Dirty Old Town: Short movie reviews

Dirty Old Town: Short movie reviews October 8, 2018

C.H.U.D.: In Glorious Trash-O-Vision! This 1984 classic of urban abandonment, about “Cannibalistic Human Underground Dwellers,” is as seamy and strange as its reputation promises. I loved this weird, sad film about a photographer who uncovers a spate of deaths among the homeless people who have formed a secret community in the city’s sewage and subway tunnels.

There’s an unexpected subplot about an unplanned pregnancy, which gets startling symbolic weight (I think there’s literally no explanation for the shower blood scene except “Abortion is violence (also showering chicks are super nude)”) and prompts a painful scene in which a man tries to Support Whatever You Decide while the woman needs him to take the risk of supporting her baby and their future together. He doesn’t quite see how his attempt at sensitivity is also self-protective, forcing her to admit what she wants before he admits what he wants; he doesn’t quite see how letting her be independent means making her stand alone.

I saw The Nun shortly before this film and by the way, The Nun? C.H.U.D. takes place almost entirely in basements and sewers, and yet I can see everything I’m supposed to see. You don’t have to make horror films like you’re trying to protect gremlins!

Tron: What is there even to say? This is a ridiculous ’80s action-adventure flick about… theologically-minded accounting programs resisting a totalitarian video game? The graphics are glorious as long as you accept them for what they are, i.e. do not expect Myst when what they’re gonna give you is Q-Bert. It’s honestly a thrilling film to watch just because the visuals are so precisely what they should be: transporting you both into and beyond a very specific time in our culture’s videographic history. Feel free to turn your brain off. LOL TRON, basically.

Crazy Rich Asians: I watched this movie with someone who–how can I say this delicately?–could very much identify with the characters. So I’m not especially objective. I wanted to enjoy it and I did; I gobbled it. If you’d like an insight into aspects of the film which were genuinely moving, this explanation of the mah jongg scene illuminates both the film’s immersion in Chinese/Singaporean culture, and its West vs. East conflict. CRA presents this conflict as basically a clash between those who won’t sacrifice happiness for family duty (West) and those who will (East). The film ends up extremely Western, insofar as by showing willingness to sacrifice her happiness its heroine receives exactly what she wants, but the mah jongg scene (and Michelle Yeoh’s gripping portrait of a matriarch) shows the conflict at its fairest.

My favorite line was absolutely the criticism of a $40 million wedding: “We’re Methodists. Twenty million is our limit.” (Although “I’m not an animal” and “I majored in Thought” were also brilliant.) My favorite character was Awkwafina. On a semiserious note, I wish the film had wanted to do more with both her character and the gay relative: the two characters who seem to have made a separate peace with a crazy rich Singaporean culture to which they’ll always stand somewhat on the outside. On a less-serious but extremely true note, I am now planning to watch the lady Ocean’s movie just for Awkwafina. I would watch a phone book if it were played by Awkwafina. She’s a delight.

The State of the Union: Frank Capra in full-on “Capra-corn” mode, directing a patriotic parable about Spencer Tracy running for president and being tugged between two women, a schemer played by Angela Lansbury (!!) and the wife of his bosom played by Katharine Hepburn. It’s a pleasure to watch because of the talent on display–and, this is me so let’s be real, because its climactic scene is about the joys of public self-abasement–but it’s that creepy American thing where a cynical coating conceals the sentimental core.

The Endless: Remember how much I loved Resolution, the bizarre, twisty 2012 horror flick about a man trying to save his best friend from meth addiction? Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson, the guys responsible for that film, have made another one! And again they show how great they are at conveying loyalty and painful history between two men. In this case the main characters are brothers (played by Morehead and Benson). Ten years ago, the older brother pulled the younger out of the apocalyptic cult where they’d both been living. But their lives since then have been pretty awful–no social life, no girlfriend, no money, days of menial labor and nights alone–and when the younger brother receives proof that the supposed death-cultists are still very much alive, he persuades the older brother to return to the cult’s campground with him, just to check in. Just for a little while….

The brothers have terrific chemistry from the moment their road trip begins. I totally bought that the older brother’s determination to protect the younger has hardened and sharpened into a need to control the younger. The younger brother’s conflict between gratitude and resentment, loyalty and independence, got just enough explicit discussion without becoming heavyhanded.

As with Resolution, the film gives you a lot of weird and possibly-conflicting signals about where it’s going. But the ultimate explanation struck me as much more clear-cut here. I don’t think I could tell you exactly what definitely happens at the end of Resolution, whereas here, you know the score. That was a bit of a letdown. The unsettling ambiguity of Resolution served its theme–which, I think, was the way our need for “closure” and a clear upward trajectory, in both fictional narratives and our own best friends’ lives, makes it harder for us to accept others. We don’t know how to sacrifice and serve with no clear promise that things will get better. That’s a more complicated truth than the themes at the heart of The Endless, which are more like “carpe diem, failure is better than stasis or subservience.” Still, the brothers’ bond, the creepy features of the world they inhabit, and the late-breaking tie-in to Resolution itself should make this a very compelling film for anyone who enjoyed that earlier venture.

Next up: Reviews from the Spooky Movie Film Fest!

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