#500 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Clocking in at the exact halfway point of Schneider’s original 1001, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is the French-Polish director’s first Hollywood film and one of four of his films on the list. Mia Farrow’s performance as a soon-to-be mother careening toward uncertainty is utterly spectacular, switching her audience’s belief of whether she is suffering severe pre-partum paranoia, a reasonable distrust and crumbling allegiance of friends and family, or the terrifying question as to whether the Dali-esque rape sequence was a dream or reality.

This film’s early horror genre is in amazing hands with Polanksi’s interpretation of the pulpy book, “weaving together…(a) taut, focused, building sense of dread…(still keeping audiences of today) in awe of (his) detail, his rhythm and pacing, his skill with his actors, and the fine script he adapted for the screen” (). A magnificent flick that features Ruth Gordon in her much-too-delayed Oscar-Winning role as Best Supporting Actress, Rosemary’s Baby is a film that by all standards shouldn’t hold up today, and yet does so with such energy and gusto that it can only be credited to Polanski’s vision and its striking observation of the horrors and uncertainty of the mysteries of even the most perfect modern pregnancy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary%27s_Baby_(film)

This is also officially the first time one of our regular posts has been able to crossover with Movie Posters By Me! Check out Episode 18 below…

Jennifer

Well… I am very glad I didn’t watch this movie while I was pregnant. In my opinion, this movie is pretty perfect from start to finish.  There is a slow but steady build up of dread that compelled me to watch more as the feeling of more and more bad terrible things are coming. The genius of this movie, besides its remarkable actors, is a breathless waiting for the “gotcha” part. At so many different points I was positive something terrible was going to happen – but didn’t.  Most of the movie leaves one to guess about what is and is not real or imagined. Who is sinister? Who is pretending? How much of it is in Rosemary’s head?  The last 20 minutes of the movie are a perfect roller coaster dive of action and revelation.  After watching it, I realized how perfectly every little moment of the film is – so many things I barely noticed at first ended up being significant to the ending of the film. The location and the mood of the movie are perfect, with Rosemary’s apartment itself established in the very first scene of the movie as being that significant prison that the atmosphere of the piece as a whole rests upon. A great film.

Garrett

I really enjoyed Rosemary’s baby. I am not one to get scared by any paranormal entities at all, especially those surrounding religion, but what sets this film apart from much of the hype that surrounds those tropes is the fact that Polanski has directed a film that puts its weight on questioning the pregnant-hysteria of his protagonist, the structure of her social and emotional support systems, and almost in hindsight, the possibility that this is the child of some horrific devil-entity. I think Polanski did an incredible job in structure and execution, the various surreal scenes being edited in such a way that they generally didn’t feel as ridiculous as I am sure they could have been in any less capable hands. When it got to the end, in my opinion, the reveal was a little disappointing for me, however, I can easily blame that for my brand of 2017 skepticism. Still, from dialogue to editing, camera work to performances, it is easy to understand what makes this film have such staying power – and for something made in the late sixties to early seventies, it is easy for something like this to age poorly. This is certainly credited to Polanski’s adept filmmaking. Finally, just as Jenn mentioned, there was a point where we turned to each other and said, “imagine what it would have been like to watch this pregnant?” Mine was at the line where the doctor told her not to read any books and talk to any friends about her pregnancy. If there is anything I can say that this film nails the most (and I sincerely mean this without any irony or the hyperbole the film clearly contains), it is the confusing, complicated, bizarre, troubling, and terrifying process of modern pregnancy… for everyone involved.

#484 Week End (1967)

Week End is easily the most bizarre of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. A strange satire rife with paint-blood contrasted with striking real violence, this radical film presents an episodic, loose, audacious storyline that moves from “a mundane phone conversation becom(ing) an absurdly charming musical number, (to) our heroes encounter(ing) fairy-tale characters in the woods, (to) main characters meet(ing) grisly ends at, really, any time at all….(and a) traffic jam-interrupted by Godard’s irrepressible penchant for didactic, elliptical intertitles…(featuring) zoo animals, boats, an occasional picnic, and a hell of a lot of blood (that) the director once famously said, its nothing to worry about: It’s really only red paint” (de Seife).

What we are left with is a sharp satire that breaks many rules of filmmaking. The result is a piece that was relatively divisive between the two of us. No matter what the opinion, it’s absolutely clear that this film made a striking impact on Before We Die Films.

