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Chain Letters (Mark Rappaport, 1985)

The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004)

It Came from Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953)

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2017)

The history of a city important to the Klondike gold rush is told through many of the films brought there and first, their silver nitrate negatives were thrown away when the city slowly died, and later they were recovered but many were water-damaged.
Eloise at Christmastime (Kevin Lima, 2003)

Annie (John Huston, 1982)

The Christmas Note (Terry Ingram, 2015)

Cinévardaphoto (Agnès Varda, 2004)

During the short Ulysse, boys give their opinions on a photograph Varda took 30 years previously depicting an adult, a child and a dead, pregnant goat and a painting the boy in the painting made at the same time (even though he remembers none of the incident.)
7p., cuis., s. de b., ... à saisir (Agnès Varda, 1984)

The Perfect Christmas Present (Blair Hayes, 2017)

Les dites cariatides (Agnès Varda, 1984)

T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (Agnès Varda, 1986)

An advertisement by Varda [seen in the image here] celebrating the 50th anniversary of the French Cinematheque and their [and cinema’s] beautiful stairs.
Elsa la rose (Agnès Varda, 1966)

Plaisir d'amour en Iran (Agnès Varda, 1976)

Impression of a War (Camilo Restrepo, 2015)

These Amazing Shadows (Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton, 2011)

Documentary about the National Film Registry explains why some films are chosen for their historic and cultural significance while many also need to be restored due to deterioration of their negatives.
Christmas in Angel Falls (Bradley Walsh, 2017)

The Sinking of the Lusitania (Winsor McCay, 1918)

He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Seastrom, 1924)
Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro (Max Lewkowicz, 2016)

WWII infantryman Tony Vaccaro photographed some of the most powerful, artistic works of wartime art but nobody saw them for 50 years. Here is his photo of a burning German Tiger tank driver who had just fallen out of his tank in front of him.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

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Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)

Kubrick's three-hour adaptation of the Thackeray novel is one of his most-meticulous films, filled to the brim with his exactitude in visual and musical codes. The first artistic decision Kubrick made was to shoot the entire film with nothing but natural sunlight and/or candles. No electric lights were used at all during the production. The result is that the entire film is gorgeous and many of the shots do indeed seem to recreate Kubrick's intention of making much of the film look like paintings from the period. Then he also wanted to use only music from the period of the film (the second half of the 18th century), and although he stresses one piece each by Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Vivaldi, he does tend to repeat them. This effect can sometimes become mesmerizing while at other times it smacks of obsession. One thing is certain though, and that's that Barry Lyndon is a very good film. No, it isn't fast-paced, but it is full of incident and even action. Young Redman Barry (Ryan O'Neal as the title character in one of his strongest performances) is a master duellist and there are many duels in the movie, as well as several battle scenes set during the Seven Years War. The film has the inexorable pull of fate as Barry's life is taken to and fro, often through incidents he has no control over. However, the second half of the film where he marries Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) and treats her shabbily does seem to rest fully on his shoulders even though I wouldn't call him a "self-made man". All of this beauty and suffering leads to an ironic conclusion which certainly is in keeping with those of most Kubrick films. Be sure to watch this one if you've been blowing it off till now.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
La rupture aka The Breach (Claude Chabrol, 1970)

I'm in the process of watching the eight films in the Claude Chabrol DVD box. This is the second one I've watched, after Nada, and I'm very happy to be able to catch up on some of Chabrol's films which I've missed. After Truffaut, he is my fave French new wave director. Anyhow, it's just a coincidence that I watched this after Blood Simple., but this almost seems like an alternative version of what could have happened in that other film if the story was set in France and told from the outside in. Basically, the set-up is that a man (Jean-Claude Drouot) wakes up one morning, seems completely spaced out, starts beating on his wife Hélène (Stéphane Audran) in the kitchen and throws his four-year-old son across the room, giving him a fractured leg and a bloody concussion. The wife then beats down the husband with a pan, gathers up her son and runs outside, where one neighbor takes her to the hospital and another one calls the police. Thus starts a contentious journey to and through divorce, although the husband, who suffers from mental problems and takes drugs for it, has a wealthy family who wants the grandson, and Hélène says he'll never be left alone with her son again. It all revolves around trying to get some dirt on the wife, even if Jean-Pierre Cassel as the agent of the rich grandfather (Michel Bouquet) has to resort to porno and child abuse to try to find anything less than saintly about the woman. The film is a weird mixture of the low-key and the in-your-face; in other words, it's pretty typical Chabrol. This one seems to take a long time after the opening scene to get interesting again, but it did eventually. It resolves itself in a most-unexpectedly ironic fashion, which means that I'm going to rewatch it and change the rating if necessary.

