Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Year Three

Once again I find myself in the position of having a bunch of films around me, but deciding not to end the year on a review. I said last month (I think) that getting to 230 left was doable, and I've missed that goal by two--I stand at 871 films reviewed and 232 to go from The List. Not bad.

As it turns out, December was still a massive month for me, and one in which I did complete a lot of goals. I've now watched all of the films on The List longer than three hours (actually, everything longer than 170 minutes). I've watched the first 200 (actually, the first 204). I've also watched all of the new additions. Pretty good.

All told, I put up 307 List reviews this year, which is more than I thought I'd do. I put up 29 other reviews, too, for a grand total of 336 reviews. With other posts here and there...that's a lot of writing.

All of this means that, barring serious incident, I'll finish in 2013, and this blog will head in a new direction. Stay tuned, folks--there's interesting stuff ahead.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

World on a String

Film: Being John Malkovich
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen

I’m going to get this out of the way right now—I’m going to take a load of heat for saying that I don’t love Being John Malkovich. I don’t hate it and I respect the hell out of it, but I don’t love it. It’s weird, and I like weird. It’s dark, and I like dark. But it’s also kind of hateful. The only really sympathetic character in the film is Malkovich himself, and even then, he’s only sympathetic for a short period of time. Yes, there are great scenes here, bits of cinematic genius that will continue to be referenced in years to come. But I just don’t love it. I mean, I almost wish this had been my first viewing of the film because at times, I just sort of wanted it done because I knew what was coming.

In a lot of ways, I dread movies like this one more than ones I outright hate. At least with a film I dislike intensely, I can muster up some good emotion and a few good quotes in the review. With Being John Malkovich, I’m more or less waiting for the end because I’m not specifically enjoying myself and I don’t have the sweet, sweet balm of righteous anger. It’s two hours of me looking at the screen like my dog does when it hears a noise it doesn’t recognize.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not-So-Innocents Abroad

Film: Viggio in Italia (Voyage in Italy; Journey to Italy)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop

I have a strange relationship with Robert Rossellini’s films. Viaggio in Italia (alternately Voyage in Italy or Journey to Italy) is the third of his films that I’ve seen, and I’ve liked all three. What’s interesting here, what makes my relationship with Rossellini’s films so unusual is that I can never remember what he’s directed. I had to look him up to remember that he did Paisa and Open City. I don’t know why this is. I sometimes get him mixed up with Bertolucci and Antonioni because they have long, Italian names. I should try to remember a little more clearly, really.

Viaggio in Italia is an almost plotless film that follows a very familiar scenario. It does it quite differently, though. Essentially, we have a married couple on a vacation experiencing significant problems. Typically, this makes for a comedy, but Viaggio in Italia is no comedy. Alex (George Sanders) and Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) Joyce are vacationing in Italy. They’re their because they have inherited villa they want to sell.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tsk-Tsk!

Film: Skammen (Shame); Shame
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop (Skammen); DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player (Shame)

Ingmar Bergman’s Skammen (Shame) is a very odd film in an important respect. The film depicts a couple caught up in the middle of a war, essentially as victims rather than as people on one side or the other, but I have no idea what war it’s supposed to be. From what I can determine, the war here is an allegorical one that exists mostly because Bergman wants to make a particular point about war. It makes this film an odd mixture of something like fact and something very much fiction.

Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann) Rosenberg live on an island away from most of the madding crowd. Both are former instrumentalists an a symphony, but have since retreated to this island house to get away from an unspecified civil war. While it’s a real enough war in the film itself, I have no idea what war it is representative of, since Sweden doesn’t get involved in wars that often, which is precisely why I suggest that this is a real story that takes place in an allegorical war. Regardless, the war finally comes to the island, first as threats and then as reality.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Things Santa Should Bring

Every year around this time, I offer up a list of 10 films that belong on the 1001 Movies list. so why break with tradition now? There are plenty of films that are important in real ways of great in the way that almost everyone agrees that make them required viewing for anyone serious about film. So without further ado, here in no particular order is this year's model.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Girls Gone Wild

Film: Thelma & Louise
Format: DVD from Genoa Public Library through interlibrary loan on kick-ass portable DVD player.

For the past year, on the last Tuesday of the month, I’ve put up a review of a film that I hadn’t seen but really should have at this point in my life. This was a part of Ryan McNeil’s Blindspot idea, asking bloggers to catch up on great, classic films of the past that we’re a little embarrassed that we hadn’t seen yet. I’ve seen some good ones this year, and I’m a much more complete film viewer. Now, I admit that all of these films were on my list anyway, so I’d have gotten around to them, but having that slight amount of structure has been fun. This month, though, the last Tuesday is Christmas, and I’m not watching a movie on Christmas. Instead, I’m doing this a day early. And that’s why, between last-minute shopping, a little wrapping, and getting the kitchen ready for tomorrow, I watched Thelma & Louise.

In a nutshell, bored and downtrodden housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) and her street smart and world-weary friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) plan a weekend trip, at least in theory going fishing at the cabin of a friend of Louise. On their first night out, they stop at a bar where Thelma drinks a little too much and dances with a guy named Harlan (Timothy Carhart). When Harlan gets a little too frisky and tries to rape Thelma, Louise responds by shooting Harlan in the chest. The women flee, trying to figure out what to do.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Me, Myself, and I

Film: In a Lonely Place
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

After a delay for wrapping Christmas presents and not quite enough sleep, here is your review.

I have a real fondness of Humphrey Bogart. Lots of people play tough guys in films, but Bogart had something about him particular that most don’t. Bogart played tough guys with a streak of vulnerability. Even his best characters are damaged goods, and it’s the damage that makes them interesting. His character in In a Lonely Place is one of the most damaged of his career, probably the most damaged since Treasure of the Sierra Madre or after. There’s always something of the anti-hero in Bogart, even when he’s playing more noble than the rest of the cast put together.

Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place is the sort of lurid Hollywood tale that, with a less stellar cast, would be memorable only for the more vicious moments and potential shock value. With Bogart in the lead role, though, it transcends its genre and becomes something far more interesting.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Thermos Song

Film: The Jerk
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

When Steve Martin is good, he’s really, really good. He’s not someone who works well with bad material, though. Steve Martin’s bad movies are really, really bad, not even “so bad they’re good” bad. Ask anyone who’s seen Sgt. Bilko; they’re unwatchable. But with good material, Martin is a decent actor with great comic timing. He rises or sinks to the level of what is written for him. This makes The Jerk interesting.

