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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...

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The Finger Points - Richard Barthelmess (with a bad southern accent) moves from Savannah to Chicago to work on a newspaper, only to end up on a gangster's payroll. Fay Wray is disappointed in him. With Clark Gable as a mob hood.

Realistic denouement scene. A fine moment for Richard.

Svengali (1931) - John Barrymore with a pointy beard uses hypnosis to mentally dominate Marion Marsh into becoming a singing sensation. Lots of nice expressionistic touches in this one.

I love MM (both of them)

Arsene Lupin (1932) - Gentleman thief John Barrymore tries to outwit police inspector Lionel Barrymore, while also wooing Karen Morley. There are some good smoldering love scenes in this one.

Using the characterizations from the books, I would have reversed the roles. John would have made a fine Arsene. Brother Lionel, the stumbling Ganimard.

"Sweet Kitty Bellairs" (1930)--I found this by accident, mislabeled on another website.  Since this is coming up in Jan. 2018, I'll just say this is almost all music, with a plot about a girl in love with three men in the 18th century.  The songs fit the material like a glove, and the film is most amusing.  Recommended.

Sheer joy

--

ps where is the quote bubble?

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14 minutes ago, laffite said:

 

Arsene Lupin (1932) - Gentleman thief John Barrymore tries to outwit police inspector Lionel Barrymore, while also wooing Karen Morley. There are some good smoldering love scenes in this one.

Using the characterizations from the books, I would have reversed the roles. John would have made a fine Arsene. Brother Lionel, the stumbling Ganimard.

 

I don't quite understand your observation about reversing roles. John was the smooth title character and Lionel did play the frustrated detective.

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16 minutes ago, TomJH said:

I don't quite understand your observation about reversing roles. John was the smooth title character and Lionel did play the frustrated detective.

Gosh thanks ... wow...!  I have a memory of trying to watch this and gave up for reasons now proven wrong. Amazing, I would have lost money on a wager.

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the worst--Since I know that Hemingway was not the saint everyone said he was,and he managed his money by living off of rich women,and even leaving them if they lost their money,I don't care for the Sainthood everyone gives him.There were plenty of other good writers who didn't marry to support themselves,and I don't think he's even the BEST WRITER of them.

the best--I agree with the author here,who notes that money and gold IS VERY IMPORTANT,AND IF you are poor they are VERY VERY IMPORTANT.--Some cockeyed notion that "life is manageable with no money" is in the area of Frank Capra,(who I liked in my youth,but now see as a total  idiot.)Ask the Chinese and Jews; they have a huge litany of old sayings,dealing with HOW "life is so lousy without money,.even wisdom does not make up for it."I could quote you a lot of them.They should know;the Chinese had to sell their kids,or spouses,cause they did not have enough money to feed them.In states like the Pacific Northwest,where money means you eat,and being poor means you rifle thru resorts' garbage cans.(true stories) to eat,money means a great deal.--as I am sure the United States' peoples now realize,.having such bad paying jobs they make enough to still qualify for welfare.(true stories.) Those movies that denote life being ok while poor were made during the eras when people could manage well in this society without being rich;that is no longer true.  And, in most societies, being poor means no money for medical treatment, and if you get hurt,you may die.---cause you cannot work. My saying is"It's better to be rich than poor,cause I've been poor,and you can HAVE IT!!"

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I saw four movies over the last two weeks:  three last week and one the week before.  Men go to Battle has been described as civil war mumblecore, but it does have its virtues.  While civil war soldiers did, on the whole, have clear ideas why they were fighting, it's not surprising that one of the two protagonists does not.  There is a sense of what's it like farming in rural Kentucky.  And there is the sense of how dark it often is (the contrast with the recent The Beguiled struck me).  Get Out might have been better if I had more experience with Jordan Peele's humour.  As a conceit, the movie works more on African-American paranoia rather than a plausible metaphor.  Not to give too much away, one would think the villains could have achieved more by not bringing up the subject at all.

Pete's Dragon, the remake, has some charm and I suppose it's my fault for reading a book of 25+ year old movie reviews than concentrating on the movie itself.  Everybody in it is very nice.  And yet, if people didn't really care much for the original (which makes its TCM premiere next month) I think kids at the time found the animated Elliot more impressive than this version's CGI one.  A Special Day is the movie of the fortnight.  Would it make my top 10 for 1977?  No, and I wouldn't have nominated Mastroianni and Loren.  But they come close.  Mastroianni is better as the anti-fascist homosexual about the be deported internally for his "perversions" than Loren as one might think was the classic oscar bait of the beautiful actress deglamorizing herself for the role.  But she's good as well as the not very happy housewife.  It's a sign of Scola's touch that she doesn't make her more anti-fascist than she is. Admittedly Mussolini was at the height of his popularity after the Conquest of Ethiopia but there was plenty of well deserved skepticism. The story is, if not brilliant, reasonably subtle and thoughtful.  Since most of the movie takes place in the two apartment of the main characters, Scola has to develop a unique camera style so it doesn't seem static.  I think it's effective, without being ostentatious. 

