Fri Dec 07 2018 17:34 November Film Roundup:
- Attack the Block (2011): Good action, cool alien effects, lots of fun in a "simple sci-fi action film" way. The plot is something you'd see in the 80s, right? Or even the 50s. But nobody did it this way before.
- No Country For Old Men (2007): This was good but was it Best Picture good? I'd have given the 2007 Oscar nod to Hot Fuzz, so I'm clearly not Academy material. I did like the way this film ignored the sunk cost fallacy, killing characters off regardless of how much time had been spent exploring their psychologies. Very Psycho.
The obvious symbolism is that Javier Bardem's character represents Death, but I like to think of him as representing Entropy instead. Try it out!
- True Grit (2010): One of the things I love in stories, which the Coens do really well (but sometimes choose not to do, see below), is showing someone who isn't "supposed to" be in this kind of story. Either because Hollywood stereotypes say this isn't their story (Marge Gunderson) or because they're actually unqualified (the Dude). This film starts out real strong in that area, and then not so much. The first half-hour would have been a great addition to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (again, see below). Then do a Greed-style title card and cut most of the rest.
- Infinite Football (2018): We thought this would be "17776: The Movie", but it ain't. It's not even a meditation on what "rules" are, because the bureaucracy scenes don't show the rules of bureaucracy, such as they are, in action. Sumana compared this film to The Peacemaker because it's about a guy who's really devoted to one project and lets a filmmaker get very intimate showing its effect on his life. Overall, a cut above the average meandering Eastern-European documentary.
Also, apparently in Romania the sport called "football" is slightly different? More like soccer. Who knew?
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018): Loved the titular segment. So corny. Also really liked "The Gal Who Got Rattled" but felt ripped off by the ending in a way that this non-hand-wringing roundtable gets at pretty well. All these stories are taking place during an enormous heist/misunderstanding/murder spree/clusterfuck that's like every Coen Brothers movie happening simultaneously, and although the Coens are aware of this and certainly not celebrating it, they're also not giving it the treatment they'd give a convenience store robbery.
- Mama Mia: Here We Go Again (2018): Seen on a plane. A great movie to see on a plane. The 'Waterloo' segment is fab, everything else a welcome distraction from the tedium of plane travel. To answer the implicit question I had while this movie was in theaters, the dozens of people on the poster aren't new characters, they're flashback versions of the people from the first movie, like in Dongal. They're all my friends now... my plane friends... whenever I'm on a plane, I can count on them. Sorry, I fell asleep. I have a hard time falling asleep on a plane, but an easy time when thinking about being on a plane. It's my curse.
Everyone who dies should be able to return for one last musical number.
- F For Fake (1973): Like Italianamerican and Daguerreotypes, this is one of those films that would be a Youtube video today. Actually it reminds me of Tony Zhou's Every Frame a Painting, which might would explain why Every Frame a Painting mentions it so often. Like with The Third Man, there's a piece of metadata about this film that will be a major spoiler if you notice it. But I was still along for the ride. I enjoy Orson Welles as a safely dead blowhard, his talent and his ego forever locked in a giant squid/sperm whale deathmatch.
- Inquiring Nuns (1968): The nuns are back! The film was remastered and this time I took Sumana, who loved it. To add a bit of thought to my previous review, all interview subjects are putting on an act to some extent. The highly artificial setup of these particular interviews forces people into their acts, but the nuns are serious in trying to get behind the acts. One guy in the art museum starts off sarcastic and one of the nuns asks "Is that a sincere answer?" and gets him to open up.
Director Gordon Quinn was present at the screening and mentioned that the nuns are still alive, although neither remains a nun. One married a former priest who first saw her in Inquiring Nuns! Both women found making the film a positive experience and one of them has done Q&A at screenings. Sumana asked: when Quinn was performing meta-interviews to find the nuns to use in the film, what was he looking for? "Good listeners."
(1) Mon Dec 31 2018 17:30 December Movie Roundup:
Happy New Year! I've updated Film Roundup Roundup and it's now current up to the end of this particular installment of Film Roundup, with nineteen new highly-recommended films I saw in 2018.
I saw a lot of movies this month in particular, partly due to a project I embarked upon, which you'll see near the end. You, my loyal reader, are the beneficiary. As for you, my unloyal reader—have at you! You betrayed me to that scoundrel Richelieu!
