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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...

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Last week I saw four movies.  Pigs and Battleships was the best.  The odd title refers to the interests of the Japanese crime gang who dominate the movie.  One of the sidelines is farming pigs, while a bigger one is supplying prostitutes to the American navy men who dominate the coastal city.  It certainly has a tough, and visually interesting approach to the material.  Jitsuko Yoshimura is good as a prostitute and the love interest of the feckless hero.  The most interesting thing about The Blob is not the villain, which appears as a growing ball of off-strawberry jam, but Steve McQueen which does explain how he got from this silly movie to The Magnificent Seven in two years.  There is a lethargic middle third, and an oddly upbeat title song, from Burt Bacharach.

Princess O'Rourke is sort of what Roman Holiday would be like if it were a less successful movie.  Olivia de Havilland is OK, though not as good as Hepburn.  Robert Cummings is less successful as the love interest.  As the movie progresses, one misses the professionalism of Wyler, Peck and Trumbo.  First Man has Ryan Gosling tasked with playing the unusually taciturn Neil Armstrong.  The result is more successful as the movie proceeds, but this doesn't necessarily make it more interesting.  It takes some time, when Armstrong gets into space a part of the experiments for the stakes to become higher.  Then it becomes more successful. 

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I saw three movies last week.  Wreck-it-Ralph is somewhat laborious in showing, contra the Wizard of Oz, that one does not achieve courage or general nobility by getting a medal.  As amusing contemporary Disney features go, this is OK, though it does get points for referencing Ed Wynn's Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.  Volker Schlondorff got a reputation making films from unadaptable novels, like Young Torless, The Tin Drum and The Handmaid's Tale, but not doing it very well.  Swann in Love continues this dubious record of achievement.  There is no real attempt to adapt Proust's style or his intensity of feeling.  As such, it's much inferior to Time Regained.  Nor are Jeremy Irons or Ornella Muti a very good couple.  Sven Nykvist's cinematography and the art direction are however both very pretty.  The Wild One is the motorcycle movie where Marlon Brando is cooler than the movie.  I was disappointed in waiting for a line that I only learned latter actually comes from The Wild Angels.  Another line was repeated much better in The Simpsons.

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I saw four movies last week.  That Uncertain Feeling is that rare beast indeed, an unsuccessful Lubitsch movie.  Why it is unsuccessful is not clear.  The ending starts well, and they are some good lines throughout.  And Lubitsch was a master of getting great performances from actors I'm otherwise unenthusiastic about:  Jeanette MacDonald, Fredric March, Don Ameche, Jennifer Jones among others.  Perhaps having both Melvyn Douglas and Burgess Meredith together was asking too much.  Stormy Weather is an odd musical, it's almost as if the makers of the movie decided that a romantic relationship between Lena Horne and the distinctly older Bill Robinson was a bad idea while they were making the movie.  On the other hand the music is certainly an improvement over other 1943 movies and the final number, with the Nicholas Brothers is, as they say, clearly worth the price of admission.

The Spirit of St. Louis is surprisingly effective, given that people do not usually rank it very high among either Stewart or Wilder films.  But the basic premise is both interesting and engaging.  It's a bit like the movies Hollywood made from the late thirties to the early forties about scientists slowly making a great scientific breakthrough, except Stewart is trying to fly the Atlantic solo and he will probably die if he doesn't succeed.  Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the literary forgery movie.  At first Melissa McCarthy is not very sympathetic and it takes some time for Richard Grant to move beyond outrageous queen.  But both characters do develop over time and the movie is a bit touching as it deals with loneliness and financial insecurity in nineties New York. 

I also rewatched La Mere et la Putain

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As it happens, all three movies I saw last week dealt with artistic integrity.  Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood was the best of these three.  Better than Tarantino's last two movies, which I incidentally liked, most of the movie does not actually deal with violence.  It's actually refreshing  that way, as Leonardo DiCaprio does a good job playing an actor facing decline.  Brad Pitt is also good as his crony, while the movie does a superb job of providing a real sense of 1969.  The surprising conclusion is a bit of a week bit, since we've seen this trick before, though Pitt is amusing stoned.  The Big Knife does force comparisons with Sweet Smell of Success.  It doesn't benefit from them, as one compares Odets' script here, with the one he wrote with the help of Ernest Lehman and Alexander Mackendrick, Aldrich's direction with Mackendrick's (The Big Knife is very much the filmed play) and Jack Palance's actor struggling for his integrity with the sublimely malevolent Burt Lancaster.  On its own terms, it works better. 

