Creep; Diner-Style Buttermilk Pancakes

Creep (2014)

Director: Patrick Brice

Had I seen this before: Yes

There are many morality tales about the importance of showing kindness to strangers--maybe that beggar in rags is secretly an angel, testing your generosity; maybe that hunched old woman is really a beautiful sorceress with a penchant for punishing superficiality. Maybe it's actually just a fellow human, down on their luck and deserving of care. But there is another, more popular category of story that serves as a warning--don't be so trusting, so agreeable, so gullible or it might spell your doom. So when someone asks you for help but you feel uneasy about it, it can be difficult to tell what exactly it is underlying your discomfort: is it selfishness, laziness, prejudice, callousness--or just a spark of self-preservation? 

Creep is a low-budget found-footage-style movie in a category that I would describe as "politeness horror," or more specifically in this case "compassion horror." I find this genre almost unbearably effective because it raises a question that I ask myself all the time, namely: How weird would things have to get before I overcame my anxiety about overreacting or hurting someone's feelings in order to extract myself from a bad situation? Could I inadvertently people-please my way into a cult or a serial killer's lair? If you have ever thought to yourself "Oh no I definitely would have helped Ted Bundy load that furniture" or "It's possible I would let myself get murdered out of fear of being called a Karen if I made a fuss," then you probably understand why watching someone else try to navigate these questions can be so compelling.

The navigator in this case is Aaron (Patrick Brice), a freelance videographer who is on his way to a vaguely-described but well-paying job that he found on Craigslist. One day of video services, $1000, "discretion appreciated." Maybe it's a lonely, sexy 40-something woman looking to have fun with a young videographer, he muses as he makes his way to the isolated cabin. Oh, buddy. That would be a really different movie. When he arrives, deep in the California woods, he knocks briskly on the door, to no response. Tries the doorbell. Calls the number listed in the ad. No answer, no voicemail. This is the first of a few significant potential off-ramps for Aaron, although of course he does not realize it yet and has no reason to think it's worth abandoning a potential payday. He decides to wait in the car, where he is soon startled by the very sudden appearance of Josef (Mark Duplass) at his window. When he gets out, Josef expresses immense enthusiasm for the day ahead of them and immediately gives Aaron a huge bear hug. "Let's just do this now, because at the end of the day, it's going to be so normal. Trust me, that's not...anything weird at all." Wildly reassuring, Joe. I should probably point out that this film, co-written/largely improvised by the two stars and directed by the man playing Aaron, started life as a psychological black comedy before being shaped into more of a horror narrative, and that comedy DNA is thankfully still apparent throughout.

Once in the house, Josef explains that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and given two to three months to live, and that his plan today is to record a video diary for his still-in-utero child. He mentions that the brain tumor has caused some "cognitive misfirings," low-key laying the groundwork for explaining away some of his oddity. Aaron, a nice person, of course agrees to help him and is immediately punished with another hug. He is also paid up front, in cash. I am not yet yelling "Aaron, no!" at the screen, but that time is nigh, my friends. Josef gives a little speech that makes him come across as a very earnest, somewhat socially awkward guy. He then gives Aaron a high five, says "Okay! I'm gonna go get in the tub," and dashes upstairs. And thus we have reached OFF-RAMP #2.

Here seems like a good time to talk about why the casting makes this movie work better than you might think from the bare outline of the story. The fact that Aaron and Josef are ostensibly on a level playing field in terms of power in this relationship--both white guys in their thirties, on the handsome side of average, seemingly physically fit--means there are almost no complicating factors beyond the basic question of social/moral/ethical pressure in an uncertain situation. Their only connection is a pretty casual verbal agreement for a minor, one-day job. There is some financial imbalance--the money is obviously why Aaron stays in the beginning, although at some point it moves well beyond that. But Patrick Brice absolutely towers over Mark Duplass, so in theory Aaron has the upper hand in terms of brute strength. (When I first saw this movie my takeaway was that Mark Duplass was shorter than I thought, but what I have discovered in today's research is that Patrick Brice is six foot six.) Which is all to say that while I, a not particularly strong middle-aged woman, would probably have drawn the line at this point because staying would clearly be more uncomfortable than leaving, I can accept that Aaron, a giant of a man in the prime of his life, follows him up the stairs. But I'm not happy about it.

There he finds Josef undressing and running a bath, explaining that when he was young he had "Tubby Time" with his father and he wants to recreate that experience for his unborn child since he won't have a chance to do it in person. Now, I know that what I just typed out is objectively demented. But you have to understand that Mark Duplass is absolutely incredible in this film at threading the needle between "sad person" and "dangerous person." The entire movie is a game of "sad person or dangerous person?" And because there are probably a lot more of the former in this world than the latter, I understand why Aaron consistently makes the empathetic judgment calls that he does. In this case, agreeing to film an absolutely excruciating edition of Tubby Time.

Things continue to alternate between bizarre and solemnly heartfelt--there is a very upsetting wolf mask called Peachfuzz that pairs with an incongruously happy story about childhood, then an overly long trek through the woods in search of a pool of "miracle water" said to have healing properties. At this point I was forced to ask myself if I would rather be lost in the woods with Josef or the Blair Witch and...it's a tough call but at least the Blair Witch doesn't seem like a hugger. At one point Josef carves J + A with a heart around it onto a rock. Then, at Josef's suggestion, they go to a diner called Billy Bear's, where Josef eats pancakes and pressures Aaron to tell him about something he's done that he's really ashamed of. Aaron, the people-pleaser, complies with a sympathy-inducing story about wetting his pants as a child. Josef reciprocates by showing Aaron a bunch of stealthy creep shots he took of him when he first arrived at the cabin. I'm going to call this OFF-RAMP #2.5 because Aaron is far away from his own vehicle but he is in a public place with phones and such.

When they return to the cabin, it is dark out, and Aaron says "I think...I think I'm gonna head back," because he recognizes that this is OFF-RAMP #3. He agreed to one day of video services, and he has gone above and beyond in providing such. But Josef wants Aaron to come back inside for a whiskey, "to commemorate our day." And after a little more wheedling, Aaron, the nice person, agrees.

There is almost half of the movie left at that point, and things...well, they don't go uphill. But for almost the entire runtime I truly did not know which direction things were going to go, overall. Don't creepy weirdos also deserve compassion? Aaron thinks so! And that's why Aaron is the best. He's such a sympathetic protagonist, even when you are yelling "NO!" at him--which, by the way, I highly recommend doing with company. The first time I saw this with my friend Alex we talked through each escalating scenario while also glancing nervously at the darkened windows around us and it was basically a perfect viewing experience. Which is why this write-up is in honor of her birthday, by request--a thing which, based on my average view counts, is probably a service that I can offer to any dedicated reader so...you know, hit me up.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: "The...tub?"

