Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Adam’s Rib

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 664/1007
Title: Adam’s Rib
Directors: George Cukor
Year: 1949
Country: USA

Onscreen chemistry is hard to manufacture, which is why you find certain pairings (actor-actor, actor-director etc.) repeated multiple times. This appeared to be far more prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age with the Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn films being some of the most famous. Adam’s Rib is the sixth of the nine films that they made together and arguably the most acclaimed.

Knowing how Hepburn and Tracey were already an item at the time of filming Adam’s Rib and the script was especially written with them in mind,  it is hard to not see to see a lot of their interactions in this film as a window into their private lives. It might be me projecting my own ideas here, but the tenderness and the joy in a lot of their scenes seems utterly genuine. Also helps that these two were among the best actors of their generation.

In Adam’s Rib we see Hepburn and Tracey take on the roles of Amanda and Adam Bonner – a pair of happily married lawyers who end up going toe-to-toe in court. The case? A woman who shot and injured her husband because of his infidelity. With Amanda on the defense team and Adam as the prosecutor Adam’s Rib becomes a classic ‘battle of the sexes’ film with the crux of the defense’s arguments being around gender equality.

As a film Adam’s Rib is an interesting look at gender dynamics in the 1940s with the central couple being depicted as incredibly equal. However, the views of the time about the places of men and women are still prevalent – which keeps ramping up the tension between this once secure couple until they reach breaking point.

Could this film be made nowadays? I’m not entirely sure. Equality between the sexes isn’t there yet, but it’s so much closer than it was back in 1949. An important thing to do when watching  Adam’s Rib is to remember that historical context. Both Adam and Amanda are at fault for their marriage splitting up, but as for who is more at fault… well that’s a debate worth having when you’ve seen the film.

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XL Popcorn – A Hard Day’s Night

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 663/1007
Title: A Hard Day’s Night
Directors: Richard Lester
Year: 1964
Country: UK

So… the last film I watched was a bit serious, seeing how it was about the Butcher of Lyon n’ all. With that in mind I figured that A Hard Day’s Night would be a more lighthearted watch. Well, I wasn’t exactly wrong, but I was hoping for a better film than this.

I know, I know. Given that this is a 1960s jukebox musical featuring the Beatles there was no reason to expect something on the level of Citizen Kane. However, since this is one of those films that regularly ends up in lists for the best British films it would be fair to assume that this wouldn’t cause me to rewind at the end.

Let’s talk some positives though. Whilst this film is, essentially, a feature length music video – we are talking about an era where there were no music videos. So if you wanted to see the Beatles performing you would either need to see them in person (like the many crying girls in the final ten minutes) or catch them performing on a TV show. With this in mind, A Hard Day’s Night was an interesting way to capitalise on Beatlemania in a way that fans could really enjoy and would pave the way for music videos in the future.

The biggest thing of interest here, which comes from this being an elongated music video, is the editing and the use of handheld cameras. It feels like a modern film with how it does some of the pacing and the quick cuts. The place where this most shows is where they inter-cut a bunch of different interviews for comic effect. It’s the only sequence that actually made me chuckle.

However, these things can’t cover two of the bigger issues with this film: 3/4 of the Beatles cannot act and the whole thing is a bit, well, juvenile. It probably doesn’t help that a number of the references have dated and that the band come across as likeable pillocks.  Also, the final ten minutes just feel as if they had run out of material and needed to make this 87 minutes.

XL Popcorn – Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 662/1007
Title: Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Directors: Marcel Ophüls
Year: 1988
Country: France

Well that was a depressing film to watch in the run up to Christmas. I know that some of the interviews took part in front of a Christmas tree, but this is definitely not the best film to be seeing with the decorations up. Thing is, the Christmas break is one of the few times where I can fully justify spending four and half hours watching a movie that isn’t Gone With The Wind.

In a way you can see this film as being a follow-up to The Sorrow and the Pity  in that it continues the narrative of the German occupation of France in World War Two. It’s just that, in Hôtel Terminus Marcel Ophüls narrows the scope into looking at one commander within the Gestapo – the titular Klaus Barbie, also known as ‘The Butcher of Lyon’.

There is no denying that Hôtel Terminus and the life of Klaus Barbie is worthy of over four hours of exploration. The question is whether this would have worked better as a series of 8-10 half hour episodes rather than a straight four and a half hours. After all, the life and times of Klaus Barbie is a complex topic – as are the reasons for it taking decades before the powers that be went in to arrest him.

