Scorecard: April 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

What I Really Liked

Raw Deal

I was fully expecting Criss Cross to be my favorite of the film noirs at the TCM Fest, since it’s the best known and all (and it came pretty close, see below), but this early Anthony Mann film ended up beating it out. It’s a pretty spare film, with convict Dennis O’Keefe breaking out of prison with the help of his boss (who he’d taken the fall for), his girlfriend Claire Trevor, and his lawyer’s assistant Marsha Hunt – but turns out his boss isn’t on the up and up and only broke him out so he’d get killed by the police during the escape attempt. But O’Keefe makes it out, setting up a very interesting triangle between him and the two girls. Even more interesting is the flat yet poetic voiceover that Trevor gets – it’s unusual for a noir film to have a female voiceover, and even more unusual for it to be for a film told in the present (not a flashback) and only partially from Trevor’s point of view. What could’ve been simply a standard potboiler, and largely is in terms of straight plot, becomes much more thanks to that voiceover and the interactions between Trevor and Hunt. Full review on Row Three.

1948 USA. Director: Anthony Mann. Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland, Raymond Burr.
Seen April 13 at TCM Film Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 914 out of 2930

Why Worry?

When I heard this one was about Harold Lloyd ending up in a South American country and getting inadvertently mixed up in their Civil War, I thought that was a sure sign I wasn’t going to care for it very much – generally old Hollywood going for the exotic means a) racism and b) they depend on the exotic for interest instead of actual plot or gags. And granted, I didn’t love it as much as the other Lloyd films I saw this month, but it’s still extremely solid, and I needn’t have worried (I guess I should’ve listened to the title!). Lloyd is a hypocrondriac down in the tropics for his health, but in a very Three Amigos-esque turn, ends up saving the village from a marauding warlord, along with the help of a friendly giant that Lloyd released from prison. Lots of really fun adventure and great gags.

1923 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, John Aasen, Wallace Howe.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 957 out of 2930

Criss Cross

Even though my movie-watching records say I saw this well-known film noir back in 2002, I do not remember seeing it at all, so I’m counting it as a new watch. Seeing it with a room full of noir fans on the big screen was surely a more memorable experience anyway :) I really liked the way the film dropped us in media res, with very little indication of the backstory that led our characters to their current apparently desperate circumstances. That isn’t totally uncommon in noir, but this one left us hanging and putting together the pieces a little longer than most before a flashback jumped in to clear up relationships and motivations. Even with that, there’s always another double cross in the film, and trust shouldn’t be given lightly. Or at all, really. Still, I found myself not quite as impressed as I wanted to be, with lots of the stuff in here being pretty noir standard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s movies like this that help give the noir style its definition. Full review on Row Three.

1949 USA. Director: Robert Siodmak. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea.
Seen April 12 at TCM Film Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1109 out of 2930

Lonesome

I ended up hitting all of the silent films at the TCM Film Fest (not intentionally, or at least not originally, but I’m not surprised it worked out that way), and this was the only one I hadn’t heard of before. It’s definitely due a renaissance, though some elements of it fall into “curiosity” territory. The story is adorably simple – a young man and a young woman each living alone in New York City are overcome with loneliness and decide to go to the beach on a holiday, where they meet and instantly fall in love, spending a glorious day together until they’re separated by circumstance and despair of ever finding each other again. The unfortunate part is that the film was made right at the cusp of sound and they couldn’t resist putting in a few sound sequences among the silent parts. These have a certain quaint charm, but are so extremely wooden and unconvincingly acted (and scripted with maudlin saccharinity) that they stand out like a sore thumb among the beautifully-realized silent portions. If ever there was an argument that silent film was fine and sound was an intrusion, this is it (obviously filmmakers learned to use sound properly later). In any case, the film as a whole is romantic, sweet, funny, and adorable, and hopefully TCM will start playing it, because it deserves to be better known.

