Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Force, The Player, & A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Here are three other movies I’ve seen.

The Force (2017), California Theater (Berkeley)

No, this not a Star Wars movie, but a cinema verite documentary about the Oakland Police Department, shot over a period of two years. There’s no narration, and if anything was staged for the movie cameras – even an interview – I didn’t catch it. (Some press conferences, of course, were staged for TV news cameras.) We see lectures to new recruits about protecting citizens, avoiding violence, and improving relationships with the people–especially the people of color who have very real reasons to fear police. We see the cops dealing with difficult situations. Things appear to be improving, and it appears that the troubled OPD will get its act together…and then a scandal breaks. One feels that it’s almost impossible to keep a city police department clean.

A- The Player (1992), FilmStruck

Robert Altman’s and Michael Tolkin’s poison pen movie to Hollywood is a surprisingly entertaining experience. The protagonist, studio executive Griffen Mill (Tim Robbins), should really be the villain. He’s cruel, cares only about himself, and worst of all, he commits murder (but after all, it was only a screenwriter). Yet the film tricks you into rooting for him. Many movie stars pop up playing themselves, which adds to the fun. The Player is funny, suspenseful, sexy, and filled with movie stars. In other words, it’s a Hollywood film attacking Hollywood. I’ve seen this film twice before, but that was in the last century.

B+ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), FilmStruck

I’ve also seen this exceptionally silly comedy before, but not in a very long time. Like Carry On Cleo, it’s a broad and risqué farce, made in the mid-’60s, and set in ancient Rome. If you can get past the extremely sexist attitudes (women are portrayed either as sex objects or ugly harpies), you’ll find a lot to laugh at. The cast is almost a who’s who of great comedians, including Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Phil Silvers, Michael Hordern, and Buster Keaton in his last feature-film performance. Director Richard Lester, an expatriate American living in England, successfully integrates the vaudeville, Catskills, and British Music Hall styles of the cast. It’s also a musical, with one great song (Comedy Tonight) and a couple of others that are pretty good in context.