The Academy does not have a good record of giving actors consolatory Oscars, so it's good that The Wife did not join that undistinguished list.  While not a big fan of any of the five nominees, Glenn Close's performance is perhaps the least impressive.  Spoilers for what follows, but this story about the wife of the new Nobel Laureate for literature who, as it turns out, is the one who actually does all the writing, has a whole host of problems.  For one thing, Jonathan Pryce as the husband is made to appear increasingly insufferable as the movie proceeds so it's a mystery why Close stays with him.  It's also odd that there's so little curiosity about a Nobel Laureate (Pryce isn't reclusive like Salinger or Pynchon) that (almost) nobody noticed he only start writing decent stuff before meeting his wife. (It's also odd that he got an Ivy League teaching position before he met Close while not being able to write, especially since they meet in the first place as Close's creative writing teacher.) The idea that the WASP wife is more able to describe her Jewish husband's experiences is both odd, and not quite kosher.  The way that Close is so quiet and taciturn, and doesn't show qualities one might expect of a writer, such as intellectual curiosity, ability to articulate herself or constantly reading, makes the revelation of her genius appear like a trick.  Although she says not to portray her as a victim, the movie indulges her the pleasure of victimization, as part of its elaborate revenge fantasy. 

 

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34 minutes ago, skimpole said:

The Big Knife

You failed to mention that there was no scenery in sight at the end due to Rod Steiger chewing it to smithereens.

37 minutes ago, skimpole said:

The Academy does not have a good record of giving actors consolatory Oscars, so it's good that The Wife did not join that undistinguished list.  While not a big fan of any of the five nominees, Glenn Close's performance is perhaps the least impressive.  Spoilers for what follows, but this story about the wife of the new Nobel Laureate for literature who, as it turns out, is the one who actually does all the writing, has a whole host of problems.  For one thing, Jonathan Pryce as the husband is made to appear increasingly insufferable as the movie proceeds so it's a mystery why Close stays with him.  It's also odd that there's so little curiosity about a Nobel Laureate (Pryce isn't reclusive like Salinger or Pynchon) that (almost) nobody noticed he only start writing decent stuff before meeting his wife. (It's also odd that he got an Ivy League teaching position before he met Close while not being able to write, especially since they meet in the first place as Close's creative writing teacher.] The idea that the WASP wife is more able to describe her Jewish husband's experiences is both odd, and not quite kosher.  The way that Close is so quiet and taciturn, and doesn't show qualities one might expect of a writer, such as intellectual curiosity, ability to articulate herself or constantly reading, makes the revelation of her genius appear like a trick.  Although she says not to portray her as a victim, the movie indulges her the pleasure of victimization, as part of its elaborate revenge fantasy.

The more in-depth reviews, such as this one, can be very interesting. I, for one, wish that you would do it more often.

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OK, films seen last week, image wise....

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Of these, I think the strongest was a toss-up between three tittles: Desert Bloom, Blonde Venus, and Ladies of Leisure. There really wasn't a bad film in the bunch, but least favorite would be Maisie (sorry Ann Sothern).

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Annabeth Gish was so promising when Desert Bloom was released.  Clearly, she should have done much more, but I remember her only for Mystic Pizza and playing Julie Eisenhower in Nixon.

Someone wondered elsewhere why Ellen Barkin didn't become a much bigger star.  I would add to that Annabeth and the other female star of Desert Bloom, JoBeth Williams.

All three gave award-worthy performances.

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On 8/18/2019 at 2:25 AM, skimpole said:

The Academy does not have a good record of giving actors consolatory Oscars, so it's good that The Wife did not join that undistinguished list.  While not a big fan of any of the five nominees, Glenn Close's performance is perhaps the least impressive.

