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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...


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Last week I saw four movies.  The first two were interesting but not fully successful.  No Man of Her Own, the second movie to have that title, stars Barbara Stanwyck as unmarried and pregnant who, after a complicated situation following a train accident, finds herself confused with the pregnant widow that her in-laws conveniently never met.  Stanwyck is very good as the desperate woman in question.  Mitchell Leisen does a good job directing the implausible plot.  One problem is that the love interest is not nearly so engaging.  Another problem is that the new family is surprisingly indulgent towards Stanwyck.  And why come up with not one, but two convenient solutions to the homicide that plagues the end of the movie.  (One would just be fine).  Butley stars Alan Bates as an insufferable English professor who deals with the fact that his life is falling apart by talking maliciously and snidely to the people who are closest to  him.   When it originally appeared on stage, Bates won a London theater award.  But seeing it on film one gets the impression that we've seen variations of this before: The Entertainer, Look Back in Anger, most obviously, also Inadmissable Evidence, which I haven't seen, plus large portions of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Although Bates tries very hard, we've seen this expression of toxic male self pity before.

The other two movies are more impressive.  The Gang's All Here suffers from uninteresting leads and a forgettable love story.  But its colour cinematography and musical numbers are so deranged, it's sort of like Yolanda and the Thief, which is a plus in my book.  Spencer is a worthy successor to Pablo Lorrain's Jackie, with a fine performance by Kristen Stewart.  One can see motifs from The Shining (tracking shots in elegant corridors, plus the general claustrophobia and emotional deadness).   And perhaps from Ludwig as well (it was shot in Germany).  Arguably it may be better than Jackie, since the late Mrs. Chuck Windsor is a less sympathetic character, and unlike The Eyes of Tammy Baker, which won the best Actress award, it doesn't simple flatter the audience for being sympathetic to the gargoyle at its center.  Her despair is combined with an unimaginative solipsism.  One should also note the Greenwood score. 

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Another week, another four movies.  The Killer is Loose has certain strengths, starting with Wendell Corey as the titular character, a striking portrait of shell shocked obsession.  But it lacks weight.  The most striking scene is not the climax, but the one earlier where Corey's old bullying sergeant tries to threaten his way out of a hostage situation.  By contrast, the actual climax, where Joseph Cotten's wife arrives to put herself in unnecessary danger, is less successful and ends somewhat abruptly.  No Blood Relation shows Mikio Naruse's talents, with more dynamism and fluidity than people often expect in silent movies.  But although Naruse got his reputation as a director of sympathetic women's pictures, this one has a noticeable ideological aftertaste.  An actress abandons her husband and new born daughter for another man.  After six years of success she returns and wants her daughter back, who now thinks her stepdaughter is her real mother.  An attempt to essentially kidnap the daughter (with the assistance of the actress' brother and the girl's uncle, who is essentially a gangster) goes wrong very quickly.  Not only do we spend thirty or forty minutes realizing the actress' plan was a very stupid one, but the fact that she is dressed in western clothes and the stepmother is always dressed in traditional Japanese ones, makes this a parable of corrupt modernity at a time Japan was becoming increasingly authoritarian and chauvinist.  (And if you think that such movements would prefer the birth mother, actually Japan has long traditions of foster care.)

Don't Make Waves reunites Tony Curtis with Alexander Mackendrick.  And in some of the scenes where Curtis is able to worm his way into a pool construction business does show some of the skill and energy of Mackendrick's better movies.  One problem with the move though is that Curtis is still the deeply unpleasant person he was in The Sweet Smell of Success.  And while Claudia Cardinale and Sharon Tate are certainly photographed well, one problem is that they're more interesting than Curtis (Cardinale plays a talented artist, Tate a skilled skydiver who rescues Curtis when he falls out of a plane) and should be more than prizes to compete for his attention.  So Cry Macho is the movie of the week.  A cynical viewer might think Eastwood spends much of the movie hiding the fact that since he's now 90, he isn't really strong enough to be the man the movie occasionally asks him to be.  But this story of an ex-retainer of a rich Texas rancher who goes to Mexico to help retrieve his son develops into a more leisurely paced and somewhat unpredictable variant of the road movie, and here Eastwood does put his talents to good use. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  The Argyle Secrets is little more than an hour, has more plot than The Big Sleep, and has some weird touches (such as the protagonist trying to escape and ducking into the apartment of a Jewish family he knew, complete with son having to play the violin and nitwit police officer not realizing he's supposed to arrest the protagonist.)  Certainly an interesting attempt, even if it could use more personality.  The same director's The Underworld Story has certain similarities to the following year's Ace in the Hole.  In this movie Dan Duryea plays an amoral journalist who tries to make a profit by proclaiming a murder suspect is innocent.  As it happens, the woman in question is innocent, and powerful people would prefer the jury does not find that out.  In the course of Duryea very, very slowly learning to do the right thing, he has to confront Howard Da Silva, doing his best at calm, quiet malevolence.  That there isn't more of the latter may be the movie's biggest flaw.  While it's not clear what the best movie of the week is, Bobby Deerfield is clearly the worst.  This pretentious attempt to take elements of A Man and A Woman is dull, emotionally inert and emotionally unconvincing.   Up to this point Al Pacino had won well-deserved oscar nominations four years in a row, plus two performances in Jerry Schatzberg movies that also showed his talent.  After this his career never reached the same heights.  The odd thing is you would think people would blame the director but Sydney Pollack followed this with commercial success (The Electric Horseman), critical acclaim (Tootsie) and his own oscar (Out of Africa).

Vortex takes two major figures in seventies European cinema, film director Dario Argento and actress Francois Lebrun, and has them star as an old couple as we watch them die.  Lebrun in particular is showing clear signs of dementia and the rest of her family does not really know how to cope.  It takes a little time for the latest film by Gasper Noe to develop some momentum, and admittedly the effect may depend on whether you had an elderly relative recently die.  But there's no denying the cumulative effect.  Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is the other 2021 movie from Ryusuke Hamaguchi.  Whereas Drive my Car was nearly three hours long, this movie consists of three approximately forty minute tales.  Perhaps a bit disappointingly, the best one comes first, and the least successful is last.  Regardless, Kotone Furukawa is good as the protagonist in the first, and Katuski Mori as the female protagonist in the second.