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I saw five movies this week.  Guelwaar is an interesting movie by Sengalese director Ousmane Sembene.  This movie involves the death, and possible murder, of a local opposition figure, criticism of corruption and foreign movie, while much of the action involves two corpses being buried in the wrong two different cemeteries.  Dunkirk involved three differing time frames.  I will admit that even I teared up at the end once the movie took a bow for the successful evacuation.  The movie itself is little more than competent, with little character development, and with the insistent score making it difficult to hear the not particularly interesting characters.  But there are a couple of scenes of drownings, so there's that.  Of Human Hearts is one of those movies where Hollywood says, we really love flyover country, we do!  In this case the story is of a preacher and his family on the Ohio frontier.  As the movie starts, it looks more promising than One Foot in Heaven, since Walter Huston is a better actor than Fredric March, and the movie doesn't always take his side.  On the other hand, Huston is dead by the 75 minute mark and the movie descends to having Abraham Lincoln force James Stewart to write a letter to his mother.  Beulah Bondi got an oscar nomination that she should have received a year earlier for Make Way for Tomorrow. 

Much better were the other two movies.  Mother! is an interesting, strange movie.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a good performance as an understandably alarmed woman and as an allegorical figure.  Michelle Pfeiffer gives a good account as the wife who, along with husband Ed Harris, intrudes on Lawrence's happiness.  Things to Come is the second movie of 2016 to have a great Isabelle Huppert performance:  this is the movie where she doesn't have an  unhealthy relationship with her rapist.  One might point out that Huppert faces both a divorcing husband and a dying mother, who are less characters in their own right than obstacles to complicate Huppert's life.  Huppert's performance is such that one tends to ignore such things.

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I watched 17 movies for the first time this past week, all from 1933. Here they are in order from the one I liked the best to the least.

The Best of the Week was Dragnet Girl, a silent Japanese crime drama/romance from director Yasujiro Ozu. A gang moll who works a legit job to keep her gang boss boyfriend in more dough grows unstable when it looks like her honey is making time with the good-girl sister of the gang's newest recruit. Very good characterizations and an interesting visual flair put this one on top.  (8/10)

From Headquarters is good little police procedure programmer featuring George Brent as a police detective investigating a murder. He gets ample help from the police forensics crew, and the focus on their techniques make this a 30's version of CSI. (7/10)

Havana Widows features the great duo of Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell as gold-digging show girls who go to Havana to try and swindle some poor rich sap out of his dough. Delightfully Pre-Code.  (7/10)

I'm No Angel was one of Mae West's biggest hits, a pre-code wonder with Mae as a circus-performer-turned-gold-digger who sets her sights on Cary Grant. Loads of good one-liners and outrageous fashions.  (7/10)

Hell Below is a WW1 submarine warfare movie with Robert Montgomery, Walter Huston, and Robert Young as officers aboard a sub in the Mediterranean. Eugene Pallette and Jimmy Durante are comic relief, but the war scenes are brutal and violent, with some shocking moments for a movie from this period.  (7/10) 

Apart from You, a Japanese silent tearjerker about a geisha and her teenage son who goes delinquent out of shame, is an early effort from Mikio Naruse. Sumiko Mizukubo is good as the geisha's co-worker who tries to set the young man on the right path.  (7/10)

Flying Down to Rio marked the first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers teaming, but they're in support of Gene Raymond and Dolores Del Rio. The mid-film sequence to "The Carioca" is a highlight, but it can't match the movie's end number, with lots of girls in silly outfits strapped to airplane wings, "dancing" while the planes are in flight.  (7/10)

The Eagle and the Hawk is another WW1 aviation movie, this time with Fredric March and Cary Grant as pilots trying to live with the guilt of surviving while so many comrades die.  (7/10)

Before Dawn is a short but interesting thriller featuring a group of people, including detective Stuart Erwin, psychic Dorothy Wilson, doctor Warner Oland, and Dugley Digges, all in a big creepy house looking for hidden loot while a masked killer is on the loose.  (7/10)

Every-Night Dreams is another silent Japanese movie, this one also from Mikio Naruse. It concerns a dive bar hostess who struggles to give a good life to her young son, while the kid's deadbeat dad tries to find a job. Good, but formulaic.  (7/10)

