Every month, A Place for Film brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Conformist (1970)
I’d been meaning to watch this film for years because I’d seen it on a number of lists detailing the greatest films of all time. I’m also a fan of The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), which is also written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Somehow, this film exceeded its hype.
This movie tells the story of Marcello Clerici, an Italian Fascist who sets out at the beginning of the film to assassinate his old leftist college professor. As he drives to ambush him, he thinks back on his life and the obsessive desire to fit into mainstream society that lead him to the brink of committing such a devious act.
The Conformist is one of the most visually beautiful films I have ever seen. The colors are vibrant and practically pop off of the screen. Even the grays have an austere splendor that other films lack. Certain sequences and shots sear themselves into your memory. Two of my favorites are the sunset as seen from a train on Clerici’s honeymoon and a dance sequence between Giulia, Clerici’s wife, and Anna, the professor’s wife, in a well-designed dance hall.
I could go on about Bertolucci’s knack for filling the frame with interesting little details. Or Jean-Louis Trintignant’s performance as Clerici. Or how Bertolucci adroitly provides political criticism through sharp imagery (my favorite example is a shot of a blind man giving a speech in favor of Fascism). But in the end, the act of watching The Conformist is a wonderful cinematic experience that exceeds reading anything about it.
Warning: contains violence.
Caleb Allison, contributor | They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
I was one of the lucky few to nab a ticket to They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), which had an unjustly limited release here in Bloomington. My procrastination getting a ticket meant the two earlier shows sold out and I lumbered into the 9:50 pm with barely a seat left – proof there was a larger audience for this movie than projected. To top it off, we were cramped into what I’m sure is the smallest theatre at AMC Classic 12 with an unforgivable projection snafu – the screen was masked improperly, so part of the top and bottom of the image was lopped off. It was a travesty and good enough a reason for an AMC rant here, but I’ll restrain myself. These less than desirable circumstances produced an unintended consequence though. The late hour, cramped quarters, dwindling tickets, and projection blunder all combined to form a hardened band of moviegoers with a special bond, who rallied together around the injustices of the subpar theatre experience and reveled in the film’s ambition. We even offered up a round of applause at the end of the film, which always warms my cinematic heart.
Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary exclusively uses archival footage and interviews from veterans from the Imperial War Museum to tell its story. The footage has been meticulously restored and starting about a third of the way into the film is colorized (and in 3D for my screening). It is honestly the only 3D film I’ve seen that I think warranted the treatment. There are no talking head historians (except Jackson who gives an introduction and epilogue); no maps of troop movements; and no big picture context. Jackson calls it “a film made by a non-historian for non-historians.” We find ourselves distinctly in the boots of British infantrymen fighting German infantrymen in the trenches of the Western Front in 1918. The scope is intimate and often banal, focusing on the everyday, humanizing, grim, and hopeful retelling of experiences by the grunts lucky enough to survive the war. Jackson’s attention here is brilliant and heartbreaking. These soldiers, now colorized, audible (thanks to lip readers and voice actors), and in 3D, are no longer resigned to the distance of silent, grainy, black and white footage. They are molded into familiar faces and gestures that don’t feel 100 years old. It is 1918 carried with intimate humanity and respect into 2018.
Jack Miller, contributor | Lola Montès (1955)
This month, I started the new year off right by watching some classic films that I’d been meaning to catch up with for a long time, including G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind, and Jerry Lewis’s The Family Jewels. While I loved these films, perhaps the most edifying and pleasurable of all my first-time viewings this month was seeing Max Ophüls’ glorious 1955 masterpiece Lola Montès, the director’s ecstatic final film and his only work in color and in widescreen.
Ophüls, a German-born director who made films in Germany, France and Hollywood, is celebrated as a master of elegant camera movement, which he often deploys through tightly-controlled, lengthy tracking shots. Here, in his last film, Ophüls pushes this long-take kineticism to a radical extreme. The main action of Lola is told to the viewer through a sophisticated flashback structure, and seeing as it’s a nineteenth-century period piece, scenes often play out in small, ornately-decorated chambers. Ophüls’ camera follows his characters’ precise movements in these exquisitely lit rooms, and each time the camera assumes a new vantage point, it seems to divide the space of the room into another prismatic dimension. These rigid shifts in the spatial coordinates of action seem to mirror the emotional territory of the narrative, as though the director is showing us, through his wonderfully baroque mise-en-scene, how the power dynamics are changing between Lola and her many suitors. This is a great film that I hope to revisit again and again over the course of my life, finding new things with each subsequent viewing.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Juliet, Naked (2018)
Juliet, Naked (dir. Jesse Peretz, 2018) surprised me. All I knew about it going in was that it was based on a novel by Nick Hornby and centered around music fandom, so I was expecting something akin to High Fidelity. Man with specialized pop culture knowledge has trouble growing up; emotionally mature woman leaves him because of his inability to commit; by the end of the film, man and woman get back together. He grows up just enough, and she discovers that she finds some of his immaturity charming.