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Last week I saw three movies.  Destination Moon appears roughly halfway between Woman in the Moon and 2001:  A Space Odyssey, though it's closer in technological sophistication to the earlier film and it's not as good as either.  The main problem with the movie is that the most energetic character in it is Woody Woodpecker, who makes a brief cameo.  It's rather interesting that the movie insists on the ability of private enterprise to construct the rocket, despite the complete lack of market demand for travel to the moon, not to mention how the next seven decades would completely fail to vindicate this belief.  Bad Company is certainly the best movie I've ever seen from Robert Benton, much better than Kramer vs. Kramer (while I keep forgetting what happens in The Late Show).  This story about teenage boys who decide to skip out the Civil War and go out West sounds like an idea Tom Sawyer would have if the eponymous book had been written before the war instead of after it.  Jeff Bridges does well playing the second man,  a good shot, but also out of his depth.  It also works better than The Cowboys a movie made around the same time with a more audience friendly approach.  Memoria is the movie of the week, though it's not  an easy film to admire.  You might wonder why Apichatpong Weerasethakul decided to make a movie in Colombia, given the lack of connection of that country with Thailand.  But they're both recently urbanized countries that were overwhelmingly rural in living memory.  And as such it's an appropriate place for Weerasethakul's pantheist fables.  Tilda Swinton plays a woman who wonders why she keeps hearing a loud thumping sound nobody else hears.  The movie is often made up of long, still scenes with limited motion.  But gradually Swinton learns the secret behind the strange noises, and while one might find the solution ludicrous I found it genuinely disturbing. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Petite Maman is the movie of the week, a short film about a little girl who visits her late grandmother's house to help with the affairs and finds a little girl who looks like her living nearby.  Eventually she realizes that it's her own mother at her age.  Simple but effective.  Belle is the other 2021 movie I saw this week.  It's from the director of Mirai and The Boy and the Beast, both of which I liked, but not as much as other Japanese animated directors from the previous director.  It's about a shy teenage girl, miserable after the death of her mother, who becomes an unknown internet sensation when her avatar ("Belle") rules virtual reality.  Eventually she meets the Beast and has to figure out who he is and how to help him.  It's affecting in parts, but also manipulative in others, with an underwhelming love interest and the unnerving idea that internet solipsism can be a good thing and that overwhelming applause is a  good measure of self-worth.

I've been waiting years for Death Takes a Holiday to appear on TCM and the result is a bit disappointing.  Mitchell Leisen would make better movies, while Dave Kehr says casting Fredric March as the title character is dangerous typecasting.  Cruel, but all too accurate in this case.  The Shining Hour is sort of overlooked in Frank Borzage filmography, partly because it appeared in the same year that Borzage directed Margaret Sullavan in Three Comrades.  But this short drama doesn't do a bad job in the relationship between Joan Crawford, husband Melvyn Douglas, his sister Fay Bainter,  his brother Robert Young and Young's wife Sullavan.  Looking at the web that forms between them one can sense that the connections are all just a bit off (why doesn't Young appreciate Sullavan?  And noticing this lack of appreciation, why is Crawford attracted to Young regardless?   Why doesn't Sullavan do more to challenge the situation?)  Admittedly a fire near the end does conveniently solve a lot of problems and allow easy solutions. 

Bright Lights, Big City originally appeared on TCM as part of a spotlight on addiction movies.  But it didn't appear in TCM Canada.  But having decided to rerun it again for a Gordon Willis spotlight, TCM Canada decided to show it.  It's clearly inferior to Clean and Sober and much worse than Barfly.  One wonders whether it would have worked better had the studio decided on Sean Penn for the role.  Certainly having Michael J. Fox say the only passage from Jay McInerney anyone remembers and in a disappointing manner starts the movie off badly and it never recovers from that point.  Aside from showing that this behavior is not a good idea, it's striking that Fox's whining description of his estranged wife, played by Phoebe Cates with her hair cut cruelly short, given in a scene full of drunken self-pity, is basically endorsed by the movie proper.  Curious fact is that Fox's character has the same name as Robert De Niro's in Goodfellas (except it's Jamie for Fox, and Jimmy/James for De Niro).  Another interesting fact is that this is the second movie where Kiefer Sutherland and Dianne Wiest appear, though not together, after being in The Lost Boys nine months earlier.

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I saw three movies last week.  I don't know why TCM, out of all the 1986 movies it hasn't shown, decided to go with Deadly Friend, considering that its director, Wes Craven was apparently not fond of the successful efforts to make it more gory.  The movie is about a teen prodigy who loses both the robot he invented when a neighbor shoots it to pieces, then his female friend when her abusive father pushes her down a staircase, leaving her brain dead.  The prodigy's idea is to place the robot control chip in the girl's brain, thus getting around the brain dead problem.  Not surprisingly, this does not work, though how Kristy Swanson becomes super-strong and actually turns into the robot at the end does not make any sense.  One might think is an example of American hypocrisy about sex and violence since we don't see Swanson nude but we do see Anne Ramsey's head crushed liked a watermelon when Swanson's robotized character hurls a basketball at it with super strength.  Comes a Horseman is, interestingly, at least the third movie I've seen where Jane Fonda and Jason Robards not only appear together, but have had a sexual relationship.  Otherwise this movie is perhaps best known because Richard Farnsworth got an oscar nomination as one of Fonda's hired hands.  But he didn't make all that much of an impression on me.  As a movie this 1940s western is leisurely to the point of tedium and reticent to being incomplete (you wonder when Fonda and James Caan or going to fall in love, and then they're sleeping together).  Nor is the conclusion, where Robards is both very violent and fairly stupid help much.  Didn't somebody read the script before they shot it?  So Fish Tank is the movie of the week, another portrait of the white English underclass where Katie Jarvis plays the teenage girl whose limited talents for dancing are not really developed and who unwisely becomes attracted to her mother's latest fling.  It's certainly better than melodramatic rubbish like Precious (which came out the same year), though it's  not as ambitious as director Andrea Arnold's later American Honey.  It certainly offers more insight than the political parties of the time, which took turns moralizing about them, until some Brexiters got the idea of attracting their votes by scapegoating immigrants.  In comparison to Loach's films, it's not as overtly political and doesn't have an identifiable set of villains.

