[Metro Classics]

As I’ve rather obsessively discussed, one of the reasons I would find it difficult to leave Seattle is the sheer accessibility of film, including multiple revival series. One of my favorites is provided by Metro Classics, and my only criticism of them is that they don’t sell series passes; if I could buy a pass, I would be much more diligent about attending films.

I did make it to three out of this last series. First, Swing Time, because I felt the opportunity to see a Fred & Ginger movie on the big screen was not to be missed. I haven’t seen Swing Time since I was a child, obsessively watching AMC (back when they actually showed American Movie Classics), and it was great fun. There are a bunch of great numbers in that show, like “A Fine Romance” & “The Way You Look Tonight”, and of course the dancing is filmed flawlessly in long & sweeping takes. It does have a blackface number that takes one aback as a modern viewer, but to the film’s credit, it’s not a mockery or a caricature. It’s a tribute to Bill Robinson, a great dancer.

On a showbiz roll, I came back the next week for All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s over-the-top musical about his own death. We went over parts of it in my college film class (the fucking brilliant opening scene in particular — name me another movie that delivers that much information about the main character in less than one minute) but I don’t think I’ve seen it in full since then.

Roy Scheider brings incredible energy to the role of Joe Gideon, Fosse’s stand-in, and it will forever be the primary project I associate with him (followed by SeaQuest DSV, lest ye think me some variety of snob.) There’s a magnificent use of sound, one of those things that when it’s good you don’t notice and when it’s amazing you do. The whole thing is deeply personal, incredibly dark, excessive, perfectly flawed, and beautiful. It’s definitely the film in this series I’m most glad I made the effort to see.

Barton Fink is an entirely different kind of showbiz movie, with John Turturro fighting writer’s block in a hellish hotel in Hollywood. It’s not the sort of film that you’d expect really needed to be seen in the theater, since it’s more of a character/allegorical piece, but on DVD I had never noticed how fantastic the sound design was. (No, seriously. It’s amazing.) And of course it’s lit by Roger Deakins, who is a genius. In the end Fink‘s not my favorite Coen brothers film, nor is it their most accessible, but it is exquisitely crafted.

[DVD highlights (and a lowlight)]

* Lars and the Real Girl. I queued this mostly because Patricia Clarkson & Emily Mortimer are basically always worth watching, and I was curious what drew them to the project. I still don’t know. It required suspension of disbelief that eluded me, and I am, honestly, a pretty credulous viewer. In this case I was constantly irritated by the things I was supposed to believe and the questions I wasn’t supposed to ask… or at least the questions the filmmakers weren’t going to bother to answer. Skip it.

* Night on Earth was a surprise arrival when Netflix decided to pass up the five ‘available now’ discs ahead of it. Which is fine, because it’s a great movie that I should have seen a long time ago. It’s totally my sort of movie, being basically five vignettes of cab rides all starting at the same moment around the (Western) world. Stick with it past Winona Ryder’s overacted LA segment for New York & Helsinki in particular.

* When I was on the east coast, friends made me watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. And I laughed. A lot. I feel compelled to admit this to you, the Letterboxed reading audience. Judge me if you must.

* I missed Heavy Metal in Baghdad at the film festival, but that was okay because it just came out on DVD. It tracks Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. (There’s a heavy metal scene, but holding a band together, as you’ll see in the doc, is nigh on impossible.) It’s about living in Iraq, about being a refugee, about wishing you were home and that home is what it used to be. And it’s about metal. Rock on.

* Grace Is Gone is, so far as I can tell, the first decent movie John Cusack’s been in since High Fidelity. He’s the husband of a soldier killed in Iraq, and the film follows his initial grief as he tries to figure out how to tell their daughters what has happened. It’s a little unavoidably sentimental, but I also bought it enough to tear up a bit, so there you go.

* In preparation for seeing Ann Savage in My Winnipeg next week, I picked up Detour. It was really a terrible transfer, but the movie itself is classic noir — an average Joe getting caught up in a web of troubles to put it lightly — and she’s the ultimate femme fatale, hard and manipulative. Good times!

* While I was at it, I got Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, which is an essentially silent film. It’s funny and weird (v weird) and includes hockey and a wax museum, which is pretty much win so far as I am concerned. I have to get it out again at a later date so I can watch it with Maddin’s commentary. Delicious!