the tragedy of macbeth (joel coen, 2021)

This is the tenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 10 is called "A Decade in Black and White Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen black and white film made between 2012-2022.

The casting of Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth delighted us, as we had seen her in the role on stage a few years ago. At the time, I wrote:

I couldn’t help but reflect on the ways I’ve experienced Macbeth over the years. Polanski’s version came out about the time I became a film major, and given my lack of knowledge about Shakespeare, my sense of the play was a bit warped. (Another Macbeth I saw and loved was Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.) Twenty years later, I was an English graduate student taking a course taught by the noted Shakespeare scholar Janet Adelman. I was way out of my league ... the best I could offer in terms of my past connection to Shakespeare was to say I’d seen Forbidden Planet many times. Still, when I want to learn more about Macbeth, as often as not I turn to Adelman. Now, of course, I’m just an old fart with a blog.

I don't think my knowledge of Shakespeare and Macbeth has grown any since then. So I don't have any great insights into this production, which was the first solo directorial work by Joel Coen, who worked with his brother in the past. Denzel Washington and McDormand were fine ... their line readings were intelligent ... but for me, Macbeth shouldn't be played by a 67-year-old man (that's what Lear is for). Mick LaSalle wrote:

It’s interesting, in the abstract, to have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth in their 60s. But the age at which people are most likely to kill someone for a promotion is generally a bit younger, as in the 30s or 40s. A Macbeth who has made it into his mid-60s without sticking a knife into the king’s neck is probably never going to do it. He’s more likely to want to kick back on a nice bearskin and have a few tankards of mead.

The black and white film looks tremendous, effectively odd ... I think Orson Welles would have approved. Kudos to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designers Stefan Dechant and Nancy Haigh (all three received Oscar nominations). Macbeth is a bit foolproof ... people always like it, even if it isn't considered to be at the level of the classics like Hamlet and King Lear. I still prefer the Roman Polanski version, but this one is an honorable attempt.


journey to the beginning of time (karel zeman, 1955)

This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 9 is called "Central/Eastern European Animation Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen animated film from central or eastern Europe. Here is a list to get you started.

This movie was a challenge, indeed, for I had to struggle to find a movie that fit the category. The suggested list did not have anything I could stream, other than a few shorts. I stretched out, did a little research, and opted for something by Karel Zeman, an influential Czech director and animator. Journey to the Beginning of Time was Zeman's first recognized classic, combining live action and stop-motion animation. It is perhaps more of a hybrid than the challenge asked for, but I did my best.

Four young boys embark in a row boat on a trip that takes them progressively back in time through various prehistoric eras. Zeman follows the science as it was known at the time, and his representation of the various creatures was influenced by Zdeněk Burian, a Czech artist known for his "palaeo-art". The blending of the live actors and the animated creatures is fairly sophisticated for its time. While the boys are on an adventure, the film works more as an instructive display on prehistory. As such, it is a clever movie that, during its running time, distracts us from the nonsensical setup.

A few years after its release, an American version was created, with a new introduction and dubbing. The core of the film was the same, but the framing device was silly, and there is no reason to see this version (I watched ten minutes or so just to see what it was like).


transsiberian (brad anderson, 2008)

This is the eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 8 is called "Road Movies Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen road movie.

TransSiberian is reminiscent of other movies, purposely. First-time director Brad Anderson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) has cited several influences, including Strangers on a Train and Runaway Train. There's nothing wrong with this ... Anderson shows good taste if nothing else ... while the general thrust of the picture is generic, Anderson tosses in enough twists to maintain interest. What matters more is that Anderson gradually builds tension, until it's nearly unbearable (in a good way). I found myself gritting my teeth as the movie progressed.

The cast helps. Emily Mortimer plays a been-around-the-block American who gets caught, Hitchcock style, in something big to which she isn't to blame, and Anderson gives her character perhaps the biggest plot twist, which cranks the film into another gear. Woody Harrelson has said that he based his character on an autistic version of his character on Cheers. "I kind of thought, what if he were 'Woody,' but a version of Woody that's really into trains?" It's a perfect description of what he gives us here. Kate Mara is touching, and if Ben Kingsley and Eduardo Noriega are a bit too easy to figure out in advance, they are nonetheless effective.

TransSiberian doesn't necessarily raise itself above the standards for its genre, but it's good enough that you don't care.


kanal (andrzej wajda, 1957)

This is the seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 7 is called "Polish Film School Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the Polish Film School movement.

The Polish Film School was an informal group rather than anything specific, that arose in 1956 after changes in Polish politics. Andrzej Wajda was one of the first directors in this group to release films, with Kanal being the second in a trilogy (I have only seen one other, and can't remember it). I don't think it's crucial to know about the trilogy, or even the School, but some context about the period Kanal depicts (September 1944, at the end of the Warsaw Uprising) and the period in which it was made are helpful.