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Last week I saw six movies.  Three of them, oddly enough, were appropriate for Pride Month.  Benediction was the best of these, and indeed the best movie from 2021 I've seen so far.  This movie about the life of Siegfried Sassoon, directed by Terence Davies has fine performances by Jack Lowden (as Sassoon), Simon Russell Beale (as Robbie Ross), Jeremy Irvine (as Ivor Novello) and Peter Capaldi (as the older Sassoon).  It is beautiful shot and decorated, and it specializes in contrasting the horror of the trenches that was the core of Sassoon's poetry and the passive aggressive malice ruling class Englishmen conducted their affairs.  It has a cruel wit (Novello tells Sassoon his poetry has declined from the sublime to the meticulous) and it's almost absurd how at one point Sassoon loses his temper while relaying a message inviting Novello to dinner.   Mala Noche is better than most Van Sant movies I've seen, about a store clerk who develops a crush on two Mexican immigrants.  He sleeps with one but doesn't get the one he really wants.  Tim Streeter is good as the lead, and the movie works well as it proceeds from incident to incident better than Van Sant's slicker movies.  Born in Flames is a sort of science fiction film about a lesbian revolution.  (That it ends with an attack on the World Trade Center may explains why I had to wait until 2022 to see it).  The kicker is that they are rebelling against a socialist government, which took power a decade earlier.  While a milestone of sorts in woman independent film, having taken several years to move from guerilla filming to actually being edited into a feature, it can't bear much examination.  While one can understand the divisions of the left at the time that would leave some women feel they'd been left out, having a lesbian revolution is sort of like imagining the Christian Scientists or the Seventh Day Adventists seizing power.  How would that possibly work? 

What about the other three?  Eijanaika is probably the best of these.  Made by Shohei Imamura between Vengeance is Mine and The Ballad of Narayama, this movie offers an understandably cynical portrait of the Meiji Restoration.  As clashes occur between assorted samurai and those who want to use the long ignored imperial line as part of modernizing Japan, various operators are paid to encourage demonstrations and protests.  Into this mix comes our muddled and pathetic protagonist, who having returned from America finds his wife has been forced to become a prostitute.  The movie shows, as did the other two movies I mentioned, Imamura's picture of sex as crude coupling, climaxing in an extended sequence as the protests actually bursts into wide scale celebrations, even more powerful since anyone with basic knowledge of Japanese history will know how they end.  In the last decade of her life, Judy Garland offered her voice for one of the few non-Disney animated films.  Gay Purr-ee offers simplistic views of France, various bad cat puns, a small kitten  named Robespierre for some reason, songs supposedly from the songwriters of The Wizard of Oz that I didn't remember and neither will you, and a villain so obvious you lose respect for the sympathetic characters for not seeing through him.   The animation varies from mildly interesting (there's a scene where Garland's cat character appears in various works by great French painters) and the ugly repetition that Hanna-Barbera made infamous.  Nine Days works as well if you don't think too hard about its premise.  Winston Duke does well as a sort of angelic administrator who interviews several applicants, only one of them can be born into a new human.  Zazie Beetz is good as the most charming of the applicants.  The heavenly antechamber is some house in the deserts of Utah.  One problem with the movie is that it takes an idea previously used in After Life.  A bigger problem, and this reflects the recent Supreme Court decisions, is that if the actually reasonably nice applicants aren't good enough for our world, how does one explain the Trump family?

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Last week I saw four movies.  Mur Murs is a 1981 documentary by Agnes Varda about the murals of Los Angeles, which takes note of the increasing Hispanic presence in the city.  It's interesting, though not of the standard of her later documentaries The Gleaners and I or Faces Places.  Similarly Documenteur is a fiction film by Varda about a single mother who becomes involved in the making of the previous film.  One can see it, but it's not the same quality as her next fiction movie Vagabond.  There is no Evil is a portmanteau film involving four stories involving capital punishment in Iran (where the movie is banned and the director can't leave the country).  One aspect, which involves the middle two stories, is that soldiers, as part of their army service are conscripted to serve as executioners (which mostly involves hanging).  It's not a bad film, but it does seem to get less impressive as it proceeds from the first story (where we learn the protagonist is an executioner) to the second (which involves a plot twist worthy of a convenient action movie) to the fourth (which seems more a domestic soap opera only tangentially connected to the death penalty).

Irma la Douce is one of Billy Wilder's less impressive movies.  And this after he had made three of the greatest comedies in American film history.  It's another Wilder/Lemmon collaboration, one of seven, which can be divided into four "romances" and three where he partners with Walter Matthau.  In retrospect it would have been better if TCM had followed Some Like it Hot and The Apartment last night with Avanti.  One problem is that while The Apartment had something intelligent to say about corporate capitalism and One Two Three showed genuine anger at the country that had treated Wilder so badly, this movie about the hooker with a heart of gold deals with fantasy images of Paris.  That it came out a year after Vivre sa Vie, also about a Parisian prostitute and an immeasurably better and more tough-minded movie, is much to its discredit.  One notable aspect is that Shirley MacLaine got an acting nomination, but it's Lemmon who really does all the work.  In a generous mood, one could find the farce fitfully amusing (especially Lou Jacobi's repeated "but that's another story").  But Jonathan Rosenbaum is right to say this is "A good example of how a movie can be utterly characteristic of its maker and still fall with a resounding thud".

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Last week I saw three movies.  Great Balls of Fire! was clearly the least impressive of them.  It's an egregiously inaccurate biopic, the most obvious problem with it is having Winona Ryder, who couldn't have been younger than 16 when she made the film, play Jerry Lee Lewis' 13 year old cousin/wife.  But unlike Night and Day where you can at least watch Cary Grant be Cole Porter, the movie lacks a consistent tone, and it's not so much set in the southern United States, as the Southern United States.  Crimes of the Future was David Cronenberg's first movie, and the new version which I saw may be his last.  It's certainly indelibly creepy, what with people evolving new vestigal organs and so free from pain that surgery without anaesthesia is a major trend.  Flee is also an interesting movie, an animated movie about an Afghan refugee's desperate attempt to get to Scandinavia via Russia.  One noticeable point that is not clearly explained is that once the protagonist's father is arrested and conceivably excecuted by the Communist regime, what does his family live on in the interceding years before it collapses and they have to flee the country?

