Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February recap

I'm copying John. I think it's a great idea to give a rating to all the movies I watch each month. I'll try to keep it up with him. I wasn't kidding when I said I've been watching too many movies. 33 movies in 29 days (though I might be forgetting a few). I'm gonna do a roundup post on some of these soon. I'd love to do long posts on both HEART OF GLASS and CLAIRE'S KNEE, just because they would be fun to write about. I'll work on that.

My rating system is like Netflix's:

***** = Loved It
**** = Really Liked It
*** = Liked It
** = Didn’t Like It
*= Hated It
No Stars = Hate is too kind a word

It's a really fine line between really liked and loved for me. I could give five stars to every four star old movie on here, but I tried to limit its use. Still, I love most old movies I see.

Ink (2009) - *
Lonely are the Brave (1962) - ****
Heart of Glass (1976) - *****
Claire’s Knee (1970) - *****
Stolen Kisses (1968) - *****
Les Dames Du Bois de Bologne (1945) - ****
Spirited Away (2001) - ****
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) - ***
An Autumn Afternoon (1962) - *****
The Ghost Goes West (1935) - ***
Antonie and Colette (1962) - ****
The Only Son (1936) - *****
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) - ****
I Married a Witch (1942) - *****
L’Argent (1983) - *****
Ossessione (1943) - *****
Random Harvest (1942) - ****
River of No Return (1954) - ****
Some Came Running (1958) - *****
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) - ****
The Match Factory Girl (1990) - ****
An Affair to Remember (1957) - ***
Attack! (1956) - ****
Terror in a Texas Town (1958) - ****
Dark Passage (1947) - ****
Side Street (1950) - ****
They Live By Night (1949) - *****
A Letter to Three Wives (1949) - ****
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - ****
The Set-Up (1949) - ****
Watch on the Rhine (1943) - ***
Hangmen Also Die! (1943) - *****
Marnie (1964) - **

Briefly, I'll just say that I didn't like Hitch's MARNIE, and it's the first Hitchcock film I've seen that I genuinely did not like. This has everything to do with how awful an actress I find Tippi Hedron to be. She's passable in THE BIRDS because of everything else going on, but in MARNIE she's actually required to carry the film and she can't. She's terrible. I couldn't get over it. Sorry if anyone's a big MARNIE fan. I obviously respect the craft involved, but was mostly annoyed watching it. Oh well.

Only the lonely

I don’t know where to begin. I really liked LONELY ARE THE BRAVE and would defend its right to exist any day of the week. 1962 seems to have given us two wonderful westerns with this and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. I think that in many ways, both films are trying to contend with the onrushing modernity that is striking film (particularly westerns) at the time and will continue to strike it in the years to come. LIBERTY VALANCE handles it with a sort of mournful cynicism; it is aware of its own myths being debunked and almost satirizes this growing shift away from the Western mythology many of its cast and crew helped create. LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, on the other hand, just seems genuinely mournful about it. It’s not so much a revisionist western as requiem; a film that pines for the purity of the genre and quietly laments its passing.

Anyway, I’ll start with Jason:

I think you have completely misread the film. It is not trying to “knock the western on its ass” or mock genre films; its a western genre film mourning the passing of western genre films. It deliberately juxtaposes “classic western tropes” within a modern setting to comment on the modernity that is overtaking the western. This is established in the first shot of the film, as planes flying overhead completely disrupt this classic western image of a man, a horse, and a bedroll. The planes are literally ruining this shot. We then see Kirk Douglas and his horse trapped on a road with cars flying past. Is he a man out of place or are the cars out of place within his setting? The film is not trying to say that Douglas and his horse are outmoded, out of touch, and out of date, but that the way of life he represents is no longer accepted within this modern industrialized setting. The film, like Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, comments on the shift away from a pastoral connection to nature that comes with "progress."

I don’t know why the ending has struck you as being so antithetical to the rest of the film. You admit that the film is about the death of the western, yet you are shocked when it is symbolically destroyed by something modern at the end? If the horse is a symbol for the purity the western represents (i.e. a connection with nature and the land that is lost through industrialization) and this horse is killed by a modern vehicle (a symbol for industrialization, modernity, etc.), then what is being communicated to us? Are we merely trying to be manipulated emotionally or are we being asked to reflect on what is happening to the western and to characters like Douglas’s lonesome cowboy? I would side with the latter interpretation entirely.

Jason my man, you love context. Think about this film in context of 1962. People don’t want to see westerns anymore. This film is about how people don’t want to see westerns anymore. If you are watching it in 1962, you are being asked to think about this shift and why it’s happening.
It’s not going to let him ride off into the sunset because it is trying to comment on what is being done to the western. To let him ride away would be to ignore the overwhelming fact he is no longer allowed to ride away and that the western hero is no longer thriving.

I don’t get the HIGH NOON reference. I think both films are trying to comment on completely different ideas. HIGH NOON is thinking about the Red Scare and McCarthyism that is sweeping America and Hollywood at the time; LONELY ARE THE BRAVE is thinking about how films like HIGH NOON, SHANE, WINCHESTER ’73, etc. won’t exist anymore.

I understand that you don’t like bleakness, but this film is responding to the bleakness that is swarming the western genre. Sometimes you need things to end badly to get your point across. Have you ever seen a war film that is trying to express how awful war is? If that shit ends happily then you are being lied to. And if this film ends happily then you are being lied to about what is happening to the western. We all want Douglas and his horse to ride away into the sunset, but it is no longer 1950 and he cannot.

Now onto Jerzy:

I think that good classic films usually have remarkable clarity in expressing their themes. There is almost an innocence to the way they express themselves. They can get their point across without reverting to obfuscation, preachy intellectualism, or arrogance. It’s one of the refreshing things about them. I think LONELY ARE THE BRAVE expresses itself clearly, and if you don’t like the message or think it is too clear then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s clear because it knows exactly what it’s trying to say. And as for the message itself, as a lover of westerns and the relationship to nature they represent, I can only relate and sympathize.

I think Kirk Douglas’s character kisses his friends wife because he is in love with her. But he’s also a loner who knows he can never be with her, but still wants her to be happy and would do anything for her.



Anyway, to wrap this up, all I want to say is that I love the HIGH SIERRA chase ending to the film, love the shtick between Matthau and his subordinate officer, love Kirk Douglas, and lament the passing of classic westerns as well.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thanks Brandon

Always a pleasure to read your responses to my crappy lists. I'll try to respond to some of the great stuff you wrote.

Those two Ozu films make me happier than any other film on either of those lists. For that, they deserve to sit right at the top. I don't know if you'd rank them as highly, but I think you'd love them if you love Ozu.

(Speaking of Ozu, I watched AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON and of course loved it. If you need a write-up on that for your next list, I'll be happy to oblige.)

I've always found Bergman to be incredibly sincere in his approach to filmmaking. Many of his films are very serious and intellectual, but they never seem pretentious to me. I think they are far too personal or introspective to seem disingenuous. I don't know, maybe that's why he gets a pass, or maybe it's for something else entirely. Either way, I love him.

