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Essay-type things

The End

Posted by martinteller on March 26, 2016

It’s time for me to pack it in. This blog has run its course. Not only am I watching fewer (way fewer) films than I used to, but I write about them even less. Writing about them has become a burden rather than a joy. When I sit down with a movie, I feel this neurotic urge to take mental notes, like I should start composing a review in my head because really I ought to be writing about it. And that gets in the way of experiencing the damn thing. So I think it’s best to end it. By officially putting a period on this paragraph, those voices in the back of my mind can quit nagging me about the next one. Not having to think about whether or not I’m going to review a film will help me enjoy the act of watching them more.

I put over 13 years into this thing. For about two, maybe three of them I think I actually did some pretty decent reviews. According to my spreadsheet, there are over 5700 reviews on this blog. Out of those, there are maybe 50 I’m pretty proud of. Not a great ratio, but I’ll take it. It was really nice to know that a few people were out there reading my stuff. There’s an ocean of movie review blogs out there, and I have no illusions… mine will quickly be forgotten by the handful of people who noticed it. As it should be. It was just me voicing my opinions on movies, which I never really knew much about anyway. I know what I like, and every once in a while I could articulate the reasons why.

Thanks for stopping by!

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 23 Comments »

They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? 2015 Update

Posted by martinteller on February 14, 2015

Once again, the website “They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” has revised their list of the top 1000 movies, based on an aggregation of thousands of other polls.  There are 77 additions to the list.  Of these, there are 10 I have not seen:

689. Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) – Angelopoulos, Theo
738. Moi, un Noir (1958) – Rouch, Jean
777. Elephant [TV] (1989) – Clarke, Alan
795. Twenty Years Later (1985) – Coutinho, Eduardo
832. Taipei Story (1985) – Yang, Edward
859. Goddess, The (1934) – Wu Yonggang
861. Arabian Nights (1974) – Pasolini, Pier Paolo
968. Battle of Chile: Part 2, The (1976) – Guzmán, Patricio
969. Doomed Love [TV] (1978) – de Oliveira, Manoel
997. Hamlet [1964] (1964) – Kozintsev, Grigori


In previous years, I’ve attempted to see every film on the list.  Last year I finally achieved 100% completion.  This year… I just don’t care.  I would like to see The Goddess and there’s one or two others I wouldn’t mind checking out.  But for the most part, I’m not interested and no longer feel a compulsion to finish the list.  Will I miss out on something I would love?  Possibly.  I had low expectations for the long version of Out 1 and it turned out to be one of my favorite discoveries last year.  But I’m spending less time with movies these days, and have to budget it carefully.  And more Yang, Pasolini and de Oliveria just ain’t in the budget.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 2 Comments »


Posted by martinteller on January 20, 2015

See, it’s autumn, like changing seasons, get it? Oh, never mind

Throughout my teens and my 20’s, music was my thing.  My music collection — numbering in the thousands of CD’s, records and cassettes — was a vital part of my identity, and my knowledge and appreciation of both current and classic music was a point of pride.  In the year 2000, I purchased a DVD player.  And quickly movies took the place of music.  Within a year, I was hitting pawn shops and flea markets every weekend, expanding my collection with both old favorites and new discoveries.  As these discoveries started edging into more challenging, more obscure, more enlightening fare, I found I wanted to write down my experiences.  At the beginning of 2003, I started doing that.  I kept a blog on my personal Comcast page.

For several years my entries were exceptionally brief… a few off-the-cuff sentences and a 1-10 rating.  But as my relationship with my first wife got worse and worse, I retreated deeper into the world of cinema.  I joined online communities to discuss films, and my pithy comments began to develop into (IMHO) more intelligent observations.  A few people started to care about what I wrote, and I moved my entire blog to WordPress, wanting to share my thoughts and opinions with a wider audience.  Not that I thought I was particularly brilliant at it, but I had amassed some knowledge from digging into the more obscure corners of moviedom.  And it made me feel a part of something.  It gave me purpose in a time when the rest of my life felt pointless.  I added screenshots to my reviews, I tried to give them more body, more insight.

