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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...

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Last week I saw four movies.  I think I need to see House of Bamboo again.  I can't say I was impressed hearing it in the background while I worked at a 90 degree angle to it.  The plot is a variation on White Heat, and replacing James Cagney and Edmond O'Brien with Robert Ryan and Robert Stack is not, on the face of it, a very promising idea.  Also the criminal gang has a special feature:  they kill any wounded member so they can't be broken under interrogation.  Certainly a grisly detail, but one would think a gang of Americans running around in fifties Tokyo would stand out very quickly.  But other critics have admired it more, so perhaps it deserves another look.  The Man Who could Work Miracles is an amusing film, based on H.G. Wells short story, with interesting effects and working on the general English lack of imagination in dealing with the title's premise.  Roland Young is also good as the titular ****.

This is the Army is an example of that underwhelming genre, the army revue film.  As such, it does not have as good a dance sequence as Gene Kelly in Thousands Cheer.  But surprisingly enough Joe Louis (a boxer, not a dancer) does very well in the African-American number.  This is one of the few movies Ronald Reagan and George Murphy appeared in that has any resonance, but both are forgettable in the token plot, which fortunately does not take up much time from Michael Curtiz's direction and Irving Berlin's music.  Frankie was somewhat underrated I feel.  Isabelle Huppert is very good as the title character, a French actress dying of cancer who brings her extended family to Portugal on a lost vacation.  Jeremie Renier is good as her son.  Marisa Tomei, Vinette Robinson and Sennia Nanua are interesting, but perhaps there is one subplot too many.  The movie has a certain understated power, especially at the end.

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The three movies i saw this week all left something to be desired.  Penelope, despite being made in 1966, feels like a film that wishes it was ten years older.  It appears trivial in the context of its time.  One thinks that if it was made a little later, something more could have been made of its frustrated heroine that just to admire Wood's prettiness.  One also thinks that Ian Bannen, who got a supporting actor nomination for The Flight of the Phoenix the year before despite giving perhaps the seventh most impressive performance in that movie, is not the right person to play her husband.  Strike up the Band is the sort of movie that emphasizes that Mickey Rooney is really considerate and mature, when you wish it would focus more on Judy Garland.  Her Smell is directed by Alex Ross Perry.  And it wouldn't be an Alex Ross Perry if it didn't have an unlikeable protagonist making herself and everyone around her miserable.  After lasting the length of a feature, we find there's a whole redemptive third act to go through.  This is actually handled pretty well, but many viewers will have long last their patience with Elizabeth Moss' protagonist. 

I also rewatched Key Largo for the first time in about a quarter of a century.  Robinson is good as the villain, and Lionel Barrymore gives a better performance than one might expect from him.  But Claire Trevor's award winning role is pure oscarbait:  the miserable lush who tries to do the right thing.  It's not surprising I forgot her big scene, and i don't regret at all choosing someone else for best supporting actress of 1948.

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I saw three movies last week.  Brewster McCloud has all sorts of interesting themes.  But unlike other Altman movies from this time period they do not cohere.  Maybe it's because Bud Cort is insufficiently interesting.  Maybe it's because the three women who follow him aren't much more than the sum of their sex appeal.  Maybe it's because we don't really find out who the serial killer is.  (The last John Simon thought it was Jennifer Salt, but nothing on the internet agrees with him.)  Later that decade Robert Altman would shake up the themes with more success.  The Young Philadelphians is basically a glorified legal soap opera.  Robert Vaughan got a supporting actor nomination when more obvious choices from North by Northwest, Rio Bravo and Some Like it Hot were ignored.  Clearly it was because this was a more "serious" movie than the  other three "genre" movies.  Vaughan plays a classic overbait part:  he not only has a drinking problem, but he loses an arm in the war and is justifiably afraid of being falsely railroaded to death row.  Clearly he didn't deserve it, and Paul Newman's courtroom triumph only shows that Philadelphia inquests are handled by idiots.  Captain America:  the First Avenger is less successful than its two sequels, particularly with the action sequences.  Chris Evans is good at showing Captain America's fundamentally decent:  he's brave and principled well before he's turned into a super soldier.  But Hugo Weaving is underwhelming as the Red Skull:  Toby Jones is more impressive as the amoral scientist Arnim Zola. 

