Monthly Archives: September 2014
(1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
طعم گيلاس (Ta’m e guilass)
“You want to give up the taste of cherries?”
Last time we encountered critically acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami here on SvTM, I wasn’t impressed and failed to see the critical acclaim. Maybe this time we’ll see something worth praising this time around, as we look at his later film Taste Of Cherry.
This is the story about a man known as Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi), who drives around town looking for someone to help him. As the film progresses, we learn that he’s planning on killing himself, and is looking for someone to bury him in exchange for a fee. The film then focuses on the reactions from the various people he tries to get to help him.
So, this is a film about driving. Lots of driving. Shots of a car driving along winding mountain paths or through quarries or through crowds of people looking for labouring work. More car shots. Shots of a man driving the car. And so on. During all of this, people talk. They talk a lot. About nothing. Talking & Driving: The Movie. Hurray.
This is supposed to be a movie that reflects on the nature of depression and suicide but everything that might help achieve that goal has seemingly been thrown out of the window. We’re supposed to reflect on the nature of suicide through Mr Badii and yet we know absolutely nothing about this incredibly drab and boring man. He converses with at least three people in his attempt to find a gravedigger, but he says little to nothing about himself.
What’s more, we don’t know his background, we don’t know why he wants to kill himself, and we don’t know why he needs a complete stranger to bury him. We spend an hour and a half with this guy, and we end up learning exactly nothing about him. This is bad film-making and storytelling, pure and simple. How are we supposed to reflect on suicide if we don’t know the circumstances that led to it?
What’s more, the attempts to keep the viewer distant and objective really don’t help matters. I know I’ve complained about some movies, especially war movies, overdoing things for emotional manipulation, but this is way on the other end of the scale. The movie works so hard to remove all emotional attachment from the audience that the only thing the audience feels is boredom. This movie is boring. It bores you. It feels twice as long as it actually is.
This distance is clearly meant to represent some postmodern statement on the nature of film, where the director seems to openly laugh at anyone trying to find emotional attachment in a fictional character, to the point of failing to resolve the film at the end, instead panning over to the film crew to say “it’s a movie, you idiots! Stop caring!” The only problem is, this concept was done better in a 30-second advert. For furniture. That actually made us care about its central protagonist in the first place. Who was a friggin’ desk lamp.
And do you what makes this worse? The whole scheme, the central “driving point” of the plot, feels so at odds with how someone actually suffering from depression would act. Suicide is typically an act of desperation, decided on during a depressive episode and enacted with some degree of urgency. It’s not a meticulously-planned action that requires several days of preparation and assistance from others. I honestly felt like Kiarostami had never met someone suicidal before in his life.
This is backed up when the title reveals itself in a story told by one of Badii’s prospective gravediggers, where he states that he almost committed suicide himself once and then he tasted some mulberries and suddenly he felt better about himself and the world. This is not how depression works. This is not why people commit suicide. This is wrong, wrong, wrong! No one in the history of anything was ever “cured” of depression, least of all by fruit!
Ultimately, Taste Of Cherry is a waste of everybody’s time. It’s longer than it needs to be, it fails to understand depression and suicide, and never bothers to tell us anything about its central protagonist. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.
Starring Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari & Safar Ali Moradi
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
Produced by Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography by Homayun Payvar
Edited by Abbas Kiarostami
Favourite Scene: There was nothing I particularly liked about this movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: While all of it was boring, the part where Badii gets out of his car to literally hang around the house was especially mind-numbing.
Watch it if: You need a sleep aid
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a movie that explores depression
(1986, Woody Allen)
“How can you act when there’s nothing inside to come out?”
So I never particularly liked the last Woody Allen movie I watched for this blog. However, I don’t exactly have high hopes for this one either, especially because Allen himself is in the movie, and everything I’ve seen of the guy himself just feels uncomfortably awkward and not actually all that funny. Does that view stick after watching Hannah And Her Sisters? Let’s take a look.
Hannah And Her Sisters is a movie with an ensemble cast, featuring the titular Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne West), all of whom have their own personal and professional dramas. Support characters include Hannah’s husband, Elliot (Michael Caine), who secretly has a thing for Lee, Lee’s much older partner, Frederick (Max Von Sydow), and Hannah’s neurotic ex-boyfriend Woody Allen who…is in the movie for some reason.
So, a movie with three plots all intertwining. Possible scandalous family drama. A rather splendid cast of top-notch actors. It’s a potential recipe for an awesome movie. Sadly, the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts. And here are many reasons why.
First of all, the movie has a tendency to jump around a lot, struggling to stick with any character for any length of time. As a result, we never really learn much about anyone, and this of course leads to us not particularly caring about anyone. Everyone feels so distant from the audience, and since this is largely a character piece, that spoils the whole movie.
