Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18Jun/180

TSPDT 23 – 44: Modern Times (1936)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the top of the pile, Charlie Chaplin's 1936 comedy Modern Times.

23. Raging Bull (Like) - Scorsese's created some of the most pathetic examples of masculinity in fiction.  Jake LaMotta may be the worst of these.  Talent and success aren't enough, everyone in and observing his life needs to be convinced of his strength while nurturing his paranoia.  Spectacularly composed images, like Jake clinging to his dying television, meet with DeNiro at his most self-effacing and boxing at its wettest. Any one of those factors is enough to give Raging Bull a watch, that they're combined into one makes this Scorsese's second-best.

24. City Lights (Indifference) - She can't see him, he works to restore sight to her. The fantasy of each collapses into reality in a beautifully ambiguous ending.  Everything else?  Well, it's the stuff of nary a many psychoanalytic reading, but it's not of much interest otherwise.

25. The 400 Blows (Like) - The most understanding portrait of the confusion and frustrations in male adolescence.  Truffaut doesn't provide a warm blanket, focusing instead on the little misunderstandings and accidents that are central to the struggle to be understood.  That last shot, with Antoine Doinel frozen at the sight of the ocean, encompasses the sudden and massive realization that things aren't going to really get better - the scope will just expand.

26. Psycho (Like) - Still disorienting and unnerving.  Hitchcock's playful sense of macabre feels less macabre and more directly sinister with the sudden shocks of violence and Anthony Perkins' exponentially shady performance. The psychology, which may have seen ahead of its time, is suspect - as is Hitchcock's queer coding of Norman Bates.  But it remains a gripping watch that spawned three sequels - two of which are good films.

27. Andrei Rublev (Like) - Discussed at this link.

28. Some Like It Hot (Like) - Discussed at this link.

29. The Mirror (Like) - Discussed at this link.

30. Touch of Evil (Indifference) - Outside Scorsese and, now, Cuaron - Touch of Evil has one hell of an iconic tracking shot to start.  Then it just plays on with multiple reminders that Heston was never much of an actor.  Welles is fun, but that's about it.

31. La Dolce Vita (Indifference) - This, along with Last Year at Marienbad, taught me I don't have to love classic films.  Heck, I don't even need to like them and it's okay to be bored by them.  I felt nothing but boredom watching La Dolce Vita. It was the first of many films about the ennui of the rich and, "Boy doesn't life just pass by" that floats right on by me.

32. Casablanca (Like) - Every bit as good as its reputation with the added surprise at how damn funny it is.  Based on the quoted bits you'd think that there's an air of resignation or melancholy surrounding Casablanca.  That's true, but there's also an optimism that's infectious.  These are mostly good people, trying to do the right thing, in a story that does not sandwich them to their duties.  It's an excellent watch.

33. Lawrence of Arabia (Like) - I have never seen this film "properly" in that I've never gotten a chance to see it in a 70mm print or even in a theater.  But I remember the bold romanticism of it, a willingness to be patient and take in the texture of Lawrence's adventure.  I'm long overdue for a rewatch.34. Ordet (Like) - Speaking of patience, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet less commands you to pay attention and more asks you to sit in reverie with it.  Most of the conflicts are internal and Dreyer patiently glides between one set of theological dilemmas to the next.  Dreyer's not as bold as he was with The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr, or Day of Wrath - but with each conversation we come one step closer to an ending that is either unbelievable or, my perspective, miraculously plausible.

35. Au Hasard Balthazar (Like) - Spiritual ode to how all of god's creatures deserve respect, or a cruelly plotted representation of all that's terrible with humanity?  I lean more toward the former than the latter, though I haven't had the heart to revisit Au Hasard Balthazar because I want to leave that last image of Balthazar finally getting to rest quietly among creatures that accept him.

36. Sunset Blvd. (Like) - Discussed at this link.

37. L'Aventura (Dislike) - Long, dull, steady shots of boring rich folks infected with that peculiar form of ennui that only the high class has.  La Dolce Vita at least has charm to it at times. L'Aventura can barely muster up enough energy for apathy.

