Blind Spot 18: Paths of Glory

It’s interesting that this month’s blind spot pick, Paths of Glory, just happens to be the second movie I’ve watched this month featuring World War 1 and a No Man’s Land scene. Of course the other film, Wonder Woman, is completely different but it is still a random coincidence as there are not that many World War 1 films made.

Paths of Glory is directed by the great Stanley Kubrick and is a very interesting war movie. In some ways it feels like Hacksaw Ridge combined with Catch 22. I hated the book Catch 22 because it was so cynical. I get the point of the book is to be cynical, but I needed something to latch on to and bond with. It was a very unpleasant experience that was supposed to be funny.

Anyway, I feel Paths of Glory takes this cynical attitude and also  give us intriguing characters that we like spending time with. It’s not a satire like Doctor Strangelove but it does have a cynical sad tone to the events of war.

Starring Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, is set in World War 1 and tells the story of a division of French soldiers who are commanded to go on a suicide mission to attack the German stronghold called the ‘Anthill’.

Colonel Dax (Douglas) tries to convince the superiors to hold off the attack because of the heavy casualties and lack of benefit but they insist upon it. The attack goes forward and a group of soldiers refuses to leave the trench. The men are then ordered to fire upon their fellow soldiers, which they refuse without a written order.

The leader, General Mireau, is enraged at the men and blames them for the attack not working. At first he wants to court martial 100 men but 3 are eventually chosen to face trial and execution.

It is this section that Paths of Glory moves from being a war film to a courtroom drama and it is also where you get some of that Catch 22 type of cynicism. It makes sense, after all, when what they are doing to these 3 men is extremely cynical. Taking 3 men’s lives because they wouldn’t turn on their own men shows how twisted war can get.

Paths of Glory is a great film. Somehow Stanley Kubrick manages to mix these two sides together so well. The war scenes are as captivating and disturbing as anything we get in modern war films. And the scenes with the 3 soldiers are sad with a hint of social commentary. It all works.

The cinematography by Georg Krause is a master class using shadows and light in a way only possible with black and white. This is not a film that takes war lightly- the way say Michael Bay might today.  Paths 0f Glory manages to get emotion in every shot even amidst the chaos of Ant-Hill.

The acting is also really strong throughout led by Kirk Douglas. He’s fantastic as Dax who is a hardened soldier with an unsentimental love for his men. He’s basically a good person and a good military man at the same time- a tough balance to pull off.

All the other performances are unknowns to me but they did a great job. I particularly liked a scene where a minister comes to take the men’s last confession. The dialogue and acting was superbly executed.

I only really have one nitpick with Paths of Glory. It’s just that it is hard to get fully immersed in a story about the French army when everyone speaks English without French accents (at least most of them). I wish they had spoken in French with subtitles or at least had an accent.

Other than that, Paths of Glory is a classic for a reason. It gives the viewer a lot to think about without beating you over the head with its cynicism. It’s very well made and acted and over all a great film that I highly recommend.

Overall Grade- A

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Blind Spot 17: Duck Soup

Ah how great it is to see terrific comedy! It’s the best to sit back, relax and heartily laugh at a good movie. Unfortunately it’s an experience that doesn’t happen too often these days. Now most comedies are so raunchy that I either chose to not watch them or they aren’t my style of humor. So, you can imagine my enjoyment when I put on this month’s blind spot pick, Duck Soup, and laughed good and hard! Duck Soup is a classic comedy and with good cause. Especially if you like physical comedy it doesn’t get better than this.

Duck Soup stars the Marx Brothers- Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo and evidently this is their crowning achievement. I read dictator Benito Mussolini took the movie as a personal insult and banned it from Italy! You know you are doing something right if a dictator bans your movie!

The plot for Duck Soup is pretty basic. Groucho plays a man who is put in charge of a small country named Freedonia. They are a nation of great pomp and circumstance and much is made about their need for decorum. Meanwhile Chico and Harpo are sent as spies to look into the situation and see what Freedonia is up to. Zeppo plays Groucho’s secretary and kind of the straight man role in the story. Quickly all kinds of mayhem erupts involving war, love and politics.

You don’t see a movie like Duck Soup for the plot. It’s about the hilarious gags. What’s impressive here is they manage to be funny with both physical comedy and political commentary. I love how expressive each of the brothers are and how you can read so much through their eyes and facial expressions.

