Fellini – Satyricon (1969) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.7)
This is one of Federico Fellini’s more artsy films, a period that officially started with his masterpiece 8½. Shot in spectacular Technicolor, this is an over-blown and over-exaggerated art house extravaganza, and I love it for it. It’s almost a colossal. Loose narrative, strange faces and featuring Fellini’s signature humor this is only recommended if you love the master of Italian filmmaking. He’s my personal director so of course I’m biased and can only say good things about this. One critique is that his characters feel a bit detached and not very relatable, but as a whole and reflecting upon this experience it’s definitely a great film I’ll gladly re-watch in the years to come.
Zabriskie Point (1970) – 7 (IMDb 6.9)
Being a big Michelangelo Antonioni fan I had to watch this one, although I don’t generally care for films trying to make a political statement. Shot beautifully, as all of his films, this film makes its point without being too annoying about it. It discusses some of the contemporary societal issues, but of course being an Antonioni film it does so taking its sweet time and really encouraging you to think about those issues. The finale with the big explosions is just pure cinema, one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a film. Overall the film is good, but not great, but that scene alone makes it worthwhile for me.
I Clowns (1970) – 8 (IMDb 7)
Part documentary, part dramatization and always comic, Federico Fellini’s The Clowns is the best film I’ve seen this month so far. Clowns are a fascinating subject, but add Fellini’s sensibilities and you have yourself one of the best documentaries ever made. It’s so effective, because Fellini loves clowns himself. He interviews some of the most important exponents of the craft and also shoots their performances. It’s a documentary, but a very entertaining one and very much a Fellini film (even featuring some cast regulars) and Federico himself. Highly recommended.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) – 7 (IMDb 7.3)
It’s no secret I love Woody Allen, I’ll watch anything he does. Manhattan Murder Mystery is a good comedy/drama/mystery that mostly works because of the great cast of characters and Woody’s witty script. It’s really a standard Woody Allen film and if you’ve seen a couple of his works you’ll know exactly what to expect, but he almost descends into genre territory, but in the end it’s a mostly lighthearted film.
The ABCs of Death (2012) – 5 (IMDb 5)
This is a mostly “uneven” anthology: Some good and interesting segments, some terrible I-wanna-rip-out-my-fucking-eyes worthy segments. If you like the horror genre chances are you’ll find something good in this, because almost every existing sub-genre is covered here, but you’ll have to sit through some bad stuff. What’s great about this anthology is that the segments are so short that if you really hate one it’s going to be over soon anyway, so you can look forward to the next short. For me the most memorable ones were ‘L for Libido’ directed by Timo Tjahjanto (of Darah fame, cool & glossy horror flick) and Srdjan Spasojevic’s (A Serbain Film) ‘R for Removed’.
Le Amiche (1955) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.1)
Back to Italian cinema. Antonioni’s Le Amiche is a great romance/drama, but a bit of a ‘downer’, so make sure you’re in the right mood. It follows the lives and loves of a bunch of girlfriends and it basically touches upon every aspect of the human existence. You’ll get a taste of “early” Antonioni and see some of the flourishes and ideas that he then develops in classics like L’Avventura. There are some strong, solid performances and recognizable faces from the Antonioni universe, which is always a pleasure (yes, I geeked out a couple of times). This one’s more about the mood and the emotions, but it’s really touching if you let it be.
Sweet and Lowdown (1997) – 7 (IMDb 7.2)
Again I was in the mood for some Woody Allen. This one stars Sean Penn, which I’m not necessarily a big fan of, but he does a good enough job here and is very convincing in interpreting one of the best guitar players of all time (except for that gypsy in France). Woody covers some familiar territory here as well, while referencing Federico Fellini’s La Strada and using the faux documentary gimmick to tell his story. All in all a fun film that spins its wheels a little bit, but is successful mostly because of its charming screenplay.
