Films and TV of the month: November

 

 

 

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First Reformed (2017) (Paul Schrader)
Now out on dvd. A wordy, low-key, thinking person’s drama. About a priest who writes a diary and we hear his inner monologue. He has doubts about himself and his actions, questioning his professionalism. Uncomfortableness about “wanting to be liked”, drawing on his own personal life when helping a man in trouble. For those couples considering having a child, the film may provide the answers they need to make the decision.
The film has a slow, boring middle, but the beginning and ending are really well done, especially the extended conversation between Mary’s husband, Michael, and the priest Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke). Overall though, I expected more based on the critical reception. A film with a lot of potential and much wisdom sprinkled in. Unfortunately, it has pacing issues (in the middle part) and I wasn’t as absorbed in the story as I hoped I would be.
Schrader appears to be critical of the Iraq war, alcohol consumption, global warming, the ethical aspects of big business church funding, social media, etc. But it does feel like a grumpy old director complaining about the world through his screenplay.
Life is taking its toll on Toller in more ways than one, and the film shows that even a righteous, intelligent priest can lose sight of what is right and wrong. As another reviewer wrote: “He’s a good man who has lost his way”
While the story addresses contemporary issues, and features a great performance by Ethan Hawke, I can’t rate the film higher than 7, as it follows the Taxi Driver playbook quite closely, just with a new set of characters. Hopefully will grow on me on rewatch. I liked it, but hard work, as I had to watch in stages. Too heavy to sit through the entire thing in one sitting.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Other Side of the Wind (2018) (Orson Welles)

I’ve watched a handful of Orson Welles’ best known films, some of which he directed (Citizen Kane, The Trail, The Magnificent Ambersons) others in which he acted (The Third Man, Touch of Evil). I liked many of them.
His final work The Other Side of the Wind went through production hell and was for a long time regarded as “the greatest movie never released”. (Although I’d put Jodorowsky’s Dune right up there at the top of the list as well). Having now seen “Wind”, I have to admit the history of this project is more interesting than the film itself. I wish Orson Welles had finished editing while he was alive from the alleged many hours of footage, as it really was his baby. The Netflix version is almost unwatchable with its exhausting, restless camera and semi-autobiographical, loose narrative. An experimental, chaotic mess. According to the documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) the shoot was difficult: ”Everything had to happen right away even if we (the crew) didn’t understand what we were doing” ”There was no script” ”He (Welles) was constantly writing it as he was going along” ”The rule of thumb is, Orson Welles knows what he’s doing, don’t question anything”.
The main character Jake Hannaford (played by the late John Huston) is a revered director but also a prejudiced drunk with disdain for Indians and gays. Huston’s performance holds the film together and he may even receive a posthumous oscar nomination. I’m sure there are hidden depths I missed, the 70th birthday party sequence contains many random one-liners, but I just didn’t care much about anyone or anything on screen for large parts of the running time. Apparently all the different kinds of stock: super 8, color, black and white is the idea that various media people are following Hannaford around. It’s possible the dizziness and confusion of the party was intentional.
Some of the best scenes in The Other Side of the Wind depict Hannaford as somewhat of a lonely, attention-seeking figure, keen to remain relevant and liked yet his behavior pushes people away. He has a lot of admirers and people eager to benefit from his name but does he have any genuine friends? Welles’ final film is described in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) as ”in a sense a bookend to Citizen Kane, about the tragic end to someone who had become great and then had lost his place in America”.
It’s been said the 35mm, wordless, psychedelic erotic film-within-a-film is a spoof of European arthouse cinema typified by Antonioni. The music choice of Fruit and Icebergs by Blue Cheer works well in the opening of that sequence.
There’s a nice instrumental soundtrack by jazz pianist Michel Legrand (who had previously composed the score for Welles’ 1973 film F for Fake). As talked about in A Final Cut For Orson: 40 Years in The Making (2018), Legrand’s music has a double function as entertainment for the party guests and a soundtrack for us the viewers.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suspiria (2018) (Luca Guadagnino)
Not a remake but a  “re-imagining” or “cover version”. Tonally inconsistent, shifting between gruesome, philosophical and emotional. Resists the temptation to be a mere retread by adding depth and meaning to the admittedly weak storyline of Argento’s 1977 classic.
(spoiler free full review)
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House That Jack Built
The House That Jack Built (2018) (Lars von Trier)
Serial killers (like filmmakers) display their creativity through their acts, and the film has unforgettable visuals. Is this a masterpiece by Lars von Trier or a pretentious ego trip? Hard to say, and I haven’t really decided how I feel about it. Important to discuss murder in society through art, although I felt he went too far in some places. Despite the disturbing subject matter, this is one of the director’s funniest screenplays.
(Spoiler free full review)
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Columbus (2017) (Kogonada)

