All Their Wars Are Merry: Short movie reviews

All Their Wars Are Merry: Short movie reviews November 12, 2016

In the order in which I saw them.

Specter of the Rose: Utterly whackadoo noirish thing by Ben Hecht, set in the world of ballet. You’d think I’d love it! But the acting is just not great, and the main characters are wafer-thin. If you’re more willing than I was to succumb to the pasteboard melodrama of it all you might love this. There is one truly great line: “If we jailed all the people I dislike, the world would become a pensive vacuum.”

Hunger: Intense, complex Bobby Sands/Maze prison hunger strike biopic directed by Steve McQueen. Victor Morton pointed out the use of sound and unexpected camera angles to create disorientation and anxiety. He also notes that it’s almost three separate movies: Act one is institutional life in a horror-prison, with empathy for the guards but unsparing portrayal of their brutality. (And equally blunt portrayal of how it doesn’t actually “work”–the prison is not secure. Every concession the prison administration makes to human kindness is exploited by the strikers and their families; so then the prison fights back with pointless violence and degradation.) Act two is a two-handed argument between Sands and a sympathetic priest. It’s terrific, human-scale and inexorable. Act three is the hunger strike itself. This movie fulfills its mandate with intelligence and artistic rigor.

Don’t Bother to Knock: Brisk, poignant tale of a tough guy (Richard Widmark, always a joy), a hotel chanteuse (Ann Baxter), and a babysitter with some hidden demons (Marilyn Monroe, perfectly portraying a haunted lamb). Surprised to find that this is a movie about empathy: Chicks dig it, but also, chicks can go too far… and you have to empathize anyway, because we all have reasons for what we do. Sexy when it needs to be, horror-tinged when it needs to be (Monroe skids toward The Nanny in one passage), a well-constructed small film.

Dead Ringer: BETTE DAVIS IS TWINS! There is a NOIR HARPSICHORD! Great, great music for this tale of two sisters. Margaret marries the scion of a wealthy California Catholic family (the mantilla Catholicism just drips from this thing–although note that Dona Anna is progressive enough to think you should pray for suicides’ souls, which seems daring to me although I wasn’t around in the early ’60s) and Edith sinks into financial desperation running a cheapie nightclub. When the estranged sisters meet again… crime! passion! Bette Davis not quite managing to act opposite a phantom of herself!

No, this was really fun, a classic crime-doesn’t-pay noir downer. I do think Davis isn’t at her best here, especially in the scenes she shares with herself.

Coming to America: Somehow I had never seen this before. It’s so great, you guys. Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall are both phenomenal in multiple roles. The “dating in New York” montage is ridiculously great (“I have a secret. [pause] I WORSHIP THE DEVIL”), the African costumes and dance are phenomenal, and like Tuff Turf this movie seamlessly meshes shameless adoration of the trappings of wealth and ghetto pride in your ramshackle, violent hometown. The ’80s, my friends. This is streaming on Netflix in the US and you should take advantage if you can.

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