movies mmxxi January 2, 2021January 2, 2021 It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it.Lauren Bacall
60 thoughts on “movies mmxxi”
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Dir. Aaron Sorkin
This based on an actual trial of seven people, five leaders of groups protesting the Vietnam War. I can’t remember now, but I believe the U.S. government charged them with inciting violence.
Sorkin’s writing is solid, throughout. If you liked his writing in The West Wing and A Few Good Men, you’ll like the dialogue in this. It’s not outstanding, in my opinion, but good.
It does provide an interesting frame for the the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol.
I re-watched the Princess Bride. I must say it didn’t really hold up very well for me. I just didn’t find myself laughing all that much, and the non-comedic aspects felt flat to me.
200 Motels (1971)
Dir. Tony Palmer, Frank Zappa
A B-Movie, experimental film, with a strong Dadaist streak, loosely about a rock band on the road, and an expression of the madness induced by the rigors of such an experience. In a way, it reminded me of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz–and at first, I think it had the potential to be as good. This one seemed like a memoir, but I think ultimately it was closer to a performance film, a kind of music video made into a movie.
Visually the film was pretty interesting, at least at first, utilizing those low-tech techniques that create a 70’s psychedelic vibe. (I’m don’t know the technical names for these techniques.) The set pieces also have a 70’s variety show. In a way, the movie felt like a 70’s TV special. I see all of this as something potentially positive, by the way.
Ultimately, the film didn’t work for me, though. The music was probably the biggest failing; whether instrumentals or music with lyrics, I was kinda bored. Zappa hardly played the guitar, which certainly didn’t help this situation. Overall, the little sketches in the film were kinda boring, not to mention boorish and crude.
I feel like the concept had a lot of potential. I feel like if he had more filmmaking experience, if this were his third or fourth film, this could have been really good.
It’s on the list but not higher than the songs in 2001 or Casablanca. Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now.
That’s a good one.
More comments on Casablanca:
Underrated for it’s humor. Bogart’s delivery is very subtle, almost undetectable, but very funny; Claude Raines’s line and deliver are more obvious. Both are funny. There are more obvious comedic moments with the Casablanca staff—Sasha kissing Rick; the German couple planning to go to America (What watch? 6 Watch.)< Bergman’s acting, in terms of her line delivery is a bit shaky—I want to say, not very good. But her facial expressions and body language is really good. Curtiz and Edeson film Bergman beautifully as well. In the "La Marseillaise" scene, I think the way she lights up and even palpitates in reaction to Laszlo helps establish his greatness as a man:
Her reactions to hearing “As Time Goes By” (her acting here is solid, actually):
Man, that song and the scene packs an emotional wallop for me.
The one iconic line that doesn’t hold up for me: “Here’s looking at you kid.” Perhaps a sign of this was thinking of Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, disguised as “Guy Gaboi.” If you don’t know this scene wait until the end (although if you don’t want to take the chance that the scene will ruin the line for you, don’t watch it):
I might think of this scene every time I hear the line in Casablanca now.
Something I realized: Long before seeing this film, I heard references and saw clips—mostly from 60’s and 70’s sitcoms, and maybe films like That’s Entertainment!. By the time I saw the film for the first time, it was on such a high pedestal in my mind; I was primed to be moved. The film did deliver–and continues to deliver every time I’ve seen it.
Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Hotel Cecil (2021)
Dir. Joe Berlinger
(Note: This is a four part TV mini-series, but it’s essentially a long movie, so I’m going to put this in this thread.)
This is a true-crime documentary about a young Chinese-Canadian woman who travels alone to L.A. and disappears at the Hotel Cecil, an infamous hotel in Downtown L.A. The hotel, and its history, and a group of internet sleuths are also key characters and subjects in the film. For me, the aspects outside of the mystery interested me the most. I’ll talk about that in the next sections.
I will say that there is an aspect of this film that I’m sure will anger Mitchell–to the point where he may want to avoid the film.
Some quick, preliminary thoughts.
Dir. Spike Lee
A few quick thought about this:
1. The movie started strong for me. I liked the use of Gone With the Wind footage, the film featuring Alec Baldwin (playing a historical figure), and then being introduced to Ron Stallworth. This was the first time I have seen John David Washington, the actor who played Stallworth, and he won me over right off the bat. (I’m interested in seeing more movies with him.)
2. I’ve lost interest in Lee’s films a long time ago, but the early part of the film made me question this. “Maybe I’ve been missing out,” I wondered to myself. But after a certain point that feeling disappeared. The problem? The film became less about Stallworth’s story and more about commenting on current policies. That’s not necessarily bad, but like a lot of Lee’s older films, this one was too dictactic, heavy-handed in his messaging. You know how Star Trek would address contemporary social issues in an obvious way? That’s the feeling I had, and Lee does this throughout the film. It wore on me.
3. Additionally, Lee’s view of our current politics, particularly with regard to Trumpism, seems a little simplistic to me. The film seems to boil down Trumpism to KKK form of white supremacy. I don’t doubt that is a part of Trumpism, but I’m skeptical that the majority of Trump supporters are driven by this type of ideology.
4. The film has these Hollywood crowd-pleasing moments, which made the Stallworth diminished the film for me.
A.O. Scott review Scott calls this Lee’s “best nondocumentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest (films).”
I don’t think the film does a great job of revealing what does make them tick–at least not large numbers of people who supported Trump.
I do think the film examines the boundaries of identity.
Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy (2017)
Dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer
Rivers and Time, the previous film about Andy Goldsworthy and his art, was one of my favorite films of the 2000s. I loved the concept behind his and the art itself. So I was looking forward to this film.
