Lots of great movies this month! One so good we watched it twice.
Also note the return of the in-class movies with the assigned readings. In case you want to get extra smart. And all for you getting extra smart. Click away.
Do you think, were this not a beloved classic, this movie would today be simply inaccessible?
Anyway, it is beloved and it played well with students. I was worried but it was a hit. And, as that class's last movie of the year, they were reading it well. They noticed a bunch of stuff re color, for instance, without any prompting from me. It's cool how, in just three weeks, they get so much better at this.
Anyway, the ones who aren't already living post-graduation, that is.
I don't know how this one has never appeared on one of these lists before. What better movie to show a bunch of seniors a week from graduation?
And the kids did like it and had good things to say, but that #2 reading up there really gave us the vocabulary to explain what we were thinking.
I'm blown away that Candy Clark got an Oscar nomination. Not because she didn't deserve it, but it's just hard to imagine that sort of performance getting that sort of recognition today. Brava.
A note on the date:
Usually I go with whatever date IMDb chooses, and 1980 makes sense according to their criteria, but to me it's wrong wrong wrong. I figure we either go with 1946, the original date, or 2012, when John Huston's original version was finally released to the public. The 1980 version was heavily edited and doesn't seem to me proper to count.
This film documents WWII soldiers returning from service with severe mental issues and the treatments they undergo. I suppose in 1946 we didn't want to admit the good war broke men and in 1980 we still wanted hide their identities, but in 2023, these men (and those who treat these men) feel heroic.
The methods come off as modern and successful and the whole thing is thought-provoking and impressive. I found the thing inspiring and I reckon it could have done a lot of good if released back in the Forties.
But nobody ever asks me these things.
(poster image from hoopla)
Believe it or not, this is the first time I've seen Basil Rathbone play Sherlock Holmes. (I don't count this.) And wow but was I wrong about a lot of things. Most signficantly, I thought his were the original stories ala Jeremy Brett (who will always be my Holmes), but no; this was more like the Benedict Cumberbatch Holmes: contemporary stories featuring our favorite characters.
The film came out in 1942 and this story is midwar. It's based on a classic tale (vaguely), but the classic tale didn't have the macguffin of a gamechanging bombsite, obviously something that speaks much more dearly to a British midblitz.
This 68-minute piece is . . . not great. There's not a lot for Rathbone to chew on and while I can accept a bumbling Lestrade, a Watson this dumb is not for me. The performance is great, I just don't like the choice. But the film is filled with dumb choices (imo). I mean, they took half the film to tell me Dr Tobel was Swiss. His accent cycled through so many iterations that I had given up guessing.
I did like (spoiler alert) the demise of Moriarty. I suppose he came back in later films (yup), but this variation on the waterfall was wonnnnderful. And I kinda like that, since it's 1942, it happened offscreen.
Anyway, not a new favorite or anything, but I'm up for more. Maybe with the other three that are in the public domain. They're easy enough to find.
Century 16 Hilltop
A worthy successor to a marvelous original both visually and kinetically. It has some emotional high points, but the payoffs are waiting for the next film. Let's hope they nail it.
I will say that the time with all the spiders was solid, but the exposition and chase scene went on too long.
The introduced a new villain and developed him in a variety of ways that makes him live . . . and makes him terrifying.
I wasn't sure how it was going to end unfinished but then in the last few minutes it started cranking things like crazy. I'm stoked for March.
But it's hard to say a lot about the film as it really is only half a movie. So we'll wait and see. But my expectations are high.
Ten years on, this PG version of Cabaret appears. Which is a bit unfair, but they're both American films about early-20th-century Europe paying with sex and sexuality shunting all the musicality to stage shows. Clearly, the suits were thinking it.
As it began, I thought the film was going to take the easy way out of the boy/girl//straight/gay set-up, and eventually it did, but en route it complicated things much more than the expectations it birthed in act one.
