Thursday, July 26, 2012


This week is a time for celebration.  I’m an uncle for the second time, and at long last I’m done with Chemistry.  I know it was only an 8 week course but it felt like a full time job and was absolute torture.  This means one thing in particular, more time for movies.  I’ve seen the amount of movies pile up in my to watch bin without any sign of me catching up.  I aim to change that over the next couple of weeks, at least until the inevitable next classes begin, but let’s not look that far into the future. 

Still from Cosmic Ray (1962)
I haven’t been completely without cinema in this time.  I have been making an effort to tackle a more diverse group of films, in other words more experimental and documentary films, and starting very soon quite a few films from South America.  Of the better films I’ve been watching are the films of Bruce Conner.  For those who don’t know who Bruce Conner is go ahead and google that.  In particular I got to watch A Movie (1958) and Cosmic Ray (1962) which are two of the best experimental films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey

Less impressive was the Andy Warhol film projects I watched.  First up was Blow Job, which despite its awesome title is simple a shot of a guys face while he’s presumably receiving fellatio.  The fact that the camera never pans down and that’s all we see, it’s just the title and a sort of suggestive idea.  Not a bad concept, a bit of a tease, but horribly executed.  All silent and unnecessarily long 35 minutes it gets old quick.  This is nothing compared to his even longer and more pointless films like Sleep and Empire which are static shots of a person sleeping and the Empire State Building for hours.  He might be considered a genius in the art world, but the man was not much of a filmmaker.  He abandoned directing to Paul Morrissey later on, and they made something of a trilogy with the films Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972). 

I’ve just recently watched both Flesh and Trash and well they aren’t terrible by some standards.  After all the rather frank depiction of sex and the odd characters make them an interesting if not a horribly chaotic experience.  Trash is in many ways a much, much better film than Flesh.  Don’t think I’m calling it a masterpiece but it achieves something that Flesh doesn’t come close to, which is to say it accomplishes something.  Flesh is a mess of a would be hustler trying to get money for a friends abortion and well it’s a bit boring, and very uneven.  Trash might not have a more coherent plot structure in any traditional sense but the films depiction of drugs is incredible.  Who would think that the greatest endorsement not to do drugs would come from an Andy Warhol film?  Rather than preach about drugs and dramatize horrible consequences instead Warhol/Morrissey allow the film to play out matter of factly.  Joe finds himself unable to get an erection despite the never ending amount of people who want to have sex with him.  He lives with a tranny named Holly (yes the same one from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”) who spends his/her time digging through trash bins and collecting various discarded pieces of furniture. 
Opening scene from Trash (1970)
Joe spends his days trying to get more dope and his days are centered around such.  He meets some strange, and at times horribly annoying females who are looking more for sex but Joe simply shoots up and passes out.  He even gets caught trying to rob an apartment in a very feeble attempt to get money for more drugs.  He’s cleaned up and even still can’t perform after given some heroin to shoot.  There is a fascination that many of the outside people he runs into have for his drug problem.  These people, many of whom are from more affluent backgrounds look at him with curiosity, wondering what it’s like to see someone shoot up, only to be naturally horrified by the experience and openly condemning the man they just watched plunge deeper into addiction.  The film ends with a hilarious exchange with Holly, Joe, and a welfare case worker that needs to be seen to be believed.  I can easily say though this film would do more to discourage people from using heroin than any after school special I’ve ever seen.

The Dark Knight Rises

Ok, of course you knew I saw this, how could I wait more than 24 hours after it came out to check out the most anticipated film of the year, or the last four years really.  Unfortunately some jack ass in Colorado decided to violate everything we hold dear about the cinema and I sincerely, honestly hope that someone mutilates his genitals, peels his flesh off, and makes him eat his own dick.  Unfortunately the Bill of Rights has a thing against “cruel and unusual punishment” so I guess I just have to hope for an angry mob to bust him out, but that won’t happen so whatever I’ll stop talking about it now, because it will only make me more upset.

The film itself was excellent.  I won’t say anything about the plot because what rock have you been living under that you either A:  Haven’t already seen the film or; B:  Haven’t already read enough reviews/commentary online?  Perhaps the only complaint is that Bane was about as hard to understand as I thought he'd be, gonna need subtitles next time. 

MMMMM Anne Hathaway
Now at first I have to sigh because I know this is the end of an era.  Not only will this be the last Batman movie directed by Christopher Nolan, it might very well be the last great super hero movie period.  As the genre keeps expanding the desire to make more crowd pleasing special effects laden films is going to keep anyone from trying to make the dark, philosophical films that Nolan and company were trying here.  DC and Warner Bros are attempting to make their own Justice League movie that they very foolishly believe can compete with the Avengers franchise, so don’t be surprised if Batman is back on the big screen very, very soon in a much sillier environment.  There’s no place for Nolan’s Batman in the DC Universe.  You can’t put this Batman in the same world as Superman or Green Lantern because that would ruin damn near everything great about these films.  Batman is great because he’s a man, an extraordinary one, but still a man, and to add him to that universe can work for comics because it’s always been like that, but it’s going to fail miserably in film.  So expect the next Batman movie to be more like Joel Schumacher than Nolan.

