Movies/TV I saw last month...
All That Jazz (1979)—I have always admired this but never particularly connected with it. And I definitely don't think it is Fosse's best—I put Cabaret and also Lenny ahead of it.
Atlantic City (1980)—Another one that had eluded me. I thought it was excellent. Both Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster are so great, and I loved all the ins and outs of the story. Also, it looked great, a European film overlay on top of Atlantic City in the middle of being demolished and rebuilt in the '70s.
The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1962)—This is the first of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales, a thematic series of six movies, the first two of which are less than 60 minutes. All six involve a man, always a different man, choosing between two women, always different women. The Criterion box (typically an excellent product, if pricy) also has a bunch of other shorts scattered along the way, all with Rohmer's fingerprints: Veronique and Her Dunce (1958), Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak (1960, featuring Jean-Luc Godard), Nadja in Paris (1964), On Pascal (1965), A Modern Coed (1966), The Curve (1999). They are all variously elliptical and charming. Bakery Girl, which stars Barbet Schroeder, fits more closely with them, in many ways, because of its brevity at only 23 minutes.
Bernie (2011)—I think we already knew what a good singer Jack Black is and I was generally not as impressed with him here as it sounds like others are. But Linklater tends to be worth revisiting and it's possible this will get better.
The Big Country (1958)—I have to admit my heart sank a little when I saw this William Wyler Western was nearly three hours long, but wow, it's pure entertainment. Big story, big landscape (of course), big everything, and always engaging. I loved Gregory Peck too. This makes me pretty sure at least two more Wylers I haven't seen are probably due for bumping up.
Civilisation (1969)—Finishes strong even given his general inability to deal with 20th century art.
Claire's Knee (1970)—Another high point of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales, the fifth in the series, though in our age (perhaps, or perhaps it's me) it seems a little too unnervingly fascinated by pubescent girls, viz., the title.
Cloud Atlas (2012)—Disappointing mess, I'm sorry to say.
La Collectionneuse (1967)—I think this is my favorite of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales, which I'm willing to believe is because Haydee Politoff is such a perfectly enigmatic (and beautiful) young woman. Strangely, this picture feels bare bones low-budget and lushly rich at the same time—something about the way color is used.
Cosmopolis (2012)—Occupy David Cronenberg by way of a 2003 Don DeLillo novel. Not bad.
Coup de Torchon (1981)—Yeah, not sure transposing Jim Thompson to Africa is such a good idea, but nice try.
A Dangerous Method (2011)—I liked this Cronenberg a lot more the second time, about a year on. It still seems to me a little too self-serious but also more substantive and convincing, and actually a really nice period piece, intellectually as well as in the production design detail.
Gallipoli (1981)—Doesn't add up to much, though often beautiful, as in the Cairo sequences.
Gates of Heaven (1978)—Nice to catch up with this one again after a very long time. Not to be confused with Heaven's Gate.
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)—Strangely keyed Soderbergh experimental, with the porn star Sasha Grey playing a call girl. It reminded me more than anything of another elaborately disaffected Soderbergh, his HBO show K Street, with what feels like a lot of improv, intentional dead spaces, interesting (to me) mixtures of color tones and palettes, and all cut up across time sequentially so you have to put it all back together yourself. I can see where it might be annoying but I thought it was nicely done.
The Grey (2011)—What a surprise this is. Some unfortunate tendencies to exaggerate where uncalled for (did the wolves really have to be so big?), but that is quibbling in the face of what it gets done. Calling this my find of the month.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Haywire (2011)—Soderbergh in high spy mode. Predictably, I got lost.
Hendrix and the Blues (2010)—30 minutes evidently worked up from the Hendrix segment of the PBS series, Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues. My only complaint is the obvious one, it's way too short. Interviews with interesting folks (Robert Cray, B.B. King, plus many of the usual Hendrix suspects) and stellar live performances.
Interiors (1978)—I saw it when it was new and hated it. Then I saw it when it was 34 years old and still hated it. At last some consistency around here.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)—Still not sure what to think of it, but this time through I thought about a coincidence I hadn't thought of before: setting this in San Francisco and presumably shooting it there in the 1976-1977 time frame, around the time Jim Jones was consolidating his Peoples Temple there and then moving on to Guyana.