However, Juliet, Naked is the reverse side of that coin, instead coming at the relationship from the woman’s perspective. While most reviews of the film focused on the love triangle between Annie (Rose Byrne), her (ex-)boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), and former indie-rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), I felt that the weight of the film really rested on Annie grappling with the overwhelming sense of responsibility to those around her. She left her career to assume caretaking responsibilities for her father, and she’s been managing his museum since his death. It was supposed to be short-term, but now she doesn’t feel she can get away. Likewise, though she knows she’s not satisfied with the relationship with Duncan, a sense of responsibility keeps her there, making her feel like she needs to be ever-supportive and understanding.
Where in so many films, the woman character acts as the foil to help the man find self-actualization, in this case, Tucker Crowe serves that role for Annie. Their online correspondence throws her life into relief, helping her realize what she really wants and make the changes that will lead her to happiness.
David Carter, contributor | The Paper (1994)
If I had all the time in the world I’d have a blog completely dedicated to going through and writing about the lost 3-star gems of the 1990s. There’s something about this particular era of filmmaking where you can constantly find one star-studded middle-of-the-road but thoroughly enjoyable film after another (I believe we used to call these “mid-budget movies made for adults”). During the waning days of winter vacation I found a little-talked-about Ron Howard (Rush, Apollo 13, Willow) directed, David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible) and Stephen Koepp written film called The Paper. It’s a 1994 film that takes the audience on a 24-hour whirlwind excursion inside the life of a fictional newspaper called the New York Sun (based in part off of The New York Daily News) and its metro editor Henry Hacket, played by harried cerebral working man Michael Keaton, as he deals with the chaos of his personal life and the chaos of the newsroom as he pushes to get a story printed that would clear two wrongfully accused black teenagers of a hate crime they didn’t commit.
While that description makes the movie seem like a tense drama, that;s only half of its charm. The film sits somewhere between Network and Broadcast News. It thrives on the intensity of a 24-hour day in a newsroom (it’s also shot in handheld, so the stress is constant) with real stakes but is also loaded jokes that range from the inherent humor that comes from the myopia of human life, screwball comedy banter and occasionally straight-up slapstick and broad comedy.
This is also a delight if you want to see a stable of actors around the top of their game, doing exactly what you’ve come to expect from them. Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Jason Alexander, and Catherine O’Hara all come to play up all their various personas we know them for. Spalding Gray even shows up to steal two scenes. This film is also a great watch in a post-Birdman world. You can see so much of what Keaton eventually does performance-wise in that film, but played completely straight and not as a form of critique or deconstruction. I don’t think the trailer does this film justice so I suggest giving this movie a rent or checkout from your local library and popping it in on a Sunday afternoon. You won’t regret it.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Ever since it was first announced that Emily Blunt would be playing Mary Poppins in a sequel directed by Rob Marshall, I could not wait for the film to hit theaters. With every tidbit and casting decision that was released, my excitement grew. And then there was the first full trailer. As soon as my beloved Dick Van Dyke appeared, I started sobbing, a reaction that surprised even me. But none of that compared to actually seeing the film. From beginning to end, Mary Poppins Returns had me in the palm of its polka-dot-gloved hand. Every frame, every musical note, every little detail was crafted with such love and respect for the original 1964 classic, which some people believe is a strike against it since it makes the film hesitant to stray away from what made its predecessor so iconic. I get that. But I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t enjoy every single second.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s gorgeous score effortlessly captures the story’s joy, heartache, and playfulness. The production design and costumes are the most sumptuous eye candy you could ask for. Rob Marshall continues to prove that he is the successor to such filmmakers as Stanley Donen and Charles Walters, artists who truly understood and revered musicals. All of these elements made me appreciate Mary Poppins Returns, but it was the cast that made me love it. Van Dyke’s scene is absolutely magical, and Angela Lansbury’s short appearance exemplifies why the woman is a national treasure who deserves to be in everything. Ben Whishaw gives such a sweet, delicate performance, while Emily Mortimer and Julie Walters inject some much needed vivacity. Colin Firth is perfect as the film’s villain, and his lackeys (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Jeremy Swift) feel like they came straight from classic Hollywood’s stable of brilliant character actors. Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course, does a terrific job and Meryl Streep is great fun as Mary’s cousin Topsy, but if there is one person that this film belongs to, it is Emily Blunt, without a question. The whole thing rests on her practically perfect shoulders and she delivers in spades. No one could touch Julie Andrews’s Oscar-winning performance — but Blunt comes pretty darn close.