Archive for the “Netflix” Category

1992

Netflix Blu-Ray
USA
English
131 Minutes — August 7, 1992
Drama / Western
Clint Eastwood [Play Misty For Me; The Outlaw Josey Wales; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; White Hunter, Black Heart; The Rookie; The Bridges Of Madison County; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima; Changeling; Gran Torino; Invictus]

#217 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A former hired killer turned unsuccessful farmer, together with a young would-be gunfighter and an old friend, set out to collect a thousand-dollar reward for killing the cowboys who slashed the face of a prostitute.

“Harsh Western of revenge and needless slaughter that re-invents and revives the genre to spectacular effect.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“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My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first.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.

Clint Eastwood…Bill Munny
Gene Hackman…Little Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman…Ned Logan
Richard Harris…English Bob

Oscar Wins for Picture, Director, Hackman, and Editing.

Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film, UNFORGIVEN, has a special place in my heart. But not because I liked it. I remember it being the first critically acclaimed film that I ever hated. Ever since I saw PLATOON and realized that movies meant something, I’ve generally agreed with the critical consensus on films large and small. UNFORGIVEN was universally heralded as a monumental piece of film that reinvented the western and made us forget everything we ever knew about gunfighter movies.

Um, no. 19 years ago, I couldn’t understand the big deal at all. It seemed pretty ordinary to me. So obviously the problem was mine, not the general feeling of the movie-going public. So, I’ve wanted to revisit this film for awhile, to see what in the world was wrong with me when I saw it the first time. I popped in the Blu-Ray.

And it turns out, the problem wasn’t with me back in 1992, and it isn’t with me in 2011. This is the most overrated film I’ve probably ever seen. I joke with friends that I can’t get through 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY without falling asleep, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it has value.

But UNFORGIVEN is simplistic on every level. Our “hero” Bill Munny isn’t just down on his luck, when we first see him, he’s literally being dragged through the mud by one of the pigs he raises. In fact, so afraid is Director Eastwood that we won’t get the point, that he repeats this scene again, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Eastwood’s character doesn’t just tell us he used to be a bad guy, but he tells us over and over again. He also repeats that “I ain’t that guy anymore” several dozen times. Because his “dear departed wife turned me away from wickedness and drink.”

The character of “The Schofield Kid” is not only a stupid, blind, schoolyard bully braggart, but he’s a ridiculous braggart. “I’ve killed five men.” “I could have killed you right there.” “You ain’t much.” I mean over and over. We get it. The guy hasn’t done anything, can’t shoot anything, is a little boy trying to be tough. But my god, how about some subtlety? This guy made me want to scream. And I semi-blame the actor. I get that Munny needs money (get it?) and will put up with the kid just to get paid, but come on.

On to Morgan Freeman. “We ain’t those guys no more, we’re farmers.” The scene where Munny visits Logan is like that “one last score” scene from every bank robbery movie. First Logan’s against it, then he stands directly beneath his rifle and says “how long you expect to be gone, Bill?” There’s a scene where the kid is shooting at Munny and Logan and Morgan’s eyes are minstrel-show-wide as he crawls around wondering who’s shooting at them.

Hackman’s character is given more to work with and Richard Harris as a foppish English assassin is pretty cool. But what about the fat deputy? “Would you rather be killed in hot or cold weather?” the semi-retarded character says to the (no joke) one-armed fellow deputy.

Munny is shown unable to mount his horse, not once, not twice, but three times, while Freeman is forced to say “Jesus, Bill”. The guy who runs the billiard hall all but twirls his mustache as he calls the hookers “bitches”.

It wasn’t all bad. I get the whole “trying to outrun your past” and “can bad men really change” parts. I like the last 30 minutes or so when talk of killing changes into actual killing. I like that Morgan Freeman’s race is never mentioned and Hackman likes having a writer follow him around to publicize his legend. There are no poetic or beautiful deaths. Some important deaths happen off screen and some simply silence the characters. But these little pieces of insight amounted to about 20 minutes of a long 131-minute film.

I think what may have ruined me for this film (the second time I watched it) is HBO’s DEADWOOD. The canceled too early western epic, where every character was created in shades of grey. The bumbling hotel manager wasn’t a complete idiot. The boss of the town was cruel in ways that Hackman and the pimp in UNFORGIVEN have never thought of. The sheriff wasn’t perfect, the women had personalities and demanded justice. The nuances that DEADWOOD was full of put it head and shoulders above something like UNFORGIVEN.

I can’t believe how disappointed I was a second time. I look forward to comments defending it.

One note on the picture quality of the Blu-Ray: I’m not really one of those guys who checks the bitrate of the DVD data and figures out how clear the picture is and whatnot. However, though I haven’t seen very many Blu-Rays in my life, this one was absolutely crystal clear. Even the stuff in the far away background. It just looked magnificent. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

8.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB (Number 96 All Time)

UNFORGIVEN

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1958

Netflix DVD
USA
English
129 Minutes — May 28, 1958
Crime / Mystery / Romance / Thriller
Alfred Hitchcock [The 39 Steps; The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; Notorious; Rear Window; To Catch A Thief; North By Northwest; Psycho; The Birds; Frenzy]

#2 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A detective with a fear of heights is drawn into a complex plot in which a girl he loves apparently falls to her death. Then he meets her double.

“Double identity thriller which has many sequences in Hitchcock’s best style. A film as unsettling as the phobia it deals with, keeping its audience dizzy and off balance throughout.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“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.

James Stewart…John Scottie Ferguson
Kim Novack…Madeleine Elster
Barbara Bel Geddes…Midge Wood

The Top 10 films of all time (based on that holy list I love) goes: Kane, this film, Rules Of The Game, 2001, 8 1/2, Godfather, Searchers, Samurai, Singing In The Rain, Potemkin.

One of these things is not like the other. And that thing is VERTIGO. There is no way that VERTIGO is the second best film ever made. No way.

Stewart is his usual charming, natural self. Novack is wooden at best and terrible at worst. Bel Geddes is entirely charming as the BFF of Scottie who has real feelings for him.