Unfortunately, it was disappointing, and there were two components of this: 1) most of the art featured in the film didn’t really grab me; 2) Goldsworthy’s process seems to have changed in a way that makes his work less appealing to me. In the first film, Goldsworthy didn’t use tools, and his pieces were more temporary; his artwork was meant to degrade over time. In this film he uses tools and makes more permanent works. Additionally, he features more performance art pieces, where he is principle part of the work–e.g., climbing through trees. These pieces were some of the least interesting to me.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017)
Dir. Macon Blair
Starring: Melanie Lynksey, Elijah Wood, etc.
Ruth (Lynskey) is surrounded by people behaving like jerks. The final straw occurs when her house is robbed. She enlists the help of her odd neighbor, Tony (Wood), and together they seek to get back her stuff.
I suspect this film will resonate with fed up with people behaving badly, facing little or no consequences. Think of something like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down or in a more remote way, Taxi Driver. However, this film is more of a comedy than either of those two films.
Films that start of strong but fail in the third act are so disappointing. This film falls into the category. In the first two acts, the film establishes the main characters, specifically that both have a strong moral center and a strong sense of justice. This allows them to form a bond, in spite of other differences. And away they go.
To me, the film’s big misstep occurs when the Marshall coerces Ruth to join him in robbing the Rumacks. Marshall says that they need her to replace the Christian, but that didn’t seem believable to me. If Blair wanted Ruth to end up at Rumack’s while Marshall and Dez were robbing them, he could have had accomplished this by making her return the topiary sculpture.
For me the ending was like a typical Hollywood ending in an action or crime film–one filled with gun play, chasing, and hand-to-hand fighting. There was nothing interesting about this particular version. I also didn’t think the ending fits with the moral trajectory of Ruth’s character. Specifically, Ruth seems to violate the moral code by stealing the sculpture. This causes a riff between she and Tony. The film doesn’t really seem to address this at all.
The Irishman (2020)
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, etc.
This film had three strikes against it when I saw this. For one thing, I wasn’t very interested in seeing this, as it seemed like Scorsese was covering well-worn terrain. For another, I was really tired. Indeed, when I watched the film, I was looking for something to fall asleep to. Finally, the movie was three and half hours long. In spite of all this, the film caught and held my attention. I would say that the film is on par with Casino (although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that), which is not something I would have expected.
I think several things made the film work for me. I had a genuine interest in Hoffa and the conflicts he had with the mafia. The scenes that best showcase these conflicts were definitely engaging and entertaining to watch. A big reason for this was the performances, particularly by Pacino and Pesci. To me, DeNiro’s performance OK at best. For example, I think his attachment to both Russell Buffalino (Pesci) and Hoffa (Pacino) might have been more convincing if his acting was stronger. In a way, DeNiro’s role seems similar to Liotta’s in Goodfellas, but Liotta’s performance was much stronger in that film.
I don’t think this is a great film–not really a must-see, especially if one is not interested in mafia stories. But I do think this is a good, well-made film, for what that’s worth.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Dir. Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Heges, Michelle Williams, etc.
Good movie. I think Don and Mitchell would like this. Lonergan directed You Can’t Count on Me. People who enjoyed that–and character driven films–will probably like this.
This movie made me think of the film, I’ve Loved You So Long and Kristen Scott Thomas’s very strong performance in that. Both films revolve around the internal state of a character–what are they feeling and what were the circumstances that lead to those feelings. This mystery draws viewers in, and both films skillfully and gradually reveal bits of information that finally reveal the answers. Affleck plays the main character, and like Scott Thomas, his performance is very good.
The other performances, especially by Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams are also very good in this. Williams delivers a big impact, in spite of limited screen time.
The direction is also very good in this, particularly the sequencing of the scenes. However, one problem I had was the use of classical music, specifically in dramatic moments. Much of the film is without film score, giving it a quiet independent feel. The classical music just seemed out of place and heavy-handed.
Yeah I really liked this movie.
What did you think of the classical music during the dramatic scenes?
Also, what was your opinion about the ending? I’ve heard one commentator say that the ending is subtly hopeful–as Lee seems to have made small adjustments, suggesting a progress over his emotional trauma.
A part of me feels like the film dodges the dilemma Lee faced–namely, how can he do right by Patty (i.e., allowing him to stay in Manchester) when he is emotionally unable to come back to Manchester? George’s willingness to adopt Patrick solves this, almost in an deus ex machina sort of way. On some level I’m little disappointed by that.
I’ll have to review it. I have notes somewhere (maybe even a review) but I couldn’t find them immediately.
High Heels (1991)
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
Meh. Mother-daughter soap opera. With Almodovar, there’s a good chance there will be trans and/or homosexual characters. I wonder if this film seems blander because there is now more openness towards these LGBTQ groups now?
Early Spring (1956)
Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Ozu film. Here are some random thoughts off the top of my head:
Specific analysis of the film:
Through Namaka’s Eyes: the Life of Patience Bacon (2007)
Dir. Jeff DePonte
This is a short documentary about the hanai daughter of Mary Kawena Pukui, Patience Elmay Namakauahoaokawenaulaokalaniikikikalaninui (Wiggin) Bacon–“Aunty Pat” to those who know her. I have heard of Mary Kawena Pukui, and am generally aware of her contributions to our understanding of the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian culture, but I never knew she had a hanai daughter, pure Japanese, that helped her in her work.
I learned a lot from this documentary (as well as other articles I looked up. I actually initially learned about Bacon from a Civil Beat eulogy of sorts (Bacon died in January).
The following are some thoughts generated from the film.
Was Poetry the primary form of music for oral societies?
When speaking about hula, Bacon mentions the way the words of the chant and the story it told, was central. She seems to suggests that the hands play more complementary or supportive rows. In contrast, the hands and dance itself seem central now, while the words and their meaning are secondary–to the point of being unimportant , at least for many spectators.
