The SBBN TSPDT1K Watchlist Update

Yes, I’m still on a mission to watch all 1000 of the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? best films list, and no, I’m not doing very well. Recently watched from the TSPDT1K list: 26. 400 BLOWS, THE (François Truffaut / 1959) 27. MIRROR (Andrei Tarkovsky / 1974) 39. GRANDE ILLUSION, LA (Jean Renoir / 1937) 307. WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOME? (Abbas Kiarostami / 1987) 317. WEEK-END (Jean-Luc Godard / 1967) 333. CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7 (Agnès Varda / 1961) 458. DOWN BY LAW (Jim Jarmusch / 1986) 461. WITHNAIL & I (Bruce Robinson / 1987) 552. LUSTY MEN, THE (Nicholas Ray / 1952) 621. HOOP DREAMS (Steve James / 1994) 640. BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, THE (Rainer Werner Fassbinder / 1972) 726. HAINE, LA (Mathieu Kassovitz / 1995) 728. FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke / 1997) 892. DUEL (Steven Spielberg / 1971) I attempted three movies on the TSPTD list and couldn’t finish them, but I won’t tell you which they were because you’ll just laugh at me. I’ll try again later when I have more patience. Also on my watched list are quite a few films I’d seen large chunks of, but to get marked off the list, I have to see the whole film. Them’s my rules. Also watched, from the IMDb top 250: #108 Inglourious Basterds #167 How to Train Your Dragon (2010) #181 The 400 Blows (1959) #193 Black Swan (2010) – Rumors about this film’s campy uselessness were greatly exaggerated. #236 La … Continue reading

The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015)

The Babushkas of Chernobyl ★★★★✫ Directors: Anne Bogart and Holly Morris Official Site 71 Minutes Premieres at the Los Angeles Film Festival, June 10 through 18, 2015 – With beautiful, classically framed scenery that highlights the healthy appearance of a land that is in reality riddled with invisible dangers, The Babushkas of Chernobyl takes us into the lives of the last few women still living in what’s known as the Exclusion Zone. A large area of the Ukraine heavily affected by radiation from the Chernobyl disaster, the Exclusion Zone is, at least officially, abandoned; unofficially, after the disaster, many people returned to the only place that they had ever called home. Now, all that remain are tiny villages of those who sneaked back illegally, nearly 100 people combined, and almost all women. With the bare minimum of science brought into the story, The Babushkas of Chernobyl retains what some would call innocence, and what others would call denial. But what becomes clear very early on in this documentary, from the directorial team of Anne Bogart and Holly Morris, is that in asking the babushkas to leave their homes, they were being asked to give up too much. In the late 1980s, there were nearly 2,500 returnees, including Hanna Zavorotnya and her family, featured a few years ago in this in-depth article at The Telegraph; it was Hanna who infamously told officials who tried to prevent them from living in the Zone, “Shoot us and dig the grave; otherwise, we’re staying.” … Continue reading

Chagall-Malevich (2014)

Chagall-Malevich ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Aleksandr Mitta ShiM-Film (Official Site) 117 Minutes Release Date: June 12, 2015 (limited) – “An artist should have his own world,” declares Marc Chagall in writer-director Aleksandr Mitta’s vibrant and playful Chagall-Malevich. Focusing on the first years of the Russian Revolution, this fictional account follows Chagall, played by the handsome and tousled Leonid Bichevin, through the founding of his Vitebsk Arts College, part of a massive endeavor to bring art to the masses. With his beloved wife Bella (Kristina Schneidermann) in tow and minimalist master Kazimir Malevich (Anatoliy Belyy) on his way for an extended stint as guest teacher, Chagall flies, sometimes literally, around Vitebsk, happy in his life’s work. His happiness has no power to stop the Revolution, however, and death surrounds him. His determination and perseverance in spite of this is meant to be powerful, but instead is undermined in part by the expression of middle-class satisfaction that rests permanently on Chagall’s face. This perpetual smile feels forced in more than a few scenes when the actor struggles to portray this attitude of perma-cheer; when Chagall finally loses his patience and succumbs to the lure of violence, all those smiles of the past scenes feel like cheap audience manipulation. The light-hearted tone of the film, with its bright crayon-box colors and whimsical flights of fancy, never fully meshes with the bloodshed and persecution that exists in the real world. Chagall and Malevich are meant to personify the power and freedom of art, yet … Continue reading