One thing that is interesting about the interviews in Hôtel Terminus is that you have a lot of evasion, a lot of contradiction and even a few altercations. The topic of Klaus Barbie and the other former Nazi officers who are still alive is clearly a sore spot – especially in the South American countries where a number of these men have taken up residence. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that a number of these men ended up working for the US in the field of espionage.

It’s also interesting to note how this film deals with the contemporary ambivalence around the trial of Klaus Barbie. Some of these points are logical (i.e. this was done 40 years ago and aren’t there statutes of limitations on crime) whilst others veer towards the realm of antisemitism. Considering the way we are going with politics in certain parts of Europe, it is enough to make you shudder when you think that some of these views haven’t been left 30-odd years ago.

Around The World In 100 Films – Singapore

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 45/100

Title: Tatsumi
Director: Eric Khoo
Year: 2011
Country: Singapore

I’m going to Singapore in a few months! I haven’t been this excited about a holiday destination since booking my honeymoon to Japan. We got a great deal on flights and a hotel, so we figured why not just go for it. As part of my preparations for this (and to keep some of this excitement in check because the trip isn’t for another 3 months) I thought it would be a good idea to become better acquainted with Singaporean culture.

Tatsumi came up as a film to watch because it’s one of Singapore’s submissions to the Foreign Language film section of the Academy Awards. I’ve only just come to realise that these submission lists are a fantastic resource to help me find films for this challenge… so watch out Tajikistan because you’ve made the list.

However, with Tatsumi I managed to find a Singaporean film that is in Japanese, set in Japan and about a Japanese man. It’s also another animated film. Still, the remit of this it to see films from 100 different countries so Tatsumi is a very welcome addition to the list.

So, who is the titular Tatsumi? Well (and I would have been able to answer this myself if I had gotten further with the comics list) he is major name in the manga scene and is credited with starting the more adult gekiga genre of manga (of which Lady Snowblood would be an example). The film itself takes on two roles, a brief autobiography of Tatsumi and a cinematic interpretation of five stories written by Tatsumi.

It is these stories that make up the bulk of the film and, ultimately contain the bulk of the emotional impact (other the sadness that Tatsumi died 4 years after making this film and he was still so full of ideas for the future). All the adapted stories are pretty much disturbing with endings that would make writers for The Twilight Zone proud. I’m not entirely sure what was worse – the ending of ‘Beloved Monkey’ or the ending of ‘Good-bye’. It’s a close run thing and I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Tatsumi is an excellent exploration of an alternative creative mind. It’s not got the weirdness factor of Crumb. No, this film has heart and it cannot help but help you to appreciate people who are so driven by their creativity that they are able to make something different out of it that has made a lasting legacy.

XL Popcorn – Man of Iron

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 661/1007
Title: Man of Iron (Człowiek z zelaza)
Directors: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1981
Country: Poland

When flicking through the 1001 list it becomes fairly obvious that there is a distinct lack of sequels outside of the so-called trilogies. It’s a similar rule when it comes to major awards for cinema, which makes it all the more remarkable that not only does Man of Iron (the sequel to the excellent Man of Marble) find a place on the 1001 list but also stands as the only sequel to win the coveted Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Back when I watched Man of Marble I remarked on how incredible it was that such a film could be made behind the Iron Curtain that so openly criticised the government. With Man of Iron not only did Wajda manage to do this feat of daring once again, but managed to do it in an incredibly brief window (about 18 months) where such a film could escape from incredibly censorship because of a change in government.

Of course, by the time this film was released the government was back in full force and banned its broadcast within Poland. Thing is, by then the cat was out of the bag and Man of Iron was gathering critical notice for it’s open criticism of the Polish government and for the depiction of the worker’s strikes.

As with Man of Marble this film tells a lot of the story through the use of flashback and mock film footage of the strikes (although a number of the protesters were real). The focus of this film is Maciej Tomczyk, the son of the revolutionary from Man of Marble, who is a key figure in the Solidarity Movement.

However, the framing narrative is rather different. Where Man of Marble told the story of a young student trying to make her diploma film, Man of Iron follows a government journalist who is send to dig up information so that they can smear Maciej and the Solidarity Movement (as the best they have so far it telling the story of all the bananas left to rot on the ships as the workers are on strike).

