Sunday, August 31, 2014

554. Die bitteren Tranen der Petra Von Kant/The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Main Cast: Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla, Gisela Fackeldey, Katrin Schaake

I wanted to make a quick note and let everyone know just how excited I am for these Fassbinder pictures. I've only ever seen two R.W. Fassbinder movies: Love Is Colder Than Death and Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, which he only co-directed with someone else. About a month or so before I started the BOOK project, I made a conscious decision to broaden my horizons when it came to movies and see more older films and more foreign ones. I somehow got turned on to R.W. Fassbinder and somehow picked those two movies as my introduction to him (I'm not sure why I picked those two, since they're two of the most obscure ones, but whatever). Anyway, I didn't delve very deep before THE BOOK caught my eye at the bookstore and I turned to it for a way of broadening my horizons. Anyway, I've been holding these Fassbinder pictures for a rainy day and it just so happens that it's literally and figuratively raining today. Things have been a bit slow going on the blog, due to me losing a bit of my fire for the project and a string of bland films. I hope I haven't set my hopes too high, but I can tell you that I'm greatly looking forward to these in hopes of finding a new favorite director. I don't know what it is, but somehow I think that I'm really going to dig Fassbinder. Let's jump right in and find out, shall we...


I didn't really want to do another tribute week so close to the Bresson Week stuff, but both Fox and His Friends and ...Petra Von Kant were on a "very long wait" from Netflix and when Fox and His Friends became available and got shipped, I decided to seek out TBTOPVK and just go for it. I managed to find ...Petra Von Kant on YouTube and thus, here we are.

The film is structured like a play, with all of the action confined to one room and a very dialogue heavy script. The film, as far as I saw it, could be split into four sections. The first section introduces the audience to Petra Von Kant (Carstensen) and her assistant Marlene (Hermann). Petra is a fashion designer and her room is filled with mannequins, clothing samples and drawing materials for clothing design. We never hear Marlene speak a word, instead only hearing Petra order her around ("get me some fresh squeeze orange juice, I'm dying of thrist", "is there any mail?") and treating her basically like a servant. In this introductory section, we also meet Sidonie (Schaake), a friend of Petra's who stops for a visit. While there, Petra tells Sidonie all about her recent divorce from her second husband Frank, whom she grew to loathe. Near the end of this section, we also meet Karin (Schygulla), a friend of Sidonie's who Petra is meeting for the first time. Petra suggests that Karin visit the next night, to talk about the prospect of becoming one of her models. The second section is basically just the prearranged date between Petra and Karin that was made at the end of the first part. They talk about being young and in school, about their loves, about Karin's possible modeling career and about Karin's parents. Karin is married, but her husband is in Sydney. When Petra learns that Karin is spending money on hotels, she offers to let her stay with her. Karin accepts and this part ends with Petra and Karin pronouncing their love for each other. The next section is six months later and portrays an argument between Petra and Karin (meanwhile Marlene is in the background nearly the entire time, throughout all sections). I don't want to give too much away for fear of spoilage, but lets just say it's a nasty argument that threatens their relationship, one that Petra values far more than Karin. Petra states her love for Karin often and enthusiastically, while Karin can only admit to liking Petra and perhaps not convinced of her own sexual tendencies. The final section takes place on Petra's birthday, with both her mother and her daughter visiting her, as well as Sidonie. Karin is expected, but will she show?


My God, where to begin? So much to analyze, so many thoughts to pour out so that I have them down on paper somewhere and can reference them the next time I watch this, as I'm sure there will be a next time. Let's just jump right in, paying no mind to proper writing structure, shall we?

Over at IMDB, someone started an extremely interesting topic suggesting that Marlene and Frank (Petra's 2nd ex-husband) are the same person? Isn't that a genius idea? It makes total sense too! The poster states that Marlene did look sort of "mannish" and that Marlene would make her most desperate and pathetic gazes toward Petra during the times she was talking about Frank. I actually read this post prior to watching the movie, as I was doing a bit of pre-research the other day at lunch and was able to watch very carefully to see if this was possible and it totally is! The time frames even match up, as Petra tells Karin that she took Marlene on three years ago, just about the exact time that she married Frank. Petra also makes it clear that she loathed Frank's masculinity in particular, so it wouldn't be out of the question that she'd totally dominate him and force him to change his sex for her, as a way to make their marriage work. I think it's obvious that at some point, Petra decides she's no longer interested in men and let's face it, I'm sure Fassbinder would be all for a story about a man in drag (or even a completely transformed man, now living as a woman) gracing his script, as Fassbinder himself was bisexual. The poster suggests that you watch the film sometime with this thought in mind and I do too, because it fits and it's an interesting take on the film.

Desperation personified

However, even if it's not true, the Marlene character is still very interesting. My other theory (which I conjured on my own) is that Marlene and Petra once had a mirror image relationship to that of Petra and Karin, with Marlene in the Petra role and Petra in the Karin role. Stay with me here. In this scenario, I see Marlene as a once successful, confident designer who met Petra Von Kant and fell head over heels for her (like Petra did with Karin). Petra bit the bullet and began this lesbian relationship with Marlene, despite not being sure of her feelings. When things went sour, instead of ending it (like Karin would do) Petra stuck around and just chose to treat Marlene like dirt instead, getting "that old feeling" every once in a while, whenever SHE feels like it (the dance they share, for example). Marlene accepts it, because like Petra at the end of the film as it pertains to Karin, she's desperate for any sort of attention Petra would throw at her, even if it's abuse. There's also the chance that Marlene is just a submissive and Petra a dominant and they're in a relationship. No real clues as to what the truth is, but this is an instance where I really don't mind, as I find each explanation so intriguing that picking which one I like the best is more fun than just being told. I guess the sub/dom relationship is the go to explanation and most people cite this as why Marlene leaves in the end, as she sees a weakness in her dominant girlfriend and now can no longer take the abuse (which is a sexual turn on) seriously. And for anyone claiming that Marlene is mute and CAN'T speak, I say "no". Notice a scene where the phone rings, she picks it up and nearly gets out a "hello" before having the receiver yanked from her hand by Petra. A mute would have no reason to even pick up the phone...

What about the Karin character, was she ever really a lesbian? Or are we to assume that she's merely a gold digger, taking Petra's offer for a place to live and a jump start at a modeling career and sacrificing a few "I love you's" in the process, while her husband is away in Sydney? I think so. Karin never wanted a realtionship with Petra at all and when things got a bit too serious on that day - the day Petra donned the red wig - not to mention a phone call from her husband, now ready to reunite, she split without any real emotional attachment. She may have grown to care for her somewhat, which would explain her phone call at the end of the film, but I'd say Karin is more of a gold digger than a lesbian.

The film is really good, but beware that many cite it as very boring too. It's dialogue HEAVY (in fact, it's basically nothing but dialogue) so be prepared to listen to people just talk for a couple of hours. I will say this too, any points I deduct will likely be for the first two sections, which are filled with really less than perfect dialogue. Honestly, Petra and Sidonie's initial interaction could've either been cut way down or spiced way up, as they go on and on for probably nearly thirty minutes and honestly don't say much. It's crucial stuff though, as this is where we learn about Frank, so it's hard to say just take it out. The stuff between Karin and Petra, during their date is also pretty stale, as they spend minutes at a time talking about their school days and how Petra liked Algebra, but Karin just didn't get it and on and on and on. However, things get a lot better after that, as the big argument scene, as well as the birthday stuff are all GREAT, with Margit Carstensen pouring her freakin' heart out all over the screen.

RATING: 7.5/10  See, in a way I want to go higher, but then I remembered those droning dialogue scenes between Petra & Sidonie and Petra & Karin and I just can't help but take some points off. By the way, if Fassbinder really did write this entire film during a plane ride to Hollywood, that's insane! I'm racking my brain trying to figure these characters out & their intentions and for him, it's just busy work between putting on and taking off his seat belt and putting his tray table in its locked and upright position.


August 31, 2014  5:37pm

Saturday, August 30, 2014

655. The Muppet Movie (1979)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: James Frawley
Written By: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl
Main Cast: Jim Henson (voice), Frank Oz (voice), Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Jerry Nelson (voice)
Click here to view the trailer


Feeling reinvigorated on THE BOOK project, I decided to use my day off (extra day off this week because of the Labor Day weekend) to knock out one more movie and move me closer to the "150 to go" mark. And hey, being a kid at heart, my wife even decided to join me for this one! Let's get to it...

I'm assuming you all know who the Muppets are, so I'm not going to go into the whole "Kermit's a frog, Fozzy's a bear" spiel. The film opens in the swamp, Kermit's home where he serenades us with a version of "Rainbow Connection" before a Hollywood agent, out for a stroll in his boat, sways by and informs Kermit that Hollywood is looking for a few good frogs. Kermit isn't interested at first, but when he hears that his entertainment could bring smiles to millions of faces, he's all in. He hits the road on his Schwinn and a few miles down the road, ends up at El Sleezo's Cafe where he meets Fozzy (voiced by Oz). It's also at Sleezo's where he encounters Doc Hopper, a frogs legs restaurant owner who wants Kermit to be his new spokes-frog. Kermit, repulsed by the idea of eating frogs legs, turns him down and the chase is on. Fozzy, feeling put out after having tomatoes thrown at him onstage at El Sleezo's, decides to hit the road with Kermit and make it big in Hollywood too. They jump into Fozzy's uncle's Studebaker and they're off (singing the catchy tune "Movin' Right Along"). All the while, Doc Hopper, along with his nerdy assistant Max (Pendleton) chase them the whole way, Hopper knowing that Kermit would make him millions. Also along the way, the muppet duo encounter several other muppets, whom they take along for the ride, including: Miss Piggy, Gonzo and his wife Camilla (a chicken), Rowlf the Dog and the Electric Mayhem (a band composed of Dr. Teeth, Animal, Zoot, Janice and Floyd Pepper). So to sum it all up, The Muppet Movie is a road movie/musical/comedy and should work fine as a family affair.

Being a Sesame Street junkie as a kid, I kind of got a kick out of this cameo. Really didn't expect Big Bird to show up. 

It makes you wonder about the sexual tendencies of Jim Henson that he had Gonzo married to a chicken, but to each their own I always say! By the way, I'm glad they had Kermit at one point during the film ask himself what Gonzo was anyway, because I've always wondered that myself. This movie isn't particularly terrible, nor is it particularly noteworthy, but does serve the purpose of providing a good ninety minutes worth of mild entertainment and really, there's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure people were going apeshit in 1979, because not only were the beloved Muppets (can't decide whether or not that should be a capitalized word) hitting the big screen, but they were being joined by the likes of Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Telly Savalas, Richard Pryor and Orson Welles - yes ORSON freaking WELLES is in this! I think I'd heard something about that before, but guess I'd always assumed it was archival footage or something like that. But no, he's in there, in the flesh, interacting with a frog and pig puppet. Seriously, what is it about the freaking Muppets that gets celebrities so giddy?! Anybody who's anybody has guest starred on Sesame Street and I'm told that The Muppet Show had a crap load of celeb appearances too. Add to that the fact that they bagged Orson Welles, the actor's actor and that boggles my mind beyond repair....


Anyway, in summation I watched The Muppet Movie and kind of liked it, though wouldn't really recommend it or anything and probably have no desire to watch it again. The songs are catchy, though as one online writer said, the voices kind of kill them and it's the tunes that stick in your head. I can't really add anymore grand insight into this one, as there just isn't much to say. I don't think it really deserved a BOOK spot, but hey, we've crossed that bridge with multiple movies on multiple occasions, so why thump it again.

