Monday, June 1, 2015

May Movie Status

I watched 47 new movies in May, plus watched a season of a TV show.  This was quite a bit more movies than last month, and more in line with what I tend to watch.

During May I completed seeing all 1,000 films on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  You can read more about that in this post.

With that time freed up, and with having a few days of vacation where the weather kept me inside, I also finished off the 2014 Empire 301 Best Movies list and the 2010 Empire 100 Best World Films list.

I am now working on Roger Ebert’s list of Great Films.  He has a total of 374.  As of this writing I have 11 left to see.  One of them is a four DVD collection that I will have to get from Netflix, along with a few others Netflix will need to send me, so I am unsure if I will finish off this list in June.

While waiting for DVDs to complete the Ebert list I will probably work on Empire’s 2008 list of the Top 500 Films of all time.  I have 23 of those left to see.  Completing this list may present a challenge – the film The Company of Men (1997) is no longer available from Netflix.  I could stream it from Amazon for a few bucks, but I’m not so focused on completing this list that I can’t wait until an opportunity to see the movie for free presents itself.  If months go by with no other way to see it, though, I may change my mind.

Here are the 47 new movies I saw in May.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

TSPDT (14): O Lucky Man! (1973), Still Life (2006), The Threepenny Opera (1931), Silent Light (2007), Mauvais Sang (1986), Two English Girls (1971), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), The Last Detail (1973), To Live (1994), Dodes’ka-den (1970), Gregory’s Girl (1981), A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Empire (7): Dead Man’s Shoes (2004), Waltz with Bashir (2008), Devdas (2002), Ten Canoes (2006), A Prophet (2009), Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), Zulu (1964)

Ebert (20): A Sunday in the Country (1984), Baraka (1992), Cabiria (1914), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), Santa Sangre (1989), Heart of Glass (1976), Leon Morin, Priest (1961), Gates of Heaven (1978), Ballad of Narayama (1958), Pixote (1981), My Uncle Antoine (1971), Samurai Rebellion (1967), Victim (1961), The Grey Zone (2001), 3 Women (1977), My Dinner with Andre (1981), The Man Who Laughs (1928), La Ceremonie (1995), Pale Flower (1964), Richard III (1995)

Other Movies (6): Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Elevator to the Gallows (1958), Teen Beach Movie (2013), Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), The Congress (2014), The Madness of King George (1994)

TV (1): Daredevil (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):  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 quieter scenes are the best part of this film. 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. 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.  4 stars

O Lucky Man! (1973) – A three hour long ego trip for Malcolm McDowell.  It’s unfocused and at times seems as if he’s trying to make his own Monty Python film.  2.5 stars

Still Life (2006) – Separate, somewhat slow moving stories sort of like what the director did for his more recent film A Touch of Sin.   3 stars

The Threepenny Opera (1931) – Mack the Knife…in German.  The earliness of this film makes for some problems with sound and staging.   2.5 stars

Silent Light (2007) – Ten minutes of plot in 2 hours 10 minutes of movie.  There are some nice shots, but it takes a lot more than that to make a movie.   1 star

Mauvais Sang (1986) – Literally “bad blood”.  Very unfocused early crime/romance film from Leos Carax.   1 star

Two English Girls (1971) – A Frenchman is attracted to two sisters that he meets when travelling to England.  Various complications ensue in romancing first one then the other.  How do you say “dysfunctional relationships” in French?   2 stars

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) – A tall tale about a man who is supposedly the greatest Broadway promoter of all time.  He gets mixed up with gangsters.  A mostly one joke movie with not enough other content to fill out its short running time.   2 stars

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – I watched and loved the TV miniseries that then got turned into the first season of a TV show.  I watched and grew disenchanted with the second season of the show, so much so that I deliberately avoided this movie that Lynch made afterwards.  As it turns out, that was the right course of action.  Other than repeated nudity from the actress who played the girl who was already dead when the show started, this prequel adds nothing to the TV show.   2 stars

The Last Detail (1973) – Two experienced Navy men escort a young convict to a Naval prison.  Along the way they decide to let him live a little bit of life before he’s incarcerated.   3 stars

To Live (1994) – Another Zhang Yimou and Gong Li pairing.  This one has elements of noir (abused young wife has young man fall in love with her and they decide to try to kill her husband), but at the same time it’s an examination of social mores in China at the time the film is set.   3 stars

Dodes’ka-den (1970) – A different kind of movie from Kurosawa.  It’s an ensemble piece on a bunch of people who live on or next to a dump.  We see their interactions, secrets, etc.   3 stars

Gregory’s Girl (1981) – Apparently this is a beloved British coming of age film, but it lost me at the end with a bunch of girls just using this guy, and he just takes it without standing up for himself.  2.5 stars

