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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...


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18 hours ago, skimpole said:

The latest version of The Invisible Man starts off subtly and Elizabeth Moss gives a good performance as the woman in peril.  One wonders that so much focus is on her that the villain appears as unreasoned malevolence, not a quality one wants to encourage in Hollywood. But as the movie goes on, it becomes clear that not only does the villain not have a real personality, his plan is increasingly nonsensical, with an extra retribution scene that begs all sort of questions. 

I watched that last week, too. I agree with your assessment. I did love the mostly silent opening scene. It was really suspenseful. The movie had some other tense and scary moments, but it couldn't match that opening scene.

It is definitely not my least favorite movie of the week, because I watched some of Piranha. To be fair, I don't even like animal horror films, so it didn't stand much of a chance.

My favorite was Born Yesterday. I love Judy Holliday. It is somehow believable that Billie is both ditzy and capable of outsmarting the other characters. The message of the film could easily have been snobbish or preachy, but I think it manages to present an argument in favor of learning without telling viewers that they need to learn the same things that Billie is learning. It helps that Holliday's performance is so warm and friendly. I've seen the movie enough times that I've started to notice Broderick Crawford's performance. His characterization is a little inconsistent, but I do really like the way he plays the role. I regularly think about the gin rummy scene when I play cards. Her chemistry with William Holden is fine, but it is the main reason that I like It Should Happen To You a bit more.

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Last week I saw four movies.  Avalon was Barry Levinson's follow-up to Rain Man.  Despite respectable reviews, it ultimately did not get that much admiration.  And a comparison with 1987's Radio Days and the same year's Mr. and Mrs. Bridge explain why.  Those movies also appeal to nostalgia, both taking place about a decade before Avalon.  But the actors, characters and anecdotes are clearly more interesting in those movies.  The Howling helped start Joe Dante's career, and I've seen enough of his movies to appreciate the start.  But I was a bit disappointed.  The jokes are a bit esoteric (a psychiatrist has the same name as the director of The Wolfman),   Having viewer identification split among four characters doesn't help, and the whole metaphor isn't really developed in a fruitful or interesting manner.

I also saw two movies from 1943, which I'll probably stop singling out for attention now that I have a top ten for that year.  The Fallen Sparrow is a just before the war spy film where the Nazis act in too convoluted a way for too low stakes.  Thank your lucky stars is another wartime Hollywood revue film.  This is more successful than two others from the same year.  Thousands Cheer attempted to make us care more for Kathryn Grayson than Gene Kelly.  This is the Army starred the underwhelming George Murphy and Ronald Reagan.  I had never seen an Eddie Cantor movie before, but he's certainly a good sport as his "real" character is constantly abused and humiliated.  Also, we have Edward Everett Horton and S.K. Sakall as supporting characters, Humphrey Bogart makes a cameo, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis sing (but not together) and Olivia de Havilland dances. 

Incidentally, I also rewatched Van Gogh, and was impressed by Alexandra London in her supporting role

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I saw four movies this week.  Lions Love (and lie...) is a less than successful example of the New Wave meets Hollywood.  What appears spontaneous and fresh in Agnes Varda's last documentaries, appears self-indulgent as we watch a threesome of actors ramble on about life, the universe and everything.  Robert Kennedy's assassination appears as a climax, but the movie still goes on.  I also saw Doris Day movies as part of her being star of the month.  My Dream is Yours and It's a Great Feeling both star Day as an ingenue trying to make her way in Hollywood.  Both star Jack Carson.  Both have Bugs Bunny making a cameo.  The first movie gives him the meatier role and is directed by Michael Curtiz.  The second  also stars Frank Morgan and in that one Day goes back to her small town and marries a local guy who looks exactly like Errol Flynn.  Day is blonde, pretty, wholesome and sings nicely, but a whole month of her, or even a month of Mondays, is a bit much.  Bad Education is not the Pedro Almodovar movie, but a more recent movie about administrators who turn their Long Island high school into one of the best of the country while embezzling it of millions of dollars.  Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney are  interesting, but the movie is hardly indispensable. 

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I saw four movies last week.  It turns out the Billy the Kid I watched was not the one I made a note to watch when it turned up.  That one was directed by King Vidor.  This early forties colour film isn't that bad, even if the tale is completely fictional.  BTK tries to go straight, wowed over by Ian Hunter's clam and subtle courage.  But the opposing side drags him back into vigilante action and inevitable doom.  Not a bad version, even if the Vidor version is supposedly better.  I can't say The Missouri Breaks made all that much an impression on me.  It's possible that watching it again might show its virtues more, much as rewatching Peckinpah's Billy the Kid movie impressed me more.  Perhaps Brando's strangely psychotic and effective assassin might grown on me, though Nicholson 's lead is not one of his great roles.

