Monday, December 02, 2013


Movies/TV I saw last month...

A.K.A. Doc Pomus (2012)—An efficient and predictably wonderful documentary about the amazing Doc Pomus, author of Elvis Presley's "Little Sister" and approximately one million more great songs you already know and love ("A Teenager in Love," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me"). Lots of interesting people show up—Lieber & Stoller, Shawn Colvin, Dion, Dr. John, B.B. King, Lou Reed, more. Must-see.
Alexandra (2007)—First picture I've seen by director and writer Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark probably the right place to start, oh well). Some very nicely realized moments, but I never connected with the story of an old woman traveling to a Chechen training camp to visit her grandson. It seemed at once fanciful and elaborately grim, which in this case was not good.
The Bigamist (1953)—An interesting noir/woman's picture cross-breed directed by Ida Lupino. Making a mountain of a molehill on the matter referenced in the title, but basically right, almost documentarian, on a common way it happens, and plenty of nice, weird moments along the way. Definitely worth seeing.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)—The bitter-saccharine adventures of Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place have become something like a reliable old friend for me at this point. Often schmaltzy but with a wonderful heart.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)—And so to another fucking Oscar season. This reminded me of Argo, it reminded my friend of Erin Brockovich. It's standard true-story over the top, but with redeeming qualities, namely, Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become interesting, and a reasonably compelling story about AIDS in the '80s. Are there problems? Yes. Is it worth seeing? Oh definitely yes. Will it win an Oscar? Stop right there, please.
Damsels in Distress (2011)
Diner (1982)—I'm not sure I appreciated, the first time I saw this when it was new, the purity of its rock 'n' roll heart. It's impressive. Also the casting, in particular Mickey Rourke, who may never have looked better, even if it's just his usual mumbling JD hipster shtick.
Disappeared (s1, 2010)—Revisiting this ID channel true-crime chestnut, which I followed with some interest in the early seasons. Intriguing cases and lots of variations on the missing-person theme: sometimes a body is discovered, sometimes the living person is found, and sometimes they are just mysteries (the show may also not be telling us everything, of course). Based on talking-head interviews with family, loved ones, investigators, and others, mixed with reenactments and some documentary footage. Not quite as good as I remembered, but I also recall it got better.
Female (1933)—I like the way the main character—Allison Drake (Ruth Chatterton), a woman CEO of an automobile manufacturer—is so ably reduced and objectified even in the title, and sure enough, as titillating as it dallies with being, it's as conventional as can be. So a little silly but worth seeing.
JCVD (2008)—I wanted to like this more than I did because the premise seemed promising: Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, losing a legal battle for child custody, losing a lucrative role to Steven Seagal (who agreed to cut off his ponytail for it), and randomly swept up into a high-stakes hostage situation, complete with media saturation coverage. But you better talk to someone who appreciates action pictures. It looks to me like JCVD is attempting to eat his cake and have it too.
Knife in the Water (1962)—I'm still not much impressed with this. It has a lot of good elements but feels too derivative. Empty, and not in good ways.
Looney Tunes—"Barbary-Coast Bunny" (1956), "Birds Anonymous" (1957, 12-step parody!), "Draftee Daffy" (1945), "8 Ball Bunny" (1950, has nothing to do with eight balls), "Falling Hare" (1943), "Forward March Hare" (1953), "Gonzales' Tamales" (1957), "The Grey Hounded Hare" (1949), "A Gruesome Twosome" (1945), "Hurdy-Gurdy Hare" (1950), "An Itch in Time" (1943), "Knight-mare Hare" (1955), "Mississippi Hare" (1949), "No Barking" (1954), "Odor-able Kitty" (1944), "Operation: Rabbit" (1952), "Rabbit Hood" (1949), "Rabbit Punch" (1948), "Roman Legion-Hare" (1955), "Sahara Hare" (1955), "Southern Fried Rabbit" (1953, OK, here we go, after all those warnings, in this one Bugs Bunny acts the part of a Reconstruction Negro who pivots into Stepin Fetchit groveling, which definitely crosses lines, though when I consider the sophistication of these cartoons generally I have to think it's calculated on something like market research, which, I know, hardly makes it any better … it's kind of a shock actually), "Steal Wool" (1957), "To Beep or Not to Beep" (1963, Road Runner getting almost abstract this late), "To Hare Is Human" (1956), "Walky Talky Hawky" (1946)
Macbeth (1971)—I remember Roman Polanski's version of the Shakespeare "Scottish play" being over the top to a lunatic degree, but all these many years later I did not find it so at all, though it's definitely spirited. I like that Shakespeare's language is retained—I think it's a good version. Recommended.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)—It's fair to say that Warren Beatty is for me a net negative, as a starting point. Part of it could be my own meanness but he can be lazy and settle for glib. But he is so good in this, getting at the character of John McCabe with his many skills, flaws, and complications, you just have to give it to him. It's well-written too—lots of great points to this one. The snowstorm is amazing—the whole setting is, carved out of the wilderness the way the pioneers did it, except to make a movie. Perfect. Very nice piece about it recently at Wonders in the Dark.
Millions Like Us (1943)—British World War II propaganda picture built around the message the Internet has brought back, "Stay calm and carry on." The braid of stories is surprisingly effective and compelling, well done on many levels. Liked this one a lot and recommend.
Modern Times (1936)—I was out of sorts with movies (and many things) for much of November, which was definitively confirmed when I couldn't get 20 minutes into this. By the same token I knew the bad spell was better when I gobbled it up again a few weeks later. Love.
Momma's Man (2008)—Some interesting but wrong-headed ideas—the flirtation yet inability to deal with the Oedipal elements suggested by its title, and director and writer Azazel Jacobs's decision to cast his own (obviously unprofessional even if "Dad" Ken Jacobs has a sheet of credits at IMDb) parents?!, etc.—torpedo this story of a 30-year-old man who can't face life's responsibilities and manipulates his way back into the illusion of safety of his parents. In fairness, it's really good if you like to squirm in awkward embarrassment. Can I recommend Chuck and Buck instead?
The Office (s1, 2005)—I can understand why fans of the original British series did not like this—in many ways, it's a close copy, and just a copy. But there's more, as the eventual run would prove. It's very good at layering on American flavors of office politics (setting it in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is about perfect). Much of that is Steve Carell, who is scary when he is not funny, and sometimes both at once. Also: Amy Adams sighting.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)—Mostly I enjoyed this because it brought back seeing it on first release. It's otherwise something of a mess, though not bad taking on the various outlandish concepts of the novel. Needless to say, perhaps, the novel is better. Start there.
Taxi Driver (1976)—Masterpiece.
Three on a Match (1932)—Three women making their way in the Depression. Not that trashy, but trashy enough. With Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis. Humphrey Bogart in a small role. Worth a look.


  1. Nice to see kind words for Polanski's Macbeth. I liked JCVD quite a bit ... looking back, I compared it to Godard.

  2. Wow that's a really interesting point about JCVD!