346) Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) Dir: Werner Herzog Date Released: April 3, 1977 Date Seen: November 3, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5
RV!: eXistenZ (1999) Dir: David Cronenberg Date Released: April 23, 1999 Date Seen: November 3, 2012 Rating: 4/5
351) Detropia (2012) Dir: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady Date Released: Date Seen: November 7, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5
Aguirre: The Wrath of God: I confess, I'm still slowly making my way through Herzog's canonical films, having only recently "gotten" on the same wave length as his films (first breakthrough was Rescue Dawn, then Cave of Forgotten Dreams). I certainly liked this one, and appreciated the way Herzog expresses his pet themes ("The clouds, they are slowly creeping down the mountain, like so many ignoble dreams of conquest on their way to dissipate on the valley below. Climb, little conquistadors, soldier on to your inevitably inexplicable fates! Life is but a dream, so row, row, row your boat, distractedly down that stream!"). And while I greatly admire the lengths he went to make this film, and was often fascinated by the film's dreamy (ie: Herzogian) atmosphere, I also don't think I'm in love with this one, or as fascinated by it as I am by, say, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. Maybe I should check out Nosferatu the Vampyre next....
eXistenZ: After interviewing David Cronenberg, I'm more convinced than ever that this film is a clever, though infrequently under-developed (ex: what the hell's going on with Gas?!) riff on Demonlover more than it is a prototype for The Matrix. Since Cronenberg is a mostly literal-minded (though advanced) thinker, virtual reality just happens to be the way he looks at the next step in corporate espionage/indoctrination. Video games are the future according to this film because they turn tutorial learning into role-playing. So when the goal of the game is revealed to be murder and sabotage, it's not especially surprising: as in any other video game, you learn as you do in eXistenZ. The difference here is, unlike video games that prompt you with knowledge throughout your quest, you only acquire a greater appreciation of your objective at the very end when you've already been manipulated into doing something you maybe didn't want to. Corporate brainwashing, Playstation-style. Of course I like it.
Detropia: Accomplished alarmists Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the co-directors of Jesus Camp and 12th & Delaware, make great docu-horror movies. I've yet to watch one of their films, and not be a little suspicious of their intentions, or the sometimes unsettling ways that they express concern for their subjects. In Detropia, the weakest of the three films I've seen by them, Ewing and Grady push a lot of buttons all at once by enumerating the various community members effected by Detroit's long, steady financial decline.
Basically, I was frustrated by Ewing and Grady's sprawling, quasi-symphonic approach to turning their subjects' respective experiences into a collective story. Admittedly, Detropia is the first of Ewing and Grady's films that I've seen after finally watching (most) of The Wire, so that could be informing my opinion. But to my mind, Ewing and Grady tackle a complex situation by establishing, but never fully developing various tenuously connected characters. I want to know more about the union members, more about the self-absorbed hipster artists, more about the opera house patrons...I mean, who are all these people, and what motivates them beyond their sloganeering goals? Detropia succeeds as an artfully arranged collection of disquieting, context-less footage of a severely depressed part of America, but that's about it, for me. Scary, yes, but not very compelling.