1928 USA. Director Pál Fejös. Starring: Barbara Kent, Glenn Tryon.
Seen April 14 at TCM Film Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1111 out of 2930

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way first: I want pretty much every single piece of tech in this movie. I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the fourth entry in a franchise that I’ve only mildly enjoyed in the past (I’m in the minority in actually liking the second one, but the first one didn’t do a whole lot for me, and I skipped the third), but when the effusively positive reviews started pouring in, I figured I’d check it out, and yeah, this is easily the best of the series, and one of the most entertaining and engaging action films in recent memory. It’s not afraid to be outrageous (climbing up the outside of the tallest building in the world with just sticky gloves; being caught by a remote control magnetic platform the only thing keeping you from being shredded by an industrial fan; etc.), and it pulls off every single moment. Great direction from Brad Bird (we need more animation directors in action films – they know how to block out and shoot the sequences without relying on unintelligible editing) and solid support from everyone, especially the always-hilarious Simon Pegg, and Tom Cruise proves he’s still got it where it counts – on screen. I tell you, with the level of espionage and tech on display here, Skyfall needs to be pretty damn good to keep MI4 from totally eclipsing almost everything that’s great about the Bond mythos.

2011 USA. Director: Brad Bird. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyquist.
Seen April 29 on Redbox Blu-ray.
Flickchart ranking: 1098 out of 2930

What I Liked

The Thief of Bagdad

This was pretty much the ONE Douglas Fairbanks film I missed when Cinefamily did a Fairbanks series last year, and I’ve regretted it ever since. But no more! It was the capstone to the TCM Fest, the last film I saw there, and it was definitely a thrilling end to the program. The sheer scale of the film and the sets, especially for 1924, is simply incredible, and the second half really works like gangbusters as Fairbanks quests through all kinds of magical realms and battles fantastic creatures to secure the most impressive gift in order to win the hand of the princess (other suitors are seeking similarly, which are also good segments). That said, the film is really quite long (it had an intermission in it), and the first half could’ve been tightened up a lot. It almost didn’t really get going until after the intermission. So it ended up lower on my scale than some of the other Fairbanks films, or indeed, several of the other silents at this fest. But it’s still very well worth watching, and the parts that are great are truly and breathtakingly great.

1924 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Anna May Wong.
Seen April 15 at TCM Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1115 out of 2930

John Carter

I got to this one a few weeks late, after everybody everywhere had already spilled all their ink talking about the budget and the $200 million bath Disney was taking on this film. Whatever. The tragedy here was in the marketing, because this is a solid, old-fashioned adventure film. Sure it runs a little long, but by and large, I really enjoyed watching this, despite my hesitation based on the frankly terrible trailers. Thank goodness I listened to a few blogs I trust and some friends, as well as my passing knowledge of the original novel – Disney really dropped the ball on building recognition and buzz for this, because the film itself holds up. It takes its time setting up the character, with some really well-done Earthbound scenes, then opens up wonderfully on Mars, with some earned fun as Carter figures out his new environment and what kind of man he needs to be. The Princess of Mars is written quite well, and portrayed perfectly by Lynn Collins – it’s rare to watch an adventure film like this, even these days, and be impressed by the female characters. Plus Stanton, perhaps thanks to his animation background, has an excellent sense for blocking and directing action, which is rarely if ever incomprehensible here. It’s saddening to me that the film did so poorly, simply because I want to see more old-school adventure films like this, and now we likely won’t.

2012 USA. Director: Andrew Stanton. Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong.
Seen April 7 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 1118 out of 2930

Call Her Savage

What a strange little film. Hoping to bring her silent stardom into the sound era despite scandal in her personal life, Clara Bow was given carte blanche for this film, and she used it to make this bizarre mishmash of a Pre-Code film. She’s an uncontrollable rancher’s daughter, carrying (according to the title cards) the saved-up iniquity of her promiscuous and wild pioneer forefathers. Unhappy with simply flirting with the half-breed Indian she’s grown up with as best friends, she steals a rich man from his straying wife and goes to the city, where she’s also unhappy and scandalous. It plays like a scathing comedy for most of the first half and then suddenly her life falls apart and she’s living in a tenement alone with her baby. Then it gets comedic again as she gets back into society and catfights it out with her former husband’s former wife. Then she ends up back on the ranch. It’s quite a ride and certainly never a dull moment for Clara, but it is a MESS. Not saying whether that’s a good or bad thing, as I’m not totally sure myself. But it’s certainly something that would never have gotten made five years later, so there’s that. Real comment I made to some fellow Fest-goers right after: “So this movie happened, and then they clamped down on the Code because of Temple Drake?” Yeah, that gets outright banned, yet compared to this, it’s like Sunday School. :)

