Saturday, June 30, 2012

Revenge is Best Served Weird

Film: Yukinojo Henge (An Actor’s Revenge/Revenge of a Kabuki Actor)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Every now and then, I am confronted with a film that leaves me nowhere to begin and not really sure where to go. Such a film is Kon Ichikawa’s Yukinojo Henge (known as both An Actor’s Revenge and Revenge of a Kabuki Actor). As you might expect based on that second English title, this is a revenge picture. It’s not a difficult film to follow, but Ichikawa’s vision is a strange one, and I’ll do my best to make sense of it here.

The story behind this film is that Ichikawa was being punished by his production company for creating a few self-indulgent and money-losing films. To make up for this, he was told to direct Kazuo Hasegawa’s 300th film appearance, a remake of a film early from the actor’s career. The issue, of course, is that when Yukinojo Henge was first produced, the actor was a young man. For this version, he’d aged a good three decades.

Month 30 Status Report

Thirty months in, and I've crested the 700 review mark. There's still a lot to go, and some films will continue to be problems for me. If you look to the right (and when this scrolls down the list, to the right and up), you'll find a link to a wiki on finding the 150 or so films not currently available on NetFlix. That's great. However, I'm having real technical issues getting these things to work.

It's all okay, though, because except for a couple of films, I've got alternate routes for a lot of them.

July, though, will likely be a month of obscurities with a few well-known films tossed in for good measure. However, I've decided that it makes sense to focus a bit more attention on these more difficult films. I have watched and reviewed more than half of that list on the wiki, which helps, but there's still a long way to go, and I prefer not to overload the people who can get a few of these for me now and then.

A big victory this month was completing the first 100 films on the list. With L'Atalante done early in the month, I've now done everything from 1936 and earlier, so that feels like something of an accomplishment.

Friday, June 29, 2012


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

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel is the type of film that defies being summarized. There’s too much going on in this film and too much that doesn’t make any sense for a large portion of the proceedings. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like Babel because that would not be accurate. It also doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try to come up with a summary anyway, because that’s just what I do.

Essentially, Babel is a series of interconnected stories that take place around the world, ranging from places as divergent as Japan, Mexico, the U.S., and Morocco. While there appears to be no connection between these stories initially, we learn as we see more and more that there is a specific chain of events that link all of these disparate elements together. A simple action in one place leads to inevitable consequences in another.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Devil with the Red Dress On

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

I understand the creation of characters like Miss Julie in Jezebel. This is a character that pops up frequently in movies. She’s in older films like Gone with the Wind or I Know Where I’m Going! and she’s not too different in many respects from the “manic pixie dream girl” so common in indie films of today. So I get the character, and I get why she exists. What I don’t get is why I’m ever supposed to root for her.

Miss Julie (Bette Davis) is a Southern belle, which means that in all situations, it is to her benefit to pretend to be weak and helpless so that men do things for her. She’s not much different in that respect, except that she frequently wants these men to do things that go against either the traditional code of conduct or the moral codes of the time. She’s manipulative and is so because she can be. Put bluntly, she’s the type of woman defined as “headstrong” by those with social graces, as a bitch by people without, and for people with nothing to lose as a word that begins with “c,” rhymes with “runt,” and doesn’t belong on this blog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

%(*^ing Clowns!

Film: La Strada (The Road)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I don’t like clowns. I don’t have the typical phobia of clowns that a lot of people have—I’m not scared of them; I just don’t like them. I’ve thought about it and I determined a few years ago that the reason I don’t like clowns is pretty simple. Clowns are crazy. They’re like socially approved crazy people who have license to do whatever they like at any moment. On those very rare occasions when I am approached by a clown, I don’t know how to react because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I could easily get smacked in the face with a fish or doused in confetti or kicked lightly in the ass. All I really know is that I don’t want any of those things to happen, so I want the clown to go away from me.

