It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


Leave a comment

Moving pictures 2016, #2

More films watched by Yours Truly, some of which might have been from a certain list, some of which might not.

amores_perrosAmores Perros*, Alejandro González Iñárritu (2000, Mexico). I hadn’t realised this was the movie which brought Gael García Bernal to fame (admittedly, I’d thought Bernal Spanish, not Mexican), but having now seen it I can understand why so much notice was taken of him. Like another South American film on the list, Meireilles & Lund’s City of God from Brazil, Amores Perros is a series of interconnected stories, in this case three, all springing from a car crash. Bernal plays a young man who discovers that his brother’s dog is an excellent fighter. So he enters it in dog fights, and it wins repeatedly (the film-makers make it clear no dogs were actually harmed during the making of the movie). But then he accepts a private fight with a local gangster, and when his dog wins, the gangster shoots it. Bernal stabs the gangster and flees, with his friend and his wounded dog… which is when the crash happens. The driver of the other car in the crash was a model, the lover of a wealthy magazine publisher. Her leg is severely broken. While recovering in the new flat she shares with her lover, her yappy dog disappears down a hole in the floor, and searching for it she injures her broken leg, which then has to be amputated. The third section centres on a homeless man who appears briefly in the previous two stories. He rescues Bernal’s dog, but it is killed after he agrees to murder a man… Like most such films, the plot is complicated and somewhat convoluted. It is also, however, well-played by its cast, and well-shot. A deserving entry on the list.

ryans_daughterRyan’s Daughter, David Lean (1970, UK). I’ve always been conflicted about Lean – I mean, I love Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, but for all his plaudits I’ve never really thought of Lean as a particularly good director. And Ryan’s Daughter appears to be an attempt at making another epic movie like the two previously mentioned, except, well,… Mind you, it has to be said the cinematography is frequently gorgeous. But Robert Mitchum makes an unconvincing Irish school teacher, although he does give it a good go. John Mills’s Oscar-winning village idiot feels like an invader from a much older, and less sophisticated, film, and the story’s leisurely pace means its moments of high drama often fade away to nothing. And there are several moments of high drama, perhaps the most notable of which is when the villagers help the Irish Republican Brotherhood recover arms and munitions during a fierce storm from the German ship which attempted to deliver them but foundered. It’s a movie that feels like it lacks focus because it has so many things going on in it, and in such a short narrative time-frame and constrained to such a small geographical location. And, to be honest, the whole introduction, intermission and entracte thing, with incidental music, just feels pretentious. Yes, I know Lean did it in the other two aforementioned films, but sticking up “INTERMISSION” in big letters on the screen does not make it an epic (I’m old enough – just – to remember when cinema showings did have intermissions), and I’ve yet to be convinced it serves any good purpose.

londonLondon, Patrick Keiller (1994, UK). Given my admiration of James Benning’s films, this was recommended to me as something similar I might like, and I ended up with a copy as a Christmas present and… Yes, good call. It has more of an overt narrative than Benning’s films – here provided by Paul Scofield’s narration – although the cinematography does indeed consist of static shots. Of, er, London. As the camera focuses on various parts of the city, the narrator recounts anecdotes and aphorisms by his friend Robinson, not always as they relate to the part of London on-screen. It’s fascinating, although there’s less work required to piece together the story as the voice-over pretty much does that for you. But the Scofield’s somewhat circuitous explanation of events is its own reward, and the anecdotes are entertaining, irrespective of their relevance to the view on the screen. I plan to watch more films by Keiller – and he’s made quite a few.

man_from_uncleThe Man from UNCLE, Guy Ritchie (2015, USA). Having just worked my way through eight of Solo’s and Kuryakin’s theatrical adventures, I thought it worth giving this twenty-first century reboot a go. True, the director’s name didn’t bode well, although I didn’t actually know it was a Ritchie film when I bunged it on the rental list. But, it arrived in its little envelope, I stuck it in the player and… the title sequence is actually really good. And the film’s commitment to period detail is impressive. The only problem was the two leads – Henry Cavill and Arnie Hammer – have zero on-screen charisma. Cavill has a chin you could chisel granite with, and you feel he ought to light up the screen when he appears, but… he just doesn’t. His urbanity felt like a thin veneer, and not bone-deep as it did with Robert Vaughan, and his suave something he put on only when the camera was on him. Kuryakin, on the other hand, has been re-imagined as some sort of Soviet super-strong thug, and Hammer plays him like a block of Soviet wood. I can’t actually remember the plot, and I’m pretty sure there was one somewhere.

ohenryO Henry’s Full House*, various (1952, USA). I stuck this on the rental list not realising it was an anthology film, with each segment directed by a different person. It starts off strangely, with a man in a jailhouse making notes on what the other prisoners are saying. This, we are then told by John Steinbeck, who is sitting behind a desk in a book-lined study, was O Henry, a journalist who used the people he encountered during his career as fodder for his stories… and each of the short films in O Henry’s Full House is in some way a result of this. Unsurprisingly, given the age of Henry’s stories, the sting in each one’s title comes as no real surprise. Charles Laughton plays a gentleman vagrant, who is chivalrous to Marilyn Monroe in an early role. Richard Widmark plays a hugely irritating villain who gets his just desserts in a nicely ironic fashion. A young woman is convinced her pneumonia will kill her when the last leaf falls from the ivy outside her window – but the leaf never falls. Two men kidnap an annoying kid for ransom, and it pretty much goes as you’d expect. And finally, a poor married couple each make a sacrifice in order to afford a decent Christmas present for the other – with ironic results. The directors involved were Henry Koster, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, Howard Hawks and Henry King. I’m guessing they couldn’t find five directors called Henry, although both Hawks were Negulesco are both excellent film-makers.

