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

19 September 2020

The Limits of Control

The Limits of Control is fine. It looks cool. But I am not sure it's all that interesting.

15 September 2020

The Big Broadcast of 1936 (except that it came out in 1935)

Not to be confused with The Broadway Melody of 1936, which was also released in 1935, The Big Broadcast of 1936 is really asinine but surprisingly turns out to be quite funny. There are a lot of great bits in it, and the Nicholas Brothers, who are very young in 1935 and don't make the poster, are in it a lot. The film is decidedly harmed by the presence of Amos 'n Andy doing a completely unfunny blackface bit (it is so weird to me that white audiences thought nothing of watching African American performers sing numbers right before watching white performers in blackface do other numbers). But Ethel Merman sings "The Animal in Me", Norman Taurog directs the whole thing quite ably, and Gracie Allen is a delight.

Australian New Wave III

Am I obsessed with the Australian New Wave? I might be.  

Sunday Too Far Away is another – less well known in the United States – Australian New Wave film, and this one is excellent. I absolutely loved it. It's so smart and so affecting. 

This is not a film about a strike – despite apparently every synopsis of the film online – although, there is a strike late in the film. Instead Sunday Too Far Away is about labor and laborers as such. We follow a group of laborers led stunningly by Jack Thompson. This is a superb film from start to finish, brilliantly directed by Ken Hannam. The tone is really balanced perfectly between adventure, mourning, Marxist observation, humor, and sublimity. I have nothing but good things to say. 

It deserves to be considered alongside the great films about labor and unionizing from this same period in other parts of the world. I am thinking of films like Actas de Marusia (also 1975), I Compagni (1964), Blood on the Land (1965), La Venganza (1958), Ådalen 31 (1969), and The Molly Maguires (1970).

And Jack Thompson truly is brilliant. I am glad Hollywood got Mel Gibson and Sam Neill and Judy Davis out of the Australian New Wave, but we really deserved to get Thompson too. He's just so damn good in this.

14 September 2020

The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019)

Giuseppe Capotondi's The Burnt Orange Heresy is not good. It starts off interestingly enough – drug-addicted art critic who is spending more than he's making (Claes Bang), young woman who clearly isn't telling the truth about who she is (Elizabeth Debicki), daffy old painter (Donald Sutherland, unscrupulous art collector (Mick Jagger) – so there should have been intrigue and perhaps some wisdom and a few thrills. The Burnt Orange Heresy would like to be The Talented Mr. Ripley, with schemes on schemes on schemes and real identities revealed or better yet hidden forever. But this movie was actually just rather boring. The script feels slightly off, stilted, with several real clunkers – especially as delivered by Donald Sutherland. Debicki is interesting enough, and I residually love her from her great performance in the equally stilted crime film Widows, and I like Claes Bang, too. But this movie just kind of sucked. It's not very thrilling or exciting, and Capotondi's gaze is sort of flat. He's interested in "telling the story", and one isn't really sure how to feel about any of what we're watching, as though the director doesn't have an opinion on the film's proceedings at all. There are some surprising moments in the third act, but they came too little too late for me, and then the actual end of the film is almost insistently, intensely boring.

12 September 2020

Australian New Wave II

Nope nope nope. I liked Mad Max for its Australian New Wave-ness and for nothing else. I fail to understand George Miller's work. It doesn't seem the least bit cool to me, even though it's attempting to project coolness and masculinity throughout. And the villains – as in all of his films – are dangerous and violent, of course, but also laughable and stupid. The main guy in this one (his name is Toecutter) has one eyebrow shaved off and is constantly doing little kindergarten gymnastics as if he never graduated from tumbling. I think the thing that is especially distasteful about this film is its reliance on disability imagery as grotesquerie for its ideas of horror. I am going to keep watching more Australian New Wave, because I'm interested in the movement now, but George Miller is not my style. (I didn't care for Mad Max: Fury Road either.)

10 September 2020

Broken Arrow (1950)


Meh. Broken Arrow is, like, fine, but it's full colonialist fantasy. Good white man learns that Chiricahua Apaches are humans. Congratulations.

The movie itself is well shot, but the script is drivel even if it is well intentioned. And James Stewart doesn't work for me as a cowboy. I just don't like him in westerns. I can only see him as a city boy.

I guess this is the second Delmer Daves western in a month or so that I have thought was just not that great. Sorry about it Delmer Daves, but I'm just not here for it.

08 September 2020

The Competition (1980)


The Competition
is a bad movie. Amy Irving is good, but something is off with Richard Dreyfuss in this film, and it isn't just the terrible hat he wears in every scene; his makeup (or plastic surgery?) seem off. His cheeks are weirdly filled. It's very strange. 

Anyway, the worst part of this movie is not him. It's Lee Remick, who gives a kind of grande dame diva performance for an audience of no one at all. It's really odd and makes no sense. 

The script is bad, too, I don't mind saying. 

The only redeeming element here (aside from Irving, who is good but surprisingly boring) is Joseph Cali, who plays a smaller part and is captivating in every scene.

This was the first film made by Joel Oliansky, who wrote and directed The Competition. He never made a second film. 

In Danger and Dire Distress the Middle of the Road Leads to Death (1974)

In Gefahr und Größter Not Bringt der Mittelweg den Tod (In Danger and Dire Distress the Middle of the Road Leads to Death) is a protest drama from West Germany in the mid-1970s. It's interesting as a kind of time capsule of politics from the period. And the filmmaking is intriguing. But this style of thing just isn't for me. Why am I not into documentaries? I do not understand this about myself.