But things change.  In 2013 I ended my horrible relationship and got a divorce.  And then I met Carrie.  Carrie told me that one of things that attracted her was my love of movies.  But as we grew closer and spent more time together, I had less time to obsess over movies… and less inclination to.  I live a fuller, more rounded existence now.  I’m not saying I don’t still love cinema.  It’s just that I no longer feel this need to fill my life with it.  I don’t want to keep turning over rocks hoping to find obscure gems.  I’m sure they’re out there, but I’m tired of the search.  I don’t want to be a slave to it, and I don’t want to keep feeling obligated to spend so much time writing about it.

I’m not making a grand departure here.  For now at least, the blog will go on.  I’ll write something about every movie I watch.  But I’m just not watching nearly as much as I used to, and I’m not going to force myself to write 4-5 paragraphs about each one.  I will no longer categorize the short reviews as “quickies”.  Occasionally I’ll probably feel inspired to write in depth, but they’re going to be mostly quickies from now on.  Like the early years of this blog.  And this will undoubtedly make my blog less valuable and less interesting to some of you.  I’m grateful for every subscriber I have (I still can’t believe anyone subscribes to this!) and every page view I get.  Thank you.  I hope you stick around, even though I have less content to share.

Carrie is a writer, too, and a better one than me.  We write a blog together about our culinary exploits.  It’s called We Cook Stuff.  I invite you to check it out sometime.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 14 Comments »

Blogathon: The Ten Most Iconic Female Movie Characters

Posted by martinteller on August 28, 2014

Dan from Public Transportation Snob has handed me a list.  The list… is life.  No, wait.  Sorry.  The list is “The Ten Most Iconic Female Movie Characters”.  It was started by Dell on Movies and has passed through the hands of five other bloggers before falling in my lap.  The rules for handling this list are as follows:

 A list of 10 iconic female movie characters has been made. That list will be assigned to another blogger who can then change it by removing one character (describing why they think she should not be on the list) and replacing it with another one (also with motivation) and hand over the baton to another blogger. Once assigned, that blogger will have to put his/her post up within a week. If this is not the case the blogger who assigned it has to reassign it to another blogger.

Seems simple enough, right?  But how does one determine “iconic”?  I can’t just put my favorite performance (Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, thanks for asking).  It has to be iconic.  A character who endures the passage of time and lives on in our pop culture consciousness.  A character that others are measured against.  A character whose name instantly evokes an image, a persona.  We’re not messing around here.  This is the big leagues of movie characters.  Female ones, specifically.

These are the participants so far:

Dell on Movies (Dell)
My FilmViews (Nostra)
Time Well Spent (Jaina)
FlixChatter (Ruth)
The Warning Sign (Eric)
Public Transportation Snob (Dan)

And these are the iconic ladies, as the list currently stands:

Ellen Ripley in Aliens

Ellen Ripley

Princess Leia in Star Wars

Princess Leia

Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy Gale

Marge Gunderson in Fargo

Marge Gunderson

Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Sarah Connor

Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Holly Golightly

Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind

Scarlett O’Hara

Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth Salander

The Bride in Kill Bill

The Bride

Jackie Brown

So the first order of business is to remove one of these women from the list.  My first instinct was to take out Scarlett or Holly, since I’m not a big fan of either of those films.  But those are certainly iconic characters, more so than others on the list.  I’m not sure Lisbeth meets the definition of “iconic” but since I’m very fond of her — and think she should be iconic — I’ll leave her alone too.  I’ve gotta go with The Bride.  I really like Kill Bill and I really like Uma Thurman’s performance, but she doesn’t strike me as an icon.  She’s strong, but she doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi… and she’s largely borrowed from The Bride Wore Black and Lady Snowblood anyway.  Besides, two Tarantino characters on the list is at least one too many.

sorry, Beatrix

Now.  I’ve gotta add one.  I thought removing was hard, but hoo boy, this is a nightmare.  The thing that first struck me is the sad lack of women of color in iconic roles.  Pam Grier was taken out (Foxy Brown) and added back in again (as Jackie Brown)… but who else fits the bill?  I absolutely adore Ruby Dee, but none of her roles could be called iconic (Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing comes closest).  Juanita Moore’s performance in Imitation of Life is another huge favorite, but again… I can’t justify it as iconic.  Research tells me that Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones might be a good choice, but I haven’t seen it (note to self: see Carmen Jones).  And where are the iconic Asian, Latina or Native American roles?  There are so few to choose from.  There are prominent non-Caucasian female characters in the films of other countries, but not many have infiltrated pop culture to the degree that they could be called iconic.  No matter how much I adore Madhabi Mukherjee in her work with Satyajit Ray or Setsuko Hara in her work with Yasujiro Ozu, it would be disingenuous of me to add any of their characters to this list.  Which is a shame.  In a perfect world, Charulata would be an icon.

