Films of the 3rd quarter

I now watch so many films that I can no longer wait for an annual list. Most are older, so there’s almost nothing here for people who want tips on new films. I put “CC” next to films I watched on Criterion Channel, which is a very high quality service. Some of the old B&W films on CC actually looked better on TV than at the theatre, something which I never expected to see. Many include interesting documentaries.

2020:Q3 New Films: 

Museo  (Mexico)  3.5  Interesting film with some nice dialogue and acting.  I’d encourage this promising director to slow down a bit with the camera.

Tenet  (US)  3.5  Christopher Nolan is a sort of magician.  He takes preposterous plots and through the use of smoke and mirrors (i.e. skillful direction) he convinces you that it’s all sort of plausible.  This plot was perhaps a bit too implausible.  And no, I’m not interested enough in all the clues scattered about to sit through 2.5 hours of action sequences for a second time.  Even so, this is worth seeing if you were a fan of Inception and Intersteller. I also saw a trailer for the new James Bond, which actually looked better than usual. And a trailer for Dune, which was sort of blah. Only three people in the (huge) movie theatre, including me.

There Are No Fakes  (Canada)  3.5   I have a hard time recalling a documentary where the contrast between good and evil was so stark.  It’s horrifying that some of the villains will get off scot-free.  The worst villain got 5 years in prison, whereas he deserved 50 years.   Even half way through this nearly 2-hour film the viewer has no idea where it’s going.  I also find it interesting that the villains lie so shamelessly.  I was never quite sure whether they think they can get away with lying and don’t realize how obvious their lies actually are, or if their attitude is “I know that you know that I’m lying, and I don’t care.”

The Gardener  (Canada)  3.2  A tonic for the evil in “There Are No Fakes”.  Everyone in this film is a decent person.  Not a great documentary from a style perspective, but if you have a really good TV then the visuals are very enjoyable.  At 85 minutes, it’s about 25 minutes too long—not for young people.

John McEnroe:  In the Realm of Perfection  (France, CC)  3.1  Boring and pretentious at first, but gradually becomes more interesting.  A sports documentary unlike any other. I hated McEnroe when he was playing, but I also believe he was the best player ever. Not best in terms of winning, but best from an aesthetic perspective–which is what matters to me.

Romance Doll  (Japan)  2.8   This film could only be made in Japan.  Not as good as the previous Japanese love doll film (Air Doll), which was directed by Koreeda.

Older films:

Rashomon  (Japan, 1950, CC)  4.0  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film, but it is even better than I recall.  (Perhaps it’s the restored print.)  Mifune is an animal.

Charulata  (India, 1964, CC)  3.9  Until this year I’d only seen 4 movies directed by Sanyajit Ray.  Now he’s becoming one of my favorite directors, with a sensibility that is similar to Ozu.  The print looked fantastic on the Criterion Channel; so clear it almost seemed like you weren’t watching a film at all.  This film is timeless—people will still be enjoying it 100 years from now.

A Story From Chikamatsu  (Japan, 1954, CC)  3.9  The second half is full of those luminous Mizoguchi night scenes.  A near perfect film.

The End of Summer (Japan, 1951, CC) 3.9 Ozu’s films allow the viewer to breath, partly by leaving lots of stuff out that would be included by any other director. It’s like a great watercolor painting that achieves its effects by leaving parts of the paper white. The film contains a sad reference to parents giving up hope that their son would ever return home (presumably from Russia), an aspect of post-war Japan that is not well known to Americans.

Au Hasard Balthazar (France, 1966, CC)  3.8  If you watch this on Criterion Channel, check out the 13 minute interview with Donald Richie after it’s over.  There’s also a one-hour documentary, where Bresson has a number of interesting comments on cinema as a art form.  Warning—some people are likely to be bored by this film.

F is For Fake  (US, 1975, CC)  3.8  Orson Welles directed many underrated films, but this might be the most underrated.  Start with the fact that the editing is as good as in any non-Welles movie I can recall.  It’s also Welles’ most autobiographical film.  A classic exercise in post-modernism—highly intelligent, and hugely enjoyable to watch.  Of course it completely bombed at the box office, as did almost all of Welles’ masterpieces.

Mr. Arkadin, aka Confidential Report  (US, 1955, CC)  3.8  A lesser known Welles film, but still shows many flashes of his brilliance.  It’s full of 4-star scenes—absolutely spectacular sequences—but mired with 3-star acting. A master class in filmmaking that obviously influenced Kubrick, who put the same techniques into even greater films.  Very clever—Welles was way ahead of his audience. 

