Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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Did you watch movies at this pace before this year, or is this something new?
No, this is a new thing because I've been meaning to try the whole "one movie a day" thing for a while and figured that this would be the year.

Good luck with it, Iro. Any chance of you updating it every day?
Yeah, there's a chance.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#384 - Stargate
Roland Emmerich, 1994

When an ancient Egyptian artifact is revealed to be a portal to another world, an academic must join the military expedition to join the other side.

I get the impression that this is supposed to be Roland Emmerich's "best" film in the same way that The Rock is Michael Bay's "best" film in that the respective filmmakers work with engaging premises while also dialing down the technical excesses that turned their careers into laughing stocks. Stargate's premise proved fertile enough to spawn an entire multi-media franchise, even though the actual plot of Emmerich's film doesn't exactly offer up much in the way of surprises with its extremely familiar plot and characters. James Spader plays one of the film's protagonists, a linguist whose left-field theories about ancient Egypt initially make him a laughing stock in his field but which also attract the attention of an old woman whose archaeologist father unearthed a mysterious circular artifact decades before. It is soon revealed that this artifact is a portal to another world that bears a considerable resemblance to ancient Egypt. Enter Kurt Russell as a bereaved Army colonel tasked with heading up a mission through the eponymous portal, bringing Spader along as a translator to help communicate with the other world's native population and, once they're trapped on the other side due to circumstances, figure out a way home - and that's before they have to face off against some genuine adversaries.

In all fairness, Stargate doesn't quite plumb the same depths that Emmerich and creative partner Dean Devlin did with Godzilla (it's been too long since I've seen Independence Day for my opinion on it to have much relevance, and I've managed to avoid everything else he's directed for all the reasons that you can imagine). Unfortunately, that doesn't make it an especially great film in and of itself. Spader and Russell are serviceable leads that do coast on their natural charisma and talent rather than any serious development of their characters beyond their basic definitions as socially inept genius and tough guy with a sensitive side respectively. Most of the other characters don't get much definition beyond some extremely basic roles - even Jaye Davidson as the film's nominal villain stands out mainly because of an excessively deep voice and some bad effects work that's supposed to give his character glowing eyes. Though it's not as focused on disaster imagery as the rest of its director's oeuvre would suggest, that does mean that there's not a whole lot of engaging material for much of the film - the effects haven't aged as badly as you would think, but the action still doesn't do enough to prop up the mostly unsurprising plot. Even so, I was at least somewhat pleased with the result and as such will not give it a wholly negative rating, but its "ancient aliens" premise only goes so far in aiding a somewhat run-of-the-mill science-versus-military-versus-aliens kind of sci-fi blockbuster that hits all sorts of familiar beats. At least it's better (and shorter) than Godzilla.

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Coincidentally, they were playing back-to-back on free-to-air TV (the mixed-up order is due to the fact that I DVRed them and watched them separately). Quite the peculiar double bill.

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#385 - Roman Holiday
William Wyler, 1953

While doing an international tour that finishes in Rome, a European princess ends up in the company of an American journalist.

It's not hard to be cynical and look at a decades-old film through a critical lens as if to challenge its reputation and see if it can truly overcome personal skepticism and prove naysayers wrong. Roman Holiday is coming up on six decades of existence and its premise does come across as very familiar - early on in the film I thought to myself, "Hey, this sounds an awful lot like It Happened One Night." Granted, that film does feature a superficially similar plot with its wealthy heiress escaping her stifling upper-class existence and ending up going on a journey of self-discovery with the help of a middle-class journalist who initially intends to take advantage of the situation in order to boost his fledgling career and make some money. However, it's a testament to all involved that Roman Holiday just comes across as noticeably similar instead of shamelessly derivative.

A lot of what makes Roman Holiday work has to do with the considerable talent of both its leads. Audrey Hepburn makes for the ideal choice to play the female lead with her combination of outward sophistication and inner rebelliousness helping to fill out her heiress character nicely, while Gregory Peck's earthy American charm and honest appearance certainly give his seemingly seedy character a bit more depth than you'd expect. The rest of the cast is serviceable enough with its combination of stuffy royalists and bohemian Italians, but it makes sense since it really is all about the two leads as they jet-set around Rome dealing with both their growing connection built on falsehoods and their internal conflicts regarding the maintenance of said falsehoods. It's compelling enough and the location shooting in Rome is done reasonably well by veteran director Wyler and it builds up to a great and not-entirely-predictable conclusion. I can definitely respect its status as a classic romance, and so should you.

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#386 - Sabrina
Billy Wilder, 1954

A love triangle develops between two brothers from a wealthy family and the daughter of their family's chauffeur.

