Weekly Movie Roundup

I watched just four movies last week:

The Miracle Worker The Greatest Night in Pop The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman I Confee
  • I have vague memories of reading at least parts of Helen Keller’s autobiography when I was much younger, so it was interesting to see how much more The Miracle Worker is the story of Anne Sullivan. Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances, but the movie very much belongs to Bancroft.
    • The Greatest Night in Pop tells the story of the making of “We Are the World” in more exhaustive detail than you might think necessary, but it’s actually often fascinating, from the madness of how it all came together, to all the behind-the-scenes footage that didn’t wind up in the original music video.
      • The contrivance on which I Confess hangs might now seem a little shopworn, but the movie is helped enormously by Hitchcock’s direction on Montgomery Clift’s performance.
        • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman can’t help but betray its 1970s TV budget, from the not entirely convincing old-age makeup to the episodic way the story unfolds. But it’s an engaging, unflinching story, held together by a strong performance by Cicely Tyson.

        I also re-watched Gorillas in the Mist, which I haven’t seen since the year it came out, over thirty years ago now. It holds up well, thanks largely to Sigourney Weaver’s central performance, though it could be argued the movie doesn’t actually tell us a lot about Dian Fossey.

        Weekly Movie Roundup

        I watched 9 movies last week:

        The Ballad of Jack and Rose Action Jackson The Marvels
        • There are a lot of really strong performances in The Ballad of Jack and Rose, not least by a very naturalistic Daniel Day-Lewis. But the film is cluttered with too many characters and often seems uncertain about what it’s actually trying to say, to the point that those performances kind of get lost in the mix.
          • I wish I could agree with people who say that Action Jackson is an unsung and unjustly forgotten ’80s action movie, but it just isn’t very good. None of the blame for that lies with Carl Weathers, who is quite charismatic in the title role, but it never finds the right balance of tone and doesn’t offer any especially memorable action setpieces of its own.
            • The Marvels is incredibly disappointing, more so than any other recent Marvel failure, largely because it feels like there was a really good, possibly even great movie somewhere inside this one. The movie we get is bright and inventive in flashes—something you couldn’t say about Quantumania, for instance—but it’s never given enough time to breathe and feels badly chopped together. There’s so much here that could have worked, and worked really well, but it feels like Marvel the studio just lost its nerve.
            The Taking of Pelham 123 Odds Against Tomorrow Enys Men
            • I don’t know that the original is a masterpiece or anything, but there’s nothing in Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 that’s an improvement on, or even as good as it.
              • Odds Against Tomorrow takes its time building tension, but it’s a taut little crime noir with some great moments.
                • I’m not sure I understand Enys Men, but I’m not sure Enys Men is meant to be understood, merely experienced. In that respect, it is fascinating and unsettling—”feeling,” as critic Calum Russell put it, “more like an innovative art installation than a piece of narrative fiction.”
                Time Trap Safety Last God's Pocket
                • Time Trap plays with some neat, if maybe slightly shopworn ideas, but it never really pulls any of them together into a clever or cohesive enough whole.
                  • Some of the gags in Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last inevitably feel dated, but some of them—like that clock scene, for instance—are rightly some of the most famous scenes in cinema history.
                    • God’s Pocket has a lot of good actors doing some very good work, and yet it all just falls apart into a weird mess of conflicting tones by the end. John Slattery is a capable enough directory, but having now seen both of his feature films, I think his greatest strength is convincing his famous friends to appear in them.

                    I also re-watched Sideways, which I hadn’t seen in twenty years. (Want to feel old? Sideways is now a twenty-year-old movie.) It had been on my mind to revisit the film for a while, having recently watched (and loved) Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti’s more recent collaboration The Holdovers. Like that one, Sideways is just a pitch-perfect character study, full of bold comedic moments and lovely, tender character beats. Twenty years or not, it’s still a really terrific film.

                    Weakly Movie Roundup

                    Things went a little sideways a couple of weeks ago, and while they seem to be returning to as close to normal again as can be hoped, in the last two weeks I’ve watched only two movies, and re-watched a couple more.