Voltaire is another George Arliss  movie, of which the best thing that at least he's closer in age than he was when playing Alexander Hamilton.  It's muddled and sentimental and one might think the real story of the Calas affair (a Protestant was executed, after being broken on the wheel, on the false charge of murdering his son to prevent him from converting to Catholicism.) would make much better cinema.   RIz Ahmed may get a best Actor nomination for his role in Sound of Metal as a drummer who faces imminent hearing loss. It's not that he does a bad job, but movies about being disabled or accepting it has never been a genre favorite of mine.  At least the movie is about becoming deaf, but one can see key plot turns well ahead of time.  One might wish to see more of Olivia Cooke as his girlfriend.

Also, I want to remind myself I rewatched The Silent Partner.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I saw four movies over the last two weeks:  three this week and one the week before.  Let's start with the two recent movies.  I suppose watching The Assistant about a woman working for a Weinstein like boss in the movie industry would have been better if my DVD player hadn't skipped the crucial scene where the HR department makes it clear that its role is to make sure the boss is not inconvenienced in his womanizing.   That's a good scene, but one expects a certain more weight than such a simple and sordid story.  Kajillionaire is that rare thing, a 2020 release by Miranda July whose apparent lesson from watching Wes Anderson movies was that they were too amusing and enjoyable.  This story of a family of low level grifters who invite Gina Rodriguez to help them is certainly the least interesting heist movie ever made.  It also doesn't help that Rachel Evan Wood is supposed to be the focus of audience identification, but she spends the movie being miserable to the point of catatonia.  Nor is it clear why another character is attracted to her.  It's not much of a revelation to say you can be poor and emotionally callous.

The idea of having Katharine Hepburn and Walter Huston play Chinese peasants is in retrospect so idiotic that Dragon Seed is hard to take seriously.  Moreover the beginning is extremely patronizing, as if the screenwriters knew nothing about China except their memories of having seen The Good Earth.  It's not as if gross patriarchy wasn't a problem in wartime China, but the discussion of it is smug and shows no interest in actual Chinese experience.  I don't know how many average Chinese  thought the earth was flat (apparently Chinese intellectuals realized it wasn't by the late Ming dynasty), but certainly contemporary China was sufficiently in touch with modernity to kick the Americans out of North Korea less than seven years after the movie was made.  Having said that one is curious about the portrayal of Japanese atrocities, though they're undercut by having them referred to (at least twice) as "dwarfs." The final scene, involving a belated scorched earth strategy does have some power.  Foxes is I suppose the best movie by default, and that's largely because of Jodie Foster, who gives a good performance and is the focus of whatever thoughtful things the film has to say about female adolescence.  On the other hand the final fate of the former Runaways star seems cursory and rushed,.  Meanwhile the other members of the quartet are kind of indistinguishable, or will be as time goes on, except that one of them in involved in a jailbait relationship with Randy Quaid that ends more sentimentally than the more infamous one in Manhattan. 

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I saw three movies last week.  The first two were actress oscarbait.  Being Julia was the better of the two.  Although stories of diva actresses are nothing new and this movie does not have much to say, Annette Bening does have a nice juicy role, Jeremy Irons has a good time playing her loyal if not unadulterous husband, while Michael Gambon shows he was the indispensable supporting actor of 2004.  Agnes of God is a contrived melodrama, the least of which contrivances is that although it takes place in a Quebec nunnery, none of the three main actresses has a French accent.  You can tell Anne Bancroft is up to no good when she says within the first five minutes that it's not important who the father is in the infanticide case Jane Fonda is investigating.  The speeches the actresses give are predictable, unilluminating and go on as the script has it both ways.  Collective is not only the movie of the week, but also the first great movie from 2020.  The title of this Romanian documentary is from a dance club in Bucharest, where a horrible fire kills dozens of people.  Then even more people die because the health system is so corrupt.  It's sort of like a classic late sixties/seventies social thriller, like Z or The China Syndrome, only it's real.  But there's still the unhappy ending. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Street Girl was a 1929 movie TCM Canada showed instead of 42nd Street.  This story about the title character, who finds love and success as a musician is not particularly original, except that Betty Compson has a strong foreign accent (her character comes from an imaginary kingdom) and instead of singing or dancing like one would expect, she actually works as a violinist.  Some of the dialogue isn't bad (there's a royalty subplot that eventually leads to the line "Gee Prince, you're a prince.") , but otherwise this is fairly forgettable.  The Green Years is sort of a cross between The Citadel and parts of How Green was my Valley, except instead of Roddy McDowell we have Dean Stockwell as the boy, and instead of salt of the earth miners flawed by evangelical intolerance, we just have a rather rigid Scots family where great grandfather Charles Coburn  is the one enjoyable aspect of life and Hume Cronyn plays Jessica Tandy's father.  Coburn got a best supporting actor nomination and he's certainly the best thing about it.  The Nest has a simple plot, Jude Law believes he can make a financial killing if he moves his family from New York to Thatcher's London.  Before the movie is half way over we learn that he is out of his depth and is running out of money.   Things fail to improve, and while Law and Carrie **** are good as the leads one expects something more interesting at the end than "well, that could have ended a lot worse."