This remark made me think of the way certain poems function like music, particularly in older civilizations, like the ancient Greeks. Certain types of poetic forms as well as skillful word choice could create a musical quality. That is, the virtue of some poems stem from the way they sound, just as much as what they mean. Like folk music and post-folk, singer-songwriters, the meaning and “music” of the words was primary source of power and interest for poems.
If this is accurate, I wonder if hula chants had a similar central status. The movie showed early 20th century footage of hula, and the dancing and music (percussion) are relatively simple and plain, compared to modern hula and even more so to ballet and modern dance. The percussion was also relatively simple compared to something like classical music. When Bacon says the words and its meaning were central, the music and dance accompaniment suggest this (and I feel similar about musical accompaniment to folk music or early blues). The words are the star of the show.
But as people had access to more instruments and technology, which lead recordings and listening devices, cinema, and TV shows–I feel like poetry, particularly the musical qualities, lost it’s power; or modern people lost the appreciation for poetry and its musical elements. I’m suggesting that new artforms and technology made poetry obsolete for many modern people. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that people can’t appreciate poetry now–clearly, some people do. However, the world has changed in a way that makes poetry passe for many.
Reid, do you remember which Rush film you saw? I recently purchased a couple and was wondering if the one you saw is one of the Blu-Rays I have.
I think it was Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.
The Last Blockbuster (2020)
Dir. Taylor Morden
This is a film about the last Blockbuster store in the U.S. (world?). There are two important questions that such a film should answer, one more important than the other. The film answers the less important one, providing an answer that should interest viewers, but doesn’t really try to answer the more important one–namely, why or how is the store staying in business? If I were the filmmakers I would has asked the regular customers. The answer to this question could provide a clue on the viability of stores like this–not just movie rentals, but brick-and-mortar stores that sell cds, books and even movie theaters. Is there some service or benefit that brick-and-mortar stores can draw people, in spite of getting those services online? Satisfying nostalgia is one feature that these stores could provide, but I feel like this wouldn’t sustain interest.
Speaking of which, nostalgia is something that made the film appealing to me. The film does a decent job of delivering on this area.
You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
I really liked this movie, and I wish I knew nothing about the film. One of the film’s virtues is in the way it gradually reveals things, providing viewers with fragments that they must piece together to arrive at an understanding of what’s going on. The trailer gives some information that cheats viewers out of this, at least slightly. Because of this I hesitate to describe the plot of the film, but will do so after making a few more general comments about the movie.
First of all, the filmmaking excited me. I saw this while feeling sleepy, but the images and use of music and sound quickly revived me, and I made a mental note to see her other films. I’ve seen some good movies, with good filmmaking (e.g., The Irishman), but the filmmaking here was a lot more interesting—with a more artistic, and even poetic sensibility that is largely absent from mainstream filmmaking. One could say Ramsay makes art films, although she does employ a narrative and has storytelling abilities that could hold the attention of some mainstream viewers. In this way, she’s like Antonioni. Like Antonioni, I think mainstream fans will leave her films a bit dissatisfied or a little confused.
And now for those who want more information about the film: This is a drama about a man who is hired to find missing children. He faces considerable challenges finding and bringing back one of them.
I’m still processing this film, working on an interpretation of it. My initial reading (spoilers), which was heavily influenced by times we’re living in now, particularly the current political moment, saw both Joe and Nina as two individuals, struggling to do good, but realizing the people and institutions responsible for the well-being of the larger society are deeply corrupted and totally unreliable. They don’t know where to go at the end, which is the way one would also feel if the main leaders and institutions were no longer trustworthy.
But this reading really doesn’t take into account the issues with the characters—like the haunted past of both Joe and Nina; the significance of death of Joe’s mom, and Nina killing her tormentor, the Governor; or the film’s title.
Here’s my new take on a second viewing (which, by the way, came to mind when I woke up at about 3:00 in the morning).
The movie is about two individuals, a young girl (Nina) and man (Joe), broken by abuse, struggling, literally fighting, to free themselves from physical, emotional and psychological pain. (Joe’s mother was also abused as well.) Somehow, maybe because of Joe’s nature or maybe as a way of saving himself, Joe seems to center his life around helping children escape similar horrific circumstances. (He seems to have worked in law enforcement at one point.) We also see Joe as the main caregiver for his aging, declining mother.
Joe seems to struggle with suicide because of his trauma from childhood, and when his mother is murdered and Nina is re-taken, Joe seems decides to end his life. But somehow he has a vision of Nina, like an angel sinking to her doom, calling out to him in the process. In an odd way, the scene reminds me of the way Clarence, the hapless angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, saves George Bailey from committing suicide. That is, Clarence jumps in the river, knowing that George’s selfless and caring nature will cause George to save Clarence and thus prevent George from committing suicide. The vision of Nina has a similar effect, and it seems to cause Joe to get back into the fight.
Interestingly, Nina actually saves herself by killing her abuser. This seems to surprise Joe, and probably the audience as well. While it feels a bit anti-climatic, it may have had a cathartic effect on Joe, which is symbolized by him taking off his shirt–the shirt representing an encumberance and burden Joe has been carrying his whole life. Now, it’s lifted. Nina, the child, removes this. This may happen because Joe identifies with Nina–because he’s still the traumatized (suffocating–Joe puts a bag around his head as a strange way to escape or block out his father’s abuse actions, while they were occurring. This may be a coping mechanism, but it also seems to symbolizes Joe dying–suffocating–at the same time) child fighting for his life.
In the last scene, Joe and Nina not being quite sure what to do now signifies that they are free, although not totally as Joe still has suicidal thoughts. But with a huge obstacle seemingly out of the way, they’re left with uncertainty. Now what? The film seems to indicate an optimism–Nina remarks that it’s a beautiful day and both will take their first steps of their future together, hopefully to a better future.
