My computer is back in action and I’m finally settling into my routine at school so I can finally get back to doing this. Luckily in the three weeks since moving to Waterloo I have watched exactly six movies. I think it is apt to point out that in the time between July 20th and August 16th I watched 118 films and since then I have watched 24. I will admit that I’ve marathoned 2 seasons of Suits as a way of distracting myself from training and work and school, but nevertheless it is a massive change. The other massive change is that there were only four 9 or 10 star films and two of those I had seen before.
Starting with this week you will be seeing more films that I have watched for the classes. There will be four a week specifically mentioned in my syllabi and soon I will start doing research for my papers, which I will include in these roundups. Therefore you will soon be seeing two more additions to the roundup post. FS252 – Film Noir and FS341 – Classical Film Theory. There will be some comments about the films and what I’ve been doing in terms of thinking about those papers. I want them to be good so I want to document the experience of writing them.
The final new addition to these roundups (only applying to half of them) is what I’ll be calling the Film Society Picks. Every other week (kind of) the WLU Film Society gets together for dinner and drinks and to talk about a movie we collectively decided to watch that week. It’s a fun time and I want to dedicate some time to each of those films here. If it turns out I become seriously invested in the films then I will do full posts and link to them here.
There are no contenders this week so on to the roundups for class.
FS252 – Film Noir
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) dir. Boris Ingster
Peter Lorre is incredibly creepy. As soon as this film got going I could tell it is totally typical noir with plenty of expressionist imagery and lighting throughout the film. Its also pretty good in general thanks Lorre’s performance. The protagonist isn’t terribly compelling but the rest of the film makes up for it.
High Sierra (1941) dir. Raoul Walsh
I honestly don’t understand why this is on my noir syllabus. I can see a degree of cynicism but primarily this is just a classic Hollywood heist that doesn’t feature the other stylistic elements of noir. Bogart’s performance is good and its obvious how this is the film that got him to star status.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) dir. John Huston
The first time I saw this I didn’t like it much. This time I like it a little more especially since discussing it in class. The change isn’t nearly as drastic as it was for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (which went from my most hated list to my personal canon) but now I really appreciate the poetry of the scenes between Sam and Cairo and Sam and Gutman. The noir cinematography is really interesting and far more inspired than I initially gave credit for. I wish the following clip included the end of the scene but nevertheless it demonstrates what I love about the film.
FS341 – Classical Film Theory
Intollerance (1916) dir. D.W. Griffith
I tried watching part of the cut of the film with a synth soundtrack and another one with an organ sound track and i finally settled on what the wiki calls the “Thames Silents” restoration. The soundtrack makes the watching far more compelling and ties the four stories together beautifully. However I’m not giving a rating to this because its not really a film in the sense that I rate films. Silent film is something I just don’t know how to evaluate. For instance, this film uses the word “intollerance” in its inter-titles way too much to give it any points for subtlety. Some of the acting is good but I still don’t see how I can give acting points without dialogue or longer more fleshed out sequences. There’s more but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m saying this is a bad movie, It’s not. But giving it a rating would be like me giving a rating to Hollis Frampton’s Lemon. It wouldn’t mean anything comparatively or independently.
Here is the awesome short film Lemon (1969) dir. Hollis Frampton. Its great even if its ratingless.
August Osage County (2013) dir. John Wells
Julia Roberts should have been in the Best Actress race. Meryl Streep shouldn’t have been nominated period. Margot Martindale should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. And I’m so glad this didn’t get nominated for anything else because while it is good, the direction is so poor that I can’t endorse it.
Dom Hemingway (2013) dir. Richard Shepard
This movie has some really fun moments, but in the end it seems lacking in purpose.
The Book Thief (2013) dir. Brian Percival
Saccharine Spielberg rip-off that doesn’t have the charm or authenticity that Spielberg would have brought to the story
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) dir. Seth Macfarlane
This is not a great comedy. And its not in the league of the best satires or even Macfarlane’s best writing. However this has some spectacular moments. Gilbert Gottfried has his best cameo in any movie (ever, seriously, its amazing) and Charlize Theron needs to do more comedy. I laughed more than I scoffed and I think thats a good sign for this movie.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014) dir. Josh Boone
You might think real people don’t speak like that, even though I think its cute that great people who read great fiction try and speak like this. You might think the metaphorical cigarette is pretentious or dangerous, but I wish more people took life into their hands and acted with the full intensity that language and human ability allow. You might think that kissing in the Anne Frank house is disrespectful, but I see it as a celebration of what Anne Frank thought about the best of people. You may not like this movie, but I think it succeeds more often than it doesn’t.
Get On Up (2014) dir. Tate Taylor
Chadwick Boseman is incredible here and Nelsan Ellis is the perfect supplement to that amazing performance. While the film has some weak moments characteristic of biopics, the film as a whole works very well.
Maleficent (2014) dir. Robert Stromberg
Ugh. This is a great example of why representation is not enough. Jolie gives a good performance here but the screenplay prevents her from Giving a great one. The screenplay makes the film less an objective telling of sleeping beauty and more a reinterpretation of the story from the ground up. There are so many things they could have done to make the film compelling in relationship to the original and they just over plot (with a focus on a man) instead of developing the single most interesting character in Disney’s catalog. There is so much I hate about this film because I know that had Jolie gone full Gonzo (like Eva Green in 300 RoaE) this could have been an Oscar nominated role and had the script been better the characters would have been compelling and had a competent director been on set we could have had a great film. Instead we get none.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) dir. Bryan Singer
I won’t lie I was very disappointed by this. Part of it is that I just son’t like Bryan Singer as a director. It has many of the same stylistic weaknesses that the first two instalments have and it doesn’t have the energy or verve found in First Class. Second, this doesn’t reset the timeline as cleanly as it should. As much work as they put into it there were definitely things they could have changed that would make the feeling of the film less muddled over all. It felt like they had an end point they wanted to arrive at and shaped a weak story to get them there. I could go into more detail but I think that the big problem with the film is that the time travel element feels very mundane and they could only make it compelling in the least through a weak b plot of assured destruction. I’ll eventually work out the film that I wanted to see but this was definitely not it and didn’t work for me.
Labor Day (2013) dir. Jason Reitman
Maybe I was just in the right place to watch this when I did. I haven’t seen another Reitman film in a long while so while I love his films I wasn’t expecting another film like those ones. The strength of the performances make the film good but the direction makes it great. If you fall for the characters then everything becomes passionate and intense because the direction and pacing is elegant. And it really comes down to those two things, expectations and belief. If your expectations are okay and you believe what the characters are telling you, then Labor Day is an incredibly effective and touching story.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) dir. Justin Chadwick
What this film captures is the radical nature of what happened because of Mandela and the ANC. Its not a perfect film, but it is a very good film because it gets that part right. Its not just the message, but the spirit of what it means to be prepared to die for an ideal.
Blue Jasmine (2013) dir. Woody Allen
Its not just that I hate her character and the way she makes people act, and its just that I don’t understand her character and how she really has no desire for self-fulfillment, its that those things together made the movie a drek to watch where I couldn’t laugh at what was going on to relieve the overwhelming negativity of what was on screen.
Maverick (1994) dir. Richard Donner
My friend forced me to watch this and when the credits rolled and I saw Richard Donner had directed it my interest was peaked. Mel Gibson is on point here and Jodie Foster gives a comedic performance I didn’t think I would see from her. Over all a good film if only that.
Love and Other Drugs (2010) dir. Edward Zwick
This is one of my favourite films of all time because it breaks so many rules and presents an intimate, real relationship in a way very rarely done in the Romantic Comedy genre.
The Monuments Men (2013) dir. George Clooney
Wow, this was bad. It has one spectacular scene in it (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) that reminds of the talent that Clooney has as a director but otherwise this is a total drek and not worth the two hours it takes to watch.
Godzilla (2014) dir. Gareth Edwards
This is an incredibly interesting film even if it would be better had we gotten more Godzilla. The ideas it flirts with bring it reliably into the 21st century.
That Thing You Do! (1996) dir. Tom Hanks
If you love the song at the heart of the film then you will likely enjoy this. Its not perfect, but Hanks is a capable director and makes it work even when it shouldn’t.
Stories We Tell (2013) dir. Sarah Polley
Now this is a documentary. While normally I don’t subscribe to Bazin or Kracauer’s ideas on cinematic qualities of films making them better, taking advantage of everything film has to offer can make things really compelling. Polley uses four distinct filming techniques and how she blends them mirrors the meta nature of the story itself making for a film that everyone will like but cinephiles will go nuts over.
Somm (2013) dir. Jason Wise
The last twenty minutes show the problems that this film has and drastically reduce the quality. Its still a good documentary, but it cant carry the weight it needs all the way through.
Julie & Julia (2009) dir. Nora Ephron
There is going to be a post coming about my complicated feelings towards Nora Ephron, I promise.
The Calling (2014) dir. Jason Stone
I got to see this specifically through Sound on Sight as a screener. My review can be found at the link here.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) dir. Dean DeBlois
“Wow… just wow.” That is my letterboxd review of this film and honestly that stands pretty tall. However I want to say a little more. I’ve realized that sad moments make me cry less than cute/happy moments. It was true for TFIOS and its true here. There is a moment here where two characters meet for the first time in years. She thinks he will be furious as he approaches her but he only says, “You’re as beautiful as the day I lost you.” Then he starts singing their wedding song to her; it starts sombre and then as she realizes she still loves him she sings along and they dance. Its remarkably happy and I just burst into tears with the words, “ITS SO BEAUTIFUL” on my lips. That’s the only scene I want to hold up specifically because the rest of the film is just as good. Its not just for kids, its a movie for everyone.
All That Jazz (1979) dir. Bob Fosse
I’m going to stand by what I wrote in my Bob Fosse piece for SOS. This is easily Fosse’s best film and the direction of the musical scenes makes it one of the single best directed films in history.