Two new movies that, if it were not for COVID-19, would be playing in theaters, along with two pictures that were made before films streamed on the Internet. As usual, they’re in order from best to last.
A- Beanpole (2019), helping the Balboa or Rafael
Within minutes after this Russian film starts, the extremely tall title character (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) commits something horrifically evil. We’re never really sure why she did this unspeakable act, but director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov clearly wants us to figure things out on our own. Set in Stalingrad only months after the war, life is still difficult, and Beanpole’s work in the hospital is a daily reminder of victory’s cost. Her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) wants a baby but can’t conceive one, so she insists that Beanpole do it for her. On the whole, everyone is miserable in Stalingrad, but small acts of kindness help. Cinematographer Kseniya Sereda finds unusual ways to look into the Russian soul.
A- What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Criterion Channel
How did I miss this laugh fest in 1972? I remember it being in theaters. Maybe I was too caught up in “serious cinema” to notice that Peter Bogdanovich had made one of the funniest movies in years. It’s like a Howard Hawks screwball comedy with physical slapstick reminiscent of Buster Keaton (but with stunt doubles). The plot isn’t likely: Four people go to the same hotel, on the same day, with identical bags. Two of these bags contain things that powerful and ruthless people want. Written by Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton – the screenwriters of The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. Barbra Streisand plays the crazy dame to perfection and Madeline Kahn as the luckless fiancée. Even Ryan O’Neal is funny.
B Extra Ordinary (2019), helping the Balboa or Lark
This low-budget, Irish version of Ghostbusters starts slow with only occasional giggles, but builds up to something hilarious. A lonely driving teacher (Maeve Higgins) has a knack for seeing and connecting with ghosts. A widower (Barry Ward) must deal with his jealous, domineering, and very much dead wife. A once famous rock musician (Will Forte) plans to sacrifice a virgin to Satan so he can be successful again – but it’s not easy to find a virgin in modern Ireland. In the first half, Extra Ordinary is a mildly funny comedy–enjoyable but not exceptional. But as it moves towards the climax, the movie becomes hysterically funny.
C+ Angels Over Broadway (1940), Criterion Channel
The great screenwriter Ben Hecht isn’t remembered for his directing talent; now I know why. Angels Over Broadway, one of his few directorial works, contains some of Hecht’s brilliant dialog–mostly spoken by Thomas Mitchell as a drunken playwright. The weak noir plot is bottom of the barrel; John Qualen must get $3,000 by morning (you probably don’t know Qualen’s name, but if you’ve seen enough old movies, you’ll recognize his face). Meanwhile, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. tries to set up the mob while trying not to fall in love with Rita Hayworth. The film looks cheesy, and the blocking is woefully stage bound. Cinematographer Lee Garmes co-directed with no credit.