Monday, April 01, 2013


Movies/TV I saw last month...

Black Mirror (s1-2, 2011/2013)—Some great stuff across all six of the stand-alone episodes of this BBC series, really short films each in its own right, spanning two seasons already. Some (such as "The National Anthem," the first) work just because everyone seems so into it, however preposterous, the game face stays on. More often they pile on with ingenious near-future thought experiments about our burgeoning cyborg culture, with great writing and performances, and only one stinker in the bunch.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)—As Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn vehicles from 1938 go, I prefer Holiday. But this is perfectly splendid as well, although true confession it did not take the first time I saw it, which I'm sorry to say was not that long ago. The principals are both hilarious, and the wild cat prowling around works too. Have a feeling this one just gets better.
Catfish (2010)—At the center of this documentary is a sad, disturbing, and very interesting woman. But these filmmakers don't know what to do except point at her. This could have been much better.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)—A little too pleased with itself, but what do you expect from Mike Nichols, Aaron Sorkin, Tom Hanks, etc., etc. It's talent landmine, prestige production, and you-can-look-it-up historical. But is it as good as Argo? Almost!

The Doors: From the Outside Looking In... (2009)—Not much new in this exercise in mythologizing and/or puncturing thereof re: Jim Morrison and crew, but fun to see some surprising, familiar faces (Robert Christgau, Richie Unterberger) holding forth. Also, it seemed like many of the interview subjects wore Obama gear, which was distracting.
The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)—This gets better every time I see it. It's so lush and casual and yet so tightly constructed, and it's often surprisingly affecting. Almost perfect, really.
An Exercise in Discipline - Peel (1982)—Interesting Jane Campion short I found out about from reading the blog Lost in the Movies.
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Greenberg (2010)
—Some interesting moments but not sure how much there is to it. Greta Gerwig and Ben Stiller are both fine, and there's plenty of good detail. But it's often predictable.
The Insider (1999)
King Kong (1933)
—Watched this on a crappy VHS print and found that visually it is still stunning. The New York section is the best part, of course, with that amazing shot of the giant ape falling off the Empire State Building (and the whole idea of attacking buildings in New York with airplanes now fully recharged with new connotations and repercussions). Also, I always forget the dinosaurs and other monsters back on the island. Less than two hours, but feels epic.
Man Facing Southeast (1986)—A lot of ways to go wrong with a story about a mysterious man in a psychiatric ward who claims to be an alien from outer space, but I thought this had some really great ideas and was never less than interesting.
The Master (2012)—I loved this, it pulses with energy, from its outstanding matched lead performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman to the stunning visuals and, as always with Paul Thomas Anderson, for the way the story is told. And what a weird tale it is. I'm still not sure exactly what hit me.
My Darling Clementine (1946)—Masterpiece.
Night Monster (1942)—Late Universal horror that's never quite convincing but still a pleasure to sit in front of.
Nosferatu (1922)—Seeing this Murnau silent classic for the first time on the Kino DVD with an Italian restoration of 2002. Some very striking imagery, nearly all of it with the compelling vampire monster, rarely rendered this way, having defaulted to the suave gentleman with Lugosi, right? And with the color washes fully restored it's quite eerily beautiful too. A question: The DVD package offers two soundtrack options and the one I looked at, by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton, had some sound effects too. I wondered if that's not maybe stepping over the line in terms of respecting the filmmaker's intent. Then I wondered if it wouldn't make sense and be a little quicker if someone just read the intertitles too. I'm mostly joking, but I do wonder how the lines are drawn on this.
Paranormal Activity (2007)—LOVED THIS. Scary in all the ways a scary movie should be, by suggestion from within the familiar. I was riveted by the security-cam aesthetic. They were the best parts, of course. I thought the characters were just right too. Liked it so much I watched it two nights in a row just to see both of the endings fully within their contexts. Both are equally good.
ParaNorman (2012)—Cute. I'm not aficionado enough to entirely understand the animation achievement. Something.
Play Time (1967)—I felt a little sad as I watched this on my low-def TV, seeing it for the first time. I didn't know exactly what I was missing but I knew I was missing it. Normally I don't mind seeing the really big movies so small, but with Play Time it's a real handicap. The subtle, intricate sight gags are just too little and fuzzy. So will be getting back to this when I find the proper venue. Also, the copy editor in me wants to know why everybody spells it Playtime when the titles clearly show, twice, that it is two words.
The Power of Nightmares (2004)—Sizzling hot BBC documentary about the rise in parallel of the neoconservatives in America and the radical Islamists across the Middle East, over the course of the second half of the 20th century. It is amazing how far back the influence of characters such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz goes and even more amazing how sickeningly familiar their goals and tactics were even 40 years ago and more. Someone please put these people where they belong: on trial.
Recount (2008)—Ugh. Flashbacks. I mean, this is a fine HBO production. Laura Dern notably excellent as Katherine Harris, and in general there is plenty of excellence to go around. But 12 years later and counting I still can't bear to see these events go down again.
Rome, Open City (1945)—Very nice. The low budget works, but that's partly because it's not often you get wartime Rome as your backdrop. In a way, that makes it not low budget at all.
Sansho the Bailiff (1954)—A calculating, cruel tour de force but worth it, if only for the way Mizoguchi uses bare trees again.
Seinfeld (s8, 1996-1997)—First season without Larry David! Still hilarious! Yes!
Sideways (2004)—Comfort classic, must check in on regular basis.
Stalker (1979)—Wow, first time seeing, but I think this might be my favorite Tarkovsky, moody and slow slow slow as is his norm, but evocative and powerful, beautiful too, with unmistakable (right?) elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Third Man, and Gravity's Rainbow, among no doubt many others. Can't wait to see it again.
Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (2008)—A fascinating visit to the massive archives of the great director. There are a tremendous number of boxes filled with explanations of what he was doing all those long years between movies. Extensive research on unrealized projects, it turns out (the most ambitious undone by Schindler's List, interestingly), and ever more extensive research on everything he did.
Strange Impersonation (1946)—Directed by Anthony Mann, a genuinely weird story of revenge and plastic surgery. Very densely plotted for its 68-minute running time, and pays off in the end.
The Sun Shines Bright (1953)—My first time with this John Ford Kentucky story, and you know, I have to admit it's obviously a notch or seven better than run-of-the-mill cornpone that's out there. But it's still cornpone. One of my enduring problems with Ford, but I enjoyed seeing this.
They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)—Nice look and feel but the story did not leave much impression.
30 Rock (s4, 2009-2010)—Starting to look a little locked-in, though I also need to remember this show more often than not comes with total stinkers for its season kickoffs. This no exception, plus the appeal of Kenneth the page (Jack McBrayer) is wearing thin now. He's no longer a surprise. But there are still surprises, such as the various fugue states Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) conducts. And it's always sly and very sharp.
To Have and Have Not (1944)—Cute shtick retreading Casablanca. Lauren Bacall saves it top to bottom.
The Truman Show (1998)—Really did not know what to make of this the first time when it was new and came away a bit put off by the obviousness. All this time later, on a second viewing, it's the obviousness as much as anything that I think makes it work, and work very well indeed.
Unconstitutional (2004)—More Bush era flashback fodder, this one about the Patriot Act. In general, I think these Robert Greenwald productions are a notch above.
Unprecedented (2002)—Another Greenwald, this one about the 2000 election.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (2011)—Nice BBC documentary that divides its time between L. Frank Baum and the great 1939 movie, especially interesting on the former.

1 comment:

  1. In less than an hour, I'll have something to say about Sansho. Very little, to be honest, but I love the phrase "A calculating, cruel tour de force."