Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in January.
- Movies watched – 33
- Movies that were new to me – 27
- Remakes and Sequels watched – 5 (counting Avatar)
- Monthly Masterpieces – Chloe in the Afternoon, La Collectionneuse, Pauline at the Beach, Viridiana
- Viridiana (1961)– Very deserving of its “all time best” status (they really don’t make em like this anymore), this is also one of the most cynical movies from a very cynical director. You will find yourself constantly snorting in impressed disbelief at Bunuel’s thematic chutzpah.
- Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) – I suppose you could think of this film as an interesting experiment in taking the comedic idea of spouting ridiculous one liners about “whore island” to a feature length extreme, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to get through. This is one of those movies where those “in the know” assure you it really is funny, but when evaluated objectively it reveals itself to be pretty weak.
- A Serious Man (2009) – At first this comes off as rather one note in that it is pretty much just a movie about a spineless man watching his life slowly unravel. But there are some actually some really interesting things going on with the Job story, the uncertainty principle and a truly cinematic final shot–that, or I could just be saying all this because I hate admitting that I didn’t really ”get” a movie.
- Still Waiting… (2009) – Just like Waiting… except lazier and without all the characters that made the first one watchable. Unfunny, and to make matters worse, the “unrated” version only has one shot of boobs.
- The Lady Vanishes (1938) – Fantastic early Hitchcock, probably second only to The Thirty Nine Steps out of his British work. The story pushes plausibility at times (even though it all adds up at the end), but it’s never less than a rip roaring good time as Hitchcock effortlessly weaves together his brilliant set pieces and scintillating dialog.
- Waiting… (2005) – Sure, it’s just a bunch of spitting in food/dick jokes, but the male urge for genital display has never been so fully explored. Also, it’s pretty funny and Ryan Renolds has a real knack for taking an unlikeable character and making him likeable.
- Something Wild (1986) – This kind of plays like a sweeter version of Scorsese’s After Hours, and is similarly well done. The narrative might wander a bit, but it never fails to be consistently entertaining.
- Limits of Control (2009) – I’ll admit I probably didn’t get everything Jarmusch is going for here, but, even with that in mind, the narrative still feels rather thin. There is some magnificent camerawork, and the film really does have a very nice dreamlike quality, I’m just not sure it needs two hours to get its point across.
- Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) – Pretty minor silent film, of note for being an early science fiction film (though not the first by any means, Meles was doing “sci fi in funny hats” 2 decades earlier) and because of the hilarious workers revolution that was instigated among the martians. Otherwise this was cinematically almost a decade behind the times, which, I suppose, makes the Russian films of the next few years that much more impressive considering the late start Soviet cinema had (as evidenced here).
- El Alamein (2002) – Fairly standard war film, though it captures the feel (or at least what I assume is the feel) of the desert front from an Italian perspective quite well. The day to day on the front lines stuff is actually more compelling than the actual battles which too often descend into incoherent chaos and explosions: realistic maybe, but not especially cinematic.
- Bad Lieutenant (1992) – A disgustingly seedy gem of a movie, I must admit I was rather blown away by this one. And I’m not just talking about Keitel’s jaw dropping performance; as a film this is as daring a narrative as I have seen in recent years–helped to no small degree by the masterstroke ending that elevated the movie above mere voyeurism.
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) – This plays like a Herzog directed episode of The Shield as dreamt by David Lynch and starring a mugging Nicholas Cage, which is to say it is a bit of a thematic mess. I have to admit I was pretty entertained anyway–there are some admirably bold moves, but unfortunately Herzog has lost too much of the narrative brilliance he once had to pull it all into a completely coherent whole.
- School of Rock (2003) – Two hours of Jack Black can be a bit much (I kind of prefer him in supporting roles like in High Fidelity), but he really kind of grows on you in this above average (but still routine) “teacher and kids help each other find themselves” movie. And don’t take the “routine” comment as a knock: aside from a few scattered shaky moments, this one really is a pretty good time.
- 2046 (2004) – Though full of much of the same magic as In the Mood For Love, 2046 is less impressive due to its relative lack of focus. Great stuff, but I suspect that (in this case at least) it might have been a bit better if Kar Wai had used a script.
- Pauline at the Beach (1983) – Probably Rohmer’s most accessible film (though European attitudes towards teenage sexuality will undoubtedly be offputting to American viewers), this is a supremely entertaining look at the games people play with their relationships. My only complaint is that the insight is not quite as deep as in some of his other movies, but since no other director really comes close anyway, I suppose I can’t complain too much.
