Category Archives: Cinema

XL Popcorn – Field of Dreams

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 674/1007
Title: Field of Dreams
Directors: Phil Alden Robinson
Year: 1989
Country: USA

Having sat through Field of Dreams I have the urge to keep this extremely short and exclaim: “what was the point of this movie!” I mean how did this film manage to snag itself a nomination for Best Picture over the likes of Crimes and Misdemeanours, Do The Right Thing, When Harry Met Sally or sex, lies and videotape? Is it just a case of a film ageing poorly, or am I just immune to this type of schmaltz… maybe a bit of both?

In any case, a film shouldn’t make me feel actually angry when I watch it. They’re clearly aiming for a feel-good film in the same ilk of It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, it’s just that (at least for me) it fails spectacularly because it is so profoundly unbelievable. For example: why is the wife so quick to agree to putting their family on the path to financial failure because her husband heard voices as he was roaming the cornfield? How does the time travel work? Don’t the baseball players have better things to do than put on a constant show at some random’s farm in Iowa? Did we watch a character commit suicide whilst a little girl happily waved goodbye?

So yes, instead of being fantastical and magical, Field of Dreams just felt stupid. I don’t get it and, honestly, I don’t really care to get it. I’m just weirdly disappointed that something that became such a huge cultural touchstone was just so blah.

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Off To Singapore: Day 1 – Excited on Arrival!

I don’t think that I’ve been this excited for a holiday since my honeymoon. We pretty much booked this on a whim because of an excellent deal, which means I have had nearly 5 months of build up in order to plan and to get more and more jazzed. The night before I was just jumping up and down as we finished our packing… you’d think I was a kid going to Disneyland or something.

What’s helped even more with this build up is that I recently got accepted for a new job (finally!) and this holiday is a way for me to escape the negative degree weather caused by ‘The Beast from the East’. Going from below zero to ~30 degrees has already been a bit of a shock to the system.

However, to get to Singapore there is still a 13 hour flight to deal with and an 8 hour time difference to overcome. The flight itself went well as, amazingly, there was no one sitting behind me; therefore I felt entitled to tilt my seat back as far as possible and ended up getting about 5-6 hours of broken sleep. Before this, I managed to do something I didn’t expect.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 673/1007
Title: Whisky Galore!
Directors: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1949
Country: UK

They actually had a movie from the 1001 list that I had not seen as part of the in-flight entertainment. Not just any film either, a particular odd one when you consider it was one of four classics alongside two Marilyn Monroe films and the weird Frank Capra comedy Arsenic and Old Lace.

I enjoyed this odd film about an isolated Scottish island community and their love/obsession towards whisky. Weirdly enough this was probably a perfect airplane movie as you could just enjoy the farcical nature of it as the trolleys go by offering drinks. I have never seen a film quite like this, which may go a long way to explain this film’s inclusion on the list.

So here we are in Singapore. By the time we got the the hotel it was 7pm on a Sunday which meant we only did a cursory explore and found something for dinner.

One thing that really cemented that this is, in fact, Singapore is their love-hate relationship with durians. On the one hand it is hard to walk far it hour seeing somewhere selling durian sweets, juices, shakes or whole durians. On the other hand… they are banned on the subway and the hotel I’m staying in has a $300 fine in place for people who bring durian into their rooms.

This durian-based duality aside, I’m already loving my limited exposure to Singapore. Our hotel it just north of Chinatown, so it only made sense to head south. I mean with these awesome light-up fruit and dog decorations still on display for Chinese New Year, how could someone not be attracted to walk this way?

On our travels we randomly came across one of Singapore’s many hawker centres. Considering the day and time it was mostly shut, but enough was open to give me serious troubles in deciding what to eat. We must have walked around three times before I finally settled on a booth to buy from.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 709/751Food item: Laksa Noodle

For $12 we got a bowl of laksa soup, a bowl of mixed meat noodles (I am not even going to think about what was meant by ‘mixed meat’ for these noodles) and two cups of Bandung (think evaporated milk mixed with rose syrup plus plenty of ice). With this I have finally crossed off the last noodle from the food list and got to enjoy these bouncy noodles in their natural habitat.

As nice as the laksa soup was, the real MVP of this meal was the Bandung. Both the soup and the mixed meat bowl were spicy, which meant that this milky rose drink was exactly what we needed to stop the food burn. Something tells me that I’m going Ito leave Singapore with an even higher spice tolerance than I already have…

And that was pretty much it for our first night. We bought some pastries from a Japanese bakery and watched some Chinese people practice their square dancing before heading back to the hotel. I am acutely aware that, because of all the travel and the time difference, sleep might be a bit weird tonight – so we’ll have to see how it goes.

