Say What You Will About the 1990s, At Least It’s an Ethos: Short movie notes

Say What You Will About the 1990s, At Least It’s an Ethos: Short movie notes May 28, 2021

No theme!

The Lunchroom: Argentinian/Uruguayan drama about two office janitors who also run the building’s lunchroom. When new management arrives, it turns out that the lunchroom is against government regulations. Lila battles to save the lunchroom, while her best friend and former co-conspirator Marcela seeks revenge for what she sees as Lila’s role in her daughter’s firing.

In summary this movie sounds like I should love it. It’s got people on the lower rungs of society building and defending small things, against the combined forces of the corporation and the state. It’s got explosive friendship between women, treated as the movie’s central and highest-stakes relationship. It’s got cleaning scenes! And really, you might find more in it than I did. For me, both women were too one-note: Lila (Liliana Juárez) a little too lugubrious, and her ex-BFF too self-righteous. This is in part a movie about what it’s like to have one of those friends who only sees the world in terms of friends and enemies: a friend who’s perpetually betrayed and disappointed, who sees her own point of view exclusively. It captured some of the realities of that experience, but that’s a sad and unpleasant thing to watch, in a movie which seemed to want me to focus more on rooting for the women to get back together and save the lunchroom. Maybe my own genre expectations got in the way, and this was always supposed to be about the breakdown of an untenable, never very good situation?? I don’t think that’s what we saw at the beginning, though!

IMDB lists this as comedy/drama. Maybe it’s funnier in Spanish…. Anyway it’s streaming as part of the DC Labor Film Festival if you want to tell me what I’m missing.

The Big Lebowski: A rewatch, and I’m only talking about it here because I was surprised at just how 1990s this felt, in a bad way. I’m not saying this movie isn’t funny. Of course it’s funny! But tbh a lot of its funniest lines are funnier out of context, when you’re able to forget about the movie that surrounds them. It has that ’90s “ironic” racism (handled with much less deftness than in, say, In Bruges, if you decide to do this at all), it gets almost as mean-spirited as frickin’ Home Alone, it says it’s about living with an ethos but is it? Is it really??

Is Walter Sobchak more than a collection of tics and reactions? Is that an ethos? Has “the Dude” got an ethos, actually? What’s the deal with Donnie (Steve Buscemi)? I’m gonna go ahead and say that Donnie exposes the lie that these guys have a real friendship, or a way of life of any kind, and tbh I think the movie validates my view here but then decides not to care about it. (Compare this movie to Hail Caesar! and you might even start to see the point of contemporary wholesomeness culture.)

I enjoyed watching this movie! You can’t not enjoy watching Jeff Bridges drawl and ramble around and get mixed up in other people’s weird plots. And I will say that I had forgotten how explicitly it’s an “aftermath of the 1960s” movie, a Boomerdammerung. That part really is deeply woven into the film. It isn’t just that one great line, “Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski! Condolences! The bums lost!” It’s Sobchak’s backstory of Vietnam and divorce; both of our main characters are wreckage, flotsam battered by their times and washed ashore.

The Strangers: Prey at Night: Lol I’ve never watched the first movie in this series and have no desire to. If I tell you the plot of this movie you won’t want to watch it; it’s incredibly basic stalk stalk kill kill stuff, gross and blah, with a rote (albeit fairly effective) attempt to earn emotional investment in our prey characters. But I loved watching this film, for one reason and one only: It is gorgeous.

Gosh, it’s just neon and fog and gleams in the darkness. I mean yes, there are also some good well-earned jump scares, if you like those. But go and look at these stills. That pool scene with the neon palm trees!! So hot. Bonus, the music is very fun, you can find some lovely Jim Steinman appreciation in the comments of that Kindertrauma link.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, cinematography by Ryan Samul, you absolutely don’t need to know who did the script or the acting or whatever.

Zodiac: Another rewatch. This movie has grown on me. When I first watched it found it meandering and a little too actory. I still think most of these guys are ACTING a little too hard, but I am now totally on board with the movie overall, it’s a sad and hard watch and it could even be longer and meander more. The meandering is the point!

Oh so, it’s David Fincher doing the Zodiac murders, should I say that? Our central character is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gylleennhhaall, lol I definitely have room to make fun of people’s surnames), a cartoonist at the San Francisco Some Newspaper, who goes on an obsessive quest to solve this still-unsolved real serial-killer case, dragging in crime-beat reporter Paul Avery (a twitchy Robert Downey Jr on the cusp of his Iron Man megacomeback) and detective/gun-fashion icon Dave Toschi (a softspoken Mark Ruffalo). Lots of very very tense scenes, including an unforgettable thing where Graysmith is menaced by the guy who did the voice of Roger Rabbit.

After I rewatched this I listened to the This Had Oscar Buzz episode about it, which increased my appreciation of the movie even more. Those guys point out various things about the direction, including the phenomenal use of close-ups (also discussed in Every Frame a Painting’s short Fincher video). They also made me see just how thorough, even programmatic, is the film’s narrative that this case destroyed everyone it touched. It isn’t just Graysmith and Avery. (Downey Jr is just ACTING his face off here, and I thought it was too much, too mannered, the first time around, but now I think it helps you see the brittleness he always shared with Graysmith: the cracks in the foundation.) Minor but incredibly well-cast characters, like Clea Duvall’s witness and Jimmi Simpson’s survivor, are ravaged by the experiences that bring them to the film’s attention.

And that makes the film feel somewhat like a verdict on an era. It’s a very different verdict from, say, Summer of Sam, which pulled back further from the serial murderer in its title to give a portrait of a community. Sam is about hot weather and bad choices: a decade of blundering and poor impulse control. Those people may wreck their lives and marriages, but at least they had fun doing it! Zodiac is chillier and more fatalistic. You get the feeling that just about anybody could be harboring terrible secrets under the skin. And the disaster careens toward you, hits you and moves on; even if you participated in your own wreckage you won’t ever gain any understanding of why.

The 1970s: “And you’ll never, ever know who did it.”

The 1980s (putting on sunglasses): “I mean, I can be the killer if that’s what you need.”

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