Films I Watched - July 6 to July 31, 2002
- 7/29 - M (1931) - The age and subtle craft of this film may keep a viewer from realizing just what a genius Fritz Lang really was. For those paying attention, however, note the incredibly long and agile tracking shot that roams about the beggars, soars upwards, and actually travels through a window a whopping ten years before Citizen Kane did nearly the exact same trick more famously. You probably won't pick up on this at first, however. Lang isn't really interested in convincing you that he is one of the greatest directors ever (which he is, perhaps even greater than the terrific but over-rated Hitchcock), but in telling a story. Yes, the M in the story stands for murder, but it could also stand for madness, the madness of an individual and the madness of a mob. If Day of Wrath (see below) in part bristled against the iron hand of Nazi rule, this film, lensed in an early-30s Germany, certainly hints how that hand found its fingerhold around an entire nation of people. This film has so much to say; that it says it all within a gripping proto-noir thriller is even more amazing. A flat-out masterpiece today just as it was in 31, when talking films like this were still newborn. In fact, realize this arrived the same year as Chaplin's City Lights, Browning's Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and this becomes perhaps even more amazing.
- 7/28 - Moulin Rouge (2001) - When I first watched this, I was overwhelmed by the sheer musical extravaganza, the splashed about but very real emotions of this film, and something would have been wrong had I not been. A second viewing, however, gave me a greater appreciation of the amazing, meticulous craft that created this joy. Considering the nominess, this was probably robbed of the Oscar last year. No fear - a few years, and no one will be watching A Beautiful Mind. Moulin Rouge, however, will be watched and loved for quite some time. I'd say more, but I already have. See my best of 2001 list. I still feel very comfortable with this second only to Mulholland Drive as the best for its year.
- 7/26 - No Such Thing (2001) - Even Homer nodded, and even Hal Hartley doesn't bat a thousand. Sad to report, but this may be his weakest film yet. Sure, there is much here that intrigues and stimulates, but the film is incoherent and diffuse in a way Hal only hinted at in Henry Fool. Some great dialogue and some clever if in-your-face media satire lingers sweet, but the entire first act never really justifies itself, and many of Hartley's unique touches simply do not surface here. Instead, we do get a mesmerizing finale that nearly could have been borrowed from the end of Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. That ending couldn't save Lynch's film, andcoming 100 minutes into the film, it doesn't redeem Hal'e either. If you're really interested in Hal Hartley (and you really should be), start with Amateur, Trust, and Simple Men, and save this for later. Or never.
- 7/25 - Day of Wrath (1943) - Increasingly, Carl Theodor Dreyer's post-silent films have been carving quite a reputation out for themselves with the cinema intelligentia. I, obviously not a member of that group, haven't really investigated these films yet. However, I recently noticed my local library has all of these films on DVD, so hopefully this is a hole in my viewing history I will be plugging soon. Day of Wrath is a very, very good film. It is very slowly paced, and it is very depressing, with horror slowly smoldering in the background like a fever that will not break. In fact, the film ends before it does, and perhaps because of that lack of release, I believe this film tends to stay with the viewer long after the disc is finished. For my money, this still doesn't top Dreyer's terrific Passion of Joan of Arc, but that hardly means it isn't worth watching. In fact, it has quite a bit to offer, and there is a warning about over-stiffled societies lurking here that must have screamed loud and clear when this film was released in a Nazi-occupied Denmark. There was a good reason Dreyer high-tailed it to Sweden when he finished this film.
- 7/24 - Brief Encounter (1945) - Boy, this list makes me seem like a cheerleader, but I am batting one hell of an average lately. Simply put, this is the only film to rival Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on The River Kwai as David Lean's best film. In fact, that one director can have three brilliant films in battle for that top slot is astounding; that this film can compete with two grand epics by being something of an anti-epic blows the mind. This is a small film about small people who believe they are quite content in their small lives. A chance encounter between two married people convinces them otherwise. In some ways, this strikes me as the English response to the neo-realism of Italian films such as The Bicycle Thief, but of course, this is a trick. This film actually came out the same year as the seminal Italian film, Rome Open City. Perhaps something about World War II set people up for more stripped-down realism and fewer contrived happy endings; hell, even Hollywood gave us The Best Years of Our Lives. I'm not sure, but this film may even top that. It is *that* good. The acting, the restrained direction, the perfectly constructed story - this may be far from an epic, but all of Lean's touches that made his epics classic are in full flower here. Love is rather unique - we love it even as it often makes us miserable. This films won't make you miserable, but you are sure to love it all the same..
- 7/20 - My Man Godfrey (1936) - This is the only screwball comedy I have seen that can give Bringing Up Baby a run for its money. Oddly enough, this particular 'screwball' comedy also has quite a bit to say about the social conditions of the depression, and this slight tinge of social critique is perhaps a bit strong for most films of the genres. Not that you'd notice, of course. You are more likely to be drawn aloft by the terrific comedy, including the divinely bullfrogged Eugene Pallette and the terrifically ditzy Alice Brady. Romance also is creeping around the punchlines, and I fell in love with Carole Lombard after seeing her glow throughout this film. Powell is the coolest man ever to wear a mustache on screen (sorry, Mr. Gable), and earned the right to be one of the very few actors to compete against himself come Oscar time. (He was nominated for best actor for My Man Godfrey, but he was also the star of The Great Ziegfeld, which won Best Picture that same year). In fact, if my memory serves me well, this is the first film to be nominated for best director (Gregory La Cava) and all four of the acting categories (William Powell - Actor; Carole Lombard - Actress; Mischa Auer - Supporting Actor; Alice Brady - Supporting Actress). Sadly, I believe it lost in every category, while the inferior Ziegfeld raked them in. Why time seems to have passed this film by is a mystery, but if you are smart, you will not make the same mistake. One of the greatest comedies ever filmed, and you get to see a marvelous monkey man to boot!