There are some bright spots however.  Another X-Men movie should be coming out at some point.  Mathew Vaughn’s X-Men First Class showed that Marvel can make great super hero movies with plenty of subtext.  I anticipate the next film should be damn good, I hope at least.  First Class was instantly better than all three of the previous X-Men films plus the Wolverine movie combined.  I just hope they don’t fuck it up. 

We can also look forward to Christopher Nolan’s next film.  Inception was damn fantastic, and Nolan has proven that he can not only create original works of art, but actually make a fortune in the process for any studio that wants to back him.  So he’ll probably have James Cameron like control and budgets the next time around and I can’t wait to see what he does (provided it’s nothing at all like Avatar). 

Anyways expect more blogage in the coming weeks, just wanted to post a bit here. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - June

Well another month down and we are halfway to 2013, are you excited yet?  Didn’t think so, anyways I’ll refrain from making another lame excuse but as evidence from the list of films below this was hardly a productive month for movie watching.  You will notice at least one trend particularly by the end of the month so oh boy stay tuned.  Since I don’t seem to be able to get too many blogs in per month, the journal is becoming my one stop shop for all things film.

Not much at all seen this month in general.  Towards the end sure plenty of horror films, a couple sporadic Rosenbaum films and a handful of films that I had no real rhyme or reason to why I watched them.  Sadly my only trip to the movie theater in the past month was to see Moonrise Kingdom.  Now it’s not bad that I saw this film so don’t misunderstand, it’s just that happens to be the only film I saw in the theater.  Not to say I didn’t attempt to see Prometheus in theaters, but was told my free movie pass wouldn’t be accepted even after two weeks of the movie being out, so to hell with Regal, might as well just throw out your Regal Crown Club card because they will tell you when and where you can actually use the free movies you spent a shitload of money to earn, but that’s another story.

I began and ended the month with an A-List selection.  We began things with The Bank Dick and finished everything off with The Godfather II.  So to carry on my policy of writing about each of the NSFC films we watch, I’ll just start there and do away with the formalities.

The Bank Dick (1940)

W. C. Fields has long since been one of those “critics darlings” if such a term can apply to someone like Fields.  As low brow and vaudeville as he is I’ve scarcely encountered any critic, at least any older critic who doesn’t love Fields and wouldn’t rank several of his films amongst their very favorites.  The Bank Dick for many is the de-facto best film Fields ever made.  Like many of his films Fields wrote the screenplay under the ridiculously silly alias of Mahatma Kane Jeeves.  Also like many of his other films he gives his own character a rather silly name, here Egbert Souse, which he constantly reminds anyone in earshot how to pronounce it.  His family of course hates him and he’s berated by an evil little daughter that proves that violence towards children can be hilarious, as well as a wife and mother in law who are clearly in league with the devil.  His one saving grace is a teenage daughter who actually gives him a break and whose fiance works at the bank that hires Fields to be security after he accidentally apprehends some bank robbers.  The gags are funny and the plot rather silly, but as far as Fields’ vehicles this is easily the most well balanced.  Most of the gags work, and the laughs are still quite good, so along with It’s a Gift this is definitely the place to start for those of you born after 1970 who have no idea who the hell W. C. Fields is. 

The Godfather Part 2 (1974)

The summer before I “discovered” great cinema the American Film Institute unveiled their 100 greatest American film list on TV.  A local video store known as Thumbs Up Video (RIP) had a section dedicated to the films on the list.  After spending nearly every day that summer watching countless horror films, we decided maybe we could check out one or two of these films, and among those were the three Godfather films.  Ironically I don’t think I’ve seen Part 3 since that summer of 1998.  Many people would understand why I feel that way.  From day one though I thought that the first Godfather film was easily the best.  As much as I loved the sequel over time I never thought there was any competition as to which was the better film.  I’ve probably seen the first twice as many times as Part 2, so I’m also far more familiar with it.  However as you may surmise that the more times you see these films the more things will start to clarify.  I highly doubt anyone can watch the first two Godfather films once and retain all the information as to the families and how everyone’s connected, keeping track of who tried to kill who, and so on.  It took maybe 3-4 viewings of the first film to really get things straightened out and well since this was about the 4th time seeing the sequel it makes sense that now it’s all into focus.  Now perhaps it’s the fact that I noticed a few “flaws” the last time I watched the first film, but this erased all of them, and inexplicably I may now consider this the better film, although that’s still up for debate.  Although we’ll get into that later, there’s a reason why this is the greatest sequel ever made.
Dare I say the best sequel ever made?

