Apparently I turned a corner in moviewatching in May, finally having a solid streak of films I really liked to loved. I think there were a few months earlier this year that I struggled to come up with any films that a solidly loved. Obviously not last month with the TCM Fest going on, but that’s a special occasion. This month I saw and loved four very distinctly different films, which is exactly the kind of month I like to have. Not a lot of volume in May (thanks to my newly developed Minecraft addiction – seriously, if you get addicted easily, do NOT buy that game), but a whole lot of quality.
What I Loved
I actually wrote a sort-of review for The Avengers already, so I won’t go on about it here, except just to say that we went back to see it again the next week (we NEVER do that – I can count the number of films I’ve seen multiple times in theatres on two hands) and I still enjoyed it just as much. I expected the beginning set-up section at S.H.I.E.L.D. to drag a lot more the second time, but I was pleasantly surprised.
2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregg Clark, Cobie Smulders.
Seen May 5 and May 12 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
Flickchart ranking: 382 out of 2965
The Turin Horse
Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.
2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Seen May 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 433 out of 2965
To some degree, you know what you’re going to get when you head into a Wes Anderson movie, so carefully has he refined his style, putting out one of the most self-consciously auteurist bodies of work of any director working today. This one is almost a spot-on distillation of the concept of a Wes Anderson film, and yet rather than devolve into parody, he’s created one of his best films yet. Here a boy scout and a young girl (who looks like a Margot Tenenbaum in the making) escape from her dysfunctional family, providing a young love of such innocence that it seems to provide a way out from Anderson’s typically ironic family drama, here played out by the world-weary and yet strangely childish adults. The film is so charming it’s easy to call it overly slight, but there’s more going on here than immediately meets the eye, and it has surprised me by never straying far from my mind since I saw it.
2012 USA. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.
Seen May 26 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 480 out of 2965
The Love Trap
Silent-to-sound era transition films are almost innately awkward, as studios rushed to try to sound-ify any silent films currently in production, creating hybrids that sit comfortably as neither silents or talkies. The Love Trap is one such film, and I won’t deny it has its fair share of awkwardness when the film, completely silent for roughly the first two thirds, turns completely talkie and it takes a little while to settle into the new mode. Yet I also can’t deny that I loved this film far more than it probably deserves. Laura LaPlante (who after seeing just this and The Cat and the Canary is my new silent girlcrush) is a showgirl who’s bad at it and gets fired, her only recourse to try to get “powder room money” from rich men. When one gets a little too fresh, she runs out horrified and disgraced, only to find she’s been evicted. A man in a taxi rescues her and her furniture from the sidewalk, and after a quick romance they’re married – but what will his wealthy family think of his showgirl wife? It’s pretty typical of the time, but done with such charm and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it – I say almost because there is a brief part in the taxi that bothered me, as the man begins behaving almost exactly like the cad back at the party, but somehow it’s different because we just “know” he’s the good guy. Double standard much? And the transition to sound is awkward, with poor LaPlante struggling a bit at first, but somehow by the end, she’s just as charming as she was in silent mode.
1929 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laura LaPlante, Neil Hamilton.
Seen May 9 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 555 out of 2965
What I Liked
Jan Svankmajer Shorts
As part of their Czech Film Festival, Cinefamily showed a bunch of Jan Svankmajer shorts, and I was really glad it happened to be a night i was volunteering, because I find Czech stop-motion animation pretty fascinating and Svankmajer is definitely the premier figure in Czech animation. This program featured films all the way from his early shorts in the 1960s up to the last shorts he made in the 1990s before devoting his time solely to feature films. The films are whole-heartedly odd to American eyes, with political undertones that I can only vaguely see thanks to my only rudimentary familiarity with Czech history. The most interesting thing to me is how they blend animation and live action in a way that American films pretty much never do – a lot of the time he’s using live actors but manipulating either them or their environment in a stop-motion kind of way. That’s most evident in Food, which has live actors eating at a table, but their movements are jerky and obviously manipulated as if they were inanimate objects rather than alive. Other shorts like The Flat have an actor behaving normally, but his environment is stop-motion animated. There’s a lot of visual interest in these shorts, but a lot of depth, too. A combination of whimsy and thoughtfulness that shows why Czech animation has the kind of reputation that it does. A lot of Svnakmajer shorts are collected on DVD, and a few collections are on Netflix Instant. I recommend checking them out.
