Monday, December 30, 2019


Well, I've counted up the movies I have seen from the 1001 Movie list since I started this blog and listed the ones I have left below.

This time last year I had 170 to go...and now it's down to 56. It really doesn't seem like I watched that many list movies this year plus the twelve new ones from this year, but those are the numbers.

As far as the list goes...I've finished all the DVD's and Blu-rays available to me at the library...I've gone through all the streaming services. I've looked at all the YouTube videos and other internet videos I could it will be a little slower going from now on. And it's finally time to dust off that BluRay copy of Lord of the Rings...

So lets see...That's 1,166 seen and 56 still unwatched. I've actually stuck with this whole blog thing longer than I ever thought I would. I'll see how many more I can knock out this coming year.  

1001 Movies Left to View

                                                                              1.            The Servant (1963)
                              2.            Before the Revolution (1964)
                              3.            Black God, White Devil (1964)
                              4.            Juliet of the Spirits (1965
                              5.            The Red and the White (1967)
                              6.            Lucia (1969)
                              7.            The Spider's Stratagem (1970)
                              8.            Last Tango in Paris (1972)
                              9.            Sleuth (1972)
                          10.            Pink Flamingos (1972)
                          11.            The Mother and the Whore (1973)
                          12.            Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
                          13.            Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) 
                          14.            The Wall (1975)
                          15.            India Song (1975)
                          16.            Cria! (1975) 
                          17.            Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977)
                          18.            Man of Marble (1977)
                          19.            The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) 
                          20.            Man of Iron (1981)
                          21.            Yol (1982)
                          22.            Sunless (1983)
                          23.            The Last Battle (1983)
                          24.            Local Hero (1983)
                          25.            Come and See (1985) 
                          26.            Peking Opera Blues (1986)
                          27.            Brightness (1987)
                          28.            Ariel (1988) 
                          29.            The Decalogue (1988)
                          30.            The Story of Women (1988) 
                          31.            The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
                          32.            A Brighter Summer Day (1991) 
                          33.            Naked Lunch (1991)
                          34.            The Actress (1992)
                          35.            The Puppetmaster (1993)
                          36.            Satantango (1994)
                          37.            Dear Diary (1994)
                          38.            Zero Kelvin (1995)
                          39.            Cyclo (1995)
                          40.            The Pillow Book (1996) 
                          41.            Secrets and Lies (1996) 
                          42.            The Celebration (1998)
                          43.            The Idiots (1998)
                          44.            Taboo (1999)
                          45.            Attack the Gas Station! (1999)
                          46.            The Captive (2000)
                          47.            Signs and Wonders (2000)
                          48.            What Time Is It There? (2001)
                          49.            Kandahar (2001)
                          50.            The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
                          51.            Bus 174 (2002)
                          52.            Uzak (2002)
                          53.            The Two Towers (2002)
                          54.            Elephant (2003)
                          55.            The Return of the King (2003)
                          56.            Head-On (2004)

Now I just got to remember to watch
the rest of the movies on the list

Saturday, December 28, 2019


It's that time of year for this blog to look at the new edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Book and see what new movies have been added to the old list. And the results are in...and there are twelve new entries this year and they are...

Roma (The defacto Best Picture Winner)
I suppose there was too much divergence of opinion on Best Picture winner Green Book for it to be a surefire entry in the 1001 book...and it wasn't (I would have included it, but I was not consulted). However, Roma the Best Foreign Language and Director winner I was pretty sure would be on the list...and it was.

A Star is Born (The popular film that we can put on the cover of the new edition of the book)
A Star is Born

Avengers: Infinity War (The audience favorite, though not sure Martin Scorsese would approve)
Avengers: Infinity War
I finally got around to seeing Infinity War and End Game after seeing Infinity War was included on the list. I do think you should have an Avengers movie in the book, and Infinity War certainly is a movie that has everything and everyone in it in the Marvel Universe. I think I might just have a listing for "An Avengers movie. You pick." And if you want to see more films in the Marvel Universe, you certainly have that option.

Sorry to Bother You (The horror/comedy/low budget/black film that is hard to label succinctly)
Sorry to Bother You
At first, I thought this was going to be a bit of an Office Space meets Get Out kind of movie, but I give it credit for originality and it takes you into a lot of strange places you weren't expecting to go. Special thanks to my niece Kara, who recommended that we watch this several months ago.

