Archive for the “Solo Filmschool” 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My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first.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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NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS
1922

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Germany
Silent — Wurlitzer Organ Accompaniment by Dennis James
Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Romance
F. W. Murnau [Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans]

Film Number 103 Of All Time — They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000

OK, so it was made in 1922. It’s famous for being the first of the many vampire films. It’s campy and corny and silent. But was it fun to watch?

Absolutely. I was mostly worried about dozing off as it was my fourth film of the busy day. But seeing something that my great-grandparents might have seen, in a theater that my grandparents might have gone to as children, surrounded by a balcony full of fans ranging in age from about 8 to about 90, meant that it was an experience I’ll cherish forever.

Dennis James got sounds out of the mighty Wurlitzer that seemed to required five people to perform. He kept the pace and made us scared and happy and when a drummer appeared on screen, I’ll be damned if a snare drum didn’t sound from the right speaker in perfect syncopation. If you’ve never heard live accompaniment to a silent film before, get your ass out of your house and go to one. Even if you don’t like the film. It’ll be worth it.

The story was overacted and the special effects rudimentary, but again, it was filmed just after World War I, for god’s sake. Women and men alike seem to swoon, the bad guys are extra bad, the wacko mental patients extra mentally.

But I found it touched me–the darkness, the lust, the way the Count looked upon a drop of blood while licking his lips.

And my, oh my, to experience all of this in a double-decker full house like the California Theater. The title cards causing snickers and oohs and aahs. The “wow” factor of the Count levitating. The creepiness of a long boat ride. People were enthralled. I was one of them.

And I didn’t doze once.

8.1 IMDB

NOSFERATU

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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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1967

July 18, 2009
San Jose CA — California Theatre — 70MM
France / Italy
French / English / German
124 Minutes
Comedy
Jacques Tati
#87 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.

I was lucky to catch this in 70MM at the beautiful California Theatre in downtown San Jose. It was my first exposure to Director Jacques Tati, who appeared in the film as “Monsieur Hulot”, but there isn’t really a main character. In fact, there is absolutely no discernible dialog in the whole film. It’s in French and German and English, but you can’t really pick up on what anyone’s saying. It is all background noise. Hulot stumbles from place to place, first to a huge bureaucratic building, then to a fancy dinner club, then to a guy’s apartment, but here’s the thing: we have no idea why he is wherever he is. There is also an American tourist who follows her tour group around from gray building to gray building, never seeing any of the sights that made Paris famous (except in creative window reflections.) The two of them will cross paths, but again, we don’t know why. They’ll end up at a department store, in a traffic circle, and in a splendid lengthy scene in a restaurant on its grand opening day.

The film was made in 1967 by its crazy director who took two years, mortgaged his financial future, and actually built a small city outside of Paris in which to film it. He also never, I mean not once, filmed anyone or anything in close-up. There are no shots, I don’t think, with one actor only. Shots are held for long periods of time and in the background and corners things are happening. There are also cardboard cutouts on buses and in building windows and in the far background whose purpose appears to be populating the frame. At other points, live actors will be frozen in the background and only “come to life” at certain points in the scene. Not sure what that choice was about.

But if ever a film was full of whimsy, and not manufactured whimsy, like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or THE TRUMAN SHOW (even if you like those movies.) How a story with mumbled far-off dialogue and no plot and no explanation for why people are doing what they’re doing can be so compelling and interesting is beyond me? The entire thing is funny, but there aren’t many laugh-out-loud moments.

I very much liked the experience.

7.9 IMDB

Playtime @ Amazon

PLAY TIME

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1975

DVD — LiveTweet
USA
English
124 Minutes — June 30, 1975
Thriller
Steven Spielberg [Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; Raiders Of The Lost Ark; E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom; The Color Purple; Empire Of The Sun; Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade; Always; Hook; Jurassic Park; Schindler’s List; The Lost World: Jurassic Park; Amistad; Saving Private Ryan; Artificial Intelligence: AI; Minority Report; Catch Me If You Can; The Terminal; Munich]
#106 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 man-eating shark causes havoc off the Long Island coast.

Still incredibly fun after more than 30 years. This was a Live Tweet (660 tweets during the film) whereby people announce information and frivolous minutiae about the film and many that have nothing to do with the film. The ratio of watching the screen to watching the laptop is probably 1 to 5. But it was a fun pick. Hollywood considers the industry to be cut in half between Pre-Jaws and Post-Jaws. Now the marketing is at least as important as the plot and acting. Jaws either heralded great entertainment or the death of real artistry.

7.9 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB #107 All Time
** Halliwells

Jaws @ Amazon

JAWS

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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THE BICYCLE THIEF
1948

January 1, 2009
Netflix DVD
Italy
Italian
93 Minutes — December 13, 1949
Crime / Drama
Vittorio De Sica
#14 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.

An Italian workman, long unemployed, is robbed of the bicycle he needs for his new job, and he and his small son search Rome for it.

The story could scarcely be simpler. A man (Antonio Ricci), out of work for a year is finally offered the job of poster-hanger. The only catch: he needs to use a bike at his job. Unfortunately, his bicycle is in a pawn shop, where he put it to get money for living expenses. When he tells his wife his dilemma, she wordlessly takes the sheets off their bed and heads down to the pawnshop for the exchange. That evening, his adoring young son, Bruno (you could spend the whole film watching him watch his father) cleans it and oils it. He knows every inch of it. The next morning, the whole family is excited. The man in his new uniform; the wife proudly packs his lunch; Bruno is happy to ride on the handlebars to his own job where his father promises to pick him up that evening.

Antonio’s job is to hang posters of Rita Hayworth. He is taught how and then sent on his way. Within minutes, a group of men watch him for awhile, and then one of them takes off on the bike while the others misdirect Antonio who chases the wrong man. 15 minutes of film time has passed. The rest of the movie is taken up with the man’s quest to find and reclaim his bicycle. He enlists friends to help him look in the usual marketplaces. He consults with a psychic. He threatens and follows people. He is in the middle of Rome–his chances are not good.

The story of the film is not the important part. It’s as if non-professional actors are appearing in a documentary about a bicycle theft, not a fictional story about a man’s lost bicycle. The difference is important. The townspeople Antonio comes into contact with don’t have an acting bone in their bodies and therefore the impact is much greater. We go into a church for Sunday services and it’s like we’re disturbing the worshipers while our protagonist is there. A rainstorm hits and we hide under an awning along with the rest of the neighborhood.

It’s hard to find a modern-day equivalent of the importance of this man’s lost bicycle. He will lose his job without it. His joy at finally having work that morning is dashed by noontime. The unconditional love of his son (looking like a ten-year-old Bruno Kirby) is something to behold. No trained child actor spends as much time looking into his father’s face as this boy. He walks at the same pace as his movie father, he checks the man’s face for understanding every few seconds, he makes sure it was okay to partake in a bit of wine at a cafe, and the look on his face in the last 5 minutes of the film is heartbreaking. I may never forget the boy.

THE BICYCLE THIEF is not an uplifting drama. But it shows us post-war Italy in a very specific way. We are in specific neighborhoods populated by specific people. We feel for this specific man and his world. Almost in spite of myself, and the hangdog expression of our protagonist, I found myself not only caring deeply about what happened to him, but feeling like I knew him and, more importantly, felt for him. I wanted him to get his bicycle back. I wanted to shout at the people acting as obstacles–those who didn’t believe his story or realize its importance. The survival of his family is at stake–this is no simple “find the toy for the sad man”. I wondered what I would do in the same situation. How long could I hold on to my dignity? What if my young son was watching my every move?

I was reminded thematically of WENDY AND LUCY about the woman and her dog who breakdown in a small Oregon town.

This film is rightly considered one of the best of all time. You’ll be sucked into its dreamlike pace and its documentary feel.




ON: Screenplay

“The epitome of Italian neo-realism, the slight human drama is developed so that it has all the force of King Lear, and both the acting and the backgrounds are vividly compelling” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008.

**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin
A–Tobias, The Onion
8.4 IMDB #106 All Time

The Bicycle Thief @ Amazon

THE BICYCLE THIEF

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1950

December 22, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
138 Minutes — October 13, 1950
Drama
Joseph L. Mankiewicz [The Philadelphia Story; The Barefoot Contessa; Guys And Dolls]
Bette Davis
Anne Baxter
#72 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.

It’s all about women — and their men!

An aging Broadway star suffers from the hidden menace of a self-effacing but secretly ruthless and ambitious young actress.

Sure, it’s dated and melodramatic. But Davis is so great as a woman who has passed the unheard of milestone of being 40 years old and still trying to get the juicy parts on Broadway. Baxter is a star-struck fan when we meet her. But is she too good to be true? All the characters speak to each other in that “theater is the only true art form” way. There are awards and fur coats and drinks at fancy Manhattan clubs.

It’s a bit long and has several too many voiceovers from several too many characters. But I wasn’t bored. And Davis is so angry and so lacking in social skills when off stage that you really can’t look away. This film has the “fasten your seatbelts…” line. It also has a ditzy Marilyn Monroe in a small part as a new girl in town who takes any opportunity she can for her break. A slimy columnist points her in the right direction, towards the hot producer in town. Watch Monroe’s face light up as she switches into flirt mode. It is a sight to see.

OW: Picture, Director Mankiewicz, Screenplay Mankiewicz, Supporting Actor George Sanders
ON: Actress Baxter, Actress Davis, Supporting Actress Celeste Holm, Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction

“A basically unconvincing story with thin characters is transformed by a screenplay scintillating with savage wit and a couple of waspish performances into a movie experience to treasure.” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“The dialogue and atmosphere are so peculiarly remote from life that they have sometimes been mistaken for art.” — Pauline Kael

“Brilliantly sophisticated (and cynical) look at life in and around the theater, with a heaven-sent script by director Mankiewicz. Davis is absolutely perfect as an aging star who takes in an adoring fan and soon discovers that the young woman is taking over her life.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

8.4 IMDB All Time #75
**** Halliwell’s
**** Maltin

All About Eve @ Amazon

ALL ABOUT EVE

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1934

November 2, 2008
Netflix DVD
France
French
89 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Jean Vigo
#16 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 barge captain takes his new wife down river.

“Jean Vigo’s final masterpiece is a simple, slow-moving account of a troubled relationship. The film works on a poetic level, with Kaufman’s camera capturing mysterious dreamlike images of river life, while Michel Simon’s deckhand is one of the great screen performances” — *** Halliwell’s Film, DVD, and Video Guide 2007

“Naturalism and surrealist fantasy blend beautifully in all-time masterpiece about a young couple who begin their life together sailing down the Seine on a barge. Ultimate in romantic cinema also anticipated neorealist movement by more than a decade.” — **** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

8.0 IMDB

L’ Atalante @ Amazon

L’ ATALANTE

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1944

October 28, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
107 Minutes — September 6, 1944
Crime / Film-Noir / Thriller
Billy Wilder [The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Ace In The Hole; Sabrina; The Spirit of St. Louis; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
Fred MacMurray [The Caine Mutiny; The Apartment]
Barbara Stanwyck [Meet John Doe]
#94 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.

An insurance agent connives with the glamorous wife of a client to kill her husband and collect.

Even though it’s more than 60 years old, it still is almost unbelievably tense. Our hero confesses while talking into an old fashion dictation machine. He meets Stanwyck and just about devours her with his eyes. It must have been incredibly revealing to have a character enter a scene wrapped in a towel in 1944. Sure it’s dated, but I felt like I needed to know how it all fit together. Impossible to stop watching in the middle. All the pieces fit.

“Archetypal film noir of the forties, brilliantly filmed and incisively written, perfectly capturing the decayed Los Angeles atmosphere of a Chandler novel but using a simpler story and more substantial characters. The hero/villain was almost a new concept.” — Halliwell’s DVD & Video Guide 2007

“The script packs fireworks in account of insurance salesman MacMurray coerced into murder plot by alluring Stanwyck and subsequent investigation by Fred’s colleague Edward G. Robinson. An American movie classic, with crackling dialogue throughout.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2005 Movie Guide

**** Halliwell’s #43 All-Time
8.5 #53 All-Time IMDB
**** Maltin

Double Indemnity @ Amazon

DOUBLE INDEMNITY

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TOKYO STORY
1953

August 15, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
136 Minutes — March 13, 1972
Drama
Yasujiro Ozu
#10 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.

An elderly couple, who travel to Tokyo to visit their married son and daughter, discover that their children have little time for them.

TOKYO STORY was the subject of Cinebanter #58 From The Queue section which is available here.

“Ozu made one of the greatest films of all time. It lacks sentimental triggers and contrived emotion; it looks away from moments a lesser movie would have exploited. It wants not to force our emotions but to share its understanding. It does this so well that I am near tears in the last thirty minutes. It ennobles the cinema. It says, yes, a movie can help us make small steps against our imperfections.” — Roger Ebert The Great Movies II

“In this understated, beautifully composed classic of domestic disillusionment, the editing is unobtrusive and the camera’s gaze is steady; it moves only three times during the film and is kept at a low angle, looking up at the characters. In his formal concentration on everyday family life, Ozu discovers universal truths about the human condition. Here, an elderly couple face the painful fact that they are a burden to their children and grandchildren. But the most devastating comment comes at the end of the film, from their daughter; ‘Isn’t life disappointing’ — Halliwell’s Top 1000

“Bleak, austere and moving family drama of life’s disappointments” — Halliwell’s Film DVD & Video Guide 2007

“Ozu’s vision, almost entirely un-inflected by tics and tropes of ‘style’ by this stage in his career, is emotionally overwhelming, and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“Powerfully quiet story of old age, the disappointments parents experience with their children, and the fears the young have of time passing. A masterpiece.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2005 Movie Guide

The Best Film Of All Time — Halliwell’s
**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin

TOKYO STORY

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LAST TANGO IN PARIS
1972

August 4, 2008
Netflix DVD
Italy / France
French / English
129 Minutes — February 7, 1973
Drama / Romance
Bernardo Bertolucci [The Last Emperor; The Sheltering Sky; Little Buddha; Stealing Beauty; The Dreamers]
#222 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

Marlon Brando [A Streetcar Named Desire; The Wild One; On The Waterfront; Guys And Dolls; Mutiny On The Bounty; The Godfather; Superman; Apocalypse Now; A Dry White Season; The Freshman; Don Juan DeMarco]

A middle-aged man and a young French girl have a doomed love affair.

ON: Brando, Bertolucci

7.7 Metacritic
7.0 IMDB
*** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
***^ Maltin

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1953

July 24, 2008
TCM
USA
English
118 Minutes — August 5, 1953
Drama / Romance / War
Fred Zinnemann [Oklahoma!]
#878 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

Burt Lancaster [The Swimmer; Atlantic City; Local Hero; Field Of Dreams]

Montgomery Clift [A Place In The Sun]

Deborah Kerr [An Affair To Remember]

Donna Reed [It's A Wonderful Life; The Benny Goodman Story]

Frank Sinatra [Guys And Dolls; The Manchurian Candidate]

Life in a Honolulu barracks at the time of Pearl Harbor.

OW: Picture, Director Fred Zinnemann, Screenplay, Supporting Actor Frank Sinatra, Supporting Actress Donna Reed, Cinematography, Editor
ON: Actor Burt Lancaster, Actor Montgomery Clift, Actress Deborah Kerr

*** Halliwell’s
7.9 IMDB

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1949

June 24, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
UK
English / German / Russian
104 Minutes
Film-Noir / Mystery / Thriller
Carol Reed [Oliver!]
#24 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.

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THE THIRD MAN is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 54. 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 THIRD MAN Discussion
• Break
• 16:23 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 16:47 The Last Five®
• Break
• 25:36 Average Matt
• Break
• 32:10 Tassoula’s 5 Favorites from SIFF
• Break
• 49:29 Show Notes
• 51:56 Credits and Outtake

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An American pulp fiction writer goes to Vienna to meet an old friend and finds that he has disappeared in sinister circumstances.

An unintelligent but tenacious writer of Westerns arrives in post-war Vienna to join his old friend Harry Lime, who seems to have met with an accident…or has he?

Oscar Winner: Cinematography Robert Krasker
Oscar Nominee: Director Carol Reed, Editor Oswald Hafenrichter

#18 All Time Halliwell’s
#49 All Time IMDB
**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin
8.5 IMDB

THE THIRD MAN

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Written by Michael W. Cummins