Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Month 31 Status Report

I got a part of what I wanted accomplished in July. I still managed to fall short of my goal of knocking off 25 films from The List (I got 24), but I'm pretty satisfied. Of those 24 films, six qualify as "hard to find" films, which is a decent ratio. There are still too many of those, and I need to concentrate on them more, but one in four is good enough to get me where I want to be.

August? Keep on keepin' on. I'm still pushing to knock out at least two of the longer remaining films per month, concentrating on the earliest films left, and otherwise looking to watch some rare ones as much as possible. Will I hit 25 films? I sure hope so.

Timing is Everything

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

I like Hitchcock in general, although there’s a lot of his filmography I haven’t seen yet. Still, in many ways he was a one-trick pony. He liked a particular type of story, and with a few exceptions, he made that same story over and over. Other directors of the era were far more versatile in what they produced, but Hitchcock produced Hitchcock films. I’m happy to call him a genius, but in general, you know what you’re going to get with Hitch.

Rope is a film created more or less to explore camera trickery. The film unfolds like a one-act play (and was in fact based on a stage play). The plot is pure Hitchcock. Here’s the elevator pitch—two men kill a former classmate for intellectual thrills, then hide the body in a trunk and serve dinner off it to the friends and family of the victim. There, in fewer than 30 words, is the essence of Hitchcock’s high concept film, a simple story simply told.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The End of an Era

Film: Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

Evidently, I’m on something of a Visconti kick at the moment, having watched two of his films in less than a week. Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is one that I’ve put off for a while; finding it in a local library this time marks the second or third time I’ve had the film in my possession. I determined to watch it this time, and did. It’s longer than other Visconti films I’ve seen, but doesn’t specifically feel longer. It’s a good 40 minutes longer than Ossessione but feels about the same length. This is probably more because I knew where Ossessione was going from the start, and had no such prior knowledge of Il Gattopardo.

It feels very different from other Visconti films. For one thing, it’s in luxurious color instead of the stark black-and-white I’m used to from him. Second, and more significantly, we are no longer enmeshed in the plots and desires of the common people. It’s almost as if Visconti decided to walk away from neo-realism not at a saunter but at a full gallop, running so far away from the common man that he ended up mired in the Italian aristocracy of 100 years previous. There are no sparse meals or hungry children here; instead, it’s all sumptuous banquets, balls, and a heaping dose of war and political intrigue.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I'm Still Not a Colin Farrell Fan

Film: In Bruges
Format: DVD from Hanover Township Library through interlibrary loan on kick-ass portable DVD player.

What profession gets more films made about it than any other? Soldiers, probably, but I’m betting that assassins rank in the top ten or the top five. There’s something about a film audience that loves a ruthless killer. There’s something about a film audience that loves a killer with a heart of gold even more. Assassins make great characters when the screenwriter and director have the basic common sense to make them human characters.

This brings us to In Bruges, a film I wanted to see during its theatrical release and like 99% of all films, missed. I finally got around to watching it, and I’m suitably impressed with it. It’s hard to call it a take on a particular genre. It’s not really an action film despite a couple of action sequences and a decent body count. It’s not truly a film noir, although it certainly references noir in some aspects. It’s not a buddy film despite being about a pair of buddies. It’s also not really a comedy even though there are plenty of really funny moments in it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

That Postman Keeps on Ringing

Film: Ossessione
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

It’s strange how we remember films. I know intellectually that Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione came a couple of years before The Postman Always Rings Twice, but it doesn’t change the fact that I saw the latter first. There’s a real sense going through this film that I’d already seen it. It’s not shot-for-shot the same, but the two films are similar enough (and are based on the same book) that this film filled me with a definite sense of déjà vu.

If you’ve seen The Postman Always Rings Twice, you’ve seen this film, and vice versa. There are some significant differences, but the basic idea is identical with only the names different. A drifter named Gino (Massimo Girotti) floats into town and winds up and a sort of gas station/restaurant/general store run by a man named Bragana (Juan de Landa). Bragana is a middle-aged man and decidedly fat, so it comes as a surprise when we encounter his young and attractive wife, Giovanna (Clara Calamai). There’s an immediate attraction between Gino and Giovanna.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

At a Gallop

Film: Dao Ma Zei (The Horse Thief)
Format: DVD from Knox College Library through interlibrary loan on kick-ass portable DVD player.

