Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2021 Edition

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Yikes! I've seen Doomed but haven't had the courage to brave the actual "film". I tip my hat to you, sir.
To be fair, I'm going through it as I do other things, but all things considered, it's not as awful as I was expecting. It's very campy and "magoo", but it has some heart to it. Not sure if it's because I already saw the circumstances that went behind the scenes, but well.
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DOOMED!
THE UNTOLD STORY OF ROGER CORMAN'S THE FANTASTIC FOUR

(2015, Langford)
A film with the number 4 (Four, Fourth, etc.) in its title



"The heart of this film and the intentions behind this film from the people who made the movie, not the business interests, the people who made the movie, their intentions were pure. They wanted to make a great Fantastic Four movie."

Near the end of 1992, Bernd Eichinger and Constantin Film teamed up with Roger Corman and Troma Entertainment to create a feature film based on the popular comic The Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, as so often happens in Hollywood, artistic endeavors don't necessarily align with business interests, and things fall out at the expense of those that are "lower on the totem pole", so to speak.

Doomed! follows the troubled production of the film which, according to some of the people interviewed, was never meant to see the light of day. This intentions, however, were kept from the cast and crew, most of which were counting on the film to advance their careers, and devoted personal time and money to complete it.

The documentary was written, directed, and edited by Marty Langford, and features extensive interviews with director Oley Sassone, editor Glenn Garland, writer Craig J. Nevius, and cast members Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab, Michael Bailey Smith, and Joseph Culp, among many others. It is an extremely interesting look into what they describe as "the seedy dark side of Hollywood" that ended up stabbing them in the back.

During the conversations with the cast and crew, it's hard not to feel how passionate they were about the project, and eventually how frustrating it was for them to not see it come to fruition. More interesting is to wonder why did those moving the strings let the project go along all the way into post-production, if the real intention was only to secure the rights and never to release it.

Obviously, we all know that Marvel had bigger goals in mind, but the fact that the three Fantastic Four films that have been released since haven't gotten neither the critical acclaim nor the earnings that most people would expect, makes you wonder about the intentions behind them, and what it really takes to make a great film.

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THE FANTASTIC FOUR
(1994, Sassone)
A film with the number 4 (Four, Fourth, etc.) in its title



"We're either all in this together... or we don't move."

Of course, after watching the Doomed! documentary last night, what was left for me to do? Watch the real thing! Fortunately for the cast and crew involved, their little project has found some life as bootleg copies that can now be found through the Internet. In the words of Ian Malcolm, "life... uhh... finds a way"

The Fantastic Four is a typical origin story for the superhero team. It starts with Dr. Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and his college friend Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp) performing an experiment with a passing comet that goes awry, and leaves Victor for dead. Fast forward ten years, and Richards recruits his friends Sue, Johnny, and Ben (Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, and Michael Bailey Smith) to go to space as the same comet approaches Earth again.

However, things don't go as planned, and the four end up crash-landing, but with superpowers! There's some nonsensical subplot about a villain called The Jeweler stealing a diamond that both Victor and Reed needed for their experiment, which is why the former, now as the megalomaniac Dr. Doom goes after them.

In many ways, the story behind the scenes is much more interesting than the film itself, but it also helps to put in perspective the "final" product. Considering that it was made by Corman/Troma, a notoriously low budget studio, on a shoestring budget and a rushed schedule, by B-list actors, and crew members that were sneaking film reels out of the studio to do post-production, sound, special effects, and whatnot, on cheap stores, the end result is "better" than one would think.

The film is pretty campy and goofy, with more in common with the 1960's Batman than the one that was released a couple of years before this was made. The dialogue is cringey and most of the performances are pretty bad, although I thought Hyde-White and Culp had some moments.

Looking back at the superhero films that were being released around that time (Superman IV, The Punisher, Captain America), I really don't understand why they didn't give this a chance. Even if their intention was only to secure the rights, it's not like the film would've been more "offensive" than some of the ones that were made during that time, and on that budget, it would've made them some money anyway. Unfortunately, like Reed said on the above quote, "we're all in this together... or we don't move".

