In 1960 two French filmmakers, Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch, basically invented inéma vérité and created this film. Criterion Collection released it on Blu-ray back in 2013 and I wrote a review of it for Cinema Sentries.
In 1960 two French filmmakers, Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch, basically invented inéma vérité and created this film. Criterion Collection released it on Blu-ray back in 2013 and I wrote a review of it for Cinema Sentries.
I watched 451 movies in 2022. That’s 763.7 hours of movies, or 37.6 movies per month and 8.7 per day. That’s a lot. Even for me. In fact, that’s an all-time Mat Brewster record. The previous record was 439 which I hit last year (which broke the previous record hit the year before that). Since the pandemic hit in 2020 my movie watching has gone way up, to levels never seen before. Even though we are now getting out and about quite a bit more than we were during the height of the pandemic, I’ve gotten used to watching movies every chance I get.
Sometimes I feel like I should apologize for that like there is something wrong with watching that many movies, but it gives me pleasure. Most people spend a lot of time doing dumb things, so why shouldn’t I do something I enjoy?
The first movie I watched in 2022 was The Thin Man (1934), a delightful comedy mystery that I highly recommend. The last movie I watched was Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022), a delightful comedy mystery that I highly recommend.
The genre I watched the most was Drama with 186 films watched. That feels like a cheat because a lot of films could be considered dramas even while they are also considered something else (Romance/Drama, Comedy/Drama, etc). Thriller comes in next with 156 films watched. That seems fair as I do like a lot of crime drama, mysteries, and the like all of which could be considered thrillers. Crime actually comes in fourth with 107 films watched and mysteries are sixth with 89 films watched. Clocking in at #3 is, you guessed it, horror with 137 films watched.
The bulk of the movies I watched were from the United States and in English with British films coming in second, followed by Italian, French, and Japanese. None of which are surprising. I watched 82 films in a language that is not English. I’d like to try and up that number this year.
196 of the films were made before I was born, with the 1980s being my most-watched decade coming in at 65 films, followed closely by the 1940s and then the 2000s.
As you can see from the visuals my most watched actor James Stewart. That was not intentional, I just happen to like him as an actor and apparently watched a bunch of his films. Bogart is a perennial favorite and I often seek his films out. Randolph Scott has become a favorite of mine over the last few years. He made a lot of great westerns and I always enjoy his performance.
I recently decided to watch all five Death Wish films which is what put Charles Bronson on the list, and no doubt the Halloween franchise helped propel Jamie Lee Curtis to the list. Her being the only woman on either list is a reminder to myself to do better in that regard.
The director’s list is slightly surprising to me. Dario Argento is a director that I love, but I normally don’t watch that many of his films. But this year I sought out some of his less-loved movies in an effort to watch everything he has made. Martin Scorsese’s absence is only because I’ve seen pretty much everything he’s ever directed and I rewatched a bunch of them in 2021, thus I did not watch a lot of his films last year.
Anyway, that’s enough of me chattering about my movie fetish. Did any of you watch anything interesting last year?
After writing all of the following out, I realized I had previously written a review of this film. I even edited it and made it public rather recently, and then promptly forgot I had done so. Rather than deleting what I’ve written here, I’ve decided to go ahead and post it. If you read the original review (which you can do here) you’ll notice my thoughts haven’t changed all that much.
I have a very distinct memory of watching this movie for the first time. My mother must have had some errands to run so she dropped me off at Grandma and Papa’s house. Flipping through the channels I landed on The Poseidon Adventure and was immediately entranced. I don’t remember how old I was, I must have been a young teen for I was old enough to appreciate the pretty actresses in their short shorts. But mostly I was there for the exciting adventure of it all.
I remember my mother returning to pick me up before the movie was over. She was a good mother, so instead of making me leave, she either stayed to finish it with me or returned later and took me home.
I’ve seen it a few times since that initial viewing and it never lives up to that original memory. I must have come to it part way through, on that first time watch because I’m always surprised at how long it takes to get to the crash. I’m also always surprised to see Leslie Nielson as the ship’s captain in a completely humorless role.