Finally out on region 2 dvd. A soft spoken, moving story. Nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. A film that is most alive when Jin and Casy are just conversing. They both have personal problems. Like Lost in Translation, two strangers make an unlikely connection. Set in Columbus, Indiana, apparently known for its modernist architecture, there are many references to building aesthetic in the dialogue and cinematography. Could be a parallel between the architecture and the characters but I didn’t quick pick up on it. A simple, unhurried, old-fashioned story about dreams, hometowns, and loneliness. Haley Lu Richardson shines in one of the most underrated performances of 2017 as the confused librarian. Doesn’t provide massive surprises, but the story really doesn’t need that. The ”attention span” quote is bang on the money, kids have attention span for video games for hours, while bookish people might not have attention for games. So it’s about interest, not attention. But do we have interest in what matters?
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodsport (1988)
Bloodsport (1988) (Newt Arnold)
Martial arts drama. Mostly clichéd, yet still drew me in with its energy and daft-but-fun storytelling. The fight sequences are well done even though Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting is terrible in the scenes outside the ring. I’d never heard of a Kumite tournament or the name Frank Dux so I did learn a couple of things. Despite its 33% rotten tomatoes rating, an entertaining watch, which the 74% audience score indicates. The soundtrack is very 80s, but also inspiring, such as Fight to Survive by Stan Bush or the instrumental Triumph by Paul Hertzog.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creepshow (1982) (George A. Romero)
Dark comedy horror anthology film directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King. I’ll share my thoughts on each of the short films:

Prologue: I think most can relate to getting told off by our dad.

“Father’s Day”: Starts off promisingly with a family talking about a damaged woman and her troubled relationship with her father but ultimately becomes too silly.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”: Stephen King’s goofy overacting is ridiculous yet fun. I’ll forever be ill at ease from now on about going near a meteorite. Probably my favorite of these stories.

“Something to Tide You Over”: I love how the story sets the stage with an intriguing what-if situation. Visually is unforgettable. The ending has a bit of depth about guilt despite feeling familiar to another anthology story here.

“The Crate”: Tales about a domineering wife and an old crate are cleverly mixed. In spite of the dated special effects pretty creepy.

“They’re Creeping Up on You”: I was surprised by the ending. On reflection it was what you could expect to go wrong. There’s too much exposition of little importance.

Despite having issues with King’s acting, the special effects, and a couple of the endings, an entertaining horror anthology. It isn’t super scary and is quite tongue-in-cheek yet did make me feel uneasy at times. It’s just fun to watch!
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011).jpg
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
The twist is surprising yet the way the characters are connected felt too scripted. The scene when the dad finds the pictures was hilarious. The Marisa Tomei and Carell scenes are funny as well, especially the bar scene and the meeting at the school.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) (Stand Up Special)
Available on Netflix. Apparently this 70 min one woman show is one of the most talked about stand-up specials in ages. I respect Hannah Gadsby’s honest approach but unfortunately the jokes fell flat. Perhaps if you are Australian/Tasmanian or part of the LGBT community you will understand the nuances of the comedy better than I did. The most memorable jokes involve caution about Mr Right and the section about the color blue. She does have wise words, for example about tension and sensitivity, and talks about celebrity, linking it to her art history education and the #MeToo movement. Gadsby attempts to show us the lesbian experience through her eyes but I felt she didn’t bring much new in that regard as was mainly prejudice reactions towards her choice.
As the show progresses, she talks about her problems and in the second half becomes more serious. She’s right that “difference is a teacher” and you can understand why she has trouble trusting men.
Nostra at myfilmviews rated the special 10/10 in his review and wrote it is a “deconstruction of the genre”. I would agree with the latter. An odd mix of comedy and emotional confession as she debates quitting stand-up during the show because it feels self-deprecating and humiliating. The serious, heartfelt parts are moving and the special’s strength. If you are “different” in some way, you will probably be empowered by her. The anti-comedy stance is bold and original, and defies expectations. I just wish the first 30 minutes was actually funny. You can’t dismiss this special though, if you have a heart.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