The cast is great, the runtime is too long, the gags are mostly good and with one exception justified, the Mancini music was okay, the writing was best when it dived into uncertainty and weakest when it tumbled into comedic cliche, and the thing as a whole was fine. I wanted to like it more but I liked it fine. I estimate it holds up but I'm curious what the youths would say.
I did not respect this movie. I watched it 4x speed without sound while I was in a Zoom meeting. I genuinely do not know if it's in Italian or English. I will say that it was paced at such that 4x felt like 2x if that makes me any less villanous.
I don't know the scientific/supernatural gobbledygook that explains what's happening, but I could follow the story, no problem. We got some murder and a nice variety of evils and plenty of translucent nightgowns.
What else can you ask for from 1:44 (15 minutes longer than the American cut!) of proto-giallo?
So after his own studio went kaput and he was purchased by MGM who intended to domesticate him, he and a crew went to New York where, as luck would have it, the studio heads were not. And so they were able to make something almost as loose as the peak Buster that preceded The Cameraman. The changing-room scene was improvised with a guy who was not on set as an actor and the studio used it for decades to teach comedy writing. They watched it so often that that scene was worn out and, for a time, presumed lost.
So a studio that deeply distrusted improv showed an improv scene to teach writers how to write natural-feeling comedy.
Anyway, it has one of his most famous shots and a lot of fun set pieces. His costar is delightful and never have I so wished for my own capuchin.
Buster is getting close to aging out of his lovestruck idiot, however. I can't help but wonder if this fact is part of why MGM pushed him into other roles. And sure, every MGM movie he was in broke money, but imagine what he would have evolved into if allowed to do so on his own terms!
I know Buster wasn't bitter. But sometimes I'm bitter on his behalf.
(Everything I read about MGM [1, 2, 2] makes me think that no one who had an office possessed any sense of irony. And that the death of Thalberg was the death of any good sense in the suite.)
It's a good enough movie but the gears never quite meshed. They didn't grind but the machine didn't run as smoothly as it could have. The funny bits could've been a bit funnier, the twists a bit twistier. And the ending a bit more moral.
In other words, it's a good movie. Just, somehow, it didn't have enough to be great.
I'm all for them making more, though. They could still pull it off.
First viewing, this movie blew me away. This time, not so much. I still think it works and I still admire how complex the storytelling is and excepting the disappearing phone messages, I feel it successfully changes the rules without breaking the rules. I like that kind of ambition.
But the way it is full of drama and sentimentality means, I think, that sometimes it'll work for me and sometimes it won't. Watching it, I was reminded of Mirai, and as I just went back and read what I wrote about it. I suspect, on second viewing, I'd be less impressed with it as well. What I think is happening is that watch one blows me away. Watch two is mostly me remembering the movie as I watch it, almost watching myself watching it, giving myself a secondhand experience. But future watches will be free of the tyranny of first impressions.
Or, in other words, I think viewings three through x I will settle into the film and just appreciate the art and the craft and the success.
Anyway, that's me. Not your name.
So I loved this. It gave me everything I was hoping to get and more. I can't say exactly what the mores were without spilling extratrailorial spoilers, so I think I shan't, but let me say the cast provided such excellent details (special shoutouts to Hoult and Fiennes and Brucato, but please don't think that by singling them out I mean to slight anyone else—this is a cast that expanded every moment to its fullest expression), and that the plot found wriggle room that gave me things I'd hoped for but could not think possible.
Anyway, very sharp script, generous direction, wise editing.
It's everything I want from a horror-comedy-thriller-satire.
Plus, I'm not sure we'll ever get tired at looking at Anya Taylor-Joy impossible skull and all the fae magic it's wrapped in. Surely she cannot look like that when seen in normal human surroundings, like, say, a sidewalk. Surely not.
We've owned this dvd so long that, in the case, is stashed our original tickets, when we saw Ocean's 11 in theaters, December 2001, as we visited my brother in Vegas. It was either that or Amélie and, although Amélie is a great movie, it's impossible to argue we chose incorrectly.