The Jerk is Martin’s first major role, and his first film role in general excepting a part in the excremental Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a couple of moments in The Muppet Movie. It’s a dumb movie, filled with stupid humor where what is said or done is just off-kilter from what is expected. It works because Martin is funny and charming and it works at times in spite of itself. But mostly, it demonstrates that Martin is capable of being funny and silly and strange and endearing on film. It’s not really that much of a surprise, since a good deal of the script was written based on parts of Martin’s acclaimed stand-up act.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What Happened to 1-6?

Film: The Seventh Victim
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I lke films that bear the stamp of Val Lewton, or at least I like the ones I’ve seen. There’s a particular vibe to the films that Lewton produced, and idea that strikes me as odd. Typically, I look at films and not the hallmarks of particular directors or actors. With Lewton’s films, though, the director and who is starring feel much less important. It’s Lewton who comes through.

One of Lewton’s signatures is thriller films that imply much more than they show. Cat People, for instance, does a lot with a few shadows and some sound and not much else—the joy of intelligent direction on the cheap. The use of light and shadow, the lurid, often sexual topics—these are Lewton’s most commonly reference hallmarks. However, for me, the most telling thing about a Val Lewton film is that those that I have seen typically focus on a woman who is tied to a terrible fate that she cannot get beyond. Often there is another woman who has a larger role in the film, acting as an observer on the tragedy of the woman who is the central focus. This is certainly the case with The Seventh Victim.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Brutality

Film: Irreversible
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s evident within the first minute of Irreversible that it’s going to be a rough ride. That first minute, when we see the closing credits of the film indicate that nothing is going to be what we expect here. What follows is one of the most disturbing and upsetting 100 minutes ever seen on film. Certainly there are films that go to more difficult or horrible places than Irreversible, but none that I can think of with this combination of horrifying imagery and physically upsetting camerawork and ugly headspace. Irreversible is less of a movie than it is a visual and physical assault on the nervous system. I’m not entirely sure how to process it.

Irreversible is not the first film in the new French Extreme, but it is one of the most infamous. I’m not going to attempt much of a plot summary here beyond the basics. Alex (Monica Bellucci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) are in a relationship and Alex discovers she is pregnant. However, there are problems with the relationship because Marcus drinks too much and flirts with other women. Angered, Alex leaves a party and encounters a man named Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) who is viciously beating a transgendered prostitute named Concha (Jara-Millo). He turns his attention from Concha to Alex and brutally rapes her. Marcus and his friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) then hunt for Tenia and exact a brutal revenge. All of this is show in reverse order. We see the aftermath, then the revenge, then the rape, then the lead up to the rape, and then Marcus’s and Alex’s life before these incidents.

Bonjour, Y'all

Film: Paris, Texas
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

There is a dreamy quality to the work of Wim Wenders. In a film like Der Himmel Uber Berlin, this quality is so evident as to not really need to be mentioned. With Paris, Texas, it’s much less apparent, but it’s still there. This is a slow film—I’ve seen slower, but not many that are this methodically pleased with themselves to take a long time to get to the intent. For me, it’s a huge help that Harry Dean Stanton is front and center and on camera for the bulk of the film. Roger Ebert once penned the Stanton-Walsh rule, which states that with the exception of Chattahoochee, no film that has M. Emmett Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton in a support role can be all bad. Paris, Texas is an indicator that in Stanton’s case, he can include lead roles in that.

A man (Stanton) walks through the desert, and it’s somehow evident that he’s in or near Texas (although that might well be the name of the film). He finds a bar and collapses inside. We switch to Walt (Dean Stockwell), who is evidently the man’s brother. Walt, who lives in Los Angeles, flies down to Texas (see! I was right) to get his brother, who is named Travis, but the silent brother has disappeared. Walt tracks him down and tells him that he’d like to take him to Los Angeles. Eventually, Travis speaks. We learn that he has a child named Hunter (Hunter Carson, the son of one of the screenwriters) and that he refuses to fly, so instead they drive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The New York Thruway's Closed, Man!

Film: Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music
Format: DVD from NetFlix on various players.

I try to keep a careful watch on my NetFlix queue so that I get a film I’m in the mood to see or one that fits my schedule. Imagine my chagrin when I realized that just after I finished watching Short Cuts, the second-longest film I had left, the next thing to show up was the full director’s cut of Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music, a nearly four-hour documentary on the festival held in 1969. I shook my head and gritted my teeth, and thought that at the very least, it would be the last of the three-hour-plus movies.

Yeah. And once again, I need to learn to trust. While this is not a perfect documentary, it’s a really good one. I admit that I expected a lot of the music to wash over me, too. Some of it did, but not all of it. This is a smart, well-designed film that deserves to be put in the same sort of category as other well-regarded documentaries like Hoop Dreams. That it was edited in part by a young Martin Scorsese is just a bonus.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Soap Opera

Film: Short Cuts
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve been making a concerted effort for some time to get through the longest films on the list. Specifically, as much as possible, I’ve tried to hit two very long films (at least) every month. This has gotten me to a place where I have only two films of longer than three hours left. One of these is Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. This marks the fourth time I’ve check this film out from the Rockford Library. I just can’t get into it. I’ve seen the opening 10 minutes at least four times now, and I just stumble every time. I’m not exactly sure why this is. It might be that I have issues with Altman sometimes. His films are long and rambling and feature massive casts. Maybe it’s something more specific about this film. I’m not sure. But anyway, there it is. I have long had a mental block when it comes to Altman’s Short Cuts.

Part of the reason is probably that Altman’s films are difficult to summarize, and I’ve put myself in the position of summarizing the films I watch as a matter of course. This film, though, has such a large cast with so many interconnections that to adequately define everything and everyone would take nearly as long as watching the film itself. There’s just too dang much. To put it simply, Short Cuts is based on the writings of Raymond Carver. It is a slice of the lives of a couple of dozen people, all intertwined and interconnected in various ways. In a lot of ways, a film like this is the natural parent of something like Crash or the less well-known 11:14 (you’re welcome, Nick), in that it shows how each live touches others and all of our lives are connected, however tenuously.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Darkness from Disney

Film: Pinocchio; Fantasia; Dumbo
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television (Pinocchio; Fantasia); streaming video from NetFlix on laptop (Dumbo).

