Movie Roundup: 39-39 Edition

Still trying to catch up with all the movies I’ve seen. I count 22 that I’ve yet to record for the internet here on TINAB. So let’s see how for we can get before the beer takes over.

Irma Vep – Another in the fine tradition of indie movies about making indie movies. This one stars TINAB favorite Maggie Cheung as Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung, in France to play the lead in the remake of the classic silent serial Les Vampires. Directed by Louis Feuillade (pronounced, if I remember my French correctly, “Foo-yad”) in 1915, Les Vampires is the story of a criminal gang headed by mysterious female Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire, naturally). I’ve yet to see the serial, but it’s on the list. I understand a pretty good DVD edition of it was released last year. Anyway, director Olivier Assayas, who was married to Cheung for a few years after the making of this movie, has made a fine, funny little movie here. It’s not as crazy or as over the top or as flat-out funny as it’s American genre counterpart, Tom DiCillo’s Living In Oblivion (#25, 1995), but it make up for it with a very cool, subtle cleverness. Playing the film’s director is Antoine Doinel himself, jean-Pierre Léaud, who’s always nice to see. The #13 film of 1996.

In Harm’s Way – Otto Preminger’s surprisingly dull movie about Pearl Harbor and its aftermath has a great cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Dana Andrews, Slim Pickens, Carroll O’Connor, Larry Hagman, George Kennedy and Henry Fonda. But after the initial bombing, which is very exciting and well-done, the film descends into family melodrama and middle-aged romance as Wayne and Neal start some kind of relationship. It’s got some good parts, but they’re buried by the excessive length. The #14 film of 1965.

The Cowboys – One of the later John Wayne movies is this Mark Rydell film about an aging rancher who has to hire a bunch of kids to help drive his cattle because all the adults have run off in search of gold. Rydell would later direct The Rose, On Golden Pond (#14, 1981) and For The Boys, so this’d most likely be his best film. It’s one of Wayne’s best performances too, much better than his award-winning scenery chewing in True Grit (#6, 1969). It’s a fun little coming of age Western, helped by some pretty good supporting performances by Collen Dewhurst, Bruce Dern and future soap opera superstar (soaperstar?) A Martinez. The #7 film of 1972.

Shaft – I saw the two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft In Africa many years ago, but I never actually watched all of this first one. Anyway, Richard Roundtree plays a black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks. It’s interesting for it’s translation of film noir conventions (and I do mean conventions) into an early 70s Black Power milieu. Also interesting is that of the two women he sleeps with, Shaft is very nice to the black girl and cruel and misogynistic to the white one. I don’t know quite what to make of that, but it’s there. The #8 film of 1971.

For Me And My Gal – The most lackluster Busby Berkeley film I’ve seen stars Judy Garland and Gene Kelly (in his film debut, no less) as a couple of vaudevillians who don’t and then, of course, do like each other. There’s some interesting bits, of course, with these principals there can’t help but be good parts, but the whole doesn’t add up to much more than decent.

Cabin In The Sky – More interesting is this early Vincente Minelli film, his first as a credited director. It’s a musical with an all-black cast from a time when such things were not done on a mainstream level (1943, a mere 4 years after the execrable Gone With The Wind). The film stars Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (from the Jack Benny Show), a gambler who gets himself shot, but before he can be carried off to Hell, his wife prays real hard and gets him a 6 month reprieve. Over that time, the forces of evil do everything they can to corrupt him, including sicking Georgia Brown (played by Lena Horne) on him. Also feature Louis Armstrong, as a trumpeter, of course.

His Kind Of Woman – This truly weird pseudo-film noir was directed by John Farrow (Mia’s dad) and stars Robert Mitchum as a gambler who gets bribed to go to Mexico. There, he hooks up with Jane Russell, the girlfriend of a slumming Hollywood action star (Vincent Price). Eventually, he gets kidnapped by a gangster and learns that he was lured to Mexico so said gangster, played by Raymond Burr, what to have Mitchum’s face surgically implanted on his own so he can return to the US. It’s even stranger than it sounds, when Price’s certainly not straight actor loading up on guns and enlisting the Mexican townspeople in a quest to rescue Mitchum from Burr’s clutches, it becomes perhaps the most bizarre noir I’ve ever seen. Good stuff.

