Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Directed by: SAM PECKINPAH
1974, TSPDT Rank #386

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

I was blown away by this movie. Incredible. I am shocked by the people who call this movie "mindless violence," when that could not be farther from the truth. Obviously the character of Bennie is somewhat based on Sam Peckinpah, and the way I saw it the head was kind of a metaphor for success. All of that killing and bloodshed for something that doesn't really mean much anyway. I thought the movie fit together perfectly and was paced perfectly. Of course it's important to slow down for the love story in the first, because the business with the head in the second half all relates back to it. Plus, since the movie moves at a slower, calmer pace for the first hour (even though there are still some gritty and gruesome things happening), it makes it all the more exhilarating and bizarre when all hell breaks loose. One thing is clear, Peckinpah is baring his soul here. This movie is very personal, brave, ugly, and very violent - and it's all done with such brilliance. But I think it's better to have seen some other Peckinpah films first. I didn't find it a difficult experience at all - but then it seems like if you were still unfamiliar with Peckinpah, it might seem just like an uneven and strange action film, while if you're familiar with some of the other films, it feels like a masterpiece.

(Rating: 10/10)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simon of the Desert

Directed by: LUIS BUNUEL
1964, TSPDT Rank #967

This is another film that is just criminally low on the list. Luis Bunuel is probably my favorite director of all time, if I didn't mention that before. I once saw his movies described as "delightful provocations," which I think is totally on the mark. Movies that attack things such as religion, government, social conventions, the bourgeoisie, etc. and are extremely wicked entertainment at the same time. Always with a generous helping of the surreal. This one deals with a pious man in Syria in around the 5th century who lived for 8 years, 8 months, and 8 days (I believe that was the number) on top of a tall stone column, attempting to connect with God and acting as a source of guidance and healing for the community. At one point he begins to be tempted by Satan, played by Sylvia Pinal, the heroine of Viridiana, in various ways. Eventually he starts to give into his weaknesses, leading to a bizarre and amazing ending that leaves your head spinning with wonder in typical Bunuel style. The movie is only about 40 minutes long, but is just as effective in its approach as any full-length Bunuel movie. I watched the Criterion DVD but you may even be able to see it online for free. Seek it out, it would work as a good intro to Bunuel's work, if you are ready for the very ironic and savage humor in it.

(Rating: 9/10)

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Directed by: SAM PECKINPAH
1970, TSPDT Rank #978

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

I feel this movie is a near masterpiece, and I think it deserves to be higher on the list. Sam Peckinpah himself felt that this was his best film, and I don't think he was that far off. It's pretty much the only good western-comedy I've ever seen: funny, moving, and sublime, featuring great cinematography and Jason Robards giving probably his best performance as Cable Hogue. Watching him act in this movie makes me wish I could see Noon Wine, a made for TV movie Peckinpah made starring Robards before his return to film with The Wild Bunch. Joshua, the reverend of 'the church of his own revelation' is hilarious, especially the scenes which show his brand of "consoling" women. The main plot device that should motivate the film is Hogue wanting to get revenge on his former partners, who left him to die without water in the desert. But what becomes the driving force of the film is the tender romance between Hogue and Hildy, the prostitute who becomes the love of his life. I think the people who call Sam a misogynist sadist or whatever should check out the way this relationship is portrayed in the film, because it pretty firmly disproves that theory. Anyway, I think this movie contains a great cast, incredible script, and paints Sam's definitive picture of the fading Old West.

(Rating: 9/10)


Directed by: JEAN VIGO
1934, TSPDT Rank #16

A great early French romantic film, practically bursting with poetic images. I think this film is known as one of the best of all time because of the way it approaches such a simple story and turns it into a light yet very meaningful classic with universal appeal that will always impress with its amazing visuals and basic human emotions. It would take less than 3 hours to watch the four movies Jean Vigo made in his short life, before dying of tuberculosis, but it goes to show his greatness that he can make a story of love, heartbreak, and redemption between two people and have it endure this long. It's worth seeing for sure.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Directed by: HOWARD HAWKS
1932, TSPDT Rank #453

