Our Greatest Living Film Critic, VIII

May/June, 2019

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Watched The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Kurosawa’s interpretation of Hamlet (1602) into the postwar Japanese corporate world. Toshiro Mifune plays the son of a murdered father, whose carefully-plotted revenge is undermined by his own inaction and unwillingness to just run up on a fool and start blasting. Like Hamlet, and like most Kurosawa I’ve seen, this movie is interminable but observant and redeemed by its high highs. It’s got an odd climax where the action itself is elided and we get a monologue from Horatio about the consequences. Unexpected but still effective. I can’t get over the fact that Tatsuo parked in the middle of a giant mud puddle though. Loved the overacting and overmakeuping. This is a cynical, anti-establishment adaptation in which everyone still dies, except King Claudius survives and is rewarded for covering the whole thing up. I take it a lot of this movie must be a criticism of the MITI economy and the adoption of Western fashion and values. I ain’t no expert, but he lays it on thick enough. I give it 3.5 office building cakes out of a possible 5 office building cakes.

Arctic (2018)

Watched Arctic (2018), in which Mads Mikkelson pulls a second, unconscious survivor across the frozen wastes. A nice pairing with The Edge (1997), and The Grey (2011), and maybe The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). This movie gave me exactly what I asked out of it, which is shots of a brightly colored parka against a white background, the sound of snow crunching under boots, and Mads Mikkelson breathing heavily. In that sense it was all I could ask for. And yet it was unsatisfying, because they did nothing to convince me he should not have abandoned the other survivor to save himself. He should also have rationed his fuel supply better, but that’s a quibble. In place of the grizzly from The Edge (1997), this movie had a Polar Bear stalking Mads, but the inevitable showdown was much more of a letdown. What one Mads can do, another can do! I give it 2.75 Instagram filters out of a possible 5 Instagram filters.

John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019)

Watched John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019), a series of point blank headshots and lore dumps. Keanu Reeves is the retired assassin the underworld calls the bogey man, or Baby Yoga. Ian McShane plays a sexy lizard with a voice made for ordering Scotch. Some reviewers complained that they delved too greedily into the depths of explaining how the secret society works, but I eat that shit up. I also like that this is a world where you have an underworld surgeon who lives next to a giant warehouse full of antique knives, across the street from a barn filled with horses, and it’s all apparently near Midtown Manhattan. What I really like is that, having established that John Wick is the best assassin, they don’t reveal the existence of some hitherto unmentioned _super duper assassin_ who is better than him: the threat to Wick’s life in this third movie comes from the sheer numbers of opponents he faces, and the mounting exhaustion, and the numerous stab wounds. Dear Ian McShane, there’s a right way and a wrong way to mispronounce Latin. I give it 4.25 armored dog vests out of a possible 5 armored dog vests.

Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Watched Deadwood: The Movie (2019) a movie based on the classic manga. As it was intended to be, this was just an extra-long episode that tried to close up some loose ends. One of the biggest mysteries of the show, which was not explained, was why Garrett Dillahunt played a villain in season one, then a different villain in season two, then they brought him back as a third character to say one line in the movie. A mystery that I guess they felt like clearing up was whether Hearst was meant to symbolize progress in scare quotes, because they had him just come out and say that he was. There would be no way they could do everything they needed to do to cover the missing 2-3 seasons of that show in one movie, but it was pretty good. I miss Richardson praying to his elk god. I guess Mose Manuel had a heart attack or something? How did Con Stapleton become a minister? Where THE FUCK is Langrishe? Knowing we’ll never have the answers to these questions is troubling to me. “All bleeding stops eventually.” I give it 3.5 cans of peaches out of a possible 5 cans of peaches.