Positives:

–Hitchcock took the most beautiful city in North America and made it look even more beautiful somehow. It makes me want to drive up to The City to find Scottie’s apartment right now.
–The give and take between Scottie and Midge is pretty great.
–The sexual obsession of Stewart is pretty strong for a film made in 1958. He essentially can’t get turned on unless his date is made into another woman for him.
–Novack is pretty hot, especially in either a white coat or a black dress.
–Colors and angles are all superb, as you’d expect from Hitchcock (who apparently never looked through the camera during filmmaking).

Negatives:

–They fell in love too easily.
–How did Scottie get off the ledge in the first scene?
–Way too much following of people.
–Stewart: 50 years old; Novack: 25 years old. Um, of course he’s attracted to her.

Scottie is recuperating from his brush with death after chasing a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco. An old college friend (though clearly living in England) asks him to follow his wife who is apparently under the spell of or possessed by a woman who died long ago. Scottie follows her and she’s gorgeous and she’s troubled and she jumps into San Francisco Bay and he had to take her wet clothes off and put her in his bed, so naturally he believes he’s in love with her. And we are asked to believe it as well. Her possession and sadness cause her to do herself harm and he spends half an hour seeing her in every other blonde in San Francisco.

And he doesn’t realize that an attractive, artistic, intelligent woman is his for the asking. Plus, she’ll fix him dinner and pour him bourbon.

Fabulous San Francisco locations. Great music.

I mean, it doesn’t suck. It’s pretty good and it was probably a big deal when it came out. But why all the praise?

I was surprisingly disappointed.

8.5 IMDB (Number 45 All Time)

VERTIGO

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1966

December 19, 2010
Netflix Criterion DVD
Soviet Union
Russian / Italian / Tatar
205 Minutes
Biography / Drama / History / War
Andrey Tarkovskiy

#43 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

Imaginary episodes from the life of a 15th-century icon painter.

“A superb recreation of medieval life dramatizes the eternal problem of the artist, whether to take part in the life around him or merely comment on it” — **** — Halliwell’s

“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.

First things, first. Yes, it’s a butt-numbing 205 minutes. It’s in black and white, has no “normal” narrative, and is mostly in Russian. This is the only DVD in my 10-year Netflix history, that I’ve mailed back unwatched, and then put back on my queue at the top position. The first time the length just seemed too daunting. But, there must be a reason that it’s number 43 on THE LIST. It deserved another chance.

With older, less mainstream films like this one, I sometimes like to read about them before watching. What I learned was not to expect a linear style of storytelling, with plot point A leading to plot point B. I wasn’t to expect the title character, Russian painter Andrei Rublev, to be on screen very often–in fact, there are several long scenes where a character takes the attention of the camera for an extended period of time, never to be seen again. The man on the balloon in the first vignette is a perfect example. Who is he and what are the circumstances of his balloon flight? And what does this have to do with painting or faith or being a monk? We are never told.

I was instructed in these essays to be aware of the movement of the camera, the brutality of the images, and most importantly, the background of each scene. This proved to be the best advice I could get before viewing ANDREI RUBLEV.

The film may, in fact, be about the struggle to find beauty in the harsh Russian winters (and summers for that matter). Or it may be about artistic motivation–how a painter sees the world and his faith and incorporates that into the icons he paints. It could be about the pettiness and jealousy that humans–including the most holy monks–struggle with on a daily basis. I have no idea.

It’s the story of a famous real-life painter with no scenes of painting. It is divided into a half-dozen chapters, some of which have no relationship to each other. Our main character isn’t in every chapter, and even when he is, he is dressed exactly like the other monks, making his identification difficult, if not impossible. “Which guy is that, again?” For the last hour, our hero is wordless, because he is punishing himself for a sin any of us would have likewise committed.

I can’t tell you if the acting is good or not. If the actors are dressed in authentic costumes or speak as they should. But what I can tell you is Tarkovskiy has composed shots, the likes of which I’ll never forget. Everything I marveled at in Kurosawa’s RAN–the horses and flags and the burning temple–are done better in this film. And horses? Oh my goodness, the horses. Every broken horse in the USSR must have had a cameo in this film. Horses are inside churches, falling down steps (in a famous, brutal, and real scene), running into battle, rolling on the ground, frolicking in the water, and eaten as a treat. To simply marshal this number of horses and riders is grounds for celebration.

An early scene has three monks traveling the Russian countryside, through mud and rain. (I was chilly for the entire 3 plus running time–never has a landscape looked less hospitable.) They enter a tavern (or is it just a barn) to take shelter. A jester is performing some sort of anti-governmental song and dance as the drunk patrons laugh along with him. When he’s finished, long after another director would go to some sort of conversation amongst the monks, Tarkovskiy instead does a slow 360 degree spin of the inside of the room. We see every face looking at us–the monks, the peasants, the drunk guys in the corner, some children in the shadows. He does two spins, I think. Most of the film is in wide shot, but on a few occasions we see close-ups of naturalistic Russian faces.

There are what appear to be throw-away scenes of nature–a water snake, a man covered in ants, a dead bird, a cat walking amongst a pile of dead bodies.

The outdoor shots are where the film really shines. The first scene, involving the balloon, has the camera follow the “pilot” as he walks around a church, enters it, climbs some stairs, climbs out a window, and reaches for the ropes which are keeping the balloon from flying away. We have somehow gotten outside with the pilot and in the background, perfectly framed, is a rapidly approaching group of men in canoes paddling towards the church to stop his flight. Both the ropes, the balloon, the man, and the distant background are in focus.

There are countless outdoor scenes involving hundreds of people and horses, where you’ll scratch your head wondering how everyone ended up in the right place at the right time. An attack on a village where the action takes place on four levels, a raiding army whose horses gallop on both sides of a lake, and in a part of the film rightly heralded, an entire village helps to create a huge church bell for the town.

