What I Watched in September 2020
Although I’m presenting fewer virtual library movie programs now than I was just a month ago, I’m finding the research to be taking up more time. That’s not a complaint. I love preparing for the movie discussions and setting up programs such as our program on film restoration and preservation with special guest Eddie Muller. This month, I’m researching two virtual movie presentations (see below), an article for The Dark Pages (see below), and an upcoming special called The Future of Movie Theaters with Todd Hitchcock. But I can’t complain: I get paid to prepare movie events at the library and share them with others. I love that.
So here’s everything I watched in September. Please share what you watched as well. Fair is fair, right?
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) Joe Talbot (Kanopy) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our virtual library movie discussion. If I could give out a homework assignment for the month, it would be watching this movie. Joe Talbot’s first directorial feature, combined with Jimmie Fails’s first feature performance, is something truly special. I could tell you the plot, but I’d rather you went into the film knowing as little about it as possible. I watched the film on Kanopy, but it’s also streaming on Amazon Prime. Please watch it.
The Headless Woman (2008) Lucrecia Martel (Criterion Channel)
I’ve only seen two of her films, but Lucrecia Martel has become one of the most fascinating filmmakers I’ve encountered in years. (I have also developed a high regard, if not outright love, for Argentine cinema in general.) The Headless Woman is the story of Vero (Maria Onetto), a well-to-do woman involved in a car accident that leaves her disturbed and disoriented, although she’s physically unharmed. The people in Vero’s life slowly recognize that something’s not right about her, seeking in their own way to bring her back to normal. Yet there are deep issues here. As she did with the tremendous Zama (2017), Martel spells nothing out, but any effort the viewer undertakes in watching the film will be richly rewarded.
How Awful About Alan (TV 1970) Curtis Harrington (Amazon Prime) Rewatch, 2x
I first saw this TV movie when I was a kid, understanding at the time that most of the horror would be suggested rather than shown. Anthony Perkins plays Allan, who, as a child, survived the fire that left him psychosomatically blind, allowing him to see only limited movement in murky, blurred shadows. The same fire killed his father and partially scarred his sister Katherine’s (Julie Harris) face. Now an adult, Allan has just returned home from an extended stay in a mental hospital, ready to start a normal life. When a new boarder moves in, Allan feels something’s wrong, especially after hearing voices. Although the film conveys a creepy atmosphere, its 74 minutes feel like an extremely slow burn (no pun intended). Director Curtis Harrington did much better work, but if you’re a fan of his (or Perkins or Harris), you’ll want to see it. The print used on Amazon Prime is not good at all, so be warned.
Train to Busan (2016) Yeon Sang-ho (Amazon Prime)
I love South Korean cinema, especially South Korean horror. When a viral outbreak creates a state of emergency, the passengers on a train realize that they are trapped with several infected people. Train to Busan rises above its clichés to deliver a fun (and sometimes thoughtful) action/horror movie that has already spawned one sequel (Peninsula, 2020). A must for zombie and horror fans.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) Charlie Kaufman (Netflix)
A young unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley) has hesitations about meeting the parents of her new boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). During a drive to his parents’ remote farm, the woman’s hesitations turn to doubt as things get stranger and stranger, particularly after meeting Jake’s mom and dad (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). Based on the unsettling 2016 debut novel from Iain Reed, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an often fascinating, sometimes frustrating experience filled with standout performances. It’s certainly a film you’re going to want to talk about with others who’ve seen it.
Motherless Brooklyn (2019) Edward Norton (library DVD)
No doubt I’m not alone in this, but as a big fan of the Jonathan Lethem novel, I had high expectations for this film. Those expectations were mostly disappointed. Had I not read the book, I probably would’ve enjoyed Edward Norton’s film much more.
The basic story is the same in both the novel and the film: Lionel Essrog (Norton), a young man with Tourette syndrome, seeks to discover who murdered his boss and father figure Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Yet the book’s setting, New York in 1999 (the year the novel was published), changes for the film to New York in 1957. Many characters are wiped out completely for Norton’s version, and others are added. Although the period look of the movie is often compelling, the heart of who Lionel is has been left inside the book’s pages, including his relationship with Frank and Lionel’s background as an orphan. (You can read more about the differences between the book and film here.) Lethem knew of Norton’s interests and intentions even when the book was in galley form. So if you’ve never read the book, go see the movie. Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear the thoughts of someone coming to the film fresh, which is something that could not happen with me.