I had no idea that As the Sky Stared Down With Angry Clouds was based on THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. That's awesome! Great album, by the way.

About Sirk: I think the irony is important when considering the time his films were made. It does add an extra element that makes them much more than meets the eye. I appreciate this tremendously. The only point I was trying to get at with ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS is that I watched it without knowing anything about Sirk's irony and loved it as a critique of 50s conformity. I get the irony now (which does add to the film for sure), but it can also work without it and perhaps for that I tend to like it more than the other two I've seen. Still, I really like and admire WRITTEN ON THE WIND and IMITATION OF LIFE. Sirk was a great filmmaker.

And to expand on what I wrote about IMITATION OF LIFE: I've read that it was intended as pure irony, and that it completely mocks the sentiments and values it seems to extol. Nothing is to be taken seriously. That's what I meant by the irony of it. As for Sirk's mise-en-scene with the film, I think it is masterful. There's a strong emphasis on showing mirrors, reflections, ostentation, gaudy displays of wealth within the frame, all with the intent of criticizing surface appearances and shallow representations. In this way, I think the mise-en-scene services the film perhaps more than its plot because it critiques the mother's pursuit of fame and the racial injustice experienced by Sarah Jane. If the film is meant to be highly ironic, then it's all in the details.

I can understand not digging PICKPOCKET. But, it's only 76 minutes or so long, which is something I forgot to mention about why it's so great and why Bresson is so great. Love his efficiency.

I appreciate all you wrote about the AFI argument. I'm right there with you. I have an AFI desk reference book that I got at the age of 16 and used at the time to discover many classics films and directors I had never heard of. It was actually a huge gateway into film for me, so I'll always be thankful to the AFI for that, even if now I think that they woefully overlook so many great films for their lists. Still, if the AFI and films like the THE ARTIST have any influence in getting people even remotely interested in classic film, then it's a good thing. We don't have to consider the AFI an ultimate authority, and inversely we don't have to bash everything they praise.

RIDE LONESOME is on TCM April 11th. I've got it marked on my calender to watch and am looking forward to it. Would love to see THE HORSE SOLDIERS soon as well.

I haven't seen BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. I don't think I could ever shun that film, as I fully expect it to be great. Do you or John have a copy to lend me?

Greatly looking forward to that '61 list. Thanks again for those responses!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Well it's 1959 OK, all across the USA

1959: or The changing of the guard.

Obviously, a big transitional year for cinema with the emergence of the Nouvelle Vague, and the ending of the so-called “golden age” (perhaps a notion that Brandon’s 60s lists will refute and a notion that Jason refutes entirely). For me, while ’59 gives a taste of things to come, it is best remembered as a year where old hands continue to do what they do best. Ozu, Preminger, Hawks, Hitchcock, Wilder, Bresson, Sirk–all doing great work this year.

I brought this point up to Brandon a few weeks ago: he and Ed Gonzalez have BREATHLESS and EYES WITHOUT A FACE in their 1959 lists, but imdb lists them both as 1960 films. I have no idea which they are, but I’m going to stick with imdb for now. BREATHLESS probably wouldn’t make this ’59 list (not that I dislike it, but I haven’t seen it in a long time and have largely forgotten it), but EYES WITHOUT A FACE would with ease (great horror film).

Anyway, there are plenty of great films this year even without those two.

My fervant support of Ozu can’t be shaken, as I think he makes two beautiful masterpieces this year with GOOD MORNING and FLOATING WEEDS.

I love Preminger’s brilliant and methodical ANATOMY OF A MURDER. I was initially put off by it’s rather inordinate running time, but I’m really glad I gave it the chance it deserves. It earns every crucial minute of its 160 running time and completely lives up to its title. It’s probably the greatest court-room drama ever made. I bet David Fincher is a fan of this one. RIP Ben Gazzara.

I, like most of you, prefer Truffaut to Godard, and think that THE 400 BLOWS is one of the best debuts in history. It’s a deeply personal film that rings of love and authenticity.

Another of the best debuts is surely Cassavetes’ SHADOWS.

RIO BRAVO is maybe the ultimate Hawks film: a complete odyssey into camaraderie. And it's got my man Dean Martin!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is pure Hitchcockian entertainment, extravagence, and thrill. Many classic set pieces and iconic images.

SOME LIKE IT HOT is perhaps overrated by the AFI, but still very funny and delightful in my book, and I remain a fan everytime I see it. Curtis is great for his Cary Grant impression, but Jack Lemon owns this film.

I’m going to watch PICKPOCKET again at some point because I haven’t seen it since my Bresson revival. It’ll probably go up the list once I do.

IMITATION OF LIFE has been refered to as a hilarious satire and a PoMo film disguised as a woman’s soap opera. It’s visually brilliant, no doubt, but I wonder if it slips so far down because I’m so irony-ed out. Still, a great example of melodrama and Sirk’s mastery of mise-en-scene (10 snob points right there).

1. Good Morning (Ozu)
2. Floating Weeds (Ozu)
3. Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger)
4. The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
5. Shadows (Cassavetes)
6. Rio Bravo (Hawks)
7. North By Northwest (Hitchcock)
8. Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
9. Pickpocket (Bresson)
10. Imitation of Life (Sirk)

HM: Les Cousins (Chabrol), Black Orpheus (Camus), Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais), Sleeping Beauty (lots of people), Ben-Hur (Wyler)


I've having the opposite problem to John. I've watched too many movies in February, and don't have the attention span or interest for anything else, especially writing about them. I've gotten a number of these 40s and 50s lists in the bag, but have lacked the impetus to post on them. I suck. Anyway, I'm making myself post this '55 list, and will hope to post a '59 list today as well. Tomorrow I'm shooting for one of my patented big roundups. I think I've got like 20 films to write about. That probably won't happen, but I'll try to mention a few. It's been a slow blog month to say the least.

So, 1955 was the year my mother was born, and also a pretty great year for movies:

1. Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman)
2. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
3. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Bunuel)
4. Ordet (Dreyer)
5. All That Heaven Allows (Sirk)
6. Rebel Without a Cause (Ray)
7. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich)
8. Les Diaboliques (Clouzot)
9. Lola Montès (Ophüls)
10. The Trouble With Harry (Hitchcock)

HM: East of Eden (Kazan), To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock), Night and Fog (Resnais), Lady and the Tramp (lots of people), Killer's Kiss (Kubrick), Riffifi (Dassin), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (Lamont)

I’ll just briefly say something about a few of the films I’ve never written about before:

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT - Bergman flirted with the pastoral sexual farce in the years leading up to this (his first great film, no doubt), and would toy around with it, mostly in the form of comedic interludes, in some of his work a few years later (the bawdy elements in THE SEVENTH SEAL or THE MAGICIAN), but here it reaches sublime, unrivaled heights. Beautifully shot and staged, funny, entertaining, poetic–it’s Bergman’s comedic masterpiece.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER - A shame that this is the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, but what a film to rest your name on. One of the darkest and most unsettling of the 50s, this is a great thriller-noir featuring Bob Mitchum at his creepiest and some gorgeous black-and-white photography. A classic and a must-see, of course.

THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ - A genius black comedy about the world’s greatest would-be murderer. Bunuel was brilliant and insane–and this is a mad, beautiful melodrama.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS - Speaking of melodrama–Douglas Sirk was a master of 50s melodrama, and this is perhaps his finest and most visually vibrant film. Much has been said about the irony laden in Sirk’s work, but this is a film that works even as a straightforward narrative because of how explicitly it critiques 50s conformity and the shallowness of appearances. If WRITTEN ON THE WIND and IMITATION OF LIFE are pure irony (two films I like very much), then I at least prefer ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS for having the irony but also something genuine.

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE - Let’s keep the thread going, shall we. Ray was another master of 50s melodrama. A rebel and an iconoclast, he is someone who understood this material inside and out. And he knew how to get the best out of Dean. This film is a counter-cultural touchstone, and it speaks for itself.

LES DIABOLIQUES - Clouzot was considered the French answer to Hitchcock largely for this truly creepy thriller (though I think he earns that distinction more for THE WAGES OF FEAR–one of the most genuinely nerve-wracking films I’ve ever seen). Still, this film is no slouch. Frigthening, brutal, and a wickedly funny ending.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY - While Clouzot was busy taking over the suspense reins this year, Hitchcock made one of his few outright comedic films, and it’s a blast. The humor is dark, dry, and very British, though the film is set in a beautiful, albeit artificial, Vermont in autumn. It’s a wonderful and absurd little film from a man who probably got a kick out of surprising people with his great sense of humor.

Monday, February 20, 2012

War Horse

If you want to get John responding to one of your posts, all you gotta do is say some sweeping generalization or misinformed atheist cliché about The Bible. That’s why, henceforth, in all my posts I will be putting in one Biblical non sequitor just to keep him engaged and/or ticked off. For instance:

I caught WAR HORSE the other night. I think I’m in complete agreement with Brandon on it. It’s sentimental, manipulative, ridiculously contrived, yet I found myself moved, engaged, and utterly willing to be manipulated by it. The Bible says it’s okay to have slaves. I can’t deny the film’s faults, nor can I really take issue with any of the points Adrienne or Jason made against it. There’s a lot to rag on, and it’s easy to call it typical Spielbergian goo (in a lot of ways it is).

I guess I was drawn to its contrivances. The opening pastoral scenes looked painted and phony, but often beautiful. They reminded me of classic film–staged, but designed to evoke a feeling. I thought of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY at several points in the beginning, and that pleased me. The rest of the film is improbable and manipulative, but I suspected as much before I even started watching it. I knew I was watching an old-fashioned Spielberg Hollywood movie and gave in. I knew Joey would be a mix of animatronics and CGI at times, but I still felt emotional for him. I knew we’d get our corny ending, and I wasn’t disappointed by it at all. The movie delivers the weepie goods.

I would agree with Brandon that it has some of the most beautiful images of last year. And that some of the scenes and images are so powerful that they transcend the film’s hokiness. The barbed-wire scene being one, the wheat field image being another. For all its contrivances, it does some things very well and does them earnestly. It’s often lovely.

And I should admit that I find horses amazing and beautiful beyond words (my feelings about nearly all animals). You don’t even need to manipulate me into feeling something for an animal like Joey; I already do the moment I see him. So that was an easy sell for me.

Anyway, I liked WAR HORSE quite a bit. It probably wouldn't retrospectively crack the top 10, but it still charmed me more than most films I saw last year.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Brandon, thanks for responding, as always.

John has already written a Facebook response to one of your points on DOGVILLE, and I tend to agree with him on it. The citizens of Dogville have rejected the concept of grace and Grace herself and exposed their vicious and morally reprehensible natures in the process. Grace, who is in control of their fate at the end, decides they do not deserve to live and should be wiped out. It sounds like you were looking for some New Testament style forgiveness, but this is Old Testament wrath all the way, baby. I can't blame you for wanting room for forgiveness or roundness to the characters, but I still feel that the film is deliberately exaggerated to serve its several functions and makes no pretense of being a character study. As I was mentioning, I think the film is part LVT prank, part Bertolt Brecht social critique/moral provocation, part Biblical allegory, part anything else you want to add. The characters are more symbolic than flesh and blood, but on purpose.

However, I do have to say that your WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and its bastard brethren comment is quite fair and something I don't think I have an argument against. The only reason I can give for why I like DOGVILLE but loathe other modern feel-bad cinema is that to me DOGVILLE is trying to be funny and provocative whereas something like KEVIN is just trying to rub your face in the dirt and pass it off as character study. Perhaps you don't see a difference between the two, but that's all I can come up with. Great point.

THE RETURN OF THE KING could have been higher and maybe should have been. I never know with these damn lists.

I'd love to call out some of the picks for your list, but I haven't seen most of them, for shame. It isn't that I don't have any love for SCHOOL OF ROCK, but only that I've never seen it. Nor WINGED MIGRATION nor VICTOR VARGAS. Sorry.

I've already expressed my, perhaps misguided, annoyance with FINDING NEMO. I don't know...I've never liked it.

I don't remember a single thing about MYSTIC RIVER. I should probably watch it again at some point.

Everything else we seem to agree on. I have forgotten most of CABIN FEVER except for its terrific ending, which has stayed with me all these years. That got it the honorable mention alone. There's probably room for it on my list if given another viewing.

ELF is wonderful, and I completely forgot about it until Chris wrote me a comment. I quickly added it to honorable mentions once I realized the mistake, but really I'm gonna go ahead and put it in the top 10. It rules, and I don't care what you have to say against it, Brandon Potter-Grinch-Scrooge.

Ben, I'm aware that LOST IN TRANSLATION has already caused a big stink on here before my time, and I'm not about to add to the smell. I actually worshiped it back when I saw it for the first time (I remember being really mad that Bill Murray lost the Oscar to Sean Penn–in fact, I still am; damn that Penn!). I tried watching it again a couple years ago, and it had lost something for me. I still like it, but not as much as I used to. Still, I can't fault you for liking it so much. Who cares what any of these other goons say.

For the rest of your picks, same problem as with Brandon's. Haven't seen THE BEST OF YOUTH, NORTHFORK, THIRTEEN, THIS GIRL'S LIFE, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, or SWIMMING POOL. And though I haven't seen any of these, I somehow managed to see ANGER MANAGEMENT, BRUCE ALMIGHTY, and TERMINATOR 3 instead. Ahh to be 14.

Just looking over a list of films released in 2003:

Any GIGLI or MALIBU'S MOST WANTED fans out there? Speak up.

I should have added INTOLERABLE CRUELTY to my honorable mention list. I found it funny, but haven't seen it in a while.

I slept through nearly all of HULK. Apparently so did everyone involved in making it. I watched the whole thing of DAREDEVIL. I wish I had been asleep instead.

BIKER BOYZ, anyone? AGENT CODY BANKS? HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett?

