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The All-Time Favourites #11: Inland Empire (2006)

10 Things I Learned From Movies I Watched in 2011

Five Great Movie Title Sequences You Might Not Remember

How To “Get” Minimalist Movies

DVD of the Week (2/9)

The Ten Best Movies About Insanity

Insanity is a common subject in film, and can be difficult to address clearly. Insane persons have a very unique and twisted worldview, and a director would need to know a lot about the subject to portray that view accurately. The following list is the ten films which, in my opinion, deal with the subject best. Note that there are dozens of others that could’ve made the list, and if you’d like to name some please leave a comment below.

10: The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining addresses insanity as a product of alcohol, and it is the only film on this list to do so. The book by Stephen King addresses it in a much clearer, more startling manner, but there is no denying Kubrick’s glorious cinematography and creepy vibes are just as effective. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career as the mentally unhinged Jack Torrance, whose alcohol addiction and short temper invite the demonic forces of the Overlook Hotel into his head, and convince him to kill his family. Still as haunting as ever over thirty years after its initial release, The Shining remains a film which is a study more on things that lead to insanity, than insanity itself.

9: Rejected (2000)

Rejected, in case you have not seen it or even heard of it, is a 9-minute short film directed by Don Hertzfeldt detailing an animator’s descent into insanity through his short cartoons, which increasingly grow more disturbing and disgusting. I completely love the change of pace in this movie. The first few minutes are absolutely hilarious and completely random, but as the film goes on we begin to realize how sick and saddening it really is. The film’s visceral conclusion is poetically brilliant, an amazing representation of mental instability finally kicking into overdrive. The film isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a watch:

8: Inland Empire (2006)

Even if you’ve seen this, which surprisingly few people I know have, you wouldn’t expect to see it on the list. Sure, it’s easy to label any of David Lynch’s movies “insane” but you’d expect to see Mulholland Dr. on a list of insane movies, not Inland Empire, right? Well after hours and days of studying the film, I’ve determined that it has a much more effective and memorable stance on insanity than its more well-known predecessor. It’s about a woman, an actress (Laura Dern) who sinks into the role of a boozed ex-prostitute reflecting on her demented past with a spiteful attitude yet with no particular impulse to change. I’ve always thought it’s one of the best movies ever made (except for the whole DV-shooting thing, which I still don’t get), and I’m probably one of very few people who think that, but the reason it’s so difficult to understand is because insanity is difficult to understand. Lynch goes straight for the gut, heaving disturbing images at us and forcing us to confront them. I’m praying for the day when he makes another film, but if he doesn’t, this would be a fitting conclusion.

7: Citizen Kane (1941)

While labeling any one film ‘the greatest movie of all time’ is an incredible overstatement (though Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog comes closest), one can’t deny that Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is pretty damn close. He plays the eponymous Kane, the ruthless patriarch of a newspaper empire (a character based on William Randolph Hearst, but who seems eerily similar to the Rupert Murdoch of today) whose greed and power are ultimately his downfall. In the end, as we all know, he dies, and on his deathbed all the regrets of his life flash before his eyes in an instant, and all he wishes for is the simplicity of his childhood (*wipes tear*). I don’t believe Kane was really insane, but for a few, fleeting, manic moments we see insanity in his eyes, in his attitude, and for Welles to display that so calmly, so cooly, is the artwork of a cinematic God itself.

6: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Werner Herzog’s astonishing breakthrough is one of many tales of maniacality fuelled by greed. Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) at first accepts his place as a secondary character before suddenly, shockingly and mercilessly usurping the position of leader. He leads his men on a lethal journey into the jungle in search of the mythological city of El Dorado, a place as incredibly difficult to find as any logic or reason in the film’s protagonist: very difficult. He’ll let his men die so long as he gets to his destination, and as they are ruthlessly picked off by natives and eaten by monkeys, he stands triumphantly, as if their rotting corpses are the fruits of his discoveries, the gold of El Dorado, and as if the long trek into the jungle will last forever, until ultimately his own life is taken by his second-hand desires and unstable tendencies.