07 September 2020

Asignatura Aprobada (1987)

I am not really sure why none of the plot synopses of Asignatura Aprobada (Course Completed) on the internet is correct. This is not a film about a man who has several affairs. In fact he doesn't even have one! Asignatura Aprobada is a film about a man who is reckoning with being alone and the decisions he's made that have brought him to his solitude. He is an asshole – something he freely admits to his son and friends – and he chased away his girlfriend, whom he loved deeply.

Asignatura Aprobada is about growing old and time and regret and not knowing what to do next. It's about not being able to stop yourself from saying the wrong thing and being too self centered to make the other people in your life more important. It's a great film. I also love Garci's filmmaking. He refuses to give us any exposition, starting off immediately with layers upon layers, usually with a game that we can't trust. It's a technique of theatricality that Almodóvar will also favor. In fact, there is much of Almodóvar in Asignatura Aprobada – although Garci's work is very, very heterosexual – and their films would probably benefit from being analyzed side by side.

05 September 2020

Adventures of Don Juan (1948)


Adventures of Don Juan
is the best Errol Flynn movie I've seen. One of the reasons for this is Viveca Lindfors, who holds her own with Flynn in a way that Olivia De Havilland never did. Lindfors is fabulous.

The swashbuckling is also so extra in Adventures of Don Juan. There is way more swordfighting than I've ever even seen in any movie, really. It's just chock-full of these sequences. It's great. 

I think, though, that the real appeal here is the costumes. They're breathtaking. Truly extraordinary. Flynn never wears pants the entire movie... just different colored tights and then gorgeously embroidered and decorated jerkins on top. And the dresses they put Lindfors in truly are jaw-dropping. Each one more gorgeous than the last. And there must be at least a dozen. And that's not all. Her hair is always covered in pearls or rubies. It's just the most fabulous thing. Marjorie Best and her team really outdid themselves.

04 September 2020

Australian New Wave I

My Brilliant Career (1979) is perfect. It's charming and beautifully made. It's a love letter to the Australian landscape, which is gorgeously shot here, including some really extraordinary camera work by Don McAlpine. And then there's the luminous Judy Davis and the very handsome Sam Neill. The supporting cast is also terrific. And of course this is all due to Gillian Armstrong's script and direction, which are literally just perfect. This is a fuckin' gem. More Australian New Wave, please. I think the only Australian new wave that I've seen are 'Breaker' Morant and The Year of Living Dangerously. I will be remedying that error tout de suite.

01 September 2020

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Sullivan's Travels is fun, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else seems to love it. I think I Married a Witch, another Veronica Lake film from the same period, is much funnier. Obviously this is charming, but the turn the film takes in the third act, in which the main character goes to a privately run prison, is difficult to stomach. The film is trying to give us a portrait of injustice, and it certainly does that, but it doesn't seem very interested in justice. I don't know. It just didn't sit right with me. I need to see some more Sturges.

31 August 2020

Jolson Sings Again (1949)

You know, I actually thought that we were going to get through Jolson Sings Again without having to see Larry Parks in blackface playing Al Jolson in blackface. Nope. Jolson Sings Again takes a really weird turn and for act three takes us into the making of the film The Jolson Story, which, like this movie, starred Larry Parks lipsynching to Al Jolson. It's a strange meta-movie third act. Jolson Sings Again is the sequel to that 1946 film, and we watch the effect of the film's smash success on the real Jolson... played by Larry Parks. It's kind of cool but also strange. Parks is excellent, as he was in the original film, and actually Jolson sounds wonderful. He's in great voice. I even liked the script for the first two acts of the film. But Jolson Sings Again stumbles in its final sequences, especially when we just watch Jolson watching clips of The Jolson Story for at least ten minutes – maybe more!

Messiah of Evil (1973)


Messiah of Evil
is weird for many, many reasons. It's a zombie horror film made by the screenwriters of... American Graffiti?? It also stars openly gay actor Michael Greer in a very strangely butch performance. (The whole movie is, of course, quite campy, since it is a horror movie, so Greer fits right in.) But the real star of this film is the amazing art on the walls in the main setting of this film – which is an artist's studio. The art on these walls is stunning and constantly takes over in many of the film's shots. It's the best performance in the movie.

30 August 2020

Kings Row (1942)

The story of the making of Kings Row is, I think, more interesting than the film itself. Let's just start by saying that this movie is a fairly awful melodrama, mostly because Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan are legitimately terrible in this, especially Robert Cummings, who gives an absurdly milquetoast performance. But it's worse than that. Excellent performers like Judith Anderson and Claude Rains are also fairly bad in this. 

What is interesting about the movie is that it is based on a famous mid-century potboiler novel that, apparently (though one wouldn't know it from the film) was about incest and homosexuality and all sorts of illicit eroticism and terrible sadism. Who knew? Very little of that comes across in this movie, which is only cursorily interested in Freudian psychiatry. In any case, it's shot beautifully and designed beautifully, but the acting is truly awful, and the screenplay is a hodgepodge of stuff that doesn't really work. I, for one, am getting ahold of this novel so I can see what all the fuss was about in 1940. Oh I meant to talk about the score, which is amazing and in which you can clearly hear Star Wars! John Williams obviously borrowed at least one theme from Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Give it a listen and see if you hear it.