Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shock Corridor


Shock Corridor
Director: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Peter Breck, Constance Towers

Movies like Shock Corridor reinforce in me the notion that giving a picture a second chance is sometimes the best thing in the world. My initial impression of this movie several years ago could be summed up by “halfway decent B picture.” Now I feel as though I have more of a handle on what Samuel Fuller is all about as a writer-director, and seeing Shock Corridor for the second time, I enjoyed it much more.

The slightly hackneyed plot is all about Johnny Barrett (Breck), a reporter willing to do anything it takes to win a Pulitzer Prize. The way he’s planning on getting his hands on it is by coercing his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Towers) into pretending to be his sister, then having her commit him to a mental hospital on the trumped up charges of incestual fetishism. Once there, he can investigate the three mentally disturbed witnesses to a murder at said hospital. Everything goes according to plan, except for the wee little hiccup that Johnny starts to lose his own grasp on reality the more time he spends as a patient.

To me, a Samuel Fuller film means grotesque beauty, great play with high contrast lighting and shadows, uncomfortable situations, and characters who are played to absolute extremes. With that in mind, it makes total sense that Fuller made a movie set in a mental hospital. I can almost feel his giddiness, rubbing his sweaty palms together and giggling at the insanity (pun intended) he’s about to unleash. This attitude just leaps off the screen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Black Cat

Back after a weekend in DC.

The Black Cat
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, David Manners, Julie Bishop

It’s good for me to watch a movie like The Black Cat every now and then. Sometimes I get really caught up in watching the great Hollywood classics, or I’ll only want to rewatch films I love from the Golden Age. As such, I tend to have a very rosy view of Old Hollywood. For that reason, then, it’s good for me to see something like The Black Cat, because it reminds me that classic Hollywood made just as much crap as modern Hollywood.

Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) is in a bus crash with a honeymooning couple (Manners and Bishop). Wounded, they go to Werdegast’s old friend’s house, Poelzig (Karloff). But Poelzig isn’t exactly an old friend, and Werdegast’s visit isn’t exactly innocent in its intentions. Enter some story about the house being built on a WWI battle site, a hellish prison, and, of course, satanic cultists, and the movie wraps up.

Oh yeah, and they mention black cats. Like, twice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Through the Olive Trees


Through the Olive Trees
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, Hossein Rezai, Zarifeh Shiva, Tahereh Ladanian

Apparently I’m on a bit of an Iranian film tear. I don’t care, I think they’re pretty damn awesome.

Kiarostami is rapidly becoming a new fascination with me. Through the Olive Trees is the second film I’ve seen by him; the first, Taste of Cherry, I saw about a month ago and found it a fascinating contemplation on life and death in the modern world. Through the Olive Trees is not as profound as Taste of Cherry, more resembling a comedy than a philosophical drama, but it still has a significant resonance.

There has been an earthquake in Iran. A filmmaker (Keshavarz, an obvious stand-in for Kiarostami himself) is shooting a film about how lives have been affected by the tragedy, and he casts locals who have suffered themselves. Problems arise when the young man he casts as the lead, Hossein (Rezai), admits that he is in love with the young woman cast as Hossein’s wife, Tahereh (Ladanian). Thing is, Tahereh’s grandmother is dead set against the match and Tahereh herself won’t even speak to Hossein – not even on set, speaking the lines. Ah, young love – ever the enemy of a filmmaker’s vision.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gold Rush


The Gold Rush
Director: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale

When I first started watching classic film and had it in my head to start delving seriously into silent films, I figured the best place to start would be Chaplin. Comedy is universal, and Chaplin is immortal. Starting off my journey through silent film with Charlie Chaplin was a very good idea, and The Gold Rush proved to me that a movie made more than eighty years ago can still make people laugh.