- 7/17 - Wonder Boys (2000) - I think this is probably as much of a screwball comedy as Hartley's Amateur is an action film. Both have many of the plot points of the genres, but both have been deliberately deflated in an attempt to create something new and different for our times. To these eyes, both work, though I wouldn't put Wonder Boys in the same category as Hal's masterpiece. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I enjoyed this one quite as much as many on this board, but I did dig it. A great cast, lead by Michael Douglas' best performance in some time, clicks into a well-written script with adequate direction, and the result is a good film worth a watch. Anyone who has hung out around the upper regions of academia will surely recognize much of the coloring in this picture.
- 7/14 - The Survivors (1983) - This Michael Ritchie-directed Robin Williams and Walter Matthau film has several laughs, but not nearly enough to justify its 100-minute running time. The film starts much stronger than it ends but cannot manage to weave its several different types of comedy into a coherent whole. Then the ending arrives, and stays, and stays, and... well, you get the idea. Throw in at least two minor characters with absolutely no purpose whatsoever, and one's time starts to protest the abuse. I frankly wouldn't recommend this, but the film certainly does have its fans.
- 7/13 - Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) - Another library loan. This early Peter Weir film was both a good film and a slight disappointment. I've heard this was Weir's masterpiece. I blush to say that, to these eyes, The Truman Show was better than this film, and possibly The Year of Living Dangerously as well. Still, an intriguing film with an engrossing mystery. If Weir's commentary on imperialism and civilization vs. primal energy is a bit obvious and labored, at least he relies on his story to speak his mind and never dips to straight-out preaching. A very interesting film, and the Criterion DVD is every bit as excellent as you would expect it to be - a good thing, since the audio sound effects tell much of the tale here.
- 7/13 - Amelie (2001) - My wife hadn't seen this yet, so I got to catch this delight again. Nothing much to add to what I've already typed at this site before, except to note that this joyous film certainly holds up to a second viewing.
- 7/12 - About a Boy (2002) - Somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed this film. Hugh Grant is quite fun as a stunted man whose fake charm is a smokescreen to his shallow selfishness. The young boy he becomes involved in is, of course, cute as can be, and the relationship is much less cliched than I expected (heck, it even fooled me in places). Throw in some humor and fun visual stylings, and you have a perfectly fine way to spend a buck on a Friday evening. I never expected a film this intelligently funny from the Weitzs, but I do love a surprise. Hardly a masterpiece, but frankly, the best 2002 film I've seen so far. Of course, I've yet to catch Minority Report...
- 7/9 - The Bicycle Thief (1948) - My library has a fantastic DVD section! I have seen this film in bits and pieces over the years, and that's a damn shame. As a whole, The Bicycle Thief has a magical way of tossing you into the Italy of the 1940s that disolves in excerpts. This is a precious, beautiful film that will break your heart. The non-actors playing the lead roles of a out-of-luck father and his son are impressive, but the directing is the star here. As the father searches for his stolen bicycle (without which he will lose his new job), the city grows around him while he shrinks. He is lost, and desperation swells as he stumbles on. The world is not just, and in the end, the boy has to grow up much faster than any young person ever should have to. I know this film has the daunting 'classic' label, I know it is old, I know it is foreign, and I know it bears that discouraging 'neo-realism' tag, but people, this really is a great film, and the DVD print is terrific with only an occasional 'pop' around scene cuts to distract. See immediately unless you're the type that finds Citizen Kane too slow and boring.
- 7/6 - Love Affair (1939) - My local PBS station was showing this around 1 AM. I was unable to read or to sleep due to unfocused nerves sprouting from a nic fit, so I decided to tune in. Honestly, I was rather surprised to enjoy this film, as I am not a fan of either of its remakes (An Affair to Remember and 94's Love Affair), but for this most part, this film has what it takes to pull this sort of romantic fantasy off. Rather than rushing matters, this film starts off rather breezy with throw-away laughlines nearly worthy of a screwball comedy. A atmospheric, beautiful middle section soars. Then, the ending... Sure, it takes a bit of a dip here, pushing the melodrama a tad too thick, but by this point, you're willing to give it some slack. So, three different moods and tones snuggle into one film with a running time of under an hour and a half, and two solid performances from Charles Boyer (as worthy of his screen Cassanova reputation as ever) and Irene Dunne (good, if not quite as excellent and entrancing as in My Favorite Wife) also squeeze in there. Oh yeah, it is also one of the most influential romance films EVER, with fingerprints not only on its remakes but smeared all over Sleepless in Seattle as well. If it is not a masterpiece, it is certainly worth 80 or so minutes of one's time, especially for that hypnotic, gorgeous stopover midfilm to visit Granny. Really.
Everybody else is doing it, so why can't I? I do not see nearly as many films as some here, especially since I no longer have satellite television (and thus, tragically, no more TCM... -sniff-) and a tighter budget is limiting my DVD rentals. Plus, I've been reading quite a bit lately, and that eats up huge chunks of my time. Here, however, are the films I have been able to see, starting 7/6/02.