Monday, February 05, 2007

Good Movies and TV I've Been Watching Over the Last Couple of Weeks

Some videos I've enjoyed in the past couple of weeks, all of which I strongly recommend:

  • Hill Street Blues: Season One -- This may be my favorite TV show of all time. If not, it's certainly in the top five. HSB is discussed at length in Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good for You, specifically regarding the revolutionary way in which it demanded that viewers keep up with an ensemble cast and multiple plotlines strung out along many episodes, without the "benefit" of exposition every ten minutes. Here's my exposition: I LOVE THIS SHOW. There are varied opinions as to when it jumped the shark, and it definitely did jump at some point in the mid-to-late 80s ("Let's do it to them before they do it to us..."), but the first season really stands the test of time and then some. And Howard Hunter is awesome! He gets into an argument with Henry Goldblume in which Goldblume accuses him of wanting to use napalm on criminals. Hunter's response: "You don't know the first thing about Napalm!" Goldblume: "I know enough to know that..." Hunter (interrupting, seeing this as an argument-ender): "What are the three principles of napalm?" (For juxtaposition, I watched a couple of episodes from the first season of Adam-12. Good show for what it is, and it also started out with a roll call, but at this roll call the sergeant spent most of his time cautioning the men about keeping their uniforms creased and their badges shined. The vignettes were basically self-contained and wrapped up in seven minutes or less. Quaint.)

  • This Film Is Not Yet Rated -- I mentioned this the other day. If you are at all interested in independent, non-formulaic films, see this movie! I have previously commented on my distaste for MPAA godfather Jack Valenti. This film only cemented my views. There were three different things going on in this documentary: 1) Filmmakers and actors (Kevin Smith, Maria Bello, Kimberly Peirce, John Waters, et al.) philosophizing about why certain things (mostly having to do with sex) are verboten and certain things are allowed (mostly having to do with violence) and how mass-market blockbusters usually have potentially offensive material custom-tweaked so as to juuuuuust slip through the inconsistent standards of the ratings board; 2) A pair of middle-aged lesbian P.I.s tracking down the identities, phone extensions, and lunch preferences of the super-secretive MPAA Ratings Board; and 3) A self-referential meta segment in which director Kirby Dick submits the very film we are watching to the MPAA for a rating. The three parts all worked in different ways, and didn't always mesh perfectly, but that's only a minor criticism, and there's nothing else like this movie out there. One other criticism, though: The film "reveals" that there are two representatives of the clergy who are involved with (Members of? Advisors to?) the MPAA Appeals Board. It didn't come right out and say that they were members of the religious right, but it kinda sorta implied it. One of the two was a guy named James Wall, who has authored some articles that I have read. Mr. Wall seems to me like he would fit in just fine at any Upper-West-Side intellectual salon that you would see in any Woody Allen movie. (Note: This is meant as a compliment.) Not only that, but as for the whole secrecy thing, here's a short profile of him from a seminar he gave in 2001 that clearly states he is a member of the Appeals Board.

  • Aguirre, The Wrath of God -- This is a Werner Herzog film that I first saw 12 years ago or so, and I'm pretty sure it was my first Herzog. It's a similar theme to that of Fitzcarraldo, and also was kind of Apocalypse Now-ish (or else Apocalypse was Aguirre-ish). It's a fictionalized account of an ambitious middle-management type from Pizarro's conquistadorization of Peru named Lope de Aguirre. Pizarro comes to a difficult river and sends a small party on ahead to scout for the legendary El Dorado, which is a great idea except for the fact that he has the lapse in judgment to make Aguirre second in command of this party. As soon as they get far enough out in the middle of nowhere, Aguirre rebels against the officer in charge of the scouting party, and Pizarro, and the King of Spain. He shoots the only guy dumb loyal enough to stand up for the senior officer, and acts batshit crazy enough to keep everyone else in line. Kind of like if Col. Kurtz had been the one on the boat looking for a place to call home, rather than having Willard on the boat looking for him. At one point Aguirre installs a dumb fat guy as emperor, though there is no illusion as to who is running the show. In the course of the installation, he writes a document laying out his rebellion against the Spanish Crown. Here's a translation of a similar document written by the real Aguirre. Excerpt: I demand of you, King, that you do justice and right by the good vassals you have in this land, even though I and my companions (whose names I will give later), unable to suffer further the cruelties of your judges, viceroy, and governors, have resolved to obey you no longer. Denaturalizing ourselves from our land, Spain, we make the most cruel war against you that our power can sustain and endure. Believe, King and lord, we have done this because we can no longer tolerate the great oppression and unjust punishments of your ministers who, to make places for their sons and dependents have usurped and robbed our fame, life, and honor. It is a pity, King, the bad treatment you have given us. I am lame in the right leg from the arquebus wounds I received in the battle of Chuquinga, fighting with marshal Alonzo de Alvarado, answering your call against Francisco Hernandez Giron, rebel from your service as I and my companions are presently and will be until death, because we in this land now know how cruel you are, how you break your faith and your word, and thus we in this land give your promises less credence than to the books of Martin Luther. How did things turn out? Let's put it this way. Lots of tourists visit Spain. None visit Aguirresylvannia.
  • The Thin Blue Line -- This is another film I saw 10 or 12 years ago. It's directed by documentarian Errol Morris, and looks into the unfortunate case of a man named Randall Adams who was convicted of killing a Dallas police officer. All sorts of holes emerged in the prosecution's case, not the least of which was that there was this punk 16-year-old kid with a stolen car and a bunch of stolen guns named David Harris who went back home (to the hometown of the Texas KKK) and bragged about getting away with the killing. Long story short, Adams is now an anti-death penalty activist, and Harris ended up as a punk 25-year old who, by virtue of inclusion on this list is no longer on this list. Now with just that brief synopsis, I might be making it sound like a very special episode of CSI: Dallas, but this is a film that unfolds like a Rashomonic philosophical inquiry. (Maybe because Morris had a background as a P.I. and a degree in philosophy.)

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