Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2021 Edition

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Some good stuff there! I guess I should probably rewatch Princess Mononoke? But given my reaction to Spirited Away a couple of years ago, maybe I should wait or acclimate myself.

From your romance films, I've only seen Cold War and The Shape of Water, with the former being the strongest for me. Shape of Water was good, but not great.
I expect I'll see Princess Mononoke again when my kid is a bit older. There's a lot of Ghibli stuff on HBOMax so I'm sort of working my way through what I haven't seen.

I'm in the same place as you on Cold War and The Shape of Water, but I will say that Doug Jones is a bit of a secret treasure. I'd give Atlantics a pretty strong recommendation and it's on Netflix.

Come and See was by a clear margin the best (new to me) film I watched in the month.



Finally dropped Episode 44 last night, The Birthday Loot, where I share my thoughts on a bunch of films that were recommended as "gifts" from Twitter and online friends (including @ApexPredator and @kgaard. Check it out!

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 44: The Birthday Loot

Remember that you can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all the major podcast services.
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Check out my podcast: Thief's Monthly Movie Loot!



Here are the criteria for SEPTEMBER 2021:

A film with the number 9 (Nine, Ninth, etc.) in its title:
A film with a title that starts with the letters Q or R:
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #9 (i.e. 19, 592, 903):
A film from the 1990s:
A sci-fi film:
A film with the word "Fall" in its title:
A film from Noah Baumbach (born September 3):
A film from Chile (Independence Day, September 18):
A film featuring Native American characters (Native American Day, September 24):
A film with a punctuation symbol in its title (National Punctuation Day, September 24):



A system of cells interlinked
Oof, I am a couple episodes behind! I have some catching up to do today.
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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN
(1957, Arnold)
A sci-fi film



"I felt puny and absurd, a ludicrous midget. Easy enough to talk of soul and spirit and existential worth, but not when you're three feet tall. I loathed myself, our home, the caricature my life with Lou had become. I had to get out. I had to get away."

The Incredible Shrinking Man follows Scott Carey (Grant Williams), who after being exposed to a strange mist in the ocean, begins to gradually shrink in size. This obviously causes serious issues in his daily life, including straining his relationship with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart) and leading him into emotional distress.

I confess that I was expecting the usual silliness of 50s sci-fi, but I was surprised at how deep and thought-provoking this ended up being. As ground-breaking and impressive as the special effects are, the film is ultimately more interested in showcasing the effects that this transformation has in Scott's psyche and emotions, while also raising questions about existentialism and what it means to be human.

Seeing him go through the process is like seeing someone go through the 5-Step Grief Cycle, all the way from denial to acceptance, and although Carey's performance is not flashy, he does his job well. Stuart's performance as the struggling wife is also pretty good, and April Kent delivers a pretty good, but very small performance as a like-minded soul in which Scott finds temporary solace.

I don't think one can talk about this film without praising the special effects. Like I said above, they are indeed ground-breaking and impressive, but in a way that's not overpowering and in-your-face, but rather to benefit the story. The story follows a seemingly simple premise, but it's quite a feat to see a film like that executed in such an engaging way, while also being as thought-provoking as this.

In the opening scene, Scott stands on a boat, in the middle of a vast ocean, looking helpless at what was ahead of him. By the final shot, we see him once again, standing in front of a vast "new world". Only this time, he's not feeling helpless; no loathing, no worthlessness. He's at peace and willing to face whatever comes next.

Grade:



BLACK NARCISSUS
(1947, Powell & Pressburger)
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #9 (#93)



"I remember things before I joined our Order. Things I wanted to forget. I never thought of them until now. I’ve been 21 years in the Order and now they come back to me. I think you can see too far."

Set sometime after World War I, Black Narcissus follows a group of Anglican nuns sent to set up a school and a hospital in the Himalayas on behalf of an Indian General. Led by young and ambitious Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the group is expected to take over an abandoned "palace" set on a high cliff where one of the former rulers kept his harem.

But their stay there is not without hardship, as evidenced by the above quote from Sister Philippa (Flora Robson). All the other sisters seem to be suffering in some way from their stay there. Most notably, Clodagh spends nights remembering a failed relationship from before she joined the order, and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) seems to be infatuated with Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the intermediary agent between the nuns and the Indian General, while also losing her grip on reality.

