Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2022 Edition


Have you seen The Manchurian Candidate?

I almost never feel like I recognize a director's style, but not 10 minutes into it I was getting vibes of Seconds.
Oh yeah, it's been a while, but I can see that.
Check out my podcast: The Movie Loot!

(1959, Cassavetes)
A film from John Cassavetes

"I thought being with you would be so important - would mean so much. That afterwards two people would be as close as it's possible to get. But, instead, we're just two strangers."

John Cassavetes is a notable blind spot of mine. Until last month, I hadn't seen a single one of his films, but obviously had heard much about his work in independent cinema and the influence he has had in the medium. So when December's challenge came up, I was looking forward to finally meeting the man and his work, and although titles like Wonder Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie are the ones that usually come up, I decided to start at the beginning, with his first film.

Set in New York City, Shadows follows the lives of three black siblings: struggling jazz musicians Ben and Hugh, and their light-skinned, younger sister Lelia, and their relationships with several other characters. The focus of the story falls mostly on Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), who starts a relationship with Tony (Anthony Ray). But things get complicated when he meets her brothers and finds out she's black.

Shadows is an interesting experiment. Filmed in 1957, released in 1958, and reworked in 1959, it went through a metamorphosis of sorts. The film was devised and promoted as a mostly improvisational work, which might've resulted in the poor reception it had on its first release. Cassavetes then went back to the drawing board to rework the film. This tinkering is probably the source of my main issue, which has to do with the rather loose narrative.

Even though the focus seems to be on Lelia (which apparently wasn't the case in the original version), her subplot is somewhat rushed away in the last act, while the focus changes a bit to Ben, who was more or less on the sidelines through all the film. So there's a bit of a disjointed nature to the flow of the story, which is understandable considering how it was made, released, and re-released.

However, I admire the honesty with which the film deals with important social issues in a way that few, if any, 1950s film dealt with. From man-woman relationships to racial tensions that perhaps are still present more than 50 years later. Paired with the organic and natural performances that Cassavetes pulls from his cast, I'm certainly looking forward to my second film of his.


(1989, Beresford)
The last Best Picture winner you haven't seen

Daisy: "Hoke?"
Hoke: "Yes'm."
Daisy: "You're my best friend."
Hoke: "No, go on Miss Daisy."
Daisy: "No, really, you are... You are."

Set in 1948, Driving Miss Daisy follows Daisy (Jessica Tandy), a widowed and retired schoolteacher that is forced by her son to take a chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) after a small car accident. Despite her initial reluctance and bigotry against Hoke, we see how their relationship grows and evolves through the course of 20 years.

This is one of those films you don't see mentioned often, if at all, and one that I have to admit was more or less dreading. Although the film is not necessarily awful, it delivers exactly what you would expect from the premise and the cast involved, which is a neatly acted, okay-ish drama that doesn't feel like diving into any of the social issues its breezing through. The thing is that the film decides to take a light, almost comedic approach to its story, without never really diving into Daisy's prejudices and bigotry.

My friend @ApexPredator said it best when he told me that it worked "best as a character study of two people who are missing something and find a connection that leads to friendship ... As a civil rights film, it's less effective.", and I like how accurate that is. Thankfully, the film has Tandy and Freeman to make that connection feel like something somewhat believable and pleasant, despite the shortcomings of the script.

Driving Miss Daisy lacks the power to make a compelling drama or a lasting statement on racial relations, but I don't think it's trying either. But maybe it's that lack of trying what kept it from transcending to another level, as far as film goes. The film is just there. I don't regret watching it, but I doubt I will ever watch it again.


I think Husbands would be my favorite Cassavetes film.
I need to definitely get on a list and start tackling them. Thanks for the rec!

(1956, Ford)
A western

"Some day this country's gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come."

The term "Wild West" was a term coined to highlight the incontrollable and chaotic nature of the American frontier. Maybe because of the lawlessness of this newly "discovered" lands, or the aftermath of the genocidal violence against Native Americans. This setting became fertile ground for thousands of tales, stories, and with time, films and TV series, where the West is depicted as unforgiving and ruthless. and populated by people just as much. John Ford is one of many directors that made a career by directing these stories, with his westerns going as far back as the early 20th Century.

