Thursday, January 30, 2020


 Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney at counseling
in The Squid and the Whale

Noah Bambauch's The Squid and the Whale tells the story of Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Joan (Laura Linney), a couple going through a divorce in 1986 Brooklyn. The Berkman's are an academically minded couple, with Bernard being a writer and professor and Joan being an aspiring novelist. They both love their kids, Walt and Frank, but express this love in odd ways at times exacerbated by the fact that they are now living in different houses. 

This is an interesting character study of all four of the main leads. Bernard is a bit of a stuffy academic, who looks down on people like Ivan (William Baldwin), the local tennis pro, who he refers to as a philistine. Joan's disconnect with Bernard led to her having affairs (including Ivan) which is explored here also. Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg) admires his dad-He has a poster of one of his dad's favorite films, The Mother and the Whore on his wall for Heaven's sake! Walt seems to blame his mom for their troubles more than dad. He has trouble finding a girl that he considers good enough and openly plagiarizes Pink Floyd at the school talent show. The younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) is starting to have troubles of his own involving his own relationships and experimentation with drinking and masturbation...the latter of which wouldn't be a problem if he wasn't doing it in the library!

This is an intellectual and fascinating story of the dissolution of a marriage and family. 

Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline in
The Squid and The Whale

Didn't every 80's kid have a poster of  Jean Eustache's
The Mother and the Whore on their wall?

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver
in Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach goes to the broken family well again in 2019's much praised Marriage Story. I was at first a little taken aback by the fact that the couple are both in show business, but this is later an important plot point in that Charlie directs plays in New York and Nicole has moved to Los Angles to further her professional career in television. Their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) is caught in the middle. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is legally. Divorce isn't cheap, financially or emotionally. Nicole finds a lawyer (Laura Dern) that takes no prisoners. Charlie finds a older but caring lawyer (Alan Alda) at first, but then realizes he's got to get his own "asshole" lawyer (Ray Liotta).

The film is very well acted and is a strong emotional piece. Adam Driver is especially solid and his performance of the song Being Alive at the end of the film is a fitting catharsis to the film.

Noah Baumbach and his wife Greta Gerwig (Little Women) both have films nominated for Best Picture this year...I hope that doesn't cause them any problems at home...

Marriage Story has been nominated for six Oscars, including: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay.

Lawyering up...Alan Alda assists Adam Driver
in Marriage Story

Lawyering up...Laura Dern advocates for
Scarlett Johannson in Marriage Story

Monday, January 27, 2020


Toller (Ethan Hawke) tries to comfort
Mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried) 
in First Reformed

Today's crisis of faith double feature begins with Paul Schrader's First Reformed, a story of a minister named Toller (Ehtan Hawke) in upstate New York who has to wrestle with an interesting conundrum-How can Toller spread the word of God in his little church when it is being backed by a megachuch that has financial backing of polluters? How can God's word be spread when we seem to care so little about the planet he has blessed us with? Toller's other demons include a son that was killed in Iraq and an ongoing drinking problem. Much of Toller's viewpoint is exacerbated by his ministering to a stuggling environmental activist and his pregnant wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried).  

First Reformed reminds me a lot of Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (The pastor keeps a diary as his health deteriorates in both films). The film also appears to be headed for a finale reminiscent of Schrader's own Taxi Driver script. However, the conclusion didn't go at all the way I expected. There is really a lot to unpack in this film and it is well worth the effort. Despite many accolades, First Reformed only received on Oscar nomination, that being for Schrader's Screenplay.

I've liked Schrader's films over the years, many of which were heavily influenced by his strict Calvinist upbringing in which he wasn't even allowed to see a movie until he was seventeen! This struggle between his religiosity and the secular is exemplified in many of his films such as Hardcore (1979) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). 

Current Pope (Anthony Hopkins) tries to pick
the brain of future Pope Francis (Johnathan Pryce)
in The Two Popes

Another crisis of faith is in store for Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins), as he struggles with the unprecedented decision of retiring from being Pope and likely having the new Pope be the much more progressive Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce). The back and forth between the stodgy Conservative Benedict and the more liberally minded Bergoglio provide for much of the meat of this film. The script by Anthony McCarten nicely shows the confrontation between the two men without being overly preachy (for lack of a better word) about the dogmas of the two men. It is also necessary for the leads to be two heavy hitters and Hopkins and Pryce fill that bill nicely. The two of them carry most of the movie with the exception of some flashback scenes of the early life of Bergoglio.