mark investigation is available on criterion
Oh my god. They're trying to claim another young victim with the foreign films.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, 2006)

Tense French movie-movie, which plays out as both a compelling mystery and an action-thriller, tells the story of Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) whose wife is murdered. Although the doctor is a prime suspect, he's cleared and the death is attributed to a serial killer although things never really did add up. Eight years later, at just about the time that two bodies are found near the crime scene, Beck receives an e-mail which seems to be from his wife. Eventually, Beck is forced to take it on the lam, but he's aided by several unusual compatriots in trying to prove his innocence and find out if his wife is still alive.

What sets this flick apart from the usual paint-by-numbers thriller is that it has a strong plot and characters so that it's difficult to solve the mystery but it's easy to sympathize with the characters. Then, when you're totally drawn into the mystery, the film throws in one of the most-impressive chases by foot ever recorded (probably only topped by the one in Point Break) and adds a new level of characters to make everything even more complex and seemingly-unravellable (how's that for a word?). I thoroughly enjoyed the unusual characters and the way their fates played out. The only thing I'm worried about is that this is apparently going to be remade in English in 2011. The plot is so strong that if they cast it with character actors it could work. Unfortunately, I'm guessing they're going with big names.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
The Wrong Box (Bryan Forbes, 1966)

Robert Louis Stevenson is the basis of this film too, but this one is played out for laughs as a dark comedy, and it's really quite wonderful on multiple levels. The final two survivors of a tontine (lottery) are two brothers, Masterman (John Mills) and Joseph (Ralph Richardson), and although they live next door to each other, they haven't spoken for 30 years. Whichever one is the last man standing will acquire an enormous sum of money. Masterman, who spends almost all his time in bed, would like nothing more than to kill off his brother who actually seems to love him but seems unaware of his presence next door. There is a lot of plot to flesh out, but I think it's more important to mention the cast. Michael Caine (the same year as Alfie) plays Masterman's grandson who's in love with Joseph's daughter (Nanette Newman), and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore play Joseph's nephews who will do anything to get the money. As the title suggests, there are several wrong boxes in the film, some of them coffins, so things never seem to be what the characters believe they are. However, the humor flies by fast and furiously and especially escalates at the conclusion where a funeral is taking place in a graveyard. Other noteworthy performances are turned in by Peter Sellers as a quack doctor, Wilfrid Lawson as a butler, and Tony Hancock as a dim-witted detective. The score by John Barry is excellent in that it doesn't sound at all like his normal scores, yet still provides romantic, adventure and humorous themes.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
Art Uouse Rating

I watched this film because it was in Harry Lime's Top 100. It tells the bizarre true-life story of Ali Sabzian, a poor Irani, who poses as prize-winning writer/director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to "infiltrate" the home and family of a Tehran businessman and basically attempt to make a movie. Although he's found out rather quickly and charged with petty fraud, Makhmalbaf's fellow director Abbas Kiarostami makes a film of the entire episode, recreating scenes and filming Sabzian's actual trial. What it all adds up to is an interesting look at the Irani justice system and a portrait of a poor man who loves art so much that he'll do anything to try to give to others what films have given to him.

This film has been acclaimed from around the world, and its simple artistry allows the "character"'s humanity to shine through. It does make you think about what constitutes reality, not only in life but in movies. I especially liked the way the trial proceeded in that it was much more informal than our trials. Here the accused sits directly in front of the plaintiffs. I don't know if that was standard practice in Iran or if it's used as a cinematic gimmick, but it works well. In fact, although much of the film works well, the jagged nature of the storytelling and the recreations of what allegedly happened tend to diffuse the power of Close-Up for me. I realize that this isn't that much different than many of the most-honored documentaries of the last decade, but I'm still left here wondering if I'm watching a documentary or somebody taking advantage of a situation to make a "unique" movie in a unique manner. I would recommend Close-Up to everyone here who believes that it will appeal to them based on this write-up. On the other hand, if this doesn't seem like your cup of tea, you're probably correct, but it is an entryway into the interesting world of Iranian film and probably should be seen just for being so unusual.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Gods of the Plague (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970)
Art House Rating

This was made during Fassbinder's "anti-cinema" phase, and for the most part, he accomplishes what that phrase literally means. The film begins with Franz (Harry Baer) getting out of prison and hooking up with former lovers, family and friends. The black-and-white photography is quite eye-catching, especially combined with the homemade art direction (for example, a club where the wall is made of crushed aluminum foil and a bedroom with a giant face on the wall of the woman (Margarethe von Trotta) Franz is living with at the time. Nothing much seems to be going on, but it's not quite totally boring while Franz reconnects with the passionate Johanna (Hanna Schygulla) and tries to find his brother and a friend nicknamed Gorilla.

