Category Archives: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

I’ve been lost on Kong: Skull Island

IMG_1710.JPGWell, I survived my movie challenge last year and (partially) as a result it’s been eight months since I’ve worked on this blog.

It’s fitting that my writing perch now has a view of my signed Mike Birbiglia poster (taken from the poster sale by a former coworker at the ol’ Edina Cinema) because my last post here was about Birbiglia’s film “Don’t Think Twice.” He did a Q&A about the film after the July 2016 screening at the Lagoon Cinema and, other than his obviously flawless and brilliant response to the questions I kept telling myself I would ask if I had the courage, I remember the breeze of comedic genius as he walked by my aisle seat to the front of the theater. Maybe I’ll meet him someday, but at the same time it’s enough for me to sit and listen and admire that he can sell out huge theaters and at the same time spend weeks touring to different cities doing Q&A’s and teaching improv classes to local comedians.

I could talk and write about him forever, but I didn’t come back here only to gush about Mike Birbiglia.

BUT I could keep going about him … no? Okay fine.

I know you’re all wondering about the side effects of watching 366 movies in one year (you can see the full list here) and I will say (Captain Obvious – be on alert, I’m about to steal your thunder) it’s too many movies and I think I missed some of the impact they would have had if I watched them at the pace of a normal person.

That said, there’s a good chance I would never get around to some of the classics and obscure films I made it through — “It Happened One Night,” “Charade,” “Prayer of the Rollerboys,” and “The Story of Ricky” come to mind.

This brings to mind another side effect of the challenge, any time someone asks me what my favorite or most memorable films are from last year, the answer always changes.

I should just carry my movie notebook around with me so I can consult the list and make sure I am really delivering the goods. (Dating tip: read from your movie, shopping, pet name, dream vacation, etc. list when things get awkward.)

I do have a movie notebook with my list now, which is another benefit of the challenge, although it makes me wish I had kept one all along so I would have a record of everything I’ve seen; and a tool for those extremely awkward date moments — like when a guy says you have nice veins. Um, so have you seen “Working Girl?”

This year, I only have nine movies to refer to compared to 75 by the end of this day last year when I watched “Upstream Color” and “That Touch of Mink.” Don’t ask me what they’re about.

The last movie I saw was “Kong: Skull Island” — mainly to see my girl Brie Larson and my boy Marc Evan Jackson, who delivers some great one-liners — my favorite being “Oh dear.” I can’t give away the context to that line, but just wait until you see it.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve also watched “Jackie,” “Pitch Perfect,” “Julieta,” “20th Century Women,” “Sing,” “Moonlight,” “Split,” “Baby Mama,” and the aforementioned “Kong: Skull Island.”

I knew very little about the film before seeing it and learned, from another former co-worker at the ol’ Edina Cinema when I stopped in there the other day, that the director– Jordan Vogt-Roberts — also made “The Kings of Summer.”

It’s an indie film that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved, in my opinion, and represents a new trend of those directors breaking into the Hollywood blockbuster world with positive results: witty scripts and comedic actors coupled with special effects and action.

Another example: Colin Trevorrow made “Jurassic World” in addition to “Safety Not Guaranteed,” thus bringing together Chris Pratt, Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson and some pesky dinosaurs.

“Kong: Skull Island” has the right mix of action, humor (John C. Reilly) and heart and I hope the trend represented by the work of Vogt-Roberts and Trevorrow (who is making a “Jurassic World” sequel) continues.

As for me and my movie-watching challenge plans for the future, I think it’s to be continued …

I’ll see what I want to see and what I’m in the mood for this year (something I couldn’t always do in 2016) and next year might embark on a challenge of a smaller scale than 366 movies.

There are a lot out there I need and want to see and perhaps I’ll be ready to put some lipstick on and watch a ton of movies, again, by 2018.

Until then, I leave you with this reminder from Paul F. Tompkins to see ‘Kong: Skull Island” and one from me to see “The Kings of Summer.”

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Movie Week in Review: From The Fog to Love

There were some flops last week as part of my movie challenge.

fog_poster_06It started out strong with John Carpenter’s The Fog, a film I knew little about but enjoyed both for its visual effects and solid scares. The film, based on a fable about shipwrecked—possibly murdered—men who attack the village of Antonio Bay on the 100-year anniversary of their death, builds slowly but it was an effective style choice.