RATING: 6/10  It's streaming on Netflix if you're interested. I can't see this one impacting the TOP 20 or anything, but it provided my wife and I with a fine Saturday afternoon.


August 30, 2014  7:16pm

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

4 from R.W. - COMING SOON!

248. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Written By: George Bradshaw, Charles Schnee
Main Cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan
Click here to view the trailer


So Netflix seems to have been converting a lot of their "At Home" inventory from "available" to "save", meaning they're listed on the site but not available. In just the past couple weeks I've seen three films on my queue go to save and it's becoming frustrating, as they're obviously coddling their streaming section and letting their DVD business go by the wayside. Anyway, this was one of the movies that went to save, but thankfully TCM aired it last night so I was able to snag it without too much trouble.

The film revolves around Jonathan Shields (Douglas), a slimy and sleazy, yet intelligent and sometimes with good intentions film producer, whom we first hear of when he makes three phone calls. The three calls are to the top director in Hollywood Fred Amiel (Sullivan), Hollywood's leading lady Georgia Lorrison (Turner) and novelist turned script writer James Lee Bartlow (Powell). During each of the three calls, which begin the film, Amiel and Lorrison both ignore the call and Bartlow accepts the call (coming all the way from Paris) simply to tell Shields to "drop dead". Obviously there's bad blood and as the three are summoned to Harry Pebbel's office, they are enlightened as to what Shields wanted. He wants to make one picture with them, to bury the hatchet. All the audience has yet to find out is what are the hatchet's that need burying? We learn from each individual, one by one what their beef is with Shields. We find out that Amiel met Shields when he was a nobody, working for B movie producer Pebbel (Pidgeon) and using his talents to turn him into an Academy Award wielding super producer. A double cross by Shields to Amiel leaves Fred with a bad taste in his mouth and the two part ways, never to speak again. Then there's Lorrison, a drunk and a tramp, the father of a once great Hollywood actor, whom Shields transforms into the starlet of Tinsel Town, yet betrays her for one night of lust with a wannabe actress. And finally, there's the writer, whom Shields talks into coming to Hollywood to wrote a script, only to inadvertently kill his wife. That's plenty of plot synopsis....

Couldn't find any good images for this movie, but here's one that highlights the falling out scene between Douglas and Turner's characters'. The rage that Douglas is able to bring forth here is scary. 

In the few minutes of research I did on this one, I've seen more than one person compare this movie to Sunset Blvd. My question is why? Even THE BOOK notes that this is the best "Hollywood on Hollywood movie" ever made and even that's a slap in the face to the great Sunset Blvd. To me, "Sunset" is almost a horror film - that wretched old mansion, the plotting Erich von Stroheim, that scary as hell "closeup" that Gloria Swanson was so ready for. While I didn't honor "Sunset" with a TOP 20 nod (or even a Ten Worth Mentioning spot) I did add it to a list of BOOK movies that I want to catch up with again someday and I'm not sure I could say the same for The Bad and the Beautiful. This movie, in most ways, was just a movie - no layers, no particularly special qualities that I could see. Sure, Douglas, Turner and basically the entire cast were at the top of their game and sure the story itself was like three stories rolled into one, with each character having their own, unique relationship to the main one, yet I found the film to be ultimately forgettable. I will say it was nice to get back to old time Hollywood though - those opening titles, that music, the glorious black & white, the over the top yet fantastic performances, Lana Turner in beautiful gowns and even the gorgeous Elaine Stewart bathed in shadows atop a staircase, being a minx.

Was it just me or did the Dick Powell story not have as much "oomph" as the other two? With Amiel and Lorrison, you could argue that "yes, Shields did them wrong, but he also made them what they are", while with Bartlow, he was already a success when Shields met him, not to mention the fact that forgiveness was going to come a lot harder, considering Shields was in a way responsible for the death of Bartlow's wife. No, I just didn't take to the Powell story that much at all and while we're at it, I felt that the Lorrison story sort of bogged down the whole production. I was totally onboard with the film right through the Amiel plot line, even picking up on the obvious Val Lewton/Cat People references.

I will say, while I wasn't blown away by the film, I did notice certain devices in play that really struck me as somewhat innovative. The way they had the comment cards start out with "It Stinks", only to reveal that was the only one that said such an insult. The way Douglas kicked off his shoes and gave himself a foot massage in every story. The way they had the Shields' character empahsize how the audiences' imagination was such a pivotal part of the script, during one of Bartlow's rewrites. All of these little touches struck me as interesting and only helped to try and pull me a little further into the story. Only thing is, I wasn't budging for the most part. I didn't hate it or anything, but to me it was just a smidgen above average and ultimately another loss for Kirk Douglas, whom I love, yet can't find a movie of his that I really like.

RATING: 5.5/10  A '6' is probably more suitable, but that also seems a bit high, so we'll drop it a half a notch and call it a review.


August 27, 2014  2:46am

Thursday, August 21, 2014

457. Au Hasard Balthazar/Balthazar (1966)

Running Time: 95 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson
Main Cast: Anne Wiazemsky, Francois Lafarge, Phillippe Asselin, Nathalie Joyaut, Walter Green
Click here to view the trailer

So here's the deal boys & girls, I know I said that I was going to try to make August a heavy work load month as it pertains to THE BOOK, but it's proving more difficult than I thought. The thing is, is that I'm starting to lose some of my passion for this project. Now, don't get me wrong, I have EVERY intention of finishing and I promise, I will not quit. However, at this point, I'm a bit burnt out and even a hiatus isn't going to help. I even hate admitting this publicly, but loyal readers deserve some explanation as to why my posts have been fewer and farther between as of late. Also, as I've mentioned, I've recently been promoted at work and that comes with more work and a bit more stress. By the time nine or ten o'clock rolls around, I'm in no condition to tackle a film. My weekends are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but that's also my wife's weekend and believe it or not, she enjoys spending time with me and I her. Therefore, unless I have a BOOK movie that she's particularly interested in, I have to take time away from her to watch a movie and then write a review, which takes approximately three hours, all total. I have no doubt that my passion for THE BOOK will return, but as far as me finding the time to watch and review, I think for now we'll just have to rely on my weekends and off days hope you guys are content with one, maybe two reviews per week. Now then...