avengers_ultronAvengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon (2015, USA). I’m not a big fan of the MCU films (and now even less of a fan of Marvel given its CEO’s financial support of Trump) and I really didn’t like The Avengers (despite being a Brit, and despite “the Avengers” referring to the far superior group led by John Steed, I think Avengers Assemble a stupid compromise title – we’re smart enough to figure out the difference between a bunch of US near-fascist goons in Spandex and the sarcastically urbane umbrella-wielding Steed; and I also note the Lycra’d loons have lost their definite article for this sequel). Anyway, Avengers: Age of Ultron: I didn’t like this either. Awful film. A stupid movie carried by the personalities of its cast – not the personalities of its characters, but of the actors who played them. With a stupidly confusing plot plastered over the top. One of the problems with Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation was that when you have a villain so powerful, how can you realistically have dramatic conflict? Marvel’s universe suffers from the same problem – something the comics themselves often side-step by randomly ramping up heroes’ superpowers from one story to the next – and Avengers: Age of Ultron falls into the same trap. The only way the Avengers can actually beat Ultron is by Plot Hole. But, to be honest, by that point of the film I was long past giving a shit about any of them, as they came across more like a team of parodies than a serious attempt at recasting comic-book stories for the cinema. Avoid.

1001 Films You Must See Before You Die count: 706


3 Comments

Moving pictures 2016, #1

A few people have said they’ve enjoyed these posts, so that’s enough for me – I’m going to keep them going. Otherwise, I guess, it’d be weeks between content appearing on this blog. Having said that, I really should write another one of my rants about science fiction, they usually go down well… But, for now, it’s movies and more movies…

cria_cuervosCría Cuervos*, Carlos Saura (1975, Spain). There are films you feel you really ought to like, given their subject and how well they’ve been made. I suspect Cría Cuervos is one such film. An eight-year-old girl witnesses a mistress visit her father on the night of his death, but she believes she was herself responsible for his death because she added “poison” to his glass of milk earlier that evening. She takes the glass from her dead father’s bedside and carefully washes it. Her mother appears in the kitchen, and the two talk. The father was a senior military officer in Franco’s fascist government. After the funeral, their mother’s sister is brought in to look after the girl and her two sisters – because their mother had died years before (in a clever bit of casting, Geraldine Chapman – the director’s partner at the time – plays both the mother and the adult version of the protagonist, who appears occasionally to comment on the events of her childhood). The children’s aunt is not a very good substitute mother, and the young girl obsesses over the “poison” she had given her father – which later proves to be nothing more than bicarbonate of soda – so much so that she even offers it to her mute grandmother. There is something contained about this film, the fact that Franco’s regime exists but impinges only peripherally, and yet the whole film is itself a commentary on that regime. It is, on reflection, a clever film, one that deserves more than single watching. I’m not convinced its child protagonist is necessarily a strong enough character to centre the film – and more ought to have been made of her future self’s appearances – but the way her life allegorizes Spain as a whole is effective. A good film.

uncleThe Man from UNCLE Movies: To Trap a Spy, One of Our Spies is Missing, The Spy with My Face, One Spy Too Many, The Spy in the Green Hat, The Karate Killers, The Helicopter Spies, How to Steal the World (1966 – 1968). I have no idea what possessed me to buy this boxed set of eight movies, expanded for theatrical release from episodes of The Man from UNCLE (I refuse to put full stops in the word, we don’t do that in the UK – abbreviations, initialisms and acronyms aren’t written with them in British English). Anyway, the men from UNCLE, Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. One of the many cable channels to which I have access had been showing these films and I caught a couple. They weren’t very good, but I thought it worth seeing the rest… Hence the DVD box set. And, well, as expected, they weren’t especially good. To Trap a Spy stars Luciana Paluzzi as the femme fatale, but she’s completely wasted. The Spy in the Green Hat has a frankly bonkers Jack Palance as the villain, ably assisted by Janet Leigh as an unhinged secretary/assassin (the best character, it has to be said, in the lot). It’s near impossible to pick a “best” film as they’re all so bad – and often cheap, too. Despite the familiar faces of the guest stars, the movies still boast television-episode budgets, and there’s an English-looking house somewhere in Hollywood or Bel Air used as a mansion in a variety of European countries. Having said all that, Vaughn is impressively suave as Solo, McCallum is, er, McCallum, and THRUSH is still a dumb name for an evil organisation. Complete tosh.

black_sundayBlack Sunday*, Mario Bava (1960, Italy). This was apparently the first film Bava directed and wrote – and it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list… which is why I watched it. I’ve seen comments which praise its cinematography, but Bava was always a bit of a stylist – and it’s a failing of critics everywhere and at any time that genre should somehow be treated differently, as if the same rules of style do not apply because, well, horror. Absolute bollocks. Genre is an attribute of the story, not of how the story is told. Having said that, Bava’s style was certainly distinctive, and often OTT. In Black Sunday, a witch is executed in the seventeenth century, but two hundred years later, a pair of innocents discover her grave and inadvertently bring her back to life. There are no surprises here, but it’s all done with panache and a somewhat more artistic approach to such stories than may have been common previously. Fun, but I’m not sure why it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

superflySuper Fly*, Gordon Parks Jr (1972, USA). Because blaxploitation films became a thing in the 1970s, the 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die list feels an obvious need to acknowledge their existence by including a few on its list, without actually thinking it possible to build a list in which such movies are not necessary. Because if you make a list that’s 50% American, then it’s going to be racist by definition – hence the need for three films by Gordon Parks Jr. Include more films by, for example, Ousmane Sembène, Souleymane Cissé, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, Mehdi Charef, or any other film-maker from the African continent. In fact, the list has remarkably few Arab directors on it – none from Egypt’s enormous film industry, no Palestinian directors such as Elia Suleiman (a favourite of mine, I admit), although one or two Iranian directors and Israeli directors are listed. All of which has has no bearing on Super Fly, which is a relatively ordinary early seventies thriller, notable because its hero is a villain and the film more or less presents his career as the one of the few open to people of colour. Which is likely true in the US – then and now. Not a great film, and I suspect its implications would be lost on ninety percent of its audience – which does render its inclusion in the list somewhat moot.

