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.

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.

Wall Street

Director: Oliver Stone

1987

“In an age of bombast, where the money men of the world’s financial sectors were the rising stars of a new form of capitalism, Oliver Stone was perfectly suited to direct a story about the rot at the core of a very big apple.” (744, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die)

Wall Street 1987It took me a couple of times watching Wall Street before I could begin to form an idea of what I wanted to write – and I’m still not entirely sure what it is I have to say about it, so bear with me if this post seems a bit haphazard. Wall Street is one of those films that has an instantly recognizable quote – “Greed is Good!” – that you feel you know even if you haven’t seen it as everyone knows the basic plot etc. which is probably why I took so long to get around to watching it.

It’s not a film I particularly enjoyed but then I don’t particularly enjoy watching films with either Michael Douglas or Charlie Sheen in and Wall Street obviously  has a double whammy. And than there is the subject matter – the corruption at the heart of the financial sector, fat cats getting fatter through illicit means. Not only do I not have any reference for that world – as Hayden Smith says “It reveals little of how this world works, but feeds us enough so as not to be confused.” (744) – but as everyone knows (unless they’ve been living under a rock for the last few years) we’re kind of in the midst of a tenuous financial situation pretty much world-wide. So yeah, watching a film about bankers using illicit means to ensure they get richer without the worry of blame should it all go wrong is not really my idea of fun given the current climate.

I find almost every single character in Wall Street abhorrent! The only character I have any sort of respect for is Martin Sheen’s – as Bud Fox’s long-suffering father. I do enjoy watching the interplay between Martin and Charlie Sheen in the same fictional relationship as their real life relationship. Carl Fox is the only person in the entire film who has a modicum of decency and more importantly retains it throughout the film. Bud even has a go at him about his morals and his views and yet that is ultimately what makes Carl the most likable character and the moral compass of the film.

Everyone else in the film has serious character flaws. Bud is weak, gullible and unhappy with his lot in life – the perfect target for the very unsavory Gordon Gecko. I mean yes he does come to his senses but it does little to redeem his character and both he, and the audience, isn’t given any time to really grasp the magnitude of his actions. Darien Taylor, played by Daryl Hannah, is shallow, superficial and has, like everyone else in this film and its world, questionable morals. This is most evident when once things start going downhill for Bud she abandons him as the money is almost certainly about to run out. She’s an awful role-model to women as she perpetuates the gold-digger image!

And then we come to Gordon Gecko – the awful spider at the centre of this web of deceit and lies manipulating not only the stock market but all the people around him too. Gordon Gecko is probably Michael Douglas’ most recognizable role. He is deplorable and only sees people for how they can be of use to him. He is a master at manipulating people but particularly Bud Fox. There isn’t anything that redeems Gecko in my eyes and he gets everything he deserves. 

While watching Wall Street I kept comparing it to The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese) and I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer Scorsese’s portrayal of banking in the boom of the 1980s. Indeed if I had to recommend just one financial film to a friend it would be The Wolf of Wall Street over Wall Street despite the latter being seen as on the great films of the 1980s. I think that is because there is a humor and levity to The Wolf of Wall Street that is missing from Wall Street.

An American Werewolf In London

Director: John Landis

1981

“Filled with gruesome, blackly comic scenes (most memorably, the werewolf pursuit through an underground tube station, and Naughton meeting his decaying – and rather annoyed – victims in a cinema), and great performances (including ex-Railway Children [1970] star Jenny Agutter as the nurse and Brian Glover as the grumpiest of the Slaughtered Lamb‘s patrons), the movie also boasts extraordinary werewolf effects from Rick Baker” (Joanna Berry, 663, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

An American Werewolf In LondonI didn’t enjoy An American Werewolf In London – having now seen it I don’t think I would watch it again. It didn’t grab my attention enough to warrant multiple viewings on my part.

I also wouldn’t have classified it as a horror movie. Nor did I really find it that humorous although the indignation of his victims in the dirty cinema is rather amusing. The Slaughtered Lamb is a great example of one of the staples of horror films – an entire village full of crazy, almost backward, people. Their unwillingness to interact with, let alone accept, outsiders really is the catalyst for the entire narrative of An American Werewolf In London.

Jenny Agutter does give a good performance but I found it to be a much more secondary one despite being the love interest. I think she is much underused.

The narrative is pretty standard fare for a werewolf movie although Landis does throw in a zombie element. I have to admit that the zombie element did kind of bug me – why did David’s victims become the undead after his attack?

The one saving grace of An American Werewolf In London is the makeup effects. They really are masterful. Yes they are quite dated now but somehow that improves them. The ability to instantly transform someone into a monster through the magic of computer generated wizardry has lessened the pain of transformation. That is the one thing that still comes through strongly. You can’t help but feel for Naughton as he undergoes his first transformation. I found myself cringing at the breaking bones and shying away from his agonized screams. It is a striking sence and probably the only one I will take away from the film.

