The Informer

The Informer

One traitor can destroy an army.

The Informer was quite the talk of the town when it came out; director John Ford had been given a micro-budget for the production, and the film he turned out on that budget was one of the biggest contenders at the Academy Awards that year. It stands to reason then that the film would be one of the year’s best, at least from as close to an objective viewpoint as one can try and manage. I finally sat down to watch it today, and at a mere 90 minutes, I felt like it would be a simple and rewarding watch. What I got from the film instead was… merely okay, at best. It’s a small-minded picture; it had to be on the budget that was given it, but I guess I was expecting a little more substance than what I got. Ford directs the hell out of it, but this film is about 45 minutes of plot stretched to feature length, and it feels like it could’ve been covered in a weekly episodical rather than a full-length picture.

Gypo Nolan is a poor Irishman with nary a cent to his name, trying to make his way in Ireland with his girl Katie after being kicked out of the Irish rebel army. One day, he finds his old IRA pal Frankie McPhillip, who has a 20 pound bounty on his head, in town visiting his family in secret, and Gypo, desperate for the money to send him and Katie to America, decides to inform the police on Frankie and collect the bounty. Frankie is killed trying to escape, and the still-active IRA is now committed to finding out who tipped off the police on Frankie before the informer rats out the whole organization. Much has been made of the small budget Ford was given to make this film, and how he went on and won the Oscar for Best Director anyway; truly, Ford achieves a hell of a lot with the little he had. Mostly, this was done by Ford keeping the film as close-quartered as he could, and the focus even smaller, creating a strange intimacy to the proceedings, almost as if there is no world outside the confines of the action on the screen. Almost as focused as the camera is the production design, filling the screen with smoke and grime and filth so encompassing it feels inescapable. For all that the film does manage to do, however, I couldn’t help but feel that the plot and script of the film could’ve used with a little bit of beefing up, to put it plainly. Without spoiling basically the entire picture, the film covers a single night of incredibly straightforward events, and makes it out to be much more than what it really is, with the effect that the film feels spread far too thinly to be of real substantive value. Add to it Victor McLaglen, whose acting consisted of largely coming off as drunk and as Irish as he could, and you have a film that only barely gets by on the sheer effort of the production team alone.

According to Academy records, this was one of the few years that the films that came in second and third in the voting for Best Picture were also disclosed along with the winner, and The Informer apparently came in second at the Oscars for the big one. For the life of me, I’m really unable to discern what it is about this film that made so many people fall in love with it. I’ll give Ford his due credit, and indeed I’d be hard-pressed to argue against his win for Best Director, but aside from him and the gritty production value, there was only half a film’s worth of value here, and what value there was was stretched paper-thin. Even McLaglan’s win for Best Actor felt undeserved, given only because the three-way nomination for Mutiny on the Bounty’s leads must have split the voting between them. Ford’s done better work, to be sure, and this absolutely feels like an early picture of his; it’s worth a look if you’re going on a John Ford bender, but otherwise, there’s not really enough here to warrant even the scant running time it has, and I’m actually sorry to have to say that about it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Look of Silence (Senyap)

The Look of Silence

It’s over. Everything is safe now. The past is past.

When the 11th edition of the list came out, which added Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing, it seemed like just another documentary the editors keep trying to add to the pantheon of the Book, even after I watched and reviewed it. So when this newest edition deemed fit to add Oppenheimer’s follow-up, The Look of Silence, and replace the original with it, it seemed a slightly incoherent decision, much akin to the swapping of the two Aileen Wuornos documentaries; what more could Oppenheimer’s follow-up add to the list that the original had missed? Eerily, now that I’ve seen it, that question already had an answer from my review of Oppenheimer’s original, which (aside from the conclusion) I had found purposeful but largely unaffective; the emotional impact to Oppenheimer’s investigation on the topic had been largely benign until the end. Not so here. The Look of Silence, for me, succeeded where The Act of Killing didn’t; it made me feel what these people were going through, these people whose relatives had been killed, and the impact of their confrontation with those responsible was absolutely there.

