19 Movies of Summer

Following the Space Film Festival two months ago, my film viewing rate has dropped dramatically. Alas, it was a magical crevice in the everyday routine. Stuck in a land of no opportunities, I gladly embraced the position of laying back and watching movie-after-movie. But, once I got back, the need to do everything got the better of me, and film-watching sunk back to being one of the many activities I participate in. Hence, my crop since returning is a mere 19 movies. However, this bunch includes a good amount of exceptional and special movies. Also, this time I do not have Schuster to disturb my poetic flow, which must result in a better post!

So, without further ado…. the Summer Film Trinkle:

1. 3-Iron (South Korea, 2004)

A common pitfall of art-house cinema is charlatanry. This usually happens when the filmmaker has a feeling, a raw concept in mind, but he just can’t perceive how to turn it into a solid story. It floats formless in his head, and can’t get out. This is the place to give up the project, and wait for a burst of inspiration. However, sometimes the filmmaker just can’t give up his idea and decides to go along with it, not knowing where he wants to go with it. This is what gave us the brilliance of Adaptation, but there Kaufman managed to turn the writer’s block around against itself. Usually, the result is much more offensive to the intelligence, and so it is with Ki-duk Kim’s 3-Iron.

Ki-duk Kim had an idea for a movie about an enigmatic youth who breaks into people’s houses simply to stay there and empathize with them. He couldn’t think up of anything more, but decided to go along with it anyway. The result is this movie, where the hero has no personality, motives or conflict. How are we, as audience, supposed to care? There is absolutely nothing going on, except for a raw idea buried somewhere under 90 minutes of cinema which tries to substitute content for pseudo-metaphors and pseudo-meanings.

Of course, the artsy audience did take the bait, and the movie became a hit in the Venice Film Festival. Unfortunately, charlatanry is a sin of art-house cinema aficionados as well. 3.0.

2. Loners (Czech Republic, 2000)

An example of an absolute IMDB-based gamble gone wrong. Totally pointless. 4.0.

3. Happiness (USA, 1998)

I really liked the feel of this movie, yet, I felt that it dragged on for too long. Not because of the slow pace of the scenes, which I think was very appropriate for the theme and subject. Rather, there were 2 or 3 scenes to cut which would make it a much tighter feature film at somewhere below 120 minutes. It is enjoyable, nevertheless. 7.5.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (USA, 2012)

Christopher Nolan is a master of the art of cinema. He can do just do no wrong. His vision is so profound, and his sense of filmmaking so keen, that even this flawed movie is truly great and enjoyable. There are many problems with the third part of his trilogy – mainly the heavy leaning on comic hero mythology (Batman overpowering the inescapable prison), and the great plot resemblance with the first movie. On the other hand, let’s remember that this is the final part of a big blockbuster trio. Whereas the second of the bunch can allow itself to take a left and end in a bitter manner (see: The Empire Strikes Back), the final part has to deliver the big payoff. This means constraints on the storytelling, and Nolan handles them perfectly. The Dark Knight Rises has the feeling of a frickin’ huge movie. This is the sort of flick to see in a theatre. The viewer feels that he sees something big, a notable event. This is the fucking ending of the new Batman trilogy, not another random summer’s season low-budget slasher. Two thumbs up for fulfilling this very difficult expectation. In addition, Tom Hardy as Bane is a top-notch villain, and manages to follow in the huge footsteps of Heath Ledger’s Joker in an exceptional manner. 8.5.

5. Repulsion (UK, 1965)

Repulsion follows the way of a true horror movie: suspense over surprise. It does it well, but seeing it, too many moments out of The Shining and Black Swan reinstated in my mind. The techniques of Repulsion have been refined and perfected, and are better used in new movies. Repulsion is still interesting and fun, but its full power has diminished since its release. 7.0.