The Last Detail (1973)—I had not seen this Hal Ashby picture since it was new and must say it holds up remarkably well. Jack Nicholson (in his prime) and especially Randy Quaid are marvels and the ending is so perfect you almost don't believe it for a second.
Life of Pi (2012)—I saw this in 2D so maybe that's why it seemed flat, haha. No, seriously, stick around folks I'm here all week. The use of animals always had my attention and the story comes with an interesting if somewhat mannered complexity. But it also has a little stink of religiosity, which comes in the cunning (and again, interesting) guise of a lesson plan for youth fellowship discussion. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I suspect I might have been more impressed wearing the glasses. But I cannot honestly say I connected with this.
Love in the Afternoon (1972)—The last of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales is not the least of them, even of the feature length entries, all contrariwise reviews notwithstanding. It has many fine points too. But it is certainly a clear that Rohmer may not be for everyone.
The Lower Depths (1957)—Kurosawa B movie wallowing in Zola-style social naturalism, based on a play by Gorky. Mostly patronizing with too much feel of a message movie, but some interesting interludes along the way, notably the musical ones, which are briefly amazing.
Magic Mike (2012)—In which Soderbergh gets to have his (beef)cake and eat it too, so to speak. Yeah, it's entertaining, and Channing Tatum is great (as always), and there's a satisfying narrative arc. But it dallies too often with showy affect for my own taste. I did think it was interesting Soderbergh said he prepped for shooting it by watching Saturday Night Fever a lot.
Melvin and Howard (1980)—I don't know how I missed this one for so long and I'm sorry I did because it seems to me now a bit of a disappointment. This came as a surprise. I really expected to like it—maybe it's an expectations game and maybe I will, because I am open to seeing it again. But on first view it seemed clumsy to the point of inept and with no sense of itself at the center.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)—I was underwhelmed. Look, I know I have a Wes Anderson blind spot. Since Tenenbaums at least (with the sole possible exception of Darjeeling, and I can't presently explain that either), it has been impossible for me to get past the preciosity. (Nor can I explain why I forgive the same excesses in Whit Stillman.)
My Night at Maud's (1969)—Third in Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales, but released fourth for various, mostly financial, reasons. Rohmer's situations feel a little artificial to me but they quickly settle into interesting intricacies of relationships and gestures. I lap these up whole, and look forward to seeing again, but careful, YMMV.
Prometheus (2012)—I think I would have loved the first half in the theater, then it gets busy and silly and ultimately I'm almost not sorry I missed it big. Feels a little like a lost opportunity.
Suzanne's Career (1963)—The second and least interesting for me of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales (also short at 54 minutes), but I am planning to look at them all again and looking forward to seeing this one again too. I have a feeling some, such as this, might get (even) better.
Thief (1981)—I like the way Michael Mann can take things like car chases and random cityscapes and abstract them into such pure visual elements. But then that is too often intruded on by the familiar shallow glitz and same-old same-old preoccupations with crime, power, and masculinity (inevitable when hulking trapezoidal freak show James Caan is your star, and you let him take his shirt off). And speaking of familiar shallowness, always nice to see Tuesday Weld!
21 Grams (2003)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)—Sometimes I think I must have seen a different movie from what everyone (even Michael Moore!) is so jazzed about. Certainly, the raid at the end is undeniable, a 40-some-minute sequence that is among the best filmmaking I have seen at every level in some time, and before that Bigelow's jittery, hammering style of telling a wartime story is often compelling. But the way that the Abu Ahmed thread is handled is the tell, and it makes me want to hate this movie for being coopted by its CIA sources, which I believe it is. In retrospect, I count Bigelow's Oscar shutout as a relief. She may not deserve it, but her deeply dishonest movie does, at least insofar as the Oscars serve to inject smothering consensus narratives into public discourse. In this case, "Torture is extremely unpleasant but it helped us do the job, so no harm no foul," which it seems to me is a very clear takeaway from this.