1.06.2011

LIST: Important Film-Viewing Experiences of My 2010

Oh-ten. Oh, ten. I suppose it could be said of any year; 2010 was loaded with ups and downs both personal and professional. It could also be said of any year how quickly it flew past. In many ways the year felt non-existent... a Purgatory between the transitions of 2009 and the better times of 2011 (the traditionally promised better times, anyway). I've referred to the time as my "turtle shell mode", in which I'm not braving my mid-twenties but focusing more on quiet endeavors (or moreover being distracted from them and simply wasting time) and the raising of my now almost 13-month-old daughter. My stubborn selfishness still gets the better of me, though. I'm learning. Slowly.

Regarding film, my year was sparsely worth remembering. Well, I did commence development on several long-lingering projects and shoot my most respectable short yet... but momentous film-watching experiences were few. I think, perhaps due to the referenced short's horror/comedy stylings, my admiration for "B" cinema peaked... and while the "B" umbrella shelters a wide collection with a generous handful of diamonds-in-the-rough (perhaps the most notable of which for this list's purposes was Le fatiche di Ercole), moreover it is home to intermittent, inconsistent schlock. Fleeting fun for the so-inclined... and for the last 365 I was so, so inclined. The few momentous experiences were just that, though. I should consider myself lucky for being able to enthusiastically list five great ones.

You'll notice these are 'important' viewings as opposed to 'best'. These are the films I feel made the most positive impacts on me, and they're not necessarily from 2010. They're not even necessarily individual films. Were I to list 'best' you'd be seeing, along with the listed, 1948's The Three Musketeers (starring none other than Gene Kelly in dueling sequences as impressive as his dancing), Black Caesar (which, since my initial viewing early in the year has been duking it out with Coffy for the title of my favorite blaxploitation flick)... and even The Legend of Billie Jean and The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, the latter of which easily holds my record for number of 2010 rewatches. Is this the part where I say "I regret nothing"?

Specific to the year in question... well, of course I haven't seen all the 2010 releases I'd like to, so whatever I compile under that criterium is "unofficial" as of yet. Honestly, with the exception of the film sharing a top spot with this 'important' list, nothing's quite warranted what would be a 10/10 rating from me. What I've got so far anyway includes Brooklyn's Finest, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Sex and the City 2. Yes, you read those titles correctly. Justification? I have reviews for each one.

If you're wondering about the worst, rounding out that list for general views are Funny People, The Lovely Bones, New Moon, Teeth and - in the lastest of last place - Hatchet. As for 2010 releases... from the meager helping I subjected myself to in theaters I'll go with the remakes of Clash of the Titans and A Nightmare on Elm Street as the barrel's bottom.

Enough about these lists I'm not doing. On to the list I am:


Conversations in Rohmer

On March 28th, at 3:10 in the afternoon, I gave in to the urgings of a friend and joined a new film discussion forum - The Corrierino, a splinter from Rotten Tomatoes' forum (as Suntory Times is a splinter from Rotten Tomatoes' journals). To state it without detail, it took some adjusting from what I was accustomed to in an online community. Most importantly, in spite of my lifelong passion for film, the local canon consisted mainly of titles I hadn't heard of from directors who didn't even ring bells. Had I not been learned of these works through lack of interest? Lack of physical accessibility? What was it? Whatever the case, I was exposed to loads of cinema I'd never considered.

I dipped my toe in with a rental of Chytilová's welcoming Sedmikrásky before leaping into a participation thread about exploring a director from whom you'd never before seen a film. I was paired with fellow poster kiddo in space and we selected the recently deceased Frenchman and master of objectivity Éric Rohmer. Specifically, we went after the latter trio of Rohmer's "Moral Tales" - La collectionneuse, Le genou de Claire and L'amour, l'aprés-midi. At first glance I thought I might be re-realizing why I had unconsciously stayed away from such fare... but was soon proven very wrong as the hypnotizing goodness washed over me. The conversational reviews with kiddo have become some of my most popular here on We Told You What to Dream (though their Xtranormal versions have been widely ignored... perhaps with good reason) and the latter film has actually wound up somewhere amongst my all-time favorites and is the second-most rewatched film of my 2010 (behind Superbeasto, of course, because... I mean... Paul Giamatti as Dr. Satan, c'mon).

I have yet to see the third Moral Tale, Ma nuit chez Maud, but have taken in La boulangére de Monceau - a hilarious practical joke - and La carrière de Suzanne - a nicely shot but unfortunately lesser effort (in my opinion, naturally).

This year my two-part resolution is to have better follow-through with recommendations from fellow posters on The Corrierino and explore the community's canon - because if Rohmer is any proof, these folks ain't foolin'.


Hammer's Frankenstein Franchise

For all the horror I watched over the year, the most important undertaking was these five films (yep, five - Netflix running out of the title put a stall on access to Frankenstein & the Monster from Hell and I've no plans to watch the parodic The Horror of Frankenstein, not even for the sake of completism). The best horror films I saw? No, those would be Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein (and I'd be remiss to neglect It's Alive or various versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, primarily 1931's with Frederic March). Those titles inspired, particularly regarding a vanity project of mine entitled "Dr. Fang", but on the inspiration field they didn't match the guiding light of Terence Fisher's installments to this series. Well, Frankenstein Created Woman is an exception there. In spite of its relative popularity I felt was a grave misstep (as was its immediate predecessor, Freddie Francis' The Evil of Frankenstein, but at least that one's creatively shot)... but, keeping with themes, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed resurrects the doctor.


