Friday, May 1, 2015

April Movie Status

I watched 18 new movies in April, plus rewatched 1 film.  This was a light month, and the total is only as high as that because I realized a few days ago that I had not seen a single entry from the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list yet this month.

I figured I would start April by watching the final three films that were new to the 2014 yearend IMDB Top 250 list.  The problem was that they were three Indian movies with a combined running time of close to 12 hours.  Once I got done with those, I just didn’t feel like picking up other films.  I’ve had three disks from Netflix sitting on my coffee table for a month now, unwatched.

I dropped my total entries left to see on the 2015 TSPDT list under 15.  The 14 I have remaining are: 

757. The Last Detail (1973)
809. To Live (1994)
846. Dodes’ka-den (1970)
864. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
877. A Better Tomorrow (1986)
911. Two English Girls (1971)
922. Silent Light (2007)
950. Gregory’s Girl (1980)
963. The Threepenny Opera (1931)
977. Mauvais Sang (1986)
982. O Lucky Man! (1973)
983. Still Life (2006)
988. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
995. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

I’m going to see all of them anyway, but please let me know if there are some among these that you would tell me, “You have to see that.”  I’m curious because none of them excite me that much in terms of sitting down to watch them, other than maybe the Kurosawa one that was new to the list this year (Dodes’ka-den).

Here are the 18 new movies I saw in April.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

TSPDT (13): Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), Burnt by the Sun (1994), Ju Dou (1990), Goodbye, South, Goodbye (1996), Le Corbeau (1943), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), Vengeance Is Mine (1979), Outskirts (1933), The Death of Maria Malibran (1972), Mephisto (1981), Pakeezah (1972), We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), Twenty Years Later (1985)

IMDB (3): Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Swades (2004)

Other Movies (2): 30 for 30: Four Days in October (2010), Jesus Camp (2006)

Rewatches (1): 30 for 30: You Don’t Know Bo (2013)

30 for 30: Four Days in October (2010)Being a Red Sox fan, I am predisposed to like this doc about the historical comeback they had against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship series. I think any fan of the underdog (which is most people) will like watching this, though.   4 stars

Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)Letterboxd has this movie split into two separate entries (1 and 2). It's actually a single movie that ended up getting multiple releases in theaters because even in India five and a half hours is a long time to sit and watch a movie. IMDB has it correctly as a single entry.  Gangster movies aren't exactly my favorite genre. If they are well made I like them, but I'd pick several other genres to watch first. And while I've watched more than my fair share of long films, if a movie is long simply for the sake of being long then it can really suck. (I'm looking at you Satantango).  Combine those things together and a 5 1/2 hour long gangster film from India was going to have to earn a decent rating from me. And you know what? It did.   3 stars

Dil Chahta Hai (2001)A bit overlong, and it's easy to see the big emotional beats coming, but they still work anyway.  If you like Aamir Khan this is another appealing movie from him.   4 stars

Jesus Camp (2006)Jesus Camp is a documentary about how fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. ensure they get their message to as wide a range of children as possible.  It was this month’s Steve’s Selection.  You can read my full review here.   3 stars

Swades (2004)Completely predictable, but aside from that it hits on a lot of important points in regards to the situation in some of the back country areas of India. That's not a surprise considering it came from the director of Lagaan, which also dealt with the importance of overcoming what separates people and showed how strong people are when they band together.   3.5 stars

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) – This is supposed to be a very funny comedy, but other than a smile in a few places it didn’t do much for me.  Maybe something was lost in translation.  (It’s an Italian film.)  Part of the problem is I like heist movies, but I dislike movies about losers.  This is a movie about a bunch of losers who try to pull off a heist, but at first it looks like it’s going to be a thrilling heist because we don’t realize they are losers yet.   2.5 stars