2003: an intrepid, trailblazing year for cinema.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Married a Witch

Rene Clair's second Hollywood film, I MARRIED A WITCH, is one of my favorite films of 1942. No doubt about it. It's a real gem.

It stars the beautiful Veronica Lake as Jennifer, a 17th Century witch resurrected in the present day, and the always reliable Fredric March as Wallace Wooley, a candidate for governor and man whose family line has been cursed to never find love by Jennifer,after his descendants burned her at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials. The spirits of Jennifer and her malevolent father emerge in the present, after centuries of imprisonment in an old tree, and seek out Wooley to cause him more suffering and create general mischief. The pair find Wooley, who not only is running for governor but is soon to be unhappily married to the daughter of his biggest political backer. Jennifer starts pestering Wooley relentlessly, and from there the complications ensue. It's a lot fun.

Trust me, it's as silly as it sounds, but it completely works because of how terrific Veronica Lake is, how inventive and genuinely great the special effects are, and how sharp and efficient the script and Clair's direction are. It's a fantasy-comedy that could have easily been turned into schlock, but it somehow comes across as pure brisk and unbridled entertainment.

Clair, who by 1942 had already made some inordinately delightful French musical comedies in the early 30s (LE MILLION, UNDER THE ROOFS OF PARIS, A NOUS LA LIBERTE), gives the film such efficient pop and sizzle, real charm, and his trademark light-hearted joy. He was a man who knew how to put a smile on your face almost infectiously.

Special mention should be given to Lake. An unbelievably gorgeous woman who brings serious nuance to the role of Jennifer and makes her oddly child-like but very funny (Her performance reminded me of Carole Lombard's in MY MAN GODFREY). Sometimes you don't even have to sell two characters falling in love in a film, especially when one of them is Veronica Lake. I was in love the first second I saw her.

Special mention should also be given to the special effects. I love the practical effects of classic films. They are often fun, endearing, and not without their own sense of real magic. The effects here are really great, and of course dated, but that's one of the reasons why they are so great.

At 76 minutes, I MARRIED A WITCH is a breeze and a heck of a lot of fun. It's currently only available on Hulu+, and needs to come to dvd as soon as possible. Get on that somebody.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Sorry to potentially interrupt the INK talk, but I felt inspired to write this today and get it posted while Brandon is home. Please feel free to ignore it for the time being or forever.

This 2003 top 10 list is a long time coming. I think the last list I posted was back in April. I guess I got sidetracked by the 30s, 40s, and 50s lists. Hard to care about the 2000s when you are wrapped up in the golden age. Anyway, here's my favorite films of 2003 (I haven't seen that many, so bare with me):

10. Dirty Pretty Things (Frears)

A really solid thriller. It works well because it focuses on a small community of immigrants in modern London and gives us ample reason to care about each of them. It’s economical, it’s straightforward, it’s interesting–well written, well directed, well acted, all that. I really like the idea of making heroes out of those in the shadows, and honestly is there any group more in the shadows then modern immigrants displaced in increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic Western climates?

9. A Mighty Wind (Guest)

I’ll readily admit to being a sucker for this and BEST IN SHOW. I think they are hilarious. Fred Willard and Eugene Levy steal the show with some deft improv (Hey, wha happened???), but the songs are great and fun too. This is one of those comedies, like a Wes Anderson film, that you either find funny or you don’t at all, like it or hate it. I’m firmly in the “it’s funny and I like it” camp.

8. Elephant (van Sant)

I don’t know why, but it seems like it would be easy to pick on someone for calling something “haunting.” Maybe because it sounds clichéd. Oh well, “haunting” is the requisite adjective, I think, to describe the feeling one gets from this film, so I’ll use it and let my triteness be damned. But seriously, van Sant’s insistence on showcasing the minutia and quiter moments of this doomed high school make the film absolutely haunting. The quiet moments linger with you afterward–a kiss on the cheek, a girl pausing to look up into the sky, a boy walking comfortably through the halls of an environment he knows well and trusts. As do the film’s final horrific moments–honestly, who can forget that last shot? It shakes one to the bone. To say I vastly prefer this film to Lyne Ramsey’s soulless WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is an understatement and goes without saying. ELEPHANT is an often lovely and serene film, but one that is ultimately horrifying. It achieves, I believe, what it sets out to accomplish.

7. Oldboy (Park)

I had no idea how popular or perhaps even overrated this film was until I saw it for the first time a few years ago and did some reading up on it. I will readily and shamefully plead ignorance about a lot of the Asian cinema of aughts. I haven’t really sought it out. I’ve only seen some of the giant ones that lead to bad English dubbing and proposed remakes, such as this. Anyway, all hype aside, I was really surprised by this film when I first saw it. Didn’t see the twist coming at all, didn’t expect it to be that powerful or even beautiful. But to me, it is both. One will see Shakespeare and Sophocles thrown around this film, and certainly it plays off the archetypes and drama of those titans. It’s actually just a really hard-hitting revenge flick with some beautiful cinematography and an expressive and wistful score. And as a revenge flick, it absolutely works. The shot in the elevator (pun intended) is one of the best expressions of the hollowness of vengeance that you could see in a film. After all this elaborate plotting, subterfuge, and violence, where has vengeance gotten either man? Also, I should note that there are some badass fight scenes in it that I couldn’t resist (à la infamous hammer fight pan). I’m a sucker for violence, vengeance, cinematography, and music.

6. Big Fish (Burton)

Tim Burton’s best film of the last decade. I’ve remained a great admirer of this film since I saw it theaters. I even own a copy of it and will watch it from time to time because I find it so charming, entertaining, and endearing. It’s a great tall tale. I think all the actors are superb in their respective roles and Burton supplies the right amount of visual flair, humor, sweetness, and adventure to make it all so enjoyable and touching. The ending gets me every time...every time.

5. Dogville (von Trier)

Speaking of great revenge flicks, this is one of the funniest you’ll ever see. I’ve expressed my love for this film on several occasions and maintain it still. A biblical fable? A political allegory? Could be both as there are definite elements of either one. I actually think it’s a hilarious black comedy, testing the limits of our humor. It’s overlong, inflated, mean-spirited, anti-American-and it’s totally awesome! It builds up antipathy for 2 hours and 40 minutes, only to deliver one of the best punchlines of the decade. The movie to me is a great joke, but is perhaps dangerous in the wrong hands. A mean and cynical message, but one that is amplified for the sake of satire.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jackson)

Get used to the idea of seeing this trilogy on my lists already, John. Sorry buddy, but I’m a fan. I’ve never read the books, have only a modicum of interest in fantasy (even less in Medieval-style fantasy), but I loved these movies unabashedly (they single-handedly paved the way for my GAME OF THRONES love too). I can only look at them through a cinematic lens and to me they are great, great, great. I prefer the first two installments to this film (they are more efficient perhaps?), but still have intense love and admiration for the final chapter.

