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The Gunfighter

Excellent Real Time Western
"The Gunfighter" isn't as well known as the granddaddy of psychological "real time" Westerns, "High Noon," which came out two years later, but it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as that Fred Zinemann classic.

Gregory Peck plays the eponymous outlaw who's spending an afternoon in one of his old haunts to wrap up some loose ends to his personal life. He's famous, or rather infamous, as being the best sharpshooter around, and all sorts of hot heads want to be the one to take him down and seal their own place in gunslinger legend. But he's not interested in fighting, not anymore. He just wants to see his love one more time and the little boy he hasn't seen grow up before fading into the horizon and spending the rest of his days looking over his shoulder. But a couple of other cowboys with a score to settle are on their way to the town to face off against him, and it's a race against time to see if he can vacate the premises before they appear.

"The Gunfighter," like all good Westerns, is full of subtext and psychological import. It's about myth and the futility of being the "tough guy," suggesting that tough guys give up a whole lot of what makes life worth living for more ordinary folk. Peck is very good in the lead role, but Millard Mitchell, as former fellow outlaw and now straight and narrow sheriff of the town, stole the show for me.

"The Gunfighter" is memorably directed by Henry King, a director I more often associate with that anonymous studio style of the 1940s. But here, he stages a marvel of screen choreography, with actors entering and exiting and swirling around an old West town set with all the fluidity and precision of a feature length musical number.

Writers William Bowers and Andre de Toth received an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Story.

Grade: A

Sorry We Missed You

Well Done Misery Porn
A bit of misery porn from director Ken Loach about a family eking out an existence in working class England.

The dad is a delivery driver, the mom is a care worker. Both are victims of the dehumanizing effect of the gig economy that treats workers as if they're disposable drones. This is a bleak film lacking in any kind of hope that the lives of people like this will or even can improve. Even the occasional moment of sweetness, like a scene where the dad brings his daughter with him on his delivery route so that they can actually spend some time together, ends badly when he gets in trouble for it. It's by all objective reckoning an exceptionally well made movie, with terrific performances from its cast, but your enjoyment of it will depend on how much you're willing to wallow in other people's misery.

Grade: A-

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

John Ford Western About Weary Old Timers
I don't much care for Westerns as a genre and especially not when they're served straight up. But if I'm going to watch one, I want to watch a John Ford Western, since he almost always was interested in more than just standard Western tropes and always used their conventions to explore other things on his mind.

"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" stars a tolerable John Wayne as a U.S. cavalry sergeant who embarks on one last mission before his retirement. The film is steeped in a post-WWII sentiment of regret and loss -- regret that wars have to happen at all, and that younger generations of soldiers won't or can't understand the futility of destruction no matter how much their older and wiser forebears try to tell them so.

This film isn't a great Western along the lines of "Stagecoach" or "The Searchers." It's not especially lengthy but feels it, the film continuing long past the point where I thought things were wrapping up, and there are some unwelcome slapstick comedy scenes featuring Victor McLaglen that overstay their welcome. As a consolation, we get to bask in Winton Hoch's famous and spectacular color photography that captures the natural grandeur of the American West, and at other times uses saturated colors to give scenes a surreal, other worldly quality. Just take a look at the scenes set in a makeshift cemetery that find Wayne communing with his dead wife and children, the best scenes in the movie. Hoch deservedly won an Oscar for his work.

Grade: B+

The Green Years

Episodic and Boring
An episodic and, dare I say, kinda boring movie about a young boy growing up in a Scottish town. Everything that you might think would happen in a movie like this happens. He wants to do one thing with his life but his parents want him to do another. He's in love with a childhood friend but it takes them forever to just admit they're in love with each other. He doesn't have the money to pursue his ambitions until, through a twist of circumstances, he does. All the time he absorbs the life lessons of his irascible great grandfather, played by Charles Coburn in an unacceptable beard and haircut. It's a warm, gentle, unoffensive, slightly drab and boring movie that's typical of a lot of movies that came out around WWII and shortly after, seemingly made for an audience with PTSD.

Coburn received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and the extremely unlucky George Folsey received his eighth of fourteen unsuccessful nominations for his black and white cinematography.

