Sunday, 1 October 2023

Arthur (1981)


Off-List: Arthur

The third off-List movie of 1981 is “Arthur”. This was a suggestion of my wife, who loved this movie in her childhood. For me, this was first time I watched it and I do not think I had even heard about it until my wife mentioned it. So, a good opportunity to expand my horizon and watch a movie together.

“Arthur” is a comedy about a playboy, Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), who refuses to grow up and take responsibility for his life but drowns his insecurities in copious amounts of alcohol. We learn that he is fabulously rich with family money, but that it is really his parents who are calling the shots. Arthur has people to do all his work, Mr. Hobson (John Gielgud) his butler and Mr. Bitterman (Ted Ross) his chauffeur, and everywhere he goes, nobody refuses him, smiles and mocks him when he leaves again. He lives in a bubble of money and no responsibility. He hates it, but is unable to do anything about it, but drinking. And drinking he does.

At the opening of the movie, we see him cruising through town with Mr. Bitterman and picking up hookers. He takes one of them to an expensive restaurant and makes a scene just to set the stage. At home, Mr. Hobson is clearly familiar with the scenario, gets the girl out and tries to boost a bit of adult sentiment into Arthur, though largely failing. Arthur does love Hobson like a father, but it is always easier to dodge responsibility. A crisis, however, is looming on the horizon. Arthur’s parents have found a wife, the well-connected Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry), for Arthur and he must marry her or get cut off from his wealth.

This is where the magic starts happening. Arthur meets Linda Marolla (Liza Minelli) while she is stealing a necktie from an expensive shop. He is fascinated with her and her devil-may-care attitude and steps in when she is apprehended by the shop detective. Athur falls in love with this person who cannot be bought and is finally doing something on his own, unfortunately at a time when it is almost too late.   Will Arthur truly man-up or is he doomed to an unhappy marriage?

What makes “Arthur” a comedy is the shenanigans of Arthur when he is drunk. His drunken antics are played to full effect and against an audience who is sober and very proper, so Arthur is like a bomb in a stuffed-up society. That is kind of funny, and definitely the sort of fun that from a child’s perspective works as hilarious. Unfortunately for me, I have found as I get older that drunk people are only really funny when you are drunk yourself and watching Arthur get stiff is almost painful. It is clearly a shield against the world and rather than enjoying his jokes, I feel his pain and despair. Poor rich kid is a cliché, and I know it is difficult to feel truly sorry for somebody with this much resource behind him, but Arthur is a sad case. The victim of always taking the easy way and throwing out your dignity in the process.

In another decade, “Arthur” would be a tragic or at least a moral tale, but in the early eighties (as in the early thirties) there was a window where this could be a comedy that actually worked. I can see it as funny and I can see the appeal, but the alcoholism element just means that it has not aged well. It feels almost inappropriate, yet my anarchistic side thinks that is actually a plus.

Gielgud won an Academy Award for best supporting actor and the theme song (by Burt Bacharach) won the award for Best Original Song. And it is a very catchy tune indeed.

I do love my eighties comedies and I want to like this, but maybe not so much as a comedy but as a social commentary.

Monday, 25 September 2023

Body Heat (1981)


Høj Puls

I love film noir and “Body Heat” is very much noir. Sure, this is 1981, pictures are in color and the dialogue (and the sex) is updated, but on every other level, this is classic film noir as it was made in the forties and fifties. It is even based on a noir classic, “Double Indemnity” to an extent where it is fair to call it a remake.

We meet Ned Racine (William Hurt), a not-so-great Florida lawyer who spends more time thinking with his genitals that on his actual legal cases. This is a small town where people know each other so Ned may be losing a case (again) in court to the prosecutor Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson), but he is still having a drink with him in the local diner, swapping gossip.

One night, when Ned is ready to move on to the next lay, he meets Matty Tyler Walker (Kathleen Turner). She is a class or two above Ned’s usual prey, but he enjoys the challenge and somehow, he does end up in her pants. Matty is home alone most of the week as her wealthy husband does his business elsewhere and that is very convenient. Eventually they come up with a scheme to kill her husband to clear him out of the way and leaving his worldly possessions to Matty. That goes reasonably well, but then things start going south. Ned learns from various sources that things are not what he thinks they are, that he has been duped and is in danger himself. Matty is one sneaky viper.

“Body Heat” spends a rather long time setting up the pieces. It is slow and moody. There is a sense of oppressive heat, and most scenes are shot at night with lighting that creates a lot of shadow. All this is accompanied by a seductive, slow score by John Barry. This is sexy stuff. So is the chemistry between Hurt and Turner. It is a playful but sexually very loaded dialogue, maybe slightly too racy for the original noir movies, but the meaning and intent is exactly the same. We understand the sexual, dark energies involved here and if we were in doubt, the love-making following leaves nothing in doubt. Very steamy. Not that we really see that much, this is not porn, but that just makes it work even stronger.