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Last week I saw four movies.  The first two were the most adequate.  High Tide is not the clearest film noir, despite being less than 75 minutes long.  Lee Tracy is actually the most engaging character, as a newspaper editor with a plan up his sleeve.  It's kind of a problem that he's more interesting than the nominal protagonist.  If you've never seen Chuck Berry before,  as I haven't, Hail Hail Rock and Roll is a perfectly watchable movie, as much of it centers around what appears to be a special 60th birthday show filled with stars from the rock generation after him.  But apparently Berry was even more enthralling decades earlier and the movie doesn't reflect that. 

The other two movies are actually historical drams made for PBS.  It is possible to make intelligent, compelling low budget historical dramas:  just consider Roberto Rossellini in the last decade of his career.  Unfortunately A House Divided:  Denmark Vesey's Rebellion and Solomon Northup's Odyssey are much less satisfactory.   The problem doesn't come from the actors.  The first stars Yaphet Kotto and Ned Beatty and the latter stars Avery Brooks.  What is problematic is the almost complete lack of cinematic distinction in the two movies.  In particular there is a certain clumsiness in the latter movie such as when Solomon Northup's wife has to be dissuaded from looking for her husband in Louisiana, (when the reason should be obvious to her) or when Northup is suggested to write a memoir of his experiences.   It's sort of like watching a mediocre version of 12 Years a Slave, with Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Lupita Nyong'o replaced with less interesting actors. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  I actually recall enjoying reading Master of the World as a child.  Oddly enough, the movie version takes place a generation before the novel does.  Vincent Price is good enough as Robur, with what would in 1869 be an all-conquering airship.  His ultimate defeat has some problems (he captures several people, then gives them free run of the ship which they eventually use to destroy it).  Oddly enough, the female character's fiancee attacks hero Charles Bronson out of spite, leaving him to die, later decides to help him, gets a bullet wound, but doesn't necessarily lose the girl at the end.  Sh! the Octopus is an odd short thirties comedy (it's under an hour).  The two bumbling detectives act like a comedy team, but aren't one.  And the action around a lighthouse involves some kind of conspiracy and an actual octopus.   Swimming out till the Sea Turns Blue is probably the movie of the week, as Jia Zhangke provides another documentary about writers struggling in China's turbulent history.    Interesting I read a book by one of three novelists profiled, Yu Hua, best known for writing the novel that the 1994 movie To Live is adapted from.  Interestingly, at the beginning of his career, just after the death of Mao, an editor suggests he provide a happy ending, and he agrees right away!

Stanley Kubrick made thirteen features.  Spartacus was one of the most successful, and the only Kubrick film to win an acting oscar.  But it was so much under the pressure of Kirk Douglas that it doesn't feel like a Kubrick film.  Kubrick also began with two short features that he respected so little he didn't really consider them his work.  Killer's Kiss is the second of these.  This story of an unsuccessful boxer who falls for an abused dance hall dancer is little more than an hour, and does show the visual qualities that would be more apparent in Kubrick's later qualities.  (The striking climax takes place as protagonist and villain throw parts of female mannequins at each other.)  In the future, Kubrick would have more time, thought and control over his actors, who here are not very interesting.  The most striking thing about the movie is that scenes at a dance hall, of a box office, of a woman changing clothes regularly appear in TCM's promo for late night movies.  The happy ending was imposed on Kubrick by United Artists.   But it's the next movie, The Killing, that really shows his talents.

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Last week I saw four movies, none of them fully successful, with varying degrees of flaws.  The Satan Bug is an epidemic movie, but it wasn't presented very well.  Since the whole point of the movie is that the disease is infinitely effective, you can't really show its effects very much since otherwise it will get out of control.   And the movie has no shortage of problems.  Neither the hero nor the villain are very interesting.  The villain has managed to work for months at the highly secret bioweapons lab with the authorities having no clue.  Although the movie has the three bad guys stuck in California, apparently they managed to release a virus in Florida.  How did the hero find the missing bioweapons before the villain's two accomplices did?  Why didn't the accomplices simply kill the hero when they caught him?  And so on.  Symbiopsychotaxiplasm:  Take One is apparently a movie about an unhappy, vaguely Albeesque couple arguing in Central Park.  Actually it is William Greaves' film about trying to make a film, with all sort of postmodernist reflectivity.  That is as good as it goes I suppose.  (Perhaps the most interesting scene is where the crew encounters a man who claims he sleeps in Central Park, and one crew member, who lives close by, can't believe it.)

Moby Dick, or more accurately the 1930 version, is an example of Hollywood being very bad.  Basically it consists of trying to fit Captain Ahab in the procrustean form that is John Barrymore's persona.  So he spends the first part of the movie drunkenly rolling about and wooing Joan Bennett (who gets second billing).  Then he meets the title character (with effects that get worse the longer the movie goes on), loses a leg, and more resembles the Melville character.  But the movie gives him a happy ending (!!) and allows him to return to Bennett.  In Harm's Way is another Otto Preminger epic of the sixties, dealing with the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.  Unlike Stewart's cunning lawyer in Anatomy of a Murder, Wayne's tough but awe-inspiring admiral doesn't go out of his comfort zone.  There are some touches of the Preminger's ambiguity:  Wayne's son admiring Douglas' toughness so much that he allows him to slap his mentor, only to be cruelly rewarded in the future.  Wayne not recommending Douglas for a medal after he dies getting invaluable intelligence.  On the other hand the victory from the jaws of defeat is more convenient.  It's not as good as Exodus, which put its cast to better use, alternated tension and explanation better, and moved beyond basic soap opera. 

