The Man Who Fell To Earth

Director: Nicholas Roeg

1976

What a strange movie but then when David Bowie is your lead you kind of expect it to be slightly kooky and weird.

I was dissatisfied with The Man Who Fell To Earth. It was way too long for a start and had the loosest story line possible which doesn’t even get a proper resolution at the end. The film just abruptly stops. I also have quite a pronounced issue with art house cinema. Art house films are pretentious and have an overblown sense of their own importance, thinking they are addressing the big questions of the universe when in reality what they present is a disjointed compendium of images that have no real connection. Unfortunately The Man Who Fell To Earth only strengthened my opinion on art house films.

“Told in cross-edits with unexplained chronological and location jumps, this ultrasophisticated take on American culture, love, and homesickness was also a major technical achievement.” (Karen Krizanovich, 601, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There is a lengthy portion of the film given over to disparate images strung together for no definitive reason that I can distinguish. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to grasp the deeper meaning Roeg is trying to infuse, what is essentially a science fiction film, with. “The later success of Memento (2000) and Mulholland Dr. (2001), two films that similarly displace time and place, show that The Man Who Fell To Earth was not only ahead of its time but also ahead of its audience.” (601) There is no discernible passage of time really despite the narrative spanning a number of years.

The Man Who Fell To Earth David BowieDavid Bowie is striking as Thomas Newton, the titular Man Who Fell To Earth, with his vibrant orange hair and famously mismatched eyes. And he is the perfect choice to play an extraterrestrial being as he has always had an other worldly presence. He even looks kind of natural and at ease in his natural alien state – some very clever use of makeup. The remainder of the cast didn’t really leave much of an impression on me I have to say. All of my attention was focused on Bowie.

All in all this was not one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences I have had while attempting to undertake the mammoth task of working my way through 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. It’s not a film I envision myself watching again.

The Cabin In The Woods

Director: Drew Goddard

2011

You ever watch a movie that you just love but have a really hard time explaining to someone else why you love it, let alone be able to put it into words? Well I’m having one of those moments with The Cabin In The Woods. So all I can say is sorry for this somewhat lackluster and confused review. Hopefully it will make sense to some of you.

“[…] The Cabin In The Woods is co-written and produced by Buffy creator and Avengers (2012) director Joss Whedon. Like Buffy, it is at once a knowing pastiche of horror conventions and a horror movie in its own right.” (Edward Lawrenson, 936, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) You may know by now how I feel about Joss Whedon (Joss is God!!) and although ultimately The Cabin In The Woods is directed by Drew Goddard in my mind it is always associated with Joss, probably very unfairly. But then both Joss and Drew have said that the process of filming was like being part of a hive mind – ‘one whole brain rather than two half brains.’ The main difference is the casting – Joss is known for casting characters from his well stocked pool of actors (and there’s a lot of them to pick from due to his penchant for ensemble casts) and Cabin is kind of light on members of the Whedonverse.Cabin In The Woods Jesse Williams Chris Hemsworth Fran Kranz

Despite having only a couple of Whedon regulars, in the form of Amy Acker as the head of the Chemical Department, and Fran Kranz as the intrinsically lovable stoner Marty, (oh and an appearance from Tom Lenk as Ronald the Intern) the cast is a well constructed one made up of a number of rising actors including Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. For all that the cast are nominally rising stars the nature of the story means that most of the sacrifices are reduced to bit parts, especially Anna Hutchison as Jules who really does become the stereotypical dumb blonde and the first to meet their grisly end. Hemsworth’s Curt is very much the alpha male jock who goes out in a blaze of glory – quite literally having collided with the force field confining them all to the area of play. Jesse Williams gives a shining though brief performance as Holden, the ultimately unrealized love interest for Kristen Connolly’s Dana.

