XL Popcorn – My Night At Maud’s / Natural Born Killers

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: My Night At Maud’s (Ma nuit chez Maud)
Director: Éric Rohmer
Year: 1969
Country: France

As I was watching My Night At Maud’s I knew that I recognised the rather attractive lead actor (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Turns out he was in Amour some 45 years later; a film that I adored and caused me to cry my heart out.

So, this film is the third in a series of six morality films by Éric Rohmer – the fourth to be filmed due to the need to film this around Christmas. The concept of morality is never far from the lips of Jean-Louis, the lead character who is also a somewhat-devout Catholic.

In the beginning narration he immediately states how he will marry a blonde girl at his church. He does not know her name, but his attraction is so strong that he makes a personal vow almost immediately. In his head he is morally already married.

The moral conflict comes in from the titular night at Maud’s. Jean-Louis and Maud meet through their mutual friend Vidal. It is clear from the off that there is chemistry between the two of them and they both feel it in spades. Nothing happens on that night, but it could have. They could have been perfect for each other and despite the fact that they separately have happy endings there is something melancholic about the ending. It’s a poignant film.

Title: Natural Born Killers
Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1994
Country: USA

After watching Natural Born Killers I have come to understand how we have become a bit de-sensitized to violence. That is what Quentin Tarantino does so well with his films: yes there is a lot of violence, but he takes breaks between killing sprees. This whole film, however, just feels like one long crazy mass murder.

Then again that’s what it is. We follow the murder spree of the rather amorous Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) as they drive across the country and kill for the hell of it. We get some explanation of their backstories along the way to try and explain their behaviour… but they’re really just stone cold killers to be honest.

In order to bring across the frenzy there are a large number of cuts in made per scene, which can be between colour film and black and white. Sometimes cartoons are used, sometimes subliminal images or really anything to try and demonstrate the speed. The thing is, the director pretty much uses up all of his tricks in the first 20 minutes. As such this film started to feel incredibly repetitive very early on. What saves it somewhat are the performances from Harrilson, Lewis and Robert Downey Jr (who plays a television journalist that is following their story).

The film as a whole is meant to showcase how the media sells these sorts of tragedies for ratings. It also is meant to put the looking glass up to the audience who will devour such things. The problem is that this is not a new idea. Network took a very similar idea two decades earlier and did it amazingly well. Similarly, two years before Natural Born Killers was release there was the documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer which looked at a real case far more eloquently.

The real shame about this film goes back to how much I enjoyed the first 20-30 minutes. For the rest of the film it just felt like more of the same. Senseless violence, frenzied edits, flashing lights and shifting between black and white and colour. It just feels like if a Quentin Tarantino fan tried to mash-up Bonnie and Clyde with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Interesting concept, good performances, bad overall execution.

Progress: 528/1007

XL Popcorn – Once Upon A Time In America / L’Age D’or

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Once Upon A Time In America
Director: Sergio Leone
Year: 1984
Country: Italy/USA

Since I have all the time in the world (well not quite, but you know) it makes sense for me to continue crossing off some of the longer films on the list. So far there has been Shoah, Jeanne Dielman and La belle noiseuse and now an English film of epic length.

Clocking in at 3 hours 49 minutes I can see why distributers in the US would have been cagey about this film. I can also see why they would have wanted to have it edited down, but by the sounds of it they should have just left well enough alone… apart from that scene in the car with Noodles and Deborah. Once I saw the way that was going I just had to fast-forward through that. That was just horrible and how dare Sergio Leone play such a sorrowful music afterwards as Noodles walks away. One of those rare times I actually took time out for an Intermission despite this being a DVD.

It was this scene (and maybe 20 other minutes that could have been cut) and the general misogyny of the film that prevented me from giving this film a perfect score. So let’s start with the positives.

The score. I think we can all agree that Ennio Morricone should have won an Oscar way before his win in February for The Hateful Eight. The score for Once Upon A Time in America is not as good those he wrote for Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good, The Bad & The Ugly but then again how many are? Exactly. The music is what holds this entire film together across the five decades of Noodles’ life. He actually finds a way to use panpipes effectively in the score for a Prohibition-era gangster movie. That’s the level of talent Morricone is working with.

