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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...


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Several movies over the last two weeks: Robin and Marian is an intelligent revisionist look at the Robin Hood legend, and I suspect is much more promising than the recent Crowe/Blanchett movie. Reason, Debate and a Story is an interesting Indian movie, the last movie by the director Ritwik Ghatak, about a drunken Bengali intellectual who wanders the countryside in what turns out to be the last days of his life. Love of the Pharoah is a rather untypical Lubitsch silent film, a historical epic, and surprisingly grim, but still effective. Tokyo Drifter was one of the first of Seijun Suzuki's weird gangster films. As it stands, it's interesting, but the tale is a typical noir (the ex-hood who wants to reform but whose old colleagues won't let him) marked by increasingly garish set design. Branded to Kill is a better movie. The Boxer is a movie with a good performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, but its hero, love interest and villain act precisely as you'd expect and want them to. 1776 might make an interesting after school special, and one has sympathy for William Daniel's performance. But the score is pretty dire. Bed and Board is an enjoyable movie, the only problem with it that Truffaut's womanizing and his failure to fully confront undercuts the plot and makes the ending appear sentimental in retrospect. The Green Room is also an intereting movie, and did anyone notice the brief reference to Henry James? Finally I saw Empire. To be more honest, I was in the same room and I was facing the computer, while the whole eight hours playedd on youtube, which in all honesty is all one can reasonably expect in seeing it.

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I don't get to talk about Tree of Life" much and not sure I am going to make anything any clearer for you. But I went to see this film in the theater mainly because seeing Malik's images on the big screen would be a major enhancement. And it was. I was blown away by the film (maybe the beginning of time ran on too long, but even that is debateable). I've never seen a film accomplish what it was saying with so little dialogue. For instance, the images - - Brad Pitt's character, who needed love so badly and did not know how to communicate, hold his baby in his arms so tightly that the baby cried, or the anguish on Jessica Chastain's face when she learns of her loss. Or the anger in this child as he grows up and rebels felt so fresh and real to me.

 

 

When I got home that day, the first thing I had to do was google Jessica Chastain. All I could think was "who is this woman and where has she been"? Well, I soon got the answer to that one. Also, I have watched this film over and over on TV and although it is not the same, I still enjoy it for some of the reasons noted above. It is said that Malik did the film as a tribute to his brother who died so it appears to be a very personal film.

 

 

It is a difficult film and really hard to recommend as people will either go along with it and like it or just be turned off with it. I totally get and respect both opinions.

 

 

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Four movies this week: History of the world, Part I has some jokes so bad, you almost admire their audacity. But most of the rest of the movie is pretty poor, with childishly vulgar humor. I did watch A Gorgeous Kid Like Me on Richard Brody's recommendation in his New Yorker blog. But clearly Brody is not a Truffaut fan (he said this was his favorite movie by him), and if you have admiration for Truffaut's work (Brody is actually a leading biographer of Godard), this film has to be considered a failure. The print shown on TCM wasn't very good, but the main problem with the movie is that as it is presented, the protagonist is a femme fatale who is not only not very attractive, but is singularly unchaming and unplesant. At times she is capable of wrapping men around her fingers, at other points she is stuck with a couple of schmuchks. Out: Spectre is, as they, the audience friendly version of Out: Noli Mi Tangere the 13 hour movie (originally a serial that was never broadcast) into a four hour version. So I suppose the movie of the week was La Cienaga (The Swamp/The Backwater) which I appreciated more than the other movies I've seen by this Argentinian filmmaker.

