The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mary, Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke)
  2. Vice (Adam McKay)
  3. Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen)
  4. The Letter (William Wyler)
  5. Pauline at the Beach (Eric Rohmer)
  6. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  7. Now Voyager (Irving Rapper)
  8. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)
  9. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
  10. Green Book (Peter Farrelly)


1- Why does every biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots include a climactic scene when she and Elizabeth I finally confront each other, setting the way for the denouement? It never happened in history. One would think after 100 years of films, someone would care about accuracy, right?  Well, Schiller didn’t in his Mary Stuart play, so why should Josie Rourke, I guess. What bothers me most is that there is a kind of anti-feminist twist to this false history, because the confrontation usually is between a vibrant, beautiful and sexually active Mary and a powerful, grotesque and decrepit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth wins this round in history, but not to the way the movies see it.

2- I am hearing a lot of curious backlash against Vice. Most of it is evidence of the worst sin of film criticism: knocking a movie for what it’s not. Vice is not a documentary.  It is not historical drama.  It is somewhere between the two, and it is unashamedly biased in its portray of Dick Cheney and his evil circle.  It is also hilariously funny and inventive in its narrative style.  It is its own kind of movie.  Deal with it or move on.

3- I always think it is unfair to compare and contrast two films, but when they are as similar in form and content as Beautiful Boy  and Ben is Back it is hard not to.  Ben Is Back is the more nuanced of the two ‘good upper middle-class teenager becomes tortured drug addict’ movies.  It does devolve into a police procedural in the last act, and ignores all the interesting character development it made up until that point.  Beautiful Boy is just pretty self-righteous. Knowing that it is the memoir of the father and the son, it is hard to see the two of them as not being self-aggrandizing.  The titles at the end tell us that the kid has been sober for 8 years, but how he got there is never explained. All we see it the kid continually falling off the wagon, the father using it for book fodder, the two of them reconciling and then the whole mess happening again. Frankly, don’t watch either of these and see Boy Erased instead.  It is a powerful meditation on the limits of parenting.

4- Ah, Bette Davis.  The more I see of her, even in her not so great films, the more I realize that she is the greatest actor in film history.  Histrionic? Sometimes. Brilliant? All the time. And she could do tragedy and comedy and history.  Sad that we never got to see her do Shakespeare.  Could you imagine a Bette Davis Lady Macbeth or a Bette Davis Goneril or a Bette Davis Volumnia?  The Letter is endlessly wonderful. William Wyler gets the most out of every actor in this film.  Bette Davis is so overwrought at the end, but the performance has been so carefully modulated that the final explosion is cathartic.  Plus you have the terrifyingly disdainful glare of Gale Sondergaard. Unforgettable.

5- I love the films of Eric Rohmer.  They are little, perfectly polish moral problems played out among beautiful, talkative people in beautiful French locales. Pauline in the Beach is almost Talmudic in how it sets up its conflicting takes on what is just, what constitutes a good kind of love, and how people justify bad behavior to themselves.  I want to see all his movies.

6- As a victim of a somewhat abusive childhood, it thrills and amazes me each time I watch Now, VoyagerThe portrayal of family cruelty and its damages is unrelenting in the first part of the film.  That is what makes Charlotte Vale’s self-healing and triumph so satisfying….you’ve been with her in the depths and are there to watch her surpass ever other character in the film. Her life will be wonderful.  As I have written before, I believe it is quite a feminist message. Charlotte is helped along the way by sympathetic men but she moves beyond them and the final line is, to me, a manifesto that she has grown beyond the need of a relationship to be whole.  Who else but Bette Davis could play this role.  She so embodies the earlier tortured Charlotte, that her transformation is awe-inspiring.


7- I have successfully avoided all superhero films up until this point.  The rapturous response to Black Panther coupled with its cultural imperative made me curious to see it.  I was right to be avoiding it.  It took me three sittings to get through it.  It is hailed as empowering. But does giving the same kind of dumb entertainment and exploding cars and incomprehensible plots really mark an advance of some kind? Watching this I felt the same way I felt watching Brokeback Mountain. I felt I was being told, “Here is a film that can make you feel proud about yourself.”  Uh, no. Here is a poorly written cliche-ridden film pandering to Gays disguised as a breakthrough. Same here.  I will admit that super-hero films are not my genre, but man, can’t a movie be coherent at least?

