A long, complicated movie – Criterion summary:

The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, it is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence.

Blimp in WWI with John Laurie:

I wrote in 2006: “Oops, I thought this was a comedy. I’d somehow convinced myself that Powell makes comedies and I’m never right.”

At the beginning, the movie seems to be about fiery young soldier Spud, then he disappears for 2.5 hours while Candy goes into a “when I was your age” story. This threw me off the first time I saw the movie, as did Deborah Kerr’s various roles. Throwing me this time: Roger Livesey, handsome romantic lead of I Know Where I’m Going, so convincing as a blowhard old man.

Not covered by the summary above: Candy’s lifelong friendship with German soldier Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Candy provokes an international incident in the early 1900’s (during the Boer War) and gets himself into a duel with Theo, then they recover together, both in love with Deborah Kerr #1, who marries Theo. In WWI, Candy meets Deborah #2, a nurse, and marries her. And in WWII, Theo has moved to England and Deborah #3 is dating young Spud, is a favorite assistant of Candy’s for obvious reasons.

Deborah Kerr thinks highly of me:

No character in the film is named Col. Blimp – he was a political cartoon character, a blustery old officer who proclaims his dated ideas in a Turkish bath, the WWII version of Candy. The movie’s a bit long and rambling, but a total pleasure to watch, with color cinematography that is beyond excellent. One of my very favorites.

Duelist Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff:

Powell sounds soooo tired on the commentary.
On Kerr: “I got enthusiastic about her hats.”

Scorsese is more fun. I like when he appreciates the visual design while also saying that you don’t have to care about this stuff if you don’t want to:

Look at the use of red in the menus … These are things I kind of enjoy. I don’t say that as you’re watching the film you should be pointing out where the red is. I think you should just look at the movie and enjoy it, hopefully, and probably you shouldn’t be even listening to this narration, you should be watching the film.

Six years in the life of Yonkers NY, surrounding the building of court-ordered low-income housing for black/hispanic residents in the white parts of town. Lots of scenes in city council meetings and offices, places which don’t necessarily make for great TV viewing, and of course the local bars where David Simon characters always meet to make the real decisions.

The less-engaging side of the series is about local politics with Nick (Oscar “Llewyn Davis” Isaac, who had an epic 2015) as our protagonist. He’s the title hero, though his investment in desegregating Yonkers seems a far distant second to his self-centered political aspirations, which take off when he becomes an unlikely young mayor, swept into office (replacing Jim Belushi) to fight the desegregation, but finding himself having to defend it. Sure, Nick has morals, but his “doing the right thing” is meant to keep the city from going bankrupt from federal fines, not to bravely and singlehandedly defeat racism. And though he turned out to be the mayor the town needed at that particular time, he’s quickly run out of office by arrogant bastard Alfred Molina, and Nick’s political dreams turn to despair, feeling that he’d won a great victory, but a victory the angry residents would never recognize.

The rest of the show follows prospective residents of the new townhomes, detailing their individual lives and travails. Among the indifferentiated mob of white residents who show up to town hall meetings screaming about their property values is Mary (Catherine Keener), who’s representative of the gradual acceptance of the new housing. When the houses finally go up and families move in, Mary is coerced (by Clarke Peters, Det. Lester Freamon) to join a committee to meet with the residents and help them adjust – and help their bitter white neighbors adjust as well.

Mary before/after:

“We’re not prejudiced. Anyone is welcome to live in my neighborhood if they have the money.”

Most of the future residents we follow are women in trouble. Doreen (Natalie Paul)’s man is a drug dealer with asthma – and we know what happens to movie characters with asthma, so soon she’s a single mom, hooked on the crack. Norma (LaTanya “wife of Samuel L.” Jackson) was a nurse until she loses her sight due to diabetes, is helped out by her son Brother Mouzone. Carmen (Ilfenesh Hadera, currently on the Paul Giamatti show Billions) is from Dominican Republic, tries going back there but can’t make ends meet in either country. Billie (Dominique Fishback, soon appearing with D’Angelo Barksdale in another period New York David Simon miniseries, The Deuce) gets pregnant (a bunch of times) by petty criminal (later major criminal) John (Jeff Lima of Half Nelson), who spends half the show in prison.