But she isn’t, so who do I add?  It seems odd that Marilyn Monroe isn’t on this list… certainly an iconic actress, but which of her characters would one pick?  I’m not a big enough fan to make that choice (but come on, it’s gotta be Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, right?).  One of my favorites is Guilietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria, perhaps iconic as the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope.  How about Marlene Dietrich as “Shanghai Lily” in Shanghai Express?  Definitely worthy of consideration.  My fiancée had the brilliant idea of nominating a Divine role, for a gender-bending twist.  Dawn Davenport demanding her cha-cha heels in Female Trouble is pretty damn iconic, to me at least.  As a noir fanatic, I think of all the great femmes fatales, from Ann Savage’s venomous Vera in Detour to Rita Hayworth’s wild, sultry Gilda.  Norma friggin’ Desmond, anyone?  So many I want to name.  The list goes on and on and on.

Finally I managed to get my shortlist boiled down to three candidates.  For the title character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette Davis conjured up a bizarre, hilarious, twisted, demented, tragic human being.  Talk about unforgettable characters.  Jeanne Moreau as Catherine in Jules et Jim is the ultimate “obscure object of desire”.  She makes no bones about who she is or what she wants, and you can’t take your eyes off of her.  And then there is the most iconic femme fatale in noir, Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.  Phyllis took us all for a ride, straight down the line.  We’re all rotten… only she’s a little more rotten.  How do I choose one of these three?  HOW?


The one I kept coming back to was Catherine from Jules et Jim.  She’s open to the world yet enigmatic.  Mysterious and complex.  Irresistible.  Unpredictable.  “She’s a real woman.  It’s that woman you and I love, that all men desire.”  She’s a siren, promising freedom and fun and passion but discarding men on a whim, only to suck them back into her whirlpool again.  Her tourbillon….

I now hand the baton over to Anna at Film Grimoire, who I hope doesn’t agonize over this as much as I did.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 7 Comments »

Pausing at a Milestone a.k.a. The 5,000 Blog-Fingers of Mr. T

Posted by martinteller on February 21, 2014

Well, WordPress tells me this is my 5,000th post on this blog.  That’s a whole mess of posts.  I started blogging about movies in January 2003.  Although I was already in my early 30’s, I was really just starting to explore the vast world of cinema beyond the most obvious classics like Hitchcock and Kurosawa.  I’m still exploring, and still feel there’s so much out there that I haven’t looked into.  In a way, despite all that I’ve watched, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, that I’m not adventuring far enough or deep enough, that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of interesting directors and films out there yet to discover.

At least, I hope so.  In the past year, I’ve given a score of 90 or above to only seven films… and only two of those above a 95.  Surely there are still great movies out there for me discover, movies that will thrill me and dazzle me and make me fall in love.  Maybe I’ve gotten too grumpy, too critical.  Or maybe I’ve gotten too even-handed.  It’s something that worries me lately, that I’ve become too invested in being “fair”, seeing both the good and the bad in everything.  I’m not letting myself get swept away by a powerful narrative, a grand performance, a distinct visual style or original idea.  I’m also not letting myself just hate a movie that rubs me the wrong way, I’ve gotten too cautious about acknowledging whatever positives exist.  Too often I’m worrying about the feedback I might get if I’m too extreme in either direction.  The result is my reviews have become rather wishy-washy, I’m afraid.  It’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I’d like to change it.

For many years this blog was just a personal hobby on my personal website.  My reviews were short, some only a few words.  They weren’t meant for “readers”, really… they were just for me, a few quick impressions for the record.  Slowly, very slowly, my reviews began to take on more depth.  When I decided to move my blog over to WordPress a couple of years ago, it’s because I finally felt that maybe what I had to say was finally worth sharing with the outside world.  Some days I’m not so sure, but on rare occasions I’m quite happy with my writing.  There are thousands of voices blogging about movies on the internet.  My voice isn’t special, but it’s mine… and it’s nice to be heard, even when (or especially when) I’m not feeling very certain about whether I’m worth listening to.

Thank you to everyone who ever read a post on this blog.  Thank you to everyone who ever “liked” a post or commented on it.  Thank you to my subscribers… I don’t know why you do it, but it makes me very happy.  Some of you are bloggers yourselves, and I wish I spent more time reading and commenting on your posts.  I’d like to change that, too, though I have less time for the internet than I used to.  I also have to make time for movies, and when I discover something great I want to come here and share my enthusiasm.  This is my creative outlet and 5,000 posts in, I have no inclination to stop now.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 10 Comments »

They Update Lists of Movies, Don’t They?

Posted by martinteller on February 18, 2014

Once again, the “They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” list has been updated.  It’s a much smaller update than last year’s, which was heavily influenced by the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.  Only 34 replacements were made, and I’ve seen 30 of them.  Most importantly, The Art of Vision was finally dropped from the list, as was Doomed Love which is not available with English subtitles.  So for the first time since I started tackling the list several years ago, it is completely doable.  The four new additions I’ll be watching are:

708. ARREBATO (Iván Zulueta / 1980 / Spain / 105m / Col)
740. BLUE (Derek Jarman / 1993 / UK / 76m / Col)
852. WINGS OF EAGLES, THE (John Ford / 1957 / USA / 110m / Col)
894. LAST OF THE MOHICANS, THE (Michael Mann / 1992 / USA / 122m / Col)

While I dread having to sit through yet another Ford movie (currently 14 on the list), I’m looking forward to the Zulueta.  Even though I hated Jubilee, Blue intrigues me (if nothing else, it won’t be taxing on the eyes).  I started watching Mohicans once and wasn’t too into it, but it should be painless.  I’m also going to tackle this monster:

279. OUT 1, NOLI ME TANGERE (Jacques Rivette / 1971 / France / 729m / Col-BW)

Previously I didn’t “count” this because I’d already sat through Out 1: Spectre but this time I’m going for 100% completion.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 1 Comment »

A Change of Pace

Posted by martinteller on June 9, 2013

Lately, I have been somewhat preoccupied.  Between hunting for a job and now an impending divorce (congratulations please, not condolences… this is a Very Good Thing), among other distractions, I just don’t have enough time and energy for reviews.  So I’ve decided that after over 10 years of writing a review for every movie I watch, I am going to start being more selective.  90% of what I watch will probably still get reviewed.  But I’m not going to write up every rewatch, or every major film that’s already widely reviewed.

This change, coupled with the fact that despite all the free time on my hands lately I just haven’t had that much time for movies, means that this blog will be a bit less active than it has been in the past.  Also, I will frequently be posting just brief thoughts instead of the 4- or 5-paragraph reviews that I’ve been doing recently.  Perhaps when all the dust has settled this blog will return to normal.  But it shouldn’t be a huge difference, and I do hope to post thoughtful, lengthy reviews when I have something meaningful to say.

For the record, I just rewatched Herzog’s Signs of Life and it’s still really good.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 14 Comments »

They Make Lists of Movies, Don’t They?

Posted by martinteller on February 12, 2013

It’s that time of year, when the “They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” list has been updated.  I love making lists, something about organizing things and putting them in their place appeals to the little OCD monster in me.  As far as completing other lists, though, TSPDT is the only one I really care about.  It appeals to me because 1) it’s a long list and 2) it’s an aggregate.  No one person decides what goes on the list or what position to put each movie in.  It’s just math, taking all the other lists out there and smooshing them together.  Granted, there are some subjective measures… which lists to include, how to weigh old lists vs. new lists, and so forth.  But it’s about as “objective” a canon there can be.

