50DMC #20: A Movie That Disappointed

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s a movie you thought you would love that disappointed you?

When I first saw Pennies from Heaven (the 1981 version) on the schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival, I was a little surprised – it was probably the most recent film of the festival, and I was like, this is a classic? Really? But the more I looked at it, the more excited I got to see it. It’s a musical, and I love musicals. It’s set in the 1930s, and I love Depression-era stories. It has Bernadette Peters in it, and I love Bernadette Peters (and the chance to see her in a film is rare). It also has Steve Martin, who’s fine, but his presence in a movie doesn’t influence my excitement one way or another. In any case, I was pretty stoked when I sat down to watch it.

And as every second ticked by my enjoyment fell further and futher and further until I was fairly hating the film by the end. First, the film has a bleak reality/joyful dream structure to it that can be fine, but put me off here because they’re integrated so poorly into each other. It’s just drab drab drab oh, sunny dance number. Second, all the songs are from the 1930s setting time period, but not only that, the original recordings are used so Steve and Bernadette are lipsyncing to them. That’s offputting, though I can kind of see, in theory, where they were going with that. But really, you put someone like Bernadette Peters in a movie and make her lipsync to someone else? WHY?! Third, I hated everyone in the story. They’re all despicable characters with no redeeming features, they make decisions that make no sense, and I didn’t believe anything that any of them did. When the end came around (*SPOILER* it involves Martin being framed and executed for murder), I just wanted them to shut up with the singing and kill him already, even though he was innocent. I didn’t care. I wanted out.

I tried and failed to find a clip of the recreation of the Fred and Ginger dance number “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, because it was the only part of the movie I kind of liked, but even then I would’ve liked it a whole lot better if I had just been watching Follow the Fleet. Instead, here’s the first number from Peters. It’s not bad, per se, but the tone is weird and again, it’s not Bernadette singing.

50DMC #19: A Movie I’m Surprised I Enjoyed

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s a movie you’re surprised you enjoyed?

There are quite a lot of these, actually, as I’ve been going through some filmographies and knocking off some classic “must-sees” that I wasn’t entirely looking forward to. Turns out most of those are “must-sees” for a reason, even if they didn’t initially appeal to me. Along those lines, I’m going with Nashville. It was the third or fourth Robert Altman film I got to in my New Hollywood marathon last year, and while I liked all the others, to one degree or another (more so The Long Goodbye and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, less so M*A*S*H), I still wasn’t particularly looking forward to Nashville. I mean, it’s about a bunch of Nashville-based country music performers converging on the city at the same time as a major political rally. I’d be generous if I described myself as apathetic towards both country music and politics.

But Nashville transcends its setting, weaving together stories of individuals with perfect balance and pacing, letting us into their lives, their joys, and their heartaches. Altman is known for his ensemble work, and though I admittedly haven’t seen all that many of his works yet, I don’t know that any of them will be able to surpass this. It’s incredible how well-drawn each of these characters are, despite the short amount of time the film is able to focus on any of them – none of them are caricatures, though all of them do represent some facet of the music scene (and sometimes stand in for real-life singers and musicians). In addition to being perfectly-crafted, it’s also a joy to watch throughout its extended running time. It was pretty easily one of my favorite films that I saw last year, and I look forward to getting even more out of it in the many times I will certainly rewatch it.

The aspect ratio isn’t quite right on this clip, but the sound is better than the other ones on YouTube.

Links I Like: July 28, 2011

I‘m behind on this for two reasons right now – firstly because it’s been a few weeks and thus several of these articles are pushing a month old, and secondly because I have actually reached enough bookmarked links for two posts right now. So you may have already seen these articles WEEKS ago, but in case you haven’t – none of them are time sensitive in any way and maybe I’m just doing my part to counteract the seemingly epidemic short attention span of the internet. Yeah, that’s it. I’m going with that. For whatever reason a bunch of these have to do with silent film. I didn’t plan that as a theme or anything – I guess it’s just becoming a more obvious interest of mine.

Silent Oscars: 1917, Part 2 – A Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies

I’ve had the Mythical Monkey on here before, but this post was too good not to include. It’s part of the series he’s doing through the silent era, but this post is entirely about Mary Pickford, one of the most popular and powerful actresses in the 1910s and 1920s. Dubbed America’s Sweetheart, she continued her streak of child parts in 1917, even though she was in her 20s at the time and had to use every bit of her intelligence and influence to even get them made. The more I find out about Pickford, the more impressed I am.

Magnificent Obsessions – Terry Gilliam on Brazil – Holly Gilliam and Michael Connor at Moving Image Source

The difficulty that Terry Gilliam has with studios on nearly all of his films is well-known, and Brazil is a particularly well-documented case, but this is a really good read about the production and release of the film, based on interviews Gilliam did with his daughter Holly. Gilliam talks about his inspiration for the film itself, its design and plotting, and then goes on to discuss trying to get Universal to release it after they decided it was unreleasable. I found it particularly interesting that the film won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for best film and director of the year based on bootlegged copies LA critics had been passing around, since it wasn’t in general release. He also talks a bit about the different versions of the film.

