Movies Watched, September 2021

Still from “The Card Counter” directed by Paul Schrader

When I decided last month to go back to the theater for only the second time since the pandemic began (and the first time since May), the two top contenders for my box office dollars were Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter.” As an Asian American, I felt somewhat duty-bound to go see the first Asian super-hero film from a major Hollywood studio—twelve-year old me would have been pretty excited by the prospect. But, having watched other diversity “firsts” from Marvel like the sadly overrated “Black Panther” and the shabbily inconsequential “Captain Marvel,” I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Instead I bought myself a ticket to “The Card Counter,” which, if you’re not familiar, stars Oscar Isaac in a breezy, fun-filled romp through the wacky world of professional gambling. Just kidding! This movie is as grim and despairing as the darkest night of the damned, but it’s also the purest, most delicious kind of cinema. That’s about what you’d expect from the unflinching mind that brought us “First Reformed” several years ago and “Taxi Driver” many years before that. Like those landmark films, “The Card Counter” also draws you in to its world with astonishing force: it takes you deep into its windowless, airless casino lounges and shows the depths from which the quietly despondent, unreachable souls that populate them carry forth. Like most Shrader films, it doesn’t shy from topical and political relevance, but the reach of this particular plot is unexpected and even abrupt, though never less than convincing. I left the theater completely reenergized by the whole idea of what cinema can do—and by what seeing film in a theater can feel like. And to think, there wasn’t a single post-credits teaser for any kind of expanded universe tie-in, either.

I watched thirteen total films in September, none of which wound up being “Shang-Chi,” though I expect that’ll happen sooner or later. Here they are…

  1. The Kid Who Would Be King” (2019) ★½
    Rewatched. I really hoped this would seem better on a second viewing but it was just as disappointing as the first.
  2. Cluny Brown” (1946) ★★½
    Lubitsch is a legend but he’s hit or miss for me, and this romantic comedy really only hits its groove when it gets absolutely ruthless.
  3. The Mark of Zorro” (1940) ★★★
    Pure, unpretentious, empty-headed Hollywood fun.
  4. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” (1938) ★★
    Lubitsch again hitting or missing. It’s fun enough, but I just can’t see the genius in it.
  5. Captain America: Civil War” (2016) ★★
    Among the most exciting marketing plans ever presented to the Disney executive committee.
  6. The Big Risk” (1960) ★★★★
    Unadulterated, gritty gangland melodrama, not unlike French mob maestro Jean-Pierre Melville’s work, but without its archness.
  7. Moonstruck” (1987) ★★
    Was this supposed to be magical? Because it’s just, like, fine. Our expectations for romantic comedies have been lowered so precipitously.
  8. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” (1992) ★★★★
    Imperfect and even a bit shaky, but totally absorbing. Also, it was filmed literally at the end of my block in Brooklyn.
  9. The Card Counter” (2021) ★★★★
    Paul Schrader takes us to the dark side of the moon once again.
  10. The 400 Blows” (1959) ★★★★
    Rewatched. As enchanting and poetic as a fairy tale, except everything is horrible.
  11. L’Argent” (1983) ★★★★
    In so many ways not what a movie is supposed to be at all, but at the same time, more cinematic than the vast majority of movies out there.
  12. Kate” (2021) ★½
    The children of John Wick are getting less and less interesting.
  13. Mouchette” (1967) ★★
    A completely unsentimental, unsparing, un-fun look at life in the French countryside, with your tour guide Robert Bresson.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.