Archive for June, 2009

1951

June 29, 2009
September 1, 2008
De Anza College Film Class
USA
English
111 Minutes — June 29, 1951
Drama / Film Noir
Billy Wilder [Double Indemnity; The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
#580 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

In order to prolong the sensation and boost newspaper sales, a self-seeking journalist delays the rescue of a man trapped in a cave.

Second Viewing:

On a larger screen of the De Anza screening room, the film looked just as sharp as on my TV. I’ve since read a lot about this film and I was struck by the non-heroic nature of just about every single character. Perhaps the man’s father and the newspaper editor were blame-free. But every single other person who appears on screen has more faults than normal. Even the poor man stuck in the cave. The second viewing just made everyone seem less redeemable. The family who sets up camp (literally) outside the cave, the wife of the man, even the photographer who began wet-behind-the-ears ends up nearly as ruthless as the others. Douglas is spectacular.

Previously Written:

This was suggested by David Simon who was doing interview after interview about the final season of the Almighty WIRE. That show dealt with an eager Baltimore Sun reporter who began bending the truth a bit in order to be noticed by either the New York Times or the Pulitzer committee.

This film stars a young, handsome, and strong Kirk Douglas as an out-of-work reporter who lands in New Mexico after a series of firings from other papers. He is bitter about living in the middle of nowhere until he stumbles upon the story of a man trapped in a cave while collecting Indian artifacts. Sensing his big break, he enlists the help of the less-than-worrisome wife, the crooked County Sheriff, and the dense engineer. Told that the man could be rescued in 18 hours, Douglas gets all to agree to drill from a much higher place, thus taking about a week to free him. The man is rugged and tough, what could go wrong? The Sheriff helps Douglas keep the story exclusive and before you know it, the area surrounding the diner, hotel, and cave are overrun by onlookers, all paying an entry fee to wait out the rescue. Some say that the phrase “media circus” was invented after this film as a carnival complete with ferris wheel and other attractions pulls into the parking area near the mountain.

It is amazing how relevant this film still is. Douglas isn’t a bad guy–he just knows the value of a good story. The film has no heroes. No one on the right side. The man in the cave was collecting sacred artifacts. His wife sees her chance to get out of the tiny, dusty town and back to the big city where her personality would be more welcome. The Sheriff is crooked in both elections and in never paying a check. The engineer is spineless. Even the crowd itself is there for the festival atmosphere, the excitement, and the chance that either the man will be pulled out alive, or his body will be taken out if he dies. Either way, what a show!

The landscape is filmed spectacularly. There are sweeping vistas from the top of the mountain. A long pan shot reveals an endless line of cars heading towards the action. At one point a train stops just across the street and passengers hop off and literally run towards the cave opening.

Douglas is fantastic. We see him grovel for the job, accepting lower pay than he’s used to just for the work. Later we see his chest swell with pride as the onlookers (and a microphone-wielding TV announcer) applaud and cheer him as he heads back into the cave to speak with the frightened trapped man.

Very impressive.

“One of Billy Wilder’s masterworks, in which he was in a serious mood, exposing the sensationalism of the tabloid press. Wilder’s target was not merely the press, radio, and television, but also its readers, listeners, and viewers who enjoyed nothing so much as a dramatic disaster. Time has confirmed that it is an incisive, compelling melodrama.” — Halliwell’s Top 1000 #352

“Unrelentingly cynical (yet mostly believable) tale of how the reporter exploits the “human interest story” for his own benefit — and how the potential tragedy turns into a three-ring circus — has a peculiarly contemporary ring to it. Biting and extremely well acted.” — Leonard Maltin 2007 Movie Guide.

*** Halliwell’s
*** Maltin
7.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB

Ace in the Hole – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

ACE IN THE HOLE

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1925 & 1942

June 28, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
72 Minutes — April 18, 1942 re-release
Adventure / Comedy / Romance
Charles Chaplin [City Lights]
#27 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A lone prospector in the Yukon becomes rich after various adventures.