By the way, when we learn that Governor has actually been abusing young girls, including Nina, and the people around Joe being killed off, it signifies the degree to which Joe, and Nina, are alone–that they as individuals, must save themselves. The people that were suppose to protect or rescue them from danger have failed; won’t come to save them. When Nina is re-taken and Joe’s mom is murder, this may have crushed Joe’s spirit.
With this reading, perhaps the “you” in the title refers to the individuals and institutions that failed to be there for victims like Joe and Nina. Joe and Nina were ultimately left alone–and the as individuals had to save themselves.
Dir. Lee Isaac Chung
Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, You-jung Youn, Noel Cho, Alan Kim, Will Patton, etc.
A classic tale of an immigrant family chasing after the American Dream, including some autobiographical details from Chung. This is not the type of film that isn’t a box office smash, but it is a “smaller” film that the Academy seems to like for best picture.
I didn’t think this was a great film per se. The stories and characters are rather clichéd. Having said that, the performances and direction were strong in my opinion, if not exceptional, making this is good film. Additionally, I personally liked the way the film wasn’t self-conscious about culture or ethnicity, and largely avoided clashes with whites. Because of this, the film became more about the characters and their story, making both feel American and universal at the same time.
The Farewell (2019)
Dir. Lulu Wang
Perhaps not great, but a perfectly likable and solidly made film, including the acting. The story might have been one reason the film wasn’t better, but at least it didn’t completely drag the film down.
Unlike Minari, this film got a little self-conscious about culture, specifically in it’s attempts to contrast Chinese and American societies.
If I had more energy, I would write about the dilemma of the film, but maybe later.
That’s higher than I would have predicted from you, although I can’t really say why.
I think your expectation is correct. Indeed, as you say that, it makes me second guess my response. In a lot of ways the film is well-made but ultimately middling film…Or maybe that’s too strong (and this is true of Minari, to some degree).
I think if I were watching a lot more movies–and I saw a lot of really good non-mainstream films, I would rank this lower–somewhere in the 60-65 range. The fact that I was rooting for this film, wanting it to be good–and the fact that I liked the characters, particularly Billi and Nai Nai–was probably another reason for the 71 score. (I also liked the performance of the actor who played Billi’s mom.)
(I wrote this for our company newsletter)
Frances McDormand, David Strathairn. Written and directed by Chloé Xiao.
Nomadland lives in the melancholic, wistful, sweetly sorrowful space where you often can’t tell whether you’re lonely or merely alone. It’s therefore probably not a movie for everyone, but if you can feel simultaneously elated when gazing upon a beautiful landscape and rueful about the college girlfriend it reminds you of, it may resonate.
When a movie makes you feel this specific way for an hour and a half, it’s worth checking out. Frances McDormand’s thoughtful acting, Chloé Xiao’s proclivity for holding a moment when other directors would move to the next plot-advancing scene, gorgeous camera work, and a pensive soundtrack combine to give you all the feels.
When you look into the Grand Canyon and realize you’re gazing at a beautiful emptiness? Nomadland is like that. When you hit the bronze bell at a Buddhist temple and stand quietly while the sound reverberates seemingly without end? Nomadland is like that.
It won Oscars last weekend for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. See it on Hulu today, rent it at a Redbox kiosk, rent it for streaming on demand, or see it in theaters when it releases there. But see it. Then tell me what you think!
I’m giving it 91 of 100. Outstanding.
Sons of Sam: a Descent into Darkness (2021)
Dir. Joshua Zeman
This is four part TV docu-series about Maury Terry, a journalist who became convinced that David Berkowitz did not act alone, but that he had accomplices who were part of a (Satanic) cult.
I suspect I would have enjoyed this series in my twenties, and I might have event seriously considered Terry’s theory. Back then conspiracy theories seemed harmless at worst. Now, in our current information environment, not so much.
I’m not going to write a review, but offer some criticisms of Terry and his theory as well as make some general comments about narratives.
First of all, Terry’s interviews with Berkowitz were totally problematic–primarily because he was asking too many leading questions. At the time of the interviews, he no longer was looking for the truth, but looking for confirmation for his theories, desperately so. His case would have been so much more persuasive if he handled the interviews differently, asking more open-ended questions. Of course, if his theory was baseless, the approach would have likely revealed that as well.
To me, when seriously considering a conspiracy theory, a good approach is to identify plausible alternatives. If you can identify one or more, particularly if there is solid evidence and reasonable arguments in support, that would, in my view, weaken a conspiracy theory, particularly one that was sensational and outlandish.
Now, I think some conspiracy theories, Maury’s included, would point to connections that they believe would be implausible as mere coincidences. This seems like a significant component of their argument. My sense is these odd coincidences are more common than we think. If this is correct, then the existence of these connections are sufficiently compelling–or at least not necessarily. A part of me feels that if we just randomly offered a conspiracy and then sought evidence, we would find these surprising connections. I think this is not only because odd connections exist, but our minds also have a way of finding and make connections. This may be truer when we’re seeking confirmation. In such cases, our minds can not only make remarkable connections, but these connections will seem like compelling proof.
If what I’m saying is accurate, and it may not be, I think it goes a long way to undermine the basis for a lot of conspiracy theories.
Having said that, I want to acknowledge the allure and excitement that conspiracy theories can offer; on some level I can definitely understand the appeal. Narratives, as a lens or tool, to understand something, is often incredibly powerful and compelling. Conspiracy theories are narratives, but they’re constructed in real time, adding an extra thrill. Not only that, but the adherents are a long for the ride and sometimes can participate, as if they were police detectives. Finally, believers of conspiracy theories are possessors of secret knowledge–which makes them feel special. After all, they understand and see the truth, which most people don’t realize.
