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Moving pictures 2018, #50

Work has been very busy the past few weeks, and likely to remain so for at least another month. Hence the paucity of content here other than Moving pictures posts – and the occasional Reading diary post – since they’re a) pretty easy to write, b) it doesn’t take long to watch a movie, and c) I watch two films a night on average…

I’ve never claimed these are full-on reviews, and half the time I’m just trying to string a series of vague impressions into a description that’s somewhat recognisable and, er, informative. But most of them sort of turn into mini-rants. Oh well.

The Idol, Hany Abu-Assad (2015, Palestine). A young boy in Gaza forms a band with his sister and two friends. They play at weddings, that sort of thing. Then his sister dies of kidney failure. The story jumps ahead a decade or so, and the boy is now a young man, paying his way through university by driving a taxi. But he’s desperate to escape Gaza, and singing is his only possible means of escape. But, of course, Israel has Gaza locked up, and its inhabitants do not have freedom of movement. The young man – his name is Muhammad Assaf – arranges to audition for a Palestinian talent show, but he has to Skype his audition as he can’t leave Gaza and the studio is in Ramallah (on the West Bank). But just before the audition, the Israelis cut off power to Gaza… but Muhammad manages to source a generator; but it catches fire during the song… The “success” of the audition persuades Muhammad he needs to audition for Arab Idol, but it takes place in Cairo and he can’t get a visa to attend. He uses his contacts to get himself a forged visa, but then breaks down and admits it’s forged when he gets to the border post. When asked why he’s travelling to Cairo, he tells the border officer that he’s going to a Qur’an recital competition, and recites so beautifully when asked that the officer approves his fake visa. But when Muhammad gets to the auditions, he discovers all the tickets have gone. He breaks into the building and hides out in the toilet. In desperation, he starts singing when he hears someone else enter. The guy who hears him is so impressed by his singing that he gifts him the ticket he had queued for – he’d only applied “for the experience”. So Muhammad gets to sing in front of the judges. And he impresses them so much, he shoots up through the various stages of the competition… And all it seemed a bit too good to be true. Not the Gaza bits – they rang all too sadly true (it looks like a bombsite, basically; and at one point, a Palestinian parkour team go past, jumping from one wrecked building to another). Muhammad had, against all odds, made it to Arab Idol, but he seemed to do so well so easily in it – he was even nicknamed “the Gaza rocket”. And then it’s the Arab Idol final and there are three contestants remaining… but Muhammad Assaf looks, well, different. It’s not the same guy as earlier in the film. Because The Idol, it turns out, is a true story, and the final stages of the film show the real Assaf’s victory on Arab Idol. A postscript explains that Assaf became a UN Goodwill Ambassador and was given a diplomatic passport. But he can only visit family and friends in Gaza with special permission from the Israeli authorities, who still occupy the territory despite it being mandated to the Palestinians. What is it with right-wing governments, that they’re not happy until they’ve burnt everything down to the ground? At the rate they’re going, they’ll bring on the apocalypse before the climate or the economy crashes – both of which, of course, they’ve been happily bringing about sooner…

Death of a Bureaucrat, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1966, Cuba). There is a sensibility, I have found, common to those Cuban films I’ve seen, and it is mostly critical of the regime while also acknowledging its social and political ambitions, all in a blackly comic way. And Death of a Bureaucrat is a pretty explicit presentation of that sensibility. A well-respected worker is killed by a piece of experimental apparatus he has been building, and is buried with his labour card as a mark of respect. Unfortunately, it seems his widow needs the card to claim the pension she is now owed. So the son tries to get it all sorted out. But the authorities won’t allow an exhumation unless the body has been interred for more than two years without special dispensation. He digs up the body himself and retrieves the card, but now he can’t re-bury it… because it hasn’t been officially exhumed. So he still needs that special dispensation, but this time so he can bury his father. He fails to get it because the bureaucracy just sends him round in circles. Even breaking into the offices one night to steal the necessary form only results in him being chased by the police because he climbed out of a window and was thought to be a suicide. Eventually he fakes the paperwork, but the cemetery refuses to let him bury his father because he has the body with him even though he has a permit for exhumation. This results in a fight in the graveyard, and they fail to complete the funeral… The bureaucratic comedy of errors is a well-established subgenre, and it’s not just found in the cinemas of communist regimes. There have been several made in the UK, where the civil service has often been an object of fun; and possibly even a few in the US, although none spring immediately to mind (corporate versions are, I suspect, much more common in US cinema). Death of a Bureaucrat judges its absurdities well, and if one or two people are overly officious – particularly those at the cemetery – most are victims of the system as much as everyone else. I’ve seen three films by Alea now, and thought them all good. Must try and track down some more.

