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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...


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Last week I saw five movies.  Let's start with the three romances.  Father Goose won the oscar for best original screenplay for 1964.  Much of it consists of moving The African Queen to the second world war Pacific.  Having Cary Grant in the Charlie Allnut role in an interesting idea.  Having Leslie Caron in the Katharine Hepburn role is a less interesting one.  Adding seven adorable children to the mix is just too cynical for words.  The script is occasionally amusing (when told that Trevor Howard's character is engaged, Grant replies that he doesn't care if he's married.  When he stumbles on the others getting dressed and is told he should knock, Grant responds you learn something new everyday.)  However, it's not deserves-to-beat A Hard Day's Night level of amusing.  No Man of Her Own has Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only movie together.  And , as it happens several years before they actually fell in love, and several more years before they married.  Gable is his usual rakish charming self as a card-sharper who's on the run and marries a small town librarian.  As the librarian Lombard would be more fun in later movies. 

Palm Springs, we eventually learn is a movie about the two romantic leads caught in a time loop.  Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti play the couple.   As it happens Samberg has long been ware of the basic problem which Milioti learns in the first third of the movie, and only one other character, played by J.K. Simmons knows,  (It involves wandering into a cave where's there's some sort fo weird wormhole thing).  One problem with the movie is that there's the obvious comparison with Groundhog Day.  Another problem is that Samberg's character has basically given up trying to change things, and spends the day getting drunk and hitting on the female guests at the wedding of Milioti's sister.  This does not make him a particularly interesting or sympathetic character, or for that matter the couple especially interesting or sympathetic.  Still a movie that has "Cloudbusting"on the soundtrack can't be all bad.

Atlantis is a dystopian science fiction film.  Actually it's a picture of the low level war between Ukraine and Russia, with Ukraine looking more miserable and desolate than usual.  The movie consist of rather long and static shots, sort of like early Jarmusch, but not as funny.  Eventually the truck driver who spends the movie transporting scarce water falls in love with an archaeologist.  Or at least they have sex.  Many found this interesting, but I suppose it wasn't to my taste.  So I guess A Woman's Face is the movie of the week.  And Ingrid Bergman is very good as a bitter blackmailer, who is convincingly ruthless in the first third of the movie.  But she has a change of heart when the doctor husband of one of her victims decides to heal the scar on her face.  Now she's beautiful and conflicted about a plan to murder a child so one of their marks can inherit an estate.  The movie is shot very well, there's the best sleigh chase since The Sage of Gosta Berling, though Bergman's love interest is a bit of a drip and the best other members of the cast are Bergman's fellow blackmailers. 

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Last week I saw another five movies.  Cronos is the movie about a man turned into a vampire by a magical clock.  As such it's mildly engaging, like other Guillermo de Toro movies, though Ron Perlman was much more interesting in The City of Lost children.  The Dybbuk, by contrast was much more engaging, and was clearly the movie of the week.  This example of what J. Hoberman calls "Hasidic gothic," is both effective in its use of Jewish legend, in its presentation of the genuinely uncanny, and is also blessed with a striking score.  It's also striking watching this Polish movie and wondering how many of the cast and crew survived the upcoming war.  As it happens both the director and the two lead female actresses managed to emigrate in time.  But the actor who plays the unsettling messenger was apparently murdered in the "harvest festival" massacres.

I also saw the first two movies of the "Small Axe" series.  Mangrove is an OK movie about about an Anglo-Caribbean cafe that faces police harassment in late sixties London.  This leads to protests and arrests of black protesters on charges of rioting.  Ultimately they are able to achieve some justice at trial, despite a hostile judge well  played by Alex Jennings.   There is a bit too much rhetoric for my taste.  Lovers Rock is a shorter movie about a 1980 house party which includes good music, some romantic entanglements, and some not so romantic abuses.  It's OK.  On the Rocks is another example of Sofia Coppola's world of ultra-privileged people, in this case Rashida Jones is wondering whether her husband is straying.  Her father, played by Bill Murray inserts himself into the case, though he has wrecked his own marriage through womanizing, and spends much of the movie  chatting up pop sociobiology points.  It's not the best use of his talents.   

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This past week I watched 3 films noir on Movies! Network.  Of the 3, the one I enjoyed most was 1953's Dangerous Crossing with Jeanne Crain, Michael Rennie, Casey Adams, Carl Betz and Mary Anderson.  A thriller that takes place on an ocean liner with Crain playing a wealthy widow who is now on her honeymoon with new husband, Betz.  Rennie is cast in the leading male role as the ship's doctor.   Well acted by all and a surprise finish, to boot.

