Monday, March 04, 2013


Movies/TV I saw last month...

Amarcord (1973)—Give it up for Nino Rota. I struggle too often with Fellini's style of storytelling from La Dolce Vita on, but my third (!) attempt at this proved surprisingly rewarding, much of that because of Rota's music. Also noticed when I quit struggling I like the characters and scenes a lot more. But how do you quit struggling?
Amour (2012)—Yes, admire and respect this a good deal—"like" seems the wrong word. But I don't completely trust it because I don't completely trust Haneke. I think he always means his movies to hurt, even when he adopts a topic such as this, so elaborately grave and socially responsible on the surface—how brave are the aging! It's the shallowness of the veneer that's ultimately most discomfiting. Because this is no exception. It's a horror movie as much as it is anything else.
The Battle of Algiers (1966)—I saw this in the late '90s and thought the grainy newsreel black and white was too much of an affectation, but now it seems just right, and a fascinating and intricate examination of terrorism. Interesting how one's perceptions change according to circumstances.
Between the Lines (1977)—Underground Boston newspaper and staff foibles. Cute but slight. I always think I will like it more.
The Big Red One (1980)—This often works very well but goes off the rails too, as in the madhouse scene. Why is it always a madhouse in war movies, hm? Getting a little tired of that one.
Bush Family Fortunes (2004)—Some catching up on Bush era documentaries heretofore buried in my Netflix queue. Most, such as this featuring reporter Greg Palast, are notable at this point only for occasional onset of bad flashbacks.
Bush's Brain (2004)—About Karl Rove and woefully out of date, released at a time—we can see now—when Rove was at the height of his power. I think it's very different now, but then I'm always an optimist about this stuff.
Carrie (1976)—Beautiful and operatic and weird. Things about it work and don't work, but what's good is very good, and it's not always what you expect.
Compliance (2012)—Stanley Milgrom porn, literally.
Contraband (1940)—Wow, what a contrast this makes with The Thief of Baghdad, which also came from director Michael Powell in 1940. This is written with his long-time partner Emeric Pressburger, together known as the Archers, and it's straight out of Hitchcock's British spy movies of the '30s. Enjoyed this one a lot.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)—Muddled and overlong, I thought Christopher Nolan's third installment of his Batman trilogy showed less insight into the character than ever. More annoying, I caught a whiff of a certain characteristically contemporary British orientation to politics, where "the Left" is weirdly (and insultingly) conceived as devouring hive-mind, and only brave speakers of truth to power such as Andrew Sullivan or Christopher Hitchens remain to truly see. What a load. I don't know what's going on with Nolan. He is evidently attempting to absorb the ongoing resurgent liberalism, as we all are. But fancifully integrating Occupy Wall Street signifiers into a mega-budget film on which careers and fortunes ride, and doing it in a presidential election year—that's not something to attempt without supervision. Aurora just sealed the package. The whole thing feels unpleasantly unmoored, ditheringly tentative, with no center and little more to say for itself than gesture. I still can't get past the costumes in superhero movies anyway so I'm not the one to ask.
Eternity (1989)—Two-minute cartoon via Nickelodeon VHS. Nice voice effects. Am I getting too anal including something like this? Can't always decide, but among other things I'm trying to open up and take shorter pieces on their own terms. If you put your mind to it you can also look at a lot more of them.
Face to Face (1976)—Another interior journey made interesting by Ingmar Bergman, and in this case especially by an amazing performance from Liv Ullmann.
Fanny and Alexander (1982)—Masterpiece.
Gone With the Wind (1939)—One of Hollywood's greatest forever. I won't quarrel with that. This was my second time seeing it but I think I was having the wrong reaction, finding myself wallowing in the opportunities for gloating as I watched the South and its stupid ways get such a beatdown and humiliation, hour after satisfying hour. All the more delicious (and wrong) because I'm reasonably sure the movie wants us to feel their pain at least somewhat. But for me it was more like, "Oh, is the slaveholders hungry now? Poor widdle things. More popcorn, please."
Heaven's Gate (1980)—The reassessments exaggerate the qualities that the original debunkers missed. That makes it to my lights, on balance, a risible mess with often stunning imagery, and rarely convincing.
