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Films of 2021:Q3

Summary:
Here’s my latest dump of movie reviews: Newer Films: A Sun  (Taiwan)  3.7  I found the first half to be a bit slow and predictable, but the second half is really good.  Netflix has an excellent 4k print.  The director was also producer for The Great Buddha, and you can see some similarities in style. Annette  (US)  3.7   Leos Carax’s new film is a musical, which isn’t exactly my favorite genre.  But this one shows some real imagination, an increasingly rare commodity in modern Hollywood. The Lost Leonardo (US)  3.5  They kept saying that Da Vinci was the greatest painter of the Renaissance, but I’m not sure he’s even as good as Tintoretto, much less Titian.  (A better argument is that he was the greatest man who painted during the Renaissance, where his only

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Here’s my latest dump of movie reviews:

Newer Films:

A Sun  (Taiwan)  3.7  I found the first half to be a bit slow and predictable, but the second half is really good.  Netflix has an excellent 4k print.  The director was also producer for The Great Buddha, and you can see some similarities in style.

Annette  (US)  3.7   Leos Carax’s new film is a musical, which isn’t exactly my favorite genre.  But this one shows some real imagination, an increasingly rare commodity in modern Hollywood.

The Lost Leonardo (US)  3.5  They kept saying that Da Vinci was the greatest painter of the Renaissance, but I’m not sure he’s even as good as Tintoretto, much less Titian.  (A better argument is that he was the greatest man who painted during the Renaissance, where his only rival for all-around renaissance man is perhaps Michelangelo?)  But whatever you think of the painting itself, the story is a quite entertaining look at the intersection of art, commerce, academia, museums, politics, etc.

Roadrunner  (US)  3.5  It’s going to depend on what you think of Anthony Bourdain.  I thought he was pretentious when I first saw him, but gradually warmed up to his act.  He has a package of skills that is actually pretty rare.  (The food stuff in his show is totally beside the point.)

Malice in the Palace  (US)  3.4  Not sure how non-NBA fans would react to this, but for NBA fans this is must see TV.  Not to sound all “woke”, but seeing this did give me a better sense of what people mean by unconscious racism.  I squirmed a bit at all the white commentators (even liberals) talking about how NBA players are “thugs” with tattoos and a hip-hop style.  One NBA player pointed out that they don’t seem to say that about hockey players, even though that sport is ten times more violent.  Yes, this one incident involved a couple players going into the stands, but the commentators kept saying that there there was a continuing problem of violence in the NBA, which has to mean violence on the court.  Really?  Compared to hockey?  And why all the tsk-tsking when African American players skip college and go right into the NBA, but no similar complaints when white athletes go into professional tennis, golf and baseball at age 18?

The River Runner  (US)  3.4  Interesting documentary about some pretty extreme kayakers.  Is this the riskiest hobby?

Days  (Taiwan)  3.0  An interesting exercise in Asian slow cinema, but I don’t think Tsai Ming-liang quite pulls it off.  It reminded me a bit of Karl Knausgaard’s famous novel, but Tsai didn’t always seem to know how to make this idea work using images rather than words.  Still, there are some things to appreciate in the film.  Perhaps I underestimated it.

Silver Skates  (Russia)  2.6  Everything that is wrong with recent films.  Way too much CGI, instead of relying on St Petersburg’s natural beauty.  Tiresome action sequences that go on forever.

Older Films:

An Autumn Afternoon  (Japan, 1962, CC)  3.9   Seeing this a second time, I am struck by the enormous amount of alcohol consumed in the 110 minute length of the film. I wonder if that stood out at the time?

Happy Together  (HK, 1997, CC)  3.8  Each time I see this it takes me while to get into the rhythm of the film, but once I do it becomes very enjoyable to watch.  Great acting and great cinematography.  Criterion Channel has a very interesting documentary on the film with lots of outtakes that were not used in the film.  These outtakes almost form an alternative film.  I really miss the golden age of HK/Taiwan filmmaking, which seems to be over.

Ran  (Japan, 1985)  3.8  Probably Kurosawa’s most ambitious film, although his talent had slipped a bit from his peak period.  Perhaps that makes the film (based on King Lear) slightly autobiographical.  Seeing it in 2021, the visuals of pre-Edo era Japan have a sort 1980s vibe, which is slightly disconcerting.  Despite these reservations, there is some pretty overwhelming spectacle.

The Dead  (Ireland, 1987, CC)  3.8  It’s hard to imagine someone my age not liking this gem, which was John Huston’s final film.  (His daughter is great, as usual.) I enjoyed this even more the second time around. (And don’t say the short story is better—what do you expect?)

Tokyo Twilight  (Japan, 1957, CC)  3.8  One of Ozu’s more tragic stories.

The End of Summer  (Japan, 1961, CC)  3.8  What I’ll most remember about this film is Ozu’s use of color.  It gave me the feeling that this was the first truly color film that I had ever watched, that all other modern films were merely “not black and white.”

The Hand  (Hong Kong, 2004, CC)  3.7  This was somewhat longer than the version that appeared in “Eros”, which contained three short films, but still runs well under an hour.  I find this film hard to rate, as in some ways it’s almost perfect, but also seems to be a bit lacking in something.  It’s a film I respect more than I like.

Mr. Klein  (France, 1976, CC)  3.7  A beautifully restored print of this stylish and intelligent film directed by Joseph Losey.

The Hit  (UK, 1984, CC)  3.7  A very entertaining crime story with some great acting by Terence Stamp, Tim Roth and John Hurt.

