The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

The Cook, TheThief, HisWife & HerLover

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – 1989

Director – Peter Greenaway

Starring – Helen Mirren, Richard Bohringer, and Michael Gambon

By far, the most dramatic visual statement a film can make is the use of color.  The use of color in a film, any film, immediately sets for the audience and then maintains the tone of the story throughout the rest of the film.  Amongst all of the important elements of filmmaking, plot, acting, directing, art direction, editing, etc., the choice of how to present your film’s color scheme is arguably the most immediate and subjective choice you can make.  A very washed out color palette says something completely different from say a very saturated one, or even a monochromatic one.  From the first frame the audience is instantly on board and facing the direction you’ve pointed them.

Despite all the nastiness, pain and anger this film has on display, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is such a lush and visually sumptuous exercise in color use, that a critique or review could be written solely on its use and impact alone (although I’ll try to touch on other stuff too).  Peter Greenaway, angry with the political climate in Britain loaded this film with vitriol aimed at the Thatcher government that was in power during the making of this film in the 80s.  Thanks to my limited knowledge of 1980’s England, the not so subtle symbolism and rather heavy-handed commentary on the state of his home nation was all but completely over my head.  Thankfully, however, that didn’t take away from the overall message of the film, nor on the long-lasting aftertaste it left in my brain.

To start with, I should mention that the entire film is shot in the confines of or immediately outside of a fancy french restaurant, each area of which is dressed in its own specific color.  The exterior of the restaurant is blue, the kitchen green, the dining room red, and the ladies room is white.  Not only that, but each of the character’s clothes change to match the setting when they go from one to the next. (ie: as a character moves from the kitchen to the dining room, their clothes change from green to red, etc…) Not only does this stay constant, but each color is indicative of the character who dominates that setting.  The blazing, angry gangster holds court in the dining room.  The ladies room represents a sanctuary for the adulterous couple.  The kitchen is the realm of the cook, and the outside represents the real world.  There is one exception, however.  Michael, the rather nebbish man who captures the eye of the gangster’s wife, is always clad in a rather drab brown color.  He is the exception to the color rule, he is his own constant.

The thief of the title refers to Albert Spica, mercilessly and ravenously played to the hilt by Michael Gambon.  Spica is a gangster of the most reprehensible variety, used to getting his way through intimidation, anger, and violence.  Spica dominates and controls (or tries to) everyone around him.  While I doubt very much that Thatcher and her cronies went so far as to actually spread shit on her enemies, taking what was theirs, and leaving them bloodied and broken, he apparently represents her, and her government.

His much abused, much put-upon wife Georgina, played somehow still gracefully by Helen Mirren, stands for the trampled citizenry of Britannia.  Her dutiful acceptance and depressing outlook on this relationship is indicative of most abusive relationships whether they’re between two people or on a much larger, country-sized scale.  This subservient behavior that typifies Georgina from the beginning of the film, is immediately thrown off track when she connects with a quiet, lonely soul who represents everything that her gangster is not.  To Georgina, Michael represents safety, happiness (or at the very least less sadness), and something more than simple survival.  The first half of this romance is purely visual, as it transcends the boundaries represented by the different rooms and their colors.  It is fully halfway into the film before we even hear Michael utter his first word.  As I mentioned before, his is the only characters’ color scheme that never changes.  He wears a consistently brown colored suit throughout the film, which helps exemplify the inherent stability, and staid nature of his character.

The cook, of the film’s title, acts as an overseer.  Not so much an omnipotent god as an observer.  He is privy to more information than everyone else in the film, but unlike a simple observer, he does tend to meddle a bit.  Since he has a rather strong dislike, with good reason, for the brash, un-refined gangster that has hijacked his restaurant, he helps to facilitate, and even protect the blossoming love between Georgina and Michael.  Where as Michael has limited to no ability to stand up to Spica, the Cook is at times outright defiant.  He is more than willing to poke this dangerous man’s ego with a stick, because the thing he loves most (his restaurant) has already been taken from him, and he has little left to lose, save his dignity.

The film is certainly bit heavy handed, however, I don’t think it would have had the same impact or effect if it had been treated otherwise.  Large bold strokes are required here to convey the hurt, the anger, and the sadness of this film.  It was said by another essayist that the nudity of the film isn’t so much revealing as it is exposing.  This couldn’t be more true.  The numerous sexual encounters between Georgina and Michael are equally about opening up, showing off flaws, and fear of trust, as they are about intimacy, arousal, and lust.  The glamour and sensuality of it isn’t gone really, but juxtaposed with the violence and inhumanity demonstrated by Gambon’s Spica, it has a much more comforting effect.  It makes them, and us, feel safe and connected, and what a wonderful way to use sex in a film.

With everything it has to say, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover really needs to be watched more than once to glean all you can from it.  Despite the difference in tone and message, and despite the rather disparate nature of the films I’m about to compare it to, there is a definite connection between this film and something like the Three Color Trilogy (Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge), by Krzysztof Kieslowski, the films of Jean Pierre Jeunet (especially Amelie), and to a much different yet no less important extent, some of the films of Paul Schrader, especially Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters for it’s use of color, Affliction for it’s use of tone and message, and Auto Focus for it’s mixing of both of these things.  This film is defintely worthy of your attention.  I was certainly glad I gave it mine.

Artists and Models (1955)

Artists and Models -1955

Director – Frank Tashlin

Starring – Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dorothy Malone, and Shirley MacLaine

So I’m gonna try (and more than likely fail) to review this movie without writing it off as simply a farcical exercise in showcasing Jerry Lewis’ one character that he does lumped together with a few opportunities for Dean Martin to sing. Frankly it was more of a talent show than it was a movie, but the question remains…is it worth it? No. No, is the answer.

The real difficulty with trying to keep this review about the higher brow aspects of a film like this, is that it’s really only about the momentary gag. Each bit in the film doesn’t build it self upon a story or even upon a theme, but simply builds itself on the last joke. Once the scene ends, it basically starts from scratch with only the loose frame-work of the Martin and Lewis characters being roommates.  This creates a rather herky-jerky, start-stop style for the story, and makes if very difficult to treat it otherwise.

Oh sure there is a tiny progression in story concerning the love interests, but it’s really more so Dino can sing silky love songs and Jerry Lewis can play embarrassed, and awkward with his famous, functionally retarded character. Each scene of this talent show technically contains the same characters, but none of them are bound by the rules of reality. Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself here…the story.

The story is simple, two guys live together in an apartment. One is an artist that sings and the other is…a sidekick? I’m not sure what the other one is really. It doesn’t matter, because the artist is no good as an artist, he would rather sing and try to woo his neighbor from a few flights down, and the side kick is simply there to eat paint chips and ham it up at every opportunity.  Half of the film is taken up by the kooky (I say kooky in a condescending way, not in a raucous and fun sort of way.) sight gags and slap stickery, which leaves the other half to develop the love story with the neighbor.

