The Blog


  • Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

    Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

    I have a confession to make with Night Moves. I first started watching it when I was fifteen and home sick from school. I wanted to see Knight Moves with Christopher Lambert and I got this one instead. I liked Gene Hackman (or said I did) so I started watching it and I turned it off. Why?

    Because fifteen-year olds are stupid.

    I don’t know how I rediscovered it. I had the old Warner Home Video laserdisc, pan and scan from the early 1980s with the bubbles around the picture on the cover (f you know, you know). That must have been before film classes at college, so the only thing I can think of is Arthur Penn. I saw an Arthur Penn film on AMC (back when it was good) and went after his other stuff. At this period, I was buying laserdiscs film unseen. Blind buying. People do that with DVDs and DVDs cost $10. LaserDiscs cost a lot more. It’s possible I got the Night Moves laser on sale somewhere….

    Night Moves is probably Arthur Penn’s best film, unless The Missouri Breaks is better than it looked from the moments I saw (I have it coming, right now, from Nicheflix, actually). That’s a big deal when you directed Little Big Man. I just realized I have watched Night Moves lately (2001). But this time is the first widescreen. Oh, so beautiful.

    In the old days (2001), I’d have to tell you to find a good video store and still hope they stock Night Moves. With DVD, I don’t have to. You can just see it.

    I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Jennifer Warren. She was in Night Moves and Slapshot and then did TV movies. She’s a great actress. Odd to appear in two of the more important American films of a decade and then nothing. Susan Clark’s in Night Moves too. Susan Clark is really good (no, I never watched “Webster.”) And as for Eugene Hackman. He’s become–edging out Dustin Hoffman–my choice for the finest actor the 1970s ever birthed. I know it’s cheating, I know Hackman and Hoffman started in the 1960s, but still….

    He’s simply astounding. See Night Moves.


  • Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)

    Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)

    It’s called Dinner at Eight, not Leading Up to Dinner at Eight. I had this film taped from TCM and it was near the head of my movielens recommendations–and movielens has been frighteningly accurate–so I watched it….

    There’s a lot of good acting in the film–I can’t decide which Barrymore is better or if Wallace Beery is the best. Billie Burke, as the hostess, is good and Jean Harlow’s got some nice moments.

    But, really, come on. I can’t believe this one has the reputation it does. It’s not just that it’s stagy, it’s that it isn’t about any of the characters, just about being about them. And it’s too long. Way too long. And there’s no dinner. Don’t be cute, show me the damn dinner.

    For a while, it seemed all right. Star-crossed lovers and ruminations about aging… but then it just got long and irritating.

    I think I’m going to have to go with Lionel, now that I think about it more.


  • The Lower Depths (1936, Jean Renoir)

    The Lower Depths (1936, Jean Renoir)

    So it was a play….

    I know Renoir for Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game and I’m aware he had a Hollywood period, then went back to France. The Lower Depths is earlier.

    Jean Gabin is fantastic, so is Louis Jouvet. Renoir juxtaposes royalty on its way down and a thief on his way out. The relationship between the two men is fantastic and when the film veers from it–into the long scenes with the flophouse’s other residents, I started checking the clock. Adapting a play well takes more work than just adapting a novel–a play has so much that isn’t going to work on screen.

    Not changing the setting from Russia to France works against the film too… though maybe not. I suppose there are plenty of American films of the period set in other languages told in English. However, I always think of Russia as having a distinctiveness that The Lower Depths does not (I’m mostly thinking Ballad of a Soldier). The Lower Depths isn’t rich with the atmosphere, in fact it seems kind of anorexic with it. The film never succeeds in making the audience believe there are more than the people we see throughout–when there’s a huge crowd at one point, it’s totally out of place.

    Still, it’s an interesting “in-progress” work from Renoir. From the first shot, you can see he’s doing something special.


  • The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller)

    The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller)

    So… what happened?

    Sometime in the first four months of this year, I proclaimed Rebecca Miller the best new filmmaker since… shit, I don’t know, Wes Anderson or somebody. Sure, Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson is the last great filmmaker. Or P.T. One of them, just not Paul W.S. Anyway, this conclusion about Miller was based on Personal Velocity.

    I talk a lot–if not at The Stop Button, then in personal conversation–about artists shooting their wad. When they’re done, in other words. There are famous non-wad-shooters like Woody Allen, John Carpenter, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Stanley Kubrick and on and on and on. It looks a lot like an Owen Wilson-less Wes Anderson does not produce a wad… Anyway, Rebecca Miller appears to have shot her wad with Personal Velocity.