1932 USA. Director: John Francis Dillon. Starring: Clara Bow, Gilbert Roland, Thelma Todd, Monroe Owsley, Estelle Taylor
Seen April 14 at TCM Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1512 out of 2930

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I’d never managed to see this Disney live-action classic, so big screen at Grauman’s with Kirk Douglas in attendance seemed like the perfect opportunity. And indeed, hearing the veteran actor break out into a spontaneous chorus of “A Whale of a Tale” was a highlight of the weekend. The film itself wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I guess I was thinking something more along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean (the ride), but of course, with the Jules Verne background I should’ve known there would be a strong Victorian science/ethical bent to this. Captain Nemo (Mason) is a bit of a tortured soul, who has developed nuclear capability (using it to power his submarine the Nautilus) but fears to share his discoveries with others because he thinks they’ll misuse it. Of course, he sets himself up as a demigod merely be believing he has the right to make that decision. Meanwhile, Douglas’s harpooner just wants to get away, preferably with lots of treasure in hand. Anyway, there are lots of fun scenes interspersed – sea battles, travels through undersea wonders, and a giant squid fight that’s pretty awesome. And I liked the slower, more thought-provoking parts as well, but the two tones aren’t really balanced together that well and the film’s pacing suffers.

1954 USA. Director: Richard Fleischer. Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre.
Seen April 13 at TCM Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 1433 out of 2930

Our Dancing Daughters

This film is often credited with making a major star out of Joan Crawford, who puts her Charleston champion skills to good use as a quintessential Jazz Baby. She’s party girl Diana, who falls in love with Ben, a new guy in town who happens to be a millionaire – a fact which has every other girl chasing him, too, especially her sort-of friend Ann (Anita Page), who masquerades as a goody-two-shoes to convince Ben that she’s more appropriate marriage material than Diana. The film is intriguing on a conniving-women level, as Ann is the consummate golddigger, and is encouraged to be so by her mother, who tells her not to hang out with Diana – why? Because Diana’s partying ways will corrupt Ann’s gentle spirit? No…because Diana’s partying ways make her less desirable to rich young men to marry. Kind of a quaint idea now, and the film is considerably dated in terms of gender and social mores (not to mention that these girls, despite seeking rich husbands, apparently have enough money to have outrageous parties every night). There are still some fun scenes, for sure – Crawford getting dressed without ever breaking her Charleston stride, Page threatening to steal the show as she enjoys playing the bad girl, the quieter turn of third friend Dorothy Sebastian – but it’s mostly of interest to silent film buffs or as a historical curiosity.

1928 USA. Director: Harry Beaumont. Starring: Joan Crawford, Johnny Mack Brown, Nils Asther, Dorothy Sebastian, Anita Page.
Seen April 12 at TCM Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1383 out of 2930

Fall Guy

If you want to talk about low-budget noir films, Fall Guy is your ticket. Made on a poverty row budget with almost no well-known actors (calling them “actors” is a bit of a stretch at times, if I’m being catty, outside of the always enjoyable Elisha Cook Jr.), minimal sets, and a very short running time, Fall Guy remained interesting to me largely because of its very intriguing narrative device, which can be credited to the Cornell Woolrich story on which it’s based. The police find a man collapsed in the street with a bloody knife, and assume he killed someone. When he comes around, he has vague memories of waking up in a room and finding a dead body, but can’t remember who or where or if he killed her. He escapes the police and goes searching for the body himself. In short, we have a murderer without a murder, which is a great twist on a standard crime story. There’s also a lot of “drugs screwed me up!” undertones, some very stiff acting, as I mentioned, and a very cursory script. It’s not a great or even very good film by any stretch of the imagination, but for fans of crime noir, it’s about as lean and direct an example as you could want. I’m very glad the TCM Festival brought out stuff like this as well as the more sure-thing classic favorites.

