Thursday, January 28, 2010

#180: I Am Cuba

1964, TSPDT Rank #464

As I look back on the other films I've reviewed here so far, I find in shock that this is the foreign film featured in the blog. I usually love watched films from all over the place, it just so happened that I had been watching a long string of American films. Well, I Am Cuba was a joint production of Cuba and the USSR, but what truly matters is that this is a great film. The images here are incredible - it's a visual rollercoaster, filled with sumptous sights and beautifully composed shots. In short, it's a feast for the eyes. Looking at the film from another standpoint, it consists of four vignettes set before Castro's revolution (the film was made during his reign), all of which are deceptively simple, poetic, and filled with great communist spirit. I can somewhat sympathize with communism in theory anyway, but the film does a fine job of leaning you toward that feeling even if you are very much against the idea of communism (although, if that's the case, this probably isn't the best film to watch). So you may say you are being manipulated, and in that you would be right. But isn't that essentially the point of every film, to prove a point, or try to have us believe or realize something that the director has to say? Especially many of the films made here in the U.S. during World War II, I don't see how you could look on those and not realize most of them as very strong pro-American propaganda. But all politics aside, this is a great film well worth watching for those with a taste for somewhat obscure cinema, and an open mind when addressing the films message.

(Rating: 9/10)

Monday, January 25, 2010

#179: McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Directed by: ROBERT ALTMAN
1971, TSPDT Rank #124

In my opinion the 1960s and '70s were the best years in the history of the western film, because there was so much originality and change going into the genre at that point - a genre which before then had been more of a cheap entertainment was becoming an art, the past a means of expression. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is Altman's ode to the Old West, a film that dismisses the traditional image of the Western frontier (gunfights in the blazing desert) and transports it to the Pacific Northwest, with a sense of historical realism along with a modern feeling, that helps the viewer connect more easily with the people of the past. The film has some beautiful cinematography, and Altman's directorial style encompasses a fairly large cast with ease and control. The images are very poetic; in particular the ending gunfight and pursuit sequence, which despite it's gritty violence, possesses a sort of tragic serenity. I don't think this is one of Altman's best films, but it's definitely one worth watching, with a perspective on the American Frontier life that still feels fresh today.

(Rating: 7/10)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

#178: A Woman Under the Influence

1974, TSPDT Rank #160

A Woman Under the Influence is a heart-wrenching film because (like much of Cassavetes' work) it achieves a sort of brutal realism that cuts right to the bone. The performances of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk are amazing - but you already knew that. It's so terrifying and sad - it becomes quite hard to watch at times because of its emotional intensity but also compelling in a way. Even when you think it's taken all it can take from you, it comes back for an absolutely crushing final section, which is thankfully fairly brief, but still long enough the viewer nearly crushed by the time the end credits roll. I don't even know what else I can say about it - except that it's just so real, you can truly believe the feelings and situations that this director is presenting and recognize some of them in society and in your own life and relatives. It's a great film, and definitely an important one in our country's cinematic history, but it might come a little too close to reality for some.

(Rating: 9/10)

#177: Weekend

Directed by: JEAN-LUC GODARD
1967, TSPDT Rank #236

Weekend is a film which is sometimes interesting and fascinating, but usually very pretentious. This isn't a mistake either. Godard intended it to be the "end of cinema" and assumed that no one would be able to sit through it. Well I did, and easier than one would expect; I was in a very open state of mind and was convinced that I was ready for whatever was thrown at me. Turns out I was thrown off anyway. Ultimately a Marxist examination of the phrase "freedom is violence," it starts out sort of like a Bunuelian critique of the bourgeoisie, until it becomes slowly more episodic, elusive, and experimental. The Marxist strains become more and more apparent, especially with the eight-minute rant about the Iroquois Indians and the dangers of globalism - at least from what I could tell, I'm sure it's harder as an English speaker. But at a certain point, the film goes off the deep end - suitably, into complete anarchy - and we see parricide, cannibalism, communist poetry, unsimulated animal killings, and a lot of pointless violence. This is the point where the film has completely distanced itself from the audience, leaving us scratching our heads and dismissing it as an exercise. Which it is. This is Godard at his most mean-spirited and socio-political point - it might be worth watching for some viewers, but it is not really a good film in the common sense of the word, and definitely not a good intro to those unfamiliar with his work.