Grade: B-

The Assistant

May Just Drive You Crazy
"The Assistant" is either going to captivate you or bore you to hell. Sometimes it can do both at the same time.

Julia Garner plays the eponymous assistant to some big-shot movie producer who we never see (though the film is clearly based on Harvey Weinstein, or at least on people like him and the environments that produce people like him). She gets to the office before the sun rises and spends her day cleaning out garbage cans, answering calls from his pissed off wife, managing his schedule, probably cutting his fingernails, changing his catheter, hell I don't know. Whatever she's doing, she looks like she wants to crawl into a hole and die while she's doing it. She puts up with the job because she wants to break into the movie biz herself, which we find out when she levels a half-assed complaint about sexual harassment (not of her, but of a newly hired girl) to the HR manager, who basically tells her to suck it up and deal with it because that's how the business works. I'm sure this is exactly how the business works, and I'm sure that's exactly how it's allowed to go on working the way it does. I felt bad for this girl in the abstract because it sucks that that's the way things are. But I felt sort of frustrated by her too, because who would go into something like the movie business and expect it to be any other way? Nobody gets the money and power that goes along with movie business fame without doing some sleazy things along the way. That's just the way it is, and how much sympathy am I obligated to feel for this privileged Northwestern grad who's getting a chance that fewer than 1% of people ever get?

This is a really well made film though. It's expert at creating an environment of creeping dread out of a setting that's otherwise completely mundane.

Grade: A-

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

The name Eliza Hittman meant nothing to me when I saw it in the credits for this movie, but then the Internet reminded me that she also directed "Beach Rats," one of the undiscovered gems of 2017. Now with "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," Hittman has once again proven herself to be one of the most adept filmmakers at tackling the perilous transition from teenager to adult, whether in boys or girls.

"Never Rarely Sometimes Always" resembles another exceptional abortion film, "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," though this film doesn't exist in the same menacing environment as that other one. Still, the prospects for the young girl in Hittman's film are no less bleak. For a long time, the film seems to be about the logistics of obtaining an abortion and the desperate lengths a young pregnant woman will go to to have one. But a scene, or should I say THE scene, set in an abortion clinic that gives the film its title, reveals that this film isn't really about abortion as much as it's about sexual abuse and predation. Pregnant or not, abortion or not, this young woman has already been damaged many times before the movie even starts, and it's likely, the film implies, that she'll be damaged again.

Hittman is able to get the most amazing performances out of young and inexperienced actors. In "Beach Rats," she directed Harris Dickinson to an award worthy performance, and she does the same here for Sidney Flanigan, playing an inarticulate and frequently silent young woman whose silence nevertheless speaks volumes.

Grade: A

The Valley of Decision

Nothing to See Here
One of those pedestrian melodramas that the 1940s were full of, where the audience knows from the beginning how everything will end and then waits around for the movie to catch up. A war weary public no doubt welcomed the gentle and unchallenging formulas of movies like this, but there's little for a modern-day viewer to enjoy unless you happen to really like some of the actors or just have a soft spot for black and white classics, no matter what they're about.

"The Valley of Decision" received two Oscar nominations in 1945, Best Actress (Greer Garson) and Best Dramatic or Comedy Score. Garson was nominated five years in a row from 1941-45, tying the record previously set by Bette Davis. No one has ever topped it since.

Grade: B-

Da 5 Bloods

Fierce and Entertaining
If ever there was a hot mess of a movie, "Da 5 Bloods" is it. But given the director and the subject, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Like his earlier film "BlackKklansman," Spike Lee's latest is both an angry and funny roar of outrage about the treatment of blacks in America. But unlike the earlier movie, "Da 5 Bloods" is nowhere nearly as focused. It's about a group of Vietnam vets who meet up in present day to return to the Vietnam jungle in an effort to find some lost treasure they know is still out there as well as the remains of their fellow soldier, who was never found. This sets the stage for an unpredictable and whackadoodle adventure story that's part "Apocalypse Now," part "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and part something Quentin Tarantino might concoct if he were asked to tell a tale about Vietnam. It spends some of its time exorcising demons still remaining from the Vietnam War and some of its time tackling racism. The rest of its time is spent trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to tie these two themes together. The movie is all over the map, erratic in tone, with too many plot strands and too much that feels tangential to the main story.

