Tag Archives: Steven Soderbergh

Scorecard: June-September 2013

This has been a long time in the works. Even after I decided to just go with picture instead of blurbs and the whole bit, it still took me like two weeks to put together. Lots of interruptions lately. The baby is crawling, and she has the best cord-finding radar I’ve ever seen. Anyway. Not a lot of films watched the past few months, but a good variety, I think. Unsurprisingly Joss Whedon comes out on top.

What I Loved

Much Ado About Nothing

Ed Wood

The World’s End

Fort Apache

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Scorecard: July-October 2012

Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.

What I Loved

Cloud Atlas

I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.

2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.

The Master

I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.

2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.

Argo

With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.

2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.

Looper

This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.

2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.

Premium Rush

Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).

2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.

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Scorecard: May 2012

Apparently I turned a corner in moviewatching in May, finally having a solid streak of films I really liked to loved. I think there were a few months earlier this year that I struggled to come up with any films that a solidly loved. Obviously not last month with the TCM Fest going on, but that’s a special occasion. This month I saw and loved four very distinctly different films, which is exactly the kind of month I like to have. Not a lot of volume in May (thanks to my newly developed Minecraft addiction – seriously, if you get addicted easily, do NOT buy that game), but a whole lot of quality.

What I Loved

The Avengers

I actually wrote a sort-of review for The Avengers already, so I won’t go on about it here, except just to say that we went back to see it again the next week (we NEVER do that – I can count the number of films I’ve seen multiple times in theatres on two hands) and I still enjoyed it just as much. I expected the beginning set-up section at S.H.I.E.L.D. to drag a lot more the second time, but I was pleasantly surprised.

2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregg Clark, Cobie Smulders.
Seen May 5 and May 12 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
Flickchart ranking: 382 out of 2965

The Turin Horse

Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.

2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Seen May 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 433 out of 2965

Moonrise Kingdom

To some degree, you know what you’re going to get when you head into a Wes Anderson movie, so carefully has he refined his style, putting out one of the most self-consciously auteurist bodies of work of any director working today. This one is almost a spot-on distillation of the concept of a Wes Anderson film, and yet rather than devolve into parody, he’s created one of his best films yet. Here a boy scout and a young girl (who looks like a Margot Tenenbaum in the making) escape from her dysfunctional family, providing a young love of such innocence that it seems to provide a way out from Anderson’s typically ironic family drama, here played out by the world-weary and yet strangely childish adults. The film is so charming it’s easy to call it overly slight, but there’s more going on here than immediately meets the eye, and it has surprised me by never straying far from my mind since I saw it.

2012 USA. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.
Seen May 26 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 480 out of 2965

The Love Trap

Silent-to-sound era transition films are almost innately awkward, as studios rushed to try to sound-ify any silent films currently in production, creating hybrids that sit comfortably as neither silents or talkies. The Love Trap is one such film, and I won’t deny it has its fair share of awkwardness when the film, completely silent for roughly the first two thirds, turns completely talkie and it takes a little while to settle into the new mode. Yet I also can’t deny that I loved this film far more than it probably deserves. Laura LaPlante (who after seeing just this and The Cat and the Canary is my new silent girlcrush) is a showgirl who’s bad at it and gets fired, her only recourse to try to get “powder room money” from rich men. When one gets a little too fresh, she runs out horrified and disgraced, only to find she’s been evicted. A man in a taxi rescues her and her furniture from the sidewalk, and after a quick romance they’re married – but what will his wealthy family think of his showgirl wife? It’s pretty typical of the time, but done with such charm and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it – I say almost because there is a brief part in the taxi that bothered me, as the man begins behaving almost exactly like the cad back at the party, but somehow it’s different because we just “know” he’s the good guy. Double standard much? And the transition to sound is awkward, with poor LaPlante struggling a bit at first, but somehow by the end, she’s just as charming as she was in silent mode.

1929 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laura LaPlante, Neil Hamilton.
Seen May 9 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 555 out of 2965

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Scorecard: January 2012

This was a pretty dismal month in terms of movie-watching, but since I was filling my time with things like getting married and going on honeymoons, I guess I can forgive myself for slacking off in the movie department. Got through six new-to-me films this month, including a few new releases that eluded me toward the end of December, and a relatively decent number of rewatches. Now, we’ll have to see in February if the wedding excuse is accurate, or if I just need to buckle down a bit more and watch moar movies.

