Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ingrates!

Film: Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Dammit, it’s another one of these films. Chip Lary warned me about Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) recently when I mentioned that there were still a few on the list that worried me. This wasn’t one of them, but it became one when he told me it was one of the ones I had left that had netted a 1-star review from him. In his words, it’s depressing for the sake of being depressing.

So let’s burn through the plot as quickly as possible. We spent most of our time with Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) who appears to be the only responsible member of her family. She has a sister named Gita (Gita Ghatak) who is allegedly studying something, as is Neeta. Her brother Mantu (Dwiju Bhawal) is also a student. The other brother is Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) who spends his day singing and begging for money and favors from everyone he can. Frustratingly, Shankar has some actual talent, but he’s enough of a mooch that no one (except for Neeta) seems to like him much. Oh, and for whatever reason, Neeta’s nickname is Khuki (pronounced “koo-KEE).

Month 44 Status Report

August turned into quite a solid month for me. I started the month with 57 films to go, and with another review late tonight, I'll finish with a mere 29. I got through about half of the remaining films. Better, I've managed to get myself into a position where only about one in three is a subtitled film, since those films require additional concentration on my part.

With only 29 films left (or 29 films after tonight), at the rate of a film a day, I'm done in September. As mentioned last month, I'm not going to finish, though, since the list expands by 50 more films in early October. No, instead I'll make a few predictions on films I expect will be in the next version while still knocking out most of the remainder on the current list.

The bigger question is what follows my finishing. I haven't come to any decisions yet--there are several possible places I could go. It will depend on several factors. Then again, I don't have to make that decision until late November at the earliest.

See y'all next month.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Socialism Superstar

Film: Meg Ker a Nep (Red Psalm)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Today started out plagued by technical difficulties. I wanted to watch this on the big flatscreen in my living room today. Oh, the file worked just fine, but for some reason, the subtitles didn’t transfer over. This meant that once again I was relegated to the laptop. It’s not a problem; I’m just easily frustrated when my technology works less well than I had hoped. Regardless, Meg Ker a Nep (Red Psalm) is an unusual film. It’s easy to be impressed by it (the whole run time consists of a mere 27 shots), but just as easy to be bored by it.

The biggest issue with a filme like Meg Ker a Nep is that there is no real plot to follow. Oh, there’s a story here—there’s narrative, but there isn’t really someone or something we can latch onto to follow from start to finish. Instead, this film is about a failed workers’ revolt in Hungary. It’s not really about a specific revolt, working more as a pastiche of ideas and concepts. Characters aren’t important here. What’s important is not the story of a specific person, but the story itself.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mistrial

Film: The Thin Blue Line
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Everyone has fears. For me, physical confinement is a real issue. I’m also freaked out by spiders. I don’t fear snakes or public speaking, though, and those tend to be extremely common fears for many people. While we all have our own fears, there are a few that tend to be universal or nearly so. One of those fears is of being the victim of a miscarriage of justice. How would any of us react if we were incarcerated for a crime we didn’t commit? What if that crime ended us up on death row? That’s precisely the case under investigation in Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line.

The case in question is that of Randall Adams. Adams and his brother were on their way from Ohio to Texas when they arrived in Dallas. Through a series of minor misadventures, Adams ran out of gas on the road and was picked up by a young man named David Ray Harris. The two spent some time together before Adams claimed that he returned to his motel. Unbeknownst to Adams, Harris was driving a stolen car. Additionally, he had several guns in the car with him.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Families Under Siege

Film: Bigger than Life; Happiness
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library (Bigger than Life) and NetFlix (Happiness) on laptop.

Medical dramas are sort of their own thing. They’re popular enough on television and have been for some time, but they don’t always do so well on the big screen. Bigger than Life is absolutely a medical drama, and it’s one that seems very much ahead of its time. According to the back of the DVD case, this film was virtually ignored upon release, and I get that. It might simply have been too raw for Eisenhower’s America.

