Category Archives: movie

A mongoose scratching at a well-fed cobra

Although Joan Crawford made many movies that have not seen, it seems that most cast her as a determined-to-rise and quick-study woman from the wrong side of the tracks. Her characters have to overcome considerable disdain from those born to the upper class and flashes of self-doubt. Although she often seems to be using men whose status is higher than their IQs or will, generally the screenplays try to make the audience believe that she really loves the men and give her chances to prove devotion beyond her interest in securing and maintaining a status in the elite of whatever locality she is operating in.


The 1949 “Flamingo Road,” based on a long-forgotten best-selling novel, sticks to the formula; indeed it reunites director (Michael Curtiz), male and female leads (Zachary Scott and Crawford), and, unfortunately, supplier of frenzied overkill music (Max Steiner) from “Mildred Pierce,” the overwrought melodrama that revived Crawford’s career after she was dumped by MGM and won her an Oscar.

I have been watching a number of late-1940s movies in which the leads were far too old for their parts (Greer Garson in “Valley of Decision”, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin in “B. F.’s Daughter”), but at least those other movies covered long spans. Even with repeated reference to being tired of knocking around, Crawford was fifteen years too old for the part of the traveling-carnival exotic dancer who does not flee with the carnival. She was also ten years older than Zachary Scott, who was also 5-10 years too old for the part of Fielding Carlisle, the son of the deceased, highly respected Judge Carlisle and protégé of the local boss eager to use that family name.

The boss, Sheriff Titus Semple (played with cold, calm menace by Sidney Greenstreet), has made Field a deputy sheriff with few responsibilities, but sends him to serve papers attaching the carnival for nonpayment of debts. The only remnant of the carnival is a tent in which Lane Bellamy (Crawford) is listening to the radio. Field takes her to a diner and gets her a job waitressing there. Such a romance does not fit with Titus’s plans. He more or less orders Field to marry a member of the local elite (those who live on Flamingo Road) Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston).


Titus also makes Lane disappear, having her picked up and thrown in jail for 30 days for soliciting prostitution. Lane is not so easily driven off. She makes some interesting alliances with a man and a woman of some independence from Titus. Much of the fun of the movie is watching Crawford and Greenstreet glower at each other while making polite talk in front of others., Eventually, they have it out alone in private.

In that Crawford really did rise from the wrong side of town through dancing and marrying up (ultimately to the president of Pepsi Cola), as well as making a career out of playing upwardly mobile women, her clawing her way up the social (/economic) ladder is believable. The problem is that her character could not possibly have kicked around as a second-string feature in a third-run carnival so long before starting her ascent. The incongruity of the 45-year-old in the part of Lane is only made more glaring by the repeated references to her as a “girl.”

What redeems the movie is the relentlessness of the story and of the antagonists. In the immense Sidney Greenstreet, Crawford had a rare male worthy opponent. (The only time I can think of that Crawford was overmatched was by Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, though Mercedes McCambridge in “Johnny Guitar” and Ann Blyth in “Mildred Pierce” were formidable in their hatreds of her.) In earlier roles (Maltese Falcon, Casablanca) Greenstreet played grasping, amoral characters with a certain amount of sardonic charm. Titus is content for people to maintain their stereotypes of joviality being a concomitant of fat, but is a completely cold-blooded grafter. His smiles are mostly grim. If he has any emotions, they are so well padded that they do not emerge. As Crawford goes from being potential trouble for his plans to being a clear-and-present lethal danger, he never shows anger. He drinks pitchers of milk, rocks on the porch of the Palmer House Hotel, collects his graft in cash, minimizes movements, and pulls strings to bring down anyone who gets in his way.

Zachary Scott was good at being pushed around (as in “Mildred Pierce”). Gladys George played savvy survivors in many movies and provides a leavening of wit to the fast-rising melodrama. Fred Clark plays against type, an idealist newspaperman who dares to criticize the corrupt state and local government (which state is not specified; from the title, one might think Florida, a state that democracy still has not reached; but the milieu seems as western as southern). David Brian plays a peculiarly written role of a builder who became a political boss because contracting in the state was so corrupt that he could not be an honest builder. He falls fast and hard for Crawford, which ensures that Greenstreet will arrange legal troubles for him.


