Noises Off (1992)


Link: Noises Off

Summary: A theater director tries to direct a low-brow slapstick comedy play, but personal feuds between the actors and actresses prevent things from going very smoothly.

Thoughts: Based on a 1982 play of the same name, I thought this film was hilarious.  It’s very slapstick, people stumbling, running around slamming doors, taking swings at each other.  Similar to Clue, the humor is very corny.  But I enjoy this sort of stuff if it’s done right, and the premise for this story is perfect for the sort of slapstick that ensues: People trying to put on a play, while trying to sabotage each other’s performances, or not giving a care to how their own lousy performances might ruin someone else’s.  The first part of the film features the actors just trying to get through the first act of the play, so you can see how things are supposed to go.  In the second part, affairs have been revealed and the performers are all angry with each other, so they set out to pettily destroy each other’s performances by, for instances, tying someone’s shoelaces together so he’ll fall down on stage, or changing a prop so the actor will have to adlib something.  In the third part, the performers are so fed up with each other that they stop trying to even put on a good performance, and it’s a complete hilarious disaster.

My only complaint is that something is a bit off about the pacing of the film, and some comedic sequences are so intricate and long-winded that you lose the energy to laugh, even if what they’re doing is clever in and of itself.  It’s just too much for too long.

That said, the hilarity of the sequences that work are so stupidly hilarious that they make up for the pacing issues.  Hilarious film.  I’d love to see the play one day, if I ever get the chance.

In Fear (2013)


Link: In Fear

Summary: On their way to a hotel, a young couple get lost on winding roads and spooky things begin happening to them.  Will they get out alive?

Thoughts: I really don’t understand any positive reviews for this film, or how it even got the distribution it got.  I call shenanigans.  It’s bland and boring.  It was as if someone got a few friends together and they just made the story up as they went along.  The characters aren’t interesting at all; in fact, when scary things happen, the girl just throws a screaming fit, and the guy gets angry at her for no reason.  By the time the guy dies (oh, sorry, did I spoil it for you?) you’re only sad that it didn’t happen sooner.  One of the dumbest films I’ve ever seen.

In Darkness (2011)


Link: In Darkness

Summary: This film tells the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish sewage worker who helped several Jewish families survive the German occupation of Poland during World War II by helping them hide in the sewers for fourteen months.

Thoughts: Overall, I thought this was a great film.  It doesn’t try to be didactic.  The Jewish people hiding in the sewers sometimes fight with each other, dealing with their horrible situation in different ways; they’re not portrayed as being innocent little persecuted angels, but humans with their own fears and flaws.  Meanwhile, Leopold, the sewage worker helping them, is not a saint; he only goes out of his way to help them begrudgingly at first, but his relationship with them grows to the point where he doesn’t mind not being paid for his help.  In one powerful scene, he tries to cheer a young girl up by giving her a piggy back ride and taking her up to the streets to peer out of a manhole, just to remind her of the real world above and give her some hope.  It’s a beautiful scene, because you know inside he’s scared to death too.

My only complaint, and what sort of ruined the otherwise beautiful film for me, was the dirtiness.  In a movie about people struggling to survive, love scenes just don’t fit.  In the bonus features, the director mentions that a survivor had told her that they, you know, quite a lot while in hiding.  There wasn’t much else to do, it kept couples close, and it relieved some of the otherwise unbearable tension.  Still, I don’t think it adds anything to the film; it only distracts.  People also relieve themselves everyday, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in a film that’s otherwise about survival and hope.

The blu-ray’s bonus features included an interview with the only living survivor of the story, Krystyna Chiger.  In the interview she mentions that her younger brother was only four or five years old when they were finally able to leave the sewers.  Having lived in the sewers for over a year, the openness and brightness and crowdedness of the real world was scary for him, and he really wanted to go back to the sewers; they had become home to him.  It’s only one line in the film, something like: “Momma, I want to go back.”  But that’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t expect to include if it were a fiction film, yet it makes perfect sense.  And it’s so tragic.  He was forced to live in the sewers for long enough that he wanted to stay there.  Can you imagine?  For some reason, that really got to me.

Overall, very good film.  I just wish it wasn’t so dirty.

Trivia: Director Agnieszka Holland also directed the 1993 classic family film, The Secret Garden, based on my great aunt’s novel.  Yay, The Secret Garden!  Go Aunt Fran!  Woohoo!  Fame and glory!

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Link: Some Like It Hot

Summary: On the run after witnessing multiple murders, two musicians hide by dressing as women and joining an all-women band.  What could possibly go wrong?  Meanwhile, they’re both attracted to the band’s lead singer, who looks just like Marilyn Monroe.

Thoughts: I suppose this film was somewhat risqué for its day, which I suppose only helps it stand the test of time; by modern standards it perhaps plays it way too safe.  I can easily imagine a modern interpretation being far more raunchy.  But it really doesn’t need to be; as with most cross-dressing films, if you can accept that characters are actually getting away with their awful performances as the opposite sex, the classic humor of this film is hilarious.  Unfortunately things get a bit stale in the second act, but the hilarity of the first act makes up for it.  Fun classic film.  They don’t make comedies like this anymore.

Byzantium (2012)

Link: Byzantium

Summary: I suppose this is almost like a reverse Twilight: A vampire girl falls in love with a guy, but she also wants to suck his blood.  This is only complicated by the fact that he’s on blood thinners for his cancer.  Her mother, who’s also a vampire, is afraid she’ll give away her secret, and tries to keep her away from love interests (a bit Rapunzel-esque).  Meanwhile, she and her mother are on the run from members of a secretive vampire order who want them dead.

Thoughts: I haven’t seen Twilight (and have no plans to), but I think this film is far less of a paranormal romance chick-flick and more of an action thriller, so a guy in his late 20’s can enjoy it, and I did.  I enjoyed the main character’s dilemma; how she wants blood, but she only kills old people who she believes are ready to die; younger blood is a temptation that must be resisted.  She wants to tell others her secret, she feels so awfully alone and trapped, but there’s so little she can do about it.  I also enjoyed the backstory that takes place hundreds of years earlier, which shows how the mother and daughter became vampires.  Overall, very good film; in fact, I’d say it’s the best vampire film I’ve ever seen.  Not that I’ve seen many, but this one worked really well for me.

Need for Speed (2014)


Summary: When his friend is killed in a car accident in an illegal street race, an innocent racer is framed for his death.  When he gets out of prison, he breaks his parole and sets out to prove his innocence by racing the man who actually killed his friend.  (Sounds a bit convoluted, but it somehow works.)

Thoughts: I normally wouldn’t go to the theater to see a car racing film; I don’t know anything about car racing.  My experiences are limited to the PlayStation game Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.  But I had a free film ticket that was about to expire, and there was pretty much nothing else of interest playing in the theater.  (I was not about to waste it on an Aronofsky film, and the only other option was a Wes Anderson film, whose bland boring camera angles are not something I want to see on a big screen.)  So Need for Speed it was.  Overall, it’s a pretty standard action flick.  It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either.  I suppose if I was more interested in cars and/or racing, I might’ve been a bit more interested.  The overall plot was a bit forced, since they had to create a way for a character to engage in illegal street racing with a noble purpose.  But I can’t fault them too much for it; I don’t think I could’ve done much better.  Good popcorn movie, but don’t expect to be blown away by it, unless you just love cars and illegal street racing (in video game form at least).

The Mission (1986)


Link: The Mission

Summary: After his killing his brother in a jealous rage, a slave trader repents and seeks penance by becoming a Jesuit missionary and attempting to save a native tribe from colonists who seek to take over their lands.

Thoughts: I thought this was a very beautiful film, in the thematic sense.  It doesn’t try to donk you on the head with its religious themes; rather it allows the characters to follow their conscious without judging them.  That is, without trying to tell the audience whose decisions are right and whose are wrong.  It simply lets the characters make their decisions and live out their consequences.  This, of course, allows the audience to interpret the events as they see fit, without being didactic.  When the colonists invade the forests of the native tribe, one character decides to fight the colonists, while the other believes engaging in such violence to be against the teachings of Christianity.  Who’s right and who’s wrong?  The film doesn’t tell you; it just portrays both characters as believable and lets the situation play out.  The film also features another one of Ennio Morricone’s beautiful scores, as any lover of film music knows Gabriel’s Oboe whether or not they’ve seen the film.

Les Enfants Terribles (1950)

Link: Les Enfants Terribles

Summary: When her brother becomes ill, his sister cares for him.  But when she realizes her brother and their house boarder are in love with each other, she works to sabotage their relationship.