Ocean’s 8, Gary Ross (2018, USA). This was an idea just waiting to happen – an all-female heist movie – and in the hands of a less-than-stellar director, it could have been fucking awful. Oh wait, it was fucking awful. The sister of Danny Ocean (star of Ocean’s 11 and sequels) is released from prison and is determined to get her revenge on the crooked art dealer who put her there. This involves persuading a dimwitted actress (Anne Hathaway) to wear the most expensive Cartier necklace ever to one of those stupidly expensive charity dos, that cost more money than they raise, at a museum, where the sister (Sandra Bullock) plans to steal the necklace. So she recruits a bunch of people, as you do, to pull off this majorly implausible sting. Which only works because – surprise, surprise – one of the principles is a ringer. Gosh. Never saw that coming. Other than that, it’s a showcase of the sort of ridiculous meaningless affluence that makes you want to stick the heads of the ultra-rich on pikes and let off a string of EMPs over Panama. Bullock doesn’t even look human, Blanchett is completely wasted in her role, Hathaway is too smart to play dumb although she plays dumb well, and the others are a hair short of stereotypes. In all other respects, it’s your usual glossy heist flick, and while it’s good to see a female-fronted version, it would have been better if it hadn’t relied on them being used as clothes horses. It’s one of those films where it looks like the cast had a lot more fun making it than viewers have watching it – although with Bullock it’s hard to be sure. With Bullock, it’s hard to be sure of anything she’s feeling. Me, I’d have just machine-gunned everyone at the charity gala and sod the necklace.

Salvatore Giuliano, Francesco Rosi (1962, Italy). The title refers to a bandit in Sicily in the latter half of  the 1940s. He started out selling food on the black market, the only way Sicilians could obtain food during and after WWII, but soon became leader of a powerful gang. He was seen as something of a Robin Hood figure, despite being wanted for killing the police officers sent to apprehend him, and being implicated in the Portella della Ginestra massacre, in which 11 people were killed and 27 injured during May Day celebrations. He was also a contributor to Sicily’s independence movement, which resulted in the island gaining autonomous status, and which won four seats in the 1946 general election but lost them in the 1948 general election. The film, however, opens with Giuliano’s death – considered suspicious even now – and then jumps back and forth in time, covering the court proceedings against the surviving members of Giuliano’s gang and the events leading up to Giuliano’s death. First, it’s worth noting that the restoration of this film has been done well – the transfer is lovely, and I can’t think of any other 55-year-old black-and-white Italian films that look as good on Blu-ray. But its a good film and worthy of the treatment it’s been given. It’s Italian Neorealist – not my favourite film movement, it must be said – but it’s also semi-documentary and uses a fractured timeline to tell its story. It keeps Giuliano something of an enigma – his character is built up from hearsay – and yet is also deeply critical of Italy’s treatment of Sicily, especially during the courtroom sequences (in which American actor Frank Wolff rants angrily in dubbed Italian). I must admit, when I stuck the film on my rental list I was expecting another giallo or poliziottesco, like Milano Calibro 9, but it’s nothing like either of them. Worth seeing.