These elements make engaging in conspiracy theories really exciting and even fun, but they should actually generate more skepticism about conspiracy theories. These elements increase the likelihood of self-deception and delusion; they make clear-eyed and accurate examination more difficult.
Without Remorse (2021)
Dir. Stefano Sollima
How do you rate a movie that you believe isn’t very good, but still manages to keep your attention, for the most part, while watching it? That’s how I feel about this film, based on a Tom Clancy novel. The film follows a navy seal, John Clark (played by Michael B. Jordan) who joins a task force hunting for a Russian spy. The spy happens to have some connection with the Clark, which I won’t go into here.
I think the biggest problem I had stems from he general idea of lone-wolf who defies the system and situations that would kill most people. Viewers have to suspend disbelief to enjoy action films, but there are limits, too. This film broke those limits for me, one time too many.
You know the phenomenon of flipping through TV channels, coming across a film in progress, and then getting sucked in? I realized that never happens with me know. Since I watch movies almost exclusively through BR/DVD or a streaming service, I don’t “accidentally” watch a movie. I think that’s unfortunate to some degree because flipping into a movie seems like a better way of a finding a good movie to watch.
Choosing a movie to watch is more difficult than ever. One method I’ve developed is to tell myself to watch a movie and if I’m not interested really quickly, then just stop watching. Recently, I had great success with this approach–only it was for films I had already seen. In those cases, I was curious to see if those movies could suck me quickly–and with three of them that’s precisely what happen.
The first film was the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Man, that one just pulled me a long–I was a little surprised. Another film was Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey, which I liked a lot more on the second viewing (probably because my expectations didn’t get in the way like it did on the first viewing). What stood out was the Soderbergh used scenes from different time periods–past, present, and future–when doing seems with dialogue. I really liked what he did there, and I must have missed this on the first viewing. (Soderbergh might have done something similar in Out of Sight.) Finally, I just re-watched Hard-Eight, which is probably my favorite film by Paul Thomas Anderson (although I thought The Master might be his best film). That one sucked me in right off the bat. It was nice to be reminded of how good Gwyneth Paltrow can be.
The Suicide Squad (2021)
Dir. James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, etc.
I don’t really come across movies that I would rate a 68 or 69, but after watching the movie this film like a perfect example. Movies in the 60s are somewhat entertaining or satisfying, but either the entertainment level is not high enough or some other deficiencies prevent it from crossing into the 70s. A score in the high 60s would be a film I enjoyed quite a bit, but some small thing prevents me from giving it a 70s rating. I don’t know what that something is, but I’ll try to pinpoint the reason for this
But first, let me start with a description of the film, as well as some of the film’s strengths.
The basic plot is simple: The government has “recruited” super villains to go on dangerous, covert missions. Think of the superhero version of The Dirty Dozen. Specifically, the heroes have to destroy a secret research station and destroy it. This won’t be easy because doing so will involve defeating a powerful alien that is within the facility.
In action films, a simple plot like this can be a strength, especially if the filmmakers set up good action set pieces and the casting is strong. The film does well on both especially the latter.
I should also mention that the film does add humor, similar to films like the Deadpool movies, including mixing humor with graphic violence. While I never found myself laughing out loud, the moments of humor were amusing.
So why am I not giving this a score in the 70s? To me, this film ultimately feels like a very good movie to watch when you’re bored on a Saturday afternoon or evening–which would receive a score in the mid-60s. These films are satisfying because of this context. A 68-69 basically indicates it’s right at the cusp.
Did you watch Suicide Squad (without the “The”)? This is the one with Will Smith as Deadshot. Just wondering how it compares. I just watched Suicide Squad with the thought of watching The Suicide Squad, but I have yet to watch the sequel. The humor in Suicide Squad is a in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy, but I like Guardians a whole lot better. I know Guardians isn’t a great movie, especially the sequel in terms of a plot, but man is there a lot of laughs.
I didn’t watch the first Suicide Squad film, so I can’t compare them. I also thought of Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnorak as comparable films with regard to the humor. (Plus, James Gunn directed at least one of the Guardian films.) But I brought up Deadpool because that film, as well as The Suicide Squad has that Tarantino bloody humor, if you know what I mean. The films are rated-R and definitely revel in that.
Did you see Thor: Ragnorak? I think you might like that based on what you said about the Guardian films.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Dir. David Ayer
Don, I just watched the Suicide Squad (2016). Here are some quick thoughts off the top of my head:
1. It’s vastly inferior–in terms of the filmmaking and the humor, in my opinion. I’m not sure if you’re going to agree, especially with the second point.
2. I found the characters and actors, including the villain, far less interesting. But this is subjective.
3. The use of the music, particularly the pop songs, was not good in this one.
This first film makes the second film seem way better in my view.
I wanted to mention another difference between the two films. In the first film, the villains actually behave more like good guys. They show concern and some loyalty to one another. Some have a moral sense. For the most part, there isn’t a satisfying explanation for this–or the effect is not satisfying.
On the other hand, in the second film, James Gunn, the director, plays up the villains lack of morality and sanity–and often making it humorous. This made the film far more interesting.
Overall, the filmmaking is much better in the second film.
Atlanta’s Missing and Murder: the Lost Children (2020)
Dir. am Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre, and Joshua Bennett
This is an HBO miniseries documentary about the Atlanta child murders that occurred in the late 70s and early 80s.
I’ll make a few quick remarks:
1. The city of Atlanta, particularly the history relating to the first black mayor, is a prominent subject of the documentary, and it was probably one of the most interesting aspects of the documentary for me. I was familiar with the murders from the Netflix series, Mindhunters so that part was less interesting. Also, the details of the murders was unpleasant to watch.