This year’s update was highly anticipated because it comes after the Sight & Sound poll of 2012.  This resulted in the biggest shakeup of the TSPDT list to date, with lots of films moving up and down, and 124 replacements in all.  As I’ve done the past two years, I will be watching all the films I haven’t seen yet.  These are:

279. OUT 1, NOLI ME TANGERE (Jacques Rivette / 1971 / France / 729m / Col-BW)
436. NOUVELLE VAGUE (Jean-Luc Godard / 1990 / France, Switzerland / 88m / Col)
540. SICILIA! (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet / 1999 / Italy, France, Switzerland / 76m / BW)
562. NUMÉRO DEUX (Jean-Luc Godard / 1975 / France / 88m / Col)
601. BLACK GIRL (Ousmane Sembene / 1966 / France, Senegal / 65m / Col-BW)
610. IN VANDA’S ROOM (Pedro Costa / 2000 / Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Italy / 170m / Col)
619. EMPIRE (Andy Warhol / 1964 / USA / 485m / BW)
628. CODE UNKNOWN (Michael Haneke / 2000 / France, Germany, Romania / 116m / Col)
638. FROM THE CLOUDS TO THE RESISTANCE (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet / 1979 / Italy, West Germany, UK, France / 104m / Col)
652. LAST BOLSHEVIK, THE (Chris Marker / 1993 / France, Finland / 120m / Col)
691. OUTER SPACE (Peter Tscherkassky / 1999 / Austria / 10m / BW)
713. SEASONS, THE (Artavazd Peleshian / 1975 / USSR / 29m / BW)
733. CIÉNAGA, LA (Lucrecia Martel / 2001 / Argentina, USA, Japan, France, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil / 99m / Col)
734. COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa / 2006 / Portugal, France, Switzerland / 155m / Col)
741. TALE OF THE WIND, A (Joris Ivens / 1988 / France / 80m / Col)
753. TIE XI QU: WEST OF THE TRACKS (Wang Bing / 2003 / China / 551m / Col)
778. NUIT DU CARREFOUR, LA (Jean Renoir / 1932 / France / 73m / BW)
779. UNSERE AFRIKAREISE (Peter Kubelka / 1966 / Austria / 13m / Col)
782. INDIA: MATRI BHUMI (Roberto Rossellini / 1959 / Italy, France / 90m / Col)
800. GRIN WITHOUT A CAT (Chris Marker / 1977 / France / 240m / Col-BW)
806. EXOTICA (Atom Egoyan / 1994 / Canada / 104m / Col)
812. LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS (Mikio Naruse / 1954 / Japan / 101m / BW)
813. D’EST (Chantal Akerman / 1993 / Belgium, France, Portugal / 107m / Col)
814. DEATH OF MARIA MALIBRAN, THE (Werner Schroeter / 1972 / West Germany / 104m / Col)
822. SILENT LIGHT (Carlos Reygadas / 2007 / Mexico, France, Netherlands / 136m / Col)
869. MAN’S CASTLE (Frank Borzage / 1933 / USA / 66m / BW)
871. ARNULF RAINER (Peter Kubelka / 1960 / Austria / 7m / BW)
878. MOVIE, A (Bruce Conner / 1958 / USA / 12m / BW)
887. DOOMED LOVE (Manoel de Oliveira / 1978 / Portugal / 260m / Col)
931. ART OF VISION, THE (Stan Brakhage / 1965 / USA / 250m / Col)
964. INTRUDER, THE (Claire Denis / 2004 / France, Korea / 130m / Col)
968. FANTOMAS (Louis Feuillade / 1913 / France / 314m / BW)

That’s 33 in all.  However, I refuse to watch Out 1: noli me tangere since I’ve already seen Out 1: Spectre, which was long enough, thank you very much.  If the longer version happens to come out on DVD, I’ll check it out.  Otherwise I’m not going to bother.  My sense of completism only runs so deep.  Also, I don’t expect to be able to find The Art of Vision, but as always, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.

I’ll watch all the other ones, though.  It was suggested that I could watch the hour-long version of Empire and that would be good enough.  I’m undecided, and will probably research it a bit before choosing.  There’s an awful lot of incredibly long films here… I haven’t looked into it yet, but I suspect that TSPDT added a couple of “very long movies” lists to their formula.  I’m also greatly annoyed that I have to watch two more by Godard and two more by Huillet/Straub, but I’ll try to be a good sport about it.  As for the others, several were already on my watchlist and there’s a few I’ve never heard of.

