Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in May.
- Movies watched – 20
- Movies that were new to me – 11
- All time favorite movies rewatched – 4
- Monthly Masterpieces – White Heat, Z, The Awful Truth, In a Lonely Place, Morocco, Our Hospitality, Stagecoach, Dazed and Confused
- The Big Trail (1930) – This big budget wagon train movie might just be the best of the pre-Stagecoach westerns. Spotty acting (including a somewhat less than gripping performance from John Wayne in his first big starring role) and questionable politics are quickly forgotten due to Walsh’s energetic direction and the jaw-dropping super wide screen 70mm cinematography.
- Dazed and Confused (1993) – Not just a good high school movie, but rather one of the all time great works of cinema. A truly brilliant portrayal of what it is to be a high school student in a small town, be it 1976 or 1996, and the soundtrack kicks ass too (amazingly, without being overbearing).
- Star Trek (2009) – Still pretty entertaining the second time, but the plot holes were even more annoying. It astounds me that whoever wrote the script would take so little effort to make it even remotely plausible.
- Johnny Guitar (1954) – The dialog is so stylized that it goes beyond camp into the realm of abstract art. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a western (or even a movie) like this and I can see why it is on Fassbinder’s top five movies of all time list (even if it wouldn’t be on mine).
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – I actually wasn’t super into this and even liked East of Eden better as far as James Dean as troubled youth films go–and I thought East of Eden was pretty overblown. Nothing really seriously wrong with the movie, just not something I’ll be rushing to watch again.
- The Lady in Cement (1968)– About as good as the first Tony Rome movie, which is to say, actually rather entertaining. Despite a slight undercurrent of homophobia, it was a nice laid back swinging sixties style private eye movie with Sinatra proving a master of cracking wise and Hoss from Bonanza providing some amusement as well.
- Stagecoach (1939)– The film that set the standard for all Westerns to come, Stagecoach is a shining example of American filmmaking at its finest. The ensemble cast is magnificent as the titular stagecoach winds its way through monument valley under the ever present danger of indian attack until the final chase and shootout.
- Libeled Lady (1936) – Not my favorite screwball comedy, but still definitely in the top tier. A-list stars, a zippy plot and plenty of clever dialog and laughs.
- Our Hospitality (1923)– Still one of my all time favorite Buster Keaton films, I love how hard he works to actually add a real story to back up the gags. The period detail is expertly done as well, but not nearly so well done as the ingenius gags that the film is full of!
- Les Vampires (1915)– 6.66 hour 10 part serial from way back, this is neither quite as boring nor as exciting as you may have heard. There are a lot of cool ideas and stunts but the whole thing is pretty long winded so I’d call it a wash…still probably only Griffith could beat filmmaking of this caliber in 1915.
- Star Trek (2009)– So, sure the plot had some lazy implausibilities, and even a layman knows black holes don’t work like that, but damn if this isn’t pretty sweet anyway. It is a basically just a big budget action movie full of fan service to the original, but it is well made, has a great cast and is pretty much just a whole lot of fun.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)– I’ve seen worse action films, and there are some ok moments but overall this is fairly shitty. There are just far too many “yeah, but why…” moments–not to mention,how the hell did that dude fit those swords in his arms?
- Morocco (1930)– As is typical of Sternberg, this is a visually stunning film (nobody has matched his mastery of lighting to this day) with a very slight story. Also, as is typical of Sternberg, it is a masterpiece of cinema full of sexual power games between the leads.
- A Sunday in the Country (1984) – After getting past the initial hurdle of that ridiculous cover with all the quotes about how tender and humane the film was, it is refreshing to find out the film actually has something to say about human interaction rather than being a simple nostalgic sapfest. Tavernier’s camera is more mobile than I usually like, but it works well in capturing the natural beauty surrounding the countryside as the familial tensions unfold during the warm fall day.
- Oldboy (2003) – Like Kill Bill, this is a well made, stylish, energetic and visually impressive film that lacks any real depth or substance. By the time it is over any initial thrill with the audacity of the filmmaking is replaced with annoyance at having sat through the equivalent of letting a hormonal (and disturbed) teenage boy film his darkest fantasies for 2+ hours.
- In a Lonely Place (1950) – I love cynical movies about alienation and they don’t usually get me too down, but here Bogart plays the alienated hero (with major issues) so well that this is brutal to the point of being tough to watch. Still, it is so masterfully done (and with an ending that doesn’t pull any punches) that I’d rewatch this one anytime!
- The Awful Truth (1937) – Sullied only by the unaddressed potential infidelity of the husband, this is still one of the all time great comedies. At its core it is just a series of hilarious scenes, but they are all so well done that the film can survive multiple viewings per year and remain eternally fresh (something that few movies are able to do).
- Z (1969) – I don’t like political movies, but this one (while as heavy handed as they come) lives up to its reputation as one of the great films. The incredibly energetic (though not overly so) direction, amazing score and fine performances elevate it beyond a simple attempt to shove a message down the viewer’s throat and into the realm of cinematic art.
- Shoot to Kill (1947) – Quickie noir that at least moves right along (in its sloppy and often just plain lazy way). Aside from that, everything from the performances to the writing is just plain sub-par.
- White Heat (1949) – Cagney started the whole Gangster film genre with The Public Enemy and he ends it here with explosive style in what (along with Scarface–no, not the Pacino one) is probably the best film of the whole genre. If you can forgive the screenplay’s fascination with the fed’s gadgets this is nothing less than a straight up masterpiece from the twilight of the brilliant careers of Walsh and Cagney.