Although it's obvious that Fassbinder is paying tribute to film noir and his visual palette, for the most part, is meticulous, as Gods of the Plague progresses, Fassbinder seems content to show as little as possible in the way of plot development and character motivation. Things happen for no apparent reason, and often seem to come from completely out of the blue. The violent reactions many of the characters have to each other just aren't supported by anything in the film. There is undoubtedly a huge subtext going on, but it's almost indecipherable. As the film moves on to what should be a tragic conclusion, all I was left with was why did that happen? I felt no empathy and had no understanding. It seemed more like an exercise in film noir than the real deal, although I have to admit that some classic film noirs leave me cold too. It's just that I can at least understand why what happened did. As I said, this is Fassbinder in his "anti-cinema" phase and although the visuals are highly cinematic, the storytelling is anything but.

Note: The character of Franz (as well as a few other characters) also appears in Fassbinder's Love is Colder Than Death and The American Soldier. Watching all three films together may provide some of the missing subtext here.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
A Short Film About Killing ([Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)
Art House Rating

This is another film I watched because it was in Harry Lime's Top 100. It's about as sobering a film as anyone can watch. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (Three Colors: Blue, Black Hawk Down) used green and brown filters, as well as irises and masking devices to black out certain parts of the image in an effort to produce a dirty, primitive depiction of life on earth. This is a deceptively simple, quasi-realistic film which shows how a teenager (Miroslaw Baka) commits the insane, pointless murder of a taxi driver (Jan Tesarz) and is sentenced by the state (Communist Poland) to death, thus insuring that insane, pointless murders will become an endless cycle. The two murders in the film are framed by the fact that the boy's defense attorney (Krzysztof Globisz) was actually celebrating his passing of the law exam in the same cafe the night the boy was also there just before he committed the murder. The murder and the execution are both handled in a matter-of-fact style which borders on the repulsive and would give pause to anyone who believes that one is somehow justified over the other. Of course, that's the film's point, and I'm about as gung ho an anti-death penalty proponent you can find, and I believe that the Decalogue falls on my side on this question. I'm damn sure that the government of Poland wasn't trying to carry out God's desires when they executed the boy, and you really come to understand what a pathetic, dreary life he has lead when he talks to his defense attorney before the execution. It's a powerful film, but much of the first half-hour doesn't seem to flesh things out other than the fact that 1980s Poland sucks and it sucks hard.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)

Another match made in heaven, Bogie and Baby. This was the first teaming of Bogart and Bacall, and it was instigated by director Hawks and his wife "Slim". Hawks made a bet with Ernest Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of Papa's worst book, so Hemingway said he had to adapt To Have and Have Not. Slim Hawks had seen Bacall on a Harper's Bazaar magazine cover and brought her to the attention of her husband who cast the 19-year-old as the female lead. Hawks hired William Faukner and veteran screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman to retool the novel into something more along the lines of Casablanca, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bogart became another romantic hero who was doing the right thing against his better judgment. Instead of Sam in Casablanca, the piano player here is Hoagy Carmichael's Cricket. It's still a Warner Bros. film, so that's another reason why it seems so similar to Casablanca in the sets, costumes, music, etc. One thankful addition is Walter Brennan as Bogie's rummy friend Eddie who accompanies him in his boat travel around Martinique. Eddie gets a line ("Was you ever bit by a dead bee?") almost as memorable as Slim's (Bacall's) lines to Bogart, "You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow". Bacall and Bogart next made The Big Sleep with Hawks and were married the next year, and they stayed married until Bogie's death from cancer in 1957.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)

I never get tired of watching this flick. It's really amazing how much you can put into 90 minutes of film and produce a rollercoaster ride of terror, laughs, sex and love, music and tragedy. The title makes you think that you're going to get a spoof, but the spoofy elements are mostly present in the porno movie playing in Piccadilly Circus. This film is the real deal, and if you're one of those people who claims that you've never been scared by a movie, I want to present Exhibit A: the scene on the moors near the beginning of the movie with American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne). That is one crackerjack scene that always impresses me. However, that's just the beginning. The film is really quite nerve-wracking all the way through and presents a world where it's difficult to discern reality from fantasy, at least until it's too late to do anything about it. It definitely has characters and implications which I've never seen depicted in any other movie. One other thing I have to say about the film is that although the transformation scene is impressive and placed in the middle of the film, it's just another scene, and to me, it's no more "special" or better than the scenes with the balloons or in the subway or at the hospital with lovely nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). I remember my nephew watching the movie and being enthralled by it all the way up until the disturbing ending. Then he said, "I didn't like it", and I said, "That proves how good it is!"

