Friday, November 29, 2013

With Apologies to Poets Everywhere

The following is an embarrassing set of haiku about my favorite films by each letter of the alphabet. These aren't specifically my favorite films on from The List--I picked a representative for each letter of the alphabet as well as one for the films that start with a number instead of a letter. How many can you identify?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Month 47 Status Report and a Brief Look Back

Well, I finished.

For no reason beyond my own geekishness, here are some metrics for you:

Date this blog started: December 28, 2009
Date of first reviews: January 1, 2010
Date of completion: November 25, 2013

Total number of films watched: 1154
Total length of films watched: Approximately 132,208 minutes (roughly 2,203.5 hours, or 11 hours/week)
Busiest month: January, 2010--4,772 minutes
Slowest month: November, 2010--1,893 minutes

Monday, November 25, 2013

All Good Things Come to an End

Film: The Last Picture Show
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

So here we are, at the final film I have yet to watch and review on the 1001 Movies list. It’s a strange feeling to be here, like I won’t know what to do with myself when I’m done. Anyway, I knew some time ago that I would save The Last Picture Show for the end if only for the name of the film. It has a particular resonance to it. While this won’t be the last film I ever watch, it is, at least for this and for some time, my last picture show.

I’ve been told by a number of people that this is a great film. I think it may well be. It addresses one of those issues that seem to always be at the center of any number of films, and comes at the question with a frankness that seems refreshing in its frankness. This is yet another coming of age film, focused on a group of high school students dealing with their burgeoning maturity and with sex. That seems like the same old thing, of course, but The Last Picture Show deals with a larger and far more serious problem.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

That Thing in the Room

Film: Elephant
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’m not sure what I should do about Elephant in terms of a spoiler. To talk about it the way I need to, I’m going to have to spoil it, so consider the rest of this review as being under a spoiler tag. I have an unfortunate personal connection to this film, and there’s no way for me to talk about it without bringing that up. If you haven’t seen this, I think it’s probably a good idea to skip this review until you have seen it, because I think some of the power of Elephant is lost if you know what’s coming. Since we get a good indicator of what is going to happen about 20 minutes in, I suppose it’s not much of a spoiler either way.

Because of that, I’m not going to discuss anything regarding the plot until after the jump. You’ve been warned; if you’d rather get 20 minutes into Elephant to see the reveal, you should turn away now. If not, come along for spoilers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

Film: Sleeping Dogs
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes I wonder what goes on in people’s heads. With a world of wonderful, meaningful, influential films to choose from the Listmakers opted to give us Sleeping Dogs. Why the hell would they put this film on The List? Where’s the importance of this film? Is it the fact that it was made in New Zealand? Or that it starred a very young Sam Neill? Or that it is yet another example of someone being hassled by the Man? Seriously, I’m coming with nothing here.

Sleeping Dogs makes a huge logical jump pretty close to the start. What we are given is that due to oil embargos and a series of political and social problems, New Zealand is standing on the brink of revolution and civil war. We’re given a further leap in that we are told to believe that the government of New Zealand reacts to this by adopting a collection of fascist policies and martial law and turning the country into a police state. Yeah.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shoeless Joe

Film: Field of Dreams
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I should say right off the top that this is not going to be an objective review. I love Field of Dreams. I think I’m justified in this; Field of Dreams is hardly an embarrassing film to love, but it’s not a film I can offer an unbiased opinion on. This is a movie that does almost everything right, and the things it doesn’t do perfectly I am more than willing to forgive.

The biggest mistake people make with Field of Dreams is deciding that it’s a baseball movie. You can’t get away from baseball for too long, but baseball is merely the lens here. Much like The Ox-Bow Incident is a moral drama in Western trappings, Field of Dreams is a story of redemption and reconciliation that uses baseball as the conduit and nothing more. It’s actually possible to watch this and understand it and love it without knowing or caring a thing about baseball.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Learning Experience

Film: Mean Streets
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

If someone told me that he or she thought Martin Scorsese is the greatest living film director, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. He may or may not be my choice, depending on the day and my mood, but he certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice for that honor. The thing about great directors, though, is they all started somewhere, and their beginnings aren’t always what we might hope. Such is the case with Scorsese and his film Mean Streets.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a low-ranking member of a mob family in New York. The bulk of his job is collecting on debts for his uncle. His personal time is spent watching out for his friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and spending time with his girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson), Johnny Boy’s cousin. Johnny Boy is a punk and a small-time gambler who owes money to virtually every loan shark in the area. He’s also out of control of his emotions and actions most of the time. Teresa is an epileptic, which makes her something of a pariah, meaning that Charlie needs to keep their relationship quiet, since his uncle and other members of the mob don’t like her around.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Future of Law Enforcement

