Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Glory

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 715/1007Title: Glory
Director: Edward Zwick
Year: 1989
Country: USA

When I saw that there was an American film about the Civil War called Glory that needed to be watched for the 1001 list I made the, not unfounded, assumption that this would be some three hour epic. And so I have pretty much avoided this film for a while, but thought it might make for a good time sink for this trip to Greece. Turns out that it’s just over two hours, which ended up being an ideal length for the rail trip back form Meteora.

The term ‘important’ is banded about a lot in the world of cinema. However, Glory feels like one of those films that deserves such an adjective. Why? Well, because it depicts the 54th battalion – the first all non-white battalion to fight in the American Civil War – from their conception to their disastrous battle at Fort Wagner. As a Brit I had made the somewhat naive assumption that, given that this was a war for America’s survival, people might have been able to put aside racism in order to battle for the Union. Shows what I know, doesn’t it.

This was always going to be a difficult topic to deal with given the attitudes back then and the attitudes in more modern times, but they broach it with an earnestness that does the film credit. It should also be noted that the cinematography and art departments did a fantastic job in bringing this film to life. Where the music was overly sweeping or the speeches overly inspirational, the world around them remained grounded in trenchfooted reality.

There is some debate online about the casting of Matthew Broderick in the lead role as Colonel Shaw. However, given his rank and what he managed to achieve, this is still a well-connected man who was given an incredibly high office at the age of 23. I actually like that Broderick’s portrayal depicted him as unsure and as a person who makes bad judgements. Whilst Shaw has been mythologised since his death at 25, it’s worth remembering the letters we have of his… which do tally up with Broderick.

In contrast, there is no real debate over the casting of Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington (in the role that gave him the first of his two Oscars). In fact the ensemble cast of the 54th battalion give a wholly strong performance as this first volunteer regiment of black men who answered a call that most whites were too racist or politically motivated to make.

Whilst Glory does go waist deep into the swamp of sentimentality on a number of occasions, there is a lot to appreciate here. You’ll just have to brace yourself for the manipulative score.

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XL Popcorn – Frenzy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 714/1007Title: Frenzy
Director: Alfred Hithcock
Year: 1972
Country: UK

The idea of doing a day trip that is 5 hours in each direction really is an insane one. I’ll be going more into that in a future post as, since I prefer to do these things chronologically, I’ll be posting about the film I watched on the way up.

It’s been a good while since I last watched a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and especially one that is as late in his career as Frenzy (which would probably be Marnie). The later films of Alfred Hitchcock are a real mixed bag, but that’s as you would likely expect from an extremely prolific director within the final era of his career. I’m happy to report that, with Frenzy, this is definitely not another Topaz (boy how that film did bore me).

Previously with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets I saw the horror of a mass shooter out onto screen for the first time, with Hitchcock’s Frenzy we see an interesting early take on the psychosexual serial killer. It’s worth remembering that this film is from the early 1970’s when watching this – some of the comments made by the men within this film aren’t just misogynistic but (in the case of policeman joking with a barmaid about rape before being murdered being a silver lining) are downright despicable.

Right, with that out of the way lets get to the meat of the film. A serial killer is on the loose in London – who rapes women then strangles them to death with his necktie. It’s a horrible way to go, and it’s not comfortable viewing when we see this crime being committed – let alone the three other times that we see the victims once they have been murdered.

The film itself follows two main threads: the perpetrator himself as he commits the crimes from the shadows (the titular frenzy) and that of a man who ends up being fingered for the crimes because of his association with certain victims and because he himself is no saint. There is palpable tension multiple times in this film – most notably the sequence where the killer goes in search of an item of jewellery that would incriminate him.

Frenzy is one of those films that serves as a reminder that even when a director has nearly been making movies for 50 years, you shouldn’t make the mistake of discounting them completely. I mean, here is a film about some of the most disgusting crimes out there… and yet Hitchcock is able to weave in some proper laughs. This is mainly done during the exposition scenes where the police inspector shares details of the case with his wife whilst dealing with her new found love of (rather suspect) continental cuisine.

With his cache, Hitchcock was also able to recruit excellent actors for the two leading roles. The accused man is sympathetic (whilst still an insufferable jerk) and the psychopath shows a incredibly faceted outgoing personality that can change on a dime. Another example of why he was not a director you could properly fob off.

Given the nudity and the sexual violence this may not have been the best film to watch on a train… so I guess that would be a bit of advice from me to you oh dear reader. Watch a film like this in an appropriate venue, which doesn’t include a Greek train going through beautiful countryside.

