February 2018 Recap

(image via medium.com)

Despite having a number of assignments and exams to do in February, and my spring break getting eaten up by too many shifts at work, I somehow managed to watch more movies this month than last without dropping the ball on anything else. Even better, the quality of the movies I saw increased greatly; while January seemed like a good month for movies looking back at it, February is definitely even better. I had a best picture double feature at my theater with The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (my first ever double feature at a movie theater, actually); I re-watched the incredible In the Mood for Love in my foreign film class and wrote my exam essay on it, two events that re-affirmed my love for this incredible film; I got my Vincent Price fix with While the City Sleeps and The Monster Club; and I went to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which actually turned out to be a really fun time at the movies. Read on to see a breakdown of my month and my five favorite discoveries.

First-Time Viewings: 30
Re-Watches: 1
  1. A Separation (2011)
  2. Mommie Dearest (1981)
  3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
  4. The Shape of Water (2017)
  5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
  6. Re-Watch: In the Mood for Love (2000)
  7. Brad's Status (2017)
  8. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
  9. Umberto D. (1952)
  10. A Ghost Story (2017)
  11. The Sea Wolf (1941)
  12. While the City Sleeps (1956)
  13. The Monster Club (1981)
  14. Svengali (1931)
  15. Mother! (2017)
  16. The Lost Patrol (1934)
  17. Cleopatra (1934)
  18. The Whales of August (1987)
  19. Captain Blood (1935)
  20. Napoleon and Samantha (1972)
  21. Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
  22. Black Panther (2018)
  23. Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
  24. Girlfriends (1978)
  25. Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
  26. The Tarnished Angels (1957)
  27. Today We Live (1933)
  28. Losing Ground (1982)
  29. The Player (1992)
  30. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
  31. Union Depot (1932) 
By Decade:

  • 10s: 0
  • 20s: 0
  • 30s: 6
  • 40s: 2
  • 50s: 4
  • 60s: 2
  • 70s: 2
  • 80s: 5
  • 90s: 1
  • 2000s: 1
  • 2010s: 8
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) (image via IMDB)

Before the first musical number of this film had even ended, I was desperately trying to figure out where I had seen the main actor before. With that distinctive smile, it did not take me long to place him: he also played the lead in one of my favorite and most bizarre film discoveries of last year, The Loved One. In this film, he essentially plays the exact same character, a somewhat smarmy yet still likable guy who keeps stumbling into ludicrous situations and unexpected success. The biggest difference is that this time, he sings, and rather well at that--I have the title song stuck in my head as I type. This is a rather atypical musical that is almost insufferably dated, from the gaudy decor to the rampant misogyny, yet it remains charming because everything is just so outrageously 1960s. On top of that, it is very funny and has some truly excellent musical numbers that fully utilize the bright colors and funky patterns comprising the film's visual style. While a bit thin on plot and over-long for what is there, this film is a wonderfully enjoyable time capsule of the visual flair and social mores of 1960s America, and is definitely now one of my favorite late-era Hollywood musicals.

Umberto D. (1952) (image via IFC Center)

Early in 2017, I watched Bicycle Thieves for the first time. Then near the end of the year, I re-watched it in my film class. After these two viewings, I was forced to admit that I just was not a big fan of the film. I could appreciate its importance to cinematic history, and the brilliance of certain scenes, but ultimately I just did not connect to the subject matter, and I cannot see myself ever revisiting it except for academic purposes. This posed a serious issue: what if I just do not like Italian neorealism, one of the most significant film movements of all time? This was the conclusion I jumped to, but I should not have, because watching Umberto D. has proved all of my assumptions and hasty conclusions wrong. This film had me captivated from start to finish, and I felt a profound emotional connection to the story of Umberto D. and his loyal canine companion, as well as the story of the kind maid with her own set of personal problems. Umberto D. is a gorgeous, heartbreaking film that spoke to me in the way Bicycle Thieves speaks to so many others, and I cannot wait to dig deeper into Italian neorealism and find more gems like this one.