More Audrey Hepburn, this time appearing under the direction of master satirist Billy Wilder and accompanied by the caddish yet charismatic pairing of Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Sabrina is a decent enough example of a romantic drama with shades of black comedy typical of a Wilder vehicle, but at the end of the day it's still merely alright more so than a genuine classic. Hepburn proves to be a lot more versatile than her memetically classy exterior would suggest with a working-class performance that predates her turn as Eliza Doolittle, while Bogart and Holden go through their greatest hits as they play a pair of unsurprisingly different brothers. Bogart is the responsible brother who runs the family business and is thus an unlikely candidate for Hepburn's affections, unlike Holden as the surprisingly light-haired gadfly who attracts Hepburn much more easily.

All three leads have demonstrated considerable talent over the courses of their respective career, as has the director, yet it seems like a somewhat lesser film compared to the prior (and occasionally subsequent) work of all four principals. That alone guarantees that the film isn't a total waste of time with its raher cynical take on class relations in a romantic context. Of course, star power only goes so far with this film and its rather flimsy take on its more satirical subjects. Though it's not handled so poorly that the romantic elements at the core of the film suffer for it, it makes liking the film a bit difficult. It's a testament to talent of those involved that it's a very watchable affair, though of course it doesn't quite feel like a classic as a result.

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#387 - A Town Called Panic
Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier, 2009

A trio of friends - Cowboy, Indian, and Horse - run into all sorts of trouble when Cowboy and Indian try to give Horse a birthday present.

Apparently based off a French-Belgian animated series that I haven't heard of until I got recommended this film through this particular website, I had no idea what to expect from A Town Called Panic beyond the fact that it was animated and had some small degree of similarity to Toy Story. The similarity extends to the fact that both films are based around the actions of walking, talking action figures. However, beyond that things get a little weird as A Town Called Panic launches into a relatively short animated free-for-all that does not feel beholden to the same sense of sentimentality that defines Pixar's most memorable efforts. Instead, this film feels beholden to sheer entertainment above all else, and my goodness, does it deliver. Unconcerned with visual prowess, the film involves incredibly crude stop-motion animation (there's virtually none of the smoothness that defines a contemporary in the medium such as Coraline - the idea that both films came out in the same year is a little mind-boggling) that only adds to the film's humourous capacity. Humour is the main thing that A Town Called Panic has going for it and it mines the absurdity of its childish premise and setting for all the gold that it can - and let me tell you, there is a lot of gold.

The difficult part of reviewing any comedy is knowing that you can love or hate a comedy all you want and you can try to describe your attitude as best you can but it's probably not going to translate all that well in review form. You can find this film on YouTube and it's barely over an hour in length, but man, what an hour. It starts off with a very simple premise - two fools want to give their straight-man housemate a birthday present - and from there launches an increasingly ludicrous series of adventures that take our heroes on a journey to the centre of the Earth and through frozen tundra and underwater communities, upsetting many other minor characters in the process. There are sub-plots threaded throughout the film, whether it's the trio's neighbour (voiced by Benoit Poelvoorde of Man Bites Dog fame, if you can believe that) being wrongfully arrested because of their shenanigans or Horse's awkward romantic sub-plot with a music teacher of the equine persuasion, but they don't drag down the film at all and instead make for some of the best gags (the hardest I laughed at the film was a gag involving a mobile phone being destroyed, and that's all I'm going to say about that). The brief running time means it doesn't overstay its welcome, while the jokes are witty and clever enough to get people of all ages laughing, language barrier be damned (hell, the French voice artistry is too good to deny - Indian's voice is worth at least half a popcorn box on its own). Consider this highly recommended regardless of your pre-existing attitudes towards slapstick, family films, or animation.

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Well would you look at that, Iro actually watched a good movie and gave it a positive rating. Is this a sign of the apocalypse?
I do that a lot, you just don't like the movies.

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#388 - Two for the Road
Stanley Donen, 1967

An anachronic story about a couple and the various travels they take across Europe during the course of their relationship.

Two for the Road is a supposedly romantic story, but it's very much a romantic story in the same way that, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are "romantic" stories. Sure, it's about a couple - Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn as an architect and his wife - but you'd be hard pressed to think of them as a genuinely lovable couple. While they do share the occasional tender moment over the course of a decade together, much of the film is dedicated to their squabbling with one another, which is only exacerbated when they are paired with Finney's friends, who happen to be married and have a child whose extremely annoying dialogue and behaviour may be intentional but it's still an intent that can be held against the film anyway. It's easy to think of Two for the Road as an inherently annoying film as you have to spend two hours dealing with some rather unlikeable characters, but it's a testament to the talent of those involved that they manage to make these characters at least somewhat compelling over the course of those two hours. Hepburn is nice and capable as always, while Finney manages to take a character who could have been truly horrible in the wrong hands and imbue him with a certain British charm that adequately compensates for the character's far less likeable qualities.