But Kanal stands on its own, in any event. It's vision of heroism might carry special weight for the Polish people, but it resonates for all of us. There are plenty of people in Kanal who try to be heroes. But none of the them succeed, or rather, heroic or not, they fail. Wajda offers a pitiless view of the limits of heroism. As a narrator tells us at the beginning, "These are the tragic heroes: watch them closely in the remaining hours of their lives."

Visually, what is most noteworthy about Kanal comes in the second half of the picture, when the rebels go down into the sewers to escape the Nazis. This isn't the clean sewers through which Harry Lime runs in The Third Man. No, these sewers are full of excrement ... the heroes get progressively filthier. And the claustrophobia is almost unbearable. No one seems to really know exactly where they are going, and if they do emerge from the sewers, Germans are waiting for them.

We care about these tragic heroes; their characters are well-drawn. I found Teresa Izewska particularly noteworthy, perhaps because her blonde hair made the filth more noticeable. For me, though, Kanal is a film without much in the way of hope.


film fatales #153: titane (julia ducournau, 2021)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 6 is called "Top 250 Horror Week":

Recommended by kubrikonthefist.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Letterboxd’s Top 250 Horror Films list.

The headline writer for the San Francisco Chronicle had the proper amount of hyperbole in that paper's review of this movie: "‘Titane’ is really, really, really crazy — but it strikes a chord".

The less you know in advance, the better, although the basic plot is loony enough that it may not matter what you know. (An early pre-release blurb said only that "Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years.") Titane is an example of body horror (Wikipedia: "a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body"). David Cronenberg is the name that usually comes to mind when the subject of body horror films comes up, but especially relevant to Titane, the movie I think of is Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which I really, really, really hated. That film deserves a second viewing, I'm sure ... I'd never seen anything like it at the time, and I think that threw me off. Tetsuo tells of a man whose flesh gradually turns into metal. Something similar happens to the lead character in Titane, but something about it seemed more delightfully outrageous than in Tetsuo.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau seems to have put her vision of the film onto the screen, which doesn't always happen, and which suggests producers who trusted her. This may account for the "really really really" aspects of the film ... Titane is only 108 minutes long, but it feels like if Ducournau thought something belonged, she filmed it, leaving us with a movie that is packed with more than I admittedly could take in. That obscure tagline turns out to be quite accurate, pointing us in the direction of the relationship between father and son, while hinting at those unexplained crimes (they are explained in the movie, but I'm not spoiling it here). Ducournau dares the audience to look past the horror to the basic theme of unconditional love. She piles on the horrors, she makes it very difficult to look past those horrors, but without those horrors, unconditional love would hardly have been tested. The acting of Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon makes that acceptance more believable.

Titane won the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.


thirst (park chan-wook, 2009)

This is the fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 5 is called "K-Horror Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the K-Horror film.

Thirst comes with a solid pedigree. Director Park Chan-wook is a master of Korean horror (his Oldboy is as good as it gets). The male lead, Song Kang-ho, is recognizable to many viewers here in the U.S. for his roles in films like Parasite, Snowpiercer, and The Host. And the female lead, Kim Ok-bin, a young actress near the beginning of her career, gives and award-winning performance that matches Song, scene for scene.

If we are to believe Park, the plot was influenced by Émile Zola's 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin, and it makes sense. Except Zola wasn't writing about vampires. Song plays a devout Catholic priest who takes part in an experiment to try and find a vaccine for a deadly virus. The experiment fails, but the priest gets a blood transfusion that leads him to sinful thoughts, including but not limited to drinking blood. He has lustful feelings for the wife (Kim) of his childhood friend, she shares those feelings, and then ... well, I've already told too much of the plot. Part of the fun of Thirst is seeing just how far and off-the-wall Park will go. Suffice to say that once Kim starts having feelings, she nearly steals the movie.

I won't lie ... the plot gets loony at times. You could make an argument that Thirst is style over substance, although the priest's religious conflicts are taken seriously in what is nonetheless often pretty funny. It's not quite as good as my favorite vampire movie, Near Dark, but it's the equal of a much different vampire film, Let the Right One In.


1922 (zak hilditch, 2017)

This is the fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 4 is called "Fit for a King Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film adapted from a work by Stephen King.

How long does it take to read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"? OK, sorry, that's a spoiler. Suffice to say that 1922 is 102 minutes long, and I'm pretty sure you could read Poe's story in less time than that.

There's nothing particularly wrong with 1922. The acting is solid, and Thomas Jane effectively captures the insides of a man who probably knows more about life than he wants to admit to himself. Zak Hilditch, who also wrote the screenplay, opts for a slow-burn approach, and you might find it more compelling than I did. The horrors, when they do come, are OK, especially if you are afraid of rats. But I was never surprised by 1922, never felt like I was seeing something new.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means 1922 is closer to a generic Stephen King horror adaptation than it is to a classic. I've recently watched two more quirky horror films, Thirst and Titane, and while I had problems with the latter in particular, they were both unique and hard to forget. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, I might be more inclined to re-watch 1922, but it's not the movie those others are.


miracle in milan (vittorio de sica, 1951)

This is the third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 3 is called "Italian Neorealism Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the Italian Neorealism movement.