When we come up to the murder, the movie changes gear. There is now not just a sexual load but something a lot darker and as we see all this from Ned’s point of view, we see how he struggles to keep afloat under this load. We thought we knew Matty, but as a character she becomes more distant as Ned realizes how little he actually knows about her and that is brilliantly done. We know Ned got into this through his own flaws, but we still feel the disquiet, even panic as he realizes he has been played as much as her husband did.

True to the noir style, there are no happy endings. Human failings and a femme fatale will eventually cause ruin and a few open ends is simply par for the course. This is exactly how it should be.

It was a pleasure to watch so many great actors at the early end of their careers. William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke just to mention some of them. It is not one of those movies where the actors improvise their roles, but instead it is more like a choreographed ballet where even the smallest details are well considered. A remark, a glance, a hand gesture, everything is loaded with meaning and the talent of both actors and direction is that it never looks staged. Or at least no more staged than we feel we a diving into a forbidden zone, developing into a nightmare.

An interesting detail I learned from the extra material is that the heat we feel is all fake. It was the coldest winter in memory in Florida and the actors were all freezing profoundly while they had to act as if they were barely enduring the heat. Now, that is the true illusion of cinema at work.

Is “Body Heat” too much of a pastiche on film noir? Some might say so, but I am buying it completely. I love it when directors are not afraid of using an old style or theme for their movies. Especially when it is this well done. Recommended, but probably not for children.


Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Time Bandits (1981)


Off-List: Time Bandits

When I was looking for off-List movies for 1981 I found that my first choice was on the List after all (“Evil Dead” is listed as a 1982 movie) and my second choice (“Kundskabens træ”) is included in my Danish edition of the Book. Looking around I saw that “Time Bandits” was an option. I seemed to recall this was a movie I always wanted to watch but never did. I could also see that this was essentially a Monty Python movie after Monty Python, so, a no-brainer, this had to be included as an off-List movie.

As I got into the movie, I realized that actually I have watched this one before. It just made so little impression on me that I had forgotten. That is unfortunately symptomatic for “Time Bandits”.

Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a single child living in a suburban home with parents who are far more interested in material wealth and gadgets than in Kevin. One night, a knight in full armor springs out of his closet and rides off through a wall that has now become a forest. Kevin is stunned, but the next night he is ready, armed with a satchel, flashlight and a polaroid camera, so when a gang of dwarves jump out of the closet, he is ready to go with them.

It turns out that these dwarves, headed by Randall (David Rappaport), used to work for the Supreme being (God), fixing errors in Creation, but decided to steal a map of gateways to plunder and enrich themselves. From Kevin’s room they land in Napoleon’s (Ian Holm’s) camp. Then on to the Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood (John Cleese) and then ancient Mycene where Kevin gets adopted by Agamemnon (Sean Connery) for helping him slay the Minotaur. Having robbed the Greeks clean, they land on the Titanic, which was kind of a mistake…

Meanwhile, Evil (David Warner) wants the map as well and sets a trap to lure the dwarves to his fortress. There is a showdown here where all mankind’s technology is useless against Evil and only the Supreme being, personified by Ralph Richardson, is able to save the day. Kevin wakes up, his house is on fire, but what seemed to have been a dream is contradicted by all his polaroids in his pocket.

“Time Bandits” is intended as a children’s movie or at least a family movie, so the story is told at the eye height of children. At that, I am sort of outside the target group and my criticism may therefore be unfair. One of the consequences of this angle is that nothing gets explained and even the silliest elements must be taken at face value. I suppose it has become more difficult for me to just accept with a child’s faith what I see as I have gotten older. The short of it is that at face value, very little here adds up.

For Monty Python that was never an issue. What carried the day was the anarchistic comedy and everything else was just a, wry, frame to string it along. That comedy is much toned down here. Certainly, some is left and much of that is very much left-field, but as it is aimed at children it is also very harmless and often falls flat. Maybe it has something to do with that the Monty Python members who do appear, do so for only short moments. John Cleese is top-billed and is a fantastic Robin Hood, but is there for hardly five minutes. Michael Palin shows up twice, but hardly as more than a cameo. Maybe they did not want to steal the picture (which they do when they finally appear) but there is not enough Monty Python here to even remotely quality as such.

What we get instead is a coming-of-age story for Kevin. His (maybe) internal journey explores the meaning of value. Most particularly material wealth compared to moral wealth, but also concepts like courage and companionship. Kevin’s parents are disqualified as representing consumerism and little else and Kevin emerges with some more wholesome qualities. It is a moral tale, told in the language of the early eighties and at the eye-height of children.