1947 USA. Director: Reginald Le Borg. Starring: Robert Armstrong, Leo Penn, Teala Loring, Elisha Cook Jr.
Seen April 14 at TCM Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1479 out of 2930

The Incredible Hulk

The last of the “canon” Marvel films I wanted to watch before The Avengers came out, and I snuck it in just in time. I haven’t seen the Ang Lee Hulk yet, either, so this was my first real experience with the big guy, and it’s decent enough. With just a bit of origin story showing the experiment that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk under the opening credits, we were off into the main story, which is all about the army trying to recapture Banner so they can figure out how to use the Hulk as a weapon. I didn’t care that much for the military side of this (unlike Captain America, for some reason), but that’s the story, so what could I do? I do find the Hulk fascinating because he basically never ever wants to turn into his superhero form – in fact, Hulk in this incarnation isn’t really a superhero at all. He’s a mindless rage monster. So in one way, if you’re at all sympathetic with Banner, you hope the Hulk never turns up. But at the same time, what kind of fun would that be? It makes it kind of a bizarre watching experience. Some things are really good here, especially the initial introduction of Hulk inside the factory, shown with glimpses and oblique angles. It’s really effective at getting across the terror that Hulk represents. Everything else is mostly just kind of bland, unfortunately. Norton plays Banner as if “troubled” meant “dour,” Liv Tyler falls into the dull role most female comic characters seem to have, and Tim Roth is menacing, but essentially just becomes Hulk 2 for the final battle. So the film’s okay, but no great shakes.

2008 USA. Director: Louis Leterrier. Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson.
Seen April 30 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1824 out of 2930

What I Didn’t Like

Iron Man 2

I figured I’d go ahead and watch this before The Avengers comes out, since I had missed it in theatres the year it came out. “Missed” isn’t the right word. I heard bad things about it and opted not to go. And yeah, this movie is pretty boring, especially for an action movie. There are only like two and a half actual action scenes in it. The first hour or so I was kind of bored stiff – there were some good ideas in there, like Tony being poisoned by the thing that’s saving him, but the film just uses it as an excuse for him to wallow in self-pity (somehow he manages to be arrogant AND self-pitying at the same time) and do ridiculously stupid things. It picked up in the last third, after he met with Nick Fury and Black Widow (as herself, I mean, not as office drone Natalie), and I perked up a good bit, but even so. The good bits (callbacks to Howard Stark, a fun performance by Sam Rockwell, decently choreographed if overly digital-looking fight sequences) couldn’t save the dismal script. Easily the worst of the Avengers lead-up movies I’ve seen (the only one I’m missing is Incredible Hulk). Not only is the script a mess, but it’s deadly dull for extended portions of its overlong running time, and that’s pretty much the worst sin a film like this can commit.

2010 USA. Director: Jon Favreau. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson.
Seen April 26 on Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 2199 out of 2930

Rewatches – Love

Vertigo

I’m pretty much up for my second-favorite Hitchcock film any time, any place, but with a sold-out crowd at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with my husband who has never seen it before? Yes, this was perfection. No matter how many times I see this film it always overwhelms me by the end. Definitely a slow burn, but man, how it burns once it gets going. This was a brand-new digital print, which, meh on digital prints, but it is certainly a nice-looking restoration, with colors popping like I haven’t seen before, and yet a kind of tender softness as well. And I gotta shout out Barbara Bel Geddes, whose Midge is one of my favorite supporting characters of all time. The moment after she’s shown Scottie her imitation painting and realizes that was exactly the wrong thing to do breaks my heart every time.

1958 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes.
Seen April 13 at TCM Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 10 out of 2930

The Women

Don’t ask me to count how many times I’ve seen this movie. I couldn’t do it, and yet every time I’m just as delighted (probably more) than if I were seeing it for the first time. It’s gimmick film to a degree, with its no-men-on-screen conceit, but it hardly depends on that gimmick, relying rather on an incredibly sharp script by Anita Loos (from the play by Clare Booth Luce) and some of the cattiest, most entertaining performances by some of the biggest stars of the era. The dialogue and delivery is enough to praise on its own, but I also love the way it brings so many different perspectives on relationships and marriage into the spotlight. I wouldn’t call it a particularly deep look at marriage, but pretty much everything is represented here, from the woman who loves her husband almost unconditionally, to the young wife who’s still figuring out how to make decisions jointly to the hopeless romantic who’s been married six times to the one who’s just after what she can get to the mother of eight to the matron with decades of experience to the young child who can’t understand why her parents don’t just “do something” to save their marriage. It’s got everything, and everyone has surprises up their sleeves without ever breaking character. Can’t get enough of it.

