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5/10
One of the earliest epics
2 April 2020
You have to give this film credit for having been made in 1906, and it seems to me it was one of the earliest epics, predating D.W. Griffith by almost a decade in big productions. Director Alice Guy-Blaché had beautiful sets crafted, a very large cast, and delivered some nice special effects via double exposures. By far the most impressive shot is when the dead Christ rises from the sepulcher, done apparently by slowly dropping the camera on the superimposed image, with an effect that is ethereal and miraculous. The indoor stage scenes feature pretty arches and action over a wide area (and depth of field), and the outdoor scenes of Christ carrying the cross include a panning shot.

Unfortunately, despite all of these notable achievements, the film was not very interesting to me. With a single exception, the entire story is told with long shots, which severely limits the actors and feeling the emotions of the moment. It's as if we're in the 30th row at the theater and looking at a stage play, one with no dialogue or intertitle equivalents, and a static view. The selected 25 scenes from Christ's life are introduced and rather dryly marched past us one by one, each taking about a minute. And even worse, the chosen scenes miss the most profound and moving aspects of Christ's teachings, e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, his advocating pacifism and nonviolence, his views on forgiveness, loving one's enemies, and fighting for the poor. This is the meat of the story of Christ, and instead we're given the bare bones of events, which seems to me to be missing the point entirely. This would have been much better had some of that been included, but instead it takes the safe, dogmatic path, which is where I was most disappointed. Guy-Blaché was not simply the first woman director, she was an innovative pioneer, so for film historians it wouldn't be a bad idea to check this one out though.
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7/10
Amusing short
2 April 2020
I like how the guy lays down in front of the car and motions for it to run him over near the end, when he believes he's not going to succeed in his quest to marry by noon to collect an inheritance. It's cool that it's the woman (Marian Swayne) who actually has the money in this relationship and is pulling the strings, and the guy is somewhat "steamrolled" into marriage, which director Alice Guy-Blaché cleverly shows us symbolically. She's a little heavy-handed in how often she shows us the clock, and there's also an unfortunate joke where as he searches desperately for any woman to marry him, he taps on a veiled woman's back, only to discover she's black, and then immediately reacts by running away. It's a small moment but reflects the miscegenation laws and widespread view of white superiority of the period, and is repugnant.

I'm not sure who first came up with the concept for the story line, whether that was Guy-Blaché or someone earlier, but it would certainly be repeated afterwards, e.g. just three weeks later, in the short 'Jane Marries,' and then in countless others over the years. You may also recognize it from Buster Keaton's film 'Seven Chances' in 1925, based on a play from 1916 - though it's sadly ironic that Keaton would also include a touch of racism with a stupid character in blackface. Just as in that film, if you can look past those painful moments, this is an amusing little short.
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7/10
Fascinating to interpret
1 April 2020
It's interesting to watch this "sissy" get challenged by his prospective father-in-law to prove himself in "becoming a man" by going out west for a year before he can marry the man's daughter, and then to try to interpret it. The guy kisses a couple of cowboys when he meets them at the train station, dresses like a fop, and carries a teeny weeny gun that the "real men" have a big laugh over. As he develops a friendship with one of them, it's hard not to see gay overtones in all this and wonder what producer (and possibly director) Alice Guy-Blaché's intention was.

Is he gay or bisexual and out of conformity to the times going to marry a woman? Or is he just a wimpy guy from the east who has to prove himself to his would-be father-in-law and a bunch of masculine cowboys? Regardless, the characterization is ultimately positive - this effeminate misfit of a man saves another's life in more ways than one and "makes good," rather than not being able to cut it. Is it saying we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and be tolerant to different ways of being a man? Or is it saying that effeminate weaklings can and should be toughened up?

It may be a Rorschach test or another example of the old saying, "we see things not as they are but as we are," especially 108 years later. Anyway, the story is linear and simple which is a little unfortunate, but in the vignette of the male characters (even exaggerated as they are), and in their relationship to one another, it's fascinating.
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8/10
Long overdue recognition
1 April 2020
An ambitious film about pioneering film producer, director, and screenwriter Alice Guy-Blaché, and I have to say, the long overdue light that director Pamela B. Green shines on her is heartwarming. It's clearly a labor of love, and the number of people Green brings in and how worldwide this project was is impressive. The documentary sometimes ventures a little bit too far into the backstory of how all of the information was collected, and that's occasionally interesting too, but I would have preferred it to stick to Guy-Blaché, her films, and the direct influence she had with others in the industry. It also goes a little overboard with all of the graphic animations and overlays perhaps meant to bring life to the story, which wasn't necessary.

