The Long Goodbye

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Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” can be seen as an update of the film noir detective genre. He takes a very familiar character from 40s noir, Phillip Marlowe, who was portrayed by such film legends as Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Robert Montgomery among others and plants him right in the middle of 1970s counter-culture Los Angeles. The Marlowe seen in the earlier films was usually a white knight in a dark criminal world. He was incorruptible, and usually smarter than everyone else in the room. He was rarely fooled, and was always one step ahead of the criminal. But Altman shows us in the 1970s that his Marlowe is a man out of time, always one step behind the shades of grey characters he stumbles upon, sometimes bumbling onto scenarios he isn’t always in control of. However in the end he’s able to find a new moral code that may not fit so much with the old ways, but he’s still able to come out the hero.

“The Long Goodbye” was adapted from the 1953 Raymond Chandler novel of the same name and was written by Leigh Brackett who co-wrote that other Phillip Marlowe classic “The Big Sleep” which starred Humphrey Bogart as the titular character. Altman was known to play it loose with the script and was not afraid of having his actors improvise, however much of Brackett’s overall outline still lives on in the film, and she was reported to have been “satisfied” by it.

The new Marlowe for this strange world is played by Elliott Gould who to me feels like somewhat of a forgotten star of the 70s even though he made so many important films. We first see Gould’s Marlowe sleeping in his bed when he’s awoken by his hungry cat, for whom he goes to a 24 supermarket for in order to get its favorite cat food. It goes without saying Marlowe loves this cat and speaks to his character that he’s willing to go in the middle of the night in order that its fed.

It’s pretty soon after that Marlowe has to go to great lengths for another friend, this time a human named Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Terry wants Marlowe to drive him to Tijuana without much explanation other than a fight with his wife.  Marlowe hardly bats an eye, so being the dutiful friend obliges. The next morning, Marlowe is picked up by the police under suspicion of the murder of Lennox’s wife, then later he learns Lennox himself died from apparent suicide.

This doesn’t add up for Marlowe as the cops believe Lennox is the guilty party, but he constantly defends him. Pretty soon the labyrinth of a plot most accustomed to these types of movies begins to form. Marlowe is hired by the beautiful Mrs. Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her husband Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), a boisterous alcoholic writer, who is drying out and is at the mercy of a corrupt medical doctor (Henry Gibson). What is their connection to Lennox? There is also a violent gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) who Lennox owed money to and who thinks Marlowe knows where it is.

The mystery does all come together in the end, but the idea behind the film noir is really in how the story is told. There is the cliché of light and shadow during the old black and white days, while the detectives wore fedoras and trench coats with hazy cigarette smoke filling the screen. Altman plays with these tropes with Marlowe being the only one who is constantly smoking, while his neighbours, who are half-naked hippy girls, mostly meditate, eat hash brownies, and do yoga (this isn’t the time for the classic detective).

The film does have the hazy look which comes courtesy of the late great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who also shot Altman’s other genre-bender, the western “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”. Zsigmond shoots Los Angeles like a smoky landscape, very dreamlike complementing Altman’s roaming camera, as it zooms in and out on the people and places all the time. There are moments that seem unreal such as a prominent scene where the camera zooms away from a conversation between two people to focus on a major character in the background running into the ocean about to commit suicide. There is another important cut of violence involving a coke bottle and woman’s face which seems to come out of nowhere making it all the more shocking. Altman was not known for being a very violent director, but when he uses it in his movies, they are like a wake-up call that there is more at stake here than originally meets the eye.

Then there’s the music by John Williams. This is early John Williams before he would become Spielberg’s personal composer and writing for intergalactic space operas. Williams score for this is a smooth jazzy feel which adds to the haziness of the film. Along with that is the recurring title song written by Williams and Johnny Mercer. The song is weaved into the story used with different orchestrations and singers. It compliments the film almost as a hypnotic reminder of how Marlowe is running around in circles unsure of himself, chasing something that isn’t there.

Yet in the peripheral of this story, Altman is using his murder mystery as a sort of  commentary of 1970s America. We aren’t taken too far away from what Altman (A counter-culture hero) thinks is wrong with his country. There’s a reason Marlowe is so confused and can’t keep up with what’s going on, it’s a world that doesn’t make sense to him, a world that is full of people you can’t trust, even those who are close to you. Altman taps into a certain paranoia not seen in the earlier Marlowe iterations. Gould’s Marlowe is so mixed up, at one point he becomes drunk raving at the police and losing his cool, that’s not something Bogart would ever do, yet that’s the point, the times they are a’changin. However despite these changes, Marlowe is still the moral compass, he’s the one you can count on to see what’s right, he’s just having trouble trying to adjust which direction he should go.

I never lived in the 70s, I was born in 1980 so I just missed it. I can’t exactly understand what it would’ve been like to live in that decade but in terms of cinema, I’d like to think Robert Altman was what the 70s really meant to some people. Altman was probably the greatest filmmaker of that defining decade with a prolific filmography which averaged about 1 a year, that’s pretty impressive. Most of his films during that period dealt with America in a lot of ways. Altman sometimes revised many film genres or deconstructed them in order to comment on what America was at the time.  There was never a filmmaker like him, and probably never will be again.

 

Things I Saw In June

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Bit of a slow month for me, I only saw four new movies, but all very good.

