Movie Reviews: Stuff I've Seen Lately
This movie was a real strut for Warren Beatty—throughout he’s the smartest, craftiest, stealthiest, studliest guy around. When his character—a journalist—literally won a barfight, I gave up expecting anything else. That made the movie sort of silly, in addition to the narrative, which was quite obscure and impenetrable for an action-thriller. Also, the last section went on for ages. There are some really great suspense movies from the 70s, but this isn’t one of them.
I saw the remake, with Jude Law, way back when, and thought at the time that it felt old-fashioned. The refrain of, “What does it all mean?” was, I think, by 2004, a question that people born in the era of self-help were a little more used to asking themselves. I was interested, then, in seeing the original, with a youthful Michael Caine, to see if it made more sense in a historical context. The answer is, yes, it does. The incredibly shallow journey to selfhood really should belong to a guy with sideburns, who calls women “birds.” I could quibble with the sexism in the movie, but it was positively quaint, with Alfie having a moment of realization that his victimized girlfriend “has feelings! Just like me!” As a period piece, it was fun. (It seemed weird, though, to have Shelley Winters in a glamorous role—could Roseanne’s Nana Mary really ever have been a sex symbol?)
Click ahead for five more films (but only two produced in my lifetime!)
Incredibly wonderful courtroom drama which fictionalizes the legendary Scopes trial, which debated whether evolution should be taught in public schools (a debate that somehow, a hundred years later, still rages on in rural school districts). Spencer Tracy was terrific as the thoughtful but quick-witted Clarence Darrow figure, but Fredric March was particularly spectacular as the showboating paragon of religion and virtue based on William Jennings Bryan. A must-see for anyone who loves to listen to the back-and-forth of a philosophical tennis match.
There’s a certain kind of “free spirit” movie—those celebrations of the antihero, those exercises in Damning the proverbial Man, which were really common in the 60s and 70s, and which leave me utterly cold. I was worried, frankly, that I am secretly some kind of transgressive conservative, that I have masquerading as a liberal but that my future is in crotchety complaints about how young people don’t know how to act right and dammit, that’s not how you do things! But Harold and Maude put things in perspective: there is nothing wrong with me!
Harold and Maude was…just kind of dumb. It fetishized suicide, of all things, as the ultimate rebellious move. That, and playing the banjo. I could get on board with the general idea—be yourself, live for yourself, live how you want, live how you like. But when it becomes this thing where Maude just steals cars all the time, because personal possessions are a fallacy, and she has to get home somehow, and anyway who cares? it makes me angry, because, I don’t know, respecting personal and legal boundaries is important to me. In the 60s and 70s it would make me square, I guess, or some other slang term from past generations. In the aughts, I have decided that this quality just makes me somebody who is less interested in being a free spirit and more interested in being a functional, cooperative member of society.
The Saddest Music in the World (2003)
An incredibly bizarre art film—I put it in my Netflix queue because the original story was crafted by Kazuo Ishiguro, a novelist I admire. This movie belonged to the director, though; it only took me a minute to recognize the work of Guy Maddin. Having seen his short film The Heart of the World, I already knew that his game is in recreating the fuzzy, stylized image of Russian and European classics from the 20s and 30s. Watch the short, and you’ll get the idea; The Saddest Music in the World looks just like that. The story, then, was not exactly the point. If you’re interested, it involves an international music contest and a pair of glass legs filled with beer.
Probably the best Spielberg film of the last couple decades—there is just as much moral ambiguity as Schindler’s List, but more kickass action (Schindler's List was really lacking in kickass action), and it still manages to be completely free of the mawkish sentimentalism that weighs down the last minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Eric Bana is, I think, well-cast (and convincingly accented) as the leader of the team of Judaic assassins. The movie also boasts future Bond Daniel Craig as the group’s firebrand, and Irish actor Ciaran Hinds (looking incredibly like Alan Rickman) as the mature voice of reason. Thematically, the film highlighted the contradiction of that ethnic conflict—both crucial to resolve and impossible to resolve.
Another art film, this one watched for film class. It was actually incredibly lovely, juxtaposing post-bomb Hiroshima of the 1950s with a doomed love affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect, both of whom are already married. My class debated for a long time about whether the movie really had the gall to suggest that the trauma of a love affair is in any way equivalent to the trauma of mass societal destruction; my opinion on the subject is, well, that’s the French. Amazingly fresh, stylistically and thematically, for a movie from 1959.