A 2021 Film Journey: Day 51

I can tell that this weekend was much needed because even after a day of doing nothing but relaxing, I feel incredibly weary. The fact that I have to log back on tomorrow is a little upsetting given how exhausted I am, but I still managed to get some good movie going in today and hope to fit some in tomorrow as well.

25th Hour (2002, Dir. Spike Lee)

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While most of the films I’ve watched for Black History Month so far this year have told Black stories, my only criteria for myself is that they be directed by a Black filmmaker. Today’s film joins The Old Guard as the films that don’t have Black leads. I call this out in hopes of checking my own subconscious bias because 25th Hour was one of my favorite viewings so far this month. I believe it’s a current favorite because of a restrained Spike Lee in the director’s chair and some sublime acting performances, but I feel the need to call it out none the less.

Edward Norton provides one of the exceptional performances as the lead Monty, a man coming to terms with his incarceration the next morning. As a man preparing to lose the next seven years of his life, he exhibits the five stages of grief highlighted by a memorable bathroom monologue encapsulating the anger state. Accompanying Norton’s stellar performance is a classic outing from arguably the greatest actor of his time Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays Jacob, a professor who is Monty’s childhood friend. The timid, reserved character acts as a perfect foil for Morty’s overconfident persona, and Hoffman was perfectly cast.

As good as the acting in the film is, what makes this film stand out to me above many of Spike Lee’s other films is how the film eschews some of his more bombastic tendencies that become pitfalls to some of his other films (including the two of the ones I reviewed earlier this year). Maybe it’s because Lee outsourced the writing of this screenplay, or maybe it’s because Norton was able to channel Lee’s grandiose vision better than others, but 25th Hour seemed to be Spike Lee working near his peak.

Afterwards, I turned to my personal movie collection to grab a film that I’ve purchased but not yet watched.

Walkabout (1971, Dir. Nicolas Roeg)

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Nicolas Roeg’s Australian New Wave feature Walkabout created an odd double feature when paired with 25th Hour. While the Spike Lee joint was loud and full of wonderfully over the top performances, Walkabout was a much more grounded and methodical viewing (though somehow the much darker film of the two at the same time). The film is about a girl and boy (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) who are abandoned in the outback. After days on their own with little hope of surviving, they are found by an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who guides them to civilization despite the language and custom barrier.

Beyond the setup, the film is remarkably simple. Much of the film is comprised of nothing but the two or three children walking through the desert. The dialogue hides the films themes as the girl attempts to protect her little brother from the reality of their predicament, and the Aboriginal boy does not speak their language (and is not subtitled). It’s through this simplicity that director Roeg extracts depth. The film plays with themes of loss of innocence and is packed with biblical imagery for those willing to be unlike the young boy and seek meaning beyond the literal.

After the two features, I finished off my evening with three more documentary shorts from this year’s Oscar short list.

Colette (2020, Dir. Anthony Giacchino)

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Colette is a documentation of the woman Colette Marin-Catherine a French woman who was part of the resistance against the Nazi’s visiting the work camp that her brother was killed in 75 years prior for the first time. This film fell a little short to me. The initial minutes set it up to tell the story of this woman who joined the French Resistance when she was 14, but instead focus entirely on her brother who died in the war. It feels like the more interesting story that was set up was forgotten minutes in.

Call Center Blues (2020, Dir. Geeta Gandbhir)

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Call Center Blues took a new viewpoint on the immigration crisis that plagues the USA. The short looks at a community of members who have been deported from the USA and work in a call center just across the border in Tijuana. Many have their families still living on the other side of the border, so the community of other deportees becomes all the more important. I enjoyed this one a decent amount, but it definitely lost the through line of the titular call center rather quickly.

Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa (2019, Dir. Barbara Attie, Mike Attie, and Janet Goldwater)

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The best of the three documentary shorts tonight, Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa watches workers of an abortion funding helpline as they are continuously short on funds to give. These depressing calls are intercut with archival footage of congress passing the Hyde Amendment, the reason Medicaid can’t be used to pay for abortions and the funding helpline is necessary. This context helps to elevate this short above the other two.