Originally created by The Drama Llama (funny blog name, I must say), the Alphabet Movie Meme is, a fun series of questions, all movie related of course. I found out about this on a blog I follow called Film Grimoire. If you know me at all or read my blog, chances are a lot of my answers will seem predictable to you, but I hope I can still surprise you with some of those letters. If you like this idea, please post your own Alphabet Movie Meme, I’d be really interested in reading other people’s answers. There are some fun questions and I’m sure other people have far less boring answers. In any case, here’s my own edition of the Alphabet Movie Meme. Enjoy! Continue reading
If movies are a reflection of society and our reality, it was only about time until they caught up with the fact that the Western population is aging. Better conditions, food, scientific discoveries, less babies per couple and other factors are responsible for this. I’m not really interested in how we got there, but I find it fascinating that the “older” segment of the world population is increasing. Right now we have the highest percentage of old people since, well maybe forever. I know this doesn’t sound very scientific, but that’s not the point. The point is that the very way we live will be changed by the fact that there are more elderly people.
How is it going to change, David? Oh, I don’t know, I’m just a marketing student. I guess there will be more products and services targeting this growing older market segment. Of course there will be also problems, like: How are we supposed to get enough money for pensions? Should grandma and grandpa still be allowed to drive? And what if the whole world starts smelling like old people? I’m exaggerating a bit here, but yes, ageism could turn out to be an issue. Some people think old folks are useless, some mature people themselves think that once they’re retired they’re worthless for society, because they don’t work. I know this is all interesting, but let’s talk about movies.
Lately there’s been an increase in elderly protagonists. This weekend Bad Grandpa, a film about a mischievous grandfather, comes in theaters, next week a bunch of old farts will party it up in Last Vegas and in a couple more weeks Alexander Payne’s road-trip Oscar contender Nebraska hits the road (Go Bruce Dern!). Red, Up! and almost any Oscar-bait film the Academy of grey white men love is about people well past their prime. Since this is a recent phenomenon, it’s not surprising that most of my favorite films about old folks will be recent.
As much as I sound like a tool when I talk about old people, I actually like these kinds of movies quite a bit, and I do respect the elderly. However, much like other “minorities” or people on the “fringe of society”, increasingly I get the feeling they don’t want to preferential treatment. Now more than ever they feel empowered. It’s their time. They’re not ready to die yet. They still got life in them and even if they’re weak and tired they can still kick ass, be cool or love, which coincidentally brings me to the first film I want to discuss.
Amour (2012, Michael Haneke)
In Amour Michael Haneke shows what true love is all about. The film about the elderly couple caring for each other on their last days together is a touching, realistic, but bleak film. It shows the harsh side of aging, the suffering, the regression, the weakness, the hurt, the feelings of desperation, anger, coldness even. Even though Haneke’s portrayal may seem detached and lacking of empathy, that is how life is. There’s nothing romantic about a decaying body. Most of those notions were imparted us by Hollywood. The sad truth is that we all die. I don’t know if there’s a happily ever after, but in Amour at least they had each other.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012, Sophie Huber)
The documentary of legendary cult actor Harry Dean Stanton is not only one of the best examples of existentialist cinema, but a truly spectacular looking film. The film explores themes such as the meaning of life and if such a notion exists at all. Sophie Huber tires to discover if Stanton is satisfied with his life. Would he have changed anything? He has achieved so much, does that make him happy? Could he die in peace? Is there something missing? I’m not going to lie, in certain parts this was a most heartbreaking film, mainly because it’s all real and because you feel so much for this man who for the first time appears real and human.
Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is more about showing that old people can still be badass, they can still look cool and connect with the outside world. There is hope. He still got it. Yes, he may have made some mistakes throughout his life, but who hasn’t? It’s never too late to make things right. It’s never to late to be a hero. It’s never to late to drive a slick-looking Ford. This film is also about prejudices, racism and so many other things. While it’s certainly the most romantic and possibly unrealistic of my picks, it’s also the one you hold on to, because let’s face it as much as those other films may be realistic and true we also go to the movies to escape sadness and heartache.
Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch)
Carried by a brilliant performance by Bill Murray Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers is about an aging Don Giovanni that finds out he may have a son somewhere. The film shows his loneliness, the man’s regrets, it’s about boredom, ennui, mal de vivre. It’s also about making peace with yourself, your past, who you were and what you did. To be able to forgive yourself and live with all your flaws is to love yourself. There are rarely clear-cut answers in life, there’s rarely a movie moment. To quote Sofia Coppola’s short film Lick the Star “Everything changes, nothing changes. The tables turn and life goes on”. Not everything resolves, but that’s okay (“I’m sure that’s so gay”).
