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The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Goodbye Dragon Inn,
and a few more films

Good Will Hunting (1997)

It's not about thrifting at Goodwill. Will Hunting is the main character's name.

He's a troubled and occasionally violent janitor at MIT, who solves a heady math problem on a chalkboard at the university. It's a problem none of the students could figure out, so a professor decides the janitor is a math whiz, and tracks Will to one of his numerous court appearances.

As often happens but only to white people and only in the movies, the judge releases the defendant to the custody of someone who promises to tend him. In this case it's the math professor, with a requirement that Will see a therapist for his recurring anger issues. 

NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#300  [archive]
JUNE 9, 2024

Matt Damon stars, with Robin Williams as the shrink, Minnie Driver as the girl, Stellan Skarsgård as the professor, and Ben Affleck as the best buddy. Script by Damon & Affleck, pulling a 'Rocky' same as Sylvester Stallone did — they weren't getting the good roles they wanted, so they wrote their own movie.

The Boston-boys hijinks with Damon and Affleck gets tedious, and as usually happens in Hollywood, "the girl" is pretty and that's all she has going on. The bulk of the movie, though, is about the psychiatrist trying to get inside Will's wounded head, and young Will figuring out what he wants from life.

Good Will Hunting is more intelligent and awake than most big-time movies, which isn't saying much, but it has a whisper of something to say, and earns a thumb's up from me.

It's a good movie with a stupid title.

Directed by Gus Van Sant. Music by Danny Elfman. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

"The good" is Clint Eastwood, though he's barely a good guy. He makes his living in a swindle, turning in a wanted man for the bounty, then shooting the rope at the hanging, making a getaway with the wanted man, and pulling the same ruse in the next town.

"The bad" is Lee Van Cleef, a man of mean eyes and a cruel heart, who's looking for a lockbox full of stolen treasure. He's an honest bad, though. When two men hire him to kill each other, he sees no conflict of interest and follows through, twice.

"The ugly" is Eli Wallach, who starts as the man on the rope in Eastwood's scheme, but wants a bigger cut, so Eastwood abandons him in the desert. "The way back to town is only 70 miles. You know, if you save your breath, I feel a man like you could manage it. Adios."

All three men hate each other, and the lost treasure is the MacGuffin that keeps them at each others throats, with doublecrosses all along the way. Everything is overamped to near-silliness, including the Civil War set piece and the Mexican standoff at the end, but the music and unending eyeball close-ups demand to be taken seriously. 

This is the best spaghetti western ever.

Does the term need to be defined? Spaghetti westerns were set in America's old west but filmed in Italy, with mostly Italian casts, all-Italian crews, and usually a few American stars. The actors and actresses speak in their own languages, dubbed as needed for the flick to play on either side of the Atlantic. Which is a crazy way to make movies, but some were enjoyable, and this is the best.

The story is a series of thinly-connected vignettes, all playing on familiar western clichés, adding up to a fine way to spend three hours of your life. The director is Sergio Leone, a master at these things, and the music is by the magnificent Ennio Morricone. 

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This film takes place entirely at the Fu-Ho Grand Theater, in Taipei. It's a very large, single-screen cinema, and in the first scene it's completely full, with about a thousand people watching Dragon Inn (1967), a Taiwanese epic.

That opening scene, with the packed theater, is a flashback. Dragon Inn packed the place when it first played, but this is the theater's closing night. They've booked Dragon Inn for one last screening before the doors are locked, and there are only perhaps two dozen people in the audience.

Basically, that's Goodbye, Dragon Inn. It unfolds in real time, while Dragon Inn plays in the background. It shows the theater's audience, and its staff. It's eerie, it's sad, and obviously very unlike ordinary movies.

The subtitles relay Dragon Inn's dialogue, since Goodbye, Dragon Inn has nearly no dialogue of its own. (And at the link above, click 'closed captions' to launch the subtitles.)

Dragon Inn is a rousing adventure, but Goodbye, Dragon Inn is slow, and by movie-standards almost nothing happens. Many shots last a minute, and some last much longer — no MTV quick cuts here. Also no action, and no drama unless you're paying close attention (which I recommend).

In the audience, a woman eats nuts, cracking the shells, annoying the man in front of her. A man puts his feet up, uncomfortably close to another patron's head.

There's some slight cruising, straight and gay, hinted at but never shown. From their seats, people eye each other for longer than I'd consider socially accessible, and in the men's room, a dozen urinals are available, but three men stand side-by-side in three adjacent urinals. 

There are only two employees at the theater: a young woman who walks with a laborious limp, and the projectionist. She might have a crush on him. We watch her struggle up a flight of stairs to share her lunch with him in the projection booth, but he's not there; the movie is unspooling without him. Maybe he's one of the guys in the men's room. She sits and waits for a while, then gives up, and struggles down the stairs again. 

