Vampires, Assassins, and Romantic Angst by the Seaside: Takoma Reviews

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I should be watching movies, but Folding Ideas just dropped a new video essay, so I need to spend the next 72 hours listening to Dan Olson say "pro-cess".

The essay also includes a short discussion of the short film Wavelength that's making me want to check it out after years of not getting around to it.



The essay also includes a short discussion of the short film Wavelength that's making me want to check it out after years of not getting around to it.
I ultimately chose to rank it at #1 on my short films list. It was actually the reason I stretched the criteria out to 45 minutes when I started it. In spite of it frequently seeming like nothing is happening, given the kinds of inexplicable reactions it was happening on me, it somehow seemed like everything was happening. And that it accomplished this with so little (a push in, a couple loose story bits played out in real time, and the high-pitched frequency soundtrack) is truly incredible.

Ultimately though, my #1 ranking was because, not only has it had the strongest emotional reaction of any short film I've ever seen, but that it actually had the strongest physical reaction which any film has ever had on me. I don't know if I'll ever get this experience again, but when I rewatched it sometime before starting that list, I actually felt like the film was hypnotizing me as I literally somewhat slumped over in my seat as my head was actually drawn closer to the screen, just like the camera was moving closer to the wall at a snail's pace.

Anyways, I don't know much it will click with you, but I would highly recommend it.
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I ultimately chose to rank it at #1 on my short films list. It was actually the reason I stretched the criteria out to 45 minutes when I started it. In spite of it frequently seeming like nothing is happening, given the kinds of inexplicable reactions it was happening on me, it somehow seemed like everything was happening. And that it accomplished this with so little (a push in, a couple loose story bits played out in real time, and the high-pitched frequency soundtrack) is truly incredible.

Ultimately though, my #1 ranking was because, not only has it had the strongest emotional reaction of any short film I've ever seen, but that it actually had the strongest physical reaction which any film has ever had on me. I don't know if I'll ever get this experience again, but when I rewatched it sometime before starting that list, I actually felt like the film was hypnotizing me as I literally somewhat slumped over in my seat as my head was actually drawn closer to the screen.

Anyways, I don't know much it will click with you, but I would highly recommend it.
When he started talking about Wavelength I immediately thought of you. He talks about it as being a movie that is "easy to describe but hard to explain" and what I thought was most interesting was that he mentioned that it forces the viewer to engage in a very unique way. So, yes, it pushed it back into my awareness.





The Hanging Garden, 1997

Sweet William (Chris Leavins) returns home in order to celebrate the wedding of his sister Rosemary (Kerry Fox) to his childhood friend Fletcher (Joel Keller). The family that William left behind when he moved to the city includes his father Whiskey Mac (Peter MacNeill), his stepmother Iris (Seana McKenna), and a surprise younger stepsister named Violet (Christine Dunsworth). As the week goes on, the events of the past emerge and overlap into the narrative, including an alternate reality in which William never made it past his teenage years.

A stellar cast and layered characters fill this low-key fantasy about the split between what could be and what might have been.

Most people probably have at least a handful of moments in their life that they look back on and wonder how things might have shaken out if they’d made a different choice. Pursuing or breaking things off with a significant other; applying to this job instead of that one; choosing a kind word instead of a harsh one; etc. In this film, the past doesn’t exist merely in memory as William discovers that he can see his teenage self, reliving the daily miseries that threatened to drive him to an act of self harm.

William’s teenage self (played by Troy Veinotte) deals with a range of stresses that will probably strike a chord with most viewers: he has a strained relationship with his brusque father; he must walk delicately around the relationship between his father and his stepmother; he is overweight and self-conscious; he is hiding the fact that he is gay from his family; and he is romantically and sexually inexperienced and generally somewhat socially isolated. This notion of looking back at your past self is one that I identified with strongly. A friend of mine who suffered a pretty terrible act of violence when she was a late teen recently described thinking about that time, noting that at this point she feels sorry for that hurt and scared young woman, but no longer really thinks of it as being herself.

The difference between the “present” William and his teenage self is very striking. The adult William has an ease to him. He has gotten himself to a healthier looking weight and clearly has more confidence in himself and his body. But as the film goes on, William and his family are increasingly haunted by his past self and the terrible alternative reality that could have been.

