Junk Flick Nation

My friend Red Philips asks his FB friends to rate various movie trilogies. I posted a remark:
The same could be said of most of the really popular films of the past three or four decades. As "art," they are worthless, as entertainment, they are degrading, and as a moral force they corrupt our minds and characters, but people who are otherwise sensible--for the time being--continue to follow the Pied Pipers of degrading mass culture.
When someone asked what movies in the past 50 years I had enjoyed, I commented:
I watch fewer and fewer movies made since 1960. They are too bloody stupid and incoherent. Worst of all is the inconsistency of the incoherent characters. I remember being dragged to the theater to see the first Star Wars. Good Lord, it was far dumber than any Flash Gordon and the acting was even worse. I'm sure my reluctance has cause me to miss a few decent films. What I mostly have enjoyed is cheap entertainment. It took me years to resign myself to Bergman, though I liked Fellini from the first.
Here in no particular order are a few I liked: "The Long Riders," "Tombstone," . "Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien" (With a Friend Like Harry),Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and "Be Kind Rewind," the first Tim Burton "Batman" and "Betelgeuse," Tornatore's "Tutti Vanno Bene". (a bit too sentimental), Eastwood's "Unforgiven"--which I would never see again, and maybe "Gran Torino," though it is formulaic junk, the pretentious "Sixth Sense." I thought the Superman movie with Gene Hackman was amusing. "Ghostbusters" was funny and made a good point, "Poltergeist II" was chilling, I'd throw in "The Emperor's Club" if only because it was vastly superior to the evil "Dead Poets Society," "Groundhog Day," "Idiocracy." "Barbershop," "The Royal Tenebaums" (partly from vanity because my children's friends seem to see a likeness...). and "Shaun of the Dead," which I found hilarious.  I have a weakness for Jack Black, and enjoyed the silly "School of Rock," but even better was "The Polka King", a biopic about a Polish polka bandleader who runs a Ponzi scheme and goes to jail. When he comes out, he performs his "Polka Rap."
With these afterthoughts:
There is one danger to that movie. My wife was away, I had a few drinks, and I laughed so hard I fell off the sofa and nearly broke my tailbone. I so admired the two Michel Gondry movies I saw that I stupidly rented his Green Hornet. Sometimes, your own private jokes cannot be shared, and pretending--wink wink--that Seth Rogen is an actor is the kind of dumb joke I would come up with after a long evening.

Trip to Bountiful is a beautiful film, excellent cast, and above all a real screenplay by Horton Foote. I think it is less well done, though than Foote's screenplay for Tender Mercies.

I should have added the French Canadian films of Arcand such as the Fall of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasion. They are more than a little too talky. Oh, and Whit Stillman's trilogy--Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco, and Barcelona.
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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

22 Responses

  1. Michael Strenk says:

    This is a good list. I agree on those which I’ve seen (somehow I think that you have managed to see many more movies made after 1960 than I have and you are approximately my fathers age) and will look out in thrift shops for those I would be likely to find there, why enrich them if it can be avoided (we don’t stream except in the forest). I liked “Master and Commander”. It captured fairly well the atmosphere of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, which I loved, but needed Dean King’s lexicon and a good atlas by me at all times. The movie is also one of very few wherein the Lord’s Prayer is recited in its entirety, appropriately and respectfully. We had recently been watching some Busby Berkeley films. The “Lullaby on Broadway” bit in “Golddiggers of 1935” is chilling and powerful and appropriate to our times. It is certainly cautionary, but how it is to be interpreted is the question. I suspect that Berkeley had fascist leanings like FDR at the time, whom he supported.

  2. Sam Dickson says:

    The great and good Comrade Fleming might also have mentioned “The Bostonians” as one of the few good movies made in the last few decades.

    “The Bostonians” is the most anti-liberal movie I have ever seen. Amusingly, it features 2 certified Bolsheviks as the male protagonist (Christopher Reeves) and the 2nd most important female actperson in the film (Vanessa Redgreaves).

    It’s based on the novel by Henry James. Basil, the male protagonist, is a lawyer who is a Confederate veteran who has business that takes him to Boston. He meets and falls in love with the main female character, a young woman who is being groomed by her conartist spiritualist parents and a crowd of woke abolitionists who are moving on to feminism and occultism as the next items on the agenda.

    You will all love this amazing movie. Beautiful sets. First class acting.

    And totally anti-liberal.

    Don’t cheat yourselves.

    See this movie.

