Saturday, March 5, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, February 2022

I made a lot of progress on this list in February. A lot of that progress is in movies from the last couple of years, and I put up full reviews of several. These include Malignant, Suspiria, No Time to Die, and Titane as well as both Don’t Look Up and Nightmare Alley, which I saw before the Oscar nominations were announced. With those that are going to be reviewed here, I was again recent movie-centric, but there are a few older ones as well.

What I’ve Caught Up With, February 2022:
Film: Destination Wedding (2018)

A rom-com for people who hate rom-coms, Destination Wedding features a self-loathing Winona Ryder paired up with a world-hating Keanu Reeves heading to a wedding in California wine country. The two hate each other, but essentially refuse to talk to anyone else at the wedding, somehow less miserable making each other miserable than they would be in other circumstances. The dialogue is biting and cynical, the observations are cruel, and it’s a lot funnier than it has any right to be. It won’t be some people’s cup of arsenic, but those who like it will like it a great deal.

Film: Hoop-La (1933)

A pre-code drama/romance featuring the naïve young son of a carnival manager and the hoochie-coochie dancer with a bad reputation. The bland Chris (Richard Cromwell) falls hard for dancer Lou (Clara Bow) as a revenge plot from Carrie (Minna Gombell). Why? Because Chris’s dad Nifty (Preston Foster) dumps her when Chris shows up at the carnival. The scam fails to take, though, when Lou somehow actually falls for Chris. This is nothing special aside from the entertaining performance of Clara Bow in what would turn out to be her final screen role. It’s worth seeing for that and not a great deal else.

Film: False Positive (2021)

There is something very upsetting about the process of childbirth, which is why so many horror movies touch on the idea of birth. That’s clearly the case with False Positive, which chronicles the fertility troubles of Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux). Convined to use a specialist (Pierce Brosnan), things start to go strange for Lucy almost immediately. There is the danger of a “magical Negro” stereotype here that is nicely sidestepped, but False Positive could be a lot more than it ends up being. As disturbing as this wants to be, it’s really just a lot more disappointing than anything. The gore at the end feels gratuitous rather than earned.

Film: This Property is Condemned (1966)

This is a frustrating movie, not because of quality or cast, but because of where it goes. It’s a movie that very much wants to have a happy ending for Owen (Robert Redford) and Alva (Natalie Wood). But, this is a movie based on a one-act Tennessee Williams play, so there’s not going to be a happy ending for anyone. Railroad man Owen arrives in a nothing little town to lay off much of the railroad crew and ends up spending time with Alva, the town flirt, who is pursued by all of the local men. The conflict isn’t with those men in general, but with Alva’s mother (Kate Reid) who sees Alva’s youth and beauty both as a ticket out of poverty and as something to be jealous of. Mary Badham rounds out a solid cast, but this is a sad one, which is exactly what you should expect from the source material.

Film: The Dig (2021)

There is something very wistful to me about archaeology, and The Dig matches that feeling for me. An untrained excavator named Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) is hired by estate-dwelling widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to dig up burial mounds on her estate. It is soon evident that the mounds house something extraordinary. The looming winds of World War II, pressure from the British Museum, and more conspired to make the dig fraught with emotion. This is enhanced by the love triangle between married archaeologists Stuart and Peggy Piggott (Ben Chaplin and Lily James) and Edith’s cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn), who steps in when Stuart is inattentive as well as Edith’s serious heart condition. It’s beautiful and sad, and a reminder that even academia has haves and have-nots, and even pure science is often unfair.

Film: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

It would be easy to call this derivative of other teen/high school comedies like Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but Rock ‘n’ Roll High School came first. If it needs to be derivative of something, that something is probably Animal House. If I’m honest, I have to say that it’s not very good, but it’s a dandy vehicle for a bunch of Ramones tracks (and some Nick Lowe, DEVO, Velvet Underground and more). The plot is dumb, but it’s funny dumb, and not a one of the Ramones can read a line well, but who cares? Blow up the damn school and rock out with your cock out.

Film: Clash by Night (1952)

Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe in one of her first serious roles and directed by Fritz Lang? Clash by Night isn’t the best film of anyone involved, but it’s good enough to be worth seeing. Party girl Mae (Stanwyck) returns to her fishing trade hometown and settles down with (and settles for) dumb, but sweet and solid Jerry (Paul Douglas) but immediately falls for Jerry’s crude friend Earl (Ryan). It’s a dirty love triangle that wants to be a noir but can’t quite get all the way there. It’s good, if not great, and there is an unpleasant racist moment in the middle of it that strikes a very ugly chord today.


  1. I'm glad you liked The Dig more than I did!

    1. I have a soft spot for archaeology. I spent part of a summer on a dig once, and when I went back to school, I started in the anthropology department, so I'm predisposed to like a film like this one.

