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Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2021 Edition

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Anyway, with that said, here is more or less what I'm leaning towards...

Here is the challenge for APRIL...

A film with the number 4 (Four, Fourth, etc.) in its title:
A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H: Hard Times
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #4 (i.e. 14, 340, 714): Taste of Cherry, Breathless, Bicycle Thieves
A film from the 1940s: Bicycle Thieves
A drama film:
A Biblical film: Ben-Hur
A film nominated for a Best Picture or Best Int'l Feature Film this year: Already saw Another Round, but wouldn't mind sneaking up another one, if I have a chance
A film primarily set in a submarine (Nat'l Submarine Day, April 11): (see above)
A film with Anthony Perkins (born April 4): On the Beach also features Perkins. If only I could find it.
A film from Iran (Islamic Republic Day, April 1): Taste of Cherry, Under the Shadow
I'm obviously juggling this challenge, the HOF24, and the PR HOF3, so there'll be a bunch of freebies. A lot of films also qualify for the "drama" category, so there's that too.
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Did Faster Pussycat Kill Kill! teach you nothing?

Always check YouTube . . .
I can’t lie, that’s what gave me the idea to look for it there.



I can’t lie, that’s what gave me the idea to look for it there.
Generally speaking, if a film isn't on a streaming service, you have a decent chance of finding it on YouTube.

I think it's when a streaming service has the rights to a film that they take it down from YouTube and police that copyright a bit more. For example, I couldn't even get the DVD of Farewell My Concubine from Netflix, but I was able to find the whole film on YouTube.



I've seen my fair share of films on YouTube. It just doesn't occur to me to check there often because many times the quality is not the best, but that is indeed changing.



I have this weird thing about not watching movies on YouTube. Partly it's because I always like to watch on my TV (which is large) and I never wanted to bother with routing my laptop into the TV. Of course, now I can use the YouTube app on my Apple TV, so it's just a weird hangup I haven't let go of. I should probably watch On the Beach but The Atomic Submarine is much shorter...



A few months ago I started keeping a log of my streaming, just to verify that I was actually watching the services I'm paying for. Every month Youtube is consistently on par with Prime and Netflix in terms of movies viewed per month. Of course I watch a lot of ancient Z-grade stuff so that's part of it, but yeah I've been surprised at how much HD stuff is on there. Watched one the other night that appeared to have been DVR'd from TCM.



ANOTHER ROUND
(2020, Vinterberg)
A film nominated for a Best Picture or Best Int'l Feature Film this year



"It's funny, but there's a point to this, which is important and which I hope you'll understand someday: the world is never as you expect."

That's the lesson that middle-aged teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) wants to impart his students at the end of an impassioned lecture; life rarely goes the way you want it to. Whether it's your career, your marriage, parenthood, or just the general routine of everyday life, it's never as you expect it to be. That's the main reason why Martin and his friends are trying to shake things up.

Another Round follows Martin who, along with his three friends and colleagues, Tommy, Peter, and Nikolaj (Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang) find themselves immersed in the typical mid-life crisis: boring job, routine marriage, etc. When they start discussing the theory of a psychiatrist that argued that having a BAC of 0.05 made you more creative, they decide to put it to the test by working while being a little, well, tipsy. Their experiment has great results at first, as all four improve their execution at work, reconnect with their families, and feel altogether more alive. However, things spiral out of control as they push the limits of the experiment and their BAC.

I don't think I was that interested in this, or even knew much about it, until the Oscar nominations were announced. Which is maybe the reason why I was pleasantly surprised by it. Even though the premise itself is not new and the film follows the sorta typical template of the "revitalized" middle-aged man, it is held together by the great performances from the cast, especially Mikkelsen. He really digs deep into the depression, frustration, and emotional chaos of this character as he goes up and down the wave of alcoholism.

I also liked how the film juxtaposes the dangerous effects of alcoholism with the many ways that society pushes alcohol unto us since our youth. That said, there is a subplot about a student that is having trouble with some tests and is sorta pushed into drinking by Peter, that kinda gets lost in the shuffle. But other than that, the film manages to successfully sustain a tone that, in a weird way, feels both bleak and hopeful.

Speaking of weird and bleak, I didn't know that director Thomas Vinterberg's daughter, Ida, had died just as they started filming. Ida had been a driving force behind the story, which Vinterberg had originally written as a play, and she had convinced her father to adapt it into a film. After Ida's death, Vinterberg had doubts but found inspiration in her to continue, while adapting the script and his direction to make it more "life-affirming". Like Martin said, the world is never as you expect. Hopefully, we can still make the most of it.

Grade:



THE OMEN
(1976, Donner)
A Biblical film



"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666."

That is the Bible verse that inspires and closes this 1976 horror film. Watching this film as a kid, I ended up memorizing that verse. Heck, I think it's the first Bible verse I memorized. But such was the impact that this film had in me and my brothers as we grew up; one of dread of something mysterious, unknown, but incredibly evil.

The Omen follows Richard Thorn (Gregory Peck), a US diplomat that accepts to take over an orphan baby boy after his wife's stillbirth. What they don't know is that the boy is actually the Antichrist himself, who ends up wreaking havoc in Thorn's life and those around him.

I don't know how many times I saw this film while growing up, but it was a lot. And a lot of it stuck in my mind, aside from that verse: the kid's look, the gory deaths, and that freakin' score, which I still think is as creepy and eerie as ever. Maybe I shouldn't have seen this film at all, let alone so many times, but as a kid that was raised in the church, the fear of hell, Satan, or the Antichrist was as serious as it could be, which maybe adds to why it left such a lasting impression in us.

That said, it had been a while since I had seen it, so I was thrilled to see it was available on Hulu. As I revisited, I'm glad to say it held up pretty damn well. The atmosphere that Donner builds from the first scene is undeniable, his use of light and shadows in the hospital or around the Thorn house, and that haunting scene with the nanny... all of that creeps up on you as you see this evil force engulf this family.

I do think that Donner lets himself go to far with some of the death scenes. My adult mind now found most of them to be good, or even great, but a bit of restrain would've been better. I also have issues with how things unfold in the last act: from seeing a US Ambassador traveling around the globe even after he's been told his wife died, or how easily he agrees to sacrifice his 5-year-old son, even if he is "the Antichrist".

Regardless of those issues, I still think this is an awfully effective horror film that manages to build up a unique atmosphere of dread and fear of things we might not understand. It scared the hell out of me as a kid, and it still creeps up on me as an adult.

Grade:



HARD TIMES
(1975, Hill)
A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H



"I don't look past the next bend in the road"

That's how hardened and stoic street fighter Chaney (Charles Bronson) describes himself to Lucy. Simply put, there's not much to say about Chaney, but he gets the job done, quick and efficiently. Which is something we can say about Walter Hill's debut film.

Set in the 1930s, Hard Times follows the struggles of Chaney, who moves from town to town making ends meet in illegal street fights. His pedigree and schedule sorta ramps up when he pairs up with Speed (James Coburn), a shady hustler that wants to make money off of him, which also puts him at odds with some dangerous elements.

Like Chaney, there's a simplicity to the film that I think works to its advantage. There's not a lot of figuring out what's going on. We just see this man go from fight to fight, and be supremely cool about it. There are attempts to flesh him out, particularly with his interactions with Lucy (Jill Ireland), a married woman with whom he gets involved. But there's not much around that bend for them either.

Speed, on the other hand, felt like a more complex character. I really liked how hard it was to peg him down, and I thought Coburn played that ambiguity really well. They are joined by Strother Martin, who plays Poe, a disgraced doctor that becomes Chaney's cutman, but as good as Martin is, he doesn't have much to do.

As Chaney moves up the ranks, he is often described as reliable and efficient. My experience with Hill's work is limited, but it seems that he abides by that same rule. Hard Times is not a complex film at all; it's rather simple. But it's as reliable and efficient as it can be, and much like those fights, a lot of fun to watch.

Grade:



THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
(2009, Campanella)
A drama film



"If you keep going over the past, you're going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future."

That's the advice that agent Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darín) gets at one point on this film from Argentina. And yet, many of the characters seem to be caught up in the past for different reasons: from the desire for revenge, their quest for answers, or their longing for love. Will they be willing to leave the "jurisdiction" of the past and look forward instead?

The Secret in Their Eyes uses a nonlinear narrative moving back and forth between the 1970s and the 1990s. It follows Esposito, a former deputy in Buenos Aires who investigated the rape and murder of a young woman that didn't end up the way he would've wanted. Two decades later, he's still haunted by it and starts writing a novel about it.

Esposito is assisted in his investigation by Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), an alcoholic but dependable friend, and Irene (Soledad Villamil), his superior who reluctantly helps him at first, but eventually realizes that he might be right about the investigation. Even though Esposito and Irene are obviously smitten with each other, they never dare to share their feelings to each other.