Fellini’s La Strada (The Road) takes place in a circus in no small part and features a number of clown-like characters, so it showed up with one strike against it. Fellini is a director I feel like I’m supposed to like, that if I don’t like one of his films, there’s something wrong with me rather than the movie. But…clowns and a circus. I watched it anyway, but this is a film I probably would have avoided forever had it not been on The List.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Never Thought You'd Be a Junkie
Because Heroin is so Passe

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

It’s an admission of mine to say that I was never really a part of the drug culture. Oh, I certainly saw my share of it, but I wasn’t much of a participator. My drug of choice in my college days was alcohol, and thus most of my drug-related stories involve booze instead of anything else. I don’t say this from a place of superiority (moral or otherwise) but from a place of fact. Drugs didn’t interest me that much, and I got my drinking out early. These days I don’t drink much. All of this makes it more difficult for me to really grok stories that center around drug culture.

This brings us to Trainspotting, a film that I’ve certainly heard out almost since it came out but have to this point managed to avoid seeing. I’ve even owned a copy for a year but still haven’t seen it until today. What I expected (at least from what I had been told about this film) was something akin to a Guy Ritchie film, something like Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Except for the sometimes impenetrable accents, though, there’s not a lot of commonality here. The person or people who told me this film was funny lied to me.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

Film: Xich Lo (Cyclo)
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

I sometimes find it difficult to muster up the necessary wherewithal to make it through subtitled films. That’s not an admission I’m proud of, but it’s an honest one. I have, over time, learned to like more difficult films and to not balk at watching things that challenge me mentally, but there are times when I just want to turn off my brain and be entertained. That’s more difficult with subtitled films, because they require concentration all the time. There’s no holding a conversation with someone else or looking away for a few moments. When a film is both subtitled and difficult in subject matter, this problem is compounded.

Xich Lo (Cyclo) is such a film. In addition to being in Vietnamese, it is also a film that requires particular mental fortitude. It reminds me very much of Ladri di Biciclette, although it bears similarity only on the surface and only in parts. It does have some close comparison to the Italian neo-realist style, though in terms of subject matter and characters as well as many of the plot elements.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Off Script: Dead Ringers

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

I would imagine that pulling off a convincing double performance is incredibly difficult. A good believable single performance doesn’t always happen, so attempting that with two different characters must be extremely challenging. When it comes to great twin performances, to my mind, the trick is making sure that the viewers know which twin is active at any given time. This, more than anything, is the brilliance of what Jeremy Irons does in Dead Ringers. For the bulk of the film, it is possible to tell which of our two identical twin pseudo-protagonists is which. Irons pulls this off with a minimum of cosmetic gimcrackery and virtually all of it with intelligent use of expression and demeanor.

Irons plays both Elliot and Beverly Mantle, a pair of twin gynecologists. Identical to all outward appearance, the two are radically different in personality and temperament. Elliot is outgoing and a bit smarmy. He is the face of their posh fertility clinic while Beverly tends to spend more time working on his research. The two are honored while still in college thanks to the creation of a new surgical instrument of their design. They appear to be destined for greatness, and after college open up their private practice.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Peter Gabriel

Film: Say Anything
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day gift.

I tend to watch films on my own, and I tend to watch them on my portable. There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes I have to use the laptop, sometimes I hang out in my living room, and at least once a week I iron, so I watch something on my giant television in my basement. This is when I tend to watch VHS tapes, because that’s the only television with a working VCR. Anyway, Sue wanted a nice television for the bedroom, so that was her Mother’s Day present this year. And she also wanted to feed her John Cusack obsession, so I watched Say Anything with her. It’s a bit of a change-up from my normal movie watching pattern.

Cusack made his name early in his career as the hero of teen rom-coms like Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing. Say Anything sort of marks the end of this phase of his career. He still played a few romantic roles after this, but much more as an adult—he couldn’t pull off the “recent high school graduate” thing much longer. Anyway, the film follows a lot of the conventions of the genre; it just does this really, really well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Keep Your Hands to Yourself

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

What happens to film noir when the primary focus of the world is the Cold War? What happens is that the directors and screenwriters creating the genre incorporate the situation of the wider world into their films. Sometimes, this results in a film that turns goofy like Kiss Me Deadly. Another possibility is Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street, a film that follows most of the standard film noir conventions but puts a little Cold War twist on it by making the score everyone wants not a statue or a bank vault but a slender strip of microfilm.

