March 2018 Recap

(image via the Nerdist)

I am pretty sure that I have never been so busy in my life as I have been in the first three months of this year; certainly, the time has never seemed to pass by so quickly. Despite all of my schoolwork and work at the theater, my movie-watching actually went up this month, and I saw a lot of really fantastic films—so many that it was much more difficult than usual to narrow the list down to 5 favorites to talk about. I saw some really excellent films in my foreign film class, including the Canadian films Atanarjuat: The Long Runner and Water; I saw the adorable  Love, Simon and the brutal Red Sparrow at the theater; I saw the great Vincent Price movies House of Wax and The Tingler, and re-watched my inexplicable new favorite film The Monster Club, which was just as good the second time; I watched some fantastic pre-Codes with the underrated The Maltese Falcon, Waterloo Bridge, and The Old Dark House; and, most significantly, I finished the Audrey Hepburn marathon I began all the way back in June (!) and was reminded what a great actress she was, because every single film was fantastic. I decided to limit myself to talking about just one of her films, though; read on to see which one I chose.

First-Time Viewings: 39
Re-Watches: 3

  1. Atanarjuat: The Long Runner (2001)
  2. Tales of Manhattan (1942)
  3. The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  4. What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)
  5. Night Court (1932)
  6. The Return of Doctor X (1939)
  7. Annihilation (2018)
  8. The Wrong Guy (1997)
  9. Red Sparrow (2018)
  10. Once Were Warriors (1994)
  11. House of Wax (1953)
  12. The Fox (1967)
  13. Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
  14. The Smiling Ghost (1941)
  15. The Light That Failed (1939)
  16. The Tingler (1959)
  17. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  18. The Old Dark House (1932)
  19. Two Alone (1934)
  20. Timbuktu (2014)
  21. Daughters of the Dust (1991)
  22. Peyton Place (1957)
  23. Waterloo Bridge (1931)
  24. The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
  25. Xanadu (1980)
  26. Re-Watch: The Monster Club (1981)
  27. Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)
  28. The Show (1927)
  29. Love, Simon (2018)
  30. Rome, Open City (1945)
  31. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  32. Re-Watch: Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
  33. Mamma Roma (1962) 
  34. The Children's Hour (1961)
  35. Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
  36. How to Steal a Million (1966)
  37. Two for the Road (1967)
  38. My Night at Maud's (1969)
  39. Wonder Wheel (2017)
  40. Water (2005)
  41. Re-Watch: Night on Earth (1991)
  42. Cool Runnings (1993)
  43. Robin and Marian (1976)
By Decade:

  • 10s: 0
  • 20s: 1
  • 30s: 8
  • 40s: 3
  • 50s: 3
  • 60s: 9
  • 70s: 2
  • 80s: 4
  • 90s: 5
  • 2000s: 3
  • 2010s: 5
Annihilation (2018) (image via The Atlantic) 

Annihilation is the kind of film you go to the theater for, and the kind of film that is not often seen in a theater nowadays--in fact, I am very lucky to live in a country where this film actually played in theaters, because there are a lot of countries where it did not. It is the kind of film that demands a big, dark screening room that forces you to clear your head of distractions and instead maintain complete focus on the story unfolding before you. The story may not be perfect or even as "original" as many enthusiasts have claimed, but then very few narratives are truly perfect or original. What I took such joy in was the subtle and not-so-subtle subversion of convention that Annihilation so skillfully employed: the whole military team being female; the incredible visual designs of plants and animals that merely reside in the background and are never fully explored or explained; the slow and thoughtful pacing of the various treks through the wilderness; and my favorite of all, the folk soundtrack. I knew I was witnessing something very special as I sat there in the dark, watching these characters journey into this unknown place with "Helplessly Hoping" playing softly over them. As bold and original as many recent sci-fi and horror offerings have been, very few of them have been willing to experiment with their soundtracks, A Quiet Place being an example of an otherwise excellent film that falters in its very generic score. Annihilation had no such fears, and the risk certainly paid off, leaving me smiling every time I passed the theater and heard those soft vocals emanating through the door as loud crashes and bangs came out of every other one.   

