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Duck Soup, 1933

In the fictional European country of Freedonia, the newly appointed leader Rufus Firefly (Groucho Marx) is supported financially by the wealthy Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont). Meanwhile, the leader of another country conspires to begin a war with Freedonia, hiring Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) to steal valuable war plans.
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A fun little flick, certainly worth seeing.
I agree. What I always thought interesting was that Herman J. Mankiewicz was the production supervisor on this great film, and he had also produced W.C. Field's Million Dollar Legs (1932)-- both set in fictional countries, and both hilarious. The two films happen to be my personal favorites from both artists respectively.






Night of the Demon (Curse of the Demon) - You can't go wrong with Jacques Tourneur. He directed 31 movies (plus four in his native France) and I've watched 7 of them (They All Come Out, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, Out of the Past, Curse of the Demon and The Comedy of Terrors), all of them decent and some of them classics. Curse of the Demon would qualify as both.

Dana Andrews plays American psychologist John Holden and he's on his way to the UK to attend a conference but also to investigate a satanic cult run by Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham), a colleague of Holden, has died under mysterious circumstances which the local authorities have ruled an accident. At the funeral Holden meets the man's niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) who later gives him her uncle's diary which outlines Harrington's growing fear of Karswell. He believed himself to have been cursed which the skeptical Holden immediately dismisses as superstitious nonsense. But a series of unexplainable events work to subvert Holden's resolve on debunking Karswell's cult.

Tourneur was a master at building and maintaining tension, ratcheting up the urgency and conveying menace and inherent danger solely through the use of sound effects and lighting. His offhand use of shadows in a scene spoke volumes and this movie is no exception. There is a major plot point that I won't give away, but it was a huge bone of contention between producer Hal E. Chester and Tourneur and screenwriter Charles Bennett. It would have certainly turned this into a much more abstract treatise on the power of belief versus discipline. But that would have made for an entirely different film. I personally think there was room for compromise. As it stands though this is a throughly enjoyable supernatural thriller that's fit to stand with some of the heavyweight horror classics.

I love, LOVE this film.





Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987

In 1965, Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) arrives in Vietnam as the new DJ for the Army's radio station. His irreverent humor is a big hit with the troops, but rubs his direct supervisors the wrong way. But as he spends more time in Vietnam, getting to know both the soldiers and the local people, the the reality of the war begins to hit home.

This is one of those Robin Williams comedies where most of the approach is wind him up and let him go. For the most part, it works. Not only because Williams is clearly at home in his mile-a-minute routines, but the manic approach creates a kind of natural tension, where the stream of jokes and impressions feels like something desperate to stave off the reality of a very grim situation.

The balance between drama and comedy here is an interesting one. How do you mix Walter Cronkite impersonations with crimes against humanity? The subplot about Adrian's friendship with a young man in his English class (he volunteers to teach so that he can get closer to a young woman he likes) is a moving one. The drama subplot actually works surprisingly well. As the film progresses, we come to see Adrian's humor as a way of both bonding with others and a way of pushing away the darkness for a few moments.

One area where the film struggles a bit is in trying to be even handed in terms of the actions of the US Army, the South Vietnamese, and the Viet Kong. While the film's portrayal of its Vietnamese citizens is mostly positive, I thought that it was interesting that the film couldn't being itself to be concrete in terms of what was done to Vietnamese civilians. We are shown (graphically) the results of a Viet Kong attack on American soldiers, but the worst thing that any of the American military characters is guilty of is throwing around racial slurs. The men surrounding Adrian (with the exception of the two villainous supervisors who want to get rid of him) are all very affable. While their performances are really fun (especially Forest Whitaker as a shy solder who is taken with Adrian's personality), this is where the balance between comedy and drama seems to break down a bit.