17 thoughts on “Films and TV of the month: November

  1. A few here I want to see, but Bloodsport and Crazy Stupid Love are the only two I’ve actually seen… one way back and one a couple of years ago, naturally. Both thoroughly enjoyed. (Just thinking that I have also seen Creepshow, but it was so long ago and I can’t really remember much about it)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, they’re enjoyable. I was having a look on the online shopping site for a copy of Bloodsport after reading this post – fancy revisiting it.

        Site: yeah, I deleted it. I’m freeing up time to work on some stuff and it was becoming a frustrating distraction writing stuff that wasn’t getting posted.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Bloodsport. It’s one of those films that I can watch and turn my brain off just for pure enjoyment. Crazy Stupid Love is alright. First Reformed and Columbus are the films that I really want to see. The former especially as I heard it’s a big return to form for Paul Schrader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @ninvoid99: I agree about Bloodsport. First Reformed is getting great reviews though I’m not quite as enthusiastic as some are. I liked it but maybe I need to see it again

      Like

  3. I must have watched Creepshow 20 times as a kid. Always had a lot of fun with it. The Crate is the “scariest” of the lot, but the unmentioned They’re Creeping Up On You is probably my favorite.

    I’m not a big JCVD fan, but Bloodsport is another movie I always had a blast with. One of my faves of his.

    I really liked Crazy, Stupid Love, too.

    Haven’t seen any of the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Wendell : They’re Creeping Up On You was surprising. I think I would have liked Creepshow even more if I had discovered it when I was younger. When you are my age you tend to notice the imperfections. That said, I was somehow able to disregard the poor acting and clichéd aspects in Bloodsport and just sit back and enjoy. I could happily watch both films again!

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  4. I will be watching The Other Side Of The Wind one day soon. I can only imagine it’s a mess but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. I had to skim over your review because I want to go in somewhat blind though I did see your rating. I have seen a few others over the weeks that have gone up and down like a yoyo. So I’m hoping to fit somewhere in between but lets see.
    I’ve still not seen the original Suspiria. I did notice the much more epic runtime on the new version. One of those films I really want to see but my mind feels it’s messed up enough at this stage in life lol.

    Not sure I’m a massive fan of Lars von Trier. Though I loved his freaky as shit The Kingdom crazy series back in the 90’s. Seriously demented. Then on the flip side I really enjoyed the office based comedy The Boss Of It All.

    You know what dude you got me really wanting to watch Bloodsport again. Will keep an eye for Columbus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Wolfman: I’ll look out for your thoughts on The Other Side Of The Wind. I didn’t love it but its ahead of its time. The technology has only recently become available to finish the film (according to the documentary A Final Cut For Orson: 40 Years in The Making ) so maybe was meant to be that “Wind” got a release so long after!

      Suspiria (the new version ) is quite challenging and as you say long. The original from 1977 is an easier watch

      Lars von Trier is divisive. Oddly (since I’m a Dane) I haven’t watched The Boss Of It All. I’ll look out for it. Based on the humor in The House That Jack Built I think Lars von Trier should make more comedies!
      The Kingdom was definitely freaky. I once heard a story about how it started. von Trier was at a meeting and was asked if he had any ideas for a project. He looked out the window and saw Riget in the distance (Rigshospitalet in the series) and said why don’t I make a series set in a hospital.

      If you like Lost in Translation, Columbus might appeal to you. Different characters but the same general idea of two strangers meeting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the little story of the Kingdom. Funny something so crazy could come from such a simple beginning. I watched the first episode of Stephen King’s remake Kingdom Hospital, shock my head and went “Naaah”. Then again I try not to watch stuff too demented nowadays. I could take it in my youth! Yeah yeah I know, big hairy wolf is a little scaredy kitten lol.
        I really want to see Europa and Dancer In The Dark. One day I’ll get to them.
        Thanks for the tip on Columbus, I love Lost in Translation. All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. @Alex Withrow: I agree The Other Side of the Wind is a difficult watch and I also agree it’s a self-indulgent project. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s quite a bit of Orson in Hannaford, and probably Orson had parties of that nature. Thanks for reading

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