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Five movies this week. Lord Jim is one of Hollywood's attempts to portray great arguably unfilmable novels on film. As it stands, it's a mixed bag. It has a very good professional atmosphere, with Freddie Young's photography being particuarly noteworthy. Lord Jim is not in fact my favorite Conrad novel, so I can't be sure if the Orientalism is Conrad's fault as well as the movie's. Peter O'Toole's performance is good, if a little roo reminiscent of his T.H. Lawrence. James Mason's much smaller role is also very good. On the other hand, the way Brooks puts Jim's moral dlemmas does suggest why people were looking elsewhere for great cinema. Pursuant to our discussion of great acting vs great direction, The Whisperers is certainly a plus for the direction side. Great performance by Edith Evans competent direction by Bryan Forbes and thoughtful if not profound look at being poor and old aged in sixties London = a perfectly respecable view. Good, arguably great performance by Anna Karina great direction by Jean-Luc Godard on the subject of sixties prostitution in Paris = one of the greatest films ever made. The Wings of the Dove which I saw in an oddly truncated form on televsion (it included the graphic nude scene at the end, but seems much shorter than it should be) did not seem promising before I saw it. And as Miramax costume dramas go, this is considerably less interesting than Howard's End, although trying to turn late James' uniquely difficult latter prose into a film would have challenged anyone. The Soft Skin is more effective, better than Fahrenheit 451 or A Gorgeous Kid Like Me (my least favorite Truffaut films), less effective than The Woman Next Door. So, I suppose the movie of the week is Dust in the Wind, Of all the film-makers of the new Chinese film movement, coming from Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsen is perhaps the hardest for movie audiences to appreciate. One might see this movie and think Taiwanese teenagers are the most well-behaved and orderly in the entire world. It takes some time for Hou's special formal interests and considerably subtlety to come through.

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Four movies this week. The Man who Loved Women is not without intelligence, but ultimately it lacks critical insight into its subject's womanizing. By Love Possessed is an interesting example of the movie that is better than the novel. Usually the movie better than the novel falls into several categories. There is the usual compression, such as Jaws, and there is the movie where the disadvantages of prose can be solved by great acting and intelligent directing, like The Godfather. And there are movies where the director saw something that the author clearly didn't, such as Touch of Evil, The Shining, or Pierrot le Fou. But By Love Possessed is a ponderous, fairly obvious and clumsy soap opera, whose main advantage over the book is that the book is perhaps the most repulsive of all 20 the century novels. These Three is an interesting drama, if not a wholly satisfactory one. (Why would Merle Oberon's character be so damaged by rumours of her fiancee's philandering.) So the movie of the week is clearly As I was moving ahead I occasionaly saw brief glimpses of beauty. Watching nearly five hours of home movies does not sound like a good idea, but when there are by film critic and maker Jonas Mekas, they really are often startingly beautiful.

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Most pleasant surprise of any previously unseen movie this week: *Anna Lacosta.* A hidden gem I'd never even heard of, and a movie that frankly surprised me that Hollywood would even have been capable of producing back in 1958.

 

Biggest disappointment of any first time viewing: *Hi-de-ho.* With Cab Calloway as the lead, I was really looking forward to a movie at least on the level of Lena Horne and Ralph Cooper's *The Duke Is Tops,* but this one turned out to be a total clinker.

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Five movies this week. Wise Blood is interesting, though what struck me the most when seeing it was the way it seemed to move in time from 1945 to 1979 in the space of a few months. (Apparently it had financial troubles and Huston stopped pretending it was 1945). Kiss me Kate is actually a lot of fun. Dangerous when Wet is a not unamusing trifle. The Act of Killing is a disturbing documentary about the mass murderers of Indonesia's Suharto regime, who have so long gotten away with their crimes (political massacres of hundreds of thousands of people) that they appear as psychopaths. Before Midnight is certainly better than the last run of best picture nominees. But it struck me as somewhat off: Ethan Hawke as a very unconvincing intellectual, the switches in tone in the final climactic conversation, the essentially tourist pictue of Greece. To the Wonder strikes me as the better movie.

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Four movies this week. Ruggles of Red Cap seemed amsuing, but because I was busy making dinner, I didn't fully appreciate the middle third. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was interesting, and it was neat to see Hugo Weaving playing somebody other than a supervillian or superhero. The 1928 version of The Fall of the House of Usher is interesting. Touchez paz au Grisbi is also a good solid thriller, even if the version I saw had no actual sound.

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Touchez pas au Grisbi has got to be one of the best movie names I've heard! Good movie too--I have to say that Jean Gabin (so far) has never disappointed me...I want to see Le Chat with he and Simone Signoret someday.

