And so another challenge ends. I'm afraid I can't do the film justice ... it has a confusing structure and I was on the verge of falling asleep (which is on me, not Elio Petri). So I'll have to give it an incomplete and hope to watch it again sometime when I am awake.
From Our Mothers back in September to now, I've seen some good ones and some no-so-good ones. What would a Letterboxd post be without a list:
I chose Paula Hernández, a random choice ... I've seen three Lucrecia Martel movies, wanted something new. The Sleepwalkers doesn't seem to have gotten much attention in this country ... only a few reviews are online, and many of those are in Spanish. The film was submitted as Argentina's entry in the International Feature Oscar category (the winner was Another Round, a good movie with one great scene). Paula Hernández has escaped my attention for no apparent reason. The lead actor, Érica Rivas, is known in Argentina but, like so much connected with The Sleepwalkers, not much is known about her in America. Wikipedia shows the absence of information: the pages on the movie, Hernández, and Rivas are short, and Ornella D'Elía, who plays one of the title characters and is the second most important person in the film, has no Wikipedia page at all.
The plot, about a family where sleepwalking is apparently passed on genetically, is OK. Everything leads to a crucial event that you can see coming, but you want to be proven wrong. When it turns out you are right, it's heartbreaking.
It's not a great movie, but it certainly deserving of more attention than it has gotten. It's another good example of the wonders of a Challenge ... you see movies you would have otherwise missed. Based on what I've seen, the person to watch for is Lucrecia Martel ... La Ciénaga is especially good.
There always seems to be one of these goofy challenges each year. In this case, I went with T.I..
I liked the first Ant-Man movie, as much as I like the usual Marvel picture. I enjoyed the ways it lived at least partly outside of the Cinematic Universe, since I don't care much about that, and the sequel also falls into that category. There's some plot that revolves around the events of Captain America: Civil War, events I admit I don't remember, but it doesn't matter. Paul Rudd/Scott Lang/Ant-Man hooks up again with Michael Douglas/Dr. Pym, the co-titular Wasp/Evangeline Lilly is an equally important part of the movie as Ant-Man, and a couple of my favorite actors turn up (Walton Goggins, Judy Greer ... did you know Greer wrote an autobiography? I read it, it was fun).
I enjoyed the special effects concerning the shrinking and growing of various items (including, of course, Ant-Man and the Wasp). I never tired of seeing the rapid size changes, and in fact, for some reason I was nearly always surprised when they happened. The "jokes" were corny, lame, and yes, funny. Arguably the most important item, the entire movie comes in under two hours.
Nostalgia clip: here is Paul Rudd appearing on Conan to promote the first Ant-Man movie:
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen modern Bollywood film, as dictated by Ramish's list here.
This was the first feature for writer-director Ritesh Batra. He had intended to make a documentary about the Dabbawala, a lunchbox delivery service in India that works remarkably well. Doing research, Batra decided there were plenty of good stories among the delivery workers, and so he opted to create a fictional film, The Lunchbox. The documentary basis is evident in the detailed way he shows us how the system works. But the central story is a romance between a wife, Ila, who makes lunches for her husband, and a man, Saajan, who accidentally receives her lunches (a mistake said to occur only once every six million deliveries). The two form a relationship around those lunchboxes ... she includes a note in each box, and he writes a response for when the box is returned. The relationship deepens, as does the length of the notes, which become more like letters.
All of the acting is excellent: the late, award-winning Irrfan Khan as Saajan, Nimrat Kaur as Ila, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a workmate of Saajan's. It's a delightful first feature, although I felt a bit cheated by the ending, which is inconclusive when the audiences wants resolution.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film adapted from a work by Agatha Christie.
I'm not sure how I ended up fulfilling this week's challenge with The Pale Horse, which isn't actually a movie at all, but is rather a two-part BBC mini-series. It must have been on the above-mentioned Agatha Christie list, but it's not there any longer.