- The Apartment (1960): I. Love. This. Movie. This is a rewatch after fifteen years, which is about as much time as I like to go between viewings of a great movie. I remember basically what happened, but every scene is a treat. Sumana and I saw it at Metrograph—a new restoration, I think—and it really benefits from the big screen treatment. This movie looks great, it's hilarious, it combines total cynicism with genuine emotion. It's the kind of movie where the 'comic relief' shows up not to provide relief but to change the type of comedy, like the alternating layers of chocolate and wafer in a Kit Kat. (I was eating a Kit Kat during the showing.) And it's a Christmas movie! What more could you want?
- Supermen of Malegaon (2008): A fun documentary about can-do low-budget filmmaking. At one point the handheld camera being used to shoot the film is broken and it's a huge setback, causing delays and jeopardizing the entire project. But there's a whole film crew right here, making the documentary, with equipment much more sophisticated than the equipment being used to make the feature. If it was me I would have helped them out. I guess I'm just not a tired general.
According to the presenter, this documentary was originally made for Singapore state television, but never aired there. I didn't know Singapore was so interested in what happened in India. Though I guess once they found out what was happening, they lost a lot of interest.
- Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982): Who better to introduce me to the work of Robert Altman than Cher?
This had some great acting, but it's clearly a filmed play, which is most notable when some pretty horrible things are happening plot-wise but the characters just keep introspecting and monologuing. I guess I feel better about it if I think of this as the missing ending from The Last Picture Show—you come back to the lousy little town you left, and you've changed but all the ghosts are still there.
Sudie Bond in this movie is a dead ringer for my late grandma Rosalie, which was nice to see.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): Fabulous. Looks amazing, feels fun, good use of New York as a story mechanic. The plot is cookie-cutter, but it's just more evidence for my theory that you can't change more than one variable at a time when you make a movie. They leaned on the 'visual style' lever and they changed that variable.
- Hercules (1997): This movie should have stayed in the vault. Disney always plays fast and loose with the source material, but this one's especially egregious. For some reason it really rankled me seeing Zeus and Hera as this lovey-dovey couple, and Hercules as... their legitimate son? The one Disney hero from an unbroken nuclear family and it's Hercules?
This sounds like I care a lot, but I don't! I barely care about this at all! I know very little about Greek mythology! But other Hercules movies make you feel smart for recognizing little bits of the stories they're mangling, and this one felt like some other story with the serial numbers filed off. I'm not a big fan of the songs, either. Best I can say is that there are some good sight gags.
Sumana and I will sometimes place bets while we're watching something. Here, I bet that the famous Labors of Hercules would show up as a plot point and be dealt with in the course of a single musical number. Sumana bet that the Labors wouldn't show up at all. What we got was individual Labors, and references to them, showing up haphazardly throughout the movie, in musical numbers and otherwise. That's not satisfying. Anyway, the final ruling was that neither of us won the bet.
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990): I finally got Sumana to watch this, possibly out of guilt for her having suggested Hercules. This was my favorite film when I was a kid, and the favorite-filmness is still in there, but here's a film where they should have changed more than once variable.
IMO it doesn't get started until the famous "Gremlin nitpicking" scene halfway through. After that scene, it's like a Marx Brothers movie where Harpo and Chico are trying to kill everybody. All the stuff in that Key and Peele sketch happens in the second half of that movie. (We re-watched the sketch after the movie. Sumana: "They weren't kidding!") The interview with Brainy Gremlin is one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. In terms of worldbuilding, character development, and verbal comedy, it's top-notch.
But before the "nitpicking" scene, the film is way too slow and not terribly funny. Watching this film navigate the Gremlins rules, which gave a lot of tension to the first movie, is like watching someone try to parallel park a really big car. A mixed bag, is what I'm saying. Or perhaps... a mixed Gremlin? No, 'bag' makes more sense. A Gremlin was a kind of car, maybe I could do something with that... oh, I'm out of time? Last thought: the "nitpicking" scene is where it is because the Gremlins emerged in the previous scene, rendering the stupid rules irrelevant. No coincidence that's also where the movie kicks into gear.
- The Witches of Eastwick (1987): A combination of gal-pal wish fulfillment and fantasy violence that probably didn't go down well at the time, but I'd say the idea has aged pretty well. What hasn't aged well is this movie's 1980s John Updike feminism. It kinda works because Jack Nicholson provides such a sleazy contrast. But everything George Miller wanted to say in this movie, he did much better in Mad Max: Fury Road. Susan Sarandon is great.
- Practical Magic (1988): Sumana's review of The Witches of Eastwick was basically "Have you seen Practical Magic?", and we watched it right after coming back from the museum, as a cross-venue double feature. It's a disorganized jumble of different movies in different styles, but there's a lot of fun stuff in the buffet. In particular there's a few minutes where it's a supernatural version of 9 to 5; I wish they'd stuck with that. The casual sister relationship was very realistic and put me in mind of Celine and Julie go Boating.