If one can accept Joan Crawford starting her move upward looking obviously more than 40, and enjoys watching evenly matched characters battling to the death like a mongoose (Crawford) and a cobra (Greenstreet), “Flamingo Road” is a lot of fun. It certainly has a consciousness of class that is missing in third millennium American movies (to take an instance with another machine-picked politician named Fielding, “Waking the Dead”). For all its cynicism about electoral democracy, like so many late-40s Hollywood movies, “Flamingo Road” affirms the American dream of rising in the social and economic hierarchy through individual effort, making it is an interesting document of postwar American ideology. It also shows that 1949’s Oscared “best picture,” “All the King’s Men,” was not unique in portraying graft-ridden government and political bosses (which Preston Sturges had already done in “The Great McInty,” anyway.) A bonus is the nourish look provided by cinematographer Ted D. McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, East of Eden).


©2002, Stephen O. Murray


A slog across northern Burma ad majorem gloria of US Army generals

If ever there was a unit that needed a nickname it was the “5307th Composite Unit (Provisional)”! If Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill (1903-55) was as hands-on slogging through the jungles and over the mountains of Burma as Jeff Chandler (1918-61) portrays him in the 1962 Warner Brothers celebration “Merrill’s Marauders,” that moniker was apt. ((The “provisional” indicates that the unit is formed for a special mission or operation and will be disbanded after its completion… and there were only 103 soldiers of the original three battalions of 3000 volunteers left to be reassigned.)


Merrill trained them and led them on a 90-day trek behind enemy (Japanese) lines to attack the Japanese after which they were to be relieved by British troops (and disbanded). Gen. “Vinegar Joe” Sitwell, commander of the relatively minor US forces in the western front of the war with Japan flies in and orders the exhausted and malaria-riddled 5307th on to attack Myitkyina in the far northeast of Burma (the Kachin state) a railroad hub as well as a hub for the road by which the Japanese planned to attack India. (In the movie, Merrill’s Marauders take Myitkyina by themselves in one swoop, though in reality there was a prolonged siege by Chinese (Kuomintang) and the British-Indian “chindits” were also involved.)

Director Sam Fuller had been an infantryman in Europe during World War II and wanted to film his own platoon’s story. He had already written the script for what many (18) years later would be “The Big Red One,” and made two of the best Korean War movies (Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets) and was not interested in making the jungle attrition movie in the Philippines. Though US Army officials had been very unhappy with the portrayal of US soldiers killing prisoners in “Steel Helmet,” Warner Brothers  received co-operation from both the US and Filipino armies in making  “Merrill’s Marauders.” (The US Army was displeased by the well-documented disregard for the health of the marauders and the failure to supply them with adequate rations, and succeeded in getting showing GIs shooting other GIs in the Shaduzup maze deleted.)

Gritty for its time, the movie shows Merrill’s determination and refusal to heed his attending physician’s (Andew Duggan) judgment that (he and) the men were not fit for combat. His protégé Lt. Stock (Ty Hardin) is in Merrill’s view too close to his men, though Stock soldiers on after Merrill refuses to relieve him of command of his vanguard platoon. Chandler was not just acting being in pain (Merrill had a second heart attack while on the mission) but was in pain from a back injury. Surgery (malpractice) on that killed him before the release of the movie.

In comparison to the two Korean War movies, I thought there was little characterization of the fragile cogs in the war machine. In common with many American war movies, it is a puzzlement that Japan conquered so much territory, including driving Merrill’s regular army unit out of Burma in the first place. Every direct encounter results in Japanese soldiers being killed with relative ease. There is only one in which the outcome is close (it involves a second American bayoneting the Japanese solider in the back). And on the scale larger than hand-to-hand combat, the Japanese flee from every attack. Even the Japanese snipers are easily picked off by a single US sharpshooter’s shot.