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)

I was one of those people who actually saw Heaven's Gate in 1980 in its original version before UA pulled it, recut it and dumped it back on the market five months later. At 219 minutes, it certainly is a formidable film and one which you have to be prepared for. (Of course, any movie over three-and-a-half hours needs your dedication, especially at the theatre.) What got Heaven's Gate into trouble with most viewers (and critics) is that it started out with several long, mostly-impressive (in and of themselves) set pieces which didn't especially seem to connect to each other and further the plot. In other words, the most-difficult part of the film was the beginning. Of course, several foreign epics have been structured similarly and hailed as masterpieces, and although I won't namedrop them right now, most of them are Italian. Then, there is the other thing which caused Heaven's Gate to bomb, and that was that there was a backlash against Cimino for winning the Oscar Best Picture (The Deer Hunter) with what some wrong-headed people (including Jane Fonda) thought was a pro-war, right-wing flick.

Now, I went back in 1981 and rewatched the film, cut by 70 minutes, and it's true that it was faster-paced and that it seemed action-packed (most all of the action was rear-loaded originally), but it also seemed choppy because the set pieces which used to be 20 minutes were now five minutes long. It also eviscerated much of the character motivations, the acting, the thematic complexity, and left you wondering who some people were. Today, I rewatched the restored version, and although it's still something of a tough row to hoe, it's certainly the way to watch the film. For one thing, Vilmos Zsigmond's sepia-toned cinematography is both spectacular in the context of the film and in the way we see history often through old sepia photos of the West. The film is about the Johnson County Wars of Wyoming in 1892, and the scenery is impressive and makes you feel as if you were close to Heaven's Gate, but in this version, there's just as much hellfire as anything.

Heaven's Gate is a big flick, and it has a big cast. The central character is obviously the man played by Kris Kristofferson who sides with the European immigrant settlers against the Cattleman's Association and eventually the U.S. Army. He meets and falls in love with a wild Frenchwoman (Isabelle Huppert), but she also loves Christopher Walken who's actually on the wrong side of the situation. Sam Waterston plays a scumbag who's basically in charge of arranging the killing of the settlers, and John Hurt, who doesn't believe in what he stands for, is also on his side just because he's too ineffectual. The cast is full of many other names, including Jeff Bridges, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Mickey Rourke, Terry O'Quinn, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Tom Noonan, and a few others. David Mansfield's elegaic musical score is a strong asset (he's the violinist in the movie every time you see one), and the sets and costumes are spectacular. Ultimately, Heaven's Gate comes across as some strange melding of 1900, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Soldier Blue. Some people will hate it, others will love it, and many will scratch their heads. But if you get through it to the end, it's obvious that it's trying to be about something important, and in more than one way, it succeeds.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Macario (Roberto Gavaldón, 1960)

Macario is a beautiful Mexican fantasy film which tells the story of a poor woodcutter (Ignacio López Tarso) who on the Day of the Dead decides that he will never eat again because his life is miserable. He has a wife and two kids, but he laments that "we spend a lot more time dead than alive", so when his wife (Pina Pellicer, One-Eyed Jacks) connives a turkey from a neighbor and cooks it for Macario, he decides to take it out into the forest and eat it all by himself, or so he thinks... Macario comes across a tricky Devil, the Lord God Himself and Death, and all three want a piece of turkey. Macario finally allows Death to share some and in return, Macario receives a healing potion which brings him fame and fortune, but alas, he also comes to the attention of the ruling Spanish Inquisator whose son is dying.

