Category: film

Grizzly Man

Last night I saw Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). Knowing little beyond the basics (a man lives with bears and they eat him) I found it quite surprising. I was expecting Timothy Treadwell to be an extreme or even insane environmentalist, but what really struck me is how completely normal he is: he’s a stereotypical modern westerner. However outlandish his foray into Alaska, he ended up there for mundane reasons: he was living a directionless life, working menial jobs, depressed and a worsening alcoholic, and needed meaning in his life. The headline for most people, of course, is his odd life and dramatic death, and Herzog chose to focus on the footage he left behind—for its great unintended beauty, out of finding in Treadwell a kindred directorial urge, and for the inner turmoil (at times Kinski-esque) that sometimes boils to the surface in Treadwell’s monologues. But what struck me the most was how utterly unexceptional Treadwell was in most regards. It’s not that this desire to go rogue or native might afflict anyone bothers me (I’d welcome it if people were a bit, or even drastically, more unconventional), but rather that such an extraordinary outcome had such common causes. Continue reading

La grande bellezza

This week I saw La grande bellezza (2013) at the Barbican, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As seemingly every review has remarked, it is deeply reminiscent of Fellini. Although it would be difficult to ignore Fellini as the film’s spiritual forebear and a major influence, Sorrentino’s film feels novel, never derivative. It falls somewhere between La dolce vita (1960) and Holy Motors (2012), but it’s more uplifting than either. Continue reading

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) is a beautifully-shot film in which characters follow the Oregon Trail. On the surface it sounds like a standard wagon western, like Stagecoach (1939) or Red River (1948), but it couldn’t be more different. Continue reading

Orphans of the Storm

I’ll admit that I’m not as into silent films as I should be. Since I started tracking films, only around 2% of the films I’ve seen have been silent. However much it damages my cinephile credentials, I will admit that I find the majority of silent films boring and a bit of a struggle, so for years I put off watching D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921). This was a mistake. With the possible exception of King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), this is the best silent film I’ve seen, one of the most relevant to the present day, and yet also one that seems to be relatively unknown (having around a fifth of the votes on IMDb that Birth of a Nation has at the time of this writing). Continue reading

Boudu Saved from Drowning

According to Wikipedia, Pauline Kael called Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932) “not only a lovely fable about a bourgeois attempt to reform an early hippy…but a photographic record of an earlier France.” Although it is an enjoyable film with strong performances, I found it to be more problematic than Kael did. Continue reading

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Because the only Pasolini film I had previously seen was the harrowing Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), I began The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1963) with some trepidation. I expected it to be dark, visceral, and transgressive. It turns out to be a refreshingly straightforward adaptation of the book of Matthew, with none of the horrors of Salo, his final film. Continue reading

The Place Beyond the Pines

I had heard The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) compared favourably to Derek Cianfrance’s earlier film Blue Valentine (2010). I thought the latter was quite good when I saw it last year, so I wondered whether his new effort would measure up. I was especially dubious as the trailer looked like a (stunt) vehicle for capitalizing on Gosling’s success in Drive (2011). But the positive reviews were from sources I trusted, and they were right: The Place Beyond the Pines is better.

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High Noon

I found High Noon (1952) a bit tedious. Despite its famous title I actually knew very little about it before watching it, so it’s not a case of overly high expectations. I got a bit more excited during the credits as it has a great cast (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Lee Van Cleef) but unfortunately the acting is lackluster and it’s not a great film. Continue reading

Dans la maison

I don’t have a great deal to say about François Ozon’s Dans la maison (2013). It’s a decent thriller with some good comedy. It starts out strong with a reference to Scorpio Rising (1964) but the ending is a bit mediocre, with a reference to Rear Window (1954). In between its well-acted, charming/creepy teenage protagonist gradually intrudes into a bourgeois classmate’s home in order to see his more privileged life, eventually with the goal of seducing his mother. He’s spurred on in his endeavour by his literature teacher, a failed writer whose wife manages an unsuccessful art gallery. In the first half there are quite a few hilarious moments with a sinister edge, but as the film progresses it attempts to get a bit darker, transgressing certain boundaries to examine issues of class disparity, privacy, trust, viewer implication, and the morality of exploiting people’s stories for artistic ends. If this description makes you think of Rear Window, Funny Games, or Through a Glass Darkly, I think that’s what Ozon is going for, but he falls short of the mark. Still, it ticks a long, and its comedy makes it just about worthwhile. ★★★☆☆

The Pillow Book

I found Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book (1996) pretty difficult to get through. Although it’s just over two hours long, it actually took me a few weeks to finish it, and it felt longer and was less enjoyable than Shoah (1985), which as a nine-hour documentary about Nazi death camps, is saying something (by comparison I finished Shoah in under two days). Paradoxically, given the amount of nudity, sex, and violence in The Pillow Book, it’s one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen. Continue reading