Leftover capsules, part 1 of 2

Going all the way back to 2013, these are films seen and written up on Letterboxd that, for one reason or another, I never reviewed here. Some I planned at one time to write about more extensively, some I didn’t. On each title I’ve linked the Letterboxd review simply because a few of them are a bit longer — not long enough to be full-fledged essays here but long enough to be worth preserving. In cases in which the Letterboxd writeup was unchanged or only very slightly changed for the new capsule, I haven’t bothered linking it. The LB links won’t be included in the regular Movie Guide versions of these capsules.

Brave (2012, Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman) [r]
Pixar fantasy involving a princess, a witch, a crow, transmogrified bears has moments of transcendence but was all too clearly yanked from its original director’s hands, with the result that the emotional points it ends up trying to score feel unearned, like the result of one too many studio-bigwig script meetings. Julie Fowlis’ songs are awful, but Randy Newman’s in Toy Story weren’t really that good either.

Arbitrage (2012, Nicholas Jarecki) [hr]
First-time narrative feature director Jarecki fuses the paranoia and tension of his era, ripped from the Inside Job headlines and from his own life, with a warmer version of the early ’90s pay-channel “tits & cash” genre, and comes away with what amounts to an excellent, tense film noir for the Bernie Madoff age, replete with a brilliantly barbed, unsympathetic yet completely humanized antihero played well by Richard Gere.

The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross) [r]
Interesting allegory of Bush-era America is more cinematic than most popular book adaptations, mostly because the reality-TV subject matter makes it easier to integrate large amounts of exposition and toy with the audience’s participation. The thing is too damn long and the action scenes are fucking incoherent, but that just seems to be the way movies are going and I guess I should just shut up about it at this point.

Titanic (1953, Jean Negulesco) [c]
(Revisit, no change.) Fairly good cast wanders through a routine, detached telling of the story (iceberg hits 17 minutes before the end; until then, it’s all half-baked familial melodrama). This is upstaged by both of the other major films about the tragedy.

Broken Lance (1954, Edward Dmytryk)
There have to be more interesting things you can do with these glorious Technicolor / Cinemascope vistas than remake the Mankiewicz family-strife melodrama House of Strangers as a western, but welcome to Fox, land of the prettiest tedium in the studio system. Good performances by Spencer Tracy and Katy Jurado, ludicrous climax.

Interrupted Melody (1955, Curtis Bernhardt) [c]
Biopic of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence is obnoxious MGM fakery, despite the ear candy. Eleanor Parker isn’t permitted to sing, nor is Lawrence to dub her, but that’s less embarrassing than the half-assed Australian accents or the shoehorned career-marriage conflict (Glenn Ford’s doctor can’t bear the idea that he won’t be the breadwinner). After Lawrence gets polio, the abuse peaks when she’s forced to crawl on the floor to turn off one of her own recordings. Reality can be cruel, but seldom with such sneering polish.

The Brave One (1956, Irving Rapper) [r]
Cornball kid stuff about a boy’s bond with a fighting bull he rescues is inoffensive enough, and worth seeing for Jack Cardiff’s (unsurprisingly) gorgeous widescreen photography of the Mexican locations. Excellent performance by young Michel Ray.

Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki) [c]
(Revisit, no change.) Weird, elaborate animated fantasy is a triple threat to those who can’t tolerate anime, fantasy, and incomprehensibly convoluted storylines. At least it’s shorter than Lord of the Rings.

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand) [NO]
(Revisit, no significant change.) Easily the worst and most anonymously mounted Star Wars film, this opens by resolving the cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back with an overlong sequence in Jabba the Hut’s lair, then finally has the nerve to close this infantile institution with an unashamed, impossibly twee toy commercial! Even fans don’t seem to have much affection for this bewildering mishmash.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata) [c]
(Revisit, no change.) Notwithstanding the reputation of this dour Studio Ghibli gawkfest, its semi fact-based tale of two children wandering Japan during the waning days of WWII struggling to survive derives extra mawkishness from the fact that their deaths are completely unnecessary. There is some lyricism in the composition and camerawork, but the character animation is terrible and the film’s scope is too limited for it to achieve any greatness as a political statement, too detached to be effective as a human story.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961, Stanley Kramer)
(Revisit, no change.) For three hours, Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann present a fictionalized account of the final 1947 Nuremberg trial so cautiously as to be almost apologetic; the result is a pontificating TV movie, and one excruciatingly Hollywood in presentation: a range of celebs are paraded across the screen like the Special Guest Villains from Batman. The airless precision of it all is such that you may have long conversations afterward, but it won’t actually be because of anything the movie does, since it basically does nothing.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)
(Revisit, slight upgrade.) Outside of a few sketches, I don’t enjoy Python; I recognize their creativity and charm, but it just isn’t my sense of humor — I don’t feel much irony or sharpness from the word games and exaggerated ultraviolence, and the “surrealism” just isn’t surreal enough to work for me. It’s not “too silly” or anything like that, I just don’t find the same things funny that they do. What can you say about that? This film is so liberally quoted in certain circles (as though the perpetuation of a gag was its reason for existence) that its impact has probably been dulled through the years anyway.