Most famous for the scene in which a starving-to-death Chaplin boils his shoe and he and his companion eat it. Sort of a collection of gags more than an actual story. Chaplin is out of his depth as a prospector. He narrowly avoids being eaten by a bear on several occasions, and once, his starving roommate swears that Chaplin’s turned into a five foot chicken just waiting to be eaten. There are dance hall girls who will break his heart and rich guys who will spit on him. But because it’s Chaplin, we know he’ll have the last laugh.

This was released in a much longer version in 1925 as a silent. Once sound in movies was perfected, Chaplin went back, wrote a score, took away the title cards, and narrated a brisk 72 minute version. I’ve never seen the original silent. The narration was less intrusive than you might imagine. Though it does tell us things we can already understand while watching. The special effects are astonishing for its time period, especially as a cabin balances on the edge of a cliff.

8.2 IMDB #157 All Time
**** Halliwells

The Gold Rush @ Amazon

THE GOLD RUSH

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2006

June 27, 2009
Netflix DVD
Ireland / UK / Germany / Italy / Spain / France
English / Irish Gaelic
127 Minutes — March 16, 2007
Drama / History / War
Ken Loach [Ladybird Ladybird]

In 1920, a radical young Irish doctor cancels his plans to practice medicine in London when he witnesses British troops brutalizing Irish volunteers waging a guerrilla campaign.

Not sure about its historical accuracy, but this film sure makes the British look like total dicks. ROB ROY and BRAVEHEART and BLOODY SUNDAY and to a lesser extent, GANDHI, did the same thing. But this seemed somehow more brutal. Because it’s Ireland, there are, of course, two brothers, one of whom is about to become a highly-paid doctor in England and the other is becoming something of a leader in the Irish resistance. I’ve since done a bit of reading on the subject and the film followed pretty closely the Declaration of Irish Independence and the different battles and skirmishes they had. The film is supposed to show us a reluctant man, forced into taking up arms after all that he witnesses. It’s hard to dispute his actions, but I’d like to see a film from a reluctant English occupier some day. Several powerful scenes involve torture by the British on the Irish leader in a dank jail cell. Perhaps more morally horrifying is the way that the “good guys” have to deal with their own men who may have been forced to tell secrets under fear of that same torture. If someone tells the opposing army, and it results in the death of some of your men, what do you do to the young man who let the cat out of the bag?

You’ll need the subtitles, by the way.

Winner of 2006 Palme D’or

8.2 Metacritic
7.6 IMDB
** Halliwells

The Wind That Shakes the Barley @ Amazon

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

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2007

June 26, 2009
Sundance Channel
English
85 Minutes
Documentary
Ian Connacher

Documentary about how human’s love and use of plastic, the world’s most versatile substance, is choking the planet. I thought it might make me feel bad about my water bottles, but it goes much deeper. The difficulty of recycling bottles which have different kinds of plastic used for their body and the cap. We look at pristine beaches that are clean, then the next day, covered in washed up plastic. The filmmaker head out to one of the earth’s five swirling ocean sights where plastic congregates due to the currents–something I’ve always wanted to see. It was a four day boat ride, and once they got there, they began collecting items. The actual area of trash is huge–about the size of Alaska, so the pieces were still one-at-a-time and not a huge pile like I may have been expecting. They do take a huge net and drag it behind the boat where it collects tiny pellets of plastic which fish mistaken for eggs. As one of the Greenpeace people say, the ocean looks crystal clear, but is completely full of plastic pellets that animals eat. We go to India where villagers make new items out of old plastic bags. There is a Himalayan village where plastic bags have been outlawed by a forward-thinking panel of elders.

There is some cause for optimism. A guy somewhere in America takes all kinds of trash, even the grossest stuff, and makes it into railroad ties, which last longer than wooden ones. These ties are the exact same size in every country on earth. Another man shreds stuff down into such tiny pieces that it becomes a mulch that plants can thrive in. Two men are shown “eating” a plastic they devised by using plant cells.

Much like the guys in KING CORN tested their own lives and bodies to learn the influence of corn in their lives, the filmmaker in this case gives us a tour of his small apartment and labels all the things made from plastic. I dare you to do it in your own homes. Yikes.

Link to film info is here.