Adapted from a B.Traven (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) novel and photographed in spectacular black-and-white by Gabriel Figueroa (The Pearl, John Ford's The Fugitive, Los olvidados, El, The Exterminating Angel, Night of the Iguana, Under the Volcano), Macario comes off as a cross between a Bergman and a Buñuel film. It is both stark and simple, yet is almost playful in its presentation of Macario's strange circumstances which also take on an almost A Christmas Carol quality. One thing is for certain, at least to me, and that is by the time the film reaches its supercool twist ending, I was just as knocked out this time as I was when I first saw it about 40 years ago.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Les Biches (Claude Chabrol, 1968)

One of Chabrol's many enigmatic films, Les Biches (which doesn't mean what you think but rather means "The Does", as in Deer[s]) is something along the lines of a cat-and-mouse game, but it's really more of a hunter-and-the-hunted film, and the mystery is who is it that ultimately catches their prey. The film begins with a rich woman (Stéphane Audran) with the seemingly-masculine name Frédérique picking up a street artist (Jacqueline Sassard) who may or may not be named Why and taking her back to her St. Tropez villa where they begin an affair and share the place with Frédérique's two gay male friends (Henri Attal and Dominique Zardi). Frédérique is an avid hunter and Why is fascinated with drawing does, and all seems quite happy between them until they both fall for architect Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Why starts out with Paul, but Frédérique ends up with him, and he too moves into the villa, and the relationships begin to morph.

It isn't especially difficult to determine what happens in Les Biches, but the "Whys", both the reason and the character, are a bit denser to comprehend. Sarah actually asked me if I thought the film was reminiscent of Persona, and although it didn't strike me that much at the time, I believe that she is on to something there. Good for her.

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Is Close Up your favourite Kiarostami? I always thought you liked him more than most art house directors for some reason.
No. Life, and Nothing More..., is probably my fave, and there are several others on a par with .Close Up

No. Life, and Nothing More..., is probably my fave, and there are several others on a par with .Close Up
Life, and Nothing More... is the only part of the Koker Trilogy i haven't seen. I got mixed up and thought The Wind Will Carry Us was the last part of the trilogy so i watched Through The Olive Trees Through The Olive Trees is a fake documentary about the making of Life, and Nothing More... as you know so it will be interesting when i see that. I believe Life, and Nothing More... is also a fake documentary about finding the actors from Where Is My Friends Home? i believe. Insanely Meta, should be called the russian dolls trilogy haha.

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Che: Part One (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)

You can never accuse Soderbergh of doing anything easy. Last year, he made a four-and-one-half hour epic, based on two autobigraphies of Che Guevara (played excellently by Benicio Del Toro), divided into two parts and released them well-knowing that he could never recoup the investment. Soderbergh also used a fractured storytelling approach which cuts back and forth in time and tone, changing from color to black-and-white, and often making it difficult for the film to gain any momentum or dramatic power. However, mostly due to Del Toro, the film does eventually prove worthy of the time and attention paid to it by the viewer. I have Part Two, but I haven't watched it yet, but I know that it's set in a different locale and uses different cinematic techniques, so we'll see about that one. But Part One is reminiscent at times of Oliver Stone's JFK, Salvador and Platoon, as well as biographies of seemingly-radical figures such as Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Most of the film leaves the storytelling to the mid 1950s-mid 1960s, but there are a few times where the material seems to have been tweaked a bit to relate to our current political situations, involving both Cuba and Venezuela. Once again, I'll have to wait to see what appears in Part Two which is mostly set in Bolivia, but Part One is a somewhat difficult but rewarding watch. I just wish that there were a few less cigars doing some major acting, but that's a minor quibble. I know that Mrs. Darcy and Holden saw the film at the theatre, but did anybody else? You know who you are, you Del Toro lover.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)

I'll admit that I don't know anything about the graphic novel, but I'm not "reviewing" the novel. I can't explain it to you, but something about the beginning of the movie completely rubbed me the wrong way. The montage over the opening credits seemed to lavish a lot of money and F/X to explain to me that I was in an alternate universe, but I usually take all movies as an alternate universe. When the credits ended, I was already rebelling against it, thinking it was much ado about nothing, and trust me, I never have these kind of thoughts for movies of most any kind after about 10 minutes. Anyway, then the film started to actually introduce the characters and I found them to be completely uninvolving, so I scrunched down in my seat a bit and decided it was going to be a long haul of a movie.

Eventually, I got used to the characters, even if I never cared about most of them, but the film played out with some fun acknowledgements to the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, especially in the heroes' uniforms and modes of transportation (the "Archie"). On the other hand, the non-hero sides (the more human) of the characters didn't really strike me as interesting enough to be the focus of a movie, no matter how many there were and how many versions of them there were. However, Snyder's style and seeming love of the material did make the second half of the film play out more entertaining to me, so it's a mixed bag but a . I'm going to shut up about it now because I'm just spinning my wheels.