Business travel put a dent in my movie watching this past month. Such a hardship, having to go to London and San Francisco!
Once you are done weeping for my First World Problem, let me know what you think of the movies screened over the last thirty days at Longbox Graveyard HQ!
(Comics? — go here for that)
On The Airplane
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017): Gadzooks, what crap! An Arthur film entirely bereft of charm, wonder, romance, and drama. Relentlessly grey palette and deliberate anachronisms in dialogue and wardrobe leaves you pondering just what the hell they were thinking. How is an Arthur picture improved by taking nearly all the shields and armor out of it? Charlie Hunnam is a bag of potatoes, and Jude Law plays an ice sculpture. Aimed for cool at the cost of coherence, and wound up with neither. How can it be that after all these decades the best Arthur pictures remain Monty Python’s farce and the deeply-flawed Excalibur? Sheesh!
The Freshman (1990): Spent a day on the couch riding out my jet lag, saw this was running on cable, and decided some Marlon Brando would suit me fine. It helped that I knew this was a lesser picture — the perfect thing to run in the background while farting around on the web and trying to remember what your home time zone looks like. Brando was big as a house in this one (I love the rumor that in later years he showed up to the set without pants, so they’d only shoot him close), but he brought real warmth to his role as an aging godfather with an entirely unofficial resemblance to Vito Corleone. He had a nice fatherly rapport with Matthew Broderick, too. Pleasant enough to watch what amounted to cute Godfather outtakes but most of the jokes fell flat and the plot about illegally importing endangered animals — with a long and tiresome chase after an escaped Komodo Dragon — was a snore.
On The Waterfront (1954): After The Freshman it was only fair I gave Brando some proper attention. On The Waterfront is one of those universally-acknowledged classics that I’d somehow never seen, so when I woke up at 2:00 AM with an aching back, a head full of swirling work details, and a body that still thought it was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it made perfect sense to stream this one. And Brando was terrific, of course, in this very actorly drama of a palooka caught between his mobbed-up brother and the innocent sister of the mook he helped lead to doom. Even with Karl Malden or Eva Marie Saint on screen, you can’t take your eyes off Brando in this one. I love how he delivered his lines late, like a slightly-addled boxer who needed an extra beat to process. Some nice location work in this one, too.
Command Decision (1948): Based on a stage play, this is the kind of didactic, brow-beating World War 2 historical drama that I eat like ice cream, but can’t really recommend. Clark Cable was the hardest of hard asses as the bomber commander willing to accept hideous losses to ensure the Nazis can’t get their jet fighter program off the ground. Fascinating (for me and no one else) to evaluate the arguments made in this picture against the latest thinking about the dubious morality and uncertain efficacy of high-altitude saturation bombing.
Fallen Angel (1945): Second-rate noir, but man, could Dana Andrews wear a hat!
Gomorrah (2008): Harrowing and somewhat confusing tale of the mob in Naples. The locations are stark and the violence is sudden and ugly. Multiple stories run in parallel and sometimes intersect — I’d like to watch it again, now that I understand the structure and know where it is going. Full of despair and betrayal.
Nights of Cabiria (1957): Only Federico Fellini could bring so light a touch to the story of a luckless street walker who is continually robbed and nearly murdered by the shitheel men she falls in love with. Giulietta Masina was a face dancer of the first order.
Black Narcissus (1947): Nuns try to turn a Himalayan seraglio into a house of god, have their faith tested, go a little crazy (a LOT crazy in one case). Brilliant colors and moody atmosphere deliver an indirect and erotic charge — it was like watching Suspiria, but without all the murder. Vertigo-inducing matte painting work.
Plus Some TV
Briefly sampled several series on Netflix — American Vandal, White Gold, Five Came Back — but the only thing that stuck was London Spy. The story kind of fell apart by the end, but overall it was stylish and intriguing, and curious in that it was at least as much a gothic as it was a spy film. Also caught a bit of Star Trek: Discovery on Canadian cable. They sure splashed a lot of cash on this one, and if I had DVR privileges I might try to keep up with this on broadcast, but commercials are a drag so I will wait until I can binge it out on some sensible streaming service. It’s not like there aren’t way too many other things to watch …
Talk movies with me, in the comments section below! Thanks!
