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Wednesday
Mar132013

La Dolce Vita


When I saw the Sight & Sound list of Top 50 films I was surprised at how few of them I'd seen. So this is a series of posts where I'll watch as many of these films as I can and share my findings with you. Most importantly, are these movies only relevant to film geeks, or will an average bloke like me find anything in them to enjoy? You can see the other reviews here.


Preconceptions

Probably more famous as a movie poster than as a movie. And of course there's the Trevvi fountain scene. None of this told me anything about the movie.

Why is it on the list?

39th on the critics poll and 37th on the directors poll.

Where can I see it?

I bought a second hand DVD box set that contained this and 8½. Weirdly the box said that La Dolce Vita is 104 minutes long when it is in fact closer to 170. This fucked up my schedule for the day and I had to watch it in two parts.

What's it about?

Ennui. Lots of ennui. Rather glamorous, rich people lounging around doing nothing, wondering why they're so bored and unfulfilled. Complaining that this film contains a lot of whining, over-privileged people is like complaining that the Godfather contains a lot of murderous psychopaths; that's what the film is about. Having said that there is more to it, but it's quite tricky to get your hooks into. The invasion of American culture, spiritual bankruptcy, the choices required for a creative life. There's no traditional storyline here, just a series of events with recurring themes and a central character.

Is it just for film geeks?

Good question. Probably not, but I can't see many people having much patience with this; I certainly found it a bit of a struggle in parts.

Entertainment value out of ten?

The ennui, oh the ennui! There's no getting around the fact that these people are seriously dislikable, as they should be, but sometimes making a film about irritating people can lead to an irritating film. On the other hand there's much to like too: it's beautifully filmed, and some of the scenes are very compelling (I particularly enjoyed the scene about the miracle). But it's also occasionally quite tiresome and the supposed profundity was a bit too much to bear. 6/10

Would I watch it again?

I think I might, as there's certainly things here to be enjoyed.

Tuesday
Mar122013

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles


When I saw the Sight & Sound list of Top 50 films I was surprised at how few of them I'd seen. So this is a series of posts where I'll watch as many of these films as I can and share my findings with you. Most importantly, are these movies only relevant to film geeks, or will an average bloke like me find anything in them to enjoy? You can see the other reviews here.


Preconceptions

I must admit when I saw the title, saw a still from the film and saw the running time, I assumed I would be in for a tedious time. When a film appears to be a small scale domestic drama but with the running time of The Godfather II then that seems like a safe assumption.

Why is it on the list?

The description on the BFI website is slightly tart: "Three days in the life of a bourgeois widow who supports herself and her moronic son by taking in a 'gentleman caller' each afternoon."

Where can I see it?

I saw it on YouTube but I don't know about the legality of that copy. I had to watch it over two nights, pausing after the first hour and a quarter.

What's it about?

It follows three days in Jeanne Dielman's life. She cooks, she cleans, she sleeps with men for money, she goes to the bank, she goes to the shops, she knits. It's all filmed in the most static style imaginable.

Is it just for film geeks?

This isn't so much a movie as an art installation, as it makes you experience the tedium of Jeanne's life almost in real-time. In a rather odd way it reminded me of when I saw 24-hour Psycho (basically Hitchcock's Psycho is projected at such a slow speed that it runs for 24 hours). The stillness gives every frame more significance than it would normally have, every move has added heft. Interestingly this film shares the 35th spot in the top 50 with Psycho.

Entertainment value out of ten?

I think I'm being generous giving it 3/10 for entertainment value; it isn't entertaining and that's the point. Having said that I rather liked the film and I'm glad I've seen it. I liked her, I admired her efficiency and lack of pretension. When things start to go wrong for her and her confidence slips it all seems so sad and poignant. The static way it's filmed I found oddly appealing and the lack of dialogue highlights the sounds around her and their rhythms. If you are in any way open to experimental art then you might want to put aside some time for this.

Would I watch it again?

I liked it but I honestly cannot think why anyone would want to watch this more than once.

Saturday
Feb022013

The Battle of Algiers


When I saw the Sight & Sound list of Top 50 films I was surprised at how few of them I'd seen. So this is a series of posts where I'll watch as many of these films as I can and share my findings with you. Most importantly, are these movies only relevant to film geeks, or will an average bloke like me find anything in them to enjoy? You can see the other reviews here.


Preconceptions

I thought this would be a boring war movie. It's neither of those things.

Why is it on the list?

48th on the critics poll and 26th on the directors poll.

Where can I see it?

I saw it for free on YouTube. I'm not sure about the legality of this copy.

What's it about?

In a word terrorism. The native Algerians want their country back from the French. There are escalations on both sides, each driving the opposite side to more murder and mayhem. More than anything else it goes to show that politicians have learnt nothing in the past 50 years.

Is it just for film geeks?

Not at all. The film is shot in stark, gritty black and white mostly on handheld cameras giving the feeling of a news report from the front line. It's a punchy and direct film that never wastes a single minute of the viewers time.

Entertainment value out of ten?

8/10. This is a very watchable, gripping film.

Would I watch it again?

Probably not, only because I'm not sure I'd gain anything from repeat viewings.

Tuesday
Jan292013

City Lights


When I saw the Sight & Sound list of Top 50 films I was surprised at how few of them I'd seen. So this is a series of posts where I'll watch as many of these films as I can and share my findings with you. Most importantly, are these movies only relevant to film geeks, or will an average bloke like me find anything in them to enjoy? You can see the other reviews here.


Preconceptions

Ah, Charlie Chaplin. I watched quite a lot of silent movies and shorts when I was a kid because they were always on telly back then. I loved Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd, but for some reason I had the idea that Chaplin was boring. As is often the case with memories, I remember how I felt but not why I felt it. I don't know why I thought that he was boring as I can't recall which of his films lead to this opinion. On the evidence of this film my younger self was a total idiot.

Why is it on the list?

50th on the critics list and 30th on the directors list.

Where can I see it?

I saw the HD version on iTunes. It's in fantastic condition.

What's it about?

Chaplin as his famous tramp character falls for a blind flower girl. She mistakenly thinks he's wealthy, an impression he's happy to encourage.

Is it just for film geeks?

Absolutely not. Modern audiences will not have to make any allowances here, it stands on it's own perfectly well. Chaplin is famous for his sentimentality, however I think he gets the balance right here and you'd have no soul if you weren't moved by it's conclusion.

Entertainment value out of ten?

Most importantly this is a comedy and it truly is laugh-out loud funny. There were many moments that make me chuckle now just thinking about them. No hesitation: 10/10

Would I watch it again?

Of course!

Monday
Jan282013

Apocalypse Now


When I saw the Sight & Sound list of Top 50 films I was surprised at how few of them I'd seen. So this is a series of posts where I'll watch as many of these films as I can and share my findings with you. Most importantly, are these movies only relevant to film geeks, or will an average bloke like me find anything in them to enjoy? You can see the other reviews here.


Preconceptions

Well even a know-nothing like me knows something about this. Directed by Francis Ford-Coppola on a huge budget and amongst total chaos, it's considered the original 'Nam film.

Why is it on the list?

14th on the critics list and an impressive 6th on the directors list.

Where can I see it?

Widely available, I watched it in HD on my Apple TV. This is the "remastered" version which looks absolutely pristine.

What's it about?

A soldier called Willard is sent on a mission to terminate Colonel Kurtz who has become a law onto himself and is out of control. The question for Willard is, amongst all this madness, is Kurtz's behaviour really so insane (and Willard himself doesn't seem to be in entire possession of his own sanity). The film sees Willard like a kind of detective, with his story told in voiceover like Philip Marlowe, while all around him is black farce.

Is it just for film geeks?

This is one of the most popular films on the list so I think we can safely say no.

Entertainment value out of ten?

This truly is an epic film in every way. The Vietnam war is portrayed on a massive scale (Kubrick may have been happy to run around London Docklands for Full Metal Jacket, but you don't get any of those short cuts here!). The frame is constantly filled with memorable images, and the dialogue is often quotable. I might be controversial here but I do feel that, because the film starts at such a high level, it peters out in the third act as all the energy drains out. To make it worse, watching Brando the hack take some pretty juicy dialogue and let it dribble down his chin is a sad sight indeed. But this is a small complaint as the film is hugely impressive. 8/10

Would I watch it again?

Sure, but it seems memorable enough that I don't feel I need to rush back to it again.

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