Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – Seconds

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 918/1009Title: Seconds
Director: John Frankenheimer
Year: 1966
Country: USA

Okay, so I didn’t need to be told that Seconds came from the same director as The Manchurian Candidate. True, there is a certain level of Cold War paranoia that come with many films from the 1960s – but there is something very specific about how these two films look. Pretty much all the shots have been chosen in order to maximize on everything being vaguely unsettling, like plenty of Dutch angles before it become a Hollywood staple.

Seconds comes from the idea of – is there a time that you would like to change lives to something with no strings attached. New face, new profession, new beginnings and nothing to connect you back to your previous life. With Mr Hamilton, he never got a choice in the matter – instead he was pretty much strong-armed into it… but hey he was given the gorgeous face of Rock Hudson as part of the deal. So, it’s not all bad.

This is one of those films that, whilst being a paranoia thriller, still has a core that feels incredibly relevant. Towards the end, the Rock Hudson character has a monologue about wanting a second chance because he did everything he was expected to and accumulated what he was expected to and still feels empty.

This is very much the idea of a midlife crisis, but also the crisis felt by many who were promised the world as long as they did all the right educational things… and are left jobless. Well enough about my generation. Thinking about Rock Hudson, a gay man who feared being publicly outed, having to deliver this speech is pretty heartbreaking .

The whole thing plays out like an elongated episode of The Twilight Zone and that is in no way a bad thing – just how it follows a well trodden set of rules. Despite that, the ending still hits hard, even if it all comes down to someone getting an unprecedented second opportunity for free and somehow becoming incredibly entitled. Rock Hudson being taken at the end, well that was chilling.

XL Popcorn – Zero Kelvin

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 917/1009Title: Kjærlighetens Kjøtere (Zero Kelvin)
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Year: 1995
Country: Norway

Coming to the end of a nice Easter break, the first piece of prolonged time off I have had for a while where I didn’t have most of it ruined by coronavirus, and it’s been great to get my teeth into the 1001 list. Also, have been able to get a lot of time with my new Playstation 5… which is one of many reasons why the video game list is on hold.

I saw someone on Letterboxd describe Zero Kelvin as being what would happen if you stripped The Lighthouse of its supernatural elements and turned it more into a paranoia thriller. Well, they are not far from the truth. This is a film set in a remote corner of Greenland where three men are on contract as trappers – a scientist, a sadistic former sailor and a newly arrived poet.

This is an unforgiving place where life is, at least according to the company ordering the pelts, cheap. Animals are animals and men are just there to kill the animals… and to psychologically torment each other. The tension is extremely real as the sailor and the poet tear each other apart over an indeterminate period. It starts out as what might be seen as hazing of the new guy and trying to teach him the savagery of the frozen north, but everything just escalates until things burn down, people fall into icy fjords and eventual death.

As the feuding men, Stellan Skarsgård and Gard B. Eidsvold are both absolutely brilliant. Skarsgård is especially fantastic in making his role terrifying, frustrating and sometimes weirdly sympathetic. After all that he does, including a murder attempt, he tries to make things nice for Christmas – so when it is ruined you can feel his heartbreak… even though he has done some pretty terrible things beforehand.

The cinematography is also excellent with sweeping shots of the stunning and bleak Arctic really showcasing just how isolated these three men are in their wooden hut. The only thing that might rankle some viewers is the amount of animal carcasses and dogs in distress (I’m assuming canine actors, but it was hard to tell). It does feel like a version of The Lighthouse that is set in reality, which actually makes it all the more scary.

XL Popcorn – Avengers: Endgame

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 916/1009Title: Avengers: Endgame
Director: Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo
Year: 2019
Country: USA

Okay, so Scarlet Witch was barely in this film – but her small appearance was notable enough (and she is one of my favourite comic book characters as a kid) that I just had to find some sort of image of her for this blog post.

Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the massive saga that has been in the works for the Marvel Cinematic Universe for well over a decade. It is also the direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, which I saw really recently for the list. When I saw that film, I just did not relish having to watch the second 3-hour film in the pairing. I mean, it was tonal whiplash with too large a cast of heroes that I didn’t exactly have much of a care for.

