What’s Three Reasons? A lazy version of Five Reasons of course. But then isn’t it an exact ripoff of the Criterion Collection YouTube videos? Yes, but I prefer the word homage. Anyways, enough chitchat let’s get down to business. This is a short article about Emir Kusturica’s Underground (original title: Podzemlje). This film won the Serbian auteur the top prize, the Palm d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Continue reading
Ever since I watching Midnight in Paris in late November 2011 I have fallen in love with the films of Woody Allen. Since then I regularly sought out his films, watched them, re-watched them and I still haven’t seen every movie the guy has directed. His catalogue is seriously amazing. I haven’t seen a Woody Allen film I disliked or wouldn’t revisit. Even in his weaker films there’s still plenty to enjoy. This past week I only watched three movies, again, and two of them were Woody Allen films.
Why only three films, again? This time it’s because I watched a television show, which I rarely do. I saw that the first season of Lilyhammer was out and the premise sounded intriguing enough to me for some reason. The show is only eight episodes and it’s about an Italian American gangster who testifies against his new boss and then has to flee the country. The guy’s wacky enough to pick a godforsaken town in Norway instead of some tropical paradise, but that’s exactly what makes the show so enjoyable. I felt this weird attraction to Scandinavia myself and their culture and people fascinate me (at least as far movies are concerned).
The show starts out pretty great, but then becomes just this mafioso being all macho and shit. I mean he’s all right, but there are just so many coincidences and he’s always right and everyone one else is dumb (according to the writers anyway). I don’t like when a character “becomes” morality. If you’ve seen one or two Bud Spencer movies you’ll know what I mean. It’s when everything a character does is right and everything he doesn’t do or dislikes is wrong and he has no flaws. It’s really annoying. The show finale however manages to tie up everything somewhat nicely and the so-so/bad episodes are entertaining enough to sit through. Recommended with a grain of salt. Now on to some films!
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Hollywood Ending (2002) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.4) – Comedy, Romance (USA)
Written, directed and starring Woody Allen Hollywood Ending is a charming romantic comedy about a Hollywood director (played by Woody Allen) who tried to transition into art house, but became irrelevant. His ex-wife, married to a big studio executive, feels guilty for leaving him and decides to offer him the opportunity to direct a mid-size budget film about Manhattan. Left with basically no choice Allen’s character agrees to do the movie, but feeling too much pressure and blocked by his anxieties he becomes temporarily blind.
I love the premise of this film and its execution is very funny. The film seems to be autobiographical to some degree, then again most of Woody’s films are, and I’m just a sucker for any film that is about film. There’s a lot of commentary on the film industry and a lot of jokes that are still poignant and spot on even over a decade later. I was in need for a lighter, romantic film with Woody’s distinct tone and atmosphere this week and this one came at just the right time. An underrated and overlooked gem in Allen’s filmography.
La Dolce Vita (1960) – 10 (IMDb 8) – Comedy, Drama (Italy)
Everyone Says I Love You (1996) – 7 (IMDb 6.8) – Comedy, Romance, Musical (USA)
Musicals are generally not my thing, but this one was pretty great. It also helps that it makes fun of musicals a little bit, but in a loving way. Everyone Says I Love you is about a New York family and every family member’s romantic pursuits, but the film mostly focusses on Woody Allen’s character who’s trying to get over his ex-wife. He meets a beautiful woman in Venice and his daughter helps him get into her pants, thanks to the fact that she casually listened to all of her shrink sessions. The film is filled with musical numbers and even some choreographed dances, which however never distract from the story. Oddly enough they also don’t ruin the pacing or atmosphere, but rather help the film overall. I was quite surprised actually.
Also surprising is how good everyone sings. This film has a great cast and some of the actors aren’t exactly known for their singing abilities, but it’s great to hear them try and they’re all quite impressive, even Woody himself. The themes of the film are of course familiar territory for Allen, but the ending in Paris and all of the romantic moments really make this one of the sweetest and endearing Woody Allen films. The musical aspect is also great because, the numbers are so purposely exaggerated that you don’t even try to take them seriously or as part of the real story, but accept them as the inner state of the characters, as an expression of how they feel, rather than as a plot device, like most genre films would do. And that’s precisely why it all works so well.
Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) is a paparazzo journalist drifting through Rome, trying to catch the latest scoop and make a living with a job that doesn’t entirely satisfy him. As an aspiring, but rather uninspired writer, he finds himself thorn between what he would love to do, but can’t and what pays the rent. While his job can be exciting and thrilling, he gets to meet celebrities and visit all kinds of places, he just seems to be bored with all the shallow mundanity and the emptiness of the words he writes. On the surface he has no reason to feel this way: He has a steady job that pays well, his girlfriend seems to genuinely care for him, he has many friends and knows all the right people. However something is missing in his life. Nothing feels real. It’s all a big circus with and when the night is over and the sun rises over the Roman hills he is alone, misunderstood and lost. Continue reading
While it looks like I’ve seen a lot of good movies this week I was actually a bit disappointed. Yes, these are great and all, but except for The Land of Hope I rate them all 7 out of 10. I guess I expected something more. Oh well.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
The Land of Hope (2012) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.6) – Drama (Japan)
The Housemaid (1960) – 7 (IMDb 7.4) – Crime, Drama, Horror (South Korea)
If anything can be said about the original Hanyo it’s that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful black & white cinematography by Kim Deok-jin. Great acting all around and a solid script. However the film about the housemaid/home wrecker/psycho suffers from some pacing issues here and there. One of the film’s strongest feats is the unique unsettling, creepy and uneasy atmosphere that is hard to describe. No other film has made me feel like this one. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but that’s why we watch horror films. This one certainly shines for its originality. It also breaks the “fourth wall”, you know when you have a character directly speaking to the camera, I thought it was a fun & funny touch. The film is considered a classic and we have to thank Martin Scorsese for restoring the original print and making this one available. Definitely skip the remake and watch this one instead.
The Demon (1963) – 7 (IMDb 6.6) – Drama, Horror (Italy)
I checked out Il Demonio because it’s set in Basilicata, that’s one of the lesser known Italian regions of the south. My dad comes from around these parts. Superstitions and weird rituals were and still are poplar in these parts. This film is said to be based on true events. The story about a young woman who was believed to be possessed by the devil is definitely a heavy one. In the film she tires to make this guy fall in love with her with a potion, but the bastard only exploits her for sex and then marries some other chick instead. It’s rare to see a film where the villain is also the only sympathetic character and it’s especially tricky to pull it off with a female lead (for some reason not many get it right). This film succeeds mostly because of Daliah Lavi’s committed performance and acting skills. The depiction of the people and traditions in the south seems very faithful and so I’d say this film is also culturally relevant and not many horror films are, so that’s again a plus for this film. On the downside it’s a fairly depressing and sad film from the get go.
One Point O (2004) – 7 (IMDb 5.9) – Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi (USA)
I wasn’t expecting much from this film and maybe that’s why I was positively surprised by it. I chose to watch it mostly because one of my favorite actors, Udo Kier, makes an appearance as an improbable neighbor. However the star of the film is Jeremy Sisto, who was perfectly cast for this role. One Point O is what you’d call a “high concept” film. What I loved most about it is that the plot is so strange and incomprehensible, yet the characters are so relatable that you can still get invested in the story even if you don’t understand everything. Set in a dystopian future, this film is about government control, big brother stuff and all them crazy conspiracy theories. The filmmakers seem to be a fans of David Cronenberg’s work, but they still brings their own fresh vision and flavor to the screen and they do so in the most unpretentious way possible, without taking themselves too seriously, but at the same time without falling into annoying and constant auto-ironical jokes.
La città delle donne (1980) – 7 (IMDb 6.8) – Comedy, Drama (Italy)
At this point in his career Federico Fellini could basically do whatever the fuck he wanted. So he made City of Women a film about a man wondering around guided by his male organ who ends up in a hotel that has been taken over by some crazy feminists. I’m not even going to try and understand or explain all the sexual identity and gender issues brought up by this film, there’s too much of it and I’m not entirely sure what it means. In fact I’m not even entirely sure Fellini knew what it meant. This film takes a more dream-like/dream-logic approach and so not everything shown is meant to be read literally. It’s a crazy film, like every Fellini, it’s cinematic, hilarious, absurd, excessive, loud, quiet, bored, ecstatic, high, low, happy, sad, all over the place. While I think he has made better films, I still enjoy Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role and some of the humor. The film could have been a bit shorter, but still there are a lot of great and very entertaining scenes.
The Sinners of Hell (1960) – 7 (IMDb 6.9) – Horror, Drama, Criterion (Japan)
Jigoku is a film about hell according to Japanese culture (don’t ask me what religion exactly). It felt a bit like Dante Aligheri’s Inferno, only with more action and subtitles. The film has an experimental, art house look and feel, which is probably why it was picked up by the Criterion Collection. While the story gets a bit confusing and overly dramatic at times, it’s still a fun flick for a sunday evening train-ride home. I love how this film was lit, the actors almost seem translucent at times, as if the light is beaming through their skin. Speaking of skin, there’s not much going on in terms of sex and nudity in this film, which is weird because in the title sequence there are women stripping and dancing. In the actual film however there’s not much of that. I just thought that was odd.