Now performances. Obviously Robert DeNiro knocks it out of the park as he always seemed to do in the 70s and 80s, so I’m going to focus on two other great performances: James Woods as Max and Tuesday Weld as Carol. Also, a fantastic job by the child actors in the first hour of the movie. Usually a section that is predominantly child actors can feel incredibly stilted, but some of these scenes were amongst my favourite of the movie. A massive well done to Sergio Leone for that and for this movie in general.

Finally, there is the opium smoking scenes and the interpretaions that this has led a number of cinema goers to have with regards to the 1960s parts of the film. How it may be possible that nothing we see of the older Noodles is real and is just a drug-induced fantasy. A way for Noodles to cope with all of his loses and as a way for him to make up for all the mistakes he has made. I don’t know how much I would go for this, but it’s a nice talking point.

Overall this stands as my favourite of his films and, barring a re-watch and a reevalation of his other films, will likely remain so.

LAge-dOrTitle: L’Age D’Or
Director: Luis Buñuel
Year: 1930
Country: France

Again I am pairing up one of the longest films with one of the shortest films. Of the nine Luis Buñuel films on the 1001 list this is the fifth that I have seen (after Un Chien Andelou, Las Hurdes, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Los olvidados) and it is probably the one that I got the least. As much as I hated some of the scenes in Las Hurdes at least I understood some of the meaning without resorting to Wikipedia.

L’Age D’Or still managed to get some laughs out of me. It is meant to be a surrealist comedy after all and the idea of something that is nonsensical but funny does appeal to me a great deal. For example, the cow standing on the bed that is then escorted out of the bedroom to the noise of a very loud cowbell – this really tickled me and I guess that was because of the absurdity of it all.

On the opposite side of that is the soldiers right at the beginning or the couple “wrestling” in mud. I am still not entirely sure what the point of those were. My best guess is that they somehow fit into the surrealist aesthetic that Buñuel was constructing.

One thing that is clear about L’Age D’Or is how the director uses this film to mock the upper classes. I now know that the last sequence is meant to liken Jesus to a character from a Marquis de Sade novel, but I didn’t get that allusion at the time of watching… which means he is also attacking the Church. I guess that would explain why the producers of the film were threatened with ex-communication. Or not. If anything the outrage and the banning that followed just cemented this film’s place in cinematic history.

It’s one of those films that anyone who is interested in cinema should see as it offers a crash course in surrialism. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but then again I am not turned on by the toes of marble statues.

Progress: 526/1007

XL Popcorn – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre / Ariel

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Director: Tobe Hooper
Year: 1974
Country: USA

It is difficult to watch this in 2016 and was trying to keep the myself someone living in 1974. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is arguably one of the most influential horror films of all time. In fact, I think that other than A Nightmare on Elm Street this would be all the major horror films covered for the 1001 list.

If you took all of the ingredients that make a horror film it makes sense that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be classified as such. However, viewing it in 2016, I can quite easily say that this is not scary. Unsettling? Most definitely. Disturbing? Hell yes! Scary? Not really.

The thing is I felt more tense and felt more squeamish whilst watching an episode of Happy Valley with my mum last night. The problem is that I did not care about any of the characters enough to feel scared for them. The only two that I fell moderately okay with were dispatched fairly early and, it might just be me, I actually laughed out loud at the first death.

The most sinister bit is really in the first 10 minutes with the hitchhiker going mental in the back of their van with his razor blade. The last 20 minutes felt more like an extreme black comedy than a horror film. I never quite expected to see Leatherface in makeup and a woman’s wig. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

Despite all this (and the very annoying screaming match at dinner table) this was an enjoyable film. Just don’t expect it to give you sleepless nights. Wow, did not have that much to say on this classic.

Title: Ariel
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Year: 1988
Country: Finland

For whatever reason the only Finnish films I have ever seen are those from Aki Kaurismäki’s body of work. This is my 5th of his films after his Finland trilogy (Drifting Clouds, The Man Without A Past and Lights In The Dusk) and the absurdly comic Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Ariel is actually the middle of an earlier trilogy of Kaurismäki’s known as the Proletariat Trilogy; all films united by main characters who do low-level jobs.

