Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2022 Edition

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For the record, I did actually manage to get to a few April films:

A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H: The Handmaiden
A film from the 1940s: Trapped
A film based on a book (National Library Week): Mudbound
A film from Senegal (Independence Day, April 4): Black Girl
A film with Jackie Chan (born April 7): Police Story

Like you, I thought Black Girl was excellent. Pointed yet subtle. The Handmaiden was pretty good fun (in an erotic thriller way), and so was Trapped. Police Story was also fun in its own way, but it's in general not the sort of thing I watch movies for. Mudbound looked good but struggled to maintain its coherence.



For the record, I did actually manage to get to a few April films:

A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H: The Handmaiden
A film from the 1940s: Trapped
A film based on a book (National Library Week): Mudbound
A film from Senegal (Independence Day, April 4): Black Girl
A film with Jackie Chan (born April 7): Police Story

Like you, I thought Black Girl was excellent. Pointed yet subtle. The Handmaiden was pretty good fun (in an erotic thriller way), and so was Trapped. Police Story was also fun in its own way, but it's in general not the sort of thing I watch movies for. Mudbound looked good but struggled to maintain its coherence.
Hey! Thanks for joining in. I've heard good/great things about The Handmaiden. Also, Police Story was my first Jackie Chan choice, but I couldn't find any version with proper subtitles.
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Oh bother! Forgot to share this last week, but the Defining Disney podcast released their episode on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, with yours truly as a guest. Here is the Spotify link, in case anybody wants to check it out, but it's available in most other podcast platforms.

Defining Disney Podcast: Episode 4x08 - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Enjoy!



Well, I had a slow start this month, in addition to being busy as hell while also dealing with some personal issues... and now I have like 8 pending reviews Let's see if I can catch up in the next days.



RUNAWAY TRAIN
(1985, Konchalovsky)
A film mostly set on a train



"I'm at war with the world and everybody in it."

Runaway Train follows Manny (Jon Voight), a dangerous convict at a secluded maximum security prison in Alaska. Set to be transferred, he plans to escape with the help of Buck (Eric Roberts), a young, impressionable prisoner who idolizes him. After getting out, they hop on a nearby train, not realizing that the engineer has died, leaving the locomotive on the loose. Meanwhile, the ruthless prison warden (John P. Ryan) sets out to find Manny no matter what.

This is a film that is packaged and marketed as an action thriller – and it is – but still, there is something a bit more complex under the surface. There are themes of obsession, loyalty, humanity, and freedom lurking underneath the roaring of the locomotive. Voight is a complicated character to root for since he seems to be "at war with the world and everybody in it"; a man in search of his freedom and humanity, perhaps, and the film does seem to focus on his psyche as much as it does on the action setpieces.

Speaking of the action setpieces, they are pretty good and Konchalovsky does a great job on shooting them. Considering this was pre-CGI, the exterior and aerial shots of the train are really impressive, especially in the last act. The extents that Warden Rankin goes to catch Manny, though, seems ludicrous and excessive, but after all is said and done, it's a movie that has to find a way to put the villain with the "hero" somehow.

Voight, Roberts, and Ryan ham it up significantly, but for the most part, it works. Roberts' performance is spotty, though. There's also the inclusion of Rebecca De Mornay, who plays a locomotive employee that's also stranded in the runaway train. However, her character seems more like a forced avatar for the audience, considering that we have a ruthless criminal and a rapist on one side (Manny and Buck) and the sadistic warden on the other.

The scenes and characters at the train dispatch trying to stop the train seem like throwaways and hinder the pace a bit, even if I understand the need for them. But whenever the film goes back to the train, and the dynamics between Manny and Buck, much like the popular idiom says, it is hard to look away.

Grade:



MAD MAX 2
(1981, Miller)
A film from the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Pictures list whose ranking includes the #5 (#506)



"Do you think you're the only one that's suffered? We've all been through it in here. But we haven't given up. We're still human beings, with dignity. But you? You're out there with the garbage. You're nothing."

Mad Max 2 picks up right where the first one ended, with a more desolate and barren land, more ruthless villains, and a more detached and hardened hero in Max Rockatansky (Gibson). As he roams the desert for fuel, he is led to an abandoned oil refinery, where he is forced to defend a group of settlers from a gang of violent bikers led by Lord Humungus.

I'm always surprised that I never got into this franchise earlier. I saw the first one for the first time in 2016, and hadn't seen any other; not even Fury Road. The first one is a solid effort, but is far from a masterpiece, which makes the quality jump from that to this more impressive. With the foundation already established, this sequel polishes the edges and gives us a simple, but pretty good action film.

This is in part thanks to Gibson's "rough & tough" yet charismatic performance, but also thanks to Miller's skilled direction. With a 90+ runtime, he makes the most of it starting with a great setup of these bikers. The whole aesthetics of the film also play a big part in how memorable it is with almost every character "jumping at you" in some way. This setup allows the dread of their impending attack to be more effective.