kuchKuch Kuch Hota Hai, Karan Johar (1998, India). After watching Deewaar by mistake late last year, and having really enjoyed Dilwale Dulhalia Le Jayenge earlier in the year also, I went and stuck a bunch of Bollywood films on my DVD rental list. And Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the first to arrive. My expectations were… pretty much based on Dilwale Dulhalia Le Jayenge, rather than Deewaar, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai met them all – it even starred Shah Rukh Khan again (despite being released in the same year as Dilwale Dulhalia Le Jayenge). SRK, while at college, fell in love with the principal’s daughter, who had joined after studying in the UK, they married and had a baby. Sadly, the mother died in childbirth. Eight years later, daughter Anjali reads the final letter left by her mother and learns that she was named for SRK’s best friend at college. The original Anjali is about to get married, but young Anjali thinks her father would make a better husband. There’s also a long flashback sequence explaining how SRK, Tina (young Anjali’s mother) and original Anjali meet and become friends/lovers. Plus songs and dance routines. I loved it. That decision to add some Bollywood to my rental list? Totally vindicated. I will admit to a secret hope – many years ago, in a taxi in Abu Dhabi I heard a song from a Bollywood film playing on the radio, and it managed to cover about fifteen musical genres in less minutes. A friend later told me the film in which the song had appeared, but I have since forgotten the title and would love to stumble across it. But, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was just a fun film from start to finish. I tweeted while watching it that “Bollywood was Hollywood dialled up to eleven”, and so it is. I have been bemoaning the preponderance of Hollywood films in my viewing last year, but Bollywood makes a perfect replacement. More such films have been added to DVD rental list.

public_enemyThe Public Enemy*, William A Wellman (1931, USA). One of the drivers of early Hollywood success appears to have been gangster movies, and I’m not entirely sure why. There are certainly other stories that are just as dramatic. I guess Prohibition fucked up the US more than it cares to admit. Not that the US would ever admit it’s been pretty much fucked-up since it was founded. Anyway, the end result is that many gangster movies of the 1930s all resemble each other – I kept on forgetting I was watching The Public Enemy, and confusing it with either Scarface or Angels with Dirty Faces. Although, sadly, it wasn’t a patch on Scarface. Cagney plays a gangster who makes good selling beer to bars – not that the bar owners have much choice, and much like the plot of Scarface – and argues often with his war hero brother. And, er, that’s about it. Cagney is a gangster, there is much gangsterly violence, Cagney dies a gangsterish death. The end. Watch Scarface, ignore all the other movies of like ilk.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list: 704


Leave a comment

Moving pictures, #42

This is the last lot of movies watched in 2015 – only three of them, in fact. Well, two movies and a season of a television series. I’m still unsure whether to continue these posts this year – what do people think? Is it worth it? I mean, I do tend to watch a broad variety of films, and while I can hardly recommend every one I’ve watched, I’ve certainly discovered directors and movies I greatly admire. I’d hope readers of this blog find these posts useful.

easy_riderEasy Rider*, Dennis Hopper (1969, USA). There are films you know about but never get around to watching – and it’s hard not to know about an icon of US counter-culture like Easy Rider. But I’d never seen it. Unfortunately, such knowledge often results in you thinking you know what to expect. Like two guys on choppers, driving around the US, complaining about The Man. And while elements of Easy Rider might well be described as such, I actually found myself really enjoying it because it proved to be so much more. There was the music, of course – all very much of the time, but not especially obvious choices. The cinematography was surprisingly good, especially of the US landscape. The film tries for a thriller plot, but mostly fails because it’s been filmed in that less-than-rigourous manner in which actors were expected to improvise, and non-professionals were involved. Neither fact, of course, is a criticism – in fact, they can result in superior movies (except for comedies, that is, especially Seth Rogen ones). But they did somewhat upset my expectations… albeit in a good way. Despite the fact it’s likely an invention, or probably never existed, I still can’t help buying into the beardy long-haired hippy on a chopper turning their back on society thing – even though it never came to anything, and most of them ended up as either CEOs of successful hedge funds or sellers wildly improbable products that no one was interested in… I’d like to see this again; I think it bears rewatching.

sohck_corridorShock Corridor*, Samuel Fuller (1963, USA). I know Fuller’s name from The Big Red One, which I watched last year (it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, of course; as is Shock Corridor). Although clearly done on the cheap, I thought The Big Red One a superior WWII movie, and I’m not that much of a fan of the genre. Shock Corridor, however, is an early work, a black-and-white OTT noir thriller. I wasn’t expecting much, but I ended up loving it. I plan to buy the Criterion Collection edition – and The Naked Kiss, which I’ve not seen but was made around the same time. But, Shock Corridor… A reporter poses as a patient to infiltrate a mental hospital where a patient was murdered the previous year. The crime is still unsolved, but clearly someone inside the hospital was responsible. Of course, the burden of presenting as mentally ill eventually causes the reporter to become mentally ill. But he does solve the crime. It’s all completely over-the-top – the patients are all pretty much clichés of mental patients, but Constance Towers plays a good role as the reporter’s girlfriend. In fact, she makes the film. It’s also a little weird seeing Roscoe P Coltrane play a straight role. Great stuff.

