Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – Lola

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 649/1007
Title: Lola
Director: Jacques Demy
Year: 1961
Country: France

Feels like I’ve been on a bit of a role lately with films. I guess that’s what feeling sick gets you, time to catch up on your movies and napping. Lola ended up being the last of these films in what appears to be a tradition with me and the films of Jacques Demy. Guess that means I’ll be waiting until my next bout of sickness before watching his best known work: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

If I had to some up my experience of Lola in one word it would be: vague. The world of Lola seems to exist in a vague town build for thousands, but only houses about 20. At least that’s the only way you can explain away the way that every character seems to meet and interact as if by chance. This isn’t a criticism, but the whole thing made me think of this as being a classy French soap opera from the 1960s crossed with Groundhog Day (because the whole feeling of pre-destination).

This is not a criticism, but it just speaks for the fact that if you are looking for a film with a lot of substance… then Lola may not be it. If, however, you are looking for a light and well done piece of fluffy cinema (and you’re not too sick that subtitles are out of the question) then this might be the film for you.

It scratched my itch today because of the well written dialogue and the fact that I didn’t need to concentrate too much on what was happening. It was also cool to see Marc Michel (who I previously saw in Le Trou) in another movie, even if I was glad that he didn’t get the girl in the end.

 

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XL Popcorn – Things To Come

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 648/1007
Title: Things To Come
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Year: 1936
Country: UK

When setting out to make 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick was told to watch Things To Come as a source of inspiration. Kubrick did not like the film at all. I haven’t found out why Kubrick felt this way, but I think I can hazard a guess.

The overall idea of Things To Come is that it posits an alternative history based on the then contemporary word and then extrapolates from there with the whole thing being fed through the filter of H.G. Wells. Having read The Time Machine I came in fully aware of just how philosophical this would end up becoming.

You see, Things to Come is not a completely coherent film when it comes to plot. It’s full of a lot of interesting ideas about where society could head given a certain set of circumstances, but it is very much of a view that technological progression should be the be all and end all for humanity. Whilst I don’t necessarily disagree that progress should not be a goal, this film posits that it should be prioritised over happiness… and that isn’t something I can get on board with.

One thing that I loved about this film, however, was the art design. Whilst the latter sections were not as interesting in terms of plot, it was a complete feast for the eyes. The futuristic sets and the scale models used for the moon-launcher gun were utterly fantastic. Similarly, the large scale sets for the UK in 1940 felt expansive and incredibly effective.

Speaking of the 1940s section, this first part of the movie was the best by a country mile. Setting aside the fact that Wells was only a year off with his prediction of World War Two, the depiction of the blitz was incredibly visceral. I honestly don’t know how many war films I have seen where the focus was on the panic of the civilians as their world is being bombed into oblivion – but Things To Come does this in a way that felt genuinely shocking for a film from 1936 (or that might just be my sitting here ill at home).

So yes. There was an awful lot of promise in the early minutes which then gave away to a lot of philosophising with plenty of on the nose examples. Still, it’s interesting to see a film where H.G. Wells had a hand in the production.

XL Popcorn – Shadows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 647/1007
Title: Shadows
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1959
Country: USA

It bears repeating that the reason I am going through the 1001 list is because of the variety of movies. This isn’t just in terms of style or genre, but also the types of stories that are being told. I know I am likely to repeat this spiel when I get around to watching Tongues Untied, but considering I have 359+ more introductions to write before completing this list I hope some repetition is forgivable.

Shadows is an interesting entry on the list for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s an independent film that, in its current state, is a completely re-worked version of an earlier disparaged version. I can’t think of a current film where, after an unsuccessful first set of screenings, the director decides to go for a complete re-shoot. That alone make this film an interesting artefact.

Then there is the fact that it deals with inter-racial relationships in a manner where it is clear that it is the prejudiced white man that is the problem. This alone marks out Shadows as being remarkably liberal and forward-thinking for its time. However, that alone is not the most interesting way that they handle the story.

