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So, got sidetracked for a bit from reposting my journal of reaction to the films I'm watching here.

But, back to it, now with movies I watched once I returned from my Maine visit in January...

January 20

An Enemy of the People (1989) directed by Satyajit Ray

Ray, as always subtle and solid, does Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and it fits him mostly perfectly.

Beautiful acted and well-staged, it's nearly up there with my favorite Ray films, but an odd pulling back at the end mars it for me, though at the same time, it would probably be unbearable with the completely depressing end that seems most logical, but is avoided -- there is also a slightly hopeful ending to Ibsen's play, but it doesn't feel quite as upbeat as what Ray does here. Three Stars

Revenge (1989) directed by Yermek Shinarbayev

Sublime and close to indescribable. Should be seen, and now that it's restored and even streaming on Hulu, will be, I hope.

A short and obscure (in a good way) story about strength and friendship is followed by a longer one about revenge (deserved, some would say) being planned and fostered and accomplished across years and generations. It is epic (though the film is fairly short for that) and inexorable, though one never knows how the fated end will occur, only that one is sure that it will. And when it comes, it is as perfect and unexpected as all that proceeds it. And a sunset coda seals it all in place. Beautiful. Four Stars

The Match Factory Girl (1990) directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Whew. Well, beautiful and unremitting. I'm not one who ever feels the need for uplift and happy ending, but jesus...

Of Aki Kaurismäki's "Proletarian Trilogy," I admire this one maybe the most for its focus and economy, but I liked Ariel more all-around for being a little less self-serious, with a hair of hope. This is amazing for its realistic-but-somehow-stylized tone, but it's on the edge of comic in being so depressingly "Scandinavian." Three Stars

January 21

Black Rain (1989) directed by Shôhei Imamura

Beautiful study of the lives of three people caught near the bombing of Hiroshima showing its effect on them in the immediate moments/days after and several years later, jumping between the two. Perhaps horribly predictable in some ways, in the ways that slow death by radiation poisoning is predictable (if you've done, as I had to do, some small study of the subject), but never not fascinating and gripping, moment by moment -- and seeing a extremely realistic (yet, with Imamura's camera, still poetic) recreation of the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima is powerful and valuable. Great performances all around.

NOTE: The DVD contains the original, planned final 19 minutes of the film, which are in color and jump the story ahead anther 15-20 years (and, I believe, eventually to the 1989 present of the film). This original ending is excellent in its own way, but correctly cut by Imamura -- it doesn't really fit the film that was to precede it (though the ending left on the film winds up being just a hair lacking as a result). I recommend watching this ending but NOT (as I did, unfortunately) immediately after the finished feature -- it DOES diminish the film's power. Three Stars

The Seventh Continent (1989) directed by Michael Haneke

God. My first Haneke film, and his first. Brilliant, perfect, cruel, precise, heartbreaking, hideous, and correct. An accumulation of too-ordered details that widens until everything must be destroyed. Everything.

I have somewhat avoided Haneke in the past because I found most of his public statements to be simplistic and asinine (though there are plenty of filmmakers I like who are exactly the same). I still always had the feeling I would like his work, for some reason, and at least here I was right. Very inspirational -- the first two thirds are a lot like things I've always wanted to shoot, but dismissed as subjects no one would be interested in but me. Glad that someone did it, and did it right. Don't know if I could stand to go through the whole thing again anytime soon, though. Five Stars

Lost in New York (1989) directed by Jean Rollin

Surprising and shockingly touching. Short featurette in which Jean Rollin seems to examine his filmic obsessions in the form of a kind of fairy tale -- little girls find magic item that allows them to be grown women traveling the world, they do so, return, years later as old women they are able to magically become girls again. There is some play about a magic item allowing the transformations and travels, but in the end it is obvious that Rollin is talking about Film here, allowing mind and body to transcend time and space and become a kind of Otherlife, if not an Afterlife. Sweet and mournful, an expression of love from someone too old to believe in the platitudes about it, but innocent enough to pretend for a while. Three and a half Stars

January 22

The Two Jakes (1990) directed by Jack Nicholson

Well, whaddya know? Not as bad as I remembered (I'm not sure I've seen this since the night it opened, when ALL film students ran out to catch it). Not even as mediocre as I thought it would be to come back to. A serviceable little neo-noir that suffers from comparison to Chinatown, but whose core is inextricable from it. Terrific cast, some ported in from the first film other than Nicholson, and great dialogue, but no sense of real pace or momentum. The film ambles, for chrissakes, and that's just wrong for the style and story. It feels like the three drafts of Chinatown I've read from before Polanski got to it, shaggy and unfocused. But if the whole isn't all that much, there are a lot of great parts along the way. I'll actually probably give it another go on some lazy afternoon in a couple of years or so. Three Stars

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When I was visiting my mother and brother in Maine last month, I would up watching a LOT of Turner Classic Movies. Really, it's now about the only reason I could think of wanting cable television at home (and it isn't nearly enough to go for it). I do hope they wind up creating a streaming service that I could subscribe to, but for now, I just get my fix when visiting family.

