Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Shadows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 647/1007
Title: Shadows
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1959
Country: USA

It bears repeating that the reason I am going through the 1001 list is because of the variety of movies. This isn’t just in terms of style or genre, but also the types of stories that are being told. I know I am likely to repeat this spiel when I get around to watching Tongues Untied, but considering I have 359+ more introductions to write before completing this list I hope some repetition is forgivable.

Shadows is an interesting entry on the list for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s an independent film that, in its current state, is a completely re-worked version of an earlier disparaged version. I can’t think of a current film where, after an unsuccessful first set of screenings, the director decides to go for a complete re-shoot. That alone make this film an interesting artefact.

Then there is the fact that it deals with inter-racial relationships in a manner where it is clear that it is the prejudiced white man that is the problem. This alone marks out Shadows as being remarkably liberal and forward-thinking for its time. However, that alone is not the most interesting way that they handle the story.

The casting of the siblings that are central to Shadows does something that you don’t really see from films of this era; there is a conscious decision to have them all to have colours of skin along a light to dark scale. Lalia, the lightest skinned of the siblings, is so close to being white (because the actress herself was white) that her racist suitor, Tom, has no idea that she is African-American.

It is when Tom meets Lalia’s family that the shoe drops and we see him for the bigot that he is. The initial surprise stings for Lalia because, to him, this really matters. We later see him at a party where he is very aggressive about black party-goers touching him or giving him a beverage. Yet, through this, he still thinks he can talk her around to being with him despite his views, which may be one of the most blatant examples of white male privilege I have seen on film.

Shadows has a place in the history of cinema because it was a catalyst for American independent cinema and helped inspire a movement that could come up against the New Wave that was coming out of Europe. Sure the acting is a bit patchy and the story of the brothers is a bit lacklustre, but this is an important film and one that needs to be seen to help understand some of the roots of New Hollywood, whose era would begin nearly a decade later.

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XL Popcorn – The Long Goodbye

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 646/1007
Title: The Long Goodbye
Director: Robert Altman
Year: 1973
Country: USA

It’s always weird to see Elliot Gould in a serious role. To think that prior to being known to my generation as Jack Geller in Friends he was making films like MASH and The Long Goodbye. It’s also a trip to re-discover that he was once married to Barbra Streisand. The things you learn when listening to cinema history podcasts.

If the name Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of The Long Goodbye, rings any bells it’s because he is a character that has appeared in many films over the years. He is the hero of a number of pulp novels by Raymond Chandler and has been played by a number of actors including Robert Mitchum, Toby Stevens and Humphrey Bogart (in The Big Sleep).

As with The Big Sleep I had some degree of trouble with the pacing of The Long Goodbye. It goes for something that is complex, but does it in such a languid way that everyone feels like they’re either on drugs of succumbing to the California heat. Unlike The Big Sleep it was easier to understand the twists and turns of the storyline. It’s just that by the time you get to the end you wonder why you ever cared.

Then again, I wonder if that’s the point. After being given the runaround for a number of weeks Marlowe just seems mildly annoyed at the conclusion and is just happy to put an end to this case. I don’t blame him either and can completely get on board with him playing his harmonica in a carefree fashion after just killing someone.

One thing that The Long Goodbye does better than The Big Sleep is the character of Marlowe. Gould’s portrayal feels more rounded and realistic, which is mostly because of the first ten minutes where we see him doting on his cat who is very choosy about the brand of cat food they’ll eat. Also, Gould’s interaction felt more naturalistic and less ‘acted’ than Bogart’s… I guess I’m saying that I feel this is the superior performance.

However, one thing I did miss was a truly memorable secondary female character performance. There’s no Lauren Bacall or Martha Vickers here, just some cookie cutter tropes of women (and not many of them at that). It did deliver a good male secondary character in the form of a security guard who delights in impersonating stars of old Hollywood.

It’s an okay film, just not something I’d watch again… or really recommend.

XL Popcorn – La Dolce Vita

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 645/1007
Title: La Dolce Vita
Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Going into La Dolce Vita I think I was expecting a very different film. All the famous pictures from this film are of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) and Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Naturally, I figured that this would be some sort of clever love story set in the glitterati of Italy. Something like a more glamorous version of La Strada, but still as cutting.

