Monday, September 02, 2013


Movies/TV I saw last month...

American Horror Story (s1, 2011)—The potluck stew of horror tropes does too quickly become tedious soap opera, but that's TV and maybe it was still worth the try? I appreciated the way Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton were so summarily dismissed, it often hits nice scary notes, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the second season is even better (or even worse). Not sure how soon I will finding that out, however.
Au hasard Balthazar (1966)
Badlands (1973)—Oh, yeah, I remember, this is why I like Terrence Malick. Though, now that serial killers and mass murderers and true crime generally have become popular, iconic, and ultimately formulaic, the way in which I appreciate it is hardly less complicated than my response to his more recent stuff, which I'm holding my tongue not to call overrated. But this is beautiful and shocking and haunting, in perfect strokes.
The Bad News Bears (1976)—I've always considered this among the "very good" baseball movies. I love how the losers really are losers. It's bleak if you think about it too much—thus, to me, a perfect family entertainment, because it's also genuinely uplifting. I'd also like to say it's a pleasure to see a 14-year-old Jackie Earle Haley.
Ball of Fire (1941)—I am not as enamored of Howard Hawks as some but there's no denying him, Barbara Stanwyck is fine as always, and what's not to like about a parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (with a few sly smacks at Capra as well)? Still, this never quite seems to spark the way one wishes it would.
Carlos the Jackal (2010)—The third part in no way salvaged the bloat of the first two, though to be sure it's attractive in many ways, not least the central performance by Edgar Ramirez. My recommendation: confine yourself to the second part, which is mostly the 1975 OPEC raid.
Carnival of Souls (1962)—Basically a kind of extended Twilight Zone episode complete with twist you see coming from miles, it's also creative, moody, and capable of unsettling imagery. Worth seeing.
Choke (2008)—I had some hopes for this Sam Rockwell vehicle, but it's awfully heavy-handed and obvious.
The Conjuring (2013)—Yeah, I thought this was a pretty fine haunted house picture, with some excellent shock cuts and images and just enough headlong momentum to ratchet the tension. I was never so scared I was sorry I went—the gold standard for horror—but I gasped a few times, and that's a few more times than I gasp at 95% of horror movies.
The Crow (1994)—Enjoyed a chance to look at this again though it is often a matter of surface over substance. Hard to judge what Brandon Lee might have been able to make of himself, and the editing tricksiness does not settle well. But he cuts a fine figure here and the Thrill Kill Kult cameo remains wonderful.

