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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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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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