We watched Week End on Criterion DVD (#635).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekend_(1967_film)

Jennifer

So, wow.  The first half of this film I found very disorienting and disconcerting. Godard’s piece is another film from the mid-1960s (we’ve seen a few from our list, recently) that turns traditional movie narrative structure on its head by inter-cutting somewhat mundane scenes with shockingly graphic and gratuitous chaos.  This is not a film that you can relax with some popcorn. There’s no relaxing. No part of this movie is predictable except for the fact that every scene seems to have more shock value than the last.

I can’t say that this is one of my favorite films on our list or even one that I’d watch again, but it is also like no movie I have ever seen. I can appreciate the bold and quite ambitious message this film delivers to its audience.

Garrett

I thought this film was pretty innovative and amazing – but the caveat is, it is pretty innovative and amazing for what it is. This isn’t a film with a clear linear narrative structure, nor is it a film whose job it is to make the audience feel. As a matter of fact, I think its job is to do quite the opposite, that is, to make the audience aware of their own desensitization and laugh at our own ignorance of what life truly is via his narrative. As the characters are desensitized in the film about everything from traffic to cannibalism to extreme violence to magic, miracles, music, colonialization, exploitation, and even the what little remains of story itself, it is clear our reaction (mirrored by those of our two main protagonists) is meant to be that this is simply a film that is a statement and realize that we shouldn’t look beyond the surface. It exists as a statement through its strange sketches, overt and confounding use of the Godardian jump cut, extreme color, and fictional characters evoking other real-life and fictional characters, and then literally setting fire to everyone and every thing.

Godard said, “if it would have been possible to make the film dirtier pornography, then I would have.” Every frustration he has comes out in this film. Frustration with form and expression, frustration with war, fascism, and violence, frustration with sex, frustration with consumerism. Every aspect of these frustrations with the world he lives in is illustrated in Weekend, from the senseless, violent slaughter of a pig on camera to a terrifying car accident from which our female protagonist emerges and screams, “my bag! My Hermes bag!” as it burns in the inferno along with several other motorists. The transference of meaning and lens of commentary then transitions to us, the audience. The film begins with a long description of an orgy, and ends with a question – was it a dream or reality? And our character doesn’t know. This statement leads to the literal burning of society in traffic punctuated by miles of bloody car wrecks – sex, violence, frustration, exploitation. The dirtiest pornography that, of course, ends in a literal slaughter and characters feasting on the meat of other characters.

I really enjoyed this film – but the problem with Weekend is that it is what it is… A beautiful museum piece whose ‘end of cinema’ occurs precisely in 1966. It is a commentary on humanity that remains frozen in a specific social time and place, and while it is extremely successful at what it is and we still struggle with the same issues today, it lacks the heartbeat of a narrative that awakens our hearts. But the thing is, to Godard, that is precisely the point.

I read the collected essays that came in the Criterion release book, and they were fantastic studies. Gary Indiana’s analysis breaks down what the film means in its most elemental forms using bookmarks of events to steer his reading of the piece. Bergala’s excerpt from his book feature behind the scenes interviews and rundowns from the cast and crew, and this is a further dissociation from the final product that offers interesting insight into how their performances and choices transferred to the screen (my two most fascinating ones were Darc’s improvisation of the Hermes line and the fact that she was originally slated to do the opening psychoanalysis scene nude and Godard changed his mind last minute so they had to go out and buy her underwear). Finally, Godard’s interview with Jonathan Cott was fascinating. His genius bleeds through what few sentences come straight from his mouth in twenty-five or so answers. It is easy to be mesmerized by the way his mind makes connections as well as his various responses that work on the micro scale of his film, but also the macro scale of his career and his work’s place in and commentary of the world at large. A beautifully curated collection.

#469 Come Drink With Me (Dà Zuì Xiá / 大醉俠) (1966)

How about a little Shaw Brothers and a little Shaw Scope for your eyes? Can’t handle it? Go find some of your fake kung fu, because we’re buckling in for a ride on the King Hu train, losers. Tonight we watched Come Drink With Me (Dà Zuì Xiá / 大醉俠), and what an absolute blast this film was. King Hu “revolutionize(d) the martial arts costume drama…(showcasing a) mastery of all aspects of the medium, especially his inimitable approach to editing” (Peña). His portrayal of the merciless Golden Swallow waltzing into town to deliver some much-needed justice is a thrill ride from beginning to end, and the touching, slow scenes with Drunken Cat are just as wonderful as the action-packed, bloody, quick, precise action sequences.

