LIST: My Month in Review: January '11

2010 was the first year I kept track of my every first-time viewing. I thought I'd kick it up for 2011 and report here such viewings monthly. This month, a highlighted eleven before the rest (41 total):

Un lac (A Lake)
Phillipe Grandrieux, 2008
Though grounded in a harsh reality, Un lac is a vivid, waking dream. It is certainly closer to a dream than I've seen many 'dream sequences' come, anyway. Composed of feeling, its muffled ambience renders story secondary. Difficult to summate verbally. Funny a thing this ostensibly simple can stretch thematic and narrative bounds so.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance
Jon Jost, 1977
As I've written previously, I spent the better part of 2006 in Yellowstone National Park, just outside Montana's southern border. I drove Route 89 through Paradise Valley and Interstate 90 to Bozeman, Missoula and Butte (Chants' anchor locale) enough that I instantly recognized the mountains in Jost's masterfully pedestrian lens, and felt a warm and welcoming transience. Jost's sentient scenes so perfectly capture what I know that area to be. The subject matter isn't your most plainly pleasant, but I was pleasantly reverted to a Montana mentality.

Spike Lee, 1994
A loving, knowing, nostalgic and universal patchwork portrait of growing up and raising family. Not quite every rumination involves as deeply as we might hope, but each feels personally important to Lee so these few lesser bits are easily forgiven in the grand scope. I absolutely love Lee's integration of music (here predominantly 1970s soul) and signature camera rigs.

Kleine Teun (Little Tony)
Alex van Warmerdam, 1998
Warmerdam was January's featured director in The Corrierino's Director of the Month Club. This was the last of the films highlighted therein and easily my favorite, if only for the engrossing story. It is quite different from the others we watched - Abel, De Noorderlingen and De Jurk - and the welcome change of pace after those three very similar entries may have factored in to the positive experience.

Lung Boonmee raluek chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010
Like a startling ghost story, if the ghost were your long-time best friend. Somewhat intermittent, but features a generous helping of marvelously realized, artistically inspirational scenes. Akin to Big Fish in its blend of mysticism and reality and Khadak through its deep, native roots.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Gore Verbinski, 2007
Can a high seas pirate adventure be poetic? Sure, why not? But a Disney blockbuster tentpole? Well, here you go. As close as you're likely to come, anyway. After an opening reminiscent of Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi or even the Merovingian's Club Hel in The Matrix Revolutions, this trilogy wrap-up takes full advantage of its predecessors' finer points (reimagined nautical lore and great characters - in particular Davy Jones, the man so in love with the sea it has become him) and dares to go surrealist in act one. Stays true to its pirate roots, undampered by the PG-13 rating... and the climactic battle is an absolute marvel, strongly warranting its high price tag.

J.D.'s Revenge
Arthur Marks, 1976
As with Marks' other work, J.D.'s Revenge is composed with such crackling reserve it can hardly be called exploitation. Like Bucktown or Friday Foster its aesthetic (in this case, taboo New Orleans) is relatively set apart from its more popular urban brethren, but it is better than either of those through captivating visual storytelling and startling Voodoo imagery tied together by Glynn Turman's superb lead performance.

Kinamand (Chinaman)
Henrik Ruben Genz, 2005
To pin this with the qualifier "dramedy" seems reductive, but the harmony of drama and comedy on display here is catching. That combined with inspired photography and nuanced performances, particularly from the engaging lead Bjarne Henriksen, makes for a winner.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Gore Verbinski, 2006
Once it gets past a series of self-congratulatory winks to its core audience ("Why is the rum always gone?"), this cheekily over-the-top swashbuckling spectacle (that owes much of its foundation to The Empire Strikes Back and, subsequently, tried and true myth structure) is vastly more entertaining and prettier than its tiresome predecessor.

Winter Passing
Adam Rapp, 2005
A certain je ne sais quoi about these lower key dramas appeals to me greatly. Winter Passing, which has been on my procrastinatory radar since before its release, may not be quite on par with the great The Door in the Floor or even the slightly less great A Home at the End of the World (or any of the others I'm resisting listing), but it hits my spot nicely.

Sofia Coppola, 2010
A light and humorous piece of nicely filmed, genuinely felt father/daughter goodness with a share of positively affecting scenes that are allowed to breathe free. Not so much a Lost in Translation retread as a companion piece, though I could do without the Italian award show so directly mirroring the former's Japanese talk show. Through looser storytelling and fewer situational comedy bits, a maturity not previously seen in Coppola's work is sensed. Elle is still by a couple blonde hairs my favorite Fanning and Stephen Dorff... well, what more do you need? Stephen Dorff!

