This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I’ve had a few sub-goals: five French films, five films from AFI’s list of the funniest movies ever, five films by actor-directors and because I’ve realized that I haven’t been many watching any silent movies this year (that’s what happens when I don’t keep track of decades): five movies from the silent era.
Movie #85/ New Movie #59: Tom & Jerry (DVD)
It’s mostly pleasant all-ages film. I like the conceit that human characters are live-action, and all animals are animated. There’s a carelessness to the story as evident by the lack of attention to what makes an A-list celebrity wedding special. Are they both famous? Are they actors? Influencers? The main arc is pretty obvious, although it’s resolved okay.
Movie #86/ New Movie #60/ Actor-Director #1: A Quiet Place Part 2 (Theater)
It may be a little self-indulgent for John Krakinski to do a film about how his character is so awesome. This sequel continues logically from the first, and builds on the world okay. There is some plot induced stupidity and the narrative trudges a bit, although it is interesting where it gets to the point where you don’t know what’s happening next.
Movie #87/ New Movie #61: The Sparks Brothers (Theater)
It’s a straightforward documentary about a relatively obscure long-running band. I’ve never heard of them, aside from the trailer for their upcoming other film Annette, although I do get the sense that they’ve been parodied dozens of times before, which makes sense. They’re so distinctive, and they’ve been visible enough over the years while still being kinda unknown. For the same reason some people who saw the movie thought it was an elaborate mocumentary, they are great to parody. Wright gets to what makes the band special, even if more time on individual songs would be appreciated when we’re dealing with a band so obscure. Granted, that trick might be hard with 25 albums. It does certainly show the band’s ability to change, and how they were often ahead of everyone else.
Movie #88/ New Movie #62/ French Movie #1: Le Chinoise (Mubi)
This is an odd Godard film. Mainly it’s intellectual debates among ridiculous left-wing radicals before they go and take things up a notch. It’s strange that Godard seemed to believe in militant maoism given how well he makes fun of it.
Movie #89/ New Movie #63/ French Movie #2: The Oldest Profession (Kino Lorber Blu-Ray)
It’s an oddball anthology with top French directors tackling the world’s oldest profession. I suspect that no one would be surprised that a 1960s French movie about prostitution is sometimes a bit misogynstic. For the subject matter, it’s also typically quite tame. Some of the jokes are okay.
Movie #90/ New Movie #64/ Silent Film #1/ AFI 100 Laughs #1/ Actor-Director #2: The Navigator (Blu-Ray)
It’s a fun Keaton film with two incompetent young people stuck on a boat together, barely able to manage, required complex rube goldberg devices to manage the most simple things. It often showcases Keaton’s mastery of the comedic long-shot. A final encounter with an island of cannibals has not aged as well as most of the film.
Movie #91/ French Movie #3/ Silent Movie #2: The Passion of Joan of Arc (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This time I watched the 24 frames per second version with the score by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory. The score was very modern, but worked quite well with the timelessness of the source material. It remains one of the best movies ever made, with a powerhouse performance by Renée Jeanne Falconetti at the destruction and spiritual salvation of a great woman.
Movie #92/ AFI 100 Laughs #2: Monkey Business (DVD)
It’s the Marx brothers, so it has some inspired gags, and is sometimes ahead of the audience. The brothers play stowaways who get involved in a mob conflict, which works as a centerpiece.
Movie #93/ New Movie #65/ French Movie #4/ Actor-Director #3: Let’s Make a Dream (Mubi)
This is very obviously a theatrical adaptation, with the direction a bit dull. Sometimes it goes on a little bit too long, although it is witty and charming. The restoration on Mubi is imperfect, but it does have some great sequences and twists, especially a cad’s elaborate fantasy of what his girl is doing when heading his way.
Movie #94/ New Movie #66/ French Movie #5/ Silent Movie #3: Monte Cristo Part 1 (Youtube)
I started watching clips someone put on Youtube, and then ordered a DVD of it to get a better transfer. Unfortunately, the DVD only included a 40 minute long cut (from a movie that totals three hours and forty minutes and in released in two parts in France), and the transfer was much worse than the Youtube.
This is quite naturalistic for a silent movie. The direction and performances are okay, but it is a bit of a struggle in the beginning, especially before the lead gets him arrested. It gets much more interesting when his imprisonment begins, and we get a sense of his suffering and a cleaner narrative with his friendship with someone who initially appears to be a lunatic. The story is quite episodic, with sections of the narrative dealing with new characters as the lead disappears for major stretches. Some of the stories are more powerful than others, but the results are satisfying.
Movie #95/ New Movie #57/ AFI 100 Laughs Movie #3/ Silent Movie #4: The Freshman (Youtube)
It’s a fun time capsule of college in a very different era. Harold Lloyd is a bit too old to be a college freshman, but he does a good job of playing someone well-meaning but way too eager to please. Some of the gags are inspired, and quite complex, especially where a party sequence where his clothes are falling apart, and a dizzy tailor has to help. There is legitimate emotion to it, and the narrative turns aren’t as obvious as you’d assume from a silent film. When he gets a chance to play in the big game, it initially does not go well for him.
oMovie #96/ AFI 100 Laughs Movie #4/ Actor-Director #4: Bananas (DVD)
There’s one joke here that aged really badly, when Woody Allen has to justify buying a porno mag by saying that he’s studying moral perversion and moving up to child molestation. Otherwise, it’s a decent early Woody Allen film with an earlier version of his nebbish persona and jokes that seem more common in a Mel Brooks film, or Airplane (many of which came out later.)
Movie #97/ New Movie #68: Black Widow (Theater)
It’s an okay Marvel movie with some decent sequences. The cast is fine, with Florence Pugh as a standout, setting up a potential replacement who is entertainingly self-aware. The story is a bit generic MCU (squabbling siblings, fight scenes on a base in the air, a villainous conspiracy going back decades) even if it is darker than most (a conversation about forced sterilization works to reveal character and just how the twisted the system the widows came from is) and it does have a larger point about how women and girls are overlooked. The direction is consistently impressive. It is over the top at times, closer at times to the stereotypes about Michael Bay and the Fast & Furious films than most MCU movies.
Movie #98/ New Movie #69/ AFI 100 Laughs Movie #5: Topper (PBS)
Cary Grant’s eight films on the AFI 100 Laughs countdown are built on his abilities as the best straight man in film, or as evident here, the life of the party trying to encourage someone else to loosen up a little. In this case, he’s doing it beyond the grave as a ghost. This might have one of the most flagrant examples of category fraud in Oscars history with the nomination of Roland Young’s Topper, the ultimate man who needs to loosen up, in the category of Supporting Actor. The results are fun.
Movie #99: Black Bear (Digital)
It’s interesting watching this again knowing what the twist is going to be. It’s a bit of an intellectual puzzle to figure out what’s going on, which makes it tougher to connect emotionally to a story about a couple and a stranger in an enclosed environment, although the difficulty of connecting emotionally is one of the themes of the story. One thing the film does quite well is to show the three leads and the setting in radically different circumstances, and it depicts both of those circumstances quite well.
Movie #100/ New Movie #70/ Silent Film #5/ Actor-Director #5: The Circus (DVD)
A Chaplin film which was a hit when it came out, and it still has a decent reputation, although it seems to now fall just outside his Top Five. There are some fantastic set pieces in the circus, as Chaplin’s little tramp ruins performances and briefly becomes the star of the show, getting involved in a love triangle with a poignant ending. Even if it’s not top-tier Chaplin, it has great sight gags. Especially when monkeys get involved.