What made this film incredibly winning for me, aside from the stellar and engaging premise, was the development of the relationships between the different characters. William and his father bond over caring for their garden, and you can feel the way that the two of them almost cling to this shared interest as William gets older and the strain of his hidden sexuality presses on him more and more. The relationship between William and Iris is also very well developed. She is sympathetic to him, but ultimately yields to Whiskey Mac’s decisions. Iris makes a decision in the middle of the film that is intended as a help and a kindness, but ultimately only makes William’s life more stressful. Finally, there’s the sweet friendship-turned-romance between William and Fletcher. It was rare enough in the late 90s to see a romantic or sexual relationship between teen boys played seriously, but downright non-existent to see such a thing where one of the characters is not conventionally attractive. William’s nerves and almost disbelief that someone would find him sexually attractive is heartbreaking and sweet, but it’s given extra charge because we know just how precarious William’s mental health is.

Any film with alternate realities or visions always raises the question about which one is “real”. I can see arguments both ways about which version of William is the real one, but I personally lean toward the “present”, city-dwelling William as being real. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I think that either interpretation is valid---even that both Williams are real in their own way.

The only downside for me with this film is that I’m not a big fan of that 1990s film grain, slightly washed out look that the movie has. (And who knows, could have partly been the print I watched).

A very moving film and a great integration of fantasy and drama.






Trouble in Paradise, 1932

In this screwball comedy, conwoman Lily (Miriam Hopkins) meets and falls for conman Gaston (Herbert Marshall) and the two of them become literal partners in crime. After a scam involving stealing an expensive purse from the wealthy Mariette (Kay Francis), Gaston and then Lily find their way into Mariette’s employ with the ultimate goal of robbing her of a huge sum of money. But their plan hits unforeseen complications when Gaston begins to fall for Mariette.

Easy, breezy, and full of a great cast of characters, this is a delightful caper.

There are a lot of ways that a plot like this one could have gone wrong, but the writing and performance of the characters keeps everything moving like a well-oiled machine. The playful banter and thoroughly criminal-minded interactions between Lily and Gaston are as sparkling as you would expect, but the real key to making the story work is the character of Mariette.

Kay Francis is absolutely wonderful in this movie, and she keeps Mariette on this wonderful line between naive and knowing that is essential for both sides of the story to work. Mariette is a fun person, but she is also the kind of rich person who can literally afford not to keep a strong eye on her money. She trusts the people who manage her money, and while we can recognize this as a danger to her bank account, it’s not done in a way that makes her look stupid. This softens the blow a bit when it comes to the planned robbery, as we know that even if Gaston and Lily make off with bags of money and jewels, Mariette will be just fine from a financial standpoint.

But on the romantic side of things, the film wisely makes Mariette a self-assured woman who can go toe-to-toe with Gaston when it comes to the game of seduction and keeps the romance and attraction genuine. This is the part of the plot that could have felt unkind: if Mariette were some totally innocent waif being seduced just for the purposes of helping to steal her cash. (And, yeah, of course Gaston is the kind of person who would do something that mean, but not in this case, which I suppose is what counts!). It’s Mariette’s total delight in her developing relationship with Gaston and her unashamed pursuit of him that gives the film its zip. It’s also this aspect that lends Lily’s jealousy and the fracturing of her relationship with Gaston some actual heft.

On the whole, this film is just filled to the brim with everything you expect and want from a good screwball comedy. Entendres fly left and right, along with open, laughing flirtation. There are lots of little gags, such as a sequence where many hopefuls line up to claim the posted reward for returning Mariette’s stolen purse. The film adds both comedy and tension to the plot by having one of Meriette’s suitors, Francois (Edward Everett Horton) be a man who was previously scammed by Gaston.

And while the film isn’t exactly heavy on social commentary, there are several nods to the idea that the wealthy are able to get away with many crimes and indiscretions without fear of being caught or jailed. While it’s a ploy to earn Mariette’s trust and sympathy, Gaston speaks of being financially disadvantaged because of the stock market crash and other factors. The film, via Gaston, points out that far more cash is taken by “inside” conmen than could ever be robbed by himself and Lily.

A lot of fun. Kay Francis is an absolute gem.






