104 New To Me Movies: Sweetie(1989)

Stats

Title: Sweetie
Release year: 1989
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Jane Campion & Gerard Lee
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
Star Rating: 3 Stars

Review

I’ve come around to the idea that good art can make you uncomfortable, that sometimes that is absolutely necessary. But I maybe shouldn’t have gone for that on a freezing cold Sunday morning when I’m fighting anxiety over a Covid Spike? Anyway, I watched Jane Campion’s first feature film Sweetie and I did not enjoy it.

I was moved, to an extent, and certainly challenged. And disturbed, very disturbed. Sweetie is the story of a family dealing with a severly mentally ill daughter, mainly her sister…who also probably isn’t particularly well, and the way that effects and shapes the way people live their lives.

The movie is a lot. It doesn’t romanticize severe mental illness at all, which of course makes it very disturbing to watch, because severe, unmanaged mental illness is disturbing.

So I finished the movie, intrigued but disturbed, logged in my spreadsheet, with a four star rating, but then I listened to my beloved Two Friends break down the movie and it turns out it is supposed to be a comedy.

Huh.

Anyway, lost a star for that. Because while there are definitely funny moments, but more in the theatrical human behavior can be funny ways, less in the haha this is a comedy ways. Anyway, I wasn’t terribly into it.

I really am interested as I move forward with Jane Campion’s filmography. She definitely clicks into some very real and intense feelings and as her work gets more polished, I look forward to it hitting me differently. I’m not going to quit, but…oof, this one was kind of tough.

104 New To Me Movies: In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

Stats

Title: In The Heat Of The Night
Release year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Written By: Stirling Siliphant, From The Novel By John Ball
Recommended By: Sidney Poitier passed away last week, AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition
Rating: 5 Stars

Review

Sidney Poitier had one of the most iconic years in the history of cinema in 1967. His three most remembered roles, Mark Thackery in To Sir, with Love, Dr. John Prentice in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Virgil Tibbs in In The Heat Of The Night. I’ve seen the other two movies more times than I can count. (And did watch them this weekend, upon hearing of Sir Sidney’s death.) But I’d never sat down and watched In The Heat Of The Night and decided to remedy that.

The movie is based on a novel, and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a homicide detective from Philadelphia who has the bad luck of waiting for a train transfer on the morning a wealthy real estate developer is murdered in a tiny Mississippi town. Eager to put the matter to bed, the local police figure picking up the strange black man in the train depot is probably fine.

Tibbs manages to keep his cool long enough to not get pinned with the murder, but does get roped into helping solve it. What follows is a beautiful structured detective story, anchored by a stunning slow burn performance from Poitier. All of his natural charm and charisma is pointed toward simmering rage and perfect bodily control.

The one moment where he loses that control, when an old plantation owner, a suspect in the murder, slaps Tibbs and Tibbs slaps him back. Now, in addition to trying to solve a crime in a place that is actively hostile towards him, there’s a bunch of people who are literally trying to kill him.

Tibbs is working with racist but filled with integrity new police chief Bill Gillespie, in a truly incredible performance by Rod Steiger.

Nothing about this movie would work if you didn’t buy Steiger in this role. And if he and Poitier’s chemistry has this really flinty perfection, and as these two men grow to respect (but never like) one another, you feel the flint spark.

The mystery is pretty standard pot boiler/rural noir stuff, but it’s a stunning example of it anchored by these two excellent performances. And I’m very glad I revisited the other two of Poitier’s epic year, to see the differences. He really was the greatest.

104 New To Me Movies: Two Friends (1986)

Stats

Title: Two Friends
Release year: 1986
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Helen Garner
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
To Explain: Blank Check is my favorite podcast. It has completely changed how I watch and think about movies. Plus it’s very funny. So, I’m watching along with them this year (they go director by director) and when their movies are movies I’ve never watched before? Well, I’m counting them for this project. They’re starting the year with Campion and I’ve never seen any of her movies, so, the second movie of the week for the next 8 weeks will be those!
Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review

OK, so I gave my little foreword, but I do have to say, that if it weren’t for Blank Check I wouldn’t have watched this movie at all, and I’d be the poorer for it. While restrained by it’s made for Australian TV format and it’s time, it’s a remarkable piece of writing that’s well directed.

