Category Archives: Movies

Woody Allen, high society and ex-cons: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

I began watching Woody Allen’s films back in 2011 with What’s Up Tiger Lily? and with Cafe Society this week I’ve sort-of finished. Only sort-of, because Allen’s still making movies — Big Wheel comes out later this year — and I wasn’t able to get most of his 1990s output without paying for DVDs (why neither my library nor Netflix has ’em, I know not).

What got me to work through his filmography (and to keep going despite charges he’s a child abuser) was how much his films changed over the years, from the sketch comedy of Take the Money and Run to more sophisticated comedies to rom-coms to pretentious dramas like Crimes and Misdemeanors. It’s a remarkable spread. Even if the films weren’t always to my taste (and little of his 21st century stuff was), the effort was worthwhile.

CAFE SOCIETY (2016) is one of those 21st century films that flopped for me. It starts off reasonably well as Jesse Eisenberg arrives in 1930s Hollywood and falls for uncle Steve Carrell’s secretary Kristen Stewart, unaware that Stewart is also Carrell’s mistress. Unfortunately this gets resolved mid-movie, leaving us watching Eisenberg rising to success and marrying well back in New York, which wasn’t terribly interesting, and his mobster brother’s subplot which isn’t interesting at all. I get the feeling Allen was shooting for more of a 1930s panorama than just the romantic plotline, but whatever the reason, it was a bad call.”Today we discussed the sixth psalm — oh lord, do not punish me in anger.”

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (2008) stars Kristin Scott Thomas (above right; all rights to image remain with current holder) a woman newly released from prison after 15 years for killing her son, and moving in with her sister, much to the discomfort of everyone, including the brother-in-law worrying child-killing might turn into a pattern. This is so low-key, and Thomas so emotionally withdrawn for much of the film that it took me a long while to warm up to the film. Ultimately though, it was worthwhile. “We think we know everything nowadays, but we don’t know the source of a river.”

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1959’s Anatomy of a Murder and historical fiction (#SFWApro)

Although a little dated, ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) — all rights to image remain with current holder — is an excellent film. And it’s a good example of what a gold mine movies can be for writers.

Taking the film first: based on a roman a clef novel, this stars Jimmy Stewart as Biegler, a prosecutor now listlessly running a private practice since his Michigan county voted him out of office. He becomes less listless when Laura Manion (Lee Remick) recruits him to represent her husband, an Army lieutenant charged with gunning down a local man. Lt. Manion claims the man raped Laura, but Biegler explains to him that avenging her isn’t a defense (it was well after the crime took place). Instead, he goes with an “irresistible impulse” defense — that Manion lost control of himself in the heat of learning what happened. Prosecutor Dancer (George C. Scott) will try to prove Mannion was completely rational, and that maybe he killed the man because Laura was sleeping with him.

It’s a great cast (also including Arthur O’Connell as Biegler’s sidekick and Eve Arden as his long-suffering secretary), a well-done film (for an analysis of its legal weaknesses, check out the book Reel Justice). What was once shocking — a discussion in court about Laura’s underwear — now seems tame, but that’s not the movie’s selling point. And I wasn’t as bothered as usual by the “was she really raped?” aspect as the issue isn’t “did she falsely accuse a guy?” as much as “is she giving her husband a phony alibi?” (though Reel Justice points out that even if she hooked up voluntarily with the victim, irresistible impulse could still apply). Though the ending has overtones (involving Manion’s alleged spousal abuse) that make me a little queasy. Still, even at 2hrs 40 minutes, it never felt slow to me.

Now, back to the gold mine. In his Hollywood History of the World, novelist George MacDonald Fraser said he would give his eyeteeth to have a visual record of the Victorian age equivalent to 1930s Hollywood films: the way people dress, the way the streets and fire escapes look, the way a man holds a cigarette or clasps a woman. And that’s pretty much true of Anatomy of a Murder. Shot on location, it gives us a view of a small Upper Peninsula town, a cluttered law library, a trailer park. Manion smoking a fancy cigarette holder. Descriptions of women’s underwear (even as someone born in 1958, it’s startling to realize how many underwear items a woman might be wearing). The streets. A small bar. Cars. Men’s clothes. Men’s hats. Women’s clothes. Of course, it’s fiction and can’t sum up the entire era or even the year (the book Hatless Jack points out that a lot of younger men in this period went hatless), but it brings to life what books about past fashions or styles can only describe.

And it’s a heck of a good movie.

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A stalker, forgers and another projectionist: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) because she’s a lonely Instagram addict (Aubrey Plaza) who’s become fixated on Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a female social-media influencer and goes to great lengths to insinuate herself into Taylor’s life. The result is about one rewrite away from a thriller about a psycho stalker, but instead it’s a black comedy that TYG and I enjoyed despite some familiar tropes. “I need you to be Batman.”

F IS FOR FAKE (1973) is Orson Welles’ rumination on forgery, focusing on Elmyr de Hory, an art forger profiled by writer Clifford Irving, and Irving’s own fakery writing a supposedly authorized biography of Howard Hughes based on the billionaire’s diaries (he never even met Hughes). The film has all the visual style I expect from Welles, but it’s more style than substance, getting very pretentious in Welles’ ruminations. Entertaining even so. “To make an omelet, first steal an egg.”

In the wake of last week’s movies, I rewatched CINEMA PARADISO (1988) is a wonderful Italian film about a boy whose lifelong love of movies leads to him first sneaking into his local small town theater, then eventually landing a job as a projectionist (hence my decision to rewatch this) and later going on to direct them (something the expanded cut of this film deals with). A very moving love letter to cinema, with some great moments I won’t spoil. All rights to image remain with curren tholder. “By god — they’re kissing!”

 

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Twilight Zone aesthetics: shabby chic? (#SFWApro)

I just finished rewatching the second season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and it holds up just as well as the first (all rights to image remain with current holder).

There are some real turkeys, such as the Three Wishes story “Man in the Bottle” and the recycled urban legend “Twenty Two.” But the good ones far outnumber them.

“Shadow Play,” in which Dennis Weaver tries to convince the court sentencing him to death that the whole thing is Weaver’s dream.

Agnes Moorehead is a farmwife who has to battle “The Invaders” in what’s effectively a one-woman show.

“Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room” is close to a one-man show, as a petty hood has an unexpected conversation with the man in the mirror.

“The Odyssey of Flight 33,” in which the cockpit crew of a passenger jet realize they’ve slipped through time.

And “The Trouble With Templeton” in which Serling shows that despite his fondness for nostalgic stories about people trying to recapture the past, he knows nostalgia can be a trap too.

As I mentioned reviewing the first season, Serling has a fascination with losers, the lonely, the down-and-out. Giving them a second chance, or sometimes taking away their last chance (as in the first season’s “The Big Tall Wish.”). Watching S2, I wonder if the set design doesn’t reflect this.

It’s common for characters on TV who have next to no money to still have huge, attractive apartments. Not in The Twilight Zone. Here cheap rooms look like cheap rooms, flophouses look floppy, a decayed boarding house looks rundown. Struggling small-town diners look small and struggling. It’s most noticeable in “Penny for Your Thoughts,” in which Ace, a compulsive gambler, discovers his best friend Jimbo (Buddy Ebsen) has TK, which he doesn’t use for anything but little everyday tasks. Ace badgers Jimbo into using his powers to cheat at the craps table and they have a brief shot at the big time before Ace ends up broke but wiser.

The thing is, even when they go to a casino to play, it doesn’t look at all glamorous. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall motel/casino somewhere in Nevada, a big step up for Ace but still small time. And it looks it. Ace never even gets close to glamor.

The cheap look wasn’t budget or a lack of vision. The series has no trouble portraying a nice, middle-class lifestyle as in the prosecutor’s house in “Shadow Play.” So was it a conscious decision to drive home that these stories are about the down-and-outers of the world?

Or is it that with everything in color, these just look even shabbier than they originally were? Or maybe this was the norm for 1950s TV, before things got glossy, and it’s just that Twilight Zone is the only 1950s stuff I watch regularly?

I don’t have an answer but I do find it an interesting question.

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Projectionists, fantastic beasts, lost girls and brothers: movies and TV (#SFWApro

Chuck McCann is THE PROJECTIONIST (1971) at Rodney Dangerfield’s revival house, who constantly fantasizes about himself as film superhero Captain Flash, as a Bogartesque PI or romancing Ina Balin (the movie uses scenes from old movies to build its fantasies). This indie didn’t work for me at all, because McCann’s fantasies seemed less like daydreams than a bunch of movie clips randomly strung together — Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid might be a good double-bill. “Did you notice my fingernails were immaculate?”

The film I actually picked to double-bill with it though was the excellent SHERLOCK JUNIOR (1924), a silent starring Buster Keaton as another daydreaming projectionist After his romantic rival frames Keaton as a thief, Keaton fantasizes about being the legendary detective in the film he’s screening, leading to both metafictional jokes (one attempt to sit down gets thwarted as the scene keeps changing) and to Keaton’s distinctive brand of slapstick. Extremely funny.“The master mind had solved everything, except the location of the pearls and the name of the thief.”

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016) is set in 1920s in the Harry Potter universe as a collector of magical animals arrives in New York to release a Thunderbird into the wild (I should note Rowling’s use of Native American myth has been heavily criticized). This entangles him with a muggle baker, an anti-witch crusader, an obscurial (a creature born of repressed magic power) and scheming auror Colin Farrell. This is pleasant enough but relies too much on cool visuals and pretty animal pictures and not enough on plot — the subplot involving publisher Jon Voight and his politically ambitious son goes absolutely nowhere. And as one evil mage points out, why are they so scared of the muggles (or as Yank wizards call them in the film n0n-majjs) when all the power is on the wizarding side? “We need an insect, any kind of insect—and a tea pot!”

The third season of LOST GIRL was only so-so, as I didn’t find Bo’s quest to pass a fae ritual terribly compelling and that’s one of the major arcs of the season. The second arc, involving Lauren going to work for a scientist with a sinister agenda, worked better, and threw in some twists I didn’t expect. And despite the season’s flaws, the last episode of the season made for a good, action-packed cliffhanger. “It’s like my birthday combined with the St. Valentine’s Day massacre!”

The second season of THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE was where I started watching the stories of the Wrigley Brothers. IIRC “The Call” was the one that kicked it off for me: a phone in one booth has been ringing non-stop for years, but who’s on the other hand? In other stories, little Pete meets the man who inspects his underwear, Ellen drives a math teacher insane, Big Pete struggles to have a talk with his dad and the International Adult Conspiracy plots to destroy Artie, the Strongest Man in the World. Delightfully loonie — it’s a real crime the third season isn’t out on DVD. “Don Ho will not emerge from the valley of darkness.”

My friend Ross has been sending me videotapes of TEEN TITANS GO! for several years and I finally finished them. While I personally preferred the more serious Teen Titans series that preceded it, this nutty take on the team did have some wonderfully goofy moments (what happens when Batman and Trigon both show up for Thanksgiving?). And I quite like this ‘toon’s surly, snarky Raven. “If we don’t celebrate birthdays, the universe has no way to know how old we are.”

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Best and Worst Bond Girls: New Screen Rant Out (#SFWApro)

Above: Amasova from Spy Who Loved Me, One of my favorite Bond girls, though she’s not top of the list. Who is? And who’s at the bottom? Can you stand the suspense? Click and find out!!!!

Below, a few more Bond girls: Octopussy from Octopussy

Pussy Galore from Goldfinger

Fiona Volpe from Thunderball

Miranda Frost from Die Another Day

And Kara from Living Daylights

For more of my unbelievably deep thoughts on the Bond films (but no illustrations, alas), you can check out Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast.

All rights to all images remain with current holders.

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Psychic plants and lechers: this week’s movie (#SFWApro)

Not much to review, due to my busy weekend.

THE KIRLIAN WITNESS (1978), late rereleased as The Plants Are Watching (all rights to image remain with current holder) was a surprisingly good low-budget thriller, given its premise is the pseudoscientific claim that plants are sentient and react emotionally to the people around them. So when a woman’s green-thumbed sister winds up murdered on the roof, next to one of her plants, the woman wonders if the plant might be able to tell her … Had to buy this on DVD to see it, but I don’t regret it. “I’ve achieved a closer rapport than I ever thought possible.”

COMMUTER HUSBANDS (1974) was a 1974 British sex romp, but “romp” is probably generous — it’s a clunky anthology about straying husbands that lost me midway through the second segment. Oh well.

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