That neighbor coincidentally has a roommate as well, so it’s a perfect double date situation, except for the fact that the fantastic Shirley MacLaine is stuck with Jerry Lewis as a romantic counterpart.  The rest of the story involves something with getting a job at a comic book publisher, a singing and dancing number, brainwashing, and secret agents looking to get the code to some missiles out of the head of Jerry Lewis. So…not too much.

For all the grousing that I’ve done up to this point, the movie wasn’t truly terrible.  I was able to watch it in one sitting without turning it off, I paid attention the whole time, and most importantly (I guess) I remember what happened despite seeing it about a month ago.  That being said, it wasn’t worth my time in doing all of those things either, rather the movie just sort of stuck in my brain, unwanted and unbidden.  The acting, story and comedy was all rather second, if not third-rate.  Save for one scene, the bathtub/phone call scene, the film was never able to get a laugh out of me, and I only laughed during the aforementioned scene because it seemed so ludicrous that Jerry Lewis would not only just walk in on Dean Martin taking a bath, but that it didn’t seem to bother Dino in the least.  Who knows, perhaps it was commonplace in the 50’s to bathe openly under the scrutiny of your bizarre man-child of a roommate.

As far as cinematography and presentation goes, don’t expect anything dazzling or innovative and you won’t be disappointed.  Everything was par for the course for movies of this timeframe, with the possible exception of there being a crossover of the music and movie worlds, but that’s only really speculation, and now that I think about it, it’s most definitely not true.

Either way, all of this amounts to another film on this list that by all rights doesn’t really deserve to be here.  It’s almost like someone chose by throwing darts at a list of movies that were made, that’s it.  Not movies that were contenders, just movies that survived the act of being created.  If it’s a musical, or comedy that you’re looking for, you might do better to look elsewhere.

Beat the Devil (1953)

Beat the Devil – 1953

Director – John Huston

Starring – Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones, and Gina Lollobrigida

So you’re fond of the big stars of the hollywood system?  You like yourself a little bit of character acting, done by character actors, huh?  What’s that?  You like the whole thing tied together by a famous, yet dependable director?  I guess I have the film for you…to skip in favor of something else.

Unfortunately, for all of us, Beat The Devil doesn’t quite live up to what it could have been.  Though the film doesn’t really make any obvious miss-steps or do anything overtly wrong, it still manages to fall rather flat, and be somewhat un-inspired.  All of the individual elements that make up this film are, on their own, very successful, but when they are tied together they cease to gel.

The plot.  The plot is tricky, mostly because I don’t really remember it.  What I do remember, however, is… International playboy, and conman…I think…, Billy Dannreuther (Bogart), and his gang of cronies (the best part of the movie played by talented character actors Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard, and Robert Morley) are planning a heist of some kind when their ship is delayed and they are all stranded in a small coastal town in Italy.  Mix in some love interests in the form of the sexy Gina Lollobrigida, and plucky Jennifer Jones, whose husband, the straight man, Edward Underdown, tries unsuccessfully to stymie the shady dealings the entire time.

Beyond that, the plot is a mystery.  It’s simply an excuse to let these elements mingle, and with any luck, turn into cinema gold.  Unfortunately, the luck doesn’t quite hold out.  Instead, the charm and quick paced, sarcastic dialog of Billy takes the place of any plotting or exposition.  The sexy femme fatale wife of Billy, played by Lollobrigida, never really seems at odds with the spunky, young, love interest, Jones, who overtly swoons over him despite her husband, and the gang of cutthroats who threaten her at every turn.  Nothing builds on anything else, everything just sorta stops in its tracks before it can really get started.

The cinematography seemed like it was trying to borrow from the immediacy and off-the-cuff nature of Italian Neo-Realism, but paired with the convoluted plot and lack of motivation, it just seemed a little rushed and out-of-place.  Shot in black and white, in mostly real locations rather than studio set-pieces, Beat the Devil seemed much grittier than a lot of films of the studio system.  This had the unfortunate effect of making them seem somehow lower budget, or like it had a rushed production or something.  I’m not really sure why, but it just seemed…light.  Like it was missing something.

I realize that I’ve just spent this entire review bemoaning the film, but I really didn’t think it was bad, it was just…blah.  There were bright spots though.  Some of the dialogue was snappy and fun.  The interactions, and rivalries that play out amongst Peter Lorre and Robert Morley as the gang of criminals was very entertaining and watchable, and in fact, those were actually the best and most memorable parts of the film.

After watching Beat The Devil, it makes me appreciate films that ARE able to pull off all of the different elements that this one tries.  Films like The Third Man, The Big Lebowski, the original version of The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts and Coronets, After Hours and even His Girl Friday, which are able to flawlessly combine humor, action, danger, and even things like dark humor and death, to make something memorable, funny, and better than the sum of their parts.

It’s my impression that the only reason for the inclusion of this film onto this list of greatest films ever made, is the strength of its potential, rather than the success of the result.  The hope is that when everything comes together you should have something really special, not something that you have trouble remembering a few minutes after its finished.

Not a bad watch, but if you’re spending your time looking through the list of movies you must see, you’ll more than likely want something more gratifying.

“Gina Lollobrigida – beautiful. Movie – meh.” – Ashley

In the Name of Love…(and in honor of my wedding!)

So its been a while since I’ve done any of these smaller reviews, and since love is most definitely in the air, (and in honor of my getting married a few days ago) I thought I’d do some more with a nod to the romance genre. These, are all films from the list of 1001 movies, mind you, the label “Romance” has been placed on them (sometimes appropriately, sometimes inexplicably) by the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, not by me, so my apologies for any confusion (Natural Born Killers, and Abre Los Ojos, I’m looking in your general direction). Hope you enjoy!

Tirez Sur Le Pianiste AKA Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

Francois Truffaut’s second full length film after the fantastic “The 400 Blows”, wasn’t quite as good as his first outing, nor was it as iconic as his most famous, and most romanticized film, Jules et Jim, which is really the film of his that should have been on this genre list rather than Shoot the Piano Player. Jules et Jim is a portrait of the romance that can happen between men and women, between friends, and can turn from light and positive, to smothering and destructive. All that aside, Shoot the Piano Player is far from a bad film, it just doesn’t stand up as well next to the heavyweights that surround it.

Giulietta Degli Spiriti AKA Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

Once again, this film doesn’t quite fit into the tidy little mold of “Romance” that the book sort of lumps it into. Rather, Juliet of the Spirits, seeks to illustrate the freedom of cutting the strings of dependency and exiting a bad relationship. The titular Juliet, trapped in a bad relationship with a distant, and unfaithful husband and judging family, sees in her free-spirited, sexually open neighbor, a chance at being happy by herself. The looping, colorful visuals and the almost song-like nature of the films structure make Juliet of the Spirits a lot of fun to watch. This is my favorite of all of Federico Fellini’s films. Definitely worthy of its place on this list.

