Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen

When I saw Woody Allen's To Rome with Love last year, I stated in my review that the veteran's career would not be sunk by one dud of a film. And that's exactly what To Rome with Love was—a tired, half-hearted dud. Thankfully, my suspicions were confirmed with Blue Jasmine: one of the strongest films Allen has made in the past 15 years. Many would declare that that's no mean feat, as Allen hasn't produced many quality films in that period of time. That's not my point. My point is that this 77-year-old man, who could happily retire if he wanted to, has salvaged the willpower to follow a stinker (To Rome with Love) with a very solid picture in Blue Jasmine. It shows that he cares, and that he isn't just making films "because he can". Blue Jasmine is by no means a perfect film, nor one that will blow you away (unless there's some personal resonance with the characters). Rather, it's a tight, well-executed film that doesn't waste time in saying what it has to say.

The film's premise is a simple one: Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), once a wealthy socialite who enjoyed a decadent New York existence, has hit bottom in almost every aspect of her life. She flies to San Francisco to start anew with her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who has never known the same privilege as Jasmine. Ginger has recently divorced her husband Augie, and is now dating the blue-collar Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine's arrival upsets the dynamic at Ginger's house, as the sisters have opposing values and expectations. Through seamless flashbacks, we see Jasmine's foreboding interactions with her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin). Allen toys with the film's chronology through these smooth transitions between past and present, which in turn reflect Jasmine's deteriorating grip on reality. Jasmine decides to pursue a career in interior design, which requires her to take up computer classes (due to computer illiteracy). To pay for the classes, she agrees to a job as a dental receptionist. None of these endeavours ring true. Jasmine is not accustomed to choosing. We get the sense that none of these aspirations stem from passion, but rather a desire to matter. 

There's a striking sadness that underpins the entire film. We sympathise with Jasmine not because of the events that befall her, but because she brings all of her troubles upon herself. Her comfortable life in New York has led her to believe that any state of emotional disturbance is a temporary one. Jasmine's denial of her own shortcomings is what's saddest of all. She is always projecting the blame onto others, as though they "just don't get it". A major idea I gathered from the film is that people cannot exist on an objective level. We may think we have our own concrete personalities, but we actually adapt to our surroundings, depending on our company. These facades we wear are ultimately futile because we cannot find a way to marry them all. Furthermore, the film argues that we are burdened by the shackles of expectation. Ginger may not be completely satisfied in her relationship with Chili, but when she has a tryst with Al (Louis C.K), she realises that dating someone from a higher social class for the sake of conformity is not worth it. Jasmine is encased by a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. She has always been the elite one, and even when she falls from grace, there's this painful insistence that things aren't as bad as they seem. Her psychosis defies this illusion. Things are as bad as they seem. 

Let's talk about Cate Blanchett. The most obvious comparison to make is between Jasmine and Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. I was more fascinated by Blanchett as an actress and her channeling of Gena Rowlands. Now, I'm not sure if this was intentional or unintentional, or if others have noticed it. I couldn't see past it. Blanchett reminded me so much of Rowlands in her mannerisms, intonation, and even physical appearance. In fact, I made this observation when I first saw the trailer. This is not a complaint. This is praise. I could imagine Blanchett playing Rowlands' role in a Cassavetes film such as Opening Night or A Woman Under the Influence. The parallel runs even deeper. In one scene, Jasmine says, "There's only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming." Well, as soon as that line was uttered, I immediately thought of this classic Rowlands scene from A Woman Under the Influence:


Comparisons aside, Blanchett is phenomenal in Blue Jasmine. There is always a look in her eyes that suggests she is simultaneously detached and completely immersed in her surroundings. We never know when her breaking point will come, which reminds me of Hitchcock's famous differentiation between surprise and suspense, whereby suspense depends on prior knowledge of an impending threat, and surprise comes without warning. Watching Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine is a suspenseful experience. 

Here's hoping that Woody Allen can crank out more gems like this for many years to come!

4/5 stars.     

Friday, September 13, 2013

100 Film Facts About Me

I was inspired to write this post by fellow film enthusiast James Russell. It's just a bunch of opinions and anecdotes I have accumulated in my life as a film buff. Make of it what you will.