The Shop Around the Corner, Ernst Lubitsch (1940, USA). This appears on one or another Movies You Must See Before You Die list, or maybe a They Shoot Picture Don’t They list – although not the 1001 Movies You Must Before You Die list from 2013 that I’m using – and so it seemed like it was worth seeing. Also, Jimmy Stewart. The story is set in Budapest in, er, the 1920s? the 1930s? It’s certainly not 1939, as there’s no mention of war, and it’s unlikely to be a few years before that as there’s no mention of the likelihood of war. Having said that, it’s a US film… Anyway, Jimmy Stewart is chief salesman at a prestigious leather goods store in Budapest. A young woman, Margaret Sullavan, approaches him and asks for a job. He tells her he can’t offer her one, so she goes above his head and persuades the shop’s owner to employ her. Christmas comes around and a private detective tells the shop’s owner that his wife is having an affair with one of his employees. So the shop owner fires Stewart, believing him to be the culprit. Meanwhile, Stewart has been conducting a postal relationship with a woman he met through a newspaper advert, and they’ve finally agreed to meet IRL. Guess who she turns out to be. Yes. Yawn. And of course it wasn’t Stewart boinking the shop owner’s wife after all, it was the oily creepy shop assistant. Unfortunately, discovering this prompts the shop owner to commit suicide, but he is saved by the delivery boy. Jimmy Stewart gets his job back, and gets to publicly fire oily shop assistant. And he turns up to a date with Sullavan but does not reveal he is the man she has been corresponding with. But the two get chatting and… fade to black. As rom coms of the period go, this is quite a good one, but then it has a good cast and a slightly-off-the-wall setting  – leather goods shop on Budapest? WTF? – but that setting also slightly works against it as you have to wonder why they bothered setting the story there and then. I mean, I’m all for introducing parochial US audiences to the concept that there are other nations on this planet and they’re inhabited by people very much like them (biologically at least, although it would be nice if US culture acknowledged they were different culturally), but sometimes it feels like the setting is a hangover from a previous iteration of the story and is rendered pretty much meaningless by the Hollywood treatment. Hungarians you would expect to behave like Hungarians, and only an idiot, or an American (#notallamericans), would expect their sensibilities to be exactly the same. Of course, this is a Hollywood movie aimed at a US audience… but that does again beggar the question, why set it in Budapest? I suspect  the only answer that will ever make sense is: because. The Shop Around the Corner is a fun rom com for its time, not one of Jimmy Stewart’s best pieces of work, but it will entertain.

Youth, Feng Xiaogang (2017, China). The only place the subtitle of this film “Medal of Courage” seems to appear is on the Blu-ray artwork. The film is known as Youth, and in Chinese territories as 芳华 (fang hua), which apparently can be translated as “young/blooming flowers/young women”. So, Youth is sort of relevant, but Medal of Courage is completely irrelevant. So the dumb wargame subtitle is a shame, as this is a film is nothing like that might suggest but is actually totally worth seeing. The film opens in the mid-1970s when a young woman, He Xiaoping, joins an army entertainment troupe as a dancer. The first act introduces the main characters – He, who is bullied by the members of the troupe; Liu Feng, who repeatedly turns down military academy as he prefers to be a dancer than an officer or commissar; Lin Dingding, the sweetheart of the troupe, and she knows it; and Xiao Suizi, who narrates the film, and seems to often act as mediator. Liu injures his back and can no longer dance, and eventually becomes a military doctor. He Xiaoping is bullied out of the troupe and joins a military nursing unit. Both end up on the frontline in the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979. This is act two. It is pretty brutal (and possibly the justification for the film’s subtitle), with graphic depictions of battlefield injuries. For example, a soldier is shot, but the bullet hits one of the grenades on his belt. Seconds later, he explodes messily and blood and guts rain down on all those around him. Both Liu and He survive, although Liu loses an arm to a Vietnamese bullet. He is given a medal for her work, including the care of a soldier suffering severe burns from a flamethrower (he did not survive). The third act takes place years later, in Reform-era China. Everyone has gone their own separate way. Lin married a Chinese-Australian and moved to that country. Liu is now an impoverished haulage contractor. Xiao works in a bookshop. She witnesses Liu being extorted by the local branch of commissars, who have impounded his truck and are demanding an expensive fine to to release it. Admittedly, the film sort of peters away, as Xiao then explains how Liu and He later met up and recognised they had both been damaged by their war experiences, and so sort of drifted together. But the first act is a fascinating portrait – and yes, it’s pure propaganda – of life in a military entertainment troupe, including a visit to a division in the mountains, where the performers suffered from altitude sickness (as, apparently, did some of the film’s cast). If you like war films, and the gorier the better, then act two will appeal. I’ve seen reviews that declare act three unnecessary but I don’t think it is. The thing far too many war films forget is that war heroes do not prosper: medals one day, homeless sufferers of PTSD five years later. That’s the true reality of war. But then the sort of people who lionise war are the same fucking idiots who have neither fought in one nor actually expended much thought in anything other than what to shoot next in their FPS game. Cinema, like any artform, can address truths, but that doesn’t mean viewers will necessarily understand or assimilate what they have to say. Youth makes it explicit – and still idiots complain the third act ruins the movie. FFS. Maybe they should stick to cartoons.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 931

