Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Making of a Lady

The Making of a Lady is a HORRIBLE movie!

It is about a well-educated but poor secretary in a wealthy home who marries the one of the possible heirs. It's at first a marriage of convenience, and then they fall in love. This part of the movie is so-so.

Then the tone shifts in a weird way. The husband leaves for a military operation and his new bride is left alone in a creepy estate. She is soon visited by his odd and mentally ill brother and his wife from India. Somehow she doesn't notice how creepy and crazy he is, and she becomes friends with the wife and the wife's older mother (?). But the movie makes is super clear that there is something sinister about this crazy man and the Indian women. It is blatantly racist.

From here it becomes kind of a horror movie, as it slowly dawns on the new bride that these people are trying to kill her and her baby so that the crazy guy will be the heir.

It's just awful.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Big Short

The Big Short is about three different groups of hedge fund managers who realize that the housing market is going to crash several years before the big crisis. It follows them as they work on getting more and more money to bet against the mortgage interesting. It's fascinating and really sad the extent to which borrowers were scammed, and the indifference of the financial big shots involved.

The Big Short has a tense momentum. On one hand, you are kind of rooting for these guys who are going agains what seems the largest odds, and who weirdly seem to be heroes as they uncover the enormous flaw in the economy. On the other hand, they are going to benefit from the devastating 2008 collapse. This is mitigated by their growing cynicism and self doubt.

The movie is shot in a frenetic pumped up way that gives an otherwise pretty dry storyline more energy.

The Painted Veil (novel)

After watching the movie version of The Painted Veil I quickly bought the bought the Somerset Maugham novel and I gobbled it right up.

The books is so different! The first half is almost exactly the same, but the screenwriters took the characters time in the cholera town in a whole different direction. In the novel, their tense relations persist, but throughout them Kitty begins to transform and develop compassion for him. This is in part through her friendship with a English neighbor (who is important in the movie as well) and through her relationship with nuns. Unlike the movie, she never really understands the significance of her husband's work. Slowly she begin to hope for the ability to live a worthwhile life.

When tragedy strikes, she returns alone to Shanghai (Hong Kong?) and is not as changed as she hoped she was, the final ending brings her to a point where she makes a surprising loving and devoted choice. But so different, so much more grim than the movie!

The Painted Veil (movie)

I watched The Painted Veil last week and was so enthralled with it. It tells a very strange love story.

An odd socially awkward scientist becomes obsessively enchanted with a beautiful socialite in London and proposes to her. Inexplicably she accepts and they return to his station in Shanghai. Their marriage is stilted and polite, until he discovers her infidelity.

He gives her a horrible option: she can move with him to a remote cholera plagued town in the mountains, he can divorce her for adultery and disgrace her, or she can ask her lover to leave his wife and pledge to marry her (this is particularly cruel in the circumstances).

The rest of the movie is about their harrowing time in the cholera town where it seems he is on a suicide mission. It is grim and quietly sadistic. But as he becomes involved in his work dealing with the dying and trying to transform the water system, she becomes involved with a charitable convent and eventually they see new sides of each other, and, beautifully, fall in love. She develops a deep appreciation for his work, which had always bored her.

It ends tragically, and the final scene is a kind of annoying cliche, but it was pretty great. The landscape provided a sense of magic and wonder and fear as a crucially atmospheric backdrop to their personal lives.

I was so interested in the story that I immediately downloaded the Somerset Maugham novel.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Boys from Brazil

The Boys from Brazil is pretty funny to watch now. I think I remember it as being a serious thriller back when it came out.

Gregory Peck and Lawrence Olivier are kind of in a competition for who can do the most over the top overacting. Peck plays the sadistic Josef Mengele, and Olivier plays a Jewish Nazi hunter. Olivier's accent is just too much to bear.

The plot, for those who don't know it, concerns a conspiracy that has cloned Hitler. About thirteen years earlier, Mengele created a bunch of Hitler baby clones and distributed them through adoption to families all over the world where the father was 50 years old and a civil servant, and the younger mother was presumably likely to be doting. Now it's time for the fathers to die in accidents, and Megnele convenes a bunch of secret evil Nazis to carry out a mission. They meet at his home in Paraguay where he has a kind of Dr. Moreau thing going on. Unfortunately the plan begins to fall apart as Olivier begins to figure it out (based on a tip provided by a young Steve Gutenberg).

Anyway, it's all good fun. The 13 year old Hitlers are great.

The Danish Girl

I loved The Danish Girl. Set in Denmark and Paris in the 1920s, it tells the story of Einar, Gerda, and Lili.

Einar and Gerda are happily married. He is a successful artist and she is an emerging one. They seem to love each other very much. One day Gerda's model for a painting of a dancer is running late, and Gerda asks Einar to pose in her stockings and shoes. As Einar puts on the stockings you see something happen to him as he experiences their texture and sees his legs in new way. This is when he begins to rediscover Lili. Soon he is gazing at new versions of himself, drawn by Gerda, wearing Gerda's nightdress and playing with Gerda as Lili. More and more Lili becomes real and Einar begins to fade. Throughout this, the intimacy between Einar, Gerda, and Lili changes and shifts. Gerda is pained at the loss of Einar, and unsure who to be for Lili.

