Wednesday 30 October 2019

True Grit (1969)

Off-List: True Grit
The first off-List movie of 1969 is “True Grit”. I have never seen it before and the only things I knew about it going in was its famous, recent remake and that Ranker considers it the second best movie of 1969. I guess this made me more than a little curious to watch this movie.

It was, frankly, a bit disappointing.

“True Grit” is a movie about a girl, Mattie (Kim Darby) whose father got killed by a low-life caller Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). She sets out to find him and bring him to justice. To that end she hires a Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne), and, much against his will, insists on riding along. They are joined by a Texas ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) who wants to take Chaney to Texas. Chaney has joined a gang led by Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and so they are two men and a woman up against an entire gang of outlaws.

This is very much a vehicle for John Wayne to do his usual things. To be tough and grandfatherly, dunk and just, trigger happy and jovial. Essentially your standard John Wayne. The Academy apparently thought he did that so well that they gave him an Oscar for it. If there is nothing better in 69 this will indeed be a thin year.

John Wayne being what he is, the main character here is Mattie. It is cool that she wants to join the man hunt, but this girl has so many annoying qualities that any sympathy I had for her soon wore out. She is preachy and very penny-pinching, lacks a sense of the situation and is practically useless in the field. She is the kind of person you least want to bring along on such an expedition. You may then ask, why is she then joining the chase? The answer may well be as comical relief.

See, “True Grit” is trying hard to be a comedy, or at least have some substantially comical elements. Bringing this girl along for a manhunt she is not suited for is such a comical element. So is Rooster drinking with his cat and Chinese friend. Problem is just that Mattie is not funny, she is annoying, and her preachy manner made her tiresome very fast.

The other main element of the movie is the Western theme of hunting down outlaws. It is okay, but nothing special and although it is a long movie, this part of it is fairly short in order to set up a relationship between Rooster and Mattie. The hardship of the chase is also played down and frankly there is not much of a search. They ride into the territory, stumble upon Nep Peppers gang and shoot it out. Of course, Mattie gets in trouble, which makes things a bit complicated, but nothing they cannot handle.

I thought it would be tougher and grittier, but this is 69 and not 2019, and so this is a sanitized version of the West. I could also have managed without the comedy. For me “Western” and “comedy” does not merge very well. And finally, I could really have used a less annoying character than Mattie.

Well, I got my curiosity settled and that is that.


Saturday 26 October 2019

High School (1969)

High School
This review of Frank Wiseman’s movie “High School” is heavily influenced by the fact that I have been watching it and am writing this review from a hotel room in China. This mean that I do not have the Book at hand and that I cannot use Wikipedia (or Google for that matter) to search out information on this movie. My upload will probably have to wait till I am back in Europe.

I seem to recall from the Book that “High School” is considered a criticism of the educational system, that students are taught useless things in a dysfunctional environment.

Well, I had a hard time recognizing that. It rather seems like a fairly objective portrait of the everyday life at a regular high school with all the various thing that normally goes around at such a place. It was almost boringly normal. In small clips, each of a few minutes, we see scenes from the daily life at the school. Classes being taught, students getting advice, some getting detention, shows being staged and so on. There are no direct connections between the various vignettes, no characters carrying through, except that the principal shows up a few times. They are just scenes from the school.

None of the scenes are particularly condemning. The teachers are trying to teach. The students are what students normally are. Some has a rebellious streak, which is common enough. Some teachers are prone to droning which is also common enough. There is no cruelty on display. When a teacher states that only in the dictionary does “success” come before “work”, it is just stating the obvious in an attempt at motivating the class.

The only part I resented was the discussions with the counsellor on how much parents could afford to pay for college tuition and how that limited the options. Where I come from this is very bad style and access is based on merit and nothing else, but I understand that in the reality of this high school this is standard practice and the issue is treated matter of factly and not as an item of particular concern.

The purpose of the movie I can only see as a time capsule, documenting a high school in 1969. It is curious to watch, many things actually being much the same as they are today, and at the same time different as it is rooted in its time.

Maybe I am missing a bit of drama or something controversial. Eventually it started getting boring watching daily life play out. But then again, it is comforting to see that daily life can play out without big drama and that people are just people at any time.

Considering how unexceptional this is, I am just wondering why it is on a list of 1001 movies you have to watch before you die.


Tuesday 15 October 2019

A Touch of Zen (Hsia Nu) (1969)

Hsia nu
Next week I will be going to China on my annual trip there and it is quite fitting that this next movie on the List is a Chinese movie. Well, technically it is Taiwanese, but it is supposed to take place in China.

“Hsia Nu” or “A Touch of Zen”, as it is called in English, is a wuxia movie of epic scale. Wuxia is that very popular “sword and magic” genre of movies that most westerners associate with Hong Kong. Think “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. “Hsia Nu” is about 200 minutes long and released over a two-year period (in 70 and 71, though on the List it is listed as a 69 movie…) and clearly made with a budget to match.