But damned if I didn't give in and have a blast with this film, despite its many flaws. It's so confidently ambitious that I was easily able to forgive it when it didn't entirely hit its targets. And right now I don't want carefully crafted, reasoned movies about subjects like race, because that isn't what our world feels like. Our world resembles a loud, screaming dumpster fire and I'm craving movies that feel like that too.

In a film filled with good performances, Delroy Lindo stands out as the hot headed member of the group who ventures into the heart of darkness and loses his way.

Grade: A

Palm Springs

Quirky and Charming
For a film that rips its premise off the ultimate time loop movie, "Groundhog Day," "Palm Springs" is surprisingly unpredictable and exceedingly charming. It's got an anarchic anything goes vibe and a pair of vibrant actors, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, who also happen to have a ton of chemistry together. It's a movie for our very troubled times and seems tailor made for a quarantined audience, where day bleeds into day and the repetition of the weekly grind is sending many of us to the loony bin. The sweet message at the center of this otherwise naughty film is that it's not the what we do that keeps us happy but rather the who we do it with. It's all about appreciating the little things that make life worth living moment to moment rather than focusing all of our energies on the big things that we chase at the risk of letting peace and contentment pass us right on by.

This message is most effectively encapsulated in the character played by J.K. Simmons, who spends the first half of the movie trying to kill Andy Samberg and then has a great scene toward the end that makes the most mundane situation imaginable seem like a little piece of heaven. How I can relate to that right now.....

Grade: A-

National Velvet

Pretty Dull Family Film
Pretty dull family film from the 1940s that showcases a young Elizabeth Taylor before she could actually act and an unusually subdued Mickey Rooney. It's a yarn about a young girl who's obsessed with horses and takes hers all the way to a big racing competition with the help of a reluctant former jockey. It's wholesome, safe, bland -- all the things that make family entertainment from any decade of little interest to anyone who has an interest in film artistry. Still, it does feature Anne Revere in her Oscar-winning role as the Best.Mother.Ever. I want Anne Revere to come back to life and follow me around so that she can make me chill whenever I get anxious about something.

In addition to Revere's win for Best Supporting Actress, "National Velvet" also took home the Oscar for its film editing. It's the big horse race at the end that probably clinched the editing win, and it is indeed pretty exciting. The film was also nominated for Best Director (Clarence Brown, who showed some style in other films from the 1940s but not in this one), Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography, both in the color categories.

Grade: B


Our World in Microcosm
"Honeyland" has such a strong dramatic narrative that you wouldn't necessarily know it was a documentary rather than a scripted fictional film.

It tells the story of a woman eking out an existence in the mountains of North Macedonia while caring for her ailing mother. Her life is extremely hard and void of any of the conveniences most of us take for granted -- you know, such minor things like electricity and plumbing -- but she's developed a rhythm that works for her, one that relies very much on a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. She raises bees, and takes the honey she harvests from them into the nearest city to sell at marketplaces. Then enter this absolutely horrid neighbor family who come bumbling into her neighborhood and makes a mess of everything. They're after a quick buck without knowing how to do anything the right way, so they kill all of her bees, nearly ruin the bees' natural habitat, lose a whole bunch of their cows to a disease, all while shouting and bickering and making jackasses of themselves in front of a film crew.

The dynamic between these neighbors captures the dynamic of the world in microcosm. There are those who understand that humans and nature can co-exist, indeed must co-exist if humans are to survive, and those who just want to shortsightedly rape the earth for what they can get from it right now. It's a quietly devastating documentary.

"Honeyland" is the only film in Oscar history to be nominated for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature.

Grade: A

Pather Panchali

Lives Up to Its Reputation
Many times, legendary films have been hyped so much by the time that modern-day audiences see them that they can't help but pale somewhat in comparison to expectations. But every so often, a film comes along that is just as great as everyone has told you it is, and "Pather Panchali" is one of those.