Addicted to Plastic @ Amazon

ADDICTED TO PLASTIC

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HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
1964

June 24, 2009
TCM — LiveTweet
UK
English / Russian
93 Minutes — January 29, 1964
Comedy
Stanley Kubrick [Paths Of Glory; Lolita; 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon; The Shining; Full Metal Jacket; Eyes Wide Shut]
#39 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A mad USAF general launches a nuclear attack on Russia, and when recall attempts fail, and retaliation is inevitable, all concerned sit back to await the destruction of the world.

First things first. This was a live-tweet whereby people around the world all watched Turner Classic Movies at the same time (or if that channel wasn’t available, they started their own DVD at the appropriate time). This is not the best way to watch a film you’ve never seen before. You find yourself looking down to read comments and respond rather than letting yourself get into the film you’re discussing. Luckily, this was, perhaps, my fifth viewing of Kubrick’s classic.

It is impossible to watch many of the scenes of politicians and generals arguing and not think of the Bush administration. It must be said, however, that the film is pretty dated. There is exactly one woman in the film, but Peter Sellars plays three roles. There are several hilarious phone calls where the US president speaks to the Russian leader about the “mistake” of sending nuclear weapons towards them.

The sets are Kubrickian in their hugeness. The entire pace and feeling of the film changes when Kubrick goes hand-held for a few scenes of a US base under attack. We’d see this again in Full Metal Jacket.

But this is mostly rightly held up as a farce about a single crazy guy and how much power he has when his subordinates follow orders without thinking them through. A young James Earl Jones plays one of the pilots. George C. Scott is really the reason to watch. He uses all of this macho-ness in the service of playing General Buck Turgidson (in fact most characters have snicker-worthy names).

Everyone should see it, but it was clearly made in 1964.

9.6 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #28 All Time
**** Halliwells

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb @ Amazon

DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB

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2008

June 29, 2009
DVD Screener
USA
English
104 Minutes
Drama
David Spaltro

There are few e-mail scarier than the ones I sometimes get that say “I made a film which I am distributing by myself and I was wondering if you’d watch it.” After more than a decade attending the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, I know just how many lousy, nay, unwatchable, films are made each year. Not a year goes by when I don’t shake my head wondering how on earth someone was given money to make the trash that just unspooled in front of me.

I can happily report that …AROUND (note the dots first) caused me to neither shake my fist at it, nor wish for my 104 minutes back. In fact, I am incredibly thankful to Director David Spaltro for introducing me to an actor named Rob Evans, who is charismatic and sexy in a Ryan Gosling/Ben Afleck/Edward Burns way. He seemed to be acting at a higher level than the others (and perhaps at a higher level than the material.)

The story would normally be another clue to send a viewer in the other direction. A guy moves to Manhattan, enrolls in a film school of dubious quality, runs out of money, uses credit cards to fund his cinematic vision, and ends up homeless but wiser for having met new people and experienced new things his suburban self wouldn’t have. The struggling first time filmmaker may be the single most popular storyline of struggling first time filmmakers. For obvious reasons.

Spaltro is not above having characters say things that would never be said. Witness two separate characters, one homeless, living in a train station, who somehow both know they exact highfallutin classic quote that our protagonist also lives by. That this understanding of great literature happens in a public men’s room doesn’t make it any less probable. But these mis-steps are few and far between.

I’m not as smitten with the main love interest, played by Molly Ryman, who I felt was out of her depth beside Evans. I did, however, enjoy a spunky actress (who may have been Indian-American), who we first meet having sex in the back of a car. She had an energy that seemed to suit the story. Saul, a homeless bookseller, is a welcome addition to the circle of friends. His character made me think of the real-life street people I’ve seen running a tiny business from a card table on the street.

The “homeless are people too” portions of the script didn’t override the story of a young man’s quest to live by his code, even if that code involved rotating several dozen credit cards and living under a roof only sporadically. Scenes where he picks up beauties in bars rang especially false due to the duct tape covering one of his Converses. I wonder if his target knew that he had showered that day in a shelter.

I look forward to what Spaltro does next. Word is that through some kind of distribution channel, this film should soon be available at both Amazon and Netflix. And then perhaps he can pay back all those creditors.