In second place is 1941's Johnny Eager as played by Robert Taylor with Lana Turner, Edward Arnold, Robert Sterling, Glenda Farrell, Barry Nelson and Van Heflin who won the Supporting Oscar as Taylor's alcoholic friend who quotes Shakespeare.    This one's a typical MGM melodrama with shades of film noir, but it held my attention all the way.

I feel like I should have liked 1945's Cornered more than I did.  Directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Dick Powell who is in peak form as a Canadian flyer who is tracking down a man in Buenos Aires he thinks is responsible for the death of his French bride during WW2.  Even though there are some tense moments, I found the plot too convoluted to really enjoy.  It could have been cut by a good 20 minutes to keep it moving along.  Good acting, however, by Walter Slezak, Micheline Cheirel, Nina Vale, Morris Carnovsky and Luther Adler. 

 

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This week I saw seven movies.  Let's start with the last three movies of the "Small Axe" series.  Red White and Blue and Alex Wheatle deal with police racism, the first from the viewpoint of a pioneering Afro-British cop, the second from the viewpoint of an imprisoned man who later became a prominent author.  Education shows the weaknesses of this series.  It's about an Afro-British youth named Kingsley who, despite his intelligence,  has a learning disability that makes it difficult for him to read.  It's not made clear what the disability, but he is sent to a "special" school.  In fact the school basically warehouses the children and does nothing to teach them.  (One fairly compelling scene has a lazy teacher simply sing "House of the Rising Sun," clearly not an appropriate song, instead of actually teaching them.)  The basic dilemma starts off well, more so than in the other two movies.  Gradually some black advocates realize the problem and start teaching him properly.  One problem is the movie ends with Kingsley learns to read from being exposed to a heroic narrative of African history.  Which strikes me as a bit crass.  The movie also name checks Bernard Coard's critique of educating the Afro-Caribbean community, without mentioning that he eventually became a leader in Grenada's New Jewel Movement, until his sectarianism led to the overthrow and murder of its leader and its swift overthrow by an American invasion.

You're a Big Boy Now is an early Coppola movie about a muddled young man and his very unsuccessful attempts to get a girlfriend.  The result shows the influence of too many viewings of The Knack, with the protagonist even less sympathetic than that movie's.  Geraldine Page got a Supporting Actress nomination as a fairly unhelpful mother in a year when they were desperately running around looking for nominees.  Rosita is a charming Lubitsch silent movie.  Not as charming as The Doll or The Wildcat, but Mary Pickford is affectionately winsome as the street singer who catches the eye of the ruler of Seville.  The ending joins this movie with My Fair Lady in the fine use of anticlimax.

One Night in Miami is based on a play based on a real incident where Malcom X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown all chatted after Clay won the world heavyweight title.  Actually, Cooke and Malcolm do most of the talking in what I thought was a less than brilliant film of a less than profound stage play making fairly obvious points about the Black Muslims, the civil rights struggle and whether popular music can really make a difference.   So Nomadland is the movie of the week.  After not being impressed with the previous two movies Frances McDormand won oscars for, this movie does show her give a fine performance as a woman who engages in short-term precarious work, while traveling from place to place in her van.  It does offer a rare look at working class life in American cinema.  .  Richard Brody has criticized  this in a rare negative review, and while some of his points are valid (one imagines a hospital experience would be considerably more difficult than it would be in the movie), some are less so (how do they vote, he asks.  Well given residence requirements and Republican voting laws, they probably don't.) 

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I saw three movies last week.  I suppose I liked Borat Subsequent Moviefilm more than I thought I would.  In this movie the laughs are more at Borat than at the United States, though the idea of offering a bribe to Michael Pence in the form of a child bride works rather well.  And there is a twist at the end.  Time is probably the movie of the week, a documentary about a wife who spends twenty years raising her children while trying to get her husband out of prison.  It's certainly a gritty and realistic portrait.  The Rise of Skywalker is certainly as underwhelming as people thought it was.  Incidentally, it was the only one of the movies I didn't see in a theater.  One wonders whether it would have been better if Carrie Fisher had been alive to complete it.  It doesn't help that the last trilogy is basically a re-run of the first one, but this movie is basically a less fun version of Return of the Jedi, and also less compelling morally as well.  Also, the First Order, after nearly winning completely in the previous movie, is rather muddled and confused as various characters easily control them. 
 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Let's start with the last three I saw in 2021, which were all disappointing in their own way.  Winter People is about hill people whom Kurt Russell's character stumbles upon.  It's not as if portraying rural America was ever one of Hollywood's strong points.  And here there's little insight provided, and the conclusion is especially weak.  SPOILERS:  in order to solve a blood feud the heroine gives up her newborn boy to his paternal grandfather.  Not surprisingly, she wants it back. They refuse.  And then the patriarch changes his mind because..somebody thought there should be a happy ending.  In retrospect, I should have realized The Matrix Resurrections wouldn't work.  The Wachowskis haven't made a good movie since the original Matrix.  About thirty minutes in it appears we are seeing a repeat of the original picture, with its first scene seen from another angle, with half-hearted substitutes provided for Laurence Fishburne and Hugh Weaving,  Then it turns out that the movie is building on from the third movie, by borrowing all the verbiage and most of what was unsatisfactory about that movie. Having Barney Stinson play the villain doesn't really make up for it.  Being the Ricardos is more adequate.  But unlike Americans of my generation, I didn't grow up seeing reruns of I Love Lucy, so I don't really know what Lucille Ball was like, except in this movie she's too much like Nicole Kidman.  There's a whole thread elsewhere pointing out the needless dig about Judy Holliday, and having J. Edgar Hoover come to the rescue when Ball is accused of red leanings sort of misses the whole point of what McCarthyism was all about.  Some of the dialogue is genuinely amusing.