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Moving pictures 2017, #70

This is it, the last post of the films I watched in 2017. I hope they’ve been entertaining, and perhaps informative. And if I’ve made new fans of some of my favourite directors, then I can honestly say I’m happy and they’ve been worth the effort.

Of course, because that’s the way it goes, this series of post ends with more of a whimper than a bang…

Life, Daniel Espinosa (2017, USA). I can just imagine the pitch meeting. Hot young producer: “So they take this alien creature, a microbe say, onto the space station to study it, and it grows… and this is the kicker… it grows into an alien killing machine! And it kills off the crew one by one!” The studio executives are all nodding and going: “This sounds very original and exciting.” Meanwhile, the PA in the corner is banging her head against the desk and muttering, “It’s Alien, for fuck’s sake. It’s Alien, for fuck’s sake. It’s Alien, for fuck’s sake.” And yup, that’s pretty much what this is. Okay, so it’s no facehugger, but a microbe is brought from Mars by a probe; and it’s not the Nostromo, a corporate tug light-years way from Earth, but the ISS (of a decade or two hence) some 400 kilometres above our heads. But the plot is Alien from start to finish. And it adds nothing to the original. I like the idea of using the ISS and showing an accurate depiction of living in space in a commercial sf/horror movie… except it’s not that accurate. The ISS of the film looks like it was initially based on the real thing, but the Cupola is ten times larger, and everywhere is a bit dim and ill-lit, not the shining white of the real thing. As for the rest of the movie… microbe grows into alien monster, alien monster kills astronauts. Yawn. Apollo 18 did the monster space fiction thing better; Alien did the haunted house with monster in space thing better. Life is shit. And then you die. Or something.

Tre Fratelli, Francesco Rosi (1981, Italy). Until I started watching this, I hadn’t realised it was by the director of Christ Stopped at Eboli, which I watched last year and liked a great deal. I’d also thought Tre Fratelli was on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. But apparently not. Or, at least, not the 2013 edition I’ve been using. And, for some bizarre reason, despite the year of release, I had it in my head it was Italian Neorealism Which it is not. It’s a well-observed and -played drama, much like the other Rosi film I’ve seen. Well, except for the dream sequences. Whech were quite odd. Especially the one for the brother who works as a counsellor at a borstal-type place. The other two brothers are a judge, who has just accepted a terrorism case and his wife now fears for their lives, and a factory worker involved in a strike. The judge’s wife, it turns out, has good reason to be scared. I should watch more films by Rosi, I think. I thought this one pretty good, too.

Mindhorn, Sean Foley (2016, UK). I found this on Amazon Prime, it was late, I’d had a glass of wine or two, and it proved entertaining enough I sat through it to the end. The title refers to an early 1970s detective character on television played by a now washed-up actor. There’s a murder on the Isle of Man, and the chief suspect goes into hiding and insists he will only give himself up to ‘Mindhorn’, as if the fictional detective were a real person. So the actor has to play him one more time. Naturally, being a complete dickhead, he tries to take over the investigation, but the police treat him with the contempt he deserves. Just to confuse matters, Mindhorn’s love interest from the telly show (and real life) also lives on the Isle of Man… but she married the stuntman who doubled for Mindhorn. Who is a smug, and none too bright, plonker. That’s the problem with films like this: the characters are all “characters”, not real people, comic caricatures on which the writers and/or actors have lavished much time and effort. It can kill a comedy. Happily, here it doesn’t. Not because the characters are well-drawn, but because they grow, Mindhorn himself especially. Yes, he’s a total dickhead, but he becomes more sympathetic as the film progresses. The central premise is not especially original – and, to be honest, Norwegian Ninja spoofed the concept way better – but Mindhorn manages to be a consistent, and plausible, low-budget alternative. I enjoyed it. Worth seeing.

