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

29 October 2019

End of the Rainbow

Judy isn't very good. It's a strange little movie that was clearly made with not very much money. It's also based on a stage play by Peter Quilter called End of the Rainbow, and although the film doesn't feel too stagey (there are plenty of sequences outside, and we move around quite a bit) many of the scenes are overly long, and Judy is a bit more dependent on dialogue than it ought to be.

Still, I found the whole thing really intriguing. Judy is also occasionally quite moving. There's a sequence in act two in which Judy – who is lonely in London – leaves the stage door very late at night to find only two middle-aged gay men waiting for her. She asks them, sheepishly, if they'd like to go get a bite to eat with her, and they're truly beside themselves. They wind up back at their apartment, where the men make her eggs, and they talk about sodomy laws in Britain (which had only just been relaxed in 1969 when the film is set). One of the men sits down to play the piano and Judy sings "Forget your troubles come on get happy, you better chase all your cares away. Shout hallelujah, come on get happy, get ready for the judgment day" in the saddest, most exhausted register, and the whole thing was just too much for me emotionally.

This is the movie at its best. There are also some really excellent musical sequences, where Judy sings in the Talk of the Town night club for a theatre full of delighted patrons. It's hard not to love listening to the fun nostalgia of "The Trolley Song".

Judy is also super weird. Renée Zellweger's Garland is never not interesting to watch. It's just that I've seen Judy in so many movies, and in so many television clips. And Zellweger is not Garland, right? I guess, I sort of forgot every once in a while that she wasn't Judy. It wasn't necessarily bad, and as I say, it's always interesting as a performance, but the whole thing is just a bit strange to sit through ... in an uncanny way.

Still... I liked it. And I sort of loved Zellweger, even though I don't usually like her. I found the whole thing fascinating, even if I'm honest, it's really not that great.

28 October 2019

Never Look Away (2018)

Never Look Away is a fine melodrama.

But, I dunno... it's just not that interesting. It feels like it's already been done. The script is at times stellar, and Tom Schilling and Paula Beer are both great.

Sebastian Koch – who is a brilliant actor and first billed here – really doesn't have enough to do. And this is in a three-hour movie!

The real takeaway from Never Look Away, though is Caleb Deschanel's photography, which is truly extraordinary. The film deserves a view if only for that.

27 October 2019

King Solomon's Mines (1950)

King Solomon's Mines begins – in the first minute of the movie – with the killing of an elephant and the mourning of the other elephants for his loss. After this, there was basically no way I could enjoy this movie. How any director could think someone would enjoy watching an elephant be murdered while other elephants grieve is beyond me. Anyway, the rest of the picture is standard white-people-in-Africa-on-safari stuff, although this one does feature a great deal more African fauna than usual, and it is in a different region of Africa (southeast and central Africa) than the geography that usually makes it into Hollywood movies.

26 October 2019

Jerichow (2008)

Jerichow feels like an early movie for Christian Petzold. One can see clearly his interest in ethical quandaries – certainly this is what all of his subsequent films will be about – but Jerichow is mostly just an intense melodrama with great performances by the three central figures. The ethical dilemmas the film explores really aren't that interesting.

25 October 2019

Images (1972)

Images is a pretty crazy picture by early 1970s standards, but it really is a movie in line with, say, John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy and Polanski's Repulsion. That is to say, it's a psychological horror movie about a descent into madness or certain ways of coping with madness. There would be more of these movies to come in the '70s, but this one is interesting for Susannah York's performance and for the film's various obsessions – with cameras, with taxidermied animals, with chimes, smoke, and unicorns.

22 October 2019

Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

Deux Hommes dans Manhattan is not Melville's best, and it's clearly one of his earlier films, but it is interesting for starring the director himself (even though he's not great) and for being shot in New York City. Still, this is no place to begin your Melville viewing. Start instead with Le Doulos or Le Samouraï or Le Cercle Rouge.

Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936)

Yet another combination of the mother with the fallen woman. This is, perhaps, the most beloved plot for the Best Actress category in the 1930s.

Gladys George is good in Valiant Is the Word for Carrie, but this is nowhere near her best work, and most of this plot is insipid stuff. Jackie Moran is great as little Paul, and I thought John Howard was fine as adult Paul, but Arline Judge, who is second billed here, is fairly terrible.

Valiant Is the Word for Carrie just isn't worth Gladys George. It's nice that she got her only Oscar nomination for this movie, but one does wish it had been for something better.

And at the end of the movie, a character actually says valiant is the word for Carrie, as if we didn't know what the movie was called.

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.