Hereditary (The cerebral horror movie)
The list often includes a cerebral science-fiction film each year, but it looks like we have a cerebral horror film this time out. Heredity has a Rosemary's Baby kind of feel to it and unravels its mysteries in a slow but compelling way. There are also a lot of gruesome payoffs for horror fans.

Vice (The political movie)
I'm becoming a fan of Adam Mckay movies. I thought his adaptation of the seemingly unfilmable The Big Short was very good. And now a movie about Dick Cheney? With Christian Bale playing the Dick? I'm sure the Cheney family doesn't approve of it...but, screw them, you know? Vice is worth your time and another one I'm glad the 1001 list prodded me into watching.

Blackkklansman (An auteur's popular breakthrough)

The Phantom Thread (The artsy fartsy film)
The Phantom Thread
If you go into watching The Phantom Thread with the idea that it's going to be an easy emotional plunge into the relationship between a 50's fashion designer and a waitress that he becomes involved in, you may be disappointed. If you look deeply into it and discover what is really going on here, you may really get something...not that you'll particularly like what you see. Enhanced by stellar performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Kreips.

The Favourite (One for the BBC crowd)
The Favourite
Who is the favourite of the queen? And in what way? And what's up with those rabbits?

Crazy Rich Asians (The Rom-Com)
Crazy Rich Asians
My Best Friends Wedding meets Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...except with a Chinese cast. Rich son brings home beautiful and brilliant girlfriend to meet the family. But the family matriarch isn't happy about her being American Chinese. The film has many of the tropes we except in movies like this, such as the understanding gay family friend, her wacky best friend and the inevitable plot device that leads to the couples temporary break-up. It is admittedly different to see this scenario acted out by Asian actors (and good ones) and I'll give it a thumbs up for this alone.

Capernaum (The token non-English language film)
Well, Roma is also a non-English language film, but I'll stick to this heading. Capernaum is a story about a poor Lebansese boy who runs away from his family and encounters all sorts of difficulties, including seeing his sister essentially sent off at age eleven to become a concubine and later him having to take care of a Nigerian baby when the mother of the baby has to go to jail. Capernaum is an excellent movie, but one I had to get myself motivated to watch. 

The Greatest Showman (The...the... not sure why this one was added to tell the truth)
The Greatest Showman
First of all, I like The Greatest Showman. We even showed this movie at the library as a sing-along. It's an admittedly fanciful tale of P. T. Barnum and has some catchy songs and a likable cast.  I'm not sure why it was included on the list, however. I understand you don't want to list a dozen movies with the tone of Capernaum, but I would think the popular movie musical selection was covered with A Star is Born.
So it goes.

It was a strong year for documentaries, based on what I saw. I was sure the list would include one.
Oh, well. So It still goes.


Friday, December 27, 2019


Three 80's Films I haven't seen for sometime...

A Fish Called Wanda

When a heist movie is done well, it can be an awful lot of fun to watch. A Fish Called Wanda boasts a quartet of stars: seductive Jamie Lee Curtis, hysterically psycho Kevin Kline, and ex-Pythoners Michael Palin and John Cleese at the top of their game. I'm glad to say that this one is still as funny as ever three decades later. This movie also defies my you should never kill a dog rule. If it is done by Michael Palin as an animal lover, it's okay and pretty funny.

Whatever happened to...But whatever happened to the movie Fierce Creatures which reunited the four stars of Wanda? Has anyone actually seen it?

 Raising Arizona

I saw Raising Arizona at the theater when it first came out and was my introduction to a Coen Brothers comedy film (Blood Simple was more film noir). I'm happy to say that Raising Arizona is still quite funny after all this time. I like that the Coen's characters are broad, but human and even the criminals have a soft side to them...Everyone seems to love that baby, even the crooks! Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe and Trey Wilson round out the fine cast. And has Nicholas Cage ever been funnier? (In a comedy, I mean).

The M. Emmet Walsh factor...It seemed for awhile in the late 80's, character actor M. Emmet Walsh popped up in almost every movie I watched, either in a new one or with something I happened to pop into my new VCR...Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, The Jerk, Straight Time, Fletch, Harry and the Hendersons, and of course his two appearances as a swim coach, in Ordinary People and Back to School.

