2015 Blind Spot Series: Andrei Rublev (1966)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2015 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

Andrei Rublev (1966) is set in medieval Russia, and loosely based on the life and times of the legendary 15th century Russian icon painter. The story takes place during a turbulent period of Russian history.

Considered a masterpiece of world cinema. My experience is writer/director Andrei Tarkovsky wanted to speak timeless wisdom through his characters. The dialogue does feel a bit pretentious and like a philosophical essay at times. The main characters tend to blend together talking the same way, especially in the first half of the film.

It’s not all dialogue. Visually the film is striking, particularly a scene where a man flies across the sky, and also several battle scenes of the Tartars raiding the Russians. Another memorable scene involves a jester the travelers meet while it’s raining. He entertains a gathering with jokes and physical comedy.

The second half of the film is easier to follow, relying less on dialogue and more on visual storytelling. About Rublev’s personal and religious crises which prevents him from painting. Also about a boy in charge of casting a copper bell for the Grand Prince. The boy explains he was given this knowledge by his deceased father. The bell has deep religious and cultural significance. If the film has a weakness it's that it points in many directions and can be disorientating to watch. A second viewing seems necessary.

Animals depicted such as horses and snakes appear to have a symbolic quality. It’s probable the struggles the characters are going through is a parallel to Russia in the 1960s, in that free spirits are oppressed by the authorities. There is something elusive about the meaning of the film, and much has been written. Perhaps director/writer Tarkovsky could identify with another artist (Andrei Rublev), who created art under a repressive regime. As it says in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, it's about man’s relationship to God, the artist’s relationship to the public, the artist and the art, and Russia as a physical and metaphysical place.

Among Tarkovsky’s deepest and technically most ambitious films. It’s tricky to label the genre. A combination of think piece, biopic and war film. The end scene gives us examples of Rublev's artwork.

Tarkovsky on Andrei Rublev: “In any case I knew it would certainly not be a historical or biographical work. I was interested in something else: I wanted to investigate the nature of the poetic genius of the great Russian painter. I wanted to use the example of Rublev to explore the question of the psychology of artistic creativity, and analyze the mentality and civic awareness of an artist who created spiritual treasures of timeless significance”  (Sculpting in Time, 1984)

Agree or disagree? Have you seen Andrei Rublev, and what did you think? Which is your favorite Tarkovsky film?

Tears of a Clown Blogathon: Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

My contribution for the Tears of a Clown blogathon hosted by Wendell at Dell on Movies. The rules are simple:

1. Create a post about a comedic actor in a non-comedic role. Tell us what are your favorite comedic roles of this performer. More importantly, tell us why you like the dramatic role in question. Be as thorough as you feel you need to be. Convince us it's a great performance.

2. Use one of the banners in this post.

3. Include a link back to this post.

4. Leave a link to your post in the comments section below or tweet it to me @w_ott3

Multiple posts on the same performance are allowed, so don't worry about who picked what. You're all pretty creative so I'm sure we'll get a nice variety.

The deadline for this is two weeks from today - Friday, May 29, 2015

Good Will Hunting (1997) is a favorite of mine from the 90s. A number of movies set on campus are about parties and sex, and the deeper aspects of being young and confused are often glossed over. Gus Van Sant's film is that rare Hollywood movie that isn't dumbed down. The scenes with Robin Williams and Matt Damon are for me the highlights of the movie. Williams steals the scenes he's in, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor for his performance. The film was also acknowledged for its outstanding writing, taking home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

What made Williams' performance so memorable to me is I watched it for the first time as a 16-year-old when your window is wide open to input and you are searching for a path in life. I'm not a genius, but I could identify with Will and his need for guidance.

While Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) may not have as high an IQ as Will Hunting (Matt Damon), Sean is far more experienced and wise. He passes on many valuable things to Will, how you can't get everything from books, the difference between knowledge and experience, the importance of love and tenderness, and how you need someone who challenges you. Dr. Sean Maguire is a person you would want in your corner. The character is layered and not infallible, sensitive to criticism when Will comments on his painting. Yet knows who he is and what is important to him in life, and is open to helping and sharing personal anecdotes from his life despite Will's cocky attitude. I think most people have someone special who has motivated them to grow into who they are. I know I have several. What's great about the film is it's not simply a mentor passing on wisdom and a young man receiving, Sean is also challenged by Will.

Williams gives the character both vulnerability and strength, and I really believed he was a therapist. I was able to care about him, despite Williams only on screen for a few scenes in the movie. Others have argued John Keating in Dead Poets Society (1989) is Robin Williams' defining dramatic role, and I wouldn't argue against that. You could even make comparisons between John Keating and Sean Maguire, which are both characters that inspire others to find direction. I haven't even mentioned Robin Williams' comedic roles such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) or his stand-up shows. It's very sad he is no longer with us. He had a lot to offer the world.