Once again you have a resilient young female in the defining role of the film. While it is Dana who chooses their demise she is also the one who realizes that is just what they were manipulated into doing. She never gives up despite witnessing enough gruesome deaths to leave anyone catatonic. Fran Kranz is excellent as Marty. He has a unique, if extremely paranoid, way of looking at the world and is surprisingly switched on despite spending the entirety of the film high. Labeled ‘the fool’ he alone is the only one who realizes the dire situation they have found themselves in and ends up becoming the badass reluctant hero of the piece. I do always get the urge to watch the short-lived Dollhouse (2009-2010, Joss Whedon) after watching Cabin because Marty reminds me so much of Topher. If you love Marty then you should definitely check out Dollhouse.

Cabin In The Woods Joss Whedon Drew GoddardThe film has a very definite split between two sets of characters, the unfortunate sacrifices up above in the aforementioned Cabin In The Woods and the people pulling the strings underground, literally. This split is reflected in the aesthetic of the film as well. The Cabin while dark, and as we come to know very carefully constructed, is organic with a rustic (if slightly creepy) feel to it. As a contrast the underground control centre is clinical, practical and very uniform. It’s very gray and industrial.

“But for the movie’s ironic reference to other horror films, The Cabin In The Woods works in wholly visceral terms: it is at once a clever experiment in genre and a scary experience in itself.” (936) Cabin is definitely a scary experience in itself but then throw a clown into the mix and anything automatically becomes terrifying to me (it doesn’t even have to be a horror film) and that’s without the whole host of other creatures straight out of nightmares that inhabit the world of The Cabin In The Woods. Their imaginations just ran riot, anything you could possibly conceive of is included in this litany of nightmares (supposedly there is a Reaver somewhere but I have yet to find it). And despite including references to the wealth of horror films out there, they are subtle and avoid including any of the monsters made infamous by the genre like the numerous masked serial killers or even the old stalwart monsters. There’s no need to recycle vampires and werewolves when you can put your own spin on the creatures. Sugar Plum Fairy Cabin In The WoodsSome of the things contained within the innumerable elevators of evil I don’t even have names for or even realized I was scared of and yet there they are put on screen to enter into your dreams. Equally some of the monsters are kind of beautiful and elegant in their own way. I found the Sugar Plum Fairy and the guy with circular saws in his head mesmerizing and kind of graceful.Cabin In The Woods

“With its bloody exploration of ideas of sacrifice, the movie prompts difficult questions about the audience’s need for and enjoyment of onscreen violence and fear.” (936) The overriding theme is that everyone has their part to play even if they are doing so unwittingly. Everyone is expected to play their role without question and yet Marty and Dana don’t which ends with everything falling quite spectacularly apart. The resulting disintegration of carefully constructed rules plays out in a beautiful and bloody chaos. You can watch The Cabin In The Woods over and over again and never fail to find something new in it thanks to the “chaos on every screen”.

“Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods is a fiendishly clever horror with an unexpected plot development that’s one of the great surprises in recent cinema.” (936)

Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Director: Blake Edwards

1961

I’m a funny old goat when it comes to films deemed to be classics. Almost every time without fail I find the praise surrounding the ‘classics’ often doesn’t match up to the film and end up being underwhelmed. As such I tend to avoid those films deemed to be classics until I can’t any longer – like when deciding to start this blog as you can guarantee they are all going to be included in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Every so often I hit upon one that I actually kind of like. And that’s what happened when I finally got around to watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany'sWhile I enjoyed Breakfast At Tiffany’s sometimes when watching a film that has become as iconic as this one has it is difficult to see it as a whole rather than just a string of iconic vignettes. “Audrey Hepburn, her hair swept back, dressed in a chic black dress, and carrying her elegant cigarette holder, provides an unforgettable image that hasn’t faded over time.” (Joanna Berry, 381, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Audrey Hepburn is dazzling as the wonderfully bohemian spirited Holly Golightly. She flits around like a glamorous butterfly from one wealthy man to another, always managing effortlessly to be the centre of attention wherever she is. And yet there are moments where you see through the carefully constructed facade she has built up to the lonely person underneath.

