Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 681/1007Title: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr Hulot’s Holiday)
Director: Jacques Tati
Year: 1953
Country: France

Usually I don’t revisit directors so quickly, but I was left so intrigued by Playtime that I just had to try out another one of Jacques Tati’s films. Whilst not Tati’s first film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is the film that helped to give him a wide and international audience, which included an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

One thing to note about this film is that there are a number of versions out there. When watching this I went for the director’s cut, which is shorter than the theatrical release and features different music. Interestingly, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is a film where Tati kept working on it for a long time after it came out. In a previous post I marvelled at how he was able direct so many people doing so many different things, I guess that this cutting and re-cutting is another example of his perfectionism.

Much like Playtime there is a loose story in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot in that we spend a week with him as he goes on holiday. The whole film is centred around Mr. Hulot being a fish out of water during his seaside getaway. It takes a look at the many different types of French people who, thanks to the post-war capitalism boom, are now able to go on holidays. Of course the star of the show is Hulot himself, but many laughs are had with the hotel staff, self-important political philosophers and other recognisable archetypes.

As can be expected from Tati, this is a film where written dialogue is given the same importance as ambient noise and diegetic music. As such, the humour of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot plays out through physical comedy and visual vignettes. Some of these, like the paint pot going in and out with the tide, are extraordinarily well-cordinated that you will laugh and marvel at how Tati was able to stage it so perfectly. Other pieces of comedy, like Hulot’s bullet like tennis serve, get their humour out of sheer absurdity.

What I really loved about this film was that it is a slice of life. There is no ‘getting the girl’ or ‘learning a lesson’, this is just about a man going on holiday and getting up to clumsy antics. Tati is excellent in his directorial and lead actor role and I am definitely becoming a bit of a fan (to the point that his complete works are now on my Amazon wish list).

With Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot , more than Playtime, this is a film that (after some updating) could work for a modern audience. I know that a lot of this comes from a very Charlie Chaplin place in term of comedy, but I have laughed out loud more in this film than all the Chaplin and Keaton films I have seen combined. It probably won’t be too long before I watch his third and final entry on the list…

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XL Popcorn – The Player

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 680/1007Title: The Player
Director: Robert Altman
Year: 1992
Country: USA

Well, it’s been an awfully long time since I watched a film as meta as The Player, or a Robert Altman film where I can understand the surrounding buzz. There are many places where The Player could have come undone, but thanks to the writing and direction it manages to be a biting meta-commentary on the Hollywood system that doesn’t succumb to self-flagellation or congratulation.

Whilst this is a good film on merit, it becomes an excellent film if you love films. I’m not just talking about the ridiculous number of cameos from the big stars of the early nineties, although those are cool. This is a film that is able to make smart use of Old Hollywood posters within the set decoration in order to provide an extra punch to the narrative. One that uses references to films like Sunset Boulevard and tracking shots to further enhance its meta nature.

Sure this film has some second act problems, but the beginning and its excellent ending more than make up for it. It’s also a fantastic central performance from Tim Robbins as the slimy film producer who has to deal with death threats from a writer whose calls he never returned.

I really wish I could go more into the ending and how it ties up with both the first minute of the film and the resolution of film that is being produced within the film, but I do abhor writing about spoilers – even if the film is 26 years old. Just trust me on this – even if, like me, you could see this cynical twist coming, they do it perfectly. Also, it’s worth watching this whole film just to see the awful ending of the film within a film which starts Julia Roberts (who is name checked at least ten times) and Bruce Willis.

This is meant to be a comedy, but it’s very much in a dark one. You won’t laugh out loud (apart from at Whoopi Goldberg’s scene at her detective desk, because that’s really funny) but you should be able to revel in this cynical self-referential world.

 

 

XL Popcorn – Playtime

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 679/1007Title: Playtime
Director: Jacques Tati
Year: 1967
Country: France

With three of his films on the 1001 list, it really was about time that I watched a Jacques Tati comedy. Considering that he only made six feature films in his career, having half of your filmography on a list like this is an incredible achieved. So, since Playtime is regarded by critics to be Tati’s masterpiece, I figured that this film would be a good place to start.

To say that Playtime is a film without plot, whilst accurate, is a bit reductive. The whole film, which takes place over the course of 24 hours, is a meditation on the modernity of Paris through the experiences of a young American tourist and an older French gentlemen (a character called Mr Hulot, that Tati played in a number of his films). We watch as they negotiate the six main set pieces and experience what Tati’s take on a modern France has to offer.

We know we’re in Paris as between the huge sets made of glass and metal (whose production helped to make Playtime the most expensive French film produced up to that point) we see glimpses of classical France as the windows are opened and closed.

All this makes this film sound like an Alphaville style film looking at a modern dystopia. Quite the opposite really as while there is a yearning for the past, Tati is able to mine a lot of comedy from what he perceives as the future direction. Machines are loud and complex, brooms now come with handy lights and no one seems to know the point at which to stop seasoning a cooked fish.

Being a director that hated close-ups, Playtime becomes a film with a cast of hundreds who are directed with clockwork precision. The final two set pieces in particular are examples of how well he is able to direct a huge crowd of people that are all doing different things. I cannot even begin to imagine how Tati orchestrated some of the scenes in the restaurant…

Despite having no real plot, I found myself engrossed in the world that Tati created and laughing out loud at many moments. I knew from the opening shot of the nuns and their flapping hats that this would be a film I could enjoy, but I didn’t expect this. Now, having seen Playtime, not only do I have high expectations of Mon Oncle and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, but I also have no idea what sort of films they will end up being. Depending on how those films go, I can see Jacques Tati being one of those directors whose filmography I end up watching in their entirety. Once I finish the 1001 list. Obviously.

XL Popcorn – In A Lonely Place

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 678/1007Title: In A Lonely Place
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1950
Country: USA

It’s been a while since I last watched a film because of an episode of the You Must Remember This podcast, but having heard about the (weird) life of Gloria Grahame I knew that I had to see her in action. Since In A Lonely Place received a special shout-out, as it was shot when Gloria Grahame and then-husband Nicholas Ray were going through a separation (after he caught her in bed with his 13-year-old son, who she would later marry).

The stories of what was going on behind the scenes of In A Lonely Place already make this an interesting film to watch; the fact that this film also features possible career best performances from Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a quintessential film noir classic is an added bonus.

At the heart of In A Lonely Place is suspicion and how it can completely ruin people’s lives. For most of the film we see the developing love between Bogart’s violent writer character and his neighbour, played by Grahame. They are the architypal star-crossed lovers where their distrust for each other – her’s because he is suspected of murder, his because of what he perceives as actions signposting her infidelity – is what ultimately destroys them.

However it’s worth remembering that, at every point in this film, we are made aware that Bogart’s character has a history of violence. It’s also signposted that he has previously broken the nose of one of his girlfriends… so despite the fact that it is distrust that breaks them apart, I cannot help but feel that she made a lucky escape.

Whilst there are many light moments in this film the two most memorable scenes are ones imbued with violence. Apart from the film’s ending, which I won’t go into, the most memorable scene is when the two leads are driving home after a beach picnic goes sour. En route, Bogart’s character gets into an altercation with another motorist… where he nearly kills the other guy by bashing his head in with a rock.

All these breadcrumbs and violent outbursts help to create this palpable sense of uncertainty. Both the audience and Grahame’s character cannot help but become more and more suspicious that Bogart’s character did indeed asphyxiate a woman and dump her body from a moving car. The finale is explosive and whilst it isn’t as shocking as the original ending, one cannot but feel a palpable sense of dread.

With In A Lonely Place ticked off, I have now seen three of the four Nicholas Ray films on the 1001 list. All I have left to see is Rebel Without A Cause, which is arguably one of the most iconic films to come out of the 1950s. How will that stand up to In A Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar and Bigger Than Life? Who knows, but it certainly has a lot to live up to.

XL Popcorn – Rome, Open City

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 677/1007Title: Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Year: 1945
Country: Italy

Considering that Rome, Open City is a film depicting the Nazi occupation of Rome – it is astounding to me that they made this before World War Two had even ended. I can really understand how this film flopped on its initial release; here’s a country that’s devastated by war and so the last thing you’ll want to see is a neorealistic look at their occupation.

Of course, as with many things,  Rome, Open City is a film where opinion improved over time (although it did win a prize at the inaugural Cannes Film Festival, so opinion wasn’t exactly negative upon release) and is now viewed as a classic. I mean, this is a film that Pope Francis ranks as one of his favourites so make of that what you will.

In terms of story, Rome, Open City  takes a somewhat pessimistic (and therefore realistic) look at a number of Italian citizens who are either part of the resistance movement or close enough to these people to be affected. I think it goes back to what I’ve said previously about how it takes an occupied country to provide a realistic film that is neither overly sentimental or gung ho.

Without giving too much away, but the ending here isn’t a happy one. We end with the city on the verge of being liberated from the Nazis and pretty much everyone who is close to heroic is either emotionally or physically destroyed. There are moments that come so abruptly and out of the left field that even I was caught off guard and, at times, felt a bit winded.

It’s been nearly three years (and over 200 films) since I saw my last Roberto Rossellini films – the very excellent Journey to Italy – and watching Rome, Open City has really made me wonder why I waited so long. I can say without question that it won’t be that long before I start on one of the two remaining films from his oeuvre.

XL Popcorn – Ace In The Hole

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 676/1007Title: Ace in the Hole
Director: Billy Wilder
Year: 1951
Country: USA

It’s three years since I saw The Lost Weekend and now, having seen Ace in the Hole, I have seen all of Billy Wilder’s entries on the 1001 list. All six of them, and it’s a bit sad to know that there won’t be any more of his works in the remaining 325 films. So I guess I’ll take this opportunity to say a thank you to Billy Wilder for all the great movies.

Ace in the Hole really is a great film to finish the Billy Wilder run on, even if this was a critical and commercial flop at the time. How this flopped is beyond me as it one of those rare films that feels utterly timeless. Seriously, you could re-make this film nearly word-for-word and it would feel incredibly current (once you’ve updated the technology).

At the front of the film is Kirk Douglas as disgraced newspaperman Chuck Tatum. In order to get his credit back and gain a position at a major paper he spends the film manipulating the trapping of a man in a mine-shaft into a literal media circus. And I mean literally, there’s even a Ferris wheel outside as the crowds gather to watch the news story unfold.

The reason that this film is so timeless is because it really plays on the exploitative power of the press and of politicians seeking re-election. Maybe in the 1950s people did not want to think of this darker side of the media/politics, whereas it later became embraced as a classic as people became far more cynical.

It’s the fact that no one really cares as this poor man lays, basically dying and alone, in this mine shaft. In fact, Chuck and the local sheriff actively prolong his torture to a week in order to further the narrative of his entrapment. It’s hideous to see and would have been even worse (and more pessimistic a film) had it not been for the Hays Code intervening.

Kirk Douglas is excellent as the anti-hero of the film, as is Jan Sterling as the wife of the trapped man who turns this story into a chance to make a quick buck and leave her husband for good. Watching both of them in action helped to remind me of why I love the films of this era so much. Thanks Billy Wilder.

Around The World In 100 Films – Turkey

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 45/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 675/1007Title: Yol
Director: Yılmaz Güney
Year: 1982
Country: Turkey

This is one of those happy occasions where the stars align and I am able to further multiple goals at the same time. I believe, if I have my facts straight, that there are two more countries for me to cross off which have films on the 1001 list. Why don’t I just do those next and get further into my goal? Because I just found out what Ace in the Hole is about and I am intrigued to watch that as my next movie.

So yes, this is my first foray into Turkish films. I have been put off of watching one of films from this country for YEARS because of how many of their films have inflated values on IMDB – thanks to a rather dedicated fanbase. Since Yol won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and is on the 1001 list, there is a promise of some form of quality or importance here.

With Yol the placement, at least for me, leans more towards the (historical) importance. In fact the story behind the making of this film (whereby the director had to direct by proxy because he was a political prisoner at the time) and the fact that the unedited version is still not shown in it’s native Turkey (because of the depiction of Kurds) makes this a weirdly controversial and historically interesting film.

The basic summary of this film is that we follow a group of prisoners who have been granted a week’s leave to go home and visit their families… with a whole series of tragic consequences befalling them. This is one of those films where everything feels relentlessly bleak as when horses aren’t freezing to death, families are setting up an honour killing.

If this film is an honest depiction of life in 1980s Turkey, then you can see why  film like this would be banned regardless of their opinions of the Kurds. The thing that ruined this film for me, however, was that it didn’t feel like you were watching a truly connect and holistic film. You keep veering between stories of woe that are acted out by people whose acting abilities are pretty much average. Then again, it took a lot of effort and secrecy to even get this filmed, so I probably should cur this film some slack. Probably.

In the end, I didn’t find this film engaging and that really is a non-negotiable.

I know that my films by 100 countries quest is not going as fast as it could… but at least it’s moving faster than the Shakespeare challenge that I keep forgetting about. It’ll probably pick up speed when I, eventually, finish off the 1001 film list and I can focus on filling up the countries that are left behind… most likely starting with Thailand.

XL Popcorn – Field of Dreams

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 674/1007
Title: Field of Dreams
Directors: Phil Alden Robinson
Year: 1989
Country: USA

Having sat through Field of Dreams I have the urge to keep this extremely short and exclaim: “what was the point of this movie!” I mean how did this film manage to snag itself a nomination for Best Picture over the likes of Crimes and Misdemeanours, Do The Right Thing, When Harry Met Sally or sex, lies and videotape? Is it just a case of a film ageing poorly, or am I just immune to this type of schmaltz… maybe a bit of both?

In any case, a film shouldn’t make me feel actually angry when I watch it. They’re clearly aiming for a feel-good film in the same ilk of It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, it’s just that (at least for me) it fails spectacularly because it is so profoundly unbelievable. For example: why is the wife so quick to agree to putting their family on the path to financial failure because her husband heard voices as he was roaming the cornfield? How does the time travel work? Don’t the baseball players have better things to do than put on a constant show at some random’s farm in Iowa? Did we watch a character commit suicide whilst a little girl happily waved goodbye?

So yes, instead of being fantastical and magical, Field of Dreams just felt stupid. I don’t get it and, honestly, I don’t really care to get it. I’m just weirdly disappointed that something that became such a huge cultural touchstone was just so blah.

Off To Singapore: Day 1 – Excited on Arrival!

I don’t think that I’ve been this excited for a holiday since my honeymoon. We pretty much booked this on a whim because of an excellent deal, which means I have had nearly 5 months of build up in order to plan and to get more and more jazzed. The night before I was just jumping up and down as we finished our packing… you’d think I was a kid going to Disneyland or something.

What’s helped even more with this build up is that I recently got accepted for a new job (finally!) and this holiday is a way for me to escape the negative degree weather caused by ‘The Beast from the East’. Going from below zero to ~30 degrees has already been a bit of a shock to the system.

However, to get to Singapore there is still a 13 hour flight to deal with and an 8 hour time difference to overcome. The flight itself went well as, amazingly, there was no one sitting behind me; therefore I felt entitled to tilt my seat back as far as possible and ended up getting about 5-6 hours of broken sleep. Before this, I managed to do something I didn’t expect.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 673/1007
Title: Whisky Galore!
Directors: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1949
Country: UK

They actually had a movie from the 1001 list that I had not seen as part of the in-flight entertainment. Not just any film either, a particular odd one when you consider it was one of four classics alongside two Marilyn Monroe films and the weird Frank Capra comedy Arsenic and Old Lace.

