Thursday, January 10, 2019

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

Double Lover (dir. François Ozon, 2017). We watched a few weeks ago and had to watch again. On second viewing, the seemingly preposterous erotic thriller, as I called it, disappeared, and the hallucinatory story I thought I was seeing was unmistakably present. As were additional echoes of Vertigo, additional instances of doubling, and a hint of Psycho. I’ve added a star for Ozon’s directorial range and risk-taking. ★★★★

*

8 Women (dir. François Ozon, 2002). A comic whodunit with musical interludes, characters who look remarkably like Hollywood stars, overtones of And Then There Were None, and a strong Almodóvar element. Mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, lovers, rivals, a cook, and a maid. My favorite moment: grandma goes in the closet. The ensemble cast includes Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. ★★★★

*

Un Flic (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972). Alain Delon as un flic, a cop, working on a bank heist and a drug-smuggling caper. But flic also suggest movies, and this movie teems with crime-movie tropes: trench coats and fedoras, a nightclub, a floor show, cop and bad guy at the bar, a door marked Private, a businessman in deep trouble, a wife in the dark, a glamorous informant, a love triangle (one of whose points is Catherine Deneuve), even the miniatures of early Hitchcock. My favorite sequence: the long, virtually silent train heist, an homage to Jules Dassin’s Rififi. Strange to see Richard Crenna (The Real McCoys) and Michael Conrad (Uncle Caz, All in the Family) dubbed into French. ★★★★

*

Mary Poppins Returns (dir. Rob Marshall, 2018). A witless spectacle, with musical numbers that are much ado about nothing, and the second-generation Banks children as spectators who seem to gather nothing from watching production numbers in the realms of the unreal. Emily Blunt, as my son Ben pointed out, is something like Amelia Bedelia in her lack of affect, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is insufferable as a fresh-faced lamplighter. The closing moral — which I won’t give away — appalls, especially in the age of Donald Trump. The only redeeming moments in the movie: brief appearances by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. ★

*

The Racket (dir. John Cromwell, 1951). Plotwise, there’s little of interest here: a local crime boss (Robert Ryan), a crusading police captain (Robert Mitchum), and corruption in high places. Mitchum is terribly miscast, his blasé manner adding a strange element of parody to the story. The real pleasure here is the chance to see so many familiar faces: Walter Baldwin and Don Beddoe (Messrs. Parrish and Cameron in The Best Years of Our Lives), Howland Chamberlain (the drugstore manager from the same movie), William Conrad (why did he never play the Continental Op?) Ray Collins and William Talman (Perry Mason), Don Porter (father/professor in Gidget), Les Tremayne (the auctioneer in North by Northwest), Herb Vigran (from I Love Lucy and everything else). Also with a cigarette machine, a Mongol pencil, and pocket notebooks. ★★

*

Inquiring Nuns (dir. Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner, 1968). A delightfully human documentary with a disarmingly simple premise: two young nuns pose a question to Chicagoans, below the L, outside a supermarket, outside a church, in the Art Institute: “Are you happy?” The conversations and questions that follow move again and again (though not always) to the war in Vietnam, poverty, love, loneliness, peace — and no one speaks of wanting more money. It’s impossible to know whether people were more thoughtful and less selfish in 1968 or were just keenly aware that they were on camera speaking with habit-wearing nuns — I suspect it’s a bit of each. With an unexpected appearance by Lincoln Perry (Stepin Fetchit), who speaks of the happiness of being a daily communicant. ★★★★

*

Walk East on Beacon! (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1952). A story of an FBI victory against Soviet agents, filmed on location in Boston, produced by Louis de Rochemont in the semi-documentary style of his The House on 92nd Street (1945). The details of espionage and counter-espionage — airport storage lockers, bills torn in two for identification, hidden cameras, surveillance from a phony Howard Johnson’s truck — make for compelling viewing. George Montgomery gets top billing, but the real star of the film is Finlay Currie (Magwitch in the 1946 Great Expectations) as the scientist who is told to walk east on Beacon. A YouTube find. ★★★★

*

Lost Boundaries (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1949). Another de Rochemont semi-documentary production, this one a forward-thinking consideration of the color line in American life, based on the true story of a doctor and his family in a New Hampshire town. With Beatrice Pearson (who made only one other film, Force of Evil) and Mel Ferrer. When a character leaves New Hampshire for Harlem, I’m reminded of William Faulkner’s Joe Christmas. Another YouTube find. ★★★★

*

A little Laurel and Hardy spree

The Music Box (dir. James Parrott, 1932). Sisyphus in Silver Lake, as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy attempt to haul a piano up a daunting flight of stairs. I suppose I should have seen this short earlier in life, but as I always told my students, you come to things when you come to them. I am glad I finally did — come to this film, that is. Realization: the debt that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney owed to Laurel and Hardy. ★★★★

Busy Bodies (dir. Lloyd French, 1933). Stan and Ollie at a sawmill, with many forms of danger, mechanical and human. I love the decorum (hats, ties), the touch of comfort (a car radio in the form of a phonograph under the hood), and Ollie’s helpless appeals to the camera. The pacing makes me think of a gag-a-day comic strip — no overarching plot, just one comic premise after another. The best joke comes last. ★★★★

Way Out West (dir. James W. Horne, 1937). Now we’re in the world of plot, with Stan and Ollie delivering the deed to a gold mine to a poor girl in thrall to her evil guardians. The plot doesn’t interfere too much with the comic bits. My favorites: Stan and Ollie’s dance, Ollie trapped by a trapdoor. And an ever-present danger: water. ★★★★

Sons of the Desert (dir. William A. Seiter, 1933). Tale as old as time, or fraternal organizations: Stan and Ollie travel to the Chicago convention of the Sons of the Desert, while their wives believe they’ve sailed to Honolulu for Ollie’s health. Hilarity ensues. “Pah-duh!” And even Sons of the Desert run into difficulties with water. ★★★★


Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

comments: 4

Chris said...

We watched the Laurel & Hardy set until we went to bed halfway through Way Out West. I found the shorts a bit stiff compared to Chaplain or Harold Lloyd, but still fun. If you're referring to the dance sequence I'm thinking of in Way Out West it was pure genius.

Two movies we saw that were better than expected: George More O'Ferrall's 1952 The Holly & the Ivy, the kind of dark, well-acted "Christmas movie" I could imagine Mike Leigh making; and Lou Breslow's You Never Can Tell from 1951, which manages to squeeze some wit out of a plot involving a dog coming back from the dead (as Dick Powell) to solve his own murder.

We also were very impressed by a new documentary called Three Identical Strangers, which is about identical triplets raised apart. It starts out giddily upbeat, as the three accidentally reunite, then turns somber as their personal problems come to the fore, and then becomes increasingly sinister as the filmmakers investigate the circumstances that led to the separation of the triplets in the first place. There are some interesting reflections on nature vs. nurture, but overshadowing them is the horror at contemplating the willingness of psychologists to conduct experiments without a shadow of ethical consideration.

I'm looking forward to seeing Roma and Cold War as soon as they come near us.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Chris. Were the first two on TCM? No sign of them at DVD.com (Netflix).

We saw Three Identical Strangers in a theater and were also impressed. The conversations with researchers explaining away their involvement — just appalling. The film is coming up again on CNN soon (I’ve been seeing commercials).

Chris said...

Those were both on TCM, yes.

Michael Leddy said...

I meant to add: I agree with you — the pace is a little glacial, even though it’s one joke after another. The dialogue makes me think of something designed for second-language learners — slow, deliberate. Maybe a hangover from stage performance?