I have seen Ariel described by a number of critics as one of his lesser films, the likes of The Match Factory Girl and the Finland trilogy usually rank higher than this. If I am being honest, I find myself agreeing with the consensus. If this was on the 1001 list as a way to represent this director and/or his style filming it would have surely been better to pick The Man Without A Past instead… but there you go.

One thing that I always find interesting about the work of Kaurismäki is how he represents Finland and the Finnish people. Everyone and everything feels extremely matter of fact in his world. Any humour stretches the definition of deadpan and any happiness that people gain is very much tinged with the knowledge that bleakness is just around the corner.

A very obvious example of this matter of factness is in the first 5 minutes. Taisto Kasurinen is sat in a café with his father, both having lost their jobs after the mine closed down. His father says his goodbyes and then proceeds to shoot himself in the toilet. There are no tears, just a shrug of the shoulders before driving off to Helsinki in his dead father’s convertible. Similarly is the relationship between Taitso and Irmeli. They come together out of loneliness and they bond because it’s better than being alone. Sure, their relationship grows more loving as time goes on… but it’s a weird set up. It reminds of a line from the anime Gintama (which I have started watching for the blog… and is 201 episodes long) saying that marriage is more about becoming more familiar with each other than it is about love… something that rang very true with this film.

Also, if you see this film you will see John Hodgeman’s Finnish doppelgänger in the form of Matti Pellonpää. There was a double take as I was watching this.

Ariel makes for an interesting contrast to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To watch a film so hellbent on overdoing it and then see one where everything is in the subtlest and minutest of details has made for an interesting exercise.

Progress: 524/1007

Graphic Content – Road To Perdition

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 
19/501Title: Road To Perdition
Writer: Max Allan Collins
Illustrator: Richard Piers Rayner
Year: 1998
Country: USA

Yet another comic/book that has been finished during a long wait in a medical facility. It was 90 minutes of a complex balancing act of my tablet, my bad arm and my knee which was TOTALLY worth it. The only downside was the interest that it piqued with the sick man next to me, who then proceeded to cough his lungs out all over my tablet. At least he gave me a tissue to wipe my tablet down I guess (‘not enough fire in the world’ is a phrase that comes to mind).

I think that with Road To Perdition I have now touched a hand on all the major genres/types that have been included in the 1001 list. It stands as my first crime graphic novel as one as the first one that utterly fooled me into believing that it was telling a true story. It just felt that authentic… and it may have helped that I had not gotten around to either watching the Sam Mendes film based on this or reading Lone Wolf & Cub (the manga that this graphic novel was in homage to).

Road To Perdition takes you back to the world of the Great Depression, Al Capone and the Prohibition Act. It is the revenge tale of Michael O’Sullivan, a hired killer for the mob whose actions have earned him the nickname of ‘The Angel [of Death]’.

It is not too much of a spoiler to say that the body of this graphic novel is Michael taking revenge on the killers of his wife and youngest son, all whilst training up his oldest son to act as his getaway driver. The Perdition in the title acting as a double meaning for both the theological concept of eternal damnation and the physical location of Perdition, Kansas where Michael’s in-laws reside.

Reading this graphic novel made me think of the concept of moral relativism and how Michael tries to instil this idea into his son as a way to explain why he is going against God’s teachings. It’s one of things that I LOVE about mob movies, the fact that these people (usually Irish or Italians) are usually staunch Catholics and yet they are able to kill without mercy and without worrying about that specific commandment. I don’t know why, but as someone who went to Christian schools yet was never raised to be religious (and so am agnostic) I find religiously-based cognitive dissonances fascinating. In any case, the father pretty much fails to get his son to understand this idea of killing outside of self-defence or the defence of loved ones.

