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TM2YC's 1001 Movies (Chronological up to page 48/post 480)
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The Killing Fields
(1984)
Director: Roland Joffé
Country: UK
Length: 141 minutes
Type: Drama, War

Before Bruce Robinson directed 'Withnail & I' he adapted the biography of war reporters Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran into the BAFTA winning screenplay for 1984's 'The Killing Fields'. It was his first script and director Roland Joffé's first feature film, so it's impressive that it's this assured. New York Times journalist Schanberg and Cambodian photojournalist Pran form a bond covering the fall of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge genocide. It'd be near impossible to make a film that feels this harrowing and looks this close to reality today. You'd never be given access to this many real helicopters, jets, tanks, pyrotechnics, devastated landscapes and churning crowd scenes, it'd be done in the computer. The scene where Pran stumbles on the titular "killing fields" is totally nightmarish and the last act is so tense. I didn't know the fate of the real people, which added to the tension because the film makes you really care for them. Dr. Haing S. Ngor who plays Pran had actually lived through the genocide firsthand and is one of only two non-professional actors to win an Oscar. As this was recreating "front page" events from just a few years before the film came out, I felt it naturally assumed the viewer already had a detailed knowledge of the political context, which 4 decades later, maybe won't be the case... but that's what Wikipedia is for, so it's a minor criticism.

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^This has been on my watchlist ever since visiting the actual place some years back.  Glad to hear it holds up.
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Masculin Féminin (1966)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Country: France
Length: 103 minutes
Type: Drama

One of the chapters in Jean-Luc Godard's film is prefaced by the titlecard "This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola", which gives an idea what it's about. Several Parisian twenty-somethings feature in various vignettes questioning each other but not really listening to the answers, or articulating their feelings indirectly, through a questionnaire, or recording a message on a vinyl record. They discuss politics and spontaneously graffiti places with anti-Vietnam-war slogans but they seem more interested in looking cool, the main character Paul repeatedly tries to flip a cigarette into his mouth with limited success. It feels like a very cynical portrait of mid-60s French youth culture, featuring an array of vacuous boys/girls who I wasn't much interested in watching. The quirky editing, chapter titles punctuated by gunshots and the final "fin" joke were very nice though. I did enjoy the scene when Paul storms up into a cinema projection booth to rant about the film-within-a-film being displayed in the wrong aspect-ratio Big Grin .





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Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Director: John Schlesinger
Country: United States
Length: 113 minutes
Type: Drama

'Midnight Cowboy' is like a film version of a Velvet Underground album. The main character is a male-prostitute called Joe (like Joe Dallesandro) played by a cherubic Jon Voight, hopelessly hustling on the rundown streets of 60s New York.  In one scene he hangs out at a trippy underground art party, obviously modeled on the Andy Warhol scene. Joe is a sweet natured, naive, almost childlike Texan, totally out his depth in the seedy big city, which makes him an easy mark for Dustin Hoffman's shambolic con-man and petty thief "Ratso" Rizzo but they soon fall into being outcast friends. The two lead actors are amazing. The editing and directorial style is experimental, mixing flashbacks, dreams and alternate realities freely in and out of the main structure. The opening scenes cut to Harry Nilsson's 'Everybody's Talkin'' are justly iconic and the final scene breaks your heart. It's the first and only X-rated 'Best Picture' winner.

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The Thing
(1982)
Director: John Carpenter
Country: United States
Length: 109 minutes
Type: Sci-Fi, Horror, Thriller

I'd heard the latest 4K transfer of John Carpenter's 'The Thing' on the Arrow blu-ray was terrific and indeed it is. Finally, older upscaled and badly graded DVD and blu-ray transfers can go in the dustbin. I've seen the film so many times but thanks to the way Carpenter constantly bamboozles the viewer, deliberately withholds information and creates ambiguity in the character's motivations, I'd once again managed to forget which characters were "the thing" at many points in the film. So it always feels fresh to me, unlike a standard murder mystery, the case can never be fully solved. The vast majority of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston's FX still fully hold up to 4K restored scrutiny and 2020 eyes. It's only a few bits like the compositing on one exterior matte, the obvious dummy being flung around in the blood test scene and the few stop motion shots at the end which stand out. Such is the intense pressure of the impossible situation the writers build upon our hero MacReady, that by the point when it happens, it's easy to forgive and forget that he's actually responsible for mistakenly murdering one of the good-guys/humans.

That 1982 audiences initially missed 'The Thing' in a crowded summer is understandable but considering you couldn't find a critic alive now who wouldn't hail this a masterpiece on all levels, it's unbelievable that this was so critically reviled at the time. Some calling it "foolish, depressing", "instant junk", "the most hated movie of all time?", "sloppy", "bland" and even the Sci-Fi magazine Starlog cruelly said "John Carpenter was never meant to direct a science-fiction horror movie. Here's some things he'd be better suited to direct: traffic accidents, train wrecks and public floggings". I don't know if it was the establishment finally getting to give this wildly successful independent auteur a good kicking on his first big budget studio picture? This led to Carpenter being fired from the next film he was prepping for Universal and derailing the meteoric rise of his career. All his movies up until 'The Thing' had been some of the most profitable of all time.