But the funny thing is we've never watched this dvd. We saw the movie once before we bought it, but never after. Even though we still remember the movie fondly and can't see an El Camino without saying its name ala Brad Pitt, we'd just never returned to it.
And now we have and we're happy to announce it's just as good now as it was then.
The cast is even better, in a way. I don't think I had opinions about Bob Balaban or JK Simmons at the time. And it was a good year for Brad and Julie (they also being in Ocean's 11) and the mysterious figure you don't meet till the end who, in 2001, also played Royal Tenenbaum.
And the director's atop his game also. After this, he released The Ring the year after and the first Pirates of the Caribbean the year after that, which made him someone I always pay attention to (even though I despised the second Pirates movie).
Anyway, Brad Pitt plays a low-level (and inadvertant) hood for whom everything always goes wrong. Julia Roberts plays his impatient girlfriend. James Gandolfini plays a truly dangerous hood hired to bring them in. Both the Mexican and California deserts sing with life and real people and excellent touches like the dog who just loves his football. The set design is excellent, the sepia-toned flashbacks move, the music is excellent and in such good conversation with the edit. Little details like traffic lights and hubcaps find ways to return in ways that matter.
It's smart, swift, and funny. And surprisingly moving. And will teach you to never never never shoot your gun in the air. No matter how fun the party is.
That's definitely the lesson I've held onto all these years.
Buster's final silent feature! You can tell he's had some control stripped away, but the film has major and distinct setpieces. Dorothy Sebastian is a game comedienne and while the film is low on boffo, it has plenty of lesser fun to go around.
Buster's character (his first Elmer) is in love with a star of the stage. When her costar/boyfriend marries a socialite, she, thinking Buster wealthy, marries him out of spite. Things don't go well. She gets plastered (leading to this famous scene) and eventually Buster's forced to abandon town so she can sue him for divorce. But on his way out of the hotel, he ends up falling in with criminals and an ocean only to find himself alone on a yacht with—
You know what? Never mind. The plot is surprisingly fun. Maybe you should just watch it.
The one historical bummer is that you get a strong (and era-accurate) dose of just how popular Lost Cause-themed entertainment was. Gross.
We laughed more at this movie than most movies, but it's also shocking and deeply sad. It bathes in ambiguity. It feels so tired and lived-in and real.
We've never seen any of Martin McDonagh's features but we have seen "Six Shooter" and it too features deep Irish brogues, startling violence, rural areas, strange relationships, and Brendon Gleeson, so I don't feel like a newbie. And this was great so I'm wanting to go back and see his others. Starting with In Bruges, which seems to be most people's favorite.
My petty complaint is centered in skepticism that this usage of nice and the phraise two to tango would have made it to an itty rural Irish island by the early 1920s. But I didn't let it ruin anything for me. And who knows. Maybe I'm wrong. (I probably am but I'm definitely not.)
Anyway. The Irish. Am I right?
So I knew enough about this movie to expect it to be well made, interesting, and cool, but dang. This movie is intensely cool. All the period footage cut together---
The opening has no words, just people in an impossible landscape. And much of the film slides back into that space. Looking is enough.
Hearing the vulcanologist lovers in their own words with minimal intrusions from the narrator (a gruff Miranda July) brings them to life. Images from their own team fill the runtime, intersperced with classy and simple yet idiosyncratic animations explain all we need to know.
We were also blown away but just how much fun all this stuff is to look at. It's like a Wes Anderson movie only the earth is exploding and melting and running away.
Anyway, wildly entertaining, absolutely beautiful, quietly moving.
So I don't care what the box office says, I loved this movie. I think it's the best Pixar film for a while. Granting that I haven't seen Lightyear and that I think Soul deserves a deeper consideration, it's the best since at least Toy Story 4. The dumb trailer and low BO had me worried, but wow.
