You do realise I’m never going to manage to see all of the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Some of them are no longer available – not just in the UK, but anywhere (I’ve had to purchase some from the US already, just to see them). Sadly, this doesn’t mean I will never die. But if I can say I’ve seen over 950 of them – with dates – then I’ll be happy. And, oh look, there’s another three from the list in this installment…
Boyz N the Hood*, John Singleton (1991, USA). This was not a film on my radar but, as the asterisk indicates. it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list… so I bunged it on (one of) my rental list(s), and lo it duly arrived. And, to be honest, I can remember very little about the film. I seem to recall expecting some sort of gangsta movie with a rap soundtrack, and being surprised to discover it was actually about growing up in South Central LA. At least, the first part of the film is… And then it’s about the Crips and the Bloods, and Cuba Gooding Jr trying to avoid becoming a gang member even though most of his friends are in the Crips. While I was watching it, I tweeted “A+ for social commentary, D for direction” and “oh, and D for casting Cuba Gooding Jr”. Later, I added “the Kenny G soundtrack is not helping this film”. I can see how Boyz N the Hood belongs belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list for its cultural impact, but it wasn’t a film I found especially interesting or impressive. But at least I can cross it off.
Clerks*, Kevin Smith (1994, USA). It seems to me Kevin Smith trades on his geek credentials, but has actually proven relatively successful because he is sophomoric. I’ve seen a number of his films over the years, and never been much impressed – but I’d somehow managed to miss the film which made his career, Clerks. I’ve now seen it… and all those years, well, I don’t think I’ve missed much. Two whinging slackers work in neighbouring stores, a mini-mart and a video rental. Their conversation is either prattish or sophomoric. The attempts at humour are not actually that funny, and the continual whinging tone gets annoying very quickly. I can sort of understand how the film would appeal to a particular demographic – but I’m not in that demographic, and so Clerks simply doesn’t work for me, and I can think of no good reason why it belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.
Footlight Parade*, Lloyd Bacon (1933, USA). I tweeted while watching this film that Busby Berkeley had made a career out of jumping the shark. And this film provides as much evidence as any in which he was involved. James Cagney plays a fast-talking director of musical theatre, but audiences are declining thanks to that new-fangled cinema. So Cagney comes up with the idea of “prologues”, short musical numbers performed on stage in a cinema prior to the main feature being shown. Much of Footlight Parade is a sort of like Chorus Line, as Cagney tries to stage his numbers while a rival steals his ideas. Dick Powell grins his way through the proceedings as usual, Joan Blondell plays Cagney’s secretary who’s secretly in love with him, and Ruby Keeler removes her glasses and goes from secretary to my-gosh-you’re-beautiful star dancer… But it’s Berkeley’s staging of the musical numbers which is the main draw. And with good reason. ‘By A Waterfall’ is jaw-dropping. I suspect it’s what invented synchronised swimming. One hundred chorus girls dive into a glass pool and form shapes like a giant human kaleidoscope – and all allegedly taking place on a tiny cinema stage! I had to buy a Region 1 Busby Berkeley DVD collection in order to watch this film – the set also includes 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Gold Diggers of 1935 and Dames – and I’m quite glad I did. I knew who Berkeley was, of course, and in the past I’ve seen some of the muscial numbers he’s famous for – although don’t ask me which films, because I’ve no idea – so I pretty much knew what to expect. But even if it’s easy to see why Cagney switched to playing gangsters, and all five films in the collection follow the same Chorus Line-like plot, they were worth the money because of the Berkeley numbers alone. Footlight Parade is one of three films in the set on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list – and yes, I can understand why they’re on it.
Story of Women, Claude Chabrol (1988, France). This film does not appear on the 2013 edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, which is the one I’m using, but does appear on the amalgamated version on listchallenges.com – so at some point it was, or will be, on the list. Given that it was released in 1988, I suspect it was on an earlier version – and, if so, it’s a shame it was dropped. Because it’s a damn sight better than many films which remained. And I say that as someone who has yet to really click with Chabrol’s oeuvre. But then, perhaps it’s the subject matter of Story of Women, which is based on a true story. During the German occupation of France in WWII, in a small town in Normandy, a middle-class mother played by Isabelle Huppert (one of the best actresses currently making movies) helps a pregnant friend abort (husband away at a German work camp, Nazi lover…). This becomes a lucrative business. She also rents out a room to a prostitute friend. Her husband, an injured war veteran, returns home, but she is no longer in love with him. Eventually, he grasses her up to the authorities. They arrest her, and decide that performing abortions is treasonous – so they sentence Huppert to death, and guillotine her. It’s an offensively male argument – that France needs to regain its moral strength after its defeat by the Nazis, and Huppert’s death will do this. Yet, for much of the film, during the period before she is arrested, Huppert’s character is resolutely pragmatic – she betters the lot of her family by providing a much-needed service, for which she charges. She has an affair with a collaborator, because she is focused on herself and her children, and her husband is inconsequential. I find Chabrol a mixed bag, but this was a strong film, undoubtedly carried by Huppert’s performance. I suspect it deserves to be back on the list – and I can think of at least a dozen movies whose place it can take…
Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, Rena Riffel (2011, USA). Several years ago, I went through a phase of enjoying “so bad they’re good” films, despite being all too sadly aware that the films were “so bad, they’re actually really bad”. You know, stuff like the “mockbusters” released by The Global Asylum, or those shitty straght-to-video sf films you find on 4-movie sets sold in Poundland… Happily, I grew out of it. Or at least, I thought I had. Now, I like Paul Verhoeven’s movies, and I have a lot of time for him as a director, and though his Showgirls has a lot of problems and is clearly his worst film, it is sort of watchable. But the moment I discovered there was a sequel to it… I decided I had to watch it. And now I have. And I sincerely wish I hadn’t. Rena Riffel played a minor character in Showgirls and, after a couple of decades in Europe making soft porn films, she realised that what the world really needed was a sequel to Showgirls – and not just any sequel, it needed a parody sequel. Argh. “Parody”. If you see that word in the description of a film, avoid the film. Showgirls 2 spoofs scenes from Showgirls, but on a budget of $30,000 and with a cast that can’t act to save their lives. A few of the original cast do make appearances – not the main stars, of course – but the film is very much about Riffel’s lap-dancer Penny Slot, and her attempt to become the lead on a cheap TV show called ‘Star Dancer’. It’s not funny, and it’s certainly not clever. It is, however, embarrassingly, cringe-inducingly, bad. Words cannot express quite how awful this film is. One to avoid, if you value your sanity.
Terminator Genisys, Alan Taylor (2015, USA). And from the sublimely stupid to, er, this one. Which, on paper, should not be the hot mess it proved to be. On paper, the idea has merit – let’s tell the Terminator story from the point of view of Kyle Reese, the man sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor, and who becomes John Connor’s father… but let’s mix it up a bit and have the T-80 arrive earlier and so be a fixture in Sarah’s life when Kyle arrives. And let’s mix it up EVEN MOAR and make John Connor a villain – the going-back-in-time thing is all a plot to enable Skynet not disable it. And, you know, it could have worked. But they recast all the leads (because, let’s be honest, they’re getting on a bit, and CGI-ing them back to their 1984 appearance would be very weird), except Arnold Schwarzenegger, and while they wrote in a reason for his ageing, the years have not been kind to him or his minimal acting ability… And while a new cast is not in and of itself a reason for failure – recast reboots have been successful, although no example springs readily to mind – and when you add in the self-referentiality of the project… so why did it turn out be so crap? Well, itt’s completely lifeless. I don’t know if it’s because the lead characters are charisma-free zones, or if Schwarzenegger sucks in their charisma to power his own over-written role. Or maybe it’s that the plot sheds sense as it progresses. I’m not really sure. All I can say for certain is that this was a dreadful film and my expectations were not especially high to begin with. A proper review of it would be more analytical, but these posts are not intended to analytical and to be analytical of this film would require I watch it with a great deal more attention than it actually deserved. A film to be avoided, at all costs.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 734