The Thing: Terror Takes Shape (1998)
A comprehensive feature-length documentary examining the production of John Carpenter's 'The Thing' (included on the Arrow blu-ray). This was made in 1998, so unfortunately the visuals are 4:3 and standard definition but the quality and breadth of the interviews are what makes this so good. FX maestro Rob Bottin spins a good yarn and his enthusiasm for his art really comes across.



Who Goes There: In Search of The Thing (2017)
An excellent new feature-length making-of documentary included on the Arrow blu-ray for John Carpenter's 'The Thing'. The first half is devoted to the evolution of the story from the pages of sci-fi magazines, through the Howard Hawks' 1951 adaptation and then onto how the 1982 film came about. There are tons of gorgeous up-close HD scans of comic book art, production drawings, vintage fully-painted movie posters and sci-fi illustrations. The second half does inevitably retread some of the same stuff as in the 1998 'Terror Takes Shape' making-of and features fewer high profile interviewees but it's still an invaluable addition to the understanding of the movie.



The Thing: 27,000 Hours (2011)
A nicely done 5-minute fan film imagining a post apocalyptic world "27,000 Hours" after first infection from John Carpenter's 'The Thing' (named after the computer simulation in the film).  It recreates the famous blood test scene with three paranoid soldiers in a wrecked building, except it cleverly subverts your expectations. I really enjoyed it while it was playing but on reflection, the whole premise doesn't really make any sense within the established 1982's film's logic.



1982: One Amazing Summer! (2017)
A short retrospective/documentary from Arrow's 'The Thing' blu-ray, a sort of response to the question "Why did a film as good as 'The Thing' fail to attract audiences in the summer of '82?". Film fans and writers take us through all the films that hit, or missed at the US boxoffice in the crowded summer of 1982 (in date order). Including sci-fi/fantasy classics like 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Mad Max 2', 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan', 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial', 'Blade Runner', 'Tron' and of course 'The Thing'. There are lots of lovely HD transfers of scratchy old 35mm trailers to enjoy while they talk.

"Bliss it was in 1982 to be alive. But to be young was very heaven." - William Wordsworth (sort of)
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Wow, you really did the thing.
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Yeah, the Arrow release is great. It's the version I upgraded to for my edit and I'm pleased I did. Looks awesome and the special features kick ass. Nice review/overview btw.
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I re-watched a couple of classics from 1973 (what a year for film!)...

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The Sting (1973)
Director: George Roy Hill
Country: United States
Length: 129 minutes
Type: Drama, Comedy, Heist

'The Sting' is one of the finest heist movies ever made, which I never tire of re-watching. It's a tale of small-time con-men getting revenge on a big-time gangster for killing one of their friends. It's a double pleasure marveling and laughing at the ingenuity of their schemes and then of being suckered yourself as a viewer. Robert Shaw makes the baddie so enjoyably contemptible that you never think for a second about him being their victim. The "Grifters" have the "big con" you think they are playing on the mark, another con they are playing on each other and a final con they play on you. The main character isn't even bothered about the money, it's only about the satisfaction of taking it from the other guy without him knowing. Paul Newman and Robert Redford have such great chemistry, very much the "Han & Luke" of this story. Marvin Hamlisch's distinctive score is built from old ragtime themes by Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917), it really helps take us back in time (As do the silent-movie style interludes). There are a some spectacular matte paintings that are so good I had to pause and expect them in HD but still couldn't see the joins. 'The Sting' is an endlessly and effortlessly enjoyable movie... the 'Best Picture' Oscar was well deserved!





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Papillon (1973)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Country: United States
Length: 150 minutes
Type: Drama

I hadn't seen 'Papillon' in so long, I'd forgotten most of it and what I did remember had merged with Steve McQueen's other prison movie 'The Great Escape'. It's an adaptation of Henri "papillon" Charriere's autobiographical but partly fictional novel about his incarceration and eventual escape from the brutal French Guiana prison system (inmates died at a rate of 40% in just the first year). McQueen plays the title role (French for "butterfly", after the character's chest tattoo) a safe-cracker, doing life in exile for a murder he didn't commit and Dustin Hoffman plays a forger he meets. The two forge a powerful friendship over the years inside, helping each other, often to their own cost.  Hoffman gets a little annoying in a couple of places with his odd voices and nervous ticks but he is sensational in most scenes. Similarly, McQueen dominates the screen as the defiant young Papillon and is so powerful as the tortured prisoner but his performance as doddery old Papillon wasn't all that convincing. 2.5 hours fly by in this eventful drama, fans of 'The Shawshank Redemption' should enjoy this precursor. The jungle scenes felt a bit "Indiana Jones", not least because of McQueen's clothing and similar hat. Director Franklin J. Schaffner, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, composer Jerry Goldsmith, editor Robert Swink and Cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp all won Oscars in their respective fields for other films, so there is real pedigree behind the camera.

