#50. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013, Raimi):
#51. Dreamscape (1984, Ruben)
There’s a reason Dennis Quaid was a star. Every time I see him in a film from the 70’s or 80’s (or hell, even The Parent Trap), I always manage to fall for the guy. He’s a boyish Jack Nicholson without the hard edge or long-range versatility but he can always sell the hell out of smarmy charm. Dreamscape predates the basic idea of Inception by over 25 years. It starts out strong but runs out of steam quickly. It’s got an overreaching conflict, but the screenwriters don’t know how to fill it out, so they make mildly interesting episodes in the meantime. With a nauseating romantic subplot and a pale central through line, the reason to see Dreamscape is the cast and seeing how dreamscapes are interpreted with the 80’s palette at hand. In addition to Quaid you’ve got the legends that are Max Von Sydow AND Christopher Plummer. And as a bonus treat, David Patrick Kelly, the go-to skeevy character actor playing a psychotic dreamlink rival of Quaid’s. He turns into a freaky-deaky stop-motion snake at the end. There’s a short scene where he’s mid-transmutation and it will haunt my nightmares. Kate Capshaw continues to be the worst.
George Wendt with sinister music; never going to work
#52. Hopscotch (1980, Neame):
Strips away the gadgetry, paranoia and flash of the spy genre, opting for a playfully sly comedy about governmental incompetence and getting even by using secrets as a weapon, not guns. In fact, Walter Matthau’s self-retiring spy never carries one. Really adored this; memorable characters, smart script and Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson’s lived-in, natural repartee.
Such a memorable introductory scene for Glenda Jackson
“You remind me of my Dad”
“That’s always been my problem”
Sam Waterston added so much to his character too.
A poetically stark debut that unifies nature and the destruction of war as one desolate mass of landscape. Tarkovsky uses the idyllic happier times of Ivan as spatial dream sequences to inform the whole of the narrative. He could have depicted these memories as simply memories, but smartly filtering them through the subconscious makes the journey between the two fluid and makes the linkage further bonded. It also sets the stage for Tarkovsky’s future output, where his penchant for both linking images and exploring and sustaining a metaphysical dreamlike state becomes fundamental. The cinematography is hauntingly carved-out with Yusov’s use of shadow and soft beams of light within angled architecture and his outdoor ruins (and who will ever forget those birch trees). But the sound design really impressed me too, especially the dripping water that uses aural evocation to link back to Ivan’s mother and his childhood. I’m seriously lacking in other Soviet war films that came before and after that similarly highlight the ordeal of the individual; The Cranes Are Flying (Tarkovsky told Yadim Yusov to recreate Sergey Urusevsky’s camerawork) and Ballad of a Soldier being the obvious examples.
– Even though I’m not sold on the Kholin/Masha subplot being necessary, it’s more than worth it for the visual structure of that scene.
– Loved how subtly off-kilter the dream sequences are, like the vertical level of Ivan moves up and down seamlessly.
#54. Three Kings (1999, Russell)
An original anti-war film that thought-provokingly surprised me. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War during the ceasefire, Three Kings starts as a war comedy but continuously scrapes away until it becomes a war drama. Accompanying the transition is stylistic spectrum that starts kinetically and gradually sobers up. The more conventional final third is supported by what came before to make it successful. Russell employs a ton of different filmmaking techniques to give the film a bleached out high contrast look; an environment with no easy answers but lots and lots of bloodshed.
– Judy Greer and a very young Alia Shawkat. Arrested Development people!
– Also Judy Greer and George Clooney, who would appear in The Descendants together 12 years later.
– Spike Jonze in a major role is both surreal to see but so welcome.
#55. Time After Time (1979, Meyer)
I’m so happy this is in my life now as it’s one of the best times I’ve had watching a film in a while. See Dark Shadows? This is how you get humor out of time-travel. That’s not to say the film is a comedy, but Malcolm McDowell as H.G Wells is not only adorable but knows how to make his time displacement funny in the first half. The character is scientific and curious, so McDowell never overplays.
Time After Time takes a very silly premise and makes it work by taking turns I didn’t quite expect, establishing a former friendship between Wells and Jack the Ripper (David Warner is, as always, very reliable as a creepy villain) and building a central romance that I was actually invested in, wholesale. This is a rarity folks.