Wild Tales, 2014

In this anthology film, we watch as people are pushed to extremes of behavior. This includes a waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) confronted with a menacing man from her past; two motorists (Leonardo Sbaraglia and Walter Donado) caught up in a violent, escalating feud; a man (Ricardo Darin) who has had enough with petty bureaucracy when his car is wrongfully towed; and a bride (Erica Rivas) who flips out when she discovers her fiance (Diego Gentile) has been unfaithful.

Strongest in its two bookends, this is an overall solid anthology with a great cast.

Oh, anthologies! So hard to get right! This film is on the IMDb top 250 and . . . okay. I think that this is a movie with two really strong entries and three pretty good ones.

The best, for me, were definitely the opening and closing segments. In the opening sequence, a woman boards an airplane and strikes up a conversation with the man across the aisle. The two of them get into a conversation that slowly involves other passengers in increasingly absurd ways. The humor and the eventual dark twist are perfectly executed.

The final sequence involves a bride discovering during her wedding that her new husband has been unfaithful and totally going off the rails. As her frenzy draws in her husband, their parents/relatives, and the other guests and hotel staff, what begins as a domestic tiff escalates to deliciously over the top violence and bloodshed. Rivas is fantastic as the wronged bride, and the various bloody setpieces are hilarious.

I was very mixed on the rest of the entries, which all seem to lack a little something. The second segment involves a waitress at a diner who confides in the cook that a customer is a man who ruined her family. When the cook (a wonderfully deadpan Rita Cortese) suggests adding a little something extra to the man’s food, it sets off a crisis of morality for the waitress. This is a segment that has a great premise, but ends with a shrug.

The third segment features dreamboat Leonardo Sbaraglia as a wealthy man who gets into an increasingly crude and dangerous showdown with another driver. In this segment it’s the story itself that doesn’t quite hit the right notes, while the ending is at least very funny.

The fourth segment follows demolitions expert---think that will be important?!--- Ricardo Darin as he grows more and more outraged with “the system” after his car is towed on his daughter’s birthday. This segment has solid performances and Darin’s character is an interesting mix of sympathetic and annoying as he attempts the fruitless quest of getting the government to refund the money he paid for his parking infraction. There’s an interesting idea here, as the character takes his anger out on the workers at the towing yard or the DMV, never actually addressing the people who control the policies but merely the ground-level workers who enforce them. Unfortunately, the segment takes the easy way out with an overly-cutesy ending.

The weakest segment is the fifth, in which a wealthy teenager mows down a pregnant woman with his car and then his family scrambles to find someone else to take the blame for it. While well acted and getting some dark humor from the business-like way in which various people are willing to negotiate the cover-up, it doesn’t really gel into anything particularly interesting or funny.

Great bookends, but on a rewatch I imagine I’d watch the first segment and then just fast-forward to the last one.






First Man Into Space, 1959

Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) is a Navy pilot conducting a test flight into space. During the flight, he recklessly exceeds the planned altitude and passes through a mysterious cloud, which damages the craft. The craft is later discovered having crashed back to Earth, but there is no sign of Dan. At the same time, a mysterious creature is prowling the countryside on an unstoppable quest for blood. Dan’s brother, Charles (Marshall Thompson) becomes determined to solve the mystery of the killings and what happened to his brother up in space.

This sci-fi/horror has some noteworthy moments, but ultimately feels a bit too subdued.

There are two things that this film really has going for it: some effective practical effects, and a very touching final act.

First, while it is true that in a full body view, the creature looks a bit too much like a man in a rubber suit, the make-up/effects on the head of the creature are delightfully gnarly. He just looks crunchy and miserable. And as the film progresses and we learn more about the creature’s origins, the stiffness of the makeup actually serves to enhance a sense of the creature’s discomfort.

Second, the film makes a nice turn toward drama in the final act that adds nuance and humanity to the events of the film. This movie is not just a case of finding and destroying a monster. Charles wants to understand what is happening and why, and the answers to those questions are tragic. The first two-thirds of the film don’t have a ton of emotional heft, but that last act really has some impact.

On the downside, well, the creature attacks are a bit silly. There are some nicely moody shots of shadows and long dark hallways, but once we see the creature actually go after someone, it gets kind of goofy. Considering the labored movements of the creature, the fact that it’s able to catch people--much less a herd of cows--simply doesn’t make sense.