The pressure that this journalist is under is incredibly real (compared to the student in the previous film, who returns in the final act of this film) and it tells with the amount he feels the need to smoke and drink in order to keep his nerves under control. I mean, he could be beaten, imprisoned, killed or any combination of the three. All this and yet he is so moved by the plight of the workers that, in one of the final scenes, he renounces his undercover status.

Man of Iron is an incredibly poignant film that is only able to exist because of a brief moment where censorship was relaxed. It’s a film that feels somewhat forgotten despite being a winner at Cannes and an Oscar nominee. Due to the rush to make it there is some of the polish missing that could be seen in Man of Marble, but wow the urgency can be truly felt in every scene.

 

XL Popcorn – Shadow of a Doubt

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 660/1007
Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1943
Country: USA

I’m going to make this a yearly tradition to watch a new Hitchcock for the 1001 list in the winter months. I have four left to do, which makes sense seeing my current watching pace. Last year I watched Marnie, which lacked a certain spark that allowed it to go from good to great. When it comes to Shadow of a Doubt it was a completely different story.

As with most of the great Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt is a two-handed affair with Teresa Wright (who won an Oscar in 1942 in Mrs. Miniver) and Joseph Cotten playing the roles of a niece and uncle called Charlie. The younger Charlie wishes for something interesting to come into her life and gets more than she bargained for as favourite her uncle travels in from the East. The thing is… her uncle may not be who he appears to be.

Being a Hitchcock film, it is always the safest option to trust your gut if it thinks a character is going to turn out to be the villain of the piece. Also, Cotten and his increasingly creepy performance are a massive clue that no matter what’s happening he is guilty as sin. Then again, that’s the whole point of this film; the joy comes from watching as his niece goes from adoration to suspicion to fear to resolve.

As much as Cotten gives an excellent performance as uncle Charlie, it is really Teresa Wright as the younger Charlie that helps this film to take flight. Having now seen here in this, Mrs Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives it is hard to deny that this woman was an extreme talent… but her filmography just peters out. Makes me really want to read the biography should it ever come out in paperback.

It’s interesting to note that, repeatedly throughout his career, Hitchcock would refer to Shadow of a Doubt as one of his favourite films.  Having watched this, I might have to agree with him. It tells a far simpler and subtler story than the likes of Psycho or Rebecca, but there is something more thrilling about the idea of evil invading a small town home.

XL Popcorn – Performance

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 659/1007
Title: Performance
Directors: Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg
Year: 1970
Country: UK

I love watching these films to see how the uncrossable line that we set ourselves for violence and nudity has shifted over the years. Back in 1968, when this film was first made, the test screening was so disastrous because of the crossing of this line that the decision was made to shelve the release of Performance. This film was only released after a massive editing job was undertaken (where Mick Jagger’s presence was greatly increased), which does make me wonder what the original print would have looked like.

Now this may be an unpopular thing to say about Sir Mick, but I really did not rate his performance at all. I know that, recently, his turn as Turner was voted as the best acting role by a musician – it’s just that I greatly disagree with that. In fact, I found most of the sequences left me wanting more of James Fox.

I really liked James Fox as the gangster thug on the run. There was something very charismatic in his performance as Chas that really helped me see this film through. In the first half the film is all his as he roughs up people and businesses in a style not too dissimilar to A Clockwork Orange. I really liked this first half, it’s just the second half that I didn’t quite enjoy.

Performance, but it doesn’t work for me here. I still find it utterly ridiculous that they ended up devoting 5 minutes of the film to a music video for Mick Jagger’s character to sing in. I know it’s meant to form part of the drug inducement, but it came off as incredibly self-indulgent.

So yes, I wasn’t too impressed by this film. Then again, there are few British films from this era that I end up enjoying… or from the 1960s. Maybe this decade is just a bit of a pit for me.

XL Popcorn – Breaking the Waves

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 658/1007
Title: Breaking the Waves
Director: Lars Von Trier
Year: 1996
Country: Denmark

Where I was unable to connect to Lucía because of a lack of honesty, Breaking the Waves is a somewhat harrowing and yet compulsive watch because of it. If there is one thing that you can not accuse Lars Von Trier of, it’s that his films lack a rich emotional core which is open to any viewer that wants to peer in. As such, many of his films have the blunt honesty of an open emotional wound; never a bad thing if you are able to do this with exceptional performances and a signature look.

The key to Breaking the Waves lies in the first of those two: the performances or, to be honest, the lead performance by Emily Watson asBess. It’s hard to believe that this was only her second role in a feature film. It has to be up there as one of the best performances that has been put onto celluloid and is, for me, the tied-best performance I have seen in a Von Trier film (the other being Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia).

