Movies We Watched

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.

The Graduate

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.

Netflix Instant

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.

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Film on TV: August 30 – September 5

Requiem for a Dream, playing on IFC on Sunday

A good many repeats this week, but still some very good stuff worth pointing out. The entire Man With No Name trilogy is on TCM on Tuesday, though not in order for whatever reason, along with a bunch of other Clint Eastwood films, most of them westerns, most of which I haven’t seen. I didn’t list them all out separately, so if you’re needing an Eastwood fix, check out the full TCM schedule yourself or just stay tuned to it all day Tuesday. Steve McQueen takes over TCM on Friday, from early creature-feature The Blob through his 1960s and 1970s classics. MGM celebrates itself again with That’s Entertainment! II on TCM on Saturday, but they deserve it. Plus IFC has a late Truffaut (The Last Metro) and an early Aranofsky (Requiem for a Dream) on Sunday.

Monday, August 30

6:45am – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See

7:45am – IFC – Paranoid Park
I go back and forth on whether I think Gus Van Sant is brilliant or a pretentious bore – maybe some of both. But I really quite liked the slow, oblique approach in this film about a wanna-be skateboarder kid who relishes hanging out with the bigger skateboarders at the titular skate park – but there’s a death not far from there, and it takes the rest of the movie to slowly reveal what exactly happened that one night near Paranoid Park. Gets by on mood and cinematography.
2007 USA Director: Gus Van Sant. Starring: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Lu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen, Lauren McKinney.
(repeats at 12:45pm, and 4:35am on the 31st)

9:00am-11:00am – TCM – Charley Chase/Thelma Todd shorts
The three great silent comedians everyone remembers are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Right behind them and unjustly forgotten was Charley Chase, who did a lot of very funny silent (and early sound) shorts, usually playing a wanna-be dapper, rather sarcastic young man. TCM is playing a few of these shorts as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Thelma Todd, one of his frequent costars. There are several other Todd shorts the rest of the day, so if you’re a fan of silent and early sound comedy, check them out. But I can personally vouch for the Charley Chase ones.
USA. Starring: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd.
Newly Featured!

9:15am – IFC – The Station Agent
One of the most pleasant surprises (for me, anyway) of 2003. Peter Dinklage moves into a train depot to indulge his love for trains and stay away from people, only to find himself befriended by a loquacious Cuban hot-dog stand keeper and an emotionally delicate Patricia Clarkson. A quiet but richly rewarding film.
2003 USA. Director: Thomas McCarthy. Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale.
(repeats at 2:15pm)

5:25pm – IFC – Breakfast on Pluto
Patrick is a young Irish boy who before very long becomes Patricia. His story is about more than just his attempts to get people to accept him as a her; his quest for identity and his lost family is played out against the backdrop of the early years of the Troubles, as his friends get more and more involved in IRA factions while he does his best to keep from getting involved in things that are too “serious.” There’s a tough-to-find sweet spot between hilarity and tragedy, and hilarity that masks tragedy, and director Neil Jordan and actor Cillian Murphy found it with this film.
2005 Ireland. Director: Neil Jordan. Starring: Cillian Murphy, Eva Birthistle, Liam Neeson.

9:30pm – TCM – Horse Feathers
Most film comedians do a college-set film at some point, and this is the Marx Brothers entry into higher education. This is a relatively early film for them, and it’s not quite as great as the Duck SoupA Night at the OperaA Day at the Races trifecta, but it’s still really solid, one of my favorites of their pre-1933 films.
1932 USA. Director: Norman Z. McLeod. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Thelma Todd, David Landau.

10:00pm – Sundance – Curse of the Golden Flower
One of the weaker entries in Zhang Yimou’s series of historical martial-arts-on-wires films, but it still has its moments – and the production design, as usual, is flawlessly beautiful. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of the style.
2006 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Ye Liu.
(repeats at 3:20am on the 31st)

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Film on TV: April 19-25

The Red Shoes, playing on TCM on Thursday

Can’t complain about this week one little bit. We’ve got newly featured stuff from the final Flynn-de Havilland pairing in They Died With Their Boots On to a rare non-suspense film from Hitchcock, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both on Monday. We’ve also got classics from Peckinpah and McQueen (Junior Bonner on Wednesday) and Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes on Thursday), plus the quintessential coming-of-age film The Graduate on Saturday. And that’s just the stuff we haven’t featured before – lots of excellent repeats throughout the week as well.

Monday, April 19

10:00am – TCM – They Died With Their Boots On
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s last of ten films together is this highly fictionalized account of General Custer, from his days at West Point through his legendary last stand against the Sioux Indians. History’s out the window here, but rousing Hollywood western action takes its place, and Flynn & de Havilland are always worth watching, especially together.
1941 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Charley Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn.
Newly Featured!

4:15am (20th) – TCM – Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
No relation to the 2005 Pitt-Jolie vehicle, this Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of Hitchcock’s only straight comedies, no suspense or mystery plot in sight. It’s a serviceable screwball comedy, with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard as the title couple who discover their marriage may not be legally binding. It’s worth watching once, but overall it’s a relatively minor entry in both Hitchcock’s career and the annals of screwball comedy.
1941 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson.
Newly Featured!

