jonathan sanchez
the giants, 2009 edition, halfway report

what i watched last week

Two Lovers. I watch a lot of movies that are recommended to me by artificial intelligence programs which purport to know my taste in movies. Often, those recommendations puzzle me. For instance, I didn’t understand why I would be expected to like a romance starring Joaquin Phoenix. But Two Lovers is a romantic drama rather than a romantic comedy, with a bipolar gentleman (played by Phoenix) at its core. Yes, that is my kind of movie. It’s very low-key, with strong acting and muted direction and storytelling. I think critics praised it in part because it goes against the grain of mainstream movies today, and I don’t want to get carried away in the same manner. But the film deserves credit for successfully moving outside of our expectations, a melodrama without hysterics. 7/10.

Fires on the Plain. A superb movie, one of my favorites, yet I’ve only seen it twice, because its intensity is hard to take. It’s not the kind of movie you show to your friends. Deals with Japanese soldiers in the Philippines at the end of WWII, as they die from bullets and bombs and starvation. Roy Batty in Blade Runner says he’s seen things you people wouldn't believe … once you’ve seen Fires on the Plain, you’ll be saying the same thing. Nowhere to be found on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, one of the real oversights of that project. 10/10.

Last Year at Marienbad. I hadn’t seen this in almost 40 years … that’s about the right length between viewings, I think. In its impact on cinema, it reminds me of Blade Runner … it’s extremely influential, you can see elements of this movie all over the place, and since it’s close to 50 years old, I suppose there are movies that were influenced by movies that were influenced by Marienbad. Even though as you watch it, you see hints of other movies (I was reminded of the 1962 version of Carnival of Souls), Last Year at Marienbad remains a fairly unique experience: an Oscar-nominated avant-garde feature film that fiddles around with time and meaning to such an extreme extent that no one to this day can tell you what it’s “really” about (the filmmakers claim it’s about whatever you say it’s about). Kael filed it under the genre “Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties” … I think it might actually be a comedy, albeit one that isn’t particularly funny. The circular structure makes room for the movie to go on forever … it could just as easily be 94 hours long as 94 minutes. Of course, the reverse is also true … it could have been a 9-minute short and gotten its point across, whatever that point might be. Like Blade Runner, it’s gorgeous … I call them coffee-table movies, you could make a book filled with stills from the movie and it would be a pleasure to look at, but it’s not a picture, it’s a moving picture, and I’m not usually in the mood to watch still pictures for 94 minutes. As a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, it deserves at least one viewing. If nothing else, you’ll want to play the matchstick game. #89 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the 1000 greatest movies of all time … for my own opinion on that ranking, see Fires on the Plain above. In my younger days, I probably would have given this 10 out of 10 … I remember being pretty enthralled by it the first time I saw it. Now? 6/10.

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