As opposed to the eight movies I watched in one day while up there I listed last time, I only got through seven my last two days of the visit, so before returning to NYC and my continuing journey through (primarily) foreign film from 1946 to the present, I'll finish what I saw up north...

January 19

Fanatic (1965) directed by Silvio Narizzano

Ah, so apparently the film now best known as Die! Die! My Darling had a more sedate title...

Somehow never saw this before now, and was more than a little disappointed. It's an okay little British thriller from the period but nothing special -- with Bankhead (who IS pretty damn good) and a script by Richard Matheson, I expected more, but it takes a long time to not go all that far. Too bad, the essential concept isn't that bad, just poorly executed. When violence finally erupts, it happens in a room of stained glass so we finally get some nice Mario Bava-style color to break up the standard flat (if comfortable) mid-60s Hammer tones, but it's too little, too late. Funny to see Donald Sutherland as the mentally disabled hulking goon. Doesn't live up to the great over-the-top title it's now mostly known by; the original, blander-but-accurate, title serves it better. Two and a half Stars

Skidoo (1968) directed by Otto Preminger

I honestly love this film, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I saw it years ago in a packed movie theater with a crowd ready to laugh AT it (as we just had the Lana Turner LSD trashfest The Big Cube), and the whole crowd was won over to laughing with Skidoo. It's all over the place, there's great acting, bad acting, and everything in between, good jokes, bad jokes, squareness, hipness, surrealism, and a great LSD trip sequence (and a really disturbing scene of Carol Channing in her underwear). It's never ever been as good as that first viewing, but I still love it and will defend it to the death. Three and a half Stars

Portrait of Jennie (1948) directed by William Dieterle

Wanted to watch this as I know it's been an influence on other works I like, but was a hair concerned about the sappiness factor, especially when the overwrought prologue started up. Turned out to be sweet, lovely, moody, and haunting more than sappy (though that is there, sure). Cotten and Jones and an amazing all-around cast (great bits from Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, and a dozen others) somehow ground this airy story in a somewhat-real world. There's a real magic to this one. There's also a hair of a too-fussed-over quality typical of Selznick productions, especially those with Miss Jones in them -- some odd editorial choices here and there, and a weird reliance on optical zooms for closeups. The green tinting of the storm sequence and the final technicolor shot of the title portrait also seem to spawn from Selznick's need to impress, but in this case, they work perfectly at just that (I wonder how accurate the tint now is to how it looked in '48, but it looks gorgeous). Lovely little tune by Bernard Herrmann used in there -- Dmitri Tiomkin does an OK job orchestrating Debussy for the rest of the score (apparently a Selznick edict hated by Tiomkin, who probably could have done as good or better at an original score). But in the end a lovely piece of work I hope to see again soon. Three and a half Stars

Lover Come Back (1961) directed by Delbert Mann

Cheap-looking and silly comedy very much of the period, with the standard offensive qualities as well, but it gets better and better as it goes along, until the last few plot twists take it into another zone that allows Day, Hudson, Randall and some other fine actors to show off their best comic chops. And now I know where the clips I've seen of Hudson acting as a "sissy" all come from (and he's funny as hell at it, though Day's sidelong reactions to it once she realizes he's playacting are even better). Need to get to the other Hudson/Day comedies sometime, I guess... Two and a half Stars

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) directed by Peter Godfrey

Starts out really well and gradually disintegrates, to a not only predictable but horribly written and staged conclusion (and a stunningly bad final line and moment), but it's good creepy fun for most of the running time. Bogart and Stanwyck do just fine (they are apparently often criticized, especially Bogart, as being miscast, but I think they are believable; I especially like Bogart as a tortured painter), and Alexis Smith and Ann Carter are better than fine. Boy, does it just come apart as the characters do, though. Pity. Two and a half Stars

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968) directed by James Neilsen

Wound up watching this sequel to the Trouble with Angels after trying to watch that film and, after actually getting into it, being kicked off TCM due to the family DVR needing to record 5 TV shows at once. Then I wound up with this far inferior follow-up that is every bit as silly and inconsequential as I expected both films to be. The first, directed by Ida Lupino, by where I had left off, had surprisingly developed into a fun and funny and even touching coming-of-age story. This is just a stupid 60s teen romp with nuns. Gets two stars because there are still some good comic moments from some talented cast members, but really, there's not much here. And I still now want to see the rest of the Trouble with Angels. Two Stars

January 20

Souls for Sale (1923) directed by Rupert Hughes

Beautiful, elegant silent that runs the gamut from silly fun comedy to a truly hair-raising climax in and around a burning circus tent. In this story on an innocent coming to Hollywood and trying to get into the picture business, there's some great behind-the-scenes footage of other films being made (and beautiful period L.A. shots), and some hysterical doth-protest-too-much titles and scenes really out to convince you that these picture people are all just hard-workin' folks sacrificing themselves for less pay than you'd think just for your entertainment, and no, NO, there's no decadence in the business. Well, that's amusing enough, but it doesn't get in the way of the comic/thriller/romantic story going on. And damn but the fiery conclusion is exciting (and I have no idea how they pulled it off, unless it was actually like in the film itself, where the director tells his cameramen to just shoot the circus burning down and he'll find a way to use it later). Great fun all around. Three Stars

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So, catching up with more of my reactions to movies I saw in January.

