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The Hate U Give (2018)
The Hate U Give
There were a lot of movies this year about racism, a couple of them ("BlackkKlansman" and "Blindspotting" come to mind) sharper edged than "The Hate U Give." But I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. Its passion about its subject matter and its enough-is-enough attitude help it to rise above its overly-earnest after school special trappings and its determination to look at the topic from too many different points of view. It especially starts to unravel in its final moments, as if the makers of it couldn't figure out how to resolve everything in a way both dramatically satisfying and cinematic, and its roots as a book show most starkly. But otherwise it's a very engaging film with some very good performances, most notably by its young star, Amandla Stenberg, who has the daunting task of carrying the entire film on her young shoulders. She proves herself equal to the task, though, and any immaturity she might have as an actress is used to the benefit of the character, a young lady who's thrust to the center of events she might not feel emotionally ready for.
One of those movies that flew under the radar but that people should seek out.
Bara no sôretsu (1969)
Funeral Parade of Roses
An unsettling and astonishing Japanese film that introduced me to the Japanese New Wave movement.
"Funeral Parade of Roses," like many of the best works of art, defies description or categorization. It dives into the Japanese gay sub-culture of the 1960s, and specifically young gay men who dress and act like women. It blurs the line between fact and fiction; at times, the actors in the movie become actors in a movie within the movie, and the movie itself becomes a documentary about the making of a movie about gay Japanese youths. If you can follow that sentence, then you're on the way to having the right sensibility to enjoy this film.
It's a shocking movie too, going places most other films at the time, and certainly few American movies, would dare. The only big American movie I can think of from that time period that comes even close to tackling subjects that general audiences would find equally unsavory is "Midnight Cowboy," and this film makes that one look like a Doris Day romp in comparison.
A Soldier's Story (1984)
Jewison Returns to the Heat of the Night
"A Soldier's Story" plays like a 1980s version of "In the Heat of the Night," the 1967 Best Picture winner directed by Norman Jewison, who also directed this film. But that's not to take anything away from "A Soldier's Story." It's a very good film in its own right, and if it borrows some of the sultry southern vibe of that earlier film, it goes "Night" one better in remaining first and foremost a movie about black identity rather than a movie in which blacks exist to teach bigoted whites a lesson.
In 2018, the film world was astounded that a black-driven superhero movie could become one of the biggest hits of the year. Hey, news flash, movies about and starring black people can be good too! It's really remarkable to me then that this film came out in 1984. That anyone cared enough to make it or thought there'd be an audience for it. Despite being nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it's not a well known movie, and I hope more people find it.
The film's set up is a murder mystery staged in a military barrack during WWII. But the movie is really much more about blacks struggling to find their place in a country that is happy to have them die for it but won't treat them like equal citizens. And within that, the film is more concerned with the interactions of blacks with each other and their differing opinions about the best way to gain respect and how much of their culture it's ok to efface in order to gain it. As with any stage to screen adaptation, no matter how much the director tries to open up the film, its stage origins show. But it's so well adapted, directed, and acted that it remains pretty engrossing nonetheless.
Adolph Caesar received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing the murdered soldier, and his is a fascinating creation. The film also features Howard E. Rollins, Jr. as the investigating officer, probably the film's weakest link, and a young Denzel Washington.
In addition to Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, playwright Charles Fuller received an Adapted Screenplay nomination.
Zimna wojna (2018)
Not Much Chemistry
A musician and his muse carry out an on-again-off-again romance in the two decades following WWII.
"Cold War" left me feeling like my lack of understanding about Poland and post-war Polish identity prevented me from fully appreciating this movie. The whole time I was watching it, I felt like there was something I was missing. But I have to judge a movie based on my personal reaction to it, and this one left me cold. The two leads have little chemistry, and the movie doesn't make a compelling case that these two damaged souls can't live without each other. We're just told they can't, but we're never shown. Because I didn't care about their relationship, and I didn't much care for them as individuals (we never learn very much about either of them), I never felt vested in anything happening and I couldn't care less about whether they ended up together, apart, alive, or dead.
The film has some rapturous followers, so I'll have to just live with the fact that I missed the boat on this one.
Nominated for three Oscars at the upcoming 2018 Academy Awards: Best Foreign Language Film (Poland), Best Director (Pawel Pawlikowski), and Best Cinematography.