Director Meirelles has been praised in the past for his films such as City of God (2002) and The Constant Gardener (2005).

The Two Popes has been nominated for three Oscars: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Friday, January 24, 2020

JOKER (2019), JUDY (2019)

 The frontrunners...

Joaquin Phoenix about to perform
as Joker

The frontrunner in the Best Actor Oscar race by all accounts is Joaquin Phoenix as Joker

Joker plays fast and loose with the origin story of most famous of Batman villains known by so many from DC comics. In this movie, he is know as Albert Fleck, who lives with his mother and manages to scrape by with the money he can make as a party clown. Arthur suffers from various mental issues that require his taking several types of medication to keep in control. Personal issues develop with his sickly mother and funding cuts that deprive Arthur of the drugs he needs. Arthur subsequently transforms into the Joker as he slowly loses control of his sanity and discovers some sobering truths about his life that push him over the edge for keeps.

Phoenix gives his all here. I can't imagine anyone better or stranger to take on this role both physically and mentally. I thought his only potential detriment to winning the Oscar might be the fact that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for the same role in The Dark Night. From every prediction sight I've looked at, this doesn't seem to matter and he's a heavy favorite.

Joker was nominated for 11 Academy Awards: including Best Picture, Actor, Director, Screenplay and Music.

Rene Zellweger about to perform
as Judy

Even more of a sure thing seems to be Rene Zellweger taking home the Best Actress award for her performance as Judy Garland towards the end of her life in Judy.  Most of the film is set in Swinging London of the late 60's, as we see Miss Garland performing to make money to keep custody of her kids. The movie shows Judy's drug/pill problem which it intersperses with clips of young Judy on The Wizard of Oz set where the pressures of the studio and willing accomplices get Judy hooked on pills at a very tender age.

Zellweger gives a wonderful interpretation of the latter day Garland, including performing her songs in a very convincing way. It's a sad story that seems to play a bit loose with the facts and condenses some of what actually happened for the sake of the plot. I don't know if Judy actually ate omelettes with a gay couple she met at the end of one show, but it's a nice enough scene!

Judy was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress and Best Makeup/Hairstyling 

Monday, January 20, 2020


Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh
in The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight or maybe Agatha Christie's Kill Bill, but set in a Western setting?

A stagecoach with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) picks up another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a southern soldier from the war (Walter Goggins) on their trek to the city of Red Rock. Bad weather forces them to stay at a haberdashery who has as guests an assortment of characters, many of whom are not what they seem to be. Who and what these desperadoes are up to is the question of this film, which is well over three hours in the expanded version I saw on Netflix. You can say that Tarantino borrows liberally from other movies...hell!, I even recognized some rehashing of some of Tarantino's own movies like Inglorious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs...but...I found what was going on on the screen compelling enough and the characters interesting enough to never think the running time as being too long...

Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Pacino
in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

...This leads us to Tarantino's latest effort, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I originally heard about a year ago that Tarantino was making a film about Charles Manson, so it surprised me now that I've seen it that Manson as a character only has a walk on part here. The main plot of the film involves actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio), who is experiencing a similar career arc to Clint Eastwood and his loyal stunt man Cliff (Brad Pitt). The two get involved through being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the Manson family, which comes to a head on August 8, 1969...but not in the way you might think. Shraon Tate (Margot Robbie) is also featured prominently here. 

Tarantino certainly has an eye for detail and an intense nostalgia of the time and has created a most entertaining film. I am concerned that the The National Review gave this film such a positive review. I'm going to have to think on that one a bit.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been nominated for ten Oscars, including: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


#1 The Last Emperor

The young emperor prepares to greet his subjects
in the opening scene of The Last Emperor

Lastemperoritis-The inability to finish a list of movies you want to see because you never seem to be in the mood to watch a three-hour film about a toddler that becomes emperor of China.

"What interests Bertolucci-who by now had emerged as far more the child of Freud than of Marx-was the indecision, the passivity, the powerlessness of Pu Ti. And by far the most beautiful passages of the film are those of his sexual education and later humiliation, as a figure so pampered that he hardly has identity, let alone character."-David Thomson, Have You Seen...