About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne)
This is arguably Payne’s best film so far, but it’s just so sad and depressing. Jack Nicholson’s character is a lonely old man who just seems to be waiting to die. After a life that he felt was pointless he is finally retired, now what? Why not take go on a road trip, after all that’s what indie films are all about, aren’t they? One of my favorite things in this film is James Glennon’s (RIP) cinematography, it’s very stylish (almost too much) for a film like this, yet it is so beautiful and really helps conveying a sense of loss and desolation. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this film and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch it, but it’s definitely a stunning cinematic triumph.
All in all we’ve learned, that most films about old folks are depressing, sad and even hard to watch sometimes. However they’re also true and real and sometimes we need to be reminded of our own mortality and that no matter how cliché it may sound: Life is short. I will stop typing now before I start to cry. Thanks for reading and remember, there are happier films you could be watching, but if you want something to think about these five films surely will do it. Make sure you’re in the right mood and mindset otherwise you’ll just end up being beat up and suicidal. I’d like to end on an funny and upbeat note and quote an old guy in American Movie (1999): “It’s alright, it’s ok there’s something to live for: Jesus told me so”.
This weekend Robert Rogriguez’ Machete Kills (the sequel Machete) was released in the States. Normally I sequels don’t interest me, but ‘Machete’ was planned as a trilogy. At the end of the first film it is hinted that “Machete [the character] will return in Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again“. At first I thought it was a joke, but then, much like the faux trailer part of the Grindhouse double bill (which comprised Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror) the film became a reality. At least the first sequel, seeing the poor box office performance now it’s fair to speculate if the Mexican iteration of James Bond will return in Machete Kills Again. Long story short: This week we’re talking all things exploitation.
What is exploitation? What does that mean? I’ve tried hard to explain the concept to my brother, but of course I make more sense on paper (or screen) than in real life. I’ll try my best to keep things simple. Exploitation cinema or exploitation film are usually low-budget films that are also poorly produced (artistically) and usually appeal to an “adult” public. Due to the lack of big bankable stars, professional special effects and other general budget restrictions exploitation films by definition try to “exploit” a current trend or genre niche. These films are known to the general public as b movies and sometimes manage to attract cult followings, rarely are they appreciated by critics, although some older ones are considered classics today, they were mostly viewed negatively by the critics of the time, because of their “excesses”.
What are some examples of exploitation sub-genres? Well, there’s all kinds, but here are the most notable. There’s the biker films (films that revolve around the biker subculture), blaxploitation (cast with all or mostly black actors, dealing with social issues), cannibal films (usually about white men going to the jungle and rarely coming back in one piece), carsploitation (like the biker films, only with cars), chambara films (Asian folks wielding big swords and stuff), giallo films (usually Italian mystery/slasher/detective stories), mondo films (quasi-documentaries set out to shock you, also see shocksploitation), nazisploitation (films about the depravities of World War II), nudist films (naturalist lifestyle pieces), rape & revenge films (women castrating men for their evil doings), sexploitation (soft core pornography), slasher films (probably the most famous exploitation sub-genre usually involving serial killers slashing up naughty teenagers), spaghetti westerns (Italian westerns, not actually about food), splatter films (movies with a lot of gore and blood) and women in prison films.
What do all these films have in common? Mostly: A lot of violence, sex, nudity, language. They are more about getting a visceral reaction in the viewer rather than subtlety and genuine drama. Most of the time there is a point or message, but it gets lost in all the depravity and degeneration depicted on-screen. The beauty of these films is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, don’t judge their characters and posses a firm sense of morals. Many times these films get wrongfully discarded as immoral, cruel and disgusting. However underneath a surface of apparent vulgarity hides a strong moral center and a clear sense of right and wrong.
Many exploitation films were depicting and anticipating social issues that only years later entered the popular consciousness. Thanks to their low-budget they were allowed to freely address civil rights, female empowerment and other social issues, long before those were even brought up in mainstream cinema. Casting African-Americans, Hispanics and women in the lead roles these films were innovative and way ahead of any “politically correct” bullshit. Paradoxically by being more offensive, they were more respectful of human diversity and portrayed different ethnicities more sensibly, genuinely and free of hypocrisy. It is the very nature of exploitative cinema that allows it to be more auto-critical of our Western culture and values, but without coming off as pedantic and still managing to entertain.
Exploitation cinema was at its height in the 70s, but the first exploitation films date back to as early as cinema was invented. Lately, with Tarantino and the so-called “Splat Pack” (a group of directors comprising Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie among others) this kind of cinema has experience a resurgence to some kind of degree. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (chambara films), Death Proof (carsploitation) and Inglourious Basterds (nazisploitation) are probably favorites, but since I mention those fairly regularly I wanted to mention seminal works, films that were very influential for contemporary filmmakers. I also tried to pick five different sub-genres. So in honor of Machete Kills: Here are five of my favorite exploitation films!
