Against Competence: Short movie reviews

Clash: On paper, this is a fairly formulaic movie. During the 2013 conflict between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Armed Forces, a group of Egyptians (and Egyptian-Americans) from disparate religious, political, and social backgrounds all get shoved into the same locked police van, and discover one another’s common humanity. “My enemies are people” is one of those things easy to write but complex to learn; Clash takes the viewer on the journey with the characters, so their discoveries of one another feel urgent, hard, and new. The restricted location (we spend almost the entire film inside the van) adds a slightly experimental feel, but overall, this is a story about how hard it is for humans in shared desperate circumstances to fail to understand one another–even when misunderstanding is what they’re aiming for. On US Netflix streaming and very much worth a watch.

In My Skin: A tour de force from writer/director/star Marina de Van, looking like Saturn devouring his son but actually gnawing on herself. De Van uses body horror to explore self-harm, alienation, and addiction. It’s hard to know what to say about this movie. It’s hard to watch, there’s some pitch-black comedy (the horrifying dinner-with-clients scene is unforgettable), and the emotional notes are perfectly struck: friends whose fear expresses itself as judgment; the fascination with one’s own wounds. De Van’s Esther retreats into a private world, where her successes and relationships just become new things to escape. I think I found this via the Deadly Doll. Looking forward to checking out de Van’s Dark Touch as well.

Point Blank: A late ’60s neo-noir about Lee Marvin’s revenge quest. Some gorgeous images, a haunting ending on deserted Alcatraz Island, overall deeply not my thing. This movie is how I realized that what I love in noir is the heroes’ weakness, their commitment to playing the losing hand. Walker, The Man Too Butch for Christian Names, is a competent killing machine and that is just not what I want from noir.

Velvet Goldmine: I grinned almost all the way through this movie–a tribute to glam rock, also Bowie/Jagger fanfiction–and yet at the end I felt like the sum was less than the parts. Is it a “destroyed by fame” tale, the sweet smell of success? It’s more an exploration of gay identity as swooning, sordid, ever-disappointed defiance, which is… respectably old-fashioned, at least. It’s about the triumph of surface over substance and it also is more surface than substance.

I don’t know, I got the feeling I was approaching this movie wrong, so if you love it, I’m very open to correction here. It looks great, and there are haunting images, of which the saddest and most underexplored was definitely the naked kid face-down on the bed, getting his initiation into gay life. The movie seemed to me to be using moralistic tropes without actually believing in the morality underlying them. Also all the music is worse than it should be. But, as I say, maybe I’m wrong.


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