Monday, September 30, 2013

Month 45 Status Report

Ah, September, you cruel bitch.

I took out 29 films in September, but ended up further away from the end than when the month started. That's because of the massive update to The List that happened a few weeks ago. I currently stand at 47 films left to review, which makes the end of November completely within the realm of possibility. That's pretty cool, since it's fewer films in October and November than I typically try to do. My standard goal in any month is 25.

What this means is that a secondary goal of mine, reviewing all 86 of the Best Picture winners in Oscar history, is within reach by the end of the year. I have only nine left--technically only eight, since one of those is already written and waiting for when I don't have a chance to put up a new review. That film may well go up tonight, because I probably won't get a new one done today.

So far, the new additions have been a mixed bag. Of the 47 left, 28 are new additions, so we'll see how those go soon enough. I feel a little guilty about focusing solely on the new films.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Like a Fish Out of Water

Film: Cristo si e Fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli); Local Hero
Format: DVD from NetFlix (Eboli and from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library (Local Hero) on laptop.

I knew in the first couple of minutes of Cristo si e Fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) that this was going to be one of those films that I struggled with. It wasn’t specifically going to be an incredibly difficult watch per se, but I knew that when it came to writing about it that I was going to have a very difficult time. This is a film to point to as an example of one in which the majority of the action is internal. It’s a series of conversations more or less, and I’m being generous when I say that the majority of those conversations are dense and pretty turgid.

And that’s the issue with this film. Not much happens. Rather than having a plot summary, it has a plot sentence or two. Carlo Levi (Gian Maria Volonte) is a writer and artist, but also has a medical degree. He is arrested by Mussolini’s forces in the mid-1930s, and is exiled to a remote Italian backwater. He finds the people there to have been overlooked in almost every advance made in the last few centuries and decides to start practicing medicine to help the people as much as he can. That’s pretty much it, and this film runs almost 150 minutes.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

War Begins at Home

Film: Mrs. Miniver
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

William Wyler, the director of Mrs. Miniver, grew to hate the film that won him a Best Picture Oscar. The reason is because William Wyler was a badass. In 1943, he went to London and worked on films, including documentaries about flight crews. He even flew missions with them and spent time inside a ball turret. The reason he came to disapprove of his most critically-acclaimed film is that he realized exactly how far from reality his film truly was. Seeing just how threadbare and deprived London had become due to the war and the Blitz, Mrs. Miniver simply didn’t go far enough.

Regardless of its detachment from the real horror of wartime England and rationing, Churchill loved Mrs. Miniver and said it was propaganda worth 100 ships. As it happens, I’m reading a book called Citizens of London about Americans in London during the Blitz and after. A day or two ago, I reached the section about Hollywood in London, which is more or less what inspired me to watch Mrs. Miniver now. Having read the first dozen chapters or so and seeing the incredible privation that London and England actually experienced, it’s difficult to rationalize the nice clothing and perfect hair and full refrigerator with what actually happened. Then again, that’s about the only thing with which I have a problem here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dreaming a Dream

Film: Les Miserables
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

I wasn’t sure about the fate of Les Miserables when contemplating the new additions for the latest version of The List. I figured it had a middling chance. On the one hand, it’s a modern musical, and The List loves modern musicals. On the other hand, despite its Best Picture nomination and the win for Anne Hathaway, everything I heard about it was pretty mixed. Some people loved it and others found it ridiculous, except for some performances. I suppose it got points for having the actors actually singing their parts live. Anyway, here it is, and as the longest film remaining, it’s time to put it behind me.

It’s worth noting that I’ve seen Les Miserables live on stage in Chicago. I say that to to stress that the version I saw live wasn’t like a high school production or amateur theater. It was good, I suppose, but musical theater genuinely doesn’t move me too much. It would be too much to say I hate it, but I’m not a huge fan. In truth, I’m not much of a fan of live theater in general. It just doesn’t do a lot for me. I’ve tried enough times to realize that it generally moves over me and leaves me unmoved.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jung at Heart

Film: Peter Ibbetson
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

The opening of Peter Ibbetson promises us that this will probably be a glurge-fest. We are introduced to two children in 19th century Paris quarreling over what to do with some boards. Gogo (Dickie Moore) wants to build a wagon; Mimsey (Virginia Weidler) wants to build a baby carriage. We see their argument not with each other, but as they explain their positions to their respective mothers. It’s evident that Gogo’s mom is in poor health since she’s sitting in a wheelchair. The kids argue more, Mimsey’s doll is broken, and then Gogo’s mother dies. Mimsey reacts to this by giving her baby carriage and all the boards to Gogo. Cue the orchestra. Ah, the pathos!

