Before writing this entry, the idea was to post a blog every week listing all of the films I’ve watched (that I have not previously seen) over seven days. However, given the length, I don’t know if that’s going to be a constant. Maybe once a month highlighting the best films I watched. Anyway, here’s what I saw:
La Haine (1995)
This was the best film I watched all week. It reminded me of both Fight Club and Children of Men for specific reasons: Fight Club because it was speaking to a certain generation-in this case, poor youths living in the banlieues of Paris;* Children of Men because the camera work is easy-going, not kinetic, but smooth; it lets the film do its thing. When you watch as many films as I do, you begin to feel worn out by ho-hum films. This was a good jolt of awesomeness, both for content (you really feel like you’re learning something about this world) and formalist elements. Please: Watch this.
*The banlieues in France are the suburbs or outskirts. In contrast to the U.S., these suburbs are the ghettos where the poor and minorities reside.
Cache (Hidden) (2005)
I thought Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (2007)* was brilliant, so I was disappointed by Cache. Residing on many top film lists, I felt this was heralded by auteur theory slaves or for the formalistic as opposed to the content. People discuss it in terms of an allegory for French colonialism, but there is nothing in the film that directs you to such a conclusion. All you have is a French man thinking an immigrant boy he knew in childhood is stalking him. The film’s purpose is opaque and thus comes off as artistic wankery. Any time you’re looking at a piece of art and the only way it has meaning is via the titlecard explaining the artist’s purposes, the artist has failed. I am by no means asking for an artist to shove the subtext down my throat. However, you need to give clues to your meaning and there are none in Cache. Don’t bother.
*this was a shot-for-shot American re-make that Haneke, surprisingly, directed himself
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
This is the film that inspired Mad Max, thereby The Road and probably any post-apocalyptic film you’ve ever seen. The world has been scorched to deserts and a boy and his dog, who are telepathically linked, search for food and women for the boy to rape. Yes, you read that right: man’s best friend helps a boy with sexual assault. Things get weird when he meets a girl and goes underground, where the world is frozen as 1950’s America, the townspeople wear creepy clown makeup and the high school band is always in full swing. This is definitely from the 1970’s (too weird to be from any other decade) and the humor is super black. Totally worth a watch just for the ending, but watch with friends. This is too out there to watch without company. Trailer
Malcolm X (1992)
A biopic on Malcolm X . . . where Spike Lee doesn’t know when to be quiet. Really Spike Lee, did you need Nelson Mandela to hammer your point home after we see X shot a bajillion times? Denzel Washington is good (of course), but watch Lee’s 25th Hour for something really great.
North by Northwest (1959)
I had no idea that a mainstream Hollywood film could have so much sexual innuendo. I was perpetually waiting for some super sexy music to cut in during the dialogue between Grant and Saint Marie. Other notable comments: an abrupt ending which transitions directly from Mount Rushmore, straight into a Honeymoon train ride. Also, you’ll notice any exterior scenes flip back and forth from being on location, to using a green screen (like those of The Daily Show correspondent reports). Something tells me this was the result of keeping dialogue in a studio where audio can be recorded easily, then cutting back to on location when no dialogue was occurring. It’s interesting to consider how a film’s style is affected by technical issues. Good little thriller though.
The Searchers (1956)
Since discovering Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) I’ve gone through recommended Westerns I missed during my youth [too busy watching films on TNT, like Night of the Living Dead (1990), The Lost Boys (1987), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994)]. So seeing The Searchers among all the other Westerns put it in perspective. The film is noteworthy for John Wayne’s role as an anti-hero when he goes looking for girl kidnapped by “Indians” with a young buck who is part Native American himself. Other than that, the acting and dialogue aren’t the finest. If you’re new to Westerns, you need to see The Searchers, but I’d recommend High Noon (1952) for higher honors.
Along with my comments on The Searchers, Unforgiven is praised for breaking from Western tradition and showing the true consequences of the killin’ life. Interesting since Clint Eastwood directed Unforgiven, the guy who made killing look cool in the Leone and Dirty Harry films. See my blog entry on Eastwood’s penance for a lengthier treatise.
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
And finally, this links up with Unforgiven not only due to Eastwood’s directorial role, but for the same act of deconstructing the genre’s mythos of war heroes. At first, the look of the film might remind you of a tv movie, but I think that’s because Eastwood didn’t want to tart it up with grittiness like Saving Private Ryan (1998). Better to stay away from stylization and let the film play out in our world, where colors continue to exist despite a war’s occurence. Again, see my Eastwood blog entry for more.
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
If the earliest films you’ve seen are the Classical Hollywood Films during the Hays Code Era (such as North by Northwest), then this one will surprise you, as German director Josef von Sternberg spins the tale of Catherine the Great of Russia. The film’s opening montage, in which young Catherine is receiving her education of Russian politics, we see nudity, torture, and beheadings (though on this we only see a man with an ax; the other items, we see it). The set design of the Russian palace is just as grotesque (very German expressionist), but this little film is interesting for focusing on women, with Marlene Dietrich as the protagonist who has a vareity lover boys, and the tyrannical mother-in-law and ruler of Russia, Empress Petrovna. Men are idiots or play things in this world and that is just as striking (in a good way) as the opening montage.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
I hand wrote this review in class: Really funny, but the music designer pushed some scenes into homoerotic territory. Also, it keeps moving between hilarious and overly dramatic. It gets so dramatic in fact, that you reasonably expect Del (John Candy) to go in the bathroom, peel open his wrists up with a razor, and be discovered by Neal (Steve Martin) the next morning in a pool of his own blood; this of course occurring as a result of Neal’s ill temper toward Del and adding just another hurdle to Neal quest to get home.
I don’t know why, but I quite literally, laughed through the whole film. I don’t laugh easy during comedies. I don’t chuckle at the slightest provocation. So it might have been due to the pacing: long lingering takes as another annoyance/tragedy plays out, and we feel Neal’s explosive reaction building up. If the same events happened to Del, the nice chatty guy, it would be sad to see such repeated ailments befall such a nice guy. But since we know Neal as a tight ass, we can rely on him to freak out and we have to laugh at him. And in regard to the acting: John Candy can do real, subtle hurt; but Steve Martin does sadness like a second grade actor in the school play.
I thought this might have been John Hughes’ first film he wrote and directed, but imdb tells me this was one of his last major hits. Surprising. Certain parts were REALLY serious (only made worse by the music) and this change in tone felt awkwardly abrupt, not like Shaun of the Dead, which snaked its way through scary, sad, and funny with amazing finesse. I’ve seen Hughes’ other notables, so I know he likes to take us through the funny and the serious, but this wasn’t as well done.
Despite this issue, I’d watch it again. It was funny and that’s what I was expecting.