April Showers Do Not Exist. This is California. But you can still stay inside and watch a movie.


friend's dvd
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

My interest in this film appeared fully grown, like Aphrodite from the waves, the first time I heard of it: watching the documentary on its writer/director, Brian De Palma. Then my friend David mentioned he loves it and lent me the dvd. That was around the time the pandemic began and now I'm finally watching it and boyhowdy did I love it.

Something I think is worth knowing: This film had created a weird niche where peeole just came to midnight showings, week after week or month after month or something like that. When this new weird film was about to be released, they decided to show it after Phantom, so the right audience could find it. Eventually that film outgrew and finally pushed out Phantom to become American midnight favorite. That film, of course, was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I saw once long ago and did not like; bummer Phantom didn't hold onto the top spot).

Anyway, dude's a song writer. Signs a contract. Things go to tell. It's Faust crossed with Phantom of the Opera crossed with a lot of Seventies weirdness. But done with such style, folks.

One of the reasons I wanted to watch it was for Paul Williams's songs. He crafted movies' greatest soundtrack so let's hear another one! I enjoyed it, but it did have the disadvantage of being heard for the first time.

Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)

I read about this movie in an altweekly when it came out. It played in some little theater in San Francisco and movies that play only in podunk City theaters I never seem to get to before they leave. I'm not sure I've ever made it across the Bay in time to see a movie that's only playing there.

Anyway, 2012 was not a time of instant streaming and the library never bought the dvd and video stores were already, effectively, extinct.

But having just seen Phantom in the Paradise I nosed around and hey! it's on Prime! maybe I already knew that since it's on my watchlist but it's on Prime!

So I watched it. The first six minutes I found unexpectedly emotional. And the film as a whole is charming and real. It's deliberately unflashy and that's kind of the point.

Of recent films I've seen it reminded me most of An Honest Liar. The most significant difference is that its big reveal was no reveal at all. Simply, the documentarian learned to see what had always been before him.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I can see why people who love this movie think it's one of the best MCU movies, but I'm not sure it'll age well. It's sciency mumbojumbo is already much more goofy than it was six years ago, and many of Joss Whedon's cutesy lines (notably the whole bad-language running gag) are tired. Plus, (as I've been saying since first viewing) the breasts in this movie are just two, two much. Wanda is in incredible pain but instead of the camera pointing us toward her face, it's exploring how far down her shirt it can get. The movie's token mother is defined primarily by her decollatage and her losing of her child as soon as she covers up.

If anything should have keyed us into Joss's dark side, maybe it was the breasts of Ultron?

(Incidentally, I didn't watch enough of them to count, but as a result of watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the kids have been doing some homework and I saw maybe an hour of Captain American: The First Avenger and Winter Soldier. So's you know.)

library dvd
Jojo Rabbit (2019)

So we went back to watch it with the kids and they loved it but definitely more in the It's Hilarious sort of way rather than the It Made Me Cry sort of way, which I too signed up for this time. It's a really good movie.

I love how Taika gives the camera a personality. And I wonder if this is close to the style he's always had and it's just the European setting that's pointing out the Wes Anderson links to me. Because it still makes me really really want to watch Moonrise Kingdom. Or, failing that, maybe Grand Budapest Hotel?

Anyway, it's a terrific piece of filmmaking and what seems to be cheap tricks add up to powerful performances. I feel pretty confident it's a movie we'll admire more and more as time goes on.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

This is a better movie than Ultron, imo, even if it does allow the characters some opportunities to pose in groups like this is a calendar instead of a movie.

I've been saying this for a while, but it'll bear repetition. The most important way Marvel changed superhero movies was in trying to give their destruction real human weight. And this might be the film where they succeed best. It wouldn't work without Ultron's set-up though, so props.

Note from Lady Steed: when Paul Rudd shows up, suddenly this all feels a little more plausible. I don't know if I agee, exactly, but I know what she means.

our bluray
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

All our boys are older now than when I first showed it to our oldest. I remember it much less well now. Saw it in theaters, saw it a year later, say it in 2021. Time flies.

I think I may love it even more now than I did then. Something about loss and futility. Speaks to me.

Anyway. Wes understands childhood like nobody, even if he's really talking about adults. And watching them back to back like this, Taika seems much less Wes.

The Incredibles (2004)

Is this still the greatest superhero movie? It's debatable.

In many respects, yes. But some of the stuff I was talking about above is still in its infancy. The dealing with collateral damage, for instance. The ethics of erasing people's minds won't become an issue until movie two.

But you can make a strong case that honest animation is the appropriate medium to tell these stories in. As great as Holly Hunter would obviously be in any movie ever including a superhero movie, could she possibly be better in live action than she is as Elastigirl? If you think so, please explain to me how.

I don't think any other superhero movie has as many genuine laffs or as many genuine tears while keeping them in such equal ratio.

So while the superhero genre has evolved since 2004, I'm not sure I can yet point to a specific film and say this movie, THIS movie, this MOVIE is better than The Incredibles.

library dvd
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

First time watching this one and, like my first time watching Holy Grail, for all its moments (notably the nativity and the stoning), I didn't really care for it all that much.

Long story short, I just don't think the movies are as good as Flying Circus. They're not as consistently funny. The pursuit of coherence gets in their way, as insincere as that pursuit may be.

Anyway, it's the film group movie and we're talking about it tomorrow. I suppose I'll be more convinced then.

But I'll still like Flying Circus best.

Spontaneous (2020)

Amazon told me about this movie and I accidentally started watching it instead of a trailer. And I went with it.

To start, this movie does a lot of things right. It's interesting to look at. It doesn't revel in the ugly (it's about teenagers spontaneously exploding) while it tries to look directly at the emotions. The three main teen characters are all excellent. They can sell lines that maybe don't deserve it.

I thought the movie was going to end a certain spot. And that spot happened. Then I realized we were only a third of the way through the film. So that was a nice surprise.

Watching it, I assumed this was a first movie from the director. And I was right. Although he's written some others (including a known stinker and a movie that's on my to-watch list), this feels like a first movie. It's unsteady in many ways and lazy in some others.

For example, all the characters are only children. Most of the "teen talk" comes off pretty canned. Sometimes in an amusingly satirical way, but it's not clear he knows how kids talk (which makes sense). He wants to play around with th fourth wall but he's not always certain what the rules are. The reality's rules for adult behavior are pretty squishy. That sort of thing.

But it's trying. It's engaged with the art of being a movie and it's not just gonna play it safe. (I'm reminded of a Pauline Kael essay I just read---I would rather watch a failed movie engaged with the artform than a "good" movie that's blasély safe.

It was pretty obvious, early on, how it would end. Then that moment happened. Two thirds of the way in. In a dramatic and final way. But the movie continued.

And, thematically, that might have been the best choice of all.

Wikimedia Commons
Hypocrites (1915)

I recently learned that Lois Weber was, for a time, the highest-paid American film director. And that she, along with DW Griffith, is considered one of American film's first auteurs. So I thought I ought to watch some of her movies. I bummed around a bit and selected four. Then, today, I had a sliver of time. And so I selected this one to watch first. Not because it was the first nonpornographic feature to sport full female nudity but because it is the shortest. I swear.

(On the nudity, the actress was seventeen when she was "discovered" by Weber. I'm not sure what that means since she was in someone else's film a year before this one. I'm also not sure how old she was when the shooting happened. Which was on a closed set with just the acress, director, and someone running the camera. Anyway, the Wikipedia article is short but informative.)

The nude character is the Truth. The Naked Truth, you see. Which no one seems to be able to handle. There's a weird irony, this film that takes a sledge to hypocrisy and the way it uses the nude figure. It's fine, but a couple moments don't quite ring true.

In short, the film is about the cleric running an upperclass American church. He's frustrated by the gap between appearances and reality and preaches a sermon on hypocrisy. After which he slips into a fugue in which starts with a treeless Tree of Life vision, moves to a mideivel past, then gets into the mirror sequence. It's the mirror sequence that took the film too far into preachiness, in my opinion. It's a bit interminable. And the modesty sequence really gets you thinking about the nudity in this movie as counterproductive. Then, the final mirror bit, on parenting, only gets funnier.

Anyway, to spoil the ending, the priest is dead and holding a Sunday paper making him seem guilty of the greatest hypocrisy of all (?).

The film, technically, is pretty fun. Besides the transparent Truth, there are scenes, apparently, with as many as six multiple exposures. And I don't know that Weber innovated any of these, but it also includes unseen objects as lightsource, actors playing different roles in different eras, and other little things it's fun to see in 1915.

In the end, it's heavyhanded. But it's also not even fifty minutes. Worth a watch.

The Last Unicorn (1982)

The 4yrold has been carrying this around the house off and on for months and today we finally sat down to watch it an . . . the case was empty.

Hoorah for Prime.

Last time I saw it (which was the first time since childhood and possibly the first time straight through), I was very unimpressed. This time I have a much mellower reaction. Perhaps because I knew now how poorly aged aspects of it would be, I was better able to appreciate it as its own thing. Who can say.

People often credit Katzenberg with initiating famous voices in animation, but this movie has Alan Arkin and Jeff Bridges and Christopher Lee and Mia Farrow. Those are stars.

So while, yes, some of the movie ain't great (the butterfly really gets us off on the wrong foot), it does have a magic and I'm ready to appreciate it.

Flora & Ulysses (2021)

So this was a great movie. It was so much fun to watch. And I say that completely aware that both the script and the direction were lazy to the point of being sloppy to the points of being, at times, straight-up bad. Every attempt at something "meaningful" was obviously lifted from the original novel but without any of the set-up necessary to give it a proper payoff. So, yeah, pretty terrible.

But two things make none of that matter too much. At least, not if you're going to watch it with a small child.

The first is the animation. The squirrel and cat are probably the two best animated "real" animals I've ever seen. They are excellent in every way. Props to whichver of the three VFX houses were in charge of the animals. Great work.

The second is the casting. The acting is mostly very good, even given the crap lines they had to deliver. The cast saves the movie. And part of the pleasure, as an adult, it just sing people I like. Jean-Ralphio playing such a different character that it took a while before I was sure it was not him. The actress who is not Shannon Hale. Bobby Moynihan and Janeane Garofalo in bit roles. You'll learn that Danny Pudi is much better at fighting imaginary animals than Kate Micucci. You'll even get a glimpse of your favorite two-year-old in a nonspeaking role. And the girl playing Flora is incredible, though it wasn't fair to ask her to do so much narration.

One funny thing is how much synergy Disney was pushing with their new properties. Lots of Marvel references, something from Star Wars. Even references to the Fox catalogue (Alien, Titanic). The latter two were the most enjoyable, surprisingly enough.

Anyway, it's a terrible movie. But you'll like it.

The Star Prince (1918)

I thought, through the middle of the film, I would be writing about how this was a very charming but terrible film. But it's not terrible. It's just more complex than I expected.

I mean---it's not all THAT complex, but it's better than I was worrying it might be.

See, the Star Prince is the worst. The absolute worst. And then a fairy punishes him for a cruelty he inflicts on his mother. Then he hits the forest to try and find her and seek her forgiveness. Instead he rescues a mother squirrel. And so the fairy gives him his nose back. I wasn't so sure about that.

But even if the movie hadn't come around (mostly---it does somewhat commit the sin I associate with 80s movies of suggesting bullying's okay so long as it's the right people doing it to the wrong people at the right time) I was ready to forgive it because, as I said, it is wildly charming.

Keep in mind this was written and directed by a 21yrold woman in 1918. Keep in mind the cast is entirely (entirely!) children (children!).

I don't know how she financed it (STOP THE PRESSES: rich husband), but it has deer mothers and their children, a moose mother and her children, a ton of rabbits, two bear cubs (who seem a lot more important than I'm able to quite interpret), a stop-motion squirrel, terrific sets and costumes, irises shaped like a star and a fleru-de-lis, and solid special effects including smoke fx and double exposures. It's impressive. It was clearly not a huge budget (note the repeated shots) but it feels expansive. And, to repeat, SHE WAS TWENTY-ONE.

And the kids were great. Especially the little girl who played the princess. She's now one of my favorite alltime child stars. I was hoping she went on to have a carrer just as long as she wished and no ill after effects but, alas,
this was her only film. I couldn't find out much else about her. I wonder if people even knew how great she was.

(The title character was also good enough and was a star, briefly.)

Anyway, it's a fairytale and, in the end, I was completely won over.

(Note: I did watch is sped up. Perhaps it would be less delightful if ten minutes longer.)

library dvd
Blast from the Past (1999)

I last saw this movie in theaters back when, you know, it was in theaters. So a while ago. And I still think about it now and then. But is it still any good today?

But then someone suggested it was the perfect postpandemic movie and that made a lot of sense so I asked and was informed it totally holds up. So I went for it.

And we enjoyed ourselves immensely! Brendon Fraser is so good at these roles and Alicia Silverstone is solid playing straight. Plus some fun bits from the Kids in the Hall / Flik guy and a then-a-nobody Nathan Fillon. And, it's worth mentioning, this is how I first became aware of Christopher Walken, which is a serious gift.

Anyway, if you don't know, a family believes The Bomb was dropped. Thirty-five years later they are forced to send out their son for supplies. But of course, it's all about the execution.

The Floorwalker (1916)

This is the sort of movie that would make it onto a timeline of Chaplin's career, even though it's not one of his better-remembered films. It's his first for Mutual. And it's pretty good. Allegedly inspired by seeing someone fall down an escalator. And the escalator's a presence all the way through, though it really gets its moment in the climax.

The version I watched on Kanopy was missing the final moments. Wikipedia has a version that has a few stuttered moments more---enough to provide resolution---but it's still kind of disappointed to be abandoned at the end like that.

There are a couple moment here where the Tramp is totally Groucholike, which is not really something I've thought before, even though they tend to dress similarly and both have iconic mustaches. It makes me wonder if they simply both came out of similar traditions or if Groucho was more directly influenced.

Speaking of influence, the first filmed mirror scene is in this movie. Although the Marxes allegedly took theirs from Max Linder (who had done it onstage prior to 1916), who can say. Everything's a remix.

our dvd
Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

I've been working my way through an excellent Pauline Kael collection, adding movies I now must see to various watchlists. But this one---this one wasn't available. Not anyway. But she'd totally convinced me! Dvds, however, were available and cheap so, don't tell Lady Steed, but I bought one (no longer available from my seller on eBay but still up on Amazon).

Anyway, I delighted to say it holds up. The only thing that took me out of the movie was 50s mores for relationship violence, but beat by beat the movie is honest and true and I believed it and just lived with the characters. And while Shelley Winters deserved her Oscar nomination for work much more subtle than any one clip could suggest, it's also fun to see people at the top of their career---young Jeff Goldblum, a striking and cold "Chris" Walken, and Bill Murray in a blink-and-you-won't-see-him, sneeze-and-you-won't-hear-him first-film-appearance. He doesn't make the credits. He still hasn't been added to the IMBd page. That's how tiny the role is.

Plus, a host of mid-, early-, and late- career that guys and gals like Lois Smith and Lou Jacobi and Ellen Greene.

Come for the actors. Stay for the slice of Fifties life. Leave with a bit of joyful melancholy.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

A tweet about one movie led me to Wikipedia and eventually to this film, which no longer has anything to do with the original story.

This is a strange, strange movie. A mix of great beauty and deep ugliness. It stars with a lovely marriage followed by a horrifying series of rapes. Sure, the rapes are shown more sybolically, but that doesn't make them less awful.

For much of the film, and especially in the early scenes, there isn't really any animation. There are still images that the camera explores. But over its course, the film tries on a number of visual styles---all very 60s/70s---and explores a number of tones.

The plot surrounds this poor young woman stolen from innocence so brutally then adopted by a phallic devil and eventually growing in power until, in a final moment added after the original theatrical release, her execution leads to the eventual overthrow of monarchy? I don't know. It's poetry. It's music. It's not an essay and it's barely a narrative. It's as much like a dream as any movie I've seen. You'll only get a few of the visual styles at IMDb, but check out just those few.

Previous films watched


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