The Last Emperor is Bernardo Bertolucci's epic which covers roughly fifty years of China in the twentieth century is undeniably beautiful to look at. The story of the young emperor trapped by his own title and then set out into the world as a commoner and eventually a prisoner has appeal, too. It has a Lawrence of Arabia flavor to it which had to appeal to Academy voters. It even had Peter O'Toole-Lawrence himself as the only prominent Westerner in the cast! There were some slow parts, so I can't say I was riveted from beginning to end, but I think this one could have easily been an entry in the 1001 book....And it only took me thirty-two years to get around to seeing it!

1987 Best Picture Nominees
The Last Emperor
Broadcast News
Fatal Attraction
Hope and Glory

The Last Emperor and Hope and Glory were the only two films nominated for Best Picture this year that didn't make the 1001 book.

The Last Emperor famously won all nine categories which it was nominated, including Best Director (Bertolucci) and Best Screenplay (Mark Peploe and Bertolucci) and Best Original Score (Three artists, including Talking Head David Byrne). It received no acting nominations.

Well, I've seen them all now. Ninety-some odd films that have won Best Picture. I'm working on watching the major contenders for next month's Academy Awards, we'll see how that goes.

John Lone and Joan Chen in The Last Emperor

Oscar Best Picture winners

1927-28: Wings and Sunrise

1928-29: The Broadway Melody
1929-30: All Quiet on the Western Front
1930-31: Cimarron
1931-32: Grand Hotel
1932-33: Cavalcade
1934: It Happened One Night
1935: Mutiny on the Bounty
1936: The Great Ziegfeld
1937: The Life of Emile Zola
1938: You Can’t Take It with You
1939: Gone with the Wind
1940: Rebecca
1941: How Green Was My Valley
1942: Mrs. Miniver
1943: Casablanca
1944: Going My Way
1945: The Lost Weekend
1946: The Best Years of Our Lives
1947: Gentleman’s Agreement
1948: Hamlet
1949: All the King’s Men
1950: All About Eve
1951: An American in Paris
1952: The Greatest Show on Earth
1953: From Here to Eternity
1954: On the Waterfront
1955: Marty
1956: Around the World in 80 Days
1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958: Gigi
1959: Ben-Hur
1960: The Apartment
1961: West Side Story
1962: Lawrence of Arabia
1963: Tom Jones
1964: My Fair Lady
1965: The Sound of Music
1966: A Man for All Seasons
1967: In the Heat of the Night
1968: Oliver!
1969: Midnight Cowboy
1970: Patton
1971: The French Connection
1972: The Godfather
1973: The Sting
1974: The Godfather: Part II
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976: Rocky
1977: Annie Hall
1978: The Deer Hunter
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
1980: Ordinary People
1981: Chariots of Fire
1982: Gandhi
1983: Terms of Endearment
1984: Amadeus
1985: Out of Africa
1986: Platoon
1987: The Last Emperor
1988: Rain Man
1989: Driving Miss Daisy
1990: Dances with Wolves
1991: The Silence of the Lambs
1992: Unforgiven
1993: Schindler’s List
1994: Forrest Gump
1995: Braveheart
1996: The English Patient
1997: Titanic
1998: Shakespeare in Love
1999: American Beauty
2000: Gladiator
2001: A Beautiful Mind
2002: Chicago
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: Crash
2006: The Departed
2007: No Country for Old Men
2008: Slumdog Millionaire
2009: The Hurt Locker
2010: The King’s Speech
2011: The Artist
2012: Argo
2013: 12 Years a Slave
2014: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2015: Spotlight
2016: Moonlight
2017: The Shape of Water
2018: Green Book

2019: Ford v Ferarri? The Irishman? Jojo Rabbit?
Joker? Little Women? Marriage Story? 
1917? Once Upon a Hollywood? Parasite?
(We'll find out this year's winner on February 9th)

Monday, January 13, 2020


#2  Tom Jones

Susannah York and Albert Finney pitch woo
in Tom Jones

"Prepare yourself for what is surely one of the wildest, bawdiest and funniest comedies that a refreshingly agile filmmaker has ever brought to the screen."-Bosley Crowther, New York Times, October 8. 1963

"Tom Jones is a mess, sometimes called a romp, and a tribute as much as anything to the sudden new appetite for things English."-David Thomson, Have You Seen...?