Have you seen Good Will Hunting? What did you think of Williams' performance? Which is your favorite dramatic performance by Robin Williams?

17 reasons why A View To A Kill (1985) is not the worst Bond movie

Critics and today's audiences tend to give the 1985 Bond movie A View To A Kill a hard time. The complaints often center on Roger Moore as a 57-year-old 007, who admittedly was getting too old to be plausible in the role of James Bond. Another critique was the lack of gadgets which audiences had come to expect. In many ways the film marked the end of an era. It was Roger Moore's last outing as Bond, and also Lois Maxwell's final turn as M's ever-dependable secretary, Miss Moneypenny. The people who grumble about their age forget that the reason these characters are coming back is because we actually cared about them from the previous movies. Perhaps to avoid creepiness it should have ended with Lois Maxwell and Roger Moore hooking up? They both looked the appropriate age to be a couple.
Roger Ebert is right that Max Zorin's Silicon Valley scheme makes no sense, as the chip manufacturers are in Japan, I'm willing to forgive that aspect, as it wasn't something that I noticed until Ebert brought it up.

Here are 17 reasons why I love A View To A Kill:

1.)  It's just so entertaining and rewatchable and there's never a dull moment

2.) The song A View to a Kill by Duran Duran in the opening credits. It was the last music they wrote before the group broke up, and it remains the only James Bond theme song to have reached number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. An 80s classic.

3.) The pre-credits action sequence and the iceberg submarine

4.) Recreating the Ascot horse race

5.) This Bond movie has some of the most amazing locations in the entire series. The Eiffel Tower had never been so exciting before. The chase through the streets of Paris is a highlight too.

6.) Zorin's beautiful French estate Chateau Chantilly. The secret lab at the stables, the scene when Zorin appears to pick Bond's horse from the computer, and the thrilling horse race that would follow.

7.) Flamboyant model and recording artist Grace Jones as the memorable and feisty henchwoman May Day. I actually believed she could beat up Bond, and Jones steals every scene she's in. The story arc of her character was also something which was interesting. Her character scared and fascinated me as a kid. Her costumes are bizarre and unforgettable.

8.) Tanya Roberts. Even if people say she gave a poor acting performance and to many was just a helpless barbie doll, she is for me the most beautiful of the Bond girls, those eyes, wow. To her credit Stacey Sutton is actually not a dumb rich girl, and majored in earth science in college, which becomes evident in the dialogue scene in the mine. It's a shame she suffered the "Bond girl curse" and never made it big in subsequent years. Roberts was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress.

9.) The first time a Bond villain was played by an Academy Award winning actor. Christopher Walken was born to play a Bond villain and he brings his own particular menace and quirkiness to the role as the highly intelligent yet psychopathic Max Zorin. Who can forget his laugh at the end.

10.) Patrick Macnee as the race horse trainer and undercover agent Sir Godfrey Tibbett. Bond's driver and the banter between Tibbett and Bond is amusing. They have great chemistry. Again, Macnee is probably too old for the role, but it's nice to see him again having enjoyed the cult tv-series The Avengers. (Not the Marvel Avengers)

11.) Bond producer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli's silver Rolls-Royce which he had driven specially from London to Paris to be be used in the shoot. A classy car which is not talked about enough.

12.) Using the air from the car tire while the henchmen wait for Bond to drown.

13.) The beautiful score by John Barry. My favorite is That Fatal Kiss, which can stir the emotions, and the score also works great in the action scenes.

14.) City Hall on fire. Critics point to Stacy Sutton's screaming "James!!"as annoying, yet it's a well-made scene and I believed the fire was a threat.

15.) The fire engine chase and San Francisco in general. What a fun action sequence. The police captain is so funny. "Yeah, And I'm Dick Tracy and you're still under arrest!"

16.) The spectacular Golden Gate Bridge scenes. Before it became somewhat of a cliché to use the bridge in action movies, the air ship sequence in San Francisco was a memorable and iconic climax.

17.) Finally, I admit I'm biased in that Roger Moore for nostalgic reasons is my favorite Bond actor. You could argue Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig give a more realistic and gritty portrayal of James Bond, yet I personally prefer the humor and light-heartedness of the 70s and 80s Moore films. I grew up on them and can't be objective.

Have you seen A View To A Kill (1985)? Agree or disagree? What do you like or dislike about the film?

Top 10 songs by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson's music and dance videos have always been compared to her siblings Michael and the Jackson 5, and some would say she was cashing in on the family name. It's a valid argument, but ultimately unfair, because she brought music to the world which is her own. While some of her dance moves were influenced by her brother, it's also worth mentioning that Michael was influenced by Janet.