I enjoyed this odd film about an isolated Scottish island community and their love/obsession towards whisky. Weirdly enough this was probably a perfect airplane movie as you could just enjoy the farcical nature of it as the trolleys go by offering drinks. I have never seen a film quite like this, which may go a long way to explain this film’s inclusion on the list.

So here we are in Singapore. By the time we got the the hotel it was 7pm on a Sunday which meant we only did a cursory explore and found something for dinner.

One thing that really cemented that this is, in fact, Singapore is their love-hate relationship with durians. On the one hand it is hard to walk far it hour seeing somewhere selling durian sweets, juices, shakes or whole durians. On the other hand… they are banned on the subway and the hotel I’m staying in has a $300 fine in place for people who bring durian into their rooms.

This durian-based duality aside, I’m already loving my limited exposure to Singapore. Our hotel it just north of Chinatown, so it only made sense to head south. I mean with these awesome light-up fruit and dog decorations still on display for Chinese New Year, how could someone not be attracted to walk this way?

On our travels we randomly came across one of Singapore’s many hawker centres. Considering the day and time it was mostly shut, but enough was open to give me serious troubles in deciding what to eat. We must have walked around three times before I finally settled on a booth to buy from.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 709/751Food item: Laksa Noodle

For $12 we got a bowl of laksa soup, a bowl of mixed meat noodles (I am not even going to think about what was meant by ‘mixed meat’ for these noodles) and two cups of Bandung (think evaporated milk mixed with rose syrup plus plenty of ice). With this I have finally crossed off the last noodle from the food list and got to enjoy these bouncy noodles in their natural habitat.

As nice as the laksa soup was, the real MVP of this meal was the Bandung. Both the soup and the mixed meat bowl were spicy, which meant that this milky rose drink was exactly what we needed to stop the food burn. Something tells me that I’m going to leave Singapore with an even higher spice tolerance than I already have…

And that was pretty much it for our first night. We bought some pastries from a Japanese bakery and watched some Chinese people practice their square dancing before heading back to the hotel. I am acutely aware that, because of all the travel and the time difference, sleep might be a bit weird tonight – so we’ll have to see how it goes.

XL Popcorn – Tampopo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 672/1007
Title: Tampopo
Directors: Juzo Itami
Year: 1985
Country: Japan

When I concluded my post for Manhunter I thought I would be leaving the 1980s after three consecutive eighties films. Then came Tampopo, a film that I only picked because it had a fun sounding name, which continues my streak. It’s always a bit of a toss up to go for a film based just on an interesting name… but I had never expected to be watching food porn.

From it’s very meta beginning, which depicts a lavish dinner in the front row of a movie theatre, Tampopo does not let up on how much gorgeous food it displays on the screen. As a public service announcement, I would recommend that you need to be either eating dinner or have just finished eating dinner – otherwise you will be climbing the walls with hunger.

So aside from it’s graphic depiction of food (and sometimes I mean really graphic), what does this film have to offer? Well, it’s very much a comedy in the style of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with there being a main story thread – around the renovation of a ramen restaurant – which is broken up with a number of smaller comedic (some very darkly comedic) asides which all revolve around food in some way.

There are times where the asides are a bit too dark (the dying wife cooking her family one last meal comes to mind), but as a whole I really enjoyed what Juzo Itami was doing to mix things up with Tampopo. It’s hard to say that I have seen a comedic film like this before which can be so culturally specific to Japan in some places and yet, in others, be incredibly universal. It also shows just how much care and attention goes into ramen making, which may explain the near religious experience I had in Kyoto… man I want to go back to Japan so much.

I have to say that Tampopo was such an amazing surprise that I am eager to see some of the other comedies that Juzo Itami ended up producing – especially The Funeral and A Taxing Woman which both won a number of awards in Japan.