The Lone Prospector (Chaplin as his Little Tramp) heads to into the wilderness and meets up with another prospector, Big Jim (Swain). The two hungrily sweat out a Yukon snowstorm in a small cabin, where Chaplin immediately shows off some tremendously famous comic set pieces. After the storm, the prospector heads into a town where he falls in love with the local dance hall girl Georgia (Hale), despite her indifference to him. Later, he meets up with Big Jim again, but this time, he feels the urgency to find gold, as he is convinced that if he strikes it rich, he can win Georgia’s heart.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012



Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Starring: Shaghayeh Djodat, Abbas Sayah

An old couple stop at a spring to wash their gabbeh, or woven rug. Magically, a young woman (Djodat) seems to spring from the gabbeh, pronouncing her name to be Gabbeh. She tells the old couple the story depicted on the rug, which is also the story of how she ran away from her clan with her lover. Her father is perpetually making her wait to marry her lover, a man who is never seen close up but instead communicates through the cry of the wolf, and eventually, Gabbeh must break free of her clan. The old couple both listen to and participate in her story.

There is certainly a simple lyricism in this film. Makhmalbaf gracefully shows us a wheat field blowing in the wind, then cuts to a shot of women weaving a gabbeh, then back to a rippling stream. It has been called poetic, and I find that to be an apt description. While the story is more or less straightforward, Makhmalbaf intercuts cleverly, going from a shot of yellow flowers to one of making yellow dye, to yellow yarn, to a yellow canary. When Gabbeh’s mother is giving birth, we see instead a hen laying an egg. When Gabbeh finally decides to run away with her suitor, we mainly see a baby goat standing on its legs for the very first time. There is constant association of man with nature, and the sounds of nature underline nearly every scene.

Monday, July 23, 2012

True Grit


True Grit
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon

I admit, I had high expectations for True Grit based on No Country for Old Men. I consider the latter to be one of the finest films to come out of Hollywood in the last decade; it’s thrilling, it’s taut, it’s ambiguous, and it’s just all-in-all fantastic. When I heard the Coen brothers were taking on another western, I was excited. After finally seeing True Grit, a remake whose original I have not seen, I have to say that, while having its own merits, it does not live up to its predecessor.

Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) arrives in an Arkansas town hellbent on avenging the death of her father. She is no-nonsense, smart, and stubborn, and she quickly enlists the drunken and slovenly U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to aid her in this quest. She insists on joining him in pursuit of her father’s murderer, however, and along the way, they also pick up Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon). The three of them form a sort of Odd Trio, bickering and arguing all the way while they track down the man responsible.

I tend to be mostly hit, sometimes miss when it comes to the Coen brothers. I believe they have made some truly brilliant films, some really great, very likeable films, but I also find some of them to be too quirky, too self-conscious, and too wrapped up in their own oddity for their own good. Usually, when watching a Coen brothers film, you are highly aware that you are watching a Coen brothers film; they have a surreal style, a way with words and characters, that is recognizable. While True Grit is, by all accounts, a pretty damn restrained Coen brothers movie, their style peeks through, mostly in the dialogue and minor characters.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Hard Day's Night

I am amused that the title, in French, is "Four Boys in the Wind."

A Hard Day’s Night
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell

Perhaps initially popularized by Elvis and propagated in this day and age by such fine cinematic fare as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Hannah Montana: The Movie, and Katy Perry: Part of Me, the movie industry has never shied away from capitalizing on the hot pop music act of the day. These films tend not to make for incredibly profound viewing, and A Hard Day’s Night is no exception. However, it does benefit from having Beatles’ music in it (while not exactly a devotee, I enjoy their stuff) along with some fantastic lines of dialogue.

The plot, such as it is, focuses on the Lads from Liverpool getting to and preparing for a televised gig. At the beginning, they pick up Paul’s grandfather (Brambell) – no, his other grandfather, not the one that lives with him at home – and let him tag along. Problem is, granddad likes to run amok, so keeping tabs on him keeps the boys on their toes. Numerous musical numbers pop up along the way.

The main impression I got when I watched this the first time (about four years ago) was that of total and utter incoherence. Oh, you were looking for a plot that actually developed from point A to point B? I’m sorry, you clearly looked in the wrong place. In terms of cogency, A Hard Day’s Night falls somewhere between an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and El Topo. All of which is to say, the film feels as if it’s barely held together at the seams, as if it’s about to careen over a cliff. The first time I saw this, the lack of logic rather bothered me, and it was all I focused on. I admit I left with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Q&A time!