The casting of the siblings that are central to Shadows does something that you don’t really see from films of this era; there is a conscious decision to have them all to have colours of skin along a light to dark scale. Lalia, the lightest skinned of the siblings, is so close to being white (because the actress herself was white) that her racist suitor, Tom, has no idea that she is African-American.

It is when Tom meets Lalia’s family that the shoe drops and we see him for the bigot that he is. The initial surprise stings for Lalia because, to him, this really matters. We later see him at a party where he is very aggressive about black party-goers touching him or giving him a beverage. Yet, through this, he still thinks he can talk her around to being with him despite his views, which may be one of the most blatant examples of white male privilege I have seen on film.

Shadows has a place in the history of cinema because it was a catalyst for American independent cinema and helped inspire a movement that could come up against the New Wave that was coming out of Europe. Sure the acting is a bit patchy and the story of the brothers is a bit lacklustre, but this is an important film and one that needs to be seen to help understand some of the roots of New Hollywood, whose era would begin nearly a decade later.

XL Popcorn – The Long Goodbye

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 646/1007
Title: The Long Goodbye
Director: Robert Altman
Year: 1973
Country: USA

It’s always weird to see Elliot Gould in a serious role. To think that prior to being known to my generation as Jack Geller in Friends he was making films like MASH and The Long Goodbye. It’s also a trip to re-discover that he was once married to Barbra Streisand. The things you learn when listening to cinema history podcasts.

If the name Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of The Long Goodbye, rings any bells it’s because he is a character that has appeared in many films over the years. He is the hero of a number of pulp novels by Raymond Chandler and has been played by a number of actors including Robert Mitchum, Toby Stevens and Humphrey Bogart (in The Big Sleep).

As with The Big Sleep I had some degree of trouble with the pacing of The Long Goodbye. It goes for something that is complex, but does it in such a languid way that everyone feels like they’re either on drugs of succumbing to the California heat. Unlike The Big Sleep it was easier to understand the twists and turns of the storyline. It’s just that by the time you get to the end you wonder why you ever cared.

Then again, I wonder if that’s the point. After being given the runaround for a number of weeks Marlowe just seems mildly annoyed at the conclusion and is just happy to put an end to this case. I don’t blame him either and can completely get on board with him playing his harmonica in a carefree fashion after just killing someone.

One thing that The Long Goodbye does better than The Big Sleep is the character of Marlowe. Gould’s portrayal feels more rounded and realistic, which is mostly because of the first ten minutes where we see him doting on his cat who is very choosy about the brand of cat food they’ll eat. Also, Gould’s interaction felt more naturalistic and less ‘acted’ than Bogart’s… I guess I’m saying that I feel this is the superior performance.

However, one thing I did miss was a truly memorable secondary female character performance. There’s no Lauren Bacall or Martha Vickers here, just some cookie cutter tropes of women (and not many of them at that). It did deliver a good male secondary character in the form of a security guard who delights in impersonating stars of old Hollywood.

It’s an okay film, just not something I’d watch again… or really recommend.

XL Popcorn – La Dolce Vita

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 645/1007
Title: La Dolce Vita
Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Going into La Dolce Vita I think I was expecting a very different film. All the famous pictures from this film are of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) and Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Naturally, I figured that this would be some sort of clever love story set in the glitterati of Italy. Something like a more glamorous version of La Strada, but still as cutting.

I was… pretty much completely wrong. Pretty much the only thing I got right was that Marcello Paparazzo is the film’s central character. So, what is this film about?

Well it’s a 3 hours of following gossip journalist Paparazzo as he negotiates the world of the famous and privileged in Rome. It’s composed of a number of stories (it appears that there is a disagreement amongst film critics about the number) whose quality really seems to taper off towards the end.

The famous scenes between Mastronianni and Ekberg happens incredibly early into the film and, to be honest, it’s pretty much downhill from there. The following section, where Marcello and his girlfriend Emma visit some kids who claim to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, is another great one. After this, it’s just so opulent and vapid… which is  what Fellini was aiming for, but is not enough to keep me mentally engaged for more than two hours.