6.2 IMDB (43 Votes)

…AROUND

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1956

June 23, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
119 Minutes — March 13, 1955
Adventure / Drama / Western
John Ford [Stagecoach; The Grapes Of Wrath]
#7 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A confederate war veteran tracks down the Indians who have slaughtered his brother and sister-in-law and carried off their daughter.

There are no two ways about it: this is one racist film. Wayne is so disgusted by Indians, that he barely acknowledges a quarter-cherokee member of his own family–a young man he saved after his parents were killed in an attack. He refuses to let the young man call him “uncle”, though the rest of the kids do. Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, also believes that death is a better result for a young woman than having sex with an Indian. Which is basically what the entire film is about.

Wayne has returned to his brother’s ranch several years after the Civil War has ended. He has with him some gold coins, never bothering to explain where they came from. We assume that Edwards’ work isn’t always above board. A man’s cattle are stolen and he joins the party to go find them. While out in the brush, they all realize that the cattle were just a diversion so that Comanche could attack the undefended homesteads. What follows is an incredibly tense, scary, though not explicit scene of attack. When Edwards and Martin (the aforementioned part-Cherokee) return, it is too late. We again don’t see anything but reactions and know what state the family is in. Missing are the two teenage girls. Edwards must find them before they are “married” into the Comanche world.

Euphemisms like “married” or “indoctrinated” or “she’s all Indian now” really mean that another race, in this case Native American, has had sex with the virginal, snow-white teenage girls in checkered prairie dresses. And while modern audiences might say “I can sorta see how that wouldn’t be cool back then”, the anger and frustration that Wayne shows while trying to find the girls is much deeper than all that. He feels it his duty to kill his own family members rather than have them live with who he considers savages. With their own language to boot.

The story, which is sort of a chase film that takes place in Monument Valley, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery ever captured, is basically: will Edwards find the girls; how long will it take; and once he does, will he kill them? That’s it. The bad guy, the Comanche chief is a man named Scar. Two things here: he is played by a blue-eyed guy who looks like he lives in Brooklyn thus completely taking us out of the picture (Bogdanovich in a fabulous commentary explains that “that’s just how it was done back then”) and two, and probably more important, Ford sets up this “Scar” character as a renegade evil Comanche as opposed to the honorable (docile?) Comanches which were filling the governmental aid stations back then. This sort of gets him off the hook in terms of the savagery of one particular group of Indians not speaking for the whole clan.

Lest you think that the film is a progressive portrayal of Native Americans, you need only look at the scene where Edwards and Martin are shown a small group of teenage girls who have been “liberated” by government troops from their Indian captors. To say that they’ve ended up loopy would be an understatement. They act like children raised by wolves, thus affirming everything that Edwards thinks will happen to his own nieces. “They ain’t white anymore” one character says.

Setting aside the underlying racism of the whole enterprise, one can marvel at the photography. Granted, Ford had perhaps the greatest natural backdrop in film history at his disposal, but that didn’t mean that he just sat back and watched the magic. The justly famous shots of darkened doorways with the silhouettes of characters remains quite striking. The vistas are broad, the shootouts easy to follow, and certain chase scenes where groups of Indians are several miles back on bluffs are fabulous in their composition. How Ford got everyone to be at the right place at the right time for a shot is beyond me.

There is an extra interlude where dancing and a wedding take place that felt out of place, but perhaps the film was too heavy for 1956 audiences and they needed some comic relief. This relief is in the form of a borderline retarded mailman suitor and a looney old drunken deathbed old guy who spouts non sequitors. But scenes with these two are few and far between. Don’t get me started on the bratty acting of Jeffrey Hunter as Martin who seems to pout his way around the west.

Wayne is pretty awesome as someone trying to protect everyone around him from how the real world operates. He shields young men from the heartbreak they’re destined to experience, he protects people from violence and the aftermath of savagery. In Wayne’s eyes you can see that he feels like he’s experienced things and seen things that he doesn’t wish on anyone else. He knows that gold gets things done, that murder is bloody and awful, and that naive young love is no match for a harsh world.

He also rides a horse well and dresses in bright colors.

This is rightly considered a classic (Number 7 on the Big List of 1000 Movies). The photography is spectacular, the action exciting, the story morally ambiguous, and the acting is mostly great.