The film gets it right on so many levels. Nicholas Meyer uses the camera to view 1979 San Francisco as Wells sees it. Wells’ first car ride is a great example. I also love how it plays off of Wells and his confident vision of utopia against how he really finds the future and the idea that Jack feels he belongs there. My only complaint is that the climax isn’t quite as interesting as everything that came before.
Oh, and Mary Steenburgen is serving fierce Kate Bush realness.
It’s a new film for me to cherish.
Eta: I’ve just been reminded that Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen fell in love and were married for ten years as a result of working together on this film, something I knew at one point but completely forgot about. That makes it even better!
56. Monkey Business (1952, Hawks)
A 50’s screwball comedy by Howard Hawks that didn’t quite work for me. Hawks said he never found the premise believable and I have to agree. The film never convincingly establishes its own reality and it nagged at me the whole time. Other films have gotten away with much more outlandish stories, but the effect the formula has on Grant and Rogers is a misstep and played too broadly to boot. It needed to come up with more imaginative and/or interesting ways to depict the de-aging process. Instead, we’ve got Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers acting like they are on drugs. The film comes to a halt each time the formula is taken. At times it’s fun and it starts out strong to be sure, but Monkey Business either needed to commit to anarchy or come up with a less distracting conceit.
– I still enjoyed quite a bit of this despite large chunks that got on my nerves.
– Little dispiriting George Winslow pops up again, making him one of the three recurring cast members from Hawks’ next film for 20th Century Fox, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The other two are of course Marilyn Monroe and Charles Coburn.
– Watching Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers act like toddlers just put me in the mood for the I Love Lucy episode “Lucy Fakes Illness”. “ON MY TRICYCLE ON MY TRICYCLE”
#57. Ariel (1988, Kaurismaki)
This shot says it all. Taisto (Turo Pajala, resembling Nick Cave to the point of distraction) and company, part of the proletariat class that makes up Aki Kaurismaki’s ‘Proletariat Trilogy’, are having a picnic on a bed of rocks in Helsinki. Uncomfortable looking to us, but they are perfectly content. Just cover the rocks with a blanket. The first half of Ariel shows Taisto as passive, acclimated to accept every curve-ball that gets thrown his way. There’s no shortage; in the opening minutes, the mine he works at shuts down, his father kills himself and he loses all his money. In other hands this would be miserablist, but the Finnish filmmaker has embedded a droll and wry sense of humor into everything. It’s a world where major decisions are made at the drop of a hat, where one trudges along leaving behind the pointlessness of dwelling. This attitude allows Kaurismaki to get through a lot of material in 76 minutes.
The second half shows Taisto as active; desperate times call for desperate measures. Lined with variable tunes, Ariel is modest and fine if a bit forgettable. The second half wasn’t as interesting as the first, taking a broad shape. But it did have Matti Pellonpää, so points for his memorable presence.This is only the second film by Aki Kaurismaki I’ve seen, and The Match Factory Girl is a personal favorite of mine.
#58. Three Outlaw Samurai (1964, Gosha)
Three Outlaw Samurai depicts a world where double-crosses are everyday, loyalty is untenable and there’s compromise and consequence no matter which side of the fence you land on. An impressive debut and a solid film overall, Hideo Gosha shows us relatable archetypes and has them engage in swordplay and side-switching. Gosha and Tadashi Sakai really know how to use and show space and there’s a lot of pay-off in the black-and-white widescreen photography. There’s a kinetic hard-to-keep-up energy to the swordplay scenes. I loved the diagonal tilt the camera would flow into at times, taking on the direction of a sword through movement. Not in my top-tier of chanbara I’ve seen but still well worth checking out. Sword of the Beast, Goyokin and Hitokiri are all on my watch list now.
#59. Bedlam (1946, Robson)
The last in Val Lewton’s run at RKO is a message picture disguised as a horror film. It captures the world of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, with slate 8 featuring the infamous asylum serving as the inspiration for the film. Nell Bowen starts as a superficial jester and ends as a caregiver in desperate circumstances. Boris Karloff, playing the sadistic apothecary general, treats his patients appallingly and gets his justified comeuppance. Definitely not the genre picture I was expecting but still decent, with an effective exploratory focus on human cruelty.