The last few days have been very movie-filled for me. Thursday night I caught a Nolan Batman trilogy showing at our local Cinemark theaters. 6:15pm, Batman Begins; 9pm, The Dark Knight (review written, will be posted eventually, hint: I love it); 12:01am, The Dark Knight Rises. Seeing all three in theaters, back to back to back, was pretty damn awesome and intensely immersive.

This was followed on Friday by seeing Jaws on the big screen for the first time ever. Rockin'!

Long story short, I come back to my online world to find that Steve over at 1001plus thought enough of me to give me a Liebster award, a little chain letter amongst movie bloggers.

Thanks, Steve!!! I really appreciate it, especially given that my little corner of the blogverse is still oh so young. I am greatly heartened to know that even a few people are reading what I'm writing.

Here are the rules:

1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2. Answer the 11 questions the person giving the award has set for you.
3. Create 11 questions for the people you will be giving the award to.
4. Choose 11 people to award and send them a link to your post.
5. Go to their page and tell them.
OK, just like TSorensen, I don't know enough other bloggers who weren't already tagged to tag 11 new people. I do have one, though, but that's about it. Not 11.

Eleven Useless Pieces of Information About Siobhan

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell

*reposted from my previous film site in an effort to get everything in one location*

You can’t watch dramas all the time. You can’t watch serious, arthouse fare all the time. Every now and then, a crazy comedy hits the spot. If I’m looking for a crazy comedy that comes with the luminous Marilyn, catchy songs, and dazzling Technicolor, then I reach for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Lorelei (Monroe) and Dorothy (Russell) are best friends but polar opposites. Lorelei is hell bent on marrying her millionaire boyfriend despite the fact that he’s a bit geeky, but she needs to get him away from his objecting father first, so she sails for Europe. Dorothy accompanies her, and although she gets distracted by the Olympic men’s track team along the way, falls for the charming but penniless private eye who is spying on Lorelei. Complications arise, wacky situations are resolved, and, no shocker here, all ends happily.

Thursday, July 19, 2012



Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong

Kundun tells the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Tibetans believe that the spirit of Buddah is reincarnated into the Dalai Lama, and after the death of the thirteenth, holy men are searching for the next spiritual and secular leader of the country. A young boy is found and taken to a monastery where he is trained in Buddhism. When he is older, the Dalai Lama (Tsarong plays the Dalai Lama as an adult) faces Chinese invasion and seizure of his country Tibet. He must decide whether to stay and stand up for his country or flee in the face of increasingly hostile Chinese gestures.

Having said all of that, there is shockingly little plot in this film. Things pick up when the tensions with China start to mount, but the first hour of the film, at least, is a large meandering episode with little to no focal point. I was interested but never entranced. I was following along, but not enthralled. I was never bored, either, but the film never got under my skin. Frankly, I have a bit of a problem with this. Scorsese clearly thinks he’s telling a gripping tale. He’s not. It does pick up when tensions with China begin to mount, but the opening half of the film is, quite simply put, vague. We are given no background about the traditions of Buddhism and the constant shuffling of the Dalai Lama’s teachers and mentors gets confusing.

Scorsese used nonprofessional actors for most of the roles in this film, and the product is a nicely understated and low key film, at least from the vantage point of performances. No one ever gets incredibly angry or upset, there is no overacting or mugging for the camera, and doesn’t that seem to fit perfectly for the Dalai Lama? In terms of performances, there is a very even keel throughout the film. Few ups, few downs, with everything staying nicely in the middle of the road. That might sound a little boring, but it is very reflective of the persona of the Dalai Lama himself. Modesty and inward meditation are more important than outward shows of wailing and passion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Clockwork Orange


A Clockwork Orange
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcom McDowell, Patrick Magee

How do you describe a film like A Clockwork Orange?

"See, it's about this guy, and he's the head of this gang that goes around fighting and raping people, but then he gets caught and has to go to prison. Then he enters into this alternate rehab thing where he's more or less tortured and he pretends to be all reformed, but he's really not. And it's a comedy. I think."

