Monthly recap: What have I been watching in February?
So the Oscars have come and gone. I liked the intro bits with Captain Kirk from Star Trek, and cell phone joke about Lincoln/DDL. There were not many standout oscar moments, except J Lawrence tripping, and sound category a tie. Ben Affleck and Adele speeches were my favorites. Maybe funniest moment was Joaquin Phoenix shaking his head. Flight as puppet show amused me too. Could have done without all that dancing, Dream Girls and Chicago stuff. The James Bond tribute was a bit of a letdown, although Shirley Bassey’s still got it at age 76. The backstage clips with J Lawrence are worth a look, if you missed them.
This month I completed my letterboxd ranking of films by year, so hopefully I can put a top 10 by year post together here on the blog, once I've watched the IMDb top 250. As planned in my New Year post, I managed to go all the way back to 1920, and now I can see where my cinematic blindspots are. Apparently I haven’t seen ANY films from 1949, and many years between 1920-1950 I’ve only seen one or two.
My ratings below are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb. So what have I watched during February?
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
A controversial and uncomfortable watch, the first 30 minutes contain scenes of torture. Kathryn Bigelow’s argument for keeping those scenes in is that she wanted to tell the decade long hunt for OBL as faithfully as she could, and in her opinion leaving things out would be whitewashing history. So fair enough for including that.
The last hour was pretty puzzling, why not just bomb that house? My main issue though is the film is so long, and we know how it ends. Aside from a couple of sequences, the investigation is not as gripping as I thought it would be. Can you blame it if it’s depicting actual timeline? I don’t know. I also felt the characters needed to be a bit more interesting.
For me, the strength of ZDT is that it asks the audience to question the actions of the military. The film doesn't explicitly say that torture caught bin Laden, but in portraying torture as one part of the successful search, it can be read that way.
Should the US military be applauded for gaining a victory by immoral means? Who knows? This is an area of the film people tend to question.
According to the director Kathryn Bigelow, Bin Laden was "defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines."
How far should interrogation go to obtain knowledge? Is this intelligence accurate when a result of torture? Is it right to keep people jailed at Guantanamo bay prison without a fair trial, and are the US creating more hatred towards themselves by allowing this?
Some may argue it’s too soon to get a proper perspective on these current events.
Film critic David Denby of The New Yorker wrote: ”the chairs of two Senate committees have said that the information used to find bin Laden was not uncovered through waterboarding. Do such scenes hurt the movie? Not as art; they are expertly done, without flinching from the horror of the acts and without exploitation. But they damage the movie as an alleged authentic account.”
Michael Morell, the CIA's acting director, criticized ZD30: for taking "significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate".
The Huffington Post writer, G. Roger Denson, countered this: Panetta speaking as the CIA chief in May 2011, said "enhanced interrogation techniques were used to extract information that led to the mission's success". Panetta said waterboarding was among the techniques used.
Blogger Amiresque praised ZD30: “Maya is a character as incomprehensible to herself as she is to us, which makes her final personal catharsis (or revelation, rather) all the more meaningful for me. This is a film that, in my opinion, succeeds precisely because it remains apolitical and expressionless throughout.”
Sight & Sound magazine interpreted the ambiguous final scene: “Maya is portrayed as someone with no friends, who ends up realizing shooting bin Laden has achieved nothing much”
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Based on a true story from Rwanda. The main reason to make films about genocide is not just for the sake of profit, but so the atrocities are not repeated. Also asks us to stand together as a world community. A powerful watch with an important message. Not as violent as I had expected.
London: The Modern Babylon (2012)
A wonderful collection of images from London, past and present, but the documentary is too simplistic and lacks insight. The British soundtrack was quite entertaining. I didn't realize there used to be a beach by the tower of London. Mainly a historical throwback to the 20th Century, WW1, WW2, immigrants of the 1960s, etc. The last 20 minutes are about London today. I don't think it's essential viewing.
Separate Tables (1958)
Based on a play. Recommended by Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle.
Foreshadows Robert Altman’s filmmaking, in that we follow a group of people, and get to know them at a hotel. Spends a long time introducing the characters. I liked the dialogue. The film received 7 Oscar nominations, Niven and Hiller won Oscars for their performances.