hammer_houseHammer House Of Horror – Complete Collection (1980, UK). I remember these being broadcast back in 1980. I was at boarding school, and we stayed up late to watch them. I only saw a few of the thirteen episodes, however – or at least, I only have memories of a few of the episodes. Two in particular have always stood out – ‘Guardian of the Abyss’, in which a Satanic cult use Dr Dee’s original scrying glass to summon a powerful devil; and ‘The Carpathian Eagle’, which featured Suzanne Danielle as a young woman who picks up men and cuts out their hearts. Last year, the Horror channel (one of the hundred or so cable channels I have on Virgin Media which rarely show anything of interest) broadcast the entire series, but again I only managed to catch a couple of episodes. Thirty-five years later, the one thing that struck me about the episodes I watched on cable telly was that they were so very late nineteen-seventies. And they weren’t very scary at all. I’d been a little afraid they were – ‘Guardian of the Abyss’ had given me nightmares when I watched it back in 1980. So I decided to get the DVD set, and… Well, they’re not really horror, they’re more thrillers, often with only a hint of the supernatural. They were also a lot better than I’d expected. Production values were pretty high for the time (okay, so the same manor house appeared under different names in multiple episodes, but never mind), the cast were pretty high-powered – Denholm Elliott, Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, Jon Finch, Simon MacCorkindale, Paul Darrow, Diana Dors, Warren Clarke, Dinah Sheridan… – and the final twists weren’t always blindingly obvious. Perhaps one or two episodes felt a bit stretched for their 51 minutes running time, but others were very effective in the scares department. When the DVD set arrived, I wondered why I’d bother ordering it, but having now seen all thirteen episodes I’m glad I did. ‘Guardian of the Abyss’ is still hugely creepy, if no longer nightmare-inducing; the plot of ‘The Carpathian Eagle’ is far more obvious than I’d remembered but is still good drama; and there are also fun episodes like ‘The House that Bled to Death’ (Carrie, in a semi-detached),’ A Rude Awakening’ (Denholm Elliott trapped in a sequence of nested nightmares), ‘Visitor from the Grave’ (woman kills an attacker, but he continues to haunt her), and ‘The Two Faces of Evil’ (scary hitchhiker proves to be a doppelgänger of a woman’s husband). Good stuff.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 701


1 Comment

Moving pictures, #41

This year’s viewing is nearly done. It has been the Year of Films. A huge number of them. Sadly, not all were especially good. But I did “discover” the films of Jacques Tati and James Benning, and started to obsess over the films of Aleksandr Sokurov. So not all bad then. The following movies pretty much take me to the end of the year. I’ve yet to decide what I plan to do about documenting my film-watching next year. I’m hoping I won’t be spending as much time watching DVDs, so I might well follow the same format. But we’ll see how it goes…

ang-lee-trilogy-dvd-coverThe Wedding Banquet*, Ang Lee (1993, Taiwan). I’m fairly sure I’ve seen a variation on this story, although the particulars escape me at the moment. Taiwanese expat has moved to the US, and is now living with partner Simon in Manhattan. His parents, however, think he is straight and are still trying to fix him up with a suitable wife. To forestall them, and to help out, he agrees to marry a tenant of his, a Taiwanese artist with no money. But then the parents want to visit and they bring $30,000 to pay for a sumptuous wedding. Son manages to keep the ceremony low-key, but his parents use the money on a huge banquet at a local Chinese restaurant run by a man who had been the father’s driver when the father had been a senior officer in the army. I am, I admit, somewhat conflicted about Ang Lee’s films. I’ve enjoyed many of them but not enough to seek out his oeuvre. He strikes me as good, but not great. His films are, at least, wide-ranging in topic, but though several of them appear on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, including this one, none to me feel really deserving.

deewaarDeewaar, Milan Luthria (2004, India). I watched this film by mistake. As you do. There’s a Deewaar on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list, but it was made in 1975 – although it does also star Amitabh Bachchan. But I rented the wrong one (actually, the other isn’t actually available for rental). By the looks of it, the two films are completely different. Ah well. This one, the 2004 film, is about a group of Indian soldiers held as POWs by Pakistan since the 1971 India-Pakistan War. Without India’s knowledge. But one of the prisoners escapes and tells the son of one of the imprisoned men, a war hero, and together they plan an escape. Over the film’s three hours, Deewaar manages to hit every WWII POW movie cliché with impressive accuracy. There are, of course, since this is Bollywood, a couple of musical numbers, but they are uncharacteristically restrained – just lots of singing and very little dancing. But then it is a POW film. Despite not planning to watch it, I quite enjoyed Deewaar – so much so, I went and stuck a dozen or so Bollywood films on my DVD rental list. But it looks like if I want to see the 1975 Deewaar I’m going to have to buy a copy. Oh well.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterStar Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams (2015, USA). Criticising The Force Awakens is starting to feel like spitting on Mother Teresa, but let’s face it, Abrams is a piss-poor director and The Force Awakens is a well-produced piece of fan service that does little more than reboot the Star Wars franchise (completely trashing SWEU in the process) while nonetheless making not the slightest bit of sense from start to finish. My twelve-year-old nephew, of course, loved it. I loved the original Star Wars film when I was eleven – but that film was a thousand times better than this one. So… there’s the First Order, which is supposed to be some sort provincical fascist troop, except they can afford Star Destroyers and even have enough money to convert an entire world into Starkiller Base, which is sort of like the Deathstar only MOAR BIGGAH. Then there’s the Republic, which beat the Empire – as in the original trilogy – except it doesn’t seem to care much about the First Order because it just sits around and waits to get blown up (in one of the most undramatic planet-blowing-up scenes in cinema history). And then there’s the Resistance, which is… resisting whom exactly? And it only has a handful of X-Wing fighters, so it’s not like it’s much of a threat against the Star Destroyer-equipped First Order anyway. I’ll not bother reiterating the plot, which pretty much hits all the beats of the original Star Wars film, though I welcomed both Rey and Finn as protagonists (and decry Disney’s failure to include Rey in most of their merchandising). There are a couple of really annoying plot holes, however. First, the Millennium Falcon sits there unlocked and fuelled, ready for Rey to steal it. As if. And where did she learn to pilot starships anyway? Poe Dameron’s reappearance, having been thought dead for two-thirds of the film, is handled really badly. Abrams does the amazingly fucking stupid thing he does in his films where a character sees a planet thousands of light years away explode in the sky above him. FFS. Actually, that’s not even stupidity, that’s contempt for his audience. The Millennium Falcon gets through the shield around Starkiller Base by approaching the planet at lightspeed. So why don’t the X-Wings? Why do they need the shield dropping? Finn was a “sanitation engineer” on Starkiller Base. Seriously? They use stormtroopers to empty the bins? Isn’t that a bit of a waste of all that combat training? Not that it seems to have been much use with Finn. Now, I enjoyed The Force Awakens, and I’ll likely watch it again some time. But it is not a good film, and adds almost nothing to the Star Wars franchise (although it certainly removes a lot: the entire SWEU, in fact). The most interesting thing about The Force Awakens has been the cultural phenomenon it has generated. All that crap about spoilers, all that rubbish about criticising it being a heinous crime. It’s not a patch on the 1977 Star Wars and, dare I say it, is a good deal less inventive than The Phantom Menace. Disney have taken a much loved intellectual property, which had been product from a week after its release, and turned it into twenty-first century product. And that’s not a compliment.