5. Freaks (1932, Tod Browning)
Freaks is often referred to as the first exploitation film. The film is about a group of “circus freaks”, the type of people “normals” look at with disgust, fear or just morbid curiosity. Tod Browning however treats his characters with respect portraying them as humans. Yes, they’re flawed, petty, selfish and sometimes even evil, but aren’t we all? By not giving them a special treatment, but portraying their humanity, suffering and passions just as our own he manages to show that the only difference between us and them is a physical one. Social “classes” and hierarchies exist just as much in their world as they do in our and people go through the same life experiences, feelings and emotions. The film is not easy to watch, the characters are very empathic, relatable and real which makes the viewing experience all the more compelling. This film inspired Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small and it’s one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen, though I don’t necessarily feel ready to re-watch it because of its strong and powerful resonance, which is definitely overwhelming.
4. Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)
When I heard that Tarantino was making a film in the world of Django I immediately had to watch Sergio Corbucci’s film. The Western genre is one of those genres that never really interested or attracted me, so I don’t feel qualified enough to talk about it, but I’ll still give it a try and my proverbial two cents. What I liked about Django is that compared to most exploitation films it “holds back” a little and actually restrains a bit of violence and doesn’t show a lot of the racy stuff that would have probably been shown in similar genre fare. Django is the story of a lone bounty hunter that goes from town to town in search of bad men to kill. He always drags his coffin around with him and of course that’s because he keeps the heavy artillery inside there and nobody would dream of open it. The film was also very influential for Robert Rodriguez who unabashedly loves unusual weaponry and gadgets (just look at the those Spy Kids films).
3. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato)
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most famous cannibal films and considered one of the most shocking films of all time. It’s about a group of filmmakers that go to the jungle to make a film about the local tribes and their rituals and way of living. Unfortunately most of these guys are more disrespectful and savage than the local cannibals (as weird as that may sound). So instead of just doing their work they decide that raping the women and killing the indigenous population is totally okay. Naturally because of the sins of a bunch of douchebags the whole crew will have to pay. The film is extremely well-made, but very violent and crude. There is real animal torture, which is terrible, but adds to making this film incredibly depressing and sad. However if you can get past that it’s also one of the best explorations of human nature I’ve ever seen. As much as I don’t support animal cruelty it does help making a point and for what it’s worth they actually ate the animals that were killed (namely the big turtle, poor turtle).
2. Tenebrae (1982, Dario Argento)
Tenebre (original title) is one of my favorite giallos. It’s one of the few brightly lit horror films, which is ironic, because “tenebre” means “darkness” in Italian. The film looks great and has a kind of supernatural, almost surreal atmosphere going on and for me it’s more about the score and how this film feels, rather than the plot. Like most giallos, the story is a bit convoluted and full of twists and turns, but at the end of the day Tenebrae still makes a little bit of sense and that’s why I can embrace it and recommend it. I remember liking the acting, the cinematography and Dario Argento’s trademarks most of all. It also helps that the film is set in Rome, I’m always a fan of that. Critics consider it to be one of Argento’s best, but I’d say that I prefer Suspiria and Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso) is definitely up there: He has just made so many great films and I think that people need to be reminded of that, especially nowadays.
1. Showgirls (1995, Paul Verhoeven)
Now then: A sexploitation cult classic. Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is an over-the-top, almost caricatural portrayal of a young woman trying her luck in Las Vegas as an exotic dancer. After a series of ups and downs she finally manages to arrive at the top of Vegas nightlife entertainment, but at what cost? The film is not meant to be taken very seriously, it’s full of auto-ironic and self-aware humor and yet many people accuse it of not being realistic. The joke is on them however, because clearly they don’t understand the film and the director’s intention. Just like you would expect from a sexploitation film there is a lot of sex and nudity, but while some might say that its depiction is gratuitous and vulgar. In the context of Las Vegas entertainment it would be ridiculous not to show any tits and asses, just like it would make no sense for a low-life New York gangster character to talk like a Harvard English professor (unless of course that’s he used to be a professor, but what are the odds?). Anyway, I like this film because of how it deals with complex and fascinating themes such as friendship, work ethic and gender roles.
This weekend Metallica Through the Never gets a wide release, so what better time to mention a couple of my favorite films revolving around music or where music is an integral part of the story? No better time! Wow, did I really need to answer that? Guess not. Anyways, as always these are just five of many films about music I love and appreciate, I didn’t rank them because I don’t like that: Bla bla bla, the usual stuff. Also: No, I couldn’t make a list of favorite astronaut movies if I tried, sorry Gravity fans. Back to music!
5. The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Actually, I prefer Three Colors: Blue as far as Kieslowski films about music go, but I’ve recently mentioned the film when discussing my five favorite trilogies, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Also, I just really want to give a shout out to this film which is not as talked about. La double vie de Veronique (original title) is a stunning piece, a delight to look at (much like Irène Jacobs’ lovely face) and a pleasure for the ears. Composer Zbigniew Preisner outdoes himself once more if you can believe it. The story is not exactly new with the whole doppelgänger thing, but when it was released Hollywood hadn’t caught on to it yet, so I can imagine the concept being fresh at the time. I wish I could have seen it then, but still this is a great film with fantastic photography, stellar performances and of course great music.
