The Best Candidate Since Ike


An year ago, I made the argument on another forum that John McCain was the best General Election candidate either political party has had for President since General Dwight Eisenhower, so with his passing, it seems to be a good time to expand on that a little bit.

There are a few caveats here. I’m only including General Election candidates, so promising individuals who ran but did not get the nomination aren’t included. I am a Republican, so I would have a bias against Democrats, as I fundamentally disagree with the direction they want to take the country, or have tried to take the country. I’m not inclined to believe the best presidential candidate in the last 50+ years has been one of the twelve Democrats.

The obvious favorite of conservatives is Ronald Reagan, who I do think was a good President, but there was some shady business (Iran-Contra.) He also put a lot of support in astrology.

Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee for President on three separate occasions, and I doubt there’s anyone who thinks he’s in contention in the category of best nominee. Barry Goldwater held some extreme positions, and gets a lot of credit for writing Conscience of a Conservative, one of the fundamental explanations of the Republican ideology. However, L. Brent Bozell Jr. was responsible for much of the intellectual heavy lifting.

Ford was kinda bland. The Bushes had their problems. Dole cried at Nixon’s funeral. Romney was out of touch.

Within this crowd, McCain’s problems aren’t as significant. And I’m more simpatico with his generally conservative but sometimes independent political positions than with any other President/ candidate in generations. He was better at his earlier job than most nominees, and worked across the aisle to get results at issues that matter.

He did suffer a significant loss as a nominee, but his main problem was that he ran in the worst environment for a Republican since 1964. That he kept the spread to single digits is a miracle. I remember a statistic that he won every state where George W Bush had an approval rating above 35 percent.

As an aside, McCain also had one of the best campaign videos I’ve ever seen.


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Movies Watched in 2018 Part 5


This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year, following Part 1Part 2 Part 3, and Part 4. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era as one decade) allowing for recent films with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. In this section, I aimed to close out the decades (I have plenty of time to catch up on films from the last three years), while adding some sub-challenges: Five films that have won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Since I did best actress before), Five films from the The A List: The National Society Of Film Critics’ 100 Essential FilmsFive films from Empire’s Top 100 Foreign Language films, and Five more French films (there is admittedly overlap).

Movie #121/ New Movie #71/ 1940s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #23/ The A-List #1: The Palm Beach Story
This was a charming Sturges comedy, although maybe not on the level of Miracle on Morgan’s Creek or Sullivan’s Travels. There are some great set pieces, especially when a group of rich maniacs on a quail and ail junket go nuts on a train, and the bookends. Rudy Vallee is the standout as an absentminded Rockefeller type who is clearly the basis for Tony Curtis’ pretend multimillionaire in Some Like It Hot.

Movie #122/New Movie #72/ Silent Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #24/  Best Actor Winner  #1: The Last Command
The first “Best Actor” winner tells two stories in 85 minutes: a Russian general’s doomed romance, and a bookend  about his experiences in Hollywood after he’s been humbled (this is pretty ahead of its time.) Sternberg delivers impressive visuals, while Emil Jannings brings some impressive silent era gravitas to the proceedings.


Movie #123/ New Movie #73/ 1990s Movie #6/ Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #1: Hard Boiled
I could accept that this is one of the best Hong Kong action movies ever, and that isn’t a knock against the genre. John Woo’s film combines twisted action sequences, and some cop movie cliches (guess what happens to the partner talking about retirement), with a story about undercover cops, bureaucracy and independence. Chow Yun Fat and Tony Cheung make an excellent duo.

Movie #124/ New Film #74/ 1970s Movie #8/ Russian Film #2/ Criterion Edition #25/ Science Fiction Film #: Stalker
This is a beautiful and strange film that seems to be part of a subgenre of science fiction exploring strange world that are pretty much similar to our own (Alphaville is another one.) It’s slow, but has some truly astounding sequences, and worldbuilding that turns  abandoned Estonian power plants (that might have given everyone involved cancer) into something otherwordly.

Movie #125/New Movie #75/ Silent Movie #10: 7th Heaven
The first winner of the Best Director and Best Actress Academy awards has its charms, as well as its excesses in a sweet, sometimes over the top story of reluctant romance. Damien Chazelle has an interesting view of its ending.

Movie #126/ New Movie #76/ 1950s Movie #9 : Love in the Afternoon
I’ve enjoyed Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier’s other work, so this seemed like an interesting combo; a story of mistaken identity as Hepburn plays a detective’s daughter in love with a playboy targeted by her father’s clients. It does have some funny bits, and something o say about growing up too quickly, although it is hurt by Cooper’s age, and the 1950s assumption that there’s only one way the story should end.

Movie #127/ New Movie #77/ 2018 Movie #13/ Theatrical Release #28: The Incredibles 2
The sequel to one of the best superhero films had high expectations given the wait, and it ends up being a decent film elevated by some inspired gags and sequences, which isn’t bad but it is a bit of a letdown from what had come before.

Movie #128/ New Movie #78/ 1980s Movie #8/ French Film #7/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #2: Jean De Florette
These two films are a bit difficult to gauge because they were produced at the same time, adapted from the same novel, and are now generally viewed together, although wach of the two halves has a unique identity in focusing on a rivalry during different eras, even if the biggest moment in the films-and one of the best revelations ever in film-comes in the second, as a way to reevaluate tragedy in the first.  For a movie about two flawed Frenchmen, of the Souberyan family, who drive a rival to ruin in an effort to get land cheap, it is quite beautiful and very watchable. Gerard Depardieu is a standout as the world’s most charming hunchback.


Movie #129/ New Movie #79/ 1980s Movie #9/ French Film #8/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #3: Manon De Spring
The sequel/ second half brings a different energy to the proceedings through Emmanuelle Béart’s titular Manon, the grown-up version of a child from the first film, as she uncovers secrets and seeks revenge for a wrongdoing. The Souberyans have a strong arc, as the younger falls for her and goes too far in his love. There’s no war or gunfire, but this is one of the great cinematic family epics.

