The Movie Weekend That Was


This weekend was loaded with variety, including an acclaimed 2013 film, work from icons like David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman, a Michael Bay film (yes! Michael Bay!), a 70s sci-fi cult classic, and The Documentary You’re Looking For. This is the movie weekend that was.

FRUITVALE STATIONFruitvale Station (2013)
Fruitvale Station is a film about the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a mass-transit police officer just after midnight on January 1, 2009. Rather than focusing on the shooting or the aftermath, which included riots and protests, director Ryan Coogler’s film opts to spend most of its time on Grant’s final day. The result is an impressive portrait of a person who was extraordinarily human, flaws and all. It’s Grant’s flaws that give the film its teeth. He’s not canonized. At various times, we see him in prison, we hear that he has cheated on his girlfriend, his own mother chides him for his lack of responsibility. In other words, just like all of us, he has made mistakes. And also just like all of us, he wants to correct his errors, which is what makes the finale so heartbreaking. It’s a very solid first full-length effort from Coogler.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Pain & Gain (2013)
The company line amongst critics on Pain & Gain is that it’s Michael Bay’s attempt at a Coen brothers film. You don’t have to squint to see it. It’s a film about a morally bankrupt gang of clods who hatch a devious scheme, and then they blunder said scheme every step of the way. It works best in the final hour when everything spirals out of control. And yet for all of its Coeniness, Pain & Gain plays at other times like a spoof of Michael Bay films. It takes square aim at the over-the-top, patriotic, massively unsubtle, slow-motion and low-angle shot-filled previous work of Bay. I’m relatively sure it was intentional. It’s a better film than audiences are used to from Bay, certainly with more to chew on. But at the end of the day, you’re still watching a Michael Bay film. He can try to be the Coens and he can even wink and spoof himself, but it is very much HIS movie. You can make a gourmet dish using Spam but you’re still eating fucking Spam. I’d be very curious to see if this is a direction he’ll take his career because it’d be legitimately fascinating.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Elephant-Man_lThe Elephant Man (1980)
My oldest brother and Karl Pilkington share one thing in common- an appreciation for David Lynch’s 1980 Oscar-nominated film, The Elephant Man. As such, I saw bits and pieces of the film when I was far, far too young to comprehend what it was about. I haven’t seen the film since I was 8 or 9 years old, and I didn’t even see the full film at that time. After going bananas for Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), I figured it was time to give his other black-and-white film from the era a try. Simply put, it’s an amazing film. Lynch and his crew do a brilliant job using sound- both foley and score- to amplify the terrifying reality surrounding John Merrick. The carnival atmosphere, full of ordinary humans turned into grotesques with their gawking, exploitive behavior, wraps a linear narrative about Merrick’s life in a blanket of surrealism. Both Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are tremendous in their respective roles, and the story is moving. From top to bottom, The Elephant Man is a major cinematic achievement. While I prefer EraserheadThe Elephant Man qualifies as Lynch’s best and most fully-formed film.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Face to Face (1976)
Face to Face is the beginning of late-career Bergman, featuring 136 minutes of Liv Ullman’s psyche devolving into synaptic mush, complete with all of the usual Bergman trappings. That list would include a hellish dream sequence, coffins, death, ghostly visions, mirror image characters, and a character trapped in a closet. It’s like taking classic 1950s and 60s Bergman films and condensing them down into a sap of pure concentrated psychological angst. It comes off a little too on-the-nose, and Ullman’s wilting psyche becomes a bit tedious despite her powerhouse performance. Still, average Bergman is better than the best work of most other filmmakers (see Pain & Gain, for instance).
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

phaseiv1Phase IV (1974)
It just wouldn’t be a movie weekend without the touching story of a giant colony of hyper-intelligent ants who team together to try to take over Earth. The only film ever directed by Saul Bass, Phase IV is most notable for a lot of amazing, painstaking nature documentary-style footage of ants. It keeps the film grounded a little rather than relying on bad special effects. There’s a scene where a praying mantis fights a few ants and it’s mind-blowing how intense and fun it was. Mind you, I wouldn’t call Phase IV a good film so much as it’s a mediocre and/or forgotten film that does a few things extraordinarily well.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars  