6. Three Colors Trilogy (Poland/France)

Me and the members of our self-proclaimed Film Club have decided to watch the entire trilogy in a single-day marathon. I felt many things, but most of them were specific for each movie. I think calling these three movies a trilogy is imposturous. They are similar in style, themes and some motifs, but so are different movies by many directors. Just as well, Tarantino’s first three pictures can be called a trilogy. Beyond the resemblance, I didn’t think that the movies complement each other in a particular way, or build to a greater whole (unlike Tarantino’s two volumes of Kill Bill). This lead to me (again) feeling that a false artistic element has been put on merely for effect. However, in this case, the movies do hold up for themselves.

Blue (1993)

This is my favorite of the three. Binoche is a perfect lead for an engrossing story about the way we deal with psychological traumas. It goes very deep in the study of human behavior under extreme conditions. It stirred many thoughts in me, and I had a pleasure analyzing the movie while and after it lasted. 8.0.

White (1994)

I liked this black comedy less immediately after watching it, but it grew on me with time. At first I felt that the ending is not justified due to the characters’ presentation, but later I realized that it fits perfectly with the entire film: the presentation of real love as such that is born out of conflict, struggle and punishment. 7.5.

Red (1994)

Red is usually regarded as the superior of the three movies, but I felt the opposite. It is good and intriguing, but nothing really exceptional happens. I felt that the older-man younger-woman non-romantic spot was already occupied in my heart by Lost in Translation, and Red didn’t quite make a strong impact on me. 7.0.

7. Love and Death (USA, 1975)

I am only partially familiar with the very long filmography of Woody Allen. Three months ago I have already felt myself satisfied with the crop of Allen’s works I had seen, having gone through his most acclaimed works. However, since, I have discovered the amazing Purple Rose of Cairo, and now this movie as well. It makes me wonder how many more gems by Woody I have decided so recklessly to push down in my to-watch list.

Love and Death was made in the same year as The Holy Grail, and they share more than that. Woody’s goofball routine uses more dialogue, although slapstick gets its share as well. This film is just hilarious, especially for a person who has a basic familiarity with Russian culture. Diane Keaton blew me away with a pure comedic act I didn’t imagine she had in her. She is pure gold here.

Allen’s movies have an additional benefit for avid film-buffs: they reward those viewers who can understand the references. Love and Death builds directly on several key moments in cinema history, and really makes me want to broaden my cinematic basis.

8. No Man’s Land (Bosnia, 2001)

I have watched this movie before, and remembered it more outright funny. Despite the lack of one-liners, there is still plenty of dry and black humor here. I love a work which manages to create a real sense of bitter-sweetness – one of the most unique of human feelings. There is plenty of it in this film’s presentation of modern day’s violent conflicts. 8.0.

9. Oldboy (South Korea, 2003)

This is my 5th viewing (I think) of my favorite movie. Going through it so many times allowed me to concentrate and give high attention to details. The result is a full post I will come up with some time soon. Until then – watch it! 10.0.

10. The Producers (USA, 1968)

Funny!!! Crazy, insane, hilarious and joyfully offensive fun. Over-the-top comedies risk falling apart into silliness, but Mel Brooks avoids that. Watch it as soon as possible. 8.5.

11. Grave of the Fireflies (Japan, 1988)

Watching this Japanese animation, I felt I have already seen these scenes in two movies which have done it better: Life is Beautiful and The Pianist. This dampened the emotional effect of the movie for me. It is good, but it has simply been outdone since its release. Also, I didn’t feel the animation added a lot. There was only one truly surrealistic scene (the first bombing) where it added to the feel, but that’s it. 7.0.

12. Mary and Max (Australia, 2009)

Ah, I just enjoy animation so much more when it doesn’t come from the States. The theme of Mary and Max could easily appear in a Pixar feature, but it would have lost all of its witty edge. In addition, the unique simplistic visual style is so much more interesting. There are lots of laughs in this movie, I highly recommend it whether you are or aren’t a fan of animation. 8.0.

