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

28 November 2022

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile


Honestly I laughed so much at Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. I laughed so much I was basically bullying this film. It starts off sort of charming, I guess, but it moves into hilariously absurd territory. It's so stupid it starts to be sort of marvelous, actually. Constance Wu's plays a basically unhinged sort of character who never strikes a single believable note. Javier Bardem does much much better, but he's not asked to be earnest in the same way that Wu is. The whole thing is insane. I watched it because I imagine that one of the Pasek & Paul songs in this (sorta) musical would be nominated for an Oscar. But after having seen it, I'm honestly sort of skeptical. Maybe the song that played over the credits...

20 November 2022

10 (1979)

This isn't important at all, but I saw Blake Edwards' 10 a couple days ago, and I just don't understand. I think the reason I don't get it is that about a year and a half ago, I saw and disliked Edwards' 1986 film That's Life! and I was surprised to find that this is basically a very similar plot. 10 is about a very, very rich Hollywood songwriter, played by a hilarious Dudley Moore, who is going through male menopause – which is exactly what is happening to Jack Lemmon's character in That's Life! Indeed, both men in both films are both in romantic relationships with (Edwards' wife) Julie Andrews. Andrews is great in the 1986 film; she's totally miscast in the '79 film. 

Anyway, 10 is much funnier than its later, 1986 iteration (I think this is because Lemmon takes his role way too seriously, while Moore plays everything for laughs), but it's largely the same movie. 

The highlight for me was that Dudley Moore's best friend in this is a gay man who is about the same age as him. They talk frankly about him being gay, and it's rather delightful. He's only a gay best friend character, but he has some great moments, and I believe Dudley Moore even drops the word "faggotry"!

12 November 2022

The L-Shaped Room (1962)


I was very pleasantly surprised by The L-Shaped Room, which is an early-60s kitchen sink drama set in a cheap boarding house. It has an intriguing, beautiful cast of characters that are played beautifully (including – and this was very surprising – an older lesbian actress who is wonderful). Leslie Caron is excellent, but really the whole thing is very good!

08 November 2022

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)


What a delightful swashbuckling adventure! Ronald Colman is good in this, and it's a well plotted, beautifully designed, pleasurable romp no matter how you swing your sword – especially for 1937 – but the real takeaway here was Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He's incredible! Insouciant, wild, unpredictable: he's a movie star through and through. He makes this part into a character any star would want to play. It's really masterful. I have never paid too much attention to the younger Fairbanks (the Academy never did either), but I will now. Mary Astor is also fabulous in this.

26 October 2022

In Harm's Way (1965)


In Harm's Way
 (1965) is an epic WWII melodrama with an incredible cast (John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, Brandon De Wilde, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Carroll O'Connor, Franchot Tone, and more), and the melodramatic aspects of this actually make it quite enjoyable. It's clearly based on a kind of sexy, potboiler novel, and Otto Preminger has done a somewhat good job of keeping it sexy... although the romantic side plots often seem extraneous to the military drama that feels more in keeping with a John Wayne film. In truth, John Wayne, while still very very handsome, doesn't fit well in this kind of romantic drama. His performance feels forced, as if his persona just can't let him be part of a "woman's novel" like In Harm's Way (it was, in fact, written by James Bassett, but it has a lot of feelings).

25 October 2022

Twilight of Honor (1963)

Twilight of Honor is a 1963 murder-trial movie that is very obviously derivative of Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder from 1959. This one stars Richard Chamberlain (who is almost painfully handsome) and a wonderfully old and bright Claude Rains in one of his final film roles.

This movie is billed as one for adult audiences, and indeed it discusses some rather scandalous material, but that's not enough, really, to make Twilight of Honor interesting. It makes too many odd blunders. In the first place, the title refers to the murder victim, who was an honorable man but dies "without honor", or so the film would have us believe. In the second place, this movie is not at all interested in the murderer at the narrative's center. It's so strange: Nick Adams plays this character, and he garnered an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal, but the movie just doesn't pay much attention to him. He is definitely the film's most interesting character, but the filmmakers don't seem to think so. Instead, he is a figure we are supposed to pity and mostly forget as we turn our attention to Richard Chamberlain and his erstwhile romance with Claude Rains's daughter at the film's end.

07 September 2022

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

I really objected to The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), and one reason is that it's unnecessarily long, but I also think it's because I didn't like so many of the film's characters. Ian Bannen, who somehow was nominated for supporting actor for this, has no big scenes and is not a central character in the movie. I have no idea why he was singled out by the Academy. The other actors and characters are super interesting, honestly, but the film isn't really interested in them. It only has eyes for its lead, and that's a problem.

