The Stranger

Nazism is a natural enemy of left leaning filmmakers. So many films are made that pit Nazis as the ultimate villain. This film is no different. However what sets this film a part from other films about Nazis being evil and corrupting good upstanding citizens of America are the performances.

Edward G. Robinson is great here as the man who never quits until he gets his man. When I first watched the ending of the film, I thought his last line was sort of ridiculous, but when I re-watched it and then thought about it, the ridiculous line turned into something that needed to be said by him. He made it into an essential part of the finale, a way of comforting this woman who he essentially terrorized into seeing the truth. The script itself is quite heavy-handed when it comes to his character, but I feel like he did the best he could with material and brought a subtly that I really responded to. At certain points in the film, he can be this omnipresent God character and then he can turn into a feeling human and then comic relief and finally back to detective spinning his web in order to catch this evil man. I am not very familiar with Edward G. Robinson performances, but I am always thinking of him in relation to the portrayal of him in Looney Tunes and Animanics with his huge fish lips. That might not be a good thing when watching him play a gangster or a detective, but I can’t help it.

The other great performance is by Orson Welles. He may not have liked this film or his performance very much, but you can’t tell by the way he inhabits the space that is his character. Although I never believed him to be a German, I believed that he was evil but only when he pulled down the mask. If I was Loretta Young, I would have fallen for him in a minute and truly believe he is what he says he is. He seemed so wholesome but couldn’t hide everything that boiled beneath the surface. I guess me saying that Orson Welles performance is really good is saying that Gone With the Wind was an epic, but it really was fun to watch him perform on-screen as such an evil man. Villains are really what he is born to portray.

I guess I should also mention that Orson Welles did direct this film as well. This film was his third feature and the only film that made a profit on its original release. You can see the exaggerated angles and deep shadows that populated Citizen Kane in this film as well, just to a muted degree. His direction is felt but it feels like someone trying to copy Welles and not Welles himself.

If you are interested in performances of the main characters and like formula films, then I would suggest watching this film. However if you are looking for anything dramatically different from everything else you have ever seen, look elsewhere.

 

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Dogtooth

This film, about three grown adults who are trapped in their parents’ house from early on, has a humor that was surprising to  me. At the very beginning, they play a tape where their mother is teaching them vocabulary. Several times she says words that are obviously wrong, but the kids who are listening to it don’t really mind. Instead they are too busy trying to think of a game where they can endure the most pain. This time around it is who can endure the most scalding hot water. Later on it is chloroform and blindfolds in the pool.

The dry humor continues throughout the film, even among blunt shows of violence by the father. One time, the son gets in trouble because he was throwing rocks over to his “brother.” He is forced to keep Listerine in his mouth for several moments. It is sort of evil, but at the same time Listerine, really? Later on in the film, one of the girls learns how to lick pussies (which is a big floor lamp according to the mother) in order to get presents. She receives a couple of movies and after watching them, she acts out scenes from Rocky, Jaws and finally Flashdance. All of these scenes are done with a seriousness that Wes Anderson could never pull off if given the same material.  This is why this film is infinitely funnier than Darjeeling Limited.

This film makes me feel bad for liking it. The manipulation that is evident from the very beginning gets worse as the film progresses. The son kills a kitten in the garden and the father told him he did right and that cats are the worst creatures in the world. They even eat children’s brains. The father then comes back after the “brother” who lives just beyond the bush becomes a problem and says that the “brother” is dead. He was killed by a cat. Cats will surely get them if they venture out of the complex. The parents also tell the children that if they don’t behave the mother will give birth to twins and they will have to share their rooms. There are several other examples of manipulation. These kids seem at first to swallow it whole, but the urge to get out of their situation is too strong. It slowly creeps into the unconscience of the kids, especially the oldest one. The urge to leave becomes unbearable for her that she finally does something that is seen by the viewer as really drastic but to her it is the natural progression of things.

The need to escape situations that are abusive seems to be something that you grow into. When you don’t know any better at first is natural, but eventually anyone can figure out that something is wrong. Even children who have never left a complex before and are taught that zombies are little flowers. This film does a good job of exploring the unconscious of the main characters, the children. Maybe I missed it, but I did not understand why the father and mother were so adamant about them staying inside and miseducating them. Maybe that made them even more malicious due to their lack of reason.

Une Femme Mariee

It has come. This is the first film of Godard’s that I do not like. Although I had problems with The Carabineers, I could still see the worth of the film. However this film, I find slightly boring and mostly frustrating.

The film follows a young married woman who has an affair with an actor. She gets pregnant and has to decide to stay with her husband or go off with her actor. The main character is obviously very superficial (At one point she measures her breasts to see if they are perfect. They are.) and I don’t see the appeal of this woman who acts like a teenager to these men. Maybe this is comment on the woman question at this time. I can only speak as to what was happening in America at this time, but women were getting married at younger and younger ages, expected to stay home and tend to children and household problems while the men went out to earn the bread. Most women grew up with their mother not working a job and were expected to do the same. This practice produced emotionally stunted women who would act like children in order to get their way with their fathers, brothers, boyfriends and later husbands. This is probably why the character is so annoying to me. She does not handle her problem in any way that would be described smart and yet she is eloquent about her love for the present. She can be articulate, but instead she chooses to take her fists and pound them against her forehead.

The men treat her like she is in fact a child. Both relationships thrive on dominating and degrading her in subtle ways. The actor says pretty early about how messy she is. However it does not matter, because they are in a hotel room. The husband bars her from listening to records that he brought back.

She is always naked, but the husband or actor boyfriend is never naked. Something that I found interesting in films throughout Godard’s films is the naked woman is always beautiful but never outstanding. He makes sure to highlight arms, legs, necks and eyes of women instead of their breasts, butts or bushes.

One thing that I did find interesting about the film is Godard’s mix of interviews into the narrative. Several times the story comes to a stop and titles are put up on the screen entitled things like knowledge, memory, and childhood. Then you get an interview with the character discussing the topic. This provides a window into the character’s psyche and gives more depth to tertiary characters.

Although I do not recommend watching the film unless you are a diehard Godard film addict, I did learn something from it and got something out of it. That is of course always nice.

Bunny and the Bull

The Mighty Boosh was a recent find for me that made me want to delve into more quirky films and television series. Thankfully the man who helped to direct many of the Mighty Boosh episodes got a chance to make a film that is outside of that world, but is still quirky and fantastical.

The film follows a shut in who through having to order Captain Crab for lunch because his food was eaten by rats, he reminiscences about a trip he took with his friend Bunny. After winning a long shot bet, Bunny and Stephen (the shut in) decide to go on a road trip together through Europe in order to get Stephen laid and therefore over his latest crush. Lots of shenanigans and hullabaloo ensue.

The core of the story is the relationship between Stephen and Bunny. Bunny is always getting into insane bets and tiff with other people. Stephen gets tired of always trying to save him. When they are at a Captain Crab in Eastern Europe, they run into this Spanish girl who wants to go home in order to attend a fiesta. This fiesta involves bullfighting (like everything else in Spain involves). They decide to take her down to Spain and Bunny comes the realization that it would be a good idea to become a bullfighter. He never understands that maybe that might be a little too dangerous. The film becomes a quest to see what happens to Bunny and the Bull.(Ha! That is the title… I wonder how they came up with it.) Every time Bunny makes an insane bet whether it was on a horse whose jockey has a mean face, the ability to eat a lot of crabs for a car or to swim across a freezing lake, he gets lucky and wins. But will he be lucky with the bull? The inevitable conclusion has got to be the reason why Stephen has become a shut in for so long.

Although, this film has a simple story, the way it is told is interesting. Many times he uses abstract concepts in order to tell concrete plot points. The switch between fantastical and real life is seemless and interesting. I imagine that it would be very hard to pull off this amount of fantasy in a simple story like this, but it seems like perfect on-screen.

One of my favorite sequences is when the girl, Stephen and Bunny finally get to Spain and they meet the girl’s brother who is obsessed with bull fighting. The brother is played by Noel Fielding who is Vince Noir in the Mighty Boosh. He does a great job of being this over the top Spaniard who worships this suit that he keeps in a case. He can lavish the most flowery words onto bullfighting, but then instantly switch to someone who is more pragmatic. Another great one involves Richard Ayoade from the IT Crowd being a tour leader in a museum based around shoes.

This is a good film that is definitely worth the watch if only to see the fantasy sequences.

Curse of the Cat People

This sequel plays with, but mostly solidifies the ideologies that were stated by its predecessor. Irena, the woman who turns into a panther in the first film, returns to “haunt” the young child of Irena’s ex-husband and his new wife. Settled down in a safe suburban town where Sleepy Hollow was set many years before, the couple are having trouble with their child. You see, she isn’t like other children, she has an imagination. Imaginations are most annoying and troublesome, so the father decides to tell her that she needs to shape up and find someone to play with instead of playing by herself. She finds a picture of Irena in a dresser drawer (presumably the husband kept the picture to whack off to it while the wife wasn’t looking.)  and decides that her new friend is Irena. She plays with this imaginary friend and the parents get even more worried. Oh no, this child might be creative!

