Another month, another batch of mini-reviews! With all this movie watching below, and other things going on in my life, I have not gotten around to the promised book review of The Great Gatsby, which will be posted in June instead. As always, my ratings below are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
I like that Bazz Luhrmann has gone in a new direction with this adaptation, as a spectacle, it looks amazing on the big screen, and the soundtrack is not as distracting as I thought it would be. But maybe the weakness is the screenplay, which tells us what to think. I didn't want the green light to be explained. To me, there was more mystery and ambiguity about the characters in the book. I was bothered by the editing during the dinner scene, which took away from what they were saying. I liked the film, especially for the visuals. For the story, I prefer the book.
City Lights (1931)
This silent slapstick movie just puts a smile on my face. A cute story and a non-stop highlight reel of great scenes. Charlie Chaplin’s films have aged remarkably well, a timeless classic.
Although sound films were on the rise when Chaplin started developing the script in 1928, the director decided to continue working with silent productions. Set in the Great Depression, a major theme in City Lights is the contrast of material and spiritual wealth.
Barton Fink (1991)
Directed by the Coen Brothers. Decent performances, especially John Goodman. It has an unexpected twist, yet the story to me feels a bit slight, and also unresolved. Not a film that I feel deserved the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Good, but not great. There’s a long Wikipedia article, so maybe I missed something. The fire didn't make sense to me, but maybe parts of the movie were written by Fink himself, and that's why it didn't add up?
A Touch of Evil (1958)
Directed by and starring Orson Welles, about good & evil, power, and corruption by the Mexican border.
Famous for the opening scene with its impressive uninterrupted camera work. The twist near the end really surprised me, and was my favorite scene. For me, that ending kind of elevates a good film into a great film.
Janet Leigh sort of plays the damsel in distress at a hotel, as she would also do in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Touch of Evil is one of the last examples of film noir in the genre's classic era (from the early 1940s until the late 1950s.)
I watched the 1998 restored version that attempted to fulfill Welles's wishes. As Welles's rough cut no longer exists, no true "director's cut" is possible. Welles' daughter, Beatrice Welles, unfortunately has not endorsed this version, she canceled the screening at Cannes in 1998. The reason given for the litigation was that she was not consulted for the restoration.
Favorite quote: “Mike, do you realize this is the very first time we’ve been together in my country! Do you realize I haven’t kissed you in over an hour?”
The Child (2005)
Directed by the Dardenne’s. The struggle of a young couple with no job, whom have a child. They are not ready for the responsibility, and don’t know how to manage their money. The most memorable part was the last half hour, the chase on the scooter. If you’ve seen other Dardenne films, it is again the simple realism they are going for, a harsh reality, avoiding manipulating us with the beauty of the world.
Quite powerful, but again, as with Barton Fink, I’m not convinced it deserves the Palme d’Or award, as I didn’t find The Child THAT groundbreaking. I like the directors style, but, I mean, they already won the Palme d’Or for basically the same type of filmmaking with Rosetta (1999). I guess they are forced to give the award to someone that year, right?
High and Low (1963)
Tense and suspenseful kidnapping drama. A Kurosawa film with good pacing. Liked it a lot more than Seven Samurai (1954).
The screenplay is pretty good, but also at times heavy-handed, telling us what to think at certain moments, by explaining everything. The detective work kept me interested, though.
The title hints at the heaven and hell of the two halves of the film, a depiction of the inequalities in modern Japanese society. Kurosawa lends the two halves utterly contrasting styles. Firstly, in Gondo’s (Toshirô Mifune’s) expensive villa, filmed with few cuts like a stage play. Lastly, the police procedural is restless, low angles, high angles, fast editing. Seperating the halves is a brilliant train sequence.
What Richard Did (2012)
Powerful Irish drama about youngsters. Good performance by newcomer Jack Reynor, and a story that stays with you.
Le Samouraï (1967)
A full ten minutes elapse in Le Samourai" before the first word ("Jef?") is spoken. An unpredictable crime film, where you wonder who is double crossing who. Elements from the film likely inspired Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999). The outfit of hat and trench coat the main character is wearing (poster above) is very distinguished and memorable. Got me interested in checking out Jean-Pierre Melville’s filmography. Le Samourai is a last stand for the purity of genre filmmaking, as the French New Wave swept it aside for other forms.
