Thursday November 6, 2014 19:30
Remember when I updated this blog a couple of years ago, said I was going to start updating again, then didn’t? Good times.
I think I’m going to start updating this blog again (seriously this time). But first, here are the movies from The List that I happened to watch over the last two years.
ANGEL FACE (1952)
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman
A kind of bland film noir about a guy who gets tangled up with a woman who may or may not be trying to murder her parents. Though the film was decently made by Otto Preminger (whose no-frills direction almost completely eschews the stylistic tropes film noir is known for), it’s just never all that compelling, and it definitely overstays its welcome a bit.
THE KILLERS (1946)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien
Now here’s a film noir I can get behind. About an ex-boxer who winds up getting murdered a few years after a payroll robbery gone bad, this was really well made. The film actually has a similar structure to Citizen Kane — the main character dies shortly after the film begins, and an investigator talks to those who knew him to piece together what led to his death. The movie features an absolutely electrifying opening in which two hitmen terrorize the inhabitants of a diner; though the rest of the movie is pretty great, it can’t help but feel a little anti-climactic after that amazing scene. The film is really well directed by Robert Siodmak, who embraces all of noir’s stylistic tropes with gusto; there’s a memorably impressive long take here that reminded me of the opening of Touch of Evil, albiet less elaborate (I wonder if Welles took some inspiration from this film). It was also very well acted — the main character could have come off as a generic tough guy, but Burt Lancaster brings a lot of depth to the role. Ava Gardner also made for a memorable femme fatale.
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
Sixth or Seventh Viewing
Wes Anderson is easily one of my favourite directors, and this is probably his best film; suffice it to say, I love this movie. Yep — this is just as amazing as I remembered, and clearly one of Wes Anderson’s best films. It’s also funnier than I remembered it being, with quite a few big laughs. Everything here is pretty great: the memorable cast of characters (centred by Jason Schwartzman’s indelible Max Fischer), the direction, the cinematography, Anderson’s perfect use of music along with Mark Mothersbaugh’s pitch-perfect score… it’s pretty amazing.
THE KILLER (1989)
Directed by: John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh
Every director who wants to make an action movie should be forced to watch John Woo’s pre-America films. They should be required viewing. The plot, involving a hitman with a heart of gold, a girl who he accidentally blinds and then falls in love with, and the cop trying to take him down, was completely by-the-numbers. It was entertaining enough, with a charismatic, badass lead performance from Chow Yun-Fat — but it’s the exquisite action that makes this the modern classic that it is. Though it’s not quite on the level of the insane awesomeness of the later Hard-Boiled (which is inexplicably not on The List), the shootouts here are visceral action poetry. It’s clear that there’s pretty much no one else who can direct people shooting at each other with the style, excitement, and downright awesomeness of John Woo. The smaller-scale shootouts in the first half are pretty amazing, but then Woo cranks it up to eleven for a couple of amazingly over-the-top shootouts in which Chow Yun-Fat and one other guy take on an army of Triad assassins (who in one scene, awesomely, are all wearing white jumpsuits. White jumpsuits + hundreds of squibs = 100% pure badassery).
MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent
I hated this movie. Seriously hated it. About a naive young writer who falls in love with a showgirl, it was more of an extended music video than actual movie. Featuring the barest bones of a plot — basically just enough to get from one musical number to the next — and characters who are almost absurdly flat and one-dimensional, the film felt like a hollow excuse for Baz Luhrmann to exercise his wildly overblown sense of style. Dear lord, this film was so aggressively, absurdly hyper-stylized that watching it was basically just an unpleasant visual assault. Of course there’s an exclamation mark in the title; the whole movie is an exclamation mark.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
Pretty much the granddaddy of all zombie films, this was actually a surprisingly entertaining movie about a group of people who find themselves all holed up in the same house during a zombie uprising. The movie is just as much about the people in the house trying (and mostly failing) to work together as it is about the zombies, and all that stuff is quite effective. None of the performances are particularly great, but they’re passable. And the zombies, when we do see them, are creepy and menacing (it’s easy enough to see why they became a standby of the horror genre, as George A. Romero does a pretty great job of setting them up as compelling, memorable antagonists).
DEAD MAN (1995)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Johnny Depp, Crispen Glover, Robert Mitchum
An interesting but not exactly entertaining western about a young man who travels across the country for a job, only for things to very quickly go wrong. I think I admired this film more than I actually enjoyed it; it’s well directed, and has a quirky, almost aggressively esoteric sensibility that is oddly compelling in stretches. But it’s very meandering without much momentum (mostly by design) and feels like a bit of a slog at times. I feel like it’s the kind of movie that you would absolutely love if you connect with its very specific sensibility; I never quite did.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy MacDowall, Kim Hunter
A really well made film about a group of astronauts who find themselves on a strange planet where apes are the dominant species and where humans basically act like apes (and if course, it turns out to be Earth all along). Though it’s a bit heavy-handed with its science versus religion allegory, it’s the type of interesting, thought-provoking sci-fi that we get so little of these days. It’s also really well made and quite compelling throughout.