If you missed The Immigrant as I did on its first release, find it and view it now.

Incomparable Cotillard
photo by Anguerde

Of what better leads can one dream?  Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner.  All three are as fine as film acting can be.  Marion Cotillard is excruciatingly subtle, especially when she speaks with her eyes rather than with words.

Joaquin Phoenix adds one more portrait to a stout list of self-doubting and/or self-hating melancholy souls.  Jeremy Renner as the small-time magician dancing and  floating through life may suffer less, may be a shallower character.  But he proves himself capable of making his own kind of sacrifice.  Renner is so versatile that it seems not quite accurate to describe him as perfectly cast here.

Joaquin Phoenix
photo by Aphrodite

Set during one of the peaks of historic immigration as waves of newcomers inundate Ellis Island, the story is a tale not often told of the perils, in the situation, for a woman  alone on the island, or even on the boat before arrival.

It is an ugly story, beautifully told.

Jeremy Rennet
photo by handbook



The engrossing cinematography captures the sepia of era photographs.  And the final shot ranks at least with that of The Third Man as two of the greatest final frames in film history.

The Immigrant James Gray 2013
photography Darius Khondji
production design Happy Massee


Until then,
See you at the movies,


DON’T MISS Lady Bird.  It is at least as good as you are reading and hearing that it is.  First-time director Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the screenplay) draws excellent performances from her cast.  All the work is good, but Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Beanie Feldstein are outstanding.    One of the best achievements of Gerwig and Ronan is that we’re always on the side of Lady Bird, almost always pulling for her, though she is not always that likable.

Lady Bird
Greta Girwig

NEXT POST Friday  December 8

Until then,
See you at the movies  —
Off the couch and out of the house
To a theater showing Lady Bird,


“The Oscar Farce”
David Thomson
The Wall Street Journal, 2/27-28/17

In a mean-spirited piece on Academy Awards and the audience for popular culture, Thomson, writing about the phenomenon of viewers not viewing as they once did  —  and not feeling, while viewing, as they once felt  —  makes two interesting points about narrative today.

Speaking of the technology available to today’s filmmaker, Thomson says:  “We are depressed because that technology somehow betrays our allegiance to narrative and our longing for the untamed actuality of the world out there.”

And he concludes:  “So don’t bother to trust the movies or attend them in the old way.  As we drift away from narrative and from caring about what we watch, the Academy looks as substantial as an abandoned set for Rick’s Café, while Oscar is made of melting ice cream.”  (In both quotations the italics are mine.)

For many years I have resented the modern-day fact of life that greeting card companies can purchase and overuse my favorite lines from my favorite films.  I am now concerned about the mini-dramas created for television commercials.  Is the only narrative, the only fiction (besides football) that today’s average pop culture absorber will ever experience is what he or she finds in these fifteen-second scenarios which often seem bent on making fun of fiction itself?


NEXT Friday POST December 1

Until then,
See you AT A THEATER at the movies,


GOLD          Karl Hartl          1934

The exposition is clear, simple and always interesting.  Shown rather than told.  The narrative is a smooth flow.  The photography in this near-SciFi film from Nazi Germany is clear and highly professional.  Am I being condescending?  What else to expect from UFA?

The story,  today, has to seem  not very original, however:  some German scientists’ attempt at alchemy, building to a moral dilemma  —  scientific and commercial success vs. the social good.  We’re talking gold  here  —  and materialism  —  and, towards the end, inklings of globalism.

Gold comes out of thirties Germany; but I detect no Naziism.  The individual who steals the German scientific secrets, and murders to do so, is a Scot who is capitalistically self-centered and selfish.  Is the struggle between this Scot industrialist bad guy and the German good guys perhapsmore propagandistic than I have taken into account?

Albers, in center, as Dietrich’s lover in Von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL

The directing is straightforward and competent.  The film is well-paced with a lot of effective silences.  And the actors are successful.  Hans Albers stars as the principal good guy German scientist  —  principal because he’s the one left alive.  According to Katz (Film Encyclopedia), Albers made no films between 1935 and 1943.  Interesting.  Katz also reports that Brigitte Helm retired in 1935,  He comments that the silent star (now posthumously world famous as a result of the longevity of Metropolis) was less successful in talkies.  I do not agree, based on her performance here.