I agree.  Before seeing The Wife I was rooting for Glenn Close.  Then I watched the movie and was thoroughly disappointed.  It was a slog to get through and Close certainly has given much better performances.  Olivia Coleman was a much better choice for best actress. 

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I saw four movies over the last two weeks: three this week, one the week before.  Steel Magnolias is an amazingly bland movie.  It's not consistently funny enough to be a sitcom episode, it's not serious enough to say something intelligent about being a white Southern woman, or anything else.  Had I paid it more attention while I was watching it, I probably would have disliked it more.  Baraka is a documentary so consistently and stunningly beautiful as it show wondrous images of both nature and civilization that it overwhelms doubts whether there is a point or not. 

Blood on the Moon is an interesting western, with Robert Mitchum giving a good performance as a man hired by a friend hired to bully a cattle owner, and who changes sides halfway through the movie.  Barbara Bel Geddes isn't given much to do as the love interest, but Robert Preston is good as the "friend."  I didn't know that before The Music Man and Victor/Victoria he specialized in western heavies.  He also has a good last line ("You and me together could'a licked 'em.  But you always had a conscience breathing down your neck.") Ralph Wrecks the Internet is another rambunctious animated sequel, which perhaps rubs the viewer's nose in just how big the Disney empire is.  But it's helped by a rather somber ending for this type of movie.

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Last week I saw five movies.  The Lego Batman Movie may be the best of the Batman movies, even if there's nothing as good as the scenes where Heath Ledger shows the Joker's true malevolence.  The movie certainly demonstrates the character's pomposity.  The sixties to the eighties Batman was certainly tough--in those years the Joker casually murdered someone every time he appeared--but he was also a team player, and before Frank Miller's The Dark Knight the character was reasonably sane and not in a full blown hysterical panic about the inner city.  This movie is certainly a bit obvious about the value of team work, but it's genuinely amusing.

Fun and Fancy Free consists of two long cartoons combined to make a feature film.  The Jack in the Beanstalk shows the last appearance of Walt Disney as Mickey's voice.  It has nice touches, such as the diaphanous slices of bread and the way the growing stalk destroys the characters' beds but saves them from falling to their deaths.  The first cartoon about an escaped circus bear has some nice touches--the girl bear he falls for is genuinely charming--but it's undercut by a song in which the bears slap each other to show their love.  The Happiest Millionaire was the last movie Walt Disney supervised.  The Sherman Brothers certainly try hard--the songs are OK, even if "Detroit" is now an endless source of cruel unintentional irony.  Part of the problem is that we're expecting a movie about a charming eccentric.  But except for having live alligators around the house and teaching his daughter to be a boxer, Fred MacMurray's character is just a 1917 bully about preparedness.  It's as if the makers saw You Can't Take it With You and decided the way to improve it was to make the characters less interesting.  (There's also a love story, which Disney was never really good at, having better luck in this respect with dogs instead of people.)  In retrospect, it might have been a better idea if Disney had been in charge of the movie version of "Dr. Dolittle." 

Thunderball is basically Dr. No if Ursulla Andress were a brunette.  It's generally seen as a decline after the first three movies.  Well, the supposedly dull water scenes aren't bad, though the penultimate fight becomes more confusing as time goes on.  There's more gadgetry than in the first movie, with a jetpack scene that dates very badly.  Trying to speed up the final fight with "fast motion" instead of slow motion, also doesn't work.  Unlike in the first movie, Bond is clearly less ruthless.  His reputation precedes him, which one would think would be a drawback for a secret agent. There's a larger lack of basic common sense.  One would think the villain would keep a very low profile.  And since the movie takes place in the Bahamas, a British colony in an American lake, one would think once Bond had found him, the powers that be would make sure he had a lot of back-up.  The relationship with the Bond girl isn't much, but at least she gets the last word as it were.  The Battle of the Somme is basically a propaganda movie about the famous battle, which really underplays the casualties and doesn't really stress how little was won.  It's certainly striking seeing actual footage from 1916, but one suspects Goebbels learned more from this than future filmmakers. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  Mysterious Object at Noon was probably the best, showing the complex rhythms behind Weerasethakul's documentary subject.  It's the one most worth watching again.  Emma and Lilies of the Field were both watched because they were nominated for acting oscars (with Poitier, of course, winning his).  They're good performances, even if they're not the best of the year.  Marie Dressler is quite good as the title character, an aging maid whose employer marries her.  When he dies soon after, three of the four children try to prosecute her, despite the fact she has been the soul of kindness to them all.  Poitier is also good, if not as good as Paul Newman in Hud.  The movie itself is OK, owing its prominence to the civil rights movement in the wake of the March on Washington.  Border is an interesting, atmospheric thriller about a fairly homely woman who works as a border guard and who can literally scent malevolence.  She encounters a child porn conspiracy and a strikingly unattractive man.  When the big reveal comes, it appears surprisingly literal.  Although it can stand for a number of more serious problems, that doesn't mean it entirely works doing so.  Certain other twists can be guessed, though the most apparently vile actions can be legitimated as good old fashioned vengeance.  It also includes the sex scene most likely to disgust viewers in recent years.

