Monday, November 21, 2011

A Little Context

I don't write reviews for every single film I watch, though I think that might be something to try the next time I've got a good block of time to devote to such an experiment. Sometimes I just have nothing in particular to say about a film, nothing I think is worth adding to the conversation anyway. Other times, I realize I'm lacking in the context to evaluate a film as in-depth as I want to. Some need time to simmer, and I'll write up something months later. And I know I get intimidated by some material, which is a habit I really should try harder to break out of. The only films I try to put down thoughts about right away are recent releases, and those only make up a small percentage of what I see overall, especially during the months where I'm primarily using online streaming services or raiding the library.

The primary reason, though, is that I watch too many damn films. To give you an idea of just how much I'm watching compared to how many reviews I'm posting on this blog, here's my Netflix Instant Watch history for the month with some notes. As with all subscription services, I simply cannot have Instant Watch on all the time, because I tend to get carried away trying to watch everything. And that way lies madness and eyestrain:

- "The Pixar Story" (2007), "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story" (2010), and "Walt & El Grupo" (2009) - wrote up a post with capsule reviews for these three Disney documentaries over here

- "Pale Flower" (1964) - Yakuza film by Masahiro Shinoda. Criterion title.

- "Bob Le Flambeur" (1956) and Le Doulos (1962) - Violent, stylish French noir directed by Jean Pierre Melville.

- "Red State" (2011) - Review.

- "Santa Sangre" (1989) - My second Alejandro Jodorowsky film, which I liked much better than "El Topo."

- "The Red Chapel" (2009) - Review.

- "Troll Hunter" (2010) - Neat little Norwegian found-footage monster movie.

- "Shoeshine" (1946) - Italian neorealist classic by Vittorio De Sica. Real heartbreaker.

- "Ten" (2002) - My fourth Abbas Kiarostami film. Made such a good impression, I feel I need to go back and rewatch the one I didn't like now.

- "White Dog" (1982) - Sam Fuller's long-lost passion project, recently resurrected by Criterion.

- "The Hit" (1984) - An early Stephen Frears film with some of my favorite actors: John Hurt, Tim Roth, and Terence Stamp.

- "Shadows and Fog" (1991) - Woody Allen's ode to German expressionism. Not one of his better experiments.

- "Mafioso" (1962) - Great Italian black comedy about a reluctant assassin, directed by Alberto Lattuada. Another Criterion title.

- "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971) - John Schlesinger domestic drama, his follow-up to "Midnight Cowboy."

- "Killer's Kiss" (1955) - The second feature film directed by Stanley Kubrick. Now I've seen all of his work but "Fear and Desire" and a few shorts.

- "Louisiana Story" (1948) - One of the later films of pioneering documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, best known for "Nanook of the North."

- "Detour" (1945) - A cheap B-movie noir with some great performances, now considered one of the must-sees of the genre.

- "Que Viva Mexico" (1931) - Sergei Eisenstein's unfinished epic film about Mexico, with accompanying introductory and explanatory segments shot in 1979.

- "Moonrise" (1948) - Borzage was known as a silent filmmaker, so maybe I shouldn't have seen one of his sound films first.

- "Sonatine" (1984) - Takeshi Kitano yakuza film. Revered in some circles, but I don't see what's so special about it.

- "Irma Vep" (1996) - Early film by French director Olivier Assayas, which follows the rocky production of a film-within-a-film, and has lots of references to many French classics I'm not familiar with. I'll try this one again after I finish "Les Vampires."

- "My Brilliant Career" (1979) - First feature of Australian director Gillian Armstrong, who I haven't had any experience with until now. Lovely work, but feels a little incomplete.

- "This Is England" (2006) - And this is the first Shane Meadows film I've seen. I now have yet another example to explain why Paul Haggis's "Crash" was so disappointing.

- "Xala" (1975) - Pretty sure this is my first Senegalese film, directed by Ousmane Sembène. Also need to remember to watch his more recent "Moolaadé."

- "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973) - I don't have a high opinion of Sam Peckinpah, and this one didn't help matters. But apparently the version on Netflix was a studio cut that the director and cast disowned, so I may have to go track down the longer one.

- "Topsy-Turvy" (1999) - Mike Leigh made a costume dramedy about Gilbert and Sullivan writing the "Mikado." And it's a thing of joy. My favorite film of the whole month by far.