Lili's story is haunting as her own identity, belief in herself, and integrity emerge, as she fights against medical and psychiatric intervention, and finally finds a doctor who understands that Lily is real and will perform sex reassignment surgery.

Einar and Lily were exquisitely portrayed with depth and sensitivity, and Gerda's emotions, and her devotion to them was very powerful. The Danish Girl is a very beautiful movie.

The First Wives Club

Pretty much drek. The First Wives Club is a shlocky over the top comedy starring top notch talent (Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn) kind of making fools of themselves.

It's about three women in their forties who had been good friends at college in the late 60s. Although they have been estranged, when they learn one of their friends killed herself, they meet up after the funeral. Soon they discover all of their husbands have left them for younger wives. Sharing their rage and resentment, they begin a plot to ruin each man. In the end they raise funds to open a women's crisis center, and this, combined with them singing You Don't Own Me, somehow is supposed to elevate this broad comedy (no pun intended) into some sort of feminist work.

To Kill A Mocking Bird

I had seen To Kill a Mockingbird at some point long ago (I also read the book in grade school and really loved it). Watching it again, I just couldn't muster up all the love for it that everybody has. Atticus Finch's patient and wise explanations of life began to take on a monotonous tone. The adventures of Scout and her brother and their friend had a faded charm. The trial of the wrongfully accused black man touched on all the well-known wrongs of racism, particularly in the South. The coming of age trope and mood of lost innocence is okay, but very familiar. The story is a good solid one, the acting pretty good. But in the 21st Century it seems to lack nuance and feels laden with cliches.

The Family Man

The Family Man is a pretty silly, pretty annoying, and largely stupid movie. Nonetheless, I watched the whole thing.

It begins with Nicholas Cage and Tea Leone as a young couple just out of college, saying goodbye to each other, temporarily, as Cage embarks to London for an internship at a powerful financial firm, promising to return to her. Then, at least ten years later, he is running a huge and glamorous company, living a materially magnificent life and enjoying his success -- clearly he never went back to Tea Leone.

One Christmas Eve he inexplicably gets plopped into an alternative universe where he had returned to her back then, and they got married and had kids and he wasn't able to pursue his career. He wakes up in bed next to her and has no idea what's going on. This part of the movie actually has some funny scenes, as it allows Cage to do his lovably clueless persona. He has no idea why he is in a relatively crap house with little kids running around, or why the fuck he is selling tires for a living. His befuddlement is taken as a kind of a midlife crisis, but it is very strange how little his wife pays attention to him when he says things like "I shouldn't be here". That the people around him don't notice is a little frustrating.

Anyway, needless to say, he falls in love with Tea Leone all over and is traumatized when he has to go back to his real life. But, with a newfound sense of what is important in life, he goes out to find her in this world. Ugh.

A Good Woman

A Good Woman is horrible. Set in the 1930s (I think) it stars Scarlett Johansson as a ridiculously innocent young bride vacationing with her rich husband in Italy. It appears he is having an affair with a much older fortune hunting "seductress" played very unconvincingly by Helen Hunt. There are both actors I love, but Scarlett Johansson's character was just too stupid to take seriously, and Helen Hunt seemed painfully miscast.

The story would have been more interesting if it were better cast and if somehow the director could produce some sort of tension between the characters, or some sort of nuance to them.

A Good Woman is littered with fantasticly clever lines, but they are demolished in the stilted delivery and just make the movie seem stranger. I learned afterwards that it is an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play, which explains the wonderful dialogue.

Good Will Hunting

Another young Matt Damon. Good Will Hunting is okay. Not great, and pretty corny. It's about a tough kid from the South side of Boston who has been abused as a kid and is highly defended. He also happens to be a genius.

His talents are discovered by a pretentious, ambitious, and fascinated professor, who wants to work with him and mentor him, but runs up against Will's nasty personality and tendency towards violence. The professor enlists a psychologist who he went to college with, Robin Williams, who, predictably, opens Will up and helps him move forward with his life.

The performances are solid, but the conflicts set up in the narrative feel a bit contrived and tiresome.

The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker is a watchable but unoriginal movie about the young idealistic lawyer as savior, who takes on a shady health insurance company and rescues a victim of domestic violence. Young Matt Damon is so likable. There aren't really any surprises here, but it's still okay, as everything is pretty well done.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


There was so much I loved about Tallulah, the Netflix movie with Ellen Page and Allison Janey. Page plays Tallulah, a young drifter whose boyfriend leaves her because he wants a more conventional life. Needing money and missing him she goes to NYC to try to find him, tracking down his mom (Janey). While slinking through the hallways of a fancy hotel to eat leftover room service, Tallulah gets roped into babysitting for a drugged up crazy insecure narcissist woman. The baby is clearly neglected, and when the woman finally comes home in the morning and passes out, Tallulah leaves and impulsively takes the baby. She has no idea what she is doing (just getting the baby out of an awful situation), and the rest of the movie is about her connecting with her boyfriend's mother (who thinks the baby is her granddaughter) and trying to escape the authorities looking for the kidnapper.

