As always, my ratings below are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb. In 2013, I've been catching up on westerns, so expect mini-reviews of those in July. I''ll be contributing a top 10 to Letterboxd Community’s Favourite Westerns poll(before the deadline July 31st.)
Paradise: Love (2012)
The first installment in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy, a project first conceived as one film with three parallel stories. The first film concerns European women who seek out African men selling love to earn a living. You could say it’s a necessary film, rather than an entertaining one.
What we get in the film is a hybrid, which mixes documentary methods and fictional elements. The filmmakers researched it as a documentary-filmmaker, and several of the black actors are in fact playing themselves. The locations are taken from real life, so the filmmakers are able to see how this behavior takes place, and likely the characters are based on this research.
Austrian director Ulrich Seidl has been called cynical for his portrays of characters on film, but there is some complexity there. I’ve read that as with the director’s other films, there’s a blurring of hero and villain, blurring of power. In Paradise Love, both parties benefit from the situation. There’s a feeling of the white man is to blame for the black man’s troubles, and that we owe them something.
Frequent nudity, but maybe the core of the film is about emotional nakedness. To me, the main character Teresa is a contradiction, she wants real love, yet she is in a foreign country in a sex tourist area with men who are manipulating her. She insists on lying to herself that the men care. Probably she just wants to be appreciated and feel attractive, as men in her home country no longer give her attention. Director Ulrich Seidl in Sight and Sound interview calls Teresa both "a victim and a perpetrator".
As Thomas4cinema wrote, it depicts “the ways in which people who at home never experience the feeling of power, dominance, of being at center stage suddenly realise they can have all that for a fistful of dollars.”
I saw a reviewer write that the title should have been Hell: Loneliness, because the film is about a lonely woman and her desperate need for love. Her own daughter basically ignores Teresa’s messages.
As Sight and Sound magazine write, "the film's provocation lies largely with it's sympathetic depiction of female sex tourists."
Akuna matata=no problem in Kenya
To The Wonder (2012)
It was what I expected. Asks big questions, is it because God has left us, or we have left God? Not as great as Tree of Life. While it is a beautiful film, I didn’t see anything new in terms of visuals, that I haven’t already experienced in Malick’s previous films.
Favorite quotes: “Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves. They wait for others to do it.”
“I find two women inside me. One, full of love for you. The other pulls me down towards the earth”
On first glance, this almost plotless film appears rather pointless and overrated. The main character (David Jennings) is not particularly interesting nor is he likeable. He leads a shallow life as a photographer, having occasional flings with models. Whether the film celebrates or condemns his way of life is open to debate, I feel the director is saying the guy’s life is hollow. You could watch it as a satire of the 1960s, seen through the eyes of a foreigner (director Antonioni).
The murder mystery feels unresolved, and did it even happen, or only in his drugged mind?
Favorite quote, perhaps ironic: “I’ve gone off London this week, it doesn’t do anything for me”
Blow Out (1981), directed by Brian De Palma– which alludes to Blowup – used sound recording rather than photography as its motif.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Acclaimed animated drama. The scenes with the brother and sister are my favorites, which takes me back to moments in my own life. Not often that an animated film can affect me on an emotional level, and this one succeeded.
About the silent victims of war, the innocent children who are left to battle for survival.
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (1988)
Animation. Feels a little bit like Alice in Wonderland, where you are not sure whether it is the person’s imagination, or the events are actually for real.
Heartwarming story and characters.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
A coming of age story of a bookish teenage girl. It feels quite formulaic, yet it kept me interested due to main characters you care about. The antique store with the cat in a suit was quite memorable and my favorite part. The ending was a bit rushed.
John Denver – "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is featured several times, in a similar way that Chungking Express (1994) dug up an old classic with "California Dreamin" by The Mamas & the Papas. The difference is Country Roads kind of annoys me, while California Dreamin I love, but I still liked the film overall.
The only film to be directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, who died in 1998. Studio Ghibli had hoped that Kondō would become the successor to Miyazaki and Takahata.
Favorite quote: “I dreamed of living alone, but fearless. A secret longing to be courageous. Loneliness kept bottled up inside.”
The Lion King (1994)
A wonderful animated film from Disney, which does have formulaic elements, sidekicks as comic relief, and the obligatory songs, yet for a change I actually enjoyed the Disney soundtrack. The film also has characters you remember and care about.
I liked the message, about identity, and finding your place in life.
