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On the subject of rewatching movies

Before my recent apartment move, I had limited space for my movie collection. As my number of DVDs and Blu-Rays increased, the stacks on the shelves grew higher and higher. Soon enough, I couldn’t fit any new purchases on there. I came up with a system: whenever I watched a new film that needed to go on a shelf, I would pick out one film that I wanted to rewatch and put it in a pile near my TV. Every now and then, I’d rewatch one from that pile, and then send it back to the shelf and pick out a new rewatch candidate. As you can probably figure out, this didn’t really solve any of my storage issues; it was mainly a justification to let my collection spill out from the shelves. “Oh, those films are piled on the floor by the TV just because I intend to rewatch them soon.” My new living quarters have given me more room and shelf space, but I still keep a section reserved for films I intend to revisit soon enough. At the moment, it’s inhabited by Children of Men, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Into the Wild, and others.

On the rewatch queue

Everyone has their own opinion on the subject of rewatching films. Some enjoy discovering new things in films they like, trying to understand what others see in a movie that left themselves indiffierent, or just taking a trip down memory lane to an old favorite. Others rarely bother, feeling that experiencing something new and uncharted is a better investment of their time. I belong to the former camp. I love rewatching films.

I came across a passage last night while reading David Gilmour‘s autobiographical book “The Film Club”. It said that the second time we see a movie is the first time we truly see it. On the first go, we tend to focus more on the story and engross ourselves in the narrative. What’s happening? What’s going to happen next? Will the boy get the girl? Will the hero triumph? What’s in the box? We seek the answers to these questions, so that’s where our attention lies.

Once we’ve already seen the film and know the answers, we are free to think about everything else in the movie: the performances, the cinematography, the themes, etcetera. These things are of course very possible to take in on the initial viewing too, but there’s more room for them when knowing how the story goes.

An example I often use when talking about rewatching films is the Coens. With their off-beat kind of humor and genre-blending stories, their films always grow more enjoyable and impressive on rewatches. I wrote a review for No Country for Old Men some time ago where I managed to delve deeper into the movie than when I first saw it some years ago. (Looking at that review now, I apparently wrote in essence the very same things I’ve talked about so far in this blog post. Oops.) The past week, I’ve revisited both their debut film Blood Simple and Barton Fink, and while the latter only barely follows the rule – the climax and ending are just as maddening as always – Blood Simple definitely improved for me. That one has a story that’s simultaneously straight-forward and twisting, and the atmosphere is palpable.

There are other examples too of movies improving when plot isn’t what you’re spending most attention on. A History of Violence is a good one. Trainspotting, too. And Repulsion! I found that one terrifying the first time I saw it, but “only” gave it a score of 4/5 as I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. A second watch down the road – while closely scrutinizing it for the purpose of a blog post – allowed me to take in the thematic stuff along with the scariness, as well as letting me admire the beautiful black & white images. Nowadays, I’d call Repulsion a strong contender for being my favorite horror film ever.

Every reason to post a picture of Catherine Deneuve is a good one.

There are different ways for rewatches to improve a movie, though. Sometimes knowing how the story plays out can make a film better because we can appreciate just how the story builds to its conclusion, rather than allowing us to think about non-story stuff. For instance, take Fight Club. I remember seeing it back in the day without knowing anything about it, and was taken completely by surprise by the twist ending. Watching it nowadays, I keep finding new things that cleverly hint at the reveal, to the point where I wonder how I ever couldn’t have seen it coming. It’s highly impressive. That said, Fight Club has lots of other things to make it enjoyable on rewatches as well, such as the filthy sets and the hilarious dialogue.

There’s also the case of your own taste evolving the further you grow as a movie lover. This is something I’m very much in touch with, having only gotten into movies a few years ago. The more I see and explore, the more diverse films I find myself appreciating. Lost in Translation is an example I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog already, as it went from “meh, boring” to my current favorite film. The fact that the film doesn’t have much of a conventional narrative might have turned me off somewhat when I was mainly a casual watcher, but once I knew that nothing happened in the film, I could start seeing just how rich it is.

As Bill Murray‘s character says in the movie: “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”

This goes for watching films as well.

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Posted by on 9 October, 2012 in Misc.

 

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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

 
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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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Three is One: Women going crazy

“Three is One” is a new feature here on the blog. The idea is to examine three different movies that have something in common and see in which ways they differ from one another.

This first installment will be about three psychological thrillers in which women lose their minds, or perhaps have lost them already: Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Robert Altman’s Images and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. All three films put an emphasis on female sexuality in various ways, and they all feature plenty of ambiguity about what is actually really and what is merely hallucinations.

REPULSION (Polanski, 1965)

Catherine Deneuve plays Carole, a young woman who lives in a London apartment with her sister and works as a manicurist. Carole has a big problem with men. She’s noticeably uncomfortable around them, which creates conflict with her sexual urges (the source of this aversion of hers is never revealed, making her case the most mysterious of the three films). When her sister goes on a holiday, Carole is left alone in their home. It’s around this time her sanity starts slipping. She spends more and more time at home, never leaving except to go to work. Strange noises are heard, threatening shadows loom outside her bedroom door and the entire apartment seems to be decaying.

Repulsion is the first part of Polanski’s Apartment trilogy. It’s followed by Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, two other movies that deal with themes similar to Repulsion’s, albeit with different slants. Rosemary’s Baby has Rosemary feeling paranoid about whether the child she’s carrying might be the spawn of the devil, and The Tenant deals with social anxieties as a man tries to fit in with his new neighbors. They’re both really good films and naturally make for interesting comparing and contrasting with Repulsion. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30 June, 2011 in Three is One

 

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