Films of 2021:Q3

Here’s my latest dump of movie reviews:

Newer Films:

A Sun  (Taiwan)  3.7  I found the first half to be a bit slow and predictable, but the second half is really good.  Netflix has an excellent 4k print.  The director was also producer for The Great Buddha, and you can see some similarities in style.

Annette  (US)  3.7   Leos Carax’s new film is a musical, which isn’t exactly my favorite genre.  But this one shows some real imagination, an increasingly rare commodity in modern Hollywood.

The Lost Leonardo (US)  3.5  They kept saying that Da Vinci was the greatest painter of the Renaissance, but I’m not sure he’s even as good as Tintoretto, much less Titian.  (A better argument is that he was the greatest man who painted during the Renaissance, where his only rival for all-around renaissance man is perhaps Michelangelo?)  But whatever you think of the painting itself, the story is a quite entertaining look at the intersection of art, commerce, academia, museums, politics, etc.

Roadrunner  (US)  3.5  It’s going to depend on what you think of Anthony Bourdain.  I thought he was pretentious when I first saw him, but gradually warmed up to his act.  He has a package of skills that is actually pretty rare.  (The food stuff in his show is totally beside the point.)

Malice in the Palace  (US)  3.4  Not sure how non-NBA fans would react to this, but for NBA fans this is must see TV.  Not to sound all “woke”, but seeing this did give me a better sense of what people mean by unconscious racism.  I squirmed a bit at all the white commentators (even liberals) talking about how NBA players are “thugs” with tattoos and a hip-hop style.  One NBA player pointed out that they don’t seem to say that about hockey players, even though that sport is ten times more violent.  Yes, this one incident involved a couple players going into the stands, but the commentators kept saying that there there was a continuing problem of violence in the NBA, which has to mean violence on the court.  Really?  Compared to hockey?  And why all the tsk-tsking when African American players skip college and go right into the NBA, but no similar complaints when white athletes go into professional tennis, golf and baseball at age 18?

The River Runner  (US)  3.4  Interesting documentary about some pretty extreme kayakers.  Is this the riskiest hobby?

Days  (Taiwan)  3.0  An interesting exercise in Asian slow cinema, but I don’t think Tsai Ming-liang quite pulls it off.  It reminded me a bit of Karl Knausgaard’s famous novel, but Tsai didn’t always seem to know how to make this idea work using images rather than words.  Still, there are some things to appreciate in the film.  Perhaps I underestimated it.

Silver Skates  (Russia)  2.6  Everything that is wrong with recent films.  Way too much CGI, instead of relying on St Petersburg’s natural beauty.  Tiresome action sequences that go on forever.

Older Films:

An Autumn Afternoon  (Japan, 1962, CC)  3.9   Seeing this a second time, I am struck by the enormous amount of alcohol consumed in the 110 minute length of the film. I wonder if that stood out at the time?

Happy Together  (HK, 1997, CC)  3.8  Each time I see this it takes me while to get into the rhythm of the film, but once I do it becomes very enjoyable to watch.  Great acting and great cinematography.  Criterion Channel has a very interesting documentary on the film with lots of outtakes that were not used in the film.  These outtakes almost form an alternative film.  I really miss the golden age of HK/Taiwan filmmaking, which seems to be over.

Ran  (Japan, 1985)  3.8  Probably Kurosawa’s most ambitious film, although his talent had slipped a bit from his peak period.  Perhaps that makes the film (based on King Lear) slightly autobiographical.  Seeing it in 2021, the visuals of pre-Edo era Japan have a sort 1980s vibe, which is slightly disconcerting.  Despite these reservations, there is some pretty overwhelming spectacle.

The Dead  (Ireland, 1987, CC)  3.8  It’s hard to imagine someone my age not liking this gem, which was John Huston’s final film.  (His daughter is great, as usual.) I enjoyed this even more the second time around. (And don’t say the short story is better—what do you expect?)

Tokyo Twilight  (Japan, 1957, CC)  3.8  One of Ozu’s more tragic stories.