The Sellout (1952)
Talky and Slow
A slow, talky, noirish drama that's pretty light on the noir and pretty heavy on everything that makes movies not very interesting. I was drawn to this by the promise of seeing Audrey Totter, one of my favorite noir actresses, but unfortunately she plays a good girl in this one, which is nowhere nearly as fun as when she's playing a femme fatale, and she's sadly underused. With all due respect to Walter Pidgeon and John Hodiak, if Totter is in the film, it's her face I want to see, not theirs.
Night Must Fall (1937)
A murder thriller that could have felt stage bound instead proves to be pretty gripping thanks to the marvelous performances of the three leads. Robert Montgomery plays the killer, May Whitty the wretched old lady who befriends him, and Rosalind Russell, frumped up to resemble a bookish school marm, the one who's got his number. The suspense isn't of the "did he or didn't he?" variety, since we know early on that he did, but rather in seeing whether or not Russell's character, who both wants to see him get his and is enticed by the sexy danger he arouses, will end up being his accomplice or executioner.
Montgomery received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination and Whitty was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. It's a shame room couldn't have been made for Russell as well.
Lazy Hero Worship
If you already adore Ruth Bader Ginsberg and want nothing more than to spend a couple of hours idolizing her, you will love this movie, as it's nothing more than hero worship. If you're looking for a more complex look at this remarkable woman, you won't find it here. The film doesn't elaborate much on the struggles Ginsberg faced, either personally or professionally, beyond quick outlines. I was left with so many questions about her that went unanswered. "RBG" is a lazy documentary capitalizing on anti-Trump and MeToo sentiment. It doesn't earn its stripes. RBG deserves better.
The Black Swan (1942)
A pretty dull swashbuckler, mostly because it has two wooden actors, Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara, at its center. It never works up anything even resembling excitement, and it's almost distasteful from a modern-day perspective watching O'Hara getting forced into believing what she wants more than anything is to be ravished by a buccaneer. The swashbucklers starring Errol Flynn, like "The Sea Hawk" (which set the gold standard) and "Captain Blood" are much better.
"The Black Swan" is notable for fans of movie trivia for winning the 1942 Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography. It was the first of four awards to be won by Leon Shamroy, who to this day shares with Joseph Ruttenberg the record for most honored cinematographer. The film was also nominated in the categories of Dramatic or Comedy Score (Alfred Newman) and Best Special Effects.
Madeline's Madeline (2018)
Movies about mental illness are a dime a dozen, and it's hard to find one that has a take on the subject that hasn't already been done, but "Madeline's Madeline" comes pretty close. It's a very experimental film in some ways and one that will likely frustrate some viewers. I will admit to finding my patience tested at times, but overall I will say that the movie rewards sticking with it until its ambiguous end.
Madeline is a young woman whose acting talent either encourages her illness or gives her an outlet for it, depending on your perspective. Certainly her mom, played by Miranda July, is suspect of Madeline's troupe of acting friends and especially her acting teacher, but whether this suspicion arises from a mother's natural instinct for managing her daughter's fragile mental state or the threat that her control over her daughter might be jeopardized is not made entirely clear. Perhaps it's a bit of both? Certainly she has some reason to be concerned, because Madeline's teacher has no qualms about exploiting her illness for what it brings to the vague theater project she's working on. I've always only half-jokingly believed that the very best artists the world has produced are always a little bit crazy, and "Madeline's Madeline" seems to suggest that the fine line between sanity and artistic brilliance is a fuzzy one.
The chaotic film making, with its abrupt cuts, jumpy camera, and disorienting whirls and spins can be read as a visual representation of Madeline's disassociated mental state, but I wished the director would have calmed down a bit.
Naughty Marietta (1935)
Best Picture Nominee of 1935
I gave "Naughty Marietta" a try because I'd never seen a moving pairing Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and I knew what a famous movie pair they were in the 1930s. This one also has the distinction of being one of the Best Picture Academy Award nominees from 1935, so I figured this would be a good one to pick. Hmmmm......not for me. That warbly singing, yuck. The inconsequential story....boring. Why should I care about any of it?.....I didn't.
Did I like anything about it? Yes....Frank Morgan and Elsa Lanchester, who I always like no matter what they're in or what they're doing.
Won the 1935 Oscar given for Sound Recording, which went to the MGM studio sound department under the direction of Douglas Shearer.
"Blindspotting" flew under the radar in 2018, but it turned out to be one of the better overlooked movies I saw this year.
