Sunday, February 9, 2014

January 2014 Recap

We're nine days into February, meaning the 'Recap' is late. Let's not waste anymore time...

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in January 2014
1) No Fear, No Die (1990 - Claire Denis) 5.5/10 - Nothing memorable here and honestly, they should've ousted it with the "Life of Pi" edition.
2) Jacob's Ladder (1990 - Adrian Lyne) 6/10 - One they did oust in the "Life of Pi" edition and I can't say I'm sad to see it go.
3) The Asthenic Syndrome (1989 - Kira Muratova) 1/10 - Garbage, plain & simple.
4) Archangel (1990 - Guy Maddin) 5/10 - Unique enough to be included here, but it's magical qualities were lost on me. I appreciated it, but didn't enjoy it.
5) Drowning by Numbers (1988 - Peter Greenaway) 7.5/10 - On one hand, I'd REALLY like to get it a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot. But, on the other hand, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and her Lover" was the superior Greenaway and it didn't get a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot...I'm torn.
6) Dirty Harry (1971 - Don Siegel) 7.5/10 - Another one that deserves SOMETHING on the TOP 20 list.
7) The Great Escape (1963 - John Sturges) 8/10 - Would love to see this one nab a TOP 20 spot. Hopefully I can fit it in.
8) Amadeus (1984 - Milos Forman) 5/10 - Not for me...that's that.
9) Ride Lonesome (1959 - Budd Boetticher) 3.5/10 - Forgettable
10) Prizzi's Honor (1985 - John Huston) 7/10 - It COULD get a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot, but it will be close.
11) A Tale of Wind (1988 - Joris Ivens) 2.5/10
12) Bad Day at Black Rock (1955 - John Sturges) 6.5/10 - This was a great western/noir, but I'm not sure it has enough 'oomph' to even get a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot.
13) Sherman's March (1986 - Ross McElwee) 8/10 - Still surprised at how much I liked this. Really great doc.

NON-1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in January 2014
1) Before Sunrise (1995 - Richard Linklater) 7.5/10I've been wanting to watch "Before Midnight", but didn't want to watch it without rewatching it's two predecessors: "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset", both starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, released about ten years apart. The first movie tells of Jesse (Hawke), an American traveling in Europe and Celine (Delpy), a French woman returning home from visiting her grandmother, meeting on a train and striking up a conversation, on their way to Vienna. Jesse will be getting off the train, Celine will not. However, with a little convincing and a lot of charm, Jesse manages to coax Celine into accompanying him into Vienna, where he has to wait until the next morning to catch a train back to the United States. From there they spend the rest of the afternoon and night walking around the beautiful city and talking.


I really like this movie and I have ever since I saw it, many years ago. It's funny because I'm pretty sure I watched "Before Sunrise" in preparation for watching "Before Sunset", back when that movie came out and now, here I am watching the two of them in preparation for the third. The thing that really, for some reason, fascinates me about this film is the reactions and mannerisms of the two main characters and really just the way the characters present themselves in general. Notice how Jesse is always quick to talk, he's almost talking to fast and whenever Celine is saying something, it always looks like Jesse is ready with a loaded comment and waiting for his turn to talk again. He also acts very immature at times and cynical, not wanting to be bested by anything or anyone, including a poet in the park whom he assumes "didn't really write the poem" or a palm reader at a little cafe. Like any man would be, he's always more than willing to participate in physical interaction, while Delpy's Celine reserves the kissing for times when she feels the mood is right and for the most part is more content to just talk, share ideas and theories about love, spirituality and other intellectual topics. There were times when I couldn't decide whether or not I loved Ethan Hawke in this or loathed him. At times, he seemed to be giving the most genuine performance I'd ever seen and at other times he just didn't cut it for me. On the other hand, Delpy was a pro at all times, impressing me immensely and urging me to see more of her roles. All in all the film is right up my alley, due to the fact that it's light on action and heavy on dialogue, which I'm a sucker for. Also, it's one of those that all takes place in a short period of time and I'm a sucker for that too. Highly recommended, but still deciding whether or not it's good enough to make my grand 1000 list.