The End of Summer  (Japan, 1961, CC)  3.8  What I’ll most remember about this film is Ozu’s use of color.  It gave me the feeling that this was the first truly color film that I had ever watched, that all other modern films were merely “not black and white.”

The Hand  (Hong Kong, 2004, CC)  3.7  This was somewhat longer than the version that appeared in “Eros”, which contained three short films, but still runs well under an hour.  I find this film hard to rate, as in some ways it’s almost perfect, but also seems to be a bit lacking in something.  It’s a film I respect more than I like.

Mr. Klein  (France, 1976, CC)  3.7  A beautifully restored print of this stylish and intelligent film directed by Joseph Losey.

The Hit  (UK, 1984, CC)  3.7  A very entertaining crime story with some great acting by Terence Stamp, Tim Roth and John Hurt.

Key Largo  (US, 1948, CC)  3.7  It’s the acting that makes this a classic Hollywood film, especially Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Alois Nedel  (Czech , 2011, CC)  3.6  B&W animation with very strong visuals.

The Burmese Harp  (Japan, 1956, CC)  3.6  This (somewhat dated) classic Japanese film reminds me a bit of The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Both films show a few of the horrors of war, but both also romanticize war.  In the early postwar decades, audiences weren’t interested in seeing how bad it really was. Even today, most people don’t want to see war as it really was.

Remember the Night  (US, 1940, CC) 3.6 Another great performance by Barbara Stanwyck, in this case in a rather sentimental romantic comedy.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary  (Canada, 2002, CC)  3.5  Black and white (and a touch of red) — silent — vampires! — Mahler — ballet — Guy Madden.  Enuf said.

Diary of a Chambermaid  (France, 1964, CC)  3.5  Bunuel’s version is skillfully made and very dark.  Hard to feel good about the human race after seeing this film.

Reflections in a Golden Eye   (US, 1967, CC)  3.4  A good film for a gender studies class.  Laugh all you want at the 1967 perspective, but these cultural artifacts are still pretty interesting a half a century later.  As is usually the case, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando give interesting performances, and John Huston did a really good job directing several of the scenes.

Christmas in Connecticut  (US, 1945, CC)  3.4  Routine screwball comedy raised to a higher level by the presence of the sublime Barbara Stanwyck.  (BTW, the film featured a tasteless joke based on the idea of a black man being able to explain the Greek origin and meaning of the word ‘catastrophe’ to a white man.  In a weird coincidence, the very next day I read about Zaila Avant-garde winning the national spelling bee.  Old Hollywood films often have a racist joke or two.)

Lilith  (US, 1964, CC)  3.3  Halfway between an exploitative American film on insanity and a European art film.  Worth seeing for Jean Seberg’s performance, and the other actors are also pretty good.

Cutter’s Way  (US, 1981, CC)  3.3  This noir starring Jeff Bridges really captured the feel of life in 1981.

A Farewell to Arms  (US, 1932, CC)  3.2  At less than 90 minutes, it has enough space for a Hemingway short story, but tries to pack in a entire novel.  It’s Hollywood, not Hemingway. On the plus side, Borzage’s direction has a nice visual flair.  Helen Hayes is an odd looking actress.

Carmen Comes Home  (Japan, 1951, CC)  3.2  Although it’s just a silly B film, Japan’s first color film feels like some sort of cultural turning point.  I suspect that Japanese audiences left the theatre a bit more “modern” than they entered.  Stupid, but also as fun as eating cotton candy at a carnival on a summer evening when you were young.

People on Sunday  (Germany, 1930, CC)  3.1  This silent film made by a couple future Hollywood directors is not all that entertaining, but it’s nevertheless a sort of treasure, a peek at how people in Berlin spent Sunday’s back in 1929.  At least for the middle class, life was definitely “worse”, without actually being any worse than today.

The Spy in Black  (UK, 1939, CC)  3.1   A Powell/Pressburger WWI film made in 1939, perhaps before WWII broke out.  The Germans were treated respectfully.