David Byrne's American Utopia suffers from comparison to Stop Making Sense.  But otherwise it's a good film.  Byrne and his eleven colleague are all dressed in grey suits, no tie and no shoes and socks.  If not as good as the first movie, there is enough interesting choreography, songs, (the film ends with "Road to Nowhere" which came out a year after Stop Making Sense), and occasional comments to the audience for it to be worth watching.  Repeat Performance is engaging in its own way, with Joan Leslie genuinely sympathetic as the woman in a distressing situation, Louis Hayward as her self-pitying husband/victim, Richard Basehart as a friend falsely  yet conveniently accused of insanity, and Tom Conway doing his benign George Sanders impression as one might expect from Sanders' own brother.  A certain moral convenience about the ending prevents it from full greatness. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Arctic Fury is a docudrama in which a man survives an airplane crash in the far northern wilderness, but makes his way out and adopts two cute bears as pets.  Perhaps it's the unintentional inspiration for Grizzly Man.  I watched The Town that Dreaded Sundown because I remember playing at my small town movie theater when I was a child.  As such, it's not a bad movie about the search for a serial killer in the forties who attacks couples.  But there's only so much you can do about a story where you don't know the ending.  (The killer was never found.)  There's a certain lack of genius all around, and some comic relief does not play well.  Jukebox musicals had been out of fashion for a decade when Rock and Roll High School appeared.  This one does show the Ramones' genuine energy and power, even though they're only minor characters in the movie.  Somewhat interesting is the way the movie moves from high school movie cliches to anarchy.

Two Japanese movies round out the list.  The 1958 The Ballad of Narayama differs from the 1983 Cannes prize winner with its more restrained manner, giving film censorship rules, and the use of sound stages for almost all the filming.  As such, the basic cruelty of the senicide is retained, but most people will, I suspect, prefer the 1983 version.  Given the political uses of rural nostalgia for evil ends for the first half of the twentieth century, it's hard to deny the tougher version should rule.  Wife of a Spy is the latest Kyuoshi Kurosawa movie.  It's a period drama, and the "spy" is actually trying to reveal Japanese atrocities in the second world war. It's a competent film, though not as good as the previous Kurosawa movies I've seen (Creepy and Cure).

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Last week I saw three movies, all about themes of moral dilemmas of not rich people  under pressure.  Big City has the unusual pairing of Spencer Tracy and Louise Rainer.  He's a cab driver, she's his foreign born wife.  They get involved in fights with a rival taxi syndicate.  Rainer's character is framed for crimes and is faced with deportation, even though she is pregnant.  (Could they do that in 1937?).  Tracy is quite good as the husband, and the movie has an amusing punchline.  Hell Drivers has quite the cast.  Peggy Cummins is a non-sociopathic love interest.  Sean Connery has a minor role.  Herbert Lom plays an Italian worker with a heart of gold a year after he played Napoleon.   Stanley Baker is the protagonist, an ex-cop who ind himself an exploited trucker making dangerous runs.  And we see the Prisoner and the first Doctor playing the villains.  I've never seen a Cy Endfield movie before.  And while this is not one of this most respected works, he looks fairly promising.  Admittedly the truck driving has been done better before and since.   But this show does a better job of portraying British working class desperation, despite Baker's not quite there accent than many of the more esteemed films of the British New Age.  The Card Counter is less successful.  Oscar Isaac is good, but the references to Abu Ghraib and the accompanying guilt appear facile.  There's something incongruous between the issues raised, and the homages to Paul Schrader's earlier American Gigolo and, of course, to Pickpocket

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