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!

Neco Z Alenky (AKA: Alice) (1988)

Neco Z Alenky (AKA: Alice) – 1988

Director – Jan Svankmajer

Starring – Kristyna Kohoutova

The story of Alice and her journey through wonderland is a dark and surreal one.  Animals talk, nothing is as it should be, and anger and fear are the emotions of choice.  As a kid, I was fascinated by the illustrations from the book.  They provided a very accurate portrayal of the sense of unease that I got from the story.  There was a danger mixed with the serene and a malice blended into the everyday.  This is a feeling that is perfectly recreated by the film Alice, stop-motion animated creatures made up of bones, rusty utensils, taxidermy and all.

It was just this last weekend that I ventured out to see the most recent re-make of the Alice in Wonderland, the one by Tim Burton, and I thought it appropriate that I should review this little known version.  While the newer film is the victim of re-writes, and computer-generated everything, this version, directed by cult animator Jan Svankmajer, stays faithful to the original text and feels like a flea market come to life.  The only live action actor (actress in this case) is Kristyna Kohoutova, as the curious and plucky Alice.  Every other inhabitant of Wonderland is created through the stop-motion animation technique, and is a patch work of animal bones, stuffed and mounted animals of every variety, and old, weathered household items stalking around with a sense of malicious purpose.

It’s odd that someone like Burton, who was so clearly inspired by, and borrowed from films like Alice, strayed so far from this successful cocktail in his own re-telling.  The fact that we can see the strings and the seams of each creation, manages to make it that much more dangerous and foreign to us.  There is danger around every corner for this young girl, yet she bravely plods onward without so much as a second thought.  The closest thing to a guide she has is the mangy looking white rabbit, who is continually leaking sawdust.   The Queen of Hearts, her court and her soldiers, are literally made up of a deck of cards, and when she shrinks, Alice turns from a live actress into a disturbing little china doll.  Wonderland itself is made up of a series of rooms, each more intriguing and bizarre than the last.

The one failing I would place on Alice, is the fact that while each of its characters is creepy, there is little to differentiate between them.  The March Hare and the Mad Hatter are just as off-putting and strange as the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts, making the disturbing effect of watching them wear off a little too soon.  By the end it was a little too repetitive, and as a result I was drawn out of the movie.

As far as adaptations of this story goes, Alice is far better than the most recent version, but still remains third behind the imagination of the Disney animated version, and the beyond surreal TV version with Sammy Davis Jr. and, God help us, Carol Channing scaring the shit out of me by turning into a goat!  All in all, Alice is a very fun watch.

“Bitch need some chapstick!” – Ashley

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent Ambersons

Director – Orson Welles

Starring – Joseph Cotton, Delores Costello, Anne Baxter, and Tim Holt

Often compared as a bastard sibling to the widely praised Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons is the second of Orson Welles’ two picture deal with RKO Pictures.  While he was away filming another feature in Brazil, Ambersons was taken away from Welles by the studio who felt the picture was too slow and somber.  RKO cut roughly 50 minutes of footage from the end, and tacked on a happy ending to appease test audiences who, since it was released after the attack at Pearl Harbor wanted something a bit more cheerful, and with laughs.

Ambersons tells the story of a spoiled little rich kid, George Amberson Minaver, played to cruel, selfish perfection by Tim Holt.  George (apparently based on the somewhat spoiled Orson Welles) is so caught up in himself, and his worries, that he doesn’t allow anyone else in his family the opportunity of their own happiness.  Seeing the affection between his mother, Isabel, and Joseph Cotton’s character Eugene Morgan, as a threat, he firmly plants himself in between the pair willing to go to great lengths to keep them apart.  The families reliance on their seemingly endless wealth threatens to teach them some hard life lessons.  From this brief synopsis, you can see where the story is going, but rest assured you won’t see the abbreviated ending coming.