Daveed Diggs plays a man with three days left to go on his parole who's determined to fly straight and avoid going back to jail. Making that difficult is the entire world in which he lives as a black man with a record, and more specifically his best friend, a white thug wannabe played expertly by Rafael Casal, who threatens to drag him back into his old ways.
"Blindspotting" is one of several movies to come out this year that illustrate what it's like being a black person living in white privileged America. I've liked all of them and have thought each one has had a unique way of making its point to an audience that will never completely understand what it's like to be black. What "Blindspotting" gets most right is the difference between being an actual black man who's been pigeon holed as a thug vs. a white man who has appropriated black thug culture. As Diggs' character tells Casal's at one point, the white guy can break all the same laws as the black guy, but when the cops show up, it's the black guy who's more likely to get shot.
Another plus of "Blindspotting" is that it's really very funny. It's got serious points to make and it makes them well, but it does so with a laugh.
Lazzaro felice (2018)
"Happy as Lazzaro" feels like a parable with hints of magical realism, and the whole thing was just a bit too obtuse for me to fully enjoy.
There are themes of social repression, economic exploitation, and mankind's abandonment of nature for the more soulless landscapes of urban industrialization, all of which are certainly relevant to the world in which we live. But I found myself hard pressed to feel involved in any of it as explored by this film. Lazzaro is more an idea than an actual character, and I think one of the reasons he's offered as such a blank slate is so that the audience can project on to him whatever they want. I imagine there will be all sorts of different interpretations of this film, who Lazzaro is, and what it is he's meant to signify. I can and have expended that kind of mental energy on answering questions in other movies, and usually enjoy it very much, but I have to feel like the questions are going to be worth answering before I can get my head in that zone, and I didn't with this movie.
Took My Breath Away
This movie took my breath away like a punch in the gut.
My wife and I have two young boys and are in the middle of navigating the complicated world of grade school. We're constantly left wondering to each other why various parents we know even decided to have children at all for as little as they seem to enjoy them or want to spend any time with them. They act like kids were foisted on them and their job is to raise them into adults as quickly as possible so that they don't have to spend their time on the menial tasks that come with raising young children.
That same question -- why do people keep bringing children into this world when they can't or won't take care of them? -- is the central one at the heart of "Capernaum," and it's asked not by another parent, but by a little boy who's old and wise beyond his years and is fed up with his parents and the environment they've created for him and his siblings. The young actor who plays the little boy is astonishing -- I can't remember a movie in recent memory that features such a young actor who so ably carries an entire film. And the film itself is amazing in the way that it pulls forth from the viewer equal parts sadness and rage on the little boy's behalf without resorting to cheap melodramatics or editorials. The final shot of the film had me smiling and tearing up at the same time, and it's one that I will likely remember for a long time.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards.
Manbiki kazoku (2018)
Many Ways to Make a Family
"Shoplifters" is a simply wonderful movie about the many ways people can go about defining what it means to be family.
The family in this film ekes out an existence in modern-day Tokyo. They have jobs, but they supplement their livelihood by stealing and scrounging. They seem to live by their own moral code. They're not bad people -- in fact, in some ways they're quite good people -- but they do things others would consider to be bad, and they're not overly concerned about hurting others along the way, albeit usually not in major ways. What we learn about them in regular and subtle reveals over the course of the film is that none of them are actually related by blood, yet they've cobbled together a family full of more closeness, happiness, and solidarity than any of them has with those they're related to in the traditional sense.
"Shoplifters" is my favorite kind of movie because it suggests that people can be many things at once and defy categorization. We learn to know these folks, warts and all, and it's up to us how to feel about them. The movie doesn't make decisions for us. I sort of fell in love with them, and while I didn't necessarily condone all of the things they did, I felt terrible at the end that the life they managed to build together out of unlikely circumstances couldn't continue.
In a movie full of excellent performances, the one I can't get out of my head is that of Sakura Ando as the "mother." When we first meet her, it seems like she might be the coldest and most detached of the group, but by the movie's end we realize how responsible she is for holding everything together. It's a shame a performance like hers is too off the beaten path to ever be considered for Oscar attention, because she deserves it. The film itself is up for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Oscars. It won't win, but it doesn't need an award to validate its greatness.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins brings the same dreamy, ethereal style he used so effectively in "Moonlight" to this screen adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, but this time around it feels ill matched to the material.