Shortly thereafter, Gogo’s uncle from London shows up to take charge of the boy. Gogo and Mimsey attempt to run away, but it’s all for naught. The uncle (Douglass Dumbrille) immediately changes the boy’s name to the less clown-chic Peter Ibbetson, and thus we have our title. Peter grows up into an architect and also turns in to Gary Cooper. Soon enough, he is working on a restoration project for the Duke of Towers (John Halliday). Once there, he becomes smitten with the Duchess, Mary (Ann Harding), and she with him. And, of course, it turns out that Mary is the grown up version of Mimsey and the two have carried a torch for each other all these years. Cue the orchestra. Ah, the pathos!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Film: The Lady Vanishes
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Everything about pursuing this list of films is conditional. I thought I had been done with silent films for some time, but the number of silent film reviews I’ve posted in the last couple of weeks belies that. Additionally, I had been done with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, and yet here we are again with another Hitchcock film. This time it’s The Lady Vanishes, a film from the late 1930s, and one that sees Hitch starting to include the sort of complexity that he eventually became known for. There’s a straight through-line in this film; there’s just a lot of stuff going on on the side and on the fringes of the plot this time.

An avalanche has closed of traffic in a small, fictional European country that is vaguely Switzerlandish, at least based on the languages spoken by the various people who crowd into a guesthouse. Included in this motley collection is Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a British girl looking to get back home in time for her impending marriage to a man she doesn’t really love or even care for very much. We meet a few more people here, too. The most important of these are Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), who is researching the folk songs and dances of the native population; and Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), an ex-governess travelling back to England.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A for Artsy, F for Fartsy

Film: F for Fake (Verites et Mensonges)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

In a massive list of films, many of which are strange, F for Fake (sometimes called Verites et Mensonges) may be the strangest, or at least the most unclassifiable. Is it a documentary? Sort of. It is closer to being a filmed essay on the nature of art and forgery. It is also a fortuitous collection of coincidences that, if believed, are almost impossible to reconcile. In a film that is itself about hoaxes, it might be the supreme hoax that everything worked out for Orson Welles the way it did.

The upshot of the film is a profile on the world’s greatest art forger, Elmyr de Hory (who appears in a great deal of the film) Welles, in front of the camera for some scenes and “behind the scenes” but still in front of a camera in an editing room, tells us about the strange career of de Hory, who manufactured a number of original pieces of art in the style of famous artists, passing them off as the work of others.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Deliverance, Mate

Film: Wake in Fright
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

As someone who enjoys a good horror movie, I have to admit that I was intrigued by the name of the film Wake in Fright. Seriously, it sounds lurid just from the title, doesn’t it? Like it’s going to be filled with all of the monsters one might think of. Sadly, that’s not the case. Fortunately, there’s still a lot to be frightful of here. Wake in Fright is a crazy head trip that goes to some very ugly places. I mean that only as a positive thing.

John Grant (Gary Bond) is a bonded teacher at a little Outback town called Tiboonda. What this means is that he is not allowed to leave Tiboonda until he works off the $1,000 bond he owes the government for paying for his schooling. To Grant, this feels like a form of slavery, and he chafes at teaching a bunch of disinterested kids in the almost literal middle of nowhere. As the Christmas holiday starts, He leaves Tiboonda, hoping to catch a flight to Sydney to spend time with his girlfriend.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Watching Oscar: Wings

Film: Wings
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was a time when you could barely have a movie at all if you didn’t shoehorn a love story into it. Such is the case with Wings, the first-ever winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Kind of. There were two different categories for the award that year. Sunrise won for Artistic Quality and Wings won for production. That said, most people count Wings as the official winner, although forgetting Sunrise just seems unfair.

