Netflix/ Movie Roundup

I can No Longer Hear the Guitar. One of those movies that was on the Netflix queue but now I can’t remember exactly what led me to it.  It’s a 1991 Phillipe Garrell movie based on his ten-year affair with Nico (the German model/ original Velvet Underground singer).  What was disconcerting is that the Nico character, Marianne, is about the exact opposite of an icy Nordic beauty; she seemed so implausible as Nico that for much of the movie Sarah was convinced I’d gotten confused.  Also, notably, the film features no guitar or any music except for a few (admittedly somewhat Velvet Underground-sounding) brief snippets.  We found this slow and the characters gloomily pretentious.  Maybe it is a bad sign when a Heidegger quotation is uttered in the first ten minutes of a film?  Even so I did find it somewhat moving by the end.

Silk Stockings.  Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.  And Peter Lorre.  Charisse is the beautiful Soviet functionary who has come to Paris to demand the return of a Russian composer working on a musical.  Astaire is the film’s director.  Lorre is one of the three bumbling Soviets who’d previously failed in the mission.  Charisse has a big lingerie/silk stockings routine that Sarah thinks was referenced in ads for stockings she recalls from the 1970s.  Astaire and Charisse were fresh from The Band Wagon, one of the most famous musicals.  (Though Astaire looking a bit long in the tooth by now (1957).)  Hokey plot but lots of great/memorable song & dance numbers.

Waltz with Bashir. Amazing movie!  An animated documentary, perhaps the first of its kind?  Actually I bet they got the idea from Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but whereas that movie is a kind of a woolly philosophical/stoner daydream, Waltz with Bashir is an intense dive into repressed personal and national memories.  (I.e. it uses the form to much more pointed ends.)   imdb plot summary: “An Israeli film director interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of his term of service in that conflict.”   Probably the scene I’ll remember the most is the opening, a nightmare of a pack of 28 terrifying dogs on the hunt; we learn that it’s the recurring dream of a man who, as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon, followed orders to shoot dead every dog that barked as they entered a small town, all 28 of them.  Made me think of Hitchcock’s Spellbound — the form of the film is almost like analysis.

Ball of Fire.  1941 Howard Hawks/ Billy Wilder movie.  Gary Cooper = stuffy Princeton English prof researching American slang.  Barbara Stanwyck = nightclub performer and gangster moll.  Cooper sees her as an ideal source for new slang, and she needs to go undercover anyway.  Screwball antics ensue.  Drags on a bit, but a lot of it is as great as Some like it Hot or the like.  A must for stuffy English profs.  Fantastic 1940s slang.  Worth seeing too just for the weird/great Gene Krupa matchbox drum solo.

Baby Doll.  “Written by Tennessee Williams, this 1956 black comedy tells the story of cotton gin owner Archie (Karl Malden) and his sexy teenage wife (Carroll Baker), who won’t consummate the marriage until she turns 20. When Archie battles a rival (Eli Wallach, in a BAFTA-winning performance), he could lose his business — and his beloved child bride” (Netflix).    Entertaining overheated Tennessee Williams.  Was denounced by the Catholic Legion of Decency and pulled from theaters in 1956.  Eli Wallach is supposed to be Sicilian but also has a bit of a nefarious Mexican gangster vibe– I guess it’s all-purpose ethnic otherness.  His scenes with Caroll Baker are pretty hot.  She comments that for years she was freaked out by people on the street calling her Baby Doll.

Ghost Town.  Recent flop romantic comedy that suggested that Ricky Gervais can’t open a big-budget movie as the lead.  Or, let’s be fair, maybe this just wasn’t the right one.  He plays a misanthrope dentist and is pretty funny at his most rude and hateful, inevitably less so as he is redeemed and finds love.  The movie is going for a kind of old-fashioned Hollywood romatic ghost comedy effect, a la Topper or the like.   Greg Kennear is good as the head ghost, a charming asshole lawyer.  Tea Leoni does her best as the love interest (she’s a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History, a nod to Bringing up Baby I suppose) but doesn’t have much to work with.

Careful by Gay Maddin.  “In the remote Alpine village of Tolzbad at the turn of the century, people talk quietly and restrain their movements lest avalanches come and kill them…All this is shot in the style of an early German sound film, complete with intertitles, deliberately crackly soundtrack and ‘hand-tinted’ colour effects.”  Guy Maddin is brilliant and hilarious but this gets a bit much after an hour or so.  Kind of like a mad film student’s senior project.  Still glad I saw it.

Year of the Dog.  2007 directorial debut of Mike White (of Chuck and Buck, Freaks and Geeks, etc).  Molly Shannon (of SNL) is a sad office worker who finds meaning through animal rescue and veganism despite the scorn and incomprehension of her relatives and coworkers.   Not everything works but I enjoyed it.   Laura Dern excellent as the Molly Shannon character’s insufferable/smug rich sister-in-law.  The politics/ stance of the movie vis a vis animal rights issues is interestingly ambiguous: it kind of tries of have it both ways, I felt, making her politics seem aberrant & motivated by personal/psychological problems, but then in the very final scene presenting those politics as heroic and admirable.

Momma’s Man.  Mikey is 30-ish, with a wife and baby, and is back from California on a business trip to NYC, where he visits with his artist parents in their Tribeca loft.  He misses his flight out and never leaves — after a few days his parents start to wonder what’s wrong, but he’s stuck, paralyzed, agoraphobic, can hardly step out of the apartment.  It’s fascinating as transformed autobiography because Mikey’s parents are payed by the director’s actual parents (!) and it’s filmed in the crazy, ramshackle, overstuffed loft on Chambers Street where he grew up.  The DVD includes a really interesting interview the director conducted with his parents after they watched the movie’s premiere.  A recent American independent movie filmed on a shoestring that’s actually interesting and unpredictable.

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