XL Popcorn – The Bad and the Beautiful

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 713/1007Title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1952
Country: USA

The flight time between London and Athens is a bit over three and a half hours. When flying with a budget airline like easyJet, aside fro, the delays and the legroom shortage, I am usually fine for 1-2 hours, but this flight gave me pause to do something that I should have done a long time ago. You see, I’ve had my iPad 2 for 5-6 years (it’s where the initial list for this blog was written on) and never even thought about taking it with my on a plane to watch a movie, and so here we are with a film that I have been wanting to watch for a good long time.

Directed by Vincente Minelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is one of those classic golden age Hollywood films about the sacrifices people make in order to make it big. It’s presented in the form of three flashbacks, as three people who found success after being wronged by a once successful movie mogul tell their stories as to why they would never work with him ever again. These three are united by their distaste for movie mogul Jonathan Shields (played by an excellent Kirk Douglas), all for incredibly good reasons.

The film itself is set up as a short anthology series with Douglas’ Shields and the common thread. We get to see Shields at his rise, his heights and at his decline and how these different situations have led to his using of the director, the star and the writer. It’s not like he uses and disposes of them once he’s done, in all three situations it is the wronged people’s decision to walk away because he crossed the line that he shouldn’t have crossed.

I may be biased because films about old Hollywood really are my bread and butter, but I thought this film was excellent. The way that we watch Shields’s career path and the different lengths he goes to in order to get what he wants helps to keep the film interesting. However, and I am going to give him this, he had no inclination of sending the writer’s wife (a wonderfully flighty Gloria Grahame) to her death – but the way he concealed his, indirect, involvement did speak to his character.

It’s excellent performances from the all the principle cast and some classically beautiful Hollywood melodrama direction that really made The Bad and the Beautiful a winner for me. Sure films about people gathered in a room recounting how someone has wronged them is hardly groundbreaking, but it helps when it’s very well executed. A perfect plane movie.

XL Popcorn – The World of Apu

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 712/1007Title: Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Year: 1959
Country: India

Four years ago I watched the second film in the Apu Trilogy and I am finally finishing it off.  It didn’t take me so long because I disliked the films, far from it, but I just never got around them in the face of all the other movies on this list.

Last time I left Apu in his eponymous trilogy, he returned to Kolkata having lost his mother and rejected his uncle’s offer to train him up as a priest. We pick up with him in semi-poverty as a struggling writer and about to be kicked out of the room he lives in due to unpaid rent. It’s a bit of a step-down from the education that he was meant to be having when we left him at the end of Aparajito.

The journey that Apu takes from the beginning of the film as an aspiring writer to a nomad is incredibly emotional. I mean, this is a man who was emotionally blackmailed into a marriage, loses the person he loves and spends the final act of the film in a deep depression as he roams around India throwing away the book he’s spent years writing.

The World of Apu is not a particularly easy watch, especially as the concluding part of the Apu trilogy. I mean, you start off with him as a small sensitive boy with dream and we end up seeing him broken by life. Sure he makes some bad decisions along the way, but don’t we all. It’s a sad, but hopeful, ending to a film series that has kept dealing him a real mixed deck of cards.

As far as I am aware, this is the only film series in the 1001 list that I was in the middle of. There are one or two I am left to start, like the Ivan the Terrible films, but as I am heading into the final throngs of this list – it really is time for me to take stock and tie up some loose ends.

XL Popcorn – The Seventh Victim

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 711/1007Title: The Seventh Victim
Director: Mark Robson
Year: 1943
Country: USA

Where do I begin with a film like The Seventh Victim? Had I watched this film not knowing that it had to be on the 1001 list, I would have probably taken it at face value. However, because I watched this looking for reasons why this was listed and have listened to a podcast episode about producer Val Lewton a few years ago – I really did get a lot out of watching this film.

On the surface, The Seventh Victim is a slightly off-kilter horror-noir about a girl looking for her missing sister and coming across a devil worshipping cult. However, considering the Hollywood Code that was in effect at the time, The Seventh Victim is incredibly smart at depicting a number of issues that just weren’t seen on the silver screen in the early 1940s. I’m talking depression, suicide and LGBT issues – all of which were beyond taboo.

Now do I think it’s a bit much that a devil worshipping cult (albeit a non-violent one) could be allowed on screen whereas gayness could not be? Obviously, but those were the times that this film was made. Thing is, if you watch how certain characters interact it becomes fairly obvious that is being hidden isn’t devil worship. Once you put pay to that, it makes the depression and nihilism of the film all the more sadder… and explains why the lead is more than happy to hear that her brother-in-law (likely in a lavender marriage) has fallen in love with her.

This is not a flawless film though. As much as I enjoy the off-kilter quality that a film produced by Val Lewton gives you, there are some weird continuity issues. At 70 minutes long you would not think that The Seventh Victim needed scenes editing out, but that’s the issue of studios demanding double features. It means there are a few plot holes, but it also means that the action moves at a breakneck pace.

Now that I have read up more on this film and had my earlier suspicions of the whole thing being a cloaked way of tackling mental illness and the LGBT community of New York City, I want to see this film again. Even if it is just for the weird nihlistic moments.