This bell scene involves a boy who claims that his dead father left the secrets to bell-making in his hands only. This boy has not been seen by the audience in the first 2 1/2 hours of the film, but at this point he becomes the protagonist. He has little actual skill at this craft, but he does have some sort of natural bell-making ability. He orders workers around, discovers the right molding clay by literally sliding in it, and does not show the Tsar the respect he usually gets. The digging and melting of metal and pouring of the mold and the fire and sparks is thrilling. In a scene I’ll never forget, the men begin chipping away at the clay to reveal the smooth and huge bell beneath. It takes the whole of the village to lift it out of its hole and as the Prince and other royalty ride up to see it, we all know that if that bell doesn’t ring, the boy will lose his head.

This shot is spectacular. We are up a hill, on top of the bell and in one cut, we pan from the miles away village and its protective wall, follow a line of horses as they cross a river on a bridge, see the ropes that have helped to hoist the bell, pan over to men winching the bell out of the ground, look down on the boy, and finally straight down on the bell itself. Fantastic.




Was ANDREI RUBLEV exciting from start to finish? No. Do I have any idea what it’s about? No. I took a two-hour break in the middle to gather myself and, frankly, to wake myself up a bit. Plot-wise, there’s a lot of talk about the wickedness of man, along with some examples (the raiding Mongol army, the pagans who strip naked to run though the forest, the rapists, the guy who pokes out the eyes of artists so that they can never recreate what they’ve already produced.) But the shots are just superb. There are things happening in the background of every shot. There is choreography of hundreds of extras that left me speechless.

Am I in a hurry to see it again? Not exactly. But I’m glad I did.

8.2 IMDB

ANDREI RUBLEV

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2001

March 20, 2010
Netflix
USA
English / Spanish
80 Minutes
Documentary
Davis Guggenheim [NYPD Blue; ER; The Shield; Deadwood; An Inconvenient Truth; It Might Get Loud]

5 Teachers. 180 Days. Our Children’s Future.

As a high school teacher myself, this is the documentary that I want to show people so they can see what sort of challenges we face every day at work. I don’t just mean the many people I speak with who are confident that “anyone” can teach. I mean the supportive ones who have no idea how the dynamics of a classroom can change in an instant. This has much more truth than the heralded French film, THE CLASS, which was praised for its authenticity. While that film was more realistic than most classroom-set films, and was allegedly work-shopped for a year, it doesn’t come close to THE FIRST YEAR.

Five teachers, representing five different grade levels are featured. We meet all of them on the first day of their first year. They all work in Southern California, most thanks to the Teach For America program. A smiling teddybear from Illinois teaches kindergarten, a bilingual white man from a family full of teachers has a 4th grade class, a woman lets us into her 6th grade class, a community activist teaches 11th grade ESL social studies, and a fiery woman moves from classroom to classroom dragging her suitcase full of lesson plans and teaches social justice.

I told myself I’d give this film 10 minutes. It didn’t take that long to get me. The brief running time is divided up with different title cards. “First Day”, “Who gives up first?”, “I have a child I’m concerned about”, and so on. Lest the audience think that every day is fabulous and hugs are given all around as life lessons are learned, each teacher deals with at least one kid who is disruptive to all the others. This proves to be the most interesting portion. At least for me. The incredibly patient kindergarten teacher navigates budget cuts and pitiful staffing numbers while fighting for a doll of a boy with a severe stutter and speech problem. He also begins home visits when parents don’t show up for their conferences.

My school has a night where the parents are invited to come to school and follow their child’s schedule. I can assure you that the ten parents or so who show up each period have children who will try hard and be no trouble behaviorally the entire year. It’s the other kids I worry about. As this man pleads and begs and makes phone calls and opens his classroom early to help, the viewer can’t help but wonder exactly when he’s going to give up. A homophobic outburst in the social justice class requires an intervention, a boy with anger management issues takes the other 30 kids off task, another boy laughs during a serious ex-gang member presentation after the speakers say “what if they were aiming for you but hit your mother instead, would you be laughing then?”

It’s inspiring and honors the profession. It is also propaganda which is actively trying to recruit new teachers. Because there are five subjects followed in the 80 minutes, and because we are seeing brief periods of a full school year, we don’t ever see a “normal” day in a classroom. There are often days where everything goes well. There are days when teachers hide in their cars to sob. And there are days when all the extra preparation in the world wouldn’t have resulted in alert students engaged with the subject matter.

That film is still waiting to be made.

7.2 IMDB

The First Year @ Amazon

THE FIRST YEAR

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CRAZED FRUIT
1956

February 7, 2010
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
86 Minutes
Drama
Ko Nakahira

Sort of a “Rebel Without A Cause” for Japan. It’s the 1950s and the beach kids in Japan are too bored to be rebelling against anything. They are well-to-do and spend their summer at jazz clubs, playing cards, and accumulating female conquests. They wear Hawaiian shirts and strum ukuleles and hang out at their wealthy friend’s house most of the time. They are in college, but school is the last thing on their minds. If the Hamptons had a boardwalk with amusements, it’d look a lot like the place depicted. There are sailboats and powerboats and sports cars available whenever these boys want them.

Brothers Haruji (younger, innocent, naive, angsty) and Natsuhisa (older, smoker, mistreater of women, deceiver) spend their days waterskiing and tanning and lamenting their existence. Haruji, who has apparently never mentioned a girl before, becomes smitten with someone he sees at the train station. Her name is Eri and he goes slow with her, teaching her to waterski, swimming with her, and laying out on rocks where their legs _almost_ touch. A party is held whereby each boy is to bring three girls and the one with the best “hand” wins. When Haruji and Eri walk in, the contest is over. She is poised and beautiful and bejeweled, acts innocent, but doesn’t push away her dance partners when they pull her close.

Brother will betray brother, feelings will be hurt, and Eri will turn out to be anything but the giggly schoolgirl she purports to be.

CRAZED FRUIT (what kind of stupid Anglicized title is that, anyway) is pretty frank in its depiction of sex, especially for 1950s Japan. A woman who was “passed around last night” has a conversation with virginal Haruji while they wait for his brother–she’s wearing a nightgown. A girl pulls a boy’s hand to her breast, a skirt is torn open in a moment of passion, a knowing glance turns to an embrace.

