Monday, September 1, 2014

August Movie Status

I saw 33 new movies in the month of August.  After saying last month that I was going to concentrate on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list, I ended up dipping a toe back into a couple of other lists in August. 

It turns out the new additions to the 2014 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die edition possibly became available.  I posted on that here.  Based on those unofficial changes I watched the five films of the thirteen new ones that I had not yet seen.  I also watched a film from the 101 Genres lists because it was expiring from Netflix Instant.

I mentioned last month that I was just short of a couple of milestones on the TSPDT lists (both 2013 and 2014).  This month I did indeed see the remaining entries in the Top 500 of both lists, and I passed 850 films seen of the 1,000.  I saw a couple more of the longest entries, too.  And I happened to notice that I finished off a few more of the directors that have many entries in the list, primarily Bergman.  That has given me a new focus for September – trying to complete all the entries for the big directors.  I’m going to probably write a separate post on the They Shoot Picture Don’t They list and the heavy prevalence of a few directors (i.e. 13 different directors have at least 10 films apiece on the list; 77 have at least four films there and those make up more than half the list – 525 entries.)

Here are the 33 new movies I saw in August.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

1,001 Movies (5): Blancanieves (2012), Wadjda (2012), A Touch of Sin (2013), Nostalgia for the Light (2010), The Act of Killing (2012)

101 Genre (1): Thieves Like Us (1972)

TSPDT (19): Quince Tree of the Sun (1992), L’enfance Nue (1968), The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968), Limelight (1952), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Platform (2000), Casque d’Or (1952), Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977), Portrait of Jennie (1948), El Dorado (1966), The Virgin Spring (1960), Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Moana (1926), True Heart Susie (1919), The Match Factory Girl (1990), Edvard Munch (1974), Veronika Voss (1982), Code Unknown (2000), I Vitelloni (1953)

Other Movies (8): Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Enemy (2013), Midway (1976), Trader Hornee (1970), Rio 2 (2014), Guru (2007), The Oranges (2013), Are All Men Pedophiles? (2013)

Rewatches (0):

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – I’ll be honest: I thought Marvel was going to fail with this one.  A film based on a third-tier comic book that featured, among other things, a talking raccoon?  No way were they going to be able to make that work.  You know what?  They did.  This is a fun, very entertaining movie and it will very likely be in my Top 10 of 2014.  4.5 stars

Enemy (2013) – Disappointing film based on an award winning short story about a man finding a double, but the director decided to try to show everyone he was more creative than the original writer and he threw in a bunch of stuff that just didn’t work, especially the giant spiders.  2 stars

Quince Tree of the Sun (1992) – Fictional story of a real artist, played by the artist.  If you are really into the creative process of painting and drawing then this is the film for you.  For me I needed a little more to happen.  He spends the first half of the film trying to paint a quince tree and the second half trying to draw it.  2.5 stars

Blancanieves (2012) – This is perhaps the strangest Snow White story I’ve seen.  It’s certainly creative and memorable.  If it were not for a too sick for my tastes ending I would have rated this even higher.  3 stars

Midway (1976) – I was interested in seeing this after watching Tora Tora Tora about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This film attempted to recapture what had worked for that.  They were only partially successful.  This is too disjointed.  2.5 stars

L’enfance Nue (1968) – Movie about how some kids are simply born bad and no matter what people try to do for them it won’t change them.  The problem is the director thinks it’s a film showing how horrible adopted kids have it and how we should feel sorry for them.  He needed a far more sympathetic lead character and far worse foster parents to achieve that.  2 stars

Trader Hornee (1970) – I ran across this while trying to find a copy of the Oscar Best Picture nominee Trader Horn.  The makers of this film obviously couldn’t resist the pun from the name and this is a sex spoof of the Great White Hunter in Africa films, which Trader Horn is one.  The humor is pure vaudeville and the boobs, while plentiful, are involved in very tame scenes (by today’s standards.)  2 stars

The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968) – attempt to do a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach from the perspective of his second wife, except it’s not performed as much as it is narrated.  Bach’s music is plentiful, and the sets and costumes are well done.  2.5 stars

