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

30 April 2020

Moonraker (1979)

Moonraker is one of the most tired Bond movies I've seen. This one claims to have been shot on location in Venice, Rio, the Amazon, and outer space, but I think they might be stretching the truth a bit. I have my doubts that Roger Moore and Lois Chiles went to space. The thing is, Moonraker has a boring villain, and the entire thing seems sort of a retread of the previous Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me. Moonraker's 1979 villain is very similar to the 1977 villain, and they even bring back the most interesting goon from the previous movie, Jaws, who bites through industrial cables and kills people by biting their necks. Most of all, I think Roger Moore was just a bit too long in the tooth for this – a crazy statement, I know, since he would make keep playing the spy for another six years and three more Bond movies.

28 April 2020

The Westerner (1940)

I saw The Westerner as a part of a series of Gary Cooper films they were showing on the Criterion Channel. I sort of hated it. Its chief redeeming quality is supposed to be Walter Brennan's third Oscar-winning performance in five years (he won in '37, '39, and in '41) as Judge Roy Bean. But Brennan pretty much does his usual shtick here. Nothing is of much interest in this early William Wyler western. There are some cool sequences – the entire prairie catches on fire at one point, and the whole thing is shot gorgeously – but mostly I thought The Westerner was really boring.

Sócrates (2018)

Sócrates is a young man whose mother dies in the first minutes of the film. Rent is due, his mom's employer won't give him a job, and he has nothing to eat. On top of all that, he's only fifteen and has nowhere at all to go. The social worker designated to help Sócrates can only think of family as the solution to his problems. But for a queer kid like Sócrates, family is not a solution at all but a source of abuse and confusion. Alexandre Moratto's film is a sad kind of odyssey, where we follow Sócrates as he figures out what to do and becomes increasingly desperate. I really, really liked this movie.

27 April 2020

Ticket of No Return (1979)

This movie is, as my friend Allison put it, David Lynch meets Jacques Tati. And... that is surprisingly a rather fun combination. Ulrike Ottinger's movie is bananas but in a good way. Bildnis einer Trinkerin (Ticket of No Return) is about a woman who books a one-way ticket to Berlin and then once she gets there she drinks. She wears the most elegant outfits every day – gowns and heels and fabulous makeup – and she drinks, hangs out with a bag lady, breaks many, many glasses, goes to a Nina Hagen show, rides on a boat, and stumbles around Berlin drunk. She never twists her ankle or ruins a shoe, but she isn't exactly elegant. She also never speaks a word. It's a fashion show without a real plot, and it's sort of delightful.

25 April 2020

Hoa-Binh (1970)

Hoa-Binh is one of those films that was nominated for an Oscar like 50 years ago that I never thought I would ever get to see. I've never seen it on DVD or an any streaming service, and I had basically given up on it. Color me surprised, then, when this movie suddenly became available on the Cave of Forgotten Films. I watched it the day it did.

I have been wanting to see this forever, and it's wonderful. It's an unsentimental portrayal of the effects of war on a family in Vietnam during the war, and the central performance is amazing. I really liked this film.

24 April 2020

You'll Never Get Rich (1941)

This is a delightful film. I love the premise, and Rita Hayworth is completely dynamic in this. You'll Never Get Rich is, of course, a pro-war, pro-soldier bit of business, it being 1941, but this film is not hampered by jingoism or pro-war sentiments, even if the entire plot is designed as a kind of pro-military diversion. You'll Never Get Rich sees the army as sort of a funny place.

The film contains several excellent tap numbers, some with Fred Astaire alone and several with Rita Hayworth and Astaire together. There's even one in which Astaire never enters the shot with the crew of black musicians so that they can be cut out for especially racist markets. This is a really excellent movie, though, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Incidentally, I've no idea what the title means. It hasn't a thing to do with the plot.

23 April 2020

Late Marriage (2001)

First of all, I can't believe I am only now just seeing Mariage Tardif (חתונה מאוחרת), which was Lior Ashkenazi's breakout role! He is extraordinary in this, as is Ronit Elkabetz (may she rest in peace!). They're both great in everything, so I guess that's no surprise.

But also Late Marriage, as it was called in the US when it was released here in 2002, is very, very good. It's sexy and funny and complicated, and it's also quite explicit about its sexuality while never being pornographic. This is a very difficult film to watch, though, and I yelled at this film in a way that I don't usually yell at movies. The main character makes some awful, terrible decisions, and for me it was very hard to forgive him for these decisions and for being so horribly weak. I liked this character, of course – it's hard not to like Lior Ashkenazi – but the man he plays in this movie is a scumbag.

Hmmm... there is more to say. Late Marriage traffics in an amazing kind of awkwardness that I actually really loved. Dover Koshashvili's pacing and lingering here even feels uncinematic at times, and this approach is wonderfully unconventional. This really appealed to me.

Placido (1961)

Placido is a madcap farce, or at least this is a movie that pretends to be a madcap farce while actually working quite well as a critique of the Spanish bourgeoisie, who pretend to care for the poor but don't give a damn. This is totally enjoyable, but actually rather frustrating to watch for much of its running time.

And blessings on the Criterion Channel for making this available. Berlanga's movie was never released in the U.S. in theatres or on DVD.

21 April 2020

The League of Gentlemen (1960)

The League of Gentlemen is a great crime caper. It's filled with excellent characters and wonderful acting, and I loved every second of this. Basil Dearden is such a good director, and I continue to be impressed with his work. Of course because it is 1960, the gang can't get away with their heist, and that's always the main disappointment of these heist films, but dammit I do love a good heist film, and The League of Gentlemen is an excellent one.

I'm not adding The League of Gentlemen to be my Cinema Q list, although a case could certainly be made for it. There is a lot of homoeroticism among the criminals – especially Kieron Moore's character, who is some kind of a coach at a men's gymnasium and is massaging a young man played by Dinsdale Landen when we first meet him. Then there is Roger Livesey's character who we learn has been convicted of Gross Indecency.

My personal favorite queer moment in the movie is when the league meets for the second time all together to discuss their plan. They meet at a kind of community theatre hall and two very effeminate gay men complain that the men in the league (who are pretending to be reading a play) are intruding on their rehearsal space. It's a completely unnecessary little sequence, and I loved it. I probably shouldn't make too much of these small moments of queerness, but Basil Dearden's next movie would be the crime thriller Victim, which is a shockingly good film about a gay man trying to cover his tracks and a blackmail ring who is threatening to out him.

Both The League of Gentlemen and Victim are available via Criterion.

20 April 2020

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) was bananas. It's a film within a film about a gayboy in 1960s Japan who is plotting to overthrow the madam who runs the club where she works and sleeping with the man who owns it. The film is spliced with short interviews with real (are they?) gayboys on the streets of Tokyo and a sort of sex party with filmmakers. It's also densely referential: Jean Genet is everywhere in this movie – not just in the title – and Funeral Parade of Roses is also deeply invested in the Oedipus myth as well.

This is an amazing movie. I've been meaning to see it for years and then a friend in my unseen movie club put it on his list and our host figured out a way for us to watch it.

17 April 2020

God Grant Me the Serenity...

For reasons that defy all logic, I watched two movies by Daniel Mann about alcoholism in a row. Come Back, Little Sheba and I'll Cry Tomorrow were released in 1952 and 1955, respectively, and both were also released on December 25th of their respective years.

I was honestly stunned by how good the mid-century play-cum-film Come Back, Little Sheba is. William Inge wrote the original play, and I have always made fun of William Inge's particular brand of Americana (I have been particularly derisive about Bus Stop, if I'm honest, and I take none of it back.) But Come Back, Little Sheba is good; it is a stunning portrait of small-town terror caused by prejudices and mistakes and awful suburban malaise.

Furthermore, Shirley Booth is extraordinary in this film. Burt Lancaster is, of course, excellent as well, but Booth's performance, which won the Oscar in 1953, is a powerhouse of Method work. It's just fantastic.

I got lucky and came across this film the night before it rotated off of the Criterion Channel, and I was blown away. It would deserve to be watched if only for Booth's brilliant performance, but it's also just a really great script.

And then the next night I somehow came across I'll Cry Tomorrow and watched it. (Apparently Susan Hayward, once she was hired to play the main part, hired Daniel Mann to direct. I'll Cry Tomorrow is good.

This story was filmed on location... – this film promises – inside a woman's soul! Dear lord.