All this would be for nought if not for the beautifully drawn panels. The whole graphic novel has a noir feeling to it with the extreme violence (and the speed of the violence) being so wonderfully shown in the panels. There are moments of photorealism, which always keeps this graphic novel in the real world instead of allowing it to descend into comic violence. This is why I was so taken in by the story and assumed that other than the famous gangsters (like Al Capone and John Patrick Looney) everything that happened here was real. Maybe that’s because it was something so vehemently asserted by the narrator (a grown up Michael O’Sullivan Jr).

In any case, yet another very very different entry in this list. It just continues to show how much of an artform these graphic novels have really become.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Haikyū!!

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 9/100Title: Haikyū!!
Episodes Aired: 25
Episodes Watched:
25
Year(s): 2014

If you had told me when I started on this list that I would become fan of sport anime… I would have looked at you with a bemused expression. Now that I have seen Haikyū!! I am beginning to wonder how many great series I missed out on over the years.

The dynamics of a sports anime is very different to sports film; for one thing you have longer to focus on character development rather than relying on tired stereotypes. Also thanks to the magic of animation you can spend longer on shots and individual plays and so attribute extra meaning to every success and mistake.

I only have Cross Game to compare with, so it will be a while before I am able to provide actual insight into the genre. However, I’m really think that I liked Haikyū!! over Cross Game. Main reason? I felt a greater sense of support for this volleyball team.

The genius behind Haikyū!! is that this team is far from perfect. In Cross Game the focus was on two near unbeatable players with the others as they support cast. Here no one is faultless. Everyone makes mistakes at important moments in the match. And the main two characters, while so clearly destined for great things, get it wrong quite a lot of time. This makes the team not only more relatable, but a lot more fun to support.

haikyu

In the first episode I was slightly underwhelmed by the quality of the animation. To be perfectly honest I was actually rather creeped out by some of the faces. Especially Hinata whose wide eyes made me feel slightly nervous. I utterly fell for the character very quickly due to his incredible energy and sheer determination. I also slightly fell for Tsukishima, but that will be he reminds me of someone I had a crush on when I was a lot younger.

The second season of Haikyū!! is also on the list with a third to follow in October. Because I done to sports animes in a row I will be going for something different now. However, the second season will be watched very soon so I can watch the third season as it happens. Fantastic series.

XL Popcorn – Captain Blood / Man of Marble

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Captain Blood
Director: Michael Curtiz
Year: 1935
Country: USA

There are times where I really fancy a good bit of swashbuckling to cheer me up in the morning (something is sorely needed today with my wrist tendons feeling hard like stone). My prescription: good bit of Errol Flynn.

This would be my second Errol Flynn picture, the other being the more critically beloved The Adventures of Robin Hood. Both films also have Olivia De Havilland as his costar/love interest. I do not know if it is because I naturally am quite contrary, but I definitely preferred Captain Blood over The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Captain Blood tells the story of Peter Blood, an Irish doctor sold into slavery by a King James II for treating the wounds of an English rebel. After suffering the indignity the slavery his luck turns when the Spanish invade the Caribbean Island he’s being held captive on. With his fellow slaves they capture a ship of their own and set sail for freedom and a life of piracy.

Obviously this is not real piracy, but cinematic piracy. There is no mutiny on any horizons in fact they get along like a house on fire. Thing is this is a 1930s swashbuckling adventure film so historical accuracy is not high on the menu. This film never seeks to be anything other than entertainment so that’s absolutely fine. It does the job it sets out to do.

And finally, although this does not have any bearing on how much I enjoyed the film, I do not think that either Errol Flynn or Olivia De Havilland have looked any better than in this film.

Title: Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1977
Country: Poland

Journalistic investigations have provided the backdrop of many great films. This is the first one that I have seen where the focus of the depicted investigation is entirely fictitious. That does not however prevent Man of Marble from being one of the most thought provoking films I have ever seen.

I say that the investigation is into someone fictitious, but these people existed in some form it is just that the name is not a real person. And so we delve deep into the rabbit hole of Stakhanovite symbolism (Stakhanov being an exemplar of the overachieving worker). The titular man of marble is Mateusz Birkut, a bricklayer who was chosen to be the poster boy for hard work and efficiency – a so called “lead worker”.

