Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – The 400 Blows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 612/1007
Title: The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1959
Country: France

I swear, films are like busses. I watch them sparingly for a while and then suddenly I am devouring them. It’s been a long time since I have had both the appetite and the opportunity to watch so many movies. Long may this continue as, otherwise, I will be doing this list for another 10-15 years.

So here I am back in the world of French cinema with one of the most acclaimed French films of all time by one of France’s most acclaimed directors. Not necessarily a guarantee of my enjoyment, but it payed off in this instance.

The 400 Blows is the first in, what ended being, a series of films chronicling the life of Antoine Doinel. At this point he is about 14-15 years old and later films (which all feature the same actor in the role) see him well into adulthood. This still remains the most acclaimed, however, as it is a film that helped usher in the style of French New Wave cinema and helped to make a star out of child actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.

To say that the whole fill hangs on the performance of Léaud is an understatement. Everything around him functions well, but it is his performance as the delinquent adolescent that carries the whole thing. For me, the scene that epitomises his strength in this film is where he is talking to a child psychiatrist. Shoulders up, he projects some confidence but it’s his actions with his arms that demonstrate just how nervous the character is. This could just be happenstance, but it really reinforces his vulnerability.

In essence, The 400 Blows is about a neglected boy acting out. He was never wanted by his mother (and she lets him know this) or by his stepfather. Thanks to this and a bunch of other circumstances Antoine runs away from home, steals and ends up in a juvenile detention centre.

Rather than dumping all the details of Antoine’s neglect early in the film, we learn more and more as we watch. At the beginning it just seems like he is a naughty boy and even as Antoine’s behaviour deteriorates Léaud is still able to generate that much-needed sympathy of someone who has been failed on multiple counts.

Whilst I won’t be including it in my list of best films ever this was still an interesting watch and a good marker for when that French New Wave movement began. I know I am not entirely in the position to compare, but if I had to pick between a Godard or Truffaut film it would be Truffaut all the way.


XL Popcorn – Point Blank

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 611/1007
Title: Point Blank
Director: John Boorman
Year: 1967
Country: USA

Obsession. If there was one word to describe the film Point Blank it would be obsession, but before I get to this I really want to say a quick word about the first 5 minutes of this film.

This is not the first time that I have tried to watch Point Blank. I was so put off watching this film some time ago because the first five minutes made little to no sense. So I just figured that this would be a film that I need to be more awake for. I mean, I am all for dropping the audience into a film, there are many films that have done that successfully, but doing this with a bunch of quick time-leaping, stream of consciousness cuts then you lose me.

After I got through this initial sequence the film took off and it was 90 minutes of a slow burn. At the heart of the movie is Walker (Lee Marvin) whose singular focus on getting the money he is due after being back-stabbed during a… I want to say heist. This vendetta just snowballs to the extent that no one else in the film’s universe can quite believe that Walker is doing this all for $93,000. I’m inclined to agree.

Sure Walker was left for dead by a man who he thought was his friend, but he does away with this friend about halfway into the film. For the rest of it Walker has many a brush with death and becomes this figure of intimidation (much like Javier Bardem’s character in No Country For Old Men) and a dick to women.

When you don’t know where Point Blank is going there is a curious sense of wonder at just how far one man will go for his share of a heist. Now that I have seen this I’m not too sure how well it will stand-up to a re-watch. I mean it is a fantastically intense performance from Lee Marvin with someone being killed by falling off a roof with no clothes on… but on the other hand there is still that awful jazz club scene where all the singer does is scream ‘Yeah’ to generic and repetitive funk music.

So yes, it’s an interesting film. Just not sure how interesting it would be should I see it again.

XL Popcorn – Black Sunday

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 610/1007
Title: Black Sunday (La maschera del demonio)
Director: Mario Bava
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Okay so doing three 1960 films in a row is a bit of a fluke, but how different have Peeping Tom, Le Trou and Black Sunday. This film, at least for me, is the lesser of the three.

I guess that after two pretty full on films (and an emotional stop-motion romp) this was a bit of a comedown. It was essentially the Italian version of Viy  – i.e. something made me laugh unintentionally. Especially the bat in the beginning which was SO on an elastic band that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

That was the problem that I kept having with Black Sunday. Thanks to the old special effects, cliched storyline and, at times, poor overdubbing –  it was difficult for me to properly get into this film. Really, the only part that made me feel like this was a good film was the prologue.

This prologue was brilliant and the rest of the film just couldn’t live up to it. Essentially imaging the spooky looking Barbara Steele about to be burned as a witch – only to have a spiky mask hammered into her face. It was over the top gore that I was hoping would continue into the rest of this film (I’m guessing this thirst for gore is because I am currently reading JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… I don’t usually yearn for gore in my filmwatching) and was subsequently disappointed.

Hey ho, it was an interesting look into pre-Giallo Italian horror movies. It felt a lot like an Italian attempt at a Roger Corman film, which is around about the level I would pitch this.