Two Friends is a beautifully structured and creatively shot film, with deeply true things to say about female friendship and the ways that it builds and breaks you up.

It centers around two girls, two friends if you will. (Again, I apologize for Blankie rhetoric) Louise and Kelly, who have always been close, but when high school comes they go in different dirrections and it breaks them up, despite a beautiful feeling before that.

Where the movie gets cool, is that it moves backwards. It starts in one point. Louise settled in, as her parents fret over the death of another friend’s daughter’s death. Kelly is mentioned, but only off hand. They’re worried about her, Louise hasn’t heard from her in a while. She does eventually get a letter, where Kelly outlines what her life currently looks like. We also see Kelly’s strained relationship with her mother and stepfather, we then flash back throughout a year, showing how the girls friendship got where it is now. The real fraying point seems to be when Kelly’s awful step father decided that Kelly would not be attending the prestigious high school both girls got into.

The movie is episodic, and deeply felt and very real. I love stories about female friendship and they tend to often be sanitized, but Louise and Kelly’s friendship is anything but sanitized. They hurt each other in small ways, It’s also always cool to check out an acclaimed artist’s early work, because I can absolutely see why Campion got to move on. Even with it’s limitations this is a fascinatingly shot movie.

There’s one scene where Kelly is completely lost, having planned on spending the weekend with her father, who then ran off to hang with his girlfriend, finds herself making out with his roommate and then fleeing in terror of the adultness of that situation. Campion films Kris Bidenko, who plays Kelly, alone at an intersection, showing how the large world is around this little girl. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to diving more deeply into Jane Campion for the next few months. Two films in and I’m already pretty happy with my project choice.

104 New To Me Movies: Citizen Kane (1941)

Stats

Title: Citizen Kane
Release Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Herman J. Mankiewiecz & Orson Welles
Reccomended By: AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition
My Rating: FIVE STARS

Review

Citizen Kane is widely regarded to be the greatest film ever made. It tops just about every list, touting it’s revolutionary use of the camera, it’s clever and piercing satirical screenplay and it’s, for it’s time unconventional structure.

And I, a person who loves movies, who especially spend a lot of time…uh…what’s a nice term for yelling at people? Loudly and emphatically attempting to persuade those around them, that works, to check out old movies, had never seen it! (FYI, my mental “old movies” barometer is pre 1970. 1970 to around 2000 is just “movies,” and anything after that is “newer movies.”) So I was curious. Would I also think this was the greatest movie ever made? Would I see the revolutionary wheels it set in motion? Be shaken to my core by it’s satire of William Randolph Hearst in particular and The Hollowness Of The American Dream in general?

Eh.

Look, it’s a great film. There’s just no questioning that, it’s actually very funny, in a sharp wry, theater-y way. It’s written and structured a lot like a play, probably because it was written and directed by Orson Welles, who was, primarily, a playwright. The too crazy to be true, but mostly actually is, life of Charles Foster Kane, told by the various people who loved him until he sucked them dry, the way he did everyone, and everything, and even, some would argue, the soul of the nation he claimed to love.

And as I understand it, it did this first, and that is very impressive, and it’s seamless and doesn’t seem too clunky, Welles knows exactly what he’s doing with this movie. His performance as Kane is transcendent as well, truly leading us through how he corrupted himself and those around him, with chemistry, charm and unfathomable charm.

But while I was watching, all I could think was, “In 9 years, All About Eve is going to do this so perfectly.” (To be fair to Citizen Kane, All About Eve is ACTUALLY my choice for the greatest film ever made…soooo…) But I’m glad this was my first choice for this project. I was thrilled by the movie, pleasantly surprised by it’s comedy, and I can absolutely see why people are so hot on it as “the greatest ever!” I just disagree. I think it created a wonderful template for films of it’s kind, masterfully acted and the camera work is exciting.

I hope as I get back in shape my criticism can get more sharper and less reactive, so I apologize if this was just me saying, “Movie good, but not perfect!” but let’s walk before we run here folks.