3. Saraband (Bergman)

My favorite director’s swan song. It would be a stretch to put this at number one despite my love for it and Bergman. The two films above it had a bigger impact on me. Still, SARABAND represents Bergman doing what he does best–a small character drama filled with themes of doubt, sadness, desire, and the bittersweetness of passing time. Bergman was a dramatist before he was a filmmaker and SARABAND is written, shot, and staged like a play, bringing his career full circle. It’s a great, emotionally involving and melancholy film. A true delight for Bergman fans.

2. 28 Days Later (Boyle)

Permit me to remove all preening intellectual arguments and just call this film fucking awesome. It blew me away when I saw it in theaters (with the teacher who nurtured my interest in film). It still excites and thrills me. Incredible opening sequence, great characters who we love, real scares, real beauty; the film is loaded with some of the most intense and anxiety-drenched moments I’ve ever seen. Some disparage the film’s finale at the mansion. I dig it. The zombies become the least of our characters worries and some serious vengeance is in order. It’s rad. And, in all honesty, I’m glad they stuck with the happy ending because I’m a sap. This film rules.

1. The Son (Dardenne Brothers)

I’m wholly aware that I might be overestimating this film just because I’ve seen it the most recently. But, I really do feel that it deserves the top spot on this list. Simply put, it stunned me. I highly recommend that everyone see it because it’s just miraculous. John, I know you don’t want to watch a Dardenne Brothers film post-THE WRESTLER, but this one is really worth seeing and is right up your alley. The cinema verite camerawork is off-putting at first, but then you start to understand there is method to the madness, and it becomes essential. I don’t want to give anything away about this film for fear that it would ruin what is a truly unsettling and ultimately astonishing experience. The only thing I will provide is a great quote by Ed Gonzalez about the film. It’ll tell you why I love it so much: “Our willingness to submit to the film's grueling element of fear is then perhaps a test of our spiritual skepticism. Despite the film's overwhelming bleakness, its Bressonian rapture is unmistakable.” (It’s availabe on NWI, for those who are interested.)

Honorable: Elf (Favreau), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Tarantino), Lost In Translation (Coppola), Cabin Fever (Roth)

2002 list should be up sometime next year.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Aside from Ozu, Robert Bresson has become the most redeemed director in my heart during my first year in Film Club. A filmmaker whose greatness previously alluded me, Bresson now resides at the summit of my estimation. I couldn’t possibly praise him highly enough, as his films are not only brilliant but absolutely miraculous. There is something veritably mind-boggling about his ability to achieve such profound interest and emotive response using so seemingly minimal techniques. How does he do it? Every time I watch one his films, I have to ask myself this question because I’m always so immersed in the simplicity of his aesthetic. You’d almost think I were constantly watching the finale to a thriller the way I can’t turn away from his films. They are thoroughly fascinating, yet they couldn’t be more simple on the surface. Seriously, how does he do it? I almost want to sit down and study each of his films frame by frame to find out how he is able to make me care so much about what I’m seeing. Perhaps someday if I have the time or desire I will. For now, I’ll try to explain why I think he is great and why he appeals to me so much (though truthfully my enjoyment of his films is as ineffable as that of Ozu’s–I almost don’t know why I am so enraptured, I just am). This probably won’t be insightful at all, and you are better off reading the many writings that already exist about the man if you are really curious to read something about him. But, personally, I gotta celebrate him in any way I can.

In all honesty, I didn’t understand Bresson’s films when I was younger. I had only seen PICKPOCKET and AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, but they were, perhaps, too elemental, too sparse to really catch my eye or pique my interest. I was watching them right around the time that I was discovering Kurosawa, Bunuel, Fellini, etc. I was being floored by the vibrancy and vitality of those directors, but almost dulled by Bresson. Perhaps it was just a lack of consideration or patience on my part, or perhaps it was merely the fault of being 17 and a film novice, but I completely overlooked the genius of Bresson in my younger days (granted I had only seen two of his movies).

I can see his genius now; it’s glaringly obvious in every single meticulously shot and edited frame of one of his films. Bresson is a visual master. He edits and strings shots together perfectly to create a lucid narrative that is easy to follow but elliptical enough that we can still use our imagination. The clarity of the narrative wraps us up completely in what we are seeing. We always know which person we are following, what environment they are in, and what details about the scene are important to us. It’s almost as if someone is very carefully giving you the clearest directions you’ve ever received and you are following along with keen interest because you are absolutely able to follow along. Some might find Bresson’s clarity to be dull (as I originally did), but it’s actually remarkably fascinating. Bresson achieves narrative simplicity with a sculptor’s precision. It’s fucking beautiful.

The clarity of his narratives essentially creates the thematic and intellectual richness that pervades his films. Everything is shown to us, very little is ever told, even with the heavy use of narration in some of his work. The openness of showing instead of telling is always going to be conducive to interpretation, which makes his films highly analytical, and I think Bresson gives us so much without making any judgments, so we are always left to wonder what kind of world his characters inhabit: do they live in a cruel, godless world? Is there a god? If there is, does he offer eventual grace or is he merely a passive observer to misery? Perhaps it’s truly a testament to Bresson’s agnosticism that one could come away from one of his films feeling either way or torn between both. We follow Bresson's films effortlessly, but we are never told what to ultimately come away with.

The films that really changed my mind about Bresson are THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST and A MAN ESCAPED. Two completely essential masterpieces of cinema, in my opinion. I saw them and I was floored. More recently, I have watched MOUCHETTE and L’ARGENT. I, of course, adored them both. MOUCHETTE deals with the suffering of one improverished country girl as she tries to work her way through daily existence. There is nothing grand, highfalutin, or necessarily dramatic about her life. Like a rabbit caught in a trap, she is merely the object of suffering and misfortune and the agent of her own flailing. Like with the Priest in THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, Mouchette doesn’t necessarily do anything to evoke our empathy nor does Bresson give obvious cues as to how we should feel about her. Yet we do feel intense empathy for her (perhaps because she is only a young girl) just like with the Priest.

This brings me to another key aspect of Bresson’s genius (perhaps the most important): his ability to strip humanity down to its most elemental form (an animal capable of feeling pain). Bresson is notorious for using non-professional actors and grinding the slightest hint of “acting” off of them. They are almost robotic in the way that they emote or express nothing. Yet we feel something strong for them! It may be that I am oversensitive, and if my vegetarianism is any indication, that I am always looking to empathize with any living creature that can feel pain, but I watch Bresson’s robotic characters (he referred to them as “models”) and am full of pity and empathy for them. But honestly, I don’t just think it is me. I think Bresson deliberately strips down his characters to their most basic essence (almost infantile simplicity but without any shred of emotional response) to make us feel for other human beings (and creatures) on a sort of primitive level. It’s a natural reaction to feel for something that is suffering. Bresson gets this and he seeks this at its most elemental level possible. He’s not trying to manipulate us; he’s trying to engage us. He achieves this flawlessly.

