Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Wed Jan 02, 2019 3:26 pm

Finally, a copy/paste from the Lists thread, with my rough Top 10/Bottom 10...

1. Moonlight (2016)
2. A Ghost Story (2017)
3. Phantom Thread (2017)
4. Harakiri (1962)
5. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
6. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
7. Paths of Glory (1957)
8. M (1931)
9. A Separation (2011)
10. The Apartment (1960)

HM: Blood Simple (1984), The Haunting (1963)



The Bottom 10...

177. The Ghoul (1933)
178. The Broadway Melody (1929)
179. The Last House on the Left (1972)
180. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
181. Deathstalker (1983)
182. Christmas Presence (a.k.a. Why Hide?) (2018)
183. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
184. Geostorm (2017)
185. The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) (2015)
186. 2 Lava 2 Lantula! (2016)

HM: The Post (2017), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Miami Connection (1987) and Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Wed Jan 02, 2019 7:28 pm

A film based on a play


Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
"If I were handsome like you. Together, we could make one mighty hero of romance."
"If only I had your wit."
"Borrow it, then."
This watch was special for several reasons. First, most of you know that I'm from Puerto Rico, and I'm particularly proud of my heritage and my culture. However, for some reason, I hadn't seen this film, which features the first of three Oscar-winning performances by Puerto Rican actors/actresses. José Ferrer, who started his career in theatre, first played the titular character on the Broadway stage. The production became a hit and Ferrer won a Tony Award in 1947. Three years later, he played the role on this film adaptation, which eventually got him his second Oscar nomination and his first win. Only by watching the first half hour of the film, it becomes clear that Ferrer owned this role.

Set in 17th Century Paris, Cyrano de Bergerac follows the life of the titular poet and swordsman. Cyrano, who has great confidence in his verbal and fighting skills, finds himself in love with Roxane (Mala Powers). However, he is unable to court her because of his insecurities about his big nose. When Roxane, unaware of Cyrano's feelings, shares her romantic interest for a handsome but bumbling guardsman, Cyrano agrees to help him woo her by letting him "borrow" his wit and words. This, in turn, allows Cyrano to share his feelings to her, even if it's by proxy, and to live vicariously through Christian.

The story is widely known, and has been made and parodied several times (as a Latino, my first experience with Cyrano's story was through the parody of Mexican comedian Chespirito), but the film lives and breathes through Ferrer's performance. From the first scene, he grabs the role by the horns and owns it completely. His performance is confident, commanding, eloquent, and funny. Unfortunately, most of the cast fails to match Ferrer, which makes the film as a whole feel a bit uneven in terms of energy and execution. Powers and William Prince (who plays Roxane's love interest, Christian) are not awful, but rather bland. The only performance that tries to match Cyrano's panache is Albert Cavens as Vicomte de Valvert, a rival of our hero.

Another weakness of the film is that it tries to stretch the material a bit too much, in its effort to show most of Cyrano's life events until his death. But once the love triangle is resolved, and the war ends, the film loses most of its steam. The last act felt a bit tedious and detached from what preceded it. Fortunately, the very last scene is saved again by Ferrer's poignant performance and flawless delivery. Overall, the film is not great, but you can feel how Ferrer elevates the material from what could've been a run-of-the-mill, ho-hum film into an entire new level. Even when you feel the film lose its grip near the end, he takes control, and as he ends the refrain, thrusts home!

Grade: B+
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Thu Jan 03, 2019 6:51 pm

A documentary about "Christmas", the holidays, or something related


I Am Santa Claus (2014)
"When I put on the suit and I'm invited to someone's house, and I knock on the door and the mom or the dad opens, and I can all of a sudden see the glistening in their eyes... I feel like I'm the best person on Earth."
There are probably more than a thousand professional Santa Claus impersonators in the United States. From the Santa Claus that sits at your local mall or the one that does corporate events, to the ones that appear on TV ads or Holiday promotions, they all have the same goal: to put on the red suit, make children and people in general happy, and earn some money. But to many of these people, the job becomes more than that, and turns into something more personal and, why not, magical. That's the focus of this 2014 curious documentary, directed and produced by Tommy Avallone, and co-produced by former wrestler Mick Foley (Mankind).