Track Of The Cat – This William Wellman film stars Robert Mitchum as the handiest member of a snowed in pioneer ranch family who has to hunt down an evil mountain lion that’s killing his cattle. Wellman designed the color film such that
it would appear black and white with only flashes of red for dramatic emphasis (mostly bloody). When the film is following Mitchum’s cat hunt, it’s great, cool-looking and very tense. It’s the family melodrama that dominates the last two thirds of the film that is really rather boring. An odd decision to mix a theatrical-style drama (think lesser Strindberg or Chekov in a pioneer setting) with a man vs. nature action story, and it doesn’t exactly work, but is still a fine film and worth seeing. The screenplay’s by AI Bezzerides, who wrote the great Kiss Me Deadly, along with They Drive By Night and Thieves’ Highway.

Waking Life – Richard Linklater’s animation experiment is wildly pretentious, even more so than his classic second film Slacker (#7, 1991), a personal favorite of mine. Wiley Wiggins plays the lead, a guy stuck in a dream that he can’t manage to wake up from. In his dream, he encounters any number of characters who expound on random philosophical and political notions to him. Your enjoyment of the film will be entirely dependent on your tolerance for such ramblings. I expected to find the animation annoying, but instead was thoroughly entertained by the changing nature of it, the way it becomes more and less abstract as the dream rolls along. The #9 film of 2001.

A Foreign Affair – Even a brilliant director has to make a mediocre film once in a while, and this is his. A paean to post-war Berlin, it’s clear this was a labor of nostalgia for Wilder and star Marlene Dietrich, refugees from the Nazis both. Jean Arthur plays a congresswoman in Berlin to inspect the nature of the Occupation. There she’s incensed to learn that her GIs are fraternizing with the local Germans. Her guide, played quite badly by John Lund, in order to cover his own romance with Dietrich, one of those unsavory Germans, begins to romance her as well. A love triangle ensues, but not an especially interesting one.

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The Big Music List

Just to prove that movies aren’t the only things I can make lists of, I’ve managed to come up with a Top 100 Songs Of All-Time list. Like any list, it’s not meant to be definitive, but argumentative. I’ve only included songs that I own, as this is actually just an iTunes playlist, though I can’t think of any songs I like enough to be on the list that I don’t already own. I’m also not including any classical works (sorry Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart! Better luck next time!)

Presented in alphabetical order by artist. Someday I may try to rank them, but I’ve no doubt that would be even more futile than attempting to rank films, as my opinions on songs seem to be much more mutable than about movies.

