The Holdovers and The Shooting,
and a few more films

A Hidden Life (2019)

#243  [archive]
FEB. 10, 2024

Every time I try to watch something Terrence Malick has made since the 1970s, I hate Terrence Malick a little more. He made the excellent Badlands and Days of Heaven, then disappeared for twenty years to thoroughly cleanse himself of the ability to make good movies. Now he won't go away, and keeps churning out the same bloated 'art' movie over and over again.

This time it's about Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer drafted into the military, where part of everyone's induction was an oath to support Adolf Hitler. Jägerstätter didn't mind the conscription, but couldn't bring himself to utter the oath, so they chopped his head off. Some years later, the Catholics made him a saint for it.

It's a true story, and I'll give Jägerstätter an eyeroll of respect for it — but also, if he'd lied for ten seconds he could've kept his head, and there's no shame in lying to keep your head attached.

The movie is six minutes short of three hours, and you know it's Malick before seeing his name on the screen. He never lets you forget it: Four-minute shots of people walking on a trail. Guy looking into the trees. The camera looking into the trees. Mumbled observations. Fish-eye close-ups. The mountains again. Sickle the wheat. Sickle it some more. Sickle it again. Sad Jägerstätter. Sad Mrs Jägerstätter. More wheat, more sickles, more mountains and blue skies and the salt of the earth and Sad Jägerstätters again. Also, Nazis are bad, mkay?

Here, let's look into the trees again.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Holdovers (2023)

From Alexander Payne, the marvelous Paul Giamotti plays a hide-bound hard-ass boarding school teacher who's sometimes slightly drunk, always pompous and full of himself. Come Christmas, he's left in charge of the few students who can't go home for the holidays.

Dominic Sessa is the most put-upon of the winter-break holdovers, a smart kid with all the issues. Da'Vine Joy Randolph plays the manager of the school's cafeteria, mourning her son killed in Vietnam.

Each of these three has an archetype inside, but they're fully fleshed-out, evolving in tiny footsteps toward friendship — believably, not in the maudlin way of a thousand bad movies.

Not a word of this rings false. These are people you usually only see from the outside, but Mr Payne takes us in, to see some of the hurt we rarely see in others. Of course, it's the pain that makes us who we are.

The Holdovers was made and released last year, but feels authentically of the 1970s — even the trailer feels 50 years old, bragging, "in color." The standard legal disclaimer about the photoplay being fictitious says, "Copyright MCMLXXI," which is 1971. Never seen a movie kid around with copyright before.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Saint in London (1939)

Simon Templar investigates a counterfeiting operation, in this rather unusual entry in the series. Instead of a mystery, it's plain from the start what's up, so even more than the other Saint movies the fun here is all in the witty dialogue. Of which there's plenty.

"Have you ever heard of this 'Saint', Mr Templar?"

"I'm afraid I haven't attended Sunday School for many years."

Someone named Sally Gray wears a silly hat and plays the love interest, adorably.

Pure piffle, but delightfully so.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)

I happened to watch this immediately after seeing The Holdovers, so it never stood a chance. But also, it never deserved a chance. It's microwaved garbage.

Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) plays a suave, shallow Texas art dealer who owns a huge mansion but cheats on his wife Debbie (Renée Zellweger, unrecognizable). To rehabilitate their marriage, she makes him volunteer at a homeless shelter, filled with people and moments that happen only in Hollywood's version of homeless shelters. 

Allegedly a true story, it feels like a Billy Graham alter-call movie, though I didn't stick around long enough to see who runs the alter-call now that Billy's gone.

Verdict: BIG NO.


Saved! (2004)

This is set in a Christian high school, where everyone's earnest about the Christianity and the only rock allowed is Christian rock. I know this world, vouch for the accuracy of it all, but jeez I would never spend an hour and a half there again, like I just did, unless it's a comedy — and it's not. There are few laughs in this movie except when we're laughing at Christians for being Christians, which fuckall, you can do that without watching a movie.

After showing us the hypocrisies of the Christian school, its Christian leadership, Christian values, and the warped effect it has on the Christian kids, everything's washed away with a hug at the end.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Shooting (1966)

A mysterious woman with ridiculous fake eyelashes (Millie Perkins, from The Diary of Anne Frank) hires bounty hunter Warren Oates and his dim-witted friend as escorts on a long horse ride. The woman won't say where they're going or why, won't even say who she is, but it's clear that trouble's brewing.

Heavy on the atmospherics and drama, this is slow but deeply engrossing, full of memorable characters in increasingly tight situations. Enigmatic, peculiar, it's different from any western you've ever seen.

Directed by Monte Hellman, arguably his best work. Written brilliantly by Adrien Joyce (Five Easy Pieces), and produced by Hellman and Jack Nicholson, who shows up midway through as a stoic smartass.

Bit of a pity that Nicholson found so much success as a actor. In his early years, he also wrote and produced — Drive, He Said, Head, Ride in the Whirlwind, The Trip, this. Once he became a movie star, he stopped working side gigs, and you have to wonder what else he might've come up with, if he'd continued as a jack of all trades.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Train (1964)

In the waning days of WWII, the Germans raid the French Museum, and load all its most precious artworks on a train to Berlin. The challenge, then, is to stop the train without damaging the cargo.

It's two hours of cat-and-mouse, sabotage gone wrong and sabotage gone right, and Nazis being Nazis. Burt Lancaster is hammy and greasy as the saboteur mastermind and engineer, and serious effort went into making it all seem realistic. Lancaster is actually climbing aboard and jumping off a moving train, and handling the sweaty controls.

From director John Frankenheimer, it all works as action and tension, but the script's endless series of sabotage shenanigans make Hogan's Heroes seem like a documentary.

Also, I love trains, but the train noises and mechanical squeaks and squeals become a throbbing headache here. With the movie barely half over, I clicked it off at about the 200th piercing whistle.

Verdict: YES. It's a seriously good action movie, but not for me, not tonight.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Tremors (1990)

Buncha small-town rednecks discover giant man-eating worms under the dirt. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star, with Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, some wormy monsters, plenty of laughs, and a few screams.

It's absurd, of course, but Tremors is comfort food. It's the macaroni and cheese of monster movies.

I first saw it as the last booking at downtown Seattle's venerable Coliseum, a great old movie palace that's still standing empty, which ought to be seized and forcibly re-opened for showing movies.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Wishman (1983)

Mad scientists have engineered a prototype for a slave labor force — a genetically-engineered four-fingered infant the size of a ten-year-old, capable of controlling electricity. It can't follow even the simplest orders, though, so the money guy orders it dissected, to make way for the next prototype. One of the mad scientists has a conscience, and rescues the ginormous tot by kidnapping it.

CBS thought Wishman could be a TV show, but there's not even a spark of life to the concept, and the bioengineered kid looks like Jackie Gleason with antlers, and compact discs for eyes.

Bad as it might sound, this is actually far worse. Joseph Bottoms and Linda Hamilton star, with James Keach as the bland blond bad guy.

Verdict: BIG NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •    

The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... 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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