  3. Thomas Fleming says:

    To see the Bostonians, I’d have to violate several guidelines. First, I avoid seeing movies made from good serious novels. They are almost always disappointing and distort one’s perception of the book. Now, movies made from detective novels and Westerns are often very good, but.,.. I cannot imagine how people who claim to admire JRR Tolkien actually went to the films. As I dimly recall some idiot made a film of Und amour di Swann. I’m trying to to think of a strong exception but the best I can come up with is an OK film of Faulkner’s ok novel The Rievers. Second, I don’t see stuff made by Merchant/Ivory and their Indian writers. Christopher Reeves simply cannot act. All you have said about this film is that A) It is reactionary, which means it follows the book, which I have read so don’t need to see a movie for its borrowed ideas, and B) It’s real purdy. When I hear a movie praised for the designers or special effects, I know better than to waste my time. I’ll stick to Charlie Chan and Hopalong Cassidy..

  4. Raymond Olson says:

    As you know, I’ve made seeing all the movies I’ve ever wanted to see a project of my declining years. I’ve proceeded chronologically, from the beginning of the last century. I’m now watching films of the later 1980s. I’ve kept lists of my favorites by decade, and I’ve annotated them for my own satisfaction and to whip up into the pieces in what Dr. Fleming calls my history of the movies; a handful on select silents have appeared, and more are in the hopper.

    I’m not surprised that I have not seen nearly all the films that Tom, Sam, and Mr. Strenk have mentioned. For the last 50 years, Hollywood films have been, in my opinion, dismal and worse. I have preferred foreign anglophone and foreign-language films. As I peruse the decades of my grand list, that preference is obvious. What’s more, the American films I do greatly like are almost invariably independent productions, often made on shoestring budgets and with skeletal technical crews and lesser-known actors and/or non-actors. All of Orson Welles’ movies after Touch of Evil (1958) were independent productions made outside of the U.S.; most of them are eminently worthwhile. Outstanding American independents I heartily recommend include The Exiles (1961), Wanda (1971), Hester Street (1975), Killer of Sheep (1978), Wise Blood (1979–directed by John Huston, but made with as little and grudging industry help as possible), My Brother’s Wedding (1983), The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Smithereens (1982), and Daughters of the Dust (1991). Fringe directors, open to industry help as long as they get final cut, like Jim Jarmusch, Monte Hellman, and the late Robert Altman, consistently make interesting movies. Woody Allen has always been an independent, and whatever you think of his disgusting sexual behavior, his films are quite superior to industry junk.

    I’ve been heard to say of Hollywood movies of the last 50 years that they’re a;; about the same thing–money.

    Tom–I’ve just started seeing Denys Arcand’s work. I’ve yet to get to the titles you mention, but Le déclin de l’empire Américain (1986) is talky, yes, but impressively humane as well as trenchantly satiric. And old Hollywood hand Clarence Brown (Garbo’s most frequent director) made a splendid film out of Intruder in the Dust (1949); screenwriter Ben Maddow condensed the novel’s action without sacrificing its moral interest. Whether the novel is top-shelf Faulkner is another matter.

  5. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Great American movies (that’s right, Austin, movies! Leave the films to the French!) of the last 50 years that weren’t mentioned: Charley Varrick, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Badlands & Days of Heaven by Terence Malick, Nashville, Short Cuts, Barry Lyndon, Repo Man, Senna, No Country For Old Men, The Big Kahuna, Reds, Apocalypse Now, Godfathers I & II, The Big Lebowski, The Counselor, Office Space, The Station Agent, Living in Oblivion, Defending Your Life, GoodFellas, Tucker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Departed, Fog of War, Secret Honor, Strange Brew, Slap Shot, Bang the Drum Slowly, Dillinger, After Hours, Dazed & Confused, The Right Stuff, Waiting for Guffman, & Best in Show. This list is by no means exhaustive. Hope y’all will have a little film festival in Rockford during the Symposium Week. My apologies, but I am a medical scratch this month.

    And, oh yeah, Sam is right about The Bostonians. Trevor Lynch has a good review of it at Unz. An excellent film. Dr Fleming is right about Reeve: he was just about the most boring & flatulent actor in history, this side of the remarkably mediocre & overrated Tom Hanks, but he gave one good performance, & that was in the Merchant-Ivory vehicle. And I love the James novel.

