Thursday, April 8, 2010

Screening Log: March 2010

Two Rode Together (John Ford, 1961) (v) ** - The kind of a movie die hard auteurists are likely to overvalue: a good-but-not-great that happens to be very interesting to think about in terms of how it relates to other movies - other John Ford movies (mainly The Searchers), other westerns (the Anthony Mann movies where Jimmy Stewart plays an amoral anti-hero).

Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939) (v) ***** - At first, I was watching and thinking "Okay - this isn't bad. Don Ameche isn't great, but the movie seems pretty enjoyable." But then - once the false identity stuff gets going and John Barrymore shows up - the movie came together for me and all of a sudden I was watching one of the most wonderful romantic comedies I've ever seen.

The Art of the Steal (Don Argott, 2009) (v) **

The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock, 2009) (v) - I would have given this one star, but for that obnoxious little kid.

The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray, 1952) (v) ***** - Once again: my favorite Nicholas Ray movie is the one I've seen most recently.

Early Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1956) (v) ****

Mon Oncle d'Amerique (Alain Resnais, 1980) (v) ** - Interesting and ambitious. It's hard to think of another movie that "explains itself" so directly and blurs the line between telling and showing.

Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr, 2004) (v) ** - Two stars provisional based on watching a truly awful DVD of the movie. I really loved what I saw, but the experience was definitely marred by the poor image quality.

Paisan (Roberto Rosellini, 1946) (v) *****

The Keyhole (Michael Curtiz, 1933) (v) *

Gentleman Broncos (Jared Hess, 2009) (v) ***

The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, 2009) (v)

Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009) (v) *

Stars in My Crown (Jacques Tourneur, 1950) (v) ****

They Had to See Paris (Frank Borzage, 1929) (v) - Clunky. Will Rogers' performance seems forced.

Born Reckless (John Ford, 1930) (v) ** - Another good-but-not-great Ford, interesting to me (from a historical perspective) for the way it blends genres.

Pilgrimage (John Ford, 1933) (v) **** - Near-great Ford and another example of moviemaking before genre ossification set in.

Brigitte & Brigtitte (Luc Moullet, 1966) (v) ***

Up & Down (Luc Moullet, 1993) (v) ****

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) (v) - A fraud that tries to reduce an extremely complex subject to a case of good apples and bad apples. It also pushes the idea that loving art makes you a better person in a rather simplistic and self-serving manner.

Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935) (v) (r) ***** - Perfection.

My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007) (v) ***

L'Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983) (v) **** - It seems like much of the contemporary European art-house/festival style comes out of this movie.

The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953) (v) *** - Effectively bleak.

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) **** - A perfect thriller.

Bromo and Juliet (Leo McCarey, 1926) (v) (s) *** - I liked all of these Charley Chase/Leo McCarey movies quite a bit. They're interesting partly because their comedy comes less from big gags and more from character-based humor.

Dog Shy (Leo McCarey, 1926) (v) (s) ***

Innocent Husbands (Leo McCarey, 1925) (v) (s) ***

Isn't Life Terrible? (Leo McCarey, 1925) (v) (s) ***

His Wooden Wedding (Leo McCarey, 1925) (v) (s) ***

Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow, 2009) (v) * - I liked this slightly better than I, Robot, but it has a similar problem: a sci-fi premise that already seems horribly out-dated matched with special fx that already seem horribly out-dated.

The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) (v) (r) ***** - At a party last summer, during a wide-ranging conservation about movies, a friend of mine remarked that he thought The Searchers - which he had just seen for the first time - was overrated. At the time, I tentatively agreed. Not because I didn't like the movie, I explained, but because I thought there were at least a half a dozen John Ford movies that were better. So, here I am, less than a year later, watching The Searchers on Blu-Ray, and I'm asking myself: "What was I thinking?" I mean, yes, I still don't think that The Searchers towers over all other John Ford films, but it certainly does belong among his best. And if I can't quite get behind it as a "Top Ten Movie of All Time", I wouldn't argue with anyone who could. More simply: this is a breathtakingly, painfully beautiful movie. Just about every scene, every shot is perfectly calibrated, emotionally nuanced, and thematically complex. The shot where Ward Bond averts his eyes from John Wayne's goodbye to Dorothy Jordan ranks as one of the greatest single shots in the American Cinema.


(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

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