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Last week I saw five movies.  Paris is Burning is about New York drag queens.  To be honest, watching this movie is like watching a movie about fly-fishing or cooking shows.  I can understand why people find it interesting.  I'm just not one of those people.  Falbalas is a relatively early movie by Jacques Becker, about a womanizing fashion stylist brought down by real love.   It's not as successful as his fifties films, although it does show a certain style.  Partly this is because Raymond Rouleau and Micheline Presle aren't as good as Simone Signoret will be in Casque D'Or.  Partly because the climax is a bit over the top (spoiler:  the protagonist jumps out a window holding a mannequin) even though it is suggested at the beginning, and there's a suicide midway through the movie which has an unpleasant effect.  Gabrielle Dorziat, in her mid-sixties at the time, is effective in a supporting role as Rouleau's partner.  Both Sides of the Blade is an effective drama where Juliette Binoche finds herself attracted to an old flame, and wrecks her current marriage.  Binoche is good, as is Vincent Lindon as her husband.  It's a movie with considerable depths.  Famed actress Bulle Ogier plays Lindon's mother and the defacto guardian of Lindon's son from a relationship with a Martinique woman.  Lindon is an ex-con, the old flame is distinctly younger than him, and Lindon is a terse and private man, until he finally isn't. 

The Bedford Incident has Richard Widmark playing an unsympathetic role, a navy captain, whose hunt for a Soviet sub shows his own Captain Ahab like qualities.  Made a year after Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, it isn't as well known as those two movies.  This is possibly because director James B. Harris, formerly Kubrick's producer, isn't as good a director as Kubrick and Lumet.  It may be because the stakes aren't as high.  Still Widmark does a good job as a ruthless willful officer whose unrelenting approach almost works.  Parallel Mothers is basically a star vehicle for Penelope Cruz, who is very good here.  Certainly she's better than actual oscar winner Jessica Chastain.   It's certainly Almodovar's best movie since Volver which, not coincidentally, also starred Cruz.  You might think that the movie is about Cruz as a highly competent and reasonably prosperous single mother might be a straightforward movie, with the teenage about to be mother she meets while about to deliver playing a subordinate role.  As it happens there is a plot twist, and then another one which makes the matter considerably more serious and really does put Cruz's talents to good use.  This works better than Everybody Knows, which involved a variation of the plot.  One should also not the plot thread about Francoist repression, and unforced allusions to The Official Story. 

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Last week I saw four movies, which were all interesting, but not fully satisfactory.  Get to Know Your Rabbit suggests that Brian De Palma may have been better as a director of comedy.  This comedy about a disgruntled executive played by Tom Smothers who decides to quit his job and become a tap-dancing musician is genuinely amusing in places.  It appears that De Palma learned some things from Monty Python.  At one point, John Astin, Smothers' ex-boss, suggests Smothers' parents are concerned about leaving his job.  Then he opens the cupboard and there they are.   There are drawbacks.  The overall plot, where Smothers eventually takes pity on a down on his luck Astin, who then turns the tap-dancing musician into another gigantic soulless corporation, is both facile and weak.  And there's more emphasis on gratuitous nudity and Smothers' eventual sexual success than developing a convincing love story.  Take Me out to Ballgame is mildly amusing, with Esther Williams being no more than an adequate love interest, and Frank Sinatra playing one of his dimmer characters.  Oddly enough, Kelly and Sinatra have to dance together in the movie and we have to wait more than an hour before Kelly gets his own number (which in its defense is pretty good). In this respect it's a bit like Anchors Aweigh, but helpfully an hour shorter. 

Wild Rovers is Blake Edwards' attempt to split the difference between the amiability of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the violence of The Wild Bunch.  The result is less successful than either, though the part after the intermission is more interesting.  While Holden is arguably as good an actor as Newman, O'Neal isn't in Redford's class.  And since BCATSK didn't have the sunniest of endings, what point does more violence add?  And if westerns are supposedly the most political of Hollywood genres, this tale of proletarianized cowboys robbing a bank has less punch than the corporate concentration in Once Upon a time in the West and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or the poisonous myth-making behind Bad Company or the dependence on elite violence in The Wild Bunch or Pat Garrett and Billy the KidFrance is a broad and somewhat diffuse satire about a narcissistic TV reporter, clumsily named France and played by Lea Seydoux, who has a series of nervous breakdowns after she hits a Franco-Arab cyclist one day.  There's an adulterous affair, a lot of crying, some interesting work by Seydoux and an all too convenient car crash, clumsily staged. 

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Over the last two weeks, I saw five movies, none of them fully successful.  There are three interesting things about the Raquel Welch movie Flareup.  First, this movie with nude scenes of go-go dancers was actually directed by one of Disney's key live-action directors.  Second, the movie emphasizes that Welch's character has issues with authority figures which explains why she won't get police protection from the villain.  It turns out the explanation for this is otherwise there wouldn't be a movie.  Third, after spending much of the movie running away from the villain, Welch finally turns on him and sets him on fire.  I wonder if this was part of earlier women in peril movies.  It occurred to me because in a conservative turn of the century screed, the use of the same motif in Sleeping with the Enemy was viewed as an example of radical feminist man-hating.  I Live in Fear is probably the most intelligent movie of the lot, with Toshiro Mifune playing a character at least twenty years older than him who wants to take his family to Brazil to avoid nuclear war.  Rather striking, Mifune's character has an unusual number of mistresses.  It's not as if Mifune is bad, and it's not as if the movie is as stodgy as On the Beach.  But it's not fully successful.

The Gauntlet has competent action scenes, an all too conveniently hysterical ending and some more interesting scenes between Clint Eastwood and Sandra Locke that could be used in a better movie.  Magnum Force is sort of the antidote to Dirty Harry which ends with Harry Callaghan also conveniently eliminating three Magnum Force rogue policeman who up to the point had been tearing through criminals and their armed bodyguards without any problems.  We do see Callaghan with an African-American partner, and talk that said partner won't last long.  And indeed he survives one robbery only to be killed (for no particularly good reason) near the end.  I don't know if The Deep is actually better than the similar underwater B-movies made in the forties and fifties that Dave Kehr used as a stick to beat this movie.  The first underwater scenes are very beautiful but what most strikes out about the movie is that it cynically uses Jacqueline Bisset in a wet t-shirt in a marketing ploy, then repulsively has two scenes with black Bahamians leering over her bare flesh.  With that nasty taste, who cares how well Robert Shaw and Nick Nolte do underwater? 

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I saw three movies last week.  In Name Only relies heavily on the charm of Cary Grant and Carole Lombard in this story of the need for more liberal divorce laws.  Charles Coburn also does his usual good job in a supporting role.  And I suppose Kay Francis does her job as well, playing an extremely selfish and unlikeable wife who has the law on her side.  There was some discussion of this a week or so ago and it is striking that Joseph Breen, otherwise a fairly narrow-minded Catholic, didn't nitpick this movie to death.  It's a very competent movie, from the ubiquitous John Cromwell, though not as worth watching as Since you Went Away.  The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu opened to widespread loathing and as the one of the worst movies to have a final performance from a great actor.  I actually missed that the movie takes place in the thirties which sort of explains that the movie is more a parody of British fussiness than a simple retread of Yellow Peril tropes. Admittedly, one is repeatedly reminded that Sellers died a month or so before the premiere by his low energy in his dual role.  Still, it could be much worse, and at least the Bad Doctor gets Helen Mirren and the last laugh.  I Was a Simple Man is an interesting movie.  It's about an elderly Hawaiian who, as he approaches death, believes he is being haunted.  And indeed he is, by Constance Wu, playing his late wife.  We then realized his wife died at Wu's age, and instead of raising their children our protagonist fobbed them off to other relatives. 

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I saw five movies last week, all interesting in their own way, but only one sufficiently successful.  Waiting for Guffman is a sort of This is Spinal Tap where the satiric target is people who live in flyover country (Blaine, Missouri it turns out).   The idea of the movie seems infinitely condescending.  But although there is plenty of ribbing at small town hicks (none of the cast members realize their megalomaniac director is gay, the town was founded because their guide  thought they were in California), there is a certain energy which makes the movie more tolerable than it should be.  One thing about small town productions like this, which the movie doesn't get, is that it's not people can't remember complex lines, but they find it so difficult they can't provide enough energy for them.   On a first viewing, Benedetta, about an abbess who has both a lesbian affair while having stigmata, lacks the outrageousness of Paul Verhoeven's previous two features:  Black Book and Elle.  The first dealt with sacred cows of the Dutch resistance, while the second both involved a woman having an affair with a rapist and had an iron performance by Isabelle Huppert.  By contrast plentiful soft-core sex is easily contrasted with cynical Catholic bigotry.  Since Virginie Efiria's character is both deceitful and cynical, while clearly delusional, I suppose we are supposed to sympathize with her because of her breasts.  But the last act does get to show Verhoeven's remarkable cynicism.  None of the admirers of The Passion of Joan of Arc were asking for a feel-good kick **** Hollywood happy ending.  But Verhoeven provides one anyway!

I finally saw Dead of Night on TCM Canada, and I have to say I'm a little disappointed.  It's the sort of movie you really should have seen forty years earlier (or indeed, even before I was born) because so much of the movie have become tired tropes.  This includes the most famous sketch, of Michael Redgrave being driven mad by his dummy, or the whole framing story being an elaborate dream.  Two of the four other stories are too short, and you'd think someone had done the story of the haunted mirror.  I am a bit surprised Lady L was not more successful both at the time and in movie memory.  Peter Ustinov admittedly was making a vaguely Ophuls like movie with none of Ophuls' cinematic grace and mobility.   But at a time when Hollywood had considerable trouble making either competent romances or competent historical movies, this result is reasonably competent.  Sophia Loren and Paul Newman are good as the couple and David Niven is perfectly amusing as the English aristocrat who solves all their problems while satisfying all the  requirements of the National League of Decency.  It's basically a fairy tale with happy anarchists in the Belle Epoque.  But the best movie of the week is You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.  It turns out that I like Charlie McCarthy, who works well in a movie where he's stuck in W.C. Fields' corruptly run circus along with Edgar Bergen.   There's a certain power in Fields' ruthlessness, something worth pursuing.   Also, I like surreal, non-sequitur comedies, of which this is a good example. 

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Last week I saw three movies.  Bodies Bodies Bodies is about seven young people in the lap of luxury who spend one evening playing the title game (a variation of the game 'Murder in the Dark').  Then the lights go out thanks to a storm and the guests find their host dying from a machete wound.  So we have a murder mystery comedy whose solution becomes clear in retrospect.  The problem is that the idea is based on a view of upper-class behavior which, despite the best efforts of the Trump family, is not really accurate.  Thunderbirds are go asks what if you take the sixties craze for James Bond film, slightly adjusted it for children, and then performed it entirely out of toys.  The result is a rather strange movie without being fully engaging, although the final rescue mission is more interesting than the rest of the movie.  Perfect Blue is certainly the most complex of the three movies.  It appeared surprisingly high on a list of 1990s movies that this forum has discussed.  It deals with an ex-pop star whose attempt to develop an acting career is hampered by fears she is either schizophrenic or that she is being stalked by someone.  While an interesting conceit it is neither all that original nor carried out all so brilliantly to be one of the essential movies of the nineties.

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On 9/4/2022 at 12:11 AM, skimpole said:

In Name Only relies heavily on the charm of Cary Grant and Carole Lombard in this story of the need for more liberal divorce laws.  Charles Coburn also does his usual good job in a supporting role.  And I suppose Kay Francis does her job as well, playing an extremely selfish and unlikeable wife who has the law on her side. 

It's been awhile but i remember Kay Francis being horribly miscast.  She doesn't know how to be "extremely selfish" or "unlikable" at least in this film. I was aghast. (But I still like her, overall) This movie  has a lovely opening scene, Carole fishing on her lunch hour and meeting Cary Grant with a sandwich in hand. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  The Scapegoat stars Alec Guinness as the title character.  Ultimately it's slight, since the idea is that a family of French aristocrats would confuse an English teacher of French with their husband/son/father/brother simply because the two exactly resemble each other.  Bette Davis, six years older than Guinness, plays his mother.  One problem with the abrupt ending is that it forgets that Guinness is now not only rich, but he's also supposed to be a father as well.  Who's that Girl has many problems.  For a start it's clearly based on Bringing up Baby, never a good idea for Hollywood to remake a classic, and I was wondering who was to blame for the result.  For much of the movie I disliked Madonna who, rather oddly, insists on sounding like Cyndi Lauper, and who obviously is not in Katharine Hepburn's class.  So her character is simply very annoying.  But as the movie goes on, it became clear that Griffin Dunne is no match for Cary Grant and James Foley's direction, which I had indulged on remembering he had directed Glengarry Glen Ross, sputters out of energy in the last third of the movie.   Also there are a number of plot holes (why have  the villain use Dunne for the job when he is (a) already busy and (b) not in on the villain's plot?  Although several people see kidnapped bridesmaids, why is nothing is done to rescue them?  And how do the cougars appear in the climax?)  The Mitchells vs the Machines combines a frenetic and at times innovative plot about a machine apocalypse while also suffocating in tropes about a mildly dysfunctional family managing to rise to the challenge.  It's watchable, and with some indulgence enjoyable,  but seriously the tropes get stale fast.  Three Thousand Years of Longing is the movie of the week, with Tilda Swinton playing a narratologist who encounters a genie played by Idris Elba.  George Miller does show a certain gift for indulging in Orientalist luxury as the genie tells the four stories of how he got trapped in the bottle in the first place.  The drawback is the last story, whose connection is abrupt, which goes on a bit too long, and almost botches the landing.  Well any landing you can walk away is a good one, and Miller, if a bit clumsily, does pull it out in the last few seconds.   

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I saw three movies last week.  Cast a Dark Shadow is clearly the best with Dirk Bogarde as the insidiously evil and seductive lady-killer who disposes of his rich elderly wife a bit too soon, and who also perhaps marries Margaret Lockwood a little too quickly as well.  But his last gambit actually makes sense, as does his prey's reaction, even if the movie has to end predictably by disposing of him.  Beverly of Grautesk is a variation of The Prisoner of Zenda theme in that the person who  has to take the injured aristocrat's place happens to be a woman, played by Marion Davies.  The jokes are fairly predictable, and not as good as Davies' role in The Patsy.  I don't remember Show People very well, but I imagine she was better in that one as well.  House of Gucci is the latest movie by Ridley Scott, director of one great movie and of several over-rated ones.  I imagine he wishes this movie was overrated.  This story of the fall of the Gucci family basically calls out from every scene that one wishes it was directed by Martin Scorsese.  An early scene has Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in a 1978 Disco, where "On the Radio," is playing, even though that song won't be released until November 1979.  A small point, but it shows Scott's general lack of imagination in arranging movie music compared to Scorsese.   And while Scorsese doesn't usually stress sex scenes, what he does produce is more engaging than the bland ones Scott comes up with.  And there's the odd attempt to flatter Gaga's character at the end of the movie, even though she's just had her husband killed. 

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Last week I saw four movies.  The Devil's Envoys was clearly the best.  This intelligent, well made film is about two envoys of the Devil who arise at a nobleman's weddings to make their lives miserable, only for one of them to fall in love.  Perhaps Arletty should have played a larger role, and Jules Berry as the Devil does a better job then his envoy.  But it's still worth watching.  Cannery Row stars a very pretty Debra Winger, but she has too little chemistry with Nick Nolte.  The larger problem is that its prostitution subplot makes it too racy to have been made in the quarter-century after Steinbeck originally published it, but its treatment of it, as long with the losers who hang out with Nolte is too sentimental to be successful.  The Omega Man benefits from the vibe of a desolated planet, especially the empty cities ravaged by plague.  And one could point out that the Albino Mutants react to the end of the world with more guts than the characters in On the Beach.  But the movie lacks the power of contemporary films like The Wicker Man or Don't Look Now.  Part of the problem is that the movie lacks an objective correlative with larger fears.  Also, the interesting theme that the Albino Mutants are still human, yet the protagonist Charlton Heston insists on killing them all, ultimately stops being developed. 

Eternals takes some time to develop.  At the beginning, it's difficult for the viewers to tell the Eternals apart.   One problem is that it's based on one of Marvel Comics' less successful ideas.  (Based on Van Daniken nonsense, powerful God-like beings called Celestials create the aforementioned super-powered immortal Eternals as part of their manipulation of human evolution.)  In the original comics the Deviants who the Eternals fight are another branch of humanity like the Eternals.  They are recognizably human, but they resemble trolls and similar creatures.  In the movies, they're powerful monsters with no connection to humanity, not an improvement.  One improvement is that Sersei, the heroine, is a much more sympathetic character than her comic book version (for the first twenty years of her existence, an arrogant and privileged socialite).  But the movie develops as Sersei and her friends gradually gets the band back together and we get a better idea of who these people are.  Also, there are two twists in the narrative which helps put the premise in a better position.  The result is not much more engaging than other Marvel movies, but Gemma Chan is good as Sersei, while Kumail Nanjiani is good as the Eternal who hides in humanity as a Bollywood actor. 

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Last week I saw three movies.  Oleanna is the David Mamet sexual harassment movie.  Except the female student who is in contrast with William Macy's full of self-regard professor starts off as a hopelessly needy and irritating student and graduates to becoming a skillful and vindictive deceiver without ever having a coherent character.  She's more Mamet's nightmare of a woman than a real character.  The Green Slime is a sixties horror movie from Japan which thought it might be a good idea to have English speaking actors.  Famous enough to get attacked in the Mystery Science Theater Pilot, but not enough to make the actual show, the movie might be able to transcend its cheap-looking octopoid mushroom monsters.  But aside from the fact that TCM had transmission problems with the last three minutes, the basic concept becomes muddled (they breed from energy weapons, with the protagonists insist on firing at them?)  Men comes from Alex Garland whose previous two movies got some cinematic praise but not much love from me.  And this story of a woman living in a country house for a vacation after her abusive husband's violent death certainly has some atmosphere, and some effective early scenes where the protagonist is stalked by a naked man.  But after the first hour, the movie starts losing contact with any kind of reality before it settles on its thesis that all men are as annoying as Rory Kinnear.