Here Comes The Sun — The Beatles
Across The Universe — The Beatles
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey — The Beatles
Lord Only Knows — Beck
There’s More To Life Than this — Bjork
Tangled Up In Blue — Bob Dylan
Shelter From The Storm — Bob Dylan
Love Minus Zero//No Limit — Bob Dylan
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues — Bob Dylan
Floater (Too Much Too Ask) — Bob Dylan
High Water (For Charley Patton) — Bob Dylan
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Live) — Bob Dylan
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright — Bob Dylan
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Live) — Bob Dylan
Mack The Knife — Bobby Darin
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)– Bruce Springsteen
Johnny B. Goode — Chuck Berry
Lost In The Supermarket — The Clash
Have You Ever Seen The Rain? — Creedence Clearwater Revival
Just Like Heaven — The Cure
Ants Marching — The Dave Matthews Band
Life On Mars — David Bowie
I Hear A Symphony — Diana Ross And The Supremes
Sultans Of Swing — Dire Straits
(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love And Understanding — Elvis Costello
Burning Love — Elvis Presley
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1 — The Flaming Lips
Love Is Here To Stay — Frank Sinatra
Ripple — The Grateful Dead
St. Stephen (Live) — The Grateful Dead
Me And Bobby McGee — Janis Joplin
Hallelujah — Jeff Buckley
All Along The Watchtower — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Braver Newer World — Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Instant Karma! — John Lennon
Watching The Wheels — John Lennon
I Walk The Line — Johnny Cash
Coyote (Live) — Joni Mitchell And The Band
Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division
Over The Hills And Far Away — Led Zeppelin
Take This Waltz — Leonard Cohen
Stardust — Louis Armstrong
California (All The Way) — Luna
Free Bird (Live) — Lynyrd Skynyrd
Reno Dakota — The Magnetic Fields
I’m Free Now — Morphine
Cowgirl In The Sand — Neil Young
Thrasher — Neil Young
Pocahontas — Neil Young
99 Luftballoons — Nena
Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order
Temptation — New Order
Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Live) — Nirvana
Smells Like Teen Spirit — Nirvana
Breed — Nirvana
(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay — Otis Redding
Wish You Where Here — Pink Floyd
San Tropez — Pink Floyd
Debaser — The Pixies
Dress — PJ Harvey
Fairytale Of New York — The Pogues
The Broad Majestic Shannon — The Pogues
Sally MacLennane — The Pogues
Welcome To The Terrordome — Public Enemy
Under Pressure — Queen And David Bowie
Find The River — REM
(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville — REM
Half A World Away — REM
The National Anthem — Radiohead
Let Down — Radiohead
(I Can’t Get No) Satsifaction — The Rolling Stones
New Slang — The Shins
The Boxer — Simon And Garfunkel
The Sounds Of Silence (Live) — Simon And Garfunkel
Landslide — Smashing Pumpkins
Teen Age Riot — Sonic Youth
The Joker — The Steve Miller Band
Birthday — The Sugarcubes
Goodbye Stranger — Supertramp
Alienation’s For The Rich — They Might Be Giants
Hearing Aid — They Might Be Giants
Ana Ng — They Might Be Giants
American Girl — Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
One — U2
Stay (Faraway, So Close) — U2
Where The Streets Have No Name — U2
Brown-Eyed Girl — Van Morrison
Heroin — The Velvet Underground
Sweet Jane (Live) — The Velvet Underground
American Music — Violent Femmes
Add It Up (Live) — Violent Femmes
The Good Life — Weezer
The Union Forever — The White Stripes
Baba O’Reilly — The Who
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart — Wilco
Adieu — Yoko Kanno
Cherry Chapstick — Yo La Tengo
Blue Line Swinger — Yo La Tengo
Taco Wagon — Young Fresh Fellows
La Grange — ZZ Top

Movie Roundup: Down With Ghana Edition

Between the World Cup, a DVD buying binge and a nice couple of months on TCM I’m way, way behind on my film capsuling. I’ll try to speed things along with some shorter comments here, though, powered by rum and cola (we’re out of vodka) who knows how that’ll work.

Nights Of Cabiria – There has been many a film about a hooker with a heart of gold, but none is so good as this Federico Fellini film starring his wife, Giulietta Masina in what appears to be universally regarded as one of the all-time great screen performances. Everything terrible that can happen to her does, yet she continues to trudge through life with a charmingly enigmatic smile. One of those must-see films that for some reason I’m only know getting around to seeing, even though the film played for weeks at my theatre when I started working there some eight years ago (and was a huge hit, by the way).

The Wind And The Lion – In early 20th Century Morocco, Sean Connery, the leader of the Berbers, kidnaps Candace Bergan and the US government, led by show-boating president Teddy Roosevelt (played by Brian Keith, the dad in The Parent Trap) tries to get her back. Of course, Bergan gradually comes to see the justice of the Berbers cause (independence or something) as she develops something like a romantic relationship with Connery, Written and directed by John Milius, the auteur behind Conan The Barbarian (#10, 1982) and Red Dawn (#25, 1984). The #9 film of 1975.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame – Mediocrity of a musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, who did much better in On The Town. There’s some historical baseball truth to it’s story of ballplayers who moonlights as vaudevillians, and of course in the gambling scandal that ensues as part of the “plot”. It’s nice to see co-star Esther Williams find a pool to take a quick swim in, she always seems so parched. Other than that there’s not much to love here.

Dark Command – Coming off their breakthrough hit in John Ford’s Stagecoach, John Wayne and Claire Trevor were reunited in this early noir Western directed by Raoul Walsh, a very good action film director who doesn’t seem to have ever reached the heights of Ford or Hawks or even Curtiz, and thus has a sizable following among film geeks. It’s an odd adaptation of the “Bloody Quantrill” story from Kansas during the Civil War. Wayne plays an uneducated yet honorable sheriff, Walter Pidgeon the villainous school teacher turned vicious Confederate guerrilla, Claire Trevor the woman they inevitably fight over and Roy Rogers plays her brother, who adds some interesting moral complexity as her brother, a sympathetic character who commits cold-blooded murder. It’s an entertaining yet surprisingly dark film that marks perhaps the first incursion of the noir style onto the generic Western formula.