I didn't know much about this film before I started watching it, but it certainly wasn't what I expected, in a good way. The film manages to tread along different genres without losing a beat: whether it's a psychological thriller, a crime drama, or even tinges of historic epic, with how it weaves Argentina's historical and political history into the plot.

The thrilling aspect of it is evident all through the film, particularly during two scenes: a breathtaking sequence in a soccer stadium, which features a 5-minute long shot that had me on the edge of my seat all the way, and a supremely tense elevator ride. But the care that director and co-writer Juan José Campanella gives each character makes for an extremely rewarding experience in terms of their development and depth, and the actors' performances back that up.

I do think that the film is perhaps 10-20 minutes too long, and my cynical self thinks that the epilogue wasn't entirely necessary, but the truth is that after 2+ hours of following this characters as they keep going over the past, it was earned to see them move on and look forward to a future.

Grade:



A film primarily set in a submarine (Nat'l Submarine Day, April 11):
BONUS-
For the past few months I've been making my way through the Complete Wonder Woman Blu-ray set, usually on weekend mornings. I'm watching the episodes in order, so it was purely by chance that today's episode was SET ON A SUBMARINE. I was way too excited when I checked this thread to verify that today is, indeed, National Submarine Day.



UNDER THE SHADOW
(2016, Anvari)
A film from Iran



"The winds refer to mysterious, ethereal and magical forces which can be anywhere... Where there is fear and anxiety, the winds blow."

Set in 1980s Iran, in the middle of the war with Iraq, Under the Shadow follows Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a young woman that is forbidden from resuming her medical studies after being involved in leftist groups during the revolution. As war intensifies and her husband is called to service, Shideh has to take care of their daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), while also dealing with a mysterious presence that starts haunting them as well as her own fears and insecurities.

One of the explanation that friends and neighbors try to give Shideh is that of "djinns". Djinn's are supernatural creatures mentioned in the Quran, and rooted in pre-Islamic beliefs that can manifest themselves to humans in different forms. The above quote is how a friend of Shideh describes them. "They travel on the wind from place to place until they find someone to possess", says another character. "If they take a personal belonging, something that you treasure, then there's no escape from then."

But even though the film doesn't necessarily hide the presence of whatever is haunting them, you get the notion that, like her friend said, "fear and anxiety" is behind everything. Shideh seems to be more haunted by the preconceptions of society about her role. Her character is interesting for many reasons. I'd venture to say that she's not entirely likable, be it in the way she reacts to her husband's being called to service or how she treats her daughter at times. But what I found interesting is the way the film contrasts her frustrations and insecurities as a woman, an aspiring doctor, a wife, and a mother, with the way that her character is haunted.

There are a couple of jumpscares in the film that I thought were effective, but they are few and far apart. Most of the film is a slow build as we see how the manifestations get worse. It isn't a typical edge-of-your-seat thriller where characters constantly scream and run for their lives, even if there are a few instances of that. The dread is more subtle, the fear is more psychological, and I felt it was more character driven than other similar films. There's also an obvious subtext about the cultural and socio-political status of the country, whose mileage with the viewer may vary.

Anvari's direction is pretty good, with some good to great moments of deft camera handling. The pace is slow, but I never felt it become boring. Rashidi's performance is solid, and Manshadi, although spotty at times, manages to hold her own. I still have some issues with the climatic encounter, and I feel the film does lack a more concrete ending, but I still think the film is a pretty effective psychological thriller that can succeed in creating fear and anxiety.

Grade:



MANK
(2020, Fincher)
A film nominated for a Best Picture or Best Int'l Feature Film this year



"You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one."

That's how notoriously talented yet problematic screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) described the struggle of writing a biopic, specifically Citizen Kane. Two hours is not enough to encapsulate decades and decades of a lifetime, which is why most biopics have chosen to focus on specific chapters in the life of their subject. Mank – the film, not the writer – is no exception.

David Fincher's latest film follows Mankiewicz as he deals with the struggles to write Kane, how he navigated the perilous waters of Hollywood life in the years prior, and his clashes with Orson Welles, while also dealing with his own alcoholism. In a script written by his late father, Fincher chooses to focus on roughly the 10-year period prior to the release of the film.