This is a war film, and as the title suggests, it’s one in which air power will play a major role. Our two heroes of the air are Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen). As the film begins, neither one is a part of the military. Instead, they are competing over the same girl, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston, who made her name in Harold Lloyd comedies). Also in town and pining after Jack is Mary Preston (Clara Bow). In reality, Sylvia’s heart belongs to David, but she doesn’t have the courage to tell Jack that there’s nothing between them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gamblers Anonymous

Film: Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

With the revamped version of The List, new films were inserted pretty much into every decade. I had been done with the silent films for some time, and with a viewing of Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice), I’m again done with silents, at least for a bit. While this is a film obviously made in India with Indian actors, but it’s really a German production. And “production” is the operative word here. In fact, that would be my guess as to why it’s shown up on The List now. This is a production that allegedly involved 10,000 extras and 1,000 horses plus elephants and tigers. This is opulence on the scale of De Mille or Erich von Stroheim.

The story relies in part on ancient film conventions that, while still used sometimes today, are the kind of thing routinely looked at as bad filmmaking. I’d argue that the particular twist that drives the middle of the film never works unless it’s better written than what we have to work with here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Film: The Great White Silence
Format: DVD from Southern Illinois University Morris Library through WorldCat on laptop.

I can’t say I was overwhelmingly excited to spend time with The Great White Silence as a part of this project. I’ve already seen Nanook of the North, a documentary about the Arctic, so a different documentary about the other end of the world didn’t seem that thrilling a prospect. I’m not entirely sure why I held this opinion, because the two parts of the world are very different. The Arctic, for instance, is inhabited (see Nanook) while the Antarctic may well be the most inhospitable place on the planet.

The Great White Silence is the story of the doomed expedition of Robert Falcon Scott to reach the South Pole. Filmmaker Herbert Ponting accompanied the journey at least partway, and should be relatively glad he did not go all the way with Scott, since he and his party never returned from their final journey. That knowledge—the surety that the men we are watching are on their way to their deaths--is sobering.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Djang It!

Film: Django Unchained
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I should say at the start that this will be fully spoiler-tastic. I can’t say I was terribly shocked when Django Unchained was added as one of the 2012 films to The List. The List’s keepers love Quentin Tarantino, including now five of his eight features. I considered watching it a month ago, but I resisted. I have an unusual relationship with Quentin Tarantino and his films. I like some of his films pretty well, but I can’t call myself a fan. Every time I see him, I want to slap him.

Regardless, with the addition of all the new films, I once again have a chunk of movies well over two hours in length. With The Towering Inferno reviewed, Django Unchained was the longest film remaining. And so with no better credentials than that, it was time for a modern Western, and it is a Western despite taking place mainly in Mississippi.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

(Not so) Dark Shadows

Film: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The DVD of Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) opens with an explanation that there are no surviving original prints or negatives of this film. What we have was cobbled together. And then this bit of information fades and the film begins. We are introduced to the images of the half a dozen of the principle characters, and I knew that this was going to be one of those films that I immediately wondered how it had been ignored from The List for the first nine years. I knew in those first couple of minutes that this would be one of my favorites of the new additions. It is spectacular and completely original. I have never seen anything like it.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed is reputed to be the first full-length animated feature, beating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by more than a decade. It also finally represents the year 1926, the only year between 1920 and 2011 that didn’t have at least on film of required viewing. As I said above, I can’t imagine how this was left out of the first volume.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Love at Arm's Length

Film: Le Conseguenze dell’Amore (The Consequences of Love)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Before I get into this, I need to once again thank Chip Lary over at Tips from Chip. He not only located this film streaming online, he also walked me through the process of getting it to stream. (Note to Chip: The process worked the same way in Chrome). Chip has rapidly become the patron saint of 1001 Movies bloggers as well as our bodhisattva.

Films like Le Conseguenze dell’Amore (The Consequences of Love) are the reason The List exists in the first place. I mean that positively. This is not a film that I would have picked up on my own, but now, having seen it, I’m happy to evangelize on its behalf. Underseen films like this one, films of particular beauty and power are the reason listmakers make their lists. It’s to get people like me to see something we should, something that will move us or get us to think or show us something that will change us. Le Conseguenze dell’Amore has the potential to be that sort of a film.

