April 2018 movie capsules

10 (lol) movies seen in April. Counts:
– 8 new to the database (previously unseen). New total: 2,316.
– 2 revisits, one (Saboteur) already reviewed here, one (Black Narcissus) with a mostly new writeup.
– 1 new full review, for Black Narcissus. This is turning into a monthly blog, it seems, but at least I did some actual writing this time…
– 8 new or revised capsules, all below.
– We did some traveling this month, hence the low view count; I’m afraid May will be no better, because we’ll be on vacation and away for the whole second half of the month. I doubt the May post (which will be late, again) will be especially hefty. June will be back to normal, though I think the end of the ’40s project is likely to be delayed till the end of summer. Apologies again, but life. I haven’t even gotten myself out to Isle of Dogs yet.


Project breakdowns:
1940s canon: 4 films (3 new). At age 34 I encountered two world cinema luminaries, Robert Bresson and Roberto Rossellini, for the first time in my life. I didn’t warm to Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne but loved Rome, Open City; meanwhile, I fell hard for Cocteau’s Orpheus and my long-held convictions about Black Narcissus remain in place. Remaining: 38 films (29 new).
Best Picture Oscar nominees: 4 films (4 new). Finished the streaming stuff with Gangs of New York (which was fucking dreadful), and have now started to raid the movie library at work, with David Copperfield, Love Affair and the terrific Of Mice and Men. More library DVDs on tap for next month, expect a lot of stuffy formalism. Remaining: 150 films (121 new).
2010s catchup: Just one this time, Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky. I dunno, man.
Other: Revisited Saboteur on the course of my slow Hitchcock canon runthrough; need to catch Shadow of a Doubt

Capsules now!


Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese) [c]
Troubled passion project about turn-of-the-century crime boss (Daiel Day-Lewis in his most distinctly Borat-like performance) and his pretend acolyte (constantly scowling Leonard DiCaprio) feels like just another way for Scorsese to excuse the usual lurid obsession with violence. Fact-based or no, its approach to history is no more substantial that something I can imagine Zack Snyder pushing, fight scenes set to trip-hop and all.

Logan Lucky (2017, Steven Soderbergh) [r]
Diverting heist comedy boasts enthusiastically strange casting led by Channing Tatum, disarmingly believable as usual, as a single dad looking to get on top of financial straits and/or screw a former employer, whichever comes first. The plotting is labored, the car racing stuff is tiresome, but it’s warm and funny at its best, though never comes to feel like anything major-league.

Orpheus (1950, Jean Cocteau) [hr]
The continuation of Cocteau’s inspiring, beguiling exploration of the agony and ecstasy of creation. Pretty and tough Jean Marais stars, in a liberal update to the Greek myth, as a celebrity poet shunned by the hipsters, beloved by the public, and whisked via limousine into a surreal, dreamlike but organic drama of death and love and impossibly high stakes. The cast never indicates anything except full commitment to Cocteau’s eccentric vision; and his harnessing of the camera as an engine of lyricism, with brilliant optical and practical effects as well as simply graceful and intimate compositions, has an excitement and restlessness you’d expect of a much younger director. The kind of movie that makes other movies seem faintly silly.

David Copperfield (1935, George Cukor) [r]
The impressive machinations of MGM breathe fiery life into a tepid script that attempts to compress a discursive eighteenth century masterwork into 130 action-packed minutes. The first half is engaging and works well enough as a very thin Cliff’s Notes, with Freddie Bartholomew wonderful as the young David and Jessie Ralph a joy to watch as the kind housekeeper and caregiver Peggotty, but its scenes are so rushed that the attempts at long-term resonance in the second half, plagued by Frank Lawton’s boring central performance, come off as completely empty; and as ever, paring something like a Dickens novel down to a series of events just feels totally pointless.

Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945, Robert Bresson)
Cocteau’s tortured whimsy and florid romance are hard to detect in his script for this melodramatic but joyless story of revenge, inspired by an 18th century French novel. The story is absurd and antiquated almost from the outset, with Maria Casarès play-acting a kind of Marlene Dietrich burlesque as a spurned lover who decides to enact a wildly convoluted comeuppance for her ex. There are telling moments and details and excellent performances, but the product on the whole vacillates between silly and disturbing, and it seems likely that the misguided nature of the adaptation itself in the first place is to blame for its limited appeal.

Love Affair (1939, Leo McCarey) [c]
Pure claptrap; watch One Way Passage instead if you’re into maudlin shipboard romances. Irene Dunne is very good, except when this unbelievably padded (at 87 minutes!) movie forces her to sing. And sing. And sing.

Rome, Open City (1945, Roberto Rossellini) [hr]
Grim, painfully realistic narrative of life in Nazi-occupied Italy now has the feel of a harrowingly detailed period piece but of course at the time was practically breaking news, with overwhelming grief hanging over it. The great success in the performances and screenplay is how familiar and intimate we’re allowed to become with the characters, who in contrast to so many movies about civilian life during wartime feel like they approximate the actual behaviors and attitudes of real people living day to day in such conditions, as opposed to one-dimensional victims.

Of Mice and Men (1939, Lewis Milestone) [hr]
Poetic and effective visualization of Steinbeck’s novella is a dramatic portrait of the poor in America that neither condescends nor hedges in its brutality. It benefits from Milestone’s remarkably agile camera and his stunning compositions that demonstrate an awareness of both the ugliness that permanently taunts these migrant workers’ lives and of how the relationships among the characters, especially the leading smartass George (Burgess Meredith, flawless) and his disabled hanger-on Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.), manifests in the spatial distance between them. The effect is of feeling as if we know and live among these people.


[Additional Letterboxd notes on Saboteur (somewhat substantial!) and Black Narcissus (really not much there)]

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