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December 19, 2021 at 2:18 am #1204666325
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This prophetic horror movie predicted the invasion of San Francisco by the “pod people” (tech workers) who replaced all of the city’s actors, artists, musicians, writers, gay people, drag performers and drag queens, and counterculture rebels with emotionless automatons who (pre-pandemic) dutifully lined up every morning to get bused to ginormous suburban work camps. New 4K re-release captures the faded 1970s glamour of San Francisco’s Victorian houses, the Civic Center, the seedy Tenderloin, the piers and warehouse district — now replaced with corporate offices and luxury apartments. Not since the days of film noir has night in San Francisco been so evocatively depicted (the cinematography is by Michael Chapman, also known for his work on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull). The film’s ending is perfect (excellent use of sound effects, throughout the film as well), but it’s too late — the pod people have already spread everywhere. Grade: ADecember 21, 2021 at 10:33 pm #1204672828
The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
This limited series is the best thing I’ve seen on television in ages — I know, it’s over a year old, but better late than never. I haven’t seen the entire series yet but so far I am absolutely thrilled by each episode. Kudos to the production design team, the cinematography team, and of course, to Anya Taylor-Joy, whose performance is fabulous (she was also excellent in The Witch). Grade: ADecember 23, 2021 at 12:36 am #1204675044
Walk on the Wild Side (1962)
Almost a good movie, except for the peculiar miscasting of Laurence Harvey and Capucine in the lead roles as reunited lovers from Texas dirt farm country. On the other hand, Jane Fonda and especially Barbara Stanwyck are more believable as a thief-turned-prostitute, and a lesbian owner of an upscale New Orleans brothel, respectively. Also on hand is Anne Baxter, who never gave a boring performance, playing a Mexican cafe/gas station owner. The plot could have been dreamed up by Tennessee Williams but it was based on a book by Nelson Algren, who should be given credit for pushing the envelope and helping to drag America out of the 1950s and into the 1960s with adult-themed stories like The Man with the Golden Arm. Good music (Elmer Bernstein) and cinematography (Joseph MacDonald, who shot dozens of classic movies), and memorable title and end credits sequences by Saul Bass. Grade: BJanuary 3, 2022 at 4:36 am #1204693769
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
One of my personal New Year’s traditions is (re-) watching movies that I love. Rosemary’s Baby is for me not only one of the best horror movies ever, it is one of the best (Top Ten Favorites), period. I never get tired of it, ever. Everything about the film is absolutely brilliant — direction, screenplay, cinematography, editing, music, costumes, art and production design, etc., and of course the acting (featuring career bests from Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon). The film also memorably captures 1960s New York City and the glamour of storied and iconic apartment buildings like the Dakota, which makes me nostalgic for a “previous existence” that I now sadly realize I took for granted. (Youth is wasted on the young.) Of course, I cannot endorse this film unreservedly, on account of Polanski’s subsequent heinous behavior, for which he deserves to be condemned. There are no excuses, although perhaps I can muster some sympathy for what Polanski went through (which would **** anybody up) when his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered in their own home in 1969 by the Manson gang, which is also tragically ironic given the plot of this movie involves a pregnant woman whose life and baby are threatened by sinister forces. This is one of those movies with a perfect ending.
Grade: A+++January 5, 2022 at 1:29 pm #1204698955
Generation Hustle: I really liked most episodes of this show, good documentary pieces about different con artists. I think the ones I disliked the most are the ones which feature the scammer bragging about his/her deeds. It’s astonishing the absolute lack of consideration or empathy of these people.
Historias para no dormir, 2021. This is a Spanish horror/supernatural/thriller anthology series, first aired back in the 60’s if I’m not mistaken, which has been brought back to life through the years in different installments, this being the latest one. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes, which I found pretty good.January 8, 2022 at 1:17 am #1204704364
Uncut Gems (2019)
Watching this well-directed but problematic movie, you may realize there are only two possible endings: (1) a cartoonish “happily ever after” ending that would have matched the cartoonish tone of much of the rest of the movie, or (2) a tragic “well what the hell did you expect” ending that would have matched the grim tone of much of the rest of the movie. By grim I mean watching a gambling addict basically bet his own life and lose, which is much like watching an alcoholic drink himself to death. Guess which ending they used? Metacritic critics gushed over Uncut Gems, but I thought it a tad obvious and over-the-top.
Grade: BJanuary 9, 2022 at 12:49 pm #1204707903
Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) (1960)
Lately, Alain Delon has become one of my favorite actors to watch, mainly because he appeared in so many great thrillers and crime dramas. Purple Noon is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, but with what I assume is a different ending from the book as well as the 1999 movie version. The film also features Maurice Ronet, who also appeared with Delon in La Piscine; the two actors play well off of each other. Among the highlights of this version is a brilliantly edited, thrilling murder scene aboard a sailboat, the gorgeous cinematography and shooting locations in Rome and Naples, and music by Nino Rota. Watch for the scene where Delon tries on Ronet’s clothing in front of a mirror — a classic depiction of sexual sublimation.
Grade: A-January 17, 2022 at 7:26 pm #1204734908
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)
Orson Welles already made a B&W expressionistic adaptation of this great play, so there is nothing revolutionary or “groundbreaking” about this new version directed by Joel Coen. Still, it has excellent cinematography and sets and enjoyable music, and some of the performances are superb. A performance of Macbeth often hinges on how scary the witches are, and Kathryn Hunter plays all three witches (and an old man) memorably and so gets all the best lines. I think Denzel Washington’s performance is a little shaky at first (he underplays a character that is supposed to be a “brave” and fierce warrior), but gets on firmer ground as his character descends into madness and cruelty. I also question the director’s choice to expand the role of Ross (interestingly played by Alex Hassell), changing Ross from his primary role as a messenger to a behind-the-scenes manipulator who is the focus of the last scene, changing the traditional ending of the play. Grade: BNot now
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