We start film noir-y enough with crime. On a train, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) plies his trade as a skillful pickpocket just released from prison. Skip is a three-time loser, and another pinch will put him away for good. Still, it’s the only trade he knows and he’s as good as anyone at it. What he doesn’t count on is that in the purse of one of his victims he gets not cash but that strip of microfilm mentioned above. The courier, Candy (Jean Peters) is a patsy for her ex-boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley) and doesn’t know what she’s carrying.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Black Ops

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

Are spy films a genre? I’m not sure if they are despite the fact that I can think of three prominent spy-themed film franchises—James Bond, Mission: Impossible, and the Bourne films. If you lay them end to end, there’s something to be said for each of them. Bond certainly has the longest legs, having gone through a half dozen or so actors in the main role and nearly two dozen films. The M:I films are good (I guess—I stopped after the first one), and the most recent got a lot of praise. Still, for consistent quality, I’d go with Bourne every time. Leaving off the one that is opening later this year, the three current films in the series are all top-notch.

Strangely, only The Bourne Ultimatum makes The List. However, in preparation for watching it today, I watched the first two over the last couple of days. As it turns out, I’d seen the first two before but not the third; I rewatched the first two specifically to get me prepared for the third one. I’m not sure how well the third film plays on its own—the same thing could be said of, say Return of the Jedi which requires some prior knowledge. Anyway, primed with the first two in the series, I went into the third one hoping it lived up to its older siblings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Second Note on the LAMMYs

So it wasn’t a surprise to me that this happened. Five or six weeks ago, when it came time for the Large Association of Movie Blogs to host its annual awards, I backed out from participating. I didn’t put myself out in search of nominations and I didn’t complete a nomination ballot. I wanted nothing to do with it. This comes from a number of places both internal and external. I’m not a fan of unbridled competition, even for what is essentially a popularity award. I react badly to competition. All I ever ask for is a level playing field, and the field is never level. It results in hurt feelings and people getting upset.

I’ve spent the last half hour or so writing down what happened, but I’ve gotten rid of all that text. It’s not important in the specific, save to say that in several places, people have gotten their feelings hurt by either unclear nomination criteria or a joke that didn’t work as well as it should have. You can track the progress at several other places on the internet. Rather than rehash it, I’ve decided I can curb my apparent unquenchable desire to chronicle things just this once.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Don't Get Me Started...

Film: The Palm Beach Story
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

So what do you get when you combine unbridled conspicuous consumption, racism, a deus ex machina several times over, and a ridiculous level of egotism and entitlement? You get The Palm Beach Story, yet another film from the earlier years of Hollywood that seems to exist for no other reason than to piss me off.

However, there’s no other way through this but to do it, so here goes. Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) and Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) are a married couple on the skids. Tom is a pretty good architect, but he’s not getting anywhere, and he has a ridiculous idea of building an airport not on the ground but on wires suspended above a city. Roll that around in your brain for a minute before we continue. Don’t worry. It gets a hell of a lot worse.

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Bunnies were Harmed

Film: Rabbit-Proof Fence
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

There’s a certain basic story that’s pretty much guaranteed to get people hooked. Put a couple of kids in a bad situation, have them fight for their lives and rights, and your audience will root for them no matter what. When you have the weight of history behind you, a true historical injustice done to an entire population and focus that injustice on children, your audience will not only root for the kids, but will be righteously indignant about it. That’s the basic formula of Rabbit-Proof Fence, and it works because of it, not in spite of it.

