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Back Stage (1919)
I wonder if this reflects what went on behind the scenes in Hollywood
Fatty Arbuckle's "Back Stage" features him and Buster Keaton as stage actors experiencing all sorts of mishaps as they prepare for the performance. While watching it, I wondered if it reflected what the two men experienced in Hollywood. It's not a great short, but okay for its brief run time; Buster Keaton in particular was still trying to figure out his style. Some of the scenes must've been risque for the era. Worth seeing if you're interested in early cinema.
Norma Rae (1979)
Ron Leibman, RIP
Ron Leibman died a few days ago, and I realized that I'd never seen one of his most important movies. So, I decided to watch Martin Ritt's "Norma Rae". What an inspiration. Sally Field puts her all into the Academy Award-winning role of a factory worker encouraged to organize a union. It's no surprise that Ritt directed this, as he had spent much of his career focusing on social issues (race, class, the blacklist). Filmed documentary-style, the movie really gives one a feeling of the hardship experienced by the stressed employees. Basically, this is a movie that you have to see to not only understand labor issues, but to understand the best that cinema can be. Definitely check it out if you get a chance.
Préparez vos mouchoirs (1978)
compose an unusual romantic comedy
When we hear romantic comedy, we expect to see some mushy, sanitized story bereft of any real plot. That's why it's so refreshing to see Bertrand Blier's Academy Award-winning "Préparez vos mouchoirs" ("Get Out Your Handkerchiefs" in English). Not only does this have a profound story, it also has some shocking scenes. If they're this shocking nowadays, imagine how they looked way back when! This story of a love triangle complicated by the woman's affection for an underage boy hits all the right notes. One could argue that it has a sexist depiction of the woman, but we could also say that it wanted to be outrageous. And boy is it! Gérard Depardieu, Carole Laure and Patrick Dewaere put it stellar performances (alas, Dewaere committed suicide a few years after the release).
Anyway, great movie.
Marriage Story (2019)
Black Widow meets Kylo Ren
In the past few years, Netflix has been turning out some fine movies: Roma, The Irishman, and now Marriage Story. This latest one focuses on the effects that a divorce has on a family. Having never been through a divorce, I can't fully relate to it, but the strength of the characters and editing makes up for that. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver put all their effort into the roles of a separated husband and wife in a tense battle over their son. The movie's slow pace allows enough time to let the characters develop, and these are complex characters.
It might not be the greatest movie of all time, but it's an effective one, and I recommend it. The rest of the cast includes Julie Hagerty (Airplane!) and Wallace Shawn (My Dinner with Andre).
True Crimes (2016)
Jim Carrey's most unusual role
After years of over-the-top comedy, Jim Carrey played a serious role in "I Love You, Philip Morris". He now goes one step further with with the dead-serious "Dark Crimes", playing a detective in Poland investigating a murder. The whole movie has a gray tint, creating a bleak feeling throughout. Is this supposed to be a representation of Poland in general?
The one downside is that Jim Carrey doesn't effectively do a Polish accent, lapsing in and out of it. Sometimes he sounds just like his characters from his mid-'90s movies. Otherwise, it's one of the most intense movies that I've seen. A person who only knows the movies that made Carrey famous would've never envisioned him in this sort of role. Then again, such a person would've never envisioned his anti-Trump drawings.
Jackson County Jail (1976)
years before pursuing a fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones was one
In the pantheon of exploitation flicks, the fugitive genre is one of the most important ones. "Jackson County Jail" is a key example, with an arrested woman (Yvette Mimieux) fleeing with an inmate (Tommy Lee Jones). There's lots of fun in store. This movie does have one particularly rough scene, but it adds to the story. Mimieux's character is one who you hope will succeed; after seeing what happens to her, how can you not? Jones's character is a loser who tries to do the right thing. It manages the proper balance of action and drama. Worth seeing.
The rest of the cast includes Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds), Severn Darden (a character actor in the '60s and '70s) and Nan Martin.
corny, as it was intended to be
"Shazam!" is one corny movie. I have no doubt that they intended it as such. While it has most of the stuff that commonly appears in superhero movies, a noticeable difference here is the positive depiction of the foster home. I figure that someone wanted this portrayal in contrast to the negative depictions of foster homes that we often see.
