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(Yes, we need another) Holiday Movie Thread

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OldAle1
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Re: (Yes, we need another) Holiday Movie Thread

#121

Post by OldAle1 » January 25th, 2020, 5:12 pm

New Year's Eve Favorites...

1. Superman (Richard Donner, 1978)

Somewhere around 8th-10th viewing. First saw this new in the cinema, maybe twice; I'm sure I saw it at least once during college as well. For a long while I preferred the second film, don't think I do anymore though I haven't seen that one for quite a few years. This is a problematic film for sure, with a fairly silly plot and unfortunately silly and never-threatening villains, and an idiotic ending conceit which nearly kill it. BUT...the opening Krypton sequence retains it's grandeur for me, the FX are good enough for a guy who has no problem putting himself back in the era it was made, the music is likely John Williams' best, and one of the best scores of the 70s, and most of all, Christopher Reeve, in what is still for me the best performance in a superhero film, and one of the better same-actor-two-roles performances as well, because Clark Kent is every bit as impressive a creation as the man in tights. TSPDT? I dunno...I'm OK about that.

2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

15th viewing. I don't need to say anything more about this one do I.

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#122

Post by OldAle1 » February 16th, 2020, 3:46 pm

A celebration of Valentine's Day in film, to make myself miserable...maybe.

1. She's All That (Robert Iscove, 1999)

I'm not entirely sure why this has been on my rom-com to-see list for years (I'm not entirely sure why I have such a list but that's another story). The director was a non-name; I haven't seen anything else with female star Rachael Leigh Cook and only one film with co-star Freddie Prinze Jr, I Know What You Did Last Summer which is awfully mediocre. That's where he met his wife-to-be, Buffy the Vampire Slayer lead Sarah Michelle Gellar, so perhaps there was something unconscious in the mix here, as it turns out that this film was shot partly at the same high school that was used for Buffy - the courtyard and front of the building in particular will be obvious to fans of the show, and Gellar makes a very brief appearance sitting in the lunch room, and Carlos Jacott, the main bad guy in the season 2 opener Anne appears in a bit as an exasperated photographer. This digression brought to you because for me it's only as a hard-core Buffy fan that I found any enjoyment at all in this atrocious adaptation #345974 of "Pygmalion", with Prinze as hot jock AND scholar (ok there's a *tiny* bit of originality) who bets his douchier friend that he can take nerdy art girl Cook and turn her into a prom queen princess. Uggh. Nothing good here at all though I'd tend to blame the screenplay for most of if - there are some decent-to-excellent actors here like Kevin Pollak and Anna Paquin (who looks a lot like Cook actually but does't play her sister) but the dialogue mostly feels forced and the scenes play out the same way they would in your head, only less interestingly. Below average even in the world of the American rom-com over the past 30+ years.

2. When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989) (re-watch)

I saw this when it originally came out, and not since then. It's one of those films where I can't remember if I saw it in the cinema or on video but I do remember that I saw it with my first girlfriend who was much less conventionally romantic than I was, and pretty staunchly feminist in a way that really didn't respond to Nora Ephron's screenplay in particular - and neither did I. Ephron's assertions that men and women can never be friends and are really, totally, fundamentally different animals - which is belied at the end of this to be fair but which recurs in the other films she wrote and/or directed - still bugs the shit out of me and I still find myself hating that element of the film. In 1989 that was enough for me to hate the whole film though and it didn't help that I didn't much like Billy Crystal; pretty sure the only thing with Meg Ryan I had seen was D.O.A but I wasn't keeping track of actors at the time in any way, and her subsequent roles didn't help my opinion of her and in memory the film has languished as an offensive screenplay acted out by a guy I've grudgingly come to tolerate, and my least-favorite actress ever. So I guess it was time for a re-visit, eh?