The worldbuilding had some gaps (I don't believe anyone at Pixar really knows how that sport works), but the character dynamics on both a personal and societal were excellent. And given how many corners this movie looks into, I'm shocked I haven't heard a bunch of shallow anti-woke backlash. But that's something to be happy about, I suppose. Anyway, I wept through the end and the little bit o' plot that happened that could easily have felt like cheating they totally nailed.
It's not a flawless film; another round or two of notes could have fixed a couple minor flaws; but I loved it. Top-tier Pixar, just not tippity-top tier.
Movies in the Park
Wildly, one of my sons had just watched a video talking about how well the effects in this movie have held up and now here we are in a park watching it. And you know what? Yes. And not just the effects. This is a good movie.
And I'm kinda glad there are no sequels. Although I liked the other books as a kid, there's a certain integrity to ending the story at this point. Yes, this is slimmer than the novel, it's a single coherent whole. Well done, team.
This movie appeared just as we were moving across the state and maybe we would've tried harder to see the new Jon Heder if Benchwarmers hadn't been so so terrible and just a misunderstanding of what he brought to Napoleon Dynamite. Besides, in 2006, we didn't ahve a lot of evidence that Will Ferrell made better movies than David Spade / Rob Schneider. Ugh.
As for Will Ferrell's career, he is huge at this point and his in the middle of his unofficial series of sports-movies (this one falls between Talladega Nights and Semi-Pro) and Blades of Glory too is a hit.
I know because I just looked it up. I'd assumed it wasn't because it was kinda the end of Jon Heder's blockbuster career. So . . . why?
I don't know, but here's a theory. When I met him and his brother in 2009, I was immediately afterward told several stories about how they went around to various entertainment companies and used his fame to basically demand gifts. He was just going around looking for free stuff all the time, allegedly. So maybe it wasn't that he lacked box-office value or skill (he was great in Blades but that he was just kind of a hassle. I wonder.
Anyway, it's a shame.
Blades of Glory is a dumb movie but it's very funny and not too grossouty and it has the ultimate 2006 cast (also features Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Jenna Fischer, and, off his Incredibles triumph, Craig T. Nelson). The effects have aged well and it's not chockfull of homophobia (as I'd feared). In short, it's the very best kind of dumb comedy. And maybe the only figure-skating movie I've seen? (Even though it was among my high-school bestfriend's favorite movies, I still haven't seen The Cutting Edge.)
Century 16 Hilltop
So my most-anticapted movie of 2023 absolutely was worthy of my high expectations. I laughed pretty much through the whole thing, although that didn't stop me from from being moved at certain points.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they almost moved me. But I can see the future well enough to see how they will become more moving with each viewing.
Thematically, I think I would place it nearest French Dispatch, although it covers much of its ground with more constraint.
One thing I admire about Wes Anderson is how be creates worlds that manage to be equally unreal and utterly real and how transgressing the boundaries between the two creates much of the effect. We need more of that in film. In this emotional space.
And did I mention I laughed all the way through? There were only seven people in the theater so Lady Steed kept elbowing me to hush but it was too funny.
Which somehow did not get in the way of its sadness and tragedy.
Plus, my favorite little girls since O Brother.
Win win win win win win win.
If my memory is correct, the only time I've seen this one was on VHS, 1990. So it's been a long time. In my memory, it's my favorite Indy movie. And yeah, it totally holds up. And so many of my favorite Indy moments come from this film. Talking about it now, we suspect it's excellence (it's superiority?) comes from his relationship with his father. It's the best drawn, deepest, and most meaningful relationship in any of the movies. You believe it in a way you don't with any of the women. Even Short Round is hollow once you realize he doesn't come back in any movie. The way Harrison Ford says "Dad" makes this relationship by far the most grounded and real of any.
Plus you get the best haha lines (I hate those guys, no ticket, he chose poorly) and some of the most striking visuals (that bridge!). Maybe, objectively, Raiders might be better. But mayne not.