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)
The People vs. George Lucas is a very funny documentary about the unique relationship Star Wars fans have with its creator. A lot of the humor comes from the multitudes of fan films and parodies that the Star Wars franchise has inspired. At its heart, The People vs. George Lucas is a very fair documentary, presenting both points of view regarding many of the fan issues with the franchise. The engine behind it all is the nostalgia and love that people have, which is very unique. There aren’t many films or film franchises that inspire the kind of nerdy devotion that Star Wars does, and it’s lovingly on display here.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Filed under Movies

24 responses to “The Movie Weekend That Was

  1. I have Fruitvale Station queued up to watch but didn’t know what it was about so haven’t really built up a desire to see it. Now I’m actively looking forward to it! Cheers!

    • It’s really interesting to read some of the reviews. Some focus on what was changed, which is interesting… but it ultimately didn’t change my view of the movie.

  2. The Elephant Man is fantastic. Never get tired of watching it!

  3. Aleksalynn

    Ironically, I was thinking a couple weeks ago that I should revisit The Elephant Man, since the last time I’d seen it I was, maybe, eleven. I figured it was a good way to introduce my daughter to Lynch, though from what I remember it’s the least Lynch-like of his films.

  4. I’ve had “The People Vs George Lucas” in my Netflix queue for ages but I’m scared it will hit too close to home LOL. But after reading your comments, I think I will give it a spin sooner rather than later. I’ve also put a request in for Elephant Man because I feel like I should have seen that by now! 😀

    • I was pleasantly surprised that they represented the studio point of view- that it’s his film, that he feels he can do what he wants with it, etc… And that he’s aware of all of the backlash, and the parodies- he even welcomes the parodies. Mind you, I thought the evidence was pretty strong in favor of the fans. But it wasn’t one-sided.

  5. Brittani

    I just added The People vs George Lucas to my Netflix queue. I didn’t even know it existed. Thanks for the rec!

  6. Phil

    My name is Phil and I believe in fitness.

  7. Elephant People vs. George Lucas is my favorite!

  8. jackdeth72

    Hi, Droid:

    Great catch with ‘Phase IV’! A neat, though surprisingly meaty and suspenseful lost gem with far more questions than answers.

    George Lucas should just admit to himself that he’s a far better editor than director. As witnessed by his meticulous “cutting in the can” editing of ‘American Graffiti’. Which may be part and parcel of Lucas’ annoying inability to leave well enough alone. With later “Director’s Cut”(s) of his original ‘Star Wars’ franchise wearing very thin very quickly.

    Also get a kick out of Mel Brooks helping to produce ‘Elephant Man’.

    • I LOVE that Mel Brooks was part of Elephant Man. Did you happen to see when AFI honored Brooks and Lynch spoke? I got a kick out of that.

      What’s interesting re: Lucas is that people interviewed for the film seemed to think that because of his affiliation with Star Wars, the world lost a great director. The last time he directed anything other than Star Wars was American Graffiti.

  9. John, The People vs. George Lucas is so much fun. I watched our beat-up VHS copy of Star Wars so much as a kid, and we knew it backwards and forwards. It’s a funny documentary for any Star Wars fan. I also agree that The Elephant Man is very good; it’s not my favorite Lynch film, but it’s one of his most convincing narratives.

  10. I have had “The People vs. George Lucas” in my queue for awhile but wasn’t sure of the quality of the movie. It’s not like Netflix streaming doesn’t have a lot of garbage. But now I will watch it very soon.

    • You said it about Netflix streaming. It’s kind of hard to find things to watch at this point.

      • Vladdy

        Have you seen Upstream Color? Barbara? In the House, Side Effects, Robot & Frank? Kon-Tiki, Drinking Buddies, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Blue Valentine, Monsieur Lazhar, 5 Broken Cameras, Greenberg, Weekend, Only God Forgives, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, War Witch, House of Pleasures, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Deep Blue Sea, Cosmopolis and Caesar Must Die? Me neither, but they are all on my watch cue on Netflix. Still don’t understand all the hate.

        • Fair enough. I’m just frustrated because most of the stuff I look for isn’t there (streaming), and I’m a grudgeholder from the way they ditched their friends network.

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