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1 star = F
For anyone that's actually bothered to read Bios.
I am a pseuo-intellectual, young adult, misanthrope with a penchant for resorting to petty remarks on the piss-poor state of modern pop culture.
I am sometimes naive and highly opinionated because otherwise life would be rather blase.
My ultimate existential nightmare is akin to viewing the downward spiral of the world from a vegetative state of paralysis, unable to comment on it.
Apparently that doesn't go down too well with everyone.
It's a work in progress, and the list is numbered over 100 and I"m usually removing and adding new movies every now and then.
Most of these movies I haven't even seen, so this list will take a while. But hey, I've got all the time in the world. Feel free to add any comments below.
The search for meaning.
An aging professor of bacterium embarks upon a day's journey from Stockholm to Lundsk to receive an honourary award for his career work. The night before, he has a Bunuel-esque nightmare that foreshadows his own fate, seeing a watch with no hands, and his own corpse in a coffin. Cleverly, the film hints that he may be out of time before his own mortality claims him, and thus he begins a journey of self discovery where his skeletons reach out from the closet.
For my first Bergman film, I was impressed by the crisp presentation and cerebral story. Its not often that filmmakers explore the aging process in sympathetic ways, and this is helped by the characterization of Dr. Isak Borg as an every man which makes him easier to relate to. He's a successful academic, although happiness in his personal life was sacrificed for concentration on his profession. And so Dr. Borg asks the eternal question of whether his existence has had any significance at all. Along the road trip with his daughter in law Marianne (who resents his emotional distancing), they pick up passengers that each represent and harken back to the failures of Borg's past. An old bickering couple that remind him of his unhappy marriage, and a love triangle between two men and a girl who symbolize a lost love from his adolescence.
As the memories come flooding back, the old doctor descends into his recollections and subconscious dreams, where suppressed issues come hurtling forth from the depths. His clinical nature and lack of interest in relationships led to his first love leaving him for his brother, and later his wife having a bastard child with another man, who Borg still raised as his own. There is a haunting scene where he takes Marianne to visit his lonely, decrepit mother, and there the audience realizes along with her that this lack of zest for life seems to run through the family; Isak's son is too revealed to be a misanthropic bore, who rejects his wife Marianne's request for a child. The result of his resentfulness at having been raised as an unwanted child himself.
The doctor soon learns that the only good he ever accomplished was tied to his medicinal work, but at the cost of living a life of solitude and isolation, a mindset that has afflicted his own son. There is a subtle theme from Bergman that Borg's ignorance of his family and friends has been the result of his turning away from God, as hinted by the young men they pick up (a minister and a doctor, the two sides of Isak's psyche) who fight and debate over its existence. No real answer is given in the end, symbolized by the men's stalemate in the argument. But as said later in the film: "a doctor's first duty is forgiveness." It seems the first step to even beginning to comprehend the question is by forgiving the flaws of those around you and the ones within. And although Borg fears he may be too late to reconcile the animosity between him and his family, the film makes an inspiring statement by the end that it's never never too late to redeem oneself and begin enjoying life. The story is resolved, and the generational cycle of resentment broken, with the rapprochement between two lovers and the potential birth of new life.
Alas, there are flaws in Bergman's work that cannot be forgiven, and he was no God. The first major flashback acts as a crux of the plot, but appears contrived due to Isak being present for an event that was impossible for him to have known. Nor do we ever get to really see this "cold distance" that Isak possessed as a man; only its effects. The director is to be commended for not spoon feeding the audience the philosophical aspects (this is an art film from Sweden after all), but sometimes his high brow obscurity gets in the way of my enjoyment of the story. It's all a little too esoteric for me. While the message may seem a little trite and simplistic at times, this is still a heartwarming and life-affirming fable from a legendary auteur. "Wild Strawberries" has a comforting aura, although like Doctor Isak Borg himself, the film can be rather too pedantic for its own good.
His Girl Friday (1940)
A convincing, satirical comedy on the power of the press.