Desire for Beauty (2013)

Desire for Beauty ★★★✫✫ Director: Miguel Gaudêncio Green Box (Official Site) 91 Minutes Available at Vimeo On Demand – Several months after shooting for Desire for Beauty (2013) wrapped, actress and host Agata Kulesza, at the head of the table during a swanky dinner party for cast and crew, says that when she was approached for this project, she wasn’t sure what exactly director Miguel Gaudêncio meant to accomplish; it’s a safe bet that she is just one of many who don’t know what to make of this film. Neither documentary nor fiction, Desire for Beauty is instead a reality-show type of project meant to explore the psychological reasons behind plastic surgery. Kulesza is the ostensible star of the show, interviewing four allegedly everyday people undergoing surgery and quizzing them about their decision. These people, however, are already quite attractive; in fact, they look like actors. Monika, reeling from the end of a love affair, looks exactly like a young Joanne Woodward, and Kuba is in fact the nickname of working actor Jakub Damore-Krekora. He wants to have a lot of work done, but it’s subtle work, and the results are unquestionably effective. There’s also Kasia, a gorgeous woman with striking blue eyes, who has opted for breast augmentation. Finally, there is Kamila, who is rather insultingly portrayed as the “worst case” of the group, due to a misshapen nose that she hopes to have fixed via rhinoplasty. The treatment of Kamila versus the way the rest of the group … Continue reading

Down, But Not Out! (2015)

Down, But Not Out! ★★★★✫ Director: Miguel Gaudêncio Greenbox (Official Site) 71 Minutes Available at Vimeo On Demand – Shot in gritty black and white and unafraid of its own silence, the amateur boxing documentary Down, But Not Out! has a compelling neo-noir feel. Following a small local group of boxers to a two-day competition held at KKS Poznań, Down concentrates on the competitors to the exclusion of everything else. There are no interviews, no commentary, nobody talks to the camera. The film feels like a documentary only when someone nervously glances at the camera, or when a camera operator has to duck because they got too close to the action. As for the boxers themselves, we’re lucky to even know their names; we’re never given any background on them and we don’t know what path they traveled to get here here, or even what they hope to accomplish. That’s not to say Down, But Not Out treads too lightly on the subject, because it doesn’t. This paring-down of extraneous information leaves just the bare bones of amateur boxing behind, creating what might be one of the purest expressions of athleticism ever shown on the big screen. Down opens with Coach Przemek and his students, both male and female, as they travel to the competition. For whatever reason, he doesn’t bother to tell his novice boxers about the rules of a typical fight, including the referee’s terminology, until they are half-asleep on a bus headed for the match. Still, he … Continue reading

Generation Baby Buster

Generation Baby Buster ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Terra Renton Cinema Libre (Official Site) 91 Minutes On DVD and On Demand starting June 9, 2015 – When I had my first serious boyfriend in high school, I discovered that my parents had been secretly following me around on our dates. I started to see them parked at the far end of the lot when we were walking into a movie, or driving the alleyways behind McDonald’s, or showing up at the swimming pool in the summertime, peeking in through the fence at their 17-year-old daughter, certain that if they averted their gaze for even a moment, tragedy would strike. A decade later, I was lightly joking about all this as my co-workers agreed that my parents’ behavior was excessive, when a voice bellowed across the room. “I do the same thing with my daughter!” a co-worker shouted, “It’s completely normal. She’s only 16! If you had any sense, you’d know that children have to be protected.” Then she narrowed her eyes and pointed her finger right at my face: “You should never, ever be allowed to have children.” It’s this attitude that author and columnist Lenore Skenazy skewers in Terra Renton’s documentary Generation Baby Buster, an examination of the reasons behind women choosing in greater and greater numbers not to have children. In the film, Skenazy describes, with visible distaste, an advertisement for a product designed specifically for parents to track their teens for every step of their lives. The commercial, … Continue reading