Favorite quote: “I never get to go anywhere.” “Oh young master, one day you will be king, then you can chase those slobbering mangy stupid poachers from dawn until dusk”
All About Eve (1950)
Nominated for 14 Academy Awards. Talky drama, which honestly was quite of a chore to get through. As with The Philadelphia Story (1939) I also watched in June, I was bothered by the screenplay, which is so overstuffed with dialogue, that I wondered why they didn’t cut some of it out. Perhaps that’s how it was in those days?
The performances were good. The movie is supposed to be funny, is it just me who didn’t get the humor? It’s also supposed to be smart yet I must have missed that too. I guess this is a classic that just wasn’t for me. The theme of ageism, especially when it comes to female stars, is still relevant today.
As they described on the chicks with accents podcast: “Margot (Bette Davis) is deeply flawed, and mostly remembered for her bad personality traits. But she had something really good, she is so determined to get what she wanted, a fierce personality, she was so strong, and unafraid to do what she had to do, and speak her mind. And we should all learn something from her inner strength that she had to be fierce all over”
The Room (2003)
Often cited as the worst movie ever made, so I watched out of curiosity. A flop when released, but has since gained a cult following. Definitely poor acting from the lead Tommy Wiseau, he’s the worst actor I’ve ever seen. Way too many sex scenes and scenes of throwing a ball. That laugh Johnny has, “ha ha” is too funny. How the hell did this cost $6 million? :)
Just about the only positive is the photography of San Francisco in the intro.
If you enjoy so bad it's good movies, an essential watch.
Favorite, unintentionally funny quote: “You’re tearing me apart!!!”
The Philadelphia Story (1939)
Nominated for six Academy Awards. For me, dated and overlong drama/comedy with K Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant. Appears to be a lot of unnecessary dialogue in this movie, so I’m surprised it won Oscar for Best Writing Screenplay. Was it supposed to be a comedy? Didn’t like it, nor did I care what happens to the characters. I guess I’m in the minority who didn’t love it. If you like this film, I’m sorry for dissing it, just an opinion.
Favorite quote: “The time to make up your mind about people, is never”
The Lady Eve (1941)
Screwball comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges.
For me, the best part of the movie is the first 50 minutes with the hoax on the boat, the last 40 minutes has a couple of funny moments, but implausible that he (Henry Fonda) would think she (Stanwyk) is someone else. When you’re in love, then I guess reason goes out the window.
Favorite quotes: “I’ve always loved you, I mean I’ve never loved anyone but you. I know that sounds dull as a drugstore novel, what I see inside I’ll never be able to cast into words, but that’s what I mean“
“They say a moonlit deck is a woman’s business office”
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Directed by Hitchcock. Suspenseful crime drama with Grace Kelly. I didn’t guess the twist.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
About a domineering father, who has plans for his son(Buster Keaton). I liked it, but based on the lack of daredevil stunts, and the formulaic script, I didn’t think it was as great as Sherlock Jr, The General, or One Week. The destructive storm near the end was quite something, how the buildings fell apart and such. The hat purchase scene was memorable too.
The film was named after a popular Arthur Collins song, "Steamboat Bill".
Written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin, he even composed the score.
Overlong, and not as funny as Chaplin’s best work. Talking during the sketches isn’t as effective as when he’s silent. Part of the problem is the sketches are intentionally supposed to be bad, because Chaplin in playing a washed-up comedian, who the audience shun. The strength of the movie are the characters, who you want to see lead a happy life, and that was mainly what kept me watching to the end. The ballet sequences kind of washed over me.
It’s always easier to give advice, than take advice, is the message I got. And that encouragement is important as a performer/artist.
It was pretty special to see Buster Keaton and Chaplin together, despite both quite old, their piano/violin sequence near the end was probably my favorite scene of the entire movie.
In 1973, twenty years after the film’s first release, Chaplin and his musical collaborators Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell were awarded an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score. It was the only competitive Academy Award Chaplin ever received. (He had previously received two Honorary Oscars.)
A star-studded cast, and a fine oscar-nominated performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin.
The not so good things, some scenes feel a bit too forced and unnatural, and it feels a bit like a tv-movie.
Maybe some of the time, Chaplin is an unreliable narrator, as his co-biographer even says “bullshit and you know it”
East of Eden (1955)
Directed by Elia Kazan, with James Dean as the lead. Adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, and a retelling the story of Cain and Abel. A son wants to find out about his family and consequently about himself. About parent’s expectations, family secrets, fathers and sons, and what it is to be good or bad. Kind of an old-fashioned The Place Beyond The Pines.
Blood Simple (1984)
Directorial debut of Joel Coen. None of the characters are especially likeable, and they do make pretty stupid decisions, particularly the wife who barely hides her infidelity. But an effective, suspenseful, edgy crime thriller, where we know more than the characters do. I kept waiting and waiting for the police investigation. The ending was simple and thrilling. It didn’t provoke any deeper thought, I guess it is, what it is. Liked it a lot more than Miller’s Crossing.