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/\ Good write-up. Thank you.
Now I want to go watch The Sting again! Smile
And see if Papillon can be edited to minimize those few flawed moments.
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Clerks (1994)

Director: Kevin Smith
Country: United States
Length: 92 minutes
Type: Comedy

For verity I tried watching the longer "First Cut" festival version on the 'Clerks' DVD bonus features but wow is it slow and unfocused. It really makes you appreciate how sharp the editing is in the theatrical cut, always cutting as soon as the punchline is delivered and often creating jokes with it's edits. Much of the energy and style that gives 'Clerks' it's unique vibe is down to the free cross-cutting between scenes, so I swapped back to the regular version and had a blast revisiting this 90s classic.  Jeff Anderson's performance as video store guy Randal is still the highlight. A 90s anti-authoritarian slacker icon, always underplaying his lines with a perfect indolent deadpan delivery. When Randal is openly hostile, deliberately unhelpful and sarcastic to everybody who comes into his store, even spitting water into a guy's face just to prove a point, it's wish fulfillment for anybody who has smiled and been polite to annoying retail customers. In the dialogue Star Wars is famously compared to roofing contractors but you could easily compare the whiny tone of lead character Dante's catchphrase "I'm not even supposed to be here today!", to Luke's "But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!". Also Randal's "I like to think I'm a master of my own destiny" lines up with Han Solo's "There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny" attitude.



Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks (2004)
A fascinating feature-length making-of on Kevin Smith's 'Clerks'. The phrases "rags to riches" and "overnight success" are too often used and misused but they definitely apply in this case. Smith shot 'Clerks' in the convenience store where he worked with friends and family, using $3K flood insurance money, proceeds from selling his comic book collection, several maxed-out credit cards and money he'd saved for college. Much of the credit for popularizing the film is given to Indie film consultant Bob Hawk, who was one of only two people who turned up to what could've been the movie's first and only disastrous screening. He was an evangelist for the film and brought more industry people and film critics on board until it got picked up by Miramax. If this one guy hadn't been there at the right place and time, we might've never have heard of the film, or Smith. Happily, given the revelations of recent years, this old doc (probably) unintentionally makes Harvey Weinstein sound like such a clueless a**hole, who couldn't recognize art until a whole mob of other industry people are banging it into his skull. Even then he's pictured just giving a "yeah okay whatever, buy it" type thumbs up towards a much more talented underling between shoveling plates of french fries and potato skins down his gullet.

All the details about the smart and thrifty choices Smith & Co made to keep the budget down were great. Like writing the shutters being jammed closed into the plot and creating a whole series of jokes around it because they needed to shoot night-for-day while the store was closed. The decision to film in stylish black & white wasn't to make their film stand out, it's because they didn't have the time or money to worry about the colour timing issues all the different light sources in the store would create. I loved hearing that they moved a Steenbeck flatbed editor in behind the counter of the actual video store and edited 'Clerks' while it was open, strips of film hung up above the customer's heads. I hadn't realised how many parts are played by the same people, coming in as different customers in hats and wigs.



Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary (1992)
A 10-minute student short "mockumentary" by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, before they went on to direct and produce 'Clerks' respectively. It purports to document their failure to make a student short film about a local transsexual singer called 'Emelda Mae', interviewing the crew members and teachers about how and why Smith and Mosier screwed it all up. The best bit is the camera woman saying they forgot the "Six Ps... poor, planning, produces, piss, poor, production". It's a nice little treat on the 'Clerks' DVD set.



The Flying Car (2002)
A 6-minute short film featuring the two main characters from 'Clerks' stuck in traffic, with Randal going on a rambling rant about the absence of flying cars to annoy Dante and pass the time. When the characters are this funny, it's all you need, the two could've been a long running odd-couple sitcom (and they did try, sort of).

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^For me, Smith has been riding on the coattails of his own serendipitous success with diminishing returns ever since.  I saw Clerks in the theater and was an early Smith evangelist, but he's become kind of a caricature of himself.  Those first few movies have such a time capsule charm, but his later stuff is just pure cheese.

Side note, TM2YC, have you read Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures?  I highly recommend it for any film fan who hasn't.  It's a great look at the '90s indie film revival, of which the Weinsteins were a major part.  He paints an unflattering picture of Harvey, who did not cooperate with the book, but he also highlights the strengths behind Harvey's success.  He details a lot of the behind-the-scenes decisions Harvey made that honestly probably helped a lot of movies find more appeal with a wider market.  Harvey might not have recognized something truly edgy like Clerks, but he had a great nose for how to give audiences what they wanted.  (This is to say nothing of him being a horrible human being.)
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