What does work here, and works spectacularly well, is the set decorations. There is a lot here that points towards Terry Gilliam’s later movies, especially in Fortress of Evil. Again, a departure from Monty Python but pointing forward to something quite spectacular such as “Twelve Monkeys” or the cinematography of Jeunet.

I was rather underwhelmed by “Time Bandits”. It is too much in-between for my taste and aimed for a different target group. As a Monty Python fan, I do not consider this essential viewing, but for anybody interested in the work of Terry Gilliam, there are some interesting insights here.


Thursday, 7 September 2023

Chariots of Fire (1981)


Viljen til Sejr

Everybody knows the image of running in the surf to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire”. Certainly, if you have attended or watched any sporting event. But that is also all I knew of the movie behind this image before now. Probably a mistake on my side.

“Chariots of Fire” is a movie about a group of British athletes preparing for and competing at the Paris Olympics in 1924. The two main characters are Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) with a rivalry implied between them.

Abrahams is a Cambridge student and a son of a wealthy Jew of Lithuanian origin. This has placed a chip on Abrahams’ shoulder and he feels everything he does is to prove the prejudice of others wrong. A sentiment that is both motivating him and threatening to push him over the edge, both in terms of his own mental health and other people’s acceptance of him.

Motivation is something Liddell has plenty of as well. Liddell is strictly religious, born in China of missionary parents and destined to take over the mission eventually. Liddell is also very fast and when he runs, he is convinced he is doing God’s will and honor him by winning. The upshot is that Liddell fights and exerts himself 120%, making him extremely fast, even in adversity.

Abrahams sees Liddell as his only real competition in Britain and during a race in Scotland where Abrahams lose to Liddell, he takes on his coach, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm) to give him that extra edge, something frowned upon by the elitist Cambridge board who do not like professionalism.

At the Paris Olympics the expected duel on 100 m between Abrahams and Liddell is cancelled when Liddell refuses to run on a Sunday and instead runs the 400 m race. The personal duel instead becomes a transatlantic duel where the British runners are pitted against American runners.

The classic sports movie is about setting a team, practicing and then competing (to win, understood) and “Chariots of Fire” does follow this formular, even if the team is only understood as the runners picked for the Olympics. The thing that makes “Chariots of Fire” interesting is the motivation of the athletes. As the character, Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), remarks, for the others, running is a fun hobby, for Abrahams it is an obsession. Lindsay is a good hurdles runner, but without that extra motivation he will not be more than good. Abrahams and Liddell are fueled by something else, and this is what is explored and the reason for watching this movie.

Another element, which at least for me, makes the movie interesting, is that it is largely a true story. Abrahams and Liddell are real characters and the portrait of them is quite faithful. Some details are modified (Liddell found out he was running on a Sunday and changed to 400 m already before departure for Paris), but the essence is true. This makes it a window into another age where sports were considered a bit differently than today with athletics being a gentlemen’s sport, well dressed at all events and a code of conduct which already in 1924 was becoming antiquated. To see these British athletes in suits next to their American counterparts in tracksuits is like watching the past and the future in a single image. The List has had movies from the 36 and the 64 Olympics and while the style of them are very different, they serve to demonstrate a development in the attitude towards sports.

Then of course there is the famous scoring by Vangelis. I am constantly reminded of his scoring for “Bladerunner”, as different a movie to “Chariots of Fire” as it is possible to make them, and a part of me is thinking that so similar a score cannot possibly fit so different movies. In “Gallipoli” the electronic score was definitely a clash, but there is something about the patos in Vangelis score that against odds actually makes it work here. Or maybe the theme song has just become so associated with sports, particularly athletics, that intuitively it works. I may just have become conditioned to think that this is the sound of a sprinter in slow motion.

I liked “Chariots of Fire” more than I thought I would. It is an interesting watch even if the drama element is kept at a minimum, but I am wondering what made the Academy award it four Oscars, including Best Picture? This is the year of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Das Boot”. Still, I do recommend it.


Saturday, 2 September 2023

Gallipoli (1981)


Ærens vej til Gallipoli

If you know just a little about Peter Weir and his movies, you will know not to expect something as trivial as a straight war drama from him. Gallipoli is a big thing in Australia and in his hands “Gallipoli”, the movie, is really about two things: The coming of age of Australia as a nation and the idiocy or World War I.

The movie takes place in 1915, only a decade and a half after the formation of the Australian federation. In the outback of Western Australia, Archy (Mark Lee) dreams of going to war. Archy is the son of a ranch owner, or whatever it is called in Australia, and practicing to be a sprinter. At a local town fair race, he races a railway worker, Frank (Mel Gibson), who just quit his job. Both are excellent sprinters and end up bonding. Archy wants to join the light cavalry but is too young and Frank just wants to get to Perth. They ride a freight train but end up in the middle of nowhere and must cross a large saltpan in the desert to get a train out. Through Archie’s bush skills they manage and Frank helps Archie look older so he can enlist. Frank has no wish to enlist, but somehow gets involved anyway. As he does not know how to ride, he joins the infantry.

They end up in Egypt where the Australian and New Zealandic units are being formed in the what is known as the ANZAC. We see them practice and deal with being mates in a foreign country and eventually Archie and Frank reunite. As they are supposed to leave their horses behind, Frank asks and is permitted to join Archies unit. Then they are off to Gallipoli in Turkey. The ANZAC only controls a small strip of land along the shore with a steep slope up. Any attack is pretty much doomed as the Turks can, at leisure, move the attackers down with machinegun fire. The ANZAC must attack to draw fire from a British attack on another beach, but the attack is total disaster with everybody cut to pieces.

So, as I mentioned above, this is a lot about the formation, or coming of age, of Australia as a nation. The Australians are presented as naïve children who are living a comfortable and protected life, in sync with their environment, even one as hostile as the Western Australian outback. They are heading blindly into a war that really has nothing to do with them, but the adversity is fusing the country together and is giving them both a national trauma, but also a national myth about being Australians that is celebrated to this day as ANZAC day. Through my travels in Australia, I can testify that this is still a big thing there.

Having said that, this is an odd movie to watch. It is very pretty, as Weir’s movies always are, but it is also incredibly slow with the things happening seeming of little relevance to the overall story. My guess is that it tries to describe the idea of being mates and bonding Australian style, of the things that would form a young Australian at the time. Frankly, I found it borderline boring, if it had not been also very pretty to look at.

The war part is surprisingly short. We see them based on the beach of Gallipoli in a very relaxed atmosphere, until the moment of attack. This attack is presented as extremely moronic, with stupid errors from all levels of management, but it has to be done because management orders it so, and so everybody dies. The End.

I am not very familiar with the Gallipoli operation, but what I have learned is that practically everything that could go wrong did go wrong, largely do to poor planning and a lack of contact with reality. This could be said of most of that war, but at Gallipoli it all came together as a massive clusterfuck. The soldiers landed on the wrong beaches, the massive naval support was useless due to bad communication, the top brass who planned the thing had little understanding of the place, but worst of all, they thought they were fighting the previous war and had developed no tactic or technology to face the war they actually got and at no point did they face that fact and reconsidered their operation. If the spirit is right, you can face anything, even machinegun fire and to hell with losing a few (thousand) young men in the process.  “Path of Glory” is a good window into that world and Weir was known to have been heavily inspired by that movie.

An interesting detail is that while the score is often somber and classic, it changes into an electronic score by Jarre when Archie or Frank are running. First time I heard “Oxygene” being played I sat up wondering what was going on. It is nice music but a very odd choice for a 1915 setting.

I am not completely sold by “Gallipoli”. I understand what it is trying to do, but I have a feeling it would work better if I was Australian. As it is, it was just a bit too slow for me.  

Saturday, 26 August 2023

Stripes (1981)


Off-List: Stripes

I am a big fan of both Bill Murray and Harold Ramis and especially of the movies they did together, so it should come as no surprise that I picked “Stripes” as one of my off-List movies for 1981.

John (Bill Murray) and Russell (Harold Ramis) live a hand to mouth life in New York. John’s cynical, nihilistic and somewhat childish slacker attitude takes him nowhere and on a particularly shitty day he losses his job, his car, his girlfriend and his apartment. Somehow, he manages to talk his friend, Russell, into joining the army as a sort of last resort. Never has the US Army received more unlikely and unsuited recruits.

John runs his Bill Murray schtick throughout, which lands him at odds with everybody, especially his drill sergeant, Hulka, (Warren Oates). He has this way of talking to people where you always have a feeling he is mocking and not entirely sincere. Something which is both infuriating and hilariously funny. Needless to say, the basic training is a total disaster, something not helped by the “quality” of the rest of the unit, which includes Ox (John Candy) and Elmo (Judge Reinhold), both in their American screen debut, or the total incompetence of company commander, Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). The latter ends up sending Sergeant Hulka to the hospital when he blows him up, and it is now up to John to take charge of the unit so they can make it through graduation.

“Stripes” is sort of a combination of “Animal House” and “Private Benjamin”. It is the slacker anarchy and improvised hilarity merged into a story of unlikely and unfit recruits in the army. What happens when chaos meets discipline, when comedy meets deadly seriousness? This is not a new combo at all. In Denmark that combo dates back to the early sixties and also American cinema had been there before. It has just never been as funny as it is here. The key here is the force of nature which is Bill Murray and the writing and sense of the improvisation opportunities of Harold Ramis. Not to forget Ivan Reitman going along with it.

