Something From Nothing: November ’15 in Film

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November was quite an interesting movie month for me. For one thing, I managed to watch a large amount of films, even more impressive than last month’s feat. This is especially cool, considering that I didn’t fill up as large of a percentage of these viewings with short films or rewatches – the vast majority of what I watched in November were new-to-me feature-length movies. While I’ve stopped keeping track of the exact number of films I watched for a few months now (although the fact that I track ’em here every month makes it easy to keep up anyway), I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to accomplish my goal of 500 new-to-me films by the end of December. I know that I’ll certainly surpass my main movie-a-day goal for sure!

Another reason why November was particularly notable lies on a much more distressing point. As I noted in my last post, I made a list on Letterboxd entitled Women-Made Horror, intending on encapsulating as many horror films as I could find that were written or directed by women. I’ve gotten a lot of support from it, but for some reason a rather annoying handful decided to target me out and invalidate the existence and importance of my list (I should probably note to try to avoid reading the comments on my list altogether, unless you’re willing to bear witness to the rampant sexism). Instead of acknowledging that the list is probably not for them, their efforts were firmly aimed towards invalidating the reasons why the list should not exist in the first place. Thankfully, the Letterboxd moderators were able to remove some of the most venomous comments – including one violently transmisogynist statement towards another user – and after a few days the backlash seemed to have stopped altogether. While this ordeal was a bit upsetting at first, it soon became absolutely hilarious. This list was not made for these kinds of people and it certainly isn’t one that’s up for debate. More importantly, I think all these comments only further illustrate my point that the communities of film, horror, and the internet – and all intersections of these three – are pretty unwelcoming to women, their own personal experiences, and the ways in which they’d like to improve upon these conditions.

I wish I didn’t have to leave the introduction on such a distressing note, but it must be so. Very recently, my cherished laptop had an unfortunate accident with a bowl of soup and is pretty much irreplaceable without a good chunk of money. I plan to eventually invest in a new one to continue with my writing, but when that will happen is currently up in the air. I am currently typing this post on my boyfriend’s laptop, but this isn’t the most suitable alternative since we don’t live together and he is an illustrator with a lot of work of his own table. It was very important for me to push out this post as soon as possible, but after this I’m not quite sure how frequent I will be with posting. My Billboard challenge posts will definitely be put out a lot less frequently (even though they’ve already been pretty infrequent as of late). Nonetheless, I’ll try my hardest to put these out if only to offer my smallest possible contribution to the internet film community that I love so much.

Now without further ado, here is the complete list of films I watched in November.

  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Selick, 1993)*
  2. Vincent (Burton, 1982)*
  3. The Descent (Marshall, 2005)*
  4. Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980)*
  5. The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)*
  6. Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood, 2004)
  7. First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982)
  8. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (Joanou, 2012)
  9. Robin Hood Daffy (Jones, 1958)
  10. Malysh i Karlson (Junior and Karlson) (Stepantsev, 1968)
  11. Ménilmontant (Kirsanoff, 1926)
  12. Everything Will Be OK (Hertzfeldt, 2006)
  13. The Old Man and the Sea (Petrov, 1999)
  14. Jidô shôka eiga: Muramatsuri (The Village Festival) (Ōfuji, 1930)
  15. The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg (Gillett & Palmer, 1936)*
  16. Bold King Cole (Gillett, 1936)*
  17. Spy (Feig, 2015)
  18. All Things Must Pass (Hanks, 2015)
  19. Middle of Nowhere (DuVernay, 2012)
  20. Nine to Five (Higgins, 1980)
  21. Jupiter Ascending (Wachowski & Wachowski, 2015)
  22. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (Scafaria, 2012)
  23. Johnny Dangerously (Heckerling, 1984)
  24. Wild Style (Ahearn, 1983)
  25. Magic Mike XXL (Jacobs, 2015)
  26. Treasure Planet (Clements & Musker, 2002)
  27. Tomorrowland (Bird, 2015)
  28. Touching the Void (Macdonald, 2003)
  29. Dip huet seung hung (The Killer) (Woo, 1989)
  30. American Pie (Weitz & Weitz, 1999)
  31. Urban Cowboy (Bridges, 1980)
  32. Serendipity (Chelsom, 2001)
  33. Gong fu (Kung Fu Hustle) (Chow, 2004)
  34. The Comedy (Alverson, 2012)
  35. Risky Business (Brickman, 1983)
  36. Vanilla Sky (Crowe, 2001)
  37. Trading Places (Landis, 1983)
  38. My Week With Marilyn (Curtis, 2011)
  39. Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (Ice-T & Baybutt, 2012)
  40. The Gift (Edgerton, 2015)
  41. Majo no takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service) (Miyazaki, 1989)
  42. My Best Friend’s Wedding (Hogan, 1997)
  43. Pina (Wenders, 2011)
  44. Brooklyn (Crowley, 2015)
  45. By The Sea (Jolie Pitt, 2015)
  46. Room (Abrahamson, 2015)
  47. Insomnia (Nolan, 2002)
  48. The Longest Yard (Segal, 2005)
  49. Home For the Holidays (Foster, 1995)
  50. Pieces of April (Hedges, 2003)
  51. Ernest Saves Christmas (Cherry, 1988)
  52. The Brothers Grimm (Gilliam, 2005)
  53. Brian’s Song (Kulik, 1971)
  54. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (Sallin, 2015)
  55. Frida (Taymor, 2002)

