#43. The Long Goodbye (1973, Altman): A


#44. Foxy Brown (1974, Hill): B-

My first blaxploitation movie! I’d appreciate any recs anyone wants to throw my way. I know this was originally supposed to be a sequel to Coffy and that the two films are apparently almost identical. This has everything I’d come to expect from the subgenre; rough around the edges, reveling in depicting part of a (still) underrepresented culture using a barely there framework of sex, brawls, crime and funky beats.

But Foxy Brown is just an excuse to showcase the incandescent Pam Grier, both her body and beauty, her general physical presence and her no-nonsense demeanor. Grier can’t really act, and yet, she’s just to die for. I could watch her for eons and the film’s appeal hinges mostly on her. Foxy Brown is entertaining, boring, sleazy, offensive, well-paced, outrageous, exploitative and kitschy in equal measure. Grier’s wardrobe is 70’s print-heaven.

Random Observations:
– The cartoonish villain’s massive owl necklace
– The nurse’s reaction to Michael’s erection
– Foxy pulling a gun out of her hair


#45. Timecrimes (2007, Vigalando): B+

Snappy time-travel film that distills the concept by making it as small-scale as possible. Ordinary schmo gets thrown into a revolving series of mishaps even though he only travels back 90 minutes. The small-scale vibe is what I like most about Timecrimes. There’s also a streak of sick humor as Hector gradually evolves through physical facial damage. The middle act is rough stuff though; once you get into the rhythm of Hector filling in the spaces, it gets predictable and tiresome. In a Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban climax kind of a way. At least there you had Harry and Hermione interacting with each other. With Timecrimes you have to muddle through with only Hector to entertain. Thankfully it bounces back by throwing a couple of surprising wrenches into the mix for its final act. A worthy and involving debut from Nacho Vigalondo (who also appears in the film) that deserves to be seen. It’s on Instant Netflix so check it out.

Random Observations:
-Using “Picture This” as a time-tracker
– Hector is kind of an idiot. Constantly having to play catch-up with himself.

The Magician Bergman

#46. The Magician (1958, Bergman): B

A story of versus; the illusion of truth versus scientific explanation, acknowledging transparency versus willful submission. It’s pretty clear which side Ingmar Bergman is on in this case of absolutes. Bergman asks to what end humiliating the creator serves. In The Magician, stuffy authoritative detractors, led by Gunnar Björnstrand, clinically dissect a form of illusion for being the very thing that it is; illusion. Thus, they are seen as useless, seeing only facade without bothering to think on why the facade exists. Those that submit know they are doing so, whether to be seduced like the sex-starved maids downstairs, or to extract a source of faith or entertainment.

The Magician has a curiously hodgepodge structure. Starting with an enchanted trek through in unforgettably fairy-tale forest as photographed by the great Gunnar Fischer, we then devote whole sections to bawdy sex comedy, elusive two-person conversations and horror. Stringing these sections together is a series of humiliations committed by the stingy non-believers onto Bergman’s alter-ego, the worn-out masked Vogler (Max von Sydow). The Magician is in part about how we mask ourselves and the protection that it provides us. What affected me most about the film was how Vogler reveals himself in the final half (pretending to be mute he finally speaks and sheds his physical disguise), only to be rejected by nearly everybody.

Max von Sydow has never been better. He grounds the film with a penetrating inner torment that reveals itself in harrowing facial expression and body language that conveys a barely contained sorrowful rage.

There’s a clenching factor missing from The Magician. Bergman, excavator of the human condition, funnels his usual themes of faith, truth, suffering and the theater into a narrow resolve for denigrating his critics. Which is all fine and dandy, but this means it makes for a film that fascinates as part of Bergman’s filmography more than a story that stands on its own. And yet, The Magician has stuck with me these past twenty-four hours and I find myself thinking about it more after the fact than I was while watching.