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Here is my final tally for APRIL 2021:

A film with the number 4 (Four, Fourth, etc.) in its title: Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four, The Fantastic Four (1994)
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): Breathless
A film from the 1940s: Bicycle Thieves
A drama film: The Secret in Their Eyes
A Biblical film: The Omen (1976)
A film nominated for a Best Picture or Best Int'l Feature Film this year: Another Round, Mank
A film primarily set in a submarine (Nat'l Submarine Day, April 11): The Wolf's Call
A film with Anthony Perkins (born April 4): On the Beach
A film from Iran (Islamic Republic Day, April 1): Under the Shadow

Freebie: The Day of the Jackal, La Dolce Vita, Barry Lyndon, Beasts of the Southern Wild






Pretty solid month. My favorite first-time watch was probably Bicycle Thieves, but there were a bunch of really good ones; especially the ones from the HOF24.



Here is the challenge for MAY 2021:

A film with the number 5 (Five, Fifth, etc.) in its title:
A film with a title that starts with the letters I or J:
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #5 (i.e. 15, 405, 854):
A film from the 1950s:
A fantasy film:
A film about mothers:
A film with a bird in its title (Bird Day, May 4):
A film primarily set on a train (Nat'l Train Day, May 8):
A film from Romania (Independence Day, May 9):
A film from Howard Hawks (born May 30):



Slow month for me, but I got a few in:

A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H:

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) I'm not a big kaiju movie guy (though I think the original Godzilla is quite good), so I don't really know how to assess it on that level. I just found it--aside from being completely ridiculous, which is not necessarily a flaw--tonally off. It feels like it wants to take itself relatively seriously but there are also scenes where
WARNING: "spoilers for this very silly movie" spoilers below
clearly hundreds (thousands?) of people must have died but this is entirely unremarked upon.
Like, we're meant to feel the emotions of the "monsters", Kong in particular, but
WARNING: "more spoilers for this very silly movie" spoilers below
human lives are shrugged away.
Maybe this is a kaiju thing, but it was off-putting. Anyway, nothing surprised me here, I expect something dopey and that's what I got. I will say that I would have given this movie 1 rating higher if only
WARNING: "last spoiler for this very silly movie" spoilers below
Godzilla had given Kong a high five as he headed back into the ocean.


A film from the 1940s:

Strangler of the Swamp (1946) This one was put forward in one of the horror threads--it was nice and breezy so I gave it a whirl. As promoted, while definitely on the B-level of production, it's decently atmospheric and, somewhat unusually, gives its female lead something to do. Good stuff, and fun to see Blake Edwards on screen before he wisely went behind the camera.

A drama film:

Wuthering Heights (1939) High (melo)drama featuring Laurence Olivier (his first significant film role) pitted against Merle Oberon as the ever-doomed couple of Heathcliff and Catherine. It's been forever since I read the book, and I'm aware that the movie essentially cuts out about half of it. Apparently this movie is considered romantic, but to me it's more psychological drama, an example of how poison spreads through the social system.

A film from Iran (Islamic Republic Day, April 1):

The White Balloon (1995) Very much like his mentor Abbas Kiarostami's lovely Where Is the Friend's House?, Jahar Panahi's film tells a simple story about a child who wants to buy a goldfish and the impediments she needs to overcome. It's also more subtly about the intersections of society, and how people can be helpful but also oblivious.

The White Balloon and Wuthering Heights were the best of this lot, followed by Strangler. Godzilla vs. Kong is, well, it is what it is.



A film with a title that starts with the letters I or J:

I Lost My Body (2019) Review here. Shorter version of a short review: I liked it! (And I'll just note that this movie also happens to work for "J" in the original French: J'ai perdu mon corps.)



CRIES AND WHISPERS
(1972, Bergman)
Freebie



"Don't you hear it? Don't you hear the crying? Don't you hear it? Someone is crying endlessly."

This is the question that maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) desperately asks everybody in one segment of this film. But unfortunately, nobody seems to notice, listen, or care about the "endless" crying, which is a recurring theme in this Ingrid Bergman film. Cries go unnoticed, and whispers are heard "all around".