Let me just say, finally, that I really wanted to love this film and I really wanted to celebrate its notion of empowerment. I felt the opposite

8- There are comedies that become immortal because they created a self-contained universe that is not dependent on the real world. I am thinking of Palm Beach Story (as I often do), as well as Shop Around the Corner and Broadcast News.  I would add The Freshman to this list.  Yes, a lot of the surface humor is derived from Brando’s self-parody of Don Corleone.  But the world it creates rivals Alice in Wonderland.  The performances are perfect. Maximillian Schell, for goodness sake! And let us not forget the Komodo Dragon being serenaded by Bert Parks.

9- Although I did get sucked into its feel-good ambience and happy ending, I think Green Book is an embarrassment.  It is the kind of self-congratulatory race relations story that would have seemed daring in 1970 but now seems painful. Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of a Bronx Italian borders on insulting and Mahershala Ali looks like he can’t wait for the whole ordeal to be over.  You’ll feel like that too

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Night Train To Munich (Carol Reed)
  2. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
  3. The Color Of Pomegranates (Sergei Paradjanov)
  4. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
  5. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
  6. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  7. Ben is Back (Peter Hedges)
  8. Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall)
  9. The Last of Sheila (Herbert Ross)
  10. Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey)


1- Terence Davies has created few but miraculous movies, starting with the remarkable mood pieces Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes.  See a scene analysis of the latter here.  His latest film is about Emily Dickinson. A Quiet Passion is aptly titled. You get to ‘know’ Dickinson  as you get to know the working class Liverpudlians in the aforementioned films: obliquely and thoroughly. How does he do it? The same way Mike Leigh works his magic, I guess.

2- Talking about pure cinema, I had a chance to show The Color Of Pomegranates  my brainiest friends, Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay.  They even brought a kale salad rife with pomegranates for the occasion. Often, when one loves something quirky and gets to know it intimately, one is hesitant to share it for fear a) that people won’t like it and b) maybe they will make you realize it is not as good as you think, no matter how you love it.  Luckily this didn’t happen here. Paradjanov remains as beloved as before.  Watch him if you haven’t. Read my post on him if you haven’t.

3- Lady Bird is a perfect depiction of teenagers in all their exasperating glory. At first, that made me stop watching it because, yuck, teenagers in all their exasperating glory.  But, it is well done, the acting is good, except for a very wrong-headed last act which totally clashes with the rest of the film.

4- I pride myself on being a huge liberal and very open-minded, but The Favourite actually nauseated me.  And not just because this (as well as Mary Queen of Scots) feature cunnilingus luridly in their plots. I don’t mind the act per se, but as a plot device? Is this a new trend?

5- With Ben is Back I continue my Lucas Hedges admiration society. This kid can act and is not a one-trick pony. Four powerful and very varied performance in this Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird and Boy Erased.  Of the four, this film is the least, starting off promisingly as an insightful family analysis, but slowly dissolving into a police procedural.  The nuance of the parents in Boy Erased is not here, but that is not Ben Is Back’s problem.  It’s not that kind of movie.  It was pretty satisfying.   The second of the glammed down performances by Julia Roberts I have seen recently, the other being the Netflix series Homecoming.  Oscar and Golden Globe baiting?

6- No cunnilingus in Mary Poppins Returns. At least none that I have noticed.  Just a splendid, overwhelming good time.  Perhaps it hit me just right because I remember seeing and adoring the original when I was 7 years old. It was at Radio City Music Hall and there was a stage show featuring the Rockettes and others.   The AMC River East 21 is not Radio City, but Emily Blunt is at least as wonderful as Julie Andrews was, with a little more vinegar than her predecessor. The songs and musical numbers are fine, the plot is appropriately sweet. And you even get Angela Lansbury AND Meryl Streep AND David Warner AND Dick Van Dyke (!) and the original Jane Banks (Karen Dotrice) in a sweet cameo, and even the god-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda. I loved it.

