Yet again I am struggling to find the time to respond in length and detail on the films I am watching. As the year is drawing to a close, I thought it might be useful to offer another round up of recent films I have watched on DVD and Blu-ray. Last year I didn't get a chance to post an end of year list but I am hoping to make amends for that this time round, perhaps in the form of a video essay (if I get the time).
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen, 2011, Spain/USA) - The opening montage brought back wonderful memories of Manhattan but it also swept me away as it plugged into my romantic affections and love of Paris. The montage of Paris is one of the best moments of 2011 and the film is one of Woody Allen’s finest in years, despite the fact that it is hopelessly romantic in every possible way about modern relationships. The secret to this film’s success belongs in director Woody Allen’s fondness for old Hollywood. It is also a very magical work that recalls The Purple Rose of Cairo.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Blu-ray) (Dir. Coens, 1998, USA/UK) - This never gets old. Repeat viewings recommended. Looks and sounds even better in Blu-ray, not that it really makes a difference to the brilliant comedic writing and performances on display. The dude abides.
LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2011, USA) - Apparently Martin Scorsese directed this documentary on George Harrison but I felt it missed the mark in many ways. Harrison was undoubtedly a key figure but I’m not so sure if I found his life that interesting. Using interviews and archive footage, Scorsese leaves no stone unturned but the narrative is somewhat overworked and too long. Unfortunately, the material needed some brutal editorial decisions and it is easy to see that Scorsese was carried away the passion he felt for Harrison and his music. Unlike the brilliant No Direction Home, which challenged many of my perceptions of Dylan, the same cannot be said for Living in the Material World, which left me unconverted by the end.
SUBMARINE (Dir. Richard Ayoade, 2010, UK/USA) - Both Submarine and This is England end with a sequence on the beach. Both films are also interested in youth identity and the coming of age narrative. Submarine takes an entirely different approach to Meadow’s film but it is wonderfully evocative in its homage to the tricks of the French nouvelle vague. Ayoade’s bittersweet love story makes him one to watch in terms of British cinema.
FALLING DOWN (Blu-ray) (Dir. Joel Schumacher, 1993, USA) - I revisited this one purely because it’s a film that has stuck out for me over the years. The theme of white middle class angst is not unfamiliar to American cinema and D-Fens, played by Michael Douglas, may recall Travis Bickle but he is a figure lurking in the midst of many western societies today. Key to the ideological fervour of Falling Down is the slogan ‘not economically viable’, which still makes it a prescient film given the recession today. Falling Down is an American film that has a rich subtext to its ideological agenda. In an interview that comes on the disc Douglas says that it would be impossible to get a studio to finance such a film today. He might have a point given the current apolitical state of American cinema.
COHEN & TATE (Dir. Eric Red, 1988, USA) - A violent, noir that works perfectly with the pairing of Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin. Written and directed by Eric Red who wrote the scripts to Blue Steel, The Hitcher and Near Dark. What makes this film of particular interest is the iconography of the road movie.
TROUBLE IN MIND (Dir. Alan Rudolph, 1985, USA) - A neo noir set in the future. Directed by Alan Rudolph and starring Kris Kristofferson, the narrative is conventional but the notable visual style makes this an idiosyncratic work. What kept my interest other than Kristofferson was ultimately the melancholic mood sustained throughout by the emphasis on classical noir themes like fate, death and the city.
BLACKTHORN (Dir. Mateo Gil, 2011, Spain/USA/Bolivia/France) - What if Butch Cassidy wasn’t killed and lived a reclusive second life in the mountains of Bolivia? Well, this is exactly what director Mateo Gil’s film Blackthorn proposes with the aging Butch, played magnificently by Sam Shepherd. Mateo Gil wrote the screenplays for Spanish films including Open Your Eyes and Tesis (both directed by Amenabar). Blackthorn is a confidently directed film and it works best as a character study of the aging outlaw. The western genre has always proven to be perfect for exploring the notion of growing old. What really caught my eye was the stunning cinematography – this gem of a western features some of the most beautiful imagery of the year.