The basic plot involves an old cruise ship is completely overturned during a massive tsunami. A band of survivors must make their way up to the bottom of the ship where they hope to escape through the ship’s hull.
They are led by Reverand Scott (Gene Hackman) who has some radical ideas about God. He’s of the libertarian school of theology where you don’t pray to God for help, but rather He helps those who help themselves. There’s Ernest Borgnine as a hard-nosed New York City cop and his former prostitute wife (Stella Stevens), and Red Buttons as a love-lorn bachelor. Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters play an old married couple on their way to Jerusalem to see their new grandbaby, and Roddy McDowall is a waiter on board the ship. Two youngsters (Pamela Sue Martin and Robin Shelby) and the ship’s singer (Carol Lynley) round out our group of heroes.
Everyone is given very brief introductions with basic characterizations at the beginning of the film and they stick pretty closely to those types throughout the film but never really become fully fleshed-out people. Hackman’s preacher takes immediate charge demanding that everyone follow his lead to safety even though he really has no idea what he’s doing. Most of the named characters fall in line immediately, except for Borgnine’s cop, who constantly bickers and argues with him.
There are a lot of other characters, mostly extras, that don’t follow the preacher’s commands and naturally they all die horrible deaths. Most of the film has our heroes trying to escape from various perils – explosions, water sloshing in from the sea, fires, etc, etc, etc,. The big gag is that everything is upside down. Strangely the film doesn’t actually use this all that often. There is a funny scene in a bathroom with all the toilets in the ceiling and when the boat first overturns everyone is in a big ballroom and many people have to hold onto tables to keep from tumbling down to the ceiling. Red Buttons gets a kick out of the barbershop with its seat upside down, etc. But a big ship doesn’t lend itself to a lot of furniture or light fixtures that would make the gag even sillier. Mostly it is bit metal corridors and rooms full of pipes.
It does feel very much of its time now and again. The gang has to climb a giant Christmas tree in order to escape the ballroom and Hackman’s character tells the teenager and the former prostitute that they have to take off their gowns because they are too tight fitting to be able to climb easily in them. That might be true, but it is very cringe to hear a preacher telling these ladies to disrobe. Luckily the teenager has shorts on underneath, but the other lady has to put on her husband’s button-up shirt leaving her quite exposed. And the camera does seem to enjoy shooting them at low angles from behind. Interestingly the preacher doesn’t tell Shelley Winters (who was pretty heavyset at the time) to remove her gown. Everybody does get some big laughs in making fun of her size which seems particularly mean from this viewing.
It is still a fun film. The adventure is exciting and while the characters are played broadly you still feel for their predicament. The actors are mostly really good which allows them to feel more fleshed out than the script really allows for. It never quite lives up to my memory of watching it for the first time all those years ago, but then again, what does?
As much as possible I try to go into a movie knowing very little. I find not having expectations on what to expect really helps the viewing experience. That’s probably a funny thing to say from a guy who regularly reviews movies a lot of you haven’t seen, but it is true.
The Black Phone is a movie I kept seeing people excitedly talking about when it came out, but I successfully kept myself from actually reading those things, and thus I came to it knowing nothing more than Ethan Hawke apparently wears a lot of scary-looking masks.
I’ll tell you all just slightly more about it. Hawke plays a crazy dude who abducts children and…well I won’t spoil what he does. Actually, I don’t really know because I haven’t finished the film. The main story revolves around one boy who is abducted and placed into a large basement. There is a phone on the wall, but it is disconnected. Except it keeps ringing and the people who answer on the other end are boys Ethan Hawke previously abducted.
I’m maybe 45 minutes into it and so far I’m digging it. It has that Blumhouse slickness to it that tends to keep me from loving films that come under that banner, but Hawke is creepy and the 1970s setting is done well. I especially was enjoying a foul-mouthed, and tough girl who is our hero’s sister. I hope she comes to his rescue before it is all said and done.
And now I must get back to it.
Rian Johnson listed this film as an influence on Glass Onion, his recent Knives Out sequel for Netflix (which is excellent, I highly recommend it) so I thought I’d give it a watch. Almost immediately the influences come flying right at you from the television screen.