Viva L’Italia (2012) – 3 (IMDb 6.6)
A more recent Italian film, Viva L’Italia is a disaster on almost every level. From the manipulative direction and use of music, to an overly cheesy and clichéd screenplay and some terrible acting, this is a film you want to avoid at all costs. It’s supposed to be a critique to Italy’s current state of affairs, but it’s so obvious in pandering its message and really spelling out every detail of its agenda it’s annoying and almost sickening. And I even agree with some of its ideas. The film contradicts itself at the end, where the lead character (the “hero” ends up being just as bad as the people he criticized, but it’s treated as a triumph and the film doesn’t even notice its hypocrisy. The only good thing about this film is some of the humor and Alessandro Gassman, who is a fine actor.
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – 6.5 (IMDb 7.4)
Woody! I love Woody Allen (can you tell?), so I watched this one, but wasn’t too impressed with it. John Cusack is someone I enjoy watching, but he was completely miscast here. This is a comedy/drama about a theater playwright trying to make it big, while staying true to his art. Most of the comedy is enjoyable here and there are some good reflections on art and what art should be, but somehow the unfocussed screenplay doesn’t help the pacing and some of the characters are too much of a caricature to take seriously. I did however appreciate the references to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. (one of my all time favorite films).
Roma (1972) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.2)
Roma is Federico Fellini’s own 2001: A Space Odyssey, set in Rome instead of outer space and Nino Rota’s musical score instead of György Ligeti. Like 2001, it doesn’t need a plot to hold your attention and dazzle you. This is a very unique film experience, which will take you through every aspect of life in the city of Rome. Again it’s Fellini working in color and doing a great job at that, but like with most of these older Italian films I have a feeling that only Italians can fully appreciate their beauty (and humor) simply because they’re so specifically Italian.
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) – 2.5 (IMDb 5.6)
The newest entry in the Die Hard franchise is quite simply a disaster: The worst film of the year so far. It has no (coherent) plot, no interesting characters; it reduces John McClane (Bruce Willis’ character) to one-liners and introduces a mannequin with zero charisma as his son instead. As someone who enjoyed the other Die Hard films this film is offensive and shouldn’t even exist. This is the definition of a cash grab. Not even the action is enjoyable or worth watching. Recommended only if you’re a completist of the series, if not happily skip it. Oh, and Bruce isn’t even wearing his trademark white tank top in this one.
Man on the Moon (1999) – 7 (IMDb 7.4)
My brother is a big Jim Carrey fan, so I watched this one with him and I must say I dug it. This is the biography of an entertainer, trying to make it big in show business. Most of the comedy mostly hits the spot and there are some good supporting performances by Danny De Vito and Paul Giamatti. Where the film is a bit disappointing is the ending which tries to go for a big twist, where there really needn’t to be one. But Jim Carrey is funny, the writing is sharp and the quirky tone works, so: Recommended.
The Phantom of Liberty (1974) – 7 (IMDb 7.8)
I’m relatively new to Luis Buñuel’s work, but I enjoyed what I’ve seen so far (Belle de Jour, Un Chien Andalou and Le Discret Charm de la Bourgeoisie). The Phantom of Liberty is a very good film too although as with most of his work so far I’d have a hard time summing it up plot-wise. I don’t mind that at all. In this one there’s even one of my all time favorite actresses, the beautiful Monica Vitti, and it’s a Criterion, so you can’t go wrong with that. Some of the humor was laugh out funny, which I didn’t expect, but was great.
If… (1968) – 5 (IMDb 7.6)
This one I wasn’t particularly a fan of. Why? Mostly, because I don’t get British cinema. I find their attitude just off-putting. I watched it because it’s a classic and it’s in the Criterion collection as well, but I didn’t feel this one at all. I just couldn’t connect with it. Set in a private school in England it revolves around youths, which should be interesting, but doesn’t really do anything for me personally. That being said it is an undeniably good film from a technical standpoint and if you like what Criterion puts out and enjoy British cinema, I would assume this is the perfect film for you.