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Thread: CALIFORNIA MOVIE JOURNAL (January 2022)

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    CALIFORNIA MOVIE JOURNAL (January 2022)

    CALIFORNIA MOVIE JOURNAL (January 2022)


    LINDA FIORENTINO IN THE LAST SEDUCTION

    Wrist surgery in early December kept me from driving to movies, and I couldn't type very much at first either, so I watched some old ones I remembered with pleasure or related ones I'd never seen. This list starts Jan. 1, 2022. Not counting movies I saw in theaters or reviewed.

    THE LAST SEDUCTION. (John Dahl 1994). I remember Dahl made the best neonoirs ever, for a little while. Linda Fiorentino excels as the vagina dentata the killer femme fatale who will stop at nothing. But she comes across as a little too evil. She needs some touch of weakness, some saving grace. There is none.

    CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski 1970). Well before John Dahl Polanski made the best neonoir ever. Only Robert Towne's great screenplay, especially compared to Dahl, is so grand and historical and political, it lacks the fly-by-night quality of the usual noirs. There are lines I remember not from the film but from somebody quoting them to me like the woman who calls Jack Nicholson asking "Are you alone?" and he replies "Isn't everyone?"

    FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (David O. Russell 1996). This tale of a man, played by Ben Stiller, who was adopted and raised by a neurotic New York Jewish couple and when grown up goes looking for his birth parents out in the American hinterland, was hilarious then, and it's still hilarious now. With Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni, and featuring George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as the adoptive parents who are drawn into the fray. The great cast includes supporting roles from Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as a holdover couple from the Sixties and Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as a gay couple in law enforcement who come along for the ride. Unlike Demme, Russell went on to do more great independent movies.

    THE LOST DAUGHTER. In theaters now but also on Netflix. I wrote a review of this which I did not enjoy but admired, as I did both enjoy and admire Sorrentino's THE HAND OF GOD also on Netfilx, which I enjoyed a lot; and others I will publish later from screeners. I also saw and reviewed Adam McKay's DON'T LOOK UP this way and discussed it with my friend Jessica, who enjoyed it more.

    LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (Eric Rohmer 1967). This contains some of the most obnoxious men in any Rohmer film. But the pretty young girl is bulletproof: nothing fazes her. One of my least favorite Rohmer films; I probably forget watching it because I repress it. Evidently I don't appreciate the satire. One of the current "Nouvelle Vague" Criterion Channel offerings.

    KILL ME AGAIN (John Dahl 1994). This comes before THE LAST SEDUCTION and features a less horrible female - and Val Kilmer as the fall guy private detective. The violence and rapacious cruelty of the women in these two pictures might be called out as blatantly sexist today. But the movies have a durable seediness. Rarely do any American films today capture the down-and-dirty danger and sheer tackiness of neo-noir, and not with such fluency.

    THE BLUE LAGOON (Randal Kleiser 1980). This was despised and mocked; I had never seen it. Now it's a beautiful escape. The cinematography of Nestor Almendros, who shot a lot of Éric Rohmer's films, including LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, was justifiably Oscar-nominated, and Chris Atkins got a best newcomer Golden Gloves nomination. This is a Victorian story, and a dream of Paradise. I take it straight: innocent, not soft-core porn. Netflix.

    MARRIED TO THE MOB (Jonathan Demme 1988). Demme made this and Something Wild, two delightful, light, hip, original pictures with no special agenda, and then went astray. He deserved little credit for the sick, homophobic Silence of the Lambs and sought absolution with the middlebrow, dull AIDS picture Philadelphia, and for no good reason got festival attention for the tedious, overlong Rachel Getting Married. The fun never returned, alas. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the sweet but ballsy Mafia widow who dares to break away from The Family and try to move to the Lower East Side and be a hairdresser. Matthew Modine is in his prime as the boisterous, physical young FBI agent who gets into a flirt with the Pfeiffer, the lady he's supposed to be tailing, and Mercedes Ruhl shines as the ball-buster gangster wife. The whole thing is a romp that ends up with a shootout like the final of Ridley Scott's TRUE ROMANCE scripted by Tarantino under the influence of John Woo - but that came five years later.

    SOMETHING WILD (Demme 1986). This is really more interesting than MARRIED TO THE MOB because it takes us into some trippy head-spaces, while still remaining basically an eccentric rom-com romp - though one that turns deadly when yuppie Jeff Daniels, who's been kidnapped for the weekend by wild young woman Melanie Griffith, is menaced by ex-con husband Ray Liotta who turns up at a high school reunion. All three of these actors are in their prime and turn in sensational performances. This shows Demme's lifelong musical hipness (discussed in this NPR piece) like nothing else, with street performers popping up in location scenes and Sister Carole literally stepping out of her role as a cafe waitress to stand on the sidewalk at film's end to deliver her unique island version of "Wild Thing." This film has the freedom and excitement of the French New Wave, with a whole new layer of American vernacular vibes.

