The Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate. Michael Powell. 1956.

I got a box set of Powell/Pressburger movies, and… this is one of those movies. I’ve seen a handful of them, and they’re wildly uneven. They’re a Weird Mob has to be seen to be believed (but don’t), but then there’s the big classics.

This film is very them. It’s a grand spectacle with a cast of thousands. Well. Dozens. It’s all about chasing a German war ship around, and as usual, they portray the Germans in a pretty positive light. I mean, for murdering bastards.

But it could definitely have had more like interest. It feels a bit like that Mob movie I mentioned: It’s supposed to appeal to a very specific segment of the public, and beyond that there’s not much here.

It’s pretty, though, even if there’s way too many scenes on sound stages pretending to be at sea.

Glorifying the American Girl


Glorifying the American Girl. Millard Webb. 1929.

This is yet another public domain movie from that box set I bought. I’m kinda sorta trying to get through them all to make room for other old movies on my schedule.

It makes no sense, I know.

Oh, wow, this is from 1929. It had to be part of the first wave of talkies. I wouldn’t have guessed: It seems to natural, as if they’d make making talkies for years. I would have guessed that this was from at least five years later just based on the audio quality and how natural the actors seem.

That said, this isn’t a very thrilling movie. It’s got some good dance routines and some passable music, but the funny bits aren’t funny enough.

This is based on a Florenz Ziegfeld (he of the Follies) stage production? Hm, no, it just features a lot of his players.

“I’ve got all my relatives out there. And a few gentiles as well.”

That’s a 1929 joke.

The movie goes totally off the rails for the last fifteen minutes when a totally unrelated skit about buying a suit is spliced in. It’s the funniest bit in the movie, but it has nothing to do with anything. Very odd. Was this really in the movie or did the people who put this DVD together just put in a random short?

The Goonies

The Goonies. Richard Donner. 1985.

I bought a blu-ray of Gremlins, and this movie was included. It’s not something I would have considered (re-)watching: I just barely vaguely remember watching it as a teenager and (I think) feeling that it was the lamest thing ever.

But when I’m watching it now, I think… that’s it’s super-lame.

It’s offensively lame. There’s so much shouting. So much drama. So many lines that are meant to be jokes that barely register as such.

There’s some good points. The kids are good. Did all of them go on to become stars? Let’s see… Sean Astin: Check. Josh Brolin: Check. Corey Feldman: Er… I don’t know how to categorise him. Jeff Cohen: No. Ke Huy Quan: I guess not.

That’s a pretty good percentage, though. Let’s call it 50%.

And Anne Ramsey is iconic.

Perhaps I should give it props for having pretty ugly cinematography and design work. I mean, real: The dirt looks dirty, the neighbourhoods looks muddy, and some of the actors’ hair moves.

Exactly:

It’s a charmless exercise: director Richard Donner turns the kids into shrieking ferrets

And it’s a bit on the racist side? But the main problem is that it’s tedious and annoying.

Right:

While I did manage to catch bits and pieces over the years (namely the opening of the film), it wasn’t until college that I got introduced to the film in its entirety. And, as many fans often do, it was pitched to me as “the greatest movie ever made!” So I sat there, baffled for 114 minutes that my friends – folks I know well and respect – were so taken by such a boring, surprisingly dull little movie. Even after the film had ended my friends couldn’t really tell me what they liked about the movie. They just…liked it. In fact, all they could do was agree that most of the film was pretty weak.

The first four hours of this movie were pretty annoying, but the last seventeen hours were a bit more exciting. But it’s pretty charmless. Perhaps you have to be twelve to enjoy this.

King Kelly of the USA

King Kelly of the USA. Leonard Fields. 1934.

I remember saying to somebody like five years ago “I’ve never seen a movie from the 30s or 40s I haven’t enjoyed”. But of course that was massive survivorship bias: The movies I had seen from that era were the ones that were the ones that were good enough to be in circulation eighty years later.

So watching the movies on the two public domain DVD box sets has been an eye-opener. There’s no filtering for quality here, but instead just whatever the people making the sets were able to get their hands on — for free.

In conclusion: They sure made lame movies back then, too.

But this isn’t one of those movies.

This is weird.

On a scale of “that’s a weird movie” this scores a “whaaaa…??”

I’m not sure whether they were all eating peyote in their omelettes by mistake or they were just insane.

The director made four movies in the early 30s, and then no more, which is understandable.

But I kinda love this, because it’s just so weird. Well. Bits of it. It’s not a good movie, but it’s something to behold.

Gremlins 2

Gremlins 2. Joe Dante. 1990.

This is a lot funnier than I remember! I sort of remember this as a horror movie. Or perhaps I’m misremembering.

I think I must be.

There’s a bunch of fun, goofy scenes here, and a huge number of incidental sight gags, but it doesn’t quite hang together. It’s very 80s, which I like: The plot starts off very slowly and sort of congeals. Or escalates. It feels Xmas-ey in the formless way the movie happens.

This sounds very stupid, but I hadn’t considered 80s American entertainment movies to have a specific aesthetic in this way: But they’re basically movies made by people who are nostalgic for the screwball comedies of the 40s and the monster movies of the 50s. It works beautifully, I think, but this sort of thing hasn’t been possible since.

So it’s a bit bewildering that there weren’t more sequels to this franchise, but perhaps time had just passed for this sort of thing.

Reet, Petite, and Gone

Reet, Petite, and Gone. William Forest Crouch. 1947.

This, uses, the, Oxford, comma. Which is quite unusual in titles. I means, most of them don’t use commas at all.

Anyway, this is one of them there very low budget movies that has a nonsensical kinda-plot in between a lot of musical performances: It’s like the MTV of its time. It’s amateurishly shot: whenever there’s two people talking (and there’s a lot of those scenes) you can never see both of their faces, for instance.

The director has a pretty odd CV:

It’s a super-long list of shorts from the 40s, and looking at the list of performers in each, I’m guessing that they’re all basically music videos.

So this is one of the two featureish-length movies he made, and it shows.

I bailed on this movie after twenty-five minutes.

Gremlins

Gremlins. Joe Dante. 1984.

My stash of unseen movies was getting low (just 150) so I started looking around for more more more stuff to watch. And I thought: “Hm! What about those cool American Gothic movies of the 80s? Kathryn Bigelow and the Coen brothers and stuff…”

So after buying those, Amazon recommended buying Gremlins, and that’s why I’m watching Gremlins.

Again, because I’ve probably watched it at least a couple of times before. But back in the 80s. I remember really loving this, but being scared shitless watching it when I was like sixteen. Or am I thinking of a different movie?

[time passes]

OK, I’m fifteen minutes in, and this is so much goofier than I remember. It’s basically a 30s pastiche? These characters are straight out of a Capra movie! I love it!

[time passes]

At 45 minutes in I’m kinda bored. I mean… not totally bored, but things are just kinda sloppy. There’s a lot of fun scenes, but it’s like we’re waiting for the movie to begin. But even so, it has nerve.

[more time passes]

The nerve kind of went away, and now it’s kinda lame. I mean, the bar scene is fun, but it’s so weird with all the wintery outdoors scenes shot on a studio lot. One disturbing thing about all these shenanigans is that the evil Gremlins seem like they have human-level intelligence (i.e. kinda dumb but fun), but still killing them is all fun and games?

There’s one black character, and he’s killed off early (which is typical). What’s more unusual is that the female characters are pretty kick ass.

And also… I thought this took pace in a skyscraper? Is that the second movie? Is that the scary one?

Dixiana

Dixiana. Luther Reed. 1930.

“You know, my slaves sing better than anybody else’s slaves… I think I’ll go down there and free a couple of the tenors now.”

That’s the opening line.

Well, it’s from 1930, and it’s among the first wave of talkies, and as such, it’s not a atypical mix of skits, stage performances and a romantic plot. It’s probably this kind of movie critics were talking about when they talked about talkies as a fad and real art would make a comeback with silent movies.

It’s pretty nonsensical, but the songs are OK, I guess. And there’s a couple of fun skits. And some not very fun skits at all.

Borderline

Borderline. William A. Seiter. 1950.

I think this is from that public domain box set? Perhaps? The transfer quality is pretty good, though, so perhaps that’s wrong.

Anyway, this is a… comedy film noir with undercover agents and stuff. In “Mexico”. Well, OK, perhaps not a comedy, but not serious either.

I have to admit that I kinda lost track of where the plot was going because I was checking email and stuff, so perhaps this really is a brilliant movie?

So while it isn’t very engrossing, I do kinda like it. The performances are solid and the cinematography is appealing, if pretty standard. It’s just not… thrilling.

It’s workmanlike. It almost works, but it needed better dialogue and a sillier plot.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express. Kenneth Branagh. 2017.

Oh, Branagh. Wherefort art thou no good any more.

I mean, we all loved him in the late 80s. Quirky entertaining movies and Henry V! Fun! But then the 90s happened and he never quite recovered. A major problem he had, of course, was that he took US money and had to use a bunch of famous American actors to hilariously disastrous effect, but he also just seemed to lose the fun of it all.

This movie certainly has the fun bit: The moustaches are magnificent. But other than that, it’s … so … standard. I mean, I love me some Standard Christie, and that’s what this is, but…

And, of course, this movie is plagued by big name actors hamming it up, too.

Oh, and then suddenly Poirot is an action here. Well, why not.