August 2015 movie capsules

18 movies watched in August. Counts:
– 11 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 1,854.
– 7 revisits, including two (No Country for Old Men and Amadeus) already reviewed here. Amadeus was screened in a previously unseen variation (the “director’s cut”) and the old review was slightly updated to reflect this.
– 16 newly reviewed here.
– 3 newly reviewed in full (“newly” on this blog, at least): Hotel Rwanda; Kill Bill: Vol. 1; and The Wages of Fear. All are more or less ports of old reviews from my former outlet because I am the. laziest. blogger. on. the. web. But hey, getting it all under one roof is satisfying.
– 13 new or updated capsules, all below.
– After a fairly duff month — the most fun I had was watching Amadeus with Amber, who’d never seen it — anxious to get to next month’s batch of films, which include some favorites I’m extremely anxious to write about at length — requiring at least two Entirely New Essays, no less! — and also one of the movies I’ve long known a burning need to revisit. Hint: it is not entitled There Shall Be Blood. Can You Guess What It Is?

Project breakdowns (rundowns? updates?):
IMDB Top 250: Covered 6 titles here, 7 counting a just-for-fun revisit to No Country for Old Men. This includes all three full-length essays from the month, most notable — and I’m pleasantly surprised it still survives on this list — being the tremendous The Wages of Fear, which was just as harrowing the second time. (Unlike most of my all-time favorites, it was not a picture I’d had the energy to live through again up to now!) The Thing and Life of Brian were also not new to me and I wasn’t exactly clamoring to get reacquainted with either, but in both cases I was perhaps a bit too mean in the old days. That leaves the odd Incendies; though I was more sympathetic to the film’s political undercurrent after I read up more on the Lebanese Civil War — it irritatingly isn’t specifically named in the narrative — I still find its story quite ludicrous and, as with titles such as Amelie and The Lives of Others, it seems like the strangest possible choice to be the Token Recent Foreign Film on the 250. Then again, though, the stunning A Separation still sits high on there, so maybe all is not lost. As things currently stand, I’ve got 56 films left to watch on the list, 19 of which I have never seen.
Best Actor: It says something about my personality and taste, I guess, that when we reach the 1980s in the Oscars projects so far I invariably am both anxious to get them over with and yet find myself dreading and dragging myself through the films. Luckily, we’ve already covered so much in the last three years that in a mere 7 films (plus Amadeus, making it 8) we darted through two full decades, from 1969’s True Grit (ugeeghghh) to 1987’s Wall Street (ugeeghghh). In between, one gem — the melancholy Jack Lemmon vehicle Save the Tiger, labeled “pretentious” in Maltin’s book; on the same page he calls Saving Private Ryan “genuinely complex,” FYI. I also rather liked both The Goodbye Girl and Kiss of the Spider Women, despite both being hugely dated in their treatment of sexuality. And I didn’t hate Harry and Tonto or The Color of Money, the latter an especially amusing piece of piffle while it plays; catch it to see Tom Cruise acting like a deranged cokehead two decades before the Oprah thing. Remaining now: 15 films, 9 unseen, which means this project will be wrapped up in a marathon in October. (I could finish it this coming month but would rather not exclusively spend time with Oscar bait for that length of time.)
2010s Catchup: The above-referenced Incendies overlaps with this. Also caught Only Lovers Left Alive; at work, there’s a young woman who prints multiple pages of photos of Tom Hiddleston in his garb from this film every week. Upon seeing the film, I have more questions than answers. Lastly, there was Barbara, another reasonably user-friendly arthouse endeavor that there just isn’t much to say about.
Recommendations: God knows how many years after an acquaintance advised me to see it, caught John Huston’s film of Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana.

And so: we move on to Capsule Country. Linked film titles will lead you to slightly longer versions of the same thing at Letterboxd; you needn’t click through to get the full Slices of Cake experience. (Incidentally, I’d forgotten somehow that the nefarious oil company in The Wages of Fear boasts a logo with the prominent initials “SOC” — it’s even used as the artwork on Criterion’s DVD. I should really make use of that in the design here somehow!)

The Thing (1982, John Carpenter) [c]
(Revisit; slight upgrade.) Isolated horror film — a remake of a Howard Hawks-produced classic — about men on an Antarctic outpost fighting a nefarious menace known for its famous(ly cornball) SFX. The acting is uniformly atrocious, and the dialogue and blocking are both clueless.

True Grit (1969, Henry Hathaway)
Mediocre, ponderous western dulls Charles Portis’ novel with off-pitch performances (including one from Glen Campbell, of all people) and lazy directing. The Coens’ remake is far better even if still far from perfect.

Barbara (2012, Christian Petzold) [r]
Low-key, low-dialogue period story of an East German doctor’s attempt to escape the country after she’s shunted into a ramshackle medical facility is visually sumptuous and enigmatic, with great location use and many beguiling moments. But it suffers from rote characterizations, and the story it’s telling just isn’t very unique despite its heartfelt center. Nina Hoss’ central performance is excellent, though, walking a fine line of cold professionalism and buried sentiment.

Save the Tiger (1973, John G. Avildsen) [hr]
Thoughtful character study of a well-off apparel executive and WWII vet coping with displacement, unethical business practices and a longing to connect remains salient about wrongheaded masculinity and shady corporate culture despite the intervening decades. Jack Lemmon gives a magnificent performance as a bastard whose hypocrisy and ignorance are believable without preventing him from coming across as a wistful, lost human being.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, Jim Jarmusch)
The foolish one is me for watching a movie about hipster vampires and not expecting it to be quite this silly. Detroit looks gorgeous though.

Harry and Tonto (1974, Paul Mazursky)
Long-winded road movie follows Art Carney, displaced from his demolished NYC apartment, and a cat on a leash as he runs across various semi-interesting individuals, family and exes and strangers, on an accidental cross-country trip slash “spiritual self-discovery” or whatever. Inoffensive, occasionally funny, but too similar to other, better movies.

The Goodbye Girl (1977, Herbert Ross) [r]
Fitfully amusing, conventional Neil Simon romcom about a disputed sublet situation between a pretentious actor and a perpetually brokenhearted dancer and single mom is not half-bad, though it derails eventually. The film coasts on charm all through the third act, and you could still do worse; the biggest artistic coup is the delightful performance by young Quinn Cummings as the precocious, genuinely witty Lucy.

Incendies (2010, Denis Villeneuve)
This mystery of Middle Eastern unrest and unspeakable, almost ridiculous tragedy is lamentably noncommittal about its political content, bogged down behind a compelling but hollow and dishonest suffering narrative that follows twins trying to solve a puzzle inexplicably left for them by their newly deceased mother. It’s gripping in a Agatha Christie / Nancy Drew sort of way, only with all sorts of excruciating unpleasantness thrown in.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985, Hector Babenco) [r]
Intriguing melodrama about a gay man (William Hurt) and a political prisoner (Raul Julia) living as cellmates in South America, building mutual trust despite potentially damaging secrets between them, makes an ideal antidote to the hatred and homophobia of Midnight Express, even if Hurt’s performance falls back too often on stereotypes, while Julia delivers dignity, enigma and compassion in a far more nuanced role. A low-budget, mostly forgotten oddity with shreds of majesty.

The Night of the Iguana (1964, John Huston)
A disgraced clergyman and drunkard (Richard Burton at his hammiest) takes a dead-end job with a touring group in Mexico and runs afoul of constant if justified hostility. The stark photography, Huston’s unorthodox blocking and the superb supporting performances by Ava Gardner and Grayson Hall fail to redeem the talky, ponderous nature of the Tennessee Williams source material; the film screeches to a halt after a half-hour and becomes irredeemably annoying.

The Color of Money (1986, Martin Scorsese)
Superficial sequel to The Hustler is entertaining in a slick Reaganomics sort of way; Paul Newman believably inhabits a character that could easily have been a hoary archetype of an aged-out former hero. The obsession with wealth is very much of its time, though the way it’s all steeped so firmly in an authentically seedy bar culture lends its predictable script a lot of atmosphere. Biggest debit is young Tom Cruise, who’s only justified by unintended laughs.

Wall Street (1987, Oliver Stone) [c]
It’s an Oliver Stone movie, so it’s a piece of infuriatingly vapid fraudulence under the pretext of presenting a time and place As It Actually Was, in this case the world of the NYSE during the Reagan years. The script is groan-inducingly awful, with characters who exist strictly to give speech and after speech explaining exactly what they think and exactly how damned convicted they are about it, usually while shouting and breaking things.

Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones) [r]
(Revisit; upgrade.) That a film with a concept this subversive — skewing the Jesus legend and religion in general, climaxing with the revelation that “life’s a piece of shit” — manages to be so benignly cute is impressive in a fashion. Python fans will be in heaven. For the rest of us, this is fun in fits and starts, with a few hearty chuckles.

Thanks as always to everyone.

[Are you an SOC completist? Brief, inconsequential extra notes on Hotel Rwanda, Amadeus and The Wages of Fear available here.]

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