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FictionIsntReal

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  1. FictionIsntReal

    West Side Story

    My parents had the vinyl LP of the music here, so soon after the AFI released their 97 list it was one of the first I sought ought. I didn't see Singin in the Rain until many years later, and I agree with others who say WSS is the more cohesive film. That's because Singin in the Rain is a jukebox musical. But I think it's a better film, with WSS just being a particularly distinctive riff on Romeo & Juliet.
  2. FictionIsntReal

    West Side Story

    It's simply not true that European immigrants were considered non-white. The very first Congress passed a naturalization act reserved for "free white persons of good moral character", which Europeans always passed. We had a explicit racial caste system, and Europeans were always officially categorized as white. Chicanos could be categorized differently depending on the time & place, but not European immigrants. Fox & Guglielmo's paper "Defining America’s Racial Boundaries: Blacks, Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890–1945" goes into more detail on this.
  3. FictionIsntReal

    A Night At The Opera

    I also prefer Holy Grail to Life of Brian for that reason. I had thought that when Amy had them face off for The Canon that the latter won, but checking wikipedia I see that the original prevailed. And there was much rejoicing!
  4. FictionIsntReal

    A Night At The Opera

    It's not a difficult decision for me at all between Duck Soup & A Night at the Opera (which I watched last month). Focusing on anybody other than the Marx brothers in a Marx brothers movie is just foolish. I got bored whenever there was a focus on the opera singing couple, and I found myself fast-forwarding through the songs. I also think the attempt to make the Marx brothers good guys who help out the good people at the expense of the bad is foolish. They're anarchic by nature. The reason the antagonist is trying to whip Harpo is because Harpo was screwing things up for him rather than acting as his assistant. And the brothers actually knock him unconscious repeatedly. They're like Bugs Bunny, gleefully amoral and out to humiliate everyone around them.
  5. FictionIsntReal

    Saving Private Ryan

    After I saw this movie, I decided it was my favorite of all time. I wouldn't say that now, but there wasn't any specific movie that dethroned it. I still like it a whole lot better than some other movies on this list like The Graduate & Last Picture Show, but I can also see an argument that the 100 best American movies doesn't need 5 from Spielberg or quite that many war movies (although I'd note that the share of ALL stories persisted through time, going back long before the advent of film, is probably at least as weighted with war as the AFI's list). Spielberg absolutely thinks God was against the Nazi forces. Both Raiders of the Lost Ark & Last Crusade make that explicit! I also disagree that the opening is irrelevant to the rest of the film. Ryan is not our protagonist, Tom Hanks' character is, and his squad are the supporting characters. The opening puts them through a trial by fire in which many die, in an operation famous enough that the audience knows its importance. To then put that fire-forged squad into a strategically irrelevant mission to remove some guy so he won't have to face the danger we just saw makes for a contrast. Throughout the rest of the film those guys are going to be thinking about what they've been through together and that Ryan was spared (and what he will be spared from then on).
  6. FictionIsntReal

    The Graduate

    This is one of the most overrated movies I can recall seeing. I suppose the directing/editing are more interesting than Last Picture Show (which had few redeeming qualities), but Benjamin is a boring character that I can't get invested in. The later Ebert strikes me as correct, and I have to conclude the film was so popular simply because people went deranged in the late 60s. I can't think of any other explanation for why Altman's M*A*S*H was more successful than Nichols' Catch-22 (which is also far better than this film). I'd like to thank you for those Nichols & May clips. because they were also more entertaining than this movie. Amy mentions that Hoffman sometimes sounds like a robot when talking to Mrs. Robinson. Another critic writes "Today, we might call Benjamin an Aspergery nerd, a depressive, and an obsessive-compulsive stalker" (suggesting that he drew from his experiences working in a mental hospital, as he did when making Rain Man), but I don't know if anyone was grasping toward that back then. People did talk about a "generation gap", which was news to Nichols, who claims that never occurred to him while he was making the film. People above are talking about sexual assault, but this isn't really an example of that. He's an adult and he voluntarily participates in it, even if he rejects her initial overtures.
  7. FictionIsntReal