With that said, the film does get across enough of this fantastic woman's work and her personal life to be compelling. We see great clips showing her brilliant approach to directing actors ("Be Natural"), her humanism and sense of comedic timing, and her scene compositions and some special effects, which made me want to seek out more from her. I also liked the bits showing the influence on Eisenstein, the quote from Hitchcock, and how some of it was related to movies and comedy from the recent past, e.g. Juno and Andy Samberg from Saturday Night live. And by telling the story as Green did, we see not only how difficult it was to unearth the truth, but also the monstrous injustice that took place in the writing Guy-Blaché out of history by men over the decades that followed her career. It's quite infuriating, and a reminder of how important it is to scrutinize those who are writing history.
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A House Divided (I) (1913)
7/10
Amusing
1 April 2020
In this 13 minute short from pioneering director Alice Guy-Blaché, a married couple stop talking to one another because they each mistakenly think the other is carrying on with someone else, based on the slimmest of evidence. It's a fun premise, something you'd see decades later on TV sitcoms, and seeing the notes they exchange is amusing (e.g. "I need a new hat" / "Keep needing it"). The mannerisms of the actors, including the one playing a secretary, are very cute as well, and probably the best part of the film. It's pretty simple and the story or characters are not at all fleshed out, but I see that as a limitation of the film's length. Consider it a light little amuse-bouche.
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6/10
Simple little short
1 April 2020
It's pretty cool to see the old phonograph in this 13 minute short from Alice Guy-Blaché, and I liked how she used it in both the plot, where the suitor uses it to feign musical ability, as well as to suggest sound in the movie theater, where violin music was also played. The split screen shot used during a phone call was nice too, but there's not too much to get excited about relative to the comedy or the romance. I think a lot of her other work showcases more of her ability and/or deals with weightier subjects, but this is not a bad way to spend 13 minutes.
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Prisoners (2013)
7/10
Interesting, but could have been better
31 March 2020
An intricate plot keeps this drama interesting for a film that almost seems to be preying on every parent's worst fear, that their children will be abducted. It's tense, has several brutally tough moments, and it's tough to guess exactly where it's going. I liked the intensity of the performances as well as the filming location, which takes us to this small town, though I was surprised it was done in Georgia instead of Pennsylvania, where the story is set.

My reservations were around the film feeling a little too Hollywood, if that makes any sense. The details in the setup invariably factoring in, the vigilante dad, the black neighbors present but subordinate, and the cop who repeatedly breaks the law in how he pursues the case leading up to the big, canned moments towards the end - it all feels a little produced. It was also hard for me to like the out of control behavior from the dad and cop (Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal) given all the things they do. That's of course one of the points, that anger and frustration can turn people into demons, but the film wants it both ways, with the cop being a hero and the father really being a good guy at heart, praying to God often, and just doing everything he can for his kids. It should have picked one side or the other, and probably should have been pared down as well. It's entertaining if you're looking for a wild ride and a good popcorn drama, but just kind of standard stuff, and could have been better.
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6/10
Touching, but a little backward
31 March 2020
As touching as the feelings of loneliness are in this young man who spies on a woman with a telescope are, there is too much of a violation here, and her reaction, to respond to him despite all his creepy behavior, seemed pretty strange to me. As organic as the film seems, with a sense of realism in the male character and his surroundings, the female character seems pretty unreal. There is certainly a mood created of loneliness and the desperation of trying to find someone to love, and the film may be asking questions about what love is after all - e.g. does studying someone so closely for a year in their most private moments allow you to know them at some level where you can truly love them for what they are? - but I guess I just couldn't get past the point that the woman reacts to him this way. He's shown to be a sympathetic, lonely guy; she actually questions whether she's "right" or good enough for him because of her involvement with multiple men. It seems pretty backward in that way, and I didn't see all that much that was profound in the filmmaking or script either. Not awful, but not for me.
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Jamaica Inn (1939)
5/10
Unsuccessful
30 March 2020
This film starts strong enough, with a motley crew of scoundrels running a business of causing shipwrecks along a stormy coast, killing everyone aboard (one whistling while he works), and plundering everything they can. A young woman (Maureen O'Hara) comes to the inn they're staying at to see her aunt, and between being ogled by a creepy aristocrat (Charles Laughton), and the glowering threat of her uncle who leads the bandits, finds herself in a delicate situation. The film has a nice little scene satirizing the wealthy, who appear at a dinner ignorant and overstuffed in all of their opulence, and we soon see that it's Laughton's character who secretly pulls the strings on the criminal enterprise, which seemed like an apt metaphor.