This is a magnificent film about a poor Indian family struggling to make a life for themselves in their ancestral home. The father is a dreamer, a writer and philosopher who makes decision after decision that prevent his family from bettering their financial situation, while the mother is the realist, the one who feels oppressed by their stifling conditions and the one tasked with keeping the family going day after day. Satyajit Ray was influenced by the Italian Neo-Realist movement, so the point of view is fairly objective and nearly journalistic, but it does lean toward the perspectives of the family's two children, an adolescent daughter and especially a little boy, Apu. This is not a movie with big emotional scenes and manipulative histrionics. There are moments that will take your breath away, sometimes with beauty, sometimes with sadness, many times with a mix of both, but they sneak up on you. I didn't read the ending as hopeful, as some have. Rather, I read it as resigned. The family may be ok, but they may not be. In any case, they keep on going, because what other options do we have in this world?

I don't know what took me so long to get around to this film.

Grade: A+

Velvet Buzzsaw

Don't Know What That Was, But I Liked It
Well I don't know what that was, but I know I liked it.

The business of art and the pretentious people who make its little insular world go round is already such a caricature of itself that a satire of it feels unnecessary. But I'm ok with one if it manages to be as wildly and weirdly entertaining as this satire, which is half laugh out loud comedy and half supernatural horror film. Actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, and John Malkovich show not a bit of restraint in bringing to life flamboyant characters that are all a good three or four degrees more exaggerated than any people you would actually ever meet in real life, and they're all fabulous. They're clearly having a great time, and they're all so obnoxious, and know that they're obnoxious, and know that we probably think they're obnoxious, that as we see them get picked off one by one by a malevolent force lurking in the artwork of some obscure painter that becomes a sensation in the art world, we can enjoy sitting back and watching them all get mangled without having to feel bad about enjoying it.

And good grief could Jake Gyllenhaal look any better with his clothes off? Please tell me that there's a lot of CGI at work, or at least copious amounts of body makeup, because otherwise he just makes me want to give up my gym routine as woefully inadequate.

Grade: A-


Surprisingly Entertaining
Despite a couple of Oscar nominations for acting, "Bombshell" was greeted pretty indifferently by audiences and critics alike when it came out last year. Perhaps it was due to my low expectations, then, but I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. It's slick and glib and fairly superficial, but it's extremely watchable and very entertaining, and the acting is indeed exceptional. Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie were singled out for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations, respectively. But I was as impressed with Nicole Kidman and John Lithgow.

In this tale of women coming out against sexual harassment, "Bombshell" conveniently sidesteps the fact that these particular women were contributing to an atmosphere of male toxicity by peddling Fox News' message in the first place. But to address that would have been to make the entire screenplay more complex, and it would have interfered with the filmmakers' wish to portray these women as unequivocal heroes of the MeToo Movement.

The makeup crew for this film worked over time to transform attractive Hollywood actors and actresses into already attractive people like Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, and not so attractive people like Roger Ailes and a spot-on Bill O'Reilly, and won an Oscar for their efforts.

Grade: B+

The Half of It

Cyrano for a New Generation
A mostly formulaic rom com is given a jolt of originality by recasting the Cyrano in this retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story as a young Chinese-American woman awakening to the fact that she has feelings for another female.

This movie is likable and watchable, if not addictively so. Much of it is breezy, while little of it is confidently funny. Some of the jokes land, some don't. But's it's sweet and positive in its messaging, and sweetness and positivity are welcome qualities in entertainment these days, when both are in short supply pretty much everywhere else.

Exactly the kind of made-for-Netflix movie you would expect it to be.

Grade: B


Apocalypse Still
Add "Monos" to the long line of movies that make me feel like I know very little about the world I live in.

I wasn't sure whether this bizarre story about child soldiers in Colombia was based on real events or a fictional allegory for the state of the country. So I researched and found myself learning about the long history of armed conflict within Colombia, a country that has been at some version of war with itself for seemingly forever. Turns out children are conscripted to become soldiers, though I still feel like the specifics of this movie are a fever dream version of how these situations actually play out in real life.

People have described "Monos" as being "Apocalypse Now" crossed with "Lord of the Flies," and I can't improve on that comparison. It's a stunning movie in all ways -- stunningly told, visually stunning, stunningly acted, by a cast of very young, mostly unknown actors at that. The word "visionary" is used to describe all sorts of films and directors who don't warrant the honor, but this movie is the real deal.