Set in the 19th Century, Cries and Whispers follows three sisters and their maid as they cope with the terminal illness of one of them. The film opens with Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who is afflicted with an unspecified ailment, writing in her diary "It is early Monday morning and I am in pain". That sums up her days as she goes from just resting in her room to writhing in pain, all while under the watch of her two sisters, Karin and Maria (Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann), and the maid.

The thing is that, besides Agnes illness, the whole family is plagued by repression, depression, frustration, loneliness, detachment, infidelity, dissatisfaction, gossiping, and a good dose of "thumb up their asses". Most of these elicit cries of frustration and anger from the people involved; cries for love, attention, or any sort of contact. Cries that tend to go unheard of or simply dismissed by others. These interactions give Bergman room to explore his usual themes of relationships, gender roles, and sexuality.

This was one of Bergman's first films in color, and he clearly makes sure to make the most of it. His vibrant use of red and white, and how he transitions from scene to scene adds a lot to the film. The performances are great, especially Thulin and Ullmann, who have the most intense exchanges. There is a certain "staginess" to it, and there's a lot of surreal vibe to everything, but for the most part it works.

Like most of Bergman's films, Cries and Whispers is a visually striking film; one that ends up being an emotional rollercoaster, as characters go up and down the spectrum: arguing, screaming, crying, loving, whispering.

Grade:



Almost forgot to share this... for those interested, Episode 36 of Thief's Monthly Movie Loot is out. I talk about the best films I saw in April as well as some brief reviews of everything else I saw.

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 34 - The April Loot

As usual, it's also available on Spotify here.



SANSHO THE BAILIFF
(1954, Mizoguchi)
A film from the 1950s • A film about mothers



"A man is not a human being without mercy. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others."

That is the important teaching passed unto Zushiō (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) and Anju (Kyōko Kagawa) by his father. "Always keep it with you", he says, as he also hands him a keepsake, a small figurine of the Goddess of Mercy. But time and circumstances often make us forget the most important lessons while leading us away, sometimes in the harshest ways. That is the backdrop of this iconic Japanese film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Sansho the Bailiff follows Zushiō and Anju as they fend for themselves at the hands of Sanshō (Eitarō Shindō), a ruthless slave owner. Their father banished and their mother sold into prostitution, it would be easy for them to lose hope and forget about mercy. That is what happens to Zushiō, who becomes hopeless and seems complacent in following Sanshō's steps, despite Anju's pleas to not forget their father's words.

It is interesting that the film is titled the way it is, considering that Sanshō is after all a secondary character. We meet him 30 minutes into the film and compared to other characters, he's barely in it. But what's important is what Sanshō represents. He is a presence that hangs above Zushiō all through the film. He is the opposite of his father's teachings: merciless and unforgiving, and by spending more time under his fist, Zushiō becomes more like him and less like his father.

This is my first film from Mizoguchi, but certainly one that has stuck in my mind. Not only for its striking visuals, flawless direction, and shot composition, but also for its sorrowful and powerful message. There is perhaps one event that still bugs me, cause I still don't think it feels true to what we've seen from the main characters, but I understand Mizoguchi's intentions, and it ultimately doesn't detract of the overall impact.

Sansho the Bailiff could be seen as a tragic story of time lost and wasted youth, but it is also a story of change and redemption, mercy and hope; one where there's still time to do good and make up for the years lost, if we keep that teaching to ourselves and never give up.

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Looking for films with the word "Five" in its title, I found the following options that are accessible to me, sound intriguing, and/or have good reviews. I appreciate any thoughts on any...?
  • Five Fingers of Death - isn't this a Tarantino favorite, and the one that inspired the Kill Bill final move?
  • Devil Times Five - really intrigued by the premise.
  • Top Five - I like Chris Rock's stand-up and this has some solid/good reviews.

Also, I haven't had time to research about films from Romania, but if there's any suggestion, it's also welcome.



Just a brief catchup (has it really been three weeks? )...

I was lukewarm about La Dolce Vita, simply couldn't make any real connection with it. I liked Barry Lyndon far more than I ever expected, put it off for so long as it just didn't really sound of much interest to me but when I finally got round to it I found it quite a beautiful watch and far more immersive than I expected. It now proudly holds the position as 'highest rated Kubrick I don't own'.