Limelight (1952) – I had heard about this Chaplin/Keaton team up for quite some time.  I was a little disappointed to find out that Keaton is only in the final scenes, but it was still interesting to see them together.  Chaplin goes for the handkerchiefs again and mostly succeeds.  3.5 stars

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – Henry Fonda really was transformed into a young Lincoln in this film.  Both the image and the height were very well portrayed.  Fonda also gives a great performance.  The story itself is a little lacking since most of the film turns out to be a single court case where Lincoln was the defense attorney. 3 stars

Platform (2000) – There have been a ton of coming of age films where teenagers yearn to get out of whatever small town they are in and really have the life they want to live.  This is no different, except it’s done by a Chinese director and set in China.  None of the performances were anything special.  2 stars

Rio 2 (2014) – The animation is once again fantastic, with the very colorful birds filling the screen.  The story doesn’t have the fun and delight of the first one, though, and the songs are all forgettable.  2.5 stars

Wadjda (2012) – This is my favorite of the five new 1,001 Movies additions I had not yet seen.  It’s the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia and it’s actually directed by a woman.  I was worried about being hit over the head with a hammer about how bad women have it in that country and instead I got a delightful story of an adolescent girl trying to get enough money for a bicycle.  While the film certainly does not shy away from how women live there it is not the central point of the film.  The key to what makes Wadjda work is that this is not a story about a Saudi girl, but instead is a story about a girl who happens to be Saudi.  4 stars

Casque d’Or (1952) – Simone Signoret perfectly cast as a woman in late 19th century France who loves to play with men, setting them against each other to fight over her.  She draws a man into her game and you can figure that things don’t go so well for him. 3 stars

Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977) – Alternately named “Our Hitler”.  Last month I called a five hour, randomly edited set of home movies from the TSPDT list a complete waste of time.  This month the TSPDT list gave me this seven and a half hour film that is even more of a complete waste of time.  I ran across this review on Netflix and it just completely nails this movie:

A dated, self indulgent, pretentious piece of filmmaking. Our Hitler is basically an exercise in extreme Brechtian theater technique that doesn't translate at all to a film. The basic premise of the work is to examine how the rise of fascism in Germany is connected to the German national character and culture using set pieces consisting of projections, historical audio recordings and period music along actors, sometimes with puppets, reading historical documents, acting out a short scene, or generally pontificating (usually the latter) on some aspect of Hitler, the Third Reich or German philosophy and history. In live theater, this might work as an organic and engaging experience; in the format of a film, it's dead, static and lifeless. Our Hitler isn't as much a challenging film as it is a sprawling, unfocused, shapeless pile of cultural objects that hurls unfiltered and unedited ideas and bits of history at the audience, like some ranting homeless psychotic you'd pass on an urban street. A relic of the 70's experimental performance art scene that uses all the most ineffective clichés of the genre, sometimes unintentionally funny, occasionally interesting, but mostly an utter bore. If a seemingly endless blur of projected slides and film of the Hitler era combined with decapitated doll heads, dildos, a smattering of naked bodies, minimalist sets and ponderous forty minute monologues is all it takes for deep meaning for you, by all means go for it. In my opinion, it's a curio for hard-core tenured academics only.
I couldn’t have said it any better than that.  If I gave ratings lower than 1 star, this film would get it.  1 star

A Touch of Sin (2013) – Four unconnected tales from China.  The best is the first one.  The second best is the second one.  Unfortunately the third is pretty lacking and the fourth, while a little better, can’t quite save the film as a whole.  The overall feeling is of a film that simply runs out of steam after having a great beginning.  2.5 stars

Guru (2007) – Loaned to me by a co-worker who originally was from southern India.  There’s a whole other non-Bollywood film industry in that part of the country and I’ve only seen a couple films from there, so I was happy to have this one handed to me.  It’s a lot like The Aviator in that it’s about a real, self-made Indian billionaire. 3.5 stars

