This continues a series of observations on films I’ve seen this year. For this section, I also wanted to cover a few movements: B-Films/ Exploitation Films/ Video Nasties/ whatever you want to call it, and German Silent Expressionism, so a bunch of the movies are in those categories.
Movie #101/ New Movie #73: Kid90 (Hulu)
The story behind the documentary is interesting. Soleil Moon Frye wanted to explore what it was like to be a child star and former child star in the days before social media when it was possible to have a private life, but it was also still possible to record much for private video. Initially, it was meant to be the general story but Frye realized much about herself in the process, looking at footage and journal entries in a new light. The results are brief but compelling.
Movie #102: Mission Impossible (Paramount Plus)
It’s interesting how this series has changed as the later sequels became the epitome of 21st Century action films. This one’s a bit different. Sometimes it seems shot more like a TV drama. The central sequence of breaking into Langley computers is slow and detailed, like something out of Rififi.
Movie #103: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney+)
On a second watch, I’m still not a fan. This is a largely disappointing finale to the Star Wars saga. It starts out a bit promising but the moment a character says that Palpatine returned somehow, and that’s that, it becomes clear that will be the weakest of the new trilogy. Some new characters are decent (Babu Frik!), and the trap for Rei is a good one. They could have gone further with the temptation of the dark side, but that part was okay.
In retrospect, it would have been better to split this into two films given where Last Jedi had left the characters and to spend more time on this one, rather than to stick to a schedule established before Carrie Fisher passed away, necessitating major changes.
Movie #104/ New Movie #74: Badlands (Movie Theater)
Mallick’s debut is a great take on young love in really dire circumstances, as a girl in Texas falls for a psycho who develops a hell of a body count. There’s a fairy tale vibe to it all, which works for the girl’s naiveté during the senseless violence. Martin Sheen is excellent as a sociopath who is obviously doomed, but you can see why some people are drawn to him. It’s a good example of how dangerous likable people can be.
Movie #105/ New Movie #75: Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Blu-Ray)
It’s an interesting B movie by people who have largely never worked again in film (Hervé Villechaize is the biggest star) taking advantage of access to an amusement park on its last legs to come up with crazy deathtraps and scenarios. It’s quite primitive, but there are some strong sequences. It’s part of a worthwhile collection by Arrow Video, and of interest to fans of independent horror, grindhouse and the so-called video nasties.
Movie #106/ New Movie #76: Last Year at Marienbad (DVD)
It’s an interesting and mysterious film about memory and how other people see the world. It’s hard to describe because so much is uncertain and contradicted. It is at times quite spellbinding.
Movie #107/ New Movie #77: The Witch Who Came In From The Sea (Blu-Ray)
It appears this has been marketed for the sleazier elements, and there is plenty of that, but it is more effective as a character exploration of a troubled young woman, her crimes contrasting with her goody two shoes way of talking.
Movie #108: The Manchurian Candidate (DVD)
The definitive political thriller. The scenario is compelling and makes for some great sequences. Angela Lansbury may just be the most twisted mother in film. Lawrence Harvey makes the brainwashed war hero obnoxious but layered. There is a documentary feel to it that works very well. I’m not sure I buy Novak’s motivations, but it works in this particular context of ramping up the paranoia. For something so definitive and copied, it goes in some interesting directions, with Sinatra’s lead ahead of where you would expect him to be.
Movie #109: A Shot in the Dark (DVD)
One of the funniest mystery parodies. Sellers’ Clouseau is exceptional as the lead for these types of projects, balancing the ridiculousness and incompetence with an effort to maintain his dignity. Add to that great running gags.
Movie #110: Hamilton (Disney Plus)
I guess there’s a technical argument that this doesn’t count as a film, as it’s more of a recording of a play, albeit with much better production values than the typical stuff that you could find on Broadway Plus. It doesn’t matter. This is one of the greatest works of art of the 21st Century. Lin Manuel Miranda’s performance as Hamilton is overshadowed by the depth and cleverness of his script, and by some of the supporting cast. Everyone who got a Tony and Tony nomination deserved it, and there’s a handful of others who would’ve been nominated if they had given a performance of that level on a different show on a different year, rather than being the fourth or fifth best supporting male performance in this one.