The soundtrack is full of Hawaiian music while the boys lounge in the beach house during the hot parts of the day, and jazz is loud at night. The nonchalance of their casual hookups with women must have been shocking to middle-aged moviegoers back in the day. It leaves the modern viewer with a “not much has changed” attitude.

7.7 IMDB

Crazed Fruit @ Amazon

CRAZED FRUIT

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2001

September 19, 2009
Netflix DVD
Germany / USA
English
95 Minutes — March 19, 2005
Drama
Erik Skjoldbjaerg [Insomnia]

Overly depressing story of a young, talented journalist who gets a full-ride to Harvard and begins writing for Rolling Stone while trying to keep her unraveling life together. Ricci is fine as the real-life writer, but Jessica Lange was over-the-top and oppressive as her put-upon mother. Ricci enters therapy after her friends find her editing and re-editing an article on Bruce Springsteen, setting aside things like eating, sleeping, and bathing.

The 1980s references are spot on, the costumes worn to college parties perfect, and I remain unconvinced that mental illness can ever be properly captured on screen. She seems to grow more angry and paranoid, which isn’t the same as growing more depressed. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the acting, but one scene of a person unable to get out of bed does not an in-depth portrait of serious depression make.

Say what you will about the overly-dramatized (and sanitized) Ron Howard film A BEAUTIFUL MIND, but when he was looking at all of his scribbling and the formulas jumped off the walls so that he could form them into the answer he was looking for, we at least understood that he sees numbers differently than we do.

No such luck here. Jason Biggs plays a way-too-patient love interest and Michelle Williams is one of her verbally attacked roommates.

6.2 IMDB

PROZAC NATION

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1999

July 17, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
82 Minutes
Documentary
Christine Fugate

From housewife to porn star.

A documentary about Stacy Valentine, a porn star from the late 90s. “Encouraged” by her husband, she sent nude photos of herself to a men’s magazine which printed them and then flew her to Mexico for a nude photoshoot with some Adonis. Upon her return to her small town in Oklahoma, she packed up her things, and left her husband and town behind to start her new life in Los Angeles.

There are a whole slew of documentaries like this, both full length, and as a part of HBO’s Real Sex or some other titillating cable series. Besides the obvious, the reason I continue to watch them is twofold: 1) are there really any well-adjusted, non-abused or addicted women who get into porn; and more importantly, 2) How does a porn actor or actress ever have a normal romantic relationship. Most of these kinds of documentaries try to answer both questions. PORN STAR: THE LEGEND OF RON JEREMY; WADD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN C. HOLMES; SEX: THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY; THINKING XXX all tried.

As to question 1, this film claims that while Stacy was adopted (gasp, so was I) and her father had a temper, she was never abused in any way. She also claims to love sex (as every porn star in recorded history has claimed) and be good at it. Although it’s easy to hide, her wholesomeness makes me believe that she has no drug addictions. In fact, she’s sort of a square.

As to question 2, that’s where this film is pretty well-done. At the beginning she’s interviewed on her bed and she says that if she’s horny, she goes to work and if she wants someone to talk to after work, she has her cats. But towards the end, she’s tried to start a relationship with another porn star, Julien (who I did recognize, the pool of men in the business being much smaller than the pool of women). They seem, dare I say, cute together. Both dumber than dirt, both look every bit the porn star they are. They talk about handholding being more intimate that intercourse, and how they don’t care if their work involves sex. There is a scene towards the end that could only happen in the adult business. For the first time, Stacy agrees to shoot a scene with Julian and another man. The other guy goes first and we zoom in on Julian as he watches the woman he claims to love having sweaty sex with another man. Though he knows that it’s just work, the look on his face is heartbreaking. He literally curls up in a fetal position with a pillow on his lap, unable to perform while his wife acts like she’s having the best sex of her life. They break up soon afterward, though he appears to really care about her.

Another angle this film tries to hit is Stacy’s complete lack of esteem about her body, which is a pretty important part of being a porn star. She got her first boob job soon after marriage and the film includes three pretty gross scenes of breast reduction, liposuction, and lip augmentation. She is never satisfied, thinks that she’s fat, and often laments that her co-stars won’t be aroused by her body. How weird for a person who is in the most exposed vocation on earth to be so unsure about how she looks.

Stacy seems like a nice enough young woman. Her mother is aware of her chosen profession and even accompanies her to the AVN awards in Vegas. When Stacy is shut out of the five categories she’s nominated for, you’d think her life were over. Equally upsetting to we the viewers, when she wins Star of the Year at a knockoff parallel Cannes Film Festival for porn, she can hardly contain her joy and rushes back to the hotel to call her mother back in Oklahoma “Mom, you are talking to the Best New Starlet of 1998!” Exactly how does a parent respond to such a call?

We watch her at conventions where men have no trouble just putting their hands on her, and we see her arrange a date with a rich fan. She comes back and throws the money in the air, just like in a Hollywood romance.

A post-script tells us that she left porn after four years and got a job as a “model recruiter” at Penthouse.

6.9 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB

Girl Next Door @ Amazon

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

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GOOD WORK
1999

July 13, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / Italian / Russian
90 Minutes
Drama
Claire Denis [Chocolat]

Dreamy, beautiful story about the French Foreign Leigion in Djibouti. Mostly wordless, though sometimes with voiceover that doesn’t match what we see on screen. Excessive and oppressive routines for the soldiers who seem to need it for their psyches. Men from the world’s different cultures must learn to co-exist and work together through discipline. Directed by a woman, this might be the gayest straight film I’ve ever seen. The men are almost always photographed shirtless and sweaty, in tight shorts, doing manual labor or Tai Chi or cathesthenics. But how beautiful they are. On a dusty outpost far above the ocean, they seem to be training for a fight they’ll never have. Their leader, who seems to partake in every form of physical exertion his men are forced to, has them doing tasks with dubious military benefit. They break rocks and march through lava-like landscape. The plot is nearly non-existent, save for a superior who asks a grunt his name and background, which gets the leader angry (or is it jealous), which leads to a showdown between soldier and superior. Note to self: don’t talk back to guy in charge of unit.