Now for some lists of my own.  First, my 10 favorite new additions to the list.  By new, I mean movies that have never appeared on the TSPDT list before.

1. The Tree of Life
2. The Turin Horse
3. Syndromes and a Century
4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
5. Cairo Station
6. Hoop Dreams
7. The Match Factory Girl
8. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
9. Rosetta
10. Le bonheur

Half of these are in my top 100 list.  How has Woolf never been on the list until now?  As for my least favorite new additions, I’m not very fond of A nos amours, Stardust Memories and especially Possession.

And now, the “We’ll Meet Again” list… 10 movies I’m sad to see fall off the list:

1. An Actor’s Revenge (Revenge of a Kabuki Actor)
2. Limite
3. Murder By Contract
4. Sleeper
5. The Heiress
6. Kanal
7. Babe
8. The Organizer
9. Night and the City
10. Gold Diggers of 1933

Especially downtrodden about the Ichikawa, which is one of my top 20 of all time.  Murder By Contract was the movie that sparked my film noir obsession.  And Babe is one that took me completely by surprise, I probably would not have watched it if it hadn’t been on this list.

Lastly, the “Good Riddance Club”… 10 movies I won’t miss at all:

1. The Age of the Earth
2. The War of the Worlds
3. Dead Poets Society
4. The Bridges of Madison County
5. In Praise of Love
6. They Died With Their Boots On
7. Samson and Delilah
8. A Man for All Seasons
9. The Unknown
10. Gunga Din

Some of these I would have never sat through if they hadn’t been here.  There are still some real stinkers on the list, but that’s the beauty of TSPDT… it doesn’t reflect any one person’s tastes.  It’s an excellent place for any budding cinephile to jump in and make some exciting discoveries.  Hopefully I’ll find some gems among the new additions I haven’t seen yet.  Watching of those should start in the next week or so.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 3 Comments »

Not Another Best of 2012 List

Posted by martinteller on December 26, 2012

Now is the time when bloggers the world over start tallying their best movies of the year.  Not just best movies, but best performances, best scripts, biggest surprises, saddest disappointments, best lines, most righteous explosions.  Folks are noting recent trends and forecasting the upcoming year.  There’s a lot of summing up going on.  Bloggers are reflecting on what 2012 has brought in the world of cinema.

Sadly, or not so sadly, I will not be contributing to this storm of remembrance of the past year.  Because — as regular readers already know — I just don’t get to the theater that often.  Three times this past year, to be precise.  I acknowledge the benefits of the theater experience, and it definitely can be neat to be at the forefront of discussion, but the cons outweigh the pros to me.  I prefer to catch up on DVD, from the agoraphobic comforts of my couch.  And even though I’m usually late to the party, it’s kind of nice to play clean-up, commenting on a movie after the dust has settled.

Even stretching it to include some arguably 2011 releases, I wouldn’t have enough for a satisfying top 10 of 2012 list.  Instead, I submit a list of the movies I most want to see before I begin to put together a “best of” list.  I’ve probably forgotten a few, and I’m open to suggestions.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Bitter Buddha
Cloud Atlas
The Comedy
Django Unchained
From Up on Poppy Hill
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Holy Motors
I Wish
The Imposter
Jobraith A.D.
The Land of Hope
The Master
Mekong Hotel
On Death Row
Photographic Memory
The Queen of Versailles
Red Hook Summer
Rust & Bone
Searching for Sugar Man
Sexy Baby
Silent Hill: Revelation
To Rome With Love
Wreck-It Ralph
Wuthering Heights
Zero Dark Thirty

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 14 Comments »

Shooting My Credibility in the Foot: A Dozen Film Noir “Classics” I’m Not That Crazy About

Posted by martinteller on November 5, 2012

Here in the midst of Noir-vember, my thoughts have turned to the classics of the genre that for one reason or another, don’t “do it” for me.  These are films that are highly regarded, often ranked among the best noir has to offer.  Four of them are in Eddie Muller’s top 25 and that guy probably knows more about noir than anyone, ever.  I should say that with the exception of D.O.A., these are all movies I like to some degree.  But I don’t love them, not enough to put in my personal list of the top 100 noirs.