There’s also the question of character development. Neither of the Prescott brothers are all that appealing as protagonists. They get some really nice sequences in the final act, but up until that point there’s not much to hold onto from a character point of view.

I enjoyed this film, but found it a little wanting.






Genevieve, 1953

Alan (John Gregson) and his wife, Wendy (Dinah Sheridan) are driving their vintage car, Genevieve, in a car club driving event. Their drive is marked by a series of mishaps, but things turn really serious when Alan decides that his friend Ambrose (Kenneth More) has feelings for Wendy. The two men challenge each other to a race for the rest of the car run, each of them willing to indulge in a bit of sabotage. Also along for the ride is Rosalind (Kay Kendall), Ambrose’s girlfriend.

Gentle and pleasant enough, just nothing truly exceptional.

My viewing experience of this film was interesting, because as a wacky story about competing car drivers on a long-haul race immediately called to mind The Great Race, a film I probably watched dozens and dozens of times as a kid. I think that if I had watched this film as a kid, it’s very possible that I’d have the same fond feelings for it.

The best thing that the film had going for it was, in my opinion, the nature of the relationship. They are both, well, kind of annoying to be honest. But it’s balanced in a way so that she messes up and then he messes up, so it’s two people having a rough weekend instead of a woman with a dunce of a husband or a man with a shrew of a wife. But most importantly, the film actually has a couple who models some relatively healthy conflict resolution. Sure, they get mad at each other, but they never take things too far and always find a way to reconcile within a short while. And none of their mistakes are something so terrible that I as a viewer couldn’t get over it.

Another perk of the film is Kendall’s very fun performance as the seemingly ditzy Rosalind. A sequence where a drunk Rosalind steals a trumpet from a nightclub band, only to perform an incredible solo is easily the best scene of the film.

There is something very gentle about this film. If I didn’t already have quite the staple of comfort watches, I could see this being on that list. It’s easy, and the kind of film where the stakes are low and even the arguments don’t get your blood up.

The only downside is that, well, nothing really gets your blood up. It’s a nice movie, and I wasn’t mad about spending time with it. But the specifics of it have definitely already started to fade for me. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are people with some really fond feelings for this film, but I think that coming to it as an adult it was a bit too late for it to become a favorite.




I remember watching this movie when it showed up on TCM. A very charming, very British-y film.





The Gleaners and I, 2001

In this documentary, Agnes Varda visits with and interviews many people in different parts of France who participate in some form of gleaning. She talks with people who do more traditional gleaning, such as gathering crops after harvest, and with those who do a more modern gleaning, such as dumpster diving and finding discarded items on the street to repurpose.

Full of empathetic--and even joyful--looks into the lives of people living on the margins, this is a fantastic documentary about the resources wasted by society and those who depend on that waste to survive.

Years and years ago, I became tangentially aware of a case that involved a company that had copyrighted their seeds (corn, I think) and were taking or threatening to take legal action against people who collected fallen seeds from the fields where the crop was grown. A few years ago, my students and I did an inquiry project around food waste, documenting the countless chicken patties, apples, oranges, and bags of food that were simply put untouched into the cafeteria garbage can.

Even in a perfect world where food goes almost directly from farm to table, there will be waste or extra: potatoes still in the earth, stray ears of corn left on the stalk, and sometimes simply a bounty too large to be picked. For as long as there has been agriculture, some form of gleaning has naturally taken place. Varda is interested in the lives of the gleaners, how they are regarded by the society around them, and what gleaning looks like in today’s world.

Varda starts where you would expect: in the fields with people who glean after the farmers have harvested their crops. Many of the farmers interviewed are content to let the gleaners access their fields. One farmer even brings back all the potatoes from the harvest that he will not be able to sell---due to them being too small or too large for commercial grocery stores---and dumps them in the fields for the gleaners to collect.

The film then extends its scope to things like gleaning from areas near farmed oyster beds or vineyards. (One family interviewed stumbled on a vineyard that had been completely abandoned, a vast stretch of quality, gorgeous grapes left to wither on the vine). Eventually, Varda trains her eye on those who harvest copper wire from discarded television sets on the curb.

