My movie diet was a little thin in March, but there were still good titles in there, a couple of disappointments, and one film that caused DEEP HURTING.
Taxi Driver: An iconic picture and one of Scorsese’s many towering achievements. See it.
Rififi: If you haven’t seen the Criterion Collection’s DVD or Blu-Ray of this classic French heist film, do yourself a favor and check it out. The centerpiece is the heist itself, 30 suspense packed minutes of stealing goodness without a line of dialog. And the end of the film is crushing. See it, live it, love it, be it.
A Soldier’s Story: Chris Rock had a line once that captures this movie: “Who’s more racist, black people or white people? Black people. Why? Because we hate black people too!” A Soldier’s Story is about the murder of an African-American sergeant on a Louisiana army base and the African-American officer (Howard Rollins, Jr.) assigned to investigate. The film takes us into the disturbing territory of the sergeant’s bigotry against the men of the African-American unit he commands, and how that ends up rebounding violently against him. Among a uniformly excellent cast, a young Denzel Washington stands out.
The Sessions: This picture, about the relationship between a devoutly Catholic man rendered helpless by polio and the sex surrogate who’s trying to help him find a way into sexuality, is a good one. The performances by Helen Hunt and John Hawkes were convincing. If I have a reservation about the film it is that I found myself more interested in seeing the story from the surrogate’s point of view than from her client’s. The film does explore her life a bit, but I wanted more of her and less of him. I realize that the script was based on the memoir of devout Catholic and polio victim Mark O’Brien. Still, I wanted what I wanted.
Superman II: The Donner Cut: I’ve already posted on this, so click here for detailed thoughts. Short version: nice to see the Brando scenes restored, but the rest of the changes make the story less, not more, coherent.
The Passion of the Christ: As an atheist, I don’t as much at stake in this movie as the believers who made it a hit did; but as someone who watched Gibson’s Apocalypto and Braveheart with pleasure, I wanted to like it. But The Passion‘s graphic treatment of the torture and execution of Jesus was so over the top it threw me light years out of the story. (It’s a bad sign when a scene of a man being flayed has you thinking, “Looks like Gibson really did his homework on the effects of a flagellum on human skin.”) The movie hammers home the point of Jesus’s enduring a bad weekend for our sins, but after an hour of watching Jesus get the crap kicked out of him and collapsing in a bloody heap over and over from exhaustion, I was at the Enough Already stage.
Where the question of the movie’s antisemitism is concerned, the answer is yes. Gibson’s version of the Passion story is the antisemitic one, with the Sanhedrin pushing Pilate around until he acquiesces to the crucifixion. I understand Gibson doesn’t want to be branded as an anti-Semite, and I’m sure he doesn’t like to think of himself that way. Still, there are many versions of the Passion legend that Gibson had to choose from. The ones he picked, which lay blame mostly on Jews, have historically served as justification for two millennia of religious persecution. Gibson must have known that.
All in all, I liked The Last Temptation of Christ better.
Amityville II: The Possession: The entire Amityville series is such a load of horse puckey that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this one stinks. Still, this picture’s a special case. If your idea of a good time is watching incest, child and spousal abuse, and little kids getting mercilessly gunned down, this is the picture for you. (It’s like Joseph Kony fantasy camp.) It’s even more tasteless than the Ryan Reynolds Amityville picture where he beats the dog to death. I hate every pixel of this movie. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate it.
Which is why I’ll be riffing it soon. Keep your eyes open for that.