Key Largo  (US, 1948, CC)  3.7  It’s the acting that makes this a classic Hollywood film, especially Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Alois Nedel  (Czech , 2011, CC)  3.6  B&W animation with very strong visuals.

The Burmese Harp  (Japan, 1956, CC)  3.6  This (somewhat dated) classic Japanese film reminds me a bit of The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Both films show a few of the horrors of war, but both also romanticize war.  In the early postwar decades, audiences weren’t interested in seeing how bad it really was. Even today, most people don’t want to see war as it really was.

Remember the Night  (US, 1940, CC) 3.6 Another great performance by Barbara Stanwyck, in this case in a rather sentimental romantic comedy.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary  (Canada, 2002, CC)  3.5  Black and white (and a touch of red) — silent — vampires! — Mahler — ballet — Guy Madden.  Enuf said.

Diary of a Chambermaid  (France, 1964, CC)  3.5  Bunuel’s version is skillfully made and very dark.  Hard to feel good about the human race after seeing this film.

Reflections in a Golden Eye   (US, 1967, CC)  3.4  A good film for a gender studies class.  Laugh all you want at the 1967 perspective, but these cultural artifacts are still pretty interesting a half a century later.  As is usually the case, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando give interesting performances, and John Huston did a really good job directing several of the scenes.

Christmas in Connecticut  (US, 1945, CC)  3.4  Routine screwball comedy raised to a higher level by the presence of the sublime Barbara Stanwyck.  (BTW, the film featured a tasteless joke based on the idea of a black man being able to explain the Greek origin and meaning of the word ‘catastrophe’ to a white man.  In a weird coincidence, the very next day I read about Zaila Avant-garde winning the national spelling bee.  Old Hollywood films often have a racist joke or two.)

Lilith  (US, 1964, CC)  3.3  Halfway between an exploitative American film on insanity and a European art film.  Worth seeing for Jean Seberg’s performance, and the other actors are also pretty good.

Cutter’s Way  (US, 1981, CC)  3.3  This noir starring Jeff Bridges really captured the feel of life in 1981.

A Farewell to Arms  (US, 1932, CC)  3.2  At less than 90 minutes, it has enough space for a Hemingway short story, but tries to pack in a entire novel.  It’s Hollywood, not Hemingway. On the plus side, Borzage’s direction has a nice visual flair.  Helen Hayes is an odd looking actress.

Carmen Comes Home  (Japan, 1951, CC)  3.2  Although it’s just a silly B film, Japan’s first color film feels like some sort of cultural turning point.  I suspect that Japanese audiences left the theatre a bit more “modern” than they entered.  Stupid, but also as fun as eating cotton candy at a carnival on a summer evening when you were young.

People on Sunday  (Germany, 1930, CC)  3.1  This silent film made by a couple future Hollywood directors is not all that entertaining, but it’s nevertheless a sort of treasure, a peek at how people in Berlin spent Sunday’s back in 1929.  At least for the middle class, life was definitely “worse”, without actually being any worse than today.

The Spy in Black  (UK, 1939, CC)  3.1   A Powell/Pressburger WWI film made in 1939, perhaps before WWII broke out.  The Germans were treated respectfully.

An Irrational Man  (US, 2015)  3.0  At this point there’s not much to say about newer Woody Allen films.  Here I think he would have benefited from having a younger and more intelligent screenwriter, as much of the philosophy discussion seemed to come out of a 1960s-era copy of Cliff’s Notes.  Still, I always enjoy a good black comedy, even if it’s not so good.

City of Women   (Italy, 1980, CC)  3.0  Right off the bat you know you are in the hands of a brilliant director.  Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that he’s a director that has been given too much freedom and has lost his way.  The second half of this late Fellini film had enough to keep me interested—barely.

The Touch  (Sweden, 1971, CC)  3.0  To outsiders, a love affair often seems to make no sense.  Whereas most directors romanticize love affairs so that they makes sense to the average person, Bergman is oblivious to audience expectations.  He seems to embrace the senselessness of love, and doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that the affair will make no sense to most viewers of this film. The problem here is Elliot Gould; it’s unclear (at least to me) what Bergman was trying to do with his character.

California Split  (US, 1974, CC)  3.0  I often find Altman films to be slightly disappointing.  He generally seems more interested in capturing the zeitgeist than in actually making an excellent film.  I just don’t connect with his sensibility.

Midnight  (US, 1939, CC)  3.0  OK romcom starring Claudette Colbert.

Nothing Sacred   (US, 1937, CC)  3.0  At the beginning, the screenwriter Ben Hecht is pretty hard on Vermont.  Recall that in the 1936 election, Vermont was only one of two states to vote against FDR.  Hecht was a leftist.  OK film; nothing special.  Oddly, the film is in color.

Song to Song  (US, 2015)  2.8  Malick has recently produced some interesting experimental films, with a sort of stream of consciousness style.  This is more of the same, but now I’d call it an interesting failure, as the style seems increasingly hollow.  Watch it as a pretty travelogue of 21st century Austin.

Death Takes a Holiday  (US, 1934, CC)  2.7     Not just death, good acting and dialogue also take a holiday.  Still, it’s an interesting cultural artifact.  “There are only three games: money, love, and war.”

Five Corners  (US, 1987, CC)  2.5 Not sure why Criterion Channel had this one—perhaps the attraction was seeing a young John Turturro and a young Jodie Foster.  Also not sure what sort of film the director was trying to make; it’s a mishmash that doesn’t fit together.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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