Meanwhile, Nick will do anything to get back into office, including getting his wife (Carla Quevedo) fired and turning on his oldest council friend Winona Ryder. But he’s not exactly beloved around Yonkers, having sided with the federal enemy. The quiet unsung heroes here are the smart federal specialists (housing experts Peter Riegert and Clarke Peters, and judge Bob Balaban) manipulating a belligerent town towards social change.

Molina don’t give a shit:

Some awful hair and suits, gradually getting more tolerable as the horrors of the 1980’s fade away. Lots of Bruce Springsteen and a good Steve Earle tune used as theme song. Sadly, only one use of the word “mook”. Movies often start at the end (I have a starts-at-the-end tag on the blog), but this one repeats its suicidal-Nick-in-the-cemetery finale at the beginning AND in the middle.

Mostly this got deservedly great reviews, though the Haggis-haters at Slant tore it apart (I’ll agree with the line “Keener dons ridiculous old-lady drag”). Presumably they didn’t tear up, as I did, at the final episode: the joy and terror felt by the new residents about their neighborhood, Nick’s strangled cry for help before heading to the cemetery, the horrified look Winona Ryder gives Nick’s widow at the funeral, and the thaw in hostilities between new neighbors represented by Poodle Lady (played by the director’s ex-wife).

Poodle Lady:

Errand-running housewife Celia Johnson (lovestruck daughter in The Holly and the Ivy) is helped out by Trevor Howard (deposed captain in Mutiny on the Bounty). They get to talking, and eventually it’s a weekly appointment, then outings to movies and the park, a gradual love affair. Both are married, and they finally break it off when he’s offered a job in Africa. After a messy parting at the train station where they first met, interrupted by a shrill acquaintance, Celia returns home to her boring life at home. Her husband: “You’ve been a long way away… thank you for coming back to me.” Katy doesn’t approve of affairs, didn’t find it too romantic.

A. Turner:

Billy Wilder found Alec’s friend, who loans the flat, so interesting that he made an entire film about just such a character: The Apartment. … Brief Encounter is also the principal link between the small-scale films of Lean’s early career with the widescreen epics of his final phase. The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Ryan’s Daughter, and A Passage to India each have central characters who are prone to a dreamy romanticism which borders on hysteria and hallucination. … Condemning Laura to a life of conformity and emotional suppression, Lean sets his own course towards the far horizon, where the English go out in the midday sun. Brief Encounter is not only Lean’s finest statement on the suffocating world into which he was born; it is also his train ticket out.

K. Brownlow:

But after [a flop preview], the film opened more widely, and a miracle happened. The public embraced it, people went to see it again and again, and it broke box-office records. In New York, it ran for eight months, and Johnson was not only voted best actress by the New York critics, she was nominated for an Oscar. David became the first director of a British film since Korda to be nominated, and he, Neame, and Havelock-Allan were also nominated for the screenplay.

Excited by Essential Killing, I thought I’d check out Skolimowski’s only horror film for SHOCKtober. But calling it horror is like calling Essential Killing a political drama, inadequately simple labels for such weird and complex movies. The bulk of this one is a flashback/story told by Alan Bates to Tim Curry while scorekeeping a cricket game at some kind of asylum. Bates admits that he’s changing parts of the story to keep it interesting for himself – and we’re never sure if he’s a patient or what, so the narrator is unreliable to say the least. And as the commentary notes, “casting Tim Curry as your sanity figure suggests that the world is fairly skewed.”

Alan Bates lurks:

A cowed-looking John Hurt (the year before Alien, so the earliest film I’ve seen of his – though I must find Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs from ’74), a church organist by day and electronic composer in his spare time, is happily married to Susannah York (star of Altman’s Images). But one day Alan Bates (Chabrol’s Dr. M, Julie Christie’s illicit lover in The Go-Between) appears, tampers with Hurt’s bicycle tire, then invites himself over. He stalks the couple causing minor mischief then starts not-so-subtly taking over the family.