Movie #130/ New Film #80/ 1990s Movie #7/ Best Actor Winner #2: Shine
Geoffrey Rush’s starmaking turn as a musician struggling with mental illness is excellent: he captures the struggles as well as the joy. The film is sometimes overwrought, and there are some artistic decisions that are difficult to defend (the erasure of his first wife and their four children in a movie that relies on truth for its power is quite dishonest.)

Movie #131/ New Movie #81/ 1970s Movie #9/ The A-List #2: Enter the Dragon
The story’s a bit of a mishmash of martial arts and James Bond, as a former Shaolin fighting monk calls for a tournament on the secret island where he runs his drug cartel and fends off British intelligence. That part’s handled well enough, but the material is elevated by Bruce Lee, demonstrating why he’s so legendary in the fight scenes, as well as solid sidekicks in John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who add charisma to the film’s token white and black guys.

Movie #132/ New Movie #82/ 2018 Movie #14/ Theatrical Release #29: Inheritance
This horror film works on a few levels. It’s pretty compelling in its take on a dysfunctional family on a downward spiral after the death of an unpleasant matriarch. It’s a creepy film about the supernatural that builds its mythology slowly and nicely. Toni Colette is excellent as a frayed mother trying to deny her mental health issues. There are some nice creepy touches that make it even better. It’s not always enjoyable, although it is true to the characters, who are reserved in ways that aren’t sympathetic. The film is hard to predict, especially with one powerful sequence coming in the son’s story.


Movie #133/  1980s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #30: Tootsie
I was lucky enough to catch this on the big screen with a group that had never seen it before, and the responses were quite positive. It’s a film that’s able to outrun the ways it might initially appear dated (IE- In the assumption that a man should tell women how to gain respect) partly because of how specific Dustin Hoffman’s performance is, both as Tootsie and as a struggling actor who has pissed off everyone in New York. The film has a lot of fun with the gender-swapping, and strong side performances from the people hurt and sometimes just bewildered by Michael Dorsey’s single-minded pursuit of ACTING. It remains one of the funniest movies ever made.

Movie #134/ New Movie #83/ 2018 Movie #15/ Theatrical Release #31: Antman and the Wasp
It’s an average MCU film (given the quality of Homecoming, Black Panther and Infinity War, this might now be below-average) which means it’s quite enjoyable, combining sci-fi (and a little bit of 50s monsters) with capers. The earlier cast is solid as ever, and the additions work pretty well, with Walton Goggins’ gentleman crime boss, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the founding Avenger Wasp as standouts, while mostly building nicely on earlier relationships and the chaos of Antman’s last appearance in one of the big crossover films.

Movie #135/ 1970s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #32/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #4: Suspiria
Argento’s masterpiece has a terrific sense of design, and an iconic soundtrack, with a great sense of atmosphere and mystery before we find out exactly what’s going on in the Tanz Dance Academy.

Movie #136/ 1950s Movie #10/ The A-List #3: All About Eve
The theatrical backstabbing comes with an exceptional cast (one won an Oscar; four others were nominated and all deserved it) and possibly wit than any film ever. There might not be a better film about the well-trod territory of the making of art, or of social-climbing and the conflicts with the people you meet on the way up and down. Bette Davis’ diva is just one of the best lead roles of any film ever, a mix of nastiness, vulnerability and wills.


Movie #137/ New Movie #84/ 1960s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #26/ French Movie #9: A Woman is a Woman 
Visually clever Godard film that remains worthwhile largely for the natural radiance of Anna Karina, and some interesting cinematic tricks.

Movie #138/ New Film #85/ 1990s Movie #8: White Hunter, Black Heart
This Hollywood Roman a clef, ostensibly on the making of The African Queen, started out a bit dull, with the adventures of white people in Africa wasting their time, a bit like a less visually interesting version of Out of Africa. But it did set up a gutpunch of an ending that shows that Eastwood and company understand the problems with how the characters are acting.

Movie #139/ New Movie #86/ 1960s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #27/ French Movie #10: Alphaville
A sci-fi noir in a similar subgenre of Stalker, where an A-list director tells a story about a futuristic world without changing the visual frames of references. It largely moves with dreamlike logic, although it’s interesting rather than truly compelling in its own right.

Movie #140/ New Movie #87/ 1990s Movie #9/ French Movie #11: A Single Girl 
This 1990s French art-house film is very well-made, and stylistically ahead of its time, telling the story of a major moments in a French teenager’s life (her first hour working in a hotel, telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant) mostly in real-time, though all the conversations and meanderings that typical films would skip are compelling in their own right, in terms of what they reveal about character, and move the lead to the decisions she still has to make.

Movie #141/ New Movie #88/ 2018 Movie #16/ Theatrical Release #33: Sorry to Bother You
The parody of modern corporate culture probably has too much on its plate, covering radical artists, reality TV, the power of a black man with a white voice, growing inequality resulting in slavery, and a freaky twist about genetic engineering. The cast is okay, but the story goes all over the place, as evident by the multiple endings.

Movie #142/ 1930s Movie #13/ French Film #12/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #28: L’Atalante
What makes Vigo’s only feature-length film so satisfying isn’t the story since those beats have been done before (although it is quite good in the “boy loses girl, wins her back” genre) but in the characters, and the little moments of wonder (a seasoned seaman’s collection of curiosities) and disappointment (a skipper’s wife realizing she won’t get to see Paris during a journey.)

Rome Open City

Movie #143/ New Film #89/ 1940s Movie #13/ Italian Film #6/ Empire Top 100 Foreign Films #5/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #29: Rome Open City
This take on Rome during the Nazi occupation feels real, urgent and powerful. Part of it may be the story behind the film with Rosselini and company working on it immediately after Rome gained its independence, but while the rest of Italy was still occupied. That leads to a documentary style that fits the material very well. The performances are tremendous, particularly the star turn by Anna Magini as a pregnant widow whose fiancee is involved in the resistance, and Albo Fabrizi as a priest doing his part. People do some stupid, irrational things during the chaos, but it’s all believable.