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If it still counts for last week, The Big Clock (1948), this was fun. Comedic-noir with the comedy not feeling forced; it felt natural and like it was a needed part of it. The acting was spot-on, the dialogue had me laughing and the sheer grandstanding of an upper crust Elsa Lanchester who kept on scene-stealing. It made for a good "detective-ish" story, where you know who did it but the process of it is just entertaining to watch from multiple perspectives. Narrowly beats out Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and the theme song to Live and Let Die (1973), in its entirely not a close third but that theme is one of the best in the franchise.

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Last week I saw four movies.  I was on the phone with Ulee's Gold in the background for much of it.  So to be honest, I'm not sure whether Peter Fonda actually gave a good performance or whether he just reminded viewers of his father.  Five Star Final was nominated for best picture in the year they expanded the nominees, after the really underwhelming selection they had for 1930-1931.  It's the least of the lot. In it Edward G. Robinson has a conscience as a newspaper editor who's bullied by the paper's owner into ruthless tabloid journalism.  As it starts, it seems like it could be a fun newspaper comedy, and it has Boris Karloff as well.  But much of the movie is devoted to the story of a woman who was acquitted for murder two decades ago and is now very respectable and very dull.  Watching her inevitable victimization and the owner's inevitable comeuppance is certainly not the best use of Robinson's talents.

Eating Raoul sounds like a reactionary wet dream:  an unbelievably dull couple (they're even called the Blands), virtually sexless, find fortune murdering sex "deviants" and even triumph over the one person of color in the movie.  Yet it doesn't play like that.  For a start, a genuinely reactionary film would show its protagonists to be sexually happier than they are here.  Also, a reactionary movie would target homosexuals more.  More to the point, Mary Woronov, as Mrs. Bland, has more than enough cool from Chelsea Girls to put those obnoxious swingers in their place.  Sollers Point is about a young man who is finally able to leave house arrest and get on with his life in deindustrialized Baltimore.  But a lack of impulse control, and a general lack of options soon put him down the wrong road.  A familiar tale, one might think.  But the movie does take a patient, careful approach as the protagonist makes his way.  It's certainly more real, and more realistic than films like Boyz in the Hood or American History X.  McCaul Lomardi is good as the protagonist.  Jim Belushi gets a good scene near the end as his father.  I would have liked to see more of Zazie Beetz as Lombardi's ex-girlfriend. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  Manila in the Claws of Light has a plot out of melodrama:  a good country boy comes to the big city to rescue his girl, who has been coerced into prostitution.  Yet this mid-seventies portrait of a booming third world city, complete with sex work, organized crime and work precarious both physically and financially does offer something of valuable historical perspective.  Also striking is the homosexual angle.  One aspect is that the audience pleasing act of vigilantism leads not to good things for the hero but him about to be lynched at the movie's end.  Werewolf is a Canadian independent film about two young drug addicts trying to survive on methadone.  The boy gets worse, the girl slowly gets the strength to recover.  This is a good, rather grim movie, with a misc-en-scene of unpleasantly pale off-white.