Satantango  (Hungary, 1994, CC)  3.8  Here’s what you need to know before watching this film.  It’s black and white.  Almost the entire film takes place in the rain, in a poor, muddy, ugly, run down village in Hungary.  The characters are unappealing, indeed mostly stupid.  There is almost no plot, little dialogue, and the film moves at an extremely slow pace—slower than any other film.  Ever.  It makes Stalker seem like Fast and Furious.    Oh, and it’s 7 hours and 19 minutes long.  Still interested?  If so, look for a major work of art by Europe’s greatest director of the past 30 years—Bela Tarr.  The other 99.9% of humanity would be bored out of their minds and should avoid this film like the plague.  (It came out the same year as Pulp Fiction.)

Don’t listen to idealistic, well-meaning cineastes that tell you to “give this film a chance”.  If my description doesn’t make you want to see the film, you will hate it

No Direction Home  (US, 2005) 3.8  Second time I’ve seen this documentary, and I liked it even more this time.  (I prefer it to Scorsese’s other two documentaries of Dylan and the Band, although if you don’t like Dylan you won’t be as interested in the film as I was.)  Dylan seems to struggle to speak, as if he’s trying to avoid saying anything that’s a cliché, anything obvious, anything the listener expects to hear.  I could never speak that way, but he comes close to pulling it off.  The press conferences are a sort of bizarre performance art, as if he’s operating on an entirely different plane of reality from the reporters. 

The film covers 1961-66, when his music evolved rapidly.  There’s evidence for the productivity of big cities in the fact that when he left Minneapolis from NYC in early 1961 he was nothing special, and a few months later when he returned he’d learned so much in Greenwich Village that he was already highly talented, already “Dylan”.  And even though I already knew about the fan reaction at his concerts in 1965-66, it’s still sort of bizarre to see him booed by his own fans when he was at the absolute peak of his career.  How does something like that happen? 

Joan Baez comes across really well, as do a number of other people who were interviewed.  There’s so much to cover that even at 3½ hours there’s basically no discussion of the fascinating process of making Blonde on Blonde, even though the film ends in 1966.  Also a reminder of how fast he progressed.  Both Bringing it all Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited came out before Rubber Soul.  They showed a 1965 pop chart with  ”Like a Rolling Stone” at #2, right behind “Help”, which seems to me like a song from an earlier era.

I know Where I’m Going  (UK, 1945)  3.8  I’m a big fan of Powell/Pressburger films, and this is one of their best. I liked it just as much as when I first saw it 35 years ago.  The film clearly influenced Local Hero, another great film placed in the Scottish highlands. One critic (Barry Norman) put it in the top 100 films of all time, while another (Molly Haskell) voted it in the top ten films of all time. Martin Scorsese called it a masterpiece. Wonderful cinematography.

Yearning  (Japan, 1964, CC)  3.8 Naruse handles female characters especially well, and this one features the wonderful Hideko Takamine.  He also understands business. Modern films often seem premised on the assumption that audiences want one entertaining scene after another.  Older Japanese films like this one are often more like short stories where at the very end everything snaps into place.

I sort of feel like 1964 was Japan’s best year ever, just like 2008 was China’s best year.  (Both years featured Olympics coming out parties, and 1964 was also the year Japan’s bullet train began service (and 2008 for China).)  Happiness isn’t getting what you want; it’s the feeling of being about to get what you want.  Watching this film you can sense Japan changing rapidly.

Intentions of Murder  (Japan, 1964, CC)  3.7  Typical of Imamura’s earthy style, but also contains some expressionist moments that are almost surreal.

The Big City  (India, 1963, CC)  3.7 The same actress as in Charulata, but a very different film.

Taipei Story  (Taiwan, 1985, CC) 3.7  One of the first great films of the Taiwanese golden age.  Edward Yang directed and Hou Hsiao Hsien starred in the film.  Like many Taiwanese films it’s affecting you in ways that you are unaware of until the end.

Ashes and Diamonds  (Poland, 1958, CC) 3.7  First time I’d seen this classic, and from the vantage point of 2020 is seems reflective of its era—a sort of stereotypical mid-century modern European black and white film classic.  The late 50s were a peak of cinema, with Vertigo and Touch of Evil also coming out in 1958.  And then there’s 1959.  Imagine being able to see the following sort of films month after month (all came out in 1959):  North By Northwest, Some Like It Hot, Imitation of Life, Rio Bravo, The 400 Blows, Pickpocket, Hiroshima Mon Amour, The World of Apu, Floating Weeds, The Human Condition (I and II), Good Morning.   What will 2020 bring us?

The Story of Floating Weeds  (Japan, 1934, CC)  3.7  As late as 1934, Ozu was still making silent films.  I didn’t find the story to be all that interesting, but there are some really beautiful scenes.  (The film was remade in 1959 as simply “Floating Weeds”.)

The Great Buddha+  (Taiwan, 2017)  3.7  The supply of great Taiwanese directors seems inexhaustible.  Now we can add Huang Hsin-yao to the list. This black comedy is a bit hard to describe, but has some great cinematography (always a good sign with new directors.).  Imagine if Jim Jarmusch had made Parasite, and you might have some idea of what to expect.  I may revise my estimate of this film when I’ve seen a few more by the director, and have a better sense of what he’s doing here.

