Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – A Man Escaped

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 869/1009Title: A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1956
Country: France

Having seen Le Trouand knowing how that goes, I was a bit relieved to see that A Man Escaped is based on a true story from the memoirs of the man that escaped. Means that no matter how high the tension got – like seeing our protagonist being sentenced to death at Hotel Terminus – you knew that it was unlikely to end with a firing squad.

I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with Bresson in the 1001 films list. Out of the previous three films of his, I have only liked one of them – my issue with the other two being a main character who I not only disliked, but also failed to understand their motivations. Sure, I’m a bit of a goodie two shoes – sue me.

With A Man Escaped, it is difficult to find a situation where you can route for someone more – a member of the French resistance plans and executes their escape from prison in order to not be executed by the invading Nazi troops. This is the plot of the film where we spend most of the time seeing how he prepares his tools and comes up with the best way to escape – again, all based on the memoirs of the man who escaped.

There’s a bit at the beginning where Bresson states that all we are about to see is true – thankfully he omitted the torture elements of the true story, but everything else hasn’t been altered too much for cinematic effect. Knowing that, it is difficult to not be in awe as we watch this man fashion tools, map his surroundings and come up with the easiest way to actually get out of his cell (a few months with a sharpened spoon and, oddly enough, a wooden prison door).

Like with Journal of a Country Priest, this film is a bit of a slow burn – but that just helps when it comes to building up the tension. Even though you know it’s going to be okay – this is still a prison where 7 out of 10 inmates were killed and there’s plenty of obstacles between this man and freedom. It’s a real triumph of a man’s ingenuity and what the price of freedom can be – and then there is me who would have probably fallen to their death in the first few minutes having weaved a bad rope.

XL Popcorn – Lone Star

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 868/1009Title: Lone Star
Director: John Sayles
Year: 1996
Country: USA

I am going to hold my hands up and say that this is not a film I really expected too much of. Mainly because this is a nearly two and a half hour long film where the DVD case is mostly taken up by Matthew McConaughey in a very early role. Nothing against him as an actor… now, but back then I am not a big fan. The fact that he has an important, yet very minor, role in the form of flashbacks is knowledge I wish I had a bit earlier.

Lone Star is a bit of a slow burn, but is one of those films that could have been an overblown melodrama in the wrong hands. Instead, you have an incredibly well written ensemble piece set in a Texan border county with a number of exceptionally well acted characters. At the centre is a murder mystery around a skeleton found in the desert and the sheriff who returns home to uncover the truth behind the murder and the truth behind his father, who is idolized by the county at large.

This murder mystery is just one of a number of separate plot threads telling the stories of the many residents of Rio county. It’s a film about representation and the ramifications of Texas’ complex history has to the modern day residents. White people claiming that because they won the wars, that the Mexican residents should not learn the complete truth in school. The many different stories of the Latinx residents, be they born there or having crossed the border in different capacities. There is also a good history lesson in the African-American residents and how their own history, and that of Native Americans have in some instances become intertwined by Texas’ unique position in relation to the rest of the USA.

In a number of ways, Lone Star is a Texian take on the many multi-stranded ensemble movies (like Happiness and Magnolia) you got in the 1990s and, much like those two examples, I really loved this movie. All the revelations and lessons that pile up in the final 15 minutes are perfect pay-offs for the first two hours and, honestly, it’s been a while since I last saw a film that used flashbacks as expertly in order to drive the narrative.

XL Popcorn – A Throw of Dice

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 867/1009Title: Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice)
Director: Franz Osten
Year: 1929
Country: Germany/India

When the 1001 list was first made back in 2003, A Throw of Dice was still languishing in semi-obscurity and so was not featured. Between then and the last major overhaul in 2013, this film was digitally restored and a new soundtrack penned for a festival in order to mark Indian Independence. These acts, and the subsequent pulling out of the archives, pushed it back into the timeline of cinema history and it became the earliest new entry ever made on a revised version of the 1001 list.