2. There are some hard realities from this series, and I’m not sure this will really come through for many viewers. Specifically, the Mayor, Police Chief and Atlanta government wanted to make Atlanta to elevate Atlanta, economically, making it an successful city for African-Americans.
Then these child murders start occurring, and law enforcement is struggling to find solve the crime. They eventually find and prospect the primary suspect, Wayne Williams, but after hearing all the evidence, I personally was unsure–i.e., there was reasonable doubt–that he committed the crimes. (I’m also not sure the other suspects the documentary poses committed the crimes as well.)
But the unpleasant truth is that the Atlanta government needed closure for this case. This is totally unfair to Williams and the victims and their parents. At the same time, had the case continued, there’s a good chance it would never be solved–and the ongoing investigation could have hurt the profile and economic opportunities of the city. This is not a small matter. What’s the right thing to do?
To make matters worse, Atlanta had a special task force investigating whether the KKK was involved in the murders. They generated suspects and had witnesses, but they didn’t seem to have hard evidence. I definitely think revealing this information to the public at the time could have caused mass hysteria among the African-American community and likely lead to violence and even a race war. If I were the Atlanta mayor I would be really worried about these possibilities. (And the violence and race war would not necessarily be relegated to the city of Atlanta or the state of Georgia as well.)
But not releasing this information to the defense does seem to violate the law. For the defense attorneys and Wayne Williams, this is clearly a miscarriage of justice, and I tend to agree. But is the Mayor wrong for not releasing the investigation into the KKK? At best, I don’t think the answer is clear cut.
It’s an awful, awful situation. At the same time, this type of ugly pragmatism is not unheard of in our history (and I’d guess this applies to the other countries). Indeed, it seems like a necessary evil that is ironically part of sustaining a civilization and even helping it to advance.
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977)
Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse. Written and directed by Agnès Varda.
The title is terrible, but in French it’s L’une chante, l’autre pas, which is quite a bit more lyrical.
This film, set against (and sort of about) the French Women’s Movement in the 70s, traces the friendship of two women, Pauline and Suzanne, from Pauline’s early days in college (when she’s 17), when Suzanne is a young mother of two, in dire financial straits, to perhaps a decade and a half later.
The film is lauded for its gentle portrayal of a special friendship, and most of this is quite good, but from my guy perspective I’m a little lost figuring out what really connects them, at least as profoundly as the film wants us to believe. I know one other person who’s seen this, a woman around my age, and she loves the relationship aspect of this film, so it’s kind of clear I’m missing something.
I also don’t love the 70s filmmaking aesthetic. The score is intrusive and unnecessarily dramatic. For a film that wants us to be absorbed in a friendship’s growth rather than necessarily any drama unfolding around it, its soundtrack really wants to tell us how to feel.
The acting is good, though, and director Agnès Varda makes some good decisions, letting many scenes settle and take their time.
Pauline is the one who sings, and I am alternately interested in and bored by her career struggles. The songs are clever but also kind of terrible, and there are just too many of them. This is practically a movie musical, and I have little patience for it.
More interesting is Pauline’s tensions between love, independence, and yearning for motherhood. Where the film focuses on these issues, it’s quite terrific.
Suzanne is the more interesting character with the more satisfying arc. And as you know, she doesn’t sing, so that’s a plus.
Themes of women’s liberation cannot be ignored, ‘though they are not what the film is about. Both characters are very active in the movement, and Varda clearly wants us to think a certain way about the issues, but the theme honestly does serve as the backdrop, perhaps the force driving these two women together and holding their friendship even across distances with very little correspondence. Women need to hang onto each other when their very womanhood is being challenged in society.
At two hours in duration, the film tested my limits, and I had to take many breaks. I’m still glad I saw it, and look forward to my next Varda film, which is likely to be Cléo_from_5_to_7 on the same friend’s recommendation.
David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020)
Dir. Spike Lee
This is basically a concert documentary. One novelty (at least for me) is that all the musicians have instruments strapped to them, and wirelesssly for electric instruments–allowing them to move around the stage, in ways that give the performance a modern dance feel. As far as the choreography, I thought it was OK, but I liked the general concept.
The other thing I’ll say is that I was surprised at how many of the songs I enjoyed. I tried watching the Stop Making Sense concert video, but I never completed it. A big reason is that a lot of the songs never really grabbed–not like it did here. The music was often fun and very catchy. To me, if you wanted to hear examples of good pop music (albeit not really mainstream–primarily because of the lyrics), a lot of the songs here would fit the bill.
That’s weird. I misremembered your response to Stop Making Sense. For some reason I thought you liked it, which is why I wasn’t surprised when you liked Remain in Light.
You know, I wouldn’t put it past me to forget that I liked Stop Making Sense. It’s possible that I liked some of the songs and the staging. But what stands out is that I had trouble finishing the film. But I don’t remember responding to the music as well as I did to the music in American Utopia
I watched this a second time. It kept my attention and didn’t really drag in the second half.
On another note, using the Dylan/Beatles/Hendrix/JB framework, I would categorize the music as Beatles+Dylan, maybe with a dash of JB.
OK documentary on Frank Zappa. Like with many films about musicians, I came away wanting more about the music and more interviews with musicians speaking about the music. There was a lot of footage I haven’t seen before, but I don’t think it added much to the film.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Starring: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson
I remember liking this, but I also remember this was slow to the degree that it got hard to stay awake. Because of this, I put this on today as a way to help my fall asleep.
To my (pleasant) surprise, the film had the opposite effect. I found it much more engaging, and the comedic moments made me laugh out loud, something a film hasn’t been able to do to me for a long time.
Some general thoughts:
(Note: The film is broken into three acts: “The New World;” “One Year Later;” and “Paradise.”)
I don’t really know what happened at the end. Does Willie go to Hungary, and if so was this intentional? Did Eva get off without Willie knowing this, or did Willie know Eva didn’t go on the plane? When Eva goes back to the motel is this just an amusing moment or a symbol of the haplessness of life?