An Irrational Man  (US, 2015)  3.0  At this point there’s not much to say about newer Woody Allen films.  Here I think he would have benefited from having a younger and more intelligent screenwriter, as much of the philosophy discussion seemed to come out of a 1960s-era copy of Cliff’s Notes.  Still, I always enjoy a good black comedy, even if it’s not so good.

City of Women   (Italy, 1980, CC)  3.0  Right off the bat you know you are in the hands of a brilliant director.  Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that he’s a director that has been given too much freedom and has lost his way.  The second half of this late Fellini film had enough to keep me interested—barely.

The Touch  (Sweden, 1971, CC)  3.0  To outsiders, a love affair often seems to make no sense.  Whereas most directors romanticize love affairs so that they makes sense to the average person, Bergman is oblivious to audience expectations.  He seems to embrace the senselessness of love, and doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that the affair will make no sense to most viewers of this film. The problem here is Elliot Gould; it’s unclear (at least to me) what Bergman was trying to do with his character.

California Split  (US, 1974, CC)  3.0  I often find Altman films to be slightly disappointing.  He generally seems more interested in capturing the zeitgeist than in actually making an excellent film.  I just don’t connect with his sensibility.

Midnight  (US, 1939, CC)  3.0  OK romcom starring Claudette Colbert.

Nothing Sacred   (US, 1937, CC)  3.0  At the beginning, the screenwriter Ben Hecht is pretty hard on Vermont.  Recall that in the 1936 election, Vermont was only one of two states to vote against FDR.  Hecht was a leftist.  OK film; nothing special.  Oddly, the film is in color.

Song to Song  (US, 2015)  2.8  Malick has recently produced some interesting experimental films, with a sort of stream of consciousness style.  This is more of the same, but now I’d call it an interesting failure, as the style seems increasingly hollow.  Watch it as a pretty travelogue of 21st century Austin.

Death Takes a Holiday  (US, 1934, CC)  2.7     Not just death, good acting and dialogue also take a holiday.  Still, it’s an interesting cultural artifact.  “There are only three games: money, love, and war.”

Five Corners  (US, 1987, CC)  2.5 Not sure why Criterion Channel had this one—perhaps the attraction was seeing a young John Turturro and a young Jodie Foster.  Also not sure what sort of film the director was trying to make; it’s a mishmash that doesn’t fit together.



29 Responses to “Films of 2021:Q3”

  1. Gravatar of ECharles ECharles
    3. October 2021 at 14:50

    Curious how you were able to see The Lost Leonardo. I don’t see any streaming options. See in a theatre?

  2. Gravatar of rinat rinat
    3. October 2021 at 14:59

    Does anyone else find it obvious that he only posts these international movies to show how “well rounded” and “multi-cultural” he is? More virtue signaling from the “far-left”?

    This is precisely the insecurity and arrogance that is the greatest threat of our times. University professors, and corrupt apparatchiks who think they are better than everyone else, and who want to show the world their “pseudo virtue”.

    Let’s all chant together so we can increase his confidence:

    How well rounded you are Sumner.
    How amazing you are Sumner.
    How intellectual you are Sumner.

    Let’s all now bow and genuflect to our new wannabe master, who believes that only if he could micro manage our lives we would all be better off.

    How about smaller government, and returning power to the community, where people actually have a voice, and where people can hold their politicians accountable. Novel concept?

    Stop centralizing! And start decentralizing!

  3. Gravatar of Echarles Echarles
    3. October 2021 at 16:18

    rinat- No. I think it’s a case of diminishing returns of watching domestic movies as you get older since you’re likely to have watched all of the great movies, so then you seek high quality ones internationally, which there are quite a few considering how many foreign movies exist.

  4. Gravatar of jay jay
    3. October 2021 at 17:27

    It seems hard to believe but Scott is actually among the best current film critics and it’s not even his job.

  5. Gravatar of Market Fiscalist Market Fiscalist
    3. October 2021 at 18:18


    I think its more a case of rinat being a total troll. Sumner is one of my favorite monetary economists but I also value his film reviews as his movie tastes fall remarkably close to mine.