Thoughts: If you can get past the rather creepy almost incestuous relationship between the brother and sister in the first act (which I guess isn’t too hard for modern audiences considering the success of Game of Thrones), the film is actually a dark comedy.  It’s a bit like a Shakespearean tragedy, with characters keeping secrets and lying to each other, but without any effort made to make the audience empathize with the main two siblings.  It is obvious they care for each other, yet they treat each other terribly, so when their situation inevitably leads to tragedy, we don’t respond with sadness or regret, but rather a sort of strange fascination with how such characters could get their relationships so warped and confused.  It’s not really realistic in this regard, but I doubt it’s meant to be; rather, it’s a strange dark tragic comedy.  Fun movie.

About: The film is based on a 1929 novel by Jean Cocteau.  Cocteau was a filmmaker himself, and there seem to be film historians who argue that this film was shaped more by Cocteau’s input than the director’s.  (Director Melville became immortal and then died, leaving everyone breathless.  Sorry.)

Persona (1966)


Link: Persona

Summary: A nurse retreats to the seaside with a patient who refuses to speak, hoping the change of scene will help.  Instead, her seclusion with the mute patient drives her to insanity.

Thoughts: A strange film for director Ingmar Bergman, at least compared to the films of his I’ve seen.  Persona is a very ambiguous self-conscious psychological drama.  I’m really not quite sure what to make of it.  The utter weirdness of it was enough to keep me engaged, but it confused me more than anything else.  I suppose my interpretation is this: the nurse was the one with the problems from the beginning, while the patient just needed a time-out from the world’s chaos.  So when the nurse is confronted with the patient who won’t speak, she projects her own inner turmoil onto the patient, externalizing her inner conflicts and attempting to play them out, destroying her chances of offering the sort of help the patient actually needs, making her own conflicts only that much more impossible to work through.  Overall, it’s a very interesting film, but certainly a bizarre one.  I especially enjoyed the often wild befuddling facial framing, which all somehow worked brilliantly.  And at least it’s all a more solid film than Tarkovsky’s The Mirror.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Link: The Wolf of Wall Street

Summary: The true story of how Jordan Belfort scammed clients out of millions of dollars and wound up in prison.

Thoughts: Overall, this film is pretty standard Scorsese, especially with his penchant for tragic biopics.  So while it’s nothing dramatically new when compared to Scorsese’s previous work, it’s still masterful filmmaking.  For the most part, the pacing and rhythm of the film keep it very engaging.  It is probably the most comedic of Scorsese’s films, especially with actors who can deadpan as well as Jonah Hill; you know Belfort’s scheming ways aren’t going to end well, so the film doesn’t even bother trying to create any amount of tension over it.  While a good amount of the humor works well, a good portion of it also becomes the film’s greatest weakness, as long segments of the film feature little more than crude debauchery, as if the film wants to be a classy American Pie film.  These segments aren’t funny or interesting to watch and they add nothing to the film; they are only a sad, evil, and tiresome waste of all the talent involved.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)


Link: The Hidden Fortress

Summary: Fancying themselves bounty hunters, two friends search for a missing princess, hoping to collect the bountiful reward offered for her capture.  But the bumbling greedy fools only end up aiding the small team secretly trying to save her.

Thoughts: A very enjoyable film, definitely one of Kurosawa’s more accessible and adventurous works.  His camera work for the wide screen is a visual feast.  I thought the film’s one weakness was its pacing; certain sequences in the second half simply go on for too long.  Toshiro Mifune’s spear-fighting sequence was engaging, but some of the following sequences dragged on a bit too long.  Perhaps the ending just needed too many plot points to occur to make it appropriately dramatic.  At least it’s nothing like the long final sequence of Kagemusha, eh?  Still, it’s a fun film.

Trivia: On the blu-ray’s bonus features, George Lucas says that it was this film that gave him the idea to center Star Wars around two comic-relief characters, in his case a pair of droids.

Pather Panchali (1955)


Summary: A young boy and his family live in poverty, which is only made more challenging when his father leaves for five months to search for a job somewhere else.

