Saturday, January 1, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, December 2021

New year, same old blog, right? I didn’t actually watch a lot of movies in December this year, but I did manage to take six off the list, admittedly mostly in the early part of the month. Still, I’m happy to have made a little progress, even if I now need to add several dozen in the guise of films I missed from 2021. I’m really hoping to hit this list a lot harder in the coming year.

What I’ve Caught Up With, December 2021:
Film: Enemy at the Gates (2001)

It seems odd that in 2001 we were given a Western movie with a Soviet hero, but that’s where we are with Enemy at the Gates. These days, Ed Harris’s Nazi sharpshooter would clearly be the hero in some versions of this film, based on the politics of the less stable (and disturbingly large) political right. There is an attempt here to make this a true war epic with destruction and death as well as the obligatory love triangle between sniper Vasily (Jude Law), political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), and interpreter Tania (Rachel Weisz), all with the backdrop of the siege of Stalingrad in WWII. It’s good, but I’m not ready to say it’s great.

Film: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

I’ve suggested The Shop Around the Corner as a film that belongs on the 1001 Movies list, and I stand by it. This is a wonderful little film that is tangentially a Christmas movie in the sense that it takes place in a retail store at Christmas. But it’s so much more. It’s funny and sweet and serious at times. The characters are great and there’s chemistry between all of them. I don’t tend to get sentimental at films in general, but it’s hard not to love this one. Most people will be more familiar with the very substandard You’ve Got Mail remake. This one is light years beyond the remake, and belongs in everyone’s regular rotation.

Film: The Rutles (The Rutles: All You Need is Cash) (1978)

There have been parody bands in the past, of course, and while bands like Spinal Tap and (to some extent) The Monkees have had much greater reach, acclaim, and fame, The Rutles offer a unique idea of parody songsters. The actual “events” of the documentary are funny and are clearly based on a skewed version of The Beatles. But the songs themselves are near-perfect versions of alternate universe Beatles songs. Give a listen to “Get Up and Go” or “With a Girl Like You” and it’s hard to tell that it’s not just an obscure Beatles track. A great cast and tremendous work from Neil Innes make this a film to hunt down, especially if you already love the Fab Four.

Film: Kindergarten Cop (1990)

“I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby” are probably Schwarzenegger’s most-quoted movie lines, but “It’s not a tumor” would rank in the top five (along with “Get to the choppa”). Kindergarten Cop makes Arnie a cop (in his wheelhouse) forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher (way out of his oeuvre). It was either going to be terrible or really entertaining, and it manages to be pretty fun despite being kind of ridiculous at the same time. We’re naturally going to end with a shoot out and action sequences, but watching little kids crawl over Arnie is really entertaining. I’m also in favor of any movie that utilizes the gravitas of Linda Hunt well, and this one does.

Film: D.O.A. (1949)

Film noir is, by its nature, dark. Few of them are as dark as D.O.A., though, which begins with our main character (played by Edmond O’Brien) walking into a police station and telling the officers about his own murder. We’re going to follow a lot of rabbit trails as our doomed protagonist slowly succumbs to a poison he was dosed with for unknown reasons. Marred initially by a series of frivolous wolf whistles in a hotel sequence and suffering slightly from a maudlin moment when he discovers his fate, D.O.A. is nonetheless relentless as it moves toward its dark and inevitable climax.

Film: Justice League: The Snyder Cut

So what is there to say about the four-hour Snyder Cut? It’s certainly more than the original version of Justice League and it probably is better because of it. It does need a bit of a trim, even if it is a better version of the film and one that explores a lot of interesting tangents that the original cut of the film ignores. While it is an improvement, it’s worth saying that for all of the things that Zack Snyder has going for him, he’s not that good of a filmmaker. One way this could be easily shortened is to remove all of the slow motion. Make all of that normal speed and you probably get back 15-20 minutes.


  1. I'm still miffed that Kindergarten Cop was only the Criterion Collection as an April Fool's Joke. I think it's one of Arnold's best films and proof that he is a great actor. The Rutles is a joy to watch as that's a film I like to revisit in relation to The Beatles: Get Back.