Burnt by the Sun (1994)This is a strange combination of farce, slapstick comedy, surrealism, and for the last 30 minutes, political drama. To be honest, I'm not really sure what I think of this movie. It won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but only after a special screening for less than one tenth of the Academy members, who were then the only ones allowed to vote in this category.  I've seen two of the other nominees for that year - Farinelli and Eat Drink Man Woman. I'd pick the latter as a better film than this one, but in 1994, just a couple years after the Soviet Union fell apart, I'm sure this Russian film about the backstabbing under Stalin resonated far more with the voters.  The best part of the film is the little girl and her relationship with her father. They were real life father and daughter and that shows on screen.   3 stars

Ju Dou (1990) – This is an early Zhang Yimou/Gong Li film about a tragic relationship.  It’s almost a little noir in that a woman is being abused by her husband and she wants the other man to kill him for her so they can be together.  The movie doesn’t continue as a noir, though.   3.5 stars

Goodbye, South, Goodbye (1996) – Yet another Taiwanese slice of life film.  Either these are the only kinds of films made there, or these are the only kinds of films made there that critics like because I’m hard pressed to come up with another movie from a Taiwanese filmmaker that I have seen that is any other genre.   2 stars

Le Corbeau (1943) – Inspired by real events in a 1920’s French village, a small town in France gets in an uproar because someone is writing poison pen letters and mailing them to many people.  They accuse them of sexual infidelity, religious hypocrisy, and most damning for the town doctor, that he performs abortions.  It’s quite a mystery as to who is sending them and why.  The title translates as “The Raven”, which is the signature placed on these anonymous letters.   3.5 stars

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) – I can see this Japanese film being touted as an early feminist movie, although I’m sure it was not intended that way when it was made.  A widow makes ends meet by being a hostess in a club.  She’s not a prostitute, although some of the other hostesses are.  She is thinking of opening her own club, but has family and friends approaching her for financial support.  Some also put pressure on her because a proper woman would remarry, preferably to a man as rich as possible, and stop being a hostess.  3.5 stars

Vengeance Is Mine (1979) – I found out afterwards that this is apparently based on a real Japanese serial killer.  If so, he was not a very interesting one.  Much of the movie consists of him randomly killing for no apparent reason, and in wildly different ways, which is not usually the norm.  They usually repeat the same method over and over.  In some ways this reminded me of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but that film is much better than Vengeance Is Mine.    2.5 stars

Outskirts (1933) – Early Soviet sound film with plenty of propaganda as I’ve come to expect from these kinds of movies from this time and place.  In this case it’s the tale of how the evil Russian Tsarist rulers sent people to die in WWI and devastated the common people – up until the Bolshevik Revolution.  Surprisingly, though, it does feature a sympathetic look at a German prisoner.   2 stars

The Death of Maria Malibran (1972) – A complete and utter waste of time.  Unless you need to watch it to complete a list, don’t bother looking for this one.   1 star

Mephisto (1981) – A provincial German actor goes to Berlin and becomes a sensation just as Hitler is coming to power.  He has to keep choosing between staying to become an even bigger star or leaving and possibly becoming a nobody again.   3 stars

Pakeezah (1972) – There are some pretty shots and gorgeous scenery in this Indian film, but ultimately the story isn’t that gripping.  A woman who is supposed to marry a rich man instead moons over a note a stranger left her while she was sleeping on a train.  Then she loses her memory and runs into the man and decides to marry him.  Then she can’t because people think she is a prostitute.  And so on.   2.5 stars

We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974) – Disjointed would be a polite way to describe this movie.  It actually seems to exist primarily to name check just about every Italian film and filmmaker that was considered to be worth anything from WWII to the 1970s, including a recreation of the fountain scene from La Dolce Vita complete with cameos from Fellini and Mastroianni.   2 stars

Twenty Years Later (1985) – Extremely specialized documentary about a film the same director started to make in the early 1960s about a local communist leader in a rural part of Brazil.  The country underwent a coup and when that happened the communists were scattered and some killed.  Seventeen years later the filmmaker takes his surviving footage back to the people he originally filmed and has them talk about what they remember from working with him and what has happened to them since then.   2 stars

And here’s a bonus just for the folks that have read this far: although technically I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron in May (today), I will include some comments here for those that are wondering about the movie:

When you make a film as great as the first Avengers there's not much place to go but down when it comes to the sequel. While Age of Ultron is still entertaining, it's definitely a notch below the first one.