Favorite quote: We are both so frightened of other people and we somehow manage to forget our fright when we've been in each other’s company”
Day of Wrath (1943)
Powerful albeit joyless drama by director Carl th Dreyer that concerns a community calling out women as witches. The priesthood are the enemy.
The church is supposed to be a system for good, yet in this film are inhumane. Are the priests really evil, or simply doing their job? Do the priests sincerely believe that witches exist, or is it to give the town a scapegoat? If the later is true, the priests are the real sinners. Perhaps a fear of an uprising and other rival beliefs.
When I see a film such as this, my reaction is so strong, that I feel the church should be abolished.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Often cited as the most popular Kung Fu movie, and perhaps the peak of the famed Bruce Lee's career. The soundtrack and haircuts are very 70s. The script has surprising developments, the story isn’t dated, and there are a number of memorable scenes.
However, it does beg the Indiana Jones question, why not just use a gun to defeat the fighter? I guess then it wouldn’t be a Kung Fu classic.
Favorite quote: “We are all ready to win, just as we are born knowing only life. It is defeat you must learn to prepare for”
An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Similar feeling to Floating Weeds (1959), I liked the visuals, but found story uninteresting and unmemorable. The premise is not dissimilar from other Ozu films of parent-child relationships, dependency, responsibility, marriage, financial issues. This was a rare outing in color for the director and was his last film. I didn’t get anything out of watching, perhaps it appeals more to an Asian audience.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Woody Allen comedy-fantasy, and often referred to as among his best from the 80s. Set in the 1930s, it's a tribute to the magical power of escapism through cinema, something Americans needed more than ever during the depression years. Only by watching heroes on the big screen can Cecilia (Mia Farrow) put up with her dull life. The music wasn’t really my scene. I enjoyed the “what if” scenario. Woody Allen films can be hit or miss for me personally. I definitely liked this one.
Favorite quote: “The real ones want their lives fiction, and the fictional ones want their lives real”
Sin City (2005)
Has been called the most accurate adaptation ever done of a comic book. Great cast, but I should warn you also very violent. Aside from the praiseworthy visuals, didn’t leave a lasting impression in terms of story. I guess this comic book universe just isn’t for me, so I’ll pass on the 2013 sequel.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Entertaining farce which was sporadically funny. Can safely say this family are a bunch of nutcases! The best Cary Grant performance I’ve seen.
Favorite quote: “Do you have to tie him up to get him to listen?”
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Won 5 Oscars. I could tell what the outcome would be, but it is entertaining with good performances. About the movie industry, success, ambition and friendship.
Days of Wine And Roses (1962)
Beautiful opening credits. Good performances by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. About alcohol addiction. The neighbors are the real cockroaches ( :
Vera Drake (2004)
Mike Leigh period drama which depicts England in the 1950s. Oscar nominated performance by Imelda Staunton, who plays a naïve kind-hearted housewife, who helps out as an abortionist.
The Seventh Continent (1989)
Powerful Austrian drama directed by Michael Haneke. Best to know absolutely nothing before watching. Based on a true story about a family. I had no idea where the story was heading, because there is no obvious direction at first. Keeps you guessing what is wrong. Towards the end I laughed out loud at the absurdity of what was happening. Will have to give it a rewatch sometime to look out for clues in the first part of the film.
Caché (Hidden) (2005)
Michael Haenke psychological thriller. A bit similar to Funny Games. A couple (Daniel Auteuil & Juliette Binoche) are stalked by a mysterious unknown. There are several suspects during the investigations. A number of things are unspoken or hidden, as the title indicates, so I didn’t really know what to make of it all. Is the mystery solvable? Apparently there is a 20+minute interview with Haneke in the DVD's special features, which I haven’t seen.
Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haenke’s US remake of his own provocative psychological thriller. You watch with morbid curiosity, at the back of your mind it’s a guilty pleasure, you know this kind of situation happens in real life, and shouldn’t be entertainment. The way the film is told questions audiences paying to see torture. However I also feel Haenke's story could be misunderstood and used the wrong way. Just think about recent Acapulco violations in the news.
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Won best foreign language film Oscar.
Strong performances, just too melancholy for my taste. Questions whether a woman’s family are making her even more sick. Perhaps the writer is an alter ego for Bergman, about the nature of the artist, neglecting his children.
Bergman writes, "These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly – conquered certainty. Winter Light – penetrated certainty. The Silence – God's silence – the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy."
Winter Light (1963)
Second part of the faith trilogy.
Technically flawless in terms of acting, cinematography, lighting, and so on. A depiction of Tomas, a priest having faith issues, likely brought on by the death of his wife.
His ex-mistress doubts he loves her, and he feels humiliated by the gossip of the affair, and is too caught up in his own suffering to listen to a suicidal who visits Jonas(Max von Sydow). Tomas and Jonas later talk.
The last 30 minutes were the most compelling to watch, it’s just all so melancholic and depressing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece.
Ingmar Bergman cited Winter Light as his favorite among his films. One of Bergman's most intimate and autobiographical films, it deals harshly with personal elements of the director's life and worldview. Bergman claims that he only "realized who he really was" and came to terms with himself through the making of Winter Light.
The Silence (1963)
Received less acclaim, though this atmospheric third part is my favorite of Bergman’s faith trilogy. The easiest to watch and least melancholic of the trilogy, contains less dialogue than the previous two films.
As written on wikipedia: The erotic action is motivated as a kind of last resort in a world where language has lost its function – the trio in the centre don't know the language of the strange city, and Anna and Ester continuously misread each other when they talk.
Cries and Whispers (1972)
Probably among Bergman’s most beautiful films to look at frame by frame, especially the use of red. Deservedly won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. An emotionally painful one to sit through, a film I wouldn’t rewatch.
As with the faith trilogy above, Bergman's films I can certainly admire, but seldom do I love them. Wild Strawberries, Scenes From a Marriage, and Persona are my favorites of his films.
Sadly I didn’t connect with the intersecting stories and melancholic characters in Cries and Whispers. All I can say is, if this is semi-autobiographical, it must have been a nightmare to have grown up in Bergman’s family!
The heavy breathing reminded me of scenes in The Seventh Continent (1989).
Norwegian action thriller. Good for fast-paced suspense and with enough unpredictable twists and turns to satisfy. One of the best Scandinavian films of recent years. A Hollywood remake of Headhunters is planned.
The Up Series (1964-2012)
Documentary series from the UK, which is a marathon to watch, yet was also very involving. Even though there is a lot of repetition, I enjoyed following the group of 14 children from age 7 to age 56.
The original hypothesis of Seven Up was that class structure is so strong in the UK that a person's life path would be set at birth.
Every 7 years a new doc was made, so we see them at age 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and 56. You get to know them on an intimate level and experience their highs and lows. They are pretty cute as kids, and some of them are quite interesting to listen to as adults. Everybody watching can probably relate to someone in the group, and you want them to find happiness. My favorites to watch are Neil and Bruce, because they are a bit like myself: mild-mannered, introverted, and with their own opinions. Nice those two became friends.
The series forces the viewer to think about their own life. Many of the interviewees are critical of the way they are presented, and there is some truth to what they say, that due to time constraints we are only seeing a snapshot of who they are, from the perspective of filmmaker Michael Apted.
It will be interesting to see if 63 Up will be recorded in 2019!
Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? How was your February?
My Top 5:
1.) The Seventh Continent (1989) (8.3)
2.) Day of Wrath (1943) (8.3)
3.) The Up Series (1964-2012) (documentary) (8.1)
4.) Headhunters (2011) (8.0)
5.) Days of Wine And Roses (1962) (8.0)
6.) Enter the Dragon (1973) (8.0)
7.) Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) (7.8)
8.) Hotel Rwanda (2004) (7.8)
9.) Separate Tables (1958) (7.7)
10.) Caché (Hidden) (2005) (7.7)
11.) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) (7.6)
12.) The Silence (1963) (7.5)
13.) The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) (7.5)
14.) Funny Games (2007) (7.5)
15.) Vera Drake (2004) (7.5)
16.) Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (7.4)