Monday, June 30, 2014

Wrapping it up: June

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. On to the movies of then...


United 93(2006): The fact that this was the earliest Best Director nominated film I had not seen proved to be one final push I needed to check this off my watch list and if I wasn't a fan of Greengrass' direction after Captain Phillips(2013) last year, I certainly am now. People usually call The Social Network(2010) a real 'Director's film' and while I love absolutely everything about TSN, if you ask me - I would point you to this one! And hey, Olivia Thirby, was that... you?

Mutiny on the Bounty(1935): When it comes to films based on real life events, I have special respect for those who dare to show things like they were rather than dramatizing them to land more punch.This film deserves that. They easily could have dramatized actually mutiny much more or cut aftermath of it. Charles Laughton deserves special mention for his amazing performance as Captain Bligh. But what I really want to know about it is this - How does a film win Best picture and nothing else?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962): Off course I had heard quite a lot about rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis which gave all the more dimensions to this film and knew few things about Crawford because of some references to Mommie Dearest(1981) but this is a first movie I have seen her in. As good as she is in this, it was all about Bette Davis though. I have seen her in few other films and she is always good but here she is crazy good. And I never saw final reveal coming which adds so much to whole story.

Atlantic City(1980): So I had never seen a Louis Malle film before in my life and then I saw two in a week. This was first of the two. Burt Lancaster, in whichever role and in whichever film I have seen him in, has always stolen a film for me. Once again, he was as clinical as ever though this time Susan Sarandon was able to match him. I always forget how good an actress she is until I see her in one.

Au revoir, les enfants(1987): Second of Malle double feature and this month's Blind Spot. Malle's treatment of this film is not what you might expect from a movie on such topic. We are more used to sensory overloads that attack you from every possible angle and make you cry bucketful. Malle underplays every single scene in this film and still makes it equally devastating by the end. And very young Irene Jacob pops up which is never a bad thing. More here.

Bloody Sunday(2002): Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle gets all the credit for this one though me having seen United 93 this month and having loved it played a part in it as well. I was quite eager to get to another of Greengrass' work and his post gave me the right push. I feel like I am doing a disservice to many fantastic actors in Greengrass' films because they do a great job of portraying his vision with authenticity but once again, I think it is his direction that shines the most here.

25th Hour(2002): So Spike Lee can make a movie without bringing racial elements into it after all. I know there is Inside Man(2006) as well and then last year's Oldboy(2013) but this one is far better than either of them. In fact, this might be my favourite of his though I have hardly seen about 5. Also, I never knew David Benioff had any sort of writing career before GoT. I say this because screenplay was one of the stronger suits of this film. And I can not not mention Barry Pepper. He was a beast!

The Queen(2006): As I have explained my situation with getting through the rest of Best Picture winners before, I have also shortlisted 5 films that were nominated for Best Picture in last 15 years that I haven't seen. For some reason, getting through this list isn't much different and I thank God, rather I thank Helen Mirren, for not making this any worse. She was absolutely exquisite in that role though I was rather surprised by the time period Frears chose to highlight Queen Elizabeth.

Blazing Saddles(1974): When I was 9, I watched certain western comedy which, by now, I only remember bits and pieces of. For the past few years, I have been trying to figure out which one was it and my search for it brought me to this one this month. Well, it wasn't the one I was looking for but at least it was a good western comedy. Last 15 minutes of it were a bit too much for me but that is the risk you have to take with comedies. You never know what will stick. And I really enjoyed rest of it to hold any serious grudge against it.

Key Largo(1948): I have been holding this one off for far too long. John Huston at the helm, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall with him. In addition, Edward G. Robinson whom, I will be honest, I have not seen except in Double Indemnity(1944). What's not to like? It is a John Huston film all right and all the key players are good at their jobs but it was Edward G. Robinson who took the cake. I loved his viciousness of manner and calmness of demeanor and effortless transition from one to another.

The Grand Budapest Hotel(2014): It was like some strange mixture of live action and stop motion which probably would have looked much better if it was either of the two all the way through. It was all pretty and sweet and cute, even most of the cameos were really good but that does get old after a while and it lacked any foundation to fall back on. So even at 100 minutes of its length, it already was rather repetitive, laughable and even inconsequential. If not for consistent acting throughout, this would have been insufferable.

The Age of Innocence(1993): I never expected Martin Scorsese to make a movie like this but I guess not only did he make it, he did what seems quite out of his wheelhouse quite well must be one of the reasons he is Martin Scorsese. Though I wish I had more good things to say about this film. I liked it reasonably enough but for no fault of its own, I can not say I loved it. It's just that I am getting rather tired of period pieces, especially of upper class and their uptight manners and ways.

Mrs. Miniver(1942): I did not love it but felt it was decent enough. My only problem was it never looked like Miniver family had much at stake. Even though there is a war going on and they were involved with it in a way, it was rather casual. It was never brought into their house; up until last half hour or so that is which certainly up the ante. All in all, I am glad to have nother one of the list and thankfully, it wasn't much of a task. Oh, and, did I give you the count? This one is 73rd. 14 more to go now.