When Dragon Inn concludes, the house lights come up, and the limping woman sweeps the aisles. The camera lingers, watching an empty auditorium for several minutes.  

Then Goodbye, Dragon Inn concludes, with two small but big scenes I can't tell you about because I don't do spoilers. Suffice to say, there's an emotional payoff, but again, only if you're paying close attention.

Finally, the camera leaves the theater, where a sign says "Temporarily closed," but I've seen similar signs on locked cinema doors. It's not temporary.

Not quite changing the subject, let me mention Seattle's Coliseum Theater. It opened in 1916 and had almost 2,000 seats, with two balconies. I saw Jaws from the upper balcony, where the seating was so steep it scared me more than the movie.

The balconies had been roped off by 1990, when I watched Tremors with about two dozen other customers on the theater's last night. Goodbye, Dragon Inn captures that feeling, the last night in a grand cinema, a sadness bigger than the big screen.

The film is audacious, never winks or cheats on its concept, and it's unforgettable for anyone who's ever loved seeing films in a theater.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is the prototype of the teacher-who-changed-my-life genre, based on a novel by James Hilton (Lost Horizon). The teacher is Mr Chipping, called 'Mr Chips' by generations of loving students, and the setting is the olde Brookfield School, fictionally founded in 1492.

The movie wants you to love Brookfield, but the appeal of such upper-crust private boarding schools, full of well-behaved boys from wealthy families, all in matching uniforms, eludes me. I instantly hated the place.

A more serious problem is Robert Donat as Mr Chips. At the start of the movie he's supposed to be 83 years old, but he's obviously a young man wearing pounds of aging makeup, and way overplaying the charming-but-doddering bit.

Then we flash back to the beginning of Mr Chips' teaching career, where Donat is age appropriate and plays the part better, and the students are a bit more rambunctiously disobedient than they'd been in the opening scenes. This lifted my hopes for the film, but unfortunately, as the story's years roll by, Donat's fake mustache gets bushier and his performance hammier.

There's an unconvincing romance with Greer Garson, but the primary thrust of the story is Mr Chips' yearning to be the school's headmaster, and instilling a patriotic fervor in the boys, necessary for the looming War to End All Wars, a/k/a WWI. 

I yawned a lot, but most people think it's a classic.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gorgo (1961)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Gorgo is an oversized ugliness discovered in Ireland, shipped to England and put on tawdry display. An orphan boy on loan from Oliver Twist keeps telling the adults that what they're doing to Gorgo is wrong. The critter's mother agrees, and goes on the rampage for her baby. 

Is the movie good? As schlock, yeah. It's the first Godzilla-ripoff from the UK, so the screams have an accent, and seeing London stomped instead of Tokyo is a pleasant variation. Tower Bridge, Parliament, and Big Ben are going down.

"Piccadilly Circus? There's no telling where this thing will strike next."

The monster effects are average for the genre, but it's in color, and the destruction effects are fine. And it certainly offers a strong female lead, in the form of Monster Mom. Gorgo isn't King Kong or Godzilla, but it's pretty good if you're in the mood for this sort of thing. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Interview with Tsai Ming-Liang, director of Goodbye, Dragon Inn
from TylerCoburn.com

Was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly "the truest western ever made"?
from I Hated Black And White Movies

6/9/2024   

• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Gosford Park (2001)
The Graduate (1967)
Grammar Revolution (2014)
Gran Torino (2008)
Grand Central Murder (1942)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
especially
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. 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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26 comments:

  1. No film has ever better captured man's inhumanity to man than *The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,* both on the individual and state level. Brilliant mix of humor and pathos. One of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema is the one where Eastwood gives a dying soldier a drag on his cigar, and he looks away, distracted, while the soldier takes his last breath.

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    1. That's a dynamite moment, no doubt, but I try to avoid super-duper-superlatives. For man's inhumanity to man, I dunno, Shoah, No Country for Old Men, maybe The Golden Glove...

      I might've given The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly less than the rave review it deserves, though, just because I've seen it so many times it's started to lose it's punch, plus the copy I pirated had some sound glitches. It's absolutely one of the greats.

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  2. You got me with the *The Golden Glove!* Good one!

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  3. Three uses of "it's" and ya got two right. Hitting .667 is darn good in any league. Just a small dose of shit-giving on a sunny day.

    John

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    1. I work on the writing, so any typo that gets past me is embarrassing. The comments, though, are dashed off more casually and with no proofreading and no standards.