XL Popcorn – Le Trou

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 609/1007
Title: Le Trou (The Hole)
Director: Jacques Becker
Year: 1960
Country: France

No, I am not trying to eliminate all French films from the 1001 list. I just want to make sure that for every Godard film that I don’t get there are many films by other French directors that I enjoy. With Le Trou all I can say is: mission accomplished.

As someone who has still not seen apparent Christmas classic The Great Escape I have started to rack up some pretty great prison escape movies. I mean, cards on the table, I still prefer La Grande Illusion to Le Trou but it is pretty damned close.

We start the film being told that what we are about to see is based on a true story… by one of the former inmates of La Santé who worked on this film as an actor and consultant to help keep the film accurate. I don’t usually like it when films do this, but for a film like Le Trou it actually helped me get into this film further.

You see, the entire film takes place over a few days as a group of five inmates start tunnelling their way out of the prison. You’d think that repeated shots of these men digging through floors and walls would be dull, but there is something almost hypnotic about their determination and their ingenuity.

Through all of this you start rooting for the inmates… but now that I write this I do wonder if we really should be. All of them are facing 10+ year sentences and the prison appears to be fairly decent by the standard of the time. Sure they chop up your care packages so your rice pudding ends up tasting of soap, but this is before X-ray machines. Also, how easy would it be to stick a flick-knife in a salami?

Still, the tension and the suspicion is very much present in this film as, at any point, these men could be caught. They’re being pretty brazen at points with their loud banging and sticking a mirrored toothbrush out as a periscope. So every little victory and every near miss is monumental.

I have been putting off seeing this film for a while and I REALLY do not know why. It’s a great film and helps make up for Masculin FemininI did not appreciate that one.

Around The World In 100 Films – Switzerland

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 44/100

Title: Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette)
Director: Claude Barras
Year: 2016
Country: Switzerland

I have been itching to see this film since last December where My Life as a Courgette made the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Picture at the Oscars, but didn’t quite make the nomination. Only Waltz With Bashir has made it further in this category  – so that puts My Life as a Courgette in rather prestigious company.

It’s company well earned as this little film is so much deeper than the posters would lead you to believe. In essence this is a story of an abused boy ending up children’s home after the accidental death of his mother. His peers are similarly damaged kids who have been dumped in this home due to their parents being jailed, sexually abusive, murdered, deported etc. It’s bleak for a film that is being marketed to children.

Whilst the emotions run strong throughout this film there are enough light touches to prevent this getting bogged down in abuse discussions or too sentimental. The conversations between the children about what sex means are hilarious – especially their interpretation of the woman spending most of it agreeing before the man explodes. I also appreciated the weird vignettes of the squirrel in the winter scenes and the bird’s nest we follow as the seasons progress.

As the credits rolled I found myself tearing up. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that the ending is something you can see from a mile off; then again at 66 minutes long there isn’t too far for any film to go. The relationships that Courgette builds with the adults and children are beautifully realised and deep… although there are some of the other children (like the toothpaste eating Georgie) that I would have liked to have known more about.

I maintain that there are some stories that are best told as an animation and My Life as a Courgette helps to prove that point. With real children this could have been played as overly sentimental, but with this beautifully executed stop-motion animation this becomes one of the best films I have seen to come out of 2016.

XL Popcorn – Peeping Tom

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 608/1007
Title: Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Country: UK

I love it when a banned film comes up on this list. To think that a film that was banned in certain countries (in Finland, for example, it was banned until 1981) now has a 15 rating for the DVD in the UK. It has a rating of 12 in the Netherlands… and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As a film lover it is really hard to go cold into Peeping Tom. The central concept and some of the scenes have featured in so many programmes and books that I went into this film pretty much knowing what to expect. What I did NOT know was that it was directed by Michael Powell.

Thanks to this list I have become a bit of a Michael Powell fan. Films like A Matter of Life and Death,  Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp rank among my favourite films of all time. However, since these three all see Powell sharing credit with Emeric Pressburger I was interested in how much I would enjoy a solo effort.

The word ‘enjoy’ isn’t one that I feel applies to a film like Peeping Tom. ‘Intrigued’ and ‘disturbed’ would probably make more sense for the story of an emotionally-disturbed man making a documentary about the look of fear on a person’s face before they die. Oh and he’s killing them himself and filming their reaction, there’s that big bit.

The set up of the film in general is pretty unsettling, and the final sequence just tips it over into the end into extremely creepy. And yet, why was this banned? So many of the contemporary unleashed streams of vitriol of this film and… now it’s a 15 and viewed by many as one of the best British films ever made.

Were we so incredibly repressed back in 1960 that a film like this would be greeted as something you wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire? Then again it is this repression that Peeping Tom and the incredibly  off-kilter performance by Carl Boehm takes aim at. Sometimes we need to be that bit uncomfortable as that means the art we are ingesting has pressed on a nerve that we deny exists.

To be fair, the big sexual liberation of the 1960s had yet to happen. Many of the critics were likely unhappy to stick their necks out for something daring. Even if it meant practically ending the career of one of Britain’s best directors.