The Cat’s Meow – Put Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Thomas Ince together on a yacht and what could go wrong? Well, according to director Peter Bogdanovich, Hearst killed Ince because Chaplin was hitting on Davies. This movie seems like it should be good, but it really isn’t. Kirsten Dunst is as cute as ever as Davies, but Edward Hermann (a character actor I generally like) is just silly as Hearst, Cary Elwes is largely annoying as Ince and Eddie Izzard’s Chaplin is just plain dull. Jennifer Tilly is mildly amusing as proto-gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous is in there somewhere. It’s obvious Bogdanovich has a lot of love for these characters and this time period, but too much so: his inner geek is showing and it isn’t pretty, it’s mediocre. The #21 film of 2001, right behind Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

Tomorrow Is Forever – Decent melodrama starring Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert. Welles goes off to World War I, leaving wife Colbert behind. When he’s horribly maimed and disfigured in the war, he makes sure she thinks he’s dead. 20 some years later, Welles, with a nice German accent and a beard (and a very young Natalie Wood) comes to work with Colbert’s new husband on some anti-Nazi thing for the next war, and tries to persuade his son (who he didn’t know existed) not to join the army like he did. I kept hoping Welles would actually turn out to be a Nazi spy or something, but instead it’s just a relatively conventional family melodrama.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Marilyn Monroe and jane Russell on a boat to Paris, in search of love and riches. The film is bookended by two terrific musical sequences: the can’t look away opening duet (Two Little Girls From Little Rock) and the justly famous Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. In between is a brilliant comic performance from Monroe, some interestingly twisted and even subversive plot and one truly weird courtroom scene.

X-Men 3 – Not as good, but not appreciably worse than either of the first two films, which, unlike most geeks I know, I wasn’t a big fan of anyway. There’s lots of potential for political commentary here, gay rights, racism, abortion, what have you, but it’s way too much of a mess, and director Brett Ratner is too much of a hack, for anything coherent to come out of it. There are some decent action sequences, but like the first two, far too many characters too care about, and not enough action to overwhelm the conventional theatrics of their relationships. The ideal X-Men movie would have less characters and the same amount of action or the same amount of characters and more action. instead all three strike a middle ground that doesn’t work well enough on either level for the films to be successful.

Donovan’s Reef – A late career comedy from John Ford and John Wayne about a group of WW2 vets retired to a quiet Pacific Island. Their peace is disrupted when one of their daughters (Elizabeth Allen) shows up from Boston to inspect their way of life. Lee Marvin is merely underused as Wayne’s brawl-happy buddy, but Jack Warden, as Allen’s father, is absent for almost the entire film. The movie’s high on light comedy and entertaining, non-insulting exotica. I liked best that Allen figured out the silly ruse Wayne and the Polynesian kids were perpetrating on their own, without any of the audience pandering you expect from light comedies nowadays.

Mission: Impossible 3 – Writer-director J. J. Abrams essentially adapts the themes of his fine TV series Alias to the Mission: Impossible universe in this decent action film. It’s not nearly as good as Brian DePalma’s frenetic original, but neither is it nearly as bad as John Woo’s execrable part 2. The action sequences are fine, the plot is decent, the performances are good (though Keri Russell (Felicity) is woefully underused). Philip Seymour Hoffman acts Tom Cruise off the screen, but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?

Flying Leathernecks – Nicholas Ray directs John Wayne and Robert Ryan in this seemingly conventional World War II film about conflict methods of commanding men. Wayne’s the hard-ass tyrant and Ryan’s the sensitive everybody’s his friend type. What’s interesting is that both men are whole characters, and each has a reasonable claim to correctness, though in the end Wayne is clearly the winner of this ideological struggle. Both actors are terrific, as always, and the action sequences (dogfights and all that) are very effective.