I Am Santa Claus follows the lives of several professional Santa Clauses, as they spend the year getting ready for the Holiday season. In the meantime, we get to see them during their regular life routines, living their everyday lives and dealing with their own personal struggles. There's the one that lives in his daughter's basement while trying to get enough to move on his own, the mature gay man that also works as a nude model while trying to carry on a long-distance relationship with his boyfriend, or the one that changed his actual name to "Santa Claus" and dreams of opening his own restaurant called "Santa's BBQ". Those are just three of the handful of men the documentary presents. The group is rounded out by Foley himself, who boasts himself to be a Santa Claus/Christmas fan as he decides to dress up as Santa Claus for the public, but most importantly, his sons.

This documentary is a very simple one, just presenting this men as they are, sharing their experiences as they prepare for this job. It's interesting to see this "hodgepodge" of characters dealing with the Santa Claus role, while juxtaposing it to their regular lives. The Foley bit, however, feels a bit forced. Sure, he looks like an endearing and earnest guy that's enjoying the ride, but it still feels like he's being "put up for this" just to raise the profile of the documentary by putting a known celebrity up front. In the end, I'm not that bothered because he seems like a pretty cool guy, but it sorta clashes when you put it against the other characters that have been living and breathing this life for years or decades.

The other thing that ended up being a bit distracting is that the men the filmmakers selected seemed to have been chosen more for their personal lives and how "scandalous" it might be seen to the audience, instead of how interesting their stories might be. I mean, there's the gay man that also poses nude for magazines (which we see in the documentary) and spends time at "bear gay" events, and there's the one that's a "swinger" and also works at a Ron Jeremy adult club, and there's much discussion about how their personal lifestyles is seen by other people and what other professional Santa Clauses think about it. Personally, I have no issues with the subject matter, but the way it's presented, I can't help but think it seems more like an attempt to be risqué by the filmmakers, instead of just letting the stories flow naturally.

Despite its narrative limitations and somewhat forced execution, I Am Santa Claus does succeed in presenting us a group of people we might not think much about, and giving us a small glimpse of their lives. At one point, one of them shares in tears how he feels "part of people's lives" for that brief moment. It's refreshing to see that level of commitment and devotion to the part, and if sharing that moment with an unknown child or family makes them feel like "the best person on Earth", then more power to them.

Grade: C+
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:09 pm

Still catching up with some December reviews; this one is to avoid Takoma reporting me for an invalid "snow" entry :D

A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently


The Thing (1982, rewatch)
"Somebody in this camp ain't what he appears to be. Right now that may be one or two of us. By spring, it could be all of us."
John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi horror classic follows the crew of an American research station in the middle of Antarctica. When a mysterious alien being starts taking them over, they find themselves pitted against each other in an attempt to survive. Of course, this is complicated by the fact that the creature's modus operandi is to mimic other organisms, be it a dog or a human, prompting the group's pilot, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) to give the above warning.

Released a few years after Halloween, The Thing features Carpenter at the top of his game. The way the film starts puts us right in the middle of it, but that doesn't stop him from being meticulous and methodical in his build-up. Given the nature of "the thing", Carpenter grabs onto that sense of constant dread and paranoia and never lets go. As the film progresses, it's evident that anyone can be *it*, like MacReady says.

But the perfection of the film doesn't stop with Carpenter. Pretty much everyone in the small cast is great, conveying the necessary sense of mistrust and desperation between the members of the crew, making us doubt anyone. The special effects look both excellent and effectively creepy, even 30+ years after. Dean Cundey's cinematography and use of light/shadows against the ice and darkness of the setting is perfect. Also, Ennio Morricone's minimalist score is taut and concise, with no exaggeration and no unnecessary fillers. Finally, the ending has got to be one of the best in recent history. Given the time it was released, I'm surprised AND pleased that the studio didn't vouch for a clearer resolution.

One of my few nitpicks of the film would be that we really don't need the opening shot of the spaceship crashing into Earth. Sure, we all know the plot now, but I think it would've been more effective to let the audience guess for a while what is going on. Second, although most of the dialogue is restrained, there are one or two one-liners that feel unnecessary and seem to scream "80s!!" (like MacReady yelling "Fuck you too!" to the creature). It helps that Russell nails the delivery and sells it well, but it's still a bit cheesy. But those are extremely minor nitpicks. As it is, The Thing is a near flawless masterpiece.

Grade: A
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:53 pm

I love The Thing. It's one of the first horror movies I really grew attached to.
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Takoma1 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 11:32 pm

Thief wrote:Still catching up with some December reviews; this one is to avoid Takoma reporting me for an invalid "snow" entry :D
Yeah, too late. The paperwork has already been filed and signed in triplicate.