I’m not entirely clear on the meaning of the title, but I like it.
Something else I should think about: Why does Willie decide to go to Cleveland? At first I wondered if he’s actually attracted to Eva. But I don’t think that’s it. It could be that he wants to get out of town after cheating those guys as the poker game, but I doubt that’s it either. Maybe he doesn’t have many friends and Eva is actually kinda cool, and spunky, which makes her alright in his book (e.g., her success at shoplifting and the fact that she got something for him).
As an aside, Willie is ultimately a jerk–which really comes out in an ironic when they go to Florida–specifically, leaving her at the hotel and going to the dog races–which is what they do in New York. The irony is that this occurs in the last act entitled, “Paradise.” In line with this, Eddie makes the remark, when they’re Cleveland about how even when you go to a new place, things still look the same. (The dog race incident also made me think of the poem “Tangiers.”)
Here’s an example of the urban decay I mentioned. Also, I smiled when Eva turns on the tape recording of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
The Power of the Dog (2021)
Dir. Jane Champion
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemmons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee, etc.
Two brothers–George (Plemmons) and Phil (Cumberbatch) Burbank–run a ranch in 1920’s Montana. But their relationship changes when George marries a widow, Rose (Dunst), and brings both her and her odd, effeminate son, Peter (Smit-McPhee) to live on the ranch.
I will say two things about this, which aren’t really spoilers. First, I expected a bit more from the visuals, based on the previous films by Campion (especially The Piano and Bright Star.) Second, the way the characters wall off their feelings from the external world stood out to me. Viewers will likely decipher these feelings, but only because they permeate and pass through this wall. I really liked this aspect.
I’ll mention another aspect in the next section because it is more of a spoiler.
I liked Phil’s character–maybe especially the way his cruelty is subtle, not cartoonishly evil. This makes him more menacing, on one hand, and more realistic and complex, on the other–especially when we learn more about him.
Some final thoughts about the film, particularly what it’s about. By the end of the second act, I thought the film was a drama about isolation and loneliness, but by the end, I think it’s closer to a Twilight Zone than something like Days of Heaven, which has some superficial similiarities. A good comparison might be Clint Eastwood’s Beguiled.
The tile refers to a passages from Psalm 22, specifically verse 20(?)–‘Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” I believe dog is a metaphor for David’s enemies. In the verse, David is asking for deliverance from his enemies. I’m not sure who the “darling” refers to in the passage (which is the Kings James translation), but in the context of the film, it sounds like this refers to Rose, Pete’s mom. While Peter is the one that does the delivering.
Additional notes (spoilers):
Dir. Michael Sarnoski
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, etc.
I could see Mitchell liking this. I’m not sure about Don.
Rob (Cage), a recluse living out in the woods, makes a living selling truffles. One day, someone steals his truffle-hunting pig. The film follows Rob as he seeks to recover his pig.
I saw this on a list of the best 2021 films. I haven’t seen a lot of 2021 films, nor have I really deeply analyzed the film, but I can say this is not a ridiculous choice.
For my first attempt at describing what this film is about, I would say the film is about the conflict between commerce and art–or maybe more specifically a condemnation of the commercialization of art and art making. The film seems to be saying that these forces dehumanize art and ultimately destroy authenticity and value in the art.
The pig seems to represent these ideas. Darius (Arkin) sees the pig purely in terms of money. Initially, viewers may assume that Rob views the pig in a similar way, which explains the reason he wants the pig back so badly. But we later learn that Rob is motivated primarily by love–the pig is essentially a beloved pet. This is underscored when we learn that Rob doesn’t really need the pig to find truffles.
Love, doing what one loves, bringing joy to people–these things are important. But commerce destroys all of these things.
In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Dir. Ti West
Starring: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, etc.
A pretty good example of a low 60s film. Short description: Spaghetti Western John Wick. A drifter (Hawke) and his beloved dog stop at a town, and gets into a fistfight instigated by the town punk, the son of the U.S. marshal (Travolta). The sherif runs the drifter out of town, but that’s not enough for the punk, who goes after the drifter. Without saying anything else, the drifter eventually returns to the town seeking vengence.
The story is just OK. Hawke is not really great as the lead in my view, which doesn’t help. To me, it’s his physical qualities, including the way he moves, that make him ill-suited for a role that someone like Clint Eastwood would inhabit. Travolta seems miscast as well. At one point, he appears to be a menacing villain, which he effectively conveys, but later he play the role of a more reasonable, and possibly decent, person.
Summer of Soul (2021)
Dir. Amir “Questlove” Thompson
This is a documentary about the 1969 Harlem music festival, which the film brands as a Harlem version of Woodstock. According to the documentary, the footage has never been seen. If nothing else, the film is valuable for bringing this footage and this event to light.
Having said that, I had a mixed reaction to the film. On one hand, I enjoyed watching this. I liked that the images and feel of the late 60’s footage reminded me of my childhood. A positive event that gave African Americans something to celebrate also made me feel good. On the other hand, while the performances on the film weren’t bad, they weren’t very memorable, either–not musically. I think this is the biggest reason for a relatively low score.
Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg. Written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael. Directed by Leos Carax. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
First I was baffled. Then I was intrigued. Then I hated it. Then I liked it. Then I didn’t like it. Then I was baffled again.
Annette is a bizarre rock-opera-styled movie musical about a standup comic who marries an opera diva. Together they have a daughter represented by a marionette. There’s lots of moody singing, strange visuals, overacting, and creative staging.
I can’t decide if these elements serve the story, which traces the characters’ quick romance and downward spiral, or if the story is simply a framework on which to hang these elements, a reason to put the filmmakers’ unusual vision and creativity on screen.