Is it under two hours: Yes

In conclusion: Happy birthday, Alex!

Diner-Style Buttermilk Pancakes from Epicurious

Just a warm stack of Billy Bear's famous pancakes, perfect for a chill hang with your best bud.


Now You See Me, Now You See Me 2; Macanese Minchee

Now You See Me (2013) and Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Directors: Louis Leterrier; Jon M. Chu

Had I seen these before: No

"The closer you look the less you'll see." This is the mantra of the first film in the Now You See Me series, a terrifically-premised couple of movies about magicians who use the tricks of the trade to Robin Hood money away from unsavory people and distribute it to those who have either been wronged financially or happen to be standing on the streets of London. The phrase opens the movie and is repeated a few times throughout. It's the kind of thing that sounds smart and mysterious, especially before the action gets going and you aren't quite sure yet how events are going illustrate this thesis. It's also the kind of thing that, when revisited at the end of the movie, made me wonder...are we sure this means anything at all? Or is it just the catchphrase equivalent of a sparkly outfit and a handful of flash paper, giving us the ol' razzle dazzle so we don't notice the emptiness at its core? Is it, in fact, more of a plea--don't peek too closely at the impressive cast and stylish set pieces or you might realize it's just an old Kansan grifter pulling levers behind the curtain?

Each of these movies is, in fact, a pile of jumbled half-nonsense wearing the shiny costume of a clever movie, and here's the thing: I'm not mad about it. The fact that they manage to have the cadence of intelligent dialogue is its own impressive feat. I don't think these movies are bad, I just think they're kind of dumb, and also that there is a place for pleasantly dumb, glittery movies in a well-balanced cinema diet. I want to be absolutely clear that if they ever make Now You See Me 3 I will be watching it, popcorn in my hands and sequins in my eyes. Things that I like: close-up magic, loud announcers letting me know that I am at an event, shiny things, spotlights, double crosses, secret identities, people faking their deaths, Lizzy Caplan, movies where Daniel Radcliff is revealed to be a cheerfully insane villain, being given the ol' hocus pocus, flim flam flummox, double whammy, and/or three-ring circus. Who needs coherence when you have all that?

My journey with the first movie is illustrated by the state of my notes, which started off fairly detailed and then dropped precipitously once I realized there was really no point in trying to track all the details. By the second movie I had adjusted my brain down to the correct level and was just swimming through a sea of pure abracadabra vibes, which is probably why I enjoyed the second movie a bit more despite the fact that it makes even less sense. Nevertheless, this means that I am able to give you the particulars of the opening of the first film, typed up intently with the confidence of someone who is absolutely certain that it will eventually all be falling into place like so many tumblers in a combination lock.

The movie opens with someone performing a card trick straight to camera, which is really effective--he hesitates a near-imperceptible amount of time on a certain card as he shuffles them all past you so that you, like the mark in the movie, have that card in mind for the rest of the trick. It's skillfully done and I am already amped. The character performing this is a David Blaine-style street magician played by Jesse Eisenberg, and by describing my notes as "fairly detailed" earlier I did not mean "including a single character's name," just to be clear. Eisenberg, smooth and snarky and kind of a dick, is playing against type here--haha, just kidding, this role is platonically Eisenbergian. Which, again, is fine with me, I kind of enjoy his whole deal--at one point in the film someone makes a crack about magicians not getting laid and he has a low-key "whatever you need to tell yourself dude" expression that is honestly very funny. He is starting to hook up with the woman on the other end of said card trick when he discovers a mysterious tarot card--The Lover--that doubles as an invitation. Hook up canceled! Secret magic society calling! Eisenberg snark on the way out the door! So far so good.

Okay, now to round up the other three. Woody Harrelson is performing as a hypnotist for tourists at what seems to be some sort of resort. His actual grift is blackmailing a cheating husband by revealing compromising information to his hypnotized wife and then promising to wipe her memory if he pays up. Ethically....uh....pretty gray area with this one. Also, Harrelson's main skill--hypnosis--is basically superpower-level, which is something you just have to get on board with or these movies are truly untenable. He receives a card similar to Eisenberg's, except his is The Hermit. He was just performing in a very public place, but okay. Different kind of hermit, maybe. Next up, Dave Franco is on a ferry bending spoons but actually stealing wallets. For some reason this bothers me less than Harrelson's thing. He gets the Death card. We don't know it yet but his main skill is throwing playing cards really really hard. No I am not kidding. Last but not least is Isla Fisher, performing a Houdini-type water escape that almost killed her in real life. Knowing that story before watching this scene made it incredibly stressful. She gets The Priestess, because she is a girl.

The four meet up as per the instructions on their cards at a sort of magic-booby-trapped location and then we fast forward to the future, where they are performing together in Vegas under the name The Four Horsemen, to a huge and boisterous crowd. The name of the group is another example of something that sounds sort of good on first blush but actually doesn't mean anything, other than the fact that there are four of them. They are neither equestrians nor apocalyptic entities, at least in the first two movies. There are just...four of them. One of whom is not a man. (One of the reasons I like the second movie is that Lizzy Caplan, who replaces Isla Fisher, gets some fun meta lines like the deadpan "I'm the girl Horseman.") Michael Caine is there, I believe in a bankrolling capacity. They perform a trick that involves stealing money from a Parisian bank vault and scattering in amongst the Las Vegas audience. At this point, the presence of both seemingly impossible magic and Michael Caine forces one to ask, is this a Prestige situation where there is something that is not an illusion but is in fact deeply messed up happening? But it is not, at least not regarding this specific trick, although the question of whether there is real magic in this universe is...frankly unclear to me to this day.

They are soon joined by Morgan Freeman, playing a famous debunker, and Mark Ruffalo, playing a deeply incompetent FBI agent. OR ARE THEY? These movies have a lot of twists and reveals and I will just say that the first big reveal in Movie One made me frown and say "Sure...I guess?" and then every subsequent reveal, once the crucial brain-adjusting had taken place, engendered a calm "why not" sort of nod. I was at peace with the reveals. I was one with the twists. "Show me more tricks with pigeons," I would say serenely. 

Anyway. My pitch for the second movie is that Dan Radcliff says "You may not be having fun but I am" and I think he is literally talking to the audience, and that Woody Harrelson plays his own twin brother by wearing a wig and bright white teeth and doing an Owen Wilson impression. The MacGuffin in that one is basically the same as the one in Sneakers, a legitimately good movie that is mostly cogent. No one is who you think they are, except some people, who are.