The 007 Project: Moonraker

I took The Holidays off from blogging. I’m back in the new year! Usually I dive into the new year with a fun new concept. This year, alas no. I’m starting new work in the next few weeks and I don’t know how much time I’m going to have so I don’t want to commit to anything. We’ll keep going with the Bond stuff though.

Previously On The 007 Project: While I am still charmed by Roger Moore, but I think the shine may be coming off soon. I also reiterate my enjoyment of Bond being in Hitchcock style romantic films.

Who’s Our Bond: Still Roger Moore. He’s starting to show his age and his boredom. I really think he brought it for The Spy Who Loved Me, but this is back to coasting. At least, fucking Sherriff JW Peppah doesn’t show up this time. I’ve discovered that the extended comedic chase scene is the thing I like the least about Moore’s tenure.

What’s The Plot?

The RAF and NASA have lost a rocket! OH NO! Only James Bond can find it. It turns out that the rocket, The Moonraker was stolen by the sinister aerospace billionair Drax, who also hired Jaws to fight Bond. Bond is aided in his search for the rock by Dr. Holly Goodhead. (SIGH) Drax wants to start life over on the moon, with himself as the sire of a master race. (COOL) Doctor Goodhead and Bond get shot into space, and they defeat Drax and that’s kind of it. (I actually got really bored watching this movie so I didn’t pay super close attention).

I’m Addressing The Problematic

I didn’t notice anything, but as I said, I was pretty bored and not paying close attention.

Tell Me About The Girl

Lois Chile plays Holly Goodhead, and, LORD that name makes me want to gouge my eyes out, but at least she’s a Doctor and she thinks Bond sucks (you know, until she doesn’t)

The Song Is The Thing

Shirley Bassey is back! Hooray! The song is not as good as “Goldfinger” (nothing is), but it’s servicable. There’s something about Bassey’s throaty belting that feels like James Bond.

Overall Thoughts

Oof, this one was rough. I kept meaning to rewatch it so that I would have more to say, but I couldn’t bring myself to. That’s why this is short. I’m going to return to the Wednesday posting here in two days, when I watch For Your Eyes Only. (RIP Tanya Roberts)

The 007 Project: The Spy Who Loved Me

Peviously On The 007 Project: I dig Roger Moore. Bond went to Hong Kong and learned Kung Fu.

Sorry I’m late this week! I got a new job! YAY!!!!! But I realized I hadn’t gotten this post done on Wednesday morning and I was already getting dressed to go to said new job so, this one is a bit rushed and late! Sorry again.

Who’s Our Bond?

Still Moore for the next few movies. I’m enjoying each Bond’s shot at a romance, if you’re Lazenby it’s your only shot, and so far they have been my favorites. Moore does well.

What’s The Plot?

When both a British and Soviet submarine disappear, Bond is called in on the British side to find it, on the Russian side Anya Amasova is brought in. They team up after some antagonistic flirting, and chase Jaws across Egypt. They also do my favorite James Bond thing during this section. (I have favorite things in this series now! Aren’t you excited, I definitely am) They hook up on a boat! (She also mentions Tracey and he shuts her down with the most withering of withering British glares)

They learn that the submarines were taken by a tycoon named, Not Blofeld For Rights Reasons. He wants to start society over underwater. Whatever, Anya and Bond foil him. But more importantly she learns he was involved in the death of the love of her life in a ski chase at the begining of the movie. Will she forgive him?

She does! Hooray

I’m Adressing The Problematic

I mean, it’s a depiction of the Middle East in the 80’s. Nothing glaring, but it’s not you know, perfect.

Tell Me About The Girl

Barbara Bach plays Anya. She’s sexy, smart and badass, not to mention she’s got her own axe to grind, ie getting revenge for her dead lover. I like her a lot. I like this movie a lot

The Song Is The Thing

The song is a Carly Simon song called “Nobody Does It Better” which I didn’t realize even was a Bond song, so, it’s not a great one.