At the head of investigation is Agnieszka (played with a fantastic tenacity by Krystyna Janda), a film student whose thesis is about the former lead worker Mateusz Birkut. Going into the film all that is known about him is what can be found in propaganda films, newsreels and previously unaired footage. Pretty early on it is clear that there is intrigued when Agnieszka comes across a toppled marble sculpture of Birkut lying in a museum basement.

The entire film is told through a series of interviews, flashbacks, well edited newsreels /propaganda films and meetings in the projection room. Also you have to pay tribute to the interesting soundtrack where both contemporary music and Stalinist music go hand in hand.

The big thing that needs to be noted is that this film was released in early 1977. As a country it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Censorship is still rife and yet film denouncing the government so vehemently manages to slip through the net. Sure, there are some details of the film and that did not make it past sensors that these are negligible things that got cleared up in the follow-up movie Man of Marble. Andrzej Wajda showed a lot of guts creating a film like this are making use of the few years of censorship relaxation to bring out something so important and affecting.

Progress: 522/1007

XL Popcorn – Suspiria / Caravaggio

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Suspiria
Director: Dario Argento
Year: 1977
Country: Italy

After watching The Bird With The Crystal Plumage I do have to admit that my interest was piqued about Dario Argento. I mean, he is just one of those names that you come across when modern horror movie directors compile their list of influences. Right alongside John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven and (of course) Alfred Hitchcock. I was not too impressed with his debut effort however…

What a difference 7 years has made. I still have issues with some of the acting and dubbing performances. It is definitely a step up from The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and now just verges upon camp (probably what he was going for here). I did enjoy the performances of Alida Valli (so different from her role in Senso) and Joan Bennett as the slightly macarbre heads of the ballet school. However, I was not really won over by any of the performances of the students. Jessica Harper was okay I guess, but that’s the limit of it.

Where Suspiria really excels is the atmosphere. Let’s just start with the music. It reminded me so much of the score from The Exorcist in places and then, depending on the scene, gets rocky and distorted. The fact that the band who created the score is called Goblin just adds to interest.

Other than the music let’s talk set design. It was incredibly gorgeous. I didn’t quite buy the pit of razor wire… but I adored the geometric shapes and the liberal use of colour. Also, Argento really knows how to use lighting and silloutting.

It takes a lot for a director to be able to make something creepy without the use of jump scare. He does this once right at the beginning and after that you are left on edge. Suspriria does not rank as one of my favourite horror movies, but it was an enjoyable experience.

Title: Caravaggio
Director: Derek Jarman
Year: 1986
Country: UK

When a film has the title of one of Italy’s greatest painters and uses one of his paintings has its poster it would be forgivable to assume that the film you are about to watch is a biography of that painter’s life. Caravaggio therefore did not live up to my expectation.

In terms of contemporary films Caravaggio was released a few years after Amadeus was a massive success at the Oscars. Whilst I was not expecting Caravaggio to be as good as Amadeus I somewhat expected in its to try and do a good job of being biographical. This film is not.

Many films tell the story through flashbacks from the point of view of a dying person. However, Caravaggio does this in such a way where attached becomes confusing and inconsistent. Also, at no point in this film do I actually care about what is happening.

Caravaggio had an incredibly interesting life so I cannot help but feel that Derek Jarman missed a trick with this film. There’s no denying that the way the director incorporates Caravaggio’s paintings into the film is interesting, but so many other films have done similar things and better.

One of the big artistic points made in this film is the use of anachronism. In the paintings of Caravaggio you see that he has used contemporary clothing and other things in Biblical paintings. Jarman decides to do the same thing with this film; notable examples including a rather loud electronic calculator, and newspaper hat, typewriters and the ambient sound of trains. As I know my paintings (somewhat) I got the point. However, if you do not know Caravaggio this all looks sloppy. Hell, to me is still looks rather sloppy, like the white van visible in the background of Braveheart.

So much potential here for an interesting biography with a lot of sex and violence just wasted if you ask me.

Progress: 520/1007

Graphic Content – Fritz The Cat

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 
18/501Title: Fritz The Cat
Writer & Illustrator: Robert Crumb
Year: 1965-1972
Country: USA

Fritz The Cat is the first Robert Crumb comic to feature on the 1001 comics list. It is also the only one that I had actually heard of before watching Crumb the documentary. Why? Because I am a lover of animated films and so have seen the Fritz The Cat movie. Now that I know how much Robert Crumb hated the film (to a point of actually killing off his character) I was able to read some of the Fritz The Cat comics with this in mind.

By primary source material for reading this was Fritz Bugs Out. It is possibly the most famous series of the Fritz The Cat comic strips and parts of it served as inspiration for the animated movie. What surprised me in the strips that I red for this was the lack of sexual content. Okay so we see him stripping the clothes off of some anthropomorphised animals, some sense humping and some crow breasts (surprisingly not a euphemism), but I expected something far more explicit. Something more explicit than him having eaten a crow that I assume he had sex with.

As evidenced in the Crumb film the character of Fritz was a way for the creator to express himself with a character who did not possess the same personality. In it we see Crumb’s battle with race and he’s rather “interesting” relationship with women. Looking at the character himself it is quite easy to see why Crumb was so anti the movie. Here’s a guy that is used to being on the fringes either by design or because that is just how it worked out. At no point did he want to be a sell out or be seen to be a sell out.

The comics of Fritz the Cat are just OK. There on this list because of what they represent: an underground movement that started in the 1960s that was a massive inspiration for the next generation of comic book artists. He pushed the envelope and courted controversy just by being himself really. There are a lot more of Crumb’s comics on the list so it will be interesting to see how he developed later in his chronology.


In other news, I am very proud to say that this post about a comic featuring a sex-hungry cat is my 500th post on this blog! Not bad for a blog that started as a way to deal with a mental breakdown!!!

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Cross Game

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 8/100Title: Cross Game
Episodes Aired: 50
Episodes Watched:
50
Year(s): 2009-2010

One of the reasons that I decided to add an anime list to my bucket list blog was because it had been years since I watched an anime series in its entirety. 5 years to the exact. I always loved Japanese animation and I’m not sure what happened to make me lose touch the way I did.

Anyway, I’m kicking off this list with Cross Game – a shonen series that is part romantic comedy and all baseball. Looking at the list there is an extraordinarily large number of popular sports-based anime series, but most of them seem to follow baseball. Now this is a sport that has zero bearing in the UK, which means that my knowledge of the subject is gleaned from secondary school games of softball. From my visit to Hiroshima I know that baseball is hugely beloved in Japan (Go Carps!!!) so I have seen firsthand how crazy people can be about this sport.

Of course, whilst this series has been very clever in amping up tension at the baseball games (to the point that I began to feel nervous about a fictional cartoon baseball match) there’s a lot to be said about the character building.

It would be all too easy to create these characters as overblown stereotypes or as people who act out of character in order to create storylines and/or moments of slapstick. You can tell from the very first episode that the creator of Cross Game cares deeply about the characters. It is very hard to do a first episode for any TV series, but the ending of the first episode was absolutely fantastic. As someone who has not even heard of the manga I was utterly floored. To the point that it takes the characters seven or eight years to get to grips with what happened.

crossgame

Speaking of characters, Aoba and Kou make for a fantastic leading pair. The writers are able to mine so much humour from their interactions and yet it all feels natural. Even if Aoba is your stereotypical tsundere character. Over the course of 50 episodes we have the privilege of watching their friendship grow from her initial animosity to a growing respect – and all he had to do was to pitch a 160km/hr ball and help them to reach a national tournament (Koshien). She doesn’t ask for much!? Since this is a romantic comedy in part you think you can just plot a course… but this anime is a lot smarter than that.

Other than these two there is a wealth of well constructed, believable and empathetic characters. Most worthy of note are Azuma (the star batter for the team) and their captain/catcher Akaishi. There are many others but these are the two that tugged most at my heartstrings. I’d like to point out here that whilst Aoba’s family cat may have struck a chord in Japan and gained a fan base (apparently), I began to get a bit annoyed by her random meowing interjections.

I will admit that I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. It has firmed up in my head that adding an anime list as the final entertainment goal of my bucket list blog is going to be very fruitful for my enjoyment. Now, do I delve into Major, which has five entries in the top 100, or go for something completely different? Choices, choices.

