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My movie mini-reviews.

My Top 250 Films

Posted by martinteller on December 10, 2018

It’s been a few years since I updated my list of favorite films. Which makes sense because I’ve seen so few movies in those years that I have nothing “new” to add, at least in terms of something I hadn’t seen before. Still, every now and then I’d revisit a movie and think “Maybe this one is too high, I should move it down a little.” Or “I really do love this, I should make room for it on my list.” Tastes change. So I thought I’d take a stab at it. But as I agonized over chart positions, I was struck by how meaningless all this ranking stuff is. I would mentally pit one film against another to determine which I “liked” “more” and almost always the answer was… “well, it depends.” And then there was the question of what deserved to be in the prestigious Top 100 and what would be relegated to the less-flashy “Top 101-250” (ugh, I’ve always hated that clunky title) list.

So I said to hell with it. No more numbers, no more ranking. I took my previously ranked top 100, crammed it together with my unranked 101-250, threw out some movies I wasn’t quite as smitten with anymore, added some I had grown fonder of, then alphabetically ordered them into one egalitarian superlist. And I liked it! Okay sure, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to name my #1 all-time fave, chances are I’m gonna blurt out Fanny and Alexander, but goddamn it I can’t be bothered to wring my hands over what should be #74 and what should be #75. I could really throw caution to the wind and just list all the movies I love without making it conform to a nice round number. But hell, there’s got to be some hand-wringing over these things, that’s part of the fun.

Okay, enough prelude, here we go! Some more in-depth notes follow the list.

 

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

2. The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut)

3. 8½ (1963, Federico Fellini)

4. An Actor’s Revenge (1963, Kon Ichikawa)

5. The Adversary [Pratidwandi] (1972, Satyajit Ray)

6. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)

7. Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)

8. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

9. All About My Mother (1999, Pedro Almodovar)

10. All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)

11. All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)

12. Amadeus (1984, Milos Forman)

13. American Movie (1999, Chris Smith)

14. The Americanization of Emily (1964, Arthur Hiller)

15. An Angel at My Table (1990, Jane Campion)

16. Aparajito (1956, Satyajit Ray)

17. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

18. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)

19. As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000, Jonas Mekas)

20. The Asphalt Jungle (1950, John Huston)

21. Autumn Sonata (1978, Ingmar Bergman)

22. The Beautiful Washing Machine (2004, James Lee)

23. Betrayed/When Strangers Marry (1944, William Castle)

24. Beyond the Forest (1949, King Vidor)

25. The Big City [Mahanagar] (1963, Satyajit Ray)

26. The Big Combo (1955, Joseph H. Lewis)

27. The Black Stallion (1979, Carroll Ballard)

28. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

29. Blast of Silence (1961, Allen Baron)

30. Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

31. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)

32. The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis)

33. Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

34. Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam)

35. The Browning Version (1951, Anthony Asquith)

36. The Burglar (1957, Paul Wendkos)

37. Cairo Station (1958, Youssef Chahine)

38. Carmen (1983, Carlos Saura)

39. Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

40. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

41. Charulata (1964, Satyajit Ray)

42. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg)

43. The Cloud-Capped Star (1960, Ritwik Ghatak)

44. Cocorico Monsieur Poulet (1974, Jean Rouch)

45. The Conformist (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci)

46. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989, Peter Greenaway)

47. The Cranes Are Flying (1957, Mikhail Kalatozov)

48. Cruel Gun Story (1964, Takumi Furukawa)

49. Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)

50. The Dead (1987, John Huston)

51. The Decalogue (1989, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

52. Devi (1960, Satyajit Ray)

53. Devils on the Doorstep (2000, Wen Jiang)

54. Dial M for Murder (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

55. Dillinger Is Dead (1969, Marco Ferreri)

56. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988, Terence Davies)

57. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)

58. Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

59. Drowning By Numbers (1988, Peter Greenaway)

60. Drugstore Cowboy (1989, Gus Van Sant)

61. Duck Season (2004, Fernando Eimbcke)

62. El (1953, Luis Buñuel)

63. Elevator to the Gallows (1958, Louis Malle)

64. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

65. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974, Werner Herzog)

66. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)

67. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)

68. The Exterminating Angel (1962, Luis Bunuel)

69. The Face of Another (1966, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

70. Faces (1968, John Cassavetes)

71. Fanny and Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman)

72. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)

73. Fargo (1996, Joel and Ethan Coen)

74. Female on the Beach (1955, Joseph Pevney)

75. I Fidanzati (1963, Ermanno Olmi)

76. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, Toshio Matsumoto)

77. The Furies (1950, Anthony Mann)

78. Gaslight (1944, George Cukor)

79. Gimme the Loot (2012, Adam Leon)

80. The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Frank Tashlin)

81. Girl Walk//All Day (2011, Jason Krupnick)

82. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

83. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)

84. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone)

85. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

86. The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)

87. Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog)

88. Hairspray (1988, John Waters)

89. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuaron)

90. Hausu a.k.a. House (1977, Nobuhiko Obayashi)

91. The Heiress (1949, William Wyler)

92. High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa)

93. The Hole (1998, Ming-liang Tsai)

94. Holiday (1938, George Cukor)

95. House Party (1990, Reginald Hudlin)

96. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006, Ming-liang Tsai)

