Free-Talking On Cinema, Movies, and Film (1)


Free-Talking Series: Next Post



The folks at Criterion asked Johnnie To for a list of his favorite Criterion-released films. To has long been my favorite working director, so I was irrationally delighted to discover we have very similar tastes in movies. Three films by Kurosawa made his list, as did two by Melville, one by Wong Kar-Wai, and Kobayashi’s Harakiri. The full list and To’s comments at the Criterion site.

(The full table of contents for Criterion top 10s from a diverse lineup of artists.)



At the last meeting of my film club, the question came up of what everyone was looking forward to this summer. Let me put it this way: There’s not much. Toy Story 3, of course; Pixar films are a general favorite. A few people talked up Inception, which appeals to the sci-fi and suspense fans in the group. The comic book fans are excited about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Oh, and we have some Twilight fans among us. Although I forgot about it at the time (which says a lot…), I plan to see Knight and Day.

What are you looking forward to seeing this summer?



Thanks to everyone who voted in the “I’d see more movies in the theater if…” poll! Half the votes went to “it was cheaper” with the remaining votes split pretty evenly among “the movies were better,” “I had the time,” and “nothing- I love my home theater.”

The new poll was inspired by a TOTM:IE comments conversation with Mike. Is there an arthouse theater within driving distance of where you live? My vote will be going to “sort of.”



I was too early by just a few days to see the Vienna Museum’s “Vienna in Film” exhibit, but I did catch a glimpse of the exhibit hall. There were posters for Hollywood fabrications featuring Mozart, Mayerling, and “The Blue Danube” waltz on the walls, and scenes from Austrian films playing on a monster screen. The flier was in German, but I could pick out The Wedding March and Before Sunrise among the German-language film titles in the blurb. No prizes for guessing which movie is referenced by the exhibit’s promotional poster. Is any other great city so completely identified with a single great film as Vienna with The Third Man?



I’m going on vacation and to make it complete, I’ll also be taking a vacation from the world wide web. Thanks to the technological marvel of automated scheduling, Commentary Track will stay live while I’m gone. See you on the 24th!



“How many movies do you see in a month?” poll results:

1 – 40%
2-5 – 40%
6-8 – 0%
9-10 – 0%
none – 20%

I neglected to vote myself before I closed the poll, or there would have been one vote for “6-8.” I can only dream of having enough time to see 9-10!

New follow-up poll: “I’d see more movies in the theater if…”



So I drove to Minneapolis this past weekend to see The Warlords, Peter Chan’s stupendous historical drama/war movie starring Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. 600 miles from my house to the theater. It was worth it.



The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a recent Swedish film, a major hit in Scandinavia that’s now playing on the American arthouse circuit. It’s a detective story/thriller partly about the unmasking of a serial killer-rapist who has been preying on women undetected for decades. The investigation that reveals the pattern is initiated by an old man whose niece disappeared 40 years before. Although her body was never found, he has always believed she was murdered and that he was the indirect cause of her death. Tormented by guilt for all those years, he brings in someone unconnected with the case to make a last attempt to find out what happened before he dies.

The old man’s story contributes to another, intriguing pattern within the film. Presented with evidence of a crime, he misinterprets it. The misinterpretation is plausible, but fundamentally off-base; he is too close to the events, seeing them through the lens of his own involvement and preoccupations. The misinterpretation perpetuates the mystery and causes him great suffering, but it also causes him to act- decisively. His act leads directly to the solution of the mystery and the discovery of the larger truth behind the events of which the girl’s disappearance was one small part. This pattern repeats unexpectedly in the main characters’ lives.



It’s a Commentary Track throwdown over Kick-Ass! Nir hated it, while I liked it. A couple of readers have already weighed in pro and con. Where do you stand?


APRIL 22, 2010 – NEW POLL

Have you voted in the new poll? The question: “How many movies do you see in the theater in a month?” Satisfy my curiosity- vote now!