The story involves a group of rich, beautiful, (mostly) young people who have found success in the movie industry. They’ve been invited by their friend Clinton (James Coburn) for a week aboard his yacht where he had prepared some delightfully complicated game.
The game involves revealing select secrets from each person (alcoholic, ex-convict, homosexual, child molester, etc) and will conclude with the revelation of who ran over Clinton’s wife one year prior and didn’t have the decency to stay with her and maybe call for help. Everyone more or less enjoys the game until someone actually dies and then it becomes a very real murder mystery.
Glass Onion is a lot bigger, a lot bolder, and a lot more fun, but The Last of Sheila is rather delightful in its own way. The cast includes James Mason, Ian McShane, Raquel Welch, and Dyan Cannon. It was shot on location in the Mediterranean. It was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins of all people.
Clinton is a movie producer and he has an idea bout making a movie about his dead wife’s life. He wants everyone he’s invited on the boat to help him make it. They, scriptwriters, directors, and actors all, desperately need him and this movie to help their sagging careers. It is full of twists and turns, mysteries and reveals. The cast is clearly having a good time.
It isn’t quite as punchy as I’d like it to be, and the direction by Herbert Ross never excites. He certainly doesn’t make great use of the beautiful setting. It feels very much of its time. One of the big secrets is the character is homosexual which wouldn’t be a big deal now, but in 1973 could be quite detrimental for a celebrity working in Hollywood. That is more scandalous within the film (as is being an alcoholic and a shoplifter) than the revelation that one of them is a child molester which is shrugged off by the characters and the film. But mostly the film is a lot of fun and if you liked Glass Onion I highly recommend it.
Greta Garbo was one of the biggest movie stars of the silent era. She had a mysterious, luminous on-screen persona. Despite this she, or perhaps the studios, were reluctant to bring her into the sound era. She was born and raised in Sweden and didn’t speak a word of English when she first came to the United States. By 1930 she was fluent in the language but still spoke with an accent, which no doubt created fears in everyone’s mind that audiences wouldn’t take to the actress once they could hear her talk.
If you’ve ever seen Singin’ in the Rain you’ll know what they were worried about.
The fears were unfounded for Anna Christie her first “talkie” movie was a rousing success and she remained one of the biggest box office stars for the next several years.
MGM played up Anna Christie by promoting it with the tagline “Garbo Talks” (nine years later they’d play with that tag when she made her first comedy, Ninotchka by promoting it with “Garbo Laughs”.) Her famous first line is “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.”
For all that, the movie is actually kind of dull. Garbo plays the titular Anna who was abandoned by her father (George F. Marion) at a young age and sent to live with her cousins on their Minnesota farm. They abused her and she moved to St. Paul by herself where she became a prostitute. After a stint in a hospital, she moves back to New York in hopes her father will take her in and let her rest.
He does and they reconcile she meets a sailor and they fall in love. The big drama comes in whether or not these two men will still love her once they find out about her past. The ending is fairly typical for its time period but somewhat shocking as seen through modern eyes.
Garbo and the rest of the small cast are quite good. The story lacks any real emotional punch and the direction is mostly flat. There are a couple of interesting visuals including one scene on a roller coaster where the camera sits in the seat in front of Garbo looking back at her. The other gives us a bird’s eye view at one of those strongmen uses a hammer to ring a bell contraptions. But mostly the camera stays in fixed positions while the characters do a lot of talking. Presumably, the camera doesn’t move much because this is an early sound picture and they were afraid to much movement might hit a microphone or the characters might move to where the mic couldn’t hear them. Again if you’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Actually, you’d be better off just watching Singin’ in the Rain again. Unless you are a big Garbo fan, this one is quite skippable.
When the new year rolls around I always make a big deal out of the first movie I watch. I don’t know exactly why except that it sit atop my list of movies watched for the year, and it seems like a way of setting the stage for my cinematic experiences in a given year. Like I don’t want to start the year watching a bad movie, or something depressing. I want a film to help me look forward to the following 365 days.
This year, I got a little weird.