Her first two studio albums from 1982 and 1984 failed to make an impact. She achieved mainstream succes with Control (1986), and this would mark the first of a string of chart-topping albums including Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), janet. (1993), and The Velvet Rope (1997). I consider those four albums between 1986-1997 her peak. My favorite is the 1989 album.

She still put out good songs in the 2000s, but to me the albums weren't as strong. The scandalous 2004 Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" was blown out of proportion and really had nothing to do with her music. Unfortunately it may have had a negative impact on her career. Below is my top 10:

1.) That's The Way Love Goes (from 1993's janet.)

2.) Come Back To Me (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

3.) Black Cat (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

4.) Control (from 1986's Control)

5.) Got 'til It's Gone ft Q-Tip & Joni Mitchell (from 1997's The Velvet Rope)

6.) Together Again (from 1997's The Velvet Rope)

7.) Love Will Never Do (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

8.) All For You (from 2001's All For You)

9.) Everytime (from 1997's The Velvet Rope)

10.) Again (from 1993's janet.)

Just missed:

Nasty (from 1986's Control)

This Time (from 1993's janet.)

Escapade (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

Runaway (from 1995's Design of a Decade: 1986–1996)

What Have You Done For Me Lately (from 1986's Control)

Rhythm Nation (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

Scream (from 1995's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I)

Doesn't Really Matter (from 2001's All For You)

Go Deep (from 1997's The Velvet Rope)

Someone To Call My Lover (from 2001's All For You)

Miss You Much (from 1989's Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814)

All Nite (from 2004's Damita Jo)

Young Love (from 1982's Janet Jackson)

YouTube playlist of the above you can find HERE

Agree or disagree? Which are your favorite Janet Jackson songs or albums? As always, comments are welcome.

Viewing recap April

Cabaret (1972)
Won 8 Oscars. Good performances by all involved. The musical numbers have impressive editing but the songs were surprisingly unmemorable. The only one I remember is the title track "life is a cabaret" sung by Liza Minnelli. It was the love story that interested me more than the music. I'm curious how this measures up against Bob Fosse's other musical All That Jazz (1979), which I'll be seeing soon.
Rating 8/10

High Hopes (1988)
Directed by Mike Leigh. Mixing both depressing relationships and laughs, the themes are a bit heavy handed with the class depictions. A bit dated and not among my favorite Leigh films. Good performances, but a bit of a downer with the relentless bleak score. Shirley and Cyril are easy to like, while the rest of the characters tend to be caricatures. Not an essential watch. Mike Leigh would only get better from here.
In the director’s own words, High Hopes is about the difficulty of being a socialist during the 80s Thatcher years. In one of the film's central scenes, Cyril has an argument with a young idealist about how the revolution will happen. The conversation goes round in circles as the various means of action are discussed, until the only options are talking in meetings without changing anything, or sitting on one's backside. There is discussion as to whether inaction or inertia is a legitimate form of protest.
Rating 6/10

Ditte Menneskebarn (1946)
I don't know if the film is available with English subtitles. Considered among the best Danish films of the pre 1950s. The best performance by a child actor I've seen in a while, it's easy to root for the main character Ditte.
A realistic depiction of life in Denmark during the 1800s, people living at the bottom of society. The story centers on a family and a child born out of wedlock.
Ditte Menneskebarn (1917–21) is a novel by Martin Andersen Nexø. He also penned Pelle the Conqueror (1906-10), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987.
Rating 8/10

Love is All You Need (2012)
Light-hearted romantic comedy by director Susanne Bier. Pierce Brosnan does his best with a cast consisting of mainly Danish actors. It’s watchable and charming, and quite different to Bier's other work.
Rating 7/10

Pump up the Volume (1990)
Empowering anti-establishment teen movie starring a young Christian Slater. About seizing the day and being part of a something. Thematically similar to other rebellion movies such as Over the Edge (1979) and Dead Poets Society (1989)
I was a bit underwhelmed by the soundtrack, but it's definitely a very good high school movie.
Raring 8/10

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Despite an excellent cast, a very dull and unmemorable espionage film. I hardly cared who was the mole in the organization. Probably the 70s TV-mini-series and book are superior.
Rating 5/10

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Entertaining screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Kathrine Hepburn. Funnier than I expected, especially the jail scenes.
I do agree with SJHoneywell at 1001plus that Hepburn's character is self-centered and difficult to warm to, but I'm willing to forgive that aspect because I enjoyed the comedic elements.
Rating 8/10

La Grande Illusion (1937) 
French drama directed by Jean Renoir. POW drama set during WW1. About the value of freedom. Sometimes it takes the horrors of war to show us the things we have in common. The last act was my favorite part, and sporadic memorable quotes throughout.
I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece as some have, but it did set the template for a number of prison movies that would follow.
According to film critic David Thomson: "The point of the story is that a bond exists between the aristocratic Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein that is more significant that the ties among Frenchmen. The rules of social class crossed and in many ways superseded national boundaries.
Favorite quote: ”For me it's simple. A golf course is for golf. A tennis court is for tennis. A prison camp is for escaping.”
Rating 7/10