  6. Roger McGrath says:

    Like Tom, I’d rather watch a Charlie Chan or Hopalong Cassidy movie from the 1930s or 40s than 90% of the movies from the last 30 years. Nearly all movies have been destroyed by political correctness or by casting a non-white, especially a black or a female in a role that was intended for a white male. By the 1980s or 90s a buddy-movie couldn’t be made with two whites males, despite the novel or short story that the movie was based on, and the subsequent screen play, having two white males as buddies. An outstanding exception to the general trend of movies during the last several decades is Mel Gibson’s Payback. The movie is a remake but is far better than the original from the 1960s. Gibson makes some brilliant changes and makes the movie more a film noir from the 1940s, including narrating portions of it. Every character is perfectly cast and the direction is exceptional. The acting is superb. There is nothing politically correct about it and much that is the opposite. If you haven’t seen it, you are in for a treat.

  7. Allen Wilson says:

    I also prefer to watch foreign films whether I can understand what’s going in in a scene or not. That way, if there is some leftist message, you can safely avoid being annoyed by it if you don’t understand the language well enough, unless it becomes all too obvious.

    There are some pretty good amateur short films on you tube nowadays. There may not be all that much to them, but they can be better than the effluvia of Hollywood. A series I liked was Dusty Faces (Verstaubt sind die Gesichter) which I was using to try to improve my German a little. Amateurish and with less than the best in acting? Yes, but at least not rancid or evil.

  8. Michael Strenk says:

    I enthusiastically second Professor McGrath’s recommendation of Payback. The presumed fate of the love interests, as narrated by Gibson, in the end is very much what you might expect of two such characters.

    Groundhog Day as mentioned by Dr. Fleming was a very good film. Whenever I see Bill Murray’s name associated with a film, after his Stripes/Caddyshack days, I always investigate. He has a nose for good material. The Man Who Knew Too Little was made before it was, at least in the public mind, a forgone conclusion that the Cold War would go on ad infinitum. It was hilarious and prophetic. I also liked St. Vincent, a very New York movie for our times (or at least our times before the current and ongoing insanity).

  9. Thomas Fleming says:

    Ken, I suggest you hold that film festival, perhaps in Venezuela or New Jersey, I have seen some of the films, know enough about some of the others to avoid, and think maybe Charlie Varrick is the only one I can endure, Oh, forgive me Reds is a wonderful movie. Robert Altman never made a film–and I use the word advisedly–worth watching, at least not one I an aware of. I can hear the siren-song of Mantan Moreland–“Mr. Chan, Mr Chan, you say that room is haunted?”

  10. Michael Strenk says:

    In light of Mr. Olson’s comments above, I would like to recommend to him and others the little film Don’t Come Knocking directed by Wim Wenders and written by Wenders and actor Sam Shepard. This is an entertaining, but, essentially theological film among the merits of which is perhaps the best representation of stillness inviting the action of the Holy Spirit that one is likely to find in the medium. Another highlight is Tim Roth’s character’s brief and understated interaction with the mother of the main character, played by Sam Shepard, whom he obviously takes to be a kindred spirit, and is, but she is also a mother.

  11. Thomas Fleming says:

    On Mr Strenk’s recommendation, we watched last night “The Man Who Knew Too Little.” For a one joke picture, it was pretty good, and, as movies go these days, fairly clean. I went to bed trying to think of who he reminded me of, and when I woke up, the face of Totò popped into my head. He had various guises, but that of the dull-witted guy who thinks he is outfoxing everyone is perhaps the most common. Now, Murray is no Totò–but who is? Still, it was an enjoyable piece of fluff which gets post-Cold War spying fairly right: They are willing to kill right and left, both sides, and start a war if only it will get us back to the good old days of full staffs and big budgets.

  12. Raymond Olson says:

    Thank you, Mr. Strenk. I’m trying to see every Wenders film. Whether I get through each one is another thing, though so far, so completist on my part. His talent is obvious, though I have yet to find a favorite in his work.

  13. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Great Wenders films: Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire; An American Friend; The State of Things. He has utilized the talents of Peter Handke, Nobel laureate and author of the seminal “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.” Apropos of nothing, Handke is a Catholic convert, who translated The Moviegoer into German.