This has changed with Endgame. I went into watching this expecting to just idle away three hours organizing one of my external hard drives – just having this on for the sake of crossing it off. Thing is, Endgame was exactly what I wanted from a Marvel movie and it actually made the kid inside me who adored X-Men really happy. I kinda wish that I didn’t have to watch the very long prelude into what is a really well done comic book movie.

Watching this has led me to two things. Firstly, like with Infinity War, I now understand so many of the memes that have been floating around Reddit for years. Also, I actually want to see some of the Marvel films that led up to this – like the Thor films or the first Avengers movie. I am still not entirely sold on watching Guardians of the Galaxy – but I don’t think I am going to end up watching a whole bunch of these as the first post-1001 watch.

I am just so glad that Endgame managed to not repeat what I disliked about it predecessor. The smaller cast allowed for more focus and because they were coming back from a loss, suddenly they all just seemed that much more human rather than being a bit cocky. Even helped me to actually feel a connection to them at the end and feel some of their loss. Does everything suddenly get explained by it being ‘quantum’? Sure, but it was a lot of fun.

XL Popcorn – Forbidden Games

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 915/1009Title: Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games)
Director: René Clément
Year: 1952
Country: France

A caravan of French refugees fleeing Paris because of the Nazi invasion. The deaths of the main character’s parents. A dead dog being merciless thrown into a river at the cries of his five year old owner. This is the first five minutes of Forbidden Games which serves as a weird and far darker companion to the more whimsical fleeing from The Night of the Shooting Stars.

How on earth does a five year old girl process losing everything she has ever known or loved in such a short space of time? Someone who has known much death, but is not quite old enough to process it. Well, this is how we end up with her making friends with a young farmer’s son and getting him to build an animal cemetery for her so that her newly buried dog wouldn’t be lonely underground. A cemetery that uses crosses that the boy stole from another cemetery… including the cross belonging to his own recently deceased brother.

For a film where the lead actors were young children, you get some truly incredible performances. Brigitte Fossey will have only been 5-6 when shooting this, but my word this little girl was absolutely sensational. She won’t have necessarily have understood everything she was doing and why, but that’s where director René Clément came in by directing her energy into an incredibly believable performance.

Seeing a film where two children steal crosses in order to make their own animal cemetery – well this was not quite what I was expecting to be the titular forbidden game. It does though make a really interesting point around what war can do to your sense of what life and death mean, especially when this is all happening to you as a young child.

There are some signs that the boy might be a bit damaged, as we see two animals die by his hand so it could be part of her cemetery. Then again, that could just be more my city boy squeamishness reading something into behaviour that wasn’t meant to be there. It’s also interesting to see how both of the children treat religion – the girl has no idea what the prayers are and he is more than happy to defile a grave whilst also knowing all the rituals.

I can see how this could have been controversial at the time. It’s not every day that you have a ten year old defile a grave for a five year old after all. However, Forbidden Games could be seen more for what it was when screened outside of its native France – ending up with a festival win, the BAFTA for Best Film and an Academy Award.

XL Popcorn – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 914/1009Title: Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Year: 1939
Country: Japan

Two posts in a row where I have ended up seeing the final entry for a director with three films on the list. The difference between Zangiku Monogatari and The Palm Beach Story is worlds apart. At least with the two other entries by Kenji Mizoguchi, they are both films I watched since starting the blog back in March 2014. It helps to look back on Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff to see how today’s watch stacks up against the others. Sadly, it’s an easy trip to the bottom of the list.

For a story to be two and a half hours long, there needs to be something epic about the scope. Sometimes it’s because we are looking at an adaptation of an epic novel, the long and interesting life of an individual or even the painting of a work of art due to the scope of the creative process.

Zangiku Monogatari wants to paint the casting out of a kabuki actor by his adoptive family and his eventual return to their good graces as worthy of the long treatment. I think that it could be when done in a certain way. For me, however, this film took too long to hit beats that others would only need 100 minutes for.