Unfortunately it starts unraveling around the 40 minute mark or so during an escape sequence, and never really recovers, despite its star power. The film suffers from a weak script, with an already melodramatic story tortured by highly questionable character motivations, as well as poor direction, with scenes often playing out with a wooden staginess completely lacking in darkness or tension. It seems as though Hitchcock was phoning this one in, and from of all of what's been written about his difficulties with Laughton, perhaps that explains it. Regardless, while it has a certain draw to it because of Hitchcock, O'Hara, Laughton, and the author Du Maurier, this is one you could skip.
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The Window (1949)
7/10
Light noir
30 March 2020
A simple little thriller that probably would have been better in the hands of a better director, but it's got some nice moments of suspense towards the end, and at 73 minutes doesn't wear out its welcome. The basic concept for the story is spoon fed to us too methodically, with Aesop's tale of the boy who cried wolf quoted at the beginning, and the setup proceeding to show a 12-year-old who stretches the truth to his friends and parents. While trying to sleep out on a fire escape on a hot night, he witnesses his upstairs neighbors killing someone, and of course no one believes him. Bobby Driscoll plays the part of the boy well, and the scenes in the abandoned building are well done, elevating the movie despite a linear story and lackluster ending. How tragic to find that Driscoll would die a broken man 19 years later, also in an abandoned building in New York.
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9/10
Powerful and inspiring
29 March 2020
An absolutely brilliant look back at the 1963 Mississippi black voter registration drive, with excellent footage from the time and interviews with key figures three decades later, in 1994. Even if you're aware of this period of history, this is a very worthwhile documentary, and whether we admit or not, still relevant today. It made me emotional to see the combination of the viciousness of most of the white Mississippians (who ironically say the country is for whites because they're civilized and other races savage), the lack of recourse since it pervaded society (including the police and state politicians all the way up to the Governor), the absolute unfairness of it all, and yet, the heroic bravery of black and white Americans who risked their lives to force progress. This should be shown be shown in U.S. history courses in high schools everywhere.

I liked how the film doesn't glorify or unfairly weight the involvement of mostly northern college students from liberal arts schools, who while courageous and inspiring, by their own admission could have flown home anytime, unlike the African-Americans they were helping. The leadership and eloquence of Bob Moses is truly inspiring, as is the thoughtful commentary of those who joined the movement. The arc of Endesha Ida Mae Holland, raped by her white employer on her 11th birthday (which she says was commonplace), and speaking of harsh truths in her life through a smile, is delightful. Curtis Hayes speaks with soulful intensity, Marshall Ganz from Bakersfield, California is insightful, and Fannie Lou Hamer's televised testimony is stirring, standing out among many others. In contrast, the documentary also gives us a glimpse into some of the soul-crushing politics within the Democratic Party, which, even if evolving at the time, was still trying to save itself from southern white voters switching parties.

