Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.2
Published by marco on
These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1400 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.
- Army of Shadows (1969) — 9/10
This is a story of the French Resistance during WWII, in particular the story of one Philippe Gerbier. He is captured and kept in a camp, but there isn’t any evidence against him. He concocts a plan to escape with a young Communist, but is taken for questioning just before they can enact it. He organizes a bold escape, coolly killing a guard to make a distraction.
He returns to his cell in the Resistance. They find the traitor who’d gotten him captured and bring him to a supposedly secluded apartment, where they find new neighbors and thin walls. They cannot shoot him, as they’d wanted to. Failing to find a knife (which no-one wanted to use—none of them had ever killed before), they are forced to strangle him. It’s an extremely uncomfortable scene, as it brings one much closer to the feeling of having to kill a man than other, more-modern movies, where death feels cheaper.
They gather more members of the Resistance, some old colleagues and some new (like Mathilde the housewife). There is a lot of neat detail on the tradecraft they employed. Philippe eventually escapes to London, meeting the head of all Resistance networks, Luc Jardie, who receives a medal from Charles de Gaulle. This Jardie is quite a renowned philosopher and no-one knows he’s involved at all. He is the older brother of Jean-François, a young member of their resistance.
Félix is arrested by the Germans and taken to a French hospital in Lyons that’s been converted to a German headquarters and prison. To effect his escape, Philippe returns to Paris from London by plane—jumping with a parachute. The parachute jump was pretty hardcore. He didn’t complain. He slept in that awful plane, that awful noise—he even went back to sleep after they flew through some flak. The RAF were also cool as cucumbers. He had his glasses taped to his head; he jumped for the first time ever; he nailed it.
Philippe meets up with Bison, Mathilde and Le Masque. She devises a plan to rescue Félix. One of their number, Jean-François Jardie, gives himself up to the Germans, so that he will be thrown in a cell with Félix. It goes exactly as planned, except that the German doctor won’t let Félix be transported because he’s too injured to transport—he’s dying and won’t last long, even as it is. Jean-François has at least managed to smuggle in cyanide capsules for them both. No-one knows that Jean-François has sacrificed himself.
Afterward, Mathilde urges Philippe to flee back to London. Félix is dead and she is able to run things in his absence. Besides, the German police are searching for him (she saw him on a most-wanted poster during the failed rescue). The French police raid the café where he was just eating with Mathilde and Philippe finds himself arrested and held with several others in a large, dank cell. He shares his cigarettes with everyone.
They are taken to the killing alley, where they are all forced to run against each other for the other end while machine guns urge them on. At first, Philippe doesn’t run—then he decides to rabbit anyway, cursing himself. He is wounded in the arm and leg and stops before a huge, black cloud from one of the smoke grenades thrown not by the Germans, but by his rescuers. A rope drops through a slot above him. He grabs it and climbs out (ridiculous because he doesn’t have the build for pulling up his whole body weight, even without a gunshot wound in his arm). Mathilde has pulled off yet another daring escape plan, rescuing him from a near-certain fate.
They take Philippe to a safe house in the countryside and leave him with one month’s supplies. He is bored, playing solitaire and reading the philosophy books of Jardie, feeling useless and of no use anymore to the Resistance. After over three weeks, Luc Jardie himself shows up to tell him that Mathilde has been captured. She finally slipped up: she’d never gotten rid of the photo of her daughter. The Germans are threatening to send the girl to a Polish whorehouse for the Eastern-front troops if she doesn’t name all the names she knows.
Philippe translates a secret message that reveals that Mathilde has decided to save her girl from her fate. She has been released and the first two agents have already been picked up. Philippe orders Bison to eliminate her. Bison refuses, saying that she’d saved Bison, she’d saved Philippe and now she’s saving her daughter—you can’t judge her for staying true to her character.
At this moment, Luc Jardie appears from the other room and tells them how he interprets it: Mathilde is doing everything she can to get them to kill her. He convinces Bison that this is what she wants—by showing him that it would be what Bison would want, in her position, then asking “are you braver than she?”. After Le Masque and Bison have left, Philippe asks Luc if he’s sure about Mathilde. Jardie responds that it’s only a theory, but a convincing one.
The four of them get a German car and roll up on Mathilde, letting her see their faces, then shooting her in the street. The film ends with them driving away through Paris, getting away…for now. Captions inform us that they would all die within the next year or two. Bison was decapitated, Masque took a cyanide pill, Jardie was tortured to death, revealing only one name: his own, Philippe was gunned down by a firing squad—this time he didn’t run.
This is as good as watching classic James Bond: realistic, cold-blooded, business-like getting-shit-done. It’s not at all a romanticized view of the Resistance. Those that are in it are in it because that’s what they do.
I saw it in French with English subtitles (about one-third is German with no subtitles).
- Threads (1984) — 9/10
This is a movie by the BBC about nuclear holocaust, depicting the likely effects of an attack. It cost them £400,000. We’re introduced to a typical 1980s suburban family, concerned with their lives—primarily their teenage son Jimmy and his girlfriend Ruth are pregnant and are going to get married. In the background TV and in various news headlines that flit past, we see that the Soviets have invaded Afghanistan and tensions are increasing. As well, there is increased activity in the Gulf of Oman (“a U.S. submarine has disappeared while on routine patrol in the area”).