Are you fascinated by the film business- the nuts and bolts of production, distribution, and exhibition? Do you track release dates and crunch box office numbers? Or maybe you know someone like that? Commentary Track is seeking a writer for a new feature on the business behind the art of movies and movie-making. Visit this page for more details.



The film noir mini-festival is one-half of a six film series. The other half is to be given over to Technicolor. Maybe they were thinking, “light and dark”? Anyway, I advocated for Technicolor = Powell and Pressburger and suggested Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and A Matter of Life and Death. What would you want to see on the big screen in a Technicolor fest? I took it that they were thinking of Golden Age 3-strip features by the way, but a broader perspective could be interesting too.

For the record, my submitted film noir shortlist:

The Maltese Falcon
Double Indemnity
Out of the Past
The Lady From Shanghai
The Big Heat
Kiss Me Deadly

I would have gone with Touch of Evil instead of Kiss Me Deadly for the capstone, except it was shown in last season’s program.



I’ve been asked to suggest a few titles for a film noir series. It’s a short series, only three movies long, and geared to a general audience. The movies should be 1940s/50s and on DVD. So, what should I recommend?



The March Movie of the Month for my film club was Topsy-Turvy (1999), Mike Leigh’s study of Gilbert, Sullivan, Gilbert & Sullivan, and the creation of The Mikado. “Topsy-Turvy” is the perfect title, referring to both “the world of topsy-turvydom” that was a hallmark of Gilbert’s librettos and the disorienting change and creative ferment experienced by the characters. It would be going too far to say that Topsy-Turvy has nothing in common with Leigh’s other films, but it is certainly very dissimilar to his trademark carefully observed portraits of the mundane, day-to-day existence of working-class people in contemporary England. It’s amusing to think of the title as also being Leigh’s judgment of what making an extravagant period piece centered on the Theater did to his filmography.


MARCH 31, 2010 – 1ST QTR WRAP-UP

Three months into the new year my new releases moviegoing count stands at 10. The breakdown:

– 3 good
– 5 failures
– 2 wastes of time
– 2 missed

January and February were grim, with quality mixed but trending up in March. This count does not include 2009 releases catch-up (count: 9 new films – mostly good, a few great; 2 revivals), which went a long way to compensate for the dismal returns in the first two months.



Kozo, webmaster for the great (follow the link in the sidebar), recently published the results of his reader’s poll for the best Hong Kong films of the ‘nineties, a great decade in Hong Kong cinema. I had a tough time narrowing my own list to 20, of which 17 made the cut. The number in parentheses is the position on the reader’s 100.

20. Kawashima Yoshiko
19. Bullets Over Summer (51)
18. The Bride With White Hair (24)
17. Hard Boiled (2)
16. A Chinese Feast (75)
15. Savior of the Soul (80)
14. Happy Together (13)
13. Comrades, Almost A Love Story (11)
12. A Moment of Romance (21)
11. Temptation of a Monk
10. Hitman
09. Running Out of Time (6)
08. Chungking Express (1)
07. Centre Stage (43)
06. Ashes of Time (17)
05. Full Alert (30)
04. Once Upon a Time in China (7)
03. Dragon Inn (33)
02. Days of Being Wild (9)
01. The Mission (3)

(To my regular readers: Yes, this ranking is largely arbitrary and is informed by my genre and style preferences.)

The reader’s 100 top five, from no. 5 to 1: Drunken Master II, Bullet in the Head, The Mission, Hard Boiled, and Chungking Express. Read the rest of the list.

I can understand why Kawashima Yoshiko and Temptation of a Monk didn’t get enough votes to make it onto the list. They’re obscure, stylistically unconventional, and tragic. Hitman I have no explanation for.

My taste being eclectic, my top 20 is a pretty fair cross-section. Missing from my list is exploitation and Hong Kong-style crazy comedy, specifically Stephen Chow (a crazy number of whose movies made it onto the reader’s 100). I haven’t counted up the number of films on the list that I’ve yet to see, but nearly all of them are one or both of Stephen Chow vehicles and unavailable on DVD. Unfortunately, the latter category includes several films that I do very much want to see, and have for years. If only everything really was on DVD, the way people who only watch Hollywood new releases are always saying….