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) (documentary)
I caught this on TV since it was on anyway. A documentary that is extremely anti-Scientology. It's informative if you want to know more about the secrets of the religion. However the filmmakers are biased in their dislike of the church, so it's a bit one-sided.
Airing on HBO on March 29, 2015, it was a major ratings success and by mid-April 2015 had attracted 5.5 million viewers, making it the second most-watched HBO documentary in the past decade.
Apparently the Scientology church complained the doc was a smear campaign, full of lies.
Rating 8/10

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) (documentary)
About the life of Nirvana's lead singer. The documentary is a portal into his mind, the filmmakers had access to his diaries and notes. The film is authorized by his family, who also appear in interviews. A troubled childhood and teenage life, Kurt was rejected by his family, who couldn’t deal with his manic behavior.
I didn’t know he had stomach pains from singing, and that he started taking drugs to relieve that discomfort. It’s unclear whether this was still a factor at the time of his suicide.
To me, Kurt seemed like he was confused. A sensitive soul who hated bad reviews, but can’t really deal with all the success. Despite his good looks, fame and family of his own, he writes "kill yourself" in his diary over and over. He says in an interview he’s happy and his new baby is important to him, yet he still goes ahead with suicide attempts.
Not an easy watch. It’s painful to watch at times. He led a sad life and even during his success was unhappy. While the doc does work on an emotional level to some extent, the editing of the diary entries is simply too fast and confusing. The filmmakers wanting to include so much detail at such a frenetic pace, that it unfortunately becomes sensory overload. A book of his drawings and writing would have appealed to me more, looking at it at my own pace.
Rating 7/10

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007) (documentary)
Covers his rise to fame and dark period after The Clash fell apart. Not much time is spent on the albums, though you do get under the skin of what drove him.
Rating 7/10

Eddie Murphy: Delirious (1983) (TV-special)
I wish I liked it more. Considered among the best stand-up comedy shows of the 80s. I found Eddie Murphy’s performance vulgar, both the contents and the foul language. His jokes barely raised a smile with me. The only time I laughed was the mention of the nameless dog and the shit turned into furniture, but it soon turned to a frown when the joke became about animal cruelty.
I don’t mind the guy, I enjoyed Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Coming To America (1988), but I guess his stand-up style just isn’t for me.
Murphy is clearly aware his show is inappropriate and offensive, he admits at the end it’s dirty. The homosexual remarks are still controversial to this day.
The imitations of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and the Good the Bad and the Ugly whistle are spot on, while some of the other references such as Ralph Kramden and Jimmy Walker felt dated.
Rating 6/10

Agree or disagree? Seen anything great during April? As always, comments are welcome

2015 Blind Spot Series: This is Spinal Tap (1984)

A high energy ”rockumentary”. Hailed as "one of England's loudest bands”, legendary British rock band, Spinal Tap, is followed by a documentary film-maker during their attempt at an American comeback tour.
If you didn’t know this is a fictional mockumentary you could be fooled into thinking it was an actual band. The band members behave in a natural way and the dialogue and songs are so realistic, that it’s authentic, but with enough comedy that the spoof works. While I didn’t love the music or think it was as funny as the poster indicates, I did enjoy the ”fake” interviews and backstage antics. Some people took this seriously when it first came out. You could accept Spinal Tap as a documentary about a real, deluded band that just isn’t that good at songwriting.

There are a huge number of quotable moments such as ”goes up to eleven”, ”miniature bread”, “Oh we’ve got a bigger dressing room than the puppets?!” “I’m sure I’d feel much worse if I weren’t under such heavy sedation” , and "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None ... more black."

A groundbreaking film which is worth seeing, but maybe some of the satire about the music industry would only be funny to those familiar with music from the era. But you don’t have to be into rock music to find it entertaining and amusing, as it’s clear that some things never change such as groupies, band arguments, being spoilt, and the desire to be remain popular.
The band members are basically comedians and actors, Christopher Guest would go on to pen the comedy Best in Show (2000). Michael McKean has acted in many films besides Spinal Tap. The third prominent member of the band, Harry Shearer, is probably most famous for his voice-acting on The Simpsons.

So meticulously crafted that there is a legitimate Spinal Tap album and fake band discography. The soundtrack works because it mimics what it poked fun at. My favorite tracks are probably "Rock and Roll Creation" and "Stonehenge", which mock the music and image of mystical, allegedly demonic bands like Black Sabbath. "Big Bottom" and "Sex Farm" are two more highlights that needle the rampant misogyny, sexism, and machismo in the heavy metal subculture.

Rating 8/10

Thanks for reading! Have you seen This is Spinal Tap (1984)? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome


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