I really wanted to check out Woody Allen’s newest film last week, Blue Jasmine, but unfortunately I didn’t get to it. So instead I caught up with some obligatory Pedro Almodóvar. Why is that? Well, once again Allen inspired me to to so, because I noticed that he collaborated with quite a few people that Almodóvar has worked with, or is it the other way around? Either way, I was in the mood for some cinema español, but I made the unforgivable mistake of watching two movies by the same director in a row. Normally, that’s not an issue, but with auteurs making their films so personal, often discussing the same themes, creating the same atmospheres, casting the same actors etc. the problem is that I will now mix up the two films in my mind. It’s silly I know, but I’m sure this doesn’t only happen to me. Does it?
Diary of a Nymphomaniac (2008) – 3 (IMDb 5.6) – Drama (Spain)
I haven’t done this in a while, but I have watched quite a few movies lately, so I’ll reprise it this week and try to keep it up. It’s not like many people care anyway, but to the few good souls that actually read my stuff: Je suis désolé. After a month of basically non-stop horror, I wanted a week where I could basically just watch whatever, based on my mood and my snobbish sensibilities. And so I did. I was mostly successful in my intent, but of course you can’t avoid a couple meh flicks, nothing bad though, so that’s cool.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Frances Ha (2012) – 8 (IMDb 7.6) – Comedy, Drama, Criterion (USA)
Slacker (1991) – 7 (IMDb 6.9) – Comedy, Drama, Criterion (USA)
Richard Linklater’s Slacker is a film about a bunch of slackers, all seemingly living in the same area (boy business gotta be bad down there). It is only appropriate that the film has the same attention span and focus of a pot addict, since most of the films protagonists seem to be smoking some sort of substance. There is no real story or recognizable plot, the film sort of follows these slacker characters for a couple of scenes, then moves on the the next slackers, the “new” ones that made their appearance in the previous scene. Unfortunately, sometimes just when things were about to get interesting, the film changes subject and characters. Most of the slacker-dynamics are very similar: There’s the very talkative, almost annoying slacker, the quiet slacker, the stoned out of his mind slacker and so on. It’s just the actors that change. All in all, as with every Linklater film dialogue is king. While there are some interesting thoughts and discussions in Slacker the film is far from his strongest effort.
The To Do List (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.8) – Comedy (USA)
I was ready to dismiss The To Do List as a bad teen comedy with no spine and guts, but I had to change my mind watching the film. Of course Aubrey Plaza was the deciding factor in me even giving it a shot, but I must say that I was more impressed with Johnny Simmons in this film. Set in the 1990s the movie is about a nerdy high-school girl graduating with top grades, but lacking sexual experiences. Being a very organized and serious girl, she decides to do a check list of all the sexual activities she needs to learn before going to college (and sleeping with her crush). What sets this film apart from standard genre fare is the ending (which I won’t spoil). Oddly enough, even though it’s supposed to be an homage to the 90s, the film feels more 80s than anything else in its structure, humor and characters. One issue I take with the film is Plaza’s character, which is not as likable and relatable and ends up feeling artificial and annoying. Not all the jokes work, but overall the film is entertaining enough especially if you like this type of films.
Casino (1995) – 6.5 (IMDb 8.2) – Biography, Crime, Drama (USA)
Directed by Martin Scorsese Casino is the story of two guys trying to make it big in Las Vegas in the casino business. Of course being a Scorsese picture, you know it’s going to be about the mob, the seedy underbelly of the Sin City, the Italian tough guys with strong accents and goofy voices. I’m not going to lie it’s a great film, but I was overwhelmingly annoyed by Joe Pesci’s voice-over. I detest his whiny voice. His lines were supposed to be funny, but made me cringe instead. Every time he was talking I checked out mentally and actively tried not listening to him. Aside from that I’d say the film’s strength lies in the great performances and the overall solid acting (including Pesci). De Niro is great, Sharon Stone is almost unrecognizable (which is automatically a good thing, right?). It’s an intriguing story, even if sometimes it just seems like a list of events and names. One last complaint is that the film is a bit too long. Some leaner editing, less running down facts and voice-overs would have made the whole thing more enjoyable. Still a great film on every other technical level.