Lone Star (1996)

Watched Lone Star (1996) a John Sayles-directed character drama set on the Texas-Mexico border. Nominally aabout Sheriff Chris Cooper investigating a 40 year old murder committed by his father, legendary town Sheriff Matthew McConaughey, it’s more about the overlapping stories of the people in town. The transitions between the modern day scenes and the flashbacks are so good they almost take you out of the movie. Lots of theatrical dialog that people don’t say, but it sounds good. This is called a contemporary western, but I disagree: a western involves civilization needing the help of barbarians. Lone Star is just a mystery set in Texas, and the characters wear Texas hats and Texas shoes. I give it 3.9 bottles of Falstaff out of a possible 5 bottles of Falstaff.

Attack (1956)

Watched Attack (1956), Robert Aldrich’s antiwar WWII movie. Jack Palance is a heroic army Lieutenant who promises to kill his cowardly Commander, Eddie Albert, if the latter’s incompetence gets any more men killed. When it does, he turns into The Revenant, takes out a couple of Panzers on his own, gets run over by one, finds Albert preparing to surrender to the Germans, and dies before getting his revenge. His men are left to decide what the right thing to do is. Palance’s ghoulish silhouette staggering down the cellar stairs is a memorable image, but he made a bad choice to die with his mouth open, because you can see his tongue moving after he’s dead. Lee Marvin does all his acting from behind a cigar. The movie definitely zigged when I thought it would zag. Felt authentic, and sure enough half the cast are veterans, including Albert, who won a Bronze Star and starred in Green Acres. I give it 3.5 bottles of bonded Kentucky bourbon out of a possible 5 bottles of bonded Kentucky bourbon.

Revenge (2017)

Watched Revenge (2017), a revenge movie made by Europeans and set in the United States, in which a young woman stalks her would-be murderers through the desert. Peyote functions for her like spinach does for Popeye. A short list of things this movie doesn’t know about: running, falling, fire, ants, having a branch sticking out of you, hunting licenses, blood, weather, guns, tattoos. To hunt coyotes these three men brought scoped shotguns and the same model of Winchester my dad used to hunt elk. The director is preoccupied with macro shots of gore, and cites David Cronenberg as an influence; wish I’d know beforehand. At the beginning of the movie the woman is naked, and at the end of the movie the man is. Every time there’s water on screen something bad happens. Whatever that candy bar the fat one had, I want one! I give it 2 Lolita earrings out of a possible 5 Lolita earrings.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Watched Anatomy of a Murder (1959), an Otto Preminger film in which Jimmy Stewart plays a lawyer trying to get a confessed murderer off the hook. Fully an hour and forty minutes of tense courtroom scenes. Stewart ate a single hard boiled egg and a beer for lunch. Is this the first movie to use the “I’m just a simple country lawyer” line? The actor playing the judge in this movie is the actual lawyer who asked Joseph McCarthy if, at long last, he had no sense of decency. Like 12 Angry Men (1957) this is a movie that can’t completely trust what happens in the courtroom. It hangs on an obscure precedent that redefines the insanity defense, but only in Michigan. We never know if Ben Gazzara is lying or not, only that he is found not guilty. 12 Angry Men was a legal horror movie, and maybe this one is too. I give it 4 bullfrog lures out of a possible 5 bullfrog lures.

Rolling Thunder Revue (2019)

Watched Rolling Thunder Revue (2019), a documentary by Martin Scorsese about Bob Dylan’s shambling, rag-tag musical tour in the mid 1970s. The tour played concert venues, Native American reservations, and old folks homes, where the elderly were unfairly subjected to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg. Dylan wore a hat with way too many flowers. Early on in the documentary, Dylan himself is interviewed about his thought process behind the tour. He gives an evasive explanation, then stops himself, saying it’s all bullshit, and he doesn’t remember why he did it. I’ll tell you. COCAINE. You and everyone else in this movie were on COCAINE. I give it 2.5 cocaines out of a possible 5 cocaines.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Rewatched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), a movie about getting what you thought you wanted. Casey Affleck is at his most punchable, but he is very good. Brad Pitt actually does a fine job of acting in this movie, but you can still sort of see him doing it. The list of quotes for this movie on IMDB is basically the entire script, and rightfully so. It’s no True Grit (1969). I think the thing I like least about this movie is the Terrence Malick-esque macro photography, extreme lighting, and silence. All due respect to Roger Deakins, it’s just not my thing in a dose this size. That said, the movie works, and it’s the kind of story I like, where it has a point of view that you can discern just by watching it, and most people will get it, but there’s still room for reasonable people to argue. I see you Garret Dillahunt; you haven’t escaped my notice. I give it 4 crawlspaces out of a possible 5 crawlspaces.