We are told that England has a plan for a backup government, in the event of an emergency. With tensions rising, they are going through their plans and supplies. There is a run on the grocery stores. In a pub, the news is on, discussing the Soviets moving nuclear arms and the U.S. responding. Later that night, we see kids in a popular make-out spot being surrounded by military trucks. England braces itself as a U.S. ultimatum expires and it attacks a Soviet base in Iran. The Soviets respond with nuclear-tipped missiles; the U.S. responds in kind.
There is a run on the stores, which have hiked prices. When a young man announces that war has broken out, the people leave in droves with their full shopping carts and without paying. People are urged to stay calm. In the next days, riots escalate, people move out of urban centers. Things get worse and emergency plans swing into action. The pregnant young couple from before are in their new apartment, peeling wallpaper and listening to the dire news.
A PSA:“If anyone dies while you are kept in your fallout room, move the body to another room in the house. Label the body with name and address, and cover it as tightly as possible in polythene, paper, sheets or blankets. If, however, you’ve had a body in the house for more than five days *and* if it is safe to go outside, then you should bury the body for the time being in a trench or cover it with earth, and mark the spot of the burial.”
The next day, we hear that the attack is coming and there’s a mushroom cloud over Sheffield. All the residents can see the nearly pornographic-looking thing, but the shock wave just knocked them over. That’s not quite so realistic. The signs of terror are pretty impressive, though, especially for a TV movie.
The next bombs take out a lot more infrastructure. The Sheffield planning center is damaged, but still online. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. exchange 3000 megatons, of which 210 fall on England. That’s enough to put 80% of homes in fire zones. There will be no emergency response.
People are puking. The radiation is hitting. People don’t know how to respond. It doesn’t matter what they do, though. Everything’s on fire. Everything’s radioactive. Everything’s destroyed.
After one week, trucks are running out of fuel and no food is being distributed. Everything is controlled centrally. People in their shelters are growing increasingly desperate. The young couple has been separated. Jimmy is dead. After two weeks, all deliveries will stop everywhere.
People venture outside when they get desperate enough. It’s utter chaos, death and destruction. 500 million tons of dust start the nuclear winter. The ever-present fires that destroyed everything have gone out. There is no heat. There is no power. There is no food. There is no water. There is no sanitation. People riot and gather at bunkers where they know there is food and shelter. Soldiers defend the buildings with extreme prejudice.
In the medical centers, they do what they can, but they’re vastly overwhelmed. Without water or power or medicine, there’s nothing to do. You can’t even euthanize anyone. Infection is rampant. Radiation burns and sickness affect nearly everyone. People are eating animal corpses in the streets. At this point, England looks very much like Aleksey German’s Hard to Be a God. There are 10-20 million corpses at 3 weeks. Flies and rats are everywhere, doing their best to remove corpses where people are unable to do so for themselves.
There is forced quartering by the remaining semblance of government. It’s pointless, though, isn’t it? Ruth is still pregnant and gives birth sometime in December. She is in an abandoned barn with other drifters. There is a fire. The child is screaming. It is Christmas.
One month later, we see Ruth bashing stolen grains with a rusty bucket, trying to get food for herself and her child. These are grains from previous harvests. Subsequent harvests have much lower yields. The insects enjoy a resurgence as pesticides disappear. We see Ruth purchase dead rats from a vendor. The currency of exchange is unclear. 10 years later, Ruth’s daughter comes to wake her to work in the fields and finds that Ruth has finally succumbed. She steals Ruth’s things, leaving her precious book of birds (which is of no consequence anymore).
Finally, we see the end game for the survivors. Children watch a dilapidated VHS of animals that no longer exists. People silently collect threads from cloth that can no longer be woven. At 13 years, we see Ruth’s daughter defending her coney and fire from interlopers. Their language has deteriorated vastly. They steal food together, then fight and one of them rapes her. Nine months later, we see her birth a still-born child in a “hospital”.
Post-apocalypse seemed much sexier in the Mad Max movies. A slower version of this is coming via the climate apocalypse whether we trigger worldwide war or not. An extra point for not shying away at all. This should be required viewing for war-happy jackasses in the States.
- Mademoiselle (1966) — 7/10
We meet the local schoolteacher (Jeanne Moreau) in the forest, atop a small water-pumping station. She is dressed to the nine, in pumps, completely out of place. She is pumping away, until she finally gets the water going—after which it accelerates on its own. It floods through the only road into town, directly into a barnyard. The animals are utterly miserable and cry out. A religious procession stops their march and jumps in to lend a hand. She very obviously ogles the strong Italian peasant Manou (Ettore Manni) who rescues animals—shirtless.
On her way home, she finds a bird’s nest in a field. She shoos the bird away from its eggs, picks out all of them and crushes them in her hand, a huge smile on her face. Afterward, she helps write up the report of the flooding incident (she can use a typewriter, after all).
Next we see her teaching her class, singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Umberto Orsini) and punishing him both in class and during recess. The police visit Manou and Bruno, wanting to question them, but he sends them on their way.
Mademoiselle gets ready to go out again, getting dressed to the nines and putting on a lot of makeup. She carefully selects a fancy box of matches from a drawer-full of them. She goes out, drifting toward a barnyard, then lights it on fire. She saunters back to her apartment and watches the people slowly realize that everything is on fire. She drifts out into the crowd, drinking in the misery. She is chaotic evil.
