6 thoughts on “Movies 2023

  1. Bullet Train (2022)
    Dir. David Leitch
    Starring: Brad Pitt, etc.
    61/100

    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)
    54/100

    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.

    “Romance”
    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.
    72/100

    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.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    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.
    62/100

    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. It 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,
    71/100

    The Color of Money (1986)
    Dir. Martin Scorsese
    Starring: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastriontonio, etc.
    68/100

    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.)

    ***
    (spoilers)
    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.
    71/100

    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.

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