The movie incorporated battle footage from “Battle Cry.” Other than the censored Shaduzup maze (tank trap) sequence, there was nothing of particular visual note. On the other hand, there are none of the lapses of basic moviemaking competence that occur in most other Fuller movies. I don’t blame him for the music (Howard Jackson gets that), because I don’t think he had final cut authority. I’d like to think he wasn’t responsible for the epilogue, either.

There is one touch of Fuller black humor: Gen. Merrill is visiting the outdoor field hospital. The soldier being worked on opens his eyes and belligerently asks: “Who are you?” Merrill responds:”Merrill, who are you?” The feverish soldier asks “Did Lewinsky make it?” (I don’t remember his name and it isn’t in the credits.” He then drops back dead. Merrill a repeats the now-dead man’s question. The surgeon replies “He was Lewinsky.”

The movie provides no background on the politics that made Gen. Joe Stillwell to need an American contingent fighting in northern Burma. A British group passes through, but there is no indication that the British were involved in taking the rail depot at Shaduzup or that the marauders were not the main attack force at Myitkyna air field (that was the Chinese Expeditionary Force) on 15 March 1944 or that the the Japanese held on to the town of Myitkyna until 3 August (when 800 Japanese retreated from the town) long after the surviving marauders had been flown out. British troops were also involved at Myitkyna. The failure to show that there was anyone by marauders at Mytikyna is more than typical American ethnocentrism but part of a larger effort to valorize only the US military in winning World War II. It seems likely that the Mytikyna air field would have been taken if the exhausted marauders had not undertaken the arduous march across the Muzon mountains (the movie shows this being mostly swamps, though some Philipinne mountains do appear) and ended their expedition back at Shaduzup. They were exhausted, but Stillwell needed some Americans at the climactic battle (Myitkyna). Eighteen years later, Warner Brothers made it look like the remnants of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional)”! took Myitkyna. (That they were sacrificed for the ego of Gen. Stillwell and jockeying among Allied commanders does not detract from the heroism of the infantrymen who went on long past the point of exhaustion.)

Merrills-Marauders (1).jpg

The epilogue celebrates the Special Forces marching on (actually the rows looked ragged to me!) is jingoism at its worst, encouraging the hubris of increasing US military involvement in Southeast Asia, first with the Special Forces who were particularly doted on by President John Kennedy (who, among other things, encouraged wearing of green berets, which had been banned, and began their combat involvement in Vietnam). Though the movie shows exhaustion and sickness felling US soldiers in droves, the end stresses a sense of omnipotence that encouraged more military adventures (even under the shadow of the stalemate in Korea).

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

A somewhat revisionist look at “The Godfather” trilogy

I rewatched the Godfather trilogy in three nights. I think the first is as great as ever. Pacino has as much or more screen time as Brando in the first one, but would not get my vote in a one-on-one contest. For best supporting actor, a one-on-three contest of “Godfather” nominees, I think I’d go for James Caan, but ratify the choice of Joel Grey from “Cabaret” (he was expecting to hear Pacino’s name rather than his).


I think the third is better than its repute, the second not as good. I’d go with Art Carney in “Harry and Tonto” over Pacino, who is mostly frozen through the second part. There were again three best supporting actor nominees (De Niro won, Michael Gazzo and Lee Strassberg were also nominated; John Cazale’s Fredo went unnominated.) Coppola’s younger sister, Talia Shire, who was outstanding across all three movies, was nominated for the middle one (losing to Ingrid Bergman, who did not think she deserved it, though I recall she thought that Valentine Cortese was her choice).


Sofia Coppola was ripped for her performance as Michael’s daughter, Mary. OK, more for the lack of chemistry with Andy Garcia, who played her older and ultra-hirsute (-chested) cousin, Vincent (losing the supporting actor to Joe Pesci). I don’t know why the lack of chemistry adheres to one side. She has had a crush on him, which seems plausible. What is not is that he would reciprocate his cousin’s love (he played the illegitimate son of Sonny). As the daughter Sofia was just fine.


