Days of Heaven,
and a few more films

#253  [archive]
MAR. 5, 2024

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

This is a Wes Anderson movie, and most of the story is set on a train rolling across India. I like Anderson and love trains, so what's not to enjoy? Well...

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman play three brothers from America, on a spiritual journey that's never quite explained. They're Hindus, I guess, complete with bindi dots on their foreheads, which vanish once the movie gets underway.

The interactions between the brothers' seems brotherly, meaning that they get on each others' nerves, and they're all likable but flawed — standard movie characters. Toward the end, Anjelica Huston pops in, playing the mother, as she did in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Like all of Anderson's work, this is a comedy-drama, but this time there aren't many laughs, and the drama is a long train ride that doesn't go anywhere, as the three brothers, ugly Americans in a foreign land, get thrown off the train, deservedly. 

Schwartzman somehow has instant Hollywood-style consensual sex with a lovely Indian woman, tells her he loves her, and then she's gone from the movie. Out of nowhere, there's suddenly a river and children drowning, and two of the three brothers rescue kids, but the third child dies, which would be a huge and harrowing moment in my life, but the movie quickly forgets it happened.

Darjeeling isn't bad. It just... isn't much, and the train is the movie's most memorable character. 

Verdict: YES, in a close call.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Day After (1983)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a made-for-TV movie, broadcast on ABC in 1983. TV networks simply don't make movies like this any more, shoving something painful and unpleasant into America's living rooms. What's unpleasant here is the destruction of Kansas City, and the nearby college town of Lawrence, KS, and by implication, the world, in a nuclear conflagration.

Using the template for an ordinary disaster film, The Day After introduces its cast of characters before all hell breaks loose, but it's a long wait, and these characters are boring. I grew impatient waiting for the mushroom clouds. 

It gets more interesting when all the hidden (and to locals, forgotten) holes in the ground — nuclear launch stations — do what they were built to do, and American missiles roar into the skies for a quick one-way flight to Russia. Is it an American first strike, or the US response to Russkie ICBMs on the way? The film wisely doesn't say, because it doesn't matter. 

Soon the Russian bombs arrive over Kansas City and Kansas, and the destruction is everywhere. There's a scene with a preacher after the apocalypse, and he's of course spouting idiocy and thanking God. Not much later the President addresses the nation, and his platitudes are laughably hollow, too. I hope both scenes were intended to add to the feeling of futility, but nobody complains about it, because it's television, and you don't question god and government on television.

"The catastrophic events you have just witnessed are, in all likelihood, less sever than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike."

It's written by Edward Hume, creator of Barnaby Jones and The Streets of San Francisco, and his script is blah. He's written a nuclear war, but with no pizzazz. He doesn't make us care about any of the characters; they're just victims.

Of course, that's what we'll all be when the missiles fly, but judging the movie as a movie instead of agitprop, it's 45 minutes of boredom, then five minutes of nuclear holocaust, and the rest of it's sadness as Jason Robards' hair falls out and everyone complains about their radiation sickness symptoms.

In addition to Robards, there's John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, and inexplicably Steve Guttenberg. 

I'm recommending the film, but it's not as good as I'd remembered, and it's not, as the poster claims, "perhaps the most important film ever made." Of the four big movies on this theme in 1983 — The Day After, Special Bulletin, Testament, and Threads — this one's the weakest.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

A Day in the Country (1946)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a short film by Jean Renoir, which remained unfinished after he became successful and moved on to bigger projects. It was completed ten years later when, says a crawl before the feature, "other hands gathered together the footage that existed and respectfully assembled it in the form he intended." 

Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, it's about a family of some means from Paris, having a day of leisure in the countryside. Some local men spot the family, and especially eye the wife and daughter, and hatch a scheme to steal the ladies' hearts. They're motivated by good old fashioned French romance, and also by a bit of a grudge against these city folks with their fine horse and carriage and clothes and class.

It's a perfectly competent film, about 40 minutes. The cads are cads, the older woman loves the attention, and the younger woman is maneuvered into a man's clutches in a way that might've seemed charming in France in the '40s, but seems ill-mannered to me.

