49 thoughts on “Movies 2023

  1. Bullet Train (2022)
    Dir. David Leitch
    Starring: Brad Pitt, etc.

    I can understand why film executives greenlit this film, and I can understand if some of them thought this could be a hit. The cast and the general premise is solid. Indeed, the film, with a playful Tarantino vibe, started off fairly well, and the characters quickly appealed to me, specifically Pitt’s character and the “twins.” (The other characters were kinda flat to me.) Indeed, i quickly thought the bad press I heard about the film would prove to be wrong. Alas, it wasn’t. That’s not to say the film was terrible, although I couldn’t call it good. Ultimately, it’s one of these films that does a decent job of holding your attention to the end, but by the end of the film you conclude it’s not a good film.

    I’m not motivated to explain detailed reasons the film didn’t work, but I think it just comes down to a failed story, and some of the characters being dull, partly because they’re underdeveloped. For example, the subplot with the White Death and yakuza guy and his family really felt really flat to me.

  2. Pearls from the Deep (1966)

    This is a Czech New Wave omnibus film. I’ll write about each section of the film below.

    “The Death of Mr. Baltazar”
    Dir. Jiri Menzel

    A car breaks down with three people in it–a husband and wife, who are really into cars, and another older man, who they seem to ignore. After fixing their car, they head off to a auto race. The film spends time showing the amount of people watching the race. Throughout the film, the husband and wife make references about cars and race car drivers, while the man talks about other things, mostly to himself.

    The story may be depicting a difference between generations or classes–it’s hard to tell. There’s a joke at the end where there’s a connection between the married couple and the man, that I’m not sure exactly how to read. Also, one of the drivers dies, and I’m also not clear on the significance of that.

    “The Imposters”
    Dir. Jen Nemec
    Two older male patients are talking in their hospital room, each reminiscing about their earlier careers–one, a journalist; the other, a singer.

    One or both die, and a man preparing the body to be taken away mentions that both were lying about their careers. He expresses some sympathy for them doing this, but another man, who seems like a doctor, rejects this idea. Later we see him reassuring a patient, but the film suggests he’s actually a barber.

    “The House of Joy”
    Dir. Evald Schorm
    Two insurance agents visit an eccentric painter out in the country. The painter says he will sign an insurance policy and while one of the agents gets the paperwork ready, the painter shows and explains the pictures he has painted on the walls of his house.

    As he’s about to sign the insurance, the painter’s mother pops out from under her bed covers and prevents the son from doing this. One of the agents is highly annoyed by this.

    In this process, we see a painting of Jesus, on a metal sheet cutout. Apparently the government (or some patron) paid the painter to paint this Jesus. The painter did this and then placed him on a wooden cross alongside a road. A few cars crash into each other because of this painting, and the main and his mother remove it.

    I don’t have a clear idea about this, but I did like the paintings featured in this segment

    “The Restaurant, the World”
    Dir. Vera Chytilova

    I’m not sure what to make of this, but there were some interesting images–specifically the man and bride (not his wife) moving in slow, blurry motion in the rain, while he ties up some trees to secure them.

    Dir. Jaromil Jeres
    A tryst between a young man and a Roma girl.

  3. The Graduate (1967)
    Dir. Mike Nichols
    Starring: Dusting Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross, etc.

    I’ve seen this once or twice a long time ago, and all this time, I think I’ve badly misunderstood this film. Before I explain, the AFI lists this as #7 all-time greatest American film. I would put the following films ahead of it: Singin’ in the Rain (#10), It’s a Wonderful Life (#11), Star Wars (#15), Psycho (#18) Chinatown (#19), Annie Hall (#31) Godfather II (#32), and a lot more.

    Let me start by explaining my initial understanding of the film–namely, I thought it was basically a romance, with some comedy. What changed that is the way the two facial expressions of the two characters at the end of the film. Actually, I recall not really being unsure about this when I watched on the initial viewing. But I basically didn’t think it was that significant.

    But my view changed when I saw this explanation:

    I’m not sure rebelling, particularly against their parents, is the driving motivation for Ben and Elaine–that’s the part that seems slightly off. Same with characterizes Mrs. Robinson marriage as an act of rebellion. It could have been, but I initially thought her pregnancy forced her to get married–and in the process she abandons her interest (career?) in art, which was her college major.

    Whether they are rebelling against their parents or not, Ben does seem lost and anxious about his future. I tend to think he and Elaine have a genuine connection, albeit may be not so deep. Perhaps, Elaine’s parents sending her away is the impetus behind Ben’s impulsive desire to propose to Elaine.

    In any event, I do think there is uncertainty and maybe unease at the end, and I think of two things this could mean. One, the same existential dread Ben experiences at the beginning reappears at the end–that is, his marriage has not allowed an escape. Two, like video, they realize they’ve acted too rashly, and they realized they may be trapped. This second reading would be a kind of indictment on the younger generation of day–maybe especially those in the free-love crowd. (There are other parts that are consistent with this. The fish tank and swimming pool symbolize a sense of being trapped and controlled by his parents. Also, the montage sequence–where Ben moves from his parents home to his trysts with Mrs. Robinson suggests that both are situations were Ben is controlled and trapped.)

  4. Real Genuis (1985)
    Dir. Martha Coolige
    Starring: Val Kilmer (Chris Knight), Gabriel Jarret (Mitch Taylor), William Atherton (Prof. Jerry Hathaway), etc.

    I’m not sure why, but I’ve been in the mood to re-watch this, and it just so happened to be streaming for free on youtube. I remember mildly enjoying this when it first came out. I don’t think it’s a great movie, but it’s mildly engaging. I think the 80’s vibe made the film appealing, including the 80’s soundtrack. There are Groucho-esque gags for Kilmer that don’t work completely, but I liked what they were going for. Overall, the irreverent, zany genius appealed to me and Kilmer did a decent job. He’s the primary reason this film was interesting to me.

  5. The Hustler (1961)
    Dir. Robert Rossen
    Starring: Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott,

    The Color of Money (1986)
    Dir. Martin Scorsese
    Starring: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastriontonio, etc.

    There are some relatively straightforward films that I have trouble understanding what they’re about, on a deeper level. The Hustler is one of those films. In the previous viewings, Paul Newman’s performance satisfied me, and I never had a strong desire to get to the bottom of the film. Here’s an example of the Newman’s cool that appealed to me:

    But on this viewing, I did spend some time trying to understand the film. I don’t think I’m quite there yet–and this post will be a continuation of the messy process to get to the bottom of the film.

    (Note: I’m also going to also throw in an interpretation of The Color of Money.)

    I’m not sure if the following interpretation is actually the interpretation. I also know that my own personal circumstances color my perception of the film, which contributes to my interpretation of it. Having said that, I think this interpretation does fit the film.

    Here it is in a nutshell: The film examines ambition, mostly from a male point of view–ambition for either money (represented by the Bert) or greatness through excellence (represented by Fast Eddie)–and the cost of this ambition (e.g., losing or destroying important relationships). To take this a bit further, the film could be about the tensions between patrons, artists and the people the artist loves.

    Given the title, we could argue that the film is a critique on both the ambition for wealth and greatness. That the pursuit of both is a kind of sham–i.e., a form of hustle.

    In the sequel, Eddie seems to forget this. At the end of The Hustler his pursuit of greatness is prematurely ended. And in the intervening years, he transforms into Bert. But meeting Vincent seems to remind him of who he once was and this rekindles his desire for greatness (via pool). Perhaps the film is about finding his way back (while also corrupting and possibly ruining Vincent).

  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    Dir. Milos Forman
    Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, etc.

    I saw this film, which is #20 on the AFI all-time great movie list, because I’ll be moderating a discussion on it. I read the book in college, and it’s been a long time since I’ve watched this movie. I thought it was a good book and a solid film. I’m not sure it deserves the ranking it does.

    I want to mention one problem I had, and a more controversial take on the film. First, the problem. McMurphy attempts to sneak in hookers and alcohol, after he learns that the administrators can hold him indefinitely in the hospital. (Prior to knowing this, he thought he would automatically be released after 68 days, the time he had remaining on his prison sentence.) And he seemed genuinely upset and worried when learning this.

    Yet, he pulls this stunt. It’s the sort of move that gives me pause about his sanity, which provides a segue to my next point. The film doesn’t explicitly address whether McMurphy is sane or not, but I previously assumed that he is sane–defiant, impetuous, and wild, yes, but not crazy. While I still suspect this is the film’s stance, I’m less certain, based on my observations of the character.

    Similarily, I’m less sure about the Nurse Ratched character, although I’m quite sure the film wants audiences to perceive her as a villain. In terms of the overall film, I thought Ratched and the institution was a stand in for authoritarian forces in society–either the government overall or those on the political right.

    However, except for Ratched’s handling of Billy’s sexual tryst, I have some doubts about whether we can perceive her and the institution, overall, as villains. What would a more humane and commendable approach look like, with regard to the treatment of patients? In the dispute over watching the World Series, is Ratched’s rationale–structure and routine are important for many of the patients–invalid? I’m not so sure.

    That she is passive-aggressive seems like a fair description, but is her intentions and decisions really harmful to the patients?

    Is McMurphy’s requests always reasonable?

    I know that I’m prone to see her and the institution as a whole in a negative light, while perceiving McMurphy’s rebelliousness in a positive, romantic light. But if I were to put aside that expectation, and just analyze what I actually see, I’m not sure I’d arrive at this conclusion.

    One last thing. I’ve been reading The Analects of Confucius, and I do think this is greatly influencing my response above. One takeaway I’m getting from this reading is the degree to which the individual is secondary in Asian societies. This is not a new idea to me, but by studying Confucius’s ideas, I’m getting a more granular and maybe deeper understanding of this idea. As a result, I’m gaining a keener understanding of the degree to which Western societies are individualistic–and I’m also gaining a greater appreciation on the downsides of this. To describe all of this in detail would take too long, and would be outside the scope of this review, but maybe in another post.

    1. About five years ago, I watched this again for the first time since my 11th grade English teacher showed it in class, and my response this second time is similar to yours.

      I did see Ratched very differently, not evil or wicked but someone committed to doing the job as she was trained to do it. Also, when I was 16 I never noticed how hot she is. And she’s not very old. My memory of her was so different from what I saw in my latter viewing.

      McMurphy being possibly insane made it better for me too, although these days there’s just no sanity/insanity line anymore, as we have learned so much more about mental health. I can see Ratched with more sympathy now than in the 80s, but I also see McMurphy with more sympathy — more as a man and less as a symbol.

      Before my rewatch, I’d never have put this in my top 100 films, but it’s possibly in my top 50 now. The acting: so, so good; this film made me rethink Jack Nicholson, inspiring me to watch several of his other movies from around the time. The pacing: excellent. And this feeling I get that everyone in it kind of gets a bad deal makes it so much a better movie for me.

    2. …and my response this second time is similar to yours.

      I’m surprised–pleasantly–to hear this. I just had the feeling like I would be the only one (or one of the few) who reacted this way.

      I did see Ratched very differently, not evil or wicked but someone committed to doing the job as she was trained to do it.

      But from the dvd excerpts, Forman thought of her as evil–he just wanted a more subtle performance. I don’t see it that way, or I don’t think it works so well. It’s not clear that she’s evil or that McMurphy is largely normal and sane.