8.0 IMDB
**** Halliwells

The Searchers @ Amazon

THE SEARCHERS

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2008

June 21, 2009
Cinemax
USA
English / Portuguese / Spanish
112 Minutes — June 13, 2008
Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Louise Leterrier

Sometimes you just want to turn on the dish and sit back and watch something. Back in the 70s, whenever I read comic books, I was a Marvel guy and not a DC guy. Those guys were snobby, what with their Superman and Batman. My two favorites were Spiderman and Hulk. I like the whole “big guy misunderstood and forced to turn green due to others’ stupidity” of The Incredible Hulk. I’m sure I’ve seen every episode of the Bill Bixby series.

But here’s the thing: CGI has not risen to a level whereby a normal-sized man (Ed Norton) can change into a guy 30 feet tall and still make it believable. Say what you will about Lou Ferrigno in green makeup and torn pants, but at least he was a human being and so was Bixby. Once Norton gets the green eyes, they at first try to hide Hulk, but then we see him and its a cartoon that runs around fast with swooping cameras and quick editing which tries to confuse us enough so that we’re not really sure what we’re seeing.

The plot isn’t bad. I didn’t see the Ang Lee version, so I don’t know if this is a continuation or not. Banner is living in Brazil, hiding from some kind of governmental authority led by William Hurt. He sends his blood into an unseen scientist who tries to get him to try different experiments in the hopes that it will cure him. He is discovered and when the special ops team Hurt assembles proves to be no match for a 30 FOOT MONSTER HUMAN, he calls in Tim Roth, for some reason. Roth volunteers to be experimented on and this leads to the number one plot device in comic book history: the evil twin. When Hulk and Bad Hulk fight, I just wanted it to be over. It was all just too loud and ridiculous.

Norton tries the best he can to bring some kind of intelligence to the proceedings but he’s no match for helicopter gunships and CGI where no human actors are required.

6.1 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Incredible Hulk @ Amazon

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

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AVENUE MONTAIGNE
2006

June 20, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
100 Minutes — February 16, 2007
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Daniele Thompson

I still don’t know why this film showed up in my mailbox. I obviously added it to my Netflix Queue, but for the first time, I have no idea why. It didn’t star anyone I’ve seen anything else from. The director was new to me. I don’t love Paris-based films. I don’t add things because Netflix says “I also might enjoy…” So I’m not sure what happened, it may have even been a mistake. Having said that, it was an enjoyable story about a single block on a street and the stories behind a play, a piano recital, and an auction all taking place on the same night. One spunky “amelie-esque” waitress is the connection to all three stories. All of the characters are wealthy and attractive, but even rich people have a hard time being happy all the time.

The actress in the play, feels like she’s slumming by appearing on a soap opera when all she really wants is to be cast in the newest Sydney Pollack film. The pianist would rather play in shorts and flip flops to a group of children or hospital patients than tour nonstop for rich audiences. The old man who is auctioning off his priceless art collection is trying to stay young in the arms of a beautiful woman who is open about only loving his money.

It’s good, it’s french, and the main waitress character is adorable. What’s not to like?

6.4 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

AVENUE MONTAIGNE

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1947

June 18, 2009
TCM
USA
English / Cantonese
87 Minutes — June 9, 1948
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Mystery
Orson Welles [Citizen Kane; The Magnificent Ambersons; The Tragedy Of Othello: The Moor Of Venice; Touch Of Evil]
#418 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A seaman becomes involved in the maritime wanderings of a crippled lawyer and his homicidal frustrated wife.

One of the lesser-beloved of Welles films. First things first. I am still flabbergasted when I see a 30s or 40s actress who is as beautiful as Rita Hayworth was here. For some reason, I don’t think actresses became sexy and beautiful until Sophia Loren or maybe Anita Ekberg or someone of that era, usually from Europe. Then I catch a glimpse of Grace Kelly and realize that I’m completely wrong. Rita Hayworth was breathtakingly beautiful. And married, though breaking up with, Welles at the time.