Overall Thoughts

I liked this one! I like this plot construction, but the lack of Blofeld in the role that is obviously supposed to be Blofeld delfates things. The Skiing scenes are cool and I like Anya. I still dig Roger Moore.

Next week we go to the Moon, but not really with Moonraker, and in some good, I don’t have to do as much planning news, a bunch of the movies just dropped on Peacock! YAY!!!!!

The 007 Project: Diamonds Are Forever

Previously on The 007 Project: We got a delightful romantic comedy (That ended in murder) and a Bond girl with actual agency and personality.

Who’s Our Bond:

Connery is back baby! The time off did him good. He’s much more engaged in the material here than he was in You Only Live Twice, he’s still a bit too old and he’s put on some weight, but in general it works.

What’s The Plot

We open with a pretty brutal series of scenes where 007 is hunting down Blofeld and killing each source. Tracey is not mentioned, but is my presumed reason for the brutality. Anyway, Blofeld has been changing his appearance regularly to stay a step ahead. Bond catches and presumably kills him.

M then tells Bond his next job is to stop some diamond smugglers, which annoys Bond, because like, downgrade! But he takes his orders and follows a few contacts to Amsterdam, where he meets Tiffany Case, and then they wing to Las Vegas with the gems. (There’s also a whole set piece where he escapes a crematorium). In Vegas we learn that Blofeld is NOT dead and has taken control of a billionaire’s corporation to launch a nuclear sattelite. The diamonds figure into this somehow, though I’m not exactly clear how.

Tiffany and Bond thwart the plan (Felix is around too! HI FELIX!) and then whisk off on a boat.

I’m Adressing The Problematic

Beyond the usual Bond sexism, pretty tame.

Tell Me About The Girl

Jill St. John plays Tiffany Case, and while she’s not terribly distinctive, she does wear fun wigs, and keeps trying to make sure her connection to Bond keeps her out of prison. It’s a cute bit.

The Song Is The Thing

Shirley Bassey is back for this song, which makes sense since a lot of this movie feels like warmed over Goldfinger. The song itself is fine, extolling how you can count on diamonds when people let you down, hence they are “forever”

Overall Thoughts

A middling Bond, very in line with the last few movies. The Vegas setting is super fun, I’m always happy to see 007 at a Casino, but the script is thin, the story tough to follow and Connery really really needs to be done. Which he now is.

Next week we enter the Roger Moore era. Hooray!

In The Shadow of Adaptation: Rebecca

“We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still too close to us. The things we have tries to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforseen become a living companion as it had been before.

Du Maurier, 5

I almost started this review with Rebecca’s famous opening lines, but I prefer the above quote, which I think sums up the story better. Rebecca is a story about people trying to both live with the past and outrun it at the same time, and it makes for a fantastic psycological thriller.

The new version on Netflix is not really that. It does star two actors who I have big crushes on, and does dreamy period romance and murder mystery well. It doesn’t however, do particularly well with the Gothic Romance elements of the story, which is probably my favorite part of the novel, as you can see in my review of it from a few years ago.

I’ll start with the actors. Our leads, Maxim DeWinter and his unnamed second wife are played by Armie Hammer and Lily James. Hammer has done hard work over the past few years winning me over. (The Man From UNCLE! Call Me By Your Name! Leaking kinky photos of himself post divorce! ALLEGEDLY!) and I have had a massive crush on James since she flounced into Downton Abbey with her modern ideas about fringed dresses and interracial romance. They both do well here. The movie really leans into the fact that these two very hot people want to be having sex with each other.

And they do have plenty of hot sex. And they wear gorgeous outfits and flit around Monte Carlo and that part of the movie is excellent.

Then we come to Manderley. Maxim’s ancestral home. Things are still being run by the creepy Mrs. Danvers, played with chilly precision and Sapphic repression by Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca were DEFINITELY having sex and you will never convince me otherwise.). She is appalled by her new mistress. The only scenes that nearly touch the Gothic perfection of the novel and the Hitchcock movie are the scene where Mrs. Danvers describes Rebecca in her boudoir and when she tries to convince Mrs. De Winter to kill herself. The rest feels silly and perfunctory and it’s such a bummer.

