Saturday, February 5, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, January 2022

I came out of the gate in January a lot faster than I ended last year. While I’m still well below my normal pace, getting through about 30 movies in the month felt like a return to normalcy. A good percentage of those movies are ones that come from this list—I moved a lot of films (and a lot of longer films) off the list. It feels good to be back doing this again even though it’s still less than my normal.

What I’ve Caught Up With, January 2022:
Film: The Suicide Squad (2021)

The more I see from both Zack Snyder and James Gunn, the more I see them as versions of each other. Essentially, I think Snyder is a serious version of Gunn. The problem is that Gunn doesn’t work as a serious director. Gunn wants to have fun in his movies, and The Suicide Squad is exactly that. It’s gross and ridiculous, and the ultimate bad guy is a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man version of Patrick Star with blue highlights. How can you not enjoy watching this? Yes, it’s violent and ridiculous and that’s exactly the point. This is exactly what the DCEU needed—it’s fun.

Film: Scarlet Street (1945)

You have to wonder how it’s possible that Edward G. Robinson went his entire career without being nominated for an Oscar. Scarlet Street ranks among his best work. This is a pitch-black noir, one in which nothing good happens to anyone, particularly our sad sack clerk/amateur painter played by Robinson. Joan Bennett plays our wicked femme fatale who is obsessed with her bad apple boyfriend Johnny, played by the always wonderfully oily Dan Duryea. There’s nothing not to like here from the performances to the tight direction of Fritz Lang, with the possible exception of just how bleak it is. Since I’ve watched this, I have to think about what the biggest hole in my viewing history is now.

Film: The Woman in the Window (1944)

The Woman in the Window was released the year before Scarlet Street, but features most of the same players. This time, Robinson’s Professor Wanley encounters beauty Alice (Joan Bennett) and through a series of circumstances winds up killing her aggressive boyfriend (Arthur Loft). The boyfriend turns out to be a high-powered financier, and the pair are ultimately blackmailed by his driver/bodyguard (Dan Duryea). It’s a dandy noir marred by the ending, which doesn’t really fit the film or the style. All of the players involved did better in their careers, but that doesn’t stop this one from being pretty entertaining for the bulk of the running time.

Film: The Old Guard (2020)

The Old Guard feels like a riff on Highlander in a sense, although there isn’t a desperate need for everyone to kill each other. No, we have a team of people who are essentially immortal who operate as mercenaries because they generally can’t be killed. Oh, they can be, but most of the time, they come back. The plot revolves around a newly awakened immortal named Nile (KiKi Layne) being found by the current group of four and the pursuit of the immortals by a pharmaceutical company who want to harvest their ability to regenerate for medical research. Sounds corny as hell, but it’s a pretty solid actioner. Charlize Theron as always, is a boss, and I’m always happy to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in anything.

Film: The Nightingale (2018)

This is another of those films where nothing good happens to anyone involved, which made it a very difficult watch. A woman (Aisling Franciosi) sent to Australia with her husband as a convict is abused and raped by the commander of the local military troupe, who also kills her husband and child. Enlisting the aid of a local native (Baykali Ganambarr), she hunts them down for revenge. The Nightingale is brutal, and it’s a hard film to recommend because of it. Both Franciosi and Ganambarr are terrific in it, all the more impressive for Ganambarr as it is his screen debut. It’s a film I’m glad I watched, but probably won’t watch again. If you get through the first 15-20 minutes, you can probably make it all the way through.

Film: The Great Race (1965)

What was in the water in 1965? Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines featured an air race from London to Paris. The Great Race features an auto race starting in New York, heading west across the Bering Strait and then across Asia and Europe…to Paris. It follows in the “grand” tradition of Around the World in 80 Days. Tony Curtis’s perfect good guy faces off against Jack Lemmon’s total bad guy, who is aided by goofy assistant Peter Falk. Natalie Wood as a suffragette journalist rounds out the cast. This is evidently what passed for funny in 1965, but every moment is telegraphed and falls flat because of it. The best thing to come from this is that the Wacky Races cartoons were based in large part on it.

Film: Backdraft (1991)

I know a lot of people really like Backdraft, and I guess it was probably a lot more impressive 30 years or so ago. It’s a little surprising this came out the same year as The Silence of the Lambs because there are parts of it that seem like this really wants to be that movie. However, instead of FBI agents hunting a serial killer, it’s Chicago firefighters hunting an arsonist. There will be plenty of rivalry and bad blood between firefighter brothers Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian (William Baldwin), with Robert DeNiro playing a fire investigator. The cast is decent and Ron Howard is a good director, but this is very melodramatic and predictable. I half expected the fire to twirl a pencil-thin mustache at one point.

