Recent movies: American Psycho, Heat, Wizard of Oz

In the last couple weeks we saw two movies I’d been meaning to watch for a while.

Michael Mann’s Heat was fantastic.  The glittering surfaces of Mann’s fantasy L.A. define a really original noir setting in which Pacino and DeNiro maneuver with melancholy anger until one inevitably destroys the other.  Pacino comments in a DVD extra that in his mind, his character was high on coke half the time, which helps to explain some of his scenery-eating instant-classic rants.  As I watched, I started to realize that 40% of The Dark Knight is taken directly from Heat.  This becomes clearest in the bank heist — the robbery that begins The Dark Knight is practically cut and pasted from one in Heat, including the ominous soundtrack.  There’s also a direct link in the actor William Fichter: he has a modest but important role in Heat and then he shows up as a the mafia bank employee in the opening heist scene of The Dark Knight.  Was this a subtle tribute/acknowledgment on Christopher Nolan’s part?

American Psycho.  Also impressed by this one.  The violence remains disturbing (I actually think it gave me a nightmare), but I found it compelling and original as an exploration of hallucinatory dementia.  It’s also hilarious at moments (Patrick Bateman’s narrated record reviews of Robert Palmer, Huey Lewis and the News, and Phil Collins, whose bland AOR music he seems to require to motivate him to either sex or violence, are very funny) and really interesting as a “historical” film: made in 2000, set in 1987, the representation of Bonfire of the Vanities-era yuppie NYC is stylized and almost cartoonish at times (the giant cell phones) but in ways that I found surprising/unexpected.  It becomes much more than the obvious allegory (heartless Wall Street yuppie as psychopath) you might expect.

The film’s back story is interesting.  Leonardo DeCaprio was set to star until Gloria Steinem prevailed on him to withdraw for the sake of his teenage female fans.  Mary Harron was fired and rehired.  Oliver Stone and David Cronenberg were both attached to it at various times, as was Johnny Depp.  I haven’t read Brett Easton Ellis’s novel, but it seems that Harron did him a real favor by turning it into a narrative that’s at least plausibly feminist.  Easton Ellis, for his part, is still undecided about whether women can be great film directors, because “there’s something about the medium of film itself that I think requires the male gaze.”  Wow: does Laura Mulvey have this to answer for?

We watched The Wizard of Oz with the girls.  I was amused by the 1939 special effects.  Basically, a 12-year-old with a Mac could create more sophisticated effects now (the flowers in Munchkinland are obviously plastic), but here we are, still enjoying it 70 years later, and the Wicked Witch of the West’s sky-writing is still scary.  We had this exchange afterwards:

Iris:  I didn’t think the flying monkeys were so scary.  I would if I saw them in real life, though.  I’d pee my pants off.

Celie, not missing a beat:  If I saw a real flying monkey, I’d pee every piece of pee my body would ever pee.

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