 

Grisbi has a good theme song too :

 

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Five movies over the last two weeks: There are some Hollywood films that really do try to show what small town life is like. The Human Comedy is manifestly not one of those. It's sentimental and pandering (the scene where the soldiers all sing a Christian hymn is especially false, and when I was a teenager a Christian youth group was my main form of social interaction). From Russia with Love has the reputation of being one of the best Bond films, and it certainly actually resembles an espionage thriller. There is a certain effectiveness to it, and Robert Shaw is an effective assassin (up until the point he obligingly tells Connery the whole plot, the way all good assassins do). On the other hand the heroine may be the most vapid of all the Bond girls, so empty we don't bother seeing her change her allegiance. The sexism is rather witless, and there's a gratuitous gypsy cat fight. There are logical holes, such as why Bond simply walks into the Soviet embassy in Istanbul, when he believes the Soviets already know who he is? As for the Boetticher movies, taken individually The Tall T and Comanche Station have many virtues. Taken together, they suffer by having too much in common, a slightly ambiguous hero in Randolph Scott, a damsel in disguise, well shot western scenery and a slightly ambiguous villain whom Scott would prefer not to kill before he inevitably does. So I think the best movie I saw recently was The Grandmaster the new Wong Kar Wai movie.

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Five movies over the past two weeks: To Live and Die in L.A. is an interesting movie. The Wang Chung title song still holds up, though the rest of the score is somewhat mixed. One problem is that Willem Defoe is a more interesting villain than William Peterson as the complex anti-hero. (Although one betrayal doesn't work: who would guess that Peterson would react so foolishly about an Asian-American crook?) The Lodger is an interesting early Hitchcock silent. Songs from the Second Floor with its long takes and stationary camera, is a series of sketches linked by black humour and a growing sense of apocalyptic dread. It's not really to my taste, but it's not a negligible film. I didn't really pay sufficient attention to Burden to Dreams, so the movie of the last two weeks turns out to be Le Havre.

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I watched *History Is Made at Night*, which I recorded some time ago and had never seen. I really liked it. The chemistry between Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer is palpable. The production values were amazing, especially Boyer's suits and Arthur's outfits, as well as the sets. Leo Carrillo was endearing and amusing in a strong supporting role. Of course the almost-Titanic-like ending was a bit strange, and the passengers' hysterical reaction to the good news was OTT. And the iceberg was the oddest iceberg I've ever seen. And the lengths evil Colin Clive was willing to go to was CRAZY! But all in all a very good movie, directed by Frank Borzage.

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Five movies this week. I confess is one of Hitchcock's more contrived movies, with things happening to the innocent priest at the worst possible moment, and with a murderer alternately panicky and passive. Annie get your Gun has a certain energy though I must confess Howard Keel strikes me as a bit of a pill. The Anderson Tapes is interesting in the way that most Lumet movies are. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is, as I've said before, better than its reputation might suggest, but is still too saccharin and shallow to be fully successful. The Big House was interesting, and surprisingly good for an early sound movie. I liked the way the sympathy changed from one character to another.

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Four movies this week: I must say that Osaka Elegy was very disappointing. I missed some of the beginning, but I must say I found it abrupt and unclear in places. Summer with Monika was an interesting early Bergman film. I strongly suspect that Sicilia! would be much more impressive if I were able to understand what happened in it, but unfortunately I could only watch it in Portuguese subtitles. So the movie of the week was Chantal Akerman's D'Est, a wordless movie about the post-USSR eastern block, that increasingly consists of hypnotic tracking shots.

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Five movies this week. Lifeboat is not one of the best of Hitchcock movies-propaganda was never Hitchcock's strong points-but it's not a bad movie. Good Morning is actually a fairly good movie. Wichita has been highly praised in some corners, but I must confess I didn't pay close enough attention to note Tourneur's supposed charms. A Boy and His Dog has a special place in my memory since I remember reading a graphic novel based on it more than two decades ago. As a movie, it is interesting, but definitely not brilliant. Cannibalism, rape, a fascist society based on fifties Americana: there's nothing too special here, and it's not as resonant as The Last Battle or The Quiet Earth. It is, however, manifestly better Logan's Run to name one seventies sci fi blockbuster. So the movie of the week is Eisenstein's The General Line, available on youtube.

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I'd like to say more about The General Line. While hardly innocent before 1929, collectivization was the crime that could not be forgiven and the economic disaster it could not recover from. On the other hand, it would be hard to think of a film before 1930 that gives a more realistic picture of farming.

