Down by Law and Victim,
and a few more films

Dead-Alive (1992)
a/k/a Braindead
Streaming free

Zombie movies with their blood and squishy guts aren't usually for me, but this is done with buckets of New Zealand panache, courtesy of Peter Jackson. It exudes a love for zombies, has a sense of humor, and it's fun in every frame.

Way over the top all the way, so if your sanity rebels like mine did, make it a two- or three-parter — just pause and come back tomorrow.

#239  [archive]
JAN. 12, 2024

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Down By Law (1986)
Streaming free

Tom Waits and John Lurie (two musicians of great renown) star as strangers, both framed by the cops, and jailed together in a squalid Orleans Parish cell. Italian comic Roberto Benigni shows up speaking the best Italian-English since Chico Marx, and then Waits, Lurie, and Benigni escape from jail without writer-director Jim Jarmusch showing us how, which is a cool violation of movie rules.

The whole movie is a series of violations — a prison movie that doesn't feel locked down, more respect for the inmates than the police or jailers, with smart characters who aren't movie-clever, jokes that come at you from the side instead of head-on, and a warm vibe without ever feeling sweet.

Down by Law is inventive, occasionally very funny, in no hurry but never not interesting. It's Jarmusch, which ought to be an adjective, as in, marvelously Jarmuschian.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Face of Another (1966)
Streaming free

Through an accident, a man named Okuyama has tragically lost his face, and lives his life behind bandages. He broods about the way co-workers and others treat him, but who wouldn't?

His complaints are thoughtful enough to get me thinking.

Really, everything about in-person human interaction is about the face, isn't it? We look at other people's faces to see our own reflections, clues to their reactions are written in their jowls, and the shapes of their smiles or frowns tell us whether we're reaching them or not. Absent faces, can two people in the same room reach each other at all?

The faceless Okuyama can't be read, which makes everyone around him uncomfortable, and makes Okuyama miserable. As he says to a colleague: "Your face has lost its usual cheerfulness. A few minutes looking at me leaves you exhausted."

And then a deal is made, across the table at a cafe. For a fee, a stranger agrees to allow a mold of his face, which might allow a doctor who specializes in artificial everything to build Okuyama a replacement face.

The Face of Another is a provocative think piece, and an unsettling, marvelous horror movie.

"You're not the only lonely man. Being free always involves being lonely. Just there is a mask you can peel off and another you can not."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Lusty Men (1952)
Streaming free

I watched this only because of its ridiculous title — like Hollywood's gonna show anything 'lusty' in 1952?

Turns out it's a movie about cowpokes earning extra income as rodeo performers, and it might be the first sports movie I've seen where the 'sport' is bullriding. You'll need to put aside any 21st-century opinions about the cruelty of rodeo, but you'll enjoy the movie if you do.

Jeff (Robert Mitchum) is a retired rodeo star, Wes (Arthur Kennedy) a young rider eager to learn, and Louise (Susan Hayward) is Kennedy's wife, a tamale-hustler who disapproves of the dangers of rodeo but loves her man. And just when you think you know where it's headed, Ms Hayward seizes the movie and makes it hers.

Directed by Nicholas Ray, this is about people looking  for their home, but unsure what home looks like until life explains it to 'em.

If this was half an hour shorter it would be a pretty good flick, but given almost two hours to stretch out it grows into more than that, and better. Dust and despair, love and people that can't be bucked off a bull.

Has its lusty moments, too. A pretty young floozy in a bar comes on to the new rodeo champ, and pleads, "One little ride, Wes."

Wife Louise says, "Beat it sister, he's got a horse."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Victim (1961)
Streaming free

"There is no doubt that a law which sends homosexuals to prison offers unlimited opportunities for blackmail."

Imagine or remember a time when any man who preferred the company of men could be imprisoned for it, by law. From this unavoidably springs secrecy, paranoia, and fear and internal anguish that never ends. It's the guaranteed ruination of every LGBTQ life inside and out of the jails.

This film is a glimmer of light from that dark era, and it is excellent.

Men about London are being blackmailed, terrified that their secret could come out, and the movie holds that secret tight for a while, but it's so torturous that one man hangs himself. The dead man's friend, a barrister named Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), has decided to end the chain of blackmail by finding out who's responsible, though there's no way to reveal the blackmail without revealing himself — ending his career, risking imprisonment.

The movie includes a few lines we'd consider dated today, but it's whatever's the cricket equivalent of a home run. Starts ordinary, but builds to tremendous power. 

It's about the cruelty of anti-gay laws, but never seems to be making a speech. It works as a splendid thriller, makes a political statement, and the film is credited with building support that led, six years later, to Britain's legalization of sex between consenting men. 

Sylvia Syms has an impossible role as Bogarde's wife, wanting to keep him in his heterosexual place but also trying to understand him. They do love each other, but she's baffled at things he's trying not to acknowledge.

Bogarde's agent told him playing the cinema's first gay protagonist would torpedo his mainstream movie career, and it did, but I've never seen him give a better performance. 

Verdict: BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • • 

The Lawyer (1970)
Not of This Earth (1957)
The Saint in New York (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

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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