Thoughts: As the plain summary reveals, this film isn’t strongly plot driven, like most modern American films.  It’s one of those slower-paced episodic look-at-life sort of films, the sort you see when exploring older foreign films or indie films.  (Which is not to say the film is without a plot, only that the plot is more thematic in nature.  That is, it’s the themes that run through the various “episodes” that unite them.)  One particular theme is easy to pick up on: The film shows how mean-spiritedness can spread from one person to another as characters take out their frustrations on undeserving victims.  But this is always portrayed in a naturalistic distant non-judgmental fashion, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters even when their mean-spiritedness is aggravating.  And, of course, the story ends in naturalistic tragedy, not uncommon in these sorts of films.  The film is sorely in need of restoration, but after you get used to the old film artifacts (scratches and dust and shaky frames, etc.), it’s a pretty engaging film.  (At least, if you like these sort of slow-paced episodic films.)

Trivia: According to this article, Francois Truffaut said of the film: “I don’t want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands.”  Thankfully he didn’t remain a film critic.  Though I vaguely recall hearing on a DVD bonus feature that Truffaut didn’t like seeing people eat in films at all, so I guess people eating with their hands was extra torture for him?

Also, at least one kitten was harmed in the making of this film.  But don’t worry, the character who throws the animal gets her comeuppance!

Man of Tai Chi (2013)


Link: Man of Tai Chi

Summary: When a student of Tai Chi is recruited and paid by a mysterious man to fight seemingly random opponents, he finds the new source of income quite nice, until he realizes his boss also wants him to start killing his opponents.

Thoughts: The film featured some excellent fighting sequences, camera work, and cinematography.  The story itself was rather unexciting, but the first half, despite featuring many plot points that felt very forced, wasn’t that bad.  The plot developments of the second half were rather baffling, and when the villain’s plan is revealed near the film’s end, it’s hard to make much sense of it.  Overall, we have a film featuring some amazingly talented martial artists ruined by a problematic screenplay.

About: This film is Keanu Reeves’s directorial debut; he directed this film for a chance to allow talented stuntman Tiger Chen, who worked with Reeves on the Matrix films, to star in a film of his own.

Side By Side (2012)


Link: Side by Side

Summary: This documentary explores the emergence of digital film, as opposed to celluloid film, comparing their technologies’ histories, impact on the industry, and the variety of opinions surrounding them from some of the film industry’s most successful directors and cinematographers.

Thoughts: Overall, I thought this was a very interesting exploration of the subject.  I would’ve liked to have seen more examples of the differences two technologies, more demos, more inside looks at how filmmakers use the technologies differently (or similarly), while seeing less talking heads.  Talking heads are so boring; you could at least throw something in there for audiences to watch while listening to a voice-over.  I think the documentary gives both technologies a fair assessment; it doesn’t seem to try to put one on a higher pedestal.  Both technologies seem to have their advantages and disadvantages.  Most audiences probably won’t notice or care about the differences anyway; it’s the story that matters most.  (Personally, if I were a director, the advantages of digital surpass the advantages of celluloid, so that’s the direction I’d go.)

It was strange to see so many filmmakers disparaging 3D though.  I don’t understand what they dislike so much about it, especially when they talk about wanting their films to be projected onto a big screen to be immersive.  3D only helps with that!  And now that thick-rimmed glasses are hip again, 3D glasses are the bee’s knees!

Here’s an interesting excerpt from the bonus features:

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)


Summary: Presented as a series of three short stories with an overarching theme, this tells the story of two young lovers who’s connection to each other is strained by the distances of time and space as they grow older and lose touch.

Thoughts: After the first act, I didn’t much care for this film.  It seemed to be asking me to be empathetic with the main characters’ mutual love for each other, even though I didn’t know them at all as characters.  Of course I couldn’t empathize with them; I didn’t know them.  Their love for each other meant nothing to me.  It was too generic.

But over the course of the next two acts, I began to understand that this really isn’t so much a typical character-centered film.  This film is more about the ideas, the themes that carry through a series of vignettes.  We never really come to empathize with the characters for who they are.  In fact, they remain rather generic throughout all three acts.  But we do come to relate to the emotions they go through, the ideas their situations illustrate.  Those include the feelings of a relationship fading, the longing and searching, trying to recreate the experiences of that relationship, trying to find new beginnings, the realization that your desires may be forever unfulfilled, etc.  The theme of speed is comes a lot, how fast things are moving and its inevitability.  (The title comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms fall.)  In the end, though it’s far from a traditional sort of story-driven film, it is rather poetic.