Saturday, March 6, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, February 2021

There are six movies I managed to scratch off the giant list of recommended movies. I probably added that many last month as well, so I feel like I’m treading water. Five of those movies appear here; the six was Ready or Not, which received a full review. I genuinely am hoping for more than half a dozen off this list for March, but my intentions are always good in that respect.

What I’ve Caught Up With, February 2021:
Film: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

I’m predisposed to like a movie that stars a Spanish actress like Salma Hayek (or Penelope Cruz, or Macarena Garcia, or Paz Vega…), but Beatriz at Dinner is one of those movies that applies its message with the subtlety of a meat tenderizer. Beatriz (Hayek) is a “healer,” in quotes here because most of it is spiritual woo. She gets stranded at the house of an obscenely rich client and ultimately sits in at a dinner party of the ultra-rich. Look, my political position is “Bernie Sanders should move left,” but this kind of allegory is embarrassing. Hayek is great, and John Lithgow is a standout as the real estate billionaire, but this is as artful as a knee to the crotch.

Film: October Sky (1999)

I am very much a nerd when it comes to stories about space exploration, especially when they are based on real stories. October Sky is the story of Homer Hickam, Jr., who wanted nothing more than to escape from the West Virginia coal mining town where he grew up. He finds his outlet in rocketry at the beginning of the space race. This is a damn good story about what he manages to overcome—and good because it’s not necessarily what you think it’s going to be. Jake Gyllenhaal is very good as Hickam, as is Laura Dern as the teacher who inspires him. But it’s the always-excellent Chris Cooper as Homer’s dad who makes the movie.

Film: Bernie (2011)

Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, a slightly effeminate assistant mortician in an East Texas town. Bernie befriends a widely disliked wealthy woman (Shirley MacLaine), who slowly becomes more and more possessive of him and his time. Bernie, at his wits’ end, shoots her in something like a fugue state, then hides her in the freezer. When the truth comes out, local DA Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) sets out to prosecute him, but the locals seem more set on having Bernie’s back. This is based on a true story, and it seems that the movie doesn’t do a lot to make the story juicier or sexier. McConaughey is good, as is MacLaine, but this is Jack Black’s defining moment on camera. He’s clearly Jack Black, but he’s never done work like this before.

Film: Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

For my money, the best war movies take place in submarines. There’s something about a sub—the close quarters, the claustrophobia—that ramps up the drama. Submarines, especially in World War II, are a fascinating combination of raw and deadly power with surprising vulnerability. Run Silent, Run Deep is, essentially Moby Dick told with subs and destroyers. A solid cast is led by Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, ably supported by Jack Warden, Brad Dexter, and Don Rickles, among others. I’m not a huge fan of jingoistic military movies, but I am a sucker for a good sub drama. The drama here is good, but the effects are straight out of the bathtub, which is a downer.

Film: The Pink Panther (1963)

While the cartoons that were spawned from the titles of this movie are more famous, this remains a classic comedy of its era. The truth is that the heist aspects of the movie are still a good amount of fun, but the comedy hasn’t managed to hold up very well. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is perhaps the most famous cinematic creation of Peter Sellers, but he’s really just clumsy. The whole thing revolves around a large pink diamond (the “panther” of the title) and, like many a Blake Edwards film, is really just an excuse for a sex comedy. There’s a lot of drinking and everyone seems to be hot for Clouseau’s wife (Capucine). David Niven, Robert Wagner, and Claudia Cardinale round out the cast. I expected this to be a lot funnier than it was. Bit of a disappointment.


  1. I liked Beatriz at Dinner as I just thought Salma Hayek was great as I also liked October Sky while Bernie I think is one of the most underrated films of the 2010s. Notably as I think it's the film that really began the seeds of the McConaughsainnce as it also featured Matthew McConaughey's mother and a lot of revelations about the state of Texas and why it's so fucked up politically.

    I haven't seen a lot of the Pink Panther movies except in bits involving Peter Sellers and that one movie with Roger Moore as Chief Inspector Clouseau and the one movie with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's son.

    1. I am, as mentioned above, predisposed to like Salma Hayek.

      October Sky is a lovely movie. I also love that the title is an anagram of the book it was based on--Rocket Boys.

      Of all of these, though, Bernie was the discovery. Wildly entertaining and unexpected.

  2. I LOVE October Sky!! When I went to see it in the theatre I wasn't sure what to expect not having read the book but was swept into the story from the beginning. This was my first exposure to Jake Gyllenhaal and you just felt that he was going places, there was an intensity and pull to his presence along with his acting talent. I agree that Chris Cooper is great as his father, a difficult man but Cooper makes you see the problems he faces that makes him the way he is. I even admired Laura Dern's work, not always the case. One other thing of note, the film has the most beautifully evocative score. I don't understand how the film missed out entirely at Oscar time.

    I haven't seen Run Silent, Run Deep in years but I did like it. Interesting to see two actors with such strong onscreen personas as Gable and Lancaster go head to head.

    I've steered away from Bernie, it always seemed too strange for me but with your recommendation I'll give it a shot.

    I like Salma Hayek too, but Beatriz at Dinner doesn't sound too intriguing.

    My birthday project is still running apace and like most months I have less than a handful of flicks to recommend.

    My first “Girl on the Run” (1953) comes with a qualified warning. I cannot do better than the description given for the movie- “A hootchy-kootchy whodunit set at a small seedy carnival where a reporter tries to discover who killed his boss while his girlfriend inexplicably joins the burlesque show!” It has a wonderfully sleazy noirish feel, intriguingly strange supporting characters and off kilter camera angles but the leading pair are bland and its low budget constraints keep it from being special. If you watch keep a sharp eye out around the four-minute mark and you’ll clearly see Steve McQueen as a wordless extra!

    Next is “And Then the Darkness” (1970). Two young women, Jane and Cathy are backpacking together in the French countryside, have a disagreement and separate. When Jane (Pamela Franklin) returns to make amends, the other girl has vanished. Jane, unable to speak the language, attempts to locate Cathy as a sense of lurking dread creeps over her. It was very taut with a strong performance by Pamela Franklin.

    The last is “The Rocking Horse Winner” (1949). Initially it seemed like a simple little picture about an isolated young boy who wants to help his distant, financially troubled parents with the help of their gardener (John Mills) but it became increasingly surreal as it went along.

    1. Of everything new to me in February, October Sky would definitely be in the top three, along with Ready or Not and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Innocent Blood and Bernie would round out a top-5.

      I'll be very interested to here what you have to say about Bernie. You could include it in your birthday project--August 28 (Jack Black), April 24 (Shirley MacLaine), or November 4 (Matthew McConaughey). Beatriz at Dinner isn't terrible, but isn't worth a second watch. Hayek is good, as is Lithgow, but there's not much else here.

      And Soon the Darkness has been on the They Shoot Zombies list, which means I should be getting to it eventually. Knowing that you, as a non-horror fan, found it worth seeing makes me a lot more interested in tracking it down.

      Girl on the Run sounds like it should have been directed by Samuel Fuller. Or at least could have been!

    2. Girl on the Run had so much unrealized potential because of the constraints of its budget and less than assured direction. However that lack of dollars lent it the rough seedy air that ran through the film.

      Yes Sam Fuller would have done wonders with it! I also thought of Fritz Lang or Tod Browning as being good fits. All the way through though I kept thinking "This baby would really snap if Robert Ryan and Marie Windsor (or Audrey Totter) were playing the lead couple instead of these drab nonentities."

    3. Okay, now I feel like I have to track it down just for mental casting possibilities.