Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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#92 - The French Connection
William Friedkin, 1971

A loose-cannon detective is determined to trace a drug-trafficking source by any means necessary.

The last time I watched The French Connection was at least a decade or so ago, so of course I wanted to see if it held up. It did for the most part. The legendary car chase is still one of the best action scenes of the 1970s, but everything else...well, that's kind of the curse of being such an influential and acclaimed movie. Gene Hackman is decent enough as the lead detective who's flawed enough that your sympathy for his crime-fighting cause is basically the only thing there is to like about him, which was probably the point but does seem a double-edged sword. Roy Scheider serves well as his slightly less grouchy partner, while Fernando Rey is also good as the incredibly sophisticated villain. Beyond that, it does feel like just another detective movie covered over with early-1970s grime and while that doesn't make it bad, I personally think that it's not all that amazing in its own right. We'll see if it ends up being another decade before I watch it again.

I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.

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#93 - Mission: Impossible
Brian de Palma, 1996

While on a mission to recover sensitive information, a spy is framed for the deaths of his teammates and must race to recover the information and find out who was responsible for setting him up.

I don't think I've seen the first Mission: Impossible film since the late-90s, so that's saying something. I saw it was on TV and recorded it just for the hell of it. It sort of holds up, but that's probably due to low expectations more than anything. The plot is appropriately convoluted and populated by flat characters - Tom Cruise's righteous hero, Ving Rhames' cool and collected hacker, Emmannuelle Beart's token female character (Vanessa Redgrave's turn as a sophisticated arms dealer isn't much of an improvement), Jean Reno's clearly untrustworthy maniac, and so forth. The action sequences are decent - that infamous "hacking a computer in mid-air" scene still holds up, as does the admittedly rather ludicrous climax on top of a bullet train (though that might just be amusement at the less-than-spectacular quality of the special effects). There's also some amusement to be had at some of the more implausible spy gadgets on display, as with the high-tech computer technology that looks incredibly dated in 2015. Unfortunately, goofy '90s nostalgia doesn't always make for an engaging adventure and the result, while halfway-watchable, isn't all that fun at the end of the day.

I kinda felt that way about Mission: Impossible the first time I saw it, but subsequent viewings make what's going on much clearer, and I think it's pretty great now. Holds up really well across the board.

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I think I'm good for repeat viewings at this point, but despite the low rating I wouldn't be averse to watching it again at some point.

I did occasionally wonder if I could end up being just as much of a contrarian as Honeykid, but there are some cinematic sacred cows that I like and he doesn't so I still consider him the (slightly) more critical one out of the both of us
Well, you rate The French Connection higher than I do, even if you do feel fairly similarly about it. So maybe it's just a rating thing.

And, remember, not contrarian. I just see things differently.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

I think I'm good for repeat viewings at this point, but despite the low rating I wouldn't be averse to watching it again at some point.
Yeah, it really does help to know what's going on and just sit back and enjoy it on other levels (or just sit back and watch it unfold). This happens to me a lot with movies like this, where I'm just spending too much time trying to figure out what's happening to really enjoy it properly the first time, and I almost invariably like them way more on repeat viewings, so I thought maybe it's the same with you.

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Well, you rate The French Connection higher than I do, even if you do feel fairly similarly about it. So maybe it's just a rating thing.

And, remember, not contrarian. I just see things differently.
I guess "see things differently" is as good a way of putting it as any,

Yeah, it really does help to know what's going on and just sit back and enjoy it on other levels (or just sit back and watch it unfold). This happens to me a lot with movies like this, where I'm just spending too much time trying to figure out what's happening to really enjoy it properly the first time, and I almost invariably like them way more on repeat viewings, so I thought maybe it's the same with you.

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#94 - Gone Baby Gone
Ben Affleck, 2007

When a little girl goes missing from a lower-class Boston neighbourhood, one private detective is brought in to conduct his own investigation.

A solid little 21st-century neo-noir that's not exactly amazing but the relative lack of ambition makes it an ideal feature-length debut for Affleck. Having a handful of veteran characters on board such as Morgan Freeman or Ed Harris helps to sell the material really well, especially in the latter's case. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are serviceable leads, with the former showing an edge, while Amy Ryan earns the film's sole Oscar nomination as the missing girl's white-trash mother - a thankless role, but she does alright. Competently shot and scored, the lack of external style definitely works in the story's favour. It's got enough depth, unpredictability and consistency to end up on the high end of the scale. I still haven't seen The Town, but between this film and Argo I'm starting to think of Ben Affleck as a surprisingly consistent (if not necessarily spectacular) filmmaker.