38. The General (Like) - A bit of history about me, my grandpa used to call me Buster because I looked like Buster Keaton when I frowned.  I didn't find that out until after I bought two Keaton films in one of those bargain bin Wal-Mart crates.  Even with its questionable print quality, the dogged determination of Keaton melds with his still spectacular physical comedy and sequences that are so dangerous it likely won't be replicated.  That's alright by me, because even though the hero gets his way in the end he's still bogged down by duty. Melancholy, sweet, and funny.  That's Keaton for ya.

39. Blade Runner (Like) - Real talk - I don't really enjoy Blade Runner very much, but when it's on - like the interrogation scene or "tears in rain" - it's menacing and beautiful in equal measure.  This is a case where I like Blade Runner for its parts more than the whole.

40. Contempt (Indifference) - My mind tries to pull up Contempt from my memory banks and the only thing I remember is a lot of red, that I wished I was watching a Truffaut film instead, and that any one of the girls from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls could have done more with the career Brigitte Bardot had.

41. Rear Window (Like) - Paranoia, fantasy, painkillers, and boredom.  There's a lot to admire in Rear Window on craft, but as a writer who's spent some terrible nights post-op running a fever and feeling insane from medication I feel a particular pain watching Rear Window.  It's phenomenally dense in the background storytelling and could be used as a primer on how the whole screen is a playground to move figures around.  Stewart was a great performer, but his obsessive edge here brings me serious doubt whether anything that happens once the heat wave hits is real or his justification for voyeurism.

42. La Grande Illusion (Like) - Renoir's humanism shined between the meaningless struggle of the first world war and the rise of fascism leading to the second.  The tortured, proud, and conflicted von Rauffenstein is one of my favorite characters in all cinema.  He's come to represent a path we might have taken after the first world war, one that recognized the brutality of all our actions and worked together to find a new place in society.  Instead the divisions remain, the illusion of nobility barely preserved, and history went on to more devastation.

43. The Night of the Hunter (Like) - Shapes a child learns to recognize contain malevolent forces birthed from Americana, capitalism, and a nightmarish perversion of Christianity.  A woman so pure in her desire to protect the innocent even the dark can't hide her frame.  Children with the barest understanding of adult problems forced to imagine the worst for their mother.  The Night of the Hunter is one of America's only miraculous feats in cinema and a damn shame Laughton only got to make this one film.

44. Modern Times -The most famous sequence in Modern Times is hilarious, though not my favorite, and is disappointingly optimistic in retrospect.  When an inventor arrives to showcase a feeding machine for employees, factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) straps in for a stretch of humiliation and forced feeding.  The first assumption that doesn't pan out with today's corporate heads is that they'd want their employees fed and the second that they'd personally take interest in machines designed to increase productivity through nutrition.

Difference between then and now is similar to the difference between RoboCop (1987) and RoboCop (2014).  In RoboCop '87 the big joke is the idea that there are good corporations, while in RoboCop '14 that we can live without corporate overlords.  Much like Chaplin's plea for humanity in The Great Dictator, the then-dehumanizing idea of strapping employees in for food is more optimistic than our current reality.  We've come a long way and managed to make things worse.

7Jun/180

Changing Reels Season 2 Episode 9 – Open Your Eyes

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In this episode we discuss Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 film Open Your Eyes. The plot revolves around a handsome playboy named César who finds his life in a downward spiral after being disfigured in the accident the day after he meets the woman of his dreams. Of course, we also touch on the Cameron Crowe American remake Vanilla Sky and discuss our short film pick, The Psychology of Dream Analysis by Rian Johnson.

Show notes:

If you like what you hear, or want to offer some constructive criticism, please take a moment to rate our show on iTunes! If you have a comment on this episode, or want to suggest a film for us to discuss, feel free to contact us via twitter (@ChangingReelsAC), follow us on Facebook and reach out to us by email (Changing.Reels.AC@gmail.com). You can also hear our show on SoundCloud or Stitcher!

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6Jun/180

TSPDT 999: Oasis (2002)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the bottom of the list, Lee Chang-dong's 2002 drama Oasis.