I didn't have much to do up in Maine last month except watch movies, and it appears I saw 8 of them on one day...

January 18

The Beginning or the End (1947) directed by Norman Taurog

Dull, dull, dull, poorly-staged and shot, indifferently and unenergetically-acted. Only interesting insofar as seeing what a Hollywood film on the Manhattan Project in 1947 looks like -- bland and propagandistic. Two Stars

A Face in the Crowd (1957) directed by Elia Kazan

I've seen this before, in bits and pieces, and didn't like what I saw, but in toto it has immense power and works like hell. Kazan and Budd Schulberg (separately or together) usually annoy the hell out of me, usually so sweaty and overbearing and judgmentally moral (which is a goddamn laugh) but the excess works to a near-camp level here.

Maybe its also the times we're in now, where this all does seem to have come true. Andy Griffith is, of course, amazing as the demogoguish rube, but the whole cast is terrific. Three and a half Stars

The Philadelphia Story (1940) directed by George Cukor

Seen it plenty, always liked it, until the last time I watched it a couple of years ago, where everything in it seemed horribly forced and unfunny. This time, it was just as charming as I remembered from the previous times -- really just about as perfect an example of what a comedy from right around 1940 could be. A perfect cast in a well-made script. Not amazing, no, maybe overrated, sure, but solid and good for all that. Three Stars

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) directed by Irving Reis

Silly and charming as hell. Saw this a bunch as a kid (as with another film I rewatched recently, sometimes it was the only damn thing on worth watching), and I never liked it, but now it's just a damn fun timekiller, primarily because of Cary Grant, though there's several other nice performances. Two and a half Stars

Lifeboat (1944) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Midrange Hitchcock. More uneven than most from Hitch -- usually his films are good, great, bad, or mediocre at the same level, this one varies wildly from moment to moment, scene to scene, performance to performance, even line reading to line reading. Makes it hard to decide what to think overall, as every fond memory is contradicted by something equally clunky. There's lots of Hitchcock I love and will happily rewatch and look forward to seeing again. Not this one. Two and a half Stars

Flowers in the Attic (2014) directed by Deborah Chow

Oh, ick. If you're GOING to do an overwrought, sincere, trashy but beloved gothic novel adaptation, then DO the goddamn thing for crissake! Ellen Burstyn knows what she's doing, and I'd argue Heather Graham pretty much does, too, but reducing the whole thing to "when does the incest start happening?" and then not even dealing with that when it finally does happen, and then getting the film over with as soon as possible right after... No good reason for this to have happened in the first place. One Star

That's the Spirit (1933) directed by Roy Mack

Mantan Moreland & F.E. Miller, the latter a black man with added blackface, go through some lousy period "afeard of spooks" humor leading into a hot little musical number -- a structure you'll find in lots of shorts from this time, where you have to sit through some horrible racist humor to get to an actual great performance by African-American musicians. Sometimes the racist humor is at least performed by talented comedians -- I've seen Mantan Moreland be funny, but not here. Oy. Glad that TCM is keeping these in the rotation at least -- both the racism and the talent should be noted and appreciated for what they are. Two Stars

Faithless (1932) directed by Harry Beaumont

I keep wanting to call this a "programmer," that is, a b-picture cheaply made to be thrown on a double bill with a bigger picture, but I wouldn't think of MGM making programmers. Maybe they did. I guess they did. This is a pretty lousy picture with a good performance from Talullah Bankhead. Robert Montgomery is good sometimes, hideous others. Hugh Herbert is amazingly miscast and terrible. It feels like a real Poverty Row film, not MGM, except better-shot. Most of the minor roles are played by TERRIBLE actors -- someone comes on for one freaking line and delivers it awfully. Even the extras walking by a diner in one scene can't just do THAT convincingly. Bankhead's performance and an occasional actual real feeling of Depression-era despair save this from being completely worthless. Two Stars

At this rate, maybe I'll catch up with myself right at the end of February...

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And some more thoughts on what I watched in January...

January 15

Marlowe (1969) directed by Paul Bogart

A late-60s MGM oddity that feels like something from the cheaper MCA-Universal television crew, at least in its visual flatness and efficient-but-just-barely composition and editing. Surprisingly faithful to the Chandler novel (The Little Sister) in plot, but, of course, not at all in mood. With James Garner as Marlowe, it's going to be a lot lighter, of course. Garner, as always, is fun, but he isn't Chandler's Philip Marlowe (I'd argue less so than Elliot Gould in Long Goodbye). This isn't necessarily so bad, as pretty much no film adaptation of Chandler has gotten Marlowe right, including some truly great films, but with the plot of the book kept so accurately, the lighthearted Garner doesn't quite fit.

