Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in September.
- Movies watched – 24
- Movies that were new to me – 19
- Movies about dudes falling in love with their daughters – 2
- Monthly Masterpieces – Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Touch of Evil, The Aviator’s Wife, Louisiana Story, The Fireman’s Ball, La Roue
- La Roue (1923) – It’s amazing this downer of a movie is not more depressing, but I think this is largely due to the fact that it never plays the sorrows of its characters for simple pathos. I can’t think of many other early silent films that were this far ahead of their time (though Birth of a Nation and Nosferatu come to mind): not only is Gance’s use of setting unequivocally brilliant, his editing is the missing link between the work of Griffith and the Russian masters like Eisenstein and Pudovkin.
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) – Great performances, great cinematography, and a decent job of creating plenty of claustrophobic tension were the high points of this well made film. Personally however, the movie was a little too close for comfort to that genre of “bad town” liberal westerns that always rub me the wrong way with their self-righteous messages.
- Crank 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009) – Even more ludicrous, stupid, misogynistic and violent than the first Crank, which are all debits despite the filmmaker’s obvious assumption to the contrary. That said there is still a small amount of the original’s baffling over the top charm buried under all the overly bad taste and unnecessarily “hip” camerawork…and at least the public sex appeared to be consensual this time.
- La Ronde (1950) – A well mounted and unique film about couplings in 19th century Paris, and, like all of Ophuls’ work, it has some of the most fluid camerawork one will ever see. Though, while the whole thing is brimming with invention, I’m not convinced it really has all that much to say at the end of the day.
- The Leopard (1963) – This is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but this kind of historical epic stuff really struggles to hold my attention no matter how well it is made. Still, there is no denying the brilliance of the performances (Lancaster especially), the set design, the direction, and Claudia Cardinale.
- Souls for Sale (1923) – Possessing more than a mere historical interest (even though the shots of Chaplin and Stroheim at work are great) this is actually pretty entertaining too. There is no great thematic or technical prowess on display, merely solid, unpretentious filmmaking that makes for an immensely watchable film that never feels like merely a vehicle for its celebrity cameos.
- The Fireman’s Ball (1967) – A frantic, tightly constructed masterpiece; this is never less than completely engrossing and hilarious. And if you really must analyze it as a political commentary I think it is best not to get bogged down in the details, and rather, marvel at the brilliant portrayal of how attempts at imposing order on a chaotic world can oftentimes be as futile as herding cats.
- Louisiana Story (1948) – Flaherty has always walked a fine line between documentary and fiction and here, in his last film, he at least calls it what it is: a fictional documentary. Magnificent photography, the refreshing lack of a message about the encroachment of industry, and the insightful glimpse into a child’s world all make this one of his best films.
- The Good Fairy (1935) – Quite a cute movie helped by appealing performances from the leads and a fairly witty Preston Sturges script. Not the best work from either Wyler or Sturges, but as modern fairy tales go it does a pretty good job.
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – This unassuming film is really quite creepy as you slowly learn what lurks beneath the surface of some people. The psychology of the relationship between uncle Charlie and his niece Charlie takes center stage and proves as mesmerizing as Hitchcock’s effortless direction.
- The Lady from Shanghai (1947) – This very strange Orson Welles film is not quite a masterpiece, but still has plenty of things to recommend it. Several fine set pieces (the courtroom and funhouse scenes being my favorites), a storyline full of bizarre characters, and plenty of twists and turns all make sure you never get bored.
- Laugh Clown Laugh (1928) – Despite the creepy premise (Lon Chaney falls in love with his foundling “daughter” when she grows up), this is a pretty great silent film. The central irony of a sad clown might be obvious, but Chaney’s performance actually makes it quite powerful.
- Tapeheads (1988) – Bizarre comedy that seems to be going for some kind of tone between strange and offputting. I only got an hour in before I decided I really would rather do about anything else than finish this movie.
- The Ace of Hearts (1921) – Minor Lon Chaney silent film that follows a secret organization of humanitarian assassins. The implausible plot and bland costar opposite Chaney (who was great as usual despite his silly hair) bring this one down a few notches.
- Camille (1921) – Not a bad film, especially considering how relatively early in the silent era it was made, there still isn’t a lot that stands out about it. Its biggest problems are that there doesn’t seem to be much reason for Armand to like Maguerite, and that the death bed scenes at the end occupy far too much of the movie.
- The Aviator’s Wife (1981) – Man that main character is a pussy, but this is a fine example of vintage Rohmer, which is to say it is nothing less than a masterpiece. Essentially four or five long conversations (some lasting almost half the movie), to watch this is to realize just how vapid the dialog from someone like Quentin Tarantino is in comparison.
- Zero for Conduct (1933) – The “narrative” is quite “free” (if it were a movie by a less hallowed director I might even call it a bit of a mess), but that is hardly an issue for such an anarchist film. I can think of few films that so brilliantly (and cinematically) capture the primal urge to manufacture a little chaos.
- Camille (1936) – Cukor’s direction is as drolly sparkling as ever in this adaptation of Camille that adds (when compared to the silent version) much appreciated layers of complexity to the Marguerite character. Garbo was made for a role like this with her tragically haunted soul never more visible through her facade of beauty and nonchalance.
- A Touch of Evil (1958) – A bizarre nightmare of a noir film full of Welles’ usual unbridled creativity (not to mention a monumental performance from the man himself). Watching the grotesque menagerie of characters leering through the shadows really makes you realize how influential this film must have been to someone like David Lynch.
- Inglourious Basterds (2009) – Its weaknesses overtook its strengths on the second viewing as the sloppiness of the story became far more apparent. Not only that, but the dialog was irritatingly superfluous (though still thankfully less self aware than previous films) to the point that I decided to write a rant about it as my next blog post.
- Angel Face (1952) – Interesting spin on the femme fatale noir story, this film puts a lot more psychological depth into its characters and their motivations. I especially like how Preminger toys with our sympathies as the story unravels.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – This genuinely unsettling science fiction film ratchets up the tension in an unrelenting slow burn of nihilistically horrifying revelations. The end result is a white knuckle portrait of helpless hopelessness that is far more terrifying than watching coeds being chased by a chainsaw wielding maniac.
- Captains Courageous (1937) – Sure, we’ve all seen the story before, but the “by the numbers” plot wasn’t a problem–that would be like complaining about a big fight scene at the end of a kung fu movie. Besides, the story does resonate, the acting is good and there are some finely shot scenes on the high seas–as “family fare” goes, this is really pretty good.
- Orphans of the Storm (1921) – Though one might be tempted to call this “behind the times” when compared to such early 1920’s masterpieces as Nosferatu, that is really more due to the occasional wince-worthy moment–the film as a whole is pretty great. The set design alone is worth the price of admission while the trademark Griffith crosscutting is as thrilling as always, especially in the hilariously over the top final race to save the heroine.
The Fireman’s Ball was one of my dad’s favorites. He always liked the part about the head cheese. It helped that he was a fireman for a time.