Friday, August 31, 2012

My Month in Movies...August 2012

Total Movies Watched: 14

'40s: 3          + 5 movies from 1001 Movies to See Before You Die
'50s: 2          + 4 movies based on a true story
'60s: 1          + 4 Noirs
'70s: 1          + 3 B-movies
'80s: 2          + 2 Orson Welles films
'90s: 0          + 2 foreign films
'00s: 3          + 1 documentary
'10s: 2          + 1 movie that's not a movie

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Useless Clatter...My Sight & Sound Top 10*

Happening only once every ten years, the Sight and Sound poll always proves to stem its fair share of excitement and procrastination to cinephiles everywhere.  Even during those odd years, one certainly has enough internet at their hands to pass the time, memorizing each of the previous five polls s to get them through until the next voting.  And with the poll taking place this past July, so begins our long nine year hibernation.  But just like any animal heading towards their long winter’s nap, we have to be adequately prepared and make sure there is substantial feeding for our hunger. 

And we got it quite recently when Sight and Sound released the all-extensive statistics outlying every movie voted for and the Top 10 lists from all 946 directors, critics, programmers, scholars who partook in this year’s poll.  Thousands of films and thousands of links to click; I found myself overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we now had.  But after almost two hours, I found it difficult to differentiate my feverish clicking from what’s called procrastination.  I knew nothing was getting done so I decided to put my efforts towards something remotely more proactive, if that can even be said.

Below is my Sight and Sound Top 10*, though I must say the asterisk is stressed.  Instead making one of those typical “these are the 10 best films in my opinion” list, I decided to make it more difficult and place some restrictions on my selections.  I decided that the films I was going to choose could not be in the Top 25 from either the Directors Top 100 or the Critics Top 250 lists.  That was a big sacrifice and mean leaving many sure picks like Kane, 2001, and Seven Samurai off-limits.  But rules are rules, even if you're the one that made them up.

 So below you will find my Sight and Sound Top 10*.  I tried not to dwell too hard on my selections, but at the same time tried to make them as diverse as possible, picking one from various countries, genres and movements.  If anyone else would like to partake in creating a Top 10 list under these restrictions, please feel free.  I would love to see what others think and maybe it could be some sort of Blog-a-thon or something.

Here are the extensive rules:

1. Only 10 films can be chosen
2. All selections must exceed the 25th film voted by the Critics (ties included)
3. All selections must also exceed the 25th film voted by the Directors (ties included)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why See This...The Queen of Versailles [2012]

Before seeing The Queen of Versailles in theaters, I literally knew nothing about the movie, nothing about the infamous Siegel family, and nothing about Versailles (that last part’s not true).  By its title alone, I assumed the movie would be some sort of period piece drama, probably starring Kiera Knightley as one of King Louis XIV’s wives.  But as I glanced at the enormous poster before stepping inside the theater, I knew right then that my assumption was far off.  Worse, I feared that my mom dragged to some sort of Cougar Town movie spin-off.  Thankfully, that was wrong too.

The Queen of Versailles is a sort of quasi-documentary, though not quite a mocumentary. There is no narrator, but the characters, completely aware of the filming, speak directly to the camera.  In the spirit of popular TV shows like The Office and Parks & Rec., I figured a movie would soon bank on this trending style.  Our story revolves around the Siegels, David and Jackie Siegel and their eight children.  They are beyond far beyond any notion of the term. Don Siegel is the founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world.  The film counts his success showing pictures of David with celebrity faces like Donald Trump, George Clooney, all the 50 Miss America representatives, and oh yeah, he claims his money got George Bush elected to office.  What makes these 1%-ers such a sight is the fact that they are in process of building the largest single family home in America- thirteen bedrooms, twenty-three bathrooms, three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a twenty car garage.  When asked why, Don simply retorts, “Because I can.” 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Useless Clatter...Another New Category: What on Earth?

Every once in a while, you will come across a movie who’s explanation goes far beyond the use of words. Our English language contains tens of thousands of adjectives that could certainly fit the description of just about any possible scenario one could think up, so it surely it must be done.  But in the case of movies,  there always that feeling of something missing when dissolving a moving pictures into words.  Describing Ingmar Bergman’s Persona as “a lucid, fever dream of a masterpiece”[1] gives viewers an appropriate emotional context, but still does not match all that lies within the film.  Other movies like  The Tree of Life or Triumph of the Will leave me without words after each viewing.  Then again, this task of describing what we see should not necessarily come easily. I see it as a testament to any filmmaker who can create worlds so inexplicable that it leaves viewers speechless.