The central figure in The Flight of the Phoenix is an old man from the old school played by James Stewart. Stewart is a dinosaur. He believes that the way he's always done things is the only way to do things. He tries to bully everyone around him into doing things his way, and when that doesn't work, he tries to reason with them. At almost every turn in the film, however, Stewart's character is flat-out wrong. I think the odd part of The Flight of the Phoenix is that the movie's perspective on this man isn't critical. He is the film's protagonist, and the film isn't really interested in a critique of this awful character so much as it is in heroizing him. In other words, I think this film thinks that he's somehow a good guy despite how awful and wrong he is. The film's central conflict – between an engineer who has figured out how to build a plane to help them escape and the captain, who just doesn't like that he's German and bossy and that he came up with the idea first – is the best example of this, of course, but there's another one that will give a good idea of how I feel about this captain.

A bossy military officer played by Peter Finch keeps coming up with harebrained ideas for ways to get out of the desert. His first idea is that he wants to walk 100 miles. He asks who wants to come with him, but he volunteers his sergeant to come with him, even though his sergeant doesn't think walking 100 miles in the desert is a good idea. So the sergeant "twists his ankle" and has to be left behind. The captain judges the hell out of this guy for reasons I found unfathomable. Then in act three of the film, the officer (who has come back after nearly dying) decides to try to talk to some travelers who are nearby but who everyone thinks will probably kill him. He again orders his sergeant to come, even though this is certain death. His sergeant refuses. After they find the officer dead, the sergeant asks, "He's dead, isn't he?", and James Stewart's character punches the sergeant in the face. The film lets the violence end the scene without any criticality, as if somehow this sergeant who totally did the right thing was somehow in the wrong or at fault. I was yelling at my screen by this time. Who the fuck do you think you are, asshole? But I guess the real question is: who the fuck does The Flight of the Phoenix think this guy is? He's not a hero to me, despite the movie's approach.

05 September 2022

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

Two-Minute Warning kinda sucks. First and foremost this is a disaster film, in the vein of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and less well-known gems such as Earthquake and The Hindenburg. In other words, this film has a million characters, and its first act introduces them all while we ready ourselves for the impending disaster, which must arrive with finality and force in act three. 

This movie is about a psychopathic shooter who decides to murder a bunch of people at a football game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. One of the virtues with disaster films is that they are good at character. But in this movie only a few of the characters are interesting, unfortunately, and so I was more interested in the psycho shooter than almost anyone else.

Perhaps the strangest part of Two-Minute Warning is Charlton Heston's performance. Heston, who only 8 years earlier had been a sex symbol, is, in this film, an out-of-shape policeman who is actively bad at his job. In fact, Heston plays a character whose ego gets at least a dozen people killed. What's even weirder is that the film doesn't really his bad decisions as responsible. (It is, of course, the shooter's fault that people died and not the policeman's fault, but his ego sure makes the whole thing run more smoothly for the psychopath.)

Anyway, this just isn't interesting. John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands are both good. I liked David Janssen too (I usually do), and Beau Bridges. But – here's an example of how this filmmaker just sort of lost the plot – Joe Kapp is completely wasted in this. He's in the first act, in which he is introduced as one of the characters in the disaster movie. He's the quarterback of one of the football teams. But once he's on the field, the film literally never, not once goes back to him. So he's introduced for no reason at all, and this also means that Two-Minute Warning has zero characters who are actually playing the game. It's kind of a huge mess.

29 August 2022

Year of the Dragon (1985)


This was intensely racist. It was also bloated and way too long. And its main character was a hateful, misogynist prick. John Lone is sort of wonderful in Year of the Dragon, though. Definitely a star. I think the thing that I just can't understand about this film is the way Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong, and China are all conflated by this movie. There's a great, redeemable Chinese character who gets to tell Mickey Rourke's character off – cool. But then he of course comes around to seeing things from Rourke's point of view. No thanks. This was rough going.

22 August 2022

Aferim!

Wow wow wow wow. Radu Jude is just so good. First off, this film was made in the crispest, most breathtakingly beautiful black and white. And it's funny... for a long time! It moves through its first act with a sort of silliness and easy farce that is quite delightful. And then the racism of 19th century Romania emerges, slowly, along with, of course, the abject poverty of the people who are at the center of Aferim!, people who live in stark contrast to the wealthy Turkish merchants and boyars, who treat the poor like dirt. But then the film just takes a turn: the main character sells a young Romani boy despite his desperate pleas. And then things get worse. The film maintains its buoyant tone, but Aferim! moves almost inexorably toward something truly atrocious, and when it gets to where it is headed, it's stunning, insane, and merciless.

I was familiar with Jude's Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, and incisive, whip smart analysis of contemporary Romanian prejudices, corruption, racism, and misogyny. And Aferim! is obviously of a piece with work like that – its critique analyzes contemporary misogyny by finding its underlying bases. But Aferim! really took my breath away. It's just does not shy away from the consequences of slavery and racial capitalism. This is a hard movie. And it's excellent.