Wonder Woman (2017) One of the best super hero films I’ve seen in a long, long, time. Gal Godot’s Amazon Princess is as pure, as selfless, and as righteous as Christopher Reeve’s Superman and thank God. For a genre as homgenized as the Super hero genre, this one felt like a breath of fresh air. Wonder Woman isn’t a complex character and the thrill of this movie is watching her be heroic. Godot shares great chemistry between love interest Chris Pine, and most of the supporting cast is well drawn out. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

The Virgin Suicides (1999) Sophia Coppola’s debut film about a group of sisters who are repressed by their uptight, religious parents and the boys on their street who become obsessed with them. This is visually stunning film like all of Coppola’s films filled with melacholey, but also a dark sense of humour. Kiersten Dunst is a stand-out as the most promiscuous one of the sisters, this is a beautiful film. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

Alien: Covenant (2017) Ridley Scott’s sequel to “Prometheus” is a fairly successful update to the “Alien” franchise, as it continues Scott’s themes of creation, and metaphysics. This is “Prometheus” but with more fan service. We see the Xenomorph in all its glory although the CGI version feels less scary than the original, also I feel Scott isn’t that interested in it. What is interesting is the dual role of Michael Fassbender as android David from the first film and as an updated version of him named Walter. David is the real villain of the film and Fassbender makes him very interesting. The rest of the cast is game too particularly Katherine Waterson taking over the Ripley helm. This film has a lot to say, and the visuals are rich. 3 stars out of 4

It Comes At Night (2017) A great movie that I have no interest in seeing again. This is a grim, dark, film that basically bummed me out in the end, but it is so well made, you have to give it points. Taking place in the near future where some virus has wiped out most of humanity, it follows one family who have locked themselves up in a house fending for themselves, while another family comes into their lives to complicate matters. The film is mostly a thriller concerning itself on the basis on how can you trust someone, and the lengths you will go through to protect your family, and if it’s all worth it in the end. This is all interesting stuff to bring up, although the results are pretty hard to take. I can’t say I enjoyed myself, but the tension is felt throughout and is so well put together, I couldn’t help but admire it, it’s just not a good time. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

 

The Shop Around The Corner

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If I could name maybe one perfect movie, it might just be “The Shop Around The Corner”. Many names can be brought up on this argument, but I might just stick with this film being my answer.

Not many films can capture the delicate elegance this one can capture. It’s light on its feet but has a tinge of darkness to it. It’s full of organic gags that seem to come from thin air, that one can barely notice how they build the film’s structure. It can be funny as well as a bit sad. It’s romantic in a way very few movies are, and cracks open just enough sentimentality that you can swallow it without it becoming too sweet. It’s a charming fantasy romantic comedy that feels very down to earth. It’s all of these things which feel impossible to contain in one movie, yet it does and it’s glorious.

We are told in the opening scroll of the film that the story will focus on the employees of Matuschek and Company, a department store in Budapest. Mr. Matuchek (Frank Morgan) is a bit of a blowhard himself with a short temper but isn’t really a bad sort of guy. He’s seen as a respectable boss who the employees want to please. His lead salesman and surrogate son is Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) a loyal and dependable worker whose opinion Mr. Matuchek values more than anyone else. This is perhaps because Kralik is the only one who can get away with being honest to Matuchek and stand up to him when his blow hardness gets out of hand.

Enter Klara (Margaret Sullivan) a poor sales girl who is out of work and wonders in Matuschek and Co. looking for a job. She pleads to Kralik first who sympathizes with her but frankly says they aren’t hiring at the moment. However she proves herself worthy by being able to sell an annoying music box which Kralik hates but Matuschtek likes, thus securing her a position at the store.

Later we find that Kralik and Klara are not really getting along well with each other as they find any way to bicker and fight. However, little do they know, they happen to be secret pen pals who have been writing to each other anonymously and at the same time falling in love. This would be a nice surprise for both of them if the suspicion of Kralik having an affair with Mr. Matuschek’s wife didn’t complicate matters.

“The Shop Around The Corner” feels very lived in as it focuses on its characters. They are painted as very relateable people who are concerned about everyday things like making a living or spending too much money. There are two separate scenes where the employees hang around the front of the store waiting for Mr. Matuschtek arrival to open the store. Here we see them shooting the breeze as co-workers would, about things that concern them. The dialogue speaks so much as to who they are but it remains playful and very light, for instance there is a bit of gossip about Mr.Matuchek’s wife and how she may have had her face lifted, or Kralik complaining of indigestion after he had too much goose liver at the boss’ house the night before. These moments are very mundane, but there is beauty in the way they are presented as a sort of observational comedy much in the same vein modern comedies have become.

But there is sadness and loneliness crept in these people as well. There is a bit of a quiet struggle within everyone to feel happiness and in that way it leads to a desperation in the love story between Kralik and Klara. They are two people who oppose each other, yet they yearn for the same thing: that feeling of connection one gets when you fall in love. They are both book-worms which might add to their feeling of romance and whimsy to their otherwise unremarkable existence. With Kralik and Klara we see what most of us want out of this world, that break of reality romance can give you. This unrealistic affection builds up this fantasy in their heads as to who their secret pen pal might be, and the film plays on this with pitch perfect aplomb for both parties.