XL Popcorn – My Brilliant Career

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 710/1007Title: My Brilliant Career
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Year: 1979
Country: Australia

It might have been over three years since I last saw an Australian film for the purpose of the 1001 list (not including Mad Max: Fury Road which, whilst on this list, was watched in preparation for that year’s Oscars). Weirdly enough both of them are from the 1970s, but that is pretty much all they have in common.

My Brilliant Career is a feminist Australian period drama based on the 1901 by Miles Franklin. A book that, although not strictly autobiographical, was based enough on people she knew… well she had it pulled from the shelves until close to her death. You would also be excused for thinking that this is autobiographical because of the caption they put at the end of the film.

To be honest, this film was a bit slow to start – but once it did My Brilliant Career started to take on an interesting spin on an Austin-type story set in rural Australia. Many of the characters are substantially poorer than their Austin counter-parts and the feminist message has has a few centuries of evolution from Lizzie Bennett finding a way to marry for love and money to a guy who enjoys her independent streak.

Seeing how this film is now 40 years old, it was a bit weird to see Judy Davis and Sam Neill look so young in one of their earlier film roles. Speaking of Judy Davis, she is so good as the lead character Sybylla. Sybylla has such an arc over the course of the film and even when you may not agree with a number of her decisions or her actions, Davis helps you to understand them (even if, to be honest, I am not sure how Sybylla couldn’t be a married women and a writer – like Margaret Mitchell or Zora Neale Hurston)

In any event, My Brilliant Career  was a good watch although there were so bits where it could have used expansion (like her relationship with Frank). There were times were the shots could have been based on paintings and there were times where it looks quite low budget. Still, it probably won’t be another 3 years until I see an Australian film for the list, mainly because I am hoping that I’ll be nearly finished with the list by then but also because Romper Stomper looks interesting.

XL Popcorn – Targets

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 709/1007Title: Targets
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Year: 1968
Country: USA

Rules are made to have exceptions. Cleo from 5 to 7 is an exception to the many French New Wave films that I managed to not get and Targets gives me a New Hollywood film that I can say I really enjoyed. It might have helped that I got a bit of background from an episode of You Must Remember This – but it was still a legitimately well-crafted and tension-filled thriller.

Imagine being back in a world where mass shootings in the USA were new, or at least an extreme rarity. This is what it was like back in the 1968, when Targets made the bold step to show the story of a man who – for no discernible reason – takes it upon himself to execute two mass shootings having already shot his wife and mother to death. We have so many films and news stories that depict events like this that such depictions have started to lose their bite, so it’s good to try and see Targets through the more contemporary lens.

Here’s the thing though, despite being 50 years old and dealing with a type of crime that has been done to death, Targets remains utterly compelling and incredibly tense. The first mass shooting is something like I have done in a game of Grand Theft Auto, but the second one (that takes place in a drive-in movie theatre) is horrific. Bogdanovich doesn’t show anything too graphic, which is good as the menace, aftermath and mass panic of the movie patrons is more than enough.

This story of a mass shooter, however, is one of the two narrative threads that are tied up at the drive-in at the end. The other is a story of Byron Orlock (played by, and obviously named after, horror legend Boris Karloff), a veteran actor who has tired of the business and decided to retire – much to the chagrin of the movie studio, his assistant and other people he is close to in the movies. It’s an interesting look at an issue that still plagues Hollywood today: what the industry does with actors who have reached old age.

In comparison to the serial killer narrative, Karloff’s part is lighter in tone and gives a good insight into a movie industry about to be taken over by the young bucks of the New Hollywood movement (of which Peter Bogdanovich is a member). What’s also interesting is how Karloff’s sections help to provide a contrast in terms of movie-making – with his section feeling more old Hollywood compared to the New Hollywood style of the serial killer.

Targets isn’t found on a lot of best of lists, unlike Bogdanovich’s next effort The Last Picture Show, but it’s a brilliant film that deserves a lot more attention. It’s not just an interesting history lesson, but a well made and tension-filled film that is one of the first to depict a serial killer who is killing for the sake of killing.

XL Popcorn – An Actor’s Revenge

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 708/1007Title: Yukinojō Henge (An Actor’s Revenge)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Year: 1963
Country: Japan

An Actor’s Revenge is the final of the three films by Kon Ichikawa on the 1001 list that I had yet to see. Previously I was impressed by his take on the sport documentary in Tokyo Olympiad and now consider his World War II drama The Burmese Harp among my favourite films. With An Actor’s Revenge I am, yet again, seeing Ichikawa deliver something completely different – a revenge drama with a female impersonator as the protagonist.

