After Life – In the tradition of Stairway To Heaven and Defending Your Life, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s film has an odd take on what happens when you die. Instead of angels or demons, you get civil servants, who live in a big mansion and make you pick one memory from your life to take with you. After three days of memory picking, the staff makes the memory into a movie. Once you watch the movie, you go off to spend eternity with your favorite memory. It’s a quirky little film, with a light humanistic touch and obvious affection for its characters. It isn’t an especially profound movie: there are hints at a Rashomon-like idea that people can’t tell the truth, even to themselves, as a few characters can’t help but embellish or misremember their own lives, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s also a vaguely translated theme about choosing a single memory from your life as a way to “take responsibility” for that life, but I don’t think I know what that’s supposed to mean, so maybe it’s me that isn’t all that profound. . . . Anyway, despite it’s slow pace and low-key style, the movie never fails to be both interesting and entertaining. The #9 film of 1998.
The Producers – Between the musical, the movie of the musical and the whole season of Curb Your Enthusiasm devoted to it, it was pretty much impossible for me to get anything new out of finally getting around to watching this movie. basically, watching it for the first time was like watching it for the 12th time, I knew all the jokes and the whole plot, so I can’t even say if it was funny or not. I imagine it is though. I enjoyed the hysterical performance by Gene Wilder and the ridiculous cuteness of Lee Meredith and was disturbed by the similarity of Dick Shawn’s performance as the Hitler-playing hippie to Robin Williams, especially in his stand-up. The #9 film of 1968.
Limelight – Charlie Chaplin plays an aging drunk vaudevillian who can’t get work anymore who saves Claire Bloom, a neighboring ballet dancer, from killing herself. Her nurses her back to health, teaches her that life’s worth living, and helps make her a huge star. In turn, she thinks she falls in love with him and tries to revive his career. It all ends with a gala vaudeville show, complete with Chaplin and Buster Keaton combining for a very funny performance. I’ve always been a little put-off by Chaplin’s sentimentality, Modern Times is my favorite of his silent films over City Lights and The Gold Rush for that reason, and I’ve always preferred Keaton (it’s like an Elvis/Beatles thing I guess). But Chaplin is always so honest about his sentimentality that it’s really hard to criticize him for it. He may be a big ball of cheese, but he never tries to hide it, and you’ve got to respect that.
Gertrud – I’ve seen two movies by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and they couldn’t be more different. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc is a silent, highly stylized, visually exciting movie highlighted by a brilliant performance by Maria Falconetti in the lead role. Gertrud, on the other hand, is all talk, fairly static and dull visually (though the camera does move, its movements aren’t exactly exciting, and there is some interesting stuff in the mise-en-scene, specifically a rococo mirror and a dream turned into a tapestry) with some very odd acting by all of the actors. The film seems to consist of long scenes of the actors making monotone speeches while not looking at each other. Gertrud leaves her husband, a successful politician, for a young composer. The next day at a party, her old boyfriend tells her the composer was bragging about sleeping with her the night before at another party at the home of a courtesan. So, she leaves all three men and goes off to Paris to hang out with a gang of psychiatrists. It’s an emotionally intense film, made in such an alienating way that it’d be really easy to make fun of. The style is extreme to that point that it’s almost a parody of the European art movie of the 60s, which is, I assume, the reason it wasn’t particularly well-received when it first came out.