Monday, October 07, 2013


Movies/TV I saw last month...

Annie Hall (1977)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)—This seemed a very strange picture for director Sam Peckinpah, lighthearted and even resorting to fast-forward slapstick in places. It's loose and loopy and always engaging, but somewhat untethered. Jason Robards does everything he can to ground it in something you can hang onto, and almost succeeds. Worth seeing.
Bananas (1971)—Some really great bits I had all but forgotten. Laughing out loud, yes, it happened.
Le Boucher (1970)—Serial killer story by director and writer Claude Chabrol. I thought it had more of a handle on its late-'60s setting than "the criminal mindset," which anyway seemed as metaphorical as everything else here. Plenty of anomie to go around, but worth seeing.
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)—Most heist stories are pretty dull affairs for me, not so interested in these wheels within wheels battles of wits, let alone highly specific security/vault procedures (or jewels, or gold, or cash porn). But this shot at it by director and writer Jean-Pierre Melville looks great, almost antiseptically clean, deploying swaths of color with precision. The tone is deeply desolate. I have a feeling it wears well.
The Conformist (1970)—My first time seeing what is likely Bernardo Bertolucci's best-regarded picture. It's nicely put together, swirling and colorful and allusive, with a harrowing chase scene at the finish, and Jean-Louis Trintignant nearly perfect as a cipher. If it struck me as too plunged into the aesthetics and preoccupations of its time—paranoid and still brooding over the sins of fascism (not that there's anything wrong with that)—I have a feeling it's another one that improves.
Contempt (1963)