This film was a lot of fun, and the production quality truly accentuated a genre thirsty for work like this to pave the way for directors like Ang Lee’s work decades later.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_Drink_with_Me

Jennifer

This movie was very entertaining!  Lots of great choreography, bloody battles, settings, and costumes. A classic 1960’s martial arts film. The heroine in this movie fights some bad guys to rescue her kidnapped brother.  She inadvertently falls in love with a martial arts master. They go on to kick major bad guy butt together. This movie is visually stunning and leaves little room for boredom.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film. From its opening sequence, it was clear that the director was going to take us on a ride through a valley of danger, double-crossing, and intense, bloody swordplay. Knowing nothing about this film ahead of time, I had few expectations, but it was a beautiful joyride through the narrative. The costumes, excellent performances, and obsessive attention to detail transported us to a world of martial arts high adventure. Come Drink With Me is truly a fun hour and a half diversion that fully encapsulates the audience in a striking, magical, dangerous land.

#404 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is a true epic Hollywood film that brings audiences to another time and place while also managing to be in-your-face with its production value balancing a subtle art and metaphor in a super-long, super-technicolor manner that you don’t seem to mind even though several hours have passed. Lawrence “epitomizes all that motion pictures can be…from Maurice Jarre’s sweeping score to Robert Bolt’s literary script to Freddie Young’s Gorgeous desert cinematography to the literal cast of thousands,” Lean’s beautiful film presents “the follies of colonialism and the hypocrisies of war” as a “true epic with the scope and scale of great literature” (Klein).

We watched the film over several nights, and we were surprised how often we found ourselves gasping out loud, pointing out something huge and amazing to one another, and finding ourselves swept up in the scale and brilliance of a film that deserves every single accolade that has been heaped on it. We promised that when the opportunity to see the film in 4k or 70mm arises that we will drop everything and make the trip. This film is simply definitively moviemaking – tell an original story with a message in a unique way that only cinema can capture. Lean’s film is unparalleled, human, global, and timeless. O’Toole’s performance of the enigmatic and troubled Lawrence is stunning, with his bright blue eyes cutting through the screen the entire film. Just as remarkable was Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. Lawrence of Arabia is a masterpiece.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)

Garrett

I was absolutely floored that I had never seen this film. I knew little about it going into it, and frankly, I was ignorant to what O’Toole was doing in the costume and perhaps that wasn’t dust but unfortunate makeup and a hundred other unfortunate casting decisions right down the line as early Hollywood was wont to do. That said, I was incredibly surprised at what Lean and O’Toole delivered – and I went on to do some research about T.E.Lawrence and learned some really interesting political, social, and personal details about a man whose life was cut way too short.

This film was spectacular. I loved every moment that I spent watching it with Jenn. It is moving, it is huge, it is spectacular, it is exciting, and it is perfect in so many ways. I love that Lean spared no expense, and the fact that it was cast so well with thousands of real actors, it was shot on location at real locations, and there were hundreds of tiny deliberate decisions to make the most perfect film, one can really appreciate that this was a real film without any CGI to pad any aspect of what we were watching in 2017. Everything felt true, from the scorching sun to the horses to the costume and palatial sets, and nothing replaces that.

A magnificent film I wouldn’t mind watching again and again – like a book, it feels like I could toss this DVD in and pick it up wherever I please and watch for twenty minutes or the full three and a half hours, and find the same awe and wonder as the first time I saw it. Looking forward to catching it when it hits theaters again, as it inevitably will.

Jennifer

This movie is majestic in every possible way. I have never (and probably never will again) see a movie like this. Every part of this movie revolves around the desert. It’s the main character, it’s the major problem, and the solution in the narrative.The ability to view the desert of Arabia and so many authentic actors at this time in history is fascinating. I wish I could have really seen this movie in the theater.

Lean brilliantly casts Peter O’Toole, who delivers an impressive performance. The way his character evolves from the beginning to the end of the movie was captivating. Omar Sharif delivers an equally captivating performance.

Omar Sharif perfectly sums up this movie:

“If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that’s four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert–what would you say?”

In our time, this area of the world is again in the spotlight so there was an added level of relevance to this movie. I really knew nothing about this region at this time in history, and I did a bunch of research on the real Lawrence after watching the film. His story is fascinating on its own. Combined with the authentic setting and perfect casting, the four hours of this film felt like mere moments.