      Also, when I was 16 I never noticed how hot she is.

      I saw this in college or in my twenties, but I had read the book first. Milos Forman originally cast Angela Lansbury and Collen Dewhurst for the role (and someone else whose name I can’t remember). Those are the type of people I had in mind when I read the book. I think I viewed Louise Fletcher with that expectation. But like you, I thought she looked younger and more sexy than I remember. (No doubt my age now has a lot to do with it.)

      Before my rewatch, I’d never have put this in my top 100 films, but it’s possibly in my top 50 now.

      I think I think less of the film–especially if the allegory of authoritarian state no longer works.

      And this feeling I get that everyone in it kind of gets a bad deal makes it so much a better movie for me.

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. I’d like to hear you expand on this.

  7. The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
    Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Streaming on HBO Max.

    NOTE: I don’t spoil the plot of this film but I do give away the overall mood, which some people would consider a spoiler.

    The Banshees of Inisherin is up for nine Oscars, and it’s worthy of eight of them.

    Pádraic and his best friend Colm hit the pub at 2:00 every afternoon on their lonely island off Ireland’s coast. When Colm ends the friendship, their neighbors and acquaintances are stunned, certain this must be a temporary disagreement.

    Yet Colm feels his time on earth is too short to spend with the likes of Pádraic. He wants his life to mean something, and drinking with Pádraic won’t do it.

    There is potential for a great movie here. The dialogue is outstanding, at turns clever, poetic, odd, hilarious, and mysterious, and the actors who deliver it are amazing, especially Colin Farrell as Pádraic and Kerry Condon as his loving, graceful sister Siobhán. All four principal actors have deservedly been nominated for Academy Awards.

    However, this is not the sweetly pastoral reflection on life during wartime it starts off as. It’s a reflection on war — specifically the Irish civil war of 1923, but generally any war — and its many participatory and collateral victims. The characters do gruesome things to themselves and to each other, and while some have their eyes on better, less lonesome lives, others can see only the red in their own eyes.

    I don’t mind that it’s a depressing movie draped over very funny components. Heck, I love a good, depressing movie. I do mind that for all its creativity in character development and storytelling, it makes its points about war with cartoonish violence and simplified symbolism.

    It scores 80s and 90s for its acting and dialogue. It scores 30s for story and theme. A so-so movie with excellent parts is still not much more than a so-so movie.

    I’m splitting the difference and giving it 51 out of 100. Don’t see it if you can’t handle a real downer of a film.

  8. Ash is the Purest White (2018)
    Dir. Jia Zhangke
    Starring: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, etc.

    I’m not sure why this film held my attention to the extent that it did. The plot isn’t all that interesting. The girlfriend of a small time, underworld leader saves his life, but gets sent to prison in the process. When she gets out, she goes looking for him.

    While the plot may not be interesting, Zhao Tao is. I think she’s the main reason the film hooked me. She not only displayed an admirable loyalty and love, but there’s a inner strength that reminded me of actors like Barbara Stanwyck and Anna Magnani. If this were a Hollywood film, she might have gotten an Oscar nomination.

  9. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
    Dir. Howard Hawks
    Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, etc.

    I haven’t seen a lot of screwball comedies, but this, along with His Girl Friday, is one of the best I’ve seen. Interestingly, the Grant-Hepburn pairing didn’t appeal to me when I first saw this, as I had seen The Philadelphia Story prior to this film, and I never liked the former.

    But I really liked Hepburn and Grant in this. One of the things that makes me laugh the most is seeing someone exasperated. And Cary Grant’s character is constantly exasperated in this movie. But this wouldn’t be sufficient if Hepburn wasn’t convincing as this chaotic force of zaniness. She, and, really, the film overall, have a Marx Brothers vibe, which is a good thing. (I’d love to see a contemporary film like this. By the way, I believe Peter Bogdanovich attempted to do this in What’s Up Doc?, with Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Streisand attempting to recreate the roles of Grant and Hepburn. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for that film.) What’s interesting to me is that Hepburn’s character could have been more annoying than funny, but, for me, she mostly was the latter. (If I recall correctly, that wasn’t the case with Streisand’s performance.)

    Here’s an earlier scene that describes what I’m talking about, and it’s the scene that really hooked me. In the scene, Grant is playing golf with someone considering to donate a million dollars to the museum Grant works at. Hepburn is not with Grant, but she mistakes his golf ball for hers.

  10. (Note: I just activated the free two-week viewing for the Criterion Channel.)

    August 32nd on Earth (1998)
    Dir. Denis Villaneuve
    Starring: Pascale Bussières (Simone Prévost), Alexis Martin (Philippe), etc.

    Villaneuve is director I like, the type of director whose films I’m interested in seeing without knowing anything about them. This is Villaneueve’s debut film. Had I not known Villaneuve was the director, I would have been impressed, and thought the director was one to watch. The filmmaking is interesting, with a really strong opening.

    However, the overall film is a bit uneven. The film involves a woman who wants to have a baby. She asks her friend, Phillipe, to sleep with her. Phillipe reluctantly agrees, on one condition: they must have sex in a desert.

    One last thing: I liked Alexis Martin in this. I could see him being in Jean-Pierre Jeunet film.

    Roadgames (1981)
    Dir. John Franklin
    Starring: Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc.

    (Note: Part of Criterion Channel’s 80’s horror series.)

    An Australian film involving a truck driver (Keach), a hitchhiker (Curtis), and a serial killer. That was enough to interest–that and the fact that I never heard of this film before. (I’m guessing it was never released in the U.S.)

    This is one of those films where the executives, actors, and everyone involved could have believed this would be a box office success. I could definitely see what they were going for, but, for me, there were things that just didn’t work out–most notably Keach. He’s trying to be this well-read truck driver who has read enough detective fiction that might enable him to actually catch a killer, and in the process he’s supposed to be charming and likable. Keach is not terrible in this, but falls short in my view. There moments of comedy, suspense and action. They’re all OK, but not much more than that. The ending isn’t entirely satisfying as well, although, again, it’s OK.

    It’s the type of movie that would have been just been OK on a boring Saturday night.

    Dead and Buried (1981)
    Dir. Gary Sherman
    Starring: James Farentino, Jack Albertson, etc.

    If this wasn’t a made-for-TV movie, it sure looks like it. Sheriff Dan Gillis (Farentino), after receiving a masters in criminology, returns to his small town of Potter’s Bluff, to be the town sheriff. While there, visitors of the town begin dying, and strange things begin to happen. I’m not into horror, but I saw more as a mystery or detective story.

    One thing prevented me from giving rating this in the 30s-40s. It really made the concept of the film, or at least I liked it. However, while I liked the overall concept, there is one huge problem–namely, the reason Gillis is unaware of what’s happening. There are also related incidents–e.g., the mortician going telling Gillis he lost the body; the hotel manager, Ben, telling Gillis that the photographer has come back to life. Why the elaborate ruse for Gillis? Why does he need this at all? For the most part, it didn’t completely ruin the film (although I had low expectations), but some satisfying reason for all of this might have made the film a lot better. (For example, maybe Gillis was one of the only person that believed he was alive–maybe because he had such a strong will to be alive. The mortician, Dobbs, liked this about him, so he created this elaborate ruse in order to allow Gillis to have a satisfying “life.”)

  11. Sunset Boulevard (1958)
    Dir. Billy Wilder
    Starring: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, etc.

    The film disappointed me on the first viewing, probably because my expectations were really high. With lower expectations, I enjoyed this a lot more. Several short comments: I liked the way this film looked; the film reminded me that I like William Holden; it also reminded me that Wilders’s films have well-written dialogue.

    There are several notable, well-respected films that seem to be about the way Hollywood destroys women (e.g., Vertigo and Mullholland Drive). Add this to list. One would think that these films would be more disturbing for moviegoers and maybe even hurt the film industry. Or at least it would dampen the interest in being a Hollywood star. (And maybe the interest isn’t very strong for most people–although maybe that’s because most people don’t believe this is even a possibility.) But that doesn’t really seem to be the case. The support for Hollywood movies (and TV series) still seems quite strong.

    On a somewhat related note, films like this make me think about the way in which sexism and even misogyny seems to be so pervasive and deep-seated in our society. Sadly, like poverty, both seem like something that we’ll never get ride of.

  12. The Blob (1958)
    Dir. Irvin Yeaworth
    Starring: Steve McQueen, etc.

    I had low expectations going into this, and that contributed to my enjoyment and the final rating. The effectiveness, on what was low-budget fx (or what would be low-budget nowadays), surprised me.

    The story was pretty simple as well. A meteor crashes to Earth, releasing a goo-like substance, which can absorb (eat?) anything and is impervious to almost everything.

    The one thing that could have been improved, in my view, is the way the denouement.

  13. Manhunt (1941)
    Dir. Fritz Lang
    Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, etc.

    (I love the image below and it’s a big reason I watched the movie.)

    The movie is a bit dated, but I rather enjoyed it, particularly the way the story evolved and the visuals. The premise is interesting: During WWII, a British, big-game hunter, Captain Alan Thorndike (Pidgeon), seeks to assassinate Hitler, while the Nazis try to apprehend him.

    I suspect of the action/suspense set-pieces will n

    Some of things I liked:

    • Thorndike attempt to escape Germany on a ship and then having a Nazi pose as Thorndike. (That seemed like an interesting twist initially, although it didn’t amount to much.)
    • A young Roddy McDowell. I always liked him.
    • Joan Bennett is alluring. I don’t know if she’s considered a big star, but I don’t think I’ve paid much attention to her. She’s on my radar screen now.

    One problem I had involved the handling of Thorndike’s moral and psychological aversion to killing and then his eventual realization that killing Hitler was justifiable exception seemed clumsy and awkward. I believe this was an American film, but this aspect of the film seemed aimed at British upper crust (i.e., the highly civilized subset of the UK), attempting to convince them that the war against Hitler and Nazi Germany was totally justified.

  14. Amateur (1994)
    Dir. Hal Hartley
    Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina Lowesohn, Damian Young, etc.

    Hartley’s made a handful of films that I really like (e.g., Trust, The Unbelievable Truth, Meanwhile, etc.), and I am interested in any film he makes. For some reason, I never heard of this film, so I was excited to see it.

    The film involves two stories: an ex-nun turned adult film writer, Isabelle (Huppert), who helps an amnesiac (Donovan) find his identity, and a former adult film star (Lowensohn) trying to start a new life.

    One of my favorite things about Hartley is his dialogue. Unfortunately, what makes his dialogue is largely absent here. Also, the acting in Hartley’s films can feel something from college students, at least under the surface, but the writing and maybe one or two actors can elevate and carry the film. Huppert is good, particularly her comedic moments, but most of the other actors (including Hartley regular, Donovan) often don’t make it and come off flat.

    Still, the film’s story and structure is interesting on a dramatic level. I’ll say more in the next section.

    The amnesiac, Thomas, has a violent, dark past. But his amnesia frees him from that, and he is a new, better person. On one side of him is an ex-nun, who writes x-rated stories and also claims to be a nymphomaniac, even though she’s a virgin. She wants Thomas to be the first to make love to her. Moving in the opposite direction is Thomas’s wife, Sofia, who is running away from Thomas and the world of porn.