Woman of the Year(1942): Except for the fact that this is a story from a woman's point of view where we must have had multiple similar stories from a man's POV, I fail to see any novelty in this film. I don't really have much criticism to offer, except that it was rather run of the mill story, but I don't have many praises for it either. Real highpoint for it was Hepburn butchering Tracy's kitchen in the last scene. I kept expecting him to break into some sort of moral lecture. Is it my fault that he does so in every film I have seen him in?

Robocop(2014): There was about half an hour just before the end that made it somewhat worth it because otherwise only word that kept coming to my mind for the rest of it was - bloated. Direction and script will have to bear major blame for it as it felt like everyone started off thinking we are going to make a great film but had no idea how. I mean, for all it's worth, it was released in February aka Studio Dumpster and it even doesn't know that. Who takes itself that seriously in February?

Total Count: 15. 15 First Time Watches and 0 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 102. 95 First Time Watches and 7 Re-watches.

Once again, not the most productive month even by my current low standards but I certainly saw few good ones. Actually, I don't think I have had a 4 and 1/2 starred film in few months. There were couple of surprises as well. Some I have been keeping for too long that paid off like 25th Hour and United 93 and some I had no idea and turned out to be quite awesome like Black Sunday. All in all, I am quite satisfied at this lot even though it is a short haul.

So, how was your month? Did you see anything interesting? What do you think of the movies I saw? Any favorites?

Friday, June 27, 2014

June Blind Spot: Au revoir, les enfants

For various reasons, World War II has been a topic that fascinates me a lot and it continues to do so to this day, even after reading many books and seeing films covering multiple facets of this monstrous event. WWII was a kind of event that tested everyone it touched to the limit of their existence. I believe the way we respond in the event of great adversity is what really defines us as humans and this event offered many such opportunities. I am usually game for anything that involves WWII but if it is anything as revered as Au revoir, les enfants(1987), it validates my inclusion in Blind spot list.

Though it didn’t go down exactly as we see in the film and almost certainly not with Malle at the center of it, Louis Malle, who directed this film, witnessed events this film is based on first hand. Three Jewish students and one Jewish teacher were captured from Roman Catholic boarding school Malle was attending when he was 11 and sent to concentration camps along with their head master who suffered for harbouring them. His fateful last words while being led away by officers, “Au revoir, les infants! À bientôt!”, make for title of this film.

This is a film about budding friendship between two boys which gets clipped under very sad circumstances. This is story of Julien Quentin and Jean Bonnet in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Bonnet is a sort of recluse, even more so since he is new to Julien’s Catholic boarding school.  Julien isn’t the most popular guy either but at least he is comfortable with most everyone else. Bonnet goes through the same old routine that I imagine every person trying to break into close-knit group like boarding school can be has to go through. But slowly, he and Julien get closer and become very good friends; only to have to face dire consequences of it.

Maybe I am more like Julien in that way but to me, it wasn’t obvious from the start that Bonnet is a Jew hiding from getting captured. I mean, it was obvious that something was wrong by the way he is introduced but not what exactly. Julien never knows difference between a Jew and a gentile either. If I had not known what this film is about, it really would have been a big surprise for me too to figure it out. What’s more surprising for me is throughout the film, no one actually directly tells us so either. That is until Nazis come knocking on school doors looking for them. It becomes all obvious then!

For first half or so, this movie is about an outsider trying to fit in as best as he can and finding an unlikely friend in someone who never really became an insider despite being part of that world. A Jew in hiding, Nazi occupied France or 1944 have nothing to do with any of that. Two boys form a tenuous relationship at first which only gets stronger and stronger with every experience they share. And then doubt creeps in. Julien finds out Bonnet is not his friend’s real name. He sees him praying one night and that adds to it. I am not sure if he ever puts two and two together, maybe he does based on the way he looks at Bonnet in the restaurant, but once again Malle is content with ambiguity.

Among all this ambiguity, however, there is one moment which is as clear as sunlight. Even though Malle has said that actual events did not transpire exactly like he showed in a film, this is a moment that will haunt you for the rest of your life. When German soldiers get into their class asking for certain Jean Kipplestein, Julien remembers that name to be his friend's and with boyish curiosity tries to steal a glance at him past Nazi officer. Immediate gasp left my lips. That one look of curiosity blows Bonnet's cover and leads him to his eventual death. Like every other emotion that Malle keeps in check, he never makes this film about over bearing guilt of unknowingly sending someone to gallows but that's what hangs over it in the end. 

Malle never goes for over sentimentality. Even in the end when Nazis knock on school door, where he had every chance of being melodramatic, he keeps melodrama in check. I don’t want to take any cheap shot at Spielberg or Schindler’s List(1993) because I love that film and even think it’s better than this one but I do want to mention it if only for stark emotional contrast in the way they handle similar situation and still make it just as devastating. Schindler's List is a relentless, full-on attack on your emotions that turns you into a blabbering mess. You don't even realize the effect Au revoir, les enfants has on you almost till the last moment when those fateful words are uttered. It totally stumped me but only response it got out of me was a "Wow!" and sigh.

Malle himself considers this to be his most important film. It most certainly his most personal and given the subject at hand and, even more importantly, almost autobiographical nature of this incident, there should not be any doubt about that. I haven’t seen most of Malle’s work; in fact only Atlantic City(1980) which I saw only a couple of days before this one. But given the reputation of rest of his work, this might even be his best one and that is not a slight in the slightest.
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