Worth watching alone for the photography and the final ten minutes which is either symbolic or literal, but is trippy either way. If you are a homosexual man, put this on the top of your Netflix Queue. You won’t be disappointed.

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BEAU TRAVAIL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. 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 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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9.1 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Beau Travail @ Amazon

BEAU TRAVAIL

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THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN
2008

Netflix Roku
USA
English
105 Minutes — May 30, 2008
Documentary / Sport
Chris Bell
12 Month Movie Pace: 152

Entertaining documentary about the hypocracy of America’s relationship with steroids. The main facts can be narrowed down to two. 1) What if steroids aren’t actually bad for you; and 2) If they are bad for you, why don’t we better regulate other drugs which are much more dangerous, but used much more widely and therefore encouraged, much less tolerated?

Chris Bell is the middle of three boys born in upstate New York. They come from a big-boned family. The oldest got a nickname early of “Mad Dog” because he got in fights with schoolmates who called him fat. The younger one had a learning disability and ended up with the nickname “Smelly”. They all became obsessed with TV wrestling to the point of putting on shows in their basement and even performing in school talent shows.

Then Mad Dog went to play college football where he was all but ordered to begin taking steroids. Which he has never stopped to this day. He is now 35 or so. He also had a career in the WWF as one of the guys who lets the stars beat up on him in the ring. The director turned 18 and moved to California to attend USC and to work out at the fabled Gold’s Gym in L.A. where his hero, Arnold, used to work out. His dream of WWF glory never panned out. Smelly is also a steroid user and competes in powerlifting competitions. (We see him bench press 705 pounds–unbelievable).

Somehow the Bell boys are a perfect “normal family” example which plays off well with all the well-known examples the director finds of steroid obsession. Bonds, Maguire, Conseco, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, Hulk Hogan, as well as porn stars, Air Force pilots, Congressmen, psychiatrists, and medical doctors of all stripes. The medical doctors to a person are confident that steroids are as safe as any other treatment and can’t understand the mania around them. Congress spent more time talking about steroid use in baseball than Hurricane Katrina or health care.

Bell goes to an anti-aging clinic (really a chiropractor) where after a few rudimentary tests, which he does himself, he gets a package in the mail of injectable steroids. He visits researchers, Olympians, parents of teenage suicides, Mexico, a supplement store, and he even creates his own supplements with the help of three day laborers from the local Home Depot. For $4 worth of supplies, he can sell a bottle for $60 and there is absolutely no governmental regulation. He visits a photo shoot for a fitness magazine, he gets two pictures taken ON THE SAME DAY for a before and after mockup. Pouty bad posture before–smiling, spray tanned, shaved, and flexing after (along with some photoshop work).

What I’m saying here is he gets so many different perspectives on the need for Americans to look and perform their best (legally or illegally) that it’s a wonder he kept them all straight. Which he does. A particularly strong argument is the sheer number of prescription drug advertisements we see on TV and why those are fine, but it’s a crime to possess steroids. One lawyer says “Peanuts kill people each year–do we sue God for making them?” We then see a list of reasons for emergency room visits. Alcohol, cocaine, vitamin C, then way down in the 160s, steroids. Deaths by tobacco: 435,000, alcohol: 75,000; steroids: 3.

We see George C Scott in Patton, Stallone in all kinds of things, Arnold in Conan and Predator. What’s a boy in America to do? Even GI Joe has completely changed from a normal looking guy in the 70s to a buffed beast today.

A documentary like this takes a taboo topic and asks “what’s the big deal?” In many ways RELIGULOUS did the same thing.

Very well done.

8.0 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* @ Amazon

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER

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2007

July 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA / Canada / Netherlands
English
84 Minutes — July 13, 2007
Drama
Steve Buscemi [Trees Lounge; Homicide: Life On The Street; Oz; The Sopranos; 30 Rock; Nurse Jackie]

Buscemi is a journalist who feels he’s slumming by being assigned to interview starlet Sienna Miller instead of attending some kind of important press conference in Washington DC. Miller would like any interviewer to at least have a cursory knowledge of her career. He’s stubborn and cocky. She’s bratty and conceited. She’s also beautiful and “always on”, even in the restaurant where the interview begins. Within minutes she storms out of the eatery to face the photogs while he gets a cab back home. A plot device keeps them together for the next 80 minutes. We learn about both of them and whether or not they are really speaking to each other or “acting” like they are.

Miller is someone I’ve never seen before and I know nothing of her background. She impressed me by being both brash and self-assured, but then frail. She is sexy, then despicable. Buscemi is someone we all know can do this kind of role in his sleep, but in this case there is something from his own life that keeps intruding into his interaction with Miller.

The film is basically the two of them talking to each other. The film claims that one of them has to “win” the conversation by exposing less of themselves while learning the most about the other one. I’m not sure we learn about either of them. But I wasn’t bored at any point and Miller’s loft is one of those dream places everyone wishes they had.

I feel like this story will evaporate from my mind any minute.

6.4 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Interview @ Amazon

INTERVIEW

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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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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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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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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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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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1926

May 24, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
Silent
107 Minutes — February 5, 1927
Comedy / Romance / War / Action
Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
#30 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 train driver gets his train and his girl back when they are stolen by Union soldiers.

What’s amazing is not just that it’s 82 years old, not just that it isn’t boring, but that it’s downright exciting to watch. Keaton never changes expressions, which makes his evermore perilous situations even more entertaining.

The plot is simple. Fort Sumter has been fired upon and the the Civil War is upon us. We are in the South and men rush to the recruitment office to enlist. Keaton loves both his locomotive and his girlfriend. She insists that he sign up for the army, but the military leaders believe that he’s more valuable as a train engineer bringing supplies to and fro. Though no one tells him this. His girl refuses to see him until he’s in uniform. He continues engineering for a full year until at a dinner stop, a Northern spy steals his train and starts speeding north, burning bridges and tearing down communication towers. It is up to Keaton to get the train back.