Spoiler about the ending: The final scene feels ambiguous. Why does the gun have no bullets? Seems he took them out and wanted to get caught? Odd, because he looks at the gun before he goes in to the night club and it’s full of bullets, and he doesn’t want the police to catch him in the subway.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
A reminder how corrupt and messed up the justice system is. More specifically in Dallas county. As the viewer, I felt I was the jury, deciding who the guilty ones are. Was criticized for not revealing all the facts, or even inventing dialogues, so as to add to the suspense. Maybe it’s necessary to delve into other sources to make up my mind about the case.
The Thin Blue Line has had a considerable influence on later television and documentary film, often credited with pioneering the style of modern crime-scene reenactments. The film was marketed as "nonfiction" rather than as a documentary which disqualified it from being considered in that category for an Academy Award.
Blow Out (1981)
Reminded me of Berberian Sound Studio (2012), or The Conversation (1976), about the behind-the scenes activity of a sound technician.
It would make more sense today, that there was footage of an accident, with mobile phones everywhere. In early 80s, it was less likely to happen. The film alludes to elements of the Watergate scandal and the JFK assassination. As Roger Ebert noted: “We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses.”
Definitely interested in checking more from Brian De Palma, loved this. It is style over substance, but it’s just damn entertaining.
What’s with the poster? Doesn’t even look like John Travolta. As a critic wrote, maybe the film “has less to do with sound than with hearing”
As Pete Turner wrote in his review: "In an age where people mistrust everything they see from 9/11 footage to the moon landing, Blow Out is still extremely relevant and incredibly cleverly crafted."
Broadcast News (1987)
Set in the news anchor world, it isn’t as predictable as you might think, and 2 or 3 brilliant scenes stayed with me. Albert Brooks sweating, William Hurt anchoring. I agree with Ryan McNeil, who writes in his review, that the characters: “relate to one-another in a way befitting of mature adults.”
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Known primarily for his comedies up to this point, Woody Allen changed direction and paid homage to the films of Ingmar Bergman is this darker, serious adult drama.
The ending by the ocean was really powerful. I think a rewatch is needed to notice all the relationship issues going on. Good performances in this one, and well-written dialogue.
The film received five Oscar nominations, two for Allen's screenplay and direction, one for Stapleton as Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and another for Mel Bourne and Daniel Robert for their art direction and set decoration.
Favorite quote: “I hate it, it’s stupid. I feel a real need to express something, but I don’t know what it is I want to express, or how to express it”
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Screwball comedy. The story concerns a socialite who hires a man off the street to be her family's butler. I didn’t laugh, but I quite liked the characters. The ending was perfect, and my favorite scene. Nominated for 6 Oscars. My Man Godfrey was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories, in the first year that supporting categories were introduced.
Favorite quote: “The bed is very comfortable, much more than I am at the moment”
Tough to live in a place where the streets are a war zone, and probably even tougher to not know where your husband is, the uncertainty. I loved the beautiful score by Vangelis. I liked Missing a lot more than Costa-Gavras' other acclaimed film, Z (1969).
Missing won the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sissy Spacek) and Best Picture. It also won the Palme d'Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where Lemmon was awarded Best Actor for his performance.
Low budget movie about a black guy whose daughter is kidnapped. Shaft is hired as private detective to track her down.
The story occasionally touches on racial issues, such as white people having an easier time getting a cab.
It was decent enough, with a solid performance from Roundtree, but I think the influence it had, opening the door for a series of "blaxploitation" films in the 70s, is more significant than the actual movie- which didn't really impress me. Not a bad movie considering the low budget. The Shaft soundtrack album, recorded by Isaac Hayes, was also a success, winning a Grammy Award for Best Original Score; the "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Look Back in Anger (1959)
A British equivalent to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Or if you like, Withnail and I without the comedy. Richard Burton plays an offensive, complex, young man with violent mood swings and anger management issues, who does what he wants. I would say the pregnancy issue is a bit dated.
Famously Oasis referenced the title in their song: Don’t Look Back In Anger
“What do you really want Jimmy?” “Everything…Nothing”
“One of these days I may write a book about us all, it’s all in here, and it will be written in flames a mile high, and it won’t be recollected in tranquility either. And it will be written in fire and blood! My blood”
“Don’t brawl, it won’t do you any good.” Why not, it’s the only thing left I’m any good at!”