Movie #144/ New Film #90/ 1990s Movie #10/ Italian Film #7/ Best Actor Winner #3: Life is Beautiful
This film has some major tonal shifts, with Roberto Benigni depicting someone out of a classic Hollywood comedy in 1940s Italy, transporting the guy to a concentration camp where he has to keep his son safe. Sometimes the film veers into bad taste (a scene where he argues with the son about whether the kid should take a shower) but it is often powerful in how he has to use wits that served him in one way under much darker circumstances.

Movie #145/ New Film #91/ 1940s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #4: Sergeant York
This war film by a director and actor who have done better work elsewhere isn’t bad, but it does show the value of editing when compared to more recent profiles of war heroes (Hacksaw Ridge, American Sniper) which are better film. It spends a majority of the time on Alvin York before he joined the army, which may be relevant given his religious salvation, but it does mean the heroism (and the first time he was outside his state) gets short shrift, even if there is some impressive payoff.


Movie #146/ New Movie #92/ Silent Movie Era #11/ The A-List #5: Thief of Bagdad
This silent take on the Arabian nights is a lovely fantasy epic and a great centerpiece for Douglas Fairbanks, the biggest action star of the silent era.

Movie #147/ New Film #93/ 1940s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #30: Waiting for Mr. Jordan
Probably the best version of a story that’s been retold several times (by Warren Beatty as Heaven Can Wait, and Chris Rock as Down to Earth) with a surprising amount of worldbuilding on the rules of heaven as a boxer finds his soul has been placed in a different body. It leads to some inspired comedy, as he tries to convince his loved ones of what has happened, while accidentally interfering with a murder.

Movie #148/ New Film #94/ 1980s Movie #11: Moscow Elegy
This documentary about Tarkoysky’s last years has some interesting material on the great director, although it suffers from a lack of context with the film clips. I get that the audience in 1988 might be expected to know his work and get the references to what was going on at the Soviet Union at the time, although there are other weaknesses (IE- the clips of unrestored versions of his work have less power in the modern era.) At times, it seems to have homages to Tarkovsky, but it comes across as pretentious rather than meaningful.

Movie #149/ 1960s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #5: My Fair Lady
One of the highlights of the 50s/ 60s musicals, with great performances by Harrison, Hepburn and Stanley Hollaway. It’s not clearly better than Pygmalion, though it feels different with the addition of great tunes and some lovely color sets. The focus on what happens after Higgins and Dolittle complete their challenge is quite satisfying, and built up nicely.

Movie #150/ 1990s Movie #11: Stargate
It is worth respecting the relatively slow burn in this Roland Emmerich sci-fi action film, as it takes a while for the heroes to get to the new world beyond the stargate, and to encounter the villain. There’s promise, but it is often just too silly, lacking the wit and cleverness of decent sci-fi.

And the round-up…

Best Film: All About Eve
Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: Thief of Bagdad
Best French Film: L’Atalante
Best Movie I Saw In Theaters: Tootsie
Best “Best Actor” Winner: Life is Beautiful (“My Fair Lady” is probably a slightly better film.)
Best A-List film: Thief of Bagdad
Best Empire Top 100 Foreign Movies Film: Open City
Worst Film: Moscow Elegy

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The James Gunn Fiasco

Ted Cruz James Gunn

James Gunn was recently fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 because of stupid things he had written years ago. Many are upset because his firing is due to comments exposed by Mike Cernovich, but there is another facet of all of this: the shameless hypocrisy of journalists and public figures who claim to be outraged by the comments while publicizing it for the sake of clicks and outrage.

I’ve always thought that whenever there’s this kind of controversy about someone saying something stupid in a private venue, there should be more blame for anyone with a megaphone who repeats the comments. For example, years ago, Gilbert Gottfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck over some comments on his twitter feed about a natural disaster. Anyone following his twitter feed knew what they were getting into, given that his best-known bits involve an unbelievably filthy version of the Aristocrats joke, and Elmer Fudd in Vietnam. It was the media’s coverage of his comments that resulted in people getting offended.

Ted Cruz’s twitter comment on Gunn highlights this phenomenon. James Gunn made his jokes as an obscure filmmaker, years before he was offered the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Ted Cruz is posting this as a prominent Senator, with millions of followers. He is the one exposing children, whose parents might have assumed that the twitter feed of a right-wing Senator would be appropriate for all-ages, to the comments that he claims to denounce.

And then there’s the freedom of speech implication of calling for someone to be prosecuted over a sick joke. His claim there is that he believes Gunn was confessing to horrible crimes, although that doesn’t really apply to the majority of the comments.


There is the question of what Disney could have done, and there are four potential responses for the House of Mouse.

1. The best approach would be to say nothing, and wait for the controversy to die down.

2. The diplomatic approach would be to make some comment about how everyone, including James Gunn, is aware that what he said was wrong, but that these was bad jokes made years ago, well before he had made two standout films that have inspired a new generation with their wit and irreverence.

3. Disney could also go negative. These comments were promoted by Mike Cernovich, a disgusting right-wing troll who is pissed off that Gunn made some left-wing comments, and it is wrong to allow Cernovich to ever get what he wants, because to do so endorses his views and behavior. If the comments Gunn said as an obscure filmmaker were wrong, it is a greater wrong for anyone to use those comments now for clicks and ratings. Shame, shame, shame on anyone traumatizing the sensitive. Name names and organizations.

4. Disney could go with a defense of free speech, and the value of the individual artist. Every time anyone demands an artist be fired for something that has nothing to do with the value of their work, they are demanding worst work, because if the people making hiring decisions were doing their job right the first choice is on average better than the second choice, and this is something that should be fought against in all but the most extreme cases.