Family Viewing  (Canada, 1987) 3.7   I hadn’t seen this film in 33 years and it holds up surprisingly well.  More audacious and complex than Egoyan’s first film (Next of Kin).   In 1987 it seemed like an exploration of technology—today is seems more like an inquiry into meaning.  And I wonder how many viewers realize how funny this film is.

Flowing  (Japan, 1956, CC)   3.7   Naruse is somewhat less distinctive than the other great “classic” Japanese directors, less of an auteur.  But he’s still excellent. The print quality was subpar.

Wrong Move  (Germany, 1975, CC)  3.7   Beautiful restored print.  Wim Wenders road movie—his specialty.  Hanna Schygulla.  Screenplay by Peter Handke, but it’s definitely Wenders’ film.  Not sure it goes anywhere, but a very enjoyable (and amusing) journey.  The film features an erotic scene with thirteen year old Nastassja Kinski and probably could not be made today.

Detour  (US, 1945)  3.7  The darkest of all film noirs, and one of the best.  Edgar Ulmer delivers the goods in just 68 efficient minutes.  You don’t need more time when you know what you are doing.  Ultra-low budget “B-film”.  Here’s your actual “pulp fiction”.

BTW, the star (Tom Neal) had a life pretty much like a film noir, including the murder of his third wife. Co-star Ann Savage gives an absolutely savage performance.

Gaslight  (US, 1944)  3.6  I saw this one day after Detour, and the difference in production values was startling.  Ingrid Bergman carries the film in one of her most characteristic performances.

Boyhood   (US, 2014)  3.6  This film is does something that is almost unique—follows the same boy through 12 years of life.  Actual adolescence is much weirder, much more painful, much more exhilarating than what is portrayed here. Even so, I could imagine a lot of people really loving this film. Not a great film, but watching it is certainly an experience.

The 400 Blows  (France, 1959, CC)  3.6  People will say I rated this classic much too low.  Perhaps it went a bit over my head.

The Darjeeling Limited (US/India, 2007)  3.6  Even a less than top flight film by Wes Anderson is full of perfect little moments.

Empire of Passion  (Japan, 1978, CC)  3.6 A follow-up to In the Realm of the Senses.  A sort of mix between a film noir and a ghost story.    

Take Aim at the Police Van  (Japan, 1960, CC)  3.5 This can’t possibly be the Japanese title, can it?  An early Seijun Suzuki B-noir full of pleasurable scenes, despite clunky dialogue and wooden acting.  The director knew the audience would like the arrow through the prostitute’s breast so much that he repeated the scene two more times.  I like seeing Tokyo back in 1960; amazing how much it’s changed in the past 60 years.

La Isla Minima (aka Marshland)  (Spain, 2014)  3.5  There’s now a major industry of gritty, realistic serial killer films.  At this point the plots don’t really matter, as all are pretty similar.  It’s all about whether the film immerses you in an interesting time and place, preferably with good acting and dialogue.  This one’s above average, a sort of poor man’s Memories of Murder.  It takes place in a river delta in southern Andalusia, during the early 1980s.

Dressed to Kill  (US, 1980)  3.5  I was surprised how well this early DePalma film holds up.  Karen Allen is wonderful and the film is full of pleasurable scenes. Like James Cameron, DePalma’s much more skilled than he is intelligent.  The shlocky soft core porn opening is cringe-worthy.  But the man can direct.  Back in 1980, I often recall thinking, “They could never have made this film 20 years ago.”  Now when I watch 1980-era films I think, “They could never make this film today.”

No Subtitles Necessary:  Lazslo & Vilmos  (US, 2012) 3.5  A documentary about two life long friends who risked their lives filming the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and then went to Hollywood where they became highly acclaimed cinematographers.

The Long Goodbye  (US, 1973)  3.5  Altman directed but it’s the cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond that makes this a pleasurable viewing experience.  Altman’s a good director, but (like Woody Allen) doesn’t do any one thing well enough to be a great director.

Manhunter  (US, 1986)  3.5  In the shadow of Silence of the Lambs, but a very good film in its own right.  Pity about that annoying 1980s pop music soundtrack.

Point Blank  (US, 1967)  3.4 John Boorman’s film does have some pretentious attempts at art cinema that don’t work, but after a shaky opening it’s an enjoyable crime thriller with “cool” visuals.  Boorman doesn’t understand the music of 1967, but does capture something of the visual style of that pivotal year—a weird mixture of crazy psychedelic colors and ultra cool midcentury modern office buildings.

Bottle Rocket  (US, 2016)  3.4  In his first film Wes Anderson had not yet perfected his style, but it’s still an enjoyable 90 minutes.  It’s R-rated, but then this is America.  You can certainly watch the film with your children.