Film: RoboCop
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

When the topic rolls around to great sci-fi action films of the 1980s, one that seems to get short shrift is RoboCop. I’m not sure why. One could mention a lot of films in Paul Verhoeven’s filmography. A lot of them are good, possibly great, and even the non-great ones are often campy fun. RoboCop is my favorite. It has all of Verhoeven’s signatures: high level violence, over-the-top gore, and camp.

In the not-too-distant future, the city of Detroit is in even worse financial straits than it is now. The city is a hotbed of criminal activity. The city has signed a contract with Omni Consumer Products (OCP), giving the company control of the police force. The company’s overarching plan is to hope that Detroit defaults, allowing OCP to take over and demolish Detroit, allowing them to create their own city of the future. One of OCP’s weapons in the crime war is ED-209, a mechanized police robot that malfunctions spectacularly in a board meeting. ED-209 is the brain child of Dick Jones (Ronny Cox). The failure of the project allows for the advancement of a new type of cop: the RoboCop project advanced by OCP executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). To become operative, the project needs a fresh corpse.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dance Dance Revolution

Film: Saturday Night Fever
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

Sometimes it seems hard to believe that in the late 1970s, John Travolta could do no wrong. He was already a face known to the American public in 1977 when he made Saturday Night Fever thanks to his regular role on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” But it was Saturday Night Fever that turned him into a star. If you had a teenaged sister in the late ‘70s, she had the LP of the soundtrack and probably had the iconic poster of Travolta in the white suit with the black shirt on the dance floor. You couldn’t get away from it; that poster was as common in girls’ rooms as the Farrah Fawcett poster was in boys’ rooms. And the Bee Gees were friggin’ everywhere.

Saturday Night Fever is a relatively simple movie. It’s little more than a standard coming of age story set a bit older in the character’s life than is typical for the genre. Tony Manero (Travolta) is a working class schlub in New York. He spends his days in a paint store and one night a week shaking it on the dance floor at a disco called 2001 Odyssey. It’s on this one night a week that Tony really lives. He’s the king of the dance floor and his friends are merely hangers on for the awesomeness that is Tony.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Drawing Things Out

Film: The Draughtsman’s Contract
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that The Draughtsman’s Contract had an uphill struggle in getting me to appreciate it. The reason is that I haven’t fully come to trust Peter Greenaway as a director. I didn’t much love The Pillow Book and while I liked Drowning by Numbers, I didn’t like it a lot. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover was visually interesting but ultimately fairly disgusting in a lot of respects. The common thread of those three films is sex (albeit less so in Drowning by Numbers). We aren’t going to stray very far from this topic in The Draughtsman’s Contract, either.

I liked this one, though. I liked it more than I’ve liked any of Greenaway’s other films, and by a pretty good distance. The reason for this is simple: this is a very clever film. A secondary, but just as important reason is that while a great deal of the surface focus is on sex, the sex here is legitimately a red herring for what is really going on. It’s there specifically to draw our attention to the prurience of what is happening and distract us from the larger story that is being told. It’s not often that a film this thoroughly surprises me in this way.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chasing Its Own Tail

Film: Trois Vies et Une Seule Mort (Three Lives and Only One Death)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on rockin’ flatscreen.

The last time I watched a Raoul Ruiz film, I was wildly disappointed. I absolutely hated Time Regained. It’s fair to suggest that most of my problems with it were technical; I couldn’t read the subtitles. It’s also fair to suggest that I didn’t see enough there to bother with it should I find a better copy. No, it was pretty, but there didn’t seem to be much there. There’s a reason I’ve put off Trois Vies et Une Seule Mort (Three Lives and Only One Death) until now. I haven’t trusted Ruiz to want to watch this one again.

What I got was not a confusing mess of poor subtitles, though. Trois Vies is a conundrum of a film, but not an unpleasant one. What we have is four stories, each featuring the great Marcello Mastroianni in one of his last roles…or four of his last roles if you’d rather have it that way. The four stories turn out to all be connected, but the connections are not obvious, and even when they become known, they don’t specifically make sense.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting One's Irish Up

Film: The Butcher Boy
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Sometimes I buy a film on a whim. I don’t do it that often, but for the last four years, when I found a film for cheap that happened to be on the 1001 Movies List, I’d buy it. Such is the case with The Butcher Boy, which I bought several years ago when I found a new copy for $3 in a bargain bin somewhere. I knew that eventually I’d get around to watching it. “Eventually” happened to be tonight.