A Better Tomorrow (1986) – Early John Woo crime film with one brother who’s a gangster and another who is a policeman.   2.5 stars

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) – The Longest Yard (1974), except with cross country running.  This was the last film I had to see to complete the TSPDT list.   2.5 stars

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) – You can read my review here.   2.5 stars

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) – What at first appears to be a simple tale of an older brother’s revenge against the people who treated his younger, mentally retarded brother badly becomes something a lot more complex.   3.5 stars

Waltz with Bashir (2008) – Animated film that interviews several people on their perhaps faulty memories of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s.   3.5 stars

Devdas (2002) – Bollywood weepy about a man who is not allowed to marry the woman he loves because her family doesn’t approve of him.  He takes to drinking and bad living.  The big production numbers impress, but that’s it.    2 stars

Ten Canoes (2006) – A movie about a story told about a story being told about some ancient aborigines.  The extra layers, at least the voice over narration, feel extraneous and needlessly complex.   2.5 stars

A Prophet (2009) – A young man goes to prison, gets in with the “right” crowd and starts to become a criminal mastermind of his own, all while still being in prison.   3 stars

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) – The really strange hair and outfits of the title characters are funny for a while, but eventually the joke wears off.  What’s left are a set of sometimes comedic, sometimes flat scenes as a supposed Soviet music band tours America.  Although this is a Finnish film it is mostly in English.   2 stars

A Sunday in the Country (1984) – Quiet, slow moving day in the life of three generations of a French family gathering at the grandparents’ house in the country.   2.5 stars

Baraka (1992) – A long form music video similar to the “qatsi” films.  At least this one doesn’t chant the movie title at us over and over and over and over.   2.5 stars

Cabiria (1914) – This is a silent Italian film (I took your suggestion TSorensen).  It predates D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, but it is similar in that it has huge Roman sets.  This one did it first, though.   3 stars

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) – Louise Brooks gets cast out by her new stepmother, spends time in a reform school for girls, escapes, and continues to try to get through life.  3 stars

Santa Sangre (1989) – This is the most mainstream of the three Jodorowsky films I’ve seen.  Considering the main characters are a son standing behind his mother to be her arms after they were chopped off by his father, who then committed suicide, “most mainstream” is relative.   2 stars

Heart of Glass (1976) – This appears to be an attempt to meditate on the meaning of religion in people’s lives as represented by attempts to make the red glass everyone in the town loves after the one man who knew the secret dies…or something.   1 star

Leon Morin, Priest (1961) – After all the crime movies I've seen from Melville, as good as some of them are, it was a nice change of pace to see this somewhat earlier movie from him that focused on the dynamics of a beautiful young widow and a handsome young priest who fascinates her, despite (or perhaps because of) her being an atheist.  This may also feature the earliest depiction of a lesbian attraction that is not condemned that I've seen.  Before meeting the priest the young woman first has a girl crush on her hot, confident, in charge female boss.  And the boss seems to realize it and rather than being disgusted seems to enjoy the attention.   3.5 stars

Gates of Heaven (1978) – A documentary about, believe it or not, two competing commercial pet cemeteries in California in the 1970s.  It was done by the man who would eventually do The Thin Blue Line.   2.5 stars

Ballad of Narayama (1958) – This version is a lot more “stagey” than the 1980s version that’s on the 1,001 Movies list.  They almost seem to emphasize the obviously fake sets.  I didn’t buy the story in the 80s one and it’s the same one here.  This means this also didn’t work for me.  2 stars

Pixote (1981) – An earlier version of a story told much better in City of God.  It stars kids who actually lived in the slums of Brazil.  The lead child actor ended up dying years later in a shootout with police.  3 stars

My Uncle Antoine (1971) – A sort of coming of age Canadian film that doesn’t have a whole lot of focus.  The biggest plot point is a boy trying to help his drunkard uncle retrieve a dead body from a farm in the small community they live in.   2.5 stars

Daredevil (2015) – Netflix TV series about the Marvel Comics character.  Unlike the Affleck movie it takes place within the Marvel Universe.  It’s set not long after the events in the first Avengers film.  Other than a couple of passing references, though, it might as well be its own standalone universe.  Unfortunately, the good characters are kind of bland.  The villain is the most interesting one, but he is inconsistently written, something that is more apparent while “binge watching” the Netflix episodes, rather than a regular TV series which is watched one episode per week.  There is some good potential here.   3 stars

