Smashcut 365: A Film a Day — Week 15

A Cinephile’s Guide to Streaming

99/365: Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985) (Vudu)

Possibly the greatest and most appalling war film ever made, this Belarussian beast, filmed by Russian director Elem Klimov (who then retired, claiming there was nothing left to say), follows the progress of a peasant youth (Aleksei Kravchenko, in a performance that brands itself on your cerebellum) as the countryside around him is torn asunder by the Nazis. In a slaughterhouse this extreme, there’s no heroism, just carrion and guilt-ridden survival. Brace yourself.

100/365: I’m Gonna Explode (Gerardo Naranjo, 2008) (Hulu)

A spirited Mexican satire in which two bored and rebellious teens (Juan Pablo de Santiago and Maria Deschamps), spawn of the negligent, self-obsessed upper class, decide to go outlaw — stealing a car and a gun, faking her kidnapping, and then hiding out on his politician father’s apartment house rooftop and spying on the grown-ups as they stew in their juices and backbite each other. In its rough, slam-bang, free-for-all way this is a Mexican Godard film, quoting from Pierrot le Fou, reveling in teen autonomy for its own gloriously no-future sake, and skewering bourgeoise banalities.

101/365: Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1946) (YouTube, Amazon Prime)

Road movie ideogram, Skid Row bad dream, postwar existentialist wail, Ulmer’s famous, dirt-cheap film noir follows real-life Tinseltown lout Tom Neal on a desperate ride to nowhere, accompanied by Ann Savage as sex-starved, consumptive Vera Whatever Her Name Was, who soon enough engages the self-pitying manslaughterer hero in a spare, motel-room No Exit nightmare from which he will never quite escape. Shot in days, and utterly graceless, it was an EKG of mid-century American disillusionment, and has become a legendary axiom for all things noir.

102/365: The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) (Netflix)

A tough sell, but a kind of overlooked true-story miracle of a film, about a paper-pushing bureaucrat in a huge agribusiness (Matt Damon) who decides to wear a wire and rat on his coworkers about the corporation’s price-fixing chicanery. Doesn’t sound thrilling, but the spike in the punch is Damon’s character, a devoted spy novel sociopath who enters into his covert duplicity as though he were Bond James Bond, and begins lying to everyone, even the FBI. And us — Soderbergh and Damon have crafted a self-annihilating comedy-character study that dares to be the film the guy would make about himself. We’re often as clueless as the other characters as to what’s actual or what’s fabrication — we’re deep in before we even realize that Damon’s hair is a toupee. All of it is 100% true, and Damon deserved an Oscar for walking this high wire.

103/365: Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017) (Amazon Prime)

PTA never makes the same kind of movie twice — more than that, he never makes the film you think he’s going to make, and just as you get your bearings his movies always turn corners you wouldn’t have dreamed of. This pitch-perfect psychodrama is a case in point, set in the ’50s world of London high fashion, with Daniel Day-Lewis as an ADHD forever-bachelor designer for royalty, Lesley Manville as his tough-mother sister-slash-partner, and newcomer Vicky Krieps as a new model who becomes Day-Lewis’ lover, assistant, and then much more. That’s all you should know going in; the story evolves with pathological tension, and yet it’s only a love story, perfectly executed.

104/365: Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) (Amazon Prime)

Whatever else it is, which is plenty, Verhoeven’s farce has to be the most misunderstood F/X sci-fi blockbuster of all time. Based on a pulpy Robert A. Heinlein novel from the ’50s, and featuring enough gadzooks digital imagery to fill a mainframe, the movie looked like an action-film-that-doesn’t-work, but it’s actually a vicious piece of social satire, making sport of sci-fi blockbusters, Heinlein’s right-wing jingoism, militarism, and much more. In this neo-Nazi space-age version of Archie (there’s a Veronica, a Betty, a Reggie and Jake Busey as the Jughead), ludicrously gorgeous gung-go high-schoolers enlist to battle extraterrestrial “bugs,” with resulting battle scenes that are mind-blowing fast, silly and fearsome; the aliens wreak violence so hairy and gory that it, too, becomes a running gag.

105/365: Glen or Glenda? (Edward D. Wood Jr., 1953) (Vudu, Amazon Prime)

Notorious, more or less, as the Vermeer of Worst Films Ever Made, Wood was such a distinctive kind of inept filmmaker that his films seem to burn in the memory long after more accomplished films have faded. And because they’re riotously funny, too, Tim Burton even made a film about him (1994’s Ed Wood). This first feature, like all Wood, is as different from “normal” films as Thalidomide babies are from healthy offspring: a free-form drama-essay-slash-autobiographical plea for understanding about transvestism and Angora-sweater fetishism — both obsessions for Wood in reality. Documentary footage, nonsense passages of a dying Bela Lugosi, and stock shots of African wildlife all gets mixed in, somehow, with the earnest revelations about the trans urge, and Wood stars essentially as himself, a harmless man longing for silk panties and an Angora blouse, lost in a hopelessly straight postwar America. A spectacular alcoholic to boot, Wood could not make a coherent decision shot to shot, but his passions and guileless movie love are right there to see. For 1953, it was a groundbreaker no one saw; since, and together with the rest of Wood’s tosspot oeuvre, it’s like entering the dead-end dreams of an authentic American nut.

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