My thoughts exactly.

The first time I saw A Clockwork Orange was my freshman year in college. A suite of boys at the end of my hall, whom I had befriended, convinced me that I needed to see it, so they sat me down one afternoon and we watched it. My friend turned to me after it ended and said, "What do you think?"

I chewed the question for a moment. "I don't know," I said. It was the first time that I realized that I honestly didn't know what I thought about the movie. I didn't know if I loved it or hated. It was all too much, too extreme, too insane, too over-the-edge.

Over the course of the next few days, the movie refused to leave my mind. I found myself thinking about it all hours of the day. It would pop in my head unannounced in the middle of a lecture, as the image of Alex at the milk bar infiltrated its way into my brain.

Three days had gone by since I had seen it. I finally walked up to my friend and said, "Ask me again." "What do you think?" he asked.

"I loved it," I said.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Double Indemnity


Double Indemnity
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: The immaculate Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson

It’s hard for me to write about Double Indemnity because I love Double Indemnity so damn much that I have essentially no capacity to speak about it lucidly or objectively. All I can do is wildly flail my long fangirl arms and screech about how it’s pretty much the best movie ever made. There. I’ve warned you.

Walter Neff (MacMurray, in a non-Disney Dad role) is an insurance salesman who seems to be having a bad night. He stumbles to his office where he dictates a message to his friend and boss Barton Keyes (Robinson). The story he tells is one of meeting Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) when he was renewing her husband’s policy. Phyllis seduced Walter and convinced him to help her kill her husband and, as you may have already guessed, things head downhill for everyone.

Plain and simple, this is the most perfect film noir ever made. There are so many classic noir-isms that Wilder either establishes or perfects in Double Indemnity: the femme fatale, the fundamentally-good-but-fatally-flawed hero, the shadowy lighting, the sexual power trips, the hard-boiled dialogue, the symbolism, and even the names. Noir has great names, and this movie has some of the best: Walter Neff? If that name doesn’t scream “pushover,” I don’t know what does. You don’t doubt Neff falling for Phyllis and succumbing to her every whim when he has a name like that.

Monday, July 16, 2012



Director: Michael Mann
Starring: William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room right away - The Silence of the Lambs. Ah, that cinematic bane of Manhunter. In 1986, no one gives a hooey about Hannibal Lecter, but five years later, he’s all the rage. Michael Mann must have been shaking his head in disbelief at how his Lecter film was met with box office ambivalence and Demme’s was both a commercial, critical, and award season success. And now that I’ve seen Manhunter, I’m more than a little incredulous as well. Manhunter is taut, thrilling, creepy, and all around fantastic. It doesn’t deserve to be considered “the forgotten Hannibal film.”

Red Dragon before Red Dragon, the movie tells of Will Graham (Petersen), a retired FBI agent who retired after he caught Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Cox, and yes, I’m sticking with the later spelling of the name). He had to retire because he caught Lecter using psychological profiling, a novel concept in 1986, and Lecter stuck in his head. Graham is enlisted by his friend Detective Crawford (Farina) to help solve the case of the Tooth Fairy killer, a psychopath who murders whole families in their homes. The FBI has bupkus on his motives or where he’ll strike next. Graham realizes that in order to catch the Tooth Fairy, he’ll have to once again think like a psychopath, and even worse, ask for help from the imprisoned Dr. Lecter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful


The Bad and the Beautiful
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Walter Pidgeon, Gloria Grahame

It’s pretty astounding to me that a film like The Bad and the Beautiful actually got made in Hollywood, let alone made in Hollywood during the 1950s, let alone made in Hollywood during the 1950s and starring some of the most famous names of the time. The Bad and the Beautiful is a searing and unflinching look at the brutality of the film industry and the kind of ruthlessness that is needed to make it in show business.

Told in flashback, three Hollywood big wigs – actress Georgia Lorrison (Turner), screenwriter James Bartlow (Powell) and director Fred Amiel (Sullivan) – are called together by producer Harry Pebbel (Pidgeon). Pebbel asks them to consider, for old times’ sake, making one more picture with producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas). Each of them then remembers their involvement with Shields and what he did to each of them to make them hate his guts.

