Monday, May 30, 2011

#336: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Directed by: NICOLAS ROEG
1976, TSPDT Rank #509

Another Roeg film. I said that Don't Look Now was a very unconventional horror film, and in keeping with Nicolas Roeg's trademark unconventionality, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a very unconventional sci-fi film. In fact, it's even very unique for a cult classic (which it most definitely is) because it's not an exploitation film at all. Despite the sexuality/nudity quite heavily present throughout, this is a subdued, reflective film. It doesn't play out the way you expect it do, and doesn't end the way we are trained to think it should. Actually, a lot of people who watch this movie have a hard time comprehending it, because the despair and emptiness that seem to jump in at the end don't seem acceptable to us. In a very matter-of-fact way, we are shown how the excesses and "luxuries" of human life on Earth will also be our downfall, as they are for the unfortunate and ultimately defenseless alien (played wonderfully by David Bowie) who comes to our planet to reap some of its benefits for his dying home country. Terrifying but perhaps necessary question: Might our country also be a dying one, in more or less apparent ways? This film has many of the trademarks of Don't Look Now - similar editing, similar effect, even a very similar sex scene. I might even go so far as to say that The Man Who Fell to Earth is the "sci-fi Don't Look Now". Which is obviously a perverse generalization, but you get the point. It's just as good, in any case.

(Rating: 8/10)

#335: Duel

1971, TSPDT Rank #876

Some people find this movie to be great, but personally, I don't find it great - I find it rather silly. Frankly, I don't think it belongs on this list. But that's obviously not under my control. The film is significant for reducing the action mainly to a man in his car, and sustaining the action for a full 90-minute TV movie. Now I'm not saying it's terrible, but it doesn't show Spielberg as being great then or afterwards. It's not that Spielberg is terrible either, but the way he is hyped up is just wrong. The word 'Spielberg' is practically synonymous with 'great director/producer/etc.' these days. I think that if people think that, they haven't explored enough. Enough said. Now about the film, the buildup (of which almost all of the film is) is okay/fair, the ending is extremely anticlimactic. And that makes everything that came before it worse.

(Rating: 4/10)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#334: Don't Look Now

Directed by: NICOLAS ROEG
1973, TSDPT Rank #147

Nicolas Roeg is a director of pseudo-art films with a strange and pretty inaccessible style. Don't Look Now is probably the most popular of all his films because ... well, let's be honest: It's for the graphic and extended sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. This scene is justifiably famous because it is in keeping with Roeg's reputation for expanding the boundaries of film sexuality (which it definitely did) and created a great controversy at the time. I know this must be the reason this film is as popular as it is, because as a horror film, as good as it, it is very unconventional and deceptive with its tactics. A lot of conventional shock tactics are used, but usually nothing shocking is shown, it is the subtle, growing sense of fear and paranoia that is brought out with Roeg's signature choppy, asymmetrical, and cyclical editing that make the film gripping and viable when there is not really all that much going on. The ending of the film is much talked about, and people usually try to find some significance in that scene itself - but I say it means nothing and is not meant to. That, in itself, might be disturbing, but the film really does come together if you think afterward about how much is actually tied up with the loose ends presented to the viewer in the ending. Trust me, this is a film with much more to it than meets the eye, and the key to that something more is in your mind. One of a kind film that is a gem to a horror lover like myself, although I still ponder the bizarre karmic logic of moving to Venice after your child drowns....

(Rating: 8/10)

#333: All the President's Men

Directed by: ALAN J. PAKULA
1976, TSPDT Rank #529

This film has the brilliantly unique quality of being based on important historical events, made while those events were still greatly in the public consciousness, and with top-notch actors and filmmakers. This film is truly great - thrilling, exciting, fresh, and spell-binding. Shows a number of actors (Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards) in their prime, giving performances that are some of the best of their respective careers. I am ashamed to say that I never realized how good of an actor Hoffman was until recently. He really did a lot of great work. This isn't a perfect film, and it ends too abruptly, but it's an excellent film of its time, and I highly recommend it.

(Rating: 9/10)

#332: Rocco and His Brothers

1960, TSDPT Rank #160

This film is widely considered a masterpiece by many fans of Visconti and European film in general. It has been cited as a perfect film by Francis Ford Coppola, and as his primary inspiration in the making of The Godfather. It's a 3-hour operatic family epic, with intense, tragic characters - but it's a clumsy and plodding film. There are a number of very good scenes in this films, and some great actors and actresses, but they are lost amid the thick underbrush of bad pacing and lost momentum. There is enough potential in this film for it to be a masterpiece, and I think that's why it gets the acclaim it does even today. But if you compare this film with Visconti's glorious, mesmerizing film The Leopard, from a few years later and with about the same length - the flaws inherent in Rocco and His Brothers are brought right out. I think the issue was that Visconti wasn't quite equipped to handle a film of this magnitude yet. He had already proved his skill and talents with the operatic melodramatic Senso, from 1954. I think also that the mere fact that Senso and The Leopard work as well as they do point to the fact that Visconti's strong points are brought out better in color than in black and white - as in this film, where the visuals are quite muted and unspectacular. If you watch this film, you will definitely draw the comparisons to Coppola's masterpiece, The Godfather, but I would warn you that despite its strong points and emotional peaks, Rocco and His Brothers is quite stilted and flawed - and a bit of a chore to get through. Not Visconti's best work by a long shot.

(Rating: 5/10)

Monday, May 2, 2011

#331: Rose Hobart

1936, TSPDT Rank #953

This short film is a great idea in every way, and has immortalized its star and namesake more than her average films like East of Borneo would have on their own. Which brings us to the concept: the film is basically shots from the film East of Borneo (starring Rose Hobart and made a few years earlier in the decade) edited down to mainly erotic gazes and atmospheric shots. We don't know who the characters are, don't hear them speak, but we intercept their strong feelings and emotions (don't confuse with melodrama). I can tell, even without seeing the film, however, that this film works much better and presents the beautiful star much better than the source material did. How do I know this? Because if East of Borneo on its own emitted this type of energy and effect, then it would be a lot better known than it is today - and better known than Cornell's Rose Hobart because it would have been able to do what was potentially possible with the footage that it didn't do. Goes to show how powerful the art of editing and shot juxtaposition can be. It's not a surprise Salvador Dali kicked over the projector when he saw this because he had had the same concept in mind shortly before watching this film. A landmark of experimental film.

(Rating: 8/10)