automataAutomata, Gabe Ibáñez (2014, Bulgaria). What an odd film. It starts out like Blade Runner, but then keeps the plot but changes tack to become a robot-hunter flick. Antonio Banderas plays the Deckard role, a cop who stumbles across a robot that proves to be a little more than it should be – it can break the “Second Protocol” (only the first and third of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics make an appearance in this) and so repair itself. He ends up getting abducted by one of these robots, and taken out into the desert surrounding the city – the result of climate crash or nuclear war is not made clear, but certainly it’s radioactive. The film doesn’t seem to know what self-awareness is, and confuses it with heuristic programming. Melanie Griffith plays a “clocksmith”, someone who modifies robots, and she is terrible, some of the worst acting I’ve seen in a long time. The film is also over-lit, often badly so (and so lights reflect off Banderas’s sweaty face where light sources are not supposed to exist), and filmed in DV so the image is sharp and clear and pretty unforgiving under the over-lighting. The robots, however, at least look like robots and not sexy women modelled in chicken-wire, and although the background makes very little sense and seems to over-rely on over-used cyberpunk tropes, the plot mostly hangs together. The supporting cast are all British (despite the Bulgarian money and locations and Spanish director), many doing bad to middling American accents. For some reason, Automata reminded me of Enki Bilal’s Immortal Ad Vitem, and while less inventive than that film it is more convincing.

dangerouslDangerous Liaisons*, Stephen Frears (1988, USA). I’ve known of this film for years, decades even, but never actually watched it. But, as the asterisk indicates, it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list so I bunged it on my rental list and lo and behold it arrived. And… meh. I really didn’t take to it. Glenn Close plays a manipulating marquise, John Malkovich plays a scheming vicomte, and both Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer play the vicitms of their sexual machinations. There’s lots of walking around in period costume – 1780s France, that is – and Malkovich issuing protestations of his undying love to Pfeiffer and she rebuffing him because, well, because he’s a sociopathic sexual adventurer, and then he explains himself to Close and… But, of course, Pfeiffer eventually succumbs to his blandishment. Amd Thurman too falls from grace. And Close gets her revenge. And… yawn. Keanu Reeves is there too, and he still can’t bloody act. He’s more wooden than a bloody wooden spoon. Bit dull this, and yet another inexplicable entry on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

the_killerThe Killer*, John Woo (1989, Hong Kong). Back when I lived in Abu Dhabi, DVDs weren’t that easy to come by – mostly thanks to censorship – but VCDs were readily available. And most of the latter were Hong Kong films. It seems that city had adopted the format with a vengeance (unlike Europe and the US). As a result, I bought a number of VCDs of Hong Kong action films, including quite a lot by Jackie Chan. And it’s those films The Killer reminded me of. Chow Yun Fat plays a gentleman assassin. On one of his jobs, he inadvertently blinds a night-club singer. So, hiding his identity, he returns to her, pays for treatment, and slowly falls in love with her. Meanwhile, the police are after him, as are a bunch of gangsters. Which means lots of slo-mo shoot-outs, although perhaps not with so much of the signature Woo, two guns, both held horizontal, while the shooter leaps in slow-motion for cover. It is amazing, however, that Fat never gets hit by those firing at him, at least not until the end of the film when the plot requires it. As Hong Kong actioners go, this is a superior example, but Hong Kong is such a huge cinema people are likely to find something more to their taste than this random sample from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list (Woo’s later success in Hollywood notwithstanding… um, or perhaps that’s responsible for his appearance on the list).

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 699


Leave a comment

The year in moving pictures

In 2015, I decided to try and watch as many films as I could on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, started subscribing to a second DVD rental library, and bought myself an Amazon Fire TV Stick. As a result, I watched 571 films during the year, of which 115 were rewatches (some more than once). In among those were 170 from the aforementioned list.

The bulk of the movies I watched were DVDs or Blu-rays I’d purchased myself. (I bought a multi-region Blu-ray player so I could watch Region A Blu-rays.) But I also watched quite a number from Amazon’s Lovefilm by Post. See below.

2015_films_by_source

Kinopalæst is the cinema in Denmark where I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Light is the cinema in Leeds where I saw SPECTRE. Yes, they were the only two films I saw at the cinema. I did quite well on my Amazon Fire TV Stick – 48 movies, all of which were included free with Amazon Prime.

In terms of genre, drama seems to have done especially well, although admittedly it’s a broad term and perhaps some of the films I’ve categorised as drama might better be labelled something else. Anyway, see below.

2015_films_by_genre

The two Bollywood films were from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list – or rather, one of them was: the other, Deewaar, proved to be a 2004 film of that title and not the 1975 one on the list (although both starred Amitabh Bachchan). Although last year I rented several of the plays from the BBC’s Shakespeare Collection from the late 1970s/early 1980s, the one Shakespeare movie this year was Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, which I thought very good.

By decade, the films I watched pretty much follows the same graph for books read: the current decade is the most popular (surprisingly), and there’s a steady increase through the decades which peaks at the 1960s. See below.

