Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 914/1009Title: Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Year: 1939
Country: Japan

Two posts in a row where I have ended up seeing the final entry for a director with three films on the list. The difference between Zangiku Monogatari and The Palm Beach Story is worlds apart. At least with the two other entries by Kenji Mizoguchi, they are both films I watched since starting the blog back in March 2014. It helps to look back on Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff to see how today’s watch stacks up against the others. Sadly, it’s an easy trip to the bottom of the list.

For a story to be two and a half hours long, there needs to be something epic about the scope. Sometimes it’s because we are looking at an adaptation of an epic novel, the long and interesting life of an individual or even the painting of a work of art due to the scope of the creative process.

Zangiku Monogatari wants to paint the casting out of a kabuki actor by his adoptive family and his eventual return to their good graces as worthy of the long treatment. I think that it could be when done in a certain way. For me, however, this film took too long to hit beats that others would only need 100 minutes for.

So much of this was taken up in long takes made of panning or tracking shots, which is definitely a stylistic choice. However, this is a choice that rarely works for me. Sometimes a close-up is good. Variety when it comes to types of shots is especially good. Zangiku Monogatari has this air as if it was made for the stage and the film was shot for a dress rehearsal. In doing so it lost a lot of what would make a good melodrama for me.

What also would not have helped is the age of the film. I saw an high definition remaster on YouTube, but despite the best effort of the preservation so much of the detail in the sets is just not there. This is a film that is meant to have fantastic production design, however this can only really be see in the river parade at the end and in some of the actual theatre scenes. The rest is dark with not a lot of interesting detail that would have helped make these long takes worthwhile.

XL Popcorn – The Palm Beach Story

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 913/1009Title: The Palm Beach Story
Director: Preston Sturges
Year: 1942
Country: USA

Preston Sturges has three entries on the 1001 list, this is the final one for me to see. However, it turns out that it has been eight years since I last saw one of his films – so it is the first time I am writing about him. Previously I have seen Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve both in 2013 – but I took long enough to get back to him as I just wanted to spare myself some good old-fashioned comedies until the final stretch.

Good comedy is a bit of an understatement though – I loved The Palm Beach Story. I know that Sullivan’s Travels is meant to be his pinnacle, but I think I preferred this one despite the multiple deus ex machinas and the sub-90 minute running time. This is a film that goes so into the ridiculousness of the situations that these moments that come out of nowhere, including a well-seeded twist at the end.

The comedy of re-marriage, or the comedy with a madcap marriage at the climax, is such a common trope in the Hays Code era – so The Palm Beach Story goes the other way by having the chaotic marriage happen at the beginning. It immediately sets the tone with Claudette Colbert showing straight away why she was one of the major comedic actors of her era and continuing to do so on her trip to Palm Beach in order to secure both a divorce and a second, richer husband.

Then, later on, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée burst onto the screen as ‘Rockefeller’ style siblings and help to make the final half hour a freight train of laughs and ridiculousness. It’s been a while since a comedy film tickled me as much as this did, the final moments leading both myself and my husband to laugh gasp and then immediately re-watch the opening sequence. I know that some people will have hated how the film ends, but I loved it and loved that there was a clue set up for us. I’m glad I saved this film so that it could chase away the blah taste of Sleeping Dogs.

XL Popcorn – Sleeping Dogs

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 912/1009Title: Sleeping Dogs
Director: Roger Donaldson
Year: 1977
Country: New Zealand

The film that launched the career of Sam Neill. The first 35-mm feature film to be entirely produced in New Zealand. For the film industry of New Zealand, this is definitely a landmark that helped set the table for everything that followed. I would understand the inclusion of this film on the list, on those terms, if similar films for nations like Thailand and Nigeria appeared… but they don’t. I guess that’s the perils of an English-language list?

So yes, with those being the terms of inclusion – and nothing else – I am not sure why this film is on there. Like, at least for me, it isn’t even that good. A political ‘thriller’ involving a resistance movement in New Zealand against new martial law measures. For a country like New Zealand this feels like a stretch at best… but sure I am willing to suspend some disbelief – if everything else had made sense and it wasn’t so dull.