Oh the horror, the horror

Time Out London put together a list of the 100 Best Horror Films recently and well it got me thinking.  Well to be more accurate it got my brother thinking and he decided fuck it we know a lot of horror films why not do our own top 100 horror films list?  Well I’m always down for a list but this one will present some problems, such as:

1.  How do you define a horror film?  It’s easy to make a list of the 100 funniest films ever and simply put comedies in based on how they make you laugh.  Sure there are the unintentionally funny films that aren’t exactly comedies but may still count, but essentially if its funny its comedy.  Then there’s a Western which for the most part takes place out west, features some cowboys, six shooters, maybe some Indians, horses, and so on.  Horror gets way more complicated.  For starters we can’t simply make a list of the 100 “scariest” movies because well I have a penis so the list of movies that scare me consists of Paranormal Activity, and two films that traumatized me as a kid, The Shining and It.  So it’d be damn hard to come up with another 97 films for this list.  So well what is a horror film?

I have always found that studying a genre or trying to group films into specific genres is something for rather bad introductory film courses and quickly gets dismissed the more you know about film in general.  This is the reason why I’ve never offered any definitive list of any genre in the past.  However reading this list makes me think I should give it a shot.  So monster movies, ghost stories, and a few slashers certainly count as horror films.  What about say science fiction movies or films about serial killers.  Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is nowhere near a slasher in the sense that Halloween is.  Psycho to many people is the definitive slasher film but I’ve always had a hard time even calling it a horror film.  Alien was in the top five on the Time Out list but it’s a science fiction film, are you starting to see the conundrum? 

Point is horror likes to mix and match with a few genres, which I guess is true of most genres.  So when is something a thriller and when is it horror?  When does a film edge more towards horror than science fiction?  Is Invasion of the Body Snatchers horror or is it pure sci-fi?  Are films like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en horor or just thrillers/mystery films?  If those serial killer films do count as horror, what about films about the search for serial killers like Memories of Murder or Zodiac?  You get where the grey area comes in.  How about an unclassifiable mindfuck like Lost Highway?  There are moments in the film that are absolutely terrifying and super creepy but is it a horror film, and if it isn’t just what the hell is it?  Eraserhead made Time Out’s list but several people have wondered if it is a horror film at all.  Ask my girlfriend and she’ll tell you it’s terrifying and freaked her out like few films ever have, so maybe it is horror after all.  For some reason Elem Klimov’s Come and See made their list at #100.  This is one of the best war movies ever made but never have I considered it a horror film.  Likewise this is not the first time Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf has been listed as a horror film, but I never got that vibe from it the first time I saw it.

So we’re left with a few options.  The easiest is to say if it counts for the Time Out list it’ll count for ours.  This takes the blame off of us, and if anyone thinks “that’s not a horror film” then we can point to this officially sanctioned ranking as our evidence.  The other is to simply go on IMDB (I don’t ever recommend visiting this site mind you), and looking at what tags the film has.  If it has a horror tag, then bam horror it is.  For example Se7en has a crime, thriller and mystery tag, but no horror.  Eraserhead has a horror, sci-fi and fantasy tag, but Lost Highway doesn’t.  I actually kind of prefer the outside party definition so as to remove the degree of ambiguity.  Anyways more research needs to be done, so look forward to this list in the next month or two.

…And the Big One

It may seem odd that a listoholic like myself last made a 100 Greatest Movie list back in 2003.  You might even search this blog and wonder if I hadn’t already made that list (that was a purely objective essential list that you were thinking of).  So I was thinking, it’s been damn near a decade why not update the big one? 

This idea isn’t anything new mind you.  I tried putting together a master list of films that would make my list, along with some titles that I wanted to revisit back in about 2007, so clearly this has taken me awhile to put together.  More recently I thought about putting this list together after doing all that individual research for my decade lists.  However I decided against it for a few reasons.  For starters those lists took over a year to put together and that was just too damn much research.  I was burnt out on list making.  Also I was under the impression that my readers would be burnt out on it too.  It’s one thing to see several lists but to see the same person make several lists featuring the same films in different rankings would be overkill.  The other main reason why I didn’t want to make the list then is I realized that I would need to do more research, particularly for the 1920s-40s.

So why now of all times?  Well maybe it’s the fact that Sight and Sound is putting out there top 10 this year, or maybe it’s the fact that I realized I’m rapidly approaching a decade anniversary of my own.  Knowing my own long winded research periods for this, if I start now perhaps by the end of the year I’ll be satisfied enough to make my list.  I realize that it really doesn’t matter and there is no reason at all to obsess as much as I do.