Yes, the bawdy romp that is Tom Jones seems to have its fans as well as its detractors. Interesting that I've never gotten around to seeing it before. In fact, I can hardly remember it ever being on TV over the least not often. Seen now, it's an interesting transition British film when the country went from making serious early 60's English films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (also starring Finney) to the Swingin' London films of the later 60's, such as Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (starring David Warner of Tom Jones).

Tom Jones is a fun film especially for those who like period pieces, though the "bawdiness" of the film seems quite subdued by modern standards.

What's New Pussycat?: The Welsh singer Thomas Woodward was rechristened as "Tom Jones" after the success of the movie of the same name. I'm pretty sure more people in recent years are more familiar with the singer Tom Jones than the movie Tom Jones, let alone the original novel by Henry Fielding! But it's not unusual, I guess.

1963 Best Picture Nominees
Tom Jones
America, America
How the West Was Won
Lilies of the Field

None of the Best Picture Nominees for this year made the 1001 book.

In his Alternative Oscar book, Danny Peary awarded no Academy Award winner for 1963. The only year he gave it to no winner. (Though 8 1/2, Hud and The Great Escape seem like potentially worthy choices to me.)

Tony Richardson won the Best Director award for Tom Jones, beating out the formidable competition of Federico Fellini, Martin Ritt, Elia Kazan and Otto Preminger.

Tom Jones also won Best Adapted Screenplay for John Osborne and Best Adapted Musical Score by John Addison

Tom Jones had five Acting Nominations...none of whom won.
Albert Finney lost Best Actor to Sidney Potier of Lillies of the Field
Hugh Griffith lost Best Supporting Actor to Melvyn Douglas of Hud
Diane Cilento, Edith Evans and Joyce Redman all lost Best Supporting Actress to Margaret Rutherford in The V.I.P.'s

A Little Love for Susannah York, Please!: The five acting Oscar nominees for Tom Jones did not include leading lady Susannah York. She went on to have a very fine career in motion pictures, but never received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actess during her career.

Sometimes it Pays to Look Back in Anger: John Osborne was awarded the Best Screenplay Oscar for Tom Jones and had his play Luther win the Tony for Best Play the same yearThe original West End production of Luther starred Albert Finney. The 1973 film version featured Hugh Griffith in a supporting role. Tom Jones director Tony Richardson also directed Luther on the stage.

The hunting scene shot largely from a helicopter
 in Tom Jones

Tomorrow: The final Best Picture winner that I have never seen before!

Sunday, January 12, 2020


#3 Around the World in 80 Days

 David Niven and Cantinflas prepare to go
Around the World in 80 Days

"Imagine this-and being married to Liz (Taylor), too!"-Mike Todd, after Around the World in 80 Days wins Best Picture-Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona


I said in the heading "Sort of" never seen before because I'm sure I saw at least chunks of it on television as a kid as it was a regular staple of something you could show on the tube at any hour that would have kid appeal and be okay for the grownups to tune in. I have previously seen the similar film Five Weeks in a Balloon and star Cantinflas's follow-up Pepe in full.

Well, Around the World in 80 Days is big. It's expansive. It travels all around the world. It's got a ton of extras. It's even got a ton of animal extras. David Niven is snootily charming as Phileas Fogg. Mexican comic legend Cantinflas is also on hand as Fogg's sidekick, Passeportout. There's action, adventure and many star cameos. There's also great closing credit sequence from the legendary Saul Bass. The Victor Young score is good. And don't forget the film comes form the literary pedigree of Jules Verne!

That's a lot of positives. Despite all that, I can't say I found Around the World in 80 Days overly riveting. It's amusing in part (Thanks mostly to Cantiflas) but not the most hilarious comedy of the era. It certainly seems in retrospect that Giant probably should have won Best Picture for 1956. The picture that has had the most staying power from the below nominee list is the perennially shown The Ten Commandments. The beloved (by some) The King and I also seems to have stood the test of time more than Around the World in 80 Days.

Michael Todd: You can't mention this film without mentioning the ambitious producer of the whole thing, Michael Todd. After great successes in other mediums, this was his first (and only) film and it was a big hit and, of course won the Oscar. Todd's career ended in a plane crash in 1958. It would have been interesting to see what ambitious film projects would have come after this one if he had lived.