Three movies on this page that I really like. I haven't seen Mission Imposdile in quite a while now, its one of my favorite action movies ever though. I should rewatch. Gone Baby is my favorite by Affleck but that might have just as much to do with it being a Lehane adaptation, I love them all. Check out The Town. Its a good thriller that comes apart a bit in the third act, which is something I say about 9 of 10 thrillers.

Gone Baby Gone is a top 20 movie for me. Just a great directorial debut from Affleck. Lehane novels are always a good bet for film.

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#95 - The Way We Were
Sydney Pollack, 1973

In the lead-up and aftermath of World War II, an unlikely romance forms between a rich W.A.S.P. (Robert Redford) and a poor Jew (Barbra Streisand).

Well, you can already tell from the title alone that this is the kind of romance that isn't going to end well. In addition to that, it's probably not a good thing for a romantic drama when the romance between the two leads isn't the most compelling aspect of the film. An interesting thing about the film is that it's supposed to take place in the 1940s but it takes a good few minutes to actually realise this since the film still feels so unmistakably 70s (you can probably credit this to the outfits more than anything). Considering that this came out around the same time as The Godfather, which managed to conjure an unmistakeable 1940s vibe, one has to wonder if this was a deliberate choice on the makers' part, but that doesn't stop it being distracting. Trying to invoke an idea of timelessness makes sense given how the film's plot ultimately ends up being about Barbra Streisand's character, who is initially established as a staunch Marxist, ending up battling against McCarthyism as it starts to interfere with the life that she and Robert Redford have built up in Hollywood (what with him becoming a screenwriter). Of course, this is ultimately supposed to complicate the romantic A-plot instead of be interesting in its own right and ultimately suffers a bit for being underdeveloped.

As for the A-plot itself, well, I guess there's some values dissonance at work. How else to explain the fact that the first actual love scene between the leads involves a drunk-to-the-point-of-vomiting Redford all but passed out in Streisand's bed and a not-nearly-that-drunk Streisand picking those circumstances to silently cuddle up next to him and just seems like an unfortunate double standard and sticks out against the otherwise generic tale of tragic romance. It's also interesting how the film never really condemns Streisand's socialist politics, even though the Cold War was still on in 1973. There's some interesting points that save it from being a dull film, but they're scattered rather haphazardly across the film and the end result is merely okay (aforementioned double standard notwithstanding)

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#96 - Oliver!
Carol Reed, 1968

A musical adaptation of Oliver Twist, which centres on a young orphan who winds up joining a gang of pickpockets in Industrial Revolution-era England.

I don't think I can really bring myself to truly hate any of these big musicals from the classic era of film. At the very least, I respect the craft too much to let minor gripes about the genre's conventions ruin a film completely. Oliver! certainly has ambition and scope beyond what I've come to expect from old-school musicals but even so it doesn't feel especially great. I wonder how much of that could be credited to the fact that I already saw a production of Oliver! prior to watching this film, but even so, the songs kind of vary in quality. "Food Glorious Food" and "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" are naturally classics that are propped up by good routines (especially the latter, which is probably the best moment in the movie), and while "Who Will Buy?" starts off strong and builds to the most elaborate number in the film, it does run out of steam musically speaking. I do find it interesting that the one number in the musical that involves singing from chief villain Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed, appropriately menacing and uncouth here) is missing, though I imagine there was a good reason for it being cut. The film already feels too long (and I know musicals are generally supposed to be long, but they shouldn't feel like it). The film is technically decent, as are the actors, but there's nothing especially amazing about this film beyond the impressively large scale of some of the performances.

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#97 - To Catch a Thief
Alfred Hitchcock, 1955

When a retired gentleman thief is wrongfully accused of being responsible for a series of burglaries, he must work to clear his name and catch the real culprit.

With a director as prolific as Hitchcock, there's bound to be some lesser films in his filmography, if not outright duds. To Catch a Thief isn't a dud, but it definitely doesn't stack up well against the master's classic work. Looking at it now, it feels like a rough draft for North by Northwest, what with its awfully familiar usage of Cary Grant being pursued over a case of mistaken identity and searching for the truth while also managing to romance a young blonde woman in the process. Having Hitchcock behind the camera (when he's not in front of it, obviously) guarantees it at least looks good (apart from the instances where the rear-projection looks a little too obvious, of course). However, the plot isn't particularly engaging and just feels like Hitch-by-numbers, except that it's lacking in the thrills and intrigue that such a description would normally imply. Besides, the romantic elements feel underweight even for a film like this.