If you want to see what an IMDB rating histogram looks like when it has a hard-core group of fans, Practical Magic is your movie. I can see what the fans see in it, but ultimately I side with the weighted average.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): A friend of a friend watches this movie every year as part of the holidays. I saw it a couple years ago at Susanna's house and forgot to review it, so... I watched it again and here's my review: it's really fun! Michael Caine is a great Scrooge. Would Dickens approve? Who cares? Public domain, baby!
- Miller's Crossing (1990): After seeing a bunch of Coen brothers movies last month, I realized that I was within striking distance of having seen their entire feature-film output, which would put them in such rarified Film Roundup company as Elaine May, and... that's probably it. Sumana was out of town for a while so I made a spreadsheet with the goal of not only seeing all the Coen movies I haven't seen, but rewatching the ones I had seen in the pre-Film Roundup era.
I'm not quite done yet, but I'll probably finish it up next month. In the meantime, Miller's Crossing (1990)! I thought this was basically popcorn noir. There's one cool little twist that gets un-cooled. Steve Buscemi only has one scene. I liked Blood Simple a lot, but this didn't have the same level of twistiness. I did like the soundtrack, something I don't usually notice.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): Watched with Kirk who was in town for the day. Overall this was really fun, but there's one big caveat which is that this movie has blackface. Seriously, George Clooney, in blackface, in the year 2000. It's not like Holiday Inn bad, it's well into ironic "we were doing something else and it served the same purpose as blackface" territory, but that's a stupid excuse for doing something that could have... just not been done.
Anyway, apart from that GLARING PROBLEM, which sours the milk near the end of the movie, this is really fun. I saw this in the early 2000s and having watched Sullivan's Travels in the interim really improved my experience, so watch that one too—also, it's a better movie overall.
- The Ladykillers (2004): This was pretty fun but it turns out it doesn't need to exist. I also wish I'd made the 1955 version of The Ladykillers, but I wasn't alive then, so I work on other projects. You might say "it's time to update the riotous humor for a new generation", and that's a reasonable argument, but then you gotta look at the outcomes. This is the lowest-rated Coens movie on IMDB (6.2, which if Tom Moertel's measurement is still accurate, is perfectly average), and it doesn't exactly have a Practical Magic histogram.
So, if you like what my cousin Camilla said about the 1955 version—"I had never before seen quiet, pious, proper good triumph over violent evil."—you'll get the same thing out of this one. That's pretty rare in a movie, but it's about to happen again, because next up we got...
- Fargo (1996): I was apprehensive about this rewatch because I've been using this movie on Film Roundup Roundup as an example of a movie I've seen but never reviewed. But also, what if the movie isn't as good as I remember?
Well, no need to worry because this movie is amazing. A big reason for its amazingness is it's structured like a Columbo episode. You see the crime; then you see the cop; then you see the nice, polite, competent person take down the horrible fast-talking liar. But unlike in most Columbo episodes, while this is happening the crime is escalating and metastasizing, continually raising the stakes. (Also, in a Columbo episode, the villain would be the rich father-in-law, not the car salesman.)
The Coens' movies are full of characters who are flawed and weak, and problems that can't be solved, were self-caused, or aren't even real problems. Some of the characters have good intentions, and a lot of the time that's all you're going to get. Fargo is the one where a) there is a real problem, b) one of the characters has good intentions, c) that person is able to stop the problem from getting worse. As a bonus, the Steve Buscemi level is very high (certified NISBS).
- The Man Who Wasn't There (2001): Sumana and I saw this movie at a special UC Berkeley showing on one of our early dates. I thought it was all right (and we still have a souvenir barber's comb from the showing, which we still use—durable plastic) but I remembered the plot in pretty good detail and wasn't really looking forward to rewatching what I assumed would be a Miller's Crossing type popcorn noir.
Well, turns out this movie is way above popcorn. It captures what IMO is the essence of noir: not just a general hopelessness but the specific hopelessness of being an ordinary, weak human being whose life is ruined because they tried one freaking time to do something extraordinary. Basically, the feeling of being Jerry Lundegaard.
This is also the film where the Coens' interest in extinct genre stories really pays off. The implicit biases of those old stories shaped Hail, Caesar! and Buster Scruggs in a way that got them a lot of deserved grief, and maybe it also motivated the bad blackface decision in O Brother, but here the investment pays off big. Of all the films I've seen in this mini-project so far, this is the only one that really surprised me.