    Based on his post I just watched The Hit which was a very entertaining movie for a hungover Sunday afternoon and I am about to watch The End of Summer which sounds exactly like the kind of movie I will like.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. October 2021 at 20:28

    ECharles, Yes, in a theatre.

    Rinat, You said:

    “Stop centralizing! And start decentralizing!”


    BTW, the list includes lots of American films–not sure what you are referring to. Is there something wrong with watching foreign films?

    Jay, It’s good to hear that my movie reviews are getting better, as my economic commentary is getting worse.

    Market, I didn’t appreciate Ozu until I got older.

  7. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    4. October 2021 at 08:28

  8. Gravatar of Market Fiscalist Market Fiscalist
    4. October 2021 at 16:51

    I found The End of Summer to be one of the best movies I have watched. I agree with you about the use of color but it also left me with the feeling that I understand life (and death) a bit better after having watched it.

    Thanks for rating it!

  9. Gravatar of Keenan Keenan
    4. October 2021 at 17:25

    I’m curious to see your takes on the Kiarostami on CC. For Q4!

  10. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    4. October 2021 at 18:03

    Scott, if you have Netflix and a few minutes to spare, you might like the short film anthology ‘LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS’.

    The different movies are independent of each other, and of somewhat uneven quality, but I found it more than worth watching.

    “Sonnie’s Edge” is a good one to start with.

  11. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    4. October 2021 at 18:07

    PS You guys might want to watch Welt am Draht (World on a Wire).

    It’s a 1973 German version of, essentially, the Matrix. You can easily find full versions online with English subtitles.

    The cinematography is quite interesting, too.

  12. Gravatar of Tom Davies Tom Davies
    4. October 2021 at 20:57

    Thanks for reminding me of “The Hit”, which I saw many years ago and had forgotten the title of!

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. October 2021 at 21:56

    Thanks Market.

    Keenan, I like Kiarostami, and have reviewed some of his films in earlier posts.

    Matthias, I’ll check them out.

    Tom, Yes, it’s entertaining.

  14. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    5. October 2021 at 11:50

    Thanks, though I don’t watch movies except with groups that force me to go, with a few rare exceptions (the Bond films, classics like The Mechanic, starring Charles Bronson, which Sumner refuses to acknowledge as a classic).

    Sumner: “The Lost Leonardo (US)” – I think this is about that true story of an unsophisticated LA family who bought and sold a genuine Leonardo de Vinci painting for $10k to some NYC art dealers who proved it was genuine and eventually the painting was resold for over $400M. If not, it should be.

  15. Gravatar of jayne jayne
    6. October 2021 at 09:47

    Boring post.

    I’m still waiting on Sumner to criticize Biden’s son, who sold an art piece for 500,000 to an anonymous buyer.

    Or how about his new art show, attended by woke democrats in L.A.?

    50 year old drug addict suddenly becomes an art star. Who would have thought?

    Trumps son sneezes in the wrong direction and Sumner writes about him for a week. No evidence. No facts. But that doesn’t stop Sumner from speculating.

    Biden’s son is actually corrupt. Not “maybe corrupt”. Not “speculatively corrupt”, not “false allegation and fake news corrupt.

    He’s corrupt.

  16. Gravatar of David S David S
    6. October 2021 at 09:49

    Have you watched Margin Call?—It’s worth it just for the performances by Jeremy Irons.

  17. Gravatar of JoeMac JoeMac
    8. October 2021 at 07:56

    I noticed you never watch horror films!

  18. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    8. October 2021 at 08:02

    Thanks for the reviews. I would add van Eyck to your short list of best Renaissance painters.

  19. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    8. October 2021 at 08:14

    The Burmese Harp is an interesting transitional film, as you say still a bit too romanticized about World War II, but the best Japanese directors would soon shake off that constraint. Just 3 years later that same director, Kon Ichikawa, would release “Fires on the Plain,” which is far more brutal (and better, in my view). Kobayashi’s similarly uncompromising and masterful The Human Condition trilogy would also start coming out in 1959.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2021 at 09:17

    David, I’ll check it out.

    JoeMac, I’ve seen many horror films–probably almost 100.