Oy vey. I can't say I'm sad to see Bresson Week come to an end, I can tell you that. I was a huge fan of A Man Escaped, a film which I'm sure will have a prominent spot on my next TOP 20, but other than that I was really let down by Bresson's body of work, at least that which was represented in THE BOOK. Balthazar was no exception...

It seems I've said this often with the Robert Bresson films, but plot wise, there isn't much to tell about this one. The film begins with two children begging their father to buy them a particular baby donkey. The father finally gives in and soon we learn that one of the children is Marie, who loves him very much and treats his as such. She names him Balthazar and at first, the two are inseparable. However, as time goes by, the two take separate paths and soon Balthazar finds himself being handled by a nasty young man named Gerard, who beats him and treats him badly. Later, just as Gerard and company are about to put Balthazar down because he's sicl, an accused murderer offers to take him. The murderer turns into a drifter and claims that life on the road heals Balthazar, who is showing signs of improvement. The accused man treats Balthazar fairly well until one evening when he gets drunk and beats Balthazar, sending him running. The donkey then finds himself in the hands of a circus owner, who puts Balthazar into the show as a "genius donkey", they treat him well too, but kick him out when he causes a ruckus. Meanwhile, Marie is also trying to find her place in life and actually begins a relationship with Gerard, who actually treats her in a similar way that he treated Balthazar. Throughout the film, the lives of both Balthazar and Marie run parallel as the two are examples of purity and innocence.

I'm not knocking anyone's taste, but to people really like this movie? I ask because I've read such gleaming things that have been said about it, but how much of that is just movie critics trying to earn their stripes by liking what they SHOULD like. I didn't HATE the film, by any means, but it certainly wasn't anything to get all bunched up about, that's for sure. It was a symbolic film and those are really hit & miss with me. On one hand, symbolism in filmmaking can be superb and something to really dissect and debate about, while on the other hand it can become a bit too self gratifying by the director and ultimately a bit too hoity-toity. Did you ever see that Seinfeld where Jerry is given the task of recording bootleg movies by one of Kramer's criminal friends? He gets really into it, not unlike a director in a director's chair and when he has to contract Kramer to go out and shoot one for him, he scolds him for doing it wrong: "....the bread symbolizes his soul, he's trying to buy back a piece of his soul...". That line kept coming to me as I was watching this film. The donkey stood for purity, Marie stood for innocence and everyone who had possession of Balthazar stood for humanity and how they'd treat purity and innocence when it was presented to them. Ugh...get over yourself Mr. Bresson!

Are we meant to assume that Marie is raped in this scene? I mean, that would be the ultimate stripping of her purity, yet it's never made clear, probably because it was at a time when you just couldn't outright say whether she had been or not. Great visual by the way - stripped, cowering: a totally broken spirit. 

There was really no plot to speak of, at least not one that I wanted anything to do with and when it came time for FIN, I was so ready. Again, we have the same Bresson problem presenting itself again, as we're severely lacking in the dialogue department. I'm such a fan of good dialogue, that it's an unforgivable sin with me and a hard one to overlook. Don't get me wrong, the film lingered somewhere around the average marker with the little semblance of a plot that there was and the definite emotional qualities. There's one scene where the we go from Balthazar as a baby, with Marie and being very cared for and very happy immediately to a scene where he has a bar in his mouth and being forced to pull a heavy load, being whipped by his new owner. It's a heart wrenching scene. Of course, it's only donkey, so one has to wonder if we as humans are just misinterpreting everything. I mean, aren't donkeys meant to be worked, meant to be farm hands? Perhaps all of his ruckus and snorting are just him being a donkey and we as compassionate humans interpret it as having to feel sorry for him. I mean, shouldn't Marie have been the ultimate symbol of purity since she's actually a human and we know that humans have emotions? And yet, she's more of an after thought when compared to the screen time that Balthazar gets. Or maybe I'm just a cold hearted monster and Balthazar would've rather been being brushed by Marie and playing hide & seek in a big pile of straw, who knows.

RATING: 5/10  Call it right down the middle, although I'm probably being overly generous and I'm sure that will go lower with time.


1. A Man Escaped
2. Pickpocket
3. L'Argent
4. Diary of a Country Priest
5. Au Hasard Balthazar

Nothing dropped below average (except Diary of a Country Priest, which I'd raise a notch since my initial 4.5/10), yet I'm still glad to be done with Robert Bresson. His films were tedious, yet meaningful and while I was able to acknowledge most of them as at least good, they were still difficult viewings. All in all, I don't think I'll particularly seek out anymore of Bresson's catalog, nor would protest if someone were to recommend another.


August 21, 2014  5:12pm

Saturday, August 16, 2014

700. L'Argent/Money (1983)

Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson, from the short story Faux billet by Leo Tolstoy
Main Cast: Christian Patey, Vincent Risterucci, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van den Elsen, Michel Briguet
Click here to view the trailer


So I watched this on Thursday morning and am FINALLY getting here to write the review. I ended up spending the rest of Thursday hanging out with my wife, watching Oz and such and then came down with a pretty nasty migraine on Friday, so was in no shape for staring at laptop screens and trying to mesh together sentences. This is definitely the longest I've ever waited in between viewing and reviewing, so bear with me if I'm sketchy with my thoughts.

