What I Watched: March 2017

March, or “yay! no more Oscars!” month. I had a good time catching up on stuff that didn’t particularly have to do with current cinema or at least cinema in the past year. I had some really good TCM viewings in the beginning of the month, plus some more Wong Kar-Wai stuff, then sort slowed down in the later half of the month to binge some tv shows on the side.

March 1: Get Out

March 2: Camille 

I saw Camille for Garbo. According to the intro, Garbo was widely favored to win an Oscar that year and the crowd was noticeably taken aback when Luise Rainer won for the second  year in a row (this time for The Good Earth). I haven’t seen that film so I can’t say for sure who should have won or not, but to me what Garbo’s doing here is not as impressive as other films I’ve seen her in (especially Ninotchka). Camille was all right, very along the lines of Madame Bovary or Gone with the Wind, telling the story of a selfish woman and her romances. It’s kind of a worn out story, but this movie was all right I suppose. Mostly I’m just very unenthusiastic about this one. (2.5/4 stars)

March 4: The Salesman

I happened to be in Boston so I was able to catch a showing of The Salesman, 2016’s foreign language film winner at the Oscars. I had planned on giving it a full review, but it soon became clear that I was too confused about the story to be able to review it probably. I’m not sure if I missed some things or if it was deliberately confusing as to what was actually going on. Either way, I didn’t really feel I could do the film justice.

March 5: La Ronde

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I really loved La Ronde! I wasn’t expecting to like it so much after not being completely taken by some of Ophuls other famous films (namely The Earrings of Madame De… and Letter from an Unknown Woman), but La Ronde is quite amazing. It takes a bird’s eye view of a bunch of romantic encounters going on in turn of the century Vienna, going from lover to lover until we’ve ended up right back where we’ve started. Anton Walbrook as the Raconteur guides us through all of this, and it’s quite a joy to see him pop up and explain the story every once in a while, and sometimes even interfere in the narrative disguised as a waiter or some such thing. The film is so gloriously meta, offering us Ophuls’ signature tracking shots straight through a set for a play and a movie. And most importantly there are the interactions between all the lovers themselves: the knowingness and the innocence, the manipulation after manipulation, the sincere feeling and the casual indifference. La Ronde has definitely become one of my new favorites! (4/4 stars)

Anton Wallbrook also self-censors!

Anton Wallbrook also self-censors!

March 6: In the Mood for Love

March 9: 2046

March 10: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me 

I’ve seen Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me four times now and it seems that nothing can really diminish my love for this movie. I would definitely count it as my second favorite Lynch, after Mulholland Drive and before Eraserhead. I can’t argue with those who say it’s silly to introduce new bureau characters only to have them nonsensically vanish, even if one of them is played by David Bowie. On the other hand, I will always argue with those who say it’s an irrelevant movie; I think it provides a backbone to the series and is instrumental in giving Laura Palmer a voice of her own. Even if in the film she is still largely defined by the tragedy and abuse that surrounds her, at least it is presented here on Laura’s terms rather than the town of Twin Peaks’ terms, many of whom participate in making snap judgements about her behavior without understanding the forces of evil that she falls victim to, or the human face they wear.

This time around, I definitely felt more of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as a straight horror movie. Just the classic Lynchian steadicam shots of totally uninhabited spaces, and how Laura’s bedroom becomes a chamber of pure horror from just about every angle. From the scene with the dream inside the painting to any of the times BOB appears, the room itself just become so unsettling. This is probably one of the scariest movies that I actually rewatch quite frequently (at this point I basically watch it just about every year) and that really hit me this time around. This movie really unsettled me. The sense of their being no escape for Laura is really overpowering for most of the film’s running time.

On another note, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Donna that much in this movie. Here she is infamously recast, played by Moira Kelly, who I think does a fine job. The film really draws out how much Donna seemed to want to follow in Laura’s footsteps, which causes Laura to lash out at her in some moments. It’s really quite tragic, in another way, how Donna sees Laura’s self-destructive actions, which are desperate cries for help and escape, as something that should be emulated. This isn’t to hate on Donna as a character, it’s just a sad fact of life that I would guess happens all to often. You do see this thread in the show, especially in season 2, but obviously the constraints of network television, the more generally upbeat nature of the show, and the actual absence of Laura Palmer as a character underplay this issue as compared to the film.