Rabbit-Proof Fence also works because we like to pretend that particular problems didn’t really happen in parts of the world that we seem akin to. For a Westerner like myself, this means pretty much anywhere that English is spoken and most of Western Europe. Human rights violations happen in third-world hellholes and banana republics, not in friendly places like Australia. It’s instructive, of course, to remember that institutionalized racism was the norm here pretty much within my lifetime, and that at Olympics in Sydney, there were not a few Aussies upset that the torch lighting was performed by an Aborigine. It’s na├»ve to pretend that such things never happened in the “civilized” world, but we also like to push those things back to a distant past and pretend that our parents and grandparents knew better. They didn’t.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

They Aren't Smuggling Crepes and Gruyere

Film: The French Connection
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

We all have those movies upon which we disagree with everyone else. I’m not talking about disliking a film like Citizen Kane; it’s become chic to hate on Welles’s classic with a certain type of film fan and/or blogger. No, I mean everyone has a couple of “everyone likes it” films that fit in a couple of other slots. First, there’s the “everyone likes it but me” film for those that gets universal praise…except for you. That’s Forrest Gump for me, and a few others I can think of. Then there are those films that just seem to wash over without leaving a solid impression. It’s not bad, per se, but you just can’t understand why everyone else loves it so much. In that category for me, first and foremost, is The French Connection.

It’s not a stretch to say that this is a widely loved and lauded film. It won a bunch of Oscars, including some of the biggies like Best Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Director. I remember being excited the first time I saw it. And then…well… I shrug my shoulders. I simply don’t get it. I understand that it’s a good movie. I get that the action was innovative for the time. I understand that Gene Hackman was on top of his game. I just don’t understand why people seem to lose their shit over what seems to be a pretty standard cop drama. I feel alone in this, like I’m not in on the joke. This is a film that has been preserved as culturally important, one that’s still discussed. I don’t see anything here that’s so special, though. At least, what I see here I also saw in Bullitt from three or four years previous.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

More Lady, Less Shanghai

Film: The Lady from Shanghai
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have to say that I’ve been a pretty happy customer of NetFlix for the past couple of years. Eventually, there had to be a problem that would crop up. I got The Lady from Shanghai yesterday in the mail. Since the best way to make use of NetFlix is to turn films around as quickly as possible, when I get a film, I tend to watch it right away. I had my heart set on The Lady from Shanghai today, but the disc I got had a sizable chunk missing from it. I don’t mean that the disc was somehow erased, but that there was an actual piece missing from the DVD.

So rather than dig through the personal collection, I found a copy of the film online and watched that version instead. While there were a few rough spots in the sound, it was a pretty solid print overall. Internet video gets a bad rap sometimes, but I don’t have a huge problem with it in general. I’m just happy I found a copy I could watch, so as to see the film for which I had geared myself up.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Web of Deceit

Film: La Strategia del Ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem)
Format: VHS from Augustana College Tredway Library through WorldCat on big ol’ television.

I have a strange history with my genealogy. I don’t have a great deal invested in my family’s past, but a few other people do. Several years ago, my aunt gave me boxes of genealogical material from my mother’s side of the family. I’m still not 100% sure why she gave it to me. Years before that, a distant relative started sending out a newsletter to everyone with the same last name containing tidbits of our ancestral past back to about 1640. So I know something of my family’s history through no effort of my own.

That’s relevant here, because La Strategia del Ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem) is a film about family history and more specifically about the skeletons that lurk in our ancestral closets. What starts out as a simple request becomes a long and tortuous path into hidden meanings, shady dealings, betrayal, and murder. Almost in spite of itself, La Strategia del Ragno becomes a film noir or an homage to same.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Watching Oscar: Inherit the Wind

Film: Inherit the Wind
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I love Inherit the Wind. When I think of films that I genuinely love, films that I can watch repeatedly with no loss of enjoyment, this is one that springs to mind. I don’t know at this point how effusive I’ll be in this review, but I can tell you now that I consider Inherit the Wind one of the few films that is virtually perfect. It's beautifully cast, has a magnificent script, and is as well acted and directed as anything I’ve seen.