Battle of Britain (1969)

Watched Battle of Britain (1969), a very patriotic movie about the RAF’s defense of London during WWII. Stars a veritable Justice League of British actors: Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Ian McShane, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw and others. Structured like the pilot of Battlestar Galactica (2004), with the Germans as the Cylons, relentlessly harrying the Brits with attacks that are only meant to wear them down. Incredible aerial combat; the best I’ve seen in any movie from any era. Dozens of planes on screen at once. Excellent climactic sequence with no sound except the symphonic score. This is one of the best WWII movies I’ve ever seen, and it is less well known than movies that aren’t as good. Silence, in Polish. I give it 4.25 Turkey Controls out of a possible 5 Turkey Controls.

American Made (2017)

Watched American Made (2017), a biopic of Barry Seal, a pilot who worked for both the CIA and the Medellin cartel in the 80s. The movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a Goodfellas (1990) style criminal rise-and-fall story, or a Thank You For Smoking (2005) style sendup of American culture and politics. It splits the difference and is unsuccessful at both. Do they know that the 80s didn’t actually look like an Instagram filter? Nothing really works as well as it should in this movie, even Tom Cruise, who gave about 50%. It has zero credibility for any undocumented historical events. For example, there’s no way that his brother in law was killed and he didn’t know about it beforehand. This is not technically a bad movie, but I can’t imagine why I’d watch it again, or recommend it. A nice thing I can say about it is that the effects team did a good job making Cruise look 30 instead of 55. Just watch Lord of War (2005) instead. I give it 1.5 Gremlins out of a possible 5 Gremlins.

The Expendables

Now it is becoming less clear why the ruling elite would not just kill the new useless class. “You’re totally expendable,” he told the audience.

Nellie Bowles

The tide goes out

Even popular literature appears to be slowly shifting its center of gravity from murder stories to science fiction — or at any rate a rapid growth of science fiction is certainly a fact about contemporary popular literature. Science fiction frequently tries to imagine what life would be like on a plane as far above us as we are above savagery; its setting is often of a kind that appears to us as technologically miraculous. It is thus a mode of romance with a strong inherent tendency to myth.

— Northrup Frye

In his cyclic theory of modes, Frye places our contemporary literature (or that of the 1950s, when he was writing) somewhere at the ironic phase, which implies a pending return to the mythic.

Assuming it’s early enough to say so, did science fiction ever end up ushering in a new age of myth? Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner? I don’t think of those as myths: mythic literature (to Frye) concerns the gods, as opposed to even demigods and heroes, so I don’t think he’d count them. Even comic book superheroes aren’t usually literally considered gods in the sense of being those who created the universe.

Would Frye say that we skipped the mythic and move directly into the romantic period because we’re now mostly atheistic as a culture, or are we still waiting to leave the ironic period?

The Gradivan veil

Language does not allow us to make a separation between real beings and imaginary characters, and so the integration of characters is inevitable, whether one has an open mind or not.

Language is full of what are called “mixed sentences”, statements that cross between worlds by combining fiction with reality. These statements allow imaginary entities to wander through our world—as in a sentence like “Freud psychoanalyzed Gradiva”—or, conversely, grant beings and objects from the real world the right to inhabit fiction.

Pierre Bayard

Leadership potential

Alas, one cannot assert authority by accepting one’s own fallibility. Simple, people need to be blinded by knowledge—we are made to follow leaders who can gather people together because the advantages of being in groups trump the disadvantages of being alone. It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one. Those who have followed the assertive idiot rather than the introspective wise person have passed us some of their genes. This is apparent from a social pathology: psychopaths rally followers.

Nassim Taleb