This film is ridiculous in many ways. There is a whole subplot involving an old woman who is a shut-in and is cared by her daughter, but she believes that the girl is not her daughter and her real daughter died when she was six. She ends up dying trying to climb up what seemed like four steps. The father spouts all of these things that are anti-woman and anti-children and the women (his wife and the girl’s teacher) just poo-poo him and move on. The whole message of this film is not necessarily a good one. In order to be a good child, you must be friends with your parents and put them before you put your imaginary friends. In fact what the hell are you doing with an imaginary friend, you tart! Slap! (that was me slapping a young girl. Something I thought might feasibly happen in this film) Oh and by the way the film suggests that there are maybe multiple “cat people” in the film or that the one person who was a cat person might turn into a cat at all during the film. Neither one of these are true in any sort of way.

Also what about this film makes it a horror film? Is it because the couple freak out so much about her having an imaginary friend named Irena? If you didn’t want her to know anything about her, then why do you have pictures of her, a painting she admired and a panther screen in your house? Is it because the old lady is convinced that the young woman taking care of her is not her daughter? I guess alzheimers is a horror show for those who experience it, but to anyone else it is just sad.

This film is not better than the original unless you like to watch little children get verbally abused which I have to admit I like quite a bit. (I am being sarcastic.) If you want to laugh at what people in the forties found suspenseful and then quietly reflect on how bad horror movies are now, then I suggest you watch this film and then watch maybe Hostel. Yeah. They are polar opposites. Have fun with that. P.S. I hate Hostel and Saw films. They are lame!

Cat People

Being an American has always come with a sort of pride and arrogance in my family. However I do not share these feelings. Being an American is not all that it is cracked out to be. We force ourselves onto poorer countries becoming the benevolent bigger brother and driving out native influence. We made McDonalds popular in places where regional culinary traditions once held and produced imaginative dishes. We elect a president who wins the Nobel Peace Prize and then continues to escalade a war in Afghanistan, invade Libya and hold a war in secret in Iraq. All of these events fit neatly into the long history of America.

How does this relate to a campy 40’s horror film? It actually has a lot to do with it. The story is about a young woman of Serbian descent who comes to America in order to escape this mysterious plague that resides in her town and to have a better life. She meets a man who is the quintessential definition of an American man. The man is charmed by her and within what seems like hours into their relationship, he marries her. Surprisingly there are complications in this marriage. She thinks that if they become intimate (if they have kinky sweaty sexy time!), she will turn into a cat (a black panther to exact). The American man foolishly says “No, silly. Your foolish home country traditions have no sway in big bad America. There is no way you will become a cat.” They do it and she becomes a panther who stalks her husband’s secretary. They tremble at her otherness.

At the end, the good American couple triumphs and the panther is forced to recede into the background. This is what happens to so many immigrants that come to America. In the end the Americans and the others will just have to wait their turn that may not come.

This film is campy fun. The suspense is well placed and influenced by light tricks and dialogue instead of more in your face shock that comes from modern films. However the ideal of xenophobia does sort throw me a little. Does it always have to be the “aw-shucks” American man that triumphs? Can it be the Serbian woman is really the hero of the film and the “aw-shucks” American man is the villian? I think that is how I will choose to remember the film. After all there is a sequel where the main actress comes back but not the actor who played the inane and bland man.

Tomorrow will be my coverage of the sequel. I have to create some suspense on how this xenophobic tale plays out, don’t I?

 

 

Noir Films

Noir films have a special place in my heart. I always enjoy the deep shadows, the twisty plots and the femme fatales. Having just watched a film noir classic, Gun Crazy, I decided to countdown my favorite film noir.

5. Kiss Me Deadly

This film is a mixture of hard boiled detective film and science fiction. However you do not know that it is science fiction until the end of the film. From the first breathless film, the viewer is thrown into this world that the protagonist is trying desperately to make sense of. No one is telling him anything, he gets beaten up several times and then there is the whole problem of this glowing suitcase. If you consider yourself a film buff and you haven’t watched this film yet, then you are severely lacking in your duties, sir (or m’am).

4. Sunset Blvd.

Because this list is of my favorite film noir, this film is only fourth. That being said,  it is an amazing film with an outstanding performance by Gloria Swanson who is the ultimate femme fatale. This is the textbook definition of well executed film noir.

3. Rififi

This bank heist film is one of the most expert heist films I have ever seen. The sequence where they break into the bank safe from the room above and slowly and painstakingly open it, is one of the best sequences in cinema history. This Parisian film noir showcases a song entitled Rififi that sort floats through the whole film, bringing a sense of forlornment and doom to the event unfolding. It is a great film.

2. Sweet Smell of Success

This is easiest one of my favorite films of all time. The quick dialogue, the sinisterness of Burt Lancaster’s character, and the life of a two bit publicist is all unusual and what makes this film great. I never thought that a publicist’s life could be rife with film noir conentions, but I was dead wrong.

1. All of Jean-Pierre Melville films (Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, Army of Shadows, Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge)

Above are the films that I have seen that were directed by Melville. All of these films fall neatly into film noir conventions and yet all of them have a twist to the conventions that makes the film better then their companions. In Bob le Flambeur, it is the compulsion to gamble. In Le Doulos, it is the playing against type of the popular actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. In Army of Shadows, it is setting the French Resistance against the backdrop of film noir conventions. In Le Samourai, it is the atmospheric and presicion of the main character’s actions that determine the course of events not outside forces. In Le Cercle Rouge, it is the fact it is shot in color. Jean-Pierre Melville is a master in creating suspenseful and interesting films that I tend to go back to again and again. And he loves those trench coats.

Honorable Mentions

– The Killing

– The Killers

– Gun Crazy

– The Third Man

– Ace in the Hole

– The Maltese Falcon

– Laura

Band of Outsiders

One thing that I have learned while watching these films by Godard is how much I enjoy them. Sometimes they are difficult to understand or slowly paced, but once I make it through the whole thing and you reflect on what happened, I always have to say “Wow. That was an interesting film.” This film, which Tarantino named his production company after, is no different.

The story is about a young naive girl who accidental slips to a man in her English class that there is a lot of money stashed at her aunt’s house. The man schemes with his friend to steal the money and take the girl with them. The friend decides to seduce the naive girl and she falls in love with him, therefore willing to do anything that he wants. Of course, everything goes wrong.

What I like about this film is sort of hard to explain. I guess I will take one scene and maybe that might help. This film is pretty realistic most of the way through, unlike A Woman is A Woman, for instance. However when the three main characters are in a cafe, discussing how and when they are going to pull off the robbery, they pause for a minute to dance. They do this synchronized dance that involves them turning around in a square, sometimes facing the camera other times not. Sometimes they are in frame and other times they are not. Sometimes there is music playing over their movements and other times it is the narrator speaking over the scraping of their feet and the snaps of their fingers. The break in reality is abrupt and yet that is exactly how it is supposed to be. There is no other way for these characters to express their feelings towards each other, other than doing this weird, awkward dance. It’s poetic, yet rough. It is like the rest of the film. Several times, I wondered why Godard chose to shoot that and not something else. Then I realize that is the way he shoots film in general. He would rather do something that is less obvious, yet just as true to the characters he constructed than to take a straight shot from plot point A to plot point B.

 

Comedy as a way to relieve to duldrums

Cover of "Killer Klowns from Outer Space&...

Cover of Killer Klowns from Outer Space

 

Lately I have been a little down in the dumps. I have been in the same mood several times, so that I know that the only cure for it is… comedy. This is no new concept to anyone, but I guess I feel the need to write a blog post about it. Comedy is such a personal thing to me and I am sure to everyone else. What makes me laugh is definitely not what makes my father laughs. However it is still a catharsis for both of us. This is my personal list of films and television that makes me laugh.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. With the new season just premiering on FX (which I have to wait until it becomes available on Hulu… Almost a whole day after… Torture), I would suggest watching this series and realize that you may be a bad person, but you are not as bad a person as these people… however you are laughing at these people so does that make you a worse person than them? I don’t know. Just sit there and laugh.

Stand up comedy of Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, and several others. I don’t know if I have ever said how much I love stand up but I love it a lot. I love neurotic, fucked up personalities that spit out witticisms about the fucked up microcosm that we live in today. I love watching them open up their soul through the gifts they have to make people laugh. God. I wish I was a stand up comedian.

Bad foreign and independent monster and kung fu movies. You know the ones that I am talking about. If you are reading this, then you know which film you like the most. I love a lot of them. Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Godzilla movies, Kung Fu Chefs, and several others are ones that I have watched and enjoyed for several hours.

British comedies. Whether it is television series like the IT Crowd, Office Space, and Monty Python or films like Shaun of the Dead or Death at a Funeral, I find I love British Comedy so much that it does take a good amount of my time. Better to be wasting time with awesome comedy than to wasting time period.

Yeah I like a lot more comedy. However I got bored, so I am going to end this post right here with a phrase: “YAY.COMEDY!” Haha. Now that is funny.