Christopher Strong is a romantic drama featuring aviatrix Katharine Hepburn having an affair with married politician Colin Clive. Hepburn's shiny moth costume steals the show.  (6/10)

Don Quixote is director G.W. Pabst's adaptation of Cervantes' work, starring Feodor Chaliapin as the addle-brained nobleman who thinks he's a knight. I watched the English language version, so maybe the French one is better, as this left me cold.  (5/10)

Hard to Handle stars Jimmy Cagney as a fast-talking huckster who makes his living coming up with more and more grandiose lines of BS to sell stuff. Ruth Donnelly as a gold-digging mother is like nails on a chalkboard. One of Cagney's lesser efforts.  (5/10)  

Damaged Lives is an early VD "health" film made by Columbia for the Canadian market. A business guy has a fling with a "loose woman" and gets syphilis. He gives it to his new wife, and they have to live with the shame. Jason Robards Sr. looks on with concern.  (5/10)

Somewhere in Sonora is another B western starring John Wayne and Duke the horse. This one is set in contemporary times, but you'd only know it from the first scene featuring a car. Most of it is South of the Border hokum with Wayne looking for a young Paul Fix who's fallen in with a gang of bandits. (4/10)

In the Wake of the Bounty marked Errol Flynn's movie debut, and it's a real stinker. The second half, comprised primarily of documentary footage of Pitcairn Island, isn't bad. But the first half, a reenactment of the mutiny on the bounty with Flynn as Fletcher Christian, is awful, with terrible acting, bad dialogue, and very cheap sets. This would normally have been my pick for worst, but there was one more dog, and I do mean dog...  (4/10)

The Worst of the Week was The Flaming Signal, a thoroughly ridiculous effort starring Flash the Wonder Dog as himself. He and his owner (John Horsely) crash land on a small South Pacific island where local bad guy Noah Beery exploits the natives for their valuable pearls. Cheap, dumb, and ludicrous, this will appeal to the "so-bad-its-good" viewers.  (3/10)

I re-watched several, also from 1933:

  • King Kong  (10/10)
  • Duck Soup  (9/10)
  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse  (9/10)
  • Footlight Parade  (8/10)
  • 42nd Street  (8/10)
  • The Invisible Man  (8/10)
  • Queen Christina  (8/10)
  • Cavalcade  (7/10)
  • Dinner at Eight  (7/10)
  • Lady Killer  (7/10)
  • The Ghoul  (6/10)
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Larry - - I saw Dragnet Girl years ago at a film festival in Paris. It was dated 1933 and I was disappointed it was a silent movie.  So it made me realize just how far ahead American movies were in terms of Technology.

However, it's a good film  for people to see who think that  Ozu only made family dramas.

I love the ending in this movie, but I won't say what it is cuz I don't want to spoil it for other people.

The lead in Dragnet Girl reminds me so much of Jimmy Cagney - - the way he moved, the way he acted-- he really had it down.

I wish everyone could see these kind of films back in the 1930s from Japan so they could realize just how Progressive their film industry was and also how they made modern films, as well as they made jidaigeki classics.

My favorite line from the movie is-- I think it I remember it right, "Even a dog can listen", referring to the RCA Victor dog on the record labels.

It's a good movie!

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I saw six movies last week: one very good, five not so much.  Wonderstruck is the good one, an enchanting and intelligent movie involving two deaf children in two different time zones trying to make their way in New York.  Todd Haynes picture of the seventies is better than that of the twenties, which doesn't get that era's sense of wealth and progress.  By contrast, Haynes' seventies is usefully cluttered.  Admittedly, it helps if you find dioramas charming (much of the movie takes place in museums).  Plus there is one brilliant scene where a classic seventies song comes out of nowhere.  Flirtation Walk has the distinction of being the third Frank Borzage movie to be nominated for Best Picture (or Best outstanding Production).  I doubt that anyone seeing would think it was in the top three Borzage movies.  It's basically a trifle, for people who thought that the problem with Dames was too many Busby Berkeley numbers, too many memorable songs, and too little Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. Viktoria is a 2014 Bulgarian movie not be confused with the 2015 German movie Victoria.  It's about a woman in the last decade of Bulgaria's Communist rule who would prefer not to have a child but, despite her best efforts, has one anyways.  The title character has no umbilical cord or navel and because she was born on the Bulgarian national day, she becomes the baby of the decade.  So the first half of the movie is a little strange and a very obvious satire on the Communist regime.  Then halfway through the two and a half hour movie the government falls, but Viktoria and her mother are still miserable.  The movie is full of slow, static shots, often in long shot, and one wishes this style was used by someone who had a point.