I love how mean this film is, because damn, it’s mean. Jonathan Shields is not a nice person. He is beyond driven, and willing to go to any measure to make his films. All three of the stories told over the course of the film involve Shields befriending the person in question (or, in the case of Lana Turner’s character, seducing), then using his relationship with that person to get films made – at any cost. Douglas’ performance, and the film in general, is incredibly brave. Douglas doesn’t just tiptoe near the edge of ego-driven megalomania, he careens straight to the cliff and soars right over it. There are absolutely no attempts to make Shields a hero. He is not. But he is the star of the film, and there is something oddly captivating about him. As horrid as he is, I can understand how the actress, the screenwriter, and the director all got taken in by him. Douglas as Shields is incredibly charismatic.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Darling Clementine


My Darling Clementine
Director: John Ford
Starring: Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell

One of my all-time favorite westerns, My Darling Clementine manages to have all the classic hallmarks of its genres, but the overall mood and feeling seems fresher, lighter. It is the oft-told tale of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday fighting the Clantons at the O.K. Corral – American Western mythology at its finest – but the story has never been told quite like this.

When Wyatt Earp (Fonda) and his brothers stop in Tombstone for the night, the lawless Clanton clan kills the youngest brother to steal the herd of cattle the Earps were pushing to California. Instead of moving on, Wyatt decides to stay on in Tombstone as marshal in order to avenge the death of his brother, falling in love with a pretty lady and butting heads with the gloriously curmudgeonly Doc Holliday (Mature) along the way.

When you boil the plot down like this, My Darling Clementine sounds like a bitter tale of gritty revenge. Oddly enough, it’s the furthest from it, and that’s thanks to Fonda’s performance as Wyatt Earp and John Ford’s brisk direction. Consider: in his first night in Tombstone, Earp goes to the barber for a shave (falling backwards off the fancy new barber’s seat in the process), during which bullets fly in through the window. Instead of fear, Earp exclaims with a sense of exacerbation, “What kind of a town is this?” The situation is humorous, not frightening. Doc Holliday, the reigning gambling lord of the town, quickly comes up against bent-on-reform Earp. In their first “stand-off” in Holliday’s saloon, the two stare down one another and exchange thinly-veiled threats, but the situation is lightened when Holliday orders champagne for Earp. The grimace on Earp’s face as he tries to down the champagne is a lovely touch of laughter in what could have been a deadly serious encounter. Later on, more than a few laughs are had from the barber spraying Earp with a few blasts of unwanted perfume. This juxtaposition of aggression with humor, thanks to Ford, litters the film, making it an oddly light-hearted western.

Friday, July 13, 2012



Director: Had to be Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, The City of San Francisco

It is not understating it to say that Vertigo is the ultimate Hitchcock movie, but you have to ask yourself, “Why?” Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, but the mystery in Vertigo is solved and all is revealed with a third of the film left to go. In terms of mystery, Vertigo doesn’t fit with other Hitch standards like Rear Window or North by Northwest. No, this is the ultimate Hitchcock film for an entirely different reason. Of all his work, Vertigo is clearly the most personal, the most intimate, the most soul-baring piece of film he ever presented. And it is this fact that also makes Vertigo his most disturbing film.

Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a former police detective forced to retire due to psychological and physical issues surrounding an incident that left another cop dead and him hanging from the side of a building. An old friend from college convinces Scottie to do some private detective work for him, following his wife around. Apparently, Madeleine the wifey (Novak) is slightly off her rocker and appears to be possessed by the spirit of a melodramatic nineteenth century ghost, intent on getting wifey to kill herself. Scottie is immediately smitten with Madeleine, and things go from complicated to downright twisted.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rio Bravo


Rio Bravo
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan

Howard Hawks didn’t like High Noon. Apparently, he didn’t like how the character of the sheriff played by Gary Cooper was dependent on the townspeople, the ones who turned their backs on him. Hawks held fast to the idea that a sheriff in a classic western should be strong, dependent on no one. So he made Rio Bravo to have a similar situation to High Noon, but a different leading character.

