Older films seen in 2023, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 editions. Most of these are really quick comments - typically scribbled down in 10-15 minutes without benefit of notes - and any resulting wit or insight should be viewed as an accidental by-product. Slightly more thoughtful capsules may be found on the now-defunct old reviews page.

All films, both from this year and the 20 previous ones, can be accessed alphabetically. Most can be viewed ranked by rating as well, though I'm still not sure what that's all about.

[Addendum, February 2009: I've now stopped doing reviews of new movies, but I'll continue to update this page; however, this is purely for my own benefit - since I can't always remember when I watched an oldie, so it's handy being able to find them here - and I won't be going any deeper or writing any more than I used to (probably the opposite). I am not reinventing this as a classic-movie site, nor do I set myself up as an expert on oldies. Or anything, really...]

DRAGNET GIRL (65) (Yasujiro Ozu, 1933): Unfamiliar territory for Ozu, from the boxing gyms and billiard rooms of the early scenes to the lovers-on-the-run melodrama of the final act (the weakest part), also droll seeing Kinuyo Tanaka as a gangster's moll - she leads a double life as an office typist - the strap of her dress frequently slipping provocatively. The director changes his style, the visuals unusually expansive, choreographing large groups, playing with focus and the depth of the frame - one early scene in a dance hall has the couple starting to dance, dancing off into the background, then three random girls playing with yo-yos enter the frame to fill the gap. The many signs in English speak to the influence of SCARFACE and Co. though in fact the minor gangsters often seem like the mischievous kids in Ozu's other films of the period; also a barely-concealed gay subtext, with a girl-on-girl kiss - actually a peck on the cheek, but then why hide it? - shifted offscreen by cutting to feet instead of faces. A youthful lark, and more.

GREY GARDENS (62) (Albert & David Maysles, 1975): Is Little Edie just bitter? Is Big Edie controlling, abusive? Hard to say because the film is a performance, though not in the way of today's documentaries where subjects act out a story, playing 'themselves' as if the camera didn't exist, more in the way of an intimate (but self-conscious) conversation with an invited guest. The Maysles are characters too, addressed by name and sometimes responding; there's no character arc, just a 90-minute slice of someone's life - and of course the 'someones' are quasi-celebs, related to Jackie Kennedy ("The hallmark of aristocracy is responsibility," muses Little Edie, and they're probably as close as it gets to American aristocracy), a snobby aspect that's a little tacky and tawdry. The BABY JANE aspect makes up for it, a sense of curdled glamour and faded beauty, the younger woman especially fascinating - childlike, attention-seeking, but also sad, still waiting (at 56) for her life to begin. She rambles on about clothes, recalls old regrets, worries about pilfering, meanwhile her mother sings 'Tea for Two' in a still-melodious voice, sitting up in bed in a big floppy hat. The voyeurism must've seemed more shocking in '75, but the pathos remains.

THE ANDERSON TAPES (71) (Sidney Lumet, 1971): Remarkable act of self-sabotage, refreshing the parts other heist movies don't reach - and in fact steer away from. TAKING OF PELHAM 123 mixed the genre with comedy in similar ways, but the script here systematically wrecks tension (the heist-movie pleasure of a plan being laid) at every turn, constantly making clear that everything the gang do is being watched or listened to - a take on the surveillance society 50 years before the fact (or just a premonition of Watergate a couple of years in advance) and/or a rueful comment on Mr. Anderson himself, a doomed criminal forever "hammering at locked doors". Self-consciousness is absolutely everywhere, a Mafia guy turned businessman bemoans his growing softness - "Man's a hunting animal", yet here he is worrying about "crabgrass in the lawn and worms in the fuckin' poodle" - and decides to finance the score as a sort of gesture, even though "it's gonna be a disaster", later our hero is confronted by his girlfriend's sugar daddy - amassed while he was in the slammer - who shakes his head at the foolishness of the whole situation ("Fighting over a woman..."), later still the heist itself is broken up with flash-forwards to its own aftermath, once again adding self-consciousness and exploding tension (albeit smartly managing not to spoil how it actually turned out). The only flaw is perhaps that the heist is dumb and wouldn't have worked anyway - the tenants would surely have recognised the flamboyant little man who knocked on their doors, giving his real name, a few days earlier - some may also find the fact of a racist, homophobic world to be a 'flaw' but it only underlines the implicit social angle of the gang as a symbol of all those demeaned by the System. The final joke is perhaps a little obscure, or perhaps - given all the fuss about being caught with "illegal" tapes, privacy still being a thing in the early 70s - the joke's on us.

CROSSFIRE (73) (Edward Dmytryk, 1947): Second or third viewing, first in >25 years. Brilliantly done for such a totally unsubtle Message Movie - and yes, it's a little painful watching pipe-smoking cop Robert Young spell out the message (anti-Semitism bad), or the Army guy who turns up for 30 seconds just to make it crystal-clear that the Army doesn't condone this kind of behaviour, but the dialogue is pungent, I dug the fusion of two total opposites - noir and didactic - and even the message is refreshingly reasonable, compared to the extreme victimisation and melodramatic politics we see today (basically that the virulently anti-Semitic killer is an outlier, but still fed by everyday bigotry). Even better is the post-war confusion and free-floating hatred, now that the "win-the-war peanut" has been consumed, even better is Robert Mitchum opining on the general craziness - "It's not just you. The snakes are loose, anybody can get them. I get 'em myself, but they're friends of mine" - best of all is Gloria Grahame as the floozy with an unhappy story and Paul Kelly as 'The Man', her unhinged, possibly shell-shocked husband (?). A slow-dance in a forgotten garden, terrific stuff.