But above all, I must say this holds most applicable to the genre of B-movies.  As I pretend to be going off on some philosophical tangent about the vast possibilities contained in the cinema, I am really here for reasons much less technical but equally as appreciative.  I am introducing the newest category here at FILMclatter titled 'What on Earth?'.  Working twosome with my other addition, The Killer B’s, this will serve as bona fide proof that not everything can and should be described in words.  From each horrible B-movie reviewed in The Killer B’s, What on Earth? will feature an array of screenshots from the movie that best displays schlock cinema’s tremendous ability for crafting images where words have no place.  The images will be chosen based on the merits of unfathomed absurdity, ridiculousness, and the occasional illogic.  But that's a description right there.  I know, this is all a bit of an oxymoron and I continue to contradict myself the more I type.

The point of this category is not to try and stump the dictionary.  It serves no greater purpose than sheer entertainment and  an appreciation for the most unimaginable things movies have to offer.   Even better, this gives me a chance to be lazy and throw up a legitimate post consisting of five pictures and ten words.  I'll take that any day.

[1] Credit where credit is due! Persona description from Alex Winthrow at And So It Begins... (

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Killer B's...The Stuff [1985]

I have always heard that the mark of a good story teller is one who can convey everything they need to in as little time as possible.  Seven Samurai, which clocks in at around three and a half hours is a spectacular movie, no doubt one of the greatest and most impressive outputs the cinema has ever seen. But more impressive I would say is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.  In a mere 87 minutes Bergman’s mesmerizing and illusionary tale carries the emotional weight well beyond any epic and lengthy masterpiece.

In a similar way (though I must immediately add that this is certainly the only thing they have in common), Larry Cohen’s schlock horror piece The Stuff has a running time of 86 minutes.  Does this mean it is a well-constructed, elegantly condensed narrative film like Persona? Of course not.  This just so happens to be the kind of movie that refutes my prior paragraph.

As it begins, the movie wastes no time introducing its audience to “the stuff-” a creamy milky-looking goo found in the ground that suddenly becomes the most delicious and addicting dessert in America.  The director finds no better way to communicate this information than by having the movie’s first speaking character make abrupt exclamatory statements out loud to no one.  Of course, we have to assume that his Schizophrenic outbursts are “important information” geared towards the audience. This old man is the first person to discover “the stuff” seeping up through the dirt.  And as anyone’s first instinct would be when finding a mysterious goo bubbling in the ground, the man immediately reaches down to taste it.  In his favor, the substance was not some sort of hydrochloric poison that burnt his tongue clean off.  Of course not, it tastes wonderful and from here enters The Stuff, a delicious dessert snack that floods the super markets and kitchens of every household in America even putting ice cream distributors out of business.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Useless Clatter...New Category: The Killer B's

When I first decided I was interested in film and actually began to study some academically, I realized there was over 100 years of movies behind me that I needed catching up on.  A few years back, it never occurred to me that I might ever watch a movie that was considered "old."   But that has changed some.  A lot actually.  Nowadays, most of what I watch is probably classified as old.

Sometimes though, watching a movie can be more of a task than anything else.  Film’s primary function is to entertain, lending its viewers a two hour escape from their own world into the bizarre creation of someone's mind.  That is how it began and that is how it always should be.  Often in the case of academics, I’m caught abusing this basic rule of thumb.  My experience of watching becomes engrossed by observation, and the balance between entertainment and analysis shifts harshly towards the latter.  I’ll sit there and analyze the movie’s mise en scene, eyes fixed on everything that is not going on and begin to brainstorm how I should formulate all this into the upcoming essay.  Watching a movie then becomes studying a movie and at times is almost stressful.  Example: sitting through the four-hour Hamlet adaptation for a Shakespeare & Film class, I have yet to recover.

The only cure of course is a supplementary dosage of thoughtless, mind-numbing B-movies, those of which I will feature in a new category- The Killer B’s.  You’ll find no Welles, no Fellini and certainly no Bergman films here.  Instead one might find something along the lines of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, TheToxic Avenger or The Thing with Two Heads.

As in the classic case of sequels, B-movies are highly inconsistent pieces of art and caution must be exerted before diving in.  (Well, in one sense, they are all really bad, cheap, unprofessional and stupid, but that does not make them worthless!)  When the right balance of narrative, character construction and a lack of concern for anything but blood are found, you might just come across an outstanding B-movie that deserves it’s half-rate recognition.  But unfortunately, it is in their nature to be bad and occasionally one will stumble upon a B-flick that is so bad, so worthless and so utterly repulsive (and not in the good way) that it becomes difficult to even justify lending your time towards watching it.

That is where I come in.  

For The Killer B's, a simple 'Yea!' and 'Nay!' grading scale will be implemented here based on the merits found by your trusted reviewer.  Obviously going any further than a two-point grading scale and trying to grade these movies with any more thought would not be time well spent.  Following each judgment, a brief passage will follow with more specifics regarding the movie if one finds themselves half-interested in actually watching it or just wants the slightest bit of entertainment I will try and provide.

Finally, I must note that all of the reviewed movies found in this category can easily be attained either through Netflix Instant or, which to no one's surprise both contain a vast and deafening collection of B-movies.  We're gonna need a bigger boat.