2015_films_by_decade

The late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century were a result of watching some early Dreyer silent movies and a DVD collection, Early Cinema – Primitives and Pioneers, because one of the films on it was on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

By nation makes for an interesting graph. Although I’ve been working my way through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, which includes movies from many different nations (but over half are from the US, sadly), I’ve been a fan of world cinema for years and many of my favourite directors work in non-Anglophone cinema. See below.

films_by_country

The high number from Russia is no doubt due mostly to Aleksandr Sokurov, a favourite director; for Denmark because of Carl Theodor Dreyer, and for Germany it’s probably Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Only two from Sweden – I obviously need to watch more Bergman…

Speaking of favourite directors, Sokurov comes out top for 2015 with 33 (most, it has to be said, were rewatches). Second is Jacques Tati, a 2015 “discovery”, at 15, then James Benning, another 2015 “discovery”, at 13. The remaining top ten goes as follows: Rainer Werner Fassbinder (12), Alfred Hitchcock (11), Carl Theodor Dreyer (10), Lars von Trier (8), Sergei Eisenstein (6), and lastly George Stevens, Michael Curtiz, Leni Riefenstahl, Jean-Luc Goddard and Jean Cocteau (5).

I finished the year having seen 703 movies on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and a quite large pile of DVDs and Blu-rays on my To Be Watched list. I plan to keep on with the list in 2015, although I think I’ll take it a bit slower, perhaps spend some evenings each week reading rather than film-watching. Plus, it’s getting to the stage now where I have to purchase titles in order to watch them as they’re not available for rental. We’ll see how it goes.


2 Comments

Moving pictures, #40

Cracking on, so to speak… More cinematic consumption by Yours Truly.

BSG1978Battlestar Galactica (1978, USA). So this Black Friday seems to have infected the UK from the US (and to be fair it’s a better tradition than the UK’s home-brand Black Friday) and Amazon had a whole bunch of mostly uninteresting deals going, but one which caught my fancy was the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Ultimate Collection on Blu-ray for £60 reduced from £160. To which I succumbed. And then the following week, they had Cyber Monday, and fuck knows what the fuck that is, but Amazon were selling a bunch of stuff cheap, among which was the original Battlestar Galactica series from 1978, plus the much-maligned Galactica 1980 sequel series, on Blu-ray for half-price at £20. So I bought it too. Foolishly. And watched it. Even more foolishly. I remember Battlestar Galactica quite fondly from the 1980s – it used to be on at 6 pm on BBC2 in Janet Street-Porter’s “yoof” spot. Much as I loved the universe of Star Wars, so I loved the universe of Battlestar Galactica. The uniforms, the spaceships, the, er, well, that was about it. Certainly not the stories. After all, who can forget the episode in which they spend an hour trying to figure out how to put out a fire on the Galactica before deciding to “let the vacuum in”? And the mangling of English in pursuit of a futuristic dialect is both annoying and embarassing – “frak” is okay, “felgercarb” is acceptable, but “chancery” is not the right word for a casino, and when a warrior goes on leave it’s not a “furlong”. Argh. I was, however, surprised by how closely the rebooted series followed the plots of the original series. Not entirely, obvs – but some of them were a lot closer than I’d remembered. The original Battlestar Galactica remains a notable piece of science fiction television, even if it was designed to totally cash in on Star Wars, and the things it did right mostly, but not always, outweigh the things it got wrong. Which is more than can be said for Galactica 1980

sensoSenso*, Luchino Visconti (1954, Italy). Visconti is a director I think well of – he has directed a number of films I admire. So I was predisposed to like Senso, despite knowing little about it. Other than the fact it was a period drama, which is not necessarily in my book a fact which might affect my opinion. And so it proved. Senso is a good period drama, but I’m not sure why it is a better period drama, other than perhaps its director’s name. Admittedly if its period is not of interest to audiences, that’s hardly the fault of the film-maker. But the whole point of period dramas is that they’re recognisable – or something about them is recognisable – to the viewer. For Senso, this is undoubtedly true of an Italian audience, much as it would be for Visconti’s excellent The Leopard… But Senso, for all its plaudits, never quite manages to evoke its time and place as a time and place sufficient to persuade audiences of its story. To be honest, I don’t recall much of the film (I write these posts a week or two after viewing the movie) and from what I do remember it struck me as mostly unsuitable romances during a period when such a thing existed and had very real social consequences. Nothing in the cinematography stood out, which I would have expected of a film by Visconti. He’s done better, and I’m surprised this one made the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list.

BSG1978Galactica 1980 (1980, USA). Ever watched something – several episodes of something – and then wonder why the fuck you bothered? Admittedly, Battlestar Galactica, the original 1978 TV series, is far from great television. But even fans of that are hard-pressed to say something nice about Galactica 1980. It’s not just that the project started off with a dumb premise, but also that the premise was shot down by the network after the pilot and then replaced with an even dumber premise. It’s a generation after the original Battlestar Galactica ended and its stars all have better things to do except Lorne Greene whose career must have been in the toilet as he’s back but this time with a fake beard. And there’s another villain, another nasty member of the Council, played by Richard Lynch, who also played a villain in an episode of the previous series. The “ragtag fugitive fleet” has finally reached Earth, but our world is, er, far too technologically primitive to help them fight the Cylons. But Betamax! I hear you cry. Walkmans! Sinclair ZX81s! Ford Pintos! Legwarmers! So Xavier, the councillor played by Lynch, decides to travel back in time in order to boost Earth’s technology – and the period he chooses is – yawn – Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Peenemünde, to be precise. Xavier is going to help von Braun invent the V-2. But grown-up Boxey – now called Troy because Boxey is a dumb name, even for a kid – and Barry van Dyke sidekick Dillon are sent back after Xavier – whose name is at least not pronounced ecks-avier because that’s not how you fucking pronounce it, you fucking stupid X-Men – and manage to destroy the V-2 prototype as it launches and so, er, stop V-2s from raining death and destruction on London– no, wait. That happened anyway. Anyway, they don’t change history. Xavier escapes to another time period to continue his dastardly plan. However. The network didn’t like the idea of Galactica warriors chasing Xavier through time-period-of-the-week and asked for a rethink. So we got… space scouts! A bunch of kids from Galactica are stranded on Earth, chaperoned by Troy and Dillon, who decide to disguise the kids as a scout troop. The remaining six episodes involve Troy and Dillon having adventures in USA 1980 – including a cringeworthy double episode featuring Wolfman Jack – sometimes with, sometimes without, the super-strong, high-jumping super scouts who can also turn invisible. The final episode is a flashback in which Starbuck crashlands on an alien world, finds a crashed Cylon fighter, reprogrammes one of the Cylons into a middle-American, and then becomes the father – without actual sex – with a mysterious and flighty young woman of the young genius who directed Galactica’s strategy in earlier episodes. Both, I should add, remain remarkably clean during their ordeal. And the woman wears a quite flimsy nylon dress. Even the Cylon is shiny as fuck. Battlestar Galactica is pants; Galactica 1980 is an entire underwear department. I expect the Blu-ray will prove useful at persuading unwanted guests it’s finally time to leave…

