Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in August.
- Movies watched – 25
- Movies that were new to me – 21
- Short films to pad my numbers – 2
- Monthly Masterpieces – Rain, All Quiet on the Western Front, City Girl
- Rain (1929) – Beautiful experimental film that documents a rain storm in a city. For pure nostalgic recollection of rain storms some of the images are really quite astonishingly breathtaking.
- Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) – Really fascinating portrait of a very strange man built around some great black and white footage from the 60s. I went into the documentary not knowing much at all about Monk, and left with a pretty clear understanding of both the man and what made his music so brilliant…all by being shown and not told I might add.
- When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) – Though the concept of a “hostess” is probably pretty alien to most western viewers (myself included), this is nonetheless a quite engrossing study of a woman in a man’s world. The crisp photography and great central performance are just the icing on the cake.
- Nanook of the North (1922) – Fascinating early documentary of a people from a far off cold place. My only complaint is that I feel the purpose of the film is undercut a bit by the obvious fabrications leaving me unsure as to what to accept as truth.
- Me and My Gal (1932) – A truly unique gem from Raoul Walsh, this film really takes some chances and features scenes that were not to be seen again in film for decades afterwards (including the Annie Hall style voice overs and what was possibly the first true “heist” scene). I don’t have to tell you the direction is snappy (considering Walsh’s track record), but the script proves itself to be no slouch either…a shame this one isn’t easier to get a hold of.
- The Lamp (1959) – Simple and somewhat impenetrable short film from Roman Polanski, this is, if nothing else, quite beautifully filmed. I actually think it worked better than some of his other short films whose surreality seems a bit more forced.
- All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – A definite all time classic war film (with an utterly jaw dropping central battle scene) that manages to have a pretty strong message without totally turning me off. There are a lot of reasons this works for me where so many other “message” movies fail, but the fine performances and uncompromising artistry of its structure are high among them.
- King of Jazz (1930) – A couple good songs and vaudeville performances can’t save this from all the lame songs and lamer “comic” (in the loosest sense of the word) interludes. Also, the great sets really could have used a bit of Berkeley’s flair to make the whole thing come to life–as it was I was checking the clock long before it was over.
- The Doorway to Hell (1930) – Not a bad early gangster film, though completely overshadowed by the landmark films that would come the following year. Though, I think my real problem is that the tough guy lead is too much a pretty boy and desperately needs Cagney’s intensity to really sell it.
- Daybreakers (2009) – The narrative is an all over the place mess, but the premise is pretty cool and actually handled well. Also, the production design and visuals are often pretty creative, enough to keep me entertained through all the obvious political allegory and lulls in the story.
- The Dawn Patrol (Flight Commander) (1930) – Impressive early Hawks film that tentatively explores the themes of his later Only Angels Have Wings (which, of course, includes many of the same themes he always explores: professionalism and men being men). The dialog isn’t quite there, but this is still quite engrossing–and the air battles are very well done (especially when compared to Hell’s Angels insomnia curing flying scenes).
- The Kids are All Right (2010) – This film feels a little manufactured and has some possibly dubious politics (lesbians need some “deep dicking” every now and then), but that might just be me knee jerking away from yet another indie darling. And, honestly, the script is quite funny and the performances are very good (Ruffalo and Moore especially)–I really rather enjoyed it.
- City Girl (1930) – This really brilliant late period Murnau silent film might not be quite as poetic as Sunrise, but the more compelling story makes it almost as good. This is by no means “lesser Murnau” (which is the high praise it sounds like), and it really hits its stride during the rural scenes of the second half.
- Hell’s Heroes (1930) – The story lulls in a few places, and the Christ imagery could stand to be toned down, but otherwise this is a pretty great little film. The desert feels as hot as the end of Greed and the imagination apparent in the film making shows that Wyler knew what he was doing from the beginning.
- Up the River (1930) – Pleasant enough fare about hijinx in the friendliest, most laid back prison ever (where the warden’s daughter routinely plays with the inmates). Cute stuff, but nothing to really write home about I suppose.
- Cimmaron (1931) – There are a couple decent scenes, but the episodic storytelling is as stilted as the lead’s performance. This is a good example of the kind of stagey and unimaginative filmmaking that briefly infected Hollywood with the coming of sound.
- Hell’s Angels (1930) – The dramatic elements are as hamfisted as the aerial battles are overlong. Harlow isn’t too bad, but otherwise it is a lot to sit through for very little payoff.
- The Back-up Plan (2010) – As long time readers have probably figured out, I don’t tend to give bad reviews to romantic comedies, and this one has enough of the good parts of the formula to forgive the execrable soundtrack and frequent lapses into eye rolling territory. Also, J-Lo is looking good as usual and there are even a few decent laughs (the delivery scene especially was a gory highlight…and gave me a few ideas for Jock Blog 5).
- 12 Rounds (2009) – The action is decent, though never epic enough and Cena isn’t as bad as you might have heard–wooden but not completely lost. Which is about what you would expect from a movie I would describe as a shittier version of the slightly above average Die Hard 3.
- Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – It had an air of “trying to hard to be a classic”, but it ends up being basically that anyway. Dietrich is looking good in her 50s, Laughton is as compelling a screen presence as always and the twist is impressively clever enough to almost warrant all the “don’t give away the ending” hubbub.
- Two Lane Blacktop (1971) – As much of a fan of existentialism as I am, I’m starting to suspect that I may not be as much of a fan of existential movies as I like to think. Though this really distinguishes itself as an intriguing, creative movie (even when compared to the high level of American film making that was coming out of the 70s), I still can’t help but think that I might not have minded actually seeing the cross country car race of the premise.
- Night Moves (1975) – This movie makes fun of Rohmer for being too “arty” but I think it might be the bigger offender. A lot of good stuff (especially as a character study), but I’m not sure that sacrificing a coherent story really is the best choice–The Big Lebowski did the “PI movie that isn’t a PI movie” thing better.
- Road House (1989) – Really kind of awesome and a lot more fun than an over the top cheesy movie like this should be. That it doesn’t really have anywhere to go other than the obligatory shootout is too bad, but while it is at its ass kicking, philosophizing, spin-kicking, Sam Elliot peak, it’s really pretty tough to criticize.
- The Big Lebowski (1998) – One of the all time great screenplays, which is made even more impressive when you consider how rambling and ultimately inconsequential the whole thing is. But, like its main character, the movie abides, and I mean that in the best way possible.
- Suspicion (1941) – The ending left me confused as to Hitchcock’s intentions for a number of reasons, but overall this film is enjoyable enough. It’s too bad that there weren’t more directors who took advantage of Grant’s dark edge, he is pretty great on the dark side in this one.