Because of its tone and the use of an attractive woman who knows more than we do, we know they’ll be some sort of double-cross, but we don’t know what. After seeing this, I’m still not sure who was doing what to whom and for what reason. But the ride was nice. Welles tries for an Irish accent, which isn’t particularly believable. There is a lawyer and a dicey assistant and a hall of mirrors scene at the end which has been copied dozens of times since. It was filmed on locations as the boat headed from Mexico up to San Francisco Bay.

See it to complete your Welles list or see it to see Rita Hayworth in extreme closeup while singing a nonsense song.

7.8 IMDB
** Halliwells

The Lady from Shanghai @ Amazon

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

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THE RULES OF THE GAME
1939

June 16, 2009
Netflix Criterion DVD
France
French
106 Minutes — January 18, 1961
Comedy / Drama
Jean Renoir [The Grand Illusion]
#3 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A count organizes a weekend shooting party which results in complex love intrigues among servants as well as masters.

What’s memorable about this film is the complete lack of sexual morals of any of the characters. Everyone, of both genders, has a little something on the side. Some come out and say “I don’t love you, but I want to sleep with you” while others are more coy. Characters sneak off to one of the many rooms on the estate to mess around, often in front of spouses. The basic premise is that rich people are just as horny as you and me. It must have been scandalous back in the day.

8.0 IMDB
**** Halliwells

The Rules of the Game @ Amazon

THE RULES OF THE GAME

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THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY
1999

June 15, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
86 Minutes
Documentary
Gough Lewis

This one creates an internal struggle with me that I don’t usually experience. Say you knew a full-fledged feminist. Say she went to law school and then grad school at USC. Say she studied sexology and psychology and then changed her name and then entered the porno world to try and shake it up from the inside. She doesn’t claim to be damaged, she just wants to “take back porn” from all the men who are in control. Not only does she appear in some of it, she sets out to film herself having sex with 251 men in 10 hours or so. It’s not fulfilling sex, it’s in no way erotic sex, but it takes the essence of porn and distills it to a ridiculous degree. Nevermind that a gangbang is by far the most homoerotic genre of filmmaking. There is one woman and dozens of guys all in various states of arousal. It is barely straight. So back to Annabel, or Grace as her mother calls her. She had a sheltered upbringing in Singapore, moved to England, then moved to Los Angeles. She is also certifiably wacky. Sort of like all the real smart people you talk with who are working on a level you’re not privy to.

Her claims of being a well-adjusted woman crack a bit when we learn of a teenage rape and the coldness of being brought up in such a repressive place. This documentary does a really good job of showing us how friends from her former life react to her new life, and whether or not they know how she’s been earning a living lately.

The director commits the sin of entering a relationship with his subject, something that makes staging doc scenes seem like small potatoes. How can you objectively capture someone’s life if you’re falling for them?

Grace is a smart, tiny, attractive, smart girl, who took her talents into an arena few would pick. It is heartbreaking to see her agonize over telling her parents about her new life.

The DVD includes pretty good extras including the film festival circuit whereby she answers questions from the audience. She is combative, but intelligent.

This film wasn’t happy or in any way arousing, but if you’ve ever wondered what sends a woman into porn, this gives you one reason why.

3.7 Metacritic
5.6 IMDB

Sex – The Annabel Chong Story @ Amazon

SEX: THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY

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2009

June 14, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA / UK
English
98 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Sam Mendes [American Beauty; Road To Perdition; Jarhead; Revolutionary Road]

5.7 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Away We Go @ Amazon

AWAY WE GO

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
100 Minutes — June 5, 2009
Comedy
Todd Phillips [Old School]

7.3 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB

The Hangover @ Amazon

THE HANGOVER

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
99 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Horror / Thriller
Sam Raimi [Darkman; A Simple Plan; Spider-Man; Spider-Man 2; Spider-Man 3]

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DRAG ME TO HELL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 73. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 DRAG ME TO HELL Discussion
• Break
• 27:13 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:07 SIFF 2009
• Break
• 50:38 Credits and Outtake

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A Gleiberman
A- Tobias
***^ Phillips
8.3 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Drag Me to Hell @ Amazon