The other two movies are more interesting.  W.S. Van Dyke is known today for two things.  First, making one of the great Hollywood comedies and mysteries (The Thin Man) very quickly.  Second, and to a lesser extent, making several much more exotic movies (White Shadows in the South Seas, the best picture nominee Trader Horn).  Eskimo was shown as part of 31 days of Oscar (it won the first best editing Oscar).  There is some impressive location work, there is more emphasis on Inuit sexuality than one might expect, much of the film is in an Inuit language, and there are several "Native" leads, even if one of the love interests is actually native to Hawaii.  Finally I saw Hangmen Also Die!, not because TCM Canada finally got the rights, but because I noticed it on Kanopy and decided to watch it there.  In the actual story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the assassins were quickly corned into a church and they killed themselves during a gun battle.  In this 1943 film, helped by Bertolt Brecht (called Bert Brecht in the credits), the resistance wonders whether they should give up the assassin to prevent hundreds of hostages from being executed.  I tend to find most of Fritz Lang's films aside from M disappointing.  I also find the Hollywood wartime genre of trying to imagine life in their Allies under Axis occupation a rather unsuccessful genre.  But this movie works better than that, giving a real sense of the fear under the situation.  Walter Brennan is admirably restrained as the father of the female protagonist, as well a future hostage.  Alexander Granach is particularly good as the Gestapo Inspector on the case.  And the success of the ultimate Resistance plan (which is clearly amoral) as well as the final propaganda point is undercut by an all too believable bit of Nazi brutality.  

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Last week I saw three movies.  Ice Castles appeared on TCM because it was nominated for best song of 1979.   I've completely forgotten its song and wondered what the Academy missed that year.  (I know there's at least one unnominated song from The Muppet Movie that's head and shoulders above it).  Basically this is an old story of training a pretty young figure skater, only with an extra blindness subplot.  Nothing in it as memorable as the Peppermint Patty figure skating training sequence that ran within a few years of this.  ("You didn't tell him I'm a girl!!" Patty yells after Charlie Brown's father has given her a boy's short haircut).  Drugstore Cowboy is another in the drug addict genre.  Well it's not as good as Requiem for a Dream.  Will I remember Matt Dillon as the lead in a group of addicts, Kelly Lynch as his wife and Heather Graham as an overdose victim six months from now? Maybe, but I have only vague memories of The Man with the Golden Arm or A Hatful of Rain, so I'm not optimistic.  She Dies Tomorrow is about a plague of fear about a woman she suffers from the idea that she will, as you might guess, die tomorrow.   Unfortunately the movie is so much in the shadows, and the mostly upper middle class characters are so similar and so uninteresting that it's hard to tell them apart and when I saw it I missed a key fact, the fear is a contagious plague.  (And once they get the plague they're all hopeless and miserable, making them even more similar.) 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Our Dancing Daughters is a late silent film where Joan Crawford plays the good debutante who is passed over by the (rather bland) hero by a selfish cheat who is only pretending to be moral.  But it all ends happily in the end when aforementioned cheat drunkenly fall down a flight of stairs in one of the least convincing of convenient spousal deaths.  Passion Fish is the only John Sayles movies to get an oscar acting nomination (for Mary McDonnell).  Yet her story of a soap opera star who finds herself paralyzed and, not surprisingly, starts wallowing in self-pity, is less interesting than Alfre Woodard, as the nurse who eventually helps get her out of her funk while having problems of her own.  I suspect the nomination was partly due to that everyone was conceding Emma Thompson's win in Howard's End.  As a movie, it's more the idea of a realistic drama than a successful example of it.

