Showing posts from January, 2017

365 Films in 2017 #11 Modern Times (United Artists, 1936)

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is his last Little Tramp picture and a commentary on the financial situation during the Great Depression. The Little Tramp has difficulty adjusting to the industrialized world as he works in a factory and attempts to help an orphan girl, Ellen Peterson (Paulette Goddard), as she escapes from the police. The Tramp works on an assembly line that causes him to have a nervous breakdown in the film's most famous scenes. Another high point occurs when he sings a gibberish song, "Je Cherche Après Titine," or as Chaplin's version was known, "The Nonsense Song," at the cafe where Ellen works as a dancer. This scene serves as a fitting final tribute to the character as Chaplin's voice is heard in a film for the first time.

365 Movies in 2017 #10 La La Land (Summit 2016)

Damien Chazelle's Golden Globe award winning La La Land starts slowly with a song, "Another Day in the Sun" and scenario that recalls Rent as commuters in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam get out of their cars to perform the biggest dance number. While the average musical fan might relish this scene, due to its expansiveness, with hundreds of dancers and stunning cinematography, I thought it hurt the pacing of the film. Indeed,the film captures the ambience and feel of life in LA, but its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp as Chazelle tries to fit in many influences and references. However, his heart is in the right place as he creates a stylistically stunning tribute to classic Hollywood and the stories it told. The songs sometimes do not feel fully formed either, but that just might be me as my knowledge of musicals is mostly confined to Astaire and Rodgers and MGM musicals.

Despite these minor complaints, I was unprepared for how much I enjoyed the film. When Mia Dol…

365 Films in 2017 #9 The Slog Movie (1982)

An early Dave Markey Super-8, warts and all, documentary, capturing the '81-'82 Southern California hardcore scene. While not as well known as Decline of Western Civilization or Suburbia, it features live performances from the Circle Jerks, T.S.O.L, Fear, and Circle One among others. While the film does not have a real plot, Sin 34, a lesser known, but equally righteous band, appears in tour footage. While not as interesting as later Markey films like 1991: The Year Punk Broke, The Slog Movie is an interesting document of the period for punks who've seen them all and others just becoming interested in the genre.

Helmet 1994

Listening to Helmet at the bar
Milquetoast 1994 is the key text
No one cares, but I sit back,
Remembering my youth
Thanks, Page Hamilton
For the weird time signatures

365 Films in 2017 # 8 Mondo Weirdo: A Trip to Paranoia Paradise (1990)

I never expected Mondo Weirdo to be a black and white art film, drifting between imagery of sadism, sex, and violence. The title made me think it would be like Mondo Cane or other documentaries in the Mondo subgenre, cataloging practices that shock western audiences. Instead, Mondo Weirdo documents a young girl's discoveries of the violent world around her to an industrial soundtrack. Equal parts snuff film, hardcore pornography, and gore vehicle, it is not for the faint of heart. Once I discovered it was directed by Carl Andersen, an associate of transgressive filmmaker, Jorg Buttgereit, best known for Nekromantik, another extreme film, I realized that it was attempting to break taboos and challenge audience perceptions rather than shock. However, its short running time of less than an hour might still be too long for many to stomach.

365 Films in 2017 #7 I Was a Teenage Zombie (Periclean, 1987)

The soundtrack, which includes The Fleshtones and a humorous Ray Dennis Steckler vibe, is the high point in this third-rate zombie flick in which radioactive weed turns teenagers into low budget zombies.

365 Films in 2017 # 6 Fantastic Planet (New World, 1973)

Rene Laloux's Fantastic Planet is a masterful Franco-Czech animated science fiction film that uses stop motion and cut out animation to tell the story of humans that are controlled by large humanoid aliens on a distant planet. The aliens known as Draags consider them animals, and some are treated as barely suitable pets for their children. Others live in the wilderness and are subject to periodical purgings. When his mother is teased to death by children, a Draag leader finds Terr. He grows up the pet of the leader's daughter, Tiva, and learns from her education headphones. Later, when he escapes he takes them with him and joins a tribe. When they discover that the Draag plan to exterminate them, they make plans to leave the planet.