After the local townspeople vaguely accuse and threaten Manou, Bruno finds a bit of schoolwork, twisted up like kindling paper. Manou meets with his friend Antonio and they discuss that they’re worried—that they’re thinking of moving away. Manou is suspicious of Bruno’s activity whereas everyone else in town is suspicious of Manou.
Later, we see the loggers working on a tree cutting and Bruno joins them, as do the local police, who question them again (the Italians are obviously the most suspicious). Back at the headquarters, Mademoiselle defends Manou when the police circle him viciously as the only suspect. She asks them if they did not see how heroic he was at the flooding.
She returns to her classroom and again blames everything that the children had done only on Bruno, sending him from the classroom. He’s had enough. He yells at her, calling her disgusting and a hateful whore. She is unmoved because she obviously does not understand his Italian insults (which have no aural analogues in French).
She is out walking when she meets Manou in the woods. He apologizes for his son’s behavior when she notices his shirt moving. He has a snake wrapped around his waist. He pulls it off and tells her not to be afraid—that she should touch his snake. I’m not making this up nor did I misunderstand his somewhat accented French.
She is out walking again and spies Manou napping on his work site. She gazes nothing but lustfully at him for long minutes, actually licking her lips. She is discovered hiding behind a tree by Antonio and both he and Manou see her fleeing the scene. She is mortified. On the way home, she encounters Bruno and this time offers to help him catch up on his lessons, playing all sweetness and light. This seems like a trick (remember: chaotic evil).
A woman comes around looking for Manou, then finds him in a field, on his way home. She makes a pass and he gives chase. Mademoiselle sees all. We see her at home, suppressing her nipples with an X of medical tape before dressing up and going out at night again. She sets another fire, this time by accident. But another barn goes up in flames. The police hear from a female eyewitness that she didn’t see anyone, but she heard someone whistling—Manou. Mademoiselle is back on the scene, drinking in the anguish (and watching Manou take his shirt off when a firehose empties on him). A police officer sends her home.
The next day, in class, she tells the story of Gilles de Rais (Wikipedia), a 15th-century nobleman who served in the army with Jean d’Arc and might have been history’s first documented serial killer. It’s madness that she chooses to tell this story in a one-room schoolhouse. It’s literally a horror story: she tells how he would hunt children. She watches a funeral procession go by—for someone who died in the fire she set. She is unmoved.
Next, we see many animals in their death throes, lying on the ground, unable to stand. The police determine that they’ve been poisoned. I’ll give you three guesses. The townspeople need a scapegoat: a flooding, two fires and now poisoning (with arsenic), all unexplained. They say that the law will do nothing; they’ll have to take the law into their own hands.
Speaking of taking something into hands, Mademoiselle is back in the woods, with Manou, who’s carrying her through fields. She is not a traditional lover. He laughs as she kisses his boots, then he gives chase while she laughs more (she laughs!). He hears the posse with their dogs, but doesn’t break off his affair. Manou carries Mademoiselle from place to place. They are in a field; he calls her like a dog, whistling. She comes. He knows what she wants. She seems to simultaneously hate and love him for it. Dangerous, Manou, very dangerous.
It thunders. They seeks refuge. They end up by the lake, under a tree. She abandons herself completely—a totally different person than the calculating killer we’ve seen. They have not exchanged a single word. He tells her he will return tomorrow, with Bruno. She says nothing. They part.
She wanders into town, looking very much like she’s spent the entire night fucking in the woods. The townspeople gather ‘round her and ask who did it, was it him? She breathes “yes!” and flees indoors. She did not lie. The men find him and hack him into pieces in a field. The other woman with whom he dallied earlier comes out, sees the carnage…and smiles.
Antonio is in the police headquarters—they say they looked everywhere and cannot find Manou. He leaves town with Bruno. Mademoiselle, too, is leaving town. The plagues will stop. The townspeople will be convinced that they got their culprit, that they’d done the right thing. Bruno sees Mademoiselle in her car, looking at him. He spits at her.
The movie is in black and white. I saw it in the original French and Italian; no subtitles. Marlon Brando would have ruined this movie; I’m glad they got Ettore Manni instead.
- The Third Man (1949) — 8/10
This is the story of a certain Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), who’d gone to Vienna to see his friend Harry Lime. He gets there just in time to catch Lime’s funeral. He’d apparently been hit by a car. Martins learns from a local police captain that Lime was a grifter, the most notorious con man in Vienna. Martins gets very drunk, but is protected from arrest by his reputation as an acclaimed author (he was unaware that his reputation would precede him there). It seems that Harry Lime had prepared the way quite well.
A friend of Harry’s ‘Baron’ Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) calls Holly and they meet in a café. The Baron wears a bowtie and carried a miniature dachshund. He does his best to dissuade Holly from investigating Harry’s death any further. He goes to a theater to meet with Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a girl who Harry had been seeing. They return to Harry’s apartment to find Maj. Calloway and the Brits tossing the place. They confiscate Anna’s falsified papers (she’s not Austrian, but Czech). Holly assures her that she’ll be all right (he literally has no idea) and that he’ll continue to try to find out what really happened to Harry (as if that would concern her more than having just lost her papers).