A man, left largely identity-less save for a brief few moments where he is called by the name Adi, was born two years after his brother was killed in the Indonesian purge of suspected communists covered in Oppenheimer’s first film. Here, instead of following the people who carried out the killings, we follow the other side; the victims, or rather their families, in the form of Adi, who meets with the people directly and indirectly responsible for his brother’s killing under the pretense of an eye exam. These people, which disturbingly includes his uncle, as well as a man whose interview also includes his daughter, show no remorse for the killings or their participation, offering only excuses and reasonings behind their actions, though the daughter of the one man is visibly shaken when she hears her father describe some of the killings in detail. Throughout, we also see Adi care for his elderly mother and father, whom he recounts his meetings with the killers periodically, and we also see him watch footage from presumably the first film that directly recounts from the killers’ own mouths the murder of his brother. The Look of Silence shares much in common with its predecessor, as almost anyone will easily infer. Both films meander a great deal, not seeming like a documentary at all, but more of a fictional account that happens to be shot with real-life footage. Both films offer a very frank look at their subject matter, mostly through merely presenting the footage and letting the events happening on the screen be all the power that need be there. But where the impact had been largely missing or relegated to superficial layers in The Act of Killing, here the power of Adi’s actions in meeting with these people palpably washes off the screen, mostly through Adi himself, who remains mostly stoic during his interviewing the men responsible for his brother’s death, save one interview near the end when he visibly tears up during his questioning. There were also a few sections of film shot of what appeared to be some interesting twitching stones or seeds, which I wasn’t entirely certain what the purpose was or why they were included, but was worth mentioning.

The Look of Silence is a documentary, by definition, but at the same time, it is not. This is not merely the documenting of something that happened; this is the exploration of something that happened, and the lasting effects of what did happen, as well as a portent of potential things that may happen again. It doesn’t twist its viewpoint or try and make you think a certain way about what it covers, like most documentaries nowadays end up doing. Rather, it does what a documentary should do: it fills your head with thoughts, and then leaves your brain to try and make some sense of them. I felt a great deal during this viewing, and considering how aloof and removed I tend to be from documentaries, that is saying a lot. I’m not objectively sure which of Oppenheimer’s documentaries is more deserving of a spot on the list, but emotionally, I can certainly cast my vote for this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

David Copperfield

David Copperfield

Nothing attempted, nothing gained.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Charles Dickens’ famous novel, and thus I didn’t have much recollection of David Copperfield and the events contained herein. I think that might be the real reason I didn’t take to this cinematic adaptation all that well. David Copperfield (the film) is yet another Best Picture nominee adapted from a literary source, and yet another nominee directed by George Cukor, and these two things combined in the early years of the Academy threatened to turn me off of the film completely before I’d started it. When I did finally begin the film, I needn’t have worried about not being interested in it because of preconceptions; the film itself was merely standard and run-of-the-mill enough for me to end up not interested in it all that much anyways.

David Copperfield is ostensibly a biopic, albeit one for a fictional character, and thus the plot largely consists of young David having event after event happen to him, which he tries to take in stride or overcome, as he matures into adulthood. Now, the original novel is very likely part of the reason why this type of story is so littered throughout American writing, and cinema as a byproduct, so I can’t hold it against the book and the film too much, but what I could hold against it was how flat everything felt. This was a passion project for producer David O. Selznick, and as can generally happen with passion projects, they can either be stellar, infused with energy and drive for the material, or they can be entirely by-the-numbers, driven solely by the will of the single mind seeking the goal it wants, and David Copperfield fits squarely into the latter category. The film comes off as existing for its own sake and little else, and I really couldn’t have cared less about anything that happened in it, which was a shame considering how beloved Dickens’ original work has been over the years. The cast and their performances were able, though a bit overacted in more than a few sections, save for one standout example I never would have thought; W.C. Fields, who plays Mr. Micawber, and who is by and large the most memorable of the supporting players. As for the titular character and the young actor that plays him, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Freddie Bartholomew in a film, and I wasn’t expecting him to be so unlikable on the screen, though maybe it was just a circumstance of the British dialogue and the necessity of its deliverance. It had also been a while since I’ve seen a film of the 1930s with an actual musical score, so it seemed rather intrusive whenever it appeared, which was more often than I’ve been used to.

I really was expecting a little more than what I got with this; I went into it with only superficial expectations, and ended up bored and without care for the whole two hours of the film’s running time. Fields’ surprising semi-dramatic turn notwithstanding, there really isn’t a whole lot of reason to see this one, unless you’re a fan of Dickens or the novel in question, in which case this may indeed be one of the better adaptations of this work (not that I’ve seen too many versions to compare, mind you). I just felt listless watching this, not caring about the characters or anything that happened to them, letting the events of the film roll over me like rain off a rooftop and not even feeling damp after it happened. Your mileage may vary, but Cukor’s work has generally left me withdrawn, and this was no different.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

The Big Short

The Big Short

Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.