    Carl, You could add many other names. Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Bellini, Durer, Botticelli. Leonardo is great, but many others during that period are in the same ballpark.

    Andrew, Thanks, I’ll check those out.

  21. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    8. October 2021 at 09:52

    Have you watched or reviewed Cinema Paradiso? Do you give much weight to soundtrack in your scoring?

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2021 at 12:17

    Mark, I saw Cinema Paradiso when it came out, but it’s been so long I don’t recall much of the film. I give some weight to soundtracks, but not as much as to the visual aspect of films.

  23. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    8. October 2021 at 14:06

    Agreed. And regarding soundtracks and the Renaissance, I find myself listening to the soundtrack of movies many multiples of the times I watch the movies. I felt a little guilty about this for a while, thinking that I should be making more of an effort o appreciate modern classical composers instead of just their pop classical imitators. Then I started thinking that maybe classical music is just returning to its Renaissance roots when it got its start as “soundtracks” to the only theater of its time with music, opera.

  24. Gravatar of Tom Mannell Tom Mannell
    9. October 2021 at 09:39

    Scott, thanks for your insights. Stray comments: Yes, The Hit. I’m thinking that must be early Steven Frears. His work reminds me a bit of Soderbergh’s. Solid, good stories well directed. Anyone who appreciates this film would surely like Im Schatten (English title In The Shadows), one of my favorite crime films ever. It’s a 2010 German film directed by Thomas Arslan. Watch it and tell me if it isn’t a bit Bressonian. Another wonderful German language film is Revanche from 2008. I just watched and loved Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, the latest from Hamaguchi Ryusuke, the director of Happy Hour and Asako I and II. He’s 3 for 3 in my book, and I will search out his other work. I recently watched Naruse Mikio’s Meshi from 1951. Who’s not in love with Hara Setsuko? Ichikawa Kan’s films have always intrigued me. I liked his version of The 47 Ronin, and also enjoyed The Makioka Sisters and An Actor’s Revenge. Another commenter mentioned Kobayashi’s nine-hour The Human Condition. A heartbreaking film. Both the 1958 and 1983 versions of The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama Bushiko) are beautiful and very different works, the former basically a theatrical set piece and the latter directed by Imamura Shohei, whose films are always delightfully chaotic and odd. The 2016 Japanese film Harmonium was excellent, and I’m downloading another film by director Fukada Koji, A Girl Missing, as I write this. Kitano Takashi made about three excellent films early in his career, and then decided to focus only on the forgetable, until making two yakuza romps, Outrage and Outrage Beyond, in 2010 and 2012. Oh dear, I got stuck mostly on Japanese cinema. We can talk Iranian, Taiwanese, German, Mexican, and yes, American films another time.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. October 2021 at 09:48

    Tom, Wow, you are way ahead of me. I need to find that Ryusuke film, as his other two were great.

  26. Gravatar of Tom Mannell Tom Mannell
    9. October 2021 at 10:17

    Final note: Chris Marker of Sans Soleil fame documented Kurosawa as he filmed Ran in Marker’s 1985 film, A.K. I once owned it on VHS. It’s out there somewhere…

  27. Gravatar of Henry Henry
    10. October 2021 at 06:28

    “And why all the tsk-tsking when African American players skip college and go right into the NBA, but no similar complaints when white athletes go into professional tennis, golf and baseball at age 18?”

    I haven’t watched the movie but I recall that the players union wanted an age restriction to allow older, veteran players to keep their roster spots and squeeze another contract in before likely exiting the league. That would be deep bench players, not well known people.

  28. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    10. October 2021 at 10:23

    Carl, a lot of modern classical composers get a lot of their popularity from cinema, so I think movies indirectly ‘subsidize’ classical music these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if even Philip Glass is more widely known because of his film scores than his other works. Of course a lot of film composers can be very pop and repetitive (no offense to Hans Zimmer, but sometimes he’s underwhelming). But I have a soft spot for Ennio Morricone’s scores.

  29. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    10. October 2021 at 19:46

    Mark Z
    That makes sense what you say about movies subsidizing modern classical, And, I’m a fan of Morricone’s scores too.

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