XL Popcorn – La Grande Illusion

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 607/1007
Title: La Grande Illusion
Director: Jean Renoir
Year: 1937
Country: France

Where I don’t get Jean-Luc Godard I really do seem to get Jean Renoir. Sure, The Golden Coach had a bit of a cop out ending, but apart from that I have always been delighted by Renoir’s work. With La Grande Illusion I continue to be impressed by Renoir’s film-making.

I don’t mean to state the obvious to begin with, but La Grande Illusion is one of the most influential anti-war films of all time. It is also one of those anti-war that feels like it could only have been made on the continent.

Why? Well, there are no bells and whistles in this film. We start the film with French officers having been captured by the Germans rather than seeing the military action that led to the capture. You could probably count on two hands the number of shots fired in the two hours. These things are important in La Grande Illusion since it allows this film to be a character piece first and foremost.

Thanks to the strong characterisation of French and German characters La Grande Illusion is able to take a deep dive into looking at class and how it transcends the battle lines. Since the characters we follow are officers in the French army, we don’t really see them being mistreated during their time as prisoners of war. So important is the rank of officer that it affords a certain type of treatment.

Because of this we immediately remove a lot of the animosity towards the Germans and have them be either sympathetic or, at least, reluctant. There are no bad people in this film and that’s what is important. That’s what makes this so anti-war. It focuses so much on how similar the two sides are that, when this film was released, Joseph Goebbels wanted to prevent Germans from seeing this as he feared this film would quash their fighting spirit.

So I’ve come out of writing this post asking myself the question of whether I prefer La Grande Illusion to The Rules of the Game. Honestly, I don’t know as these are such different films. I think a re-watch of The Rules of the Game is needed before I can make such a judgement. Before I get to that – 400 films left on the list.

XL Popcorn – Masculin Féminin

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 606/1007
Title: Masculin Féminin
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1966
Country: France

So here I am with my third Godard film out of the eight entries on the 1001 list (after Week End and Breathless). It is also, if the internet is to be believed, the least acclaimed of the eight. I figured that it might be a good idea to see this having been less than impressed by two of his more beloved offerings.

This is, as the ratings would have predicted, my least favourite of the three. Even though this has the best looking male lead that I have seen so far. I am trying to find a positive in a film that is drowning in ennui, youthful arrogance and the ultimate French stereotype of a menage. At least in this film it goes one further with it being a menage a quatre rather than being a menage a trois.

Look. It took me 5 months before I wanted to go back to French cinema and boy was I rewarded with Wages of Fear and The Sorrow and the PityI think that I have just got to come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like Godard films.

No. Not yet. I still have some interesting looking films of his to come like Alphaville, Le mépris and Pierrot le fou. Maybe I’ll find some enjoyment in those… or at least something to talk about other than general chauvinism.

XL Popcorn – Two-Lane Blacktop

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 605/1007
Title: Two-Lane Blacktop
Director: Monte Hellman
Year: 1971
Country: USA

I’m not going to mince words here. Two-Lane Blacktop might be the most pointless movie that I have had to watch on this list. This could even be the most pointless movie that I made the active choice to watch.

Usually when there is a film on the 1001 list that I don’t enjoy I can at least pin point something that I can grab onto as why this film is respected or even loved. Like with Too Early/Too Late I could see the artistic intent behind it. With Two-Lane Blackdrop it just doesn’t… well it doesn’t.

In a nutshell this is a film about a group of… I want to say drifters challenge a random guy to a race across America. I want to say hi-jinks or something interesting happens, but it doesn’t. What does happen is two hours of some of the worst acting that has ever been put to film. Especially by the actress playing the only woman in this film with lines.

I am guessing that this film is on the list because it is an example of those aimless road movies that were being made around this time. Like Easy Riderbut with bad acting and no trippy third act.

In summation: meh.

XL Popcorn – In The Realm Of The Senses

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 604/1007
Title: In The Realm of the Senses
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Year: 1976
Country: Japan

Well, this is a hard film to write about. It isn’t everyday that you watch a highly acclaimed film that features unsimulated sex in pretty much every fashion you can think of. Honestly, I think other than Dogtooth and 9 Songs this is the only cinematic film I’ve seen with actual sex scenes. It is also the first film I’ve seen that features a boy having his penis pulled by an adult woman as a punishment… that was an incredibly… awkward/uncomfortable scene.

So, what kind of film would feature scenes like this as well as those of a man having his penis cut off and a woman literally laying an egg. Well, In the Realm of the Senses tells the true (but fictionalized) story of Sada Abe – a woman famous in Japan for killing her lover in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation before castrating him and carrying his parts around in her kimono.

To get to this point there is a lot of ground that needs to be laid in terms of their relationship. She, a former prostitute and him a married man that owns an inn. The chemistry between them is there from the word go and, much like Jeux d’enfants, this film becomes a game of sexual one-upmanship which results in his death.

Is the depiction of sex gratuitous? Yes, but you can’t tell this story without it. Also, it manages to walk the tightrope between art film and pornography since the scenes are so intrinsic to understanding the characters. I think seeing this as a gay man helped me to look past a lot of that and see this as a highly engrossing, erotically charged piece of film making. Although… it might take me a while before I hard-boil another egg.