XL Popcorn – Tampopo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 672/1007
Title: Tampopo
Directors: Juzo Itami
Year: 1985
Country: Japan

When I concluded my post for Manhunter I thought I would be leaving the 1980s after three consecutive eighties films. Then came Tampopo, a film that I only picked because it had a fun sounding name, which continues my streak. It’s always a bit of a toss up to go for a film based just on an interesting name… but I had never expected to be watching food porn.

From it’s very meta beginning, which depicts a lavish dinner in the front row of a movie theatre, Tampopo does not let up on how much gorgeous food it displays on the screen. As a public service announcement, I would recommend that you need to be either eating dinner or have just finished eating dinner – otherwise you will be climbing the walls with hunger.

So aside from it’s graphic depiction of food (and sometimes I mean really graphic), what does this film have to offer? Well, it’s very much a comedy in the style of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with there being a main story thread – around the renovation of a ramen restaurant – which is broken up with a number of smaller comedic (some very darkly comedic) asides which all revolve around food in some way.

There are times where the asides are a bit too dark (the dying wife cooking her family one last meal comes to mind), but as a whole I really enjoyed what Juzo Itami was doing to mix things up with Tampopo. It’s hard to say that I have seen a comedic film like this before which can be so culturally specific to Japan in some places and yet, in others, be incredibly universal. It also shows just how much care and attention goes into ramen making, which may explain the near religious experience I had in Kyoto… man I want to go back to Japan so much.

I have to say that Tampopo was such an amazing surprise that I am eager to see some of the other comedies that Juzo Itami ended up producing – especially The Funeral and A Taxing Woman which both won a number of awards in Japan.

XL Popcorn – Manhunter

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 671/1007
Title: Manhunter
Directors: Michael Mann
Year: 1986
Country: USA

Time can be incredibly kind to movies. In the case of Manhunter, which pretty much bombed upon release, time has been exceptionally loving. After all this film, based on the novel that gifted the world Hannibal Lecter, has helped to inspire any number of films and TV shows where crimes are solves with forensic science. It’s hard to believe that a flop could have such a wide-ranging impact.

Watching this in 2018 it is hard for this film not to be subject to the incredible shadow cast upon it by The Silence of the Lambs. Then again, the character of Hannibal Lecter aside, these are incredibly different films. Sure, both of them are crime thrillers with forensic elements but the atmospheres are incredibly different thanks to the directors.

Where Demme cast The Silence of the Lambs in a dark and sometimes claustrophobic world to help highlight the darkness of Buffalo Bill, Michael Mann instead plays with a lot of contrasts and juxtapositions. This isn’t just in the visual colour pallates, but also in the editing and, at points, shooting speed of scenes.

After all the lead character, a criminal profiler called Will Graham played by future CSI star William Petersen, succeeds in his job by trying to put himself in the mindset of the killer. So, the further we get into the movie the more out of touch he becomes, which is something that the film begins to reflect.

It’s also worth making a mention of Tom Noonan in his role as the serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’. He is able to make someone who is mostly mild mannered (until he, you know, sets you on fire) feel utterly intimidating just by standing there at his naturally tall height. Reminded me a lot of Cameron Britton in Mindhunters in how someone’s presence can just bring the tension.

I honestly went into this expecting a generic, but still decent, thriller. Having watched Manhunter I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. Still,  I think this might be the end of my weird run of 1980s movies for now. Whilst this didn’t reach the heights of Come and See at least it was head and shoulders above Stranger Than Paradise. Maybe I’ll finish off the Michael Mann entries and watch Heat this weekend… I mean I really should see what the fuss is all about with the Pacino/De Niro scene.

XL Popcorn – Stranger Than Paradise

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 670/1007
Title: Stranger Than Paradise
Directors: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1984
Country: USA

I really enjoyed Dead Man when I saw it two years ago whilst cradling my crippled wrist. There was something about this deadpan almost mumblecore take on a western that endeared me and made me chuckle. I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that he had two other entries on this list, otherwise I would have probably started on them sooner.

And then I would have been disappointed.

Seriously, I think I am one of the very few people out there who actually disliked this film and just found it to be tedious. Sure, there is joy to be found in rough edges, that’s one of the reason that Crumb is such an interesting watch, but in Stranger Than Paradise there was way more roughness than was necessary.

