Over at Alex on Film I just finished watching three versions of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon: The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met a Lady (1936), and The Maltese Falcon (1941). The last is the classic directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve posted my notes on the two film versions of The Thomas Crown Affair: 1968 and 1999. Both are slick, but thin on substance, which I think is their point. They offer impressions of the good life, which is all about expensive toys and being free. And this isn’t just the freedom to jet off to wherever you want, and do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it, but freedom to be a total scofflaw. Thomas is, after all, a criminal who gets away with it. In fact, he probably gets away with more than just the heists he likes to pull on the side. I can’t imagine Crown’s business, whatever it is it does, being squeaky clean.
In the 1968 version Thomas was a rebel, and thirty years later a libertarian. Is there some hypocrisy in the political right criticizing the Woodstock generation for its “freedom, baby!” attitude while presenting itself as the upholder of law and order? I think so. From Steve McQueen to Bill Clinton to Pierce Brosnan to Donald Trump: hasn’t Thomas Crown just got older, without changing party?
Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some film versions of Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth. Or at least the 1972 Laurence Olivier-Michael Caine Sleuth and the 2007 Michael Caine-Jude Law Sleuth, with 1982’s Deathtrap (Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve) sandwiched in-between. Deathtrap is actually based on Ira Levin’s play, but it also clearly derives from Sleuth, and may even be closer to Shaffer’s play than the 2007 movie, which was written by Harold Pinter.
I wasn’t sure when I started my movie blog that I’d get to 1,000 posts. Then for a while I imagined I might try to do a special film to mark the occasion. Citizen Kane. Casablanca. Vertigo. Something like that.
One thing I’ve found as I’ve gone on, however, is that doing commentaries on those movies is nearly impossible. This is, in part, because so much (really, everything) has already been said about them. Just in jotting down some personal impressions and reflections, which is all I do at Alex on Film, would require too much work. I do listen to commentaries when available. I do try to read up on some of the basic background and criticism that’s out there. But the field has become so overgrown in many cases that the volume of it is self-defeating.
Who can hope to read everything that’s been written on Psycho? Who would want to tackle Blade Runner? These movies have millions of words dissecting their every frame in print, with millions more online. Nobody can read all of it. And what do you do when the DVDs for not-quite-great films like Fight Club or Hostel come with four full-length audio commentaries each?
I think this is the reason you find so many movie blogs talking about really obscure titles that almost nobody has seen. Critics want to feel like they have some elbow room, or aren’t just reinventing the wheel. What’s interesting is that the same attitude doesn’t seem to apply to fiction. A book that doesn’t find an audience, critical or otherwise, is just ignored. Nobody wants to go near it. Even if it’s a great book that somehow got overlooked. But even the dreariest exploitation flick from the 1960s seems to be able to find an audience today online. I’m not sure why that is.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some movies loosely (very loosely) based on the Old English poem Beowulf. I’m not sure what the attraction for filmmakers is, since despite having lots of classic fantasy elements (a powerful hero, a witch, a monster), the story is kind of bare bones. As a result, these movies indulge in a lot of freestyle reinterpretation. Some of it works, some doesn’t.
Despite its reputation as a box office bomb, which may not be wholly deserved, The 13th Warrior (1999) is actually pretty good. Beowulf & Grendel (2005) only has a few moments set amidst some nice scenery. Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (2007) has dated so badly in only ten years that it’s unwatchable.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve posted my picks in various categories for the best (and worst) in 2018 movies. What makes my year-end wrap-up different from other end-of-the-year lists is the fact that I only saw thirteen new (that is, released in 2018) movies in 2018. So I didn’t have a lot to choose from! That made things a bit difficult, But if nothing else, the nominees aren’t all the usual suspects.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of horror movies that fit into what I call the Ghostbusters paradigm, where a team of specialists equipped with all the latest toys investigate weird goings-on. I believe the genre started with the BBC film The Stone Tape, and it’s had a long and varied history. Of course, this being the movie business science is always shown to be inadequate when it comes to combating the forces of evil. Just as religion also usually fails. Anyway, here’s the line-up of movies I looked at.