This is a preachy film, of course (it is about alcoholism in 1955, of course), but it is well made. And Susan Hayward is at her absolute best. Otherwise I'll Cry Tomorrow is a typical sort of thing. Susan Hayward can sing, though! It's crazy because she was dubbed for so many movies, and yet her voice is really lovely. Jo Van Vleet is really good in this too. I am very surprised she wasn't nominated for supporting actress for this movie. (She won a year later for East of Eden, so I guess it's water under the bridge, but still!)

16 April 2020

What Happened to Santiago (1989)

Lo Que le Pasó a Santiago is the only film from Puerto Rico ever to be nominated for Best Foreign Film (now called Best International Film – Puerto Rico is no longer consider eligible since it isn't an independent nation). It's a strange movie. One the one hand it's a simple story about a retiree who is changing his life and reevaluating his priorities and falling in love again. On the other hand it's a bit of a ghost story. Isn't it? Actually I'm not totally sure. The real world and the world of the past or the spirit world seem to touch in this film. Either way Lo Que le Pasó a Santiago is charming and rewards patience.

As with much of my viewing lately, I was (finally) able to see this movie via the Cave of Forgotten Films website.

14 April 2020

To Each His Own (1946)

No thanks. 

Olivia DeHavilland moons her way through the typical Oscar bait narrative in which a woman sacrifices her son (it's always a son, isn't it?) for the good of another woman and for the good of the child himself. This is so tiresome.

I must say I was a bit surprised that DeHavilland's goody-two-shoes reputation allowed her to play a woman who had a child without being married, but of course she doesn't even kiss the man onscreen so I guess she got away with it that way. What an eye-roll this whole business is. I can't believe I sat through it.

Funnily enough, I had actually been looking forward to this movie a lot. It's one of the few Best Actress winners I hadn't seen (La Ciociara and Anastasia are now the only two), and so when the film became available on the Cave of Forgotten Films website I jumped at the chance to see it. Alas, this film ought perhaps to have stayed forgotten.

13 April 2020

Sesión Continua (1984)

I gotta say I really love José Luis Garci's movies - this is the second one I've seen and they have such a beautiful quiet way about them. I have personal reasons for being moved by Sesión Continua in particular, but that's because the film is a kind of meditation on living through work or avoiding living through working. And then... the plot of the film the director and screenwriter are making is about falling in love with someone much younger and being inspired by the youth of one's beloved. (This was a film, incidentally, that Natey, a guy I was dating last summer, had planned to watch with me when he got home from Spain in the fall – before we stopped seeing one another.)

This is all subtle and comic while at the same time managing to be poignant. It's a kind of particularity of Garci's movies that they can be broadly funny, even farcical, while also being sad or bittersweet – sometimes even in the same scene – as when a scene begins with the writer and director discussing plot points at an outdoor café and it sounds to a terrified innocent patron like they're plotting a kidnapping, but as the scene ends we hear the director muse about how his daughter is having an affair with an older man and how that makes him reflect on his own age.

The real star here is José Bódalo who gives an absolutely brilliant performance as the head of the film studio. He is ill the whole movie – probably prostate cancer – but his own illness is a kind of red herring for what Garci's film really has in store. But, man, Sesión Continua is so good. This is an excellent follow up to Volver a Empezar.

This film wasn't released in theatres in the US and has never appeared on DVD. I watched Sesión Continua via the Cave of Forgotten Films website here.

12 April 2020

Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory is gorgeously shot. The photography is actually stunning. And its portrait of WWI and trench warfare is truly excellent. Kubrick does a masterful job of portraying the fight sequences and I found every bit of the film's first act stunning.

But Paths of Glory is a wartime drama. It's not a war film. The poster is more than a little bit of a lie. We spend most of our time with Adolphe Menjou discussing things calmly in a finely appointed French mansion in a very different kind of movie than a war movie. There's a court martial and a set of political machinations, and the whole thing sort of fails to deliver what it promised.

It isn't that the ethical and political questions that the film asks aren't interesting. They are. And Kirk Douglas is – as he always is – really excellent in Paths of Glory. Indeed, I love how this second act of the film is shot and directed too. It's just that these really feel like two distinct pictures, and they didn't hang well together for me.