Coffy (1973)

After years of small roles in exploitation flicks, Pam Grier finally hit it big with the blaxploitation classic Coffy (1973). Written and directed by Jack Hill, who had directed Grier in low-budget flicks before, Coffy to modern eyes looks far less empowering than it does exploitative. Grier spends a significant amount of time in the film nude, as do almost all the actresses; they lose their shirts in fistfights faster than Bruce Lee ever did. But the film, dealing so directly as it does with corrupt politics, urban drug problems and the exploitation of women, was very much ahead of its time, so much so that, as Hill said in a DGA interview in 2011, it was a struggle to make simply because of the constant battle against racism; Grier notes in a separate interview that there were so few African-American stunt people at that time that several men and women had to be trained specifically for the film. Pam Grier is Coffy, an emergency room nurse who has gone on a revenge spree against the drug dealers who got her young sister hooked on drugs. She’s not afraid to get down and dirty with these scumbags, then at just the right moment, grab a gun from her purse and blow their brains out. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a major problem after witnessing her good cop friend Carter (William Elliott) being beaten by a drug dealer’s henchmen. She poses as a high-class call girl and infiltrates the business … Continue reading

“Wanda at Large: The Complete First Season” Now on DVD from Warner Archive

Once again digging into their television vaults, Warner Archives brings us the complete first season of the surprise 2003 Fox comedy hit “Wanda at Large,” now out on DVD. Starring comedian Wanda Sykes as Wanda Hawkins, an outrageous stand-up comedian and local television personality in Washington, D.C., “Wanda at Large” was known for its combination of feel-good family situations and edgy humor. Originally slated to be a six-episode filler show for an open timeslot after “The Bernie Mac Show” on Fox, “Wanda” was intended to move to The WB permanently for its second season. After garnering huge ratings, however, Fox decided to keep “Wanda” for itself. A second season was ordered, but the show disappeared halfway through its second year, only to turn up months later in reruns on TV One. In the pilot episode, Wanda Hawkins (Sykes) is a comedian who has just quit her day job with the government, and with gigs few and far between, is getting perilously close to running out of money. It’s a semi-autobiographical premise, actually, as Sykes had been working for the National Security Agency a decade prior. Unhappy with her job, she started writing jokes in between filling orders for what she could later call “spy stuff.” Her first time on stage, she wowed the audience, and her career took off. The fictional Wanda Hawkins only briefly mentions her government job, but has a similar path to success thanks to her friend Keith (Dale Godboldo), a segment producer at the fictitious WHDC. … Continue reading

Clifford (1994)

It’s 2050, and creepy priest Father Clifford (Martin Short), at a location meant to look like a Christian orphanage, is talking young Roger (Ben Savage) out of running away. He understands that Roger is running away because something-something-intelligence-boredom, thus begins a heartfelt tale of his own struggles to deal with an overactive imagination when he was young. Soon, we the audience, through no fault of our own, are thrust into a flashback set sixty years ago, when the creepy priest was instead a creepy 10-year-old boy. Thus opens Clifford (1994, sorta), a movie that cinephiles have struggled to explain for over two decades, and may very well be singular proof that we are all living in an alternate dimension discarded by omniscient (and very irritated) beings who realized that a species who can create such a film is not a species worth saving. While flying to Hawaii with his family, 10-year-old hellchild Clifford discovers the plane will not be stopping over in L.A. as he had hoped. Angered that he won’t see Dinosaur World, a theme park located in Los Angeles, he talks his way into the cockpit and tries to crash the plane, as one does when one is disappointed. The plane is forced to land in L.A., and Clifford’s very insane father (Richard Kind) pawns the kid off onto his slightly less-crazy uncle Martin (Charles Grodin), who is in the market for a little boy. Specifically, he wants to show his fiancée Sara (Mary Steenburgen) that he’s good … Continue reading