    I liked Enemy at the Gates as I thought it was a good sniper film while I really liked Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League as I thought it did more with the characters and the stakes which only makes the theatrical version much worse. I think Snyder has some talent though I can see why people are put off by his style. At least he's not Michael Bay.

    1. Kindergarten Cop really is better than people think. I tend to go to Maggie as an example of Arnie having better acting chops than people think.

      I tend to think of Zack Snyder as sort of serious James Gunn. The problem is that trying to make James Gunn serious just doesn't work. I do go into everything Snyder does hoping I will like it more than I ultimately do. Bay's best work is his one or two lines in Mystery Men, and that douchey frat-bro is exactly how I picture him all the time.

  2. I haven’t seen the first (been meaning to but never seem to get there) or the last (most definitely not my thing) but some of the others you caught are great.

    I liked but didn’t love The Rutles. The one viewing was enough for me though it has been years so if the opportunity presented itself I should probably revisit it.

    Kindergarten Cop has a few jarring moments that don’t completely mesh with the idea of it being a family friendly flick but overall it has a great deal of charm. Arnie is responsible for some of that but the film has a far better cast than his usual fare and a script that while it stretches believability at times presents a cohesive and enjoyable story. Pamela Reed, Penelope Ann Miller, Carroll Baker and even Cathy Moriarty in her small role add a great deal to the film but Linda Hunt’s no nonsense but humane principal may well be my favorite part of the movie.

    D.O.A. is so lean and efficiently directed with Edmond O’Brien an ideal choice for the lead it deserves its reputation. There was a remake in the 80’s with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan that can best be described as ill-advised.

    But the real treasure is The Shop Around the Corner. Its charms are manifest and nearly limitless. Jimmy Stewart and Maggie Sullavan play off each other so beautifully, they were old friends having started out in rep together (along with Henry Fonda). She was instrumental in kick starting Jimmy’s film career, he was just marking time in small parts when she insisted on him being cast as her leading man in “Next Time We Love” which put him on the star path. By all reports Stewart was mad for her and was devastated when she committed suicide, that affection shines brightly in their scenes together. She was always exceptional in her too few films (such a unique performer she is one of my all-time favorites), but I think this is one of his best early performances. If he had to win an Oscar this year I’d much rather it had been awarded for this than The Philadelphia Story.

    If it were just them holding up the film it would be enough but everyone is on their A game. Schildkraut captures the prat Vadas in all his unctuous pomposity and Felix Bressart is a delight as Jimmy’s pal in the shop. But the absolute standout for me is Frank Morgan in the best performance of his career. I know you’ve said before he’s always “Frank Morgan” in his films but his reading here of the cuckolded Mr. Matuschek is beautifully judged. I just cannot believe he was ignored for a nomination, his final scene with Rudy (so great in his small role) gets to me every single time I watch the film. There was another remake in the forties-lightened and musicalized-called in The Good Old Summertime that despite starring Judy Garland is missing the magic of this. You’ve Got Mail managed to squeeze about every drop of appeal out the story, it’s a cold product despite the usually winning Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

    I managed to complete my birthday project! I enjoyed filling in so many blank spaces in my movie knowledge but what a commitment to be sure to carve out time 365 days in a row to watch a film!!!

    I did finish on a high note with Anthony Hopkins’ modern dress version of King Lear with Emma Thompson, Emily Watson and Florence Pugh as his daughters. It was good and worth seeing however suffering somewhat from cuts to the text. But the best of the month was the twisty lower budget thriller Taste of Fear with Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis and Christopher Lee. It was a bit of a slow burn but had a great finale.

    1. I enjoyed The Rutles a great deal simply because of how good the parodies are. With only one or two exceptions, they aren't funny--they're just really good replicas of Beatles tunes. I'm a long-time Beatles fan, so it ticks a lot of boxes for me.

      Kindergarten Cop does have a lot of issues, not the least of which is the ending. But, Linda Hunt goes a long way to assuaging a lot of its problems.

      The Shop Around the Corner, though, really is the class of this collection. It still fires on all cylinders, and it's surprising just how much Lubitsch was able to imply with the film. Suicide attempts, blatant marital infidelity...pretty racy for 1940.