Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

21 October 2019

The Souvenir (2019)

The Souvenir was a hit at Sundance, and I am baffled, bewildered, and beguiled. My god this film is bad. This is about a young, idiotic woman who begins dating a heroin addict. She doesn't seem to see this as a problem, even though he steals from her, gives her nothing, and is a complete and total downer at all times. He brings her on his scores, and she just seems fine with it. It's an insane story.

But the worst part is that, frankly, about an hour into The Souvenir I started wondering why he was with her. This drug addicted loser was actually the most interesting thing about this foolish woman. As for the movie itself: it is tedious beyond measure. It's a throwback to '90s mumblecore, and not in a good way, if there ever was a good way to be '90s mumblecore. I was completely bored out of my mind by this movie.

I saw Gaspar Noé's Climax in 2019, so The Souvenir can't be the worst movie I see this year, but it will be close to the bottom, I can tell you that.

Update: apparently, Joanna Hogg is making a sequel to this movie called The Souvenir Part II! I do not know who asked for this, but it was not me.

17 October 2019

To the Stars

There are plenty of better-than-average sections of Ad Astra. The trouble is that the movie itself is just mostly average. It manages to hit all of the basic generic tropes of the loner-in-space film, and if there are a couple of cool sequences that seem novel in the movie, these are overwhelmed by the generic basicness of the whole thing. Brad Pitt is excellent, of course. His performance is wonderful, and honestly I quite liked this film. It just doesn't really ever hit its stride or soar; it plods along instead, stubbornly refusing to surprise us and confident that we are happily along for the ride.

16 October 2019

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is sort of terrible. It's part of that hagsploitation subgenre of cinema begun with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? But What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? really lacks a lot of interest, and Geraldine Page seems actually to be trying to act, even though she should be leaning into the camp. This decision on page's part doesn't really work, but the real problem here is that Ruth Gordon – who had just won an Oscar for Rosemary's Baby really isn't given more to do.

While we're talking about things that are terrible, all of my friends made fun of me for talking about how attractive the young Robert Fuller was. And I guess he is sort of generic. But hey, I was doing my best to enjoy this movie, and Robert Fuller was the eye-candy.
Robert Fuller. What?

15 October 2019

The Rains of Ranchipur (1955)

The Rains of Ranchipur is fairly terrible. The script has a few excellent one-liners, but mostly this is a terrible melodrama, with a (typical) magical Indian character who teaches a young, selfish white woman how to (it's this bad) love herself. I mostly disliked this whole thing, but the special effects are really excellent, and I suppose it is notable that Richard Burton plays an Indian man in this without as far as I can tell (and despite what the poster seems to show) donning brown makeup.

12 October 2019

Ash Is Purest White (2018)

I was expecting something very different from what I got with Ash Is Purest White. This is a fascinating character study slash crime film that follows the relationship of two people over two decades. In many ways, their relationship is melodramatic, but this is also a movie about survival and being alone. I really, really liked this.

03 October 2019

The Practice of Love (1985)

Die Praxis der Liebe is Valie Export's fascinating, challenging, but ultimately pretty superb meditation on (at least to my mind) Irigaray's concept of woman as the sex which is not one. This is an exploration of women's art, women's writing, women's knowledge, sex, power, and the patriarchy. I was really into it.

01 October 2019

White Banners (1938)

Fay Bainter is a revelation in this. The script is melodramatic and a bit overwritten, and the plot is a common one from the 1930s - in which a woman must sacrifice her child in order that he or she can have a better life.

But White Banners is so well told, the narrative is so dependent on concerns other than the family melodrama, and the film is so beautifully cast, with Bainter, Jackie Cooper, and Claude Rains, that Edmund Goulding's film really works very well.

Bainter was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress for this movie in 1939, but she didn't win. Bette Davis won for Jezebel. Bainter is, of course, also in Jezebel, and she won Best Supporting Actress for the same movie. So it all comes out in the wash, I guess. And watching Fay Bainter remains a pleasure.

30 September 2019

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Eye roll. Anthony Higgins is fun as the fencing master in this movie, and if I'm honest I will admit to liking Bruce Broughton's too-sweet score, but otherwise... this kind of wink-wink nostalgia movie – heavily dependent on the dramatic irony of knowing who Sherlock Holmes will be as an adult – is not for me. The fact that Barry Levinson's usual brand of nostalgia in this case is tainted a) with an absurdly boring heterosexual love plot between two teenagers and b) with a heavy dose of Orientalist colonial racism made Young Sherlock Holmes decidedly less than enjoyable.