Holly next meets Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto), who’d apparently been at the scene of the accident. The doctor says that Harry was already dead when he’d arrived. He learns a bit more, but not much. All he knows is that no-one knows who the “third man” is: the porter at the apartment building across the street from the accident saw three men. The police claim only two, as do the others who helped carry him.
Anna is released on her own recognizance. Holly is the quintessential ugly American. He expects everyone to speak English; he has no idea how money works; he expects his “army” money to work everywhere. He thinks he’s untouchable.
He is not. When the porter is murdered, he and Anna stumble on a crowd around the ambulance. A small child starts yelling that he saw Holly and that he thinks he did it. The others jump on this idea, the zither music goes nuts and off goes a chase across the city. Holly and Anna slip into a movie theater. He goes back to the hotel to report the incident to Major Calloway (much as he doesn’t want to). He is seemingly kidnapped, but is really being brought to a meeting of his fans, fans of literature (though he just writes Westerns).
He sees his pursuer again and escape to meet with Calloway. Calloway brings him up to speed on Harry’s doings: he was smuggling Penicillin into a medicine-starved Vienna, thinning it and selling it dearly. Holly gets drunk, then returns to meet Anna to find that she’d also spoken to Calloway. He hits on her pretty hard. I fear it might work. It does not. Holly goes downstairs to find someone watching him from the shadows—he steps out briefly into the light: it’s Harry (Orson Welles).
Holly and Calloway are on Harry’s trail. Holly meets him on a ferris wheel, where he confronts him on his criminal life and the trail of victims he’s left behind. Harry responds,
“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs − it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.
“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love − they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Holly agrees to help Calloway catch Lime—especially after Calloway shows him children in a hospital who are suffering because of Harry’s counterfeit Penicillin. Harry shows up and is almost nabbed, but escapes into the sewers. The Austrian sewers have these neat entrances with multiple triangular flaps that open onto a spiral staircase. Harry shoots one officer, then is badly wounded himself. Holly and Anna see what Harry’s done. Holly finishes the job.
The second funeral follows. Holly gets out and waits for Anna at the funeral. She walks in from a long, long way away, down the street, the zither going the whole time. She walks right by without so much as a glance.
The movie was directed by Carol Reed and based on a screenplay by Graham Greene. There are some very nice long shots and city shots. The credits and interlude music is a zither playing perkily throughout, which sets the mood quite nicely. I saw it in English and German, without subtitles.
- Bound (1996) — 8/10
This is a heist film written and directed by the Wachowski siblings, pre-Matrix. Corky (Gina Gershon) is an ex-con working maintenance in a building. She meets two tenants, Violet (Jennifer Tilly, whose breathy voice is perfect for this role) and her asinine boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), hearing them through the thin walls at first. Corky is very interested in Violet and the interest is mutual. The atmosphere is highly charged from the very get-go. Violet gets Corky into bed nearly immediately (there isn’t much resistance).
Caesar is mobbed up. Corky hears a lot of stuff happening next door to the apartment that she’s renovating. She sees other goons go in, including Johnny Marzzone (Christopher Meloni) and they have some poor sap with them. She hears a lot of very violent stuff through the walls. “I’m going to ask you ten times.” Violet leaves with Corky—but they know enough not to rat out the mob. Violet proposes that they rip off Caesar when he gets the next shipment: $2 million.
Caesar shows up with the money, covered in blood. He literally launders the money, then counts it. All night long. Violet comes to get Corky and swing their plan into motion. Corky steals the money, while Violet gets Caesar to blame the theft on his arch-nemesis Johnny. The big boss realizes his money is gone, Caesar is determined not to get blamed for it. In a daze, Caesar shoots Gino, Johnny and the other henchman. “I had to do it, Violet. You saw it. I had no choice.”
While Caesar takes care of the bodies, Violet is still trapped in the apartment with him—and must distract the police for as long she can. Caesar is really very good at this cleanup/laundering of the scene of the crime. The police show up, but Caesar gets rid of them with a story about being nearly deaf and having the TV turned up too high (that’s why a neighbor reported a gunshot). Corky is in the next apartment, listening to their every move.
Corky’s plan is good—she has the money and the mob are killing each other over it. But she can’t leave because Violet trusts her not to rabbit without her—just like Corky expected the same trust from Violet. Caesar catches Violet calling Corky and now suspects her, but doesn’t know what she’s done. He redials the number and hears the phone ringing next door. Corky breaks in to the apartment, but Caesar gets the drop on her. He’s cold-cocked Violet and tied up Corky.
Caesar is perplexed: he’s the center of Violet’s world, he’s provided her everything. Everything she has is due to him. Also, he’s super-angry about lesbians. Now it’s Caesar’s turn to ask “ten times”, threatening to cut off Violet’s fingers. Mickey shows up and interrupts the torture, but Corky tells him where the money is. He knocks her out and goes to find the money.
Before Caesar can get the money, Mickey is on his way up. He has to make a new plan, pretending to have been showering with Violet “to relax”. Mickey grows increasingly suspicious, but Caesar manages to satisfy his questions. Violet helps Caesar get rid of Mickey, but he double-crosses her. They go to grab the money, but Violet rabbits on him. He chases her through the building, giving Corky enough time to get free and grab the cash.