The Hill – Sean Connery stars in this Sidney Lumet film about abuses at a British prison camp during World War 2. Kind of like The Bridge On The River Kwai, except the prison is for and run by British soldiers and instead of a bridge to build there’s a hill to march up and down. The black and white cinematography (lots of close-ups) and the hysterical performances build a great amount of tension as Connery’s small band of prisoners are tortured by a sadistic commandant and that abuse is ignored by the bureaucratic camp boss. The real revelation, however, is Ossie Davis, who I’d never seen but as a little old man (in films like Do The Right Thing) but is instead big and muscular and athletic here. His acting’s great, his character is a bit like the black man in the insane asylum in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor who thinks he’s a KKK member. An interesting performance in an intense, effective prison melodrama. The #13 film of 1965.

She Done Him Wrong – Cary Grant stars in this Mae West film. The plot’s impenetrable, neither the wife nor I really had any idea what was going on, but West’s a charismatic enough performer that you could almost forgive it that. It was West’s first feature film, and does have some of her signature one-liners and inimitable style.

Ninotchka – Greta Garbo plays a straight-laced Soviet bureaucrat sent to Paris to corral some drunken agents who then flaws into a romantic corruption herself in this Ernst Lubitsch film that’s as fine an example of any of his unique and brilliant comic “touch”. A decade after her peak in the silent era, its still quite clear why Garbo was such a tremendous star, she’s a brilliant actress and it’s near impossible to take your eyes off her. I think I may prefer Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner, but I certainly love them both. The screenplay was co-written by no less than Billy Wilder.

Battleground – The dictionary definition of a World War II movie is this William Wellman film about the Battle Of The Bulge with members of the 101st Airborne who were trapped behind enemy lines at Bastogne. The cast is fine: Van Johnson, James Whitmore, John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban (Khan!) are the biggest names. Essential viewing for any fan of the genre, but probably not otherwise.

Baby Doll – Elia Kazan adapts another Tenessee Williams play, this one starring Karl Malden as a man who has his very young bride romanced away from him by Eli Wallach. Wallach thinks malden burned down his cotton gin (which he did) so he tries to get his wife away from him on her birthday (the date when Malden will finally be allowed to consummate their marriage. It’s Wallach’s first feature film, and he’s really good. Malden’s fine as well and Carroll Baker’s exactly what she’s supposed to be. One can’t help but suspect that Baker’s given age in the film is at least 5 years older than what Williams intended, though the film drew protests and got itself banned anyway.

The River – Jean Renoir goes to India in this beautiful film about the twin wonders of the subcontinent and Technicolor. The plot is typical coming of age story stuff about three girls in love with a handicapped veteran who moves in next door to their family’s big colonial house. Renoir manages to avoid travelogue exoticism, but still manages to depict the fascinating beauty of an unfamiliar place. The film is episodic in nature, but some of those episodes are truly amazing: when two girls following the third as she walks with and kisses the veteran, a heartbreaking exchange at a dinner table after a tragedy (daughter asks mother: “So we just go on as if nothing has happened?” mother replies: “No, we just go on.”) and one of my all-time favorite dance sequences.

Hell Is For Heroes – This World War 2 film stars Steve McQueen as a loose cannon private who refuses to follow orders properly yet ends up saving the platoon anyway. Along for the ride are James Coburn, Bobby Darin, Fess Parker and, uh, Bob Newhart. A taut little film about a small group of GIs holding off a much larger German force, first through subterfuge, then through good old-fashioned American bravery. Directed by Don Siegel, an interesting action movie auteur (Dirty Harry, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Shootist).

Only Angels Have Wings – Howard hawks film in which Cary Grant leads a group of pilots who deliver the mail high in the Andes. Jean Arthur costars as the new woman in town who can’t help but fall in love with him, Rita Hayworth plays his ex-girlfriend in town with her new husband, a pilot formerly blackballed for cowardice. It’s a prototypical Hawks drama, with different generations of men struggling to live up to an idealized code of honor and headstrong women trying to break them down and get them to loosen up. You see the same thing in To Have And Have Not, Rio Bravo and even Red River. This formula doesn’t really fit his comedies though (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Monkey Business? there’s something else going on there, I’m sure. Though Bringing Up Baby almost seems to fit, His Girl Friday too, hmmm).

Monkey Business – Speaking of Hawks, this time Cary Grant plays a research scientist looking for the fountain of youth. One of his lab monkeys manages to perfect the formula without his knowledge, and he and his wife (Ginger Rogers) take turn accidentally taking the formula and acting like crazed teenagers. Charles Coburn and the Marilyn Monroe costar. As a screwball comedy it’s perfectly fine, though not up to the standards of Hawks and Grant’s best.

