Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Menu, Amsterdam, Man vs. Bee, and others

The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) **
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  Loretta Young, Guy Kibbee, Mickey Rooney, John Wayne

I love a good boxing movie.  This one was new to me.  Fairbanks plays a spoiled light-heavyweight boxer named Jimmy Dolan who wins the championship, then drunkenly, accidentally kills a reporter who learns that his goody-two shoes image is a fake.  Dolan's friend and girl double cross him, steal his money and a watch, dump him in the country, then flee - but they die in a fiery car crash after a police chase.  The authorities believe Dolan is the burned corpse (the watch, the girlfriend).  Dolan goes to his lawyer to get some money in the bank, but the lawyer also double crosses him, steals his money, and forces Dolan into hiding - if he comes forward the cops would arrest him for manslaughter.  One of those cops is a washed up detective played by veteran character actor Guy Kibbee with his own reasons to find Dolan.
Dolan ends up across the country at a small home for disabled kids, doing odd jobs.  Loretta Young is the teacher, and the great character actress Aline MacMahon is the housekeeper.  One of the kids is played by Mickey Rooney in an early role.  One of the kids accidentally tales a picture of Dolan that gets in a local paper - showing his boxing stance, but not his face.  But Kibbee the cop sees it and places Dolan, and heads out to look for him.
The home, of course, is suddenly in need of $2,000 or it will face foreclosure.  Conveniently, there's a boxing match coming up, $500 per round against a mountain of boxer.  Dolan signs up, planning to fight as a righty to disguise himself (he's a natural southpaw - he's also grown a mustache - not much of a disguise but he looks more like Fairbanks!!).  Also boxing in the exhibition is a young John Wayne in a great little performance.
The fight is great!  Wayne and a few other tomato cans get beat up by the big boxer - then Dolan gets in the ring, with Kibbee the cop and the housekeeper in the crowd, Young and the kids listening on the radio.  He gets beat up good, as a righty, lasting three rounds.  But he needs a fourth round to get to $2000 and save the home.  He goes down hard on the canvas - and Kibbee rushes up to him, calls him Jimmy, and tells him to let him have it with the left!! 
So Dolan gets up and gives it to he big boxer, good - the classic "I'm really a southpaw" bit.  It was fun!  I thought he might knock the big guy out, but he's too big.  Dolan gets knocked out the next round.  Kibbee arrests him, let's him tell a story to Young (now his girl!) about going east for boxing matches, and I thought for sure he would let him go.  But he doesn't, yet.  He takes him to the train.   It's there they have a long talk, and it's clear that Kibbee also has a past that went unfulfilled.  It's here he lets Dolan go. 
This is from 1933, before the Hays Code - and Dolan is very guilty of manslaughter.  A few years later, the story would have to end differently.  So it's refreshing to see the morally right ending here. 
Great performances, especially from supporting characters.  Good surprising ending.  And a sweet love story.  Great film.    

Amsterdam (2022) ***

A wonderful David O. Russell film about friendship, art, love, brutality, and fascism.  The central question resonated with me.  Why are we with someone?  Do we choose them, or do we need them?  If we need them, why - is it for us, or for them, and for the right reasons?  If we choose them it's got to be for the right reasons, the healthy meaningful reasons.  Whether for friendship or love.  And these relationships get us through our toughest moments, and also provide for the most joy.  An excellent film.  
It's also a little grotesque, and very timely.  Good people have to stand up to bullies.  

The Menu (2022) **

An allegorical film about different types of privilege.  Beautiful, darkly funny, violent.  Avant garde.  Yes it's about a group of diners at an exclusive island restaurant; but they have been specifically chosen for this very special meal, and one of the guests isn't supposed to be there.  What happens is very surprising, and asks the question - are you a giver, or a taker??

The Quick and the Dead (1995) **

Sam Raimi's revisionist Western holds up.  Sharon Stone competes in a gunslingers' "contest" in a small town run by outlaw Gene Hackman.  Different archetypes are deconstructed - the Kid, the Preacher etc, - as they duel to the death.  Stone herself has a secret and a grudge to settle.  It's a fun film, in the Sam Raimi style, with imaginative editing and lots of dutch angles.  

