Monthly recap: What have I been watching in September?
A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) (1902)
Iconic 14 minute silent film. A group of astronomers go on an expedition to the moon. For its time, a landmark achievement for special effects. Be cautious of youtube, many videos don't include the ending. A restored hand-tinted version was presented at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival with a soundtrack by the French band Air. Music by Air works well with the images, in fact I perfer the album combined with film. Having watched color and black & white versions, I have to admit the color version was easier to follow what was going on. The first known science fiction film.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)
Average, watered-down adaptation of a supposedly superior novel. Why would Blunt cry over some guy she's known for 5 minutes? Best moments are in the trailer in my opinion. My low rating is mainly because none of the characters felt like real people to me. I struggled to finish this one.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
Watched in August. Won Grand Prize of the Jury at 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Turkish crime drama, which for the first hour included highly original nighttime cinematography, lit only by moonlight and headlamps. I had never seen that done before. The remainder of the film had a few gorgeous panoramic shots in daylight.
Characters seemed to have secrets or memories that are only hinted at. The story left me confused. Probably it was explainable, it didn't make sense to me, maybe I wasn't smart enough? In order to figure it out, the audience must act as detective and try and solve a case based on incomplete evidence, which is not easy to do.
As blogger apotpourriofvestiges writes: "One very unique feature of the movie is the striking yet consistent difference that exists between what the characters try to project, and what actually is going inside their diabolical minds, something that only the viewer is made aware of, but not always."
In fact it's not just about the crime case, we are analyzing the police work as well. I've got nothing against Turks, but what is obvious is that the Turkish police (at least in this film) are incompetent and many of them don't do their job properly. I mean why work at night, and why not bring a body bag for the body? Is it a satire of Turkey? Maybe. More about what is unsaid than said.
A film I at times found tedious to sit through, the pacing is slow, yet is fascinating to think about. I'm looking forward to giving it a rewatch in future!
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Based on a play, this film is widely hailed as among Tennessee Williams' finest achievements. Sadly there wasn't much for me to connect with. Elizabeth Taylor was mostly annoying, and Newman a drunk. The couple have marital problems. How an unloving father can raise a son who also becomes unloving. The children at the party are also irritating. The most moving scenes I thought were between father and son.
Saving grace for me were the terrific performances. I mean for acting it's a 10/10, for likeable characters a 4/10.
Favorite quote: "I've wasted so much time, you know, I've got a million different kinds of feelings left in me, and I want to use them. I want to use them all."
"Heroes in the real world live 24 hours a day, not just 2 hours in a game"
"The truth is pain, sweat, and paying bills, and truth is making love to a woman that you don't love anymore. Truth is your dreams not coming true and nobody printing your name in the paper till you die"
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (2011) (documentary)
I like how they have guards to protect $500.000 comics :) I have never been to the event, so watching was somewhat of an eye-opener. I was expecting the main Comic-Con logo to be explained, alas. Doesn't feature Morgan Spurlock in person, or his voice-over, he took a backseat, which was a tad surprising. I don't think it delved as deeply as it could have done, but it was a quite entertaining watch. Don't think I was key audience.
Visions of Light (1992) (documentary)
Cameramen and women discuss the craft and art of cinematography and of the "DP" (the director of photography). A journey through American classic films. A little shallow because so much ground is covered.
I prefer to watch a documentary about a specific film, rather than 20 different ones. If you are interested in cinematography, a must-see.
It's A Gift (1934)
Comedy classic starring W. C. Fields. The couple seemed pretty old to have children, they looked more like grandparents. Very funny in a Fawlty Towers kind-of-way.
Purple Violets (2007)
Recommended to me by blogger friend Alex Withrow from And So It Begins. Edward Burns directed drama. I often find his movies whiny and mediocre, Purple Violets is among the Edward Burns films that stayed with me.
I liked the main characters, but there were a few things that held me back from loving it. Several relationships at the beginning of the story didn't seem realistic, that they would be living together.
Another issue was how they gloss over the writing process, and make writing a novel look like a piece of cake, something you just sit down, write in a a short period of time, and mail off to be published. Writing a book is not THAT easy Edward Burns, sorry. But then again, in his defense, it's tough to make the art of writing cinematically interesting to observe.
The main theme is about doing what pleases and is expected, or taking the difficult path and following a dream, which may not be as popular. If you like Edward Burns or Woody Allen, its worth the time.
Has the distinction of being among the first movies to be premiered via iTunes.
The Fugitive Kind (1959)
From the Criterion Collection. Recommended by Timothy Spall, part of the Five Favorite Films series on Rotten Tomatoes.
I think Tennessee Williams is a talented writer, but this was not among his best. Neither is it Sidney Lumet's finest moment as director. There wasn't enough story or conflict for a two hour running time. Good performances, unconvincing story. As another critic notes: Funny how much Brando goes on and on about how much he loves his guitar, but never really plays the damned thing!