The Year of Living Dangerously  (Australia/Indonesia, 1982, CC)  3.4  This Peter Weir film seems a bit dated.  At one point the character played by Signourey Weaver tells Mel Gibson that his reporting is a bit too melodramatic.  So why doesn’t Weir realize that his film is also a bit too melodramatic?  Nonetheless, Peter Weir films are almost all well above average, and this is no exception.

The Elephant God  (India, 1979, CC) 3.4 This is a playful detective story, quite different from Sanyajit Ray’s other films. A bit bland overall, but saved by a few excellent scenes.

Antonio Gaudi  (Japan, 1984, CC)  3.3  A near silent documentary film that focuses almost exclusively on Gaudi’s buildings.

The Blue Bird  (US, 1940)  3.3  I may have rated this too high, but I found it to be an interesting film, and one I’d never heard of.  It came out a year after The Wizard of Oz and copied its style.  It’s obviously not nearly as good, but it’s still a nice children’s film—and to a modern eye it’s more imaginative than a lot of the stuff that now comes out of Hollywood.  

It occurs to me that at the end of the 1930s, the film industry suddenly made a huge leap in special effects (also see Fantasia, Gone With the Wind, etc.), and then leveled off for several decades, before exploding again in the 1970s.  The forest fire would have terrified little American children back in 1940—which of course is a very good thing.  (Not so good for European children, who had plenty of other things to be terrified about.)

Next of Kin  (Canada, 1984, CC) 3.3  Atom Egoyan’s first film was made in 15 days for $20,000, but already demonstrates some of his favorite themes.

Indiscreet  (US,  1958)  3.2  This Stanley Donen romcom (with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) got very good reviews, but it seemed to take quite a while to get going.  Eventually it all clicked into place.

Rounders  (US, 1998)  3.2  John Dahl always delivers satisfying entertainment.  This isn’t his best, but it does feature excellent actors. 

The Miracle of Morgan Creek  (US, 1943)  3.2  Directed by Preston Sturges.  Amusing and charming, but a big step down from his two 1941 classics.

A Simple Favor  (US,  2018)  3.1  Nothing special, but a fairly entertaining black comedy.

Goldfinger  (UK, 1964)  3.1  Sometimes viewed as the ultimate Bond film, it has not aged well.  In retrospect, it’s where Bond films started to degenerate into silliness.   Would have been a much better film when it first came out in 1964—almost thrilling.

Dead Again  (US, 1991)  3.1  Kenneth Branagh has some talent at both acting and directing.  Unfortunately, he would have been better off being great at one specific thing, to avoid ending up doing middlebrow Swedish TV when he got 25 years older.  This film was intriguing at first, but then gradually unraveled toward the end.

Insignificance  (UK/US, 1985)  3.0  Nicholas Roeg is a good director, but he’s over his head in trying to juggle so many ideas.  Worth seeing only due to the presence of Theresa Russell (playing Marilyn Monroe.)

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief  (Japan, 1969, CC)  3.0  This is a sort of experimental film from 1969.  Perhaps it would have been called “avant garde” in 1969, although I’m not sure that term has any meaning today.  Seeing a 50-year old cutting edge film is a bit disorienting, which is why I can sort of recommend it even though I didn’t actually like it.  It’s either much better or worse than the 3 stars I give it—I’m just not sure which.  Perhaps I’ll watch it again some day.

Mysterious Object At Noon  (Thailand, 2000, CC) 2.8  A pseudo-documentary of the sort that was popular in the 1990s.  There’s sly humor, but don’t watch this if you are tired—it’s visually bland and some of the humor requires more knowledge of Thailand than most of us possess.  I couldn’t spell the director’s name without looking it up if my life depended on it:  Apichatpon Weerasethakul.

Chinese Odyssey 2002  (China, 2002)  2.8  Weird title.  One of those zany Chinese comedies that loses something in translation.  Lots of references to Wong Kar Wai films.

Crimes of Passion (US, 1984)  2.8  Ken Russell is not my cup of tea, but this film definitely has its moments (both good and bad.)  People who like DePalma might want to check this out, but prepare yourself for some appalling dialogue.  I wonder if an actress like Kathleen Turner would even do this sort of film today.

Fight Club  (US, 1999)  2.7  How did such a mediocre film come from a good director using excellent actors?  An ugly story with a dumb screenplay—and way too long.  A good director can overcome a bad screenplay or a bad plot, but it’s hard to overcome both.

Almayer’s Folly   (Belgian, 2011)  2.7  This Chantal Akerman adaptation of Conrad’s first novel never came to life.  It’s fine to want to comment on various aspects of society, but you should not forget to make an actual movie.

Caddyshack  (US, 1980)  2.6  I recall people talking about this movie as if it’s sort of a comedy classic—like Animal House.  It’s not—but then maybe Animal House isn’t either, I haven’t seen if for 40 years.

5000 Fingers of Dr. T  (US, 1952, CC)  2.5  When I was young this Dr. Seuss film seemed kind of cool.  Seeing it again on my 65th birthday was a quite different experience.  Almost a camp classic, but not quite bad enough or weird enough.

Dead or Alive  (Japan, 1999)  2.5  I wish that Miike would use his impressive talent to produce a few more good films, instead of lots of skillfully made bad films.

Downhill   (UK, 1927)  2.5  This silent film is strictly for Hitchcock completists (like me).  The problem is the story—it’s just dreadful. Hitch didn’t yet have enough clout to pick his projects.

Track 29  (US, 1988, CC)  1.8  When Nicholas Roeg lost his touch, his career went downhill fast.

Reading:  Flaubert—Sentimental Education.  A change of pace from my binge reading of Conrad.  I made the mistake of reading Madame Bovary when young and stupid, and then never went back to Flaubert.  Even now he’s an intimidating writer for me.  I’d have to read this masterpiece twice—more slowly the second time—to come close to fully appreciating it.  Apparently it’s Kafka’s favorite novel—which is almost a dictionary definition of underrated. (BTW, I can see why Woody Allen adores this book.)  For some reason the novel reminds me of the painter Manet.  What Manet did to the art of painting is sort of like what Flaubert did to the novel. (And at roughly the same time and place.)  Elsewhere Flaubert said:

“To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”

Obviously this is intended to be a bit provocative.  But is it true?  How would you describe happy people?

It seems half true to me.  Here’s how I’d put it:

Happy people are unintellectual, prudent and non-hypochondriacs.  If they meet those three criteria, you can still be happy with common sense intelligence, generosity toward others, and actual physical ailments.

Don Quixote—I never knew this novel was 2000 pages long (and I’m a slow reader.)  I imagine you guys have all read it already, but you could make a very impressive library out of classic books that I’ve never read.  More playfully “post-modern” than I expected—no wonder Borges likes it so much.  My 4-volume set was printed in 1908, and I had to separate pages in the last 200 pages, which is often the case when I read old books.  What percentage of classic books are never read to the end?  I’d say over 50%.

Cervantes understood that it’s consumption that matters, not income:

. . . the rich miser is only a covetous beggar; for, not he who possesses, but that spends and enjoys his wealth, is the rich and happy man . . .



34 Responses to “Films of the 3rd quarter”

  1. Gravatar of Robert Gable Robert Gable
    4. October 2020 at 11:44

    That’s a useful list. I wish the Criterion Channel app showed your ratings as I scroll through many movies I know nothing about.

    I’m a big fan of Bresson. Curious what you think in general of the films of Chantel Ackerman. Too conceptual and drawn out for my taste.

  2. Gravatar of Garrett Garrett
    4. October 2020 at 12:51

    I watched Caddyshack a few years ago as a mid-20-something and I didn’t think it was funny. The most beloved comedy of my generation is probably The Hangover.

  3. Gravatar of John Hal John Hal
    4. October 2020 at 12:57

    To your point about Fight Club’s “ugly story”, I think the most important part of the film is the ending, which is changed from the original novel. The whole ending is a rejection of Project Mayhem and a way to find meaning in life outside of both Fight Club and the mindless consumerism that had left him unfulfilled in the beginning of the book.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. October 2020 at 14:18

    Robert, I need to see more of her films to have an intelligent opinion.

    Garrett, Yes, lots of comedies don’t age well.

    John, Interesting.

  5. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    4. October 2020 at 14:35

    No mention of Charles Bronson by our resident critic. Perhaps not highbrow enough for him? The Mechanic is one of the all time great films in cinema. The first Death Wish is also right up there.

  6. Gravatar of Alan Goldhammer Alan Goldhammer
    4. October 2020 at 15:48

    I agree with almost all your notes except for the Welles film, ‘F is for Fake.’ I thought it pretentious and self-indulgent and it explains pretty well why after 1950 Welles had so much trouble getting his own projects off the ground in terms of financing. Personally, I think his old Paul Masson wine commercials were more entertaining:

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. October 2020 at 16:13

    Alan, Well, he did Othello, Arkadin, Touch of Evil, The Trial and Chimes of Midnight after 1950. That doesn’t seem like someone over the hill!

    Pretentious isn’t the adjective I’d apply to a film as playful as F is For Fake. But I suppose I can agree with self-indulgent.

  8. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    4. October 2020 at 16:55

    Fight Club gets much better with a second watch.

    Worker bees can leave.
    Even drones can fly away.
    The queen is their slave.

  9. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    4. October 2020 at 21:05


    I think Cervantes is really saying it’s consumption that matters, not wealth. Life is about what you do not what you own

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2020 at 07:55

    msgkings, Yes, but wealth and income were pretty interchangeable in those days. If your wealth was 1000 acres of land, your income was the rent on the land.