I was… pretty much completely wrong. Pretty much the only thing I got right was that Marcello Paparazzo is the film’s central character. So, what is this film about?

Well it’s a 3 hours of following gossip journalist Paparazzo as he negotiates the world of the famous and privileged in Rome. It’s composed of a number of stories (it appears that there is a disagreement amongst film critics about the number) whose quality really seems to taper off towards the end.

The famous scenes between Mastronianni and Ekberg happens incredibly early into the film and, to be honest, it’s pretty much downhill from there. The following section, where Marcello and his girlfriend Emma visit some kids who claim to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, is another great one. After this, it’s just so opulent and vapid… which is  what Fellini was aiming for, but is not enough to keep me mentally engaged for more than two hours.

Here’s the thing. There is some stuff in this film that I enjoyed. The direction was excellent as were Mastronianni, Ekberg and Yvonne Furneaux. However, this film is just too long and contains too many different vignettes. I know I’m in a minority: according to They Shoot Pictures La Dolce Vita is one of the best ever made.  I guess I just don’t have ‘taste’.

XL Popcorn – A Nightmare on Elm Street

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 644/1007
Title: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Year: 1984
Country: USA

It’s that time again: Halloween in May! Oh the perils of writing a blog with a ridiculously long lead in time. As I write this I am chomping on a fun pack of Haribo Scaremix and snuggling under a blanket because winter has started to make itself known.

I think the fact that it took me so long to reach A Nightmare On Elm Street shows how horror movies really were not a part of my cinematic diet when growing up. However, thanks to cultural osmosis, it feels like I have seen this film already. It speaks for the place of A Nightmare On Elm Street within the horror movie canon that it has been so frequently borrowed from or pastiched.

However, despite this film’s presence within pop culture making a lot of the main plot beats ultimately predictable, I really found myself enjoying it. Compared to a lot of the slasher films that this produced, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels oddly tame. Sure there’s a lot of blood, but this isn’t torture porn (like Saw) or full of unusual deaths (like The Evil Dead). In fact, the number of deaths is minimal – and that is something that I did not expect.

Speaking of not expecting things, that’s the strength of this film: playing with expectations. Even with me skirting over the ambiguity of the final scene, this film toys with the idea of dreams and reality. It’s subtle to begin with, but by the time you reach the final 15-20 minutes of the film it becomes increasingly hard to work out whether the characters are wide awake or within a dreamscape. It makes for interesting post-film discussions.

Despite enjoying this film, I have no desire to see any other film within the franchise. Especially the direct sequel, which sounds weirdly homophobic.

XL Popcorn – The Tin Drum

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 643/1007
Title: Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

I did say that it wouldn’t be too long between finishing the book and watching the cinematic adaptation. Reading the book was one thing, but there’s a lot of things that I figured would make more sense on the screen. Turns out I was right and, unusually, I enjoyed the film much more than the book.

Let’s begin with the two main differences. Whilst the film version is narrated by drum-toting little person Oskar it is done in the general sense rather than as him writing his memoirs in the asylum. Also, the film only takes on the first two thirds of the book rather than trying to adapt the smorgasbord of weirdness that was the final sections – an extremely good move.

So yes, the adaptation made two really good moves and eradicated parts of the book that had turned me off. We no longer have the meandering narrator or have to see Oskar grow a hunchback. It also found a really good 11 year old boy to take on the role, although this did mean that it was a bit off-putting when Oskar (16 in the film) loses his virginity. It’s an important part of the story, but the young age of the actor just makes this sequence a lightning rod for criticism.

The thing that really made The Tin Drum was the direction and cinematography. There are times where some of the chosen shots look like something Wes Anderson would have concocted if he were a member of the New German Cinema movement. A lot of this is done to heighten the comedic moments, which are a lot more successful onscreen than off.

It’s weird to say that the film version of The Tin Drum succeeded by creating more of a distance between the audience and the central character, but it’s true. By turning this into an objective rather than subjective story Volker Schlöndorff is able to create something that keeps most of the strangeness of the book, but makes it more enjoyable and relatable. I’m glad I know the book that inspired this film, I am also glad to now be done with Oskar as a character.