Harold and Maude (1971)

By removing the initial motivators of attraction (the age limitations, and socially acceptable standards of beauty), we are able to focus entirely on the real magic of a successful relationship…the relating. Struggling for attention from his parents and peers, Harold manages to find someone, Maude, who causes him to see the world in a completely different way than he normally does, and teaches him to stretch his wings and live beyond the rules that govern everyday life. Aside from teaching this 20-something young man how to deal with other people, the 70-something Maude teaches him all about his own sexuality, both in theory as well as in practice. This off beat little film, fits very well into this “romance” category.

“I wanna be Maude when I grow up.” – Ashley

Manhattan (1979)

This Woody Allen film is one of a select few of his films that I really, really like. Not only does it (famously) make New York seem like a grand, vibrant, and teeming place full of possibilities (most Woody Allen films I feel rely solely on crazy characters), but it also doesn’t make the opposite mistake of making it seem like a mad-cap thing, a ridiculous parody of itself, full of assholes and caricatures of real people. Allen really gets it right in this film.

Tootsie (1982)

Mrs. Doubtfire, but much funnier!

“Almost as good as Mrs. Doubtfire.” – Ashley

The Princess Bride (1987)

I may be a little biased. I grew up with this film and am not able to see it for any of its flaws. Not only is this film a great romance, it has so much more to offer as a movie. Adventure, humor, fractured storytelling, Fred Savage, it has everything!!! This movie really is pretty fantastic and holds up well under scrutiny, it’s a shame there aren’t more films like it out there.

“Romacticomisy!” – Ashley

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

While this isn’t nearly my favorite Rob Reiner movie (This Is Spinal Tap), it does, however, stand on its own as a very good one. It’s tried and true story of a couple of people who discover that after years of being friends and butting heads about the little things in life, they are actually in love with one another and have been secretly (secret to themselves as well as everyone else) been pining away after one another the whole time.

“Awww…” – Ashley

Say Anything (1989)

As pop culture aficionado, Chuck Klosterman, wrote in his book Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, every girl dreams about taking Lloyd Dobler home to meet her parents. Or more accurately, they’re interested in the idea of Lloyd Dobler rather than any actual flesh and blood guy that may or may not share similarities with him. While this could very well be true, there is something to the romanticized tale of the young man who does everything he can to win the object of his affection. Top it all off with socially relevant, and timeless crafting of soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a Cameron Crowe movie before everyone knew what that even was.

“Mmmm….John Cusack.” – Ashley

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Based more on the gothic style of Edward Gorey, rather than the more recent works of Tim Burton with the computer generated color spectrum of Milton Bradley board games, Edward Scissorhands is Burton at his stylistic peak. The film puts the normalcy of suburbia under the microscope attempting to find the flaws in beauty and vice versa.

“Ugly haircuts!” – Ashley

Groundhog Day (1993)

Hilarious. Hi. Lar. I. Ous! Do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this movie, and rent, buy, borrow, or steal it. Bill Murray at his comedic finest, and for once something Andie McDowell is good in. Or more to the point, she isn’t bad in it. Chris Elliot, whether or not you love him or hate him (I personally love him), plays well off of Murray’s short fuse. The small town gags, time travel humor, and of course Ned Ryerson pay off again and again. Totally one of my favorite comedies of all time, oh and I guess it’s got some romance in it too.

“Oh, my gosh!  When the little groundhog is driving the truck…Adorable!” – Ashley

The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion is a rather hard nut for me to crack. While I didn’t fall in love with the piano, I didn’t dislike it either. It actually falls in the middle in terms of appreciation of the three films of hers that I’ve seen. I liked Holy Smoke! better, and absolutely regret seeing In The Cut (the flop with Meg Ryan trying to be luridly sexy. FYI, it doesn’t work.) Still the love story is there. Between both Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter’s characters, as well as between Hunter’s Ada, and the piano she loves so dearly. Unfortunately, like a lot of love stories, this one has a healthy bit of tragedy mixed into it.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

While this film does contain a romance that most certainly moves the story forward, and provides conflict for the main characters (Mickey and Mallory Knox), the film itself is more an analysis of our dependence upon and love affair with television, pop-culture, and mass media as a whole. The rather juvenile and simple love story at the heart of the film is intended to be as such and as a result can’t really be considered a “romance” as it were. All that aside, I do really respect this film, all it has to say, and the skill of craftsmanship that went into creating it. It’s just that calling it a romance is like calling Die Hard a Christmas movie, it is…but it isn’t.

“Shot on every film stock available.” – Ashley

Chong Qing Sen Lin AKA Chungking Express (1994)

The first of two Wong Kar Wai movies on this list (the second being In The Mood For Love), both of which deal with the idealism and theory of love. In Chungking Express, it’s the romanticizing of the love that has passed by, and focuses on the memories and impressions of two love struck cops as they pine over the relationships that have passed them by. The real magic and whimsy of this film comes in through the cinematography and camera work. The sheer color used in this film puts most Technicolor films to shame. Hong Kong never looked so good as it does here, and it never seemed quite as magical either.

Braveheart (1995)

This is it. This is pointed to as the last great Mel Gibson movie before he decided to show the world just how crazy he actually was. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s seen it seems to be helpless against its charms. While it is good, it is not the knockout that everyone said it was before I saw it for the first time. Gibson’s typical formula of sappy sentimentality and buckets of blood and guts is certainly shocking at times, and tries to tug at the heart-strings at others, but it really ends up seeming a little too melodramatic overall. Good not great, but certainly better than The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, or his often publicized rants about religion, race, his wife, and the attractiveness of the officers that are simply trying to do their jobs and arrest him. I’d say do yourself a favor and watch Lethal Weapon, or the second Mad Max instead.

“Another movie about how awesome the British are!” – Ashley (said with a straight face)

Clueless (1995)

I wrote this movie off when it first came out, but since then i’ve seen it and it’s actually a pretty decent re-telling of Jane Austen’s Emma (although to be honest I had to look that up. I was under the mistaken impression that it was based on Shakespeare). Alicia Silverstone, and Paul Rudd (yup, that Paul Rudd), manage to skewer the early 90’s pretty successfully, although I’m guessing a lot of my new-found affection for it is based on nostalgia rather than an actual interest in the early 90’s. The movie features a laundry list of B level stars who, look familiar and you know you’ve seen in other places, however none of whom are really worth that much excitement (Donald Faison, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, and Jeremy Sisto, most notably).

“Like, oh my god, you totally made out with your step-brother!” – Ashley

Shine (1996)

Again we have a film that doesn’t fit into the romance category quite right. Don’t get me wrong, there is indeed a romance. That side of the story is shadowed by the larger story of the man (David Helfgott played by the capable Geoffrey Rush) and his tumultuous relationship with his music. As with the recent biography, The Kings Speech, Geoffrey Rush proves himself as an actor capable of doing so much with the time he is given on-screen. The steps of going from his passion through his breakdown, and the long hard journey back again seems utterly believable and not at all melodramatic, which is especially remarkable considering the story features, child abuse, hardship, concentration camps, war, sibling rivalry, poverty, defeat, and redemption. A remarkable achievement indeed.