Movies Of The Year: 1964

It’s been awhile, but back to the lists we go. See The Big List for later year’s lists as well as some new disclaimers and methodological explanations.

13. My Fair Lady – As much as I love Audrey Hepburn and flashy hats, I really can’t stand this movie. It’s big and bloated and obvious and she doesn’t do her own singing and did I mention it’s long? I don’t have anything against Rex Harrison, and he’s fine as the professor trying to teach Hepburn’s street urchin how to act like a lady. The director, George Cukor goes way back, he did the 1933 version of Little Women (with Katharine Hepburn) along with Sylvia Scarlett, The Philadelphia Story, Gaslight, Adam’s Rib, Born Yesterday and the Judy garland version of A Star Is Born.

12. Robin And The 7 Hoods – A Rat Pack mob epic (and Robin hood adaptatio) starring the usual suspects (Sinatra, Martin, Davis) along with Peter Falk, Bing Crosby, Tony Randall and Edward G. Robinson. It’s nowhere near as fun as Ocean’s Eleven (the original, of course) and it’s way too long, but it isn’t terrible. The director, Gordon Douglas also directed the Unseen sequel In Like Flint, a film that was a major contributor to my irrational fear of insects: the giant ant classic Them!, and a whole lot of B movies going back to the mid-30s.

11. A Shot In The Dark – I probably shouldn’t count this, because the only time I’ve seen it was an old print that had faded to the point everything was pretty much pink. But what the hell, it is a Pink Panther movie, after all. Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clouseau, the clumsy detective who bumbles his way to solving a crime. Sellers is predictably hilarious as he tries to prove that Elke Summer did not commit the murder everyone else thinks she did. Also stars the very great George Sanders (Rebecca, All About Eve) and Tracy Reed, who is also in another film on this list. Can you guess which one?

10. Mary Poppins – The best live-action Disney movie ever? Julie Andrews stars as the singing magic nanny in this musical about the evils of capitalism, Victorian repression and the dangers of feminism. For the first, we have the character of the father, who learns that flying a kite is more fun than working in a bank, along with the old homeless lady with nothing to do but talk to birds as she’s been abandoned by an unfeeling system. For the second we have the freedom loving chimney sweeps lead by Ms. Poppins boyfriend, Dick Van Dyke, who dance across the rooftops of London, travel into hallucinatory cartoon worlds via magic sidewalk chalk art and the always funny Ed Wynn in his Uncle Albert/tea party on the ceiling sequence. For the third, we have the children’s mother, too busy with her suffragette causes to pay attention to her children, which necessitates the hiring of a magic nanny in the first place. It’s a fascinating film, positively bursting with meaning, hidden under a sugary sheen of silly musical tropes.

9. Goldfinger – One of the very best of the James Bond films has Sean Connery pit against Auric Glodfinger, who wants to do something or other to the gold in Fort Knox to destroy the world economy, or something. Along the way he’s got to dodge the sinister hat-throwing henchman Oddjob and the feminine wiles of Goldfinger’s pilot, the iconically named Pussy Galore. There’s no truth to the rumor that being covered in paint causes asphyxiation, by the way, or that the actress in the opening died on set. Some people will believe anything.

8. Gertrud – Director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s last film was a flop in it’s time (it’s easy to see why) and has only recently been rehabilitated into classic status. Jonathan Rosenbaum has written glowingly about and, and while I can’t say I agree with him, it certainly is an interesting film. I wrote about it here and I can’t say my opinion has changed in the last month. It’s a weird, beautiful, intense, exasperating, alienating and, most would say, dreadfully dull film.

7. A Fistful Of Dollars – The first Clint Eastwood-Sergio Leone Western is a blatant ripoff of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai Western Yojimbo, so much so that Kurosawa actually sued and won against Leone. Based, like the other film, loosely on Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (an entirely different genre of novel from either film), Eastwood plays a drifter who wanders into a violent mess of a town being torn apart by two rival gangs. He proceeds to get himself in-between both groups and play one against the other until they tear each other and the town apart. It’s a fine film, but doesn’t hold a candle to either Yojimbo or Leone’s later epics.