The story of a snakeskin jacket-wearing Marlon Brando and a confused young woman (Joanne Woodward) may have been the inspiration for David Lynch's road movie Wild at Heart (1990). The bird in the tree(screenshot above) reminded me of Blue Velvet (1986) and Twin Peaks intro.
My Brilliant Career (1979)
Rewatch. Probably not the most groundbreaking of films, and not quite as good as first watch. I like the struggle of the young woman to break free of family chains and become an artist. Times have obviously changed since early 20th century Australia, but there are comparisons to contemporary life of finding your path in life.
Favorite quote: "There's any amount of love and good in the world, you know. It doesn't just come to you, you have to search for it. Being misunderstood is a trial we must all bear. You have a wildness of spirit which is going to get you into trouble all your life, so you must learn to control it..."
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Widely considered a horror classic. Never having watched it before, I liked it quite a bit. The second film made in Romero's Living Dead series, but contains no characters or settings from Night of the Living Dead (1968).
I thought the first 30 minutes were disorientating with all these different characters being introduced, slowly I began to get into Dawn Of The Dead. The special effects and action sequences were pretty good, considering the budget, though the grey makeup the zombies are wearing is at times a little too obvious.
Didn't scare me as much as I thought it would, but there are creepy moments. Maybe if I had watched it late at night as a kid, it would have freaked me out then.
Here's my interpretation: Certainly is disturbing to see braindead zombies in a mall. A social commentary, that there is little difference between zombies, and mindless consumers wandering aimlessly from shop to shop hypnotized by mall music. Killing these mindless creatures presumably is a statement about regaining our individuality, but the irony is the normal humans are equally as mindless by wanting stuff from the shops in the mall.
Perhaps another message is, that it's very difficult to avoid mindless consumerism, because like the zombies, it's a "virus" that's everywhere and is still spreading. The mindless consumer will infect you, and turn you into a mindless creature too. A consumer who selfishly hides from chaos and social injustice. Scary thought.
Actually, the whole film could be viewed as Francine's dream, considering the opening scene. In any case, the conversation: "I'm still dreaming." "No you're not" is an indication of the nightmare scenario we are about to witness.
The zombies are victims. As another reviewer writes, the real villains are humans who are cunning, mean, selfish, and unable to work together towards a common goal.
Director George Romero has said in a BBC interview that the repetition of the violence means you sort of become immune to it, and is about how audiences were getting desensitized to what they were seeing on television, when the movie came out. Romero also talks in interview about how the main characters live in separate quarters "over here", while there is violence and the world is exploding "over there", a parallel to peace or war in different parts of our real world.
Despite being barricaded in a mall, and living hedonistically, they're still prisoners.
Favorite quote: "You're hypnotized by this place, all of you, it's so bright and neatly wrapped, that you don't see that it's a prison too. Let's just take what we need and keep going"
A powerful film about brutal prison conditions, an uncomfortable watch, that can allow you to acknowledge how these guys suffered in jail (and even the guards had a rough time). We are a fly on the wall in the prison. Good performances, but I had difficulty understanding the Irish accents.
The reasons for jail time and hunger strike were not elaborated on, only briefly hinted at, and this frustrated me a little, I felt I wasn’t given sufficient historical context.
I’ve subsequently read prisoners were protesting the treatment at the hands of British prison guards, and refusing to eat, until Irish officials are willing to acknowledge the IRA as a legitimate political organization. This could have been made clearer during the film. In my opinion, a film should stand on it’s own, and not need a wikipedia page to tell me things afterwards. Nevertheless, the film is well-made and memorable, and apparently I’m in the minority having an issue with the storytelling. McQueen was a first time director, so maybe I should cut him some slack.
An extreme film of this nature will no doubt be loved or loathed. Hunger spoke to me on a visceral and emotional level, not a historical.
Sound of My Voice (2012)
From August. It did get mixed reviews, better than expected, though, and I could easily watch it again in future. About a documentary filmmaking team who infiltrate a mysterious cult led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie. Creates a certain unsettling tension and atmosphere. For me, equally as powerful as the other movie about a cult Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011).
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Watched in August. I don't think M Williams looks especially like Monroe, though she definitely gave a good performance here. It's tough to match the magic of the real Marilyn Monroe, and I think whoever it was that portrayed her would fall a little bit short. MM was quite a character off the screen, as well as on it. This film has made me curious to watch Monroe's movies, which for me are a blind spot. Or even read her biography.
Breathless (À bout de souffle) (1960)
Rewatch. Influencial Jean-Luc Godard film from the French New Wave. I didn't like the characters the first time I watched it a few years ago, thinking it was more style over substance, but I was willing to give it a second chance. My verdict hasn't really changed. Jean Seberg was cute, and the dialogue and use of camera is still vibrant. The girl finds aimless main character Michel to be dangerous and mysterious, I find him to be shallow and unlikeable. A light-hearted film about casual characters. Overall, the film is not as good as it's reputation in my opinion. I mean, Godard's film is good, but I'm hesitant to proclaim it great. The story of the making of Breathless seems to receive more attention than the movie itself.