It's still eminently fun and watchable, however. And as the plot keeps darkening, director Bogart & DP William Daniels begin to turn things more and more noir, and Garner lowers the smartass act a bit. Then it ends, rather suddenly and unsatisfyingly, but that's par for the course with films like this from this period. A pity, you feel it could have been a lot more, but it's a nice little cable watch. Two and a half Stars

January 16

The Women (1939) directed by George Cukor

Oh, this is cool and it crackles! Unfortunately, there's a great big hole at the center in the person of Norma Shearer, who is fine in moments but damn is she lousy and outmatched for the most part. Beautiful design, great dialogue, incredible performances (apart from Shearer). I wish the sexual politics were a little less.... still-centered-entirely-around-men... in this film of nothing but women. I'm not even sure this film with an all-female cast, with over a hundred named characters, has one conversation not ultimately about a man. But at the same time, the STRENGTH of some of these women and the power of their performances... There's still something I don't like or trust about George Cukor movies for some reason -- a kind of reactionary feeling of maintaining a status quo and not rocking the boat.

This was shown on TCM as part of a month-long-salute to Joan Crawford, and the first one I saw in that series -- only really knowing her work from Mildred Pierce onward, seeing her earlier work was not exactly a revelation, but it did impress me. She's ridiculously natural and modern for the period, and fills every moment and bit of business with SOMETHING interesting. Three and a half Stars

When Ladies Meet (1941) directed by Robert Z. Leonard

Silly little picture with some fine actors doing good work. As usual, the sexual attitudes of the time are annoying... well, not of the time, the attitudes are timeless and tiresome, and here end up with the friendzoned Nice Guy, of course, getting his way in the end. Ugh. At least it's fun moment-to-moment as it goes with this cast. Two and a half Stars

January 17

A Woman's Face (1941) directed by George Cukor

Good fun little melodrama. I think it could have been something more with a harder edge, but it's not bad -- god, the more I critique Cukor movies the more it sounds like I have something against him for being gay, like he's weak or something, but while I like the skill and proficiency of his frame and camera movement, his treatment of character always seems too distant and indulgent and not probing enough to me; sometimes it's good to stand back and look at people from a distance, but he never seems to step up and make things really mean when they need to be. This could almost be a good proto-noir in the right hands, but instead it's a solid but undistinguished piece with a great cast doing good work. Two and a half Stars

Strange Cargo (1940) directed by Frank Borzage

Wow, I have to see some more Borzage. I checked and discovered, to my surprise, I hadn't seen any of his films, except now this. Incredible camera.

A fine example of a grim little melodrama elevated by some intense staging and shooting. Gable & Crawford are at close to their best here, I'd reckon, but Ian Hunter, who I've always somewhat liked, gets a real chance to shine. The Christ allegory stuff could have been annoying but the film is so wonderfully grim the light parts are an appropriate respite. I want to see this again, and soon. Three and a half Stars

Susan and God (1940) directed by George Cukor

Fun, funny, adorable, and what a piece of froth should be. Not stagy at all but betrays its theatrical roots all over the place, structurally, and somehow that's to its benefit. Amazing ensemble cast. Crawford gets an incredible and deserved grand entrance on a boat after 15 minutes of everyone talking about how great she is (a classic "Mr. Wu" entrance as Orson Welles once described). Once again I am disappointed by the message of a film from this period being "eventually the independent-minded woman will settle down and realize how silly she was and just be a proper woman for her man," but in this film there's never a chance of anything terribly real happening in any case, so let it slide a little more than usual. Three and a half Stars

Reunion in France (1942) directed by Jules Dassin

Silly wartime drama with a great bunch of character actors to watch. Well-shot by Dassin, but he can only do so much with the stock story. No chemistry between Wayne & Crawford, unfortunately. An OK time-filler, though. Two Stars

Above Suspicion (1943) directed by Richard Thorpe

Ooh, boring and annoying for the most part. A couple of nice plot elements. Great character actors doing Nazi bits again. MacMurray as annoying as usual for me (except in Double Indemnity, where his smarm works). Crawford acts like she's in a screwball comedy. Still, fun to see the non-top-drawer pictures of the period sometimes. One and a half Stars

Hollywood Canteen (1944) directed by Delmer Daves

Better than Stage Door Canteen, which I saw last year, by far, but still just a barely-hanging-together collection of skits and songs with a slightly-embarrassing (and embarrassed) framing story device. Patty Andrews, of the Sisters, turns out to have a nice Martha Raye-like comic personality. Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet have a nice little bit I've seen excerpted many times (turns out to go on a few beats too long in the original). By the end, a little too self-congratulatory, but still somehow touching in its intent. Two Stars

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) directed by Billy Wilder

Boring as hell, and I remember watching it and thinking the same several times as a child. Watched it then for the same reason I did now, it was the only thing on (which should have been a lot more possible back in the days when we only had 7 broadcast channels, but it's not). Was stunned to find it's a Billy Wilder Joint. Ugh, hope I don't wind up sitting through it again for lack of something better. I would normally say I love Wilder, but looking over his works, there's as many I dislike as like (but the ones I like, I REVERE). One and a half Stars

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And continuing my reposting of my January movie diary as seen on Again, these aren't really reviews, just reactions. For my own benefit, but if they help or intrigue others, great.

