Movies I’ve Recently Seen: I’m No Angel, Bad Santa, Mank, & Black Peter

My most recent selection of random movies have no masterpieces. But they don’t have any stinkers either. Three out of the four get Bs, and the best only gets a B+

B+ I’m No Angel (1933)

In what I believe is probably Mae West’s best movie (I haven’t seen them all), she deals with carnies, lions, snooty millionaires, crooks, and a very young and sexy Cary Grant. Mae West – the character, not the human being – isn’t entirely about sex. To a large degree, she’s about knocking down the rich, the snooty, and the hypocritical. The final act takes place in a very funny and unlikely court. She’s suing Grant, and has the judge and all-male jury eating out of her hands. As she says in the movie, “It’s not the men in your life; it’s the life in your men.” That line, and the entire screenplay, were written by West.

B Bad Santa (2003)

This R-rated movie uses classical music brilliantly for comic effect in ways I never saw before. Other than that, it’s a very dark comedy that goes wrong when it tries to be sentimental. Billy Bob Thornton plays a deeply alcoholic department store Santa with tendencies to swear at the children and pee on his chair. But that’s just a front. He and his sidekick (little person Tony Cox) rob from the stores they work at. I’m not talking about pilfering, but safe cracking. Things change when the drunken Santa falls in with a troubled and bullied boy. At first, Santa plans to rob the kid’s house, but soon he becomes a father figure to a kid without other parental figures.

B Mank (2020)

Yes, it’s fun to watch David Fincher’s recreation of 1930s and early 40s Hollywood, even when the inaccuracies stick out. Gary Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the Citizen Kane screenplay (or co-wrote depending on who you believe). The main story has Mank writing the script while two women take care of him. As one would assume in a film about Kane, the film has plenty of flashbacks – but this time, they’re about MGM in the 1930s. Shot in black and white to make it look like the movies of that time, but also in ‘scope to make it look modern.

B Black Peter (1964)

Milos Forman’s first feature-length film is at times hilarious, and yet the characters seem to be believable people. In one early, breath-takingly funny sequence clearly inspired by Buster Keaton, Peter shadows a suspected shoplifter. In another funny sequence, two teenagers yelling “ahoy!” (hello!) over and over to the ridiculous. And people’s reaction to a nude painting also generates laughs. But when this coming-of-age comedy tries to be serious, it loses its sense of urgency.  Forman had much better work in his future.