Ed Avery (James Mason) is a grade school teacher who moonlights for a taxi company to make additional money. He’s also suddenly started having attacks of intense pain, sometimes so violent that he blacks out. When this becomes evident to his wife Lou (Barbara Rush), Ed gets rushed to the hospital. He is diagnosed with a rare condition called polyarteritis nodosa, an inflammation of the arteries. It’s a condition that is generally fatal within a year. However, the doctors want to try a new treatment—a wonder drug called cortisone.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Huston, We Don't Have a Problem

Film: The Dead; Prizzi's Honor
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix (The Dead) and DVD from personal collection (Prizzi’s Honor) on laptop.

I think John Huston can be forgiven for the evident nepotism of frequently casting his daughter Anjelica Huston in many of his later films. I mean, we’re talking about Anjelica Huston here, not someone talentless and not worthy of mention. He can also be forgiven for putting her in one of the lead roles in his final film, The Dead, based on the final story in James Joyce’s Dubliners. This is one of the singularly most Irish films I have ever seen. Not only is the story one of fine Irish heritage, it is also an all-Irish cast, with the exception of Anjelica Huston herself, and she was at least partly raised in Ireland.

The bulk of the story takes place at a party in Dublin at the beginning of 1904, a party evidently there to celebrate the Epiphany, the revelation of Christ as the son of God shortly after his birth. That’s not a mistake, since the film itself is about the lower-case epiphany of one of its characters.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prediction #2: The Cabin in the Woods

Film: The Cabin in the Woods
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

Genres get stale. When that happens, eventually someone who genuinely loves that genre will attempt to do something about it by trying to reinvent the genre. When the horror genre became more and more torture porn, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon created The Cabin in the Woods, which follows the conventions of horror film while simultaneously playing with those same conventions.

The set-up is a familiar one. Five friends have the opportunity to spend a weekend at a remote cabin in the middle of the woods, completely cut off from the rest of the world. No internet, no cell service, nothing. These five are the slutty Jules (Anna Hutchison), her jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the relatively innocent Dana (Kristen Connolly), her potential scholarly paramour Holden (Jesse Williams), and the perpetually stoned Marty (Fran Kranz). The five set off in an RV, encounter a creepy old man at a gas station (Tim De Zarn), and eventually reach the disturbing and completely isolated cabin.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hell in a Handcart

Film: Pierrot le Fou (Pierrot Goes Wild); Week End
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library (Pierrot le Fou) and streaming video from Hulu+ (Week End) on laptop.

When I watch a film like Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (Pierrot Goes Wild), I seriously wonder what the hell I’m doing with these reviews. One of the main reasons I undertook the full list is because when I first encountered it, I had seen far fewer than 30% of the films listed, and had heard of only about half. I like to think I’ve come a long way as a film viewer, as someone who can watch and make sense of what he sees on the screen. And then I get Pierrot le Fou, which may well be packed with all sorts of meaning and importance, and I’m left scratching my head. I understand what happens in the story, but I don’t understand what it’s about.

Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is in a loveless marriage to his unnamed wife (Graziella Galvani). Against his wishes, they attend a party, leaving their children to be supervised by the alleged niece of a friend. This is Marianne (Anna Karina), actually the lover of the friend and a former lover of Ferdinand. The party proves to be less than banal; the people there speak literally in advertising slogans, so Ferdinand leaves. He arrives home and gives Marianne a ride home, but ends up staying with her.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stupid Is...

Film: Forrest Gump
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I really don’t like Forrest Gump at all. I don’t like the story, I don’t like the characters, I don’t like the premise. There’s only one character I like at all, and he gets killed. Where most people see a story of hope and a triumph of the human spirit, I see only the story of a guy who gets abused at virtually every turn of his life and is too stupid to realize any of it. Forrest Gump makes me angry, which is precisely why it’s taken me this long to get back to it. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, didn’t like it the second time, and I didn’t like it today. As a matter of fact, I’d forgotten just how intensely I disliked this film, and I hated it more than I thought I would this time through.