With Miracle in Milan, I have now seen 6 of the 32 movies on the above-mentioned list of Italian Neorealist films. I should probably branch out a bit more ... this is the third I've seen directed by Vittorio de Sica, including my favorite, Umberto D, while Roberto Rossellini directed the other three. Miracle in Milan had several components associated with Neorealism: filmed on location, with a blend of professional and non-professional actors, playing characters fighting poverty. What sets Miracle in Milan apart is de Sica's embrace of fantasy. The title is literally true: the film tells of a miracle that occurs in Milan.

Totò is a young man who lives in a squatter's community on the edge of Milan. Totò, an orphan originally taken in by a kindly old woman, has such an abundant exuberance about life that he helps bring the community together, with most of the people seeing the bright side of their situation. When oil is discovered on the land, the landowner uses police to force them out of their homes. And it's then that de Sica gives us something different. The old woman, who had long ago died, appears to Totò as an angel and gives him a dove that allows Totò to grant wishes. He proceeds to grant those wishes to pretty much everyone, changing the entire social order. Except then two other angels appear and take the dove back to heaven, the greedy landowner regains the upper hand, and all appears lost.

But de Sica finds one last magic trick to place in Totò's hands, and at the end, the squatters fly away on broomsticks, heading towards heaven. Which does seem to be quite a distance away from the settings of many neorealist films.

The atmosphere is overwhelmingly happy, and I admit that I soon tired of Totò (and the actor who plays him, Francesco Golisano). I found his endless optimism more annoying than transcendent. That could just be me, of course, and many have called Miracle in Milan a classic (it is #490 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the greatest films of all time). There is an intriguing trivia item on the IMDB: "The original planned ending for the film was to have the poor flying around the entire planet on broomsticks but being unable to land as everywhere had 'Private Property' signs. This was jettisoned as being too expensive and ambitious." If true, this is ironic indeed: an ending that further condemns the rich is bypassed because the filmmakers couldn't afford it.


the iceman (ariel vromen, 2012)

This is the second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 2 is called "Remembering Ray Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film starring Ray Liotta.

Ray could do these parts in his sleep. Here he plays Roy DeMeo, a real-life New York mobster. I guess I buried the lede ... The Iceman is based on the true story of  Richard Kulinski, a hitman who in the film works for DeMeo (this appears to be a bit of an exaggeration as far as being true to life). DeMeo/Liotta is not the main character. That's Kulinski, played by Michael Shannon, who can also play these parts in his sleep. (You can almost imagine the people making the movie saying "get me a Michael Shannon type and a Ray Liotta type", then realizing they could just get the originals.) The film centers on the split between Kulinski's job as a hitman and his life as a family man with a wife and daughters. The family never suspects that Kulinski is a murderer.

It's interesting that Ariel Vromen actually seems to have toned down Kulinski's character (in the movie, he loves his family and only regrets that his actions as hitman hurt them, while in real life, he was physically and emotionally abusive). I'm not sure why this was done ... are we supposed to empathize with Kulinski? Honestly, I have no idea why this movie was even made. It tells us little to nothing about the mind of a hitman, and the hitman/family life duality isn't very interesting. The cast grabs your attention ... besides Shannon and Liotta, there's Winona Ryder as Kulinski's wife, Chris Evans and David Schwimmer are barely recognizable, James Franco has what amounts to a cameo, and there's Stephen Dorff and Robert Davi and John Ventimiglia. There's nothing wrong with The Iceman, but I imagine I'm not the only person who wonders after watching it why I bothered.


our mothers (césar díaz, 2019)

This is the first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 1 is called "Central American Independence Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa RicaNicaraguaHondurasEl Salvador, or Guatemala.

Our Mothers comes from Guatemala, and tells the story of the trials of the soldiers who committed atrocities against the people during the Civil War. While the trials are always in the background (and eventually come to the front), the central story is of a young forensic anthropologist who thinks he has found his long-lost father who fought for the guerillas.

There in an inherent drama in this story, and the acting has an honesty that deepens the audience's involvement. But César Díaz, who also wrote the screenplay, seems intent on making a movie devoid of sensationalism. An honorable intent, letting the actors and the narrative convey the seriousness of what we are seeing. But the film is too often flat ... it could have used a little sensationalism. Events unfold slowly, and at only 78 minutes, there isn't much time to get to the core of things. The final scenes feel rushed, and we haven't been properly prepared for them. Again, Díaz is to be praised for treating his characters as human beings who have already been exploited too much. But the impact of Our Mothers is dampened.