2) Before Sunrise (2004 - Richard Linklater) 8.5/10Now here you have a movie that is almost an anomaly: a sequel that is better than the original. Perhaps it's because everyone, including director Linklater, are just ten years older, thus a little more wiser and a little more mature. Hawke is much better here, crisper and more genuine with his reactions, showing that he's obviously matured in ten years. Delpy is still great and I'd go so far as to say even better than she was in "Sunrise".

This one takes place ten years later (duh) and sees Jesse returning to Europe, by way of Paris, to promote a book he recently wrote, which just happens to be about the encounter from the first film. Since Celine lives in Paris and word of an author coming to town gets around, she hears about Jesse's arrival and goes to see him. This time they only have until sunset to catch up, as once again Jesse must catch a plane back to the U.S. that evening.

Again, you really get a sense of the different reactions of man and woman. Notice how Jesse is always quick to turn the conversation toward sex or the like. You just know that what Jesse really wants is to take Celine somewhere and end this encounter the same way they ended the first one. Also, like an adult, Jesse is more apt to listen to Celine and honestly I'd say she controls the brunt of the conversation, as she's always quick to sway the man back to intellectual talk and downplay the sexual nature of their first meeting. One particular reaction that I LOVED was Celine's face after saying to Jesse "how do you feel about the word 'pussy'?". Watch that girl's face after she says that, it looks like she could die of embarrassment. We have to remember that there IS still a level of awkwardness between the two, as they really are just a little more than strangers. They met once ten years ago, so they're still very formal with one another, for the most part. This one also was better in that it had a little more story and it wasn't just talking for the sake of talking. Most times, especially in the second half, they're talking about their lives now and not just random topics like reincarnation, fate, love and the like. The ending is ambiguous, sweet and almost perfect, as we end on a dancing, playful Celine in her apartment, reminding Jesse one last time that he's going to "miss that plane" and him replying with a simple "I know". Definitely better than "Sunrise" and one that I'm seriously contemplating about adding to my 1,000 list.


3) Before Midnight (2013 - Richard Linklater) 8/10Now we come to the third installment in the trilogy and can I just say that I hope Linklater, Hawke and Delpy aren't done with these characters. I hope I'm not alone in thinking this, but I would love to see a revisit to these characters every ten years or so. Kind of like a fictional version of the 7-Up series. In "Before Midnight" Jesse and Celine are now in their early forties and living together. We meet up with them as Jesse sends his son back to the U.S. on a plane, to continue living with his mother and the couple we met twenty years ago wrap up their vacation in Greece. The two are now parents to twin girls, however they're not married. While on vacation with one of Jesse's colleagues, a friend takes the liberty of paying for them a hotel, where he plans for them to have a nice night together, free of the kids. At the hotel, the two get into a heated fight, which consumes the second act of the film.

It started out slow, I won't lie. I was fine with the little prologue with Jesse putting his son on a plane and I even loved the back and forth with Celine and Jesse in the car. However, once we added more characters...well, I wasn't into that idea. I just wanted the same thing we got in the two previous films: Jesse, Celine and lots of dialogue. But, no worries, because we eventually got to that and I liked how this time around it wasn't the sweet nothings and one trying to win the other over, but rather it was a fight and a heated one. I couldn't help but be reminded of Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage". This fight between two characters that we've come to love, was like being in a room and watching two friends have it out: both awkward and heartbreaking. I can tell you I think when Celine told Jesse, "I don't think I love you anymore", I think my heart broke right along with his. It was brilliant acting by both participants and anything bad I've ever said about Ethan Hawke needs to be revoked. Perhaps it's his other film choices and not his execution that's the problem. Delpy is always magnificent and this time around is no different, clearly the superior actor of the couple, although again, I'm not taking jabs at Hawke.