7- Thanks again to the Rooney/Seay connection for getting me finally to make it through The Last of Sheila, and for helping me to unravel the mystery without making me feel like a total moron. Repeated viewing of this will be needed and are looked forward to.

8- Keep your depressing and misunderstood It’s a Wonderful Life. The only Christmas movie you ever need is Christmas in Connecticut.  Not only do you get the super-sexy pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in the coziest set Hollywood ever created, but you get S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall.  But wait there’s more! Una O’Connor! and if that wasn’t enough, what every movie needs: Sidney Greenstreet.  And of course, Macushla.

9- I find it hard to write about Roma I will soon. I worship it.


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Coming, but Not Attractive

I have been going to the movies  in theaters a lot recently (thank you AMC A List Club).  This means that I have been seeing trailers a lot recently.  The average showing has about 20 minutes of trailers before the main feature.  You can safely arrive 15 minutes after the published showtime and not miss anything of the main event.

I like trailers, so I usually go in when the showtime says. I don’t go earlier because then you get commercials. Boo.  I say I like trailers, but it might be better to say ‘I used to like trailers’.  Trailers have changed substantially in the past decade or so.  No, I am not pining for a golden age here.  I am just baffled figuring out what today’s trailers are trying to accomplish.

Originally, trailers were a way to get the current audience to come back the next week to see the new feature. They would be splashy, have tantalizing snippets of dialogue to give you an idea what kind of film it was and a tiny bit about the story. If a prominent star was in it, the face would be featured prominently.  These are the kind of trailers you can seen in the filler between features on TCM.

The best kind of trailer and the kind that studios used to release, were called ‘teasers’.  Here is an example of one of the best, the trailer for Rosemary’s Baby   If you had read the Ira Levin novel, you would know what you were getting into. If not, you see this trailer and you think, “Hmm spooky, I heard about that book. Look Ruth Gordon! And Sinatra’s wife! And sex too. I think I’ll see that next”.  You get atmosphere but no plot points, except that Rosemary’s baby needs your prayers. Come back next week and find out why.

When you see trailers now, no teasing happens.  The whole story is delivered to you in 3 minutes.  At the end of the trailer, not only do you know what the movie starts out, but how it turns out.  If it is a comedy, you get the whole set-up and most of the funny lines. If it is a drama, the whole conflict is laid out for you.  This has been happening for a while, but now it is even worse. I was at a movie recently where they showed a trailer for the film Welcome To Marwen.  Not only can I tell you the whole plot, but I can even tell you subplot info and a fair guess at the denouement, and I have not seen the film.

So my question is, what is the point of this trailer? If I had seen the Rosemary’s Baby trailer in the theaters (but I wouldn’t have because I was only 15 and the film was rated R), I would have run to the theater to see it on opening day.

No way I am going to see Welcome to Marwen because I feel, thanks to the trailer, that I have already seen it.

Here is the question, though: I assume that trailers are designed by the studio marketing people.  These people know how to sell. Movies keep breaking attendance records every year.  So, they know what they are doing with these come-ons.  They know that they will draw in the audience the way that teaser ads used to. Is the assumption now that audiences have changed?

Is today’s audience leery to go to a movie unless it is all laid out for them beforehand? Is the satisfaction of movie-going today seeing a totally known quantity unspool before you?

A few months ago, a friend invited me to go to see The Wife.  As I was going to the theater, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about what the movie was about.  It was thrilling to see the plot unfold and be constantly surprised.  After the movie, I was able to imagine what the trailer for it would have been like. I’m glad I didn’t see it.

No this tell-all trailer style only damages plot-heavy films. But most Hollywood films have been and continue to be plot-heavy. A film like Roma, with minimal plot, would probably yield a very nice teaser trailer.

So please chime in on this conundrum.  Is this the way it’s going to be? Is it what movie-goers really want?