What I Loved

Haywire

For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. In real life, Carano is an MMA fighter, and it shows. Every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it’s effective, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter, and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.

2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.
Seen January 21 at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Flickchart ranking: 475 out of 2880

What I Really Liked

Hugo

I was so afraid Scorsese’s early cinema homage masquerading as a children’s film would leave theatres before I got a chance to see it (yes, in 3D; I was hopelessly curious), but either thanks to the sheer number of screens in LA or the multitude of Oscar nominations the film got last week, we made it with time to spare. I’m not sure I can totally say I loved it, though, quite as much as I wanted to. I did really like it, and the last twenty or thirty minutes are like crack if you’re interested in film history or early cinema (which I am), but a lot of the earlier parts of the film are uneven, the comedy with Sascha Baron Cohen doesn’t always totally work, and it’s overlong as a whole. Even so, by the end, I found myself really enjoying even all the day-to-day station vignettes that had kind of annoyed me earlier – whether they really worked better or I was feeling magnanimous because the Méliès stuff was bringing me to tears, I’m not sure. In any case, I walked out happy, even if the confection wasn’t quite cooked all through.

2011 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sascha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee.
Seen January 23 at Arclight Sherman Oaks, in 3D.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2880

Carnage

This turned out to be quite difficult to find only a few weeks after its release – we had to hit up the independent theatre chain at 11:00am on a Saturday to see it. I wonder what’s gone wrong with the marketing for this that there’s so little buzz around it? Are people just hating on Polanski that much? Because this is a solid and often hilarious film, with one of the best scripts of the year (unless you’re an Academy member, apparently), performed with vicious glee by four tremendous actors. It all takes place essentially in one room, as two sets of parents meet to discuss what’s to be done after one of their sons brains the other pair’s son with a stick. The situation quickly devolves from forced politesse to frank screaming, and everything in between. Informal alliances between characters shift rapidly, as it becomes clear that these couples’ marriages aren’t all they should be, and months and years of repressed frustration come out. But yes, despite all this, this is a laugh-out-loud comedy, with all four actors clearly enjoying the hell out of it – none more than Christophe Waltz, who proves Inglourious Basterds was no fluke. Pretty lightweight when you get down to it, but a whole lot of fun.

2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.
Seen January 28 at Laemmle NoHo.
Flickchart ranking: 525 out of 2880

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I gotta say, I was a little surprised when Jonathan picked this out as one of the films he wanted me to watch. I mean, a movie about a bunch of girls vying for a beauty pageant crown? But it wasn’t very far into the film that I understood. Miss Congeniality this ain’t. It’s a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, with a bunch of soon-to-be-famous starlets as the Minnesota girls (seriously, we were all like, hold up, is that Amy Adams? AND IT WAS) trying to win their podunk town’s pageant, from feted favorite Denise Richards (and her stage mom Kirstie Alley) to trailer park resident Kirsten Dunst, and everything in between. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the reason Jonathan likes it can be traced to the satire on Minnesota itself, but everything else is pretty spot-on as well. This film should’ve gotten way more attention than it did – I remember it coming out, but only as a little blip on my late ’90s pop-culture consciousness. And I was watching everything in 1999. Almost not exaggerating there.

1999 USA. Director: Michael Patrick Jann. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Brittany Murphy.
Seen January 27 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 717 out of 2880

What I Liked

Down Terrace

I missed watching this when other film blogs were talking about it a year or two ago, but after loving Kill List, I had to go back and check out Ben Wheatley’s earlier film, said to be in the same vein in terms of out-of-the-box genre filmmaking, but applied to gangster films instead of hit-men and horror. There are definitely resemblances, though Kill List is a step up in confidence, I think. Down Terrace starts off really slow and casual, to the point that it’s really difficult to figure out what even is going on or who these guys are as they sit around and chat. But that’s all very deliberate, and when shit starts going down, SHIT GOES DOWN. I’m still not totally sure what the ground zero event was that set everything in motion, but it doesn’t really matter – what matters is how it plays out, with suspicion leading to accusation leading to murder leading to cover-ups, etc. Plus there are a lot of surprisingly funny scenes, like when a cleaner comes to take care of a potential loose end but brought his kid along and thus can’t get with the violence the way he needs to in order to finish the job. The beginning is a bit of a slog, but it’s definitely worth it for the second half.