Baldwin was poetic, but he was also angry, and rightly so. "If Beale Street Could Talk" does a good job of showing how the things whites in America can take for granted -- falling in love, getting married, having children, building a life together with the person of your choice -- are a series of trials for blacks. Nothing but a bunch of road blocks stand in the way of the young couple at the center of the movie and their happiness. But what I missed from Jenkins' version of this story is the anger that such a state of affairs existed then and still exists now. "Beale Street" should have a sense of immediacy in our current times, but it instead feels overshadowed to me by other films this year like "BlackkKlansman" and "Sorry to Bother You," films that ask its audience to stand up and take notice. "Beale Stree," in its slowness and pursuit of formal perfection, asks its audience to take a snooze.
KiKi Layne, who plays the young pregnant woman at the film's center, was I think a big part of the problem. She doesn't give a strong performance, and so this young girl who was supposed to come across as innocent but strong, comes across instead as somewhat vapid. Much better performances come from the actors who play her parents, Regina King and Colman Domingo, and the only time the movie really sparks is when one of those two is on screen. Sparks really fly in the scene when they announce their daughter's pregnancy to her boyfriend's family, but that scene is so overdone, and the characters of the boyfriend's mom and sisters played so exaggeratedly, that it comes across as ludicrous instead of powerful. At other times, Jenkins greatly underplays it, to the point where you want to prod him and ask him to pick up the pace a little. It's a very uneven movie, and I had a lot of trouble losing myself in the world it creates even though I really wanted to.
Imitation of Life (1934)
Imitation of Life
The original version of the story many people probably know better as the Douglas Sirk weepie from 1959 starring Lana Turner.
Kudos to the 1934 "Imitation of Life" for giving movie audiences a fairly progressive story about two women, one white (Claudette Colbert) and one black (Louise Beavers), who go into business together without a man in sight. Subplots find Beavers' daughter passing for white and disowning her black mother and heritage while Colbert's daughter moons over her mom's new love interest (Warren William). Far too much time is spent on the amours of these boring privileged white people while far too little is spent on the race problems, but this was 1934 and the fact that the racial story line is there at all is something at least. The Sirk version corrected that somewhat and made the two story lines far more equal.
I don't know what to think about "Imitation of Life." Should I commend it for trying to show positive images of black people at a time when those were hard to come by, and to suggest that blacks can and should be proud of their heritage? Or should I cringe at the way it portrays black people as being happily subservient to the whites in their lives, content to exist in the background as long as there's a nice white lady present to take care of them? I guess the answer is I can have both reactions at the same time, which makes delving into historical cinema (or historical anything really) such a fascinating exercise. I think audiences should watch movies in context of the times in which they were made, but I also think it's fair to hold them up to contemporary scrutiny and see what they got right and what they got wrong. "Imitation of Life" falls into the latter category more than the former for me, which is why I can't give it a higher rating.
Despite director Valeska Grisebach's claims that her film, "Western," is inspired by the popular American film genre, the title refers more to cultural differences between western and eastern Europe than it does traditional cowboys and indians. Indeed, on the surface nothing resembling a traditional movie western is to be found in this film, aside from macho posturing and men trying to assert their authority over one another. But then again, I imagine that's Grisebach's point of inspiration, as that's largely what American westerns are all about.
In "Western," a group of German workers is assigned to a construction project in a remote area of Bulgaria, and the film mostly follows one of them, Meinhard, a sort of odd man out, as he sours on the companionship of his fellow workers and instead befriends a nearby Bulgarian village. Meinhard has a violent past, having formerly been a legionnaire (he refuses to answer when one of the men asks if he's ever killed someone), and the whole movie consists mostly of waiting to see if and when Meinhard will explode as tensions between the Germans and Bulgarians mount.
Grisebach has said that she wanted her movie to explore themes of toxic masculinity, a goal that some have applauded while others have derided. I think her point is that in a traditional western movie, the quiet and stoic hero (Meinhard) would only let himself be pushed so far before he asserted his power and authority over the other men, usually through controlled but violent means. But that idea of the alpha male is becoming more and more antiquated, and this film seems to suggest that perhaps the manliest thing one can do is choose to walk away from male bluster and instead join the camp of inclusivity and understanding.
