Feature Film: February2019


Raising Arizona (1987)

I reckon it's been sixteen years since I last saw this movie, which was the first time I had seen it. I have few clear memories of that watching. Most of my memories related to this here film are of the secondhand variety. I know the final line from Twitter, for instance.

I'm very pleased to have remade its acquaintance.

One remarkable thing about Raising Arizona is that I can see so many other movies in it. Some are not surprising (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for instance). What's more surprising is that the hailbreak feels very, very much like a parody of Shawshank --- even though it came out almost a decade earlier.

I was surprised to just check the filmography and discover it is the Coens' second film. Although I guess some aspects certainly feel lowbudget, their confidence in their style is clear. Well done, guys!

Duelle (1976)

Interesting how this can be so different from Noroît yet bizzare in such similar ways. It's a story of modern myth, and not in the way we usually mean it. More like actual Greek gods and what that might be like if they walked among us, uninterested in us, more than us, as weak as us on the inside.

It looks like it was shot on video.

It's interesting enough, I suppose, but I can't recommend it.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

I wasn't as blown away as the first time I saw it, but, well, you relive something it's just not the same as the first time, right?

O said it should have ended with the soldiers storming a safe beach and I tend to agree with him. Except---

Except Tom Cruise's face at the end make the happy-ending cheatcode absolutely worth it, in my opinion. Although my mind is blank at the moment, I am THIS close to seeing in my mind other movies that end on a face undergoing an emotion and they are wonderful. Somebody (I'm pretty sure it was Hitchcock in the Truffaut book, but the sentiment seems a little too modern) said that the greatest special effect is a human face changing emotions. I really believe this.

As a side note, I hate how a once meaningless name has become a serious annoyance in some good movies. Screw you, Steve Mnuchin.

Sylvio (2017) x2

These were my third and fourth viewings of this film and I have to say: it gets better and better. It's a very smart movie, and wisely constructed. The film's not popular enough to have a bunch of killjoys enumerating all its "goofs," but I've seen it enough now that I could do it for you. However, I disagree that they are "goofs." A lot of what gets listed as errors or fails on those kinds of lists are in fact storytelling choices---possibly good ones. Herbert's face couldn't be reflected Sylvio's sunglasses is the sort of "factual" but stupid complaint some people make because that's where they find their joy. But they're wrong. This isn't reality. It's movie. And movie has rules all of its own.

(The only thing I will accept as a "goof" is Sylvio's wallet appearing in the couch. Was something taken out before final cut that explains this?)

Anyway, details. A great film is made of details. I'm not sure this is a GREAT FILM, but I am sure that I could spill thousands of words on it were I taking careful notes. It is rich stuff. But just a couple comments today.

One of the engines of the plot is economic anxiety. This is Depression-level stuff, and Sylvio's not alone in pushing these buttons. In times of great inequality, we need these stories to let us know we are not crazy. Think of all the American movies that have been made in which a character backed into a corner must fight that perennial villain, The American Health Care System. You only have to look at our art to see the system is broken. Two that leap to mind today are Spider-Man 3 and John Q---both of which use our health-care system to muddy the water of hero and villain.

No health-care issues in Sylvio, I'm happy to say, but that kind of pressure weighs heavy.

It's also a funny movie. And designed like not much else I've seen. And little throwaway details expand the themes. The season. The God-beard. The puppets. The knicknacks.

Another thing I find interesting is its deliberate out-of-time-ness. The most famous example might be Napoleon Dynamite; Sylvio proves that aesthetic can make sense in a big city as well as Preston, Idaho.

I could go on. Perhaps some other time.

Mother (2009)

Like Imposter, I know this movie from Every Frame a Painting. And (also like Imposter), I really wanted to see it, but had already had it spoiled for me by watching that analysis several times. So I asked the library to send it to me as far from the last watching of EFaP as possible but before I likely end up watching it again.

So here we are.

What a movie. Disorienting, to be sure. Sure it's a noirish wrong-man amateur-sleuth movie, so being offcenter is to be expected, but this movie throws things at you that are unusual, to say the least. And it's use of framing and focus and timing of reveals make the film get darker and darker (I think of Brick), but the real twist is the twist that may not have happened.