High and Low (1963)—I thought this police procedural from Kurosawa was an amazing specimen of the genre, first, and then also had a lot more going for it, including a remarkable turn, mostly confined to the first half, from Toshiro Mifune as a corporate tycoon. I'm more used to seeing him carry on (enjoyably so) in the historical pictures. This was rather different, and truly shows again the range he had.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)—"It is the only film noir to have been directed by a woman," Halliwell's says a little solemnly of Ida Lupino's gritty highway drama. It looks fine, with stark black and white contrasts and a wonderful use of Western landscapes. She has a sense for how to do this, that's for sure, perhaps from her experience in High Sierra, one of the great 20th-century Westerns (Hud another good example), of which there should be more—enough already with the 19th century. William Talman (aka district attorney Hamilton Burger from Perry Mason) is surprisingly effective as the desperado, aided by some freaky eyeball work I don't remember ever seeing on the TV show.
The Insider (1999)
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)—Directed by Alain Tanner, who I don't know at all, this is more or less a flavor of a rueful post-French New Wave meditation on 1968. Some nice moments.
The Leopard (1963)—First time I've seen anything by Luchino Visconti. I loved the sumptuousness of it, the big sweep and rich colors and Nino Rota's music. I was distracted by Burt Lancaster's appearance accompanied by a voice speaking Italian that did not sound like him. Must be dubbed?
Looney Tunes from a homemade VHS found at a garage sale, taped off of Nickelodeon circa 1992 (rounding out a double feature of The Big Country and The Thief of Baghdad from other TV channels)—"Feather Finger" (1966, with Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzalez), "It's Nice to Have a Mouse Around the House" (1965, with Sylvester, Speedy Gonzalez, and Daffy Duck), "Pied Piper Porky" (1939, with Porky Pig), "Plane Dippy" (1936, with Porky Pig), "The Prize Pest" (1951, with Porky Pig and Daffy Duck), "Riff Raffy Daffy" (1948, with Porky Pig and Daffy Duck), "Shot and Bothered" (1966, with Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote), "The Super Snooper" (1952, with Daffy Duck). A lot of outstanding stuff and often laugh-out-loud funny. I really love these Warners cartoons and don't look at them enough, and there's a lot of them too I think.
Love and Death (1975)—Love this Woody Allen, one of his best.
Melancholia (2011)—Not sure why, but I liked this a whole lot more the second time. I mean I went from not liking very much at all to loving and wanting to see again soon.
Moontide (1942)—Archie Mayo directs. Always a treat to see Ida Lupino, that's what I was doing here in the first place. But Jean Gabin was a bit of a disconcerting presence and the story didn't quite add up. Very nice noir looks and atmosphere.
Scarlet Street (1945)—My favorite Fritz Lang movie and likely my favorite Edward G. Robinson too, though I need to see more of both. In the story, Robinson's character is devastating in the way he is so vulnerable and so used by all around him, and the way he keeps coming back for more. He brings it all on himself. The apron alone wrecks me when he puts it on and does the dishes.
Shrek (2001)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Stray Dog (1949)—Toshiro Mifune not even 30 and with Kurosawa there's always a base level of quality to depend on. But the story here strained credulity for me, which is maybe a bias of culture or different times. Mifune is a cop hunting down the pickpocket who lifted his gun on the bus and then proceeded to go on a crime spree. Mifune feels terrible guilt, etc.
The Thief of Baghdad (1940)—Did not connect with this as much as I had hoped.
Through the Wormhole (s3, 2012)—Third season may be a little off, getting into squishy areas—racial differences, life after death, "can we eliminate evil?" But mostly enjoyable on the whole.
Tokyo Twilight (1957)—Second time through this really opened up for me. It's so sad, and so penetrating about sadness, with excellent performances, my favorite this time from Isuzu Yamada, the abandoning mother.
Traffic (2000)
Videodrome (1983)
Welfare (1975)—First time with this classic documentary by Frederick Wiseman and I liked it fine, especially the way random characters took command of the picture for whole long sections. One to see again.
Your Sister's Sister (2012)—Thought this was pretty good overall. The take on Seattle was right, the story a bit mannered, the performances all in the very good range. Loved seeing Rosemarie DeWitt again.

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