Bill Murray is one of the few actors who can make an entire movie be about himself and actually lift it. Any movie will completely change character the moment he shows up, for better or worse and from then on, it is a Bill Murray movie. This might not work for everybody, but for me his slacker cynicism is gold. He is the master of deadpan.

The story of “Stripes” is not great. There is a background phase, boot camp phase and then they are out on a mission. It is a story anyone with half a brain can follow. It is not a very naturalistic one either. There are lots of moments that require suspense of disbelief to the point of the ridiculous and had this been anything else than a Murray/Ramis/Reitman movie, it would have tanked. It is that thin. But by making it a vehicle it is all down to Murray and Ramis and in that context the silliness works. More for me back in the eighties and ninetieth, but I still had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and I was able to gloss over some of the more stupid elements, such as the incursion into Czeck territory.

The early eighties was a very fertile period for this type of comedy and, silly as they are, I love them. Whether it was “Police Academy”, “Beverly Hills Cop” or “Trading Places” I always have had a good time watching them. A guilty pleasure, if you will. “Stripes” is almost archetypical in that respect, taking silliness and anarchy far but stopping just short of becoming stupid and creating in the process unforgettable comedy.

When Murray and Ramis fell out after “Groundhog Day” it deprived us of the potential for so much great comedy. What a miss. Then again, Murray seems to have been falling out with everybody in Hollywood, so it is a wonder how many great movies he has actually been in throughout the years.

“Stripes” is a Murray and Ramis classic. We still have the best to come, but this one is not bad. Recommended as a classic.


Tuesday, 22 August 2023

The Boat (Das Boot) (1981)


Das Boot

“Das Boot”, or by its less awesome English name “The Boat”, is the quintessential submarine movie. I would even go so far as claiming it to be the best submarine movie ever, but I might take heat from that statement. When I watched it as a miniseries back in the eighties, I was completely sold by it. I swallowed each episode and could not wait until next week for the next episode. Then I read the book and was surprised to find how close an adaption Wolfgang Petersen made of it. This spring I even went to the Buchheim museum in Germany to see their exhibition of the story.

Buchheim, the author of the book, was a war correspondent during the Second World War and went himself on a tour with a submarine. While the novel (and hence the movie) is not specifically about this tour, it heavily inspired him and in the story, we follow his alter ego, Leutnant Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), a war correspondent assigned a tour on the submarine U-96.

The movie starts on land. There is a big party for officers where everybody gets ridiculously drunk. Almost desperately drunk actually, as if this was the last party. On the way back to the submarine we see the rest of the crew, no less drunk. And then we are on board the U-96 for 99% of the rest of the movie. “Das Boot” is distinct from most other submarine movies by not having a particular narrative structure, expect perhaps that of an odyssey. We live on the submarine with the crew. Listen to the Captain, only called Kaleun (short for Kapitänleutnant) (Jürgen Prochnow), the banter of the crew and share their experience. Sometimes they are immensely bored, trapped in this tiny tube with nothing to do. They experience storms, throwing the boat and everything in it hither and there. Then we have action when U-96 encounters a convoy, quickly scores a couple of hits, but then become the hunted as British destroyers chases them with deepwater charges. Seriously, there is nothing more claustrophobic than being trapped 150 below sea level with loud sonar pings hitting the hull.

U-96 miraculously escapes but is heavily battered. However, instead of being instructed to go back to base for repairs, it is ordered to reload in Spain and then go to La Spezia, Italy. Through the Gibraltar, the most heavily guarded passage on Earth. A total suicide mission and almost a disaster for U-96, lying grounded at 280 m at the bottom of the strait with multiple and critical failures.

It is not so much what is happening as the experience of it happening that is the strength of the movie. This is not a gung-ho crew out to sink some ships, but a group of men trying to stay alive and sane doing what they are ordered to do. With one notable exception, they are not Nazis but German sailors. They are good at what they do, but they are not out there doing it for the Führer. We sense that very strongly. But more than that we feel the claustrophobic fear. The dirt and sweat. The very tight space. The pressure, on the hull, but also on the mind, threatening to throw people into madness. “Das Boot” is so good at this that it sucks you in and you hold your breath and whisper when a destroyer is passing overhead and you jump with adrenalin at the scream of “ALAAAARM!!!” when the submarine has to dive in the manner of seconds to avoid being shot to pieces. It is a very submersive experience, literally.