(Rating: 5/10)

Friday, January 22, 2010

#176: Eyes Wide Shut

1999, TSPDT Rank #769

Wow. Stanley Kubrick's last film is virtually perfect. Some words to describe: breathless, awe-inspiring, dreamlike, erotic, chilling, beautiful, truthful. It's not a film about sex, at least not completely. Mostly it's about the fact that we, as humans, desperately grasp around for something we don't have when things are actually better when we open our eyes. What's great about this film is the dreamlike way that it's filmed and the slow but calculated pace of the action, which eventually allow you to realize what's happening internally to these characters. In recent films it's really rare for the viewer to have to do work and be rewarded, instead of having everything spelled out for you to briefly take in and immediately forget. Clearly, Kubrick has something else in mind for his swan song to the world. And if you turn off the lights and allow yourself to be taken on Kubrick's final journey, you'll be amazed, captivated, and enlightened - just as I was. My hat's off to Stanley, now and forever - one of the greatest of all filmmakers.

(Rating: 10/10)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#175: Greed

1924, TSPDT Rank #67

Another amazing film. The story of its truncation by MGM is cinema legend, but the film is best viewed, in my opinion, at it's original theatrical length of 140 min; not the "restored" film still version of recent years. In this cut version it remains a cynical, vicious, and absolutely compelling tale of American avarice; a film to forever showcase the power of cinema. If the cut footage ever resurfaces, we'll see if the nine hour cut improves on the current two hour one, but my guess is we've got the best version we'll ever have right here at our fingertips. (The 140 min version is still available in the U.S. on the VHS tape released by Turner Entertainment in the '80s. Trust me, it's worth it.)

(Rating: 10/10)

#174: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Directed by: WOODY ALLEN
1988, TSPDT Rank #244

A surprisingly great film, a very mature and fully realized film from Allen. With Crimes and Misdemeanors it becomes clear that Allen has stepped away from his silly slapstick humor of the '70s and gotten into more important matters such as ... life, love, responsibility, guilt, death. You know, things like that. I think in a way this film is better than my personal Allen favorite, Annie Hall, because of it's astounding way of having you feel deep despair in a scene of harrowing drama, and right into laughing heartily in a scene of hilarious comedy. What's great about this is that life itself also hosts both feelings (and many in between) which makes it, and this film, all the more interesting. For those who say Woody's not a really filmmaker, just a good writer, check out this movie.

(Rating: 10/10)

Monday, January 18, 2010

#173: Fort Apache

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1948, TSPDT Rank #920

I think that John Ford westerns like this one might have been reduced to sub-par genre pics, if not directed by the master, filmed in beautiful Monument Valley, and using such great actors like Henry Fonda and obviously John Wayne. Ford has an extraordinary way of composing his shots; the glorious and heroic way he shows the cavalry in the final battle scene has much in common with the films of Eisenstein. However its meandering middle section and quite average-feeling plotline leave it somewhat lower in the ranks of Ford's filmography. In any case, The Searchers its not, but a fine film it still is.

(Rating: 6/10)

Friday, January 15, 2010

#172: Faces

1968, TSPDT Rank #469

John Cassavetes is famous as being one of the great directors of actors, and in Faces he seems to be at the point of his career where he seems to have really perfected his method of directing actors. There is a common misconception that all of Cassavetes' films used improvisational acting, but this is only true of his debut, the groundbreaking but chaotic mess of a film Shadows. Here all of the action is scripted, but he allows the actors to use their expertise to create their interpretation of the character - stripping down the acting craft to it's most basic element and allowing the viewer to feel closer to the characters. It's about the disintegration of a marriage, but also more than that: it's about the American people as a society, the confused and floundering way that we people relate to the opposite sex, and how the middle-age period brings out all of the brutal truths in how you live your life. It's utterly believable, and often painful to watch because of this. However, this is a truly important film, if not necessarily a great one, and a good way to start understanding what Cassavetes was trying to accomplish with his work.

(Rating: 8/10)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Officially beginning the quest

As the new January 2010 edition of the 1,000 Greatest Films list was released to the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? website today, I decided to officially begin my quest to watch all the films on the list. I've been an avid film buff for a few years now, and have seen 171 films from the list so far, by my count. This blog will document my progress as I work my way through this amazing and diverse list. I hope you enjoy reading my posts; my next one will feature Film #172.

You can view my progress so far at: