Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Magnificent Ambersons, Waking Life, The Newton Boys, Hot Water

Orson Welles’ ruined masterpiece, Harold Lloyd at his worst, and good and bad movies by Richard Linklater.

A- The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Newly purchased Blu-ray

Orson Well’s follow-up to Citizen Kane just might have been a masterpiece. RKO took the film away from Welles, cut out about a third, and added a horribly happy ending. But there’s enough brilliance in the final product to make you cry for what was lost. (And yes, I’ve seen Ambersons several times, but not in this century.)

What we have of the film starts with a brilliant look at the slow, gentle, unhurried turn-of-the-century “good old days” that will soon be gone forever. Automobiles are replacing horse-drawn wagons, and the aristocratic Amberson family begins to fall apart. It’s a complex story, where the young, spoiled son (Tim Holt) seems more conservative and old-fashioned than his elders, while the man bringing in the age of the automobiles (Joseph Cotton) has the calm, gentile manners of the old days. Beautifully shot by Stanley Cortez, whose deep-focus shots are less showy than Gregg Toland’s in Citizen Kane. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington.

A- Waking Life (2001), Netflix DVD

A young man (Wiley Wiggins) walks through town and talks to people. Sometimes the young man isn’t around but people talk to each other anyway. They talk about dreams, consciousness, life, death, and life after death. Sounds awful. And yet, writer/director Richard Linklater mostly makes these discussions intelligent…or at least weird enough to be interesting. Then Linklater had multiple animators turn the live action into strange cartoons, making all these discussions about dreaming look like dreams. By the way, Jesse and Celeste from Before Sunrise have a cameo (the sequels had not yet been made).

The Newton Boys (1998) , Netflix DVD

Richard Linklater has made some excellent films. This isn’t one of them. Set in the 1920s and based on a true story, Matthew McConaughey leads a family of bank robbers until they decide to rob a train. Unlike other such criminals, they go out of their way not to kill anybody; a goal that seems absurd in that line of work. This is one of those period crime movies where the life of crime feels like fun and games until suddenly it isn’t. There’s no pacing, and outside of McConaughey, the boys are flat and uninteresting – and one of those flat and uninteresting boys is the usually talented Ethan Hawke. You know there’s something wrong when the best part of the movie is at the end, when we’re told what happened to them afterwards.

D- Hot Water (1924), YouTube

I recently realized that this was the only Harold Lloyd silent feature I had never seen. Now that I’ve seen it, it’s the only Harold Lloyd silent feature I don’t like. In fact, it’s the only one I really hate. With no real plot, it’s the sort of domestic idiocy that Laurel and Hardy would be doing brilliantly ten years later. But Laurel and Hardy’s personas were idiots, so stupid that just coming home is a major challenge. But Lloyd is at his best when he outsmarts everyone else. I think I chuckled once.