Just how 바보 is this guy?

Which gets to my last comment. Regarding this translation, I'm ... perplexed. I'm far from worthy to comment on a translation, but I understand enough Korean to be a bit thrown off by some of the subtitles. It may well be true that the translator is better at translating denotation than I would be, but I don't usually watch Korean movies and get into arguments with the subtitles. I don't whether I should take this as evidence that I have forgotten more than I thought or less than I would have guessed. Weird experience, though.

Luck-Key (2016)

This is a remake of a Japanese film of only a few years prior, and maybe it was unnecessary (I haven't seen the Japanese film), but this is a nicely put-together little action comedy. It relies on amnesia (I know), but that set up happens up front so we can get over it and move on.

The real key to this film's success is the cast. The characters are put in nutty situations, but we go for it because the leads have the charisma that allows them to be ridiculous and charming simultaneously.

Violet & Daisy (2011)

I'm not exactly sure how I ended up watching this movie. I think I may have bumped into it while looking for Hanna, was intrigued by the poster, read the reviews on Amazon, was intrigued by how much people disagreed with each other, decided to watch the opening minutes to see what I think, ended up watching the whole thing over three sittings. I think that's right.

The movie intrigues me even more now that I've finished it.

Here's the set-up: two teenage assassins. Very good at what they do. But then one hit goes wrong when they accidentally make friends with their target.

It's a bloody and violent film. But our two psycho lovelies---while the film often treats them like tarantinoesque throwaways---surprise us (as well as themselves) by revealing richer interior lives than their lifestyle generally allows them to reveal.

It's both a sexyteen/violence-fetish movie and a subtle character study. It's like---it's like it's not just me and you and the characters who are surprised to find themselves in a character study, but the very film itself. Both our leads and the film around them keep trying to return to sexyteen/violence, but slipping instead into quiet moments and surprising kindnesses.

It's a peculiar film. It really is. I think I liked it.

Pom Poko (1994)

I was in and out on this viewing, but my opinion holds:

This is one weird movie.

If you asked me to suggest the most Japanese movie you could watch, I would seriously consider recommending Pom Poko. It's endlessly fascinating and never stops reminding you that you are a foreigner without the basic cultural backing to have any idea what's going on. No translation will smooth your entry. It will take a masters course to work through this thing.

We picked it up from the library again because Little Lord Steed wanted to. He says it wasn't as good as the first time he watched it, but he never forgot those shape-shifting testicles.

Frankenstein (1931)

Bride is the next ward-film-group movie, so we're revisiting movie one to build up. I've come to really love this movie, but all the complaints Lady Steed has right now I utterly understand and cannot disagree with. But a lot of these complaints have to do with our time and the movies we grew up watching---the expectations we bring to film. That's part of the reason I find it easier to love---I've seen it much more often.

I will say, this time, I found the Baron to be a much more important character. He is the voice of normalcy and sanity. The actor's terrific, of course, but his bluster in the face of nonsense is, in some ways, the engine that allows the monster to exist. His refusal to be bothered by a world falling apart keeps the world from falling apart.

And Karloff's ability to make us care for the monster with so little screentime remains a great accomplishment. Of all Lady Steed's comments, I agree most with this: we could use one more scene of him exploring the world before he kills again.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

I realized, looking at the posters, that the title of this movie is pretty dang ambiguous. I've always kind of (lazily) thought that the title was a surrender to Frankenstein is the monster thinking, but no. Who is Henry Frankenstein's real bride? Who is he truly married to? Elizabeth? Or his drive to create life? That's actually a pretty provocative question.

It's an open question, which of these first two films is the better. Some of the Pretorius stuff is utterly bonkers. But the blind man sets Bride off on a trajectory that is pretty powerful. Little things (Henry lying to himself about the source of the heart, but almost becoming honest when he realizes it might be Elizabeth's) keep this from being a chuckly horror show. And Karloff's performance, of course, keeps us grounded as well.

The recasting is something you couldn't do now that we have constant access to previous films in a franchise, but it allows Whale to reshuffle some of the roles. The Baron is replaced tonally by the maid and the burgermeister, for instance. And what happens to him? He's alive as the film starts, but then is simply gone. Is it bad writing or intentional? Take the owl in the opening mill scene. There's nothing realistic about this owl. He's telling us that all is not according to the rules of realism.

