Monday, March 15, 2010

Man, I've Seen a Bunch of Great Films Lately

Usually I'll highlight one or two of my favorites, which is easy because half the time I'm watching action or comedy films for purely escapist reasons, or more modern children's fare with the family-- which may or may not be high quality, but usually not as interesting to write about. I tend to avoid deep analysis of children's movies or books (picture books in this case) because I feel that, in the good ones, the message is subtle, simple, and intuitive enough for a child to comprehend it without me ruining it by overanalyzing it. Some people are better at this than I am, and I bear them no grudges.

That said, over the past couple weeks, it's been one grand slam after another, so I'll just say a few things about each...

North By Northwest-- as fantastic as everyone says it is. The sequence at Mount Rushmore is as vastly entertaining and exhilarating as it is ridiculous-- it is truly childhood fantasy acted out on screen, and it's hard to articulate how exciting that is. But now that I've seen Rear Window and NbN in relative proximity to each other, I can appreciate Chuck Klosterman's observation that Hitchcock was more interested in character types than the characters themselves, and that it's a valid approach to characterization in film. I wouldn't have been able to tuss that out at this point in my experience with Hitchcock, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of his films with that thought in mind. That said, another film I saw recently seemed to use a similar device, for which it was criticized...

Kicking and Screaming-- Noah Baumbach's directorial debut also employs character types rather than real people, but maybe because it makes use of a pseudo-intellectual affect, it (by design?) draws attention and, subsequently, fire from pseudo-intellectuals who like to watch independent film so they can criticize it. That sounds a bit more sarcastic than I intended, but I think I meant it. I don't think that Baumbach necessarily intended to create fully-developed characters as he did to express (his own?) general fear about post-college life in the guise of witty banter among neurotics. And I LOVED it. It was like theater, but with flashbacks. I've also seen The Squid and the Whale and The Life Aquatic (which he co-wrote), so I'll consider myself a fan now. I'm looking forward to seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox and Greenberg as well.

Ohayo/Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu)-- John, watch this with your kids ASAP. It's worth reading the subtitles to them. I know mine is a little older, but he giggled like he did when he was little. It's a funny and sweet portrayal of suburban Japanese life. And there are lots of fart jokes. It's my first Ozu, and I've read that his others are similar in tone (if aimed towards an older audience). I look forward to more.

The Hidden Fortress-- I enjoyed it immensely, but it didn't blow me away like Seven Samurai. Although I did notice a lot more American western influences in the cinematography and soundtrack. I also really liked how the losers in the beginning are losers in the end. I was actually expecting them to rescue the princess in typical losers-to-winners Hollywood fashion, but they remained, well, shitworms right through to the end.

I watched Hamburger Hill a few days ago, and it was I think the only late-eighties Vietnam war film I didn't see when I went on a Vietnam movie watching spree during my Houghton years that included (in a relatively short time span) Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born of the Fourth of July, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and (I think) Casualties of War (I did say it was a spree). After Hamburger Hill, which was really impressive, I wanted to see how the other late-eighties films compared, so I decided to re-watch Platoon and Full-Metal Jacket. I watched Casualties of War again last night, but it wasn't until the scene at the bridge towards the end that I knew I'd seen it before. That whole sequence is pretty unforgettable. In my search for any other films that would fit my parameters, I've come across a couple of decent sources of criticism on the Internet and have actually been doing some reading to complement my watching. I'm going to try to get a hold of Off Limits, which I hadn't heard of before, but it's only at one library and they won't send it out. I'll probably watch Platoon tonight and I've got FMJ on hold. So stay tuned!

Whew. I suppose that's enough for now.


  1. I have seen almost all of the Vietnam movies that you mentioned. I watched them with my father many years ago. I would like to re-watch them too but not sure that I am able to do so. They are pretty intense from what I remember and I am in such a different place in my life now. Look forward to your thoughts on them.

  2. When I watched them before it was pre-Iraq. I keep thinking about the two wars in relation to each other- what I'm seeing on film and what I read about happening in the news. I have to confess to some guilt for not speaking out more about my opposition to this war, as I'm watching stories about the horrors of a war that happened before I was born. It's so much easier to get chagrined over the past because you don't have to make any difficult decisions about it. What's been going on in Iraq has been going on so long, I find that I have been terribly desensitized to it all.