Martin Scorsese is my favorite living filmmaker. He might be my favorite filmmaker ever, but he’d have to fight it out with Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa. He’s made some incredibly entertaining, interesting, and absolutely fascinating films. Not only is he a great director, but he has spent his life preserving films that are literally on the brink of destruction, and championing/producing films from a vast and diverse group of filmmakers.
The Criterion Channel currently has several short films made by the director at the beginning of his career and I decided to watch them today. The three films I watched were What’s a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963), It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964), and The Big Shave (1967).
None of these films are amazing, I can’t say that I’d recommend them to anyone who isn’t already a Scorsese fan, but they are interesting, and they already contain some of the themes the director would return to over and over again. They also contain plenty of the style Scorsese would become known for in his long career.
What’s a Nice Girl Doing In a Place Like This? is the first official film Scorsese ever made. I say official because there is another film credit listed on IMDB.com called Vesuvius VI which the director made in high school with his friends, but I don’t believe it has ever been shown publicly and has never been released in any formal fashion.
It is about a man who becomes obsessed with a photo to the point where he can’t function as a human being. It is notable for being the first time Thelma Schoonmaker helped edit a Scorsese film. They would go on to be lifelong collaborators. Scorsese is already showing his influences here with clear nods to Fellini and Truffaut. The story is slight but his use of editing – juxtaposing a variety of images against each other to create interesting, and often very funny – is already vibrant at this early stage.
It’s Not Just You, Murray! has a bootlegger looking back on his life, documentary style. Careful watchers will see its influences on later Scorsese films like Goodfellas and Casino.
The Big Shave is the shortest film of the bunch, clocking in at just over five minutes. It is literally just a man sharing his face, which gets increasingly bloody as it goes along. They say it is a metaphor for Vietnam, but I’ll let the scholars explain that one. It is edited to the sounds of an old song and the camerawork, along with the editing is really interesting considering the confined space and limited time frame.
You can probably find all of these films on Youtube if you don’t have the Criterion Channel. They are well worth watching if you are a fan of the director.
So, why did I choose these three early short films from Martin Scorsese as my first films of 2023? To be honest, they were partially chosen because they were short. My vertigo has been acting up this weekend and I wasn’t sure how well I could watch something long and involved. But also I really do love Martin Scorsese and I’ve been meaning to watch these films for a long time.
These films represent the beginnings of an artist who would continue to create interesting and influential films for the next 60 years and beyond. Scorsese is set to release a new film, Killers of the Flower Moon later this year, and he has numerous other projects in his upcoming pile. He has produced dozens of films from up-and-coming and marginalized filmmakers, for decades. He’s created film foundations to help perverse films that otherwise might be lost forever. He is my hero, and these films are his beginning.
There is something very new year about that. It gives me hope to watch these early films from Martin Scorsese, realizing that when he made them he had no idea who he would become. Just a few years before he made these films he planned to enter the Seminary, not become a filmmaker. Now he is considered one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. Maybe this year is the beginning of me becoming something amazing. Maybe you will too.
In the early 2000s, horror nerds like myself began to discover what was then called J-Horror. This was a cycle of horror movies made in Japan that started in the early 1990s. Unlike the films made in the United States at the time, J-Horror relied more on atmosphere and mood to create their scares. They often involved haunted houses and evil spirits, the supernatural rather than knife-wielding psychopaths that were so popular in America at the time.
Discovering these films was like a fresh of breath air for folks like me who had long since grown tired of slashers. I believe Ringu (1998) was the first J-Horror film to really make a splash here in the US (I’m sure some horror hound could pop in now to tell me they were watching Japanese Hororr films long before Ringu popularized the genre, but whatever). It was a huge film in Japan and had decent success in America.
Enough so that an American producer decided to remake it as The Ring (2002). That movie was a surprise success and started a succession of American remakes of J-Horror films. Snob that I am I watched pretty much all of them, but always preferred the Japanese originals.
Tonight I decided to rewatch The Ring. I liked it more this time than my previous watches.