The movie does handle the section of the story where Maxim is accused of murdering Rebecca perfectly. (He is, in fact, guilty, but Rebecca was a bitch who was cheating on him, so I guess it’s OK?) It handles the conspiracy and uncovering of Rebecca’s cancer wonderfully.

It’s just a bummer because that is the portion of the story that I’m just not particularly interested in. I like the early whirlwind romance and I like the Gothic horror aspects, and this particular adaptation is not as interested in that portion. Which is fine, there are several angles to take with this story, I just don’t think this take is for me, despite it’s appealing leads and lovely costuming.

The Weird Bits That Made Me: The Rocketeer

Welcome To: The Weird Bits That Made Me, an expoloration of the idiosyncratic or obscure pop culture that I was into as a kid. I lived a strange suburban existence, with relatively young and somewhat hip parents and there were some real gems in the offbeat cultural stuff they exposed us to as kids. It hought it would be fun to once a week explore some of that

I’m not the only nerd of a certain age to talk about how the notorious Disney produced flop The Rocketeer, made in 1991 by director Joe Johnston, was a big influence on their taste. There are tons of blog posts and think pieces out there about this one. Mostly, because Johnston went back to the well in some major ways when he made Captain America: The First Avenger which I also love.

The Rocketeer tells the story of Cliff Secor (Billy Campbell, adorable) a struggling stunt pilot in 1930’s Los Angeles, who comes across an experimental jet pack, along with his trusty mentor and mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin! The cast only gets more exciting from here folks). The pack was stolen from Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn!) by gangster Joey Valentine (PAUL SORVINO!) who has been employed by matinee idol Neville Sinclair (TIMOTHY DALTON! Who we will be talking about more eventually!) who is actually a Nazi spy. Sinclair becomes interested in Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny, an up and coming actress (Jennifer Connolly at her absolute hottest) and shenanigans ensue.

It’s a great movie. Fun, and funny and grown up without feeling tawdry, with clean exciting practical action and a “Gee Whiz!” energy that never feels corny. Johnston really excels at this, and I’m 1000% convinced that fond memories of this movie got him the Cap job. There are quite a few beats reused. (It ends with a couple of kids running around the airfield pretending to be The Rocketeer, which made me laugh out loud.)

We also watched this movie maybe every weekend growing up. It was my brothers favorite movie ever, and I can honestly say, my absolute love of this movie, is I think a testament to how oddly isolated to my family my childhood was. I spent most of my time with my siblings and cousins, and so we liked all the same things. When I was a teenager and referenced something like The Rocketeer, and no one knew what I was talking about, was the first time I learned that my references were just a little out of step. And when someone did know what I was talking about, I knew they were a friend.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended one of my nerd friends Central Park hang outs, (these have been sanity saving) and I mentioned watching it for this feature and got an explosion of, “I love The Rocketeer” from a few, and then describing the flick, a “that sounds awesome.”

The Rocketeer is a great movie and I hope more people discover and fall in love with it because of Disney +. It was also nice to do a movie after having done music based ones for the past few times. (Most of these are going to be music though, probably)

The 007 Project: Dr. No

Hello everyone! I’ve learned over the past few years that what really helps me keep things going around here is having a watch project. Whether it’s recapping a show as it comes out, or doing a series of movies.

I really enjoyed watching all of those Disney movies, but rather than continue in that vein, I decided to go for something completely different. And that something completely different is watching all of the James Bond movies. In a row. In order. Open minded about who is best. (Though, you know, Connery.)

So, we’re watching The Bonds. We’re starting right here, at the beginning with Dr. No.

I don’t think I’ve watched these early Sean Connery movies since I was much younger and a very different sort of movie watcher. Here was my first thought, in writing this up:

It is amazing how Dr. No manages to set up everything we now expect a Bond movie to do, and still be incredibly grounded as a spy thriller. The large campy set pieces aren’t really there, with the exception of Dr. No’s lair, everything seems pretty real world. And yet, there’s still, well, everything we need to know about James Bond. He has sex with two different ladies, before meeting Honey Ryder, he drinks his martinis, he has his car shipped to Jamaica from England, he meets with M, flirts with Moneypenny, wears the tux, it’s all there.