The Butcher Boy is one of those difficult to explain films that is much better experienced than to have described, but I’ll do my best. This is the story of Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens). Francie seems like a normal, if unnaturally high-spirited, boy. He gets into typical trouble with his friend Joe Purcell (Alan Boyle). Much of this involves a local boy named Phillip Nugent (Andrew Fullerton), which makes Francie the problem of the month for Phillip’s mother (Fiona Shaw). What isn’t evident right away is that Francie isn’t merely a high-spirited kid.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drug War

Film: Drugstore Cowboy
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Anyone who knows me would not be shocked that my connection to the drug culture is an entirely cinematic one. My last illicit drug experience happened in the 1980s, and if I had to guess, chances are good that said experience was underage drinking. It never did a lot for me (although I was a drinker back in the day). I am substantially uncool when it comes to drugs. Sorry, folks; I come at these films with what I’ve got rather than what you might like me to be. Drugstore Cowboy is all about one aspect of the drug scene in the early 1970s. It is to drugs what Boogie Nights is to the porn industry of the same time.

The drug addicted, superstitious ex-con Bob (Matt Dillon) runs a crew of thieves who specialize in ripping off drugstores. We see this happen as the film opens. The four thieves each enter the store separately. Nadine (Heather Graham) fakes a convulsion in the middle of the store, which attracts the attention. Nadine’s boyfriend Rick (James Le Gros) tries to get more people to focus on Nadine by calling for help. Bob’s wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) further distracts the pharmacist. While all of this happens, Bob jumps behind the counter and makes off with any drugs he can.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sea Cruise

Film: Life of Pi
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin' flatscreen.

I like Ang Lee’s films. There’s even a part of me that sort of appreciates what he tried to do with Hulk. I mean, yes, it failed completely, but I get what he was going for, I think. Life of Pi is one that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I’m not sure I was as prepared for the spiritual questions it would bring up in the course of the film. What I wanted was visual spectacle. I got that, but Life of Pi is a special enough film that I got more than that as well. When the religious content of the film, the abruptly and plainly stated “make me believe in God” said by one character to another happened, I figured I knew the ending, and determined that much of my overall opinion of the film might well be determined by how that line played out.

What we get is a story told in the present day about the past, meaning that we frequently will get flashes of the current world while we tend to spend most of our time dealing with the story being told. It is told by Piscine Molitor Patel (played in the modern world by Irrfan Khan and primarily in the story by Suraj Sharma). Piscine spends much of his early life with the unfortunate nickname of “Pissing Patel” until he consciously forces himself to memorize hundreds of digits of pi, and rechristens himself Pi. We learn about his swimming lessons from his father’s friend Mamaji and the family’s occupation of running a zoo. We also learn of his spiritual life. Raised a Hindu by his mother, he also adopts both Christianity and Islam, much to his rationalist father’s chagrin. All of this is being told to a writer (Rafe Spall) who encountered Mamaji, who told him to go to Canada and look up Pi.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Film: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

It’s been a theme lately that the films I have watched have dealt strongly with sex. In its own way, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is both more sexually charged and less sexually relevant than the other films I’ve watched from The List in the past week. There’s no escaping the sex here, much of which is alleged to be real. In fact, writer/director/star Melvin van Peebles contracted gonorrhea during the course of the film and successfully got worker’s compensation for it, since he was injured on the job (and literally “on the job”).

The film contains a simple story, and one that would be duplicated, referenced, or given homage in the majority of Blaxploitation films for the length of the genre. It’s one of the first films to depict a black hero who didn’t conform to white American standards. Here was the sort of man that White America feared. He wasn’t educated, erudite, or polite. He was a hardcore brother who found himself constantly under the boot heel of the Man and who fought back the only way he could.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Quite Salo

Film: Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

For whatever reason, I seem to have a great number of sexually-charged films left to the end of this journey. Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight) is yet another film that deals with a great deal of sex. In this case, as with many films that are “about” sex, the sex here is merely window dressing to the deeper story. According to the Wikipedia article about this film, it was voted in 1999 as the greatest Dutch film of the 20th century. I find that fact wholly depressing in so many ways. I’ve had the candy called Turkish delight, and it very much reminds me of this film. It always looks as if it will be tasty or at least interesting. Instead, it’s completely foul.