Grade: A


Stark and Depressing
Alfre Woodard gives an award worthy performance in this stark and depressing movie about capital punishment.

I know there are arguments for and against capital punishment, and I'm not entirely sure where I land on the subject, though I'm much more against than for. I do know that every time I actually see or read something about what's involved to actually put someone to death, it leaves me almost nauseated. "Clemency" opens with the execution by lethal injection of a death row prisoner, and it's incredibly disturbing to watch. To know that there's a whole system and process that exists for the sole purpose of ending the life of another human being just feels wrong, no matter what arguments there may be on the other side. This film obviously thinks so too, and doesn't even attempt to address any other point of view.

It's an awfully uneven movie. The scenes set in the prison that show Woodard's warden character battling with the inhumanity her role asks of her are very good. But the domestic scenes that detail her troubled relationship with her husband and a long scene involving two other characters (a man condemned to death, played by Aldis Hodge, and the mother of his child) veer off into clunky melodrama.

A good but not great film, most worth watching for Woodard's performance.

Grade: B+


Excellent Film About a Displaced Person
"Synonyms" is a film that a lot viewers probably won't completely get. I didn't, since I'm not that knowledgeable about Israeli culture, and only learned more about it after seeing this movie and doing some research. But even if one can't necessarily understand the specifics, I think viewers who are willing to give this movie a chance will be able to understand the feelings behind it.

Tom Mercier gives a phenomenal and completely naked performance (figuratively and literally) as a young Israeli man trying to start a new life in France. He's caught between the macho, rigid belief systems of the country he's leaving behind and the lack of belief systems of his adopted country. You're free to be anything and do anything in France, but not really. Like anywhere, you're free if you have the money to be, and if you don't belong to a class of people who are discriminated against for one reason or another, and if, and if, and if. Mercier's character wants to get away from the Israeli commando culture that doesn't want to let him go, but by the end of the movie he's almost embracing it because at least it's a belief in something, whereas the privileged, bored, bourgeois France that he's exposed to is like a banal black hole.

There are countless moments in this film that are bizarre and perplexing, none less so than the one when he's hired by a videographer to strip naked, lay on his back with a finger up his anus, and shout out what I guess are supposed to be provocative phrases but instead come pouring out of him like a howl of rage and frustration. The scene is long and awkward and uncomfortable and so completely lays bare (pun quite intended) the vulnerability Mercier's character feels in a country that doesn't care about him, or rather only cares about what it can get out of him.

This one stuck with me for quite a while.

Grade: A

Queen & Slim

Works Well If Not Picked Apart
"Queen & Slim" is I think the perfect example of a movie that's greater than the sum of its parts.

There are many individual moments in the film that don't hold up under scrutiny. But when experienced as a whole, the film exerts a kind of poetic power. It's equal parts sorrow and rage at the treatment of African Americans in the United States, and having watched it after the George Floyd murder (even though the film came out before it), it's impossible not to understand the actions and motivations of the Bonnie and Clyde couple at the film's center.

It's certainly overheated and histrionic at times, but these are overheated and histrionic moments we're experiencing in our country right now, and I don't want movies, especially movies about race, to play it safe. I want them to be angry, to scream and shout and swear, to have muscle and teeth, and so the energy blazing off the screen from this movie felt right for the moment.

My favorite scene is the one where Slim comments on how beautiful the countryside of rural America is as they're driving through it, and Queen, who casually glances at a prison work gang in a field made up of all black men that could easily pass for a group of field slaves from the Civil War-era South, replies, "Is it?"

Grade: A-

Murder by Contract

Tawdry and Brutal
Vince Edwards plays a hit man who's really good at his job and is hired to take out a key witness in some sort of trial involving mucky mucks. The specifics aren't important -- what is important is that the target is a woman, and Edwards has never murdered a woman before. This throws him off his game, and the majority of the movie follows him as he concocts one botched scheme after another to kill her.