Despite the new happy ending, The Magnificent Ambersons, as it exists today is incomplete.  The editor, Robert Wise, a director in his own right (The Haunting, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music) was put in charge of cutting the film to its current length.  While salvaging as much as he could of the story, the film still seems to end abruptly, destroying the our investment in the characters as well as the weight and importance of the story.  The cut footage was rumored to have been destroyed to prevent Welles from protesting and producing another cut, all though officially it was to clear space in the studio’s vaults.

Since we will never fully know what this film could have been, it is unfair to say it is as good as Citizen Kane, nor is it fair to put it on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, especially since it isn’t commercially available on DVD in the United States (I watched a decent quality AVI file that I happened upon).  That being said, what is present in the version that I saw, was a prime example of why Orson Welles was (and still is if you ask me) such a revered filmmaker.  The ensemble acting is the quality you might expect of the Mercury players, everyone does a great job, not only of playing their parts, but also of supporting their fellow actors in their roles.

A class could be taught on the cinematography of this film alone.  Stanley Cortez replaces Gregg Toland as Welles’ cinematographer of choice, but none of the elegance inherent in Citizen Kane was lost.  Unlike a lot of films from this era, Welles isn’t afraid of using shadow to dramatic and atmospheric effect.  Character’s, especially female characters, in most american films seem to always find that same pocket of light that illuminates them in just such a way.  In Ambersons, not only is there plenty of darkness, but it is nearly a character all its own.  One that each other character interacts with, and plays against (both physically with the shadows in a scene, and metaphorically with their own motivations and intentions).

Another interesting element deserving of mention is the mammoth estate in which the Amberson’s dwell.  The sense of foreboding and expectation carried by the physical structure that houses this indomitable family affects the story as much as any other element in the story.  The cavernous stairway is host to as many romantic kisses as it is to malicious eavesdropping and tense stand-offs.

Finally it is important to point out the resonance this film has had with one of my favorite films of all time, The Royal Tenenbaums.  Similar to The Magnificent Ambersons, Tenenbaums deals with the perceived mythology of a family of spectacular characters, and juxtaposing that ideal against the reality of the dysfunction that is inherent in family.  Similarities range from the small (the titles are similarly grand) to the grand (the main conflict in both films comes about when love and relationships are threatened by jealousy and depression).  Wes Anderson, to his credit, has managed to finish what Orson Welles was never able to.  With The Royal Tenenbaums he manages to bring closure to the wonderful story that has had a false happy ending on it for nearly 60 years.

Is The Magnificent Ambersons great?  No, not as a whole, but what it’s made of, what it was going to be, and what it has inspired, is far more than great!  It’s Magnificent!

Un Chien Andalou (AKA: An Andalusian Dog)(1929)

Un Chien Andalou (AKA: An Andalusian Dog) – 1929

Director – Luis Bunuel

Conceived by surrealist auteurs Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou is your standard story about a guy, posing as a nun gets hit by a car while a couple watches from a window.  And goes on to tread even more familiar ground when after witnessing the accident, the man spends great amounts of time and energy trying to knead and massage the womans breasts and butt while she tries to fight him off.  Not one to take no for an answer, he starts leaking ants from the hole in his hand, that is, until he loses his arm in their skirmish.  And of course who can forget the  straight razor cutting woman’s eye sequence which even by this point was extremely clichéd.

All joking aside, Bunuel and Dali managed to construct a piece of film that is just as shocking and talked about today as it was back in 1929.  While it is famous for the notoriety of its authors, the film itself is infamous today thanks to the aforementioned eye cutting scene.  My teacher in film school introduced the film, explained the intention, and then had to leave the room before showing it because of the ability of that image to upset.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching just once, if only to say that you did it.  The fact is, it would be hard to find more indelible imagery throughout the history of film than is found in the 20 minute run time of this one film, and while it has a statement, it is not one that is easy to discern from watching the film.

Strictly speaking, the narrative is meant to confound the brain.  It was conceived, purposefully, to seem fleeting and dream-like.  Dali and Bunuel practiced sleep deprivation in order to prepare themselves for the conception and script-writing phases of the film.  The imagery is meant to horrify while at the same time seem like it should make sense when it doesn’t.  This feeling of connectivity through the course of the film is what ties the images together.  Themes and undertones were the goal, not story and character.