4. The Last Days of Disco (1998, Whit Stillman)
This is my favorite Whit Stillman film. Yes, it’s about music and disco, but at the end of the day like all of his films it’s about bourgeois kids, bohemian girls and dandies. The best scene of the film is when Josh (Matt Keeslar) makes an incredibly heartfelt speech about how disco will never die. I also love Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale as the two leading ladies. However the best part of course is the Whit Stillman’s witty dialogue and his quirky humor, the character’s little idiosyncrasies and the small intimate moments they share with each other. Plot and story are really secondary in a film like this one, still the fact that I don’t remember much of it means that it’s due for a re-watch.
3. Last Days (2005, Gus Van Sant)
As a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s work, I feel that this is one of his most under-appreciated films. Why might that be? Gee, I wonder. No, actually it’s very simple. People have increasingly short attention spans, myself included, so whenever a “slower paced” film comes along it sadly goes unnoticed (like Sofia Coppola’s Somwhere). Anyways, Last Days is about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s last days, even if officially it’s about some guy named “Blake”. Michael Pitt stars as “Blake” and easily delivers a career best performance. It’s also worth noticing that the film was shot by Harris Savides (RIP), who collaborated with Van Sant on several pictures and is a particularly fitting choice here since the film needed an almost documentarist approach. All in all a very depressing, but extremely rewarding experience.
2. Jennifer’s Body (2009, Karyn Kusama)
Now, this might seem like an odd choice, but bear with me. Produced by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body is a stylish horror/comedy film about a young girl (Megan Fox) who is sacrificed to the devil by a band hoping to achieve commercial success. Unfortunately for the guys the girl for the sacrifice needs to be a virgin, which Megan Fox’ character hasn’t been in a while. This is one of my favorite horror films and the music in it is very catchy, the writing is sharp and funny and the performances are better than you’d think. The film is very much about music and the notion that certain bands claim to have made a “deal with the devil” to sell a lot of records. The film’s biggest feat is that it manages to balance horror and comedy, which is not an easy task, like at all.
1. The Runaways (2010, Floria Sigismondi)
Another odd pick. Seemingly. At first. Maybe. The Runaways is about the homonymous first all female punk band in California, their rise and fall to success. Kirsten Stewart and Dakota Fanning play the two women who formed the band, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie and they do a fantastic job. As far as biopics go, this is definitely one of the best, because it’s also a coming-of-age story and a story about friendship and all that. So in this case as well, it’s more than just the music and paradoxically that’s the key to making a good film about music. The lovely young actresses also did their own singing and comparing it to the original recordings I have to say that it is most impressive. A good film I felt is worth mentioning because not many people have seen it or know about it: The Runaways.
Thanks for Sharing is coming out in limited release this weekend. The film tackles the highly timely topic of sex addiction, that not many movies have discussed so far. So instead of having five favorite movies about sex addiction I would like to take this opportunity to discuss addictions in movies in general. Sex is not the only addiction a person can have, there are lots of others, like gambling, alcohol, rage and so on and so forth. I selected five films that deal with five different addictions. There are a lot of movies dealing with the idea of being addicted or obsessed with something and of course five movies will hardly cover any ground, but it’s a starting point to inspire you to notice how many films deal with the same concept that can take on endless forms.
As we’ll see none of these addictions are a good thing, not even the ones that sound fun. Some addictions are out and out bad, like say a vampire being addicted to human blood and killing. Some addiction may even come off as noble like “your job”, but too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Professor Humbert Humbert’s love for Lolita eventually became an obsession, though it’s fair to question if the pedophile relationship wasn’t doomed from the start, but I digress. Let’s explore some of these addictions and see how they ruin people and how they almost always end badly. No happy endings, because that’s life and how else can life end if not in death? Sorry, I’m being a bit over-dramatic here, never mind. Carry on!
5. Greed (1924, Erich von Stroheim)
Money. The root of all evil? Of course not. It’s the human soul that’s corrupted to its core. I exaggerate of course, but maybe not (then again I’m fairly misanthropic). Eric von Stroheim’s masterpiece. One of my favorite, if not my favorite silent films of all time. This picture shows how greed can bring a person to do horrible things and horrible things will happen to them of course, because karma is a bitch! I don’t remember exactly all that happens in this film (it’s been a while), but I remember the climax being very powerful and telling of the human soul. It’s a film that boarders cheesy, nevertheless at over three hours there’s not a dull moment in it.
4. Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder)
Easily one of my favorite films of all time. Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. shows how fame wanting to be the center of attention can become an addiction. Norma Desmond is an actress from the silent era that would kill for a comeback. She is addicted to the limelight and that’s ultimately her demise. This is a beautiful film noir, one of Wilder’s best, romantic and witty as always. It’s about Hollywood and success and art and life and love and so many other things I couldn’t possibly sum it up in a couple sentences.