Things start to come ahead when Kralik actually finds out first he’s been corresponding with Klara, and when he sees her in a cafe waiting for her Prince Charming, it ends up being one of the best dialogue scenes in all of cinema. Here we see Kralik sizing himself up with Klara figuring out if she might be someone he could fall in love with. It’s a wonderful two-handed bit of sincerity, flirtation, and contempt, but each one dodging their true feelings the other might have for one another. Stewart and Sullivan are evenly matched here and have never been so charming or sweet. Stewart is known for his “awe-shucks” persona and there is a bit of that here, yet he’s playing someone who is a bit more sophisticated than you might see in the films he made for Frank Capra. He makes Kralik into a bit of a neurotic who’s obsessive compulsive about his place in the department store, which hides away a real insecurity about himself.

Sullivan is one of those great forgotten actresses who sadly isn’t as well-remembered today, even though she starred in three other films with Stewart. Klara is probably her best known role today, and she gives off a wonderful grace with her whispery register to her lines. Klara is the real lonely heart in the film, she is able to convey such hopefulness and sorrow in her eyes, she can break your heart with a glance. As film critic David Thompson noted that the moment Klara looks in an empty mail box as she sees she has received no letter from her pen pal is one of the greatest shots in film history as Sullivan conveys so much heart ache, you just want to reach out to her.

There are so many of these moments, usually done with glances or reactions that draw up so much subtle emotion, despite the film being filled with so much wonderful dialogue. It is worth noting the film’s direction Ernst Lubitsch who is a legend. Lubitsch is known for inventing the modern romantic comedy and is probably as important to the genre as Hitchcock is to thrillers. Lubitsch started in silent films creating wonderful bedroom comedies that involved love triangles, and infidelity. Yet Lubitsch was never one to show too much in his films, rather he always hinted at something more devilish or naughty going on usually by implying it with bits of dialogue or a glance of an actor’s expression. There is a bit of that going on in “The Shop Around The Corner” particularly involving the affair sub-plot with Matuschtek ‘s wife, something that isn’t played so much for laughs as in Lubitsch’s earlier films, but is rather played with subtle pathos. This is the film where Lubitsch comes down to earth a little bit, although not entirely, he’s still able to bring lightness to what could have potentially be dark.

There is a love Lubitsch has for his characters here, and you could sense he was trying to go for something more authentic than he was in his more frivolous though brilliant high-class comedies. Above all he’s staying sophisticated, he never goes for the easy joke, but rather builds his jokes around the world he creates. The humour comes from the situations, the characters, and the tone of the film. Lubitsch never sacrifices the mood for a joke, he wants us to care about these people, not laugh at them, the fact that something funny might happen is part of its charm.

“The Shop Around the Corner” wasn’t that big of a success when it came out, which is a surprise considering Lubitsch was one of the most successful filmmakers at the time. I feel like when it came out, it may have looked like a bit of a modest film, nothing too spectacular about it, it’s a humble story about humble people who are looking for love, it doesn’t strive for anything more. But there is a truth to this film that has made it remain special, it speaks to that yearning in all of us, and that feeling of wanting to be loved and wanting to fall in love. It’s very easy to see ourselves in a film like “The Shop Around the Corner” maybe that’s why it remains so timeless, and so charming. Many films have tried to reach perfection this film has obtained, it’s the type of perfection that is invisible to the naked eye, it doesn’t try to impress us, it’s much to sophisticated for that. When they say “they don’t make em like they used to” you could relate it to “The Shop Around the Corner”, but I would alter it a bit by saying they can’t make em like they used to.

Things I Saw In May

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The Last Hurrah (1958) John Ford’s film of a political boss running for re-election but is losing touch with his constituency is prime Fordian values featuring a great performance by Spencer Tracy. The film slips in usual Fordian sentimentality of nostalgia and the way things used to be, and the ending doesn’t have the emotional impact it wants to have. Still you have to admire the film’s tenacity. 3 stars out of 4

Two Rode Together (1961) A strange film from John Ford, this one a western about the search for missing children who were kidnapped by Cherokee warriors. James Stewart and Richard Widmark lead the march to find the kidnapped children both knowing there isn’t much hope. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be, and goes in too many directions, even though the darker aspects of the film are fascinating. I wish I loved this more, but this was a misfire. 2 stars out of 4

The Big Combo (1955) Famous film noir about a police detective trying to bring down a notorious mob boss. Shot is stark black and white emphasizing light and shadow to full effect, the film’s plot feels secondary which now plays like a generic take on a cop show. That being said, the screen is filled with some great moments and characters 3 stars out of 4

The Razor’s Edge (1946) Based on a personal favorite book of mine by Somerset Maugham about a young man who comes home from the war and is no longer satisfied with the material world and instead sets off on a more spiritual journey to find out what life really is about. This feels like a somewhat sanitized version of the novel but comes off as an impressive Hollywood re-telling, if not quite as satisfying as one might hope. The film features a great cast including Tyrone Power in the lead, Herbert Marshall in a meta version of Maugham, and Anne Baxter who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a woman who loses her family in a car accident. Good just not great. 3 stars out of 4

Uncle Yanco/Black Panthers (1967-68) Two short documentaries by Agnes Varda that display a unique verve and energy. The first one is a personal documentary on Varda’s own bohemian Uncle while the other chronicles a protest of the Black Panther party after one of their founders was imprisoned. 3.5 stars out of 4