This film is essentially a fictionalized version of the Scopes trial. It ramps up the drama, of course, gets rid of a lot of the legal stuff, and gives us a family drama underneath along with a great deal of fire and brimstone preaching. Assuming that you may have fallen asleep during this part of history class in school, the Scopes trial was the one in which a teacher was accused of breaking a state law in Tennessee for teaching evolution in a classroom. While a number of liberties are taken with the story here, it still conforms in general (and in result) to the historical trial, a case in which the fictionalization of a historical event actually works perfectly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Film: Ye Ban Ge Sheng (Song at Midnight, Midnight Song)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Watching older films is always something of a crap shoot. NetFlix was pretty certain based on its suggested rating that I wouldn’t think much of Ye Ban Ge Sheng (Midnight Song or Song at Midnight). Generally speaking, NetFlix is pretty accurate. In this case, the rating was pretty accurate, but it’s honestly not entirely the fault of the film, or at least not the fault of the story or how it was filmed. Oh, there’s plenty of silliness here, including some ridiculously sped-up camera work, but that’s more on when the film was made.

Allow me to better explain. Ye Ban Ge Sheng is in terrible shape. This is a film that looks like it’s spent a couple of dozen years rotting in a basement before this version of the DVD was made from it. There are places where the photography is so dark it’s difficult to make anything out. In other places, scratches and pops slide up along the film. Frequently, the sound fuzzes out, making the actors sound like they are speaking underwater. For a film so highly regarded as a classic of Chinese cinema, someone needs to show it some care and attention.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Film: Pulp Fiction
Format: VHS from personal collection on big ol’ television.

I haven’t been shy about the fact that I think Quentin Tarantino is overrated as a director. My biggest issue with him isn’t that I don’t think he’s any good as a director; it’s that he shows a great deal of evidence that he believes all of his press. I have some problems with his sensibilities as well, which we’ll get to eventually. But really, my problem with Tarantino is that he’s lost control of his ego. That’s sort of my problem with Pulp Fiction, too.

See, Pulp Fiction really was a seminal film in a lot of ways. More importantly, it holds up. It’s just as good today (or almost as good) as it was in 1994. Tarantino lived off this movie for almost a decade though. Except for Jackie Brown and a segment of Four Rooms, he didn’t put out another film until 2003. There’s no reason for that, really, except that he was living off this film.

I’m not going to attempt to describe Pulp Fiction. If you’ve seen it, you know that it’s non-linear. The order of the film isn’t explained. Characters appear for a few moments in one part only to be featured in another part. We spend a good deal of time with Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and with Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). We meet Butch (Bruce Willis) and Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) and his wife Mia (Uma Thurman). There are all sorts of crazy violence and drug use. For all the skipping around in time, it’s wildly entertaining. I will not deny it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Clockwork Boredom

Film: Vinyl
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Following The List has taken me to some strange places, but none, I think, is as uniquely odd, off-putting, and flat-out bad as Andy Warhol’s Vinyl. This is a film that aggressively violates every possible idea of making a film, which was probably the point. Think of every aspect of filmmaking—story, acting, mise-en-scene, sound mixing, editing. Vinyl violates every known tenet that exists. At almost every moment, there is a sense that it can’t get any worse, and yet it does.

Warhol’s film is ostensibly his interpretation of Anthony Burgess’s novel “A Clockwork Orange,” and if I squint really hard, I can sort of see it. Of course, Kubrick’s version is the one that everyone thinks of, and having seen this now, I can assure you that there is a reason that Kubrick’s version is the one people think of. Vinyl contains the inkling of Clockwork without anything that makes it interesting.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Harlequin Romance

Film: Out of Africa
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

I spent more than two and a half hours watching Out of Africa today. This is one of the great films of the mid-1980s according to the hype and the Oscar nominations and wins. It’s a romance on the grand scale, the sort of romance that doesn’t really get made any more. The film is epic in scale as well as length, filled with gigantic vistas of open land, sweeping events, love, and tragedy. And for the life of me, I’m having trouble thinking of anything to say about it.

Karen (Meryl Streep), who later in life became an author working under the pen name Isak Dinesen, is a wealthy, unmarried woman in Denmark. Because she is unmarried, she asks a man named Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) to marry her out of convenience. Bror has a title but no money, so the marriage would be mutually beneficial—he gets money he needs and she gets a title she wants. The plan is for the two of them to start a dairy farm in East Africa.