I was very relieved that the plot about Adrian chasing after a young Vietnamese woman (Chintara Sukapatana) was mostly an inroads to his interactions with the other local people. With her in her early 20s and him in his mid/late 30s, the age gap skews a little icky, especially as he takes a job as her teacher so that he has an excuse to find out her name, address, and phone number. I felt that ultimately the film landed on the right side of things, moving away from his initial stalker-like behaviors.

Woven throughout this film is the question of the function of entertainment and news. Everything Adrian says on the radio must first be approved by a set of censors (played by a wonderfully humorless set of twins). Repeatedly we see that negative or demoralizing news is hidden from the troops, leaving them with bland "news" that amounts to toothless gossip. As Adrian's understanding of the reality of the war grows, he begins to become uncomfortable with simply presenting a chipper, irreverent show. Keeping the troops in good spirits is important, but so is telling the truth. The film never ultimately answers the question of what constitutes the correct balance, but watching it explore the question is interesting.

Solid flick. Reminded me that I miss Robin Williams.






Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987
Love this movie.*Williams at 100% is obviously a major factor (at one point I could quote all his lines verbatim), but the great supporting cast helps a ton. Forest Whitaker, a hilariously lame Bruno Kirby, J.T. Walsh, Richard Edson, I could keep going.*I miss when Hollywood movies actually delivered on that front.*One of my favourite examples of this exact kind of movie, which can so often be hokey and terrible.*


Regarding the evenhandedness, I think it's likely that a DJ in a pretty sheltered assignment in Saigon would be more likely to witness urban terrorism by the Viet Cong than be aware of (or want to engage with) the negative impacts of the American military presence, even before the escalation. (I assume you're not expecting the movie to deal with a My Lai type situation.) I do give the movie a good deal of credit for dealing with the Vietnamese as actual characters, much better than most Hollywood movies on the subject in that respect




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The 400 Blows - (1959) - France

I saw a lot more in this than I did the first time I saw it - and I mean a lot. Probably has one of the best final scenes I've ever seen in a film.

9/10



Les Mistons (The Brats) - (1957) - France

François Truffaut short that was included on my copy of The 400 Blows. I really enjoyed it, and you can see some of the evolution Truffaut was undergoing as he transitioned from critic to filmmaker. There's a great sense of mischievous humour hiding a greater hidden meaning - and a sense of the different world children live in, and how that world is changing as they approach adulthood - especially as far as desire and love is concerned. In this, a group of young friends obsess over a beautiful young woman, to the point of following her everywhere and devising schemes to ruin her current love affair.

7/10


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12 Years a Slave - (2013)

I saw this when it came out and could barely remember any of it - until I was experiencing it again. Pretty powerful stuff - and I'm glad I rewatched it to cement it in my mind. The fact that all of this was true made me particularly uncomfortable. Even if someone accepts slavery, I can't quite work out how they can be so cruel to other human beings. Such a great cast in top form. Especially Michael Fassbender as the drunken Edwin Epps - who could lash out (literally) at absolutely any moment.

8/10


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Eddie and the Cruisers - (1983)

This film is okay for a time-filler. An ode to a gloriously remembered past, and what might have been. A television reporter and various members of a band look back to 1962 and the death of the band's frontman. But did he really die? Involves the missing tapes to a never-released album and the lives of other members of the group. The film is really about nostalgia and unfulfilled dreams - and while it never reaches great heights, it's not a bad little flick.

6/10
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.




I actually like Begins the most, by a pretty significant margin actually, because TDK just totally falls apart in the third act for me and TDKR is just silly (but unintentionally so).
I think I'm very much in the minority as far as opinions go with Batman Begins - although I do enjoy watching it and think it's a good film. Most people would rate it higher than I do.

I think with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan felt that he had to completely stupefy us after what he'd delivered in the first two. I don't mind any of the films though. I just adore The Dark Knight. For me, everything worked there to near-perfection.



Racing with the moon 1987
8/10



I think I'm very much in the minority as far as opinions go with Batman Begins - although I do enjoy watching it and think it's a good film. Most people would rate it higher than I do.