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Both Sides and the Supreme Court

Trump Gorsuch

Donald Trump has made his second nomination for the Supreme Court, and some Democrats are pissed, with a push to increase the court to eleven the next time they have the White House and the Senate (They don’t seem to quite realize that Trump could do it now if Mitch McConnell mentions this will let him put runner-ups from the Gorsuch/ Kennedy interviews on the court.)

A big part of the Democratic complaint is that McConnell behaved outrageously denying Merick Garland a vote. However, I think a look at the history suggests that Democrats are willing to play hardball on Supreme Court picks, and have escalated the situation.

In 1968, Abe Fortas’ nomination to Chief Justice was rejected by the Senate, although a third of his supporters were Republicans and about a third of his Senate detractors were Democrats. There were some ethics questions, which meant that this fell under a different category than the later controversies.

The defeat of Robert Bork represented a new development where a judicial nominee was defeated because of disagreements with his views, as opposed to personal scandals as occurred with Fortas a generation earlier. In 1991, the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas 52-48.

Bill Clinton appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by 96-3 in the Senate, while Stephen Breyer got 87-9. This showed that Senate Republicans were willing to support qualified nominees from Democratic presidents. In contrast, half of Senate Democrats voted against John Roberts, and the overwhelming majority voted against Alito who was confirmed 58-42, mainly because of political disagreements. When Obama became President, the majority of Republicans voted against his first two choices for the Supreme Court, but this didn’t happen in a vacuum.


There are a few things during the Bush years that did set the stage for opposition to Obama. Schumer used many Senate maneuvers to block conservative judges Bush nominated for lower courts. As the New York Times noted in 2003…

Most important, people on Capitol Hill say, Mr. Schumer urged Democratic colleagues in the Senate to use a tactic that some were initially reluctant to pursue, and that has since roiled the Senate: a filibuster on the floor of the chamber to block votes on nominees he and other Democrats had decided to oppose. The resulting standoff has Democrats and Republicans on the committee so tense that some joke that they need to come to work with bodyguards.

An internal memo by the staff of Dick Durbin suggested it was important to block judicial nominee Miguel Estrada partly because he was latino, and a potential Supreme Court pick. Schumer expressed a policy goal of blocking any Bush appointees in Late 2007. Democrats showed their support for this by backing him for leadership posts.

As Senator, Obama voted against Roberts and Alito. He was rewarded with a presidential nomination suggesting that Democrats are in agreement with the idea that what matters is the politics of a pick rather than qualifications or character.

The filibustering of Gorsuch represented one more escalation (and it was mostly about posturing, since Republicans broke the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees for a conventionally qualified justice who didn’t change the makeup of the court rather than having to justify it with someone less qualified, or someone who would represent a bigger change from the preceding court.)

I’m sure the escalation will continue, and I don’t know what form it will take. It’s kind of scary to imagine what happens if there’s a vacancy at any point when the opposing party controls the Senate. You can add to that the problem of half the country not being able to identify any Supreme Court justice, which means the people who care the most will be the partisans.

Given how close the 2016 election ended up being, and how some conservatives held their nose for Trump, it’s possible he wouldn’t be in the White House if Obama had recognized that the Republican controlled Senate was going to allow liberal justices to gain a majority on the court, and had picked an old moderate Republican to replace the conservative Scalia.

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Movies Watched in 2018 Part 4

Johnny Belinda

This is a continuation of notes on films I saw this year, following Part 1Part 2 and Part 3. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era as one decade) allowing for recent additions with additional goals of ten movies from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. I picked some smaller challenges for this entry with five films from the same country (Germany this time), five films by the same director (Fritz Lang for the overlap), five films from the same genre (Noir- also overlaps with noir) and because there are some omissions in the films I’ve seen with female leads- five films with the same actress (Meryl Streep) and five films in which actresses won Academy Awards (here too is some overlap.)  I decided to record which films I saw in theaters; God bless New York’s independent theaters and Moviepass.

Movie #91/ New Film #51/ 1940s Movie #7/ Best Actress Oscar #1: Johnny Belinda
This was once an acclaimed film that has fallen out of fashion, with nominations for Best Picture and every acting category. I was curious about it since Ronald Reagan’s ex-wife won an Academy Award in it (and I get that it’s potentially sexist to mention an accomplished woman in the context of her relationship with a man, but he was President.) This film’s about a doctor teaching a deaf woman how to understand the world in the context of a nasty small town, where she has a loving father and aunt who underestimate her. There are some big twists, some of which are going to be rightly seen as quite problematic due to major decisions made in which she has no agency, and some assumptions about a traumatic event that undercut the message about her intellect.

Movie #92/ New Movie #52/ 2000s Movie #7/ Meryl Streep Film #1/ Musical #6: Mamma Mia
The musical has its charms, and some decent musical set pieces, as well as a few that undercut the song. For what it’s worth, my mom seems to think it’s imminently rewatchable.

Movie #93/New Movie #53/ 1940s Movie #8/ Fritz Lang Film #1/ Noir #1: Scarlet Street
This was a film noir with a lot of weird twists and a strange style: the vamp says “jeepers” a lot quite unironically. It’s fun until everything goes to hell, in a way that might seem tonally off. Edward Robinson is great as a sap, who isn’t as pathetic or as innocent as he seems.


Movie #94/ New Movie #54/ 2016 Movie #6: Your Name
It’s a comedy with some stunning cartoon art that has a lot of fun with the central concept (teenagers in different part of Japan realize they’re waking up in one another’s body and fall in love the more they learn about one another.) There are some excellent twists and call-backs.

Movie #95/ 2000s Movie #8/ German Film #1: The Lives of Others
An excellent work about art and what it’s like to live in a totalitarian system. It deserves its reputation as one of the finest films of the 21st Century.

Movie #96/New Movie #55/ 1950s Movie #5/ Fritz Lang Film #2/ Noir #2: The Big Heat
A pretty nasty noir that seems to invent the things that are now cliches, and raises some interesting questions about how far the hero should go in his quest for justice.