The original Scarface is a classic, quintessential gangster movie and, despite what some might think, not as good as the remake. This film is no-nonsense, gritty, and exciting - getting into the same basic storyline and themes looked at in Brian de Palma and Oliver Stone's overdone and way too complicated '80s remake. Granted, Pacino's role in that movie is iconic and great, but his character isn't so much a true American gangster as a political refuge looking for some sort of liberation or freedom. Paul Muni plays Tony Camonte with a sharp edge and: a totally convincing killer, who had all sorts of hang-ups (the same sister obsession featured in the remake is done much better here), and lived the gangster lifestyle to the fullest. This is definitely a pre-code film, with rampant violence (just as shocking to audiences in the '30s as the remake was in the '80s, for sure), and that long-lost method of witty sexual innuendo (which is what basically all that Trouble in Paradise, another pre-code film, consists of). So maybe you just can't let go of that chainsaw scene in the remake, or the ending battle (pretty cool, admittedly), but look to this original for the real deal.

(Rating: 9/10)

The Leopard

1963, TSPDT Rank #65

The Leopard is a crowning achievement by Visconti - a sweeping, romantic, and engrossing epic made in Italy in 1963 with an international cast, and set about 100 years earlier in the same country, while Italy was in the midst of political upheaval between the burgeoning middle class resistance and the dying aristocracy. Burt Lancaster does great acting here but his voice was dubbed by someone else into Italian. I'm tempted to watch the heavily cut English-language version now, just to see some of Lancaster's scenes with him speaking his native language. But I have to mention Claudia Cardinale: she is absolutely breathtaking - she steals every scene she is in to the point that you can't take your eyes off of her. In the grand ball scene that occupies most of the third hour, Visconti makes sure to accentuate the fact the Cardinale is the most beautiful woman at the ball - and we notice it too. In general, nearly all elements are working at full force here: from the amazing and painterly cinematography, to the story that runs the gamut from youth to old age, and shows us a healthy bit of the human experience, including the feeling of knowing you've outlived your time.

(Rating: 9/10)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

1932, TSPDT Rank #172

A very entertaining film, funny, and extremely fast-paced. It starts quickly, moves quickly, and ends quickly - not leaving any room to breathe. But it's a breezy 83 minutes, you wouldn't want it any other way, trust me. Stuffed to the brim with sly jokes and relentless sexual innuendo, Trouble in Paradise is most definitely a pre-code movie, and all the better for it. The story involves a thief who falls in love with a pickpocket, while they're both working over the inhabitants of an expensive hotel. The pair later plot to rob the safe of a beautiful manufacturer of high-class perfume, whom the thief falls in love. Being in love with two women, who will he choose? Watch the film, and find out what those people meant by the "Lubitsch touch."

(Rating: 8/10)

Catching up...

Well I've been unable to blog for almost a whole week, and happen to have watched quite a few movies off the 1,000 Greatest Films list during this time, so I'll have to be gradually catching up on those that I watched, writing blog posts for them. As I work on this, I won't be numbering my posts, since I'll be writing out of order. When I start numbering again, you'll know I'm caught up. Thanks for reading.


1954, TSPDT Rank #249

This is a very melodramatic, operatic film of forbidden love, filled with a rich pallet of colors and lush cinematography. Really what matters is the artistry in this film, it's a film that's calling out for much better treatment than the poor VHS release I watched. Also, you can't say that the visuals are the only good thing here, because the actors are so incredibly passionate and convincing; it's easy to get taken in by the film. Believe me, Senso is probably more impressive than I'm making it sound. And would be even more so if we got, say, a Criterion Blu-ray... Anyway, I give it my recommendation.

(Rating: 7/10)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

#260: Battleship Potemkin

1925, TSPDT Rank #7

The greatest political film ever made, and the highest silent film on this list, is Battleship Potemkin. It's pure Bolshevik propaganda, and its characters are clearly divided into the Tsarists and those against them. By this rationale of good and evil, anyone against the Tsarists is good, and the Tsarists themselves are most certainly evil. The greatness of this film is its unbelievable power to invoke emotion in favor of the revolutionaries and against the Tsarists. It is indeed one of the most influential films in terms of editing technique, to the point where even if you haven't actually seen Potemkin, you've seen enough scenes, shots, and cuts taken from it that you'll feel like you've seen Potemkin before. The emotion you feel so strongly is all in the editing and the camerawork - you might not know a thing about the Russian Revolution, or care in the slightest about the events that led up to it and the people who played a part in it - but you will still be affected by it. It's so essential, and completely undeniable. Before you can claim to have any substantial understanding of the art of film, you need to see Potemkin!