Nostalgia for the Light (2010) – I feel like a curmudgeon for not recommending this film.  Given the subject matter (the thousands killed during a dictator’s reign) it almost feels wrong to not be saying everyone should see this.  The problem is the director has tried to weld this story to that of astronomers in his country and the connection is flimsy at best.  It gives him an excuse to indulge his own fascination with astronomy, and to include many fantastic pictures of the cosmos, but the overall result is a disjointed documentary that feels like it should have been a lot better.  The shorts included on the DVD were actually a lot more interesting than the film itself.  2.5 stars

Portrait of Jennie (1948) – Fantasy film where a down on his luck artist runs into a young girl who, for lack of a better description, has come unstuck in time.  (Thanks Kurt Vonnegut for the description.)  She initially is from about 25 years before his time.  He keeps running into her as she quickly becomes a woman and they fall in love with each other.  Can she ever “catch up” to him, though?  3 stars

The Oranges (2013) – Story of two families who are neighbors and friends.  The 20-something daughter of one comes home and starts a relationship with the estranged father of the other.  Chaos ensues, but also change for the better for some.  Wimps out a little at the end.  3 stars

The Act of Killing (2012) – I was unsure about the concept of this – a documentary about real Indonesian killers from the 1960s being encouraged to make their own film that recreates their crimes, which they have never been arrested for.  It actually does work, although an obviously staged scene at the end of the doc (note the color of Congo’s hair) hurts it.  3 stars

El Dorado (1966) – Howard Hawks, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum having what appears to be a lot of fun shooting a film about two aging gunslingers, one now the sheriff of a town where some men are coming to kill a family for their land. 3 stars

Are All Men Pedophiles? (2013) – Disjointed film that examines the science behind attraction, the laws governing pedophilia – including what it actually is, and the historical context of it.  This feels more like a PhD dissertation set to film than an actual documentary.  In case you’re wondering, the answer to the film’s title is “no” in reality, but “yes” in some people’s inaccurate perceptions of what pedophilia is.  2.5 stars

Thieves Like Us (1972) – Another version of the same novel adapted by Nicholas Ray to make They Live By Night.  The 1948 film is a superior version of the story.  Go with that one and skip Thieves Like Us.  2 stars

The Virgin Spring (1960) – Even more death and religion from Bergman.  This is a simple, but powerful tale of murder and revenge.  Surprisingly it’s not very well made, with several obvious errors (i.e. dead person breathing so hard I thought the point was to show that he/she was not dead, bedtime becoming daytime in 10 minutes, security door bar on the outside of the door, goat herders becoming starving beggars in a matter of hours, etc.)  Usually Bergman’s much better.  3 stars

Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) – Early Bergman about circus performers and how they don’t really fit in with “polite” society.  Not a bad film, but he’s done a lot better. 2.5 stars

Moana (1926) – Robert Flaherty, who did Nanook of the North, was convinced to go the South Seas and make a similar documentary there.  Let’s see: he doesn’t have to freeze his ass off, he gets to spend a year and half in paradise, and he gets to include sometimes topless, attractive women in his documentary.  I bet the studio didn’t have to do too much arguing to get him to do it.  3 stars

True Heart Susie (1919) – Griffith and Lillian Gish team up again, this time for a tale of a woman who loves a man, but who is losing the battle for his affections to women who wear make up, smoke, and party all the time.  What’s a pure girl to do?  (Hint: don’t expect a spandex wearing Lillian Gish ala Grease.)  2.5 stars

The Match Factory Girl (1990) – Short (69 minutes), depressing tale of a sad woman who has bad things happen to her.  Somehow Netflix calls this a dark comedy.  If laughing at the misery of others is comedic then I have to wonder about the lack of empathy.  The lead actress does a good job since there’s almost no dialogue so she has to convey a lot without speaking.  2.5 stars

Edvard Munch (1974) – Shot as if it’s a contemporary documentary of the family and friends of artist Edvard Munch.  It covers the years from 1884 to 1895 when Munch was getting his heaviest criticism for his style of painting.  It does a good job of keeping the viewer’s attention even though it’s three and a half hours long.  3 stars

