Monday, May 14, 2007


At some point last year, I came across a list of 50 Movies To See Before You Die, as compiled by film 'experts' on behalf of Film Four. Prompted, rather than inspired, by this - because the list wasn't all that inspiring for the most part and I'm reasonably sure some of the films cited were better postponed until after I'd snuffed it - I gave some thought and consideration to some of the movies that I ought to get around to seeing before alcohol means nothing more to me than a preservative. Some were relatively recent, some were older, reputed classics, while a few were then up and coming. Given that I used to make a point of going to the cinema once a week, minimum, I'd been conscious for some while that, in my quest to keep up to date with various TV series, I'd forgotten about these other pleasures called 'films'. So I went ahead and compiled my personal list of 50, consulting a few mailing list friends for a recommendation or ten. Now, clearly, I wasn't going to be able to pull a Cool Hand Luke and manage all 50 at one sitting, and part of me even imagined I was in for some Starship Enterprise-scale five year mission or something. But here we are, no more than a handful of months down the road and I find I'm past the halfway point. Woohoo!
So, by way of marking the occasion, I thought it'd be fun to air my thoughts in brief on each of the fillums I've seen so far. I've managed to watch other movies along the way that weren't on the list, so I feel confident I've redressed the TV/Movie balance pretty well. But for now and without further ado, here are my reviews of the list-ed movies in their respective nutshells:
All About Eve
One of those movies I didn't really know what to expect when I sat down to watch, but then this captivating story emerged. Less about Eve, more about Bette Davis who spits venom in a way that would put most serpents to shame. Also numerous points go to Anne Baxter for her Eve. There's as much a sense of her duping the audience, even when we know there is definitely something about her.
Breakfast At Tiffany's
Surprisingly charming for a movie with George Peppard in it. Probably owes a lot to Audrey Hepburn in that respect. Never quite up to the promise in that beautiful opening scene where Holly Golightly nibbles on her eponymous takeaway breakfast outside Tiffany's window, but things get tense when Cat is abandoned. Warning: you'll never get Moon bloody River out of your head. Except when that song by Deep Blue Something breaks in.
Bride Of Frankenstein
Much funnier than probably intended, I thought. (Although, see Gods And Monsters.) Perhaps I should have watched it late at night to help capture the classic horror atmosphere, but it wasn’t the classic I’d been led to believe. The genetically modified Lilliputians were just too bizarre – what were they thinking? – and the fact that Elsa Lanchester, the eponymous Bride, appears only minutes before the end, I felt, was a shame. Plenty of laughs though.
Buffy The Musical (Once More With Feeling.) Not technically a movie, I know, but it was as much on my must-get-around-to-seeing list as a lot of the other titles and now that I have I kind of wish it was a film. For all those folks too quick to bandy around the word 'genius', check this out for a good definition.
City Of God
City of Oh My God, more like. Brazilian Goodfellas, I’ve heard it called, but frankly the 'Goodfellas' were a civilised, friendly bunch. A brilliant look into a very scary world and it’s put me right off ever going to Buenos Aires.
Constant Gardener
Not a heck of a lot of gardening in evidence, but no disappointment arising from that. Slow, but compelling and tense in all the right places. Definitely a pessimistic air about it from the get go, so luckily I wasn't expecting a happy ending. Scary too, in a way that only Africa - and, apparently, Buenos Aires! - can be.
Hmm. Not as good as it was cracked up to be. A patchy anthology, really, which serves to illustrate that everyone in LA is highly strung. Helped by some powerful performances and potent use of soundtrack to underscore some genuine 'moments'.
Decent enough thriller, except I guessed the twist. Still, since it does feature Jennifer Aniston, it could be argued I didn't watch it for that.
Fortune Cookie
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Billy Wilder. Nuff said, really. Boom Boom Jackson is the most naive, upstanding football player ever, but that's an important contrast to all the wonderful cynicism on display through the rest of it.
Get Carter