M. Emmet Walsh in Raising Arizona

The Accidental Tourist

The first two movies lived up to my expectations, but it was harder to judge with The Accidental Tourist. You see, I've seen it but I remember very little about it. Seeing it again, it's a hard film to warm up to (Just like William Hurt's main character is a tough nut to crack). The thing to keep in mind is that Hurt's character Macon has gone through a tragedy (his son being killed) that is hard if not impossible to ever get past. It causes irreparable harm to his relationship with his wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner). He only finds any degree of getting past anything when he starts a relationship with a quirky dog trainer named Muriel (Geena Davis). Quirky is a good way to describe this whole movie, but I did warm to it eventually, as Macon warmed up to Muriel. I liked the emotional payoffs at the end of the film as well. I'm not sure what to make of the strangely possessive relationships between Macon's brothers and sister. Maybe this is delved into more in the original novel.  

Have I read Anne Tyler's original novel? No, but maybe I should.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


White Christmas

Today's Christmas double feature: White Christmas (1954) and Black Christmas (1974)!

Black Christmas

The plots: White Christmas features Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as musical performers who romance Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in snowless Vermont.

Black Christmas has a killer going around killing college girls in a sorority house.

Popularity: The lighthearted White Christmas was the biggest movie hit of 1954. It has shown up perennially on TV in subsequent years.

The not-so lighthearted Black Christmas was a minor hit in 1974 and has gained a cult following since.

The Directors: Despite the popularity of White Christmas, it is not considered to be one of director Michael Curtiz's great films. Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce and (especially) Casablanca fill that void.

Black Christmas director Bob Clark is remembered more these days as the director of another Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.

The leading man: White Christmas's leading man Bing Crosby was probably the most popular man in movies during the 40's and into the 50's. He didn't do too badly with records either. He had a laid back and likable style (at least on-screen) that was very appealing. Gary Giddens is writing a biography series on Crosby that has so far stretched to two volumes. I've read the first, A Pocketful of Dreams -The Early Years, 1903-1940 and it is recommended for those who like lots of details about early sound musicals and the record industry during that time.

Black Christmas's leading man Keir Dullea is best know to cinefiles as Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where he plays the laconic astronaut, Dave Bowman. He shows some surprising versatility in Black Christmas by playing a temperamental artist. He also looks quite different with long hair (A little Marc Singer in The Beastmaster, maybe?).

The leading lady: I suppose you'd call Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes) the leading lady of White Christmas, though I find myself more of a Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes) man.

Lovely Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) is the leading lady here and I guess you could call her one of the first "lady in distress running from a killer" roles that would be featured in many films during the subsequent decades.

Character actor alert: Ubiquitous character actor Dean Jagger plays the retired general who Bing and the gang are putting on a show for in White Christmas. Dean's hundreds of movies and TV credits include: Bad Day at Black Rock, The Robe and the "Static" episode of The Twilight Zone. He won a supporting actor Oscar for Twelve O'Clock High. He appeared with Bruce Lee in the 1978 film Game of Death.

Ubiquitous character actor John Saxon plays the detective searching for the killer in Black Christmas. He appeared in way too many movies and TV shows to name, but seemed to appear in a lot of horror and science fiction: Blood Beach, Planet Earth, Nightmare on Elm Street, Battle Beyond the Stars, etc. Saxon was also a martial arts expert and co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. (Okay, I was not expecting to find a Bruce Lee connection between Dean Jagger and John Saxon, but there you have it!)

Scenes that made me think of the actor's real life: Danny Kaye is featured in a number in White Christmas called The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing. He sing-talks part of the song in a proper English accent which made me think of Laurence Olivier, who Kaye had a long-standing affair with.

In Black Christmas, the kind of wild sorority girl with the fresh mouth is played by a pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder. It made me think of the party girl Kidder I read about in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

The mind wanders: The Vermont Inn setting in White Christmas made me think of the show Newhart. The sorority/fraternity setting in Black Christmas made me think of Animal House.

It's interesting that: There is a lot more snow in Black Christmas than White Christmas.

It's interesting that: (musical number). The only Christmas Carol we hear in Black Christmas is performed in the foreground while a murder is going on at the same time. Bing sings a number in White Christmas called What Can You Do With a General? that is the only song I can think of that is about enlisted men singing about how hard generals have it (at least not ironically!).