As much as I would have loved to have posted this last night, I fell asleep. I watched all of these on Saturday, which means that some references to “today” might come off as strange. Anyway, better late than never, right?

I think I’d seen Pinocchio years ago because I remember specific parts of it, but I really can’t be sure if that’s because I’ve seen the film or seen clips of it. In a lot of ways, despite knowing the story, this was my first viewing of the film, the second full-length, story-driven animated feature from Disney. The story may not have been well known at the time, but has become (thanks in no small part to this film) a beloved story of many.

So, quick summary. An old carpenter named Geppetto (Christian Rub) makes a little marionette of a boy under the watchful eyes of his kitten Figaro and his goldfish Cleo. That night, Geppetto makes a wish on a star that the puppet, which he named Pinocchio (Dickie Jones), would come to life. Because this is Disney and a fairy tale of sorts, the wish comes kind of true. The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) awakens Pinocchio and tells him that if he is good, he can become a real boy. To help him, she appoints Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) as his out-of-body conscience.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Heaven Can't Wait

Film: A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

If people ask me why I watch movies from a list based on what other people think is worth watching, I point to films like A Matter of Life and Death (alternately titled Stairway to Heaven in the U.S.). This is not a film I’d have picked up without being told I should watch it, and I couldn’t be happier that I spent my time with it tonight. This is not just a charming little fantasy, but a very smart film, one that beautifully blends fantasy and reality, deals with questions of law, justice, and love, and manages all of this neatly and efficiently. It also gives me another look at the great Roger Livesey, who I need no excuse to watch.

The film takes place at the tail end of World War II. Pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) is trying to limp home, but knows his plane can’t make it. His crew has already bailed out, and his radio operator (Robert Coote) has been killed. Peter radios in and contacts American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) and tells her what has happened. He also tells her that he’d love to meet her for real, but that he’s going to jump out of the plane. Normally, that’s not a big deal, but his chute and the remaining chute on board have been destroyed. He knows it’s a death sentence, but he’d rather jump than burn. And so, wishing only for time to truly meet June, he jumps.

Saccharine

Film: The Sound of Music
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

You should know off the bat that I really hate The Sound of Music. I hate every glurge-soaked moment of this film, every over-eager, exaggerated expression of joy and forced laugh, every sugary, syrupy song, every gloppy, saccharine frame of this celluloid diabetic coma. I reserve the right to root for the Germans in two films: Das Boot and this one. I’m saying this at the top because obviously these opinions are going to dramatically influence what I have to say in the paragraphs to come.

Maria (Julie Andrews) is attempting to become a nun in an Austrian convent, but she’s far too much of a free spirit. Instead of staying at home and being penitent, she’s compelled to run off to the mountains and traipse around singing about how those mountains are filled with music. Of course they’re filled with music; she’s running around singing. When she comes back, she finds the nuns singing about how they should solve a problem like her. I have a suggestion. It involves a garrote made of piano wire.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Half an Hour in Hell

Film: Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I’ve said before that there is probably no event of human experience more fully explored in film than World War II. When it comes to World War II, there is probably no event more extensively written about and filmed than the Holocaust. I have, over the course of this odyssey, seen more than my share of Holocaust-based films. None have been as brutal, as powerful, or as morally shocking as Alain Resnais’s Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog). Even the overwhelming emotional assault of Shoah cannot compare with the stark atrocity depicted in this film.

Really, I’m left with very little to say about this film. Most of us have seen some of the images of the gaunt stick figures, the shattered bodies, the skulls, the crematoria, but being exposed to them in the past is no inoculation against seeing them here. These images are, of course, of critical importance for anyone to see—they record one of the darkest and most evil times in human history, an industry of human slaughter designed only to kill as efficiently as possible. Even these, though, are not the truly awful images that stay with the viewer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joseph Conrad

Film: Apocalypse Now; Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players (Apocalypse); DVD from NetFlix on laptop (Hearts).

It’s not easy to write about Apocalypse Now because so much has already been written about it. I’ll come clean at the start here and say that I think it’s the best Vietnam War film ever made and one of the best war films in general. When I was younger, I’d have picked Full Metal Jacket. FMJ is underrated—the opening half is so good that people forget just how solid the second half is. But Apocalypse Now is the full package. It conveys not only the battlefield of the war, but the mental landscape as well. It’s as much a physical depiction of the war as it is an emotional reaction to it.

Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) has returned to Saigon after rotating back to the U.S. following his first tour. He spends a week in a hotel room slowly going crazy until he is given an assignment. His mission is to commandeer a boat and take it up river into Cambodia and take out a man named Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has gone off the rails from the more standard operating procedure of the U.S. military. Accompanying him on this mission are the crew of his boat: Chief (Albert Hall), who wants to keep his men safe and make it back; “Chef” Hicks (Frederic Forrest), a New Orleans saucier who really just wants to make food; “Clean” (Laurence Fishburne), a young kid who possibly lied about his age to join the military; and Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms), a world-class surfer-turned-sailor.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Alpha to Omega

Film: The Tree of Life
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I won’t for a moment pretend that I fully understand everything that Terrence Malick was trying to do with The Tree of Life. The film I am most immediately put in mind of, though, is 2001: A Space Odyssey, although I also found moments where I thought of Koyaanisqatsi on a galactic scale. There is a great deal of power and beauty to the images that Malick gives us. This is a view of life in all aspects, from the very beginnings of the universe and the formation of our world to the individual lives of a handful of people. Much of this film looks like a nature documentary. Most puzzling to me is the fact that The Tree of Life is deeply philosophical, but I cannot determine if it is suggesting that the source of life is a deity or if there is no ultimate purpose to the universe and that life (all life) is its own reward. What’s more, I think it can be interpreted either way accurately. Religious or not, this film is all about the spirituality of existence.

This film is more or less about events in the life of Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn). As the film opens, we learn of the death of his younger brother. We flash forward to the present, and Jack is apologizing to his father (Brad Pitt) about something he said regarding his brother’s death. Jack is adrift in his life, apparently successful, but suddenly unfocused. He begins to think about his childhood (where he is played by Hunter McCracken, the real star of this film) and his relationship with his parents. His father is domineering and dominating while his mother (Jessica Chastain) is more open and loving.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Psychobabble

Film: Marnie; Spellbound
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

I’m going to spoil Marnie. I’m going to be upfront about this on the off chance that you, Dear Reader, haven’t yet seen it and don’t want it spoiled. If that is the case, jump down to the second picture in this review, because I won’t be spoiling the second film. In the case of Marnie, though, I figure I’m doing everybody a service. This is a film that deserves to be spoiled. That’s not something I expected to say about a Hitchcock film, but this one deserves it for being the Freudian mess that it is.

Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is one messed up little chickadee. She works a con in which she gets hired as a bookkeeper or accountant at a firm, works there for awhile until the circumstances are right, and then steals as much as she can from the company safe. Then she changes her identity by putting her hair back to its natural blonde color, and moving to another city after visiting her rather cold and distant mother in Baltimore. She also has a significant problem with thunderstorms and can’t abide the color red. In fact, red drives her berserk.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The High Cost of Rice

Film: Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve said this before, but it’s relevant today: my favorite Kurosawa film is the one I’ve watched the most recently. What that means is if you ask me for my favorite Kurosawa film, as of right now, it’s Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai). Really, there aren’t any bad choices when it comes to Kurosawa’s great films. There’s no shame in picking this one, at least temporarily.

The story is simple enough that it was adapted into the classic Western The Magnificent Seven. While there are certainly cultural aspects of the film that are uniquely Japanese, the story itself translates to the American West very easily. We have a village of farmers who are constantly being harassed by a collection of bandits. Recognizing that they stole the village’s rice earlier in the year, the bandits decide that they will come back for the barley when it has been harvested. One of the farmers overhears this and returns to the village with the bad news. The old man of the village is consulted. He recommends that they hire samurai to fight off the bandits. However, since they have only food to offer, he suggests they look for hungry samurai.

Friday, December 7, 2012

London's Burning

Film: Fires Were Started (I Was a Fireman)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

There’s always something fascinating to me about propaganda films, especially those that try to proclaim themselves something other than propaganda films. A case in point is director Humphrey Jennings’s Fires Were Started (also called I Was a Fireman). This is a wartime film, released during World War II about the Blitz of London and the men who risked their lives as firefighters every night in the aftermath of the latest raid. It’s not really a documentary, but rather a re-creation using actual fires lighted on bombed-out buildings. It’s more or less based on the specific hell these men and women when through on a nightly basis.

Really, what I’ve said above is pretty much the bulk of the film. The first half consists of a group of firemen relaxing and jawing with each other. They play pool and gather around the piano singing songs. This is particularly important since one of them, a man named Barrett, is new on the squad. The second half of the film is little more than the various firefighting teams heading out to battle the blazes caused by yet another bombing run. In particular, one fire threatens to be significant thanks to the location of live munitions near the blaze.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reality Scramble

Film: Total Recall
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player

It may just be the small bits of latent fanboy in me, but I sometimes get a real kick out of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know he’s really at his best in roles that don’t involve a lot of dialogue (like The Terminator), but there’s a certain camp appeal to Arnie that I find entertaining. There’s always the potential for a couple of bad puns when he kills someone and you can general bet that he’ll yell, “Come on! Hurry up!” or something to that effect to whoever the woman in the picture is. Yes, a lot of his films are crap, and Arnold is never going to go down in history as a great thespian, but damn, he’s fun to watch.

And sometimes, he’s in really entertaining movies. A case in point is Total Recall, based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” On the surface, it couldn’t be simpler. A guy wants to take a trip to Mars where there is currently civil unrest. As it turns out, he’s an agent under deep cover, and the trip brings out some significant problems.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sister Sister

Film: Hannah and Her Sisters
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I like Woody Allen. I know his personal life is strange and a little creepy, but I really don’t care that much. The man makes a lot of really good films. He’s also remarkably consistent, putting out about a film a year for as long as I can remember without too many misses. Sure, when Allen is bad, he’s really bad. When he’s self-indulgent, he’s really self-indulgent. And when he misses, he misses big. But I respect that, too. When he misses, it’s because he’s swinging for the fences. Even when he doesn’t hit a home run, he still manages to get safely on base.

Hannah and Her Sisters is very Woody Allen. Even better, it’s very Woody Allen right in the heart of a string of some of his best films, back when almost everything he did came with multiple Oscar nominations. And with reason. His films were (and often still are) uniformly smart, funny, tragic, and poignant, blending everyday life, problems with relationships, and philosophical topics under one roof. This is one of the main reasons I like his films so much—they attempt a lot in one package, and often work on multiple levels very effectively.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ride Like an Egyptian

Film: Bab el Hadid (The Iron Gate; Cairo Station)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Egypt is a country with a strange identity. It’s an African country that most people don’t think of as an African country. It’s far more easily identified as an Arabic country, but there’s something Western about it as well. Bab el Hadid (alternately called The Iron Gate and Cairo Station) takes place in Cairo, and it presents an interesting blend of Arab and West in pursuit of a story that quickly becomes dark and then gets darker.

The owner of a newsstand in the train station in Cairo takes pity on a mildly crippled man named Qinawi (director Youssef Chahine), giving him a job selling newspapers around the station. This handicap, and his threadbare existence make him less than attractive to the many women who also work in the train station, but this doesn’t stop him from being filled with desire for them. In particular, he is obsessed with Hanuma (Hind Rostom), a woman who illegally sells cold drinks to train passengers (illegal because it takes business away from the man who runs the concession stands).

Monday, December 3, 2012

14 Will Get You 20

Film: Lolita
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I was tempted, very tempted, to put “comedy” in the tags for this review of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. Despite being most definitely a devious domestic drama and a twisted and disturbing romance, there is a definite sense of black humor running through the entire thing. In many ways, the situation is so perverse and the editing so severe because of its perversity and the Hays Code, it almost needs to be viewed as comic. I’m also going to annoy a few people with this review; in the 1001 Movies blogging community, Lolita is regularly seen as the least of Kubrick’s films on the list. I found a strange pleasure in it, a bit of cinematic schadenfreude.

For those who don’t know the story, allow me to sum it up very quickly: academic and quirkily named Humbert Humbert (James Mason) takes a position in the United States. The summer before, he moves to a small town and takes a room in the home of a widow named Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters). He agrees to stay because of the seductive power of Charlotte’s daughter, Lolita (Sue Lyons). Eventually, Humbert-squared marries Charlotte to get closer to his new step-daughter, and he eventually embarks on a sexual relationship with the young girl. This is pretty much the plot of Nabokov’s book as well. The only major change made by Kubrick is upping her age (roughly 14 in the film, 12 in the novel).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Family Life

Film: Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

For a brief time in my life, I was working on a Master’s in linguistic anthropology. One of the requirements was to take at least one class in each of the four main branches of anthro—linguistic, cultural, physical, and archaeology. I gravitated toward linguistic, naturally enough, but I liked cultural and archaeology as well. What consistently struck me about cultural anthropology was that despite many vast differences between cultures, there were also a number of similarities. This, more than anything, is the lesson I took from Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation).

