Knives Out (Rian Johnson – 2019) A+

What a fantastic well-constructed time piece of a movie this is. It’s supposed to be a “who done it” like the Agatha Christie stuff and it does that so well. It does it so well that even when it tells us exactly what happened we are still in the “no, no way, something else must’ve happened…” Of course one needs to see it to make any sense of what I just wrote. In any case, everything here is damn near perfect. It’s directed expertly, the performances are all top notch and it looks great.

Auto Focus (Paul Schrader – 2002) B+

Another Paul Schrader film thanks to Criterion Channel’s collection. This one is much better than the other one I saw. Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) hit it big in the 60’s with the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes”. He apparently was also a shallow and uninteresting man. Yet, Schrader makes a very compelling film about him focusing on his odd friendship -if we can call it that- with an electronics expert called John Henry Carpenter played by Willem Dafoe. Both actors do an excellent job here. This is in the early days of video recorders. Bob is famous and finds out that he can use his celebrity to pick up women. Soon they are partying together, having threesomes foursomes and orgies and recording everything to watch later. John is a slime ball and Bob is a weak empty shell of a man. This cannot end well and it does not.

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich – 1971) A

There are towns like that, like the West Texas town in Bogdanovich’s film. I might think what the hell is everyone living there, but I’m betting for those who lived there at least some of them liked it or even loved it. It’s 1951, shortly after the war with another war going on in Korea. It’s nothing but one dirt street, a diner/pool hall, movie theater and gas station. There is nothing to do but football, watching movies at the picture show and make out. What there is in this film is a slew of characters that we get to spend some time with over a year period. We learn a lot about how shitty the high school football team is, we have a classic love triangle, bored housewives and lots of adultery. Even though most of the characters here are senior high schoolers (early roles for Jeff Bridges and a first role I think for Cybill Shepherd) the heart and soul of the film is in the character of Sam the Lion played by the late Ben Johnson. He owns the pool hall, the movie theater and cafe and he is almost the father figure for the town and especially for Sonny (Timothy Bottoms). The Last Picture Show is a classic and I can see why. It’s a well-made ode to bygone eras be them tiny towns, big cities or whole generations.

Burning (Chang-Dong Lee – 2018) B+

It’s an odd one this one. The slow burn of this threesome of friends is very engaging but ultimately I am not sure it was worth the wait. On the other hand I was fascinated by the slow unfolding of events that happen after Jong-su bumps into a girl, Hae-mei, who used to be his neighbor in the country and now she is working for a department store in Seoul. She asks him to take care of her cat and she leaves for Africa. She comes back with a new guy she met there. That new guy (nicely surprised to see Steven Yeun here) is odd, rich, he likes starting fires too. Hae-mei might be into him too and when she disappears, Jong-su suspects foul play. It’s like a Haruki Murakami plot in its subtly weirdness and stilted conversations. So, maybe I liked it much more than I thought I did. It sure stuck with me for a long time after seeing it.