THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (February 2019 Edition)

Feb. 7-The Bank Job (2008, d. Roger Donaldson, First Viewing)

Saw it in a bargain bin and decided, on the strength of Roger Donaldson’s name (and fond memories of Smash Palace and No Way Out), to take a chance. Good pick, bordering on a “wow.” It’ll take a few visits to decide whether this is great or near-great, but at first contact, it even made me like Jason Statham (whose presence tempted me to give it a pass) and more than a little. Based on the biggest bank heist in the history of the UK, and plausible down to the last detail even if parts had to be made up, as the movie itself says “to protect the guilty.” If England really is going away forever, whoever comes next can show this for proof of why it deserved its fate.

Feb. 8-Ace in the Hole (1951, d. Billy Wilder, Second Viewing)

Because it was showing at the college theater, free for students and alumni! They showed it on a medium-sized screen in the small room, but it was enough of a difference from my single DVD-viewing to raise it a notch to near-greatness. I imagine it would go all the way in a big hall. For those who don’t know, it’s Billy Wilder’s poison pill valentine to yellow journalism and boy is it contemporary. Kirk Douglas is the only big name in the cast. Everybody else, even the few familiar character actors, look as though they were hired on location for sub-union wages. Since Douglas  (never better) is playing a big-shot reporter who’s been thrown off of every decent paper in the east, slumming in some podunk town in the driest, hottest American Southwest ever filmed while plotting his way back to the big time, the contrast works beautifully. The crackling Wilder dialog never sounded better than here, coming out of the mouths of ordinary Americans grinding along, finally getting what they want in the way of excitement and getting it good and hard.

Feb. 11-The Departed (2006, d. Martin Scorcese, First Viewing)

Because I hadn’t seen it before. Because I’m always willing to give Marty Scorcese another try just in case he might one day make me root for one of his characters to do something other than die so yet another of his soulless, well-crafted movies can be over already. Because there was another bargain bin and I was really bored (and really miffed I still can’t afford a decent CD player because the bottom line is now fifty dollars more than the last time I couldn’t afford it) and this was really cheap.

Bottom line? I didn’t want the Leo DeCaprio character to die. Three guesses how that worked out.

Feb. 13-Life of Crime (2013, d.  Daniel Schechter, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because, in these few short years, it’s become one of my go-to movies of this or any decade. Even though they sort of work the same side of the street, and it’s not my side, I have a higher tolerance for Elmore Leonard than Martin Scorcese. A lot of good movies have been made from his stuff, going all the way back to the 50s and I seldom want his people to die, which, among other things, makes it a relief when they don’t. I’ll always watch this one for the look on Jennifer Aniston’s face when she’s getting high to the sound of “Let Your Love Flow,” and for trying to decide whether she, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), or John Hawkes has the best voice going, not just here but anywhere, and who looks and sounds the most like they stepped straight out of the 70s.

Feb. 15-Against the Ropes (2004, d. Charles S. Dutton, First Viewing)

If you notice an unusual lot of first-time viewings here, well, that’s what happens when I get cheap and bored. I picked this one up because I vaguely remembered Meg Ryan getting some of her last good reviews for it. She earned them. The rest of the movie is boilerplate (albeit reasonably well-executed), But Ryan’s performance as pioneering boxing promoter/manager Jackie Kallen, who was the first woman to do pretty much everything in the field, and the first to do a few things period, is all that. How much you like this movie will depend on how much you like Jackie Kallen. I liked her quite a bit. Better than I expected to because Ryan didn’t make her lovable. I don’t think it’s a go-to. There’s plenty of Meg Ryan elsewhere for that. But I’m glad I saw it once.

Feb. 16-Gambit (1966, d. Ronald Neame, Umpteenth Viewing)

Well because it’s for always and my favorite comic heist flick. But especially for the way Shirley MacLaine’s Nicole Chang gets smarter whenever Michael Caine’s Harry Dean gets dumber and vice versa. They make it a miracle of ease (and comedy, and romance). Hollywood spent years trying to remake it and finally succeeded with Cameron Diaz and somebody or other. Why no one knows. I haven’t seen it. It was probably part of a drug deal. Certainly, it was some sort of criminal enterprise, like every attempt to improve perfection. To pull that off you’d need these actors…and a time machine.