Tensest moment: At the end of Black Christmas when the killer is chasing Olivia Hussey you ask, "She's going to get away, isn't she?" (She does). At the beginning of the musical number, I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show, you ask "They aren't going to put on blackface, are they?" (They don't).

Telephone issues that we wouldn't have today: Busybody Mary Wickes overhears part of a phone conversation (by getting on the extension) that Bing Crosby is on that leads to a rift between Bing and Rosemary Clooney. The phone issue in Black Christmas is in the constant attempt to get a tracer on the line for the caller that keeps threatening Olivia Hussey.

Questionable plot points: White Christmas has a lot of them, which you are supposed to ignore because this is a lighthearted musical, but when Rosemary Clooney leaves Bing Crosby at the Inn in Vermont for New York and seems to have an elaborate stage show set up there virtually overnight for her to star in only to return with Bing to perform in time for strains credulity even in to not think of it too much.

Black Christmas-When you know there is a series of murders occurring and people keep coming up missing, you might want to search the attic in the sorority house since you're investigating the crime and you're already in the damn house! There might be a dead body or two up there and they've probably been up there almost the whole movie!

Miscellaneous trivia: Black Christmas has been remade twice, including a version released this month! If you're ever at trivia night and you are asked what movie did Bing Crosby first sing White Christmas, the answer is Holiday Inn (1942).

Poster art: I've always really liked the poster for Black Christmas with the tagline, "If this picture doesn't make your skin crawl, it's on to tight!"

The White Christmas poster points out that this film is in VistaVistion, a wide screen experience you can't get on your little black and white 1954 TV!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Everything's political they say. When you tell a story, you have overt politics in the foreground or maybe just the assumption of the way society should be so far in the background you wouldn't even know it was there.
Academic Edward Said stated that one of the most political writers of the 19th century was Jane Austen (of all people) just for that reason.

Entranced Earth

"To a degree, the failure of  Earth Entranced results from its unwillingness to accept the fictional logic of its melodramatic plot."-Roger Greenspun, New York Times, May 15, 1970

"Attacked with equal vitriol by both the Left and the Right, the film was neglected in favor of Rocha's rural epics. Yet seen today it seems not only Rocha's masterpiece, but also that of the new Latin American Cinema."-Richard Pena, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

No escaping the politics of Entranced Earth and there are plenty of divergent opinions on it. Essentially, the plot involves a poet named Paulo, who at different times backs a Right Wing dictator and a Left Wing ideologue, both of whom eventually let Paulo down. Paulo then becomes a revolutionary. The plot is confusing much of the time. I don't know whether to give the film credit here for realism or be critical of it for making me scratch my head. It did make me think of how politics is usually convoluted...and not just in third world countries. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Official Story

"Beside The Official Story, most of the political movies of recent years seem tub thumbers and point pounders. Luis Puenzo's film is unwaveringly committed to human rights, yet it imposes no ideology or doctrine."-Walter Goodman, November 8, 1985, New York Times

The political situation is really magnified in human terms in The Official Story. Alicia is an Argentine teacher with a husband and an adopted daughter whom she loves dearly. Alicia is content in her life, but can't turn away when she learns some of the things that have been going on in her country over the last few years, including the circumstances in which she adopted her daughter. A powerful film that should challenge some of your beliefs no matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

GLORY (1989), TRAINING DAY (2001)

Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery host a podcast called Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All-Time Period! That's a pretty bold statement, but I'll look at his two Oscar winning roles and try to make a determination.

Denzel bound for Glory

Glory is the story based on the writings of Union Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) who leads the 54th regiment, one of the first black regiments that fought for the Union during the Civil War. The film depicts the struggles of the regiment to be taken seriously and culminating in the bloody battle of Fort Wagner in 1863. It is a very well done and inspiring epic.

Performances: The regiment includes Morgan Freeman (the leader), Andre Braugher (the intellectual) and Jihmi Kennedy (the wide-eyed innocent), and Cary Elwes (as Shaw's right hand man). They are all good. The real surprise to me is Broderick, who has never been a favorite of mine but really shines as the young commander here.