Movie #97/ New Movie #56/ 1950s Movie #6/ Criterion Film #20/ Noir #3: In a Lonely Place
Excellent Bogart/ Graehme Hollywood romance that doesn’t go in the direction you expect when Bogie’s troubled writer is the top suspect in a murder. The takes on LA that were once bracing have been surpassed, but the cinematography is excellent, the central questions about character are compelling, and the ending is powerful.

Metropolis 25

Movie #98/Silent Movie #6/ Fritz Lang Film #3/ German Film #2: Metropolis
The first great science fiction movie works as an exploration of values, and a showcase for some of the most stunning sets in film history.

Movie #99/ 1960s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #23: 2001- A Space Odyssey
I couldn’t resist the chance to see possibly the greatest science fiction film ever in the 70mm 50th anniversary rerelease. Stunning work of pure cinema in an epic that tackles man’s past and future, with a detour involving one of the great film villains- Hal, whose motives seem quite understandable in this viewing. The take on the future is prescient in some ways, and revealing in its mistakes, but very fully realized.

Movie #100/ New Movie #57/ 2000s Movie #9: Murnau, Borzage & Fox
Decent documentary on an underappreciated period in film history: when the producer William Fox made popular and critical smashes with German emigre Murnau and Borzage, a largely forgotten two-time Oscar winner.

Movie #101/ New Movie #58/ 1930s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #21: Emperor Jones
Excellent showcase for the great Paul Robeson, possibly the best African-American actor in the first half of the 20th Century. There are some technical issues, as well as reflections of dated racial attitudes, but Robeson’s performance is still ahead of its time; an ambitious swindler who tricks his way into becoming ruler.

Movie #102/ New Movie #59/ 2018 Movie #11/ Theatrical Release #24: Deadpool 2
It’s a decent superhero comedy, although that part’s a bit tonally difficult due to the tragedy that occurs early in the film, as well as Cable’s motivations. The additions to the cast (Brolin’s hardass Cable, Zazie Beetz’s joyful Domino) are pretty decent and there are some nice swerves (the first mission of the X-Force, the post-credit sequence.)

Movie #103/ New Movie #60/ 1940s Movie #9/ Best Actress Oscar #2/ Hitchcock #6: Suspicion
Hitchcock/ Fontaine’s follow-up suffers in comparison to their Rebecca, as well as the other Hitchcock/ Grant collaborations. It’s a bit dull in the set-up to the heiress getting suspicious of her husband’s potential for murder, which robs the final act of its gravity.


Movie #104/ 1940s Movie #10/ Best Actress Oscar #3/ Film Noir #4: Gaslight
The film’s culture cache has increased since I first saw it thanks to the discussions about gaslighting as a phenomenon. The most striking part of it might remain the weirdness of a young Angela Lansbury as a tart maid. Ingrid Bergman is excellent as a young wife who begins to suspect her sanity, unaware of how she’s being manipulated as the victim in a complex theft.

Movie #105/1930s Movie #6/ Fritz Lang Film #4/ German Film #3/ Criterion Film #22: M
Creepy early sound film with a powerhouse performance by Peter Lorre as a criminal so nasty everyone in Berlin wants him dead. Tremendous cinematography and a dark exploration of difficult questions without any easy answers.

Movie #106/ 1970s Movie #6 / Meryl Streep Film #2: The Deer Hunter
A while back, I considered the ways artistic output could be measured: how often someone hits high marks, and their batting average. Michael Cimino is an odd act, because he didn’t succeed in either category: he wasn’t prolific, and he had a shit batting average. However, his first film was decent, and his second film was an acknowledged classic (a best picture winner everyone agrees deserved it.) He followed that up with a series of failures, legendary (Heaven’s Gate- even if it’s now reevaluated; Razzie winner Year of the Dragon) and ignored. Watching The Deer Hunter, it’s worth considering what the film industry might have been like if this guy had a few more hits. It remains an interesting film, slow and revealing, matching the best actor of his generation (De Niro) with the best actress (Streep) with a third guy stealing the show (Oscar winner Christopher Walken.)


Movie #107/ 1960s Movie #11/ Theatrical Release #25: The Witchfinder General
This was playing at the Metrograph, so I couldn’t resist. The first film on the list that doesn’t count for a category since I’ve seen ten from the 60s. It’s a film I like much more than it’s reputation might merit, aside from the five-star Empire review that brought the film to my attention. The unconventional British period piece about revenge and abuse of power shows has lovely cinematography and a surprisingly powerful performance by Vincent Price as the villain.

Movie #108/ New Movie #61/ 2018 Movie #12/ Theatrical Release #26: Solo- A Star Wars Story
Decent, but not great Star Wars. It’s probably the weakest film in the series since Attack of the Clones. The cast isn’t bad, but it might be missing something when it’s all about Han Solo, and there isn’t a Luke or Obi-Wan for him to play against. It plays with expectations nicely, especially with the introduction of Chewbacca.

Movie #109/ New Movie #62/ 2000s Movie #10/ Chinese Film #1: The Eye
It’s an excellent concept for a ghost story, as a blind woman regains her sight after a surgery, and slowly realizes that she can now see the dead. It has a great twist, as a photograph leads to a terrible epiphany. The climax is a bit weak, although it does serve as an exploration of further aspect of the lead’s power.

Movie #110/New Movie #63/ 1940s Movie #11/ Fritz Lang Film #5/ Noir #5: The Woman in the Window
The story of a middle aged man whose decision to spend an evening with a woman leads to an accidental murder may just be the definitive noir. There are (slightly) better ones, but nothing as noir to the core. It helps that Fritz Lang adds his incredible style to it. The ending was the result of Hays Code censorship, but it works quite well thematically, and as an explanation for some of the more ridiculous plot points.


Movie #111/ New Movie #64/ 1980s Movie #7/ Meryl Streep Film #3: Out of Africa
This best picture winner is a beautiful film, but slow. Streep and Redford have solid chemistry, although some of the other relationships are quite underdeveloped, especially when it comes to the African servants, and Klaus Maria Brandauer’s flawed husband (I could see why he was nominated but he might have won if the script were better.)