Beau Pere (1981) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.1) – Drama, Romance (France)
I was looking for films similar to Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), one of my all time favorite films, and I bumped into Bertrand Blier’s Beau Pere (literally: Stepfather). I must say that I was rather impressed with this film, even if it is basically just a French, color version of Nabokov’s Lolita. I loved the actors, Patrick Dewaere and Ariel Besse, and their “chemistry” and I loved the fact that in this film it’s the girl that initiates the “relationship”. This may all sound wrong, but for a film dealing with what could essentially be labeled as “pedophila” it is very tastefully executed, while still managing to be erotic. I don’t know how they pulled it off. The film’s attitude is what I appreciated most, because it’s different from most French films and even films dealing with “taboo” subject matter. The filmmaker clearly loves the characters and doesn’t judge them. It’s just an all-round great film I’m sure I’ll re-visit at some point.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976) – 8 (IMDb 6.8) – Drama, Biography (Italy) written & directed by Federico Fellini
Burden of Dreams (1982) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.8) – Documentary (USA)
Burden of Dreams is the “making-of” documentary of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. The film shows all the hardships and difficulties that went into the production and making of Herzog’s crazy epic about a man trying to move a ship over the Peruvian Andes. It’s a great story about a massive achievement in filmmaking and it certainly makes you appreciate the film a whole lot more. Herzog is interviewed and other crew members as well, there are some great, fascinating stories and the film is never boring. Unfortunately unlike the newer Werner Herzog documentaries this one is narrated by a robotic sounding woman, instead of the filmmakers warm German voice. It seems like a weird choice, but as Herzog explained himself during a master class I attended “It took me a while to find my own voice”. He said this in relation to his documentaries, but I think we can all agree that now that he has found it they are more spectacular than ever. Burden of Dreams is still a great film and is especially recommended to Herzog fans, filmmakers and true cinephiles.
These were the best films I watched last week, Fellini’s Casanova being my favorite, but the other two getting both extremely close. What good movies did you guys watch last week?
A new category! This time I’m not ripping off Rotten Tomatoes’ Five Favorite Films, but rather Criterion’s Three Reasons YouTube videos. From now on, whenever I’m too lazy to write a structured review I’ll just list five good reasons to check out the film. This way you won’t have to read through 1,000 words, but can easily scroll down five pictures with a minimal summary of what I loved most about the film. The first film to get this sort of treatment will be (you’ve guessed it): Fellini’s Casanova. Continue reading
Italy is the country that has won more foreign language films than any other in the world, 13 wins so far. The peninsula is second, after France, when it comes to nominations – 27 total, against 36 – I guess we have a better chances of winning. Unfortunately most of this Oscar gold was won when Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini were making movies. Today, Giuseppe Tornatore is our biggest chance of winning the coveted statue, and he did so back in 1989 with Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. Since Tornatore’s newest film, The Best Offer, doesn’t qualify as a foreign language film this year Paolo Sorrentino will represent our country with The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza).
The Great Beauty was chosen over Viva la libertà (Roberto Andò), Miele (Valeria Golino), Razza bastarda (Alessando Gassmann), Salvo (Antonio Piazza & Fabio Grassadonia), Viaggio sola (Maria Sole Tognazzi) and Midway tra la vita e la morte (John Real). Having not seen those I can’t say if that was the best move, but considering how much I enjoyed The Great Beauty I am pretty satisfied with this outcome. As I’ve mentioned in my review, Sorrentino’s film is very reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Toni Servillo’s performance alone is Oscar-worthy. Since La Dolce Vita was never even nominated for an Oscar and the Academy has a tendency to make up for things like this, at the very least it was a smart “political” move. Also as mentioned Fellini’s films are the ones that won Italy the most awards (La strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8½ and Amarcord).
Italy hasn’t been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film since 2005, when Christina Comencini’s Don’t Tell (La bestia nel cuore) was considered. As for actual wins it’s been since 1998 when Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella) managed to win. Like Sorrentino himself said, when asked about how he felt about the news: “It’s going to be very difficult, I know, but we’ll do anything it takes to make it to the Oscar ceremony”. As a fellow Italian, a fan of his film and someone who loves to watch the Oscars I wish him all the luck in the world and hope that the Weinstein Company doesn’t have a film they’re promoting. La Grande Bellezza will hit American theaters November 2013 and critics are already calling it “a metaphor for Italian decline”. In other words: It’s awesome, go see it!
Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a journalist playboy drifting through Rome’s glamorous nightlife. At the age of 65 he is still partying like when he was 26 and first arrived to the Italian capital. The only book he wrote, L’apparato umano, is considered somewhat of a literary masterpiece, but he hasn’t produced anything noteworthy ever since. Jep knows a lot of people, important people, people who matter, and of course everyone knows him. When he arrived to Rome he wanted to become king of the party scene, and he did, but somehow he is not satisfied with the way his life has turned out, his love life in particular. The only girl he ever truly cared for left him and married someone else. When he finds out that she died, he is crushed. He starts reflecting on his life, Rome and all kinds of existentialist problems, but first he needs to party! Continue reading
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!
If you love cinema at all chances are Federico Fellini’s 8½ is one of your favorite films, it sure is one of my personal favorites. Today Criterion posted a collection of international posters, brochures and program covers. Some of these are pretty wacky and out there and don’t represent the film’s essence quite well, although they might be aesthetically good-looking; doesn’t that remind you of the Mondo posters? Anyways, the French press book cover (the red one, to be clear) is gorgeous, I also really like the Japanese brochure (it’s the one with the purple writing). What are some of your favorites?