XL Popcorn – The Outlaw Josey Wales / Real Life

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1976
Country: USA

Well it is official – I’ve lost count of the films I’ve seen since being off with a malfunctioning right arm. No matter, my best estimate is that by the end of the week I would have seen 50+ (or 1 in 20 of the movies on the list). Before I started properly looking at this list I had never seen many westerns. Like any child the films I was exposed to depend a lot on upbringing, which explains my love of good period dramas and old black and white movies. I have since been trying to properly educate myself. For example, I now know the difference between a traditional western and a revisionist western. The Outlaw Josey Wales falls squarely in the latter camp.

The more I watch westerns, the more I realise just how varied a genre it is. Similarly, I’ve come to respect the sheer talent that is Clint Eastwood. One of the first films I saw him in was Gran Torino, which meant that I got the impression of him being this grizzled old man. Now I have seen a sizeable chunk of his ouvre I can get what he is such an icon. Having seen The Outlaw Josey Wales I think I might have seen him in one of his defining roles (all I have left and to see of his main roles would be Dirty Harry).

Of all the Clint Eastwood western roles this is the one that I recognized most from other people’s pastiches. For example the character of Sparks Nevada from my favourite podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour feels very much like Josey Wales in space if he were a lawman. From the spitting of tobacco (onto live animals… ew), the ridiculously quick drawing of weapons and the repeated use of “I reckon” – this man is the ultimate western character.

What I really liked about this film was his interaction with supporting characters. Gone are the days of cowboys and Indians from the fifties, but now it is the white man who is the bad guy. Like in Little Big Man this film depicts the native Americans as the ultimate victim and has stronger female characters than the more typical floating love interests of old (of course there are some exceptions to that rule e.g. Johnny Guitar). There was a bit where I expected an old fashioned battle between the white man and the native American, but they subverted expectation extremely well. To the point where the whole message of the film is that you can be reasonable with native Americans, but not with the white man. Quite a turnaround really.

This film was made at a time when the western was dying out. In a few years’ time the famous flop Heaven’s Gate would come out an effectively kill the western forever. Sure, we still have westerns nowadays like Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma and Dead Man; but they’ll probably never be as mainstream as they were 30 to 60 years ago.

Title: Real Life
Director: Albert Brooks
Year: 1979
Country: USA

Nowadays the mockumentary format has been pretty much done to death. So it is hard to think of the time when it was still very much a novelty. Real Life was not the first film to use a mockumentary style, but it was one of the first to help popularise it. At the time of release this film must have felt quite weird to the average viewer. Hell, The Comeback was only 13 years ago and still people did not quite get it. Therefore going into this it is customary to point out just how ahead of its time Real Life was.

In 1973 the American channel PBS heir to a program called An American Family. It was one of those landmark series that followed her real family for seven months of their life. It became a national sensation with subjects like a marriage breaking up and a boy coming out of the closet being put out there for millions to see. When now there are hundreds of families (if not tens of thousands) who would happily go for the chance of fame it was not the same back in the seventies. We actually had privacy. The in-film purpose of Real Life is to follow up on this landmark series with their own study; the actual purpose of this film was to spoof it.

Albert Brooks made his directorial debut with this film. Where now we would see it as yet another mockumentary back then he created something very very clever. There are so many comic tropes in this film that we would now take for granted in any reality show or mockumentary. For example, there is a bit when the wife of the family wants to visit a relative in order to get some privacy from the cameras. We therefore get Albert Brooks (playing himself) pleading with her to at least allow one camera and to have her take the smaller car as the bigger one can fit more cameramen. Similarly, there is a fantastic set piece at the gynaecologist office… and I will leave the punch line out of this one.

Knowing what we know now about reality shows, which will not have been common knowledge back in the seventies, it is amazing how accurate some of the reactions have been. Granted the playing to camera made by the father is fairly obvious. However, some of the subtler things have also been captured. The fact is a lot of this feels eerily accurate and that is to the credit of Brooks.

Progress: 518/1007