Lisa’s Week In Review: 3/30/20 — 4/05/20


The lockdown continues.

One good thing: Black Widow has been moved back to November 6th.  That’s three days before my birthday so, assuming that I can actually go outside in November and that the Alamo Drafthouse manages to reopen, Black Widow can be my free birthday movie!  (Never give up hope.)

It’s interesting to think about actually.  All of the summer blockbusters are getting pushed back into what is traditionally Oscar season.  So, it’s easy (or maybe just entertaining) to imagine a situation where the Oscar race comes down to Black Widow vs Wonder Woman 1984 vs Top Gun: Maverick.

We’ll see what happens!  Here’s my report for this week:

Films I Watched:

  1. A Deadly Price For Her Pretty Face (2020)
  2. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
  3. Aileen Wurnos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1994)
  4. All The Bright Places (2020)
  5. Charge Over You (2010)
  6. Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)
  7. Dazed and Confused (1993)
  8. Drunken Angel (1948)
  9. Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
  10. Fata Morgana (1971)
  11. Mary Magdalene (2019)
  12. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)
  13. Polytechnique (2009)
  14. Sahara (1983)
  15. Scanners (2001)
  16. Signs of Life (1968)
  17. Stalker (1979)
  18. Twin Murders: The Silence of the White City (2020)
  19. Where is Robert Fisher? (2011)

Television Shows I Watched:

  1. Bar Rescue
  2. The Bob Newhat Show
  3. The Bold and the Beautiful
  4. The Cambridge Rapist
  5. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  6. Days of Our Lives
  7. Degrassi
  8. General Hospital
  9. Ghost Whisperer
  10. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  11. Newhart
  12. Nowhere to Hide
  13. The Office
  14. Seinfeld
  15. Solemn Mass of Palm Sunday
  16. Sunday Mass
  17. Survivor 40
  18. The Young and the Restless

Books I Read:

  1. Maura’s Dream (2012) by Joel Gross
  2. The Year in Jerusalem (2013) by Joel Gross

Music To Which I Listened:

  1. Blanck Mass
  2. Bloc Party
  3. Britney Spears
  4. Dua Lipa
  5. HANA
  6. Lady Gaga
  7. Melanie C
  8. Moby
  9. OneRepublic
  10. The Prodigy
  11. Purity Ring
  12. Saint Motel
  13. UPSAHL

Links From Last Week:

  1. ‘Top Gun’ Can Help Us Understand Why the WHO Kowtows to China on Taiwan
  2. Indie Authors Read Provides Free Author Readings For Those Sheltering At Home

Links From The Site:

  1. Erin profiled Harry Sheldon and shared: Impatient Virgin, The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat, Cottonwood Creek, Mr. Madam, The Secret of Mary Magdalene, The Ice Cold Nude, and Earth Woman.
  2. Jeff shared music videos from Arrows, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Fountains of Wayne, The Moody Blues, Bill Withers, and Metallica.  He reviewed Sahara, Coach of the Year, Peeper, Ministry of Vengeance, Stranger By Night, King Solomon’s Mines, and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold.  He paid tribute to Toshiro Mifune and Adam Schlesinger.
  3. I reviewed Remember Me, Mommy?, Walk East On Beacon, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Girl With A Bracelet, Polytechnique, Drunken Angel, Stalker, Signs of Life, Even Dwarfs Started Small, Fata Morgana, and Mary Magdalene!  I paid tribute to Ewan McGregor, Lamberto Bava, Albert Broccoli, and Roger Corman!  I shared scenes from Pulp Fiction, Phantom of the Opera, The Godfather, Roman Holiday, and GE commercial starring Bette Davis!  I shared my March Oscar predictions and a special April Fools Day message!
  4. Leonard shared the teaser for Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula!
  5. Ryan reviewed Lost In A Tree Of Thought, Slow Graffiti, Dramatic Paws, and Cat-Tropolis!

More From Us:

  1. Ryan has a patreon!  You should consider subscribing!
  2. For the Reality TV Chat Blog, I reviewed the latest episode of Survivor!
  3. At my music site, I shared songs from Dua Lipa, Melanie C, OneRepublic, HANA, UPSAHL, Purity Ring, and Norah Jones!
  4. At Days Without Incident, Leonard shared: Soul Makossa and A Love Bizarre!
  5. At her photography site, Erin shared: Garage, Buick Parking Only, Time To Dig, AC, Tuesday’s Sky, More of Tuesday’s Sky, and The Back Yard In Black-and-White!
  6. Jeff has been sharing his Lockdown Journal on Pop Politics: 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, and 4-5!