5: American Psycho (2000)

Can you remember the expression on your face when Patrick Bateman said, “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” Or how about: “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!” Or most memorably: “It’s even got a watermark!” They’re all lines representing the typicality and tiredness of his insanity, how it is so fully developed and fleshed out that it is not his soul that has been taken over, but his entire physical form. There is not one iota of sanity from Bateman in the entire film; strange, since usually all films about insanity have at least one moment when the insane protagonist looks momentarily normal. This is the beauty of Mary Harron’s representation of the character. He is insane to the point where acting sane would be insane, to him. This is very difficult to represent on screen, but Harron does it with ease, style, and a helpful handful of pop culture references. Bale embodies Bateman, to the point where it is difficult not to be reminded of Bateman every time we see him. Bateman is one of those characters that was probably always insane, but what makes it especially shocking is how physically similar he is to the film’s other characters, which suggests subtly that his insanity is normal, that he is not alone, and that it is typical of the rough, threatening shark-in-a-suit attitude which has become so stereotypical.

4: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Randal Patrick McMurphy is not insane. He is as normal as apple pie or cinnamon buns, and there is no reason for us to think any different? So why is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on this list? Because this is a list of films about insanity; dealing with it as a subject, not necessarily as characterisation. McMurphy is isolated in a world of supposedly crazy (“Creeps! Lunatics! Mental Defectives!”) people, but as the film passes by, we realize how we have completely overestimated the meaning of the word insane. Insanity does not necessarily mean dropping a chainsaw from fifty feet and hitting a prostitute splat on the head (see #5), it can mean something as simple as basic paranoia or just thinking in a different manner to what we would consider ‘normal.’ Insane is a stupid word. Literally, it would mean ‘the opposite of sane,’ but what is sane? Normal? What is normal? How can you factually define these words without using opinion? There is no way. Definition is supposedly fact, but opinion is a part of almost everything we say and mean, rendering the words ‘insane’ or ‘sane’ moot. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals with insanity as normality, determined by a group of probing doctors and physicians, taking notes and giving pills that have no effect other than to render the person in an almost catatonic state of ignorance. The film screams out against the system of imprisonment and the definition of insanity, and this is how it is a film which deals with the subject.

3: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Sure, milkshake metaphors and bowling-pin beatings warrant us to issue an insanity warning, but the film is so much deeper than that. Daniel Plainview, like Charles Foster Kane and Don Lope de Aguirre, is driven by greed. At first he is represented as a normal man, but his descent into insanity is shocking and unnerving. While not the best film to deal with the subject, it is definitely one of the most effective. Paul Thomas Anderson confidently directs his masterpiece, and Robert Elswit’s Oscar-winning cinematography perfectly captures the madness in his mind. The film’s harrowing final half hour is a poetically stunning final message about greed and insanity. I think it is brilliant that Anderson can so amazingly capture that insanity in 30 minutes, let alone two and a half hours. The final confrontation between religious faith and atheistic disbelief is like God and Satan bickering, except this time Satan wins. Seeing Plainview in a ragged, drunken state in the film’s finale, screaming lines like “DRAAIIIINNNNAAGGEEE!” and “I told you I would eat you!” is the embodiment of a loss of soul, dignity and care. At this point, it’s not even about his greed for oil anymore. All he wants now is to hate, to kill. Compassion takes effort, and he is lazy. Looking into Plainview’s maniacal eyes we realize that anything that is not hate and selfishness will never exist in there, and it is a sombre and haunting moment indeed. Gordon Gekko once said “Greed is good.” He was NOT referring to Daniel Plainview.

2: Taxi Driver (1976)

Some would argue that Travis Bickle’s attitude was not insanity, but just tiredness. Then again, would you go and do what he did? No, you wouldn’t. Most would consider it sane not to go to such drastic measures, am I correct? Then that means what Bickle did was, by public definition, insane. But this is no time for argument. The image of Bickle with his fingers pointed at his head (“Boom! Boom! Boom!”) is him at the height of his insanity, breaking through all walls to rid his city of scum. The path to insanity is paved by Scorsese slowly, as an eventual downward spiral. This seems to be the most common way to track insanity (see #10, #9, #7, #6 and #3 on this list), and it works. Bickle’s character is a man we can all relate to; many of us can easily see ourselves doing what he does, but most of us just don’t have the insanity and conviction in our heads to actually proceed with the acts. Sure, if you saw a sadistic madman like Sport (Harvey Keitel) pimping and abusing the underage Iris (Jodie Foster), you’d want to do something, you’d want to stop it, right? Well this is where Bickle differs from everyone else; he actually does something, and it quite something indeed. He doesn’t report him to the police, he just goes right ahead and kills him because that is his mindset, the wasy he thinks, and what he considers the rational thing to do. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