Mankiewicz was notable for his skilled and witty screenwriting, as much as he was for his excessive drinking, compulsive gambling, and sharp tongue. Most of his collaborators immensely praised the former side while harshly criticizing the latter. Much like the subject of the film, Mank is a technically sound film with lots of things on his favor, but an ultimately spotty script and a distant direction that just doesn't let the viewer get in its drift; particularly if you're not familiar with the context and backstory.

I know I'm in the minority, but in many ways it reminded me of The Social Network; another biopic that's equally impressive from a technical standpoint about a socially problematic subject that has flashes of greatness through separate scenes, but that ultimately feels cold and distant. In Network's case, the iconic scene is when Saverin finally confronts Zuckerberg after being given the shaft, while in Mank, it's the climatic dinner party where Mank drunkenly lashes at magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance).

The scene is impressive in acting, script, and direction. Oldman really conveys the hidden anger and disgust of Mank amidst his drunken slobber, while Dance (who I'm a huge fan of) does so much without pretty much saying anything, and when he does, it's excellence. The way he delivers the final anecdote was priceless, while the whole sequence elevated what can only be described as an unsatisfying film. Not necessarily because it was "bad", but because it could've been so much more.

Much like Mankiewicz himself, who neutered many of his personal and professional relationships because of his excesses, most of the relationships portrayed in the film feel neutered and incomplete. That's the case with how we see his relationships with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), his brother Joe, his secretary Rita, and his wife Sara. You get the sense that there's something missing, that there are things to uncover in each of those, but Fincher never gets to it. Instead, he focuses on following Mank as he stumbles from here to there. Much like him, there's skill and there's wit in the film, but the issues around it don't let those shine.

Grade:



THE DAY OF THE JACKAL
(1973, Zinnemann)
A freebie



"In this work, you simply can't afford to be emotional. That's why you've made so many mistakes."

That's the advice that the assassin codenamed The Jackal (Edward Fox) gives to his potential clients. They want to hire him to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle after one failed attempt from their part, and the Jackal is more than willing to oblige; for the right price, of course.

The Day of the Jackal follows the meticulous attempts of the assassin to achieve his task, and he goes at it with careful planning, a lot of patience, and no emotion. Meanwhile, law enforcement makes numerous attempts to locate him and stop him. The main efforts are led by skilled investigator Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), who has a similarly meticulous and careful approach to his work.

Much like the Jackal himself, there is a cold and distant approach to the film from director Fred Zinnemann, but for the most part it works. Like a great procedural, we see the contrast between the Jackal and Lebel as each one tries to outsmart the other. But the focus is on the Jackal all the way (for contrast, Lebel is introduced around the 50 minute mark, which is halfway through the film), as we see the extent of his skills. I don't think I'm alone, but in a weird way, we want to see him succeed.

There are a lot of twists and turns as the Jackal evades the police, some of them are pretty cool and surprising, a few of them not so much? But through it all we see his focus on the mission and his lack of care for other human beings. The coldness with which he disposes of everyone or anyone that threatens the mission is excellently portrayed by Fox. As for the technical aspects, they are mostly top notch. Zinnemann's direction is tight and tense, and the editing is superb.

In the end, I'm a bit conflicted. Even though I greatly appreciate the "bare bones", emotionless approach of Zinnemann, part of me wishes that Lebel was a bit more fleshed out, or that the climax and ending wasn't as abrupt as it is. On the other hand, I remember other similar thrillers that try to make more out of something and fail by adding too many variables, too many emotions. Maybe that's why they make so many mistakes.

Grade:



Hey, I've seen some of these

No idea whether or not I've seen MI:III, I know I watched the first one and have some sort of memory of watching at least one of the sequels. It ought to be a franchise that's right up my alley but for some reason I've never felt much of a yearning to catch up with or revisit them despite having had plenty of opportunities

Ran is visually quite stunning but I just don't love it quite like you and so many others do and for me there are a few Kurosawa's that I prefer to it. Vampyr is excellent, probably should have found room for it on my 1930s ballot. It's been some years since I watched Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but I remember finding it somewhat enjoyable.

Love The Omen, a very effective horror from my youth that I've never tired of. Wasn't mad impressed with Under The Shadow but it was okay and I'll probably give it another go at some point. The Day Of The Jackal is another that I've not seen for an awfully long time and really ought to rewatch at some point - I remember it being quite captivating.

I've probably seen Hard Times but can't be 100% sure. Definitely not seen Another Round, Mank or The Secret In Their Eyes, might see if I can find the latter in time for the upcoming countdown though as it seems to be fairly well received on here.
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