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Last week I saw six movies.   Stars at Noon was the best, and maybe the best movie from this year I've seen, even though I know it's not perfect (the last half hour could be trimmed by a third).  Margaret Qualley, best known up to now as one of the Manson groupies in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (not one of the would be murderers at the end) plays a journalist in contemporary Nicaragua who is clearly becoming a "journalist" and prostituting herself to low level government officials as she muddles along.  As part of her daily routine of hanging around in Managua's hotels she encounters Joe Alwyn, a handsome British executive of some sort.  Who it turns out, is out of his depth in various intrigues involving powerful companies and neighboring Costa Rica, and Qualley decides to move from sleeping with him to trying to protect him.  As Clare Denis movies go, this is very straightforward and the cinematography works rather well (it was shot in Panama).  Yatsuda Kaidan, based on a famous Japanese ghost story suggested that Keisuke Kinoshita was the William Wellman of Japanese film, making prominent movies that would soon be overshadowed by his colleagues.  In this case, this ghost story about a samurai whose desire to get ahead is hampered by the fact that he is already married to a deeply loyal and, as it turns out, far too trusting wife, is competent on its own terms.  But it's invariably going to be compared to Ugetsu.  There's even the same actress, the great Kinuyo Tanaka, in both movies.

The Brave One is best known as the last movie to win an oscar for Best story and which was thought up by Dalton Trumbo.  The story of a little Mexican boy who wishes to save his pet bull is adequate, but it doesn't show any insight into the actual Mexico at the time.  A comparison to Pather Panchali (made a year earlier) or The Spirit of the Beehive (made 17 years later, about Franco's Spain and on TCM this week!) shows how much of this is Hollywood slickness.  Greased Lightning, about one of the first successful African-American race car drivers is the sort of seventies movies that made people think all American movies of the time did were car chases.  Obviously not true, but it does remind up that the canonical seventies movies which are likely to turn up on TCM does outshine a lot of dross.  Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine has a deliriously silly title, a goofy claymation title sequence and a title song sung by the Supremes.  Does it have anything else worth watching?  Oddly enough, it's not completely worthless.  Certainly it's ridiculous to have almost all the female characters as bikini clad robots, which undercuts its crass sexism.  And is there a certain gay vibe when the two "heroes" decide to go to Paris together at the end of the movie.   There is the pleasure in seeing Vincent Price having more intelligence than all  the other characters combined.  There's the historical interest in seeing navels in 1965.  And the movie ends with an increasingly silly chase, with the "heroes" taking a variety of vehicles while being chased by a streetcar. 

Making Mr. Right must have some admirers, because it's on my list of movies to watch.  But this is a rather feeble comedy, even by the standards of 1987 comedies.  I suspect TCM has shown it more than once because it was directed by one of the few eighties woman directors, and it's too expensive to get Desperately Seeking Susan.  Why would you create an android with enough equipment and programming that any woman would want to fall in love with?  John Malkovich, being John Malkovich, offers something strange as, not the android we're supposed to sympathize with, but as the android's autistic creator.  But Ann Magnuson  as the heroine is underwhelming and the movie wastes other actors (Laurie Metcalf appears as a rather silly woman whom the android briefly dates, four years before her tough as nails portrait as one of Jim Garrison's better investigators in JFK).  And the conclusion makes no sense.  Surely having the scientist in deep space for seven years while the android and our heroine live happily ever after can't work, since the whole point of using an android would be that he wouldn't have to breathe, or sleep or eat a lot. 

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Last week I saw four movie:  three fairly flawed horror/science-fiction movies and one much better quasi-documentary.   Alice, Sweet Alice includes a certain ambiguity over whether the protagonist's mother is having an affair with her priest.  There is the occasional skillful shot and composition in dealing with its anti-Catholic themes.  But the movie is full of holes.  SPOILERS:  Although the characters wonder whether a 13 year old girl murdered her younger sister in a fit of spite and split personality, the actual killer is a fanatical Italian-American widow probably half a century older than  her.  One problem is that how could everyone confuse the two (I'm fairly sure the widow is distinctly taller).  And what motive does she have to attack Alice's aunt?  And why would Alice's father seriously suspect his niece, a plump and otherwise uninteresting teenager?  The Satanic Rites of Dracula has the pleasure of Peter Cushing, who plays a large role than Christopher Lee as Dracula.  But there are other problems.  Considering that Dracula's plan involves creating a biological weapon, one wonders why there are satanic rites at all, other than the gratuitous nudity involved.  And one would think that if Dracula could create a deadly virus, he could make sure that the country house where the climax takes place could be free of the hawthorn trees Cushing eventually uses to kill Dracula.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla involves aliens who disguise their ape-man feature as (Japanese) humans.  Their leader smokes a cigar.  Godzilla has a scene at the beginning.  Actually two, since Mechagodzilla is disguised as Godzilla and attacks one of his friends before the real Godzilla shows up.  There is a long scene at the end where Godzilla eventually defeats Mechagodzilla, while the various humans who we are sympathizing with help defeat Mechagodzilla's alien masters.  One thing is that most of the movies is about those humans, and the production values are such that you would think the film could afford a better suit for Godzilla.   Uppercase Print is from the same director of Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.  It consists of telling about a 1981 student when a high school student wrote seditious graffiti against the Ceausescu regime.  Various actors recite the Securitate's investigation, usually in the same bureaucratic monotone one would expect.  This concept itself would not be a very original one.  But director Radu Jude does interesting things.  First, after showing the student getting a relatively minor penalty, given the cruelty of the Romanian dictatorship, it is then revealed he died four years later, though of what is not made clear.  Second, and more originally, the movie cuts the "documentary drama" with actual scenes of Romanian television at the time.  Aside from the gruesome propaganda for Ceausescu, there are more subtle shades of propaganda (such as a sort of Candid Camera exercise where motorists who honk their horns, illegal at the time, are caught on film and forced to explain).  There are also more conventional tv programming (a joke involving a beautiful brunette, a kitchen show, various musical numbers and a scene mentioning both the critics Mikhail Bakhtin and John Bayley as well as the novel I, the Supreme).  It all makes an interesting contrast. 

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