Bitter Moon (1992) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.9) – Drama, Romance, Thriller (France)
As a big fan of Roman Polanski when I heard that he had done a Lolita-type story, I was immediately curious to check it out and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. Bitter Moon is about a couple (Hugh Grant & Kristin Scott Thomas) traveling to India by ship. On their journey they meed a strange disabled man on a wheelchair and a drop dead gorgeous femme fatale (Emmanuelle Seigner), who is his wife. Of course Grant’s character wants to have an affair with the mysterious voluptuous woman, but the man in the wheelchair know this. So instead of forbidding him to touch his wife, he starts to tell him the story of how they met and how she basically ruined his life. The whole film is basically just Peter Coyote telling the story, but the story is so intriguing, sexy and twisted that it works. Like with every Polanski film you have to ask yourself if it’s not all just a bad dream. I was very impressed with this film, great casting and actors, an engrossing story, well-rounded, three-dimensional characters and a very romantic, yet dark atmosphere. Highly recommended.
If you thought this week’s mini-reviews were particularly inspired, you can thank the ridiculously adorable brunette that was irradiating the library with her beauty today. Or maybe it’s just the pretty pictures I added to this section. Yeah, it’s probably just the pictures.
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.
A great week for movies as far as I’m concerned. The Ninth Annual IMDb Horror-Board October Challenge started, while at the same time there was the 9th Zürich Film Festival, where I got to see two really good films. I also got to re-watch two of my very favorite horror films and write a couple of reviews. It was a busy week for film I must say, but I am happy I get to share it with my readers. I want to thank everyone for their great support and for reading my super-lenghty articles and leaving nice comments!
Shoah (1985) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.8) – Documentary, History, Criterion (France)
Shoah is an incredibly heartbreaking documentary. It is not only an important historical document, but a massive cinematic achievement. I can’t even begin to describe the horrors that went on in the nazi concentration camps during World War II. There are moments that will make you angry, moments that will make you cry, moments that will just completely make you unable to physically move. It’s just a staggering piece. I did however have some issues with the interviewer, I don’t know if it is his “French mentality” and mannerism or if he’s just annoying to me, but somehow I didn’t always like his approach and style. Aside from that the film is perfect, although way to heavy (emotionally) to re-watch and it is also over 9 hours long (it took me three weeks to get through it). I am happy that Criterion picked this one up. I hope people never forget these horrible things that happened. Watching this documentary gives you some great insight into the human mind and history. If you are able to put everything into perspective and not become a misanthrope I applaud you. It is however definitely disheartening and beyond sad. I can’t even bring myself to joke about nazis and that stuff after watching this film, it has just become a dead serious issue for me. I wish they showed this in schools!
Gravity (2013) – 7 (IMDb 7.9) – Sci-Fi, Drama (USA)
Blind Beast (1969) – 9 (IMDb 7.1) – Horror, Drama (Japan)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.4) – Horror (Germany)
After becoming a huge Werner Herzog fanatic recently, I was ashamed to find out that I hadn’t seen one of his most famous works. Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht is basically Herzog’s retelling of the story of Dracula. Of course he does so in a way that is typically his and can’t be emulated by anyone else. Klaus Kinski plays the prince of darkness. Both he and Swiss actor Bruno Ganz are amazing in this film which feels more like a Werner Herzog film than a vampire film. From the music to the cinematography all of the Meister’s trademarks are present and shine through to make this a compelling watch of something you’re most likely already familiar with. I also loved Roland Topor as Renfield, who is just another example of Herzog’s love for cuckoo for cocoa puffs characters. Some of the sets felt a little bit off for my taste (maybe too small), but as I understand it he was going for a German expressionist tone and feel so I still appreciate it on that level. Isabelle Adjani is my last complaint, as she didn’t always seem very convincing in the role of Lucy. Overall a great tribute to the 1922 version (Herzog is a self-proclaimed F.W. Murnau fan) that manages to do its own thing and thus is rightfully considered one of the great horror films.
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) – 8.5 (IMDb 6.9) – Comedy, Drama (Germany)
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) – 7.5 (IMDb 7) – Romance, Drama, Horror (USA)
As you can see there is a new tag called must watch. I don’t want to be telling you what to watch. That’s like the most annoying thing ever. Instead I’ll use this label to single out films that are so important it goes beyond simple entertainment and art, but addresses also social and political issues that make it an essential viewing for every human being that wants to grow and “know more”. Shoah fits that category perfectly, because you just can’t (or shouldn’t) ignore it. It’s like with your vegetables: If you want to be a healthy just eat them, no questions asked.
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?