It’s not too difficult to suggest that one of the main problems with the religious lives of most Americans is that it happens on Sunday for an hour or two and is then pretty much ignored. One of the attractions to more Eastern religions is that such belief systems tend to be all-encompassing; they pervade all aspects of life. Religion becomes less something like a job, but something that is eternally present. I’m oversimplifying, of course, and I’m certain there are those who will take exception to what I’ve just said. However, it’s one of the reasons I dabbled in more Eastern thought for a number of years. It felt like it was more about adopting life and daily tasks to the necessities of belief rather than making time in our lives for something external.

However, this incorporation of belief into virtually everything puts me at a loss for a film like Dao Ma Zei (The Horse Thief). This is a beautifully made film, make no mistake. It is also entirely enmeshed in Tibetan Buddhism, which means that a great deal of what is almost certainly filled with meaning and symbol washes over me without comprehension. I simply don’t understand why particular things are important or meaningful, because I am not a Tibetan Buddhist, or a Buddhist of any stripe. Asking me to would be like asking someone who has talked to a couple of Christian missionaries to find the Christ symbolism in a work of art. It’s just not going to happen, and it’s going to frustrate everyone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beating, Yes. Devil, Not so Much

Film: Beat the Devil
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

Film noir wasn’t known as film noir until after the style was no longer in vogue. There had to be a sense of it, though, because John Huston managed to parody the style with Beat the Devil. This was a film that was not warmly received when it was originally released, but that has grown in stature over time. It’s become quite the classic, and has a cast that backs up that sort of evalutation.

We have a trio of criminals looking to exploit the mineral wealth of Africa. Specifically, they are looking to get their mitts on uranium deposits, since those deposits are essential for the production of both atomic energy and atomic weaponry. These men represent the varying fading powers of Europe. Specifically, there is the British Peterson (Robert Morley), the German-by-way-of-Chile O’Hara (Peter Lorre), and the Italian Ravello (Marco Tulli, who is perhaps the most angular human being to ever exist). They are joined by the fascist and Hitler-boosting Major Jack Ross (Ivor Barnard).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's in the Box?

Film: Se7en
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Se7en might be the film that really turned me into a film fan. I remember seeing it for the first time absolutely perfectly. It was a film I wanted to see based on seeing the trailer, and I was lamenting the fact that Sue wouldn’t go with me because it’s not the sort of film she typically likes. I mentioned this to a guy I worked with, and he was in the same situation. As it turned out, Sue was gone one weekend, and his girlfriend was out of town at the same time, so we went.

I’d been to plenty of movies before this, of course. I’d seen movies in the theater and seen movies that I had truly enjoyed and that had moved me emotionally. Se7en, though, was the first time I noticed more than just the story and the characters. It was the first time I watched something and started to see the environment that the film operated in. I noticed the lighting, and what the lighting seemed to mean for particular scenes. It was, in a manner of speaking, the first time I really started to watch something as a critic.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Two Sides

Film: Paradise Now; United 93
Format: DVD from personal collection (Paradise Now) and from NetFlix (United 93) on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Fear is a power with which it is difficult to contend. How we approach fear and deal with fear in many ways defines who and what we are. Fear can cause us to lock up, it can kill us, or it can bring out our greatest and most positive qualities. Paradise Now and United 93 are both films about terrorism, one from each side, but they are just as much about fear—fear of death, fear of life, fear of action, fear of inaction.

Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now concerns the lives and potential deaths of a pair of Palestinian men, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). They live on the West Bank, and as Palestinians, are essentially prisoners in their own land under Israeli occupation, at least in from the point of the film. I’m not going to go into the geopolitical implications of the Palestinian occupation. That’s far beyond the scope of a movie blog. I’ve only get the films as my text, and I bluntly refuse to side with either Israel or Palestine for the sake of a film. In the context of this film, Israel is the oppressor.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


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

I don’t think Sidney Lumet’s Network can be adequately summed up. There is a brilliance here that cannot be contained in words properly. It is a film like no other. It is terrifying, funny, ridiculous, staggering, and shocking as well as one of the most prescient films I have ever seen.

