Cinema Paradiso,
and a few more films

Children of Men (2007)

Set in the near future, there are no children in this movie, because an unspecified but perfectly plausible plague has rendered the entire human race barren. How would humanity react, when there's no future for the species?

That's a question that feels increasingly pertinent these days, and the movie answers with terrorism and totalitarianism, in the guise of 'anti-immigrant' enforcement. Crazies are everywhere — "Infertility is God's punishment" and all — so there are a million gunshots, and the ever-present threat of more gunfire.

Senseless violence seems about what you'd expect if the story were true, so it makes sense, and for a flourish Michael Caine wears a preposterous hippie wig.

"A hundred years from now there won't be one sad fuck to look at any of this. What keeps you going?"

#249  [archive]
FEB. 29, 2024

"I just don't think about it."

It's a very watchable drama, by turns thrilling and sad and exhilarating, but there's surprisingly little to think about afterwards. It's a cautionary tale, without telling us what to be cautious of.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1982)

Streaming free at YouTube

Charles (John Heard) is a successful low-management bureaucrat, who meets and immediately falls for Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), working in an adjacent department at the same office. They spark with flirtatious dialogue, but she's hesitant and he's insistent about taking her out. He's insistent about everything, to a level that goes beyond romantic comedy, and made me uncomfortable.

They continue intermittently sparking, but Laura has insecurities, and the more Charles tells her how terrific she is, the more she has doubts: "We go to movies and you say I look better than the movie stars. We go to the best restaurant in town and you say I'm a better cook than the chef. You have this exalted view of me, and I hate it. If you think I'm that great, there must be something wrong with you."

That's a believable response, and these are realistic characters. I've known some ladies like Laura, and men like Charles, who can't take no for an answer.

Laura's been separated, but eventually goes back to her husband — and still, Charles never lets up. He drives to wherever he thinks she'll be, just to watch her from his car. He introduces himself to her husband under false pretenses, and comes to their house. He puts moves on her in her kitchen, tells her husband he's in love with her, and laughs about all this on his way out. This guy needs a restraining-order by the second act. 

Gloria Grahame plays Charles' mom, owns every scene she's in, and I wish the movie had more of her. Most of the other supporting characters are eccentric, which always helps. 

The internet tells me this movie was originally released as Head Over Heels, with a different opening and ending. Can't judge that, but Chilly Scenes is a pretty good movie — if you can get past its treatment of Charles as charming and romantic, not nuts.

I couldn't get past it. I wanted Laura to brain him with a frying pan, and if she had, I'd give it a thumbs up. But she didn't.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Chimes at Midnight (1965)
a/k/a Falstaff

Streaming free at Internet Archive

Orson Welles was fascinated with Falstaff, a character who appears in several of Shakespeare's plays, so he stitched this flick together from olde Will's famous works, making the supporting character of Falstaff into the leading man. The dialogue is verbatim, but it's Shakespeare once removed.

It's a loud and frequently boisterous production, but as always with Shakespeare, difficult to follow. The plot kept losing me, and through the first hour, I consulted Wikipedia's summary of the storyline every twenty minutes or so, trying to keep up with all the fancy talkers.

Briefly, there's a fat old heavy-drinking man named Sir John Falstaff, and he's buddies with Prince Hal, who eventually becomes one of England's fleet of King Henrys — V, I think.

Welles wears a fake nose and heavy beard, looks very much like Santa and goes "Ho ho ho" a lot. He's a loudly sarcastic joker, and his performance makes the stale prose come alive. In a smaller role, Margaret Rutherford is fun, because like Welles she always owns the screen. Lots of the performances, especially in smaller roles, are amped up to hold the audience's interest, with actors sometimes speaking over each other, and loud or fast or with exaggerated accents. This keeps things lively, although it makes long stretches of the flick sound like funny voices in a sketch comedy show. Amusing insults are handed out often and enthusiastically, and the longer, more philosophical passages are recited like poetry, as required by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and centuries of thespian tradition. 

The camerawork is stellar, the battle scenes are bloody excellent, and Welles is irresistible as Falstaff — even though he's a knight palling around with a prince, so the story is entirely about the kind of people who order my kind of people around. 

Chimes at Midnight might be the best Shakespeare film I've seen, and I've seen most of them, but this will be the last. I listen, try to follow along, but thousands of thees and thous and other archaic words bounce off my ears, and I'm weary of being cheated out of 20% of a movie. It's especially annoying when it's a good movie.