Take Five (Films): Louis Malle – Oliver Lyttelton at The Playlist
The Essentials: The Films of Nicolas Roeg – Oliver Lyttelton at The Playlist

Two posts from The Playlist over at Indiewire focusing on specific director’s filmographies. Criterion released two more Louis Malle films within the last month, and both of them make Lyttelton’s list of five intro films to Malle’s filmography. As noted in the comments, Malle is quite well-represented at Criterion, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing – he’s a varied and interesting filmmaker. This list ranges throughout his filmmography from the very New Wave-esque Elevator to the Gallows (whether Malle was a New Wave filmmaker depends on who you ask) to the patently bizarre Black Moon, one of the new Criterion releases. It’s a good intro, based on the three I’ve seen, to a filmmaker more people should definitely get to know. Meanwhile, I’ve only seen one Nicolas Roeg film, but this is a good place to start to dig further – a pretty detailed annotated list of Roeg’s films, along with an intro to his style and what he’s all about.

Wonders Beyond Sound: Favorite Silent Films Part 1 and Part 2 – Kevin B. Lee at Fandor

This is a really wideranging set of twelve silent films, from classics that everyone has seen like Metropolis to lesser-known Japanese and Brazilian silents. What I really like about it, though, is the inclusion of avant-garde films that may not necessarily be from the silent era but are still silent – like Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and some of Stan Brakhage’s shorts. It’s easy to restrict “silent film” to a historical period, but some filmmakers continued using the techniques of silent cinema for long after it was technically necessary, often to great artistic effect. There are a whole bunch on this list I haven’t seen, but certainly want to check out now.

100 Greatest Posters of Film Noir – Mark at Where Danger Lives

This is an older post even by the standards of this particular post, and it’s a compilation of even earlier posts, as Mark counts down the best classic film noir posters. I love 1940s posters in general, especially ones for B films (which a lot of noir films are), but I’ll admit that a lot of them start looking awfully similar to me pretty quickly. Mark brings his knowledge of graphic design to bear and does a nice job of differentiating them. He’s currently doing a similar series on classic sci-fi posters.

Don Q, Son of Zorro – Chris Edwards at Silent Volume

Chris is a great blogger focusing on silent film (he’s great to follow on Twitter, too – @silentvolume), and here’s just one example of his writing. I love the way he talks about Douglas Fairbanks’s tendency to exit frames up and down rather than from side to side – Fairbanks doesn’t restrict his movement to the horizontal plane the way most people do, but seems to feel just as much at home (maybe more so) on the vertical one, climbing up or dropping down to get to his next destination. He’s certainly one of the most effortlessly athletic adventure stars I’ve ever seen, and I definitely want to see this film at some point.

The 400 Blows – Peter Bogdanovich

My only complaint about Blogdanovich, the blog over at Indiewire written by writer/director/film historian Peter Bogdanovich, is that the entries are tantalizingly short. I get that Peter’s probably a busy guy and I’m glad we get anything from him, but this is a great example. A bit about the importance of The 400 Blows in both French and American film (in the New Wave’s influence on New Hollywood, which Bogdanovich was part of), a bit about Truffaut and Hitchcock, and a personal anecdote about Bogdanovich’s interactions with Truffaut. I love this stuff, and Bogdanovich has such an interesting perspective on it as both a film lover and a filmmaker.

Lillian Gish Dying for Her Audience – Robert J. Avrech at Big Hollywood

You thought some of the other articles in here were old…this one’s from 2009! Yeah, I been working on this post for a while. No, I just hit this post on a link from somewhere else (Self-Styled Siren, if I’m not mistaken), and loved the story in it, largely a quote from King Vidor’s autobiography about the lengths Lillian Gish went to in order to get the right emotion for a scene in La Boheme, but with surrounding context also worth reading.

general recommendation – Not Just Movies, by Jake Cole

I found I was throwing a bunch of links from Not Just Movies into my list of potential links for these posts, because really, every post is just that good. He does reviews ranging from new releases (I included his Tree of Life review in an earlier link post) to classics and everything in between, bringing the same critical care and knowledge to them all. The fact that he’s a university student (i.e., young) is all the more reason for praise – he has the wisdom and writing style of someone far more experienced. Here are just a few reviews from the past several weeks that I enjoyed very much: Pale Flower – Masahiro Shinoda, Park Row – Samuel Fuller, Sherlock Jr – Buster Keaton, Bringing Up Baby – Howard Hawks. I’m a little behind on reading, but I he’s also recently done Captain America, Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau), Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock), and the newest Harry Potter, all of which I’m looking forward to reading.