Feb. 18-The Terminator (1984, d. James Cameron, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because, as I’ve said before, it’s the greatest pulp movie ever. James Cameron has spent the rest of his life trying to live up to it without even coming close, maybe because he never got another performance out of an actor to match what Linda Hamilton did here, growing from a scared rabbit to the “mother of the future” without a false move. Naturally, she was rewarded with a TV show. Her next best part on film was as the action hero in Terminator 2 and it was the best by miles any woman has done with such a role. But it was barely one-dimensional compared to this. That and the nine hundred deservedly iconic visuals that keep popping off the screen (not to mention the only successful triple-climax in the history of action movies), will always make it bottomless.

Feb. 19-Angel and the Badman (1948, d. James Earl Grant,  Umpteenth Viewing)

Because John Wayne and Gail Russell and because it was time. It’s always time.

Feb. 21-French Kiss (199, d. Lawrence Kasdan, Fifth Viewing)

Like I said. there’s plenty of go-to Meg Ryan, none better than this, probably the breeziest part she ever had. It actually helps that the iconography of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle are missing. You can watch it without wondering whether you’ll need to memorize pull quotes for the dissertation. And, at least five times around, Kevin Kline playing a randy French jewel thief is more fun than Billy Crystal playing an uber-mensch or Tom Hanks playing an uber-WASP. He might even catch you by surprise once in a while.

Feb. 23-The Conversation (1974, d. Francis Ford Coppola, Fourth Viewing)

For the best movie of the 1970s…and the best movie about the 1970s (I’m not sure any movie has ever been both for any other decade). It makes sense in a way. If by chance anybody caught the peculiar mood of the 70s on film, it was bound to become definitive as time went on. This one always places high on “best of” critical lists….but never too high. That will come in the future when we don’t have to deal with what all we didn’t do to avoid living where we do now.

Til next time…

38 thoughts on “THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (February 2019 Edition)

  1. Loved “Life of Crime”—everyone was great.

    Loved “French Kiss”—especially Kevin Kline.

    Ordered both versions of “Gambit” from the lyeberry—if they come in together we’ll have a fun double-feature night with them

    Also ordered “The Conversation” because I’m not sure I have ever seen it …

    • I confess I’ve never seen the new Gambit. I like Cameron Diaz, but I like the original too much to ever be fair to any remake so I ain’t gonna bother!

      Interested to hear what you think about The Conversation…I can imagine someone not liking it, but I can’t imagine anyone forgetting it

      Also highly recommend The Bank Job if you haven’t seen it. That one was a pleasant surprise.

  2. I can usually watch remakes and intellectually and emotionally separate it from a beloved original and enjoy it for whatever it has to offer.

    I always enjoy Cameron Diaz and would consider watching any movie she was a part of.

    I also ordered “The Bank Job”—I have enjoyed Statham and Burrows in other movies.

    I look forward to “The Conversation”—Hackman rarely disappoints.

    • I don’t usually have trouble with remakes either. I love the modern True Grit for instance and I gave remakes of Charade and 3:10 to Yuma a chance (both awful by the way). But Gambit is one of my two favorite “all time anytime” movies. The other one’s El Dorado…and I wouldn’t watch a remake of that one either. You gotta draw the line somewhere!

      Let me know how The Conversation hits you. It’s not much like anything else.

  3. We watched THE BANK JOB last night and were equally impressed. I didn’t remember the heist from the news back then, but I did remember Michael Malik, a person I hadn’t heard of in decades. In fact, it was one of the few movies that made me think I should read the book!

    Friday past we had our GAMBIT double-feature: the first up was the original with MacLaine and Caine, which we watched about two years ago based on your recommendation in another post. I think we enjoyed it more this time than that time wand we enjoyed it that time a lot!

    It was sorta unfair to follow it with the remake with Diaz and Firth, which did suffer for the comparison.They made a neat twist on Firth’s character but, much as I love Cameron, 40-year-old actresses shouldn’t be playing 26-year-old cowgirls. And a cowgirl shouldn’t have taken the place of the original dance-hall girl! Still, the remake wasn’t bad—three of us watched it and didn’t think it deserved the bad rap it has received.

    We are #20 in line for five copies of THE CONVERSATION, so we probably have a two-week wait.

    • I’m kind of a connoisseur of heist flicks (my second favorite genre after westerns) so The Bank Job was a real find, especially since I knew nothing at all about the real life events. Interesting that the genre usually breaks down pretty neatly into comic and serious–and it could fit in either.

      And I’m sure I wouldn’t actually hate the Gambit remake. I like the people involved. But “I probably won’t hate this” is getting to be less of a recommendation than it once was. Life grows short. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the original. It’s one I’ve shared with a few people over the years, always with good results…which ain’t always the case!

      BTW: Just watched Dominick and Eugene (finally) and it was all you said it would be. Cut close to the bone for me. I grew up on a block with a kid who had a similar level of dependency (different condition, but the result was recognizable) and my dad shared a lot stories from his time both working in mental hospitals and ministering in them. My heart was in my throat from beginning to end, trying to watch and keep the memories at bay at the same time. Thanks for the rec. I do get around to most of them sooner or later!

  4. DOMINICK AND EUGENE had the misfortune to be released in the same year as THE RAIN MAN and no one paid any attention to it. When people want to know what happened to Hulce after AMADEUS, I recommend D&E.

  5. You inspire me to give The Conversation another shot. It was years ago that I tried to watch it, before my prejudice against the ’70’s had mitigated (I actually love those years now). It seemed so specialized in subject that you calling it a good ’70’s mood piece really piques my curiosity.
    Love your valentine-reason for watching the lovely Angel and the Bad Man. Were anyone’s eyes as limpid as Gail Russell’s?
    I may watch The Bank Job, too–somehow have always given it a miss though I do like heist pictures generally. One in that line that was surprisingly engrossing is George C. Scott’s The Last Run. Some evidence that John Huston had a hand in it. Richard Fleischer is no slouch, either so if you haven’t seen it–I recommend highly.

    • Well, as I told someone else (in an email I think), I can easily imagine someone not liking The Conversation. It’s one that is bound to divide people. It’s not one I’d show to friends because there would be no way to guess their reaction. But I point to the 70s as the moment it all went wrong (and the 80s as the moment when the future died…I’ve had my share go nicknames, but none of them have been Pollyanna!) and it’s a good case study on why.

      I never even heard of The Last Run. Sounds intriguing. I’ll add that one to the list, too!

  6. LAST FILM WE SAW.

    Berni and I rarely go to the movies as it’s just too furshlugginer expensive! We received a few tickets for Christmas and yesterday we went to see HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 (loved the first two!) but after “paying” for our seats, we discovered it was being shown in one of those ittybitty theaters with one of those HUGE screens.

    Which I hate.

    So, as it was B’s day off and she wanted to see a movie, we went to see the one playing in the BIG theater: CAPTAIN MARVEL.

    It’s your typical Marvel Superhero movie (MSM): convoluted back-story that requires seeing several other MSM, excellent production and effects, competent acting. If you like MSM, no doubt you’ll like this.

    If you wish that Marvel based the movies on the original comics from the ’60s (like me), you’ll be mostly bored—except for Brie Larson, who has enough elan to remind me of Sybill Shepherd, which is a helluva compliment from me.

    • Thanks for the review. I never say never but I’ve more or less sworn off Super Hero movies, Marvel or otherwise. I just haven’t gotten a charge out of one in years and, as you say, it’s a LOT of money to spend for a mere diversion. I’ll keep an eye out for Larson though. The world could definitely use another Cybil Shepherd!

      FYI: Went to see The Green Book with my nephew and his wife when they were here. Highly recommended.

      • Wow, I tried to send my message. It was my third reply in 24 hours and your site told me to “slow down”, that I am “replying too quickly”. Is it because I actually know how to type with more than one finger and a thumb?

        • That’s weird. I haven’t heard about THAT one before. I have to renew all my “protection” in the next two months so I’ll ask about this. There seem no ends to the kinks but thanks for persevering!

  7. Hi Johnny, I just saw my favorite movie (favorite isn’t really the word, it’s personally resonant in ways I cant find words for) at the Regal in Times Square (for the film’s 80th anniversary). The experience turned emotional and I’ll never see it quite the same again. But as always, the story helped me process the hardness of life. Here, if you would like to read it: https://wp.me/pa1f66-5D

    • Never fear. I saw 80th anniversary and I knew. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend but I’m glad to know that the circumstances will only affect your future viewing in a positive way. You might know this but when Vivien Leigh was enduring one of her trips to a mental ward, a nurse sought to cheer her up by saying “Bur you’re Scarlett O’Hara!” to which Leigh replied “No, not Scarlett. Never Scarlett….Blanche.”

      I’m gonna dream of the day we can meet at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham. They show GWTW most every August to close their summer season. I promise there’s nothing quite like seeing it with a bunch of Southerners!

  8. It’s s date! I did see it in Atlanta for the 75th Anniversary I think it was. In a lovely theater. There were old timey cats from the premiere on display outside. I’ve never been to Sweet Home so would love that experience.
    Though the audience was tiny it was enthusiastic and my friends thoroughly loved the film. I don’t know if it was deliberate timing but St Patty’s day was fittin’ to let the Irish lass have her say.
    I do believe Viv was too too much like Blanche. There is a moment when Scarlett confronts the death of her mother that deeply foreshadowed DuBois. So poignant. Poor Vivling.

    • I have a feeling I’ll be swamped this year (my big trip is to Iowa in May to see the 50th anniversary showing of True Grit at John Wayne’s birthplace), but I was thinking of going back the Birmingham next year…One thing I think I can safely guarantee is that the audience will not be tiny and it will be just as enthusiastic!

      That’s an interesting point about the scene in GWTW. Something I’ll watch for the next time I see it. I do remember the one and only time I watched Streetcar–I kept thinking “no, no you mustn’t do that.” I had no idea of her history of mental illness at the time but I knew she was putting herself at terrible risk.

  9. Well, we finally watched THE CONVERSATION last night. Being a fan of Coppola’s, I am surprised I missed in in 1974. Had I seen it then, it might have had more impact: the eavesdropping technology and the ability of “them” to spy on anyone anywhere would have been . . . upsetting.

    Forty-five years later and the film struck me as a horror movie without monsters: the pacing, the use of shadow, and the dry soundtrack with occasional ominous music. When he is in the Jack Tar Hotel listening to what’s coming from room 723, it’s like ghosts in the wall.
    Believe it or not, it reminded me of DEMENTIA 13, a movie that scared the becheetos out of me, my brother, and Donnie Flynn when we saw it a part of a Saturday matinee extravaganza in 1965.

    Above you remarked, “I can imagine someone not liking it, but I can’t imagine anyone forgetting it.” Yeah, that sounds about right . . .

    • I’d agree it’s a horror movie. But I’d argue the monster is there, just unseen. It’s still after him at the end of the movie, by which time he knows hes never going to see it…and that it will never forget he’s there.

      The presence of all the things we take for granted now is all the more frightening to me because it’s been implemented with our tacit approval. Has there ever been a single political rally against the Security State? And, if not, is it in part because we’re afraid of ending up like this guy?

      We should be. We should be, even if we intend to remain quiet as a mouse.

  10. Well, as I used to tell my Black Helicopter friends, you’re looking in the wrong place, A truly effective security state does not need to operate in secrecy. And the Overlords love wacky conspiracy theories.

    One of these days, when I’m more secure in my manhood, I gotta get me an avatar!

    • It may be the passing of time, but it seems that I recall every Rep*blican I knew lived in terror that Clinton had some kind of private army of handpicked, “jackbooted” (that term was always apart of the description) secret army with those black helicopters and they were just over the horizon drooling to come and take everybody’s guns away from them.

      Probably the same ones who believe we fund WMD in Iraq believes Bill murdered 43 people while governor of Arkansas and that he has hidden those troops and those ‘copters alongside the bodies. where they’ll never ever ever be found.

      The avatar is easy: close your eyes, screw up your face into a giant pucker (so people will think, “John looks like he’s in agony”), take a selfie with your smartphone, and then use that to make your avatar.

      Easy-peasy . . .

      • All the Republicans I know thought Bill Clinton was a sleazebag who was nonetheless infinitely preferable to his wife (as did most of the Democrats I know who voted for both of them anyway). No one I knew who believed in black helicopters belonged to a major political party.

        And you’re thinking I own a smartphone?

        Everyone I know will be united in getting a kick out of that!

  11. You must have much smarter Rep*blicans in Florida than we have here in Washington state. here they believe(d) in trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the rich create jobs, WMD were all over Iraq, Clinton was coming for their guns, Obama was coming for their guns, Hillary was coming for their guns, and I just had one brush off the Mueller report (which gets more damning of the Trump family every day) this morning with “Can’t they just drop it already.”

    You’ve spoiled the illusion/delusion that Berni and I held ludditely dear that we were the only people in the country without a smartphone.

    PS: Tonight’s viewing includes TRUE GRIT—the one with Marion Morrison.

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