Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – Scarface (1983)

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 591/1007
Title: Scarface
Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1983
Country: USA

I must be one of the few people of my generation to have seen the original 1932 version of Scarface before seeing the remake. Not a boast or anything, just one of those weird things that happen when you bust your wrist and watch your way through your mum’s DVD collection.

What I didn’t realise when watching the original Scarface is just how similar the main beats of the story would be between the two films. Especially the origins and the sequence of events that lead to the main character’s downfall. Obviously there had to be an update to make this a 1980s film. Bootleg booze becomes cocaine and a recent immigrant from Italy turns into a Cuban (although given Al Pacino’s background he probably would have been more suited to the original character).

Now, I know that Brian De Palma’s Scarface is highly regarded now (much more than when it was first released) and has become one of those oft-quoted and pastiched films. It’s pulpy take on gangsters and the gratuitous amounts of swearing and violence has left an impact on pop culture. I mean one of my favourite video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) derives a lot from this.

And yet, I really didn’t think this film was all it was cracked up to be. For one thing it’s about 30-40 minutes too long. I get that this was an attempt to make a pulpy gangland epic, but this is no Once Upon A Time In America

I also (and this is going to be controversial) question Al Pacino in this film. I am trying to find the point where his acting changed from the excellent work of Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather to whatever type of acting we saw in Scent of a Woman. In Scarface… he just has one emotion, various shades of furious. Also, at 43 he isn’t quite the right age for Tony Montana unless they has instituted a 7-10 year time jump.

Then there is the fact that this film is painfully eighties. I swear it’s one of the few decades to have films where the music cues badly age the movies. There is a bit in a South Park episode where they skew the typical eighties montage, what I did not know is that the song (‘Push It To The Limit’) was from Scarface. That was a weird moment.

Overall it’s isn’t like I didn’t enjoy this film. I gave it a 6 out of 10 on IMDB (yes, I rate every film I see) which, to me, means it was good enough, but with some fundamental flaws. I think that’s fair.

XL Popcorn – Reds

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 590/1007
Title: Reds
Director: Warren Beatty
Year: 1981
Country: USA

So Peter, what did you watch when you had your first night at home alone for months? Well mystery person, I ordered a buttload of Chinese food and watched one of the longest films left on the 1001 list.

Reds is one of those films that feels like it hasn’t quite stayed in the public consciousness. It’s not like it’s completely faded from history, but I don’t know anyone who has actually sat through is all.

Although I am still unsure how this film could even have been made if not for the driving force of Warren Beatty’s celebrity, I am awful glad it exists. By telling the story of social activist, writer and communist supporter John Reed and fellow radical and lover Louise Bryant.

Keep in mind this film was made after the end of the détente era of the Cold War. It took stones to make something like Reds which depicted anti-capitalism and pro-communism in a moderate-to-positive light. As writer and director Beatty manages to show both sides of the movements that came out of the Bolshevik Revolution.

For me a large part of the film’s politics is epitomised by a conversation between John Reed and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar winning turn) in the final act of the film. Goldman, who has long been a supporter of the Bolshevik politics, has become disillusioned and disgusted by the turnout of the revolution. Millions starved to death. Firing squads executing people at the slightest sign of dissent. This was not the revolution she wanted.

Reed, however, is in so deep that he hasn’t realised that he has become part of a machine that he sought to destroy all those years ago. Where he once marched against deaths in war, he is now not able to condemn the deaths in the name of communism. He actively defends some of these and chastises Goldman for her naivety. It’s a powerful scene, and it’s one of those that still feels important considering the recent rise of populism. No major ideological revolution can occur without blood (be it real or metaphorical) being spilt.

Whilst I have yet to see On Golden Pond (and I have no real desire to) I have to question what level of performance was required that year to beat Warren Beatty to the Best Actor Oscar. I mean, these were some powerhouse performances from him and Dianne Keaton (although I would never begrudge Katherine Hepburn a win) to go unrewarded.

So yes, at over 3 hours long it is a lengthy film. However, thanks to the interesting choice of interweaving the story with real-life accounts from talking heads it plays more like a docudrama than a epic film. For me, that was a good thing and allowed me to stay invested through the entire film. There was also the undeniable chemistry between Beatty and Keaton which drives the entire film.

XL Popcorn – Sergeant York

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 589/1007
Title: Sergeant York
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1941
Country: USA

Sergeant York is a weird landmark film when it comes to my crossing films off of the 1001 list. Not only is this the final film from 1941 that I had left to watch, but also this is the final Howard Hawks film. Hawks has 10 films on this list (including Red River, His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings) and I have watched 7 of these in the last two years. Just one of those happy accidents I guess.