March 14: Family Plot

Family Plot is Alfred Hitchcock’s final film. While I have backed off somewhat on my Hitchcock love lately, he still made great films. Sadly, Family Plot isn’t really one of them. In the TCM intro, they were saying how Hitch disagreed with his screenwriter, Ernest Lehman of North by Northwest fame, on how dramatic or comedic to make the film. I gotta go with Hitchcock on this one, the film would have benefited from some more humor. This isn’t like The Trouble with Harry in that the humor is very dry and British, I think it’s just nonexistent in a lot of places because the screenwriter and the director disagreed. Which is a shame, because the cast is really good and I think with more humor the film would have been pretty enjoyable and a nice cap to Hitchcock’s 50+ film career.

As it is, the two intersecting stories in the film felt pretty unbalanced to me because one was so clearly better than the other. On one hand, you have Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris as con artists, and as performers they both seem more committed to the humor angle and they just felt at home in the movie more. On the other hand, you have Karen Black and William Devane as kidnappers who are way less captivating to watch (not to knock them in general, just here they don’t seem like they’re as with it as the actors play the other couple). This movie really made me appreciate Dern as he can generate a lot of subtle humor without really seeming to do much onscreen. On the directorial side, it’s a bit weird to see Hitchcock make a movie in 1976 but it mostly works. The rear projection and some of the editing feels off, but I really liked the production design overall. It didn’t seem too stuck in its time period. All in all, Family Plot‘s not a bad film and worth it for Hitchcock completists, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s an essential or anything. (3/4 stars)

March 15: The Young Girls of Rochefort

Jacques Demy is quickly becoming one of my favorites, even though I’ve only seen two of his films so far I’ve completely loved them both. I feel like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is more talked about, but I actually enjoyed The Young Girls of Rochefort a lot more. It has a lot of things Umbrellas doesn’t, including discrete songs, weird coincidences, puns, humorous moments, lots of dancing, American stars Gene Kelly and George Chakiris, and a happy ending! You still have a lot of stuff that Umbrellas does well including bright colors in the outlandish production design, music by Michel Legrande, and French star Catherine Deneuve. It’s the best of all possible worlds, really. (4/4 stars)

March 16: The Grandmaster 

March 20: Night Moves + As Tears Go By 

Despite Bonnie and Clyde being one of my favorite movies, I’ve never been properly motivated to see some of Penn’s other films. I finally rectified that with his 1975 effort starring Gene Hackman, Night Moves. It’s a neo-noir very much in the vein of Altman’s The Long Goodbye, another movie I absolutely love. Night Moves doesn’t so much suffer from these comparisons as from its skeevy treatment of underage actress Melanie Griffith or its tendency to have characters explain to Hackman’s hero his main character flaw. Other than those drawbacks, it’s a pretty great movie with a phenomenal performance (as usual) by Hackman at the center. (3.5/4 stars)

March 22: 45 Years

45 Years is a movie that I had been meaning to see for a while, and finally caught up with on cable this month. It’s a film I really appreciate the chance to finally see, but really wished I had seen it under different circumstances. It’s a film that requires you to pay strict attention to all of the emotional nuances of the performances, and I’m sad to say I didn’t really do that at home. Still, I did really like the film and look forward to revisiting it at some point. (3.5/4 stars)

March 29: The Gold Rush

March started out pretty well, but I kind of petered out by the end of it. My sister got me watching Buffy before it left Netflix, so I was cramming all seven seasons in a very short time span! Now The X-Files is gone too so I’m going to have to track down some season one DVDs to finish up my recaps. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things in April, in terms of movie watching. The plan is to finish out The X-Files‘ first season, catch up on some 2017 releases like Personal Shopper and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, and then segue into some David Lynch stuff in the lead up to the Twin Peaks revival (and I’ll do better at getting to my Blindspot in April too).

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3 responses to “What I Watched: March 2017

  1. While I did really like The Salesman, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Farhadi’s other work like A Separation or The Past. Even though I would have preferred Toni Erdmann to have taken the award for Best Foreign film, I was glad though that Farhadi won another Oscar.

    I’m planning on catching Fire Walk With Me on the big screen next month. The more I think about that film, the more I appreciate it. I think it may just be a masterpiece and certainly the closest thing Lynch has done to straight up horror.

    • I’ve heard that A Separation is better, I still need to check that film out at some point.

      I would love to see Fire Walk with Me on the big screen! That sounds amazing. I saw Mulholland Drive on 35mm last year and it was one of the best movie theater experiences I have ever had! I’m very jealous. I’m planning on revisiting a lot of Lynch’s stuff in the lead up to Twin Peaks coming back in May and I’m very excited for all of it!

      • I’m really pumped to catch FWWM again. The theater I’m going to is doing a special Lynch retrospective before Twin Peaks comes back on the air and the FWWM screening is the main showing (it had a pre-show and special lecture). I’m also hoping on catching both Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire on the big screen too but am disappointed I can’t make Lost Highway or Industrial Symphony No. 1.

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