Line I repeated quietly to myself and will likely try to use in the future: "Was that an act of God? No, that was an act...of me."

Is it under two hours: The first one is just under, the second just over

Did I understand the plan: Absolutely not and I hope I never will

Easy Macanese Minchee from What to Cook Today

Okay to be fully honest the only reason I watched the second movie was that no one eats anything in the first movie and I could not come up with any magic-themed food. No one really eats in the second movie either, but lucky for me The Four Horsepeople do slide down a long tube and get dumped in a restaurant in Macau, from whence this minchee recipe originates.


Up next: A birthday special request which is not a heist movie, unless you consider Mark Duplass craftily stealing my full attention for 77 minutes a heist


The Thomas Crown Affair; Pan-Seared Fish with Tomatoes and Capers over Rice Pilaf

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Director: John McTiernan

Had I seen this before: No

The biggest advantage to creating content that no one asked for is probably the ability to surrender to the occasional bout of Pierce Brosnan-induced writers block without fear of consequence. There is, unfortunately, no one to fire me from this gig. I can't even figure out how to get comments to work on here, which means you would have to go to the trouble of contacting me through a different medium in order to tell me to either work harder or to quit entirely, a degree of effort beyond the motivation level of either my supporters or my haters. All of which means that I watched the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair about a month ago, made a somewhat elaborate meal to accompany it, then abandoned the blinking cursor because for whatever reason I didn't feel like writing about this movie. And, judging by this opening paragraph of feet draggery, I still don't.

Thomas Crown is a very handsome and wealthy man who is bored by what an alpha he is. I believe he has more or less the same job as Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, except here we are meant to be impressed rather than repulsed by its heartless capitalist nature. His bottomless resource pool means that he has access to the type of equipment that essentially makes him Batman, but instead of fighting crime in a legally/ethically murky fashion, he uses it to waste everyone else's time because that is fun for him, as a sociopath. We the audience are rooting for him because he is played by Pierce Brosnan and the movie keeps indicating that we should be doing so. Also, our alternative is Dennis Leary.

Obviously what has happened here is that I made the fatal mistake of approaching a 24-year-old movie with a great deal of confidence that I would enjoy it. I know better than to do this! And yet. Here is a movie that I certainly would have liked at the time of its release but find to have aged a bit sourly, the exact feeling I was braced for when watching The Italian Job and surprised not to find therein. And now I've taken this slightly soured film out of storage and left it on the counter of my brain for multiple weeks, where it has started to grow mold and give off a sort of...odor.

The actual heisting elements of the film are pretty good. It's fun to use a Trojan horse to sneak into a building, although I worry about the educational level of the American public if anyone working at any building is like "sure, I'll sign for this giant horse no one ordered." Doomed to repeat, etc. It's amusing to watch what are clearly enormous hired thugs pretend to be docents. It's interesting to observe Thomas Crown interrupting the heist that he staged with his own secret mini-heist, although I believe this was also the point of no return in terms of my ability to overlook his many glaring personality flaws. It's one thing to be a soulless, bloodsucking captain of whatever in the normal course of the late-90s finance industry, but here he has hired undocumented laborers under false pretenses for the sole purpose of setting them up to get arrested and remove attention from himself. That sucks! I know they are throw-away movie thugs, but it genuinely sucks! It is, however, undeniably impressive that as someone my exact current age he manages to drop to the floor and wriggle underneath a metal barrier without drawing a lot of attention to himself, a feat I am certainly not capable of at this time. Apparently I am in my prime heisting years and didn't even realize it. (Also my prime having sex on a large marble staircase years, but sneaking through museum security looked significantly more comfortable if I'm being honest.)

Crown is being pursued sort of listlessly by the police, represented by Dennis Leary and Frankie Faison, who is playing the only character I liked in this movie. He's a cop and he's not really doing his job especially well, but he's so cheerful in every scene. Crown is being pursued much more aggressively by Rene Russo, who, I feel I should point out, I absolutely love, playing a character who is a Late 90s Sexy Woman. Her hair is always artfully hovering 3/4 of an inch away from her scalp, as dictated by the gravity of the era. She wears tight clothes and is an ambitious, tough talking business dealer. She only consumes green juice and Pepsi One. She is thrilled by the hunt but also inexplicably intrigued by the fact that Pierce Brosnan destroys a sailboat for laughs. This is appealing, to Late 90s Sexy Woman. She values a man who has money and refuses to do anything even remotely useful with it. It's the late 90s, baby! The end of history!

The middle part of the movie has far too much sexy saxophone and yelling and crying and not nearly enough planning and heisting. Eventually, we get to the end, which goes pretty hard and almost makes up for the fact that the hero of this film might be actually evil. The climactic set piece involves lots of fellas in hats, being confusing in a museum. I like it. I do not like that the Dennis Leary monologue meant to make him sympathetic involves him beating a suspect unconscious because he was sad, but it just wouldn't be a McTiernan joint without that shit. John McTiernan has never met a cop abusing their power who he didn't feel sorry for. Anyway, Frankie Faison would never. Too cheerful.

Y'all know me. I desperately want to root for the heisters if at all possible. I managed to root for Mark Wahlberg with very little friction. I approach every film absolutely desperate to be charmed. And I certainly understand why people liked this movie so much, although I do sort of wonder how much Rene Russo being topless a lot ran up the numbers there. Or hairy-chested, dad-jeans-wearing Brosnan for that matter. Or, you know...Dennis Leary, I guess. The world is a wide and varied place.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: "Oh....Renoir"

Is it under two hours: Yes

Did I understand the plan: The plan? Yes. The point of the plan? Not especially.

Pan-Seared Halibut from A Mediterranean Gourmet and Easy Rice Pilaf from Simply Recipes

At one point they namecheck Cipriani, where Rene Russo generically orders "the fish." We don't actually see her eat "the fish," because, as previously noted, I am almost positive her character has an eating disorder and only consumes green juice and Pepsi One. Nevertheless, there is some sort of pan-seared fish over rice pilaf on their menu, so, here we are. Or, here we were several weeks ago. I think this was fine.

Up next: Illusion, Michael


The Italian Job; Venetian Risotto

The Italian Job (2003)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Had I seen this before: No

So, first of all, I really thought this movie was about stealing cars, which (spoiler) it is not. It is, however, very much about driving matching cars in exciting and coordinated ways. Now, I have seen the original version of this film starring Michael Caine and the only thing I remember about it is that Michael Caine is in it and he steals cars, the latter half of which I am now really starting to question. Is it possible that no Italian Job in history has ever been about car theft? I guess I'll never know.

