Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – The Sorrow and the Pity

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 601/1007
Title: The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitié)
Director: Marcel Ophüls
Year: 1969
Country: France

When I said I might be sticking around in France for a while The Sorrow and the Pity was not the film I quite had in mind. Honestly, I thought I would be watching Masculine-Feminine and end up complaining about, yet again, not understanding Jean-Luc Godard. Instead, we went for one of the longest films left on the 1001 list and ended up with a 4 hour documentary about the German occupation of France in World War II.

With the exception of the OJ: Made in America documentary (which is really more a TV series than a film) the last documentary film that I saw was The Thin Blue LineWhen I think about how long ago that was (just over a year) I am appalled at how long it has been.

Considering the political climate of the moment (as in I watched this before the final round of the French presidential elections) a film like this is one that needs to be shown more often. Never have I come across a documentary that is able to explain the psychology of a nation so succinctly.

It has become a bit of a running gag in English-language pop culture that the French will surrender at the first sign of trouble. This is despite the fact that other nations did pretty much the same thing in the face of an unstoppable war machine. Having watched The Sorrow and the Pity I have a greater deal of understanding how this all came to be.

It’s complicated and I’m unlikely to ever completely understand it, but that’s okay. As former UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden so succinctly put it at the end of the film: “One who has not suffered the horrors of an occupying power has no right to judge a nation that has.” These are words (that need to be repeated ad nauseum on news broadcasts) which make for the perfect summary of this film.

Over the course of 4 and a bit hours Marcel Ophüls takes us through France’s occupation, collaboration and liberation. Through the use of interviews and archive footage we meet so many people from leaders to resistance-fighting farmers and get to know them through their actions in this period.

As you listen to stories such as those of Prime Minister Laval sending 4000 Jewish children to their death, a woman framing a friend for denouncing her husband and naive French citizens who took the Nazi invaders’ words for truth you end up asking the impossible question – how would I have acted?

The answer for this just circles back to Eden’s quote – unless you have been a citizen in an occupied nation, you can never judge. With all the history and all the information that The Sorrow and the Pity imparts it is this weird feeling that I am left with. It’s not a comfortable one either.

I know that Shoah is seen by many to be THE documentary about World War II, but a real case can be argued for The Sorrow and the Pity. The scope of the documentary is grander and, where Shoah was an onslaught of pain, this film creates a compelling narrative that answers questions about Vichy France that I never knew I had.

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XL Popcorn – The Wages of Fear

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 600/1007
Title: The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Year: 1953
Country: France

It really has been a long time since I last watched a French film. I think I was beginning to have a crisis of faith after a bunch of them left me cold. But with so many French films left to watch I thought I figured that it would be best to jump feet first into one of the most acclaimed French films I had yet to watch.

Going into The Wages of Fear I had no idea what to expect. Arguably you could be about half an hour into this film and still not guess how the majority of this film was going to go. That is the strange genius of the opening act – it sets the scene perfectly and, unless you read up on it, you have no idea what’s to come.

At the beginning we find ourselves in an unidentified South American town populated by locals and a substantial community of expats (including Americans, Brits, Germans and the French). Pretty much all the foreigners are trapped in this town (which I assumed was meant to be in Venezuela or Colombia) because it is way too expensive to leave.

It is this feeling of entrapment that explains why any of them would volunteer to take on the job of driving a truck containing material so volatile that a slight knock can make it explode. These are men who are so so desperate that no matter how this job goes this provides them with a way out of this dead end town.

The tension that is maintained through over an hour of driving through poorly maintained roads, pools of slick oil and other obstacles is impressive. Like, incredibly impressive. At any point in watching this sequence you are legitimately unsure of whether the next bump they hit will be their deaths.

This is why the first 30-45 minutes of the film is so important – you need to get to know, care and understand the plight of these drivers. Why are they so willing to trade their lives at a shot at $2000 and why should we care whether they live or die; two questions that need to be answered to make this a great movie, and they are answered brilliantly.

To say that The Wages of Fear has completely restored my faith in French-language cinema is an understatement. This film is an absolute triumph and I am really looking forward to watching this director’s other entry on the list: Les Diaboliques. That probably won’t be for a while though, but I might be tempted to stick around in France for a while.

XL Popcorn – The Travelling Players

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 599/1007
Title: The Travelling Players
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Year: 1975
Country: Greece

Since I am getting close to the next landmark number in my watching of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I decided to try and watch a landmark in Greek cinema. At least, I am getting close to 600 as I am writing this in late April. Since the list will likely have been updated by the time this post goes up I can only hope I remain in a similar position.