97. I Stand Alone (1998, Gaspar Noe)

98. Imitation of Life (1959, Douglas Sirk)

99. In the Heat of the Sun (1994, Wen Jiang)

100. In the Loop (2009, Armando Iannucci)

101. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg)

102. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch)

103. Innocence (2004, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

104. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)

105. Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959, Bert Stern)

106. Jellyfish (2007, Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret)

107. Jules and Jim (1962, Francois Truffaut)

108. The Kid With a Bike (2011, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

109. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989, Hayao Miyazaki)

110. The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick)

111. The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock)

112. Lady Vengeance (2005, Chan-wook Park)

113. Last Year at Marienbad (1961, Alain Resnais)

114. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)

115. Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989, Akl Kaurismaki)

116. Limite (1931, Mario Peixoto)

117. Linda Linda Linda (2005, Nobuhiro Yamashita)

118. The Lineup (1958, Don Siegel)

119. Lola (1961, Jacques Demy)

120. The Long Day Closes (1992, Terence Davies)

121. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson)

122. Lost in America (1985, Albert Brooks)

123. Love Exposure (2008, Sion Sono)

124. Love Streams (1984, John Cassavetes)

125. Malcolm X (1992, Spike Lee)

126. A Man Escaped (1956, Robert Bresson)

127. The Man With A Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)

128. The Match Factory Girl (1990, Aki Kaurismaki)

129. A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

130. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Vincente Minnelli)

131. The Middleman [Jana Aranya] (1976, Satyajit Ray)

132. Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)

133. Mind Game (2004, Masaaki Yuasa)

134. A Moment of Innocence (1996, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

135. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

136. Murder By Contract (1958, Irving Lerner)

137. The Music Room [Jalsaghar] (1958, Satyajit Ray)

138. Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz)

139. Naked (1993, Mike Leigh)

140. Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

141. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)

142. Night and the City (1950, Jules Dassin)

143. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

144. Nightmare Alley (1947, Edmund Goulding)

145. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Federico Fellini)

146. El Norte (1983, Gregory Nava)

147. Not One Less (1999, Zhang Yimou)

148. Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock)

149. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000, Joel and Ethan Coen)

150. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959, Robert Wise)

151. Offside (2006, Jafar Panahi)

152. Once (2006, John Varney)

153. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman)

154. Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford)

155. The Organizer (1963, Mario Monicelli)

156. Orlando (1992, Sally Potter)

157. A Page of Madness (1926, Teinosuke Kinugasa)

158. Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray)

159. Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

160. Peacock [Kong Que] (2005, Changwei Gu)

161. Pickup on South Street (1953, Sam Fuller)

162. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Peter Weir)

163. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982, Alan Parker)

164. La Promesse (1996, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

165. Quadrophenia (1979, Franc Roddam)

166. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

167. Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa)

168. Rat-Trap (1982, Adoor Gopalakrishnan)

169. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

170. Red Beard (1965, Akira Kurosawa)

171. Remember the Night (1940, Mitchell Leisen)

172. Ride the Pink Horse (1947, Robert Montgomery)

173. Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)

174. Rosetta (1999, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

175. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

176. Safe (1995, Todd Haynes)

177. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)

178. Saraband (2003, Ingmar Bergman)

179. Sátántangó (1994, Bela Tarr)

180. Sawdust and Tinsel (1953, Ingmar Bergman)

181. Scenes From a Marriage (1973, Ingmar Bergman)

182. The Scent of Green Papaya (1993, Anh Hung Tran)

183. Secrets & Lies (1996, Mike Leigh)

184. Sepet [Chinese Eye] (2004, Yasmin Ahmad)

185. The Set-Up (1949, Robert Wise)

186. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)

187. The Seventh Victim (1943, Mark Robson)

188. Shame (1968, Ingmar Bergman)

189. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

190. Silent Hill (2006, Christophe Gans)

191. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen)

192. Sita Sings the Blues (2008, Nina Paley)

193. The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodovar)

194. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Ingmar Bergman)

195. The Son (2002, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

196. Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson)

197. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Victor Erice)

198. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

199. Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)

200. Stop Making Sense (1984, Jonathan Demme)

201. Storm Fear (1955, Cornel Wilde)

202. The Story of Qiu Ju (1992, Zhang Yimou)

203. Subarnarekha [The Golden Thread] (1965, Ritwik Ghatak)

204. Sudden Fear (1952, David Miller)

205. Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Alexander Mackendrick)

206. Swimming to Cambodia (1987, Jonathan Demme)

207. Syndromes and a Century (2006, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

208. A Tale of the Wind (1988, Joris Ivens)

209. Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)

210. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, Luis Bunuel)

211. They Made Me a Fugitive (1947, Alberto Cavalcanti)

212. Thief (1981, Michael Mann)

213. Thieves’ Highway (1949, Jules Dassin)

214. The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)

215. Thirst for Love (1966, Koreyoshi Kurahara)

216. Three Colors: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

217. Three Colors: Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

218. Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Ingmar Bergman)