    But Thomas has a chance to find redemption by helping Sofia escape for Thomas’s dangerous associates from his past. Ironically (again), Isabelle can now serve God by helping Sofia find safety and maybe even help Thomas find redemption.

    The ending reminds me a little of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. That character has a dark past, but also makes an attempt at redemption by letting criminals go (or something to that effect). But in the end, God, Fate, or the cosmos won’t let him off. Same with Thomas.

    Having said that, the film does, perhaps, suggest Thomas has found some deeper redemption. Someone asks Isabelle if she knows Thomas, and she answers in the affirmative. Thomas was a stranger and an amnesiac. Isabelle’s answer suggests that she knows him, the bad, but also the good. (Also, prior to Thomas’s death, Isabelle give Thomas his loaded gun–which suggests she believes he’s redeemed. Prior to that Thomas expresses contrition as well.)

    The one lingering question I have: Why “Amateur?” Who does that refer to? Isabelle? Amateur at being a spiritual person? (That doesn’t sound right.) Does amateur refer to people in general? Amateur at what?

    (Here’s an answer, from Hartley in Filmmakermagazine:

    When asked to explain the title of his most recent feature, Amateur, Hal Hartley responds, “There is a nice anecdote about Hitchcock once dismissively calling Charles Laughton an amateur. Laughton responded, ‘Well, I love my work.’ That is the meaning of the word I intended. You know the root of the word is ‘one who loves.’”

    So, is Isabelle one who loves? That would make sense, but the “amateur” is still a real odd word choice, if so. Maybe the word also signifies that lack of expertise and experience–but not lacking in love.

    There’s also this:

    Hartley imagines that if he were to make a film titled The Professional, it would “deal with the implication of submitting your own personal morality to standards which don’t personally have anything to do with you.” Such was for Hartley the point of his 1990 feature Trust in which “a character refuses to take a standard corporate ideal of efficiency and submit to it, or even contribute to it.”

    This comment reinforces the idea that amateur refers to Isabelle. Isabelle says that the Virgin Mary appeared to her three times, telling her not to be a nun. But she didn’t listen. Eventually she leaves the convent, but is still open to God’s leading. The nuns may be equivalent to professionals, and maybe colder, institutionalize religion. She must break away and be an “amateur” to do God’s work. I think this is a stretch, but maybe not much.

    More from the article:

    In effect each of the other three actors plays out in his or her role the particular fate of Donovan’s character – they are all beginning new lives with the associations of their old ones still intact. As Hartley points out, “All the characters are in some way unprofessional: Elina is an unprofessional con artist, Isabelle is a unprofessional pornographer, and Martin is an unprofessional human being. Each of them end up doing things out of a sense of love.” And the last character, Edward, who is at once the most essential and the most peripheral, is also the ultimate amateur, an amateur at love.

  15. Party Girl (1995)
    Dir. Daisy von Schlerer Mayer
    Starring: Parker Posey, etc.

    If I met someone like Parker Posey, I’d guess I wouldn’t get along with her. She seems annoying and maybe even snobby. But that’s not the vibe I get at all; indeed, I find her strangely appealing. It’s one of the main reasons I watched this film, and she didn’t disappoint me.

    I wouldn’t say this was a great film, but it was entertaining; and I enjoyed the film’s 90’s vibe. Additionally, when this movie came out, I would not have been interested in this movie, as it looks like a silly Hollywood film, and I would expect to dislike it. That was not my reaction.

    The film’s title is a little misleading. A more accurate title might be, Party Girl, Library Girl. Twenty-something Mary (Posey) is great at hosting raves, but she’s looking for something more. In steps her godmother, a librarian, who gives Mary a job as a library clerk. I don’t want to say more, but there is also a subplot involving a good-looking Lebanese guy who runs a falafel cart. (The film takes place in New York.)

    There’s nothing really outstanding about the film, but there’s nothing awful, either. And if you like Posey and you’re in the mood for a 90’s flick, this is a good pick.

  16. The Daytrippers (1996)
    Dir. Greg Mottola
    Starring: Hope Davis (Eliza Malone D’Amico), Anne Meara (Rita Malone), Parker Posey (Jo Malone), Liev Schreiber (Carl Petrovic), Pat MacNamara (Jim Malone), Stanley Tucci (Louis D’Amico), etc.

    (Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, who is a Maui boy. Stylistically, the art is similiar to Adrian Tomine’s, which is a really good fit for the movie.)

    If someone told me this was one of the all-time best American independent movies, my initial reaction would be nodding my head. At the same time, I can say with certainty that this is not an all-time great movie, but this should in no way be taken as a slight. Some films can be smaller, in terms of ambition, and in terms of achievement, but still be utterly wonderful. In an way, the smallness makes it more charming and endearing. I can’t think of many films like this, but this is one of them. (I sort of feel similar about Be Kind, Rewind, but The Daytrippers may be the better film. While this is an independent movie, but in terms of well done entertainment, it beats out 99% of Hollywood films (although that’s a low bar). There’s a good anecdote from Mottola that conveys what I mean, but let me first describe the film.

    Eliza and Louis are a happily married couple, but one day Eliza finds a love letter sent to Louis. She reveals this letter to her family–that is, her mother (Meara), father (McNamara), sister (Posey), and her sister’s boyfriend (Schreiber). They convince Eliza to go into the city and talk to Louis about this–and they decide drive together, giving her moral support. And this begins the day trip–i.e., a compressed road trip. That’s what this movie is, hence the title.

    If that’s not enough to entice you maybe the following anecdote will do the trick. Mottola said that on the night before shooting (I think), James L. Brooks calls him saying he’s interested in directing the movie, but he’d likely have to recast the film. You see Mottola, on a lark, sent the script to Brooks. Coincidentally (?), Brooks just called right before shooting. I really like Brooks, I think he could have made a good movie with this script, but I’m glad Mottola decided to direct the film himself and stick with the actors he cast. (I believe this was Mottola first feature film; he made it on $55,000–at least to start and shot the film in 17 days.)

    I tell this story because the film is in the ballpark of a James Brooks movie–maybe James Brooks “lite” is an apt description, although that shoulds slightly derogatory–but I don’t mean it that way, just the opposite really. The drama is lower-pitched, less intense, and the comedy may have the witty dialogue from A+ writers, but this make the film more appealing to me.

  17. Suspect (1944)
    Dir. Robert Siodmak
    Starring: Charles Laughton (John Marshall), Rosalind Ivans (Cora Marshall), Stanley Ridges (Inspector Huxley), etc.

    A film that held my attention (although it was unpleasantly stressful at times, due to the nature of the film)

    John Marshall, a kind decent man, who lives with his hateful wife (Rosalind Ivans’s strong performance really justifies the use of that adjective), starts a friendship with a young, beautiful woman. I’ll stop there.

    There’s one or two things that made this film interesting and maybe even novel to me, but they’re spoilers so I’ll go over that in the next section.

    This has a common film noir situation: the protagonist commits murder, tries to get away from it, but usually doesn’t. Usually, greed, stupidity, or some other human foible or moral defect contributes to the protagonist’s doom. But this film is a little different. Here, the protagonist’s decency and conscience leads to his demise–and the inspector chasing after him uses both to finally catch his prey. On some level, this lead to a satisfying conclusion.

    What I didn’t like was the inspector–not just the actor, but also some of the scenes involving him. Specifically, I didn’t care for inspector’s first apperance, when he visits Marshall after the latter’s wife’s funeral. With no real basis for doing so, he turns the screws on Marshall, by describing how his wife could have been murdered. It was a flaw that I could overlook, but I still think it weakened the film. To be fair, the filmmakers may not have had the time or funding to establish this character and the way he suspects Marshall, but putting in these scenes could have made the film a bit stronger.

    One other curious tidbit. The film takes places in the UK, using a mix of American and British actors. What’s interesting is that the American actors don’t attempt to speak with a British accent. The film just plays this as if nothing is unusual about it. For the most part, I thought it was fine.

  18. Criterion channel currently features three film adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The Killers,” one I really liked. In this post, I’m going to comment on the three films, as well as the short story. There will be spoilers ahead.

    I don’t really want to say anything about the story or films, but the short story is only 7 or 8 pages.

    But if you must know something about them, here’s a short synopsis. Two men enter a small diner, looking for a man. They know enough to know that the man often comes in to eat in an hour or so. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

    Two of the Hollywood versions are variations and expansions on the short story–using the short story as a springboard and resulting in something very different from it–while the one from the Soviet Union is a faithful adaptation.

    The Killers (1944)
    Dir. Robert Siodmak
    Starring: Burt Lancaster, Edmund O’Brien, Eva Gardner, etc.

    Criterion Collection cover art

    After reading Hemingway’s “The KIllers,” I’m sure some readers will ask and want to know about Ole Anderson’s background–specifically, what lead to his eventual fate. This is a film for those readers, and in that way goes back in time to answer this, not unlike Citizen Kane. (Indeed, on the Criterion collection site, there’s an article describing the film as “the Citizen Kane of film noir.”).

    In this way the film is very different from the short story. Leaving out the backstory creates an entirely different effect–one I actually prefer. Still, this film adaptation is engaging and entertaining, although when I first saw this, several years ago, I don’t remember liking it as much as I did now. At that initial viewing, I don’t think I had read the short story. On this second view, I read the short story right before watching the film. I think that helped me enjoy the film a bit more (even though I prefer the short story.)

    I love the opening sequence–the visuals and the music (everything prior to entering the diner)

    The Killers (1956)
    Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, Marika Beiku, and Aleksandr Gordon
    Soviet Union
    20:32 minutes

    Tarkovsky and two other students made this short adaptation in film school. It’s a more faithful translation, but It’s just OK, even considering it was a student film.

    One deficiency: The killers just don’t have the appropriate menace, and the actors that play George don’t express the right degree of fear and unease. (The Siodmak version gets this right for the most part.)

    The actor who plays Ole does do a solid job of conveying a sense of doom and resignation, though.

    The Killers (1964)
    Dir. Don Siegel
    Starring: Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson, etc.

    Where Siodmak’s adaption seeks to provide reasons for the assassination, characters, this time the hitmen, not an insurance claims adjuster, try to discover why the victim doesn’t resist the assassination. Additionally, the film builds its story on some problems that those wanting to kill the Swede/Johnny North would have likely discovered–namely, Swede/North live in a way that suggests they don’t have the money, and if they don’t have it, who does?

    The film that results is pretty satisfying, and Siegel could made this into movie made for the big screen instead of for TV, this film might have been a lot better. It’s not a great film, but it’s more interesting in relation to the other adaptation.

    Just a few other comments. The love scenes between Cassavetes and Dickinson are very effective, particularly the dialogue. This aspect of the film really surprised me.

    A final word about the short story and the film adaptations

    The two Hollywood versions satisfy the reasons the assassination and the Swede’s/North’s acceptance of it. But to me, that diminishes the short story. Without these explanations, the story feels a lot more universal, involving perhaps an inherent sense of guilt that we all feel, and the way some may accept the doom that awaits them because of this. Or maybe it touches on the truth that death awaits us all, featuring a person who has finally accepted this truth. (Nick’s reaction, wanting to leave the town, suggests the dread and unease one feels when seeing someone reach this point, seeing them wait to eventualy die, is dreadful.)

