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.

 

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.

District 9

Director: Neill Blomkamp

2009

District 9District 9 is a smart political allegory that puts emotion, humour, and incredible visuals to fluid and accomplished use.” (913, Steven Jay Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieDistrict 9 was an interesting movie for me to watch, not just because the visual effects are really quite brilliant, but because it was a film that made me somewhat ashamed to be part of the human race. And now since finding out that “[t]his acclaimed science-fiction invasion thriller was inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town, during apartheid.” (913) I feel even more disgusted with what people are capable of. It’s kind of a palpable feeling for me when I watched District 9 – humans do not come out well in this film. I have way more empathy for the ‘Prawns’, as the aliens are known.

“Documentary-style filmmaking gives the movie an air of authenticity that helps the audience connect on a human level with the plight of the alien population. As our hero Wikus is infected with a disease and slowly starts to turn alien himself, our empathy grows.” (913) I hope that Wikus, and his plight, resonates with some viewers. Wikus starts out as an officious government official in a relatively low level job who is given the unpleasant task of relocating, forcibly, the population of Prawns residing in District 9, and rather than see the inherent issues with this he is proud of his role and the responsibility that has been afforded him. And then it all goes wrong and Wikus begins to understand, first hand, how his close-mindedness has a direct impact on an entire race of sentient beings.

District 9 is a wonderfully subtle commentary of the fallible nature of us as humans and the seemingly ingrained distrust of anyone or thing that looks different to us. I definitely came away from watching District 9 with a renewed sense of how important it is to look past any surface differences and try and see things from every side before coming to any sort of conclusion. The only criticism I have of District 9 is that it is much too long for the story it is telling. However I would definitely suggest watching it.

À bout de soufflé

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

1960

Breathless

“Whether through accident or design, Godard’s low-budget, on-the-fly shooting style produced remarkable innovations.” (370, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

sjff_01_img0006I first watched À bout de soufflé  for my film degree as part of the history of film module. And it turns out that while I cannot speak any French I can actually understand an awful lot of it, meaning that I didn’t have to rely wholly on the subtitles in order to follow the narrative. I still watch À bout de soufflé  in my spare time even all these years after being a little Fresher at university and enjoy it every time.

It’s true that not very much happens in the narrative but really that is kind of beside the points. It’s not so much what is actually happening in the narrative that makes the film so memorable but rather how that action was captured and conveyed. It was indeed groundbreaking in the visual cues especially with the choices of cuts in editing.

The jump cuts were kind of ahead of their time and created an instantly recognizable aesthetic and rhythm to the film, even if they are somewhat jarring the first time you watch the film. I love that the film is in black and white – I think it enhances that feeling of Parisian chic that is very much an identifying tone of the film.  

There s a definite James Dean air to Michel – the tragic anti-hero – and he plays the part perfectly. He completely sees himself as a hero of the silver screen despite in reality being a petty criminal. On the other hand the female lead irritates me as she lacks any depth or identity away from the protagonist. Despite being the focal point for Michel she brings very little to the film. You cannot deny that she manages to look ‘tres chic‘ effortlessly though and not just the typical Parisian chic but coupled with the super stylish simplicity of the 1960s.

“Eschewing direct sound recording and using total postsynchronization not only led to an Orson Welles-style speed and inventiveness in the dialogue delivery, it also paved the way for a radical sound mix in which one can no longer spot the difference between ‘real’ sound happening within the story and sound imposed by the filmmaker.” (370)

While the  aesthetic of the film is, a sI have said before, instantly recognizable I think the reason I keep returning to À bout de soufflé over the years is the language. I love just listening to it. The dialogue is wonderfully fast paced as expected with French and there is a beauty to the language when spoken naturally that lures me back every year or so (generally after our annual holiday in France when suffering from withdrawal systems!)

À bout de soufflé is probably my favourite foreign language film – it’s certainly the one, of a very few foreign language films in my dvd collection, that gets watched multiple times. 