Abre Los Ojos AKA Open Your Eyes (1997)

I saw this film after seeing it’s much over hyped remake, Vanilla Sky. That may have lessened the impact of the big reveal at the end by quite a lot, but I have to admit that neither film really did all that much for me. Both were okay. Both had the same interesting concept at its core, and both had Penelope Cruz playing the exact same role, but neither really had that spark that most good, and all great science fiction movies have. That concept that blows your mind, even if just a little. The romance in this case tends more towards the obsession end than most of these other films, and as a result it never really knows whether it’s more of a “Fatal Attraction” or more of a high concept “Blade Runner” type movie. In terms of its addition to the list of 1001 greatest movies ever, at least they didn’t pick Vanilla Sky. Yuck!

Titanic (1997)

In terms of ticket sales, record-breaking box office, risk of failure, and even scale of the production, Titanic deserves to be on this list. Where films like D.W. Griffith’s “Intolorance”, and Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” ended up failing, Titanic really, against all odds, succeeded. The film rocketed the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet into the stratosphere, and cemented the reputation of director James Cameron as a director who can deliver on the scale of something like “Gone with the Wind” or “Ben-Hur”. As far as story goes, it is a fun story, but not in my opinion worth all the hullaballoo that it’s generated. Instead go see, Aliens for action combined with a strong mother/daughter relationship, or Terminator for a strong action combined with romance movie. I even liked The Abyss better, if you want a sort of action, sort of underwater space alien movie with a hint of romance. I pretty much like everything James Cameron has done without question except for Titanic which was just okay, and Avatar which was just a bloated piece of shit.

Rushmore (1998)

By far this is the most beloved Wes Anderson movie the world has ever known, by almost everyone but me. For my money, I’d take The Royal Tenenbaums any day of the week, month, year, or decade. That isn’t to say that Rushmore is bad, or that it’s craftsmanship isn’t up to snuff. I just happen to connect with and enjoy each of Anderson’s other movies far more than this one. The story, simple as it may be, involves romance but isn’t really focused on it. Max (played by the pretty awesome Jason Schwartzman) finds himself infatuated with one of his teachers at the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Coincidentally, that same teacher is the object of the attention and affections of one of Max’s mentors Herman Blume (one of Anderson’s regulars, Bill Murray). The one-ups-man-ship that follows goes to ridiculous degrees, but ultimately both characters have to learn to find love without Rosemary, the teacher in question, who is interested in neither of them.

“More like Less Anderson!” – Ashley

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Certainly the most famous of the Farrelly Brother’s films, this is alas, not my favorite of theirs. My pick would be Dumb and Dumber which would have fit equally well into the genre of romance. Where as with Dumb and Dumber, I laughed so hard that I had trouble breathing, with Mary I only really chuckled a few times. I haven’t seen it since it was originally out in theaters, but I really haven’t had the desire. I kinda like Ben Stiller, and I do like Chris Elliott, but they are no team Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Go see Dumb and Dumber!

“Which creepy guy is a girl to choose?” – Ashley

Dut Yeung Nin Wa AKA In the Mood for Love (2000)

All of the words that get thrown around when talking about beautiful, touching movies, can easily be applied to this film, In the Mood for Love, and they still seem like they don’t do it justice. Sumptuous, lush, vibrant, gorgeous, breathtaking…I could go on, but I think you get the idea, the film had an impact on me. The story of two people who are neighbors, each of whose spouses are cheating on them, find comfort in the friendship and love that develops between them. It’s entirely accurate to say that, though it’s slowly paced and a little difficult to start, once you get going, you will be hooked. This is the love affair that was only hinted at in Brief Encounter, and grazed in Lost in Translation. Quite possibly the most beautiful looking movie I have ever seen. Just talking about my memories of it makes me want to get it down off of my DVD shelf and watch it again.

“Gasp!” – Ashley

Wo Hu Cang Long AKA Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A little bit long for my taste, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still a pretty awesome, gorgeous and sweeping kung fu movie. The romance in this film is two-fold. Firstly there is the forbidden romance between master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat son!) and his colleague in kung fu skill Yu Shu Lien (the always exceptional Michelle Yeoh). Secondly there is the love that can only come from impetuous youth, here in the form of a skilled and impetuous assassin and the desert bandit who tested her limits. Both romances unfold during the quest for the stolen sword “Green Destiny”, as well as the assassination plot that threatens all involved…blah, blah, blah….IT HAS CHOW YUN-FAT! One of the coolest people ever to live, and exist, and be alive. See it!

“Sometimes a bitch just gotta run on a tree!” – Ashley

Y Tu Mama Tambien AKA And Your Mother Too (2001)

This coming-of-age come (no pun intended) sexual-awakening movie also serves as a portrait of the Mexico City of today. A place that despite the long distances that it has come, still has a long way to go in order to close the disperate gaps between the social and economic classes. Two young men, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) aren’t so much vying for the love of Ana, (the young woman who teaches them about their sexuality) as they are trying to one-up each other in boasting and peacockery. We watch these young men start down the road to maturity, starting as selfish, inexperienced children, and heading towards, fully grown, stronger adults. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a document of a modern-day Mexico, it’s citizens, and two young men in transition, and is well worth a watch.

Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain AKA Amelie (2001)

If the joie de vivre of post war Paris, and the existential longing for love and meaning found during the French new wave of the 60’s were to have a baby it would be named Amelie (or Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain in French). I was floored by this movie the first time I saw it. During the whole last 20 minutes or so I held my breath and, as they say, it may have gotten a bit dusty in the theater by the end. Audrey Tautou, as the beautiful, yet lonely, ingenue Amelie is perfectly cast. Director in his own right, Mathieu Kassovitz, plays her counterpart Nino, who together with Tautou, and a whole cast of Jean Pierre Jeunet regulars, brings just enough quirkiness and humor to balance out the sappy sentimentality, and potentially maudlin subject. Amelie is as light and happy as the typical french concertina music that permeates the soundtrack. A joy for the eyes, ears, and heart.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Beautiful, shy girl finds love in a photo booth.” – Ashley

Moulin Rouge (2001)

Yet another film taking place in the city of lights, a favorite location for romances, Moulin Rouge is a blending of old and new. The tradition of musicals blended with the song-smithing, pro-tools tinkering and visual flair of today. Following up his huge music driven success, Romeo + Juliet, director Baz Luhrman again uses hyper-kinetic imagery and aesthetic to amp up the style of 1800’s Paris. For each step forward he takes in terms of style from his last film, he takes a step backward in terms of appropriate talent of his lead actor and actress. That is to say, though both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are accomplished actors in their own rights, but they don’t quite have the singing and dancing chops of some of the actors of old. That aside, a colorful cast of secondary characters, engaging set pieces, and a well crafted romance more than make up for whatever minor shortfalls the main actors have when it comes to performance. The kaleidoscopic frenzy that the, cinematography, songs, and story add up to becomes its own sort of metronome-esque pace, and once that rhythm takes hold you don’t want it to let go.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Tuberculosis: The Musical!” – Ashley

So there you have it. Another 25 little reviews of films that I’d seen previous to starting this undertaking done and out of the way. I hope you’ve enjoyed them despite their brevity, or maybe because of it, and please forgive me for getting sentimental…I did just get married after all!

