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I thought it was original in how it depicted a slice of life but was bored

5/10


I've heard similar sentiments about Mean Streets before, but I've never agreed with them; I mean, sure, it doesn't have the laser-like focus of a Goodfellas (then again, very few movies do), but the messiness of Street's style still ends up working in its favor for the most part, since it's that aspect that gives it the overwhelming sense of energy and life that it possesses:






A Fistful of Dollars - (1964)
For a Few Dollars More - (1965)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - (1966)

Just finished watching all three of Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood's 'Dollars' trilogy, only having seen the last one in it's entirety before. I was surprised by how low-key the first film was - each film gets a little longer, and has more main characters than the one before, I guess this happened as the films grew more popular and successful - although they weren't released in the United States until 1967 (all three.) In A Fistful of Dollars Clint Eastwood's loner character is the most ambiguous as far as morality goes. He arrives in a town beset with violence due to two rival families making money trading in arms and booze - and decides to make a great deal of money working both sides. Although somewhat incidentally, he does end up helping a young woman held against her will, along with the friendly barkeep and the coffin-maker. I liked it without really loving it.

The second film was a great improvement on the first - as if Leone had learned many lessons, honed his skill and had a bigger budget. I was about to check out who wrote the actual screenplays - but the story from the first is basically Kurosawa's Yojimbo so it's hard to compare the two. In this Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef play bounty hunters going up against a murderous bunch of bank robbers. I thought Van Cleef brought a lot to this film and I enjoyed watching Klaus Kinski as a suitably crazy gunslinger. There's a much bigger scope to this one, and the characters are much more fully drawn. The character Eastwood plays is still in it for himself, but he's much more sympathetic - especially after
WARNING: spoilers below
forging a partnership with Col. Douglas Mortimer, who in turn lets Eastwood (I refuse to name him, he's supposed to be 'the man with no name') keep the bounty. Mortimer was in it for personal reasons, and looks kindly upon him when everything is over.


The third film is truly epic and grand. Set against the American Civil War, it portrays the competition between three men in finding a hidden pile of loot amounting to $200,000. Lee Van Cleef is back again with Eastwood - but this time we also have the delightful Eli Wallach as Tuco. All three characters are pretty cut-throat, only forming alliances out of necessity. Eastwood's character and Tuco have a nice little scam going where Eastwood continually turns him in for a bounty, only to rescue him again over and over. This film is different than the other two inasmuch as there are no big villains - the three characters alone have enough bad traits to fill that void. There are many impressive scenes involving Civil War battles, and some wonderful cinematography to boot. It's by far the best film out of the three - and now I feel left out not having seen Once Upon a Time in the West, where Leone finally got Charles Bronson and and Henry Fonda to star in one of his Westerns. After watching this trilogy, I also want to find out a lot more of the story behind why Sergio Leone made these films, and his reaction to their success.

I wonder if these films were eligible for the Foreign Language Movie Countdown...

A Fistful of Dollars - 6/10
For a Few Dollars More - 8/10
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - 9/10








News of the World - British director Paul Greengrass is best known for helming two of the original Bourne trilogy but apparently directing a western was always a dream of his. He does a pretty good job of it, capturing not only the boundless prairie vistas but the claustrophobic ambience of the Texas frontier towns that Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) regularly visits. Kidd is a Civil War veteran and makes his living traveling from town to town, charging a dime and reading the latest newspapers to his information starved audiences.

WARNING: spoilers below
On his travels he happens upon a body, left with a warning that he was hung solely because of the color of his skin. He also discovers a young girl of ten who the dead man was escorting. According to some documents Kidd finds, her name is Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) and she was raised by the Kiowa after her parents were killed in a raid. After meeting up with a Union Army patrol Kidd is instructed to take the girl to the Red River Army outpost and talk to the agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Once there, he is informed that the agent is making his rounds and won't be back for three months. Kidd eventually leaves the girl in the care of a fellow veteran and his wife but she quickly runs away and tries to rejoin some of her tribe. The Captain realizes that it's up to him to get Johanna back to her only living relatives, an aunt and uncle in the hill country of south Texas. The rest of the movie deals with the arduous 400 mile trek in which the aging war veteran and young girl are beset by all manner of adversity including predatory gangs, racist militias, equipment malfunctions and also natural calamities.