She traps Caesar, but doesn’t get the drop on him. He cold-cocks her. Again. She’s got to have a helluva concussion going. Violet gets the drop on Caesar, killing him very theatrically in a pool of white paint. The next scene is Mickey swearing that they’ll find “him” (presumably Caesar, whose body Violet apparently hid). The two ladies ride off into the sunset with $2.175 million.
It’s a well-written mob/heist/double-cross movie. It’s also very nicely filmed—you can definitely see where the Matrix would come from three years later.
- A Face in the Crowd (1957) — 9/10
Marcia Jeffries from the radio show A Face in the Crowd goes to a local jail, where she meets Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes (Andy Griffith). She’s gone to Sarah Lawrence and is absolutely delighted to be among the hoi-polloi, giving them a chance to show that they’re worth something. Larry’s got other ideas: he slugs back a shot and gets ready to play a song.
Andy Griffith is actually a pretty good blues singer. Marcia goes back out to find him and give him a job. He’s not convinced that a “job” is something that would suit his lifestyle, but he’s willing to give it a shot. He shows up to the radio station and he riffs along, playing songs and pontificating on the under-appreciated situation of women in the country.
When the sheriff messes with him (because he’s out to dinner with Marcia, who the sheriff is sweet on), Larry plays a joke on him by ripping him apart on the radio and then telling everyone who’s listening to bring their dogs to the sheriff in the morning. Hundreds turn up—and Larry is starting to learn his political power. He gets a call to go on a TV show and he boldly makes a deal: he’ll work for free for a week or two, then for $1,000 per week after that.
His first TV appearance goes just like his radio shows. He riffs, does his city folk/country folk schtick, and just generally doesn’t follow any script, while being so honest and approachable and “real” that people tune in. He does commercials kind of like Bill Burr. “I’d like to have your money, but I’d rather have my pride.” The public love him, but he gets fired by his first sponsor, Luffler’s mattresses, whose president is played by Charles Irving.
Larry plans to leave and bids Marcia farewell, early in the morning, but she “convinces” him to stay. Meanwhile, sales of Luffler mattresses are up and the bigger sharks are now interested in his money-making potential, thinking that they can benefit from the public’s love of him while controlling the exact tendencies that make him lovable. He has no qualms about doing advertising—he’s delighted to make a buck—but he is absolutely uncontrollable. “You college folks want dignity on your program; back where I come from, if a fella looks too dignified, we figure he’s tryna to steal your watch.” He makes up a song/jingle on the spot. Hired.
His next product Vitajex was actually more concerned with a form of veracity whereas Lonesome Larry shitcans that and think that selling with sex is a better idea. With sales booming and success rolling in, the next stage is inevitable: political influence. A Gen. Haynesworth (Percy Waram) approaches him with a proposal,“In every strong and healthy society from the Egyptians on, the mass had to be guided with a strong hand by a responsible elite. Let us not forget that in TV, we have the greatest instrument for influence in the history of the world.”
His fame grows, people are making money, they name mountains after him, he gets the keys to cities, gets apartments, he’s a sponsor’s dream. But he has his doubts. He calls Marcia late at night, that he’s worried. “All them millions of people believin’ in me, doin’ what I tell ‘em to. It scares me.”
Soon, the first parasites show up: a Mrs. Larry Rhodes shows up, claiming that they’re not divorced. He promises to clear it up. Meanwhile Marcia’s associate, Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) is writing articles about Larry and Marcia calls it “vicious”, to which he responds,“Didn’t you know? All mild men are vicious. They hate themselves for being mild, and they hate the windy extroverts whose violence seems to have a strange attraction for nice girls. You should know better.”
Meanwhile, Lonesome is being Lonesome. He shacks up with a high-school baton-twirler Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick)—then marries her in Juarez (where he’d just finalized his previous divorce). To be fair to her, she’s quite a baton-twirler. Meanwhile Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa) is guiding Larry’s career to new heights, but definitely trying to milk him for all he’s worth before his inevitable crash.
But first, Larry still has room to grow: he’s engaged to advise the presidential campaign of one Sen. Worthington Fuller (Marshall Neilan), a dry, facts-based man. They need to sell him to the public and that’s where Larry comes in. His current advisor thinks “Well, I may be a bit old-fashioned, but it seems to me there is a still a distinction between politics and, well, the field, you’re in.” He’s utterly mistaken. Even back in 1957, they knew that politics was about marketing. Larry points to his friend Beanie (Rod Brasfield): “You see your problem now, Senator? How are you going to get this bush monkey to vote for you?”
Later, with the General, Larry ruminates about himself, “I’m not just an entertainer, I’m an influencer, a force. A force.”
Mel Miller is planning a book based on his articles, to take down Lonesome Larry as a corrosive force in American culture and politics. He talks to Marcia about it, telling her to stop enabling Larry.
Meanwhile, Lonesome discovers that he’s not even the controlling owner of his own enterprise: Joey is. And he’s fooling around with Betty Lou. Larry is not pleased with how his life has spiraled out of control. But his campaign for Fuller is going gangbusters: he’s up from 4% to 53.7% Lonesome is going to get a cabinet position if Fuller’s elected.“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! […] Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers − everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don’t know it yet, but they’re all gonna be ‘Fighters for Fuller’. They’re mine! I own ‘em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ‘em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I’m gonna be the power behind the president − and you’ll be the power behind me!”