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I saw four movies over the last two weeks.  Remaking The Awful Truth as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and replacing Irene Dunne with Carole Lombard is an interesting idea.  Replacing Cary Grant with Robert Montgomery is much less so.  The Buddy Holly Story works best when Gary Busey does a very good Holly impression.  Apparently the movie is so inaccurate the surviving Crickets and Holly's widow were quite unimpressed.  And the next movie the director made, Under the Rainbow, was one of biggest bombs of 1981 and helped kill Carrie Fisher's acting career.  But that isn't to say that Busey doesn't do a good job, and even though having "Not Fade Away" as the closing number is very obviously ironic, that doesn't mean it's not effective.  Deception takes the director of Now Voyager and three of its stars, Davis, Henreid and Rains, and jumbles them up in this florid melodrama about a woman, her suddenly alive cellist husband, and her former lover who plots revenge.  While clearly not the best work of any of the parties involved, it's a tolerable experience.  At Berkeley is another of Frederick Wiseman's epic documentaries.  Much of it is devoted to the internal politics of the university, and I didn't find quite as interesting as his films on the National Gallery, Jackson Heights, or the New York Public Library.  But there is enough there for it be worth watching. 

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I saw three movies last week.  Mourning Becomes Electra is best known as the oscarbait movie that lost a sure fire best actress win to The Farmer's Daughter.  I haven't seen that movie, but I also haven't seen anyone who thinks it was a better choice.  Certainly Rosalind Russell was more deserving of an oscar for lifetime achievement.  As for the movie itself, it lacks imagination.  One problem is that Russell and Michael Redgrave are too old for their roles (late thirties when the movie was made).  And there are two problems with having Katina Paxinou play the Clytemnestra character. One is that she's only a few years older than her "children".  Second, while I suppose it makes some sense of having a Greek actress play the part, the whole point of the movie is the mother-child bond, and that bond is weakened by having Paxinou talk like literally nobody else in the New England town where the movie takes place.  It might have been better for Russell to play the Clytemnestra character and have somebody younger, like Deborah Kerr, play Lavinia.

All Night Long certainly has style and certainly succeeds in being cooler than many of the British "New Wave" movies of their time.  Certainly the jazz music appears very effective, and Patrick McGoohan even went to some trouble to learn how to play his drum sets effectively.  One problem is that McGoohan affects a slight American accent distinct from his normal voice which, as it happens, sounds like a similar trick that Michael Palin used and it's distracting.  One key problem with any version of "Othello" is that the Iago character can't be transparently obvious in his machinations, while the way everything unravels so that he can be punished can't be too convenient.  Since the whole movie takes place one evening, this concentrates the problem, and the movie, I'm afraid to say, has problems with both.  (Having the Cassio character pushed off a railing that could easily have killed him to Iago exposed in less than three minutes exempllfies the problem.)  But still, cool jazz score.  Scott Pilgrim vs. the world makes me wonder why I don't enjoy two of the other three Edgar Wright movies I've seen.  (Baby Driver was slight, but more watchable).  In this case, there's a certain lack of weight with Michael Cera's character.  This is a pity, since the writing is consistently amusing.  It's a bit disconcerting that Brie Larson went on to bigger things, than this movie's heroine.  If the craziness reminds at least one critic of Tashlin, it also reminds me  that he also didn't deliver the emotional goods either. 

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I saw three movies last week.  Designing Women is another good film by Vincente Minnelli, if not one of his best.  The beginning certainly shows his skill, even if Peck and Bacall are not the best couple.  Mystery Train is an interesting, watchable Jarmusch film:  not as good as Down by Law, but better than Night on Earth.  The first two stories are the better ones.  Perhaps it would have been more affecting had I caught the scene where the Japanese couple meets an apparent derelict who responds in Japanese to them.  One Fine Day is a less than inspired comedy, but it works better than it should thanks to the charm of its stars Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney.  The children, in particular Pfeiffer's son, are more annoying than usual in movies, but not unreasonably so. 