Thursday was apparently "All the Marsha Mason you can stand" day, with three of her movies seen.  Cinderella Liberty, it turns out, is not the name of her character, but a naval term for a certain kind of pass.  Although Mason got an Oscar nomination, it's James Caan who is the core of the movie.  Arguably Mason is more of a supporting character than a lead actress.  The movie originated from the same novelist beyond The Last Detail.  I'm not the biggest fan of that movie, but whereas Nicholson gave a good performance that should be overshadowed by better ones, this movie has a number of serious problems, and Mason is key to two of them.  One can understand that Mason's quasi-prostitute character is not supposed to be the most admirable of people.  But it's not clear why Caan's character would fall in love with her and try to marry her.  And while one can understand that Mason isn't the best mother to her half-black son, one doesn't get a sense of a real parental relationship.  Her character is shallowly conceived.  The Goodbye Girl is a much better movie, and one can enjoy Mason's performance, along with Richard Dreyfuss' and Quinn Cummings'.  That doesn't mean the movie deserved its oscar nominations; it's a bit off, with too much of a sitcom structure, with a little PG rated naughtiness.  Although it's better than the previous Neil Simon movie The Sunshine Boys, a key joke doesn't work well, in which a director insists Richard III was a homosexual and Dreyfuss plays him like a flaming queen.  (Why not play him like John Gielgud, who after all played Clarence in the Olivier movie?)  Blume in Love has Mason playing one of George Segal's girlfriends while he pines for the wife who divorced him.  This is clearly, for no fault of Mason's, the worst movie of the week.  For a start, Segal/Blume seems incapable of having a mature relationship, caring only about sex.  So it's hard to sympathize with him.  And while Anspach has a job and a social conscience (she's a welfare case worker), much of the movie shoots her as a bimbo.  And this is before the ghastly plot twist that would have revolted people even before the Weinstein revelations.  Oddly enough, Mazursky's marriage lasted more than sixty years until his death. 

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Four movies this week:  The FBI Story suspiciously resembles an official film.  It's striking that Stewart starts off by attacking the ****, when J. Edgar Hoover's contribution to the civil rights struggle was trying to besmirch Martin Luther King's name.  The back story of Stewart and his wife is not very interesting, though some of the cases discussed show the competence that Mervyn Le Roy put to better use in other movies.  The Villainess is a Korean movie that starts with a single take with the protagonist rampaging and murdering a couple of dozen criminals.  It's shot like a video game so one the one hand it's striking to look at, while on the other hand it's repulsive because, duh, mass murder shouldn't look like a video game.  As the movie proceeds, the movie becomes more interesting and we learn more about the character, even if the similarities to La Femme Nikita are a little too obvious.  But then a enemy whose motivation doesn't really match his malignancy and a predictably elongated final sequence once the point has been lost, kind of spoils the end.

Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte is sort of a spiritual successor to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane which stars Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead, and it makes one wonder why Hollywood couldn't find them to be in a better movie.  Not a bad example of the Southern Gothic genre, though it goes on, de Havilland is better than the other cast members, and the introduction amounts to a big giveaway to viewers of Baby Jane.  Kate Plays Christine involves the famous (but unrecorded) suicide of a television anchor in 1974 on live television.  Kate Lynn Sheil is going to play the eponymous Christine.  And so it seems that we're not watching a documentary about the unfortunate anchor, but a documentary about Sheil making a docudrama about her.  If this appears unpromisingly meta, it does improve up until the end, when the movie takes a bold, rather hypocritical turn for the worse.

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I saw five movies last week.  The Florida Project is one of the most highly praised movies of the year.  But I found this movie about a girl and her young poor mother living in a motel near Disneyworld one of the most exhausting movies I've ever seen.  It's exhausting, in fact, to the point of being excruciating.  Sean Baker uses lots of little short fevered scenes that make the movie seem longer than it actually is.  When I realized that there was more than forty minutes left, my heart sank.  Never have I wished more for a movie to end.  Part of the problem is that the girl and her mother are so patently irresponsible you quickly get a sense of impending disaster that is insufferable to experience.  (The girl and her friends accidentally burn down some abandoned buildings well before the half way mark).  To vary Chekov's quip, the movie is like watching a small (and very annoying) child, play with a gun for 110 minutes.  Many, indeed most, critics admired its take on poverty.  But by having the central pair portrayed as rampaging ids, with only cursory context it's close to conservative contempt for the poor people.  Willem Defoe acquits himself well, putting his experience playing Jesus to good use while portraying an infinitely tolerant apartment manager.