The 10th Victim (1965) Elio Petri (Daily Motion)
From my Letterboxd Watchlist journey, Episode 5
Devil’s Doorway (1950) Anthony Mann (Criterion Channel)
I’m not surprised that such a dark film came from director Anthony Mann, but I’m stunned that it was produced at MGM. Robert Taylor plays Lance Poole, a Native American Civil War hero who returns from the war to discover that white men have changed the homesteading laws to drive the Native Americans off the land. The leader of this group (Louis Calhern) isn’t a mustache-twirling villain, but rather quietly evil. You may have a hard time picturing Taylor as a Native American, but the role turns out to be one of his best. As an added bonus, John Alton shot this film.
The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) John Ford (Twilight Time Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
A rewatch from April, this absolutely charming screwball comedy stars Edward G. Robinson in a dual role, playing Arthur Ferguson Jones, a low-level advertising man who looks exactly like the notorious at large “Killer” Mannion. Jean Arthur is wonderful as Jones’s co-worker, and the entire film is simply delightful. Although I’d recently watched this, I wanted to try out my new Twilight Time Blu-ray, and - more importantly - my wife actually wanted to see it.
The Booksellers (documentary, 2019) D. W. Young (Amazon Prime)
My Letterboxd Watchlist venture continues with Episode 6
Interstellar (2014) Christopher Nolan (watched at a friend’s house) Rewatch, 2x
My friend K invited me and our mutual friend W to watch this film on 4K using K’s massive 4K TV and 4K player, a total 4K experience, which was tremendous. I enjoyed the film when I first saw it in theaters, but felt it attempted too much, even with a nearly three-hour running time. I enjoyed it more this time, but my initial feelings that the film goes off the rails in the last act still rings true.
Watch on the Rhine (1943) Herman Shumlin (Warner DVD)
Paul Lukas plays Kurt Muller, who, with his American wife Sara (Bette Davis) and children, are in the U.S. visiting Sara’s family in Washington, D.C. Kurt, an anti-Fascist, runs up against a Romanian count (George Coulouris) who’s conspiring with the Germans. This film is well-intentioned, but soooooooo preachy with speech after speech, some of which are effective, while others are pure propaganda. All of which is fine. I also understand that I’m guilty of what I always warn audiences of in my movie presentations: You have to watch films in the context of the time they were made. The same is true here, but propaganda is still propaganda. I was also expecting so much more from Paul Lukas, lauded winner of the Best Actor Oscar over Humphrey Bogart for Casablanca. Nothing against Lukas; he certainly rises above the material, especially the final scene, but he probably won the award for the character’s ideals more than for the actual performance. Bogart created a cinematic and cultural icon with Rick in Casablanca. Not only that, he delivered a role largely against type for him: a character in love, sensitive, hurt, and sacrificial. Well, what’s done is done. I did enjoy Bette Davis in the film, who does her best to breathe some life into her character.
Zodiac (2007) David Fincher (Paramount Blu-ray) Rewatch, 3x
Research for our Great Movies discussion on Friday, October 2, 2020, which you can be a part of here.
Blood Feast (1963) Hershel Gordon Lewis (Criterion Channel)
I thought I’d never seen a Hershel Gordon Lewis film before this, but Letterboxd reminded me that I once endured Monster a-Go Go (1965) just last summer. The plot of Blood Feast? Here goes: A nut-job food caterer named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) gets a customer who asks for an Egyptian feast for her daughter. Fuad is all over this. He’s been itching to kill a few women in order to offer their body parts to his “Egyptian goddess” Ishtar. Blood Feast is an early splatter film (perhaps the first?), which earned a huge $4 million profit against its tiny $24,500 budget. The laughs (unintentional or not) are certainly there, but the acting? Even for a slasher film, it’s atrocious. Will I try another HGL film. Maybe… Don’t hold your breath.