Mississippi was a particularly onerous example of backwardness, with a cruel apartheid system, violence perpetuated for the slightest of offenses (e.g. lynchings for "eye rape", a black man looking at a white woman in what was deemed an offensive way), and black people denied the right for 90+ years after the 15th amendment had been passed. The documentary is focused here, and appropriately so, but it should be realized that the problem was by no means localized to the recalcitrant south. Racism and the belief in white superiority was widespread, revisionist history was still being taught, and white supremacists like J. Edgar Hoover were in positions of great power. It's also easy to think of this problem as now "solved," and the needle has certainly moved considerably in Mississippi and the rest of America since the early 1960's, but as Cleve Sellars in the documentary points out, "things are not the best that they could be," which is still true today. As the documentary shows, it takes active involvement though, because those in positions of privilege or power aren't simply going to relinquish it on their own. Powerful stuff.
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8/10
Kung fu classic
29 March 2020
Very enjoyable and solid kung fu film which centers around battles between rival martial arts schools. Lo Lieh is iconic in the lead role, and there are several great villains as well. It's pretty clear how this one is ultimately going to go, but there are enough surprises and fun moments along the way that it really doesn't matter. Love the virtues of humility, slowness to anger, and honor amidst the violence, and love the kinetic energy and choreography in the fighting. This film was clearly influential in everything from Kill Bill to Karate Kid, and while it's got some technical flaws, it's a good one.
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Our Town (1940)
7/10
Slow but meaningful, with a good payoff
28 March 2020
This might be the slowest of all slow-burners, so if you're going to watch it, brace yourself and be very, very patient. The first hour in this small turn of the century town is for the most part quaint and frankly pretty boring, as we are introduced to various characters and follow them in their everyday lives. There are flashes of a larger meaning in an omniscient narrator, who points out when some of them are going to die, but mostly we seem to be watching simple, mundane events, and a romance completely devoid of spark or chemistry. The production quality is not very high either; even if one takes into account the desire to keep some semblance of Thornton Wilder's lean aesthetic from the stage, there is not enough life in these characters (at least to my modern eyes), the quality of the film stock seems to have deteriorated, and William Holden is both poorly cast and quite wooden.

However, it's all a buildup to that last half hour, and this is where the film really shines, starting with going into the thoughts of the characters at the wedding, and continuing on when the narrator strolls through the cemetery. Wilder's play was both existential and deeply humanistic, and its power comes forth, even with the alteration to the ending, something I'd normally hate. It puts our humble lives into a skeletal framework, and then with its cosmic perspective, forces us to see how brief they are, and how we should treasure every moment, even the simple ones.

Playwright and professor Donald Margulies said that Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life' owes a great deal to 'Our Town', and while he didn't expand on that too much, it's a great point. They ask some of the same questions, such as what's the meaning of this life and do we make a difference being here, but while Capra's answers are positive and joyful and sentimental, Wilder is a little more on the fence, or at least, he lets us interpret (and perhaps this is where the changes in the film were a mistake). In both works the point is made that we need to open our eyes to appreciate what we have and the people around us, but Wilder shows us that our lives are going to be all-too-brief and all-too-small in the grand scheme of things regardless. And yet, he says, "There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being." We are both meaningful and meaningless at the same time. This is not 'Our Town', it's 'Our Lives', or 'Our Humanity'.

The film's incredibly reserved, staid approach is something that doesn't necessarily work 80 years later, in a world that's much faster paced. As a result, it may be hard to appreciate just how groundbreaking and touching it was at the time. In many cases, audience members at the play responded by openly weeping at the end, and as early critic Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times put it, the play "transmuted the simple events of human life into universal reverie" which contained nothing less than "a fragment of the immortal truth." It's pretty hard to translate such a quiet, introspective play to film or to the present world, and as with Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot', it may evoke the reaction that "not enough happens," but I think there's actually quite a bit here, if you wait for it.
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9/10
Wonderful
28 March 2020
Such a lovely movie, and a wonderful companion piece to Summer with Monika (1953). As in that film, the focus is a look back at those wonderful days of first love, and the cinematography out on the Swedish archipelago is truly gorgeous. Maj-Britt Nilsson and Birger Malmsten are touching as the young lovers, told in flashback and with refreshing honesty about the physical side of their relationship. There is also depth to the film, with Bergman referencing the transience of these fleeting moments, kind of like the sunlight he shows us shimmering on the water, the meaning of it all, and God's existence. At the same time, there are playful bits like an animation that came as a nice surprise. He also gets a few jabs in at the fragile male ego and creepy behavior in an older "uncle", as well as some nice shots at the ballet. It seemed to drag out a teeny bit towards the end with her involvement with a newspaper reporter (Alf Kjellin), but I think that allows us to think about what may be behind a person's wariness in life, to compare relationships at an older age, and to see that there is a path to overcoming melancholy. Oh, and I must remember to name my next dog "Gruffman," as he's quite a pooch. Perhaps the last reference to him in the film is the saddest bit of all.
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After Hours (1985)
6/10
Mildly entertaining
27 March 2020
I didn't really connect with this one. It's mildly entertaining with all of the misadventures this guy finds himself going through one very strange night, but to me it just kinda felt like a B movie, with a script that never really went anywhere interesting, marginal acting, and cheesy soundtrack. It's a Kafkaesque nightmare and yet it manages comedy elements and the offbeat mood of New York in the wee hours, which is something though.
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The Hours (2002)
8/10
Somber but meaningful
26 March 2020
A film that seemed to me both an intertwining and an unraveling. An intertwining in the sense that there is a connection across the decades in these three women, and an unraveling in that each is going through an existential crisis and is quietly despondent, despite having what seems to be a good life. The stories are told in 1923, 1951, and 2001, with excellent period details in each, and the cast is incredibly deep, led by the incomparable Meryl Streep.