1939 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine.
Seen April 15 at TCM Fest, Egyptian Theatre..
Flickchart ranking: 22 out of 2930

The Lady Eve

This is one of my comfort movies, one I can always go back to and rely on it to put a smile on my face. This viewing was primarily sharing it with Jonathan, but let’s face it, sometimes I just need some Stanwyck in my viewing schedule. She’s positively sparkling in this, which I think is her best role, Double Indemnity notwithstanding (it’s a close second). Her rapid fire monologue watching all the girls try to flirt with Charlie on the boat, her hilarious seduction of him in her cabin, and then her re-appearance as the title character, or “positively the same dame” are all comedic gold. Speaking of that, this supporting cast is untouchable. Thank you, Preston Sturges, for getting all these people together in the same film and giving them such great material. I usually find Eve’s performance in the train a bit on the shrill side, but this time I pretty much even loved that.

1941 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette.
Seen April 5 on Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 19 out of 2930

Chinatown

I have a weird relationship with Chinatown wherein every time I watch it, I’m like oh, yeah, that movie’s amazing. Love it. And then I completely and utterly forget everything about it. Well, except the one super-spoilery slapping scene – you know the one – and that it has something to do with water rights in Los Angeles. Right now it’s still in my memory to some degree, but I think the reason it slips away is simply because it’s so convoluted (not in a bad way) and I find it difficult to hang on to all the different threads and twists it takes as it gets to its inevitable and incredible conclusion. But that just means I get to experience it like new every time I rewatch it, which is kind of a neat side effect of memory loss. I still like classic noir more than neo-noir, but as neo-noir goes, you don’t get much better than Chinatown, which manages to take all the great things from classic noir and update them to the more complicated and corrupt ’70s perfectly. It’s tough to match, though many films have certainly tried.

1974 USA. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston.
Seen April 13 at TCM Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 89 out of 2930

Black Narcissus

I almost wanted to put this up with the new watches because I barely remember it from the first time I watched it, but I won’t. I’ll be honest. And honestly, I must’ve been really stupid the last time I saw this, because I didn’t see what the big deal about it was. This time I was blown away. Everything here is pretty amazing, from the psychological horror playing out among the nuns trying to establish a school in a precariously situated former Indian harem, to the stunning color cinematography by Jack Cardiff – one of the first times color was actually used for psychological effect rather than just splashiness. It’s remarkably subtle in how it carries out its story (is the ongoing mental breakdown of all the nuns due to their own demons, is it some evil inherent in the place itself, or the peculiar combination of culture and austere location, or all of the above), bolstered by fine performances all around, but particularly from a defiant Kathleen Baird. Back to the cinematography for a moment – this movie was shot 100% on a soundstage. Watch the movie, look at some stills, and tell me that’s not an incredible statement.

1947 UK. Director: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Starring: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Kathleen Baird, Sabu.
Seen April 15 at TCM Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 178 out of 2930

Wings

Another one that I haven’t seen for a very long time and improved greatly for me on rewatch. When I originally watched it, it was because I was trying to see all the Academy Award Best Picture winners – I had little to no interest in or knowledge of silent films, so a lot of this film’s power and artistry was frankly lost on me. This time around with a much stronger foundation and the opportunity to see it on one of the Chinese Multiplex’s bigger screens with a silent film-loving audience, it totally clicked. A few scenes go on too long (notably David’s taking leave of his parents to head off to war, which is INTERMINABLE and filled with acting cliches from the 1910s), but for the most part, I was utterly enthralled watching this. A few elements stretch credulity, like Jack’s inability to notice how much Mary loves him, but the actors approach everything with such fresh-faced enthusiasm that it worked. And the highly praised aerial battles are indeed amazing, retaining their thrills even now. Some people dislike the middle section where a drunken Jack on leave in Paris doesn’t recognize Mary, but I thought it was pretty charming and adorable as well. Shot way up the ranks of my favorite silent films, that’s for sure. And bonus: Jobyna Ralston is in this, who I’ve developed a girl crush on thanks to her appearances in all the Harold Lloyd films I saw in April.