This time around I’ve decided to change the rules a bit.  Even if I made a list with “No rules whatsoever” I’d still need some parameters, it’s impossible not to.  Now there will be no restrictions like one film per director, or a minimum of 10 films per decade, etc.  However there are some other things to get straightened out.  Much of it is formulaic and carried over from previous lists, but there’s at least one modification worth mentioning.  For starters this list is going to be of feature length films, but without a length requirement.  So that if say a film is completely self contained in 50 minutes or so that counts, 30 or so not so much.  This is going to be predominantly a fiction film list, but those quasi-fictional films are going to count.  That is to say like always The Man With a Movie Camera will probably be on my list, and this time might be joined by Sans Soleil, or hell maybe even Hour of the Furnaces, or the Battle of Chile.

I should also point out a separate requirement exclusive to this list.  Years ago I decided that in order for a film to make my top ten I needed to see it at least twice.  Well in the 9 years+ since that list was done I figured I’ve revisited most of my favorites, and covered a lot more with the previous by-decade lists so why not apply the twice minimum rule to every film on the list?  This will help make sure that all my favorites have held up and that I’ve at least given them a second shot to see how they hold up.  For this reason there are a couple of films I still need to revisit but really not that much, and even some films I’ve seen three or more times I still feel like I need to revisit. 

Now on the subject of film series/sequels/trilogies/etc I’ve had a slight change of heart.  If you ask me it is downright silly to rank Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi separately, to me they are one collective super long film that rules beyond belief.  Likewise talking about The Godfather earlier I certainly intend on “cheating” and putting the first two together, which gets me to another point.  Just because a film series has x number of titles doesn’t mean x number of titles have to be on this list.  For example there’s a third Godfather film so what?  I don’t have to put that film on my list.  There are also three Star Wars films that will never under any circumstances ever come anywhere near making this list, complete saga my ass.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Now this can get interesting.  What if say I put Rocky and Rocky IV on my list and ignored the other four?  Sure why not I have the right.  Since I don’t like Rambo III nearly as much as the other three films I could leave this out.  The Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes are by far the two best films of that series, so why not those two and leave out Beneath, Escape, and Battle (we’re not getting into the two newer installments)?  Ok by my own convoluted system of grouping this could be acceptable, now the question is are any of those movies good enough to make my list? 

One group that I previously allowed that I no longer will is “thematic trilogies”.  Ever buy a boxed set of a trilogy and realize that the films although thematically linked actually have no linking narrative?  Hell even a few trilogies really stretch the “linking narrative concept” like say Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy.  Now this applies to two film series in particular, and they were both ranked pretty high some time ago.  For starters is Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy.  Sure they’re all Westerns starring Clint Eastwood as a character without a name who wanders around, kills some people who are even bigger lowlifes than himself has a ridiculously awesome gun battle at the end, and so on.  However the character from Fistful of Dollars is not the same as the one in For a Few Dollars More or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  So I decided that this isn’t a real trilogy, at least not in the sense that Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings are.  The other is Andrzej Wajda’s WWII trilogy.  Now these actually take place at different times chronologically during WWII, but the characters don’t exactly transfer over into one continuous narrative, similar to Roberto Rossellini’s WWII trilogy.  So basically in the case of both of these would be trilogies I’ll simply have to put the separate films on or pick the best of the bunch to represent the lot of ’em. 

I should also point out that there won’t be any requirements about when a film was made.  If I say the 100 greatest films of all time all came out in the last ten years so be it, I’m not giving a five year span for films to “stand the test of time” or any such nonsense.  In this regard Tree of Life might be really, really high.  I also plan on waiting awhile before putting this list together because who knows just how damn good the new Dark Knight movie will be?   

The Bank Dick (1940) 9/10

You Are Not I (1981) 8/10

La fin du monde (The End of the World) (1930) 8/10
Home of the Brave (1949) 6/10

Repast - Meshi (1951) 8/10

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 9/10

Her Man (1930) 6/10
The Window (1949) 7/10

Uzumaki (2000) 5/10

A Wife Confesses (1961) 9/10

The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) 7/10
Lazybones (1925) 6/10
Le Parfum de la Dame en Noir (1931) 6/10

Aventurera (1950) 8/10
The Omen (1976) 6/10

Re-Animator (1985) 6/10
An American Werewolf in London (1981) 7/10

Cloverfield (2007) 8/10

Season of the Witch (1972) 6/10

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) 8/10
Possession (1981) 10/10
The Godfather Part 2 (1974) 10/10

Best Film of the Month - The Godfather Part 2
Worst Film of the Month - Uzumaki (not terrible but something had to take this dishonor)
New Discovery of the Month - Possession
Possession (1981) - Good Times in a subway station