Despite the influence of the censors leading to some changes to the adaptation from Truman Capote’s novel the implications as to how both Holly and Paul fund their lifestyles are clear. But then that may just be me looking at the film from a cynical viewpoint. I found myself drawn more towards Paul, played by George Peppard, than Hepburn’s Holly. Paul gets completely swept along by Holly’s somewhat frivolous lifestyle and finds himself orbiting her gravitational pull and that’s how I felt as a viewer. “The delicate balance of both his and Holly’s relationships are placed under threat, however, when Paul falls in love with his beautiful, if sometimes maddening. neighbor.”  (381)Breakfast At Tiffanys Holly Golightly Paul Varjak

“Add Henry Mancini’s haunting score and classic cinematic moments (Hepburn singing “Moon River,” or searching for her beloved Cat in the pouring New York rain) and you have one of Hollywood’s most delightful and unforgettable romantic dramas.” (381) Earlier I said it was difficult to see iconic films as a whole rather than just a series of vignettes but I found that Breakfast At Tiffany’s became a complete film. Yes there are many infamous moments but the story overcomes them and they become part of what draws you in instead of pulling you out of the story which is something I have found with other iconic females in film (notably Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953, Howard Hawks). It’s a lovely romantic film with a gentle comedy running throughout and a classic film that I actually found myself enjoying.

Fargo

Director: Joel Coen

1996

“One speciality of sibling partners Joel and Ethan Coen is twisting time-honored Hollywood genres into flamboyant, contemporary delights. The foremost filmmakers to emerge from America in the 1980s, their best films still look great, and their devilishly clever Fargo is among their very best. It’s a wicked tale that provokes gasps of admiration and shock along with belly laughs. Embezzlement, abduction, deceit, misunderstanding, and murder are all in the frame, as is another regular feature of the Coenesque experience – a crime that gets totally out of control.” (850, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Fargo Joel CoenThere are very few Coen Brothers movies that I would actually consider myself a fan of, only really True Grit (2010) and The Big Lebowski (1998), both of which have Jeff Bridges in. Having said that not only do I very much want to see Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) but have also seen a surprising amount of their films. Fargo however is not one of their films that I would say I enjoyed. It was one of the films that had been on my list to watch (and not just because it was in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) but I had been dragging my feet when it came to actually sitting down and watching it. The push for me was the announcement that there is to be a television series of Fargo with Martin Freeman in the role that saw “[…] William H. Macy in the anxious performance that lifted him from ever-useful character actor to eagerly sought character actor.” (850)

As much as I find myself drifting when I watch Coen Brothers films I find myself  equally as disengaged with William H. Macy which does cause somewhat of a problem when watching Fargo because not only am I watching a Coen Brothers film but it also had Macy as the lead.  One of the most distracting elements of the film for me was the regional accent employed by the majority of the cast. “But most of the film, impishly introduced as a true story in the first of its macabre deceptions, is set in the austere, snowy landscapes of the Coen’s native Minnesota (where the exaggerated regional dialect amusingly employed in hilariously banal chitchat is a flat, singsong relic of the area’s Scandinavian immigrant pioneers, and at absurd odds with the heinous goings-on.)” (850) It was an accent that just did not sit well aurally. And ultimately it just pulled me out of the film unfortunately.

“Enter Frances McDormand (Mrs Joel Coen) absolutely fantastic as the very pregnant, comically ordinary but sharp small-town police chief, Marge Gunderson. Resolutely conducting her first triple homicide investigation with unhurried waddle and droll aplomb, Marge is easily the most engaging character every conceived by the Coens.” (850) Frances McDormand is as Angela Errigo says, the most engaging character in Fargo. She is the heart of the film and really so much more than she appears at first glance. Marge is probably the one element of the film that I actually found myself engaging with.

At least now I can say that I have seen Fargo, even if I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. I am however intrigued to see how this new show will play with a very different cast. I’m hoping that I find myself more engaged with it as Martin Freeman is one of those actors that grows on me with every project that I watch.