Want to see what I did last week?  Click here!

 

The International Lens: Even Dwarfs Started Small and Fata Morgana (dir by Werner Herzog)


After making his feature film directorial debut with the well-made but somewhat predictable Signs of Life in 1968, Werner Herzog followed up with two of his most unconventional films to date, 1970’s Even Dwarfs Started Small and 1971’s Fata Morgana.

Even Dwarfs Started Small

I watched Even Dwarfs Started Small a few days ago and it was …. well, I’m not really sure what it was.  This is one of Herzog’s more enigmatic films.  It’s easy to imagine that the film has some incredibly deep meaning.  It’s also just as easy to imagine that the film was Herzog playing an elaborate practical joke on everyone who thought they were going to see another low-key film like Signs of Life.

The film takes place in an institution of some sort.  It’s implied that it’s a prison but it could just as easily be a mental hospital.  Everyone in the film is a little person.  The inmates are apparently rebelling against the warden.  While the warden sits in his office and waits for some sort of help to arrive, the inmates run around the grounds of the asylum and break things.  A van ends up driving in circles with no one at the wheel.  Chickens get into fights.  Piglets suckle on their dead mother.  (We don’t actually see the inmates kill any animals but there’s still a lot of very uncomfortable references to animal cruelty.)  Two blind inmates are taunted by the others.  We’re never really sure who anyone is or why they’re in the institution.  All we know is that their society appears to be crumbling and there’s no help on the way.

Even Dwarfs Started Small

It’s not a very pleasant movie to watch, though I do understand that it has its devoted fans.  (Director Harmony Korine has called it the greatest movie ever made because of course he would.)  You probably already guessed that my feelings about the film are mixed.  On the one hand, it was a very unpleasant viewing experience.  On the other hand, I do respect any artist who sticks to his vision, regardless of the risk of alienating his audience.  Herzog presents a portrait of Hell in Even Dwarfs Started Small and he doesn’t waver from it so I have to give him credit for that.

Incidentally, the smallest inmate is named Hombre.  He laughs nonstop through the entire film.  I have never more wanted to see a random asteroid just fall from the sky and crush one character.

Even Dwarfs Started Small was such an unpleasant experience that, after I watched it, I nearly gave up on watching any more films that night.  But, the fact of the matter is that I love movies and I like Werner Herzog so I decided to follow-up Dwarfs by watching Herzog’s third film, Fata Morgana.  And I’m glad I did!

Fata Morgana

Admittedly, Fata Morgana has even less of a plot than Even Dwarfs Started Small.  For the most part, Fata Morgana is made up of long tracking shots of the Sahara Desert.  Herzog reportedly spent 13 months, off-and-on, shooting footage in Africa.  At the time, he didn’t have any plans for what he was going to do with the footage, beyond perhaps using it to tell a science fiction story about a dying planet.

Fata Morgana

Instead, Herzog edited the footage together in such a way that the viewers feel as if they’re being taken on a trip across the Sahara.  Though the early part of the film features a voice narrating the creation myth of the Mayan people, little context is provided for the starkly beautiful images that Herzog captured in Africa.  Instead, it’s left to the viewer to determine what it all means.

Fata Morgana

The end result is a fascinating film, one that leads you pondering life’s mysteries.  The combination of Herzog’s footage and the atmospheric musical score leaves you feeling less like a viewer and more like an explorer.  Fata Morgana is a film that makes you want to get out and explore every corner of the world for yourself.  It’s also a film that reminds us that, after we’re gone, all of our possessions and works will just be mysterious artifacts for future explorers, like an overturned car sitting in the middle of the desert.  It’s one of Herzog’s best.

Fata Morgana

After these two films, Herzog would direct one of the films for which he is best know, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, a masterpiece that was predicted by both the ominous beauty of Fata Morgana and the disturbing insanity of Even Dwarfs Started Small.  

Film Review: Mary Magdalene (dir by Garth Davis)


“Dress more like the Virgin and less like the Magdalene.”

That’s something my grandmother always used to tell me and my sisters.  That’s because, Mary Magdalene — who is described in the Gospels as being a woman who traveled with and supported Jesus — is often mistaken for being the “sinful woman” who scandalized Simon the Leper by anointing Jesus’s feet.  As such, there’s a tradition that Mary Magdalene was either a former prostitute or, at the very least, a formerly promiscuous woman who repented and followed Jesus.  That said, there’s nothing in the canonical gospels that supports that tradition and, in all probability, the sinful woman was another Mary, Mary of Bethany.  In 1969, Pope Paul VI officially removed all reference to Mary Magdalene being the sinful woman but it’s still fairly common for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as being a former prostitute.

Mary Magdalene, which was released briefly in theaters last year, attempts to set the record straight by imagining a different backstory for Mary Magdalene.  In fact, the whole theme of this movie seems to be, “See?  She wasn’t a prostitute!”  And that’s fine except, while watching the movie, I really had to wonder if it was somehow an improvement to instead portray her as being the most boring person in Judea.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the filmmakers were so proud of themselves for making Mary Magdalene a feminist that it didn’t occur to them that they might also want to make her an interesting character as well.

In this movie, Mary Magdalene (played by a dependably dull Rooney Mara) is a young Jewish woman who rebels against the wishes of her family and refuses to enter into an arranged marriage with Ephraim (Tzachi Halevy) and who instead decides to follow a preacher named Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix).  As portrayed in this movie, Jesus is charismatic but often moody, preaching a good message (though the film seems to interpret that message as mostly being vague Gnostic liberalism) while getting annoyed with almost everyone around him.  Jesus often seems to be exhausted by his followers, especially Judas (Tahar Rahim) who is way too eager for Jesus to lead an armed uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire.  Meanwhile, Jesus’s main disciple, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), often finds himself growing jealous of Mary Magdalene and the trust that builds between her and Jesus.  While this film does not go the Jesus Christ Superstar route of portraying them as being a couple, it also leaves little doubt that Mary Magdalene, who is defying not just Rome but also the entire patriarchy, understands Jesus and his teachings in a way that the male disciples never will.

As a film, Mary Magalene takes itself and its story very seriously and it generally eshews the type of grandeur that one might expect from a biblical epic.  That low-key approach may be historically accurate but it’s not much fun to watch and, with a running time of 120 minutes, the action just kind of plods along.  Rooney Mara can give a good performance when she has the right material but here, she’s often just reduced to just wanly staring off into the distance.

As for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus …. well, the casting actually works better than you might think.  Phoenix plays Jesus as being a passionate leader who is haunted by his destiny.  With his long hair and his scruffy beard, Phoenix is not a glamorous Jesus but he’s very much a credible one.  The film is probably at its best in the scene where Jesus witnesses the money changers in the temple.  Rather than playing Jesus as being simply enraged, Phoenix plays him as being deeply disappointed.  One gets the feeling that he’s looking at what is happening in his father’s house and he’s thinking, “These are the people I’m supposed to sacrifice my life to save?”

Mary Magdalene is one of those films that took forever to actually show up in theaters.  The Weinstein Company was originally set to release the film in early 2017 but the release was pushed back to 2018, for reasons that have never been particularly clear.  Eventually the Weinstein Company pulled out of distributing the film and, for that, I’m thankful.  The idea of any film about Jesus carrying the Harvey Weinstein name is just too terrible to think about.  The film was then picked up by IFC, who gave it a perfunctory release in 2019.

It’s a flawed film, even though it’s heart may be in the right place.  The approach that it takes is just too low-key to be consistently interesting.  Sometimes, bigger is better.

Allan Quatermain and The Lost City Of Gold (1987, directed by Gary Nelson)


Having previously discovered and escaped King Solomon’s mines, Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) and Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) are now living in a domestic bliss in Africa.  They’re planning on eventually returning to America so that they can get married but it turns out that Allan has one more quest that he has to complete before he can truly settle down.

When Allan receives information that his long last brother is not only still alive but has also discovered a fabled Lost City of Gold, Allan sets out to discover the city for himself.  Traveling with Jesse and an old friend named Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones!), Allan makes his way across the Sahara, survives a battle with a group of native, and manages to find both the city and his brother!

However, all is not well in the City of Gold.  Queen Nyelptha (Aileen Marson) is on the verge of going to war with Queen Sorais (Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!!).  Manipulating both of the queens is the evil high priest, Agon (Henry Silva!!!!).  To save the City of Gold and his future marriage, Allan will first have to figure out a way to defeat Agon.