It's a good movie and well worth watching especially if you're a fan of westerns. Hanks is his usual dependable self and first time actress Zengel is especially good as the vulnerable but resourceful Johanna. She more than holds her own in her scenes with Hanks.

WARNING: spoilers below
While filled with images and themes of the harsh and unforgiving reality of a postwar frontier it is ultimately a straightforward showcase for decency and honor and does end in a prescribed yet gratifying way. You'll be satisfied. Unless, of course, you prefer your westerns more somber with a dose of ambiguity or cynicism.




I thought it was original in how it depicted a slice of life but was bored

5/10


Love this movie.
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Good movie though the book (because it’s a book) has loads more detail.

Could not quite buy Frank Langella as a sex-hound, but he did grow on me a bit. Carrie Snodgress was brilliant &, as usual, so was Benjamin.

A very New York movie, which I love.





No Sudden Move, 2021

Recently released from prison, Curt (Don Cheadle) can't resist the offer of a well-paying job. Hired by a man named Jones (Brendan Fraser), Curt is paired with two other hires: Ronald (Benecio del Toro) and the coldly-sociopathic Charley (Kieran Culkin). The men take a family hostage, waiting for the father of the family, Matt (David Harbour) to retrieve a document from his office building. When things go off the rails, all parties must fight to survive as they discover that there's a lot more to the job than they first thought.

Where to begin?

Okay, overall I did enjoy this film. The actors are all clearly loving playing their characters, though Cheadle does a really good job of giving the film an emotional anchor so that there is still a sense of stakes and consequences. I really enjoyed Amy Seimetz as Matt's wife, Mary. There's a whole slew of actors popping out of the woodwork in this film, and they all do a fine job.

The first act of the film, with the tension of the hostage situation and the characters only just beginning to understand that there may be betrayals afoot, was my favorite. But once the hostage situation resolves (trying to stay vague here), I thought it went a little bit sideways.

Thrillers with multiple loyalties, crosses and double-crosses, and big power players are all well and good. But around the middle of the film it started to feel like there were a few subplots too many. Too many characters to keep track of. Too many relationships to connect. And it's not that I didn't understand what was happening in the film. But so many moving parts meant that scenes felt a bit too short. The film spends so much time showing you every ball it's keeping in the air, and the momentum and character arcs kind of get lost along the way.

Generally speaking I'd say this was a solid film--with the talent in front of and behind the camera it would be hard for it not to be--but it falls a bit short.

(but honestly somewhere between that and
)




Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

A great example of late ‘40s hard boiled noir, the production was peppered with heavyweights: Otto Preminger directed; Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay; the DP was Joseph LaShelle (Laura). It starred Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, and featured Karl Malden and Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn) in lesser parts.

Dana Andrews plays a detective who can’t control his temper, and he takes it out on suspects. Consequently he is demoted one rank by his chief. Meanwhile local mobster Gary Merrill, tries to set up a Texas tycoon at a floating crap game using an unawares Gene Tierney as bait. But instead the tycoon wins, ultimately resulting in his murder. Andrews gets involved and eventually falls for Tierney. That sets up further crimes and 3-way development between the principals.

The tawdry story of a compromised cop was a great example of the later style of noir which eventually was pushed aside to assuage the moral minded censors and critics of the 1950s. Andrews was a natural in his role, as was the entire cast. The one exception was Gary Merrill, who, as good as he would be later that year in All About Eve, he was miscast here, and seemed to be over acting. He didn’t have the intimidating or threatening manor to be a believable bad guy. Also it was interesting to see Craig Stevens perform well in an earlier role before he became internationally famous as the suave and jazzy-cool Peter Gunn in the popular TV series from 1958-1961.

This is a first rate Otto Preminger noir, at the time unfairly compared in quality and type to his earlier Laura (1944) which had also starred Andrews and Tierney. The films couldn’t be more different however.