400+ years have passed, English has evolved and left the Bard of Avon behind, but his works are still presented in what's now a dead language. I'm not required to read The Odyssey in ancient Greek, and if I watch Seven Samurai there are subtitles in English, so show me some Shakespeare in the language I speak.

"A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain and dries me there all the foolish, dull and curdy vapors which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood. The sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Chinatown (1974)

Los Angeles in the 1940s is thirsty, and needs a new dam. That'll cost big money, though, and where there's big money there's big corruption.

Jake Gittes seems like an unlikely guy to unravel such a sprawling scheme — he's a private eye who's made his reputation by spying on philandering husbands. Hired to investigate yet another cheating spouse, he follows the clues. The mystery winds and turns and wanders, from farmers who don't have enough water to rich folks who have lush lawns with ponds and fountains.

Chinatown is nearly flawless, with a complex story that fall plausibly into place after red herrings and fist-fights and the famous slicing of Gittes' nose. The look and feel of it is old-time film noir, but in color and with cuss words. The ending is appropriately bleak, with no sign of good government on the horizon. 

Closest I can come to a complaint is that in movies made in the 1940s, Los Angeles was usually pronounced with a hard g, not the more modern soft g.

The cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, John Hillerman, Burt Young, Diane Ladd, Rance Howard. Written by Robert Towne, music by Jerry Goldsmith, directed by Roman Polanski.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? (2023)

Streaming free at YouTube

If you're wondering why Chris Packham gets his name in the title, it's because he's a big name in British ecology and climate activism. Me not being British, I'm not sure I'd ever heard of him before this one-hour TV special from the UK's Channel 4, wherein he wonders whether, after generations with no meaningful governmental response to climate change, it's justifiable to violate the law.

He talks with Andreas Malm, author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and of course Greta Thunberg, as well as some British turd politician who calls himself a "global lukewarmist" and thinks everything's fine. 

It's more common sensical than 'radical', but nothing half as bold would be allowed on American TV. I'll break my 'no spoiler' rule and tell you Packham's answer to his own question:

"If you're an activist that's already made a decision that, yes, you're going to break the law, so long as no-one is hurt, and there's no lasting environmental damage, then you'll have my support. Personally, I think I've reached a point where I now consider it the ethically responsible thing to do."

Well, yeah. That answer seems obvious, even without the TV special.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)
a/k/a Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

"Life is not what you see in films. Life is much harder."

How could this not be a favorite film for anyone who loves movies, especially movies in theaters? It's an epic poem to the cinema. 

Salvatore, nicknamed Toto, is a boy in a small Sicilian village during World War II. There's only one theater, and he sneaks in as often as he can. The projectionist (Philippe Noiret) is a lovable old duff who tries to shoo Toto away when he wanders into the booth, but the kid's relentlessly cute and cannot be shooed. They both love movies, like me and maybe you.

There's more to it, of course — a plot and all, with laughs and loves and kissy-kissy, people you'll care about going through events that matter in their lives. Really, though, this movie is about the movies. When photography and projection and the shared audience experience in a crowded theater are mixed together just right, it's indistinguishable from magic.

Ennio Morricone's score is such a match of movie and music, it had me crying with the first notes, even before the opening credits. Of course, that's because I'd seen this movie a dozen times before, and knew what was coming.

"Whatever you end up doing, love it, the way you loved the projection booth when you were a little boy."

Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Cinema Paradiso has no stars Americans would know, and you'll have to read subtitles. It's manipulative, inarguably corny, blubberingly sentimental, and contains nothing to offend anyone, but God, I love it. Bring a big box of Kleenex.

Verdict: BIG YES.

To squeeze in more screenings and make more money, the studio severely shortened Cinema Paradiso on release. The full version, the one you want to watch, is two hours and 53 minutes. 


• • • Coming attractions • • •      

Cocoon (1985)
The Company of Wolves
Cornbread, Earl, and Me

 ... plus 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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  1. Doug, I don't entirely disagree with you, but there should be exceptions. English is the most spoken language in the world, and it evolved in ways we now generally understand. Capturing one iteration of this evolution and admiring its beauty doesn't seem like a bad thing. So in Henry V, Henry's cousin complains that if Henry's army had just a small portion of the men now sleeping back home in England, maybe they wouldn't all be slaughtered by the French come the morning. I hope you will read Henry's response. I'm sure you've heard it. Listen again.

    What’s he that wishes so?
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
    If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
    But if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
    God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
    As one man more, methinks, would share from me
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
    We would not die in that man’s company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is called the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
    Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
    Familiar in his mouth as household words
    Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remember’d;
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition:
    And gentlemen in England now a-bed
    Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.