Less successful were the other two movies.  Coming Home has good performances.  Jon Voight I believe has gotten more critical respect, but I think I prefer Fonda in the less showy part, even I prefer her in the oscar nominated parts that precede and follow this one.  But the idea that Voight is more truthful about the war and a better lover than Bruce Dern as Fonda's army officer husband is rather crass.  And Dern's suicide leaves a bad taste, since it's not clear whether it's because of the war, pain over Fonda's adultery, or because his character is a jerk.  Midsommar has some virtues.  The camera work is interesting, Florence Pugh tries very hard as a borderline depressive trapped in a pagan nightmare.  And the director has stopped the "boo" tactics that marred the end of his previous movie Hereditary.  But, and here are spoilers, the movie strongly reminds the viewer of another one, and it turns out Midsommar turns out to be exactly like that.  Except that the sex is worse. Even more so, it becomes evident that this is so before the 75 minute mark, which means that if you're watching the director's cut, you have more than an hour and a half before the credits.  So you're wondering why the victims spend up to at least 36 hours doing what they're doing instead of acting rationally.  And there are further plot holes.  At least one of the victims has a working cell phone, which means he can email and generally alert people of his fears.  Also, he can read the runes which telegraph the victims' fate.  Nor are anthropologists as unread or as blithely relativistic for this plot to ever work.

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I saw four movies last week.  The Big Road is an interesting, almost silent Chinese film about people trying to build a road in preparation for war (which did in fact break out in full scale a few years after it started.)  It combines a picture of arduous, back breaking work, with worker comraderie and justified suspicion of the loyalty of the bosses.  For much of the movie there's a certain joie de vivre, only for a shattering turn of events in the last few minutes.  One Sunday Afternoon is basically The Strawberry Blonde only in colour, with songs, and a less interesting cast (although the De Havilland role is played by one of the last living of Astaire's dance partners).

It's odd that the title character of the original Godzilla became such a bit hit, since the special effects around him are the most risible thing in the whole movie.  But the scenes of him destroying much of Tokyo do have some genuine power, especially given the context.  And the (mercifully) brief scene of a helpless mother telling her children they will soon see Daddy has quite the punch.  Also the subplot about the doctor who creates a weapon but who is, understandably, not wild about creating another weapon of mass destruction.  First Love is another Japanese movie which plays on a cunning criminal plan that goes wildly out of control.  It's actually interesting, amusing in places and fairly violent.  One problem is that the love interest is a drug addicted prostitute trying to get away from such a life, which means she's less interesting that her female guard.

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Last week I saw three interesting movies.  Strange Cargo is arguably better than Paipillon as an escape from French Guiana movie.  Clark Gable and Joan Crawford make a distinctly vinegary couple, and the escape is suitably grueling.  One may wonder if the Christian symbolism is laid a bit thick in retrospect, and arguably it might have been a better idea if Ian Hunter and Peter Lorre exchanged roles.  Braindead (also now as Deadalive) is ordinarily a movie that I might not care for.  It's a zombie movie, with considerable gore and is often disgusting and tasteless.  But it shows so much cinematic flair and vitality which would serve director Peter Jackson well in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that it's a fairly amusing experience.  Diana Penalver is very pretty as the love interest.  Jeannette:  the Childhood of Joan of Arc uses the well established saga and turns it into a musical.  Apparently inspired by the work of a leading early 20th century Catholic intellectual, Charles Peguy, director Bruno Dumont has the young Joan, played by two different actresses, as she wonders about God, divine justice and how to liberate France.  She wanders about in her pasture, often to power rock banging her head.  More interesting than odd, but not necessarily a lot more interesting. 