    LOVE [or CHLOE] IN THE AFTERNOON/L'AMOUR L'APRÈS-MIDI (ÉRIC ROHMER 1972). Frédéric, the protagonist, is a silly, idle bourgeois with a posh Paris office job and a correct wife in the suburbs (and a tot and a babe enroute) who consents to flirt with the sexy, elegant, and unstable Chloé. A subplot is girl-watching which is shown to be in Paris justifiably a fine art; and the glamorous, gorgeous women, who Fédéric fantasizes being able to bend to his will with a magical amulet, as well as several pretty and extravagantly dressed young men, including the always impeccably dressed Frédéric, who we see carefully shopping for accessories, exemplify a new world where men as well as women wear flashy, fashionable hairstyles and designer clothes. All this is gorgeously photographed in luminous color by the great Nestor Almendros. A Criterion Channel "Nouvelle Vague" current offering.

    CLAIRE'S KNEE (ERIC ROHMER 1970). This is one Rohmer fans or maybe Rohmer newcomers run to, but not one of my favorites. It's generic and obvious and rather more dated and slim in content than, say, My Night at Maud's or the more technically bold The Aviator's Wife. New observations are that it includes a then skinny, boyish 16-year-old Fabrice Lucchini with long blond hair as Vincent, the jejune would-be boyfriend of Laura (longtime Rohmer favorite Béatrice Romand), who has no inerest in him.. It is also amusing to note that the actor, Jean-Claude Brialy the older man who flirts with the young girls who have young boyfriends and finally gets to touch the knee of young stunner Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) was gay. And openly so. He was important in Nouvelle Vague films like Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins. Apart from being desirable, Claire isnl't very interesting - in the French sense of having good conversation. But the conversation is all between Jerome (Brialy) and his older woman friend Aurora (the likable Romanian Aurora Cornu who died last year in Paris at the age of 89 - good for her!). Criterion Channel.

    THEY ALL LAUGHED (Peter Bogdonovich 1981). Watched as a homage to Bogdonovich, who just died, and deserves more attention, all of which went to Sidney Poitier. I don't understand it, but I didn't want to watch Targets. The forgotten The Thing Called Love touches me, but it's hard to watch films with River Phoenix in them, too sad. There are a few very positive readings of this movie, but it tends to be dismissed as a flop. It has an interesting flavor - the use of music is distinctive if a bit grating - but not enough is really happening for it to be memorable. Mike D'Angelo recently watched and commented on it and as usual has a good comment. He says it's "A great film, a solid film and a clunker jumbled together." He chooses to forget the parts that "whiff."

    ELEVATOR TO THE SCAFFOLD[or GALLOWS]/ASCENSEUR POUR L'ÉCHAFAUD (Louis Malle 1958). Some dismiss this too as being interesting chiefly only for the spare, elegant Miles Davis score (as Richard Brody argued in The New Yorker online in 2016). However while I love the Miles score, as I also love the MJQ one for the Roger Vadim-directed atmospheric but relatively vapid 1957 No Sun in Venice/Sait-on jamais..., this reads like a classic to me in its every shot. I like seeing Georges Poujouly, the little boy of René Clément's heartbreaking Forbidden Games, grown up into a juvenile delinquent with dumb punk attitude and floppy black hair foreshadowing Godard's use of Belmondo in Breathless. Jeanne Moreau's all-night walkaround foreshadows her "sick soul of Europe" walkaround in Antonioni's La Notte in 1961. Criterion Channel.

    WEST SIDE STORY (Robert Wise 1961). Skipped this hitherto, watched it now to prep for Spielberg's remake, which I have not yet seen. Kael's pan of the dancing is wrong but she has a good shit detector and though this is a beautiful film and I like the big songs, "Maria," "America," "Somewhere," "Gee, Officer Krupke," culturally it rings false, a middle class older white men's clueless version of teenage gang life and Puerto Rican immigrants. Tony Kushner probably was hired to inject authenticity, but is he up to that? We are a bit more knowing about some things now. If someone made Lawrence of Arabia today, it would have more than three Arabic words in it. But after all, Spielberg is doing a remake of the late-1950's musical, not making a whole new one. Musicals usually aren't meant to be realistic - though the 2006 Spring Awakening at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre was an eye- and ear-opener for me. Natalie Wood and the singer whose voice was used for all Maria's songs, Marni Nixon, and Jimmy Bryant who dubbed RIchard Beymer's singing were all shabbily used, it seems. I like the pretty coolness of the more austere of the industrial landscape backgrounds; wish more real ones had been used though.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-25-2022 at 02:06 AM.

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    ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO (Louis Malle 1960). Bosley Crowther of the Times wrote in his original review: "The trouble (a gentle word for it!) with his picture simply is that there is no rhyme nor reason in it, no statement, no purpose and no point. It is strictly anarchism with a camera, crazy images created for the images' sake. And when it all winds up in a riot of food throwing and destruction of a cafe, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that it is actually a little depraved." It's mainly just a string of "zany" visual gags, an anarchical "caper" flick running around Paris. I like old cars in movies and there are lots of them, because a Métro strike is forcing everybody out on the road. Little Zazie swears like a truck driver, which was radical at the time, but that joke wears out. Now I see why I avoided this film up to now. Louis Malle was a very scattered artist. This came right after Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers and soon after he made The Fire Within, Murmur of the Heart, Lacombe, Lucien and then a string of American movies (very good ones), including My Dinner with André. It makes no sense. Another current Criterion Channel "Nouvelle Vague" offering.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-25-2022 at 02:09 AM.

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    MURUEL OU LE TEMPS D'UN RETOUR (Alain Resnais 1963). Another in the Criterion Channel's current offerings of Nouvelle Vague films that like Zazie I'd not previously seen. One by Resnais many say is his most typical and also his best (see J. Hoberman's simple but clarifying 2016 Times piece). A brief, densely edited drama, both theatrical and highly cinematic (in a very chilly way), about two generations, spotlighting how war, exemplified in WWII and France's Algerian colonial conflict, fractures emotions, memories, mindsets and lives, focusing on a woman (Delphine Seyrig), her traumatized stepson (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée),and her returned former lover (Jean-Pierre Kérien). Set in the war-destroyed and postwar-rebuilt seaport town of Boulogne-sur-Mer in a screenplay by concentration camp survivor Jean Cayrol, Muriel might be seen as Marienbad's ideas reexamined, this time more realistically, less abstractly, and in color, with a specificity whose remaining vagueness Patrick Modiano (2014 Nobel Prizewinner and co-author of Lacombe, Lucien) would understand. An eye-opener, it's stubbornly unfun but fun to unpack, as attendees of the first New York Film Festival may have found in Sept. 1963 following the film's late-Aug. Venice debut.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-25-2022 at 02:12 AM.

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    CLÉO FROM 7 TO 7 (Agnès Varda 1961). Another current Nouvelle Vague Criterion Channel offering of a famous film I'd never previously seen. Varda was originally trained as a photographer and the richly contrasty black and white images full of busy Paris streets filmed with fluency and verve are what counts most to me in this film. They recall the work of William Klein; the images are intense and stunning. Structured as a real-time (minus 30-minutes) coverage of two hours in the life of statuesque young blonde pop singer and minor celebrity Flora "Cléo" Victoire (Corinne Marahand) - the usual time when Parisian boys met their girlfriends - who is afraid she may have fatal stomach cancer and at the end of this period she's going to a hospital to get the results of a biopsy, and she fears the worst. Nice moments include seeing a young Michel Legrand informally play and sing and glimpsing a crisp Buster Keaton-style silent film featuring Godard, Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine, and others. Until the last segment, it's not a lot more than the nice visuals, plus Cléo's anxiety. After a lot of ego and fear of dying, finally Cléo casually meets Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller), a soft-spoken, preternaturally articulate soldier on temporary leave from the Algerian war, whose company and conversation have a transformative effect. Kael described this as the very rare female-helmed film clearly different from one made by a man.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-25-2022 at 02:14 AM.

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    SUZANNE'S CAREER (Éric Rohmer 1963). One of his earliest features, black and white, only 55 minutes, about Paris university students and focused on a young woman from the point of view of two young men, Bertrand and Guillaume, narrated by the younger, handsomer one, Bertrand, showing that both undervalue her. In the end Suzanne is getting married and Bertrand is failing in his studies and losing Suzie, the "superior" girl he's now spending time with. Pretty slight, but economical in its narration, this shows how simple Rohmer's beginnings were, but of interest to the Rohmer completist as the second movie in the series of the Six Moral Tales.. A current Criterion Channel offering.

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    THE FIRE WITHIN/LE FEU FOLLET (Louis Malle 1963). Wow. Thought rewatching this would be depressing but what's depressing is always bad movies, never good ones, and this is a very good one. It may seem dated or over-stylized at times but this is masterful, clear and simple filmmaking, and Maurice Ronet is playing the psychologically rich role of a man who has partially destroyed himself by drink, not far from the actor himself. I don't know if Malle had brushed personally with alcoholism or been suicidal, but he apparently has Ronet wear his, Malle's, clothes and filled his room at the Versailles sanatorium with his possessions. He had led a nighttime dissolute party life and questioned his existence, but he chose life, not the end of Alain. The added pleasure today is the option of comparing this great New Wave work with another fine recent film based on the same Pierre Drieu La Rochelle book, Joachim Trier's 2011 Oslo: August 31, with the great Anders Danielsen Lie. Trier's, with Lie, is more puzzling and fluid, but Malle's is richer in background. Pauline Kael has written well about this film and Malle in general particularly in her Oct. 23, 1971 New Yorker review of Murmur of the Heart, which sheds some light on Malle's eclectic filmography and why it delayed his acquiring the same reputation as other New Wave directors.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-25-2022 at 02:16 AM.

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