219. Time of the Gypsies (1988, Emir Kusturica)

220. Touki Bouki (1973, Djibril Dip Mambety)

221. The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)

222. The Trial (1962, Orson Welles)

223. The Turin Horse (2011, Bela Tarr)

224. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

225. Underground (1995, Emir Kusturica)

226. The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000, Anh Hung Tran)

227. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

228. Visage [Face] (2009, Ming-liang Tsai)

229. Waiting for Happiness (2002, Abderrahmane Sissako)

230. Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)

231. War and Peace (1966, Sergey Bondarchuk)

232. The Wayward Cloud (2005, Ming-liang Tsai)

233. Wendy and Lucy (2008, Kelly Reichardt)

234. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Bela Tarr)

235. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Robert Aldrich)

236. What Time Is It There? (2001, Ming-liang Tsai)

237. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nichols)

238. Who’s Camus Anyway? (2005, Mitsuo Yanagimachi)

239. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)

240. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999, Abbas Kiarostami)

241. Winter Light (1962, Ingmar Bergman)

242. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)

243. Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

244. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)

245. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988, Pedro Almodovar)

246. Xanadu (1980, Robert Greenwald)

247. Yojimbo (1961, Akira Kurosawa)

248. You, the Living (2007, Roy Andersson)

249. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, Jacques Demy)

250. A Zed and Two Noughts (1985, Peter Greenaway)

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. First of all, I regret that I don’t have better reviews to link to for a lot of these. Some of them are very brief (I think one is just a quote from the movie!) and a couple aren’t especially positive. But oh well. Some of them I just never wrote a decent review for, and I sure don’t have the time to do it now.

Alphabetization can be tricky when dealing with foreign language titles. I’ve tried to go with the titles most commonly used in America. For Pratidwandi and Jana Aranya I used the English translations because I suspect that’s what Criterion will do when they eventually release them. I also maintained consistency in ordering without using leading articles, as in El Norte and I Fidanzati. One English title presented a problem: Betrayed is just as commonly referred to as When Strangers Marry. I opted for the former to match Warner’s DVD release.

There were 27 revisions to the list. I didn’t remove any films that were in my previous top 100, but gone from the old “101-250” list are:

Amélie
Annie Hall
Band of Outsiders
Close-Up
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Cry of the City
Le Doulos
Dying at Grace
F for Fake
Force of Evil
Goodbye Solo
Un homme qui dort
Hoop Dreams
Kanal
Kill Bill
The Letter Never Sent
Love and Death
Metropolis
Napoleon
The Phenix City Story
Play Time
Psycho
Serenity
Talk to Her
Viridiana
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Wild Strawberries

Woody Allen loses big here. He simply creeps me out now to the point where I can’t enjoy his movies like I used to. Likewise, Talk to Her is a great movie but problematic to a degree I can no longer ignore. It’s a shame to lose three documentaries but as much as I admire the ones I removed and would recommend them, they’re not films I would go back to or are special to me. I also lost three noirs, but replaced them with three that are dearer to me. I just watched Wild Strawberries again the other day, and while I think it’s fantastic, it’s just not crying out to me to be included. There’s nine other Bergmans on the list so it’s probably okay. Let’s see, what else? I felt that Wallace & Gromit were already covered well enough with Wrong Trousers. Some of these are movies I could easily have in my library and yet I haven’t felt compelled to buy them, which made them easy cuts. And then there’s some I still really like but there were others I preferred to include.

So let’s get to the additions:

The Big Combo
Blazing Saddles
Cocorico Monsieur Poulet
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Duck Season
The Empire Strikes Back
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
Female on the Beach
In the Heat of the Sun
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Kid With a Bike
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Lost in America
Love Exposure
Mind Game
The Organizer
Pickup on South Street
La Promesse
Quadrophenia
Ride the Pink Horse
Smiles of a Summer Night
The Son
Spirited Away
Swimming to Cambodia
That Obscure Object of Desire
The Wind Will Carry Us
A Zed and Two Noughts

Some of these were added because recent rewatches warmed me up to them: Distant Voices, Mind Game, and Smiles of a Summer Night. Those were all in the past month and really were the impetus for redoing this list. A couple — The Empire Strikes Back and Lord of the Rings — are populist choices that I realized I was snubbing purely out of snobbery. Likewise, some are old favorites that I maybe don’t “rate” as highly as others for whatever reasons, but they have a special place in my heart: Lost in America, Last CrusadeSwimming to Cambodia and Blazing Saddles. As you can see, we have our three new noirs. And I realized that the Dardenne brothers are more precious to me than I previously gave them credit for, with three new entries. I’m pleased to bring slightly more animation to my list as well.

Some notes on the list as a whole…. there are 21 films that I’ve only seen once. I was going to list them, but screw it, I’ve done enough listing things for one day. Almost all of them were on the chopping block at some point as I agonized over what to include. After all, to what extent can you call a film a “favorite” if you haven’t even bothered to see it a second time? But sometimes a single viewing can leave a big impact, and they’re all movies I look forward to seeing again, when the time is right (sadly, six of the 21 still have no decent home video release in this country).

Only seven films directed by women on my list, which I’m not proud of. There are several others I would call honorable mentions, but there’s no denying that females are under-represented in my list. Part of this I can blame on an industry that is extremely gender-imbalanced. But I should really do more to seek out films by women. Also there are only a scant few movies by African-Americans, another area where my filmic education has room for expansion. Doing a bit better as far as international cinema goes. By my quick count, there’s 110 films in languages other than English (plus two silents of foreign origin).

In addition to the 9 Ingmars, there are 8 films by Satyajit Ray, and 5 each by Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ming-liang Tsai.

Three of the four people in that Boogie Nights screenshot have passed away in recent years. William H. Macy, watch your back!

I’ve made my lovely wife sit through about 60 of these. Some she really loved, but boy, there were some she really really hated.

Alright, that’s enough nerding out over my own damn list. Thanks for reading!

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The Look of Silence

Posted by martinteller on March 14, 2016

We’ve been binging on the show “Hannibal” lately. More like hate-watching, for a bunch of reasons I won’t get into. But one of the reasons is that the show came out of the gate with absurd levels of gore (although apparently Botticelli’s naked ladies have to be blurred out because painted depictions of nipples and vaginas are disgusting, right?) and has to keep upping the ante in order to keep being “disturbing”.

Not one thing in that show is half as disturbing as this documentary. Because where the killers in “Hannibal” usually have some ridiculously complicated psychology behind their actions, the Indonesian paramilitary Komando Aksi are real, and they don’t explain away their murders as a love of mushrooms or some such nonsense. It seems rather that they killed simply because they could, because the military stood behind them and allowed them to purge the country of “communists”.

This is of course Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing. It does not have the same surreal flourishes as its predecessor (though it is exceptionally well-shot). It may, in fact, feel redundant to some. We see again that these killers have no remorse, or if they do, they are burying it under deep layers of justification. They will happily discuss the nature of their killings, but get cagey when pressed on why they did it, how they feel about it, or why they didn’t try to stop it.

The film mostly centers around Adi, the brother of a man whose murder was particularly savage. Adi confronts (gently… like the softer version of Kenzo Okuzaki in The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) those who participated in or were aware of his brother’s killing. He’s an optometrist, an almost too-poetic touch as he tries to bring some clarity to the situation. What he and Oppenheimer reveal is our awful capacity for unspeakable violence and the rationalization of it. And it also probes our capacity for forgiveness, and how we attempt to make sense of an insane world.

While this may not bring anything new to the overall picture of Act of Killing, its more personal approach makes it just as engaging. And it’s just as chilling. Rating: Great (90)

IMDb

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another big dump of little reviews

Posted by martinteller on March 14, 2016

The Wolfpack – This is an interesting story, but it seems like it should have been more interesting. The buzz around the film was that “these boys learned everything they know from the movies!” so I expected the movie-watching to figure more into how the Angulos’ minds and personalities were shaped. But either that wasn’t a big factor or it wasn’t touched on. The movies were just their entertainment. And as a cinephile, I guess I was disappointed that their cinematic obsessions appeared to be mainly Tarantino and Batman. I guess overall it was engaging but it wasn’t what I’d imagined the story to be, which is why expectations are bad. Rating: Good (73)

Call Me Lucky – I don’t think Barry Crimmins is an especially funny comedian (he’s okay) but he is a compelling individual. I’ve really got nothing else to say about this. A solid doc. Rating: Good (75)

Riffraff (rewatch) – I don’t buy as many DVDs/Blu-Rays as I used to, but I still sometimes make hasty purchases for movies I don’t really need to have in my collection. Riffraff is right on the edge. It’s very entertaining, and I enjoyed my second viewing. But will there ever be a third? When am I going to wake up and say to myself, “Man, I really want to watch Riffraff today”? I can’t picture it, but for now I’ll hold on to it. Rating: Very Good (86)

The Wrong Man (rewatch) – On the fence about this one, too. I’ve always maintained this is underrated Hitchcock, and I still do. It’s not edge-of-your-seat thriller stuff, but there’s a lot of noir and new wave atmosphere to it. But having seen it three (maybe four?) times now, I’m not sure I would gain anything from an additional viewing. Another one I’m keeping “for now”. Rating: Very Good (85)

Mukhsin (rewatch) – No doubts about keeping this one, I just wish I had a decent copy of it. Sadly, it looks like Yasmin Ahmad’s “Orket trilogy” (as well as the director herself) is going to fade further into obscurity, without ever getting a proper release. The third film in the trilogy is the lightest and loveliest of them, even if one can’t help missing Sharifah Amani (though her sisters do an excellent job). I don’t like “championing” movies and telling people they “should” watch this or that. But it would please me if the trilogy (starting with Sepet) gained a wider audience, and maybe attracted the attention of a studio willing to do a worthy home release of the films. Rating: Very Good (88)

About Elly – One of Farhadi’s best, almost up there with A Separation. I would try to avoid reading anything about the content of the film. In fact, I shouldn’t say any more myself. An excellent study of human behavior and relationships. Rating: Very Good (87)