Lions, Love, (….and lies) (1969) Agnes Varda’s meta film about three hippies who live together in Los Angeles while a movie director crashes at their place is the type of post-modern film that is exciting to watch in that it feels so fresh and original. Varda plants us into this documentary like atmosphere where you’re not quite sure what is real and what is not. Much of it was improvised on the spot with real life events most significantly the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy influencing the plot. The final moments of this film are breathtaking. 4 stars out of 4

Mur Murs (1981) Varda’s documentary on mural makers in Los Angeles is an interesting take on fringe artists in the California community. Many of the artists come from different backgrounds but share the commonality that what they make is to them a form of art. Varda makes the point in showcasing these artists who are mostly anonymous with their paintings yet create canvases as big as Michelangelo. 3.5 stars out of 4

Documenteur (1981) A short film about a mother who lives alone in an apartment with her son. Throughout the film you feel it is going somewhere but without warning it suddenly ends as if unfinished which feels frustrating, however moments in time can feel like that. Much of the film feels like it’s just filled with moments, and Varda makes it all seem so real and important. 3 stars out of 4

Two For the Road (1967) Outstanding film chronicling a couple’s history by the many road trips they made together and how they ending up bitter and resentful at one another. Directed by Stanley Donen who creates clever time lines in the film and wonderful performances by Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, this is really a wonderful hidden gem for any movie lover. 4 stars out of 4

The Unforgiven (1960) John Huston’s bizarre western about a family who raise a girl who was taken from her first nations family and raised as white. The past comes back to haunt them and this film goes in all sorts of strange directions including an incestuous relationship with the girl and her adopted brother, who just happen to be played by Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster. Huston seems to have something here for awhile, but the conclusion disappoints in more ways than one which makes this not quite the classic it could’ve been. 3 stars out of 4

The Fate of the Furious (2017) The latest in the Fast and the Furious franchise is big dumb silly fun but there was a slight disconnect with this one which didn’t make it feel fully formed. Still the set pieces are fun enough. Not as memorable as other entries, but not it delivers on most levels. 3 stars out of 4

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Marvel movies have become like a drug, I keep going back for more even though the entertainment value never goes above pretty good. Marvel movies feel like great mediocrity most of the time, and this one is no exception although it has some pretty funny bits, I just can’t help but see everyone just doing a competent job but not going above what is expected of them. This is just fine and what the fans want. 3 stars out of 4

The Drunken Master (1978) Jackie Chan’s breakout role some might say is a great kung fu comedy that never takes itself too seriously but contains some very amusing, and impressive kung-fu action. This shows of Chan’s real talent the way no Hollywood movie ever gives him, I wonderful, funny, film. 3.5 stars out of 4

Bojack Horseman Season 3 (2016) The most recent season of Bojack Horseman contains some very inventive episode namely one that is mostly silent, while Bojack tries to get Oscar gold. This goes into darker territory most animated comedies don’t tread. I never feel good after a Bojack episode, but I do come away feeling impressed. 3.5 stars out of 4

Away From Her

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The thing that comes back to me as I think about a film like “Away from Her” is the snow. Snow feels like it’s flooding the film, almost covering it entirely, at times it’s all we see. There is a recurring scene with Fiona (Julie Christie), a woman who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s as she is trekking through the snow on cross-country skis. She is shown with her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsett), but also shown alone. Not much else fills the screen in these scenes other than Fiona. She is travelling on a blank slate, her mind is going, at one point she becomes lost and wanders into a forest. The camera goes from a bird’s-eye view and moves in as she lays down as if engulfed by her surroundings. This must be how it feels when your mind is going.

“Away From Her” deals with Alzheimer’s in a very straight forward way, it pulls no punches on the effects it has on the people who suffer from it, as well as the people who have to watch it happen. But this film is also a love story, and a very effective one at that. It deals with two people who have been married for 45 years and know each other inside and out. They share time together, cross-country ski near their cottage home ,and read books to eachother on their couch. It’s hard to imagine losing the memories of someone who could be that close to you, yet that is just what happens to their world.

We see almost right away Fiona acting a bit out of the ordinary as Grant catches her putting a frying pan in the freezer. Later she has problems remembering which drawers are for which utensils in the kitchen, she has to write notes on them to remember. Things progress during a dinner party,  when Fiona holds up a bottle of wine and can’t quite remember how to say the word “wine”. In this quietly devastating moment, she states that “(she) may be beginning to disappear”.

Grant is reluctant at first to accept that Fiona has Alzheimer’s as he believes she is still rather young to get it. Indeed she does look younger than most people whom one might associate that have the disease, but it becomes more clear to both of them that it is what she has. Not wanting Grant to become her caregiver as her condition worsens, Fiona sets her mind into moving to a care center called Meadow Brook. The catch that does not seem all that enticing to Grant is that once she is admitted to the facility, she is barred from any visitors for the first thirty days in order for a smoother transition.

After the thirty-day prohibition is lifted Grant visits Fiona to find that she has forgotten him completely and has now started a relationship with another resident named Aubrey (Michael Murphy).  Grant is helpless, but he is persistent continuing to visit her every day with the hope that maybe she might remember him.

It’s hard to believe that “Away From Her” could be anyone’s first film considering how assured it is, yet it was the first film by Canadian icon Sarah Polley. Polley started off as a child actress and moved on to be a staple of Canadian independent film. American audiences might know her best in her lead role in the horror remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, but she didn’t go the Hollywood route and instead stayed in her home country of Canada to become the highly respected filmmaker she is today.