Sleeping Dogs is one of the times that makes me wish I allowed myself to switch a movie off in the middle. Like at least a Godard film which can bore me at least has something a bit unusual going on other than this fairly generic take on a reluctant resistance fighter. Oh well, can’t be too many more of these films left.

 

XL Popcorn – Blade Runner 2049

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 911/1009Title: Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Turns out there is a bright spot in the capitalising on nostalgia trend of the last few years. Some of these have proven to be awful from the outset, but then you have Blade Runner 2049 which doesn’t just buck the trend – it launches it into the stratosphere. Since it has been nearly 10 years since I last saw the original Blade Runner, I thought it a good idea to refresh myself before seeing whether Villeneuve’s direction would be worthy of the legacy.

Never should have doubted him. Blade Runner 2049 is stunning and really should help to make the template on how a film that relies on an old classic intellectual property should be done. For one, it is very much in the world of Blade Runner – but it never seeks to tell the same story as the original. This is something that The Force Awakens got with so hard because it was winking so hard the whole time, but so often a retread completely fails.

Visually Blade Runner 2049 is beyond stunning. Roger Deakins deservedly won an Oscar for his work as cinematographer and the visual effects team clinched their own win. It would have been great to have seen more nominations for this film, like maybe Best Picture in place of Darkest Hourbut already you can see which one has the best legacy.

In terms of the storytelling this is a long film at 15 minutes shy of three hours. However, this is a film that not only has to bring people who haven’t seen the original up to scratch, but also has to explain 30 years of additional lore and then go into this complex parable of caste systems that reflect so much of the world today. It takes gigantic swings and I am so glad that the studio had the faith in the creative team to allow such a long cut to be released, despite people like Ridley Scott saying that they would have cut out 30 minutes.

Cut out none of it. Release more of it and turn it into a Das Boot style miniseries. This is the closest that I am going to get to a Fallout: New Vegas movie and it just left me wanting more. It’s brutal, beautiful and has brilliant moments courtesy of Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks as a brilliant villain.

XL Popcorn – The Night of the Shooting Stars

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 910/1009Title: La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars)
Director: Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani
Year: 1982
Country: Italy

After a long spate of 2010s films, it is time to open back up again to pretty much any decade that I want to watch. Nice that this would happen as this film marks my entry into the double digits. That’s right, just 99 films to go and I will have completed this list and be free of a challenge that I have had going for 18 years. Now it is time to mop up some movies before heading to the end game of the 18 films I have saved for the end.

La notte di San Lorenzo is a Second World War film unlike any I have seen before. It is set in rural Italy when the Americans were beginning to make their way north, liberating towns as they go. The principle cast are residents of a town that is due to be mostly destroyed by the Germans as a final punishment for daring to resist. These residents do not trust the Germans at their word of not killing them as long as they remain in the cathedral, so escape under the dead of night hoping to find Americans who will safe them.

This is one of those films where you can see how much an effect Fellini had on the world of Italian cinema. The focus is on the people as they try to survive, with a few fantasy sequences and other pieces of heightened emotions in for good measure. It’s all told from the memory of a 6-year-old girl and what she has been told since. From this vantage point, the scene where a fascist is impaled by the spears of a Roman army makes sense.

By remaining profoundly human, La notte di San Lorenzo steers away from a lot of the tropes of a typical war film – instead feeling like a story played out many times over the centuries whenever there is a village set to be razed by interlopers. Beautifully directed in some stunning Italian countryside, this film really was a pleasant surprise.

XL Popcorn – 13th

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 909/1009Title: 13th
Director: Ava DuVernay
Year: 2016
Country: USA

It’s 2021. In the time between the release of 13th Donald Trump’s presidency has been and gone, the Black Lives Matter work continues and we have many more names to add to the wall that DuVernay has put at the end of this like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. When it was made, I don’t think she saw Trump winning the election given how there was some hope at the end around Hilary Clinton’s denouncement of damaging mass incarceration policies. Makes me wonder how a coda to this film around Trump’s contributions to the issue of the racism of the justice system would play out.