Tell me, whose side were you on in the fight? Both my wife and I seemed to side with Jesse and it shows how much these characters have changed. This Celine seemed to be more hostile and cynical, almost like the twenty-three year old Jesse. It's again an exploration into these characters actions, reactions, mannerisms and how they interact with one another. Notice how before I noted how embarrassment seemed to be a part of some of their reactions, while in "Midnight" that was all gone and these were two people who have obviously been with one another for a while and are totally comfortable with one another. I love how in-depth these characters are and how their simplest reactions can be studied.

I have to say I was always the pessimist who was of the opinion that Jesse caught that plane and went home at the end of "Before Sunset", so to see them now, basically married (for all intents and purposes) was a little disheartening, but only a minor nitpicking, as they managed to still make it similar to the other two movies, in that it was still very much about communication between the two. The first was uniting, the second was reuniting and this one was reexamining after ten years of being together and airing grievances that lovers may hold back, due to not wanting to hurt the other. My other nitpicky thing is that the title really doesn't mean anything does it? We know that in "Before Sunrise" the two have until morning together and then their time is done. In "Before Sunset" they have until nightfall and then Jesse much catch a plane again. What is the significance of the midnight hour in the third film? Nothing really.

So what's next? Well, I think we come back in nine years, when the two are fifty. Let's say they went back to the hotel, after they made up at the river front, at the end of "Midnight" and they get into it again. Or hell, maybe they get back to Paris and things fall apart again and ultimately, they break up. When their fifty, they meet again at the twins' graduation and end up talking and maybe falling in love again, because they're still single, because they can't seem to find the right match. Yeah, I think that'd totally work. Come on Linklater, let's make this happen.

All in all though, I just love this trilogy and it's one of the rare times where the original is the most inferior of the three. I think it gets better with retrospect, because you realize it's a perfect foundation, but really that's all it is is a foundation and it's the other two movies that provide the real meat & potatoes.


4) Rust and Bone (2012 - Jacques Audiard) 7/10Solid film all around, but ultimately, I think I expected just a little bit more. This film resembled something that would be made in the U.S. and I think, maybe, I expected a little more from the French. I mean, seriously, what was the deal with playing Katy Perry's "Firework" on two different occasions? Was that really necessary? Anyway, I don't mean to short change this film or anything. It had dynamite performances and I think every year Marion Cotillard does just a little bit more to cement herself as one of the greatest living actresses. She's had better performances ("La vie en rose"), but this was great. The film also had some nice character development and a solid, easy to follow story. Great movie for people who may be just getting into foreign films. I know there are people out there who don't like reading their films, but this one is really easy to get into. I might also add that the story, while very good, is a bit predictable as well. Everyone seems to come out unscathed and this seemed to be a film that begged for an unhappy ending to make it a little more unique. Otherwise, a very ordinary, yet really good movie.


5) Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012 - Benh Zeitlin) 4/10I've said it before and I'll say it again: I just can't get into any movie that has a child as the main character. It's not even a moral high ground thing where I'm all like "children shouldn't be in the movies"; it's just that I'm not one of these "kids are so darn cute" kinda guys and all of the sweetness that this film was probably supposed to exude, was totally lost on me. I think the intended reaction at the end of this movie was for the audience to be in tears, but I was just glad that it was all coming to a close. Sure, it had a few moments of glory, but ultimately I was left scratching my head, wondering how in the world this got a Best Picture nod at that year's Oscars.