In the defense of the movie, my favorite scene is when Jean Seberg is walking up and down the street selling the New York Herald Tribune, she is adorable in that scene.
The director has said: I realized that Breathless was not at all what I thought, I thought I had made a realistic film...but it wasn't that at all."
Directed by Robert Bresson, and nominated for the Palme d'Or. Mouchette is a sad and moving coming-of-age story of a confused, naive and lonely teenage girl. She has to take responsibility for the baby at home, her mother is sick, and her father uncaring. Mouchette wants to be loved, but struggles to find it. About alienation and quiet despair. Outstanding performance by Nadine Nortier in the lead role. The minimalistic, restricted point-of-view is comparable to the Dardenne's brothers The Kid With A Bike (2011). Surprisingly, Nortier never starred in another movie. If you're interested in watching the films of Robert Bresson, this is a great place to start. A candidate for my top 100 films list(that I'm working on)
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
French drama directed by Robert Bresson. Deceptively simple story of a group of people seen through the eyes of a donkey. I hope no animals were harmed in the making of this film.
More complex and with more characters than Mouchette (1967), but I think lacks the emotional impact of Bresson's 1967 film. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) is a little cold and without feelings in my opinion, but Bresson was known to cast non-professional actors and use their inexperience to create a specific type of realism in his films. Kubrick's work that I love is often reported to be cold, so...
The film is unique for the way it tells its story. The only constant is the donkey Balthazar, which the director has said is a symbol of faith. I would say the film needs a second watch to appreciate the layers. About the dark side of human nature.
Perhaps this film should have been longer with more characterization?
A word of warning, avoid the tell-all trailer. I was not convinced actor Jack Black could carry a dramatic movie, I guess I was wrong. His performance is superb as Bernie, which does have moments of comedy, but you really can't take your eyes off him. I watched it mainly because I'm a fan of the director Richard Linklater, and actually forgot after a while he was behind the camera.
I was entertained, despite the morbid and unusual story. I was amazed this was based on a true story, wow. The audience can also get involved and make up their own mind what they think of Bernie and the community.
Favorite quote: "He made everybody look so beautiful, too bad you were dead"
Loved it, my favorite by this director so far, and another 100 favorite films candidate. Could be David Cronenberg's most important, visionary, and ambitious work. A cult film that is disturbing and visually grotesque, so not for the faint of heart.
Thought-provoking, not least because the film is a window into the future: Freely available information, avatar names, the limits of satisfaction and entertainment, the effects on your surroundings and on the mind of watching violence, sex or torture, and whether entertainment is at the expense of something more worthwhile. Does viewing kill our brain cells, the brainwashing of consumers, the nature of reality, etc, etc.
Full of ideas, the film was in some ways not ready for audiences in 1983, but today is more relevant than ever. Open to multiple interpretations, Videodrome has somewhat taken on a life of its own beyond the filmmakers intentions. A conversation starter you feel you want to talk about after watching, you can draw your own conclusions of what it is about. The more I think about it, the more I admire it. A remake is planned for a 2014 release.
In the making of from 80s, Cronenberg said: "it's very hard for me to say what Videodrome is about in a sentence, because I think it's totally misleading to say it's a criticism of television, or that it is an extention of Network, or something like that. It really is exploring what I've been doing all along, which is to see what happens when people go to extremes in trying to alter their total environment, to the point, where it comes back, and starts to alter their physical selves."
David Cronenberg recalled how, when he was a child, he used to pick up television signals from Buffalo, New York, late at night after Canadian stations had gone off the air, and how he used to worry he might see something disturbing not meant for public consumption. This formed the basis for the plot of Videodrome.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter horror/suspense film which received mixed reviews. I noticed on letterboxd it was called underrated, so gave it a shot.
You won't forget the catchy score in a hurry, especially the opening credits played in my mind the rest of the day:
The film does build in suspense, though the story was not entirely believable, that the college students would put up with all that supernatural mumbo jumbo from the teacher, and even stick around to help with some bizarre underground project. Starts out promisingly, (spoilers) but gradually goes down the familiar horror route of crazy, infected characters, and we never care enough who lives or dies. Alice Cooper turns up in a cameo. Unintentionally funny in places. Not recommended.
My top 5 of September:
(I realize it's weird ranking new films ahead of classics, but I'm listing them by how much I personally liked them, not based on reputation in the history of film.)
1.) Videodrome (1983)
2.) Mouchette (1967)
3.) Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
4.) It's A Gift (1934)
5.) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
6.) A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) (1902)
7.) Bernie (2011)
8.) Sound of My Voice (2012)
9.) Hunger (2008)
10.) Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
11.) My Brilliant Career (1979)
12.) Breathless ((A bout de souffle) (1960)
13.) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
14.) Visions of Light (1992) (documentary)
15.) Purple Violets (2007)
16.) My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of September?