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

19 October 2021

Bond 25

I recognize that for many, the long-term storylines of the five Daniel Craig Bond films have been one of the series' assets, but this long-term structure doesn't really work for me. I know these actors have been in Bond films before, but I'm looking at Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz and Jeffrey Wright (and Eva Green's picture), and if I'm honest, I can't remember who any of them is. James, Moneypenny, Q: these people are people I know. The rest of these characters? No clue. Of course, they're archetypes too, just as much as Moneypenny and Q are. The woman Bond loves, the friend he trusts, the woman he gave up, the supervillain. I think the weird thing for me is that Cary Joji Fukunaga's film just behaves as though I have feelings about all of these characters, and I don't have a single feeling about any one of them.

No Time to Die is a long business. And there are way too many feelings in it for my taste (I had the same problem with Casino Royale if I recall correctly). I like my Bond movies high tech and shallow with a cool villain who wants to destroy the world in an intriguing way. (The destruction of the world in this film is plotted in an intriguing way, to be fair.) But mostly this film just sort of plods along. There is a very exciting sequence with Ana de Armas in Santiago de Cuba. I enjoyed that a lot. And the first sequence in the Mediterranean was also very fun. Pio Amato (from A Ciambra and Mediterranea – both brilliant films) even makes an extended appearance! It's still a Bond film, and some of it is very cool.

But this film's villain is Rami Malek, and he is boring. He's a sad, lonely man who just wants to be loved. He's not really nefarious and evil, just sort of pathetic. It isn't even fun to hope Bond beats him; he's already such a loser.

08 October 2021

Faces (1968)

is tough. It feels cool and fresh – certainly it is unlike most of the other movies from the 1968 season. The acting is excellent; the script is great. But... I can't say I enjoyed myself very much. Cassavetes' work here is hard to love. The camera follows these characters around closely; it gets into their faces. And everyone is miserable. I think I just wish there were a little more time to breathe. This felt frenetic and sad.

07 October 2021

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

I love that this movie opens with a frame in which Elsa Lanchester, who will eventually appear as the eponymous bride, plays Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It's delightful. Also, this movie is better than the original. It has some lovely moments – especially the long sequence with the blind man in the hut who teaches the monster to speak. The end, too, is quite moving. As for the "bride" herself, the poster pretends as if she is going to be somehow scary. She is not.

04 October 2021

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

It's weird. I loved this novel so much, but it seems like director Robert Ellis Miller and screenwriter Thomas C. Ryan thought the novel was about something much different than I thought it was. In the first place – and most strangely – they cast Sondra Locke in the role of Mick, which really transforms the part from someone who doesn't fit in and can't make sense of her world into something else... a girl who's gonna be alright. The whole thing felt sort of weird. This is a novel about longing and dissatisfaction and frustration. But the screenplay eliminates two of the central characters early on, and spends its time focused on (what the movie figures as) a poor, white straight girl. Sigh. It's a giant missed opportunity, and I suppose it might one day be made into a good movie or tv series. 

Alan Arkin, to be fair, is great. Even more, Laurinda Barrett is excellent, and so is Cicely Tyson, but of course the film's focus is on Sondra Locke, who is terribly miscast. It throws off the whole picture.

The Great Caruso (1951)

Watching The Great Caruso is a sad business now, knowing that its wonderful star, Mario Lanza, died – just like Enrico Caruso – long ahead of his time. This movie was the highest grossing film of 1951, but it's hard to see why: it's a standard, even sub-standard, biopic, with no really deep emotional moments and not much of a narrative at all. Caruso doesn't struggle with alcoholism... or anything, really. So what we get instead are great performances of famous arias by the wonderful USAmerican tenor Mario Lanza. The storytelling is a little wonky. We don't really know what causes Caruso's death in the movie, and the film doesn't lead up to it at all or explain anything that's happening as Caruso becomes ill. All of a sudden, he's just sick. 

But I'm not complaining, really. This is a Hollywood jukebox musical designed around great tenor arias, and they are performed beautifully. There's no reason to gripe, but I can't say it's that interesting, really.