    Best of 2018: Critics' Picks

    The movie I enjoyed the most in 2018 was Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds, but that had its festival debut in 2017 so I suppose it doesn't count. I don't know if it's the "best" film, so that might be First Reformed, even if it's not as enjoyable. And Taxi Driver will probably occupy its spot on any future AFI list, but that doesn't mean it's not a great movie! I think I prefer Lynn Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin (containing the most pure evil I've seen outside a horror film) to You Were Never Really Here, but that was a unique variant on a familiar sort of story, even if it doesn't complicate the protagonist like Taxi Driver did. I think I might still prefer Winter's Bone to Leave No Trace because I'm un-hip enough to like some genre elements and dialogue, but Granik's latest is still a great film in its own right and I hope she gets to continue making more like those. I also don't think I like Annihilation as much as the simplicity of Ex Machina, but I enjoyed it a good deal as well. I know there's many readings that can be made of the film, but I didn't find the ending a triumphant "overcoming of the self". And that's fine! Ex Machina wasn't written to have a happy ending either... I was surprised how much I agreed with Amy on this. I don't share the politics of Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley is actually a card-carrying communist, not merely some western European style mainstream socialist), but I thought it was a great film. BlacKkKlansman felt like watered down Spike Lee compared to something as unique as Chi-Raq. I was surprised Mission: Impossible - Fallout & Black Panther managed to get so high up in the critics list, as neither seemed comparable to most of the films there. But then I really only like De Palma's Mission: Impossible movie which avoided a lot of the James Bond nonsense the series has since embraced, and I'm not really interested in the MCU. I dug Chloe Zhao's The Rider, so I thought it's worth noting that she's been hired to direct an Immortals movie for Marvel. I would have preferred if she'd gotten something like Coogler's Creed, which balanced a larger budget with a certain amount of freedom to continue in his own style rather than some producer-driven house style. I also don't see why people lump A Quiet Place in with "elevated horror" titles. It's a creature feature with a high concept executed decently, but it's nowhere near Hereditary. I also didn't find Buster Scruggs quite so depressing. It's really just the third (my last favorite) which is miserable all the way through. The first two are comedies in which scoundrels get their just deserts (if somewhat late). All Gold Canyon had a happy ending, even if the holes he dug are ugly. And Oregon Trail segment has some sadness in it, but it isn't cynical. I suppose it's something like the flip side of All Gold Canyon. It will probably go down as minor Coen brothers, which is still better than most movies. I think Fargo should have stayed on the list.
  8. FictionIsntReal

    Sunset Boulevard

    A number of film scholars have noted that women were more prominent in the silent era than under the studio system, which strikes people as contrary to a monotonic Whiggish notion of historical progress. It can be argued that this was part of a backlash against the first wave of feminism which occurred after it was blamed for Prohibition (James Thurber was particularly prominent as a commenter on the battle-of-the-sexes at that time). Billy Wilder wasn't in Hollywood during the silent era, but when he came over there was a receptive audience for mocking a prominent actress of that time uppity enough to give orders to a man. Part of the reason many people don't remember that aspect of the silent-era is that it's attitudes toward gender were sometimes tied up in notions like the "defense of white womanhood" depicted in The Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind (the latter is admittedly not silent or even black & white). Just nine years after Sunset Boulevard came the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, made into a film a few years later and eventually mandatory classroom reading for many children, teaching them about false rape accusations as one of the tools of bigotry in our unjust society. Susan Brownmiller of "Against Our Will" was then reacting against that stereotype she'd been taught. And perhaps such cycles of cultural reaction will repeat forever, long after Weinstein is gone.
  9. FictionIsntReal