Teen Beach Movie (2013)After seeing tons of critics' movies filled with angst, drama, depression, and everything else critics like, I needed a change of pace.  I wanted something fun to watch that didn't require a Phd dissertation in order to interpret.  This film fit that need perfectly.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it.  Not all the songs were great, but a couple were.  The movie within a movie commentary by a character reminded me of the kid in Last Action Hero.  The plot is reminiscent of Pleasantville, all while spoofing the beach movies in the late 50s and early 60s when two modern day teenagers get stuck in one of those movies - "Wet Side Story".  And it didn't hurt that the female lead, Maia Mitchell, is about as cute as is humanly possible.  3 stars

Samurai Rebellion (1967)If you're director Masaki Kobayashi how do you follow your films Hara-Kiri and Kwaidan?  By making a samurai film with none other than Toshiro Mifune, whose recent split with Akira Kurosawa ended the most productive director/actor relationship in movie history.  Those are some big shoes to fill, but Kobayashi doesn't go for the easy route here.  Anyone expecting lots of bloodshed and action based on the title will end up disappointed.  Instead we get a thoughtful exploration of duty to your lord and clan vs. duty to yourself.   4 stars

Zulu (1964) – Classic British war film about stiff upper lips dealing with incredible odds as about 100 troops in an African outpost, commanded by an engineer with no combat experience, have to defend themselves against 4,000 Zulu warriors.  Unlike the standard cowboys and Indians movie this shows the Zulu having a keen sense of combat tactics when facing a much more heavily armed opponent.  There are impressive shots of the African setting, too.    3.5 stars

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)A warning right off the bat - this is not a film for people who are looking for lots of action and excitement.  This is very much a film concerned with mood.  In some ways it reminded me of the film In the Mood for Love, in that it's all about setting the mood for the scenes.  I loved the music and score and they greatly contribute to those moods.  I watched the trailer for the first time after the film got done.  It makes the movie appear to be a comedy.  It's not.  While there are small amusements here and there (i.e. Hiddleston's character wearing a "Dr. Faust" nametag when going into a hospital to get blood), it's a drama.  Swinton and Hiddleston carry the film.  Wasikowska and Hurt have short, but impactful, appearances.  Of the seven Jarmusch films I've seen this might be my favorite, although it's been quite a while since I saw Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai which I would have named as my favorite Jarmusch prior to this.    4 stars

The Congress (2014) – This film starts out as a thoughtful exploration of how aging actresses are treated and just who really controls the images of actors and actresses.  It stars Robin Wright as “herself”.  After 45 minutes, though, the movie takes…I won’t even call it a left turn.  It enters another dimension entirely as it becomes an hour long Ralph Bakshi-inspired animation of a futuristic hotel being attacked by rebels.  The penis and vagina fish are amusing.  I found out afterwards that they took a Stanislaw Lem science fiction story that was an allegory of communism and grafted the bit about actresses and actors onto the beginning.  The two are at best an awkward fit.  I would have much rather they continued with the whole concept of Wright selling all rights to her image to the movie studio and continued with what that meant for her.   2.5 stars

Victim (1961) – This early 60s film sympathetically presents a story where gay men are being blackmailed and a closeted barrister has to decide between helping them, which might ruin his career and marriage, or to ignore what is going on like the other gay men he encounters.  I’m frankly surprised that this movie got made at all.  It’s decades ahead of its time.   3.5 stars

The Grey Zone (2001) – This is a powerful film on the Holocaust and how some Jews worked for a few months “processing” other Jews for the Nazis in return for a few more months of life and being better fed.  Despite how good it is, and despite having a number of familiar faces in it, I don’t remember ever hearing about this movie.  I can’t believe that.  It was written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, better known as an actor in such films as O Brother Where Art Thou (“Gopher, Everett?”).  The same year as writing/directing The Grey Zone he also directed O, a modern day reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello which is well worth your time.  I can’t believe he hasn’t directed more films, although neither of these are what you’d call commercial kinds of films that sell tickets.   4 stars

The Madness of King George (1994) – I watched this because it’s on three different lists of movies and it was expiring from Netflix Instant.  Despite having good performances, sets, costumes, etc. the story just didn’t engage me.  I can’t fault this film at all for the effort that went into making it look good, but it just wasn’t one that grabbed me.   2.5 stars

3 Women (1977) – Altman based this movie on a dream he had.  He started shooting with not much script, no ending, and had the actresses adlib their lines.  It shows.    1 star

My Dinner with Andre (1981) – I don’t mind talkfests.  Hell, The Man from Earth and Before Sunrise are great films and they pretty much consist of nothing but talking.  These films have two things My Dinner with Andre does not have: interesting characters and interesting topics of conversation.  In fact, this film doesn’t even have a conversation in it.  The first hour or so goes like this: one man spews words at the other for 5-10 minutes, the other says “and then what happened” and we get 5-10 more minutes of spewing words.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Even when the other man finally starts to talk more himself it’s still not a conversation where they engage each other.  It’s simply alternating soliloquies.  1 star