11 April 2020

Boże Ciało (2019)

Jan Komasa's Corpus Christi was fairly conventional. I kept predicting the moves it made throughout. Its ending is surprising and it has a prison rape in it in the first, like, 30 seconds of the movie (I mean, why not at this point?), but I liked Corpus Christi well enough, and the acting is great. The lead performance, by Bartosz Bielenia, is absolutely great, and I was also taken with Aleksandra Konieczna as a bitter old lady in this small Polish town.

10 April 2020

Bright Victory (1951)

Bright Victory is a sentimental tale about which I don't have much to say. There is one really great moment halfway through the film in which the main character (whom we're supposed to like) says some racist language in front of his black friend. See, he hates black people, but he's blind and so he doesn't realize that his best friend is black. This is all quite contrived, of course, but this scene is really shocking, and I was upset by it despite my skepticism about this movie in general and its disability metaphors.

Listen, Bright Victory is no The Best Years of Our Lives. And the idea of being literally color-blind strikes me as schmaltzy, even for 1951.

Two queer connections that are worth making: the film's title is clearly a reference to Dark Victory, the Bette Davis starrer from 1939, which also starred Ronald Reagan (feh). In Dark Victory, Bette Davis's character goes blind at the end of the film. This was a "woman's" film, of course, and the twist of Bright Victory is that our hero, Arthur Kennedy, deals with blindness in a "masculine" way by working through his disability and becoming a useful member of the U.S. American labor force. His victory is therefore bright rather than dark. Whatever. The other queer item of note in this movie is that Rock Hudson has a small part at the beginning of Bright Victory, and he's great. He wasn't a star yet in 1951?

09 April 2020

The Great Victor Herbert (1939)

I didn't like The Great Victor Herbert at all. It's a jukebox musical using the music of Victor Herbert with the character of Victor Herbert functioning as a kind of ringmaster or yenta for the two main characters, played by Allan Jones and Mary Martin (both in gorgeous voice). But The Great Victor Herbert is really a riff on the Star Is Born plot, and these plot machinations, where the husband is an egomaniacal jerk and the wife is longsuffering, sacrificial, and faithful are so boring. In fact, I was really bored by this whole business. The music great, obviously, but this plot is tired.

07 April 2020

Night Moves (1975)

Night Moves is trying to do the kind of neo-noir thing that Chinatown did so very well and that was imitated (also in 1975) by Farewell, My Lovely. The latter is probably slightly better than Night Moves (mostly because of a superb performance by Sylvia Miles), but Night Moves tries hard and it has a good script. Jennifer Warren, who hasn't really made many movies since this one (and is kind of a poor man's Jane Fonda) is really quite good in Night Moves, and so is Gene Hackman, of course. Still, this movie never really gets going in any real way. It feels sort of stalled the whole time, as though it's waiting for something exciting to happen but nothing materializes.

05 April 2020

O Pagador de Promessas (1962)

Anselmo Duarte's fable O Pagador de Promessas – which was released in the U.S. (in 1964) as The Given Word – is a semi-comic morality tale about a simple man who tries to keep a promise to a god but who is attacked on all sides by newsmedia, police violence, prostitution, religious intolerance, and capitalist greed.

This film is a moral kind of story with a heart of gold that critiques "modern" life by favoring the "simple" values of honesty, devotion, loyalty, and truth. My scare quotes should indicate that I'm not sure this film believes in modern life as such or in the simple values it would seem to be extolling.

Duarte's film, see, can't help aligning itself with modernity because the film itself is invested in "simple values" as an exercise in nostalgia. What I mean by this is that O Pagador de Promessas is a vehicle through which its director can mourn a set of values or a way of life that Duarte himself believes already to be past – or at least passé. The director is a part of modern life and conservatively or nostalgically orients himself toward these simple values, but the entire premise of the film is from the point of view of modernity.

01 April 2020

Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is all around pretty wonderful. It's sexy and funny and the script is exquisite. It didn't hit me emotionally in all of the ways I wanted it to, but I admired this film a great deal, and Adèle Haenel is absolutely brilliant in it.

This was the last film I saw before the movie theatres shut down for the coronavirus. There were just three people in the theatre, including me. Glad I got to see it when I had the chance.