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Ménilmontant, and a few more movies

THE NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#183  [archive]

 
Ménilmontant
(1926)

[Streaming free]

This starts with a few rural axe murders, as jarring and unsettling as anything in a George Romero movie. The victims are the parents of two young girls, and after the murders the kids grow up, move to the city, and their relationship sours as a man comes between them.

It's mostly a melodrama, but told entirely without dialogue, intertitles, opening or closing credits, or even a title card. The performances are modern, the camerawork creative, the imagery occasionally goes abstract, and the 2021 restoration's musical score is a perfect match with its moodiness.

A lot of pre-talkies, even if I've liked them, some or most of my appreciation is what you'd feel for ancient art in a museum. Ménilmontant is different; it can be watched and appreciated with or without particularly acknowledging its antiquity. The story is set a hundred years ago, yeah, but watching it feels like 'now'.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) 

[Streaming free]

As everyone already knows, Steve Austin (Lee Majors) is a wisecracking tough-guy test pilot who's almost killed in a plane crash, but then rebuilt into a superhuman cyborg, at the staggering price of six million dollars. 

This is not, however, the almost comically schlocky TV show from the 1970s. It's the pilot for that series, but the feel is different, and everything's serious, apparently sticking close to the sci-fi novel it's based on, Cyborg by Martin Caidin. Reviews on the internet tell me that the book is pretty good.

Darren McGavin, one of my favorite actors of his era, is delightfully obnoxious as the CIA man (they changed the acronym, but c'mon) who pulls political strings to get funding for Austin's reconstruction. And he's darker than even the bad guys from the TV show.

After he's pitched his plan to turn a man into a cyborg, someone says, "Are you going to ask for volunteers?"

McGavin replies, "No, accidents happen all the time."

This is before Austin's plane crash, though. In fact, it's immediately before — after that line, there's a quick cut to Austin in the cockpit of his plane, ready to take off. Make of that what you will, conspiracy buffs.

After almost an hour of arduous rehab, in the movie's last 15 minutes he's finally sent on his first mission, to quickly defeat Middle Eastern terrorism. (He does.)

The movie is kinda lethargic but kinda fun, if only to see what the series could've been instead of what it was. It's just an hour and 14 minutes, and a full two of those minutes are spent showing Austin slowly — no, more slowly — lift his new cyborg arm for the first time, then lift it higher, and finally make a fist.

Also, the movie tells us twice that Steve Austin isn't merely a test pilot, he's "a civilian member of the space program" who's walked on the moon. Having been to the moon would make Austin a celebrity in 1973, which means he's exactly the wrong choice for all the years of undercover work he did on the show.

Verdict: YES, if you remember the series fondly, or you're a McGavin fan. Otherwise, MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

White Lotus (second season, 2022)

I loved the first season of White Lotus, and this second season remains better than anything on commercial television, better than most of what's on the pay channels.

Having said that, gotta also say that it lacks the heft, the bite of satire and having something to say, of the show's first season.

Jennifer Coolidge is back, and Aubrey Plaza is here, with Will Sharpe, Steve Zahn, and Haley Lu Richardson from Columbus. There's Michael Imperioli, a face I hadn't seen since he played the annoying junior gangster on The Sopranos, and with twenty years of gray gravitas added, he's what impressed me most here. F Murray Abraham plays Imperioli's father, and he's gotten old as we all do. It's disconcerting to see him play someone who's tended to, instead of being in charge of the plotlines.

The first season was set in Hawaii, with a wide mix of characters and backstories and dilemmas plus a dash of American class and culture conflict. White Lotus 2 is set in Italy, but again has weaving plotlines for each of its characters.

This time, though, all the stories are about infidelity and/or romance, at least until the season's rather rousing bang-up finish. So it's Search for Tomorrow, gussied up and filmed on location in Italy.

My apologies to any Italians and Italianados, but I'll take Hawaii over Italy. Lovely as it is, the many long, languid views of Italian coast and countryside become a rerun, like yet another movie set in San Francisco that shows cable cars clanging and the Golden Gate Bridge between every scene.

The music, too — instead of the first season's intriguing soundtrack of Hawaiian music, we get lots of opera sung in Italian. For me, "just enough opera sung in Italian" and "too much opera sung in Italian" are two lines very near each other at the bottom of a graph, and both lines are quickly obliterated here.

This second White Lotus is still good, but not nearly as good. Bang-up finish, though.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

• Coming attractions •

District 9 (2009)

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Within Our Gates (1920) 

    ... plus occasional schlock and surprises

    • And then •

Asteroid City (2023)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Dr Cook's Garden (1971) 

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

From Beyond (1986)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) 

Manchester by the Sea (2018) 

The Scarecrow (1920)

Stalker (1979)  

Street Trash (1987)

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022) 

9/20/2023   

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
 
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