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Last week I saw five movies, all worthy of interest. The Honeymoon Killers is an interesting movie, about two people who would be very unlikeable even if they were not brutal murderers, yet does not renounce all compassion for them. Incidentally, it's striking that Shirley Stoler and her character is often described as extraordinarily obese. Clearly times have changed. The obvious comparison to The Collector is Repulsion, and the latter is patently the better movie. This isn't to say that Terrence Stamp doesn't give a good performance. But the class angle doesn't fit in right. I haven't read the John Fowles novel, but I suspect it's his fault for clumsily handling the matter. Christopher Strong is an interesting romantic drama in a genre I don't particularly care for. Hepburn is good in it. Looney Tunes: Back in Action is probably the best movie of the week, showing Joe Dante's ingenuity and wit. Finally there is La Nuit au Carrefour, Renoir's adaptation of a Maigret novel, which is interesting, though it's a bit confusing with some material lost.

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Six movies this week, with Doomed Love and Nouvelle Vague being the most promising of the lot, but both hampered by the absence of English subtitles. I am curious yellow is, as I already said before, not a cheap sex exploitation film, but more of an unimaginative Masculin Feminin with its genius replaced by nudity. The Cobweb is the kind of well directed Hollywood soap film that is worth paying attention to, even if it's not truly all that good. Nightmare Alley was interesting, even if critics think that it has the wrong ration of termite to white elephant art. Verboten!, which supposedly has the right ration, is to me clearly less impressive, overly didactic and overwrought.

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Six movies this week as well: Boy was a powerful, uncompromising movie,and I'm glad TCM showed it. Trader Horn is the kind of racist heart of Africa movie that people born after 1969 have likely only seen in parodies. Having said W.S van Dyke has directed it with more interest than the average 1931 movie, and it's certainly better than the other two best 1930-1931 best picture nominees I've seen. A Touch of Sin was the best movie of the week, sort of like what a Tarantino movie would be like if Tarantino replaced his loquaciousness with subtlety and a social conscience and had a meretriciousness ****. Byzantium by contrast was basically competent, and at its best reasonably competent. Sisters was, like most De Palma films, quite dreadful. It's one thing to be inspired by Hitchcock, another just to witlessly copy him. Finally A Nos Amours is an interesting movie about a promiscuous teenager in a troubled upper middle class family. It's worth seeing, and not simply for the nudity.

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Five wothy movies this week, starting off with Intruder in the Dust, which is certainly better than the other five Clarence Brown movies I've seen, with Juano Hermandez giving a good performance as Lucas Beauchamp. Gravity is a visually interesting movie. Arguably it's just Apollo 13 with better effects and a higher body count, and I was a little disappointed because some critics had suggested the whole movie was a single take, But that doesn't mean the admirers of the movie are wrong. I must confess that I didn't fully get all of Bluebeard because I was busy working at my computer instead of giving it my full attention. And The Pit and the Pendulum didn't get my full attention of it during its middle third, because I was unduly drowsy. If Vincent Price was monster of ham I must have missed it. But while not as good as The Masque of the Red Death it's not an unworthy film and it has a very nasty final shot. Finally there's Waiting for Happiness a strange, difficult, visually striking film set in Mauritania, one about a young boy, the other a college student.

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Four even better movies this week: 12 Years a Slave and Blue Jasmine are as good as the critical consensus say they are, and Cate Blanchett is as good as a morally compromised Blanche DuBois as everyone says she is. The Flame and the Arrow is a perfectly good adventure movie, if not as brilliant as The Adventures of Robin Hood perfectly fine in its own right. And if White Material is not as good as Beau Travail or The Intruder it is still an intelligent, well thought out film.

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Five movies this week: The New Babylon is an impressive 1929 Soviet movie about the Paris Commune. Not as good, I would admit, as Peter Watkins 2000 movie, but still worth watching. The Tall Target is a surprisingly good thriller. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring is a visually beautiful and thoughtful movie which makes Bhuddism interesting. Go West is like many Keaton movies with relatively small gangs building up to a remarkable climax: the jokes on the way are not as good as in his other movies. Finally Modern Romance is an interesting portrait of solipsism and jealously. But it's not really a romance (Albert Brooks is in virtually every scene, while his girlfriend is mostly not) and it's not clear why any woman would tolerate him.

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