  2. Glad to know someone here loves the Ramones. I love that film. Yeah, it doesn't have a great plot but it's so much fun. If you're on Letterboxd, the film's director Allan Arkush is a user there as I've chatted with him a few times and he's a cool dude.

    I do want to see Destination Wedding as I do love Keanu and Winona as it is believed that they're married to each other in real-life even though Keanu is with someone else but neither Keanu and Winona want to divorce. It's because they took part in a wedding ceremony in Romania thinking it was fake but years later learned it was real but I know why they won't divorce. Taxes.

    1. Destination Wedding is not going to be anyone's favorite film, but for the right mindset, it's fun. There are some very solid one-liners in it.

      Somewhere in the depths of YouTube, there is a video of my younger daughter at about five years old dancing wildly to "I Wanna Be Sedated."

  3. Clara Bow deserved to go out on a higher note than Hoopla but it’s no disgrace. As always, she’s incredibly alive on screen and fiercely magnetic, it’s such a shame she was coming apart at the seams behind the scenes including suffering from a severe case of mike fright which forced her to withdraw from public life. While this is no Call Her Savage it is worth seeing. I’m a fan of both Preston Foster and Minna Gombell but agree that Richard Cromwell is a good looking blank. A little factoid about him, he was Angela Lansbury’s first husband (she was a VERY naïve 19 to his 35 and had no clue that he was marrying her as a cover for his homosexuality-they were divorced within a year but remained on friendly terms for the rest of his life).

    Clash by Night doesn’t gel as well as it seems that it should loaded as it is with talent both in front and behind the camera. But Fritz Lang shoots it with his customary hard edge and the three leads all do exemplary work. Particularly and unsurprisingly Barbara Stanwyck, she makes you feel Mae’s ennui and resignation. The really interesting aspect of the picture to me is the role Marilyn Monroe plays. Peggy is very much an atypical part for her since she’s just a regular girl, albeit a very attractive one but not marked out as special. She works hard to blend into the ensemble and comes across as intelligent and sweet, though what she sees in Keith Andes character outside the superficial is a mystery-he is attractive and remarkably fit for the 50’s but the man is a Neanderthal!

    This Property is Condemned is messy though that sort of fits the story it’s telling but it’s a lesser Williams adaptation. You sure can’t beat the cast, Natalie and Bob Redford are at the peak of their attractiveness and give fine performances in roles that could have used a bit more clarity and the caliber of the actors that surround them is dizzying.

    Destination Wedding was okay. I didn’t hate it, but I found it wearying after a while, the two main characters were just so thorny it was hard to warm to them.

    Ya Rock and Roll High School is all about the music, but it’s terrific music. Probably better to buy the soundtrack!

    I’ve heard of The Dig, but it’s been all negative. I do like films set in that sort of milieu so if I have a chance I might give it a shot. Again it has a good cast, well Lily James’ appeal eludes me but other than she it seems pretty stacked.

    1. I didn't know that about Cromwell. "Good looking blank" is a very nice and politic description of him. He makes no impression, and that's a real problem for a film when a vibrant personality like Lou needs to find him irresistible.

      I agree about Clash by Night. It's a dynamite cast and the movie never quite lives up to it, but Marilyn is very interesting in the role she's in. She's rarely the focus, but when she's on camera, she's as magnetic as she ever was. Stanwyck, of course, can do no wrong.

      This Property is Condemned is lesser Williams, but there are few of his stories where I more actively want a happy ending for many of the characters and am certain I won't get them.

      Rock 'n' Roll High School is terrible, of course, but it's the right kind of terrible. The music sells it for me, even the odd moments like the hall monitors jumping on a motorcycle with "Come Back Jonee" playing. While the acting is terrible and the plot sucks, the music is almost always perfectly chosen.

      The Dig almost certainly isn't as good as I think it is. I have a fondness for archaeology in general, and in another life could have easily ended up in that field, so there's going to be some bias there.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly that Cromwell's insipidness is the major flaw of Hoopla. For the story to work the part needed someone like the young stud that Clark Gable was at this point in time with his own powerful aura.

      It's a pity that Clara and Gable were never cast together. They seem like they would have made a combustible team, particularly when you consider how well he paired with her successor, Jean Harlow (Red-Headed Woman-Jean's first big success at MGM-was developed especially for Clara but she suffered a nervous breakdown during the planning stage opening the door for Jean)

    3. For what it's worth, it was a very bizarre double feature with Nightmare Alley.

      I just check on the career of Cromwell. Hoop-La is the fourth film of his I've seen and he makes no impression on me in any of them, which is not a good sign, since he's high in the billing in a couple of them. In fact, he is so bland in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer that when I introduced the character, I forgot to include his name as the actor.