Part 2 — May 1 to May 23
As I mentioned in Part 1, until movie theaters reopen, I’ll continue seeing films on my laptop or our flat screen TV. Nothing beats seeing them on a theater screen, but until they reopen, this will have to do. I saw 61 films between April 4 and May 23. Here are notes on a few of those, taking up where I left off in the previous post, listed in the order I saw them.
Unless otherwise specified, these films are all available from Amazon Prime.
I’d only seen You Can Count on Me once before, when it was released in 2000, but it stayed with me. Kenneth Lonergan’s first feature — he wrote as well as directing — is extraordinary and deeply moving. The writing is incredible and the performances outstanding. Even though Mark Ruffalo has credits going back to 1989, this was when I became aware of him, and also the first time I remember seeing Laura Linney. It was the first real screen role for Rory Culkin, who plays Linney’s young son. The relationship he has with Ruffalo, who plays Linney’s visiting brother, is wonderful. Their night out playing pool in a local tavern is a charmer. This is a film I love, and I don’t know why it took so long for me to see it again. (Viewed on DVD)
Seeing Laura Linney in You Can Count on Me made me think of a film we’d liked that she did with Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages (2007 – Tamara Jenkins, director). So that was next on the list. Linney and Hoffman play a brother and sister with a cantankerous relationship who suddenly have to move their father into a nursing home. They’re really great, no surprise there. The final image with a dog on the reservoir track in Central Park is deeply moving and hopeful.
Not sure why, but Elmore Leonard came to mind and I naturally thought of two excellent movies made from his novels, Out of Sight (1999 – directed by Steven Soderbergh) and Get Shorty (1995 – directed by Barry Sonnenfeld). Both were scripted by Scott Frank, who perfectly captured Leonard’s tone and language. I think Out of Sight is the better film, but Get Shorty — especially John Travolta — is so much fun it’s impossible to resist.
Directed by Howard Hawks in 1946 and written by Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, and William Faulkner, The Big Sleep is near perfection. It has one of the definitive Humphrey Bogart performances as private eye Philip Marlowe. This was Lauren Bacall’s second time co-starring with Bogart after To Have and Have Not (1944 – also directed by Hawks). Their on-screen chemistry is almost supernatural. A really great film. I’ve seen it many times and it’s always a pleasure.
Bogart again. Black Legion (1937 – Archie Mayo, director). This is a film I knew basically nothing about. I saw a reference to it somewhere recently and looked to see if it could be streamed. I was suitable impressed. Bogart plays a factory worker who gets persuaded to join a Ku Klux Klan-inspired group known as the Black Legion. This was before his screen persona became more defined. He’s quite good in the role. The film resonates with today in unsettling ways, particularly in the anti-immigrant, “America first” views professed by the Black Legion. Where have I heard that lately?
If I believed in the concept of guilty pleasures, which I don’t, films like this would probably be one of them. Den of Thieves (2018 – Christian Gudegast, director & writer) strives for epic scale, and with a running time of 148 minutes and solid production values and performances, it almost gets there. Gerard Butler leads an elite squad of cops trying to take down an elite gang of bank robbers. He’s an actor with a kind of thuggish charm who often edges into the unappealing for me. But not this time. He fits this part perfectly. Butler frequently plays action heroes who save the day a la Bruce Willis in films such as Olympus Has Fallen (2013), London Has Fallen (2016), and Angel Has Fallen (2019). These are films that can be fine to watch if you take your brain out of gear. That said, I saw Den of Thieves in a theater and watched it again here. It’s a cut above. A sequel is on the way.
I saw The Company Men (2010 – John Wells, director & writer) at a screening ten years ago. I always intended to see it again, so when I was thinking of what to watch last month, it came to mind. The Company Men is a very well made film concerning a group of executives in a ship-building company who get laid off and have to deal with finding work again. The excellent cast is led by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner. Chris Cooper is particularly affecting.
The Quarry (2020 – Scott Teems, director & co-writer) may not be fully realized, but it sure sets a mood. Shea Whigham plays a man on the run who kills a preacher at the outset and takes his place in a small Texas town. Michael Shannon, tightly wrapped as usual, is the town sheriff who knows there’s something off about Whigham. Both are excellent actors who seldom disappoint. They previously acted together in Jeff Nichols’ terrific feature Take Shelter (2011) and the 6-part Netflix series Waco (2018). If not for the current pandemic, The Quarry would certainly have played in theaters before being released to streaming, but this is where we are. It’s very noirish, which is always good. It never quite gets there, but I found it well worth seeing.
Just as seeing Laura Linney in You Can Count on Me made me want to see her in The Savages, that film made me want to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man (2014 – Anton Corbjin, director), which was his final leading film role. This in turn made me want to see him in Capote (2005 – Bennett Miller, director), in which he gives a truly stunning performance as Truman Capote, for which he justly received an Academy Award. Capote takes place during the time Capote was researching and writing In Cold Blood. Catherine Keener plays his childhood friend, Harper Lee. I hadn’t seen Capote in 15 years and had forgotten a lot of it. Seeing it again reinforced how great Hoffman was, but there’s also the sorrow and anger I feel when I think of how he died from a drug overdose in 2014 at age 46. This makes me want to track down and see again or for the first time his other films. One of those is A Late Quartet (2013 – Yaron Zilberman, director), in which he acts opposite Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. I have a good memory of it. This, too, is available on Amazon Prime.
I previously wrote about A Most Wanted Man in a blog post from 2014, which can be accessed here.
As a supplemental feature, here is Philip Seymour Hoffman discussing Capote on an episode of The Charlie Rose Show.
For the record, here are the rest of the films I saw from May 1 to May 23, listed in the order viewed. You’ll see I went through a frenzy of Marvel superhero films, for which I offer no apologies or excuse.
As previously noted, unless otherwise specified, these titles are all available from Amazon Prime.
Django Unchained (2012 – Quentin Tarantino, director & writer) NETFLIX
Funeral in Berlin (1966 – Guy Hamilton, director)
The Wretched (2020 – Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce, directors & writers)
Fright Night (2011 – Craig Gillespie, director)
American Ultra (2015 – Nima Nourizadeh, director)
The Man from Nowhere (2010 – Jeong-beom Lee, director & writer)
Atomic Blonde (2017 – David Leitch, director)
Evening (2007 – Lajos Koltai, director)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 – Joe Johnston, director)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014 – Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, directors)
Captain America: Civil War (2016 – Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, directors)
The Avengers (2012 – Joss Whedon, director & writer)
Thor (2011 – Kenneth Branagh, director)
Captain Marvel (2019 – Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, directors & co-writers)
The Kingdom (2007 – Peter Berg, director)
Sleepless (2017 – Baran bo Odar, director) NETFLIX
Point Blank (2019 – Joe Lynch, director) NETFLIX
Good Fellas (1990 – Martin Scorsese, director)
Empire Falls, Parts 1 & 2 (2005 – Fred Schepisi, director)
Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story (2019 – Michelle Esrick, director) NETFLIX
That wraps it up for now. Stay tuned for whatever comes next. Until then, be safe. — Ted Hicks