The film begins with a student entering his father's study to collect his weekly allowance. He tries to get a few more dollars out of him that what he normally is given, but is promptly shot down. When he goes to bitch about the insufficient funds to his school chum, the chum slips him forged note and tells him the difference is negligible. He passes the forged note in a photo shop when purchasing a frame and we're done with them. Sticking with the photo shop crew, however, the one who accepted the note is reprimanded for taking it, but bounces back by reminding the owner that he accepted two only the week prior. The owner decides to take matters into his own hands and just pass the notes along to some other unsuspecting rube. The rube comes in the form of a plumber, Yvon (Patey) who does some work at the photo shop and is paid with the three forged notes that the shop has accepted in the past week. The plumber is none the wiser and goes along his merry way, stopping by a restaurant to grab some lunch. When he tries to pass the notes along, however, the restaurant owner spots them as forges and declines them, phoning the police in the process. Yvon is eventually released by the authorities, but is fired from his job. Now, needing money, Yvon goes to a friend for help. The friend can't give Yvon any dough, but tells him of plans to rob a bank and offers him a spot as the getaway driver with a dividend to be paid to Yvon if they're successful - he accepts. Basically it turns into a whole snowball effect from this point on and I've probably said too much already.


For those of you who stuck with me past the break, let's keep going. I realize you already know the rest of the plot if you've decided to read past "SPOILER ALERT", but I want to make a point, so bear with me. So the bank robbery turns out to be unsuccessful, Yvon is caught by police and put in prison for his crimes. While in prison, his wife writes him and tells him that she's taking their child and moving on with her life and that she'll be Splitsville by the time he's released. He basically stumbles into a depression (and for good reason) until he's released. Upon his release he stalks an elderly woman, whom he notices outside the bank, stuffing many large bills into her handbag, follows her home and before he can knock her off, is taken by her kindness. She offers him something to eat and a place to stay and for a while, the two get along. It all ends up, however, with him axing her and her entire family while they sleep, going back into town (the woman lived out in the boonies), finding a police officer, confessing and being re-arrested. So my point is, I was with this movie right up until the point that he killed the woman and her family. The film was telling a pretty basic concept: look at what this one forged note did to this poor, unsuspecting man's life. He loses his job, loses his family, loses his freedom, loses everything and all because this spoiled, punk kid didn't have a few more dollars in his pocket. It all made sense and despite it's outrageous lack of dialogue, wasn't a bad little film. Then we go to the murder angle and it kind of all falls apart. Yvon having anything to do with the elderly woman, let along murdering her, is something he has control of, unlike the jailing and the loss of his family which were completely out of his control. I mean, did the guy just go so completely mad from being locked up for this amount of time that he felt the need to kill? Or am I just totally missing one of Bresson's little hidden messages, symbols or meanings? Probably the latter. Either way, it was kind of a goofy second half and it really took me out of the movie.

And what about the spectacular problem Bresson has with dialogue interaction between his characters? The characters in this film were so quiet that they barely had any personality and could barely be called characters - I'd rather call them place holders for the plot to unfold. In earlier films (the ones I watched last week) Bresson would use narration as a way to get his thoughts across, but in L'Argent, there is no narration and thus, for a lot of the movie, we're left to simply view actions as opposed to listening to interactions. I'm such a dialogue junkie when it comes to movies that I find it really hard to get into his movies with this complete lack of character exchanges. It was one thing when it was narration, because at least that's something and he wrote it really well. But in L'Argent, there's a lot of dead air and I found my mind wondering a few times. The plot was decent enough, however, that I found it relatively easy to bring my concentration back to the picture and all in all it wasn't a bad day at the movies. Had there been a lot more dialogue and a better explanation as to why Yvon took the path he did, post-jail, then this could've been a big time contender for the next TOP 20. As it is call it an unlikely contender for the Ten Worth Mentioning.

RATING: 6.5/10  I probably COULD go '7' if I was feeling a bit more generous, but '6.5' seems more proper. One Bresson picture left in THE BOOK, which I hope to tackle tomorrow night - Balthazar.


August 16. 2014  10:47pm

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

509. Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Bob Rafelson
Written By: Carole Eastman, Bob Rafelson
Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Lois Smith, Ralph Waite
Click here to view the trailer

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of Robin Williams. I was never a huge fan of the comedian, but was still shocked and saddened to hear about his death. I can still remember being young and buying Mrs. Doubtfire when it was released on VHS. I bought it from a local supermarket that used to rent and sell tapes and remember bringing it home and watching it several times in the span of just a few days. To this day, my father will still watch the movie if he comes across it on TV. Anyway, he wasn't really my cup of tea when it came to comedy, but there were times, usually in films, when he really made me laugh. The thing that I'll remember him for though is his dramatic turns in films like Insomnia and One Hour Photo. There was something particularly creepy about Williams when he was asked to play a bad guy. Probably because we knew he wasn't really a bad guy and when he pretended to be, it made him all the more dastardly. Rest well Mr. Williams, I hope you've found the peace you were looking for. 


I was doing so well too. I managed to stay up one work night and watch a movie, while I stayed up the following work night and wrote a review. Then my eyelids just couldn't take it anymore and the following three nights of my work week didn't go as planned and I got nothing accomplished. Oh well, I'm back now so let's not dawdle.

Jack Nicholson stars as Robert Dupea, an ex pianist who has traded in his privileged life to lead a blue collar one, taking residence in a trailer park with dim witted, waitress girlfriend Rayette (Black) and holding down a job working on an oil rig. He does the sorts of things that a lot of blue collars did during this time period - heads home after work to enjoy a bottle of beer and maybe a game or two of bowling with another couple and then back to the trailer park to relax while the girlfriend blares Tammy Wynette tunes (D-I-V-O-R-C-E and Stand By Your Man). When Robert learns from his sister Partita (Smith) that their father is ill, he decides to return home to Washington state, to the family and life that he abandoned so many years ago. After a tiff with Rayette about his leaving, he reluctantly invites her to tag along and she accepts. Along the way, the two meet up with two women who have wrecked their car and are headed for Alaska, whom they give a lift. This is also the point in the film where the famous "hold it between your knees" line comes in. Eventually the two make it to their destination and Robert asks (demands) Rayette stay holed up in a motel while he goes and feels out how things are at his former home. Once there, he finds that his father, having suffered two strokes, is basically a vegetable who can't communicate and probably doesn't even recognize Robert. In the meantime, he basically forgets about Rayette and becomes infatuated with Catherine (Anspach), a pianist who is engaged to his brother Carl (Waite). The two end up having an affair, right before Rayette takes it upon herself to arrive at the house - much to Robert's disapproval. 