La Bête Humaine (1938) Jean Renoir (Criterion Channel)
Letterboxd Watchlist Episode 7
This film had been on my Letterboxd Watchlist for a long time, but I’m going to take a much more in-depth look at this one than I normally do with my watchlist posts. Briefly, however, this Jean Renoir classic, based on a novel by Émile Zola, follows railroad stationmaster Roubard (Fernand Ledoux), who murders the man who seduced his young wife Severine (Simone Simon). The train’s engineer, Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin), the only one who knows the truth about the murder, finds himself having an affair with Severine, but Lantier has secrets of his own. A tremendous film. Look for more on this one soon.
The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) Henry Hathaway (DVD borrowed from a friend)
John Wayne as a moonshiner? In Technicolor? Harry Carey plays Daniel Howitt, a mysterious stranger who arrives in the Missouri hills to befriend a community, hoping to settle down there. Young Matt Matthews (Wayne) refuses to allow him to settle, and might well kill the man. This is an odd, yet very effective, compelling film that touches on many elements of spirituality, community, sacrifice, and family. Don’t expect a traditional western. The film also stars Betty Field, Beulah Bondi, Samuel S. Hinds, Marjorie Main, Ward Bond, Tom Fadden, Marc Lawrence, and John Qualen. A Blu-ray release is scheduled for November from Kino Lorber. I’ll be picking it up.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) Roger Corman (Shout Factory Vincent Price Collection Blu-ray set, second edition)
Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death is a spectacle of color and weirdness. Vincent Price plays Prince Prospero, a sadistic ruler who terrorizes the local peasants, all the while living it up in his castle with all manner of shenanigans going on. The film borrows from Poe’s short story of the same name as well as elements of another story, “Hop Frog.” The film also stars Hazel Court and Jane Asher.
Here and There (Aquí y allá’, 2012) Antonio Méndez Esparza (Kanopy) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our discussion of the film for Hispanic Heritage Month.
If you’d like to join us, our discussion will be held via Zoom on Monday, October 5 at 7pm ET.
Der Hund von Baskerville (1929) Richard Oswald (Flicker Alley Blu-ray)
The last silent Sherlock Holmes film, Der Hund von Baskerville, places Holmes (Carlyle Blackwell Sr.) and Dr. Watson (George Seroff) on the case of the mysterious deaths on the moors of Devon. The art direction and cinematography (Frederik Fuglsang) is wonderful, and Seroff brings a different type of Dr. Watson (sly and adventurous) than any I’ve seen. The Flicker Alley Blu-ray also includes the 1914 version of the film and other extras I’ve yet to check out, but for fans of silent film and Sherlock Holmes, this is a must-see.
The Walking Hills (1949) John Sturges (Criterion Channel)
It’s been compared to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, made one year earlier, but while The Walking Hills isn’t in the same league as the John Huston film, it’s still a terrific picture with a great cast, including Randolph Scott, Ella Raines, William Bishop, Edgar Buchanan, Arthur Kennedy, John Ireland, and blues singer Josh White. Like Sierra Madre, The Walking Hills includes unmistakable traces of film noir in its DNA. In a Mexican bar, a group of men discover that one of them actually knows where a legendary wagon of gold is buried. Greed takes hold, as we might expect, but there’s also distrust going on here. A solid Western worth checking out.
Ms. 45 (1981) Abel Ferrara (Tubi)
Letterboxd Watchlist Episode 8
More on this one later, but Ms. 45 turns out to be a nice surprise. This revenge movie could’ve been just another exploitation flick, but Ferrara has more on his mind. Very effective and a great use of New York locations. Again, look for more on this one later.
Ride the Pink Horse (1947) Robert Montgomery (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for an upcoming article in The Dark Pages. I also read the Dorothy B. Hughes novel this month, which is quite different from the film. I highly recommend both.
That’s going to do it for my September. I’d love to hear about what you watched. Please share!
Photos: Trailer Addict, Variety, Netflix, Nick’s Flick Picks, Psychotronic Review, Seeing Things Secondhand, Reviewsphere, Rupert Pupkin Speaks