hanabiHANA-BI*, Takeshi Kitano (1997, Japan). According to Wikipedia, the title of this film should properly be in all caps. So that’s how I’ve done it. I have a lot of time for Takeshi Kitano – he has a wonderfully varied oeuvre, and some of his films are actually classics (plus if you don’t love the final musical number in his version of Zatoichi then you are clearly not human). This, however, is an early work, although apparently not early enough not to be known to display his trademark. er, trademarks. Such as gory violence. Which it contains in abundance. The film also follows an achronological narrative. Kitano plays Nishi, a police officer, whose wife has cancer. His partner is confined to a wheelchair after a shootout with a Yakuza. Nishi retires, and finds himself in debt to a Yakuza loan shark. So he masquerades as a police officer and robs a bank. The film skips back and forth in time, without clues (remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s plaster on her face in Sliding Doors?), which initially makes the film hard to follow. But it soon becomes clear and starts to grip. The moments of violence are shocking and bloody. Nishi, however, remains a cipher. A good film and a deserving entry on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, I think.

henry_vHenry V*, Laurence Olivier (1944, UK). One of the joys of following the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list has been finding films you really enjoy and/or greatly admire that you would not otherwise have come across. Now I respect Shakespeare, and I’ve been intermittently working my way through the BBC adaptations of his plays (I really ought to buy the damn boxed set), but he’s hardly my first choice, or second , or third, choice of viewing. More so for a 1944 adaptation. By Olivier, who, for all his evident ability, has been characterised as a “luvvie”. So, unexpectedly, I found myself really liking his staging of Henry V. Not because he’s chopped it down to a suitable movie length, or because everyone acts like an actooor (including some godawful Welsh characters)… but because he chose to represent the world of his play as towns and cities are represented in mediaeval art, because he framed the play as a play, and because he staged the battles really quite effectively. It works, it works really well. From the opening pan across a model London to the Globe Theatre, its cast and audience, to the not-quite-Technicolor of its costumes and sets, to the faux mediaeval representations of places to the battle itself… it all works wonderfully well. It is Shakespeare made real. It’s not the dry play as learnt by schoolgirls and schoolboys, it’s visceral and real… and yet still a play. I had expected Henry V to be dull and firmly up its own arse, but in fact it is a great piece of cinema. It needs a proper re-issue , remastered on Blu-ray, not some afterthought “classics” DVD release.

hearts_darknessHearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse*, Fax Bahr & George Hickenlooper (1991, USA). I like Apocalypse Now, I think it’s a good film. It wears its inspiration a little too obviously on its sleeve, but it doesn’t suffer because of that. And some of the supporting cast pretty much define stereotypes of Vietnam War movies (except Dennis Hopper’s character, which is a stereotypically Dennis Hopper character). Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, however, is the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, a notoriously difficult film to make. Partly it was money – Coppola had to stump up his own cash, and it still went over-budget. Partly it was the location – the Philippines stood in for Vietnam, and despite promises by the government the borrowed military helicopters often disappeared with little or no notice to fight rebels. And partly it was Coppola not knowing what the fuck he was doing. Then there was Marlon Brando, who demanded $3 million for three weeks’ work, and who then spent days sitting around discussing his character’s motivation. What a prima donna. Seriously, that’s totally unprofessional behaviour, and I doubt his name on the credits added significantly to the movie’s takings. Coppola also spent a week filming Harvey Keitel in the lead role, before firing him and casting Martin Sheen (Sheen is very, very good, but it would have been interesting to see what Keitel was like, but sadly no footage is included). Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is an object lesson in how not to make a film – there are a few problems which are a result of the location, but the main takeaway is that Coppola didn’t know what he was doing and bit off more than he could handle. Having said all that, Apocalypse Now is a genuine piece of classic cinema, but so perhaps it was all worth it…

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 696


1 Comment

Moving pictures, #39

Trying to get the last of these out of the way before Christmas. It doesn’t help that I’ve been watching a couple of films a night, more on the weekend. And it’s not as though I mention every film I’ve watched in these posts – some because they’re rewatches, but mostly because they’re some rubbish I stumbled across on TV, Amazon Prime or charity shop DVD… Anyway, here’s the latest batch…

blancanievesBlancanieves, Pablo Berger (2012, Spain). Back in 2011, The Artist was released, a silent film produced in France, which went on to win a raft of awards. This was a bit of a blow to the makers of Blancanieves, who had decided to make a silent black-and-white film several years before but didn’t make it into production soon enough to beat The Artist to release. To be fair, The Artist is a very good film, but you have to wonder how many of its awards were a result of the novelty of a silent B&W film in the 21st century. But then we have Blancanieves, also a silent B&W 21st century film, against which to compare it. And, sadly, Blancanieves does not compare too favourably. It’s good, but it’s doubtful it would have beaten The Artist to any awards. Not in Blancanieves‘ favour is that it’s about bull fighting, a sport (and I use the term loosely) that only the Spanish seem to think is not barbaric. The plot is apparently based on ‘Snow White’, albeit transplanted to Spain and, er, matadors. It’s certainly a nice-looking film, and it works quite well as silent and B&W. And, but for inevitable comparisons to the Oscar-winning The Artist, it would likely count as a good film. But comparisons are inevitable, and it loses out to them. All the same, worth seeing.

