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Films, glorious films

I threatened in my last book haul post I might start posting my DVD and Blu-ray hauls. And, well, I got a bit bored on Saturday morning, and before I knew it I’d taken photos of the films I’d purchased over the past month or so and was banging out a post on them…

Three Blu-rays from Curzon Artificial Eye, one of the best sell-through publishers out there. They even have their own chain of cinemas now. But they still didn’t show Francofonia in the Sheffield Curzon Cinema. Grump. The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry are Alejandro Jodorowsky’s return to film-making after many, many years and are apparently based on his childhood in Chile. The François Truffaut Collection – so, yes, more than three Blu-rays, more like ten – was one of those “accidental” purchases you have after a glass too many of wine. All three were bought from a large online retailer.

Two more Blu-rays. To Catch A Thief was only £5, so I thought it worth upgrading my old DVD copy. It’s a pretty good transfer, although the improved colours do mean Cary Grant looks like he’s been creosoted. Daughter of the Nile is a new release, the first time in the UK, I think, of a Hou Hsiao Hsien film from 1987. Both were purchased from a large online retailer.

The Bad and the Beautiful is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but having now seen it (see here), I’ve no idea why. It’s a typical Hollywood melodrama, although apparently not typical enough to be available on DVD in the UK or US – so I had to buy a Korean release on eBay. Goodbye Gemini is a 1970 British thriller, found for a third of the price on eBay. Mississippi Mermaid I actually watched on rental (see here), but I found this Blu-ray edition copy going for a great deal less than the Amazon price on eBay.

Three non-Anglophone/European films – well, four, actually, since the Great African Films Vol 2 package contains two films on two discs. They are Tasuma, the Fighter and Sia, the Dream of the Python. Both are from Burkina Faso. Cyclo, on the other the hand, is from Vietnam, and also on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. In the Room is from Singapore. I stumbled across it on eBay, and thought it looked intriguing. All three were bought on eBay, in fact. I wrote about In the Room here.

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Moving pictures 2017, #34

I think I might start posting DVD haul posts as well as book haul ones. Admittedly, many of the films I watch are rental DVDs, but those I can’t find at either LoveFilm or Cinema Paradiso, and are not recent releases, I generally have to hunt down, so perhaps it’s worthwhile recording that. Except, well, of the six movies below, only the first and last are from my collection. Nazar is the third of three films from the box set, and the other two have appeared in previous Moving pictures posts; while The Bad and the Beautiful is a Korean release I bought on eBay as the film is apparently not available in either the UK or the US. Go figure.

Anyway, time to start doing the bap-bap-baa bap-bap-baa bap-bap-baa from the Pearl & Dean theme tune as the main feature is about to begin…

Nazar, Mani Kaul (1991, India). After three movies by Kaul, I still have no idea what to make of him. Nazar, a later film than the other two, and apparently based on a Dostoevsky short story, as was the movie he made following this one, is, well, is pretty much Kaul channelling Godard. I like many of the Godard films I’ve seen – not that I’ve watched anywhere close to half of his total output – but he is pretty much a mixed bag. Some of his films, for me, work much better than others – and not for obviously discernible reasons: I love, for example, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, but was mostly left cold by Made in USA (I have the Criterion editions of both), and yet Godard shot both films simultaneously, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, during the same month. However, one thing that is true of all of Godard’s films is that they bear, and sometimes demand, repeated watchings. I get that same sense from the three films in this Mani Kaul box set, but Nazar still strikes me as much more consciously Godard-esque than Uski Roti or Duvidha. And for that reason… it also seemed to me less successful. The well-off owner of an antiques shop in Mumbai marries a seventeen-year-old orphan. The film opens with her suicide, then flashes back to describe the events that may or may not have prompted the suicide. There are a lot of close-ups and pullbacks, with voiceover by the male lead Shekhar Kapur, but also some dialogue too. Much of the film consists of slowly moving shots with only music and sound effects. Kaul also does something interesting where he sits the camera in one spot, has the actors approach it, perhaps by crossing a room, and although the camera follows them it does not always pull back, and so an actor, or a part of them, fills the frame. Another Godard-esque aspect is that the dialogue sometimes feels like a series of non sequiturs. Certainly real-life conversations skip about, but the staginess of Nazar‘s dialogue, and the long silences in between, break the continuity. This box set was a good buy, and I’ll certainly watch the three films in it again, indeed I’d like to see more by Kaul… but I’m still not entirely sure what I’m watching.

