The Blog


  • Berlin Correspondent (1942, Eugene Forde)

    Berlin Correspondent (1942, Eugene Forde)

    Fox did the best 1940s propaganda films. Cranked them out, I imagine. I’ve only seen a couple others and then Hitchcock’s awful effort, Saboteur.

    Berlin Correspondent might steal its name from Hitchcock’s excellent Foreign Correspondent but that’s about it. Foreign is sort of globetrotting. Berlin is… Berlin-trotting. Dana Andrews is great, as Dana Andrews usually is, and the female lead is decent: Virginia Gilmore. She did very little, but she’s kind of like the Fox-variant of Jane Wyman. Sig Ruman shows up in a funny part and there’s a great Nazi bad guy (Martin Kosleck, a native German who left when the Nazis came into power).

    Berlin Correspondent runs almost seventy minutes and is never boring. The film asks the audience to accept a great deal of stupidity, but it’s fine. We invest in the performances and the promise of an amusing diversion. It’s a film that exemplifies the lost genre of a good way to waste some time….

    (Though I did have schoolwork to do, so I didn’t actually have any time to waste).


  • Blink (1994, Michael Apted)

    Blink (1994, Michael Apted)

    Do you know how much a romantic, early morning mist, Brad Fiedel-music scored ending costs? More than Blink‘s got. What’s up with Fiedel never getting jobs? Guy’s great.

    What’s funny (sad) is that I really thought Aidan Quinn was good in the film. He’s good in one scene, when his irritating “Chicago” accent isn’t going. James Remar’s in it a bit and he’s good, though he needs a haircut.

    Oddly, I should have known how Blink was going to be… just looking at Dana Stevens’ excellent filmography, City of Angels and For Love of the Game. Bleech.

    Michael Apted does an excellent job, particularly after the film gets into the last forty minutes. The first forty minutes are very concerned with making it a “Chicago” movie. This attention requires not only Michael Jordan footage, but a Cubs game as well. Apted being English, I can’t imagine who set the film in Chicago.

    As for Madeleine Stowe.

    Every once in a while here at the Stop Button, I lament the state of film. I complain that certain actors have disappeared, that certain actors have gone unappreciated. James Remar is a good example of that. Stowe took a four year break from film following Twelve Monkeys and she’s never recovered. She took another three year break after her first comeback in 1999. Now she’s doing DTV… Stowe’s absence from major film is a great loss. She really needs to do a Woody Allen picture. I think Woody would know how to use her. Woody or Clint. One of the two….


  • 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….