29 September 2019

Paint Your Wagon (1969)

A musical comedy starring Lee Marvin – who cannot sing at all – and Clint Eastwood – who can, kinda. This is also the tale of two men devoted to one another and married to the same woman and a town of whoring, drinking, gambling, kidnapping gold-miners. The music is great, especially the scoring and choral direction. Joshua Logan's direction of the film itself, which clearly cost a fortune, is absolutely great. It has extraordinary crowd scenes, tons of great practical effects, and it's hilarious. The whole, however, is not really equivalent to the sum of its parts.

28 September 2019

Inherit the Wind (1960)

This is very smart and the script absolutely sparkles with both wit and wisdom. My enjoyment of this picture, however, was a bit tempered by just how much time it gives to religious insanity. This film also forces us to listen to "That Old Time Religion" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" numerous times apiece. It was all just way too much for me. There were some true religious nut-jobs in this movie, and the movie gave them a lot of airtime without – to my mind – really telling us the film itself thought these people were terrible.

Also, this is not about the Scopes Monkey Trial, despite the way that poster foregrounds the chimpanzee and says this is the fabulous 'monkey trial' that rocked America. Fabulous? Really? What the movie is really about is a kind of long-form debate about what Christianity ought to look like in the future.

26 September 2019

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

Goodbye, Columbus is pretty great. It's a smart script, and I enjoyed this. Its tone is really smart, too – moving deftly between broad comedy, comedy of manners, and serious drama.

25 September 2019

Timecode (2000)

A friend of mine screened this at a faculty film club in Tallahassee. Timecode is quirky and very strange – as any film that is mostly improvised is bound to be. But it's also quite a funny satire, and is a very interesting experiment in film. I really enjoyed this, even though the four-screen conceit doesn't work for at least half of the time. The trouble is where do you look? What are you supposed to watch? The director doesn't have much control here - even with the actors - and so the tone is uneven in general. Still, this is a fun experiment, and I enjoyed the film.

24 September 2019

The Ninth Circle (Deveti Krug) (1960)

Wow. Wow. Wow.

So, The Ninth Circle was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar the same year (1961) as Pontecorvo's Kapò, Roberto Gavaldón's brilliant Macario, and Clouzot's La Vérité (also brilliant), and they gave the damn Oscar to Bergman's boring The Virgin Spring. In any case, The Ninth Circle is very, very well made, and it is surely – with Kapò – one of the first films made about the camps. So much of the film is a love story (under Nazi duress) that I was expecting something else entirely from this film by the end – I, incorrectly, as it turns out – assumed the ninth circle was a reference to Dante's final circle of the inferno and signified the betrayals of Judas, Lucifer, and Cain.

But Deveti Krug shifts boldly in subject matter in the middle of the third act, and the ninth circle of the title turns out to be a literal section of the camp and not a literary reference to treachery. (Incidentally, Peter Weiss's The Investigation uses the circles of the Inferno as a formal way of tracking through the camps and the Nuremberg trials, and in the play we move further and further inside the camps.)

Because the movie shifted so drastically, I really wasn't prepared for the punch France Štiglic's movie delivered, and I ended up truly stunned by The Ninth Circle. Boris Dvornik, who plays the male lead, is outstanding in this.

20 September 2019

Harakiri (1962)

Harakiri is an excellent film, superb in every way. The writing is stellar, the acting is uniformly great. It's also deeply affecting while also being very cool. The cinematography here is the real star, though: Miyajima Yoshio's work is incredible. There are sections of the film that are breathtakingly shot. It's brilliant. Satō Kei also gives a genius performance in the role of the leader of the Iyi clan. This whole thing is just impeccable. If you haven't seen it, or if samurai films seem all to run together in your brain, you should revisit this one.

17 September 2019

I Wish (2011)

Kore-eda is just so good. I loved I Wish (奇跡). It's touching and sweet, but as with all of Kore-eda's movies, I Wish undercuts its sentimentality with farce and doesn't allow us to get mired in its sweetness