Movie #111/ New Movie #78: Premonition (Blu-Ray)
I saw this as part of Arrow’s American Horror Project blu-rays, and I recommend that along with the commentary which gives a sense of why this film is so nuts. A psychotic woman wants to take back her daughter from the couple who adopted them, and is aided by her boyfriend, a more meticulously psychotic clown played by Richard Lynch. He is excellent in this film: menacing and clownish. The adopted mother starts having visions of the future, which her professor husband is compelled to explore. The threads don’t come together very well in the end, but there is much to enjoy in all that effort.
Movie #112/ New Movie #79: Class of Nuke ‘Em High (Pluto TV)
It’s shlocky and borderline immoral (not in the ways you think but the anti-nuclear message is one of the major reasons American society is unable to get a handle on climate change) but man it’s fun. It has a bit of a so bad it’s good reputation, but it is more clever than that, with teens mutated by a power plant, so the honor society has become the bullies and two young lovers have a bad experience with irradiated marijuana.
Movie #113/ New Movie #80: Nope (Movie Theater)
Peele’s third film takes a decent concept- two young minor players in Hollywood find out about a UFO and decide that they’re going to be the ones to get evidence about it- and layers onto it different questions about exploitation and efforts to control nature. Palmer and Kaluuya are excellent as siblings who are quite different but who seem to have a life outside the film, with Palmer as a showman and Kaluuya as a stoic almost classically western lead. Yeun’s traumatized child star is a bit underdeveloped. His whole narrative makes sense to me, although big stuff occurs off-camera, but I’d like to see more of him because he is the most interesting character. The film does have great set pieces, and balances a legitimate exploration of interesting topics with characters I’m invested in.
Movie #114/ New Movie #81: World on a Wire (Criterion DVD)
It makes sense that this 1970s mini-series would see a reevaluation in the streaming age. The pacing is a good fit for the current era, assuming you’re able to handle a double-length German language movie. It’s quite ahead of its time in the exploration of what it would mean to have a simulated reality, as a scientist realizes that the citizens of a simulation (used to answer policy questions) are starting to realize the truth of their existence, as well as the exploration of the merging of business and government-sponsored science. There’s a great sense of unease to the sci-fi noir.
Short Film #18: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire: Looking Ahead to Today (Criterion DVD)
Solid bonus on the Criterion edition of “World on a Wire” which notes elements of the film that were more obvious for the original audience in Germany in the 1970s (IE- unconventional casting decisions, filming in Paris locations that would seem near-futuristic at the time).
Movie #115: F For Fake (Criterion DVD)
I didn’t care for the film as much the last time I saw it years ago. I think it was on Netflix then, so maybe the streaming quality wasn’t great. It could also be that I’ve been persuaded by a video essay about how it’s so well-edited.
It is really well-edited, has some interesting twists and gets into interesting questions about art and truth, as Welles considers the true story of a forger who was exposed by a writer who went on to commit a bigger hoax. The material is quite rich, and one of the most creative filmmakers has fun with it. This is essential viewing to anyone interested in video essays, as one of the best examples of the form.
Movie #116/ New Movie #82: Blackmail (Talkie Version) (DVD)
It starts out a bit slow. Hitchcock hasn’t quite mastered the ability to keep things interesting during the phase of the movie where we’re getting to know the characters before things go nuts. But it’s a decent movie once the stabbing occurs. It seems a bit primitive, although that’s likely due to the quality of the surviving prints as well as technological limitations in the very early sound era. Hitchcock’s still able to play around with the new tools at his disposal.
Movie #117/ New Movie #83: Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Blu-Ray)
It’s been a while since I’ve watched a silent film, so one way to make up for that is with a four and a half hour expressionist epic.
This cat and mouse crime saga has one of the great film villains (not just silent film villains) in the hypnotist criminal mastermind with a penchant for disguises. It drags on at times, and can be hard to follow with a character who is often in disguise, and where some events are paced slowly and some major events occur quickly. But it is often inventive, and surprising, with interesting commentary on Weimar Germany and the respect for autocrats. Someone who seems to be a minor character comes across like a stiff, but he gets interesting when he’s in Mabuse’s claws. It is episodic, but the final sequence does tie it all together.
Short Film #19: The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse (Blu Ray)
This was an extra on the Kino blu-ray collection of Fritz Lang’s silent films. It seems more like several shorts put together spotlighting different aspects of Dr Mabuse the Gambler, such as the decisions behind a new soundtrack or changes to the source material.