What follows are a few skillfully built setpieces that culminate with a kickass clash on board of a tanker across the highway (am I the only one that got serious Terminator 2 vibes from this?). There really isn't much else to it, but there doesn't have to be. The film succeeds in what it sets out to achieve as far as a straightforward post-apocalyptic action film goes. The characters are likable, the bad guys are evil and "showy", and the action is fast-paced and well staged. What more do we need?

Grade:



IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
(1934, Capra)
A film from Frank Capra



"You think I'm a fool and a spoiled brat. Well, perhaps I am, although I don't see how I can be. People who are spoiled are accustomed to having their own way. I never have. On the contrary. I've always been told what to do, and how to do it, and when, and with whom. Would you believe it?"

A lot of people have dreams of being born in "wealth" and "position", not really having to worry about "anything". But in many cases, this only creates a different set of things to worry about, like appearances and expectations, and not being allowed to do what you want as a result. That is the situation that Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) finds herself in and from which she's trying to run away in this charming romcom from Frank Capra.

It Happened One Night follows Ellie, who has eloped with a renowned pilot and alleged "gold digger". As her father (Walter Connolly) is trying to have the marriage annulled, she escapes from him and takes a bus to reunite with her husband, only to meet Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a cynical reporter that sees the opportunity for a story but ends up falling for her instead.

This is one of those films that everybody mentions, but that for some reason I hadn't gotten to. Notable for being one of only three "Big Five" Oscar winners, the film earns its reputation on the strength of its witty dialogue, solid performances and an excellent chemistry from Gable and Colbert. Released in 1934, there are certain things that are obviously dated or that haven't aged that well, especially regarding the gender politics, but it more than makes up for it with the great banter between the two leads.

Despite what can be seen as a "flimsy" story, the film also manages to fulfill its expectations by delivering a variety of memorable sequences and "bits"; the hitchhiking scene, the "Shapeley" pick-up guy, the singing "bag thief", the whole "walls of Jericho" thing. All of that, along with the aforementioned dialogue and chemistry make up for a fun and charming remembrance of old Hollywood.

Grade:



WINCHESTER '73
(1950, Mann)
A film from the 1950s



"To cowman, outlaw, peace officer or soldier, the Winchester '73 was a treasured possession. An Indian would sell his soul to own one."

"The Gun That Won the West", that's how this rifle was marketed, probably because of its use in the US expansion during the 19th Century. Not only that, but special versions of the rifle were prepared in limited quantities and sold at a higher price. These included special barrels and finishes, and were labeled as "One of One Thousand" to stimulate and motivate potential buyers. One of these special guns is the one that anchors the plot of this popular western.

Set shortly after "Custer's Last Stand", Winchester '73 follows Lin McAdam (James Stewart), a cowboy that's determined to find a man called Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) for unspecified reasons. Finding him in Dodge City, Kansas, but unable to fight him at the moment, they both enter a competition to win one of the coveted titular rifles. The possession of it becomes the driving force of the plot, as the rifle passes through different owners as the film progresses.

American gun culture and the admiration/obsession for a specific weapon are, to put it mildly, complicated subjects nowadays, but they are decidedly at the core of this film. Certainly times were different, and you pretty much had to have a gun back then... but the improper use of it becomes a sort of moral barometer of the characters.

Dutch Henry Brown: "That's too much gun for a man to have just for... shootin' rabbits"
Lin McAdam: "Or for shootin' men in the back."
Even Lin's best friend warns him about the path he's going down... "Hunting for food, that's alright. Hunting a man to kill him? You're beginning to like it." And at the center of every shooting and every death that occurs, there is the gun.

There are interesting little stories in every pit stop that the gun gets. From Native American leader Young Bull (Rock Hudson) to meek fiancé Steve Miller (Charles Drake) or outlaw Waco Johnnie Dean (Dan Duryea). In almost every one of them, there are tinges that make you want a bit more from each. Duryea, in particular, gives a really good performance, but I really enjoyed John McIntire as sly gun trader Joe Lamont, who proves to be a worthy rival to Brown early on the film, all in his effort to win the gun.

Unfortunately, the ending pushes away a lot of the moral dilemmas that the film hints at, in favor of traditional shoot-outs. Also, the romantic relationship between Stewart and Shelly Winters seems unnecessary, but I guess it was a "requirement" back then. Still, Mann's direction is pretty good, and most of the performances are great. It is always good to see Stewart play a morally conflicted character; one that's not necessarily trying to shoot rabbits, and might be beginning to like it.

Grade:



11 Foreign Language movies to go
WINCHESTER '73
(1950, Mann)
A film from the 1950s

Always get a kick out of seeing a young Tony Curtis (billed as Anthony Curtis) in this film.
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.





Always get a kick out of seeing a young Tony Curtis (billed as Anthony Curtis) in this film.
Yeah, but those eyes are unmistakable He did a solid job in a very small role.



WHERE YOU ARE
(2016, Parkes)
A film about mothers



"You have to close your eyes, okay? So you can't see where I go."