The biggest problem is it just doesn't have a good enough villain, or at least the presentation of the villain just didn't work well enough.

The second problem is that Whedon drank the Kool-Aid and the first two major action sequences were shot in shakycam with sub-second editing, making them far less effective. Thankfully, he shot some later action scenes, and the quieter scenes, with a steadier camera.

The best part of this film are the quieter scenes. We learn more about Hawkeye and Black Widow especially. In addition, at least one other character from each of the movie franchises appeared, giving some continuity. None of the main characters from the Agents of SHIELD TV show appeared, though, in case you were hoping for that.
There did seem to be places where things felt rushed, as if scenes had been cut. It makes me wonder if there might be an extended edition released at some point.

Finally, don't bother sitting through the credits unless you just like reading them. There's no end scene. There is one at the beginning of the credits, but once the screen goes to black with scrolling names there is nothing else, except the message "The Avengers Will Return". The audience I saw it with was disappointed by this.

Chip’s Rating: Four stars out of Five


  1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) got mixed reviews upon release. I found it ok, but not great. It's a prequel and is slightly predictable if you have already watched the show. The disco scene was interesting, because they used subtitles due to the loud music, which I thought that was a neat idea. I love Lynch so of course I watched it.

    I liked The Last Detail (1973) for the performances, and I would watch anything by Hal Ashby from the 70s.

    I remember you loved the first Avengers. I haven't seen Ultron, I know you dislike shakycam :) At least it wasn't every scene. You mention it felt rushed. I heard Whedon's first cut was 3½ hours long and had to cut it down to 2½ to make the studio happy. I also read an extended edition is set for dvd(where the character development might be further explored)

    1. Thanks for the info.

      I watched Twin Peaks as it was originally being broadcast and at first it was fantastic. I feel that if the network had left it alone and ended it as the standalone mini-series it was intended to be, it would be remembered as one of the best things ever put on television. Instead they had Lynch change the last episode to be a cliffhanger to set up a whole extra season. I was excited for it to come back, but it didn't take too many episodes to realize that not only did Lynch not know who killed Laura Palmer, he didn't care. He was just putting episodes out there to be weird and to generate questions. This turned me off to both the show and to Lynch. To this day I still feel it's a case of the Emperor's New Clothes when Lynch releases yet another film with no discernable coherent plot and then some people spend MONTHS analyzing scenes and trying to figure out Lynch's secret story. To me, there is no story; Lynch just does this knowing some people will fill in the blanks if from time to time he gives "hints" as to what they should look for - "check out the color of the lampshade in the scene".

      The result of all of this is that when this prequel was produced I had little interest in seeing it. I admit I was somewhat curious, but figured I'd just get burned again. I'm not opposed to watching it, though, and this will finally give me a reason to do so. And since it's been 25 years since I saw any of these characters I do wonder what my reaction will be to them now.

      Thanks for the Avengers link. It's interesting that it speculates there may be more action scenes with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I didn't really think of them being shortchanged. If anything, I think an extended edition that includes scenes bridging Ultron from the time he first come to be, to the point where we see him as a fully formed antagonist would go a ways toward addressing what I felt was the lack of a great villain.

      There are also some unanswered questions on what happened between the last time we saw some of these characters and the beginning of this movie, especially Ironman/Tony Stark.


      At the end of Ironman 3 he had decided to destroy all of his suits of armor, both his own, and the robotic ones, and not be Ironman anymore. Yet when the Avengers sequel begins he's back in the suit, and he has a whole army of robotic suits, and this is what leads to Ultron when he tries early on to make the suits even more autonomous.