Cameos: Todd is also credited with coining the phrase "cameo" to denote a star in a brief role. There are many in Around the World in 80 Days, from Frank Sinatra to Marlene Dietrich to John Carradine. If you get bogged down in the plot, you can always play the spot the celebrity bit-player game. "Look, honey. Isn't that Jack Oakie?"

Which Indians come off worse? During Fogg and Passepartout's journey to India, they come across a princess (played by a young Shirley Macclaine) about to be burned alive after her husband dies. She is saved from death from these heathens by the resourceful Passeportout. Later, in the United States, the crew are travelling by train and get attacked by another kind of Indian. The kind with bows and arrows! They kidnap Passeportout and try to burn him at the stake! He is of course rescued. The Indians (dots) at least had a reason for burning the princess (although a pretty bad one). The Indian's (feathers) motivations seem to be to just supply an excuse for an action sequence.

Can someone please find me a Frenchman? In the book by Jules Verne, Passepartout is a French valet.
In this version, he is played by the Mexican Cantinflas
In the 1989 television version, he is played by Englishman Eric Idle
In the 2004 feature film, he is played by Jackie Chan, who I'm pretty sure also isn't French.

1956 Best Picture Nominees
Around the World in 80 Days
Friendly Persuasion
The King and I
The Ten Commandments

Around the World in 80 Days' Michael Anderson lost out on Best Director to George Stevens of Giant

Neither Niven nor Cantinflas was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days
Yul Brynner won Best Actor for The King and I
Cantinflas was given The Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globe Award.

James Poe, John Farrow and S. J. Perlman won Best Adapted Screenplay for Around the World in 80 Days

Victor Young won for Best Musical Score for Around the World in 80 Days
This was Young's first Oscar after being nominated a previous twenty-one times. He died the year he won the award, which was given posthumously. 

The film also won for Best Color Cinematography and Best Film Editing

David Niven with Buster Keaton,
One of the many "cameos" in
Around the World in 80 Days

Saturday, January 11, 2020


#4 The Greatest Show on Earth

Charlton Heston and James Stewart in
The Greatest Show on Earth

"To Everyone's astonishment (including presenter Mary Pickford), the winner was The Greatest Show on Earth. Back in New York, the audience at the Century could not even applaud and a voice asked, "Who decides these things, anyway?"-Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona

"I thought High Noon or The Quiet Man would get it," Cecil B. DeMille said backstage.


I had to qualify the never seen before tag on this one, as I did see it on TV in the late 70's, so I may have to change the heading on this to "Haven't seen in the last forty years."

Anyway,  The Greatest Show on Earth isn't really a choice that has aged well. DeMille was right, High Noon or The Quiet Man (or Singin' in the Rain) would have been better choices. I think at the time the Academy was trying to give an award to a film directed by DeMille, probably the greatest living filmmaking pioneer at the time. The movie itself is a big color extravaganza of the circus featuring an all-star cast (Yes, Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde were major stars at one time) that reminds me a little bit of 1970's disaster films in having the name cast in a somewhat soapy melodrama, though we aren't waiting to see who will die or not like in those films. That being said, the film does end with a massive train wreck of the Barnum and Bailey circus train that was pretty spectacular for the time, but doesn't particularly date that well either, though I still kind of like the train scene, anyway.

Worth seeing, though I'd argue with you if you call this the Best Picture of the Year.

Star that comes off best: Easily the best story under the big top is Jimmy Stewart as a clown named Buttons that is secretly an on the lamb doctor accused of murder. He wears his make-up throughout the film. I honesty wish the film had been centered more around his character.

Star that comes off the worst: Dorothy Lamour. Not that she is particularly bad, but the film gives her very little to do. She just pops up every twenty minutes or so to remind us that Dorothy Lamour is indeed in this picture!

Rising star: Demille cast Charlton Heston as the head of the circus in what was easily his biggest role to date. Demille and Heston would team up a few years later to in what was possibly the most iconic film for both of them, The Ten Commandments.

1952 Best Picture Nominees:
The Greatest Show on Earth
High Noon
Moulin Rouge
The Quiet Man

John Ford did win Best Director for The Quiet Man over Demille.