Sheriff Chance (Wayne, playing Wayne), has arrested Joe Burdette, the brother of an infamous wealthy criminal Nathan Burdette. Figuring that Nathan will come gunning for his brother, he enlists the help of Dude (Martin), an alcoholic trying to go straight, Colorado (Nelson), a young gunfighter, and Stumpy (Brennan), a crippled prison guard.

This is straight-up classic western, down to the good guys wearing white and the bad guys wearing black. There’s no attempt to make it any more than what it is, which is exactly what makes it fun. It’s just a tale of good versus evil in the idealized American west. I really can’t fault it for that; personally, I tend to like my westerns with more bite, more of a message, or with more characters who have shades of grey. But y’know, sometimes, you just want a classic western, and that’s what Rio Bravo is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Raise the Red Lantern


Raise the Red Lantern
Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Gong Li, He Caifei, Cao Cuifen

Songlian (Gong Li) has no options left. Her father has died. Her stepmother cannot afford her college tuition anymore. At 19, she gives up her life to become the Fourth Mistress of a wealthy man and live at his estate, where the first, second, and third mistresses vie for power and control. Let the games begin.

Thus opens Raise the Red Lantern, perhaps the ultimate film about sorority life gone horribly, horribly wrong.

I have precious little patience for female squabbling. This stems from my years at college where I lived in a suite of girls all four years. During those years, I had anywhere from four to (god forbid) seven suitemates. Living in close quarters with other females for such an extended period of time had a bit of a traumatic effect on me. Perhaps the final straw was the screaming match my suitemates had, followed by days of silent treatment, over (I kid you not) cake frosting.

All of which is why I found the first hour Raise the Red Lantern terrifically unappealing. Watching the mistresses be bitchy and nasty to each other held absolutely no appeal for me. More than that, though, was the stereotypical treatment of the mistresses. When Songlian, young and pretty herself, meets the other women, it is clear that First Mistress is old and weary, Second Mistress (Cao Cuifen) is middle-aged but happy and kind, and Third Mistress (He Caifei) is also young, also pretty, incredibly jealous, and really really bitchy. So clearly, Third Mistress is the villain and Second Mistress is the sympathetic ear, and we get to watch all of the bitchiness through the lens of Songlian. Nothing really novel here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Out of Africa


Out of Africa
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer

I have to once again reiterate my detestation of epics. They are just not what I want when I watch a movie. I like small stories. Epics are never small – it’s the definition of “epic.”

I was kind of dreading watching Out of Africa, given that I knew it was a romance, had grand vista shots of Africa, and was 2 hours and 41 minutes long. In short, all the classic ingredients of a long, tedious waste of my time.

Unfortunately, the movie did not prove me wrong.

Karen (Streep) proposes a marriage of convenience with a friend of hers, Bror (Brandauer). He accepts and they move to Africa, where he promptly starts treating theirs as a marriage of convenience. She gets inconceivably huffy about this, and decides to “take pity” on the natives working their coffee plantation by throwing herself into their lives and the plantation itself. World War I happens, other stuff happens, she meets Denys (Redford), other boring stuff happens, she meets Denys again, other random stuff happens, she falls in love with Denys, and then, y’know, epics end how all epics end. Two hours and forty one minutes later, I breathe a sigh of relief and hit eject on the DVD player. Yes, that’s part of the plot.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Trip to the Moon


A Trip to the Moon
Director: George Melies

Of all early primitive films, A Trip to the Moon is perhaps the best remembered and the most well loved. It has an image that is incredibly well known and several others that are only slightly less well known, and has been referenced dozens of times by everything from The Simpsons to Smashing Pumpkins. The simple plot involves a scientist (or president, or wizard – in any case, some authority figure) deciding to take a trip to the moon. He enlists five helpers. A rocket shoots them to the moon (cue super-famous shot) where they encounter strange sights, including a grotto filled with magical mushrooms and dangerous moon warriors, the Selenites. After narrowing escaping, the explorers return home.