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I saw five movies over the last two week.  The Strange Love of Molly Louvain is a pre-code movie which despite its taboo topic (the heroine has an illegitimate child) become more conventional as the amusingly cynical reporter develops a conscience and decides to fall in love and help the heroine, after putting her in an impossible situation in the first place.  Lady Sings the Blues is perhaps the least interesting of the small genre of the African-American musical genius with serious substance abuse problems bio-pic. The director, best known aside from this movie for making the Iron Eagle franchise, shows little knowledge or imagination about jazz or African-American music.  And the emphasis on Billie Holliday's drug addiction means that Diana Ross spends much of the movie appearing weak and pathetic. The Interesting thing about The Devil and Daniel Webster was that although Webster was the archetypal Whig, the story that arose around it is very much a Jacksonian legend, emphasizing such elements as the good of the community over individual greed, America's democratic promise, appealing even to the damned, and most striking of all, human decency triumphing over a valid contract.  The most Whiggish aspects of the movie are Shirley and Darwell's pompous churchgoing.  And while the nitwit stupid enough to make a pact with the devil is not very interesting, Walter Houston is good as Mr. Scratch.  And once Edward Arnold appears as bland Hollywood history hero and actually gets to the trial, he's not half-bad either.

The other two movies, which are among the best I've seen this year, are two of the best movies of 2018.  Transit is the better one, since it has a better lead performance from Franz Rogowski.  This adaptation of a wartime novel about refugees trying to flee Vichy France, works very well, even though it appears in contemporary Marseilles with only minor efforts to remove the most obvious technological changes of the last eighty years.   It's an intelligent and thoughtful movie, with Rogowski falling in love with the wife of the dead man he's pretending to be (who in turn assumes he's still alive).  Having all the tension of a more conventional movie, it has many subtle touches (including a very striking suicide), and a cruelly ironic ending.  I actually thought Sunset was more successful than Laszlo Nemes' previous movie Son of Saul.  Nemes' signature movie consists of long and very elaborate tracking shots that follow the central character, but unlike other directors who use this style, often with much of the frame not in focus.  This heightens the character's subjective experience of what's going on.  In the previous movie, this looked cheap, as if I was watching "Auschwitz: the video game!"  Here the plot is more subtle and less obvious.  (It's just before the first world war, and a woman visits a grand Budapest department store that her family owned before she was orphaned at the age of two.  She wants a job, but it soon becomes clear that she wants answers that a lot of people would prefer not to answer.)  Here the combination of high society Budapest and intimations of future violence is much more successful.  (Try to imagine The Shop Around the Corner with more money and influence, but without love, charm, comradeship and somehow not quite as attractive as 1940 HGM decor.)

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Last week I saw five movies.  The Red House starts off with Edward G. Robinson giving a good performance as a man who has good reasons to both act the way he does and to feel very guilty about it.  The movie weakens as he becomes more unhinged, and the Rosza score is not to my taste.  Julie London also gives a better performance as the "bad" girlfriend that the milquetoast couple that end up together.  That's Life is another of Blake Edwards' gift to his wife, with Jack Lemmon as his surrogate as an insufferably self-pitying architect who whines for most of his movie until wife Julie Andrews tells him to knock it off.  One can respect such matrimonial devotion, but still believe Victor/Victoria is the only one that works as a movie.  The Most Dangerous Game is a nice, lean little thriller.  Interestingly the third quarter is more successful than the fourth.

The Enchanted Desna was a movie Alexander Dovzhenko wanted to make about his childhood.  But he died and so his widow Julia Solntseva made it instead.  As such it is very striking visually.  One is likely to compare it to Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, which came out the same year.  By that standard it's not as good.  Nor is it as imaginative and critical as Tarkovsky's The Mirror.  And the movie ends on a note of glorious triumph of Soviet industry, which of course reads much worse knowing the price paid to get it, and its later obsolescence.  But it is an interesting, thoughtful movie, worthy of attention in its own right.  One scene, about when the village the characters live in is flooded for Easter, reminds me of similar scene that would appear, four decades later, in Angelopoulos' The Weeping Meadow.  Happy as Lazzaro is the movie of the week, a strange fable that starts off with an Italian sharecropping community that seems to come out of The Tree of Wooden Clogs.  Except cell phones indicate that it's long after such practices were abolished.  As the movie progresses, the title character appears as a holy innocent, easily manipulated and guileless.  And then there is a distinct plot twist about halfway through the movie, and the film becomes a strange parable, showing more imagination that movies with a hundred times its budget. 