We start with an artist named Eric (Rutger Hauer) and a good 15 minutes of sex with various women in various configurations. Naturally there is something underlying this desperate need for sex, and we soon discover exactly what that is, as a great deal of the rest of the film is told in flashback. It seems that Eric was once picked up as a hitchhiker by a woman named Olga (Monique van de Ven). After a quick romp in her car and a painful incident of Eric getting his junk caught in his zipper, they have a fairly serious car accident caused by her trying to put on a jacket. Naturally, this makes Eric persona non grata with Olga’s family, who refuse to allow him to see Olga despite his insistence.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Watching Oscar: Mogambo

Film: Mogambo
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of Clark Gable, but I do understand the appeal of the man on the screen. He was a player and a pimp. This may have been best demonstrated in Gone with the Wind, but I might enter Mogambo as Exhibit B. This is very much Gable’s picture because it couldn’t be anyone else’s. There is a strange provincial sense to Mogambo; it’s a boy’s own adventure film, but just as much a romance, and its depiction of both men and women are mildly sexist and offensive by today’s standards. That said, it’s still pretty entertaining.

Victor Marswell (Gable) runs a hunting/safari/trapping camp in East Africa. He collects game animals and ships them back to zoos in the rest of the world and takes people out on various expeditions. He is assisted in this by a number of native workers as well as John “Brownie” Brown-Pryce (Philip Stainton) and the crude and unmannered Boltchak (Eric Pohlmann). I mentioned that it’s a bit provincial, and that may be the wrong word for it. I can’t identify the guys who work at Marswell’s compound because they aren’t listed individually in the credits.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sex Sells

Film: Sex, Lies and Videotape
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t have a vast amount of experience with the work of Steven Soderbergh. I’ve seen a few of his films and generally liked them, but I can’t say I’ve seen enough to know whether or not I’d rank him as one of the great directors I’ve encountered. Sex, Lies and Videotape is his first feature film. I didn’t see this when it came out (I didn’t see it until today, in fact), but I remember when it came out, because it create quite a stir. This is one of those difficult films for me to judge, mainly because I don’t really like the characters we are presented with in the film. These aren’t nice people or good people. They’re certainly broken, but for many of them, the fact that they are unlikable has nothing to do with their brokenness.

What we have is an odd relationship set here. Ann Mullany (Andie MacDowell) is in therapy for undisclosed reasons as the film starts. She’s got a nice house and a husband with a great job, but she is concerned with garbage. She’s also rarely intimate with her husband and doesn’t have much of a relationship with him. In her world, sex is overrated and she doesn’t miss it that much. This is probably a good thing for her, because her husband John (Peter Gallagher) is currently having a fairly torrid affair with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). We discover that John has invited a friend from college to stay with them for a few days and didn’t bother to tell Ann. She’s upset with that because he didn’t consult her.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Femme More Fatale

Film: The Last Seduction
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Linda Fiorentino needs to work more. I say this because her IMDB profile lists only two films after 2000 for her. I have a tendency to like Linda Fiorentino in films, and I also have a tendency to like film noir. I like noir because it’s a great style and always deals with the seamier side of life. I like Linda Fiorentino because she has a great, smoky voice. It’s what makes her such a damn good femme fatale in a film like The Last Seduction.

This is a straight-up noir, too. I suppose technically it’s a modern noir, but eliminate the few moments of nudity and the sexual content and there’s very little in this film that wouldn’t be at home with something luridly titled from 1952. All of the noir points are hit and hit hard here. We’ve got an attractive woman with a heart of stone, criminal enterprises, sex, detectives, an amateur in way over his head, and a dedicated sense of moral ambiguity. If only it had been filmed in black-and-white, it would slide into the canon of the period without question.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Off Script: Evil Dead II

Film: Evil Dead II
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I had a birthday recently. My family bought me a Nook. The new Nooks are essentially tablets; they still have the e-reader capabilities of the old ones, of course, but the new ones are all about tapping in to that tablet market. The other night, I downloaded the NetFlix app and watched Double Indemnity as a test. It worked great. Today, I thought I’d go with a classic of a different sort. When I saw Evil Dead II appear on the streaming menu, I knew what I was watching today. I have holes in my personal collection. I don’t own Casablanca, for instance. If you pushed me, though, I’d say not owning a DVD copy of Evil Dead II is a bigger miss.