There are lots of little elements that Varda explores in this film. We get a sense of the way that the gleaners must become very well versed in the laws around their collecting, making sure not to fall afoul of the law. There are the different stories about how people came to live their lives on the margins, scavenging to survive. There are also stories of people who are not marginalized, even those who are wealthy, who still choose to glean. Varda contrasts the pastoral idealizing of the act with the physically demanding, sometimes desperate reality.

As with all of Varda’s work, her genuine interest in her subjects and her own sparkling personality give the film a boost. There’s a follow up film that I’m excited to check out soon.






The Mirror Crack’d, 1980

A village is abuzz with excitement as a historical drama is set to be filmed in their area, featuring gamed actress Marina (Elizabeth Taylor) and her long-time rival Lola (Kim Novak). Marina has grappled with a nervous breakdown and is attempting a comeback with the support of her husband, and the film’s director, Jason (Rock Hudson). But when a local woman named Heather (Maureen Bennett) dies of poison after drinking a cocktail intended for Marina, Miss. Marple (Angela Lansbury) is on the case.

Unimpressive performances and a limp storyline make this an underwhelming adaptation of Christie’s novel and characters.

This movie should have been an absolute shoe-in for me. I really like Angela Lansbury and I have enjoyed almost every Marple adaptation I’ve watched, television or film, with the Margaret Rutherford movies being at the top of the heap. So imagine my shock and disappointment when I discovered that not only was this movie not very good, it was at times actively unlikable.

This movie is not through-and-through terrible. The catty sparring between Taylor and Novak is deliciously barbed at times, Hudson is good in his role as a man whose loyalties are split between the woman he loves and the film he is trying to make. Tony Curtis is enjoyably sleazy as the film’s producer and Lola’s husband, Marty Fenn. Edward Fox is a warm, if a bit subdued, presence as Miss Marple’s nephew, who just happens to be in charge of the police investigation into the murder.

The settings are also just right for this kind of mystery: Marina and Jason’s too-large home, the castle setting where the movie is being filmed. There are also some fun set-ups in terms of figuring out who had access to different materials.

But as a whole . . . it simply underwhelms. At this point, I can’t remember if I’ve read the source novel---a product of having read a metric ton of Christie or Christie-esque mysteries---but I felt as if the mystery itself was a bit of a dud. Without getting into spoiler territory, I think that a good mystery should be one where either (1) you the viewer have a decent shot of figuring things out or (2) you really feel like you’re side-by-side with the detective as they uncover clues. This film doesn’t work on either of those levels, and the final solution and the last act of the film felt like the equivalent of a shrug to me.

The biggest problem here, though, is Miss Marple herself. I have nothing against different interpretations of characters, and I did not need to see some imitation of Rutherford’s feisty, dogged, enthusiastic Marple. But this Miss Marple is, dare I say, kind of boring and unlikable. Worse, she seems actually mean. After Heather dies, like literally the day after she dies, her nephew asks about her and a smiling Miss Marple is like “Well, she was kind of a boring loser, but I guess she didn’t deserve to die because of that.” I mean . . . . wow. And her investigation style mostly consists of sitting down which, while perhaps accurate to her being an older lady, is not the most riveting thing to watch. For the most part, Miss Marple actually feels sidelined in the film, trotted out mainly at the end to explain things.

A miss, and not one I’d recommend to mystery fans.






Rouge, 1987

In 1930s Hong Kong, wealthy playboy and wanna-be actor Chan Chen-Peng (Leslie Cheung) falls for the beautiful Fleur (Anita Mui) who works in a teahouse that he frequents. Their relationship is passionate but troubled, as Chen-Peng’s family attempts to lure him back into the fold and the reality of trying to make it as an actor starts to wear on him. Fifty years later, Fleur walks into the newspaper room where she meets newspaper employees Yuen-Ting (Alex Man) and later Yuen-Ting’s girlfriend, Ah Chor (Emily Chu). Fleur wants to place an ad in the paper to try and find Chen-Peng, who she believes has become lost in the afterlife.

Playing with and subverting romance tropes, this fantasy romance makes excellent use of its cast.

There is a moment in this movie that, for me, is the singular moment I will probably remember in years to come when I think about this film: having learned about the increasingly desperate turns in the romance between Chen-Peng and Fleur, Yuen-Ting and Ah Chor are walking down the street. Ah Chor admits, almost bashfully, that despite loving Yuen-Ting, she cannot imagine ever committing suicide over it. Yuen-Ting agrees, saying that life is too worth living.