Why Edwards is so bothered by the idea of murdering a woman is never explained. It doesn't seem to be a sentimental weakness in him as much as a distaste in general of having anything to do with women at all. This gives the whole film a deliciously tawdry subtext films noir pretty much cornered the market on. It's a quite creepy film, really. Watching Edwards so cold heartedly go about his meticulous plans for ending the life of another human being is disturbing. The movie is also pretty frank for the time; there's an extended scene where Edwards hires an escort to meet him in his hotel room that never would have made it into a more mainstream Hollywood film from the time.

This movie feels really rough around the edges, no more so than at the finale when the film just kind of abruptly ends, and that's just the way I like movies like this.

Grade: A

None Shall Escape

Scathing Profile of a Nazi
"None Shall Escape" is a scathing investigation into the pysche of a Nazi. It explores the circumstances and personality traits of someone for whom the Nazi ideology would be welcome in an effort to explain how otherwise "normal" people could find themselves swept along by such a horrific movement. The Nazi at the film's center, played by Alexander Knox, finds himself drawn to the movement out of unresolved feelings of vengeance, a sense that he needs to get back at those who, in his mind, wronged him in some way. Basically it's the story of someone who has felt bullied himself becoming the bully, but on a monstrous scale.

I admired this film for trying to address Nazi atrocities as they were happening. For all of the hordes of Hollywood films made during WWII, I can't think of a single other one that actually showed Nazis gunning down Jews, or showed them being herded onto train cars for transportation to extermination camps. This film is also weirdly prescient; the framing device of the film is a fictional war crimes trial that anticipated the actual Nuremberg trials that would occur after the end of the war.

Knox gives a sterling and frightening performance. The film makes of his character a believable and very human brand of evil, so it's not easy to simply dismiss him as a beastly aberration.

"None Shall Escape" received an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Story in 1944.

Grade: A-

Feel the Beat

Pitch Perfect Rip Off
A "Pitch Perfect" rip off that forces an unpleasant character down our throats and asks us to root for her as she pursues her Broadway dreams. That character is played by Sofia Carson, and in her defense, we're supposed to dislike her at first, but I'm pretty sure over the course of the movie she's supposed to soften and become endearing, and that never happens. She's charged with teaching a bunch of rag tag kids how to dance so that they can win a competition, and even though she's literally physically and emotionally abusive to them, they all love her by the end because....well, just because the script tells them to. It's like they all have Stockholm Syndrome and come to love their teacher because she holds them hostage and forces them to dance until they're near death.

Along the way, there's a story about a former love interest who comes back into her life. You would be forgiven for forgetting that this story line existed, since the screenplay can barely be bothered to give the love interest any scenes. It's too busy trying to convince us that a famous Broadway producer would decide to cast Carson's character as the lead in his Broadway show on the strength of seeing her perform once as part of a junior high dance competition. I don't know a lot about how Broadway works, but I'm pretty sure that isn't it.

"Feel the Beat" does have one thing going for it, and that's the performance of Donna Lynne Champlin, the only actor in the movie who's able to create a character with anything resembling an interior life.

Grade: D+

Wise Blood

Not Sure What This Film Is Supposed to Be
Flannery O'Connor was a better short story than novel writer, and her book "Wise Blood," which was an expansion of a few of her stories, among them "Enoch and the Gorilla" and "The Peeler," probably should have just stayed stories. John Huston, in adapting "Wise Blood" to the screen, isn't able to improve it and in fact makes it much worse. This is an ugly, deeply unpleasant film, and I don't understand what it's supposed to be or who it's supposed to be for.

Huston gets dreadful performances from all of his actors, none worse than Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes, who overacts to the hilt and whose performance is so grotesque as to be unwatchable. Amy Wright fairs just as badly as one of Motes's romantic obsessions. The character of Enoch Emory, who was the focus of some of the stories that became "Wise Blood," is so sidelines as to fade out of the movie after a point without having had any purpose for being there in first place.

"Wise Blood" has a cynical attitude toward religion, treating it as a breeding ground for opportunists and charlatans. Fine by me. I'm not religious myself and have no love for organized religion in general. But is that really the whole point Huston was making? If so, I'm not sure it was worth the two hours I spent with this movie. Likewise, Motes is basically a sociopath. Sociopaths as characters can be compelling (Hannibal Lecter says "hi"), but crazy isn't inherently interesting, and I'm not sure what I was supposed to take away from Dourif's character.