Not a fan of Beasts Of The Southern Wild I'm afraid, I did think that the father/daughter were acted nicely enough and the score was decent though. I can appreciate Breathless but it would never be a favourite, I agree it's just not that interesting in terms of narrative. On The Beach is a little lacking in subtlety and some of the dialogue could have been better but I think it portrays the bleakness and desolation of such a situation really well. Sansho The Bailiff made my 50s countdown, beautifully desolate but at the same time also spiritually uplifting imo.

Not seen The Wolf's Call, Bicycle Thieves, Doomed, The Fantastic Four or Cries And Whispers.
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Also, I haven't had time to research about films from Romania, but if there's any suggestion, it's also welcome.
Funnily enough I've watched a few Romanian fillums just recently.

Somewhere In Palilula was the best of those (mumbled about it here). Certainly wouldn't be to everyone's taste, especially so if one needs everything to make sense, but visually quite appealing I thought and I found it rather entertaining.

Links to brief mumbles on the other two I watched recently are here and here if wanted.



Funnily enough I've watched a few Romanian fillums just recently.

Somewhere In Palilula was the best of those (mumbled about it here). Certainly wouldn't be to everyone's taste, especially so if one needs everything to make sense, but visually quite appealing I thought and I found it rather entertaining.

Links to brief mumbles on the other two I watched recently are here and here if wanted.
Couldn't find any of those available streaming, but I'll keep an eye on them. Thanks!



Also, I haven't had time to research about films from Romania, but if there's any suggestion, it's also welcome.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is on Netflix; there are also a couple of features on Criterion: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills (one handy thing on Criterion is the filters you can use under All Films when searching on PC). There are also a couple of shorts there as well.



The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is on Netflix; there are also a couple of features on Criterion: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills (one handy thing on Criterion is the filters you can use under All Films when searching on PC). There are also a couple of shorts there as well.
I will consider Lazarescu. I've seen 4M, 3W, 2D, although I wouldn't mind a rewatch. I was a bit lukewarm/partial to it when I saw it. Thanks!



TOKYO STORY
(1953, Ozu)
A film from the 1950s • A film about mothers



"To lose your children is hard, but living with them isn't always easy either. A real dilemma."

That's part of the conversation that retired father Shūkichi has with some friends as they both trade stories about their children. The bottom line is that regardless of age and circumstances, being a parent is hard. We raise them, spend years, decades with them only to see them leave, one way or the other, while we're left to deal with the separation: be it the physical one which comes from life/death, or the emotional one which comes from distance, distractions, lack of time or connection. A real dilemma.

Tokyo Story follows Shūkichi and Tomi (Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama), a retired couple that have to live with a bit of both. They lost one of their sons, Shōji, in the war and live far from three of their other children, and when they finally decide to take the long trip from Onomichi to Tokyo to visit them, they find themselves feeling like a nuisance, with no real connection to any of them. Ironically, only Noriko (Setsuko Hara), Shōji's widow, seems to be the only one to make an effort to spend time with them.

This is only my second Ozu film, after the excellent Late Spring, but this is such a perfect companion. The way that he weaves a compelling, engaging, and beautiful story out of something as seemingly "banal" as a visit from your parents/in-laws is just magical. There are no gimmicks, just a simple story, great dialogue, and excellent performances.

Most of the performances are great, but special mention goes to the trio of actors from Late Spring that Ozu brings back for this: Ryū, Hara, and Haruko Sugimura. The latter plays Shige, the eldest daughter, and much like her character in Late Spring, she feels real and yet you can't help but dislike her. On the other hand, Ryū and Hara continue their excellent chemistry, particularly during a climatic poignant and emotionally powerful conversation near the end.

Just like Late Spring succeeded in presenting the reality of marriage in post-war Japan (or maybe anywhere else), Tokyo Story succeeds in presenting the reality of father/children relationships; one of endless and unconditional love, but also one that requires letting go, and dealing with loss and loneliness. A real dilemma.

Grade: