Documentary Movie Review: Urbanized (2011) #AtoZChallenge

This is my entry for “U” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “U” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Unforgivable Blackness and Unrest.

Title: Urbanized
Release Date: October 26, 2011
Director: Gary Hustwit
Production Company: Swiss Dots

This movie is a quick jaunt through cities around the world to discuss contemporary projects in urban designs from the director of Helvetica.  This includes bus rapid transit and bike lanes in Bogota, Colombia, safer routes to walk in the Khayelitsha township in South Africa, the High Line project in New York City, participatory design of low-income housing in Chile, and community gardens in a depopulated Detroit.

The movie also focuses on some bad urban design such as the inhuman scale of modernist Brasília, Brazil or the misguided attempts to rebuild New Orleans’ Ninth Ward with Southern California style bungalows.  The movie takes a moment to sum up the famous battle of New York City planner Robert Moses and urbanist Jane Jacobs. And lest one think that all urban planning is positive and welcomed, the movie concludes with a conflict in Stuttgart, Germany over a plan to redevelop a railyard and train station that received intense opposition from local residents.

As someone with an interest in urbanism, most of this movie was very familiar to me, but it could serve as a good introduction to novice audiences.  The way the movie skips from project to project means that it has no real focus or thesis statement.  But it also resembles the urban experience in that there’s a little of everything together getting mixed together and sharing ideas.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Un Chien Andalou (1929) #atozchallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Un Chien Andalou
Release Date: June 6, 1929
Director: Luis Buñuel
Production Company: Les Grands Films Classiques

First things first, by all the rules of alphabetization this movie should be filed under “C” not “U.”  But there’s not much that makes sense about this movie so it may as well be here.  For example, writing a “synopsis” of this movie would require it having a standard plot.  Instead, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí populate the film with surrealistic visions and nightmare imagery.

The movie is famed for scenes of a man sharpening a razor and then slicing a woman’s eyeball. Another man pulls two grand pianos with dead donkeys and two surprised looking priests.  There are no real defined characters or places, and much of what we see is horrifying.  Buñuel and Dali plumb the depths of the subconscious as well as giving a goose to the film industry of the possibilities of what film could do.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This movie was my “white whale” for some time.  I read about it in a book for my high school film studies book and it struck me as something so fantastically weird for the 1920s.  Not too long afterwards Pixies released the song “Debaser” which is inspired by Un Chien Andalou.  It wasn’t until the early 2000s when I finally saw the movie at the Harvard Film Archive.  I remember trying to figure out the plot and symbolism for the first five or ten minutes before cottoning on that I was missing the point.

What Did I Remember?:

The eyeball slicing, the piano/donkeys/priests, and the man sort of dressed like a nun riding a bicycle around Paris.

What Did I Forget?:

The ants, the severed hand, the woman in the street, the sexual assault, the nudity, and the beach.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

It changed the way films are made and is the ancestor of much independent and arthouse cinema.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

A lot of the ensuing independent and arthouse cinema is made by people who are quite full of themselves.

Is It a Classic?:

Does it matter?

Rating: ****

One More All-Time Favorite Movie Starting With U:

  1. UP

What is your favorite movie starting with U? Any guesses for my V movie (hint: one of its biggest stars is a famous West coast city)?  Let me know in the comments.