6. The Naked Kiss – Justly famous for it’s opening sequence in which a prostitute beats the hell out of a subjective camera (a john who hasn’t paid her) with a handbag and has her wig pulled off revealing a Telly Savalas skull. This Samuel Fuller classic only becomes stranger from there. The hooker moves to a small town and tries to rebuild her life by working with handicapped children. She begins a romance with the son of the most powerful family in town and then discovers that there are things far more disturbing beneath the surface of small town America than a bald prostitute beating up a camera. It’s got everything you expect and want from a Samuel Fuller movie.

5. Marnie – Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s most disturbing film is this story of a frigid kleptomaniac woman and the man who loves her, blackmails her, rapes her and forces her to re-experience the childhood trauma that screwed her up in the first place. A lot of Hitchcock’s films are expressions of his own neuroses, especially his obsession with blonde women, but this one, with it’s sadistic treatment of Tippi Hedren’s lead character, combined with what is rumored to be Hitchcock’s real-life stalking of Hedren make the film truly perverse. Sean Connery, in an odd comment of his by then famous and misogynistic James Bond persona plays Marnie’s husband, who forces her to resolve her issues, among other things.

4. Zulu – One of my all-time favorite war films is this true story of a small band of british troops surrounded by the entire Zulu army. All day and all night they have to hold there fort against the Zulus, despite being outnumbered 4,000 to 140. Michael Caine plays the wholly inexperienced dandy of a commanding officer, who because of seniority cedes command to Stanley Baker’s passing engineer. Ulla Jacobson, from Bergman’s Smiles Of A Summer Night plays the daughter of a minister who tries to convince them all to run away. Though the Zulus are portrayed more as a mass than as individual characters, it’d be hard to argue that the film doesn’t treat them or their cause (the expelling of foreign invaders) unjustly. Director Cy Endfield was a victim of the McCarthy blacklist and moved to England to find work.

3. Band Of Outsiders – The movie that gave Quentin Tarantino his production company’s name stars the always great Anna Karina as a girl being romanced by two would-be hoodlums played by Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey. The three of them meet in English class, go out for a soda and one of the greatest dance sequences of all-time (music by Michel Legrand) and hang around, dreaming of being film noir characters. The two guys eventually convince Karina to help them rob her uncle’s house. It’s not my favorite of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, but it might be his most popular and accessible. As such it’s as good a place as any to start if you need to familiarize yourself with his work (and you do).

2. The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg – Jacques Demy’s melodrama as opera stars Catherine Denueve as the daughter of an Umbrella shop owner who’s in love with a mechanic named Guy, played by Nino Castelnuovo. Guy ships off to Algeria for two years, leaving a pregnant Deneuve unable to resist the charms of the wealthy Roland, whom her mother loves and can solve all their financial troubles (the own an umbrella shop, after all). Guy returns to find his Aunt dying, his girlfriend married and his child being raised by another man. The story is the simplest soap opera melodrama, but by virtue of the music, every line of dialogue is sung to a brilliant Michel Legrand score, and the mise en scène (filled with more vibrant than life primary colors) the everyday is elevated to the level of great tragedy. This is what Demy appears to be all about, at least in the two films I’ve seen of his (Young Girls Of Rochefort, #3, 1967, being the other), showing the beauty of what we tend to see as the mundane of everyday life.

1. Dr. Strangelove – One of my all-time favorite films of any genre is this Stanley Kubrick film about the inevitability and hilarity of nuclear apocalypse. Peter Sellers, of course, is brilliant in a triple role as the eponymous doctor, the ineffective president and the British officer who almost saves the day. Sterling Hayden plays a lunatic general who launches a nuclear strike on the USSR because he’s convinced a case of impotence was caused by the communist water fluoridation scheme. Slim Pickens plays the pilot of a B-52 who doesn’t get the mission abort code and ends up destroying the world. Rumor is that Kubrick didn’t bother to tell Pickens that the movie was a satire and had him play the whole thing straight. true or not, it certainly works. James Earl Jones plays one of Pickens’s flight crew, Keenan Wynn has a great little role as a soldier who’s a big fan of the Coca-cola corporation, but George C. Scott gives my favorite performance in the film as General Buck Turgidson, the gung ho commander terrified the Russians might see The Big Board. This is what satire is supposed to be: a scathing indictment of the lunacy of Cold War decision-making and paranoia that’s as funny and disturbing as it is persuasive.