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: Short Takes Vol. 1


Clearly I’m getting behind on the New Hollywood marathon; I’ve actually been watching a good bit, but not finding the right things to say to write about them. So I’m just going to lump together some short thoughts on the films that didn’t inspire me to write a whole post about, or films that others reviewed or are planning to review.

The Graduate

graduate-title-still.jpg (640×480).jpg

This is one of the few films on this marathon’s master list that I’ve seen before, but I wanted to rewatch it because I was pretty sure I had missed something the first time around. That first time, I was just barely eighteen and was sure that college would sort out any remaining lack of certainty I had about my future career and life. Four years later, it hadn’t, and I found myself, like Benjamin Braddock, unsure what to do after graduation and drifting a bit, trying to find something to latch onto. I think when I first saw it, I had difficulty understanding Benjamin’s indecision and willingness to just float along after graduating, basically falling into an affair with Mrs. Robinson (the wife of his father’s business partner) because he didn’t have much else better to do. This time, it all worked and fit together much better for me.

The inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel songs was perfect, and made me think about how influential The Graduate, with its detached main character, soundtrack, and mood, has been on films since – especially Indiewood quirky coming-of-age stories. Half of R3 will strangle me for saying this, but there seems a strong connection to Garden State (though even I would agree that The Graduate is a stronger film). My only beef is that the Berkeley sequence, when Benjamin goes to try to win Elaine, loses some interest and waffles a bit too much. On the other hand, the very last shot that’s often berated (by some) is exactly right.

M*A*S*H and McCabe and Mrs. Miller after the jump.

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Film on TV: February 8-14

Chinatown, playing early Saturday morning on TCM


TCM continues their Oscar-nominated month, bringing us a few choices we haven’t featured before, including Sophie’s Choice, which we all hope we never have to make, plus Bananas, The Graduate, and Chinatown. Also, IFC has a chance to catch up with or re-visit Soderbergh’s Solaris. Some other great repeats, especially on Sunday, when it looks like TCM is trying for a stranglehold on my schedule.

Monday, February 8

9:15am – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Frank Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Wonderful comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.
1939 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Thomas Mitchell.
Must See

12:15am (9th) – TCM – Sophie’s Choice
Meryl Streep’s second Oscar came for this film, playing an Auschwitz survivor who was forced to make an impossible choice.
1982 USA. Director: Alan J. Pakula. Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol.
Newly Featured!

5:30pm – IFC – Bananas
One of Woody Allen’s earlier films, when he was still in full-on crazy comedy mode. This time around, he rebounds from a bad break-up by heading to South America to become involved in a rebellion in a banana republic.
1971 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban.
Newly Featured!

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: New Hollywood Marathon



My largest and most glaring gap of cinematic knowledge, at least of American film, is easily the 1970s. I grew up watching the films of the Hollywood studios’ golden era, the 1930s-1950s, and of my own generation, the 1990s-current, but have only sporadically caught the films in between. Given that many of the greatest and most iconoclastic American films of all time come from the 1970s, I have decided that enough is enough, and this year I am going to eliminate my New Hollywood list of shame, which includes: The Godfather Part II, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist, Five Easy Pieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and others.

easy-riders-raging-bulls.jpgBecause my knowledge of the whole era is a little superficial, I’m reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Generation Saved Hollywood to give myself a background in the history and temperament of the era, and watching the films he discusses while I’m reading. And I figured, might as well share my journey through New Hollywood as I go. The list of films you’ll find after the cut is culled from Biskind’s book and Wikipedia’s entry on New Hollywood, leaving out some that I have already seen.

One thing that has fascinated me as I worked on creating this master list is how varied the films are – drama, comedy, action, satire, war, crime, romance, horror, western, science fiction, concert film and period piece are all among the genres represented. What they have in common: 1) a willingness to push the boundaries of what cinema was allowed to do and to explore themes of sexuality, antiheroism, and isolation that were previously taboo, 2) a sense of brashness and raw vitality brought by the eager young filmmakers wresting the reins from entrenched studios, 3) a tendency to focus on character and script rather than plot, and 4) a knowledge of and appreciation for cinema itself, from the masters of Golden Age Hollywood to the imports coming from Europe and Japan.

This quote from Biskind’s introduction I think sums it up nicely:

[The 1970s were] the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work — work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily. […] In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ’70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released. […] The thirteen years between Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.

And it wasn’t only the landmark movies that made the late ’60s and ’70s unique. This was a time when film culture permeated American life in a way that it never had before and never has since. In the words of Susan Sontag, “It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself.” Film was no less than a secular religion.

A few Row Three contributors have already shown an interest in writing about some of these as well; if you’d like to watch and share your thoughts about any of them, please do! See also the list at the bottom, which includes several films I’ve already seen and don’t intend to rewatch and write about, but someone else certainly could. If you’re not a R3 contributor and would like to join in, just email me and I’ll post your reviews with credit.


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