The Landlord was the first Hal Ashby movie, and its story about a rich nitwit of good intentions playing by Beau Bridges becoming an "inner-city" landlord at best appears as a rough draft for more interesting movies like Harold and Maude.  Lee Grant got an oscar nomination as Bridges' mother in particular seems a rough draft for the much better performance Vivian Pickles did in that movie.  As it stands, it's a little too obvious and dated in its liberal self-righteousness.  (Several references by Bridges' racist coterie to "law and order" are particularly clumsy.) Having Bridges in two interracial relationship may have been edgy in 1970, and the fact that they're troubled shows some understanding on Ashby's part.  But I felt that someone should have pointed out that white landlords have been sleeping with their black tenants for centuries in New York whether the latter liked it or not. Mademoiselle unites a script from two leading French novelists with cinematic successes in the past, one of France's leading actresses playing a sexually repressed schoolteacher, and director Tony Richardson.  I'm inclined to blame Richardson, an overrated director, as to why this movie is so uninvolving, not passionate or intelligent enough to deal with Moreau's twisted lusts.

Bitter Moon is I suppose the movie of the week.  The version I saw on youtube had nudity but was missing 23 minutes.  Nevertheless this account of an unhappy relationship between a selfish American, played by Peter Coyote, and the french women he seduces, works wells, as do the other Polanski movies I've seen.  20th Century Women is a vaguely autobiographical movie about the director's adolescence, with the three women being Annette Bening as his much older mother, Elle Fanning as the friend of his never to be consummated dreams, and Greta Gerwig as a slightly eccentric tenant.  "Slightly eccentric"  is a good way of describing the characters, who are laid back but otherwise sensible in 1979 Santa Barbara.  The movie doesn't crassly remind everyone of the year, and everyone does well in their roles.  Fanning and Gerwig are especially noteworthy.  If I described the other "women' movie of 2016, Certain Women, as four women in search of an epiphany, this movie does end wondering about its overall significance.  Three of the five cast members leave the mother/son and each other.  Nothing particularly dramatic happens, no particularly intense experience takes place, there's no grand insights gained.  I suppose you really had to be there.

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I saw three movies last week.  Your Name is a charming anime film about a teenage boy and girl who find they are switching bodies.  Later, they find out they are not only switching in place (the boy lives in Tokyo, the girl in a charming village), but also in time as well.  It's OK, although there are too many false endings until the end.  Office Space features a noteworthy performance by Gary Cole as an unpleasant, passive-aggressive boss.  But while it's competent, it's not especially brilliant.  The Killing of a Sacred Deer is what I call "misanthropy chic."  It's supposedly a satire, but of what exactly, except of humanity as a whole?  Whereas in the director's previous films Dogtooth and The Lobster, it was clear that the characters were in a strange situtation, Colin Farrell is "off" even before he finds himself in the peculiar situation he finds himself in.  Since Farrell and Kidman don't really appear human in the first place, there's no moral point to the manipulations the director puts them through.  I think the giveaway is when the daughter puts on lipstick in a way that doesn't resemble how anyone would actually do that.  It's not sexy, it's not awkward (the character is 14 years old), it's just...off.

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I saw four movies last week.  Face Places was the keeper, as Agnes Varda, 89 years and with failing eye sight, travels across France with a photographer young enough to be her grandson who makes murals out of giant blown-up photographs.  It's quirky, fascinating, clever, with a real sense of place.  Johnny Eager is surprisingly competent with Robert Taylor as the rogue ne'er do well who realizes he has to change for the better.  One sees Lana Turner's star power, even though for much of the movie she's played for a sucker.  Van Helfin won an oscar as Eager's drunken conscience.  It's not a bad performance, though I wouldn't have nominated it.

Alexander's Ragtime Band features the music of Irving Berlin and a less than inspired love story.  Aside from the problem that Tyrone Power is more the great name of a movie actor, rather than the name of a great movie actor, there's also the problem that the songs don't cohere very well with the plot.  Actually they don't cohere at all.  The characters play musicians who play Irving Berlin songs while living their not very interesting lives.  The central romantic relationship is not only very involving, but often involves a lot of awkward happenstance as characters get married, get divorced, while not keeping other characters properly informed of matters.  The Death of Louis XIV could be described as a sequel to The Rise of Power of Louis XIV.  It's an interesting movie, even if it basically watching Jean-Pierre Leaud spend 110 minutes dying in his room.  The last line, one of quite undeserved complaceny, is a nice touch.