As the Antonio Bay residents anticipate the anniversary, a green, thick fog approaches the village. By the time the fog is in full force, and night falls, the victims are only able to see glimpses of the disfigured monsters as they seek revenge for what happened 100 years ago.

Carpenter’s score, much like in Halloween, completes the fear factor in the film.

A test of a good horror film, in my opinion, is how often you think of it after the fact or feel the need to check if the door is locked or, even worse, if there is a mangled monster hiding in your closet. In other words, if a film has the power to send you back to age 10 and to thinking checking the closet or under your bed at nightfall is going to help you survive – it passes the test for me. Films are all about imagination and The Fog—again with its fable influence—is a creative story with just the right amount of fright that holds up today.

The Fog and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (now streaming on Netflix) are loosely connected in the strength of their visual styles. In fact, a rarity for Hitchcock, I think the visuals of To Catch a Thief are one of its stronger points over the script and acting. Hitchcock, at least the films I’ve seen so far, usually presents a triple threat but some components of To Catch a Thief faltered a bit. Cary Grant, as a retired jewel thief bumbling away at his French villa, and Grace Kelly as a tourist who takes to him (and wants to solve a mystery behind missing diamonds) shine together on screen. It’s hard to top that but, given that the film won an Oscar for best cinematography, its stylistic points to depict the mystery burglar and capture the beautiful French countryside were more memorable components of this Hitchcock picture.

Other than the wonderful Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,  which I found by happenstance at the library, the memorable moments from the films I watched last week dwindled a bit after To Catch a Thief.

I’ll save Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for last so as to end a high note, but Margaret and Urban Cowboy presented some dark times for me last week in cinematic history. Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic but not as much as Anna Paquin in her role as entitled teenager Lisa after she witnesses, or possibly causes, a horrific bus accident in New York City in Margaret.

I am still kind of baffled about how a strong cast of Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon (although his role is small and he can be blamed for nothing wrong in this world) can deliver such forced performances that lack any depiction of real emotion. The film is nearly three hours long and I stuck with it hoping their character depictions would improve, with no such luck. Paquin and Ruffalo, as the bus driver, have the biggest roles and lack any real tension even as they are at odds with each other about what happened on the day of the accident.  At one point in the film it seemed like some of the actors with smaller roles knew how bad it was and just flubbed through their lines on purpose. It was almost like watching one take of the movie being made live and they had to release whatever they made it through. I hope to find other people who saw Margaret, and made it beyond the violent bus accident scene, to know if I am just imagining how bad it was or if there is a different take on the film that I am missing.

The same is the case for Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, because I didn’t even watch the last 20 minutes. I tried, but the last hour of the film really went downhill, in my opinion. The first hour delivered what I expected as far as a 1980s story of a rural man moving to the big city to ultimately do the same things he did before with the addition of falling in love and getting married. It was like a less-serious Saturday Night Fever with nowhere near the depth and strength in it’s story but, at least at first, entertaining nonetheless. Someday I’ll have to watch those 20 minutes to technically count it in my challenge, but for now I don’t feel like I missed much.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, however, redeemed my week of ups and downs as a perfect, unexpected love story between a Moroccan migrant worker and a German woman 20-years his senior after they meet at a bar. The description on the library DVD sounded interesting, but I had no idea the film is so well regarded or that it is so wonderful.

It’s a simple story made deeper with its commentary on culture and society shown through the responses of Emmi and Ali’s friends and family to their unlikely relationship. Stylistically, not counting teh dialogue and music, it was beautiful to watch the camera angles that provided a voyeuristic view into the characters’ lives. Of all the movies I watched last week, I definitely recommend Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. We could all use something unexpected in our lives now and then.

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”

Edgar Allan Poe

Movie Week in Review: More Spies and Romance and just a little 1980s action flick.

Hey hey all you international people of mystery. I just watched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery again, taking me back to my high school days and watching it a lot in college, with the added treat of being able to see it on the big screen.

I saw one of my favorite comedians, Kurt Braunholer, at Acme Comedy Club last night and, after making sure to awkwardly introduce myself to him, got the bat signal there would be a midnight screening of the aforementioned Austin Powers at the  ol’ Edina Cinema.

The comedy show and then laughing a lot along with my theater compatriots made for a good night and all-in-all the ingenious Austin Power worth watching again. I have been trying to stay away from repeat watches, but some films warrant a pass this year.

