Movie Monday! #2
The Long Good Friday
1980; Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson, Bryan Marshall, Eddie Constantine; directed by John Mackenzie
This is an interesting one in that it's one of those seemingly pretty rare films that's a very good movie just by virtue of being a very good movie. You know what I mean? Like, the story is engaging, the script is well written, the characters are interesting, the performances are top notch, it's well shot...just basic things that you need from a story-driven film to be able to consider it good. Ambition is always desired, but sometimes you need a movie like this, one that doesn't technically do anything special except to execute the story it's telling to the best of its ability, to remind you that sometimes nothing necessarily needs to be "pulled off" in order for a film to be worth watching or memorable.
One Touch of Venus
1948; Robert Walker, Ava Gardener, Dick Haymes, Olga San Juan, Eve Arden, Tom Conway; directed by William A. Seiter
An avatar of the goddess Aphrodite is kissed on the lips and falls madly in love with a man who is, if not mentally retarded, indistinguishable from such for about 70% of his time on-screen. It's the kind of movie nobody would have any degree of tolerance for if made in 2012, but because it came out in the '40s you have a protagonist whose job is to straighten curtains at a mall (???) and a villain with a tiny mustache who rolls his rs. It sucks by any measurable standard except the standard of "I want to watch something with songs and don't have a lot of time or thought to invest" and the standard of "Ava Gardener in a toga," so what I'm saying is, maybe watch this movie? Probably don't? Elia Kazan's name popped up somewhere in the credits, which I found incredibly unsettling for reasons I'm not able to put my finger on.
2009; Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejia; directed by Cary Fukunaga
I seem to be the only person who had this problem with it, but there's a moment in the last third that was so preposterously stupid and unbelievable as to completely destroy practically any dramatic payoff, which sucks, because oh my God was there a lot of drama to account for. It doesn't "wreck" the movie by any means, because so much of it-the "uno, dos, tres" sequence, Smiley's first kill, the confrontation on the train that any other movie would have used as the denouement-is impossible to ruin. It's absolutely worth watching, but it's also one of those movies that's fantastic right up until it isn't, and it's the kind of flawed gem that sometimes makes you appreciate a movie like The Long Good Friday even more, because there's almost nothing worse in art than having to compromise your enjoyment of something that should have, by all rights, completely blown you away.
Sawdust and Tinsel
1953; Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ake Gronberg, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek; directed by Ingmar Bergman
This movie has a reputation as being more worth watching as an important film in Bergman's growth as a director than on its own merits as a film, which is a damn shame considering it's every bit as vital and disarming as his later films. Much like Bergman's other movies, it's about selfishness and failure, but brought to more of a public eye-these characters are career fools, but that doesn't save them, it certainly doesn't redeem any of them. It's hard to write about Bergman's films if you don't have any kind of film schooling because so much of why these movies are as amazing as they are has to do with technique, but so much of what registers is pure gut impact, and either way I have a hard time putting the appeal of these films into words, except to say that you will be cut down to size, beautifully, and completely. This, I guarantee.
Return of the One-Armed Swordsman
1969; Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chen Lui; directed by Chang Cheh
Possibly the greatest action movie ever made? There are very, very few who get everything this right-the violence, the pacing, the motivation and the payoff. Kill Bill, Death Race 2000 and Die Hard are the only ones springing to mind and none of them come close to carrying the level of venom this film stores in its fangs. I've never seen a movie that was ostensibly about giving the viewer a good time at the movies so heartbroken at the stratospheric bodycount that is achieved by the end. Evil is defeated, but it's pretty hard to claim that anyone comes out the other side not defeated. It's a movie that understands what happens when you've killed everyone there is to kill, and what happens is nothing at all, because reaching your goal carries with it the implication that the means change the significance of the end. One could almost see this as an anti-Vietnam tale if one were so inclined, but the world has never had any shortage of sons cutting their throats for the sake of their fathers. As good or better than any canonical classic that game out of the decade.
2011; Vera Farmiga, Molly Hawkey, Dagmara Dominczyk, Joshua Leonard; directed by Vera Farmiga
This movie tries to pull an interesting trick-it tries to portray Evangelical Christians as actual human beings as opposed to loutish caricatures, and for a good part of the movie it pulls it off. The problem is that it seems to be nearly impossible to approach this corner of society without at least a drop of condescension, so you get parts where people just stop behaving like people right in the middle of what are for the most part extremely human portrayals of people who aren't...normal, exactly, but who have patterns and hopes and fears just like anyone else you know. It breaks you out of the moment even more in that way, because that isn't an intentional choice to portray these people as a bunch of clowns, that's a slip-no director wants you to lessen your understanding of the cast in movies like this. It's at least good that somebody tried.
Kirikou and the Sorceress
1998; Theodore Sibusiso Sibeko, Antoinette Kellerman, Fezele Mpeka; directed by Michael Ocelot
Wild stuff-a lot of this is like Rene Laloux for children. Slightly dumb in the way that a lot of children's movies are, where the screenwriters sometimes forget they're writing for kids and not morons, there's more than enough compelling imagery to make up for it, with bedazzling, dreamy West African art aesthetics coupled with a "proud to be hand-drawn" ethos that almost dares you to say it's a bad thing that this is clearly a bunch of sequenced sheets of paper. I don't think I've ever seen a kid's movie that has an origin story that's clearly a metaphor for both rape and colonialism, and I'm not sure if it's something that should even be in many kid's movies, but here it works. As a rule, nothing with nudity this unappealing tends to be a bad thing.