Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
1967 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross.
When it comes to classics of American cinema, I usually find myself as something of a sheep – I tend to adore the majority of the classics, oftentimes chalking my opinions up to the consensus existing for a reason. That is not to say that I have not disliked any classic, but rather that I am more willing to overlook the faults and embrace the sense and mood of the halcyon days. With The Graduate, however, I was decidedly underwhelmed, and mostly disappointed. It is essentially a two-part film, half brilliant, half pathetic. The relationship between Ben (Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft) is wonderfully executed, with their almost palpable shared desire and intimacy. Their interactions – in particular, their reactions to each other’s ebbs and flows within the scope of the affair – are not only believable, but almost voyeuristically so. And, in general, the filmmaking is quite good. However, as the story ventures into the relationship between Ben and Elaine (Ross), the film loses itself in a haze of poor pacing and inexplicable character actions. The crux of the film, at least for me, is this unexpected romance between Ben and Elaine … a romance that is never really explained or explored, finding itself out of place. As a result, I am left with a wholly unsatisfactory climax and conclusion, left wanting for the promise birthed by what came before.
The Turin Horse
2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
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.
2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson.
5 stars might be a bit high, but I enjoyed the hell out of The Avengers after not expecting a lot from it and I can’t really find flaw with it. From start to finish it had me hooked and had a healthy amount of humour, drama and action, without leaning too far to any of those aspects. To me this is how superhero films should be done – fast paced and fun without taking themselves overly seriously. The Dark Knight Rises has some serious competition this year that I doubt it can top. (originally published on Letterboxd on 5/1)
2011 Greece. Director: Giorgos Lanthimos. Starring: Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia, Stavros Psyllakis.
I think the biggest problem with Alps is it simply isn’t Dogtooth. Maybe that isn’t fair and a rewatch is in order with expectations lowered just a tad. There is a really interesting concept buried in here, but “buried” is exactly the right term. The film feels tonally like Dogtooth in its oddity, but doesn’t feel like the oddness is earned. It feels like a lot of characters acting strange just for the sake of acting strange. Some of the character threads (of which there are one or two too many) seem loose and glossed over, of service of nothing; despite Aggeliki Papoulia being again perfection on screen and the supporting cast is quite good as well. Overall I felt the pacing and storytelling was more interested in setting a mood and tone (and it does that well!) rather than telling what could’ve really been a great story with a fascinating concept. (originally published on Letterboxd on 4/19)
The Man in the White Suit
1951 UK. Director: Alexander Mackendrick. Starring: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker.
In my mind, Alec Guinness is the most under-appreciated actor in the history of film, and The Man in the White Suit represents one of at least a half dozen brilliant performances. Here, Guinness portrays an idealist (if not naive) young chemist by the name of Sidney Stratton, the inventor of a remarkable fabric that does not wear nor stain. This discovery merits a great deal of praise and admiration, and justifiably so, and seems poised to revolutionize the textile industry. Such revolutions are often met with reactionaries from the other side of the ideological spectrum … but in this case, Stratton’s adversaries are functioning on a ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ basis. For the capitalists, the titular White Suit represents a loss of money – who will continue to buy clothing once new clothing is no longer a necessity? And for labor, who will continue to the White Suit represents a loss of opportunity – who will higher a garment maker if the demand for clothing evaporates? The Man in the White Suit presents all sides of the argument on level ground, treating everything with a smart, subtle sense of satire and never taking itself too seriously. Guinness is, of course, at the front of all of this, smiling, laughing, and charming his way through the entire film.
My Dinner with Andre
1981 USA. Director: Louis Malle. Starring: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn.
I did not buy the Criterion, not sure if it is better quality, the one I watched looked like a VHS tape left overnight in the rain. Still, one doesn’t watch My Dinner With Andre for the visual prowess, and at first you begin to wonder why at all one watches it, so slowly and awkwardly the conversation of two friends begins. I can see how it could instantly turn off people, and seem overrated. But Malle seems determined to be verite letting the conversation be uncomfortable and one-sided so that you feel Wallace Stevens’ burden of enduring yet another social activity he does out of a sense of duty more than genuine interest. But then something happens, after a near hour long monologue punctured by the briskest of injections, Wallace suddenly lights up and engages in the conversation. Suddenly there are two points of view on how to live, and at this point the movie is a revelation. What seemed didactic now becomes visceral as the two combat over what meaning is to be had of their lives and the rest of world pulls away as the talk hits that momentum of anything is possible euphoria. While Wallace seemed like a foil for Andre’s great vision of humanity, in the end I found myself more drawn to his realistic take on human behavior, I suspect he is the voice for the audience trying to reign in the energy of Andre to something that compares to their own lives. But Wallace is not entirely right, you see legitimate doubt and Andre like a good combatant is able to punch holes in his logic, and in the end you are left agitated into a sense of wonder about what it all means. I felt like Wallace going home and seeing the world differently. (originally published on Letterboxd on 4/27)
Iron Man 2
2010 USA. Director: Jon Favreau. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson.
I figured I’d go ahead and watch this before The Avengers comes out, since I had missed it in theatres the year it came out. “Missed” isn’t the right word. I heard bad things about it and opted not to go. And yeah, this movie is really boring, especially for an action movie. There are only like two and a half actual action scenes in it. The first hour or so I was kind of bored stiff – there were some good ideas in there, like Tony being poisoned by the thing that’s saving him, but the film just uses it as an excuse for him to wallow in self-pity (somehow he manages to be arrogant AND self-pitying at the same time) and do ridiculously stupid things. It picked up in the last third, after he met with Nick Fury and Black Widow (as herself, I mean, not as office drone Natalie), and I perked up a good bit, but even so. The good bits (callbacks to Howard Stark, a fun performance by Sam Rockwell, decently choreographed if overly digital-looking fight sequences) couldn’t save the dismal script. Easily the worst of the Avengers lead-up movies. Not only is the script a mess, but it’s deadly dull for extended portions of its overlong running time, and that’s pretty much the worst sin a film like this can commit. (originally published on Letterboxd on 4/26)
2010 UK. Director: William Monaghan. Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Ben Chaplin, Ray Winstone.
I thought this was a pretty solid effort from everyone involved. Great cast and everyone seems to be diving into the fun with both feet and not phoning anything in – David Thewlis is flat out AWESOME in this movie (as he usually is). Pretty good character piece. If you’re looking for crazy “gangsta shit” like The Departed, it isn’t quite here. This is more of a reflection piece with lots of interested parties and sub plots running parallel really nicely. Maybe it’s that my expectations were so low, but I thought this one was a very solid piece of entertainment. (originally published on Letterboxd on 4/28)
A Night to Remember
1958 UK. Director: Roy Ward Baker. Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman.
Otherwise known as the first draft of James Cameron’s Titanic. There are A LOT of the same visual cues, pieces of dialogue between the two films, which may have to do partly with the same source material but, I don’t know, take the Jack and Rose story out of it and it is pretty much a remake of this black and white original. That said, I do prefer Cameron’s sentimentality and the injection of the personal story the makes the events of the tragedy more powerful. My only criticism of A Night to Remember is that it has this stiff upper lip quality to it, nothing seems overtly horrific about what is happening, and that kind of diffuses the drama for me. With a story like Titanic I think you have to go sublime and be less procedural about it. Still, A Night to Remember is gorgeous and has aged extremely well. (originally published on Letterboxd on 4/30)