Second of all, I was wholly prepared for this movie, like many popular movies that came out twenty years ago, to have aged in a way that would make me think "oh well, I probably would have liked this in 2003," but guess what? Aside from the expected shimmer of sexism on several of the jokes, I in fact liked this very much right here in 2023, which is a nice surprise. I've actually had such good luck with these first two heist entries that my spirits are dangerously high and I am considering attempting another half hour of Heat just to even things out a bit.

The opening credits are promising-- they're giving detailed plans, maps, teamwork, and exotic locales. Notes, measurements, distances, I truly cannot get enough planning. Did I get a look at one of those opening maps and excitedly think to myself "oh, that’s Italy!" for one second before remembering the title of the film? I certainly did, and I want you to keep that in mind lest you ever mistakenly come to believe that I am in any way smarter than any of the movies I watch. Especially when it comes to heists, I'm just along for the ride, baby! You might notice that this genre brings out a much softer side of my internal film critic, one who has a fairly high tolerance for not-great dialogue as long as it isn't actively terrible or distracting or annoying or overly self-serious—and this bad boy’s got tolerably not-great dialogue for daaaaaays. If anything, this streamlines the whole process, because there aren't too many effective emotional beats getting in the way of the planning and teamwork and matching cars.

We open on the titular Italian job (I personally already knew it would take place in Italy, due to my earlier map analysis) with the team in place. Mark Wahlberg plays Charlie Croker, whose job is to be handsome and keep a cool head and also mastermind cinematically elaborate European heists. And look, Wahlberg at this point comes with some baggage, both as a human and as an actor, but I was impressed with how low-key he kept it in this and it's hard to complain about this bit of casting. He was in fact handsome and cool-headed, I don't know what to say. ALSO HARD TO COMPLAIN ABOUT: Donald Sutherland as John Bridger, the mastermind mentor, tagging along for one last job which is how you know that he will definitely die in the process; Jason Statham as a driver named Handsome Rob; Seth Green as Lyle, the computer guy who does a very funny imitation of Handsome Rob in a later scene; Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def as Left Ear, the guy who blows things up; and Edward Norton as Steve, the guy who has a mustache and looks like he is only here out of contractual obligation.

The heist itself is both interesting and easy to follow and frankly I think more movies should open with someone blowing a rectangle out of two floors of a building so that a safe will drop neatly through into a Venetian canal where scuba-clad divers then crack it and extract $35 million worth of Balinese-dancer-stamped gold bricks and escape on motor boats while the Italian boat police and the protectors of said gold bricks chase them. Like, if we're worried about the state of the theatrical model of movie releases, I'm just saying, it's right there. The people want canal chases!

The people also want victory toasts in the snowy Dolemites while everyone congratulates themselves for being geniuses and not needing guns (I genuinely appreciated the not needing guns aspect) and prematurely gushes about what expensive item they will be purchasing with their cut. Everyone, that is, except mustachioed Steve, who has no original ideas of his own, and is also debating whether the deal that got him his breakout role in Primal Fear was worth being coerced into standing here right now.

Well, curse Steve's sudden but inevitable betrayal, because that's right--it's a double-cross. THE PEOPLE WANT A DOUBLE-CROSS. Steve and his Italian minions shoot Donald Sutherland and attempt to shoot everyone else, but by that point they're all underwater and sharing an oxygen tank and he can't see them so eventually when no one else surfaces he gives up. This part, to me, was pretty funny because when you're talking $35 million I would maybe wait a full oxygen tank's worth of time just to make sure that the group of people I just screwed over and left for dead were actually dead. Not Steve! Steve doesn't even want to be here! Do you know how heavy $35 million worth of gold bricks are? This whole thing is, frankly, a huge hassle for Steve.

Anyway, all of this happens before Charlize Theron as Stella Bridger, the deceased John Bridger's daughter, even gets involved. That's how hard this movie goes. The one-last-job heist is just a set-up for the revenge heist. I will not detail every step of the revenge heist plot, but Charlize gets to pretend to be a cable technician or something, which is hilarious, because...as much as the movie tries to lampshade it, the idea of Charlize Theron walking into your house because your television stopped working is so preposterous that no reasonable human would accept it. You would just greet her at the front door and shake your head in confusion until she left. Good thing Steve doesn't care about anything.

This movie has aged much better than I expected, but there are some 2003 signifiers: Charlize's thin eyebrows, hiding a spy cam in an American flag pin as though that's a normal accessory, Seth Green typing furiously into a Dell and claiming to have invented Napster, Ed Norton thinking he is too good for this good-ass movie.

Also, there is a helicopter vs. car chase that is honestly amazing. The helicopter swings into a parking garage like it's the freaking Predator or something. To me, that's cinema.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: [Left Ear, in response to hearing that the tiles in Steve's house are imported from a monastery] "Monastery for punk-ass creeps."

Is it under two hours: Yes

Did I understand the plan: I did not understand any of the specifics of the computer hacking aspect, but I also did not try to do so. Sometimes when they are explaining things in these movies my brain sort of zones out so that it will be more surprising when I watch it happen later. I did understand all the moving pieces and the general goal.

Risi e Bisi from Simply Recipes

Ugh, no one eats in heist movies. They're too busy heisting and swigging victory champagne. I guess this risotto is something that other, non-heist-related people might have been eating in Venice as several boats flew by them at alarming speeds.

Up next: I'm going out of town next week, definitely not to steal anything in a manner that involves a group of wisecracking characters with different skillsets and a lot of maps and diagrams, so I'm not sure yet. 


The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; Subway Sandwich

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director: Joseph Sargent

Had I seen this before: No

As a New Year's treat to myself I have decided to embark on one of my favorite film genres, the heist movie. As a New Year's resolution-ish edification endeavor, I'm gong to try to cover at least a few examples of the genre that I have never seen. Now, you should know that my very first attempt at this was a failure, as I got about 31 minutes into the 170 minutes of Michael Mann's Heat before accepting that I have been correct all these years in assuming that the work of Michael Mann is powerfully, almost elementally, Not For Me. Because I do not want to feel like I wasted 31 minutes of my time, I am now going to waste even more of my time and also some of yours with a mini-review of the first half-hour of Heat. This is the energy I am taking into 2023, i.e., the same energy I have always had about everything.

At the time of this blog post, Heat is streaming on Hulu, which I mention only because I would genuinely appreciate any fellow Hulu subscribers searching for the movie Heat and then letting me know what film or films are listed for you under the "You May Also Like" tag. Because there is exactly one movie in that category when I personally pull up Heat and that is the 1995 Liv Tyler classic Empire Records. I have many, many questions about this, including 1) Am I the only one who sees this? 2) Is the single common link between these two films that they are 1995 movies about white people? 3) If I had gotten more than half an hour into Heat would it have eventually developed some unexpected Rex Manning energy? 4) Does Robert De Niro yell "Damn the man, save the Empire!" at any point? 5) Does Hulu's algorithm believe that Warren's foiled shoplifting attempt makes Empire Records a crime movie? I need answers.

