2022 Film Diary Part 4

This is a continuation on notes on movies I’ve seen this year. For this series, I tried to watch films from several film movements including the Scandinavian Revival, and Pre-Code Hollywood.

Movie #73/ New Movie #51: Top Gun (DVD)
This was a massive hit that I never saw before that spawned a sequel late enough that a character who was a baby in this film could plausibly be a presidential contender in the next one (they’re probably not going down that route.) I could see why this was a star turn for Tom Cruise, and it gets the camaraderie of the pilots, as well as impressive stunts. There is an interesting balance with Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Ice as rivals who are on the same team, and do want the other to succeed. Some scenes are way too obvious, and there is a lack of a compelling antagonist.

Movie #74/ New Movie #52: Phantom of the Paradise (DVD)
This was a weird film, a mash-up of rock musicals and silent classics Faust and Phantom of the Opera. The strangest part of it may be the twists and turns of the partnership between a naive singer-songwriter and a record producer, which continues after betrayals and violent efforts at revenge. The songs are decent, especially “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye” a 1950s style ode to a musician’s suicide, which sets up this warped take.

Movie #75/ New Movie #53: Sawdust and Tinsel (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s an important film for Ingmar Bergman and company, as he has discovered himself as a director, exploring themes (what constant performance does to a person, how dreams represent inner lives, embarrassment and reconciliation) that would be key to his work. It can be cruel, but it’s not just that. And no one is able to surpass Bergman when it comes to cringe humor.

Movie #76/ New Movie #54: The Fearless Vampire Killers (DVD)
This is not a film that it obviously made by a great director, although it is very obviously Eastern European. It’s not funny. It’s not scary. The characters are so dumb and slower than anyone in the audience that it’s not clear what they know at any given moment. There is one decent set piece at a ball, and an interesting tonally off ending.

Short Movie #11: Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This was a highlight of the Kennedy Films of Robert Drew Criterion collection, with a surprisingly intimate look at the Kennedy White House, the office of Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, the administration of Alabama Governor George Wallace, and two African-American college students who just want to attend the University of Alabama. It’s a bit horrifying to think about how this was so controversial in living memory.

Movie #77/ New Movie #55: Mister 880 (DVD)
This is a bit of an oddball film depicting a clash between two major actors: future Oscar winner Burt Lancaster as a secret service agent and previous winner for his depiction of Kris Kringle Edmund Gwenn as a friendly minor counterfeiter. It is a showcase for the Golden Age of Hollywood’s ability to mix serious questions with a sense of fun. It’s not a great movie, but it is quite pleasant.

Movie #78/ New Movie #56: Top Gun: Maverick (Movie Theater)
This is a great sequel to a good film. I just saw the original for the first time a week ago, and this fixed one of the major flaws, by providing an adversary for Maverick. The characters have greater gravity because this builds so well on events from 30+ years earlier, and it’s also a statement on Tom Cruise, movie stardom and awesomeness. It seems it took so long to make this sequel, because they kept looking at the script and figuring how it could be more awesome. And then they did it. That A+ Cinemascore is well-earned.

Short Movie #12: Waldo Salt- A Screenwriter’s Journey (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This is a perfect story for a Hollywood documentary: a blacklisted screenwriter learns to spend more time on his films and wins multiple Oscars while elevating his form. As a bonus, because he’s a screenwriter, so much footage of his movies is available. It’s a well-told story, and does cover how a relatively obscure screenwriter in his mid-50s adapted Midnight Cowboy (this film is an extra on the Criterion blu-ray), and then went on to success with Serpico and Coming Home.

Movie #79: Summer With Monika (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s an important film for Ingmar Bergman and company, as he has discovered himself as a director, exploring themes (what constant performance does to a person, how dreams represent inner lives, embarrassment and reconciliation) that would be key to his work. It can be cruel, but it’s not just that. And no one is able to surpass Bergman when it comes to cringe humor.