This is very early Indian cinema and, due to the German director, it straddles the worlds of Hollywood and what would later be found in Bollywood. The cinematography and the art direction are sheer decadence set in real life locales that D.W. Griffith could only make a facsimile of in his gigantic sets for Intolerance. Great crowd scenes and costumes that would later become a Bollywood staple, but with a story that is sadly paper thin.

A Throw of Dice is not a film you watch for plot – in fact you could argue that the bulk of the plot happens in the first and final 10 minutes of the film, the intermediate hour being mostly eye candy with plot beats thrown in here and there. The biggest attractions are it being a visual and, thanks to the amazing soundtrack Nitin Sawhney wrote for the 2006 re-release, audio beauty. It’s an interesting film to see some of the roots of what would later become Indian cinema, but that’s really about it.

XL Popcorn – Romper Stomper

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 866/1009Title: Romper Stomper
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Year: 1992
Country: Australia

I am going to preface this by saying that I have never seen American History X. I know from reading various comments online that there are comparisons to be made between both films – so maybe one day soon I’ll be able to do the same. Until then, I think one film about neo-Nazis and all their hate words is enough for me. Seriously, there were so many epithets in this film that I’d never heard before and I do not care to know what they mean.

Romper Stomper is one of those films where I wish the sentiments were long since dead, even if they were dead as of the time this film was made. Sadly, this is not the case and although it feels that it isn’t as bad – it’s hard to ignore evidence to the contrary on the internet.

My own politics aside, Romper Stomper is a violent film that tells an interesting story of the downfall of a group of white nationalists – a downfall down more because of internal politics and reporting on their own kind out of revenge rather than anything being properly done by wider society. Russell Crowe is very scary as the psychopathic leader and you can see how he is able to hold such sway over this group… and be able to bring in other damaged people in on his cause.

In the end though it’s hard to ignore that this film, when viewed by someone who holds the beliefs of the white nationalist gang, will be watching the downfall of a hero – unlike me who was glad to see all that he created be destroyed. How you view the main characters and their actions if a mirror to your own sentiments which, given that this film ended up possibly inspiring a murder and other actions, make you question how much actions like this be filmed with a sense of neutrality.

XL Popcorn – Closely Watched Trains

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 865/1009Title: Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains)
Director: Jiří Menzel
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

It’s mid-November as of writing this and, because of Covid, we just put the decorations up because screw it. This year’s been weird enough, might as well enjoy some extended time with the twinkly lights and my gingerbread train set. The train set bringing me nicely on to the film that we ended up watching as we basked in the glow of blue and white lights.

When a film starts the way that Closely Watched Trains does, which is pretty similar to Amélie in how we learn the main character’s family history, you don’t expect there to be such deep tragedy that you feel in your soul. Then again, this is a Czech film set in the Second World War where you have Nazi sympathisers forcing the train staff to allow the safe passage of an ammunition train.

The fact that the more graphic of the main tragedies involves the main character cutting his wrists after prematurely ejaculating in an attempt to lose his virginity… well it tells you a lot about where the main focus of the film is. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t manage to stay funny throughout, there is a brilliant B-plot involving an employment tribunal after two of the station staff use the official stamps for naughty purposes.

In the end, Closely Watched Trains is a film of incredible contrast that – even when you consider some of the slightly ridiculous sexual sub-plots, is a small and human story about what it was like to be in a small town when the Nazis come calling. There is collaboration, and there is resistance whilst there is also life and death. It’s one of those films that, whilst it didn’t make the biggest of impacts on me whilst watching, I know will benefit from a rewatch.

XL Popcorn – Atlantic City

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 864/1009Title: Atlantic City
Director: Louis Malle
Year: 1980
Country: Canada/France

After whatever Flaming Creatures was, and because it ended up being a bit of a grey afternoon, I fancied something that was close to a crime drama and wasn’t incredibly long. Atlantic City fit the bill perfectly at around 100 minutes long and in having bit players in the local New Jersey crime world as minor characters.