  11. Gravatar of copans copans
    5. October 2020 at 08:23

    I found Au Hasard Balthasar (and Mouchette as well) somewhat sadistic and overdetermined, but the Criterion supplementary matter pointed out something that disturbed. The female lead, Anne Wiazemsky, was only 18 where filming began but the much older Bresson proposed to her repeatedly. She married Godard the next year, who had been one of AHB’s biggest supporters. The degradation suffered by AHB’s protagonist takes on a retrospective pallor of morbid sexuality. I know it shouldn’t matter, but I can’t watch Woody Allen’s Manhattan again, either. Bresson is still a giant, but for me he has feet of clay.

  12. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    5. October 2020 at 08:53

    Damn Scott, it’s clear what interests you these days.

  13. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    5. October 2020 at 09:39

    Does stupidity make for happiness? I side with J. S. Mill: the (stupid) pig’s complete satisfaction is not as valuable—is not as *much* happiness—as Socrates’ state of mind, even though Socrates is only partly satisfied. Sliding further down the scale that leads from Socrates to the pig, we encounter oysters, plants, and, ultimately, dead things. Have we there reached the peak of happiness?

  14. Gravatar of Bacon Wrapped Bacon Wrapped
    5. October 2020 at 10:15

    How did you watch Satantango? All in one day?

    Over a weekend?

    Is there a supposed “right” way to watch it?

    Thank you

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2020 at 11:33

    copans, This is all quite sad, but also (unfortunately) extremely common during the golden age of film. Many others were much worse that Woody Allen or Bresson. Pretty much all of the film industry is tainted.

    Speaking for myself, I separate art from the artist. Most great artists are not good people.

    Tom, I’ve always been far more interested in film than politics or economics.

    Philo, I’ve never been Socrates, a pig, or a plant, and have no idea which of the three is happiest. I’m agnostic on the question of whether I would have been better off being a person or a pig or a plant.

    Bacon, Two days, but if I’d been younger I might have chosen one day. Also, I tend to watch films at night, as there’s a reflection problem during the day.

  16. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    5. October 2020 at 11:36

    Great list, Scott. Very much appreciated.

    Surprisingly, Manhunter is the one I was most interested in at the moment. I had never seen this movie before and even forgot that it existed. It was interesting to read that it is considered a cult movie today, and also how influential the film has been on other films and formats that we take for granted today.

    On a purely visual cinematographic level, the film was appealing. Seen in this light, I can well understand that it is a cult film. You have already said everything about the score, but also concerning the authenticity, the story, the drama and the acting the film was rather disappointing. Only the cinematography and the visual style has survived the test of time.

    I stumbled upon Red Dragon (2002) a few weeks ago and there it seems to be exactly the other way around: the cinematography is nothing special (although it’s exactly the same cinematographer), but the actors and the dramatic arrangement of the film is quite good. Standard story, yes, but still good. And an absurd list of great actors, every single role was excellently cast, a better cast is hardly imaginable.

    There was also more attention to detail, or in other words, Red Dragon (2002) follows the original novel more closely. Lecter is Lecter (not Lecktor), he has an American accent (not a British one), and the good ending was also taken from the original literature, while Mann incomprehensibly changed it in Manhunter, which doesn’t make any sense dramatically.

    I would even go so far to say that Red Dragon (2002) is the best film of this over-filmed Hannibal franchise. Even the Silence of the Lambs has not aged too well, the film seemed really old-fashioned when I last saw it. Manhunter did not look old-fashioned, just really 80s. Really unpopular opinion here: Red Dragon is better than Silence of the Lambs.

  17. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    5. October 2020 at 12:02


    What exactly is your point? She was 18.

    The Guardian has an article about this from her biography. She writes: “He tried to kiss me … I would push him away and he wouldn’t insist, but he looked so unhappy that I always felt guilty.”

    On no, what a scandal. He tried to kiss her. She said no. He backed off. He looked unhappy. She felt guilty. End of story.

    I am always ready to inflict a scandal on a radical left (or in this case catholic) artist. But at some point, it’s just too much. I should actually be a scandal, and not a hypocritical sensibility of today’s generation and time, which seems to feel attacked by microaggressions and other vanities.

  18. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    5. October 2020 at 12:25

    Scott, given your tastes I feel quite confident you will love Akerman’s ’70s work (I didn’t love Almayer’s Folly either).
    Jeanne Dielman is her best but Je Tu Il Elle and News from Home are also wonderful, as is No Home Movie from 2015.

  19. Gravatar of Donald Pretari Donald Pretari
    5. October 2020 at 13:01

    I tried to watch Au Hasard Balthasar again a few years ago, and couldn’t do it. Cruelty isn’t that profound. I did fast forward to see the scenes with Pierre Klossowski, who is a favourite writer of mine, based primarily on his book on Nietsche. And then I remembered that Klossowski had written Sade, My Neighbour, which I had read many years ago. I think the film does have something to say about Sade, but I’m not interested nowadays. Sadly, I can’t watch Woody Allen films any longer either, as there is something about the young women in his films I find creepy. I don’t feel you treat Point Blank fairly, especially as I find the focus on the sound of Walker walking and the focus on his shoes very entertaining.