So much of this was taken up in long takes made of panning or tracking shots, which is definitely a stylistic choice. However, this is a choice that rarely works for me. Sometimes a close-up is good. Variety when it comes to types of shots is especially good. Zangiku Monogatari has this air as if it was made for the stage and the film was shot for a dress rehearsal. In doing so it lost a lot of what would make a good melodrama for me.

What also would not have helped is the age of the film. I saw an high definition remaster on YouTube, but despite the best effort of the preservation so much of the detail in the sets is just not there. This is a film that is meant to have fantastic production design, however this can only really be see in the river parade at the end and in some of the actual theatre scenes. The rest is dark with not a lot of interesting detail that would have helped make these long takes worthwhile.

XL Popcorn – The Palm Beach Story

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 913/1009Title: The Palm Beach Story
Director: Preston Sturges
Year: 1942
Country: USA

Preston Sturges has three entries on the 1001 list, this is the final one for me to see. However, it turns out that it has been eight years since I last saw one of his films – so it is the first time I am writing about him. Previously I have seen Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve both in 2013 – but I took long enough to get back to him as I just wanted to spare myself some good old-fashioned comedies until the final stretch.

Good comedy is a bit of an understatement though – I loved The Palm Beach Story. I know that Sullivan’s Travels is meant to be his pinnacle, but I think I preferred this one despite the multiple deus ex machinas and the sub-90 minute running time. This is a film that goes so into the ridiculousness of the situations that these moments that come out of nowhere, including a well-seeded twist at the end.

The comedy of re-marriage, or the comedy with a madcap marriage at the climax, is such a common trope in the Hays Code era – so The Palm Beach Story goes the other way by having the chaotic marriage happen at the beginning. It immediately sets the tone with Claudette Colbert showing straight away why she was one of the major comedic actors of her era and continuing to do so on her trip to Palm Beach in order to secure both a divorce and a second, richer husband.

Then, later on, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée burst onto the screen as ‘Rockefeller’ style siblings and help to make the final half hour a freight train of laughs and ridiculousness. It’s been a while since a comedy film tickled me as much as this did, the final moments leading both myself and my husband to laugh gasp and then immediately re-watch the opening sequence. I know that some people will have hated how the film ends, but I loved it and loved that there was a clue set up for us. I’m glad I saved this film so that it could chase away the blah taste of Sleeping Dogs.

XL Popcorn – Sleeping Dogs

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 912/1009Title: Sleeping Dogs
Director: Roger Donaldson
Year: 1977
Country: New Zealand

The film that launched the career of Sam Neill. The first 35-mm feature film to be entirely produced in New Zealand. For the film industry of New Zealand, this is definitely a landmark that helped set the table for everything that followed. I would understand the inclusion of this film on the list, on those terms, if similar films for nations like Thailand and Nigeria appeared… but they don’t. I guess that’s the perils of an English-language list?

So yes, with those being the terms of inclusion – and nothing else – I am not sure why this film is on there. Like, at least for me, it isn’t even that good. A political ‘thriller’ involving a resistance movement in New Zealand against new martial law measures. For a country like New Zealand this feels like a stretch at best… but sure I am willing to suspend some disbelief – if everything else had made sense and it wasn’t so dull.

Sleeping Dogs is one of the times that makes me wish I allowed myself to switch a movie off in the middle. Like at least a Godard film which can bore me at least has something a bit unusual going on other than this fairly generic take on a reluctant resistance fighter. Oh well, can’t be too many more of these films left.

 

XL Popcorn – Blade Runner 2049

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 911/1009Title: Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Turns out there is a bright spot in the capitalising on nostalgia trend of the last few years. Some of these have proven to be awful from the outset, but then you have Blade Runner 2049 which doesn’t just buck the trend – it launches it into the stratosphere. Since it has been nearly 10 years since I last saw the original Blade Runner, I thought it a good idea to refresh myself before seeing whether Villeneuve’s direction would be worthy of the legacy.

Never should have doubted him. Blade Runner 2049 is stunning and really should help to make the template on how a film that relies on an old classic intellectual property should be done. For one, it is very much in the world of Blade Runner – but it never seeks to tell the same story as the original. This is something that The Force Awakens got with so hard because it was winking so hard the whole time, but so often a retread completely fails.

