Weekly Film Log: March 2 – 8

It’s the end of another week! I barely got this post completed in time, but here it is. I do love my History of Animation course and I love writing all about those wonderful cartoons, but it does give me so much to write about in such a little amount of time! Nonetheless, it’s a responsibility I’m willing to keep up for as long as my brain will let me. ūüėČ

Anyway, I had a really great week! Look below to see all the wild and wonderful movies I watched this last week. Okay, stop reading this now. Scroll!

In the Loop (2009) – dir. Armando Iannucci

  • Watched on 3 March
  • Format: DVD
  • Rating: 8/10

In the Loop¬†is essentially what many of those wacky dialogue-driven comedies – e.g.¬†This is the End,¬†The Wolf of Wall Street¬†– were going for an ultimately failed at. It’s absolutely brimming with the most fun, quotable dialogue ever to exist outside of a Monty Python sketch. Yet the entertaining farcical nature does not come without its genuine substance. Indeed, not only does this film work as an exercise in snappy witticisms. It also offers a rather clever, insightful satire of the bureaucratic government. Every character is wonderfully exaggerated, resulting in a film that is brimming with personality, as well as complex, absurd conflict. It possesses the atmosphere and feel of a much bleaker, serious kind of film, yet emphasizes its human to scathing, sometimes vulgar proportions – while still maintaining ideal amounts of scrutiny that pushes its point across without a hint of misguidance. No one does biting nonsensical comedy quite like the¬†Brits.

Bukowski: Born Into This (2003) Рdir. John Dullaghan

  • Watched on 4 March
  • Format: Netflix Instant
  • Rating: 8/10

there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
than
too late.

There’s no denying that Charles Bukowski is not only one of the more successful writers of the beat era, but also one of the more intriguing literary figures of all time. With this being said, it’s a good thing that¬†Born Into This¬†did justice to covering the life and times of such a strange, perplexing genius. Some of the more glaring flaws were the inclusion of some, shall I say, questionable interviewees that seem to do nothing more than add a familiar name to the credits (I’m looking at you, Bono). Nonetheless, the filmmakers made a great decision at not allowing the documentary to be too guided by these interviews. Instead, heavy amounts of archival footage and recordings were used to let Bukowski tell the story himself. For anyone relatively unfamiliar with the guy – as I had been – this film offers a really insightful look into his life, delving headfirst into his quirks and qualities. Nonetheless, it doesn’t try to give answers to even the most dubious parts of his character; thus, he remains an enigma, one that can only be unraveled through his writing. I’m now eager to quickly dust off my copy of¬†Ham and Rye¬†and get¬†started.

Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) (2004) – dir. Luis Mandoki

  • Watched on 5 March
  • Format: DVD
  • Rating: 7/10

Innocent Voices¬†tells of the rise of the civil war in El Salvador during the early 80s – and does so strictly through the eyes of its young child characters. By implementing this strategy, we see (in a distinctly apolitical manner) how the lives of these children are unfairly affected by this conflict at each and every turn. They are not allowed the privilege of a normal, happy childhood, making this a true tragedy by every proportion. While the acting isn’t very outstanding for the most part, Carlos Padilla gives an exceptional performance as our protagonist. One could practically see the innocence disappearing from his eyes, after all he has witnessed and experienced. Unfortunately, this is all the greatness I could garner from this work as a whole. The camerawork during some of the more intense scenes came out as particularly sloppy to me, heavily relying on a shaky aesthetic rather than genuine emotion to guide as along. Moreover, there were moments that almost felt to border on sensationalism of the issue; I know the filmmakers were intending on taking a more raw, traumatizing look at its subject matter, but some of the approaches it took turned me off nonetheless. It’s a film that deals with an exceedingly important, huge subject, but struggled to find its voice amidst the¬†narrative.

Sommaren med Monika (Summer With Monika) (1953) – dir. Ingmar Bergman

  • Watched on 6 March
  • Format: DVD
  • Rating: 7/10

For the most part, it seems that I usually get something out of a Bergman film, no matter how sub-par or boring it is. Thankfully, his earlier work¬†Summer With Monikais neither of those, but it is also certainly apparent that he has yet to find his artistic voice. It lacks the spiritual edge and sense of fullness that could be found in his later, much better films. Nevertheless, it is certainly a well-crafted work in its own right. Harriet Andersson is certainly beautiful in this early work, and the camera frames her in such an idolized method as she experiences that ebbs and flows of young love. Indeed, this is what I could best describe as Bergman’s¬†Blue Valentine. It gracefully portrays the blooming innocence of a young, spontaneous love affair, soon counterbalanced by the responsibility of adulthood. It’s an ethereal fairy tale that refuses to end how it began, stampeding our protagonists with the consequences of their actions. Bergman, in his signature cynicism, tramples on the free-spiritness of idyllic teenagers coming into their own; in the world of this skeptical Swede, no one leaves unscrutinized.

The Last Emperor (1987) – dir. Bernardo Bertolucci

  • Watched on 7 March
  • Format: Netflix Instant
  • Rating: 5/10

As I progress through my goal of watching every Best Picture Oscar winner, it seems that the 80s are particularly disappointing for this. While I have few objections toAmadeus‘ or¬†Ordinary People‘s win, others like¬†Gandhi,¬†Platoon, and¬†Driving Miss Daisy¬†are far from the best picture of their respective years. And it seems that¬†The Last Emperor¬†would also fit perfectly in that realm of questionable Best Picture winners. Of course, my discontent is not with the attaching expectations for this film, but rather the film itself. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is graceful, luxurious, and as majestic as its ever been. Unfortunately, that’s really where the good parts of it end. I don’t know who made the decision that the film should be scripted and acted almost entirely in English, but the results of this decision are incredibly sloppy and jars awkwardly with the magical feel of its Eastern aesthetic. The pacing is extremely tedious and it felt like this film was twice as long as its already sprawling length. The story itself would probably be of interest to me if anything compelling was actually attempted in terms of character and writing. In terms of visuals, sets, costumes, etc. drinking in the atmosphere so vividly created before our eyes was a worthwhile experience in and of itself. Everything else – not so much.

This week in my History of Animation class (March 7th), we watched a few more films by Clampett and Jones, as well as some classic animation from MGM. Then we outro’d with a contemporary film from Nina Paley!

1) Baby Bottleneck (1946) Рdir. Bob Clampett

  • Rating: 5/10

Bob Clampett strikes again. Frankly – as I’ve made clear before – I’m not a huge fan of Clampett’s directorial style. In his attempts to make his films as wacky and mild-mannered as possible, his films often lose any sense of focus and dwell on repetition or just plain dullness.¬†Baby Bottleneck¬†is one of the worst culprits of this I have seen. the introductory gags of the babies being delivered to their improper parents is humorous enough, but once the film places its attention on Daffy and Porky, things go downhill. A series of slapstick gags involving them on the baby conveyor belt is only mildly funny. And just when the cartoon seems to be going somewhere with a minor conflict involving an unhatched egg – the concept is nipped in the bud in such a listless manner. Certainly not one of the best from Looney Tunes.¬†Watch it here!

2) The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) Рdir. Bob Clampett

  • Rating: 6/10

While¬†The Great Piggy Bank Robbery¬†suffers from the Clampett trademark of “too much silliness, too little time”, it is better example of his style in that it remains more focused to its primary plot and themes. In essence, it remains fixed on Daffy’s dream (or nightmare?), making the kookiness and disjunct of these parts much more embracing of its kookiness. I also love the parody it places on the villains of Dick Tracy (a name that has sadly remained almost obsolete in this age), even though it dwells on repetition that sometimes hurts it. Overall, it demonstrates that Bob Clampett is surely a top ace in the animation field, especially when his focus lies in portraying the vast surreality and atmosphere of his shorts, rather than attempting to raise his laughs-per-minute ratio.¬†Watch it here!

3)¬†Duck Dodgers in the¬†24¬Ĺth Century (1953) – dir. Chuck Jones

  • Rating: 7/10

A classic from my childhood revisited and it turns out… this is pretty good.¬†Duck Dodgers in the 24¬Ĺth Century¬†sharply predicts a world of space travel 15 years before the first man would’ve walked on the moon. It’s even clever in the way it satirizes the prospect of war in how Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian vie for ownership of Planet X. Like any other short from Chuck Jones, much of the humor here is found in some of the clever bits of dialogue exchanged, rather than simple slapstick. However, this film has the added bonus of punnery that is more commonly found with Tex Avery’s cartoons, but still mastered here with Jones. The gags surrounding the disintegrating/integrating pistols are completely tops. Overall, this isn’t the best work that Chuck Jones is capable of; nonetheless it is strong in its own respects, and has remained a well-deserved classic.¬†Watch it here!

4) One Froggy Evening (1955) Рdir. Chuck Jones

  • Rating: 8/10

One Froggy Evening¬†has remained one of the all-time beloved works from the Looney Tunes series, and with good reason! This time, we have none of the familiar faces of Bugs, Daffy, or Porky here. Instead, the conflict surrounds one lone, nameless man and his fruitless efforts to monetize off one of Mother Nature’s miracles – here, a singing and dancing frog. Sure it may seem like a fun little cartoon, but it’s rather telling how our protagonist immediately jumps to the money-making prospects of the experience, rather than just taking in the occurrence as it occurs to him. It’s easy to write it off as a simple cartoon in need of a conflict, but I’d be willing to interpret it as a critique of capitalist culture, and how cold our society has been in virtue of the almighty dollar. The frog’s refusal to remain docile to this man’s intentions spell out the irony (and humor) in things that choose to flow in the opposing direction. But interpret it how you choose, it’s certainly a really fun, colorful, hilarious addition to the Looney Tunes family and has remained a long-standing classic for good reason.¬†Watch it here!

5) Smitten Kitten (1952) Рdir. Joseph Barbera & William Hanna

  • Rating: 5/10

I enjoy Tom & Jerry cartoons, I really do.¬†Smitten Kitten¬†just seemed to be one of the most boring, reductive versions of these. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a sort of recap episode – as various clips of Tom and Jerry’s conflicts in the past are recalled throughout this short – but it doesn’t really add up to much in the end. My film professor played this short as an example of Hanna-Barbera work, but I would be much more interested in viewing the 4-5 films referenced throughout the film than this one. I want chases! Body dismemberment! Excitement! Not a devil version of Jerry advising the real Jerry on how “dames” are nothing but trouble. This is just a really bland short; not terrible, just bland. I’d take any other Tom & Jerry short way before this.¬†Watch it here!

6) Blitz Wolf (1942) Рdir. Tex Avery

  • Rating: 8/10

WWII propaganda cartoons have always fascinated me in the weirdest ways, andBlitz Wolf¬†has proved itself the strongest, funniest, and most withstanding of the test of time. It craftily dismantles and parodies the traditional Three Little Pigs story – with the Big Bad Wolf hilariously caricatured as Hitler. The film avoids the trap of political incorrectness many of these cartoons have proven to possess (minus the “No Japs Allowed” sign) and instead goes for a plethora of gags, puns, self-awareness, and delicious irony. There are several moments in this cartoon that had me laughing out loud – specifically the absurd mock German spoken throughout the whole film. The cartoon is loud, deeply infatuated with artillery, and rowdy in every which way possible. But when placed in the sound hands of Tex Avery, I couldn’t ask for it any other way.¬†Watch it here!

7) Who Killed Who? (1943) Рdir. Tex Avery

  • Rating: 8/10

Somehow in all my years I’ve binged watched Tex Avery cartoons as a child, I never really got around to¬†Who Killed Who?. Or at the very least, it never really stuck with me as a kid in ways that I’d remember a decade later. Regardless, this is an amazing cartoon, and one of the best I’ve seen from Tex Avery. It’s essentially a parody of the traditional whodunnit stories, offering many classic examples of the wild and wacky brand of humor that is entirely Avery’s. Indeed, there are puns in spades and the cartoon does present itself as fully self-aware, breaking the fourth wall multiple times and offering plenty of surprises along the way. What I most enjoyed about this one, however, is how it refuses to hold back any punches. The comedy is almost stream-of-consciousness style, offering joke after joke with only a few moments of breathing room in between. While this could have certainly fell very flat (see: Screwy Squirrel), the sheer rampancy of this short remains one of its biggest strengths. And that ending – what a twist!!¬†Watch it here!

8) Happy-Go-Nutty (1944) Рdir. Tex Avery

  • Rating: 3/10

The Screwy Squirrel era of Tex Avery’s career always makes me so sad. It’s entirely evident here that Tex was running out of fresh, funny material, painfully leaning toward recycling old material into familiar concepts. Screwy Squirrel was one of his attempts to reach new ground – but it was a bitter failure. With¬†Happy-Go-Nutty, it’s entirely clear to see where Avery’s fruitless efforts go wrong. Screwy is an entirely uninteresting character, his personality never deviating any further than “look how annoying and loud I am!”. The cartoon as a whole is essentially a simple, aimless chase sequence, which would have been fine if it were actually funny. Instead, it relies on cheap slapstick humor and over-the-top madcappery that just really grinds one gears after a minute or two. There’s nothing fresh, funny, or exciting to gain from this cartoon. What a damn shame.¬†Watch it here!

9) Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) Рdir. Tex Avery

  • Rating: 7/10

Perhaps I’ve just grown fatigued at my multiple rewatches of the “Red series” over the years, but this particular rewatch of¬†Red Hot Riding Hood¬†felt a little weak to me. Nonetheless, I dare not undermine the craftiness at work here in the first of Tex Avery’s modern retellings of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Once again, the style of humor here is certainly rather quick-paced and undeniably consistent. The one shortcoming about Avery’s work is his tendency to recycle tried-and-true gags in ways that are sometimes not very creative. This is seen here, but more often than not, the film remains fresh, funny, and pretty clever. The hedonistic greediness and mild-manneredness of The Wolf make him the perfect crux of the joke when things don’t turn out his way. Accompanied with some truly sly, sexual digs and vibrant, colorful animation,¬†Red Hot Riding Hood¬†has remained a bondafide cartoon classic, and with good reason!¬†Watch it here!

10) Fetch! (2002) Рdir. Nina Paley

  • Rating: 7/10

Nina Paley is perhaps most famous for single-handedly creating the ambitious animated marvel¬†Sita Sings the Blues, which is pretty cute.¬†Fetch!, a short film, is also quite adorable and showcases Paley’s sense of humor in a more creative way. What starts off as a simple, minimalist game of fetch between a man and his dog becomes an experiment in the art of screen illusion. Traditional rules of art and animation that we had previously taken for granted – e.g. smaller objects are further away, a straight line indicates a separation between land and sky, etc. – are turned on their head through the surrealistically quirky progression of events. It’s the kind of smart, unpredictable type of animation that thinks outside the box and keeps me interested through its duration. While the short is nothing particularly innovative or new, Paley succeeds at demonstrating that sometimes less can really be so much more.¬†Watch it here!

Batman: The Movie (1966) – dir. Leslie H. Martinson

  • Watched on 7 March
  • Format: DVD
  • Rating: 8/10

I am so happy I watched this.¬†Batman: The Movie¬†harks back to a time when superheroes were self-consciously campy, silly, and ridiculous, yet taken seriously by governmental officials and citizens. Some of the most enjoyable things about this film is the ways it is essentially a parody of the comic books origins of many of these characters. It retains closeness to its narrative, yet also doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving room for absurdities and cheese aplenty. What makes it so charming is the combination of the major ridiculous plot points (the bomb, suicidal sea critters, Penguin’s ridiculous booby trap) coupled with its more subtle quirks (“bat ladder”, Cesar Romero’s visible moustache under his makeup, Adam West reading “up” in seven different languages). The comedy is universal, exceedingly original, and offers probably the single most mindlessly fun addition to the batuniverse. Take note, Nolan.

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) – dir. George Clooney

  • Watched on 8 March
  • Format: DVD
  • Rating: 8/10

Good Night, and Good Luck.¬†is my first foray into George Clooney’s directorial work, and is a film that I was too young to completely *get* around the peak of its fame. Historical dramas can be rather hit-or-miss for me, since they often dwell on simple, formulaic narrative progression, opting out of doing anything new with pre-determined material. This film, however, managed to create a slick, compelling drama that also happens to look really nice. The genuine atmosphere and feel of this film felt like it was lifted straight from the 1950s. It helped that a good 30% of this film was essentially stock footage; yet the way it was edited side-by-side with the acting parts was so seamless, aiding the film in a smooth, intriguing progression. It’s very dialogue-heavy, but this is hardly a gripe as the way the nuanced conflicts work themselves forward give this low-key material the extra spark of magnetism such films often fail to accomplish. This has got to be one of the greatest, slickest Cold War dramas in all of cinematic history; my one gripe is that it isn’t much longer.

ŇĆkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf Children) (2012) – dir. Mamoru Hosoda

  • Watched on 8 March
  • Format: Blu-Ray
  • Rating: 7/10

After¬†The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I was recommended to check out Mamoru Hosada’s most recent effort,¬†Wolf Children. In essence, I enjoyed this quite a bit. This mythical world where humans and werewolves co-exist possesses a certain kind of ethereal charm I love. The animation in this film is particularly lovely, and certain frames capturing the atmosphere in landscapes are quite breathtaking. While I have no issue with the narrative itself, I feel like I would have enjoyed the film much more if the initial third was spread out for much longer. The possibilities for such an unusual romantic relationship is cut short by its being over far too soon; had the budding romance been developed further, perhaps I would have felt a more emotional connection to its tragedy. But once again, I have no issues with the relationship the film did choose to focus on – that between the mother and her children. It’s a beautiful film on a number of dimensions, and one that I’m sure to visit in the future.

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One Response to Weekly Film Log: March 2 – 8

  1. Pingback: Cinema as a Parallel Universe: March ’14 in Film | Films Like Dreams

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