I think with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan felt that he had to completely stupefy us after what he'd delivered in the first two. I don't mind any of the films though. I just adore The Dark Knight. For me, everything worked there to near-perfection.
The dark knight goes on to be the quintessential blockbuster film of all times, it is nearly a prrfect action thriller with a sublime plot and acting



United 93 (2006)

For some reason I wasn't expecting much from this but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.



Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Loved this. Great story and acting. Charles Laughton in particular was fantastic.




Force Majeure (2014)

Started okay but then just ran out of steam after about a half an hour. From then on out it was fairly tedious.



Dogville (2003)

I know this is one that splits people and, yeah, I hated it. I admire films that try to be different but it just didn't work for me at all. I thought the whole story was pretentious, preachy and tasteless.



Crash (2004)

Really enjoyed this. It's definitely propelled itself into contention for my 2000's ballot. So many interlocking stories and twists it reminded me of early Game of Thrones. All the cast were very strong as well.
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"Knowledge may be power, but it is not resilience, or resourcefulness, or adaptability to life, still less is it instinctive sympathy with human nature."



2001 Monolith spotted at McDonald's Drive Thru
Fantasy Island (2020).
5.5/10
If you're expecting the light, warm-hearted show that the TV show was, forget it: this show seems to say that our fantasies are F'd up, because we're F'd up. It's like watching a bad reality show that re-enacts people's deepest F'd-up desires. Michael Pena (Ant Man) is okay as Mr. Roarke, but personally I'm used to him being the comic relief, so I keep waiting for him to say something funny, but instead he just looks bored most of the time. It doesn't help that the cave looks very fake (like the cave walls you see in '60s TV shows, like it was made of papier-mache).
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2001 monolith recently seen at McDonald's Drive Thru



Love this movie.*Williams at 100% is obviously a major factor (at one point I could quote all his lines verbatim), but the great supporting cast helps a ton. Forest Whitaker, a hilariously lame Bruno Kirby, J.T. Walsh, Richard Edson, I could keep going.*I miss when Hollywood movies actually delivered on that front.*One of my favourite examples of this exact kind of movie, which can so often be hokey and terrible.*
Agreed. Something that was really striking was how many missteps the film could have easily taken that would have just sunk the film. Williams screaming "This won't look good on a resume" in the wrong hands would have been wretched.

I was also, again, pleasantly surprised by the deft handling of the "romance" subplot. Taking a position of authority of a younger woman to pursue her sexually (and he readily admits in the beginning he just wants to sleep with her) is gross and I was glad they steered away from it.

Regarding the evenhandedness, I think it's likely that a DJ in a pretty sheltered assignment in Saigon would be more likely to witness urban terrorism by the Viet Cong than be aware of (or want to engage with) the negative impacts of the American military presence, even before the escalation. (I assume you're not expecting the movie to deal with a My Lai type situation.) I do give the movie a good deal of credit for dealing with the Vietnamese as actual characters, much better than most Hollywood movies on the subject in that respect
No, but I think that when a character speaks about the killing of his family members, it's kept very vague. "My mother is dead. My brother is dead. They were killed by soldiers." It keeps it very abstract. I agree that it makes sense in the context of the film, but it just has some whiffs of propaganda. We meet Vietnamese people who would (and do) kill American troops, but some racial slurs are the only hint we get of people capable of violence in the other direction.



Django Unchained (2012)


First time seeing this, and I'm not sure where it fell on expectations. I thought it was going to be really good, but I usually don't get into period piece movies. Acting and plot were exceptional, and I'll say the ending was even more Tarantino-esque than I thought it would be.





Gifted, 2017

Frank (Chris Evans) lives in Florida, where he is raising his 7 year old niece, Mary (McKenna Grace) with the help of his neighbor, Roberta (Octavia Spencer). But Mary isn't your typical first grader: she is a math prodigy. And when Frank clashes with the school over her education, Mary's abilities land on the radar of her grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who takes Frank to court over custody.