A lot of people see wisdom in Forrest Gump. The most famous (and frequently misquoted) line is “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” Twenty years ago, that was a cultural touchstone, a modern American Zen koan that people used as inspiration. In reality, I always know what I’m going to get from a box of chocolates. That’s because I’m capable of reading the little chocolate road map under the lid. This isn’t wisdom; it’s illiteracy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

This Review is NSFW

Film: Tetsuo (Tetsuo, the Iron Man)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

What in the monkey hell did I just watch? I mean, I’ve seen some massively fucked up movies in my lifetime and have even enjoyed some of them, but I’m not sure I’ve seen anything weirder or less understandable than Tetsuo (sometimes called Tetsuo, the Iron Man). Before my comments are filled with, “But what about…?” I know there are weirder films out there than this one, but I haven’t seen them. The only way to describe this is as industrial pornography. That won’t make sense if you haven’t seen it. If you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Let’s see if I can make sense of this. I’m honestly not sure I can, but I’m game to try. We start with a man called the metal fetishist (director Shin’ya Tsukamoto) inserting a huge piece of metal into his leg lengthwise, sort of like a new femur. He passes out (from the pain, id’ guess) and when he wakes up, the wound is infested with maggots. This causes him to run out into the street where he is promptly run over by our unnamed main character (Tomorowo Taguchi).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Urban Jungle

Film: Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Brightness/The Nail of Brightness/The Claws of Light)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

There’s a particular style of film that seems to really hate the poor. It wasn’t too long into Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (called variously Manila in the Claws of Brightness, The Nail of Brightness and The Claws of Light) that I realized that’s exactly what sort of film I had on my hands. Our hero, Julio Madiaga (Bembol Roco) starts the film as an underpaid itinerant construction worker. Despite his low pay, his bosses steal from him, skimming off the top of his negligible salary and refusing to pay overtime.

Julio has come to Manila from the provinces to search for his girlfriend Ligaya (Hilda Koronel). Ligaya was taken away from the village by a Chinese woman who promised her a good job in a factory—free food and enough money to send some back home to help with the education of her siblings. Ligaya doesn’t want to go, but does because of the promise of money. It’s not a difficult guess to figure out exactly what actually happened to Ligaya—she’s essentially be sold into prostitution. Julio, however, is slow on the uptake and na├»ve enough to not realize this for some time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bait and Switch

Film: Hanyo (The Housemaid)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

I like horror films. One of the things I like about horror films is seeing those from other countries and cultures. Every culture has its own rules and conventions for what makes something scary. These things change and evolve over time, of course, but are still recognizable as being culturally-based. Thrillers are the same way. My own definition of a thriller is a real-world horror film, something that’s shocking and awful and might be called horror except that it could potentially happen. That’s precisely where Hanyo (The Housemaid) fits. Think of any tale of damaged love and obsession that you can, and you’ll find it here.

I mean that as it sounds. Think of any film you have seen that involves an unhealthy obsession of character for another. Fatal Attaction for instance, or Play Misty for Me. While the idea for those films may not have come from Hanyo, it’s entirely possible that they were influenced by it in some respect. Certainly there are films with obsessive characters before this one, but few from this era that are this overtly sexual.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Watching Oscar: Detective Story

Film: Detective Story
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I love film noir, as any regular reader of this blog will know by now. While the endings are often harsh, they also tend to be the endings that the characters deserve (thanks in large part to the Hays Code). There’s a sense of justice that comes with film noir that doesn’t happen in a lot of other film styles. With Detective Story, the status as a film noir is far less obvious and something I only really realized after the fact. That’s not because it’s a bad noir, but because the focus of the film is not the typical.