Not shockingly, the film got mixed reception at its release, receiving positive marks from those in the art world, and negative ones from those not familiar with surrealism or (then) modern artistic expression.  Despite the mixed reception, Un Chien Andalou stood out as a masterwork of editing, composition, and pacing.  It is interesting to note, that it stands out as being far creepier and more unsettling than most horror or thriller movies released since.

While not for everyone, Un Chien Andalou, is definitely an important benchmark of cinema, as well as a springboard into the works of directors as diverse as David Lynch, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Tim Burton.  It definitely deserves it’s place on this list!

“Bitch got her eye cut!” – Ashley

Targets (1968)

Targets

Targets – 1968

Director – Peter Bogdanovich

Starring – Boris Karloff, Tim O’Kelly, Peter Bogdanovich, and Nancy Hsueh

My review of a couple of days ago of The Masque of the Red Death, dove-tails nicely with today’s review of the film Targets.  Both films started out as projects coming out of the creative collective that is Roger Corman and American International Pictures, however both films ended up becoming polar opposites of one another.  Masque, while brimming with campy fun, was  produced solely to turn a profit banking on the names of Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Price, with a dollop of horror and a pinch of sexuality. 

Targets on the other hand, started it’s existence in much the same way, but was able to become more than the sum of it’s parts.  Corman, who produced the picture, offered the directing position to a young up-and-comer by the name of Peter Bogdanovich who would later go on to direct a number of critically acclaimed films, as well as make friends with some very influential and talented people (most notably portly wunderkind, Orson Welles).  Corman would allow Bogdanovich to make any film he wanted to with two caveats, he had to re-use footage of a b-horror movie “The Terror” that he had the rights to, and mix it with footage filmed in the two days of filming that legendary horror actor Boris Karloff owed to Corman.

Reportedly, Bogdanovich was so frustrated with trying to find a way to merge the scenes of campy victorian horror, with the older, more frail Karloff that he only had two days with, that he jokingly said Karloff was going to be a washed up movie star disgusted with where his career had gone.  Ultimately this ended up being a large chunk of what the story became. 

The other half of the movie centers around Tim O’Kelly’s character, Bobby Thompson, a troubled young man with a penchant for guns.  Modelled after real life gunman Charles Whitman, Bobby Thompson goes on a similar type of shooting spree, firing methodically into traffic and later into into the audience of Byron Orlok’s (Boris Karloff’s) newest movie.  Where Orlok represented horror in his day, Bobby Thompson represented the fear that existed in the future.  Thompson remorselessly guns down his wife, and mother before calmly collecting all of his weapons and setting out to make his mark on the world.

Though the story is one that is partially designed to be fantastic, and draw an audience through shock value, unlike Masque, it talks about a very real kind of fear, one that is just as prescient today as it was in 1968.  At one point Karloff’s Orlok laments about how he no longer wants to be in the movies because with things like these {murders} appearing in the papers, what’s so scary about a man in a rubber monster costume.  It is just these little kinds of humanistic characterizations that helped Karloff achieve such a dignity in his original famous role, that of  Frankenstein.  Though the story centers around these crimes that Bobby Thompson commits, and their direct influence on our main characters, the real meat of the film is watching Karloff as Orlok, play himself.  We watch as he realizes his time is done, his effectiveness has faded away, and his realization that he is no longer a star, but only a man.

Peter Bogdanovich does a fantastic job, not really despite what he has to work with, but because of it.  Due to his drive to create something beyond the desire for a payday, he was able to far surpass other grind-house films that started in the same vein,  like The Masque of the Red Death.  He is forced to be creative with his resources.  Everything from his actors, to his story, to his limitations on directing had to be carefully measured and weighed. 

To his credit, however, Roger Corman gave a lot of young, aspiring director’s their big breaks.  Without him wouldn’t have had Scorsese, Coppola, Demme, Bogdanovich, James Camer0n, or Joe Dante.  Imagine a world without Goodfellas, and Gremlins.

