Worth Watching May 2011

Worth Watching:

  • Babies (2010), Thomas Balmes – Babies do funny shit all the time, and there is plenty of that here. But Balmes also taps into more than that, simply juxtaposing the first months of four kids from all over the world. This is boldly done without a voiceover which succeeds in letting the images highlight differences around the world themselves.
  • The Tramp (1915), Charlie Chaplin – A fast paced Chaplin short that sees the Little Tramp in heroic mode. Real, classical slapstick but featuring some really action packed (and humorous) set pieces. This is a classic early work from probably the most famous of the silent comedians.

  • Excellent Cadavers (1976), Francesco Rosi – Much of this Italian film is pedestrian police procedural fare. But the film’s ability to convey the very tense, violent atmosphere that reigned in Italy at that time makes it worth a look. Take the time to briefly Wikipedia what was happening in 70s Italy first though, and it will definitely enhance your viewing enjoyment.
  • Mediterraneo (1991), Gabriele Salvatores – Hilarious Italian comedy featuring a ragtag bunch of soldiers marooned on an island during WWII. A film that touches on history, poetry and art; but with broad humour that will make almost everyone laugh. A war film where the soldiers sit out the war, and their mission involves smoking weed and making love to whores.
  • Mephisto (1981), Istvan Szabo – Klaus Maria Brandauer delivers a performance as good as any you are likely to see. The film chronicles his character as he struggles to balance his lust for fame with his disgust of Nazi ideology. A slight narrative of one man’s journey with a powerhouse performance driving it.
  • Thor (2011), Kenneth Branagh– The Shakespearean’s take on a comic-book film was either going to be something pretty out there and special, or spectacularly bad. Whilst not overly special it is definitely interesting. This visually arresting film is better when earthbound rather than when trading in confusing pop-mythology. Well served by a fantastic cast, including Summer Bay’s own Chris Hemsworth (who is actually pretty good).
  • The Last Man on Earth (1964), Ubaldo Ragana & Sidney Salkow – This is based on the classic sci-fi/horror novel I Am Legend. Best when focusing on Vincent Price’s almost silent performance rather than the long stretches of abysmal flashbacks which dominate the middle third. Voiceover not great but given the accurate title, it’s hard to drive the narrative otherwise. Elicits much emotion, but strangely not much tension. A fine ending, better than the book’s, gets this over the line.

  • Che: Part One – The Argentine (2008), Steven Soderbergh – Amazing that the same director behind the Oceans films delivers this epic. Benicio Del Toro delivers a towering performance. The back and forth structure works nicely to illuminate the rebel fighter and politician aspects of Guevara’s life. Ambition such as this two-parter should be encouraged.
  • Herakles (1962), Werner Herzog – Crazyarse Werner’s first ever film is a weird gem rocking some Eisentein-esque editing. Splices together some cool bodybuilding footage to a jazzy soundtrack with occasionally quite confronting doco footage infused with Greek mythology. Hard to explain, so I suggest you watch it here (couldn’t find one with subtitles, but this one has the necessary info in the first comment under the video).

  • Barney’s Version (2010), Richard J. Lewis – For the most part this is a really enjoyable tale of one man’s life, a life both fucked up and immediately relatable to all of ours. That man is played by the always excellent Paul Giamatti, ably supported by Dustin Hoffman who is having great fun here. The final third is something else entirely, delivering the most emotionally affecting film experience I’ve had in a very long time. Sobering, uplifting and unmissable.
  • Machete (2010), Robert Rodriguez – One of the most ultra-violent mainstream films of recent years, including an insane bit with a human intestine. This sees Rodriguez at the very top of his game and it feels like he has been building towards this exploitation flick for some time. Michelle Rodriguez is excellent, Steven Seagal clearly revels in hamming it up while Robert De Niro is great in a small role. And of course no one but the weathered face of Danny Trejo could bring Machete to life.
  • The Stolen Children (1992), Gianni Amelio – Child abuse themes make this heavy going, and this is enhanced by the incredible performance by the young female lead. Whilst the narrative is predictable, it is delivered so powerfully that this is a must-see.
  • The Pink Panther (1963), Blake Edwards – This humours high farce starts off with an extremely amusing animated credits sequence. The plot toys with crime film conventions expertly and the slapstick, when it works, works very well. An action packed comedy with a cracking Harry Mancini soundtrack, this is always better when Sellers is onscreen.
  • The Cook (1918), Roscoe Arbuckle – Arbuckle is an incredibly gifted physical comedian, and at times this is as much sporting performance as it is film. He and Keaton make a fantastic comedy double act. This is one of my favourite silent comedy shorts that I’ve seen, featuring a couple of classic scenes, including the hilarious spaghetti eating one.
  • Dogville (2003), Lars von Trier – The Danish auteur is controversial for both his provocative films and statements (see the Nazi scandal that erupted at this years Cannes festival). This is a bold film, featuring a single set that is essentially a theatre stage and it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. This is a formidable performance piece that features Nicole Kidman as a defenceless woman taken advantage of in the worst possible way and builds to an incredible ending. A fable of the exploitation that made America ‘great’.

Not Worth Watching:

  • Fast Food Nation (2006), Richard Linklater – As a fan of the book I really wanted to like this (it’s a bold choice to attempt to adapt the book into a fictional film). Starts well, nailing the banal corporate bullshit that dominates the industry. But then is undone by an overly ambitious narrative structure, and dialogue that sounds as if it has been lifted straight from its non-fiction source. In the end it’s all a bit obvious and slipshod, with really good work by Kinnear undermined by some of the acting in smaller roles.
  • Source Code (2011), Duncan Jones- The ‘Groundhog Day’ structure is always a risk because it can result in repetitive tedium. Performances are mixed. Jake Gyllenhal & Michelle Monaghan are very good whilst Jeffrey Wright and Vera Famiga really let the team down. The intrigue the film aims for is just not intriguing enough, and the twists delivered at the end verge into the incomprehensible.
  • Precautions Against Fanatics (1969), Werner Herzog – This mockumentary short is supposedly an “Elaborate on-camera practical joke.” I don’t get it. Weird, bad, inexplicable.


If you only have time to watch one Barney’s Version

Avoid at all costs Fast Food Nation

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