What’s a real pity is that I was actually enjoying this film in the first act. The film starts with a girl called Eva coming to New York from Hungary and staying with her disinterested cousin. The entire act takes place over 10 days and Jarmusch is able to mine some weird comedy beats out of their interactions, which culminates in one hell of an ugly dress.

I really wish, therefore, that this film had ended with Eva moving to Cleveland. It would have been a short film, but it would have been well formed and a weird little deadpan oddity. Instead it just repeats the same beats numerous times and you get more and more aware at just how awful an actor John Lurie is.

Still, at least I’ll always have this scene that made me laugh out loud for some reason:

XL Popcorn – Come and See

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 669/1007
Title: Idi i smotri (Come and See)
Directors: Elem Klimov
Year: 1985
Country: Soviet Union

A few months ago I watched The Ascent – an exceptional Soviet film about Russian partisan forces in World War Two. It was an incredibly moving film that had an almost mystical feel to it. I mention this for two reasons, firstly Come and See was directed by the husband of Larisa Sheptiko (the director of The Ascent), which makes for an interesting comparison. Secondly, where The Ascent went for a quiet tension, Come and See is an undeniable hellscape of Nazi war crimes.

During the entire two and a half hours of Come and See we view the merciless annihilation of rural Belarus through the eyes of a 14 year old boy. It cannot be understated just what an amazing performance is given by young Aleksei Kravchenko. His expressions of distress and terror are beyond what you would expect from a child actor… which is why you can see this boy physically age as the film progresses to the point that, when he went back to school, he had started to go grey.

In the same way that it is difficult to overstate the excellence of Kravchenko’s performance, so too it is difficult to overstate how harrowing this is for a World War Two film. What makes it all the worse is knowing that not only did these village massacres occur in Belarus (with one scene showing an entire village being shepherded into a church, before being set on fire), but just how many of these massacres actually occurred.

What’s impressive about all this tension and horror is that you rarely see someone actually being killed. We see the aftermath, but pretty much all the violence (other than punching and kicking) happens off screen. It goes that show that, as long as you are skilled enough to create the right atmosphere, you can mine enough tension from dread.

When I look back on Darkest Hour in comparison to a movie like Come and See – there really is no contest when it comes to the better World War Two film. I know that there is a world of difference between the type of film, but there is a central issue with how both countries choose to deal with the subject matter. For the most part, it is probably better if films set in this era is best left to the continent.

XL Popcorn – Love Me Tonight

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 668/1007
Title: Love Me Tonight
Directors: Rouben Mamoulian
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Love Me Tonight may be the earliest example of, what we would consider, a good and fully formed musical. True, I had to see The Broadway Melody of 1929 because it won the Academy Award for Best Picture… but I did say that it had to be good…

In many ways Love Me Tonight is a musical film that was way ahead of it’s time. The first thing of note is how many of the songs were original compositions. True, most are taken from other sources, but this was a step forward. The most interesting of these introduced  songs, as well as the one that shows just how modern this film was, is ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’.

On paper, ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’ doesn’t feel like a major song. It follows a simple structure and has simple lyrics riffing on the title. However, on film, this song soars in one of the first great film musical sequences. We start in a tailor’s shop with the protagonist singing it into a folding mirror and we end-up miles away on the balcony of a château with a variation of it being sung by the love interest.

The journey that this song takes is vast and occurs across numerous sets and musical traditions. It’s a beautiful, and somewhat odd, sequence that shows off the infectious power of a catchy melody. I cannot think of another musical in this era that is able to perfectly encapsulate the wonder of music in such a clever and, then innovative, sequence.

As storylines go, Love Me Tonight goes for a typical riff on a cross-class love-story with a tailor falling in love with a princess whilst masquerading as a Baron. The joy in watching this is how this Pre-Code film tackled comedy. Sadly only the censored version is available anymore, but even so they make reference to some sexual topics with a great deal of clever writing and some great editing.

Whilst I wasn’t the keenest on Jeanette MacDonald as the leading lady, it was an absolute joy to see a young Myrna Loy completely stealing the show in her supporting role as Comtesse Valentine. There is something about future stars that leaps off the screen and Loy had it in spades. Her presence just demands attention.

So yes, I really enjoyed this rather frothy musical. There won’t be a lot of these left on the list, so I need to be careful to not see them all too soon.