By posting this list, I run the risk of being thought of as not a true connoisseur of the genre… some may even say I don’t get it at all.  Most of these films I would like to see again, to keep trying to capture the magic that has worked on others.  Revisits of most or all of them will come in time (and some of them I actually have in my collection).

1. The Big Heat (seen: twice) – I love Gloria Grahame, but nothing else about this movie sticks with me.  There are a number of Fritz Lang noirs I think are better, richer.  Yet this seems to be the most respected one.  I do regret not buying the limited edition Blu-Ray, which now fetches pretty steep prices.  But I do own it (in a DVD box set), so maybe the third time will be the charm.

2. The Big Sleep (seen: twice) – When the average person thinks “film noir” this is probably one of the first handful of titles that comes to mind.  But I’ve just never gotten too excited about the Marlowe character, as iconic and central to the genre as he is.  And I have to admit, the incomprehensibility of the plot impedes my enjoyment.

3. Body and Soul (seen: once) – I’m probably being unfair in making comparisons, but to me this just doesn’t measure up to The Set-Up when it comes to boxing noirs.  It feels too formulaic to me, and the softened ending diminishes the impact.

4. Born to Kill (seen: twice) – Tierney’s great, supporting performances are fun, and there’s some enjoyable trashiness to it.  But I’ll just quote my last review: “On the whole it’s just too soapy, largely due to the terrible, string-heavy score and the upper-class setting…. a few of the scenes really sing, but a number of them come off as flat.”

5. D.O.A. (seen: once) – As I said in the intro, this is the only film on the list that I would say I “dislike” rather than “don’t love”.  However, I haven’t seen it since long before the noir bug bit me, so I definitely owe it a second look.  Perhaps the “horrible dialogue, pretty bad acting, and a convoluted plot” aren’t as bad as I thought at the time.

6. High Sierra (seen: twice) – It didn’t deserve the bad score I gave it the first time around.  But although it improved on my rewatch last year, it didn’t shoot up into the “love” region.  Not very stylish, and rather dull at times.

7. In a Lonely Place (seen: twice) – Of the films on this list, this is the one I like the most.  I have the DVD, I look forward to seeing it again.  But a lot of people whose opinions I respect hold it in very high regard, and I’m just not that enthusiastic about it.  It feels a bit slow to me and I dislike the score.

8. The Killers (seen: twice) – This was one of the very first noirs I ever saw.  At the time I said “I’m not a big noir guy” which now amuses me to no end.  I revisited it last year and bumped my rating up a notch, but besides the terrific cinematography it doesn’t push my buttons very much.

9. Kiss Me Deadly (seen: twice) – I actually own this on Blu-Ray.  Its odd, brutal charms have grown on me a bit, but not quite enough to push me over the top.  I think I need to view it in the right mindset, properly embracing Mike Hammer as an anti-hero.

10. The Prowler (seen: once) – I just don’t get why everyone seems to think this is the bee’s knees.  Maybe more than any other movie on this list, this is the one where I most feel like I’m missing the point.

11. The Reckless Moment (seen: once) – The characterizations really hampered my enjoyment.  Bennett is more idiotic than reckless, and the relationship with Mason didn’t feel genuine to me.

12. Scarlet Street (seen: once) – What soured this for me was having already seen Renoir’s witty adaptation of the same story, La Chienne.  Lang’s Hollywood-crippled rendition feels watered down by contrast.  A good movie, but one that suffers in comparison.

addendum 2/12/2013: Since writing this post, I have revisited Scarlet Street and would remove it from this list.  I don’t know if it would make my top 100 noirs, but it’s a lot better than I gave it credit for.  I would now replace it with Laura (see below).


Honorable mention #1: Laura (seen: twice) – This didn’t belong on the main list because it is in my top 100 noirs… right at the bottom.  When I revise the list — as I hope to do in about a month — it will probably drop off.  Again, this is one of the most iconic films of the genre, but it’s not seedy or raw enough for my tastes.  I like my noir with a little more zing.

Honorable mention #2: Sunset Blvd (seen: twice) – I really really enjoy this movie, and will be purchasing the Blu-Ray.  It’s just not very noir to me.

Feel free me to call me crazy, a Judas to the genre, or just plain wrong.  Or feel free to agree.  You can comment anonymously if you want 😉

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