Movies I’ve Seen Recently: Lolita, A story from Chikamatsu, Cluny Brown, & The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Here are four more movies I’ve recently discovered or rediscovered.

Lolita (1962), FilmStruck

I’m not sure if Kubrick’s take on Nabokov is a very funny tragedy or a very sad comedy, but it’s certainly about reprehensible people. James Mason carries the tragic vibe as the intellectual obsessed with a teenage girl but who cares only for himself.  Peter Sellers is very funny as his rival for the underage prize. Shelley Winters plays Lolita’s horny mother. And yet, with all that talent, the very young Sue Lyon holds the film together as the title character. Kubrick and his collaborators found ingenious ways to get around the censorship of the day.

A- A story from Chikamatsu (1954), FilmStruck

Strict laws, a cruel class system, and rigid gender roles makes life a living hell in Kenji Mizoguchi’s stunning drama set in medieval Japan. The wealthy owner of a printing house, through a series of errors and petty refusals, comes to believe that his faithful wife is having an affair with an employee. In a society that punishes adultery with crucifixion, their only choice is to flee, and there’s no place to flee. Beautifully shot by Kazuo Miyagawa (Rashomon).

B+ Cluny Brown (1946), FilmStruck

Ernst Lubitsch’s last completed film takes a very funny swipe British rigidity while also celebrating England’s role in stopping Hitler (the movie is set in 1938). Jennifer Jones plays the title character, a plumber’s niece who would rather fix a pipe than just about anything. Of course, it’s not proper for a young woman to repair sinks, so her uncle sets her up as a maid in a wealthy home. Charles Boyer plays a Czech refugee who sees nothing wrong with a woman plumber.

C+ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), Netflix (yes, I should have seen it in a theater, but that didn’t happen)

The Coen brothers’ anthology movie tells six very different stories that play off conventional Hollywood western, usually with extremely dark twists. The stories go from very broad, black comedy to full-on tragedy. As one should expect with an anthology, some of the stories are better than others. But with one exception – set on a wagon train – the stories go only skin-deep. The Coens simply accept the worst stereotypes of Native Americans. The cast includes James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, and Tom Waits.

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