Film Journal: November 2020

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Two new movies this month that will likely make my year-end top ten: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, which “captures” the last day of business at a Las Vegas dive bar, and David Byrne’s American Utopia, Spike Lee’s filmed concert that can’t avoid comparisons to Stop Making Sense but in the end transforms into its own thing. Each one represents the spirit of contemporary America in vastly different ways, but both strive to depict the best versions of ourselves—a welcome necessity in these challenging times.

As for the other fourteen new titles viewed, they run the gamut from pleasantly average (Happiest Season, Uncle Frank, Fire Will Come) to pretty-but-disappointing (The Sunlit Night, Little Fish, Coming Home Again) to forgettable (Freeland) and godawful (Holidate, no thank you.) Martin Eden and Monsoon are intriguing if imperfect character studies; Crip Camp is an above-average Netflix doc; at 275(!) minutes, Wiseman’s latest marathon doc City Hall is at least 100 minutes too long, but the remaining 175 are essential.

Begun in October, my “Marlon Mondays” continued through the very end of this month, with the prizes being Riggs’ swan song, Black Is…Black Ain’t and eight-minute music video Anthem, where not one second is wasted within that slender frame. The posthumous documentary on him is a solid overview but no substitution for the work itself, of course.

Only two re-watches, both of them titles expiring on Criterion Channel: Red Road remains a stunning debut feature for Andrea Arnold (with superb work from lead Kate Dickie), who would nonetheless surpass it with Fish Tank; Parting Glances, which I last saw 20+ years ago, is a true curiosity, a pre-New Queer Cinema queer indie (starring a young Steve Buscemi, improbably) whose director, Bill Sherwood, would sadly not live to make another one.

Also, I finally got around to watching Variety, another ‘80s NYC curiosity (co-starring a young Luis Guzman!), Modern Romance (now my favorite Brooks film after Defending Your Life), Smooth Talk (Laura Dern brilliant even as a teenager), Girlfriends (young Melanie Mayron is the anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl and I love her for it) and Autumn Leaves, which has one of Joan Crawford’s best late-career performances—proof she was good for more than camp at that age.

Films viewed in November in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10); starred titles are re-watches.

Little Fish (Chad Hartigan, 2020) 6
Freeland (Kate McLean, Mario Furloni, 2020) 4
Anthem (Marlon Riggs, 1991) 8
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Turner Ross Bill Ross IV, 2020) 9
Variety (Bette Gordon, 1983) 7
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (Nicole Newnham, James Lebrecht, 2020) 8
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner, 2020) 7
Long Train Running: A History of the Oakland Blues (Riggs, Peter Webster, 1981) 6
Modern Romance (Albert Brooks, 1981) 8
Coming Home Again (Wayne Wang, 2019) 5
Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2019) 7
Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956) 8
Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013) 5
Fisherman’s Friends (Chris Foggin, 2019) 6
Holidate (John Whitesell, 2020) 3
Black Is… Black Ain’t (Riggs, 1994) 9
City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, 2020) 8
Parting Glances (Bill Sherwood, 1986)* 8
Monsoon (Hong Khaou, 2019) 7
Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978) 9
The Sunlit Night (David Wnendt, 2019) 4
Smooth Talk (Joyce Chopra, 1985) 8
I-94 (Gordon, James Benning, 1974) 5
No Regret (Riggs, 1993) 7
Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)* 8
Happiest Season (Clea DuVall, 2020) 6
Uncle Frank (Alan Ball, 2020) 6
Fire Will Come (Oliver Laxe, 2019) 6
David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020) 9
I Shall Not Be Removed: The Life Of Marlon Riggs (Karen Everett, 1996) 7

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