Movie #112/ Silent Movie #7/ German Film #4: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Since it came out before the 1920s, it is conceivable that the early horror film was for a few years the best movie ever made. The expressionistic sets are a wonder, and it uses intertitles in surprisingly clever ways. It’s the definitive expressionistic film, and silent horror.

Movie #113/ 1950s Movie #7: Witness for the Prosecution
A witty legal drama with an excellent performance by Charles Laughton, as a legendary lawyer recuperating from a medical emergency, convinced to take on a murder case. There are excellent twists involving Marlene Dietrich as the wife of the accused, a cold fish who is more than she appears.

Movie #114/ New Movie #65/ Silent Movie Era #8: Underworld
Probably the most notable of the silent crime films, this film has a surprisingly compelling love triangle at its center, and impressive visuals, while depicting a subculture of the time rather well.

Movie #115/ New Movie #66/ 1950s Movie #8: Gigi
This musical about a young woman educated to be the mistress of a powerful man is a bit different than I expected (for some reason, I thought there would be more disagreement about matrimony) but it’s quite lovely in the depiction of French high society and has some good songs. The Blu-Ray includes a cut of the 1940s French film, which could use significant restoration but does highlight the faithfulness of the adaptation.

Movie #116/ New Movie #67/ 2000s Movie #11/ Best Actress Oscar #4/ Meryl Streep Film #4: The Hours
The reputation is a bit mixed. There is much that’s good in the connected arcs of three people facing crises decades apart, and there is power to the final connections, although it is sometimes a bit pretentious and bleak. Nicole Kidman’s transformation is especially impressive.

Movie #117/ New Movie #68/ 2010s Movie #11/ Meryl Streep Film #5/ Best Actress Oscar #5: The Iron Lady
This is an excellent showcase for Meryl Streep who depicts Margaret Thatcher as a rising politician, world leader, and later in her dotage. The result is generally satisfying, even if sometimes a bit incongruous (although that does seem to be the point with the contrast between her place when her life ended and where she was once was in the world.)

GLS Aguirre

Movie #118/ 1970s Movie #7/ German Film #5: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Looking at German films, I’m noticing a trend of powerhouse lead performances that don’t get a lot of screentime, and feature protagonists willing to let others lead the action for a while. Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre is one such man, remaining second in command following a coup. It’s a fascinating take on the arrogance of the early explorers in the Americas.

Movie #119/New Movie #70/ 1930s Movie #7/ Musical #7: Shall We Dance?
On the one hand, it’s a bit of a trudge, a narrative where the logical ending just keeps getting delayed, and it’s all based on a divide between ballet and Broadway that is utterly alien to modern audiences. On the other hand, it’s Astaire and Rogers. It’s got some great set pieces. And one of the all-time classic movie songs (Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off!)

Movie #120/ 1930s Movie #8/ Theatrical Release #27: The Old Dark House
Last year, I saw the unrestored version VIA a streaming service, and enjoyed it. I was able to catch a restoration at an independent theater, and it was quite impressive, highlighting the effectiveness of the sets and the skillfullness with which James Whale creates a sense of mood, in a film that has a good sense of character and humor. It peters out a bit at the end, when the bad guy shows up, but is a lot of fun.

While looking for images for this entry, I did find a nice photo of The Woman in the Window, that seems to not be from the film. It seems to come from a film noir homage by the artist David Lee Guss.


Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: In a Lonely Place

Best Film: 2001, a Space Odyssey

Best film with lead actress Oscar: Gaslight

Best German film: The Lives of Others

Best Fritz Lang film: M

Best Noir: Gaslight

Best Meryl Streep film: The Deer Hunter

Oddly enough, I’ve done two of these entries without touching the 90s.

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On Virtue Signalling


I had an argument on politics where the phrase “virtue signalling” popped up. I realized that the other guy and I were coming at the topic from different angles. He focused on people who were insincere in their stated convictions, seemingly with the belief that the convictions are understood by all to be good and just. So, an example might be former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a favorite of the #metoo movement until last week when it turned out he was physically abusive to multiple ex-girlfriends. Presumably, he had always known he was in the wrong on that one.

Obviously that’s an example of insincere virtue signalling, but there are further implications. One question would be why an opinion is considered popular enough to signal. If there is a consistent failure for people to be completely ideologically consistent with expressed views, there is a possibility that there is a deficiency in their position. In some cases, the problem may be that the virtue they’re trying to signal isn’t able to withstand scrutiny. There was an example of a writer whose protagonist didn’t seem to stick to his political ideas. If a writer says they have one view, but they don’t articulate in work that addresses the topic, because the situation is more complex and messy, it might suggest the fallacy of their stated view. The same could be true of efforts to implement ideas as policies.

The stated “virtue” will often have unintended consequences, especially when taken to extremes and efforts at oneupmanship. For example, modern politics seems to prize outsiders and denigrate career politicians, so elected officials may virtue signal about their ties to the community and unfamiliarity with the capital. There can be some drawbacks, as decent people who know about the issues and have been involved in it for a while feel the incentive to lie about who they are, and ignoramuses who get elected into office by being fresh faces get rolled by lobbyists who have a better understanding of the existing structures than the newcomers.

Many controversial topics do come down to competing interests, so there will be rivaling virtues to signal, which gets to be another complicating factor. There’s diversity VS qualifications, believe the woman VS innocent until proven guilty, giving young people chances VS ageism, nuance VS moral clarity, etc.

“Virtue signaling” can apply to a situation in which someone takes a good thing and goes too far. The official definition “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue” does allow for the possibility of taking the wrong stand, or someone doing the wrong thing to demonstrate their good character. The idea that all humans should be treated equally works as a starting point but can be problematic if taken to an extreme, if someone demands that airline companies have the same percentage of minority pilots as found in the population, or that hospitals have the same percentage of minority heart surgeons. You can believe that cultures should be treated with respect, but disagree when there’s a push for the United Nations to make cultural appropriation illegal. Virtue signalling could also be something nice but impractical, such as excessive generosity, as when someone supports a project that sounds good, but is either a scam or well-intentioned but poorly run. An example would be FanCon, at best a deeply flawed effort at an inclusive comic convention.