Movie #118/ New Movie #84: This Much I Know to Be True (Mubi)
There are other people who will appreciate this more, since they’re more familiar with Nick Cave as a singer and the context of things that are referenced here. I appreciate it as an amazingly shot rehearsal film (it’s not a standard concert; it’s more like being in the room when top-tier talent is performing for posterity) with some deep songs, and some insights into a thoughtful man who remains rather private.
Movie #119/ New Movie #85: The Last Laugh (Youtube)
There is a sequence early in the film so immediate that it just does not seem possible for it to be shot in 1924. Obviously, it’s a prank of some sorts, an elaborate hoax where a film buff uses modern tech and editing, while pretending its from a nearly century-old silent film.
Murnau famously tells the story with only one intertitle, and it works. He’s able to show the emotional life of an ordinary man during a difficult time from highs to lows. His experiences are given the weight of the lead of an epic. For him to be demoted to bathroom attendant is as great a loss as a king being deposed, or a captain of industry losing an essential contract.
After this film, Murnau, lead Emil Jannings and cinematographer Karl Freund were all invited to go to Hollywood, where Oscars and other major accolades would follow.
Movie #120: The Golem: How He Came into the World (Youtube)
After the Last Laugh, I’ve really come to appreciate cinematographer Karl Freund and this film is really well shot. It comes across at times like it was inspired by the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but it was released only a few months after, and is the last of a trilogy so much of the work had to be done independently. It’s a bit odd as the one surviving film in a series, although as a prequel, it is a standalone story that seemed to be the story the director had been trying to tell now that he could do it as a period piece. The Golem is an interesting conflicted monster, a proto-Frankenstein. It also seems like this story is a major influence on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’m curious about learning more about the extent to which imagery about witchcraft is coded as Jewish, as that is a bit distracting, though it is otherwise satisfying to see Jewish leads in a German expressionist film.
It’s public domain so it’s available free online. One interesting version has a modern soundtrack by Black Francis of the Pixies.
But the Murnau foundation restoration is amazing.
Movie #121/ New Movie #86: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Movie Theater)
It’s a fine cute film, a mockumentary about a living shell who would like to be reunited with his family. Marcel’s got personality, and the film has much to say about the need for community in a time when everyone is very much online. There are some clever details on what life would be like for someone who is only an inch high.
Movie #122/ New Movie #87: Vengeance (Movie Theater)
BJ Novak’s directorial debut is very meta, with a New York media figure going to Texas because the death of a girl he hooked up with (whose family thinks they were much closer) might be material for a podcast. Doing a story about a writer is a way to get to some obvious insights about the heartland VS coastal America, although the character sometimes seems too obnoxious, even if the point for others to call him out on his condescension. Still it’s a solid conversation starter. Ashton Kutcher is quite good as a music producer who manages to stay ahead of expectations.
Movie #123: Black Panther (Disney Plus)
Watching it this time I get a sense of how deliberate Chadwick Boseman is in his choices as the lead. I remember thinking he was fine, but overshadowed by much of the supporting cast, although he is effective at conveying a new king grappling with the sins of his predecessors.
Short Film #20: The Colour Merchant (Blu Ray)
It’s a nice extra in various versions of A Matter of Life and Death/ Stairway to Heaven, about a cinematographer’s experiences on his first solo project, which ends up being a stylistically daring classic. Hardly essential but nice.
Movie #124: Metropolis (Blu-Ray)
Watching it this time, I am struck by how a film about a class war in the future does serve to flatter the elite with the metaphor of the head (them) and the hands (the poors who forget about their children in a crucial time.) The quality is weaker with the recently restored films, but it works to create an impression of some lost artifact from another world.
Short Film #21: Cartoonland Mysteries (Blu Ray)
It was an extra on a Universal blu-ray set, and it’s a decent take on making animation 85 years ago. The cartoon wasn’t included in the set, which is disappointing, although it is on Youtube. It’s interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t changed.
Movie #125: Trumbo (DVD)
I watched it again for inspiration on writing, as Dalton Trumo has one hell of a work ethic, although on the second watch, I have a greater appreciation for the characters who don’t want to put up with his shit, as well as his grand plan to ridicule the blacklist.
Short Film #22: Valparaiso (Mubi)
This was a nice short documentary I saw on Mubi. It mainly seems to be an explanation of how Valparaiso is an interesting and cinematic setting for other people to explore in documentaries or narrative films. The narration is a bit pretentious, but fitting for the setting, and there is a clever shift in storytelling.