Other first-time viewings, continued in order of preference:

Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages - D.W. Griffith, 1916
I do not profess as a Griffith expert, but it is clear here the father of film was not resting on the achievement of The Birth of a Nation. The narrative structure is as forwardly experimental for 1916 as Birth is for 1915 if not more so. The issue of an apology for the content of that prior film is neither here nor there in the grand scope. This is an early, altruistic representation of film's illimitably expressive, demi-godly capacity.

The Dirk Diggler Story - Paul Thomas Anderson, 1988
About time I got to this! I had become more or less resigned to the idea I'd never see it but alas, the internet has its ways. A humorous mockumentary with more basis in John Holmes than the Dirk we're familiar with, and somewhat less reverence for the seldom regarded artistic processes of adult entertainment. Sneaks up on you with emotion the way parodic fare can. Not quite as insightful into Anderson's beginnings as Cigarettes & Coffee/Sydney/Hard Eight but fascinating nevertheless.

A Woman Under the Influence - John Cassavetes, 1974
Roughly edited, but somehow appealingly so. Cassavetes' roots are in acting and this is a pure actor's film driven almost solely by performances - performances allowed to explore and grow with surprisingly relatable anxieties and frustrations.

Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance, 2010
What defines us as individual human beings? Ain't that an eternal conundrum. Can the answer fit in a room? Can it be framed for display on your nursing home wall? Certain philosophers might remove pure individuality and place this intangible definition in the hands of the observer. Is it then our job to select the most preferable observer? Read the full review.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - Robert Wise, 1951
Such a unique approach to alien invasion fare that I probably shouldn't even qualify it as "alien invasion". With nuclear-powered space travel still experimentally prevalent today the relevance remains intact. Excellent balance of endearing amiability and intimidating terror.

I'm Still Here - Casey Affleck, 2010
An Andy Kaufman-esque stunt intricately studying the contemporary nature of inflated celebrity and renders matters of its authenticity meaningless. Occasionally (intentionally) grating; always compelling and surprisingly beautiful in the end. I'm also rather fascinated by the apparent emptiness in Phoenix' life as represented through a modest friend circle and houses furnished solely by spare mattresses and beer bottles. Even on a simpler level it works to an extent. As KISS lead singer Paul Stanley regards his painting career, "Success in one field gets my foot in the door in another, but you can still slam the door on my foot."

Buried - Rodrigo Cortés, 2010
Riveting. Doesn't seem to have faith in its suspenseful simplicity, however, and finds its way to some awkwardly melodramatic moments musically, verbally and cinematographically. Regardless, a mostly immersive comment on one way mass technological connectivity has in fact made us less connected, accompanied by a blunt political critique and a near-insult of America's engrained obsession with employment.

Brothers - Jim Sheridan, 2009
As if I needed further incentive to ignore ad campaigns. Brothers', which made for some inside jokes in my household, put on like a domestic violence thriller. The film is in fact a capable military widow drama depicting the surreality of one thought dead returning to the known living and a horrifically believable instance of post-traumatic stress. Apart from a father character whose near every line could have been Walk Hard's parodic "The wrong kid died!!" and carried equal effect, this one did the trick for me. Tangentially, I wonder if Thomas Newman writes his scores with eyes closed. Okay, that's mean - I like his scores, but to these ears they're widely indeterminable from one another (his work on Road to Perdition being one exception I know of that leaps immediately to mind).

2LDK - Yukihiko Tsutsumi, 2003
Yep, having a roommate sucks. Did I not know this from experience I might have found 2LDK's characters dubiously drastic, particularly considering the veritability established from scene one. Incidentally, that opening wound up my favorite bit, with its insert shot transitions (a technique I almost always love) and suggestions of Japan's social hierarchy. Most of this opening, technically and thematically, seems left behind in what follows, but I suppose it helps introduce conflict from the narrator's point of view. Recommended by DaiKamonohashi as part of "The Corrierino Film Orgy Returns". View my full reaction.

Horse Feathers - Norman Z. McLeod, 1932
One of the more consistent Marx Brothers films I've seen. More Groucho per capita is to credit, I'm sure. I'll count it as my first of 2011, although technically it started a bit before the ball dropped.

Phantoms of Nabua - Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009
An elegant metaphor, this politically driven short also considers the nature of cinema itself.

Abel - Alex van Warmerdam, 1986
An odd tale of bourgeois isolation and Oedipal relationships as humorous as it is heartbreaking. Thematically complex to a fault, but not detrimentally so. The juxtaposition of sets and miniatures to actual locations is like nothing I've previously seen.

De Noorderlingen (The Northerners) - Alex van Warmerdam, 1992
More accessible than Abel but subsequently less daring. A finely entertaining, good-looking and universally sympathetic film in its own right, however.

De jurk (The Dress) - Alex van Warmerdam, 1996
Warmerdam's deft presentation of simultaneous humor and heartbreak is present as in Abel, but I'm a bit weary of degrees-of-separation films. Granted, this came out prior to most such films I am aware of and prefer (a la Magnolia); subjectively it just didn't do the trick for me (a la Intermission). Warmerdam must have a low opinion of his own gender - like the mentioned humor, sympathy for despicable male characters is here as in De Noorderlingen, but only one of these men appears redeemable as compared to the oft-victimized women. Perhaps the film is the director's explanation for how men, through loneliness, suffering and circumstances outside their control, become as he presents them.

Ena gramma ston theio Boonmee (A Letter to Uncle Boonmee) - Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009
Joe's calm handling of concept points (if that's even a way to refer to it) is without comparison. A pleasant, if unessential, precursor to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (Hercules Conquers Atlantis) - Vittorio Cottafavi, 1961
Also known as Hercules and the Captive Women, this satisfactory peplum is full of colorful action. The story feels out of middling Saturday morning cartoon fare but this doesn't hurt matters much.

Regarde la mer (See the Sea) - François Ozon, 1997
Similar to Ozon's 2003 Swimming Pool with nearly as entrancing a lens, this one easily compels and even haunts... until its awful, undermining ending.

Inception - Christopher Nolan, 2010
Difficult to fault for its literal approach to dreams as it is, after all, a thriller. Rewards with an engaging climax those who survive the opening ninety minutes (or was it five hours?) of dreadful exposition (purposed to make the line "We'll ride the kicks back up the layers" understandable). Technically inferior yet emotionally superior to its closest cousin from Nolan's filmography - The Prestige.

La Ville des pirates (City of Pirates) - Raúl Ruiz, 1983
Buñuel, is that you? Surrealistic high adventure sans high adventure. Trust me; in this case that makes sense.

Conan the Destroyer - Richard Fleischer, 1984
Like a boy with limitless imagination playing with his action figures. A charming Hyborian fantasy to follow its hulking testosterone injection of a predecessor.

Mean Streets - Martin Scorsese, 1973
I can respect this one for all that it is - a believably accurate portrayal of life in Little Italy and a bold, if rough, coming out from then first-time auteur Scorsese (and likely an inspiration to crime-filmmakers everywhere) - but subjectively it's not something I enjoy or aim to return to for purposes other than the studying of a filmmaker's craft.

The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko, 2010
I've had my eye on Josh Hutcherson since Bridge to Terabithia. He's shaping into a fine actor. Aside from his and a few other amusing performances, this one takes home January's "meh" award. Unfortunate, as I quite liked Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon.

All the Real Girls - David Gordon Green, 2003
Zooey Deschanel, Paul Schneider, bittersweet romance, a soft yet persistant acoustic soundtrack... I would have loved this noise when I was single and desperate, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and place it here, above some actual stinkers.

The Virgin Suicides - Sofia Coppola, 1999
Big who cares. "Obviously [I was] never a thirteen-year-old girl."

Stone - John Curran, 2010
Holy hell is this ever dull. And we're talking about a movie involving the fierce sexual prowess of Milla Jovovich. On the upside, Jovovich's acting is very good. She effortlessly out-shows the weary Robert De Niro and the uncharacteristically poor Edward Norton. This was my third Curran and while I've never been too major a subscriber to what I've seen (at best I "quite like" We Don't Live Here Anymore), this is the first I've outright disliked. Though, it does feature the line, "I don't want no beef with you, I'm vegetarian."

The Star Wars Holiday Special - Steve Binder, 1978
And I thought Revenge of the Sith was childhood-raping. I'm at somewhat of a loss for what to say, exactly. So much to complain about, so much to laugh at... and so much makeup on Mark Hamill. I knew this would be bad but I never once thought it would redefine badness quite so... badly. Random psychedelic dance numbers, a fictional cooking lesson, Wookie sex toys, Heavy Metal-esque animation (this is all in a Star Wars movie, remember)... and if anyone's ever shaking me down for info I now know to distract them with a Jefferson Starship music video. While they're watching I'll just dance in the background, though.

Personal Effects - David Hollander, 2009
I'm actually editing this in on February third. My immediate forgetting and the low placement should be indicative enough of my opinion. Unengaging and poorly acted by the lead (surprise, surprise). At least the wrestling looked well-practiced.

Easy A - Will Gluck, 2010
The John Hughes references are cute to begin with, but wind up on par with those of Not Another Teen Movie (which, for the record, is hilarious for its own purposes). Mean-spirited ('mean' seems the new 'nice' these days) and occasionally offensive through its bafflingly contradictory Aryan lens.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Gavin Hood, 2009
Yeah, it's hard to say why I bothered. I suppose it's like driving past a car wreck. A wreck, indeed. With a script seemingly generated by someone playing Boggle with clichés and special effects worthy of a SyFy Channel Original, this isn't quite the worst action hero picture since Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing but it certainly conjures a similar flagrancy.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - John Madden, 2001
Captain Crappy's Melodrama. I may now comprehend why some people seem to dislike Nicolas Cage.


  1. I liked this article. Good read, as I usually can't deal with long reviews, but these short snippets are great.

    Of the ones I've seen on the list:

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - I didn't like this one at all. Haven't rewatched since the theater, but I remember being incredibly bored, even in the action sequences.

    Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End - I think I disliked it for the same reason that you enjoyed it. The surrealism I just found goofy. I still somewhat enjoy the series, and I think that this one is the best one, but I enjoy it for the action sequences, Depp, and the bad guys. I still HATE Orlando Bloom and everything he has ever attempted in film. Without him, I would have enjoyed the series much more.

    Inception - I enjoyed it the first time, but I think it's completely overrated, and over-thought. It reminded me of Shutter Island, because the two came out so close together, DiCaprio played basically the same character, and it had the same thriller-with-hidden-secrets feel to it. I thought both of them were a little overdone, but had their good moments.

    Conan the Destroyer - I didn't like this one as much as the Barbarian, but it's still watchable. Wish they wouldn't have made it a PG movie so there could have been more blood and boobs like Conan deserves.

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Completely agree with you. Garbage. Also another one that could have been improved with an R rating. I don't think Wolverine kills more than 3 people on screen in the movie. Always cut aside before the Snickt!

    I've seen Virgin Suicides and Mean Streets before too, but honestly don't remember much about either of them.

    Hope to see another article like this next month. Good stuff.

  2. The snippets are so much easier to write, too, haha! Thanks, man! I sincerely appreciate the read, the compliments and the reactions.

    I really didn't care for the first PotC but without Bloom/Knightley I have hope for the fourth so I figured I'd check out 2 + 3 to see what happened. Dead Man's Chest hasn't really lingered on my mind, but it was surprisingly tasty candy while it was before me. At World's End just really impressed me once it got past that kinda awkward opening in Chow Yun Fat's hideout... and yeah, the action is top notch. Not super dynamic, but really well choreographed and realized... and it's just amazing to me how well it cut between inter-battle skirmishes at the end. The whirlpool fight easily eclipses stuff like The Matrix Revolutions' Superbrawl and Return of the King's Pelennor Fields, imo. In spite of Bloom (who I will never outright dislike simply thanks to Elizabethtown) and Knightley I actually found myself a little caught up in the romance at the end - I really like how they wrapped up that whole story. Couldn't help but choke up a bit during the post-credits scene.

    Definitely agreed about Conan. First off, Conan's Conan (you know that better than I, even)... but particularly after that first movie, which is still probably the most testosterone-fueled thing I've ever seen, it was weird to see a PG sequel. Some imaginative sequences, though, and enough camp value to make me happy.

    I'll definitely be putting out another of these next month! Say, do you have a blog in these post-RT times? Since we used to communicate regularly on Suntory Times (I still miss you guys!) I don't think I ever asked.

  3. Oh, and yes, it's tough to not think of Shutter Island when watching Inception for precisely the reasons you mention. Leo's even surrounded by somewhat similar characters (most obviously each film's dead wives). Probably my third-favorite Nolan behind The Prestige and Insomnia but unfortunately that's not saying much. I think I'm coming around a little on The Dark Knight, though... caught a little bit of it on TNT the other day and since some of the hype has dissipated I think my approach to it was more fair. Anyway. I've *started* watching the only of his I haven't seen yet, Following, and although a lot of it impresses me considering my overall opinion of the guy, I keep falling asleep!

  4. I do not have a blog, because I'm too lazy too keep up with one, and it always feels like I'm just talking to myself. I do still post on Suntory though, and kind of use it as a blog. Wish you wouldn't have abandoned us! :)

    I like Memento FAR more than any of Nolan's other stuff. I consider all of his movies good, but Memento is the only one I love. I haven't seen The Prestige however.

  5. Yeah, I can't really whine about Nolan too much because clearly he's got something people love - it's just not for me. Typically great editing, though, so there's that!

    And yeah - selfishly and without much consideration for Steerforth's efforts I was sheepishly trying to get you guys to come over to the dark side with me on The Corrierino but I understand wanting to stick around over there. I honestly forget why I faded out of communication there at first. It wasn't like I migrated from one to the next... I just didn't post on any forums for a while there. Then when I started on The Corrierino I swooped by to see what was up on Suntory and the place seemed all but abandoned. At least I still see your guys' updates on Facebook! Well, you, Jen and Braden's, anyway. Steer, Gizmo, Tamale etc.. haven't talked with them in a while.

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