13. Incendies (Canada, 2010)

The story of this movie doesn’t evolve naturally. Rather, there were several places in the storyline which were decided upon in advance, and the plot between them was injected artificially. It is a pity, because I was intrigued by the beginning of the movie. But, as it proceeded, I felt the events unfolding are more and more unlikely, and the movie lost credibility. 6.5.

14. It Might Get Loud (USA, 2008)

This movie doesn’t come to question or explore, as it is made through the eyes of an obvious fan, who is fascinated with the guitar and the culture surrounding it. It works tremendously well – showing that a guitar by itself is merely a physical device, but joined with a guitarist it has personality and character. Just like body and soul. However, I do think you must have strong feelings towards music to enjoy it. I do, and I did. 8.0.

15. Double Indemnity (USA, 1944)

Normally, I find it difficult to enjoy old American classics because they have been stretched so-thin by constant re-use of their elements. Nevertheless, I found Double Indemnity very interesting due to the exceptional usage of film noir’s greatest trait: sharp dialogue by edgy characters. The heroes of Double Indemnity have hot back-and-forth exchanges, and viewing it I wished I could talk like that. 8.0.

16. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (USA, 1964)

This is a true classic, and it is far from the first time I see it. The War Room scenes are the best satire done to this date. What I noted especially this time is how difficult Peter Seller’s performance of Dr. Strangelove is. Imagine yourself how tough it is to simultaneously control your body and talk that way, and manage to look funny instead of pathetic. One of the special things in the works of Kubrick is that they are so special that they just can’t be ripped off. No filmmaker since has implemented a Kubrick element better than the master himself. This makes his films stand the test of time, and make them as enjoyable today as tens of years ago. Dr. Strangelove isn’t likely to become dated any time soon. 9.0.

17. Funny Games (Austria, 1997)

Oh, what a special piece. Funny Games goes into a direct interaction with the audience, whether at the moments the fourth wall is on or off. It throws ugly truths in our faces – we love violence in movies. We don’t want Deus Ex Machinas to save the good guys. We want to be shocked. This film proves its claims simply by rolling on as you sit and watch it. This is a tremendous exercise in meta-filmmaking. To top it all, Arno Frisch is a true chilling and evil villain, not a caricature but a real inhuman beast directly out of everyday news. 8.5.

18. Waltz With Bashir (Israel, 2008)

When attempting to objectively evaluate a movie, it is difficult to set aside personal views and beliefs. Being generally right-winged, I’ve had this challenge a lot, seeing as most art comes from the opposite side of the fence. I really do try in such cases to ignore my own opinions, and accept the movie’s premises. Each movie is allowed to set its own laws of the universe, with its own axioms. Later, however, it must abide to them and be true to itself. Waltz With Bashir doesn’t do it. It is a shame, because it is an exceptional movie from a filmmaking point-of-view. The decision to go for an ‘animated documentary’ is brilliant, because the first hour is about memories. Memories are a fantasy world, which are perfectly illustrated without physical restrictions, in dreamlike animation. The personal story of Folman really grabs the viewer. It made me interested, despite supposedly opposing opinions. However, after one hour, Folman decides to turn the film around. Having built up empathy with his own personal story, he then decides to shove a 10-inch schlong of national self-flogging. Gone are the memories, and instead of them is an animated “60 Minutes” style documentary, full of partial recitation of events turned into proclamations and accusations. And so the truth appears – the beginning of the movie is merely a setup to shoot upon the viewer its agenda. It doesn’t stay true to itself, and it turns on the viewer. The movie is good, it just should have been much better. 7.5.

19. For a Few Dollars More (Italy, 1965)

Enjoyable western, with plenty of coolness. However, it isn’t great in any way, and stands nowhere near The Good, the Bad and the Ugly7.0.

 

To conclude it all: I am on holiday now, and expect to see plenty of additional movies. I feel that the more I watch, the more my fascination with cinema increases. Expect two more posts about film soon!

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