Clueless

Director: Amy Heckerling

1995

“The film works best as a sharply funny satire on twentieth-century teens, complete with its own language (good-looking men are ‘Baldwins’ – a nod to the handsome acting family led by Alec and Billy), blistering asides (‘searching for a boy in high school is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie”), and well-aimed jabs at contemporary L.A. culture (Cher points out that she doesn’t need to practice parking because everywhere she goes there is valet parking)” (Joanna Berry, 847, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

While Clueless is supposedly based on Jane Austen’s Emma you would have to look hard to find any tangible evidence or link to said novel. Alicia Silverstone is so brilliantly shallow and materialistic. She has no idea that the guy she’s pushing Tai towards is actually hung up on her. The film is narrated by Silverstone as Cher keeping up a relentless stream of vapid comments throughout. Brittany Murphy is wonderfully kooky while still being pretty innocent as the alternative new-comer Tai. And while being one of her earliest film roles it hints towards the bright future she would go on to have in the industry. The whole cast is actually pretty good with people like Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Breckin Meyer and Donald Faison (now forever known for his role as Turk in Scrubs) providing the ensemble to Silverstone, Murphy and Stacey Dash’s trio.

The film is so a product of the 1990s – the colours are extremely vibrant and the fashion … well what can I say? The outfits are completely outrageous and yet (sadly) people actually wore stuff like that! I defy any girl to even try to deny that she wouldn’t kill for Cher’s computer that selects her outfits. It’s pretty much the only aspect of the film I like (or will admit to liking anyway!) There is a definite guilty pleasure feel to this film – it’s the sort of film you put on after an extremely difficult day when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa and slob out. I mean how can you take a film seriously when it has a line like ‘The correct term is hymen-ally challenged” in it?!

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The Sound of Music

Director: Robert Wise

1965

“That exhilarating opening helicopter shot across the mountaintops – finally alighting on Andrews running exuberantly as she bursts into “The hills are alive” may now seem hackneyed, but that’s only because its efficiency in establishing mood (and, indeed, meaning, since The Sound of Music is a film in which music and the life force are inextricably linked) has meant that it has been much imitated. And let us not forget: like it or not, those tunes really are unforgettable.” (Geoff Andrew, 441, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I have to confess my favourite version of ‘The Hills are Alive’ is actually the couple of lines Ewan McGregor sings in Moulin Rouge (2001, Baz Lurhmann) Julie Andrews really does have the most beautiful voice and is also wonderfully naive as Maria. I’m not really a fan of The Sound of Music and have never really got the appeal of it. The children are sickeningly sweet and the whole singing, nazi-fighting nuns – what on earth?! Gretl is the only child I actually like … she is just adorable.

The house is sumptuous with a beautiful interior. There is a contrast between the von Trapp house, which is light and airy, and the Abbey which is darker and much more enclosed. And the vistas of the surrounding area are stunning. The Baroness is a deceptive character seemingly a lovely woman who reveals herself to be scheming and manipulative in order to achieve her own ends. Lisel is lit in the same sort of technique often employed in the films from the ‘Golden Era’ of Hollywood and film noir. It creates quite a romantic air about her which reflects her character. When Maria and Georg finally accept their feelings for each other we see a return of the romantic diffused lighting while they are silhouetted against the door frame of the gazebo.

Christopher Plummer as Georg is so straight-laced and a father clearly incapable of connecting with his children. His transformation at the hands of Maria is subtle and yet at the same time completely expected. He learns to become a father again rather than an officer of the Navy. He becomes much more playful throughout the film. The children’s costumes often seem to not only match each other but that of their father. This creates a unity between the family, especially at a time when they’re not really functioning as a family. As the mood within the family becomes more relaxed the costumes become less uniform and you see more of each child’s personality.

Once Maria and Georg are married the film takes on a different tone. Due to the appearance of the Nazi’s and the Third Reich there is an uneasy and slightly unpleasant undercurrent to the conclusion of the film. The score reflects the soundtrack with a number of the songs easily recognizable throughout the score. I still don’t really understand the long-lasting appeal that the film has – both my mum and sister love it while I’m indifferent to it. It’s not a film I would go out of my way to watch it and yet at the same time I won’t turn it off if it’s on.

My Fair Lady

Director: George Cukor

1964

“At its center is a hate-turned-to-love match that is hard to beat: Rex Harrison as the grumpy linguist Henry Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the street urchin whom he picks for his ‘social experiment'” (Adrian Martin, 427, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) It is definitely the relationship Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn that makes this film as interesting as it is. The settings and the costumes are absolutely stunning and the songs are delightful yet each time I watch it it’s because of the two central characters.

