Movie Project

Tiyana’s Unwitting Movie Project: 21st Century Films Set In/Inspired by the Early 1900s

You may know that I’m a lover of the dieselpunk aesthetic–something I didn’t know until fairly recently.  Looking back on many of the movies I’ve been watching over the past 3-4 years I’ve realized they were all set during a certain era I seem to be drawn to more than others, and my WIP reflects this.

So I’ve put together a list of movies I thought were enjoyable and were either set in or inspired by the early 1900s up to the early 1950s–though, they aren’t necessarily dieselpunk.  Some you have probably seen, though some you may not have!  Hope you enjoy.  (Note: All the italicized one-sentence summaries are from The Internet Movie Database.)

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) — Rating: PG

“A young adventurer named Milo Thatch joins an intrepid group of explorers to find the mysterious lost continent of Atlantis.” 6.4/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set in 1914.  Okay, who doesn’t love an adventure tale about the legendary city of Atlantis?  Though it is far from Disney’s best, the animation was spectacular and the story entertains.

It is what it is, folks.  Love it or leave it.

Atonement (coming soon!)

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec/The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) — Rating: not available (but I’d have to say R because of a brief scene of nudity)

“An adventure set in the early party of the 20th century and focused on a popular novelist and her dealings with would-be suitors, the cops, monsters, and other distractions.” 6.0/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set in Paris during 1912.  More coming soon! (Though, I have written a review of this before on my blog.)

The Aviator (coming soon!)

A Woman in Berlin (coming soon!)

Black Book (2006) — Rating: R

“In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.” 8.0/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Initially set in 1956 but then flashes back to 1944 for the majority of the story.  A pretty serious film, aiming for realism.  Several different languages are spoken throughout the film; English subtitles are provided where necessary (on the Amazon Instant Video version, anyway).  Also, there are a few moments of stark nudity and nude interactions, heh, so you’ve been forewarned.  Lots of other graphic elements, but overall was a very good story.

Charlotte Gray (coming soon!)

The Children of Huang Shi (2008) — Rating: R

About young British journalist, George Hogg, who with the assistance of a courageous Australian nurse, saves a group of orphaned children during the Japanese occupation of China in 1937.” 6.9/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: As mentioned above, set in China during 1937.  Based off the true story of a British journalist who finds his purpose abroad.  I thought Radha Mitchel did a good job playing the role of a hardened, weary nurse.  Visually, it was beautiful.  Many reviewers felt the script itself was flat, though.

Watch it if you want to be taken to a different part of the world during a different time and experience a story that, more or less, happened in real life.

Dogville (coming soon!)

The Hessen Conspiracy/The Hessen Affair (2009) — Rating: unavailable (but I’d say R for nudity and violence)

In 1945 a group of victorious American officers discover a stash of German jewels and try to fence them in New York.” 5.4/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set partly in Germany and partly in America (1945).  Okay, so this movie isn’t known for its top-notch reviews.  Many reviewers have complained that this film moves too slowly, but I didn’t have much of a problem with the pace.  (Though, maybe it was longer than the slower pace warranted.)  It you’re looking for a bit of fun and some period detail, then you might enjoy it.

Hey, it’s entertainment.

Hugo (coming soon!)

Inglourious Basterds (2009) — Rating: R

“In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as ‘The Basterds’ are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.” 8.4/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set during 1941.  Bloody, gory and completely speculative.  Lots of foreign language happening.  Even so, Tarantino’s dialogue still shines here, showcasing several epic monologues from various characters.  Christoph Waltz was amazing as the daunting Nazi colonel; his character was one of those villains you just luv to hate.  Diane Kruger gets to showcase her German and is lovely, as always.  Mélanie Laurent is fantastic at playing the Jewish victim, Shoshanna.

Gets pretty ridiculous by the second half, especially with Brad Pitt’s “Italian,” but this movie is just a hoot.

(Peter Jackson’s) King Kong (2005) — Rating: PG-13

“In 1933 New York, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his cast and hired ship crew to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who is immediately smitten with leading lady Ann Darrow.” 7.6/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set during the Great Depression (1933).  Naomi Watts is magical as the naive actress and performer Ann Darrow, struggling to make it in the entertainment industry.  Even more amazing his her connection with King Kong.  May not be considered a masterpiece, but it surely has its moments.

A journey to a mysterious faraway island, battles between giant creatures, exotic adventure… What’s not to love?  (Okay, one minor thing: the length.  It runs for just over 3 hours and you will definitely be aware of this.  Still, you may love it anyway.)

Lust, Caution (2007) — Rating: NC-17

“An espionage thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai, in which a young woman, Wang Jiazhi, gets swept up in a dangerous game of emotional intrigue with a powerful political figure, Mr. Yee.” 7.6/10.0 – IMDB.

Comments: Another flashback-style story set first in 1942 then later, mostly, in 1938.  One of the tracks from Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack for the film entitled “The End of Innocence” pretty much sums up the life of the main character, Wong Chia Chi.  Also a serious film.  Follows the story of a troupe of young actors as they attempt to assassinate a high-ranking Japanese collaborator.

This film had me up to the ending, which I’m still disappointed by, but somehow I still love it overall.

The Mummy (1999) — Rating: PG13

“An American serving in the French Foreign Legion on an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Hamunaptra accidentally awakens a Mummy.” 6.9/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set during 1923, though there are flashbacks to the Egypt of 1290BC.  All right, so this one isn’t technically a 21st century film, but it’s on the cusp and is close enough for me.  I don’t care what anyone says: This movie is a classic.  Not because it is a masterpiece of acting and spectacular cinematography but because of the ridiculous phenomenon that ensued in its wake.  Universal Studios saw reason to build an entire attraction based off this movie series; it deserves attention.

One thing is for certain: It will entertain you and probably even make you laugh–no matter how many times you’ve watched it before.  And if you haven’t watched at least the first one yet, then, I must ask: Where have you been for the past twelve years?!  (The rest of the series seemed to just degrade in quality, though the last was by far the worst, imo.)

The Painted Veil (2006) — Rating: PG-13

“A British medical doctor fights a cholera outbreak in a small Chinese village, while also being trapped at home in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife.” 7.5/10 – IMDB

Comments: based off the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, written in 1924.  Not sure if the exact date of the story is also 1924, but it’s clear it’s set during the 1920s in London and China.

Naomi Watts (one of my personal favorite actresses) plays Kitty, a woman who is goaded by her parents into marrying a bacteriologist named Walter.  The viewer suffers no delusions that their marriage is a happy one, so when Kitty involves herself in an affair with a married man (Liev Schreiber), Walter, played by Edward Norton, gives her an ultimatum: support him in China as he assists with the cholera epidemic or suffer the shame of divorce under the accusation of adultery.  Grudgingly, Kitty decides to accompany him abroad.

It is a story of love and heroism, and both Watts and Norton give convincing performances as a couple struggling to maintain their marriage.  The setting is lovely, though the threat of cholera keeps it from seeming too picturesque.  Overall, I think it’s a wonderful film.

Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno (2006) — Rating: R

“In the fascist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.” 8.4/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: As stated above, takes place in 1944 Spain, post-Civil War/WWII–a rare setting, I think, for American viewers.  In Spanish with subtitles available.  Very, very grim tale.  (Sergi López’s performance as the sadistic Fascist army captain is particularly grim; it’s downright scary.)  I’ve heard it described as “a fairy tale for adults,” and that’s exactly what it is.

Even so, it is a beautiful tale of a young girl named Ofelia who tries to help her pregnant though sickly mother.  She encounters a faun within a labyrinth in the woodlands and is told that she is a princess who may journey to the realm of her deceased father, though first she must prove herself by completing three daunting tasks.  No small feat, as the captain is her stepfather and constantly stands in opposition to Ofelia’s efforts.

As mature as fantasy gets.

Shutter Island (2010) — Rating: R

“Drama set in 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding nearby.” 8.0/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: As mentioned above, set during 1954–a little later than the others, but it still has that earlier style I like.  Leonardo DiCaprio has grown on me over the years with The Aviator, Blood Diamond, this movie and later Inception… (And now he’s supposed to play The Great (Jay) Gatsby!)  He was pretty good in this movie.  I really wasn’t sure who to believe by the end: him or the staff at the psychiatric ward.

First-rate psychological thriller/mystery.  It was a little long, but it still managed to keep my attention.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) — Rating: PG (one of the few truly kid-friendly selections on this list, haha)

“After New York City receives a series of attacks from giant flying robots, a reporter teams up with a pilot in search of their origin, as well as the reason for the disappearances of famous scientists around the world.” 6.3/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set during an alternate 1939.  Seriously, what’s not to love about this film?!  I don’t care what any critics says: You have to watch this movie, if you haven’t already.  Even if you have, I’d watch it again, and again, and again…

End of story.

Sophie Scholl (coming soon!)

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Now, other movies that don’t really fall into the “21st century” production timeline but are close enough and (I think) should be noted:

The Rocketeer (1991) — Rating: PG

“A young pilot stumbles onto a prototype jetpack that allows him to become a high flying masked hero.” 6.2/10.0 – IMDB

Comments: Set during 1928 in Los Angeles; based off the comic books.  What can I say?  It’s fun, fun, and more fun.

Can you handle it?


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