Heat is a serious movie about serious men who know that both crime and anti-crime pursuits are serious and manly. They like to wear chunky gold rings and have sex with beautiful women but they do not like when beautiful women are annoyed with them for coming home very late and missing dinner. Beautiful women do not understand the seriousness of the serious jobs they have. They says things like "drop of a hat, these guys will rock 'n roll" about a brutal triple homicide and do not mean it to be remotely humorous, because things are not funny in the serious man crime game. Humor is for other people, possibly the beautiful women although I doubt it. I highly recommend this film if you like any of the above elements or if you enjoy the ecstatic sense of freedom that comes with abandoning a piece of art that is making you very weary. Alternatively, you can simply do what I did at the recommendation of my brother, which is watch Tom Hiddleston perform the diner scene to the mild amusement of Robert De Niro on the Graham Norton Show.

Now, lest you think I have a blanket aversion to manly men, let me go ahead and introduce you to one tall, rumpled drink of water named Walter Matthau, aka NYC transit cop Lt. Garber. Garber has a brightly colored plaid shirt, the yellowest necktie on God's green earth, a boring job, and borderline-worthless colleagues. The subway train leaving Pelham Station at 1:23 is there for the taking. It's the 1970s, baby! And it's dirtbags all the way down. Everyone involved on both sides of this crime is a little schlubby in the best, most multiple-shades-of-brown sort of way. The hottest person in this movie is Hector Elizando, maybe tied with the guy who played Wilson on Home Improvement. You need some more guys? How about Jerry Stiller as a transit employee who truly does not care about doing his job in any respect? Or maybe I can interest you in Martin Balsam, best known to me as the detective from Psycho, sneezing his way through this movie as one of the hostage-takers? Or the lead hostage-taker, Mr. Robert Shaw, lending the perfect amount of calm British psychopathy to the proceedings? That enough masculinity for ya? There's even plenty of sexism and some truly unfortunate hard-r racism in the mix here--it's just that the 99% of the movie surrounding those elements is extremely well-constructed and fun.

The first ten minutes or so of the film gives us our entire setup in a satisfyingly economical way, not to mention some banging 70s horns. We see a man in a hat, glasses, a mustache, and a trench coat board a subway train--is he suspicious or is it just the 1970s? But then we see an identically outfitted man board, then another--there are, in total, four men in glasses and mustaches and hats and coats and you know what? They look great. What a team. One of them is sneezing a lot. I think this guy's cold really resonated with me because here in Austin we are currently in hell cedar fever season. As this is happening, we also see that one of the train conductors is new at the job, as evidenced by the fact that he is walking through all the steps he needs to do and saying them out loud to the guy training him. We also see the diverse group of soon-to-be-kidnapped passengers boarding the train. At this point did I realize that my beloved Speed contains a lot of Pelham DNA? Oh, you bet I did.

We are also being introduced to Lt. Garber at this time--he's been tasked with giving a tour of the transit police operation to a group of Japanese executives from the Tokyo metro, which is both an amusing, effective bit of exposition and also the source of most of the movie's racism, so....uh, mixed bag there. The transit office is not exactly a bustling and efficient hive of activity--the general vibe of the entire building is "eh, whaddya want" in a New York accent. The degree to which absolutely no one here is prepared to or has any interest in dealing with any sort of crisis is outstanding.

But also, you know, bad, because a crisis they soon have--four bespectacled gentlemen have taken a subway car hostage and are demanding one meeeellion dollars within the hour or they will start killing one hostage per minute. As things progress, two mysteries develop: how do the bad guys plan to get away and who is the plainclothes undercover officer amongst the passengers? Meanwhile, the not-very-beloved mayor is sick in bed with the flu (sick to the point that we see a nurse taking his temperature...not orally) and just wants to be left alone to watch The Newlywed Game.

This movie is so much funnier than I expected, one of the villains goes out in a way that I have absolutely never seen in any other film, Robert Shaw's steely British pronunciation of "Left-tenant" is wonderful, the final shot of the film is a gem, and Matthau just absolutely rules in this. He's slumping, he's skulking, he's mumbling, he's frustrated, he's explaining how subway trains work to me by saying things like "there's a little gizmo known as a dead man's feature." I watched this entire film in less than the time that it would have taken for me to finish Heat yet I could have listened to Walter Matthau explain little gizmos to me all day long.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: "Turn this thing around and burn rubber!"

Is it under two hours: Yes

Did I understand the plan: Yes, mostly, although I have to admit I actually dropped the ball slightly on what was going on with the little gizmo.

Copycat Subway Cold Cut Combo from Recipes.net

The only sustenance any of the passengers brought on board was a sneaky bottle of purse booze, so we gotta make do with a thematic sandwich.

Up next: A remake of a stylish 1960s movie that I believe is about cars and/or how attractive Charlize Theron is


About a Boy; Nut Loaf with Parsnip Gravy

About a Boy (2002)

Directors: Chris and Paul Weitz

Had I seen this before: No

December absolutely got away from me this year, which is surprising because after twenty Decembers in a row getting away from me I really thought this was the year I would have it under control. But here we are, and my tree is still up, which means it's still The Holidays and therefore plenty of time to slide another non-Christmas Christmas movie into your stocking where it will go unnoticed and get packed up to the attic until next year because who adds things to stockings on December 29th?

I wonder if this is a movie that I would have lingering fondness for if I had first seen it twenty years ago, the way I do, say, Bridget Jones's Diary, because it is not entirely devoid of charm and it is very much in the category of British dram-com that I sometimes have a soft spot for. Even now it's pretty watchable and moves from scene to scene quickly enough that it's easy to not overthink things when you're in the midst of it. But I can't say time has been especially kind to this one, and I suspect time has not been especially kind to Nick Hornby properties in general if you happen to be someone who considers women full-fledged humans and not just sexy irritants buzzing around insufferable man-children, who are the real heroes at the end of the day.