The songs are some of the most memorable, which is saying something with the rich history of musicals we have. I haven’t watched My Fair Lady for years and yet I still remember all the words … and they remain stuck in your head for a good long while afterwards. While Higgins’ house is a sumptuous set there is something false or rather obviously constructed about all the external sets. don’t get me wrong they are still incredible but they have a sort of contained feel to them.

Even as a street urchin Audrey Hepburn is luminous and becomes incandescent once her transformation is complete. The scene where Eliza finally gets it has similarities with “Good Morning” in Singin In the Rain (Stanley Donen, 1952). Both songs take place in the middle of the night, have a dance number and end with the characters, 2 guys and a girl, collapsing into chairs while laughing.

The scene at the races is beautifully choreographed and I love that the colour palette has been kept to black, white and grey. It creates and unifying and classy image. Both Henry and Eliza are made to stand out – Eliza in brilliant white and Henry in tweed rather than grey top and tails.

I’ve been rather remiss up until now by not mentioning Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering. He is the perfect counterpart to Harrison’s eccentric and sometimes obtuse Higgins. It is Pickering who actually sees Eliza as a human being with feelings rather than just an experiment … for most of the film at least. A fact that Eliza herself raises when she says “I will always be a lady to Colonel Pickering as he always treats me like a lady” (or something along those lines anyway). He is the genial uncle figure. Freddy (Jeremy Brett) seems like a rather useless character whose sole purpose is to make Eliza and Henry realize their true feelings for each other. After their success at the Ambassador’s Ball Eliza paints such a sad figure and seems terribly lonely, while at the same time Henry is entirely and blissfully ignorant of her feelings.

It wasn’t until I watched My Fair Lady with the purpose of writing the above blog that I realized how much I love this film and I’m so glad I’ve re-discovered the brilliance that is the transformation of the lovable street urchin Eliza Doolittle into a lady fit for high society.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Director: Ted Sears & Richard Creedon

1937

I’m gonna start with a fairly long quote from Joshua Klein but its one that I think is a good starting point for me own review. “There is no way to overestimate the effect of Snow White. It not only permanently established Disney as one of the foremost studios on the world but also advanced the state of animation to such a degree that it wasn’t really until the advent of computer animation that anyone arguably pushed the form further. A creative triumph, Snow White inspired hundreds of imitators, gave birth to an empire, and remains to this day the default template for nearly all animated features.” (137, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There is clearly something about not only the Disney version but the very story of Snow White that still appeals to this day , indeed just this year alone we have had 2 feature films (Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders; Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh) and a television series (Once Upon A Time, Adam Horowitz) focussing on the story of Snow White, though I can’t quite decide what it is.

Snow White is undoubtably full of memorable songs that even if you don’t know the words you certainly know the tune. And yet I find her singing voice quite tremulous though I guess it fits the image of naivety her character has.

You cannot deny how outstanding the contribution Snow White had to the film industry. Just think if we never had Snow White then we would never have had such classics like The Lion King (Roger Allers, 1994), Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale, 1991) or indeed Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995). I enjoy all Disney films (with possibly the only exception being The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gary Trousdale, 1996, as it’s a massive snooze-fest!) don’t get me wrong but I have a much more emotional connection to the films released in the early 1990s as they are the ones I grew up with. A lot of the early Disney films are ones I have gone back to discover after falling in love with The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin (Ron Clements, 1992)

You can see how Snow White has influenced other films – sometimes directly like the scene when Snow White and the bird are copying each other which appears in Shrek (Andrew Adamson, 2001) … just with a less happy ending for the bird. The way Snow White sorts out the dwarfs and tidies up their appearance can be seen in the way Milly sorts out the Pontipee brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Stanley Donen, 1954)

The Disney version, while being less terrifying than the original Brothers Grimm tale upon which it’s based, still has its own scary moments. I remember being terrified when the Queen transforms into the hag!

The seven dwarfs are wonderful and everyone has their own favourite. Mine personally is Dopey – without saying anything he is still one of the most expressive characters in the film. I just love him, I think he’s adorable! Though Doc is pretty adorable too with his inability to keep his words from mixing up. The animation truly is beautiful and still holds up extremely well today. And just think this was at the start of Disney’s career – it’s certainly an excellent starting point to build on.

While there are, and have been, many animated features since Snow White none but those made by the Disney (and now Pixar too) studio have that special thing, that magic that makes them timeless and enduringly popular … with the exception of Anastasia (Don Bluth, 1997) the film that isn’t Disney but really should be!!

There seems to be a lesson taught in every Disney (as I have said in every post concerning a Disney movie so far) and its true here. Snow White teaches us that jealousy is a hateful emotion and will ultimately destroy you while love has the power to save you every time. Great lessons that every little girl should learn from a young age.