A bit of background (that I wish I had) for this film. An Actor’s Revenge marks the 300th film that lead actor Kazuo Hasegawa had a role in; plus it is a remake of a film he made nearly 30 years earlier. This explains the key discrepancy that took me out of the moment somewhat, the fact that he was able to have two young women fall for him. Looking at him at the age of 27 and in the same make-up, I kinda get it – but not so much at 55.

Casual ageism aside (apologies for that), An Actor’s Revenge makes for an incredibly interesting watch. From the get go, where we watch onnagata (female impersonator in Kabuki theatre) Yukinojo engaging in a theatrical performance and bewitching the crowd in a beautifully done snow scene.

The rest of the film feels like it never leaves that theatre with Ichikawa using many theatrical (rather than cinematic) style tricks to compose set pieces and light his actors. This, combined with the use of whites and rare flashes of colour, make An Actor’s Revenge an incredibly stylish and visually interesting film to watch. What backs it up is rather unusual story of reluctant revenge.

You see, Yukinojo has sworn revenge against the three men that ruined his parents – which led to their suicides. In the years since losing his parents, he has become a renowned Kabuki actor in Osaka and finds himself in Edo based on a tip that this is where he will find the focus of his vengeance. However, he doesn’t want to just run them through with his sword Lady Snowblood style, but rather completely ruin them.

I say that Yukinojo is reluctant since, at many points, he is conflicted about certain actions that he has to take to reach his goal (mainly because it involves the manipulation of an innocent party to fully realise his vengeance). There are also a few times where he is clearly looking for an out, claiming that certain events mean that the gods must be against him and so should stop. I mention this because I really liked this more unusual take on a revenge protagonist – someone who, although smart and very driven, is still undeniably human.

From here on out I now have less than 300 films left before reaching my end goal of completing this list. It feels like I am really making some progress now (which was in part down to my husband’s work trip abroad) and this should grant me the impetus to try and fit in some more films whenever I can. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to cross this whole thing off completely in the next 3 years.

XL Popcorn – Up In Smoke

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 707/1007Title: Up In Smoke
Director: Lou Adler
Year: 1978
Country: USA

I’ve never really been a fan of stoner comedies. It’s one of those genres where I can hold my hands up and say that they really just aren’t for me. However, they are a recognised and large enough genre – so I completely get why Up In Smoke is on the 1001 list. I mean, this film was the progenitor of this sub-genre of comedy films – and was a massive success.

Thing is, I didn’t actually find Up In Smoke funny. Or particularly well made. As a film it feels like a piece of long-form improv-comedy that you might see in a comedy club, rather than something that was properly scripted and acted. It just lacks any sort of cohesion as it drifts along making variations on the theme of the same drug-related jokes.

For a film that doesn’t even make it to 90 minutes, it was a pretty hard watch that felt a lot longer. I honestly went into this thinking that I might find it funny and, for the first 10-15 minutes, I had some hope. However, this evaporated pretty quickly and I was left waiting for the credits to arrive – so I could switch it off, write this up and watch some anime.

XL Popcorn – Klute

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 706/1007Title: Klute
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Year: 1971
Country: USA

It’s been a while since I last watched a movie because of an episode of You Must Remember ThisHowever, after listening to the season where the lives of Jean Seburg and Jane Fonda are compared and contrasted, I knew that I had to see Klute (I also really want to see They Shoot Horses Don’t They, but that’s not in the 1001).Especially since I already watched Breathless a few years ago.

Up until watching Klute my only exposure to Jane Fonda in a movie was Barbarella, which is pretty shameful considering she is one of the few performers that can boast two Oscar wins. Having seen her in Klute… I do wonder what the hell I have been waiting for.

Just going to start with a bit of a moan about the title. Whilst I understand that Klute is named after the director played by Donald Sutherland (who, don’t get me wrong, gives a strong performance), but the film belongs to Jane Fonda and the character of Bree. She is exceptional and magnetic and all the other superlatives that you can think of for an acting performance. It’s just such a pity that the rest of the film doesn’t quite hold up to her (and Sutherland’s) performance.

The problems that I had with Klute is similar with what I had with The Long Goodbye. The twists were those that you could see coming from a mile away and there just wasn’t enough substance in the storyline to warrent a two hour run time. There is no denying that Pakula was able to craft some fantastic moods during the film, or that there were sequences where you could feel palpable tension.

Honestly, I think that if Klute had been made to a 90-100 minute run time things the film wouldn’t have felt (at times) simultaneously empty and bloated when it comes to the narrative. As it stands, the film lacks coherence in favour touching upon a lot of  disparate themes and trying to be a bit edgy.

Shame, as Fonda really does hit it out of the park here. Bree isn’t an archetype, she’s a complex and well-realised character who happens to make her money as a high class call girl. That is revolutionary enough without trying to shoehorn all the 1970s paranoia in after it. Oh well, at least I got to see Fonda at the height of her powers.