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  4. Did you watch the original Good/Bad/Ugly or the "restored" version? The latter was the first time I ever really got mad about a "director's cut" or whatever. Because it isn't one: at least some of the footage they restored was stuff that Leone intentionally cut because he thought the film flowed better without it. They also had Clint, Eli and some Van Cleef impersonator (since he was dead) come in and dub some of this "new" footage, and they sound very much like raspy 70 year old men rather than the daredevils you're seeing on screen. None of the footage is the plantation scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux," it's just stuff you knew was happening and assumed took place off-screen. Tuco got his posse together to hunt Blondie; seeing them physically assemble isn't that interesting. (And the irony of it all being that Coppola cut nearly half of what he had "restored" in "Redux" in what he claims now is his "final cut" of the movie.)

    If someone doesn't know the original they probably won't really care (except noticing the voices and look is a bit "off") but compared to the original it really fucks with the flow.

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    1. IMDB says TGTBATU is 2 hours, 41 minutes. The copy I watched is 3 hours and one minute, and says "special thanks" to Alberto Grimaldi, Clint Eastwood, and Elu Wallach for the voice work, so I guess I got the not-director's cut (Serge Leone died in 1989).

      It didn't feel blasphemous to me, and I didn't notice what was added since the last time I'd seen it. I don't know the specifics, but sometimes stuff gets cut to squeeze in an additional showing every day, which isn't really an artistic choice.

      I don't even remember Tuco assembling his posse, so I guess that scene made no big impact one me.

      Are you finnicky on TGTBATU like I'm finicky on Star Wars? I frickin' *hate* every change Geo Lucas has made.

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    2. Few directors have been more fucked than Leone when it comes to home video:

      https://theeditroomfloor.blogspot.com/2017/04/current-issues-with-good-bad-and-ugly.html

      Bit, like you, I prefer the longest version of TGTBTU - and all of his films. Especially Once Upon a Time In America.

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    3. As for Star Wars - agreed.

      The versions to get there are what's called 4K77, 4K80, 4K83, which are 4K scans of original release prints, so they look as close as possible to what we all saw in the theaters: reel change marks, the occasional scratch (but they use good prints, so rarely) and - most important - absolutely heavenly film grain. I LOVE film grain. (There's also a 4K scan of an Eyes Wide Shut print, which is astoundingly beautiful, as it was the single grainiest film I ever saw in a theater - and that was Kubrick's intention, to add the dreamlike quality of the flick - and all the home video releases wipe most of the grain away.)

      https://archive.org/details/05-star.-wars.-4-k-77.1080p.no-dnr.-35mm.x-264-v-1.0-et-hd

      There are also incredibly fun version of the Star Wars trilogy called the "Puggo" versions, which are scans of beat up 16MM prints, so they look like shit - but somehow more alive than ever.

      https://youtu.be/9GvDcwJXbGU?si=U6zSAtQEMyNiMiri

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    4. I should say that the 4K project has been entirely a fan sourced thing - all the money for prints and technology and time was donated by thousands of people - and may be one of the most important acts of film history ever.

      Whatever one thinks of Star Wars, it probably changed culture as much if not more than the Beatles did a decade before. Yet Lucas refuses to release quality prints or negative materials of the original, unaltered films. If I'm not mistaken, the Library of Congress asked for a copy of Star Wars, Lucas gave them the "special edition" - and they refused it! Good on them.

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    5. The GBU article, part one of three, requires more reading time than exists before going to work this morning, but I'll be digging into it this evening. It's gotta be a credit to the art that no matter what anyone seems to have done to the movie, it's aways excellent. And since I didn't watch it over and over and over and memorize every moment (like Star Wars) I mostly don't notice the changes unless someone 'splains it to me.

      With Star Wars, I notice the hell out of every little thing, so when I found a guy who'd spent years and hundreds of hours restoring Star Wars to what it had originally been, that's the version I watched and wrote about, around 2021. But the guy was (perhaps justifiably) fearful of Disney and Lucas, so he kept the film painfully well-hidden on the web, so even if you had his website, you still had hours of work to do poking around past acres of legal disclaimers before you could find the repaired film itself.

      I posted a direct link to the repaired film itself, but the link is no longer functional and I'm no longer willing to do the hours of work needed to watch that guy's years of work restoring the movie.

      If you or anyone reading this know a link to a restored Star Wars that's the real thing, this time I'll download it, not just watch it...

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    6. The archive.org link I posted above has the MKV file for the 4K77 scan. It's big: almost 40 G, but worth it. I have the other two films as well, if you're interested - but they're just as large. I also have the UHD scans, but those are twice again as big (almost 100 G each) and are useless if you don't have a 4K/UHD display.

      I used to have the Despecialized version you linked to, but after seeing the 4K77 project, I'll never go back. Not to get all condescending nerd about it, but Despecialized (by a fellow named Harmy) was a great effort, but he's essentially taking flawed materials (Laserdiscs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, etc. that have already been altered by Big George, and he's "undoing" them with CGI and effects of his own. The 4K projects are what we all saw in the theaters, full stop, and at the highest resolution possible.