Marcia runs out—she now knows for sure that Mel is right. Without her, Lonesome’s show falls apart, though. He’s back to ad-libbing, but it’s a dangerous thing. Especially when he thinks the show has ended. Marcia hears him talking and she sets his mic back to live to broadcast the following:“Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ‘em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.”
His denouement is quick and merciless. Marcia and Mel go to his penthouse to find him ranting to himself, with his friend Beanie running the laugh track. He’s a complete wreck.
He told the truth and he’s out. He wasn’t a nice person, but he’s exactly what the powers-that-be wanted. The powers-that-be? They’ll be just fine. Joey has the next “Lonesome Rhodes” already lined up, a more anodyne version that’s more malleable. The advertisers and business leaders will be fine, they’ll just ride the next wave. They’ll fine-tune the formula to get just the right balance to keep them in power and keep the money flowing in and the sheep under control.
It had already been like this for long enough that you could make this movie in 1957 and be assured of finding an audience. However, back then, they still had hope that the demagogue would be ignored, as expressed by Mel: “You were taken in, just like we were all taken in. When we get wise to him, that’s our strength. We get wise to him.”
Nowadays, some of us are no longer so naive as to doubt our naïveté. In the film, the demagogue is deposed and “normalcy” is restored. Mel gets the last word. In reality, we have only demagogues to choose from, and the king of Lonesome Larrys is not just an advisor to, but has become the president.
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) — 8/10
We start with a windowpane that dulls the view and the sound. The view clarifies to show three men sharing a meal in what looks like a garage.
This is a very pretty and a very slow, but I think a very deep movie. It is about a group of police officers, a prosecutor, a doctor and the accused traveling the countryside, at night, trying to find the body that the accused has confessed to killing. They drive from spot to spot, waxing philosophically and poetically. The accused is one of the men from the first scene. In the other car is a man that they identify as his brother. He was also at the garage.
The doctor and the prosecutor discuss amongst themselves, as they are outsiders. They have a long discussion about a “gorgeous” woman the prosecutor knew who’d predicted the day she would die. She lived long enough to give birth to her child, held it, then died. The doctor suspects she’d killed herself. The prosecutor says he doesn’t know.
After a long night, they head to a village for food. There, they are received by the mayor and given free food though the village is exceedingly poor. The wind is strong and knocks out the power. The mayor’s daughter comes around with lanterns and tea. The lantern is in the center of the serving tray; the glasses of tea surround it. The light bathes her face in a radiance golden from the lamp and caramel from the tea. She is very pretty, but the glow of the lantern transforms her into a sublime beauty. Each man stares and worships when she stops in front of him.
They drive further the next day and finally happen upon the body. This is at 90 minutes into the movie. It’s slow, but the slowness is the point. None of the officers is armed. They put up with the suspect (for the most part), treating him with a reasonable amount of dignity. The troopers answer questions in such stem-winders that one wonders why anyone even bothers asking them questions at all (one such conversation is about which village they should go to for late dinner; another is determining which side of the county border they are on when investigating the body). One of the officers is extremely interested in distances.
The prosecutor reads out the crime-scene report, with a little help from the doctor. They discover that the other stumblebums have forgotten to pack a body bag, so they have to wrap the body in a blanket for transport in one of their cars. They ask the suspect why he hogtied the victim. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t fit in the car.” The prosecutor then asks whether they shouldn’t hogtie the body again, in order to transport it back to the city. This is a very dark film.
They get the body back to town and the suspect out of danger from the crowd that has gathered there. The doctor returns to his apartment to moon about his lost love. Afterward Naçi picks up a prescription for his son, the doctor makes his breakfast rounds, then heads to the office, where he sees the suspect’s supposed son (and the mother). They do not speak. He meets with the prosecutor to discuss the upcoming autopsy.
They end up primarily discussing the woman from before: the doctor again says that it was likely suicide. The prosecutor says that the women had caught her husband cheating, but had forgiven him his bagatelle immediately. There is no way that she would have been so ruthless as to kill herself about such a thing when it was obvious she’d forgiven her husband. It’s pretty clear that he is telling a story about himself. It’s almost like every man in the story has an abandonment behind him (Naçi has a “genius” son that he can’t really stand to be around; the victim had a son who threw a rock at the suspect; the doctor is divorced but was looking longingly at a picture of a boy; the prosecutor is left to raise a child by himself).
The doctor performs the autopsy (he narrates it, but his assistant performs it). They find dirt in the lungs, leading to the conclusion that the man had been buried alive. The film ends with the sounds of autopsy from inside and children playing football outside. The doctor watches the victim’s son and wife outside, the boy happily hurrying to retrieve a stray ball for the others on the field.
This film won the Palme d’Or. Nothing really happens in it. It is highly unconventional. It depicts more-or-less normal events. There is no music—mother nature provides the sound of wind. There are natural sounds that indicate how quiet it is, in the country. It’s real, with real people, with real issues. It shows without telling. Even what it shows is ephemeral—you have to elicit meaning on your own. It’s a good movie; I’m glad I saw it.
- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) — 8/10
The film starts at the side of a pond. A girl is lying there, stroking her very slight baby bump. Her mother comes and gathers her, bringing her before her father. He demands to know who the father is. The girl refuses to speak. His henchmen tear off her shirt and twist her arm behind her back. The father asks again. Again, she refuses. The camera pulls back to show his compound. We hear a snap. She names “Alfredo Garcia”. He puts a $1 million price on the man’s head.
A couple of months later, we see heavy hitters arriving in Mexico by plane, attracted by the still-open bounty. They engage the services of Bennie (Warren Oates), a piano player who always wears sunglasses. He thinks he knows who might have been with Alfredo: Elita (the alluring Isela Vega), who is actually Bennie’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She tells him that Alfredo had died in a car accident after having said goodbye to her for a…long…time.
Bennie is a forgiving guy, though, and is back with Elita pretty soon. He extracts a commitment of $10,000 from the henchmen to find the head. They hit the road, with two guys on their tail. Everyone is drinking madly. Bennie admits to Elita that he’s looking for Garcia’s head to get $10,000. She’s fine with it. He admits his love for her, making her cry.
Later that day, they decide to camp out under the stars instead of finding a hotel. Two bikers—the terrorists of the 70s—show up. One of them is Kris Kristofferson. They see the guitar and ask her to play a song. The atmosphere is tense. It becomes pretty obvious what they’re after—Kristofferson takes Elita into the scrub. It’s like a ritual. He shreds her shirt. She stands there. She slaps him. Twice. He slaps her back. He walks away. She follows him. She knows they’re planning to kill Bennie.
Bennie gets the drop on one, finds Elita and Kristofferson, shoots him dead, then kills the other one, who’d gotten back up. They drive off, fighting a bit, but then continuing on with their mission. She just wants to be with him, regardless of circumstances. He sees the money as a way out. She takes him to the village and church where Alfredo is buried.
They check into another hotel, this one not nearly as nice as the one they’d stayed in before. He grabs a bottle of tequila—his umpteenth of the film. They sleep fitfully, in their clothes. He gets up early to go dig up the grave and she insists on going with him—they’re in it together. Still, she can’t stand watching him desecrate a gravesite for $10,000. He gets the coffin open and is about to decapitate it, when he’s cold-cocked himself. He wakes up half-buried in the grave…next to Elita, who’s completely buried…and completely dead.
Bennie’s on the warpath now, with nothing left to lose. He hunts down Elita’s killers and gets Garcia’s head back. He’s going a bit bonkers, talking to the head. Garcia’s family is on his tail. He stops at a roadside restaurant and picks up some ice to keep the head fresh until he can deliver it.
Soon, though, Garcia’s family catches up with Bennie and cuts him off, forcing his car to a stop. They, in turn, are ambushed by contract killers, who take out almost the whole family. The family takes out one of them and Bennie finishes the other off. He’s back on the road with Garcia’s head. Garcia gets more ice and a shower. Bennie gets tequila and sorrow.
The next day, Bennie brings the head to his contractor. He asks them what they want with the damned head, then digs a gun out of the picnic basket with Alfredo’s head and starts and finishes yet another firefight. He finds El Jefe’s business card and heads down there by plane (like, with the head?).
He meets with El Jefe, who ask him if he wants a drink. “I got nothing to celebrate.” He pays Bennie, then tells him to throw the head to the pigs. “No. 16 people are dead because of this. And one of them was a damned good friend of mine.” Another firefight where Bennie takes everybody out. He’s got El Jefe dead to rights. El Jefe’s daughter urges Bennie to finish the job.
At first, he grabs the head, leaving with the daughter…then goes back for the briefcase. He gives it to the daughter, then heads off to his doom, where he finally loses a firefight—but he knew he wouldn’t escape by just driving away.
An extra point for an inspired and unique script. Director Peckinpah really knew how to film Mexico. I saw it in English and Spanish (no subtitles).
- In Cold Blood (1967) — 8/10
This is a black-and-white film based on the Truman Capote novel of the same name. It stars Robert Blake as Perry and Scott Wilson as Dick. The film follows the story in the book almost exactly. Perry is on parole and is friends with Dick. They are both ruthless killers, but Dick is even more devil-may-care and doesn’t consider consequences at all. He bangs his way across the country. Perry is more complex, but he’s also sociopathic.
Dick left prison with a plan to steal the Clutter family fortune. This plan goes terribly wrong and they leave with only $43, having eliminated all the witnesses.
Dick is a tremendously smooth talker, though, running one con after another to build up a nut for them to travel on. Perry is amazed at Dick’s lack of inhibition and his gift of gab. They leave a trail of bad paper a mile long.
They head for Mexico and hole up there for a while, but they don’t last long. Perry has visions and memories of his broken family, his father who tried so hard, his Cherokee mother who was a brilliant rodeo queen, but also alcoholic and ended up ruining her life with other men.
Soon, they’re back in the States, in the cold plains of the U.S. They find and steal a car, kite a bunch of checks, then head their way to Las Vegas. The cops are on their trail, though, and pick them up in Vegas before they can even gamble away the last few dollars they’d earned with refundable bottles. The main cop is John Forysthe.
They’re interviewed separately and they tell more-or-less the same story. They seem to crack a bit, but the police can’t get anything from either of them. They tell the boys that they have a living eyewitness, but the boys don’t believe them. Only when they show Dick the pictures of the bloody shoe-prints does he crack and pin everything on Perry. Perry laughs at the cop when told of Dick’s confession. He knows it’s real, because Dick repeated the fake story Perry had told him about a guy he’d killed in Vegas.