3. Drugstore Cowboy (1989, Gus Van Sant)
Drugs are possibly the most used addiction in movies. It’s easy to show and many people can relate to it. Also many artists have problems with substance abuse and so art often reflects life. I put Drugstore Cowboy on this list, because I feel it’s an overlooked film by a great, sensitive director, Gus Van Sant, who deals with the issue in a thoughtful way. While some movies seem to glorify drug use (especially weed), this film shows how it can ruin a person’s life and even when they want to get out, it’s the hardest thing to do.
2. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino)
This might seem like an odd pick, but if you think about it stuntman Mike McCain is an adrenaline junkie. He clearly gets off (sexually) by crashing his death proof vehicle into other people’s not-so-safe cars. Generally considered Tarantino’s worst film (even by himself), it is one of my favorite of his and I feel it’s often unjustly maligned. Why? Probably because people have short attention spans and are bored easily unless shit is exploding on the screen. Anyways, what I like about this film is the dialogues and the great exploitation ending, which totally kicks ass.
1. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
As I’ve mentioned your job can also become an addiction. Today many people face burnouts because they’ve become workaholics. In Black Swan Nina (Natalie Portman) is obsessed with perfection and getting the lead in the Swan Lake ballet. She eventually goes nuts, but she does so in a poetic and awe-inspiring way so it’s totally cool. In real life however people can get depressions and such, but as we’ve come to know depression is about the least sexy thing you can depict in a movie (unless you want it to bomb). According to Darren Aronofsky Black Swan is a companion film to The Wrestler, and as a matter of fact both protagonists seem to share a similar “work ethic”.
That’s it for this week’s recommendations. If I may add something of a personal advice: Try to kick your bad habits or addictions (if you have any). Don’t become a slave to them, because as these stories show it never ends well. Okay, I’m done being corny and now go and watch some movies or tell me about your favorite films about addictions!
More precisely I should specify dysfunctional families, because those are really the most interesting ones, right? Family is a beautiful thing, unfortunately no family is perfect, because every family is made of human beings and human beings are imperfect. Pets don’t count or maybe they do, who cares. What I’m saying is that we all want a family, we need a family. If our “blood” family sucks, we’ll probably look for a surrogate family, like in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The thing is: We can’t escape being tied to a family, unless they’re dead. Sometimes even then they’re somehow with us, for better or worse.
This weekend Luc Besson‘s action/crime/comedy The Family comes out in American theaters, and so I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite sub-genres. Why am I particularly taken with this type of films? Well, because one way or another they’re useful to help you understand the dynamics within your own family. There’s also always a lot of drama going on usually, which is fun to watch, as long as it’s not your own family. I love my family and so here are some of my favorite films about family. I’m not even sure these are the top five, these are just five that are near and dear to me.
5. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
A powerful drama about a man (Peter Falk) living with an insane woman, his wife (Gena Rowlands). This is one of my favorite films by John Cassavetes. It’s maybe more about marriage than family, but it’s definitely worthwhile and memorable. Cassavetes creates a nerve-wracking atmosphere that makes the film feel very heavy and weighty. Both lead actors give fantastic, possibly career-best performance in their respective roles. The film is also beautiful to look at and I’m not a big fan of the 70s aesthetic.
4. Der siebente Kontinent (1989, Michael Haneke)
The Seventh Continent is about a “failed” family. Failed in the sense that they all kill themselves. This is no spoiler, they set out to put an end to their existence from the get go. You know it’s going to happen, but in typical Haneke fashion of course it will take quite some time before it actually happens. The film takes it’s sweet time and that’s what makes it so intense and hard to watch. It’s a very depressing and cold film, and I usually tend to enjoy more romantic fare, but in this case it is totally appropriate to the narrative.
3. Festen (1998, Thomas Vinterberg)
The Celebration is a hand-held camera, documentary-style portrait of a family gathering together for a what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. You know who doesn’t seem to think so? Our main character. He has some “unresolved” issues with his father and they’re going to come to the surface in an epic climax. I won’t give anything away, but this film hit me very hard emotionally. There’s some dark stuff, but I love how it’s done and it’s very Danish. I’m a big fan of Danish humor and director Thomas Vinterberg.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
Definitely on the lighter side (this is a comedy/drama) The Royal Tenenbaums is about a bourgeois family. Parents are divorced, kids grew up to be adults in arrested development with daddy issues and so on. To me this is still Wes Anderson’s best film and it’s interesting to see him really find his style and who he is as an auteur. Charming, funny, well-written, great attention to detail (especially in the set design and costuming), an incredible cast of character actors and some genuinely touching moments: What’s not to love?
1. Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Sono Sion)
When I first saw this film (a sequel to Sono’s Suicide Club) I hated it. Then thinking about it I realized that I hated one of the main characters, but the thing is: You’re supposed to hate her. She is a horrible person doing horrible things. The film’s premise is that two girls function as “family members for hire”. Much like actors they play the role a family asks them to in exchange for money, but of course being a Sono Sion film there’s more to it. Noriko’s Dinner Table is a powerful drama bringing up some interesting sociological and moral issues.
