M to the A to the S to the K: Short movie reviews

M to the A to the S to the K: Short movie reviews May 26, 2020

In which my whole time-travel rosary shtik reaches that great drowned continent, the 1990s. But first!

Earth Girls Are Easy: Hey whaddaya know, I do like ’em big and stupid! Geena Davis is charming as always in this dumb, ephemeral, pleasurable movie about aliens in late ’80s LA. There’s absolutely no reason you should watch this unless you want to, but if you’re the kind of person who’d want to, you’re the kind of person who’ll like it.

Bringing Out the Dead: Somebody let Nic Cage drive an ambulance… and that somebody is Scorsese. This is mostly brutal fun, a high-speed skid through gallows humor alley, set in a New York where everybody is a lapsed Catholic who does drugs. I’m about it, tbqh. Paul Schrader did the script and maybe that’s why there’s a mercy-killing subplot where Cage sticks some kind of medical torture devices all over himself kinda like Guy In First Reformed Which For The Record I Hated, but the Schrader/Scorsese combo does mean that the atheistic Christianity on display here has some depth and isn’t just window dressing. Loved the “praying over the OD’d club kid” scene, with Jesus in the hypodermic; loved the abortive attempt to quit the job. Loved the PHANTASMAGORIA (it’s so nice when there’s an exact word for the atmosphere a movie is going for!) even though the film is imo more degrading toward its “frequent flyer” ER patient characters than it intended to be. The film is going for “We’re all mired in helpless squalor together,” the EMTs view their patients with exhausted contempt but that is a reflection of their helpless squalor rather than the God’s-eye view of the camera… but it’s hard to walk that line when the camera is so deeply embedded in the point of view of the least-helpless. Anyway, the soundtrack is stellar, that ’90s rediscovery “Nowhere to Run” and the 10,000 Maniacs and an especially grim use of UB-40.

My Own Private Idaho: I still don’t think the parts of this saccharine film work together at all; I’m just decreasing the amount I care about that. The heartstring-tugging story of a narcoleptic hustler desperate for love collides with a 1990s interpretation of the Falstaff bits from Henry IV 1, 2. I mean that’s a great enough idea that it almost doesn’t bother me that these stories don’t really illuminate one another. Even the acting styles are disparate in a way I low-key love: River Phoenix is all aching campfire sincerity, just echt homosexual, and Keanu Reeves is theatrical and showily blank. I love the dogs in the squat. I do not think the Italy stuff needed to be here. By law I cannot intentionally promote a sentimental lifestyle, so my praise for the film must remain qualified.

Deep Cover: Pretty sure I watched this movie because Shrill recommended it as a favorite noir. And it’s so good. So noir it was born black. Laurence Fishburne is a cop whose childhood ended the day he held his dying father in his arms outside the liquor store his dad had been robbing before the owner gunned him down. Now a glib, pleasurably slimy upper-echelon type weasels him into going undercover to disrupt a major South American cartel–but this is noir, so the criminals are Hummel figurines compared to the people who make the laws. Jeff Goldblum is in this, because it was made in 1992, taking his usual smarmy-jerk persona in a different direction by also being cowardly. Loved it. No, this is a sad and hard-driving movie, a funny and sexy one (a little too sexy in that ’90s softcore montage way, but what can you do, she said, having specifically chosen to watch this film), and the metaphor where the black man is always undercover gets hit just explicitly enough but not too much. Just like in Chester Himes, the black lawman isn’t allowed to be on anybody’s side. “Put the mask ‘pon mi face just to make the next day….

ETA: I forgot that there’s even Significant Mask Imagery within the movie itself! And it doesn’t feel forced or cheesy. Nice work, this film.

Fishburne is fantastic, capable of holding his face still in a way that brings the temperature down to freezing. The script is a Michael Tolkin joint, and now that I know this guy did The Rapture and Changing Lanes, I’m starting to wonder if maybe Gleaming the Cube could actually be a good movie….

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