Films I Watched - October, 2003
Submitted by lbangs on Thu, 10/02/2003 - 09:51
- 10/31 - Cronos - Cronos’ major strength is that it doesn’t fit neatly into too many clichés of its genre. As a result, the film is electrifying, dangling the viewer over the abyss of the unknown and twisting throughout with radical mood shifts and odd plot twists. This ain’t your typical vampire film, to be sure. While Cronos is a thrill to watch, it is hurt somewhat by the fact that at the end of it all, the results simply are not as exciting as the film’s uniqueness seems to promise. Still, Cronos more than towers over most of the horror films of recent times with creative ideas, a solid story, and even an appearance from one of my favorite under-appreciated actors, Ron Perlman.
- 10/31 - Tenebre aka Unsane - The first of our usual Halloween double feature, Tenebre was a decent if disappointing scary flick. The plot doesn’t quite work out, and the actors usually seem distant or bored, but Tenebre’s real problem is a lack of sustained suspense. While many of the shots are incredible, especially a swooping ride up one side of a building, over a roof, and down the other, they seem showy in context, and humor, intentional or otherwise, to often shatters the mood. With Suspiria, Dario Argento created one of the best horror films yet, but with Tenebre, he seems too concerned with convincing us that he is a great director to bother putting together a great film. Still, with some of those inventive images, this is still probably worth a view for fans of the genre.
- 10/28 - The 400 Blows - Ah, the French New Wave. I discovered Truffaut and Godard as a young kid, and even before I knew diddley-squat about the innovative advances they gave to film technique, I was thoroughly intoxicated by their charm, spirit, and intimacy. Without preaching or spit polishing it with cuteness, this film brings to the screen the life of the adolescent, with all its fun discoveries and too-grave ponderings. The camera runs as free as the youth, and if a small minority still can't stand this film, I frankly adore it. I am especially amazed at how the story can stay so anchored in disappointing reality while still conveying the hyper-reality and fantasy-tinged view of youth. I don't see as much chat about Truffaut as I noticed a few years ago, and most of the attention goes to his wonderful Jules and Jim, bur surely there are more foreign directors worth remembering for more than one film than Kurosawa, and surely Truffaut is one of them. The 400 Blows is a brilliant film.
- 10/27 - Spartacus - Often, Kubrick fans turn their nose at this film, done when Stanley was still a director for hire, but frankly, Spartacus is one of his best films, surely better than some of his over-praised later works are. Gee, what a cast! Many old heavies shine here, with Peter Ustinov nearly stealing the entire movie from the likes of Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and the stellar Charles Laughton. Watching this epic-with-a-brain, I don't see how anybody can resist thinking of the disappointing Gladiator and being convinced that this is the film Scott's flawed mess really wants to be when it grows up. The plot packs plenty of unexpected twists, and even when you see a development coming, you'll be surprised at just how effective it is nonetheless.
- 10/25 - Bend It Like Beckham - Well, Beckham turned out to be a much better film than I feared, even if it still falls far short of some of the praise thrown its way. I seem to remember somebody on this site said he / she couldn't help comparing it to Monsoon Wedding and found it wanting (EDIT: I just checked, and it was the illustrious Geek). Granted, I understand this comparison, and yes, this film is no Monsoon Wedding. It really is just another formula film, but injected with enough freshness to work. The actors are all game, the direction doesn't aim any higher than the story merits, and if you're just looking for a decent family film or small drama, you might just dig it.
- 10/19 - Into the Woods - Stephen Sondheim is, I repeat, the god of the modern stage musical. Here, I'll buck critical tradition a bit and suggest that one of the most repeated criticisms of Sunday in the Park with George, his masterpiece, really belongs here. The second act is confused, sloppy, and seems rather tacked on. Where George's concluding chapter is terrific, if jarring to those not wanting to jump decades, here the brilliance of the first act serves only to underline a noble but failed attempt to expand the themes in new ways afterwards. Still, this taped version boasts a killer cast and some classic tunes, and hey, being the third best Sondheim musical still puts you miles ahead of anything Andrew Lloyd Webber ever puked up.
- 10/17 - Loves of a Blonde - Milos Forman's 1965 international breakthrough is, to these eyes, a bit of a disappointment, which doesn't make it a bad film. It is quite funny, and I especially admire its inventive attempt to create a film out of little more than two set pieces. At times, though, it lingers too long in order to build up to a laugh that isn't quite worth the delay, and the attempt at pathos isn't entirely successful, but the energy coursing through the film (much of it borrowed from the French New Wave - check out how much the post-sex scene reminds one of Breathless) makes all this quite forgivable. Besides, if this is the first step towards One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, it is certainly an interesting, somewhat daring one.