There's a turn of phrase I've gradually phased out of my writing repertoire when it comes to criticism, when the piece of art "makes a mistake it can't recover from".  This implies I know more than the makers of the piece of art, and also posits the mistake as some kind of disease or injury that the art merely needs to take some bed rest to overcome.  When I accepted the good and the bad aspects of all works of art are more intentional than not, I started to appreciate more films, songs, books, and so on.

That also means when a film takes as dreadful a turn as Oasis does, I have to take that as intentional.  What begins as a depressingly realistic depiction of mental illness and how sufferers are ostracized from friends and family becomes a terrible fantasy.  Oasis is the film where its protagonist rapes a woman with cerebral palsy.  This is the start of their romance.  That rape begets romance is one of the many ethical travesties committed in Lee Chang-dong's film.

5Jun/180

TSPDT 19-22: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the top of the pile, Dziga Vertov's 1929 experimental documentary Man with a Movie Camera.

19. Persona (Like) - Discussed at this link.

20. Rashomon (Like) - Discussed at this link.

21. The Godfather Part II (Like) - I'm not big on The Godfather but finally broke down at some insistence and watched Part 2.  All the apathy I felt for the original turned around in this sequel.  A big reason for that is the parallel plot structure of the now deceased Vito and Michael struggling with the power his father built.  It requires no investment in the first film because of how clearly Coppola communicates the inter-generational cycle of violence.

22. Man with a Movie Camera -

In 1929 the Soviet Union was post-Lenin, pre-famine, and surging forward on a wave of industrialization that took Russia from a borderline feudalistic country to one of the great powers on our planet.  Even knowing what's to come, Stalin's brutal dictatorship twisting the foundation of communism into an unrecognizable ghoul away from its ideological roots, Man with a Movie Camera is a breathless and bold statement of a country ready to flex its newfound power.  There's nary a whiff of the military in Dziga Vertov's film, instead focusing on the everyday pleasures while not ignoring the strain rapid industrialization placed on the populace.

Shots come and go so quickly the most accurate descriptor of Vertov's style is that old cliche, "blink and you'll miss it."  That doesn't come close to correctly describing the affect of Man with a Movie Camera.  Vertov's montage is so crisp and precise that even when the shots change from apartment outcroppings to hospital cradles arranged in aesthetic similarity the connection is emotionally clear even if the intellectual threads aren't immediately apparent.  This is not a film interested in the artifice of fiction or keeping cinema rooted in stage theatrics.  Vertov's trying to usher us into a new way of thinking about, crafting, and experiencing cinema with all the confidence and bluster of his fellow citizens.

Man with a Movie Camera isn't entirely free of artifice or, at least, Man with a Movie Camera requires a certain suspension of disbelief regarding what we know cameras and the human body are capable of.  When the titular man emerges from a frosty mug of beer we know intellectually that he's not gearing up for the worst hangover in human history.  What we're seeing is in-camera special effects, superimposing one image atop another to emotionally prep the audience for a night of fun.

3Jun/180

LOCALHOST (2017)

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If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

LOCALHOST can be purchased on itch.io.

"My mind feels too clear. My memories are automatically sorted, processed. And all of human experience isn't enough."

These words come from the red drive, arguably the most tragic of the artificial intelligences I'm tasked to delete in the middle of LOCALHOST's night.  I've felt that inability to stop the rush of memories before where every decision and feeling I've made or experienced blindsides me at once.  But that rush, that overwhelming sensation, is part of the human experience.  That the red drive, supposedly a man who uploaded his consciousness as he lay dying of cancer, never experienced the existential anguish of feeling the entirety of your existence laid bare brings up two important questions.

The first - am I being tricked?  Red has a personality and communicates terror but using broad strokes.  It's as if red's AI learned the words of existential angst but didn't quite get the hang of the helpless intensity of being painfully present.  The second - why don't I care?  Or, more to the point, why don't I empathize?

I'm aware as I make my conversation choices that these are fictionalized drives of AI, programmed by fictional programmers but made by a real team that had to include some programmers.  Even as I write that I realize I'm uncomfortably aware of exactly where I am and what I'm doing.  This collection of electronic signals communicates artificiality through carefully constructed encounters that are animated with uncomfortably familiar mannerisms.  My brain fires similar electrical signals to make these hands work, and I'm struggling to contain the associated feelings.