    I really liked the opening music (composed by John Williams, listed as Johnny Williams):

  19. Criss Cross (1949)
    Dir. Robert Siodmak
    Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne Di Carlo, Dan Duryea, etc.

    For me, this was a gripping and satisfying film, particularly in terms of the story. Also, the print, like all the other prints of Siodmak’s films now streaming on the Criterion Channel, is gorgeous. I will say that one aspect made the film a little less satisfying.

    The only other thing I want to say is that Yvonne Di Carlo was surprisingly beautiful in this. I had only known her from her roll in The Ten Commandments and The Munsters TV show. There are scenes where her beauty surprised me (but there are other scenes where her personality soured these impressions).


    Phantom Lady (1944)
    Dir. Robert Siodmak
    Starring: Ella Raines,Allan Curtis, Franchot Tone, etc.

    I was really excited about this film a third of the way through. Why did I never hear of this before? Unfortunately, by the end of the film, I no longer had that question. It’s not the film was terrible, but there were a few significant problems that diminished the film for me.

    First a brief description.This is one of those films where a man is framed of a crime, and the movie involves proving his innocence. As I alluded to, I found the set up really engaging and entertaining.

    I’ll go into my problems in the next section.


    The short explanation: Too many unbelievable things occurred, including the way the villain frames the protagonist. Let’s dig in.

    1. The murderer, after killing Henderson’s wife, he has to hurry to bribe the bartender, the drummer, and the singer. Even if we don’t think this is rather convoluted, there are many other people who could likely testify that Henderson was with another woman.

    2. How does Carol (Raines) know to seduce the drummer? It’s almost as if the film left out a scene that the drummer denied seeing a woman with Henderson. But there must have been other people there who said they didn’t remember Henderson with a woman, too, so it’s not clear why she would focus on him.

    3. The inspector coming in at the last minute was a bit too deus ex machina.

    In spite of these flaws, I enjoyed watching the film for the most part.

  20. Variety (1983)
    Dir. Bette Gordon
    Starring: Sandy McLeod, Will Patton, etc.

    (Note: I didn’t fully process this film, and if I did so, my score could really increase. However, if I wait to fully analyze the film, I’ll probably never write this review.)

    The premise interested me: Christine (McLeod), a struggling, young woman in New York City, gets a job as a ticket salesperson at a porno movie house. The film shows the way this experience affects her, and the people she meets. (I also wanted to see New York at this time.)

    In a way, I think this description makes the film sound better than it was. I suspect Sandy McLeod’s performance, which seems lacking, was one of the main reasons the film didn’t work for me (although maybe I just never gave the film enough thought.)

    Christine’s reaction to pornography is interesting in that it seems to appeal to her, or at least not something that repulses her or leaves her cold. On some level, I wondered if the audience was supposed to assume that people like Christine and Mark, her boyfriend, are supposed to be repulsed by porn. In this film, Christine seems to at least find it alluring, although she seems to keep it at arm’s length.

    Related to this fascination, is her fascination with Louie, who seems to might be part of the mob. Here again, the film may deal with the allure of that which is dangerous and/or forbidden. It’s an interesting idea, but the film fell a little flat for me.

  21. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One (1968)
    Dir. William Greaves
    74 minutes

    I really like Criterion Collection’s cover art for this:

    An ambitious film that perhaps didn’t fully realize it’s ambitious. Still, I felt excited watching this film, right from the opening scene. (By the way, I believe I did try to watch this before and based on that impression, I thought this film would be a good one to help me fall asleep. I was totally wrong about that!)

    I think it’s good to go in blind, but I’ll give a brief description in the next section.

    The idea of the film is to film one scene of a man and woman having an argument (and the film uses different actors in the roles), as well as the filmmakers filming the scene. Not only that but the filmmakers also discuss the film, and I emphasize filmmakers, as people besides the director weigh in.

    I’ll say one more thing. I recently re-watched Fellini’s 8 1/2, and I came away disappointed. At certain points of watching Symbio, I felt like this was a better film. I’m not sure that is the case, but I had way more enthusiasm for Symbio than I did for 8 1/2.

    I haven’t fully processed this film, but I want to jot down some preliminary thoughts.

    Besides moviemaking, the film also seemed to try to explore the differences between the way movie characters talk about sex and the way real people do. One of the crew members brings this up, and the odd fellow featured at the end seemed to dovetail nicely with these points, as the latter talks about sex in a frank and even crude way….Actually, maybe the film is partly a critique about the artificial way films depicts conversations about sex.

    One last point. One interesting element is the effect the lack of structure has on the film. This creates confusion and uncertainty for the film crew, but that leads to interesting comments from them.

    (Edit: Ugh, I forgot to comment on some of the visuals–specifically, the use of split screens, which I really liked. Also, I enjoyed watching the various actors play the same scene….Hopefully, I’ll come back and do a more thorough review on this. By the way, I just learned there is a part 2 to the film, made in 2005. Cool!)

    Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2 (2005)
    Dir. William Greaves
    99 minutes

    I would divide this in three parts. The first third started where the first film ended–focusing on the two new actors we see at the end (Audrey Henningham and Shannon Baker). It also includes some conversations with the crew, which I wish Greaves would have included in the first film. The second third of the film takes place in 2005, starting with a screening of the first film and a Q&A with Greaves, Steve Buscemi (who produced the second film) and some of the original cast and crew. In this section, we see the beginnings of a new film being made, with Henningham and Baker, now in their 60s or 70s.

    I had two big problems: First, Henningham and Baker were probably the two worst actors in the first film. Honestly, Greaves not using their scenes is totally understandable to me. At times, it was painful to watch, especially Baker. And this also applied to the 2005 scenes. (Henningham was very attractive, and at the end of the first film, I was curious to see more of her, so I was initially enthused to watch the footage of her.)

    Second, the film features conversations with the crew, which feels like an attempt to capture lightning in the bottle twice. (It includes one of the most outspoken crew members from the original film.) It just feels contrived, artificial, and there really isn’t many great comments.

    I had difficult watching the first third of the film.

    In the last third of the film, the movie focuses primarily on the Henningham and Baker, working on their scenes. They bring in a third actor/coach who does these improv exercises with the actors. These scenes really drew me back into the film. The actors began exploring their characters a lot more, digging deeper into the way they felt. I imagine it’s what might happen in rehearsals. What was cool was that the acting did get a lot better in my view, and that was interesting to watch. This whole section really saved the film for me.

    One last comment. They were film during the New York City Marathon, and someone makes a comment about how no one knows about their filming, and most of the people don’t care, as they’re more interested in the marathon–or something to that effect. We hear the crowd cheering and Greaves includes some footage of the marathon. I’m not sure how or if it really fits in with the film.

  22. Shanghai Express (1932)
    Dir. Josef von Sternberg
    Starring: Marlene Dietrich (Madeline “Shanghai Lily”), Clive Brook (Capt. Donald “Doc” Harvey, Anna May Wong (Hui Fei), Walter Oland (Henry Chang), Lawrence Grant (Reverend Carmichael), Eugene Pallete (Sam Salt), Louise Clausser Hale (Mrs. Haggerty)

    The headshots of Marlene Dietrich in this film really stand out.

    There is a love story in this film, but it also feels line an ensemble, adventure-comedy movie (or at least adventurous and comedic for its time). A group of Europeans are on the train the Shanghai Express, during a revolutionary war China. Two of these Europeans–Madeline and Doc were in love in the past. The Chinese government is also on the hunt for revolutionary spies.

    The movie is good to look overall, with interesting editing and fade-outs–not only the way it films Dietrich, and the atmosphere captured by von Sternberg is also very good.

    Unfortunately, I think the film is very dated–specifically, the acting of Brooks and to a lesser degree, Dietrich. Brooks is a handsome actor, but he has this stilted and sometimes self-pitying way that not only seemed like bad acting, but it was also annoying. Dietrich wasn’t much better (which was a little surprising because I think she’s a solid actor). Both really diminished the romance of the film, although it didn’t complete ruin it.

    (Remaking this film might not be a bad idea, Casting the right romantic leads could really make this film, as a kind of romance adventure, with some comedy thrown in. I’m envisioning something like Titanic with more interesting supporting characters and humor. Or maybe has Baz Luhrman direct and bring his flair to the film. Another idea: Make the romantic leads an interracial couple.)

  23. Othello (1952)
    Dir. Orson Welles

    My daughter recently told me she hates black-and-white movies. I told her that some of them can be really beautiful and cool to look at. Orson Welles’s (abridged) version of Othello would provide good examples of this, and it’s one of the main reasons I think highly of this film. I haven’t read or watched Othello in a long time, so I may give the film a lower rating if I had a more vivid recollection of the complete version. Somehow I don’t think this would be the case, as the cinematography, locations (e.g., castles, courtyards, and catacombs in Venice, Morocco, Tuscany, Rome), and Orson Welles, as an actor, particularly his voice, are all terrific.

    A great visual expression of a man captured by the green-eyed monster:

  24. Touch of Evil (1952)
    Dir. Orson Welles
    Starring: Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, etc.

    I never thought much of this film the first time I saw it, nor did I really enjoy it. On this viewing, I appreciated it a little more, but the biggest difference was the print quality. The pristine black-and-white version I watched was really a pleasure to see. I would compare to listening to music on a great sound system after listening to it on a smartphone speakers. (I had similar recent experiences with films like Night of the Hunter and The Killers.)

  25. Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV (2023)
    Dir. Amanda Kim

    This is an American Masters film about avant-garde video artist, Nam June Paik. I knew very little about Paik before watching this, but I still felt that sense of dissatisfaction I feel when watching a documentary about an artist. Almost invariably I feel like these films don’t spend enough time digging into the person’s art–their ideas, philosophy, techniques–and instead spend more time on anecdotes and biographical information. The latter is important, but I wish these films spend more time on the former.

    There were aspects of Paik’s approach that I found interesting. First, he fiddled with the technology behind the TV, ostensibly because he wanted artists and people in general to be able to manipulate the images and sounds of the TV–instead of giving total control to broadcasters. Second, and relatedly, he did this because he wanted individuals to be able to “talk back” to the TV, making it more interactive, instead one way.

    These two ideas may not have blossomed into something interesting, but the very concepts themselves are really interesting.

    Overall, I didn’t really come away too impressed with his work. It seems a bit dated.

  26. Margot at the Wedding (2007)
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, etc.

    Character-driven, situational family dramas (with a smidge of comedy)–sometimes feeling like autobiographical episodes. That’s how I’d describe Baumbach’s films. Whether the film is ultimately successful–and often the films seem lacking–the characters and the acting always draw me in and hold my attention. Some films can be difficult to watch. Not Baumbach’s films. Indeed,if I want to be engaged, I would look for one of his films to watch. What’s interesting is that the word “entertaining” doesn’t seem like the right adjective (at least not in this case), but I’ve enjoyed watching every film of his I’ve seen.

    In this film the situation involves a weekend at the childhood home of two estranged sisters, Pauline (J. Jason Leigh) and Margot (Kidman). Pauline is going to marry Macolm (Black). There we learn about both character, their upbringing and their relationship with men, and their parenting.

