Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Ghosts of You

50. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

I believe this is reproduction of the original Japanese poster. It’s a little bit too busy for my liking. And I find the Japanese writing covers too much of it. I think that’s typical of 1950’s Japanese poster art.

Just your average story of ghosts, greed, samurais, and pottery.

It’s also the least melodramatic of the Mizoguchi films I’ve seen.

Melodrama is generally a field I am fond of, but it seems odd to me that Mizoguchi has earned such an elite reputation when most of his films end up as weepies. Usually melodrama is easily dismissed. He is a skilled film-maker, maybe you could say he’s the Japanese Douglas Sirk, making what seems to be formulaic melodramas, with tons going on underneath.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 8/10. Solid stuff.

I’m not a racist but…

49. Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916)

This poster is straight ballin’, which is no shock given how cool pre-WW2 German art looks, and the fact that 1910’s and 1920’s poster art has a certain feel to it that evokes the time very well. Something about the font, I am a big font guy.

Anyway I enjoy the irony of Griffith following up his awesomely racist epic “The Birth of a Nation” with a film titled “Intolerance“. I guess the title isn’t so ironic, but the content is. For those who don’t know Griffith essentially created the American movie with Nation, a film so impressive in scope and polish that in spite of the despicable portrayal of the KKK as babyfaces liberating the South from the oppressive rule of the black folks, it still lives on as one the greatest films ever made.

The backlash against Nation was such that although it did break box-office records, Griffith felt compelled to film a response that would shut up the critics who accused him of racism. This is Intolerance.

The film intercuts 4 stories throughout the ages to promote tolerance. You have religious strife in Babylon, the crucifixion of Jesus, religious strife during the French Renaissance, and moral and economic strife in contemporary America. Interestingly enough none of these stories involve black folk, or deal with race in any way at all. Griffith seems to be promoting a tolerance of ideas and religion, but not race. I’m not sure what to make of that.

The scope of the film is fantastic, Griffith built massive sets and used a literal cast of thousands, and the use of intercutting of 4 different stories from 4 different eras is well done and demonstrates Griffith’s mastery as a filmmaker. The dude was innovative if nothing else.

But something rings hollow about the film. At best it comes off as apologist for the ideologies of Nation, and at worst it feels disingenuous. For sheer spectacle it works fabulously, but as a statement on mankind it fails miserably.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 7/10.

Slower than Chris Dingman watching L’Avventura in a vat of molasses.

48. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

Tarkovsky‘s movies makes Antonioni‘s movies seem like “Crank“. In other words, Tarkovsky likes to take his time.

This is one of those films I was absolutely dreading. It’s 3 hours long, and Tarkovsky’s reputation preceded him. But as is usually the case when I am absolutely dreading a film, it actually ended up quite good.

I don’t really know how to explain the film, structurally it’s completely linear divided up in to 7 parts. It’s designed as an autobiography of Andrei Rublev, a 14th century Russian artist, although it’s not really accurate(at least according to the wikipedia page). But Rublev isn’t really the focus of the movie, it’s more like he is there in order for Tarkovsky to have a reason to show the turmoil of 14th century Russia(at least according to wikipedia).

The film does a great job of creating and evoking the middle ages (or at least how I imagine them). It just looks primitive.

And I just purchased the Criterion DVD on Ebay as I type this. God bless cheap buy it now listings.

The poster is pretty solid too, I don’t know if it’s the original theatrical one, but Rublev looks ‘hood in it, so I am down.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 8/10. I think it could go higher with a rewatching, as with any 3 hour film there is a lot going on.

I forgot to write a title.

47. It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)

Somehow I managed to avoid this film until this past year. I think everybody has their one or two Christmas movies that they watch every year. I know “It’s A Wonderful Life” is the staple one for many people, my brother used to watch “Scrooge” on Christmas Eve, there’s also stuff like “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer“, or “The Charlie Brown Christmas“. I was always a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol“, but I haven’t seen it in years. But the one movie I have to watch it “The Christmas Story“. Every year I watch it, I know it incredibly well, but I adore it. From Flick getting his tongue stuck to a pole, to the stupid leg lamp, to “I like Santa” kid, to Scott Farkus, to the Bumpus hounds, it’s just filled with tremendous stuff.

So about this movie…I watched it while drinking alot of wine on Thanksgiving…Canadian Thanksgiving. There were some curse words, but curse words generally mean I enjoyed the movie.

What I liked about the movie was that George Bailey was the kind of everyman you can get behind, he’s decent, charming, charismatic and most of all sympathetic. You identify with him wholly, and even when he is being taken advantage of you sympathize rather than think he’s a moron. Sometimes that happens where the supposed hero is either a retard or a dick and it ruins everything, but in this film, there is the right amount of awareness on Jimmy Stewart’s part that you get hooked.