1: The Hour of the Wolf (1968)

I don’t think there’s a single person who would ever read this article who will agree with me on #1. I am bracing myself for the “Hey, how can you put that ahead of Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver?” Well, as we all know, lists like these are opinionated so this is simply my opinion. Ingmar Bergman’s delve into the realm of horror film proved deeply influential (watch it back to back with Scorsese’s Shutter Island and you’ll see what I mean) and starkly terrifying. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann (Bergman’s two most talented collaborators, if I may say so) are a married couple living on an island whose lives are changed by the island’s strange inhabitants. They draw in von Sydow, humiliate him, trick him, and convince him he is losing his sanity. As the film goes on, this is exactly what happens. Any film can track an eventual loss of sanity, but Bergman punctuates it with a mixture of both subtle scenes of sanity loss and outright obvious moments of von Sydow losing it. The film is sporadic and shocking, unpredictable and unforgettable, and portrays the subject of insanity in a manner that is impossible to replicate, making the film not only powerful but unique and special, impossible to remake, fun to homage and incredible to watch.

Well, that’s my list. Anything you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

The Bi-Weekly Movie Challenge: You Have Until 25 July To Watch This

Two weeks ago I asked everyone to watch Stanley Kubrick’s widely disputed Eyes Wide Shut and tell me what you thought. One person gave it a 3, one gave it an 8, and one gave it a 9, which gives a general consensus of about 7-ish. My own personal rating is 10, and a lot of you will think that’s way too high, or that I’m outrageously overrating it, but hey, opinions are opinions.

This week, the film I’m giving you guys to watch is another movie that I seem to be the only person on the planet who gave it a 10:

Here’s the rules:

If you haven’t seen it, I ask you please to rent it from Netflix or whatever DVD movie rental agency you use and come back to this page, leave a comment with a brief review and RATE IT OUT OF TEN. If you’re up to the task, then you have until 25 July to do this.

If you have seen it, the hard part’s over! All you have to do is leave a comment with a brief review, RATING IT OUT OF TEN.

Thanks everyone so much for participating. There’s sure to be some mixed reaction here, but let’s make sure there is at least some reaction. Thanks again, and happy watching!

5 Best Scenes David Lynch Ever Directed

David Lynch is a weird, wacky and inspired director, and almost all of his films have his own deft touch, often demonstrated within scenes or moments that are perfectly ‘him.’ Here are five scenes from his films that, had someone else directed them, they would be nowhere near as good as Lynch made them.

1: The Pencil-Top Eraser Scene, Eraserhead (1976)

From the beginning, when The Lady in the Radiator sings her song, to Henry’s head popping off and getting taken away by a boy to a pencil factory, the scene is coated in weirdness. It is the one scene that remains most difficult to decode, but it is in some strange way a piece of pure genius.

2: “Don’t You Fuckin’ Look At Me!”, Blue Velvet (1986)

For obvious reasons, I can’t include a video here but this strangely rhythmic, horrifically violent “rape” sequence is directed with an eerie comic flair by Lynch, and acted stunningly by Dennis Hopper.

3: The Monster Behind Winkie’s, Mulholland Dr. (2001)

The most difficult and out of place scene in Lynch’s masterpiece is a scene that has developed a steady cult following. It’s one you can enjoy on its own, even without the rest of the movie, and prompts serious thought into the meaning of the film.

4: Susan’s Monologue, Inland Empire (2006)

In what I’m seriously starting to consider my favourite Lynch movie, there are a huge number of scenes that rival for this list, but one of the obvious picks would be Laura Dern deep in character as she plunges into a spiteful monologue about her life. This isn’t the whole thing, but it’s some of it.

5: Susan Running, Inland Empire (2006)

Okay, so this is only thirty seconds, and to some it won’t count, but there is so much meaning in this shot, about Nikki/Susan’s lust for the spotlight, how she yearns for it and runs at it; it’s also a huge shock and really jolts you back into the movie.

Anyway, so that’s my list. Anything I’ve forgotten, or something you’d like to add? What did you think of these creepy Lynchian scenes? Leave a comment below. Thanks.

Very Long Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again…

Believe me, I LOVE a good historical epic. Love ’em a lot. But most of them are films you can enthusiastically watch once, and never return to again. This is the case with a lot of ’em, and a lot of other assorted ‘long’ movies, but there are a special selection of movies that are AT LEAST 3 hours long that I can watch over and over and over, and possibly never get tired of them. And here they are, in order of how many times I’ve seen them.