With a runtime of nearly 4 hours The Travelling Players is one of the longest single films on the 1001 list and is arguably the most acclaimed film to come out of Greece. And yet the entire film left me fairly cold.

Looking at the synopsis of the film it would appear that The Travelling Players should have really appealed to me. A combination of The Band’s Visit and a film depicting the history of Greece between 1939 and 1952. However, as an outsider who knows little to nothing about mid-20th century Greek history it was not entirely accessible.

For the first part who are these travelling players? Sure, they are a performing troupe who tour Greece and we see a lot of these events happening around them and sometimes it effects them personally. The problem is that it took a very long time for there to be any way to try and discern between the members. By the time that happened I was bored with this film and it just lost me.

What also didn’t help, and I know this is a me thing, was the incredible amount of long shots (with the average shot in this film being 2-3 minutes) and a very small amount of closer shots – it just felt (at least to me) that a substantial part of the human equation in a story like this was missing. Considering part of The Travelling Players is during Nazi occupation that surely is a negative.

Then again, critics loved this. I have obviously missed something here. You can’t like everything that critics like, otherwise there would be no difference in film taste.

XL Popcorn – Johnny Guitar

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 598/1007
Title: Johnny Guitar
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1954
Country: USA

If, like myself, you are a gamer you’ll have heard Johnny Guitar‘s main theme on one of the Fallout: New Vegas radio stations. My first exposure to this film was as a side-mention on The Celluloid Closet – a documentary about the representation of LGBT in Hollywood movies. Now that I have seen it… I am not too sure I get the LGBT vibe from this film, which probably means it’s more obvious in the book.

Anyway. I object to this film being called Johnny Guitar. He is not the main character in this film or, to be honest, one that matters too much. The central figure is Vienna, a bar and gambling den owner in the Old West who counts a known outlaw amongst her clientele. She is the film. I know that the central role of Vienna will, in part, be Joan Crawford ensuring her own screentime, but she was the person who secured the rights to the novel… so fair enough really.

Now, whilst Johnny Guitar is technically a western it did not always feel like one. It manages to tick the boxes by having a shoot-out, a number of explosions and a scene where criminals are hanged, but there’s more than this.

As engrossing as this film is it can feel like it has been shot in a version of a heightened reality. Maybe a lot of this is due to the particular nature of Joan Crawford herself. Her character is fascinating to watch, but she sure does feel out of place in the Johnny Guitar world. Everything is so purposeful and you can tell someone with a precise eye put some of the shots together; the shot with the piano immediately springs to mind.

Oh and how could I forget the character of Emma. Seriously, this woman has some huge hatred for Vienna and, for me, it’s never explained in a way that truly satisfied me. In essence, her blind hatred and indomitable need to destroy Vienna is meant to show up the McCarthy witch hunts of the time. She has it out for Vienna and knows just which political buttons to push and which people to intimidate in order to get her way.

It is an odd little film, but my how the time flew as I watched it.

XL Popcorn – Philadelphia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 597/1007
Title: Philadelphia
Director: Jonathan Demme
Year: 1993
Country: USA

As a gay man who loves films: how have I reached the age of 27 and not seen Philadelphia? I mean it’s not like it is a niche film or something that is overtly ‘gay interest’ (a phrase that automatically turns me off a film if I am completely honest). It’s one of those films that, whilst it may not be the most critically regarded, was an important landmark in how mainstream media depicted homosexuality.

However, it is important to remember that this is 1993. I mention this because despite there being many gay man depicted on screen at no point did I see two men kiss each other on the mouth. Also, any mention of male homosexual sex is done for the sake of a joke or with an undercurrent of disgust.

I do understand the point of showing all this prejudice. After all, this is a film about a man who was wrongfully terminated because he had AIDS. The ‘gay panic’ that this caused resulted, and still results, in discrimination. Again, it’s 1993 so things have gotten better now – better, but not perfect.

Anyway, about the movie. Isn’t Tom Hanks just great in this film? Well, he’s pretty much great in everything that he does, but taking on the role of a gay lawyer dying of AIDS must have been particularly risky. Still – you just cannot fault his acting here when presented with the limitations of a 1993 mainstream film dealing with gay issues.

Looking at this film objectively I know there are flaws. The whole thing is played to tug on the heartstrings (if you are a liberal), the video montage at the end goes way too long and I don’t think the evidence against the law firm is strong enough for the large majority decision reached by the jury.