Keep thinking I should be including some links to the films, videos maybe, but that's a little more effort than I care to go for just now -- a pain enough reformatting these things for LiveJournal as it is. That way lies not posting anything here at all. So, for now, the short reactions.

January 6

The Rainbow (1989) directed by Ken Russell

I very much disliked this film when I first saw it (on the Vestron VHS release that, for some reason, like all their releases felt somehow really cheap). I've seen it three or four times since, usually when I was going through a "Ken Russell Complete" phase, and it got better each time. This time I really liked it (enough to add a star and click the heart), and am not quite sure what was wrong with me before. Maybe it just wasn't what I wanted and was expecting from the Ken Russell of The Devils and Tommy and Mahler and The Boy Friend, etc.

Now, it feels like Merchant/Ivory without whatever it is that gets up my nose about Merchant/Ivory (though I have the distinct feeling I need to give their work a reappraisal as well...). The punch and clarity of the frame and editing is distinctly Russell's, as well as the excellent performances that maybe teeter on the edge of camp or hamminess, but in the best way. And his love of the Lake District and nature fills every landscape (though I was beginning to recognize his locations -- oh there's a hill from Mahler, that island is in Tommy...). It's the most beautiful film of Russell's Vestron B-picture period -- Gothic struggles against its budget limitations (and terrible score), Salome's Last Dance is the only boring film Russell has ever made (Whore is worse, FAR worse, but it's not boring), and the campy Lair of the White Worm gets less interesting on repeated viewings. The simple charm of Russell's Lawrence adaptation (as well as the pleasure I get from seeing so many familiar faces of beloved actors from his earlier films) grows on me more and more each time I see it. Three Stars

Mystery Train (1989) directed by Jim Jarmusch

Didn't hold up as well as Down By Law did on the last rewatch. Surprised. The bits and pieces just don't cohere as I remembered them doing. Still good, but seems a little more condescending and distanced from its characters than I thought -- maybe because I was 21 when I first saw it, it seemed so cool and mature (Jarmusch was 36). Now it seems a little bit trying-too-hard for me at 45.

Still. The humor, the beauty, and the performances pull it through and make it work, for the most part. Three Stars

January 7

Our Nixon (2013) directed by Penny Lane

Great footage from the 8mm camera of the Nixon staff, but otherwise nothing new in the text if you've been an obsessive Nixon-book reader for decades (and if you watched the DVD-ROM of The Haldeman Diaries, you got some of the footage as well). Nice use of music in the opening and closing credits, but yeah, nothing new here, and not put together in an interesting enough way to make the same old footage worth sitting through again. Two and a half Stars

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2013) directed by Drew DeNicola

I've been seeing a lot of mentions of this having some interesting footage, but basically being badly made and not containing anything new or interesting. I disagree. There's nothing much new about the central narrative of Big Star here, but the footage of the band and Memphis at the time of the band's work, as well as the digressions and narration from the people surrounding the band (especially the great producer Jim Dickinson) expands all the stories I already knew tremendously. The form is nothing special -- pretty standard modern documentary -- but it seems more than merely competent. As always, I'm unnerved by the extent to which the Big Star fanatics in the film sell the band as the greatest thing ever heard on earth -- NO band could live up to the hyperbole, and I was put off by it for a long time before being able to get into the band -- but there's only a little of that at the start. Three and a half Stars

January 9

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) directed by Tom Schiller

It's such a shame to have to watch this beautiful movie in a lo-res YouTube version (albeit on a large HDTV), but it holds up anyway -- maybe even sometimes works better in making it feel like a bad print on cheap stock of some strange art-film rarity unearthed from a dank, forgotten vault, which from some things Tom Schiller has said is very likely how he'd like the film to be seen...

I've seen this one three times in 35mm in the 80s and 90s, with the director present each time -- apparently a provision of it being shown publicly! Each time I saw it then, the simple story of a somewhat gormless young man coming to a fantastic New York City - containing elements of NYC that make it seem an "anytime" from the 30s to the 70s - having the desire to be an artist (but no apparent skill) and wandering into a much bigger story really got to me personally. The few times I've seen it since on bootleg video didn't help my memories of those first viewings, and I was worried it would keep fading, but this viewing jumped it right back up in my estimation.