6) Zero Dark Thirty (2012 - Kathryn Bigelow) 4.5/10 I could say a lot of things about this movie and the type of people it depicts in a glowing light, but I'll keep my mouth shut, because I'm a non-controversial movie reviewer. As it is, I had a hard time getting through this one, simply because I'm anti-war film and always have been. Seriously, what's the deal with Kathryn Bigelow? First of all, where the hell did she come from anyway? I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I had never heard of Bigelow prior to "The Hurt Locker". Even back then, with a little research, I found that the only thing she'd directed that I'd seen was a vampire flick called "Near Dark" and that she'd been married to James Cameron. Then all of a sudden she makes a war picture and everybody goes ape for her. She's obviously a talented director, but lets hope she's got the war stuff out of her system.

The film, for me personally, bit the big one. I realize I lived through the entire hunt for Bin Laden, however, I pay absolutely no attention to CNN, MSNBC, FOX News or any of the other dozens of news channels and therefore, I wasn't up to speed on all of the jargon and the lingo. I'll give credit to the final forty minutes. The entire segment where the seal team breaches the compound is some EXCELLENT movie making and exciting to boot. However, it was too little too late for this movie goer.

And, oh yeah...I didn't care for Jessica Chastain either.


7) Life of Pi (2012 - Ang Lee) 8.5/10Is it just me or, despite this film's ultra religious main character, does this film promote agnosticism? And my research on this film has been nil since I watched it last night, so maybe this is a common knowledge fact about the movie, I don't know. Anyway, hear me out....

So in the film, we get two stories. The first, very long one sees Pi survive the shipwreck, only to take refuge on a lifeboat, along with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger. After a while the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, only to be eaten by the lion. Pi, fearing for his life against the tiger, builds a raft so that he and the tiger can coexist, without getting in each other's space (mainly without Pi getting eaten alive). This is pretty much the whole movie, until Pi is discovered near the end.

Then, as Pi recovers in the hospital, a couple of insurance adjusters visit him to try and come up with some answers as to why the boat wrecked. They take Pi's statement and have a hard time believing it, so Pi tells them an alternate story. In this story, Pi's mother, a sailor with a broken leg and the boat's cook all survive along with Pi, making it to the lifeboat. Once aboard, the cook kills the sailor and Pi's mother, only to be killed by Pi. In this version, Pi's mother is the orangutan, the sailor is the zebra, the cook is the hyena and Pi himself is the tiger. At the end, the man Pi is telling the story to is never actually told which story is the truth, but he's asked which story he prefers and picks the first one, where Pi and tiger survive.

Now then....

Despite never being told, I think it's suggested that the second story is the truth. Now, in my view, the two stories represent believing in God (the first story) and not believing in God (the second story). Here's why:

Pi imagines the story with him and the tiger as a coping mechanism for killing the cook. He doesn't want to deal with the reality that he watched his mother get murdered and then he himself turned into a murderer. Believing in God is sometimes referred to as a coping mechanism by atheists and agnostics, for regular people who need SOMETHING to believe in, something to help keep them going. Also, the second story is pretty cut & dry. Four of us survived, we killed each other until only I was left - that's that. Whereas the first story has a little more magic to it and is impossible to prove - kind of like the Bible, God, etc.

Now, I believe in God, but I also believe that the second story is probably the truth, in the confines of this fictional world. Boy, after writing all that I just have to sit here and kind of soak it all in. This film has definitely given me a lot to think about and I feel like I want to watch it again already to sort everything out and get my thoughts in order. As it is, this is a film that WILL make you think and there's never anything wrong with that. It's also one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen in recent memory. Sure, a lot of it is CGI (which I hate), but it's elegantly done and not as in your face as, say "The Hobbit"


8) Her (2013 - Spike Jonze) 6/10For the duration of a three minute theatrical trailer, I had no problem buying Joaquin Phoenix as a depressed thirty-something, living in the not so distant future and falling in love with his cell phone. In fact, I promptly added the film to my watch list, because 1) I consider myself a fan of both Phoenix and Jonze and 2) the whole film seemed like something unique and special enough to get me to fall in love with it. However, after seeing it at the theater tonight (my first trek out to the big screen in some five years), I left the multiplex feeling extremely disappointed with the finished product.