                    The Heiress Marie Antoinette Escape from New York The Muppet Movie
                    • There are a lot of really lovely performances and moments in The Heiress, but Olivia de Havilland is especially fantastic in every scene.
                      • While it’s true that Marie Antoinette isn’t the place to look for historical fact, doing so seems to be missing not just the point of the film, but also the joys of Kirsten Dunst’s performance. These sorts of criticisms, Roger Ebert wrote, “would alter is fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film.”
                        • For whatever reason, Escape from New York didn’t really click for me the first time I saw it. I don’t know if it’s that I’ve grown to appreciate John Carpenter as a filmmaker even more since then—or if it’s just that I’ve now seen what happens when this idea goes really wrong, in Escape from L.A.—but it worked a lot better for me on re-watch.
                          • The Muppet Movie remains a joy from top to bottom. One thing that struck me, on this re-watch, is that, as a child, I wouldn’t have recognized the wall-to-wall cameos as cameos. They were just other characters in this fantastically fun movie.

                          Weekly Movie Roundup

                          I watched 6 movies last week.

                          Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist Memory: The Origins of Alien
                          • Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is a lot of fun and talks to a lot of really interesting filmmakers—John Waters, David Lynch, George Romero, etc.—about a type of movie that doesn’t really exist anymore.
                            • Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist is genuinely fascinating, especially given that it’s almost nothing but an hour and a half of just Friedkin talking about the making of the movie and his career.
                              • I liked Memory: The Origins of Alien a lot more when it focused on the actual making of the 1979 film than when it let critics and commentators wax pretentious about its deeper meanings.
                              Being Mary Tyler Moore King on Screen Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch
                              • Being Mary Tyler Moore is built largely on archival footage, so it may not offer too many surprises, but it’s nevertheless a very fond and engaging look back at a phenomenal career.
                                • Any insights that King on Screen has to offer seem largely accidental. The documentary lets some interesting filmmakers talk, but it also seems a little muddled about its central thesis, and it’s often more interesting in the people it doesn’t talk to—most notably King himself—or in the many adaptions it doesn’t discuss. There are interesting moments scattered throughout, but more often missed opportunities.
                                  • Pretty As a Picture: The Art of David Lynch can’t help but feel a little dated, built so heavily on interviews conducted around the filming of his 1997 movie Lost Highway—and I’ve seen a lot of this filtered through other interviews—but it’s nonetheless an insightful and amiable look at the director’s creative process and philosophy.

                                  I also re-watched Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables—which is an undeniably entertaining movie, but also almost complete inaccurate as a piece of historical fiction. That, along with the movie’s dubious “all you need is a cop who’s not afraid to break the law to uphold it” stuff, seemed to hit me a little more the wrong way upon re-watching.

                                  Weekly Movie Roundup

                                  Another week, another five movies. Here’s what I watched:

                                  Night Tide The Incident Come True
                                  • Night Tide is a fever dream of a B-movie—some interesting visuals and a very early performance by Dennis Hopper, but not especially memorable.
                                    • Its oddly generic title notwithstanding, The Incident is tense and unnerving, and it has a pretty remarkable, varied cast.
                                      • Right up until its huge swing and a miss of an ending, Come True is a really effectively creepy little movie.
                                      Ben Self Reliance
                                      • Ben is bad, but also bad in very perplexing ways. I don’t remember a lot about Willard, but that at least was understandably a horror movie, whereas its sequel is all over the map. It’s not so much that the movie is never scary; it’s that it’s hard to even tell what it’s trying to do, and the movie is never interesting enough to really care.
                                        • I wanted to like Self Reliance a lot more than I did. I like the cast a lot, and the movie plays with some smart ideas, but it’s usually more amusing than outright funny. I think the script also has some fundamental structure problems, with whole characters I’d excise or combine, for a much sharper focus. I’d like to see Jake Johnson write and direct more comedies after this, but this initial outing left me a little flat.

                                        I also rewatched The Court Jester, in memory of Glynis Johns, who died earlier this month and was the last of the movie’s surviving main cast. It’s a movie I know I saw most, if not all, of as a child, but which also holds up remarkably well as an adult some four decades later. It’s just a pure, silly delight.