Lately, I’ve been feeling constrained by the review format. Basically there’s just a lot I want to say about film that doesn’t fit that template. I’d like to say this is an announcement of a new series of in-depth critical essays about the great filmmakers, but actually I have something less formal and more bloggish in mind.

I’ve categorized this post under “Conversation” because that’s what I’m hoping it will become. I’ve pinned it to the top of the home page, and I’ll be updating it on a when-I-feel-like-it basis with my thoughts on movies I’m watching without reviewing, the movie controversies of the moment (is film criticism dead?), blurbs for random movies that I like… that sort of thing. This is an open invitation to the other writers and the readers to do the same in the comments, whether it’s responding to my movie musings or posting your own.

26 responses to “Free-Talking On Cinema, Movies, and Film (1)

  1. For me, Hard Boiled would be placed higher on the list, in the top 3 just because it’s one of the best no holds barred, pure action films that delivers on every level. I also like the addition of “The Mission”. Johnny To is awesome but his latest, “Vengeance” was really weak.

    • I haven’t seen Vengeance yet, although I certainly will – To is my favorite contemporary director by a mile. He’s had a few misses, but is overall remarkably consistent. The Mission is my favorite among all his films, not just the 1990s ones! It’s arguably his best too, although I could also make a strong argument for Election/Election 2 (if considered as a single film in two parts).

  2. I like that the Election films are essentially two different elections belonging to similar factions of Triads and with an almost identical cast. And that guns are replaced knives.
    And I like that Johnny To repeats THE SCORSESE by finding the actors that make movies work well and sticking with them. He is definitely what we needed after John Woo left for Hollywood.

  3. Film Noir recommendations: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity”, THE quintessential film noir; Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”; and “The Thin Man” (1934), based on the Dashiell Hammett novel. It’s hilarious and is a great who-done-it.

    • The Thin Man is a lot of fun, but is it film noir?

      Double Identity! I can’t believe that wasn’t on my mental shortlist! I knew it was a good idea to throw the question out there. :-D

      • I see The Thin Man as a Film Noir because it’s a Hammett novel and because it is an ex-detective story, although an excellent comedy. I just picked up the novel a couple of days back; it’s awesome.

        Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Murder My Sweet (1944), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), and The Long Goodbye (1973) <– a personal favourite.

        • You take a more expansive view of film noir than I do. I subscribe to the school that defines film noir primarily by visual style. Double Identity, The Lady from Shanghai, and The Big Heat are favorites, and Touch of Evil is too bravura to be ignored.

  4. Double Indemnity is a must. How about the early Burt Lancaster “The Killers” or “Out of the Past”, Robert Mitchum for less familiar titles. One I’d love to see is “Odd Man Out” with James Mason. It’s wonderful to see the big titles at a festival but I always hope for something uncommon to be programmed as well.

    • Thanks for reminding me of The Killers- I need to see that one again. The picture of Lancaster’s character in the seedy hotel room at the beginning is indelible.

  5. Technicolor films: The River (Jean Renoir, 1951), Ben-Hur (1959), El Cid (1961), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and my absolute favourite film of all time Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

    • That’s a hard favorite to argue with! I’d love to see it on the big screen again. It’s been more than 15 years and I still remember it vividly.

  6. Was it presented in its original 70mm print? I’d love to see it ONCE in theatres.
    I did get to see “Dr. Strangelove” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in theatres a few years back, though.

    • Hm, I’m not sure, but I think so. It was an actual nationwide theatrical run to show off the big ’90s restoration.

      Indy isn’t too bad a city for revivals. We used to have an arthouse theater that occasionally picked up revivals, mostly new restorations. It closed a few years ago, but now the art museum has added a theater and shows some classics.

