Been reading a book by Peter Bogdanovich called Who the Hell's In It? About his meetings with and musings on various movie stars. Great book. Unlike Bogdanovich, my kid brother Small Man or my wonderful brother-in-law Brian Ellis, I haven't been too scrupulous about keeping a movie-notation book even though my mom gave me a looseleaf for that purpose in 1986 or 87. But I did write down the names of all the movies I watched this summer, when I wasn't working as much as a teacher or film critic as I would have liked to, and I here (self-)publish the notations on the first several movies I watched in July and some of the recent November ones too (the ones in between have yet to be annotated, except some which were already mentioned here in the blog):
Nixon—Still just as powerful, funny and exciting, still significantly less annoying in its shorthand, keyword history (although the repetition of “the Hiss case” without any attempt to show what N. did that was so underhanded or unfair does begin to grate after a while) than almost any other biopic I can think of. Hopkins colossal and the rest of the cast all delightful as well (though Joan Allen is not prim enough).
Suspicion— Did he or didn’t he? I think you can argue either way. I actually like the ambiguous ending because I like ambiguity and ambivalence, and Cary Grant could never be a bad guy, though it’s a sign of Hitchcock’s greatness that he wanted to make him one. Great performances, always good to see Nigel Bruce, great nervous neurotic fun all around, brilliant paranoid-fantasy mindscreen.
Lifeboat—Some great moments, when Hodiak and the millionaire talk about food, for example, and the songs.
East of Eden—Tremendous, not just Dean but the whole film. One of the all-time greats.
Sunday—Regrettably grubby, unysmpathetic characters. Concept sounded promising, but alas, muddled and depressing in execution.
The Warriors—A modern classic, gripping and poignant.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde 1932— Surprisingly frank in its sexual themes (Pre-Code), embarrassingly bad in some parts, mostly the Hyde parts, the apelike makeup is laughable. But somehow feels alive, despite silliness.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde 1941—Initially intriguing but finally too stuffy, weighed down by Selznick-esque faux-Victorian respectability. Ingrid Bergman’s strong performance underrated. Tracy wonderful as Jekyll, weak as Hyde.
Czeski Sen-- One of the best documentaries ever, absolutely delightful, also heartbreakingly sad.
The Wicker Man—Stupidly-cut shorter version, missing important exposition such as Woodward with his colleagues, not fitting in, at the very beginning, and Lee’s first appearance playing the pimp, this bad edit highlighting the goofiness of the failed-seduction and other kitschy songs. Woodward and Lee still very engaging and impressive.
The Aviator-- Blanchett’s Hepburn, the main reason I wanted to see the film, was impressive but too reptilian, caricaturish and British—Lisa Kudrow or even possibly Martin Short (dare I say Anthony Hopkins?) would have done a better job. DiCaprio not bad, repeating the Clintonian shtik from Catch Me If You Can, but that’s what he does best. His spirited defense of mammaries is a great scene, and in its way very cutting and timely. Other than that the most effective scene is probably the fatal plane crash, an f/x triumph (though it seems sad to find oneself praising a Scorsese film for its f/x), quite moving in the end. Jude Law wasted in a tantalizing cameo as Flynn. Doesn’t hold a candle to The Rat Pack as movie-people biopics go.
The Omen (new 2006 version). Nice remake but not as good as the original. Can’t remember how exactly the mother died in the 76 version but the way they changed it is definitely crap, shlock, stupid, bad judgment. I also don’t quite understand the role of the writer who in the DVD documentary talks of how he and other writers spend over 6 months of a year in complete seclusion, typing away; according to my calculation there are about 5 lines that have been revised from the 76 script, making his solitary typing somewhat redundant; Liev Schreiber however is amazing. He really channels Peck, capturing the cadences of the much older actor (already in 76) beautifully. He must be a movie fan and know that that’s what movie fans want when they go see a remake: an elegant, fastidious recreation of the original by other people. (I know most people are bitter when they hear of a “shot-by-shot remake” because to them it sounds boring; I get bitter because I know it isn’t literally shot-by-shot, isn’t that faithful.) And he’s right to say in the documentary that although he at first reacted to the idea of the remake as “just another remake,” the director sold him on how the original is “a great story.” It is actually, no matter how much we scoff and snicker at the obviousness and literalness of its biblical tropes and so on, it moves me still, because of Peck (one of his best performances, truly truly underrated again) and Schreiber. Julia Stiles, whom I’ve always liked, is pretty much wasted, she doesn’t get any great moments like Lee Remick’s signature stare and feels like another star wasted in a badly-written bit part. We once were in the same class at Columbia—a class on Dante, appropriately enough—and she dropped her pen and I reached down to get it for her but she got it first. So we never got to know each other. But I admire her for studying in the midst of a wildly active career.
Carrie—William Wyler, not Brian de Palma although that is also a wonderful film. This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen—great Olivier, great Jennifer Jones, Eddie Albert is also great, a couple flat or overacted moments by Olivier and Jones but overall brilliant. There is a misogynistic strain in Wyler, as seen in his The Best Years of Our Lives (another all-time favorite) and in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (another great, at first, but then towards the end somewhat pedestrian performance by Olivier), but always balanced out by an incredible sympathy and love for women; as Robin Wood said, From Reverence to Rape (great book by Molly Haskell) should be understood as not that far of a journey, as far as Classic Hollywood goes that is, not in real life.