MARCH 1, 2023

1989 REVISITED, second viewings after many years:

PSYCHO II (53) (Richard Franklin, 1983): A thoughtful (and not very scary) psychological drama, but I reckon the doubters at the time were right: PSYCHO is a film of shocks, and once the ambiguity is resolved there's nothing to replace it except less compelling ambiguity. Perkins does a properly poignant variation of the ex-con who's trying to go straight but that dynamic seems a bit lethargic for a psycho killer, nor does the film ever square the circle between viewing him as a victim and a potential monster. Shot through with reverence - opens with the actual shower scene from the original, closes with the producers acknowledging their debt to "Sir Alfred Hitchcock" - but also irreverence, Norman deadpan-reacting to every sudden noise and request for a knife (to cut a sandwich), and of course it saves its trump card for last (the clever staging suggesting that it might be all in his head). Only unforgettable bit: the shovel.

THE CYCLIST (70) (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1989): Just pure chaos and I'm not sure it works, the construction is so slapdash it mangles the narrative; still unclear what happens when the gangsters decide to sabotage our hero (but fail), it looks like the nurse gives the drugged (?) glass of milk to the doctor by mistake (?), but it all happens so choppily and chaotically it's hard to tell. Then again, Makhmalbaf's construction - in the sense of spending time on connective tissue - has often been slapdash (it's why I don't love A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE as much as most people), and in this case it doesn't really matter because the style is so fevered and the subject so explicitly "a circus", recalling Kusturica (the barker looks a bit like the uncle in TIME OF THE GYPSIES) or, I guess, Fellini - but political. Very hot lighting, dramatic score, baroque foreground/background compositions - but also e.g. a shot of a dying woman gasping, reaching out for an oxygen mask in the foreground, then money changes hands, a phone call is made, and a nurse lets her have the oxygen mask. Social decay and social comment, just a few years after the revolution, our hero an Afghan immigrant so desperate he embarks on a stunt reminiscent of the dance marathon in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (explicitly referenced) - but we open, spectacularly, on a daredevil biker cross-cut with Dickensian misery in a dingy hospital, later we cross-cut (why?) between dynamic shots of a buzkashi game (the polo-like Afghan game played on horseback) and an old man lying down - trying to kill himself? - beneath a moving bus, his head about to be crushed by the wheel. A line of boys appear in matching uniforms, all holding roses; onlookers get their moments, there's a tragic flashback (or fantasy) and an odd charming interlude with two kids hiding under a hospital bed, giggling at a bandy-legged doctor. Frantic, satirical, exciting to watch.

ILLEGAL (54) (Lewis Allen, 1955): Didn't realise this was actually remaking a pre-Code film (THE MOUTHPIECE), crossed my mind more than once that the lawyer's antics - winning one case by slugging a witness in the courtroom, another by chugging down a slow-acting poison - felt less like the mid-50s and more like something Lee Tracy might've done in the early 30s (though it was actually Warren William). Edward G. Robinson is too old for the role, his repeated "Father's orders" to Nina Foch should be poignant but he actually is old enough to be her father, the script alternates between too much exposition and too little - there are gaps; our hero's fortunes seem to change quite abruptly - and the melodramatic finale, EGR lurching into court, is a bit much. Still some meaty plotting, and two nice surprises on the fringes: Jan Merlin (who?) giving out Dan Duryea vibes as coolly efficient hitman 'Mr. Garth', and a young Jayne Mansfield as an ambitious chanteuse, unexpectedly resolving the narrative through her resentment at being called a "dumb broad".

DEATH RIDES A HORSE (59) (Giulio Petroni, 1967): Very ragged plotting, which is sometimes not a bad thing (we skip the exposition, going straight from John Phillip Law as a child watching his family get killed to all grown up and seeking revenge, of course) but mostly takes away from the effect; plot reversals pile up, often without much build-up, JPL suddenly ties a locomotive (how?) to the bars of Lee Van Cleef's prison cell in order to break him out, and even the beats in the final shoot-out don't really land as they should (the death of the chief baddie - the ringleader in that long-ago slaughter - happens without JPL even being aware of it; that dust storm also seems a bit arbitrary). "I'm on your side," says our hero to victimised blacks and Mexican peasants, straining for some kind of political angle - but mostly it's a case of Van Cleef being untypically avuncular as well as a badass, bits of burlesque comedy (the drunken wife), Petroni adding sub-Leone style (zooms, ECUs of eyes, gratutous pans around the card table), and Morricone's choral score sounding downright African amid the barren landscapes. On the one hand, feel I'm underrating; on the other, further proof that the spaghetti Western was more a case of one (maybe two) world-class directors than a really fruitful genre.

FEBRUARY 1, 2023

JANUARY 1, 2023