By the way, if you're married, be careful of the Tammy Wynette song D-I-V-O-R-C-E, as it is a contagious song that you might find yourself singing following the viewing of this movie. You wouldn't want your spouse thinking you're trying to drop them any hints. Seriously though, this is a really great movie produced at a time when so many talented people were making their names in Hollywood. Believe it or not, this is actually Nicholson's first starring role, notes THE BOOK, following his successful supporting job in Easy Rider. I loved Nicholson in this, as he proves that he's not just a name, he's a talent. It's a shame that at 77 years old, he's basically retired as an actor - his last film being some James L. Brooks venture that I hadn't even heard of until I looked it up a moment ago and prior to that The Bucket List, which I didn't care for at all. Anyway, he's great in this, realizing just who this character is and bringing just the right amount of snark to the role. Here we have a man who can't seem to fit in, like that last remaining puzzle piece that just doesn't have the right edges. We start the film with him already having run away from one life and we end the film with him running away from another.

I must note that I love the ending of this movie. I watched this with my wife and at the end, she noted how she couldn't blame him for leaving, that he'd obviously had it with Rayette - who wouldn't shut up and stop irritating him. Nicholson conveys that irritation so effectively, making me feel his frustrations and disappointment with his current life. We observe him throughout the film TRYING so hard to just make it work, but often slipping, yelling at Rayette and then trying to make it right again.

This is a real slice of life picture and has aged really well. It's just about a man trying to find his way, a very simple picture that I think is really easy to enjoy. I had seen this film once before and remembered liking it very well. I was coming off of a pretty vicious headache today and needed something that wasn't going to require a lot of thought and this was just what the doctor ordered, although in the end, I did find myself pondering this character quite a bit, so perhaps my plan backfired. Oh well. It was a fine day at the movies, one that both my wife and I enjoyed and this comes with an easy recommendation. 

RATING: 8/10  I'll get back to Bresson Week next, but I needed something to easy today, like I said. 


Note: I've decided to drop the monthly recap, as I'm having trouble finding the time to watch movies let alone finding the time to do the RECAP. I had a good run, going nearly four years with it, but in all honesty it's kind of a pointless article, as most of my opinions never change that drastically anyway and now that I have the Letterboxd account, you can always stay up to date on anything NON-BOOK that I'm watching. 

August 13, 2014  7:32pm

Friday, August 8, 2014

305. Un condamne a mort s'est echappe ou Le vent souffle ou il veut/A Man Escaped (1956)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson, from memoir by Andre Devigny
Main Cast: Francois Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Roland Monod, Maurice Beerblock, Jacques Ertaud
Click here to view the trailer


Hey, what do ya' know - I was able to keep my eyes open long enough tonight to swing in and pound out the review for A Man Escaped, the third in a five film salute to Robert Bresson. Being a prison escape movie, this was a shoo in to be a hit with me and it didn't disappoint.

Not a whole lot to tell, plot wise, as the film is a minimalist fans' wet dream, as we're treated to a collection of shots featuring our main character in his cell, chipping away and plotting escape plans. The whole thing takes place in a Nazi prison camp, smack dab in the middle of WWII. We start out with prisoner Fontaine (Leterrier) being transported, via car, to the camp. He eases his hand closer and closer to the door handle and at the opportune time (or what he thinks is an opportune time) he lifts the latch and makes a run for it. He's swiftly caught and taken to the camp, where he's treated to a small, concrete cell, only a few feet by a few feet. He's called courage incarnate and immediately starts trying to come up with ways to escape his captors. He makes friends with a few fellow prisoners, some of whom he can see from his window when they walk the courtyard, others by tapping adjoining walls and communicating through those taps. Eventually, he's transported to a different cell and it's there where he sees major opportunity for escape, noticing that the door to his cell (a wooden door composed of several slats) could be easily dismantled and slipped through, probably even in a way where it could go unnoticed while he worked on it. He begins his project, stealing a spoon and turning it into a chisel by sanding it down against the concrete floor of his cell. He uses the chisel to grind away at the creases between the wooden door slats and slip them out of place. It takes months, but at least knowing he'll soon be free is incentive to keep going


It probably didn't hurt that my wife and I are still truckin' away on Oz, therefore I've been all hopped up on prison fiction anyway. However I'm such a sucker for prison stuff that it never takes much anyway to win me over. Add to that the fact that I'm an even bigger sucker for escape flicks and this one was a sure fire winner right out of the gate. I have to admit though, that after watching those first two Bresson films, I was a little skeptical. Sure Pickpocket was just fine, but Diary of a Country Priest was downright dull and there was always the chance that Bresson could go extra dull for this one. I'm for minimalist filmmaking however and this was almost as minimal as it gets: unprofessional actors, more narration than actual character to character dialogue and long shots of simply the main character trying to spoon his way out of a solid concrete Nazi prison camp. Sure, it's no Le Trou, which gets even more intricate when it comes to elaborate escape plans, but it was a damn good movie and one that I'd be willing to watch over and over again.