“What are you trying to do to me, trying to twist my arm off with your silence”
Mon oncle (1958)
Won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. My first experience of the filmmaking of Jacques Tati. I was a bit skeptical at first, but once it got going I was entertained. The set pieces are memorable, unlike any movie I’ve seen. It had a few funny moments. The satire of the material lifestyle was handled well. Relies more on visuals and slapstick, than dialogue.
A critic criticized the storytelling for being one-dimensional: “After you've pushed one button and one modernistic face, you've pushed them all.”
Mon oncle may have been inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)
Favorite quotes: “I’m Saved! The Quest is over” (lights cigarette)
If you like silent comedies, this might appeal to you.
An almost plotless film. Inventive ideas, which celebrate and critique technology, for instance, slam your door in golden silence, and throw away greek-style bins.
Impressive almost entirely grey colors and set pieces, though not as funny as Jacques Tati’s earlier film Mon Oncle (1958). The dehumanization that sterile urban lifestyle, robotlike behavior, and technology brings, I already got that message from his previous film. Playtime explores this further, especially with the use of colors. How we live so close to our neighbors without contact, how jobs become monotonous and alienates personality. Even the dehumanization of tourism, when groups go on tours of Paris. Mr Hulot (Jacques Tati himself) again is the odd one out, the joker, as a contrast. Couldn’t see the purpose of the restaurant scenes, other than a colorful contrast to the very controlled and gray office life.
The film is famous for its enormous, specially constructed set and background stage, known as 'Tativille', which contributed significantly to the film's large budget. As with most Tati films, sound effects were utilized to intensify comedic effect.
One reason for the film's commercial failure may have been Tati's insistence that the film be limited to those theaters equipped with 70 mm projectors and stereophonic sound (he refused to provide a 35 mm version for smaller theaters). For another, audiences worldwide had come to love Tati's films for the character of M. Hulot; his reduction to an intermittent, occasionally supporting role in the new Tati film came as a disappointment to many. Despite its financial failure, Playtime is regarded as a great achievement by many critics.
The Human Condition 1: No Greater Love (1959)
Weighing in at nine-and-a-half hours, this war trilogy constitutes one of the most searing criticisms of the Japanese role in the Pacific War. Respecting the detail of the six-volume novel by lunpei Gomikawa, director Masaki Kobayashi and his coscreenwriter Zenzo Matsuyama even shot several scenes that didn't make the final cut. Part 1 deals with getting laborers to work effectively, yet treating workers humanely is neglected.
Kobayashi himself was drafted into the army and despite his university education, refused to be promoted to officer status as a form of resistance to the military machine. Both he and author Gomikawa spent time in POW camps, and Kaji's character is developed out of their experiences as unwilling participants in a brutal and sadistic military environment.
While it is a bit bleak at times, the crowd desperate for food was a very powerful scene, and the film is visually cinematic in its storytelling.
The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1959)
The main character Kaji now is in military camp, he rejects the identity of being a victim. The soldiers are treated harshly, and one of the weaker soldiers (Obara) is hardly able to keep up. Kaji’s wife visits and the other soldiers are jealous. The battle scenes are very realistic.
The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer (1961)
A stylistic shift takes place, and we now follow a group attempting to return home from the war, struggling to survive.
For me, the first hour, and the final scene, are the most gripping.
The politics went a bit over my head, but were not that vital in terms of the overall trilogy. The Human Condition is somewhat preoccupied with sexuality, suggesting a deep link between violence and sexual repression.
Favorite quote: “You tend to drag others up to the level of your own ability. That’s how you are. Of course, that’s probably why you’re alive today”
Jean De Florette (1986)
The first part of the novel, titled Jean de Florette, was an exploration of the background for the film, a prequel of sorts. It was kind of an arsehole thing to pull that guy out of the tree so he hit his head, but besides that, it’s a very warm and charming French drama, which is novelistic in its storytelling, and displays the joys and frustrations with nature, and living off the land.
The stupidity near the end kind of pissed me off, though.
The film was shot, together with Manon des Sources, over a period of seven months. At the time the most expensive French film ever made, it was a great commercial and critical success, both domestically and internationally, and was nominated for eight César awards, and ten BAFTAs. In the long term the films did much to promote the region of Provence as a tourist destination.