I also watched Can’t Buy Me Love since I last stopped here on the Internet. I wasn’t going to count it in my challenge until it set in again how behind I am. It’s okay though because I think the film is a respectable work among the 1980s classics we all know and love that also delivered McDreamy long before he would be on Grey’s Anatomy for what seemed like decades.

The first season of that show was its best and, while I watched several others, I recommend  Can’t Buy Me Love if you’re in the mood for more Patrick Dempsey.

I also fit in an unknown (to me) 1980s gem, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, this week featuring future TV starlets Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt as rebellious private school students by day and aspiring “Dance TV” contestants by night.

Janey (Parker) is raised by a military father who installs alarms on their apartment building windows and interrupts her phone calls, but that’s not going to stop her from dancing … especially after she meets Lynne (Hunt.) Lynne encourages Janey to break the rules in order to spend weeks rehearsing in an uncomfortable leotard and the opportunity to be on national television.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun was part of the trifecta of other early-1980s dance films like Flashdance and Footloose and certainly helped set the stage for the genre. It was also a refreshing visit back to the 1980s before Can’t Buy Me Love because I knew little about the film and because now I have several ideas for this year’s Halloween costume.

Moving on, the theme of spies and romance (including Austin Powers) was still part of my selections this week … primarily in Notorious.

The 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film explores politics in near post-World War II society times and the powers of “suave spymaster” (as described in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) T.R. Devlin to convince Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to be his mole on a mission to investigate Nazis in hiding in Argentina.

Huberman, as the daughter on of a convicted traitor, ends up being perfect for the job but is faced with mixed feelings about Devlin’s (Cary Grant) motives and whether she can ultimately trust him.

I love one of the first shots of Devlin in the film as he sits at a party hosted by Huberman not long after her father’s conviction. He is completely in the dark and shadows and, as Alicia sees him come into the light, there is an instant spark leading them on a troubled path to the mission in Argentina and the complications in their relationship.

review625.jpgNotorious is a flawless and brilliant work by Hitchcock as he continued to explore common themes and characters in the film in partnership with regular star Bergman and writer Ben Hecht. They also pushed the boundaries of the production code with the longest on-screen kiss between Alicia and T.R. that brought to light chemistry between Grant and Bergman.

Another film this week, April and the Extraordinary World, pushed cinematic boundaries in terms of its animation style and creativity, at least of what I’ve seen.

I’ll refer you over to a post about the film on Joyless Creatures that says it all in such a way that is as much of an artistic accomplishment as the French film, which specifically explores post-war society survival, invention and family bonds.

My initial reaction to April and the Extraordinary World was that it’s so imaginative and unique in my world of film and now I remain inspired by the story and its style. Plus there is a talking cat to tie it all together.

The Accidental Tourist also has a strong presence of an animal used as a literary tool in the form of Macon Leary’s (William Hurt) troubled Corgi who acts after the death of Leary’s son and divorce from Sarah (Kathleen Turner.)

Enter Muriel (Geena Davis in an Oscar-winning performance) who watches the dog while Leary must travel for work to write his next travel guide for businessmen.

Muriel instantly takes to pursuing Macon, which leads to an up-and-down relationship as he tries to figure things out with Sarah and process the loss of his son. The film is heavier than I thought it would be and centers on the exploration of relationships, loss and family.

There are some humorous undertones and comic relief, although mostly in a deadpan style by all the characters, a classic line being “He ate my turkey and didn’t get sick.”

The Accidental Tourist has been on my list to watch for a while and it must have been fate that a copy was available this week at the library, in addition to the consistent three copies of American Sniper and The Imitation Game.

maxresdefaultAnother fateful encounter at the library was with a lone copy Die Hard, resulting in the fact that “yippee-ki-yay-motherfucker” is now part of my vernacular (or at least my internal monologue.)

That’s obviously one of the most famous one-liners from the 1988 film, but some of my favorites also include “cute toy” when John McClane has to use the computer at his wife’s office building as well as his commentary on terrorists’ shoe sizes and the plight of TV dinners as he worms his way through a heating vent trying to find Hans Gruber.

“You bet your ass I wish to proceed.”

The special effects in Die Hard alone set it apart in the world of cinema and action movies, especially for 1988, and certainly increased Bruce Willis’ star factor.

I think Die Hard, even having just seen it, holds up and has universal appeal. I may be partial to independent films and have a weakness for romantic comedies, but Die Hard really has it all.

