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Sus (2010)

Film from a play that suffers and benefits from restricted space as many of the same adaptations do. In this case a black murder suspect brought in by the Metropolitan Police in London on the evening of Thatcher's election victory (1979) for interrogation. Strong, as you'd expect. and uncompromising language with 3 excellent performances.



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Z (1969)

I spent six weeks during the summer between high school and college traveling around Greece with a friend. This friend was of Greek descent and still had family living there. When we arrived at the airport in Athens his uncle, who had been a colonel in the Greek military, came to pick us up. When we passed through customs he simply waved at the guards and they waved us through. Later during our stay, before leaving Athens to traipse about the country, he said, out of the blue and with clear pride, "When the coup comes, I turn off the telephones for all of Athens!" Of course, at the time I had absolutely no sense of Greek history that didn't involve philosophers or epic poetry, so I had no real reaction to this. I do recall being fascinated that the political spectrum of the country included actual fascists and actual communists. (Actual fascists, it turns out, are not so fascinating at home.)

Anyway, Costa-Gavras's compelling movie directly recalls events of the pre-coup period in Greece, thinly disguised as occurring in France/Algeria (so thinly that Costa-Gavras makes a point of saying that its resemblance to actual events "is INTENTIONAL"). He dramatizes an assassination and the subsequent investigation such that simple questionings of witnesses are thick with tension. Victims are allowed their humanity, their personal flaws displayed alongside their political heroism. If the outcome is unsatisfying, well, just look around, nothing about the world and politics today would surprise Costa-Gavras.

9/10



BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)
A film considered to be one of the worst



Yep. Everything you've heard about this film is true. Mediocre or just simply atrocious in almost any aspect, from the script and direction to the performances and the special effects. The film is set in a dystopian future where an alien race, the Psychlos, have ruled the Earth for 1000 years, while humans have reverted to their primitive ways. It follows Jonnie (Barry Pepper), one of the few humans who refuses to give up and is brave enough to face the aliens. As a result, Terl (John Travolta) captures him, along with others, to illegally mine gold for his own purposes, while Jonnie and his friends organize a rebellion.

But although the dystopic premise might be interesting, the execution from top to bottom is piss-poor. Roger Christian's direction is amateurish in almost every level, the script is full of silly and cringe-inducing lines, most of the performances feel lost and misguided, and the special effects are almost at "Asylum" levels. It barely scrapes by if you watch it just for kicks, with a "so bad it's good" attitude, but beyond that, there's no other way to look at it. This is crap.

Grade:
I tried watching this when it popped up on Netflix a few months ago.*Bailed maybe after twenty minutes because that canted angles were giving me a headache.*Just a viscerally unpleasant looking film.*





Z (1969)

I spent six weeks during the summer between high school and college traveling around Greece with a friend. This friend was of Greek descent and still had family living there. When we arrived at the airport in Athens his uncle, who had been a colonel in the Greek military, came to pick us up. When we passed through customs he simply waved at the guards and they waved us through. Later during our stay, before leaving Athens to traipse about the country, he said, out of the blue and with clear pride, "When the coup comes, I turn off the telephones for all of Athens!" Of course, at the time I had absolutely no sense of Greek history that didn't involve philosophers or epic poetry, so I had no real reaction to this. I do recall being fascinated that the political spectrum of the country included actual fascists and actual communists. (Actual fascists, it turns out, are not so fascinating at home.)

Anyway, Costa-Gavras's compelling movie directly recalls events of the pre-coup period in Greece, thinly disguised as occurring in France/Algeria (so thinly that Costa-Gavras makes a point of saying that its resemblance to actual events "is INTENTIONAL"). He dramatizes an assassination and the subsequent investigation such that simple questionings of witnesses are thick with tension. Victims are allowed their humanity, their personal flaws displayed alongside their political heroism. If the outcome is unsatisfying, well, just look around, nothing about the world and politics today would surprise Costa-Gavras.

9/10
I will recommend The Confession and State of Siege of you haven't seen them.*All are Costa-Gavras/Yves Montand collaborations and look at authoritarian governments from different angles (Confession depicting infighting and dissent in the ruling party, Siege depicting insurgent movements). I'm making them sound a little dry, but Montand sells the heck out of the human element that grounds all the films.*



1989,


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I LOVE Society. It's so weird and unpredictable. It has one of my favorite director's commentaries.



Les Enfants Terribles, 1950

I always get a little nervous writing about a "classic" film before reading up on it, out of some fear that I will have wildly misinterpreted the meaning. Oh well!