Brazil

Director: Terry Gilliam

1984

I am finding it really difficult to actually form a review about Brazil which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film (all 7 times I have watched it in the last 6 months in order to try to write this post!!) I just can’t really work out how to put what I want to say into words. I think part of this stems from the fact that Kim Newman wrote a really good piece on it in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I agree with most of his points. In fact so much so that I can’t think of a better way to put it then he does. So below are the points I connect with the most from Newman.

Brazil“Made significantly in 1984, and in parallel with the Michael Radford film of George Orwell’s eponymous novel, Brazil is set “somewhere in the twentieth century,” in an imaginary but credible oppressive state that combines the worst features of 1940s British bureaucracy, 1950s American paranoia, Stalinist or fascist totalitarianism, and the ills of the 1980s (such as an obsession with plastic surgery).” (Kim Newman, 712-713, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) So it is very much a backward looking film despite being set in the future – a common theme in dystopian narratives. The color palette reflects the dystopic nature of the film with everything being very washed out, uniform and grey with the exception of Sam’s mother, Ida, and her friends lifestyle which is the complete opposite and embraces all of the technicolor excess of the 1980s.

“Whereas Orwell’s Airstrip one is built on an impossibly and horribly effective system of state surveillance, the worst aspect of Gilliam’s invented dystopia is that it doesn’t even work. The plot is kicked off by a farcical mistake as a squashed bug falls into a printer so that an arrest warrant intended for terrorist heating engineer Tuttle (Robert De Niro) is applied to an innocent Mr Buttle (Brian Miller), and the grimly utilitarian city is falling apart even without the possibly state-sponsored terrorist bombs that periodically wreak appalling carnage.” (712-713) The cast is made up of numerous notable actors with Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin (a Monty Python alum) and Jonathan Pryce as the protagonist, Sam Lowry.

Brazil Sam Lowry Jonathan Pryce“Sam enjoys romantic flights of imagination (scored with the Latin-flavored title tune) in which he is an angelic superhero knight facing up to Gilliamesque creations […] in order to rescue a dream girl (Kim Greist), one whose waking-life doppelgänger is a truck driver intent on shaking things up to redress the wrongs done to the Buttle and his family.” (712-713) There seems to be a recurring theme in Gilliam’s work – one where a dream or a fantasy world exists side by side with reality (like in The Brothers Grimm, 2005, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009, and to some extent Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, 1998) And Brazil certainly fits into that theme. The main thrust of Brazil is Sam’s increasingly frantic attempts to escape the grey drudgery of normality for the brightly colored dream world and his dream girl. Sounds simple enough although along the way these two worlds have a habit of merging resulting in the fantastical, if creepy, elements transporting themselves into the mediocre paperwork obsessed world Sam currently inhabits.

Brazil Ida Lowry Jim Broadbent“The gruesome black humor and bizarre visuals (embodied by Katherine Helmond as a surgery obsessed matron with a succession of shoe-shaped hats) exist alongside a credible – and horribly fact-based – depiction of a regime that charges its victims for the electricity and labor that goes into their own torture, as represented by the family man specialist from “Information Retrieval” (Michael Palin) and the desperate, middle-management paper-shuffler (Ian Holm).” (712-713)

Apologies for such a mediocre review but I really struggled with this one. Hopefully it won’t put any of you off watching Brazil if you haven’t seen it before because it really is a film worth watching. I would suggest going into it with an open mind and just letting the film take you where it will. It’s an unusual one but then would you expect anything less of Terry Gilliam?

 

The Shining

Director: Stanley Kubrick

1980

“Like all masterpieces, The Shining transcends its status as a literary adaptation to become not only vintage Kubrick – with spectacular ariel shots, a breathtaking and symbolic use of color, and recurrent mirror and labyrinth imagery, all enhanced by a memorable music score and Ray Walker’s unforgettable production design – but a classic of modern horror cinema.” (660, Roumiana Deltcheva, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Now I confess this was the first time that I ever saw The Shining – I know, I know, don’t judge me. However I did know all the main images due to their iconic status. It was interesting to finally see the narrative that links up the images like the elevator of blood, the scary twin girls and of course Redrum.Wall of blood Twins Redum The Shining

Shelley DuVall left me a bit indifferent I must say. While she is the last to succumb to the malevolent spirits she does seem to spend a lot of time floating ineffectually around. She kind of reminded me of a Tim Burton character with her elongated features ad sunken, darkened eyes.The Shining Shelley DuVall

“The film is dark, disturbing, and claustrophobic.” (660) Jack Nicholson is once again outstanding as Jack Torrance. He clearly has a knack for playing slightly mental characters exceptionally well – you only have to look at his performances in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975) and Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) for the evidence. His performance is an evolution of crazy – beginning with little subtle ticks to a full-blown homicidal maniac – which makes his character one of the most interesting horror baddies to watch. The majority of your horror killer are already fully formed homicidal maniacs like Michael Myers (Halloween, John Carpenter, 1978) or Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven, 1984). I found Jack Torrance was still quite a charismatic and likable character and immensely watchable.Jack Nicholson The Shining

For me whenever you have children in a leading role in a horror film it adds another of what I so eloquently term “creep factor”. And that’s certainly true here. The twin girls are terrifying with their innocent insistence that Danny come and play. Danny Lloyd is actually pretty good and convincing. Tony, the person who lives in his mouth, is quite disturbing and adds another dimension to this young actor’s performance. I liked that he was a clever kid as well rather than running around like a headless chicken. I mean he had enough sense to cover his tracks, quite literally due to the snow, when running away from his own father, hellbent on killing him.

As with all Kubrick films there is an extremely strong visual style to The Shining. “Carefully selecting his camera angles and rhythms, he draws us into fear.” (660) The colors are vivid and still very much of the 1970s with brown, orange and red prominent among them. There is most definitely a labyrinthine feel to the film and not just in the exquisite maze in the hotel grounds. The hotel itself is a maze of corridors lending a disorienting air to the already heavily isolated setting. Kubrick’s use of tracking shots creates a sense of claustrophobia due to the tight framing. They also add to the growing sense of doom.  “Kubrick demonstrates his mastery of the art, creating an atmosphere of great dread.” (660) He very effectively situates the viewer in a voyeuristic position – we become a spirit stalking their prey, always following behind.The Shining Danny Lloyd

I can’t believe that it took me this long to actually get around to watching The Shining. It has now become a fast favorite of mine and is one of the more intriguing horror films I have watched recently (and I seem to have watched a lot of them).Here's Johnny!!

A Nightmare On Elm Street

Director: Wes Craven

1984

I am a fan of horror and love scaring myself. Although I do generally end up watching horror films on my own during the day curled up with my dog for company/protection but that is mainly because nobody else I know particularly enjoys horror. I think I jumped in the deep end when it came to the horror genre because my first experience of it was watching The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) aged about 15 or so. Since then I have watched the classics like Dracula (1931, Tod Browning); slasher films like Scream (1996, Wes Craven) and Japanese horror along the lines of Ringu (1998, Hideo Nakata) and The Grudge: Girl In Black (2009, Mari Asato) And yet the slew of horror films made during the 1970s and 1980s are definitely some of the best.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 1984 Wes Craven“Nightmare combines elements of gothic literature – the seductive villain, the terrible place, the emphasis on dreams and subjective vision – with elements of the generic slasher movie – victims picked off one by one, the indestructible killer, the resourceful and virginal female survivor.” (705, Steven Jay Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieA Nightmare On Elm Street is one of my favorites … and not just because it’s the film debut of the magnificent Johnny Depp. I recently watched the remake by Samuel Bayer (2010) and while it had been updated and very slightly altered, in terms of back story, it is essentially a carbon copy of the original. And yet there is something infinitely scarier about the original.

“Wes Craven’s signature film, A Nightmare On Elm Street was at once a critical and commercial success that managed to creatively combine horror and humor, gothic literary motifs and slasher movie conventions, gory special effects and subtle social commentary. And it let loose a new monster in America’s pop cultural consciousness: that wisecracking fedora-wearing teen killer, Freddy Krueger.” (705) Freddy Krueger is one of the most terrifying of those well-known slasher killers – I find him scarier than Jason (Friday the 13th, Sean S. Cunningham 1980) and Michael (Halloween, John Carpenter, 1978) I think it’s because his domain is the world of dreams and consequently his ability to manipulate everything in it.

Krueger is so iconic in that grungy striped jumper with the gnarly razor gloves. And let’s not forget his horribly disfigured face. Robert Englund will forever be associated with Krueger, his truly disturbing creation. Although I have to say I thought Jackie Earl Healy did a masterful job taking on the iconic character in the remake. The associated song:

“1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you;

3, 4, better lock the door;

5, 6, grab your crucifix;

7, 8, gonna stay up late;

9, 10, never sleep again!”

is seriously creepy as it’s usually sung by little girls. It also stays in my head for days afterwards which does not help with the whole falling asleep thing I can tell you.

Heather Langenkamp is excellent as the lone survivor Nancy. She’s strong, resilient, persistent and absolutely determined. In short an excellent role-model for young women.

“The film’s spectacular set pieces, laden with special effects wizardry and gallons of fake blood, are balanced by an anxiety-inducing score and a gripping narrative, as we feel for the intended victims in their hopeless battle to stay awake.” (705) The score is excellent and  key piece in creating the nail-biting tension of the film. It’s in the horror genre that the importance of a good score is really evident as it increases the scary nature of the images being cut together to form the narrative. A horror film with the sound turned down is far less scary than with the score playing.