19 August 2022

Heaven's Gate (1980)


Heaven's Gate
, Michael Cimino's infamous follow-up to The Deer Hunter, got a bad rap, y'all. This movie is difficult, for sure, and the long first act in New England doesn't really make much sense until the second and third acts, but this film has some really great stuff in it. I especially loved the performances of Kris Kristofferson and Jeff Bridges (he's superb in this). And, of course, Isabelle Huppert is wonderful. I really enjoyed this movie, and I found myself deeply moved during the sequence when they read the names of all of the immigrant men on the kill list. This is a pretty extraordinary portrait of racism and capitalism and the way they worked together in this particular period in U.S. American history, and it's a masterfully made movie. I watched this on DVD - from the Criterion release - in its Cimino-approved three-and-a-half-hour version.

15 August 2022

Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

Captain Newman, M.D. is about a military psychiatric hospital during WWII. It's a 1960s movie, unlike most of the WWII content I've been consuming that was made during the war, so this one has a lot of space to be sentimental. And Captain Newman, M.D. is mostly that. It's also mostly a comedy...? The film, in fact, opens with a herd of sheep running all around the base. The sheep have no purpose at all within the plot except that they create farcical situations when they escape and they make everyone run around catching them. In a totally absurd sequence late in the movie, sheep are in ambulances, sheep are in taxis, sheep are in pickup trucks. It looks like something from Wallace and Grommit. 

Anyway, the comedy doesn't work in this movie, or rather, I guess it could work if so much of the movie wasn't invested in talking about the psychological effects of the war, but it's the psychological drama stuff that is actually good. The film stars Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, and Tony Curtis, but the great roles are given to the patients: Eddie Albert as a psychotic general, Bobby Darin as a depressed and angry plane-crash survivor, and Robert Duvall as a near-catatonic ghost of a man. Bobby Darin, especially, is amazing. His scenes, which are about uncovering what he experienced in a plane crash with an officer he admired, give us no flashbacks at all. Instead, Darin narrates it for us. It's heartbreaking, and he's wonderful. I was skeptical of this movie's comedic tone, and this whole sequence still brought me to tears. All of the Bobby Darin stuff is excellent. The movie might be worth watching just for him.

You can watch Captain Newman, M.D. on YouTube.

06 August 2022

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train


Ceux Qui M'aiment Prendront le Train
is a complex melodrama from Patrice Chéreau that's filled with queer characters. This is one of those gay films from the 1990s that I always intended to watch but for some reason never got around to. It's most notable, I think, for heartthrob Vincent Perez's role as a trans woman, and this role does turn out to be surprising and wonderful. But Those Who Love Me is more interesting for the other characters, I think. They're complex and beautiful and fascinating, especially the ones played by Pascal Greggory and Bruno Todeschini. In any case, this is a very confident ensemble picture from Patrice Chéreau (it also stars Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Charles Berling, Roschdy Zem, and Dominique Blanc), and I liked it very much.

I watched this on DVD, but I think it's streaming on VUDU at least.

04 August 2022

Swanee River: the Story of Stephen C. Foster (1939)

Oh my god. This is a biopic of the composer Stephen Foster, who wrote "Oh, Susanna!", "Swanee River", "Camptown Races" and a bunch of other songs. It stars Don Ameche, who is great! Andrea Leeds is not given anything to do except love Stephen Foster. Swanee River also stars... Al Jolson as EP Christy (of Christy's Minstrels fame). This makes the film truly unhinged as a historical object. There is an insane amount of blackface in this movie, and Swanee River seems to think it is laudable that Foster took music from the enslaved Black folks he knew and made good money off of it. This is sort of a crazy movie. And its ending is completely bananas.

Swanee River covers over the likely fact that Stephen Foster killed himself. It also invents a very strange alcoholism plot that feels completely fake onscreen, even if the man actually was a hard drinker. E.P. Christy, as it turns out, also committed suicide two years before Foster did. But Swanee River would have us believe that Christy (in blackface, of course) rushed from the theatre to Foster's bedside and then back to the performance, where he performed Foster's latest tune, "Old Folks at Home", to a crowd who sang along (they apparently memorize the lyrics spontaneously). Then the film – while Jolson and the crown are still singing – cuts to images from the American South, including a man picking cotton, a plantation mansion, and an old Black woman sitting outside a cottage. This is how the movie ends. It's unhinged.

Anyway you can watch this technicolor non-masterpiece on YouTube if you so desire.

The Salt Mines (1990)


Whoa. The Salt Mines is a powerful documentary (and only 45 minutes) about transvestite crack users in New York City in the late 1980s. This is a really important film, especially for the way the subjects describe the Mariel boat lift, life on the streets in New York City, their understandings of their sexualities (and genders), crack use, religion, and their own disposability because of capitalism. Their living conditions are horrific – the salt mines are a storage facility for salt used on the roads when it snows – but these women are fascinating.