    Not a great film in my view, but it was entertaining and interesting.

  27. Basket Case (1982)
    Dir. Frank Henenlotter

    I became intrigued in this film for two reasons: 1) Criterion Channel streamed the film, and I had never heard of it. That I never heard of an 80’s film, particularly one the Criterion folks would stream piqued my curiosity; 2) the Museum of Modern Art secured the film for its collection. My understanding is that MoMa also bought a print of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I wondered: could Basket Case be as good? (Yes, it’s a horror film.)

    These thoughts followed me as a I watched the film. Actually, after about 15 minutes, I started wondering why MoMa secured the film for the collection. And I periodically asked myself this question throughout the film.

    Before saying anything else, I would be curious to know if Mitchell has seen this. To me, there’s a chance he’d like this as this is the type of movie that USA Up All Night would screen, and I know Mitchell liked those films.

    If you look up the film on the internet, a lot images show too much in my view, so I would recommend avoiding images of the film. Now, here’s a brief and general description of the film: A young man from upstate New York heads to the city, looking for a few individuals from his past. While on the journey, he carries a wicker basket.

    I can definitely understand this film achieving cult status–particularly the nature of what’s in the basket and the way the film features this. Personally, I’m ambivalent about it. There is a charm and effectiveness, while also being cheesy at the same time. (I never really found the film humorous, though.)

    While watching this, I kept trying to think of a deeper reading of the film. For example, I toyed with the idea that the film was about the way families often have one member that has difficulties, making them a challenge for the family. Because they’re part of the family, one or more individuals remain loyal and loving, but that can lead to the person and/or family’s demise.

  28. Criterion Channel is featuring 80’s Asian-American cinema, and I saw two in their collection.

    Living on Tokyo Time (1987)
    Dir. Steven Okazaki
    Starring: Ken Nakagawa, Minako Ohashi, etc.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie I could use “shaggy dog” as a descriptor, but this one is it. (I need to find the origins of that term.) I almost gave up on this film, mainly because I didn’t care for the acting, but something just clicked. I’ll go into that, but before, I do here’s a quick synopsis. (I should note here that I saw a re-edited version on Criterion Channel.)

    A young Japanese woman, Kyoko (Ohashi) comes to America and wants to stay, but her visa will be ending. In comes, Ken (Ken Nakagawa), a low-key guy trying to hit it big in a rock band. Someone at Kyoko’s work place suggests that she marry Ken, as a way to stay in the states.

    Now, here’s where I think the film started to click. When Kyoko moves in with Ken, they don’t really seem to have many conversations, because Kyoko barely speaks English and Ken doesn’t speak any Japanese. Ken is also not a very communicative person. He not only seems introverted, but an ennui so substantial seems to possess him that it seems to have infected his facial muscles as well. And yet….Ken is starting to become interested in Kyoko. I found this amusing, and it also made me care more about the character and what would happen. (I also liked that Kyoko would also refer to him as “Mr. Ken.”)

    One of my favorite dialogue from the film: Ken’s walking with a co-worker, talking to him about his feelings for Kyoko.

    Co-worker: I don’t know, I used to think there was something called magic. And then after about five years, I thought maybe there’s something called magic; and after about ten years, I figured there wasn’t.
    Ken: Well, I think I got it.
    Co-worker: Magic?
    Ken: Yeah….I think I’m in love.
    Co-worker: Well, that’s different. That’s different than magic.
    Ken: I thought they’re the same thing.
    Co-worker: Well, they start out the same, probably. I mean, magic and love are the same thing, but I figure if it lasts for a while, it’s love. If it doesn’t last for a while, then it’s magic.

    Dim Sum: a Little Bit of Heart (1985)
    Dir. Wayne Wang
    Starring: Laureen Chew, Kim Chew, Victor Wong, etc.

    If I had to choose an Asian-American film best depicting mother-daugther dynamics, I would choose this film over Joy Luck Club or Crazy Rich Asians.(I know I liked this film more than the other two.) Wang channeling Ozu, gives us characters that seem like real people, which enhanced the dramatic moments. Kim Chew, who is Laureen Chew’s actual mother, really stands out. She really brings a gravitas to this film, delivering a quiet, but powerful and poignant performance that I think could be worthy of an Academy nomination. (I don’t think Kim Chew is a professional actor, either.)

    The film is about Geraldine (Laureen Chew), a single woman, taking care of her elderly mother (Kim Chew). The mother believes she will die soon, and wants Geraldine to marry, so that the mother can die knowing she will be cared for. Geraldine has ambivalent feelings about getting married (or at least ambivalence towards the man her mom wants her to marry). And yet, she’ll consider this, out of love for her mom.

    The film is a low-budget, quiet independent film, but not inaccessible to mainstream audiences (although I doubt this would make a big splash at the box office, although given the acclaim of Minari, maybe it would.)

  29. I was unfamiliar with filmmaker Janicza Bravo, but I watched several of her short films streaming on the Criterion channel, and I enjoyed most of them, especially two of the films. The shorts feature awkward, and sometimes quirky misfits–in the same universe as Wes Anderson or mumblecore movies. But these films aren’t just notable for the characters, but the direction as well. Bravo doesn’t have the same meticulous dollhouse aesthetic as Anderson, but these movies look good, much better than a low-budget movies. (I have no idea what the budgets are, but they look good if not better than Hollywood films.) The films are about 15 minutes long.

    Here a few comments about each of films.

    Gregory Go Boom (2013)
    Starring: Michael Sera, etc.

    Sera plays a wheel-chair bound young man who longs to move out of his sister’s house. In the film, he goes on three dates. Sera is an typical role perhaps, but he’s still effective in this. Funny and disturbing at the same time.

    Pauline Alone (2014)
    Starring: Gabby Hoffman, etc.

    An odd young woman in several different encounters. This was probably my favorite of the four films, with “Gregory” being a close second.

    Woman in Deep (2016)
    Starring: Alison Pill, etc.

    I didn’t care for this, but a part of me feels like I missed something.

    Man Rots from the Head (2017)
    Starring: Michael Sera, etc.

    Black-and-white film that reminded me Barton Fink and Eraserhead. Like those other films, I don’t think I fully got this one.

  30. California Split (1974)
    Dir. Robert Altman
    Starring: George Segal, Elliot Gould, etc.

    Two compulsive gamblers meet and form a kind of friendship, and we follow them engaging in various gambling activities, and their relationship with two prostitutes. There’s one fairly novel element to the film, and I’ll reveal that in the next section.

    Altman seemed to like doing variations on either film genres, which is one appealing aspect of his filmmaking. In this film, he does something similar by largely recontextualizing urban low-lifes–in this case gamblers and prostitutes–in a suburban setting–possibly suggesting that these type of people actually exist in the suburbs. I say this because the film almost feels like an exploration into this specific milieu, although I have no idea if this was a real phenomenon in 1973 or now.

    Overall, though, the film didn’t really work for me. For one thing, I understand that this was supposed to be a comedy (according to Ebert’s review). Had I not known this, I would not have labeled the film that way. The dramatic elements also didn’t have much of an impact, although I’m not exactly sure of the reason.

    I’m not quite sure about Bill’s (Segal) feelings at the end of the film. Off the top of my head, he seems deflated, in spite of winning, because he never felt that “special feeling”–i.e., a kind of lucky zone–he just pretended to feel it. My best guess is that Bill–representing many middle class Americans–largely lived an empty existence and he sought that “special feeling” in gambling to fill that emptiness. That is, Bill wasn’t primarily interested in money or even the thrilling way one could make money via gambling. Instead Bill wanted to feel that sense of invincibility when one feels one can’t lose. Bill admits he only pretended to feel that way, and so the winning was ultimately hollow for him. Charlie’s (Gould) reaction, in contrast, is what we would expect–he cares about winning money and likely the excitement of winning it via gambling. But Charlie seems like someone who makes his life as a gambler–the type of guy you’d associate with low-level con men, pimps, thieves, and mobsters–so his reaction makes sense. Bill, on the other hand, is a journalist for a local publication, and seems to be gambling out of a deeper need.

    Rumble Fish (1983)
    Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
    Starring: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Chris Penn, etc.

    A sympathetic depiction of a teenaged hoodlum, Rusty James (Dillon), trying to live up to the image of his older brother. The film is shot in black and white and features a score by Stewart Copeland.

    The film lacked the dramatic impact that it needed, which I’ll say more about later. However, in spite of that, I really liked the direction–particularly the visual aspects of the movie. I’m tempted to say this is as good as anything Coppola has done in the past, and, because of that, it feels like a film that should receive more attention. Again, I loved the visuals.

    As for the lack of dramatic impact, the film may not be entirely to blame for this. Since this film, there have been many films about teenage gangs–e.g., Boyz in the Hood, City of God–that are far grittier and hard-hitting. Something like Rumble Fish feels quaint and innocent in comparison–and to some degree Coppola’s filmmaking lends itself to this feeling. The filmmaking, including the black and white photography, create a more stylized and even theatrical feeling. In contrast, the black and white photography gives Raging Bull a colder realism (although there are definitely stylized moments in that film).

    Even though the film takes place in the early 80s, it feels like a 50’s teenaged gang movie, and by the 80’s there seemed to be a more romanticized perception of this time (cf. American Graffiti, Happy Days, etc.). The film is a little grittier, but still falls operates with the same perception of that time.

    Random comments:

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if Raging Bull inspired or gave ideas to Coppola.
    • The fight sequence near the train tracks reminded me of the “Beat It” video. It feels like an inspiration to that video.
    • The way Coppola shoots the pool scenes reminded of the scenes in The Color of Money, which made me think Scorsese used the latter as inspiration.
  31. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
    Dir. Frank Capra
    Starring: Cary Grant, etc.

    Even though Frank Capra is one of my favorite directors, I’ve resisted seeing this movie, primarily because the premise seems preposterous: Mortimer Brewster (Grant) discovers his two kind and loving aunts are poisoning older men, and his love for them undaunted works feverishly to protect them. And this is supposed to be a comedy.

    Not only did I find the premise silly, and the fact that it was a comedy made it less appealing.

    So what made me finally see this? First, it was leaving Criterion Channel by the end of the month,. Second, since I like Capra so much, I figured I might as well see this. I was also slightly curious to see how they would make the premise work.

    Unfortunately, the premise and the entire film didn’t work for me. (You Can’t Take It With You, another Capra adaptation of a play and a comedy, also didn’t work for me, and both of these films don’t really feel like Capra movies.)

    So, here’s one way Capra tries to make the premise work: The Brewsters are all mentally ill, but mostly in a harmless and even amusing way. For example, Mortimer’s brother, Teddy, thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. His illness seems harmless, to Teddy and others around him, and the scenes with him are meant to be funny I guess. (Another brother is a psychopathic killer, though, but he’s made to look like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster. From a modern perspective, this is bizarre, and I can’t tell if he was supposed to scare audiences or make them laugh.)

    Additionally, the film attempts to portray the aunts as if they genuinely believe they’re helping these older men by relieving them of their loneliness. To me, this is too dark to be funny, and maybe it’s because I’ve seen insane characters in film that did something similar–that was definitely not funny.)