It is about a VHS tape that kills you after seven days after your first viewing. Typing that out just now makes me realize how dumb that summary sounds. The film on the tape is like a short film some goth art school kid would make to try and freak everybody out. A couple of teenagers watch the tape and seven days later they die horrible deaths. Naomi Watts plays a journalist who was related to one of the teens. She sniffs a story and investigates.
She finds, then watches the creepy tape and immediately after she receives a phone call telling her she has seven days to live. When her young son accidentally watches the tape and starts drawing creepy drawings she knows she has to solve the mystery.
The original Japanese film is super creepy and atmospheric and really good (you can read my review of it over at Cinema Sentries). The remake is very Americanized in that it provides a few more jump scares, has slicker production values, and juices up the narrative a little bit so that the story is explained to the viewer in clearer turns.
Still, it is effective in its own way. The jump scares work for the most part, and it is still moody enough to give it that J-Horror feels even if it is a little sanitized.
I’m weird when it comes to comedies. With some exceptions, I don’t really like straight-up comedies. I find movies and TV shows that throw a million jokes at the wall hoping something will stick rather boring. I want a good story with good characters doing interesting things. I want the comedy to come naturally out of those characters and stories. Make me laugh, but do it without sacrificing your story.
I absolutely loved Fletch (1985) when I was in high school. It does technically have a story, but it is often sacrificed to Chevy Chase’s antics. Those antics won me over, as did a whole lot of very funny dialogue. Truth be told some of that love really came from a youth minister from Arkansas. He loved Fletch more than just about anything and he was constantly quoting it. I thought he was one of the coolest guys in the world and so his love of the film translated into me loving it.
I’ve not actually seen Fletch in many years, probably decades. So I have no idea if I would still find it funny. The movie is based on a book by Gregory MacDonald. I’ve read that plus a couple more in the Fletch series, and quite liked them. But it has been quite a few years since I cracked those pages, too.
That is a long build-up to say I absolutely loved Confess, Fletch. It was and is and forever shall be right up my alley.
Jon Hamm is perfect as IM Fletcher a former investigative reporter “of some repute” who now writes fluff pieces for travel magazines. He returns to Boston after spending several years in Europe to find a dead woman in the living room of the house he’s renting. He spends the rest of the film trying to solve the murder much to the chagrin of the two actual police detectives assigned to the case (Ron Wood, Jr. and Ayden Mayeri).
Along the way, he runs into a cavalcade of interesting characters (played by an incredible cast of actors including Kyle MacLachlan, John Slattery, and Marcia Gay Harden).
Though it involves a murder the stakes are quite low, the suspense light. It feels like a hangout movie where Fletch keeps running into people, says funny things, and tries to solve a murder. Hamm is so good. I was a big fan of Mad Men and it is absolutely astonishing to me that the actor who was so deadly serious in that, is so goofy here (and in many other roles since that show ended.)
Everything about this movie worked for me. It is a delight. It is very silly and full of jokes, but they don’t get in the way of the story. They feel natural to the character of Fletch and everything that is happening. It isn’t really realistic, but it works within the story the film is telling.
The worst part of the film is that the studio that funded it did absolutely nothing to support it. The film opened in theaters with basically no advertisements and now it has been unceremoniously dropped onto Showtime’s streaming service. I won’t say that it would have been a huge hit had it gotten a little support but it would have at least been seen by a few people. As it is I suspect most of you reading this have never even heard of it.
I have reluctantly become a Jane Austen fan. Or I should say I’ve reluctantly become a fan of the movies based on Jane Austen novels because I’ve still never actually read one of her books. My wife is a very big fan of her books, so I’ve tried to read them many times, but can never make it very far. It seems to me her stories are all about middle-class girls who spend their days feeling miserable because they can’t find a man to marry. That sort of thing has never appeared to me.
Or so I used to think. Over the last few years, I’ve watched several Austen adaptations with my wife and I find myself enjoying them. It started with the long mini-series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and moved on from there.
Emma. is a recent adaptation of the Austen novel with the same name (well, I don’t think she included a period after the name, but that’s a little wink the film likes to do at its audience). It is a winking type of film that stars a delightful Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular character and it is full of bright, confections that are a joy to watch.
You can read my full review at Cinema Sentries.