03 October 2021

Planet of the Apes (1968)

I'm not sure what I was expecting of the original Planet of the Apes, but I sure as hell wasn't expecting this philosophical meditation on humane behavior. This is a kind of Marivaux experiment in which the author reverses the world. On this planet, the apes are in charge, and humans are treated as animals. This allows for all sorts of philosophical meditations on what it means to be humane, how we treat non-humans, and – most importantly – how we let religious conviction stand in the way of scientific truth and real research.

But Franklin Schaffner's film is not very much fun. It's very, very talky, and there just isn't as much action as I had hoped for. Jerry Goldsmith's score is incredible, though. It feels very ahead of its time.

01 October 2021

The Enemy Below (1957)

I don't really understand the politics of The Enemy Below. It's a film about a U.S. Navy captain battling it out with a Nazi submarine captain. Their battle is one of strategy and cleverness, and the two men fight until they are both destroyed, although technically the U.S. Americans win. 

And then the two men, like, toast one another and share a cigarette. This doesn't seem related to a kind of shared humanity, though. It seems, instead, as though they share something else – white masculinity, perhaps? I'm opposed to war, and it appears as though the two men at the center of The Enemy Below are also opposed to war. Instead, they both really understand what they're doing as a kind of job. It's their job to kill one another, to try to destroy each other. The film doesn't wave the American flag – it actually doesn't appear in the movie, and neither does the German flag – so this isn't a movie about American exceptionalism or military power. It's rather a jaded view of things.

But, then... the score is rousing and filled with brass and actually feels quite old fashioned. This feels like a late 1950s military movie trapped inside a mid-1940s military movie. Thankfully, Robert Mitchum and Curd Jürgens are both very cool. Mitchum is given none of the film's dumb lines about hope and the future. Those are all given to Russell Collins, who plays the ship's doctor. He dutifully says them, but they ring hollow as Mitchum gives him a withering stare and says only maybe. 

In any case, this is a weird movie. It's shot in beautiful Cinescope, but in many ways it needn't be. We're stuck on these two ships and the camera never really pans out for wide shots except for when Mitchum's ship is bombing the hell out of Jürgens. These are The Enemy Below's best moments, and the special effects needed to make them happen are worth the watch, even if its politics are weird.

30 September 2021

Two from 1968

The Shoes of the Fisherman is a beautifully shot and beautifully scored terrible movie. This film has an excellent cast and it's based on what was, in the mid-1960s, a famous novel, but Michael Anderson's film adaptation is a plodding, self-important, strange mess. It doesn't know where to focus – continually and bafflingly pulling us back to a plot between a newsman and his doctor wife and their marital problems – and even when it's focused on the important plot, the decisions of the new pontiff, it takes too long to do everything and is far too precious with the narrative's events.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a Sherman Brothers movie-musical, also from 1968, that is insane and widely beloved. The title refers to the name of a car that a crackpot inventor (played by Dick Van Dyke) has rigged up, and the two children who star in the film think the sounds car makes sound light "chitty chitty bang bang", so they make up a song with these words as a title and refrain. It's an asinine song that I have been singing for days since I saw the movie.

The plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is also completely bizarre, and the songs really don't go together at all. There's one about a candy whistle our crackpot has invented, and there's a diegetic song set in a circus performer's show in which our inventor is forced into performing but in which he performs astoundingly well. And then there is the flying car, which takes our characters off to a land in which all the children are imprisoned. This is entertaining stuff, and if the film makes no sense at all, it's very fun, and Dick Van Dyke is wonderful. Sally Ann Howes is no fair substitute for Julie Andrews, but her voice is gorgeous, and she performs admirably.

I watched both The Shoes of the Fisherman and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on DVD. It's just a fluke that they were both from 1968.