The film works its way toward a bittersweet ending that comes out of nowhere, which rescues A Day in the Country from 'average' and makes it a winner.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Days of Heaven (1978)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

Chicago, early 1900s: Bill (Richard Gere) has anger issues, and kills his boss. Abby (Brooke Adams) loves him, so they go on the lam together, dragging Bill's kid sister Linda (Linda Manz) along, and riding trains across the American midwest.

Eventually, all three take work on a remote Texas farm, doing back-aching physical labor, until a swindle presents itself — if Bill can pose as Abby's brother, Abby could make herself available to "the Farmer" (Sam Shepherd), and marry him.

Written and directed by Terrence Malick, the story tells itself gorgeously, with narration from Linda, from a kid's eye view. It's only an hour and a half, but it feels epic — the giganticosity of the imagery, the humanity of the people, the hugeness of the harvest, and the cinematography of Néstor Almendros, all complimented by the sweeping music of Ennio Morricone. Somehow Malick even throws in a plague of locusts.

As for the performances, this is the least annoying Gere has ever been on screen, Adams and Shepherd are terrific, and Manz is beyond terrific — laconic, word-weary at about 10 years of age.

"If you didn’t work they'd ship you right out of there. They didn't need you. They could always get somebody else."

I've seen Days of Heaven several times, but it's been decades, and back then the visuals struck me so vividly that I didn't notice the politics. There's plenty. Some of Manz's narration could've been written by a red, and you can't get much more casually political than killing your boss and screwing over a wealthy landowner.

This is what movies should be. Here's a story that's deeply moving, with remarkable visuals, taking you to a time and place you'd never see otherwise, and leaving you thinking for a week about what you've seen. Days of Heaven is a marvel, unforgettable.

Verdict: BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Dazed and Confused (1993)
Dead Man's Shoes
Dead Ringers
Death Race 2000 (1975)

 ... plus sometimes,

schlock, shorts, 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. Renoir was a wonderful, genuinely humanist director, despite coming from privilege (his dad, the famous painter).

    I especially like Rules of the Game, La Chienne and La Bete Humaine (both remade by Fritz Lang, with La Chienne becoming the extraordinary Scarlet Street [highest recommendation])

    1. Wait, what? Are you fuckin' with me?

    2. IMDB confirmed, you are *not* fuckin' with me — Jean Renoir was the son of the famous Impressionist painter. Which splatters my mind like eggs dropped on the kitchen floor. I would've guessed Renoir the painter as being from Shakespeare's time. Shows what I know.

      Man, you should write a book exposing the nepotism and money advantage of basically everyone famous. I'm kinda serious. People are slightly aware that, I dunno, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller and Irène Curie came from Big Paltrow, Big Stiller, and Big Curie respectively, but nobody knows it's damned near everyone you've ever heard of. Feels like a bestseller to me.

    3. There's a book that points out in a fun pre-covid conspiracy kind of way that just a huge number of young artists associated with '60s counterculture had a father who worked in the military, many in psy-op type jobs. "Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon." Could never get very far into it, these things are always teetering on the edge of cover-up and paranoid hallucination.

      Like the man who persuaded al-Baghdadi to declare the ISIS caliphate was an American convert named John Georgelas, whose father was a West Point grad and military man. Does that mean Georgelas was an agent? In 10 years, as people rediscover this weird anomaly, people are going to strongly allude to the fact that he was (his estranged and then widowed wife more recently had an affair with a congressman that ended his career. Two birds, one family!) Or is it that ambitious men frequently find a career in the military, which is notoriously hard on families and causes their children to rebel against aggressive but absent authority figures that grant their children both status but also resentment?

    4. "There's a book that points out in a fun pre-covid conspiracy kind of way that just a huge number of young artists associated with '60s counterculture had a father who worked in the military, many in psy-op type jobs."

      The number/percentage of school shooters/survivors/people involved that have parents in the Alphabet Agencies or the defense industry or other various Gubbmint organizations is pretty shocking. From Klebold/Harris to dipshit David Hogg, and lots of others. strangely, both perps and victims belong to this demographic.

    5. Mondo truth, but I don't see it as a conspiracy or anything. Just the expected end result, when people go through boot camp and military training and military 'service' and then come back to non-military society. Kind of amazing we don't see *more* crazed killed than we do, unto the next generation and the next.


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