Behave Yourself!, George Beck (1951, USA). My mother gave me a bunch of DVDs recently to watch, mostly classic Hollywood movies and recent UK TV mini-series. This was the first one I watched and, well, the cover art does over-sell it somewhat. There’s no Shelley Winters reclining lasciviously in lingerie in it, for one thing. According to Wikipedia, the script was written in four days, and they’ve not done a bad job given the time they took. Winters and Granger are happily married, but it’s their wedding anniversary and he’s forgotten it – until Winters drops heavy hints, at which point he does the usual and claims to have arranged a surprise… Meanwhile, two groups of villains are attempting to exchange, I think, counterfeiting plates, for cash, and are using a trained dog to do it. One group has trained the dog to lead the other group to the wanted goods. Except the dog takes a liking to Granger, screws up his attempt to buy his wife some lingerie by trashing the store, follows him home… and is immediately assumed by Winters to be the surprise present Granger had hinted at. Except now one gang of villains wants the dog back, another have figured out the dog’s role and want it for themselves, and the other gang think whoever has the dog is their contact from the first gang… The one-liners come thick and fast, there’s plentiful slapstick, and the plot manages not to collapse into a heap. But. It’s all a bit, well, corny, the characters are stereotyped, and Granger is far too smiley and amiable for his role (it was apparently written for Cary Grant). It’s an entertaining 81 minutes, but it’s no surprise it was quickly forgotten.

Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maylses (1975, USA). This movie is on one of the iterations of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, or perhaps another best of list, but it’s not on the list I’ve been using. But I watched it anyway. The title refers to a mansion in East Hampton, New York, USA, a property owned by members of the Bouvier family, relatives of Jackie Kennedy (as was). By the time the film was made, the mansion and its garden had fallen into disrepair, and the two women who lived there, the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy, both called Edith – Little Edie and Big Edie – were living in squalour. They were also quite eccentric. Grey Gardens is pretty much pure fly-on-the-wall, with some prompting by an off-screen interviewer. There’s an extensive look at the two Bouviers’ past, especially Little Edie’s career as a model and socialite in 1920s and 1930s New York. However, the problem with Grey Gardens, especially given its direct cinema approach, is that its worth depends entirely on its subjects. It handles the two women well, but I honestly don’t think they’re interesting enough in and of themselves, or because of how they’ve let the house fall into wrack and ruin, to justify the reputation this film has. Little Edie and Big Edie are not particularly interesting people. Odd, certainly. But not fascinating or admirable or important or even representational. Their only real claim to fame – because there are plenty of women, and men, who have let their homes fall into total disrepair – is the family connection to Jackie Kennedy and JFK. But, and I’m sorry I have to break the news to the US, the Kennedy family were not royalty and, more than that, actual royalty is not all that fucking interesting anyway. I suppose in some ways it’s the antithesis of the American Dream, ie, riches to rags, but in a world where, as Noam Chomsky has said, debt is little more than slavery (but hardly equivalent to it, because slavery is an abomination), and poverty is increasing massively thanks to the actions of the one-percenters, the two Edies’ downward trajectory is neither entertaining nor edifying. In other words, I don’t pity the Bouviers, I pity the people who pity the Bouviers. And that includes the Maysles.

52 Tuesdays, Sophie Hyde (2014, Australia). No idea how this one ended up on my rental list – I don’t think it’s the sort of film David Tallerman would have recommended, so perhaps I saw a trailer or something. Billie is sixteen, her parents are divorced, and her mother is now transitioning from Jane to James. Because of this, Billie goes to live with her father, and visits James every Tuesday after school. For a year. Hence, 52 Tuesdays. Unfortunately, James’s body rejects the male hormones, so his treatment stalls. Meanwhile, Billie has hooked up with Josh and Jasmine, two older kids from her school, and while the three experiment sexually, so Billie films them… leading to her sending a nude photograph of herself to Jasmine, which the school learns about and goes mental because it’s technically paedophilia as Billie is under the age of consent or something… I remember taking this out of the LoveFilm envelope, reading the précis on the DVD sleeve and thinking it didn’t sound too bad, but getting pulled into the story as I watched it… because Tilda Cobham-Hervey is really good in the role of Billie, the film iss played as a low-key drama, and it touched enough points out of the ordinary, in a nicely sensitive fashion, to give the story added interest. I’m guessing that adding it to my rental list was pure whim, but I really enjoyed 52 Tuesdays. A well-played uplifting drama about something personal, and a perfect antidote to Grey Gardens. Worth seeing.

Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2004, Thailand). Weerasethakul’s name is not unknown to me, although this was the first film by him I’ve watched. I seem to recall seeing a trailer of it on another rental DVD. But it was released by Second Run, and their catalogue is generally pretty damn good. So, despite not really knowing what to expect, I had reasonably high hopes when I slid Tropical Malady into the DVD player… And it both met them and failed them. The film tells two stories. In the first, a soldier is assigned to a provincial village, falls in love with a local villager, and the two spend time together. In the second, a soldier – not necessarily the one from the first story, but played by the same actor – follows a lost villager into the jungle and meets a tiger spirit – played by the love-interest of the soldier from the first story – who haunts and taunts him. Unfortunately, the links between the two stories – despite the shared cast, despite the shared setting – aren’t strong enough, although the individual stories themselves are very good. Had it been two separate films, I’ve have thought them much better – but as a conjoined work, and this despite my own experiments in literary structure – it didn’t to me seem as if it quite hung together. Despite that, I want to watch more Weeraserthakul, and perhaps I may later have cause to re-evaluate Tropical Malady. It’s nonetheless worth seeing – I enjoyed it, but it never quite gelled for me.

The Bad and the Beautiful*, Vincente Minnelli (1952, USA). As the asterisk indicates, this film is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list and, while Minnelli has made some classic Hollywood films, I think putting six of them on the 1001 list is over-doing it. By quite a bit. Particularly with this one. The Bad and the Beautiful opens with a person telephoning a famous director, a famous actress and a famous writer, all of whom refuse to talk to the caller. They’re then called to the office of a top Hollywood producer, who explains they have good reason to refuse to speak to the caller, ex-producer Jonathan Shields but… The film flashes back to each of the three’s history, explaining how they came to know Shields (played by Kirk Douglas) and how he shafted them, before returning to the producer’s office… It’s a clumsy-as-hell narrative structure, the characters are all archetypes, and Minnelli was never more than ordinary in his framing… but it’s a Hollywood film about Hollywood and… yawn. Seriously, this is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list? It’s a clichéd melodrama, in which the prize goes to who chews the most scenery. And yet… it was nominated for six Oscars and won five of them – and still holds the record for the most Oscars for a film not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. For the, er, record, it won Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Costume Design (Black and White), Best Adapted Screenplay… but lost Best Actor. Incidentally, awards for black and white films were dropped in 1967, and both colour and B&W films competed in the same categories thereafter. It’s possible 1952 was a bad year, Oscar-wise, to prompt so many nominations – and wins – for this ordinary melodrama… Um, I see Best Picture went to The Greatest Show on Earth, Best Director to John Ford for The Quiet Man, Best Actor to Gary Cooper for High Noon and Best Actress to Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba… So, yes, a shit year. Seriously, this film does not belong on  the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and I seriously doubt Minnelli deserves so many places on it either.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 871


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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


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Moving pictures, #9

Yet more moving pictures watched by Yours Truly. The plan to watch those 1001 films before I die continues apace, although perhaps if the title of the list is to be believed I should slow down a bit… Nah. Once I’m done, I’ll just set about making a list of my own, or find another list – 1001 East European Films To See Before You Die, or something… (Incidentally, I’ve marked films from the 1001 films list with an asterisk.)

Silk Stockings, Rouben Mamoulian (1957, USA) Another Fred Astaire / Cyd Charisse musical, with a plot taken from an earlier film starring Greta Garbo, Ninotchka (1939) – yes, the “Garbo laughs!” film – about a Soviet envoy sent to Paris to bring back three missing attachés, only to be seduced by the decadent West herself – not its political freedoms, I hasten to add, but its lingerie. It’s all very silly, Charisse’s accent is not even remotely convincing, and most of the songs are forgettable. The three attachés are mildly amusing – especially Peter Lorre – but then they are played as clowns. Even as a Charisse/Astaire vehicle, this film fails on many levels. It’s as fluffy as candy floss and that’s what it’ll turn your brain into when you watch it.

Orphée*, Jean Cocteau (1950, France) Cocteau’s re-working of the Orpheus myth works amazingly well, although it starts off somewhat dubiously, with rive gauche types in the Café des Poètes being all beatnik and full of themselves. But once the viewpoint settles on Orphée and follows him, with the princess, to the ruined chateau, and then the following morning back to his home and wife, Eurydice, the film starts to pick up… and pretty soon it turns fascinating. Some of Cocteau’s optical tricks are a bit feeble, even for 1950, but they’re effective all the same. I’d like to watch the other two films in the trilogy now, please.