  20. Gravatar of Hellestal Hellestal
    5. October 2020 at 13:11

    John has already hit this, but the issue most people have with Fight Club is that it doesn’t offer any solutions.

    Ugly story? Yes. It shows an ugly problem, then a hideously ugly non-solution to that problem that some men might be drawn into. Then it throws up its hands. The superficial stylishness of the proffered non-solution — represented by the movie star Adonis in his prime, no less — and subsequent refusal to offer an easy out leads a subset of viewers to believe the film advocates the ugliness. It doesn’t. Acknowledging the existence of the dark attraction isn’t advocacy.

    It simply doesn’t know what to do about it. It doesn’t know the way out.

    Absolutely brilliant script and movie. Just a bit narrowly targeted, not for everyone. (But not in the same order of magnitude as Satantango, of course.)

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2020 at 14:27

    Christian, I never saw Red Dragon.

    Thanks Andrew.

    Donald, I really don’t know why people single out Woody Allen. I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, but do people really think he is worse than the average Hollywood director? The police investigated the most serious charge against him and found no evidence to support it, and his decision to marry that young Korean lady (which turned out fine) is none of our business, even if it appears unseemly. Have you read Hitchcock’s bio?

    And I didn’t mean to be negative on Point Blank. I liked the film and gave it a good review.

    Hellestal, I just didn’t see much of interest with Fight Club, but then tastes vary.

  22. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    5. October 2020 at 14:53

    Speaking of entertainment, for those interested, I rediscovered this gem of a Brian Wilson performance of his once lost Smile album.

    This concert took place a short time after he finished the album several years ago. This is art pop music at its finest, featuring plucked violins, for example.

  23. Gravatar of Donald Pretari Donald Pretari
    5. October 2020 at 16:19

    The difference is I see the creepiness in the films, whatever he really does in life.

  24. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    5. October 2020 at 18:17

    Red Dragon may not be bad by Brett Ratner’s standards, but it is by the standards of virtually everyone else involved in it. Hopkins is way too hammy (and there are too many scenes of him added to the film, he’s supposed to be a minor character), while Norton plainly just took the role for a paycheck and is phoning in his performance. The 80s pop music in Manhunter is a shortcoming, but the Inna-Gadda-da-Vida sequence full of jump-cuts is better cinema than the more faithful ending of Red Dragon.

    I myself watched Dead Again a few months ago and concur that it’s not that great.

    Caddyshack is misspelled above as “Caddyshock”. Maybe a subliminal conflation with “Woodshock”?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2020 at 20:50

    Michael, Thanks, Brian Wilson is great.

    Donald, OK, fair enough.

    TGGP, It’s funny how some films hold up and others don’t. Dead Again isn’t bad, just kind of flat. Thanks for noticing the typo.

  26. Gravatar of janice janice
    6. October 2020 at 06:51

    Museo (Mexico) 3.5 Interesting film with some nice dialogue and acting. I’d encourage this promising director to slow down a bit with the camera.

    Yeah, that director in Mexico is going to take advice from an Academic who has never directed any movie, ever, and understands very little about production. You really do love to comment on subjects you have no expertise in. Its obnoxious, and literally insane, to believe you know everything.

  27. Gravatar of copans copans
    6. October 2020 at 08:20

    @Donald Pretari
    I had never heard of Klossowski, but reading his Wiki pointed to his association with Georges Bataille. Tying back to Criterion, there are great new prints of two of the greatest humanist movies ever made, both with Sylvia Bataille: Renoir’s (underrated by everyone except Truffaut) Crime of M. Lange and the beloved Day in the Country (which seems according to the extras on the Criterion disc, as much Marguerite Renoir’s movie as Jean Renoir’s). Note that the ADs on the latter were Henri Cartier Bresson, Jacques Becker, and Lucchino Visconti. Becker’s Casque d’Or is the best movie I have seen in 10 years.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. October 2020 at 09:23

    Janice, You just watch. He’ll take my advice in his next film.

    Copans, Thanks for the tips.

  29. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    6. October 2020 at 11:11


    Well put regarding Bret Ratner, but I try to forget such things completely and only judge the film itself.

    Hopkins does what he always does since Lambs. It’s just his act. And he is not hammy, he does what the original novel provides and beyond. I actually like the fact that he’s not Superman in this part of the franchise for once. I find the other movies and novels unrealistic. You find Hopkins hammy, then what are Cox and Noonan doing? Cox is doing borderline-okay, but Noonan is not frigthning at all, more like a clown, or even worse, simply sallow, not noticeable, not memorable, despite having a title role.

    Norton does what he always does since Primal Fear, like it or not, that’s just his act. Maybe Hopkins and Norton can’t do much more, maybe they found their signature acting, maybe it’s just what the audience demands. I don’t blame them. It was not different in the 1950s. Stewart, Grace Kelly, Bogart, Signoret, and all the others, nearly always playing the same roles over and over again as well. Who cares.