I thought that this film was really good and very heartwarming. While I thought that some of its portrayals of schools and the custody process were a little iffy at times, it stays very grounded in the relationship dynamics of the characters.

The best element of the film in terms of its success is the very natural and winning chemistry between Evans and Grace. Their rapport is, of course, "movie dialogue", but their affection and comfort with each other is very believable. In particular, the writing for the character of Mary is a real cut above the way that children (and especially precocious children) are so often written. Mary is not obnoxious or too adult sounding. She is certainly different in ways that her uncle can see and appreciate, but also fear on her behalf.

I also really liked that the film landed just on the right side of how it portrayed the conflict between Frank and Evelyn. Don't get me wrong: Evelyn is clearly the villain of the piece. She only wants Mary because of her math potential. Mary's mother died of suicide, and there is no doubt that it's because of the pressure placed on her by Evelyn. At the same time, however, Frank's approach to raising Mary is flawed. While Evelyn wants to exploit Mary's abilities, Frank wants to hide them. The problem is something that Evelyn's lawyer is actually correct about: putting a genius-level child into a first grade classroom is cruelty. It is torture. Expecting a child to go 7 hours a day without real intellectual stimulation is not appropriate or kind. (I was actually most bothered by the revelation that Frank has no health insurance for Mary.)

Working in a school and tangentially seeing a lot of custody disputes play out, I of course have several nitpicks about what was portrayed on that front. But it does stay within a reasonable range, and as I said before, these plot pieces are mainly used to illuminate the relationships between the characters.

Both Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are such warm actors. It is so easy to believe in them as good, decent people and to root for them and their interests. I also found McKenna Grace as Mary really endearing and fun. (I would be loathe to leave out Fred the one-eyed cat, an excellent supporting character). There are plenty of warm fuzzies to have watching this movie, and it's just the kind of film that I don't mind when they play rousing string music over characters doing something important and noble. (Look, I would watch a whole movie that just consisted of Chris Evans rescuing cats from animal shelters).

Overall this was (and I mean this as a compliment) a really nice movie. It was a great way to start my Sunday, and also a surprisingly insightful look at what it means to raise and care for a gifted child. I think that this movies accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and then some.




VERNON, FLORIDA
(1981, Morris)



"You can snatch me or Snake up... and carry us off to a place that we're not familiar with... we don't know the woods, the country. Hey, man, you're lost. You're lost. Be just like taking me out of Vernon and sending me to New York City. I mean, you just can't do nothing with 'em ... And when you go to a new part of the country... hey, man, you're lost... or I am."

Vernon, Florida is a small city in the Florida Panhandle, with a population of roughly 600-700. In the 50s and 60s, it became notorious for an unusual amount of limb loss insurance claims, earning it the nickname of "Nub City", which inspired filmmaker Errol Morris to film a documentary about the situation. However, after several death threats, Morris reworked the focus of the documentary, deciding to just feature the eccentricities of the residents instead.

Vernon, Florida, the documentary, is notable in that it features no narrative structure but rather just random interviews with several residents which include various elderly men, a turkey hunter, a pastor, and a cop, among several others. Their conversations range from everything and anything; from the crime (or lack of) in the city and turkey hunting strategies to mirages, diamonds, stars, and "sand that grows".

As it is, there's not much to say about it, but as far as slices of "small town" life goes, it is somewhat fascinating. If anyone's interested, the documentary is available on YouTube and it's roughly 50 minutes long, so fairly accessible and nothing to get lost in.

Grade:
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Gifted, 2017

Overall this was (and I mean this as a compliment) a really nice movie. It was a great way to start my Sunday, and also a surprisingly insightful look at what it means to raise and care for a gifted child. I think that this movies accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and then some.

I don't think I had even heard of this one. Just added it to my watchlist.

EDIT: Oooh, it's from Marc Webb. As a fan of (500) Days of Summer, this piques my interest even more.