2010 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley.
Seen January 29 via Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 1064 out of 2880

Casanova

It’s pretty unusual for the Silent Treatment folks to show a non-American film; generally it’s rare and forgotten Hollywood films that they pull out of their vaults, but this time around they snagged a French film with a Russian director and cross-European cast, telling the oft-told story of Italy’s most famous lover. Of course, with silent film this doesn’t matter very much (and didn’t then, as intertitles don’t present as much of a language barrier problem as subtitling). The film itself is a pretty good romp, following Casanova through various love affairs and skirmishes with angry husbands and the law, including a bit of a tussle with Catherine the Great herself. The tone of the film is difficult to pin down, alternately comic and melodramatic, with a bit of rather fun if totally unbelievable special effects as Casanova convinces one town official he’s a magician. It’s a bit overlong, too, and suffers a lot from the fact that in the 18th century, everybody wore white wigs that made them all look identical. Especially the women – I know based on how Casanova acted that a few of them were repeat lovers, but I couldn’t tell you who or how they all fit into the narrative. Still, lead actor Ivan Mozzhukhin is pretty charming – thanks to his stellar career in Europe, he was hand-picked by Carl Laemmle to be the next Valentino, but conflicts with the studio and the coming of sound forestalled his American career after only one film.

1927 France. Director: Alexandre Volkoff. Starring: Ivan Mozzhukhin, Suzanne Bianchetti, Diana Karenne.
Seen January 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1620 out of 2880

Rewatches – Loved

Pierrot le fou

I missed a good bit of Cinefamily’s Godard retrospective due to being out of town, but of all of them, this is probably the one I wanted to share with Jonathan the most (outside of Band of Outsiders, which I made sure to show him very early in our relationship, heh), so I’m glad the scheduling worked out. For me, Pierrot le fou is the culmination of Godard’s pre-1968 style – not his most extreme (Week End) or most elusive (2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) or most pop cultury (Made in USA), but the most coherently synthesized example of his style and themes, starring his two most enduring and iconic actors. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. This is probably the fifth time I’m seen it, so I don’t really have anything new to say from this viewing, except that I loved it once again, and was very glad to see it in a theatre full of people who actually understood it’s a comedy. The first time I saw it was in a museum screening, and my gosh those people didn’t even crack a smile ONCE. It’s okay to laugh when things are funny. Just saying.

1965 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina.
Seen January 25th at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 44 out of 2880

L.A. Confidential

It’s been several years since I last saw L.A. Confidential, and I honestly wasn’t sure it would hold up. AFter all, last time I saw it, I was a greenhorn at the whole movie game, just barely starting to get into film noir at all – now that I knew more about what L.A. Confidential was homaging, would the homage seem as good? But I think the film actually improved for me this time around. There’s not a wasted moment here, and that’s a wonderful thing in a movie longer than two hours (it feels much, much shorter). The balance between the mystery and the character arcs is held perfectly, and while there’s not a lot of humor, a sardonic wryness sneaks through anyway (and a broader irony overlays thanks to Danny DeVito’s tabloid voiceover). The cast is magnificent, introducing Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe to American audiences with a bang that I’m not sure either of them have totally matched since, and the narrative unfolds its twisty-turny path with remarkable clarity, yet without ever hand-holding or condescending. It’s a fantastic film, and putting fifteen years on its clock hasn’t changed that a bit. (Relatedly, HOLY CRAP, L.A. Confidential is fifteen years old.)

1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell.
Seen January 19 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 88 out of 2880

Rewatches – Liked

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I watched this along with L.A. Confidential for a podcast, and like L.A. Confidential, it had been a while since I first saw it. Unlike L.A. Confidential, however, I hadn’t loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the first time I saw it. Thinking back, I couldn’t really pinpoint why nor remember the movie that well (though my capsule review that I unearthed after rewatching it is pretty spot-on), so I’d been meaning to rewatch anyway. Especially since I know a lot of people who practically worship this movie. And….it’s still fun, and I still don’t love it. It’s a bit too clever and stuck on making everything funny to actually make its story work. That isn’t always a problem for me, but in this case, writer-director Shane Black tried to have his cake and eat it too, and didn’t quite make it, though he came close. See also my Rewatched and Reconsidered post on Row Three.