John Hurt rocks out in his home studio:

Alan Bates, head of household:

To prove his power to Hurt, they go off to the dunes and Bates demonstrates “the terror shout,” taught to him by an aboriginal magician. Somehow Hurt isn’t killed by this, but has a weird experience where he’s holding a stone, believing himself to be the town shoemaker. When he returns home, his wife is under Bates’s spell, and Hurt is the interloper. But he recalls the identity stones, goes off and smashes them to regain control of his household. Back at the house, Bates is arrested for the murder of his children (to which he confessed to Hurt and York earlier). Strange that Bates would be anxious to tell a tale which ends in his own defeat.

You can’t understand the extreme greatness of this shot without watching the whole film:

The police foolishly come for Alan Bates:

Meanwhile back in the framing story, a thunderstorm wrecks the cricket game. Jim Broadbent, in his first film role as “fielder in cowpat,” runs around half-naked smeared in mud or worse. Lightning strikes the scoring box, Bates is killed, and in another odd scene which also played over the opening credits, York comes tearing into the room where the dead lay, distraught.

Fielder in cowpat:

Reminded me of The Last Wave in its aboriginal magic and weirdly apocalyptic feel. Commentary brings up Caligari, which I should’ve thought of. The wife isn’t much of a character, just passed between the two men, but she definitely shows her acting chops in one intense sexual scene. Mostly minimal music by “the two guys from Genesis you probably have forgotten.”

One of those long-discussed greatest-films-ever which upon first glance (and second glance) actually does seem to be one of the greatest films ever. It’s a super story with an incredible character for Gloria Swanson and boy, she nails it, but it also helps that I am a film nerd. Swanson helped destroy Erich von Stroheim’s directoral career 20 years earlier and now Wilder casts Swanson as a washed-up super-eccentric former silent actress and Stroheim as her tragic manservant. Enter William Holden and his young friends, all wannabe writer/directors, and a cameo by Cecil DeMille and Wilder’s got room to skewer damn near everything in Hollywood. And he manages to keep the mood comical while preserving a film noir (the commentary calls it monster-movie) atmosphere, without letting anybody’s flaws go unpunished.


Opens with William Holden dead in a swimming pool, as he introduces his own dead body then narrates his story. Sound familiar, American Beauty?


A dead-end screenwriter, he’s trying to avoid getting his car repoed when he pulls into a faded mansion just in time to see Swanson and Stroheim preparing to bury her pet monkey. She is pleased to meet a hot young screenwriter, hires him immediately to work on her monstrous script of Salome, which is to be her long-awaited return to the silver screen.


Holden had no clear prospects as a screenwriter, he’s got no cash and no girl and he dreads the shameful return home to the local newspaper he left to pursue his Hollywood dreams, so he hangs out working on her futile script for a clueless Cecil B. DeMille, realizing too late that he’s becoming her kept boy.


Was up for bunches of oscars but got its clock cleaned by All About Eve at the awards. Still came away with writing, art direction and music (beating Samson & Delilah, the actual film DeMille is seen shooting on the Paramount set). I don’t know if Golden Globes were important then (or if they are now) but it got picture/director/actress over there.

DeMille and Swanson:

Immediately preceded Ace in the Hole, a dark time for Wilder. Stroheim would only be in seven more films before his death. Holden would play Audrey Hepburn’s object of affection in Sabrina. Swanson had profitably retired from acting and did not use this as a springboard back in, though she did make quite a few TV appearances.


Apparently was turned into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the 90’s.


IMDB trivia page is packed. Among the actors who turned this movie down: Double Indemnity star Fred MacMurray, Red River star Monty “Raw Deal” Clift, Mae West (who was not in silent films), early Lubitsch star Pola Negri and Greta Garbo.


Erich von Stroheim hadn’t directed in 20 years… Queen Kelly with Gloria Swanson having been his downfall. Norma Desmond says DeMille directed her twelve times – he actually directed Swanson six times. Love interest Nancy Olson went on to Disney flicks in the 60’s and Jack Webb (her fiancee Artie) would spend the rest of his career writing and acting for Dragnet.