There's not a lot to say about Rhapsody in Blue, since its own director basically thought it was competent, and it does not have much to say about Gershwin's life aside from making his love affairs more anodyne.  It's interesting to hear music from An American in Paris and Funny Face before those movies would make them immortal.  Romance is another Clarence Brown Greta Garbo movie.  And actually she's fairly engaging as an opera star with a shocking past, or more accurately shocking present.  ("Thank you for loving me," is a good line.)  Martin Eden is one of the best of the few movies of 2020 I've seen.  Except it's actually from 2019.  Based on the Jack London novel, it's transferred to Italy where contemporary features mix with those more evident before the first world war.  Luca Marinelli is good as the lead, and the movie is also good showing the protagonist's (and London's own) conflicts moving between socialism and Spencerian individualism. 

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I loved the film "The Red Shoes".  This is a dark, intense, visually stunning story about the ballet.  The ballet segment of "The Red Shoes" is very innovative and  surreal.  Rather than just filming the dancers performing on the stage, film techniques are used including special effects, quick cuts, etc. to create the weird Hans Christian Anderson story of the Red Shoes.  The blowing newspaper that transforms into a dancer is amazing.

Another favorite this week is The Third Man - my absolute favorite noir/suspense movie.

I don't really care for "Sargant York" with Gary Cooper as a WWI hero.  Not that this isn't a very well-done movie with Cooper's performance as an innocent soldier from the hills and an engaging story, etc..  It just feels like such an unreal portrayal of what WWI was actually like.

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I saw three movies last week.  Silverado is sort of halfway between the more personal westerns of the seventies (McCabe and Mrs Miller, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Missouri Breaks, Days of Heaven, Heaven's Gate--which I know is from 1980), and the more manufactured standard entertainment westerns of the ninties (The Quick and the Dead, and I suspect the Young Guns movies).  As such the first hour is OK, with John Cleese doing a good cameo as a strong, arrogant sheriff.  But the second half is less interesting, with a Big Bad, Brian Dennehy's boss, who is a bit underwhelming.  Crazy Heart, or as I called it, Operation Get Jeff Bridges an Oscar is a conventional movie about a down and out country singer who tries to seek redemption and while he doesn't get everything, he gets most of it.  So it's a bit too convenient.  Ammonite appears overly familiar when watching it.  As it goes on, it's sort of like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but with fossils.  It's also very English in a very restrained way, and in an overly overcast way, as if the national anthem was "Everyday is like Sunday."  There's also questions whether the same-sex relationship has any historical accuracy.  While Kate Winslet is 18 years older than Saoirse Ronan, her character was actually a decade younger than Ronan's. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Hairspray is actually one of the more charming "mainstream" 1988 movies with its gentle parody of message movies, and effective use of early sixties pop music.  It's probably worth another look.  ABBA: the Movie depends for its effect on how much you like ABBA songs, while going through the motions of a plot of an Australian radio journalist trying to get an interview with them but never getting his press card in time.  As it stands, I'm OK with ABBA songs, so the movie is OK,  But "Thank you for the Music," is clearly not the signature ABBA song, and therefore shouldn't be the final song, with a reprise over the credits.  Grease 2 is in a strange category of movies, sequels to movies that most people forgot had sequels made.  (The Sting 2 would appear the next year.)  Although one critic actually preferred the staging of the numbers to the original, few viewers will think this outweighs the lack of memorable songs, or the way the cast lacks the charisma of the original. 

Another Round got a directing nomination for Thomas Vinterberg and a Best Foreign Film.  The idea is that several teachers decide to run an experiment whether their lives would be better if they were slightly soused all the time.  As one might guess, this does not end well, though the Dogme'95 filming and some nuances make this slightly less predictable than one might expect.  Still I hope there are better movies from last year.  Three Daughters is the movie of the week.  It consists of three stories, each the size of a (very small , at least the first two) feature.  Although the film focuses of three women, the filial relationship is not shown.  The middle story, a sort of ghost story is the least successful, with a twist that few will be surprised by.   Much better at the first one, about a village postmaster who befriends his pre-adolescent maid, and the third one where Soumitra Chatterjee becomes attracted to a tomboyish teenager. 