It's a sad but moving work about seeing life for what it is, and being true to oneself. Sexual or perhaps romantic frustration plays a part of this, as the women from the earlier generations (Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore) yearn for other women despite their marriages, and the one in the third (Streep) is ironically with another woman but yearns for an old lover (Ed Harris) dying of AIDS. It goes deeper than that though, as parts of their depression stem from things like living in too quiet of places, in how conventional their lives are, or simply realizing that real happiness in life is sometimes just a moment, or maybe even just an illusion. There is the sense of stifling confinement in these characters, and frustration at the sameness and repetition of it all. Sometimes people hang on to life not even for themselves anymore, but for those around them, and sometimes they can't.

As you can probably guess, all this adds up to something pretty somber and dark, but I find strength in knowing that others also struggle, and was touched by a film I might otherwise have thought as decent but a little over-constructed. As Woolf wrote in Mrs. Dalloway, the novel at the center of the film, there may be solace in looking at death less fearfully, and more as a release:

"Did it matter that she must inevitably cease, completely. All this must go on without her. Did she resent it? Or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? It is possible to die. It is possible to die."

There is bravery in facing one's unhappiness, and taking a conscious decision to either self-realize by making a change necessary to survive, or to commit suicide, dispassionately, and with a fond goodbye. We see that either path is inherently selfish - forcing your partner to uproot and move, or abandoning your husband and kids, or simply saying "I love you. I don't think two people could have been happier than we've been," before taking a final leave of them. There are no easy answers, but to continue living someone else's dream, counting the hours in frustration, doesn't seem right either, and there is empowerment in that.
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Good Time (2017)
7/10
Lots of action
26 March 2020
Calling this an action film doesn't seem adequate, since its breakneck pace is kept up over a series of tense scenes throughout the movie. Robert Pattinson just melts into this role and turns in a great performance as a con man who is pretty wily at getting people to do what he wants, but pretty inept in all of his schemes and spur of the moment plans. The Safdie brothers give this film a real flair, and the sound design fits very well. It was a near miss for a higher rating for me, maybe because it just seemed to be missing something underneath the style, performances, and madcap moments of action. (Jeez that seems to be quite enough as it is, so I'm not sure what's holding me back.) Maybe more of those little moments at the beginning and ending of the film that subtly give us an idea of what the home life of these two guys was like, or maybe a smarter character somewhere to balance things out. Even the supporting roles, like the good-hearted but extremely naïve Caribbean immigrant grandmother, are filled with really dumb behavior. Certainly entertaining though.
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Brute Force (1947)
6/10
Great concept, but clumsily executed
25 March 2020
Burt Lancaster is great in this, filling the screen with his powerful presence in the role of a convict, and Hume Cronyn is solid too, as the sadistic guard who takes pleasure in torturing inmates both physically and mentally. The film's basic position, that prisons that focus too much on punishment vs. treating inmates with dignity and respect so that they can be rehabilitated, is a good one, and voiced by a doctor over the course of an argument with the kommandant, er, chief guard with lines like these:

"You put up prisons, thick walls, and then your job is over. Finished. But is it over?" "All I know, is that when people are sick, you don't cure them by making them sicker. By your methods we send a man back to society a worse criminal than he was than when they sent him to us." "All you want is destroy instead of build. What we need here is a little more patience, and much more understanding."