Yeah baby. (Too bad that also wasn’t one of John McClane’s lines.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Week in Review: Spies and Romance

audreyhepburn-carygrant-charadeBig news from last week, I made it to movie 100! The film I watched wasn’t exactly what I intended to for such a milestone in this challenge; but after yet another stressful day at the office I wanted to see something at the theater I also work at (a place that is oddly calming for me) and unwind a bit.

The First Monday in May, a documentary about the celebrity-filled Met Gala organized to raise money for exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is for the most part an entertaining glimpse at art, fashion and film while presenting a small argument that they are one in the same. The curator for the exhibit at the center of the documentary and Met Gala hubbub, Andrew Bolton, said fashion especially should be considered as art and wanted to reflect that in his display of outfits and costumes inspired by Chinese culture.

Documentaries can be hit or miss and I will say this one perhaps could have went deeper into its subject matter and the development of the exhibit vs. the seating arrangement of famous people at the Met Gala and Anna Wintour wearing her sunglasses indoors. Those topics were a bit superficial to cover, while the portions of the film that provided a peek into her work on the Met board while leading Vogue and Bolton’s lifelong dream to be a museum curator were worth the coverage and left me wanting more. My favorite part (yes other than Rihanna’s appearance and the awkward moment with Larry David on the red carpet), was also a brief mention of how fashion was part of film in Chinese history and cinema’s influence in Bolton’s exhibit. If you want to check out more work by director Andrew Rossi, I (although I’m little bit biased here because of my former career as a journalist) prefer Page One: Inside the New York Times. The First Monday in May is a visual accomplishment in documentary film making, but lacks a little bit on the storytelling side.

Moving on, Charade, mixed with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, started a theme of movies about spies and romance during the week also including An Affair to Remember and Badlands (minus the spies and plus a very dark and unsettling “love story.”)

MCDCOOF EC032Charade is one of the top films I’ve watched this year now and I really loved the build to the true dynamic between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s characters as well as the secrets behind her husband’s death, his identity and the money at the center of everyone’s trust issues. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, from George Clooney and Charlie Kaufman, takes the memoir of game show host Chuck Barris to explore his rumored time as a CIA operative and how he balanced that with career and his love with Penny (Drew Barrymore.) In addition to being funny and mysterious, the film is visually on par using angles, close-ups on its characters and artistic technique to further tell the story. I’ve always liked Sam Rockwell, and this could be his best work that I’ve seen. He embodies Barris’ persona, yet makes it look effortless.

Badlands has the visual appeal carried by Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to say I like the film. I think that’s because the characters, primarily Martin Sheen as a murderous wayward soul from the wrong side of the tracks, are so dark and nonchalant about their actions that I found it very hard to relate to them on any level. I often associate films with how they make me feel and memories of when or where I watched them in addition to their cinematic quality, so Badlands is hard to fit into that complete picture. That said, Sheen and Sissy Spacek are dynamic together on screen as forbidden lovers whose characters are loosely based on a real-life couple on a crime spree that ends in the badlands of South Dakota. I think the film must have also inspired True Romance (definitely one of my favorite films of all time), if nothing else through the use of this song as Clarence and Alabama embark on their own crime spree.

I switched from romance and crime in the beginning of the week to a healthy balance of comedy, space, science and a little horror to make it to movie 106 on Saturday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar is worth the three hours of time and will keep you guessing as to what will happen; especially in the last hour. I think, while I haven’t seen every space-themed movie, it’s one of the most (pardon the overuse) visually-appealing while being scientific, emotional and plus Matt Damon is in it. MATT DAMON!

I feel as though I am rambling at this point, but I do want to cover my last two entries of the week spanning the comedy-horror-parody genres: Best in Show and The Final Girls.

Christopher Guest’s look at the world of dog shows, in a “mockumentary” style, is pretty flawless and I could watch Parker Posey’s meltdowns over her dog and issues with her husband all day. I know nothing about the dog show world, but Guest seems to be spot on in his depiction while adding just the right amount of drama and quirk to his characters while they fight to be Best in Show.

Finally (bad segue) The Final Girls … one of many horror movie parody/tributes (think The Cabin in the Woods or even Scream) out there takes it to another level with a movie-in-a-movie format where the characters are challenged to find their way out by following the classic plot points used in the genre. Thomas Middleditch’s performance was my favorite in the film and it overall delivers a unique addition to what can be an overly-formulaic genre of movies.