XL Popcorn – The Great White Silence

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 667/1007
Title: The Great White Silence
Directors: Herbert Ponting
Year: 1924
Country: UK

I have previous written about my distaste for the older docudramas like Nanook of the North and Louisiana Story as well as my slight confusion with HaxanSo in strolls The Great White Silence, a relatively unknown documentary from 1924 and I am basically expecting the worst or something borderline exploitative.

Needless to say I was wrong. Much like Blackstar there is something eerie about watching The Great White Silence. Why? Well, it’s a documentary depicting the expedition of Captain Scott and his men to the South Pole. Therefore you are watching the last documented moments before they went off to meet their maker. Chilling stuff really.

This means the spectre of their deaths pretty much hangs over the entire film, which weirdly gives a different perspective on the massive icebergs and the beautiful shots of Antarctic plains that are depicted. It doesn’t, however, cast a shadow over the really sweet penguin sequence where they anthropomorphise these penguins as having an argument about whether prawns make good parents.

It’s worth noting as well that this film would be some of the first recorded footage of Antarctica and the creatures that inhabit it… which begs the question of why this film was such a financial flop. In fact, the original 1001 list did not include The Great White Silence as it was only brought back into the public eye some 7 years ago.

Things like this really make you wonder what other films from this early era are left to be unearthed only to have their artistic merits fully appreciated after the directors are long gone. Would be cool if more Theda Bara films showed up because hope springs eternal.

XL Popcorn – Straw Dogs

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 666/1007
Title: Straw Dogs
Directors: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1971
Country: USA/UK

It’s not been that long since I saw Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and I’m not too surprised to find myself watching another film by Sam Peckinpah. Like Alfredo Garcia, there is still a fair bit of controversy surrounding Straw Dogs. So let’s dig into that.

Firstly, if I was a resident of the Cornish village that Straw Dogs was filmed in I would be pissed off at how my community was being portrayed. In the same vein as the beginning of An American Werewolf In London we begin the film with the central character David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) finding himself in a remote village that does not want to welcome him. Quite the opposite really… as a number of the residents want to freak him out and rape his wife.

Now, this brings me to the first of the two controversies – the multiple rape scenes. When this film was first released cuts had to be made to be released in certain territories. Having watched the uncut version I really question the reason behind cutting the second rape as it makes it look like a borderline rape fantasy consensual rather than being the grievous act of sexual assault that it is.

The other controversy comes in the final half hour where the home of David and his wife Amy is being invaded. In short, this sequence is like an extended adult version of Home Alone complete with boiling oil traps and people having their feet shot off by a shotgun. Compared to the earlier rape and some of the scenes in Funny Games some of the violence appeared to verge on comic book (down to the death by the extra-large bear trap).

The thing is, the whole point of this film is about violence and the innate violence that lays beneath the surface – it’s just that it’s buried deeper for some than others. Considering the crap that David and Amy have to deal with for most of the movie (including the murder and desecration of their cat) I found myself cheering them on as they took out their invaders.

So there’s one more Peckinpah film left on the 1001 list and, as things stand, I think I may need to give The Wild Bunch another go before I hit up Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. There’s a particular set of beats that his films seem to follow and, now that I am getting to know his films a bit better, I bet a second viewing will reap big benefits.

XL Popcorn – The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 665/1007
Title: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Directors: Liu Chia-liang
Year: 1978
Country: Hong Kong

Whenever I finish a film like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin I always wonder why I haven’t been watching more of them. At least this time I didn’t have to cleanse my mind of massacre films… I just thought this would be a cool film to watch when trying out a new Thai takeaway place.

One gripe that I have with this film, as well as other martial arts films like Come Drink With Meis the lack of a satisfying final boss battle. I know that, in movies, most of these martial arts fights take far less time than what is depicted, which means the final battles actually make sense. It’s just that after all the time we’ve spent watching him train up… it just comes a little too easily. Then again, maybe that’s the point.

After all, most of the film is taken up by our hero taking on the various trials of the Shaolin Temple. These between hitting a gong with a 15 foot long hammer and practising battle poses whilst sitting down. Some of these trials are ridiculous, but I love the fact that everything comes in useful after his expulsion from the monastery.

It would appear that after 6 years of intense training and an extreme force of will made our hero a God amongst men. I mean, how else can you explain his reflexes and the way he can take out entire rooms by himself – especially when he got two men to kill each other with throwing knives; that was especially cool.

So yes, this is a fantastic kung fu movie to watch. Sure, I missed a bit of the magic realism from the wuxia films, but there’s still a lot of magic to be found in the weird trials of the Shaolin’s chambers despite the quick resolution to his battle against the big bad.