What’s more, what we do know about the cast does little to warm the audience to them. Much like The Big Chill, unless you’re a certain type of mid-1980s, middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road person, this film feels alien. Everyone talks big about art and literature and how oh-so-cultured they are, in a way that feels false and dull and pretentious. I feel like none of these people are people I’d spend any amount of time with, but the movie’s asking me to spend 2 hours with them.
Worst of all, Woody Allen gives himself way too much screen-time. His character doesn’t need to be there. His connection to the other characters is tenuous at best, and he’s so goddamn annoying. He’s a ball of neuroses and hypochondria and spends 99% of his time whining about how shitty life is to be a successful TV producer with a decently sized apartment in New York. Oh boo hoo for you, Woody. Boo fucking hoo.
And no, he wasn’t funny. Nor was anyone else in this hipster movie before hipsters were even much of a thing. This is supposed to be a comedy, but not once did I laugh. Not even a chuckle. Not even a smile. This isn’t comedy. This is Woody Allen farting out a script and then filming it, somehow convincing a bunch of decent actors to help him laugh at his own self-satisfied jokes.
There also isn’t really anything holding this movie together. Ostensibly, everything’s supposed to come back to Hannah in some way, but she gets barely any screen-time compared to the director. She’s often relegated to background character status and when she does become the focus she just comes across as bland and featureless, which seems to be a common thing for Woody Allen to do with Mia Farrow for some reason.
Oh, and the movie ultimately descends into everyone bitching at each other and failing to have any kind of proper adult discussion with each other. And any interaction between Allen and Farrow feels painfully uncomfortable considering the real life drama that transpired between them.
Hannah And Her Sisters is ultimately a pretentious waste of time on top of being a tremendous waste of talent with most of its cast. I have nothing positive to say about it.
Starring Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Lloyd Nolan, Maureen O’Sullivan, Daniel Stern, Max Von Sydow, Dianne Wiest & Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Cinematography by Carlo Di Palma
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Favourite Scene: None of it.
Scene That Bugged Me: All of it.
Watch it if: Seriously, don’t
Avoid it if: You’re not an aging hipster
(1941, John Ford)
“They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.”
Oh good, a John Ford movie. As evidenced by previous reviews of his movies that I’ve done, I’ve not been too fond of most of his work. But wait, most of that involved the bland acting of Mr John Wayne, who I’m definitely not fond of. But he’s nowhere to be seen in How Green Was My Valley, set in a Welsh coal-mining village. So perhaps I might be okay with this one? Let’s see!
The movie follows several years in the life of the Morgan family. Father Gwilym (Donald Crisp), along with his elder sons Ianto (John Loder), Ivor (Patric Knowles) and Davy (Richard Fraser), work in the surrounding coal mines, along with many other villagers who depend on the mine for their wages. Conflict comes when the miners find their wages being reduced, and when local preacher Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) falls in love with the Morgans’ daughter Angharad (Maureen O’Hara). Events are viewed mostly through the eyes of youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall), with an older version of him narrating many of the events.
(2004, Michael Moore)
“George Orwell once wrote that, “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”
It’s September the 11th today, which means that it’s the anniversary of the terrorist actions on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A tragic day for sure, but also one shrouded in conspiracy theories and some questionable exploitative actions by politicians. In reaction to this, today we’ll be taking a look at Michael Moore’s infamous documentary about former president George W. Bush’s actions on and around that day in 2001, Fahrenheit 9/11.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the account of Bush’s political career up to the point of the film’s release, from his election to the invasion of Iraq. It follows events in chronological order and raises questions about Bush’s actions as well as those of those close to him. It’s a political documentary. What more do you want?
This is a difficult film to review because it’s a divisive political piece that you either agree with or you don’t. Reviewing it on an objective basis is difficult because those who were opposed to the War On Terror are likely to enjoy the movie, while those who were supportive of Bush are likely to view the film as terrible propaganda. There is literally no middle ground in this issue. However, while trying to look at it on a technical level is difficult, it is not impossible. Let’s take a look at what Moore has done right here.
The movie does have some great presentation throughout. The movie flows well and explains its points fairly well. It covers a surprisingly broad spectrum of topics surrounding 9/11 and the War On Terror, from stock footage of Bush speeches down to personal accounts of those closer to the events. The movie is paced properly, and never drags or feels rushed for the majority of its running time. And Moore has added plenty of humour to certain parts of the movie, especially when the topics he’s discussing are particularly absurd.
However, Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t perfect. There is an inherent bias running throughout the movie that sometimes makes it hard to fully enjoy the movie. Some of his claims feel a little shaky and I would have liked to have seen more evidence backing them up (such as claims the Saudi embassy receives preferential treatment from the US government), while sometimes I felt that his snide remarks were going to do little to sway those with opposing views.