"Western" is full of men being aggressive to greater and lesser degrees -- to women, to each other -- yet it's Meinhard, the one who decides at the film's end to dance at a village celebration rather than mete out the revenge he so clearly wants to take, who emerges as the character with the most strength.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
I watched a "What Not to Wear" episode once featuring a plus-size woman who got frustrated at her shopping experience because of the limited options available to her. She was basically saying that she would love to wear clothes made of rich colors and nice fabrics, but they don't make them for women her size. That's how I feel whenever I try to watch a feel-good popular movie. I would love to enjoy some mindless entertainment and check out for a while over something lighthearted, but these kinds of movies are clearly not made for people like me.
Exhibit A -- "Crazy Rich Asians," an obnoxious film that looks like a two-hour ad for a Vegas resort. A regular girl wants to marry a dude but comes up against the displeasure of his crazy rich family. In our more enlightened and "woke" times, you might think the answer to this dilemma would be to give the regular girl some semblance of an inner life and volition over her own destiny, but you would be wrong. Instead, she has to prove why she's worth marrying and if she does that well enough she'll get rewarded at the end with a man. Forget that the man is a total weenie who doesn't take any action himself or have the slightest thing resembling a character arc. That would come too close to narrative complexity and the vast hordes of people who liked this movie would probably rebel.
I have a feeling scads of people storming social media over MeToo and female empowerment watch movies like this and love them, which to me are two mindsets that feel pretty mutually exclusive.
If "Crazy Rich Asians" is what passes for mindless entertainment these days, I'll stick to movies that send me spiraling into depression. At least they don't make me want to punch my T.V.
The Cakemaker (2017)
Sad and Lovely
"The Cakemaker" is a gentle, sad film about a young German man who becomes infatuated with his deceased male lover and travels to Israel to be close to the lover's widow and child. He gets a job at a cafe run by the widow and the two of them strike up an uneasy romance of sorts -- both of them use the other as a proxy for the man who's no longer in either of their lives. Within this complicated emotional scenario, the film explores themes of cultural and religious prejudice and intolerance -- the German man has to overcome animosity and assumptions made about him by some of the Israeli characters while the widow has to contend with a different sort of prejudice because she's not religious and isn't "kosher" enough for some.
It's a very quiet and thoughtful film, and I really enjoyed its gentle rhythms. It's very much about grief and the human instinct to find people and things to keep alive the memories of those we've lost.
This deeply strange film is a character study of a Spanish officer who slowly unravels in a South American backwater as he awaits a transfer to Buenos Aires, a transfer that never comes.
Daniel Gimenez Cacho plays the titular character, a man who begins the film with a strong sense of authority and prestige but who slowly loses it over the course of the story as he realizes he's as much a pawn of the Spanish colonizers as those being colonized. There are elements of magical realism here and there throughout the movie, but they're not inserted too heavily -- they're used more as a visual representation of Zama's tattering mind than as plot devices. The film is visually impressive, especially in the last quarter of the film when Zama joins an expedition to track down an infamous bandit and the movie descends into the stuff of nightmares.
"Zama" will probably try the patience of some, as it's extremely languorous and can sometimes be a bit confusing if you don't have a grasp on the history and time period (I didn't). But it's fascinating in its own way if you give into its strange rhythms.
Twisted Little Thriller
"Thoroughbreds" feels like something Patricia Highsmith might have written. It's the story of two young women -- one rich, one not -- and the plan they concoct to murder the rich girl's stepfather, who we hate because he walks around in athleisure wear and cycles all the time and is basically an ass. The not rich girl has some condition where she doesn't feel any emotion, so killing someone is merely a study in the logistics of not getting caught. The predictable twist is that the rich girl, who does have emotions, ends up being more cold hearted and ruthless than the other one.
This movie doesn't give us anyone to like, so it's kind of fun to sit back and watch things go awry. I didn't much care who got murdered or who went to prison, and it was relaxing for a change not to feel vested in anything happening. And it's pretty decently acted, especially by Olivia Cooke as the emotionless girl and the late Anton Yelchin as a druggie they hire as an ineffectual hit man.
My father uses his Facebook feed almost exclusively to irritate his Christian conservative relatives about Donald Trump. He posts every single meme that comes his way as long as it shows Trump making a stink face above some sarcastic comment about what a goon he is. He never links to any kind of reasoned, articulate article full of facts and logical argument. There are plenty out there that he could use to deride Trump, but it's easier to forward some facile, childish message instead.
I agree in sentiment with everything my father posts, but I'm considering blocking him because I'm sick and tired of post after post after post about how awful Trump is. I KNOW how awful Trump is, and I don't need a daily reminder (I have Trump himself as my daily reminder), especially when nothing new is being said.