I just finished L’ARGENT this morning, a film that reminds me most of PICKPOCKET within his oeuvre. It was Bresson’s last film, and it has all of his trademarks: simple, efficient narrative; immaculate editing; no traces of “acting”; ambiguous moral themes; characters who suffer and are caught by the whims of chance or predestination. L’ARGENT is completely absorbing, and it’s brutal. I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that it’s one of Bresson’s most scathing looks at hierarchy, injustice, and misfortune. It’s a challenging film and one I will have to think more about carefully, but also one that I would re-watch, like all the Bresson films I’ve seen, in a heart beat.

All hail, Bresson! It’s the day after Valentine’s day and I’m in love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sorry Ben

First, sorry for not watching and posting about INK sooner. But, hey, where's everyone else?

Second, sorry, but I have to be completely honest and say that I hated INK and couldn't stand watching it (what a jerk, I know). I almost don't want to get into the depth of my disdain for it because of how much you like it. I am curious to hear you defend it though. I'd like to know what specifically spoke to you in the film because seriously I got nothing out of it. And I don't say this last comment snidely but earnestly. I am interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on it.

I guess I can't say I hated it without mentioning a few reasons why. Again, sorry, this isn't meant to be mean, just honest. Let's see, I thought the acting and writing were both horrible for starters. This is one of the serious problems I have with certain indie films. I don't begrudge their lack of budget, but I do criticize their inability to focus on good, interesting writing and solid, believable performances. Honestly, with INK, all the flashy editing and showy camera techniques can’t make up for what is, in my opinion, an awful, unfathomable script. This filmmaker may know how to do cool tricks with his camera but he doesn't know how to direct actors and he doesn't know how to write. I have to completely agree with John and go even further: this film has poor delivery of heavy exposition, two-dimensional ideas, forced melodrama that doesn't earn our emotion, caricatures instead of rounded human beings, and just overall silliness.

And even the flashy stuff the filmmaker does with the camera isn't that great. Oftentimes, the editing is distracting and confusing, especially with the fight scenes, which suffer from the modern craze of choppy, over-editing, all done to dupe us into believing that the action is more exciting than it actually is. I wasn't at all impressed by anything the filmmaker did visually. It all kinda annoyed me.

Sorry for the brutal honesty, but I know you'll appreciate that more than me holding back or sugar-coating everything. I'm still very curious to hear your take on the film, and look forward to reading it!

And just so you don't think I've got it out for only you–I can say without any equivocation or hesitation that LADY IN THE WATER is one of the most unfiltered pieces of shit I've ever seen :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Hulk Jeff no like Brandon BLOW-UP bashing.

I knew exactly what you were doing and arguing, but I also sensed that you were trying to pick a fight or incite some anger through your casual dismissal of the film. Something I was only too happy to oblige you with post-VAMPYR fight lull.

It was this comment that really set me off:
"I would gladly go at this film because I'm interested to hear a defense from its fans. I get a feeling that it'll be a lot of mood and atmosphere vibes."

I'm glad you said this because I had been working on a deeper analysis of the film in my head since the moment I watched it again. It was almost a perfect setup for me to rant about why I find the film, particularly its ending, so thematically interesting. Sure, the mood and atmosphere vibes are fine in the film, but it's everything else that appeals to me. The suggestion that one couldn't form a defense for the film beyond its atmosphere or mood was the real instigator. You just had to provoke me into that, didn't you?

"Your accusations of me not giving it a fair shake are quite assuming." Absolutely, but that was only to provoke you back. Plus, it sounded nice to accuse you of not believing in the film after I had just expounded on my "belief" analysis of the film.

Truthfully, I think Chris' argument for the film being dull is valid. I think your reaction to the film is valid too. John didn't seem to like what he had seen, but I really can't imagine him liking the film anyway. I can already hear him telling me (or picture him writing) how cold the film left him. I won't even pretend like there is heart or emotion to this film. It's almost purely visual and intellectual, like all of his films. But sometimes I love visual and intellectual, as long as the film or filmmaker is successful at both. I love Kubrick because I think he's successful at both, and I love Antonioni for similar reasons. Kubrick's films are obviously more entertaining than Antonioni's (and can have heart–PATHS OF GLORY, for instance), but I don't think either man would deny that they made films primarily for the brain instead of the heart (Aren't you psyched for some Antonioni now that I've compared him to Kubrick, John?).

I was impressed by BLOW-UP's intelligence, but I can imagine that if you or anyone didn't find it all that intelligent or just purely cold, that it wouldn't be a positive experience.

I do think that, to speak for him, Chris found something intelligent or interesting about the film's specific open ending. I don't think he was given the film a pass merely for having an open ending but for having the invisible tennis match open ending it does have. This is his actual quote: "I loved the ending and its allowance for endless interpretation." It isn't "I loved the ending because of its allowance for endless interpretation." He's saying that he loved the ending and its openness, something you were quick to tell him he was wrong about (which in turn was something I was quick to come to his defense for). He's allowed to give a film points for something he thought it did well, right?

Onto John Wayne, I'm a big fan of him as an actor and love his movies. I've never been a fan of his politics or his unabashed HUAC support, but that has never diminished my esteem of his professional or artistic work since I've been exposed to it. I mean Jimmy Stewart was an arch conservative, and I still love him to death and think he was one the greatest actors who ever lived (who doesn't?). But, you also have to understand that Chris and I didn't grow up on John Wayne or his movies as kids. Before I ever saw one of his films, I knew from my interest in history that Wayne was a vocal supporter of ratting people out in Hollywood, just like Ronnie Regan. I hated him before I ever saw one of his films until I did see one of them and found him interesting and even charming. Chris is just getting exposed to Wayne now so I think he needs time to separate the image of Wayne the man from Wayne the actor.

I don't know if Bunuel was a homophobe or not, but I do know that Ernst Lubitsch used to sell poison milk to school children, and Robert Bresson used to kick puppies. The jerks!

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Okay, Brandon, I'll bite.

BlOW-UP deserves zero credit for creating an ending that is both intellectually and thematically rich and conducive for discussion or multiple readings? That's bullshit. What you call leaving us in the dark I would call providing us with several points of light. Some films that create open endings do not deserve credit because they are awkwardly trying to compensate for not knowing how to end. However, BLOW-UP's ending is completely consistent with the rest of the film's thematic structure and it augments what has already been a highly intelligent and thought-provoking piece of filmmaking. Honestly, BLOW-UP has one of the most brilliant finales to a film that I've ever seen (another great ending being Tarkovsky's SOLARIS, which also allows for multiple interpretations and not because it's clueless but because it's very intelligent). I have my own interpretation of BLOW-UP's ending, but it could also be taken in several other ways. And yes, for my money, it deserves credit for even trying to engage your mind or spark your intellectual creativity.