Don't Look Now (1973)—Excellent, a classic—worldly, creepy, mysterious.
Electra Glide in Blue (1973)—Was a little bit disappointed with this as I had the impression it was some kind of existential road movie in the vein of Vanishing Point or Two-Lane Blacktop. Instead it's sort of a trial run for CHiPs, directed by the producer of all those Chicago Roman Numeral albums with the same logo. Almost rousing on the bike chases, which are too few, and can be embarrassingly bad.
Enter the Void (2009)—Beautiful, disjointed, intoxicated on numerous levels, and infinitely sad. This is probably 40 minutes or more too long, but it casts such a spell I really don't care, and it only seems to get better.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)—I was happy to find all the pieces in this anthology of vignettes still lively and funny. Gene Hackman's performance as a doctor who falls in love with a sheep is near perfect. Woody Allen uses himself more judiciously and is funny and good. Definitely dated in places, but a total pleasure.
Frozen River (2008)—I am a sucker among other things for movies with exteriors that have snow on the ground. This is a solid and harrowing examination of underclass life along the USA/Canada/Mohawk reservation borders of upstate New York. It's marred by some silly plot points, but more often feels just dead-on. Worth seeing.
Gates of Heaven (1978)
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)—I really loved director and writer Mike Leigh's version of the bubbling manic happy big city single girl story—Marlo Thomas and That Girl was perhaps oddly what registered for me, and then Liza Minnelli and Cabaret, and numerous other examples abound. Sally Hawkins gives a performance of a lifetime as a 35-year-old grade school teacher who is at once annoying as hell and a little something veering toward psychotic, yet also perfectly charming and likable and "normal," and always, always utterly mysterious. Mike Leigh's usual sense for character and scene are excellent again as well.
Hellraiser (1987)—Too often grotesque, not often scary enough, this seemed more a vein of fantasy and did not do much for me.
His Girl Friday (1940)—This is so inspired, and so good. Seems like it could be Cary Grant's best performance?
How Green Was My Valley (1941)—Welsh rather than Irish, and "colorful" in many self-conscious ways, I like how this goes right at its central labor issues. Many good stories packed in as well. A solid one from John Ford.
The Informer (1935)—Early John Ford and well constructed as always, but the Irish theme is a bit thick for me, not to say overwrought.
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)—I thought this was affecting and done well, though Robert Redford inevitably brings Hollywood sheen. But director Sydney Pollack establishes a potent sense for Rocky Mountains wilderness in the mid-19th century, finding yet another way in to the rhythms of the Western, the better to intensify his narrative at will with the horrors he has in store. Impressive.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)—A children's movie and too often looking and feeling it for my taste. Its heart is in the right place, but then that's true of all children's movies, isn't it?
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)—Sarcastic, campy, Dobie Gillis style gabfest that is occasionally funny. Jack Nicholson very good as advertised as a pain-craving dental patient.
Looney Tunes—"Ain't She Tweet" (1952, Tweety generally just too annoying for me, wish the cat would get him better and more often, though the song is growing on me), "All a Bir-r-r-rd" (1950), "Baby Buggy Bunny" (1954), "Bad Ol' Putty Tat" (1949), "A Bear for Punishment" (1951), "Beep, Beep" (1952, Road Runner might be the most pure comedy from these guys, and it's saying a lot, that so-called "popping-cork tongue noise" the Road Runner makes is itself a thing of pure comic beauty), "A Bird in a Guilty Cage" (1952), "Cheese Chasers" (1951, one of their brilliant conceptual exercises, with mice shunning cheese, cats mice, and dogs cats, and ending it on a perfect note), "The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall" (1942, surreal, inspired), "Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z" (1956), "Gift Wrapped" (1952), "Going! Going! Gosh!" (1952), "Guided Muscle" (1955), "Hyde and Hare" (1955), "Little Red Riding Rabbit" (1944), "Mouse Wreckers" (1948), "Rabbit Transit" (1947, it turns out there is a "trilogy" of Bugs Bunny cartoons with this theme and this is the third, typically for this box they are not grouped together or even in anything like order; all three are great but I think the second, "Tortoise Wins by a Hare," is the best), "Ready.. Set.. Zoom!" (1955), "Room and Bird" (1951), "Scrambled Aches" (1957), "Slick Hare" (1947), "Stop! Look! and Hasten!" (1954), "There They Go-Go-Go" (1956), "Tortoise Beats Hare" (1941, first of the tortoise/hare "trilogy"), "Tweet Tweet Tweety" (1951), "Whoa Be-Gone!" (1958), "Zipping Along" (1953), "Zoom and Bored" (1957).
The Love War (1970)—TV movie mumbo jumbo about aliens conducting a battle for conquering rights to the planet Earth, with Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson. Not bad, though buoyed mostly by the bizarre star power.
Maniac (1934)—Found a cheap box of 10 "cult classic" public domain horror movies, for the most part a good collection. Prints are about as you would expect, but some good titles: White Zombie, Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, interesting Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi roles. But Maniac and Piranha (below) are ever so slightly deceptive in that they are not the much more famous cult classic horror movies with those titles from 1980 and 1978, respectively, but something else entirely. This Maniac is a mostly incoherent 51-minute rumination on clinical insanity from 1934, with brief nudity. It's not clear which character is intended by the title. Of interest, perhaps, it's the source for the lyrics of the Husker Du song "How to Skin a Cat."
Mister Lonely (2007)—I don't know, I may have to revise my orientation to Harmony Korine after catching up with this, which I thought had a lot of good things going for it. He can be amazing with image and music—check that opening. And the idea of a community of celebrity impersonators is a nice one, though it might have been even more nice to see more done with it. Still, I counted a good handful of excellent passages here, including perhaps most notably the theatrical production staged within it.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)—Noticed this time how much the simple expedient of making the hero of this an African American injects an incredible amount of tension (remember, this was released in 1968). Especially with him in charge of the traumatized, catatonic white blonde girl whose boyfriend was one of the first victims of the zombies, hunkered down together in an abandoned farmhouse. The awareness of media in this picture is also sharp.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)—I like the rough-hewn way that director Sam Peckinpah appears to throw together his pictures, and the star power clanking around here is mighty impressive too—James Coburn, Jason Robards, Slim Pickens, Rita Coolidge, Harry Dean Stanton, etc. I get a kick most of the time when Bob Dylan is in the frame. But it always feels to me like it's feeling around for something it can't quite get a handle on. "Aimless" is maybe the word I am looking for.
Piranha (1972)—This Piranha gets into some nice psycho mayhem territory late, after a lot of exotic but rather dull travelogue footage. No fish. "Piranha" is the nickname of the psycho.
Restraint (2008)—Gimmicky and belabored thriller. I thought I saw the ending coming, and thought it wasn't too bad and sort of redeemed it, but I had guessed wrong and the actual ending was quite bad and didn't redeem any of the foregoing nonsense. Featuring an eerie lookalike for Kristen Stewart in Teresa Palmer, though before Twilight, which kind of makes it even weirder.
Shotgun Stories (2007)—Downbeat story of a feud between two families in the South. Some good performances, notably Michael Shannon, but mostly feels like an empty exercise.
Stagecoach (1939)—The classic John Ford Western just seems to get better every time I see it. All the narrative lines are handled really skillfully and it's a great cast.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (s6, 1992-1993)—Unfortunately some drop in the general quality of the series—the general doldrums of a sixth season perhaps, but I suspect a shift in emphasis to Deep Space Nine, which would debut the following year, also has something to do with it. It still provides a lot of the usual reliable comforts, chipping in its piece to the history of ensemble cast television, with characters I like—my favorites always Worf, Data, and Picard, in that order, though I like them all, even Deanna Troi (not her mother, who thankfully does not appear in this season)—and a few interesting science fiction or whatever ideas. It looks creaky now, feels old, but must say I still enjoy a dip into it.
Steelyard Blues (1973)—This has some interest for Donald Sutherland's performance, scattered fragments from Jane Fonda, Howard Hesseman, Peter Boyle, and some others, and I like the raw semi-experimental feel for the way it is shot and put together. Never quite adds up, however.
Straw Dogs (1971)—More than anything I just find this hard to believe. It's certainly at pains to be brutal, the Sam Peckinpah touch, but feels pro forma, and rarely affecting—almost a parody.
THX 1138 (1971)—This was my first time seeing the early Lucas science fiction. It left me cold, though it was considerably more sophisticated than I ever would have guessed. Maybe it improves.
The Truman Show (1998)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)—I knew (because how could you not?) that Daniel Day-Lewis had studied Henry Fonda's Abraham Lincoln closely, but no idea how much. In many ways, Day-Lewis was playing specifically and consciously off of many of Fonda's mannerisms as Lincoln. Which, somehow, only seems to enlarge both. In a year that also produced Stagecoach, John Ford evidently hitting on many cylinders.

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