Zoolander (rewatch) – I got Carrie to rewatch this with me, even though she’s not a fan. She is still not a fan. I’m slightly less of a fan. There aren’t as many big laughs as I thought there were. On the other hand, very very little about the movie bugs me, and almost everything is worth at least a smile. It’s a stupid movie, but it’s a stupidity that speaks to me. It’s a comfortable stupidity. Rating: Good (77)

Bedazzled – On the flipside, this movie (the Harold Ramis remake, not the original) is the stupidity that speaks to Carrie… and not to me. I tried to embrace the absurdity of it, get into the spirit of what they were trying to do. It didn’t happen. I had one good laugh, when Fraser is talking with all the sand in his mouth. The rest of it just didn’t do it for me. I can’t decide if Brendan Fraser is the worst choice or the best choice, but one thing I’m sure of is that they tried to nerd him up waaay too much in the beginning. It doesn’t work for Fraser, and it doesn’t work for where the character ends up. Rating: Poor (52)

Edge of Doom (rewatch) – Ah, we’re back to Noirs I Probably Didn’t Need to Buy. EoD is great, it’s a dark as hell movie with real tension and real bitterness. If I was building a library of Film Noir You Should See, it would have a spot. But for my personal collection? Do I need to see it a third time? I don’t think so. Besides, it can get kind of annoying after a while to watch Farley Granger run around and getting mad about a “I want a big funeral!” Because even though this is his best work besides They Live By Night, Granger is a lousy actor. Rating: Very Good (86)

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Walden (Diaries Notes and Sketches)

Posted by martinteller on February 27, 2016

Three years ago, I watched Jonas Mekas’s epic 5-hour “diary film”, As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty. I fell in love with it and placed it among my top 100 films. Mekas’s home movies were edited into a sustained ecstatic burst of joy and delight, a celebration of love, family, nostalgia. And yet it was with some hesitation that I made a blind purchase of this new Blu-Ray collection, featuring this, his first diary film. Would the gamble pay off?

Well, yes and no. Walden is much in the same spirit, jittery handheld footage melded with an often unrelated soundtrack, highlighting moments that Mekas felt worth highlighting. And some of these moments are indeed beautiful and sweet and filled me with that same sense of joy. But too often Mekas is more concerned with events than moments. Early in the film, the first appearance of The Velvet Underground. Near the end, John and Yoko’s “bed-in”. Significant events in cultural history, but even though Mekas was there, the personal perspective is lacking. And he doesn’t bring anything to make them interesting, either. It’s just… yep, you were there to film it.

Although some two hours shorter than As I Was Moving, it feels longer. When the movie gets into that wonderful, random rhythm it’s fascinating. But there are three sections where it gets rather bogged down. One is a visit with Stan Brakhage and his family. While there are a few items here and there that elicit a smile — Stan’s wife Jane riding a mule, for example — it spends too long just documenting rather than finding the special parts. It’s boring in the way we expect home movies to be boring. Another section spends far too long at the wedding of film historian (and with Mekas, co-founder of the Anthology Film Archives) P. Adams Sitney. Clearly Sitney was a close friend… so why does this feel so distant and impersonal? It’s mostly a bunch of people milling around in a tent. And lastly, there’s a section entitled “Wendy’s Wedding”. I don’t know who Wendy is, but for what must be 7 or 8 interminable minutes, we watch her dance in a nightclub, wearing her bridal gown and caught in stuttering fragments by the strobe light. Fun and interesting for maybe a minute or two. Mekas tries our patience.

If this sounds like a lot of kvetching, it’s because I had hoped for a more consistently enjoyable experience. Mekas is perhaps still finding his voice here (speaking of his voice, his spoken musings on the soundtrack are still wonderful). One of the most memorable aspects of As I Was Moving was his clear love for his wife and children. This was before they were part of his life, so some of the best scenes here are when he delights in the loves and children of others. I would say about 70% of the film is what I wanted… the rhapsodic observations, the latching on to images of beauty, the reminder to take a minute to enjoy life rather than just living it. He needs to apply more of his personal touch to that other 30%. Hopefully Lost, Lost, Lost will be more successful in that regard. Rating: Good (73)

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A Special Day

Posted by martinteller on February 21, 2016

All of Rome is out on the streets for a parade celebrating the arrival of Adolf Hitler. All except Antonietta (Sophia Loren), whose housework prevents her from it. When the family myna bird escapes out the window, she discovers that another tenant in the building is also staying home that day: eccentric radio announcer Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni). And so two lonely strangers develop a bond and reveal themselves.

Ettore Scola passed away just one month ago. My only previous experience with him as a director was the magnificent We All Loved Each Other So Much, which is playful and often heartwarming. This is a more somber affair, especially against the background of rampant fascism. Throughout the film, we hear the radio rhapsodizing about the Fuhrer and Il Duce and the display of power. The cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis appears sepia-toned at first, but you soon realize that the color has simply been desaturated to the point that only the red of the Nazi flag stands out.

The performances by Loren and Mastroianni are quite good, ad one would expect from such talents. Unfortunately to me it lacked a ring of truth. This type of instant connection is very popular in film (far less common, though not unheard of, in real life). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. To me, this one didn’t. I can make an objective rationalization for it that applies to these characters, but still it feels too convenient to me. I felt like there needed to be some additional something to make these two open up to each other.

Nonetheless, it’s a sensitive and engaging in film, even if I didn’t entirely connect with it. De Santis’s camera prowls around wonderfully, for example in Loren’s introduction when the camera comes in through the window (perhaps inspired by Antonioni’s The Passenger a couple of years earlier). When the shot is repeated at the end of the film, it has added weight and significance, and seems more invasive than inviting. Rating: Good (77)

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a bunch of stuff I’ve watched recently and didn’t write about

Posted by martinteller on January 23, 2016

I’ve slowed down in my movie consumption, and slowed down even more with writing about them. So here’s a quick and dirty brain dump of the films I’ve seen in the past few months that didn’t get reviewed:

Ex Machina – Premise felt both clever and too familiar. It had some engaging Kubrickian style, but my interest waned a bit as it went on. Rating: Good (78)

It Follows – Disappointing throwback with a lot of nonsense. The kind of movie that makes you go “Why don’t they just…?” and that’s annoying. Mildly scary. Rating: Fair (62)

The Dark Matter of Love – A documentary of special interest to me and Carrie, because we’ve been tossing around the idea of adoption/fostering. Obviously it can be a rewarding experience, but there are right ways and wrong ways, and this shows some of the wrong. Interesting story, but I’d like to see a broader perspective. Rating: Good (77)

The ‘Burbs (rewatch) – Showed this to Carrie, I think it might have been on Halloween. It didn’t hold up quite as well as I’d hoped (Carrie rightfully accused the plot of getting tiresome), but there’s some pretty funny bits in it. Lots of quotables. Rick Ducommin is so great. Rating: Good (75)

Spooky Buddies – Hoo boy. We briefly developed a masochistic taste for these Air Bud spinoffs featuring 6 golden retriever puppies getting into wacky adventures. Most of the cuteness factor is annihilated by the paper-thin characters, awful jokes, and overall cheapness. Somehow we made it all the way through this one, maybe because it was Halloween or maybe because of the novelty of seeing Harland Williams in it. I rated this a lot lower at first, but in retrospect it wasn’t that horrible. Still… not good. Rating: Poor (44)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – Well, certainly if you care, you’ve seen it already and know what kind of problems it has. The series has always been spotty, but this was definitely the weakest and least enjoyable. Rating: Fair (61)

The Martian – It has some moments and the production is very convincing, but the dialogue and story are both full of clichés (how many times did we hear some variation of “we ran the numbers”?). There’s no real tension as Damon instantly “sciences the shit” his way out of pretty much every obstacle. Rating: Poor (57)

Pitch Perfect 2 – In the music biz, they call this the Sophomore Slump. While it doesn’t exactly copy the first movie, there’s nothing that fresh here. I’m struggling to remember any of the funny bits… or any of the songs. Rating: Fair (65)

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Sure, you could nitpick the shit of it like a giant nerd, or you could take a chill pill and enjoy one of more entertaining big-budget-blowouts in recent memory. I just had a lot of fun at this movie, and I enjoy most of the new characters. Is it a retread? Sure, in a way, but I think the franchise needed a return to its roots. Looking forward to seeing where this goes next. Rating: Very Good (87)

Anne of Green Gables – Carrie shared one of her childhood favorites with me. I never read the book and knew little about the story, but I found it pretty enjoyable. Great performances by Dewhurst and Fansworth. And a lovely, bucolic atmosphere. Some minor complaints, but I’ve forgotten most of them. Rating: Good (74)

India’s Daughter – Yeah, this is super fucked-up and will make you cry and make you angry. While the film seems to be singling India out and wagging a finger, it reminds us at the end that other countries (including the US) have a long long way to go in how we handle rape. Rating: Very Good (86)

Singin’ in the Rain (rewatch) – Carrie had never seen it, it was time. Pleased to say it went over very well. The “Broadway Medley” part bothers me less and less each time. It didn’t feel as long as I remembered it. I could still do without it, but that “crazy veil” portion is really something. I also wish there was a little more Debbie Reynolds in it, she’s not nearly as prominent as I thought she was. But at least we get a generous serving of Jean Hagen, who is frickin’ hilarious. Rating: Great (94)

World of Tomorrow – Don Hertzfeldt’s latest popped up on Netflix, so I took the opportunity to check it out (even though I could have easily done so earlier). His best work? I’m still fond of Billy’s Balloon but it’s been a long time, I’d have to reevaluate it. It’s definitely witty, clever, original and moving. He’s approaching the sort of hopeful sadness that I love in Vonnegut… this feels like a very Vonnegut kind of movie. Rating: Very Good (87)

It’s Such a Beautiful Day – I also took the opportunity to finally see this other Hertzfeldt. This hit a lot of similar notes, but with a more personalized touch. The first part I didn’t think was that great, but it gets better as it goes on. Rating: Very Good (85)