In medieval times Gu Sheng-tsai (Shih Chun) earns his living by painting portraits and doing calligraphy. Clearly, he is a bookish fellow, but without much ambition, to his mother’s chagrin. This changes when a mysterious woman moves into the ruin next door. Gu is smitten, but the girl, Miss Yang (Hsu Feng) is not who she seems to be, nor are practically anybody else, and soon Gu is involved in a high stakes game against powerful members of the empirical court.

“Hsia Nu” is clearly one of the finest wuxia movies I have seen. That does not include that many examples, but of those I have seen this one stands out. What makes it special is the first hour or so. Instead of rushing into some crazy fighting, it starts out very quietly and mundane. It is quite realistic, and we get a proper introduction to the quiet life of Gu Sheng-tsai. He is as confused with the girl and the mysterious characters that begin to show up as we are and even the first fighting scenes are not at all over the top, merely a demonstration of the supreme fighting technique of Yang Hui-zhen. As the film progresses, we do of course get loads of that swordplay the wuxia genre of renown for. Whether you like this or not is a matter of taste. Personally, I find it a bit comical to have the fighters do giant jumps into a melee and, well, they do that quite a lot, but that is what wuxia is all about.

I found it fascinating how the story itself keeps developing. It takes focus to keep track of the characters, but I found the story much better developed than usual in wuxia movies. It helps that Gu is not some kind of mighty fighter but a fairly ordinary guy. That means that we, the audience, can relate to him and he becomes our presence in the movie. Unfortunately, more wants more, and me too, I was longing to learn more of Yang, General Shi and Abott Hui. There is a brief romantic scene between Gu and Yang but is so short that we know practically nothing of their relationship. Yang merely looks touch and stoic and that is almost all we learn about her. I cannot say if this is simply Chinese prudishness, but I could definitely see her opening up a bit more.

Towards the end it also seems as if the story gets sacrificed for the battle scenes or maybe it was just me getting tired. It felt like one, very long, continuous battle sequence and I lost some touch on what was going on. The problem with awesome fighters, as with superheroes, is that killing tons of henchmen eventually gets tiresome.

Still, I want to judge it by the superior first half of the movie and for that it is a definite must-see.


Monday 7 October 2019

Lucia (1969)

It is very likely “Lucia” is a good movie. It is also possible it is a terrible movie. I frankly have only a vague idea whether it might be either. In fact there is very little I can tell about the movie. Instead I can tell a lot about my efforts to actually watch it.

The Cuban movie “Lucia” is very difficult to obtain. Amazon has it for sale for 46£, which is outside my budget. Bongo, who printed the only version available on DVD, does not have it in stock. I might be able to find an American version I cannot watch on my player. The link on the 1001 movies hard-to-find list has expired. The only way I could watch this was on YouTube. Here only the second and third part of its three segments are available and these two episodes are not subtitled. Except you can make YouTube auto translate. Let me give you an example of the wonderful dialogue:

Man and woman talk to each other:

“That opens

Because you can invent things you can

Invent things from my dad things from me

When I’m more at home I

Tranca says she spends her life

Talking about boyfriends and stuff

And my dad spoke mistakes and you didn’t”

The short of it is that I got zip out of the dialogue and was left with what I could see on the pictures.

The first segment I have not seen.

The second segment in the thirties is about a woman and a man. The man is apparently a revolutionary and ends up dead. She is very sad

The third segment take place in the sixties and is about a storming relationship between a woman and a man. They fight a lot and scream at each other. They have these voices you listen to and know they have been screaming a lot.

The music is nice, which is not surprising, Cuban music is very good. There is a very nice version of “Guantanamera” in the third segment.

This is a very hard way to watch a movie and it is only because I am a completionist that I endure this. Towards the end the lack of understanding meant that even the pictures lost interest and I just could not wait for it to finish.

If I manage to obtain a proper version, I will watch it again. Until then I will just cross it off my list and move on.


Thursday 3 October 2019

My Night at Maud's (Ma Nuit Chez Maud) (1969)

Min nat hos Maud
I have heard a lot about the movies by Eric Rohmer, but seen very little of his production. Whether “My Night with Maud” (Ma nuit chez Maud) is representative of his movies I have no idea, but it has certainly made me curious.

Right off the bat I have to admit that I am fearfully unequipped to parse this movie. I therefore excuse my lack of understanding of some of the central elements of this story.

As the story go it is fairly straight forward. Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a single engineer living in Clermont, France. It is near Christmas and there is a girl he has seen that he really would like to meet. In fact, he believes he is in love with her, although he knows nothing about her.

