THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 046.5
A hopefully good day to you, my friends. In spite of it all, I’m in good spirits today. Back again with another batch of streaming suggestions for you to consider as you face another week of being mostly at home. At least I hope you’re still staying put in spite of the CDC’s recent shift in recommendations. My trust in my fellow citizens has been shattered over the past year so I ain’t gonna venture out much anymore until things feel truly safer. I’m sure you feel the same.
If you have questions or comments or suggestions, I’m happy to field them. Just shoot me a reply to this email.
Without further ado…
Monday May 17
The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019, dir. Armando Iannucci
Few people I know cared for this movie, and they didn’t for all the reasons that I adored it. It condenses the original Dickens work down considerably, mashing things together and blurring over various details. And the entire film is presented at a breakneck speed so as to fit in as much of the book as possible. As dizzy as it left me by the end, I was also grinning madly throughout. Armando Iannucci applied the demographics of modern day England on to this story with various actors of color taking on important roles, including the wonderful Dev Patel in the lead role. And he surrounded the film with fantastic character actors who go just to the edge of over the top in their performances, particularly Hugh Laurie as the adorably obsessive Mr. Dick and the always reliable Ben Whishaw as the duplicitious and scaly Uriah Heep. Keep your smartphone shut off for this one. The film is larded with little details and moments that will fly by if you’re trying to doomscroll Twitter and watch it at the same time. (streaming on HBO Max)
Tuesday May 18
Fat Girl (2001, dir. Catherine Breillat)
Over the last year and change, I’ve been trying and failing to keep up watching all the entries on the list aggregated by They Shoot Pictures Don’t They as the 1,000 Best Films of All Time. A fool’s errand but a fun one. An entry that showed up lower on the list - and therefore was one of the first movies I saw - was this brutal and provocative masterwork from Catherine Breillat. The story centers on two young girls on a summer vacation on the French coast, with the title character, 12-year-old Anaïs, forced to watch helplessly while her older sister, 15-year-old Elena, is groomed and manipulated by a much older man. It goes to much darker places from there, using some daring visual metaphors to reveal the misogyny that underlies so many relationships between men and women. (airs on TCM @ 10:45 pm / streaming on Criterion Channel and HBO Max)
Wednesday May 19
Detour (1945, dir. Edgar G. Ulmer)
An absolute perfect noir that I was introduced to through Martin Scorsese’s Personal Journey… Through American Movies. And probably the bleakest film in that genre. We follow Al, a piano player from New York as he travels to be with his gal in Los Angeles. But on the way, the gent his riding in a car with has an accident and dies. Worried that the police won’t buy his alibi, Al assumes the dead man’s identity and keeps going. Things only get worse when he picks up a hitchhiker who realizes his ruse and uses it to her advantage. In just over an hour, director Edgar G. Ulmer cranks the vise on this poor schlub and anyone watching the movie as Al’s life starts to spiral more and more out of his control. There’s no schadenfreude here. You feel every last bead of sweat on Al’s shaky brow. (airs on TCM @ noon PT / streaming on Criterion Channel, Kanopy, Hoopla, and Tubi)
Thursday May 20
Monterey Pop (1969, dir. D.A. Pennebaker)
The gold standard for how to film a music festival and capture its impact as a groundshaking cultural event. There had been other rock events before this, but the Monterey International Pop Festival had some truly brilliant people booking their event as they brought in the best of the Bay Area psychedelic rock scene as well as key artists from around the world like The Who, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Hugh Masekela, and of course the two artists who were made stars thanks to their appearances at the fest and the footage captured of their sets by D.A. Pennebaker and his crew: Otis Redding and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. You’ve likely already seen this a dozen times already. You should watch it again. (airs on TCM @ 5 pm PT / streaming on Criterion Channel and HBO Max)
Friday May 21
Eat A Bowl of Tea (1989, dir. Wayne Wang)
Though you can track this delightful film down on DVD and as a digital rental, it’s otherwise not available on any of the major streaming services (so far as I can tell). More’s the pity as this is one of director Wayne Wang’s best. Looked at today, it plays like the comedic cousin to the Oscar-winning Minari as we follow young Chinese immigrants in the ’40s as they attempt to acclimate themselves to American culture while also feeling the pressure being put on them by their elders to stay true to the expectations of their family and community. There’s some harsh truths about assimilation within the film but it’s otherwise as frothy and sentimental as Wang’s earlier Dim Sum and his post-2000 work like Maid In Manhattan. (airs on TCM @ 9 pm PT)
Saturday May 22
Oil City Confidential (2019, dir. Julien Temple)
My love/hate relationship with the documentaries of Julien Temple tipped into the positive with this energetic and surprisingly emotional documentary on the history of British pub rock dynamos Dr. Feelgood. The director indulges in a lot of additional sound design and animation to fill out the edges of the story but he wisely knew that there was no amount of post-production that would capture the manic spirit of that band’s guitarist Wilko Johnson. He’s an indefatigable presence throughout the film, gesticulating and pacing his way through his memories of how the band grew out of a tiny skiffle scene on Canvey Island into a band that took electric blues in a decidedly proto-punk direction. Temple wisely is gentle in folding in the details of just how influential this group was on future superstars like Sex Pistols, The Jam, and Gang of Four and is smart about bringing in the dull details of how a version of the band is still trucking along in the 21st century with two not-so-original members. (streaming on Criterion Channel)
Sunday May 23
The Merry Widow (1925, dir. Erich von Stroheim)
This is not the also charming musical version from 1934 starring Maurice Chevalier, but an earlier silent adaptation of the Franz Lehár operetta made in 1925 by director Erich Von Stroheim and starring the delightful Mae Murray. In the film, Danilo, a young prince of a European nation, falls for Murray’s character but finds his efforts marry her forbidden by his parents. She instead marries a rich baron who dies on their wedding night. Danilo then chases after his lady love both in hopes of winning her hand and saving his ailing homeland with her considerable fortune. Yeah, it’s silly stuff but so be it. Like the best works of the silent era, the film breezes by and is charged with enough drama and excitement to keep it from becoming complete fluff. (airs on TCM @ 9:15 pm PT)
That’s what it is. Thank you so much reading. And while I have you - drop me a line on Twitter (@roberthamwriter) to let me know the best older film that you’ve discovered since the start of 2021.
Back again Friday with some new film reviews and, fingers crossed, an interview with the artist known as Green-House.