Unfortunately the film is filled with issues, starting with just how heavy-handed this message is delivered, and how that's compounded with political, antifascist overtones. The inmates aren't nearly menacing enough (that blowtorch scene where they deal with a snitch notwithstanding), and there's a single African-American called Calypso who sings all his lines in silly rhymes (ugh). The main characters are all given flashback stories in the attempt to humanize them, but they don't really work, generally involving stories where women are involved or are to blame for their misfortunes. The situation for Lancaster's character is a little different; he's in love with a young woman (Ann Blyth) in a wheelchair, stricken with cancer, who doesn't know he's in jail, which is about as cloying as you can get. I suppose these flashbacks are also in there in the attempt to liven up what is a very simple plot and to add a female presence, but they just break up the narrative flow and elongate the film unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, Cronyn's character listens to Wagner, is borderline effeminate, and seems like he's only tough because of his position, taking advantage of it to beat an inmate with a rubber hose. The Nazi coding couldn't be plainer. The doctor warns him that he has his position out of "Not cleverness. Not imagination. Just force. Brute force. Congratulations! Force does make leaders. But you forget one thing - it also destroys them." Not a bad concept, but so clumsily executed. And of course, this little world where morality is inverted was flying into the face of the Production Code, which limited the degrees of freedom director Jules Dassin had in ending it. As a result we also get some requisite dialogue inserted at the end, no doubt to get the film passed, that has all the artistry of a sledgehammer. This is one that could have been so, so much better.
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Magnolia (1999)
8/10
Sprawling but with some truly sublime moments
24 March 2020
I can't recall a film that has as big a swing between its spectacularly good and its just-as-spectacularly bad moments. It certainly draws the viewer into the many lives played by an ensemble cast, and I was touched by the themes of what cruelty to children can lead to, and how each of us may carry the burden of insecurities, guilt, and regret just beneath the surface, even if the events they stem from were from decades ago. "We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us," indeed. The scenes depicting what it's really like at the end of life - alone with one's regrets and disoriented - are brilliant, as is the rage we see in a son (Tom Cruise) confronting his father on his deathbed. The film's heart is in the right place, and there are some nice reminders for us to be content with the blessings we have, to be open and honest in our relationships, and to realize that "sometimes people need to be forgiven."

As fantastic as all that was, the film is melodramatic and spirals on for 188 minutes, probably an hour longer than it should have, and Paul Thomas Anderson indulges himself in seemingly every possible way. It has what is probably the worst scene I've ever seen in a major film, where he cuts to his actors all singing along to Aimee Mann's "Wise Up," which was absolutely horrific. There are also several assurances that yes, these things happen, which aside from the heavy-handedness seemed to be out of insecurity over the script (e.g. "I know this sounds silly, like this is the scene in the movie where the guy's trying to get a hold of the long-lost son..."). We also get an unrelenting shower of frogs in the decisive moments, yes, a shower of frogs. The cast is similarly uneven, from the sublime Philip Seymour Hoffman to the simply awful Julianne Moore. As much as I like her normally, I cringed at nearly all of her scenes here, and her character itself is for the most part unnecessary.

The net is that it feels like a hot mess and it's a tough one to rate, but its sublime moments stuck with me, and there's enough here to recommend it even with reservations.
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7/10
Interesting themes and performances
24 March 2020
A film that remained tantalizingly just out of reach for me for a real connection, despite its themes of guilt, awkwardness, trying to escape one's childhood, self-loathing, and the anger issues of the main character, played well by Adam Sandler. Some interesting characters, some interesting surreal bits, and some interesting performances - Sandler running almost like a modern day Chaplin and Phillip Seymour Hoffman screaming come to mind - but it didn't quite gel together or go as deep as I would have liked it to. It's original and I love Sandler branching out and doing this kind of film in 2002 though.
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The Bridge (1959)
8/10
The tragedy of war
23 March 2020
It was interesting to get a little inversion of perspective in this film, as it's the American tanks looming down on the boys that we've come to know a little bit about before they find themselves assigned to defend a bridge in their small town. Everything about the situation is wrong: they're only 16 years old, have been trained for just a day, and the only adult meant to watch over them soon disappears. The bridge is supposed to be far away from any real fighting, and it's not even something that should be defended to begin with, as the rest of the army wants to let the American tanks across and then blow it up. The events occur on April 27, 1945, less than two weeks before VE day, and the German army and its leaders are already in full retreat or escape mode. And yet these kids, for the glory of the fatherland, try to summon the valor they've read about in books to defend this little bridge. In other words, it's completely meaningless and tragic at the same time, and maybe in that sense, a microcosm for war.