Some historical facts before I start. Sergeant York is a biographical film based on the life of Tennessee native Alvin York, a religious and pacifistic man who finds himself being drafted into the First World War. York only agreed to have this film be made so he could use his money to build the bible school of his dreams.

Oh, and this was a film with a profoundly anti-war feel that ended up becoming incredibly popular after the Pearl Harbour. This final bit feels incredibly salient. Whilst this film isn’t exactly frank about the horrors of war, there isn’t a single person that you come across that is completely settle with war.

Considering that this was coming out when they would need manpower for the Second World War I am surprised they didn’t actually go whole hog on the patriotism angle. I’m glad they didn’t as that’s ended up spoiling Mrs Miniver. Instead it’s the extreme religious angle that rankled me, but that’s who York was and I bet in real life he was far more overt than in this.

As a story of an individual Sergeant York feels utterly remarkable. By remarkable I mean I take a lot of his feats with a sizeable grain of salt. So much is made of his ability as a sharpshooter that actually seeing what he is meant to have been able to do feels like someone found a way to play Skyrim with the most forgiving auto-aim in gaming history. Then again, I know nothing about marksmanship so maybe he was just this fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic – full praise has to be given to Gary Cooper as Sergeant York himself. I know that, retroactively, some people think that Orsen Welles deserved the Best Actor award over Cooper… but I would wholeheartedly disagree. This is one of the few times where I have really gotten behind a Gary Cooper performance (I said performance, as I have always found him dashing). Yes, the other is his turn in High Noon

I came in expecting something schmaltzy and instead I got something that felt earnest, even if it had a slight propaganda tinge in the beginning of the third act. It’s worth a watch on a grey winter morning.

XL Popcorn – Marnie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 588/1007
Title: Marnie
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1964
Country: USA

It’s been a bit of a weird day for pop culture. Started the day with a few episodes of ice-skating anime series Yuri!!! On Iceplayed some Overwatch and then settled in to see the second of the two films that Tippi Hedren made with Alfred Hitchcock. So yes, I’ve been a bit all over the place.

Speaking of all over the place, let’s look at Marnie. What a fantastically meaty lead role for an actress this was. I can imagine that there were many women in Hollywood in the early 1960s who would have wanted a complex role like this psychologically mixed-up thief. I can see how Princess Grace of Monaco might have been advised against taking this role, which is a pity as I can only imagine how great she could have been.

This is not me disparaging Tippi Hedren at all, it’s just one of those great ‘what if’ scenarios. The fact of the matter is that Hedren is fantastic in this rather melodramatic Hitchcock character. Not only is she a thief that cannot stand being touched by men, but also has a severe phobia of thunderstorms and the colour red. That latter one must be rather debilitating if you are ever standing at a road crossing.

There are times where this film does feel over the top. The use of scarlet filters whenever Marnie feels afraid is overdone. It’s cool when it happens the first three times, but then you just start anticipating it whenever a red item appears onscreen.

Also, there’s the rape scene. When I saw a young and handsome Sean Connery come in as the male lead of this film I did not expect him to rape Marnie. It isn’t violent. It isn’t graphic. However, the way Marnie just goes catatonic in order to deal with what is about to happen to her is equally as disturbing.

Sean Connery’s character of Mark is… not as complex as Marnie, but not exactly straightforward. Throughout the film you cannot quite confirm whether he actually loves her or if, much like his South American cat, just wants to housebreak her as if she were some wild curiosity. 2 hours later and I still wasn’t sure.

In the end, whilst this is a good film there are too many niggles that prevent this from becoming a great movie. When you have a back catalogue as high quality as Hitchcock then this movie isn’t good enough to crack the Top 10 of his that I have seen. Still, a fun romp though.

XL Popcorn – Week End

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 587/1007
Title: Week End
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1967
Country: France

The phrase ‘oh my god, what the fuck am I watching’ rarely leaves my mouth when I am watching a film by myself and yet it spontaneously erupted from me some 20 minutes in this film. It also kept coming to mind for the remaining 80 minutes.

I guess this is my fault for watching two Godard films in a row. I mean, if I didn’t get on with Breathless (which is meant to be his best) then why do another one so soon. Maybe because he has 8 films in this list and I am woefully behind.