The Player (1992)

ThePlayer

The Player – 1992

Director – Robert Altman

Starring – Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Lyle Lovett, Fred Ward, and Peter Gallagher

I’ve had a little time since watching this movie to let it sit in my brain and smolder, and just like the other Altman movies that I’ve seen, smolder is exactly what it’s been doing.  As I’ve said before in my review for The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman seems to work best after a couple of days of thought and rumination.  This theory holds strong for the Player, the ultimate meditation on movies, the formulaic happy ending, and the cost of entertainment.

The player in question is Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, a studio executive whose job is on the line thanks to the “next-hot-thing” producer played to the nines by Peter Gallagher.  Mill, who, has for some time been receiving death threats, crumbles under the mounting pressure.  He pieces together the evidence at hand, and finds the man he believes to be his harasser (the battery acid spewing Vincent D’Onofrio as Dennis Kehane).  They meet, and heated words eventually turn physical.  Fully feeling the danger of losing his job, Mill lashes out at the writer and, in the heat of passion, accidentally kills him.  Upon the realization of what’s happened, Mill makes it look like it was a simple robbery.

It is at this point that the typical Hollywood set-up begins to fall away.  We have the obvious path that we believe the story is going to follow, man commits crime and runs from the cops only to be caught and tried justly in a court of law  Instead there are a few twists and turns that complicate things.  One of those turns comes as Altman is playing with the juxtaposition of Hollywood ending, and realism.  We expect the police to conduct a thorough investigation, put together the clues and come out in the end with the criminal in handcuffs, but what we get instead is the slow steady bending of the conventions of Hollywood film.

After the gravity of his crime has sunk in, Mill falls in love with the dead man’s girlfriend.  As his fascination grows, this motivates him to distance himself from his current steady girl.  He spends more time planning his romantic interludes than he does evading the police, who at this point have solidly fingered him for the crime.   It is through chance, and bad eyesight, that Griffin manages to remain a free man, but this distraction only seems to get in the way of his new obsession.

The seeming indifference of Mill to the severity of his crime is mirrored in the cut-throat world of movie making.  Directors, writers, executives, and actors, all give up their integrity and vision in order to claim a piece of the back end.  It is only in this type of world that a man could not only get away with murder, but profit quite heavily from it.  It is this environment that managed to produce this very movie.  I bet the studio execs were less interested in what the movie was actually saying, and instead, focusing their attention on how many star cameos could be packed in, and the impact said cameos would have on the opening weekend box office.

Altman was smart enough to see this this fact, and in lesser hands, I can only imagine this movie would’ve never been made.  The films ending, gives us both a saccharine hollywood finish AS WELL AS the realistic, gritty, unsettling ending. 

 (***SPOILERS AHEAD***)

Griffin Mill escapes unscathed from his crime, he’s used the confidence and authority it gave him to manipulate his way to the top, dispatched of his former girlfriend, while making off with his new love.  The bad guy wins, and not only does he win, but the people who are honest and hardworking end up losing (Dead, Rejected, Un-Employed, etc.).  In the end, we are left feeling both satisfied and let down.  Altman, gives us what we want, and then makes us feel guilty for wanting it.

(***Spoilers END***)

Movies are so important to this film, they are not only central to the plot, and to our involvement with resonance of the story, but they also inform us about the state of the characters, and the state of the movie itself.  Just short of actually breaking the “fourth wall” and talking directly to the audience, we are given various signposts and clues referring to the lineage from which this film comes.  The opening segment is an homage to the long tracking shot in Touch of Evil, and sets the stage for the eventual murder story to come.  Likewise little clues into the psyche of the characters comes from the movie posters that they are surrounded by (or the lack of), and the movies that they talk about and watch (M, The Bicycle Thief, etc.).  The Player utilizes our common social knowledge of movie cliches to actually get beyond them, and become something more.  It is not only a commentary on film, but on the responsibility of the audience as voyeurs as well.