Up next this week I am going to explore more Cary Grant films and want to collect enough titles to go on a binge of sports movies. There are a lot in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (sadly Major League isn’t one of them) so it’s time I expand my horizons in that regard. I welcome any recommendations.

“When you are young, your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren’t Einstein. You weren’t anything. That’s a bad moment.”

Chuck Barris – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

92 and 93 of 366: Five Easy Pieces and Carol

I AM SO BEHIND ON THIS CHALLENGE!

I feel better now after venting just a little, but if anyone has the power to stop time so I can catch up on my movies, please please please let me know.

I did watch two movies over the weekend; please hold your applause, Carol and Five Easy Pieces.

carol

I still can’t get the visual and audible elements from Carol, including the costumes, music and exterior scenery of 1950s New York, out of my mind.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara carry the film with a strong supporting cast of Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson but, even with its elements of conflict, romance and drama, the pace was a little slow.

Those elements make for dynamic story but I am still left with the feeling that not a lot happened in the film, and I’m not sure why.

Blanchett plays Carol Aird, who is married to Harge (Chandler), and they have a daughter together. It’s not long into the film when Carol meets Therese (Mara) while Christmas shopping at the store she works at and they develop a relationship. Carol has dated women before and her new relationship further angers her husband and shows how society reacted to same-sex relationships in that era. It is also an impetus for Harge to keep their daughter away from Carol and he goes to all lengths to prove her infidelity.

Therese, an aspiring photographer, is less tied down than Carol, but she does have a boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy), who she knows she doesn’t want to be with forever. It’s either her sexuality or lack of love for him specifically, or both that causes their relationship to end, especially when she meets Carol.

Carol presents the themes of not only sexuality and the acceptance of it decades ago but also those of love and passion and what people will do when those feelings come into play.

The film, directed by Todd Haynes and based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, is overall told in a flashback after one glimpse of Carol and Therese together. That style of the film, in my opinion, resulted in an ending that felt a little flat and predictable as far as how relationships that are considered forbidden are portrayed in cinema.

Carol is worth seeing for the visual elements and acting but, although I haven’t read it, perhaps Highsmith’s book is the more complete of the two versions of the story.

five

I also felt Five Easy Pieces, while Jack Nicholson is amazing in it and I could watch him act all day long was a little slow-paced despite the performances, visuals and music.

Music is a key part of the film given that Nicholson plays a classical pianist-turned oil rigger, Robert Eroica Dupea,  who returns to his hometown to visit his ailing father and other family.

It’s known as a standout performance for Nicholson in his career after his supporting role in Easy Rider, which I still need to see, but that was the primary high point of the film for me.

It could be the time that has passed since it was released that took away from the film for me, but I did somehow still feel connected to the depiction of the 1970s middle-America despite not having been born yet

Five Easy Pieces maybe didn’t make Nicholson’s career in its entirety, I’ll decide on that after I see as many of his movies that I can this year, but it is a part of the puzzle that makes him one of my heroes and best actors today. Even if there were other people in the scenes, Nicholson’s character was always the focus in the film — from when he plays a piano on a truck stuck in traffic to the more intimate, and heartbreaking, moments when he sees his Dad after many years.

The ending was similar to that of Carol in that there was some uncertainty about the future of the characters and their relationships, but I think it was a more effective choice in Five Easy Pieces given Robert’s establishment as a loner and independent spirit.

There isn’t much audio in the end of the film, leaving me to imagine Robert saying (to quote Mr. Dana Gould in his latest podcast episode, Look Back in Langour) “All I … want is solitude and Fritos.”

 

90 of 366: Glengarry Glen Ross (and a surprise.)

ross
Kevin Spacey and Jack Lemmon.

Well I now know I could not work in a real estate office after watching Glengarry Glen Ross this week. All the phone calls to try to get sales and Alec Baldwin yelling, not to mention constant pouring rain, would just be too stressful for me.

It was even a little stressful just watching the movie, which shows the skill of David Mamet (who also wrote the play it’s based on) and director James Foley to make the grind of a highly competitive — and shady — real estate office feel, well, real.

Baldwin is only in one scene early in the film, in which he rails on the real estate team about the “leads” they need to pursue and sets to tone for the anxiety and stress I was talking about. His speech ultimately causes the characters to go to all lengths to make their sales quota and get to work on the best leads.