Evil Dead II is less a sequel of the original Evil Dead and much more a remake with much more slapstick and comedic sensibilities. It doesn’t so much pick up from where the first film left as retell the first story quickly and with far fewer characters and then spin off from there. In this version, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) retreat to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, the cabin was being used by a professor and his wife to translate an ancient book called the Necronomicon. Reading the passages aloud causes a demon to escape and possess the wife of the professor. Ash and Linda know none of this, of course, but when Ash finds the professor’s tape recording and plays it, Linda is possessed. Ash kills here and then is prevented from leaving the cabin, meaning that the terrible events may well play out again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Perfect Victim

Film: Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends) is an unpleasant film. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a bad film, but it’s not a very nice one. This has nothing to do with a number of aspects many people will have problems with. The characters are uniformly gay, for instance; the same sort of person who hated Brokeback Mountain on moral rather than cinematic grounds will have trouble getting more than a few minutes into this one. There’s also a surprising amount of cock. At one point, in fact, there is cock that appears to be entirely decorative, laying languidly flaccid in the background of a scene filled with conversation.

Franz “Fox” Biberkopf (director Rainer Werner Fassbinder) is a gay man without a lot going for him. He works at a carnival as a “talking head,” an allegedly severed head that can speak. As the film opens, the carnival owner and his lover, Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. Suddenly jobless, homeless, and penniless, Fox desperately attempts to play the German lottery, convinced (as he is every week) that he will win. As it happens, this time he does, pocketing a cool half million marks. This makes the slow, tactless, and somewhat unattractive Fox a sudden catch for a few elegant gay men with expensive tastes. Most notable, Fox becomes enamored of Eugen (Peter Chatel), the heir to a printing company that has fallen on hard times.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Window to the Past

Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have long had an interest in archaeology. It’s not something I advertise, but it’s true. When I was in grade school, I had the chance to spend a week one summer at the Koster dig in Kampsville, Illinois. It was pretty damn cool, and while we didn’t do anything that really affected the dig, it was an experience that I won’t forget. When I went to grad school, my original major was in the Department of Anthropology. I find this stuff fascinating. When I saw that Cave of Forgotten Dreams was added to the list, I knew it was one I’d look forward to seeing.

The film concerns the discovery of the oldest cave paintings known. Located in what is now called Chauvet caves, the paintings are deep inside and perfectly preserved thanks to a rockslide that covered the entrance for tens of thousands of years. Because of this, the artwork was initially considered a possible forgery and only the thick deposits of minerals over the paintings verified their age of roughly 32,000 years.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Cool Isn't Real Cool

Film: Diva
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Is it wrong of me to root for the bad guys? I don’t often want the evildoers to come out on top in a film, but it does happen now and then. It happens when the bad guys are particularly appealing or when the people I’m supposed to find interesting and appealing aren’t. In the case of Diva, it’s a little bit of both. I don’t find the people we spend the most time with at all interesting or likable, and one of the evil assassins happens to be played by an actor I really like. It’s a dilemma, I tell you.

Jules (Frederic Andrei) is a postal worker who delivers mail from his moped. He is also obsessed with opera diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez, in one of her only non-stage appearances). Hawkins has never consented to have her voice recorded—live performance is the only way to hear her sing. So, naturally, Jules smuggles a recording device into her recital and tapes it. On the way out, he steals one of her dresses.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fog of War

Film: Csillagosok, Katonak (The Red and the White)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s immediately understandable why a film like Miklos Jancso’s Csillagosok, Katonak (The Red and the White) is important in film history. It’s also soon apparent that this is a film that will be infuriating to try to describe. Hell, it’s infuriating and frustrating to watch. It’s a bloody, painful version of Slackers, even if it’s more apt to suggest that Slackers borrowed from this. There’s not so much a cast of characters here or a plot, but a series of events that occur in the same general area. We get very little time with any specific people, and that time that we do get is generally ended by death.

The film is essentially the short, pointed history of a particular spot overlooking the Volga River during the Russian Revolution. Local Hungarians fight for the communist (Red) side, battling the Tsarist (White) soldiers. Originally intended to be a film about the birth of the Bolshevik state, this is instead an anti-war film that depicts no winners or losers and no heroes in the conflict that erupted. Everyone here is a victim in some sense, even those who are clearly aggressors and morally repellent.