Manon of the Spring (1986)
Jean De Florette part 2. The story has a few twists you don’t expect, especially the last hour. A strong sequel, which is an essential watch, as it is a continuation of part 1.
Entertaining, influential, quotable comedy, with many slapstick gags, and deadpan jokes. I’m giving it a lower score than most have, simply because it didn’t make me laugh as much as I had expected.
The guy who was stabbed in the back and kept on disco dancing was amusing, and so was the scene with the pilot having religious groups trying to persuade him to give them money.
Favorite quote about coffee: “Cream? No I take it black, like my men”
Some parts are a bit dated, jokes about basketball and ex-presidents. The directors got the idea of spoofing airplane disaster films when they accidentally taped the 1957 film Zero Hour!, while they were looking for commercials to spoof.
Leslie Nielsen's line (in response to Hays' question 'surely you can't be serious'), "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley," was 79th on AFI's list of the best 100 movie quotes. Nielsen saw a major boost to his career after Airplane!'s release, and the film marked a significant change in his film persona towards a new specialty in deadpan comedy, notably in the three Naked Gun films.
Seven Samurai (1954)
A very long film at over 3 hours, about a group of samurai’s defending farmers. I’m glad I finally saw Kurosawa’s film, which is no 17 on IMDb top 250.
I liked how they tested the skill of the swordsmen, by having someone hide by the door, and have the swordsman unknowingly defend themselves by instinct, when they entered.
It was a tough one to motivate myself to finish, though, so I’m not sure I would recommend it. Probably among the most disappointing of the IMDb top 250 blind spots I watched this year. There are some good individual scenes, but as a whole I found it dull. The most memorable thing about it is the impulsive character played by Toshirô Mifune, who has the most personality, and the most screen time. Seven Samurai was the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven, and other movies, by using the now-common plot element of recruiting a team.
Wasn’t that impressed by the action scenes, sadly. I’m thinking the film had a bigger impact upon release. Seven Samurai wouldn’t even be in my top 3 Kurosawa films.
Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
Told in 12 brief episodes. About a prostitute, mainly from the female point-of-view, her adventures, and how it demands a certain behavior to attract clients. My favorite segments are when she dances in the pool room, and the opening dialogue scene when we see the back of their heads.
The film has general appeal, as it’s about what we all go through, trying to figure out who to be, when we are in our 20s.
Favorite quotes: “The more we talk, the less the words mean”
“You say you love me, but you don’t think of me as someone special. I hardly love you anymore, but I still think you’re someone special”
“I forget that I’m responsible, but I am. I told you escape is a pipe dream. After all, everything is beautiful. You only have to take an interest in things, see their beauty”
“To be completely at one with what you love takes maturity. That means searching”
Blues Brothers (1980)
The musical numbers, didn’t realize there are so many of those, didn’t really get into the music. The car chases are spectacular, driving through the mall must have cost a fortune, and the over the top chase ending of course is amazing. Blowing up a hotel looked really realistic. The "Peter Gunn Theme" by Henry Mancini is iconic and unforgettable.
Maybe if I was from Chicago, or had got into the music, it would resonate more?
Seen anything great this month? Agree or disagree? Have you watched any of the above films?
My Top 5
1.) City Lights (1931) (8.5)
2.) Blow Out (1981) (8.3)
3.) Le Samouraï (1967) (8.0)
4.) The Human Condition I-III (8.0)
5.) Jean De Florette (1986) (8.0)
6.) Manon of the Spring (1986) (7.9)
7.) A Touch of Evil (1958) (7.8)
8.) Vivre Sa Vie (1962) (7.7)
9.) High and Low (1963) (7.7)
10.) Interiors (1978) (7.7)
11.) Mon oncle (1958) (7.7)
12.) What Richard Did (2012) (7.7)
13.) The Child (2005) (7.6)
14.) Look Back in Anger (1959) (7.6)
15.) The Thin Blue Line (1988) (7.6)
16.) Broadcast News (1987) (7.5)
17.) Blues Brothers (1980) (7.5)
18.) Missing (1982) (7.5)
19.) Barton Fink (1991) (7.4)
20.) Airplane! (1980) (7.4)
21.) The Great Gatsby (2013) (7.4)
22.) Playtime (1967) (7.4)