There is a lot here that will appeal to a modern film viewer if they have just a touch of patience. The greatest aid to its palatability is the fact that A Trip to the Moon is pure spectacle. For the little bit of film history I know, I think this is one of the earliest example of a film showing you something that you just plain couldn’t see in real life. This was not a recording of an every day event – this is perhaps the furthest from an every day event you can possibly get! That’s, ultimately, the charm of this film. It’s showy, it’s whimsical, it’s completely ridiculous, but how many other films do we know like that? Hundreds, if not thousands. This is the one that started them all.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Too Early, Too Late

This film is so experimental, it doesn't even have a damn POSTER!

Too Early, Too Late
Director: Daniele Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub
Starring: Countryside vistas and the essays of Marxist writers. No, I’m serious.

Y’know, as pretentious and posturing as I know I can sometimes get about film, I really really do not enjoy avant garde cinema. I just don’t get it. Dammit, I like it when my film tells me a story. And even if there’s a little bit of story mixed in with some experimentation, yeah, I like that too (Last Year at Marienbad, I’m looking at you). But just plain experimental? No plot, no actors? Oooh, then we have a problem.

Too Early, Too Late is exactly that type of a film. The entire film – the ENTIRE film – is very long shots of various countryscapes throughout the world. The narration over these long pastoral shots is readings from famous Marxist essays read in the most possible flat voices you have ever heard in your entire life. The first part of the film is a reading of a letter by Friedrich Engels listing stats of numbers of impoverished people in the French countryside, read over shots of the French countryside. The second part of the film is a similar structure, but now in Egypt, reading an essay by Mahmoud Hussein, describing how the Egyptian people should cast off their European rule to be independent.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Barbarian Invasions


The Barbarian Invasions
Director: Denys Arcand
Starring: Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Marie-Josée Croze

This was a shockingly personal film for me. As such, expect a shockingly personal review, one that I will not advertise as readily as nearly all of my other work.

In The Barbarian Invasions, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner from 2003, retired professor Remy (Girard) is diagnosed with inoperable and terminal cancer in Montreal. His ex-wife calls their estranged son Sebastien (Rousseau) and his fiancée back from London where he works as a financial planner. He is hesitant, having been estranged from his father for a long time, but at the insistence of his mother, he fights the broken health care system to provide comfortable final days for his father. He gets his dad a better room, calls together his father’s old friends, and even goes to the lengths of scoring heroin from a junkie (Croze) to help relieve his father’s pain.

Superficially, The Barbarian Invasions seems to pride itself on how “risqué” it is. ‘Look at Remy! He admits to having had multiple mistresses! Look at his friends! They’re in their fifties and talking about socialism and sex! OMG, Remy is doing drugs!!!! Is your mind blown yet?!?!?’ Yes yes yes, you’re quite shocking. There was a pomposity to this, a feeling of blustery “WOW we’re in an awesome movie because this is so TABOO!” Ostentatious and stagey; these are the adjectives I would use, not taboo.

Gimme Shelter


Gimme Shelter
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Starring: The Rolling Stones

I think that the Maysles brothers got really lucky when they made this film. They set out to make a documentary about the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour. Instead, they managed to film a significant real-life moment that has since been deemed a cultural turning point.

In an attempt to duplicate the magic of Woodstock, the Stones wanted to put on a free concert in San Francisco. We follow the Stones as they perform at Madison Square Garden, as they lay down some tracks in the studio, and watch as concert organizers scramble at the last minute to set up the free concert. On the day of the concert, the crowd is large, drunk, and stoned. Through the opening acts, the crowd becomes increasingly disorderly, and the Hell’s Angels respond with brutality. The film closes with footage of the infamous stabbing of a gun-toting concertgoer by a Hell’s Angel.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Slumdog Millionaire


Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor

The year that Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture was a scant Oscar year for me. I was deeply entrenched in viewing older films and rarely came up for air by actually going to a current movie theater. The only nominated film for Best Picture that I had seen was Frost/Nixon, which I still think is a good film, if not a little lacking, and I was wincing over the exclusion of The Dark Knight from the nominations list. For some reason, I sort of mentally wrote off a lot of films from that year. For some reason, I was anticipating not enjoying Slumdog Millionaire.

