Le quai des brumes (1938)

Le quai des brumes
Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Jacques Prévert based on the novel by Pierre Dumarchais
(number 265)

Here’s another film where I couldn’t tell what it was going to be based on the name. As it happens it’s a pre-World war two noir about an ex soldier, or rather, a deserter, who goes to a port city. He adopts a dog and falls in love with what I have to assume from her beret, perfect make up and fancy rain slicker trenchcoat is the Wrong Sort of Girl.

My copy of the film came with a disclaimer: “When war was declared in September 1939, the film was banned because it was judged ‘immoral, depressing and distressing for the young people.”

Studio Canal’s been around a long time if they made this too.

Jean: I get upset and you think I’ve been drinking. I haven’t. I just haven’t eaten for two days, there’s a sign on my stomach which says ‘cold storage’.

In general this is a melodrama. The story beats and character choices are hard to believe in, but it’s super entertaining all the same. It’s a beautifully shot piece and everyone is so damn handsome and pretty and softly lit. I was involved in the story line and although I generally predicted the twists it was still compelling.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely, particularly Jean and Nelly.

Bechdel test: The only woman is Nelly so no. Also she’s supposed to be only seventeen which makes all the stuff which happens regarding her love life pretty creepy. The actress looks to be in her thirties to me but that could be me misreading the style and the make up as being for an older woman. Anyway, she’s the prize everyone’s in love with and wants to win. Not exactly a deep character.

Best line:

Quart Vittel: What could be simpler than a tree?
Le peintre: A tree. But when I paint one, it sets everyone on edge. It’s because there’s someone or something hidden behind that tree. I can’t help painting what’s hidden behind things. To me a swimmer is already a drowned man.

(I also like that Jean brings it back later)

State of Mind: Enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Nice tight script and good callbacks to earlier things which are mentioned. Jean is like a thirties Kenneth Branagh and Nelly is a shockingly young character but the actress is wonderful, very compelling. I was just a bit worried about the dog being left on the ship but even that storyline was nicely resolved for me at the end so I was happy.

Watched movie count

Advertisements

First Blood (1982)

First Blood
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone based on the novel by David Morrell
(number 261)

Here’s what I thought Rambo was about: hard core action dude killing lots of people and surviving ridiculous odds. Here’s what it’s apparently actually about: a soldier with PTSD is abused by small town police and then hunted through the mountains as they use deadly force to try and subdue him. Hard core.

Here’s a genre of film I wasn’t exactly aware existed before I watched a few from this list: hard man solves random problems with violence. I’m looking at you Taxi Driver, Electra Glide in Blue… I guess Fight Club? In retrospect this isn’t a surprising discovery. I just hadn’t thought of it exactly in terms of it being its own genre. Certainly there’s slippage between this and crime/gangster/war/revenge movies but it clarified in this instance. There really isn’t much story here in First Blood beyond ‘they were awful to him, won’t let him get away, so he solves it with violence.’

It’s a bleak film, and I guess I was supposed to be getting excited and amped from the violence and the tense chase but mostly I found it desolate and depressing. It’s hard to imagine this film being made again now. It’d have to have a psychologist character being like ‘oh no, this will trigger his PTSD from that time in Vietnam where he was crucified’ and looking over the footage from the station and shaking their head. ‘You shouldn’t have come at him with that straight razor because it reminds him of the knife he was scarred with’.

Does it make me love the people? I dunno, I kind of liked the crappy misguided commanding officer Trautman. I mean. Horrible person but played with a certain charisma. I always like watching Brian Dennehy but I don’t think his character added much to the general understanding of the human condition. He was mostly just playing a bad old Brian Dennehy character. The young red haired cop at the start who had some vague moral compass was nice but he didn’t ever manage to change the course of the action so felt a bit pointless.

The level which I empathised with Rambo is probably the key to what the movie is showing us. I understood how he could get to the place where he felt like nothing could go right. Where his only option was to lash out. And I wanted everyone to just back the hell off and let him run away into the mountains. So, there’s that.

Bechdel test: women? I’ve never heard of her.

Best line:

Teasle: Whatever possessed God in heaven to make a man like Rambo?
Trautman: God didn’t make Rambo, I made him!

State of Mind: The mountain landscapes are pretty and the cliffs and the stunts etc are all well done. It’s competently acted and easy to follow. But man, it’s bleak. I don’t think this is one I’d watch again and I have no interest in the following ones which just seem to be ‘let’s put him in more and more stressful situations until he goes bezerk again’. Maybe it’s just me, I’m not into that.

Watched movie count

Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Sophie’s Choice
Directed by Alan Pakula
Written by Alan Pakula based on the novel by William Styron
(number 150)

This movie feels very much like a Woody Allen movie. The setting of fifties Brooklyn, the bright colour palette, the voiceover, the focus on the male character’s experience of women’s lived stories…

This movie is like it’s in two parts. The start of it is sort of fun, sort of the set up to what seems to be a romance between a young Southern writer and an older couple. But then it gets very real with all the memories from the second world war, and the things that Sophie has gone through. Nathan’s intense obsession with the Nazis and the impact Hitler had.

No, it’s three parts with the extensive flashback to Auschwitz that Sophie gets to narrate herself. But then it goes back to Stingo’s pov and the revelations about Nathan and his actual state of mind. It’s a twisty story and one that I didn’t predict except for of course, the choice. I knew it was coming, and I knew she must’ve made it. It didn’t make the scene any easier to watch. It’s brutal, truly brutal with Meryl Streep acting the crap out of the horror and the child screaming and the heartlessness of the Nazi officer. I knew it was coming and I still cried like it was a surprise. Urgh.

Does it make me love the people? I don’t know. They’re all a bit erratic and annoying to be truly loveable but they are realistic. I guess I love Sophie and Nathan. Maybe because I’m pretty convinced Stingo does and the movie’s so close to his point of view.

Bechdel test: There’s Sophie, there’s Yetta, there’s Leslie, but they only speak to men. Although Sophie is the title character, and the glue between Stingo and Nathan, the story isn’t about her. It’s about how Stingo feels about what he learns about her. It’s a subtle difference, and it’s not one I’m sure I’d recognise before watching so many of the movies in this list.

Best line:

Is this queer coding or what? ” How could I have failed to have the most helpless crush on such a generous mind and life-enlarging mentor. Nathan was utterly, fatally glamorous.”

State of Mind: Heartbreaking, and I’m not sure really if it’s a useful, insightful film or just leveraging the holocaust to make a dramatic tear jerker of a movie. It didn’t do what Schindler’s List does and make you see the raw horror of the mistreatment of humans. It didn’t fill you with the determination that this can never happen again, it was just a small story about three people. I don’t know. It’s not one I’ll watch again. It’s brilliantly acted by Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep but… yeah I’m not sure.

Watched movie count

Ninotchka (1939)


Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch based on a story by Melchior Lengyel.
(number 264)

So often with these titles I’m not sure if I’m in for a dreary historical drama, a war film full of atrocities or a light hearted romantic comedy. It’s always a pleasure when it turns out to be the last. Ninotchka is a strange, pre world war 2 set movie where a serious Russian woman finds herself entangled with a passionate and emotional French man. It’s very sweet actually and I’m sure this is one of the roles which made Greta Garbo such a huge star. That iciness, the soft purr of her voice.

She’s an amazing character, analysing and shutting things down. Totally nihilistic, especially when speaking of the Polish Lancer she dispatched on the battlefield. She’s brilliant, worth watching the movie just for her.

Leon: Ninotchka, tell me, you’re so expert on things, can it be that I’m falling in love with you?
Ninotchka: Why must you bring in wrong values? Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological or, shall we say, chemical process. A lot of nonsense is talked and written about it.
Leon: Oh, I see. What do you use instead?
Ninotchka: I acknowledge the existence of a natural impulse – common to all.
Leon: What can I possibly do to encourage such an impulse in you?
Ninotchka: You don’t have to do a thing. Chemically, we’re already quite sympathetic.

The movie is partially about Ninotchka being seduced by the luxuries that Leon represents, and partially about her getting to know herself as a woman with emotions and desires. There’s a standard progression from the buttoned down, fully covered outfits she starts with into the shoulder revealing diaphanous gown and jewels. The ugly duckling makeover, but it’s not actually the point of the film. The divide comes from Ninotchka’s need to serve her country, and how it contrasts with her own personal wants.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking when she recieves a letter from Leon in Moscow, and the entire thing has been censored.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely, I love all the comrades Ninotchka is sent to bring home, I love her, I love her Russian roommates and of course Leon as well. It’s a charmer of a film, sweet and fun and romantic. It also makes me want to visit Paris some.

Bechdel test: Yes, she has a few conversations with the Grand Duchess Swana about how Ninotchka should leave Paris and various jealousies. Then a long extended scene back in Moscow with her roommate Anna about her fancy French underwear and the stir it caused among the local women and what was Paris like? and the fashion? and actually can Anna have the silky negligee because she’s about to be married? It’s a lovely scene actually.

Best line:

Ninotchka: Must you flirt?
Leon: Well, I don’t have to, but I find it natural.
Ninotchka: Suppress it.

State of Mind: Highly recommend this film, it’s a sweet, charming romance. It’s another in the list of ‘romantic comedies are acceptable if they’re old enough’ archives, but hey. It was an enjoyable, fun watch and I’m likely to watch it again at some stage. Plus, now I understand the appeal of Garbo.

Watched movie count

Darling (1965)

Darling
Directed by John Schlesinger
Written by Frederic Raphael
(number 260)

I had no idea what this was going in. In actuality it’s a movie about a woman, a model, who’s absolutely determined to get ahead in her career. She does this in a string of love affairs, being rather ruthless about cheating on her partners, moving around and up and ignoring her own feelings.

Diana: Oh it should be so easy to happy, shouldn’t it? It should be the easiest thing in the world. I wonder why it isn’t?

It’s an amazing time capsule of the sixties. In black and white but utterly sparking with kitten heels, go go dresses, fashionable suits and beehives. Julie Christie is charming as Diana, bored to death of things staying the same for more than five minutes, beautiful and with that gorgeous low voice.

Homosexuals exist in this movie! They’re creepy ! But they’re there! Well. The creepy ones are in Paris. There’s a very nice gay photographer in Italy who’s actually a decent person so that’s good. Apparently no homosexuals in London though.

And the french have whacky parties where everyone strips and puts on other people’s clothing and then they all are horrid to each other. Oh those swinging sixties. I have no context for if this is realistic for the society at the time.

Does it make me love the people? This is a tough one, really. I mean I’m definitely on Diana’s side, but she’s also a bit of a jerk. Like, it’s hard to really worry about her or hope that she finds happiness. I really don’t like Robert, which is I think, a lot of the point of him. He’s an asshat, but his actions do make sense after what she’s done to him. But I don’t like him. The other men (maybe aside from Miles) are barely present much of the time – which I’m sure is an intention of the script.

Bechdel test: Yes, a couple of times. Although mostly what we see is Diane talking to men, there are a couple of scenes. When she’s in the baby shop with her friend and she speaks to other named women at a dinner party.
Best line:

Diane: Do you have parents? I can’t imagine you with parents.
Miles: I do, two of them.
D: Imagine if.. it took three
M: it took three?
D: sexes. To make a child.

State of Mind: I did get bored part way through. I feel like there’s an edited version one could make, cutting out 30 or 45 mins and it’d be tight and entertaining. As it is I like as a time capsule, and it’s so refreshing to have a movie off this list which is entirely about a woman and her story. I’m not sure about if I’d watch it again, the ending is not exactly a happy one and it’s a little too long, but overall an interesting film.

Watched movie count

Avatar (2009)

Avatar
Directed and written by James Cameron
(number 145)

I remember when I first saw this movie… there was so much hype around it, so much talk. I managed to avoid spoilers, went to see it at the Reading Courtenay Central 3D cinema and I was blown away by how beautiful it was and how well the 3D is used. I remember being quite disconcerted coming out of it that I could walk on the ground and it didn’t light up in beautiful colours. I also remember a few of the people I saw it with were complaining about headaches and eyestrain. It was a divisive movie, mostly I think of it as Fern Gully in space. The Pocahontas parallels are very clear as well, with the ‘native girl’ showing the ‘white saviour’ what nature is about and how it’s all interconnected, etc.

Unsure why this is so high up on the list… I mean, it is beautiful and groundbreaking in terms of visuals, effects and integration of 3D but there is so much missing in the film. Like… heart. It’s pretending to have heart, but I don’t feel it when I watch it. I see the beauty no problem at all.

One thing that really stood out as something that bugged me on this watch through was that the Na’vi are a patriarchal society. There’s really no supportable reason to have them organised that way. The feminine Na’vi are clearly as strong and vicious as the masculine ones, so you can’t argue like with humans that the men are the better hunters therefore the protectors. (Which isn’t even a particularly true or good reason but still.)

They don’t have a reason to be patriarchal, except for lazy writing so that we as viewers can go ‘oh they’re just like primitive us’ and feel sympathy. Show me a truly alien society, like the ones which morph from mammal-ish to trees in Speaker of the Dead*, or just… have a society where gender isn’t an issue at all, or where there is no gender to the aliens or… just freaking anything aside from another patriarchal society where the man gets to choose the woman once he’s proved himself worthy. (Vomit)

In fact with the importance of the Gaia substitute/ World tree /Earth mother goddess you’d think it’d make logical sense for it to be a matriarchal society.

I find the first half of the movie fine, a bit stupid but watchable, interesting enough. The world building makes engaging watching and getting to know the characters. Once the movie becomes one big war of guns vs alien creatures I find it harder to pay attention or to care particularly. I’m well aware of how little patience I have for action sequences now, and it makes me leery of a lot of the movies still to go on the list…

I’m also getting pretty weary of man- centric movies, where all the characters who matter are men – where the story is about his experiences with the world and women are an afterthought. I think it’s a real flaw with this top 500 list actually, that it’s so heavily weighted towards men’s stories – it’s a predictable flaw, given the magazine I got the list from and let’s face it, movie making in general.

Does it make me love the people? Eh. I guess yeah, I care about the scientists – Grace and Norm, and Trudy’s cool even though I’m generally pretty afraid of Michelle Rodriguez. Sam Worthington does a pretty okay job as Jake, he’s likeable enough… but I get so bugged by the ‘white saviour’ storyline, it’s so been done before and is no longer interesting to me.

Bechdel test: We have Ney’tiri, Grace and the excellent Trudy but they only talk to Jake or to other men, never to each other.

Best line:

Neytiri: Don’t thank. You don’t thank for this! This is sad. Very sad only.
Jake Sully: Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry.
Neytiri: All this is your fault. They did not need to die.
Jake Sully: My fault? They attacked me! How am I the bad guy?
Neytiri: Your fault! Your fault.
Jake Sully: Easy. Easy…
Neytiri: You are like a baby. Making noise, don’t know what to do.

State of Mind: Thank goodness that’s over.

Watched movie count

*Excellent book by Orson Scott Card, sequel to Ender’s Game

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Toy Story 2
Directed by John Lasseter, Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich
Written by the above and a bunch more people as well. Gotta love these committees of writers.
(number 187)

Unlike the first movie which is about dealing with change and accepting others, Toy Story 2 is about growing older and moving on (or refusing to). At the start Woody has a crisis over a ripped arm and Andy’s mother saying that toys don’t last forever. He imagines Andy giving him up and vanishing into a trash can. The allegory with Wheezy is very close to the whole putting a loved one into an old folks home kind of thing.

When he is stolen by Al for a collection he initially does try to run home all the same, but it’s easy enough for Jessie and Stinky Pete to convince him that there’s another possible life for him, now that he’s past his best. The character study of Jessie and Pete is pretty fascinating actually. She has claustrophobia and something like bipolar as well, she has a very intense grin and very wide eyes. Pete is, of course, extremely disturbed by the years he’s spent sitting in his box, watching other toys get purchased.

Bullseye is a silent toy, which is kind of unusual, all the other animal toys can speak, but I guess it simplifies the script some. The relationship of Woody to Jessie and Bullseye is a little disturbing, because he’s the central character in their mythos and also in the movie it kind of reads like obsessive hero worship. They only exist around him, which… makes sense in terms of them as toys but less so in terms of characters.

It’s a reversal of the first plot of Woody trying to bring Buzz back. Instead Buzz is leading some of the other toys to rescue Woody. I remember seeing this for the first time and loving the sequence when they’re crossing the road under road cones.

I still love the sequence of Woody getting ‘cleaned’, it’s sad – because the name on the bottom of his boot gets removed, but it’s a very satisfying wee bit anyway. Something about watching a job well done, watching something get fixed and cleaned, it’s nice to watch.

There’s a little nightmare moment in the toy store when Buzz is attacked in the Buzz Lightyear aisle and forced into a box. The camera zooms out, showing him just one amongst hundreds of identical toys, screaming for help with no way of getting himself free. If that’s not horror then I dunno what is.

I know Jessie’s song ‘when she loved me’ is about a girl and her doll but the lyrics aren’t specific, it could work very well as a song about a lesbian break up. The song has a horribly sad feel to it, about endings and loving someone even when they’ve moved on. Jessie is left by the side of the road, watching in horror as Emily drives away. It’s a heart tearing moment of guilt, because haven’t we all had precious toys that we have let go of as we grew? What if all of them felt that way?

I feel like they were stretching a bit far when it comes to the scope of the climax and the action sequence with the plane. I mean, it’s a movie about toys which walk and talk but I feel like it stretches credibility to have them driving and diving out of a plane’s cargo hold. It’s a small complaint though, especially when the end is so sweet.

Does it make me love the people?

Bechdel test: In this installment we have Jessie, Bo Peep and Mrs Potato Head, then Tour Guide Barbie but at no point do they talk to each other. There are also human girls and Andy’s mom but they again, only talk to men.

Best line:

It’s gotta be this, right?

Emperor Zurg: Surrender, Buzz Lightyear. *I* have won.
Buzz Lightyear: I’ll never give in. You killed my father!
Emperor Zurg: No, Buzz. I *am* your father!
Buzz Lightyear: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

State of Mind: Lovely movie. Still makes me cry every time. And feel guilty about my old toys. And want to hug them. And my news ones. Emotions. (PS. you’ll have to wait ages for my review of Toy Story 3 due to its spot on the list.)

Toy Story

Watched movie count