Letterboxd Season Challenge: The Big Parade (1925)

Film 5 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The other films I plan to watch for the challenge are here.

Week 5: PUNQ Week
Challenge: Watch an unseen feature that ranked in the top ten on any of PUNQ’s pre-1940 lists.
Film I Chose: The Big Parade


PUNQ is a Letterboxd user who’s concentrating on watching pre-1940s films, and he watches a LOT of them. This guy has Top 100s for every year from like 1896 to 1939. I watch a lot of old movies, but that’s crazy. Anyway, that gave me a bunch of options for this week, and initially I had chosen Fritz Lang’s Spies, which I still hope to watch soon if I get time, but it may not be this week. I ended up watching The Big Parade for an upcoming Flickchart blog post anyway, and since I’m short on time this week, decided to count it for the challenge as well.

I’m fascinated by WWI, so I’m surprised I’ve never gotten around to this before – I’ve seen both All Quiet on the Western Front and Wings multiple times, but this one has slipped by me (despite being on my DVR for the past like two years, no joke). In any case, I’m really glad I got to it now, because this is one great film.

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Letterboxd Season Challenge: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

Film 4 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The other films I plan to watch for the challenge are here.

Week 4, Sep 27-Oct 3: 60′s Blockbuster Week
Challenge: Watch an unseen film from among the Top 50 Highest Grossing Movies of the 1960s.
My Choice: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World by Stanley Kubrick


This was another week where I had seen many of the big hitters – The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Doctor Zhivago, etc. I wasn’t too enthused about any of the remaining options (geez, audiences in the ’60s liked long movies), but I figured at least It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World would have a ton of crazy cameos to keep me distracted, plus Criterion just added it to their collection, so it’s got to have SOMETHING.

Turns out it was quite a bit more fun than I expected. A speeding motorists drives off a cliff, and five people go down to see if he’s okay. SPOILER: He’s not. But he manages to tell them about a large sum of money he’s hidden. They all predictably start going after it, and this race/chase to the money takes up the bulk of the 160 minute running time.

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Letterboxd Season Challenge: High and Low (1963)

Film 3 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The other films I plan to watch for the challenge are here.

Week 3, Sept 20-26: Master of the East
Challenge: Watch an unseen film directed by Akira Kurosawa
Film I Chose: High and Low (1963)


I’ve been keeping up watching the films for the Letterboxd challenge; less so writing them up, and even less so posting my thoughts over here! So expect an onslaught of posts ever the next few days as I catch up. Japanese film is troublesome for me, and I often have trouble with even the most well-known and accessible films, like those from Kurosawa. That said, more exposure is definitely helping, and I’ve really been looking forward to High and Low, which was my first non-samurai Kurosawa film.

Maybe this is the direction I need to go, because I loved this. I knew the basics of the premise, that Toshiro Mifune played a businessman who has his son kidnapped and held for ransom, but then discovers that the kidnapper made a mistake and kidnapped his chauffeur’s son instead – will he still jeopardize his long-planned company takeover and risk losing everything in order to pay the ransom on the boy?

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Letterboxd Season Challenge: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

This is film 2 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The whole list of films I’m planning to watch is here.

Week 2: 1930s Musicals
Challenge: Watch an unseen 1930s musical
Film I Chose: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), directed by Ernst Lubitsch


We’re totally in my wheelhouse doing 1930s musicals, so much so that I had to go much more obscure than the Fred/Ginger and Busby Berkeley films many other Challengers are doing (though if you haven’t seen those, that’s absolutely the way to go). Instead I went for a Pre-Code Lubitsch/Chevalier musical I hadn’t seen.

Chevalier plays Nikki, a lieutenant in the Austrian army who’s something of a womanizer (his opening song, sung direct to camera, talks about how it’s “toujours l’amour in the army” and how much the ladies enjoy his ra-ta-ta-ta-ta, a double meaning for a trumpet fanfare), until he meets Franzie (Claudette Colbert), a violinist who quickly dumps Charles Ruggles in favor of Chevalier. The plot thickens when Nikki winks at Franzie while on duty as an entourage from a neighboring country drives through and the princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) thinks he was winking at her and soon wants to marry him.

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Letterboxd Challenge: Pale Flower (1964)

As I get back into the groove of moviewatching, I decided I was ready to take on this challenge a Facebook friend pointed me to on Letterboxd. Basically each week has a pre-selected theme with a list or a genre or a set of filmmakers from which each person doing the challenge can choose a film to watch. Many of the themes are things I know quite well, but others are almost total blind spots, so I’m curious to see what’ll come out of this (and whether I can complete it!). I’m also planning another movie challenge starting in 2016 that you guys will hear a lot more about in a couple of months, but even if I only manage half of the Letterboxd challenge, I’ll have a lot of quality films under my belt.

I will be writing at least a bit about every film on Letterboxd (follow me if you’re not already!), but I don’t always write a lot on Letterboxd. When I actually write enough to warrant a blog post, I’ll copy it over here. The whole list of films I’m planning to watch (assuming I can source them all) is here.

Week 1: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies
Challenge: Watch an unseen film from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
Film I Chose: Pale Flower (1964), directed by Masahiro Shinoda


I chose this one because I’m always trying to crack the nut on Japanese film, which can be difficult for me to get into. I’ve seen three or four others from the Japanese New Wave era (all from Seijun Suzuki, I think), and found them highly stylish but incomprehensible to varying degrees, and to be honest, Pale Flower fits into that as well. However, whereas the Suzuki films exude pure cool and somewhat iconoclastic youth, Pale Flower has a weariness that balances its hip visuals and sound design.

The main character Muraki is middle-aged, and has just been released from prison, having served time for a gang-related murder. When he returns he spends most of his time hanging out at a gambling house playing (or watching others play) a card game with rules that are never explained, but which is mesmerizing thanks to the continuous “place your bets” auctioneer-like patter of the dealer and the rhythmic placing/turning over of the cards. There’s a new player at the games – a young woman named Saeko who fascinates Muraki with her recklessness and thirst for excitement. And there’s a mysterious man in the corner, who sits and stares but doesn’t play – a new hitman on the boss’s payroll.


Meanwhile, the gang leader needs another murder done. Muraki’s off the hook since he just got out, but he volunteers anyway – perhaps the influence of his new thrill-seeking girlfriend. A lot of the threads in the film don’t go much of anywhere plot-wise, at least not in an obvious manner. The mysterious new hitman may be giving drugs to Saeko, which may lead to her downfall. Early on, Muraki talks about how his first murder felt – and it wasn’t bad. But he doesn’t appear to have bloodlust, either.

In fact, Muraki fits into the cool and inscrutable hitman type along with Alain Delon’s character in Le samourai; you get the sense that neither of them feel there’s anything particularly wrong with their line of work, they’re good at it, and yet they care much more for sticking to their own personal code of honor than necessarily believing in their leader or any kind of cause.

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