We start very slow and become immersed in the sedate life of Titta di Girolamo (Toni Servillo), a man who lives on his own in a posh hotel in Switzerland. We know very little about him for some time. He likes to sit in the bar of his hotel. He walks alone through the streets of his city. He suffers from insomnia. He also avoids almost all physical and indeed human contact.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Letters to the Editor(s)

Film: Limite
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Dear Mario Peixoto,

It’s my understanding that Limite is your only film. I hope I’m not being too blunt when I tell you that it really looks like this was your only film. I’m not entirely sure what you were attempting in a film where virtually nothing happens for close to two hours. People sail on a boat. They don’t seem to have any particular direction or a goal in mind. They just sail. Oh, and they remember their past. But that’s really it. And that doesn’t explain the extended shots of…a spool of thread and a measuring tape? I’m not really sure. I gather these items are important to one of our characters, but did we really need to look at each one for 10-15 seconds?

I know that experimental films and art films are given a sort of license to do something different. After all, that’s the nature of experimental film. If you didn’t play around with notions of narrative or plot or character, it wouldn’t be much of an experiment. That said, Mr. Peixoto, even an experimental film has to have a point. I had flashbacks of watching Jeanne Dielmann while sitting through your film, and you need to understand that nothing that reminds me of that experience is ever a positive thing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Burn, Baby, Burn

Film: The Towering Inferno
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Before there was Michael Bay, there was Irwin Allen. While Allen directed a good number of films and won an Oscar for a documentary, in the 1970s, the name Irwin Allen meant one thing and one thing only: disaster movie. By this I don’t mean films that were terrible (although some no doubt were), but films about disasters. Every year or so, a film would appear about a group of diverse people trapped in an X or attacked by Y or surviving natural disaster Z. Not all of these were produced by Irwin Allen, but it sure seemed like it. Of these, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno were the leading examples. The Towering Inferno got more street cred by being nominated for eight Oscars (including one for Fred Astaire as a Supporting Actor and for Best Picture) and by winning three: cinematography, editing, and (brace yourself) best song.

A film like The Towering Inferno is a masterpiece of high concept. “What if a fire broke out in the tallest building in the world?” Toss in a collection of A-list actors and you have quite the film. As it happens, it was released in a year when the actual Best Picture race wasn’t much in question; nominating this was pretty harmless since it didn’t have a hope of winning over The Godfather Part II.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dream Weaver

Film: Zerkalo (The Mirror)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is going to be a rough one. I don’t wish to imply that I didn’t find some value in Zerkalo (The Mirror) because I did, but I’m not sure how much I got out of it. This is a film that I’m pretty sure is packed with all sorts of meaning but that it can’t be unpacked on a single viewing. I admit I was tempted to watch it again immediately, but I’m not sure I’d have legitimately been able to watch it a second time right away. Even if it’s not packed with meaning, it’s dense with imagery.

Zerkalo’s difficulty exists because it is completely non-linear, and a substantial part of the film is either a dream or something like a hallucination. To borrow a line from Kurt Vonnegut, Zerkalo is unstuck in time. It’s also unstuck in reality. Furthermore, several characters are played by the same actor. The narrator’s mother from his memories is also his wife in the sections that are more present-day. It doesn’t fill me with any sort of pride to say that eventually I simply gave up trying to make sense of anything. It was far too willing to play hob with the narrative—what little narrative there was.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rudy Can't Fail

Film: The Eagle
Format: Internet video on laptop.

One of the biggest holes on The List in my opinion was the lack of anything featuring Rudolph Valentino, the greatest screen idol of the early years of cinema. Don’t get me wrong—there have always been plenty of holes on The List, but this was the first really noticeable one. Valentino may not have been a great actor, but it’s unquestionable that his presence on the screen was in no small part responsible for the popularity of early film. Given the choice, I’d have selected either The Sheik or The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as the best representations of his work. Instead, we get The Eagle, one of his last films.

Vladimir Dubrovsky (Valentino) is a lieutenant in the Russian army. Under review by the Czarina (Louise Dresser), Dubrovsky spies a runaway carriage and uses the Czarina’s horse to catch up to it and stop it. This introduces the lieutenant to Mascha Troekouroff (Vilma Banky), his immediate love interest. But it’s not going to be that easy; his daring rescue also inflames the desires of the Czarina who asks for a private audience. She offers him a generalship, but when it’s also apparent that she wants him for something else, Dubrovsky balks, and the Czarina puts a price on his head for the affront.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sin, or Something Like It

Film: The Devils
Format: Internet video on laptop.

