Activate the Holosphere!: Recent Viewing

Matador (1986)
Pedro Almodóvar is one of those directors I’ve missed, though I’ve had his movies on lists for decades. Matador is an early film and one he considers among his least favorite of his own work. I’d be happy to make something as “bad” and interesting as this. On the surface, the world in the film looks like ours, but it spirals around a perverse fantasy hinted at in the opening and takes over by the last memorable shots. It feels of our world and not, maybe like the experience of bullfighting itself.

There’s something in the mood or story construction that reminds me of the logic of Peter Greenaway films, particularly the machinations of a detective story mixed with death, the supernatural, sex, and the perverse all bound together. There’s a fashion show tracking shot that also reminds me of Greenaway, but is much more chaotic than anything he would allow. However, the chaos here is perfect.

Almodóvar also deals with machismo and masculinity, in that the lead character is a former matador who runs a school to train young bullfighters. He also masturbates to the kill scenes in Mario Bava’s giallo film Blood and Black Lace. He really misses bullfighting since getting gored.

It’s more complicated than stereotyping hypermasculinity. Women are shown as strong, interesting figures who are powerful and controlling as well. The characters are full of complicated drives and desires that operate from barely hidden to boiling over.

There are extended shots of matadorial butts and groins perfectly synched with fretless bass fills. Did I mention that the movie is funny?

The performances, including a young Antonio Banderas, are fantastic. A whole slate of Almodóvar is leaving the Criterion Channel this month and I’m hoping to get to as many as I can.

Masters of the Universe (1987)
Where to start? I’ve seen it at least three times. On purpose. This was more than a disappointment when it came out for fans of He-Man. The film painfully attempts to be some combination of Star Wars and Flash Gordon, when young fans probably wanted something more like Conan.

Overall, the film is a mish-mash mess, but still has its own charm. My kids heard the music and jumped out of their bath yelling “Star Wars!” and then stopped in front of the TV baffled. Then they just sank into the Sturm und Drang of Langella’s Skeletor, relishing in the Good vs Evil shamblings.

The great Billy Barty plays Gwildor a kind of Yoda/Snarf/Orko character that is painful as seven hells, but I did like that the kids’ reference for him is the roller skating baby from Gold Diggers of ’33. I’m always happy to see Meg Foster. Monica Geller and her mother were both in this movie and I wonder if someone’s built a Friends/Masters multi-verse conspiracy video or something like the linking of all the Disney and/or Marvel movies or what have you.

Spoiler: A musician with perfect/relative pitch saves the universe. Wicked!

Ape (2012)
Joel Potrykus is a Michigan-based indie filmmaker. I’m currently watching through his films after seeing The Alchemist’s Cookbook, which I thought was a fantastic horror hybrid/character study (I’ve since learned that it was partially inspired by Thoreau!). Character study seems to be a particular strength of Potrykus’s, as we follow Ape‘s protagonist, Trevor, an aspiring comedian with a host of daily problems, not helped by his arsonist tendencies.

This could have been an all-too slackery affair, the kind that I’ve never been much interested in. The ape of the title is at once a costume gorilla that Trevor sees around the city and Trevor’s own rage itself. The devil, or a man in a dime store devil costume, makes a deal with Trevor. There’s more to these figures in cheap costumes than just budget. There’s a sense of these costumes being tied to commodity and exchange and also the idea of wearing the inside on the outside. I get echoes of Enoch Emery stealing the gorilla costume in Wise Blood. I think with a rewatch I could formulate these ideas better.

Ape is Potrykus’s first feature and certainly has its moments, though I didn’t immediately respond to it like I did Cookbook. I’ll be processing it for a while.

Next up is Buzzard, which also stars Joshua Burge, who plays Trevor in Ape.

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