Honestly, the title of Week End doesn’t seem to fit this. If it had been called Accident after the abundance of car crashes in this film it would have made more sense. I kinda wonder if Godard had a friend with a scrapyard who fell on hard times and needed to loan out or set fire to most of his stock

There are parts that are so bizarre that they become enjoyable (such as the singing man in the phone box) but on the while this film is actually quite baffling. It’s just missing that signature clown flipping a pancake in slow motion.

I always thought I had a high tolerance to arty cinema (I mean, hello, I adored La Belle Noiseuse), but I think we might need to make an exception for some of these French films from the 1960s.

Actually, you know what this film made me miss? Les Demoiselles de Rochefort there was an older French film that I really enjoyed. Also, it made me miss the enjoyable surrealism of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Maybe I just don’t like Godard? I have 6 more films to go to see if this idea tracks at all.

XL Popcorn – À Bout de Souffle

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 586/1007
Title: À Bout de Souffle
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1960
Country: France

I don’t know how I can call myself a cinephile when this is the first time I have ever seen a film by Jean-Luc Godard. So many people talk about him as being this ‘great director’ and about À Bout de Souffle as being this great debut film. So it was high time that I crossed this off of my list.

After watching a film like this I always enjoy looking at some of the retrospective reviews. For many it is ranked alongside Citizen Kane as one of the most influential film debuts of all time. Also, À Bout de Souffle is one of those key films of the French New Wave and a favourite of Quentin Tarantino.

With the exception of Cléo de 5 à 7 I still have not found a French New Wave film where I understand all the hype. It’s the narrative style, the jump cuts and the general feeling of ennui. Just leaves me cold if I cannot enjoy the central character – and I really did not like Michel in this. What an insufferable arse with a Humphrey Bogart complex.

It’s interesting to see this film when it comes to film history. However I just found it monumentally empty. I think that the character of Michel is meant to come off as cool and detached, as is the style of these French New Wale male protagonists, but in this day and age he’s just a bit of a pig. A pig that murdered a policeman in the opening sequence.

Probably one of those things where I expected more from the film I guess. Hey ho. There’s still 400+ of these to wow me I guess.

XL Popcorn – Touch of Evil

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 585/1007
Title: Touch of Evil
Director: Orson Welles
Year: 1958
Country: USA

Here we are. The fourth Orson Welles film from the 1001 film list that I have seen. Prior to this I have seen Citizen Kane, F for Fake and The Magnificent AmbersonsBased on my previous experience to Orson Welles films I don’t think it is too much of a surprise to say that this was, by far, the best Orson Welles film that I have seen (and am likely to see).

Knowing my own taste I think I can make a wild stab in the dark as to why Touch of Evil really worked for me: it’s a noir film. Not just that either, it is one of the final noir films from the classic noir period. This lateness helps with the film since it means that you have a classic noir featuring the most modern filming techniques available at the time.

If you want an example of how the filming/direction just makes this film – just look at the first long take of the film. It runs at about 3 minutes 20 seconds and you only realise that this is one long take at about the time they cut away to a car exploding. You also have some beautifully framed shots in a murder scene about half-way into the film.

As with pretty much all noir films there is a crime being investigated and the lines of enquiry are, to begin with, complicated. Honestly, there were points within the first 15-20 minutes where I needed to really think about the complicated web that the plot was weaving, that and there were a lot of names being used at once. After the 30 minute mark everything clears up though and I could just settle in.

I really don’t want to say too much because, you know, spoilers, but this film is a fantastic look at police corruption, American-Mexican relationships and the almost uncontrollable bloating that Orson Welles was going through. Seriously, having seen him in Citizen Kane this was an extreme in weight-gain that I was not expecting.

One final thing – we have an example of a white-actor (Charlton Heston) in brownface since he is meant to be playing a policeman of ethnic extraction. The only reason it really stuck out to me is because I know Charlton Heston from a lot of other films. Still, it was a strange thing to see. Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film, but it was one of those things that just made me go, “oh”.

XL Popcorn – Bigger Than Life

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 584/1007
Title: Bigger Than Life
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1956
Country: USA

We take for granted that there are many films being made at the moment that are able to deal with concepts like mental health and addiction. In fact, if you want to get an Oscar nomination, many actors gravitate to these sorts of roles. However, back in the 1950s these films were not commonplace.

Films like The Snake Pit and The Lost Weekend were able to make such an impact not only because they were great films but also because they brought to the mainstream topics that we don’t tend to talk about in polite society. The same thing can be said about Bigger Than Life which deals with prescription drug addiction and, eventual, psychosis.