The way the camera moved around, at the bar, and other scenes, was unexpected and well-done.
Nice soundtrack, going to look that up. A highlight is The Four Tops' It's the Same Old Song
Favorite quote: “What are you smiling at, I’m funny? I’m an arsehole? No no no. That’s not funny, what’s funny is her”
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Wow, this Coen brothers film noir was boring, a bunch of guys talking, the chit chat scenes go on way too long, and nothing really happens. I had a tough time even finishing it, and didn’t care about the characters. Critically acclaimed, yet a box-office failure. Overrated if you ask me.
2-3 scenes are imprinted in my memory from the woods, the first one with Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro, and the contrast in their demeanor is striking, Byrne ice cold, John Turturro hysterical.
Favorite quote: “Is there a point, or are you just brushing up on your small talk?”
Gone with the Wind (1939)
You know you are in for an epic with those giant main titles, big memorable Tara's theme. and beautiful photography. Often in conversation as one of the best films of The Golden Age. But all those cousins marrying eachother, my oh my...
The turbulent relationship between Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is probably my favorite thing about the film, as you never quite know how they feel about each other.
The film has been criticized for its historical revisionism, and glorification of slavery, but nevertheless it has been credited for triggering changes to the way African Americans are depicted on film.
Favorite quotes: Rhett Butler: “I never give anything without expecting something in return, and I always get paid”
Rhett to Scarlett about Mrs Molly: "There's just too much honor in her to ever conceive of dishonour in anyone she loves. And she loves you. But just why she does I don't know"
The Movies Begin, Volume 1 (2002)
About the genesis of the motion picture medium. Depicts random situations in late 1800s and early 20th Century. The 1 minute clips are tough to really critique, many feel meaningless, because so short, and only of interest, because using a camera.
My favorites are Comic Boxing, now that I need to try! Also, Transformation By Hats was fun. The Luminere classic Trip To the Moon is included.
Perhaps the most interesting of the lesser-known clips is of the fish market in Moscow, where people are unsure what a film even is, and are curious.
The Great Train Robbery (1903) features the iconic moment of a cowboy firing at the camera (image above)
Overall, it didn’t fascinate me enough to watch volume 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Ben Hur (1959)
Winner of 11 oscars, it looks very expensive, especially the ship battles, the horse and cart race, and all the extras in Rome.
A powerful and visually striking epic in the same mould as Lawrence of Arabia.
The Christianity elements in Ben Hur don’t really stand out, though, other than the setting, and I feel like they are added on to give the story a profound quality. What lingers for me are the action scenes, and the story of revenge.
Spoiler: It goes on maybe 20-30 minutes too long. For me, the "miracle" near the end doesn't fit with the rest of the film.
I’m not really a big fan of Scorsese’s violent, profanity-filled films, only watched because in IMDb top 250.
When the majority of the “highlights” are extreme violence, a man getting stabbed with a pen, a guy getting his hand busted with a hammer, a fellow with a head in a vice, then I’m repulsed. But I was ok with all the killings in Django (1966)-so it depends.
My favorite scene probably was when Sharon Stone character throws chips up in the air and gives Robert de Niro character sidelong glances. Plus the soundtrack is full of golden oldies.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
I don’t know if I’m alone think this, for me the first hour is the most suspenseful part, especially the escape and car chase. Once a revelation is revealed, it’s still good, but has a tough time maintaining that same high level of intensity.
To me, the woman remaining by Bourne's side was a bit implausible, because she knew he was trouble. I think many women would take the money and run, but I guess then we wouldn’t have had a story. Seems love and danger appeal to her. Maybe she didn't have anything to go back to.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
A sci-fi film, which is considered among the best of the 50s. Pretty good special effects for the time. Leslie Nielsen in an early serious role.
The set pieces were more impressive than the story. Not bad, just felt they could have done more with all the technology that was introduced, in terms of action scenes and storytelling, but maybe the budget wasn’t there for that.
Spoiler: It’s a valuable message that our worst enemy can be ourselves, that we shouldn’t try and be God, and that technology out-of-control is a threat. Apparently inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Singin in the Rain (1952)
I should start by saying musicals, with exceptions, are not really my thing. The violin two-man act Fit as a fiddle was impressive. The singing in the rain scene is obviously iconic, which if you’ve watched Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has sinister undertones, Gene Kelly was reportedly disgusted when it was used in the film and walked away from Malcolm McDowell at a party.