My inaugural Film Friday post didn’t draw a lot of comment, but that hasn’t discouraged me from watching lots of movies during my Canadian exile. To be honest, movies are kind of saving my life right now.
Here’s what was screened in August at my Secret Worldwide Headquarters. Comments welcome!
(And if you are looking for comic books — go here for that)
The Glass Key (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), and The Maltese Falcon (1941): Treated myself to a day in the dark at the Vancouver Cinematheque over a B.C. holiday weekend. Femme Fatales and hard boiled dicks. I’d seen all three films before, but not for awhile. Thoroughly enjoyed them all, but The Maltese Falcon still leaps off the screen. Stunning to realize this was John Huston’s directorial debut. Fun to watch The Glass Key, as it was the blueprint for my favorite Coen Brother Film (Miller’s Crossing).
The Candidate (1972): Robert Redford, at the peak of his stardom, as a literal California Golden Boy campaigning for Senate. Sharp writing. Kind of depressing, to see that today’s campaigns use the same platitudes and deceptions as forty-five years ago. Redford is good, and Peter Boyle is great as the campaign manager. But Peter Boyle is always great. This movie is ripe for a remake, or better yet, a sequel, with Redford playing a six-term incumbent Senator entirely untethered from his youthful ideals. Has one of the better “70s Endings” of the 70s.
Foxcatcher (2014): True (weird) crime story about a couple of U.S. Olympic wrestlers. Little to recommend in this one, save the performances. Steve Carell disappears into his role but the movie takes us nowhere. We come into the movie knowing the main character is a creepy rich dude, and leave with little more insight than that. Plenty of wrestling along the way.
Bridge of Spies (2015): Sure, it’s a total “Dad Film,” but I’m a dad, and it scored with me. Pushed my buttons — nostalgia, spy stuff, cold war, Tom Hanks being Tom Hanks and making idealistic speeches about what makes Americans into Americans (spoiler: it’s The Constitution). Plus I was just in Berlin last year, and spent a cold afternoon tracing the ghostly remains of that damnable wall. Swept me away.
Elle (2016): Sexual assault and its aftermath, played for maximum outrage. A pretzel of a movie, in terms of its message, morality, and plot. It’s vile; it’s also entertaining. Paul Verhooven has lost none of his contempt for people. Isabel Huppert is fantastic. Glad I saw it and I might even recommend it but no desire to see it again.
Arrival (2016): The aliens are here, but they don’t know how to use Google Translate. Frankly a disappointment. Very much looked forward to this after seeing director Denis Villenueve’s Sicaro, but now I wonder if most of what I liked about that film owed to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay. Mostly I found this picture empty — some austere imagery, but little else. Could have used more linguistics! (You never want to see that in a review). I gather some jumped off this picture at the third act twist — that’s actually when I got on, but it was too little and too late.
American Hustle (2013): The best Martin Scorsese movie that Marty never made. Period piece where con men are forced to pull a con for the FBI. Christian Bale’s performance kept reminding me of someone, and I couldn’t put my finger on it … until Robert De Niro showed up, and then — oh, sure, he’s doing De Niro! Entertaining Scorsese homage but in the end it is like the paintings Bale’s character sells — an artful fake. Performances are uniformly great except for Jennifer Lawrence, who is perfect.
La Tête d’un Homme (1933): French detective tale filled with great faces and inventive camerawork. Drifts in and out of melodrama but memorable for an uncommonly detailed characterization of the bad guy. In the end, maybe as much about social class as crime.
Putney Swope (1969) and Chaffed Elbows (1966): A couple of independent, farcical, anti-establishment Absurdist films from Robert Downey (not that one). The first was nominally about the advertising industry, and the point of the second pretty much eluded me entirely. Many (but not all!) of the causes they lampooned have faded with time, and the films haven’t always aged well, but both stood as a reminder that movies needn’t be “good” or “relevant” in a contemporary sense to have worth. Both made me think a bit, and investigate an era of New York cultural life that I didn’t know much about. Was also fun stumbling on an odd inspiration for Boogie Nights in Putney Swope.
