Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids

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 Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014). 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.

JFK

Director: Oliver Stone

1991

I’ve been known to be a little bit of a conspiracy theory believer – sometimes just to wind up my mum who still staunchly believes that man landed on the moon – but there are a couple that I really believe and fascinate me (Kurt Cobain never committed suicide but don’t get me started on that!) and one of those is the assassination of the 35th President of America, John F. Kennedy. I’ve also been on a bit of a JFK fix at the moment, reading the Stephen King book 11.22.63, in preparation for watching the recent television programme of the same name. “Never a stranger to controversy, Oliver Stone followed up his powerful post-Vietnam movie, Born on the Fourth of July (1989) with a film that angered and amazed people in equal measure – his questioning, overwhelming, urgent conspiracy movie JFK.” (791, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

jfk-1991-picture-mov_202d5c37_b“Although many people have debated whether more than one person pulled the trigger that day, Stone went one further and committed some of the many theories to celluloid, and in doing so delivers a fascinating film that raises more questions than it answers.” (791) To say JFK had an impact on the american public is a bit on an understatement. The film and the questions it raised partly resulted in the creation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Those papers should be due for release next year – but whether they will be is anyone’s guess. JFK is a mammoth film with a 3 hour run time – and a run time that actually feels as long as it is – but every single moment is compelling. And it asks some very uncomfortable questions. There’s something about the Kennedy assassination that has never sat well with me – it just does not seem plausible that one man could have caused as much damage as he did, and I guess the subsequent assassination of Bobby Kennedy only added weight to the conspiracy theory in my opinion – I mean really why did both Kennedy’s need to be removed? What was it about them that was so threatening?

“Using documentary footage – including the infamous home movie shot by Abraham Zapruder – as well as flashbacks, reconstructions, quick editing, and a skillful use of words and music, Stone weaves many ideas and theories together using the huge mountain of evidence and witness testimony without ever confusing or hoodwinking his audience. We don’t get a result by the time the end credits roll three breathtaking hours later, but we do know – as if there was any doubt in our minds previously – that it was impossible for Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone.” (791) I went into JFK already questioning the official version of the truth. And the film that Stone pulled together just reinforced all of the questions I had about that supposed truth. He pulls together an extremely compelling and convincing film that while never providing a conclusive answer gives you more than enough evidence to begin forming your own opinions of that historic event. The more I watched the more it reinforced the absurdity of the theory of a single shooter.

“He would not succeed in getting us to care so completely about this search for the truth without a strong central performance from Costner, who holds your attention throughout the film despite the numerous heavyweight actors who stroll in and out playing small roles – from Tommy Lee Jones as suspect Clay Shaw to Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman (as Oswald), Donald Sutherland, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, and Sissy Spacek, all of whom are superb.” (791) The cast is immense – it’s a veritable who’s who of Hollywood and as Joanna Berry says the majority of them appear in small supporting roles. Costner is magnetic as Jim Garrison, a man who has become somewhat lost to history. Sure everyone knows Kennedy was assassinated but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that there was someone who looked into the official report of the version of events and publically questioned it, at great personal cost to himself. Now I’m not naive – I studied film and television studies – so I know that every director controls exactly what story they want the viewer to see through their choices in editing and therefore every single thing you watch has its own agenda behind it. Even if you think that the single bullet theory is the truth, JFK is a compelling watch and who knows you may even come out of it with a different view on such an iconic event that shocked the world to its core. I cannot recommend JFK strongly enough.

The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner

1987

“Rob Reiner’s friendly fairy-tale adventure The Princess Bride delicately mines the irony inherent in its make-believe without ever undermining the effectiveness of the fantasy.” (739, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

The Princess BrideNow The Princess Bride has an enormous cult following but it is one of those films (much like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, John Hughes) that I ever really understood the appeal of. I have given it a number of tries across the years and it just does not appeal to me. You would think that a fantasy film from the 1980s would be right up my street but this one really isn’t. The humor is reminiscent of the Monty Python films, which as you may know I am equally ambivalent of. It’s not the sort of humor that makes me laugh, I think it is base and juvenile and it just does not seem funny to me in the slightest.

“The colorful characters and adventures are, at their best, like live-action equivalents of Disney animated features, with lots of other fond Hollywood memories thrown in.” (739) The characters may be live-action equivalents of Disney animated features but they do not translate very well. Animation gives the directors and writers the leeway to do things that would appear completely ridiculous in a live-action movie. The Princess Bride attempts to make these larger than live characters fit in the real world but falls short in my opinion. I’m not saying that it cannot be done because it can – but it is nominally done most successfully by Disney (the most recent success that jumps to mind is Enchanted, 2007, Kevin Lima) There has to be a subtlety to the performance that results in a successful film, which seems to be severely lacking in The Princess Bride.

“Not even the crude ethnic humor [-…-] pricks the dream bubble, and the spirited cast has a field day.” (739) They certainly do go for it – overacting seems to be the watch word. While I guess the mood Reiner was going for was very much a tongue-in-cheek one but it just doesn’t wash with me. There isn’t really anything that made any sort of positive impression on me. But please by no means let my opinion colour your perception of the film – watch it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. After all that’s what makes cinema, and the arts in general, so interesting – everybody has their own opinions and one person’s masterpiece can be another person’s disaster.

Aileen Wuornos: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Director: Nick Bloomfield & Joan Churchill

2003

“A project that began ten years earlier with Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer  (1993), Broomfield and Churchill’s follow-up is a powerful and profound statement against the death penalty, and raises disturbing questions of about executing the mentality incapacitated.”(899, Jason Wood, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Aileen WuornosAileen Wuornos is notorious for being one of America’s most infamous female serial killers, and has as such been subject of numerous film and television projects – most recently the inclusion of her character in American Horror Story: Hotel (2015, Brad Falchuck) Probably one of the most well-known portrayals of Wuornos is in Monster (2003, Patty Jenkins) which resulted in an Academy Award for Charlize Theron. I didn’t really know very much about Aileen Wuornos aside from the fact that she was a serial killer and I’d seen her ‘mug-shot’ but that was kind of all.

“Broomfield’s resulting film examines her wretched childhood, which was filled with unrelenting abuse and violence that continued into her years as a hitchhiking prostitute.” (899) Broomfield’s documentary opened up the story of Wuornos in a somewhat disturbing way. Now I don’t mean disturbing due to her crimes but more so because it shows a woman who is clearly in some sort of crisis, one that gets worse throughout the film. It does call into question the legal system of America and the death penalty, something that I have been increasingly interested in since watching Making a Murderer (2015, Moira Demos). Despite the fact that Wuornos’ mental health seems to be rapidly declining during the process of the filming there is something really quite compelling about the film. Her story fluctuates between protesting self-defence and cold-blooded murder with increasing inconsistencies so you are left with questions at the film’s conclusion. The film not only tackles the American justice system and the death penalty but also the subject of nature versus nurture. By examining her questionable childhood and all the travesties that were supposedly reaped upon her during her formative years Bloomfield is asking the audience to question whether Aileen would have ended up on death row if she had lived a different live – was she a product of her environment or was she always destined to become the woman she was at the end?

I did find the documentary became increasingly uncomfortable to watch as Wuornos becomes more and more unstable. By the final interview Bloomfield holds with her, Aileen is almost bug-eyed and accusing the prison guards of all sort of atrocities. It is difficult watching someone who is not quite in her right mind, especially when you know that not long after this she was executed. I was left asking questions about whether she should have been put to death when it is obvious that she is in crisis. Should she have been receiving treatment for a mental condition instead? It’s an interesting documentary even if it does leave an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth afterwards.

“A resolutely non-sensationalist work, Aileen Wuornos calls to account the travesties of the American justice system and provides a sympathetic insight into a deeply troubled soul.” (899)