Man vs. Bee (2022) **

Every fan of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean will love this slapstick, cringey series.  Made up of nine ten-minute episodes, this is effectively a feature.  Atkinson's Trevor Bingely is a first time house-sitter trying to make enough money to take his estranged daughter on a holiday.  But the house he gets assigned to is a "smart home" with automated EVERYTHING, and what appear to be priceless paintings and sculptures and cars, and a peanut sensitive dog.  When a bee gets stuck inside, and Bingely gets obsessed with getting it out of the house, everything goes haywire.  I laughed out loud.  Repeatedly.  Great to watch with kids.

White Noise (2022) **

I love Noah Baumbach.  He captures dysfunction in middle class families like no other filmmaker.  And when he works in the past, he excels.  So this story should be a knockout, but it's an odd exercise.  The first mistake I think some critics are making is that they take this story seriously.  This is not realistic.  Like The Menu these are not real people we are watching.  Their circumstances are not believable.  These characters are in situations that they either shrug off as not important, or they don't give them as much weight than they should.  I think it's lampooning academia that invents itself for itself; invented and exaggerated crises; and domestic bliss and infidelity and how we react to it (especially men).  The great dance scene at the end reminds us that we were just watching a movie.

**** Masterpiece
*** Must See
** Worth Seeing
* Has Redeeming Facet
* Not Worth Seeing

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Two Critiques

More critiques!  If you want full reviews find them elsewhere.  Just some quick thoughts.

Emily the Criminal - **

Wonderful story about today's economics and the choices it forces on young people.  Emily dropped out of art school because of a violent incident in her past.  She can't find fulfilling work that also pays the bills.  When she gets an opportunity to use other skills she has - perhaps related to her shady past - she maybe finds a way to beat the system.  I like the way the young woman at the center of the story refuses to be a victim, and refuses to let the failures of others dictate her future.   A pretty small film made bigger by Aubrey Plaza's performance.

The Banshees of Inisherin - ***

On it's surface it's a story about a friendship gone sour.  But I think it's about how difficult it is to move on from a relationship when one person has changed, or just wants change, and the other hasn't. (Having recently been through that in a divorce I found that especially interesting.) I think the other aspect is the question of finding fulfillment in middle age. We get that story from all three of the leads (besides the two male friends, one of their sisters, Siobhan, is the only one who makes a really positive change!).  
Great soundtrack, beautiful and thematically interesting setting (it takes place in 1923, with the Irish Civil War raging just over the water - a fight between friends and family), personable acting and deft directing.  A must see.  

Four Stars - Masterpiece
Three Stars - Must See
Two Stars - Worth Seeing
One Star - Has Redeeming Facet
No Stars - No Redeeming Facets

Saturday, January 7, 2023

A new exercise . . .

I watch a lot of films.  I lose track of them.  I'm going to start keeping a running list.  Commentary here and there.  But I will give each film a star rating.  

Many of these I've seen before.  Many for the first time. 

Four stars - masterpiece.
Three stars - must see.
Two stars - worth seeing.
One star - has a redeeming facet.
Zero stars - no redeeming value.

Black Adam *  I wanted to like this more - but it labors too long with the "good guys fighting each other until they figure out the real enemy" story.  But this DC superhero fan liked seeing Hawkman, (Red) Tornado, the Atom, and Dr. Fate on the big screen as a re-imagined Justice League.

Strange World *  I was surprised by this disney film.  Give it a shot.  It starts out with a dull "I won't be like my father plot" but quickly turns into a story about environmentalism and how best to take care of our home.

Glass Onion **  A worthy whodunnit successor to the first in the series.  Great plotting, fun movie.

Enola Holmes **

Enola Holmes 2 **  Great feminist messages!  Funny and exciting.  A good series for kids and adults.  

The French Dispatch *** It's weird to say this Wes Anderson film is "under rated."  This was my second viewing, and it blows me away.

Fake Famous * An interesting participatory, performative documentary about how and why people want to be "influencers".  

Notorious (Hitchcock) ***  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman.  I still love this film but as it ages I'm more appalled at the horrific way he treats her through much of the film.

Nope ** Maybe ***, still thinking about it.  Peele's films deny explanation.  They are gloriously beautiful and baffling and violent and scary and funny.

Nancy Drew Detective (1938) *

Nancy Drew Reporter (1939) * Fun old mysteries that hold up pretty well (except for a dated, racist portrayal of a farm hand in the second film.)  Interesting comparing these with the Enola Holmes films.

Bad Day at Black Rock ***  Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan.  A timely film.  What happens when bullies take over.

Pygmalion (1938) ** Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller are hilarious and sweet and sincere in this 1938 version of George Bernard Shaw's play, later made most famous as My Fair Lady.  Wonderful performances.