Polley directs as if she belonged behind the camera all her life, making the film feel poetic, and dream like. Occasionally Polley cuts from the present to the past to show us Fiona as a young woman seen the way perhaps Grant remembers her. Memory and the past play an important part in the story as we find Grant wasn’t always the faithful husband he is now. It is revealed he did have an affair with a student while he was a university professor, something Fiona has not forgotten at the beginning of the film, and one that makes Grant riddled with guilt. When he first sees Fiona with Aubrey part of him believes it’s her way of punishing him.

Perhaps it is his way of punishing himself as he continues to visit Fiona as she carries on with this man right in front of him. It might also be away for him to make amends and put the past behind him. After Aubrey leaves Meadow Brook from his wife (Olymipa Dukakis), Grant pleads with her to bring him back so Fiona won’t be depressed.

Is Fiona playing mind games? It is never spells it out for us if she can remember, but there are hints of clarity as if she does know Grant, or at least has a vague recollection of who he might be. These scenes are even more tragic, but they are all the more human. What’s worse? To think the person you love might forget you all together or that you might seem familiar to them but they just can’t recall who you are? For some there might be some false hope in the latter, but as one character points out, their memory could come back at any time, but maybe only for a moment and then be gone again. For Grant perhaps he’s hoping for a glimmer or flicker of that memory.

“Away From Her” works as a very adult film, meaning Polley isn’t doing a movie of the week featuring a well-known disease in order to exploit our emotions. Polley is smart enough, and wise enough to know real life doesn’t work that way, and the feelings we might have as a loved one is slowly losing their minds might be more complex than anything we see on the surface.

Much time is taken in the film to explore these relationships, and we even get a wider look at the effects on loved ones as Polley shows us other patients. There is one very sad scene where Grant is sitting in the Meadow Brook dining lounge and sees a deaf daughter talk to her mother who knows sign language, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s  but still remembers to sign.  Polley shows us time passing to when the daughter has left and the mother sits at the table as if not knowing what to do. After day turns into night, she grabs her walker and is probably put to bed, not a life to envy. We later see the same daughter visiting her mother again but this time she has no idea who she is and another layer of tragedy is introduced when we are told the mother was the only one in the family who learned sign language in order to communicate with her daughter but now she can’t remember.

These moments are small, and quiet, we aren’t given any big dramatic scenes, Polley stays in the realm of realism. Pinsett is a pillar of quiet strength never raising his voice even when we see his anger, and resentment. He has one of the faces that gives us everything we need to know, we always see what he is thinking and what he is feeling, and he barely raises an eyebrow. The one time we do see him lash out in anger, it’s done in an even-tempered way, but it is full of emotion and heartache, it’s difficult not to be moved.

As Fiona Julie Christie has the opportunity to be more showy, that’s usually the benefit of being able to act with a disease. However she remains restrained and playing to the reality of her situation. We see the confusion come through her face, the sadness of not knowing who her husband is, and the depression as her faculties move further away from her.

In a very short time, Pinsett and Christie are able to show us the bond between these two characters, their habits, and their interactions, and how the choices, and mistakes they made have cemented their strong marriage and love for one another. I was touched by how they talked to each other, and how they feel for eachother, it isn’t often we have oder people having sex unless one of their partners is younger, but it goes towards the film’s realism that just because they are older doesn’t mean they are dead sexual or otherwise.  They are a couple who fought for their happiness and now have to fight again.

“Away from Her” came out ten years ago, it was well-regarded at the time earning Oscar nominations for Christie and Polley’s screenplay which is poetic, romantic, and endearing. Seeing it again, it has not lost its edge or beauty. It’s a film that builds on memory, what we want to remember, what we might not want to remember, and what happens when that choice is taken away from us. It’s a quiet film that aches your heart, and fills you with emotion. It fills our minds and our hearts, like the snow filling the screen.

Thing I Saw in April

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A bunch of obscure John Ford films and Will Arnett in great voice over work filled up my viewing time in April.

The Lego Batman Movie (2017): My lone trip to the theatre this month as I caught up with the Lego Batman Movie which was a fun breath of fresh air. Not since “Batman Returns” has Batman been this fun. This colorful riff on the caped crusader voiced with enthusiasm by Will Arnett is a lark with plenty of gags for fans of Batman and has fun playing with the character’s history. 3 stars out of 4

Bojack Horseman Season 2 (2015) Continuing on my run of Bojak Horseman a much more serious minded comedy about fame and depression in Hollywood than anyone gives it credit for. Bajack is never afraid to go to dark places as this season finds its voice and is more assured than season one. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) An gangster comedy directed by of all people John Ford. This one stars Edward G. Robinson in a duo role as a meek paperman who is mistaken for a murderous gangster. Robinson has fun sending up his gangster persona, and his meek personality hints at some cast against type roles he would find success in with “Scarlett Street” and “Woman in the Window”. Plus Jean Arthur is in this so this is just a delightful film. 3 stars out of 4