  14. Vince Cornell says:

    What, American Ninja 4 isn’t on the list!?! After seriously racking my brain, I was hard pressed to come up with any modern mainstream movies I’ve seen that weren’t already on Dr. Fleming’s list. At the risk of scorn from the graybeards here, I would suggest that the Toy Story movies (1, 2, and 3) are surprisingly watchable and well put together (Toy Story 4 is such an abomination of a movie it’s almost as if it’s part of a different movie franchise). I also remember some of Terry Gilliams movies as being interesting (Brazil and maybe 12 Monkeys), although it’s been decades since I saw them and I was a high school punk at the time. I grew up watching much of the blather that Dr. Fleming rightfully scorns, so I acknowledge a soft spot for most of those movies, but I’ve seen enough classic movies and even foreign films to be able to place my objective judgment over my cloying nostalgia and admit most modern movies are junk. I was happy to see both Shaun of the Dead and Groundhog’s Day on the list.

  15. Vince Cornell says:

    Mr. Strenk, while I think the Master & Commander movie is too bloated and disjointed in its narrative, I enjoy the characters (from having read the book series) so much and the world of the sailing ship in the Golden Age of Sail so thoroughly that I could watch the movie repeatedly without getting tired of it. It’s just one of those time periods that completely fascinated me. One point I’d like to highlight – yes, they do say the “Our Father” toward the end, but if you watch closely you’ll noticed that Dr. Stephen Maturin, the papist in the crew, closes his mouth and does NOT recite the doxology at the end with the rest of his shipmates. Now that’s some admirable attention to detail!

  16. Raymond Olson says:

    Ken–I don’t share your enthusiasm for Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, and The American Friend, and The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety and The State of Things have thus far eluded me. I like Wenders road trilogy–Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Movement, Kings of the Road–and his Ozu documentary, Tokyo-Ga, and his completion of Antonioni’s last movie, Beyond the Clouds, is respectable. But I’m still waiting for Wenders to wow me. Hid confreres Herzog and the short-lived Fassbinder have impressed me much more. Oh, and I enjoy The Buena Vista Social Club, though it does go on.

  17. Vince Cornell says:

    I did watch the Harrison Ford version of The Fugitive, which I think exists mostly to be a vehicle for Tommy Lee Jones and his braggadocio, but I was struck by the narrative of a pharmaceutical company being so keen on profits they gladly falsified test results and murdered people to protect their experimental drug . . . call me crazy, but it hit a chord with me for some reason.

  18. Ken Rosenberger says:

    You have no soul if you dislike Groundhog Day. If you don’t like Office Space, you never worked in corporate America, in which case you already have your reward. Lost in the Lattice of Coincidence? Just remember: Repo Man don’t go to The Man; Repo Man goes it alone.

    Ray, did you work your way through all the Grade D horror films of the 50’s & 60’s? For instance the monumental collaboration between Roger Corman & Vincent Price (Vinny the P, as my nostalgic friend calls him endearingly), making movies based on Poe’s classic tales.

    I used to be pretty big on obscure monster & horror movies, like Attack of the Crab Monsters and The Monster of Piedras Blancas (set near Hearst Castle). I’d like to get a good Blu-ray print of some of the old Dr Tung 3-d movies. Dr Tung’s 3-D House of Stewardesses was a gritty classic, marked by the performance of superlative but now-forgotten character actor Woody Tobias Jr.

  19. Raymond Olson says:

    Ken–No, I watch only movies I’ve always wanted to see. The Corman/AI movies I knew I wouldn’t want to see even before I went and saw them, usually at a drive-in. I remember that Born Losers was a hoot.

  20. Michael Strenk says:

    Mr. Cornell, I did not notice the doctor’s refusal to engage in the prayer, but the movie is not fresh in my mind. I agree that it is an indication of devotion to detail as Maturin, a very realistically mixed bag as a character, is an Enlightenment man who admires the “ideals” of the Revolution in France and detests Bonaparte for having subverted the experiment. The world was filled with such people in the intellectual classes. I was very disappointed in reading Under the Yoke by Ivan Vazov (in one of the worst translations of any book that I’ve ever read) to learn that much of the rebellion against the Turks (although there were many factions) was led by men who were operating very much in the mindset of the French Revolution.

  21. Michael Strenk says:

    Thanks to Mr. Olson for the Wim Wenders recommendations. I’ve only seen the one movie directed by him so far.

  22. Daniel Beaudette says:

    FYI: For those who are going to check out Mel Gibson’s Payback be aware there are two versions out there: the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut. Usually there’s little difference on those things but here it matters. The ending on the Director’s Cut is weaker and there are other changes; I far prefer the Theatrical Cut. Of course, there are sites out there that give more details on this.