Who’s Our Bond?

There’s also just, Sean Connery. My God, when he first appeared, I melted into the sofa. That is a sexy man, my friends, and I don’t mind saying it. When the camera focuses in on him at the card table at Le Club de Cercle, I actually took a deep breath and then exhaled. He is attractive. He’s also funny, and charismatic, and delightfully self aware in the role. He made the mold, and no one has really matched him.

What’s The Plot This Time?

A British spy in Jamaica has gone missing, and 007, James Bond, has been sent to find out what happened to the poor fellow. As it turns out, he was onto a mysterious Chinese scientist by the name of Dr. No, who is experimenting with atomic power, while under the banner of the mysterious SPECTRE. Bond thwarts him, HOORAY!

I’m Adressing The Problematic

Look, we’re doing Bond. There is sexism, there is racism, there is glorification of the waning British Empire throughout this series. Dr. No has got all of that. The women, all four of them, are completely disposable. The characters of color are stereotypical and silly. Dr. No is supposed to be half Chinese, but is played by the white, Julian Wiseman (who’s great, but you know, YIKES).

Tell Me About The Girl

Honey Ryder is played by Ursula Andress and she is very beautiful. She doesn’t appear until the last half hour of the movie but she has an iconic entrance in her gorgeous white bikini with a belt and it is completely and utterly fabulous. This bikini rules so much that last week it sold at auction for $500,000. I’m talking about the bikini and not the character because Honey is not really a character, she just kind of shows up and is around for about five scenes and then Bond kisses her on a boat and the movie ends.

It sucks.

Joe’s Bond Car Corner

Part of the fun of this series is that my brother-in-law loves the Bond movies, and love cars, so he agreed to do a quick write up of James Bond’s car in each movie. Hooray! Here’s what Joe has to say about The Sunbeam II, which I noted to him, I observed was blue!

  • You’re right – it was a 1962 Sunbeam Alpine Series II in Lake Blue 
  • Being the first Bond film, they did not have the money nor the endorsements from large car manufacturers (Aston Martin), this car was actually borrowed from a local Jamaican resident since it was one of the only viable sports cars they could find on the island.
  • The Sunbeam name dates back to 1888 when it was registered by John Marsten, a bicycle manufacturer.  They began manufacturing cars in 1901. 
  • Sunbeam was a prestigious name due to their engine manufacturing.  They produced aero engines for planes in WWI, then focused on Grand Prix Racing and land speed records post war
  • Engine for the 1962 Alpine Series II: 80 horsepower, 97 MPH top speed.  Not so sporty for Bond compared to a 1962 Corvette, 150 horsepower, 108MPH top speed. 
  • Bond’s Alpine included optional upgrades such as wire spoke wheels and white wall tires (SO necessary for the early 60’s look)
  • The Alpine is named after the Alpine Rally (Coupe des Alpes) which was one of the most prestigious races in the world during the 50s.
  • Base price was about $2,500.  Mint condition these days they go for $10,000 tops.
  • About 19,000 Sunbeam Alpine Series II were made.  Not many around these days, if they are they are in bad shape and you can get them for around $3,000 as a project car.  
  • The Apline I was not very successful, so Sunbeam put a bigger engine in it, and made the car a bit bigger to attract the American Market.  It was considered moderately successful.
  • If Bond had waited 2 more years for the Alpine to be upgraded to the Sunbeam Tiger, he could’ve been riding around with a Ford V8 (twice as powerful) that was designed by the legend Carol Shelby. (A Note From Reenie: I know who Carol Shelby is because Matt Damon plays him in the very good movie Ford VS Ferrari)

Overall Thoughts

Not going to lie you guys, I got worried watching this movie. “Is this going to be harder than I thought? Watching all these movies?” It’s not a super fun watch. While Dr. No shines in moments, as a film it’s slow and meandering and a little more self serious than I expected, I didn’t actually like it much.

Next week we press on to From Russia With Love. And SPOILER! I like it a whole lot more.