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#98 - The Theory of Everything
James Marsh, 2014

A biopic of world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who is afflicted with motor neurone disease and slowly loses control of his body while managing to develop revolutionary theories about time and space.

Biopics can be so fatiguing, especially the sub-genre involving intellectual giants whose brilliant achievements are offset by the drama of their personal lives, especially if they have some sort of physical or mental disability. Such individuals have their life's work boiled down and compressed into a recognisable narrative, and while I understand that it's ultimately a matter of pragmatism in trying to condense a person's life into the space of a couple of hours, the end results don't always make for strong films. As such, the strength of these films tends to rely heavily on the performers to do the best they can with their material and the directors to make it at least visually compelling. The Theory of Everything definitely tries in that regard, but the execution doesn't always work that well.

I'll concede that its two leads, Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as his first wife Jane, definitely provide performances worthy of Oscar nominations. Redmayne throws himself into method territory in trying to convey Hawking's nervous yet oddly confident humour even as his eventual diagnosis and his disorder's progression lead to his performance becoming much more physically demanding. Jones, meanwhile, does her fair share of emotional heavy lifting in what could have been an otherwise thankless role as an extraordinarily loving, patient and supportive spouse (but not too much so, because there needs to be some tension between the two so as to make for good drama, right?). Speaking of tension, she does get a sub-plot involving her growing apart from Hawking and considering an affair with a local piano teacher, but it doesn't play into the narrative of the film in any significant way (I mean, it does eventually, but it ultimately feels a bit inconsequential when all is said and done). Otherwise, the cast involves a cavalcade of fellow students, teachers, authority figures and family members, almost none of which do much to stand out except maybe provide layman's explanations of complicated theories (there are a lot of spirals and circles being drawn, for instance).

Just as biopic writing is all but forced to conform to certain narrative conventions for the sake of providing a widely engaging story, so too does the technical side tend to avoid anything too ambitious unless the subject matter truly calls for it. The photography is competent enough but any attempts at using special effects seem ill-advised (except maybe the space visuals in the closing credits). The modern classical score is appropriate and hits all the right notes, but doesn't stand out on its own merit. As far as biopics go, The Theory of Everything only just manages to rise above its sub-genre trappings, but beyond an especially ambitious method performance by Redmayne it plays things very safe and is thus merely alright as a film.

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#99 - Still Alice
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, 2014

A middle-aged linguistics professor suddenly starts to develop early-onset Alzheimer's, which causes all sorts of problems for her and the members of her immediate family.

I watched this back-to-back with The Theory of Everything and, though they are superficially similar in that both films tell a tale about sudden illness throwing a person's life into disarray, I'd argue that this is the superior film. Granted, it seems a little unfair to compare the two because Still Alice is a work of fiction and is not confined to the same unspoken rules as a true-story film would be. Even so, you can pick apart this particular kind of narrative as if it were true. Alice (Julianne Moore) is established fairly early on as having Alzheimer's, so you know it's only going to get worse from there. At least if you haven't read the book it's based on (as I haven't), you can expect it to keep you guessing.

I can definitely see why Moore is the favourite for this year's Best Actress Oscar. Of course, it means playing the "coping with a disability" card, but I never really get the feeling that I'm being manipulated. Yes, that even includes the use of obvious clichés such as the main character giving an inspiring speech, the strain it takes on her loved ones, her growing frustration as she struggles with her condition, and so forth. It's a testamenet to Moore's ability that I'm willing to forgive the film's more identifiable uses of disability tropes, though one interesting touch offered by the film's contemporary setting is the plot twist where

WARNING: "Still Alice" spoilers below
Alice, while still mostly in control of her cognitive functions, makes a video recording that instructs her future self to unwittingly commit suicide if she is unable to remember even the most basic facts about herself.

Though Moore is obviously the standout, the supporting cast is strong as well. Kristen Stewart gets a solid role as Alice's rebellious daughter and has some good scenes with Moore as a result. Alec Baldwin has a strong dramatic turn as Alice's husband, who is torn between caring for his wife and other commitments looming on the horizon. The filmmaking does use some subtle tricks to convey the same sense of disorientation that Alice regularly experiences, most notably through deliberate lack of lens focus and occasionally choppy editing (especially involving Alice having sudden flashbacks to her youth, which are captured with appropriately amateurish grain). Though Still Alice is a little slow at times and does occasionally struggle to fill out its feature-length running time, it's still an awfully tragic and transfixing portion of a mind at war with itself that's got plenty of poignant moments and never truly veers into off-putting sentimental hogwash.