I will say however that the whole "this story has been told exactly as it happened" thing kind of came back to bite them on the butt, don't you think? I mean, hey, I'm all for sticking to the source material, but if ever there was a time to get just a touch creative with a little dramatization, I think it would've worked wonders here and turned this '8/10' into an EASY '10/10'. The book cites suspense rivaling that of Hitchcock, yet the only time I was really edge of my seat, in a Hitchcockian state was 1) when he was filing against the door and it was making that nails on a chalkboard sound and 2) during the actual escape. Other than that, we're pretty much given enough clues to know that he's not going to get caught and it's pretty much established that if he does, he'll get shot on the spot, thus leaving us sans main character. A little injection of suspense here and there - just a touch more - could've done this movie well. I also wasn't crazy about the inclusion of the roommate. Those who read my Treasure of the Sierra Madre review will recall my disapproval when extra characters are introduced, outside of the original three and it was the same thing here, only moreso. They had us stuck in a room with Fontaine for OVER an hour and then popped some other guy on us. I took it as an intrusion between myself and the character of Fontaine and I didn't want to be intruded on. Is that crazy or does that make sense to you all?

There was also just too much time between the time Fontaine finished making all of his hooks and ropes and the actual escape. There's like a twenty minute gap where he shoots the shit with his new cell mate and internally struggles with the decision to tell him about the escape plan or kill him. I wish they could've wrapped that up a bit quicker. I found it unbelievable that this guy who took so many risks in establishing his escape plan would then decide that he didn't want to do it right away - always putting it off until the next night and then the next. Of course, if that's how it actually went down, then what can you say, but again I say a spoonful of dramatization could've only help,

Anyway I'm just picking on something that I really liked - you know the old saying, "Why do we always hurt the ones we love"? Well it also applies to movies. I'm always a bit harder on things I liked because I'm more able to see the possibilities. With films I hated, I'm blind to the possibilities because I just don't care. This is a top notch prison escape movie and one that both Bresson fans and those who are strangers to Bresson will love, I'm sure. Just remember, the film DEMANDS a patient viewer.

RATING: 8.5/10  I can't go whole hog because of the reasons I mentioned, but still damn good and an easy contender for the TOP 20. I was literally falling asleep at the desk there a few times, so if there's a lot of typos or things that don't make sense, forgive me.


August 8. 2014  10:44pm

Thursday, August 7, 2014


It's nearly that time of year again when I have a desire to try and spook myself along with the rest of the world. Last year, I turned to you, the readers of the blog, to help me out with a few suggestions to accompany my own movies. Remember, this has nothing to do with THE BOOK, as I've pretty much dried up all of the horrors from there and now take the opportunity ever year to write about some NON-BOOK stuff. I have a few ideas of my own, including a possible SIN OF OMISSION, but I like to mix it up a little and see some stuff that you guys suggest.

Here's what I'm thinking so far and remember, nothing is set in stone yet.

*Graveyard Shift
*The Amityville Horror (original)
*When a Stranger Calls (original)

That's really it. I'm open to any and all suggestions, so let them fly. I'd prefer to keep it to stuff that I've never seen, but if someone has a deep desire to see me review something that I've already seen (which I doubt) then I'll gladly make exceptions. Of course, you guys won't necessarily know what I have and haven't seen, so that really doesn't matter anyway. If you want to throw some horrors a me, just leave a comment below. I only ask that they be horror films or at least thrillers/suspense - something that would work well with Halloween, which is when FRIGHTFEST will take place.


August 7, 2014  8:52pm

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

238. Journal d'un cure de campagne/Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson, from novel by Georges Bernanos
Main Cast: Claude Laydu, Jean Riveyre, Adrien Borel, Rachel Berendt, Nicole Maurey
Click here to view the trailer


I made the decision today that August is going to be a boom month for the blog. I've been really slacking since my return - sure I've been promoted at work, which means a bit more stress, but honestly the work load isn't that much more than what I used to deal with when banging out twenty - thirty reviews a month. Of course, I can only do what my eyelids will allow and my primetime to bang out watching movies/writing reviews is after my wife goes to bed, which usually isn't until like 9:30 - 10:00. Since I'm in bed by midnight, that gives me about two hours a night to get crackin'. Hopefully I can start making some serious progress...Anyway, BRESSON WEEK rolls on with Diary of a Country Priest.

If you've ever heard Scorsese give an in-depth interview, then you've probably heard him talk about this movie, which he's said has had a major impact on Taxi Driver. I really don't see the connection between the two films, but if this film had something to do with that masterpiece, then that pretty much automatically makes it a "must see", doesn't it? The film takes place in the country (imagine that) and picks up when a priest (Laydu) arrives at his new parish in the small village of Ambricourt. We get most of the information we need from his journal entries and learn right away that he's ill - constantly scrawling in his diary complaints of a sometimes unbearable stomach ache. He notes that the only thing he can eat that doesn't further upset his stomach is pieces of bread soaked in wine. During the days he teaches an all girl class the ins and outs of Catholicism and quizzes them on things like the Eucharist and sometimes he travels to a nearby town of Torcy to visit with another, older priest. After a while, he builds a relationship with a family, who's Countess has lost her faith in God following the death of her young son. During a rabid conversation, a back and forth, the priest finally makes the Countess see the error of her thinking and restores her faith - a victory for the priest who has had nothing but troubles and self doubt since arriving in the country. The following night, the Countess dies, sending the priest whirling back into a sort of depression.


What is it with these agnostic directors who feel the need to constantly explore religion, even though they're famous for having nothing to do with religion in their personal lives? I mean, if I were an atheist and a filmmaker too, I certainly wouldn't be making films about Catholic priests and such. However, I am kind of a sucker for the faithless priest storyline (which is best told by an atheist - see Winter Light) yet that's not exactly what this is. Sure, the priest of Ambricourt has his moments of self doubt, but it's never really established as to whether he completely loses his faith or only falters - there's no clues to 100% confirm either hypothesis. I started out kind of liking this one: a priest arrives in the country to take the reigns of a new parish. We're getting tons of narration, which is superbly written (be it from the source material or an addendum from Bresson) and perfectly spoken by Laydu. I seem to recall speaking negatively recently about excessive narration (in fact, I believe it was with a Scorsese picture. Is this where he got his penchant for narration - from Bresson?), however with Bresson, he really makes the narration work better than if the actors were actually speaking. In fact, with Diary of a Country Priest I looked forward to the narration parts and after a while, began to dread the scenes that required actual acting. Not that the acting was bad, though.