Through all the film, directors and co-writers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger make a point of emphasizing the impact and effect of the altitude. From the difficulties to reach the palace to its inherent isolation. Most of the more iconic shots of the film feature the nuns standing on cliffs, looking into the vast horizon, perhaps farther than they're willing to look. But their current situation has somehow forced them to look beyond their current life and work, and face things and desires they all had tried to keep repressed, hidden, and under wraps.

As the sisters slowly realize, the toll is physical, emotional, and psychological. Like Philippa, they all had things to forget; things that now come back to them. They can see too far into the past, and the past is coming back to haunt them. All of the cast excellently portrays that anxiety and uneasiness, but special praise goes to Kerr and Byron, who have the meatier roles. Kerr successfully conveys how Clodagh uses her stoicism to hide her own weaknesses, while Byron is great showing Ruth's desperation, obsession, and mental decay.

After Philippa's confession, Clodagh's advice to her was to "work hard" until she's too tired to think of anything else. I know it's a weird parallelism, but it reminded me of The Simpsons, and Marge's kinda awful advice to Lisa to take all her bad feelings and "push them down... until you're almost walking on them". It's a call for repression, instead of actually dealing with the issues at hand, which is probably what they've all been doing all their lives. But as we can see in the film, as much as you try to hide your true nature, when the chance comes to see far enough, things will undoubtedly come back to you.

Grade:



THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE
(1991, Kieślowski)
A film from the 1990s



"Not long ago, I had a strange sensation. I felt that I was alone. All of a sudden. Yet nothing had changed."

The need for belonging, intimacy, and connection is listed among the 5 levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. As social creatures, we need that sense of belonging and acceptance among our peers and loved ones. Not achieving it, can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. That's the feeling that overwhelms Véronique at one moment in this beautiful Kiéslowski film.

The Double Life of Véronique follows two identical women: Weronika and Véronique (both played by Irène Jacob) who have a mysterious connection, despite living separate lives in different cities. They've never met each other or known about the other's existence, and yet, there is something that binds them.

The interesting thing is that Kiéslowski is not very interested in the the why, but rather in how that connection affects them. As the film moves through the life of both women, we see a wide array of "connective tissue" that goes from their love of music to little things like a transparent ball that both of them play with. At one point, Véronique even dreams of a "tall, slender church", which we see is close to Weronika's home.

The thing is that the slightest hint of this connection gives both characters feelings of joy when it's felt, and loneliness when it's broken. For Weronika, seeing that "other person" in the distance instills her with a sense of belonging. For Véronique, who hasn't seen Weronika, although the connection is not clear and her feelings are more confused, it is still a source of anxiety and question.

At one point, Véronique attends a puppet show at her school. But during the show, her eyes move towards the side of the stage, where a mirror allows her to get a glimpse of what's going on behind the stage; the puppeteer pulling the strings. This sight intrigues her more than what's happening on stage, and she eventually tries to reach out to this man for reasons she doesn't fully understand.

Much like Weronika, who seemed to feel reinvigorated once she saw her "double", a signal perhaps that something beyond our comprehension is going on "behind the stage", Véronique's quest to find this puppeteer is a representation of that same desire to understand that something, anything, is going on "behind the stage". That even though nothing has changed, we are not alone.

Grade:



WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
(1966, Nichols)
A film with a punctuation symbol in its title



Martha: "Truth and illusion, George. You don't know the difference."
George: "No, but we must carry on as though we did."

Truth and illusion. Those are qualities that accompany many marriages. We all know the stories of seemingly happy couples, only to reveal later that it was all an illusion. The truth behind it all sometimes hides abuse, lies, contempt, but also disappointment, frustration, and regrets. That is the backdrop of Mike Nichols' debut film, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The film follows middle-aged marriage couple George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), as they invite a young couple at their home after a party. The evening, though, unravels from a constant parade of insults and bickering into a game of bitter fights and tragic revelations. It's important to mention that Burton and Taylor were actually married at the moment, although they would divorce 8 years later... and remarry one year after, and divorce again one year after.

When the film opens, the couple are lumbering towards their home after that party, and there's a tediousness to their exchange at first; petty arguments about a film he can't remember or just a general tiredness of one another. This is the truth; I can only imagine that what they presented at the party was the "illusion". But tired and at home already, when this young couple comes, they make no effort to hide their "truths".

For the first hour or so, I was really enjoying the fast-paced bickering and how quippy the dialogue was. I was laughing, just like their guests were laughing. But as the night progressed, you can see the conversations shift from the regular back and forth of married couples to a more pointed, deliberate, and calculated game of hurt, so to speak. The last hour was a painful and tragic sequence of hurtful decisions and machinations that you wonder if their marriage, or any marriage, could recover.

Both Burton and Taylor were simply excellent on their roles. I think I was more impressed with Burton, but Taylor was great, and she really nailed that key final monologue where the illusion is dropped, and the truth comes out. Also, George Segal and Sandy Dennis were pretty good as the young couple. It's no wonder that all four were nominated for Oscars.

My wife and I celebrate our 15 anniversary later this month. I like to think that there is no "illusion" in our relationship, and that we are, for the most part, truthful to each other. But seeing this, you realize that these "illusions" might come from the best intentions, and yet can sometimes wrap around any marriage without you even expecting it. And sometimes, the only thing to do is to carry on.

Grade:



I would take it back to The Incredible Shrinking Man, but yeah.



I would take it back to The Incredible Shrinking Man, but yeah.
I haven't seen that one yet, so I can't speak to its quality. I've only seen the three I included in the quote. I'll probably get to it eventually though. Takoma is another big fan of it, I believe.



THE SQUID AND THE WHALE
(2005, Baumbach)
A film from Noah Baumbach



"Mom and me versus you and Dad."

The Squid and the Whale follows Bernard and Joan (Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney), a couple of "intellectuals" whose paths have diverted lately: Bernard's career is in decline as he focus more on his work as a professor, while Joan is on the rise as she's about to publish her first book. When they decide to separate, the decision affects their two sons: Walt and Frank (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline), in very different ways.

The above line is actually the first line in the film; said at the start of a seemingly inoffensive game of tennis between the family. But still, it captures the essence of what is the core of the film, that of rivalry and competition, as well as kids taking sides with the parents, which is what eventually happens. Who will "win"?

This is only my second Baumbach film, after Marriage Story, but the themes are obviously very similar here. The Berkman's are plagued by the illness of ego and stubbornness, as they both make little to no efforts to communicate effectively and reach common grounds.

To make it worse, they are not very discreet in regards to their private lives as they let it spill out, emotionally affecting their two sons: Bernard has an arrogant, elitist attitude where he constantly belittles other's works, while Joan has a more carefree demeanor, which eventually leads her to cheat on her husband. Both sons respectively idolize one and the other, and are seen aping the worst of them, which also leads them down the wrong paths.

Ultimately, The Squid and the Whale is a simple film about a family broken down, with a relatively simple premise. The strength is in the writing and the performances, both of which are very good. The story is set primarily from the perspective of Walt and seems to ask a question that, as the son of divorced parents, I know I consciously or unconsciously asked myself: How can I move on after my parents' divorce and become my own self?

Grade:



THE FALLING
(2014, Morley)
A film with the word "Fall" in its title



"It's real to all of us. Something's seriously wrong. Why is everyone ignoring us?"

The Falling follows two friends, Abbie and Lydia (Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams), at a strict English girls' school. The two have developed what others see as an unhealthy relationship. When tragedy hits the two friends, Lydia and some of her friends start suffering from frequent fainting episodes that seem to confuse and agitate other members of the school, as well as the strict faculty.

I stumbled upon this film on VUDU while browsing for this category, and I was surprised I had never heard of it, considering it stars two relatively hot stars (Pugh after Midsommar and Little Women, Williams after Game of Thrones), but after watching it, I kinda get why it might be ignored. The film is a bit of a mess, which is a shame, cause most of its pieces are in the right place, but the story needed a bit of polishing.

The thing is that the story is all over the place. There's the "unhealthy" relationship between Abbie and Lydia, then the mysterious fainting episodes, and its effect among the classmates and the school overall. There's also some family issues at Lydia's house that are just brushed over during the first half, only to take full prominence in the second half. Finally, there is an incestuous relationship that I fail to see why it was necessary, but there it is.

Another issue with this might be the marketing. The poster and images make it seem as if it was some eerie supernatural thriller of sorts, when it is more of a slow-paced drama. Add this to all of the issues I mentioned above, and you might say there's something seriously wrong with it, which might explain why everyone is "ignoring" it.

Still, it's a surprise that the end result still ends up being relatively competent. Morley's script might be an issue, but her direction and the cinematography from Agnes Godard are pretty great. Also, all of the performances, but especially Pugh and Williams, are great. I still don't think the film had to jump through all the hoops it did to get where it ended at, but it might be worth a watch for fans of Pugh or Williams.

Grade:



Latest episode of Thief's Monthly Movie Loot, Episode 45, dropped and this time I'm talking TV with musician, composer, fellow podcaster and Internet friend David Rosen (from the Piecing It Together Podcast). We talk about the evolution of TV, the advent of streaming services, binging vs. weekly releases, TV adaptations, and many other things. We also close with a list of TV shows that should've/could've been films.

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 45: The Television Loot (with David Rosen)

Spotify users can check it out here, while Apple Podcast users can check it out here.



GRIZZLY MAN
(2005, Herzog)
Freebie



"Thank you so much for letting me do this. Thank you so much for these animals, for giving me a life... I had no life... Now I have a life."

Brave, tough, committed, hero, sentimental, naïve, crazy, angry, unhinged, a dear friend... those are some of the words that some have used to describe Timothy Treadwell. A self-proclaimed environmentalist and bear enthusiast, he dedicated 13 summers of his adult life to live in isolation in the Alaskan wilderness among brown bears, while advocating for their protection. That is until he was killed by one in 2003.

Grizzly Man follows the life of Treadwell, primarily during those years. An aspiring documentary filmmaker himself, he recorded hours of footage of himself interacting with the bears, which filmmaker Werner Herzog used to assemble this film. In addition, Herzog interviews Treadwell's friends and family, as well as experts, as he chronicles the events that might've lead to his death.

This is my second Herzog documentary, and my sixth film of his overall. Although my first experience with him as a filmmaker (Rescue Dawn) wasn't that great, I've really been drawn to the other films of his I've seen, and Grizzly Man is no exception. As is usual in all his films, he takes interesting yet conflicted characters and subjects, while trying to get inside their minds; to understand what makes them tick.

In Grizzly Man, he dedicates most of the first half of the film to follow Treadwell's idealized and sentimental vision of these bears and nature overall. But as the film enters its second half, he starts digging up a bit more into Treadwell's psyche, showing a bit more of his volatility and anger. Herzog also doesn't shy away from challenging Treadwell's beliefs of "harmony in nature", instead of "chaos, hostility and murder".

There are some moments where Herzog is clearly pushing to the edge of sensationalism, "poking the bear" so to speak, particularly in regards to the recording of Treadwell's death, the finding of his remains, etc. But regardless of who we side with, he undoubtedly offers a compelling chronicle of Treadwell's life and mission, and the undeniable impact it had on himself and others.

Grade:



VERNON, FLORIDA
(1981, Morris)
Freebie



"You can snatch me or Snake up... and carry us off to a place that we're not familiar with... we don't know the woods, the country. Hey, man, you're lost. You're lost. Be just like taking me out of Vernon and sending me to New York City. I mean, you just can't do nothing with 'em ... And when you go to a new part of the country... hey, man, you're lost... or I am."

Vernon, Florida is a small city in the Florida Panhandle, with a population of roughly 600-700. In the 50s and 60s, it became notorious for an unusual amount of limb loss insurance claims, earning it the nickname of "Nub City", which inspired filmmaker Errol Morris to film a documentary about the situation. However, after several death threats, Morris reworked the focus of the documentary, deciding to just feature the eccentricities of the residents instead.

Vernon, Florida, the documentary, is notable in that it features no narrative structure but rather just random interviews with several residents which include various elderly men, a turkey hunter, a pastor, and a cop, among several others. Their conversations range from everything and anything; from the crime (or lack of) in the city and turkey hunting strategies to mirages, diamonds, stars, and "sand that grows".

As it is, there's not much to say about it, but as far as slices of "small town" life goes, it is somewhat fascinating. If anyone's interested, the documentary is available on YouTube and it's roughly 50 minutes long, so fairly accessible and nothing to get lost in.

Grade:



WIND RIVER
(2017, Sheridan)
A film featuring Native American characters



"You don't catch wolves looking where they might be, you look where they've been."

Wind River follows Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a remote Wyoming town. During a routine hunt, he finds the raped and dead body of the daughter of a family friend in a local Indian reservation. When they bring young FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to work the case, she enlists Lambert in the manhunt because of his hunting and tracking skills.

I hadn't heard much about Wind River, but my interest piqued when I read it was written/directed by Taylor Sheridan, who had previously done the excellent Hell or High Water. Since this seemed to be on a similar vibe, I didn't hesitate to check it out and it didn't disappoint. Certainly it isn't as good as Sheridan's previous films, but Wind River is still a neatly shot, well acted, incredibly tense film.

The film is loosely based in real-life accounts of rapes, murders, and disappearances of Indigenous women in the US. The story is pretty strong, even if the dialogue is at moments a bit clumsy. There are a couple of moments of bad expository dialogue and cringey interactions, but they are few and well scattered. What Sheridan does well is create a constant sense of oppression in these characters, which might be a result of their surroundings as well as their history and decisions.

Renner and Olsen are pretty solid. Unfortunately, her character doesn't really have an arc which makes her feel not fully realized. On the other hand, Renner has better moments to show depth and emotion, but overall treats his character as a subdued "badass", which seems a bit out of place with what seems to be his background. I would've appreciated if he would've let the vulnerability he shows in other moments to seep through all the film.

The cast is rounded up by Graham Greene, who is great as usual, if not underused, as well as some small parts by Gil Birmingham and Jon Bernthal. Overall, I enjoyed the film quite a bit, even if I would've preferred some things to be tighter and more polished.

Grade:



Fully agree with your review. It has a strong story and some tense moments (the climactic shootout is excellent, in particular), but it's weakened by Olsen's bland character and the attempts to turn Renner's character into a badass.



THE NINTH CONFIGURATION
(1980, Blatty)
A film with the number 9 (Nine, Ninth, etc.) in its title



"I don't think evil grows out of madness. I think madness grows out of evil."

For centuries, humanity has tried to make sense of the existence of "evil" in the world, especially juxtaposed against Christian beliefs. How can a "benevolent God" allow for such evil to exist and thrive? Author William Peter Blatty went further to channel that evil through what is essentially an innocent creature: a child, while also having the person who is supposed to fight against that evil, a priest, question his own beliefs in The Exorcist.

In Blatty's next book, The Ninth Configuration, he returns to the basics of questioning where evil comes from and how can we fight it. He went on to direct the film adaptation himself, his first film, which was released in 1980. The film follows Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach), a US Marine and Vietnam vet who arrives at a castle turned into a treatment facility to take over the treatment of several patients. As he gets to know his patient, he must face his own demons and the surrounding "evil" among them.

The Ninth Configuration is an interesting film for many reasons. First, other than Keach, it features a solid cast in Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, and Ed Flanders; all of which deliver worthy performances. Second, its approach to its themes is fairly introspective as characters have several lengthy exchanges about the nature of God and our purpose on this world. Sure there is a moment when the s-hit hits the fan in the last act, but for the most part, this is a contemplative, slow burn.

The film does feel like it goes a bit overboard in the last act, and it requires a bit of a suspension of disbelief, but Blatty more than makes up with the way he handles his main themes while pairing it with interesting visuals and a strong emotional core, anchored in Wilson's character, who is the patient with whom Kane bonds more strongly. Maybe Blatty does show his hand a bit too much, but for the most part, he succeeds in showing that there can be goodness in the midst of madness.

Grade:



Just finished watching Pacto de Fuga, a Chilean film about a real-life jailbreak. That means I already finished my challenge, a couple of days early. Still need to write my reviews on this one and Raw and then it's readying up for October (and finishing the PR HOF4, of course).