A Ghost Story (2017) (image via vulture.com)

A Ghost Story is my favorite discovery of the month, and just may be my favorite film of 2017. Rooney Mara is one of my favorite actresses working today, and she puts in a characteristically quiet, emotionally affecting performance in this thoughtful meditation on grief and the passage of time. Two of the very best scenes in the film hinge on her remarkable ability to captivate her audience without saying a word: a 5-minute long take of her sitting on the floor, eating an entire pie, as the blurry form of her lover, returned to her as an unperceived ghost, helplessly watches this ravenous expression of her grief; and a scene where Mara listens to a song composed by her lover, the scene cutting back and forth between when she first heard it--when he first played it for her--and her lying on the floor, listening to it after his death. The song choice in this sequence is just as magnificent as Mara's acting, a haunting piece that seems to sum up the core themes of the film in a more profound way than simply through the lyrics; the very melody of the piece seems to course through the bones of the film, giving it a tragic theme song. The most fascinating element of the film, however, is that the most sympathetic and, indeed, human character is the ghost, who has no facial expression and no means of communication; yet, he is the character we follow and feel most deeply for. This film is a truly incredible piece of art, and one for which my esteem continues to rise the more I think about it.

Mother! (2017) (image via The Telegraph)

Despite watching Mother! at home on a puny 32" television screen, I can honestly say that it was one of the most captivating, intense, horrifying viewing experiences I have ever had. I was greatly disappointed when I missed out on seeing this film in theaters, and while that certainly would have been an incredible experience, it also may have proved to be just too much for me, so perhaps it is just as well that I had to wait and see it in this format. Because despite the considerably smaller screen, not a single ounce of the film's impact was lost on me: I was utterly mesmerized by this story of a woman who, at every single turn, is dismissed and beaten down by people who should be paying her respect. There is much debate over the allegorical nature of this story, and I have enjoyed reading the various theories and the arguments that arise from them, however what ultimately made the film such a memorable one to me was that basic, incredibly horrifying concept of a person being insidiously and unsparingly stripped of all control over their belongings, and eventually even over their life. And amazingly, what made this crucial element of the story so compelling and convincing to me was the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. I have long written her off as an A-list actress who picks her roles accordingly, but here (and, incidentally, in Red Sparrow, which I saw last night) she has forced me to reassess her and admit that she still possesses quite formidable talent, and I can only hope that she will continue choosing roles that bring out this side of her.

The Whales of August (1987) (image via Leonard Maltin)

Normally the limitations of adapting a stage play to film poses a great hindrance, but in the case of The Whales of August, the slow, methodical machinations of the theater provide a fitting backdrop to this film about old age. More than just a film about old people, though, The Whales of August is a touching love letter to old Hollywood, with a small, carefully chosen group of actors--these being Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Ann Sothern, Harry Carey, Jr., and Vincent Price--who have each left an indelible mark on Hollywood cinema. Here they evidence--some of them for the last time--the impressive talent that made their success possible. Watching this film is an entirely different experience from watching most late-era films of classic Hollywood stars: this film is not exploitative, and it does not press its cast to recreate past glories. This is a film that offers dignity to its stars, giving them roles that are simultaneously a new challenge while also offering a valuable opportunity for the actors--and their fans--to reflect on the long, successful career that has led them to this point. In essence, each actor plays a character that is new, yet draws upon all that came before. While all of the actors do an incredible job, I was particularly taken with the performances of Lillian Gish and Vincent Price, who are just as mesmerizing here as in any of their early work. Combined with some gorgeous on-location footage of Maine, this is a quiet, contemplative film that nonetheless must not be missed by fans of Hollywood's Golden Age.

My recap posts have tended to be on the late side these past few months, but this one really takes the cake! Due to some technical issues on my part I lost access to my email account, and by extension this blog, for over a week and had no choice but to postpone posting anything until I could get back in. However, I am back, and the first thing I am doing is getting this post published, just in time for me to start work on my March recap :) See you in April!


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