Holden with Webb and Olson:

Norma’s “Waxworks” (her bridge partners): H.B. Warner (DeMille’s Jesus in King of Kings, later a Capra regular), Buster Keaton (who was actually doing alright in ’50 with his TV show, in between film roles In The Good Old Summertime and Limelight) and Anna Q. Nilsson (not pictured, who costarred with Warner and worked with DeMille).

Film/dialogue moment #1: “There was a tennis court… or rather the ghost of a tennis court, with faded markings and a sagging net.” We see the court already, but our screenwriter/narrator feels the need to fill spaces with dialogue and also tell us about it.

Film/dialogue moment #2: Norma Desmond wordlessly brushes away a microphone.

Ready for her close-up:

AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

Very enticing trailers have been advertising this film “from the director of Good Will Hunting,” and I have been anxiously looking forward to it and hoping that’s not true. The visionary director of Paranoid Park or My Own Private Idaho would be ideal, but as long as we didn’t get the bored, paycheck-cashing director of Finding Forrester, I was willing to settle for the director of Good Will Hunting, a movie with good story and acting but no artistic merit that I can recall. Fortunately, he injects more ambition into the mix for Milk, enough to make it a pretty damned good movie… for a bio-pic.

Dustin Black, staff writer on Katy’s Big Love, does a good job, don’t get me wrong, but everyone seems pretty well simplified. There’s only time to hit all the major points of Milk’s political career – his decision to take charge of his life, his camera shop, first boyfriend, bunch of failed campaigns, main collaborators, community-building, exercise of political power, second boyfriend, election as supervisor, passing of anti-discrimination bill, boyfriend’s suicide, assassination. That’s a lot to cover in two hours. Movie covers it all well, neatly packages Milk’s life into an oscar-ready event.

J. Rosenbaum, out of context: “Milk addresses a mindset I would associate with campaign agitprop mode, a mindset that forsakes nuanced and complex analysis for the sake of immediate uplift.” But oh, the uplift! D. Ehrenstein examines the uplift: “As someone who has spent the better part of his life involved in gay activism, to say that I found Milk moving is an understatement. Genuinely political Hollywood films are rare; gay-activist Hollywood films are nonexistent. Milk is both. It’s also a film whose emotions and ideas speak directly to every audience, regardless of political commitment or sexual orientation.” Moving is right – I felt moved. Movie moved Katy in another direction, unaccountably making her depressed. So she wasn’t as pleased as I was, but I didn’t love Slumlord Millionaire as much as she, so now we’re even.

– Mr. Milk: Sean Penn, a favorite target of Bloom County in the 80’s, first I’ve seen of his acting since Mystic River, justifiably acclaimed.
– Enthusiastic campaign kid: Emile Hirsch of Into The Wild. He was mostly alone in that one so I didn’t realize he’s the size of a hobbit.
– Milk’s low-key first boyfriend: Spider-Man bad-guy James Franco
– High-drama Boyfriend #2: Diego Luna, star of Criminal and Y Tu Mama Tambien, also appeared with Penn in another gay biopic, Before Night Falls.
– Milk’s Christian coworker and eventual killer: Josh Brolin of No Country.
– The Mayor of Town: Victor Garber (whatshername’s dad in Alias).
– The Only Woman In The Movie: campaign manager Alison Pill was in Dan In Real Life (which I keep thinking I’ve seen, but no, that was Lars and the Real Girl)

Music by Danny Elfman doesn’t draw attention to itself. Cinematography by Harris Savides (Zodiac, Elephant) does – it’s lovely.

Kid is on a game show being asked a series of questions to win 20 million rupees. How does he know all the answers? Is it luck? Fate? Or does each question somehow relate to an incredibly depressing detail of his life? Yes it’s that last one, because this is the most toilet-diving, poo-covered, mother-killing, tourist-swindling, prisoner-torturing, implicitly-sexually-violent movie to ever be marketed as the award-winning feel-good love story of the year.


Jamal, brother Salim, and hot girl Latika live in the Mumbai slums, parents are killed over religion so they hang out together. Join the local beggar group, but the beggarmaster is gonna blind them to rake in more sympathy cash, so the boys skip town and become Taj Mahal tour guides. Back into the city because Jamal is fixated on finding Latika, just in time to rescue her from being sold for sex by the beggar dude. Salim kills the king beggar and joins a gangster group, turns on Jamal and rapes Latika, eventually gives her up as live-in lover to the king gangster. Jamal, meanwhile, gets a straight job as intern at a call center, gets himself on the Millionaire show, wins 10m one day, gets arrested and tortured by police chief Irfan Khan (dad in The Namesake), tells Irfan (and us) his life story the whole next day, then back to the show and wins the other 10m on the final question. Salim shoots his boss, gets killed (having raped the heroine, he has to get killed), but releases Latika who has a happy ending (with train-station dance sequence) with our rich boy.

Boyle got the writer of The Full Monty and Mira Nair’s co-director, and used his 28 Days Later / Millions cinematographer (who also shoots Dogme stuff). The camerawork, along with a high-energy MIA and A.R. Rahman soundtrack and great editing (ooh it’s Edgar Wright’s regular guy) make for a rockin’ good time of a movie, despite the story. Maybe I’m missing something, because Katy loved it, story and all.

Story begins March 17, 1871 and ends two months later. Watkins introduces the movie via his two commune reporters (one of whom is played by Peter’s son Gérard, who has also acted in They Came Back and Diving Bell and the Butterfly), showing the set (a factory on the former site of Georges Melies’ studio!) at the end of the shoot. The set is minimal – walls and rooms were constructed, and props seem accurate and well-placed, but you never doubt that you’re on a set – you can see the walls, the lights, sort of Dogvillian. And the camera – of course the actors talk directly to the camera, since this is a Peter Watkins film. The cameraman (Odd Geir Saether from Edvard Munch) is always mobile, always shooting full cartridges at a time to be (slightly) edited later on.


There are intertitles which comment on the action, fill in missing context, flash-back-and-forward, connect the revolutionary ideas of the commune with the present realities of France. People break out of character mid-scene to talk about the film and about their own present situations, to comment on the relevance of the film and of the commune – but they’re not talking to us, exactly, telling us what to do or think, it’s more that they’re working out their own thoughts and we can make what we will of it. That’s not to say the film is unbiased – it’s extremely pro-commune. The mass media is represented by a more traditionally shot right-wing telecast which gives twisted accounts of the events we see in the commune.

An official statement:

Most of the actors didn’t have screen credits before this one, but some have gone on to appear in other movies (The Barbarian Invasions, Eric Rohmer’s Lady and the Duke, Science of Sleep, Miracle at St. Anna, etc). They workshopped the story and their own roles, and came up with their own dialogue, full participants of the film. Some of this I learned from the very good hour-long doc on the disc The Universal Clock, which dares to ask questions (like whether Watkins is responsible for his own marginalization) as it discusses his career and the making of La Commune. This would actually be a fine standalone film to play before some of PW’s better movies for the uninitiated – it stands high above the usual DVD-extra fare.

Lots of death and guns in the movie, all offscreen. Nobody is ever shown killed, no actor ever plays dead:

There’s a lot to say about the Commune and I’m not gonna say it all here. I’m worn out on the topic from watching all seven hours on these DVDs, and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the important stuff (plus PW’s excellent website has a good summary).

The hated bourgeoisie:

Was the film good, though? Well, it’s far from my favorite Watkins feature (I’d maybe put it above The Gladiators). While it’s not dry and academic, it’s not exactly immersive – and while I wouldn’t say there were unnecessary scenes or that it should’ve been shorter, it’s exhausting at its present length, a mountain of a movie. The guy’s got a point that films and videos should not have to fit the “universal clock” of a television schedule, but this one didn’t fit the clock of my work week, and even with Katy out of town and my evenings supposedly all to myself, it still took me three nights to watch. So it’s an extremely admirable production, in every sense, about an important topic, but unlike other monumentally long films (hello, Satantango) I’m in no hurry to see it again.