This scene with a lemonade vendor is hilarious:

I particularly like Harpo and how innocent and sweet he is. Don’t you just want to hug him? What he is able to do with a simple hat to get laughs is remarkable.

But Duck Soup can also be very funny in the political commentary especially if you think about its release date in the 1933 when trouble was brewing in Europe. The insanity of such political negotiations and the egos involved is skewered so well in scenes like this one-

It’s so funny when he goes in seconds from welcoming the idea of diplomacy to ‘who does he think he is? That he come here and make a sap out of me in front of my people’. I have a feeling it might not be that far off of actual diplomacy (I try to not think about that too hard these days! Politicians and the egos involved is a scary thought).

Duck Soup is only an 69 minutes so it’s not much of an investment of time but boy is it rewarding. I laughed from start to finish and it wasn’t the kind of mean spirited raunchy comedy you get today. It can be a little bawdy but all in good fun. I have seen one other Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business and I think Duck Soup is much funnier than that.

I know some children might be intimidated by black and white but comedies can often be good ways to introduce them. Duck Soup would be great for that. I think they will love it especially Chico and Harpo as the 2 spies. Hilarious.

I just loved this movie!  The only flaw I suppose is maybe 2 of the musical numbers go on a little long. Other than that one of the great comedies without question.

Overall Grade- A+


BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+

Blind Spot 15: 8 1/2

I am going to start off this blind spot review with a bit of a controversial statement:

You can be a film fan and dislike classic films

Just because something is on the Criterion collection and heralded as a masterpiece doesn’t mean you have to like it.  Some film snobs may disrespect such a view but honestly to heck with them. No film should be so sacred it is immune from criticism.

Such an introduction may give you a hint of what I thought about Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2. I respect it but I didn’t really care for it. Shocking, I know but let me try and explain.

Let’s start out with the positives. It cannot be denied how great this movie looks. The cinematography is inventive and beautiful and I enjoyed watching it on that level. Often the shots feel like they were taken by a little person with the camera looking up at the character.

There are also many dream sequences that are effectively surreal and feel like dreams.

The critic Alan Stone said about 8 1/2 ” I celebrate it. A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art. The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes”  It’s an interesting philosophy about film, which I often use to defend Terrence Malick and his image-over-plot films.

So with all that said why did 8 1/2 not really work for me? I think the main problem is Fellini isn’t making an image over story film. I think he not only wants to tell a story, he wants you to sympathize with the narcissistic womanizer he has created as his anti-hero.

8 1/2  is about a man named Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) who is a famous Italian director. He is being pressured by the studio to make a sci-fi film but he is artistically stymied and frustrated. As he suffers from “filmmaking block” we get an endless parade of women in his life. There’s his wife Luisa, mistress Carla, an ideal woman, a prostitute from his childhood, nuns, friends, an actress named Claudia, the list goes on.

The film just assumes a man like Guido could get so many women in his life but it never gives any reason why. Is he just good in the sack? Is he a charmer? He certainly doesn’t seem to be. He treats them horribly and even in his fantasies wants to do nothing but whip them. What on earth?

I have a feeling Alejandro Inarritu loves this movie because Birdman has so much of 8 1/2 in it. I didn’t like Birdman, and I didn’t really like this. I found both pretty misogynistic and self-indulgent and not in ways that interested me despite how pretty they looked.

The overall message of the film is I guess about the creative thinker and how sometimes inspiration just doesn’t come. Such a narrative can be quite compelling like when Karen Eiffel deals with writers block in Stranger than Fiction. But at least there I felt something for her but in 8 1/2 I really didn’t care for Guido.

Plus, the creative output he gives in the dream sequences, while beautifully shot, were never really that inspirational or stunning that on their own merits I wanted him to create the art. So I wasn’t really rooting for the man or his art.

Terrence Malick in Knight of Cups has a frustrated artist depressed by the depravity of Los Angeles and Hollywood but I felt for him because the art he imagined in the surrealist sequences was gorgeous. Plus, the female characters who come into that film felt like real, genuine women, not stereotypes.

Frankly, I finished 8 1/2 and said to myself “did I miss something?”. Despite looking nice it didn’t seem that special or interesting or compelling, and yet I’ve heard all these praises. Maybe it is a film that will grown on me over time? I’m not sure but it didn’t do much for me on this watch.

When it comes down to it I didn’t enjoy the experience of following Guido on his fantasies and narcissistic delusions and I found no compelling reason why any of these women were attracted to him or involved with him. It just didn’t quite work for me. Oh well.

Still, it does look great so I will give it that.

Overall Grade- C+

Blind Spot Choices 2017

I hope you all were entertained by my Blind Spot series in 2016 here on the blog. I certainly enjoyed watching the 12 films and checking them off of my film bucket list! If you are unfamiliar with the series it’s where we watch and review a classic or well-loved film each month that we haven’t seen (nobody can see everything after all!).

In 2016 I saw- Blade Runner, Tron, Dark Knight Rises, Tales from Earthsea, Yentl, 400 Blows, The Jerk, Talk to Her, Porco Rosso, Unbreakable, Looper and The Ref. You can find links to reviews of all these films here.

My favorite of 2016 was either Porco Rosso or The 400 Blows. My least favorite was definitely Yentl; although it does have some so bad it’s good appeal. It was a great unintentional comedy!

I liked the experience in 2016 so much I intend to continue doing it in 2017.  So here is my list:

moonrise-kingdom3January- Moonrise Kingdom- Somehow I skipped this Wes Anderson film and it seems like a good fit for the month of my first trip to Sundance!

thxFebruary- THX- George Lucas’ debut sci-fi film has always intrigued me but I’ve never seen it

8-1-2March- 8 1/2- My first Federico Fellini film and I look forward to it!

poppy-hillApril- From Up on Poppy Hill- Another Studio Ghibli to cross off the list

duck-soupMay-Duck Soup- it’s perhaps scandalous I’ve never seen this Marx Brothers classic

paths-to-gloryJune- Paths to Glory- Director Stanley Kubrick’s World War 1 movie looks amazing and I can’t wait to see it

boxerJuly-The Boxer- This year I discovered Jim Sheridan’s amazing film In America and so I want to give his boxing film with Daniel Day Lewis a shot.

metropolitanAugust-Metropolitan- I fell in love with Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship this year and have heard nothing but great things about his debut Metropolitan

manhattanSeptember- Manhattan- I actually like Woody Allen’s more serious films like Blue Jasmine best but I like Annie Hall so hopefully will enjoy Manhattan.

donnie-darkoOctober- Donnie Darko- Richard Kelly’s demonic take on Harvey intrigues me. I know it is out there but I look forward to seeing it.

giovannis_islandNovember-Giovanni’s Island- this World War 2 anime reminds me of Grave of the Fireflies. It looks beautiful and inspiring.

were_no_angels_-_1955_-_posterDecember-We’re No Angels- a lesser known Christmas movie about 2 burglars who end up helping a family get the Christmas spirit sounds like a lot of fun.

I feel like this is a good mixture of styles, themes, eras and should make for a great series in 2017. Let me know what you think of my list and selections!  I look forward to 2017!

Blind Spot 11: Looper

looperThis month for my blind spot pick I took a look at the 2012 sci-fi film Looper. To see the rest of my blind spot picks go here. I wanted to pick this movie because I’ve heard good things and director Rian Johnson is doing Star Wars: Episode VIII. I was curious to see if I’d get anything for his style of what was coming to Star Wars and I don’t know that I actually got that but it’s still a decent sci-fi film. It’s really more like Terminator than Star Wars.

Looper is a time travel story about a futuristic society where time travel hasn’t been invented yet but it will be invented in the future. The creative twist is the future uses time travel to send criminals to the past and loopers kill said criminals.  They do this until they are forced to kill their future selves and their careers are over.

looper4Joseph Gorden Levitt plays Joe a looper who has stashed his silver so he can live a good life when his days as a looper are over. Then one day he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) but is beaten up and old Joe flees. He then begins a cat and mouse chase with the crime syndicate that runs the loopers and his future self.

I don’t want to give any more away but trust me there is a lot more going on. It is a very original story that flows nicely without any obnoxious twists or trickery. On the whole I enjoyed it very much.

However, at first I had a few issues. It was leaving me kind of cold and I think the best sci-fi should stir emotion. It shouldn’t feel rote and mechanical. The violence felt impersonal and strong and I wasn’t bonding emotionally with young Joe.  There is a moment where we bond with old Joe but I was still feeling kind of cold and distant.

IMG_2628.CR2And then we meet Emily Blunt’s character Sara and I think that really turned it around for me. She is carrying for a little boy and she really brought the emotion I had been looking for. She was so good in the role and I finally felt like young Joe wasn’t a robot any more, but a real person with feelings.

looper3It’s also a really grounded, normal looking scifi movie. There are hovering bikes but that’s about it as far as world-building. I know this only had a $30 million budget but I kind of wish they had done a few more creative touches to change the world- make it a little more inventive and different from our own.

Also Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s nose prosthesis to make him look more like Bruce Willis didn’t really work for me. It always looked like make-up and I didn’t think he looked anything like Bruce Willis.

looper2But aside from those flaws you have a very original sci-film with a creative premise and story. Particularly in the last act it has something to say about the paths we can go on in life. How one action can take us on a completely different trajectory than another. The acting is good throughout and the brutal violence is well staged if you like that kind of thing.

So, yes I had a few little issues but I’d definitely recommend Looper if it sounds like your kind of film and you can handle the R rated material.

What do you think of Looper? Is it a favorite of yours?

Overall Grade- B+

Blind Spot 9: 400 Blows

400-blows2This month for my blind spot series I finally watched the seminal french new wave film The 400 Blows. Directed by the great Francouis Truffaut I had long heard about this movie but had never seen it. Now that I have I can see why it is such a classic.

The 400 Blows is about a little boy named Antoine who is growing up in the 1950s Paris. His parents don’t care for him and at best placate and put up with him. His teacher at school is constantly scolding him and he is out of place in the world.

In many ways Antoine reminds me of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, which was published in 1951. The 400 Blows came out in 1959. However, I prefer Antoine to Holden because his observations are mostly made through quiet staring at those around him where Holden’s dialogue becomes obnoxious.

400-blows3Some people will hate the 400 Blows because not a ton happens in the story. It’s really about this character and how the world seems to not be made for him. No matter what he does the world seems to scold him.

The cinematography by Henri Decaë is gorgeous and 400 Blows is great to watch just on a technical level. Each shot gives you a piercing look at Antoine’s loneliness. Most of the shots are made beneath Antoine and look up to him again showcasing his isolation both mentally and physically. There are many other unique shots and perspectives Truffaut uses to create tone and tell the story.

We also see Antoine escaping (literally one time from a fire) to the movies, which for movie lovers has significance. It’s really the only positive thing in his life for most of the film.

400-blows5There is definitely a feeling that Antoine never has been allowed to be a child. His parents are harsh including his Mother expecting him to hide her secrets from everyone. His teacher openly hates him and even with his friend they are basically adults not children.

Evidently Truffaut was commenting on the state of the juvenile treatment centers of the era, which is interesting because they are a footnote to the movie. But in a way it makes sense because the whole movie leads up to his placement there and how Antoine never really was given a fair shake. The movie does not manipulate the viewer with sentimentality or emotional sequences. It merely shows Antoine’s life and how the world has failed him.

400-blows-5In some ways I feel a little outside my skill-set to review a film like 400 Blows. The film-making techniques used are clearly masterful in ways only a cinematographer or technician could articulate, but I certainly can tell it is a beautiful and striking film. I recommend reading Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ review where he talks about Truffaut’s back story, the freeze frames and other camera work used in the film. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-400-blows-1959

If you like Catcher in the Rye and those types of stories or love to watch beautiful camera-work I think you’ve got to see The 400 Blows. It’s a classic for a reason!

Overall Grade- A+

Blind Spot 8: Porco Rosso

porco rosso2We are at the 8th in my monthly Blind Spot series and this month I check another anime classic off of my list, Hayao Miyazaki’s comedy-adventure Porco Rosso. This is a completely charming, delightful and a little strange comedy!

The main appeal to this movie is the stunning animation, funny dialogue and quirky weird characters. The lead is named Porco Rosso and he has been cursed to look like a pig. The movie treats this with a refreshing candor. He’s just a pig and that’s that!

porco rosso5The setting is post WWI and Porco is a bounty hunter who relaxes on the beach and likes doing things his own way. One day he gets a call to face off some pirate gangs. This leads to his plane being damaged by a man named Curtis and him landing in Milan to get it fixed.

porco rosso12In Milan there is a girl named Fio who Porco reluctantly hires to fix his plane (all the men have left Milan to find work elsewhere during the Depression). Fio is a great character who won’t take any crap from Porco but who also is vulnerable in moments.

porco rosso19There is also Gina who is love with Porco and yes they play it completely straight that she is in love with a pig man. He’s such a rogue and so confident it kind of makes sense! Unfortunately Curtis is also in love with Gina and it brings the two into conflict.

porco rosso13Curtis and Porco end up in a bet, that ends up in a race, that ends up in a fight. Fio makes the deal that if Porco wins than Curtis must pay off all of Porco’s repair bills and if he loses than Curtis can marry her. They don’t really explain why Fio wants to marry Curtis but it works. The race and then fight go on for perhaps a bit too long but I thought they were very funny.

porco rosso14The animation throughout is either adorable or breathtaking.

Adorable-

porco rosso6Breathtaking-

porco rosso8I really enjoyed Porco Rosso. I liked how different it was and how it made me laugh. I liked the way nobody thought twice about a man with a pig face and they made it work because he was such a grumbling funny character. You could see why he was charismatic enough for people to forget the nose.

porco rosso3I also loved the female characters, Fio and Gina. They thought for themselves but they weren’t cliched warrior women. Just like Porco, I couldn’t help but like both of them.

There also is some heart to the story when you finally get to hear Porco’s backstory and a little bit of a subtle Beauty and the Beast moment that is handled perfectly.

porco rosso7But mostly it will make you laugh and you will smile at these great characters!

They had a terrific dubbing cast as well with Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in the leads. The music by Joe Hisaishi is of course great as well.

I guess Porco Rosso may not be for everyone but I would think of it as Hayao’s Wes Anderson movie. It totally has that same quirky weirdness about it. It’s great!

What do you think of Porco Rosso?

Overall Grade- A

Blind Spot 7: Talk to Her

talk to her4This month for my Blind Spot series I happened to pick a Spanish film without knowing I would be visiting Spain in July. Isn’t that a crazy coincidence? Anyway, I decided to look at Pedro Almodovar’s 2002 Academy Award winning film Talk to Her. It’s a moving, intriguing, weird film that definitely won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I saw it.

talk to herIt’s a pretty simple story about 2 men, Marco and Benigno who fall in love with strong women who end up in comas. They then care for the comatose women but it’s what Almodovar does with that basic story that makes it interesting.

On the surface what these men are doing is really quite lovely.  They are caring selflessly for women in a coma.  How can that be anything but good? Well, that’s where the line between love and obsession come in. Especially Benigno begins to fantasize  what his life with Alicia is like and that she is responding to his advances.  He imagines this fantasy existence and even says at one point that his relationship is better than most other married couples.

talk-to-her_03There is something decidedly creepy about the way he cares for Alicia which is an intriguing element to the story.

Marco has more of a backstory with his love Lydia who was a bullfighter and is injured in the rink. He is a very emotional man and often takes what others are feeling upon himself. This makes his responses to Alicia, Benigno and Lydia very interesting. Dario Grandinetti as Marco is the standout of the film. He’s a type of man you don’t often see in the movies- sensitive to a fault.

talk to her3The cool thing that Almodovar does is he never really judges either men. You can tell he feels sorry for all involved. They are all weak- whether it is a weak mind or body, and human weakness is sad for Almodovar. Benigno takes his obsession to a disturbing place and it just shows how the human brain can create false narratives to justify our own poor choices.

talk to her2Talk to Her is definitely not for everyone. There is nudity in the film but most of it is non-sensual while the women’s bodies are being cared for. However, there is a fantasy sequence involving a silent movie that is truly bizarre. I can’t really explain it but just know it is out there and is explicit! It was too much for me to be honest but it was brief.

talk to her5If you want to watch a film showing a unique side of masculinity and can handle something that is different I recommend watching Talk to Her.  It earns its R rating but it is a thoughtful unique depiction of that line between love and obsession.

I feel like a movie such as this would never win best screenplay now. What do you think?

Overall Grade- B+

Here is the trailer