Short Movie #13: Islands: Georgy Rerberg (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s an okay documentary about a cinematographer with an interesting personality that does offer some insights into his talents and how he could be a uniquely difficult person to work with. There’s a very weird thing where they talk about Stalker, where they obviously have cut out specific context about why it was so tragic (contamination from a nearby chemical plant likely led to the higher cancer rate among film and crew.) I wonder why they seemed to set it up, and then abandoned it.

Movie #80/ New Movie #57: Feels Good Man (Mubi)
This documentary is several things. I like the parts that cover a San Francisco based relatively apolitical indie cartoonist when one of his characters is appropriated by the alt-right. That is an interesting arc with an oddball twist. Some of the people take this way too seriously, with an “occultist” suggesting it is mimetic magic that helped Donald Trump get elected President, and interviews/ footage of some people on the left and right who seem to be in agreement.

Movie #81/ New Movie #58: Miss Julie (DVD)
I’m watching this as part of an effort to be more familiar with the films of the Scandinavian revival film movement, especially those that aren’t by Bergman or Dreyer. The Swedes are intense, and do not bullshit in a romance of two people separated by class that does not go the way any typical romance goes. They go extreme, pushing people to the limits even in a standard melodrama. The Criterion transfer is solid, but not pristine. I’m not sure if it’s an issue with the restoration, or the original material, but I did notice some issues.

Short Movie #14: Being Green: Jim Henson’s Early Shorts (Mubi)
This is a catch-all for a few early shorts by Jim Henson (Time Piece, Run, Run, Drums West, Shearing Animation, Cat and Mouse, Ripples, Wheels That Go, Alexander the Grape) with a combined runtime of 21 minutes, shown on Mubi. “Alexander the Grape” is an unfinished short film that predicts gags we’ll see later (Toy Story, Sausage Party.)

Movie #82/ New Movie #59: The Dissident (Youtube)
It’s a well-made documentary about an international injustice. It’s obviously horrific that a Washington Post reporter was murdered at the behest of a Saudi prince, and this film shows the life of the victim, the causes he fought for, and all those affected in unforeseen ways. It’s powerful. And the lack of major distribution is an indictment of the big streaming companies.

Movie #83/ New Movie #60: Tough Guys (DVD)
It’s a fun example of a particular subgenre (elderly criminals out for one last score just as everyone underestimates them.) Douglas and Lancaster are a great buddy duo and sell their reactions to how the world has changed in the thirty years they’ve been away. It’s a bit unpolished, but it’s a solid B.

Movie #84/ New Movie #61: Crimes of the Future (Movie Theater)
Stylistically it feels like a neonoir made either during the events in this film, or decades later. It’s a bit slow, but the worldbuilding is excellent, and the narrative threads tie together rather well. It all feels weird, but lived in.

Short Movie #15: The Bones (Mubi)
I watched it on Mubi. The lost silent film gimmick works okay. The visuals are odd, but distinctive.

Short Movie #16: Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams (Mubi)
This short film is mainly just out of context clips from the films of Spencer Williams. Some commentary and context would be appreciated. Right now, the main result is clips from black and white films during the Golden Age of Hollywood, except African-American characters have agency. That has a power independent of everything else.

Movie #85: Guardians of the Galaxy (Blu-Ray)
It seems so effortlessly enjoyable that we can overlook that it easily could have flopped. It’s a team film about characters who didn’t have much history in the comics by an indie director whose cast included A-listers in voice roles, the third male lead of a moderately successful sitcom, the female lead of Avatar and a wrestler in his mid-40s. We get a group with the camaraderie and heart of any superhero team, or any iteration of Star Wars or Star Trek. That was the most important accomplishment and it’s done quite well.

Short Movie #17: Gulpilil: One Red Blood (Criterion DVD Extra)
This is a decent spotlight on an odd actor: David Gulipilil. He is best-known for his first film Walkabout, and there’s some focus on a strange project he did with Dennis Hopper a few years later. The majority of attention goes to two films he made in the turn of the century around when the documentary was made: Rabbit-Proof Fence and the Tracker. It does get into the balance of his life as an aborigine family man who is also a cult actor. I saw this as a bonus on the Criterion edition of Walkabout, and it is above-average for that material. Even if it seems big stuff was left out, enough was included that is interesting..

