Weekly Quick Notes: All That Jazz, Magic Mike XXL

Brief blurbs for each movie I watched last week, favorites first.

All That Jazz (1979)

Dance(s) of Death.

Joe Gideon manically grasps for control as he confronts his own mortality: editing "Five Stages of Death" comedy routine as narrative framing device, conversations with Angel of Death as internal monologue, dance choreography as mad grasp for power over the body as it slowly falls apart.

Artistic genius not as the pseudo-heroic task of bringing craft to the people, but as a fantasmatic cover for childhood trauma and fear of the unknown. Art not as strength but as weakness, as the final desperate attempt to forget the transience and meaninglessness of our existence.

"Uh oh, I think we just lost the family audience."

Movies Now and Then podcast | Metacinema

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

A Level 3 Reiki Healer chakra-cleansing of a movie.

Shamelessly opens new space for female sex positivity. Male bodies offer themselves to be consumed, but without losing the flavor of each meal (e.g. Big Dick’s search for the right Glass Slipper), and without sidelining its audience for a "message" (instead of Cody Horn’s skepticism we see Spielbergian gazes of unbridled pleasure).

The boys represent a supportive, communitarian work ethic: they spend their non-dance time talking and listening to each other. No plot and even less conflict, but the journey is paid off by the friends' connection and their own personal self-discoveries (the final dances). This road trip's destination is self-actualization through friendship and pleasure-giving: they find the self by giving it away, a generous gesture of selfless self-fulfillment.

Oh, and some killer dance scenes.

I Want It This Way.

2015: New Releases | Sequels | Channing Tatum
Movies Now and Then podcast

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Camera imitates action and character: deep focus sees detail as the spies only wish they could; slow, measured movements have far-reaching consequences. Sets the standard for adapting Le Carré.

"Our work, as I understand it, is based on a single assumption that the West is never going to be aggressor; thus, we do disagreeable things, but we are defensive. Our policies are peaceful, but our methods can't afford to be less ruthless than those of the opposition, can they?"

"What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not! They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives."

Favorite Film of Its Year

Bound (1996)

"One thing I can't stand is women who apologize for wanting sex."

The police and the mafia: two traditionally masculine institutions pretending to run the world, but women have all the real power, they're the ones really running the show behind the scenes. Men caught by their own condescension, their belief in the inability of women to stand up for themselves. Resistance from the blindspot of dueling patriarchies.

Refreshingly stylish and creative take on a whole host of stale genre tropes—an early sign of the Wachowskis tendency to put genre first without devolving into b-movie garbage. Also prefigures their cinematic fetishes: leather, phones, queer sexuality, noir lighting, Joe Pantoliano.

Effortlessly connects disparate scenes and settings: the brilliant simplicity of the thin walls, shots follow cords from room to room, wipes transition across impossible distances.

The Wachowskis | Bill Pope

Passion (2012)

Continues in Vertigo's tradition of putting brunette women in blonde wigs to signify shifts in subjectivity, agency, and fantasy, but from the opposite perspective. Instead of reveling in the discomfort of Madeline's erasure and Scottie's enjoyment in pure fantasy, De Palma shows us how this same self-effacement can be empowering. Isabelle must become Christine (use her methods, imitate her performance, wear her mask) before she can be Isabelle. But this transformation is irreversible—she can’t get rid of Christine once she’s become her.

Our desire for popularity gets in the way of our desire for success (personal or professional), so we must let our (public) selves go before we can truly embrace our (private) passion.

Brian De Palma

Murder à la Mod (1968)

Experimental in a way that I really love in principle (atemporal narrative structure which today looks like the Nolans’ work; every editing technique from sped-up footage to writing directly onto film stock), but in practice not quite as successful as I wanted it to be (character motivations slip in and out; whatever it's trying to say about the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking gets lost in the silliness).

Prefigures a lot of De Palma’s cinematic obsessions (the tightrope walk between artifice and honesty, between performance and reality; the introduction of sleazy genre conventions into every corner of his films; his loving imitations of Hitchcock), but for my money not entirely enjoyable in its own right.

Brian De Palma | Metacinema

Mission to Mars (2000)

They went into space searching for extraterrestrial life, but instead they found something else—themselves.

Such an endearingly optimistic ending that I want to forget all the problems I had with the rest of it and just return the warm, fuzzy hug its final moments gave me. Enough dated CGI to counterbalance the occasionally brilliant cinematography, and enough boring scenes to ruin the few moments of genuine tension, but there's something surprisingly sweet about the character's simple desires for nothing more than to be together.

Hard to believe that a movie which rips a character to shreds with an imaginary space tornado could be (almost) redeemed by its sentimentality.

Brian De Palma | Spaceship!