Visually Blade Runner 2049 is beyond stunning. Roger Deakins deservedly won an Oscar for his work as cinematographer and the visual effects team clinched their own win. It would have been great to have seen more nominations for this film, like maybe Best Picture in place of Darkest Hourbut already you can see which one has the best legacy.

In terms of the storytelling this is a long film at 15 minutes shy of three hours. However, this is a film that not only has to bring people who haven’t seen the original up to scratch, but also has to explain 30 years of additional lore and then go into this complex parable of caste systems that reflect so much of the world today. It takes gigantic swings and I am so glad that the studio had the faith in the creative team to allow such a long cut to be released, despite people like Ridley Scott saying that they would have cut out 30 minutes.

Cut out none of it. Release more of it and turn it into a Das Boot style miniseries. This is the closest that I am going to get to a Fallout: New Vegas movie and it just left me wanting more. It’s brutal, beautiful and has brilliant moments courtesy of Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks as a brilliant villain.

XL Popcorn – The Night of the Shooting Stars

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 910/1009Title: La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars)
Director: Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani
Year: 1982
Country: Italy

After a long spate of 2010s films, it is time to open back up again to pretty much any decade that I want to watch. Nice that this would happen as this film marks my entry into the double digits. That’s right, just 99 films to go and I will have completed this list and be free of a challenge that I have had going for 18 years. Now it is time to mop up some movies before heading to the end game of the 18 films I have saved for the end.

La notte di San Lorenzo is a Second World War film unlike any I have seen before. It is set in rural Italy when the Americans were beginning to make their way north, liberating towns as they go. The principle cast are residents of a town that is due to be mostly destroyed by the Germans as a final punishment for daring to resist. These residents do not trust the Germans at their word of not killing them as long as they remain in the cathedral, so escape under the dead of night hoping to find Americans who will safe them.

This is one of those films where you can see how much an effect Fellini had on the world of Italian cinema. The focus is on the people as they try to survive, with a few fantasy sequences and other pieces of heightened emotions in for good measure. It’s all told from the memory of a 6-year-old girl and what she has been told since. From this vantage point, the scene where a fascist is impaled by the spears of a Roman army makes sense.

By remaining profoundly human, La notte di San Lorenzo steers away from a lot of the tropes of a typical war film – instead feeling like a story played out many times over the centuries whenever there is a village set to be razed by interlopers. Beautifully directed in some stunning Italian countryside, this film really was a pleasant surprise.

XL Popcorn – 13th

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 909/1009Title: 13th
Director: Ava DuVernay
Year: 2016
Country: USA

It’s 2021. In the time between the release of 13th Donald Trump’s presidency has been and gone, the Black Lives Matter work continues and we have many more names to add to the wall that DuVernay has put at the end of this like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. When it was made, I don’t think she saw Trump winning the election given how there was some hope at the end around Hilary Clinton’s denouncement of damaging mass incarceration policies. Makes me wonder how a coda to this film around Trump’s contributions to the issue of the racism of the justice system would play out.

Still though, 13th and the messages will not date until there are mass changes to how the United States fully reevaluates the balance between punishment and rehabilitation, profit and people and the imbalance of the ethnic make up of their prison population. Things have happened in the years since, but this is a film that looks at how things have gotten so bad and there is no challenging at how deftly DuVernay pulls this off.

There are a number of things in this documentary that I knew. I watch shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee that have addressed a lot of the more recent elements of this phenomenon. Hell, in the same list as 13th is the film that helped perpetuate a lot of problems and aided in the rebirth of the KKK – Birth of a Nation. That probably amounted to about 10-15% of the historical content in this film – the rest being a grotesque eye-opener.

It is difficult to make a film that is, like a lot of documentaries, a massive exposition dump. In this instance, a dark one that is deeply political and incredibly uncomfortable. Films like this are essential, as essential as seeing proper representation in narrative-driven films. Having people in this film still denying that any of this was motivated to either help companies in profit or to disenfranchise the non-white and the poor is… just jaw-dropping and just further illustrates how far there is to go.