    Besides this aspect which is hard to accept on the terms of the film, Brewster’s relationship with his finacee and his fiancee herself is not really likable–particularly the way he mistreats her and the way she largely accepts this treatment. Again, I’m guessing it’s supposed to be light and funny, but the humor just didn’t work for me.

  32. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
    Dir. Arthur Penn
    Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, etc.

    This is my second viewing of the film. It held up quite well for me, but that may be due to low expectations; for whatever reason, I expected to not like this film so much on this viewing.

    What stood out for me was the Beatty’s and Dunaway’s acting–particularly Dunaway’s–and their complex relationship.

    The film feels very American, and yet, I think it could also have universal appeal. The American element: A young girl maybe feel trapped and bored in a rural small town meets a man who seems to understand this and believes the both of them can and deserve something better–something meaningful and great, albeit twisted and dark. At some point, far before the film ends, Bonnie realizes that Clyde and the dark path he’s lead them on will ultimately lead to their doom. And her bond with Clyde remains solid. And the bond between them completely convinced me.

    The movie is famous for its violence, particularly one scene, but it’s the acting and the relationship that really impressed me. This might be Dunaway’s best performance.

  33. Knightriders (1981)
    DIr. George Romero
    Starring: Ed Harris (King William), Amy Ingersoll (Queen Linet), Tom Savini (Sir Morgan, the Black Knight), Gary Lahti (Sir Alan), Brother Blue (Merlin), Warner Shook (Pippin, the emcee), Christine Forrest (Angie, the mechanic), etc.


    (I generally liked Boris Vallejo’s art, but here it seemed chessy.)

    When this came out, I was into Dungeons and Dragons, and I also liked a lot of 70’s actions movies, which featured fast cars and motorcycles, so this films should have appealed to me. But my 12 year old self didn’t think the anachronistic mash-up worked. I guess I was purist when it came to the fantasy genre, and stills I saw from the film (in Fangoria magazine) looked dumb.

    That attitude never really changed until I recently read the Criterion Channel description of the film, which suggests the movie is more than just an action film. Indeed, after watching the movie, I don’t think of it as an action movie.

    The film involves a traveling group of holding Renaissance faires, with the main attraction being jousts on motorcyles. The group, lead by William, their fanatically idealistic leader (king), has formed a kind of sub-culture and alternate society. William tries to keep the society together, facing threats both from within and without.


    What is the film about? The CC describes the film this way: “One of director George Romero’s most personal works is an ode to counterculture idealism.” I do think this is a viable reading of the film–certainly. Even though Romero made this film in 1981, the counter-cultural elements makes it feel more like something from the early 70s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Romero wrote this screenplay in the late 60s, but couldn’t make the film until the early 80s.

    On the other hand, while watching the film, I got the impression the Renaissance group represented a community of filmmakers–specifically, the way a director will gather different artists into her circle, forming a kind of family. In this situation, the director becomes the head of the family. I definitely think the film has elements of this. For example, Billy (Harris) behaves like an artist who wants to serve his art versus working for money or fame. Indeed, he seems to disdain fame and material wealth–or seems them as threats to his vision.

    Speaking of vision, Billy’s vision is not entirely clear. He wants to create this society of people who participate in these jousts. But what’s so important about the jousts? On one hand, the jousts allow participants to express virtues like courage and honor. On the other hand, the jousts are a means of determining who will oversee or “rule” this little community. In this way, the film seems to be dealing with the counter-culture.

    (More later.)

    1. I’m posting this before reading Reid’s review.

      Knightriders (1981)
      Ed Harris, Tom Savini, Gary Lahti, Amy Ingersoll, Patricia Tallman. Written and directed by George Romero.

      Ed Harris plays Billy, known in his traveling Renaissance fair as King WIlliam. His troupe includes musicians, craftsmen, jesters, jugglers, and motorcycle-riding knights who joust for the favor of Queen Linet and the chance to usurp Billy from the throne.

      Some troupers are committed to Billy’s Arthurian ideals. Others just love motorcycles. Still others are along for the counterculture dropping-out, roaming wherever the wind and road take them. Billy is aware of these motivational disparities and tries, by forces of conviction and charisma, to lead his motley crew through financial insecurity to some vision only he seems to grasp.

      A weird convergence of personalities sends the group into conflict when a TV producer, her photographer, a talent promoter, and a crooked cop all get involved just when one of Billy’s knights aspires to the throne.

      This movie is out there, but writer-director George Romero has captured something I’ve thought about a lot since my days in college in the early Nineties. Underneath the spectacle of jousting men (and one woman) on motorcycles is a cause, but most people — insiders and outsiders — don’t understand the cause or don’t care about it, appreciating the mini-society for their own reasons, which may be commercial, hedonistic, or romantic.

      Billy also deals with tension between people’s admiration for him and his wanting them to care about the vision, not the visionary.

      I’m reminded of how Flower Power began as one thing, then became many things to many people for their own reasons. I wasn’t really around for that, but I was on college radio when Nirvana exploded, and I was 15 credits from graduating when Kurt Cobain shot himself. I saw a great deal of the 90s grunge scene, with its attendant cultural-fashionable-commercial appropriation, in Billy’s traveling circus.

      Strictly on its narrative and flavor, Knightriders is somehow engaging even with a lead character I never really understand and antagonists I don’t much care about or believe in. The action really drags in poorly framed, too-long sequences, and supporting characters’ arcs are resolved too quickly and with little explanation. Yet I find a few characters intriguing, like Steve the motorcycle-riding lawyer, Sheila the TV producer, and Merlin the shamanistic first-aid doctor. Combined with Billy’s conviction and dissatisfaction, the positives outweigh the flaws and make it an unpredictably satisfying watch.


    2. …to some vision only he seems to grasp.

      I’m not sure if Billy’s vision was clear to you or not, but it was unclear to me. At first, I thought this was odd. But using the interpretation that the film is a metaphor for filmmaking–specifically the relationship between an impassioned, visionary director and his crew–the opacity of Billy’s vision might make sense. Many of the crew members may not have a clear idea of the director’s vision, especially if the director is eccentric or has an esoteric vision. Or perhaps some of his partners may understand the vision, but just don’t have the same level of passion.

      And this leads to something you said,

      Underneath the spectacle of jousting men (and one woman) on motorcycles is a cause, but most people — insiders and outsiders — don’t understand the cause or don’t care about it, appreciating the mini-society for their own reasons, which may be commercial, hedonistic, or romantic.

      I feel like this could describe the members of a film crew.

      Also, the jousting in the film has similarities with movie-making. Both involve play and fun, on one hand, but also great expertise and earnestness–at least for the the more committed artists. To Billy, the jousts seem more than just play; there is something deeply seriousness and important not just to jousting, but the community of people involved in that endeavor. This description could be applied to movie making.

      Strictly on its narrative and flavor, Knightriders is somehow engaging even with a lead character I never really understand and antagonists I don’t much care about or believe in.

      The degree to which I felt engaged surprised me a little. One thing you didn’t mention–which really pulled me into the film: the conversations between the characters–for example, the ones involving the gay character. These conversations and characters support the counter-culture reading of the film, more than the fimmaking metaphor. Whatever the case, I liked these scenes.

      As for the villains, to me, I don’t think the film meant for them to be interesting or believable. They seemed more like symbols or props representing the materialistic forces that can tempt artists.

      By the way, what’s your reading of the ending–with Billy leaving the group and then eventually dying? I’m not sure the filmmaking narrative works as well. The best I can come up with: Someone who is not idealistic takes over the group. This is equivalent to a director or even a executive only interested in money and not art taking over a movie. Billy, a true artist, has to leave, as there’s no place for him there. And if he leaves (his art), he dies.

      1. I’m not sure if Billy’s vision was clear to you or not, but it was unclear to me.

        It isn’t clear at all, something I’m fairly certain Romero does on purpose, although I can’t say why. Your suggestion is as good as any I can come up with. But I was reminded a bit of Easy Rider (for the obvious reasons), in which I also didn’t quite get what the characters intended. Which made me think of: “What are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?”

        the conversations between the characters–for example, the ones involving the gay character. These conversations and characters support the counter-culture reading of the film, more than the fimmaking metaphor.

        Yeah, the conversations were mostly interesting to me, too, but there were a few places where I’d have liked more conversation, such as between Alan and his sorta-girlfriend Julie, the young woman who leaves home and tags along. Of all the characters in the film, I think we’re supposed to see this troupe through their eyes, as they are the least eccentric and most like us, the viewers.

        Someone who is not idealistic takes over the group. This is equivalent to a director or even a executive only interested in money and not art taking over a movie.

        This is also where you’re supposed to agree with me about this being a film about counter-culture movements. Billy leaves because the thing he started has morphed into something else, against his best efforts not to allow it. He cedes leadership to Morgan, the knight who most represents the antithesis of Billy’s motivations — it’s why Morgan leaves the group in the first place.

        Kurt Cobain didn’t have to die, but his death put a cap on the part of that grunge culture era (really, the slacker Gen X thing) that was most right, or at least that’s a way to look at it. Thank God for Dave Grohl, who reminds people every day that it was (and is) always about the music.

    3. Yeah, the conversations were mostly interesting to me, too, but there were a few places where I’d have liked more conversation, such as between Alan and his sorta-girlfriend Julie, the young woman who leaves home and tags along. Of all the characters in the film, I think we’re supposed to see this troupe through their eyes, as they are the least eccentric and most like us, the viewers.

      I understand your reaction, but the the fact that we don’t get more dialogue/commentary from those two suggest to me that the film doesn’t intend for us to see the troupe through their eyes (and, if anything, it would be more through Julie’s, more than Alan’s).

      This is also where you’re supposed to agree with me about this being a film about counter-culture movements. Billy leaves because the thing he started has morphed into something else, against his best efforts not to allow it.

      I initially agreed with this. But I also think that visionary director theory fits with in this situation as well. The cast and crew of such a director, may have idealistic and even romantic impulses, but likely not to the same degree. That is, practical factors would be very important to them (e.g,, finding a steady source of income). Most of the people in the troupe liked the lifestyle, but they would prefer a more reliable stream of revenue. And some like Morgan yearned for much more money as well as fame and a lavish lifestyle. To me, this fits fairly well with the movie industry.

      The life and approach of true artists are essentially a counter-culture as well, so I think the two readings are closely related and compatible.

  34. Hardcore (1979)
    Dir. Paul Schrader
    Starring: George C. Scott

    I like watching movies made in the 70s, particularly those set in urban environments. This fits the bill, but I wish I hadn’t read the Ebert review (many years ago), as I would have preferred knowing nothing about it.

    For those who feel the same, here’s a description that might have been acceptable: A teenage girl from Michigan goes to a Bible retreat in California. One day she vanishes, and her father goes to California to look for her.


    Going into the film, I knew that Schrader grew up in a strict, Christian home. I think he also moved out to California and maybe rebelled against that upbringing. All this really informed my reaction to the ending and overall interpretation of the film. To wit, Schrader felt unloved, and maybe alienated from his parents. When the father expresses his difficulty with expressing his love, this felt like something that Schrader speculated his father might be feeling or something Schrader’s father actually said or something Schrader wished his father would say.