South, Frank Hurley (1919, UK). Hurley was an Australian who accompanied Shackleton on his 1914 to 1916 expedition to Antarctica. South is a compilation he made of the footage and photographs he shot during that period, as well as on a 1917 expedition to South Georgia. This is similar material to Herbert G Ponting’s footage of Scott’s ill-fated expedition, although Shackleton of course returned home. It’s fascinating stuff, not just seeing unspoilt wilderness as witnessed by among the first human beings to visit it, but also the crude yet effective methods used to combat the appalling conditions. South doesn’t have the same frisson as Ponting’s The Great White Silence, and not just because there’s no tragedy attached, but because it has less of a narrative through-line. It’s a compilation of documentary footage almost a century before non-narrative cinema became a thing. It’s fascinating, but it’s probably an acquired taste.

The Letter, William Wyler (1940, USA). Bette Davis is the wife of a British rubber plantation owner in Malaya. She shoots a man in cold blood, and then claims it was self-defence as he had assaulted her. Everyone rallies to her side, and she seems to take the legal hoops through which she must jump as no more than an inconvenience she had herself initiated by shooting her assaulter. Except, it’s not so cut and dried. As the husband discovers when Davis confesses the dead man was her lover and she loves him still. My mother found this DVD in a charity shop, and it was only after watching it that I discovered it appears on a best films list – not one of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die lists, but perhaps a They Shoot Pictures Don’t They one – so clearly it’s held in regard by some. I found it a well-played, if dated, drama, likely due to its origin as a play by Somerset Maugham, although Wyler, a name I know quite well and normally a safe pair of hands, didn’t seem to bring much to the adaptation. It played like a Davis vehicle, and while perhaps better written than most such, it had more the feel of that than of a cinematic adaptation of an ensemble theatre piece. Enjoyable enough, but not one to seek out.

Foolish Wives*, Erich von Stroheim (1922, USA). I had to buy this from a seller on eBay who had ripped an out-of-copyright version,  because it’s not actually available on DVD in the UK or US. Despite being such an important film. But, of course, it was a silent film, and importance means fuck-all when compared to commerical success, and silent films stoped being commercially successful back in the 1920s, shortly after The Jazz Singer was released (although many excellent silent films were released years later – FW Murnau’s Tabu wasn’t released until 1931). Von Stroheim plays a con merchant who pretends to be a German aristocrat in order to separate rich US women from their riches. It’s a genre of film which, to be honest, should really be instructional for the prospective con artist rather than tell the victims’ stories, and it’s only the fact films take so long to make it into the cinemas that renders the techniques they reveal useless. Well, that and rich people’s desire to safeguard the wealth they’ve stolen. But who gives a fuck about them. Our culture does not always reflect our concerns, sometimes it drives them. So long as the rich are valourised in popular media, so their depredations will be accepted in real life. Commercial media is a powerful tool, as the right wing press has learnt, and attitudes can be changed through film and tv. But for all, say, Dr Who’s progressiveness, Hollywood’s regressiveness has meant two steps back for every one step forward. Foolish Wives is nearly a century old, but it had a more responsibile attitude to its topic than anything produced by Hollywood in the past thirty years. True, it was going for a moral lesson, and it was one that punished the director’s character – but he did little more than Wall Street has done, and he saw his just desserts. Wall Street never has.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 895


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Moving pictures, #13

Had a fun weekend not so long ago. The Royal Mail managed to lose my address, they somehow managed to not find the place they’d been delivering my mail to for the past ten years. The mail in this case being my rental DVDs from Amazon. On receiving the returned DVDs, Amazon marked my account so no new films would be dispatched until I’d confirmed my address. Which I did. But this managed to break things, so my account got stuck in “do not dispatch”. I contacted Amazon’s help desk, and they apologised and immediately put 3 DVDs from my list in the post. And they added a fourth to make up for the hassle. The help desk person also raised a note to Amazon’s engineering department about the fact my account was stuck. And they fixed it. Which meant their system immediately despatched the next 3 DVDs from my rental list. With the two discs a week I get from Cinema Paradiso… I ended up with nine DVDs to watch that weekend.