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#100 - Michael Clayton
Tony Gilroy, 2007

A veteran lawyer who serves as a "fixer" for his firm is called in to handle an unruly colleague whose behaviour is threatening to derail a major lawsuit.

Michael Clayton is a competent but decidedly unspectacular corporate thriller. As the titular lawyer, George Clooney is an appropriately gruff and cynical character but not without a heart (as best evidenced by his being a divorced dad who still manages to connect with his son) and that works, I suppose. Veteran character actor Tom Wilkinson hams it up as a spanner in some very corrupt works, oscillating between being merely scene-stealing and scenery-chewing, so it's hard to tell how effective his performance really is. Tilda Swinton won the film's sole Oscar as Clooney's cold, meticulous opposite number, and while she is good at playing that kind of character, the script doesn't give her all that much to work with. This is a fairly standard legal conspiracy that involves a lot of tough-talking, icy cities with seedy underbellies, callous characters who are willing to kill for their interests and a plot that's aiming for just the right amount of convolution so it's neither predictable or uninteresting. It's not all that predictable, but it's not all that interesting either. It could have been a bit leaner (and maybe could have avoided beginning the story near the chronological end, because that sucks the tension out of the climax big-time).

I loved The way we were when I watched it some years ago, but at that point I wouldn't have noticed all the interesting details you have. Also I do not believe I was aware that it was supposed to happen in the 40's, everything screams 70's.
There is no right or wrong. Not really. There is just the thing that you do.

This sounds exactly what I'd expect, which is pretty much the same as everyone else (the only difference being how much they like it) and exactly why I wouldn't bother going to the cinema to see it.

I'll ask you the same I've asked most who've seen this. Have you seen Hawking with Cumberbatch in the role?

^^Sorry, this was meant for tToE but then you both posted as I finished.

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#101 - The Imitation Game
Morten Tyldum, 2014

Based on the true story of Alan Turing, a professor of mathematics who is employed to work on deciphering Enigma, the Nazis' incredibly elaborate code-making machine.

How much should your existing knowledge base play into how much you appreciate a film that involves those subjects? I was already fairly aware of Alan Turing's story (chiefly his contributions to the birth of computer science and also his tragic early death) and was definitely interested in seeing a film based on his life, but it also seems a little unfortunate that the man should be played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It seems like an unfortunate casting choice considering how the film's version of Turing displays so many signs of being on the autism spectrum while Cumberbatch himself has made some less-than-sensitive comments about autism in the past. Stuff like that lingers in the back of my mind as I try to watch and judge the film on its own merits, but even if I were to look past such things then I'd still think of The Imitation Game as another serviceable but not spectacular true-story film.

Despite my misgivings about Cumberbatch as a person, he turns in an alright performance as Turing, though the tendency to play off Turing's more socially awkward qualities as amusing quirks doesn't exactly work. Matthew Goode makes for a decent enough rival to Turing and Keira Knightley has a solid turn as the Enigma team's sole female member who ends up being Turing's best friend, while Charles Dance gets the chance to channel Tywin Lannister with gusto as an especially harsh and demanding naval commander. The cast at least manages to cover for a discovery narrative that's once again built on dramatically sudden breakthroughs and tensions between its bizarre, intelligent protagonist and obstructive, narrow-minded antagonists. The story does veer into some interesting territory when

WARNING: "The Imitation Game" spoilers below
the team finally manages to crack Enigma's code, but Turing realises that they can't react to every decoded message in case it tips off the Germans, which does lead to tensions within the team.

Of course, that is one of many sub-plots that are brought up to generate some tension only to be resolved within mere minutes of their being introduced, which I'm not sure is good for the film or not. There's also the sheer lack of logic in having a post-war framing story where Turing, having been arrested for homosexual conduct, ends up relaying his involvement in a top-secret government project to the decidedly unremarkable detective investigating his case. Knowing what happens to Turing ahead of time (even before the film's closing titles so kindly inform you) does rob the film's final scenes of their emotional impact, but you're pretty much used to that sort of inconsistency of quality by the time the film ends. At least it's a decent enough yarn that's rendered fairly competently, external quarrels with the material notwithstanding.