I also felt that Moore was guilty of emotional manipulation throughout the movie. When he reached the 9/11 attacks themselves, he seemed to linger on shots of the shocked crowd, along with the sound of screams and cries. Admittedly, at the time of the film’s release (ten years ago!), the wounds from the day were far from healed, but this felt somewhat exploitative.
I also wasn’t fond of the focus on one particular family who had lost a son in Iraq. While I have no objection to bringing a human face to the death tolls, I do have a problem in how it was approached. There is a scene where the soldier’s mother travels to D.C. to confront the government about her grievances, and there’s a long shot where she walks away from a heartless conservative woman in tears that almost seems to revel in her sadness, as it allowed Moore to prove his point.
However, the movie does do its job. While sometimes it is overly manipulative, there are points where I found myself getting angry, and not because of Moore’s filmmaking, but because of the points raised. As someone who failed to see the point of the Iraq invasion, being reminded of it wasn’t making me feel particularly pleased. Fortunately Moore avoided making much reference to the UK’s involvement in events, because I think the sight of Tony Blair would have made me want to throw my TV out of the window.
But it’s also not going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a competently made documentary with a lot going for it, but if you’re a pro-Republican, Iraq-war-supporting conservative, then you’re not going to be swayed.
Written by Michael Moore
Produced by Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn, Monica Hampton, Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Music by Jeff Gibbs
Edited by Kurt Engfehr, T. Woody Richman & Christopher Seward
Favourite Scene: I always loved seeing Bush screw up his speeches, so the “won’t get fooled again” speech was hilarious to me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The lingering shots of shock and the sounds of anguish that marked 9/11 itself felt far too emotionally manipulative for my taste.
Watch it if: You opposed the War On Terror
Avoid it if: You’re a staunch Republican who believed Bush could do no wrong
(1986, Oliver Stone)
“We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves”
Last time we saw a Western that managed to get me vaguely interested in places, although failed to win me over to the genre. Today we’re looking at film in another genre I kind of dislike and seeing if it manages to attract my attention in any way. Yes, this time it’s war movies, and we’re looking at Vietnam War movie Platoon.
Seen through the eyes of naïve trooper Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), Platoon aims to show a grim picture of the Vietnam War, based on writer/director Oliver Stone’s real-life experiences. He gains a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Defoe) and a nemesis in the form of the cynical and somewhat violent Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). As the movie progresses Chris has to deal with the horrors of war and realise that sometimes even the “good guys” are capable of some terrible things.
So yes, it’s yet another “war is hell” movie. So Platoon is full of exactly what you’d expect – an awful lot of scenes of soldiers and innocents caught in the crossfire breaking down and crying a lot, lots of blood and gore and death and lots of long, lingering shots of the despair and hopelessness of war, especially with a war as pointless and draining as Vietnam.
But here’s the catch. Platoon avoids a lot of the problems of other “war is hell” movies by not labouring the point. Honestly, it was a massive breath of fresh air to not have the camera linger on limbless soldiers weeping in foxholes for about an hour while a composer gets to go to town on a mournful piano. There’s plenty of lingering horror here, of course, but it never once hangs around the house. It doesn’t try and manipulate the audience. It doesn’t overdo itself. And I, for one, welcome this. Other war movies could do well to follow this example.
So instead of emotional manipulation of the audience, Platoon opts for character development. It sets up a clear protagonist and defines at least two more characters as important, and then focuses on how these three interact. We also get plenty of fleshed-out moments between squad members interacting in realistic ways, building up a comradery and generally being human beings. And I hugely appreciate that Oliver Stone chose to take this route, because it makes the film that much stronger as a whole.
Some examples? Okay, sure. Two soldiers are horribly mutilated in an explosion, and we get a few quick shots of one of them dying. It doesn’t run in slow motion or force us to feel sad, it merely shows us and lets us deal with it ourselves. Sergeant Barnes is portrayed as a bad person but it’s not played up like some pantomime villain – when he points a gun at a young Vietnamese girl, it’s a relatively quick moment but it tells us everything. We get just enough information and are allowed to consider the implications ourselves.
What also helps is that every single actor in this movie is fantastic. It’s pre-“Tiger Blood” Sheen, when he looked like he wanted to beat his dad at acting skill. Tom Berenger is evil and menacing without overdoing it. Willem Defoe plays his part as mentor so well that even I started looking up to him. Even the support cast, with their much smaller roles, feel like essential parts of a larger whole. It couldn’t have worked without them. Although having said that, I genuinely don’t remember Johnny Depp being in it but he’s on the cast list so who knows.
The main issue with Platoon, however, is that it doesn’t really feel like it has much of a plot, or much to drive it from one scene to another. There’s the vague “Barnes is a bad man” plot, but this feels like a subplot rather than the driving force behind the movie. There isn’t even a central conflict. It’s basically Vietnam War Stuff: The Movie, which kind of works and kind of doesn’t.