On the whole though, this is a good watch. Slightly manipulative in places, but it still ticked a lot of the boxes for me.

XL Popcorn – Serpico

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 596/1007
Title: Serpico
Director: Sidney Lumet
Year: 1973
Country: USA

After watching Scarface I really needed to be reminded of the great actor that Al Pacino once was. So when I spied Serpico on Netflix I figured that I would see whether my earlier thoughts about the watershed in his style of acting was true. It is.

If you follow the brief synopsis of Serpico you would be forgiven for expecting this film to be just another cop drama about a good cop trying to root out corruption. However, that doesn’t take into account that this is a true story and is not a feel good battle for justice kind of film.

No, his battle to expose the sheer level of corruption within the NYPD is frustrating. Sure, he gets a win at the end, but it is a pyrrhic one. He’s shot in the face, which leaves him in chronic pain and without hearing in one ear. He’s forced to resign from the police as no one on the force really wants to work with him… in fact most want him dead.

Over the course of the film you see Serpico either sacrifice or just lose everything that means anything to him. The women he loves leave him, the career he always dreamed of is over and he ultimately leaves the country in order to recover from his injuries.

In the hands of a lesser director than 12 Angry Men‘s Sidney Lumet Serpico really could have gone overboard in making the lead character holier than thou. The fact is, Frank Serpico is a very good cop and has a well calibrated moral compass, but he has his flaws. I know he is based on a real person, but that doesn’t necessary have a bearing on how realistic a portrayal feels.

This brings me back to Al Pacino. He is fantastic in this film and it makes me want to see his remaining films on the 1001 list (Heat and Glengarry Glen Ross). As for Sidney Lumet, this is the final one of his four entries on the 1001 list. As much as I liked Serpico I would probably have to rank it below the other three (Network, 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon). Still a great film though!

XL Popcorn – Andrei Rublev

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 595/1007
Title: Andrei Rublev
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1966
Country: Soviet Union

At the moment films are a bit like busses – after going a while barely seeing any list films I am suddenly making a few posts in rather quick succession. Not that I am complaining, in fact anything that will help me towards completing this list is always welcome (just maybe not another wrist injury).

Andrei Rublev was watched today because, according to iCheckMovies, it was the biggest film that I had yet to see. It’s one of those I have been avoiding because of the 200+ minute runtime and it being about a medieval Russian monk. It’s not that I haven’t seen good films with a religious bent (Ordet is the one that immediately comes to mind), but 3+ hours is a long time to spend with a monk in bleak surroundings (like in Red Psalm… I think… can’t remember too much about that film).

I think I gave Andrei Rublev a bit of an injustice there. I mean, sure, it is a long film with a monk as a central character surrounded by the bleakness of medieval Russia – but it is also an interesting look at Russian history. A completely rearranged Russian history in order to satisfy Tarkovsky’s vision, but still interesting nonetheless.

The whole film is split into 8 story chapters and a final epilogue showing off the paintings of the titular monk. To be honest the first few of them drag a bit and can feel a little bit preachy with the politics of it all, but this does change in the second third of the film. For one thing there’s a massacre executed by a Tartaric army, which is slightly marred by a small sequence of a horse falling down stairs… I didn’t like that so much.

This then leads into the final and longest act of the movie – surrounding the casting of a new bronze bell. Doesn’t sound too interesting, but it acts as a incredibly well done culmination of the previous two hours. Especially the tension that builds when they have to test the bell out.

To many critics Andrei Rublev is one of the best films ever made. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with this sentiment, it is one of those films that I feel will stand me in good stead when talking with other film lovers.

XL Popcorn – Vidas Secas

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 594/1007
Title: Vidas Secas (Barren Lives)
Director: Nelson Pereira dos Santos
Year: 1963
Country: Brazil

Well, that was bleak. I have to say that after the series of unfortunate events that was Greed I probably should have gone for something a bit more uplifting. probably shows how important it is to do just that tiniest bit of research before settling into a film.

To say that pretty much everything about this film was ‘bleak’ would probably be an extreme understatement. This isn’t the sort of bleak as you would have in a film like Raise the Red Lantern or Russian film The Return. No this is actual genuine bleakness in terms of both the crushing of the spirit and the bleached cinematography of the world around them.

The Cliff Notes of this film is that you have a family of 5 (yes I am including the dog) who are running from a famine and try to find a place where they can earn some money and scratch out a living. Of course, being a film that tries to show the negative part of the live, everything just goes to the shit.