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While I believe that most major themes in films have potential to shine under the right hands, I’ve discovered this past month that I have a particular, personal appreciation for movies dealing with PTSD. This is probably why The Babadook was my very favorite film from last year. On this note, I started off this month by rewatching Neil Marshall’s The Descent, a film I had seen a couple years prior and was slightly underwhelmed by. My second impression could hardly be any higher this time around and I now see it as one of the greatest horrors of the decade. Although the fact that six women lead its narrative probably make it inevitable that I would love the film at least a little bit. There are strong women here, but there are also weak ones and manipulative ones; just so many shades of female personalities that few films typically allow. But most importantly, the symbolic journey that Sarah’s narrative arc takes – one that begins with immense trauma and tragedy and ends in a presumed acceptance/release – is one that means the most to me out of the rest. Overall, though, it’s just a super solid horror film – the environment and atmosphere is terrifying, it’s perfectly paced, and the scares are effective as hell. It’s also probably the one film that seals the deal of me never going spelunking ever in my life.

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In November, I also watched my first Rambo film! That being First Blood, of course. What starts off as a relatively calm flick quickly turns into a highly-charged, thrilling action narrative, with one-man-army John Rambo fighting alongside a corruptive, abusive law enforcement agency. Although it it tends to tread on familiar grounds, this hardly works against it as I found myself completely compelled throughout. Little did I know that this would be yet another film that dealt with the ramifications of PTSD, as evidenced by the brilliant, emotionally climactic scene. I never thought of Stallone as a particularly great actor per se, but I’d be wrong in saying that his poignant monologue in these final moments didn’t make me tear up a bit myself. First Blood is surely a finely-crafted action film well worth its reputation and I can’t wait to watch the sequels.

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Back in my early days of cinephiledom, I was obsessed with silent films. Lately, I’ve really fallen off that wagon, but after watching Dimitri Kirsanoff’s lovely classic Ménilmontant, I’m really yearning to get back into that flow. Stylistically, it’s a magnificent hodgepodge of everything great about this era in movie-making. German Expressionism, French Impressionism, Spanish surrealism, Soviet montage, American dramatic flair – it all finds its place here. Unusual for its time, this film relies on a complete absence of intertitles to tell its story, instead telling it through a combination of imagery and editing. And boy does it work – there’s this lingering sense of dread and melancholy that hangs over its tale, which is actually a very sad one that sometimes takes turns into the violent and shocking. Despite its age, the methods used are still very effective today and solidify this as a truly exquisite piece of art. Time for me to get back on that silent film kick soon.

middle_of_nowhere

In my forever quest to keep watching more films directed by women, I’ve watching eight female-directed movies in November. While I certainly can do better, I’ve also done much worse! I finally got around to watching a second film from Ava DuVernay, that being Middle of Nowhere. I was a huge advocate of Selma during the Oscar season (still upset about all of that), and I wanted to see what she was doing in her earlier days of filmmaking. Middle of Nowhere is her third feature-length project and her second narrative film, but the workings of a smart, genuine artist can already be seen at play here. Struggling marriages are common subject matter in films, but with added dimensions of incarceration – particularly with how it affects the Black community – turn this into a different animal entirely. Augmented by terrific performances by Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, and Lorraine Toussaint, it’s quite a subtle film that doesn’t have many bells and whistles going for it, but is beautiful nonetheless and deserving of far more recognition than it currently holds.

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Okay, maybe I shouldn’t love Nine to Five as much as I did, but I really did love it. I’m just a sucker for women-led 80s comedies (okay, okay, women-led movies in general) that it’s inevitable that this one would win me over in one way or another. The premise alone is practically screaming out for all the misandrist ladies who hate their jobs and bosses, and as 80s comedies tend to go, the way this one progresses really does tread on some rather absurd territory. Still, I see it more as a fantasy flick, a good popcorn movie that probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously with any interpretation. It also helps that Dolly Parton is an absolute gem, stealing every scene with her natural charms at seemingly every occasion given.

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Jupiter Ascending seems to be one of the most divisive films to come out of this year; since it’s a film from the Wachowskis, I definitely needed to watch it. As it turns out, I really enjoyed it. It’s pretty ridiculous, there’s no denying that – not only in its mere concept, but in its pacing, performances, dialogue, costumes, settings… yeah. At the same time though, it’s no more or less absurd than all those Marvel movies that seem to come a dime a dozen these days. The difference being that the originality and weirdly camp tone that runs throughout this combination of its elements could arguably trump all those formulaic action and sci-fi flicks that seem rampant in these modern times. The bad news is that Eddie Redmayne is pretty much the worst thing about this film and seems to practically suck all life out of every scene he’s in. Sure it drags in places and it isn’t a great film in any sense of the word. I’d call Jupiter Ascending a guilty pleasure, except I see nothing to be guilty about enjoying something as senseless and fun as this.

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One of the biggest surprises I had come across in the past month is Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend For the End of the World. My initial impression of this was that it would be just another of those romantic comedies, albeit with a distinctly morbid concept. I thought I was in for a good time – I thought wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it; yet it also affected me more deeply on an emotional level than most films I’d seen all year long. I’m usually not a fan of Keira Knightley, but she was absolutely charming in this one. Same goes for Steve Carrell, who has now proven to me to be a perfectly competent performer given his material. Because we know the fate that the characters have coming to them very soon, we see ourselves more in their desperation and sympathize with the humanity that steps forward in the face of apparent futility. I could understand why many would find this movie unsatisfying, but I loved practically everything about it and I definitely did cry at the end. A lot.

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In terms of movie-watching, one of my biggest regrets of this year is that I never caught Magic Mike XXL on a big screen when I had the chance. I guess my dubiousness is to be expected – I did hate the first installment of the series, after all. XXL, on the other hand, has to go down in history as one of the finest, most game-changing sequels of all time (yes, all time). Gone is all the boring, melodramatic backstory that seemed to weigh the first Magic Mike down; as the name suggests, XXL is bigger, faster, raunchier, and much, much more fun. It manages to be a excellent, nicely paced road trip piece about hearty masculine bonding while also being refreshingly appreciatory of women all at the same time. And yes, the dance sequences are absolutely to die for. I’m not sure if this will end up on my top ten by the time I get all my 2015 viewings in, but I’d be pressed to find many films that are just as shamelessly fun.

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Despite my love of animation and my appreciation for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in general, I had still never got around to Kiki’s Delivery Service. Sure, I’d probably got around to it as a kid, but I never remembered much while many of my peers hold this one particularly close to their hearts. Upon watching it, I can’t say it’s my favorite of Miyazaki’s works (Totoro will always be the one for me), but I can see its obvious charms. Almost devoid of the magic and mysticism aspects that run throughout most of Miyazaki’s best-known works, this portrayal of the titular young witch’s quest for identity and maturity is much more simple. It is this simplicity married with casual fantasy that mark it closer to magical realism, as opposed to the unfamiliar terrains of similar flicks. Moreover, it’s tempting to compare this to a Disney film via its Renaissance period, but I’d argue that Kiki’s Delivery Service is much more subtle and nuanced in its message and connection to young viewers. Above all, it’s extraordinary pleasant and could only continue to be so upon multiple rewatches.

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While I’m conflicted on Julie Taymor’s work as a whole, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed her biopic Frida. Selma Hayek is an absolute gem and I loved seeing her as Frida Kahlo, a role she put her all into and played rather effectively. It moves at the same beats and pace as most biopics tend to do – her upbringing, her art career, her relationships – yet it also tries its hardest to adequately and sensitively illustrate all of the pain and setbacks that Kahlo had had to endure throughout her entire life. Some of the best scenes of the film are those in which Taymor implements Kahlo’s actual paintings into whatever struggles and conflicts the painter was encountering at that particular point in her life. Scenes like these turn what could have been just another flash-in-the-pan biopic into a point of interest that actually breathes some life of its own. I’m so glad I watched this; maybe it’s enough for me to give Across The Universe a second chance.

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