Random Observations:
– Ingrid Thulin looks hot in drag
– Shot of waning light visually activating drowsiness
– The shot above stood out for me most in a film filled with memorable images
– Bergman can creep the pants off you when he wants to

torn curtain

#47. Torn Curtain (1966, Hitchcock): C

With dull characters, flat performances, an undeveloped center and a stop-and-go-stop-and-go pacing, Torn Curtain never fully gets off the ground. There’s a lot that doesn’t come together; being saddled with a script Hitchcock was unsatisfied with, actors he didn’t choose, a rushed production start to fit Julie Andrews schedule, firing Bernard Herrmann and the death of two regular collaborators during prep, etc.The most it achieves is a truly gripping sequence; the arduous slipshod killing of Gromek that remains the apex of Torn Curtain. There are other aspects I enjoyed a lot. Supporting characters like Gromek, Lindt, Koska and Jacobi, the scene between Michael and Lindt, the ballerina payoff, the bus ride from Leipzig to Berlin. That’s really about it though.

The characters simply do not make their mark, making it difficult to care. Paul Newman seems like he doesn’t want to be there (he could never get past the script issues and we know that Hitchcock just wants his actors to do their damn job). Julie Andrews never registers at all; she’s just broadly worried the whole time. That’s it. The section from Sarah’s perspective is drawn out far too long, which is unfortunate because the ‘what about the spy’s wife’ idea is where the whole root of the film stems from.

A fundamental issue is that the central conflict between Michael and Sarah is that she doesn’t know he’s a spy. Once that’s cleared up, there’s no conflict between them, and what there was quickly became tedious.

The second half fares better overall, but when Lila Kedrova steps onto the scene, ready to ACT! fresh off her Zorba the Greek acclaim, the film comes to a screeching sponsor-begging halt. Torn Curtain isn’t bad-bad but it’s not very good, and for Hitchcock, well, that’s bad.

Random Observations:
– The triple-take moment from the ballerina on stage = really effective.
– No music during big Gromek scene is perfect

Theatre of Blood

#48. Theatre of Blood (1973, Hickox): B

Vincent Price has some fish to fry. His victims?  A group of critics, Anton Ego’s if you will, who didn’t appreciate his Shakespearean performances enough to give him a major award. These folks aren’t the fleshy young things we’re used to seeing cut up. Theater of Blood is fun 70’s schlock, using the wide variety of grisly murders found in the Bard’s work and re-serving them on a delectably lowbrow, albeit one-note, platter. The film is boiled down to a series of stacked kill scenes, one after the other, each more different from the next in method, but with the same ingredients of madness; victim unawares, Price performing Shakespearean dialogue, reveal, victim’s face a-tremor and….well, you know the rest.

Vincent Price is simultaneously petrifying and campy as a jilted and delusional actor in what was reportedly his favorite role; he clearly has such a good time with this part. Vincent Price was strapped into a narrow margin of projects throughout his career, never getting to do things like Shakespeare. Edward Lionheart never wanted to do anything else. They meet in an ideally compromised middle; no wonder it was his favorite role. He pops up in ludicrous get-up after ludicrous get-up, some Bard-inspired, some not. My favorite? His fey Afro-accessorized hairdresser Butch. Groovy, baby. Most of his dialogue comes from Shakespeare, and Price makes his character come alive through the very criticisms heaped upon Lionheart; he hams it up!

There are streaks of macabre humor, little detailed touches that make the movie. A couple of standout examples are the surgical killing set to music normally found in a swoony love scene, or when the homeless swarm around Price in the mud to groom and comfort him, feeling like an supervillain’s inexplicably strange origin story. Theatre of Blood is baroquely peppered, that hammy kind of giallo-influenced horror, and one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen.

Random Observations:
– In the oddest of ways, Theater of Blood feels like the kind of scenario that could turn up in an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series”; in fact I believe there are a couple of stories with vague similarities. Except this isn’t Batman, it’s horror.
– Such wonderful British character actors in this; Robert Coote, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, etc.

The Narrow Margin

#49. The Narrow Margin (1952, Fleischer): A


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