Here’s the thing. There is some stuff in this film that I enjoyed. The direction was excellent as were Mastronianni, Ekberg and Yvonne Furneaux. However, this film is just too long and contains too many different vignettes. I know I’m in a minority: according to They Shoot Pictures La Dolce Vita is one of the best ever made.  I guess I just don’t have ‘taste’.

XL Popcorn – A Nightmare on Elm Street

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 644/1007
Title: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Year: 1984
Country: USA

It’s that time again: Halloween in May! Oh the perils of writing a blog with a ridiculously long lead in time. As I write this I am chomping on a fun pack of Haribo Scaremix and snuggling under a blanket because winter has started to make itself known.

I think the fact that it took me so long to reach A Nightmare On Elm Street shows how horror movies really were not a part of my cinematic diet when growing up. However, thanks to cultural osmosis, it feels like I have seen this film already. It speaks for the place of A Nightmare On Elm Street within the horror movie canon that it has been so frequently borrowed from or pastiched.

However, despite this film’s presence within pop culture making a lot of the main plot beats ultimately predictable, I really found myself enjoying it. Compared to a lot of the slasher films that this produced, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels oddly tame. Sure there’s a lot of blood, but this isn’t torture porn (like Saw) or full of unusual deaths (like The Evil Dead). In fact, the number of deaths is minimal – and that is something that I did not expect.

Speaking of not expecting things, that’s the strength of this film: playing with expectations. Even with me skirting over the ambiguity of the final scene, this film toys with the idea of dreams and reality. It’s subtle to begin with, but by the time you reach the final 15-20 minutes of the film it becomes increasingly hard to work out whether the characters are wide awake or within a dreamscape. It makes for interesting post-film discussions.

Despite enjoying this film, I have no desire to see any other film within the franchise. Especially the direct sequel, which sounds weirdly homophobic.

XL Popcorn – The Tin Drum

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 643/1007
Title: Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

I did say that it wouldn’t be too long between finishing the book and watching the cinematic adaptation. Reading the book was one thing, but there’s a lot of things that I figured would make more sense on the screen. Turns out I was right and, unusually, I enjoyed the film much more than the book.

Let’s begin with the two main differences. Whilst the film version is narrated by drum-toting little person Oskar it is done in the general sense rather than as him writing his memoirs in the asylum. Also, the film only takes on the first two thirds of the book rather than trying to adapt the smorgasbord of weirdness that was the final sections – an extremely good move.

So yes, the adaptation made two really good moves and eradicated parts of the book that had turned me off. We no longer have the meandering narrator or have to see Oskar grow a hunchback. It also found a really good 11 year old boy to take on the role, although this did mean that it was a bit off-putting when Oskar (16 in the film) loses his virginity. It’s an important part of the story, but the young age of the actor just makes this sequence a lightning rod for criticism.

The thing that really made The Tin Drum was the direction and cinematography. There are times where some of the chosen shots look like something Wes Anderson would have concocted if he were a member of the New German Cinema movement. A lot of this is done to heighten the comedic moments, which are a lot more successful onscreen than off.

It’s weird to say that the film version of The Tin Drum succeeded by creating more of a distance between the audience and the central character, but it’s true. By turning this into an objective rather than subjective story Volker Schlöndorff is able to create something that keeps most of the strangeness of the book, but makes it more enjoyable and relatable. I’m glad I know the book that inspired this film, I am also glad to now be done with Oskar as a character.

XL Popcorn – Full Metal Jacket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 642/1007
Title: Full Metal Jacket
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1987
Country: UK/USA

Full Metal Jacket. I’m not entirely sure why it took me this long to watch this film, other than wanting to space out the nine Stanley Kubrick entries on the 1001 list, but it is pretty embarrassing. Having now watched it not only have I removed a source of embarrassment, but have also put another director to bed.