Here are the nuts and bolts of it. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is the anchor of UBS Evening News. His ratings are the lowest of any news program and so he is fired, pending in two weeks. As it turns out, his personal life is a shambles—no kids, his wife has died the year before—and he says on the air that his retirement is imminent. He also says that on his last broadcast, he will publically kill himself on the air.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ich Liebe Dich, Part II

This has been a long and difficult week, which is why my reviewing schedule has been off. Two of the reviews I posted this week were written a month ago and held in reserve. Suffice to say I've spent the week in the car. It's been difficult.

It was a surprise to learn that I'd been handed another Liebster Award, this time from Alex Jowski at Alex Jowski Movie Reviews. It's bigger and badder than last time and much like a Sesame Street episode, is brought to you by the number 11.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thief of Hearts

Film: Pepe le Moko
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been pretty happy with NetFlix in general, but for the second time in as many months, I got a bum disc. As it happens, the film in question (Pepe le Moko) was also playing on Hulu, so when the disc stopped working, I just switched services and finished it up. These things happen. I was disappointed, of course, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Anyway, had you asked me who Jean Gabin was a couple of weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have known. Now, by chance, I’ve seen two of his films in relatively rapid succession—the tremendous Grand Illusion and now Pepe le Moko. This was a much more difficult film for me to enjoy, and the bad NetFlix disc didn’t really figure into it. I had a harder time getting into this film and becoming involved in the story.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Watching Oscar: Around the World in 80 Days

Film: Around the World in 80 Days
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

When a film wins an Oscar for anything, some people are going to be upset. In retrospect, though, few choices for Best Picture have been as rethought and questioned as the 1956 winner, Around the World in 80 Days. It is very much a film in that classic Hollywood vein slightly after the true golden era of film, and that’s likely one of the reasons it captured the top spot. It was also ably assisted by a very weak field.

The film is a screen adaptation of the book of the same name by Jules Verne, and it’s no different than the title suggests. For a film that runs around three hours long, it’s remarkably easy to sum up. A British gentleman named Phileas Fogg (David Niven) undertakes a bet with several other gentlemen of his club. The bet is that, in the time of the film (the mid-1870s) it would be possible to circumnavigate the globe in precisely 80 days. The men accept the bet and Fogg heads off taking with him a suitcase full of cash and his new manservant, Passepartout (Cantinflas). Coincidentally at the same time, a daring robbery of the Bank of England has taken place, and Fogg’s behavior seems suspicious. So, Mr. Fix (Robert Newton) pursues Fogg around the globe in the hopes of bringing him to justice for a crime that Fogg (of course) didn’t commit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Watching Oscar: The Pumpkin Eater

Film: The Pumpkin Eater
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass DVD player.

Criticizing film becomes interesting when a difficult film pops up. With a film like The Pumpkin Eater, I am put in one of those difficult and interesting situations. I would be hard pressed to suggest that I enjoyed this film. It’s far too depressing and emotionally claustrophobic to call it something that I liked watching. On the other hand, the performances all the way around are fantastic, particularly in the case of the Oscar-nominated Anne Bancroft. This isn’t to short the equally excellent work of Peter Finch in this film, but Bancroft is really the focus.

The film centers on Jo Armitage (Bancroft), a woman with a constantly growing brood of children and a third marriage. As the film begins, we see Jo in her present looking back at this most recent marriage of hers. Her husband, Jake Armitage (Peter Finch), is a moderately successful screenwriter. He’s also a serial adulterer as we discover with the film’s progress.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pie Jesu Domine

Film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

There was a time when I would have been happy to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail at any time just because. But it’s this movie that really taught me what maturity means. I can, as someone who has seen this film in the multiple dozens of times, quote virtually the entire thing. I can watch the movie and go right along with the dialogue. However, I don’t. That, friends and neighbors, is maturity.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Python-head from the old school. I had a dog named Monty Python and another named Basil Fawlty. I own all of the shows on DVD as well as the bound versions of the show scripts. Tonight was the first time in years I’ve seen this, and, well, it’s still just as funny as it ever was. In many ways, classic comedies like Airplane! are modeled on Python in the sense that every possible joke is tossed against the wall to see what sticks (something Airplane! did in spades). The thing about Holy Grail is that a surprising amount of it does stick. Ridiculous things like the opening credits, the gorilla hand turning script pages, the coconut horses work as do the more highbrow pieces like Dennis and his mother discussing their anarcho-syndicalist commune.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gentlemen's War

Film: La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion)
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

I’ve had a belief for a long time that many of the great World War II films, at least those up to the modern era, are prisoner of war films. Stalag 17, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Bridge on the River Kwai, all take place all or in part in a prison, and I’m certain I’m forgetting a number of them. War films from the 1940s are tenerally propaganda, of course, and those of the 1950s and 1960s are frequently nationalistic, no doubt as a sort of pro-democracy reaction to the Cold War. Having seen La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) today, it occurs to me that all of those films owe this one a huge debt.