1927 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, Jobyna Ralston.
Seen April 13 at the TCM Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2930

Trouble in Paradise

I’ve been looking forward to this rewatch for a long time, as well, especially since TCM Fest played Design for Living last year and I missed it – I tie these two together in my head because they share Lubitsch and Hopkins and came out at roughly the same time, but largely because I can never remember which one is which (because they share Lubitsch and Hopkins and came out at roughly the same time). Now I’ve got them straight in my head once and for all. This one is about a pair of thieves posing as members of society to get close to their marks, and they are GOOD at it. The opening scene is fantastic all on its own, with Marshall and Hopkins meeting and carrying on a whole conversation during which you’re never sure if they’re both really upper crust, or if one is conning the other, or if they’re both on to each other. It’s delightful, and the film doesn’t stop there. Lots of Pre-Code innuendo, but always with Lubitsch’s particular European sensibility that manages to be suggestive but never vulgar. The adjective “sparkling” was invented for movies like this.

1932 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis.
Seen April 15 at TCM Fest, Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 383 out of 2930

Rewatches – Really Like

The Brothers Bloom

As I eagerly await Rian Johnson’s third film Looper (coming this September), I wanted to revisit his second one, which I had enjoyed when I first watched it, but I had felt a little lost in the third act. And there’s definitely a huge tonal shift in there from the comedic, almost zany goings-on of the first half into the much darker and more brooding second half, which can be difficult to get a grasp on in only one viewing. So the second time did work out better for me, knowing where the story was heading. I’m always a sucker for con-man stories, and this is definitely a solid one, with brothers Brody and Ruffalo working some very long cons – and in fact, it’s hard to tell sometimes what’s a con and what isn’t with Ruffalo, a sore spot for Brody who wants some ability to live his own life without it being “written” for him as part of one of Ruffalo’s elaborate plots. Weisz brings some delightful whimsy to her role as a flighty heiress with an uncanny ability to pick up essentially any skill with ease, but without the common sense to always make good use of them. In any event, the end still goes on a bit too long for me (and the film is overlong as a whole), but I very much like so many of the elements here that I come down very much in the film’s favor.

2008 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi.
Seen April 6 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 854 out of 2930

Duck Soup

Most people proclaim Duck Soup as the best Marx Brothers film. I’ve never been quite convinced of that; I prefer others from both their Paramount and MGM days to this one. I mean, it’s a zany good time that makes absolutely no sense, and each individual gag is pretty fun, but as a whole, it’s almost too totally absurd for me to get my mind around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I guess, but I get more out of their comedy when its contained in something I can follow instead of spread anarchically around like it is here. Still, for a midnight show after a long day of film watching, it was a good deal of fun, even if I did catch myself snoozing a bit in the middle this time around.

1932 USA. Director: Leo McCarey. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont.
Seen April 14 at TCM Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1147 out of 2930

Rewatches – Like

Ghostbusters

This is one that might as well be a first time watch, since I remember literally nothing from this movie from the last time I watched it, but I do at least remember watching it, and being vaguely disappointed by it, or at least not quite getting what all my peers raved about so much when they talked about Ghostbusters. I’m a bit more in tune with ’80s stuff now, thanks to some begrudging self-motivated viewings and Jonathan’s influence, and there were a lot of parts of this I really liked. Like, everything that came out of Bill Murray’s mouth was pretty great. But I think I’m just gonna have to face the fact that I am never going to feel the abject love that so many people of my generation feel for this film. It’s a bit too goofy in weird ways (the whole ending just had me going “really? This is happening now?” and not totally in a good way) and doesn’t totally gel. Maybe it’s one of those you had to see for the first time as a kid, or at least during the ’80s.

1984 USA. Director: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver.
Seen April 27 on Netflix Instant.
Flickchart ranking: 1181 out of 2930