Still though, 13th and the messages will not date until there are mass changes to how the United States fully reevaluates the balance between punishment and rehabilitation, profit and people and the imbalance of the ethnic make up of their prison population. Things have happened in the years since, but this is a film that looks at how things have gotten so bad and there is no challenging at how deftly DuVernay pulls this off.

There are a number of things in this documentary that I knew. I watch shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee that have addressed a lot of the more recent elements of this phenomenon. Hell, in the same list as 13th is the film that helped perpetuate a lot of problems and aided in the rebirth of the KKK – Birth of a Nation. That probably amounted to about 10-15% of the historical content in this film – the rest being a grotesque eye-opener.

It is difficult to make a film that is, like a lot of documentaries, a massive exposition dump. In this instance, a dark one that is deeply political and incredibly uncomfortable. Films like this are essential, as essential as seeing proper representation in narrative-driven films. Having people in this film still denying that any of this was motivated to either help companies in profit or to disenfranchise the non-white and the poor is… just jaw-dropping and just further illustrates how far there is to go.

XL Popcorn – Toni Erdmann

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 908/1009Title: Toni Erdmann
Director: Maren Ade
Year: 2016
Country: Germany

A good friend bought me this Blu-Ray for my birthday a few years ago. He has pestered me since about watching this. I am not telling him that I have seen it, meaning that unless he checks my Letterboxd account the first time he’ll realize that I’ve finally seen Toni Erdmann is when this post goes up nearly seven months after the fact. I guess there really are numerous benefits to having a long lead in time to these posts going up.

Usually when there is a film about a father trying to connect with a child that he is disconnected to, I approach it with a degree of reluctance. Somehow, Toni Erdmann managed to completely disarm me and find a safe vantage for me to enjoy what it has to offer. In the end, this is not a film about an absent father trying to make up with his daughter – more a father somewhat overstepping the boundary because he fears that his daughter has forgotten how to be happy after wrapping herself up in a stressful and pretty awful job.

So often you get a comedy film about a parent and child that works because it comes from a heightened place. With Toni Erdmann, the film is approached from a more realistic and humanist angle where there are outlandish things that occur – but somehow it makes sense in a world grounded in reality. The best example of this is the culmination of a long build up and may be the funniest moment in a nude scene that has ever been on the big screen.

These aren’t just characters, both Ines the daughter and Winfried the father feel like fully fleshed out human beings. Winfried as a person is ridiculous and, as we see from the first scene with a delivery man, enjoys a good prank but never does it from a bad place. The title of the film comes from such a prank where he (whilst poorly disguised) manages to infiltrate his way into his daughter’s work life as a pretty piss poor life coach – the fact that we never see him doing this and it remains a constant threat is probably for the best.

At nearly 3 hours long, Toni Erdmann really does take its time. There are sections where you do feel it a bit, but there are others where you are consistently laughing for a long enough time that you don’t really notice it. There are enough of these funny sections that really balance it out, but thankfully watching it on a Blu Ray did allow for a bathroom break… which makes me glad I didn’t end up seeing it in the cinema.

XL Popcorn – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 907/1009Title: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J. J. Abrams
Year: 2015
Country: USA

Okay, so maybe if I had my Cineworld membership card back in 2015 I would have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the time and in the cinema. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Star Wars, even if I was taken to see the remastered versions of the original trilogy in the cinema when I was a lot younger.

By now (thanks to a mixture of general cultural osmosis, Reddit and the Newcomers podcast) I went into this film knowing pretty much everything about it. Probably also did not help that this is the first in a now completed trilogy so it’s pretty common knowledge which actors are not there in the end because of either narrative reasons or their real life deaths.

Since I am not really a fan of the franchise, I can’t say that I went into this expecting too much. Like we recently re-watched the original Star Wars and it was… fine. It’s a good popcorn movie and it feels like as long as I approach these films like that, I can enjoy them. So… guess I can say that I enjoyed The Force Awakens. Sat at home eating my lime Doritos, under a blanket and laying on the couch. Would this have been better on the big screen? Undoubtedly. Was this still a fun way to watch? Absolutely.

