Movies reviewed this week: They Call Me Trinity, Day of Wrath, Arsenic and Old Lace, Bullet Train, A Matter of Life and Death, Unfaithfully Yours, Bay of Angels, Felicia’s Journey, and Infernal Affairs III.
12/12/2022: They Call Me Trinity (1970): ***
Just a big loping goof of a movie. Terence Hill and Bud Spencer have superb chemistry and I can see why they made 20 movies together. I have no idea why Farley Granger was collecting paychecks for random spaghetti Westerns but he sure was collecting a paycheck in this. Add in a dash of casual racism and some confusion about Mormons and Amish, and there you go!
The comedy was amusing. The final fight scene was underwhelming as a fight scene but good as a spotfest, up to and including a headscissors takedown. There was not enough of Terence Hill instinctively shooting hidden threats, but there was plenty of Bud Spencer being impervious to damage.
Check out the review by screeningnotes for an actual thoughtful review of this, btw.
12/15/2022: Day of Wrath (1943): *****
Uncompromising and grim; there are rays of hope here but they’re quashed by the final scene.
Where Vampyr was about shadows and uncertainty, Day of Wrath is about bright lights and the clarity of faith. Those lights, and that clarity, cast dark shadows at the corner of every frame. This is, certainly, the point. The cost of Absalon Pedersson’s faith is the death of old women falsely accused. The cost of Anne’s love is Absalon’s death.
Can we blame her? Perhaps not; as conversations between them make clear, she was forced into the marriage. Nevertheless, in this movie, nothing is without a price.
It is not slow paced. It takes place at the speed it needs to in order to allow events to be depicted with — once again — the necessary clarity.
12/16/2022: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): ****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: watch a movie from the 1940s
While I appreciate the implication that scarred monstrosities lurk beneath the surface of the American Dream, mostly I appreciate Cary Grant and his cohorts hitting their comic beats with polished perfection. I do not have a favorite scene from this movie. It’s all good.
12/17/2022: Bullet Train (2022): **1/2
Each individual minute was enjoyable enough but I don’t watch David Leitch movies for meticulous explanations of each individual gear of the complex watch. It’s just a lot, and I remembered the damned water bottle, I didn’t need the intricate flashback.
12/17/2022: A Matter of Life and Death (1946): ****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 52/52 (done!)
Prompt: watch a movie selected by a random number generator
I can’t complain about a random selection bringing me to Powell and Pressburger. This is the first of theirs I’ve watched. I’m glad I watched it after I watched Criterion’s British New Wave collection; this is the sort of thing Woodfall was responding to, and the context makes this richer.
It’s tremendously British. You can see Niven’s experiences fighting in World War II in his eyes. The good cheer and stiff upper lips are both assumed and praiseworthy. It’s also tremendously romantic, and while I don’t live in either of the worlds on film here, I can’t deny the effectiveness of the portrayal. The casual assumption that your country determines your opinions is less pleasing.
The technical acumen deserves a mention or three; Powell and Pressburger had a real eye for integrating special effects into the story as necessary. Using Technicolor film for black and white sequences is nuts, but it works really well for their afterlife. I thought, once or twice, that I’d like to see them with a RED digital camera in their hands.
This was a good final movie of the challenge for me.
12/17/2022: Unfaithfully Yours (1948): ***
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: watch a movie from Richard Linklater’s Top 10
Man, this was great and then it pulled back. I blame the Code; there’s no way it was going to have the ending it needed to have. I don’t know what that would have been, but Sturges was brilliant, he’d have figured something out. Anyway, no appropriate ending, so why not betray the darkness of the second act and go back to slapstick?
Casting Rudy Vallee as the fundamentally aromantic businessman is absolutely hilarious and it’s a shame the joke isn’t as obvious any more. Pretend he’s Harry Styles or Justin Timberlake for the appropriate affect.
12/18/2022: Bay of Angels (1963): ****
I had to think about it, but in the end that’s a couple of co-dependent degenerate gamblers riding off into the sunset together, which means it’s not a happy ending at all. Michel Legrand’s swelling score is ironic.
Great gambling movie. Jeanne Moreau is perfectly brittle, a splash of white across the monochromatic backdrops of the French Rivera. She knows exactly who she is and she knows she’s cracking in slow motion. Demy’s a romantic at heart, but his romance always has pain drifting down into it like ink in a bathtub.
12/18/2022: Felicia’s Journey (1999): ****
Egoyan’s a pretty chilly director but he understands emotion so well. Hoskins is terrifying as Hilditch, caught in a time warp of his own making that nonetheless sucks Felicia right into it. Notice how, when Hilditch is driving around in his vintage car, Egoyan doesn’t show us much that would disturb the 1959s atmosphere? That’s a nifty trick.
Also, I was struck by the final conversation between Felicia and Hilditch. If this was a traditional thriller, you’d expect him to be shot from her point of view, looming at the top of the frame. Egoyan chooses to shoot from above him; she’s still minimized but he’s not threatening. He, too, is small. It’s Hilditch’s self-image.
There are three parent/child relationships revealed in this movie, albeit one indirectly. Felicia’s father is an unyielding ogre. Hilditch’s mother is a monster. And Johnny’s mother — what does it say about her that she does what she does, shielding her son from consequences?
Brilliant movie, just depressing.
12/18/2022: Infernal Affairs III (2003): ***1/2
This is the point where adding more layers to the first movie started to break down. I don’t think it’d have the same impact if it was a standalone, although the story it tells is pretty good, but it unavoidably starts to weaken the power of the first movie. For example, Chan Wing-Yan’s isolation — critical to the initial story — is weakened in this.
Leon Lai’s a great addition to the core. Tony Leung and Andy Lau remain excellent, and Kelly Chen does quite a bit with her expanded part. I really enjoyed this as a whole, it just can’t live up to either of the first two movies in the trilogy.
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