The bizarre animation, which recalls 60s underground comix, Vaughn Bode for instance, is coupled with a jazzy psychedelic soundtrack by Alain Goraguer (I have been long familiar with the soundtrack but never watched the film). The film is heavily …

365 Films in 2017 #5 I Shot Jesse James (Screen Guild, 1949)

Samuel Fuller's directorial debut I Shot Jesse James is an action-filled examination of Bob Ford's (John Ireland) assassination of Jesse James (Reed Hadley) and its aftermath. Ireland portrays Ford with pathos and sympathy, especially in a scene where a troubadour (Robin Short) plays the folk song, "Jesse James" for him. Ford shoots James to earn money to settle down with Cynthy Waters (Barbara Britton). John Kelley (Preston Foster) plays his conflicted rival. Fuller's direction is minimal, yet allows the actors room to breathe within their roles.

365 Films in 2017 #4 Chevalier (Faliro House Productions, 2015)

Chevalier is Greek writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari's third fictional feature, filmed after her 2010's Attenberg won a number of international awards. Chevalier was selected  for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards but not nominated   She co-wrote this absurd, yet life-affirming film, with Efthymis Filippou, known for writing the absurdist The Lobster with Yorgos Lanthimos. This beautifully shot film captures the beauty of the voyage, but often shows the claustrophobic nature inside the ship through over the shoulder shots and extreme close-ups. Christos Karmanis' cinematography adds another dimension to the dark, humorous actions of the characters.  Chevalier tells the story of six men on a fishing trip in the Aegean Sea who decide to play a game to determine which is the best and win a coveted Chevalier signet ring. Each man comes up with a competition to challenge the others. The game leads to bizarre moments and even fighting at times as the…

365 Films in 2017 #3: The Most Dangerous Game (RKO, 1932)

The Most Dangerous Game, directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack is a fast-paced adaptation of Richard Connell's short story in which a big game hunter and author Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is shipwrecked on an island and ends up as the prey of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) after he refuses to hunt with him. Rainsford and Eve Towbridge (Fay Wray) are let loose and must fight against the Count to escape the island. Rainsford is adept at fighting the count through cunning as well as fisticuffs, and beats him at his own game. The acting is superb and the action never lets up after the first half hour, which introduces the characters. The mock drunken performance of Martin Towbridge (Robert Armstrong) is undoubtedly the low point, yet is easy to forget once the hunt begins. Leslie Banks instills fear as the count and Wray is charming as Rainford's companion. The film was also shot on the same set as RKO's King Kong.

365 Films in 2017 #2: Thief (United Artists, 1981)

Michael Mann's Thief is a rare neo noir that captures the style of early noir without sacrificing any of the substance and power of the genre. Based on the 1975 novel, The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar, written by a real-life jewel thief, it captures the drama of hard-lived characters making the wrong decisions based on personal codes of honor. The characters are realistic and well cast and the acting is top notch. The relationship between Frank (James Caan) and Jessie (Tuesday Weld) works because Frank emotionally bares his soul to her. He needs an anchor to leave his criminal life behind and pins his hopes on her. His one last heist leaves him alone again after he is double crossed. The final long take of Frank walking down the sidewalk after dispatching his enemies is poignant and memorable.

365 Films in 2017 #1: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Faces Distribution, 1976)

So I made the crazy goal of watching 365 films in 2017 and writing a capsule review of each. My only rules are that I have either not watched the film before or it has been at least five years. I just subscribed to TCM's FilmStruck, a streaming service that will give me plenty of artsy, foreign and independent films to choose from, including many films from The Criterion Collection. I'm also thinking about subscribing to Warner Archive Instant for more classic Hollywood options. I've been meaning to watch more movies for awhile, and Netflix is just not cutting it.

1. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Director's Cut)

John Cassavetes' 1976 crime film starring Ben Gazarra is a quiet triumph. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in atmosphere and shaky hand held camera work. However, the camera work makes for a very personal and idiosyncratic experience. A cabaret owner, Cosmo Vittelli (Gazarra), who has a gambling problem, pays off his final debt to a loan shark (Al…