Movie Education – May/June Update

I didn’t do an update post or May because I thought I hadn’t seen enough to make it worth it, and decided I’d just wrap it into the next months’ post.  Looking back, I saw 3 Education films, which is as good as some months; the follies of memory.  Ah well.  Here we go.

Sleeper

Woody Allen in his earlier, more slapstick period.  There’s lot of sped up running around and pratfalls and people acting all crazy because they just came out of goofy sci-fi machinery, but there’s enough of Allen’s quieter, sarcastic wit to make the film work.  I wouldn’t call this one of Allen’s best films by any measure, and I don’t even know if I’d recommend it outside of hardcore Woody Allen fans.  But it’s a pleasant film with a couple of really awesome gags.  Especially the robotic dog that repeats, “Woof!  Woof!  Woof! Hello! I’m Rags!” over and over again.

Je Tu Il Elle

I was taken enough by Chantal Akerman’s experimental films to pick up another one, this one starring the director herself.  Like her earlier films Hotel Monterey and News From Home , this one is not one to recommend lightly.  There are long moments of complete silence and stillness, especially as the main character sits, depressed and eating sugar from the bag, in her apartment.  There is little plot, but it works as a portrait of loneliness and desperate attempts to reach back out into the world.  I could describe the individual vignettes, but I think this is a film you do your best to experience or just ignore; an explanation would do nothing to describe what the film is.  All that said, I’m a fan.

Come Drink With Me

One of two Shaw Brothers kung fu films I watched over the past 2 months.  Of the two, this was the lesser of them.  A bandit company kidnaps the governor’s son and demands ransom, so the governor sends out his daughter Golden Swallow to rescue him and defeat the bandits.  The plot is a muddle, and the kung fu is only intermittently good.  There’s a fun character, the Drunken Cat, who of course has Backstory that ties into the plot, and a few cool moments, but its notable more for the groundbreaking use of a female lead in a kung fu flick than anything else.

The French Connection

William Friedkin’s memorable film about cops going after international drug dealers, this film holds up pretty well as a tight, suspenseful police thriller that doesn’t overplay its hand.  Gene Hackman is, of course, fantastic, as the lead police detective.  I don’t know that it’s classic, but it’s very good and has a impressively ambiguous final shot.  As American films of the 1970’s go – an era I admire far less than most film lovers – it was pretty good.   I dunno.  I guess I wished I was going to have more to say about it.

Raging Bull

Yeah, yeah, add it to the list of films it’s shocking I didn’t see until now.  I love Scorsese, I love DiNiro, so I don’t know why I never got here until now.  Now that I have?  Man, what a film.  A lot of movies that decide they want to use black and white photography for ARTISTIC PURPOSES!! just shoot the film as if it were color.  Not this.  The boxing scenes, especially, create an incredible feeling of isolation and distance within the ring; the clouds of cigarette smoke and reflected light surrounding the fighters like a wall is a subtle but impressive effect. I realized watching this that what I miss most in color versus black and white is the incredible solidity and texture smoke takes in b&w photography.  As for the film itself, that I haven’t bothered talking about?  Amazing, sad and painful; Jake LaMotta’s self destruction, his inability to overcome anger and jealousy and his own self-hatred is one of the post powerful takes on the subject.  And it’s probably the best performance you’ll ever see from Joe Pesci.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Shaw Brothers film number 2.  This one?  Way, way, better.  In fact, it’s the best old school Kung Fu film I’ve ever seen, and possibly the best Kung Fu training you’re likely to see.  The plot is only muddled in the beginning and the end (as opposed to, y’know, all the time like in most other SB films), and the entire middle as the main character fights his way from chamber to chamber, learning excellent Kung Fu lessons as he goes is just awesome.  Gordon Liu, who you  may have seen as the sadistic Pai Mei in Kill Bill, is awesome as the lead.  If you see one Shaw Brothers film, see this.

Husbands and Wives

Now here’s a fantastic and classic Woody Allen film.  We follow two couples, both married for some time.  When one of the couples decides to call it quits, it leads the other to question whether there might be something wrong in their marriage as well.  Most of Allen’s films are about the way in which relationships come together and fall apart, but this might be his most mature examination of marriage itself, and what trying to stay with a person for the rest of your life means.  Judy Davis is especially fantastic.

Wild Strawberries

The first Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen (and, at present, the only).  Wild Strawberries follows a retired professor as he travels back to his old school to be honored.  This basic plot structure is used, in its own way, in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, but pointing out parallels between Allen and Bergman is sort of an easy game, isn’t it?  I enjoyed the quiet, reflective way this film meandered through the professor’s memories, but I also had the same problem with it that I do with much of the French New Wave: something about the morose, straight ahead way they deal with human sadness seems inartful and simplistic.  I appreciate Woody Allen’s love of Bergman and how it inspired him, but the way Allen finds humor in the same sources of pain makes him a far more interesting filmmaker.

Three Days of the Condor

Man, remember when Robert Redford used to be awesome?  I know, if your still can’t shake the memory of The Horse Whisperer it can be hard, but trust me here.  And if you don’t want to trust me, watch this movie.  I love that this is a spy thriller involving a bookworm employee of the CIA, someone with no field training and no idea how to deal with life and death peril.  When his entire office is murdered, Redford goes on the run, trying to figure out why people in his own organization seem to want him dead.  Especially awesome is Max von Sydow as a cold, meticulous assassin.  Definitely worth your time.

M. Hulot’s Holiday

A breezy, affable film about a strange, but amusing man on holiday in a beach resort in France.  The film spends 20 minutes just setting up the rhythms of people arriving at the resort and beginning their stay before truly introducing M. Hulot, the main character.  There’s no plot to speak of, nor is it a laugh out loud kind of comedy.  But it earns your affection the longer it runs, becoming a kind of silly, fun portrait of silly, fun things happening at a seaside resort.  But never fear: the concluding scene involving fireworks going off is funny enough to call this film a comedy, if laughs are what you need.

Red Heat

It’s Arnold!  As a Russian!  Fighting drug dealers in America!  With a comedian playing a cop!  Ok, ok, this film is fluff, but it’s directed by Walter Hill, who’s really good at shooting action (wait, you haven’t seen The Warriors?!) .  The film is hardly an action classic, but it’s a good time, and it’s smarter than it has to be.  Possibly worth it for the kind of insane cast it has, but probably not worth going out of your way to see.  If you want this type of film, go for 48 Hours instead, by the same director and much, much better.

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