Century 16 Hilltop
The movie starts big and daring, throwing thirty cg babies out the window. But—is that a good thing?
And lets talk about those cg babies. They are so distressingly fake. And then, in the final shot, they switch to a real baby! Why?? When you've already disrespected those STAY OUT signs posted around Uncanny Valley, whey suddenly remind us you've been trespassing.
Ben Affleck's Batman and Supergirl never look real. Hardly in any shot in the film. They look like videogame characters. And then it occurred to me: maybe that's the goal? Maybe this isn't another story of vfx houses being abused by the studio (though surely that's still true) but this is feature, not bug. Perhaps their intended audience is people who consider gaming the superior artform (or at least their primary artform) and so movie standards don't apply. If you're aiming for awesome, you need to look like a videogame.
Maybe. I dunno. But it would explain a lot about how the film looks.
In the end, I mostly enjoyed the movie. It had many moments that sung. But they rarely sang together. Just individual bits that got on different trains.
The big emotional and plot climaxes made story sense but didn't really do much for me. In part because I'm not sure I believed their logic. And in part because as much as I came to like some of the characters, their arcs didn't always follow. They went where the story told them to—not ncecessarily where they, as individuals, wanted to go.
So it made for a fun night out with my son, but I'm hesitant to recommend it.
Besides, who is some of that fan service for? People talking incessently about the DCU on Twitter don't watch George Reeves. Or Christopher Reeve, for that matter. And the Nick Cage movie was never even made. Who is that stuff for??? At least when Spider-Verse played those games they didn't pause for applause. It just happened and if you were quick and in the know, maybe you caught it. Wooo.
Flash is one of my favorite characters. But I still haven't seen the Flash movie that I want to see. And, at this point, I don't know if I would recognize it if I did.
I've heard of it of course, but it was reading this Criterion essay that made me move it up the to-watch list. I just went back and reread it and I largely agree with its argument. But it's interesting—after finishing the movie I hit the special feature INTERVIEW WITH JAMES STEWART and the movie started again. That's right. Jimmy Steward did a dvd commentary! I accidentally crashed it about fifteen minutes in but among the things I learned is that Mr Stewart's opinion is that he's not really playing a different character. That's it's vulnerability that engines his characters through their stories. And you know what? I think both are true. This is a man who has lost himself in the drive for violence. And this is a man who retains his vulnerability.
The structure of the film is great. Starting with the title, it's the story of a terrific gun that through violence and bad luck passes from man to man to man. But it's also the story of Stewart's quest for revenge. But there are side stories about an engaged couple and the last hurrah of native warriors, with hints about things like evolving race relations, and plenty of things that are barely commented upon like the abuse those poor horses suffer or the way law enforcement just decides to burn down a woman's house in order to kill a badguy. This isn't some great heroic past. And when James Stewart gets a hair more violent than he needs to, unable to stop himself, as he twists some villain's arm behind the back. Why? So he can kill another villian. It's villains all the way down.
Ends up the other kids didn't watch it with the grandparents so we got to watch it again. And why the heck not? It's great.
It's a fabulous representative of Spielberg's art. The nonshowy but dynamic use of camera (dolly especially, but zoom and more) and some killer, effective (and nonshowy) oners.
Plus, this movie's how we know Indy's a Jack Mormon. That has to count for something.
Some other thoughts to end the month:
1. A lot of ink has been spent talking about how John McClane looked like a real person (as opposed to a musclebound Hercules-shaped human monster) and could actually get hurt and thus changed American action movies. But let's not forget that Indiana Jones managed both those things for years before Die Hard hit theaters.
2. Is there a name for the sort of irony we see here where part of the audience's pleasure is seeing Sean Connery, perhaps the great action hero of his generation, play a dweeb?
3. In such simple lines, this film draws a great and true picture of a father/son relationship.
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