After yesterday’s film, it makes a kind of sense to watch a film that is very much in the same sort of vein but with far more artistic credibility. Of course, I didn’t have anything left on The List that really fit the bill…until the news that the new edition had been released. One of those new films is The Devils, the often-banned, X-rated psychodrama by auteur filmmaker Ken Russell. Once I saw that had made it, I knew that was the film for today. You never know what you’ll get with a Ken Russell film, but there are a few things you can guess pretty accurately. Any Ken Russell film will be wildly inappropriate, flamboyant beyond all measure, disturbing, irreverent, and overtly sexual. The Devils is not only all of that, but far more extreme than any of the other Russell film I’ve seen to this point.

The prime mover of the plot is the battle between the Protestants and Catholics in France under the rule of Louis XIII. As the film starts, we see Louis himself (Graham Armitage) involved in a sort of flamboyant gay pageant on the birth of Venus, with the king as Venus. What follows is something like a power play by Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue). Richelieu wishes for increased power by destroying the walls of many of the towns under the pretense of wanting to prevent a Huguenot uprising from gathering in the towns . Louis agrees, but leaves out the city of Loudun, since he had promised to leave those walls intact.

Breaking News! UPDATED!

So, the latest edition of The Book is evidently being shipped right now. In bigger news, the complete index is available at Amazon. It's evident that they've re-added some films, because in going through, I found only 45 new ones (46 if you count the two new Toy Story films being added individually).

According to my not-very-painstaking research, here's the new additions.

1. The Adventures of Prince Achmed
2. Amour
3. Argo
4. Bowling for Columbine
5. The Cabin in the Woods
6. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
7. Christ Stopped at Eboli
8. The Consequences of Love
9. Dead Ringers
10. The Devils
11. Distant Voices, Still Lives
12. Diva
13. Django Unchained
14. The Draughtsman’s Contract
15. The Eagle
16. Elephant
17. The Exiles
18. The Exterminating Angel
19. F for Fake
20. Field of Dreams
21. Fireworks
22. The Goddess
23. The Great White Silence
24. The Hired Hand
25. The Lady Vanishes
26. Life of Pi
27. Limite
28. Lincoln
29. Local Hero
30. Mary Poppins
31. Les Miserables
32. Moolaade
33. Mrs. Miniver
34. Oklahoma
35. Osama
36. Peter Ibbetson
37. RoboCop
38. Skyfall
39. Sleeping Dogs
40. Some Came Running
41. Summer with Monika
42. A Throw of the Dice
43. The Towering Inferno
44/5. Toy Story Trilogy
46. Wake in Fright
47. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
48. The Man with the Golden Arm
49. Wall Street

Chip Lary has a complete breakdown of the new, the readded, and the ousted available at his site. Go check it out!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What is Seen Cannot be Unseen

Film: Pink Flamingos
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

IMDB lists Pink Flamingos as a horror film, and I can’t really fault them for that designation. While it’s certainly in part a comedy, it’s also pretty horrific, and that’s intentional. There’s a line that doesn’t get crossed in art in general, and Pink Flamingos rockets past that line and shits on it in passing. This is another in the collection of films I’ve been holding off on watching. I didn’t realize it was at the top of my NetFlix queue, so when it showed up, I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I be happy I could finally cross it off or worried about the reality of actually watching it?

How to explain Pink Flamingos? There’s no way to do it but to do it. Drag queen Divine (Divine) has the current title as “Filthiest Person Alive.” However, because in the world of the film Divine is also a criminal, she is living in a trailer in Maryland under the pseudonym Babs Johnson. She lives in the trailer with her friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), her perverted delinquent son Crackers (Danny Mills), and her bloated mother Edie (Edith Massey), who is obsessed with eggs and lives in a play pen. Unbeknownst to Babs, she has competition in the “Filthiest Person” competition. These are Connie (Mink Stole) and Raymond Marble (David Lochary).

Monday, September 9, 2013


Film: Au Hasard Balthazar (Balthazar)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

This is not going to be an easy film for me to write up. Au Hasard Balthazar (sometimes called simply Balthazar) is a film better experienced than explained. I’m not entirely sure that I understand it completely. It’s a film of singular beauty, but it is also emotionally dense. It’s not a help in this case that the film concerns the life and fate of a donkey, the Balthazar of the title. No matter how competent an animal actor Balthazar the donkey is, he’ll never outright tell us what he is feeling or experiencing.