    1. Why "mark'd" instead of marked? What's "enow"? I can guess at the meaning of "To do our country loss," but readers shouldn't have to guess. It's clumsy phrasing for 2024, so an editor would reject it, it wouldn't be published, and it wouldn't be read. Thus to Shakespeare I say: Get thee to rewrite, forsooth!

      When his works are translated into Chinese or Swahili, is the text backdated, using *archaic* Chinese or Swahili words and phrasing from centuries earlier? No, Chinese or Swahili audiences experience Shakespeare as Shakespeare would've wanted — using the people's language of their time and place, same as Shakespeare wrote it for his time and place. I'd like the same courtesy please.

    2. this is a lowbrow argument, I can see the point but it's nothing to be proud of. You're a smart man, you can read or see Shakespeare and get the point.

    3. I get the point, when reading or watching Shakespeare, but I'd also like to get the nuance.

    4. Well that's fine, but my actual point is that 80% of Shakespeare isn't worth the effort. Allowing that to prevent you from enjoying the 20% that IS worth the effort (see above) is willful ignorance, the worst kind: the lowbrow kind.


  2. Why enough instead of enuff? "Enough" makes no more sense than enow. In the first sentence of my comment I said I broadly agreed with Doug about Shakespeare (there isn't even common agreement as to how his name should be spelled). I didn't graduate from college and barely from high school. Nobody who knows me would accuse me of being "smart". But I am a little curious. Were we all more curious about the past we might be averting the environmental collapse which will likely ruin the lives of anyone currently under 40.

    I learned to enjoy some of Shakespeare not in school, but on my Mother's knee. Most of it I just ignore, but I never stop reading something. Right now I'm reading a book that was written a hundred years ago, in which "clue" is spelled "clew". I managed to facilitate the translation.

    Just read what you enjoy, but don't stop reading. No sense in dying early.

    We love the things we love for what they are.


    1. I know you, or at least it feels like I know you after all these years, and I would *definitely* accuse you of being smart.

    2. Gracious as always, Doug. But I've been around too many smart people to identify as smart. I would be proud to be described as curious.

      I was having dinner with my Sister the other night, and she reminded me of the dinner rule that was in effect from the time we toddled: Dinner is at six, all four of us will be on time, and there will be quizzes. From the time we were three or four there were quizzes at dinner. Dad was the quizmaster, and the quizzes were mostly centered on world geography and the sciences, mostly astronomy, math and physics.

      There were special Saturday and Sunday morning quizzes in which Mom would make waffles or pancakes and Dad would come around the table and cut my Sister's and my waffle/pancake into the form of one or more state of the United States. This would have been when we were quite young. The idea was to identify the state before you could eat it. Dad would cheat sometimes and cut a rectangle which could be Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, or North or South Dakota. He thought this was a terrific joke.

      In any case, by the time we were five or six, we knew the planets of the solar system, how many moons each had (they have more now) and their approximate rotational period, the 48 (and later, 50) states and their capitals, the names and stars of various constellations, and other trivia about the universe and the world around us. We've both since forgotten almost all we learned at those meals, but we've both retained in intense curiosity about the world and universe around us, which was Dad's intent. So no prayer at dinner, but always, always, one or more quizzes.

      So no, I don't identify as smart, but in honor of my parents and their insistence on having fun at the breakfast and dinner tables, I cheerfully identify as curious. To this day, my Sister completes quiz books as she's falling asleep each night. She has the brains in the family.


    3. You're told me about your pop before, and he must've been a great guy. What a terrific family ritual. Instilled in you exactly the curiosity he wanted to instill in you, which is much more important than whatever 'smarts' are. Some of the smart people I've known were surprisingly stupid.

    4. In my family, we wheeled the TV up to the dinner table, and Dad said grace, and then everyone was supposed to be quiet and watch the show.

  3. Chinatown was the first and so far only movie I ever got a narc letter from my ISP for downloading via bittorrent. You'd think that would make me enjoy it more but instead I didn't even watch it haha

    1. Are they still sending those, I wonder? My wife was way into torrents before I was ever interested in piracy, and she collected about fifty of those emails. Nothing ever came of them, of course.

      I forgot to renew my VPN, so I'm 'exposed' again, which ought to worry me but doesn't.

  4. Every time there's a kiss in a movie, I'm probably thinking of Cinema Paradiso.


    Also, Shakespeare is boring.

    Good stuff.

    1. I have great respect for Shakespeare. He's not been forgotten because he wrote rather well. It's those who present his work as museum pieces, plays-under-glass, protected from the outside world and the evolution of language, who do Shakespeare a great disservice.


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