Finally, “Virtue signalling” could be applicable to people who believe in wrong and disgusting things. Antisemites might try to make sure their fellow antisemites know how much they hate Jews. The willingness to threaten an abortionist could be seen as virtue-signalling for members of a far-right group.

I wonder if there’s an underlying reason I came at this from a seemingly atypical angle. Perhaps I’m a particular type of conservative who is concerned about unintended consequences, so my skepticism of virtue signalling is to be suspicious of the incentives, rather than just the individuals who fail to live up to their image.

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Movies Watched in 2018 Part 3


This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year, following Parts 1 and Part 2. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era up until 1929 as one decade) while allowing for recent films with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. I picked new challenges for this entry with five films by the same director (Hitchcock), five films in the same genre (musical), five films from another country (Italy) and five films connected by a theme: in this case, five directorial debuts, because I’m interested in how people in film choose to do their first projects. At this point, I also aimed to be at least four films into each yearly category.

Movie #61/1930s Movie #4/ Criterion Edition #12/ Hitchcock Film #1: The 39 Steps
The early Hitchcock thriller suffers a bit from technical issues, and some plot-induced stupidity, but it does put the lead through some fun situations and has some decent twists. It has influenced some better movies in later decades (Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the 1990s The Fugitive) but it’s still enjoyable.

Movie #62/ New Movie #34/ Silent Movie #3/ Directorial Debut #1/ Russian Film #2: Strike
Eisenstein’s debut has striking imagery and sequences, taking advantage of the resources (large groups of extras, interesting 1920s factories) to show major political developments, giving the revolution an epic scale.


Movie #63/ New Movie #35/ 1960s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #13/ Directorial Debut #2/ Musical #1: Head
This is part of Criterion’s BBS Blu-Ray collection, and the first film from the studio that produced Easy River, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. The Monkees film is a just a mess, seeming to be a combination of sketch comedy and modern museum video performance art project, which would be fine if any of it were good.

Movie #64/ New Movie #36/ 2017 Movie #15/ Directorial Debut #3: The Lego Batman Movie
Chris McKay’s solo film debut is an inventive take on the Batman and Robin story, providing a narrative spine about a loner learning to work together to inspired gags and sequences for a parody and celebration of the dark knight.

Movie #65/ New Movie #37/ 2017 Movie #16: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
It’s not terrible, as the effects and sets are decent, and there are solid action sequences, but it’s a weaker film than any of the original trilogy, with a villain that isn’t all that interesting, and little new for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. The male lead is generic, although Kaya Scodelario’s astronomy buff is better, even if she’s a bit generic in this type of film.

Movie #66/ New Movie #38/ 2018 Movie #5: Game Night
Decent comedy about sibling rivalry, and mistaken identity, as an ordinary game-obsessed couple comes into conflict with career criminals. Winning performances by Rachel McAdams, and Jason Bateman as the central couple, and Kyle Chandler, as the always one-upping brother whose story takes some decent twists.


Movie #67/ New Movie #39/ 2018 Movie #6: Chappaquidick
I can’t help but think this film would have been made forty years ago if it was about a Republican Senator. It is a decent character study of a man who screws up in a terrible way, and a procedural about the inevitable cover-up. Good performances, and it’s also an effective conversation starter.

Movie #68/ New Movie #40/ 2016 Movie #3/ Criterion Edition #14: Personal Shopper
It’s a weird film that might be trying to do a bit too much, although it has a terrific performance by Kristen Stewart as a woman dealing with a lot (she’s a professional psychic trying to get a sign from her deceased brother, something terrible happens to an employer, she starts getting voyeuristic texts.)

Movie #69/  1960s Movie #6/ Criterion Edition #15/ Directorial Debut #4: Night of the Living Dead
Romero’s genre-inventing independent film holds up, introducing some of the most iconic monsters in film, while suggesting very ably that humans might be worse. The extras on the Criterion collection are quite illuminating on how he was able to get so much done with limited resources.

Movie #70/ New Movie #41/ 2018 Movie #7: The Endless
This is an interesting horror film that has some effective world-building, establishing a mystery with some decent payoffs, although the conflict of the characters (two brothers who left a cult as teenagers, and have been unable to find success in their adult lives) isn’t as well-developed and often tonally off.

Movie #71/ New Movie #42/ 2018 Movie #8: Isle of Dogs
Impressive stop-motion film that has solid animation, a witty script and astounding voice cast. Not Wes Anderson’s best, but a good reminder of his talents.


Movie #72/ Criterion Edition #16/ Silent Movie #4: The Passion of Joan of Arc
This might remain the best silent movie I’ve ever seen, a film that just isn’t like anything else, due to the focus on the the last moments in the life of Joan of Arc, as she faces her greatest struggle, the script largely based on the actual trial transcripts, and the artistic decisions Carl Theodore Dreyer that strip anything that isn’t essential tot he story, and focus as much as possible on the powerful performance of Maria Falconetti. It’s unclear that anyone has ever been better.

Movie #73/ 2000s Movie #7/ Musical #2: Chicago
The musical adaptation has great production values, songs, and cast (four Oscar nominated performances and it could easily have been five- poor Richard Gere) and a messed up take on celebrity culture.

Movie #74/1950s Movie #3/ Hitchcock Film #2: Rear Window
It might not even be Hitchcock’s top three, although I can’t think of any director who clearly has a better fourth best film. It’s a clever concept as a convalescing photographer recovering from his injuries notices a potential mystery in his building. That part’s executed really well, while there’s also Jimmy Stewart as the lead- likable but a bit flawed, Grace Kelly as the ice queen girlfriend who wants him to settle down, and the stories of everyone else in the apartments.