Eros + Massacre (1969)—Not sure what hit me with this epic of interiority by director and co-writer Yoshishige Yoshida. Weird, dense, multi-layered stories of free love and revolution and youth and regret in Japan of approximately 1916, 1923, and 1968, rendered in a hazy black and white that modulates constantly into shimmering grays. There's often a theatrical approach to the setups and executions of its narratives but it is willfully cinematic as well, harking consciously to Persona, for one. And it goes on for three and a half hours.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)—Currently my favorite dream movie.
Frenzy (1972)—My first look at this late Hitchcock, which certainly goes to some dark places (interested to a disquieting degree in how strangling a woman goes down, for example) while maintaining as brisk and convivial an air of British aplomb as has been seen in his pictures since perhaps the '30s, or make that Dial M for Murder. Weird, in a word.
The Future (2011)—Yes.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)—Interesting treatment of the security state, rife with the (all too appropriate) paranoia of its times, with a policeman pursuing a novel way of exposing the corruption. It's Italian, by Elio Petri (who I don't otherwise know), but somehow feels Eastern bloc to me a little.
The Invisible Man (1933)—Somewhat strained in terms of its conception—an invisible guy running around barefoot and naked in wintry conditions is not a monster, I don't care how isolated the village is. There's got to be a good version of this playing more explicitly to the creep factor, yes? Without the distracting exteriors? Whatever its faults as a monster movie (as usual signaled in Universal by screaming women and unruly village mobs), the special effects are a delight and it's fun to see Claude Rains acting through the layers. He's pretty good!
Justified (s1, 2010)—Some nice Elmore Leonard turns here, thinking particularly of an episode with a retired football player. I'm not convinced yet that Timothy Olyphant is capable of carrying the load "week to week" (in my idea of the parlance), but watching some of these episodes stressed me out a little. That's not only a good thing but also as good a standard as any. Looking forward to the next.
Kwaidan (1964)—Long anthology of four horror pieces directed by Masaki Kobayashi, always fascinating, moody, bleak, gorgeous, and occasionally even scary. The longest, "Hoichi, the Earless," may be most effective, with its surprise horrific denouement, but I'm a little more partial to "The Woman in the Snow." And I love the way "In a Cup of Tea" is left a fragment. "Black Hair" has echoes of Mizoguchi's Ugetsu. All four are strange and beautiful. Good Halloween pick.
Looney Tunes—"Baby Bottleneck" (1946), "Back Alley Oproar" (1948), "Book Revue" (1946), "Bowery Bugs" (1949, the first disc in the third volume of this massive box opens with a long disclaimer speech from Whoopi Goldberg explaining why objectionable content has been retained in the cartoons—ethnic and other stereotyping mostly—so looking forward now to the "good stuff" and/or cringe-worthy?), "Case of the Missing Hare" (1942), "A Corny Concerto" (1943), "Duck Soup to Nuts" (1944), "Easter Yeggs" (1947), "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" (1946), "Hare Force" (1944), "A Hare Grows in Manhattan" (1947), "Hare Remover" (1946), "Hare Tonic" (1945), "Have You Got Any Castles?" (1938), "The Hep Cat" (1942), "Hollywood Steps Out" (1941), "Homeless Hare" (1950), "I Love to Singa" (1936), "Katnip Kollege" (1938, more evidence of the comic potential in the letter K), "Kitty Kornered" (1946), "Old Glory" (1939, egregious pandering), "One Froggy Evening" (1955), "Porky in Wackyland" (1938, black and white and freaky), "Rhapsody Rabbit" (1946), "Show Biz Bugs" (1957), "Snow Business" (1953), "Stage Door Cartoon" (1944), "The Three Little Bops" (1957, absolutely marvelous '50s modern, with Stan Freberg narrating), "Tweetie Pie" (1947), "The Wabbit Who Came to Supper" (1942), "What's Opera, Doc?" (1957, the classic), "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (1940, nice mix of animation and film, I like it particularly when a security guard gets a Mel Blanc voice).
Maison de France (2004)—German TV documentary about an early '80s operation by terrorist Carlos ("the Jackal"). Too treacly about the victim, too plainly in awe of the terrorist, and not that interesting. From the Criterion Carlos package.
Manon 70 (1968)—Sparkling '60s French sex farce with a gritty undertone, with Catherine Deneuve and various pouting males of all ages. Always interesting—kind of a wild ride actually. Reminded me often of the thread in Casino involving Sharon Stone.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)—I've had some variety of response to this late John Ford, an all-out all-star assault, with John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin (as a very bad man), plus Vera Miles. This was one of the times I loved it—really loved it. The John Wayne character, Tom Doniphon, is rich, layered, and complex. I still have to sort myself out one of these days about Wayne. I don't like him personally, he strikes me as a type of humorless swaggering lout that makes my skin crawl. But I am seeing better there's a good deal more to it.
Meet John Doe (1941)—You're never going to get out of a Frank Capra picture without corn, and this has more than its share, but nonetheless it's one I drift back to a lot. I love the mordant view it takes of politics, Sinclair Lewis going on Robert Penn Warren and bleaker, and all the main players—Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, even Walter Brennan—are fine. In fact, I kind of feel like going and lynching Edward Arnold right now.
Milk (2008)—Everything you would expect more or less. Director Gus Van Sant lobs all the easy ones, Sean Penn plays to the bleachers, and everybody goes home happy. Josh Brolin is the best thing about this and makes it worth seeing.
The Mummy (1932)—I admit I have been underwhelmed in the past, but last time through I liked it a lot. Some eye-popping amazing shots of Karloff, shivery maniacal laughter from a grad student driven insane by what he saw, another hypnotized white woman (popular in '30s horror), and a wonderful air of the damned weird.
Network (1976)
Phantom of the Opera (1943)—Another Universal horror with a good performance by Claude Rains with his face often obscured (see also The Invisible Man, an even more extreme case, above). This definitely has things going for it, not least a terrific story at its center, hence I'm sure the countless versions. But it's too often chintzy looking and soundstage-bound—I think it might be the technicolor exposing that, though I like the color a lot and there are a few isolated shots in the catacombs that are tremendous. Please don't count this against me, but I also happen to have seen the Webber version in a traveling stage show, making three versions I have seen now. So I'm no expert, but Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise still looks to me like the one to beat.
Rio Grande (1950)—Pretty good duster from John Ford (not that I'm qualified to talk about Westerns so casually and affectionately). Nice story with no particular point, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara fine together once again, and many nice touches. Probably too much singing.
Run Lola Run (1998)—Ja.
Solaris (1972)—Actually warming to this finally some, so soft-footed and airless, but when the thing comes into focus it can be impressive. So ambitious you almost don't notice.
A Star Is Born (1937)—I expected to be a little more captivated all around with this one. I liked the technicolor, and thought Janet Gaynor did all right, but I never believed the story, let alone cared about it, and Fredric March did not impress, though it might have been the ridiculous way his character was written.
This Island Earth (1955)—An old favorite. I love the mystery of receiving the interociter plans mixed up with the invoices in the mail. The zapping bolts of an attacking alien vessel (yes, a flying saucer) scratched and colored directly onto the film. The relentless way it moves randomly forward, never getting anywhere. Excellent (if undeniably cheesy and wooden).
Walkabout (1971)—Mysterious and powerful and worth seeing over and over. Jenny Agutter is amazing, among other things.
The Wolf Man (1941)—Found this a wee disappointing. Nice supporting cast, nice makeup, good monster, but I think Lon Chaney is just out of his range. Suddenly it's a Babbitt scene every time Larry Talbot is in the frame.


  1. Re: The Invisible Man. "There's got to be a good version of this playing more explicitly to the creep factor, yes?" Not sure what you're after, but how about Hollow Man?

    My faith in Timothy Olyphant clearly exceeds yours. Season Two is the best one, although there are no bad ones. Have you seen Deadwood?

    No one ever went wrong watching Walkabout for the hundredth time.

  2. I don't know Hollow Man but it looks interesting, I will check it out, thanks! I loved Olyphant in Deadwood (and Deadwood too). Might not be fair to judge him against that, but he has a certain stiffness that fitted better with the period piece I thought. These are just nits though, I think it's a pretty good show and mean to stick with it awhile. And re: Walkabout, it's just so completely amazing in so many good ways.