Wow, guys, this is a lot. Strap in.
A Cottage on Dartmoor: British silent revenge flick; very grabby with the intercutting and the emotional intensity; ends with quite poignant scene of forgiveness. Forgiveness, rather than reunion, as the climax of a love story.
Laura: Noir (although the noir style mostly doesn’t kick in until late) and mostly standard, although I liked how pleasant and undefensive the career-woman scenes were. There’s a specific kind of relationship here, the man who mentors a woman and believes that gives him rights to her, which I’ve rarely seen explored in film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Here we go. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this too much–I love ’80s horror, but the exception to that rule is most slashers (the exception to the exception is My Bloody Valentine), and for some reason I always filed Freddy under “slasher.” But Nightmare is so great at capturing two atmospheres: the sideways logic of dreams, and the tilting ironic/iconic beloved suburban childhood. Elm Street feels like Kingston Falls in Gremlins: a place being longed for just a little more than it’s being spoofed.
And what the parents do, the specific reason the teens are left to save themselves, is so creepy and real: They’ll do anything to protect their kids, except believe them. (This is a movie about a man who hurts children; and about the street, the community, where he lives.) Also hey, it’s pretty rare that you get a nuanced portrait of alcoholism in a Hollywood flick, especially parental alcoholism, so here you go, I loved Nancy’s mom: self-medicating her own trauma, aka being a defensive mess.
Full of the sleazy pleasures for which we love this era of filmmaking–that hand in the bath! But there’s also the genuine emotion, and cutting insight, in Nancy’s mom’s line, “He can’t get you, because Mommy killed him.” She’s wrong.
An American Tail: I hadn’t watched this one since the Reagan administration. And the first thing you notice is how gorgeous it is. Even the pogrom is beautiful, I mean that’s just wrong.
Feivel the Russian-Jewish immigrant mouseling hovers on the edge between “endearingly annoying” and “incredibly annoying,” for me, but this is a movie that knows how to please its audience. The songs are great. “No Cats in America” is somehow even better than I remembered–and so dark! Everybody’s family is dead, let’s sing!–with the Ashkenazic, Spanish, Italian, and Irish verses. (That’s how many ethnicities there are in the world, yes.) I will forgive the creepy American optimism of “Never Say Never” (the worst song btw, though that’s a high bar) because the other songs are so great. And the cat who befriends Feivel! Ah, such a dumb, perfect choice, America is a glorious mosaic so of course we’ve gotta have a cat who’s good.
I note that there are both Spanish and Irish rosaries but an odd lack of Jewish religious imagery. The Mousekewitzes are celebrating Hanukkah at the beginning (and lol of course it’s Hanukkah and not Passover or, for something especially thematically-appropriate, Purim) but we don’t even see them light candles iirc.
Also we have species diversity with the good cat, but unless you count some fairly tan speechless women in the sweatshop, the only black or brown person in this entire movie about the glorious diversity and freedom of the U.S.A. is James Ingram dueting on “Somewhere Out There” over the end credits. It’s a Mobius strip where one side is rah-rah patriotic and one side is critical and you can run your finger over its one flat surface endlessly! And the streets are paved with cheese.
The Road to El Dorado: Man, what a weird movie. So, the good: This is a children’s cartoon about two con artist dudes who deeply love each other, and then they meet a lady con artist who is more than a match for them. There is a lot of psychedelic pseudo-Aztec animation. The con artists are Kenneth Branagh (lol) and Kevin Kline (!) and Rosie Perez (in glorious 2D as always), and Chel the lady con artist is sexy to a degree that is just distressing, she is the Hot Fox Robin Hood of the year 2000. The bit where she purrs, “I’m not asking you to trust me,” is just… I already don’t feel right about how much I’ve written about the seductive charms of a cartoon for children, but have you seen this thing?
The bad: The songs are reprehensibly terrible. The movie is padded and meandering. The soccer game is fun, if unnecessary, and sure, okay, I’ll always have time for a giant robot jaguar (WHAT IN THE SAM HILL), but… there’s also a domino rally. A domino rally, and a ton of unnecessary setup for the armadillo ball (I don’t need to be prepared for an armadillo that’s a ball; I will accept it), and basically nobody seems to have asked what would make sense to have in this movie. For good and for ill, I guess. Anyway, the songs are super awful.The… unwise: This is a movie about how Spaniards save the Aztecs from 100% actual human sacrifice. Without Christianity, because let’s not get too crazy here.