Movie #75/ New Film #43/ 1980s Movie #5/ Italian Film #1: Cinema Paradiso
A really-well made film about the power of cinema and fantasy that incorporates specific developments in Italy (censors forbidding the depiction of any kissing, classified information about war dead, a complex massive lottery system) while covering the great artist as a young boy (kind of a brat), young man falling in love with a girl outside his station, and legend returning home.

Movie #76/ 1960s Movie #7/ Criterion Edition #17/ Italian Film #2: La Dolce Vita
An excellent film on many levels. Structurally, it’s quite interesting, a largely episodic take on the life of an Italian reporter hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, in stories that vary in tone, from fun to pathetic to absolutely shocking. His famed night with Anita Ekberg’s flighty starlet is a smaller role than I remembered from the one time I saw the film, although it’s definitely memorable. I’ve never seen a film that is so effective at burying the character arc, so that it comes out in the intersection of the episodes. It holds up to deep study, but doesn’t require it.

Movie #77/1940s Movie #4/ Hitchcock Film #3: Rope
A decent thriller where the characters’ amorality is a bit extreme, but it often makes excellent use of the one-shot gimmick.

Movie #78/ New Film #44/ 1960s Movie #8/ Italian Film #3/ Directorial Debut #5: Black Sunday
Mario Bava’s debut is a creepy take on witches and haunted lineages. It’s very dark and moody, stark, overdramatic and fun. Technically, Bava had directed earlier films, developing a reputation for saving troubled projects after the original directors ran away.


Movie #79/ New Movie #45/ 2018 Movie #9: A Quiet Place
It’s a film that shows quite well the day to day life of a family in a messed up environment, with unusually excellent performances for the genre, and tough questions on meaning and purpose.

Movie #80/ 2016 Movie #4/ Musical #3: La La Land
The Hollywood romance has catchy songs, great costumes and design, winning central performances, and is about something, even if that topic (artistic independence) might come across as increasingly indulgent on a second viewing. Still pretty good, and the parts that are a bit annoying aren’t necessarily unrealistic.

Movie #81/1940s Movie #5/ Hitchcock Film #4: Saboteur
It’s definitely lesser Hitchcock (the great master admits as much in Hitchcock/ Truffaut) as the story of an innocent man on the run (a common theme Hitchcock typically does better) is combined with clumsy World War 2 era jingoism, which isn’t the best fit for a story about how the right thing to do is to ignore the authorities and help out the guy who seems nice.

Movie #82/ New Movie #46/ 2018 Movie #10: Avengers Infinity War
This is a weird film to consider because it can’t really be judged in the most basic way: as a standalone film. Instead, it’s essentially the first part of the conclusion to a decade-long saga spread out across 22 films, as well as the beginning of a decent adaptation of Jim Starlin’s cosmic Marvel comics. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but have a different context for it than most filmgoers. As the beginning of a movie equivalent of an event comic, it works pretty well giving most of the heroes decent moments, while keeping the focus on Thanos after years of build-up (and keeping it interesting- imagine the disappointment if he hadn’t been one of the best MCU villains.) Some of this clearly seeds moments in the sequel, although I appreciate how the generic Thanos henchmen serve as the equivalent of mini-bosses, so the heroes accomplish something in this film. And the big moment does deliver.

Movie #83/ 1940s Movie #6/ Hitchcock Film #5: Shadow of a Doubt
There are parts of the take on small town American life that seem over the top in unintended ways (everyone’s eager to hear a visitor from New York give a speech, dramatic revelations are made at inappropriate times, a sociopath with really strange views goes undetected) although the general story of a teen girl realizing her beloved uncle is a sociopath and trying to figure out how to communicate this to anyone is elevated by the combination of small-town life and noir sensibility, Hitchock’s use of tension, and the performances by Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton.

Fiddler on the Roof 2

Movie #84/ New Movie #47/ 1970s Movie #4/ Musical #4: Fiddler on the Roof
Exceptional musical, that works with the strength of the material, the cast, and the central story of a Jewish family adjusting to change in Czarist Russia.

Movie #85/ New Movie #48/ 2016 Movie #5/ Musical #5: Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping
Decent satire of the modern music industry elevated by the quality of Lonely Island’s absurd riffs (The Bin Laden song), and the payoff to some jokes (the quickchange disaster being a highlight.)

Movie #86/ 1950s Movie #4/ French Film #6/ Criterion Edition #18: Pickpocket
The story of a young man compelled to commit petty crimes is stylistically quite daring, and worth deeper examination in the complex decisions made by the characters. The mechanics of how the pickpockets operate is a highlight.

Movie #87/ New Movie #49/ Silent Movie Era #5/ Directorial Debut #6: Nanook of the North
The context is a bit weird, since it was essentially a prototype for two types of films: the documentary, as well as a sustained narrative starring amateur actors. It’s a fascinating spotlight of a very different culture (the Eskimo about a hundred years ago) with personality and strong visuals.

Movie #88/ 1960s Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #19/ Italian Film #4: 8 1/2
One of the best films ever about the creative process, as well as one of the best films ever about a person’s inner life (granted, you probably can’t have the former without the latter). An excellent cast, and some truly inspiring twists.

Movie #89/ New Film #50/ 1980s Movie #6: The Karate Kid
An excellent underdog sports movie, where the best part is the friendship between the kid (an Italian from New Jersey who has to go to California) and his mentor. Some of the moments seem kind of obvious, although that’s largely because of the impact of the film, and how it has permeated the culture (IE- the wax on/ wax off training.)

Movie #90/ 1970s Movie #5/ Italian Film #5: The Conformist
Beautifully shot film about a man who just wants to be ordinary, but who has the bad fortune to live in Fascist Italy.

Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: Cinema Paradiso

Best Film overall: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Most Disappointing Film: Head

Best Musical: La La Land

Best Italian Film: La Dolce Vita (they were all good)

Best Directorial Debut: Night of the Living Dead

Best Hitchcock: Rear Window

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