La Grande Illusion was filmed in the years running up to World War II but before the start of the war. It focuses (naturally) on the first war, but certainly has something to say about the rise of anti-Semitism and the Nazis. However, this is still a film primarily concerned with aspects of war and social class, exploring many of the same themes as Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I said yesterday in discussing The Thin Red Line that for many, World War II was our last noble war, a war that we fought on the side of right for reasons of moral good. La Grande Illusion suggests in many ways that World War I was the last war to be fought with a sense of honor and dignity among combatants, or at least the last war in which the rules of social class crossed and in many ways superseded national boundaries.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dogs of War

Film: The Thin Red Line
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

There’s a problem with coming to certain films late. The problem is that it seems that everything that can be said about them has already been said. This is especially true with more modern classics. Seeing the films that everyone else has seen and loved years after everyone else puts a reviewer or critic in the unenviable position of trying to find something new to say when there doesn’t seem to be that much new to say. So it is with The Thin Red Line, the film that marked Terrence Malick’s return to filmmaking after a 20-year break. Malick is one of those unique directors who is beloved by critics and whose films still generate a lot of non-critical buzz. It seems like everyone has seen The Thin Red Line but me. Well, not any more.

I’m also reminded of something I said some time ago about Jim Jarmusch, who sort of has the same reputation, although gets less rank-and-file viewership. It’s got to be nice to have the kind of pull as a director to be able to get good people for tiny roles. The Thin Red Line has cameo spots from some big names—John Travolta, John Cusack, and George Clooney, for instance, are all in this film for a cup of coffee before we switch off of them. John C. Reilly pops up throughout the film, but doesn’t speak much. Woody Harrelson has a slightly larger role, but doesn’t make it past the first hour of the film. That sort of cache has to be useful.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Left Behind?

Film: The Rapture
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Religion in film is an interesting thing to me. As an agnostic, I don’t have much of a warm fuzzy for religion in general, in no small part because my experience leads me to believe that it is filled with half-truths, whole cloth, and hypocrisy. But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to film. Film frequently treats religion as a pure thing—as something beyond real life. I think in particular of the near-religious experience I had watching The Passion of Joan of Arc and a part of that experience came from the fact that the film was completely divorced from the world. In the real world, religion is never pure; in film it can be. At the same time, religion is often dealt with harshly in film. Anyway, it was with some nervousness that I approached the 1991 film The Rapture.

I’m only going to talk about a part of this film, because it works with a fascinating twist near the end, one that is shocking if (for a heathen like myself) difficult to take. It’s not the type of twist that destroys the film, though—it works well in context, and I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief until I’m shown that it’s not worth my time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What's Opera, Doc?

Film: Carmen Jones
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Okay, folks, strap in. This is going to be bumpy.

Carmen Jones is an updated, entirely African-American version of the opera Carmen. I state that straight out because, unlike most film musicals, this is opera. Operas don’t end well. That’s a part of what makes them opera. If you’re looking for smiles and happy endings that normally accompany musicals, you’d best look elsewhere, because you won’t get it here. If you didn’t know that going in, I apologize for the news flash, but really, you should know that this film is based on a larger work. And that’s the way operas work.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here it is. Joe (Harry Belafonte) is a Corporal in the Army right around the time of World War II. He’s just been accepted for pilot training. He’s got a girl named Cindy Lou (Olga James) who is crazy about him. He wants to marry her during his 24-hour leave before he deploys to flight school. But there’s a problem. Standing in his way is Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One Good Cop

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

I’ve been on a little roll lately. After several days of seeing films that left me feeling flat, I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of films I’ve reviewed. At the risk of tipping my hand in the first paragraph here, well, the streak is continuing tonight. The Big Heat was far better than I predicted it would be. I went into this with no expectations other than it being film noir. In fact, I’ll admit that I wasn’t sold on Glenn Ford as a noir hero. Well, I was wrong. This film is all that and a bag of chips.