- 10/10 - Kill Bill Vol. 1 - Kill Bill Vol. 1 is Quentin Tarantino's worst film and, no doubt, one of the best of 2003. The anticipated film proves to be loads of fun, presenting an action film while sporting all the stylish personality everybody said Spider-Man displayed. Who can resist a delicious, jazzed-up jumble of Bruce Lee, Kurosawa, John Woo (the opening scene has a segment largely lifted from The Killer), and my man Sergio Leone? Alright, so it, like most revenge films, lacks emotional depth or subtlety, and, less forgivable, at times the humor is a bit forced. And I'll grant you that the opening scene is not entirely successful, but really, if this didn't have Tarantino's name on it, half the world would be wetting themselves over this film. Any fears that the film split would be harmful are completely unfounded, especially since the film really get rolling towards the end and then bows with a twist that guarantees the audience will be back for the second installment. Uma fits QT's vision like a leather glove, and hardly anybody can match music to vision like Quentin. Let's see, four for four, then, I reckon...
- 10/5 - Road to Perdition - Let me get one gripe off my chest first. Why does everybody involved with American Beauty have a horrid addiction to banal commentary that restates the obvious? This didn't get too out of hand in American Beauty, but Alan Ball's Six Feet Under never stinks as bad as it does when the corpses pretentiously feel the need to tell you what you should already know, and Road to Perdition is sandwiched by narration that really ends the entire endeavor with a sour taste. When you've told your story, shut up and don't tell it again. To quote Edina, "We aren't all stupid, you know." While this major flaw really irked, I am bucking the Listology trend and admitting I really liked Road to Perdition. I found the variations on the father and son themes emotionally moving, and the acting was, for the most part, rather extraordinary. Yes, Paul Newman is still a rare treasure, but the fact that he doesn't completely overshadow Hanks in their shared scenes says volumes about how the younger man has grown unexpectedly into an actor of depth and rare subtlety. All the praise went to the cinematography, but it still was not better than the work for The Man Who Wasn't There. Road to Perdition, however, is a much better film that the Coen's contemporary effort. This under-stated film is oddly slow and quiet for a gangster flick, but that restraint adds to the resonance of the actions of its emotionally restrained characters, and while that obnoxious narration remains a serious problem, I think (*duck*) this is a stronger film than Mendes' award-winner American Beauty, and I am a bit baffled as to its muted reception. Perhaps the predictable ending let many down. I found the inevitability of the climax to strengthen the tragic strain running throughout the film, and if it fails to surprise or shock, I do not think the creators meant it to be a twist. Maybe I missing something here, but I found Road to Perdition to be one of the best 2002 had to offer.
- 10/4 - Grumpy Old Men - I was expecting the worst, but luckily, Grumpy Old Men proved to be a bit better. Sure, this isn't going to win any awards, least of all from me, and like almost every Hollywood studio comedy from the last twenty years, any attempt to introduce conflict and resolution falls flat, especially in the final thirty minutes, but when Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are simply allowed to get on each other's nerves, this films works. Burgess Meredith is a trip as well. Perhaps I should be harsher, but hey, I didn't pay any money to see this, I do like Lemmon and Matthau, and the first hour or so was actually funny in parts. Grumpy Old Men really doesn't add up to much more than an above average comedy, but for fans of the leads, that might be enough.
- 10/2 - Abe Lincoln in Illinois - Gee, what is with my A films fascination as of late? Amateur, Adaptation, About Schmidt, and now, Abe Lincoln in Illinois. John Cromwell's biography of Abe's early years is a near contemporary of John Ford's more famous Young Mr. Lincoln, and for what it is worth, I enjoyed this lesser-known effort much more than the more celebrated work. Truer to fact, boasting great performances from Lincoln-look-alike Raymond Massey (a role everybody in Hollywood knew he was born to play), a young, pre-Maude Ruth Gordon, and tragic Mary Howard, and blessed with more nuanced characterizations that Ford's canonizing effort, Abe Lincoln in Illinois still somehow bombed upon release. Maybe people wanted to see a more fictionalized, iconic Lincoln than a more human one. Critics and viewers may have forgotten this gem today, but anyone interested in Lincoln, early film biography, or RKO's classic films should give it a gander.
- 10/1 - Amateur - Well, I pulled my copy out to check the letterboxed ratio and found I had no choice but to watch the entire film again. What can I do? Amateur is my favorite film, and no doubt, the one I have watched the most. I'm not going to review this yet as I am working on a long review of it for another list, but yes, I still love this movie.