"Vice" is like the movie equivalent of my father's Facebook feed. I pretty much loathed Dick Cheney and Bush's entire administration when they were in office, so you'd think I would be the perfect audience for this movie, which is pretty much a two-hour smear campaign of Cheney and his associates. But instead, I found myself annoyed beyond measure by Adam McKay's obnoxious movie, which recreates the feeling of being trapped in a room with someone the day after the person he voted for didn't win the presidential election.
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell and the rest of the cast try valiantly to do something with the material they are given, but they get buried in a mound of McKay petulance. This is a film without nuance, without subtlety, and without any real interest in exploring the dynamics of Cheney the man or of the Bush White House. This is a film where a character we're supposed to hate says something evil, and the camera cuts to a group of his cronies literally cackling like a cabal of witches. At the end, an alarmist montage seems to be implying that Cheney is single-handedly responsible for every bad thing happening today on Earth. Terrorism? Cheney's fault. Tsunamis? Cheney's fault. Indigestion? Cheney's fault. Let's not give the man too much credit, ok?
And one of McKay's worst decisions is to have the film narrated by the man who served as Cheney's heart donor. This man, who speaks directly to the camera in one of McKay's most annoying directorial tics, apologizes to us for keeping Cheney alive. I hope that man's family doesn't see this movie, because that tacky and insensitive sentiment is a slap in the face to them and the loved one they're probably grieving for.
Mostly, "Vice" is hopelessly irrelevant, despite McKay's determination to make us believe that Cheney is a demon from Hell hovering over all of us and planning our painful deaths. Why do we get a movie about this now? I lived through this, and guess what?.....I've moved on to being outraged by a whole new administration, one that's much worse. I never thought I'd be saying this but I'd welcome back Bush and his cronies as a substitute for what we've got now.
I'm flabbergasted that this movie keeps getting so much serious awards attention. I have to believe it's only because its tone of liberal outrage resonates with Hollywood.
Blue Jay (2016)
Master Class in Acting
"Blue Jay" delivers a master class in acting thanks to Sarah Paulson and Mark DuPlass, who play one-time sweethearts who reunite accidentally in their home town. What follows is a painfully sweet and sad story about two people processing the regret they feel about giving up on something that might have been right, but who must move forward with the lives they have.
Much of the ground covered in this film has been covered before, but so what? After all, there are only so many stories and themes out there for artists to explore. What matters are the particulars brought to any one telling, and that's where "Blue Jay" shines. Its improvisational, loosey-goosey vibe feels just right, and makes us feel like we're privileged insiders in this couple's story. Paulson and DuPlass don't miss a beat, and the final scene is a tour de force for both of them.
I wasn't ready for this movie to end when it did, not because the ending felt misplaced, but because I wasn't ready to be away from these people. That's pretty high praise.
A Cheeky Henry VIII
I was not prepared for how funny "The Private Life of Henry VIII" would be, though I suppose I should have been given that Charles Laughton plays the title role. It's not surprising that such a cheeky actor would play one of the world's most famous historical figures in such a cheeky fashion.
The film starts with the beheading of Anne Boleyn and chronicles Henry's marriages to the rest of his wives. The most screen time is given to his marriage with the doomed Catherine Howard, played by Binnie Barnes, and most entertainingly the arranged marriage to Anne of Cleaves, played by the impish Elsa Lanchester. Lanchester is a hoot, and the scene of Anne fleecing Henry at cards on their wedding night instead of....ahem...consummating their marriage is one of the highlights of the film.
Laughton won the Best Actor Oscar in the 1932-33 award year, and the film was nominated for Best Picture. He was an unpopular choice, not because people didn't think he gave a good performance, but because he was British and not "in" with the Hollywood establishment.
One of those "men go into the woods and something terrible happens" movies that go all the way back to "Deliverance." This one is pretty good, especially given that this is I believe the director's first film. Two buddies, one alpha and the other more sensitive, are involved in a terrible accident that they then decide to cover up. The small village they're staying in gets wise and decides to deal with them vigilante style. The ending starts to get a bit contrived and you can feel the film straining a bit to deliver a finale that will shock, but the movie up to that point is taut and well acted, and it's entertainingly uncomfortable in that way movies are when you're watching protagonists dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole they won't be able to crawl out of.