Washington on your side: But today's blog is about Denzel Washington. He plays Silas Trip, the most cynical of the troop. You wonder in the early scenes how he is going to be able to come together with the rest of the troop in the end, especially after being whipped as a deserter by his own outfit. Washington never loses his inner strength and resolve even in the scene where he is getting beaten. Of course, he does conduct himself like a soldier at the end, dying in battle, and helping in his own way to turn the tide of the war. I can't fault Denzel's Oscar here as he's undeniably a huge screen presence. (Next case)

 Denzel teaching
in Training Day

Training Day features Denzel in a dominating performance as an Alonzo, an L. A. cop with a rookie named Jake (Ethan Hawke) trying to make peace on the streets of the city. Or is he? He's a tough guy, but it's Denzel, you got to like him, right? He plays fast and loose with the rules, but he's got to do that, right?

Then he sets up his drug contact (Scott Glen) and shoots him at point blank range and tells Jake to take the credit (or blame) for the shooting. This is dirty pool, but maybe we can justify it by the fact that he gets a bad dude out of circulation. Right?

Then the final setup has Alonzo setting up Jake to be executed by some hoods as Alonzo escapes with stolen drug money to pay off the Russians, who have threatened his life if he doesn't. Jake escapes before having a battle with Alonzo and Alonzo is forced to walk away without the money. In the final scene, Alonzo is ambushed by the Russians and killed.

Washington on your side: Having a star with the toughness and likability was essential here as the final double cross comes as a surprise. Denzel handles it well and he's hard to look away from even when he's doing something really awful. Another Oscar for Denzel. I can't argue with this one either.

Training Day didn't make the 1001 book, maybe because there are some plot elements that may be a bit far-fetched even in the context of the film. Jake just happening to have the ID of the cousin of the guy who is about to kill him because Jake saved her from getting raped earlier in the day and the guy calls her to confirm it all while Jake has a gun pointed at his head comes to mind. But don't think about some things too closely.

Dear, Kamau
He's certainly one of the best. I may have to listen to more of your podcasts to be persuaded definitively.

Kamau Bell and I discuss the relative merits
of The Pelican Brief and the last
season of St. Elsewhere

Friday, December 20, 2019


The Horse Thief

Sometimes the circumstances and mood aren't quiet right to see a certain movie.

The Horse Thief is Tian Zhuagzhuang's story of a poor rural man in Tibet who tries to take care of his family. It starts by him stealing a horse, which isn't ultimately enough to save his dying young son. We see a lot of religious rituals in the greater society and mostly hardship and strife in the context of the family of the man, his wife and son. We don't get to here much dialogue either.

I watched this film in five parts on the Daily Motion website. Perhaps I should have waited to find it on DVD as the frame froze up more than once during my viewing. I watched parts of it more than once, but it wasn't really connecting with me the way that it perhaps could have.

The Blue Kite

The same director's The Blue Kite has plenty of dialogue and is set in a specific time, starting in China at the time of Stalin's death in 1953. The film depicts a lot of suppression by the Communist ruling elite for the main family in the film, which got Zhuangzhuang exiled from making films in China and the film banned. The most interesting part of this film is the succession of men in the life of a young woman and her son named Tietou. The struggles of each man in making the family is slightly different and all are hampered by the Communist regime. Tietou eventually runs out of father figures and is taken away by the state to a somber image of a blue kite. I could honestly get my teeth into this one a little more that The Horse Thief, though The Blue Kite also wasn't without some slow parts.

Springtime in a Small Town

Springtime in a Small Town is Zhuangzhuang's remake of  the 1948 classic, Spring in a Small Town, The new film has a couple of strikes against it right off the bat. First, it is a remake of a beloved movie (at least in China) that doesn't have a lot of action elements for the film to update to begin with. It also has to balance the line between being faithful to the original while being distinctive enough to justify a reason for remaking it. Color photography also seems like a drawback here.

I find this remake to have merit despite these drawbacks.  It is interesting to note the similarities between this film and the original and note where director Tian Zhuangzhuang decided to make some changes. Springtime in a Small Town is worth seeing, but the original alone may be enough for some viewers who may not want to make a second trip into the rubble.

 I would probably concede that The Blue Kite is the best film of this trio of films, but I probably liked Springtime in a Small Town the most.