It's sweet, it's funny, and it's beautiful. It's short and just stays long enough to not become cloying. I wish it would get a real release someday, but that looks very unlikely. At least the YouTube print is the most complete I've ever seen (various prints seem to be missing scenes). Four and a half Stars

January 13

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) directed by Thom Andersen

Watched on YouTube again - first time as one nice long file on a big-screen TV. Continues to impress, even when I disagree with it. A staggering achievement in film essay. For someone fascinated by movies, architecture, and the history of Los Angeles, it's a gold mine -- my wife was amused by how often a challenge or question from me was immediately answered by an image or the narration of the film. And now again I want to be wandering that strange city, though I know, from this film more than anything else, that the illusion in my head from cinema has little or nothing to do with reality. Five Stars

January 14

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) directed by John Sturges

Not sure why I'm so resistant to just admitting to myself that I really like John Sturges's films, but I wouldn't have really gotten to that admission until this second viewing of this film. They aren't "my kinds of films," but as I keep being surprised by liking so many films that aren't, I don't know what that is anymore.

In any case, the first time I saw this, I admired it, but was a hair disappointed, as I'd grown up seeing still after still from this one reproduced in books, with the vaguest idea of what the plot was in the text, and the film I'd conjured up in my head was a little more... noir? Filled with dread, at least. Seeing it again, knowing it, I was able to appreciate it more. Fantastic collection of big men sweating and being angry and paranoid (wait, does that describe most of Sturges's films?). Sturges knows how to use a Cinemascope frame perfectly. I always dig seeing Anne Francis.

I still feel like I maybe sit back thinking about what a good movie this is without really being grabbed by it, but I love how SOLID it all feels. Four Stars

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So, Philip Seymour Hoffman died. I kept trying to put my feelings about this into words for Facebook, and everything was either too long, too short, both, or horribly self-centered and -serving. So I basically wrote that in one brief sentence, which fit on Twitter as well, and moved on. Maybe someday I'll really deal with and share what Hoffman meant to me personally (which was a great deal) but it's too soon now to muddy the waters of the general and pure grief others are feeling for the man with my own feelings on it.

In the meantime, here's some more of the reactions I wrote in January to the movies I was watching...

January 3

Story of Women (1988) directed by Claude Chabrol

Well done. Not exactly my kind of film (if I know what such a thing is) and I haven't been all that fond of Chabrol's work in the past, but he has a fine, subtle hand here that makes every moment interesting. Really excellent cutting and camera movement.

Huppert is terrific -- great that she and Chabrol really don't care in the slightest about making her abortionist character noble or sympathetic. What she does may be right (and does not deserve the end she gets for it), but her own motives aren't very moral. A penultimate conversation and final title come dangerously close to moralizing on the entire (based on fact) story, but don't go over the edge. Sad, sad, film. Three Stars

Ariel (1988) directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Oh, so sweet. Sad, gripping, beautiful, unpredictable while somehow inevitable, and not the downer it seems destined to be from the opening images (a feeling that kept me away from Kaurismäki for so many years). Effortless. Earns the surprising, weighty final music cue. Three and a half Stars

January 4

Dhoom 2 (2006) directed by Sanjay Gadhvi

I seem to be giving this the same rating as the first Dhoom, though I think I liked it a bit more maybe, though in a slightly different way, while being a hair bugged by different things.

As a film, and as an action film, it works better than the first one -- more cohesive, more interesting, not trying to do as much and focusing on doing what it does better. It requires knowledge of the characters from the first one to work properly, but apart from that holds together well on its own.

At the same time, I was a little put off by how much it seemed influenced by Western and Hong Kong cinema rather than what I've seen of Bollywood's own fine styles and traditions. Structurally, and in use of the characters, it felt like a late-80s Jackie Chan film (Amour of God 2, in particular), but without the humor (or the standard Bollywood humor, which was missed). The musical sequences weren't exactly well-integrated, either. It felt a lot like a large scale and more colorful and musical Ringo Lam or Kirk Wong film, which wouldn't be bad except that it seemed to limit the emotional range and depth I've come to expect from Indian films (the cameo appearance of Rimi Sen as Abhishek Bachchan's wife, returning from the first film, turns her from a believably jealous girlfriend into a cliched hectoring wife right out of the worst parts of HK cinema).

I enjoyed it, yes. I just felt it losing some of the qualities I've been enjoying in Bollywood film as being special and unique to that cinema. I hope as I keep moving forward with these films through the past decade, I don't see those qualities slipping away. Three Stars

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) directed by Shaad Ali

Having less to say about the more recent Bollywood films I'm watching. Romance pictures aren't exactly my bag but this one works just fine, and the musical numbers are especially fun (beautiful locations and sets). Amitabh Bachchan's cameo as a kind of Spirit of Love/Pirate/Dr. John the Night Tripper figure singing and dancing around Waterloo Station is a real highlight. Three Stars

January 5

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Not sure why I avoided this for so long. I remember some reviews from when it came out that made it sound really twee and precious and something about that really turned me off. Glad I finally got to it. Funny as hell and not at all precious. Sometimes wish he had a better DP for color and density, but the frame is always lovely. Three and a half Stars

Rocky VI (1986) directed by Aki Kaurismäki
A very silly music video that retells some of the plot of the Hollywood ROCKY IV with a more burly Russian and a weakling Rocky. Silly in a good way. Funny. Two and a half Stars

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) directed by Sergio Leone

Was recataloging my iTunes this morning and got to osrting through the several hundred Ennio Morricone tracks in there. A brief taste of them made me decide it was one more Sunday to spend with this film and its follow-up (this happens about four times a year, for at least the past decade).