Jules and Jim (1962): Three friends, multiple romances, some weirdly pragmatic choices — unconventional, messy, authentic even when it is absurd. Honest. Watched this because it was on my list of unwatched classics; because I liked 400 Blows; and because it was a way to mark and honor the passing of Jeanne Moreau. And … I like Jeanne Moreau as much as the next guy, but I’m not letter her drive me off a bridge, KnowWhatI’mSayin’?
Elevator To The Gallows (1957): I wanted more Jeanne Moreau, so I gave this Parisian noir a chance, and it was much more to my liking. The murder plot and the young-lovers-on-the-run (pre-figuring Goddard’s Breathless) were just OK. Mostly it was Moreau wandering around Paris while Miles Davis improvised a musical score … but that was fine.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973): Grim and low-key crime story “staring” Robert Mitchum, though it seems Mitchum is scarcely in it. Damn, but that man had presence — a genuine movie star. Mitchum’s character complains that he is nearly 51 in this picture (Mitchum was 56 when he shot it) and I think … hmm, I’m half a lap past that one. Uh oh. Another strong performance by Peter Boyle as the standup guy bartender who is really the rat that no one notices.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953): Gentle slapstick as a pleasant everyman goes on vacation. An effervescent champagne bubble of light physical comedy. Just the tonic for distracting myself from the looming threat of thermonuclear war. Followed up with Playtime (1967), where creator Jacque Tati reached for something beyond comedy, and came up with an opulent visual ballet of people caught up in the sterility of modern life, before they knock the corners off their world and recover their innate Parisian joie de vivre. Tati spent years on this film, built a little city to make it work, and lost his fortune when it failed … but it is beautiful, in all its plotless, affectionate, optimistic glory. Might have been my favorite film of the month.
The Party (1968): A studio “wild party” movie from the sixties, pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Here’s the thing. I love Peter Sellers, but don’t think much of his frequent partner Blake Edwards. So I tune in for Sellers and hope for the best. In this case it also means looking past Sellers playing an Indian caricature in “black face.” But Sellers’ character is such a harmless fool that it is hard to resent him. If it wasn’t so silly it would have been the worst movie I saw all month. (Still was).
Bigger Than Life (1956): Sumptuous melodrama where James Mason gets hooked on cortisone, chews out the mailman, bounces a check at the dress shop, and gets in a fight with Walter Matheau. Oh, yeah, he also goes Bible Crazy and tries to kill his kid. Phew! Mason was Executive Producer on this picture so it must really have been a story he wanted to tell. Bad James Mason would have made a Good Doctor Doom!
Sunrise (1927): Beautifully-composed, audience-pleasing melodrama. Just an everyday story about realizing how much you love your wife after you fail to murder her. The misty lens of time makes every setting look so careworn that it is easy to overlook this is supposed to be about the stark conflict between the wicked city and rustic country virtues. Emotional. And sure, the sun rises at the end … but that dude still planned to kill his wife.
In A Lonely Place (1950) and Straight Time (1978): Unrelated films that I group together because they feature appealing leads (Humphrey Bogart and Dustin Hoffman) playing shitty human beings. Star power and charisma makes us buy in with both leads, taking us on a journey of abuse with the lesser cast around them. Bogie is an abusive screenwriter while Hoffman is a guy who pretty clearly needed to remain behind bars. Both end up ruining the lives of everyone they touch. Neither film lets their star off the hook, either.
White Material (2009): Wanted more Isabel Huppert after seeing Elle, so I tried this film about a woman trying to hold her family and business together during an African civil war. At first I thought Huppert was fulfilling the headstrong-woman-with-indomitable-will trope; later I saw that her willpower was closer to delusion, and began to dread the price it would make her pay. Watching characters you like willfully ignore danger is tense.
The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974): Beloved swashbucklers of my youth. I still love them, though I have long since memorized every line in these films. Even as a young man I most identified with Athos. Now I see Oliver Reed’s blarney for what it was. (But I still identify with him). Very good screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, which I doubly appreciate having struggled to adopt Dumas myself.
Germany Year Zero (1947): Italian neorealism goes German. Shot in Berlin right after the war, and filmed kind of as they went along with many who were not actors at all. Can’t imagine how this story of civilians scrambling to survive the ruins of war could be more authentic. Goes to the darkest place.
Stagecoach (1939): Peak Western from John Ford and John Wayne (in the movie that made him a star). An accompanying interview with Peter Bogdanovich helped isolate what made this movie so remarkable, beyond its entertainment factor. Bogdanovich pointed out how the script used stock characters to subvert genre norms — how the disgraced drunken doctor and woman of ill repute are the heroes of the piece, while the upstanding banker is the bad guy. Native American stereotypes aren’t so deftly handled but hey, it’s 1939. Bogdanovich also repeated the tale of Orson Welles watching this movie around-the-clock while working on Citizen Kane.
Insomnia (1997): Stellan Skarsgård is a half-bent cop trying to solve a murder above the arctic circle, where the sun never sets. The crime is solved easily, but Stellan messes it up, and soon he’s planting evidence and getting blackmailed. Didn’t really get on board with this one, sadly; Stellan seemed to go off the rails too far and too fast, insomnia or no. Didn’t expect this of someone who so easily accepted the existence of the Mighty Thor.
Sudden Fear (1952) and Daisy Kenyon (1947): Someday I will look back on this era in my life as the time I had so little going that I binge-watched Joan Crawford movies. I don’t much like Joan Crawford, and Sudden Fear was in line with expectations.When Joan discovers her husband is plotting to kill her, instead of … I dunno … going to the police or running away, she instead concocts an impossibly-complicated plan of pre-emptive revenge (the least bizarre component of which involved throwing herself down the stairs). There was some noir-ish punch to the chase scene at the end, but I had long since checked out. But Daisy Kenyon was an unexpected pleasure. It was every inch the romance melodrama as Sudden Fear, but here the Joan Crawford/Dana Andrews/Henry Fonda love triangle is propped up by a twisty, messy plot, with some biting dialogue from flawed and damaged characters. It was good enough to make me look at Joan Crawford a whole different way, and to read up on her a bit. Still not a fan, but for the first time I understand why some people are.
Battles Without Honor And Humanity (1973): Brutal Yakuza exploitation picture. Based on true events, but the names and faces fly past so fast that I had to give up on following the plot and just enjoy all the angry Japanese dudes flying into a rage and killing each other. There are four more movies in this series, but I kind of feel like I’ve already seen them all.
Plus Some TV
GLOW, true binge snackfood, already forgotten much of it but fun while it lasted; Defenders, slow and predictable with trite dialogue, I prefer these guys; The Tick didn’t impress me much with the pilot, but I’ve read good reviews and will give it another go. Maybe.
Share comments below, please — happy to discuss any or all of these.
More next month, I expect!
It’s not all comic books here at Longbox Graveyard (and it’s maybe not even comics any more — I did just kill the blog). My recent movie to Canada — sans family — has left me with idle hours in the evening, and my new job ensures that come dark I’m creatively drained, too. What’s a poor Moleman to do?
Watch a lot of movies, of course. Here’s a list of the films screened at Longbox Graveyard Secret HQ this past month.
(Note that despite the image below, this post is pretty much bereft of comic book content — go here for that)
Spider-Man: Homecoming: Perfectly reliable, mid-tier Marvel entertainment. The Captain America PSAs were a scream. I did coincidentally catch the Doctor Octopus train fight from Spider-Man 2 on cable the other day, though, and Spidey 2 blows Homecoming out of the water in pretty much every way.
Baby Driver: Caught it alone in a Vancouver movie theater, killing time until the Canada Day fireworks started. Walked out of the theater brilliantly focused, alert to every sound and color, like I’d emerged from the most effective meditation session of my life. I guess you could say the movie captured my attention. Favorite picture of the summer.
War For The Planet Of The Apes: Yeah, sure, OF COURSE we are living in an era where talking monkey movies are legitimately in the discussion for the best film trilogy of all time. Watching the scenery in this movie, all I could think was … this has got to be British Columbia. Yep, it was. Journeyed out to the Othello Tunnels the next day to experience one of the locations. Caesar Is Home.
Dunkirk: Doesn’t fully live up to the rapturous reviews — and I say this as a WW2 buff and a Christopher Nolan fan — but I did enjoy this human-scaled epic. It was chilling to see bodies bombed on a beautiful beach, and ships sink on a clear and untroubled ocean. That’s probably just how it felt, the juxtaposition of life and death. Thinking back on it, though, I’m inclined to agree the movie is “at heart a high-stakes drama about proper queue etiquette.”
Cabaret (1972): One of those genre classics I’d managed not to see in my half-century of being a film fan. Despite my love of the Silver Surfer, I’m not mad for musicals, but I enjoyed the melodrama. Never really got Liza Minelli, either, but I can see how this picture helped make her an EGOT superstar.
Hell or High Water (2016): Held up on re-watch, originally saw this in the gloriously shitty little La Paloma theater in Encinitas last year. Grim, gritty, and pulls off the trick of getting you to root for some pretty awful heroes. Didn’t realize until today that this film shares a screenwriter with Sicario, another recent favorite, and now I’m anxious to see that selfsame screenwriter’s directorial turn in Wind River. Chris Pine was also pretty good here …
Star Trek Beyond (2016): … but Chris Pine is only so-so here. Same with poor Idris Elba and everyone else who wasn’t Sofia Boutella. Second or third time I’ve seen this movie and I still don’t know what the hell is going on. I’ve been a supporter of the JJVerse in general, but each picture is proving worse than the one before.
John Wick (2014): Worst-Russian-Accents-Ever. I fell asleep.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): … the original still packs some punch. Not so much for the “Earthman, get off my lawn” bit so much as for how it made me long for a prosaic time where White Men In Uniforms might be trusted to pay attention when confronted with unimpeachable evidence of Impending Doom.
Force Majeure (2014): Can’t stop thinking about this one. Fate confronts a couple with an ugly truth, and then their lives unravel, one thread at a time. Unsparing and uncomfortable — reminded me a bit of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster in that regard. Director Ruben Östlund is one to watch and now I’m eager to view his Palme d’Or-winning The Square.
Shock Corridor (1963): Working hard to develop an appreciation for Sam Fuller. I admire that he tried to elevate his material with political and racial commentary … but pulp is pulp.
Genocide (1968): Deeply strange Japanese picture where a hot-but-insane American temptress escapes a Nazi death camp to join the East Bloc to create a strain of insects that can destroy the world. Ripped from today’s headlines! Would have had the bleakest ending of any movie I saw this month if not for …
Shoot First, Die Later (1974): Come for the crazy car chases, stay for the fashions, casual violence, cat murder, sexism, and the frozen-faced beauty of a leading man who looks like he walked off the set of Team America World Police. And that ending! Oy.
Rules of the Game (1939): The outrages that shocked French society upon this film’s release have largely faded with time, but what remains is a masterfully constructed comedy of manners. Sweeps you up as only a classic old movie can do.
8 1/2 (1963): Fellini clearly has problems with women, but at least he puts them all in full view. No one shot a dream sequence better. In a crazy sum-of-the-parts way, this movie does depict the experience of being a director (at least to the degree that I’ve come to understand it directing video games). I love the part where Mastroianni’s knees give out while his producer hauls him toward his ridiculous, overbuilt spaceship set.
L’Atalante (1934): A dreamy, aimless cruise down the canals of France. Remarkable for its slice-of-life filmmaking — like a time machine, really. Plus, it has lots of cats.
Persona (1966): Overall I think Bergman’s reputation for being challenging, dour, and remote is overstated — I find his movies insightful and full of life. But Persona is … challenging, dour, and remote. And brilliant! This is what you get when Bergman decides he’s not concerned for the commercial success of a film (a masterpiece).
Plus Some TV
Enterprise, season one, which I like despite myself; Batman Brave And The Bold (which is the best Batman); and the Black Mirror Christmas Special, which is the most messed-up goddamn thing ever broadcast.
More next month, maybe.