Exporting Raymond – I don’t think I’ve ever watched more than 3 minutes of “I Love Raymond”, but I heard show creator Phil Rosenthal on a podcast and he was so delightful that I wanted to check out his documentary about trying to adapt the show for a Russian audience. Lots of interesting bits here, from the ex-military chauffeur who enjoys studying seashells, to the obstinate costume designer who insists that a busy housewife dress in haute couture. Would like to see a little more probing about the roots of the cultural differences, but an enjoyable watch. Rating: Very Good (80)

Approaching the Elephant – Documentary in the “fly on the wall” Frederick Wiseman/Allan King style about some young starry-eyed folks trying to start up a Free School in New Jersey. A thought-provoking look at good intentions gone wrong… or right, depending on your opinion. There are a few moments of triumph, but for the most part, to me it looked like barely-contained chaos… and a lot of disfiguring accidents just waiting to happen. At times the adults become children when trying to treat the children like adults. Rating: Good (77)

Xiao Kang – This isn’t a movie, it’s a trailer for the Vienna Film Festival. But it’s by Ming-liang Tsai, so of course I was gonna watch it. It’s a minute or so of Kang-sheng Lee poking around in a forest. I love Lee and I love Tsai, but let’s be honest… whether I’m rating this as a short film or as a trailer, it doesn’t do much for me. Rating: Poor (48)

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Bride & Prejudice

Posted by martinteller on January 3, 2016

Not really in the mood to structure a proper review, so I’m just gonna riff on this one.

Martin Henderson is a terrible Mr. Darcy. This guy has absolutely zero going on besides a somewhat pretty face. He’s bringing nothing to the table. Carrie — a diehard “Pride & Prejudice” fan — says Mr. Darcy is supposed to be brooding. Henderson is merely pouty.

Some of the faults of the film are faults in the source material… Lizzie/Lalita always believes the last thing to hit her ears, and she’s also too virtuous. Certain characters are too broad. But I feel director Gurinder Chadha has to take the blame for some of the clichés, and the numerous straw man arguments in the film. I appreciate the idea of criticizing superficial cultural tourism, but it’s done so bluntly here that there’s no nuance to it. No one of any tact or intelligence would actually say “I don’t need to go to India because we have yoga.”

The film is both a celebration and a sendup of Bollywood, which can go both ways. If you take the Lalita/Darcy romantic montage at face value, it’s painfully ridiculous. If you view it as camp, it’s enjoyable. The colorful dances make for some of the film’s best moments… but they also feel like standard Bollywood dance moves cobbled together, without a character of their own. The songs are fun, but not especially memorable.

The humor is not as bad as Bollywood movies often are. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but(I quite liked the line about screwing in a light bulb with one hand while petting a dog with the other, and none of the jokes/gags are terrible. The worst offender is Nitin Ganatra, whose broad performance as Kohli is pretty hard to stomach at times.

The attempts to modernize the story mostly work. Arranged marriages are not entirely out of vogue in India, so an Indian setting makes a lot of sense for this tale.

Man, it really needs a better Darcy though. I just keep coming back to how lame Henderson is. Aishwarya Rai is a good enough actress to sell her part, but she can’t make Henderson seem appealing. Even in the movie’s otherwise fun blooper reel, he comes off like a dud. The film has some enjoyable elements, but they’re hampered by Henderson, cliché, and a dearth of subtlety. Rating: Fair (60)

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The World of Apu (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 1, 2016

This was the one I was most looking forward to seeing again. It was one of my favorites by one of my favorite directors, and just missed being in my top 100 (it did find a home in my 101-250 list). I had fond memories of the film’s emotional power and Soumitra Chatterjee’s performance… not only his first with Satyajit Ray (there would be a dozen more) but his first ever.

With that kind of preamble, you can probably guess where this is going, if you haven’t already peeked ahead at my score. Previously I said Aparajito was my least favorite of the trilogy. Now it’s unquestionably this one. It’s the most problematic of them. We can start with Chatterjee. Although he is certainly charming and pulls off a few great moments, he is definitely not at his best at the start of his career. His performance often comes off as forced, especially when he’s called upon to laugh (we can blame writing in part for that, he’s made to laugh at things that aren’t very funny).

It’s difficult to discuss the movie’s other flaws without getting into spoiler territory. But there are two key relationship developments that seem to come too easily, and Apu’s character could be better defined, and frankly more likable. He does something that really makes you lose any sympathy for him. It can be justified, and obviously there’s nothing inherently wrong with a flawed protagonist, but it’s… well, it’s problematic. When I watch this movie, the little criticisms keep poking at me, even though I don’t necessarily think they ruin the film.

Of course, there’s a lot to like as well. There are powerful emotional punches. Chatterjee does have some terrific moments, and Sharmila Tagore (making her debut at age 12!) is wonderfully endearing. Subrata Mitra’s cinematography is simply stunning, there are breathtaking images. Shankar’s score is evocative and beautiful. And overall, it’s a good story that does interesting things with the themes of loss, soul-searching and redemption. But, sadly, I’ve lost some love for it. Rating: Very Good (85)

The World of Apu is replaced in my top 250 list with Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet, which I recently revisited and fell even more in love with.