destryDestry Rides Again*, George Marshall (1939, USA). If there’s one story which appears again and again in Western films, it’s the lone hero who cleans up a town under the corrupt thumb of the local cattle baron. Given the bad name cattle barons have in Western literature – which is the nearest the US gets to a native mythos (native to its colonisers, that is) – it’s surprising unfettered capitalism is still seen as admirable. Maybe everyone is just waiting around for the lawman to turn up and clean up the town… although I wouldn’t go looking to that gallery of clowns the GOP is currently fielding as they’re so deep in the cattle barons’ pockets they’ve forgotten what daylight looks like… Ahem. Anyway, wild west town is dominated by criminal sorts, led by owner of the local saloon, at which Marlene Dietrich performs nightly. Villain has been cheating people at cards in order to get their land, and now owns the route needed by ranchers on their drives – and he’s going to charge them a fee per head to cross his land. When this leads to the sheriff’s murder, the corrupt mayor gives the tin star to the town drunk… who promptly sends off for Jimmy Stewart. In the past, the drunk had been deputy to Jimmy’s dad, the original Destry, a much respected lawman, and the drunk hopes the son has followed in the father’s footsteps… Except, it seems, he hasn’t. He doesn’t wear a gun. He lets the villains make fun of him. He even upholds the eviction of a homesteader who had lost the title to his land in a crooked card game. But, of course, Destry is playing a long game, and it all comes right in the end. Of course. This is a Hollywood western, after all. Even Dietrich, the saloon singer and accomplice of the saloon owner, proves to have a heart of gold. The best of the film, however, is when the women of the town, the wives and girlfriends, decide to intervene in the big fight between the forces of law and the villain’s henchman, and march straight in with various blunt instruments and proceed to hammer the shit out of the bad guys. That’s not something that normally appears in the mythos. And, perhaps, given more focus in the narrative, it might have made something special of Destry Rides Again. As it is, it’s a good western – though more for its breaking from the template than its slavish following of it – but there are a number of good westerns on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, compared to the vast number of ordinary and just plain bad westerns that Hollywood made. Worth seeing.

spring_small_townSpring in a Small Town*, Mu Fei (1948, China). This is generally reckoned to be one of the greatest Chinese films ever made – which is quite an encomium given the size of Chinese-language cinema (yes, I know “Chinese” is a language family, not a language, but you know what I mean – the film is actually in Mandarin). A classic piece of cinema it certainly is, not only because of its age. It is also a really good film, a film I watched on rental DVD but would like to pick up my own copy so I can rewatch it. A woman’s life post-WWII is interrupted when a suitor prior to her marriage arrives in town. The film takes its time telling its story, but that actually works to its advantage because it allows for a nuanced presentation of the various relationships – wife and her husband, wife and old boyfriend, wife’s younger sister and the old boyfriend… To be fair, there’s not a great deal of subtlety in who the characters are intended to represent – the husband, for example, spends his time pining for the past and complaining about his various illnesses. And the wife is the heart of the film, and whose heart is torn. I really need to be get my own copy of this. Incidentally, the film was remade in 1993 by Zhuangzhuang Tian. I’ve not seen the remake, but I’m definitely intrigued…

defiantThe Defiant Ones*, Stanley Kramer (1958, USA). It is horrible to think this film may well owe its position on the 1001 Mosvies You Must See Before You Die list because back in 1958 it was considered transgressive, perhaps even shocking. Because it’s about two cons who escape a chain gang while chained to each other. One is Tony Curtis, the other is Sidney Poitier. A white man chained to a black man. Curtis coasts, as well he might given his role, but Poitier is good (both were nominated for Oscars, but neither won – the award went to David Niven for Separate Tables). The two struggle through the swamps before stumbling into a company town, where they are captured and about to be lynched. But one of the residents argues against such vigilante “justice” and later helps them escape. They come across a boy, who takes them home to his mother, who has been abandoned by her husband. And she uses race to drive a wedge between the two, because she needs a man to look after her. There is not much, it must be admitted, in this film to like. The central premise should not be shocking or transgressive, and the responses of others to the two main characters throughout the film is deeply racist. True, the movies does comment – is itself a commentary – on those racist attitudes, but showing such things without actively presenting consequences seems to me a waste of time. Because, you know, there are people out there stupid enough not to see something bad in what they’re watching. All together, probably a film not worthy of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list.

bike_thievesBicycle Thieves*, Vittorio De Sica (1948, Italy). I do like Italian Neorealist films, and this is considered an important work in the genre – an important work in Italian cinema, in fact – but I have to admit I didn’t much enjoy watching it. Chiefly because of its plot. An out-of-work man in post-WWII Rome is offered a job putting up posters, but he needs a bicycle to get the job. So his wife pawns the family heirloom linen to raise the money. But on his first day on the job, the man’s bike is stolen. And he spends the rest of the day trying to find it and its thief. Without success. Grinding poverty is a problem, but it is a structural problem in society. Certainly it’s fertile ground for drama, but such stories always to me imply that such conditions are either normal, inevitable or inescapable – and I disagree with all three conclusions. True, Italy after WWII was not in the best of places economically – but neither was the UK and it managed to create the NHS. The US, of course, was in a much better place – it profited from WWII – and it still treats its citizens like shit. Worse, certain of its citizens kill other ones if they try improve things for those who are not well off. All of which, however, has nothing to do with Bicycle Thieves. As mentioned previously, I like Italian Neorealist cinema, but I didn’t enjoy this particular example. Worth seeing, definitely, and certainly it belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but that’s as far as it goes.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 692

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,952 other followers