I've been a parent for around 3 years, and it has proved to be the most perpetually stressful and exhausting thing I've experienced in my life. There's no corner of my life where parenthood hasn't seeped through to, whether it is because the kids keep taking over everything we do, or because I just can't help but keep my eyes on them. That is some of the subtext that is underneath this short film by Graham Parkes.

Where You Are follows Jen (Sarah Burns), who is busy folding clothes, when her young kid James (Hudson West) asks her to play hide-and-seek. But when he actually disappears, Jen is taken in a surreal journey through time to find him. From James' rebellious teenage years to the eventual departure from "the nest" in adulthood and back to his playful childhood.

Parkes takes a simple premise; a game of hide-and-seek and a missing son, and uses some clever direction to takes us on this journey. A journey that is not as much about finding James, but more about realizing that we just can't keep our eyes on our children every time, and we just can't see where they're going every single time. For a parent, that is a concept that's difficult to grasp. As kids, they gravitate toward us, they need us, they scream for us.

But as they grow up, those times will pass, and we'll be left wanting to know where they are all the time, what they're doing, and where they're heading. And like it or not, our kids will clash with that because it is in their nature to move forward, to explore, to find new things and new ways. Where we are then? Eyes open desperately trying to find them, or eyes closed trusting they'll find their own way and we'll find them in the end?

Grade:



THE MOTHER
(2021, Ridder)
A film about mothers



"Don't worry. I'm not gonna be here long. I'll go soon."

In most cases, we grow up with our parents right beside us all the way. Since birth, through youth, and into adulthood. Maybe that's why we tend to take their presence for granted so often. After all, they've always been *there*. This belief serves as the premise of this short film from Blake Ridder.

The Mother follows Lucy (Ning Lu), a young independent woman that is surprised to find her mother (Crystal Wingx) at her doorstep one day, asking to stay for a while. Believing that she has had a fight with her father (David Yu), Lucy reluctantly agrees but tries her best not to let her mother interfere with her social life and everyday routine.

This is an interesting premise and it has a decidedly emotional story. Unfortunately, the performances feel forced and the whole execution is a bit in-your-face. There is a revelation towards the end that is supposed to pack a punch, but instead feels like a regular "we've told you so" chastising. But I suppose it all depends on each person, and how invested you are in it.

Grade:



FIVE EASY PIECES
(1970, Rafelson)
A film with the word "Five" in its title



"I move around a lot, not because I'm looking for anything really, but 'cause I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay."

Some mild SPOILERS perhaps?

The burden of expectations is something that can be stressful or suffocating to many. Others expect so much from us by who are our parents or our siblings, by how we we're raised or what we studied, or for many other reasons. But what if we can't handle that burden, or we don't *want* that burden? That seems to be the case with Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson), who openly rejects his past as he runs away from everything, anything in this wonderful piece of New Hollywood.

Five Easy Pieces follows Dupea, a former child piano prodigy who has chosen to get away from that life and instead lives as a blue collar oil rig worker. However, his past comes back to haunt him when he finds out that his father, a musical genius himself, is dying forcing him to go back to the things he has tried so hard to get away from.

As the film progresses, we slowly find out little details about Bobby's past, or at least we can infer them. Rafelson does a great job of not giving us big expository dumps, but rather lets the story and the visuals tell it all. If you walk in blind, you won't find out about Bobby's past until halfway through. When you do, you can infer most of what you need to know about Bobby's father, his siblings, their upbringing, and the burden of expectations that was probably put on them, and from which Bobby has chosen to get away instead.

But the past always has a way of coming back to us, whether is by stumbling upon a piano in the middle of a traffic jam or at your childhood home. Those are the only two moments we see Bobby play the piano. The first time, he embraces it in an almost manic outpour; the second one, he plays it to make a point about superficiality, and quickly dismisses it and rejects it.

Bobby is a character hard to pin down. He's not entirely a likeable guy, but as the film unfolds, you can see all the complexities and layers beneath, and Nicholson plays him to perfection. I mean, it's not far from what he usually plays – a mixture of cynical and bitter – and I'm still trying to figure out the scope of his motivations, but he does it so well. And when the last act comes, you can see the subtlety and nuance when he drops his defenses.

The title of the film comes from a book of piano lessons that includes "five easy pieces" for beginners. I'm not sure what specific pieces it includes, or if any of the two songs we see Bobby play are on that book, but I suppose it is expected of musicians to move beyond the "easy pieces" as a sign of "progress". But not Bobby. His choice is not necessarily to choose an easier way, just a different one altogether. To step away from the burden of expectations into a place where they don't expect much of him, if at all.

Grade:



Oh yeah, it's a great example of setup/payoff. I think it might go up to 4.5 in the future for me.



A system of cells interlinked
Your date/director info is off - I tagged the review, but wanted to mention that!
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"There’s absolutely no doubt you can be slightly better tomorrow than you are today." - JBP