I guess the thing that I appreciated about The Force Awakens was the thing that a bunch of people had a problem with – that it makes more than a strong nod to the original Star Wars. I liked that there were parallels between Rey’s and Luke’s origins. I also really liked Finn, the idea of having a stormtrooper defect is great and John Boyega worked brilliantly. I wish there had been more of Oscar Issac and Lupita Nyong’o, but that’s what the rest of the movies are for.

That’s right, the rest of the movies. Having seen The Force Awakens I am actually now interested in seeing the rest of the trilogy to see where the story goes. I know there are some issues with how they deal with the ‘relationship’ between Rey and Kylo Ren, but I know there are porgs in my future and I think it is almost time I meet them.

XL Popcorn – The Lighthouse

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 906/1009Title: The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Year: 2019
Country: USA

Well, if you love Twin Peaks then do I have the film for you. Wow I knew that The Lighthouse was meant to be strange and incredibly atmospheric, but I do not think I was quite expecting anything quite like this. This is one of those films that feels like someone who grew up watching David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman would end up coming up with. Like the dark imagination and other-worldliness of Through A Glass Darklybut with less incest and more mermaid sex.

I have seen much online about how Robert Pattinson is this great actor who, thanks to Twilight is finally starting to get kudos for his abilities. Well, this is the first of his films that I have seen since I was dragged to the cinema to see New Moon some 12 years ago and I think I am on the hype train. It takes a lot to go toe-to-toe with Willem Defoe when he is in full obscure character mode, but boy did he meet blow for blow in this claustrophobic seaside nightmare.

As I am not the biggest fan of horror films (because I am incredibly jumpy) there was no way that I was going to see The VVitch. Hell, I am really not looking forward to the eventual watches of Hereditary and Paranormal Activity, but I find myself convinced that Robert Eggers is one of those directors that I need to see more of. Like this was a horror film that held its cards tight as to whether we were watching a psychological breakdown or actual supernatural goings on.

Overall, this watch of The Lighthouse was unsettling in a really good way. The ultimate barbarism and the ridiculous amount of pent-up sexual frustration are deeply uncomfortable to see. Yet, thanks to the amazing cinematography and the great performances, you cannot help but find yourself yearning to find out hos this horror is going to end. Not that I expected to ever see a film where one the final scenes has a seagull actually taking a dump on Robert Pattinson’s chest. That’s a new one.

XL Popcorn – Sorry To Bother You

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 905/1009Title: Sorry To Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Year: 2018
Country: USA

Well. That was a weird one. When I read the synopsis of this film, I was expecting the interesting and slightly surrealist take on capitalism. I expected to hear David Cross’s voice coming out of LaKeith Stanfield’s mouth as part of the take of a black person using a white voice in order to get far in business. What I did not expect was… well the more fantastical and horrific elements that appear in the last half hour. I also didn’t expect that really shocking sequence of white people rapping… but not the other stuff.

Let’s start with one thing – whilst Sorry To Bother You may not have stuck the landing for me as it tried to do too much and mash too many genres together in the final act, watching this made me so glad to be watching the more recent films. I cannot imagine a film like this being made at any other time than recent decades – and the sooner I get to finishing off the 1001 list, the sooner I can get to my backlog of recent films that have been building up for the last decade.

Sorry To Bother You works well as an absurd black comedy – the general absurdity of hearing the voices of David Cross, Lily James and Patton Oswalt coming out of black mouths not withstanding. It has a lot of great touches that make it really rewards people who enjoy detail when it comes to fashion (like Tessa Thompson’s amazing earrings) or goings on in the background, on newspapers or on television.

The performances from LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Stephen Yeun are all excellent and Kate Berlant is great in her supporting role. I love the interesting take on capitalism, collective bargaining and… I’m just gonna say forced evolution. However, there is enough here to distract that prevents Sorry To Bother You from being truly great. Doesn’t mean that I most definitely am not interested in seeing what Boots Riley does next – there’s a huge chance that it could be spectacular.