  7. Lucky you. We have the Cinematheque here but it’s bloody expensive for a membership so I’ll not be able to go there for a looooong time to come.
    We also have one theater in downtown that plays A Clockwork Orange every few months or so. :OD

    More Technicolor: Heaven Can Wait (1943) and

  8. Funny thing about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: it arrived in my store about half a year ago titled “Millennium”. I rented it, not knowing what it was and noticed that the DVD hadn’t an English audio track or English subtitles to any of other language tracks, rendering the film unwatchable to anyone who doesn’t speak Swedish of French. I’d gotten a chance to watch the film a couple of weeks back and now realized that I could have seen it half a year ago, per se.
    On another note, the movie is great. It’s based on the first part of a trilogy of books all titled “Millennium” but this first one is actually called “The Men Who Hate Women”; a suitable title. The other two movies had already been made and watched in Sweden and basically all of Europe but they’re, apparently not nearly as good as the first one.

    • Odd that a video store would stock an un-subtitled Swedish movie! It’s a very good movie, agreed. My full review will be posted for the US DVD release, but I had this thought after I’d written my review, so I decided to write it up here instead. I suppose whether the sequels get a theatrical release stateside depends on the box office take of the first one. I’d like to see them just to see the continuation of the main characters’ stories.

  9. I like the advertising of it. We have free magazines situated by every bus stop and subway station called “Metro” and “24 Hours” that run daily and in every one that has an Entertainment section I see an ad for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it’s HUGE critical praise.
    Yeah, the DVD was weird. It has Swedish language with no subtitle tracks at all and a French dub with Swedish subs.

  10. See, I’d drive to see a fully restored 70mm presentation of Lawrence of Arabia, 8 1/2, or Citizen Kane.
    Now I want to see The Warlords.

  11. I’d see more movies in theatres if: the ratio between bad and good movies went from 20-1 to, at least 20-10 and if the prices would drop from $13 (CND) to, at least $10.

    • That’s a steep price all right. US theaters have a real range of pricing from the evening price (about the same as yours) to matinees at $7-8, been-out-a-while bargains at $5, before noon shows at $4 or 5, and second run for $1. Any of those available in Canadian theaters? Maybe once a decade I pay full price to see a movie and I try to see a lot in the theater. It can be worth it, as when I paid a heart-stopping price at the prestige Arclight theater in LA to see Lawrence of Arabia. Now_that_ was a movie thrill of a lifetime!

  12. I’d never heard of been-out-a-while, before noon, or second run here in Toronto but we do have matinee, which is roughly $10. The price only goes up from there; even at the smaller theatres with only 3 screens that show only indie, foreign, and documentary films.
    But I noticed recently that on Tuesdays or Wednesdays I can’t remember which, at Famous Players cinemas whenever my friend and I buy tickets to a movie we each get a free large drink and popcorn. So that’s nice.

    IMAX 3D here is $15 (CND) and there’s also VIP, which has spacious seats and digital projection for ungodly amounts of cash but I never went that far.

  13. It’s mostly the time issue for me. There’s always at least one or two movies a month I miss because I just don’t have time to see them, or I don’t have time the one week they’re playing at the arthouse. I will note that I see a crazy number of movies between 10 and 11 AM on Saturdays to take advantage of bargain ticket pricing. There are a lot of movies I’m willing to take a chance on for $5 that I wouldn’t pay $9.50 to see (and don’t get me started on the 3-D surcharge!).

    • I HATE 3D. There, I said it. It didn’t work as a gimmick in the 60’s and it doesn’t work now. The ticket prices are ridiculously expensive and the picture is dark, due to the polarized glasses. I wear prescription, polarized lenses and so it’d be even worse for me but I don’t see anything in 3D anyway.

      I also don’t know how one can see a movie so early in the day, Helen… It’s just so early!
      Here, the first showing in any theatre is at 12 noon and not sooner. For that I am grateful.

  14. I voted in the current poll but felt somewhat like I do with most polls and wanted to make up my own category. I would go to more movies if the movies were better, but what I really mean is if the movie theaters in Indianapolis offered some of the better movies that are out there. Of course, then I’d have to choose ‘if I had more time’ as my answer.

  15. Inception and The Expendables I have to see, Knight and Day I’m curious about because it’s director James Mangold (I Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma), and I know of no other movies in 2010.


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