Platoon is a very good movie. Not entirely my taste as films go, but its ability to demonstrate the horrors of war without overdoing it and the uniformly brilliant acting mean that I can certainly appreciate the craft involved, and it’s definitely one of the better war movies I’ve seen.
Starring Tom Berenger, Willem Defoe & Charlie Sheen
Written by Oliver Stone
Produced by Arnold Kopelson
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Edited by Claire Simpson
Favourite Scene: The scenes in the Vietnamese village, which show the depths at which Barnes is willing to plunge, were perfectly executed.
Scene That Bugged Me: The movie feels like it loses momentum towards the end when it almost becomes a generic war movie.
Watch it if: You want a genuinely fascinating war movie
Avoid it if: You’re expecting Charlie Sheen to show about how much he’s “winning”
(1971, Robert Altman)
“If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain’t going to think much of him”
It’s that time again! Time for me to slog my way through a film in one of my least favourite genres – the Western. Fortunately, this time John Wayne isn’t coming over the horizon and there don’t appear to be any Cowboys and Injuns propping up the story. In fact, today’s movie claims to be an “anti-Western”, although Dead Man claimed that too and look where that got us.
McCabe & Mrs Miller is about a man named McCabe and a woman named Mrs Miller (duh). McCabe (Warren Beatty) comes to the town of Presbyterian Church, a lawless mining town with no direction, and asserts himself on the people with his aggressive personality and rumours of a gunfighting past. Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives shortly afterwards and informs him that she could run a successful brothel in the town, and the two form a professional partnership and occasional romantic one too. However, the town’s growing prosperity is threatened with the arrival of two agents from a ruthless corporate mining company, who wish to take the town from them.
Normally I don’t like Westerns, as regular readers will know, but sometimes exceptions do turn up. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid was one (to an extent), and McCabe & Mrs Miller is another. That said, this doesn’t translate into a love of the movie, more a respect for the quality film-making at work even though I still personally didn’t enjoy it.
Let’s start with the good parts, shall we? McCabe & Mrs Miller is full of some really great moments, mostly centred on the title characters’ interactions with one another. McCabe desperately trying to drunkenly gain Constance’s attention, her ability to chew him out for his apparent lack of genuine business sense, and the fact that we have two brash, headstrong characters respectfully (and not so respectfully) clashing with one another time and time again.
McCabe, loud and drunk and boastful, is actually a useless businessman and a coward when it comes to gun fights. Mrs Miller is far from being a hooker with a heart of gold, and more a savvy, scheming woman with grand ambitions living in a time when being a woman with ambitions was frowned upon rather heavily. Both Beatty and Christie play these roles to their absolute best, and I loved their characters.
I also felt that the town itself was beautifully realised. It gradually builds up as the movie progresses, and almost becomes a character in its own right. Set design isn’t something I normally point out, but it’s an integral part of this movie, and it feels wrong not to mention it.
Despite these wonderful things though, I felt the movie was lacking in other areas. Plot-wise, I felt that the movie was a little unfocused. The central conflict at the heart of the movie just didn’t really feel like it was there at all. We’re supposed to believe the town is under threat by unscrupulous corporate forces, and yet we only see two agents and a possible hitman who sits in a nearby café biding his time as if he’s a final boss waiting for McCabe to clear his dungeon.
Also, while the interactions between McCabe and Mrs Miller were awesome, they also felt a little sparse. There’s apparently a romantic angle to their interactions, but it feels a little poorly-handled at times. There are times when I feel it could have been explored better, since we get hints of McCabe being upset about Constance sleeping with other men (she is a prostitute, after all), but it’s only partially covered. It felt like it was building to something but it was ultimately unresolved.
Also, I struggled to follow the final shootout that ended the movie. Characters seemed to teleport around the mountain and stalk each other. It went on for far too long and didn’t really seem to achieve anything. It also led to a fairly unsatisfactory ending that left me feeling hugely disappointed.
McCabe & Mrs Miller is probably the best Western I’ve seen alongside Butch Cassidy, but it still doesn’t go far enough to make me like the genre. I tolerated this thanks to some fine performances, but certainly not a film I’d rush to see again.
Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Murphy, William Devane, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Keith Carradine & Bert Remsen
Written by Edmund Naughton (novel) and Robert Altman & Brian McKay
Produced by Mitchell Brower & David Foster
Music by Leonard Cohen
Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by Lou Lombardo
Favourite Scene: Mrs Miller chewing out McCabe for his apparent inability to do his own finances pretty much sums up their whole relationship.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why exactly is that hitman just sitting around in a café for most of the movie?
Watch it if: You’re looking for a decent non-Wayne western
Avoid it if: You like straightforward westerns
(1959, Alain Resnais)
“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”
So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?
Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.
Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?
Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.
Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.
Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.
In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.
So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.
Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute
Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.
Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima