Feeling Challenged

Watched five more films directed by women this month. I’d already seen Messiah of Evil this year, so it doesn’t count toward my goal of 52. I mention every time that this is hard, far more so than it should be. I’m nearly finished with my viewing for HubrisWeen, and once that’s over I will find a way to catch up. With the number of movies I watch, I should not be finding it this difficult, but here we are!

  • Messiah of Evil
  • Tenement
  • Ishtar
  • The Bigamist
  • Trouble Every Day

Oh, and that puts me at 30 for the year. 22 to go in just four months.


Rising to the 52 Films by Women Challenge

There’s a film challenge going on this year to see 52 movies directed by women. That’s a lot of movies in the first place for what I think of as normal people, but I’m already over 200 for the year. Curious about whether I’ve met the 52 by women challenge already, I decided to take an inventory. Here then are the movies directed by women that I’ve seen this year.

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How to Date the Travis Bickle Way

In Taxi Driver there’s a scene where Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a movie, which turns out to be X rated. (It’s reportedly Ur kärlekens språk, a graphic sex-ed film from Sweden.) Maybe not the most conventional choice for a first date, it goes over poorly.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I went to a concert on this past Sunday night. You may remember that my social anxiety makes this a daunting prospect; but Jonathan Richman was performing at a local bar, and I was determined not to miss the chance to go. So determined, in fact, that I spent the week leading up to it  quashing the recurring urge to back out. By the time I met up with Tim and his friend, I was pretty much a  nervous cat and expected the worst at every turn.

Fortunately we all got along together, and the only hiccup was that some tickets were left in a coat that hadn’t attended with us. Not a huge deal on my end, as I hadn’t paid my way yet anyhow. Besides, admission was ridiculously cheap. All that mattered to me was securing one of the few wall-hugging stools. The three of us managed to snag exactly one stool, which was graciously granted to me. Then the woman who’d saved the seat next to me offered to free that one up by sliding over. We thanked her and annexed the stool to our growing kingdom of seatedness.

Eventually her husband arrived and sat down, but we didn’t really notice. As usual, Tim and I had started talking about movies. The first I was aware of the guy, he’d leaned over and injected himself into the conversation. After some awkward back-and-forth, he decided that it was sharing time.

Fella: Hey, you guys know a lot about movies, right?

Me: Some, yeah.

Fella: So you might know this one. For our first date, I took my girlfriend — she’s my wife now; this lady here — I took her to see Salo!

Me (weakly): Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

Fella: Yeah! It was a test, and she passed!

Salo is a masterpiece, but it’s not the sort of film that you show to an uninformed viewer. It’s an unflinching adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, set in the last days of Mussolini’s Italy. Given writer/director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s previous works, it’s fair to say that the film is intended to show how human love and tenderness can exist in even the most detrimental conditions. However, those conditions include rape, ephebophilia, torture, coprophagia, and assorted other activities that are not for eyes of the cinematically timid or, y’know, people who don’t want to see that sort of thing.

I didn’t ask for the goal of this “test”, but obviously she passed it. Perhaps by ever speaking to him again. She certainly didn’t look thrilled that he was telling the story. The look on her face spoke volumes about how often she’d had to hear him tell it. I wondered briefly what sort of test he’d had to pass; being carbon-based, perhaps. I just hoped he didn’t drive a cab.

Film Diary: September

September brought me to 300 movies logged in Letterboxd. I need to watch just over 20 each month now to make my goal, so it’s time to take my challenge semi-seriously again.

Lots of re-watches last month, and two of them I watched twice in the period! “The Visitor” and “Godzilla” were new acquisitions that I watched again during the monthly marathon with friends. (I brought “The Visitor” and Tim brought “Godzilla”.) Some re-watches were for fun (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Destroy All Monsters”), some to enjoy for the first time in HD (“All That Jazz”), and one by total mistake (“House at the End of the Street”, which I had apparently erased all memory of having seen).

The biggest surprise for me was “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”. A German film by Werner Herzog, it is set and filmed entirely in the Amazon. Just imagine wearing conquistador armor for a lengthy and arduous jungle shoot. No wonder everyone wanted to kill Klaus Kinski by the end of it.

The result is magnificent, though. The visuals are gorgeous, with the camera taking in all of the lush scenery. The story of renegade explorers seeking glory and riches is solid, and the sense of both the decay of morale and the folly of the endeavor grows with every scene. Most critically, Kinski is at his egomaniacal best as the deluded ringleader of the rebellion. It is a joy to watch him deny reality as it sinks in for those around him.

Another treat was Alejendro Jodorowski’s fictional auto-biography “The Dance of Reality”. Although starting with a basis in truth, the film places more weight on emotional and symbolic truth. Because his mother had wanted to be an opera singer, he casts an opera singer to portray her, delivering all of her dialog in operatic style. By the time his father (played by his own son!) runs off to become an assassin, you suspect that perhaps the film has veered wildly from historical accuracy. Indeed, Jodorowski admits in an interview that he wanted to give his father a chance for a spiritual awakening that he never had in life.

It’s a beautiful film, as confounding and captivating as his best. It made me wonder what adventures my own abusive father could have had to become a happy and fulfilled person, who no longer had to punish those around him for his inner turmoil. I’m betting it wouldn’t involve grooming the President’s horse, but I can’t be certain.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
All That Jazz (1979)
Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys (2014)
Boy Wonder (2010)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
City Lights (1931)
The Dance of Reality (2013)
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
Godzilla (2014)
Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
The Graves (2010)
High Lane (2009)
House at the End of the Street (2012)
Joe Versus the Volcano (1980)
Jumanji (1995)
RED (2010)
The Return of the Prodigal Son (1967)
The Runaways (2010)
SAGA: Curse of the Shadow (2013)
Scanners (1981)
Schuhpalast Pinkus (1916)
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Stage Fright (2014)
To Be or Not To Be (1942)
The Visitor (1979)
The Warriors (1979)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Film Diary: August

August brought me to 270 films for the year. That puts me at ~74% of the year’s goal at only 67% of the way through the year. There’s still a nice cushion for me to work with, which is good; now that I’ve started drawing a weekly comic, I need to spend more of my free time doing things other than watching movies!

We took a rare trip to see a 1st run movie in the theater because Murderously Violent Space Raccoon. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a hoot, holler, and a bunch of other synonyms for ‘fun’. Sure it had too much crammed into one movie, leaving it both thin and unwieldy, but I haven’t had that much cinematic joy in a long time. Even my inner comic-nerd shut up about how they got everything wrong and just giggled like a lunatic. As soon as we got home (we had both taken the day off), we put in “The Avengers” just to keep our high going.

That was at the start of the month, and it took a while to get another decent movie in. The worst, in the meantime, was “The House of Seven Corpses”. Such a waste of a good title! The biggest crime was just that it was dull. Then again, I’ve never had a lot of patience for movies about actors. (See, my utter disdain for “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”, which admittedly has a terrific finale.)

One cinematic bright spot was “Safety Last!”, presented in a glorious Criterion edition. It’s plot rivals many modern films for coherency and tightness, and nearly all of the humor was as funny now as in the 1920s. Harold Lloyd is a delight to watch, and this is a film that I whole-heartedly recommend.

The month closed, as usual, with a mini-marathon. This time, by some miracle, everyone chose good movies. Perhaps it was the theme — a film you haven’t seen from a favorite actor or director — that made us opt for quality, or at least enjoyment. The day’s line-up: “After Hours” (directed by Martin Scorsese), “Cry-Baby” (directed by John Waters), “Easy Living” (starring Ray Milland), and “To Be or Not To Be” (starring Mel Brooks). All in attendance allowed that “Easy Living” had finally broken my streak of showing the worst movies imaginable, so I’ve got that going for me now!

After Hours (1985)
The Avengers (2012)
Count Dracula (1970)
Cry-Baby (1990)
Dead in Tombstone (2013)
Destroy All Planets, aka Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Easy Living (1937)
Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)
Golden Earrings (1947)
The Green Girl (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The House of Seven Corpses (1974)
Pale Flower (1964)
Pearls of the Deep (1966)
Safety Last! (1923)
The Shrine (2010)
Speed Racer (2008)
To Be or Not To Be (1983)

So How Were the Movies?

I wrote last time about the 2nd annual April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama, and many readers (1) expressed amazement that I wrote about a movie event without talking about the movies! This wasn’t so much an oversight as a choice to allow that post to flow a little better, focussing on how we exhibited Garamon-like indifference to the slings and arrows of probably predictable annoyances.

Now I’d like to go over the 7 movies I watched, as well as why I bailed on the 8th.

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Film Diary: April

April was a “slow” movie month. Despite a trip to watch movies at a drive-in near Pittsburgh (more about that soon) I only saw 31 movies! That makes 4 months straight that I’ve seen more than necessary to stay on schedule, so I’m feeling pretty confident about project Waste My Life A Film For Every Day.

I tried another film from the Criterion set of Czech New Wave. Last month’s “Daisies” was so radical that it defied viewing. “A Report on the Party and the Guests”, on the other hand, subverted from within conventional structure, making it easier for me to access and appreciate. It was still very much an art film, but it was one that I enjoyed and would recommend as an example of film as political rebellion.

At the polar opposite of the spectrum I watched Wakefield Poole’s “Bible!”, which presented a few scenes from the Old and New Testaments with, ahem, very little demands on the wardrobe department. The best thing I can say about it is that the Bathsheba segment was genuinely funny. Second best is that Poole comes off as a bargain basement Pasolini. There are worse things to be, I suppose.

For instance, one could be Dario Argento still leeringly filming his naked daughter. It’s always been a bit creepy to see Asia Argento unclad in her dad’s films, but at least there used to be some effort put into the movies. Argento’s 2012 production of “Dracula” was so indifferent and sloppy that it made his execrable “Phantom of the Opera” look like “Deep Red”! Okay, maybe more like “Two Evil Eyes”, but still…

My favorite new-to-me movies of the month were “Steamboy” and “A Shock to the System”. The first is a magnificently animated story of the conflict between invention for furthering humankind and for dominating it. It’s a grand and delightful adventure, and I wish it had led to a series chronicling the further adventures of Steam (hinted at by stills during the end credits). The second follows Michael Caine as a businessman whose prospects rise as he becomes more horrible. As social satire it’s ponderous and obvious, but it’s such a joy to watch Caine transform into a monster that I have to love it.

Anyway, here’s the list.

Apollo 18 (2011)
The Asphyx (1973)
The Beast Within (1982)
Bible! (1974)
Carrie (1976)
Cheerleader Massacre 2 (2011)
Crossworlds (1997)
Dario Argento’s Dracula (2012)
Daughters of Satan (1972)
Episode 50 (2011)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Grave Secrets, aka Secret Screams (1989)
Halloween (1978)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
King Dinosaur (1955)
The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Mean Girls (2004)
La Nave de los Monstruos (1960)
Phantasm (1979)
A Report on the Party and the Guests (1966)
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
A Shock to the System (1990)
Solomon Kane (2009)
Steamboy (2004)
Suspiria (1977)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Twixt (2011)
The Void (2001)

Film Diary: February

February brought my movie total for the year up to 82, which is about 11 movies over where I need to be for reaching my ridiculous goal for the year. This despite taking several days off from watching anything. Even if you discount my first re-viewing of the year (I had to subject friends to the anti-wonders of “Contamination .7”) I have a comfortable buffer built up.

This month’s films tended heavily toward horror, although thematically they were all over. My slow re-watching of the Star Trek films took a detour to cover the most recent series. I’ll get back to “Star Trek 6” in March and start the Next Generation series.

I’d seen “Zardoz” at B-Fest, and it had impressed me as being deeply incoherent. I gave it a go while wide awake, and I’m pleased to report that it’s completely nuts. Sean Connery, dressed in a red battle diaper, has to put immortals out of their misery by jumping into a crystalline computer and… well, it’s not very clear.

The find of the month was “Lilo & Stitch”, which turned out to be one of the best movies to ever come out of Disney. Maybe I’m just a sucker for “found family” stories, but it’s really just warm and funny. Plus Stitch plays ukulele, which makes it all the better. Hell, Bogie simply having a uke in his closet was enough to make me adore “Sabrina”.

Lots of zombies, a rape trial, radical surgery, killer wheels, werewolves, crime rings, radioactive trees, axes, ghosts, demons, Nazis, wormholes, tyrannical logic — it was heady stuff!

Here’s to 10 more months of overdosing on the good, the bad, and the wtf!

Absentia (2011)
The Accused (1988)
American Mary (2012)
Arson Inc. (1949)
Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)
Battledogs (2013)
Black Forest (2010)
Christine (1983)
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Contamination .7 (1993)
Damnation Alley (1977)
Dark Touch (2013)
The Devil’s Carnival (2012)
Devil’s Pass (2013)
Extinction: The G.M.O. Chronicles (2011)
A Haunting at Silver Falls (2013)
The Haunting of Whaley House (2012)
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Loan Shark (1952)
Love and a .45 (1994)
The Magic Serpent (1966)
Miami Connection (1987)
The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Portland Exposé (1957)
The Reeds (2010)
Rites of Spring (2011)
Rubber (2010)
A Safe Place (1971)
Salvage (2010)
Scourge (2008)
Shadow Man, aka Street of Shadows (1951)
Shoot to Kill/Police Reporter (1947)
Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)
Sling Blade (1996)
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
They Were So Young (1954)
Uninhibited (2010)
War of the Dead (2011)
World War Z (2013)
Zardoz (1974)

Mad Movie Challenge

I track movies I watch in Letterboxd. At the start of this year, I received a notification that stats for the year were available. After taking in the site wide stats (most watched director, most liked movie, etc.) I noticed that I had logged 308 films in 2013. That includes repeat viewings but leaves out the movies I forgot to log or that I couldn’t find in the site database.

Still, 308. That’s nearly a movie a day. Actually it’s about 84% of a movie per day.

My second thought was “No wonder I’m fat.”

But my first thought stuck with me, and that was that I could do better than that. I could average a movie for every day!

Thus was born The Project. You could call it the Mad Movie Challenge, the Fatty’s Film Folly, or the What the Hell is Wrong with You. The goal is simple: 365 movies logged to Letterboxd this year.

I’m off to a strong start, with 18 movies so far. There’s a long way to go, but I feel good about it. I can do this. I can achieve something completely pointless.

Then I should probably take a walk or something.