Movies reviewed this week: The Decameron, Hopscotch, It’s Always Fair Weather, The Sweet Hereafter, The American Soldier, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
5/5/2022: The Decameron (1971): ***1/2
I’m pretty sure someone unwisely showed me Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales when I was somewhat too young, but I don’t remember it much. It’s like I’ve never seen one of his. Also this one is about to leave the Criterion Channel, so best get to it.
Liked it, didn’t adore it. The earthy sensuousness is great: not just the sex (lots of sex) but also the depiction of the working class as, ultimately, happier. Even when some poor guy winds up unhappy, or worse, it’s because either rich nobles or the church is screwing him over. Often enough, happiness is the result of a worker getting the better of someone wealthier.
And you know, now that I write all that down, I don’t find that point dated at all. Stinging class commentary plus an aggressive stance on the importance of liberating sex from moral constraints? Wouldn’t Pasolini cheer on kink at Pride parades? “It’s not a sin!” Oh, right! Maybe I adored this after all.
5/6/2022: Hopscotch (1980): ***1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie made in America
Really very charming. There are a lot of good actors in this and with the exception of poor Ned Beatty, they’re all at maximum likability. Sam Waterston brought his eyebrows. It’s mostly Matthau’s movie, but Glenda Jackson knows how to craft a memorable performance out of the exasperated helpmeet.
There’s not all that much tension amid the lovely locations. I can’t say I objected. It’s a lazy shaggy dog story carried by our affection for Matthau and Jackson, which is fine.
I’ve just finished Slow Horses this week. It’s amusing thinking about Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb meeting Matthau’s Miles Kendig. They’re both of an archetype: the slouching rumpled older spy who appears to have aged out of being dangerous, with an emphasis on “appears.” Lamb’s world is actually dangerous, though. Diana Taverner would eat G. P. Myerson alive.
5/7/2022: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955): ****
Totally delightful. I wouldn’t call it cynical at all; the ending is upbeat and (spoiler) friendship does conquer all. Clear-eyed is more apt. The message is that you have to work to keep your dreams, but if you do, you probably get where you want to be.
That’s still pretty refreshing. Cyd Charisse nails it as an independent smart woman who doesn’t have to set aside her intellect at any point. The dancing is really really good.
5/7/2022: The Sweet Hereafter (1997): *****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch any Criterion film on your watchlist
As is evident from the prompt, this is one of the movies I picked for the challenge because it’s been on my list to watch forever. I just needed that extra push. As with Hiroshima Mon Amour, my explorations into Kieślowski’s Three Color trilogy, and Cléo from 5 to 7, I have been amply rewarded for figuring out a way to push myself.
My favorite music is sad. It is not entirely the case that my favorite movies are about grief, but look at that list of movies I just reeled off in the last paragraph. I like exuberance and action, a lot. I am also drawn towards melancholy. Egoyan explores the nature of grief in this movie without sugarcoating the terrible things that grief can lead to.
The bus accident didn’t destroy that town. The town was in terrible shape, gliding over betrayal and corruption of the soul: that’s in all the stories Egoyan tells here. Ian Holm’s Mitchell Stevens isn’t really the cause of the pain he leaves in his wake, he’s just the magnifying glass.
There’s something quietly savage about Billy’s offer of help, “the way we used to do it… because this was a community.” The man who’s having an affair with someone else’s wife is citing community? Again, the town was never what they all wanted it to be.
Those two scenes which Holm and Sarah Polley share are gifts. Two amazing actors, spending most of that screen time watching each other.
I loved the lack of easy answers. I don’t even think the Pied Piper symbolism is clear. It’s just a myth, and the best myths flavor everything.
5/8/2022: The American Soldier (1970): ****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
I dithered a lot on the right movie for this prompt but ultimately decided, yeah, let’s go for the lesser regarded gangster neo-noir over a Sirkian melodrama. Not that I don’t like Sirk a lot, but for a director I’m watching for the first time I’m more likely to enjoy the neo-noir.
Good call, past me! This bitterly nihilistic gangster movie is in my sweet spot. In places it lacks coherence — I think we had one too many meandering symbolic story — but the chilly black and white style carries the effort through. The closing shot is also a marvel; that display of grief unabashedly shows the passion which every single other person in the movie fights to conceal.
There were a couple of scenes where I thought the movie might be too misogynistic for me. Ricky, the titular American soldier, doesn’t treat women well. But particularly after the scene with the Romani, it became clear that it’s a general attitude towards perceived weakness. And he considered just about everyone he interacts with to be weak.
Man, that style, though. It’s noir, but it’s higher contrast noir. Fassbinder took the usual high contrast black and white and turns it up full volume, washing out details. The scenes of driving in the sunlight have almost too much glare.
5/8/2022: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022): **1/2
Disappointed. This would have been one of my favorite Marvel movies but nope, gotta revert Wanda’s growth arc from Wandavision and let her get corrupted again. To be fair, this movie doesn’t make the classic mistake: Strange is just as corruptible as Wanda, so it’s not just a female thing. It’s also good that Wanda reclaimed herself, quite literally. But I never need to see or read another story where Wanda gives into temptation no matter how well it’s handled.
I kinda suspect that this would have worked better in the original order, with Wandavision coming second. You do more or less the same plot, without the death at the end, except she’s looking for a world where she can be with Vision. Then Wandavision is the meat of the redemption arc, culminating with her final acceptance of her loss. That also avoids a second MCU movie in which the woman sacrifices her life to prevent the universe from being destroyed.
I enjoyed literally everything else about this one. Cumberbatch has figured out how to play the role, perhaps through exploring another couple of different versions. The Strange/Wong friendship managed to be a partnership of equals. Most exciting mid-credits cameo casting reveal in a while! The Illuminati pleased me a ton, each for their own reason. Sure, they wound up dead, but Raimi found time to give each of them characterization.
Lots and lots of Sam Raimi flair. He’s so good. Give him more of these.