I was with this one right up until about the forty minute mark and then I started to slip out from between it's grasp. I just lost touch with all of the characters and realized that the story had really gone as far as it was going to go. I mean, nothing REALLY happens, does it? We're just given this priest who spends his final days on this countryside, being the best that he can be and speaking his last words - "What does it matter - all is grace". What does that mean? Did he finally realize with his dying breath that God doesn't exist or that it doesn't matter if he exists or doesn't exist? "It doesn't matter if he exists or not, all is grace either way"? Perhaps or perhaps I'm way off - who knows. I can say, I really didn't have enough of an attachment to the movie to start making guesses as to what the final lines mean, just like I don't have enough of an attachment to Citizen Kane to make guesses as to what Rosebud means, same thing. I tried really hard with this one and I wanted to like it, I really did. Ultimately, however, I just slipped away and at a certain point, the film lost me and I can't even go so far as to call it average.

RATING: 4.5/10  Here's hoping that "A Man Escaped" is everything I want it to be and blows both this and Pickpocket out of the water. Why do I have this feeling that I'm going to get burned, though?


August 6, 2014  10:50pm

350. PICKPOCKET (1959)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson
Main Cast: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Jean Pelegri, Dolly Scal, Pierre Leymarie
Click here to view the trailer


I have to say, I've been looking forward to these Robert Bresson films for a while now. I've always heard great things about Pickpocket and have even heard Martin Scorsese gush about Diary of a Country Priest. The other day, however, I was warned by Ray (frequent commenter) that these films are not so easy and to be cautious when dealing with Bresson. I'll tread lightly, in hopes that at least one of them wows me. For the record, I'll be moving in random order, instead of the usual chronological order. First up: Pickpocket.

The title pretty much outlines the plot synopsis as the movie is basically just about a street thief who gets his jollies slipping his sticky fingers into the suit coat pockets' of unsuspecting strangers. Our title pickpocket is Michel (LaSalle), whom we first meet at a race track, his story being told via narration as he writes his memoirs. At the track, Michel slowly and sneakily slides his fingers into the purse of unsuspecting, seemingly upper class woman and rids her of a bundle of cash. He's almost immediately caught, but with no eyewitnesses and no proof, he's released. We follow him to his meager room - a small, barely livable space with only a small hook and eye latch to keep the door from swinging open. We also follow him as he visits his mother, but decides not to actually enter her apartment for reasons unknown to us at the time. Instead he meets with a neighbor and caretaker of his ailing mother, Jeanne (Green), who wants him to visit her but he refuses. Meanwhile, Michel meets up with a more skilled pickpocket who teaches him even more tricks, while the two share time at a local bar - a place where Michel will learn most of his tricks. The two begin to work together, pulling off more intricate, two man jobs and even adding a third man later to up the ante and pull off even cleverly crafted heists. All the while, Michel has a little on again/off again relationship with the chief inspector of police, who suspects Michel of foul play, but can't prove him of any wrongdoing. The two are cordial, even though they realize that they are each other's enemy.


I'll start by talking about the scenes depicting the actual pickpocketing, which even THE BOOK notes are unlike any thievery scene ever filmed. It's truly amazing how intricate these scenes are and how Bresson was able to capture such excitement in these scenes. Is it true that the second pickpocket Michel meets at the bar was actually a magician or something, who also served as an advisor on the film, showing the filmmakers how to actually do these jobs? It seems that they'd have to have SOMEBODY on set to show them just how to make this stuff look genuine. What I didn't like about the movie is how we're never allowed to get very close to the character of Michel, the main character no less. We're given a man who seems conflicted from the start, yet we're always in the dark about exactly what troubles him. It's as if we're simply being told a story, not given a change to study the characters. I supposed you could say that the Michel character is ripe for examination, yet I say he's almost an enigma. He steals to what end? Not necessarily because he needs the money, but more for the thrill - like why a heroine addict shoots up; perhaps he's addicted to it. Perhaps he needs to feel important, like he has a purpose. Perhaps his connection to the chief inspector is one that he values more than he realizes. Maybe in his mind, as long as he's at large he's wanted by the police and maybe that feeling of being wanted by SOMEONE drives him to continue his pickpocketing. That could even explain why the film ends with him in prison, embracing Jeanne - because now he's wanted by her and no longer needs to be a theif, to be at large. Now he can be addicted to Jeanne, now his life has another purpose, yet it's too late for him, as he's no incarcerated with no hope of having a proper life with Jeanne. Okay, maybe I'm totally off base about this character being stale and maybe he IS ripe for studying.

I wasn't crazy about the movie or anything and found that when we weren't seeing the scenes depicting the pickpocketing, I was bored. I was fascinated by the sleight of hand, by the suspense of watching Michel face to face with some unsuspecting rube who was about to lose his dough. It was all so great that when we had to jump back and see Michel interacting with Jacques or Jeanne or even the scene where he visits his mother, I found myself not really caring about any of that. I wish there could've been a little more done to make those scenes more exciting and prevalent to the overall story. I found myself just watching a movie about a thief and neglecting the story about the man who was the thief and maybe that's my own fault. I would say that it was a better than average outing and really close to being something special, but falling short by just a little bit. Perhaps another day and another viewing would do this picture better, but for now call it a mild thumbs up.

RATING: 6.5/10  Just a little bit more and I could've nudged it into that upper echelon of ratings, which is a '7' or higher. Close but no cigar, but not a bad start for Bresson.


August 6, 2014  1:35am

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #69: Re-Animator (1985)

Running Time: 105 minutes Directed By: Stuart Gordon Written By: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story Her...