We start with the suicide of a cop named Duncan. Duncan’s wife Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) finds the body and doesn’t seem too terribly upset. She also finds an envelope addressed to the authorities and opens it. We’re not privy to the contents right away, but there’s no doubt that the information contained within is some sort of bombshell. Police Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is sent to determine the cause of Duncan’s death and rules it a suicide almost immediately. However, he’s soon contacted by Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green), who claims to have been Duncan’s girl on the side. According to her, there’s no way that Duncan would have killed himself. Things take a real turn for the sinister when Lucy turns up dead and showing evidence of having been tortured.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Watching Oscar: Grand Hotel

Film: Grand Hotel
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

It’s not without some trepidation that I look at older Oscar films. There was a massive feeling of accomplishment when I knocked out everything from 1936 and previous—the first 100 films on The List—and I knew that diving back into that early period would often mean some difficulties. I opted for Grand Hotel for the simple reason that I found it on a library shelf. Often, my movie selection goes no further than 1) I found it and 2) I realize it’s on one list or another.

Grand Hotel takes place in Berlin during the Great Depression, following the typical 1930s pattern of displaying opulence during a period of economic disaster. It opens with Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) muttering that at the Grand Hotel, people come and people go but that nothing ever happens. He repeats this line at the end of the film. In between, of course, we see a great deal happen.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Life 2.0

Film: Seconds
Format: Internet video on laptop.

If you had the chance to start your life over, make a clean break from everyone and everything you’ve ever known and have an entirely new life, would you? That’s the question posed by John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, and the results are interesting to say the least. The film posits that precise question, allowing us to see what happens as one man goes through that very issue, a complete break from his past and a new life filled with the sort of freedom everyone wishes he or she had. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking film, one that brings up about as many questions as it answers.

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged man going through a crisis. He has a decent job at a bank, a wife with whom he has a respectable and comfortable relationship, and a married daughter who rarely visits. His world is turned upside down when, out of the blue, he receives a call from a friend he knows to be dead. On the train, he’s slipped an address, and he gets another call from the friend who proves who he is with knowledge that only the two of them share.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pining Away

Film: Letter from an Unknown Woman
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

It could be construed from reading selected reviews of mine that I dislike romances. That’s not specifically true. While romance is not my favorite genre of film, there are a number I like quite a bit, and some that I consider to be some of the best films ever made. What I don’t like is melodrama very much, nor do I like it when people pine away. It’s a sort of adjunct of nice guy syndrome. Oh, rather than walk forward and attempt to get what we want, we instead skulk away and pine and sigh a lot. I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for that sort of character once they get past a certain age. Once you’re older than, say, 18, pining away is not romantic but pathetic. Welcome to Letter from an Unknown Woman

We start with an imminent duel between a man named Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan). It’s evident right away, though, that he’s going to skip out on the duel. His servant hands him a letter that he has received, and Brand begins reading. It tells the story of a woman who has known him his entire life and of whom he has no memory.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Film: Les Maitres Fous (The Mad Masters)
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

I try not to despair sometimes. I do my best to look at each film as it comes to me, regardless of how I found it, where I found it, the format, the year of creation, the director, or even the quality of the transfer. But sometimes I wonder why I do what I do. I don’t mean to imply that Les Maitres Fous (The Mad Masters) is a particularly bad film, because it isn’t. But I do wonder why I was essentially pushed into watching it. This is a very short film, one of the few films under an hour I had left, and while I can’t say for certain that my half hour or so was wasted, I’m still trying to figure out what makes the film so damned important.

Les Maitres Fous is sort of a documentary, but it’s not clear precisely how much of a documentarian Jean Rouch is for this film. The subject is an interesting one, one that would make a great in-depth cultural study from someone with the right qualifications and coming from an academic perspective. Hell, I’d watch that without question. But that’s not what this film is. Instead, there is a near constant voice-over explaining everything that turns what could be simple observation, allowing the viewer to draw conclusions, into a sort of treatise on race and religion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Race Relations

Film: La Joven (The Young One)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I’ve said before that the Holocaust is probably the most common topic of films on The List, and it may well be. Taken more broadly, though, I’d suggest that a plurality of films deal at some point and on some level with racism. Many of them do this overtly while others do this without intending to. Still others include racial tensions and issues only in retrospect, decades after their original release. Movies not intending to address the idea of racism still do, looked at with modern eyes. Luis Bunuel’s first English language film, La Joven (The Young One) is a film that tackles the idea of race head-on.