I will admit that I got mad at this movie, I was swearing alot, first when Uncle Billy misplaces the money because he’s a fucking old idiot. When George is all getting pissed at him, I totally thought a good old fashioned curbstomping was in order, but it doesn’t happen. The rest of the cast even shames George, which is kind of disappointing, because Uncle Billy is the one who fucked up, and should suffer some punishment rather than getting absolved. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Then the fact that evil fucking Mr. Potter doesn’t give back the money or get punished in anyway, that makes me mad too. There’s not denying what a total douchebag Mr. Potter is, and then he doesn’t get what’s coming to him? Not cool man.

But other than that the movie is a lot of fun, and I look forward to watching it in the holiday context.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10 because it’s fun, uplifting and eminantly rewatchable.

The best child performance since Thunderpants

46. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)

This is a strong poster, nice artwork, clean font. Definitely hangable.

I knew nothing about this film when I watched it. I didn’t read up on it, I didn’t realize that it was directed by Truffaut, it was simply high one of the top 50 that I hadn’t seen.

It’s kind of liberating in a sense to watch a movie with no background knowledge. You go in a blank slate ready to let the movie have it’s way with you. But there is risk involved given that a movie can be total shit, and if you know nothing going in, the chance of a shitty movie just stealing 90 minutes from you is heightened. But on the flip side you could discovering something amazing.

This film is amazing.

I think Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel gives the greatest child performance I have ever seen. He plays a 12 year-old in a broken home who spends as much time on the streets as with his parents. What’s so incredible about the performance is that it’s so self-assured, so vulnerable, yet totally natural. There is one scene that blew my mind, where he is being interviewed by a counsellor, and every look, gesture, and answer is so completely adult, as if he is man in a child’s body. It’s fascinating to watch.

Léaud has done about a billion films since, including 5 more as Antoine Doinel, but he’s never affected me the same way he did in this film.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10, simply because I don’t give 10’s to movies I have only watched once. I expect a rewatch will yield a 10.

Brigitte Bardot’s ass is next to Godliness.

45. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

Now this is a poster. The French sure don’t screw around. Great font, good color, unique artwork. This is something I would be proud to have in my house.

This is a great film, the I didn’t enjoy while watching it, but it lingered with me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was damn good. I felt the same way about Rashomon.

I think what I didn’t like about the film while viewing it was how talky and philosophical it was. It tricks you into thinking it’s about movie making but then it swerves with a ton of dialogue about life. So I kept waiting for resolution of the plot, when the plot was really secondary to the interactions of the characters. I also didn’t understand why Brigitte Bardot‘s Camille all of a sudden turns so hateful towards her husband. He seems like a decent dude, and her turn towards bitchiness came out of nowhere.

I am not even sure I understand any of this at all now, but the presence of Fritz Lang dropping knowledge, Jack Palance freaking out multiple, and Brigitte Bardot’s bare ass is certainly enough to compensate for my lack of understanding.

Plus the movie looks astonishing. It was filmed in the Mediterranean so there is these amazing shots of the sea, and every shot is so brightly lit, it melts the heart, it’s pretty much the most beautiful summer day you’ve ever experienced. Plus it’s shot in that gorgeous 60’s Technicolor.

Oh and it’s going to be one of the first wave of titles released by Criterion on Blu-Ray. I read on a message board where someone described how this film on Blu-Ray will be like seeing the face of God. One can only hope. This might be the reason I get a Blu-Ray player.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 8/10. It’s definitely something I want to revisit, and try and make sense of.

Thank you, Topper. I can kill again! You’ve given me a reason to live.

44. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

One of the staple films for the angry white teenager as I mentioned here in my review on “Taxi Driver“.

I still haven’t watched the 4 hour version, and perhaps I should but I can’t bring myself to drop 10 bucks on the 2-Disc Special Edition.

I like the film and have seen it several times, but not in the past 3 or four years or so. I am not sure if it works as a story, but there is a ton of compelling stuff, and a lot of memorable scenes.

Here’s a couple I like…

A 12 year old Laurence Fishburne rocking out to the Rolling Stones:

And a father and son reunited:

And a startling realization about the horrors of war:

Man I really need to watch that movie again.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film an 8/10.

The only thing wrong is the poster.

43. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

This was Charles Laughton‘s only film as a director which is unfortunate, because it’s a hell of a debut. I think the film’s commercial failure had a lot to do with him never directing another film. And of course his flourishing career as one of the great actors of his lifetime.

This is an atmospheric, creepy, suspenseful, yet beautiful film. Robert Mitchum brings the awesome as a creepy and God-fearing murderer, the child actors are among the best I have ever seen, and Shelley Winters gets killed, so it’s a win on 3 fronts. I don’t really get Shelley Winters, she’s pretty annoying, and I find her homely, which in an of itself means nothing, but she was a really big star in the 50’s, and I just don’t get her popularity.