About a Boy is basically a sitcom plot stretched out to 101 minutes and spiked with weirdly heavy drama and era-appropriate rampant sexism. Hugh Grant plays Will Freeman (get it? he is a free man), a middle-aged playboy who has never had a job because he lives on the royalties from a Christmas song that his father wrote in the 1950s. He is sad about this. He is happy, however, about his lifestyle, which involves owning and doing anything he wants all the time and trying various proto-pick-up-artist techniques to sleep with beautiful women. One of my main issues with this film is the fact that it never succeeds in making Will's life seem in any way unappealing, no matter how many two-dimensional female characters abrasively harp on him about its meaninglessness. If I could live in a nice London flat with a top-dollar espresso maker and smoke cigarettes all day while I watched British game shows and shopped for CDs (I am also being transported back to 2002 in this scenario) and ate out at restaurants every night, would I really need the loving stability of substantial emotional connections? (This is 100% a failure of the film's storytelling and not of my own moral weakness in the face of on-demand espresso drinks.)

Through a series of cynical lies in which Will passes himself off as a single father in order to sleep with all the single mothers in the area (haha, just kidding--not the sad average-looking ones, as indicated by a jokey smash cut), he is introduced to Marcus, played by little baby-faced Nicholas Hoult, a 12-year-old outcast whose social crimes include having a bad haircut and an offbeat wardrobe and a mom who is depressed. The degree to which he is bullied for these things gives me real concerns about the British secondary schools of 2002. Said sad mom is Fiona, played by Toni Collette in a role so thankless that the subtle in-movie reference to The Sixth Sense in which she plays an emotionally compelling character feels offensive. We know that Fiona is depressed because she cries all the time, famously the only way major depression manifests in real life. She is also a touchy-feely hippie who earnestly sings Roberta Flack with her middle-school-aged son. The movie genuinely hates all this about her. The movie hates her. Just, so much! Toni Collette does have a very appealing pixie cut in this, and that's the only nice thing I have to say about the rendering of Fiona.

The film plays out in the most obvious way, which is that Will and Marcus discover that they both needed each other in their lives, but there are just so many strangely mean-spirited stops along the way to this destination. I know I indicated earlier that I did not hate watching this in the moment, which you might be starting to question at this point, but the fact is, Hoult and Grant's chemistry and individual charisma sort of paper over a lot of weak spots. Anna spent some time working out her feelings about Hugh Grant, whom she has previously only seen in Paddington 2 and a very quick cameo in a recent popular movie that I will not spoil: "I'm only rooting for this guy because his face...it's not kind, but it is interesting." "Maybe he has the hair of a jerk and the face of a nice guy. But with a jerk expression." Which is basically this whole movie in a nutshell: the face of a nice guy with a jerk expression.

Line I repeated quietly to myself Exchange that made my eyebrows go the highest, like almost all the way off of my head: Ellie: You like rap? Marcus: A little. It's by black people mostly. And they're pretty angry most of the time. But sometimes they just want to have sex.

Is it under two hours: Yes

Is it actually a Christmas movie: Two Christmases briefly occur in this film, including the final scene, and the protagonist (?) is hilariously haunted by a novelty Christmas song that only serves to remind him what a piece of shit he is. The lessons about needing other people are vaguely Christmasy, but overall the Christmasness of it makes up a very tiny percentage of the movie. 3/10

Classic Vegetarian Nut Loaf from The Kitchn with Parsnip Gravy from Affairs of Living

When Will attends Christmas festivities at Marcus and Fiona's house, he is served nut loaf with parsnip gravy. This is very funny to us, the audience, because Fiona's vegetarianism is one of the ways that we are alerted to the fact that she is a crazy person and possibly also a bad mother. Lol hippies and their plant-based diets!! She probably has some sort of ethical and/or ecological basis for her life choices, what a loser. Anyway, now that I know that this meal took two and a half hours of work not counting the amount of time I spent trying to find parsnips at my grocery store, I am even more mad about it. Good thing I have a tasty nut loaf to soothe me.

Up next: Anybody's guess!


Catch Me if You Can; Chopped Salad with a chilled fork

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Had I seen this before: Yes

'Tis the season for everyone to give the beleaguered FBI agent for whom you have a complicated mix of adversarial and filial feelings in your life a quick phone check-in! That's right, Christmastime is here and, as we all remember, that's when our beautiful scamming boy Frank Abagnale Jr. touches base with lovably gruff fed Carl Hanratty, year after year. Or maybe if you, like me, had not seen this movie in a long time, you don't actually remember the Christmas motif that runs through it--maybe you just remember Leonardo DiCaprio in the pilot uniform, surrounded by grinning flight attendants, with Tom Hanks closing in on him in a way that somehow seems as friendly as possible. If you're lucky, what you remember is the superlative opening credits sequence, a combination of Saul Bass-inspired animation, a jazzy 60s John Williams score, and a minimalist recreation of the plot of the movie that lights up the reward center in my brain so aggressively I'm afraid to revisit it too many times for fear of burning out my dopamine production. But whether you recall it or not, this is in fact a film in which Christmas seems to roll around every 20 minutes or so, and that's why we're here.

It's interesting that this movie opens with not one but two flash-forward scenes: first, here is Frank appearing on an episode of To Tell the Truth, introduced as one of three potential Franks, looking spiffy and enigmatic and being grilled by Kitty Carlisle. Next, we go backward from there to a dire Christmas Eve when Hanratty arrives to take Frank from the French prison where he is in very rough shape and makes one last escape attempt before collapsing. So when we zip back several years to a 16-year-old Frank picking up his first lessons in mild con artistry from Frank Sr., played by Christopher Walken, we as an audience already know two things about his impending schemes: 1) they end badly; but 2) maybe not all that badly in the long run. It's like if Double Indemnity had an extra scene in the beginning where Walter recovers from his wounds and ends up on television where a celebrity panel is fascinated by his exploits. And that's because Catch Me if You Can is no noir, it's Steven Spielberg in fine crowd-pleasing form, and Stevie knows that unless the crowd is made up entirely of 2016 Oscar voters, they are probably not all that interested in watching Leonardo DiCaprio suffer too brutally.

I think the structure of this film gives us permission to root for both Frank and Hanratty at the same time, because on some level we know that they both come out of this thing winners. It also makes it all feel more like a game, which is a quality that I consistently enjoy in movies. When Hanratty first tracks down Frank in a Miami hotel room filled with check counterfeiting equipment, the question is not whether Frank is going to jail at that moment, because we know for a fact that it's simply too early in the story for that to happen. The questions is, instead, how on earth is he going to get out of this situation? And the answer is as delightful as it is unlikely--he just talks his way out. It's more thrilling than any shootout, more satisfying than any car chase. When Frank is successful in his lies, it's sublime; when he is less successful it's often funny. As a person who is abysmal at lying or making phone calls or talking to strangers or doing very detailed paper-and-glue crafts, I watch Leo's performance as Frank the same way I would any other of Spielberg's alien movies, such is the vast and mysterious distance I feel from such a creature. And I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Spielberg is great at making alien movies.