DRAG ME TO HELL

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2007

June 9, 2009
PBS — P.O.V.
USA
English
84 Minutes
Documentary
Katy Chevigny

7.1 IMDB

Election Day @ Amazon

ELECTION DAY

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ANATOMY OF HELL
2004

June 6, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French
77 Minutes
Drama / Adult
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; Sex Is Comedy; The Last Mistress]
Woman . . . Amira Casar [The Last Mistress]
Man . . . Rocco Siffredi [Romance; And 384 Adult Titles]

By far the lowest rated of Catherine Breillat’s canon. She has become something of a hero to me, saying things that others don’t dare. Showing us films that others won’t (can’t) make. Admitting that adolescent girls are every bit as messed up and horny as adolescent boys. Some of her bravery comes from the the fact that she is one of just a handful of female directors with the power and vision to write and direct their own films. Because she is coming from a different perspective than male-dominated Hollywood (or Paris or London or Mexico), she makes films that seem so different from the mainstream as to be created simply for men to argue about.

This is my 9th experience with Ms. Breillat and it was perhaps the hardest to watch. If this was her sole goal, then, mission accomplished. But when you watch enough of her films, a central pattern begins to emerge. She is setting out to document the psycho-sexual inner life of women. Or perhaps, just one woman–herself.

She has shown us young teenage girls awakening to lust while still being horrified by their changing bodies (A REAL YOUNG GIRL & 36 FILLETTE). She showed us a relationship between an older woman and younger man and how his jealousy and shame can be dangerous to her (PERFECT LOVE). She told the story in ROMANCE about a man so diabolical that he stopped craving sex from his attractive wife and gave her permission to meet her needs elsewhere–his betrayal so severe, that she never forgives him. In FAT GIRL, two sisters discuss the goal of losing their virginity while on summer holiday–the pretty one requiring her suitor to promise her the stars and moon while the chubby one watches and hears everything. BRIEF CROSSING gave the woman the upper hand in a seduction over a brave-talking but ultimately scared teenage boy. SEX IS COMEDY was a rare mis-step which recounted the filming of FAT GIRL. THE LAST MISTRESS used a costume drama to remind us that sexual power, specifically female sexual power is surely the mightiest weapon of all.

ANATOMY OF HELL, however, has just two roles. One is a suicidal woman, who slits her wrists within the first five minutes because “I’m a woman”, and a gay man, who comes to her aid, gets fellated as a thank you, and is then hired to watch her and come to grips with everything revolting about women to gay (and indeed, straight) men. “Watch” is probably not a strong enough word for what she’s going to ask him to do. She’s asked him to inspect, to probe, to use her in any way he wants in order to come to some great understanding between men and women.

He will be paid to watch her for four consecutive nights. He seems unhappy to be spending his evenings in a sparsely decorated beach house, watching a clearly-damaged woman exorcise her demons.

The characters are named “woman” and “man” and they are symbols of every male and female, I suppose. Women are leery enough about their bodies and what they do and what they produce and how the bleed and how they look without having a man, let alone a gay one not interested in sex, violate them with eyes, digits, and other items. The violations are ultimately psychological, not physical, and who ends up with the power in such a rare relationship is a question I didn’t find the answer to.

The two actors are attractive. Amira Casar is pale and sexy and has a mischievous smile–though she’s usually in such a dour mood that smiling is out of the question. We are told in a unique pre-credit that the really close close-ups of a woman’s anatomy were “performed” by a body-double. Miss Casar is free to find acting work again. The man is played by Rocco Siffredi, who is by far the world’s most well-known straight porn star. He is saddled with heavy, serious, existential dialogue that perhaps no actor on earth could convincingly utter. In the mouth of Rocco, who I confess to knowing in a completely different way, it sounds better than it has any right to.

He is a better actor than he should be and in this film, more so than in ROMANCE where his main acting challenge was tumescence, he gets a chance to actually act. Half of the film is dependent on him. Though his quick arousal on several occasions doesn’t help him prove the avowed homosexuality his character claims. And if you’ve seen any of Rocco’s other “work” you’ll know that some of the acts he’s expected to do in this film, though shocking to mainstream audiences, are not even close to what he willingly does in adult fare with titles that begin with “Rocco’s Adventure In…” So don’t cry for Rocco. On the other hand, you might just cry for the dialogue which sounds artificial and stilted and grad-student deep. I didn’t buy for a minute that either of these characters would speak this way.

