Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Scorsese

1976

“Portraits of urban malaise and anomie don’t come any darker, bleaker, or more claustrophobic than Taxi Driver.” (606, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Like so many of the films included in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (certainly the latter part of the book) Taxi Driver is one of those icon films that sort of pervades popular culture – Bickle continues to be referenced in multiple movies such as Bad Neighbours (2014, Nicholas Stoller) when Zac Efron’s character goes to a fancy dress party as him.Screen-Shot-2015-01-13-at-11.46.02-AM But I must confess it’s not a film that I would say particularly caught my attention.

“The film has some nourish elements – Bickle’s voice-over, Bernard Herrman’s haunting, jazzy score – but veers sharply when it comes to the actual storytelling.” (606) I found it a bit of a nothing film to be honest. There storytelling is meandering and doesn’t actually resolve anything come the culmination of the film, to the point that I wouldn’t be able to tell you what happens in it aside from Jodie Foster being a very, very young (and still controversial) prostitute. jodie_foster_31Despite the controversy of that role, Foster is indeed mesmerizing but nothing can take away from the dirty feeling that watching her scenes causes due to the age of both her character and her in real life at the time of filming.

“For the film’s duration we’re stuck viewing the city from Bickle’s relentlessly isolated perspective, with few peripheral glimmers of hope taking us out of his deranged head.” (606) I think it is this aspect of the film that most confounded me – it’s very insular and contained. So much of the wonderful city that the story is set in becomes lost because Travis doesn’t see it. It becomes a bit overwhelming being constantly subjected to Bickle’s very limited viewpoint. I know I found it difficult to connect with this film on any level and I wonder whether that is because I have a completely different outlook on life and personality to Travis Bickle. I’m just not a depressive person in the slightest and have a tendency to get fed up of people who constantly see the worst of things, which Bickle definitely does. Klein has got it spot on when he describes the film as claustrophobic – it did leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and with an urge to go and stretch my legs.

The bit that left me the most confused was Bickle’s failed attempt, or rather lack of attempt, to assassinate a popular presidential candidate. I was a little bit like ‘What just happened and what was the actual point of that part of the story,’ which is overall what I felt about the film as a whole. Despite my rather lacklustre feelings towards the narrative there is no denying that De Niro puts forward a stunning and powerful performance, as does Foster. Unfortunately they were the only two people who made any sort of impression on me and just weren’t enough to make this film a must see. I’m glad I can say that I have seen it because it’s always a good feeling for me to have seen something that is so pervasive in popular culture but it isn’t a film that I’m likely to watch again.taxi-driver-feat-e1460128509960

 

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Cabaret

Director: Bob Fosse

1972

Cabaret is not one of my favourite musicals (either on stage or screen) so I didn’t really know the story very well. And the one song I did know, that I spent all movie waiting for, never appeared because it is only in the stage show which was a bit disappointing.

It’s an odd movie for me. There is a frenetic energy to the whole thing which I guess you could say reflects the time frame the movie was set in – 1930s Berlin amidst Hitler’s rise to power and the beginning of the Second World War. For me however it was a little overpowering – there wasn’t enough balance to make the movie a relaxing experience for me.

Cabaret“The film’s sharp, shine musical numbers and incisive cuts between the doom-laden tale of misconceived love and ambition amid the rise of Nazism, while Joel Grey’s sinister club emcee is brilliant.” (539, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Errigo is right, Joel Grey’s emcee is wonderfully sinister with a sleazy edge to him. And this seems to be something of a trait with him as I have a very clear memory of him being a sinister character, Doc, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003, Joss Whedon) which I took into Cabaret. He looks a little too much like a ventriloquist’s dummy for my comfort (another stupid phobia of mine!) I also felt that the whole thing was over exaggerated and resulted in an unrealistic air.

There is no denying that Cabaret is a supremely iconic movie that propelled Liza into the realm of cultural icon and it is true that “[…] ultimately the film belongs to Liza Minnelli, who brought desperate-to-please nervous energy to sad, wild-eyed Sally Bowles with her feverish vitality and feigned depravity, giving warmth and frailty to a masterpiece of menace and show-stopping tunes.” (539) However, for me, it was that iconic nature of the movie that I think disappointed me. There were elements of the movie that despite never having seen it before were immediately familiar to me and while this should have been a comfort it didn’t turn out that way. Rather I didn’t feel that there was enough of a narrative to tie together these vignettes and created something that was quite disjointed. Cabaret lizaEqually there is no denying that Liza looks absolutely stunning as Sally Bowles in that infamous costume but it was a little bit more style over substance. Ultimately I found that Cabaret was just somewhat of a disappointment but then that’s my personal opinion and I know there will be hoards of fans who will not agree with me. Give it a go – who knows maybe it will win you over where it failed to do so for me.

 

Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

2014

I am neither a Richard Linklater fan nor an Ethan Hawke fan, as some of you may remember from my blog on Before Midnight (2013), and unfortunately for me they are one of those frequent collaborative pairings that you often find in Hollywood.