22 September 2021

Remo Williams: the Adventure Goes Nowhere

Remo Williams: the Adventure Begins was, apparently, supposed to have a sequel or two – The Adventure Continues, perhaps. Well, there's a clear reason why this adventure did not continue. Remo Williams is dumb. Now, dumb is of course, fine, but this film spends the majority of its time on the elite assassin Remo Williams training for doing the things he's going to do instead of doing them. I swear to you that this training takes up some 75 minutes of the 120-minute film, maybe even more. It's so boring. This is the kind of thing most filmmakers would make into a montage sequence. There's just no reason to watch this adult man train to be a fighter for this long – especially since the martial art he's allegedly learning is totally fictional.

There is another very large problem. The person training Remo is a wise old Korean sensei named Chiun who is played by Joel Grey. It's 1985. Joel Grey as Asian martial artist? Really? Worse yet, this film was nominated for an Academy Award in one category: Makeup. The yellowface makeup in this movie was deemed so extraordinary that it deserved an Oscar nomination.

Remo Williams: the Adventure Begins was directed by Guy Hamilton, who directed a few excellent James Bond films in the '60s and '70s (Goldfinger and Live and Let Die), and one can see how this film is of a piece with that stuff, but this one falls flat. I usually like 1980s sci-fi stuff, although this turned out to be more of an adventure film than science fiction, but Remo Williams was junk.

20 September 2021

The Pirate (1948)

I was not into The Pirate. I like the movie's South American–Caribbean setting, of course, and I love pirate movies, but this is no pirate movie. The main character here is a young girl named Manuela (a name everyone in the film annoyingly pronounces as man-you-ELL-a) who has created a set of romantic fantasies about a pirate. This is Judy Garland, who apparently missed much of the filming because of illness. The stuff Garland appears in is pretty great, but the real star – although not top-billed – is Gene Kelly. The trouble is that Kelly's numbers are just... not that good. Cole Porter's score is dumb, and most of the songs are not good.

I did turn a corner with the film near the halfway mark when Vincente Minelli moved into his full fantasy sequence mode. Kelly does a great pirate dance in a fantasy number wearing tiny black shorts and an open shirt. He looks incredible, and the sequence is very fun. Because it's one of those Minelli's fantasy numbers for which he will become so well known, the whole thing just works so much better than the dumb plot that the musical is so tied to. It's almost as if musicals really aren't integrated.

The movie's final number and reprise, "Be a Clown", are also great. In the first version Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers do some great spins and leaps and turns. The Nicholas Brothers are not really restrained, and Kelly really keeps up with them! It's a fun, acrobatic number. The second version is Kelly and Garland as hobo clowns doing a series of bits and yukking it up as the finale. It's a delightful number and the dancing and comedy are great.

On the whole, though, this is rather a flawed mess, and one wishes "Be a Clown" fit nicely in some other show.

The Garden (1990)

The Garden
is a psychedelic dream-trip of a film that uses the mythology of the life of Jesus Christ to talk about homophobia and to mourn for the loss of life caused by the HIV/AIDS crisis and the criminally lethargic response from the US and UK governments to the health crisis. I'm not into Christian imagery, so much of this felt heavy handed to me, but this has some very good moments, and every time the central couple appeared onscreen, I felt great. To be honest, though, they're not in it very much...

One image that will really stick with me from The Garden, though, is a small boy on a table spinning a globe, appearing to teach a group of very old male students, none of whom is listening. The old men–students are all banging these wooden rods on the table in unison, making stupid noises. It's a great image of role-reversal: old male hysteria masquerading as reasonable adult behavior. This is, of course, exactly what does happen in the world, although our newsmedia and governments pretend that their hysteria is normal and that other people are the crazies.

I watched The Garden as part of a series of queer films on the Criterion Channel.

18 September 2021

Libeled Lady (1936)

Since Thursday night's movie was from 1936, I figured I'd continue the trend and watch Jack Conway's Libeled Lady with Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy. It's delightful: a perfect romantic comedy that is very funny and also very sweet. The script is pretty typical stuff story-wise, but the dialogue sparkles and the delivery is aces. William Powell and Jean Harlow, especially, are absolutely hilarious. Powell had me cracking up from the moment he appeared in the film.