Look, two nights I staved off sleep until well past midnight (after awaking at 6:30 that morning) to watch "The Great Escape", a movie that has no wasted motions, squeezes every drop of juice out of every scene, has near flawless acting, a plot that sucks you in and makes you jump and jerk at just the right moments and leaves you feeling all sorts of things. I'm not saying we should be comparing "Her" to "The Great Escape", but what I am saying is that in 2013, fifty years after the release of that ultra fine POW film, it's sad to see that this is what passes for a Best Picture nominee - a man falling in love with his electronic device.

I'll give the filmmaker's all the credit in the world here; they really tried hard to sell me this story. It was never a joke, it was always meant to be taken 100% seriously, but I just couldn't help but continue to reference that episode of "Tbe Big Bang Theory" where Raj falls in love with Siri. In other words, despite everything they did to sell me this as something to be taken seriously, I just couldn't help but take the entire thing as something too silly to be truly moved by.

Sure, it's a fine love story, one that has no predecessor or duplicate. And, I will say that, if nothing else, the film LOOKS like a Best Picture winner. The cinematography was by far my favorite thing about the movie, with Jonze riding his camera right up into the actor's faces for some moving, powerful close-ups, but always knowing when to pull back and let us soak it all in. The music and the mood of the film was also spot on, as Karen O provides "The Moon Song" to maximum effect and Jonze accompanies that with a tone filled with melancholy.

Maybe if this was ten years ago, at a time when I hadn't grown into such a persnickety film goer, I would've loved this film...maybe. As it is, I'm not saying the film is bad by any means. It's an above average picture and Phoenix does his job well. And hell, maybe I can even blame my dislike on the fact that I hadn't been to theater in nearly five years and I'm used to watching movies in the comfort of my own bedroom, on the small screen. Perhaps, if I'd waited for the DVD, I'd have been more pleased...who knows. However, I think I stand by my opinions. Perhaps if my hopes hadn't been so high, I would've been more accepting, but with all that being said, I'd call it a disappointing film overall.

Call it a 5.5/10, maybe a '6' and perhaps a rewatch once I've had time to soak everything is will make for a better opinion.



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All of my reviews, including reviews from the 1001 BOOK and NON-1001 BOOK films, can also be found at my Letterboxd page, by clicking here

Well that about wraps 'er all up. No "Me vs. TV" this month, because I'm just not in the mood and because I really haven't been watching a lot of TV, or anything worth talking about anyway. 

February 9/2014  5:46pm

2 comments:

  1. Now here is a coincidence.
    I also watched 'Life of Pi' last night.
    I think I like your explanation..
    I'm still not sure what the 'real' story is. Obviously the 'humans' story is supposed to be the most logical - ie the easiest to believe.. so therefore should be accepted as such.
    But I'm not sure if it was.
    OK, maybe the animal story was the real one.. and maybe it was all so fantastical even he doubted it's reality .. so saw the Human version as a way of explaining it. It also made living in the secular world easier.. people believed and accepted to story.. he got less grief from people.. the insurers for example would leave him alone if he told that one..
    But Pi is a person of faith... inside he 'knows' the truth that is why he was so pleased that the author said he preferred the animal story .. because to him, that was the truth. Now maybe the human one actually happened, here on our physical planet.. but (due to thirst, exhaustion, whatever) Pi chose to believe the more spiritual, animal, version.. so that in his soul that really WAS what happened.. As you say believing in God is about faith..something Pi had in bucket loads (enough to believe in / belong to at least 3 faiths!)

    But this is a book.. it is itself a work of fiction.. so there is no 'real' answer.. it is up to us to decide... maybe based on our own faith/lack of???

    Either way .. what the heck were all those mere-cats about???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See, I think there's symbolism in the meer cats too and the fact that that island looked like a human being lying down. So you like this one Ray? I thought it was great and a welcome addition to the new edition.

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