Paul and Elisabeth are adult siblings (I never quite picked up on their ages in the film, but the actors were both in their mid/late 20s) who have a strange, co-dependent relationship that over the course of the film morphs into something dangerous and borderline psychotic.

Cards on the table: I am in a MOOD this week, between the stress at work and the approaching reality of spending Thanksgiving alone. And I had a VISCERAL reaction to several sequences in this film. The siblings at one point conspire to upset a small child at a restaurant, and Paul practically quivers with excitement when the child is finally slapped by her mother. In another sequence, Paul throws a pot of milk over Elisabeth while she is in bed. Later, Elisabeth feeds a piece of crayfish flesh to a sleeping Paul. Sorry to repeat vocabulary, but there was such a visceral element to the mind games played by the siblings--it goes way beyond cutting words and scheming.

I have so many disjoint thoughts about this film, but one thing that really stood out to me was the way that the character degrade others but are also themselves degraded. Elisabeth is expected to take care of their ailing mother and Paul (who is injured in the first scene and is sickly thereafter). Paul is injured in what may be a homophobic attack (we learn that Paul is attracted to the boy who attacks him) by a classmate. There's a scene later where Elisabeth suddenly realizes that her brother has pictures of actors and other male figures on his walls and he definitely has a "type"--and we see her with her tongue between her teeth, realizing something about her sibling, but maybe also recognizing ammunition? The siblings constantly turn on each other--ranging from acting like small children (rushing to be the first into a bath and then wrestling in the tub) to horribly duplicitous behavior (confiscating and destroying important correspondence). Elisabeth comes off as the worse of the two (as her actions often rope in others, such as her co-worker/roommate and their childhood friend Gerald), but it's fascinating to watch the mutually destructive behavior spiral and spiral until it becomes deadly.

I can't even organize my thinking around how the film was shot and the staging of certain sequences, but I'll just say that I found it very effective and there was this odd duality of claustrophobia and agoraphobia that I'll have to think on more.





The Last Waltz, 1978

My dad is a big fan of The Band, so shame on me for not seeing this documentary before now.

Scorsese films the final concert performance of The Band, interweaving footage of the concert with interviews with the band members.

I mean, what's there to say? The music is great. The guest stars are AMAZING. The interviews reveal a very powerful melancholy from artists who know that they need to stop, and yet are painfully aware of what they are giving up. But as Robbie Robertson lists the artists who have been lost living the "touring life", you understand at once their decision despite the pain it causes. There is a heightened sense of the fleeting nature of time, from a group of performers who are by no means over the hill, but who are also 16 years into an intense life of hustling, performance, and success.






Got talked into this...supposedly the last installment of Bill and Ted, this time Bill and Ted Face the Music. The titular characters are several decades down the road, with families and have to save the world by doing a bunch of time travel to see themselves in past and future times and then coming up with a song that will save the universe. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are still using their patented speech mannerisms, haven't really changed all that much, other than being older and I won't tell you whether or not they DO save the world, but you can probably guess.

Generally, my eyes glaze over when movie script writers try to explain time travel and this one's no exception, but it doesn't really matter. A bunch of things will happen, they will way
"Whoa!" a lot, Mozart gets reanimated along with some other historical characters, and eventually, after a lot of stuff, a song gets written.

My expectations were not all that high and they were certainly not exceeded. It's really pretty dumb (surprise!) but entertaining enough. It's available for pay on Amazon Prime.




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I will recommend The Confession and State of Siege of you haven't seen them.*All are Costa-Gavras/Yves Montand collaborations and look at authoritarian governments from different angles (Confession depicting infighting and dissent in the ruling party, Siege depicting insurgent movements). I'm making them sound a little dry, but Montand sells the heck out of the human element that grounds all the films.*
Noted, thanks! This was my first experience with Costa-Gavras so I'm happy to entertain suggestions. I think I've only seen Montand in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources but obviously he's a big figure in film and music so I'd like to see more of his work too.



Some recent high scores...

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) -


Hitch prefers to think of this as his debut, which I can understand, having also watched The Pleasure Garden recently (his actual debut, and not very good). I consider The Lodger to be one of the best films in his oeuvre. Actually, it makes me wonder if the man would have been better suited for the silent era, which almost makes sense except that the notion is immediately dispelled when one remembers what he gave us with his talkies.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001) -


I don't remember this being so good. I knew it was my favorite of the three, which it still is and always will be. But these are mammoths of filmmaking that deserve their revolutionary status.

Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937) -


I watched this around 3 in the morning and it was a wonderful, transfixing experience. It's also the first Renoir film to really click with me. What initially grabbed me was the excellent camerawork - I especially loved when the camera would do something like move around the dinner table while they all blabber about. That doesn't sound that impressive, I guess, but the artistry in its execution is hard to miss. Anyway, what kept me going were the wonderful characters and the noticeable compassion present in so much of it.

Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) -


I have less to say about the inventive camerawork and editing and more to just say man, what a wild ride this is! Nyman's score was a great accompaniment, but the film probably maintains its energy without it.



The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001) -


I don't remember this being so good.
That was my reaction when I watched this a few months back. I had seen the trilogy in the theater, which obviously adds to the experience.

Aside from finding some of the humor a bit corny, I was like "Whoa, this is really good!".

I forgot just how much action and suspense and character development is packed into the one movie. The thrill of Liv Tyler rescuing Frodo from the Ring Wraiths, the introduction of Aragorn, Boromir's entire arc. And years later it still looks really good.



The Magus (1968)

Was intrigued to find a copy of this as have read the John Fowles book a number of times (and its a bit of a head-spinner). Michael Caine plays a cock-sure but restless teacher who goes to work on a Greek island to get away from his girlfriend and daily drudge. At first satisfied, he is then enchanted by an older man on the island who may, or may not, have magical powers.

This is fairly loyal to the book but has a hard job conveying Fowles' post-modern ideas simply in a film. I accepted it for what it was but would read the book again before watching the film...Michael Caine is pretty horribly miscast too, even when thinking of casting before watching I thought Terence Stamp was the man for the part.







Shout at the Devil was the first cassette I ever bought so I used to really like Motley Crue (up to Dr. Feelgood anyway). Still, I had no interest in seeing this but we have a houseguest who loves this movie and has been asking me to watch it since it was released. So after several beers and him talking about it again I said "Fine, let's watch it." Most of what is covered is well known to anyone who was a casual viewer of Mtv during the 80's. It's not boring but it feels like a rushed, made for tv movie. A collection of stories more than a story. I would say the most interesting thing I learned was who came up with the band's name.




Greenland (2020, Ric Roman Waugh)



The Fare (2018, D.C. Hamilton)



Black Box (2020, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour)



Noted, thanks! This was my first experience with Costa-Gavras so I'm happy to entertain suggestions. I think I've only seen Montand in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources but obviously he's a big figure in film and music so I'd like to see more of his work too.
As far as Montand goes, I am not that well versed in his work, but The Wages of Fear is probably essential (I understand that's what made him a star).*I'm also quite fond of his work in Grand Prix and Le Cercle Rouge, although those are smaller roles.


He also has a key, if minor, role in Mr. Freedom, which is not a particularly shrewd political satire but has its comic book charms.



The asterisks seem to be a side effect of the formatting. They are not intentional on my part, but I will leave them for posterity.



Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

A step (or stride) above Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox both in quality and in gruesomeness. I suppose Deodato is just a better filmmaker. A pessimistic and bleak portrayal of humanity and civilization. I don't think its message is as clear-cut as many reviews seem to think, and it goes well beyond the critique of sensationalist media (or if it doesn't it's rather poorly written).
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The Peanut Butter Falcon -


This is a heartwarming and funny road movie that succeeds for what it doesn't do as much as for what it does right. I tend to avoid movies with premises that can be described as quirky like this one because they often invite us to laugh at their subjects rather than with them. Thankfully, it avoids this trap by presenting Tyler (LaBeouf) and Zack (Gottsagen) in a way that makes you empathize with and root for them. It also sidesteps the pitfall of being cloying and manipulative that similar movies tend to fall into, and as an added bonus, its portrayal of southerners is more authentic than stereotypical. The quality of the performances has a lot to do with all of this, and if Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson's lousy track record in big-budget movies make you skeptical, you will be surprised. Like Kristen Stewart, whose big-budget work is also less than stellar, LaBeouf and Johnson must be better suited to the indie movie environment. I also liked Bruce Dern's work as Zack's nursing home ally as well as Thomas Haden Church as the Salt Water Redneck, a former wrestler who thanks to Tyler and Zack gets a new lease on life. The road movie format is a tried and true one, but those seeking innovation in it may be disappointed here. Also, while there are many beautiful songs on the soundtrack, their not-so-ideal placement makes the movie come close to dipping into sentimentality. Thankfully, what the movie doesn't do, what it does right and the charms, laughs and hope it provides shine through the most. And yes, that's Mick Foley and Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the wrestling scenes!