XL Popcorn – Full Metal Jacket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 642/1007
Title: Full Metal Jacket
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1987
Country: UK/USA

Full Metal Jacket. I’m not entirely sure why it took me this long to watch this film, other than wanting to space out the nine Stanley Kubrick entries on the 1001 list, but it is pretty embarrassing. Having now watched it not only have I removed a source of embarrassment, but have also put another director to bed.

Where most cinema-loving people seem to have a hard on for Stanley Kubrick I really have had to look at his films on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand I get why people laud Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory and The Shining; I am left perplexed by Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  So where does Full Metal Jacket fall on this scale?

Well, I think that’s a two part question. As in this is a film that really needs to be rated in two sections: the first 45 minutes and then everything that comes afterwards. The first section, where we watch the marines being trained for war, is exceptional. R. Lee Ermey is amazing as the drill sergeant (even more so when you read that he improvised most of the insults) and I am amazed that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination there. It’s also worth mentioning Vincent D’Onofrio whose transformation over the first 45 minutes is deeply unsettling.

Then there’s the rest of the film which just pales in comparison to what preceded it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still compelling, but it feels more like a series of loosely related Vietnam war stories than a tight piece of film-making. I guess that there is a point to be made about showing how expendable the marines are once they leave the comparative safety of their training camp, but these points have probably been better made in Apocalypse Now or even Platoon.

So what do you think? Is there a film from the 1001 list where it is shameful that I haven’t seen it yet? Let me know in the comments and it’ll be greatly prioritised.

XL Popcorn – Sedmikrásky

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 641/1007
Title: Sedmikrásky (Daisies)
Director: Věra Chytilová
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

I know that I have probably said this a lot over the course of four years… but I’m not entirely sure what I watched. It feels like a 74 minute sketch comedy film starring the 1960s Czech equivalents of Riki Lindholme and Natasha Leggero.

It was interesting to begin with. I was taken in by the anarchic feel of these two 17 year old Czech girls conning sugar daddies and cutting all manner of phallic food with kitchen scissors. After about half an hour of this and I really started to lose interest. There’s only so much of this I can watch a film without the whisper of a narrative before I start to get a bit bored of shenanigans.

And that’s that Sedmikrásky is: shenanigans. Entertaining shenanigans that I would have enjoyed more if they were broken down in a series of short films, but shenanigans none the less.

However, it’s worth noting that despite how weird, yet ultimately harmless, this film was it was enough to get director Věra Chytilová a 9 year ban from making films in her home nation of Czechoslovakia. Allegedly this was due to the sheer waste of food throughout the film (the food fight scene at the end being the last nail in the coffin), which makes a little sense given the political climate. You also have the fact that this is pretty feminist in how the two girls approach the world around then. This would have likely not gone down too well with the Czech elites of the time.

It’s a weird film, yes, and worth watching to play a game of ‘spot the controversy’. However, it’s best digested in a few pieces rather than in one go. Or maybe that’s just me.

XL Popcorn – Come Drink With Me

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 640/1007
Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
Year: 1966
Country: Hong Kong

A few episodes of The Ancient Magus’ Bride later and I think I’ve cleared my juju of family massacre movies. So I went for the wuxia classic Come Drink With Me with the hope that I will have dreams of flying swords instead of being buried alive. Hope springs eternal.

It’s been an awfully long time since I last watched a martial arts movie period, let alone for the 1001 list. Looking back on my posts it’s likely that A Chinese Ghost Storywhich I watched 18 months ago, would be the last one. It isn’t because of a distinct lack of martial arts films, more that it’s never a genre that comes to mind when picking a film to watch. Also – if I’m being honest – I thought Come Drink With Me sounded more like a W.C. Fields comedy from the 1930s (like The Fatal Glass of Beer) rather than an important part of the martial arts cinema canon.

Why is Come Drink With Me important? Well, this brought a big innovation to the genre: a kick-ass female lead. Crazy to think that this would be a new idea considering the strong central female characters in films like Peking Opera Blues and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I guess there had to be a watershed moment like this one.

Being over 50 years old it is clear that there have been a lot of developments in the wuxia genre since Come Drink With Me was released. Improved editing techniques, greater scope of stunt-work and sturdier sets. Still, a lot of these issues is where the charm lies and this film has charm to spare. Just a pity that the story felt like it started to trail off at the end, which meant that I started to lose interest… as so often happens with these films.