Traver (Bernie Hamilton) is on the run from small Southern town justice. He’s been accused of a rape he didn’t commit, but because he’s black, he’s guilty before proven innocent, and nobody is going to try very hard to prove him innocent. He winds up on an island that’s actually a hunting preserve. Little does he know that there are a couple of other people on the island with him.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fewer Puppets than You'd Guess

Film: Xi Meng Ren Sheng (Hsimeng Jensheng; The Puppetmaster; In the Hands of a Puppetmaster)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Biopics are a strange bird, lingering in that odd place between documentary and fiction. In the case of Xi Meng Ren Sheng, the subject of the film takes a part in the proceedings as a narrator. This is another of those films in which converting from one language to another is problematic. The Book lists this as Hsimeng Jensheng and gives the English title as The Puppetmaster, but I’ve also seen it as In the Hands of a Puppetmaster. In other words, there’s no real consensus of what this film should be called, let alone how it should be classified.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red Herrings

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

It’s no secret that I really like a good film noir, and so it comes as no surprise that I enjoy neo-noir as well. Hell, I watched Blue Velvet yesterday and I made no bones about the fact that I like that film quite a bit. But it was a film I’d seen before multiple times, so I knew what was coming. One of the real joys of a good film noir is when I don’t know all the twists and turns of it, when what’s coming shows up as a surprise. The Long Goodbye is a film I had heard of, but had never seen before today—and today was the perfect day for it. For an American film fan, there’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July than by watching a film in the most American of styles.

And this is a noir, based on a book from the mid-1950s by author Raymond Chandler and featuring his great gumshoe Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould). Like most noirs, it starts out as something relatively straightforward, even simple, and adds complexity at every turn. Marlowe, who lives across from an apartment filled with young, mostly nude and nubile women, gets a visit from his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Terry says that he’s having trouble with his wife, and needs a ride down to Mexico. Having nothing better to do, Marlowe takes him.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pabst Blue Ribbon

Film: Blue Velvet
Format: VHS from personal collection on big ol’ television.

I’m going to come out of an intellectual closet here. I don’t have a problem with David Lynch. I don’t specifically seek him out and I haven’t seen anything close to his entire filmography, but I’ll happily sit down with one of his films, and I don’t need to be in a particular mood to do so. I even like Dune for all its campy weirdness. Right now, you’re having one of three reactions. You’re nodding in agreement, shrugging, or concluding that this is more evidence that I’m hellbound.

But, for the most part, even people who don’t like Lynch’s films have a modicum of appreciation for Blue Velvet. I like this film, but I’m not sure why it’s so celebrated in his filmography above, say, The Elephant Man. It might be the sex, or the flat-out weirdness that is still comprehensible, or the performance of Dennis Hopper. Or all three. Or something else. I really don't know.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Brother Against Brother

Film: Deewaar (Deewar, The Wall)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Melodrama has a place in film, and evidently, that place is Deewaar (The Wall, and sometimes spelled Deewar). In the first twenty minutes of this film, the melodrama is thick enough to cut with a knife and spread on toast. It’s a sort of melodrama marmalade—tart and sweet and with pieces of the rind thrown in for good measure. The film never really goes away from the melodrama completely, but it’s poured on thick in the beginning.

Couple this with the idea that Deewaar is a Bollywood film as well as real drama, and you have something of a mix. For instance, there’s no real music in the film until the 40-minute mark when suddenly…song! Out of nowhere. I was starting to think that this would be a Bollywood film without being a Bollywood musical, but I couldn’t possibly be that lucky, could I?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News

Film: La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I love a good horror movie, but I’m the first to admit that medical stuff squicks me. It’s something I’ve certainly mentioned here in the past and will no doubt mention again. Surgical stuff bugs me far more than standard gore. I’m not 100% sure why this is the case, but it most certainly is. I can watch a guy get torn apart by zombies or cut in half by a creature from hell, but show me a scalpel and a surgical mask and I start to get nervous. So it was not without a certain amount of trepidation that I put La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In) into the spinner. I knew there would be things here that bothered me, but when I’m given a film to watch for The Demented Podcast, I watch.

I knew something of the film going in, and from the sound of it, it called up recollections of Georges Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage, at least on the surface. I was right in that guess—the two films are similar in some ways, and the word is that Pedro Almodovar took some of his inspiration from the older film.