Challenge Week 31: Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco

It has been several years since I saw Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, generally his best-known work and one that I enjoyed immensely, and I gotta thank Dan for pushing me into seeing more of Stillman’s work. After seeing these two, I definitely need to see Metropolitan again, since I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

For some reason, this type of film – which mostly consists of overeducated, unemployed or underemployed, not necessarily wealthy but very privileged people talking to each other – feels really comfortable to me. Maybe because I’ve spent most of my life being overeducated, underemployed, and unwealthy but privileged. It’s not quite like looking in a mirror, but I feel both comfortable and awkward around people like this. Some of Noah Baumbach’s films fit in the same category, especially Kicking and Screaming (which also, probably not coincidentally, shares cast member Chris Eigeman with Stillman’s trilogy) and Frances Ha.


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Challenge Week 30: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

There are far too many Miyazakis on my unseen list, so I’m glad David gave me the push to get to this one. Sometimes overtly environmentalist stuff bugs me, not because I’m anti-environment – just because it often comes across preachy. I knew this was likely to be heavily pro-environment, but it worked for me quite well because the message is really one of symbiosis.

In the film’s post-apocalyptic world, a toxic jungle filled with giant aggressive insects has developed, and is creeping closer and closer to the world’s few remaining human settlements, including the peaceful and fertile Valley of the Wind. Some of the other surviving kingdoms want to use an ancient Giant Warrior (one of the bioweapons that destroyed the world 1000 years ago, now lying dormant) to destroy the toxic jungle once and for all, but the Valley’s princess, Nausicaa, takes a much more pacifist approach, preferring to avoid or calm the insects rather than antagonize them, and definitely not in favor of razing the whole thing. Turns out she’s right, as the toxic jungle is actually cleaning the topsoil poisoned by the apocalyptic war and creating clean soil and water.


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Challenge Week 30: Harakiri

It’s no secret that Japanese movies are sometimes a tough sell for me, though I have to admit that’s starting to turn around. Someday soon I may have to stop using that excuse. This isn’t the MOST affecting classic-era Japanese film I’ve seen (that would be Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff), but it’s definitely one of the more emotionally raw ones, and I appreciated that greatly about it.

Harakiri is the Japanese custom of suicide for the sake of honor. In this case, a ronin, Tsuguma, whose master has died, leaving him no one to serve, comes to a nearby noble’s estate and requests to perform harakiri in his courtyard. The noble stops him and tells him the story of another ronin, Chijiiwa, who recently made the same request…as you might guess, these stories are connected.


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Challenge Week 29: Hobson’s Choice

I was a little more apprehensive going into this one than I should’ve been, by a lot – for some reason I thought it would be a “vegetable movie”. You know, one you’re supposed to watch because it’s good for you, not because it’s actually enjoyable. I run hot and cold on David Lean as a director (sacrilege, I know), and the logline of an alcoholic father who demands the right to choose husbands for his two younger daughters (his oldest is too good a helper at his shoemaker’s business to let go) sounds more depressing than entertaining.

With Charles Laughton in the lead, I should’ve known better than all that.


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Challenge Week 29: It Should Happen to You

This was another very comfortable choice for me, a classic Hollywood era romantic comedy that I definitely knew about back when I was watching only classic Hollywood movies, but missed. In this case (unlike with April in Paris), I can probably guess why I skipped it – I enjoyed Judy Holliday in Adam’s Rib, but didn’t care too much for the two Holliday-led films I watched (Born Yesterday and Bells Are Ringing) all that much, so I think I likely pushed this to the back burner figuring it would be more of the same. I actually didn’t know anything else about it (like that Jack Lemmon is in it!) or what the premise of the story was.

Holliday is a Gladys Glover, a wanna-be actress in New York who really just wants to be famous. Her solution: use all of her savings to rent a giant billboard and just put her name name on it. A soap company wants the billboard, but she refuses every offer they make her, until they offer to put her name on several smaller billboards all over town in exchange. Soon, Gladys is famous for the mere fact of being famous. It’s a bit of a gentle satire, as well as an admittedly cliched reminder that fame comes at a cost.


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