Movies Watched, September 2023

Still from “The League,” directed by Sam Pollard

September was a rough month. After a bit of travel, I came down with the latest variant of COVID, and it took me weeks to get back up to full strength. The silver lining was having lots of time to watch a lot of movies—twenty-seven in total—but not in theaters. Nearly everything in the list below I saw on video.

Most all of what I watched were back catalog movies, but I did see one recent release: Sam Pollard’s “The League,” a beautifully crafted documentary that widens the aperture on the history of Negro League baseball. This is a fascinating story about a much respected but under-examined chapter of sports lore, and it sheds genuinely new light on stories and figures that many of us thought we knew. Still, given my general lack of enthusiasm for the documentary form, I have to admit I admired it more than I enjoyed it, and to be totally honest, I would have preferred it as a New Yorker feature article rather than a movie.

I did get out of the house to go to the theater once, to catch a repertory screening of Michael Mann’s “Heat” in a 70mm projection at The Paris Theater in midtown Manhattan. The film of course looked great and continues to retain every ounce of its power, but I would be lying if I didn’t find the circumstances of its showing to be almost comedically ironic.

The Paris Theater is an historically notable moviehouse from the old days of single-theater cinemas that was bought by Netflix some years ago as a kind of trophy in the digital media wars. It occasionally shows revival screenings from the service’s streaming catalog but usually hosts limited theatrical runs for some of Netflix’s original movies. Basically the theater functions as a prestige showcase for what you can access more conveniently but less impressively on your smartphone. It’s similar to when an e-commerce business attains a grand enough level of success that it feels compelled to honor itself with a physical storefront, or when a digital-first content publisher decides to commemorate itself with its own analog publication. These kinds of retrograde gestures belie such a funny insecurity on the part of digital businesses, as if their tremendous success in effectively obsolescing physical things can only be truly validated by the rendering of physical things from that success. We live in strange times.

Here’s the full list of twenty-seven movies I watched in September.

  1. Confessions of a Police Captain” (1971) ★★★½
    Very quirky, somewhat seedy Italian policier starring, oddly, the amazing but incurably American Martin Balsam.
  2. The Seven-Ups” (1973) ★★★½
    A diverting but not memorable derivative of “Bullitt” and “The French Connection,” directed by the producer of both.
  3. ¡Three Amigos!” (1986) ★
    Comedically pretty patchy and lethargic.
  4. The Maltese Falcon” (1941) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. An entire world conjured up with just a bunch of tough talk delivered with incredible verve by indelible characters.
  5. The Hot Spot” (1990) ★★★★
    Cracking neo-noir starring Don Johnson at the peak of his generally not particularly remarkable abilities.
  6. Duel” (1971) ★★★½
    This early Steven Spielberg thriller is a thrasher pic on wheels, and an early career high that really could have led to a career in at least a half dozen different directions from the one Spielberg ultimately took.
  7. The Daytrippers” (1996) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Impeccably structured 90s indie road movie posits that leaving Long Island for Manhattan means forgoing domestic bliss for purgatory.
  8. Turn Every Page–The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A valuable, loving and level-headed appraisal of two giants of the literary world.
  9. The Train” (1964) ★★★★
    Burt Lancaster in this early John Frankeheimer thriller where the director ponders why we fight for a cause—but also he ponders, what if we blow up a train yard?
  10. Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched” (2017) ★★½
    A small cohort of legends who enjoy spending time together is a good thing, but it’s not enough to make a whole movie.
  11. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” (1974) ★½
    Peter Fonda in a ridiculous chase movie with preposterous rural car stunts and dimwitted characters speaking painful dialogue.
  12. Gone in 60 Seconds” (1974) ★★★
    Perfunctorily scripted, amateurish LA-set car caper movie that’s also a combustible, frenetic feast of automotive stunts.
  13. The League” (2023) ★★★½
    An ambitious documentary that widens the aperture on the history of Black baseball.
  14. The French Connection” (1971) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A tone poem of moral complexity set against a grimy, dilapidated New York City, circa 1970.
  15. Alien³” (1992) ★★½
    Rewatched. Not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests, but its biggest sin is that it’s just not very scary.
  16. Super Fly” (1972) ★★½
    Mostly this is a generally okay Blaxploitation thriller that’s elevated to icon status by a killer soundtrack.
  17. Fear Is the Key” (1972) ★★
    Weird Seventies action film starts off as a shockingly strident provocation, then devolves into totally unremarkable moral uprightness.
  18. The Last Run” (1971) ★★½
    Ruminative, feel-bad thriller starring George C. Scott tries to elevate the hit man genre into something elegant but ultimately just comes across as pretentious.
  19. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974) ★★
    Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in an unintentionally homoerotic action film that never really catches fire.
  20. I… For Icarus” (1979) ★★★½
    Sturdier than expected example of Seventies paranoid filmmaking, this time in the French mode.
  21. The Sicilian Clan” (1969) ★★★★
    Solid gangland flick made even more valuable for bringing together three icons of post-War French tough guy cinema: Gabin, Ventura and Delon.
  22. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988) ★★½
    Rewatched. Silly good fun.
  23. Any Number Can Win” (1963) ★★½
    Jean Gabin and Alain Delon in a gangster flick that spends a lot of time revving up but never really takes off.
  24. Mission: Impossible” (1996) ★★½
    Rewatched. Despite kicking off a franchise that I’m a huge fan of, this De Palma original feels misshapen and awkward to me.
  25. Heat” (1995) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Saw this in a 70mm print that looked gorgeous, and the sound in the theater crackled with life.
  26. Se7en” (1995) ★★★½
    Impressive on many levels but ultimately hollow.
  27. Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult” (1994) ★★½
    Rewatched. I so badly want these movies to be intense, rapid-fire gag-fests, but too often time has rendered them pokey and too leisurely to break a sweat.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2022, 2021, 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.