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Five movies this week.  The Bishop's Wife, while clearly not as good as its fellow Christmas movies of 1946 and 1947 It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, is a perfectly charming film, which no doubts benefits from having  the perfectly charming Cary Grant as the lead.  Real Life is the first of Albert Brooks' films about monstrous narcissists (played by Brooks).  This works better than Modern Romance, when it was not clear what Brooks' love interest saw in him in the first place.  Brooks sort of playing himself in a vainglorious attempt to remake "An American Family" and this attempt at reality television twenty years before such shows became endemic.  Certainly the ending is very funny.  Three Songs About Lenin, at least in the format I saw it in, does not give too much attention to Stalin (a shot of him at Lenin's funeral, a poster alongside Lenin's, a couple of shots of him watching a parade.)  It's not as innovative as his previous movies, or earlier Soviet movies five years earlier.  It certainly stresses material achievement over liberation. On the other hand, it is still an interesting documentary.

The other two movies are two of Oscar's less defensible choices.  Doctor Dolittle apparently won its startling large number of nominations thanks to an unbelievable lobbying effort.  It certainly seems to have put more thought into it than in the movie.  Rex Harrison, despite nearly being fired, isn't the problem.  If he doesn't have the qualities I only vaguely remember from the original books, he's more charming than Anthony Newley or Samantha Eggar.  The real problem is that the movie doesn't have much of a plot.  It meanders along, and the people involved didn't know how to make talking animals interesting.  Peyton Place got a ridiculous five acting nominations as a reward for its financial success.  I can understand why it got two supporting actress nominations; if you're not going to nomination foreign language films the choices are pretty grim.  But two supporting actor nominations, including one for Russ Tamblyn's eminently forgettable love interest?  In the same year as 12 Angry Men and Paths of Glory?  As for the movie itself it's self-serving, prurient and smug.  If you want to see Lana Turner act, watch Imitation of Life.

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I saw five movies this week.  I have distinct memories of seeing a preview of Xanadu on July 3, 1980.  And now I've actually seen it.  It's hard to deny Dave Kehr's comment that "it's the perfect crystallization of a 13-year-old girl's taste," with a climax in a roller disco coming out a year after Americans had become sick of both.  At least Gene Kelly dances (all too briefly) and Olivia Newton-John can sing, adequately enough.  But poor Michael Bell is given nothing to do by a weak script and fatuous direction.  OJ: Made in America is the oscar winning documentary that gave ESPN new respect.  You might wonder if he deserves three hours more than Max Ophuls gave to the Nazi occupation of France.  The first two episodes (out of five) are the best, before the murder.  As it goes on, one notes certain questions.  Brown's sister and Goldman's father are prominent witnesses, none of Simpson's relatives appear.  One wouldn't learn that there have been major scandals with the LAPD and race after the Simpson trial, and for that matter with forensics.  There's something disingenuous about Marcia Clark at one point bewailing the injustice of colleague Christopher Darden being viewed as an uncle tom, and then elsewhere blaming him (who declined to be interviewed) for a prosecutorial gambit that went wrong.  It's also striking that the movie doesn't provide a larger history of domestic violence, or sport and celebrity narcissism.  One might also ask why victims of police violence don't get to use civil suits like the Brown/Goldman families.  One might well ask.  The movie doesn't.

The Disaster Artist is, of course, about Tommy Wiseau, the remarkably unself aware make of The Room, who despite telling obvious lies about his age and his hometown, is somehow independently wealthy enough to make what appears to be a stunningly incompetent movie.  The movie itself and James Franco are moderately amusing in relating this strange tale.  Perceval le Gallois is clearly the movie of the week, a legendary tale retold on a series of almost strange sets, done with Eric Rohmer's ineffable style. To quote Leah Anderst:  "In Perceval, Rohmer creates sets and instructs his actors to perform in ways that mimic the imagery found in medieval illuminated manuscripts. The actors, especially the members of the chorus who narrate and comment upon the action, often hold their hands upright and open, much as figures are portrayed in medieval artwork. The film’s few artificial trees that signal this or that forest are each composed of four large rounded leaves, again appearing more like an illustration than an actual tree. The space where the episodic narrative unfolds is a tightly bounded, circular area with a single set created for outdoor scenes and a single interior each doing double or triple duty as various castles and woods where Perceval follows his adventures."  Finally The Witch has an effective score, an ominous style, and some taste.  On the other hand it doesn't really have anything to say about the subject.  It plays with Christian themes of despair and guilt, but shows little empathy or insight.  As Will Leitch comments about the patriarch:  "Sure, he’s got some outdated views—he’s 500 years old— but there’s still a witch trying to kill his family, cut the guy a break."