I suck I know …

I seem to spend my life apologizing for being rubbish at updating my blog and yet here comes another one. Real life kind of took over with a new job rearing its head along with rehearsals for a new show and more recently the 2015 Rugby World Cup (the only world cup that matters in my view!) which has come to dominate my free time despite England’s somewhat disastrous performance (the less said about that the better!)

Although I had a couple of months downtime between ending one contract and starting the new job and good intentions of making a dent in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die this sadly never came to fruition and instead I ended up trying to get my room back into something resembling a living space (following an epic leaky roof this time last year – and I’m still not completely unpacked though the end is in sight thank goodness!)

Magic Mike XXLWhile I have watched a couple of films for the blog I must confess I have been rather lazy when it comes to actually writing up my thoughts on them. I have still been watching films, though not with nearly the same frequency, and have seen some truly awful ones (50 Shades of Gray, 2015, Sam Taylor-Wood), some that are so bad they’re good and guilty pleasures (Magic Mike XXL, 2015, Gregory Jacobs) and then some beautiful films like Macbeth (2015, Justin Kurzel). 50 Shades of Gray50 Shades was always going to be a difficult film as the leading man, Christian Gray, is going to be so different in everyone’s head (mine’s Michael Fassbender by the way) so I wasn’t surprised when I found the film to be somewhat lack lustre. I think Jamie Dornan is a wonderful actor, just not in this – he is in no way the Christian Gray I had envisioned and I found that bizarrely he lacked any sex appeal. The ages are all wrong too – Anna looks much older than she is in the books and way older than Christian where as Christian looked much younger than his description in the books … and yes I’m aware this is me confessing to having read the books, well the first one at least. All in all it just didn’t work for me and I still can’t believe it was as popular as it turned out to be. The creative talent behind it did not rate warrant its box office success!

MacbethAnd then on the flip side I recently saw Macbeth which is breathtakingly beautiful – and not just because Michael Fassbender is the doomed Scottish King though is did certainly help. Macbeth seems to have been received extremely well on the festival circuit and by the critics and I can understand why. I’m not sure though that it will do as well in its general public release. Now I’m a fan of Shakespeare and will quite happily sit through any of his plays but there are many who would be put off by Shakespeare which is a shame especially in this instance. I particularly enjoyed Fassbender’s portrayal of Macbeth as a man suffering from PTSD – it’s a refreshing new take on the character and yet one that makes a lot of sense. He is entirely commanding as Macbeth and as usual I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He dominated every scene he was in. On the other hand I was somewhat underwhelmed by Lady Macbeth but then I’ve never really enjoyed any of Marion Cotillard’s performances and I also don’t like the character of Lady M either. But the true beauty of the film is its stunning cinematography – beautiful shards of light filtering across the scene and glorious moments of slow motion all serve to make the film visually arresting. And yet it is these elements that I fell in love with that I think will result in Macbeth struggling in the general release. It has a much more defined artistic feel to the film that I’m not sure regular cinema goers will necessarily appreciate … I am well aware that I may be doing a great injustice to the intelligence of cinema goers here. I thoroughly recommend seeing Macbeth is you can as it is most definitely a feast for the eyes.

High-RiseI also had a brilliant experience recently during the London Film Festival where thanks to some random man in the crowd in Leicester Square I unexpectedly ended up getting to see High-Rise (2015, Ben Wheatley) It’s a fantastic film though I was so frazzled by actually getting to go in and see a film at its premiere (completely underdressed of course as I had come straight from work on dress down Friday!!) that I think I didn’t quite appreciate it as much as I could have. There were times when I was hit with a sense of vertigo that was somewhat disquieting but completely fit with the tone of the film. The cast is full of heavy hitters with Tom Hiddleston leading the charge – I was amazed at the number of people at the premiere that had absolutely no idea who he is but I digress – and ably supported by Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss and James Purefoy. It was wonderfully dystopic with a depiction of the lowest level humanity can descend to, all shot in a seemingly timeless aesthetic though I do think it was meant to be set in maybe the 1970s or 1980s. I definitely intend to watch the film again in order to fully appreciate the nuances in it.

Hopefully you’ll forgive my laziness and continue reading – I’m certainly aiming to update in the near future with the reviews of the films I actually managed to watch during the intervening months.