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I saw three movies last week.  Capricious Summer is about three middle-aged men who makes fools of themselves falling for a beautiful circus performer.  It's somewhat predictable, and less successful than the director's previous Closely Watched Trains, which I saw again this week.  On the other hand, it's a better movie about aging than That's Life.  Gildersleeve's Bad Day reminds us that sitcoms existed on the radio before they appeared on television.  This movie is basically two and half episodes long and deals with a pompous twit on jury duty who accidentally gets the same result as the crooks who are unsuccessfully trying to bribe him.  It's mildly amusing.  The Other Side of the Wind is the movie of the week, an elaborate, complex collage of different film stocks, rapidly edited, more JFK (and Intolerance) than The Magnificent Ambersons.  The story of a great director at the end of his tether as his, as it turns out final, movie is on the verge of collapse, is certainly more complex and innovative than most highly praised movies.  It's not an easy movie to enjoy:  the movie within the movie, which has the same title, plays as a soft core parody of Zabriskie Point.  And John Huston as the protagonist, was never as good an actor as Welles directing himself.  (The fact that he was brought in rather late to the years long shoot, which means the other actors are often reacting to someone they weren't actually seeing.) 

Did I mention that previously this year, I resaw The Cloud Capped Star and the Soviet War and Peace?  Well I'll make sure to mention it here. 

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I saw seven movies over the last two weeks.  Camera Buff is an early Kieslowski movie.  It's an interesting movie about a genial nitwit who, to commemorate the birth of his daughter, gets a movie camera by a friend.  So he starts making movies, and he starts complicating his relationships with other people, most especially with the director of the factory he works.  It's OK, one might imagine it being a bit more lively.  The Lost Squadron is about a world war one squadron who at the height of the Depression, get work flying planes in movies.  The first half leaves something to be desired, since having Richard Dix as the protagonist against Erich von Stroheim as the director is not a comparison that best highlights Dix's decidedly finite talents.  Mary Astor also stars as an actress who's Stroheim's wife and Dix's former girlfriend  Aside from being the motive for the plot, she's given precious little to do.  But the second half takes an interesting turn.  Rather strikingly, Dix is the last person on earth you would want to help cover up a crime:  he's so bad only Fox News would believe him.

I decided I would spend one month subscribing to Netflix and catch up on movies that are only available there.  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,  consisting of six Western stories, is certainly a professionally shot and paced movie.  However the movie, despite getting some good reviews for its supposed moral seriousness, is basically Mel Brooks' old quote:  "Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."  The first two show the Coen brothers' cartoonish side.  In the first one Tim Blake Nelson has a certain effectiveness as a lethally sociopathic singing cowboy.  The joke of the second is that a bank robber escapes one hanging only to be caught in another.  The third is an anecdote of appalling cruelty, which would be more palatable if one didn't feel the pleasure the brothers had in presenting it to us.  The fifth shows the characters being so untypically nice and considerate towards each other than you wonder what the catch is, and sure enough it comes.  It's not surprising that the best story is the fourth, starring Tom Waits as a prospector, since it's based on a story by Jack London, someone who actually Knew what struggle and sacrifice are.

The 13th is a disappointment.  The first half, about the origins of America's mass incarceration needs more detail about the crisis of the industrial economy and the battles over housing and employment that served as the anti-climax of the civil rights era.  Blaming the FBI for attacking the Black Panthers, and thus neutering black leadership is also misleading.  The Panthers' leaders were demagogic idiots, unworthy of the trust of their membership.  And even if one agrees with its message, which I do, it needs to do to challenge conservative talking points, which relied on more than crude racism.  (For example the Willie Horton ad wasn't demagogic simply because Horton was black, but because the furlough program was a bipattisan program, tried in many states, and where the vast majority of lucky prisoners did not indulge in ghastly crimes.) 