 

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A striking six movies for the first week of 2018.  Let's start with the last two movies of 2017.  By most standards Olympus Has Fallen is an appalling film, cruelly violent, idiotically implausible, using torture as a joke, with an uncharismatic leading man, little humor, and cheap sentiment as a substitute for thought.  However, it's actually kind of a riot that it has, as a major plot point, the South Korean Security services so easily infiltrated by the villains.  Considering that in the seventies they had more informers per capita than the Stasi, they must have been infuriated.  And this is another movie where the villains actually use the United States' own overwhelming might against them.  Moving on to the better of the two long delayed sequels I saw this week, The Last Jedi actually works fairly well on its own terms.  It benefits from it not being clear for once which of the major characters will survive, while also maintaining the increasing desperation of the heroes throughout the movie.

Alexander Hamilton is a dull, somewhat preposterous movie, with George Arliss playing Alexander Hamilton while being 25-30 years older than the actual historical figure.  It certainly doesn't really give any particular reason why we should support Hamilton's plans, except that he's the hero.  And Arliss more resembles the wily Disraeli than he does Hamilton.  Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is, if not a perfect comedy, is certainly a strange one, almost endearingly so.  Passive aggressive conversations, an insane sequence of jumping out of a plane and landing on a mountain, and a wild car chase at the end, it certainly offers something.

Smilin' Through depends on what you think of Norma Shearer and Fredric March, and my view is that they're OK, but not especially interesting.  If people are surprised that Henry Hathaway made a movie as strange and endearing as Peter Ibbetson, well Smilin' Through takes some supernatural elements and makes something much more conventional.  Blade Runner 2049 is an unnecessary sequel, since the Director's cut clearly implied that the two main characters were doomed.  Denis Villeneuve has to find some way to recapture the stunning misc-en-scene of the original and the result varies from "Unimaginatively Similar" to "Nice Try."  The screenplay also lacks the occasional spice and vigor of the original.  The movie advances thirty years into the future, without really developing or advancing any of the themes of the original movie.  Also, Villeneuve should learn that Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Antonioni had events take place in real time for a reason, not because they mistook portentousness for gravitas.

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On 12/31/2017 at 3:47 AM, skimpole said:

I saw five movies this week.  I have distinct memories of seeing a preview of Xanadu on July 3, 1980.  And now I've actually seen it.  It's hard to deny Dave Kehr's comment that "it's the perfect crystallization of a 13-year-old girl's taste," with a climax in a roller disco coming out a year after Americans had become sick of both.  At least Gene Kelly dances (all too briefly) and Olivia Newton-John can sing, adequately enough.  But poor Michael Bell is given nothing to do by a weak script and fatuous direction. 

(Michael Beck, the good Warrior who came out to play-ayy.)

For thirty years, I've been pointing out the mistake most people make due to the movie opening in theaters within a month of the Village People train-wreck "Can't Stop the Music", and most people to this day who haven't seen either literally can't tell the two movies apart by title.  (The fact that end-of-summer promotional theatrical re-releases would show the two movies together in a double-feature didn't help the issue any either.)  The Razzie awards dogpiled on both movies for the cheap disco-bashing joke--even though there's no actual disco music in "Xanadu"--and testament to the confusion since, quick, which one won Worst Picture of 1980?  

And Gene Kelly only took the role on the request that he didn't have to dance, but after talking with choreographer Kenny Ortega, he agreed to do the one tap number, if Kelly got to direct it.  Play it next to any one of Kelly's own MGM-directed musical numbers, it matches up shot for shot, right down to focusing on himself at the end.

I've also heard rumors of a longer abandoned two-hour version that previewed badly, where Kelly also sang "Singin' in the Rain" on roller skates, but that's only hearsay.  My one eccentric film-Ahab quest since seeing it in the theater has been to track down more evidence of the "lost" two-hour cut--In Olivia's big song medley at the end, with artsy screen-wipe edits aplenty, we're literally seeing Edited Highlights, and the "All Over the World" number must have been even loonier before it was chopped into hash.

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5 hours ago, EricJ said:

For thirty years, I've been pointing out the mistake most people make due to the movie opening in theaters within a month of the Village People train-wreck "Can't Stop the Music", and most people to this day who haven't seen either literally can't tell the two movies apart by title.  (The fact that end-of-summer promotional theatrical re-releases would show the two movies together in a double-feature didn't help the issue any either.)  The Razzie awards dogpiled on both movies for the cheap disco-bashing joke--even though there's no actual disco music in "Xanadu"--and testament to the confusion since, quick, which one won Worst Picture of 1980?  

Don't Stop the Music won the Razzie. I think it might have been the very first Razzie worst picture award.

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Does XANADU qualify for the 'so bad it's good" category?

I've never seen the movie, so I wouldn't know....but I know the critics clobbered it (not that I care what they think) and it does seem to have a cult following.

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26 minutes ago, Bethluvsfilms said:

Does XANADU qualify for the 'so bad it's good" category?