The Ten: Best Directors of All Time Relay Race

Nostra at My Film Views, not content to send out a Best Actor and Best Actress meme, has also started a Ten Best Directors meme. I'm quite a bit earlier in the countdown this time, which makes compiling the list as it stands quite a bit easier for me. As with the other two lists, the idea is that from a starting list of 10, each new person removes one director and adds one before passing the list on to someone else.

This time, Ruth at ...let's be splendid about this tagged me, making me the eighth person (seventh after Nostra's original 10) to bump one and add one. The thinking behind it is this:

"So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the ten best directors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one director (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best directors. If you are following the relay race it is also a great way to be introduced to new blogs!"

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Peaceful Warrior

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

Roger Ebert classifies a particular set of films as “Gandhi” films. What he means by this is a film that you are happy to have seen, but that you never wish to see again. I can think of several films that fit that qualification for me--Requiem for a Dream, American History X, and a few others. Oddly, though, Gandhi doesn’t fit in that category. It’s been years since I watched it until today. I’d watch it again in the future, but it will be some time before I find the need or desire to see it again.

As the name of the film suggests, this is a biopic of the life of Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi, the central figure in India’s push for home rule and independence from the British Empire. It is not a complete biopic, of course. It starts with Gandhi’s time in South Africa, figuring (correctly) that the audience is less interested in the formative years of Gandhi’s life and more interested in the formative years of his philosophy. Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley) discovers that South Africa is brimming with racism, not just against the Africans, but against anyone who isn’t white. In what will become a theme for the entire 190-minute running time of the film, Gandhi fights against this oppression without raising his hand against it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Film: Obchod Na Korze (The Shop on Main Street)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player

The last three reviews I’ve posted take place during World War II, and all three have a significant Jewish component. Naturally, today I decided to make it four in a row. I’ve heard great things about Obchod Na Korze (The Shop on Main Street), so it’s been on my radar for some time. I really knew nothing about it. As a matter of fact, I continued to foolishly mix it up with Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner until quite recently.

Yeah, they aren’t the same movie at all. This isn’t anything like a sweet little romance that was remade into an ad for AOL starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It is instead a home front war drama, with the home front being in Czechoslovakia. Tono Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is a simple carpenter who doesn’t want to make a lot of trouble. He’s got enough of his own, mostly caused by his shrew of a wife, Evelyna (Hana Slivkova). What makes things worse for him is that his wife’s sister’s husband has made good.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life During Wartime

Film: Au Revoir, les Enfants (Goodbye, Children)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player

When I started this a couple of years ago, I didn’t realize exactly how much time I’d be spending between 1939 and 1945. I suppose this shouldn’t really surprise me, as World War II is the seminal event of the last century. It makes sense that it would dominate a percentage of our art, media, and thoughts. Much of what exists regarding World War II is told from memory, a way to exorcise demons. That is certainly the case with Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, les Enfants (Goodbye, Children).

Like many war stories, this one takes place from the point of view of children, who have always offered a particular perspective on war. At a certain point, kids understand what war is, even if they don’t understand why it is. The children in this film are boys at a Catholic boarding school, and many of them are able to understand not just that the war is happening, but that very bad things are happening as well.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Passing of a Giant

Ray Bradbury is dead. Here's one of what will certainly be many obituaries.

I grew up on Bradbury. I got my first copies of two of his books of short stories for Christmas when I was 8, and I've ready pretty much everything he's written. I own copies of most of them. I even have a signed copy of one of his books. Years ago, I found his address online and sent him a book, asking for an autograph. He sent it back within two weeks with a full inscription on the title page. That book, "Zen and the Art of Writing," still holds a place of prominence on my bookshelf.

This is a movie blog, and it might seem odd that I'm discussing the life and death of a writer, but Bradbury was also fascinated by film. His works, sadly, don't translate well to film (A Sound of Thunder is proof of that), although Francois Truffaut managed a passable version of Fahrenheit 451. He also penned the script for the 1950s version of Moby Dick and won an Emmy for The Halloween Tree.