So as you may have noticed these films about family are not easy to swallow. Sometimes they’re very heavy and deal with taboo issues or things that are not often talked about publicly when mentioning family. Sometimes they’re also lighter like the charming quirky indie Pieces of April (starring the adorable Katie Holmes). Either way they always tend to get emotional, sometimes it’s earned and sometimes it’s cheesy and unrealistically “perfect”, like in most Hollywood films or films targeting families. That’s not to say indies can’t be heavy-handed, there are of course a lot of Oscar-baity films, but they’re not worth mentioning or talking about, so I’ll stick to the ones I’ve mentioned. Yeah, so if you could just tell me about your favorite films about family that would be great!
Riddick is the third film in Vin Diesel’s crazy sci-fi/action trilogy, so this week’s topic is going to be trilogies. What are some of your favorite trilogies? Usually I always hear the same ole franchises mentioned when people talk about trilogies, but few people know that many auteurs and indie filmmakers work in that format as well. Since I tend to gravitate more towards the art house camp, my favorite trilogies are going to be a bit more “unusual” maybe, or pretentious, depending on how you see it. Don’t be offended if your favorite trilogy isn’t mentioned, just leave a comment with your favorites, so that my ridiculously elitist point of view will be counterbalanced.
Note: Some critics count Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence as a trilogy. Now, I’m not sure if that’s “official” or just the Criterion box set, but in any case those movies are amazing and some of the best in cinema history, so I’m not going to count them in my list, but they’re definitely some of my favorite films.
So, without further ado and in order of release date: Here are my five favorite trilogies and below some other I dearly love and wanted to mention because I don’t want to exclude anything.
5. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy
La Notte (1961)
4. Michael Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy
The Seventh Continent (1989)
Benny’s Video (1992)
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
3. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Three Colors: White (1994)
Three Colors: Red (1994)
2. Whit Stillman’s Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love Trilogy
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
1. Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Midnight (2013)
Honorable Mentions: Wonk Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild Trilogy, Lars von Trier’s The Europa & Golden Heart Trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy and Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy.
Trilogies I haven’t seen (completely) yet, but plan on watching: Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy, Dario Argento’s The Three Mothers Trilogy, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, Sergio Leone’s The Dollars Trilogy and Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy.
With Closed Circuit coming out in theaters this weekend this is a good time as any to talk a little bit about paranoia in cinema. If movies are meant to be seen as dreams, some of them are definitely nightmares, and I’m not just talking about horror. We all get paranoid sometimes, filmmakers are no exception. So in listing and thinking about my favorite films about paranoia there are endless possibilities, a lot of great films to chose from. Some directors however deal with the issue of paranoia more than others, so in selecting some of my favorites I decided to pick five films whose directors return to the subject matter with every new film they release(d).
The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock is probably the most famous director of all time and besides voyeurism and blonde leading ladies he also had a passion for paranoia. The Birds is one of my personal favorites of his, but fans of his work will know that there is a bit of paranoia in every one of his pictures (to some degree). ‘Birds’ is a great example because the fear is materialized on-screen in a very concrete and palpable fashion. Fifty years after its release it’s still a chilling film about nature turning on humans. Not only is it one of the best, but also one of the scariest horror films of all time, for me anyways, and I say that because fear is very subjective.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
Well, if Hitchcock is the most famous, Polanski seems even more paranoid to me. Again, it’s a recurring thread in all of his films, but this one right here about diabolic possession, might take the cake for me in terms of favorites. I love its slow burn pacing, Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes and just how scary and perfect the ending is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I still remember the film vividly in my mind, that’s how much it affected me. If you’re a horror fan this is one of the best and if you’re not, you can’t really deny Roman’s genius and the fact that this film succeeds on every level.
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
A lot of conspiracy theories around this film and Stanley Kubrick himself and what are conspiracy theories if not structured paranoia? Once again one of the great horror films and a director that seemed to get progressively more paranoid throughout his career culminating in Eyes Wide Shut, and who can tell if he could have topped that in terms of paranoia if he wasn’t prematurely taken from us. The Shining is great, it’s an intimate story about a man taking his family to a secluded hotel in the mountains and then slowly descending into madness; although one might argue that he never really sane to begin with.
Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma)
A fine mystery/thriller by De Palma, there’s a lot of Freud in it, just like you would expect. John Travolta plays a sound recordist that finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually that’s the typical premise for a film about paranoia: The fact that you are “framed” or “trapped” or just very unlucky, like Travolta’s character. I love the look of this film and how it’s edited. Blow Out is great at creating tension and suspense, a fundamental ingredient for a film about paranoia, and I always found myself on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen next. With the Cold War still going on a lot of the films of this and proceeding eras are also metaphors for what was going on at the time (just look at all the alien invasion films).
The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)
Might seem like an odd pick, especially coming from someone like me who doesn’t like “cold” filmmaking, but there certainly is a context where that style feels apt and appropriate. In The Social Network I appreciate the unemotional, precise and methodical approach of Fincher’s filmmaking, because he’s portraying characters that could be described similarly. The “Facebook movie” was one of my favorites of that year, because it’s almost like a Citizen Kane in its incredible and fantastic portrayal of very successful, yet lonely people. Just like in every Fincher film there’s also a bit (or a lot) of paranoia, you might not pick it up right away, but it’s there and I certainly noticed it revisiting this great character piece.
That’s it. Those are my five recommendations for this week. If you love film you’ve probably already seen them, but like I said all of those filmmakers have a lot of paranoia flicks in their filmography and some of them (namely Hitch) have a huge catalogue of great works. Other directors that come to mind when thinking of paranoia that I’d like to mention are Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Kim Ki-duk, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Michelangelo Antonioni. Coincidentally they also happen to be some of my very favorite directors, so what does that say about me? I guess that should be pretty clear. See you next week and don’t smoke weed, because it heightens your paranoia and if you’re anything like me: That’s the last thing you need.
This week The Spectacular Now may or may not come to your local art house. Wait, it’s not? Oh, right only four theaters (let me guess LA & NY?): No worries! Here are five coming-of-age films that are readily available for you to watch on home video or the internet.
While three weeks ago we discussed young adults in ‘arrested development‘, coming-of-age films are just as popular sub-genre, but they’re actually about young people ‘successfully’ transitioning into adulthood. Why is the genre so popular? Well, Hollywood knows their target audience’s age (bravo!) and so they’ll make movies that speak to them. Also these movies are about “firsts”, mostly focussing on first sexual experiences, because let’s face it that’s what’s interesting.
Most of you might be familiar with the American coming-of-age films and there are a ton of films about the subject. Wikipedia reports more than two-hundred movies, plus hundreds of teenage movies exploring the subject one way or another. Now, not to be a snob, because I love US cinema, but to encourage you to look for a different spin on things let me recommend you four foreign films and only one American. These also happen to be some of my favorite films, so again, not trying to be a snob here.
5. Amarcord (1973, Federico Fellini)
Some say this is Fellini’s most personal film. Looking through his book of dreams (his diary, original title: il libro dei sogni) this summer I found many images he drew that feel like they could fit in the same universe as this film. This film is a glimpse inside his mind and where he grew up. In fact the small town in Emilia-Romagna becomes a character itself. Amarcord means, translated from the local dialect, “mi ricordo”: I remember. Memories tend to be fuzzy, they tend to have a dream-like quality, and we can all agree that films are like dreams. This film got a lot of critical acclaim, but you should watch it because it’s also funny (in typical Fellini fashion) and melancholic and if you’re a Fellini fan: This is one of his best films and he has one of the most impressive filmographies I know of.
4. Show Me Love (1998, Lukas Moodysson)
Fucking Åmål (original Swedish title) is the story of two teenage girls and their romantic relationship. The film is set in a small town in Sweden and Moodysson shows just what it’s like to be a teenager in school, the relationship with your parents and your peers. Living in the German-speaking part Switzerland I found that a lot of the things I experienced or felt were the same as in this film. When I watch American films it feels distant, I can still connect, but this actually felt as if it was about my youth, even though I never was a Swedish teenage girl. This film is honest, it perfectly captures the time and place, it’s sweet and romantic and everything I love about Moodysson. It’s about wanting to get away from home, and feeling trapped in a small town and I certainly knew that feeling growing up.
3. The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola)
Who hasn’t thought about suicide at least once in their life? Certainly growing up you think about it a lot. Sofia Coppola’s début feature film is already a beautiful, tender film, but a very depressing one. Tonally, it’s unlike anything she has directed since. Every time I watch it it makes me sad and I totally feel like the Lisbon girls, although I don’t kill myself at the end. Even at this early stage of Sofia’s career she’s great at directing young actors, capturing the 1970s essence and drawing you into the film with great music and spectacular cinematography. I don’t know if I’d recommend this film to depressed people, but it’s certainly the best American coming-of-age film I know, because Sofia doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable subject matter and is not afraid to show what it truly feels like to be a teenager. There is also a mystery element to the film which gives it an aura of weird sadness.
2. Fat Girl (2001, Catherine Breillat)
À ma sœur! (literally: to my sister) is a film about two sisters competing with each other. One is beautiful, but very naïve when it comes to sex, the other is, well fat and unattractive, but a bit more street smart. Both are on summer vacation and the film is about their first sexual experiences and how that changes the dynamic between them. It’s also about depression and apathetic parents. Like most of Breillat films it shows you explicit sex scenes that aren’t sexy. It’s raw, but always loving even when it’s uncomfortable to watch. The beauty of it is that Breillat doesn’t judge its characters, in fact this film is partly autobiographical. I haven’t seen all of her films yet, but I think this is without a doubt her masterpiece. I have to re-watch it because it’s been a while, but it’s definitely in my top 100 and the ending is just jarring. If someone says they saw it coming, they’re lying!