I watched Libeled Lady on the Criterion Channel, where it's part of a series of 14 films starring Jean Harlow (including Suzy).

Of the 574 (or 571, depending on how you count) films nominated for Best Picture since the first Oscar ceremony, I have seen all but five. Libeled Lady was one of these five. It's one of the only two movies that was nominated for Best Picture but no other awards (the other is Grand Hotel). Oddly enough, the two other films that I am able to see are also from 1936 – Romeo and Juliet and Three Smart Girls. I seem to be on a 1936 kick, so perhaps I'll finally get these watched. (The final two are 1928's The Patriot and 1934's The White Parade; they're either lost or damaged.)

17 September 2021

Lloyd's of London (1936)

With the apostrophe in the title or without, Lloyd's of London is a film about the daring, dangerous, exciting world of nineteenth-century insurance.

This is an epic, sprawling movie by Henry King, and although its plot goes in a million places, King really does nothing to communicate to the audience just how exciting this is supposed to be, so much of the film's excitement falls flat. There are some excellent spy scenes, a two-day boat ride from France to England during the Napoleonic Wars, some delightful adulterous comings and goings, and the film even begins with a fun bit in which two kids spy on a bunch of fraudulent would-be pirates.

But I'm not kidding when I say this film is about insurance, and Lloyd's of London is more interested in communicating to its audiences the virtues of the insurance trade in England – apparently keeping the British navy afloat (I'm skeptical) while making sure that trading vessels were able to come to England to provide food for people who would have starved otherwise (oh?). All of this, apparently, was made possible not by the ships themselves but by wealthy insurers at Lloyd's, risking all they have for the good of England... and only occasionally becoming obscenely wealthy. Lloyd's invents a childhood friendship between Lord Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier's character in That Hamilton Woman) and this insurance man at Lloyd's of London, a deep bond that is pure fantasy but that the film uses to illustrate how deeply intertwined the British navy is with British financiers and British merchants (although the film would like us to believe that none of these people was a colonialist).

Lloyd's of London is notable also for starring a 22-year-old Tyrone Power in his first starring role. (He is the star, even if, as you can see from the poster, he is billed fourth). This movie proved to Twentieth Century Fox that Power could carry a picture, and that he was good enough to be the amazing star he would turn out to be. The top-billed talent here is Freddie Bartholomew, who plays Power's character as a child. The movie opens with him, and he is as charming and delightful as he is in all of his movies.

I watched this sprawling epic on YouTube, where you can clearly see that the film's title is Lloyd's of London and not Lloyds of London.

14 September 2021

Once upon a Time in Yugoslavia

This documentary – which is about Marshal Josip Broz Tito, his love of film, and film production in Yugoslavia – didn't really work for me. It felt disjointed, and I wasn't really sure what the film was about most of the time. I wanted it to be about the Yugoslav film industry and the state-sponsored production of propaganda films and other films. There is rather a long sequence where the film discusses the production of Battle of Neretva, and I perked up during this section. I love that film, and I had wondered for years how something so epic and grand was financed. But then Cinema Komunisto (god, I hate that title) becomes a film about the fall of Yugoslavia itself and the loss of the dream of the unified nation that is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. It's almost as if there is too much to mourn, and so Mila Turajlić chooses to mourn all of it. She isn't wrong, of course, but it makes for an unfocused movie.

13 September 2021

The Sting II (1983)

There is nothing really wrong with The Sting II except that it isn't The Sting. The central con is amusing, there is some fun stuff in it, the costumes are great, and Teri Garr is (as always) a delight.

But The Sting II isn't The Sting, and it suffers by comparison. (Why they even bothered with the idea of pretending this was a sequel instead of just crafting it as a standalone caper, I don't really get.) Jackie Gleason is older. He's hilarious, and I love him, but he's no Paul Newman. And Mac Davis... well, Mac Davis is a country star. He's handsome, to be sure, but these guys just don't have the suavity and charm of the Redford and Newman team. This isn't bad, and it definitely doesn't deserve its abysmal reputation. It just lacks a kind of coolness that the original Sting pulls off effortlessly.