The Rocky Sequels

On a whim one late night I popped Rocky II on Netflix Instant Watch. I had only seen Rocky for the first time about two years prior, but that was on television (full screen, edited down, censored, chopped up by commercials) and I took a lengthy (but important, wink-wink to you-know-who-you-are) phone-call partway through. You know when movies grab you so firmly you can't stop watching no matter what? In recent memory, Once and The Elephant Man fit that bill for me. I can also add Rocky II to that list. I was dead tired, but the Italian Stallion's big sequel wouldn't let me drift off.

I was hooked. I plowed through the series in the next few days, ordered the Blu-Ray box set (at the time discounted on Amazon for something like $26), and rewatched them all again... with the girl I interrupted that very first Rocky experience for, in fact. I'd probably rank the films as such: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky IV, Rocky III, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa. They're all great, though. Well, okay, Rocky Balboa didn't jive with me as well as the others and often felt like a re-hash meant for people who were alive to experience the original phenomenon in theaters. Rocky V is mostly just enjoyable for the fact that John G. Avildsen returned to direct and you can tell through his capturing of the Philadelphia streets. Rocky III really gets dragged down by that awful Hulk Hogan sequence. They're still great, though!

As cliché as it may sound, I was inspired to ratchet up my workout routine by this series. Over the course of just two months I lost over twenty pounds by eating better, supplementing with protein shakes and hitting the gym regularly between sessions on my PS2's consistently sweat-breaking "EyeToy: AntiGrav" game. I fell out of the routine after my ten-day excursion to Vermont to film that movie (during a layover on my way up I was actually lucky enough to visit the famed "Rocky Steps"... and, yes, see the artwork inside the building) and have since gained all the weight back... but maybe I'll pick up a more current video game of the you-are-the-controller variety... and do another Rocky marathon... and then we'll see who the boss of this belly is.

Anyway, along with a temporarily revamped fitness regiment I actually began to give a damn about boxing itself. I watched all kinds of videos on YouTube - classic fights, fight reviews... and especially recent fights involving David Haye. Haye's form fascinated me. I'm still following his road to a showdown with Wladimir Klitschko.

I also checked out a number of non-Rocky boxing films (after marathoning a generous queue-load of other Stallone films including Cobra, Over the Top, Get Carter and Eye See You). I learned that the sport's heroes often have little else to fall back on than their fighting ability. These heroes symbolize modern man's daily struggles on an appealingly primal level. The very best of the films I saw were Ralph Nelson's Requiem for a Heavyweight and John Huston's Fat City.


Le Guerrier silencieux (Valhalla Rising)

Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, the only other film I've seen from the director thus far, didn't exactly impress me. The screenshots I saw from Valhalla Rising looked too sublime to pass on, though. Luck came again in the form of Netflix Instant and I got to see this, the second step on the way to a refreshed approach to film (the first, not nearly as "low-key" step being the next entry on this list). After a year or so in "turtle shell mode" I had become very worn out and uninspired by cinema (which is contradictory to portions of the above entries, I know... but that's how it was). This reminded me how much I do truly love filmmaking. I was returned to the movie lover I was in 2007. Maybe if I persevere with this outlook (I'm doing an okay job so far, I think) I'll return to the movie lover I was in 2005 at twenty years old - a somewhat more innocent time.

For as gorgeous as it is, perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Valhalla Rising is how open to interpretation it is. I've enjoyed several discussions with fellow fans (including good ol' kiddo in space) about our various takes, and none haven't been worth considering yet. Whether a mockery of religion or an obituary to it... whether the protagonist is Odin or just a gnarly Norse warrior... it's an astounding film whatever way.


Resident Evil: Afterlife

Okay, this is the last time I'll write at length about this, I promise. For a while, anyway. Honestly, though, I'm not sure what to say that I haven't repeated at least thrice already. Here 'goes...

I hadn't gone this crazy for a movie in a long time. In the first half of the 2000s if I fell in love with something I'd typically watch it every day without tire and plow through any and all special features I could find again and again. Hell, for at least four months I practically had my Vanilla Sky DVD on loop. If I fell asleep to it at night I was always happy to awaken with its ethereal menu music welcoming me to the new day. Once I obtain the Afterlife Blu-Ray you can bet it'll get some serious play on my PS3. In the meantime I've been watching its clips on Flixster, spinning its Tomandandy soundtrack, revisiting and writing up its prequels and... well, I only once returned to theaters for a rewatch. After only two weeks it got replaced by The Guardians of Ga'hoole. For shame (and for the saving of my $13).

This was the first step of my late-year refreshment. It broke down the encircling wall of jadedness. I wrote to producer Martin Moszkowicz to tell him Afterlife made me a born-again movie lover. Is it a perfect film? Hell no. Its exposition is clunky and the whole Claire/Chris subplot adds very little... but in this case, for me, it's almost all about the boundary-shattering eye-candy, for which the 3D is crucial. As you can see above (thanks, Trip), it still looks nice sans 3D... but as I've stated previously, it was truly composed with the third dimension at the forefront as opposed to having been shot normally and just going into "3D mode" for certain set pieces a la Piranha 3D. Three full scenes in particular (an introductory slow-motion downpour in Tokyo, an Æon Flux-esque multi-Milla siege and Ali Larter's moment of glory against the film's big ugly) along with some other moments stand out, but where a die-hard (like me, sure) could probe deeper than is asked and come out with an examination of themes and characters etcetera, there's not much beyond the astonishing-looking ass-kickery.

With regards to the new year of films, Terence Malick's The Tree of Life looks to be the cinematic equivalent of a religious experience... but Afterlife has made me salivate for more 3D from Paul W.S. Anderson, so in a very close second place on my most-anticipated list is his update of Three Musketeers, the production of which I followed through Milla Jovovich's Twitter account. Now, realistically, without a teaser it is difficult to know where to truly place my expectations... but I've no reason to be pessimistic (even if I 've no idea where the carriage craned 50 feet in the air Jovovich was tweeting from has any place in Alexandre Dumas' story).

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