What makes Tallulah special are the little moments and the developing relationship between the lost drifter and the high strung middle aged woman. Both actors communicate subtle shifts in emotions and awareness, and it was a real pleasure watching them. There was also a sad emotional current running through the whole movie, even the funniest scenes.

Inside Out

Inside Out was so disappointing! I had heard good things about it and thought it would be one of those really great animated kids features that adults like (Up, Toy Story, Megamind (my favorite), Wall-E, Coraline, etc). But alas, this was not.

I was drawn to the concept -- the characters are all different emotions inside a child's head, and they are trying to navigate her transition to a new city. But the combo of complex ideas about emotions and memory combined with goofy characters totally annoyed me. It got really weird/interesting as it went deeper into the child's mind and stored memories trying to find sources of joy or whatever, but it just was too hokey and pop psych for me. I'm curious what age kids this works for -- I can't image many young children being able to grasp the cinematic rendering of their deep unconscious, but older ones might be bored. Also, as much as I love Amy Poehler, her voice really bugged the shit out of me in this one.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Lobster

I loved The Lobster. It's a grim, eerie, dystopian horror movie, about a world where being a couple is enforced -- with methodical, regimented cruelty.

It takes place in hotel where uncoupled men and women spend a certain number of days. During that time they must fall in love with someone and begin a highly controlled romantic ritual that leads to marriage. Those who do not find a partner are turned into animals at the end of their stay. Also, there are rogue individuals in the woods who have escaped. Here independence is valued and people are not allowed to form romantic attachments. If they do, they are mutilated. Groups from the hotel go on hunting expeditions to kill these individuals, and if they bring back a body they get another day added to their stay.

The Lobster is in some ways an extended mood piece. The lack of expressed emotion, the stilted speech coming from near automatons, the sense of dread and looming violence all make the movie oppressive, strangely suspenseful, and deeply frightening. As the narrative takes shape and builds momentum you see how trapped, isolated, and doomed everyone is. I think it's a masterpiece.


I was really into the documentary Weiner, about the former congressman whose career was ruined by revelations of his online sexual activities. There was not much in the film I wasn't previously aware of, but there was something fascinating about watching him. The mixture of frustration and pride in his facial expressions. His immaturity combined with an unlikely charisma. Part of his political appeal was his angry speeches and sense of social outrage. But you begin to see in his anger a kind of entitlement.

Also you see glimpses into his marriage, and his wife Huma's sense of betrayal as well as annoyance with him.

There was a scene after the second scandal broke during his mayoral campaign where he made a public appearance and said to someone challenging him, you can judge me, you can not trust me, you don't have to vote for me, but give me chance to talk to everyone here about the issues I am concerned with. This got applause and I liked him in that moment. As crappy as his personal behavior is, I think these sexual scandals are distractions that have little to do with politics, and the moral outrage people express during these episodes seems tiresome and hypocritical to me.


I recently rewatched Gaslight, the 1940s movie about manipulation and paranoia in a marriage. Ingrid Bergman plays a young newly married woman, very much in love with her husband. They return to her aunt's home, that she had not been in since her aunt was murdered about a decade ago. Soon it seems that she starts losing things, forgetting things, and moving things for no reason. Her husband keeps pointing this out to her and makes her increasingly insecure. He tells her she is ill and takes total control of her life, not letting her leave the house or see anyone except their shifty maid. It gets to the point where he husband has made her seriously doubt her own sanity.

Her husband, played by Charles Boyer, is so creepy and strange and unpleasant that it is a bit hard to take this psychological thriller seriously. His acting is just too hammy and over-the-top.

I couldn't help thinking what a good remake this would be. Set in the same time, but with contemporary filmic technique and more subtle acting. In addition, I think they would need to make the relationship between Ingrid Bergman and her husband much more passionate and play up the sexual attraction between them. This would explain the hold he has over her, and would add dimension to his total control of her.

The Brainwashing of My Dad

The Brainwashing of My Dad is a documentary that explores the intense impact right wing media, particularly Fox News, has had on so many Americans, particularly older generations. The filmmaker starts with her father, who had long been politically moderate. She noticed that at some point he had become increasing irate and agitated about a number of social and political issues, and after a while she realized that Fox News and talk radio were getting him so riled up that he was no longer the same person.

As she began to explore the history of media and politics from the mid-twentieth century up to today, she learned that many people were having similar experiences with their parents. She highlights different strategies around rhetoric and message and the tenor of outrage these media use.

I thought it was very interesting, but I would have liked more in-depth analysis of the media, and less bells and whistles in the narrative.