In my world, he's called St. Ray. He's always been that to me. He was the man who, years ago, huddled under my blankets with a paperback copy of one of his books, made me think that writing--writing about anything at all--was something to do. He was and is a hero and an inspiration.

I'm taking the rest of the day off from this blog. Few things have been as important to me as a person, as a growing and changing human being, as the words and worlds of Ray Bradbury. I am profoundly saddened by the news of his death, and our world is much the worse for his loss.

Goodbye, Ray. Peace be with your now and forever.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Off Script: The Keep

Film: The Keep
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen

Odd horror movies are a fun place to look for known actors after the fact. The 1983 supernatural horror film The Keep, for instance, features a host of actors in the relatively early stages of their film careers—actors who have since gone on to be noteworthy, award winning names. There is a real joy in seeing someone you know from recent films in a much younger incarnation.

The movie takes place during World War II. The Germans have moved into Romania and a group have moved into an ancient keep (of the title) as a place to set up shop. The keep is large, well-protected, and otherwise impressive, so it seems a natural place for them to use as a headquarters. Upon arrival, they discover that there is a series of nickel crosses embedded in the walls, and they are warned not to touch them.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The People Really Under the Stairs

Film: Podzemlje (Underground)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There are only a few ways to react to the memory of war. One is with horror and revulsion, and it is perhaps the most natural reaction, and the most powerful. There are many who react to war with a sense of adventure and excitement, which is surprisingly common, at least in film. There’s no lack of films that tout the military and suggest that war is something to be approached with anticipation. And then there are those who choose instead to approach war as black comedy or farce. Films like Kelly’s Heroes, Catch-22 and M*A*S*H certainly do this. So does Podzemlje (Underground), although this film is more about the aftermath of World War II and the politics of what used to be Yugoslavia than it is specifically about a war.

That being said, there is not a single thing that will prepare you for just how perverse Podzemlje is. The film begins with the start of World War II in Yugoslavia. We meet two of our three principle characters. First there is Blacky (Lazar Ristovski, who looks a lot like Judd Hirsch), who is married and whose wife is expecting a child. Next is his friend Marko (Miki Manojlovic). The two are out drinking with a crowd, and Blacky has been signed up as a member of the Communist Party to work with Tito. Blacky’s wife accuses him of having an affair with an actress named Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). Her accusations are correct no matter how vehemently Blacky denies them.

The Ten: Best All-Time Actors Relay Race

In March, Nostra at My Film Views came up with the idea of listing the 10 greatest actors of all time and then passing the list on. Each person tagged got to remove one person, add one person, and then pass the baton to another blogger. Three months later, here we are. David at Taste of Cinema has passed this on to me, making me the latest leg in what has become something of an Olympic torch relay rather than a simple race.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Same Story, New Tune

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

Remakes exist in a weird area in films. Any remake needs to be judged on multiple criteria: those of the film itself and those of the original film. It’s impossible to do otherwise. As an example (and one as different as possible from today’s film), John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing can be judged as a science fiction/horror film and is also judged against its 1950s predecessor The Thing from Another World. It’s only natural. We have the question of whether or not it is a good film, and whether or not it stacks up against the original.

That’s precisely the situation we have with High Society, which is a pure remake of The Philadelphia Story with the recasting being more in the musical vein, an appearance by Louis Armstrong and his band as themselves, and a bunch of songs written by Cole Porter. So, the questions here are whether or not this stands up as a musical and how it compares with a classic film with such luminaries as Katherine Hepburn, Carey Grant, and Jimmy Stewart.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pandora's Box

Film: Kiss Me Deadly
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

If you ask me why I like film noir as much as I do, I’m not sure I could give you an answer specifically. There are too many aspects of noir that work for me. I like the visual style of a good noir, and the use of light and shadow. I like the fact that films noir tend to be morally murky at best. I like the idea of the femme fatale as a concept and often as a character. I like whipcrack dialogue and sudden bursts of unexpected violence. I like plots that are complex without being complicated. Naturally, I’ve watched a good deal of the noir on The List, but not quite all of it. I didn’t quite know what to expect from Kiss Me Deadly except noir-y goodness. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m really not sure what I got.