- The Falls (1980) – This was an incredibly impressive achievement that is like a hundred (well, 92 at least) movies crammed into one movie, with more than enough ideas to keep them all interesting. While it is kind of a chore getting through such a surfeit of information all at once, this will definitely stick with you.
- The Westerner (1940) – Brennan is indeed great, but I feel like the portrayal of Judge Roy Bean is far too sympathetic in a movie that seems unsure what tone it wants to take. A lot of good stuff made by a team of masters, but too thematically conflicted to really rise to the top for me.
- The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007) – Rohmer is very much in Smiles of a Summer Night (or Midsummer Night Sex Comedy) mode here–not so much in story, but mood. Of course, that’s right down my alley, and this turned out to be one of his best “historical” pieces–proving that at 87, the old dog still has it.
- La Captive (2000) – What a strange movie: a man and a woman who both seem to have borderline mental illnesses shuffle through a bizarre, disconcerting relationship. It is interesting, good points are raised about possession, trust and love, but overall it still kind of fails to draw you in.
- A Skater’s Debut (1905) – I am curious if this really was made in 1905, as this Max Linder short is sophisticated enough to have been created in the teens. American Silent Comedy might have reigned during the teens and 20’s but this proves that France probably had the edge until then.
- La Collectionneuse (1967) – Rohmer’s first full length is definitely one of the all time great debuts as he effortlessly tells the story of two intellectuals who discover they are in over their heads with the “easy” nymph they share their house with. The story was fascinating, the naturalistic performances amazing, and the girl absolutely mesmerizing.
- Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) – A simple story of a man’s urge to stray from his wife becomes a tale of what it is to be human and remain true to yourself. Rohmer films inadvertently inspire morality more than any work of art I can think of, and they are superlative cinema to boot.
- Ginger Snaps (2000) – I only got halfway through this before I had to leave, and I can’t say I was upset that I was going to miss the end. I know this kind of film isn’t my thing, but the whole thing just feels rather stupid and lazy– while the attempts at “artsy” camera stylistics and what I’m sure the filmmaker thought was a very clever “commentary” on puberty only make it more annoying.
- Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (2007) – Harrowing account of an illegal black market abortion in 1980’s Romania is about as fun as it sounds. The insight is deep, the craft and performances flawless, but it’s yet another unpleasant movie that I can’t see myself wanting to watch again anytime soon.
- In the Loop (2009) – Kind of like those frantic newsroom comedies (and almost as cynical as His Girl Friday), this is a pretty great send up of our political system. The dialog is very clever if you are quick enough to catch it, and the film never stumbles once as it races through the fast and furious conversations.
- Take Aim at the Police Van (1960) – Not as stylistically daring as Suzuki’s best work, but this is still a fine Japanese Noir with a lot of nice stylistic touches. Interesting to see such a relaxed attitude towards portraying the seedier side of noir, which is also surprising since it is coming from a Japanese film.
- I Shot Jesse James (1949) – Fuller’s first film, and you can already tell he was going to be destined for great things. The first half is much stronger as Robert Ford deals with the fallout of a very bad life decision, but the final act weakens when the story moves to Colorado for a silver mining interlude that isn’t as compelling as the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
- Nine Queens (2000) – This take on the “con artist” movie is overall quite a bit of fun. I can’t say there is anything original about it, but the script never pauses for a breath and always keeps you guessing.
- Avatar (2009) – The plot and dialog are only about average for a Hollywood action movie (which isn’t saying much), but the special effects are easily the best I’ve ever seen making this at least worth checking out if that’s your thing. Unfortunately the 3D, in addition to feeling distracting and gimmicky, constrains the depth of field to such a narrow range that it ends up feeling more 2D than a “normal” movie.
- Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Downey was good, the Watson characterization was a lot more measured than the trailer suggested and the fight scenes at least didn’t *completely* dominate things. Still “just an action movie”, but an entertaining one at least.
- Up in the Air (2009) – Really quite good, a mainstream movie that never looks for an easy out to any of the questions of human interaction that it addresses. If I have a complaint, it is that there are a number of minor climaxes towards the end that make the narrative seem to wander a bit.
- Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Quite funny, thought I suspect a “zombie movie” fan will appreciate this a lot more than myself. Still, the fart jokes alone are worth the price of admission.
- The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Beautifully shot, and at every moment it reminds you of the unquestionable genius and creativity of Orson Welles. Which makes it almost as heartbreaking as the story itself when it flies wildly off the rails in the final 20 minutes as the editing (at the hands of the studio attempting to cut 70 minutes from the movie) begins to move like it is at the whim of a two year old intermittently pushing a fast forward button.