Doc’s rating 7/10



2001 Monolith spotted at McDonald's Drive Thru
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings
7/10.
Great action sequences. I love the mythical Chinese creatures, especially the guardian lions and the dragon. They also bring back some characters from previous Marvel movies, including an unexpected one. I look forward to seeing the Shang-Chi character in a future Avengers movie.
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2001 monolith recently seen at McDonald's Drive Thru



The Exorcist III

Such a bizarre movie full of weird horror and religious imagery, even better than I remembered. Blatty wanted to call movie “Legion” same as his book but studio were insistent on it being called “The Exorcist III” for obvious reasons and much of the film was rewritten to include a 4 million dollar exorcism scene and introduce a new priest, George C Scott said they would only be happy if Madonna came out and sung a song at the end! I quite like the intense white haired new priest but he feels unfinished and doesn’t have much point other than to perform this cartoonishy exorcism at the end, Brad Dourif called the original script much purer and he liked it a lot more, a shame we never got to see that film but this is still a good time. Jeffery Dahmers favourite film 🤷🏻*♂️

It Follows

A modern horror movie I think really works and find genuinely quite creepy, would love a sequel to this that delves further into the story and what “It” is





Blade Runner 2049, 2017

About 30 years after the events of Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling) is part of a new breed of replicant. Working for the police, K helps to track down the same generation of rogue replicants from the original film. But after a perplexing discovery at the home of one of his targets, K finds himself chasing down a long-buried mystery, some of which involves Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

It still slightly boggles my mind that someone had the nerve to make a sequel to Blade Runner. I mean, I know that money talks, but the potential to create something laughable . . .oof.

So maybe one great wonder of this film is that it isn't terrible, and the other great wonder of it is that it's actually pretty good?

I usually start with positives, but in this case I think I'll start with really the only thing that bothered me: some of the story didn't entirely hold together for me, especially in the final act. I can't be specific because of spoilers, but I'll just say that there were moments that seemed to signal "closure" when there were actually a lot of indicators to the contrary. This is ultimately, for me, not the biggest deal. While the plot does have complex narrative elements, the focus of the story is actually character-driven, and on that front I think that the film was very successful.

So on to the positives, namely the way that the characters were handled.

The world that was established in the previous film already brings with it the loaded question of what is real and even the nature of reality. This theme is carried forward and extended by putting a character front and center who is explicitly questioning the nature of his own life and reality. K knows that he is a replicant, but even within the confines of that fact, who is he really?

It's a neat trick: a character who explicitly introduced as being artificial is forced to question that artificiality. K shrugs off his own memories---sure that they are fake--until he begins to wonder if maybe they aren't. K has an artificial intelligence companion--a woman named Joi--and through the film every moment in which she seems to be acting on her own then circles back to us wondering if it was programmed into her.

The even bigger question, of course, is if it matters. Are emotions that are brought about through manipulation any more or less real?

The look of the film is also gorgeous, somehow marrying the retro-futurism of the original with some truly fabulous landscapes and color schemes.

On the acting front, I thought that the film was pretty strong. Ryan Gosling has sort of an . . . endearing blankness about him (maybe "subdued" is a nicer word?). I think that it serves him well when his characters are set apart from the world around them. Ford slides nicely back into his role as Deckard. The supporting cast are all pretty good, as well.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this film. I look forward to revisiting it some point in the future.






Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, 2020

This film, adapted from August Wilson's play, follows a single day in which singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is set to record an album at a recording studio. But tensions between the band, sparked by impetuous trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman), and larger racial tensions between the musicians and the white studio owners and managers, threaten the success of the day.

For a short period of time I was part of a group that did play readings a few times a month. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is one of the plays that we read together, and it was really interesting seeing it as a film.

All of the things that are great about the play translate into what is great and what's a little spotty about the film.

To start with the good, I really like this play. Yes, it's highly allegorical for the power structure in the United States and how that power is split along racial and socio-economic lines---but the music industry is a great choice for such a microcosm. The white people in power need the labor of the Black musicians, and that need provides just the tiniest bit of leverage for those who are most indispensable (like Ma). But life isn't so great for the others, who fall into a much more disposable category.

I imagine that the performances would be where most people would be split on this film. In my opinion, the actors skew more toward the theatrical side of the material. But honestly--I didn't mind. I think that the performances fit the rhythm and the scale of the material, and there's something to be said for the way that the musicians are able to speak bigger and bolder when they're in the band room on their own. There's more musicality to their conversation when they are away from the watchful eye of those in power.

This is a good example of a film where I could see things (like the very on-the-nose ending) that would rub other viewers the wrong way, but they just didn't bug me.




Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.