And Elsa Lanchester! I love her more every time I see her in this.

The Favourite (2018)

After finishing this movie, we hopped onto YouTube and watched a couple early explainers and I disagree with them. Emma Stone's character did not start evil and end evil. (Although casting Emma Stone was indeed a brilliant move.) My interpretation is she began willing to do anything out of desperation---the power became its own reason to do anything. And the line between the two was impossible to see before it had passed.

In other words, poverty, cruelty, assault, and power differentials of all sorts lead to poor behavior, loneliness, isolation, and, if you want to call it that, evil.

One of the videos watched claims (believably) that the film could not get made when first written twenty years ago because of its homosexual content and lack of male leads. It does make, now, for an interesting laboratory of thought, to examine these issues without a male aggressor defining the space.

Also, the use of lenses is unusual, and helps create the sense of being out of place, disoriented, uncertain. We're never on solid ground here; something is always dysphoric. And I don't see any way to call the ending happy, so screw you, comedy-label.

Don Verdean (2015)

I plan to have a lot to say about this film. (I'd better. I'm leading a discussion on it for the next film group.) But my first thoughts are on the danger of zeal, and how it can overcome both faith and reason.

(Hugh Nibley.)

I also had just read about a podcast dealing with this topic. No idea when I would listen to it, but here's the link for those of you who fit listening into your life.

Sadly, we don't have to look far to find people who would rather believe than think, believing that thinking destroys belief. When really, imho, the very opposite is true.

James 1:8

Speaking as a Hessian connoisseur, I have lots of things to notice. It's clear, for instance, that Jermaine got some of the same directorial advice as did Héctor Jiménez in Nacho Libre. And Jared clearly still has some of the same ideas about what makes for a funny sound effect.

I'll be writing more about this movie soon.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

I loved this movie. It made me weep. Like the first, it's a bit slow and dead at moments, but always comes out of those moments with such life and fire that I can't really complain. I do wonder if maybe these aren't the sort of reactions erased by rewatching a film that's worthy of rewatching. Dunno. Haven't tried with either.

That said, I just feel really respected by the writing. That's not something feature-length commercials used to provide, back in my day. So thank you, Lord Miller.

I appreciate also that the film took some of the criticism thrown at the first and addressed it in serious ways. How successfully is for time to tell, but they paid attention and responded. Kudos.

Plus, I laughed my head off. At waaay more jokes than anyone else in the theater. So: money well spent.

Thanks, brother. (The Accordianist gave us movie money a couple years ago, finally spent today.)

The Tiger Hunter (2016)

I'll say up front that although I think this film is well made with a chance at importance, it's a bit immature. Lena Khan has a bright future, given the chance, but this film does suffer from a few things that keep it from truly excelling. Imho.

That said, I absolutely recommend it. I heard about it on Twitter only a few days ago and got my hands on apparently the only library-owned copy in California (?!). The cast is great, but I learned a couple things. Besides featuring the Indian Buddy Hackett and the Indian Eugene Levy, by watching the special features, I learned that some of these actors native accent is 100% standard American. Yet I've never seen them being anything other than the Indian X, immigrant extraordinaire. That was a bit eye-opening.

The colors are great. Obvious influences included Paul Thomas Anderson (though I would have missed that if it hadn't been mentioned in the special features) and Wes Anderson (though I would have missed that if certain shots hadn't recurred during the special features). Which gets me back to Lena Khan who is clearly good at what she does but it a step and a half away from having her own style.

I hope she gets to make another.

Don Verdean (2015)

Lady Steed picked out another Hessism: one person standing and clapping then the rest of the crowd following suit.

That James 1:8 scripture out of context is perfect. In context, it's complicates things even more:

James 1:6–9
He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Sam Rockwell's performance is excellent (as one expects from him; no doubt his Oscar for ''Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'' was a make-up Oscar for overlooking his Don Verdean). No matter how many times I do end up watching this film, I don't know if I'll ever quite know how clearly Don was able to see himself, with the light of righteousness ever blaring at him. He is indeed a mystery.

Hanna (2010)

We've been meaning to watch this movie like now for nigh unto ten years. Wish we'd watched it before. Because, although this is a very good movie of it's sort, I'm rather over movies of its sort. I'm now of the opinion that all these secret-agent killfests should be rated R because even when they are good and explore the human condition (success here is why Lady Steed liked the movie so much), they're still not exactly pro-human, are they?

Still. Smart movie. Beautifully shot (as expected from a Joe Wright movie). Nice Spirited Awayesque use of an abandoned theme park. (Not sure Cate Blanchett' accent held consistent.)

One complaint: Hanna is terrible about making sure she's not keeping her body out from the center of light sources. It may shoot well, but it's terrible survivalwise. Even I know that!

Note: these days, the alternate ending (see dvd) would appear after the credits. And it would, honestly, be a better movie for it.


Previous films watched

jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec








I read a book
and a book read me
I read that book
by a coconut tree


016) Snotgirl: Green Hair, Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung, finished February 16

I'm a big fan of O'Malley's other books, Scott Pilgrim and Seconds, and so, perhaps, I will get the second Snotgirl collection, but I'm not loving it. Plotwise, I'm curious to see if the p-o-v character is correctly interpreting events or if her allergy medicine is making her kill people, but I don't like any (any) of these characters. His other books have shallow characters with depths. These characters just seem shallow under their shallow exteriors.

At least it didn't take long to read....


017) Ghost of the Grotto by Carl Barks, finished February 20

Hilarious! Barks does't need Uncle Scrooge to have a galloping time---just throw him some ducks and watch the fun commence!
one sitting


018) When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, finished February 22

I was reading about the movie somewhere which inspired me to get the book (the creator of which, me being American, I only know from The Snowman.). If memory serves, because I could not find the movie. But the book is astonishing. It's so quiet and contained and about so very, very much. The characters with no irony in them whatsoever but, because of the world they live in, all their words become ironic nevertheless.

If only one book about The Bomb survives The Bomb, I sure hope it's this one.

one sitting


019) Temple and Cosmos by Michael R. Collings, finished February 23

Collings is at a point in his career where he seems less interested in impressing people and more interested in scratching every itch he has left. Then he packages them in a themed package and hangs out his shingle.

Temple and Cosmos is such a packaging---mostly new poems, but some that have appeared before, including in Into the Void. The volume is split into two halves---temple and cosmos---and the justaposition means that awe of temple and awe of cosmos are balanced, or at least intended to be.

Among the itches the poet is scratching are those of influence. Emily is all through this book, for instance, and I think I sense some George Herbert as well. Some moderns---Eliot, maybe?

My favorite poem, perhaps, comes from the cosmos half and is a missionary's homecoming talk after two years in distant space. He has come home to speak to his sibling's grandchildren. It also had a nice, additional frisson thanks to the recent announcement, making missionaries less disconnected from home.

I love that Michael is still formally experimenting. And although not everything works for me, it makes me happy to see a retired gentleman with ambition. Never stop scribbling.
a bit over six months


020) The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, finished February 23

Like The Maltese Falcon, what a book. Hammett has the sentences of Hemingway, but he plots like the genre master he is. Nick and Nora aren't quite what they are in the movies, but that's not to say is one is better than the other. The full warmth of their relationship is helped along by William Powel and Myrna Loy, sure, but the drinking seems more fun-and-games as well. He's clearly an alcoholic in the book, though certainly a high-functioning one.

And the falling-together-of-pieces at the end is a thing of wonder. There is craft in this art.

Does really make me want to binge all the movies. But maybe I'll read Hammett's own sequel first.
coupla weeks


021) Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs, finished February 24

Not long after I put When the Wind Blows, Adam Koford tweeted about this book, and so, why not, I threw it on hold two. It came from L.A. (the other only from S.F.) and it's in even worse shape. These thirty-plus-year old paperbacks are falling apart. Time to replace them, libraries!

This one's story is much less compelling---largely it's a punfilled fieldguide to bogeymen. And it's a good read (even has a nice Cold Comfort reference), but it's not one I'll push on you. Read When the Wind Blows first.

(Although, this is the one that inspired a Sir Paul song. Which is crazy since Bogey's hate music.)

two or three days