The Best of Youth (2003)

This high-spirited, epic Italian drama is a literal lifetime spread out through six hours of pure bliss. Please do not be turned off by the runtime; this is a brilliant, insanely watchable and gripping family drama; to quote Roger Ebert: “The film is six hours long but it is also six hours deep.” An unforgettable film I will never regret watching. View Count: 1, but I plan to buy it soon and then watch it over and over.

Dekalog (1988)

I know it’s going too far to call this “the best movie of all time.” That’s an impossible statement to make, so I’m not going to venture to make it, but Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-hour Dekalog (conveniently sliced into ten equal pieces) is pretty damn close. It deals with pretty much all the themes, emotions and basic crises of the human condition, and it does so beautifully. A masterful, must-see epic, if ever there was one. Read my review. View Count: 1 (Be fair! I only saw it for the first time a month ago!)

Shoah (1985)

Though there is dispute whether this is a documentary or a film, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah is the most powerful, full, emotionally visceral film about the Holocaust ever made. At a whopping nine hours, some will undoubtedly be bored, but Lanzmann’s movie is, for me, anything but boring. He provides interviews with those both directly and indirectly involved in the mass murder of the Jews, and provides haunting looks at some of the places these atrocities occured. Chilling; epic; a masterpiece. View Count: 2.

Fanny and Alexander (1983)

Ingmar Bergman’s magnificent 3-hour (or 5-hour, depending on which version you’re watching) masterwork is a brilliant, beautiful, astounding work of art. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography makes every image look like a fantastic, colourful painting, beautifully directed by an amazing Bergman at the height (and end) of his theatrical career. Jeez, I’m running out of adjectives. View Count: 2

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Of all the brilliant epics David Lean directed, the only one that really hooked me and made me fall in love with it was Lawrence of Arabia. Crossing the 3 and a half hour mark, it may be long, but it sure is beautiful. The stunning images of the Sahara Desert combined with the sheer will of Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence combine to make a fantastic, riveting movie. View Count: 2.

Dogville (2003)

Lars von Trier has made many films that have very divided opinion, and the one with the most divided is probably Dogville. It seems half the audience hate this fantastic 3-hour drama about social mistreatment, cruelty, and the ultimate price of letting everything go. If you’ve seen it, then make sure you visit this page and leave a comment rating it out of 10 by June 24, 2011. Anyway, it’s a fantastic (but debatable) movie that I absolutely love. View Count: 3.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Stanley Kubrick’s longest film is actually 3 hours long, and often forgotten about when Kubrick’s name and filmography is mentioned. However, it is one of his best films, a fantastic epic about the lifetime of a young man (Ryan O’Neal) who ascends to royalty in the 19th century by fighting and cheating his way to the top. Beautifully lit, this scenically marvellous and emotionally riveting (particularly within the gripping last hour) film is sadly underrated. View Count: 4.

The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)

Both of these films, which together total over six hours, are absolutely enthralling, brilliant masterpieces from Francis Ford Coppola that revolutionized and revitalized a mafia/crime drama genre, undoubtedly inspiring such classic directors as Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma. Not to mention I can watch them over and over and over without ever getting tired. View Count: 6.

Inland Empire (2006)

I seem to be the only person who loves this movie enough to say it is perfect. David Lynch’s 3-hour masterpiece is a very inaccessible but still hugely enthralling delve into the unusual, darker side of humanity. A seemingly senseless, plotless series of scenes, Inland Empire actually has a bustling, multi-layered plot which is extremely difficult to decode, probably the reason I’ve watched it so many times. It’s really a film that needs to be seen to be believed, and I don’t like to throw that phrase around. View Count: 8.

Magnolia (1999)

If you read my blog you probably know this is my favourite movie of all time, and that is fair enough reason to watch it 19 times. That’s right, NINETEEN! I’ve watched this 187 minute labyrinth of emotions almost twenty times in its entirety, and I never, never, NEVER get tired of it. I’ve written a very long essay on it (which I plan to post to the site soon enough, pending further editing), and forced friends to watch it more times than they care for. Even if you don’t love this movie, as I’m certainly not expecting you to, you have to admit it has serious emotional power, and it is a testament to the brutal, strong ability of Paul Thomas Anderson, a man who was BORN to be behind the camera. Affects me in the same manner each and every time, and was arguably the film that fuelled my love for cinema. View Count: 19.

