Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939). Garbo laughs, and she’s very good at it. There are some interesting people in the cast, like theater legend Ina Claire and Bela Lugosi, who only gets one scene. Melvyn Douglas is OK, although he seems to be standing in for someone better. The movie has lots of memorable quotes (“The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”) It’s much better than Billy Wilder’s later One, Two, Three. Lubitsch does his usual good job. Honestly, none of that matters. When Garbo is on the screen, you can’t keep your eyes off of her, and when she’s not on the screen, you realize Ninotchka isn’t quite the classic you’d remembered. #576 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. You might follow this up with the musical version, Silk Stockings, starring Fred Astaire.
Locke (Steven Knight, 2013). A setup for a tour de force of acting and directing: an 85-minute movie that takes place almost entirely in a car, as we watch and listen to a driver talking to various people on his cell phone. You have to admire the audacious nature of Locke, and it’s not boring (although 85 minutes is just about the limit). Tom Hardy gets the acclaim for his role as the driver, showing us all of the facets of this complicated man. But I think some other actors also deserve credit: the people on the other end of those phone calls. There are, I don’t know, a dozen or so of them, and as the film progresses, their characters become detailed for us, as well. When you see the character names on the cell phone screen as a new call arrives, you look forward to what comes next, because we’ve come to know the callers. In the end, that might be the real tour de force. (The only name I recognized was Olivia Colman of Broadchurch.) 7/10. Not sure what matches up with this … Vanishing Point?
Hausu (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, 1977). (Also known as House.) The all-time leader in the I Can’t Describe It, You’ll Just Have to Watch It category. And it doesn’t really help even if I could describe it, because the look of the film is so bonkers you still have to see it to appreciate it (or hate it … “bonkers” isn’t a value judgment, it’s a statement of fact). A look at some of the 85 “plot keywords” listed on the IMDB suggests some of what you might see: hapkido, female frontal nudity, female warrior, psychedelic, surrealism, visual hallucination, playing a piano, dismemberment, coming of age, watermelon, experimental film, and banana (yes, banana). You’d be right if you noted that those aren’t really plot points, but then, plot isn’t the primary concern here. Oh, I can briefly offer the scenario: teenage girl in Japan, along with six of her girl friends, go to visit her aunt’s house. The girls have names (in the translation, at least) like Gorgeous and Melody and Kung Fu. Kung Fu was my favorite, in fact, although what happens to Melody when she fulfills the “playing a piano” part of the plot is pretty much the highlight of the movie. I can’t help but be vague … I could tell you the “good parts” and it wouldn’t even be much of a spoiler, because seeing is believing here. 7/10. I have no idea what other movies might play well with this … you hear talk that Evil Dead 2 wouldn’t have happened without Hausu. The movie that came to mind for me was The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? This is a better movie than that one, though.