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Hannah and Her Sisters – 1986

Director – Woody Allen

Starring – Michael Caine, Diane Wiest, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Woody Allen,

I have a long history of not really liking the films of Woody Allen.  I feel my reasons are and were sound, and should you like to know why I haven’t liked them, you can see them explained here and here, or I can quickly summarize…Diane Keaton.  Okay, to be fair, that isn’t the only thing that doesn’t appeal to me about his films, it certainly doesn’t help them out in my opinion though.  But recently the strangest thing happened to me.  I saw a Woody Allen film that while well thought of, isn’t one of the ones that every one mentions when talking about Allen (those being Annie Hall, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the worst film ever made, Manhattan Murder Mystery).  The film in question was inhabited by real characters that actually could exist outside of the confines of New York City (although they don’t necessarily need to).  They are subject to a real emotions, and motivations that weren’t added for comic value.  Strangest of all…I liked this film quite a bit.

Mia Farrow plays Hannah, the trustworthy, dependable, and somewhat discounted anchor to her family.  Her sisters, played by Diane Wiest, and Barbara Hershey, use her as a means of support in their endeavors.  Hannah’s parents waffle between lovey-dovey, starry-eyed affection, and drunken accusations with a touch of distrust.  In an effort to hold their relationship together, Hannah is put into the role of arbitrator and peace-keeper, all the while attempting to keep her own life and marriage on track.

Hannah’s husband, Eliott, played by Michael Caine, sees her as a boring but necessary part of his life, instead lusting after her sister Lee.  The both of them enter into an adulterous relationship based solely on lust and desire, and only later confront their desires for stability, reassurance, and regularity that each receives from Hannah.  Though Wiest’s character, Holly, has a much less destructive relationship with her sister she is still constantly borrowing money which she uses for a variety of failed career ventures.

As usual Allen puts himself in the film, although this time around he relegates himself to a much smaller role.  As Mickey, Hannah’s ex husband, he plays one of the few redeemed characters in the film (not in a bad way mind you, every one in the film is perfectly cast in their roles), and the relationship that develops throughout the course of the film provides the film with a rich, tangible, and completely enjoyable center.

Though it lacks the groundbreaking structure of something like Annie Hall, and doesn’t quite provide the super iconic imagery of something like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters is by far one of Allen’s best (right up there with the aforementioned Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors).  Allen’s fascination with the existence of God and the meaning of life has never been handled better than it is here, and neither has the pay-off from such questions.  By the end of the film, my heart was singing, and my own troubles were forgotten, left for another time.

It is at this point that Allen fans could rightfully tell me, “I told you so…” (although they’d be only half right).  So consider me told.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp – 1943

Director – Michael Powell

Starring – Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, and Anton Walbrook

Throughout the history of cinema, pairings of filmmakers emerge who, together, can magnify and build upon each others abilities to create something that neither could have done alone. Often times these partnerships are comprised of a director and an actor, but its not limited to those two positions. For every Scorsese and DeNiro, there is a Tarantino and Lawrence Bender, or a Hitchcock and Bernard Herrman. Despite the job titles involved these partnerships can be very fruitful, but there is no more celebrated combination of talents than those of Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp seems to be the culmination of that particular pairing, though I can hardly profess to know for sure.  I decided to watch the movie in an attempt to follow along with the Powell/Pressburger movie marathon put on by the boys at the Filmspotting podcast.  Till that point I had, of course, heard the names of the famous duo, but I had no idea of their impact on the film industry.  So despite my having seen The Red Shoes before this film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp counts as my awakening to their particular brand of humor, whimsy, and romance.

Blimp  follows the unlikely friendship of Clive Candy, a young British officer, and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer with whom Candy is assigned to fight a duel after a misunderstanding between their respective countries.  Each man is seriously wounded in the duel and they grow close to one another in the hospital.  Theo eventually falls in love with his friend’s companion Edith Hunter, and risks another duel to ask for her hand in marriage. 

The film opens a few years from the beginning of  World War 1, and goes all the way through the Nazi build-up of the second World War.  Though they don’t see each other often, when the pair does have occasion to meet, it is clear that each man treasures his friendship with the other more than anything.  Even Candy’s fascination with Theo’s new bride, seemed to me to be simply an extension of his desire to connect with his friend more often.  Though he obviously has deep feelings for Mrs. Hunter as well. 

Each man grows from the idealism of youth, to the comfort of middle age, and into the winter years of their lives all the while enduring wars, the deaths of loved ones, and the political and social challenges that go along with being on opposite sides of massive turmoil and conflict.

Roger Livesey plays the stout, indomitable Clive Candy, in all his bombastic glory.  Ever the positive go getter, Livesey imbues Candy with a certain innocence that runs contrary to all the conflict and horror the character has seen in his lifetime.  Theo, played by Anton Walbrook, is a bit more of a stuffed shirt, and in his earlier years a bit more pessimistic thanks to Germany’s loss of the first World War.  Ultimately he provides a fine counterpoint to Candy, however, as both men vie for the attention and affection of the different incarnations of Mrs. Hunter, played memorably by Deborah Kerr.  Kerr plays Hunter, but also plays the woman who Candy ultimately marries, Barbara Wynne, and eventually the driver hired by Candy, Johnny Cannon.  The fact that each of these three characters looks similar is simply for the benefit of Candy and Theo.  Beyond the exterior, these three women are different characters in their own rights.

Pressburger’s script is able to maintain the dry, sometimes zany, British humor without losing any of the real emotional heft, and Powell’s direction gives the actors room to make these characters their own.  In the hands of another writer/director team, that fine line of humor and heart could easily have been lost.

Cinematographically speaking, Blimp is positively glowing in rich Technicolor tones, and dreamy 1940’s set pieces.  George Perinal, the film’s cinematographer, was also responsible for the look of another of my favorite films from this list so far, Le Million.  Perinal manages to keep that certain dreamy quality that I loved so much from Le Million, and use it in a completely different way in Blimp.

The one rather confusing, although ultimately unimportant, problem I had with this movie, was the fact that I waited quite a while for the character Colonel Blimp to show himself.  Well, actually that’s not entirely true.  Once I was caught up in the story, I stopped caring about the title so much, but it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until I looked up the reference to the stodgy British militarism on Wikipedia afterwards.  Check that out here if you are so inclined.  That one quibble shouldn’t prevent you from seeing this film, it didn’t stop me!

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – 1947

Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring – Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders

I may be run out-of-town on a rail for saying this, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pretty stupid movie.  Posturing and posing as a lighthearted romantic comedy about a young woman contending with the spirit of a salty old sea-captain, instead, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the story of a lonely woman wasting her life and the lives of those around her (her daughter and maid) because she had a etherial fling with a crotchety old ghost for less than a year.  Not only is it implausible (even within the mythology of the world that is set up in the film), but it also annoyed me to the point of anger.