Howard Hawks, cinematic pioneer of screwball comedy and machine gun, rapid fire dialogue, created an enduring classic whose influence continues to be felt even today. This wasn't the first film to marry romance and newspapers, nor the last, with the likes of Capra and Cukor concocting their own tabloid funny pictures. But the play "Front Page" by Hecht and MacArthur came out years before, and Hawks's film superbly captures the atmospheric mania and chaos of paper journalism. The chatter of reporters relaying the big scoop into their telephones is handled brilliantly through complex, overlapping dialogue that was painstakingly captured by the sound mixing team. The romantic quips between ex husband and wife Walter Burns and Hilde Johnson (Grant and Russell) are entertaining enough, as is the subplot with her hapless fiancé, but it's the hysterics of seeing the characters holding conversations between, say, two candlestick phones and a coworker that provides the real physical and situational gags. You feel the urgency as an inmate is on death row for shooting a cop, only for him to escape, as the myriad of journalists all scramble for a story. The complex plot becomes even more intricately fast paced the further the characters become entangled in the escapades, as political intrigue, a love triangle, and a thrilling manhunt all conflict to create unbridled bedlam. At times it's easy to lose yourself in keeping track of the details but that becomes part of the film's charm; making sense of all the pandemonium is half the fun! But beneath the humour is a sardonic poke at the callous influence of the media, something that affects everyone from innocent bystanders to those who hold office. The story makes a darker subtlety about the manipulation of truth although the satire is softened by the romance inserted by the scriptwriters. Luckily this only means that the film has something to offer for everyone.
It's a real pioneering work, and its impact on cinema can be felt all the way to contemporaries like Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino (of who the film is a personal favorite). Just be prepared to feel as the characters do; trying to catch onto the story amidst all the madness.
Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
Ponderously dry military drama.
England, 1942. The 918th bomber regiment, flying into Europe to deliver their payload to German targets, is a group suffering from low morale and even worse luck, with many pilots coming back dead, injured, or psychologically scarred from their daylight raids that are only growing tougher. Enter General Savage, played by Peck, who believes the problem lies with their CO, Colonel Davenport, a good soldier who has become too close to his men and thus lacks the necessary strong-arm discipline. Savage relieve the Colonel of his command, and brings the 918th under his wing, attempting to whip this hard luck group into shape. The film deals with the theme of leadership under stress, and how a commander will toe the line between protecting his men and sending them to their deaths.
For a psychological drama on the effects of war on the chain of command, the film is undoubtedly good. Any military buff or WWII geek will get his worth for watching it. But for those interested in the actual bombing missions, bad news, as there is one bombing run and it only lasts for ten minutes in the last fourth of the movie. It consists of genuine war footage spliced in with the actors, and while it's certainly an effective sequence, it arrived too little too late to save the story, as I had already lost interest. The issue I took with the film was my lack of connection with any of the characters in the squadron, save for Savage. In the beginning, we are introduced to a man we think is the protagonist, who has a flashback to the events that sets the plot in motion; but it turns out he's only a side character who hardly has an effect on the story. If any character is the main one, it should have been Peck's Savage, but we don't meet him until twenty minutes in.
There is also a distinct lack of notable personalities in the bomber crews Savage is attempting to win over. Essential scenes that would be obligatory in the telling of the tale are skipped over or told from an offhand source. In a pivotal moment, Savage is convinced his men will transfer out instead of staying. But another officer rushes in and informs him that all the men forgave their transfer orders, and opted to stay with the group. Surely this would have been a case where we should be shown this, and not just told in an anticlimactic fashion. Perhaps seeing the men all threatening to leave, but one brave soul tears up his transfer order, and the rest soon follow in an honourary echo. But because we never see this (indeed, barely see any of the grunts; most of the runtime is devoted to Peck's static character) the result of Savage's salvation is not convincing. Surely this imaginary scene I described would have given me a character in the group with a justifiable personality, who I would later then care about as much as Savage apparently does when they bite the dust at the end.
But no, the 918th are just a faceless mass of men who we get glimpses of, but never get to really know. There are a couple choice scenes of men venting about why he's a bad commander, but we never get to see Savage do anything resentful or in any serious conflict with the group. The moments where bonds are forged and brotherhood is found, the battle scenes, are nonexistent except for one. The worst thing we see him do is close the bar for a night. There is also a subplot where he gives command to a deadbeat officer, in charge of a plane called the Leper Colony, and filled with the worst crewmen in the bomber group. Savage threatens to to rub his "face in the dirt" with this detail. But this relationship is soon forgotten by the director as well. It is at least resolved later in a touching scene at the hospital between Savage and the officer. It is revealed the man went through great personal sacrifice, having had to ditch the plane in the English Channel, and flying three missions with a fractured vertebrae. Again, the film makes a point of not throwing any of this exciting, hair raising action, but are instead just told about it. This starts to make the film bleed into monotonous scenes of indistinguishable sludge after a while. As the movie drags on, we do not get any of the bomber crew members showing up as major characters, and we don't see them struggling to get on with the General even as he flies on offscreen missions with them. All we get is exposition in the officer's club, with the generals and majors deciding on how best to run the unit. It's all very meticulous and cold, but lacks the humanity to make me care.