It’s fairly safe to say that I approached Boyhood with some already preconceived notions based on my previous experiences with the Linklater/Hawke pairing so I wasn’t really expecting much. Then there was my additional issue with films that seem to attract an annoying level of hype and praise before they even hit the cinemas in their general release (like Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens but more on that at a later date!) – so rarely do these types of film actually live up to the hype that I have learnt to temper my expectations. I guess this is in part why I avoid reviews as much as possible. Ironic I know, given that I am in the very process of doing exactly that and writing a review.

With Boyhood my reluctance to watch the film was not just the inordinate amount of hype surrounding the film, or the unfavourable pairing (at least in my eyes) but also the very concept of the film. Growing up is a hard thing to do in the first place without the added pressure of doing it on camera … and let’s face it Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record of looking after it’s young stars now does it? So to me the idea of filming someone going through what could arguably be the most awkward period of their life, over a prolonged period, seems massively self-indulgent on Linklater’s part.

“The actors age before us, though it is the evolution of Ellar Coltrane (who plays the boy, Mason) and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter, playing Mason’s sister) that has the most resonance.” (931, Mick McAloon, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

BoyhoodWhile it is kind of fascinating to watch Ellar Coltrane grow up I was never entirely comfortable with the film and couldn’t quite ignore my feeling that it’s somewhat exploitative. There doesn’t actually appear to be that much of a narrative but rather relies on the gimmick of watching the cast age across the period of 12 years. It’s a massive undertaking on all parts, which I do definitely recognise, but in the main just ends up strengthening my view that the film is much more about Linklater’s overweening arrogance. In recognising Linklater’s achievement I am never the less left with a faint sense of voyeurism that never really sat very well with me.

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Director: George Roy Hill

1969

“The iconic teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical – and so profitable, scoring the year’s biggest hit – that this offbeat character study/action comedy in Western trappings and bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning sepia hues has been a touchstone for bickering buddy pictures ever since.” (494, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I went through a period where I watched films in genres or by directors that normally bore me to tears and discovered that actually there were a few I enjoyed, such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). And it turns out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is, so far, the only Western film I’ve watched that hasn’t bored me silly. But then I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it strictly as a western. It may have a number of the western tropes but in reality it is much more character driven. It’s really about these two men and their friendship that just so happens to take place against a western backdrop. And this is precisely why I found it entertaining rather than turgid like so many other films in the western genre.

There is lots of humour and having watched a number of buddy movies it’s clear that a lot of them have been influenced by this movie. The core trio of Butch (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross) are brilliant, and in some ways remind me a little bit of the ‘golden trio’ from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling) – they work best as a trio, each complimenting and at times reigning each other in. I actually really enjoyed watching Newman and Redford in their prime. Paul Newman is often held up as one of the truly brilliant actors of recent Hollywood and yet he is an actor whose work I have really not seen very much of so it was interesting to see him working his magic on-screen. They make a handsome pair of bandits as well it can’t be denied.

“[But] the film is immortal for its final image of the pair, freeze-framed as they run out into a shoot-’em-up with an army.” (494) Having never seen the film I had still been aware of this iconic final image. Now I have the context behind it and it makes the image so much more powerful.

butchButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an utterly disarming combination of smart, original screenwriting, handsome visual treatment, and star power. With all the jokes and poses, there is still real interest in the well-defined, contrasting characters.” (494) I couldn’t agree more with Errigo. If it had been otherwise there is a high chance I would have been writing yet another blog about how dreary and tedious I find western movies so this was a nice surprise. However apologies for the crapness of this post – I’m pretty tired and clearly my brain isn’t working all that well. Don’t let my inarticulate ramblings dissuade you from watching the film because it really is so much more than I have touched upon in this update.

Fantasia

Director: Ben Sharpsteen

1940

“Although now commonplace, creating images to interpret music was revolutionary when this audacious milestone in animation and stereophonic audio recording was conceived and executed by the Walt Disney studio to universal acclaim and astonishment.” (159, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

41b563y0qal-_sl500_aa300_I have a vague memory of watching Fantasia when I was much younger but it wasn’t really one that stuck in my head for very long. I re-watched it recently and found it fairly disjointed and as Errigo says below somewhat disappointing. “Even on IMAX screens, the exhibition scene of choice for the most recent of Disney’s several anniversary restorations, recordings, and releases of their prized 1940 animation landmark, Fantasia can be disappointing because it is still a remorselessly kitsch experience, however impressive and groundbreaking an achievement.” (159)

The music is incredible, there is no denying that, but there isn’t a narrative to tie the different segments together and I think the film suffers because of that. It was an experiment that may have worked when it was produced in 1940 but just couldn’t stand the test in time. As the different segments were all animated by different teams there isn’t even a single cohesive visual style that could hold the film together. And some of the animation is clearly still  at the time of production. Having said that there are some foreshadowing of animation that would go on to form some of Disney’s later films. The one segment that I particularly enjoyed was the one that focused on mythology as I could see aspects of design that would be honed at a later date to form the basis of Hercules (1997, Ron Clements & John Musker) which is actually one of my favourite Disney movies.zeus2

I found that the segments Errigo mentioned as having held up the best against the ravages of time (“Mickey Mouse, never more delightful than as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice desperately trying to halt the self-replicating brooms he has conjured up to do his chores, the dancing Chinese mushrooms, a darling chorus line of eyelash-batting pachyderms, the hippos in ballet tutus cavorting daintily and fleeing caped alligators […]”) are the ones that didn’t really make an impression on me. Especially the much beloved Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment with Mickey Mouse but then I have never really found Mikey Mouse a sympathetic character. There is of course the exception of the dancing hippos because those are amazing! fantasia

It’s not one that I would watch again – mainly because I found the lack of narrative created a fractured film. It would work as a series of videos that would be amusing to watch as stand alone shorts but put them together and for me it just all falls apart.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Director: Woody Allen

1985

“This sublime nostalgic comedy avoids the usual Allen formula of “goofy New Yorkers having trouble with relationships. Both Woody Allen and his famous neurotic monologue are absent this time […]” (716, Dana Duma, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) This would explain why I actually liked The Purple Rose of Cairo! I was a little reluctant to watch this when I realised it was by Woody Allen as in my opinion he is one of the most overblown, egotistical writer/directors in Hollywood. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that I actually quite enjoyed The Purple Rose of Cairo. And I think it’s precisely due to the lack of Allen’s signature moves that this film was somewhat of a delight rather than a chore.

purple-rose-of-cairoIt’s a strange little film set in Depression era America so everything is a little bit muted and washed out, a little broken, and yet there is a charm to it all. Mia Farrow’s Cecilia starts out as this quiet, almost dejected young woman, continually put down by her louse of a husband and through her love of cinema blossoms into something entirely different. You can’t help but respond to Cecilia. And she really is the focus of the film – she’s the character that develops the most.

It’s quite a kooky thing which breaks a number of the norms of cinema such as breaking the fourth wall. And then there’s the combination of colour (the ‘real world’) and black and white film (the film Cecilia falls in love with) which adds some interesting dynamics to the  aesthetics of the film. Jeff Daniels is wonderful in portraying two very different characters, both leading men (one imaginary and one the actor responsible for creating him) each with flaws that somewhat diminish through their interaction with Cecilia.

While it is a somewhat ludicrous storyline – a character walks off the screen in the middle of a film because he falls in love with a member of the audience – there is something magical about it. As a cinema lover myself you can tell that this film was created by someone who does indeed love cinema. There is a reverence to the film although Allen is not afraid to make fun of the cinematic universe with some brilliantly tongue in cheek performances but some splendid actors such as the enormously talented Edward Herrmann.

“Above all, The Purple Rose of Cairo is about love, perhaps Allen’s greatest love of all: for cinema.” (716) I would definitely suggest this to people – especially if, like me, you have found Woody Allen’s work pretentious and overwrought in the past – as this turned out to be a wonderful little film.

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Director: Stanley Kubrick

1964

Dr Strangelove is a brilliant black comedy that works as political satire, suspense farce, and cautionary tale of technology running away with us.” (422, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I’ve always found Stanley Kubrick to be a bit hit and miss for me – A Clockwork Orange (1971) is very much a hit for me but it turns out that Dr Strangelove is the opposite. It’s not really my sense of humour so it took me quite some time to bring myself to watching the entire film the whole way through. That could however have had something to do with the political climate we’re currently living in.

I watched Dr Strangelove during the politically tumultuous year of 2016 when the UK decided to create Brexit by leaving the EU (something I’m still not entirely happy with thank you very much!) and then descended even further into madness when America decided to vote in Donald Trump as the President Elect!! This made the events within Dr Strangelove very much a cautionary tale and suddenly the stupidity of the government didn’t seem quite so funny as it could be argued that the possibility of an outcome like this is remarkably higher than it has been in the past. And after all as Errigo says, “[T]he information about a doomsday device is factual, as are the Strategic Air Command operations and the B-52 crew’s procedures. The computers that take the situation beyond human intervention have only become more capable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.” (422)

drstrangelovespokeartposterbig01“Seller’s sidesplitting three performances are legend but the entire ensemble gives a masterclass in exaggerated, perfectly timed posturing. Two images are unforgettable – Kong astride the H-bomb, yee-hawing all the way down, and demented Dr. Strangelove, unable to stop his mechanical arm from flying into the Nazi salute and throttling himself.” (422) Peter Sellers portrays three very distinct characters within this film, all of who are a bit ineffectual. There is no denying which one has become most iconic and that is the demented Dr Strangelove himself. However I found myself a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. The President is a simpering idiot who doesn’t seem capable of making any decisions himself – and for some reason comes across as very British. I’m not really a fan of anything that is over exaggerated (melodramas are a tortuous waste of time) so there really wasn’t very much hope of me finding this film funny. The film certainly seemed to have a resurgence last year what with Secret Cinema using it for their spring movie event, again thanks to the political climate, but for me it is one that fell short in almost every way. By all means do not let my views stop you from seeing this film as who knows you may come away from the experience with your sides aching from laughter and everyone should have the chance to discover that themselves.