XL Popcorn – The Ballad of Narayama

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 639/1007
Title: The Ballad of Narayama
Director: Shohei Imamura
Year: 1983
Country: Japan

I don’t know how I managed to do this, but I somehow managed to watch two films in a row where an entire family is cruelly murdered. In Funny Games it was parcelled out over the course of two hours… here in The Ballad of Narayama we see 9-10 family members being buried alive as a punishment for stealing food. Welcome to the cruel world of rural Japan in the 19th century.

This film, like the life of the villagers it depicts, is bleak. Over the course of two hours we spend a year in a village where the local custom is for everyone over 70 to be carried up a mountain in order to kill them via exposure. It’s a known practice called ubasute and is something that is known to have happened.

We know from the off that the central character, 69 year old Orin, will be carried off to her death by the end of the film. It’s ridiculous really as she still has all her own teeth and is still highly active. However, this is the world she lives in – where there is barely enough food for the village to last the winter, ergo the burying alive of food thieves.

Much like The Tree of Wooden Clogs we watch a community try to function within the means of extreme hardship. The difference here being that The Ballad of Narayama is at times both more brutal (because of the higher stakes) and more introverted (because it’s a Japanese film). There’s also dog rape… which feels like it goes beyond brutal at this point.

Despite the fact that this is a bleak and cruel film there are some fantastic set pieces  – especially in the final act where Orin is carried up the mountain to die amongst the skeletons of those that came before her. The image of her stoically sitting in the snow as she prepares for death (see above) is beautifully tragic. Similarly, the way Orin holds in her sorrow to spare her, clearly distraught, son and lets out a single tear as he departs is just… utterly heartbreaking.

So yes, after watching two rather draining films in a row I think it’s time to switch to anime and eat some chicken.

XL Popcorn – Funny Games

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 638/1007
Title: Funny Games
Director: Michael Haneke
Year: 1997
Country: Austria

I’m on my own for two nights and, for some stupid reason, I decided to watch Funny Games – a film where a well to do family suffer a home invasion which results in their subsequent torture and murder. Needless to say, I kept my front door locked for the remainder of the day.

Funny Games really is not a film for everyone. From the moment Peter and Paul show up to the family’s holiday home an extreme sense of unease begins to develop… and you still have 80 minutes of the film to go. With a regular slasher film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream or Halloween the depiction of almost comic book violence helps to alleviate some of the accumulated stress. It’s weird, but there is a release when characters like Tatum (from Scream) or Annie (from Halloween) meet their maker.

However, in Funny Games, Haneke toys with your expectations and your stress levels. Despite being an extremely violent film, pretty much all of the violence itself happens off camera… with the exception of one instance where one of the antagonists is temporarily killed with a shotgun.

I say temporarily since he is brought back to life through the miracle of meta-cinema. You see, in Funny Games we have a character who appears to be very much aware that he is in a film. Not only does he break the fourth wall by talking and interacting with the audience, but he is acutely aware of the conventions of cinema. They can’t just kill the family outright because then there wouldn’t be enough footage for a feature length. Similarly, he makes a bet with the audience that he and his friend will kill the family – so the moment his friend is killed (in the film’s only moment of graphic violence) he grabs a remote control and rewinds the film in order to change the outcome. It makes for a weird moment of disconnect whilst also making it crystal clear that the family is doomed.

The weirdest thing about Funny Games for me was how quickly you get used to a certain feeling of dread. Even though there is still unease when the antagonists leave the family (only to return later) you have had your unease ratcheted up to such a high level that this feels almost like a respite… despite the fact that you are still greatly fearing for their safetly.

Similarly, and this is likely intentional, this is one of the few home invasion horror films where there is pretty much nothing that any of the family could have done to prevent their fates. We usually have this stereotype of people in horror films making bad decisions that lead to their deaths, but in this instance there really is no way out. In their calculated and unrelenting sadism the main antagonist, ‘Paul’, is just that far ahead of them and the other, ‘Peter’, is so well practised in this that he knows the part he needs to play.

So where does this leave me? Well, if a stranger comes to my door asking to borrow some eggs there is no way in hell that I am letting them in. Time to bolt the doors and switch on Crunchyroll in order to drown out my own paranoia.