busbyGold Diggers of 1933, Mervyn LeRoy (1933, USA). There is, it has to be said, something of a formula to the films in this Busby Berkeley Collection. A producer wants put on a show, but for some reason can’t. Then everyone rallies round… and it happens. Here, it’s a lack of money but once that hurdle is overcome, the show goes on. The story focuses on four actresses – the “gold diggers” of the title – played by Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers (all three of whom appear in several of the other films) and Aline McMahon. Of course, it’s the Berkeley routines for which these movies are remembered – and with good reason. (Although, to be honest, I also think Ginger Rogers is great.) In this one, Rogers sings ‘We’re in the Money’, which probably everyone knows – although they probably don’t know it’s from this movie, I certainly didn’t – including a verse in pig Latin. Another routine features dwarf Billy Barty as a baby in a pram, who later gives Dick Powell a can opener so he can get through the metal lingerie (yes, actual metal) worn by dancers. Er, right. I’ll admit I bought the Busby Berkeley Collection so I could watch a couple of the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list that were not available on rental (or indeed in UK editions). But I’ve really enjoyed the movies and, unlike some other DVDs I’ve bought just because they’re on the list, I’ll be keeping this box set. Well worth the money (sung to the tune of ‘We’re in the Money’, of course).

christ_eboliChrist Stopped at Eboli*, Francesco Rosi (1979, Italy). This is another one of those Italian Neorealist films that was new to me and which I found myself impressed by. Admittedly, one of the reasons I started watching the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list was to expand the range of films I was watching. It’s not that my viewing was limited to Hollywood films – I’ve been a fan of a number of non-Anglophone directors for many years, such as Tarkovsky, Bergman, Kieślowski, Suleiman, Haneke, Antonioni… among others. But the list seemed like an excellent source of titles I’d not seen and would probably like… and it subsequently introduced me to Italian neorealism as a film movement I’d not previously been aware of or explored. All of which is probably irrelevant as Christ Stopped at Eboli is not classifed as Italian neorealism – but it is Italian and it is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and it’s also a film I likely would never have seen otherwise. Which would have been a shame, as it’s very good. In 1935, painter and writer Carlo Levi is exiled to a village in southern Italy for his anti-fascist activities. Since he studied to be a doctor, he ends up practicing medicine for the peasants (the local doctors aren’t interested in treating the peasantry). His politicial sensibilities also result in a rocky relationship with his putative “warden”, the local mayor; and he also forms a relationship with the local priest, also an exile, whom the mayor hates. Christ Stopped at Eboli is an odd film – it was filmed in 1979 but set 44 years earler… and from the looks of it horribly little set dressing was required. The pace is languid, content to let the relationships between the characters slowly be revealed and the scenery to speak for itself. The end  result is a movie which is slow to start but slowly drags you in. So much so, in fact, that by halfway through the film I was very much impressed. Worth seeing.

calvaryCalvary, John Michael McDonagh (2014, Ireland). Several people recommended this film to me, and I’d heard good things of it, so I bunged it on the rental list and lo it dropped through onto the doormat one day… It’s set in present-day Ireland, a man gives his confession to his local priest and tells him he will kill the priest because the man giving confession was abused as a boy. The priest knows who it is, but there’s nothing he can do about it. However, the priest has a week to get his affairs in order – and so he does. Sort of. He goes to the bishop, but the bishop tells him he should go to the Garda (the bishop comes across more like a politician or middle manager than a man of God). At one point, someone sets fire to the church. Calvary is sort of a gentle black comedy, if such a thing exists, and very much based on its characters – none of which, it must be said, are especially sympathetic, with the exception of the priest, played by Brendan Gleeson, who has been threatened with murder. His assistant (verger?) is an idiot; one of the locals is a doctor and a nasty snide piece of work; another is innocent to the point of stupidity… At times, some of the characters teeter on the edge of caricature, and I suspect it’s only the presence of Gleeson anchoring the film which keeps them from doing so. A film worth seeing, but not I think a great film.