The Greatest Show on Earth's elaborate costume design by Edith Head lost out on that award to Moulin Rogue. Ms. Head  did win the costume design award eight other years.

The Greatest Show on Earth's only other Oscar went to Frederic Frank, Theodore St. John and Frank Cavett for their screenplay.

Cornel Wilde, Betty Hutton and Charlton Heston
under the big top
in The Greatest Show on Earth

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

JOE (1970), PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)

Peter Boyle as Joe

I've heard about the movie Joe for a long time. I knew it was about a bigot played by Peter Boyle, but the movie turned out to be a much different cinematic experience than I expected. We don't even get to meet Joe until about 30 minutes into the movie!

The plot starts with a young hippie chick named Melissa (Susan Sarandon) trying to get along with her druggie boyfriend. Unfortunately, she has a freak out and gets sent to the hospital. Her affluent father Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) then goes to their pad when they aren't there to gather her belongs. The boyfriend comes home and provokes Compton who kills the young hippie in a rage.

The clearly upset Compton goes into a bar where we (finally) meet Joe (Peter Boyle), who has plenty to say negatively about blacks and gays. However, Joe has a special animosity towards those young hippie punks (Hey, boomers) who he thinks are destroying the moral fabric of society. The working class Joe and the upper class Compton form an unlikely friendship that leads them to unlikely places.

Joe is a very solid drama. Part of this can be attributed to the script by Haskell Wexler (Read the section of Bob Zmuda's book on Andy Kaufman for a look at how crazy Wexler was.) As I mentioned, the story did not go into predictable places and some may find parts of it dated or the ending a bit too much, but I still give it a thumbs up, especially for those who like films from the period.

Susan Sarandon in Joe

There's a new business model
in Putney Swope

Speaking of films of the period, how about Robert Downey Sr.'s film Putney Swope? Putney has a small cult following, but I had never seen it before today. The movie begins with one black board executive (named Putney Swope) at an advertising company becoming the CEO when the old CEO dies and the rest of the board votes Swope CEO because they all thought no body else would vote for him!

Swope cleans house and now the advertising firm is called Truth and Soul and big changes come about. The story is tongue and cheek and intentionally over-the-top. Some of the jokes don't land quite as solidly perhaps they were intended to, but there are a lot of truths that come out of this film. Truths about advertising, selling out, doing anything for money, pay inequality and getting rid of anyone who doesn't agree with you. We also have a midget president, an executive board that looks like members of The Black Panthers and some commercial ads that are often tasteless and usually pretty funny.

Glad to finally get these off my late 60's early 70's bucket list (Which I guess must be an unwritten supplement to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die List).

The midget president in Putney Swope

Sunday, January 5, 2020



Passenger is Andrzej Munk's uncompleted film that begins with a lady on a passenger ship named Lisa who sees a another woman board. Lisa becomes distraught because of recognizing the other woman from a life that she thought she had put behind. This life was when Lisa was an SS officer and the other woman (named Marta) was a Jewish inmate of the camp.

The issue with Passenger as a viewing experience is that it was never completed. Munk died in a car accident during the filming and what we are left with is what was put together by filmmaker Witold Lesiewicz. I will say what we have is often compelling. We see mostly flashback sequences with Lisa as a harsh camp guard and are left with her rather undefined relationship with Marta. Lisa actually saves Marta from death on several occasions. The audience is left to wonder whether the reason for this  is just the latent humanity of Lisa or a possibly even a latent attraction? We don't really know the answer because the film was never completed. Many of the scenes from the ship are still pictures with voice-over narration. It's a shame the film was never finished, but the slightly under an hour remainder is worth a watch, if you don't mind being left with more questions than answers.


Claude Lanzman's documentary of the Holocaust called Shoah. on the other hand, took over a decade to complete and is over ten hours in length. The first thing that is striking about Shoah is that there is no archival footage used. What we have are interviews that take up the entirety of the film. It reminded me a little of the Marcel Ophlus films like The Sorrow and the Pity, though Ophlus's films had some archival footage to back his story up.

There are many interviews with survivors of the camps. We have the reminiscences of people from neighboring villages to where the camps were. There is a memorable interview with a barber who cut the hair of those about to be killed. We have a couple of academic scholars to attempt to add some clarity to what went on and why. Perhaps most frighteningly we have interviews with some of the villains from this tragedy, those that worked in the camp, ran the trains going to the camp and coordinated the liquidation as if they were running a business on a strict deadline.

The film was shot from the mid 70's until the release of the film in 1985 and is an invaluable historical record of those that were there.

The Pawnbroker

Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1964) is a story based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, about a man named Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) who lost his entire family to the holocaust and years later runs a pawn shop in New York City. Nazerman has an assistant named Jesus Ortiz who he is teaching the business. But there is no happiness in Sol's life. As he points out to Jesus, the only thing he respects now is money. It isn't out of greed he does this, but simply because there is nothing left of value to him to hold on to.

This is a pretty powerful film and one I'm surprised I haven't seen before now. There is much to see in the film as far as symbolism (The ultimate sacrifice of a character named Jesus, Sol's attempt to run his hand down on a spike as if being crucified himself etc.). It is also a worthy addition to the impressive career output of director Lumet and may also be Steiger's best performance.

I love the look of dramas from the sixties that were still filmed in black and white. The cinematographer of The Pawnbroker was Boris Kaufman, who also filmed On the Waterfront, as well as several other films for Lumet.
 Deaths-Head Revisited 1961

These movies made me think of The Twilight Zone episode Death's Head Revisited...which I myself revisited. It features a former SS guard named Lutze (played by Oscar Beregi) who goes back to visit the concentration camp where he brutally tortured and murdered people during the war only to now be haunted by the ghosts of prisoners past (led by Joseph Schildkraut). One of my favorite Twilight Zones and featuring one of the easily most despicable heavies from the series.

Tribunal 1999

I thought there was an episode of the classic Outer Limits episode about a concentration camp, but could only find an episode from the reboot of the Outler Limits from 1999 titled Tribunal. This episode has a modern day reporter finding a surviving war criminal from one of the camps. The reporter is aided by a time traveler which leads to some interesting plot twists and leads to the war criminal being executed by a younger version of himself!...


Friday, January 3, 2020


Dogs in movies...

I don't read a lot of fiction books about dogs, but The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is one I had heard good things about and gave it a shot. It is a story from the point of view of a Golden Retriever named Enzo. Enzo is adopted as a puppy by a young race car driver named Denny and they go through much together through the years. This includes Denny's marriage, the birth of his daughter and later fight for custody with his in-laws. All through this, Enzo loves to watch Denny race, mostly on TV. The point of view of the book is from Enzo and is handled very well done by Stein.

In adapting this to film, we are obviously going to have a great deal of voice of narration. Enzo's voice is supplied here by Kevin Costner. I think it's about as well done as you can do with an adaptation of a novel that is from the dogs point of view. In other words, I got into Enzo's head enough to satisfy me. The last scene with the older Enzo riding around the track with Denny and saying how happy he is is......I...I definitely need a tissue here.

It's interesting that on Rotten Tomatoes the critics rating for this movie is 43% and the audience score is 96%! Underestimate dog loving movie goers at your own risk.

Enzo and Denny master
The Art of Racing in the Rain

In trying to find a good double-feature match for The Art of Racing in the Rain, I remembered a 1963 Disney movie called The Incredible Journey

I read the book first by Sheila Burnford. It's a pretty quick read. It's about a young Lab named Luath, an older Bull Terrier named Old Bodger and a Siamese Cat named Tao who embark on trip back to the home where their family is staying three-hundred miles away! They encounter many adventures along the way , including: altercations with bears, porcupines, Tao nearly drowning and some humans who don't take too kindly to these strange travelers. However, most of the humans they meet along the way are helpful to our travelers. If you can accept the rather far-fetched premise of them being all able to make it all that way, then it's a recommended book for younger readers...maybe some older ones too.

Old Bodger, Tao and Luath master the terrain
in The Incredible Journey

The film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book with many of the action sequences well done. How did they get the cat to do that water scene? How did they get the animals to do most of what they did here? Anyway, when the incredible journey ends and the animals are reunited with their family one by one...I...I definitely need a tissue here.

The film is narrated by Rex Allen. Rex was a former cowboy star whose familiar voice was part of many a Disney movie I watched growing up (Charlie, The Lonesome Cougar, Charlotte's Web and The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon come to mind).