The night of the murders, it was Dick who’d taken the lead, calling Perry a chicken for wanting to back out. Perry continues to tell the story of that night: how it was relatively clear relatively quickly that Clutter’s claim that there was no safe was true. Perry tries to take care of the Clutters while tying them up securely (he hogties them all with rope).
Perry stopped Dick from attacking Nancy Clutter—“Dick: First I’m gonna bust that little girl”—and orders him downstairs. “Perry: I despise people who can’t control themselves.” After that, Perry and Dick fight, but Perry ends up killing everyone—because Dick is too chicken to do it. Nancy is last.“Perry: It doesn’t make sense. I mean what happened. It had nothing to do with the Clutters. They never hurt me. They just happened to be there. I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman… I thought so right up to the time I cut his throat.”
The next scene is in the courtroom, where the prosecuting attorney quotes from the Bible, with his reading glasses upside-down on his face. They are sentenced to death by hanging in the state of Kansas. Dick goes first. Perry waxes nostalgic about his father’s failed hunting lodge for tourists in Alaska and how he’d gotten thrown out by his father. “I guess the only thing I’m gonna miss in this world is that poor old man and his hopeless dreams.”
Perry goes next. The put him on the trapdoor. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” His heartbeat is so loud; you can see him chewing his gum frantically behind the hood. The door lets go.
It’s got a nice soundtrack by Quincy Jones.
- Koyaanisqatsi (1982) — 8/10
The main character in this film is the soundtrack by Philip Glass.
A cave drawing with armless figures.
Industrial scene. Factory. Foundry embers falling. Increasing flames. Fade to white. A stony desert; aerial view. Sunrise. Caverns. A hole in the stone ceiling. Mesas. A giant oxbow. The Earth vents gases. The edge of a giant dune. Clouds scud in time lapse. Sun reaches a cave. Bats flit. Clouds morph and shift against the sunset. Clouds roll along like a river. A giant waterfall. Waves. Clouds. Fog flits and rolls like a river. Rocky, verdant crags shift in and out. Flying over terrain. Bands of flowers. Flooded desert mesas. Pouring dirt. Explosions.
A dump truck. Power lines. A conduit to the horizon. Spewing factories. Azure holding pools. A dam. A giant steam shovel. An explosion. Pumps. A field of reservoir tanks. Manufacturing. Heat. A mushroom cloud.
A family on the beach. A power plant in the background. People looking up. Scudding clouds in a glass building. A plane lands. Heat shimmers. A plane taxis. Cars roll. A cloverleaf. Another one. Traffic. People driving. Cars waiting. A plane taxis behind. Rainbow parking lot. A fighter jet (tailfin camera). A missile falls. A missile launches. A booster separates. Explosions. Destruction. Bombing. Bombs.
Time-lapse of Manhattan. Clouds flit. Cruising on the Hudson. Buildings. Rubble.Tenements. Slums. Flying over half-abandoned buildings. Detonation. Collapse.
Clouds scud over a skyline. A building mirrors the sky. Microdata.
People. A crowd. Papers. Queues. Portraits. A jet pilot. Casino employees of a certain age. Greenish-white windows. Silent sentinel buildings. Traffic at night. Cars like blood cells. The moon drifts behind a building.
Times Square traffic. Trucks. Neon. Taxis. Grand Central Station. Pan Am Building entrance. Escalators full of people. Revolving doors. Crowded pedestrian overpasses.
Machinery. Manufacturing. Factory workers. Man and machine. Television assembly. Mainframe maintenance. Hot dogs pouring like water. Escalators full of people like hot dogs. Arcade. Pac Man. Q-Bert. Defender. Bowling. A movie theater. A mall. Twinkies. Potato skins. Sliced meats. Food court. Engine-assembly line. Robots. Minting money. Building circuit boards. Manufacturing cars. Shift change at Lockheed. A subway. Ticket machines. Underground pedestrian tunnels. Driving on an arterial. Hyperspeed highway, exit, bridge, tunnel. A factory floor. Escalators. Twinkies. A super-market. Family watches TV in a store. Boy plays Defender. Watching TV. TV in hyper-speed. People walking the streets. Explosions. People. Headlights/taillights at hyperspeed. Disco dancing. Berserk. Frenetic traffic. Lights.
Silence. Los Angeles from above. Circuit boards. A baseball field. Buildings at night. Lights flicker on and off. An El train. People in New York City. Woman smiles. Man gapes. Man in an ushanka stares. Silhouettes. Shadows. Woman lights a cigarette. Police help a homeless man onto a stretcher. Woman in car. Naked man in pane-less window. Garbage in the streets. A crowd. A fire. Firefighters. Smoke. Water flows into a sewer grate. A nurse responds. A poor man counts his change. An old man stares into the camera. Ghosts at the stock exchange.A rocket lifts off, breaking free of its gantry. It explodes. A ball of fire. Chanting Koyaanisqatsi. Debris falls to Earth, twirling gently and flaming out.
A cave drawing with armless figures.“ko.yaa.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.”
Sadly, this sentiment is just as appropriate (or even more so) for our age as the mid-80s.