1. Turn Me On, Dammit! (2011, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen)
This was one of my favorite films of 2011, and that was a great year for film, but Få meg på, for faen made the top 10. From the first scene of the film, which is Helene Bergsholm masturbating on the floor, I knew this was going to be a great one and it was. Much like Show Me Love this is about a teenage girl who wants out of her small town in Norway. She has these weird sex fantasies that lead to her getting a “bad” reputation, you know how quick that can happen in small towns. It’s a funny film, it’s very ‘girly’ sometimes, which makes it cute and ‘innocent’ even if it does treat some adult themes. I also like the look of this film and the costumes (sounds weird to say I know), I look forward to checking out more films by Jacobsen. As I always say: We need more women directing!
That’s it for this week. The films were in chronological order, not order of preference, because I don’t have the heart to do that. I realize the sub-genre is vast and these five films barely scratch the surface so I’ll go ahead and recommend the films of John Hughes for those of you that want something more American and mainstream and Gregg Araki if you’re more on the indie side. If you feel that there were films that I left out that absolutely need to be mentioned, please leave a comment and let me know!
Allan Stewart Konigsberg alias Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and consistently interesting filmmakers. I can’t praise him enough. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers and he continues to surprise audiences, by putting out a new film every year since the 1970s. Even if critics don’t always like his efforts, he consistently makes the films he wants to make. Lately he proved that he still got it with Midnight in Paris and now it looks like his newest film, Blue Jasmine is getting mostly positive reviews as well, which makes me happy.
To celebrate the release of his new drama, coming out in theaters this very friday, I wanted to recommend my five favorite Woody Allen films. This list can be especially helpful if you’re looking to get into his sizable filmography. Since I am so in love with all of his films, and wouldn’t say he’s made one that I dislike, it’s hard for me to pick one over the other, but I’ll try my best.
5. Annie Hall (1977)
It’s Woody’s smash hit. This catapulted him into international stardom, and rightfully so. This is a great picture, it won Best Picture, again: Deservedly so. The film is a romantic comedy starring Woody Allen himself and his first muse Diane Keaton. It’s about Woody’s character trying to figure out why his relationship with Annie Hall didn’t work out. Some very innovating filming techniques and narrative styles. Woody breaks the “fourth wall” several times, speaking directly to the camera. How could you not like this film?
4. Interiors (1978)
A rather depressing film for a director known for his comedic chops, but I love Interiors. It’s as close as Woody will ever get to Michelangelo Antonioni, in fact he uses the same cinematographer that worked on Red Desert, but of course there’s a bit of an Ingmar Bergman feel too. The film is about three sisters dealing with the separation of their parents. This is Allen’s first foray into drama and I would say it’s his best “serious” film. Great nuanced performances by all the actors involved and I especially like Diane Keaton in this one.
3. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Aside from comedy, Woody has always had a passion for fantasy as well, but not that dragons and wizards shit. It’s always something grounded in “reality”. In The Purple Rose of Cairo Mia Farrow’s character falls in love with a movie character that literally comes out of the movie. Set in New York in the 1930s this is a nostalgic and romantic film, with a bittersweet ending. It’s one of my favorite films, because it comments on film as a storytelling medium and as a cultural phenomenon. It’s also one of the best instances of Woody mixing melancholic and comedic tones.
2. Whatever Works (2009)
I know I should be picking one of his classics, but I have to be honest here and I think this is one of his most underrated films. It looks as though the script is something he re-hashed, but I like it nonetheless. It’s not one of his best, but certainly one of Woody’s funniest and probably most ‘expositive’ of his “life philosophy” which is basically the title of the film itself. On a personal level this film reminded me a little bit of Lolita, and maybe he didn’t even intend to reference it. Larry David is good in this, but my favorite part is Evan Rachel Wood, she is just to die for and a good actress of course.
1. Midnight in Paris (2011)
I know I always talk about this one, but it’s probably my favorite of his at this point and the Woody Allen film that got me to watch almost all of his movies. I should however revisit his classics, because now that I know and understand his style better I’m sure I’ll appreciate them even more. Midnight in Paris is about a writer (Owen Wilson) who wants his work to be more respected. He is on holiday in Paris with his fiancé he finds a spot where every night at midnight a car stops by and he is transported to the 1920s, where he meets all of his literary heroes. Almost like an Alice in Wonderland, he is able to work out his real life problems in the fantasy world. Won best original screenplay, well deserved and certainly one I’ll keep re-watching.
If you want to know more about Woody Allen I also recommend the excellent Woody Allen: A Documentary. A documentary on Woody as a person and an artist. In conclusion: What are your favorite Woody Allen films?