The Searchers, however, comes at the final stretch of his career. Starring John Wayne, it follows a Civil War veteran that sets out to find his young niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) after a tragic "Indian" attack results in her being kidnapped. So Ethan Edwards (Wayne) decides to brave this unforgiving and ruthless setting, along with his nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) to find her at any cost. Half of the tension is outward, as it comes from the natural obstacles they face during their search, but the other half is inward, as it comes from the relationship between Ethan and Martin, who is initially dismissed by him as a "half-breed", as well as Ethan's fighting his own inner demons.

Both Ford and Wayne have been vastly criticized for their depiction and attitude towards Native Americans, as well as blacks and Mexicans. In the case of Ford, mostly for how these three minorities were portrayed in his films. In the case of Wayne, for God knows how many reasons. However, whereas Wayne generally refused to change and budge with the passage of time, Ford's films and portrayals became grayer as we move forward in his filmography, which you can see in films like Sergeant Rutledge.

The Searchers isn't fully there yet, but it hints at a Ford that's trying to figure things out. From some positive depictions of some tribes and Native American characters to the way Ethan comes to acknowledge Martin (the "half-breed") as a worthy companion. Wayne's portrayal isn't very different to what we've seen in other films of his, but his tough persona suits the character well. He does manage to stretch his emotions a bit at some points and the climatic conflict with Martin and Debbie is well staged. Vera Miles rounds out the cast as Laurie, Martin's love interest, and she's pretty good in it.

Unfortunately, much like Wayne, there are some moments where Ford lets himself be overcome by the demons of the past in how some Native American characters are portrayed and treated. There is also a subplot between Martin and Laurie that I felt took too long, and devolved into a comical fist-fight that felt like it belonged to a different film. Things do pick up in the end with a battle that suffers from the usual "Cowboys, good" and "Indians, bad" stereotypes, but it's thrilling nonetheless and however abrupt, manages to close with a changed Ethan, and maybe a changed Ford.

Ford continued with a more progressive perspective in his later films, while Wayne continued with his stubborn and hard-headed attitudes. Maybe, just like Ethan, he did change a bit as he approached his death. Things weren't easy in the "Wild West", and things haven't been easy this last century either. But maybe people can truly change, things can change. Maybe the above quote is right, and some day the country can be a fine, good place to be; even if it needs our bones in the ground first.


(1960, Cahn)
A film with the number 12 (Twelve, Twelfth, etc.) in its title

"This time we'll make sure there isn't any leak, or any chance of anybody stumbling over. He'll just disappear."

The above statement has to do with Martin Filones (Nico Minardos), a Greek man in New York City that ends up witnessing the murder of a gangster. But reading the statement without context, you probably couldn't tell if whoever said it is looking for Filones' benefit or harm. Leaks to who? Disappear how? That ambiguity is a key part of this lean and effective crime film from director Edward L. Cahn.

Twelve Hours to Kill follows Filones as he's sent to a small town called Denton, supposedly as a way to protect him. Unfortunately, the two thugs sent to silence him follow him there, forcing Filones to doubt of everyone, especially those that are sworn to protect him. His only ally seems to be Lucy (Barbara Eden), a local woman that shelters him at her home.

Stumbling into little films like this is one of the joys of this challenge. This is a very low budget, B-film that I had never heard of, and yet, it was a pleasant surprise. There is little flash to it, but it is still a pretty tight crime thriller, with some grit to it. Minardos and Eden have a certain innocent charm, but they are as effective when the story goes to more darker places.

The film is not without its flaws. The pace is a bit off around the middle section, and even at 83 minutes, feels like its stretched a bit too long. But the solid lead performances, the ambiguity of the characters, and those B-movie rough edges make it work.


(2015, Acevedo)

"Was it worth leaving?"
"I do not know if it was worth it."

That's the question that one character asks another in a climatic conversation in this slow burn drama from Colombia. The burden of choices from years past still weighs heavy on them, and there's no way to ever know if they were the "right" ones or the "wrong" ones.

Land and Shade follows Alfonso (Haimer Leal), an aging sugar cane worker that returns to his home after 17 years, upon learning that his adult son is now ill. The reason for his illness? The sugar cane plantations that surround their home are frequently burned, which results in toxic ash rain that basically covers the house and makes life unbearable.