Anyway, here's my defense and reading of the ending: Up until its ending, The film has been all about alienation within a specific environment, and the sort of meaning we seek through various outlets. Thomas is our alienated man who perfunctorily leads a glamorous and decadent and ultimately empty lifestyle, yet he only comes to life when: A). he is taking pictures and B). he feels himself being pulled into a mystery. Now, for anyone who likes film or fantasy or, like Don Quixote, just wants a taste for adventure by escaping into imagination, Thomas' pull towards the mystery is entirely relatable. And for anyone who thrives on doing the thing they love and struggles with anything else, Thomas' devotion to his camera is also relatable. The entire film has been about forming this connection between Thomas and the mystery he has found doing the thing he loves the most: he thinks he has photographed a murder. At the close of the film, Thomas goes to the location of the murdered man (we can imagine with hopes of solving the case or becoming more embroiled in the mystery), but the man is no longer there, and he has found nothing. Thomas is disappointed and confused, just as we are as an audience. We are interested in the mystery just like him because just like him we too also want to escape into fantasy or find connection to something alien to ourselves. If the film had ended here, we could say that Antonioni didn't know how to end his film and that he left us in the dark, but there is another scene! Seemingly disconnected from everything else we have seen (except for the opening shot), this final scene serves as the ultimate conclusion to our theme of alienation and connection. The mystery isn't important (something we have to deal with just like Thomas); what's important is this carrying out our main theme.

In the last scene of the film, Thomas stumbles upon a gang of mimes recalled from the film's opening shot (I'll come back to this). The mimes start to play an invisible game of tennis. Thomas sees the mimes playing, but he isn't watching their game until the "ball" is hit over the fence and "lands" behind him. Right at this moment, Thomas has a choice between seeking the ball and throwing it back, thus buying into the reality of the game, or walking away and refusing to believe in the validity of the game. This choice right here is exactly the one we were given the moment the film started when we saw the mimes and the choice every filmgoer is given every time he or she sits down to watch a movie. It's the choice of believing in the imaginary world of the screen as if it were real or choosing not to do so. It's the cinematic equivalent of "Call me Ishmael" at the start of MOBY DICK. If you agree to call the narrator Ishmael then you have bought into the imaginary reality of the work itself; if you do not agree to call him Ishmael then you are rejecting the imaginary space of the novel. The mime bookending of BLOW-UP is the ultimate screen symbol for our choice to suspend our disbelief and embrace the fantasy of art or fictional storytelling.

And it completely works with the film's central theme of alienation and connection because Thomas chooses to "see" the ball and throw it back to the mimes. After he does this, we see his eyes following the ball (he believes in the game), and we even start to hear the sound of tennis being played (the ball has come to life!). The invisible game he is watching is exactly like his connection to photography and the mystery he thought he had found; he chose to believe in both and found meaning in them. They came to life for him just like the tennis ball. And just like the tennis ball, the film has come to life before us if we have chosen to believe in it from the start, just like any film comes to life for us if we are willing to believe, even for just 90 mintues, that its imaginary world exists as if it were real.

The film's ending lets us know that it is okay to find reality in fantasy, to believe in art, and to embrace meaning wherever we can find it. The only thing that matters is that Thomas believes in the game in the end. Fuck the solution to the mystery (just like fuck answers to questions sometimes or fuck straightforward endings sometimes)–what's important is that he connected to the mystery in the first place.

Brandon, your problem is that you never chose to believe in the film from the start, therefore, you weren't interested in finding its deeper meaning. You can call the film boring if you'd like, but please do not call the film worthless beyond its color or Yardbirdiness. There's a profundity, a richness, and even a beauty to it if you choose to believe in its right to exist.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Brandon's list

Great list, my man. Let's chat (or pretend to while you are off making us proud).

I've yet to see THE BAD SLEEP WELL, but I'm an enormous Kurosawa fan, as you know. He definitely excels at humorous and adventurous material like the great John Ford. But I'm also of a fan of his more solemn or humanistic works. You know I love IKIRU, but I've also never mentioned how much I love RED BEARD. I think that is one of his kindest and most beautiful films, and I'll be curious to see how you evaluate it in '65. Looking forward to seeing this one though. Any Kurosawa film is a treat.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a very worthy remake and a great stand alone film in its own right (Still nowhere near the original though, in my opinion). It's interesting that SEVEN SAMURAI and YOJIMBO were remade as westerns because they were both so heavily inspired by westerns to begin with. I think the samurai to western transition is just as ripe as say film noir to western. All three genres have serious overlaps and compliment each other very well. What a terrific idea to realize how nicely SEVEN SAMURAI would work as a western, and of course it is handled deftly by Sturges and infused with life by such a great cast. An awesome film that earns its popularity and lasting appeal.

Need to see LES BONNES FEMMES (nice that it's on NWI). As I mentioned to you, I watched my first Chabrol film recently as well: THE COUSINS from a year before in 1959. "One of the best things about these Cashier alum is their way of showing us the town they know so well." Absolutely. I would say the same for THE COUSINS, as I think one of its strong points is the sense of youth culture it captures. It gives you a strong sense of a specific time and place in France, and how it was influencing Chabrol to tell films about the people he knew or the places he was familiar with. It felt personal, like a lot of the best New Wave films. Looking forward to seeing this, as well.

THE APARTMENT is a great comedy, indeed. It's funny and sweet, and has some of the most beautiful cinematography of any comedy ever. I think it's a joy to watch like most of Wilder's films. He was a great writer, one of the best in Hollywood–efficient, intelligent, witty, and entertaining. And I think he brought these same sort of qualities to his films as a director. Regardless of how they varied in quality, his films were invariably entertaining. Personally, I've always found his films to be a blast, and don't understand his detractors either.

COMANCHE STATION was my first foray into the oft praised Scott/Boetticher partnership, and I can't say I was disappointed one bit. Gorgeous film to look at, but also just a consistent, lean, and enjoyable narrative. What more could one ask for from a western? As John would say, it delivers the goods. I agree with everything you wrote. The ending is lovely and might I even add moving. Our hero has reunited loved ones the way he wishes he could with his own; he looks on as a lonesome guardian, vigilant to save others from ever having to experience a pain he knows all to well. Great film.

Need to see THE YOUNG ONE badly and for exactly the reason you gave. You've been reading my mail.

A terrible shame what happened to Michael Powell after the brilliant PEEPING TOM. One of England's finest directors reduced to a pariah for what is actually one of his most creative and bold visions, and one of the best horror films around. It's creepy, beautiful, and opens with that ingenuous POV sequence. An operatic horror film that ranks among the great director's best and most dazzling work. Thanks for your help again, Marty. Always great to have him in your corner.

Can't disagree with anything Chris said about PSYCHO or with your placement of it. Love it unconditionally, and have been itching to watch it again.

I can, however, disagree with whatever idiot provided that write-up for THE VIRGIN SPRING. What a douche.

Can't disagree with your esteem of SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. It's brilliant work and Truffaut's best film. I first heard about it as a teenager when I read that it was Bob Dylan's favorite film, and then saw it and loved it. It's been too long, so it's probably worth a revisit sometime. Solid choice, of course though.

I definitely recommend watching LA DOLCE VITA again. It's one of my favorite movies. I think there is a lot there to appreciate and enjoy, even if you aren't a huge Fellini fan. I think it's the tops.

I would also recommend seeing Luchiano Visconti's ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS. It's incredible and also one of my favorites. Been a while since I last saw it, but it's really great and worth seeing for sure. Get your Alain Delon fix.

Again, great list! Looking forward to the rest.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Leave her to hell

Brandon, thanks for your response. The burn-out from watching too many movies in a short period of time is apparent, but you're right, I feel revived after a days rest or so. Because I definitely want to watch so many movies; it's not that I'm forcing myself ever. I enjoy using any free time to myself to watch a movie. Making lists is just a great excuse to watch a bunch of awesome movies.

I definitely respect and appreciate RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES for all the reasons you gave and the reasons John gave as well. I'm not knocking it. It's good for what it is (and better than a lot of the shit blockbusters one could have seen this past summer). Like Chris said, I wasn't bashing it by calling it ridiculous, just describing it.

Is one of the long takes in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN you are thinking of the stairwell crane shot at the opera? I guess I didn't spot any specific long takes because I'm so used to them in his films. Everything stood out. I know that Le PLAISIR has that elaborate crane shot of the front of the brothel, LA RONDE has that opening tracking shot, and THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... has too many insanely complex shots of movement through seemingly confining interior space, so maybe I did miss the big ones from this. Which shots are you thinking of? Agreed completely on Ophüls here though. Calling him a visual genius is an understatement, but he also knew how to use his peerless talent to match the story.

Anyway, before I get to LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, I forgot to mention in that roundup that I had watched two of your favorites recently as well: GUN CRAZY and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

GUN CRAZY is incredible. A doomed romance about our obsessions and the strange places they can lead us. The only thing that Bart is more obsessed about than guns is Annie and the only thing that Annie is more obsessed about than guns is a man who isn't afraid to use one. The mixing of sexual desire with violence, crime, and danger must have seemed shocking at the time (if anyone even saw it much then). Lewis directs the thing with lots of style and energy; it's exciting, highly sexual, and always compelling. We care about Bart. He's basically a good, moral person who is bewitched by Annie's handling of a gun (Hey, get your head out of the gutter!).
Ah, the things one will do for sex and love. Great film.

I first heard about THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY right after I joined film club. I was searching through your blog history and found a post you had on it from 2009 under the "my essentials" heading:
Anyway, I've been wanting to see it since then, but it's not on netflix at all (and TCM hasn't shown it all year) so I never thought I would. Luckily, I happened to be searching youtube for old movies the other day and found the whole thing in superb quality on there. Which I'm really glad about because I loved it. I think your post on it is awesome, and I really couldn't add anything to it. I loved the idea of a guy using fantasy and daydreams to escape the reality of everyday life; it's almost a metaphor for how we watch movies. As someone who frequently daydreams, I thought the film was a really fun and hilarious look at how we imagine ourselves in various roles. Kaye is wonderful as Walter, Virginia Mayo is gorgeous as always, and the rest of the cast does terrific comedic work (some of the best scenes involve Walter's interaction with people around him once he's been caught in some ridiculous situation or other). All of the fantasy sequences are really inventive and beautifully realized. The whole movie is basically a blast as there are so many different elements and genres at work. A joy to watch. Let's hope that Ben Stiller remake falls through.

All right, let's get one thing straight: Gene Tierney is completely beautiful and seeing her in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR or HEAVEN CAN WAIT you just imagine her as one of the loveliest and sweetest women around. So boy was I surprised to find her as an insane monster in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Brandon warned me that she was indeed ugly in this one, but I was still shocked by how truly horrific she was. She's absolutely repulsive in this film, which only makes me appreciate her as an actress so much more. What a transformation. The first time Richard gets an idea of her wild jealousy, the camera cuts to a close-up of her face and she looks absolutely demonic. Who would have thought those green eyes could look so terrifying? Amazing performance by Tierney, and an absolutely chilling and shocking noir in general (could probably qualify as a horror film actually). The use of color is remarkable as well and the interior lighting often looks deep orange as if the sun were constantly setting; it's highly effective and unsettling.

1960 list! Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Another roundup

I've been watching too many movies. This roundup only covers some of the movies I've watched in the past week or so. I'm too lazy to write more. Hopefully all that January posting didn't burn me out. I don't really have anything insightful to say about any of these. Sorry:

The Descendants - Better than I expected it to be, if only because it tries to give most of its characters a fair shot instead of just painting them with one brush and leaving it at that. At times too cliched, but with a few surprising moments of actual pathos/tenderness that make it rise above being merely Dan in Real Life 2. It won’t crack my top 10, but I at least liked it, which I guess is a victory for the film considering I thought I’d hate it. If anyone wants to talk more about it, we certainly can.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Ridiculous but earnest. Wisely tries to limit its scope (unlike most modern blockbusters) and doesn’t feel like the money-grubbing, soulless venture it could have been. Suffers from being too cliched and poorly written at times, but like I said it mostly feels genuine, and for that it gets a pass.

Gilda (Vidor, 1946) - Is there anything more beautiful than snow in black-and-white? Rita Hayworth in this movie.

I Was Born, But... (Ozu, 1932) - Terrific silent comedy from Ozu about the clash between the young and the old and the differing forms of hierarchy they find themselves trapped in. Good Morning is supposedly a loose remake of this. There are certainly similar elements between the two, but they are completely distinctive I’d say. The scene where the boys have to watch their father’s antics for his boss is wonderful. The horror on their faces says more than any words ever could.

Early Spring (Ozu, 1956) - Another miracle from Ozu. A film filled with sadness and tenderness for nearly all the characters involved. The wife who is cheated on gets the most sympathy and deservedly so. We sense the growing distance between her and her husband and the empty space he leaves through his constant absence. It’s terribly sad. Luckily, the affair isn’t treated as a necessary or amusing fling but something of guilt and failure, which is exactly what the film needs.

The Talk of the Town (Stevens, 1942) - A fun and funny political comedy, that I’d say is one of Steven’s best efforts. I’m not a huge fan of him as a director (like Brandon and John), but I can get on board when he makes a charming film like this and has a talented cast to work with. Grant, Arthur, and Colman are a joy together.

Letter From an Unknown Woman (Ophüls, 1948) - Complete masterpiece of technique and storytelling. Complex, intricate, emotional–it stands alongside The Earrings of Madame de... as Ophüls' finest work.

The Naked Spur (Mann, 1953) - Mann and Stewart made a great team, and this is perhaps my favorite of their movies together (that I've seen). A little like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is a wonderful thing. Mann does a lot and tells a lot with seemingly so little; it’s almost like a great stage play. Beautiful locations too.

Pursued (Walsh, 1947) - Another incredible Noir-Western from Raoul Walsh. Just as good if not better than Colorado Territory, in my opinion. A complex story that only gets more involving as it goes along. At one point I tried counting how many layers of vengeance the film was working on but I started to loose track. A brilliant film, I’d say, as well as being exciting and emotionally involving. Plus, Robert Mitchum is the coolest. Highly recommended.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, 1959) - When it focuses on being a documentary or philosophical musing on the unspeakable crime that was committed on Hiroshima, it’s fantastic and haunting. The love story feels empty though. A beautifully shot and staged and highly intellectual film, but one that spends too much time asking us to care about the wrong thing.