The film has made a few critics’ best-of lists, with Marion Cotillard earning a Golden Globes nomination for Best Actress in a musical or comedy. She’s good enough, but Simon Helberg (Harold Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory) in a supporting role delivers the best performance. A scene where he conducts a small orchestra while the camera spins around him is the best moment in the movie.
It’s definitely not for everyone. However, if you’re down for a little bit of weirdness, something different from everything else you’ve seen this year, you may find Annette worth a look. I can’t say I liked it, but I’m glad I saw it, and I’m certain it will reward a second viewing.
60 out of 100.
I didn’t realize Carax directed this. This makes me a little more interested in the film.
In the Cut (2003)
Dir. Jane Campion
Starring: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Kevin Bacon, etc.
Q: What is this movie about?
A: Female sexuality–specifically, the struggles and lack of freedom (and comfort) women may have with expressing their sexual needs.
On one level, the film is a thriller, where filmmakers put out false trails. (e.g.,
Q: What’s the significance of black-and-white flashbacks to ice skating scenes with Frannie’s mother and father? And why are there depictions of violence?
Q: What is the significance of the engagement rings (and even charms on a bracelet)?
A: The killer proposes to his victims, puts an engagement ring on them, and them dismembers and kills them–why? Frannie loses one of her charms–baby carriage with a baby in it–from Franny’s courtship fantasy bracelet (which is what Pauline calls it); or does Malloy steal it?
Q: What is the meaning of the title?
A: First of all, the title has at least two meanings: 1) it has a vaginal references, maybe more specifically to female masturbation or clitoral stimulation; 2) “cut”–refers to cutting by a blade, maybe even dismemberment (or “disarticulation,” which is the word Malloy uses). Sex for females is closely associated with violence to women? Or violence and sex more broadly (cf. Shakespeare bawdy puns–organism is the little death).
Potential subtext/”message”: Females who openly seek sexual gratification, in an uninhibited way–seeking greater sexual fulfillment-put themselves in danger and risk of being physically hurt?
Q: What is the significance of “lighthouses?”
A: Killer’s hideout is a lighthouse. There’s a reference to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
English (writing) professor–in heat; interested in sexual slang. She seems confused about what she wants; or she’s not comfortable with these feelings?
Reenacting her attack becomes sexual.
The still waters of the water under the frond of stars.
The still water of your mouth under a thicket of kisses.
–Federico Garcia Lorca
Midway along the journey in our life
I woke to find myself in a dark world
for I had wwndered off the straight path
They’re featuring Jane Campion films on the Criterion Channel this month. Not this one, and not The Piano. I’m pretty curious.
Are they playing Bright Star? I could see you liking that film.
Peel: An Exercise in Discipline
A Girl’s Own Story
An Angel at My Table
The Green Knight (2021)
Dir. David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, etc.
“There is nothing more serious than fantasy. When it’s well-executed, it touches nerves that no other genre touches.” When I recently heard Guillermo Del Toro say this, I thought immediately of The Green Knight, closely associating fantasy genre with myths and maybe even fairy tales. If that’s what del Toro had in mind, I totally agree with him.
I don’t have a great grasp of The Green Knight, so I’m not entirely confident calling it a well-executed fantasy film. I can say that I sense a kind of power that can come from myths. And that power, for this film, likes largely in the visuals of this movie. I loved the visuals in this movie (and I understand Lowery didn’t have a big budget), and I would want to watch this again for the visuals alone.
As for the plot, the film is based on the poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Gawain is a one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. On a Christmas morning, a mythical knight issues a challenge: He will take one blow from anyone. However, in a year’s time, that knight must accept one blow from the mythical knight. Gawain takes the challenge, and the film plays out what happens afterward.
I plan on watching this a second time, and I’ll come back and write more about it later.
The trailer for this didn’t leave me very interested, despite my fondness for the source material. Your review makes me slightly more interested, though.
I wasn’t really interested in this, either. But I saw it because other people I know wanted to discuss it. For what it’s worth, I do think you could love the film, and even if you don’t, I doubt you’d regret seeing it.
Spider-man: Far From Home (2019)
Dir. Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, etc.
My interest in superhero movies has shrunk dramatically. I only saw this because it was something to watch with the family. I don’t think it was very good, but it sort of kept my attention.
I will say one positive thing about this: the creativity in making Mysterio an viable superhero. In the comics, the character didn’t have any powers, and his abilities weren’t very interesting to be honest. What he had going for him was his costume–which still is pretty cool. Still, it wasn’t cool enough to bring him to the screen. However, the filmmakers really did a good job of making not only making him viable, but giving him a relatively interesting backstory, to fit in with the plot. (The same can be said about the Vulture, another character that I didn’t think would translate very well to the screen.)
Since I have no history with the comic books and don’t care much for action pictures BUT still really like the Spider-Man films, I think it’s worth noting a few things that make the recent (MCU) films work for me.
I’m sure there’s more, but this is what I remember. I’ve been signed on to all the Spider-Man movies since before they came out and have enjoyed each incarnation more than the previous.
My dad mentioned the comic book superhero films last weekend when I saw him. He hasn’t seen any and has no interest in them, but he asked if I was into them. I said yeah, totally. And I said he might find them enjoyable too. I recommended the Iron Man and recent Spider-Man films for starters. 🙂
Thanks for explaining that. I’m wondering are you mostly interested in the Spider-Man films–and mostly with Tom Holland? Or do you basically like all the MCU films?
For what it’s worth, I do not like the augmented costume–particularly those spider arms. To me, it diminishes Iron Man and Spider-Man.
I like all the MCU films, even the ones I’m not crazy about, like the second Avengers movie. I especially like the MCU Spider-Man films among the MCU films and among all the Spider-Man films.
OK, got it.