It’s a bit odd to have seen this so soon after Sweet Smell of Successthe passage of time being very clear on Burt Lancaster. 23 years later and rather than playing a ruthless and socially successful columnist, here he is as a pretty much retired petty gangster clinging to any semblance of reputation he has… whilst perving on his next door neighbour as she bathes herself in lemon juice to deal with the smell of working in an oyster bar.

Having Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon play opposite each other as, essentially, love interests (although it’s more a fondness rather than lust on her side) is a bit weird considering the age gap and that she is pretty much okay with him having watched her be naked – but you kinda so with it because the city isn’t exactly portrayed as unseedy and she is basically taking advantage of the situation of having this older man help her out. Also, he is a real step up from her deadbeat husband that ran off with her sister.

It’s weird seeing Atlantic City knowing that Malle was vaguely related to the French New Wave movement, and having seen him tackle very different stories in Murmur of the Heart and Au Revoir Les Enfants. In the end though, this is very unlike the more neo-noir style crime films of the time. This isn’t moody like Chinatown or overblown like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, this is a profoundly human story that has some crime elements alongside talk of reflexology, reincarnation and how to become a croupier.

XL Popcorn – Flaming Creatures

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 863/1009Title: Flaming Creatures
Director: Jack Smith
Year: 1963
Country: USA

There really are not many shorts left on this list. I guess that, in the earlier times of watching my way through, I gobbled a lot of them up as easy wins. Hey ho, after Flaming Creatures there are a handful left and I don’t think any of them are going to be able live up to how deeply strange this was. Like, this may be one of the weirdest things I have seen for a very long time.

No bones about this, I didn’t particularly like or enjoy my time with Flaming Creatures. Having a film shot on aged army film stock, on a rooftop with just a backdrop and possibly the biggest part of the budget being spent on lipstick and orgy supplies… well that was never going to quite be my cup of tea. However, despite needing some sort of bribe in order to watch this ever again, I will happily defend its place in the 1001 list.

We’re in 1963, 6 years before the Stonewall riots and 40 years (yes, even I was shocked when I read this) before the US Supreme Court officially decriminalized homosexuality throughout the entire USA – mopping up the remaining 14 states that had yet to take the initiative to do so. To make a film like this (however poor quality) is an incredible act of subversion when you are challenging gender and sexual freedom to the point that it was found in violation of decency laws and banned.

Like this worth watching(ish) just for being the weird and subversive piece of experimental cinema that it is. If any of that doesn’t really appeal, just watch something else.

XL Popcorn – Sweet Smell of Success

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 862/1009Title: Sweet Smell of Success
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1957
Country: USA

One of the first classic black and white Hollywood films that I ever saw was Some Like It Hot. Hell, that might have even been the first I saw because I had a real liking for Marilyn Monroe as a very young boy.  As such, I am really unable to see Tony Curtis without thinking of his Cary Grant impression or dressing up as a female saxophonist. I know that in The Defiant Ones I will continue to see his dramatic side – but I don’t think I was quite prepared for what an awful human being his character was in Sweet Smell of Success.

Then again, considering that the other Alexander Mackendrick film that I have blogged about is the Scottish alcohol farce Whisky Galorethis is one of those films that surprised me all around. I mean, this is a noir film about the cut-throat men working in the New York press stepping on who they need to in order to achieve the sweetest perfume of all: success.

With Tony Curtis as the D-list press agent trying to get his own star to rise and Burt Lancaster as the ruthless columnist who uses his influence to get what he wants – this is a fantastic noir. Like, it is one of those noir films with a complex scheme (in this instance, to split up an engagement that Lancaster’s character finds unworthy of his sister) that has the twists and turns and yet it isn’t too convoluted (like some others within the genre).

At just over 90 minutes, this is one of those films packed with such great dialogue and plot points that it  just went by in a flash. An hour in we were interrupted by a food delivery and…wow that hour flew by quickly. Knowing the ending, this is something that I know I’ll have to watch again in a few years in order to get that different experience.