Very much a film of its time, but just gripping enough to keep me with it. Nasty and rough around the edges, in ways only a British gangster movie can be and it comes as little surprise that pretty much everyone Caine meets ends up on his hit list. Still, there's something refreshingly straightforward and un-Guy Ritchie about it and something fitting about the fact that Caine's avenging 'angel' (yeah, right!) gets to enjoy his revenge for all of a few seconds.
Girl, Interrupted
Angelina Jolie. Pah! I'm not a fan, especially after all she's done to Jennifer Aniston. She's good in this, but it's easy to see why her performance attracted so much attention - she's playing the more outrageous, further-off-her-trolley character. Winona's quieter, understated performance is, for my money, just as solid. She really should do more acting. She's far better at moody, sullen and pissed off with the world than she is at shoplifting.
Gods And Monsters
Sometimes all you need is a simple story and two great actors. One of those plays in movie-form, Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser really sell this curious love story. Also gave me some cause to rethink my take on Bride Of Frankenstein and if I get to watch that again, I'll be sure to watch it as a comedy. The ending doesn't come as anything but expected, but sometimes it really is the journey and not the destination.
Good Night, And Good Luck
Excellent. Not the paciest of Clooney movies, but the best I’ve seen. Compelling stuff and wonderfully reflective of two periods: then and now. History, contemporary relevance and a rash of great performances. David Strathairn, chief among them.
House Of Mirth
That title’s meant to be ironic, don’t you think. God, this was achingly slow. Thank heavens I watched it lying on the couch. Beautiful sense of period and Gillian Anderson is just as eye-compelling as ever, but I ended up watching it with a similar detachment to that displayed by most of the characters. See Age Of Innocence for some jollier Edith Wharton.
Il Postino
Beautiful, touching, gently humorous, sad. Slow, perhaps, but not in a plodding postman sort of way, more like a stroll where you're enjoying the scenery and the company.
Infernal Affairs
Haven't seen a decent modern-setting Oriental movie for ages. This was the goods, though. Slower and it's no Hard Boiled on the gun play front, but it has style, grace, top cinematography and a nice tense, undercover cop, undercover bad guy story. Obviously, I need to get around to seeing Scorsese's The Departed, for comparison.
La Belle Et Le Bete
Lovely. The film equivalent of a yard of lace. Exquisite, if a little too short.
Lord Jim
What? A halfway decent film adaptation of a Joseph Conrad book? Never. Well, like most adaptations of novels, you have to squint and look on the film as something in its own right, and as such. Peter O'Toole makes for a charismatic and sympathetic lead, but it goes for epic style at the expense of more detailed portraits of some of the characters.
Clever, and not in a way that causes it to disappear up its own arse. In reverse. Mike from Neighbours plays it brilliantly and I've always liked seeing Joe Pantoliano crop up in things since Midnight Run.
Pan’s Labyrinth
Brutality and Fairy Tales, who'd have thought? Well, the Brothers Grimm, of course. Reality and fantasy masterfully interwoven, persuades an adult audience it can pass as easily between the two as a child. Imaginative creatures, with one monster almost but not quite as nightmarish as its real world Spanish Civil War counterpart.
Dated and what's wrong with Glenn Headly's voice (guess that's a product of knowing her as ER's Abbey Keaton), but I could see where it got its reputation. Who'd have thought you could get a film like this from the writer of the Doctor Who TV Movie? The creepy parts are really good and the set design for the paper house itself is great.
a) Solve pi beyond a few billion digits or b) work out why this film is highly rated by anyone. Tough choice, but I'd sooner go for a). Purposelessly weird, striving to make up for lack of story with pretentious camera work and the mystique of monochrome. The basic message for the 'hero' is 'Stop worrying about the meaning of life, just get on and enjoy the patterns in the leaves'. It’s such a simple answer, you wish he'd get there sooner.
Seven Swords
Not in the same league as The Seven Samurai or other more recent Oriental offerings, but stylish in its own way and I liked the attempt to characterise the swords themselves as well as the warriors who wielded them.
Spirited Away
Completely, colourfully mad, but equally wonderful. Best pay attention though. My wife walked in halfway through and I had to explain why the boy was a dragon, where the pigs came from, and all about the mouse, the giant baby and the bouncing heads. Difficult to encapsulate in a few words. Still, despite my poor explanations, she stayed and watched to the end.
Interesting, powerfully played and sadly likely to be topical for some time to come. It's slow and demands patience and attention and is occasionally guilty of assuming its audience knows exactly how the oil world works. A little like the West Wing sometimes assumes we know what everyone's talking about, but less accessible. Warning: horrible torture scene at which I'm still cringing.
They! were a bit disappointing. The giant ants were done fairly well for a B movie of its time, but I'd have liked to have seen more of the insectoid communists rampaging through the city, wreaking havoc on model cars and such. I guess I got a different impression from a poster or something. The initial stages, in the desert, are tense, but the "excitement" peters out fairly shortly and there are fewer laughs than you'd expect from this type of movie.
The Third Man
Perennially, my sister would look at me in disbelief and horror and ask, "You haven't seen The Third Man??!" and I couldn't believe it either. Finally, I have. Terrific stuff and this, even when I know who the 'Third Man' is, so there's no twist to speak of and I even guessed where the whole thing was ultimately leading. Still, worth it for the brilliant use of the cat in revealing the presence of Harry Lime and for Orson Welles proclamation about the cuckoo clock. Warning: another movie that will leave a tune in your head for days!
Touch Of Evil
Charlton Heston as God, I can buy, but as a Mexican, no. That aside, this is close to the classic I was led to believe it was. An outstanding tracking shot following the bomb in the trunk of the car. Orson is superb and it’s stark and brutal without being overtly so. Genuinely tense, with plenty of real menace where it needs to be. Aptly titled.
Smart and sophisticated and the use of three tints to differentiate sections of the story is effective and not nearly as gimmicky as it might sound. Loaded with great performances that don't feel like performances. Catherine Zeta Jones is good. There are better people in it, but it's the sort of thing you don't get to say very often.
Un Couer En Hiver
Hmm. One of those slow meandering love stories where not much happens. Rather like Lost In Translation, I couldn’t see how it was so highly rated. It’s played well, but apart from feasting my eyes on Emanuelle Beart, I didn’t get much out of it. For one thing, the lead guy stretches credibility when Emannuelle Beart offers him sex and he turns her down. Nobody told me it was an out and out fantasy.
I’m trying to think of a movie quite like this, and failing. It’s spectacular, dark and horrific with a neat twisty sort of detective story and more than a dash of fantasy thrown in. Gorgeous imagery – well, apart from the bloody bits – and a mystery worth following to the end. Plus Martial Arts. I guess it reminds me a little of Brotherhood Of The Wolf, it has that homogenous feel to it. Visuals that linger in the mind longer than the story, but prompted an interest in the man behind the fiction.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Quirky small town story, with about the right mix of humour and tragedy, made less ordinary by some great performances. The answer to the titular question is simply that Gilbert lives in a town where life is so dull, he even feels himself attracted to Juliette Lewis. Gods, I'd rather be eaten.
Wings Of Desire
Visual poetry, apparently, and has much the same effect in me as poetry in general on me. Would have gone whoosh! right over my head, but whooshing is a concept foreign to this film. Something powerful about the scene in the library, with all the angels gathered around, and the idea of Columbo as a retired angel is irresistible, but by and large it all went plodding over my head. Not my cup of wasser at all.

And there we are. Brief as I tried to be, it's made for a lengthy blog. But to make up for that, I'm sure it'll be a little while before I get around to seeing all the remaining movies and - if only because I'm well past halfway through the 50 - I'll be almost certain to be briefer next time round. :)


Stuart Douglas said...

I've not seen many of thsoe films, but City of God remains the only film which I found so upsetting I had to watch it in two parts, seperated by about a week. Draining might be a beter word in fact.

Fantastic movie, but painful to watch at times.

SAF said...

Oh yes. Great film, but I'm not in any hurry to rewatch!

Palm Springs Savant said...

great list...I'm a movie buff and enjoy doing moviethons myself. great blog you have.

stop by and say hi sometime

SAF said...

Thanks. Pleased to 'meet' you.