Firstly, the story.  Gene Tierney plays Lucy Muir, who at the beginning of the film is a freshly widowed woman.  Her first order of business is taking her daughter, their maid, and parting ways with her prying, manipulative in-laws.  Their anger at her leaving them, and forsaking the memory of her late husband is brushed casually aside.  She gives as her reasoning the fact that there was little, if any, real love in the marriage, and without another word, they’re off.

The sort of wacky, lighthearted comedy kicks in for a little while, as she goes through the trial and error of buying a home, discovering that it’s haunted, and acclimating herself to her etherial housemate.   It is from this point that the romance part of the romantic comedy kicks back in, as Rex Harrison’s Captain Gregg and Lucy begin to like, and eventually grow very fond of one another.  When the money that her dead husband left her dries up, Captain Gregg has her write out the story of his life, and sell it as her own.  It’s during the selling of this book, that Mrs. Muir meets a charming, living, man who sweeps her off of her feet.  Captain Gregg reacts at first by acting out, and eventually by giving up (telling her while she is sleeping that it was all a dream, and that she’ll think of it as a dream upon waking), and fading away.

***SPOILERS*** (Although the whole movie is a bit of a spoiler)

Well as it turns out, the suave, dashing man turns out to be an absolute cad, go figure, and Lucy soon finds out that he is married with children.  Not only that, but his wife doesn’t seem at all surprised by her showing up, and says that it has happened before.  After that, Lucy spends the rest of her life alone, growing old along with her trusty (read: stupid) maid, until she dies and is greeted as a ghost by the spirit of Captain Gregg.

***END SPOILERS***

As far as movies of this era go, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so mired in the antiquated notion that women are these weak willed pets that need constant tending to, and taking care of.  The idea that this woman would spend her entire life doing nothing for herself, be it for income, chores, for income, or in her interpersonal relationships is ludicrous.  When the money that her husband left her runs out, does she get a job?  Does she sell the big expensive, fucking house that she bought willy-nilly?  No, she claims that she’ll “find a way”, until a fucking ghost helps her.  The only friendships she has are the ghost that is trapped in her house, the maid that does everything for her, and the man who trips over himself to court her.  It is as insulting and demeaning to women as it possibly could be.  Now I understand that in the 40’s women generally stayed at home, and took care of the children.  They, very often, didn’t go to school, and never had to work (unless they were poor or of another color), but as a guy raised by a strong female role model, who herself was raised by a smart, capable, female role model as well as  a respectful, intelligent man, I hated this movie.

It doesn’t even really matter about the other qualities of the film, although it was competently shot, the sound and music were okay, and I don’t recall any of the actors accidentally messing up a line.  Based solely on the merit of what this film has to say, not only to women, both young and old, but to me, I definitely does NOT deserve to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

One final point, just to illustrate how poor this movie is, I would rather watch Katherine Hepburn, and Diane Keaton reading the phone book, to me personally, in my house, while I was tied to a chair, with bamboo slivers under my fingernails (well, maybe not the bamboo).  Watch one of these instead…”Lost In Translation”, “Singin’ In The Rain”, or “Garden State”

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“There’s a dead sea captain in it” – Ashley

More From the Vault

Every so often I’ve updated the list of films that I have already seen with brief reviews.  Call it the complete-ist in me, but when I’m done with reviewing each of the films in the book, I’d like to have reviewed every single film in the book.

Anyhow, here’s another batch for you to read.

Enjoy!

Shichinin No Samurai AKA Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai is the first movie that I had the pleasure of seeing from the master director Akira Kurosawa, and it is also one of his most praised works. Without a wasted frame, the story takes place over the course of almost 3 hours. Kurosawa, as he does in each of his movies, explores more than just the action and injustice featured in the plot. He is a humanist first and foremost, training his lens on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, tracking growth across this epic. As good as this film is, I would have to say that Kurosawa has numerous films that are even better, check out Stray Dog, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and my personal favorite High and Low.

“Fuck yes!” – Ashley

The Ladykillers (1955)

Existing as a special combination of dark humor, and slapstick farce, The Ladykillers is exceptionally funny and unsettling. Alec Guinness stars as the leader of a group of criminals staying at the home of a hardy, vivacious older lady under the guise of being musicians. The plan is simple, rob a bank, and utilizing the trusting nature of the kindly old lady, and the remoteness of her home to their advantage, get away with it. Easily my favorite of Alec Guinness’ films (thanks in part to the Star Wars prequels that is), The Ladykillers features a solid cast of great actors, including a very young Peter Sellers.

Bob Le Flambeur AKA Bob the Gambler (1955)

My introduction to the fantastic Jean-Pierre Melville, I was captivated immediately by the cool as ice gangster come gambler Bob. This film is filled with signature Melville-isms. Glorious post war street scenes in Paris. Trench-coats. Honor among thieves. And who could forget the caper. To talk too much about this film is to give too much away, and to do that is to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. Other classics by Melville: Le Cercle Rouge, Le Samourai, and the recently released in the U.S. Army of Shadows. All are fantastic, and deserve to be in this book! Incidentally, Bob le Flambeur was recently re-made into The Good Thief starring Nick Nolte and directed by Neil Jordan, and while I’m not generally a fan of re-makes, I really, really liked this film. Not quite as good as the original, but it was one of my favorite films of 2002.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

The ultimate in hardboiled private eye crime stories, Kiss Me Deadly is a full on assault on decency. Kiss Me Deadly proudly presents itself as a grimy PI story, littered with bodies and intrigue. If you even have a passing interest in film noir, this should be your first stop. Violent, misogynist, brutish, and glorious, Kiss Me Deadly begs to be watched and dares you to look away. I myself, loved it!

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Apparently based on a book, The Ten Commandments is an epic in every sense of the word. Colored in bright explosive candy hues, and featuring huge sets, as well as a cast that number in the thousands, The Ten Commandments is more spectacle than great movie. Certainly not a waste of time, but not my first choice when choosing something light to throw in.

Det Sjunde Inseglet AKA The Seventh Seal (1957)

A classic, and well-loved film by Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal stars an extremely young Max von Sydow as a knight who faces Death at a game of chess to decide his fate. This film is filled with themes that find their way into each of Bergman’s works, ranging from courage in the face of death, religion, and humanity. The Seventh Seal still holds up to this day, with luminous black and white photography that, thanks to Criterion’s Blu-ray edition, has never looked better.

Note: Don’t be fooled by the similarly themed, but much worse, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”

Kumonosu Jo AKA Throne of Blood (1957)

Kurosawa’s retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan. Shakespeare has never looked better as it does in the stark black and white, twisting shadows and swirling mists as seen through Kurosawa’s camera. Toshiro Mifune doesn’t disappoint in the lead role, but the real stand out is Isuzu Yamada in the as Mifune’s opportunistic, poisonous wife. The plotting and scheming starts right from the get go, all the way up till the frenzied end of the film.

“The Scottish play set in Japan.” – Ashley

Touch of Evil (1958)

One of the many trouble spots on Orson Welles’ resume due to studio interference, and financing issues, still Touch of Evil remains as possibly the best B-Movie ever made. Iconic (and sometimes hilarious) performances by Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston (as a Mexican) and Welles himself as the crooked cop willing to do almost anything to ensure justice prevails (just so long as it’s his justice). The movie is almost as famous for its long tracking shot opening as it is for any of the performances, featuring a nearly 4 minute shot done in one take which travels around cars, actors, and buildings. The film The Player, payed homage to it by mentioning it a few times during a similarly complex shot in that film.

Vertigo (1958)

Flopping on its initial release, Vertigo didn’t gain the acclaim it deserved until much later after it was released on video. Vertigo visits themes present in each of Hitchcock’s other works, including the obsession with blondes, innocence tainted with corruption, and the schlub who gets in over his head. Jimmy Stewart plays the schlub, Kim Novak plays the blonde, and gloriously technicolored San Francisco plays the innocence and the corruption. Vertigo has a twisty convoluted story with elements of surrealism, an interesting watch.

“Hey. Don’t I know you from somewhere?” – Ashley

Mon Oncle AKA My Uncle (1958)

My favorite of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films, Mon Oncle was also the first of them that I had seen. Tati, playing Hulot, is a master of visual comedy, and not in the same way as the Three Stooges, or even Buster Keaton. Tati is an artist whose work is appreciated the longer you watch. The plot of the movie is not so much important to the film as it is simply a guide to get our characters into interesting situations so we can watch them get out. If you liked this film, check out other films featuring the bumbling Mr. Hulot, including Trafic, Playtime, and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot.

Les Quatre Cents Coups AKA The 400 Blows (1959)

My personal favorite of the French new wave movement was this small-scale film, personal piece from Francois Truffaut. Featuring the director’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, The 400 Blows is the first in a series of movies, each about a different stage of life and the challenges that go along with them. The period from childhood to young adult is covered heart-breakingly here, following Antoine through the rough waters of his home life and his interaction with the outside world. Later chapters deal with finding love, getting married, having children, and growing old, but Les Quatres Cent Coups remains the directors most personal and his best.

North by Northwest (1959)

One of Hitchcock’s best, North by Northwest features Cary Grant, suave as ever, being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. Just like in Hitchcock’s most famous works (of which this is one), the witty one-liners, suspense, and drama are heaped on generously. I can’t help but feel sad that a similarly themed, but better film featuring Cary Grant was left off this 1001 list. Charade, also featuring Audrey Hepburn, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau, is one of my favorite movies ever! Check out both Charade AND North by Northwest as a double feature! You won’t be sorry.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Now this is an example of a classic, well-loved film, with actors that I really love (Jack Lemmon I’m looking at you), a premise that is more than suitable, yet the finished product never really caught me. It’s sort of like Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. I never really saw what all the hype was about. That being said, I didn’t hate it either. It never made fun of me when I had braces, or turned me down for a date, my affections and this film have just always been mutually exclusive. Perhaps it deserves another watch…then again maybe I should just watch The Last Boyscout again.

“Monroe, and drag queens, together at last!” – Ashley

A Bout De Souffle AKA Breathless (1959)

Jean-Luc Godard is nothing if not a sacred cow of French cinema, and while I have loved some of his other films (Le Mepris, Bande A Part, and Masculin Femenine), Breathless or A Bout De Souffle never really did it for me. I can still rationalize why it was so revolutionary (use of jump cuts, editing, non-actors, and subscription to the aesthetic of the French new wave style), and see it’s importance, but I prefer other examples of New Wave cinema. If you are interested in seeing a Godard film, try Masculin Feminine, it is just as revolutionary and a bit more accessible.

Psycho (1960)

A prime example of Hitchcock in his prime. Psycho was so good, and so affecting that some of its actors were type cast just on the strength of this one film (Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh), so much so that without a little research it’s hard to think of what other films either of them has been in. Psycho may not be as visually shocking and gory as horror films of today, but it still manages to hold up over time and be just as unsettling as it was back in its day. Hitchcock has always excelled at making the comfortable un-comfortable (motels, birds, tea, dreams, the list goes on…), and the subtle touches in this film work perfectly. Consider for a moment that Perkin’s Bates is an amateur taxidermist of birds, and then that Janet Leigh’s name is Marion Crane a type of bird, or the fact before the crime Marion is wearing a white bra and a white purse, while after it she is wearing a black bra and purse. His attention to detail, and knack for foreshadowing is demonstrated in full force in Psycho and remains one of his best films. Despite all the uproar over the Gus Van Sant remake, I thought it actually did some justice to the original film and if nothing else brought it a little more deserved attention.

Note: This film also has the distinction of being the first American film to ever show a toilet flushing on-screen.

“Someone’s a mama’s boy!” – Ashley

Peeping Tom (1960)

Released the same year as Psycho, and dealing with similar subject matter, Peeping Tom wasn’t received with the same acclaim and attention that the former was. On the contrary, Peeping Tom was seen as subversive, perverted, and generally too shocking. The story revolves more around the killer than the victim in this one, whereas Psycho is presented more from the victim’s point of view. Either way, Peeping Tom is a fine film, one worth watching, however it is so similar to Psycho that I’m not sure it needs to be on the list of 1001 films.

The Apartment (1960)

As far as light-hearted, touching movies about someone recovering from a bout of depression, this one is my favorite. Billy Wilder directs Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in a sweet touching comedy without losing any of his trademark cynicism or the pointedness of his dialogue. The Apartment is another chance for me to champion the somewhat maligned talents of Mr. Fred MacMurray as Lemmon’s boss. MacMurray plays a fantastic creep who really defines the term “heel”.

“MacLaine, proving she’s a better actor than her brother.” – Ashley

Spartacus (1960)

Containing almost none of the trademark elements that make up a Stanley Kubrick movie as we know it (Kubrick apparently dis-owned the film before it’s release), Spartacus remains an interesting movie that isn’t great. It is, however, another example of a film that enabled an up and coming filmmaker to gain his voice, and define himself later on in his career. If only for that reason, Spartacus is a great film, but luckily for the studio, it has some other things going for it. Kirk Douglas plays the title role of Spartacus, and despite all the lavish set production, and concentration on spectacle, brings some heart to the slave who defied Rome.

Jules Et Jim AKA Jules and Jim (1962)

One of director, Francois Truffaut’s most well thought of films, Jules and Jim may be the Lost In Translation, or Juno of its time. Viewed from a certain angle, the plot is a completely moving and emotional story that you believe, so much so, that you can see yourself and those around you in the roles that these characters embody. Viewed from another perspective, it can seem a little precious or purposefully manipulative. Depending on what is happening in your life (I’m mostly thinking about whether or not you are in a relationship, and if you are happy), this movie can preach the glory of love and the pain of rejection. On the flipside, if you have shaken free the angsty, teenager-esque feelings everyone has had in their youth, you may feel like you’re being talked down to.

“I remember it being really boring.” – Ashley

Cleo De 5 A 7 AKA Cleo from 5 to 7

Taking place, as the title suggests, from 5 to 7, we get a slice of the life of Cleo played out before us. Sometimes we, along with Cleo herself, are a voyeurs into the lives of people around her, and other times we are focused on her as she roams around Paris. By and large Cleo lives a carefree, spoiled life, yet we still sympathize with her when times are hard, and cheer for her when they are good. This is a small film in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t impacting and beautiful.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I have to admit.  I didn’t like Lawrence of Arabia that much.  Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of Lean’s desert panorama camerawork, or just maybe it was the epic length that decided it for me.  One way or another, I didn’t appreciate it as much as everyone else seems to think I should.

“Really long.” – Ashley

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Overly reliant on gimmicks and quick editing techniques, The Manchurian Candidate doesn’t flesh out the story nearly…wait, no that was the terrible re-make that came out in 2004.  The original 1962 version, is just as taught, and well executed today as it was at its release.  While the story between the two versions remained virtually the same, the consistent building of tension and anxiety, combined with the pitch perfect acting of Lawrence Harvey, Frank Sinatra (yes…Frank Sinatra), and the devilish turn of Angela Lansbury as the Queen of Hearts, makes for a fantastic film.

Lolita (1962)

It took me forever to finally see Lolita.  I have known the basic story (older man, younger girl) but had just never gotten around to seeing it.  And while I’ve been told that the book is much better, I thought the film was pretty good.  Not great, mind you, but definitely solid.  The shocking and controversial nature of the relationship was toned down a bit for the screen, and maybe as a result doesn’t seem all that shocking in today’s day and age.  Memorable turns by Peter Sellers, and Shelley Winters, not to mention it’s an early film of Stanley Kubrick.

The Birds (1963)

Despite being one of Hitchcock’s most popular, I actually think that The Birds is one of his most over-rated.  I think I owe it to myself to give this one another look someday, but right now I feel that it was too heavily based on the gimmick that had to rely on special effects.  Though it is not necessarily the fault of the movie, but the special effects seemed particularly dated and old fashioned.  Worth a watch, but not my favorite by a long shot.

8 1/2 (1963)

Federico Fellini is, by most accounts, a master of cinema.  One, that I have always had a little trouble getting fired up over.  It’s not that I don’t like his films once I’ve seen them, the problem comes in when it comes to motivating myself to see them.  I couldn’t tell you why, but his films consistently get pushed off when they come up on my Netflix Queue or when I see the one or two I have on my shelf.  I shouldn’t feel this way, considering I really loved the moving poetry, and soul baring passion in 8 1/2, yet it still happens.  One very definite reason to watch this film is the man-crushable Marcello Mastroianni, swaggering through as the alter-ego of Fellini himself.  Dealing with all the reservations with women, making movies, childhood, and the future that the director very famously dealt with himself, Mastroianni embodies a certain cool, yet believable character that begs to be watched.  Combined with imagery that leaves the audience wanting more, 8 1/2 is a fantastic film.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Thanks for reading!

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

McCabeMrsMiller

McCabe and Mrs. Miller – 1971

Director – Robert Altman

Starring – Warren Beatty and Julie Christie

So we come to yet another Robert Altman movie. This time Altman subverts the western genre, transforming a series of characters from cookie cutter black and whites into more realistic grays and earth tones. Warren Beatty plays the McCabe of the title, arriving in a new frontier town in the Pacific Northwest with his sights set on jump starting the gambling and whore house industries. His reputation in town precedes him as the bartender bolsters his reputation by telling stories of his “gunfighting past” (it’s not revealed till later whether or not this account of his past is rumor or authentic). The town folk, rapt with attention, line up to hear his stories, play poker with him, and to sample his wares. His operation is going well, and McCabe grows more and more full of himself until Mrs. Miller, another entrepreneur new arrival in town, shoots holes in his rather short-sighted and limited plans.

She knows the true potential for this sort of business in town, and more importantly she knows how to run it. She convinces McCabe to put up the cash and soon enough they are in business. Together, their business flourishes as does the rather one sided affection that McCabe feels for Miller. Her desire to legitimize the spot she has cut out for herself, serves as a blockade to McCabe’s attempts to sweep her off of her feet. The greater their success, the more amorous he tries to be, and the more distant she becomes.

When a large conglomerate business makes a take-it-or-leave-it offer to purchase the business, McCabe refuses in a bluff, attempting to squeeze a larger sum from the buyers. Mrs. Miller knows how ruthless these men can be, and does what she can to warn McCabe of the danger of playing with fire. Beatty’s “gunslinger” is full of the glory of his own legend, claims to know how to play the game. Unlike the rest of the townsfolk however, Mrs. Miller can see right through his posturing.

Altman’s tendency to turn archetypes on their heads, results in McCabe having the ego and confidence of a Hollywood cowboy, but without the skills or experience to back it up. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but up until now he’s been lucky. Despite her addiction to opium, Julie Christie’s Mrs. Miller can see that plain as day, and resigns herself to what is almost a foregone conclusion at this point. What follows at the end of the film is brutish and inevitable.

When the shunned offer results in the conglomerate company sending a couple of fearsome, hired guns to forcibly relieve McCabe of his enterprise, his pomp and ego turns into bargaining and cowardice. The three men sent to kill McCabe are a scary bunch of outlaws who seem to fear nothing, or no-one. They run roughshod over the town, and the townspeople, taking what they want and killing indiscriminately. Rather than stepping out on the street and having a showdown, Altman’s characters fight it out like they would in real life, by hiding and through ambush. The bad guys fight dirty, and in order to stay alive, the good guys have to fight dirty too.

Altman’s change of venue from the arid southwest of the United States, to the chilly and bleak northwest provides just the right tone for the film. Bleak and foreboding, harsh and unforgiving. Altman had his cinematographer purposefully flash expose the film to light before developing to get that hazy 1800’s photo quality. Before learning this, I thought it was a bad transfer on my DVD, and it annoyed me to no end. Just like each of his other movies, I grew to appreciate it. While I never ended up loving how it looked, I could at least appreciate that the film itself was used as a tool through which the story was being told. Altman isn’t necessarily afraid of making the finished look of the film weathered and used, if it helps along the story.

The town’s sets in this movie, reminded me a lot of the apartment complex set from Rear Window. At first the flood of visual information seems overwhelming, but as the story progresses and the sets are used again and again, we become at home in them. They start to take on a reality, a three dimensionality, and a familiarity, that transcends the 2 hours or so that we inhabit them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this place is still standing somewhere (I guess I actually would be surprised, but the feeling of it being a real functioning place is no less diminished for it being gone in today’s world.)

Like each of Altman’s films that I’ve seen (and I suspect the ones I haven’t seen as well), The Long Goodbye, The Player, Short-Cuts, and M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a product made up of carefully laid out elements that form the cohesive whole. Film stock, film-developing, editing, direction, acting, sets, and costumes all work with one another towards a common goal. I started out not liking this movie, ready to write it off as a dud, but as I kept watching, I felt more invested in this little nook of the world. I felt like I grew with each of the characters as they went through the story.