Where most cinema-loving people seem to have a hard on for Stanley Kubrick I really have had to look at his films on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand I get why people laud Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory and The Shining; I am left perplexed by Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  So where does Full Metal Jacket fall on this scale?

Well, I think that’s a two part question. As in this is a film that really needs to be rated in two sections: the first 45 minutes and then everything that comes afterwards. The first section, where we watch the marines being trained for war, is exceptional. R. Lee Ermey is amazing as the drill sergeant (even more so when you read that he improvised most of the insults) and I am amazed that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination there. It’s also worth mentioning Vincent D’Onofrio whose transformation over the first 45 minutes is deeply unsettling.

Then there’s the rest of the film which just pales in comparison to what preceded it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still compelling, but it feels more like a series of loosely related Vietnam war stories than a tight piece of film-making. I guess that there is a point to be made about showing how expendable the marines are once they leave the comparative safety of their training camp, but these points have probably been better made in Apocalypse Now or even Platoon.

So what do you think? Is there a film from the 1001 list where it is shameful that I haven’t seen it yet? Let me know in the comments and it’ll be greatly prioritised.

XL Popcorn – Sedmikrásky

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 641/1007
Title: Sedmikrásky (Daisies)
Director: Věra Chytilová
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

I know that I have probably said this a lot over the course of four years… but I’m not entirely sure what I watched. It feels like a 74 minute sketch comedy film starring the 1960s Czech equivalents of Riki Lindholme and Natasha Leggero.

It was interesting to begin with. I was taken in by the anarchic feel of these two 17 year old Czech girls conning sugar daddies and cutting all manner of phallic food with kitchen scissors. After about half an hour of this and I really started to lose interest. There’s only so much of this I can watch a film without the whisper of a narrative before I start to get a bit bored of shenanigans.

And that’s that Sedmikrásky is: shenanigans. Entertaining shenanigans that I would have enjoyed more if they were broken down in a series of short films, but shenanigans none the less.

However, it’s worth noting that despite how weird, yet ultimately harmless, this film was it was enough to get director Věra Chytilová a 9 year ban from making films in her home nation of Czechoslovakia. Allegedly this was due to the sheer waste of food throughout the film (the food fight scene at the end being the last nail in the coffin), which makes a little sense given the political climate. You also have the fact that this is pretty feminist in how the two girls approach the world around then. This would have likely not gone down too well with the Czech elites of the time.

It’s a weird film, yes, and worth watching to play a game of ‘spot the controversy’. However, it’s best digested in a few pieces rather than in one go. Or maybe that’s just me.

XL Popcorn – Come Drink With Me

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 640/1007
Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
Year: 1966
Country: Hong Kong

A few episodes of The Ancient Magus’ Bride later and I think I’ve cleared my juju of family massacre movies. So I went for the wuxia classic Come Drink With Me with the hope that I will have dreams of flying swords instead of being buried alive. Hope springs eternal.

It’s been an awfully long time since I last watched a martial arts movie period, let alone for the 1001 list. Looking back on my posts it’s likely that A Chinese Ghost Storywhich I watched 18 months ago, would be the last one. It isn’t because of a distinct lack of martial arts films, more that it’s never a genre that comes to mind when picking a film to watch. Also – if I’m being honest – I thought Come Drink With Me sounded more like a W.C. Fields comedy from the 1930s (like The Fatal Glass of Beer) rather than an important part of the martial arts cinema canon.

Why is Come Drink With Me important? Well, this brought a big innovation to the genre: a kick-ass female lead. Crazy to think that this would be a new idea considering the strong central female characters in films like Peking Opera Blues and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I guess there had to be a watershed moment like this one.

Being over 50 years old it is clear that there have been a lot of developments in the wuxia genre since Come Drink With Me was released. Improved editing techniques, greater scope of stunt-work and sturdier sets. Still, a lot of these issues is where the charm lies and this film has charm to spare. Just a pity that the story felt like it started to trail off at the end, which meant that I started to lose interest… as so often happens with these films.