Thursday, July 29, 2010

#255: The Dead

Directed by: JOHN HUSTON
1987, TSPDT Rank #379

John Huston's final film is a thoughtful and slow-moving ode to his native Ireland, featuring an all-Irish cast. Its based on a James Joyce story about who remembers a long lost love upon hearing an old Irish ballad. Its also quite easy to watch if you're in the right frame of mind to deal with its slow pace. But what's interesting about it is that the first 3/4 of the movie don't actually have anything to do with the 'plot' at all. For most of the duration we look upon this Christmas Eve party, set in 1908, where members and friends of a family all enjoy each other's company, eat and drink merrily, and entertain each other with songs and poem recitations. For the most part you can tell they try to stay away from offending the others with religious or political arguments, and although occasionally a few bad feelings come up with the help of alcohol, they quickly pass and are forgotten. When one of the women hears this Irish ballad upon leaving the party, old feelings are awakened, and the true nature of love questioned. I think some people exaggerate on saying this is John Huston's greatest films, but it does have some understated and beautiful cinematography, and a generally warm, meditative feel.

(Rating: 6/10)

Monday, July 26, 2010

#254: Sans Soleil

Directed by: CHRIS MARKER
1983, TSPDT Rank #201

Sans Soleil is an incredible piece of film work by Chris Marker that unfortunately, seems to be going to be largely undiscovered. It's a free-form travel essay film of sorts - about a fictional cameraman who attempts to capture the "two extreme poles of survival," Japan and Africa, in order to form a memory out of film. Marker approaches this by filming whatever seemed interesting, or important to him. Which is to say, things like the daily life of ordinary people, cultural oddities, random curiosities, or some most likely forgotten history. Maybe he's just looking for "things that quicken the heart." Either way, he pulls it off in such a way that there is no pretension at all, and the movie feels really authentic and real. Not to mention quite dreamlike, a feeling which comes from the fact that all the footage was shot on 16mm silent film - not a synchronized shot to be found in the film. The soundtrack is filled with ambient electronic music, recreated sound effects, etc. Plus a narration that is both wise and nothing short of poetic. I could say more things about this film but I feel it's something you should experience, because nothing substitutes for seeing the film yourself. And multiple viewings works really well with this film - you'll miss out on a lot on your first viewing.

The Criterion Collection did well to package Sans Soleil along with La Jetee in their DVD release, because they complement each other very well. However, I must give them both the same rating because for all the similarity they share in their exploration of memory and time, they are such different films that I could not possibly compare them against each other. What matters is they are both very great films!

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

#253: Last Tango in Paris

1973, TSPDT Rank #250

I've been going through the films of Bernardo Bertolucci and this one really seems to stand out. Not because it was controversial for its portrayal of sexuality when it was released, but because of how personal it is. I think it feels different because it is truly HIS, dealing with himself and his desires rather than the usual political themes he focused on. He kept it no secret that Marlon Brando's character was a version of himself; and he certainly directed Brando in one of his most incredible acting roles. However, a valid criticism would be that the power of Brando's acting overpowered the other actors and subplots, including one with Maria Schneider and her fiancé, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud (brilliant child star of Truffaut's The 400 Blows). The emotionally intense story of a man who has an anonymous affair with a young, engaged stranger - using her as an outlet for his grief over his wife's recent suicide as she falls slowly in love with him - will probably not lose its raw power over time, even as our day and age makes the affair between Brando and Schneider seem more and more improbable.

(Rating: 8/10)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

#252: Mr. Hulot's Holiday

Directed by: JACQUES TATI
1952, TSPDT Rank #232

Jacques Tati is the famous French writer, director, and actor of the four Monsieur Hulot films, of which this is the first. Tati has often been called the 'French Charles Chaplin,' but American fans of Chaplin might be a little bored and unimpressed if expecting the same kind of movie. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is what I would describe as a restful and rhythmic sort of comedy, because it deals with a number of situations in which the bumbling but well-meaning Hulot gets himself into small amounts of trouble while staying at a vacation resort. These situations might seem somewhat repetitive after a while, but what some people don't pick up on is that this film is basically an indictment of the French culture of the time. Hulot should not be the main focus of your attention, because he acts mainly as a catalyst to continually expose the hypocrisy and selfishness of many of the people at the resort. As a contrast, he never really gets worried about the small dilemmas he might cause to others or himself, realizing them to ultimately be pretty small, and maybe serving to make the monotonous vacation schedule a little more interesting. But although it's enjoyable film, maybe with more to it than some realize, I don't think it ever really achieved greatness. I'm still game for the other films in the series though.