Get your affairs in order, is all I'm saying.
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:53 am

A film that features Santa Claus as a character
A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" animated film



Bob's Broken Sleigh (2015)
"There's only so much that elf magic and eight reindeer can do. That's where I come in!"
Bob's Broken Sleigh follows Bob (Cole Howard), a magic-less elf that has a thing for technology and mechanics. When his attempt to help fix Santa's sleigh goes awry, he ends up stranded far away from the North Pole. As he makes his way back, he befriends a grumpy fish, a long-tailed cat, and an easily scared blue monster. Meanwhile, Santa's house is being threatened by badguy Fishface (Bruce Greenwood) and his minions.

As you can probably guess from the description, this was a very child-oriented animated film. There really wasn't much in it aimed at adults, but it also wasn't that bad. The voice performances were ok, and the animation - although a bit wooden and uneven - was always bright and colorful. The plot was very simple, and full of clichés as Bob has to overcome his insecurities and learn to find his "magic" in what he knows, while also helping his new friends gain their own confidence.

There were a couple of things that didn't make much sense and others that weren't executed as one might expect, but overall, it was a pretty inoffensive and somewhat charming film. There are definitely hundreds of better animated films out there, but if your kid wants to check this one out, there's no reason to stop him/her.

Grade: C+
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:55 am

Takoma1 wrote:
Yeah, too late. The paperwork has already been filed and signed in triplicate.

Get your affairs in order, is all I'm saying.
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:09 pm

A film from Sweden


Persona (1966)
"I think I could turn myself into you. If I made a real effort. I mean inside. You could turn yourself into me just like that. Although your soul would much be too big. It would stick out everywhere!"
It's been two weeks since I first saw this film, and I've been going back and forth with it all the while, still puzzling over it. Did I like it or not? Was this or that literal or symbolic? Should I watch it again or not? Two weeks and I probably still can't tell left from right. Yesterday, I finally gave up and watched it again. It's not everyday that I do that, rewatch a film within a short amount of time. Other films that prompted me to do that were Memento, Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead, and THX-1138. In my opinion, all meritorious cases, all times where the rewatch helped everything pull into focus. Not necessarily to understand it, but to appreciate it more.

Persona follows Alma (Bibi Andersson), a young nurse assigned to take care of Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman), an actress that for some reason has stopped speaking. Not finding anything wrong with her, physically or mentally, the hospital sends Vogler to a cottage under the care of Alma, where the two become closer and closer each day. This is my third Ingmar Bergman film, and if one thing in it is clear, is that the film is one of those cases where you're meant to understand, as much as you're meant to "feel" the film. I know it sounds cliché and corny, but that's how I feel about it. The emotions conveyed by the characters and the imagery is undeniable, to the point that you feel a burden, even if you can't explain *what* burden.

Through its narrative and its visuals, the film explores multiple themes like duality and individuality, public image and privacy, motherhood and gender roles, guilt and forgiveness, religion and atheism, and heck, even vampires. One can say that all those themes and symbolisms are jumbled together, and yet it all feels harmoniously cohesive. Among all those themes, the religious one was probably the one that resonated with me most. The guilt of the confession, the regrets from time long past, and the silence of "God" (Vogler) against the constant conversation/prayer of the "believer" (Alma). How Alma fights against that "silence" and how she craves to hear something from "God", even if it's "nothing", and how the reassurances (or lack of) she gets from that make her change.

Most of the weight of how those themes are transmitted falls on the talent of both Andersson and Ullman, who are pretty much alone through all the film. Ullman has the challenge of performing without talking and she manages to convey that mystery within Vogler. But to me, the real treat was Andersson who, IMO, carries the film with her performance. Her portrayal of Alma goes through a rollercoaster of emotions: naivete, idealism, insecurity, fear, trust, betrayal, bitterness, regret, guilt, love, confidence, acceptance... it is all there. Don't ask me how, but it is, and it's pretty impressive.

Bergman makes a point to signal these abrupt changes in the story and the behavior of the characters; from its bizarre opening montage to a particular "split" towards the middle of the film, while still having it flow seamlessly from one act to the other, from one theme to the other. It also helps that he uses a variety of filming techniques to achieve this unique and weird macro/micro mixture of styles: from long shots to close ups, from tracking shots to fixed shots. It's a beautifully shot film with great cinematography and use of light/shadows. Sound seems to also play a key role to everything, as Bergman uses it in an intrusive yet subtle way (what does the constant dripping means?).

I could probably write more paragraphs about each theme and I probably wouldn't be any closer to understanding much of what's happening. Still puzzled over it, still going back and forth, still wondering what these or that meant. After two watches, it feels like I walk away with nothing, and yet a part of me feels changed.

Grade: A+
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:06 pm

A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title
A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
A foreign "Holiday" film
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" horror film



Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
"The real Santa Claus. He tears naughty kids to pieces. Not even their skeletons are left."
In 2003, Finnish filmmakers Jalmari and Juuso Helander released a bizarre and comical short film titled Rare Exports, Inc. The film, presented in a mockumentary style, follows three hunters specialized in capturing, wait for it, wild "Father Christmases" (or "Santa Clauses"). They then "domesticate" them and train them, before shipping them to other countries. It is a concept so odd and bizarre that you can't help but be fascinated by it. The short film was so well received that the Helander Bros. released a second one where they teach "importers and distributors" how to properly "handle" their "product".

Eventually, the Helander Bros. set out to direct a full-length feature film somewhat based on the subject. I had heard it mentioned in conversations of good "Holiday" films, but I didn't have the frame of reference of the short films, which I ended up seeing later. The film, set in Norther Finland, follows a mysterious Russian excavation gone awry, and the group of hunters that find themselves dealing with the aftermath. The hunters are led by Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and his son Pietari (Onni Tommila), who also happen to be dealing with some issues in their relationship.

If I have to give anything to the film is that the premise is definitely unique, which helps to keep you interested. But in addition, the direction by Jalmari Helander is pretty solid. The film has a lot of pretty good shots of the Finnish mountains and the wilderness, and his use of the camera shows that he has skills. The performances are surprisingly good too, particularly by both the Tommila leads. Even though the film doesn't address much of it, Jorma's performance conveys a lot more depth than what the film allows, which can be seen as a good or a bad thing.

But despite the interesting concept, good performances, and solid technical skills, the film still ends up being flawed. The first act which pretty much sets up the premise seems to take forever, only to then jump straight into the last act and resolution, making the film feel as if it was missing a middle act. Plus, Helander's direction and use of CGI in the last act is a bit amateurish. Finally, the segue into the epilogue, which is pretty much a retelling of the first short film, feels a bit forced; especially if you see it without the frame of reference from the short films.

Regardless of its flaws, the film is well done, fun and entertaining. I would recommend it, if only for its crazy premise, solid performances, and some cool Holiday imagery.

Grade: B-
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Mon Jan 14, 2019 6:16 pm

A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title
A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
A foreign "Holiday" film
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film based on a book or play
Any adaptation of A Christmas Carol



Scrooge (1951, a.k.a. A Christmas Carol)
" I'm too old and beyond hope! Go and redeem some younger, more promising creature, and leave me to keep Christmas in my own way!"
Traditionally, Christmas is a time of happiness and joy. Families get together, people give presents, good times are remembered. But what of those that don't have, or don't want any of that? The character of Ebenezer Scrooge might be the personification of that, a man with little to no family, selfish enough to not want to give presents, and with not many good memories to look back to. Created by Charles Dickens for the novella A Christmas Carol, there have been numerous adaptations and personifications of the bitter man. From Patrick Stewart or Michael Caine, to Jim Carrey or Scrooge McDuck. This 1951 adaptation, simply titled Scrooge, offers one of his most popular portrayals.

Most of us already know the premise of the story; the bitter and cranky old man visited and haunted by the ghosts of the past, the present, and the future, which eventually make him change his ways. I have no recollection of which adaptations I had seen before this one, but the ones I remember most were either animated, TV films, or loose adaptations like Bill Murray's Scrooged, so I was looking forward to a more "pure" adaptation of the material. In this one, Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim and I have to say he was really, really good in the role. I was expecting a more comical performance, but he really latches on to that bitterness to the point that you can feel it. Sim's Scrooge is not a cranky, old man, but a man of deep regrets and bottled-up pain. And although I do think his transition from "bad" to "good" is a bit abrupt, Sim sells it, playing it nicely and believably on both sides.

The other performances are all good, but none gets close to Sim. If anything, the performance of Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim, was a bit shaky. Aside from the performances, I thought the direction and cinematography were pretty good. The camera movement and framing of shots was well done, and most of the production values are good. Most importantly, the film has a nice pace and I never found it boring. More importantly, despite the familiarity of the story and its fantastical elements, I think the message still feels true and honest; that nobody is beyond hope or redemption, no matter the age or the wrongs they might have done.

Like I said above, I haven't seen many other adaptations of the story, but after watching this one, I don't feel like I need to. In the wise words of Jinnistan, I'll "ride or die with Alastair Sim".

Grade: A-
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Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Post by Thief » Tue Jan 15, 2019 5:54 pm

A Best Picture winner from the 1950s


From Here to Eternity (1953)
"What do you want to go back to the Army for? What did the Army ever do for you besides treat you like dirt, and give you one awful going-over, and get your friend killed?"
Fade into a remote beach. The camera pans to show a couple lying on the sand, kissing passionately, as the waves splash all over them. It is an iconic scene and, up until a few months ago, the extent of what I knew about this film. Being under the impression that it was some schmaltzy, romantic melodrama, I rarely considered it as an option. It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I found out it was set during World War II, and that part of its plot revolved around the Pearl Harbor bombing. This piqued my interest about it, so I decided to give it a chance when this category came.

Set in 1941, From Here to Eternity follows the lives of three soldiers: Prewitt, Warden, and Maggio, stationed in Oahu, Hawaii. Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a bugler and former boxer who asked to be transferred after a tragic incident with a friend and sparring partner. When the base captain learns about him, he starts pressuring him to join the base boxing team through excessive work, abuse, and threats, with only Maggio (Frank Sinatra) defending him. Meanwhile, Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) tries to avoid captain's interference in leading his men, while also pursuing a relationship with the man's wife (Deborah Kerr).

My first impression is that, given my knowledge and expectations of the film, I was surprised to find out the film was a bit heavier and more mature than I was expecting in terms of plot and story. I also learned that the title, which I thought was a romantic line, was instead taken from a rather dark Rudyard Kipling's poem about British soldiers being "little black sheep" and how they are "damned from here to eternity". One part I particularly liked from the poem reads:
"We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth,
We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung,
And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us, for we knew the worst too young!"
Which I thought was very fitting to the film's themes. The soldiers in the film, but most specifically the three we focus on, are indeed "damned" in many ways; banished to a far away island and condemned to be alone, punished and tortured, and to ultimately die; sometimes at the hands of the same Army they are sworn to serve. Still, I would've liked to see the end result with no interference from the Army and the Hollywood Code. I think the film would've been more interesting without that filter and the overall impact would've been greater.

Another issue I had was with some of the behavior of the lead soldiers as they relate to their respective lovers. Specifically, the man who actively seeks a relationship with a married woman, only to later lash at her for previously seeking relationships with other men, or the man who just meets a woman at a gentleman's club, only to lash at her for meeting other men at the gentleman's club. Looking at it from today's perspective, the way these confrontations unfold is a bit problematic, awkward, and unfair towards the women. But ultimately, it's the kind of thing I think I can chalk up as a sign of the times in a 50's male-centered and male-driven society.

I still thought the three male leads (Lancaster, Clift, Sinatra) were pretty good. Both Lancaster and Clift portray different forms of confidence and swagger, while Sinatra had a more laid back approach to his character. Deborah Kerr was also great adding some necessary layers to a performance that could've felt more two-dimensional with a lesser actress. Unfortunately, as the film enters its last act, it somewhat deviates from our main characters as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor starts. From a technical standpoint, the attack is masterfully directed, but it feels a bit disjointed from the rest, and the resolution is a bit anti-climatic.

During and after filming, the Army required a number of changes to the film, some of them to avoid tarnishing their image: Prewitt's girlfriend was changed from a prostitute to a hostess, a hysterectomy was attributed to a miscarriage instead of a venereal disease, references to homosexuality among the enlisted men were removed, the physical abuse and torture of Maggio is not shown, and the captain that terrorizes Prewitt was reprimanded and forced to resign, instead of receiving his desired promotion, like in the novel. Director Fred Zinnemann considered that moment the worst in the film saying "it makes me sick every time I see it".

Despite the Army treating Zinnemann and the film "like dirt" and giving it a metaphorical "going-over", to comply with the Code and their own parameters, From Here to Eternity still ended up being a surprise for me. Even though its impact is somewhat hindered by the above limitations and interference, it was better than I was expecting, with some good to great performances and solid direction.

Grade: B+
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