Pinocchio

Director: Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen

1940

I have to say my Pinocchio is not up there with my favourite Disney films though I can see the appeal. I think my view has been marred somewhat by the very tongue in cheek version of Pinocchio in the Shrek films.

I think what makes Disney films in particular so popular, and continuously popular over long periods of time, is not just the wonderful music and breathtaking animation but also the fact that they contain important life lessons. As I said in a previous post Dumbo teaches us that anyone can overcome adversity if they try hard enough, Pinocchio offers similar advice – “Guided (but not always led by his insect ‘conscience’ Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio must learn not just responsibility but also courage and love during his innocently roguish quest for life.” (Joshua Klein, 163, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) With Pinocchio we learn about right and wrong and the consequences that go along with our actions.

The animation is outstanding – especially when you realize it is only Disney’s second feature film – and really showcases what can be achieved. The only limit is your imagination! I find the sequence with the clocks particularly clever and beautiful. I still to this day say “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I make tonight” … something I have carried with me throughout my childhood … every time I see the first star of the night.

Geppetto is a wonderfully charming grandfatherly figure. The toy maker in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, Ken Hughes) reminds me of Geppetto – he’s the human version if you like. By drawing the Blue Fairy in a softer way the animators create an etherial, other-worldly quality about her – exactly what a fairy needs. Pleasure Island is just downright creepy and yet an excellent visualization of what certain lifestyles will do to you.

Pinocchio (as well as all Disney films really) teaches us that it’s okay to dream and that even the biggest dreams can come true. However dreams won’t just be handed to us – there are conditions and we have to work for them but they are always ultimately worth it. Pinocchio may give into temptation but when it really comes down to it he shows real courage when he goes to the rescue of Geppetto without any thought to his own safety.

Certain elements of Pinocchio have actually transcended the film like a nose growing when you tell a lie. You know a film is a success when elements of it can survive on their own out of context.

Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle

1996

First of all I need to apologize for my long absence from the blogosphere – real life (in the form of the Olympics … London 2012 baby!!) kind of took over. As one of the thousands of Gamesmakers my life became all about the Olympics – I did my shifts, I came home where I watched some of the continuous coverage, I went to sleep and I repeated for about 4 weeks. Consequently there was not much time left for anything else – certainly not something as luxurious as watching films. But the Olympics has now finished and life is returning to something resembling normality so I thought I’d mark my return with Trainspotting – a film I still think is Danny Boyle’s masterpiece. On a side note … didn’t you just love the opening ceremony?! Danny did the country so proud!! See there was a reason for all that guff about the Olympics really. Anyway on with the review … it’s what you’re all here for really.

Trainspotting begins explosively with the (now classic) chase scene through the streets of Edinburgh and the infamous “Choose Life” speech narrated over the top which sets the tone for the film. Joanna Berry calls Trainspotting a ‘punchy, grim look at the Edinburgh drug scene, based on offbeat writer Irvine Welsh’s controversial novel” (861, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) She also hits on the key component – “Drug abuse here isn’t depicted as a glamorous option.” (861, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die). I have never done any sort of drugs in my life and I think part of that is due to first seeing Trainspotting when I was about 16 – while I must admit it fascinated me it also terrified me!

The entire cast is outstanding but the standout performance for me was, and still remains, Ewan McGregor’s Renton … closely followed by Robert Carlyle’s completely deranged and almost psychotic Begbie.  Boyle has created some of the most disturbingly iconic images with Renton emerging from the most revolting toilet ever seen. And then of course there is the horrific hallucination of a dead baby crawling across the ceiling during Renton’s detox. It’s surprisingly funny albeit in a dark way.

The colour palette, while being warm colours like oranges, yellows and reds, is washed out, a constant reminder of the washed out nature of the lives of the group of characters. I love the way so many of the shots have an unreal quality to them – like Renton’s bad hit when his pov is seen from a carpet lined hole in the ground. Renton’s period of detoxing is another excellent example of this with the walls literally moving and becomes quite a harrowing experience to watch, all to a pounding techno back beat.

Trainspotting really made an impression on me the first time I watched it all those years ago and it continues to do so. It remains a powerful, and oddly life affirming, film and like Joanna Berry I think that “Boyle and Hodge’s refusal to take a moral stance is in fact one of the movie’s many attributes – we are not here to judge Renton and his pals; we are just there to watch as, in a bleakly humorous fashion, their lives fizzle away to nothing.” (861, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) This decision to not take a moral stance allows the audience to come to their own decisions about both drugs and the kind of lifestyles associated with drug addiction. Indeed I think it is this element that makes Trainspotting such a powerful film and enduringly so over a decade later. And I stand by my statement that this is, and remains, Danny Boyle’s best film!!