Once again this week the good have triumphed over the bad, the evil. Don’t worry we’re still talking about films here of course. I watched and re-watched a lot of good ones. Including once again the short films of Spike Jonze, like I’m Here (2010) and others that you can find on YouTube. Here’s every good film and a couple thoughts on them, if I’ve already reviewed them in the course of the week, just click the title and it will open up the link to the full-length review. Enjoy and don’t forget to let me know about your favorite films of the week. I’m always curious to hear what other people liked.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
La Grande Bellezza (2013) – 8 (IMDb 7.5) – Drama, Comedy (Italy)
Cries & Whisphers (1972) – 8 (IMDb 7.9) – Drama, Criterion (Sweden)
Ingmar Bergman is easily starting to become one of my favorite filmmakers. His films are quite simple in terms of plot, but there is so much underneath the surface: symbolism, emotion, drama, passion, depth. It’s quite incredible. Cries & Whispers is considered one of his best and it’s about a wealthy woman on her deathbed and her sisters. You can definitely see how this film influenced someone like Woody Allen (especially when doing Interiors). I loved the performances, Bergman’s use of color (Sven Nykvist went on to shoot Fanny and Alexander and even work with Woody) and the drama, which was so intense. The film is thoroughly entertaining, even if that may not be the most accurate adjective to describe it, it’s very engaging and I could easily identify with the characters even if they’re from a much higher social strata than mine. I guess that when it comes to death we really are all equal.
The Bling Ring (2013) – 9 (IMDb 6) – Crime, Drama, Comedy (USA)
A Short Film About Killing (1988) – 8 (IMDb 8) – Crime, Drama (Poland)
In the same vein of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love this is a short film that explores killing. Killing an innocent man and then death sentencing a guilty man. Both films are very short, yet so powerful, because they get straight to the point. As always with Kieslowski his films are gorgeous to look at, this is one of his most beautiful in my opinion. Sławomir Idziak went on to shoot The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Blue for Kieslowski, but in this one it’s a more subdued beauty, less showy, but fascinating nonetheless. I almost felt like Werner Herzog’s look of his On Death Row series was inspired by the look of this film, but I could be wrong. In any case: This is the story about a man who kills a cab driver for no reason and is then sentenced to death. Without any judgment this films just presents the story as it is and is able to inject a lot of humanity and emotion to the characters who feel completely believable and three-dimensional. It’s certainly the best film I’ve seen all week!
Once Upon A Time In America (1984) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.4) – Crime, Drama (USA)
This film has been on my “list of shame” for quite a while now and I just needed to watch it. I finally did and it was quite enjoyable. It’s an epic tale of this gangster’s life, I’m not even going to begin to explain it because it’s so grand and trying to encompass every single and possible aspect of human existence it’s just enormous. Sergio Leone’s direction does feel a bit heavy-handed in some points however, it’s very dramatic, but sometimes too much. The cast is absolutely incredible, but not all performances are subtle, although I was a big fan of Robert De Niro in this film, and he’s usually not my favorite actor, but perfectly cast here. My favorite part was the incredibly romantic score by Ennio Morricone, without the music this film wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is. I was surprised to see Jennifer Connelly as a kid, didn’t even recognize her, she wasn’t a good actress yet, but definitely better than her adult counterpart. If you’re a Giuseppe Tornatore fan or know his films you can definitely see how he was influenced by Leone; Nuovo Cinema Paradiso feels a lot like Once Upon A Time In America.
Viridiana (1961) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.1) – Drama, Criterion (Spain)
Great film by Luis Buñuel, great social commentary too. I was pleased to see Fernando Rey in this film, because I liked him a lot in That Obscure Object of Desire. Viridiana however follows a young woman who wants to become a nun, but then realizes that maybe that sort of lifestyle isn’t right for her. So she decides to open up a charity and help people who way, but if you know anything about human nature it’s that we’re all just a bunch of ungrateful bitches. The film’s climax is pretty great and incredibly poignant. The black & white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. Buñuel surprisingly holds back with the surreal elements in this film (or maybe I just didn’t catch them?). Although the ending could is maybe not to be taken “literally”, but again I could be wrong. Great performances all around, nice score and just a crisp, to the point film. Also, very ahead of its time with some of the thematic elements, in terms of censorship and what you’re allowed to show/imply. I always like it when filmmakers are able to defy the system and do whatever they what, not playing by the rules.