- Greta (Neal Jordan)
- Isn’t it Romantic (Todd Strauss-Schulson)
- Farewell to Dream (Keisuke Kinoshita)
- The Little Foxes (William Wyler)
- To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch)
- Us (Jordan Peele)
- Jezebel (William Wyler)
- Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski)
- Dumbo (Tim Burton)
- Vanya on 42nd St. (Louis Malle)
1 – I really wanted to like Greta. It is by the great Neal Jordan, of The Crying Game fame. A beautiful film maker. Not sure what happened here. I think the problem for me was that I saw the trailer for this so many times before I saw the actual film, and for a film with such an integral plot twist having that twist revealed in the trailer is an unforgivable breach of faith with the audience. It is fun to see Isabelle Huppert as a maniacal crazy woman, but I wish I didn’t know that it was coming.
2-Isn’t It Romantic is a delightful little riff on what is so terrible about RomComs. It tackles them on their own turf, with a very clever gimmick. Rebel Wilson is terrific and her presence and character really add dignity to the whole procedings. I thought it was tremendous fun, even though I tripped at the theater when I went to see it and broke my glasses. I had to watch the whole thing holding the glasses together. Even so, it was great fun.
3- If Farewell to Dream had been made by Yasujiro Ozu, the Chekhovian sense of devolution and tragedy would have been poignant. As it stands, it is more melodramatic than I am used to from Japanese films of this era.
4- I’ve been having a mini-festival of William Wyler/Bette Davis films. Jezebel is better than I remembered, mostly because of Davis. The Little Foxes is as stupendous as I remembered it. Is there anything that Bette Davis can’t do?
5- There are three tiers of Lubitsch. First tier has films like The Shop Around The Corner, Trouble in Paradise and Ninotchka. I think To Be or Not To Be falls into a second tier. It is almost sublime, but not quite. I can’t figure out what keeps this from soaring into the Lubitsch heavens, but I suspect it is Jack Benny. He was enormous at the time the film was made and so I am sure it was quite a box office coup to have him star. But Carole Lombard is so perfect, one of the greatest comedians ever and next to her, Benny is only semi-perfect. What if she had been cast opposite John Barrymore in this one? One could only imagine.
6- Us is the realized promise of Get Out. The latter is tighter. The political message is clearer. Us is more ambitious and as a result messier, but wow, is it ever accomplished. What do we get next from Jordan Peele? I know he is doing a reboot of Twilight Zone. Would love to see what he can do out of the spooky/creep genre. But hey, if he keeps turning out stuff like this, I’ll keep going.
7- I just don’t believe people when they tell me that the liked Ida. I feel the same way that Elaine on Seinfeld felt about the way everyone was rhapsodizing about The English Patient. She was horrified to find that the film she found excruciatingly boring was being fanatically praised by everyone. That is the way I felt about Ida and even moreso about Cold War. They both look great and have all the trappings of “Art House Film. But they are both skin deep and cold as ice. If you disagree, please tell me why. I want to understand this phenomenon.
8- I loved Dumbo. I love the movies of Tim Burton, even when they are not ‘good’. He is an auteur in the true Andrew Sarris sense of the word. There is no mistaking who made this movie. The look is fantastic and the new riff on the old Disney film is so imaginative.
What upset me most was all the knee jerk commenting about the fact that the ‘lamentably racist crow scene’ from the original was thankfully left out of the remake. I take huge exception to this. This is an example of when ‘sensitivity’ is taken too far. The original song, When I See an Elephant Fly, is the best number of all the classic Disney full-length cartoons. The song is jazzy and the lyrics are beyond clever. Yes, it is performed by crows who are supposed to be African American types, but does that axiomatically make the whole thing racist? If you look at the scene, you realize that these crows are hep cats of the 1940s in the manner of Cab Calloway and Louis Jourdan. Far from being stereotypes, they are the smartest characters in the film and they are just so damn cool! I thought a lot about what they could have done to include the song in the remake and I realized if they had done a hip-hop version it would have been today’s equivalent of what the Calloway/Jordan crows represented to the popular culture of the time the original Dumbo was released. Not Stepin’ Fetchit. Just great examples of what was happening in African American popular, cutting edge culture of the time.
Judge for yourself: When I See an Elephant Fly
9- Vanya on 42nd Street is probably the most successful version of (non-Russian language) Chekhov on film that I will ever see. The characters are well thought out. Some of the scenes are questionable, like the flirty intimacy of Vanya and Yelena, but it is always interesting and always valid. I think the concept of a rehearsal really gets around the problem of how to film a stage play. I don’t know that Chekhov is well-served by opening up the plays to ‘natural’ settings. The conceit of it being an ongoing rehearsal project allows the artificiality of the stage to be preserved while not making it slavishly theatrical. The Sonya is perfection.