A colorful, dazzling, and well-choreographed movie, yet Singin in the Rain is also quite exhausting to sit through in one sitting. Like a 100 minute music video, but I suppose you could say that about a lot of song/dance musicals.
Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
One of the most well-known and financially successful midnight movies of all time. A glam rock cult classic full of bizarre characters. Not quite sure if it is a parody or tribute to horror and sci-fi movies, I guess it doesn’t really matter?
Interesting how we at the mysterious castle feel as uncomfortable as the two visitors. I’m honestly quite scared of Tim Curry, he also freaked me out as Pennywise in Stephen King’s It (1990)
Perhaps the most iconic from soundtrack is Time Warp
For me, Meat Loaf’s song “hot patootie, bless my soul, really love that rock n roll” was the best of the other songs.
Eddie's Teddy was pretty cool, in that a verse is sung by Eddie from beyond the grave.
What’s with Eddie’s uncle, who looks like Richard Nixon :)
For what it lacks in story, it makes up for in energy. You could call it an empowering movie, that encourages us to seize the day. Especially the song: "Don't dream it, be it"
Not a film I genuinely can say I liked, but I appreciate how original and over-the-top it is, and I’m glad I finally crossed it off the list.
Was Fritz Lang's first sound film, Lang considered M to be his favorite of his own films because of the social criticism in the film. In 1937, he told a reporter that he made the film "to warn mothers about neglecting children."
Great performance by Peter Lorre.The suspicion and hysteria reminded me quite a bit of Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012), the community taking the law into their own hands. Though the difference is the suspect is a presumed child killer in the 1931 film. M is also about how the system of the law is a problem for the families of the victims, no punishment can repay what they have lost.
Spoilers: You could say the community’s efforts are superfluous, as the resources Schranker brings to the search are essentially of the same kind available to the police. Yet the desire for justice perhaps outweighs logic. We are spared the savagery of the attacks, for this reason, the audience is not energized by the blood lust of the citizens. His pain may be more acute, because as perpetrator of those atrocities, he must be more offended than they can be, and to the extent that he is powerless over his compulsion, he is a victim. The assembly thirsts for vengeance and blood. For the first time in the film, the will to violence which makes murder possible is evoked. His struggle is revealed to be as much against himself as it is against his captors.
The structure of the film employed two modes, the movement from simple identification of the murderer to the revelation of the unseen life within, parallel to the progress from the expanse of the city to the confines of the locker and the subsequent descent down the stairs to the astonishingly cavernous warehouse. The Shining (1980) also used this method of the space gradually becoming more and more confined.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Won Oscar for best foreign language film. Surrealist film directed by Luis Buñuel. A bunch of people have their dinner interrupted, this happens several times for various reasons. The sets and acting are ok, but kind of a pointless film I thought. My favorite scene is the curtain and audience.
Buñuel once joked that whenever he needed an extra scene he simply filmed one of his own dreams. The film includes three of Buñuel's recurring dreams: a dream of being on stage and forgetting his lines, a dream of meeting his dead cousin in the street and following him into a house full of cobwebs, and a dream of waking up to see his dead parents staring at him.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won two for acting. Coming-of-age drama that does a great job of transporting you back to a different time and place, 1950s Texas.
I’ve read that Bogdanovich went for black and white to emulate the classical Hollywood Era Westerns (Hawks, Ford, etc.) he admires. It's as much an aesthetic decision to evoke tradition and nostalgia as it is a thematic one, since the film gradually becomes about the degradation of an old way of filmgoing.
The director has said the decision of b/w is because color was too pretty for a dreary and sad town.
Favorite quote: “Being crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do”
Seen anything great this month? Have you watched any of the above films? Agree or disagree?
My Top 5
1.) Grave of the Fireflies (1988) (8.5)
2.) M (1931) (8.5)
3.) The Lion King (1994) (8.2)
4.) Dial M for Murder (1954) (8.1)
5.) Gone with the Wind (1939) (8.0)
6.) The Last Picture Show (1971) (7.9)
7.) Whisper of the Heart (1995) (7.9)
8.) Blood Simple (1984) (7.8)
9.) My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (1988) (7.8)
10.) Singin in the Rain (1952) (7.8)
11.) Ben Hur (1959) (7.7)
12.) The Bourne Identity (2002) (7.5)
13.) The Lady Eve (1941) (7.5)
14.) Paradise: Love (2012) (7.5)
15.) East of Eden (1955) (7.5)
16.) Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) (7.5)
17.) Casino (1995) (7.4)
18.) Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) (7.4)
19.) Forbidden Planet (1956) (7.4)