Movie #86: Knives Out (Blu-Ray)
Each time I watch this film I’m more impressed. It’s obviously a starmaking performance for Ana De Armas, and the successful launch of a post-Bond franchise for Daniel Craig, as well as a great ensemble piece about a murder mystery involving a weird upper-class family. Add to this legitimately intelligent commentary on modern politics and culture. And it is legitimately great that when Christopher Plummer passed away at 91, a lot of headlines mentioned a movie he had made three years earlier, because he was so nuanced and charming as a murder victim who still managed to get the result he wanted..

Movie #87/ New Movie #62: Spiderhead (Netflix)
This has become an example of Netflix’s excesses, a sci-fi prison drama reuniting the director of one of the biggest movies of the year (Top Gun: Maverick) with co-star Miles Teller, and adding a Marvel superhero just when his new film is coming out. And they barely promote it, despite a nine-figure budget. Watching it, you do you get why they don’t promote it. There are some interesting ideas, and sequences with prisoners part of a secluded study. But sometimes it just feels like a TV movie, with all that implies. It kinda feels like they rushed it. With a bit more work, it might not be an A film, but it could be a B.

Movie #88/ New Movie #63: Ordet (Criterion DVD)
It took me a while to watch this, because I thought it would be difficult. After all, it is a movie from a director with a reputation for long shots about a family suffering a crisis when the middle son thinks he is Christ.

That was a mistake. It’s easy to follow, and while we see the difficulties of the family, we see some joys. And it gets into some really interesting questions about what it means to truly believe. It’s certainly worth watching, and discussing.

There was a conversation on film twitter about great directors, and someone said that Spielberg was the most versatile after West Side Story came out, since that proved he could excel in any genre. There was one alternative path to being recognized as a great director: overwhelming success in one genre. So it was Spielberg’s versatility against John Ford’s westerns, Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers, Martin Scorsese’s crime films, Ingmar Bergman’s psychological dramas, and Kurosawa’s samurai epics. With this, the Passion of Joan of Arc, and the other films where he explored these deep Christian questions, Dreyer joins the list with his skill in religious drama.

Movie #89/ New Movie #64: Repo Man (Criterion DVD)
Watching this film, I’m not surprised it is the directorial debut of a cult director. It just feels like it. It almost seems like three movies put together: a conspiracy involving a car that may be involved with aliens, a suburban punk taking a new job and Harry Dean Stanton’s veteran repo man. It’s fun, interesting and raw.

Movie #90/ New Movie #65: Thor- Love and Thunder (Movie Theater)
This may be an example of the MCU as the most expensive TV show ever, rather than discrete films, building in a big way on earlier sagas while also seeding big developments in the future (especially when it comes to the introduction of Russel Crowe’s Zeus and one of the post-credit scenes.) But it also about something, an immortal’s quest for love and meaning. The visuals are really nice. Chris Hemsworth has fun with the Wakiti version of Thor, and it’s also a step up for Natalie Portman. Tonally, it is a bit all over the place, with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster dying of cancer and Christian Bale’s god butcher as a serial killer of Gods. My bigger issue is that the stakes are sometimes vague, and they don’t seem to take it seriously enough, which reminds me a bit of Infinity War, although I could accept it there because of novelty and the suddenness of the life and death decisions. It’s fine, and a superhero film that can make for some interesting discussions.

Movie #91/ New Movie #66: Gold Diggers of ’33 (DVD)
I’ve seen this on two separate lists. It’s often ranked among the bottom among Oscar winners (although they acknowledge the opening song is great) but it was on a recent list of best musicals, so I decided to check it out along with other Pre-Code films. It’s generally charming, acknowledging a bit of the hardship of the Great Depression while telling the story of someone trying to make art about it. The conflicts are slight, but there is a great prank played on two stuffy guys, along with one of the least attractive romantic leads to get the girl in any Best Picture winner. But it’s fun. That’s what matters.