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On 5/4/2020 at 1:32 PM, CinemaInternational said:

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If you like THE LODGER, you might also want to check out MAN IN THE ATTIC which Fox remade with Jack Palance. It's in the public domain and a good print can be found on YouTube.

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7 hours ago, skimpole said:

I saw three movies last week.  Designing Women is another good film by Vincente Minnelli, if not one of his best.  The beginning certainly shows his skill, even if Peck and Bacall are not the best couple.  Mystery Train is an interesting, watchable Jarmusch film:  not as good as Down by Law, but better than Night on Earth.  The first two stories are the better ones.  Perhaps it would have been more affecting had I caught the scene where the Japanese couple meets an apparent derelict who responds in Japanese to them.  One Fine Day is a less than inspired comedy, but it works better than it should thanks to the charm of its stars Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney.  The children, in particular Pfeiffer's son, are more annoying than usual in movies, but not unreasonably so. 

The success of ONE FINE DAY and THE PEACEMAKER would cause Clooney to defect from the hit TV series ER.

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Another week, another three movies:  Seduced and Abandoned is certainly a distinctive comedy in the absurd reactions of its characters and the grimness of its scenario.  Nor is it a comedy that tries to say something nice about the regional purgatory its characters find themselves in.  Perhaps if I paid more attention I might find it funnier.  Hardcore is a movie where Paul Schrader recycles the ideas of Taxi Driver, while adding those from The Searchers, and the result shows he's not as good as Martin Scorsese.  Part of the problem is that the ideas are lurid and reactionary:  instead of one teen prostitute, we're asked to believe that underage performers and snuff films are a common occurrence and nobody does anything about it.  George C. Scott's character was supposedly based on Schrader's father, and the result is a less ambiguous, less interesting character than Travis Bickle.  Afterimage was Wajda's last film, based on the true story of the leading abstract artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski persecuted by the Polish communists after the war.  The movie suffers from a certain predictability, since we know the authorities' attitude towards him and how meanly they will treat him.  As time goes on, and the very worst does not happen, the movie becomes more effective as it proceeds to what happens is bad enough.  Boguslaw Linda is better as the protagonist than the movie itself, showing a certain nuance.  In some places the movie does have a certain restraint, about not explaining why Strzeminski has already lost an arm and a leg, or why his marriage has dissolved.  Other scenes, such as one explaining why his daughter was baptized twice, are less so. 

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I only saw two new movies this week, but just want to remind myself that I rewatched Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as well as Ikiru.

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I saw five movies over the last two week.  The Castle is certainly a faithful adaptation of the Kafka novel, and it does show the Sisyphean struggle as  the more K tries to contact the Castle the farther away from any actual progress he gets.  It can't be said that Michael Haneke is exactly the wrong director for this, since all the unpleasant leitmotifs were there in the original novel.  But there's a certain lack of stylistic flair.  Welles' The Trial was not altogether successful either, but it was more engaging.  Perhaps the TV movie format did not bring out Haneke's imagination.  Spy is amusing in places, somewhat disgusting in others.  One key plot twist was apparent the moment it happened.  Jason Statham playing a deliberately less competent version of his persona is less successful  Surprisingly, Rose Byrne is more successful as the sociopathic villain with a more interesting twist or two.

Murder is my Beat has a plot described by one admiring critic as "marvelously incoherent."  Perhaps if I watched it again, Edward G. Ulmer's stylistic merits may be more apparent, since here the couple is much less desperate or interesting than in Detour.  Girl with Green Eyes does sound like a typical British sixties film.  A young woman faces prejudice, this time in Ireland actually, when she goes out with a man estranged from his wife.  But after a somewhat clumsy climax with that plot, the two eventually split since Rita Tushingham is too meek and Peter Finch is old enough to be her father.  Ad Astra is the movie of the fortnight.  It's interesting to compare this thoughtful, at times clearly well designed movie about space travel with the previous year's High Life.  If one gets the impression that 2001 and Solaris are both breathing down both movies' necks, and as such are sort of pushed to the side, both are interesting on their own terms. 

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