XL Popcorn – Underground

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 861/1009Title: Underground
Director: Emir Kusturica
Year: 1995
Country: Yugoslavia

When a movie on the 1001 list finds itself featured on the 366 Weird Movies site – you know that, no matter what you think of the movie, it’s going to at least be an interesting watch. Almost immediately, the weirdness slaps you in the face and you are away on a nearly three hour absurd black dramady with two Yugoslav arms dealers as main characters that are never away from a brass band and death.

It’s one of those movies that is hard to describe because there is a lot of surreal and absurd things happening, whilst the backdrop is incredibly tragic. We start out as the Nazis bomb Belgrade in World War Two, we continue in the Cold War as the bulk of the cast are tricked into living underground manufacturing weapons thinking that the war against fascism still rages on and finally we end up in a surreal version of the Balkans War – which was filmed during the same war was then released two months before the genocide at Srebrenica.

There is so much recent history wrapped up in this film, whose final act has been condemned by many depending on your interpretation on whether it’s meant to be real (if weird) or a surrealistic series of thoughts by on of the characters as to how he sees their lives having played out in the then-current political climate. Either way you interpret it, this final divisive act isn’t really needed and – for me – was the barrier that stopped me from giving it a perfect score.

The first two parts (which admittedly make up two and a half hours of the nearly three hour runtime) are absolutely incredible. Some critics online say this is what would happen if Fellini had made a war film… and they aren’t wrong. This is a film where of the opening scenes is the bombing of a zoo which results in a war-torn Belgrade having an elephant steal shoes from a windowsill. It is also a film with a lengthy wedding scene in an underground bunker which ends after a chimpanzee fires a mortar shell from a tank.

Like, you cannot describe this film without it sounding like a fever dream and that is what I loved about this film – and what makes the final thirty minutes such a problem. Having the central conflict of the characters coming from the imprisonment and cheerful slavery of everyone who knows and loves them is such a dark premise – yet you end up laughing out loud multiple times because of just how bizarre things get and how brilliantly played the lead characters are.

Do I want to see more films by Emir Kusturica? Absolutely, because for the fault of the final act and some of his politics – Underground was extraordinary. Am I going to view them with The Death of the Author in mind so I can enjoy them without thinking too hard about his intent? Yes, because I think that if I see this spark in other films of his I know I am going to enjoy them immensely.

XL Popcorn – My Left Foot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 860/1009Title: My Left Foot
Director: Jim Sheridan
Year: 1989
Country: Ireland

Now I have seen all three of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar winning roles – and wow there is definitely no way he could have lost this one. In his role as Christy Brown, the writer-painter who grew up in Dublin with 10+ siblings and cerebral palsy, he is absolutely extraordinary. So was Hugh O’Conor as young Christy – who is able to stand up to the level Day-Lewis sets later in the film.

Reading just the synopsis, it would be easy to just dismiss My Left Foot as just another piece of Oscar bait. Now, whilst there is clearly a lot in this film that is a bit ‘worthy’ (especially the ending), it is able to keep it’s feet pretty much rooted in reality. It doesn’t quite go into the deep darkness of Distant Voices, Still Lives but there is still a lot of darkness here.

There is a lot of love in Brown’s upbringing, but there is no escaping of what happens to the money when you have more siblings than a football team. Also, whilst there is acceptance within his own family, that isn’t always the case outside the family home. As much as he grows to be able to express himself through painting, and later writing, he struggles to form friendships and romantic relationships.

In a depiction of someone who overcomes pretty much everything live can throw at you, there is a tendency for a character like this to be written as a Mary Sue. The reason that this film works so well is that Christy Brown is far from perfect. There is an extreme amount of resentment and frustration here that we see him express, supress and overcome throughout his life. However, through all this there is so much love that he shows – especially towards his mother (Brenda Fricker is fantastic) and that he wants to show to the woman who is able to give him a chance – as indicated at the end of the film.

Now, having read a bit more about Brown’s life after the end of the film, I can definitely say that it put a bit of a dampener on what was meant to be an uplifting ending about him finally finding a woman who would marry him. Look it up for yourself, his eventual marriage (and early death by choking) is horrifying – really wish the real Christy Brown could have had the Hollywood ending that Jim Sheridan directed for him.