The first installation of The Killer B's will highlight an extraordinarily wonderful and psychologically complex film called The Food of the Gods [1976] by the auteur director Bert I. Gordon.

The Food of the Gods [1976]


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Useless Clatter…The Case of Raging Bull II [and a Defense for Michael Bay]

When I first came across the news that a sequel to Raging Bull was in the works, I thought the rumors would dispel pretty quickly.  Soon after though, I came across a production still from the upcoming project that affirmed this insensible reality.  There were no rumors at all; a movie named Raging Bull II was actually being made.  Neither Scorsese nor DeNiro are involved in it either.  I originally began working on a post where I would basically do nothing more than complain about the fact that a Raging Bull sequel was being made, but that would only waste everyone’s time.

People can agree that Raging Bull is a near-perfect film.  From its gritty black and white cinematography to a flawless script to the ever encompassing, mad-house performance from Robert DeNiro (the greatest acting performance that isn’t Stanley Kowalski), Raging Bull stands on its own as one of the greatest American movies ever made.

I also think people can agree on the fact that sequels are wild cards.  Done right they can escalate a film’s fortune to new heights as with The Godfather and The Lord of the Rings.  But flip that around and watching a sequel turns into nothing more than a waste of time and money.  And as I always say in defense, I hate being too critical.  In this age, nothing is truly a failure if it breaks even, and for a Hollywood picture, that is no less true.

In hindsight, a sequel to Carrie was probably not necessary or in any high demand, especially when it came out 22 years after the original movie.   Yet as it stands, I have to be honest in saying that The Rage: Carrie 2 is a movie I am incapable of creating and  as much distaste as I might have for it, there remains a whole lot of skill that goes into making something of that caliber and that must not be ignored.  Hate Michael Bay as much as you want, but put yourself in his shoes and Transformers 2 would probably have been even worse.  Maybe it should not be called a movie as much as it is a capitalist venture.  Besides, there's no denying that Hollywood is a conglomerate service  business that occasionally puts out terrific products the year. Then in this case, Mr. Bay is one hell of an entrepreneur.  His $200 million investment into the Transformers sequel turned into a staggering $900 million from box office sales alone.  Warren Buffet would be thoroughly impressed.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

After Thoughts...Kiss Me Deadly [1955] (no spoilers)


Few times in my movie-viewing ventures have I come across a name so apt to a character's persona than with Mike Hammer.  Sure, Iceman and Maverick go without saying, but nicknames don’t count.  When a name is given in response to someone's attributes, that's too easy.  The name Hammer is no nickname, but rather a surname passed down through generations that was bestowed upon this man after a long line of men before him- maybe not, but I surely like to think it was this dramatic.  And if this was a real story and Mike Hammer was actually a real person, conceived of flesh in our world, the above statements would actually matter some, but given the fact that Mike Hammer and his entire surrounding existence was built through a means of creative fiction, none of that really matters.  However, in my experience watching Kiss Me Deadly, I could not get the idea out of my head.  And the more I watched, the more it was true.  Mike Hammer is Mike Hammer

Classic noir detectives like Philip Marlowe (The BigSleep) and Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) would be in for a rude awakening if Mike Hammer ever joined their department.  A burly dude to say the least, Mike Hammer probably invented the knock-heads-first-then-ask-question approach to interrogation.  Messy and slightly unprofessional, but it works nonetheless.  If only he and Harry Callahan were born of the same universe, the streets of San Francisco would have been clean in no time, not to mention we would have had a terrific motion picture on our hands.

Dirty Harry with his .44 magnum side kick and “Do I feel lucky?” staple is a terrifically fearing and bad ass cop.  Mike Hammer is not. He is bouldering and clumsy.  At one point, he finds a way to combat a switchblade using a bag of popcorn.  I definitely would not call that bad ass, or even cool, but it works nonetheless.  For the most part though, the Hammer just relies on his fists and gets the job done fine.  Like all noir-set detectives, or any detective for that matter, their job calls for dealing with the most unpleasant and ruthless criminals on a daily basis.  Brain or brawn as the old saying goes, and Mike Hammer made his decision.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reel News...Sight & Sound 2012 Poll

Citizen Kane is a second-rate film. I’m only joking of course, but actually sort of serious.

 For the first time in 50 years, Welles’ celebrated masterpiece has been knocked out of its familiar standing as the “Greatest Film of All Time” in Sight  & Sound’s decennial poll. The defeat came by way of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo which surpassed Kane by a mere 34 votes.

Statistically speaking and with a hint of hindsight, it seemed only a matter of time for Vertigo to someday take the top spot.  Slowly and steadily the film has made its way upwards in the BFI poll since its inclusion as the seventh best film of all time back in the 1982.  In 1992, Vertigo was fourth and 10 years later it would move up to number two right behind Citizen Kane. This year of course, we see that's the other way around.