- "Diary of a Lost Girl" (1929) - Beautiful G.W. Pabst silent melodrama starring Louise Brooks.

- "Sherman's March" (1986) - Real life example of a director, in this case Ross McElwee, being swallowed up by his own film. It starts out as a documentary about General Sherman, and quickly becomes something else entirely.

- "War and Peace" (1956) - A largely forgotten epic directed by silent film titan King Vidor, starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

- "Hello, Dolly!" (1969) - Review.

- "Auntie Mame" (1958) - Worth seeing for Rosalind Russell's performance in the title role alone.

- "A Canterbury Tale" (1944) - Powell and Pressburger war film, very much a product of its time and its own particular cultural sensibilities.

- "The Secret of the Grain" (2007) - Recent winner of Best French Film at the Césars, follows the travails of a Tunisian immigrant family trying to open a couscous restaurant in France.

- The Belly of an Architect (1987), "Nightwatching" (2007) and "Rembrandt's J'accuse" (2008) - I admire Peter Greenaway, who creates visuals that put most other directors to shame, but he can get so lugubrious and pedantic, his films are often difficult to sit through.

- "The Spirit of St. Louis" (1957) - Written and directed by Billy Wilder, it's awfully keen on glorifying Lindbergh, and America by proxy, but who can say no with Jimmy Stewart in the lead?

- "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) - A pleasant Ernst Lubitsch romantic comedy, with a few fantasy flourishes. I think this is the only film I've seen Don Ameche star in aside from "Cocoon."

- "Eternity and a Day" (1998) and Landscape in the Mist (1988) - First films I've seen by the noted Greek director Theo Angelopoulos. I like his visuals and use of music, but his narratives are so obtuse, I'm not sure what to think of him yet.

- "The Lovers on the Bridge" (1991) - Troubled vagrants in a troubling relationship, brought to you by Leos Carax.

- "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" (1983) - Tries much, much too hard to be moving and meaningful, but once David Bowie's on screen, you're not paying attention to anything else.

- "The Official Story" (1985) - Oscar winning Argentine drama that's the perfect example of a film where you have to have some idea of the proper historical and political context to get the full effect of the story.

- "Scarlet Street" (1945) - American noir directed by Fritz Lang, with Edward G Robinson in the lead.

- "Bad Timing" (1980) - Nicholas Roeg psychodrama starring Art Garfunkel. Yes, that Art Garfunkel.

- The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) - Italian war film, the first work I've seen by the Taviani brothers.

- "Reversal of Fortune" (1990) - Barbet Schroeder's legal drama that netted Jeremy Irons a Best Actor Oscar.

- "Daddy Long Legs" (1955) - Late period Fred Astaire musical, co-starring Leslie Caron.

- "Inferno" (1980) - The sequel to Dario Argento's "Suspiria," and better in some ways.

- "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) - Hadn't seen the original, start to finish, before now.

- "The Name of the Rose" (1986) - Medieval murder mystery with Sean Connery, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

- "Gnomeo and Juliet" (2011) - Exactly what you'd expect, but at least it doesn't cut corners and has more spirit than some of the other animated films this year.

- "American: The Bill Hicks Story" (2011), "The Captains" (2011), and "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" (2011) - There are an awful lot of showbiz docs on Netflix, aren't there?

That's fifty-eight titles for the month for anyone keeping count. I agree, it's a bit much, though I've done bigger numbers than this before. And as you can see, there are a lot of older, foreign, and art films. I'm more reluctant to write about them, because I'm aware that I don't have nearly as much information and experience with them as I do with more recent, mainstream films. I watch the classics for my own edification, but in the analysis, I'm not sure half the time if I know what I'm talking about. It's that old conundrum, that the the more you learn, the more you realize that you don't know. I guess that's why I'm more comfortable with meta posts, or waiting until I've seen multiple films by one director, to get a better sense of their style and character, before making any comments. And more importantly, I don't want this to be a stuffy academic blog, or just a bland catalog of films that only a few fellow nerds will ever seek out. I pick and choose based on my own writing ability and, of course, what I think people would like to read.

But in any case, how on earth do people run out of things to watch on Netflix Instant Watch? The notion utterly baffles me.

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