    I imagine, for some viewers, this was a kind of surprise/twist ending. For these viewers, prior to the ending, the father may have seemed admirable and heroic, as he was willing to journey through a hellscape to rescue his daughter. But the ending is more of a M. Knight Shyamalan twist.

  35. The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
    Dir. Peter Weir

    The Cars That Ate Paris

    The Criterion Channel thumbnail and movie posters for this is are misleading. They prominently feature a porcupine-looking vehicle, creating the impression of a Mad Max action film. Action, specifically involving the cars, is only a small part of the film, and these sequences don’t hold up very well, especially compared to modern action sequences.

    This film, Peter Weir’s first, is about a small town that intentionally causes car accidents, which involve the death of the people in the vehicles, in order to poach car parts.

    Here are a few reasons the film didn’t work for me:

    • Weir can be really good at creating an eerie, unsettling mood (e.g., Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, etc.), but he failed to do that in this film in my opinion.
    • While I felt sorry for Arthur, he was too credulous, to the point of being gullible. Also, he didn’t make me root for him. All of this weakened the film.
    • One of the more interesting parts of the film involves the young delinquents of the town, who eventually destroy the town. If the film fleshed out the link between their behavior and town’s crimes, that might have strengthened the film.
  36. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
    Dir John Carpenter
    Starring: Sam Neil (John Trent), Julie Carmen, (Linda Styles) Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane), etc.

    In the Mouth of Madness

    This is the third film in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy.” The film isn’t entirely successful–primarily because some of ideas suggest interesting possibilities that the film never really explores. These ideas don’t really seem to fit into a coherent whole as well. (I’ll go into that more later.) However, in spite of this, I still enjoyed the film quite a bit. (I also liked Prince of Darkness, the second film in the trilogy, which also had similar deficiencies.)

    Since knowing little is preferable, I’ll just briefly say that the film involves a insurance investigator, John Trent (Neil), who searches for a missing horror writer.

    Some of the interesting ideas in the film:

    • The nature of reality. For example, Styles, the editor says, “A reality is just what we tell each other it is. Sane and insane could easily switch places…if the insane were to become the majority.You would find yourself locked in a padded cell…wondering what happened to the world.” Viewing this in 2023, it’s hard not to see this as commentary on partisan information bubbles. But I doubt this is what the film had in mind.
    • The nature of reality and fiction. The film reminded me of Total Recall in this regard–except replace the power of technology to create an alternate reality with the power of fiction. However, like the film version of Total Recall, I don’t think In the Mouth really explores this well. For the most part, the film seems to use this purely as an entertaining twist.
    • Fiction influencing reality. Does violence in fiction lead to violence in real life? The film seems to be alluding to this, but it’s not clear how. In the world of the film, the Cane’s novel primes readers for the return of darker forces–i.e., Lovecraft’s the “Old Ones”–which will lead ot the destruction of the world. Off the top of my head, I want to see this is merely an entertaining plot point. If not, does the film suggest that horror fiction prime people for more violence in the real world. This seems unlikely as this would seem to argue against horror fiction. Perhaps, it’s a warning about consuming too much violence?
    • Religion and fiction
    • Cane says: “Do you want to know the problem with places like this? With religion in general? lt’s never known how to convey the anatomy of horror. Religion seeks discipline through fear…yet doesn’t understand the true nature of creation. No one’s ever believed it enough to make it real. The same cannot be said of my world.” This is a good example of interesting, but half-baked ideas. Has religion failed to convey the “anatomy of horror?” This is potentially interesting, but what does he mean by “anatomy?” The inner workings? Why would that be critical? Also, that religion uses fear to discipline seems valid, but “no one has believed it enough to make it real” seems wrong. If the film means that religion has lost its power–that the faith of believers is either non-existent or feeble–that seems like a valid point. There’s also an interesting notion that fiction could be so compelling and tantalizing that it becomes real for some readers. Here, the film might be touching on the notion that horror fiction, from writers like Stephen King, may have greater power than traditional religious texts. At first this may sound interesting, but after a moment, this doesn’t seem like a serious idea.

    • Free will and predestination/determinism. The scene where Cane orders Trent to take the book back to the world, analogizes the author and the novel and characters with God and His creation, including human beings. (See below.) I liked this.

    Notable moments of dialogue

    Trent and Styles driving in a car, searching for the town of Hobbs

    Trent: You see, in my business, you soon find out…that anybody’s capable of anything. lf you can think of it, they’ve done it.
    Styles: Doesn’t leave you much to believe in.
    Trent: Yeah. But think of the upside–it doesn’t leave you much to be disappointed in, either. Believe me,the sooner we’re off the planet,the better.
    Styles: Now you sound like Cane.
    Trent: No, not me. You’re the Cane lover.
    Styles: l just like being scared. Cane’s work scares me.
    Trent: What’s to be scared about? lt’s not like it’s real or anything.
    Styles: lt’s not real from your point of view…and right now reality shares your point of view. What scares me about Cane’s work…
    is what might happen if reality shared his point of view.
    Trent: Whoa. We’re not talking about reality here. We’re talking about fiction. lt’s different,you know.
    Styles: A reality is just what we tell each other it is. Sane and insane could easily switch places…if the insane were to become the majority.You would find yourself locked in a padded cell…wondering what happened to the world.
    Trent: No, that wouldn’t happen to me.
    Styles: lt would if you realized…everything you ever knew was gone. lt’d be pretty lonely being the last one left.
    (Radio talk show): …Not only in Manhattan proper… but there was that incident in Long lsland… that was also related to it.
    Come on, l don’t buy this. l mean,what are you saying? That there’s some kind of disease…that’s spreading across the country?
    lt is an addiction that people have at this time– fantasy-creating out of the written material. How could it be addicting?
    Look, l mean this is words.Or just something that is created by the press? No. l think it’s acting stupid is what it is.

    Trent in a confessional booth, with Cane speaking to him.

    Cane: Do you want to know the problem with places like this? With religion in genera? lt’s never known how to convey the anatomy of horror. Religion seeks discipline through fear…yet doesn’t understand the true nature of creation. No one’s ever believed it enough to make it real. The same cannot be said of my world.
    Trent: Your books aren’t real.
    Cane: But they’ve sold over a billion copies. l’ve been translated into eighteen languages.More people believe in my work than believe in the Bible.
    Trent: You got a point?
    Cane: l think you know it.
    Trent: There has to be some kind of an explanation…for what l’ve seen tonight.l’ll sort this shit out later, but right now…
    there has to be some kind of a simple fucking explanation.
    Cane: Always lookingfor the con. Even now you’re trying to rationalize.
    Trent: Anyway…your books suck.
    Cane: You must try reading my new one. The others have had quite an effect…but this one will drive you absolutely mad.
    Trent: So l’m told.
    Cane: lt’ll make the world ready for the change. lt takes its power…from new readers and new believers.That’s the point. Belief!
    When people begin to lose their ability…to know the difference between fantasy and reality…the old ones can begin their journey back.The more people who believe, the faster the journey. And with the way the other books have sold…this one is bound to be very,very popular.

    More conversation between Cane and Trent, with allusions to free will vs. predistination/determinism.

    Cane: l will be joining my new publishers now. You take the manuscript back to the world for me…that’s what you do.
    Trent: What l do?
    Cane: You are what l write. Like this town. lt wasn’t here before l wrote it. And neither were you.
    Trent: l know what’s real. l know what l am… and nobody pulls my strings.
    Cane: Did you think my agent attacked you by accident? He read about you… in there. He knew you’d bring it back and start the change…make what’s happened here happen everywhere. He tried to stop you.
    Trent: l’m not a piece of fiction.
    Cane: l think,therefore you are. Read it if you don’t believe me. See what l have in store for you.
    Trent: l know what l am.
    Cane: Go back.Your world lies beyond that passage. Go now.

  37. I’m really behind on some of my movie comments, so I’m only going to write some brief comments for several of these films.

    Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
    Dir. Preston Sturges
    Starring: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell,

    Harrison plays a orchestra conductor, consumed by jealousy, after hearing evidence that his wife (Darnell) has fooled around. Besides a few rapid-paced rants, in a screwball comedy style, I didn’t find the film all that engaging. Like one other Sturges film, I feel like I’m not really appreciating or understanding what the film is going for.

    Radio On (1979)
    Dir. Christopher Petit

    Are road movies strictly an American thing? Off the top of my head, I would say so, but upon further reflection, that’s probably not true. This film is proof of that.

    Not much is going on in this film: A guy learns his brother dies and travels to where his brother lived. He meets some people along the way. There is some music from that time period (e.g., Kraftwerk). It sounded promising, especially since it was shot in black-and-white, but it was less interesting then the premise suggests, but still surprisingly engaging–particularly if one is open to more of a meditative film without a lot of action or drama.

    SubUrbia (1996)
    Dir. Richard Linklater
    Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Parker Posey, etc.

    A Gen-X “slacker” film based on an Eric Bogosian play. Three twenty-somethings hang out at a local 7-11 style store. A friend from high school has made it in the music industry and comes back to hang out with them. I believe I’ve only seen one film adaptation of a Bogosian play–Talk Radio–but I still feel strangely confident saying this film feels more like a Bogosian film than a Linklater one.

    Something seems false about the film. It’s either this, or I’m so far removed from my twenties that I’m far less sympathetic to these characters. I do think the latter is a factor, but not as much. I just don’t think the writing and acting are strong. Also, the film feels stale. My reaction is similar to watching an anti-war film or one depicting ghetto life. My guess is that a new film about these subjects will feel stale to me.

    The Skin Game (1931)
    Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
    C. V. France (Jack Hillcrist), Helen Haye (Ivy Hillcrist), Jill Esmond (Jill Hillcrist), Edmund Gwenn (Mr Hornblower), John Longden (Charles Hornblower), Phyllis Konstam (Chloe Hornblower), Frank Lawton (Rolf Hornblower), Herbert Ross (Mr. Jackman), Dora Gregory (Mrs. Jackman), Edward Chapman (Dawker)

    I had low expectations going into this old, unfamiliar Alfred Hitchcock film. No doubt that contributed to the film’s positive impact on me. The films dramatic intensity surprised me, particularly since the mannerisms seemed dated and the acting seemed a little weak at times.

    The film involves two families: the Hornblowers, lead by a businessman patriarch, who has plans of developing the land, and the aristocratic Hillcrist family, who opposes this plan. More of a drama and a morality tale than a suspense, this kept my attention throughout the entire film, and emotionally impacted me, especially the situation with the Chloe character.

    I must say that the mood I was in, while watching this, may have contributed to the dramatic impact the film had on me. 77/100 is how I feel about the film, but I wonder if it would be lower had I been in a different mood.

  38. Writing about films I didn’t like is easier, for the most part, because I don’t care if my writing doesn’t do the film justice. On the other hand, writing about films I thought were excellent and/or I really enjoyed places more pressure on me. As a result, I put off writing these reviews. Unfortunately, sometimes that results in never writing a review. Because of that I’m forcing myself to write comments about the following films, which I really liked. (And I’m going to do it in one post, so as not to clutter the v-i homepage.)