On the squeamish meter, this one is off the charts. Saliva, mucus, tears, sperm, vaginal fluids, a squished stomped on baby bird, a nude six-year-old, a garden tool, an exaggeratedly messy menstrual act of intercourse, an eggplant-shaped stone, a water glass, and a used tampon all make appearances. If you gagged while reading that, you might just take this film off your queue. I didn’t remember seeing earwax, tree sap, vomit, urine, or honey, which have all shown up in previous Breillat films.

On the other hand, several of the scenes (which are divided by titles reading “First Night”, “Second Night”, etc.) revolve around The Woman’s menstrual cycle, which is scary and off-putting and inconvenient to a lot of women, and positively horrifying to many men. “Bleeding without the benefit of a wound” is how the female character describes it. Men, here is your chance to “experience” the miracle that is the monthly cycle of human renewal. I almost watched the whole thing without the use of my patented hand in front of face with fingers splayed technique. Almost.

Now is The Man violating The Woman? He is clearly doing things that one doesn’t do to and with a stranger. Is she mentally violating him? She’s asking him to do things that she wouldn’t ask her lover to do. Is there any exploitation going on between the two of them? Are we as viewers complicit in the experience as we are voyeurs watching from the comfort of our couches? And by the way, this might be the first non-porn that I’d not have the balls to watch in a public theater. I again thank the inventors of the DVD.

Though there is insertion and erection and vasocongestion, there isn’t an arousing scene in the film. And, though the narrator’s voice is Breillat’s own, the character she is speaking for is not Woman, but Man. There is a late scene in a bar where Man recounts his exploits that seemed to me to be completely honest and well-played. Think about a sexual exploit described to others in a social situation. Neither men nor women ever recap the important parts of the coupling. They can’t. You can’t describe how you felt, you can only describe what you did. Watch The Man’s attitude change as he realizes that he’s describing a completely different experience to his bar buddy than the one we just watched.

The film runs a normally-brief 75 minutes, but it’s a squirm-inducing 75 minutes. The DVD includes an interview with Ms. Breillat wherein she completely deconstructs what we’ve just seen. This interview, which I loved, ran 65 minutes on its own. Which says something about the impenetrableness of ANATOMY OF HELL. If an interview about a film and its meaning and symbolism last as long as the very film being broken down, what does that say about its accessibility? This interview will prove to be an endurance test if you think that Breillat’s philosophy doesn’t amount to anything. But if you’re a fan of her work and attitude (as I am), you’ll like it.

There are plenty of films where a self-described student of film is supposed to feel some sense of accomplishment merely for having sat through its complete running time. I’ve never seen SALO, but I’ve heard things. I’ve also never watched TWO GIRLS AND A CUP or whatever that web video is that makes people spontaneously combust while watching. IRREVERSIBLE was an ordeal, but it had a purpose. I don’t think that Breillat is hitting us over the head with so many hard-to-watch images simply to see if we’ll make it to the credits. I have way more respect for her than that. I really believe that she is a singular talent who tells stories that others are afraid to, from a perspective that others don’t have. There are few filmmakers I’d like to meet, but Ms. Breillat is one of them.

She believes in the transcendence of sex. She believes that lust and deviance are marks of humanity. And she believes that only when you give up power and puritanical ideas of shame, can you be free.

Or at least I think she believes that stuff. She says all of this in French, after all.

* Ebert
D Gleiberman
2.9 Metacritic
4.3 IMDB

Anatomy of Hell @ Amazon

ANATOMY OF HELL

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2009

June 3, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7 — 3D
USA
English
96 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family
Pete Doctor [Toy Story; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; WALL-E] & Bob Peterson [Finding Nemo; Ratatouille]

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UP is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 72. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 UP Discussion
• Break
• 20:31 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 21:23 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:49 Listener Feedback/Eli Stone discussion
• 1:00:34 Credits and Outtakes

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**** Ebert
**** Phillips
A Schwarzbaum
8.8 Metacritic
9.0 IMDB #15 All Time (ha!)

Up @ Amazon

UP

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Written by Michael W. Cummins