The initial question for a film like this for a Western audience is “What does divorce look like in the Muslim world?” The stereotype, naturally is that Islamic women don’t have anything like the same rights and privileges afforded to women in Western democracies. Is this true? I honestly don’t know, but Jodaeiye Nader az Simin makes a pretty compelling case that a lot of what we’ve been told about life in Iran isn’t exactly the gospel truth. We start with our troubled couple, Nader (Payman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami). They have received their visas to leave the country after a long wait and have only 40 days remaining on them. Simin is desperate to leave the country, particularly for the fate of her young daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). However, Nader refuses to leave because his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Month 35 Status Report

I'm happy November is over. I fell drastically behind this month, taking out only 21 films, far short of my stated goal of 25. Additionally, two of those films were shorts that combined added up to less than an hour. Oh, well. Not every month can be a winner.

I stand at 262 films to go. The goal for December is to finish the rest of the movies still to go between numbers 100 and 199, the three latest additions I haven't seen, and the remaining films longer than three hours. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Overall, I'm still right where I want to be. More importantly, I now have access to all of the remaining films on the list, which is a huge load off my mind. Here's to finishing the year strong!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mob Rule

Film: The Ox-Bow Incident
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I don’t consider myself much of an expert when it comes to Westerns. I like a few and am neutral on a lot of others. I genuinely like The Ox-Bow Incident, though, because it’s a Western that doesn’t need to be one. This is a story that could just as easily play out in a number of other situations with a few minor tweaks and changes. It has some interesting parallels to another Henry Fonda classic, 12 Angry Men, but it takes a much darker turn. For all its horses and cattle and riding on the range, though, The Ox-Bow Incident is a morality play about mob justice and the regular part of the human condition that involves shooting first and aiming later.

As with many films that are a black-and-white morality tale, the story is simple. A small Western town is plagued with cattle rustling, which is naturally a problem for the various ranchers in the area. When one of the locals turns up murdered, though, things get serious. With the sheriff out of town, the deputy forms a posse to track down the killers. The posse contains many members of the town, but is effectively led by the bloodthirsty Farnley (Marc Lawrence) and “Major” Tetley (Frank Conroy). Going along for the ride are our main characters, Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan), in part to further quell any suspicion that they might be guilty of the rustling. Also along for the ride are Davies (Harry Davenport), who wants to see real justice done and Sparks (an uncredited Leigh Whipper), the self-taught African-American preacher who is there because he fears the results of unchecked “justice” at the hands of an emotional and unruly mob.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Misplaced Affections

Film: Die Bitteren Tranen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

This is going to be…interesting. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say about Fassbinder’s Die Bitteren Traned der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) aside from the following statement: this is the best boring movie I have seen in a long time. Fassbinder is an interesting director, and he gives us a lot to look at in this one, but there’s not much happening for the bulk of it. We don’t hit Jeanne Dielmann levels of dull, but there’s a lot of static shots of people standing around. At times, it put me in mind of Last Year at Marienbad, and this is never a good thing.

Our title character (Margit Carstensen) is allegedly a very successful fashion designer. She lives in Bremen with a servant/slave named Marlene (Irm Hermann), who never talks. Petra is abusive and cruel to Marlene, and it’s soon evident that this is a pretty co-dependent relationship. She is visited by her cousin Sidonie (Katrin Schaake), and the two talk about their relationships, and in Petra’s case, what went wrong in both of her marriages. Soon, a friend of Sidonie’s named Karin (Hanna Schygulla) arrives, and Petra is immediately smitten. She offers to turn Karin into a model, and Karin accepts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Squee! Squee!

Film: Deliverance
Format: DVD from personal collection on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

If there are two things that everyone, even those who haven’t seen it, know about Deliverance, it’s the opening with “Dueling Banjos” and Ned Beatty being forced to squeal like a pig. There’s a lot more to this film, of course, but those two things are by far the most memorable. This is a film that in many ways defined a particular part of the world. Just as Jaws made beaches a lot scarier and Fatal Attraction made the idea of marital infidelity a lot less attractive, Deliverance put the fear of the backwoods and the inbred into the city folk. This is not without good reason.

In many ways, Deliverance is a high concept film: “Four city men paddle down a river and run into significant trouble with the locals.” Getting there, though, puts us through a terribly rough ride. Once things start to go bad, they don’t stop. Deliverance takes its time for the first 40 minutes or so and then accelerates into increasing amounts of real, believable terror for the next hour or so.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Bicycle Built for None

Film: Le Gamin au Velo (The Kid with a Bike)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Watching a lot of films causes some constant reevaluation. For instance, when I started this blog, I was convinced that Bobby, the kid from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still was easily the stupidest kid I’d ever seen in a film. Well, I’ve now seen Le Gamin au Velo (The Kid with a Bike), and thus the reevaluation. For the opening scenes, Cyril (Thomas Doret) eclipses Bobby in the stupid department, and also manages to be quite the little shit. As the film progresses, he doesn’t get much smarter or less shitty, either. Strap in, because he’s in almost every frame.

Cyril is a troubled child. Some of this comes from the fact that he is absolutely rock stupid. Actually, that may be unfair. It’s entirely possible that the kid is brutally stupid, and just as possible that he’s merely stubborn and unteachable to a psychotic degree. He’s been trying to reconnect with his father for a month, and it’s soon evident that his father has abandoned him at an orphanage. This doesn’t stop Cyril from running away to his dad’s former apartment and trying to break in or repeatedly calling the now-disconnected number over and over. He claims he just wants his bike back. At one point, Cyril searches for sanctuary in a doctor’s office and clutches onto a woman named Samantha (Cecile de France) waiting there. Eventually, he’s shown into the empty apartment, allowing him to discover that his father is gone, as is his bicycle.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Big River, Smaller Story

Film: Rio Grande
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

Some directors are noted for particular genres, and some become so closely tied to a genre that it becomes impossible to talk about the genre without discussing the director in question. With Westerns, that director is John Ford without question. The man is, was, and ever more shalt be an institution when it comes to the genre. Watch enough of his films, and it’s easy to see why the man is so revered. His films offer, despite being made in a golden time for Hollywood, a certain moral ambiguity a lot of the time. And there’s those great vistas.

Anyway, Rio Grande came in the heart of his career. In addition to being a classic Western of the old school right around the time of the revival of the genre spurred by Winchester ‘73, the film is also a romance and a family genre. There are similarities in tis respect to The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, although fewer than might be expected on the surface. Regardless, Ford manages to keep a lot of plates spinning through this one, even if it doesn’t mesh perfectly at the end.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Word Salad

Film: Mediterranee
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Frequent readers of this blog will note that I almost never refer to The Book when it comes to a review. The goal of each of these reviews is more or less to coalesce my own feelings and observations about a given film as well as I can. In rare instances, though, I’m so completely nonplussed by a film that I have no other option. Mediterranee is exactly that sort of situation. I watched this thing and I have nothing original to say about it, which is difficult, considering I have a review to write.

Sadly, The Book doesn’t have much to say about it, either. Seriously, essentially it says that this is a film that Godard found influential and that he really liked. Great. So evidently, Mediterranee made it here because someone heard that Godard liked it, and thus it makes it on. This is one of the reasons that I sometimes think that The List needs an enema.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dealt a Bad Hand

Film: Casino
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

My most recent memory of Casino before tonight is when my podcasting partner Nick Jobe at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob watched it some time ago. I remember it distinctly because Nick didn’t exactly hate the film, but he did find it dull. I’d have loved to have been able to help Nick out, but I hadn’t seen the film before tonight. I liked this film quite a bit more than Nick did, although I understand why he felt lost in it.

Casino is the story of how the Midwest mob showed up in Las Vegas, sort of. It’s a lot more about a guy who made really good choices except for the few times that he really didn’t and the consequences that had for him. It opens with a car bomb placed in the vehicle of one of our narrators. Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is one of the truly great handicappers, always making a killing on any sporting event. The Midwestern families decide that that makes him the best person to run a new casino in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Like My Drive to Work Today

Film: Topio Stin Omichli (Landscapes in the Mist)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

There isn’t always particular rhyme or reason to the films I pick on a given day or in a given week. If I do a double- or triple-feature, I match films in some way, but otherwise, I tend to watch what I’m in a mood for, or based on tackling something that I know will be difficult when I have the time and inclination. With harder to find films, it’s been more or less on an as-available basis. Thanks to Chip Lary at Tips from Chip, I have access to almost all of the remaining difficult films with one or two exceptions. That, more than anything, caused the viewing of Topio Stin Omichli (Landscapes in the Mist) today. It’s not available on disc, and I have no idea when NetFlix will decide to drop it from the streaming queue. So, just to make sure I didn’t miss it, I watched it today.

The basic plot of the film is disturbingly simple. Two Greek children are under the impression that their father is in Germany and wish to see him. They run away by train, traveling through Greece and Europe in an effort to discover if he is there. Along the way, both good and bad things happen to them. That’s pretty much it for slightly more than two hours.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Expectations were Somewhat Less

Film: Great Expectations
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I should be up front when writing about Great Expectations. I’m not a fan of the writings of Charles Dickens. My mother is. This is a point of contention between us now and again. She touts Dickens, who I tend to think of as over-emotional and overwritten. I much prefer the work of Joseph Conrad, who my mother thinks is nothing but description, description, description. We’ll get to Conrad when I get around to Apocalypse Now; for today, it’s Dickens and all that that entails.

This is the story of Philip Pirrip (Anthony Wager as a boy, and John Mills as an adult), a name only Dickens could invent. Pip, as he is called, is an orphan living with his disagreeable sister (Freda Jackson) and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). As a lad, he encounters an escaped criminal named Abel Magwich (Finlay Currie). Pip helps him, but Magwich is recaptured. Not too long after that, Pip is summoned to the house of Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Off Script: Them!

Film: Them!
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

The giant creature version of a familiar animal is a trope that’s been around at least since King Kong and possibly earlier. Kong popularized it at the very least. In the 1950s, giant monsters became de rigeur for Saturday matinees, and the creatures themselves were both more terrifying and less terrifying. They were less scary because the monsters themselves started to be based on more mundane creatures than gorillas. They were scarier, though, because we had entered the Atomic Age, which meant that the monsters often became radioactive or mutated in some way.

There’s a host of these films. Any Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan worth his or her salt can spit out names like The Deadly Mantis or The Killer Shrews without hesitation. Most of these movies were dull and silly, offering a few (very) cheap thrills and stock footage of everyday animals that suddenly became a serious threat to humanity. Of these, it’s hard to argue against Them! being the cream of a stunted and bitter harvest. This isn’t Shakespeare, of course, but it’s intelligent and doesn’t play hob with odd science effects and terms. More importantly, it gives us characters that, while in a crazy situation, feel real.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Try it with Peyote

Film: El Topo
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

I try not to complain too much about the films I watch, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. El Topo is going to be one of those times. Let me put it this way: El Topo broke my DVD player. It was fine a couple of days ago, and now, suddenly, the remote has stopped working (it’s not the battery; I checked) and the play button on the machine itself no longer takes the film off pause. I may use this opportunity to upgrade to a Blu-ray player, as I am apparently the only person in the world without one. And Christmas is coming anyway, so that might top my list. But for now, it means that this will be the last DVD on the big ol’ television for some time.

How in the holy fuckballs do I explain El Topo, though? I have no idea how to piece this damn thing together. It feels like the natural child of a film like Un Chien Andalou, but that one actually made more sense and didn’t have the discourtesy to run for just over two hours. El Topo has the sort of violence that’s expected in a Western, but makes about as much sense as marimba-playing swordfish. For the life of me, I have no idea what the hell I just watched.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Misery Set to Music

Film: Bharat Mata (Mother India)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Oh, boy. If there’s a style of film that I really have trouble enjoying, melodrama is it. Sure, there are some good ones, but boy, when they are strident and obvious, there’s nothing else in the world quite like them. Bharat Mata (Mother India) is that sort of film. I was not precisely aware that “misery bonanza” was an actual genre of film, but having seen this, I’m sure that it’s a real thing. A number of reviews ago, I called Precious “a parfait of social and familial evils,” and let me tell you, that film has nothing on Bharat Mata.

In fact, it gets so that you’re wondering exactly what else can be thrown at this poor woman even before the film comes to the middle. This is a misery sundae topped with poverty sprinkles, a morass of bad luck and bad decisions, accidents, death, and pain that, I guess, is supposed to offer some sort of catharsis at the end, or at least teach us the meaning of perseverance. Seriously, Radha (Nargis) goes through things that would make Job shake his head in pity.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Off Script: Event Horizon

Film: Event Horizon
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

One of the staples of the horror genre is the basic haunted house. The premise is simple: you put a bunch of people into a cursed location and let them get attacked by whatever is there in the cursed location. The basic problem with the haunted house is that it’s a house, and all someone needs to do is get out. Heck, jumping out a window gets you outside. I realize that getting out is often easier said than done, but it’s there as a possibility. The next step in the evolution of the haunted house is to put it somewhere in which escape is impossible. The most obvious choice is outer space. The unknown reaches of outer space are a natural place for horror, which is why Hellraiser and Friday the 13th went there eventually. It’s what makes the Alien franchise good for at least two films. It’s also the central conceit behind Event Horizon.

Seven years before the start of the film, an experimental spacecraft called the Event Horizon was launched. Unknown to the public, the ship was created to essentially travel through self-created wormholes to travel across eons of trackless space in an instant, opening up the entire galaxy for human exploration. However, the ship vanished, presumed destroyed. In the present of the film, the ship has returned and is in a decaying orbit around Neptune. Naturally curious, a rescue team is sent to recover what it can. Accompanying the team is scientist Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), who built the drive that creates the gateways. The crew is led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), seconded by Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson), an staffed by a team of rescue technicians, medics, emergency repair people, and a pilot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tale as Old as Time

Film: La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day gift.

Say “Beauty and the Beast” to someone, and you’ll almost certainly get a response that reflects the Disney film of that name. that’s only natural, since that’s the most relevant thing of that name in most people’s heads, and has been for the last 20 years or so (yes, 20 years). What I didn’t know until tonight was that a great deal of the look and feel of the Disney film comes from the earlier incarnation, Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast), a black-and-white fantasy that probably sticks a little closer to the original fairy tale and doesn’t involve a singing teapot.

In this version, Belle (Josette Day) does her best Cinderella impression as the maid and servant for her two sisters, Felicie (Mila Parely) and Adelaide (Nane Germon). She also has a brother named Ludovic (Michel Auclair) and a father (Marcel Andre). The family is going through difficult times because the father lost a shipment of goods on the high seas. Belle is forced to work for her sisters, who are hoping to land a rich husband. But good news comes in—another shipment has arrived safely, and the family is saved. He promises lavish gifts to the two mean daughters while Belle asks for a simple rose. Meanwhile, the wastrel Ludovic promises to pay off his debts to a moneylender (Raoul Marco), promising that worthy that if he doesn’t pay, he can take all of his father’s possessions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 22, 1963

Film: Report
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have been avoiding the shortest films on the list for some time. There’s no particular reason for this other than the idea that watching the longest films means I feel like I’m taking care of the largest effort parts of the list first. Still, there’s a time and a place for knocking out the shorties, and with only a small handful of films left under an hour, today seemed like a good day to do it. Also, since a couple of those ultra-short films are difficult to locate, getting them done sooner rather than later seemed like a good idea.

And so we have Report, a film by Bruce Conner about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At a mere 13 minutes, this is hardly a comprehensive look at the events of November 22, 1963 and it’s not intended to be. In fact, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be. I’ve seen that there’s some analysis online (searching for rare films brings one to some interesting places), but rather than look there, it’s more interesting to try to parse this out for myself.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In the Middle of Nowhere

Film: Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord (The Wind Will Carry Us)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I review an Iranian film, especially one by Abbas Kiarostami, I can guarantee only that eventually James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights will show up here eventually and comment on it. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because James knows what he’s talking about in general and with Kiarostami in particular. It’s a curse because he knows a crapload more than I do, so it’s also mildly embarrassing when he does. I’m kidding, but only a little—James does know his stuff and he knows Kiarostami far more than I do.

With Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord (The Wind Will Carry Us), we get a continuation of what I have seen in Kiarostami’s work thus far. There are plenty of long takes and a story that unfolds without much regard to an actual plot. It’s simply a story, a life that unfolds on the screen in front of us. This one is less self-referential than many of his other films, or at least those that I’ve seen. There is much less commentary about the intersection of film and life here. But there is very much the sense that there is more going on here than we see on the screen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Watching Oscar: Pinky

Film: Pinky
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

Everyone knows that Hollywood loves a good cause, and Pinky is the sort of film that embodies a cause that makes Hollywood get all wiggly. It also contains some of the most egregious whitewashing in movie history, a case of putting a white actor in a non-white role that actually defies belief. And it was even an Oscar nominated performance, which actually makes a disturbing sort of sense. If all of this sounds like I didn’t like Pinky, well, that’s unfortunate. I did like it well enough; I just see it has some real issues.

Patricia “Pinky” Johnson (snowy-white Jeanne Crain) returns home after spending time in Boston training as a nurse. She returns as a fully trained nurse who, thanks to her lily-white complexion, has passed as white in the north. Her grandmother, Aunt Dicey (Ethel Waters), is a washerwoman with no doubts as to her racial heritage. Immediately upon returning home, Pinky remembers one of the main reasons she left. Those who remember her treat her as a black woman as only a black woman was treated in the South in the 1940s. Those who don’t treat her well until they find out the truth. What Pinky doesn’t tell anyone is that Dr. Tom Adams (William Lundigan) has asked her to marry him, which is what prompted to return home.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

...Never a Bride

Film: Bridesmaids
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

There are times when I suspect I’m humor-impaired. I mean, I think I have a pretty good sense of humor in general. I laugh at all sorts of things. I make a lot of jokes. If you listen to The Demented Podcast, I laugh all the time on it. There are tons and tons of things I find incredibly funny in the world. However, a lot of movie comedies just fall flat with me. I don’t think they’re funny, I don’t like the characters, and I barely crack a smile. I had hopes for Bridesmaids going in, but only slight hopes. Mainstream comedies have the same, basic stock characters in general and don’t tend to veer too much from the formula. With Bridesmaids, I don’t know if I’m seeing it that way because I expected to or because that’s how it is. Regardless, that’s how it is.

Bridesmaids was billed in a lot of respects as a female version of The Hangover. It’s not, although it plays on the same clich├ęs. Men, in comedies, are motivated by pleasure, sex mainly, but pleasure in general. Men are little more than boys who can’t resist an impulse in Hollywood comedies. Women, on the other hand, are motivated by jealousy and more specifically, by jealousy of each other. So guess what the motivating factor of our main character Annie (Kristen Wiig) and her rival Helen (Rose Byrne) is. Did you guess “jealousy”? Wow, you’re good at this.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's in Your Drink?

Film: Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

So, the first question I had to answer for myself when embarking on Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum) is what the bloody hell sorghum is. Evidently, it’s a grain. I sort of knew that, and also sort of knew that it is used to make something like molasses. I’m pretty sure I’ve had sorghum, although that doesn’t mean I know what it is. Anyway, it’s frequently used in the production of liquor, and that’s going to be important for today’s film. Sorghum alcohol is going to, in fact, be central to the narrative.

With that out of the way, it’s time to address the film itself, and let me tell you, it’s a strange one. The entire film is told as a story of the past, narrated by the grandson of Jiu’er (Li Gong), a woman forced into marriage with the leprous (literally) owner of a distillery. She is walked to her wedding day in a sedan chair, and the carriers and musicians are set upon by a bandit. The bandit is stopped, and Jiu’er shares a few sidelong, meaningful glances with one of the sedan chair carriers (Wen Jiang). The marriage happens, and three days later, as per tradition, Jiu’er returns to her parents for a visit. Along the way, she encounters a man dressed like the bandit. It turns out to be the chair porter again, and the two have sex, a fact that leads directly to the birth of the narrator’s father.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Family Matters

Film: Shadow of a Doubt
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Alfred Hitchcock got his reputation for a reason. If you asked me to point to one of his early films that really cemented that reputation, I wouldn’t go with Strangers on a Train or The 39 Steps or Rebecca, but with Shadow of a Doubt. While there’s no question that he was making thrillers before 1943, Shadow of a Doubt is one of his best early films, and the biggest reason for this is the acting skills of one Joseph Cotten.

With Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock delves into the world of small-town family life, making this film sort of a Blue Velvet for the black-and-white, World War II set. A fairly typical family receives word that the brother of the mom is coming in town for a visit. Seems harmless, right? But this is Hitchcock, so we’re going to go somewhere dark and dangerous very quickly.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Haka!

Film: Utu
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

I promised at the start of the month that I’d be hitting some rarities this month, and so there’s no time like the present. This is the first test of what I’m calling “The Magic Flashdrive,” a collection of films sent to me on a surprisingly inexpensive and beefy drive from Chip Lary over at Tips from Chip. The man has connections, and more importantly to my personal quest, he has access to a crapload of films that are really hard to find.

I took as my initial test of these films Utu, a New Zealand film that is sort of a fictionalized version of a native uprising. There’s a disclaimer at the start of the film that says that it’s not supposed to bear any relationship to people living or dead…but a couple of minutes of research will show that that’s a pretty disingenuous statement. The film is based on Te Kooti’s War, a conflict between European settlers in New Zealand and the native Maori.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

That's Amore

Film: Moonstruck
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I have trouble buying Cher as a vocalist and I have issues with her fashion sense (or lack thereof), but I’ve never had an issue with her has an actor. Say what you will about her or give me as much grief as you like, but she’s got the chops. With Nicolas Cage, the response is a little different. Cage is certainly capable of throwing together a good performance and seems to do so every now and then. Sadly, he spends most of his time acting in garbage, though. Both Cher and Nicolas Cage have their share of camp value. So what do you get when you throw them together? Well, you get Moonstruck.

Now that I’ve seen Moonstruck, I wonder exactly why I had to see it before shuffling off this mortal coil. It’s certainly a well-made movie; I’m predisposed to like Norman Jewison. It’s beautifully cast throughout—I’m also predisposed to like Olympia Dukakis, John Mahoney, and Danny Aiello. While I can’t say that there’s anything really wrong or bad, I also can’t find anything that makes this film particularly special in any way.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Listen Up!

So I should talk for a moment about my podcasting activities.

First and foremost, there will be two more episodes of The Demented Podcast coming up, and then a long hiatus. Nick over at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob is heading off to teach in South Korea, so there are some interesting time things that we need to work out and some logistical fun. This means a break for some time, probably four or five months. So we've got a clip show coming and a final Battle Royale (which we still need to record, and for which I still need to complete the questions).

In the meantime, if for some reason you just can't get enough of my dulcet tones, I offer you a couple of new places to hear them. First, about a week ago I guested on The Lair of the Unwanted with hosts Jason Soto of Invasion of the B Movies and Nolahn of The Bargain Bin Review. Also on the show are James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights and Matt-suzaka of the wonderfully named Chuck Norris Ate My Baby. We talk about our favorite movies to watch on Halloween. Get this--with no planning before hand, we all managed to come up with lists that have no crossover. That's some NSFW listening pleasure for you. Check it out here.

I was also the most recent guest on Ryan McNeil's Matineecast at The Matinee. If you are a film blogger, you know Ryan's site and already go there, and if you listen to film podcasts, you almost certainly already listen to The Matineecast. If not, give it a shot as we talk about Cloud Atlas, sick day movies, why we disagree on War Horse and what Aronofsky movie goes well with a side of Tykwer. Listen in here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Plastic Jesus

Film: Cool Hand Luke
Format: VHS from personal collection on big ol’ television.

My brother-in-law Mike’s favorite film is Cool Hand Luke. At least it used to be. I’m honestly not sure if it still is, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he still claimed it as his favorite. Mike’s favorite thing to say about Cool Hand Luke is that the average temperature per scene is hotter than any other film ever made. Every scene is 100+ degrees. Sadly for Mike, Sunshine, which takes place in large part in close proximity to the sun probably eclipses that record just on the virtue of having a couple of scenes with temperatures in the millions. Still, I think his point might well stand. This movie involves a lot of sweating.

We are introduced to Luke (Paul Newman) when he is completely drunk and cutting the heads off parking meters. This gets him a two-year sentence on chain gang, where we’ll be spending most of the rest of our time. It is here that we meet the rest of the players. The other prisoners include Babalugats (Dennis Hopper), Tramp (Harry Dean Stanton), Koko (Lou Antonio), and Dragline (George Kennedy), who is very much the prisoner in charge of the gang. The key bosses here are Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward), better known as the Man With No Eyes and the Captain (Strother Martin). Luke learns quickly that he’s got no power in the chain gang but can’t stop his mouth from running.