I think the supporting actor nominee should have been Eli Wallach, who pretends to having retired from scheming, but is still very much in the game, though brought down by his sweet tooth (poisoned cannoli). (I’d bump Pacino from “Dick Tracy” rather than Garcia). I didn’t recognize Helmut Berger (he was no longer the beauty Visconti and Losey presented). I recognized George Hamilton, who was less interesting than Robert Duvall, as the crime family lawyer, being given no characterization.

It is necessary to note that Diane Keaton’s Kay (Michael’s girlfriend, then wife) grows more formidable with each installment. Talia Shire gains self-assurance in widowhood, though I don’t know why she becomes Vincent’s advocate. (One could say they lack “chemistry, “too.)

The plot is overly complex, though it is clear that the new pope (John Paul II) is murdered, along with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) in another montage of murders, this time crosscut with “Cavalleria Rusticana” in which Anthony Vito, (Franc d’Ambrosio), the son of Michael and Kay, and brother of Mary, is making his debut as Turuidu in Bagheria (,Sicily). (There’s also a dollop of “Nabucco” when Anthony gets Bagheria and the Oscar-nominated song “Promise Me You’ll Remember” was voiced by Harry Connick, Jr.)

I remember being impressed by the church/murders montage in the first “Godfather.” It has lost its novelty and some of its impact. For me there is too much crosscutting in all three movies. I don’t see the need for the young Vito flashbacks in Part II, not least in that they are not flashes back to any character. De Niro was very good and won his first Oscar almost entirely in Italian, but to me these scenes are a separate movie and get in the way of the 1950s story. Also the scene at the end following Pearl Harbor in which Michael tells his brothers (including Robert Duvall’s quasi-sibling and Abe Vigoda) that he has joined the navy. I haven’t seen the chronological reshuffling that puts these before the start of Godfather I, but it seems like a good idea. There are plenty of set pieces spread across the three movies, though I also understand that throwing viewers in to a big fête had a strong impact.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis contributed an often sepia look to all three parts, Oscar-nominated and ASC Award-nominated only for the third.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray


A great movie from Macedonia

I’m not sure that “Before the Rain”(“Pred dozhdot), a 1995 Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, written and directed by Milcho Manchevski, is a good movie, but have no doubt that it is a great one. It is comprised of three episodes: the first two near the coast of Macedonia, the middle one in London. What happens in the third one follows the second one and seems to precede the astonishing opening one… but the second one also temporally follows events in the first one. “The circle is not round” is proclaimed in all three parts and in some ways the movie is more a Moibus strip than a circle. The Balkans is a region in which the past never seems to be past, in which outrages five or ten centuries ago are believed to cry out for revenge.


Fierce hatred of Greek Orthodox Macedonians and Muslim Albanians bubbles over repeatedly throughout the course of the movie. The kind of ethnic warfare that was going on in Bosnia at the time the film was being shot broke out in 2001. It could have surprised no one who had seen “Before the Rain” before then.

I don’t like to regurgitate plot unless I can do so in ways that comment on it. I think that “plot spoiling” is exaggerated as a crime against readers generally, but in the case of “Before the Rain,” telling pretty much anything of what happens is at least a disservice to those who have not seen the movie — and that is, alas, a far-too-large population!

In the first part of Kiril, a young priest played by Grégoire Colin (Beau Travail), who has taken a vow of silence (getting around the actor not speaking Macedonian) harbors a Muslim (a feral Labina Mitevska whose character’s name is eventually revealed to be Zamira) who is being hunted by the Christians. Colin radiates compassion, which turns out to be a very dangerous feeling in all three parts of the movie.


The second part is set in London, introducing a Macedonian photojournalist, Aleksander (Rade S[h]erbezija) who has just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Bosnia. He invites a married (and pregnant) London picture-editor, Anne (Katrin Cartlidge), to accompany him on a return to his native village. She stays to ask her husband for a divorce.


In the third part, Aleksander discovers “you can’t go home again,” all the more so if “home” was Yugoslavia, and all the more if you want to see the love of your youth who is of a different ethnicity (the Albanian minority in this case). Haunted by what he saw in Bosnia and desperate to prevent similar fratricide (among those who have ceased to consider themselves “brothers”), he takes action, which involves Zamira — who may be his daughter.

The writing is very impressive, the cinematography by Manuel Teran (Savage Nights, Banlieue 13), especially of the first part, is more than impressive. Each of the three parts has a different look. The first part is in the company of parts of “The English Patient” and “Beau travail.”

Katrin Cartlidge (Naked, Breaking the Waves) stands out in the middle section as someone knowingly disappointing both her husband and her lover and pained by the knowledge. As Aleksander Rade Serbezija is tormented by guilt for a prisoner who was shot after Aleksander complained of not having anything to photograph. At “home” after nearly being killed by family members and the son of his old flame, he takes a stand against ethnic violence. Well, more than a stance — he intervenes. That he fails to stop the violence is something anyone with the slightest familiarity of the history of the Balkans during the last two decades knows.

DVD extras

The Criterion edition transfer to DVD is outstanding even for Criterion, which is to say superlative. This was obvious watching the feature, and underlined by watching the 1993 “making of” featurette, which is quite interesting. The disc also includes a 2008 interview with Rade Serbezija about the movie, which paralleled his own experience as an ethnically Serbian prominent person raised in Croatia — and who had just made it out of Sarajevo before the Serbian military began the siege and carnage. Serbezija (whom I remember most vividly as the Greek trickster in “The Truce” and the police inspector in “The Quiet American,” but is probably best known for his mentoring role in “Batman Begins”) recalls people who were fans of his (as the biggest film star in Yugoslavia) and a year later wanted to kill him (Croatians with whom he grew up for being “a Serb,” Serbs for being a “traitor” in condemning the violence). The movie shows, the bonus features tell (the way it’s ‘spozed to be!)

There is also five minutes of miscellaneous videos from the movie’s making, 15 minutes of soundtrack selections, and Manchevski’s 1992 Grammy-winning (black-and-white) rap music video “Tennessee” (the Arrested Development song).


©2009, 2017, Stephen O. Murray



Pirandellian black comedy set in 1959 Romania

Set in Bucharest A.D. 1959, “Closer to the Moon” (2013, written and directed by Nae Caranfil; released in the US in the spring of 2015,) is a Romanian, Polish, Italian, French, US co-production in English with handsome Brit Harry Lloyd (The Theory of Everything, Wolf Hall, Game of Thrones) as the innocent busboy, Virgil, who observes what is supposed to be a movie of a holdup of an armored car being shot. Except that it’s a real hold-up, and after its perpetrators, old-line (pre-WWII, wartime resisters of the Nazis) Jews, have been condemned to be executed, they are forced to appear in a propaganda film about the holdup they perpetrated. Yes, a movie about a robbery disguised as a movie. There are scenes from the 1960 Romanian black-and-white movie shown during the closing credits.


Before that, however, Virgil becomes a movie camera operator, and has a last-night fling with the woman of the group of disillusioned communists, Alice Berkovich (Vera Farmiga [Up in the Air, Goata]). The State Security official in charge of making the movie, who continues to investigate the crime even after five death sentences have been passed (Anton Lesser) has ordered Virgil to find out where Alice’s son is hidden and to find out why the robbers did it. The short answer to the second question is that they wanted to show that the state’s claim that crime had been eliminated in the worker’s paradise was false. Virgil goes with Alice when she escapes chaos on the movie set and visits her son, Mirel (very blond Marcin Walewski) but before Virgil can be pressed to provide answers to either questions, Holban is sacked by the minister (Darrell D’Silva).

The organizer of the heist, who becomes de facto director of the movie re-enactment, Max Rosenthal (Mark Strong, who reminds me of Jon Hamm; Strong played Jim Prideaux in the 2011 movie version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) was married to the minister’s daughter, which led to an appointment as chief inspector of the Bucharest police. (The other conspirators to ridicule the Romanian state are history professor Yorgu (Christian McKay), newsman Razvan (Joe Armstrong), and astrophysicist Dumi (Tim Plester) who had been liaison to the Soviet space program in the Sputnik era, but had been replaced due to Russian/Soviet anti-Semitism. And Max is the father of Alice’s son.)

There is Pirandellian black comedy throughout the movie, especially in the re-enactment of the heist. The nominal director (Allan Corduner) is passed out drunk every day of the shoot (and, presumably, every day not of the shoot, too). Or, perhaps, it is Jewish gallows humor within a Pirandellian black comedy or is is Mittleuropa comedy?… The whole project is remarkably light-hearted a prelude to real execution, following a kangaroo court in which the defense attorney is barely allowed to complete a single statement or to question witnesses. The satiric comedy of the 2013 movie is definitely set within the tragedy of the Jewish communists disillusioned by the regime they were deeply involved in putting in power (tragedy both for them and for the people of the Socialist Republic of Romania, even before the predominance of Nicolae Ceausecu from 1965-89).

Noting that the Soviets had been able to launch a dog into orbit, but not bring him safely down, Max requested to be sent into space, rather than being shot by a firing squad, but his request is angrily rejected. (So none of the conspirators gets any closer to the moon than Dumi observing Sputnik launches in the Soviet Union.)

An effective soundtrack was composed by Laurent Couson, and Marius Panduru’s cinematography was top-notch, as was the acting, with Anton Lesser especially standing out as an oddly tragic functionary of the Romanian communist government.


©2017, Stephen O. Murray


Romanian policier with a conflict of law and conscience

I must be missing something, since I don’t have any difficulty considering “police” potentially to be an adjective, as well as a noun or verb, for instance in “police state” or “police misconduct.” In these examples, it specifies a kind of state, a kind of misconduct, right? And in a very unusual climactic duel between a young police officer and his boss (presumably a holdover from those enforcing the laws laid down by Ceausescu) “police state” is one of the constructions the Romanian dictionary supplies in its “police” entry. The key contested concept is “conscience,” to which I’ll return. But I don’t see anything peculiar or dismaying about the title of the much-acclaimed, award-winning 2009 Romanian movie by Corneliu Porumboiu, “Police, Adjective.

pol adj.jpeg

The pace of the movie is, I think, the slowest of any police procedural I’ve ever seen. Plainclothesman Cristi (Dragos Bucur) follows a Vasiliu high-school student who sometimes smokes hashish but does not sell it. The boy smokes with the agemate who informed on him and an unidentified girl outside the school. Christi’s book (Vlad Ivanov, abortionist of “4Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”) tells Cristi that criminals use the term “squealer,” not those in law enforcement, while Cristi objects to referring to the boy he’s tailing as a “dealer.”

Cristi does not trust the informant/squealer and believes the source of hashish is the boy’s older brother whom the boy will not give up. For whatever reasons, the police captain presses Christi to make an arrest at least for possession.

Cristi pushes back that Romanian law will surely change as those elsewhere in Europe (including Prague, where he recently honeymooned) and that it is an affront to his conscience to ruin a kid’s life (even if he only serves half of the seven-year sentence) or place him in the position of regretting squealing on his brother.

This leads to what is surely the longest sequence of reading definitions from a dictionary in any movie. Trust me, this is a dramatic confrontation! Christi’s definition of “something in me that stops me from doing something bad that I’ll afterward regret.” The dictionary has communist residue in a definition of “conscience” as “part of the social system of a particular class, reflecting its condition of existence.” The captain does not insist on that one and fails to register the inclusion of “moral law” in the entry. As in other Romance language, “conscience” in Romanian also includes what is differentiated as “consciousness” in English, which obscures the discussion.

The captain insists that police follow written laws, not their own sense of conscience (moral laws) and will not allow Cristi’s older office-mate (also presumably left over from the bad old days) to arrest the boy.