It remains a masterpiece. It just gets better each time. I feel fortunate to have the extended, restored version here and available (even if the newer dubbing on the restored scenes doesn't quite match) as it is indeed better than the cut I watched for years. I'll probably want to watch it again tomorrow, but I'll hold off for another Sunday sometime in a few months. Someday I will make a pilgrimage to the location of the finale. Five Stars

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) directed by Sergio Leone

Well, this masterpiece again.

As with GBU, just gets better each time. I feel like I know every shot by heart at this point, and yet they all still surprise me somehow.

I surprised myself a while back when I was making up my own list of "10 Greatest Movies of All Time" (as everyone seemed to be doing after the 2012 Sight & Sound poll) and this wound up on there. It was unavoidable, it seemed -- and no matter how much I argued with myself about whether or not it belonged, no other film could budge it from my list, which is HERE. Five Stars

More reactions tomorrow or otherwise shortly...

collisionwork: (Ambersons microphone)
And here we are in the second month of 2014. I have not posted here since November of 2012, it appears. Goodness.

So, why come back here at all? Well, I actually pay for this online space, I have some history here to keep up (and communities/people I still check in on), and I miss the format a bit. And it's still the default place listed for me (and Gemini CollisionWorks) as an online home in a number of other onine locales.

As I think I noted over a year ago, gradually, as much as I loved this place once, the formats of Facebook & Twitter became more useful to me and my online life -- good for both promoting my own work to a specific audience that noted an interest in it and sharing the links, images, thoughts, and other items/ideas I had collected/collated on the Internet and in Real Life. They work better on a day to day basis, and I haven't had the need or the time for the longer thoughts I used to put down here (I'm actually writing more, that is, being a playwright that needs more time to just sit with a notebook and music and think -- if I sit with a computer I waste time with other pursuits...). So my LiveJournal time has become Playwriting Time, for the most part.

But. I do spend time in some of my online locales writing things, short or long, about what I'm seeing or experiencing, so if the text is there, why not put it here where people who might not see it on Facebook, or Twitter, or Flickr, or MUBI, or Letterboxd, can possibly run into it?

So on a weekly (or more frequent) basis, I'll be collecting the items I post to various social media and putting them here as well. I'm starting out this month with the little reactions I've been posting to this past month.

I decided, as long as I was recording my regular film watching to Letterboxd as a kind of journal, I would at least write a sentence, something, about my reaction to the films. Not a review, but my immediate thoughts - not so much for other people, but as a memory journal for me to go back to, maybe of some interest to others (as I become a middle-aged artist, aware of how comparatively little time I may have left, I'm more selfish in judging everything I deal with on the basis of "What can I get out of it that will feed me and my work creatively - if not as a direct influence, then as art-soul nourishment?"). So since I've written 69 reactions to 69 movies I watched in January (a big number; I spent a week in Maine doing little more than watching Turner Classic Movies), I'll port them over here, a few every day, until I'm caught up to date. Then I'll probably dump them all here once a week. And I'll try to bring back my weekly Random 10 from my iPod as well, with more commentary on the music, as I used to do.

So to start, here's some reactions to first movies I watched this year, as you can also find on my Letterboxd account...

January 1

Speed Racer (2008) directed by The Wachowskis

First movie of the new year (started watching at 10.30 pm on the 31st), and with that, the first movie I'll add a small "review" of -- a resolution for 2014, to say something, even a short sentence, about everything I watch and log here.

I asked Berit, my wife & partner, what we should watch, this or The Magnificent Ambersons, and she just started laughing. When I asked why, she said that the combo of unlikely films was some kind of perfect summary of me (and when I said that still didn't answer my question, she laughed harder and picked this film). I do love this film, and probably only dock it a half-star from a perfect score due to some lingering prejudice about its "kid film" qualities (which it is, sure, but so is Star Wars and they should be, and are fine for all that).

The color and the movement and the Brakhage-ness of it all, in the service of a fun, somewhat-subversive story just bowls me over every time. It is in the tradition of (and feels almost a summary of) an entire lineage of storytelling-through-color-and design that I love, but adds a visceral punch in the editing that so many gorgeously art-directed films lack. I want to go from this to rewatching One from the Heart and The Boyfriend and The Tales of Hoffmann and so on and so forth. No, in more sober moments, I wouldn't want all films to be as artificial and designed as those, but while watching them I feel quite differently.