(Rating: 6/10)

Friday, July 23, 2010

#251: Freaks

Directed by: TOD BROWNING
1932, TSPDT Rank #177

This early MGM horror film by Tod Browning was shocking and ahead of its time for most of the public in 1932, not surprising due to the very unusual subject matter of the movie. It deals with a band of "circus freaks" and how the beautiful trapeze artist of the circus came to be "one of them" herself. Much of the opening half of the movie actually involves a number of sub-plots involving some of the other freaks, but the main action revolves around the beautiful Cleopatra and her relationship with the little person Hans. He thinks their love is serious, while she treats it like a joke - until she discovers he has a large fortune. The film is worth watching for some of the legendary scenes in the final act, which culminate into an ending which is still very creepy today. Browning's more famous film Dracula may not have the same effect anymore, but I still feel that Freaks is a very valid movie today.

(Rating: 7/10)

#250: La Jetee

Directed by: CHRIS MARKER
1962, TSPDT Rank #135

This short film is actually mostly composed of still images, but it feels like watching a movie. It was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys and deals with similar themes of time travel after the Third World War. I always thought the story was really poetic and powerful, especially since it's so brief, and even though the scientific themes could have been made complex, it deals with basic emotions. Because, at the center, it's about a man who longs for a more peaceful and simpler time that has passed him by. Seek it out.

(Rating: 9/10)

#249: Zelig

Directed by: WOODY ALLEN
1983, TSPDT Rank #711

With Zelig, Allen seemed to have perfected his mockumentary style that he first used in his earlier film, Take the Money and Run. Zelig lacks the sheer comedic power of that film, but is overall more consistent and expertly modifies stock footage and old newsreels to create a real period feel. In some ways, this seems to be the predecessor to Forrest Gump, which also used special effects to insert the main character into historic events and be seen with important figures. But I think this was the best use of those effects, and a better movie; because it doesn't resort to sentimentality or take itself too seriously. It's a brief but enjoyable movie that says something about the importance of individuality, and has some pretty hilarious scenes. The highlights of these are the scenes that show Zelig being hypnotized by Dr. Fletcher, I couldn't stop laughing.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#248: The Spider's Stratagem

1970, TSPDT Rank #830

This film was the follow-up to The Conformist, arguably Bertolucci's masterpiece, and also deals with fascism in a way. Vittorio Storaro's amazing cinematography is equally as good as that previous film (I could tell this even through the terrible VHS quality), but The Spider's Stratagem does not match The Conformist in terms of story and themes. It's about a man who is called by his father's mistress to a small Italian town where his father was supposedly killed by fascists 30 years earlier, and is considered an anti-fascist hero. He then tries to investigate the murder, but the truth seems at the end to be best left unrevealed. In this film, the main character is conforming in the interest of the people and anti-fascism in general, while in The Conformist the main character is trying to conform to an image of normality by becoming a fascist and leaving behind his secrets. I feel this could have had the makings of a great film, but it's too much of a mess, scenes from the present are mixed confusingly with flashbacks, characters are thrown in and taken out - leaving the movie not all that coherent. But it's still worth seeing as a companion piece to The Conformist, and for Storaro's cinematography - especially if it would be given a passable DVD release.

(Rating: 6/10)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#247: Young Frankenstein

Directed by: MEL BROOKS
1974, TSPDT Rank #575

I'll put this out there: I'm not a fan of Mel Brooks and I'm not a fan of this movie. I really don't find it that funny, and Brooks' style of humor generally leaves me cold. That being said, it's not the worst movie ever made and it has a few good scenes. Most of the acting is way over the top (and that shouldn't come as a surprise if you are familiar with the director), but the only character that really annoys me is Marty Feldman's Igor. I don't agree at all with the praise that's been heaped on him since the movie was released. Now I'm not real excited about this being my first new post in a few months, since it's pretty negative, but I honestly don't believe this movie deserves a spot on a list like this. If any fans read this, drop a comment and tell me what you think.

(Rating: 4/10)

Back to blogging

I've been off the blogging circuit for awhile again, due to my loss of interest in the project and the thought that no one except for a couple people, maybe, had been reading my writing. Well, a friend convinced me to get writing again so I will. It appears that I've watched 40 of the movies off the list since my last post 3 months ago, so to the best of my estimations, I will be starting my next post at #247.

To refresh the collective memories of my potential readers, I'm going to be blogging about every film I watch off of the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? 1,000 Greatest Films list (see for more info). This isn't the only film project I'm working on, but I still try to keep track of which ones I watch off of this list and write something regarding my feelings about them. I'm going to try to be a little less conventional from now on, and just try to throw out my thoughts without taking too much time about it. It's not really something that comes easily - I'm more apt to try to craft something that sounds nice. Like I'm doing right now. Ha...

So I'm going to muster up all of my strength and watch at least one more movie tonight so I have a new post. So on the small chance this is the first post you see, be patient. To quote one of the movies on this list, "I'll be back."