There’s definitely something disturbing about a man singing hymns while stalking 2 small kids through the wilderness. I can’t think of anyone other than Mitchum being able to do it without it going over the top. Imagine Johnny Cash stalking kids in the wilderness and you have Mitchum’s portrayal in the film. His voice is so warm, and he’s got a down-home accent, and yet he’s just a complete sicko.

I think the film works because of the contrasts: the beautiful camera work enhances the creepiness of the film. Mitchum’s religiousity enhances the terrifying aspect of his character, while the calm warmth of his voice enhances the horrible things he’s saying. Mitchum even has love and hate tattooed on his hands, further suggesting the contrast.

This is the scene that blew my mind originally because it was simply unexpected, and incredibly unusual to see in a 1950’s Hollywood film:

Everything about the film just stands out and I can’t think of another film that is similar.

I just wish the poster was a little nicer.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 9/10. Just fascinating and compelling through and through.

I liked Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey better.

42. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

My first Bergman, and despite the cool poster of a skeleton riding a checkerboard, somewhat underwhelming.

As I mentioned in my post on “Ordet“, I am/was quite religious(still a bit undecided on where I am now), and this film is pretty much indebted to the Christian interpretation of the world. Having seen a good chunk of both Dreyer‘s and Bergman’s work, I find that I can’t think of one without the other. And I think I like Dreyer’s work more.

I like that Dreyer’s work leaves things hanging. Bergman I find tries to make sense of things a bit too much, and seems preoccupied with exposing the hypocrisy of the church. I find Bergman to be focused on existentialism, and the inherent futility of the pursuit of understanding. Dreyer seems willing to narrow his focus to the church, and to good and evil. I like Dreyer’s work because it is so willing to explore the world, without passing such dreadful judgment upon it. I always get the sense that Dreyer is somehow willing to believe in something bigger than himself, while Bergman simply can’t comprehend any world view other than his own. Essentially God doesn’t give a shit, and life is meaningless.

I do like some of Bergman’s work, but I like Dreyer’s treatment of God, Religion, and life more. Dreyer just seems less cynical than Bergman, perhaps more willing to accept the role of faith and religion in life, whereas Bergman just wants to cast it aside.

I realize that both men were essentially agnostic, but somehow I admire Dreyer’s films for their willingness to accept religion as a part of life, where I find myself unable to relate to much of Bergman’s work for it’s dismissal of religion. Also I like Connect Four more than chess, maybe if Bergman used that I would have felt it more.

this realization is somewhat ironic given my current agnosticism, but for whatever reason I admire Dreyer’s seeming willingness to tackle religion as opposed to Bergman’s seeming dismissal of it.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 6/10. It just didn’t resonate with me, and felt disjointed. I think I like Bergman’s treatment of life, moreso than his treatment of religion.

Grace, c’mere! There’s a sinister-looking kid I want you to see.

41. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

Ranking Hitchcock:

  1. Rear Window
  2. Strangers on a Train
  3. Dial M for Murder
  4. North by Northwest
  5. The 39 Steps
  6. Notorious
  7. Psycho
  8. The Birds
  9. Shadow of a Doubt
  10. Rope
  11. The Lady Vanishes
  12. Marnie
  13. Vertigo
  14. Rebecca

I have seen more Hitchcock than any other director, partly due to his having 13 films on the list, and partly due to the fact that he is consistently excellent. Even the stuff I didn’t like, it’s still interesting.

Anyway I like “Rear Window” the best for several reason. I am a sucker for Jimmy Stewart, I love how he can be the everyman, but on the other he can say the craziest shit and still seem perfectly normal(see “Rope” and the “moon beams” speech from “It’s a Wonderful Life“. That and how his voice cracks when he speaks. Just awesome. Plus Grace Kelly is straight ballin’. Seriously she is a candidate for most beautiful woman ever.

So basically the film combines Jimmy Stewart’s awesomeness and Grace Kelly’s hotness, throws in some Thelma Ritter sass, and to top it all off, one of the most suspenseful screenplays ever. A simply astonishing film.

Plus it was the subject of a fantastic Simpsons episode. Really what more can a film do to get in my good graces.

The only issue I have with the film is that nothing can really compare with the first viewing(I was swearing and almost in tears, tears of awesomeness). The end sequence is so suspenseful upon first viewing, that once you know how it ends, the film loses a bit of muster. I think all thrillers kind of suffer the same fate. It’s the price you pay for making a thriller with a suspenseful ending.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10, it’s about as close to a 10 as I can think of, and chances are it will become a 10 if I watch it again. Just a fantastic movie.