The climax of the film involves General Savage having a nervous breakdown, as he ironically becomes too attached to his men for his own good. Let me go on to say that this is soon resolved in an almost arbitrary fashion, and the ending is as carefree and bland as could possibly be. For a detailed look into a commander's effort to run a regiment, there is much for the war buff. But the bomber crews seem to take a backseat to one man's struggle, and this just isn't enough to keep me invested for a two hour runtime.
Last of the mad-man generals.
Maybe McArthur was a strong contender, but Patton has to be one of the most polarizing military figures in recent US history. His dogmatic approach to war making was akin to a passionate romance; here was a man who lived and breathed the art of conquering.
The character himself is ripe for a multilayered dissection, what with all the complexities that Patton had within himself. He was both brave and sadistic. Incredibly intelligent and stubbornly shortsighted, and because he happened to be fighting for the allies, he is mythologized as fighting for freedom. But as many have pointed out, if he'd been a German he would no doubt have fought to the death for Hitler himself. Unfortunately, the screenplay for "Patton" only offers a cursory glance over his campaigns in WWII. It never really analyzes his more controversial aspects, such as his frothing antisemitism and infamous vulgarity. What the film does touch on is the German high command's respect for him, which is unique for a war picture. But other details of his life, such as his service in WW1, and his untimely and tragic death, are ignored.
A troubling part of the picture is the film's dated-ness. It is very much a studio film, one that takes zero chances with the narrative, and has noticeably aged. The battle scenes are typical of-the-era goofiness, sanitized through its 1960s lense. It really is a shame that fictional movies like "The Dirty Dozen" or "Kelly's Heroes" have more shocking scenes of war than a biography about an army Warhawk. As it is, both the writing and direction are barely adequate and leave much to be desired, but the film is still worth recommending for the glorious portrayal by George C Scott. Where the character ends and the actor begins is impossible to tell, and this is the sign of a truly impressive performance.
Because the story leads through a rather shallow, Spark-Notes recollection of his war-time experiences, Patton falls short of greatness. The critical eye of the writer is closed just as we begin to understand the tragic image of a man who became unhealthily obsessed with a destructive drug. Patton may not be my favorite film involving either writer, director, or lead actor (Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation for Coppola; Planet of the apes and Papillon for Schaffner; The Hustler and Dr Strangelove for George C Scott), but for a fascinating portrait of an enigmatic individual, "Patton" remains definitive, until they make his next biopic any better.
Urban decay has never been so slickly photographed.
Se7en is one of those films you watch in between long intervals. For me, this was my third rewatch and my last. I don't think I have the stomach for another.
It is essentially a buddy cop flick, but the script touches on deeper issues of the future of human society, sin, apathy, and predestination. The Noir trappings are beautiful to behold, the constant rain, squalor, grimy city that feels like every dystopian metropolis combined into one. But it occasionally veers into fantasy with a plot that relies on a few too many gimmicks to make it flawless. The villain is simply an omnipotent being at times with almost magic powers.
There are moments of genuine humanity that doesn't make it completely hopeless, but the atmosphere is filled with so much despair and nihilism that the grunge attitude of it does begin to wear as the clock ticks by. And by the time the villain of the piece makes his grand entry, I kept expecting him to appear with a leather mask on his face and gloating evilly about eating a census taker's liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Still, the dynamic between Freeman and Pitt is still enticing to watch, and the story works as a parable or even sadistic fable at a rudimentary level. But sometimes I wish the story hadn't been so manipulative and fixed just so that it could punish these characters and push them to insane lengths. I felt like character motivations and development were being engaged at the behest of the plot progression, so certain events begin to seem contrived just so it can reach the shocking conclusion. I assume the writer was trying to teach a lesson, albeit in a clumsy fashion.