      Agree about the variations of Leone - even his altered films are wonderful, and I also don't know them as intimately as Star Wars.

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    7. My laptop can't handle a file so huge, Claude. Can't play it, can't download it. It bombed out three times, and then I got a silent feature-length copy of the left side of the screen. I'm not terribly techy, obviously.

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    8. Man, I would definitely like to see 4K77. Do you know of any links for ordinary-sized files? My three-hour version of TGTBATU is about half a gig...

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    9. Can your laptop play that size (40 G) file from an external/thumb drive?

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    10. I don't know. I've never tried. Never seen a file so huge. I run movies off my external drive, which has about 1,500 movies on it. Can't get my machine to play that file from archive.org, and it won't let me download it.

      You've watched it, so it must be doable.

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  5. At least one of the scenes that Leone cut himself was definitely an artistic choice. I think the original cut flows like a song (a really long one) and it's like they stuck another verse in the middle of it. Editing is creative and just because a director filmed it doesn't mean it was an inalienable part of their "vision."

    Lucas' changes were absurd and irritating and worse, his CGI changes look TERRIBLE today. Your average video game has better looking graphics than the shit he stuffed in the ANH Special Edition. But while I wouldn't say I have a different view of Star Wars post-Disney, these guys seem to have taken the worst tendencies of George Lucas and baked them into the recipe. So much of that universe was better being imagined and referenced than depicted on film. With Disney in charge this will never stop, the original three films are now a very small part of that universe (albeit one that has to be referenced constantly because of the lack of traction all additional characters have gotten). There's just hours and hours of people interacting poorly with badly rendered CGI, they're animating corpses and having them fly through the vacuum of space like Mary Poppins and it's just amazing.

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    1. https://youtu.be/2vUk_qxkIuY?si=uusxJXfb8h48lvcz

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    2. Ideally, the director gets the final say on what's in and out of a movie, unless it's George Lucas. I don't disagree that Leone got the posthumous shaft in the re-edited TGTBATU, but it's a testament to his work that even mangled, it's still terrific.

      Far as I'm concerned, there are three Star Wars movies, and that's it. I saw The Phantom Menace when it came out, regretted it, and have seen nothing branded Star Wars that's come out since. I can't quite understand people looking forward to the next one and the one after that, but to each their own, unless it's George Lucas.

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    3. The full Packard experience is on my watchlist, of course.

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    4. I think Lucas' prequels are worth watching. Are they terrible? Almost objectively so. Revenge of the Sith is pretty close to good, though, and has what may be John William's best score since the 1980s. And it's cool as hell to see the trilogy end on such a tragic note (creation of Vader, etc.)

      I'll watch anything Lucas directs himself, because he is really a weird director. How many mainstream directors are influenced equally by Kurosawa, Ford - and avant gardists like the astounding Arthur Lipsett?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Lipsett

      Andor (TeeVee show) is absolutely fantastic. I was shocked how good it got as it went along, each episode better than the last. Perfectly fit's into the original trilogy timeline, but also totally relevant for today's real world politics. Starts off as a Pakula conspiracy, becomes a heist film, then a prison break.

      The subsequent Disney flicks, and all the other TV shows (though I do dig the holiday special from 1978, unironically) are worse than exploded whale shit, of course.

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    5. I think Lucas' prequels are worth watching. Are they terrible? Almost objectively so. Revenge of the Sith is pretty close to good, though, and has what may be John William's best score since the 1980s. And it's cool as hell to see the trilogy end on such a tragic note (creation of Vader, etc.)

      I'll watch anything Lucas directs himself, because he is really a weird director. How many mainstream directors are influenced equally by Kurosawa, Ford - and avant gardists like the astounding Arthur Lipsett?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Lipsett

      Andor (TeeVee show) is absolutely fantastic. I was shocked how good it got as it went along, each episode better than the last. Perfectly fit's into the original trilogy timeline, but also totally relevant for today's real world politics. Starts off as a Pakula conspiracy, becomes a heist film, then a prison break.

      The subsequent Disney flicks, and all the other TV shows (though I do dig the holiday special from 1978, unironically) are worse than exploded whale shit, of course.

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    6. https://youtu.be/pPhEsoSAhvY?si=eH5JofacbyYmDQcv

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    7. I have never even heard of Andor, but you sold me. Also never heard of Arthur Lipsett, but now I have four Lipsetts on my list.

      Kinda surprised to see you say such kind things about Lucas. American Graffiti and Star Wars and major accomplishments, but he seems to prefer moguling to directing.

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    8. The prequels are "almost objectively" terrible, but worth watching? Sounds like you're a diehard fan of the Star Wars universe, man. I'm a die-easy fan. Watching that annoying kid race in his annoying flying car killed my interest in post-original Star Wars — even before Jar-Jar showed up.

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