2005 USA. Director: Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan.
Seen January 16 via Zune Marketplace.
Flickchart ranking: 945 out of 2880

Week End

I happened to be volunteering for Cinefamily one of the nights this played, or I probably wouldn’t have rushed back to see it. Or maybe I would have, because my experience with Godard tends to be that I don’t totally get his films the first time I watch them, but the second or third time they click and become, like, my favorite film of all time. Slight exaggeration, but not by much. Maybe the same thing would happen with Week End? Only kinda sorta. There are a lot of things about Week End that I like very much, even love. Actually, I’d say I love the whole first 2/3 or so, with the petit bourgeous couple wandering through the French countryside aimlessly. It’s savagely funny, and bits here and there are awesome (like when they hit another woman’s car and start driving off, and the other woman tries to get them by serving tennis balls at them; or when they interrupt Jean-Pierre Leaud having a sung conversation in a phone booth; or yes, like the traffic jam). But the film flies completely off the rails for me toward the end, just before they run into the cannibals. Up until this point, the narrative at least follows some internal sense of flow, but it breaks just there, and never recovers. I get that Godard is being purposefully confrontational and to some extent “destroying” cinema, and I don’t mind that, but after that point, the film just doesn’t work for me.

1967 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean Yanne, Mireille Darc.
Seen January 11 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1617 out of 2880

Scorecard: September 2011

[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.]

What. I actually got a monthly recap type post in on time? Even early (which is okay, I’m not planning to watch a movie tonight)! This has never happened, to my remembrance, in the history of my blog. Don’t get used to it, though I’m going to try to stay on task. A decent variety this month. Incidentally, in other postings about the two silent films, people have asked me where they can see them. I wish I had a better answer, but as of right now, both these films can only be seen if a repertory cinema in your area screens them. They’re not on DVD, and both of them are rare enough, I think, that they can’t be found online. I’ll see if I can find out more next time I see the archivists who run The Silent Treatment shows; a web archive of some of these harder-to-find movies would be fantastic, but either the archives that own the prints aren’t interested in doing that or they simply don’t have the funding.

What I Loved

Changing Husbands

I always love the Silent Treatment nights at Cinefamily, where a couple of UCLA and Academy archivists bring in rare silents, but I have to admit (as do they) that a lot of the films are more historically/academically interesting than actually good. But this one is genuinely charming and entertaining, and I pretty much loved every second of it. Leatrice Joy plays two roles – one a bored wife of a rich man who only wants to be a stage actress despite her husband’s wishes to live a quiet life, the other a struggling actress who just wants to be out of the spotlight. Yep, you guessed it, these women meet, realize their resemblance, and switch places – supposedly just for a few days, but the rich husband turns up and takes the actress home for the holidays, never suspecting the switcheroo. Joy does great in both roles, and the two men who confuse the women are charmingly hapless. There’s quite a bit of wonderful innuendo, giving pre-Code fans a lot to enjoy in the film.
1924 USA. Directors: Paul Iribe and Frank Urson (supervised by Cecil B. DeMille). Starring: Leatrice Joy, Victor Varconi, Raymond Griffith.
Seen September 7 at Cinefamily.

Night Train to Munich

A recent addition to the Criterion library, but I recorded it from TCM a few months ago and just now got around to watching it. Well, that’s not QUITE true. I started watching it a while back, but my mood wasn’t right and I wasn’t paying close enough attention and I was missing stuff…so I held off until I could concentrate on it. And I’m really glad I did, because though it’s not a particularly complicated film, it does have a number of plot turns, as befits a WWII spy thriller. Margaret Lockwood’s dad is a Czech scientist who needs to escape before Prague is taken over by the Nazis; he does, but she gets intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp, where she meets Paul Henreid, a freedom fighter who manages to help her escape. But is he what he seems, and what of the dashing British agent played by a very young Rex Harrison? Double-crosses abound, and it all leads to a tense cross-continent train trip where precarious identities may be uncovered at any second, and a final action scene that prefigures whichever Bond film had the gondola setpiece. It starts off a little slow, but man does it pay off by the end, and they know just when to stop it, too. No awkward overlong coda, just DONE. Love it.
1940 UK. Director: Carol Reed. Starring: Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Henreid.
Seen September 19, on TCM (via DVR)

What I Liked

Contagion

I wasn’t too interested in the plot of this film when I first heard about it, but with Soderbergh directing and a cast like THIS? I mean, look at it. Yeah. In an all-too-possible scenario, a deadly virus quickly spreads across the whole world, involving the CDC, the WHO, bloggers and media, ordinary citizens, scientists, government officials, etc. as they try to stop the spread of both the virus and the growing panic of the population. There’s a LOT going on here, and the pace is brisk, but steady. The balance between micro and macro is held quite well throughout, though the connections of the Marion Cotillard story and to some extent the Jude Law story were a bit tenuous. Overall, though, it’s a tremendous achievement of pure craft, and the use of major stars allow quick identification with characters that otherwise have little time to develop. Full review here.
2011 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle.
Seen September 10 at an AMC multiplex.