I would call it a minor 90s classic, and the dreamlike, twilight zone-esque environment adds a nice surreal atmosphere. For those willing to ignore plot conveniences and the dingy weather, this film will take you along for a horrific trip into the darkest recesses of what men are capable of.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Usual Suspects made a long career for Bryan Singer, and an even larger reputation for itself. A crime-thriller that supposedly pioneered the 'shocking' twist, long before Shyamalan came on the scene. But what about watching a movie without any pre-conceived notions? I took the time to slip it into the DVD player with my old man besides me. After 2 hours of convoluted trickery, he was less than impressed with the film's main plot device. "Well that was clever..... but is that it?"
With a combination of tropes (the dog being the mastermind, crossed with unreliable narrator) the writers try to keep the audience guessing, but somewhat superficially, as the story gradually winds down to a less than mind-blowing finale. The direction is flashy and Scorsese-lite, with bright lighting, wide angles, and mysterious music to let the viewer feel he is being led astray. It works for the most part, but I felt like my buttons were being pressed unwillingly by the filmmaker, to make the mystery seem thicker than it was.
The other problem was the narrator-bound narrative. It was essential for the plot, but also meant we never peek into the lives of these characters we're supposed to be attached to. The history between them is relegated to expository dialogue, and a love-interest's death is dealt out in an offhand fashion right at the climax. It made me realize that most of the story is built around this twist ending, and the rest of what happened in the film, all the mini-adventures the characters had, the elaborate trail they had been lead on, was all window-dressing to get me to the WOW shocker that had been promised all along.
It's neat, artfully told, smooth film making, but the story seems like it could have been condensed into a 20 minute Twilight Zone episode and left at that. Not a 2 hour feature. My time wasn't exactly wasted, but there wasn't much meat to chew on, thematically or character-wise, and all it left me to ponder upon was a quote hijacked from French poet Charles Baudelair; "The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist." It doesn't exactly scream originality, does it? Shouldn't the writers have to pay copyright material for using another's work?
Three Kings (1999)
Pretty decent war romp.
The first Gulf War is a neglected subject for movie making, with most choosing to avoid the messy politics of the desert engagement against Iraq. David O'Russell dives head first into a witty satire that simultaneously lampoons and chastises American involvement in Kuwait.
In the most recent Iraq war, there were stories of US Military taking advantage of Saddam's wealth in the confusion of the 2003 invasion. It is somewhat fitting then, that the screenplay opens as a gold hunt in the prequel to the recent Gulf War. When Sergeant Troy (former rapper Wahlberg) and his squadmate Conrad (director Spike Jonze) find a map shoved up the backside of an Iraqi prisoner, deciphering out it leads to Saddam's stolen stash of Kuwaiti bullion in an underground bunker. Soon, Special Forces operative Archie Gates (Clooney) and Chief (former rapper Ice Cube) join to lead a secret heist mission on the stash before they pull out for good, and before their commander finds out.
Right off the bat the premise is intriguing and the actors do a fine job as a rag tag group of thieves. Even better is the sardonic tone of the film, with screwball jokes and inventive, shocking imagery that dispels the myths of the '24 hour news channel war' as it was shown in the US. Unfortunately, caper plot is soon ditched in favour of a more Hollywood message, and with it goes the pacing, replaced with overt social commentary that doesn't always work.
There are still a handful of great scenes in the second half; Wahlberg being captured and tortured by the sadistic Iraqi Guard, and asked why America made Michael Jackson white... Another scene shows the gory effects of what air pressure can do to a collapsed lung... But from then on, the film slows to a crawl in a feel good sentiment for your fellow man that seems out of place compared to the first half. Still, worth watching for the black humour and farce that is so enjoyable in the beginning.
Lost in America (1985)
Great scenes, but thin and missing an ending.
Albert Brooks is a wonderful talent, somewhat of a Woody Allen offshoot, and his script writing is witty and has just the right amount of offbeat humour to it.
The film has a great premise, and the characters are realistic and sympathetic enough to retain attention, but it moves too fast and feels underdeveloped. It starts out with Howard (Brooks) established as a moderately successful advertising executive, who with his managerial wife, plan to put a down payment on a 400k house. But the corporate lifestyle has sapped some of the excitement out of both their lives, and before divorce proceedings set in, they hilariously quit their jobs and set out on the open road to find themselves. And along the way they bring the 'nest egg'.