    Fiennes gives the best performance of all the characters, such a versatile actor, it’s quite amazing. And he is actually terrifying, unlike Noonan. Fiennes alone is worth watching the film.

    Watson, Keitel and Seymour Hoffman complete the film, as I said, there is hardly a position that is not excellently cast, even the supporting roles. So yeah, still better than Lambs. I know that this is ahistorical, and not fair to the original, but let’s forget that, and forget Bratner, and just review the film (and maybe as if it were the first of its kind).

    Thank you for the ideas. Watching Casque d’Or now.

  30. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    6. October 2020 at 16:40

    “Satantango (Hungary, 1994, CC) 3.8”

    I hadn’t thought about Tarr in ages, and I’ve never seen one of his films, but I noticed that Scaruffi had him and_Werckmeister Harmonies #3 (behind only Welles and Hitchcock) on his all-time films/directors list.

    He’s got Satantango T3 for the 1990’s, behind another SS fave:

    Those turn out to be the only two feature films Tarr directed between 1988 and 2007….

  31. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    6. October 2020 at 17:25

    “Caddyshack (US, 1980) 2.6 I recall people talking about this movie as if it’s sort of a comedy classic—like Animal House. It’s not….”

    Caddyshack is hard to explain. On the one hand, 2.6 is almost too high, really, yet….

    Perhaps one thing about it that may not occur to some viewers is that just as Airplane is – at least according to Kareem, in his “Convo with Tyler” – “the” movie for many people in the Airline Industry, Caddyshack is “the” movie for many People Who Like Golf.

    There is a reason why people like it. A big key I think is that repeat viewings do not diminish the charm of its better bits, but somehow amplify them…. It helps obviously if you think both Dangerfield and Murray are genuinely funny, as I do.


    1. The animatronic gopher stuff was put in by the producer after filming was done.

    2. Henry Wilcoxon, who plays The Bishop, was a Cecil B. Demille stalwart – next time you’re watching 1934’s Cleopatra, that’s Wilcoxon as Marc Anthony.

    3. Bill Simmons did a “Rewatchables” on it recently, which I heard part of, and he and his cohost both thought it a classic, and superior to Animal House, which of course brought up the old idea that Douglas Kenney’s death may have been related to the comparison at the time going so strongly the other way….

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. October 2020 at 22:19

    anon/portly, Wow! Great list. But where’s Chungking Express on the 1990s list?

    Yeah, I like both Murray and Dangerfield, which is why I gave it 2.6. Maybe I just got annoyed watching it–expecting something better.

  33. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    7. October 2020 at 06:25

    “And he is not hammy, he does what the original novel provides and beyond”
    He’s undeniably hammy, and the “beyond” is a big part of that. Compare that to Cox, who isn’t acting like he’s trying to impress some viewer.

    “I actually like the fact that he’s not Superman in this part of the franchise for once. I find the other movies and novels unrealistic.”
    Cox doesn’t play him as Superman either. The bit where he hacks the phone to make an outbound call was invented for Manhunter, but Red Dragon copied that.

    “You find Hopkins hammy, then what are Cox and Noonan doing?”
    Compared to Hopkins they are tastefully restrained.

    “Noonan is not frigthning at all”
    For much of the time he’s onscreen he’s not supposed to be frightening. Instead of playing the Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon, he’s playing Francis Dolarhyde, who could have had an ordinary life. If you want to knock Silence, you could do so for lacking anything like this for Jaime Gumb/Buffalo Bill. I for one found Noonan quite memorable and decided to seek out the two films he directed (from plays he wrote), but opinions may differ.

    “Norton does what he always does since Primal Fear, like it or not, that’s just his act. Maybe Hopkins and Norton can’t do much more, maybe they found their signature acting, maybe it’s just what the audience demands.”
    Both ARE capable of better acting, even if they don’t always provide it. The notion that “the audience demands” more hammy Hopkins as Lecter is the reason Red Dragon exists, even ending on a scene needlessly teeing up Silence so the audience can say “Oh, I know who’s coming to see him”. Ratner’s Red Dragon was made because Ridley Scott’s Hannibal made a bunch of money, though is now a “forgotbuster“. It was a cynical cash-in on a recognizable property, followed up by the even-more cynical “Hannibal Rising”, which Thomas Harris had to write so someone else didn’t write the prequel instead.

    “and maybe as if it were the first of its kind”
    It’s impossible to do that because the film is constantly shouting out you “Hey, remember this from Silence!?” It’s not a film trying to stand on its own at all.

  34. Gravatar of art andreassen art andreassen
    11. October 2020 at 09:55

    Scott: Have you watched “The Internets Own Boy”, 2014, about Arron Swartz? As a Libertarian you might see it as a practice run for 2016.

Leave a Reply