Veronika Voss (1982) – Later Fassbinder film that shows an aging movie actress in 1950s Germany who is addicted to morphine and beholden to a female doctor who is using her.  Not as good as Fassbinder’s earlier films.  2.5 stars

Code Unknown (2000) – Director Haneke at his most Haneke.  In other words, instead of having a film where he can’t be bothered to figure out what happens at the end and then sneers at people who ask him for explanations, he has an entire film that’s almost nothing but unconnected scenes that neither set anything up, nor resolve anything.  2 stars

I Vitelloni (1953) – Early Fellini about a newly married man who keeps chasing women, and his good friends who are still single.  All want to leave the small town they are in.  2 stars

On a humorous note, my spell checker didn’t like “Vitelloni” and as the only alternative suggested “Vaseline”.  “I Vaseline” would be a whole different kind of movie, methinks.

And in case anyone has read this far, how do you feel about me writing a short blurb about each film?  I didn’t do that until a few months ago when the number of films I saw greatly decreased.  Now that I am watching more movies again, describing each one makes for quite a long post.  Do you like the descriptions for all, or would you prefer ones just for the best and worst of the month like I used to do?  And if you like seeing a mini-review for each one, would it be better to organize them by rating?  Right now I simply have them in the order I saw them.


  1. Nice mix of old and new films!
    What are the names of the shorts from Nostalgia for the Light? I might track them down, since you say they are more interesting than the film itself.

    El Dorado (1966) I quite liked it. Didn’t play out as a treasure hunt, which is what I expected from the title.Basically a companion film to Rio Bravo, with similar dialogues, characters and scenarios. Sobering up the Robert Michum character was my fav scene.If you’re into angles and filmmaking, there’s a guy who falls and lands on the camera, and you get to see John Wayne riding backwards, no less.

    Wadjda: The story to me was paper thin. Glad the film managed to win you over with its charm.

    Code Unknown (2000): Haneke at his most Haneke, ha,nice description :) This one I felt had a couple of great scenes, but was let down by boring parts.

    Your final question, I'm ok with longer posts. I like mini-reviews for all you've seen, if you can be bothered.

    1. Nostalgia for the Light - The shorts concentrate on the astronomy, not the killings, just fyi. They are Jose Maza, Sky Traveller; Maria Teresa and the Brown Dwarf; Astronomers from my Neighborhood; Oscar Saa, Technician of the Stars; and Chile: A Galaxy of Problems. I watched all but the last one since it was the longest and I wanted to get the DVD back in the mail to Netflix.

      El Dorado - Yes, the horse walking backwards impressed me, not just for the act itself, but also the speed and duration. I also enjoyed the sobering up scene.

      Wadjda - I don't disagree on the thinness of the story. A girl tries to get enough money to buy a bike. That's it. But I liked the character quite a bit and I also was relieved to not be lectured to about how women are treated terribly in Saudi Arabia, which I was half-expecting. The director showed it, but didn't let it take over the film.

      Code Unknown - I agree there were some good scenes; unfortunately, they didn't lead to more good scenes. It really felt like he just had a bunch of different ideas for short scenes, filmed them, and then just put them together in a feature length format. He even had a secondary title "Four Unfinished Stories".

      Thanks for the feedback on short reviews vs. no short reviews. Follow-up question: Would placing them in order of ratings be better? In my posts I've simply have them in the order I watched them.

    2. Thanks for the info about the short films!

      Code Unknown: The two scenes I loved: 1.)The tense train ride. 2.) The young man being disrespectful of a homeless person on the street. Didn't know about the secondary title title.

      I'd stick with that, order of watching. If you place mini-reviews in order of rating, with the highest first, then you risk readers won't bother reading the rest. On my site I just mix them up randomly. However I have no way of knowing if they read the entire post, whatever way I compile the mini-reviews.

    3. Thanks.

      The scene in Code Unknown that I remember is where the Romanian woman confesses to her friend how she had encountered a beggar so dirty she didn't even want to touch him when she gave him something and then later she was a beggar herself and she experienced the exact same thing where someone didn't want to touch her hand when giving her something.