Virtually the entire film takes place inside the station of New York police precinct 21. During the course of the film, we spend a little time with some of the cops and see a series of criminals and others come and go. There are those caught stealing, those who admit to stealing, and those who do what they can to avoid confessing to anything. We get petty crime and major crime. But most of what we see is the most tragic day in the life of detective James McLeod (Kirk Douglas), who goes from being a respected officer to a man completely broken by his own tragic flaws.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Fun in Dysfunctional

Film: Buffalo ‘66
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I went into Buffalo ‘66 with a strike against it. After all, writer/director/star Vincent Gallo is the guy who wished cancer on Roger Ebert when Ebert gave The Brown Bunny a bad review. Gallo is the kind of a guy who is convinced that he can’t do anything that isn’t perfect. In short, in my brain, Vincent Gallo is exactly the guy who he is in this film. He’s completely unlikable, the very definition of a douchebag.

Buffalo ‘66 is an oddball of a film. Billy Brown (Gallo) has been released from a five-year stint in prison for a crime he confessed to but didn’t commit. His parents, who barely acknowledged his existence when he was a child, are unaware of his time in prison. This is because Billy has woven an intricate web of lies for the past five years, claiming a life that does not exist. In his artificial world, Billy has a loving wife and a high-paid job with the government that forces him to travel frequently.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Down for the Third Time

Film: Drowning by Numbers
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on rockin’ flatscreen.

Peter Greenaway is a director I have trouble understanding in some respects. I mean, I think I get his films in large part, but his oeuvre is a collage of seemingly disparate elements sewn into a whole. There’s a part of his work that is reminiscent of a director like Oshima—it’s blatantly sexual and earthy, with much of the plot being driven forward by sensual desires and actions, often in what would best be called non-traditional places. There’s also a large piece of his work that touches on the body horror of a director like Cronenberg. The difference is that Greenaway’s work is set more closely in the real world rather than science fiction or horror, and the body horrors that crop up are those that might actually happen, or at least could happen. It was true of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and it’s true of Drowning by Numbers.

At least two of the words in the title of Drowning by Numbers are incredibly appropriate. Three people drown in the film, and the numbers from one to 100 appear in the film at some point. The story concerns a trio of women—grandmother, mother, and daughter, all named Cissie Colpitts (played by Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson, and Joely Richardson, respectively). In turn, starting from eldest to youngest, the three women drown their husbands and then coerce the local coroner Madgett (Bernard Hill) into helping them cover up the crime. For his part, Madgett is attracted to all three Cissie Colipittses, resulting in something not unlike the Three Billy Goats Gruff, where Madgett is promised something more and more wonderful each time he helps suppress the evidence of a deadly crime.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Incompetence on High

Film: Paths of Glory
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

How revered is Stanley Kubrick? He made a mere 13 full-length features in his lifetime, and a whopping 10 of them appear on The List. Some of those (say Lolita, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut) could be dumped without much fuss, and his third film, The Killing, should probably be added. I’ve seen most of Kubrick. In fact, one of the only ones I hadn’t still seen was Paths of Glory, a film that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Thus, with expectations high, I started watching.

I have a hypothesis concerning war films. There are a lot of great World War II films, a number of great Vietnam War films, but very few great World War I films. When it comes to WWI films, the bulk of the good ones come from places other than the United States. There are two reasons for this, I think. The first is that unlike most of the wars in which the U.S. participated, we were in World War I for a relatively short period. While the countries of Europe raged against each other, the U.S. sat back watching until the very end. The second reason is the way form the war took. It may not have been the least mobile war in history, but it certainly ranks. Front lines changed almost not at all for years.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Prediction #1: The Dirty Dozen

Film: The Dirty Dozen
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

The lovely people who make and compile The List ever year have made a deal with the Sundance Channel to start showing a film from The List every week. It’s a great idea—one that probably should have happened years ago. They opened the series with The Dirty Dozen, a film that has appeared in none of the volumes. Since the word is that the 10th edition will involve a good 50 new films, it’s a pretty safe bet that one of those new films will be this one.

So let’s talk for a minute about the career of the great Lee Marvin. If you want to talk cinematic tough guys, Marvin gets my vote as the man on the top of the pyramid. The guy’s entire career was carved out of mahogany and fastened into place with brass rivets. No one was a bigger movie badass than Lee Marvin, and while there are a number of films I could cite as proof (Point Blank comes to mind), The Dirty Dozen will handle this task nicely. I’m of the opinion that the bulk of great World War II films are prison films or prison-related films, and once again, this could be exhibit A.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Self-Sabotage as an Art Form

Film: Annie Hall
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I don’t think there’s a great deal of middle ground on Woody Allen in general. If you like him, you like him a lot and even his weaker films have something worth seeing. If you don’t like him, you really don’t like him in general, although a few of his films might do it for you. I consider myself a fan, not an obsessive one by any stretch of the term, but a fan nonetheless. I tend to like what he puts out. I like his writing a great deal, and I’ve read a couple of his books—Getting Even, Without Feathers, and Side Effects--multiple times. Knowing this, it’s very much embarrassing to admit that until today, I’d never seen Annie Hall.

Yeah, I know. Get your scorn out now. I was so embarrassed by this, in fact, that on the site where I list the full range of films on The List that I marked it as previously-seen just so I didn’t have to hear other people yelling at me for not having watched Annie Hall yet. Why? Well, assuming you’re one of the apparent 95% of humanity that has seen Annie Hall, you likely already know why it’s considered an essential. If you haven’t seen it, well, you really should, even if you end up not liking it (ahem…Chip, I’m looking at you here).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

To Russia with Love

Film: Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

My reaction to a film like Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying) is initially an unfair one, I freely admit. I’ve made the observation in the past that of all the possible topics of films, World War II might well be the most common on The List, and possibly the most common in general. There’s a shit-ton of WWII to get through, and we see the war through almost every possible lens. This film gives us the lens of the Russian homefront, a sort of Soviet Mrs. Miniver, if you will. Like any homefront film, it shows us all the terrors of the war without really showing us much of the war itself, but this time, it comes from the point of view of those struggling to survive for the benefit of Mother Russia.

We start before the war begins, with the burgeoning romance between Boris (Aleksy Batalov) and Veronika (Tatyana Samoylova). They’re a cute couple and all indications are that they will be married. But of course the war comes, and rather than waiting to be drafted into the People’s Army, Boris enlists with his friend Stepan (Valentin Zubkov). Veronika tries to see Boris off to the front, but is prevented by the massive crowd, and so off he goes without a goodbye from his sweetheart.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Armenian Goulash

Film: Tini Zabutykh Predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I remember my first foray into the work of Sergei Parajanov. I’d love to say I remember it fondly, but that would be a lie. In fact, that was such a weird experience that it’s taken me this long to get to his second film on the list, Tini Zabutkyh Predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors). The good news for those of us not well-versed in the tradition of Armenian surrealism is that unlike Sayat Nova, Tini Zabutkyh Predkiv is more than just a collection of surreal images and unexplained nonsense. There’s an actual story here that can be followed.

What’s important here is not what I have said, but what I haven’t said. Yes, there is a narrative here, but that doesn’t mean that this film is easy to understand. Yes, it’s far more coherent than Sayat Nova, but that doesn’t make it coherent. And none of this means that I got anything out of watching it. No, there’s a part of me that certainly wishes I had knocked this one out a year ago if only so I didn’t spend part of today watching it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Boy and His Frog

Film: The Muppet Movie
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been waiting for this one. My latest acquisition from NetFlix was something I didn’t feel like watching tonight (you’ll see why soon enough), and so I started scrolling through what was left and realized that The Muppet Movie was streaming. I haven’t watched this in ages; I’ve been saving it for an occasion just like this one, when I wanted something fun and nostalgic to keep my going to the end.

Of course I remember this from when I was a kid. I remember how cool it was to see Kermit the Frog riding a bike and dancing on stage. I was a fan of The Muppet Show at the time, like virtually everyone else I knew. I was 12 when this came out, and 12 is a weird age. Kid things are still cool and funny, but there’s a small amount of embarrassment at loving kid things too much on the cusp of puberty. But I did love The Muppet Show and I loved The Muppet Movie without shame. I loved the corny jokes, and I even loved the corniness and sentimentality of it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Therapy

Film: La Stanza del Figlio (The Son’s Room)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Nanni Moretti seems like a really nice guy. He seems like someone it would be fun to hang out with or live next door to. I always get that impression from him, and got it just as strongly while watching La Stanza del Figlio (The Son’s Room). This is a film that plays like an Italian version of Ordinary People, and yet in many ways, it is more emotionally satisfying rather than shattering.

Giovanni Sermonti (director and co-writer Nanni Moretti) is a successful therapist who spends his days listening to the banalities of his patients’ lives. While some have more interesting problems than others, he is not the sort of therapist who treats non-functional schizophrenics or psychotics. No, he deals with people who have strange compulsions or obsessive thoughts, and while some may be prurient or interesting, they’re mostly pretty typical. He is an active father and husband and spends a lot of time with his wife Paola (Laura Morante), son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca). And this is the first third of the film, a pleasant look at this fairly normal family.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Not Shakespeare's Best

Film: Conte d’Hiver (A Tale of Winter)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

As I near the temporary end of The List, I’ve started to think about all of the films I’ve watched for this in general. There have been, naturally, a ton of subtitled films in dozens of different languages. Of all, I’m pretty sure that French has been the language I’ve heard more than any other. There have been plenty of Italian, German, Japanese, and Russian films, of course, a few in Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Arabic, and spots here and there in at least a dozen others. But France, with all of its influence on the national cinemas of countries around the world, got the largest number of films added. So it was a surprise when I discovered that Conte d’Hiver (A Tale of Winter) is one of the last French films I have remaining.

Our film opens with two characters experiencing a passionate affair over a summer. These two are Felicie (Charlotte Very) and Charles (Frederic van den Driessche). They part, promising to stay in touch. And in a moment, we leap ahead five years.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Focking Hell

Film: Meet the Parents
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not going to pull a punch here—I dreaded Meet the Parents for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a huge fan of Ben Stiller. I like him sometimes, but I rarely like him as a featured actor (Zoolander being a notable exception). He grates on me. Second, I have a real problem with what I call “embarrassment comedy,” defined as a comedy where all of the humor comes specifically from someone being horribly embarrassed. Third, just from reputation, I knew a couple of the main jokes going in—Stiller’s character name isn’t Greg, but Gaylord Focker (har har) and it’s a point of comedy that he’s a male nurse.

So yeah, that’s what we’re headed into. Misandry and gay puns. Joy.

So it’s a pretty straightforward premise for a plot. Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) has been dating Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) for about ten months and now lives with her. As the film starts, he attempts to propose to her, using the kids she teaches to help (it’s actually kind of cute), but is interrupted when she gets a phone call from her sister. Said sister has just been proposed to by her doctor boyfriend of a few weeks or months. More importantly, the doctor boyfriend went through the important step of asking the father for permission first. This means we’re all going to the wedding and Greg will need to make a suitable impression and pop the question himself.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Melville

Film: Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler); Le Samourai (The Godson)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ (Bob le Flambeur) and DVD from NetFlix (Le Samourai) on laptop.

It’s pretty evident not too far into Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler) that Jean-Pierre Melville loved American noir even before the term had been created. This film, while not properly a noir, has a lot of the elements of the style. It’s almost an homage to the American crime films of the ‘40s rather than a straight duplication of the style.

Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne) is a well-liked, moderately wealthy, somewhat decadent ex-con living in the Montmartre area of Paris. We learn quickly that he did time for a bank job that went south, but that most people assume that he’s learned his lesson. His time is taken up by his love of gambling. He has a passion for cards and harness racing. As happens with gamblers, Bob goes through an extended losing streak, blowing most of his money on bad bets, leaving him not quite desperate but far from comfortable.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lords of the Flies

Film: Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I understand exactly why people make films like Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets and I even understand why they are so important. I just wish I didn’t have to watch them. This is a film that is gutting like few others, although Cidade de Deus lands squarely in the same sort of real-world horror of children being forced to grow up long before their time and in the most awful way. This is not a pleasant film by any stretch of the imagination, and while there may be moments of sweetness here, it is filled with the sort of brutality that most of us pretends doesn’t really happen in the real world.

We start with a group of Casablanca street kids being interviewed. The one for whom the film is named, Ali Zaoua (Abdelhak Zhayra) is being interviewed. He claims that he ran away from his prostitute mother because she was going to sell his eyes to someone. He and a small group of friends have left a larger street gang run by Dib (Said Taghmaoui). Shortly after his interview, Ali and his friends are confronted by Dib’s gang. One member of the gang throws a rock that hits Ali on the temple, and Ali soon dies of the wound. So, our title character dies in the first 10 minutes or so of the film.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Watching Oscar: A Man for All Seasons

Film: A Man for All Seasons
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Historical dramas are an interesting genre because there’s always the potential that the audience already knows the outcome. It’s a problem I experience with some films when I know the history going in. I didn’t know a lot about the story of Thomas More, but I knew how it ended. In that sense I was essentially waiting for that particular climactic moment. Fortunately, for A Man for All Seasons, the devil is truly in the details. How we get from More’s opening position to his endgame is what is truly interesting, and it’s all in the telling.

To understand the context, we need to start somewhere other than with the main characters. King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) wants a divorce, which is expressly forbidden by the Catholic Church. He claims that it’s because he married his brother’s widow, meaning the marriage should have never received the Pope’s blessing in the first place. The real reason is that Catherine has never given him an heir, something rather important to a king looking to extend the reign of his family beyond him. Ultimately, this schism is what led to the creation of the Church of England. It also starts the little memory game of the fates of Henry’s wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tainted Meat

Film: Le Boucher (The Butcher)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Here’s a warning right off the top: this entire review should be considered a spoiler for this film. If you don’t want it spoiled, don’t look below the jump. While it’s certainly conceivable that I could discuss Le Boucher (The Butcher) without resorting to spoilers, I’m not sure I see a way to do it. This film very much acts as its own spoiler, start to finish.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All is Fair in Love and War

Film: Senso (The Wanton Countess)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on various players.

There is evidently something of the romantic sadist in me; I tend to like romances far more when they end in terrible tragedy. At the very least, I appreciate them a lot more when the lovers do more than have silly quarrels or face trials at are easily overcome. The whole grandeur of a great romance is made that much grander by those trials faced by the star-crossed lovers. It’s one of the reasons a lot of rom-coms don’t work for me. There’s just not enough pain to suit me. In the case of Senso (The Wanton Countess), there’s more than enough misery and terrible decision making to go around.

Like many a romance of the tragic variety, Senso takes place in a time of political and military upheaval. It’s the mid-19th century, and the southern part of Europe is torn by war as Austria and Italy fight over territory. In Venice, the people are decidedly bent on Italian rule, which doesn’t bode well for the Austrian military in the area. At an opera performance, the Venetians stage an allegedly impromptu but actually planned demonstration of fealty to Italy. This protest has been staged by Roberto Ussoni (Massimo Girotti). Ussoni is the cousin of the Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli), who is trapped in a bland and pathetic marriage with a bland and pathetic count (the awesomely named Heinz Moog).