My Winnipeg

There aren’t any other filmmakers quite like Guy Maddin. Not that I’ve seen anyway. A Canadian filmmaker working somewhere on the fringe of experimental, Maddin uses styles and techniques from early cinema that have all but faded from use by pretty much everybody else. It’s as if in some alternate universe, German Expressionism and Soviet montage live side by side, accompanied by classic Hollywood tinting and iris fades, with voiceovers, dialogue, and title cards all working together for maximum effect. This is one of the more accessible Maddin films I’ve seen, a sort of documentary, sort of memoir, sort of fantasy about his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s mesmerizing and fascinating.
2007 Canada. Director: Guy Maddin. Starring: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage.
Seen September 22 and 23 on Netflix Instant.

Hard Boiled

I’ve been meaning to see this for quite some time, but my desire got stronger after seeing the film name-checked in Matthias Stork’s video on chaos cinema, as a stellar example of action setpieces. He was talking about the final shoot-out, which unfolds in a few very long traveling shots that manage to never lose spatial orientation no matter how hectic the action gets. And that sequence is for sure incredible, the standout in the film. The rest of it is good, too, but I have to admit to zoning out a bit here and there during some of the “plot” parts due to tiredness – thankfully it didn’t seem to matter too much, but I would like to go back sometime and fill in the gaps. It gets a little ridiculous what with the baby and all (pretty sure this was a major influence on the goofy Shoot ‘Em Up), but Chow Yun-Fat is earnest enough in his role to make it work.
1992 Hong Kong. Director: John Woo. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai.
Seen September 2 on DVD.

Falling Down

My boyfriend Jonathan and I have been taking turns showing each other films that mean a lot to us, and this was one of his for me. I’d never ever heard of it before he started talking about it, but since then I’ve come across a lot of other people who think pretty highly of it, too – a good sign that Schumacher can’t be simply written off based on his involvement in Batman & Robin. When he does smaller things or more indie things, he’s got quite a good eye and sensibility. This film has Michael Douglas basically in “I can’t take this anymore” mode as he leaves his car in a huge traffic jam and heads across Los Angeles on foot to see his daughter on her birthday – sounds like a great idea, except his ex-wife has taken out a restraining order against him, our first sign that maybe not all is quite right with Mr. Douglas. It’s kind of fascinating though, how the script and Douglas’s performance paint this character – he’s psychotic to some degree, but at the same time, you kind of totally understand where he’s coming from, and a good bit of the financial angst it is certainly still relevant. And it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t even realize how his actions come across to others – when he invades a pool party with a machine gun he’s picked up along the way, it doesn’t occur to him why the people are scared of him. I didn’t love it as much as Jonathan does, but it’s certainly solid, and I’d rewatch it at some point.
1993 USA. Director: Joel Schumacher. Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall.
Seen September 17 on DVD.

The White Shadow

In a way, it’s tough to review this one, since only three reels of it exist. But on the other hand, it’s not like I’ll ever get to see the rest of it. Unless by some miracle the rest of it pops up somewhere. This film was discovered among the New Zealand Film Archive silents by an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archivist working to catalog the American films being held there. You may recall the big “discovery” of these films a couple of years ago – a lot was made of finding John Ford’s Upstream and some others. More are being identified all the time, and this one turns out to be one of the earliest films Alfred Hitchcock worked on, as assistant director to Graham Cutts. The story involves a pair of sisters played by Betty Compson, one sweet and demure, the other wild and “soulless”. The rather convoluted plot involves mistaken identity, the wild daughter running away, the repentent father trying to find her, and the sweet girl marrying a man who was attracted to the wild daughter and never realized she had a double. Yeah. It’s pretty crazy, and the ending (read to us at the screening by Eva Marie Saint based on the copyright documents, since the last two reels of the film are still lost) sounds even crazier. But the opportunity to see films like this is such a treat – it’s both a saddening reminder of the state of silent film preservation (some 50-80% of all silent films are lost) and a hopeful indication that perhaps some films long thought lost actually do exist somewhere, in some form.
1924 UK. Director: Graham Cutts. Assistant Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Betty Compson.
Seen September 22 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A Foreign Affair