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Aparajito (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 15, 2015

I’ve always said that although it’s called “The Apu Trilogy”, Pather Panchali is really about Durga and Aparajito is really about Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya. But on this viewing, I realized that I was wrong about the second part. The narrative does put some of its focus on the mother, but I would say most of it is devoted to Apu’s life and viewpoint. It’s about his choices and his aspirations. He is more than a pair of eyes here… he has agency and introduces change.

I also said in an earlier view that I think Ray judges Apu too harshly here, but again I’ve changed my mind. I don’t see judgment being passed. Whether Apu could have done things differently (and whether it would had any impact either way) is up for debate… the film doesn’t force an opinion on it. It’s hard to discuss specifics without getting into spoiler territory, but to me he doesn’t do anything out of line. In essence, he is a kind and thoughtful person, but like any adolescent he’s starting to form a life for himself. Ray’s humanist slant invites us to explore emotion and motivation rather than assign blame. It’s one of the things I love about his work. No one is condemned outright for their flaws and mistakes.

Of the trilogy, this is one I think about the least, and the other two provoke greater emotional reactions. For that reason, it remains my least favorite of the three. But all of them are exceptional films, and the poetry of Aparajito is apparent in its observation of daily life, its connections between people and their surroundings, and the great empathy we feel for the characters. Within the film itself we see the transition from (in the first half) the loose, anecdotal structure of Ray’s debut to the more straightforward narrative style (in the second half) that would characterize most of his work. It does not come off as a disjointed movie, however, but rather a natural flow… perhaps as Apu’s life gains purpose and direction, so does his story. Rating: Great (90)

IMDb

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Noir-cember? 2015: Stakeout on Dope Street

Posted by martinteller on December 12, 2015

An arrest gets ambushed by thugs, leaving the suspect dead, one cop dead and another cop in intensive care. And also, lying in nearby weeds, a briefcase containing two pounds of uncut heroin. The case ends up in the hands of three kids: would-be boxer Nick (Steven Marlo), aspiring artist Jim (Yale Wexler) and all-around goofball Ves (Jonathan Haze). When the youngsters realize what they’ve got, they imagine it to be their ticket to wealth. But how to profit from their treasure when both the cops and the criminals are hunting for the stuff? Enter Nick’s co-worker Danny (Allen Kramer), a two-bit junkie who knows how to move the dope.

This is one of the movies I didn’t get around to watching for Noir-vember, but better late than never. Because it’s surprisingly good. I don’t want to get too effusive with my praise (when digging through lesser-known noirs, you’re thrilled to find one that ranks above mediocre), so I’ll start off by saying it’s far from a masterpiece. Let’s start with the premise. Comedian John Mulaney has a hilarious bit about how cops in the old movies are shockingly lax about their detective work. Here we have a briefcase sitting within throwing distance of a major crime scene — a scene where a policeman was murdered — and apparently not one cop sees it, or if they do, they don’t bother to check it out. Even for 1958, that’s pretty hard to swallow. The performances aren’t great, and each of the three actors playing “kids” is around 30 years old and they look it (the characters’ ages are never explicitly mentioned, but they’re clearly supposed to be teenagers… 20 at the most). And the moralistic messages of the story can be rather ham-fisted.

But it’s got a lot going for it. The dialogue is well-polished, with a lot of contemporary lingo and snappy lines. Some of it is actually kind of laughable but that’s part of the fun. The cinematography is by the great Haskell Wexler (working under a pseudonym because it was a non-union picture), working on one of his first films. Right from the opening, with its grimy alleyways and low angles, it’s a very nicely shot picture. Some of the scenes are a little flat, but for the most part it’s got a lot of style. In the editing as well, such as a late scene that makes sudden cuts between vicious beatings and the violent rhythms of bowling balls and pinballs. The music — by the “Hollywood Chamber Jazz Group” — is really fantastic, too. A lot of driving jive with insistent high-hat and standup bass, sometimes venturing from cool jazz into the realm of the avant-garde.

Also remarkable is a 7-minute sequence narrated by Allen Kramer (the only performance in the film that rises above average) as Danny tells Jim about what it’s like to be on heroin… and more importantly, what it’s like to try to kick the habit. While The Man With the Golden Arm had been released a few years earlier, this still feels remarkably honest and realistic for its time. Few films were addressing drug use in such detailed terms, especially without seeming like a square’s idea of it. It’s a gripping sequence with dramatic camerawork, bold not only for its style but also for daring to take us out of the immediate narrative for such a long period. Others may find it a distraction, or heavy-handed scare tactics, but I was impressed with the nerve of it.

The movie covers a lot of noir territory, all of it competently. The finger of fate intervening and tempting the innocent to crime. The frustrated desires of the lower/middle class to stand out and make it big. The relentlessness of the corrupt. Desperation, moral ambiguity, being trapped, feeling unable to rely on the usual authority figures. The film isn’t especially grim, but it does have darkness in it. It’s definitely noir.

None of the actors in this movie went on to greatness, or anything of much note. However, it was the first feature film by Irvin Kershner, who would later make a name for himself directing another movie about three reckless kids flirting with danger: The Empire Strikes Back. Rating: Very Good (84)

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