Overall, about what you'd expect.
Nang Nak (1999)
love cannot leave
I interpreted "Nang Nak" to mean that love never dies. The wife will not leave her husband, despite dying in childbirth. I read that the movie takes place during the Siamese-Vietnamese War, which lasted from 1831-1834. No telling how many men got conscripted and sent off to it, with their families having no idea if they'd ever return. And of course, death during childbirth was more common back then. Whether you interpret the movie as a romance or a horror, it's still something that you have to see to believe. I recommend it.
The Circle (2017)
don't trust the powerful
Every story of a tech company misusing people's personal information makes "The Circle" look all the more realistic. It's not a great movie, but still a warning about all that stuff. The fictional company in the movie comes across as positively cult-like.
Frozen II (2019)
wherein history is not necessarily what it seems
Basically, what I took from "Frozen II" is that oftentimes, a society's official history is built on a mountain of lies. Read any book by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky or James Loewen to see what I mean.
The Bell Boy (1918)
hotel me true
"The Bell Boy" features Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton as bellhops in a hotel. Their jobs get complicated by a series of mishaps. It's nothing profound, but I laughed all through it, especially the scenes with the device on the clothesline.
This is only the second Fatty Arbuckle movie that I've seen after "A Reckless Romeo". These shorts aimed to make people laugh and they succeeded. It's particularly good that they launched Buster Keaton's career. Nice, silly stuff. No masterpiece, but enjoyable.
The Irishman (2019)
Marty does it again
Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro worked on several movies together over the years, and it was inevitable that they would have to work together again. And the result is a masterpiece. "The Irishman" looks at the life of Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who became a hitman. The movie portrays just about every type of mafioso that existed from the '50s to the '80s.
The movie has made news for the de-aging of its stars (and Bobby D's eyes look bizarre here). But I'd say that the cast itself is equally important. In addition to DeNiro, we have Joe Pesci making a triumphant return to the screen as Russell Bufalino, head of a crime family. And then there's Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. With these three - how had they never all appeared in a movie together? - you know that you're in for some intense stuff.
Although I'd heard of Hoffa before, I'd never known about the rest of the people depicted here, let alone all this history. Who else but Scorsese could've directed something so forceful and gritty? All that I can say is that you can't claim to have seen a complete set of this year's movies unless you've seen "The Irishman". Definitely check it out, whether during the day or in the still of the night.
A Reckless Romeo (1917)
I've finally seen a Fatty Arbuckle movie
I had heard about Fatty Arbuckle for years but had never seen his movies until now. "A Reckless Romeo" is a funny one, starring the comedian as a husband who comes home drunk, causes some problems, and takes his wife to the park, where another mishap arises!
Thought lost for years, a copy got discovered and restored. We can now revel in it. Great stuff.
Watch for a young Buster Keaton.
proof that short comedy can work
This time around, Stan and Ollie get expelled from town and a drunk picks them up to take them home...only then another complication arises! I understand that "Scram!" initially got banned in the Netherlands since the censors didn't like the scene of a woman lying in bed with men who weren't her husband. Fortunately the ban eventually got lifted. Nowadays we can all revel in the mishaps that befall the two men and those around them. Great stuff.
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
Having directed Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting", George Roy Hill cast him yet again in "The Great Waldo Pepper". Redford puts his all into the role of a pilot seeking glory after World War I. But the scene that really sticks in my mind is Susan Sarandon's stunt on the wing; that must've been one harrowing experience!
It's not a masterpiece but one that you gotta see.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)
it's a surprise when an icon turns out to be a fraud
I had been doing Bikram yoga for a few years when assault allegations against Bikram Choudhury surfaced. "Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator" looks at this, as well as allegations that his entire business franchise is a fraud. Shocking stuff. I recommend it.