Well color me surprised and surprisingly pleased. As I said, I still don't much like Ephron's writing - don't find a lot of Crystal's jokes that funny, don't like her view of men in general (and more importantly don't find it all that accurate) - but everything else improved dramatically, in particular Meg Ryan who while at times irritating (deliberately so - as a self-portrait of the writer it's clear that Ephron for all her faults could be as hard on women, and herself, as on men) is also just a joy to watch here, vivacious and self-assured and neurotic in almost equal measures. The fact that I hadn't really known anybody like her - and that I was soon to enter into a relationship with someone much more like her than my then-girlfriend, and have since met a much wider variety of women, probably helps in my changed feelings here. Reiner shoots New York in a loving manner and it works as a fantasy-view of the big city when two people are in love, certainly very much influenced by Woody Allen and in a long line that goes back to the musicals of the 50s. Crystal bugs me a little less - though again, he doesn't seem that real to me, and certainly Ephron's notion that all men love sports and don't cry in movies is utterly false as far as I'm concerned - and the supporting duo of Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby help immeasurably - if I'd remembered that they were in this I probably would have gone back to it sooner.

In short, dramatically improved - though still flawed enough that it's not really close to a "favorite"; and I still blame this film, and Ephron's simple-minded attitudes about the roles of men and women in particular for the wretched state the genre has been mired in for 30 years - though now it's clear that this film isn't quite as generically derivative or generally stupid as many of it's progeny. Makes me look forward more to a re-visit of Joe Versus the Volcano though, and now I think I have to replace Ms. Ryan for the title of all-time least-favorite actress.

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#123

Post by OldAle1 » April 11th, 2020, 1:40 pm

OK, time for all of you fellow atheists, pagans and yes, even those rare religious folks among us snotty cineastes to do like I'm doing, and celebrate the birth, and pre-birth, of the ideology that gave us Mike Pence. Easter Week Biblically-correct viewings thus far -

1. Salome (William Dieterle, 1953)

Every year I think, I must be getting to the very bottom of the barrel of the BIblical epic craze that afflicted American cinema from roughly 1949 (DeMille's Samson and Delilah) through 1966 (John Huston's The Bible). There weren't THAT many of them, particularly not that many of the really expensive deluxe all-star ones, but I always seem to find another stone to move and another not-so-great flick lying underneath it. Here we have Rita Hayworth as the titular character, and as usual the screenplay here is a mixture of different Biblical elements, with this Salome both the daughter of Herodias (Judith Anderson) and step-daughter of Herod (Charles Laughton, as obvious a bit of casting as you can even imagine), and also the eventual disciple of Jesus - so a Salome largely blameless for the death of John the Baptist (Alan Badel, giving probably the best performance here - this is often the case with these things, the guy playing the Baptist is usually pretty solid even when the rest of it is horseshit). Oh and we have Stewart Granger as Claudius, a totally made-up character, assistant to Pilate (Basil Sydney), on board basically as a love interest for Hayworth. Charles Lang's cinematography is quite luscious and bright as usual but the film looks rather flat and everything is a bit TOO colorful and brilliant if you ask me, perhaps as a way to mask the pretty dull screenplay and mostly bored acting on display. Mediocre all around.

2. The Prodigal (Richard Thorpe, 1955)

This is a bit better, a slightly more engaging Cinemascope production that could have benefited from a more exciting lead than Edward Purdom, who plays Micah, the "prodigal" from the parable in the Gospel of Luke, the younger son of a wealthy Jew in Judea (I guess, not sure it's mentioned), who becomes transfixed by Samarra (Lana Turner) the travelling priestess of Astarte, and asks for his share in gold to follow her to Damascus and woo her, forsaking his family and his intended bride. Once there he finds out that being a Jew and trying to wed (or at least bed - this is actually a bit more risque than most films, Biblical or not, at the time) the high priestess is going to be complicated, not the least by the fact that in the first scene of the film he had saved a slave from his would-be killer/master, and said master turns out to be Nahreeb (Louis Calhern), high priest of Baal and co-equal ruler with Samarra. So Nahreeb wants revenge, and these heathen worshipers of a pantheon of gods of course hate the Jehovah believers (and are hated in return but that's OK of course in this telling). Somehow things will work out and Micah's faith will be unshaken, you can be sure, and a joyful reunion will occur, and we'll get a couple of lines from the good book, even if the story we've seen has little or nothing to do with the original parable apart from names and the basic conceit. What makes this more watchable than some is Turner's star power - even if she does seem a little uncomfortable in this silly story at times, this was I think the only such film she ever did - and Calhern's lovely brash villainy. And some pretty nice Eastmancolor photography by Joseph Ruttenberg, and some OK action, though hack director Thorpe was never one to move the camera much or do anything terribly inventive in his mise en scene. Anyway, not bad, maybe average for this genre in this period.

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#124

Post by OldAle1 » April 14th, 2020, 2:03 pm

Finished up my Easter weekend with a couple of rewatches...

3. The Man From Earth (Richard Schenkman, 2007)

6th viewing - last watched around this time two years ago, and here's my review from that viewing; my opinion hasn't really changed - it's heavily flawed and at times irritating and exasperating, but I love it anyway. One of the key films for me that shows the inefficacy of numerical ratings systems or for that matter even simple adjectives like "like", "dislike", "great", etc.

I totally get all the criticisms of this micro-budget, people in a room talking film. Cheap lo-fi video look, so-so and inconsisent sound, mediocre acting all around including - especially including - the one person close to a "name" in the film, William Katt, and a blunt, heavyhanded and fairly silly screenplay. I don't care. I love it. It reminds me of the best D&D, Call of Cthulhu and Champions games I ever played or ran when I was really into RPGs in the 90s, stories that were told, usually leading up to some big climactic revelation (or battle, gotta have a battle sometime). It reminds me of a lot of my favorite 30s sci-fi stories from Asimov's Before the Golden Age anthology - stuff by Edmond Hamilton in particular. Tall tales. And for all the problems that the film has as a film, to me this is just a great tall tale, and as the particular kind of atheist I am, I love the central "revelation" most of all. So sue me.

4. Il vangelo secondo Matteo / The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)

Only 2nd viewing I think - my only memory of this is seeing it once on VHS, sometime between 1995 and 2005 I think. Another film of contradictions - as any film about Christ or religion in general must be if it is honest, in my opinion. In this case a lot of the contradictions and challenges are in the character of the director, who more than once called himself an atheist but clearly had a feeling for Catholicism, and as a gay Marxist no doubt understood that faith, politics, economics, and sex all helped to make his own life more complex and challenging - and his approach to this work. And yet, it's a very simple film on it's surface, a straightforward depiction of what is found in the gospel that gives it's title. It's been too long since I read the gospels and one of the difficulties that the film does have is in it's lack of narrative cohesiveness - that is, while it proceeds directly from Christ's birth to the cross, it doesn't feel like a "story" but more a series of discrete events, with little sense of time passing and not even much sense of cause and effect. And while the rocky, broken landscapes of the ares in Italy where it was shot give it a sense of timelessness and antiquity, they also lack specificity. I'm sure this is in some sense purposeful, as the use of several kinds of music - all of it anachronistic, like the music in most Biblical films - serves to keep the film from seeming "merely" an Italian work of the 60s, or a work about an era 2000 years gone; and I think the use of an all amateur cast also works to this purpose. So it's a New Testament film like no other and it's certainly impressive for all of these elements. Ultimately I felt much the same as I did when I first saw it - a great film, maybe, but not one that I *quite* can love wholeheartedly. For whatever reason my own atheism still responds more strongly to Martin Scorsese's vision, and perhaps to Terry Jones' as well.

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#125

Post by xianjiro » August 11th, 2020, 8:59 am

Daddy's Home 2 - while I don't have much to say about the movie (predictable, occasionally funny, a bit sappy), it was pretty Christmasy alright.

But the real amazing thing is, while no effort put to this end, it's a John Lithgow trifecta - my last three checks were Bombshell, Pitch Perfect 3, and Daddy's Home 2. I'm so glad that Lithgow can actually act and even though his Aussie accent was a bit cringeworthy and of course how could Roger Ailes sexually harassing female employees NOT over-stimulate bile production, he crated three very distinct, believable characters (given the premises of the sequels), and continues to show his chops. Wonder how much they paid him to have him in those two sequels? One mediocre, the other - well let's just say, watching Ailes get a hummer would be less painful.

Roll on Hollywood sequel machine! You never disappoint in your ability to make money off dross and tripe stew.

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