My Week(s) in Movies: March 5-18, 2023

the little foxes poster

I seem to have forgotten to write a movie journal last week, which is ok because I didn’t watch that many this week as I wound up binge-watching a show. Still, I’ve got a lot of movies to get through which means’ I’ll just touch on each one briefly.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939): There is a lot of talk these days about representation and appropriation and with movies like this it is perfectly understandable why. In the 1930s there were a number of film series about Asian detectives who were inevitably played by white dudes. The three main ones were Charlie Chan (initially played Warner Oland then Sidney Toler and later Roland Winters), Mr. Moto (played by Peter Lorre), and Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff).

I don’t have time to get into all the ins and outs of why this was a popular genre back then, so I’ll just move on to this particular film. As I say that I realize it has been so long since I watched it and the film was so unmemorable that I don’t actually have much to say about it. It involves a jewel theft and some murders which take place during a house party where some folks enact a bad play. I’ve seen a couple of Wong mysteries and none of them are great. Karloff plays the character pretty stiffly, unlike Waner Oland as Charlie Chan who is at least somewhat humorous.

Stars in My Crown (1950): A movie I should have already talked about in my Westerns in March series. Joel McCrea plays a preacher in a small post Civil War town. There isn’t much to it, just a slice-of-life kind of film that’s a bit sentimental but also sweet.

The Little Foxes (1941): A bitter, brutal little film about awful rich people who will do anything and everything to get even richer. It is based on a stage play and the filmmaking doesn’t really do anything to expand it. Better Davis plays the lead, a conniving woman who married for money and is willing to stab everyone she comes across in the back to stay that way. She’s terrific in it and the entire film is quite wonderful.

Major Dundee (1965): I did write about this one for my Westerns in March series, you can read it here.

Gone in the Night (2022): Winona Ryder is good in this undercooked mystery. She spends the film trying to find out what happened to her boyfriend after he disappears one night that they spent in a cabin in the woods. The mystery isn’t particularly interesting and the twists can be seen coming from a mile away. But Ryder demonstrates why she’s been a star for a decade and Demot Mulroney is also pretty great as a guy who helps her solve the mystery.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980): I wrote about this one in my Friday Night Horror Movie post.

Young Guns (1988): Also wrote about this one in my Westerns in March series.

The Magnificent Seven (2016): Gosh darn it, I have been slacking with my Westerns in March series. I’ll do better this week, I promise. This film is a pale imitation of the original The Magnificent Seven (1960) which was itself a pale imitation of The Seven Samurai (1954).

Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019): A pretty good little mystery about a woman who tries to solve the kidnapping she witnessed as a little girl. The twists in this one are pretty good and it has a nice moody tone to it.

The Retaliators (2022): A not-very-good horror movie that I reviewed over at Cinema Sentries.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): A wonderful film from Martin McDonagh. On its surface, it’s about a guy (Brendan Gleeson) who is so tired of another guy’s small talk (Colin Farrell) that he’s willing to chop off his fingers just to get him to shut up. But really it is about the Irish Civil War and the true value of art. Gleeson and Farrell are terrific as is Kerry Condon.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022): Bob’s Burgers is one of those shows that I love when I’m watching it, but don’t actually follow. I think it started about the time we cut the cord so it wasn’t something I’d sit down and watch every week and I believe it only streams on Hulu which is a station we only subscribe to periodically.

I had originally planned to not watch the movie until I had caught up with the series up to the point the movie originally aired, but decided that was dumb as this is not the sort of show you need to know everything about in order to watch the movie. The film is like an extended version of the film, but a little spiffier, all of which is to its detriment. It is still hilarious, but I found that it overstayed its welcome and the better-looking graphics only made it look weird.

Little Women (1933): I’ve seen multiple adaptations of the book by Louisa May Alcott, and even ran lights for a musical production in college. To tell the truth, I don’t actually love the story, but my wife does and so I periodically throw it on as something we both can watch. This one stars Katharine Hepburn as Jo and she’s delightful.

Final Destination (2000): A pretty dumb horror flick from the early 2000s. I wrote a full review here.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986): A completely nutso sequel to one of the all-time great horror movies. I wrote about it for my Friday Night Horror feature.

Piranha 3D (2010): I didn’t have high hopes for this film, but I liked director Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, and Crawl (2019) was kind of fun in a dumb way, but this was terrible. It might have been fun had I seen it in a crowded theater on a late Saturday night, but watching it alone in my bedroom I found it to be dreadfully stupid and an utter bore.

Cheyanne Autumn (1964): Yet another western I need to write about. This one was John Ford’s last western and it centers on the plight of the Cheyanne Indians and their harrowing flight to their homelands. It is overlong and rather dry, but I’ll have more to say about that soon.

The World’s End (2013): Every single film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy gets better with repeat viewings. This has long been my least favorite of the three, but it continues to grow on me. The beauty of these films, and what makes them work on repeat viewings is that the jokes build on themselves. Things happen early in the films that get payoffs later and that’s the sort of thing I don’t notice on first (or second, or third) viewings but that make me keep coming back.

Westerns in March: Young Guns (1988)

young guns movie poster

I was 12 or 13 when I first watched Young Guns. I can’t remember now if that first watch was in the theater or when it came out on VHS tape. Wherever it was, I loved it. I watched it many times after that first viewing as a young teen and even into my college years. It was probably the first western I ever watched. Me and my friends endlessly quoted it.

I remember my uncle, who was a huge western fan (he used to always tell us that we liked westerns too – because Star Wars was just a western in space) did not like Young Guns. He didn’t like it because it wasn’t historically accurate and it portrayed Billy the Kid as a hero and he was really an outlaw and a vicious killer.

At some point, I stopped watching it. Never intentionally, I don’t think, just one of those things. I bought it and the sequel on DVD but let it gather dust on my shelves. Somewhere in my cinephile film snob years I did rewatch them both and decided they were bad, that they were not good movies.

But this being Westerns in March month I decided to dust it off and give it another try. On a technical level, it isn’t great, but it is still a pretty fun ride.

My uncle was wrong. It is surprisingly historically accurate. At least on a plot level. Billy the Kid was taken in by John Tunstall and his regulators. Tunstall was murdered by the Murphy gang and this did cause a war between the two factions. The regulators were deputized for a time and then became outlaws. I’m not a historian and I’m sure there are any number of embellishments, but from what I’ve read it gets the basic story right.

The movie mostly comes from Billy’s point of view which naturally makes us root for him, and Emilio Estevez is too charming an actor to make him a villain. But it doesn’t shy away from his ruthlessness. When Billy and the regulators become deputies and are supposed to arrest the men responsible for Tunstall’s murder, Billy gets his revenge in blood. At one point he shoots a man at point-blank range and the camera moves in close to Charlie Sheen’s face (he plays Billy’s compatriot) as the dead man’s blood splatters all over it. Billy often seems unhinged and takes great glee in violence (his friends periodically note that he seems quite crazy).

As a teenager, I overlooked these things and will admit to finding him heroic. But watching the movie now I recognize the film doesn’t look away from his violent tendencies.

It is avery 1980s western. Some call it the Brat Pack western as it stars the aforementioned Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, plus Lou Diamond Phillips, Keifer Sutherland, and Dermot Mulroney. The soundtrack is filled with synthesizers and big guitars, and there are some bright filters used in the credit sequence. All of this feels quite dated and the writing doesn’t do it any favors (though it is quite quotable.)

So I guess I’ve come full circle on it. I loved it as a teenager, hated it as a younger adult and now I can recognize its flaws but also appreciate it as an enjoyable entertainment.