Movie #92/ New Movie #67: Blonde Crazy (DVD)
It’s a somewhat slight movie of a con man falling in love with his accomplice. There is some pre-code fun, although it does feel kinda primitive, as early sound cinema was still finding its way, to say nothing of the equipment. But the cons are fun. James Cagney and Joan Blondell have legitimate star power.

Movie #93: Moneyball (Blu-Ray)
The reasons I like it are probably why people looking for standard biopics might not. There is an unsentimentality even if the people changing baseball love the game. It’s a good movie about trying new ideas, and what matters for success. It’s inspirational for really ambitious people, which seems to be a sweet spot for Sorkin (The Social Network, Steve Jobs.)

Movie #94: City Lights (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I haven’t seen this in years, but good lord, does it hold up.

It’s weird. It’s possibly the best Pre-Code Hollywood movie, although unconventional in that it is largely silent, even if Chaplin uses music and sound, including mock dialogue to hilarious effect.

In discussions of film franchises, the tramp is weird, popping up in different settings (the west in Gold Rush, a dystopian future in Modern Times) in some of the best movies ever made. There isn’t anything quite like that in movies.

The story of a poor man trying to help a blind girl who think he’s a millionaire has moments of pathos and tragedy, as well as an ending that just goes beyond that. It’s one of the best comedies ever, one of the best romances ever, and one of the best films ever.

Movie #95/ New Movie #68: Black Phone (Movie Theater)
It’s a perfectly fine horror film about an abducted middle schooler. The costume and mask for the Ethan Hawke character are suitably creepy. The concept and character arc are decent. The kids are as profane as real middle schoolers would be. This does come across as a pastiche of Stephen King stories, and I know it’s based on a short story by his son, but if you like Stand By Me, Carrie and The Shining, that’s not a bad thing.

Movie #96/ New Movie #69: Chris Claremont’s X-Men (Amazon Plus)
A talking heads documentary focusing on how one comic book writer was able to make interesting work on one franchise for over a decade, until the suits started trying to get more and more control. It’s part of a larger effort to reevaluate Chris Claremont’s legacy, which is appreciated, even if it is at times borderline hagiographic.

Movie #97/ New Movie #70: Oblivion (DVD)
It has an interesting take on a dystopia with Tom Cruise as a nostalgist for how the world was around the time this movie came out. The world is well-realized, and there is a decent sense of unease. Some of the elements are similar to other films from the time that also dealt with the loneliness of jobs that require being on other worlds, although given how long Kosinski spent on this it could just be parallel development. There are some good twists, and I do really like the ending. And we do see some big hints of Top Gun: Maverick.

Movie #98/ New Movie #71: The Kennel Murder Case (Paramount Plus)
This murder mystery was part of a series that made William Powell a star. He’d leave for the superior Thin Man series pretty soon. Here, the lead detective is bland although he elevates it with charisma. The central mystery is a decent one (a man with a lot of enemies seems to have committed suicide) and there are some nice twists. I also like the dynamic between Powell’s detective and Eugene Pallet’s police sergeant, especially when Phillip Vance ends up making a big mistake. The version of Paramount Plus could benefit from restoration work.

Movie #99: Tron (Disney+)
Tron is imperfect, but interesting and fun. Jeff Bridges is great as a cheated video designer. I like the duplicate versions of characters in the world of the game, and in the real world as well. The futuristic world of Tron seems to have some silent film influences, which helps the film hold up.

Movie #100/ New Movie #72: Elvis (Movie Theater)
Baz Luhrmann is probably a good match for Elvis, with his focus on music and splash. Austin Butler is able to depict young Elvis and Vegas Elvis pretty well. Hanks is odd as Col. Parker, but his affectations work with a showman who has something to hide. The movie is a bit unfocused, with the interesting stuff in the trailer about a young musician pissing off social conservatives covered in half an hour. It is a bit meandering in the second half, although I do like how it shows Elvis ready to do the right thing for himself, but deciding against it. There is a legitimate element of tragedy in that.


About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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