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Starship Troopers: Invasion, Shinji Aramaki (2012, Japan) I still think Verhoeven’s film was a superb treatment of Heinlein’s novel, and while the second Starship Troopers film was dull, the third at least made an effort at satire – it was, admittedly, cheesy as hell, and pretty ham-fisted, but in a good way. However, most people it seems only care about power armour and killing bugs, and think life is like the Vietnam War which was of course cool. They are stupid people, and this is a film made for them. It’s an all-CGI follow-on that uses the same characters and production design as Verhoeven’s masterpiece but has all the subtlety and intelligence of a FPS. It even includes a gratuitous female nude scene. In a CGI film. This is Starship Troopers for spotty oicks who really need to get out of their basements every once in a while.

Meet Me In St Louis*, Vincente Minnelli (1944, USA) Given that this film is set in St Louis, and all the characters are resident in the city, you have to wonder about the title. Teenager Judy Garland’s family is set to move to New York, but she fancies the boy next-door… so they sing a bit, the other kids get into a few scrapes, and eventually papa sees the errors of his ways and they all stay in St Louis. Yawn.

Funny Games, Michael Haneke (1997, Austria) I’ve had this for a while, and had tried watching it last year but had given up halfway through. Not because it was bad, but because it was too uncomfortable. I finally got around to giving it another go and managed to make it all the way through to the end – and it was still really uncomfortable. Mostly it’s the motive-less violence. The two young men who invade the family home are creepy, and their smug condescension only makes their violence even more unsettling. On the other hand, the moments when the film breaks the fourth wall are genius – although I remain ambivalent about the remote control rewind bit, as it seems a bit too much. Finally, if you’ve not watched any Haneke, why not?

but-you-want-a-plausible-ending

47 Ronin, Carl Rinsch (2013, USA) Keanu Reeves in a CGI-heavy treatment of a story that’s so popular in Japan it is its own genre, Chūshingura. Reeves plays a half-Japanese, half-English man, who is treated like a lowly servant, but secretly happens to be a master swordsman. Or something. Apparently the film lost $152 million, making it second only to The 13th Warrior as the most expensive box office bomb ever. That takes real talent with such a well-known story, but I suspect Reeves’ presence helped.

Cat People*, Jacques Tourneur (1942, USA) I have no idea how this film ever got made – I mean, with an elevator pitch that goes “a woman thinks she’s descended from a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused”, it’s hard to imagine any producer, even back in 1942, greenlighting the movie. But then things were different back then – Cat People was written and produced by Val Lewton, who ran RKO’s horror unit, and he was given free rein providing the films did not exceed $150,000 each to make, and didn’t run longer than 75 minutes. Lewton’s supervisors, however, provided the films’ titles. I can’t actually remember much of the plot of the movie, although it’s considered a classic of its type.

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams*, Werner Herzog (2010, Canada/UK) Herzog’s documentaries are as odd as his fictional movies, but he has a real talent for picking fascinating topics. And so he does here: Chauvet Cave in France, site of the oldest cave-paintings so far discovered, some of them dating back 32,000 years. Admittedly, the film was doubly fascinating as I’d just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman, which was itself inspired by the paintings in Chauvet Cave. And now that I’ve seen it, I want to get the Blu-Ray version.

The Colour of Pomegranates, Sergei Parajanov (1968, USSR) This was a rewatch, and while the film is an astonishing spectacle, I still have no idea what it’s about. I’m also surprised it’s not on the list of 1001 films. Nominally about the life of eighteenth-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, the film comprises a series of tableaux intended to represent episodes from his life (although Sayat Nova is actually played by a woman, Sofiko Chiaureli, who played a further five parts in the film). The Colour of Pomegranates is impossible to describe, you really have to watch it. After watching it for the first time, I bought the other three films by Parajanov available on DVD in the UK – Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors, Ashik Kerib and The Legend of the Surami Fortress – but he made several more and they really ought to be made available too.

Pomegranates_snapshot

Nashville*, Robert Altman (1975, USA) I’ve never much of an Altman fan, perhaps because I came to cinema after the elements which made his films stand out had become commonplace, such as over-lapping dialogue, semi-improvisation and multiple narratives. The film follows the lives of various musicians in the titular town, most of which have somewhat clichéd story-arcs. Apparently, the actors all wrote their own songs, which probably explains why they’re so bloody terrible. I mean, I’m not a fan of country and western, but the music throughout Nashville is really bad. I’m puzzled why this film should make the 1001 films list but The Colour of Pomegranates doesn’t – in fact, Nashville is one of six Altman films on the list, so I guess the list-maker was a fan… although they don’t appear to be that much of a cineaste…