Some other big director trademarks make an appearance here, likely highlighted for me on this watch by virtue of having recently seen The Fabelmans--we've got a teenage boy distressed by his mother's infidelity, we've got divorce, we've got Sad Dad and complicated Father Figure. When teenaged Frank is confronted with his parents' divorce and asked to choose which one to live with, his reaction is to literally run away--to run, as fast as he can, down the street and away from his problems. I found the childishness of it all very touching on this watch, and still felt the sort of visceral appeal of it--what if you could just sprint away from your difficult choices instead of making them? Of course, escape is never really that easy, and Frank spends the rest of the movie frantically trying to glue his family back together with his ill-gotten gains. It's a string of glamorous adventures--pretending to be a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and (briefly) James Bond--punctuated by lonely Christmases, filled with longing and frustration and usually a phone call with Tom Hanks.

If you've never seen this movie you should watch it, if it's been a while you should rewatch it. Everyone should go watch the opening credits immediately. No one should inform me that the real Frank made up most of the stuff in his book because I could not care less. Merry Christmas to all and to all the agents on your tails.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: "You're not a Lutheran?"

Is it under two hours: Nope

Is it actually a Christmas movie: *Slaps the roof of this film* this bad boy can fit so many Christmases in it! I wouldn't say this movie leans into any particularly holiday-related feelings other than melancholy, but it does contain: Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song," "Mele Kalikimaka," Leo wearing a Christmas sweater, and several chyrons informing us that it is either Christmas or Christmas Eve. 5/10

Steakhouse Chopped Salad from The Defined Dish

At his first reunion lunch with his father after leaving home, Frank Jr. has to inform him that the cold salad forks are intentionally chilled because it's a fancy restaurant. Frank Sr. seems uncomfortable, we assume for class-related reasons, but as my children can now tell you, it may have been entirely because chilled forks are actually very unpleasant.

Up next: I don't know yet because blog planning has slipped way down my to-do list this month, so it will be a somewhat Christmas-adjacent surprise!


Die Hard; Twinkies

Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan

Had I seen this before: Yes

I can't say with certainty where we are in the "Die Hard is a Christmas movie" discourse at the moment. It started as a lightly amusing observation--a sort of "huh yeah I guess so" passing thought--then due to the nature of the internet became a deeply annoying and weirdly combative stance, asserted with increasingly irritating confidence. But then, like many annoying internet things, it shifted into a sort of ironic "I'm saying the annoying thing but I'm winking" bit, and I suspect we may even be past that now--if anything we may have all memed it into the actual holiday canon. So I guess...good job, everyone. At any rate, here I am, bringing up the rear on this fading cultural quirk, ready to spend the month diving into films that are not necessarily traditional but do involve some level of Christmas ornamentation.

I feel like I should explain that I had seen Die Hard before this viewing but it had been a long time and it was never one of my go-to movies. My inordinate affection in this genre is reserved almost entirely for 1994's Speed, and usually all I have left to give other movies of its ilk is muted appreciation. Now, Speed director Jan de Bont was the cinematographer for this movie, which does give it a slight edge, because visually, the L.A. of Die Hard is 100% the same as the L.A. of Speed, so I am immediately in a comforting and familiar environment. You know who is not in a comforting or familiar environment? John McClane, who is looking pretty tense on an airplane, prompting the man next to him to give him some unsolicited post-flight relaxation advice: ditch the shoes and socks and "make fists with your toes" in the rug. Little does this anonymous frequent flyer know, he has just single-handedly bumped this film from very good to iconic, because Bruce Willis's bare feet are about to be the real star of this show.

One of my thoughts in the first few minutes of this movie was that it was surprisingly absent of any real 80s signifiers--the clothes are pretty muted, the plane just looks like a plane, the airport looks like an airport--and then about one second after my synapses had floated that idea, McClane lights up the first of I want to say 273 or so cigarettes right there at baggage claim. John McClane smokes more cigarettes in this movie than any of last month's noir characters ever dreamed of. This is fundamentally a movie about a man whose lungs exist outside any understanding of modern science. McClane, who is carrying a comically large teddy bear, is greeted by his limo driver, the enchantingly-named Argyle. We learn that John is a New York cop, here in L.A. to see his estranged wife and kids for Christmas, and hoping to salvage his marriage. First stop: said wife's company holiday party at Nakatomi Plaza.

Of course, McClane is only at the party long enough to be annoyed by everyone there and California in general, squabble with said estranged wife, and dig those feet into the carpet before the building is taken over by ostensibly German but uhhhh let's say "European" thieves who are preposterously well-supplied and prepared and led by one of the decade's great villains, Hans Gruber. One of the reasons this movie works is that it is smart enough to know when to just let us look at Alan Rickman's face for a minute. You're never going to go wrong letting an audience look at Alan Rickman's face. John, however, cannot see Alan Rickman's face because he was not with the rest of the party-goers when it became a hostage situation, so he is loose in the building and ready to cause some trouble for the bad guys, in between cigarettes.

Most of the rest of the movie is some fun cat-and-mouse stuff, a lot and I mean a lot of gunfire, things exploding, the LAPD being worthless, the Feds being straight up evil, the media being parasitic, and John McClane finding superhuman strength through the nourishing power of nicotine. I wasn't kidding about the bare feet being the elevating factor here--the jokes really hit and the action is, you know, actiony, but Bruce Willis' look is really the thing that makes this movie a classic. Being shoeless and having only an undershirt makes McClane more vulnerable but also more stealthy, and offers up an easily-assembled Halloween costume, which is a boon to any film's longevity. 

It's also not quite the copaganda situation I was dreading, it's really only about one resourceful and slightly insane man running up and down flights of stairs while breathing smoke like a dragon. As much as I rolled my eyes at John's whole bit in the beginning where he's like "I had to stay in NYC because I'm a New York cop, can't be supporting my wife's apparently very very successful career on the west coast," once you are actually introduced to how the LAPD operates in this movie, I have to say, I sort of understood what he meant. Is it partly just that the guy in charge of the scene is the "mess with the bull get the horns" principal from The Breakfast Club? Well, it doesn't help. There is of course one LA cop we are rooting for here, Reginald VelJohnson's Al, who is in communication with and supportive of McClane from the ground, and whom first we meet buying just a remarkable haul of Twinkies. I personally am a child of the golden era of ABC's TGIF programming, and therefore have a warm and nostalgic reaction to RVJ's face, so it was especially jarring to be reminded that his character arc is "cop we feel sorry for because shooting a 13-year-old caused him to not want to shoot people anymore" to "cop who overcomes his past trauma of shooting a child in order to triumphantly start shooting people again." So..a lot of high highs and a few pretty low lows in this one, but sometimes with movies of a certain age you just have to dig your toes into the carpet and get through it.

Odds and ends: most of the actors playing the "terrorists" are not actually German, but Bruce Willis was born in Germany; one of the thugs reminded me of a big angry version of James van der Beek; gas cost 75 cents a gallon in 1988; knowing how gray sweatsuit guy is going to end up does take some of the tension out of his scene; the "yippee kay yay motherfucker" line is tossed off much more casually and amusingly than I remembered; my favorite character bit is Bruce Willis admonishing himself with increasing volume to "think, THINK" throughout the movie; I would like Reginald VelJohnson to tell me to hang in there.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: "I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane."

Is it under two hours: No

Is it actually a Christmas movie: Just one long holiday party, when you think about it! It can be argued that McClane's major motivation, aside from saving innocent people, is to get back to his wife so that their argument isn't the last exchange they ever have, which could be categorized as an "importance of family" sort of lesson. 7/10

Homemade Twinkies from Brown Eyed Baker

Although Hans is hilariously munching on some party appetizers at one point in the hostage-taking, it was impossible to get a good look at what he had on his plate, so Sgt. Al's Twinkies it is. Please know that I individually crafted these cake molds from aluminum foil, in case you were worried that I had lost my ability to sacrifice significant amounts of time at the altar of deeply unnecessary blog posts.

Up next: He can learn to pass as a pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor, but can he learn the true meaning of Christmas?


Les Diaboliques; Fish with vinegar and onions

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Had I seen this before: Yes

And now we say au revoir to Noirvember with a movie that is probably more accurately classified as a thriller-bordering-on-horror than a strict noir, but it is in black and white and involves an impressively dispassionate murder and some excellent cat-and-mouse shenanigans and a Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette that I am obsessed with, and it is French and I love it. I am hesitant to go all-out on selling this movie to you because I really believe the fact that I went into it the first time with basically no expectations enhanced my experience tremendously, therefore I am going to do my best cold, calculating, noir-heroine impression and simply give you the facts. Not to mention that it ends with a title screen admonishing you not to spoil the movie for others, in French, and I do not want this movie to be mad at me.

The film opens with my favorite character, the Citroën Fourgonnette delivery van, pulling up to the gates of a boys boarding school outside of Paris. To my 21st century American eyes, this little fella looks like a delivery van for ants. It's the cutest, funniest vehicle possible to exist at the center of an extremely dark story, and I want one very badly. I would be so good at parking a Fourgonnette. Making my little deliveries. Anyway, the person driving it in this case is not a jaunty delivery person, as one would hope, but rather the principal of the aforementioned boarding school, Michel Delassalle. Michel is not jaunty. He's a huge jerk. He does not deserve this charming vehicle. He does not deserve the staff he treats poorly, or the students he terrorizes, or the wife and mistress he abuses physically and emotionally. He is sadistic and appalling and frankly, with all due respect to actor Paul Meurisse, he is simply not handsome enough to pull off this level of assholery.

Michel's long-suffering wife, Christina, is styled like Dorothy Gale--gingham and twin brunette braids--and presented as a worryingly delicate due to an oft-referenced heart condition. Michel's mistress, Nicole, is a surly blonde with a take-charge demeanor who is styled like Rizzo from Grease. Both of these women work at the school with Michel and apparently everyone in the building is fully aware of their tangled relationship. This situation is a real mess. Très unprofessional. Nicole sulks in to work one morning wearing shades, which are hiding not a hangover (well, not just a hangover) but a bruise. Christina consoles her. The staff shakes their head in bewilderment. But Nicole is fed up--Michel has to die, and she has a plan. Christina, who is not only very delicate but also very religious and jumpy and superstitious, takes some convincing, but is eventually onboard.

Now, I am going to spoil some things up to a point and then I am going to slowly lower my shades and walk away. The first half of this movie is probably the most noir-ish. The two ladies have a plan, and we watch them unspool it. They lure Michel out to Nicole's family home in western France, where they put sedatives in his whiskey and drown him in the bathtub. Christina almost can't go through with it, but Michel just manages to be that much of a dick that she gathers all of her homicidal strength. Once the deed is done, the tension shifts to whether they can move the body undetected from Nicole's house back to the boarding school, where they intend to stage it as an accidental drowning in the neglected campus pool. There are several close calls and many tense discussions in the cab of the most adorable van to ever transport a human corpse in a giant wicker trunk. But they do make it back to the school, where in the middle of the night they unceremoniously dump the remains of this horrible man into the murky water.

The next day, both ladies eye the still, dark surface of the pool with mounting anxiety, until eventually Nicole "accidentally" drops her keys, requiring that they drain the pool to find them. So drain the pool they do, and there at the bottom are...the keys. And nothing else. Needless to say, this is a concerning development for our murderesses, who are now missing a corpse. Things very soon go from bad to worse when the dry cleaners deliver the suit that Michel was murdered in, freshly pressed. *Slowly lowers shades.*

This is the point where the movie really gets cooking and I am doing my best not to over-hype it, but a sort of proto-Columbo rumpled ex-detective gets into the mix and the mind games get intense and the first time I watched it I almost covered my eyes with my hands in the last ten minutes, which is an incredible achievement in tension for an almost 70-year-old movie. Alfred Hitchcock was a fan, and Hitch had a lot of issues but he did know from building tension. Anyway, this is probably the last black-and-white French film I will attempt to entice you into watching until this time next year, but if I have led you to discover any midcentury gems in the past month and you are absolutely brimming with gratitude, I will point out that there is now an all-electric version of the Citroën Berlingo 2CV Fourgonnette available and I'm almost certain it would fit snuggly under my Christmas tree.

Line I repeated quietly to myself: One of the troublemaking students is ordered to write on the blackboard 20 times "I provoke my comrades' frivolity with my absurd comments," which I is something I personally aspire to with every blog post.

Is it under two hours: By un cheveu

How fatale are les femmes: Well, they don't smoke much, but the movie is called "The Devils" for a reason. 8/10

Apple Cider Vinegar sauce from Big Oven on cod over onions

One of the more stomach-churningly villainous scenes for Principal Delassalle is early in the movie, when it becomes clear that not only is he feeding everyone fish that is past its prime (half-heartedly disguised by vinegar and onions), he humiliates Christina in front of everyone when she struggles to swallow the rancid seafood. I promise I used perfectly good fish here and hardly had to threaten anyone at all.

Up next: I don't know if you realize this but it's actually a Christmas movie