1. My favourite film is American Beauty. I vaguely recall seeing parts of it when I was about six years old. I watched it for the first time in full at the age of 15, and I immediately decided that no other film had ever impacted me as strongly as that one. You can read my thoughts on this masterpiece here.

2. My least favourite film is V/H/S. I don't want to talk about it.

3. My favourite actor is Kevin Spacey. I don't have a definitive favourite actress, but Kate Winslet may be the strongest candidate. 

4. My favourite director is Ingmar Bergman. 

5. The first film I ever saw at a cinema was most likely Home Alone 3 when I was five years old. Bride of Chucky was the second film I saw at a cinema, which is a HUGE contrast in intensity from Home Alone 3. I loved it regardless. My parents never cared what my brother and I watched as kids. 

6. I still own a VCR. The last film I saw on VHS was William Friedkin's The Birthday Party in July this year.

7. By the end of 2013, I hope to have seen every film in Woody Allen's filmography. The man has made 45 films, and as of September 13, 2013, I have seen 23 of them.

8. Most people are shocked when I say There's Something About Mary is the funniest film I've ever seen. Oh well, can't please 'em all. Humour is very subjective. 

9. The first film I saw by myself at a cinema was Ruby Sparks at Parramatta's Event Cinema on Thursday, September 20, 2012. When I say "by myself", I mean I didn't go along with anyone. However, a cute girl sat next to me and there was a bit of sexual tension...but nothing significant enough to mention here.   

10. I don't care what you think about him...I will defend Nicolas Cage to the death. OK, maybe not to the death, but I believe he is a very skilled actor. Watch Leaving Las Vegas, The Weather Man or Adaptation and then get back to me. Don't judge him based on the remake of The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, or some other heavily flawed film. Yes, he's taken some very unambitious roles in recent years, but the man is incredible when he needs to be.

11. The most disturbing film I have ever seen is Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997). It made me extremely uncomfortable and I don't think I could ever watch it again by myself. I love it, though. Any film that can shake me so deeply deserves praise. 

12. An incomplete list of films that have made me cry: The Lion King, The Passion of the Christ, Click, Million Dollar Baby. I know there are more, but I'm not sure whether shedding a tear counts as crying. 

13. I think the most criminally under-seen film of all time is Archie's Final Project AKA My Suicide. Seek it out and watch it. More people need to be aware of its greatness. I've never awarded five stars to a film so unexpectedly.

14. The Exorcist is still the scariest film I've ever seen (note: scariest is not the same as most disturbing). There's a reason so many people refuse to watch it. 

15. I have probably seen fewer than 10 complete action movies in my entire life, and it doesn't really bother me. That genre bores me.

16. I will never understand the praise that is heaped upon The Hangover. I think it's an extremely lazy comedy, and the fact that it spawned two sequels saddens me. Then again, like I said before...comedy is SUBJECTIVE!

17. My inspiration for taking a serious interest in film was the late, great Roger Ebert. In my mid-teens, I read one of his film reviews and I really loved the insights he espoused. It was then I realised I could watch films not only for entertainment, but also for emotional enrichment and artistic appreciation. I went through a long phase where every movie I saw would be followed by a reading of Ebert's review of it. I will never forget his words, "No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough."

18. My favourite trilogy is either the Toy Story trilogy or Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy. 

19. My favourite Australian film is Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. I am currently reading the novel and I am liking it. 

20. I really don't want to know what Bob whispers in Charlotte's ear at the end of Lost in Translation, and I think the people who try to decode it deprive the moment of its poignancy. 

21. I think the opening 13 minutes of Scream (1996) amount to one of the scariest scenes in the history of horror cinema. If someone asks me why I love horror movies, I point them to that scene. 

22. My favourite cinematographer is Sven Nykvist. It's no surprise that he was Bergman's closest collaborator. 

23. The film character I empathise with the most is either Oliver Tate from Submarine or Seymour from Ghost World. Many people would be disturbed by this admission. I can deal with that. 

24. The most entertaining film I've ever seen is Superbad. Literally every second of it holds my attention. I can watch it over and over again and it always feels fresh. Understandably, it's my fourth favourite film of all time.