#242 In A Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place is easily one of Humphrey Bogart’s best roles, effortlessly performing a very personal role in the midst of a noir piece that is unlike any other in his career. When screenwriter Dix Steele is accused of murdering a woman he barely knows for no reason whatsoever, besides a penchant for snapping in short-fused violence, he has to convince his intimate circle that he is innocent of a terrible crime… that he may or may not have committed for no reason besides the thrill of the act. This “(unique) romantic and doom-haunted noir drama” was a fantastic flick (Newman).

We watched In A Lonely Place on Criterion, #810.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_a_Lonely_Place

Jennifer

This movie was definitely not what I was expecting.  We have watched a few noir films from this time,  and this one is by far the bleakest.  Humphrey Bogart gives a performance with such a huge range – he’s charming and witty in one scene, and threatening and violent in the next.  His character changes with little or no warning and with great ferocity.  The story keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, as you race to figure out who committed the murder set up at the beginning.  Is Gloria Graeme in danger with Bogart?  Is Bogart being set up?  You will change you mind back and forth as this movie makes you doubt what you know, what you think you know, and what you hope is (or is not!) true.

The theme and style is a great blend of the very best of the late 1940’s  and early 1950’s thriller/film noir vibe.  I loved the set and the look of Bogart’s apartment.  I liked this movie particularly because many of the characters are flawed.  There is no happy ending or easy resolution to this movie.  The actors were not hesitant to make themselves prickly or unlikable.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film, and that is unusual for me because in many instances I have thought that Bogart was an actor with a relatively limited range. Up until this point, I have seen a man who has kept his reputation as a performer perhaps only as far as nostalgia has been able to take him. But in this piece, I was impressed at the range and talent in his characterization of Steele. In one of the Criterion special features we watched, it was apparent that this might have been because it was a character that really helped him process and perform in a manner that was somewhat close to who he was as a person – and it makes sense how this would diverge from the character he usually seems to have ready to go in his back pocket.

I enjoyed this movie. The writing and direction were on point. Some of my favorite elements had to do with some of the exterior shots and the design of the sets that managed to heighten the setting frozen in time a little more intentionally than many of the films from the era. The set itself was based on and duplicated real places where the piece was set, and that certainly helped with this feeling of genuine celluloid reality.

For this film, I did not read Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel, but I was interested to read in Schneider that the ending differs from the original text in one key way. Also, the process and mental mise en scene of the career, art, and anxieties of writing is perfectly captured in this film more than any other than I have seen to this point – except perhaps in Jonze/Kaufman’s Adaptation.

 

Check out this great article from The Library of America’s The Moviegoer, In A Lonely Place: Film Noir as an Opera of Male Fury by Carrie Rickey (linked above)

#673 Alien (1979)

Alien’s visceral, distinctive design are at the forefront of Ridley Scott’s serious sendoff to the monster shockers of the 1950s. It’s a gritty, bloody addition to both the science fiction and horror genres. Awash in a decade of great (and terrible) science fiction, Alien stands out as an exception to the glut of mediocre Star Wars clones (no pun intended).

We…. Actually, only one of us watched the one hour, fifty-seven minute extended director’s cut on BluRay.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_(film)

Jennifer

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, noooooooope. Nope.

Garrett

So, this is the first of several that I know are on the list that Jenn will simply refuse to watch. She offered an exchange: she’ll watch some of the less enthralling kids’ movies on the list alone…but my thought was that she should just watch SOME of the films of this caliber to the extent that I choose what parts were innocuous enough that she wouldn’t have bad dreams for a month.

I lost this battle when it came to Ridley Scott’s Alien. As you can see in the pictures, I simply recounted the entire story to my wife in an oral retelling of costumed PG-detail, and let her draw her own visibly distraught conclusions about what she missed. Obviously, she concluded it was the right decision to sit this one out.

I am probably one of the few Americans to consider themselves a film connoisseur who has never seen this film. I have seen Prometheus, one of the sequels, before this one as a matter of fact. Even though Prometheus was widely panned, I enjoyed the story but knew I was missing something. After looking up some interpretations online, it was clear that it made sense why I was a little lost. After watching Scott’s film, it was also clear that there were many aspects of popular culture (the ending of Spaceballs, a facehugger plush at a friend’s house, and a variety of other things) that I was clearly uninformed about considering I had never seen this piece. I’m glad that I now know what that was all about.

On to the film.