What really makes Two for the Road noteworthy beyond its surprisingly good leads is the ambition behind its main gimmick, which is the aforementioned anachronic order in which events are depicted. This is accomplished reasonably well thanks to clever editing decisions, though the script is a bit too reliant on situational irony as part of its humour; a good example of this is one scene shows a hitch-hiking Finney say he'll always stop for hitch-hikers before cutting to the next scene where he speeds past hitch-hikers without a second thought (another strike against the film is how often there are a lot of these types of gags - I get that it's showing how people change over the years and all, but it gets tiring after a while). It's a decent enough gimmick that is probably hindered by the fact that it's not always that easy to tell at what point in the film's chronology is supposed to take place. The film demands that you pay attention to characters' outfits and hairstyles in order to be able to determine which trip is which; this is why Kate Winslet's character in Eternal Sunshine... changed hair colours all the time. Some decent photography and a period-appropriate score by Henry Mancini sell it more as a 1960s travelogue kind of film. In spite of all the reasons I should hate it - fundamentally irritating characters and the debatable execution of its main gimmick - it's still got some clever enough writing and good actors to sell them (plus a genuine sense of tension as to how it will end, even though the entire third act feels like a bridge too far as Hepburn's character starts an affair with another man during her separation from Finney). It's innovative, but it still feels like a bit too much of a chore at times.

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#389 - A Fistful of Dollars
Sergio Leone, 1964

A drifter finds his way into a Mexican border town where a conflict between two gangs of outlaws is brewing and he decides to play both sides against one another.

How the mighty have fallen. Back in 2005, I put A Fistful of Dollars at #19 on my original Top 100 list - it was understandably outranked by Once Upon a Time in the West, yet ranked far higher than For a Few Dollars More (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly did not chart at all for reasons I'm sure wouldn't make any sense to me if I remembered them). Ten years on, I'm liable to consider this my least favourite Leone film (though I still have to see A Fistful of Dynamite, so there's no telling if that'll "overtake" this one in that regard). Still, Leone is a sufficiently talented filmmaker so that this film, which borrows the bulk of its plotting and characterisation from Kurosawa's Yojimbo, manages to distinguish itself well enough from its unofficial source of inspiration and be entertaining enough even though it does not plumb the same depths or scale the same heights that defined Leone's other films.

Much of the film's quality can easily be attributed to having Clint Eastwood as the nameless protagonist with his iconic outfit and laconic, squinting demeanour. Few others do much to distinguish themselves with the exception of Gian Maria Volonté as the principal antagonist, who is gleefully sadistic and is as good a match for Eastwood's acting ability as the film has to offer (underneath all the dubbing, of course). Watching this so closely after watching Yojimbo means it's easy to pick apart how closely Leone follows Kurosawa, but with a film this simple it's good that it sticks pretty closely to the original with only the occasional concession to the difference in settings (such as dropping the sub-plot about a village inspector and inserting a gambit involving dead soldiers in a cemetery) to keep things interesting. That's without mentioning how well many of the action sequences adapt from swords to guns just fine, especially as the film draws towards it climax. It may not be that much of a classic anymore but it's a nice and straightforward Western that will most likely remain a minor favourite no matter what.

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#390 - if...
Lindsay Anderson, 1968

Chronicles the lives of a group of students at an English boarding school, especially that of one especially rebellious student.

When it comes time to write up loglines to summarise the plot, it's sometimes a little too easy to summarise when it comes to films that are a bit more artistically minded. if... is one such film that manages to fill out a feature-length film with a segmented depiction of life inside a then-contemporary British all-male boarding school. Initially, it does tend to be a rather slice-of-life affair that showcases none of the highs and all of the lows that come with being a private school student - especially considering how the juniors are mercilessly bullied by the seniors, the seniors are bullied by other seniors, while teachers and other authority figures either encourage or do nothing about such sadistic behaviour. A plot soon emerges with the appearance of a recently returned student (Malcolm McDowell) whose head is full of rebellious ideas as a result of his time abroad and away from the stifling atmosphere of academia.

The rest of the film tracks a somewhat standard rebellion narrative as McDowell's character and his friends start to take greater and greater stands against the various types of authorities that seek to keep them down. It's carried by some of the more disturbing aspects of private school life, especially considering how much violence against students is tolerating by the ruling body (which does happen to have a serious co-existence with the military). McDowell is easily the most recognisable actor here and his tendency to wax philosophical in his distinctive nasal voice about various nihilistic subjects will either endear or alienate a viewer. The episodic nature and tendency to emphasise individual character moments over any sort of consistent plot may also prove to be a bit of a hurdle. In addition, there's the tendency to swap between colour and black-and-white for reasons that apparently have more to do with real-life limitations that deliberate artistic vision. In any case, if... is an intermittently harrowing and frequently captivating watch where one's appreciation will depend on their tolerance for deliberate depictions of English banality and ability to wait for things to get sufficiently explosive, but if that's something you can handle, then by all means give this a shot.

If... is a film I really like. I've not seen it for absolutely ages. Probably near on 20 years probably. I think the only thing that gets me about the film is that McDowell is obviously so much older than he's supposed to be. I seem to remember having the same problem with another role he played. I wonder what that could be?