The Man Who Laughs (1928) – The biggest reason to watch this film is to see the character that was the visual basis for the comic book villain The Joker.  Conrad Veidt plays a man who was intentionally scarred as a child so that it looks like he has a permanent grin.  He makes a living by being a carnival attraction.  He came from an important family, though, and he may be in a position to inherit a title.   2.5 stars

La Ceremonie (1995) – I’ve seen Isabelle Huppert in several films and I don’t think I’ve seen one character yet that she has played that is likeable.  That string continues with this film.  Sandrine Bonnair plays an illiterate housekeeper who starts working for a rich family.  She bonds with Huppert’s character who works in the post office.  It turns out they’ve both killed other people before the film starts and Huppert has nothing but bad things to say about the rich family.  Gee, I wonder where this is going.   2 stars

Pale Flower (1964) – Japanese neo-noir film that does a good job of translating the look and feel of the genre to modern day (for when the film was made) Japan.  A gangster gets out of jail for murder and kills time by gambling until he gets a new assignment.  He encounters a pretty, young woman who is looking for thrills all the time whether by high stakes gambling, driving fast cars, or being around dangerous men.   3 stars.

Richard III (1995) – A little way into this I realized I’ve never seen a traditional presentation of this Shakespeare play.  I was familiar with the general story both from history and from the play being referenced in other movies, though.  This one is set in a 1930s fascist England.  It was adapted by and stars Ian McKellen, who does a hell of a job.  I probably would have liked it more if I had seen a traditional version first because then I would have been able to appreciate more how he translated it to this type of setting.    3.5 stars


  1. I've always wanted to make if through Ebert's Great Movies list. Good for you, my friend. Only 11 left, that's awesome.

    1. Thanks. Like all lists there are some great discoveries and some WTFs. Off the top of my head, some good discoveries I had only because they were on Ebert's list (and that I didn't mention above) are Souls for Sale (1923) and The Terrorist (1998).

      You may have seen more than you think. His list does have a lot of the usual suspects on it.

  2. You've been busy!
    For what its worth, I'm a fan of 3 Women. Shame you disliked it. The key audience for Altman's 1977 film are probably females. Yet I did like the character interactions and especially Millie (Shelley Duvall), who talks but nobody listens, and is a classic case of wanting constant reassurance. Maybe out of a feeling of inadequacy, unworthiness or lack of parental love. I empathized with her, she is trying really hard, maybe too hard, and I felt sorry for her when people laughed at Millie behind her back. Sissy Spacek's performance was amazing when you consider her character's journey. I enjoyed the enigmatic/dream-like aspect of the story.

    Yeah, My Dinner with Andre is not for everyone. The non-stop dialogue was almost unwatchable for me. I had to pause every 10 minutes to catch my breath :) Think I'd prefer to read the screenplay than watch it unfold.

    The Man Who Laughs (1928) has the iconic performance by Conrad Veidt, but the story by Victor Hugo could have been handled better and felt overlong. The ending was good, but I prefer The Unknown (1927), which has a similar premise, and I found more concise and involving.

    I've seen all of Jarmusch's filmography(except Limits of Control). For some reason Only Lovers Left Alive underwhelmed me. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood, as you say it had atmosphere and a cool soundtrack. There was a lot of potential in the premise.I felt the story was too stagnant and characters didn't really have enough to do. Perhaps I need to see it again to appreciate. I had tha experience with his film Mystery Train, which grew on me on rewatch.
    We do agree Ghost Dog is among Jarmusch's best. Love that film.

    1. I agree it would probably be more interesting to read the screenplay for My Dinner with Andre.

      I'd go with The Unknown as a better movie, too, although it is more macabre.

      I actually have the DVD for Mystery Train on my coffee table right now. I just got it from Netflix yesterday and I'll probably watch it today. It's on Ebert's list. Yes, Only Lovers Left Alive spends more time on mood than on story. Often, the lack of a story is a negative for me with a movie (note my comment on Still Life above), but in this case it worked. It also worked for me with In the Mood for Love, which is why I compared the two.

    2. Oops, I meant Silent Light, not Still Life.

  3. I have read the screenplay for My Dinner with Andre and seen the movie a few times. Obviously I like that one more than you. I also like O Lucky Man more than you, especially the music from Alan Price. The Last Detail is also a favorite. What strikes me from your list is that there are so many that I haven't seen! If only there were more hours in the day!

    1. I had both more time this month and a better attitude about watching movies - wanting to more than feeling I had to.