The disappointing to me personally: I find stories about con artists who discover an unexpected longing for inner peace, and find a community they wish to enter and serve, genuinely moving. So I wanted a lot more intensity and honor for Miguel’s dilemma when he has to choose between the peaceful community and his friendship with Tulio.
The gay: So there are intense, intimate, devoted same-sex friendships that are expressed in language and imagery taken from the history of friendship. This history often uses language and imagery taken from brotherhood and marriage, kind of mashed up together; that’s all very traditional.
And then there are intense, intimate, devoted same-sex friendships expressed in the language and imagery of Elton John.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes: Billy Wilder gradually switches from a funny (/sad, jokes about how horrifying homosexuality is obviously ring harder against my ear than they’re really supposed to here) romp to a gorgeous costume piece and love story. I love that both of Sherlock’s “cases” here are kind of humiliating catastrophes–the Russian ballet case prefiguring the larger mystery. Once the action moves to Scotland everything gets absolutely stunning to look at. This wasn’t quite my thing, but many elements of it pleased me.
Confession: OKAY PEOPLE. So this is a 2005 movie in which a Bad Boy (Chris Pine and his bizarre facial features) at a ritzy Catholic prep school accidentally kills another boy and confesses it to a priest, who then ends up under suspicion for murdering the kid.
So you remember how I Confess was, honestly, kind of slow, and deeply tragic? What if you sped it up, replaced the shadows and staircases with teen starlets, and made it incredibly and explicitly pious? Or let’s ask the question from the other end: What if you took a bright senior-class theology discussion of guilt and confession, and turned it into a late-night TV thriller?
I am ashamed of how much I loved this thing, really. It’s somehow both sleazy and preachy! The hero priest rants about how we live in a degenerate age, numbed by TV violence, and then he goes and sits in the confessional reading Preparation for Death! The final scene involves the Elevation of the Host actually touching the conscience of a bitter ex-Catholic. That happens. I mean, it is all… “unconvincing” isn’t really the right word, because the movie never aims for realism. It’s cartoonish. There’s a childishness to the faith and morals here: The bad boy will always escalate to killin’ folk, he will always repent, Father Mary Sue is utterly put-upon and has a tragic backstory to make his suffering all the more poignant, I mean it’s all just slathered on with a trowel. And there are these flashes of bad conscience, like the movie itself knows that it shouldn’t be made this way, that a channel-flipping insomnia cable exploitation flick shouldn’t also be a catechism class. Toward the end we’re shown something that makes it obvious that the school uses corporal punishment, and yet the movie never shows that punishment. I have literally never seen another flick make that particular choice! How can a movie be simultaneously prurient and discreet? Is it modesty, or sheer lunacy?
And the film gains a lot of resonance from something it never mentions: the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. The very first scene shows a man staring at a priest’s collar, totally distracted by whatever strange thoughts the priest’s uniform calls up in his mind. There’s an unsettled feeling in the movie, as if everybody knows that a priest can do anything. Maybe he could kill a teenage boy. But maybe he could also–and this is the thing Hitchcock’s audience couldn’t believe, but maybe ours can–give his freedom, reputation, even his life for the seal of the confessional. The sheer alienness of the priest is what makes his holiness plausible. (Add to that the way the bad kid constantly steals and wears priests’ outfits, and you get this great thing where priests are simultaneously completely Other and completely us. The priesthood of all sinners. There are all these unexpected pieces of intelligence scattered throughout the movie, like when the priest logically should be asking if the bad boy can repent, but what he actually asks is whether the kid can forgive.)
I don’t know, you guys. This is a bad movie. It’s silly, it’s cliched, its Catholicism is propagandistic–and yet what on earth, it’s kind of brilliant, what other teen thriller ends with the Elevation of the Host? You can rent this thing on YouTube and I confess, I’m glad I did.