This situation forces the family to live in a cycle of questioning, do I leave this place for my health or do I stay because I need to work? Alfonso left, but his wife stayed... but here he is, "with the same bag", as he says in that climatic conversation. The emotional and physical scars of his decision are still there.

The film is a hell of a slow burn, with a very pensive pace that could border on soporific for some; but there is a pretty darn good film in there for those patient enough. Director César Augusto Acevedo holds our attention with a very skilled and meticulous direction. I really liked his frequent use of long takes and wide shots that give this landscape a beautiful and eerie look at the same time.

At the end, the film doesn't necessarily answer the above question, but rather leaves it up to the viewer. There is tragedy, hope, redemption, and forgiveness. But beyond that, the characters have to realize that they have to live with the burden of their choices, one way or the other, and there usually is no way to find out if things would've been different, or if it was worth it. The film, though, is definitely worth it.


(2015, Miller)

"You know, hope is a mistake. If you can't fix what's broken, you'll, uh... you'll go insane."

Max Rockatansky has lost all hope. After his wife and son were murdered, he's become a shell of a man, wandering the desert wasteland. The societal collapse certainly doesn't help his situation either. He's looking out for himself and no one else because, why try to fix things when they can't be?

Set in this dystopic future, Mad Max: Fury Road follows Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) as he reluctantly join forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a member of Immortan Joe's forces who goes rogue to free his five "wives". Unfortunately, Joe is not going down without a fight, or in this case, without an extensive chase.

The first thing I'm going to credit Fury Road with is how relentless it is. Other than a brief "prologue" at the Citadel to set things up, the film doesn't wait to kickstart things, and it literally doesn't stop until about an hour; and then it starts again until the end. The action is so unabating that we barely have a chance to catch our breath.

But as your senses are constantly pummeled by the sound and the visuals, there is also a meticulous attention to details; there is always something to look at, something that makes you go "Hmm, I wonder how this came to be". Miller has built a world that indeed looks and feels broken, but lived in. You believe that these characters have been worn down by this desolation and hopelessness.

Hardy, who takes over the role from Mel Gibson, is an example of that. Even though he remains mostly stoic, emotionless, and hopeless, he does give hints of regaining his humanity, as the film progresses. Hardy might not have the showiest role, but he does a great job with what he's given, while allowing Theron to shine. Unlike Max in the beginning, Furiosa is determined to not give up hope, and takes action to fix things, even if they seem beyond repair.

There are also some solid supporting performances, most notably Nicholas Hoult, as another one of Joe's minions that's seeking redemption. But as good as the performances are, the real star here is Miller's in-your-face direction and the flood of *everything* that he throws at you. There is a bit of repetitiveness in how the story flows when compared to The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, but it is still insanely fun and entertaining to look at.


Waaaaay overdue, waaaay delayed, but here is my final tally for DECEMBER 2022

A film with the number 12 (Twelve, Twelfth, etc.) in its title: Twelve Hours to Kill
A film that starts with the letters W, X, Y or Z: X
A film from the TSPDT 1,000 Greatest Films list whose ranking includes the #12 (i.e. 12, 129, 812): Walkabout (#712)
A film from the 2020s: The Empty Man
A western: The Searchers
The last film from any director you like: The Dead
The last Best Picture winner you haven't seen (starting backward from CODA): Driving Miss Daisy
A Christmas/Holiday film: From Our Family to Yours, Prep & Landing
A film from Bahrain (Independence Day, December 16): Cloven (short film)
A film from John Cassavetes (born December 9): Shadows

Freebies: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Terminator Salvation, Kung Fu Hustle, Seconds, Land and Shade, Mad Max: Fury Road

There were a couple of very good first-time watches, but I think Walkabout and The Dead are the ones that have stuck with me more. Land and Shade, Mad Max Fury Road, and Seconds are also up there.

As far as worst, probably Driving Miss Daisy.

I posted it on the other thread, but just to properly close this thread, here is the comprehensive list of everything I saw during the year: a total of 200 films; a bit more than the 163 I saw in 2021 (thank you, short films!). Anyway, here it is...















Rewatches are in blue, short films in red.

And for anybody that follows, here is the final episode of 2022 of The Movie Loot, where I share my thoughts on the films I saw in December, but also give a bit of a retrospective of everything I do and did during the year.

The Movie Loot 76: The December Loot/2022 Retrospective

Remember that you can always listen to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and most podcasting/streaming platforms.