25. I think Y Tu Mamá También is the best film about sex ever made. It has perfect doses of eroticism, sensuality, pathos, and humour. 

26. I love video stores—the feeling of browsing shelves and chancing upon that ONE film you've been looking for is one of life's greatest joys for me. It's a shame that the industry is dying. 

27. Alex Turner's Submarine soundtrack is probably my favourite soundtrack of all time. 

28. The film I've seen the most times in my life is either Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Billy Madison, American Pie, Napoleon (1995), Matilda or The Mask. 

29. Unpopular opinion: I think Marcus Nispel's 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is better than Tobe Hooper's 1974 original. In fact, it's one of the scariest films I've ever seen. 

30. My favourite film ending is either from Stand By Me, Annie Hall, The Breakfast Club or Lost in Translation.

31. Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander is the best film about childhood I have ever seen—about what it means to be a child trying to make sense of the adult minds around you. The film also features the greatest pillow-fight sequence in the history of cinema.

32. I don't know how people can watch more than two films per day. Personally, I rarely exceed one per day despite my self-proclaimed film buff status. I just feel like I need time to mull over every film I see...even the bad ones. Also, watching films requires time and emotional investment. In an average week, I'll watch maybe five films. Many other film enthusiasts would call me "weak", but whatever.  

33. My favourite book-to-film adaptation is either Submarine (this film is getting plenty of love on this list), High Fidelity, or A Clockwork Orange

34. I don't see the appeal of superhero films. At all.

35. I believe there are two schools of thought when it comes to why we watch films. One school watches films to escape the drudgery of life. They want to enter another dimension where everything is idealistic, because it's comforting. These people, more than anything, go to the movies to be entertained. The other school uses cinema to evaluate their own lives. This is the school I belong to. I want human stories. I want to be moved. I want stories of hardship and triumph. I want poignancy and pathos. I want Woody Allen. I want Ingmar Bergman. I want a story that is about people. I want movies that depict the way real people talk and behave.

36. Watching La Grande Bouffe was the closest I ever came to a film making me physically sick.

37. I hardly rewatch films anymore, especially for the purpose of pleasure. If I rewatch something, it's usually because I didn't fully appreciate it the first time but I saw heaps of potential in it. 98% of films I watch are ones I've never seen before.

38. As of September 13, 2013, my watchlist contains 276 films.

39. I've never laughed harder at a scene than when Bill Murray was accidentally shot and killed in Zombieland. Either that or Ben Stiller wrestling the dog in There's Something About Mary. Both scenes had me in fits of giggly tears.

40. I think the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist is essential viewing for anyone who has lost interest in life and needs incentive to keep going. Actually, I just think it's essential viewing, period.

41. I think A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge is unfairly dismissed as one of the worst films in the Elm Street franchise. For a long time, it was my favourite. It's definitely the film where Freddy's make-up looks the most frightening. It's a shame some people can't see past the campy elements and treat it as one big joke.

42. The most beautifully shot film I've ever seen is probably Werckmeister Harmonies.

43. I watch the majority of films by myself, and I prefer it this way. I need to be alone to fully soak up a film. I HATE movie nights because there's this conflict between investing in the film and talking to your friends. I feel like you have to choose one or the other, and neither feels right at the time.

44. I consider myself blessed to have seen a Vertigo/Rear Window double feature at the Randwick Ritz last year. I'll never forget the experience of sitting there and admiring the work of a man who was my favourite director at the time. That screening also made me realise that, when you watch movies with a large crowd, moments that aren't funny when viewed alone can become hilarious.

45. My parents bought me David Lynch's The Elephant Man on VHS when I was six years old. It was a Christmas present. While other kids were unwrapping Tarzan and A Bug's Life, I was unwrapping a film about a man with a horrifying physical deformity. I watched the film and thought it was boring. I watched it again about two years ago and thought it was excellent.

46. Here's how I decide whether I want to watch a certain movie: I go to IMDb and read the plot summary (just the short capsule one...not the entire plot outline). If it appeals to me, it goes on my watchlist.

47. Once I start watching a film, I must persevere with it. Not since my childhood have I abandoned a film once I've begun watching it. I don't care if it's shithouse; it has to be seen.

48. I consider subtitled films as a double treat for me. Seeing as English is the only language I know, every foreign film I watch is accompanied by subtitles. The subtitles make me feel like I'm watching a film AND reading a short story. I receive pleasure on two levels.

49. Ang Lee's The Ice Storm and Todd Solondz's Happiness are two of the best American suburban dramas that have ever been made and I'm disappointed that more people haven't seen them (especially the latter).

50. My favourite theme from a film is Cavatina, composed by Stanley Myers for The Deer Hunter. 

51. My favourite movie quote of all time is "I believe so strongly in mayonnaise", spoken by Elmo Oxygen in Schizopolis.

52. My favourite animated film is Mary and Max. It moved me so deeply.

53. I think the perfect length for a film is 115 minutes. That's assuming the film is good.

54. Since last year, I've kept a record of every single film I watch. After I watch a film, I rate it out of 5 stars and tweet a brief review of it. I then transfer that rating and review to my account on Letterboxd, which you can view here. Of course, I expand upon these thoughts in my monthly film wrap-up blog posts.

55. In my opinion, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog is the best documentary ever made. It is only 32 minutes long, but it takes advantage of every single one, and leaves you speechless when it's over. 

56. My favourite piece of movie trivia is probably this factoid from Home Alone: "The picture Kevin finds of "Buzz's girlfriend" was a picture of a boy made up to look like a girl because Chris Columbus thought it would be too cruel to make fun of a girl like that. The boy that was used in the photo was the art director's son."

57. If there's one plot element I love more than any other in a film, it's the character who knows an evil truth but is treated as insane by everyone else. This is the reason I think so highly of Rosemary's Baby.

58. I really want to watch the German film Die Unsichtbare AKA Cracks in the Shell, but I can't find it anywhere. Can't find a DVD. There are torrents but I can't find English subtitles. Unless someone can help me out, I think I'll have to wait until it appears on World Movies or SBS. Alternatively, I could just learn German.

59. I've never been to a drive-in cinema. One day...

60. The oldest feature-length film I've seen is Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931). 

61. Despite having an intense interest in film, I could never make my own. Reasons for this include being terrible with my hands, not being tech-savvy, and not feeling comfortable in administrative roles. However, I think I will have written some scripts by the time I've departed this planet. I can write...that's one thing I'm sure of. 

62. Singin' in the Rain is the film that made me realise I am very capable of loving musicals. It is flawless.

63. My favourite movie dog is Napoleon from Napoleon (1995). Also, why haven't more people seen Napoleon? It's a beautiful Australian film that I still own on VHS. It was one of the films I watched over and over again as a kid. It was my greatest comfort film.

64. The most underrated director working today is probably Noah Baumbach. Okay, there are probably some genius directors who haven't even been heard of, but of all the directors who are established, I think Baumbach is the one whose work needs to be talked about more.

65. My favourite movie title is I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney. It's a short film directed by Ben Affleck in 1993.

66. It is a known fact that I have loved horror films since I was a little boy, but it took me ages to build the courage to watch The Omen (1976). My uncle owned it on VHS and when I was six or seven, he described the plot to me and told me how much it terrified him as a young adult. There were days where I'd just stare at the tape but refrain from even touching it. One day, I thought "Fuck this". I removed the tape from its box, put it in the machine, and I was going okay until I reached the scene where the Thorns are being driven to the church and Damien starts screaming. I hid behind the bed, only peeking between my fingers. I think I stopped it there. Anyway, I eventually watched it in full and it became one of my favourite horror films of all time.

67. You will never understand how much the Tiny Dancer bus scene from Almost Famous means to me, and I would give anything to have that scene recreated in my own life. 

68. My favourite movie scene of all time is from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters. Watch it here.

69. My dream double feature would be Mulholland Drive and Eyes Wide Shut, in that order. Can a cinema please arrange this?

70. Stand By Me is the best film I have ever seen about friendship, and I doubt I'll ever see a better one.

71. My favourite sex scene from a film is the very controversial one between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now. Very tasteful and stylishly done. 

72. I awarded 4.5/5 stars to American Pie Presents the Naked Mile. I kid you not.

73. My favourite cinema is Dendy at Newtown, but my sentimental favourite is Hoyts at Wetherill Park.

74. Most people see James Cameron's Titanic as a joke these days, but I still think it's an excellent film.

75. My favourite film poster is that for The Exorcist. Can't go wrong with a classic.

76. My favourite sequel of all time is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

77. My favourite quote about film is this gem from Ingmar Bergman: 

"Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul. A little twitch in our optic nerve, a shock effect: twenty-four illuminated frames in a second, darkness in between, the optic nerve incapable of registering darkness. At the editing table, when I run the strip of film through, frame by frame, I still feel that dizzy sense of magic of my childhood: in the darkness of the wardrobe, I slowly wind one frame after another, see almost imperceptible changes, wind faster — a movement."

78. The first film to really make me care about cinematography was Lost in Translation. I remember watching it in awe: "My goodness...these pictures look so much splendour." I went to IMDb and looked up the cinematographer. It was Lance Acord. I owe a lot to him. 

79. Here's what I love about horror films: I love that I can sit down and be scared shitless for an hour and a half—sometimes more, sometimes less—and emerge unscathed. It's only a movie. It can't hurt you. It's the same reason people seek the biggest roller coasters at an amusement park. Before they go on it, they'll ask the carny if anyone's ever died on the ride, and he'll say "No." That's all the reassurance you need to brave the ride. 

80. I once willingly watched Kangaroo Jack and I hate myself for it.

81. I've hardly read any books about film, which is a little sad, really. One I really enjoyed was Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking by Eric Lax. 

82. A film that I expected to hate but ended up loving: Trade (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2007).

83. A film that I expected to love but ended up hating: Toys (Barry Levinson, 1992).

84. I will watch almost anything starring Anna Kendrick because I have a ridiculous crush on her.

85. I watch the majority of movies on my laptop while lying in bed.

86. The worst cinema experience I've ever had is when I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at Hoyts Wetherill Park. A group of rambunctious youths came in halfway through the movie, went straight to the front row, and just began yelling and laughing for no reason. I had to restrain myself from telling them all to fuck off and go home. Why couldn't they have done that when I went to see Epic Movie or some other trash? It had to be during a beautiful film like that. Arseholes. 

87. The most extreme reaction I've ever had to finding a DVD in a store is when I found Repossessed (1990) at Big W Fairfield with my friend John. John and I had joked about this film for ages. For those who don't know, Repossessed is a parody of The Exorcist. Here in Australia, Channel Ten used to show it late at night every year until a few years ago. Despite this, I never managed to stay up late enough to watch it. I was dying to see this movie, even though I knew it would be terrible. I could not believe when I saw several copies of it lying on the shelf. "OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! I FOUND IT!" I showed John and we both started pissing ourselves laughing. I can't explain the humour in that moment. It was just funny for no reason. We laughed so much we had tears streaming down our cheeks. I'm pretty sure all the other shoppers thought we were mentally deficient. Oh, and just for the record, the movie is SHOCKINGLY bad. 

88. If I could visit one movie location in the world, it would be "The Exorcist Steps" in Georgetown, Washington. 

89. Francis Ford Coppola's Jack (starring Robin Williams) is one of the most hated films ever made. People just can't hack that the man responsible for The Godfather and Apocalypse Now also made a sappy comedy-drama about a boy with a disease that makes him age four times faster than the kids around him. Well, I say screw those people. I fucking love Jack and I don't care who knows it.

90. My top three favourite genres are drama, comedy and horror. 'Dramedy' is my absolute favourite if I want to get technical.

91. Some films on my current watchlist that I'm very intimidated of: Inland Empire, Alien, Braveheart, Brazil, Cloud Atlas, Ikiru. Some of these films have big reputations. Some are very long. Some aren't my usual cup of tea. Whatever the reason...I keep shying away from them.

92. Although it's not even in my top 20 favourite films, Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light is the closest thing to a "perfect film" I have ever seen.

93. One time during my pubertal development, I watched Billy Madison about five times over two days because I had a very intense crush on Miss Vaughn (played by Bridgette Wilson). Pete Sampras is one lucky man.

94. I think Forrest Gump is a load of sentimental claptrap. 

95. John Hughes' The Breakfast Club is a film everyone needs to see, and I will be very surprised if I ever see a better teen film in my life.

96. I think Michael Haneke understands human nature better than any other director working today. 

97. I need to check out more work from the following directors: John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, Jim Jarmusch, Robert Altman and Federico Fellini.

98. I have a great fondness for Swedish films. You probably could have guessed that seeing as Bergman is my favourite director.

99. My five all-time "desert island" films...these are the five films I would select if I could never watch anything else ever again: American Beauty, Groundhog Day, Superbad, The Breakfast Club and Mulholland Drive. 

100. I saved this one for last because if you read it early on, you probably wouldn't continue with the list. I have never seen Star Wars. Seriously, though, why should it matter? It's just a movie. I haven't seen it because I don't think I'd enjoy it. Science-fiction really doesn't appeal to me. It's as simple as that. Why would I watch a movie that doesn't interest me? If you're a decent person, you'll understand that someone doesn't want to watch Star Wars. But there are some Star Wars elitists who are really rude to people who haven't seen the film. I'm sure some of these Star Wars fans refuse to watch horror films because they're "too scary", or refuse to watch musicals because they're "too campy". Who knows? Maybe I will watch Star Wars one day. But so what if I don't? The main point here is that everyone's taste differs, and no one's taste is inherently "right".   

Sunday, September 1, 2013

August 2013 Film Wrap-Up

Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) = 4/5

Here's a film that is as intimidating to watch as it is to pronounce. The subject matter itself is not intimidating, but rather the approach. There is no dialogue or conventional plot in Koyaanisqatsi. We are given a series of beautifully shot sequences accompanied by some music. Thankfully, I was mostly pleased with what I saw and heard. It is a dizzying montage of images that reminds us how vast our world is, and that it owes us absolutely nothing. As for the title, it is a word from the Hopi language that refers to a state of life in turmoil. 

Fargo (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 1996) = 2.5/5

You must be gasping at my low rating for this film. Don't worry, I was surprised at how much I hated it, too. Actually, I don't think I hated Fargo'Apathy' is the right word. I can't call it a bad film. It is just sorely uninteresting. I think the main problem is that the Coens try too hard to create a melting pot of genres. It's an uneasy mix of black comedy, crime, and drama (and thriller, according to IMDb). I did not care for these characters in the slightest (not even Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson, who is a good character that deserves a more coherent film). It was only my third Coen brothers film, but I'm yet to see anything by them that I've loved.

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010) = 2/5

The first two words that come to  mind when I think of Somewhere are 'slow' and 'boring'. Slowness usually isn't an issue for me, but when a film insists on being this dull, it becomes a problem. I was very disappointed by this one, having loved Coppola's Lost in Translation (in my top 10 of all time) and The Virgin SuicidesI think the film's title refers to the story's potential. It's out there...somewhere, meandering...but not here. It demands a level of emotional investment that just isn't warranted.

Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981) = 3.5/5

It becomes ludicrous towards the end, but it is extremely well-acted, wonderfully shot, and delightfully bizarre. I can't really compare it to anything else I've ever seen. On a side note, I guarantee you will fall in love with actress Isabelle Adjani (pictured above). Those god...those eyes. After seeing this film, though, you may not want to get too close to her.  

I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004) = 3/5

I can imagine David O. Russell going to cocktail parties months before this film was released, regaling guests with news of his upcoming film about a pair of "existential detectives". He would wear a smug grin on his face, while the guests would fake a smile and nod slowly. OK...maybe I'm being a little harsh on Mr. Russell. His film's premise is certainly a noble one to aspire to, and I think the final product is a solid effort. Unfortunately, the characters just don't ring true, and the plot becomes almost incomprehensible by the third act. I think this material would have worked wonderfully as a novel. Oh, and you may be wondering what a 'huckabee' is. Don't worry; it's not important. 

3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977) = 4/5

So, I finally checked out a Robert Altman film! And hey, it was pretty darn good. The idea for this film came to Altman in a dream, and indeed it has a hypnotic dreamlike quality. Bergman's Persona is a very prominent influence here. This film also made me appreciate Shelley Duvall as an actress. Everyone knows her as Wendy Torrance in The Shining, and I don't think her performance here is given enough credit. 

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) = 3.5/5

It didn't make a lasting impression on me, but it feels very authentic and manages to be both funny and touching. The most delightful thing about this film is seeing actors such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich before they were stars. 


8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963) = 3.5/5

This is the film that every film buff is supposed to adore. It is the ultimate movie about making movies. While I can certainly respect it, I must say I didn't always enjoy it. On a technical level, it's marvelous. However, I am left scratching my head about the meaning of it all. It's a bit too self-indulgent for my liking. I should also mention that this is the first Fellini film I have ever seen. 

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) = 5/5

I was lucky enough to watch this haunting film on the big screen last month. It's my fifth favourite movie of all time. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. Each viewing feels like the first. I compare these repeat viewings to going on an epic roller coaster multiple times. You know where the sharp bends and steep inclines are, but that doesn't eradicate the thrill you experience each time. It gets under your skin and unashamedly keeps its secrets. The music, the lighting, the mounting suspense, the set decoration...just everything about this film wins my heart. It is not the erotic thriller the trailer would have you believe. It can almost be viewed as a work of psychological horror. It was Kubrick's parting gift to cinema, and the world is richer for it. 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998) = 3/5

Too weird to love, but too unique to hate. Think of it as an experience rather than as a film. I've never been high, so I don't know what it feels like, but I imagine it would be akin to watching this film. Remind me to check out the novel. I hear it's much, much better than this adaptation. 

Another Woman (Woody Allen, 1988) = 3/5

A lot of Woody Allen fans call this one of his strongest films, but I disagree. It's actually one of the weaker Allen efforts I've seen. It failed to hold my attention because I just didn't care about these characters' problems. It bored me, and it has one of the dullest colour palettes I've seen in any film. Someone on the IMDb message board for this film called it "the tweedest film ever made". I wholeheartedly agree. So, what's good about it? The performances, and that's pretty much it. (Damn, I trashed this film and it still got a 3!)

Like Water for Chocolate (Alfonso Arau, 1992) = 4/5

It explores love not as an emotion, but as a life force, and it boasts a very strong screenplay. My only criticism would be that it is a bit dated. 

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) = 4.5/5

My third Wes Anderson film, and easily my favourite so far. This was such a joy to watch, like having a storybook come to life. It's an evocative marriage of style and substance. Anderson's utopia will make you regress into a state of childlike wonder. It's boosted by a stellar cast, and I was especially astounded by young newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward (pictured above). There is so much orgasmic cinematography on show.  

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) = 4/5

This film disappointed me, but only because I set my expectations too high. I can't really say I enjoyed it, as it's a very cerebral film that requires your undivided attention for its entire 130 minutes. I also found it difficult to connect with the characters, and nothing in the film touched me on an emotional level. Alas, I couldn't help but admire this as a very well-directed film. Polanski is so skilled with his camera, and it's always a pleasure to see an artist at the peak of his game (although Rosemary's Baby will always be my favourite of his).

The Sure Thing (Rob Reiner, 1985) = 3.5/5

Why had I not heard of this movie until a few weeks ago? Why don't more people talk about this movie as a must-see 80s teen comedy? This is the film Rob Reiner made just before Stand By Me, and if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know how much I cherish that film and what it means to me. I didn't expect this to be as good as Stand By Me, and it wasn't, but it's still very much worth a watch. It's very predictable, but that's a given with the genre. There's an undeniable sweetness here. John Cusack is an absolute joy to watch.

Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961) = 4.5/5

An arresting chamber film where psychotic delusions intersect with delusions of faith. Extremely well-acted with stunning camerawork from Sven Nykvist. It astounds me how effortless this film looks, and I mean that as a compliment. The setup is so simple, and yet Bergman creates a work of phenomenal passion and sadness. I would recommend this as a good film to start with if you want to delve into Bergman's filmography. 

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars) 
* Eyes Wide Shut
* Moonrise Kingdom
* Through a Glass Darkly