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I saw five movies last week.  Incidentally, all are about unwise relationships.   Looking for Mr. Goodbar boasts a good performance from Diane Keaton as the teacher whose promiscuous bar-hopping comes to a nasty end.  That Keaton is prettier than  her character in the novel isn't necessarily a problem, since poor body image can affect women regardless of their appearance.  Nor is it necessarily implausible that almost all the male characters are pretty crass.  On the other hand, the cinematography is pretty drab (and it got an oscar nomination!) while Tuesday Weld's character, despite her nomination, is rather shallow (and what happened to her children?).  Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the independent abortion movie from last year.  This story of a Pennsylvania teenager who goes to New York city for an abortion starts off a prosaic movie.  It would be like one of those special episodes that appear on television, or would if network television was not afraid to anger the anti-abortion lobby.  The protagonist and her cousin who helps her in her trip are taciturn, toneless and affectless like many contemporary teenagers.  The movie does show some spark when the two face predictable obstacles.  Instead of spending a day in New York, they have to spend three, because the fake family planning clinic back in Pennsylvania got her pregnancy length wrong by at least seven weeks.  So there are problems with money, and finding a place to stay.  And there is one scene, involving a questionnaire where the movie get its title from.  which breaks through the protagonist's shell.

Her Man is probably the best of the movies, using very striking tracking shots for 1930, while Helen Twelvetrees does provide a certain bark as the bar floozy in what is probably Havana with an unhealthy relationship with someone who is probably her pimp. So this is Paris is a lighter movie from Ernest Lubitsch.  This story of two couples who decide to stray with the other is amusing, well subtitled  ("One meets the very best people in jail now-a-days. ") and benefits from two twists at the end.  Not the best Lubitsch silent comedy, but watchable enough.  Keeper of the Flame stars Spencer Tracy as a reporter who is trying to find out what is Katharine Hepburn's secret as the widow of a recently deceased American hero.  It turns out that the secret is that he's Charles Lindbergh.  Well no not really, but the idea is that he was using his wealth and reputation to help spark a fascist movement.  The film is OK, but given how much of the cast and crew helped make The Philadelphia Story a couple of years earlier, it is a bit disappointing. 

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I saw seven movies over the last two weeks, two in the first week, five in the second.  Hollywood Shuffle is a mildly provocative and off colour satire of insulting depictions of African-Americans, which is more likely nowadays to be criticized for its sneers against gays.  Cut Throat city does show some panache in a thriller about desperate people forced into crime in New Orleans.  It's not a terribly successful thriller, since the characters every now and then stop what they're doing to complain about the injustices of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Nor was it entirely clear why one criminal deliberately screwed over the protagonists, or why Ethan Hawke's corrupt city councilor cares.   A fake ending doesn't help, though Terrance Howard is interesting as a criminal called "the Saint."

Dogfight is better than the director's first film True Love which was hampered by its lack of sympathy for its male characters.  But it's not a  lot better.  Lili Taylor plays the hardly unattractive protagonist picked up in the eponymous competition, and River Phoenix does his best trying to provide complexity to his role.  On the other hand, having Taylor know more about folk music and singling out Joan Baez for praise, is flattering the audience just a bit much.  Goko, body snatcher from Hell would actually be a better movie if it cleared up some plot holes.  (Supposedly the characters are trapped on an island, but they reach the Japanese mainland without too much trouble).  It would be even better if in this tale of a crashed airplane the passengers were not so uniformly selfish, irrational or panicky.  You'd think a very annoyed stewardess wrote the script.  But notwithstanding a MST vibe, the ending does have some kick.  High Hopes is sort of an early Leigh experiment.  Phil Davis and Ruth Sheen are good as the left-wing working class at the heart of the movie.  Edna Dore is less successful as the unbelievably complacent upper middle class person who can't help  Cyril's mother when she loses her keys.  Perhaps better than Life is Sweet, of which I remember very little, but not nearly as good as Secrets and Lies. 

Much better is A Kid for Two Farthings, a charming story about a small boy who is convinced that the sickly young goat he bought is a unicorn that can grant wishes.  The conceit is actually played rather well, and in a more multicultural London than one might expect in fifties British cinema.  But better still is the Chilean movie The Wolf House.  This is a movie that combines genuine animation with stop-motion animation all designed to give the illusion of being a continuous shot and the movie goes around the eponymous house.  The story, with its overtones of Three Little Pigs is also about a strange German emigre colony whose authoritarian, indeed murderous tendencies were helped by the Pinochet regime.  The level of detail and the subtle sense of dread are both outstanding.

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I saw four movies last week.  Three of them were disappointing, yet I can't bring myself to wholly condemn them.  Trog is best known as Joan Crawford's last film.  By all accounts everyone had a miserable time making it.  Not only is the movie amateurish and is of questionable competence, but it breaks the Cardinal rule of caveman movies (caveman and dinosaurs did not live at the same time).  And yet Joan Crawford has a certain dignity is a movie where misogynist spite is as important a factor as irrational fear.  To Sir, with Love has the problems you'd expect with a black Goodbye Mr. Chips.  The race element is very obvious (it takes some time to realize that not all the students are white), and yet only vaguely alluded to.  It is a movie about trying to cross the class divide without any understanding of what sixties working class London teenagers are actually like.  (At one point, Poitier's character has nothing better to do for his female students than improve their use of make-up).  French students would nearly overthrow the government just the year later, and movies like Kes, If... and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would help show how shallow the movie is.  And while the title song is better than people remember, playing it three times in the last ten minutes is a bit much.  But Poitier does project a sense of strength and dignity that one wishes Hollywood knew how to make better use of.

Apparently the original novel Magic is based on was better able to hide the key plot point, that Anthony Hopkins is suffering from a split personality, the other personality being projected through his ventriloquist dummy.  I remember being alarmed watching the trailer as a child.  As an actual movie, the main value of this movie is watching Hopkins playing a murderer before his performance as Hannibal Lecter made his a superstar.  He's not bad, he's kinder and awkwarder (including his accent, a sort of New York/English mashup). Nor is Ann-Margaret bad as the love interest, and the final twist is interesting.  But the conceit has been done before.  Possessor is the first fiction movie from last year that I actually liked.  With his father's trademark presentation of cool, anti-septic elements, and outbursts of bodily fluids, usually blood, Brandon Cronenberg presents an interesting tale of assassins taking over other bodies to do their work.  That the whole plot can be considered a way of improving corporate efficiency and commitment is another kick.

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I saw three movies last week, starting with two Ken Russell films.  Mahler is the more sober and realistic one, also less interesting.  Russell does not  seems to have a particularly profound take on the man or his music.  So there's his Jewishness, his relationship with his wife, his premature death.  There's also an early scene where it's apparent that Russell wishes he had directed Death in Venice.  Lisztomania has one idea, Franz Liszt as the 19th century equivalent of a rock star, and when this starts to run out about forty minutes, the movie becomes increasingly deranged, in a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the Russell style.  After this, Russell was not allowed to be this crazy again.  Wagner appears not only as a Nazi, but also as a vampire and Frankenstein's Monster.  This has little to do with the real Liszt and the preposterous nature seems to be like bad ideas Homer or Bart Simpson would have for a movie.  Judas and the Black Messiah is an unimaginative version of the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.  The Oscars were criticize d for giving the two title characters supporting actor nominations, as if the movie did not have a lead.  But splitting attention between the two does kind of undercut the ir importance.  Daniel Kaluuya does show some charisma in a largely uncritical portrait, while Lakeith Stanfield is less interesting as the FBI informant who betrays him. 

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I saw five movies over the last two weeks:  two the first week, three this one.  The Stepfather basically stands and falls on Terry O'Quinn's performance as the eponymous character .  As such he does a good job, at least enough to ensure a lasting television career.  Granted the subtle parody of Reagan era values one might wonder whether the movie has much more to offer.  Carey Mulligan has a fine time in Promising Young woman, as she plays with feminist revenge and being reasonable and judicious.  Although one can guess that her relationship is not going to work, two twists at the end do make this a more enjoyable experience.

Knock on Any Door involves Nicholas Ray and Humphrey Bogart.  It also has the line "Live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse."  Unfortunately, it also has Bo
Derek's husband seven years before she was born, playing an Italian-American.  If you look carefully, you can see elements of Ray/Bogart' much better movie In a Lonely Place, such as a carefully maintained ambiguity.  But there's a lot of desperate rhetoric that not even Bosley Crowther found convincing in 1949.  The League of Gentlemen asks what would happen if experienced military officers planned a heist in early sixties Britain.  Well since it's an early sixties British film, they have to be caught, and how they are is not very satisfying, even if boys writing down license numbers was apparently common at the time.  Undine, which incidentally has three syllables.  is clearly the movie of the fortnight.   Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski give good performances at the leads.  Although much of the movie is underwater,  director Christian Petzold does a good job with the photography as well as develop his modern day fairy tale. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  The Good German is marketed as a sort of anti-Casablanca, and where Steven Soderbergh gets to revel in his moral toughness.  As a concept, the movie suffers from the problem that we've seen the anti-Casablanca movie before, in Notorious, The Third Man, Germany:  Year Zero and A Foreign Affair.  So such a movie needs more than simply copying forties camerawork.  Also George Clooney and Cate Blanchett need to be at least as interesting the characters in those four movies as opposed to somewhat less interesting.   Also, the movie makes a crucial error, vital to the climax and the moral evaluation of a key character, about Nazi policy about breaking Jew/Gentile marriages.  Minari is clearly the movie of the week, This is a reasonable, competent movie about a Korean immigrant family trying to succeed in farmers in Arkansas.  It has an interesting use of detail, even if I thought Alan Kim was a more interesting actor than Steven Yeun (playing his father) or Youn Yuh-jung (playing his mildly spicy grandmother). 

The other three movies can be summed up more quickly.  I'm not sure why I felt the need to see Youth Goes Wild, except that Val Newton didn't want to be associated with it, and the tale of small-town delinquency has little to say about the subject.  Paragraph 175 is a documentary about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.  Its main attraction is that you can see some of those persecuted testify half a century later.  Libel is a courtroom drama, involving the second world war, but based on a play involving the first world war.  Dirk Bogarde, Robert Morley, and Wilfred Hyde-White all do a good job, but it's a rather convenient view of amnesia to end up with the somewhat pat solution at the end.

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Last week I saw five movies.  Let's start with the two Brian De Palma movies.  The Bonfire of the Vanities starts with a bravura tracking shot and then muddles its way through its version of the Tom Wolfe novel.  The novel itself had serious flaws (for all its talk of 'realism," the three characters whom Wolfe deigned to look into only thought about money and sex and the complications that arose from the pursuit of both), but at least it provided a vivid picture of being in the Bronx criminal justice system and what it was like to be very, but not quite sufficiently rich in 1987 New York.  For all his ostentatious panache and visual flair, De Palma does not bring these to life.  Nor does he have anything to say about the subjects Wolfe talks about.  Nor does he have any clear bead on the characters (Peter Fallow is made into a more sympathetic American).  If not infamous, it's thoroughly bland.  The interesting thing about Body Double  is that despite its extremely unpromising plot some critics of De Palma were willing to give him points for genuine style.  And the second quarter of the movie does have some effective scenes.   And having Frankie Goes to Hollywood sing "Relax" in the third quarter is a leap forward in De Palma's  use of music.  But overall the film is a failure.  It copies elements from two Hitchcock movies, Rear Window and Vertigo, brings in an actor who can't compete with James Stewart, ignores almost everything in the original two movies that was genuinely remarkable, and concentrates on the latter movie's over-complicated scheme and makes it more silly and implausible. 

Solo is a bland entry into the Star Wars franchise.  The only real question is whether Alden Ehrenreich is any match for Harrison Ford.  And the answer is not remotely.  Woody Harrelson has more charisma than the rest of the cast combined and he's one of the bad guys.  There's a tolerable flying away sequence, and the surprising reappearance of a character who most people thought died in 1999, but has apparently been making canonical appearances for the interceding years.  Knowing is a better movie, showing some interesting Alex Proyas touches, even if the overall disaster is treated glibly.  I probably would find it less effective if I were not feeling a great deal of dread that day.  Ant-Man and the Wasp is therefore the best movie of the week, yet another extremely competent Marvel movie.  In this case, the two heroes constantly shift sizes, often without their control, and are chased by no fewer than three separate opponents.  It also includes a nifty truth serum sequence.  The happy ending is somewhat modified by a mid-credits sequence, and the dialogue is agreeably amusing.  ("It's where I hid every time we played [hide and seek]"  "It sounds like you really didn't get the gist of the game.")

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Last week I saw six movies.  Wolfwalkers is an animated movie, about a young English girl in 1650s Ireland who finds a magical girl capable of turning into a wolf.  I suspect it's not the distinctly flat animation style that annoyed me, as the way it views Irish history through a fashionable contemporary lens.  I never forgave Braveheart for claiming William Wallace was Edward III's father (quite a trick considering the five year gap between Wallace's execution and Edward's birth).  If history is what hurts, then this movie can't be very historical when it has Oliver Cromwell killed by a wolf in Ireland.  And the idea that it would actually be better to be a werewolf rings a bit hollow when very few Europeans nowadays have ever encountered one.  The Cowboys is sort of like a revision of Red River to match John Wayne's superior box office power.  Instead of arguing with Montgomery Clift, he hires a bunch of teenage boys who have everything to learn from him, and have no grounds to criticize him.  The boys are allowed to swear and show a certain typical adolescent coarseness that would be used more successfully in The Bad News Bears.  One might also wonder at the conclusion, where the boys successfully avenge Wayne's murder by wiping out Bruce Dern and his gang.  Elvis:  that's the Way it is is an OK concert film which says very little about Presley himself or what it's like to be in such a situation.  There's no sense of variation (unlike in The Song Remains the Same), of occasion (like in The Last Waltz or Woodstock), or of imagination (like Stop Making Sense).

The other three movies are more interesting.  Pulp reunites the director and star of Get Carter.  While Michael Caine plays a more typical Caine role than the borderline sociopath in Get Carter, (he's a cynical pulp writer) and the movie has a large element of black comedy, Pulp and Get Carter both share a series of crimes grounded in the sexual assault of a young woman.  As a mystery, it's not particularly clever, though it is occasionally amusing, and arguably more successful than the same year's Sleuth.   The Little shop of Horrors shows Roger Corman's cut-rate filming at his most inventive.  It's actually bursting with ideas, over and beyond its malevolent Venus Fly Trap monster.   There's the Dragnet parody, Jack Nicholson's hilarious masochist dental patient, and the constant malapropism and kvetching of its two male leads.  The movie of the week is I wish I were.  It's supposedly a documentary by Jia Zhangke about Shanghai, though Jia's muse, Zhao Tao, wanders around playing a vague and allusive role.  With allusions to classics of Chinese cinema like Spring in a Small Town, and more recent works like Days of Being Wild and Flowers of Shanghai, we see a host of people interviewed.  There's an assistant for Michelangelo Antonioni's seventies documentary who gets into trouble in the cultural revolution.  We hear a woman talking about the execution of her communist father a month before he was born.  Later we meet one of the first treasury bill salesman in post-Mao China, as well as novelist surprised by his own success. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  Visions of Eight was an Olympic movie that did not sustain my attention.  What I remember most of it are some somewhat pretentious slow-motion moves.  Bye Bye Birdie must be on the most successful of the least interesting sixties musicals.  It's a parody of rock and roll which, a year before the Beatles arrived, could still suggest this was a fad of silly girls.  The eponymous Birdie is based on Elvis (there's one good joke about his being drafted), and he has none of Elvis' charisma and talent.   The movie made Ann-Margret a star, and George Sidney deliberately emphasized her in contrast to Janet Leigh.  Yet I remember Leigh's encounter with some Shriners near the end of the movie more than the rest of it, (certainly more than the songs) while Ann-Margret ultimately stands by her local ****.  It's odd that Maureen Stapleton, who plays Leigh's eventual mother-in-law was less than 25 months older than her.  Perhaps I should pay more attention next time it's on.

Dear Comrades!  is about the Novocherkaask massacre in 1962, where protests against rising food prices were met with state violence and dozens were shot and killed.  The movie is competent, and has some nuance.  Yuliya Vysotskaya does a good job as the protagonist, a fortyish party member (apparently the equivalent of a city councillor) who  indulges in the sort of hypocrisies one might expect (an affair with a married man, black market connections for food), but who uncritically accepts Stalinist myths.  So it may be a bit contrived that she unthinkingly calls for a tough line, and her own teenage daughter becomes a victim.  It's not easy to note just how accurate the movie is (apparently one high army officer refused to fire on demonstrating workers), and one could read a pro-Putin message in how the protagonist ends up praying to God in a crisis, or oscillates between a national loyalty and ideological despair.   On the other hand, one could see these ambiguities how actual Russians try to live through an impossible history.  A last minute twist, to be honest, doesn't help matters.  So the movie of the week is Los Tallos Amargos.  This is actually a successful noir even if, like the last Latin American movie I saw from roughly this period (Salon Mexico) it seeks to make its country (Argentina in this case) as much as like Europe and the United States.  But Carlos Cores is very good in the lead, getting involved in a get-rich scheme, and consumed at first by paranoia, and then guilt. 

 

 

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