The Hurricane (1937) John Ford’s disaster drama of a coastal Island where the climax involves the storm in the title which is magnificent to see considering the special effects at the time. The central story deals with an Islander who is imprisoned wrongly for years trying to escape in order to be reunited with his wife and daughter whom he hasn’t seen. Once he does escape, the hurricane comes blowing. A wonderful little known golden aged spectacle. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Long Grey Line (1955) Ford’s biopic film of Irish Immigrant Marty Maher who spent over 50 years in west point. The film stars Tyrone Power who is quite good in the lead role. The film isn’t all that accurate and falls under one of Ford’s many tributes of Irish gumption. Still there are many touching and beautifully shot scenes to make this worthwhile. Maureen O’Hara is wonderful as Maher’s wife. 3 stars out of 4

Gideon’s Day (1958) Ford’s british film which follows the day in the life of Gideon who is chief inspector at Scotland yard. Jack Hawkins plays Gideon in a great Fordesque performance, and the film which was shot in parts of London and contains a British cast definitely has a different feel than most of Ford’s films. However it is entertaining and many of the crime stories are engrossing and compelling. 3 stars out of 4

Top Ten Films of the 2000s

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1. A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers) A film that has inched it’s way up to my number one of this decade ever so slowly. I always loved this film, but it’s meant more to me the more I watch it. The existential crisis movie to beat all existential crisis movies.

2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch) The dream world of David Lynch is one of the most absolute stunning places to visit in film, but make no mistake “Mulholland Drive” is his absolute masterpiece.

3. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh) A funny though tragic account of gangsters who have to hide out in a small European town after botching a job.

4. No Country for Old Men (The Coen Brothers) Since this film, The Coen Brothers really haven’t made a wrong step, they have become the most assured filmmakers on the planet. This thriller based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy is perfectly put together in every way.

5. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas) A film about globalization and how it can break tradition and family apart. A harsh theme for a film, but this one is given great life by the cast and direction. A wonderful french film.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol.2 (Quentin Tarantino) For me the best thing Tarantino has ever done. This tribute to kung fu cinema and spaghetti westerns from a feminist point of view is still one of the most fun times I’ve ever had watching a movie.

7. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes) Haynes’ bio of Bob Dylan told through a collage of performers ranging from Heath Ledger, to Richard Gere, to Christian Bale, to most impressively Cate Blanchett is a stirring look into the life of an artist through the art they create rather than the life they have lived or claimed to have lived.

8. Waking Life (Richard Linklater) Linklater’s experimental animated feature about dreams, reality, and life feels like a college philosophy student’s dream come true. I find it Linklater’s most compelling work.

9. Master and Commander The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir) An underseen, underrated sea adventure that feels like the last real epic Hollywood has ever produced.

10. Zodiac (David Fincher) Fincher’s best film in my opinion, an epic investigation on the Zodiac killer honing in on three men who were deeply affected by the case. The film has only raised more fans since its initial release, and should be considered a masterpiece in crime movies.

Honorable mentions: The Coens almost made the cut again with “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” is the best in the Before trilogy Del Torro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” remains that director’s best film. I kinda have a love/hate relationship with “Moulin Rouge”. Robert Altman who never slowed down until his death had three great movies “Gosford Park”, “The Company” and “A Prairie Home Companion” to finish off his career. “Almost Famous” is a nice memoir. Wes Anderson had “The Royal Tanenbaums” Spielberg added a few great movies to his ouvre among them “A.I.”, “Minority Report”, “Munich”,  and the underrated “The Terminal”. Tarantino had “Inglorious Basterds”. Sam Raimi made perhaps the best superhero film “Spiderman 2”, but Christopher Nolan also had “The Dark Knight”. Korean films were a highlight with Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” which is a mix between psychological thriller and mother and son drama. Won-Kar Wai had “In the Mood for Love”, Clint Eastwood had his double feature of war films “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” as well as the boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby”. British director Mike Leigh had “Happy-Go Lucky”. Paul Thomas Anderson gave Adam Sandler his one great movie “Punch-Drunk Love”. Michael Mann had Tom Cruise go bad in “Collateral”. Peter Jackson had the wonderful epic “Lord of the Rings” films as well as a nice reboot of “King Kong”, Spike Lee had “The 25th Hour”. Pixar made their two best films “Wall-E” and “Up”

Did I miss any? I probably did, what are your favorite films of the 2000s?

Top Ten Films of the 1990s

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1. The Three Colors Trilogy (Krysztof Kieslowski) Deeply beautiful, metaphysical trilogy of films based on the idea behind the three colors of the French Flag Blue=Liberty, White=Equality, and Red=Fraternity. These aren’t political films, but rather they are deeply felt films about the human condition.

2. Miller’s Crossing (The Coen Brothers) The Coen’s hard boiled Irish Gangster picture is perhaps their greatest film in a slew of great films. This labyrinth of loyalty, double, crosses, and ethic within the crime business is darkly comical, tough, with attitude. Not since the 1940s has a film delivered such a wallop of noirish goodness.

3. L.A. Story (Mick Jackson) I seriously think the films of Steve Martin should be re-evaluated as comic masterpieces in Hollywood filmmaking. Martin had a light touch to his satiric films making them acerbic and accessible at the same time. In his prime, he was a comic tour de force, and this film which he wrote feels like a lost masterpiece.

4. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzystof Kieslowski) Kieslowski was a Polish director who made many important films in the 80s and 90s. His life was cut short just when he made a slew of great films. This one tells the parallel story of dopplegangers who end up living different lives, but are strangely connected.

5. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg) Spielberg’s holocaust drama won him many accolades and brought him to the forefront of being a serious filmmaker. The fact this is considered his prestige picture shouldn’t diminish the real craft Spielberg displays as a filmmaker. One of the most deeply moving films ever made.

6. The Hudsucker Proxy (The Coen Brothers) An outrageous comedy that again should be reevaluated as one of The Coen’s best films. This film which displays the rise and fall of a naive office drone and his crazy invention of the hoola-hoop is down right ridiculous, but has so much fun and is zany, fast paced, it puts you in a great mood all the time.

7. Heat (Michael Mann) Mann’s epic crime saga is the one to beat all other crime sagas. Perfectly cast Al Pacino and Robert De Niro play up their legendary status as cop and bank robber who set aside a personal life and are driven by their work.

8. The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s period piece is an underrated gem by him. It deals with passion, but also repression, and forbidden love. Scorsese seems obsessed with the idea of letting go of what you want because of societal manners. A hypnotic film.

9. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai) Two stories converge as it tells of two different cops who fall for very eccentric women. Highly stylized, and high octane love stories. This is a film that rather displays emotion rather than story, and it’s a visual feast.

10. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood) Eastwood’s western is still the best film he has ever done as a director. Telling the story of a former outlaw who does one last job for the money, but the old ways come back to haunt him.

Honorable Mentions: Number 11 would go to Spike Lee’s masterpiece Malcolm X featuring Denzel Washington’s best performance. “The Truman Show” wouldn’t be far behind. The Coens had “Fargo” which brought them into mainstream fair as well as “Barton Fink”.  Michael Mann had an equally great film to go with “Heat” which was “The Insider”. Quentin Tarantino changed the game with “Pulp Fiction” which is endlessly watchable, although I prefer his follow-up film “Jackie Brown”. Scorsese had “Goodfellas” and sometimes I lean towards “Casino” myself. Tim Burton had his two best films in my opinion “Batman Returns” and “Ed Wood”. Oliver Stone had his best film “JFK”. Steven Sodebergh had “Out of Sight”. Paul Thomas Anderson gave us “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” both epic ensemble pieces worth your time. Terrence Malick returned after 20 years to deliver “The Thin Red Line”. Bill Murray had maybe his best role with “Groundhog Day”. Steve Martin had one last great film giving Eddie Murphy a showcase with “Bowfinger”. “Terminator 2” was a great follow-up to a great movie. “The Matrix” brought bullet time to our lives. “Rushmore” is one of Wes Anderson’s best films. Richard Linklater had “Before Sunrise” and “Dazed and Confused”. I really like “Dances with Wolves”. “Forrest Gump” has its haters but I rather enjoy it, also by Zemeckis was “Contact”.  Brian De Palma had “Carlito’s Way”. “The Fugitive” was a terrific chase film. “Speed” was a great concept and great blockbuster. John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” was maybe the most out there action movie ever made.”L.A. Confidential” brought back the detective genre. Spielberg had his underrated film “Amistad” which should be re-evaluated. And…. the late great Jonathan Demme created “Silence of the Lambs”.

I know I’m missing some stuff out. Let me know your favorites

The Top Ten Films of the 1980s

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1. My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle) Wonderful film about a conversation at dinner between two friends. A simple premise but pulled off amazingly by the two actors who also wrote the screenplay. I am pulled in by this movie everytime.

2. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s look at the life of Jesus and all he had to give up is one of the great spiritual films of all time.

3. Raising Arizona (The Coen Brothers) Possibly the Coen’s greatest comedy and the closest anything has come to looking like a live action cartoon. Nicholas Cage has never been better.

4. E.T. The Extraterrestrial (Steven Spielberg) Spielberg’s ode to childhood, loneliness, and friendship hasn’t lost any of its wonder despite being one of the most successful films ever made.

5. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee) Lee’s study ofnracism in America has never looked out of date. It’s stark, colorful, musical, and as hard hitting as any film can get.

6. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s character study on boxer Jake LaMotta is a transcendent film of human redemption.

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg) Spielberg along with George Lucas created perhaps the most entertaining series of movies in history. The first two films are the best. Raiders is crowd pleasing fun mixed with great set pieces and stunt, while Temple of Doom is just as fast paced with more peril and darkness pushing the limits of blockbuster entertainment.

8. Ran (Akira Kurosawa) Kurosawa’s late aged masterpiece is a recreation of King Lear, but it’s also fatalist and apocalyptic in its own way.

9. Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch) A look at isolation in the modern world, this was Jarmusch’s breakout film. It’s full of deadpan humour and a wonderful point of view.

10. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese excelled in this decade and “The King of Comedy” is one of his best most under seen gems. A look at fame and what it does to someone who obsessively wants it.