I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and have seen most of his films, but I put this one off for quite a while because I’d heard mixed things about it, and that’s pretty close to right. Jean Arthur as a stuffed-up congresswoman investigating the unseemly conduct of American servicemen in post-WWII Berlin doesn’t quite fly, and her transformation into someone with actual emotions thanks to the attentions of a not-quite-on-the-level John Lund is a bit unbelievable. I frankly found her character so irritating in the beginning I didn’t care much about the turn, which says a lot, because I LOVE Jean Arthur. That said, all the parts with Marlene Dietrich are ace, especially the two nightclub numbers she does in her inimitable way. Arthur has some good isolated scenes, like when she breaks down telling about a past failed love affair, but they’re not enough. There’s also a Nazi spy subplot that’s intriguing but doesn’t quite go anywhere. When the ending came, it felt pretty opposite what I wanted to happen. Some really good parts, fairly unsatisfying whole.
1948 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, Millard Mitchell.
Seen September 26 on TCM (via DVR)

What I Didn’t Like

Stone

I mostly watched this so I could have another film to add to my Milla Jovovich post on Row Three, but I did think I’d like it more than I did. Edward Norton is a guy in jail about to come up for parole, Robert De Niro is the case officer who will decide whether he’s fit to leave or not, and Milla Jovovich is Norton’s wife who tries to get De Niro to look favorably on her husband. Which she does by seducing him. It looks like a cat-and-mouse thriller, but it’s a lot more about De Niro’s own demons and how the situation with Norton and Jovovich affects him. Meanwhile, Norton has a whole religious experience that didn’t work for me at all, and while Jovovich gives a really good performance, I couldn’t ever really grasp her character’s motivations. Plus the whole thing has this dour, broody feel going on – and not in a good way.
2010 USA. Director: John Curran. Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich.
Seen September 5 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Rewatches – Love

Drive

I saw this back at the LA Film Festival (my review) and promptly declared my love for it. I was curious whether a second viewing would diminish my love, as festival screenings carry their own high with them that sometimes fades under normal moviewatching conditions, but no. If anything, I liked it BETTER the second time, because I could just sit back and enjoy the leisurely pacing, the gorgeous cinematography, the bursts of violence, and the whole dreamy/brutal tone of it all without worrying about what I thought about it or what to write about it. It will almost certainly be near the top of my Best of 2011 list.
2011 USA. Director: Nicholas Winding Refn. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks.
Second viewing September 17 at an AMC multiplex. First seen June 2011 at the LA Film Festival.

Bringing Up Baby

It’s been a long, long time since I saw this movie, and I was really glad Jonathan picked it out of my collection to watch. It’s still among the zaniest movies ever made, and I can’t help but get caught up in its breakneck pacing. I don’t care if Hepburn’s character is a manipulative, conniving piece of work, or that Grant’s 180 degree turn towards loving her is totally unbelievable. She’s a force of nature in this film, and it somehow seems natural that everything else gets caught up in her wake. And as utter farce, it’s jaw-achingly funny.
1938 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Dame May Whitty, Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald.
Umpteenth viewing September 25 on DVD. First seen many, many years ago, probably on VHS.

Marie Antoinette

Can I just say how much I love that Jonathan chose this himself as one to watch, because he wanted to get more familiar with Sofia Coppola’s films? I figured he would like it, because its pop-art take on history is a flavor that both of us like, and he did. I did, too…I actually haven’t seen it since it first came out on DVD, so I was glad of the rewatch on it to confirm that it really is as surprisingly good as I thought it was.
2006 USA. Director: Sofia Coppola. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn.
Second viewing September 18 on DVD. First seen soon after DVD release on DVD.

Totals:

Films seen for the first time in September: 9
Rewatches in September: 3
Films seen in theatres in September: 4
List of Shame films seen in September: 0
2011 films seen in September: 2 (1 rewatch)
2000s films seen in September: 5 (2 rewatches)
1990s films seen in September: 2
1940s films seen in September: 2
1930s films seen in September: 1 (1 rewatch)
1920s films seen in September: 2
American films seen in September: 8 (3 rewatches)
British films seen in September: 2
Canadian films seen in September: 1
Hong Kong films seen in September: 1