The farmer that employs them pays them less because of ‘interest’, the taxman becomes aware of them because the father wants to sell the leg of their slaughtered pig and, of course, one of them ends up being physically beaten by police.

At the moment, for the TV show list, I am watching City of Men – another example of a Brazilian-made piece that doesn’t exactly show the country in a positive light. I could also say the same of Limite and O Pagador de PromessasI know these are the sorts of films that will end up on lists such as the 1001 lists, but it must speak to something deeper if the films and TV shows that make waves outside your own country speak about your poverty and general injustices.

Vidas Secas is not the easiest of watches. I honestly question how much it was worth the time seeing how it just made me feel a bit crap about the world. Since the hub is away tonight I might start on my next anime to cheer me up… at least I hope Hajime no Ippo is able to do that.

XL Popcorn – Greed

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 593/1007
Title: Greed
Director: Erich Von Stroheim
Year: 1924
Country: USA

Greed is a hard movie to write about. I mean, how many films are there which have so many different cuts and yet have the original director’s cut be such an impossible dream for cinephiles. I went for the free out of copyright version of Greed, which is among the shorter versions available… so that doesn’t mean the 4 hour version that has been pieced together.

As someone who ranks Sunset Boulevard as their most favourite film of all time it is always interesting to see one of Erich Von Stroheim’s directorial efforts. I have to say that Greed is a bit better than Queen Kelly. However, I can also see how much better it would have been if it hadn’t been butchered by the studios.

The central thread of Greed  – a story of how greed destroys people – remains mostly intact. I say ‘mostly’ because there are still noticeably massive jumps and some plot holes. I can only imagine how much richer this film would have been if Von Stroheim’s original vision had been left intact. I have to say it could have done with some of the humorous bits that had been excised.

As it stands Greed is an interesting reminder of some of the madness of early Hollywood films. It’s been so long since I last saw one of these bit 1920s films where caution was thrown to the wind and if 14 people had to be hospitalised in the process of getting a scene finished then so be it.

It doesn’t rank as highly on the insanity stakes as Intolerance, but when you read some of the stories about how this was made… you get pulled into a Wikipedia hole. Like how the director wanted to have real knives thrown at his main actor. Madness. Then again, this whole film is about a sort of madness so it’s rather fitting.

XL Popcorn – Now, Voyager

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 592/1007
Title: Now, Voyager
Director: Irving Rapper
Year: 1942
Country: USA

In what is quickly becoming a tradition I spent the afternoon after the Academy Awards broadcast watching old films as a way to deal with the tiredness of staying up until 5 in the morning. Speaking of the Academy Awards – I know this goes up 6 months after the ceremony, but how awful was that mess up at the end. I felt physically sick as the whole thing unfurled. At least those awful rumours about Marisa Tomei’s win for My Cousin Vinny can finally be put to rest?

Anyway, this year’s old films was a double bill of All That Heaven Allows and Now, Voyager since melodrama is the best way to deal with tiredness. I don’t know what I expected from Now, Voyager. The title card made me expect something more along the lines of An Affair To Remember and instead got something with a lot of interesting depth.

The infinitely watchable Bette Davis plays Charlotte – a downtrodden and shabby woman who has been driven to a nervous breakdown by her tyrannical aristocratic mother. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that most of Now, Voyager is about how Charlotte finds a way to heal and become a woman in her own right.

A lot of this growth comes courtesy of her lovely psychicatrist (Claude Riains) and sister-in-law (Ilka Chase). However, the largest proportion of personal growth and confidence is down to an affair that she has with an unhappily married man named Jerry (the very lovable Paul Henreid) and the fallout of them not being able to be together.

The most interesting (and slightly weird) part of the fallout relates to Jerry’s youngest daughter Tina. She plays a large part in the the final half hour of the film where she is de facto adopted by Charlotte because Tina’s mother wants nothing to do with her. In one way this is a win-win situation as Tina and Charlotte are able to give each other the love they have always been missing, but on the other hand it’s just that little bit creepy.

It is logicked out that in this way it is like Jerry and Charlotte are able to have a child together and this arrangement will allow them to be together despite the fact that he is still married. I can see how, for many people, this is an ending that should not work, but for me it was arguably the best ending possible for all the characters you cared about.

It’s a weird ride, but an ultimately satisfying one. Bette Davis and Paul Henreid have amazing chemistry and that helps to anchor the film in some sort of melodramatic reality.