    The Last Picture Show

    I was extremely disappointed in this, the most overrated movie I can recall seeing in a very long time. I don't see what others value in it, as I was bored & uninterested in the characters & their boring town for most of it. I guess I never got into the teen sex comedies attributed to this (though this wasn't funny enough to qualify as a comedy), but I'm able to see the merit in Lady Bird & Stand By Me (even if I would consider them more good than great). French Connection still stands as a titanic film in my book, but this is just the black & white period film Bogdanovich did before getting it right with Paper Moon. My first reaction when seeing it was to compare it to American Graffiti (due to all the music & driving), which could be considered a more minor work preceding Star Wars, but then I also think that's overrated. I think that of The Graduate too, but at least there's some interesting direction in some sequences. I also didn't think the film sympathized that much with Cybill Shepherd's character. There's a little bit of her relationship with her mom where she see how she might turn out that way, but she still seems like arguably more of a misogynist's idea of a woman than Sonny's first girlfriend. Like Amy, I didn't pick up any hints that the coach was gay, and just had to read about it on wikipedia. I initially thought his wife might have some medical problem (something the audience might care about!), but we never get any follow-up on why she's going to the doctor and she doesn't seem to deteriorate. I also read about Jeff Bridges being cast because it would contrast with his jerk of a character, but his jerkdom mostly seems limited to that one scene where he fights with Sonny. He's a more interesting actor than Timothy Bottoms, so it's a shame he wasn't the lead. I initially thought Billy was Sonny's brother, but the way everyone kept referring to him as his friend made me think perhaps that wasn't the case. I didn't have a clear sense of who they were related to, which might have contributed to my lack of enjoyment.
  10. FictionIsntReal

    The Searchers

    John Ford actually made a spiritual sequel about captives "rescued" from Indians who didn't want to return to white civilization, "Two Rode Together". However, it was a failure and he regarded it as one of his worst movies. I would think that Stagecoach is the prototypical western, while The Searchers is an attempt to add some complexity to the genre. I agree that the originally scripted ending would have been significantly better than the one we got, where it's just "surprise, he doesn't kill her".
  11. FictionIsntReal

    A Clockwork Orange

    That reminds of me of a classic Crooked Timber post in which they noted that the John Birch Society had a surprisingly accurate conception of what some elements of the US government were up to. "The Bircher view is made up of real events, but it’s got the wrong background music playing behind it, like one of those joke film trailers". wrecks is right about Burgess vs Kubrick on the 21st chapter. Burgess deliberately wrote the novel in three sections of 7 chapters each, and the whole point of the last one is that Alex is now an adult and has moved on from his youthful wildness. I read it before I saw the movie, as a highschool assignment. Unlike the Catholic Burgess, I was an ultra-Calvinist fundamentalist, who believed that most people are predestined to be damned rather than endowed with free will to choose to be good. I thought Alex should simply be executed for committing murder, and that removing his ability to cause further harm would at least be a decent substitute. By his actions he lost any right to make choices of the sort known to harm others. So I was irritated that in the last chapter he simply grew out of it rather than receiving more punishment for reverting back to his old ways after the treatment was unfortunately undone. Many years later, I'm now an atheist but still find the concept of free-will philosophically incoherent. I've also read Mark Kleiman on how excessively long prison sentences have diminishing marginal returns, in part because crime is a young man's game and many people do grow out of it. So maybe Burgess had a point, but someone as bad as Alex (and committing such severe crimes at such a young age is a predictor of being a serious baddie as an adult) is still someone I think should be removed from society rather than waiting around in hopes he'll change of his own volition. On the subject of how one perceives this sort of material, there's a british street punk band named Cock Sparrer* who did at least one performance for tv in droog getup (though nowhere near as Orange-obsessed as some other punk bands), and whose song "Riot Squad" always made me think of Alex's friends who shifted from criminal to cop. And the song does contain the same thing happening, but it was only after I actually read the lyrics that I realized that it was not intended to be a critique of the police for hiring such thugs, but instead was from the perspective of an unrepentant civilian hooligan mocking their old friend for being subject to rules & constraints in his (state-sanctioned) violence. I can still enjoy the song, but it seems more dumb & immature. *A mispronounciation of "cockney sparrow", which is rhyming slang for "best friend" so old I haven't been able to find the original rhyme. So if any of you are cockney etymologists, feel free to chime in.
  12. FictionIsntReal

    Sophie’s Choice

    I agree with the Onion's version of Meryl Streep: this is a mediocre movie that contains a great Meryl Streep performance. The whole Stingo character seems an unfortunate remnant of the origins of the story as a book, where a largely passive narrator can just fade into the background as an observer. Peter MacNichol has had some very good performances, but Stingo isn't one of them. I'm glad that Cameron H is around to remind people of the deeper themes of the movie, but those are easy to overlook because the film spends so much of its runtime in this more lackluster mode. Not as annoying as when the Not a Cast podcasters used the term to refer to Littlefinger, a literal pimp who is able to wreak havoc because a powerful woman loves him far more than she does her husband.
  13. FictionIsntReal

    Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

    I don't think Lovett's comparison to Trump works, because Smith doesn't campaign on a platform of shaking things up (like the "reformer" demanded by the populace, whom the governor chooses Smith instead of). Instead he's more like a Rex Tillerson, someone who never sought ought any kind of public office and only served because he was asked to (despite knowing virtually nothing about his job and not being particularly good at it). He even got undermined by the people who appointed him! I really liked how Senator Paine is depicted as being a mostly decent person who has made compromises for what he sees as the greater good. Smith's filibuster fails to achieve the aims it was intended for, so it all comes down to Paine having that shred of decency (foreshadowed earlier) which means he can't stomach the lowest depths of what he's signed on to.
  14. FictionIsntReal

    The African Queen

    This used to be on all the time at my grandfather's house. But he also frequently watched Murphy's War, and it was easy for me to confuse the two as a kid. It seemed a solid enough movie as far as I recall, but it's been a long time since I saw it. There was a sequel made to True Grit titled Rooster Cogburn. It wasn't based on any Charles Portis novel, but instead seemed to be inspired by The African Queen. It even has Katherine Hepburn as a pious spinster on a boat filled with explosives alongside a drunk! It's just old John Wayne instead of Bogart.
  15. FictionIsntReal

    High Noon

    Foreman wasn't someone who was merely called a communist by Jack Warner for union organizing. He had been an actual member of the CPUSA. A few years ago, I watched both of them back-to-back, and that was also my view. In both cases the female lead intervenes during the firefight, and while it's more directly lethal in the case of High Noon, that has thematic importance because she's a Quaker. Howard Hawks denounced High Noon for having the sheriff seeking help and had Chance turn down offers of help, but they all wind up helping in the end anyway, and in High Noon sheriff Kane turns down the offers of people he doesn't think are up to it (the difference being they stay out as asked). Considering its political origin, it's surprising that John Carpenter is such a fan of Rio Bravo (Assault on Precinct 13 & Vampires are both said to be his takes on it) I've read "The Tin Star", the short story High Noon is credited as being based on, and it's a superficially similar plot (although with even fewer women, since the Marhsall is a widower) with a radically different theme (the ending with the badge even seems like an intentional subversion of the short story). I had wondered why they changed the name of the protagonist from "Doane" to "Kane" when they kept the names of some minor characters. It's available online, and if you click to my earlier review of the two films you'll find the links there. I get the impression that mid-century America was more enamored of Latin American culture than would be the case later. La Bamba was a big hit, and the most popular show on tv (which codified the multicamera comedy) featured Desi Arnez as Ricky Ricardo. In the same year that Gary Cooper won Best Actor for High Noon, Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn won best Best Supporting for "Viva Zapata!". Later in the decade Disney would have a Zorro tv series. All of John Wayne's wives were Mexicans. Some sociologists wrote "Generations of Exclusion" about trends over time for US hispanics. and one thing they noted was that the older generations often identified as just "Spanish" and not that distinct from the white majority (there was even a legal argument that they should be able to attend whites-only schools for that reason). I'd cite Fox & Guglielmo on that, but that doesn't seem to be available ungated on the web anymore.
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