Even as my consciousness bubbled up to noticing that they didn't show the attitudes or backstory of any of these townspeople toward Jews or them standing at parades adulating the Nazis in the years prior to the events we see (and we don't even see them Heil Hitler in the present), the events were still quite heartfelt and sad. People are sometimes swept up by events beyond their control, and innocent lives are lost even in a country perpetuating an evil ideology. Boys on both sides who should be off playing soccer or finding love are instead in the hell on earth of battle, and that's what we see here. It's fantastic as an antiwar film, showing patriotism misplaced, glory a fantasy, and people dying long before they should for essentially nothing.

You can probably imagine just how it goes when a handful of teenagers try to face down the Allied advance, but there are some surprises and the action is gripping. Director Bernhard Wicki also wisely spends a long time before the kids are even drafted, which humanizes them and makes the events which follow all the more devastating. It also shows us older men pushing younger men forward while they look out for themselves (and things like their mistresses), which is one of the greatest injustices that is perpetuated in every war.
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9/10
Fantastic little time capsule
22 March 2020
On June 11, 1963, the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, attempted to flout federal law and deny entrance to the University of Alabama to two black students who had been accepted. This documentary shows us the tense events of that day in a brilliant, stirring way. Aside from the momentous event itself, it works because of the unprecedented level of access it had into both sides - President Kennedy and Governor Wallace's inner circles - as well as its approach of simply being a fly on the wall. Aside from a few explanatory remarks occasionally made by the narrator, we see the events as they were, phone calls, brainstorming sessions, and all. The documentary has additional strength in just how specific it is - this one confrontation, not attempting to show the larger context or events which led up to it dating back centuries.

The two students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were both just 20 years old at the time, and they're frankly awe-inspiring. To think of facing something like this at the age of 20 boggles the mind. When asked why they have to go to this school, Hood responds with great dignity, "Being a resident of the state, I feel that I'm entitled to an education in the state." What we see most from them is poise and quiet courage.

On the federal side, it was fantastic to see each man in his role operating so well: Nicholas Katzenbach, the deputy attorney general, who was on the ground in Alabama, phoning back to Washington D.C., a man who was very canny in helping to shape the strategy in confronting Wallace, and well controlled in delivering the message to his face. Robert Kenney, the attorney general, for the delicate balancing act he struck between enforcing the federal law to let these kids attend the university, and not using strong arm tactics which could have incited violence or given Wallace a public relations win. And of course, John F. Kennedy, who we only see a few times, thoughtful and taking inputs, but then delivering his leadership and his vision so eloquently (see the excerpt from his speech at the end). At the top, you see vision, in the middle, you see strategy, and on the ground you see execution - and each layer in full communication with and influencing the other, as a good organization should. Anyway, all of them, including the students of course, are heroes.

On the state side, what can I say? Wallace ran on a platform of segregation forever and while stating that he believed both races were better off apart, he doesn't attempt to justify the drastically worse conditions blacks had been living under over the past century. Portraits of confederate generals hang on the walls of his office, and he muses over their bravery for having stood up for what they believed is right. As for the Civil War, he says "There were just a lot more of them than there were of us," and by those pronouns and by his stand for "state's rights," it's crystal clear that a century after a rebellion over slavery ended, he represents a majority of people who never accepted that outcome. What's perhaps most frightening is the support we see him getting from white citizens of Alabama, young and old. He's not portrayed as a monster, we just see him as he is, playing with his grandkids, just as RFK plays with his kids, but his words are vile and obviously on the wrong side of history. However, one thing he got right was his ominous warning that the South would have its say during the next presidential election, and to this day, the region holds great power for the Republican Party. And to his credit, a couple of decades later, he recognized the error of his ways and apologized, though that's obviously not shown here.

This is just a fantastic little time capsule, and even for events you may be familiar with, it's well worth the 52 minutes it takes to watch it. Oh, and here's that quote from President Kennedy that night, pushing for what would become the Civil Rights Act the following year, and just five months before he was assassinated (the documentary aired on television just one month before that fateful day):

"I hope that every American will stop to examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. Whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.

If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves. Yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free."
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7/10
Mediocre plot, but has some elements of interest
21 March 2020
An early cautionary tale about the business of Hollywood and what it does to young women, and a film that's a vehicle for both Alice White and Vitaphone technology. It's not going to blow you away with its plot, as it's been done countless times, and much better too. The comedy elements in the script are weak, and you can see events coming long before they happen. However, there were enough other little elements in the film that it held my interest.