weekendWeekend*, Jean-Luc Godard (1967, France). I was convinced my Godard theory held water – colour films good, black-and-white films not good. True, it was based solely on the fact that the two Godard films I really like – Le mépris and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her – are both colour films. It wasn’t much of a theory, it has to be said – for a start, I’ve only seen nine of Godard’s films, the most recent of which is, er, Weekend, and which is also a colour film. On the one hand, I didn’t like Weekend as much the other two films, but I did like more than the black-and-white films I’ve seen. It’s a less pretentious movie than Godard’s others, but it’s also more… chaotic. A bourgeois couple drive out to the country to visit the wife’s dying father. Each has decided to murder the other, so their relationship is somewhat fraught. As they drive through the country they become involved in various violent events. An odd film, and plainly deliberately so. That sort of appeals to me – although it did, in places, do that Godard thing I’m less fond of, where characters talk at each other. And the scenes set in the wood were dubious at best. I guess, on reflection, my Godard theory still holds, although I think Weekend probably requires another watch.

excitedI’m So Excited!, Pedro Almodóvar (2013, Spain). I spotted this one in a charity shop, and I’ve always enjoyed Almodóvar’s films… albeit not as much as I once did… but I thought it worth a quid and… Oh dear. Talk about light and frothy – I’m So Excited! (original title Los amantes pasajeros translates as “the fleeting lovers or “the passenger lovers”, according to Wikipedia; and seems better suited) is set aboard a flight to Mexico, and it’s probably only the frothiness of the script that keeps the aircraft in the air. A cock-up on the ground, perpertrated by Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in cameos, results in one of the aeroplane’s undercarriage not folding away properly, which means the aircraft will not be able to land when it reaches Mexico City. So they go into a holding pattern above the airport they departed from while things are figured out. The economy class passengers and cabin crew are put to sleep with tranquilisers, leaving only the dozen or so first class passengers, four cabin crew and the two pilots awake. All of whom, it transpires, have some sort of known or unknown relationship with each other. It’s not that I’m So Excited! isn’t a fun film – because it is. It just feels like a somewhat OTT comedy-drama sketch stretched to feature-film length. The brightly-coloured production design, and the fact much of the movies takes place in the aircraft’s first class section, only heightens this resemblance. One for fans, probably.

busbyDames, Ray Enright (1934, USA). This is the one with the Berkeley routine with giant Ruby Keeler heads which freaked me out. Not because they were Ruby Keeler, just the sight of loads of giant heads dancing about it. (Not real heads, of course; they were actually giant cut-outs.) In pretty much all other respects, Dames follows the pattern as followed in the other films in the Busby Berkeley Collection. Well, almost. In this one, an eccentric millionaire promises to leave his fortune to a relative, providing said relative can prove he leads a moral life. Unfortunately, the relative’s daughter is a dancer in a musical show, and the millionaire thinks muscial shows are the height of immorality. Dames is more of an outright comedy than the other films in the box set, but the Berkeley routines – in all their shark-jumping glory – are all present and correct. Not just the previously-mentioned one with the giant heads, but also one in which Joan Blondell sings to washing hanging on a line and the various garments start dancing. (Sadly, no Ginger Rogers in this one.) Again, a good box set to get. I’ve really enjoyed the movies in it.

some_came_runningSome Came Running*, Vincente Minnelli (1958, USA). There are quite a few movie adaptations of Great American Novels on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and this is the second by author James Jones (his other is From Here to Eternity). An Army veteran, Sinatra, wakes on a bus on his way to his home town, having been put on it while drunk. He doesn’t really want to go, but he’s there now. The vetervan was a published writer and is estranged from his brother, who put him in an orphanage when their parents died, even though the brother had just married. This brother tries to patch things up, but Sinatra is not interested – although he is friendly to his niece, and falls in love with a friend of his brother, an English teacher. Then there’s Shirley Maclaine, who had been as drunk as Sinatra and joined him on the bus – but sober, he’s not interested in her, although she has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile, the teacher persuades Sinatra to start writing again. And he’s also fallen in with a group of gamblers, headed by Dean Martin. Some Came Running is very much a Great American Novel film – it’s all there: the romantic triangle, the class commentary, academia, the military, writing, small town America… If there were a checklist, Some Came Running could probably manage a good 75%. Sinatra is good in the lead, Maclaine was nominated for an Oscar (but lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!), and Martin plays Martin… I suppose your appreciation of this movie depends on how you feel about Great American Novels. I enjoyed it, but I’m not entirely sure why it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

1001 Movies You Must see Before You Die count: 737