I honestly don’t know why.

Because I enjoyed the heck out of it as I watched it just now.

Jamal Malik (Patel as an adult, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Tanay Chheda in flashbacks) is one question away from winning India’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The police, however, are convinced that an uneducated boy from the slums has to be cheating in order to get so far. Jamal walks through every question he was asked on the show, flashing back to episodes in his life that explain how he knew the answer. All this is a pretext, however, for the real story, the grand opera of family, love, and betrayal involving Jamal’s brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala) and his childhood friend Latika (Pinto, Rubina Ali, and Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar).

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Withnail & I


Withnail & I
Director: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths

In terms of razor sharp witticisms and bizarrely black comedy, I doubt any other film quite reaches the same heights – or, rather, depths – as Withnail & I. This is a film that has inspired some truly rabid followers, preaching its gospel. Even before I started purposely watching movies from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I had seen this one because a friend of mine just wouldn’t shut up about it. “You’ll love it, OMG, it’s hysterical, BEST MOVIE EVER!”

Not quite.

Withnail (Grant) and his friend, the “& I” from the title (McGann), are unemployed actors living in 1969 London. Their apartments are a mess, they don’t work, they don’t eat, instead spending their time drinking and complaining and developing a disdain for the common man. Fed to the gills with their dire circumstances, they decide to ask Withnail’s Uncle Monty (Griffiths) to borrow his country cottage to “get away from it all.” As soon as they get to the country, shenanigans ensue, and they realize they are hardly any better off there than they are in town.

This is comedy, to be sure, but it is a dire black-hearted comedy. I’m hit or miss when it comes to black comedy, and even with a number of the gags in this film, I’m hit or miss. There were moments when I was legitimately laughing, and moments when I felt nothing but uncomfortable at what was supposed to be a funny situation. So I agree with the legions in terms of this being a funny film, but I was not continually amused.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Total Recall


Total Recall
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone

Back in my college days, there was this philosophy professor who was absolutely revered. He had won every single conceivable teaching award out there and had started the honors program, of which I was a part, personally teaching the first course in the program, a philosophy class called “The Nature of Inquiry.” Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him. His name always seemed to be mentioned in hushed tones of awe. At the beginning of every school year, he would personally take the new members of the program to his home for a party. At this party, he always showed Total Recall.

Also back in my college days, where I met my husband, I also met my husband’s friends. They loved to get a few (dozen) beers on and watch Total Recall and laugh hysterically at line after line after line.

I mention this to point out on how many levels Total Recall works.

In the unspecified future, planetary space travel has been made not only possible, but easily feasible. Doug Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is having recurring dreams of Mars, despite the fact that he’s never been there. His unsupportive wife Lori (Stone) dismisses his obsession, so he seeks out the company “Rekall,” which specializes in implanting “fake” memories of trips never actually taken. He asks to have memories implanted of a two week trip to Mars where he is a secret agent instead of a construction worker. That’s when things begin to unravel. Quaid has a bad reaction to the implantation; turns out he’s ACTUALLY a secret agent (or is he?!?!), and his life isn’t really his life. Lots more plot complications ensue, Quaid goes to Mars, fights with rebels, battles for air, is relentlessly pursued by bad guy Richter (Ironside), makes out with Mars prostitute-slash-freedom fighter Melina (Ticotin), all while the body count piles up.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Le Samourai


Le Samouraï
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: The too-pretty-for-his-own-good Alain Delon

I have found that when it comes to watching quiet, intense dramas, it helps to be rather tired when watching them. I know that may sound a little weird, but the idea is that you’re not distracted by having too much energy. You’re not jumping around in your seat, and you can really settle into the film. It helps enormously when watching intense but slow-moving fare like Le Samouraï.

Why do I mention that? Because if you’re in the right frame of mind when watching a film, it can make or break the experience. For me, it completely made Le Samouraï. I encourage you to check it out under similar circumstances.