Monday, October 17, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir. Sidney Lanfield, 1939). The first appearance of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. It is pleasant to sojourn, at least for a short time, in a world where the mind can make sense of all things. Bonuses: handwritten letters and sardines.

*

The Long Day Closes (dir. Terence Davies, 1992). It begins brilliantly, with what sounds like the J. Arthur Rank gong, followed by the 20th-Century Fox fanfare. And between them, a bit of dialogue from The Happiest Days of Your Life (dir. Frank Lauder, 1950): “A tap, Gossage, I said a tap! You’re not introducing a film!” What follows is a plotless evocation of a Liverpool boyhood, 1955–1956, lonely, almost certainly gay, and filled with music and film musicals. The most Proustian film I’ve seen. Painterly, too. A masterpiece. And to think that I found it by browsing in the L s.


[Bud (Leigh McCormack) and his mum (Marjorie Yates), looking like a Vermeer. Click for a larger view.]

*

Knock on Any Door (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1949). Humphrey Bogart as a tough kid turned lawyer, now defending another tough kid (John Derek). Though I love Casablanca , High Sierra , and The Maltese Falcon , I am forced to concede that Bogart was not an especially good actor. But we’ll always have Paris. Look for Dooley Wilson (uncredited) at the piano in a nightclub scene.

*

The Madonna’s Secret (dir. William Thiele, 1946). One after another, a painter’s models end up dead. Who done it? A B-ish B-movie, with the great gift of John Alton’s cinematography.

*

Bottle Rocket (dir. Wes Anderson, 1996). Three stooges (Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave) rob a bookstore (a bookstore) and aspire to greater things. Good-natured, unabashedly male-centric idiocy. Favorite bits: the notebook, the farewell conversation via interpreter, the phone call. The notebook’s pages are online for close reading.

*

The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer, 2015). This film divided our household. Elaine didn’t like it. I did, a lot. Something is going wrong in a Cincinnati community center, where boys, girls, young men, and young women spar and work out and dance. A deeply unnerving film. To say anything more would be to give something — I’m not sure what — away. My favorite lines: “They’re filling up a container. They look like astronauts.” I would love to teach this film and hear what students make of it.


[Click for a larger view.]

*

Amanda Knox (dir. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, 2016). This film might be described as Making a Murderer: The Study-Abroad Edition . An outrageous story of prosecutorial and media malpractice. Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, prosecutor and pseudo-journalist, respectively, will live on in infamy in this documentary.

*

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (dir. Ron Howard, 2016). When Ron Howard passed right by the Beatles’ great performance on the Swedish television show Drop In (1963), I knew that this documentary would be much more than a rehash of material from The Beatles Anthology . A wonderful, mild reminder of the happiness and exhaustion of Beatlemania. (No sex, and nothing stronger than pot.) The film’s pacing is remarkable: fifty minutes or so in, I began to feel tired for these guys, and then they begin to spend time in the studio.

I wish that Howard had been able to track down an unknown fan or two or three who spoke to reporters back then — they would have been at least as interesting to hear from as the celebrity commenters. But I found Whoopi Goldberg’s observation true to my childhood experience of the Beatles: “The whole world lit up.” That was it, exactly.

A bonus: in theaters, the film is followed by a thirty-minute version of the group’s August 15, 1965, performance at Shea Stadium.

*

The Commitments (dir. Alan Parker, 1991). Would you rather be an unemployed pipefitter, or an unemployed musician? Yeah, I thought so. A soul band takes shape in the slums of Dublin. An endearing, winning film, with genuine musical excitement, and a lead singer who seems to be channeling Joe Cocker (but with no need for a translator). My alternate title: Waiting for Wilson Pickett . My favorite moment: watching these musical aspirants watch James Brown in the 1964 concert film T.A.M.I. Show .

If all culture is theft, this film is about breaking into Fort Knox.

*

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2016). Suppose they gave a war and after a while nobody thought it was still newsworthy? Tina Fey as Kim Baker, a real-life journalist who packs up for Afghanistan with little preparation and few second thoughts. The dark comedy of desparate circumstances. “Hearts and minds: that’s the two best places to shoot somebody.”

*

Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1949). Had I seen it before? Criss Cross is both memorable and forgettable enough to make me wonder. (I’m still not sure.) Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo as doomed lovers, Dan Duryea as a criminal mastermind. The film’s unusual scenes — a surreal heist, a menacing hospital scene — help offset the more predictable elements.

*

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards, 1961). It’s streaming at Netflix, a good enough reason to watch it again. Mr. Yunioshi aside, I love the film’s Janus-like picture of mid-century Manhattan as playground for free spirits and island of lost souls. I keep Breakfast at Tiffany’s in my head with The Apartment , The World of Henry Orient , and A Thousand Clowns . Are there other films that I should know about along these mid-century bittersweet lines?


[Varjak, Paul (George Peppard) explains the card catalogue to Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn): “Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.” “I think that’s fascinating!” Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Twelve more

comments: 7

Frex said...

Enjoyable reading, as always---but I wonder why Elaine didn't like The Fits? I mean, I can imagine all sorts of reasons---it's odd: I'd never seen this movie before, and I liked that in itself. (So many movies, even ones I love, are rehashes. This one wasn't.) The young actor Royalty Hightower held me from start to finish too.
--Frex/Fresca

Michael Leddy said...

She didn’t find it nearly as ominous as I did. Her reaction was more just “Huh?”

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, Royalty Hightower is someone to watch (meaning in this movie and for future movies).

Diane Schirf said...

I liked Bogart especially in Key Largo. Unfortunate Indian stereotyping aside.

Michael Leddy said...

I like Key Largo too. And I left out The Treasure of the Sierra Madre , another great one.

Matt Thomas said...

These are some of my favorite posts you do.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Matt. I’m glad you enjoy them.