A large portion of Au Hasard Balthazar deals with the comparison between the life and trials of Balthazar and those of his sometime-owner and friend Marie (Anne Wiazemsky). Both Balthazar and Marie experience a life of abuse and cruelty, one that Balthazar endures with a terrible stoicism, a patient suffering that could, in a person, produce a level of enlightenment. Does it in the animal? The film would have us think so.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mutants Need Love, Too

Film: The Hills Have Eyes
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

There are times when a horror film director walks the edge between what he can get away with and going just a step too far. It’s a difficult line to walk. A film that takes things too far risks losing the audience completely, but a film that rides that thin edge has the chance of becoming one of the greats of the genre. It’s up to the individual viewer to determine for him- or herself if The Hills Have Eyes steps over that boundary or toes as close to the line as it can. I’m still not 100% sure myself. There are a couple of moments here that put the viewer in the position of watching a film made by someone suddenly capable of doing anything. Wes Craven breaks as many boundaries with this film as he did with The Last House on the Left.

This is also a film that helped create any number of horror film tropes that are still in play today. The Carter family is driving from Ohio to California and stops in the middle of nowhere in the desert at an old gas station. The owner, Fred (John Steadman) warns them that they’re out in the real boonies and that they should stick to the road. Of course, the family does not and eventually their car drives off the road and breaks an axle, leaving them completely stranded and unable to raise help on their radio. That’s bad enough, but it’s certainly not the worst thing that will happen to the Carters.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Different Spanish Prisoner

Film: Cria Cuervos (Cria!)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

Finishing this list has become something sort of like a chore in the sense that in most cases, the films I have left are the films I simply haven’t cared to watch yet. That’s not true of all of them, but it’s sort of true in general. It was true yesterday and it’s equally true of today’s film, Cria Cuervos (Cria!). This is yet another film I went into with zero expectations and no real desire to watch and found a film very much worth my time and attention.

One of the sells for me is the connection between this film and a more recent film like Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo del Toro’s work is far more fanciful and tied to that magical realm than this one, but there is little doubt in my mind that del Toro looked to Cria Cuervos for at least some of his inspiration. The connection to a vivid fantasy world, the death of the mother of the main character, even the time period of fascist Spain connect the two films on a number of points.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Abstinence Makes the Mind Grow Weaker

Film: Splendor in the Grass
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not precisely sure why I waited as long as I have to watch Splendor in the Grass. There was a part of me that thought this was going to be some sort of goofy teen romance film, I guess. It really, really isn’t. For a film that takes place in 1928/29 and was made in the very early 1960s, Splendor in the Grass is sex, anger, madness, rape, and a whole bunch of stuff that I was not expecting. Seriously, I wasn’t braced for this one. It goes places I didn’t expect it to go. I almost wish I’d seen it sooner, but that would’ve prevented me from savoring it now.

In 1928 Kansas, Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) are as much an item as any two kids from high school can be. Bud is starting to discover that he has some natural urges that he’s having difficulty controlling around Deanie, but Deanie has always paid attention to her folks, who have told her to keep herself chaste. After all, that’s what good girls do. The best example in town of a bad girl is Bud’s sister Ginny (Barbara Loden). Ginny, despite coming from one of the wealthiest families in town, has become a party girl, a flapper, and a woman obsessed with smoking, drinking, and sex. She’s got an annulled marriage under her belt as well as an abortion to help put the annulment through.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iran Amok

Film: Ta’m e Guilass (Taste of Cherry); Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ (Cherry) and video from The Magic Flashdrive (Balloon) on laptop.

There’s a certain pleasure to be found in a number of films from other cultures. For me, one of those pleasures is noting the cultural differences and the particular cultural similarities. Based on the current world situation, it would seem more and more that there are no similarities between my own default Western culture and that of a country like Iran. And yet along comes a film like Ta’m e Guilass (Taste of Cherry) to prove that idea wrong. While the culture here is very different from mine, the moral issue that sits at the heart of this film is one that could easily be played out anywhere.

Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) is looking for someone to do a job for him. It’s not indicated at first what Badii is looking for, and there seems to be a vibe of something unsavory in what people think he wants. There is a distinctive vibe of Badii looking for sex, or at least that is the vibe picked up by the men he questions to help him. He eventually gets a young Kurdish soldier (Safar Ali Moradi) to get into his car and take a drive with him. The two speak for a bit, and it’s evident that the soldier is uncomfortable and wants to get back to his base. Eventually, Badii stops the car and gets out and tells the soldier what is on his mind.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Watching Oscar: One Night of Love

Film: One Night of Love
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew nothing about One Night of Love going into it other than it was nominated for more Oscars than I’d have thought for a film I’d never heard of. Once is started and the singing began, I knew I was in for it, though. Surprisingly, this is not the sort of musical that I typically detest. In fact, all of the singing comes at appropriate times in the course of the narrative—there’s no “singing of my feelings” or people on the street suddenly knowing the choreography. No, this is actually a musical that makes sense. At least it makes sense in terms of the music.

In reality, this is pretty much standard early-Hollywood musical fare despite where the songs come in. Mary Barrett (Grace Moore) enters a singing competition with first prize being a chance to study under the great Giulio Monteverdi (Tullio Carminati). Ah, but this is something a little different right off the bat—Mary doesn’t win. She surprises her parents, though—she’s going to take all of the money she has saved up over the course of her lifetime and head off to Italy anyway. It’s her destiny to sing in the opera, she believes, and thus Italy is the place to be.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

No Child Left Behind

Film: Une Affaire de Femmes (Story of Women)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I don’t think I have ever liked a character that Isabelle Huppert plays. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think she’s a good actor or that I don’t like her films. It just seems that she plays either loathsome characters, people with massive personality defects, or people who seem broken by their own personal choice. She’s no different in Une Affaire de Femmes (Story of Women), the best of her films I’ve seen to date. Yeah, I’m tipping my hand.

Marie Latour (Isabelle Huppert) lives with her two children, Pierrot (Guillame Foutrier/Nicolas Foutrier) and Mouche (Aurore Gauvin/Lolita Chammah) in Vichy France (I think—there’s a lot of commentary about Petain, at least) during World War II. Her husband has been sent to Germany as a worker, leaving her to make ends meet as best she can. She hits upon a new moneymaking scheme when her neighbor turns up pregnant. The neighbor’s boyfriend/husband is about to be shipped to Germany himself and doesn’t want any commitments. So Marie assist her in aborting the baby. This happens just as her husband Paul (Francois Cluzet) returns from Germany. As payment for this service, Marie gets a phonograph and a few records, something she prizes since she has aspirations of being a singer.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Prediction #3: Argo

Film: Argo
Format: Blu-Ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

Honestly, this isn’t much of a prediction, or at least it’s a prediction without much in the way of risk. Every year since the incarnation of The List, the latest Best Picture winner from the Academy Awards has made it into that year’s edition. While there’s certainly the possibility of an exception, my guess is that Argo will grace one of the back pages in about a month.

Ben Affleck has gotten a lot of crap in his career. A lot of that (Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck) has been deserved. So Argo is rather a redemptive moment for Mr. Affleck. It was, up to this point, pretty easy to push off all of Affleck’s acting roles as trying to capitalize on his charm and good looks. Despite his less-than-stellar movies in front of the camera, he has been slowly working out from under the baggage of his name as a producer and director. Argo put him in triple-threat territory: producer, director, and actor. And all of us can shut up about Ben Affleck now, because he nailed this one.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Seriously Broken Alarm Clock

Film: Sleeper
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

After the last couple of days, I needed a film that I knew I liked. Sleeper fills the bill for that. I like Woody Allen, as I’ve said before. My introduction to his film was, I think, this one. If not, it was another of his early films back when everything he did was straight comedy without much in the way of relationship issues or drama. I like these early films of his because they’re just meant to be funny, and they’re the sort of funny I like. It’s a mixture of highbrow and lowbrow, goofy and cerebral. Sleeper leans heavily toward the goofy, and I’m fine with that, too.

Miles Monroe (Allen) is a part time clarinet player and owner of the Happy Carrot health food store. Complications from minor surgery cause him to end up cryogenically frozen without his knowledge. He’s revived 200 years in the future in a dystopian society where the masses live under the rule of a dictatorship that stresses personal pleasure as a way to keep them in line. Miles is revived by a rebel faction that wants to use him as a way to infiltrate the hierarchy of the rulers.