One Christmas, my brother got my dad a book called The Big Short, all about the recent financial crisis of 2007-08 and how a certain few individuals came out ahead by basically betting that the whole system was going to collapse, and when it actually did, they made billions. My dad, being in the financial world, loved the book, and wanted us all to read it as well, though I never did; I just didn’t think it would be interesting or accessible to someone like me. Then I heard they were making a film from the book, and I started to wonder how they would go about doing it. The film came out, and I didn’t go see it; aside from what I’d heard about the clever and innovative style the film was told in, I didn’t think it would hold all that much of my interest, or it would be too over-my-head. Now, that it’s been added to the 1001 list, as well as getting a nomination for Best Picture, I’ve basically been forced to see it. So, now, now that I’ve seen it, what do I have to say about it? I don’t really know. I don’t know if I can put my reaction to this film into words. But I’m going to try. I do feel that I should at least try to do that.

The ensemble cast, featuring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale, among others, are all involved in the financial world of Wall Street banking; not the hyper-stylized world that we’ve come to know from films like Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street, but the real world of banking as it actually was (any deviations in the film from what really happened in reality are even lampshaded by the characters breaking the fourth wall and explaining the artistic license as well as what actually did happen) circa 2005 or so. One by one, each of the ensemble becomes aware of the true nature of the “bubble” that is the American housing market and what the general entire financial system is propped up on, or figures it out themselves, and one by one, being in the financial sector, they all try and figure out a way to profit off of the impending collapse, or popping, of that bubble. Do they succeed? Yes. Is it worth it? That, dear readers, is the real question. I’ll talk about the actual film itself, and how it was made; director Adam McKay, who until now had largely been known for his comedy work and collaborations with Will Ferrell, delivers a cinematic explanation of the housing market’s collapse in the only way he can: through subversion. Characters, as I mentioned, frequently break the fourth wall, and there are several segments featuring actors completely removed from the events of the film explaining financial concepts to the audience. The film is structured as a docu-drama, but with just enough of a wry twist thrown into it to add that extra layer of “I can’t believe this really happened” to it all. And that’s the real aspect of what makes this film a winner. This film knows what it is, what it’s about, who the characters are, what kind of people the characters really are underneath; this film knows everything, and rather than just explain it straight, or even through subtext and metaphor to make it palatable, the film takes it several layers further. And that’s the point; this isn’t supposed to be palatable. You’re not supposed to relate to these characters, or root for the heroes and boo the villains. This is real life. This really happened, and the film, more than anything, wants every person who watches it to understand that, and understand it the best they can.

After the credits started to roll, I really was unsure of how to go about writing this review. I tried to think of things to say, about the direction or the editing or the cast or anything of the kind… but I couldn’t. All I could do was feel. I felt angry. I felt upset. I felt sickened. But more than anything, I just felt hopeless. This really happened. This actually happened, and everybody involved with making it happen got off completely free (except for literally one guy who went to jail, who’s mentioned at the end of the film), and they didn’t care. They just didn’t care, as long as they got what they wanted. This film gets a recommendation from me for similar reasons that I recommended Citizenfour last year; I think– no, I feel… that it is imperative that everyone who can see this film should see this film. The obligation to casting a light on these real life events through cinema that I didn’t feel with Spotlight, I felt with this film. Is it just me? It could be, maybe. But in that small area of my mind, or my heart, that still has some positive thoughts to say about humanity and people in general, I really do hope that it isn’t just me. We have to be better than this.


Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Why can’t he be less of a soldier and more of a man?

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer has one of the more odd and unwieldy titles I’ve come across. Taking that into account, I expected the film itself to be a little less… by-the-numbers, I guess. Lancer (for short) is the kind of film that never once thinks about coloring outside the lines, and as a result, the film as a whole is so rudimentary that even those things that should be exemplary features end up coming off as mostly featureless instead. This is one of those films that is such a smear of grey in every facet that one wonders what the point of even watching it is. I’ll certainly be one to say: you wouldn’t be all that wrong in wondering so.

The film deals with the 41st regiment of the Bengal Lancers, stationed in India during the British Raj. Specifically, it deals with the trio of leads McGregor, Forsythe, and Stone, three lieutenants in the service of the 41st who find themselves at the center of a plot by rebel Indians to steal a cache of ammunition for their own use, and the heroics the men must undertake to stop the plot and capture the rebel leaders. My plot synopsis is rather meager, but then again, that’s really what the film feels like; meager. The filmmakers seemed scared to actually try and do something unique and special with this film, instead being merely content to follow the formula and hope that would be enough to make a successful picture. Even some of the scenes in the latter half of the film, when the trio are in enemy hands and must figure out a way to escape, were reserved at best in their choice of how to depict the action of the characters. For a film that is billed as one of the best action-adventure films of the 1930s, there was little action or adventure to be found, save for the last 15 minutes or so when everything is forced into rushing headlong into the conclusion of the film as is akin to so many of the films of this era. Not to mention how the film itself seemed to be far too akin to Here Comes the Navy, in that the bulk of the supposed entertainment value, especially early in the film, comes from watching the main stars generally being dicks to each other for very thin and shallow reasons, before they somehow become comrades and friends in arms for basically the exact same reasons, so yeah, the film was kinda sideways in that regard.