SHAGHIRD / DISCIPLE (Dir. Tigmanshu Dhulia, 2011, India) - A largely perfunctory crime thriller, Shaghird is salvaged by a surprisingly wry finale in which the cop, played by Nan Patekar, comes face to face with the elemental greed inherent within most people. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia has the potential to emerge as one of Indian cinema’s most intelligent genre filmmakers.
THE OUTSIDERS (Dir. Coppola, 1983, USA) - Filmed with a wide-eyed affection for the classic teen rebellion films of the 1950s, Coppola’s adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s novel is very ordinary and somewhat underwhelming if one compares it to the masterful Rumble Fish. Although it is clear to see differences in tone and style between the two films, The Outsiders lacks a convincing emotional core.
BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (Dir. Liz Garbus, 2011, USA) - One of the year’s best documentaries. Bobby Fischer was a genius, icon, anti-Semite and a troubled figure in the chess world. Utilising a tragic downward spiral for the narrative, the documentary humanises a seemingly impenetrable figure to the changing ideological backdrop of world politics. Additionally, producer-director Liz Garbus is one of documentaries unsung heroes.
THE LION KING (Blu-ray) (Dir. Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994, USA) - A re-working of Hamlet that saw Disney regaining its creative mojo, The Lion King is extraordinarily conservative and formulaic but its charm comes largely from its attempts to bring the epic genre to the animated form.
MY BROTHER'S WEDDING (Dir. Charles Burnett, 1983, USA) - Charles Burnett’s follow up to his masterpiece Killer of Sheep (1977) is a funny and observational study of class in the milieu of the Los Angeles African American community. Thankfully Burnett’s work has been saved from the dustbin of American independent cinema and many of his films underline a distinctive social realist style that only a handful of black filmmakers can call their own. It is so tragic that Burnett was never allowed to work consistently as he was robbed of his potential.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Blu-ray) (Dir. Sergio Leone, 1968, USA/Italy) - ‘You brought two too many.’ – Harmonica (Charles Bronson)
BOL / SPEAK (Dir. Shoaib Mansoor, 2011, Pakistan) - Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor’s study of contemporary Pakistani society is a savage melodrama that indicts religious patriarchy and hypocrisy as the root causes of sexual and gender discrimination. Bol deserves to find a wider audience and marks out Mansoor as one of the few cinematic voices who is not afraid of speaking out against the state of society within the confines of the mainstream melodrama.
DEEP END (Blu-ray) (Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970, UK/West Germany) - A film very much of its time, Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski brings the eye of an outsider to London at the end of the swinging sixties and similarly like Polanski offers a compelling psychological foray into sexual adolescence. Deep End is bold, daring and iconoclastic filmmaking. This BFI release comes highly recommended.
MEEK'S CUTOFF (Blu-ray) (Dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2010, USA) - Is this the closest we are likely to get to a neo realist western?
RED STATE (Dir. Kevin Smith, 2011, USA) - Although I like Clerks, the rest of Kevin Smith’s films I don’t really appreciate because they seem infected by an over emphasis on the written word. He has managed to etch out a career for himself by extending the universe of Clerks so it has taken on a life of its own through the Internet. In many ways, Red State is one of his best films. A polemical response to rise of Christian fundamentalism in America, Red State fuses horror with social realism to create a narrative that references most explicitly the Waco siege of 1993 that resulted in the death of 79 people. Smith made Red State outside the normal Hollywood system and shows clearly in his uncompromising ending.
OUR HOSPITALITY (Dir. Buster Keaton, 1923, USA) - Keaton’s masterpiece (one of many I suppose) blew me away in its use of sheer pantomime and artistry. It’s simply genius stuff and one of the most innovative films ever made.
THE FUGITIVE KIND (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1959, USA) - Lumet’s film is an odd mix of southern Gothic traditions and Hollywood melodrama. Brando’s in fine form as the troublesome drifter while Anna Magnani appears totally out of place as the tormented housewife. One of Lumet’s early films, The Fugitive Kind fails to escape its theatrical origins but Brando’s magnetic screen presence delights.