We start as private detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) nearly runs down a woman named Christina (Cloris Leachman) on the road. It’s evident that she is wearing only her trenchcoat and she soon reveals that she has just escaped from an insane asylum. She tells Hammer to remember her if she doesn’t make it to her final destination. She doesn’t; we see her twitching legs and her her being tortured moments later while Hammer lies unconscious nearby. Hammer is put into a car with her body and pushed down a hill, but he survives the wreck and wakes up in a hospital.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lost Potential

Film: L’Atalante
Format: DVDs from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

There have been many careers in the arts that have been tragically cut short, but perhaps none so much as that of Jean Vigo. Dead of tuberculosis at the tender age of 29, Vigo directed two documentary shorts, one other short film (Zero de Conduite), and L’Atalante. Thus his first full-length feature was also his last. One wonders he might have produced if only he had lived a little longer, since this one feature shows a real depth of understanding of the film medium as well as some prescience; L’Atalante might well presage La Nouvelle Vague in certain ways.

The story is a simple one. Jean (Jean Daste), the captain of a river barge called L’Atalante, is married to Juliette (Dita Parlo). Their honeymoon is essentially a trip to Paris by way of La Havre. It’s an unromantic boat journey since the ship is also carrying cargo. It’s also not a very pleasant trip, as Jean proves himself to be the insanely jealous type. When he finds Juliette speaking in the ship’s cabin with the old and mildly foul Pere Jules (Michel Simon), he goes completely berserk. Jules, though, while evidently a bit infatuated with Juliette, certainly has no designs on her.

Month 29 Status Report

I watched 24 films off the list in May on a goal of 25. Not bad when you consider I also took out three films off a secondary list and added two theatrical reviews. Still, it's a little disappointing and means that I'll be shooting for 26 in June, a goal I will almost certainly miss.

Why? Well, it's the end of a term for me in a couple of weeks, and that means an increased workload. The Demented Podcast is starting up again as well, and that's an extra two movies every two weeks. Throw in a guest spot now and then on the LAMBcast, and suddenly my time to cross off films dwindles down to nothing. I'll get by, though. I always have.

So here's the list of films that I'm finding difficulty in locating through my evidently inferior Google-fu:

0139. The Mortal Storm: No dice.
0247. Europa '51: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0265. Voyage in Italy: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0289. Hill 24 Doesn't Answer: No dice.
0325. Mother India: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0362. The Housemaid: No dice.
0379. Chronicle of a Summer: No dice.
0391. Keeper of Promises: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0399. The Cool World: : No dice.
0429. Black God, White Devil: No dice.
0446. The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short: No dice.
0472. Marketa Lazarov: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0475. Earth Entranced: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0493. Lucia: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0508. Tristana: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0513. The Spider's Strategem: No dice.
0532. Red Psalm: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0552. Fat City: No dice.
0572. Turkish Delight: No dice.
0594. The Wall: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0600. Manila in the Claws of Brightness: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0627. Ceddo: No dice.
0628. The American Friend: No dice.
0666. Loulou: No dice.
0678. Too Early, Too Late: No dice.
0699. The Last Battle: No dice.
0701. Utu: No dice.
0703. The Fourth Man: No dice.
0752. Peking Opera Blues: No dice.
0756. The Horse Thief: No dice.
0771. Red Sorghum: No dice.
0797. Drowning by Numbers: No dice.
0812. A City of Sadness: No dice.
0813. No Fear, No Die: No dice.
0856. The Actress: No dice.
0885. Through the Olive Trees: No dice.
0891. Deseret: No dice (I've been alerted to a version of this, but can't make it work)
0896. Safe: No dice.
0902. The White Balloon: No dice.
0933. Mother and Son: I have found it, but without subtitles.
0945. The Idiots: No dice.
0977. Signs and Wonders: No dice.