First & most importantly I saw Black Panther opening night. No one needs to read a white girl on it, but obviously I loved it & I’m looking forward to seeing it again. (Also, I’d never seen a Chekov’s rhino before, so well done there.)
This half of February was dominated by Noir City, which is always a treat. This year was a strong festival for librarians and lady booksellers, from the library noir Quiet Please, Murder, to the bookseller who let down her hair & spent a rainy afternoon with Bogart in The Big Sleep.
A-List faves include Mildred Pierce and Shadow of a Doubt of course, plus The Maltese Falcon for the very first time (Peter Lorre has my heart) and The Man Who Cheated Himself (for Jane Wyatt, femme fatale, & the turnabout is fair play school of murder).
For the B movies, the aforementioned Quiet Please, Murder (for the library but also for the masochistic George Sanders), Address Unknown (for gaslighting a Nazi collaborator), Bodyguard (for the girl Friday being generally terrific but also for yelling her head off at the baseball game, and Lawrence Tierney creatively getting around LA without a car), and Blind Spot (for the super-stylized noir dialogue & the locked room murder).
We took a break in the middle of Noir City for Monster Hunt 2, the closest thing we are ever going to get to seeing Tony Leung star in a Muppet movie (which among other things proved to me that I was correct: he’d be amazing in a Muppet movie.) If you’ve never seen a goofball Tony Leung performance, check out Tokyo Raiders on Prime.
After Noir I got up stupid early on a Saturday to see the first morning screening of Annihilation. It was worth it. It’s an unbelievably beautiful film, & Alex Garland is firmly one of my favorite scifi writers. I can’t really write about it yet (and when I can who even knows if it’ll be here; my favorite piece of my own film writing is on Ex Machina, unfortunately it’s also fanfiction.)
Finally, I had been eagerly anticipating A Fantastic Woman, but as I watched it, all I could think is that I would rather be watching Daniela Vega in pretty much anything else. This isn’t the movie I needed to see, the movie where a trans woman loses her partner, where she survives everything from micro aggressions and misgendering to straight up assault, where she’s alone. Powerful, of course, but alone.
The movie I needed to see is the one that came before, the romance about the waitress & opera singer who met an interesting older man who works with textiles (and immediately after I thought that I realized… that’s Phantom Thread.) But really. That’s the movie I want, the love song of Marina & Orlando. The movie about a trans woman finding & living regular happy life. I don’t need the trans-movie-for-cis people, where we feel bad for her but good about ourselves because we use correct pronouns and don’t ask about surgery. That’s just basic humanity. No cookies earned.
My big FilmStruck discovery this time was Ball of Fire, part of the Howard Hawks screwball comedy package (I also watched Twentieth Century, Carole Lombard in slinky dresses for always!) Ball of Fire was ridiculous fun. I 100% watched it because the deep-bench cast included Dan Duryea as a henchman named Duke Pastrami & I am only human.
The set-up is Gary Cooper & crew are working on an encyclopedia, and he recruits Barbara Stanwyck’s nightclub singer (Sugarpuss O’Shea – the names in this thing are amazing) to help him out with the slang portion. She goes for it because she needs to lie low for a bit. Shenanigans ensue.
It’s both funny (Billy Wilder worked on the screenplay) & deeply weird (at one point Cooper, with complete lack of irony, gives Stanwyck a ring engraved with a citation from Richard III), but you could watch it for Hawks’ framing alone. Cooper’s crew is essentially the seven dwarves, & the frame regularly accommodates five to eight characters. Terrific!