Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Last of FilmStruck

Here are the last films I watched on FilmStruck – all movies I’d either never seen before or hadn’t seen in years. I’m listing them, not by quality, but in the order I saw them.

A- Walkabout (1971), Tuesday afternoon

Nicolas Roeg takes us to Australia and the edge between civilization and the wild. As with all Roeg films, you shouldn’t try too hard to understand the story; you just have to feel it. A white teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her much younger brother (Luc Roeg – the director’s son) get stranded in the outback. Luckily, they meet a lone, teenage aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who knows how to survive. While the two teenagers feel a sexual spark, the child finds ways to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps. Walkabout is masterly shot, creating senses of beauty and danger. Warning: A great many animals were harmed in the making of this movie, and their deaths are all onscreen.

Two Arabian Knights (1927), Tuesday, evening

This funny and enjoyable World War I comedy gets the two protagonists out of the trenches fast, moves them to a German POW camp, then lands them in Arabia, where they save a beautiful princess from a forced marriage. These two doughboys (William Boyd is the handsome one, and Louis Wolheim the homely one) have a love/hate relationship, and their bickering adds much to the comedy. And yes, the movie has every racist stereotype of Arabs and Muslims common in 1920s America. Mary Astor plays the princess.

B+ Sansho the Bailiff (1954), Wednesday afternoon

Kenji Mizoguchi once again tells us how horrible life was in medieval Japan. You could call this film the Japanese version of 12 Years a Slave. The children of a disgraced aristocrat – disgraced because he treated his peasants as human beings – are kidnapped and enslaved. The Sansho of the title is an extremely wealthy and evil slaveowner and is really a minor character. Beautifully shot and tremendously sad.

Ocean’s 11 (1960), Wednesday evening

Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack do a heist film, and it’s just kind of okay. Eleven men, all trained in special operations in World War II, set out to rob five big Las Vegas hotels on New Year’s Eve. The many characters’ histories and personalities, which take up nearly half of the film’s runtime, feel forced and flat. Some of these histories are too serious for a movie that should feel like a lark. Things improve in the second half, but not enough. Other cast members include Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford. Shirley MacLaine has a short and funny cameo. I barely remember the 2001 remake, but I think it was better.

Shame (1968), Thursday afternoon

Ever wonder what a Bergman action film would be like? He made one, and it slaps you in the face like few movies do. A married couple living on a small farm (Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow) have their lives shattered as war breaks out. Soon bombs are dropping near them and soldiers threaten their lives. We never know who is fighting who or for what reason, but we do learn quickly that both sides are equally cruel and authoritarian. Like so many Bergman films, it’s really about the stress on a two-person relationship. But few Bergman couples must suffer the way these do.

Day for Night (1973), Thursday night

We all know that François Truffaut loved cinema fanatically. Day for Night is his love letter to all the pain and joy of shooting a movie. Truffaut himself plays the director shooting a romantic tragedy in Nice, and everything goes wrong. Extras don’t move as they should. An alcoholic actress makes the same mistake take after take. A kitten refuses to go to a saucer of milk on cue. And, of course, people constantly fall in and out of love – or maybe just lust. A sweet, warm comedy most of the time, the tone turns effortlessly serious in the last half hour. The cast includes Jacqueline Bisset as an international star and Jean-Pierre Léaud as a hopelessly immature leading man.

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