Once Were Warriors (1994) (image via

I watched a lot of great films in my foreign film class, but I never wound up highlighting any of them in one of these recap posts. This month I change that with Once Were Warriors, a film I never would have watched or even have heard of if it were not for this class, but is one of the best film discoveries I have made this year. Polynesian culture is best known in North America today for its depiction in the historical film Moana, but this 1994 New Zealand film, which was a big hit in its home country, tells the difficult story of what has become of these cultures since the colonization of NZ. Following a troubled Maori family in contemporary times, it explores the brutal reality of alcoholism and domestic violence in a way that makes it truly hard to watch at times; the film plays like a mash-up of Ken Loach, with his sensitive and grounded approach to telling the stories of working-class people, and Quentin Tarantino, with his explosive and visceral approach to depicting violence. These two styles of filmmaking are a truly odd coupling, yet director Lee Tamahori makes it work, telling an intimate story about a likeable family that is instilled with shocking acts of violence that are almost as difficult for the audience to bear as they are for the characters. Much of the praise goes to lead actors Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison as the respective matriarch and patriarch of the family, but my favorite character of the film was their daughter Grace. She is the prototypical quiet, daydreaming storyteller who loves to write and longs for a better life, but as the film heartrendingly reminds us over and over again, for this family, such things are simply too much to wish for.

Xanadu (1980) (image via Cineplex)

Lately I have been on a cult film kick, and I have hesitated to include these types of films on these recap posts at the expense of legitimately "good" cinema, yet this is, after all, my blog and I think these recaps should reflect my current tastes, so here is Xanadu, the best-worst film I watched all month. In several ways, it certainly is the worst: the special effects are poor even by 1980 standards, and the plot is almost incomprehensible, something not helped in the least by Michael Beck, who tries to play the straight man and sorely lacks the acting talent to do so, merely making the film even more difficult to pin down than it already was. Yet, I found myself strangely charmed by the overall experience. Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly are both lovely--this is a great late-career role for Kelly, in some ways it seemed to be a natural continuation of his more out-there musicals of the 1950s--and many of the musical numbers were great. By the time "All Over the World" started playing and Kelly starts trying on outfits as though he is a teenage girl in a rom-com, I was completely sold. Sometimes the right movie is not some existential masterpiece, but something that makes your heart burst because it is just so fun and happy, and this was the case for me as I watched Xanadu.

Rome, Open City (1945) (image via the Boston Globe)

Here I will regain my film buff cred by singing the praises of Rome, Open City. I chronicled my delight last month at watching Umberto D. and discovering my unexpected love for Italian neorealism, and while I still consider that film to be wonderful, this one quite simply blew me straight out of the water. This is the kind of movie that makes you realize just how many great movies are out there, that you could go a single day without hearing someone singing its praises. It really is that good; in fact, I will go so far as to say that it is one of the most powerful, emotionally affecting films I have ever seen. It is incredibly daring and innovative--I refer particularly to the scene that is, in some ways, the blueprint for the most praised narrative innovation in Psycho--and, despite telling a big-picture story that you know from the start is not going to end well, you still feel incredibly connected to the characters. It is, in many ways, a very intimate character study; I particularly enjoyed the moments of humor with the priest, such as a scene where he visits an antique shop and, upon seeing two naked statues "staring" at each other, he turns them in opposite directions. This is a truly masterful work, and without a doubt my greatest discovery of the month.

Paris When It Sizzles (1964) (image via Head Stuff)

With the exception of Robin and Marian, which was just alright, I loved all of the Hepburn movies I saw equally--so I decided to highlight the one that is, in my opinion inexplicably, the most critically maligned. Now, it is certainly true that the film is over-long and drags in spots; I can understand some points being deducted for that. However, the story-line is so fun and clever that I cannot understand why so many have so easily dismissed the film as a whole; if a director with a better sense of narrative rhythm and pacing like Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch had helmed this story, I am positive that it would be heralded as a classic today. At heart, the film is incredibly simple: Audrey Hepburn plays secretary to screenwriter William Holden, who must write a complete screenplay over the course of a weekend. The film bounces back and forth between the pair in the apartment as they begin to fall in love, and the wacky exploits of the characters in their script, as played by themselves--accompanied by a marvelous extended cameo by Tony Curtis. However, the idea is played out with a surprising level of sophistication; it contains a lot of jabs at lazy Hollywood conventions and cliches, which are pretty standard now but were not in 1964. In particular, I loved a scene where Holden and Hepburn talk through an elaborate scene of the male character convincing the female one to go out for lunch with him, and when they reach the end they realize they did not write it down. Holden determines that the whole audience already knows the guy will convince the girl to go out to lunch, and actually seeing him do it would just be a waste of time, so the perfect solution is to stick a dissolve in there and skip the whole conversation. This is a very funny, smart film and one I hope more people will grow to appreciate--in fact, if you did not celebrate William Holden's 100th birthday yet, this would be the perfect film to salute him with!

April is almost over now, and so is my semester. I will be writing my last final exam tomorrow, and then I am free to watch movies and write about them as much as I want for the next four months with no classes or assignments to interrupt me. Keep checking back as I hopefully bring this blog back from the dead in the coming weeks!


Popular posts from this blog

Top 10 Under-Seen Clark Gable Films