how good are you
sleater-kinney at the masonic

what i watched last week

Doctor X (Michael Curtiz, 1932). A couple of the names associated with this one are still familiar to us. Curtiz directed Casablanca and many others, and Fay Wray is an icon. Some consider Lee Tracy to be unfairly forgotten. The movie looks like it will be a horror film, but as it plays out we realize it's more a mystery of the "dark house" genre. It's mostly forgettable, as horror or mystery, and the comic relief from Tracy isn't much help. Still, a couple of things remain of interest. It was filmed in two-strip Technicolor, which was rarely used and which gives the film an odd look to a modern eye. Also, it's pre-code, so while this is more clear in the description than in the visualization, prostitution, rape, and cannibalism are plot points. 6/10. Curtiz, Atwell, and Wray teamed up a year later for Mystery of the Wax Museum.

Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939). Carné directed the classic Children of Paradise, which also starred Arletty. (Jacqueline Laurent actually has as big a part in this one as does Arletty.) The true star of the film is Jean Gabin, and his presence elevates the movie. Le jour se lève is an example of “poetic realism” (“French Poetic Realism depicts the marginalized of society through a lens of disappointment, regret, and estrangement”). I feel like I recognize this genre, even if I couldn’t exactly define it, and certainly some of my favorite movies, notably Renoir’s Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, fall into the category. But for me, the movie is very much like an early film noir, perhaps exemplified by the story that the Vichy government banned it because it was demoralizing. #668 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. You can’t go wrong pairing this with any of the other films I mention above.

Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007). Starts off like a standard historical romance, in this case, the period before and during WWII. Then things take a dark turn, and Wright manages to keep several balls in the air, flipping around with chronology and getting the best from his actors, particularly the three who play Briony Taliis at various stages in her life: Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave. The three are quite believable as the same person, with Ronan given the task of making us understand why Briony acts so poorly and Garai facing the consequences. There’s a “look at me” long tracking shot at Dunkirk that is worth the hype, and Redgrave’s appearance in the coda also mostly justifies its existence. It’s at least as depressing as Le jour se lève, although this film isn’t as good. #352 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10. For more of Romola Garai, binge-watch The Hour.

Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). Things are a bit hectic right now, so this movie, which should have its own By Request post (thanks, Jeff!) ends up here. In my memories, Shadow of a Doubt is one of the Hitchcock movies I hold in the highest regard. And it is certainly a good one. But I felt more aware of the gigantic plot holes than I expected, and spent more time enjoying the Santa Rosa scenery than actually taking in the film as a whole. No apparent reason for this, and it’s not like my favorite Hitchcock, Vertigo, isn’t full of its own pile of holes. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised when I looked online after we’d finished watching and found that I’d long ago given Shadow of a Doubt 8/10. Which is still a good rating, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t note Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright doing strong work in the leads. #519 on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. For a Hitchcock night, try Notorious, another of his 1940s movies, one that I like very much indeed.

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