Tabloid (2011, Errol Morris) [r]
Whether Morris’ purpose in this amusing but empty documentary — about a beauty queen who kidnapped a Mormon missionary in the ’80s — is to murkily show how press attention can drive someone bonkers or to emphasize the oddness of a specific dedicated eccentric, it seems trivial and mean-spirited. Joyce McKinney is an engaging, fascinating, sometimes compellingly irritating presence, but pointing and laughing at her seems like the easy way out.

For a Few Dollars More (1965, Sergio Leone) [r]
(Revisit, no significant change.) Leone speaks his own peculiar cinematic language, not heard elsewhere; the busy plottiness in the sequel to A Fistful of Dollars works against it a little. As impeccable as the first act and climax are, it seems like the story is more than ever incidental to what actually interests the director. We’re left with a very good exercise in style, but one whose pleasures seldom dip below the surface. And without Ennio Morricone and an amusingly emasculated Clint Eastwood, it’d be nothing.

The Kid (1921, Charles Chaplin) [hr]
Chaplin’s proper debut feature, wherein he’s still thinking in two-reeler logic, is the sentimentalist predecessor to the likes of The Champ. It peaks with a chase sequence that’s undoubtedly one of the most suspenseful pieces of film ever edited together, culminating in a cathartic reunion that will affect you. The suspicion toward institutions is remarkably subversive, the Tramp and Jackie Coogan are a great criminal team, and I don’t have to tell you it’s very funny and sad — for the most part, without overreaching.

Becket (1964, Peter Glenville)
It’s impossible to know what to make of Peter O’Toole’s wildly bizarre, almost cartoonish performance as Henry II but one thing’s for sure: he renders Richard Burton’s somewhat bland interpretation of Thomas Becket as good as invisible. The first act of this slightly stagy but handsome production is oddly goofy, the rest leaden and serious (though clearly simplified from their historical context), the results in any case chilly and uninvolving despite good use of locations.

A Man and a Woman (1966, Claude Lelouch)

Scarface (1983, Brian de Palma) [NO]
(Revisit, no change.) What a remarkably bad movie, one of the worst ever to become such a mass cultural phenomenon — trashy, obnoxious, heavy-handed, and excessive in every way. Across three hours it fails to provide even one worthwhile insight about its ludicrous characters and their relationships; its sole purpose is to wallow in its own fetish for violence, contempt and “power.” Even Giorgio Moroder’s score doesn’t redeem it — perhaps fine on its own, but it doesn’t belong here. No brains, no wisdom, no art.

You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert) [c]
Sole point of interest of this typically daft and silly (if iconic, thanks largely to Ken Adam) entry in the James Bond series is that Roald Dahl wrote the script, and apparently it got to the screen exactly as he intended and he was happier with it than with Willy Wonka or The Witches, which just indicates that sometimes the best artists have the shittiest taste. To me a “fun” movie is one whose stupidity I don’t constantly have to excuse to myself.

The Grandmaster (2013, Wong Kar Wai) [c]
Much as I can sense the technical and aesthetic beauty, this genre (martial arts) is just never going to appeal to me — and moreover, all of the slow-mo and the restless fast cutting is the kind of stuff that drives me actively up the wall. Just not for me — I had a reeeeeally hard time sitting through it, and this was the short version.

In the Fog (2012, Sergey Loznitsa)
Like My Joy, an interesting and beautifully shot film that’s just too ponderous. The tortuous quandary — a false accusation of collaboration with the enemy — it sets up in its lead character Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy, outstanding) is fascinating and as a result the first third of the film, when all of the crucial portions of the story occur, is riveting and emotionally complex if slow. But the last half is absurdly glacial, like a parody of arthouse cinema.

Dr. No (1962, Terence Young)
The first James Bond film provides much handsome eye candy in the form of both Sean Connery and Ursula Andress (it’s to the movie’s credit, probably, that he’s half-naked almost as much as she is); the story manages somehow to be both low-key and ridiculous, somewhat in the vein of a low-tier Roger Corman picture. Well-directed, though, and mostly clear of the flamboyant obnoxiousness the series later displayed.

Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)
Kiddie racing flick is primarily worthwhile because of excellent location work — shot very resourcefully in Bloomington. The script lurches violently between a calm naturalism and the unbearably goofball sequences with Paul Dooley as Dave’s macho red-blooded gay-panic father. Like Chariots of Fire, this film’s unflashy modesty probably works well if you’re interested in sports films.

On Golden Pond (1981, Mark Rydell)
Greeting-card story of a boy forging a bond with his grandparents is mawkish and obvious. The only strong reason to see it is the chance to see Henry Fonda, just months before he died, playing a total crank and interacting with a nurturing and amusingly impatient Katharine Hepburn.

Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie) [r]
Evocative of Monet and Corot paintings as much as the thrillers that inspired it, this is a languid story of life by the water (at a cruising spot for gay men) as much as it’s a murder mystery — that it achieves both ends while remaining not just coherent but visually stunning justifies a story that sometimes seems to run at cross-purposes with itself. The characters are mysterious yet vivid, with many layers of humor and tragedy suggestive of film noir.

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