I’m really at a quandary as to this one. It was okay, but at what line does being merely okay serve as being good enough, especially for a Best Picture nominee? I guess it was the ennui that this film’s construction seemed to impart upon me that made me swing to the one side of that particular line; if a Best Picture nominee is merely okay, then why indeed is it nominated at all? I can only blame the expanded category for this, and as I’ve said with poorer nominees in the past, I’d be heavily surprised if this ends up above the fold in my ranking of this year’s field. It’s not bad, but even less than an hour after watching it, I feel like I’m already starting to largely forget the film, and that absolutely does not the best picture of the year make.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10



If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

I’ve made it a pseudo-tradition to start each new batch of 1001 films with the Best Picture winner, considering every winner of the award has made it onto the list for every revision so far, even if they haven’t lasted later revisions. I suspect that will likely be the case with Spotlight, which became the first film since the 1950s to win fewer than three Oscars while also winning Best Picture, snagging only the big one and Original Screenplay. Not that Spotlight is a poor film, because it’s actually very good, mostly thanks to being nearly perfectly made. But, and here’s the big kicker with Spotlight, just because it’s nearly perfectly made doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wildly entertaining. For all that Spotlight does, and does right, it fails in one of the more important redeeming qualities that, to me, a film should have: rewatchability.

Spotlight is so concise and so finely hewn that for once I won’t have to spend a third of this paragraph for the plot summary: the film deals with the real life reporting work done by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team on the child abuse scandals in the Catholic church system of the city; who knew what, who perpetrated what actions, and how far up the ladder the knowledge of everything really went to. A high concept film this most certainly is, and it’s helped along incredibly by an awesome script, deft and subtle direction and editing, a focus on its subject matter like a sniper scope, and probably the most solid cast of any of the Best Picture nominees that year. Let’s go over each of these; first off, the script, which is the bedrock for everything this film manages to get right, which is a hell of a lot, so kudos to the screenwriters right off the bat. One of the writers was director Tom McCarthy, whose direction is subtle and light-handed, often picking and setting up for shots that are only in the film for a single cut, and so finely cut together and edited that not a frame of the film is out of place. What I especially liked about Spotlight was that, despite the subject matter, nothing in this film is sensationalized for dramatic effect; it presents the film’s material to us as straight as it can, and lets that be all the film needs to do. This isn’t a film about the Catholic church’s cover-up of child abuse by a percentage of the priests of Boston, as compelling as that would be; this film is about journalism, and the film keeps its focus squarely on that as its defining principle, much to the film’s ultimate benefit. Of course, none of this would be much without a cast that knows what to do and how to do it for every second of the running time, and every single person in this cast impressed the hell out of me, so much so that I can’t name one person over any other for fear of diminishing the work of the cast as a whole.

So, with all the glowing praise I just gave for Spotlight and all the film does, why the rating I’m giving it? Why the somewhat tepid opening paragraph? One reason, and one reason only: as good as Spotlight is, it’s not really worthwhile; it’s not a necessary film. Sure, it’s a great viewing, but I honestly cannot say that you need to go out of your way to see this. Spotlight is a machine of a picture, tightly wound and well oiled, but that’s all that really can be said; it gets the job done, and it does it very well, but once the job is done and over with, you have no reason to ever use the machine a second time. That, more than anything, is why I think this Best Picture winner will likely go the route of Argo and get dropped from the 1001 list rather quickly for a winner of that award, maybe in the next two years, if not the next one. Great film, with all the elements of filmmaking at the peak of their craft, but it just wasn’t substantial enough to really make me stand up for it.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

1001 Movies: 2016 Update

Yay for new movies!

The new 1001 List is out, and we’ve got 10 new films from 2014-15. I’ve seen a small handful, and know where to get the remaining ones I haven’t seen yet, so this should be fairly easy to knock out. No real opinion as of yet on whether this year is stronger or weaker than the additions of last year, so I guess I’ll have to revisit that question once I’ve seen all of the new ones. My list on this site is updated, and I’ll get to the wiki right after this goes up as well.

I think I’m going to stagger the 1001 additions with my current Best Picture odyssey; I’m going to aim for each Sunday for the new 1001 films, as I did last year, and in the meantime I’ll keep going with the Best Picture nominees. Might be kinda weird for the next two months or so until I get caught up on the new 10, but hey; movies are movies, right? Well, as long as they don’t suck.

Thanks to those involved with getting the info on the new additions out to everyone; you know who you are, and the community thanks you.🙂