Not enough can be said about how fantastic James Mason is in this film. He portrays Ed, a school teacher who is prescribed cortisone to help treat a condition that would eventually kill him. We now know what can happen when people are given high doses of cortisone for a long period of time – when this film is set these side-effects were only just starting to emerge.

The main side effects we see here are mood swings, depression, anxiety, change in personality and the eventual psychosis that ramps up in the film’s final act. Mason has to bring his character through all of these changes that make him going from being a generous and hard working man to an abusive and high-handed man.

There is a scene in a parent-teacher conference that feels like one of the moments where Ed is starting to cross lines he would have never crossed before. As a former teacher I can understand that some of his comments are things he always felt (like how one of his young students could be outsmarted by a gorilla – that made me laugh) but then there is one quote I found particularly interesting:

“Childhood is a congenital disease – and the purpose of education is to cure it.”

You can plot the rest of the film (including his literal and rather shocking interpretation of The Binding of Isaac) from this statement. His continuing breakdown and abuse of his wife and son all stem from this idea of his. The more you listen to him the more and more fascist some of his outbursts become. In 1955, that will have been downright shocking.

Speaking of shocking, the penultimate sequence of this film with its carnivalesque music in the background is fantastically done. You fear for the wife and son as Ed goes through a complete psychotic break is palpable.

It’s only when you remember this is James Mason and the year of production is 1956 that you are able to discount certain outcomes. Still, this is one of those films that feels nearly forgotten and it’s a downright shame.

XL Popcorn – Limite

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 583/1007
Title: Limite
Director: Mário Peixoto
Year: 1931
Country: Brazil

‘Dreamlike’ is one of those film descriptions that is banded about rather frequently. Personally it’s a word that comes to mind as a way to describe silent movies  due to the absence of dialogue. If I had to describe why this is the case…it would be because, compared to real life, the rulebook they use is similar enough to be recognisable yet different enough to feel otherworldly.

Limite is one of the films, however, where dreamlike must be the intention of the director; author Mário Peixoto. Not only is it a silent film, but an experimental silent film. He plays with camera angles, shooting styles and negatives in a way that make ordinary shots of palm trees and dilapidated buildings feel alien.

The plot of the film, if you can call it that, is that we start with three people stuck on a boat. They seem hopelessly lost. The majority of the film is made up of seemingly non-sequential flashbacks to give us more of a backstory into the lives of these three people. One of them is a recent prison escapee, one is mourning the lose of their lover and the other… looking back on it I am not so sure.

Thing is, it doesn’t really matter how these three ended up on the boat. This almost feels secondary to this film and instead the focus is more on the shots than the people contained within the shots. As such I am not sure if this would have worked as well with actual dialogue. The (gorgeous) music is more than enough here.

Interesting to note that for a while Limite was a lost film. It is a film that managed to influence Orson Welles and had available prints for a few decades and then suddenly it was gone.

Luckily for all concerned this did not stay lost for long and there is a restored version that can be watched on YouTube. The more of these 1001 films I watch, the more I realise just how many of these works could have been lost forever. I’m still crossing my fingers that the 1926 Korean film Arirang can be found… but I think we might be out of luck there.

Around The World In 100 Films – Ukraine

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 43/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 582/1007
Title: Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Director: Sergei Parajanov
Year: 1965
Country: Ukraine (Former USSR)

I know that this is the third film from the USSR that I have linked to a different country for the sake of my Movies from 100 Nations thing. Bit of a cheat really. Then again UNESCO refer to this film as being Ukrainian so who am I to argue?

Honestly, this film is very much a Ukrainian film other than the Tblisi-born director. The language is Ukrainian, it’s set in Ukraine, a seemingly large majority of the cast and crew are from Ukraine and it is filmed in Ukraine. So yes, this is very much a Ukrainian affair.

As with the other Sergei Parajanov film that I have seen (Sayat-Nova) the cinematic language on offer in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors feels incredibly alien. This is where the problem is for me – in between horn blares and mobile camerawork there were time where I found it hard to hard to make head or tails of the film. In that way it was also rather similar to Red Psalm

The basic storyline (thanks Wikipedia) is interesting enough; especially that ending where Ivan is killed by the phantom of his lost love as conjured by a sorcerer (not the weirdest sentence I’ve written today).  However, even with Wikipedia and subtitles this was hard to follow. Now pair this up with camerawork that made me feel a bit seasick and those blasted horns… well let’s just say I didn’t like this film much at all.

That’s the way it goes with these lists, you can’t get a home run every time.