(Rating: 10/10)

EDIT (3/22/2020): In the years since this review was written, Battleship Potemkin has now been outranked by F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, meaning that it is no longer the highest ranking silent film on the 1,000 Greatest Films.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

#259: La Grande illusion

Directed by: JEAN RENOIR
1937, TSPDT Rank #24

Jean Renoir was basically the master of the classical French directors. His films usually contain visual poetry, introspective look at class status, light comedy, and a strong regard for human nature. Grand Illusion is no exception, with special emphasis on the latter.

La grande illusion ... the title refers to the invisible boundaries between countries and class. The illusion that we are all anything other than humans, members of the same race, making war against each other unwise and futile. So this is an anti-war film yes, but it doesn't shove that message in your face with terror or other manipulative means. Instead we are shown what humans from different classes or nationalities can do for each other in the face of great odds. Its a great film that will give you hope for humanity, and make you long for all wars to end.

(Rating: 9/10)

Friday, August 6, 2010

#258: El

Directed by: LUIS BUNUEL
1952, TSPDT Rank #333

This hard-to-find film from the middle Mexican period of the great Luis Bunuel is a definite masterpiece. The original title El is pretty blunt, it's the masculine singular definite article in Spanish (translating to "Him" in English), but the English title "This Strange Passion" is also very fitting, maybe more so than the original. This is a film about a middle-aged man named Francisco, who falls in love with a younger woman he meets in church one day. Eventually his charm wins her over and they get married, only to have their marriage ravaged by his growing paranoia that every move she makes is a sign of infidelity. This is classic no-holds-barred Bunuel, a vicious satire of love, jealousy, and obsession. His sarcastic joke throughout the movie is that Francisco, a man of high standing, continues to be viewed as a very rational and respectable person, even in light of his obviously irrational behavior. Bunuel's trademark surrealism is sprinkled throughout the film, more and more heavily as Francisco descends further into madness. The climatic scene in the church is brilliant, and quite insane. El is just another bit of evidence to why Luis Bunuel is one of the few true cinematic masters. Genius.

(Rating: 10/10)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#257: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

1947, TSPDT Rank #622

This is probably one of the most loved Mankiewicz films (other than All About Eve), and it is quite likable. The script is pretty good, and very workable, but it wouldn't have worked as well if the film wasn't casted so well. The scenes of dialogue between Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison are the best in the film, because they play out like pieces of music. Tierney's gentle and almost dreamy voice produces flowing sentences, which are countered by Harrison's rough, staccato sailor's way of speaking. I guess you could categorize The Ghost and Mrs. Muir as a romantic fantasy, but that doesn't account for the many subtle shifts in genre and tone throughout the film. Because of this, it seems to be somewhat of an all-encompassing film, and also very accessible - suitable to any kind of viewer, at least one who doesn't find it too sentimental. I didn't find it to be perfect, but it has the right amount of charm, and just the right actors, to make it a very enjoyable movie.

(Rating: 7/10)

Monday, August 2, 2010

#256: All About Eve

1950, TSPDT Rank #70

The following text is taken (with a little editing) from some writing I did for a group I belong to called the Internet Film Club. Information on this group, and how to join it, can be found on my earlier post about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. From now on, all posts I take from my writing in that group will be denoted with this: "Contains text from an Internet Film Club post." Thanks for reading.

Just finished watching All About Eve, and it is definitely an all-time classic, not the masterpiece Sleuth, one of Mankiewicz's later films, is maybe, but a great film all the same. Basically all elements are done well here, which makes it hard for me to comment on any particular one. I did think that the narration was done extremely well, better than The Barefoot Contessa (another Mankiewicz film) in the way that it was organized and executed - each narration blends seamlessly into the dialogue (actually, the entire script is amazing - one of the all time greats), and sometimes a scene with only narration accompanies silent footage, creating a brief "silent film" sensation. The story is a tour-de-force about ambition, jealousy, deception, love, and age - and it seems to be a film that's holding up extremely well with time, probably why it's one of the most popular classics in the US.

(Rating: 9/10)