Some footage from Gold appears in Curt Siodmak’s 1953 American film The Magnetic Monster, starring inveterate monster chaser Richard Carlson.  The climactic scene of Gold, in which our German good guy destroys the alchemical machine stolen by the Scotch bad guy, is brilliantly and matchingly spliced into the conclusion of Siodmak’s film.

On right, Richard Carlson who after such diverse films as TOO MANY GIRLS, HOLD THAT GHOST AND THE LITTLE FOXES, became creature chaser par excellence in the second phase of his career.

The Magnetic Monster          Curt Siodmak          1953
editor, Herbert L. Strock ; production designer, George Van Marter


Until then,
See you AT the movies



One of my treasures, still in my files, is a letter from Max Ophüls (and I also hold onto the envelope, personally addressed to me in his own European longhand).  It is a gracious letter, centered on the rarity of a director’s receiving fan mail.  I had written him in admiration of Letter from an Unknown Woman, and I am glad that I did.


From Mayerling to Sarajevo
Max Ophüls

The aristocratic life is here.  So are the court, the manners, the moeurs.  Production design and clothes.  But the visual sense, the dazzling camera to which we are accustomed are missing.  There is a great deal of talk.  It is good, smart talk but it means that the film’s ideas and emotions are seldom given us pictorially.

The performances are all good.  Gabrielle Dorziat is excellent, and Edwidge Feuilière is outstanding.

But if there is such a thing as minor Ophüls, this is it.

OPHULS directing Martine Carol in LOLA MONTES


If you are unfamiliar with any of the director’s masterpieces, you owe it to yourself to experience it or them now, as in right now.

“Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1948)

Joan Fontaine, the poignant center of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

“La Ronde” (1950)
“Le Plaisir” (1951)
“The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953)
“Lola Montes” (1955)

All these titles, especially “Letter” and “Earrings” appear on the 10-Best lists of many directors and critics.


Until then,
See you at the movies,







Five Came Back by Mark Harris

The story of five Hollywood directors who went to war in the forties and made some unforgettable propaganda films is a story that needed telling, and in Mark Harris it has found a knowledgeable, thorough and research-oriented author.  Yet his accounts of Wyler, Stevens, Capra, Huston and Ford in action  —  both military and dramatic  —  reads like a novel.  We enter all the theaters of war, with Ford in the Pacific, Wyler in Africa and Italy and in the Memphis Belle, Huston in the  Aleutians and at San Pietro, Stevens photographing the liberation of concentration camps (with film that would become evidence at Nuremberg), and Capra in Washington organizing and superintending it all.

William Wyler

Stevens in postwar work, on the set with his his stars

If Huston or Ford is a personal hero, however, and you are unfamiliar with previous books about them, you might wish to steer clear of this study  —  very unattractive portraits (anti-Semitic portraits) of two unattractive personalities.  Storied filmmakers of staggering talent  —  but unattractive personalities.

And Harris’ treatment of the fabled Frank Capra is in a class by itself.  I had believed that no writer could savage Capra to the extent that Capra savages himself in the final pages of his own book The Name Above the Title, but Harris manages to surpass him.  It is clear early in the book that Harris likes neither Frank Capra nor his films.  He is determined to see Capra as a crypto-Fascist; and any quality or craft in his work goes largely unmentioned.

He writes with barely disguised delight of the critical and box office failure of It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra’s first postwar film, at the time of its original release.  His ends his account of Capra with that and not a word about the rediscovery of It’s a Wonderful Life on television, not a word about its present day popularity and longevity as one of America’s best loved films.

Frank Capra

But this is a superbly written book, filled with information.  It includes extensive notes, background on  sources, a full bibliography and some fine photographs.

I learned something new on every page.  I didn’t know that Eric Knight participated in this American wartime effort.  I didn’t know that Joris Ivens did.  Or. Dr. Seuss.

Five Came Back by Mark Harris.  Penguin, 2015.

NEXT Friday POST October 13

Until then,
See you at the movies,