Some of those little extras include seeing Hollywood sights of the era, such as the Roosevelt Hotel (which is still there), the Café Montmartre, and the early studio lots. We also get a brief yet fascinating look into the process of making films during this period, with the Vitaphone technology (sound recorded on a separate disk) requiring noisy film cameras to be housed in soundproof booths. That's the main reason early sound films often appear so stagey, with a static camera - they were in these kinds of booths. Lastly, we get a film premier and red carpet cameo appearances from Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Loretta Young, and Noah Beery Sr. and Jr.

Unfortunately, as svelte and adorable as Alice White is with her Betty Boop eyes, she's not very strong at delivering her lines. Her best moments come while sashaying out of a giant clown face on stage and singing "I've Got My Eye on You" at about the 40 minute point, otherwise, don't expect much. Easily upstaging her is Blanche Sweet, who is wonderful as the has-been starlet (lol at age 34), looking at the newcomer with a sigh and a warning. She's the only good actor in the cast, and conveys real melancholy through her eyes and the way she moves. As this was her penultimate film after a career spanning 21 years (aside from a small part in 1959's The Five Pennies), there is a special meaning to everything she does here.

Overall, certainly not a great film, and one that could be easily skipped, so I'm probably rounding it up based on my love for the era, and for Blanche Sweet.
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Hud (1963)
8/10
Lots to like about this one
20 March 2020
Paul Newman is very good in this film, but Patricia Neal is even better; she's simply exquisite despite her smaller part. The script is great and seems like a western/ranch version of a Tennessee Williams story, with such a flawed main character and deep antipathy between father and son. Add in the gorgeous cinematography of James Wong Howe and the plaintive guitar arrangements from Elmer Bernstein, and you have a damn good film.

I loved how in giving us this antihero, director Martin Ritt remained unflinching and brutally honest, never yielding to a Hollywood type moment, but at the same time, gave us a little insight into Hud's troubled psychology. In a chilling scene, his father (Melvyn Douglas) tells him "I was sick of you long before that," referring to a car accident that left Hud's brother, the favorite son, dead. The brief silence that follows with a stunned look on Newman's face is brilliant; it sent a wave through me and I imagine anyone who has ever felt like the black sheep in a family will identify. I wondered if Hud was a bad guy because he was never loved, or if he wasn't loved because he was always such a bad kid (and now man) - or if the events, as they say, were mutually arising. Regardless, the man we see before us is an absolute asshole in so many ways, with a soul as desolate as those dusty and dry landscapes.

I suppose the only thing to beware of is that this isn't the greatest film for animal rights activists, and I don't mean just the hoof and mouth scene, though this of course is the reality of these ranches and lifestyles. To his credit, Ritt exercised restraint in what he shows us, when for such a film he could have gone the other direction.
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Insiang (1976)
8/10
Grimy, satisfying, and depressing
19 March 2020
Squalor, grime, and poverty are all palpable in this gritty film from Lino Brocka, which centers around a young woman (Hilda Koronel) who is mentally abused by her mother (Mona Lisa), and physically abused by her mother's lover (Ruel Vernal). It feels as though we're immersed in a slum the entire movie, and none of its scenes ever feel like they're on a set (they may not have been). We feel the utter lack of privacy in the home in this little shanty town, with its squat toilet in the living space, and the daughter forced to see and hear her mother with her lover. In the town we see men behaving badly by getting drunk, groping women, and frittering their time away in the pool hall or gambling. There is a sense of these characters having few options, with high unemployment in the town, and for those who do have menial jobs, having to get by on meager wages. This was contrary to the image the Marcos regime was trying to push of the Philippines, and it's not surprising the film was banned.

Aside from the realistic window the film gives into the poverty of the masses while Imelda Marcos was out buying all those shoes, it's also the queen mother of stories where the rape victim isn't believed - in this case by her own mother. In another sad moment her boyfriend (Rez Cortez) takes advantage of her in a cheap hotel room, all while the audience is thinking, good lord, she needs love and kindness, not sex. Where the film goes from there I won't spoil, except to say it's as satisfying as it is depressing.

Oh, last note. I don't really care if the extended slaughterhouse scene before the credits rolled was meant to set the tone for the cruel world we're about to see, or if it was a metaphor for the Philippines under Marcos - it was brutal and unnecessary to see. As a vegetarian a small part of me likes people confronted with the facts of these cruel places, but to see it in this context and for so long was a very unpleasant surprise, and really turned my stomach. You can certainly skip over all of this if you need to.
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