I've never seen the movie, so I wouldn't know....but I know the critics clobbered it (not that I care what they think) and it does seem to have a cult following.

I think so.  I love Xanadu.  It has everything: roller skating, Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly rollerskating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, neon, Greek Gods, magic, 80s pop music, dancing... The list goes on.  This film has it all!

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12 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

I think so.  I love Xanadu.  It has everything: roller skating, Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly rollerskating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, neon, Greek Gods, magic, 80s pop music, dancing... The list goes on.  This film has it all!

It also has some nice exterior shots of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium building in it's twilight years before it burned down.

Pan+Pacific+Xanadu+Refurbish.jpg

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On 1/7/2018 at 7:50 PM, Bethluvsfilms said:

Does XANADU qualify for the 'so bad it's good" category?

I've never seen the movie, so I wouldn't know....but I know the critics clobbered it (not that I care what they think) and it does seem to have a cult following.

No one seemed to know what to make of it when it came out--Even the movie itself didn't know what to make of itself, as it went through five wildly and completely different stories at the script stage, all of which end up in the final plot.  

What they finally decided at the last minute was that, since they had Gene Kelly, they were obviously a 1980 "tribute" to naively optimistic 40's MGM musicals, without ever having really seen one.  Still have to give it points for trying though, its eagerness to please, and the fact that there are no bad movies with Electric Light Orchestra on the soundtrack.

(And that's just the opening.  ^_^ )

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This week I saw five movies  Broken Arrow is a signpost in the history of Hollywood self-regard.  Earlier movies such as Drums Along the Mohawk, They Died with Their Boots On and Fort Apache already showed Hollywood\'s bad conscience about Indians.  The Run of the Arrow would do a better job of actually showing Indians.  Seeing Jeff Chandler get an oscar nomination as a Jewish actor taking a WASP name to play an Apache is more interesting than the actual movie, in which James Stewart is the best actor anyway.  The Last Angry Man saw Paul Muni get an oscar nomination as a good doctor whose integrity ultimately shames the TV people who want to make a special around him.  There are worst Muni performances, there were much better performances from 1959, and I suspect it was the black and white that made the Academy think it was a deeper movie than was actually the case. 

The Brothers Karamazov is in a class of its own, a class of how not to adapt a great novel.  One can understand why Hollywood thought that it would be best to centre its adaptation around the Russian born actor who had just won an oscar a few months earlier.  But without the other brothers Yul Brynner as Dimitri and Lee J. Cobb as the patriarch is just a tawdry melodrama with an unlikely twist at the end.  Without the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor or Father Zossima's pleas or the nightmare about the devil, it's just not an adaptation.

Calendar is an early Atom Egoyan movie, in this case about a man who is making a calendar of newly independent Armenia's historic churches.  We see him actually taking the photos, while trying to chat with the interpreter he has a crush on, who is interpreting for the tour guide who will probably win her.  The film is also interweaven with the protagonist back in Canada, inviting a young woman to dinner, and then having her leave the dinner table to have a telephone call.  Interesting.  The Bad Batch is a sort of apocalyptic genre film, taking place in the Mexican desert, with cameos by Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves, and a plot about resorting to cannibalism.  Critics were not overly impressed with it, though I can think of worse things than having El Topo reshot by a woman.

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I saw three movies this week.  The Unsinkable Molly Brown does little to change my view that the 1964 Oscars were not very well thought out.  Unmemorable score is matched to a banal plot:  how long will it take Debbie Reynolds to realize that the approval of the nouveau riche of Denver matters less than true love.  Well as it turns out, it takes the whole movie.  It Comes at Night is a post-apocalyptic movie that's less interesting than the post-apocalyptic movie I saw last week.  This one is about isolated people terrified by an unstoppable plague and each other.  Competent on its own terms, its hopelessness is kind of irritating.  The Secret of the Grain was the best movie I saw last week, as well as this month.  It's a rich portrait of a (I believe Tunisian family) where the newly-unemployed patriarch tries to open a restaurant with his ex-wife as the cook.  It has plenty of fairly well thought out and nuanced characters.  As I am listening to an interminable and banal monster picture, it's striking how much tension the movie gets from a dish accidentally left behind in a car trunk where a son takes it to hide from a romantic paramour. 

Incidentally I also rewatched Heat.  It's fantastic.

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On 1/7/2018 at 1:09 AM, skimpole said:

By most standards Olympus Has Fallen is an appalling film, cruelly violent, idiotically implausible, using torture as a joke, with an uncharismatic leading man, little humor, and cheap sentiment as a substitute for thought. [emphasis laffite)

This could pass for a criticism of Funny Games. "Idiotically implausible" is particularly germane along with "torture as a joke." (think: rewind).

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