    Certain Women (2016)
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    Starring: Laura Dern, Jared Harris, James Le Gros, Michelle Williams, Rene Auberjenois, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone,

    Certain Women poster

    I really liked this film featuring three vignettes based on short stories by Maile Meloy. I like Reichardt as a director, but I had a lukewarm reaction to her previous films like Meek’s Cuttoff, The Last Cow, and Night Moves. No so with this film. Along with Wendy and Lucy, this may be my favorite film of hers.

    All the stories take place in Montana. The first deals with a lawyer (Dern) trying to help a man (Harris) embittered by his inability to sue his former employer. The second vignette involves a married couple (Le Gros and Williams) who are building a house and, in the the process, ask to buy or have a pile of sandstones from an old man (Auberjenois). Finally, the last vignette deals with a ranch hand (Gladstone) who meets a lawyer (Stewart) teaching a night class on school law.

    The description is not likely to entice many, but the meat of the film is in the acting/characters and the quiet moments of the film. To me, this film (and Wendy and Lucy) share a kinship with more minimalist/reductionist filmmakers in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. By “minimalist/reductionist,” I’m referring to filmmaking that strips down the story and finding drama and power in quiet, ordinarily mundane moments and simple gestures, and a few timely words. To do with successfully, especially in a way that is sublime–requires great skill. Reichardt demonstrates just such a skill in this film.

    Each vignette deserves a more thorough analysis, but I’ll try to jot down a few quick thoughts:

    Vignette 1: Dern’s character has an interesting combination of rationality, patience, and sensitivity. But in spite of this, she isn’t entirely successful at helping her client–although she’s not to blame for this. But in the end, she learns the one thing that make the most difference, which has nothing to do with her legal expertise, and that is a small gesture of writing letters–not really the content so much as the act of writing and sending these letters, which convey that her client matters.

    Vignette 2: This felt very dark, especially the ending. The shot of Auberjenois’s character looking out, feeling sadness and maybe regret, and then the shot of Williams, with a small grin. If an alternate reading that is not so dark and cruel exists, I’m not sure what it could be.

    Vignette 3: Gladstone’s character clearly has a tremendous need for some real human connection, and then that opportunity presents itself. Interestingly, we don’t know if the attraction is sexual/romantic or purely platonic–or at least I think this is ambiguous–but this is really unimportant. When she takes a bold move to maintain and maybe advance this relationship, the attempt quietly, but clearly fails. The way the film depicts this and depicts the way she returns to her life, without this need fulfilled–were beautiful.

    Hotel du Nord (1936)
    Dir. Marcel Carne
    Starring: Annabella (Renee), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Pierre), Louis Jouvet (Edmond), Arletty (Raymonde), Andre Brunot (Emile Lecouvreur, owner of the hotel), Jane Marken (Louise Lecouvreur, owner of the hotel), Bernard Blier (Prosper Trimaux, blood donor), Paulette Dubost (Ginette, wife of Prosper), Andrex (Kenel, friend of Emile)

    Hotel du Nord

    More than any other country, French depictions of romantic relationships often feel alien to me–making me question my understanding of men and women, nay, human beings. But Carne, along with Vigo, are two exceptions.

    Hotel du Nord, a small hotel run by a husband and wife, where the occupants all eat together as if they were a family, creating a vibe similar to Cheers, except with characters who are more ordinary. The two exceptions are a prostitute and her pimp—both on the run from someone with bad intentions. One day a couple rents out a room with the intention of committing suicide.

    Not an exceptional film perhaps, but one that entertained me. I also like Annabella and Jouvet in this. The former for her beauty, which would enable to start in movies today (which is not always the case for actors from this time period). The latter has a quiet cool and toughness that really appealed to me. (Sidenote: In keeping with the notion that human beauty is recycled, Aumont kind of looked like Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein. Annabella also has similar features to later actresses, but I can no longer remember which ones now.)

    Fallen Angel (1945)
    Dir. Otto Preminger
    Starring: Dana Andrews (Eric Stanton), Linda Darnell (Stella) , Alice Faye (June Mills), Anne Revere (Clara Mills),

    Another film, a film noir, that was entertaining, but not exceptional–although I would mention performances by Andrews and Darnell.

    Eric Stanton, a failed advertising entrepreneur, arrives at a smalltown, near penniless, looking for a way to build himself back up. In the process, he falls for Stella, the town beauty. But she’ll have nothing to do with him–not unless he’s serious about marriage and can provide for her material needs. Stanton formulates a plan to woo June, a young woman who has some money coming to her.


    I do think the film could have ended in a stronger way–namely, have June kill Stella, with Eric knowing this, but not unable to escape the marriage. In this ending, June would be the “fallen angel” as femme fatale. June’s transformation could be the culmination of the process of moving out from the world of books into the real world–specifically one that is more seedy and sordid–a process June initiates because of Eric’s urging.

  39. You Are Not I (1981)
    Dir. Sara Driver
    Starring: Suzanne Fletcher, etc.
    49:07 minutes

    Described by Criterion Channel as a “key work of No Wave Cinema.” I’m vaguely familiar of No Wave music, but never knew there was a cinematic version. My general sense is that No Wave music is a avant-garde/experimental version of punk/New Wave music. If No Wave cinema is a more avant-garde/experimental version of 70’s independent cinema (e.g., Cassavetes), then I guess that could apply to the film.

    Description: A woman escapes from a mental asylum and visits her sister.

    While I didn’t love the film, but I thought it was well done. The two things I liked best: 1.) the circumstances and the visuals (the film is in black-and-white) of her escape, and 2.) the way the film gets into the head of the main character, particularly at the end.

    Sleepwalking (1987)
    Dir. Sara Driver
    Starring: Suzanne Fletcher, etc.

    Two odd individuals approach a woman, asking her to translate a Chinese scroll–the latter involving a Chinese myth. The concept behind the film is interesting, but the results seem a little lacking.

  40. Tar (2022)
    Dir. Todd Field
    Starring: Cate Blanchett, etc.

    One of the reasons I really liked Todd Field’s In the Bedroom was the subtlety of the acting and direction, leading to a variety of ways the viewers could interpret–and even misread–the characters and their motives. That was not as true in his next film, Little Children, but it is true for this one–and it was one of the reasons I enjoyed the film. (I watched virtually the entire film a day after a first viewing.)

    The film centers around a conductor, Lydia Tar (Blanchett), following her as she readies the Berlin Orchestra for a live recording, while balancing her personal life and side projects, all within the context of the modern internet age. On one hand, the film deals broadly with the life of executives. I think CEOs, head coaches, governors or mayors, high-ranking military officers could relate to this movie. On the other hand, the film is specifically about artists, particularly those who are in the public eye and at the top of the ladder. What it’s not really about is music.

    More later.

  41. Maestro (2023)
    Dir. Bradley Cooper
    Starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, etc.

    This starts off in a promising way, with the creativity of the filmmaking and storytelling making me think of Citizen Kane and Yankee Doodle Dandy. However, as the film progresses, the film got more conventional and less exciting as a result.

    The film is ostensibly about Leonard Bernstein, probably the most well-known American conductor, but it’s really more about his relationship with his wife, Felicia.

    Overall, I thought this was one of those solid, but ultimately middling dramas that the Oscars likes. I have more details about this in the next section.

    Random comments:

    • The film jumps through time, skimming through Leonard’s and Felicia’s life, and that ultimately prevented me from establishing the characters and their relationship. Additionally, Cooper and Mulligan didn’t have the type of chemistry that convinced me that they had a deep love or bond between them.
    • Because of this, when Felicia confronts Lenny, I couldn’t really judge the accuracy of these remarks, particularly Felicia’s criticisms of Lenny; and the scene didn’t have as much impact as I think it was supposed to.
    • I wished the film focused more on Bernstein’s as a musician–his conducting and his composing–similar to the way Yankee Doodle Dandy, focused on the Cohan’s songs–or at least used the performance of the songs as a backbone to the film.
    • I didn’t really care for the acting in this film. Mulligan’s acting was fine, but not outstanding. Cooper’s didn’t seem so good–something about it felt artificial and even a caricature. I think this is partly linked to the failure of the film to establish Bernstein as a person that the audience comes to know. Without this, Bernstein’s passion, as depicted by Cooper, seems fake, something affected. I should say that I get this feeling from videos of Bernstein conduct. Additionally, I had listened to some interviews of Bernstein prior to the film, and I wonder if this made accepting Cooper’s performance a lot more difficult.
    1. I was interested in seeing this in the theater, but now that it’s streaming, I’m less interested for some reason. I may still see it, though. I like the idea of Cooper with Mulligan.

  42. Time Without Pity (1947)
    Dir. Joseph Losey
    Starring: Michael Redgrave, etc.

    I can’t tell if the acting was bad or just dated. I could say the same about some of the circumstances in the film. Were they too obvious for the audiences who saw this in 1957 or is it too obvious for contemporary moviegoers? Whatever the case, it didn’t work for me, although there were some scenes that were moving.

    I watched this because of the storyline: A man is about to be executed. His father, an alcoholic writer, has twenty-four hours to prove his son’s innocence.

    I liked the idea behind the ending, although I wasn’t exactly clear how it would say the son.

    To Leslie (2022)
    Dir. Michael Morris
    Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Marc Maron, Allison Janey, etc.

    I really liked Marc Maron’s film persona in Sword of Trust–so much so that I watched this film–stuck with the film–because of Maron. I can’t really explain it, but he’s very likable to me. That’s true in this film, which is largely a (Oscar) vehicle for Riseborough, who does a fine job.

    What’s interesting to me is that this film is totally predictable, covering fairly well-worn territory. (e.g., Sean Baker’s The Florida Project). A alcoholic woman does a lot of foolish and bad things. (The film uses too much film to establish this in my view.) She’s given a second chance by Maron’s character, who is the caretaker of a motel.

    The acting is solid, and with the exception of the criticism above, I found the film very satisfying.

    Good Time (2017)
    Dir. Josh and Benny Safdie
    Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, etc.

    Did you ever watch a film where the flaws are actually part of what makes the film good? And I’m not talking about campy movies or movies that are so bad they’re good. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one–except for this one. (I’ll explain in the third section below.)

    Connie (Pattinson) and his mentally disabled brother, Nick (Safdie), rob a bank. Things go wrong, and Connie attempts to fix things. I’m being purposely vague here, but I’ll give more details in the next section.


    In a way, the film is kind of variation of Of Mice and Men. (Nick mentions that money from the robbery is going to allow them to live on a farm.)

    Here’s how the film differs, significantly, from Of Mice and Men. Connie is in the “George” role. He’s looking out for Nick, and I believe genuinely cares about him. However, unlike George, Connie isn’t very foolish criminal. He seems ignorant and poorly educated. For example, in the beginning of the movie, Connie barges into Nick’s therapy session, wrongly thinking that the psychologist is harming his brother. Connie thinks he knows better and his plan to help Nick involves robbing a bank, ostensibly to provide money that will lead to a better life.

    The botched robbery and the absurdly improbable events afterward would have ruined the film for me, making it a pointless failure. But the film ending with Nick seemingly getting the help he needs, shifts the absurdity from ridiculously improbable to meaningfully, wry and ironic. Connie is the problem, not Benny or anyone else. And if he didn’t intervene, Benny would have been fine. The way the ending saves the film is pretty remarkable.

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