He first runs, then steals a huge-wheeled bicycle, then gets on one of those up and down sidecars that rides on the tracks, and finally, the gives chase in another train engine. The chase is thrilling. He constantly has to feed the engine wood, he grabs a cannon and tries to fire it towards the other train, the escaping men leave obstacles on the tracks which he must push off, the two armies are marching in the background as Keaton obliviously chops wood, and Keaton is running on top of the train and over the woodpile and into the boxcar. The action is fabulous. We always know where everyone is. The camera follows from the side at high speed. And Keaton never changes expression. Like there’s nothing he can’t do. He isn’t a reluctant hero, he is going to get his train back no matter how far north he has to chase it.

There are creative sight gags involving the water tank and the cannon which shifts and aims squarely at Keaton himself. There is a damsel in distress. There are some pretty impressive battle scenes using hundreds of extras. And then there is the scene of a full-sized real locomotive attempting to cross a river on a burning bridge before it plummets to the valley below. The layout of the sequence is impressive even by modern standards. The camera follows from quite a distance as the Union army begins marching down the steep hill to ford the river while the huge train rumbles (silently, natch) over the smoldering bridge. Horses and cannons and men with muskets all marching from left to right. The train is incredibly imposing, comes from out of the woods and chugs towards the right of frame. Just when it looks like the bridge might hold, the heavy machine crashes through and lands in a smoking heap in the river below. There was obviously no chance for a new take. I don’t know how many cameras I would have had operating to ensure that the event was captured. But the interesting thing is that the big crash stunt was part of a much larger mosaic of things happening all over the frame. There are men moving, trees swaying, the river is rushing, etc. None of the actors are watching the train because they know what’s about to happen. The whole scene seems like the train fell through by mistake, which makes it much more realistic.

There is a terrible-quality clip of the scene you can watch here.

The film had a complete story, it was exciting and the jokes were shown in the service of the story, not as a set piece as you might find in other silent comedies. And what Keaton did physically and how he shot the action sequences are a fabulous antidote to modern comic book films where the audience is never sure where characters are onscreen and who is fighting whom. Keaton didn’t have the luxury of quick cutting. Most of our modern action directors could learn a thing or two from 1926′s THE GENERAL.

Clip of the cannon stunt

“It is an epic of silent comedy, one of the most expensive films of its time, including an accurate historical re-creation of a Civil War episode, hundreds of extras, dangerous stunt sequences, and an actual locomotive falling from a burning bridge into a gorge far below. Keaton defies logic with one ingenious silent comic sequence after another, and it is important to note that he never used a double and did all of his own stunts, even very dangerous ones, witha calm acrobatic grace.” — Roger Ebert The Great Movies

“One of Buster Keaton’s most celebrated comedies. It’s a classic and many people swear by it, although it isn’t funny in the freely inventive way of his Steamboat Bill, Jr. Its humor is too drawn out for laughter. And yet is has a beauty: it has the shape of comedy.” — Pauline Kael

“It is real and the train’s maneuvers credible and dangerous. It is well known that Keaton performed personally in scenes that involved considerable risk. It is not only a comedy but a genuinely heroic film. I would swap all of Modern Times for that glorious moment when Buster’s meditation fails to notice the growing motion of the engine’s drive shaft on which he is sitting.

“Slow-starting, then hilarious action comedy, often voted one of the best films ever made. It was an expensive production, with its spectacular train crash becoming the most costly single shot in silent films. At the time of its original release, it was a critical and popular failure. It took thirty years before it was recognized as a classic of comedy. Its sequence of sight gags, each topping the one before, is an incredible joy to behold.” — #128 Halliwell’s Top 1000

“Keaton’s best, and arguably the greatest screen comedy ever made. Against a meticulously evoked Civil War background, Buster risks life, limb and love as he pursues his beloved railway engine, hijacked by Northern spies up to no good for the Southern cause. The result is everything one could wish for: witty, dramatic, visually stunning, full of subtle, delightful human insights, and constantly hilarious.” — Time Out Film Guide 2004

“Keaton’s masterpiece and arguably the most formally perfect and funniest of silent comedies. Full of eloquent man-vs-machinery images and outrageous sight gags.” — Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2001

“One of Keaton’s best silent features, setting comedy against true Civil War story of stolen train, Union spies. Not as fanciful as other Keaton films, but beautifully done.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

#30 They Shoot Pictures Top 1000
8.3 IMDB #127 All Time
**** Halliwell’s
**** Videohound
**** Maltin

 

The General @ Amazon

THE GENERAL

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BREATHLESS
1960

May 14, 2009
May 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
90 Minutes — February 7, 1961
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Jean-Luc Godard
#33 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 young car thief kills a policeman and goes on the run with his American girlfriend.

~~
~~

BREATHLESS is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 71. 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 BREATHLESS Discussion
• Break
• 18:27 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 18:59 The Last Five®
• 47:26 Credits and Outtakes

~~
~~

“Casual, influential, New Wave reminiscence of both Quai des Brumes and innumerable American gangster thrillers. One of the first and most influential films of the French New Wave.” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

**** Halliwell’s
8.0 IMDB

Breathless – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

BREATHLESS

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2002

May 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
France / Portugal
French
92 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; The Last Mistress]

A female director struggles to get a scene of sexual intercourse on film.

**^ Ebert
**^ Berardinelli
B+ Schwarzbaum
6.3 Metacritic
5.9 IMDB

Sex Is Comedy @ Amazon

SEX IS COMEDY

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BREATHLESS
1960

May 10, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / English
90 Minutes — February 7, 1961
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Jean-Luc Godard
#33 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

BREATHLESS will be the subject of Cinebanter Number 71, which will be posted shortly.

8.0 IMDB

Breathless – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

BREATHLESS

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2007

May 4, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
97 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Mike White [Star Maps; Chuck & Buck; The Good Girl; School Of Rock; The Amazing Race]

Has The World Left You A Stray?

7.0 Metacritic
6.2 IMDB

Year of the Dog @ Amazon

YEAR OF THE DOG

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2006

April 29, 2009
Netflix DVD
UK
English
101 Minutes
Drama
Shane Meadows

Run With The Crowd, Stand Alone, You Decide

In 1983, a 12 year old boy in the north of England, whose father has died in the Falkands War, falls in with a gang of skinheads who introduce him to racist members of the far-right National Front.

8.6 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

This is England @ Amazon

THIS IS ENGLAND

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THE SWEET LIFE
1960

April 16, 2009
Netflix DVD
Italy / France
Italian / English / French / German
174 Minutes — April 19, 1961
Drama
Federico Fellini [8 1/2; Nights Of Cabiria]
Marcello Mastroianni; Anita Ekberg; Anouk Aimee; Yvonne Furneaux
#26 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 version of the list I used 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 journalist mixes in modern Roman high society and is alternately bewitched and sickened by what he sees.

~~
~~

LA DOLCE VITA is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 69. 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 LA DOLCE VITA Discussion
• Break
• 20:22 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 21:04 The Last Five®
• 1:01:48 Credits and Outtakes

~~
~~

Oscar Nominations for Art Direction; Directing; Original Screenplay

*** Halliwells
*** Ebert
***^ Maltin
9.3 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB Number 243 All Time

La Dolce Vita @ Amazon

LA DOLCE VITA

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ZERO WOMAN: A DANGEROUS GAME
1998

April 15, 2009
Netflix Roku Player
Japan
Japanese
80 Minutes
Drama / Thriller / Crime
Hidekazu Takahara
Rei: Chieko Shiratori

Sometimes the DVD cover is enough. I mean, just look at it. Couple that picture with the previously listed job of actress Chieko Shiratori (nude model), and really, what harm could 80 minutes spent with this movie cause?

If Jason Bourne was a hot chick, took long baths, walked around topless while feeding her fish, and then dressed in boots to assassinate bad guys, you’d know what this movie was about. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Criterion Collection version any time soon.

5.4 IMDB

Zero Woman: Dangerous Game @ Amazon

ZERO WOMAN: DANGEROUS GAME

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BRIEF CROSSING
2001

April 14, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
80 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Alice: Sarah Pratt [The Last Mistress]
Thomas: Gilles Guillain

Alice and Thomas meet on a ferry in the cafeteria line. He can’t find a seat, she offers one at her table. He says he is 18 and loves to smoke cigarettes. She listens bored. At first. His immature small talk begins to change as they watch each other eat. She is in her mid-thirties and says she is moving back to England after her husband asked for a divorce after eight years of marriage. His true age of 16 is discovered when they try to buy booze at the Duty-free shop. She begins to feel protective and when he suggests they get a drink in the lounge, she accepts. He drinks soda while she enjoys a brandy and a few people dance in the background. This scene goes on for quite some time. Maybe 20 minutes. But it’s not boring. Alice continues her “all men suck” statements while Thomas counters with “I don’t suck” statements. She gets tipsy and he asks her to dance. She feels much older than the others in the lounge, but she accepts to placate him. He even dances immaturely grabbing her inappropriately. Back at the table, a long scene takes place where a magician and his assistant perform a trick involving a woman in a box. This symbolism is hammered home by Alice’s speech about women knowing their places, etc. But something is happening that is just out of frame. Before we realize it, they are holding hands. He is bravely stroking her arm, she is happy about it, and they look suddenly like a normal pair of lovers. Just a couple, on a boat, holding hands in a bar.

He tries to kiss her, she pushes him away, he is hurt, she goes back to tell him it’s okay. He states his intentions brazenly, saying “I want to sleep with you.” Or is it naivete? She has a cabin on the ship, he only has a place where he’s set down his luggage. They go to her room. He is a virgin. She is angry at her ex-husband and therefore all other men. Her seduction was spontaneous, wasn’t it? But why is there a red scarf covering the lamp in her room to make it more romantic?

This is probably the most accessible of Breillat’s films. It’s a short 80 minutes. There are only two characters to keep track of. There is scarcely a body fluid to contend with. At no point did I turn my head from the screen. There is a realistically clumsy loss of virginity scene. The gender roles are again reversed. We think nothing of a man being 15 years older than a lover, but rarely do we see the opposite. The fact that Alice looks like Julianne Moore doesn’t make the idea any less rare. When she lets her hair down, and when he becomes emboldened (by lust or her responses or the alcohol he drinks or her beauty), they seem to turn into a realistic, viable couple who share a passion for each other.

But just because they are both able to perform sexually does not mean that they expect the same things from each other. He is completely smitten with her, she seems to return his feelings cautiously. They will be arriving in England in 20 minutes. What will become of them once they get there?

“A thirtysomething Englishwoman and a 16-year-old French boy meet, converse, and engage in a one-night stand while on board a ferry crossing the English Channel. Another of Breillat’s cynical forays into male-female expectation and manipulation, this one offering her usual generalizations about male sexuality. Leaves a bitter aftertaste.” — ** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

7.2 IMDB

Brief Crossing @ Amazon

BRIEF CROSSING

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PERFECT LOVE
1996

April 11, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French
110 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Frederique: Isabelle Renauld [The Last Mistress]
Christophe: Francis Renaud

The opening scene is the investigation of a murder. A man has murdered his girlfriend in her kitchen. Without emotion, he describes and re-enacts his crime with police inspectors. The rest of the film becomes a why-done-it.

We flash back to a wedding where an attractive 34-year-old woman toasts the new bride and groom, comments to a 20-something man that he’s grown since the last time she saw him, and is invited by that same man out to the garden where they sit on a bench and have a chat. The man, humorlessly, mentions that he’s dated women her age and that it’s no big deal. He will declare later that “our age difference is an injustice”, and right away he seems to be out to prove that the fact that she is twice married and has two children does not exclude her from his attention.

She looked to me like a French Diane Lane, so it’s not like she isn’t used to the attention of men. She seems strangely uninterested, but they begin an affair nonetheless. The man often remarks that he’s the mature one in the relationship. She wonders to his friends and sometimes to him, whether or not he’s actually gay. There are the early dates, the sloppy grope sessions outside her apartment, the juggling of parental duties and job duties (she’s an ophthalmologist–he made some money in his own company).

Because this is a Catherine Breillat film, there are scenes of sex which are long-lasting and awkward and vary in their success rate. At first they’re in a hurry to make love, later she requires more of something he can’t give. After sex, they do a lot of talking. We learn, seemingly, about every other person they’ve ever slept with. Again, weirdly dispassionately. They’re not bragging to each other, exactly, but this disclosure of past lovers seems to make no impression at all on the two of them.

The good times don’t last long. She’s a bit critical, he accuses her of keeping him on a short leash before she has the chance to. He misses his friends, misses the casual sex he used to have with his fellow clubgoers. She isn’t sure this young man is someone who should spend the night in her apartment with her children there. The sex slows down, the fights begin, the drinking starts, the vindictive comments hurt.

It’s not exactly a fun ride, but none of Ms. Breillat’s films are serene walks in the park. The fact that we know that this relationship will end in murder doesn’t hurt the story, but I’m not sure it helps it. We can see the mistakes we’ve made in our own relationships as we watch this. We can take one of the lovers’ side in their many arguments. We can wonder what one is doing with the other. We can wish we had someone as attractive as both of the leads are. But we always wonder exactly what could have gone so wrong for the man to kill his lover in a moment of passion on the kitchen table. Is there anything she could have done to deserve such a fate?

There are few body fluids this time out for Breillat. The man constantly drinks Coca Cola, as a shorthand to prove how much younger he is than she. He is cocky and rides a motorcycle. She is flippant with his love at first, and then ridicules his sexual powers later on. They are a bit of a miserable couple and we wonder why they stay together as long as they do.

His youth also results in the “I Love You” declaration way before we see it in the two characters and probably way before he actually means it. It’s one of the ways he forces what he wants to happen on a relationship where it might never happen. He flirts a bit inappropriately with her teenage daughter. He has boring sex with other women. She sits by while he chats up women in bars.

It’s all very angsty. But it also has moments of truth that anyone who’s been in a relationship can relate to.

“Breillat’s provocative drama charts how an idyllic affair between a divorcee — an optician with two kids — and a feckless, womanizing twenty-something leads to brutal murder. Though some may find the woman’s increasingly masochistic reactions to her young lover’s behavior questionable, the film is psychologically astute; just watch how the boy’s early curiosity about the woman’s greater experience slowly turns to insecurity and a determination to keep control. The performances are unsentimental, the tone uncompromising, and if the film ends up too schematic for its own good, there’s no denying its emotional punch or the intelligence of its dark insights.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

6.6 IMDB

Perfect Love @ Amazon

PERFECT LOVE

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BATTLE ROYALE
2000

April 4, 2009
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese
121 Minutes
Action / Sci-Fi / Sport / Thriller
Kinji Fukasaku

Could You Kill Your Best Friend?

In the near future, a class of teenagers is chosen by lottery to be stranded on a remote island and given three days in which to kill one another until only one survives.

“Bracing, violent, blackly humorous satire on the bleaker aspects of modern society that manages to be more than merely an excuse for a killing spree” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

** Halliwell’s
8.0 IMDB

Battle Royale @ Amazon

BATTLE ROYALE

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THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
1928

March 22, 2009
Netflix Criterion DVD
France
Silent (Optional “Voices Of Light” Musical Track)
82 Minutes
Biography / Drama / History
Carl Theodor Dreyer
#17 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.

On her last day on Earth, Joan of Arc is subjected to five increasingly threatening interrogations before being burned alive at the stake.

Most of the reviews mention that this may be the best example of silent film acting ever committed to film. I wasn’t sure what they meant until I saw this movie. I now find myself wholeheartedly agreeing. Maria Falconetti has this big, round, expressive face with huge eyes. Somehow, in a silent film with French title cards, she conveys everything we need to know about a character. She can cry with the best of them. She is typically filmed looking up at someone or something. It’s hard to describe. I thought I’d be bored senseless, but my attention was captured as I watched it twice. And I don’t know too much about the actual story. I was watching more as an exercise in filmmaking back in the 20s. The commentary track will tell you that this film had substantially more edits than any other for its time. The torture scenes are scary, the burning stake scene seems pretty realistic, and we even see real life human bloodletting. The actors were told to be available for the entirety of the long shoot. No makeup was allowed. Maria’s hair was actually shaved–she’s really crying while it happens.

The fact that this film even exists is amazing. The master print was destroyed after shooting. The director then used alternate takes to complete the film. Banned immediately upon its release in several countries, it was thought lost to fire and decay decades ago. Then a pristine print appears in the closet of an insane asylum in Oslo. It is translated back to French and cleaned up by the geniuses at Criterion.

“Austerely moving drama, using close-ups to give intense scrutiny to Joan and her accusers, drawing in the audience to become involved in the action.” **** — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“One of the greatest of all movies…Falconetti’s Joan may be the finest performance ever recorded on film” — Pauline Kael

“Dreyer’s most universally acclaimed masterpiece remains one of the most staggeringly intense films ever made. It deals with only the final stages of Joan’s trial and her execution, and is composed almost exclusively of closeups: hands, robes, crosses, metal bars, and (most of all) faces. The face we see most is, naturally, Falconetti’s as Joan, and it’s hard to imagine a performer evincing physical anguish and spiritual exaltation more palpably. Dreyer encloses this stark, infinitely expressive face with other characters and sets that are equally devoid of decoration and equally direct in conveying both material and metaphysical essences. The entire film is less molded in light than carved in stone: it’s magisterial cinema, and almost unbearably moving.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“Masterfully directed, with groundbreaking use of closeups; Falconetti glows in the title role” — **** Maltin

8.1 IMDB

The Passion of Joan of Arc @ Amazon

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC

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I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE
2006

March 21, 2009
Netflix DVD
Malaysia / China / Taiwan / France / Austria
Taiwanese / Malay / Mandarin / Bengali
115 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Ming-Liang Tsai [What Time Is It There?]

7.8 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone @ Amazon

I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE

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Written by Michael W. Cummins