Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Atlantic City

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 864/1009Title: Atlantic City
Director: Louis Malle
Year: 1980
Country: Canada/France

After whatever Flaming Creatures was, and because it ended up being a bit of a grey afternoon, I fancied something that was close to a crime drama and wasn’t incredibly long. Atlantic City fit the bill perfectly at around 100 minutes long and in having bit players in the local New Jersey crime world as minor characters.

It’s a bit odd to have seen this so soon after Sweet Smell of Successthe passage of time being very clear on Burt Lancaster. 23 years later and rather than playing a ruthless and socially successful columnist, here he is as a pretty much retired petty gangster clinging to any semblance of reputation he has… whilst perving on his next door neighbour as she bathes herself in lemon juice to deal with the smell of working in an oyster bar.

Having Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon play opposite each other as, essentially, love interests (although it’s more a fondness rather than lust on her side) is a bit weird considering the age gap and that she is pretty much okay with him having watched her be naked – but you kinda so with it because the city isn’t exactly portrayed as unseedy and she is basically taking advantage of the situation of having this older man help her out. Also, he is a real step up from her deadbeat husband that ran off with her sister.

It’s weird seeing Atlantic City knowing that Malle was vaguely related to the French New Wave movement, and having seen him tackle very different stories in Murmur of the Heart and Au Revoir Les Enfants. In the end though, this is very unlike the more neo-noir style crime films of the time. This isn’t moody like Chinatown or overblown like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, this is a profoundly human story that has some crime elements alongside talk of reflexology, reincarnation and how to become a croupier.

XL Popcorn – Flaming Creatures

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 863/1009Title: Flaming Creatures
Director: Jack Smith
Year: 1963
Country: USA

There really are not many shorts left on this list. I guess that, in the earlier times of watching my way through, I gobbled a lot of them up as easy wins. Hey ho, after Flaming Creatures there are a handful left and I don’t think any of them are going to be able live up to how deeply strange this was. Like, this may be one of the weirdest things I have seen for a very long time.

No bones about this, I didn’t particularly like or enjoy my time with Flaming Creatures. Having a film shot on aged army film stock, on a rooftop with just a backdrop and possibly the biggest part of the budget being spent on lipstick and orgy supplies… well that was never going to quite be my cup of tea. However, despite needing some sort of bribe in order to watch this ever again, I will happily defend its place in the 1001 list.

We’re in 1963, 6 years before the Stonewall riots and 40 years (yes, even I was shocked when I read this) before the US Supreme Court officially decriminalized homosexuality throughout the entire USA – mopping up the remaining 14 states that had yet to take the initiative to do so. To make a film like this (however poor quality) is an incredible act of subversion when you are challenging gender and sexual freedom to the point that it was found in violation of decency laws and banned.

Like this worth watching(ish) just for being the weird and subversive piece of experimental cinema that it is. If any of that doesn’t really appeal, just watch something else.

XL Popcorn – Sweet Smell of Success

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 862/1009Title: Sweet Smell of Success
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1957
Country: USA

One of the first classic black and white Hollywood films that I ever saw was Some Like It Hot. Hell, that might have even been the first I saw because I had a real liking for Marilyn Monroe as a very young boy.  As such, I am really unable to see Tony Curtis without thinking of his Cary Grant impression or dressing up as a female saxophonist. I know that in The Defiant Ones I will continue to see his dramatic side – but I don’t think I was quite prepared for what an awful human being his character was in Sweet Smell of Success.

Then again, considering that the other Alexander Mackendrick film that I have blogged about is the Scottish alcohol farce Whisky Galorethis is one of those films that surprised me all around. I mean, this is a noir film about the cut-throat men working in the New York press stepping on who they need to in order to achieve the sweetest perfume of all: success.

With Tony Curtis as the D-list press agent trying to get his own star to rise and Burt Lancaster as the ruthless columnist who uses his influence to get what he wants – this is a fantastic noir. Like, it is one of those noir films with a complex scheme (in this instance, to split up an engagement that Lancaster’s character finds unworthy of his sister) that has the twists and turns and yet it isn’t too convoluted (like some others within the genre).

At just over 90 minutes, this is one of those films packed with such great dialogue and plot points that it  just went by in a flash. An hour in we were interrupted by a food delivery and…wow that hour flew by quickly. Knowing the ending, this is something that I know I’ll have to watch again in a few years in order to get that different experience.

XL Popcorn – Underground

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 861/1009Title: Underground
Director: Emir Kusturica
Year: 1995
Country: Yugoslavia

When a movie on the 1001 list finds itself featured on the 366 Weird Movies site – you know that, no matter what you think of the movie, it’s going to at least be an interesting watch. Almost immediately, the weirdness slaps you in the face and you are away on a nearly three hour absurd black dramady with two Yugoslav arms dealers as main characters that are never away from a brass band and death.

It’s one of those movies that is hard to describe because there is a lot of surreal and absurd things happening, whilst the backdrop is incredibly tragic. We start out as the Nazis bomb Belgrade in World War Two, we continue in the Cold War as the bulk of the cast are tricked into living underground manufacturing weapons thinking that the war against fascism still rages on and finally we end up in a surreal version of the Balkans War – which was filmed during the same war was then released two months before the genocide at Srebrenica.

There is so much recent history wrapped up in this film, whose final act has been condemned by many depending on your interpretation on whether it’s meant to be real (if weird) or a surrealistic series of thoughts by on of the characters as to how he sees their lives having played out in the then-current political climate. Either way you interpret it, this final divisive act isn’t really needed and – for me – was the barrier that stopped me from giving it a perfect score.

The first two parts (which admittedly make up two and a half hours of the nearly three hour runtime) are absolutely incredible. Some critics online say this is what would happen if Fellini had made a war film… and they aren’t wrong. This is a film where of the opening scenes is the bombing of a zoo which results in a war-torn Belgrade having an elephant steal shoes from a windowsill. It is also a film with a lengthy wedding scene in an underground bunker which ends after a chimpanzee fires a mortar shell from a tank.

Like, you cannot describe this film without it sounding like a fever dream and that is what I loved about this film – and what makes the final thirty minutes such a problem. Having the central conflict of the characters coming from the imprisonment and cheerful slavery of everyone who knows and loves them is such a dark premise – yet you end up laughing out loud multiple times because of just how bizarre things get and how brilliantly played the lead characters are.

Do I want to see more films by Emir Kusturica? Absolutely, because for the fault of the final act and some of his politics – Underground was extraordinary. Am I going to view them with The Death of the Author in mind so I can enjoy them without thinking too hard about his intent? Yes, because I think that if I see this spark in other films of his I know I am going to enjoy them immensely.

XL Popcorn – My Left Foot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 860/1009Title: My Left Foot
Director: Jim Sheridan
Year: 1989
Country: Ireland

Now I have seen all three of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar winning roles – and wow there is definitely no way he could have lost this one. In his role as Christy Brown, the writer-painter who grew up in Dublin with 10+ siblings and cerebral palsy, he is absolutely extraordinary. So was Hugh O’Conor as young Christy – who is able to stand up to the level Day-Lewis sets later in the film.

Reading just the synopsis, it would be easy to just dismiss My Left Foot as just another piece of Oscar bait. Now, whilst there is clearly a lot in this film that is a bit ‘worthy’ (especially the ending), it is able to keep it’s feet pretty much rooted in reality. It doesn’t quite go into the deep darkness of Distant Voices, Still Lives but there is still a lot of darkness here.

There is a lot of love in Brown’s upbringing, but there is no escaping of what happens to the money when you have more siblings than a football team. Also, whilst there is acceptance within his own family, that isn’t always the case outside the family home. As much as he grows to be able to express himself through painting, and later writing, he struggles to form friendships and romantic relationships.

In a depiction of someone who overcomes pretty much everything live can throw at you, there is a tendency for a character like this to be written as a Mary Sue. The reason that this film works so well is that Christy Brown is far from perfect. There is an extreme amount of resentment and frustration here that we see him express, supress and overcome throughout his life. However, through all this there is so much love that he shows – especially towards his mother (Brenda Fricker is fantastic) and that he wants to show to the woman who is able to give him a chance – as indicated at the end of the film.

Now, having read a bit more about Brown’s life after the end of the film, I can definitely say that it put a bit of a dampener on what was meant to be an uplifting ending about him finally finding a woman who would marry him. Look it up for yourself, his eventual marriage (and early death by choking) is horrifying – really wish the real Christy Brown could have had the Hollywood ending that Jim Sheridan directed for him.

XL Popcorn – The Baker’s Wife

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 859/1009Title: La femme du boulanger (The Baker’s Wife)
Director: Marcel Pagnol
Year: 1938
Country: France

150 films to go! Thanks to the recent list expansion, it took me an additional two films to get to this mini-landmark. Now that I am here, it really does feel like I can knock out this challenge in two years bar any significant changes in a overdue revamp. I’ll still be sticking to the older and safer films where possible, so today I watched one of the very few 1930s films left: The Baker’s Wife.

After Boudu Saved From Drowning I was a bit reluctant to see this film. I mean, all they have in common is being a 1930s French comedy – but since the humour in that Renoir film was such a disconnect from my own, I didn’t think The Baker’s Wife would fare much better. Well, I was wrong. Whilst this this not going to make an impact on my favourite films list, and it’s actually more of a dramedy than anything, I did enjoy this film.

The story goes like this – a new baker and his wife move into town and he bakes the most wonderful bread. However, she soon runs away with a local shepherd and – unable to bake due to his depression… and the male villagers just being jerks to him about being a cuckold – the villagers work to find her and bring her back. After all, what is French life without bread?

The characterisation that goes into the members of this little Provencal village reminds me of Tati’s debut film Jour de Fete, down to the jerkwad local drunks. I guess that it goes to show that there are a bunch of accepted villager characteristics in France. However, it is without a doubt that Raimu is what elevates this film. As the baker who, initially, is so overtly optimistic about people that he can’t even fathom that his wife is being seduced – we cannot help but love him as he faces the truth and gives into the despair of being left.

Then there is the ending where, in his own hurt way, he forgives his repentent wife. He even baked a heart-shaped loaf of bread in case she came home hungry. It’s beautifully done and whilst it is a little bit too neat – it works in the context of this as a pastoral.

XL Popcorn – Picnic At Hanging Rock

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 858/1009Title: Picnic At Hanging Rock
Director: Peter Weir
Year: 1975
Country: Australia

Okay, so I purposely put a hold on watching Romper Stomper during my day off as I didn’t want to end up with two Australian films in a row. Also that was the Wednesday after the US Elections which, at the time, was rather stressful for pretty much all concerned – no matter which side of the vote you fell on. Watching a film about a violent racist gang just didn’t feel right… not sure I did much better with King of New York mind.

Anyway. I saw Picnic At Hanging Rockwhich was recommended to me ages ago on a film forum that I frequent. It’s the latest in a number of films (alongside My Brilliant Career, Mad Max, Wake in Fright and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith) falls into the area of Australian New Wave cinema. New Wave because of it being a renaissance in the country’s cinema, not because it had anything related to the New Wave cinema of France. Far from it really – this is a cinema that enjoys exploring the vast natural spaces within Australia and juxtaposes it something primal within human nature.

For most of those I have seen so far, the juxtaposition is done via acts of violence. With Picnic At Hanging Rock there is a spirituality found through sexuality and the repression of that sexuality. The central mystery of the film is that of the disappearance of three girls and one of their teachers at the titular Hanging Rock formation. It’s presented as if this actually occurred in 1900s Australia – but it’s based on a novel… which offered no solution to what happened.

I think it’s good to know in advance that there is no given solution to this mystery – otherwise you might have a bit of a negative reaction like one that supposedly happened upon on early screenings to a distributor. Knowing it remains a mystery means that you can enjoy the weird fantasy generated around how a turn-of-the-century private girls’ school ends up completely falling to pieces after this unknown tragedy.

This is not the last I will be seeing of the Australian New Wave – nor director Peter Weir. I am not sure if The Last Wave is going to be able to top Picnic At Hanging Rock, but I’m keen to see it try.

XL Popcorn – King of New York

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 857/1009Title: King of New York
Director: Abel Ferrera
Year: 1990
Country: USA

After The Last Seduction, another neo-noir of the early 1990s, I had higher hopes for King of New York. Sure, that isn’t a lot to pin a hope on – but with a title like this and a premise along the lines of a mob boss getting released and wanting to engage in a gangland version of Robin Hood… well I figured that this film would be right up my alley.

Honestly, it wasn’t. This is one of those films where it really is style over substance – the electric blue lighting in the nightclub shoot-out comes to mind – but the moment you get back to something story-related it falls flat yet again. It’s a film built on two premises, that everyone sucks and that the stereotypes of different ethnicities in the city of New York are there for a reason.

At the core of it is a really interesting idea – Christopher Walken destroying his old gangland business rivals not just for the sake of his own power, but also to try and better the city. There is a pivotal scene at the end where he talks through his killings and why what he did was merely taking out the trash.

I just feel that if the rest of the film had been better scripted – and maybe the cops didn’t lean so heavy on being predominantly Irish and wanting to go after their own vendetta – then I could have enjoyed it a bit more. But in the end, you just look forward to the next scene of Christopher Walken just… Walkening around the place. Else, things get a bit dull and convoluted.

XL Popcorn – Song at Midnight

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 856/1009Title: Ye ban ge sheng (Song at Midnight)
Director: Weibang Ma-Xu
Year: 1937
Country: China

The first Chinese horror film. A Chinese film that brought in Western influence for their music, storytelling and filmmaking. A Chinese film that adapted the story of The Phantom of the Opera and, to get around censorship surrounding the supernatural, turned it into a political story that was then overshadowed by the Japanese invasion. These are all reasons that Song at Midnight is on the 1001 list and is regarded as in influential part of Chinese cinema.

However, this is pretty much where I get off the hype train. I have no issues with the inclusion on the list as Song at Midnight is an interesting film in the canon and is something to watch if you want to understand the wider history of cinema. If you want to watch a film for the sake of watching a film, especially with this being touted a horror film, then maybe look elsewhere.

Removing the fact that there is no restored version out there, which means that at times it’s a patchy and choppy watch, the addition of the political angle, removal of all the supernatural elements and a new jealousy love triangle (which had a bit of a Cyrano feel to it) did not work for me.

In fact, it made the whole thing about 40 minutes too long as this origin story of the phantom had to be shoe-horned in. Whilst it did make for some cool make-up to be used in order to show us the face of the ‘phantom’, it also added way too much bulk to the movie to be worthwhile. Also, the use of the classical piece ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ at the film’s climax was also extremely jarring to the overall feel which started out with Chinese opera music. Overall, this was just a misfire for me.

XL Popcorn – The Phantom Carriage

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 855/1009Title: Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage)
Director: Victor Sjöström
Year: 1921
Country: Sweden

Halloween calls for something a bit spooky. Not a lot of horror films left on the 1001 list other than those I need to watch during daylight hours (I’m a wuss, but you probably got that impression already from my post on Silent Hill 2). I decided on The Phantom Carriage being my Halloween film a few months ago – and I ended up watching it as part of a double bill with Over The Garden Wall.

Whilst The Phantom Carriage is not a horror film in a way that we would necessarily term it nowadays, it has a creepiness and otherworldiness that makes it work for Halloween. Even if, given the setting, it is a film that should be watched in the final hours of New Years Eve. The story is one part It’s A Wonderful Life, one part The Seventh Seal and one part A Christmas Carol. All shot with filmmaking and narrative techniques that were pretty new for the time.

At the centre of this is the folk story that the last man who dies in a calendar year, if they were a great sinner, is doomed to be Death’s coachman for the next year. As thoroughly unpleasant man David Holm dies just before the stroke of 12 (killed by his drinking buddies after he refused to visit the deathbed of a salvation army nurse who has been looking out for him) he is forced to look back on his life of sin and how his actions have killed a nurse with consumption, doomed his brother to life imprisonment for murder and led to his wife considering filicide-suicide.

The story is one we pretty much all know shades off, but what really makes this film impressive for me is how good it looks nearly 100 later. The acting is pretty natural and the intertitles aren’t overwhelming – yet you get everything that is going on. You could dub a lot of the actors in and it would still work out, although why bother when you have an expressive soundtrack.

The real standout, however, is the special effects. Sure we can do it better in modern times, but this was a time when the only way to get this ghostly effect was double or triple exposing the film. With that in mind, feats like pulling the soul from a body or having them walk through doors is so impressive. We even have an early example of tennis ball acting, where an actor has to act against an empty space that would be later filled with the second exposure of the ghostly coachman.

As an early artform, you are going to usually find films from this era that used different methods to innovate their way around the same issue – but The Phantom Carriage is easily one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Hell, it even inspired a scene from The Shining. That’s pretty cool.