Trigger Point (Brad Turner, 2021)
+ 5/10
The Story of the Dancing Frog (Michael Sporn, 1989)
6.5/15
Alcatraz Island (William C. McGann, 1937)
+ 5/10
Gunga Din (George Stevens, 1939)
7+/10

During a Thugee revolt, Sergeant Cutter (Cary Grant) sees what his British Army cohorts are up against - water bearer Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe) is there too.
Brother to Brother (Rodney Evans, 2004)
6/10
Voodoo Black Exorcist (Manuel Cańo, 1974)
4/10
Soup to Nuts (Benjamin Stoloff, 1930)
6/10
Bad Luck Blackie (Tex Avery, 1949)
+ 7.5/10

Bad Luck Blackie is player as a piano by the cat whom he terrorizes.
Court (Chaitanya Tamhane, 2014)
6/10
Bad, Black and Beautiful (Bobby Davis, 1975)
4/10
Rock & Rule (Clive Smith, 1983)
6/10
Osama (Siddiq Barmak, 2003)
6.5/10

When her all-female family needs to earn some money, Osama (Marina Golbahari) agrees to pose as a boy, which is a very dangerous thing
Les horizons morts (Jacques Demy, 1951)
5/10
The Girl from Rio (Jesús Franco, 1969)
4/10
Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (Saul J. Turell, 1979)
7/10
Fear of a Black Hat (Rusty Cundieff, 1993)
- 6.5/10

NWH (Niggaz With Hats) rapper Ice Cold (Rusty Cundieff) with his first music video.
Brian Wilson: Songwriting 1961-1969 (Elio Espana, 2010)
- 7/10
Speedway (Norman Taurog, 1968)
5.5/10
Mama (Li Dongmei, 2020)
5/10
Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac (Nick Broomfield, 2021)
- 6.5/10

Basically a continuation of Biggie and Tupac with more evidence that wasn't available at the time, highlighting the Suge Knight/LAPD connedtion.
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Spirited Away - (2001)

I'm getting much better acquainted with Studio Ghibli films now - having seen Kiki's Delivery Service last week. Last night I arrived at what everyone seems to think is Hayao Miyazaki's pinnacle of artistic success, Spirited Away. Being set in a shadowy 'spirit world', this film employs the full force of human imagination in creating bizarre characters that can do all manner of things and change their appearance. Chihiro becomes trapped their after her lousy parents are lured by their curiosity and then hunger, and she must navigate many new rules and strategies humans are unaccustomed to. She actually finds she's quite adept at adapting to a crisis, and has the heart to help out new friends - even when they cause all manner of trouble.

I've never come across anything quite like this before. What on Earth is going on in the mind of Hayao Miyazaki? I really like these films and want to explore further - they're not my favourite things of all time, but nonetheless pretty unusual and enjoyable.

8/10

Foreign Language Countdown films I've seen : 39/101








The Hot Rock - I love the Donald Westlake Dortmunder books. He wrote 14 and this was his first and the first to get the big screen treatment. It's also the only decent adaptation and the only one worth watching. There was also Bank Shot (1974), Jimmy the Kid (1982) and What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001). Trust me, they're all crap. There's also some European attempts I haven't bothered with.

This 1972 offering stars Robert Redford as John Dortmunder and even though he looks nothing like Westlake's description of the balding, stoop shouldered and perpetually gloomy professional thief, Redford is such a natural star that it really doesn't matter. George Segal costars as John's fellow thief and longtime friend locksmith Andy Kelp. Getaway driver Stan Murch (Ron Liebman) and explosives expert Allan Greenberg (Paul Sand) round out the robbery crew. They're hired by Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn) to retrieve a diamond from the Brooklyn museum that was stolen during colonial times from his country in Africa. This being a Dortmunder caper things go south from the getgo and the well planned but ill-fated heist ends up turning into several well planned but ultimately ill-fated heists. Director Peter Yates is an old hand at suspenseful tales featuring criminal endeavors like Bullitt and The Friends of Eddie Coyle and he handles his cast and the pacing with aplomb. The colorful characters and NYC locales are more than enough to keep you engrossed but then about a third of the way through Zero Mostel shows up and just takes it to another level. Funny, clever and steeped in 70's era NYC atmosphere this is well worth a watch. Just stay away from all the other adaptations.







Blade Runner 2049, 2017

I usually start with positives, but in this case I think I'll start with really the only thing that bothered me: some of the story didn't entirely hold together for me, especially in the final act. I can't be specific because of spoilers, but I'll just say that there were moments that seemed to signal "closure" when there were actually a lot of indicators to the contrary.
You mean like when it seems like
WARNING: spoilers below
K just casually lets himself bleed to death for no real reason?