DVD Triage: Week of July 26

Quite a variety of stuff coming out this week, from mainstream cerebral sci-fi to Quebecois art films to medieval-set genre movies. Plus, Mad Men on Instant Watch. Still a lot of expirations coming at the end of the month, so watch out for those, and I’ll post August’s major additions to Instant next week. They come out on Monday, which is pretty far away from now and I was already running late with this as it is. :)

New Release Picks of the Week

Source Code
A more mainstream-friendly film from Duncan Jones, for better or worse, but the multiple universe concept behind it is pretty interesting, and there are some well-played character moments as well.
2011 USA. Director: Duncan Jones. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

Xavier Dolan’s sophomore film is a self-consciously stylized New Wave imitator that’s perhaps short on substance, but so gorgeous to look at (and listen to) that I didn’t care. Now can we PLEASE have I Killed My Mother on DVD in the US? Heartbeats is also on Instant.
2010 Canada. Director: Xavier Dolan. Starring: Xavier Dolan, Niels Schneider, Monia Chokri.
Amazon DVD | Netflix

I have to admit that when I watched the trailer, seeing Giamatti traipsing around being all indignant while wearing medieval armor kind of made me snicker, but I am always down for checking out medieval-set stories, and other Row Three-ers seemed to have a good time with it.
2011 UK. Director: Jonathan English. Starring: James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi, Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

Life During Wartime Criterion
It’s rare for Criterion to put out a brand-new film on DVD – they do it with a portion of IFC releases, of which this is one, so even though I feel like it’s largely a marketing thing, it still perks up my interest. I haven’t seen other Solondz films, but I do want to delve into his reportedly eccentric filmography at some point.
2010 USA. Director: Todd Solondz. Starring: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

American Grindhouse (2010 USA, dir Elijah Drenner; Netflix)
The Clone Returns Home (2008 Japan, dir Kanji Nakajima, stars Eri Ishida, Hiromi Nagasaku; Netflix)
Mao’s Last Dancer (2009 Australia, dir Bruce Beresford, stars Bruce Greenwood, Joan Chen; Blu-ray/Netflix)
Park Benches (2009 France, dir Bruno Podalydes, stars Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric; Netflix)
Trust (2010 USA, dir David Schwimmer, stars Clive Owen, Catherine Keener; Blu-ray/Netflix)
Winter in Wartime (2010 Netherlands, dir Martin Koolhoven, stars Martijn Lakemeier; Netflix)
Bodyguards and Assassins (2009 Hong Kong, dir Teddy Chan, stars Donnie Yen, Leon Lai; Netflix)
The Conqueror (2010 Russia, dir Vladimir Bortko, stars Borgan Stupka, Igor Petrenko)
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010 USA, dir Kevin Munroe, stars Brandon Routh, Taye Diggs; Blu-ray/Netflix)
Jackboots on Whitehall (2011 UK, dir Edward & Rory McHenry, stars Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike; Netflix)
The King of Fighters (2011 USA, dir Gordon Chan, stars Maggie Q, Sean Faris; Blu-ray/Netflix)

Classic Pick of the Week

Leon Morin, Priest Criterion
The cover for this makes me think of Diary of a Country Priest, which I did not care for, but this is Melville and Belmondo, and that combination works for me quite well.
1961 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

Breaking Point (1950 USA, dir Michael Curtiz, stars John Garfield, Juano Hernandez)
Tortilla Flat (1942 USA, dir Victor Fleming, stars Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr)

50DMC #18: A Movie That Disturbed You

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s a movie that disturbed you?

I went through a few different options with this one, and almost put in Quills, one of the few movies I’ve ever seen that put me off so much I can’t separate myself from it enough to appreciate the good acting and stuff that I know it has. But I don’t necessarily think disturbing is bad; sometimes disturbing is exactly the right thing for a movie to be, and that’s what makes it good. (Some people might say that’s true of Quills; I don’t.) So instead I’m choosing A Clockwork Orange.

Kubrick’s dystopian film (based on Anthony Burgess’ novel) sets up Alex as an amoral sociopath whose only goal in life is to perpetuate a bit of the old ultraviolence, and proceeds to do so by brutalizing an elderly couple for no reason whatsoever. That’s already disturbing. You want someone to stop him, even as you find him weirdly charismatic. But in the second half of the film, he is arrested and subjected to behavior modification treatment, rendering him utterly passive and debased. And as horrible as Alex’s actions were, you basically end up feeling like the treatment is as inhumane as what he did to others, and you begin to sympathize with him, even as you remember what a terrible person he was. I still don’t ultimately know what I think about the film, but I can’t argue that it’s effective…and disturbing.

YouTube seems to have most of the clips unembeddable, so click here to see Alex being set up for the treatment.