Unfortunately, things don't go as planned, and the soul searching quickly becomes a trip through hell. With each quagmire the couple finds themselves in, Brooks' character hilariously pleads with the people he sees as obstacles to their luck. The film is built around 3 or 4 of these lengthy, seemingly improvised sketch scenes, and is what provides most of the entertainment apart from the scenario. But after the main twist and conflict happens, the film loses steam and the hijinx quickly dissipitate until the film deflates at the end.
Little soul searching actually occurs, and the film has a realistic, but disappointing ending after much of the build up to their quagmire. The ending just isn't what was promised after the dark hilarity of misfortune that preceded it. The characters feel annoyingly self entitled at first, and start to grate, but the writing and short running times keeps things feeling fresh long enough to want to finish.
Worth watching just for Brooks.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Yes, you heard that right. At its essence, Ang Lee's fable of fated warriors and princesses is a resurfacing into the universe of myth and legend. It takes place in Ancient China, perhaps of the Han Dynasty era, but the story is adaptable to any time frame or location. The cast of archetypal characters are our superheroes, Jedi-knights, apprentices, swashbucklers, the martial art of the Wudang is the secret power, the force, the sorcerer's magic, and the sword called 'Green Destiny' is the artifact, buried treasure, or the maguffin.
It is a world of fairytale and high fantasy, brought to vivid life by the imagination of Ang Lee. The character's are multi-faceted and believable, and the tale is one of life affirmation. Good and evil are not painted in broad strokes of black and white, contrary to what many critics have said previously, but legend is transformed into a realistic analysis of the human condition.
They say the film was a massive hit in the US, and a notorious flop in China. This is not so inconceivable, as the film as certain 'anti- Eastern' sentiments and more global, humanist tendencies that put it in league with certain works by Shakespeare. The story doesn't denounce any particular facets of Chinese culture. Tradition and homegrown philosophy are shown to be advantageous to those that live by honour and the sword, and perilous to those that live lives of imbalance and despair. Jealousy and hubris are the undoing of many, and while the Buddhist and Taoist quest for enlightenment is detailed by the protagonist of Mi Lu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), his 'great sorrow' is a symptom of the greatest human emotion known to the world.
Is the film perfect? No, not at all. The plot hops around, and while it doesn't ruin the experience, what needed to be a 3 hour epic was reduced to a 2 hour engagement with a giant detour in the middle that relied on too much back story. But it is a wonderful back story. This is not a film about superpowers, as spectacular, unmatched and jaw-dropping as these effects and scenes remain some 13 years later. But it is a simple coming of age tale and warning against unrequited love. It is a confirmation of companionship, and for that, Ang Lee and his team deserved the highest praises.
The real all-encompassing epic and Best Picture of the year 2000.
The Truman Show (1998)
"How's it going to end?" "I was wondering that myself."
I have heard of the Truman Show to be regarded as a 'reference point' movie, where the general outline of the story is so outrageous and unique (to a point), that everyone knows the film through the phrase "oh, that's the one where the guy is trapped in, so and so....". Not every film is as instantly recognizable as The Matrix or Star Wars, but their set-ups are crucial to the intrigue. As with Groundhog Day, the Truman Show may just be one of the greatest and most intelligent comedies of the 1990s.
Some may find the satire here too heavy handed, thus making it shallow. But the pertinent themes of self-determination, the relationship of institutions like the State, Media, and religion in tandem with the idea of free will, and the concept of what it truly means to be a happy person are all explored for better or worse here.
Some of the imagery is a little too obvious, like Truman literally piercing through 'the edge of the world' and having a conversation with 'God'. The natural source of comedy in Truman slowly realizing his world is a TV set is woefully underused, with only about a third of the screen time dedicated to Jim Carrey's priceless antics among the straight faced actors and television crew around him. The film remorselessly lampoons network television with views inside the control room. A perfectly cast Ed Harris as a maniacal parody of a Steve Jobs entrepreneur/artiste, complete with beret and turtleneck sweater, anchors the story as the plausibly divine instrument of Truman's fate. The use of product placement invading the character's life is another stroke of genius.
The film ends somewhat abruptly, but the tale of a single human life being born out of and fighting against the ratings is something to aspire to, ironically. The metaphor couldn't be more appropriate in this day and age of increasing surveillance and invasion of privacy. Apart from that, this is certainly the best Jim Carrey film after "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".