Movie Roundup: Pre-Overdue Vacation Edition

The wife and I are going on vacation this week for the first time in over a year. Yay! Since the Spring Classics ended, I’ve been trying to catch up with some of the movies I’ve bought but never seen. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve seen.

Sans soleil – Chris Marker is much smarter than I am. I won’t pretend that I understood more than a fraction of this dream of an essay film, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it at all. Chronicling some thoughts and ideas inspired by a pair of trips to Japan and Guinea-Bissau (along with side trips to Iceland and Vertigo). An examination of memory, time, film, vision, death, religion and the profoundest mystery of all: cats. I really want one of those cats. The #3 film of 1983.

American Gangster – Much like Ridley Scott’s last movie (The Kingdom Of Heaven) it’s a fine looking, well-casted film that’s way too long and doesn’t bring anything new to the genre or film in genreral. It’s fine, really, but there’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The #32 film of 2007.

Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas – Director FW Murnau’s final film is a collaboration with director Robert Flaherty (Nanook Of The North (2, 22)) set in Bora Bora (but filmed in Tahiti) filled with non-professional local actors. The plot’s a fairly standard star-crossed lovers story, as The Boy is in love with The Girl, but she’s been promised to the local god as a Virgin. So the two of them run away and are chased by a scary Old Warrior. Though the plot is as essentially generic as the character names, as with his masterpiece, Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1, 27), it’s the technique that makes the material transcendent, though in this case it’s more a matter of Flaherty’s proto-documentary style and editing than the Expressionist special effects of the earlier film. The #2 film of 1931.

A Story Of Floating Weeds – I find it increasingly difficult to rank and therefore distinguish between Yasujiro Ozu’s films. It’s a cliché to talk of a director’s work as a single long, interrupted film, but if that’s true for anyone, it is for Ozu. This is the original, black and white silent version of the film he remade in 1959 in sound and color as Floating Weeds (#6, 59). This earlier film is shorter, more focused on the central plot as opposed to the more comic adventures of the supporting characters, and the setting is mountainous instead of oceanside. In most other ways, the film is the same. So which is better? I really have no idea. They’re both great. The #2 film of 1934.

Stolen Kisses – The third of François Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel films (the first two being The 400 Blows (5, 59) and Antoine and Collette (19, 62)). This one is an endearing, light comedy that follows Antoine’s attempts at getting and holding both a job (desk clerk, private detective) and a girlfriend. Thematically quite similar to the film Jean-Pierre Léaud (who plays Antoine) made with Jean-Luc Godard just two years earlier (Masculin féminin (6, 1966)) though entirely different in tone and style. The #7 film of 1968.

The Passenger – Jack Nicholson stars in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film as a reporter who fakes his death and proceeds to wander around Europe, hook up with Maria Schneider and not quite get involved in a gun-running conspiracy. Belongs to that group of post-60s disillusionment films along with Two-Lane Blacktop, Tout va bien and Five Easy Pieces. A fair amount of the film takes place in barcelona, I swear in the same hotel the wife and I stayed at 6 years ago. As appears to be Antonioni’s signature, the film ends with a flashy bit of awesome filmmaking, this time a long, circular tracking shot. The #3 film of 1975.

Lola – Early Jacques Demy films that is, I believe, the first film set in the musical universe explored in his later Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (2, 64) and The Young Girls Of Rochefort (3, 67), though this one os not a musical, though it does have a great Michel Legrand score. The plot follows a series of recurrences and coincidences surrounding a bored young man as he attempts to woo the childhood sweetheart he hasn’t seen in 15 years. The film is dedicated to Max Ophuls, and it’s plot does to time what that directors swirling, dancelike camera movements do to space. The #3 film of 1961.

À propos de Nice – Jean Vigo’ first film is a documentary short along the lines of Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera (1, 29), but in miniature and without that film Soviet montage style. Some nice bits, and Vigo has a real interest in unusual faces, not unlike the Coen Brothers. The #5 film of 1930.

Zéro de conduite – Vigo’s first, and tragically penultimate, feature is this story of rebellious youth at a boarding school. The kids are bullied and constrained and robbed by their teachers, but get their revenge in the end. Notable, among other things, for its sympathetic treatment of a young homosexual kid. The #3 film of 1933.

The Forbidden Kingdom – Jackie Chan and Jet Li are great, unfortunately, in just about every other way this movie is crap. When Jet Li is the best actor in your film, you know you’ve got a problem. The director, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) not only has no feel for action, he appears to have never actually seen a real kung fu movie. Which is a problem, because his film seems to want to be a Last Action Hero-esque attempt to play with that genre. Instead, we get a cheap knock-off of a Karate Kid knockoff. But Li and Chan are terrific and the film is worth seeing for them alone and some real unintentional comedy from everything else.

Last Hurrah For Chivalry – This early John Woo film, a kung fu sword-fighting flick as opposed to the cops with guns films he became famous making with Chow Yun-fat a decade later is both an excellent contribution to the Hong Kong martial arts films of the 70s and an early draft of some of the same thematic and dramatic tropes Woo would spend much of his career developing variations on, namely the fluidity of good and evil and the friendship developed by a pair of equally matched professional warriors of varying degrees of morality. The #6 film of 1979.

The Amazing Transparent Man – This Edgar G. Ulmer film is as cheap as it gets, a silly tale of an invisibility ray and a bank robber, but the special effects are cool in a campy kind of way. The #24 film of 1960.

Sons Of The Desert – I guess I just don’t think Laurel and Hardy are very funny. Maybe I’m not old enough. The #10 film of 1933.

The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek – We actually just finished watching this 20 minutes ago. This Preston Sturges film is a critical favorite (as are most of his films), but something about it didn’t quite work for me. I like the film in theory, the premise is great, both funny and resonant, and the supporting cast, as always with Sturges, is outstanding (led by the always great William Demarest and Diana Lynn as sister). But I didn’t like either of the leads. Eddie Bracken’s stuttering and highly mannered performance was rarely funny, and after a good start, Betty Hutton disintegrated into whininess. But still, the deftness with which Sturges’s screenplay manages to be salacious and Code-approved is impressive, as are the sequences at the beginning and the end when the supporting actors (Welles regular Akim Tamiroff among them) really let the dialogue fly. The #8 film of 1944.

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