    It’s not that all of Jack and Rose is bad. It’s not. Not all of it. Miller’s reliance on Bob Dylan songs, bad. Miller’s shot composition, excellent. Her dialogue and some of the scenes, also excellent. It’s just that it’s too long for her. I should have known after I read Personal Velocity, the book….

    Anyway, there were four good stories in Personal Velocity, the book. Miller put three of them in the movie. The long stories in the book were painful and failed.

    Kind of like Jack and Rose. I’m not as upset about the film as I thought I’d be, just because now I realize I should have seen it coming. I should have seen the long narrative as her undoing. Miller’s greatest potential appears to be in doing small stories, like a TV show. I can see her doing a really good TV show. But I’m not holding my breath for her next film.

    I hope she proves me wrong.


  • The Graduation (2002, Nagasawa Masahiko)

    The Graduation (2002, Nagasawa Masahiko)

    I try not to spoil things here on The Stop Button, but I’m going to make an exception for this film. It’s a fine example of what not to do….

    Mayama is a psychology professor at a college. He is socially inept (the closest comparison is Montgomery Clift in Wild River, only more). He does not talk and he’s unable to make decisions. He’s also forty-one. He’s got a girlfriend who wants to marry him, but he hasn’t asked… Then, his long-lost daughter appears, only he doesn’t know she’s his daughter or that he even has one. She’s been stalking him for months, then they finally meet and her influence–while never telling him she’s his daughter–changes his life for the better.

    The film’s about the two of them, then pretends to be about him and the girlfriend, invalidating the whole damn point of it. I’m kind of pissed off, not just because I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning and stayed up watching this one, but because it’s a well-made film. The guy who plays Mayama (Tsutsumi Shin’ichi) is amazing. So amazing I looked up his name.

    The film just doesn’t know how to end… though I suppose having three screenwriters doesn’t help anything.


  • They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell)

    They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell)

    I could have gone forever without knowing the Archers (Pressburger wrote the film under a pseudonym) were capable of such a piece of shit. They’re a Weird Mob is not about gangsters–specifically small time gangsters, which is what I thought–it’s about Australians, as seen by a recent Italian immigrant.

    It’s really, really bad.

    Oddly, the acting is fine, it’s the writing. I sat through the film blaming the writing without knowing it was Pressburger. I have no idea what happened to him. The insightful, human dialogue that defines the other Archers’ films is missing here. It’s not even a real film, it’s a travel commercial for Australia–where the men drink and the women lose… Oddly, according to what I’m reading, the film’s financial success lead to the creation of an Australian film industry (Australia makes some really good films these days, once they got rid of Weir anyway).

    This film is also the last Archers’ film. Pressburger came on to sort on the screenplay issues after Powell signed to do it. John Ford made some bad films, lots of them actually (anything to do with the calvary really), but I always had the Archers on a pedestal. I had thought that Peeping Tom was Powell’s last before the 1970s, that he and Pressburger had already broken up.

    I’m glad to point out that this film has no US release–ever, apparently. No VHS, no LaserDisc, no nothing. The UK doesn’t have it either. So it’s only folks in Australia that need fear seeing this film and having all their high opinions of Powell and Pressburger tarnished. It’s a really sad end to the greatest filmmaking duo. Sad….


  • Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

    Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

    Altman never does a film half-assed. Either it’s great or it’s shit. How one of his films can be shit is varied, but the shitty ones are always just plain… shitty. There’s no formula to figuring out how an Altman film is going to be–usually, if Altman thinks it’s shit, it’s good (M*A*S*H, The Player). Thieves Like Us is small, the big cast doesn’t occupy the running time. The main characters really are the main characters. I’ve been dreading Thieves for a few weeks now and I’m sorry I did. I probably should have checked the screenwriters. I would have felt better. Calder Willingham wrote Little Big Man, The Graduate, and Paths of Glory. I don’t know how you can get safer than him….

    It’s not just the writing or the direction–Altman really likes setting a film in the 1930s, it lets him use radio programs instead of a score. That method seems very Altman-like. The cast, as they used to be in Altman films, is impeccable. Keith Carradine means little to me except his 1990s schlock work and Shelley Duvall has always just meant bad. Their romance holds the film together and it’s a wonderful little gem of a movie romance. You enjoy watching them fall in love. John Schuck and Bert Remsen are the other titular thieves and both are excellent. A pre-Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher shows up… It’s just a fantastic cast, great acting.

    Of course, Thieves Like Us is not available on DVD in the US. I rented it from Nicheflix. It’s another title waiting for the rock stars at Sony to decide what to do with it (however, if they cancelled special editions of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, how high a priority is Thieves going to be?). It’s no fair, of course, since there should be at least six good Altman films available on DVD and I doubt there are….


  • Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

    Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

    I’m trying to remember why I queued Volcano. I’ve recently been on a “rediscovering the mid-to-late 1990s” kick, so that reason is possible, but I’m pretty sure it was because Anne Heche was in it and I wanted to go back to when she was going to have a great career. Heche is incredibly good and the lack of her presence in modern cinema is going on my (new, creating it right now in Excel or something) list of what’s wrong with modern film.

    Volcano is from that wonderful era when CGI wasn’t as “good” as it is now, but still expensive enough to prohibit network TV from using it in excess (which is why the disaster genre is now all network mini-series). And Volcano has some terrible CGI, it has some terrible dialogue, it has some awful moments when people realize that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is the same….

    It also has a great cast. Besides Heche, firstly, there’s Don Cheadle. This Cheadle is the pre-(semi)fame Cheadle who pops up in all Brett Ratner’s films. This Cheadle just acts and does it well, makes you like him too. It’s the wonderful 1990s Cheadle. I don’t know if he’s lost it with his notoriety, but he certainly picks a lot worse projects (his latest LA film, Crash, isn’t fit to scrub Volcano‘s toilet). Jacqueline Kim and Keith David make up the rest of the main supporting cast, playing a doctor and a cop, respectively (I think David was also a cop in Crash). David’s practically always good and Kim is–it’s just that she’s in almost no films. Gaby Hoffmann, who’s one of those child actors who shouldn’t have disappeared, shows up as Tommy Lee Jones’s kid and occasionally spouts off terrible dialogue.

    Jones is fine (this film’s still from the era when Jones couldn’t be bad), but it’s one of those roles I kept wishing David Strathairn was playing. If you’ve never seen The River Wild, you wouldn’t understand, but Strathairn as an action hero is a wonderful thing.

    (I keep forgetting about City of Hope, I really need a good widescreen City of Hope).

    Volcano is nicely paced–it must run around one hundred minutes and there’s about forty of setup, then an hour of disaster. I’m not so much a sucker for disaster movies–the Irwin Allen variety, with the big casts, are all right I suppose–but I do like films with a limited storytelling span, especially if they are trying to “entertain” me. I was going to say that Mick Jackson is a fine enough director and should do TV, but he already does. It’s really sad when a movie like Volcano is more interesting than 99% of films coming out today.


  • Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)

    Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)

    Looking up Triple Cross on IMDb (I look up everything on IMDb to fill out my little film-viewing record), I noticed the user comment. IMDb user comment’s are almost always terrible and, since I usually check a record after watching a film, amusing. This comment read, “Plummer’s no Connery.”

    Well, obviously not. Christopher Plummer can act.

    There are some comparisons to a James Bond film, of course–Plummer is constantly insubordinate and constantly bedding the ladies (though, much like the first three Connery Bond films, only three). I guess Terence Young also directed the first two Bonds as well. Triple Cross is not a Bond film simply because the supporting cast matters. You like them. You feel for them. I don’t know of a Bond film except (maybe) Goldeneye that succeeds in that regard.

    Still, Triple Cross has a lot of problems. Young is a rather mediocre director and, for the first twenty minutes, I kept thinking that the British deserve not having a significant film contribution if Young is their idea of a “premier” filmmaker. Plummer is charming in the role, but there are few moments of actual depth. The most effective scene–between him and a Nazi general, played by Yul Brynner–is soon diminished–someone felt it necessary to bring Brynner back. Probably to fulfill his screen-time requirement….

    Romy Schneider, who I know is famous, is good as one of Plummer’s romantic interests. There’s a lot of good acting in Triple Cross, but it’s usually for naught. I don’t know if the film is too honest in its historical portrayal or not enough. Probably the former. Films rarely suffer for taking dramatic license with history. The guy from Goldfinger, Goldfinger himself, is in it and does a good job too. World War II movies of Triple Cross‘s era peak with The Great Escape, but there are some other reasonable ones in there. They just weren’t made by Terence Young, apparently.

    Still, I got the R2 DVD for like six dollars on eBay (from the UK, including shipping, which is quite a feat), so I’m happy enough. I don’t think Christopher Plummer has ever been bad and it’s nice to find a film where he’s the lead.