Friday, August 24, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #98: Unforgiven

 I find most modern westerns to be frightfully boring, though they are our version of the samurai movie.  As a child, however, I enjoyed Clint Eastwood in his Sergio Leone films.  I was introduced to them by my father, and while the complexities of the stories and characters never entered into my young mind, watching them again as an adult made me realize that my younger self was onto something.  Those films stand apart from other westerns and my admiration for them did not carry over to other films in the genre.  Then came Unforgiven.

I’ve written about this film before.  If you’ve seen it, you know it is one amazing piece of work.  It is a bit slow in places, but this is purposeful.  What you are witnessing is a slow boiling pot, and these days audiences aren’t used to that sort of thing.  When this movie reaches its boiling point it becomes a harrowing and very realistic portrayal of the nature of violence and man.  In that sense, this film becomes almost an extension, a natural progression even, of the Leone works.  Eastwood’s character has a name now, though that doesn’t matter.  The life he is leading at the beginning of the film is the one he could easily be leading after those Italian masterpieces.  The place he ends up, though, puts him right back to where he started, and it is amazing.  He may not be as comfortable on a horse, but he knows his way around a gun.

Eastwood’s film, which won multiple Oscars, is dedicated to Leone.  That dedication couldn’t be more fitting, and if no other western were ever made, this would be an excellent last word on the genre both symbolically and artistically.  After viewing it I had to ask myself, “Where else does this genre have to go?”  Nowhere.  Unforgiven was the journey and the destination.   It almost makes you feel bad for anyone foolish enough to even try making a western now.  Maybe in another few decades something will come along to challenge this, but I think it is highly unlikely this will be unseated as the king of westerns any time soon.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review purposes.  Clicking on a link could earn me a fistful of dollars.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #99: Bowling For Columbine

Bowling For Columbine is not about guns, but I believe when Michael Moore started making it he thought it would be. Make no mistake, guns definitely play a role in the film, but they are the symptom of what Moore paints as America’s bigger problem: fear.

In full disclosure, I will state I don’t support gun control. I don’t think that is any kind of answer to the problems in America. I also enjoy most of Michael Moore’s work, though I sometimes find it off-base. Not this film, though.

If there is one thing that could have been done better in Moore’s film it would be that he should have went into even more depth on the nature of fear, what it does to people, and how it is used by institutions to control a populace. Fear sells. Fear works. The news media knows it. Governments, religions and schools use it. When Moore managed to capture this in his film (though in a fairly slight way compared to how it works in the real world), he touched upon something most of mainstream liberal America never even thought about themselves. Not only were they victims of it, but they used it, too. And they used it just as well as their friends on the Right. Few would ever admit that, though.

Columbine’s mass school shooting may have inspired Moore, but he’s always been a muckraker. When the Right called “foul” before it saw the film and said it was about the evils of the gun and would push the nation toward greater gun control, it played right into the director’s message. It was one of those moments that defined irony. Moore may not be for everyone, and the way his message got across may rub people the wrong way, but that doesn’t negate it.

Documentaries are powerful when done correctly. This film was done correctly and on such a grand-yet-primal scale that it is impossible to come out of the theatre without thinking about it, and I have yet to hear an effective argument against Moore’s thesis that America runs on fear. Brilliant.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me cash.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #100: Opera

There is a reason why Dario Argento is considered one of the more influential directors of our time. There’s also a reason why the general American movie audience hasn’t recognized him as such. That would be Opera.

Opera is not the best Argento film, but it does exemplify the problems the director has in reaching American moviegoers. An Argento film is more a nightmare than a narrative. He understands the beauty of violence, and he isn’t afraid to make a film feel disjointed in order to get his point across. There is no hand holding, and he often seems to care more about a shot than a plot. When you watch this film as an Argento fan, you are aware of all these things, and if you understand that, you are a bit in awe because what you are seeing is so symbolic and has so much depth to it (much like another of my favorite films of his, The Stendhal Syndrome) that once you are done watching it you can’t help but be impressed by what it has done. Unfortunately, to get there, you have to really be involved in the film, and you have to process what you are seeing … and then you have to remember it. This is not the type of thing the average movie viewer is going to invest time in doing, especially when they think they are watching a standard horror movie, which is what this seems like at first.

The plot is of the stalker/slasher variety. Getting to its conclusion, however, is like boarding a thrill ride designed and run by bath salt addicts. Witness the bullet through the door scene that is so genius that it really must be seen to be believed. Marvel in the film’s iconic shot as the young star is forced to watch a murder. And how is she “forced” into such a situation? She has rows of needles taped under each eye so that to blink brings pain. It’s an iconic image that is often used to sell the film. It is sublime. All of this was incredible, but it only works as a whole if, as I mentioned before, you were really paying attention because unlike the run-of-the-mill slasher film, this has some very heavy messages about violence and sexuality behind it.

I was swept up in this film’s insanity. I also recognized its faults … and promptly ignored them. I watched this already familiar with Argento and his work, and knew what to expect. As usual with Argento’s films, I was enthralled by the violence that appeared before me. The murderer was putting on his show … his own opera, and we, the viewers, were forced to watch. Film lovers got it. Directors got it. The casual viewing audience considered it a toss-off … some with valid reasons. Others had the standard Argento complaint of: “I just don’t get it.” What they didn’t get was that you are meant to experience this film as Betty, the film’s main character. In that sense, it works amazingly well … and it doesn't need to tape needles under your eyes to get you there.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.