I have to admit that I’m on Ah Chor and Yuen-Ting’s side on this one: I’ve always found the idea of dying to be with a lover, or dying because you cannot be with a lover to be more disturbing than romantic.

The film does everything aesthetically possible to highlight the difference between the two different relationships. Cheung and Mui and breathtakingly beautiful people, and every shot of them together looks like it could be the cover of a romance film. Fleur’s outfits are brightly colored, and she sports a brilliant red splash of lipstick. In contrast, Ah Chor and Yeun-Ting wear clothing that is neutral colored. The first sequence we see between them is Yeun-Ting giving Ah Chor the gift of a practical beige pair of shoes because he’s noticed hers are worn out. By all the coding we’ve learned from years of movies (and covers of romance novels), it’s clear which relationship we’re meant to idealize.

But are we?

As the film goes on, we see via flashbacks that there are fractures in the relationship between Fleur and Chen-Peng that aren’t merely about the pressures being exerted by Chen-Peng’s family. The two of them are from different worlds, and their willingness to consider a suicide pact at times seems more a desire to push away future uncertainty than it is a commitment to their relationship. Fleur and Chen-Peng are in the honeymoon phase of their love, and you can sense the degree to which things might get choppy in the long run.

While the overall heft of the film is drama---and the serious examination of what real love can and/or should look like---it does manage some really solid and spooky moments out of its fantasy element. When Ah Chor first finds Yeun-Ting talking with Fleur in their shared apartment, she is angry and assumes Yeun-Ting is interested in Fleur. Scoffing at Yeun-Ting’s claims that Fleur is a ghost, Ah Chor mocks Fleur . . . until Fleur presses Ah Chor’s hand to her chest and the lack of a heartbeat forces Ah Chor to reconsider what she believes is happening. Throughout the film, when Fleur is exposed to sunlight, her essence becomes weaker. (Please, try not to laugh as this is represented by her not having makeup on, and Ah Chor recoils from the still stunningly beautiful Mui as if she’s now a hideous beast).

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. It does move at a pace that could probably be described as laconic, but the actors are very engaging and the slowly emerging story of what happened between Fleur and Chen-Peng is very interesting. The final act really brings the story to a solid conclusion.

Recommended equally to people who enjoy romance and to people who think romance movies are dumb.






The Gleaners and I, 2001

In this documentary, Agnes Varda visits with and interviews many people in different parts of France who participate in some form of gleaning. She talks with people who do more traditional gleaning, such as gathering crops after harvest, and with those who do a more modern gleaning, such as dumpster diving and finding discarded items on the street to repurpose.

Full of empathetic--and even joyful--looks into the lives of people living on the margins, this is a fantastic documentary about the resources wasted by society and those who depend on that waste to survive.

Years and years ago, I became tangentially aware of a case that involved a company that had copyrighted their seeds (corn, I think) and were taking or threatening to take legal action against people who collected fallen seeds from the fields where the crop was grown. A few years ago, my students and I did an inquiry project around food waste, documenting the countless chicken patties, apples, oranges, and bags of food that were simply put untouched into the cafeteria garbage can.

Even in a perfect world where food goes almost directly from farm to table, there will be waste or extra: potatoes still in the earth, stray ears of corn left on the stalk, and sometimes simply a bounty too large to be picked. For as long as there has been agriculture, some form of gleaning has naturally taken place. Varda is interested in the lives of the gleaners, how they are regarded by the society around them, and what gleaning looks like in today’s world.

Varda starts where you would expect: in the fields with people who glean after the farmers have harvested their crops. Many of the farmers interviewed are content to let the gleaners access their fields. One farmer even brings back all the potatoes from the harvest that he will not be able to sell---due to them being too small or too large for commercial grocery stores---and dumps them in the fields for the gleaners to collect.

The film then extends its scope to things like gleaning from areas near farmed oyster beds or vineyards. (One family interviewed stumbled on a vineyard that had been completely abandoned, a vast stretch of quality, gorgeous grapes left to wither on the vine). Eventually, Varda trains her eye on those who harvest copper wire from discarded television sets on the curb.

There are lots of little elements that Varda explores in this film. We get a sense of the way that the gleaners must become very well versed in the laws around their collecting, making sure not to fall afoul of the law. There are the different stories about how people came to live their lives on the margins, scavenging to survive. There are also stories of people who are not marginalized, even those who are wealthy, who still choose to glean. Varda contrasts the pastoral idealizing of the act with the physically demanding, sometimes desperate reality.

As with all of Varda’s work, her genuine interest in her subjects and her own sparkling personality give the film a boost. There’s a follow up film that I’m excited to check out soon.

I'm a big fan of that film. In spite of Varda touching on the challenges which comes with the task, I like how she still maintains a celebratory and playful tone throughout. It makes for a good time all the way through. Even Varda's playful sidetracks of squashing trucks on the freeway or pretending a camera lens cap is dancing fit the tone of the film. I was dismayed to learn sometime after watching this film though that in some places, restaurants poison food they throw out to prevent people from gleaning it. If you're just going to throw it out, who cares whether someone takes it?

In terms of Varda's documentaries, I've also seen and enjoyed Faces Places (my personal favorite), Black Panthers, Uncle Yanco, Along the Coast, Salut les Cubains, and Ulysse.

Also, here's a two minute short film from her which has some surprisingly good shots:




I was dismayed to learn sometime after watching this film though that in some places, restaurants poison food they throw out to prevent people from gleaning it. If you're just going to throw it out, who cares whether someone takes it?
I think it's about not wanting to attract "that crowd", a view that I'm not particularly sympathetic to. When I was in high school, we had someone come and speak at our school about a program that connected restaurants with local food kitchens so that the food could go to people who needed it instead of into the trash.

Another layer of complication is liability and other laws around how food can be "repurposed". For example, the food wasted in our school cafeteria cannot be donated due to rules about what happens to food that is paid for with federal money.

It's all very disheartening, even though I understand the importance of having somewhat strict rules around food storage and distribution.



I was dismayed to learn sometime after watching this film though that in some places, restaurants poison food they throw out to prevent people from gleaning it. If you're just going to throw it out, who cares whether someone takes it?
Freegans genocide?





The Great Gambini, 1937

Ann (Marian Marsh) is set to marry the wealthy Stephen (Roland Drew), much to the dismay of her former flame Grant (John Trent). On the eve of the wedding, they attend a performance by the Great Gambini (Akim Tamiroff) and his mysterious assistant Luba (Lys Lys), where Luba predicts that the wedding will not happen. Sure enough, Stephen is killed under mysterious circumstances, and it’s up to Grant, Ann, an exasperated pair of detectives, and the Great Gambini to get to the bottom of things.

This is an easy, breezy, bloodless mystery with just enough humor and plot to stay fun from beginning to end.

This film firmly falls into the category that I call “bonked on the head murders.” The killing is just there to let some twists and turns happen, and it’s the kind of movie where the guilty party at the end just sort of smiles and goes “Yep, you got me! Good job!”.

The vast majority of the film is just all the main characters standing around Stephen’s apartment talking through the different clues and implications. But what keeps this engaging is how overall enjoyable the characters are. Gambini himself, with his borderline-magical perception is a fun center of the action. But much praise also has to go to Genevieve Tobin as Nancy, Ann’s mother who just happens to be at the crime scene and hang around to add her own two cents.

I will also admit that I did not see the solution to the mystery coming, which is always a nice surprise. The pool of suspects is obviously limited to who is in the parlor, so to speak, but in the short runtime the movie still manages to layer in several layers to what actually happened to Stephen.

The main downside here is that the film can at times be a bit stilted. The actors do a good job with their characters for the most part, but at times the writing isn’t totally up to snuff, especially in terms of the two detective characters. There’s also some predictable-but-disappointing sexism in terms of the way that Grant regards Ann as being his, and refuses to accept her decision to be with Stephen. Like all truly nice men, Grant expresses this disapproval by calling Ann a “silly little girl”. He explicitly tells her that if she doesn’t talk to him he’ll come and make a scene that will “embarrass your whole family.” He says normal conversational things like “I’ll haunt you” and forces a kiss on her that humiliates her in front of a dozen strangers. So you spend the whole film knowing that unless Grant is a literal murderer, Ann is probably going to end up with this turd. Oh well.

A fun little parlor mystery.