Zimna wojna (2018)
I hope that Pawel Pawlikowski keeps making these sorts of movies
A few years ago, Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" focused on a nun-to-be in communist-era Poland who discovers something surprising about herself. Now, his "Zimna wojna" ("Cold War" in English) looks at a relationship over the course of several years in the same general era. Pawlikowski knows how to use the right amount of subtlety, as well as position the camera perfectly for the scenes. I hope that he keeps making these sorts of movies, and I hope to see more of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in the years to come.
Me and My Pal (1933)
it's a real puzzle...a fun one, that is
This time around, Ollie's about to get married, but Stan brings over a jigsaw puzzle, and everyone who lays eyes on it gets addicted! Sure enough, it leads to a series of slapstick scenes. As someone who enjoys jigsaw puzzles, I can confirm that they can be addictive. Anyway, "Me and My Pal" is a riot. Definitely recommend it.
Also watch last year's "Stan and Ollie" if you haven't seen it.
The Laundromat (2019)
the rich can get away with anything
"The Laundromat" has a giant cast and a simple message: the 1% can always find a way to avoid paying their fair share. The Panama Papers leak exposed how large numbers of rich people were hiding their money in a tax shelter in Panama. Steven Soderbergh's movie goes deeper into how they did this and the various ways that they avoid any serious prosecution.
In conclusion, there IS class warfare: the 1% against the 99%.
Definitely see it.
Female Trouble (1974)
John Waters does exactly what you'd expect...and I wouldn't have it any other way!
From what I can tell, John Waters couldn't make a bad movie even if he tried. His exercises in the shocking always show us what cinema could be. "Female Trouble" is no exception. The eye-popping material kept me laughing every step of the way. He revisited the topic of serial killers and their potential image in the media in 1994's "Serial Mom" (the movie that introduced me to his work, and also the first R-rated movie that I ever saw in the theater).
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Joaquin Phoenix's most intense role
Over the past twenty years, Joaquin Phoenix has proven himself to be one of the finest actors in the US, with roles in "Gladiator", "Walk the Line", "Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot" and others; basically, he has the career that his late brother River could've had. But probably Phoenix's most intense role is in Lynne Ramsay's "You Were Never Really Here". He plays a damaged war vet who rescues trafficked girls. But when he has to rescue the daughter of a state senator, he finds out something that could upend people's careers.
It's not a masterpiece - certainly not "Taxi Driver", to which people have been comparing it - but worth seeing. Not one that you're likely to forget any time soon. Indeed, you might end up feeling as though Phoenix's character just used his hammer against you.
So yes, angel baby, come back home.
Earthquake Bird (2019)
adventures in Japan
Wash Westmoreland's "Earthquake Bird" isn't a great movie but still worth seeing, with Alicia Vikander as an expat in Japan who enters a potentially dangerous situation. In addition to the plot what I liked was the scenes of Japan's countryside; I hope to go there someday.
I recommend the movie. I hope that Vikander's career continues like this. Also appearing is Riley Keough (Elvis Presley's granddaughter).
make something of yourself
The "Rocky" franchise is one of the most famous in cinema history. Now, we have the protagonist from the previous movies handing the baton to the new generation (in this case, the son of his former rival). As with the original, the basic gist of the movie is making something of oneself. And "Creed" does a great job laying that out. It's one that you gotta see. Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson all put on fine performances.
Long live the city of brotherly love!
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Chicken fried by Christians; does that mean that it would taste different if fried by Taoists?
I had heard about "Steel Magnolias" for years, but I only now got around to seeing it (thirty years to the month of its release, incidentally). It's nice to see a female-driven movie, especially one with some of the witty one-liners that we have here. Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and the rest make a fun team. I guess that the movie would've been more effective had it featured a racially diverse crowd, but as it stands it's a great romp. I liked it.
Keep the Lights On (2012)
How stable are relationships?
Ira Sachs's "Keep the Lights On" focuses on dismal relationship between two men in New York. A previous reviewer praised the movie for not taking a cliched view of gay relationships and showing that gays can have damaged relationships just as much as heterosexuals can.
Maybe so, but the movie drags a lot. Plenty of movies - namely 2005's "Junebug" - have deliberately moved slowly to tell the story, but I don't really see the purpose here. It's got a good story, but they could've presented it better.