Leonora Lonsdale is the director, but the project was led by writer Sarah Phelps. This was her fifth Christie adaptation for the BBC. I can't speak to the comparison between the Christie novel and this series, but it appears Phelps gave us a fairly loose adaptation. The story is tricky in mostly good ways, keeping the audience a half-step of the plot twists. There is a suggestion of the supernatural that both seemed out of place and worked to take us out of the same-old same-old of an ordinary Christie tale.
Rufus Sewell effectively carries the series as an upper-class antique dealer, Mark Easterbrook, who isn't everything he seems to be. Christie/Phelps keeps us wondering if Mark is a good guy or a bad guy by keeping his character both shady and somewhat appealing. On the one hand, I imagine Christie fans will welcome any version of one of the novels, while those who lean towards a more hardboiled approach might be impatient. On the other hand, perhaps the changes Phelps devises would turn off the fans. As I say, I don't know the book so I can't say how much Phelps deviates from the original.
The Pale Horse is a decent time-filler, but I wasn't overwhelmed.
Another example of how the Challenge is such a good idea. I'm not sure I knew there was such a thing as a French Impressionism movement in film, and I had only seen one of the movies on the suggestions list. The Smiling Madame Beudet was an interesting example (and not quite "feature length" at only 42 minutes, but it's on the list). It is perhaps the most famous film from Germaine Dulac, whose career covered feminist writing, film theory, and many films both experimental and commercial. It's the story of an unhappy marriage, or rather, the story of the woman in that unhappy marriage.
The impressionism is smoothly integrated into the film. The wife's thoughts are presented on the screen, rather like the inner dialogue from a novel, and combined with the actual events we see, give us a deep feeling for her dissatisfactions. Dulac doesn't seem to be trying for an obscure touch ... she isn't trying to confuse her audience. But neither does she use the kinds of tricks that scream out "IMPRESSIONISM". She relies on her vision and the intelligence of her audience to make connections.
Germaine Dermoz gives an evocative performance as the title character, who, it should be noted, does not smile.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen hip-hop movie.
I saw the sequel to this movie many years ago when my son gifted me a copy. Didn't like it much, although it was so long ago I don't remember why. I suspect it was just my usual aversion to modern comedies. Watching the original, being more aware now of my tendency towards a shrug of the shoulders at such movies, I thought of working a bit at liking it. But the best thing about Friday is its casual nature. It would almost be an insult to the movie to actively react to it. Best to just let it wash over me, so I could enjoy the better parts and sit quietly during the frequent dull parts.
Much of the movie consists of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker sitting around talking. It's like My Dinner with Andre, if that movie took place in South Central L.A. and if the two main characters got high. Chris Tucker can't help but inject energy into his scenes, but he's erratic at best (and I like him). He and Ice Cube make a nice team, at least. There's a real authenticity to the setting ... Ice Cube knows the area like the back of his hand, as does first-time director F. Gary Gray (he made music videos before branching out here). The supporting cast is full of wonderful names: Nia Long, John Witherspoon, a 24-year-old Regina King (playing Ice Cube's sister), Faizon Love, DJ Pooh, Bernie Mac, and the immortal LaWanda Page.
I rarely laughed ... put that on me. The low-key mood in Friday is such that even a drive-by shooting is played for comedy. I've spent worse times watching movies. Gray's next movie was the much-better Set It Off.
This was one of the hardest challenges to fulfill. There are only 12 films on the above Poetic Cinema list. I'd seen two of them, leaving ten, and none of them were available on any streaming service I have. So I broke the "unseen" rule and re-watched Earth, which I saw once about 50 years ago.
I like to tell an anecdote ... who knows if it was ever true, it tells the truth in its essence, even if the details are a bit off. I was a film major in 1973-4, and I watched a lot of movies. When I got into grad school in English, I spent a lot of time bitching about the literary canon. Suffice to say, I didn't like it. At one point, I took a film course where I was the only English grad student in the class ... all of the other students were undergraduate film majors. And they were smart whippersnappers. But as the semester went on, I realized their knowledge of the history of film was mostly lacking. Meanwhile, those long-ago years as a film major for me meant I got what amounts to a canonical film education (ironic, as I hope you can appreciate). The way I often described those film major years (and this is the part where the truth is in the essence, not the details) is that I watched six weeks of silent Ukranian films. One of them was Earth.
It's an acknowledged classic for a reason (in the most recent Sight and Sound poll, it finished at #312). It's a combination of beautiful cinematography (Danylo Demutskyi was the cinematographer) and innovative editing techniques by director Oleksandr Dovzhenko. Dovzhenko uses a lot of stationary images, of nature, of close-up faces, breaking things up not by moving the camera but by jumping to a new image. The connection between the people and nature is evident. Dovzhenko uses all of this to foreground beauty and symbolism over a more clear didacticism. While Earth is a paean to collectivism, it was criticized by Soviet authorities for, if I understand it correctly, being too masterful as art to make it useful as propaganda.
I'm pretty sure my sense of the politics of Earth is muddled, but it is so beautiful that I just gave myself over to it. Unfortunately, the only print I could find was on YouTube, and it was terrible, a real loss considering the excellence of the film.
This was a bit of a cheat. Yes, Sonny Chiba is in this movie, apparently playing himself. But I never spotted him ... he's just one of many actors in a behind-the-scenes look at film making. I'd only seen him in two movies prior to this. Like many Americans, I'd seen him turn up in Kill Bill, but my first encounter with the Chiba legend came via his 1974 martial arts classic The Street Fighter, which we saw at a drive-in. That was the first film to receive an X rating in the U.S. based solely on it violence. The scene I can never forget came when Chiba castrated a bad guy by pulling out his genitals with his bare hands.
Suffice to say, nothing like that happens in Fall Guy. Not that it wasn't possible ... director Kinji Fukasaku is known for lots of violence in his films (among them, the infamous Battle Royale). Fall Guy is an uneven blend of comedy, action, and drama. It's an interesting look at Japanese film making in the 80s, with larger-than-life caricatures. Mitsuru Hirata is good as the title character, and Keiko Matsuzaka is unbelievably beautiful. There's an aggressive sex scene that could be seen as rape, and whatever you call it, it's bad. The whole movie probably needed more Sonny Chiba.
The "Up Series", quoting from Wikipedia, is a "series of documentary films follows the lives of ten males and four females in England beginning in 1964, when they were seven years old. The first film was titled Seven Up!, with later films adjusting the number in the title to match the age of the subjects at the time of filming. The documentary has had nine episodes—one every seven years—thus spanning 56 years." I first watched films from the series in 2007 ... I thought 49 Up was going to be nominated for an Oscar, and decided to watch all of the series up to that point in preparation. (It wasn't nominated, and someone pointed out since it's a TV series, perhaps it will never be nominated.) I thought the series got better as it went along. but the idea has always seemed better than the result. At that time, I wrote:
The films are, or at least were, intended as a critique of British class society, but the films are least successful when they push that point. Far too often, interviewer and director Michael Apted asks leading questions designed to show off his notions about class … just as often, the replies are unexpected, thankfully. In 49 Up, more than in any other of the films, Apted is challenged by the participants. Many of them dislike having their lives interrupted every seven years … some think Apted and the series unfairly portrays their lives. A couple have quit participating over the course of the films, including at least two spouses.... Because it’s well-made, because the participants are likeable, because over the course of 42 years we get to know them, or at least get to know their “Up” personas, for all of these reasons, the Up series seems legitimate, even classy, and I think we might see more in them than really exists.
I found 56 Up to be the best yet, but the reason was largely because these films have a cumulative power, as we get further along in knowing the participants. We root for all of them. 63 Up continues this pattern, but the truth is, I can no longer say that each one is better than the one before. I think we get more out of each episode because of that cumulative effect, which speaks to the enormous power of the project, but that doesn't mean 63 Up is best, as much as it means every seven years we look forward to the films with increased anticipation.
It is possible that 63 Up will mark the end of the series. Michael Apted, who worked on the first film and directed the rest, died in 2021. Of the 14 original kids, one has died, and a few decided at some point to quit participating, although in every case but one, they later returned. The series has a remarkable lack of voyeurism ... it is often compared to reality television, but whatever the problems the participants have had over the years, our interest grows out of sympathy more than it does of gossip.