I felt like I needed to take a shower after watching this movie.

Grade: D+

Hello, Dolly!

Nothing About This Movie Works
Dear holy hell nothing about this movie works at all.

And why doesn't it? On paper, it had everything going for it. Tried and true material? Check. Hugely popular star? Check. Lavish budget? Check. Gene Kelly, who maybe hadn't had a lot of directorial experience, nevertheless knew his way around a movie musical. Producer/writer Ernest Lehman had adapted two of what were arguably the most successful movie musicals of all time, "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music." Good grief, is this the same man who had brought "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to the screen just three years earlier?

Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau deliver a master class in how to have absolutely no chemistry together. Streisand struts through the film like she's Mae West, but then will inexplicably slip into a Southern accent here and there, which is super confusing because aren't they in New York? Matthau growls and barks at everyone, and yet is so irresistible that he has two beautiful women willing to die for him, and that's even after they've heard him sing. O.k. one of those women seems slightly demented and sings an entire song about hats, but still. The other is Dolly herself, who spends the movie setting up overly-complicated scenarios in order to make him realize he loves her instead, or at least just decides to marry her by default. I didn't understand any of this. Meanwhile, there are some young 'uns whose love lives Dolly also interferes with, leading me to conclude that this woman needed a hobby. One of them is Tommy Tune, who's fourteen feet tall and in love with Matthau's niece (or daughter or some other kind of relation -- who cares?). The other is Michael Crawford, who tries as hard as he can to make this movie unwatchable all by himself. Crawford can't deliver a line without opening his mouth really wide and making the sound of someone trying to tell someone else that he's having a stroke. Dolly never seems to figure out what the rest of us do, which is that both of these young lads are gay and would be better off matched with each other.

The title song comes in the second half of the movie. It's all about how much everyone has missed Dolly and how great it is to have her back in society. This song doesn't make any sense either, because the first song of the movie is all about how well known Dolly is and literally every person who lives in New York City recognizes her as she walks down the street. Why is it so nice to have her back where she belongs if she was never gone in the first place? For a musical that isn't about anything, it's really hard to follow. I also felt bad for all the people in the restaurant who were just waiting for their food but instead had to watch 20 waiters in a half-hour long dance number. They manhandle all the food so much during this number that I would certainly not want to eat whatever was put on my plate.

Did I mention that nothing in this movie works?

At the end, Matthau realizes he loves Dolly and wants to marry her, not because anything leading up to that point prepares us for it, but just because the movie wants him to. I was fine with it, because it meant the movie was almost over.

The Academy nominated "Midnight Cowboy" for Best Picture in 1969 and then had a panic attack that they would lose the family audience for their award show. This is the only conceivable reason I can come up with for them nominating this lumbering abomination for Best Picture as well. Just let that sink in for a minute -- "Hello, Dolly!" competed with "Midnight Cowboy"(!) for the Best Picture of 1969.

"Dolly" did win three Oscars, for Art Direction, Adapted Musical Score, and Sound. It received nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. Yes, film editing. As if there isn't about an hour and a half of padding in this movie that could have been removed. In fact, maybe this would have been better as a short film. Or maybe just listen to the Broadway cast recording?

Grade: D

This Land Is Mine

Rousing Call to Action
"This Land Is Mine" is a rousing call to action in the face of fascist ideology, made in 1943 for a WWII audience but awfully relevant today in an America being encouraged to embrace white supremacy and suppression of immigrants and minorities.

Charles Laughton is a timid, wimpy teacher who doesn't want to get involved in the resistance to the Nazi occupation of his small village even as those around him, including fellow teachers and the woman he loves (Maureen O'Hara), do. The film is nimbly directed by Jean Renoir, and though the subject matter is bleak, the movie itself is exhilarating due to Renoir's fine direction and the good performances. Laughton's is the best of those; his last-act monologue at a murder trial is a tour de force.

"This Land Is Mine" won the 1943 Oscar for Best Sound Recording, probably for a scene set in a bomb shelter that blends the voices of children singing to themselves for comfort with the sounds of explosions raining down on them from above.

Grade: A

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