Before he gets as far as to meet her he encounters an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who invites him to spend an evening with a friend of his, a divorced doctor called Maud (Francoise Fabian). This turns out to be a long evening with lots of talking and because of the weather Jean-Louis spends the night there.

The next day he approaches the girl, Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), a 22 year old biology student, and drives her home and spends the night there. Five years later they are married with a child.

This all sound a bit drab. The interesting part is what happened that night at Maud’s. The three of them ends up discussing Pascal, particularly an item known as “Pascal’s Wager”. Now, this is where I got out of my depth and I had to look this up. Pascal as I recall was a brilliant scientist and the unit for pressure is named after him. What I did not know was that he also made the foundations for probability theory and differential equations. He built a mechanical calculator and, which is central to the movie, wrote a major work on theology. Not, as you might think, a positivistic, scientific treatise, but a highly mystical one. I understand that the intention of his work was to bring the reader to despair and confusion in order to embrace God. Pascal’s Wager goes something like that you have to gamble whether or not you believe in God. Even if the probability of God’s existence is small, the reward is infinite, so you have no choice but to choose God.

Jean-Louis is a Catholic while Vidal and Maud are not. The discussion seems to be a challenge to him on his faith and this is where I am insufficiently schooled in religious matters to follow this discussion on Pascal.

What I do understand is that Maud is an infinitely more interesting woman than Francoise, that Jean-Louis gets a unique chance to get a relationship with this clever and beautiful woman, but refuse her in favor of an unknown woman barely out of her teens on the grounds that Maud is not Catholic.

Is this the central point of the movie then? That Jean-Louis choose the girl he knows nothing about because of the promise of infinite joy in a religious life? Or is it the other way around, that Jean-Louis misses the true challenge, to be in the big, unknown relationship with a woman who will challenge him all the way and instead chooses the simple and easy solution where his life and thinking goes unchallenged? Or is the purpose of the night with Maud, like that of Pascal, to confuse and despair Jean-Louis in order to enable him to embrace love with Francoise?

There is a lot to think about here, and I think I will go a long time contemplating this movie.

I would love to hear from somebody better schooled in Pascal, Jansenism and religious discussions how to interpret this movie.

Definitely a rewarding movie, but one that requires attention and patience. Certainly, one to make me curious about Rohmers other movies.

Incidentally Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont. So was Audrey Tautou.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra
I am taking a short break from the List to post a short article (because I will not call it a review) on Ad Astra. For the past week I have been back in the Middle East on vacation and my wife and I exploited this to have a night out at the cinema. This happens all too rarely, and it is fun to go watch something not for small boys. I had my eyes set on Ad Astra because I am really into sci-fi, but just because something looks good…

Well, rather than writing a review I will ask a few questions.

1.       What exactly is the Lima project doing around Neptune if they are supposed to be at the heliosphere?

2.       Why was the Lima project equipped with antimatter? I mean, what are they using it for?

3.       Why is the antimatter sending bursts of radiation towards the inner solar system?

4.       Why does the antimatter issue not appear, even as a topic of conversation when Roy gets to meet his father at the Lima project?

5.       Why did Clifford kill everybody else? To take pictures of other planets?

6.       How did a man who can kill an entire crew to take pictures of stars get to be in charge of a long duration mission?

7.       How long can you narrate on a missing father? And why does it have to sound like something out of Blade Runner

8.       What exactly is the function of constantly getting a phycological evaluation? If this is to avoid another Clifford McBride, why is Roy taking four or five of those before they even suspect Clifford killed the crew?

On the technical side:

9.       If humanity has built a tower into space (presumably a space elevator) why do they have to fly into space in an old-school rocket? Would it not be natural to use the elevator or at least a space plane?

10.   If the transport to the moon is with a rocket carrying 5-7 passengers, why do they arrive at what looks like a busy airport terminal? It would take quite a few of those rockets to keep that terminal busy.

11.   What is the function in the movie of having a war zone between two moon terminals?

12.   Why do you have to ride in an Apollo era moon buggy to get between the two terminals? Even 2001: A space Odyssey used a shuttle to get around.

13.   Why not send the spaceship to Mars from the same terminal as is used for traffic to Earth rather than sending people out on a perilous ride?

14.   Why do you have to use a rocket shaped space craft to fly to Mars? The moon has no atmosphere.

15.   On the other hand, why are the Norwegians flying to Mars in something that looks like the ISS space station?


17.   What is floating water doing on the surface of Mars?

18.   How can you climb up the inside of a rocket engine during ignition?

19.   How can you get from Mars to Neptune in 79 days with regular reaction engines? Most spacecrafts spend at least a decade on that journey.

20.   Neptune is a fairly big planet. How can a simple radar sling you across the planet?


21.   Why is it I felt somewhat deflated leaving the cinema?