What are some awfully long movies you love to watch? What about ones you think are too long? Not long enough? Seen any of the movies above and have something you’d like to say? Leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.

10 Movies You MUST Watch More Than Once

I am a heavy believer in the power of ‘rewatching’ movies. I do it all the time, and with most of the good movies I’ve ever seen. Sometimes it changes nothing, but more often than not you are looking at the film from a different angle and you can pull things out of it that completely flew over your head the first time. Here are ten examples of films that completely changed for me when I watched them a second (or 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.) time:

The Brown Bunny

I thought I’d start out with this one first because it was really the inspiration for this post. Back in December when I first watched this, I gave it 4/10. Now it’s 7/10, edging on 8. Knowing the final end twist, the atmosphere of the film is completely different and scarily dark the second time round. Read my review here.

Inland Empire

Of all the films I’ve rewatched, I’ve never gained so much from each respective viewing as I have from David Lynch’s Inland Empire. If you can make it through the whole three hours, it’s definitely worth it. One of the greatest acting performances of the decade, as well as sweeping direction and a scary mood that is unbeatable. First Viewing Rating: 7/10. Second Viewing Rating: 10/10

Caché

Just like David Lynch, all of Michael Haneke’s movies deserved to be seen more than once, but none moreso than this Cannes smash-hit, which is one of the creepiest and most shocking movies I’ve ever seen. You will not believe how good Haneke is with a camera. He does it to the point where you’re unsure whether what you’re watching is an actual scene or taped footage. First Time Rating: 9/10. Second Time Rating: 10/10

Eyes Wide Shut

The problem most people face with this film is the same as The Brown Bunny issue. They find it boring, the sex gratuitous and unneccessary, and the plot going nowhere. It’s very prejudicial and insulting to bring it down to those levels. This is a highly intelligent, scarily accurate and shockingly referential film. First Time Rating: 8/10. Second Time Rating: 10/10

2001: A Space Odyssey

Like Lynch and Haneke, all of Kubrick’s films deserve a good rewatch, but none moreso than the above one and this, a stunningly beautiful, futuristically accurate (well, almost) and unbelievably brilliant motion picture. This is one of the lucky few pictures where everything is perfect, but of course that comes at a price: its complete inaccessibility to the average moviegoer. However, that’s nothing a rewatch can’t fix! First Time Rating: 9/10. Second Time: 10/10

A Serious Man

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of this movie at the theatre when it came out, and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. Then a friend told me I needed to see it again, so I bought the DVD and rewatched it and wow, just like with The Brown Bunny, that second watch has made all the difference. A spectacular film on a level of greatness halfway between insanity and truth. First Time Rating: 6/10. Second Time Rating: 9/10

This was the scene in A Serious Man when I finally realized, whilst watching it a second time, that I had completely underestimated it the first time:

The Godfather: Part II

This is a personal one for me, because when I first saw it, the night after watching its predecessor, I thought it was very good, but nowhere near Part I. I bought the DVD and chucked it on the shelf, knowing one day I’d have to rewatch it. The second time round, something happened. Something clicked, and it’s now one of my favourite motion pictures ever. Have you ever felt the click? It’s a marvellous thing. First Time Rating: 8/10. Second Time Rating: 10/10

Dr. Strangelove

(Spoiler Alert) The great thing about rewatching this movie is that, when you see it the first time, you’re not as focused on the humour but more on how they’re going to stop their planes from bombing Russia. The second time, you know they’re going to fail so you focus more on them, rather than their situation. It makes the subtle humour much more visible and highly enhances the laugh factor. First Time Rating: 8/10. Second Time: 10/10

Memento

Like with the above, knowing the end twist beforehand makes it easier to focus on the filming and the style, which is something very well done, indeed. Mind you, this is a film you don’t really have any other choice but to rewatch as it’s so goddamn confusing. First Time Rating: 8/10. Second Time: 9/10

Any of the films of Edgar Wright

It’s hard just to pick one, so I’m going to class his entire filmography as one big movie, just this once. There is so much humour happening so quickly that it’s easy to miss some of the tiny jokes and even some of the great movie tributes that inspired them. SOTD View Count: 5. Hot Fuzz View Count: 6 Scott Pilgrim View Count: 3

So… what films changed for you the second time round? What films do you want to watch a second time? What did you think of my choices? Leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.