Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Weekend viewing

Long weekend with the holiday, spending time with family and friends visiting from out of town, but thankfully I still made some time to watch this odd assortment of movies.

I Drink Your Blood (David E. Durston, 1970)
Ah, the random things that show up in the mail at work. This is an ultra-cheapie horror exploitation flick, given the kind of DVD treatment you'd expect for a revered classic: commentary, deleted scenes, interviews and so on. I didn't bother with any of those, but curiosity got the better of me, and my perverse dedication to sitting through any movie I start got me to watch the whole thing. It's the kind of thing you'd expect to see on Mystery Science Theater 3000, with terrible production values, giant lapses in continuity, bad acting, nonsensical writing and so on. I kind of wished someone were watching it with me so we could make fun of it together. It's interesting to see what kind of films end up as cult classics in certain sub-strata of fandom; it's too bad it'd be impossible to keep up with all of them. This was sort of fun to watch, if only for the concept of Satanist hippies, the kid who infects the hippies with rabies, and the rabid construction workers. All highly amusing. Otherwise pretty worthless. Oh, and no one drinks anyone's blood, at least as far as I could tell.

3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
What a weird, weird movie. I didn't really know anything about this one prior to putting it in my NetFlix queue, other than that it was considered a lost masterpiece of Altman's in some circles. I'm a big fan of what Altman films I've seen, but this was not what I would expect from him. It starts out as the kind of low-key drama you might imagine from Altman, then turns into this bizarre surrealist fantasy that's very reminiscent of David Lynch. I wonder if Lynch was influenced by this film when doing Mulholland Drive - it has a lot of similar elements, including two central female characters who swap identities, the mid-film shift in perspective, and a mounting sense of dissociation and unreality. I was frustrated while watching this movie because it went so directly against what I expected, but after thinking about it a little and reading some criticism online, I think I've come to an appreciation of its eccentricities. Apparently Altman based it on his own dreams, and if you take it that way and don't try to make sense of it, it has a certain hypnotic quality. Also, the acting is great; every time I see Sissy Spacek in anything she just blows me away, and here she's phenomenal. Shelley Duvall, who's fallen way, way down into obscurity, is also great here although her character is intentionally annoying. I don't much care for her in general (she drove me nuts in The Shining), but she's perfect here.

Word Wars (Eric Chaikin & Julian Petrillo, 2004)
I was surprised how much I really liked this movie, a documentary about top Scrabble players. It's drawn many comparisons to Spellbound, which I also really enjoyed, but while that film tried really hard to make serious connections between spelling and social and economic conditions, Word Wars just sets out to entertain and illustrate a few colorful characters. Not that there aren't insightful moments, but it's a much lighter film, a celebration of its four central subjects and their particluar quirks and habits. It's not judgmental or preachy, but it does show different sides of the Scrabble phenomenon, with professional tournaments contrasted with players in Washington Square Park in New York City who play only for the love of the game. You see how Scrabble has consumed the lives of these people, but it never seems like the filmmakers are condescending to them. Overall, it's just fun to watch and the 80 minutes went by in a flash. I'm not sure if it's available on video; it played some festivals and then aired on the Discovery Channel. It's worth catching if it runs again.

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