1964-1990 Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic. Director: Jan Svankmajer.
Seen May 16 at Cinefamily.
The Flat Flickchart ranking: 1009 out of 2965
Dimensions of Dialogue Flickchart ranking: 1111 out of 2965
The Garden Flickchart ranking: 1130 out of 2965
Food Flickchart ranking: 1845 out of 2965
Jabberwocky Flickchart ranking: 1904 out of 2965
Flora Flickchart ranking: 2345 out of 2965
Meat Love Flickchart ranking: 2428 out of 2965
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
This is one of my husband Jonathan’s earliest remembered movies, and one that’s held a special place for him as long as he can remember. So of course I was eventually going to watch it, even though I was a bit skeptical at first. But I’m glad I decided to take the plunge, as I enjoyed the film a lot more than I expected. See our He Says, She Says entry for more.
1990 USA. Director: Steve Barron. Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, James Saito, Corey Feldman.
Seen May 14 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1190 out of 2965
Fruit of Paradise
Quite an experimental number from the director of Czech New Wave Daisies (which is basically pure anarchy in cinematic form), yet it does have a strong narrative throughline. It’s basically the story of the Fall, from Genesis 3, which is read/sung by an imposing voiceover chorus at the beginning and end of the film. After very abstract imagery of a naked man and woman wandering through the Garden of Eden while the set-up for the Fall is read, the film drops into a sort of modernized version of the story, with a husband and wife in a forest, fairly content until another man enters and the wife is fascinated by him, following him out of the garden and into his palatial mansion. I actually found a lot of it fascinating, especially in some of the imagery – like representing fallenness with a flowing red cloth that the other man eventually uses to drape around the woman when it becomes clear that she’s succumbed to his way of life. The film also does a pretty good job of portraying the shift from innocence to knowledge that goes with the Fall, and not in a facile way, either. All that said, this could’ve been done in like a thirty-minute short. There’s a poetry, I suppose, in the pacing and repetition, but it gets to be a bit much after a while, and rather self-indulgent.
1970 Czechoslovakia. Director: Vera Chytilová. Starring: Jitka Novákova, Karel Novak, Jan Schmid.
Seen May 23 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1713 out of 2965
Rewtaches – Really Liked
The Lady Vanishes
A much-needed rewatch, since I didn’t remember hardly anything about the film but the premise. Great to revisit. A lot more comedy than I remembered, but most of it works, and quite a lot of build-up. Although I guess the build-up isn’t unusual for Hitch, but for it to be so straightly comedic rather than suspenseful at all kind of is. It could almost be a straight-up light social comedy for the first half hour or so. Once the mystery part started, it’s pretty much a spiritual twin to Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich, which takes place one year after the war started instead of one year before, so it has a different perspective on espionage and international politics while still having the espionage-on-a-train angle. They’d make a great double feature. It’s interesting that The Lady Vanishes basically is a full-on mystery for most of the runtime, as opposed to Hitchcock’s general tendency toward suspense – most of the time in his films we, the audience, know pretty much what’s going on and the suspense is the maddening wait for the characters to catch up to us. Here, we were right with the characters the whole way, aside from a few bits of bald-faced exposition toward the end.
1938 UK. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty.
Seen May 28 on HuluPlus.
Flickchart ranking: 437 out of 2965
The first film of 2012 we purchased on Blu-ray, and we had to give it a rewatch almost immediately. I will admit that I wasn’t quite as taken with it this time as the first time, perhaps mere familiarity with the upcoming beats dimmed it a bit, but I still really enjoyed it and like what Soderbergh is doing with the film. And it definitely provides a great counterpoint to the over-saturation of effects and editing-driven fighting in cinema these days; Haywire’s beats and hits are crushingly real in comparison, and I love that.
2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas.
Seen May 5 on Blu-ray.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2965