Film: Super Troopers (2001)

Super Troopers is funny like a cat sliding off a table is funny, or like old National Lampoon bits are funny. This isn’t highbrow humor, but a collection of bits wrapped around a plot concerning a rivalry between Vermont highway patrol and a team of local cops dealing with an influx of drug trafficking. It’s essentially a collection of drug and alcohol jokes and stupid pranks in pursuit of what eventually becomes a plot. There are two opinions regarding Super Troopers. The first is that it’s dumb and a waste of time. The second is that it’s stupidly funny. I’m of the second opinion. I also love that Shakespearean actor Brian Cox agreed to be in this…and he did the sequel as well.


  1. I do love Super Troopers. It is hilarious and I love the fact that it isn't trying to be serious at all. Plus, Brian Cox just kills it in that film. "What are you drunk?" "Drunk enough to kick your ass!"

    My mother and a couple of her friends watched The Old Guard (which I haven't seen) and they enjoyed the hell out of it.

    I saw a bit of The Suicide Squad and you're right. James Gunn is a filmmaker who doesn't take anything seriously and that's why his films are awesome. He knows how to have fun and he knows how to be profane. There's nothing wrong with Zack Snyder as his version of Justice League showed that he does have something to say despite its flaws. It makes the theatrical version of that film even worse.

    1. Super Troopers is low-brow funny, which is great when it's done really well. I look at things like I'm Gonna Get You, Sucka, Pootie Tang, and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist in the same light. It's successful because it makes me laugh.

      The Old Guard is fun. It's not much more than fun, but that's enough.

      Zach Snyder seems like a really nice guy. I think he's got his heart in the right place and he wants to tell cool stories. He's just not that good at it. I always want to like his movies, and I always like them a little less than I want to, but I give him full marks for effort.

  2. We're in agreement on all the ones I've seen: The Suicide Squad, Scarlet Street, The Old Guard, Backdraft. Well, I have seen one other, Super Troopers. I'm not the biggest fan of that one, finding it just okay and way overrated. I still need to see the rest.

    1. Of the ones you haven't seen, The Woman in the Window is fine, but a shadow of Scarlet Street. The Nightingale is very good, but it's also grueling. You can very safely ignore The Great Race for the fluff that it is.

      Super Troopers is oddly polarizing. My wife hated it.

  3. I really liked The Woman in the Window but LOVED Scarlet Street!! The pitch-black tone is perfect for the story and all three leads are exactly right in their roles. As you said it’s incredible that EGR never received an Oscar nomination, equally astonishing is that neither Dan Duryea nor Joan Bennett got nods either. This came right in the middle of Joan’s most fruitful period. She would be my winner for Best Actress for this performance, for that matter Robinson would take the prize for his as well.

    The Great Race is everything you said it was and too long to boot but I have a soft spot for it nonetheless. It comes down to the extreme likability of the main cast. Tony and Jack always played well off each other. Keenan Wynn is fun in his near constant state of exasperation. It’s a nice reminder of what a nimble comic actor Peter Falk could be, Natalie Wood too and she looks ravishing in all her fancy if at times ridiculous costumes. It also has amazing production design even if it does at times swamp the players. It’s madly uneven but I will stop and watch it whenever I run across the movie, odd since I hated Around the World in 80 Days so much.

    Super Troopers had a few moments but overall the love some people have for it eluded me.

    Backdraft was just another actioner with a decent cast.

    1. The Woman in the Window really feels like a light, happier version of Scarlet Street. Same director, same players...hard to get away from that feeling. You're right about Bennett and Duryea--since Duryea specialized so well in that sort of oily bastard, he'd have to have been nominated Supporting, but people are weird and associate the actor with the role. As good as he was, a lot of people won't want to award a "bad guy" with a prize. Still, he was always fun to watch.

      I get the love for The Great Race. There are movies like that for me--Mysterious Island is one I will always watch even though its goofy and weird.

      I understand that Super Troopers is polarizing. I find it funny specifically because it's so dumb. It's 100 minutes where I can turn off my brain and watch a couple of guys chug syrup bottles and see Brian Cox take a bite out of bar of soap.

  4. I'm also a big fan of The Great Race for all the reasons above. Two particular things that I love, Professor Fate's "Push the button, Max" is the inspiration for "Push the button, Frank" on MST3K, and Larry Storch. I LOVE Larry Storch. (Larry Storch is the rough prototype for Burton Gillam and Walton Goggins).

    1. I definitely see Larry Storch as the Burton Gilliam prototype. He's definitely a genetic link to Walt Goggins.

      I get the love; I just don't feel it myself.