A lot of great Unseen movies this year as 1964 appears to be another great year for films in general. I’ve got the new Masters Of Cinema DVD of Kwaidan on the way from the UK, should be here any day now.

A Hard Day’s Night
Fail-Safe
Zorba The Greek
Seven Days In May
Hush. . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte
The Night Of The Iguana
The Pawnbroker
Topkapi
The Fall Of The Roman Empire
The Gospel According To St. Matthew
Kwaidan
The Masque Of The Red Death
Onibaba
Woman In The Dunes
Diary Of A Chambermaid
The Killers
The Red Desert
I Am Cuba
7 Faces Of Dr. Lao
The Soft Skin
Cheyanne Autumn
Charulata
Becket

Movie Roundup: Fire Bruce Arena Edition

Some quick comments while watching France attempt to out-lackluster the Americans in the World Cup.

Deadwood – The third season started on Sunday of this great HBO series. Nancy Franklin wrote a comically inept review of it for last week’s New Yorker, something film critic Dave Kehr has a nice post about on his blog. Franklin’s generally a fine critic, but with this and her inability to understand My Name Is Earl, I fear she may be succumbing to creeping Anthony Lane Syndrome, wherein a reasonably good critic comes to hate the very medium they work in, and thus becomes unable to ever see things for what they are and instead begins to write reviews as if they are competing in a cleverest zinger contest. Anyway, Deadwood’s a terrific show, a linguistically obscene, yet poetic, examination of the core conflict at the heart of the whole Western genre: how order comes to be imposed upon chaos. You can phrase it any number of ways: civilization vs. barbarity, capitalism vs. pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers, genocidal white men vs. outgunned indians, and so on, depending on your personal political axe-grind. One of the posters on Kehr’s blog points out that Deadwood’s Al Swearingen, the murderous, vicious, outrageously profane, amoral saloon keeper who is paradoxically the only hope the community has to avoid being swallowed up by the rapacious laissez-faire capitalist George Hearst, is uncoincidentally quite similar to many of John Wayne’s characters, especially Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (a killer who embarks on a decade long quest to rescue his niece only to find that the community he restored has no place for a man like him) and Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (which is what that film is all about: civilization needs these men to tame the wilderness (Indians, outlaws) but once tamed, it has no place for them and they are left, at best, to simply fade away).

Thank You For Smoking – I thought this movie was enjoyable enough while I was watching it, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t like it. It supposedly is a satire, but I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be satirizing, or even if surrounding one reasonably intelligent protagonist with a world full of blithering idiots actually counts as satire. The problem, I think, is that the film isn’t willing to take a stand and either celebrate or indict the protagonist, Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. The thing is, Naylor never says anything all that outrageous, though the movie seems to think it is. The great revelation we get at the end of the film is that adults should have the right to choose whether they want to smoke or not. This is either mind-numbingly obvious or not the least bit funny, either way, it’s a pretty lame ending. The film appears to want it both ways, writer-director Jason Reitman wants to make fun of the anti-smoking lobby (an unbelievably stupid Senator played by William H. Macy, shadowy “terrorists” who kidnap Naylor) and the tobacco industry (a pointless character played by Robert Duvall, perhaps meant to satirize old Southern men who like mint juleps? and an ultimately irrelevant subplot involving Rob Lowe, Adam Brody and a whole mess of cheap anti-Hollywood jokes). It’s as though the film wants you to think that Naylor’s right and personal responsibility is important, but Reitman isn’t so sure and doesn’t want anyone to think he actually agrees with that. Pointedly, there is no smoking of any kind in the film, in interviews, Reitman has said that he didn’t want to glamorize it or make anyone think he might actually approve of the habit. What a mess. It does have its redeeming features though. Most of the funny lines are in the trailer, but the best part of the film is Aaron Eckhart’s gleeful performance as Naylor. He perfectly captures the joy Naylor feels when he wins an argument and the childlike gleam in his eye when he gets some of the perks of being a successful lobbyist (a private jet, a trip to Hollywood, Katie Holmes). For a first film, it’s really not that bad, and it was fun watching it in a surprisingly crowded theatre for a Monday night many weeks after the movie’s release, but I really expected better. The #38 film of 2005.