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City Of Gold was filmed back-to-back with King Solomon’s Mines.  The two films were released within a year of each other and, while King Solomon’s Mines was a minor box office success, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold was not.  I wasn’t expecting much when I watched the film but, believe it or not, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is not that bad.  It’s a definite improvement on King Solomon’s Mines.  Richard Chamberlain is more believable as Quatermain in the sequel and he and Sharon Stone share the minimum amount of chemistry to be somewhat believable as a couple in love.  If that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, it’s still an improvement over King Solomon’s Mines, where the two of them often seemed as if they couldn’t stand to be anywhere near each other.  Best of all, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold has Henry Silva in a ridiculous costume and that automatically makes the film worth watching.

Henry Silva, everyone.

Like King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold adds a large dose of intentional humor to its adventure story.  Fortunately, the comedy here is better executed than in the previous film.  There’s less mugging on Chamberlain’s part and some of the dialogue is genuinely amusing.

Of course, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold is not without its flaws.  This is a low-budget Cannon film that often tries too hard to duplicate the success of the Indiana Jones films without ever showing much understanding of what made those films successful in the first place.  Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold can’t hold a candle to the classic adventure films of the past.  But, for a low-budget Cannon film starring Richard Chamberlain as a rugged, jungle explorer, it’s actually a lot of fun.

Plus, did I mention Henry Silva?

The International Lens: Signs of Life (dir by Werner Herzog)


The 1968 German film, Signs of Life, is a deceptively simple film.

In fact, the story that it tells is so simple and so seemingly straight-forward that I’m sure some people would be surprised to discover that this was Werner Herzog’s first film.  When most people think of Herzog, they think of Klaus Kinski ranting against the Amazon and maybe Herzog himself talking about how he feels that chaos is the only governing principle of the universe.  Signs of Life, on the other hand, is a rather low-key and almost gentle film.  That said, the film does contain several of the themes that would show up in Herzog’s later film.  Even with his first feature film, Herzog already had a fairly good grasp on what he wanted to use cinema to express.

The film takes place in World War II and it deals with three German soldiers who have suffered from minor injuries in the war.  Deemed unfit for combat, they’ve been assigned to guard the munitions that are being stored at an ancient fortress on the Greek island of Kos.  It’s not demanding work.  The villagers are largely passive and, for the most part, seem to be just waiting out the war.  The leader of the soldiers, Stroszek (Peter Brogle), has recently married a Greek woman named Nora (Athina Zacharopoulou) and she is living with him at the fortress.

The film celebrates the beauty of Kos.  Herzog’s camera finds poetry in the simple sight of white linens hanging out to dry.  One of the soldiers explores the local cemetery and Herzog encourages us to ponder the long history of both the island and the people who live there.  In perhaps the film’s best known scene, Stroszek and Nora look down on a valley full of windmills and the beauty of it is a bit overwhelming.

As would often happen in later Herzog films, the soldiers never quite appreciate the beauty of the world around them.  While the audience is taking in scenes of breath-taking beauty, the soldiers are going a bit stir crazy.  Could it be that, as men of war, they’re incapable of appreciating the peaceful surrounding?  Perhaps but, then again, it could just be the fact that there’s not much to do on Kos other than ponder the mysteries of life and, in Herzog’s films, that often leads to insanity.  Stroszek ends up threatening to blow up the munitions dump but it must be said that, as far as Herzog lunatics are concerned, he’s no Klaus Kinski.

The plot of Signs of Life is largely secondary to the images that Herzog captures.  Watching Signs of Life, you get the feeling that Herzog simply fell in love with the island and that the film’s storyline is just something that he came up with so he’d have an excuse to share that love with the rest of the world.  Signs of Life is an exercise in pure cinema.  It’s not a perfect debut film but, at its best, it shows tantalizing hints of the great filmmaker that Werner Herzog would soon become.

Scenes That I Love: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn at The Mouth of Truth in Roman Holiday


Given how much I love the 1953 film, Roman Holiday, I’ve probably shared this scene before but that’s okay.  It’s an incredibly charming scene and hey, it’s Gregory Peck’s birthday!

A Blast From The Past: Bette Davis Sells General Electric


Today is not only Roger Corman’s birthday!

And it’s not just Albert Broccoli’s birthday!

It’s also Bette Davis’s birthday and there’s absolutely no way that we here at the Shattered Lens, as lovers of both classic and modern films, could let the day pass without acknowledging it.

Here’s Bette Davis in a General Election commercial from 1933.  This commercial would have been shown in theaters, in between a double feature.