The last three movies are all family stories.  The Meyerowitz stories (new and selected) features a good performance by Adam Sandler who for once is not playing the insufferably obnoxious person he usually plays.  Ben Stiller is good as his brother, and it's good to see Dustin Hoffmann again, playing their subtly exasperating aging artist father. (Emma Thompson is less successful as Hoffmann's third wife.) I can't say I'm a big fan of Noah Baumbach's dramas of upper middle class artistic Jewish New York families who are making a mess of their lives.  There are better ways of presenting family dramas.  But it works as well as it does.  Private Life also deals with an upper middle class artistic New York family, in this case a couple in their forties who are trying to have a baby and realizing they're probably too late.  It's competent, but its less involving since people have been making movies about the subject for decades now, and there's probably dozen of television series that deal very earnestly about a problem which has only three solutions (pregnancy, adoption or childlessness).  Wildlife is another competent movie, based on Richard Ford's novel, and Carey Mulligan is good as the frustrated wife who decides to have an affair after her husband loses her job, and then decides to go off fire fighting as a substitute for getting a real career.  It is very sober and serious, but while other critics though Ed Oxenbould was brilliant as the teenage son who watches his mother, I thought he was the weakest link, that he lacked enough depth for what would have been a more painful experience. 

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I saw six movies last week.  Dr. X is an early color movie about the search for a serial killer.  Does Lee Tracy always play the same irritating journalist who manages to charm women?  So that's my two cents.  The Secret Garden, the one with Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell, is an interesting adaptation, and its noteworthy that the film didn't try to not make the children very irritating at times. 

Continuing on my Netflix binge, Mudbound is a competent account of the postwar Mississippi delta.  Mary J. Blige got a supporting actress nomination, but that was more stunt casting, of having a major pop star play the long suffering mother.  Carey Mulligan as the star playing the miserable southern housewife losing her station and the two actors playing soldiers returning from the war (one black and one white) who become friends are more effective.  The movie is certainly well shot and reasonably detailed.  V.S. Naipaul once said that India was an unsubtle country:  the poor people were thin and the rich people were fat.  Well, for most of its history, Mississippi has been a very unsubtle state.  But the last half hour is a bit of a let down.  There's a sexual turn that resembles Erskine Caldwell all too well, and when the racist malice finally explodes, it's a bit off.  It depends too much on one aging man's pointless resentment of his son and one wonders why other white men would care.

Okja is a more successful movie, a strange Korean movie about superpigs genetically bred for food, and the teenage girl who tries to stop the company to rescue her pet pig she's known all her life.  Tilda Swinton isn't given much to do aside from being really weird, but there are some interesting action sequences, such as when the pig charges through a metro shopping mall.  Paul Dano and Lily Collins are also effective. Shirkers is a strange documentary about trying to growing up bohemian in authoritarian eighties Singapore.  Sandi Tan met a film teacher named George Cadorna and eventually the two of them with Tan's friends sought to make an independent movie in the early nineties.  Except Cadorna turned out to be an envious pathological liar, and absconded with the film.  Decades later, he died and Tan got the footage back minus the audio track.  So, certainly an odd experience, and maybe it's even a useful one. 

And so we turn to the final film of the week, The Irishman, which I saw in a theatre and not on netflix.  It's not exactly a return to form for Scorsese, since I actually liked Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street.  But it's definitely a return to form for De Niro and Pacino.  It's certainly their best performance since Heat, and Joe Pesci is also good playing a villain who is very different from Tommy DeVito.  The story is literally the generation before Goodfellas, and the characters are considerably more sober and less self-destructive.  Scorsese's film follows that, though it's very clearly a Scorsese movie  notwithstanding the somewhat subdued tone.  The deaging technique is generally effective, though DeNiro is somewhat less energetic playing someone two decades younger than himself than he was two decades ago when he was that age.  Pacino's character is just right playing Hoffa in his early sixties.  Pacino's Hoffa does seem like most his post Michael Corleone characters in being overly bombastic.  But it turns out this partially reflects Hoffa's own demagoguery.  As the movie passes the hour and a half mark, the movies concentrates on the conversations between the various combinations of De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, subtle, intense and obviously menacing as Hoffa's inevitable fate approaches.  This is the main pleasure of the movie, and it's a very welcome one. There is a certain tragedy in the end, as De Niro's character does not regret his many crimes--he has been following orders all this adult life--but realizes that he's lost the love of his daughter by doing so. 

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Have to disagree on Glenn Close. I thought she was superb in THE WIFE, and had she won it would have been more than deserved.

However, to give credit where credit is due, having watched THE FAVOURITE recently, I have to admit Olivia Coleman did turn in an Oscar worthy performance.

 

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