And any film that metaphorically deal with the position of the artist in capitalist society (centrally or indirectly) are probably going to have an in with me, whether it's this one or, well, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (which are similar in more than a few ways, now that I think of it). Four and a half Stars

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) directed by Aditya Chopra

Trying over the past year or more to stick my toe into the vast sea of Indian Cinema. Never knew where to start -- well, except maybe with Satyajit Ray, some of whose works I tried about 25 years ago and didn't get into. Turns out that I like a lot of his later, less famous works (The Chess Players; The Middleman; etc.) more than the earlier, more acclaimed ones.

But as for "Bollywood?" Didn't know how to start or where to go until put onto a few films by Mark Cousins's Story of Film, and from the films and actors he talks up there to others. Eventually, I just basically added to my Netflix & Hulu streaming anything that had high ratings or in the case of Netflix had many interesting and positive reviews from people who seemed to know their Indian Cinema.

I've been going chronologically through film from 1946 onward for over a year, filling in mainly the gaps in international cinema in my education, but occasionally things being removed from streaming forces some jumps, so while I'm mostly back in 1987 now, I'm leaping to 1995 and onward as a lot of Indian film will vanish from Netflix by Sunday. Tonight, made it to this highly-regarded film that didn't impress me at first as much as its incredible reputation suggested it should. With my tastes, yes, I like action and other genre pictures a lot more than romance generally, but I can appreciate a good love story. Still, for most of this one, while I liked the locations in London and Switzerland, and the music was great (especially the opening number), the acting charming, and the shooting excellent, it didn't seem very special to me.

But when, after the intermission, the story moves to India, it really takes off. Still not a favorite of mine, but the last section of the film does seriously jump in quality - there's two especially beautiful musical numbers, and as the stakes rise in the drama, the actors really get to shine. After some of the other Indian films I've watched, I still don't completely get the fervor this one has inspired, but it's not as disappointing as it started out to be. Three Stars

January 2

Boarding Gate (2007) directed by Olivier Assayas

Nice bits here and there, some good plot ideas, but not terribly interesting. Well-acted (I even liked the slightly-wooden-but-not-inappropriately-so Kim Gordon, who seems to have gotten reamed in the press for her work here). Great use of Sparks as end credit music. Two Stars

Mohabbatein (2000) directed by Aditya Chopra

Oh, there we go. Very much liked this one, preferred it quite a bit to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge -- it seems, and from the little I read about it, that it was a bit of an attempt by Aditya Chopra to recapture some of the magic of that much-loved film. I know it wasn't anywhere as popular as that film, but for me this one succeeds the whole way through while Diwale only worked in fits and starts. The large and talented ensemble cast really sells it and makes you care about all the love stories going on (only the older comic-relief couple seems short-changed and shoehorned in because there HAS to be some comic relief).

Amitabh Bachchan, as usual, is mesmerizing, helped here by an almost campy-running-gag series of dramatic entrances (I think there are about five parties or musical numbers broken up by sudden whip-pans to his disapproving form). Shahrukh Khan has matured a lot since Diwale, and can actually face off convincingly against Bachchan. We also get a crowd-pleasing reprise of Amrish Puri's amazing bug-eyed death glare from Diwale, now done three times in one scene, each with a dramatic dolly-in. Beautiful.

The long running time has been criticized (even in the Indian press, where I would think 3+ hour-long films would have more acceptance), but unlike some Bollywood work I've seen I was never bored a moment by this film, waiting for the next musical number or set piece. Chopra's improved as a director since Diwale (though he's still a bit repetitive in his staging), and the cast is talented top-to-bottom, as well as being, both men and women, really easy on the eyes -- as is usual, though I must note here the camera REALLY points up the physical attributes of the women as I haven't noticed before in Indian film (I was quietly sighing, "Oh, my" in surprise just about every time one of the women reappeared in a new, even more revealing costume).

As with most Bollywood films I watch -- even more so, in fact -- this has given me more actors whose filmographies I now need to get through. It's vanishing from Netflix Instant shortly, but if it returns or you find it anywhere else, it's well worth the 3 hours and 36 minute investment. Four Stars

The Thin Blue Line (1988) directed by Errol Morris

Rewatch as I pass through 1988 in my chronological viewing/reviewing of film. I've seen this too many times, I guess, and don't seem to have much more to get out of it. I thought it would still be interesting despite the many viewings and knowing everything about it by now, but no. I just know it too well/ I can recognize how great a film it is still, but it doesn't have the same hypnotic power it did for many years. I'd almost dock it a star, a star and a half for how I feel now, but I can remember what it was like to see this for the first time, and it deserves its rating for the power it once had over me. Four and a half Stars

Dhoom (2004) directed by Sanjay Gadhvi

Nice action picture, with great music, and some especially cool moments and performances, but, except for some lovely 3-way split-screen sequences, nothing all that special. Nothing wrong with it, just didn't stand out much. Also a little horrified to finally hear auto-tune make its way into Bollywood vocals, normally a haven for beautiful, true voices. Three Stars

...more to come soon, I guess and hope...


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