Honorable Mentions: Peter Weir’s “Witness” “The Year of Living Dangerously”, “The Mosquito Coast” and “Gallipoli” were all terrific, he’s one of the great underrated filmmakers.  “The Road Warrior” is one of the best action films ever. Brian De Palma had his greatest film “Blow-Out” in this decade. Spielberg had his one under seen masterpiece “Empire of the Sun”. Scorsese was on a roll with “After Hours”. Michael Mann had a stunning debut with “Thief” and made the first Hannibal Lector film “Manhunter” The Coen’s first film “Blood Simple” was an excellent debut. David Lynch came on the scene with “Blue Velvet”. Steve Martin and Carl Reiner continued their collaboration with success in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, “The Man with Two Brains” and the brilliant “All of Me”. Steve Martin’s “Roxanne” should be considered one of the great romantic comedies. I have never been a fan of John Hughes however I have a soft spot for “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” which features John Candy’s best performance. Kurosawa had “Kagemusha”. Sergio Leone had his final masterpiece “Once Upon a Time in America”. “The Empire Strikes Back” was the promise of a great follow-up to “Star Wars”. “Back to the Future” and its sequel were as entertaining as any sci-fi comedy could get. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was an animated nerd’s wet dream to true. Woody Allen had “Zelig”, “Broadway Danny Rose” “Hannah and Her Sister” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Ingmar Bergman had “Fanny and Alexander”. “Babette’s Feast” was a wonderful world film. “Gremlins” worked as the anti-“E.T”. “The Terminator” is for me James Cameron’s best film, but “Aliens” isn’t bad either. “Platoon” is Oliver Stone’s most personal film. “Poltergeist” was a wonderful blockbuster horror while “A Nightmare on Elm Street” played on our most cerebral fears.

Those are my picks did I miss any? I’m sure some will come to me later on, but let me know what you think tell me your favorite of the 1980s

The Ten Best Films of the 1970s

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1. Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman): Not the most well known of 70s cinema but worshipped by those who have seen it as a cult classic. This car racing movie which isn’t really about racing but about alienation, misfits, and youth and lonliness. Really what the best of 70s cinema was about. Music star James Taylor hangs out with hitchhiker Laurie Bird and his mechanic Dennis Wilson as they drive for pink slips against Warren Oates. A fatalist poem.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg) I often cite this as Spielberg’s best film though there are many to choose from. This seemed to be the one where Spielberg wasn’t afraid to be Spielberg and put in all the wonder and emotion he is known for into this film. Bright, colorful, and wondrous filmmaking.

3. The Godfather/The Godfather Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola) Which is better? I can’t decide which is why I’m putting them together. These landmark films aren’t just major game changers in the industry they are the best examples of what a saga should be. Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is the most complex American character since Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane, and the depth and richness of both films remain stunning and so re-watchable.

4. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick) Probably the most beautiful looking film ever produced in the 70s. Terrence Malick’s old testament look on love, passion, anger, and revenge might still be his best film.

5. Superman (Richard Donner) The joy I get from this film fills me with the sense of a 10 year old kid. The last few years of homogenized super hero movies haven’t dimmed this one’s sense of wonder and excitement.

6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s decent into the hell of a lonely Taxi Driver is a stepping stone for why the 70s were so great. Along with his muse Robert De Niro and a screenplay by Paul Schraeder, it’s an examination of isolation that has not be toppled. Gripping to this day.

7. Chinatown (Roman Polanski) Polanski’s neo-noir is one of the great detective films ever made. Jack Nicholson is perfectly cast, John Huston is one of the great villains of all time. Faye Dunaway is the femme fatale who leaves you guessing what is exactly her story, and for those who have seen it, the results are devastating.

8. Day For Night (Francois Truffaut) No other film has really captured the idea of creating a film, as a piece of community for those who do it. Truffaut’s film is a labyrinth of characters from props and costumes, to the stars, to the assistant director to Truffaut himself as the director creating a film sharing all the joys and heartaches that go with it and why the people love to do it.

9. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman) Altman’s take on the detective film as it would be in the 1970s. Based on the Raymond Chandler character, this is one of Altman’s great films and my personal favorite of his.

10. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Werner Hezog) Herzog’s greatest film about a fateful exbidition to find the El Dorado with Spanish explorers. Klaus Kinski is Aguirre, the madmen who threatens to take over the entire expedition for himself and let no one stand in his way. The film is full of dread and full of haunting imagery, as with this decade’s “Taxi Driver” and “Apocalypse Now”, it’s a decent into the darkest reaches of the mind.

Honorable Mentions: Scorsese’s breakthrough film “Mean Streets” as well as his much maligned but underrated masterpiece “New York, New York”. Coppola’s “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now”. Spielberg had “Jaws” but he really let himself go in his one bomb but brilliant “1941”. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” brought back silliness and anarchy to the cinema. Sidney Lumet came out with “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network”. Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” is still his one masterpiece that deserves more attention. Robert Altman was prolific with “MASH”, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, “Nashville”, and “3 Women”. Woody Allen gave us “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”. Of his earlier funnier films I’d add “Bananas” and “Sleeper”. Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” was great. Ingmar Bergman had perhaps his greatest film “Cries and Whispers”. There was Terrence Malick’s first film “Badlands”. Jack Nicholson had great performances in “Five Easy Pieces” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The King of Marvin Gardens”. Hal Ashby had “Harold and Maude” and “Being There”. “Halloween” was the slasher film we all deserved. “Alien” is still probably the scariest film I have ever seen. Clint Eastwood was becoming an auteur with “High Plains Drifter” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, also starred in “Dirty Harry” while John Wayne had a quiet swan song with “The Shootist”. Truffaut also had “Small Change” and “The Story of Adele H”. Steve Martin burst on the scene with “The Jerk”. Mel Brooks had “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”. “The Last Picture Show”. Also I guess there was that “Star Wars” movie all the kids were into.

I know I probably left some out, but tell me your favorites from this rich decade, I’d love to hear them.