Kevin Spacey is the boss of the office, John Williamson, who controls the leads his team receives only if they are successful on other sales; presenting a true psychological test of their will and trust between all the characters.

At first the team, Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon); Ricky Roma (Al Pacino); George Aaronow (Alan Arkin); and Dave Moss (Ed Harris); seems simply earnest to do their work but it doesn’t take long for some to turn on each other and the office as a whole to get their hands on the best leads.

As the rain continues and the characters toggle their time between the office, the restaurant across the street, phone booths and house calls to customers seemingly at all hours of the night, it is eventually robbed and causes an investigation into who on the team could be responsible.

While there were several more locations in the film than could be used in a stage production, it still felt like a play to me with the intense focus on individual characters in various scenes and their dialogue.

The intensity only builds throughout the film until a final showdown between Shelley and John that exemplifies another of its strong points; the acting. Lemmon especially had a stand-out role because of the mystery of his character, but the entire cast had performances that made it hard to pick a favorite.

Glengarry Glen Ross has many layers that make it a solid play-turned-film and just remember, “Coffee is for closers.”

ricky
The Story of Ricky

I also watched a surprise film this week as movie #91 thanks to what may be my new favorite thing at my new favorite place, Tape Freaks at the Trylon Microcinema.

The hosts pick a film each month based on a theme and give away clues on their blog leading up to the screening. This month’s was a movie you know based on seeing clips on YouTube. I couldn’t think of anything that would be, and didn’t know about the clue factor until I went to my first Tape Freaks screening, so I was truly surprised. The chosen presentation was Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky, a 1991 martial arts film about a man in prison using his superpowers, essentially, to fight rival prisoners and guards for the greater good.

Ricky’s powers allow him to severely injure or kill fellow prisoners, even without weapons, and any wounds he sustains will heal so he can continue to fight the injustice in prison. It is a combination of campy/gratuitous violence that overall turns the film more into a dark comedy within the horror and action genre.

It was fun to have no idea what I was in for with Tape Freaks and The Story of Ricky is such a film that, even if you plan to watch it one day, it pushes the boundaries to present an unexpected, entertaining story.

That is all for now.

“And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe.
It will never do anyhow.”

Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.

 

 

 

 

85-88 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow; Brief Encounter; Paris, Texas; Frankenstein

This is hard. Like Bob Harris singing More Than This in Lost in Translation while trying to process his feelings for Charlotte-hard.

For the sake of catching up on my movies today I decided to (try to) not spend so much time writing/obsessing about each one in individual blog posts.

I watched four movies today and challenged myself to only write short paragraphs about each one so I can get back on track to watching one per day. Soon I will be back to my regularly scheduled programming of pouring over each blog I write, (although this format is pretty tempting to continue), but for now here’s a summary of today’s cinematic adventures:

85 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edgeThink of Edge of Tomorrow as an action version of Groundhog Day where the  characters have the ability to relive moments in time and therefore predict the future. The film is another display of Emily Blunt’s versatility as an actress as she completely owns a role as an action hero one minute and the next can star in a dramatic or comedic film (Your Sister’s Sister or The Five Year Engagement.) I enjoyed Tom Cruise’s performance as Major William Cage, who transforms from a man of power to kind of a bumbling idiot and back again as the world faces a devastating attack by aliens. Blunt plays Rita, (aka the Angel of Verdun), a soldier trained to end the war who was formerly afflicted by the same “power” Cage has to relive each day in order to ultimately outsmart the alien enemy. As Cage and Rita’s characters, and their relationship, build throughout the film and there is an equal combination of wit, solid special effects with a unique time travel/science fiction story at its core.

86 of 366: Brief Encounter (1945)

briefI thought Brief Encounter, based on what happens when characters meet for a moment in time only to never connect again and a one-act play by Noel Coward, was a good follow up to Edge of Tomorrow. In that film there is always uncertainty whether Rita and William will live or die and continue to save the world together, while in Brief Encounter director David Lean explores the romantic connection between Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) after they meet at a restaurant in New York outside the train station. Both are married but also quickly fall in love and meet in the city for a few weeks, having lunch and going to the movies. Lean had to expand upon Coward’s one-act play, Still Life, but the film still felt very much like a stage production with Laura’s narration and the classical score. It’s also known to have inspired many similar stories or the style of similar films and I did notice common themes and dialogue between it and one of my guilty-pleasure favorites, You’ve Got Mail. It is never to the point of imitating what Lean and Coward created, but rather is surely one of many tributes to a classic romantic film and accomplishment in cinematic history.

“It all started on an ordinary day at the most ordinary place in the world,” Laura Jesson. 

87 of 366: Paris, Texas (1984)

parisParis, Texas, is a telling road movie in three parts that defines the relationship between two brothers, a father and son and husband and wife. After disappearing for four years, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) resurfaces wandering in the desert in Texas. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) picks him up and they drive to Los Angeles together to reunite Travis with his son, Hunter. Starting with Walt and Travis’s trip, the characters learn about each other as a result of the missing presence of Travis in their lives the last four years.

Paris, Texas is a beautiful visual display of Texas and Los Angeles and Winders and cinematographer Robby Muller also tell the story using the camera to show each character’s point of view. The film brings to mind the theme of nostalgia as Winders and writers Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson explore the family dynamic of the Hendersons and a man trying to rebuild his life.

“The dust has come to stay … you may stay or pass on through, or whatever.”

88 of 366: Frankenstein (1931)

frankensteinI really wanted to make it through five movies today, but there can be too much of a good thing — even my favorite thing. It was a rare nice day in Minneapolis so I wanted to fit in a walk outside and of course I spent more time than I planned for on my blog. Frankenstein, however, did make for a perfect conclusion to my catch-up day because it’s only a little longer than an hour and known as one of the classic horror films of all time that’s been on my list to watch. I would say it is more unsettling and suspenseful that scary but, taking into account its release in 1931, Frankenstein is certainly a cinematic accomplishment of the era and all time.

One of the most unsettling scenes was the father carrying his daughter’s lifeless body, at the hands of the monster (Boris Karloff), through the village streets toward the end the film; while the first sight of him close up and his dead eyes also carries a bit of fear factor.

I wonder what audiences originally thought of the film in the 1930s; but I do think it holds up in the horror genre and as an adaptation of a novel — something that is done perhaps too much in current times.

I wish there was a quote from the monster himself to end this with, instead I will resort to my standby from John Hodgman.

“That is all.”

 

 

83 of 366: The Black Cat

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imdb.com

There is an owl hooting outside my window right now, which is fitting with my mood after watching the horror classic The Black Cat (and pretty creepy.)

The Black Cat (1934) has nothing to do with owls, rather an actual cat that causes episodes for Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) while staying at the house of his nemesis Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff.) The film’s plot is based on the concept from a story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Of course there is more to fear at Poelzig’s house than cats lurking in the shadows.

As fate would have it, Dr. Werdegast ends up there after a bus accident on the road just below the house along with a young couple who just got married.

Thinking they will all just be there for one night, it becomes clear for Dr. Werdegast and the couple, Peter and Joan Allison, that Poelzig has other plans in mind.

For one, he needs to settle a feud with Dr. Werdegast, or the other way around, going back at least 15 years when the doctor was in jail for a crime  he didn’t commit and meanwhile Poelzig was after his wife and daughter.

I won’t reveal their fate, but from the beginning it’s clear Dr. Werdegast is the good guy here and Poelzig is pure evil.

Lugosi, having played Dracula, and Karloff, known for his performance as Frankenstein, kept those personas in this film through their mannerisms and dialogue, even if it wasn’t intentional.

As far as horror films go, The Black Cat clearly paved the way for styles and plot points used in the genre today yet I don’t think anything like it has been made since then — at least that I’ve seen.

It could be inspiration on some level for any horror film starting with the premise that its characters are stranded in a remote cabin and forced to contend with evil spirits, a serial killer or one of their own. More often than not recent films have the characters willingly traveling to a locale that breeds bad things, The Cabin in the Woods, The Strangers, Creep; whereas The Black Cat truly places unsuspecting characters, at least at first, in a dangerous situation they don’t know is unfolding.

The film builds to be about the feud between Dr. Werdegast and Poelzig and then translates their issues with each other to the fate of the Allisons, who do slowly start to see something is amiss.

Stylistically, the film uses music in almost every scene that borders between light-hearted and a tone more fitting for a horror plot. It also captures the odd architecture and secret passageways in Poelzig’s home to show there is more than meets the eye throughout the whole story.

I will watch for characteristics of The Black Cat in horror films that I see from now on, but for now it’s clear the film set a precedent in the genre while keeping its own unique reputation after all these years.

 

80 of 366: The Housemaid (Hanyo)

housemaid
World Cinema Project

Manipulation, infidelity, desire and betrayal are all themes explored in Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 film from South Korea, The Housemaid (Hanyo.)

The original negative of the film was restored by the World Cinema Project, an organization with the mission to preserve films with cultural and cinematic significance, and the Korean Film Archive.

The original negative was missing two reels and, after being combined with another print found in 1990,  was released two years after the restoration process started. There is also a remake of the film from 2010 with Kim Ki-Young as the writer working with a different director, Song-soo Im. Young both wrote and directed the original film, referenced in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as a marvelous discovery in film history.

The story centers on a couple in Korea in need of a maid to help care for their house and two children. The mother in the family, Mrs. Kim, is pregnant with their third child and is at first hesitant to have a maid there in fear it will be temptation for her husband, Dong-sik Kim to cheat.

Dong-sik is a piano teacher, often pursued by his female students, but the temptation of a younger woman doesn’t become real until they do hire a maid, Myong-sook, to help.

The temptation escalates solely because of Myong-sook’s obsessive and controlling behavior during the course of the film. It’s clear from the beginning she has deep desire to be more a part of the Kim family than a maid and will go to all lengths to take over the home and get what she wants.

The build to reveal her true character is slow in this suspense-thriller that uses its musical score to exemplify that something terrifying will happen at any moment.

The film’s visual style is complex with high angle and exterior shots through windows and doors that define the feeling you are looking in on a family’s secrets and struggles they don’t want anyone to know about. Dong-sik, at many points in the story, threatened to tell the police about Myong-sook’s obsessive and ultimately violent behavior toward the family but she, or even his own wife, influenced him not to act on his instincts.

The Housemaid is a haunting and beautiful story that delivers on the fact that something bad will happen, on many occasions, and goes full circle in exploring the idea of the problems temptation causes when put against people’s human instincts versus doing the right thing.

 

79 of 366: Hannah and Her Sisters

hannah
imdb.com

I am in desperate need of artwork for the walls in my apartment. Luckily, I just watched Hannah and Her Sisters and now have one of those lovely pieces with red yarn, thumbtacks and note cards I used to try and connect the characters and their ongoing love triangle.

It’s not that complex really, but I found myself obsessed with who was courting who as Woody Allen’s vignette about three sisters, Hannah, Holly and Lee and their romantic lives and careers played out.

Hannah (Mia Farrow) is married to Elliot (Michael Caine), who becomes interested in her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey).

“God, she is beautiful,” Elliot says of Holly in the intro of the film before a Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

Hannah is also divorced from Mickey (Woody Allen) who wants to rekindle his relationship with the third sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest.)

“Love is really unpredictable.” – Mickey

Allen’s film, an Oscar winner for best screenplay as well as supporting actor and actress for Wiest and Caine, is a wonderfully neurotic and poetic telling of romance and family relationships set against the backdrop of mid-1980s New York.

He uses music consistently in the film, often jazz, yet one of my favorite scenes starts with a 1980s rock concert date between Mickey and Holly.

They try to reconnect on the date, but it’s clear Mickey doesn’t fit in as Holly does just a little cocaine and chastises him for all his quirks.

“Why are you making those faces? … I cannot communicate with you, I never knew you were such a tight ass.” — Holly

Mickey takes Holly to a place a little more his tempo, a jazz concert, in the next scene. Of course she feels out of place, showing it by continuing to use cocaine, smoke and drink among people she says wouldn’t realize it because they’re embalmed.

“You don’t deserve Cole Porter, you should stay with those groups that look like they’re going to stab their mothers,” Mickey responds as they leave the concert.

It’s as much of a humorous moment as it is revealing of the characters, a theme throughout the scenes in the film. The scenes are split by one word or a quote as script on the screen, often connected to the character they focus on as they search for happiness in love and their careers as well.

“The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless,” Tolstoy.

Hannah and Her Sisters has the standards of a Woody Allen film with a bookend going back to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner and a reunion between the seemingly mismatched Mickey and Holly in a record store — often a location for love connections in film.

“I think it’s lucky I ran into you, maybe.”

I loved the ending and conclusion of all the separate stories in one final short scene showing the paths the characters went on weren’t all that bad and that, maybe, what’s meant to be will happen.