Earlier, Cristi and his wife have an extended discussion about what a pop song’s lyrics (Mirabela Dauer’s song “I Don’t Leave You Love”) mean and she explains to him that his surveillance report uses a form that was abolished two years earlier by the Romanian Academy (which polices the language as the French Academy does).

police adj.jpeg

Critical praise has (IMHO) inflated expectations for all three of the Romanian films that have made it onto the art-house circuit (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu “(2005) is the other). All look drab/verité, proceed slowly, and covertly (though unmistakably!) criticize soulless laws and social systems (past and present: abortion has been decriminalized in Romania). The closest American equivalent to the Romanian film-making (generalized on the basis of three!) is Jim Jarmusch, with drab location shoots of long takes of which not much ever happens and sparse dialogue (it’s not even portentous here).


©2010, 2017, Stephen O. Murray




Second-guessing the Oscars for 2016

Though I am a fan of long standing of Tarell Alvin McCraney, I think the best picture was the more conventional “Hidden Figures.” Theodore Melfi, the director of the latter was not nominated, so I’d have voted for Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight” if I had a vote.


The best actor award should have gone to Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic.” Not that Casey Affleck was bad, but Mortensen was astounding. (Until I saw “Captain Fantastic,” I thought Ryan Gosling should have won the award, rather than Affleck.)


Isabelle Huppert (Elle) was also astounding; the best actress winner, Emma Stone, merely likeable (which Huppert was not).


Mahershala Ali was not really a supporting actor in “Moonlight.” It’s just that he was only in a third of the movie. I have the same qualms about Dev Patel in “Lion” and Viola Davis in “Fences.” She was great, but was the lead actress, and the second lead (after Denzel Washington). In the same part she got a Tony for best lead actress. I’d have given the award to Naomie Harris for her chilling performance as the drug-addled mother in “Moonlight,” though especially after her acceptance speech, I’d be very reluctant to try to wrest the Oscar from Davis!

I think that Chris Pine should have been nominated for best actor in “Hell or High Water” (in which Jeff Bridges was very good and was nominated. And I think that Taraji P. Henson should have been nominated for best actress.

Though I don’t buy the rationale that it was adapted (from an unproduced play), I admire the screenplay for “Moonlight”  by McCraney and Jenkins that won the adapted screenplay award. Also Kenneth Lonergan’s one for “Manchester by the Sea,” though David Birke’s “Elle” adaptation and Martin Zandvilt’s original screen play of “Land of Mine” deserved at least nominations.


“Elle” should have been nominated for best foreign-language film along with “Land of Mine.” I’d have voted for the bewitching Vanatau movie “Tanna” and, if not it, the harrowing “Land of Mine,” rather than “Salesman.” I thought that writer-director Asghar Farhadi, second Oscar-winning film failed to consider (let alone show!) what Rana (Tareneh Alidoosti) was thinking, just as in the earlier Farhadi-helmsed (misnamed) “About Elly,” also starring Shahab Hosseini. Having Rana and Emad (Hosseini) playing in an amateur production of “Death of a Salesman” seemed pointless to me. (Yes, I know that Miller’s play is about a man’s humiliation, but the basis and the difference in characters’ ages makes it and Hosseini’s character’s frustrations not very comparable.) I also thought it unbelievable that the assailant of Rana left behind both his cellphone and his keys, and, thus, the van AND that Emad was so slow to track down the assailant with such evidence (and then got it wrong…). I had difficulty with the final deliverance in “Land of Mine,” but thought it more harrowing and more cinematic. “Tanne” is plenty harrowing and very cinematic, too.

The other two, “A Man Called Ove” (from Sweden with a Iraqi female lead and her son) and “Toni Erdmann” (from Germany, though mostly shot in Romania) have outsized, flamboyant older male leads (Rolf Lassgard and Peter Simonischek, respectively). The latter film is less predictable than the former. Both touch on larger issues (as, of course, do “Land of Mine” and “Salesman,” and in a remote context, “Tanne”).


I can only provisionally approve the cinematography award going to Linus Sandgren for the often artificial “La La Land,” not having seen two of the other nominees’ work (Silence, Arrival).

The best documentary feature choice, “O.J.: Made in America” is solid, with strong competition from “13th.”

©2017, Stephen O. Murray