all-in.
If it sounds like I'm describing a mess, I am. But my mom would probably describe me the same way and I'm pretty awesome. ("Chad's a weirdo, but means well. Sure he goes on waaaay too long and could use an editor, but your time will be rewarded if you stick with him. He's an acquired taste, but folks with a darker sense of humor tend to find him delightful. He also ruined us financially and there is ZERO chance for a sequel.") I will openly admit that some of the movies flaws washed away after I got home and really started to digest it. I appreciated that a Hollywood studio would greenlight a slowly paced, R-rated dark fairy tale from a guy coming off "The Lone Ranger" without one superstar in the cast. Verbinski basically made a 2 1/2 hour South Korean body-horror goth film at an American studio! That's pretty rad. Oh, and everyone waiting for Tim Burton to be Tim Burton again should stop and just see this. Somewhere he's curled up on top of a Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children poster jerking off and weeping simultaneously.
|I had fun but was ultimately left wishing the movie took some bigger risks. I get it. As exciting as the idea of a super-advanced African nation waging war against Trump's white America is, I know I'm not going to see that in a property owned by the Disney Corporation. But then don't tease me with it, okay?
Marvel is like this machine that molds every cool idea into some generic, mildly pleasing, watered-down version of itself. Every once in a while a filmmaker's identity survives enough to be recognizable (Shane Black and Taika Waititi come to mind), but the rest just blur together in a soup of mediocrity.
Standouts for me were the performances. Michael B. Jordan is probably my favorite Marvel villain. I was actually on his side for most of the movie (until the film chickened out and changed his motivation from revolution to revenge). I also loved Danai Gurira (her character reminded me a lot of Angela Bassett, who's also great here, in "Strange Days") and Letitia Wright.
But as much as I love Martin Freeman, his character was obviously the "let's make sure there's at least one white character in the story who's a good guy" role. See "Get Out" for how to avoid such pandering.
I'm very happy this movie is doing so well. Hopefully two successful franchise movies buy Ryan Coogler enough cachet to do something really bold next.
|Another entry in the "You're fucked if the police think you're guilty" series.
That final audio recording gives me the chills.
And I dig those low budget reenactments, even when they get ridiculous. If my death is ever dramatized by Errol Morris, I hope it too includes a slow motion flying milkshake.
|The acting was what really made this movie work for me. I wanted to like it more, and at the end I kind of wondered why I didn't. Then I saw who wrote and directed it.
I just don't think Martin McDonagh and I share the same values. He seems obsessed with trying to make asshole characters likable. Don't get me wrong, I'm not above liking an asshole character: Tony Soprano, for example. But there's something about the way McDonagh seems to want to justify their asshole behavior that rubs me wrong.
Add an extra star for making me chuckle out loud a bunch of times.
|The greatest children's film of all time.
It teaches unconditional love as well as complete mistrust of government agencies.
Also... an alien life form pummels a Coors.