The central premise of Breaking the Waves sounds absurd when written down. A woman living in a strict Calvinist community marries an oil rig worker. She has some mental and attachment issues (to the extent that she holds conversations with God where she plays both roles) which get worse after her new husband suffers an accident and ends up paralysed. You see, in his attempt to try and help her move on he suggests she takes a lover, but she gets it into her head that every time she sleeps with another man God will help cure her husband.

Things then escalate and spiral in a way that Von Trier does very well, something drowned in irony. You see in Breaking the Waves there is no one who does not act in a way that they would consider good (the only exception being a group of unnamed kids and some sailors). The drama and the heartbreak comes from the way that this goodness collides with one another and, subsequently, ends in tragedy where no one is truly guilty.

I am a fan of Von Trier’s work and have been putting watching this for a while because I knew that I had to be in the completely right emotional mindset to take on a new film of his. It saddens me, therefore, that there are no other films of his on the 1001 list for me to watch. Still, I have a lot of his back catalogue (including The Idiots and Antichrist) still to see, so it’s not as if I am left bereft.

XL Popcorn – Lucía

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 657/1007
Title: Lucía
Director: Humberto Solás
Year: 1968
Country: Cuba

I know that watching two Cuban films isn’t enough to form a truly valid opinion of a countries cinematic output, but between this and Memorias del Subdesarrollo I think that I might be done with this.  Or at least I am done with Cuban films of the 1960s. Which is fine for me as this is the last Cuban film on the 1001 list, as far as I am aware.

On the surface of it Lucía should have been a film that hit a lot of the right buttons. It’s a film split in three parts, each telling the story of a different woman (all names Lucía) at different times in the, then, 70 years of Cuban history.

When you consider what Cuba was going through at the time this film was made, with the increasing poverty and the well-established communist regime, there is a lot to take from this. It’s no mistake that the closer we get to modern day, the worse the condition that the country and the era’s Lucía is in. The concerns of the women become more important, although they are still very much personal and not at all related to the turmoil of the country that surrounds them.

It’s just that, for me, this film was too melodramatic at times (and coming from a Douglas Sirk fan that is saying a lot) and the editing at points was too jumpy. You can tell that, in this film, the director was trying to find his own style in the same vein as European arthouse – the music cues alone betray that. It’s just that this felt too affected rather than honest and, in a film like Lucía, that’s something which is sorely missing.

XL Popcorn – Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 656/1007
Title: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1974
Country: Mexico/USA

Being a big fan of Gilmore Girls, the first time that I heard about Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia was in one the many references that comes out of Rory Gilmore’s mouth. Now that I’ve seen this film… I have to say that I question that Lorelai Gilmore let her daughter see it at such a young age. Then again, this is a mother-daughter combo that refuse to eat vegetables so there’s probably bigger things at play.

Anyway, back on task, I find it hard to believe that, upon release, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garica was tarred by some critics as one of the worst films ever made. I mean, I get that this is a very bleak and violent film, but this is also blackly comic and unpredictable (in an intentional way, unlike The Black Cat). You also have a fantastic performance from Warren Oates as Benny – the man who locates the titular head.

The central plot of this film is simple: a hit is put out on Alfredo Garcia to the sum of a million dollars. The man who brings back his head has the rights to claim the money. The kicker being that he is already dead.

Out of this weird conceit comes a film that takes a deep dark look at humanity. Sure there’s a lot of murder, an almost rape and a rotting head (the growing number of flies around that head is utterly revolting… in an almost comic sense), but there’s also the fact that we’re watching a man who, without much to lose to begin with, gains a chance of love and money only to have it violently taken away from him so senselessly.

It really takes a lot to lead a film like this. As a character Benny has to go through the mangle from being this smart talking, piano playing guy to someone so consumed and singular that a severed head becomes his best friend. Seriously. He has full blown conversations with a severed head because, in all this craziness, it’s probably the only thing that can provide Benny with some modicum of comfort.

I know that The Wild Bunch is said to Sam Peckinpah’s best film, but seriously there is no competition if you ask me. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is fascinating and manages to keep up pace and interest throughout it’s run time. With there being two more films by Peckinpah left on this list (Straw Dogs and Pat Garret & Billy The Kid) I wonder what my final thoughts on this director will end up being.