So I have a few thoughts about what I saw. First, aside from the fact that I am not living in the 1970s, this film was relatively tame and boring for me. Once I figured out that it was a “boo!” movie, I recognized exactly where the boo moments were ahead of time and (even though I was watching it by myself) saying aloud, “and of course here is where it pops out.” It did, every time. Now, that is not to say that I can’t get into a film like that…as a matter of fact, I can brush aside disbelief in a second – I’m a geek – but in this case, I felt there was very little holding the story together. I didn’t care about the characters at all, and they were practically sculpted from an outline of Conrad’s archetypes – that is, two-dimensional and without personality. The only one I could get behind was Bilbo Baggins – the scientist crew member had a directive and everything, and there’s a twist about that, and then another, but when he ends up only making it halfway through the film and I am left with characters I don’t care about… Well, at one point I was just running down the clock.

My favorite part of the whole film was the ending for a variety of reasons. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was unsure (at the escape point) about how the resolution would play out once Weaver was on her own. What happened was pretty cool, and it felt genuinely satisfying when she did it…. As for the cat, well…

So back to my original sentiment. Is this considered so great because it was made in the year it was made, and audiences had different expectations? I have a feeling that is likely. Ultimately, I was bored. The tension, while dialed up, wasn’t that exciting for me. This was likely because the characters had nothing for me to care about aside from “will they get out?”  but it appears that is the main point.

The design of the film was incredible, however. The scenes where we were only allowed glimpses of the horror through the darkness, blending in, and the extensive use of strobe lights were terrifying, and H.R.Geiger’s creature and environment were truly intoxicatingly terrible… But if these are to take a backseat to good writing, that is where I feel cheated. I am glad I watched it, but I am more interested in hearing more about why people love it so much. I am not convinced it is simply the phallic monster stalking the beautiful, waifish woman, but if it is, the sexual imagery is absolutely ridiculous and overpowering. If it is the writing, well, I will have a hard time being convinced that it is actually effective – I’m sure Robert McKee would roll his eyes at the suggestion. I totally get the piece in the context of the year it came out, collecting legions of people enthralled with the production value and execution for the time. But, if it isn’t that…What IS it, then?

I am interested in the sequel, that I have already noticed is on the list. Let’s hope I care more about that one. After giving this two hours, I am sure I will care a little more – and also, that must be the one where Weaver comes face to face with it, right?

#1176 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is James Gunn’s exciting, dramatic, hilarious, and engaging interpretation of the more recent incantation of the Marvel comic book team. Focusing on a small team of outlaws whose goals, motivations, and reactions could not be any more disparate, their mission is to save the galaxy by reclaiming a device that would end everything in the wrong hands. Of course, it is often in the wrong hands – the guardians included. But this film is difficult to categorize into any one genre or style of film, making it accessible and enjoyable for just about all audiences (we watched it for the second time with our eight-year-old after deeming it was appropriate for him – and he loved it just as much as our parents in their sixties did). A brilliant, exciting, enjoyable, and most importantly, different addition to the superhero epoch we’re currently in. Even if all the rest of them disappeared tomorrow, there is no question that Guardians will remain as an excellent piece of cinema.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_(film)

 

Jennifer

This is everything you could ask for in a movie – smart, snappy dialogue, great character development, impressive but not relentless special effects and a very unlikely (but likable!) hero.

Guardians of the Galaxy is ridiculously fun film experience.  The movie zips along with a fantastic soundtrack.  I am not a huge fan of the typical superhero movie, but this movie has no typical superheroes.  Each scene is laced with just the right amount of humor and sarcasm, without going for an easy laugh or being too into itself.

We are very much looking forward to the sequel next month (the eight-year-old included!).

Garrett

First, this is probably my favorite of our images I have thrown together so far.

Second, James Gunn. I have been a fan of Gunn’s for a long time – completely separate from anything that he has made in the more mainstream film industry. Gunn is central to most of the independent Troma Team products of the past twenty years, and it is no surprise that Lloyd Kaufman has a blatant and beautiful momentary cameo in the GOTG prison sequence. Given his sense of humor, the budget of Guardians, the genre and subject matter of the film, and the final product, Guardians of the Galaxy would not have been the same with the vision of any other director. Gunn was simply perfect.

Finally, I absolutely love this film. It isn’t entirely what one might consider one of the 1001 movies to see before you die, but I completely agree with its place on the list. When we first watched it a few years ago, I remember being upset that we missed it in the movie theater. The film has humor, soul, action, adventure, and characters you can’t help but love. Ultimately, the beauty of this film stands on a solid foundation of having great writing, great characters, great direction, and great actors who all work together to gestate a little exciting comic masterpiece of action, adventure, and heart. I will surely return to this film again and again, and I am really looking forward to Volume 2.