For a war movie, there is surprisingly little shooting. There is also surprisingly little visually of the war. Inside the submarine you do not see anything, you feel it. Only when the submarine surfaces and watches the burning victim of their torpedo do we get the visual impact and then it hits in the gut as burning sailors are trying to jump ship. This is a lot more about the mental experience of being on a submarine during the war than the war itself and you could probably make the same movie with a crew from any other country, except that the submarine war and the staggering losses is unique to Germany.

To achieve all that, Buchheim wrote a great book, but it is Wolfgang Petersen who created the experience in the movie, and it is that experience that sells it.

“Das Boot” was nominated for six Academy Awards, but did not win any. Must have been a hell of a year.

Strongly recommended. Go for the directors cut at 209 minutes.    

Thursday, 10 August 2023

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


Jagten på den forsvundne skat

Da da-da daaaa, da da-daaa, da da-da daa, da da-da daaa daaa daaa…

Okay, a bit silly, it is not so easy to transcribe a theme, I just wanted to set the mood here with one of the most famous John Williams scores ever: That of Indiana Jones. Few things make me smile like that theme.

There is a handful of movies out there where it feels silly to write a review because everybody, and I mean literally everybody, even in some backwater in Yemen, will know about the Indiana Jones movies, if they have not already watched them. What more can I say than has already been written? This is like writing about Star Wars all over again.

Did I forget to mention that I totally love the franchise up until and including “The Last Crusade”.  I have watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark countless times and can recall every scene in detail.

My favorite character is the Gestapo agent Toht, played by Ronald Lacey. He is absolutely perfect and every one of his lines is a classic: “Now, eh heh heh, what shall we talk about?”. Even his name is a play on the German word for “dead”. In our family we can often find a place for an Indiana Jones quote and Toht’s lines are very high on that list. Another classic is “This is how we say goodbye in Germany” to which you answer “I prefer the Austrian way”… but that is a different Indiana Jones movie.

The character of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is an interesting one. He is professionally an archeologist, something which is emphasized with him teaching classes at a university, but his fieldwork is not the painstaking excavation of ancient burial sites and structures, but more akin to treasure hunting. Indiana Jones is to some extent modelled on a Howard Carter type of archeologist, the guy who found the tomb of Tutankamun, an action hero adventurer who goes for the really spectacular finds. For this kind of archeologists as for many collectors it is the item itself as a historic celebrity rather than the context and addition to the collective knowledge that is the motivator. This is why Jones rival, Belloq (Paul Freeman) see a kinship with Indiana Jones. They may represent the good and the bad guy, but the difference between them is surprisingly small. There are many hints to that throughout the franchise, especially in this first installment, as if we need to be reminded that it is okay what Indiana Jones is doing.

The most important motivator in that sense is that the alternative is worse. If Jones and his team does not retrieve the artifact, then somebody much worse will and what can be worse than a bunch of Nazis. It is like Oppenheimer’s dilemma: Perform the infamy of building the bomb before the Nazis do. In that context, we are not talking grave robbing, we are not talking sensationalist archeology anymore, we are talking saving mankind.

The artifact in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the Ark of the Covenant, which is a perfect item in this context. It is a well-documented historical item, in the sense that it features prominently in the holy texts of three major religions, it has mysteriously disappeared, and it is supposed to be imbued with a supernatural power. Yet, the real scoop is that this is a Jewish artifact, sought after by their arch-nemesis, the Nazis. We are talking epic clash here and are dappling just that bit into superpower territory, something the first three movies managed to do so gently, we are able to accept it.

What makes “Raiders of the Lost Ark” so great, is that it works on every level. We have the high-level context of good versus evil in an epic struggle, but we also have a well-paced action movie that keeps you on your toes. Thirdly, the script is genius. It adds understated humor in surprising places that disarm the pompousness and makes you laugh as a relief. The formula is actually old and was employed to some extent in “Star Wars”, but it is with the Indiana Jones movies it has peaked. Many movies have attempted to copy the formula, more or less shamelessly, but none have come close, not since.

“Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark” is one of the best, most successful and most entertaining movies ever. It is brilliant.

Bonus anecdote: The German plane supposed to fly the Ark to Germany is a fiction. There never existed such a plane in reality. It is a mash-up of several different concepts from era. Google it and you find some really spectacular planes. I would have loved to see it fly though... 

Sunday, 6 August 2023

Raging Bull (1980)


Raging Bull

I have a real problem watching movies about assholes. Especially when you are supposed to somehow root for them. Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) and practically everybody around him are dimwitted, egoistic, brutal, violent, rude, abusive and short-tempered and I found nothing to like, sympathize with or relate to at all in these people. Add to that that this is about boxing, the sport I dislike more than any other and this was a very hard movie for me to get though. I could only watch a few minutes and I would have to take a break so it took me the better part of a week to get through this movie. I do not understand what I am supposed to get out of it or why this is something I should see. AFI has “Raging Bull” ranked as the fourth greatest American move of all time. Clearly, I am missing something, and will likely be in minority with my opinion. So be it.

Jake La Motta was a real figure. He was boxing professionally in the forties and went under the name “The Bronx Bull”. In his boxing career he was moderately successful. He won some and lost some and even held a title of some sort at a point. We see a lot of these boxing matches, which is basically one guy beating the shit out of another guy.

Most of the movie is about what happens between games. Jake’s manager is his brother Joey (Joe Pesci), a guy only marginally less offensive than Jake. They treat their women with scorn and abuse and take offense about almost anything. Maybe this is Italian New York style, but it feels amped up. Jake fights a lot with his wife but then ditches her and finds a new girl, Vicki (Cathy Moriarty). Actually, in the opposite order. He also treats her poorly, verbally as well as physically, but only near the end of the movie does she leave him. Jake and Joey also have an on/off relationship with some mafia looking guys that are not terribly different from themselves.

And things sort of go on like this for a couple of hours. Jake and Joey get into fights with everybody, eventually also each other. Jake’s career ends, he becomes a nightclub owner until that ends poorly. In the end Jake is a bit of a bum, lonely and poor, but smarter? I doubt it.

Well, there is no discussion that technically Martin Scorsese made an impressive movie and there is nothing wrong with the acting. All are doing a good job on that account. The black and white cinematography is also a good choice, it helps to give it that 1940’ies vibe. It is the narrative and the characters that are the problems here. I do not see where this story is going. An asshole becomes a moderately successful boxer which gives him license to be an asshole until that license expires and then there is nothing left. Great. Normally there is a redeeming element or a morale or something, but I saw nothing more than that. And those characters! Holy mackerel, they are stripped for anything sympathetic. Again, if we have to focus on bad guys, at least they are funny or evolve or get their comeuppance. You could say Jake gets the latter, but in an ugly, sad, and unsatisfying way. He started a bum and ended a bum and acted like a bum in the middle part.

So, why do we need this movie? Some obviously think this is important, but I fail to see why. It ticks none of my boxes. So, no recommendation from me. Well, unless you are into assholes treating everybody badly.

And thus ends 1980. On with 1981.


Saturday, 29 July 2023

Airplane! (1980)


Højt at flyve

“Airplane!” is currently my son’s favorite movie and has been so for a while. I admit I like it too, but since introducing him to it, we have been watching it a lot and I have no idea how often he has been watching it alone or with other members of the family. Let us just say that he can recite a lot of the dialogue verbatim.

“Airplane!” is a spoof on disaster movies from before spoofs really was a thing.  It takes all the disaster movie tropes, and a lot of the conventions around flying in general, and makes them funny. Elaine (Julie Hagerty) has left Ted (Robert Hays) because of his inability to commit since a war incident. It is a bit foggy, but Ted was a pilot during the war (with footage indicating this could be Second World War…) and thinks he caused six fellow airmen to die. Since then, he has not been near planes. Unfortunately for Ted, Elaine is a flight attendant, so chasing her means that he must get on the plane with her. On this flight the crew (and half the passengers) get very sick from the food, so now they are looking for somebody who not only can fly a plane but also did not have the fish for dinner. It is up to Elaine and Ted to get the plane safely to Chicago.

As in all spoof movies, this is not about the plot, but about all the jokes and references that are made. In “Airplane!” the jokes are generally better than average, but what really makes it work is two things: The references are so general that anybody even today can relate to them without having watched some obscure move from the seventies and secondly, all the jokes are delivered with a straight face. This second item requires a bit of explanation.

The actors were instructed to consider their roles as if in a serious movie, no matter how silly the lines or the implications were. So, the Captain of the plane, Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) will ask the little boy totally inappropriate things, such as if he has ever seen a grown man naked as if it was the most normal thing to do and Leslie Nielsen as Doctor Rumack will enter the cockpit and wish Ted and Elaine good luck with a serious face three times, the last even after they landed.

This is the genius of “Airplane!”, that they let all the silliness act out seriously. In the clash it becomes funny. The bar scene where Elaine and Ted first meet, the craziness would not be half as funny if any of them had smiled or laughed. It is totally deadpan, when Ted takes off his white uniform jacket and wears a John Travolta outfit underneath and goes totally disco.

A lot of the fun happens in the background. In a serious (or seriously acted) conversation something bizarre may be happening behind or slightly offscreen. Sometimes you have to look for it, like the magazines Captain Oveur are reading while others are difficult to miss, like the “jiggle and leave” moment (an internal household joke).

Both Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen went on to have great careers in comedy, largely based on their performance in “Airplane!”. Nielsen was frequently cast in the Zuckers (David and Jerry) later movies which tried to follow the formula of “Ariplane!”, which went well with “Naked gun”, though eventually the formula got a bit old.

“Airplane!” itself though is not getting old any time soon. We still laugh our heads off even if this was the umptieth time we watched it. Try say “Drinking problem” in this house and we are already laughing.

Various lists have named “Airplane!” as one of the funniest movies ever made, usually in top-10, and while taste in comedy is a VERY personal thing, I think that shows that I am not alone.

Perfect medicine for a gloomy day. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, 23 July 2023

Loulou (1980)



This was a difficult movie to get behind. Not that it is surreal or obscure in Godard fashion, but it took me a very long time before I got any idea what story it was the movie was trying to sell and even then, I am not certain this is story I need to watch.

Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) is married to André (Guy Marchand) but prefers to be together with Loulou (Gérard Depardieu). “Together” meaning having a lot of sex with Loulou. André is understandably not happy with the situation. He is upset she is leaving, and he is upset she prefers a guy like Loulou to him. He wants her out, yet he cannot let her go. Nelly just does whatever she feels like. Sometimes she goes back to André, sometimes she stays with Loulou. She is not very reflective about why she does what she does, she just responds to her impulses.

It is obvious that Nelly’s marriage to André is dysfunctional. We do not know if André was like this before she left, but he does have temper and aggression issues and is likely a controlling character. The question I ask myself is, why then Loulou?

Loulou is just out of jail with no intension of stopping his criminal career as he does not believe in working. Instead, he just hangs out all day. He has had about a million affairs with all sorts of girls, and he is very frequently drunk. Nelly could not have chosen a worse partner.

Nelly’s argument for preferring to be with Loulou is that he can go on longer when they are having sex and that he is there for her all the time. No wonder, the guy does absolutely nothing with his life. I could sort of accept the sex argument if Gerard was offering something special, but his version sex is very vanilla and in fact he and his friends have a very casual and unromantic attitude to sex and women which can best be described as exploitative and disrespectful. Yet, for all his flaws, Loulou is the exact opposite of André and that might be the clue to Nelly’s attraction to him. Does she really love him or is it part of some sort of rebellion against André?

Nelly gets deeper and deeper involved in Loulou’s world and even becomes an accomplice to his criminal affairs, but only when she gets pregnant does she start reflecting. Not that Loulou is bad for her, but only that maybe this is not a relationship to raise a child in. Well, at least that.

Nelly is such a princess. A character who always get what she wanted, who expect her actions have no consequences, who has her own gratification as a first priority and expects the world to conform to her needs. I hardly need to mention that I did not sympathize with her one bit and that is a problem when she is the central character. Of course, I did not like André or Loulou either. Or his criminal friends or the silly, needy girls that hang on to Loulou and his friends. There is just an entire world here that is so far from my own that I find it hard to relate and much less sympathize. In fact, whenever the situation goes ballistic, I feel they have it coming and deserve each other.

So, why do I need to watch this movie? The only answer I can give is, that this is a gender switch on the man running off with a prettier, but useless, girl because the sex is better, but with little thought on anything else. If men can do it, why not women? Is this reason enough? For me, no. If I could somehow have related to any of the characters, it might have been different. As it is, I could not care less and if any of the principals had any grain of sense, they would have done the same and just left the others alone.

Director Maurice Pialat was nominated for the Palme D’Or. Must have been a poor year in Cannes.

Not recommended unless you get a kick out of watching idiots messing up their lives.

Wednesday, 19 July 2023

The Big Red One (1980)


Den barske elite

“The Big Red One” was a surprising find on the List. There are plenty of war movies, but war movies about the soldiers rather than the war or the concept of war are rare, as if the lack of that higher motive somehow invalidates the movie. Not that this movie is pro-war, but it is not outright anti-war either. It is simply about the soldiers who fight it. But then again, maybe it is actually about war as a concept…

Samuel Fuller, the director and writer, was himself a soldier with the US. 1st Infantry Division during the Second World War and “The Big Red One” is largely based on his own experiences, from the North African campaign through Italy, Normandy and the capitulation of Germany. It follows a squad led by a man known only as the Sergeant (Lee Marvin), a WWI veteran. There is a core group, Griff (Mark Hamill), Zab (Robert Carradine), Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco) and Johnson (Kelly Ward) who are there from the beginning and a score of nameless faces in the form of replacements who quickly disappear in various gruesome ways.

The story is episodic in the sense that each scene is a progression through the various theaters, but the story within each scene is largely repetitive. The squad is fighting, people around them are dying, death is random and then there is a break in the fighting where normality or a sort of normality gets a brief moment. The scenery changes, North Africa looks different from Belgium, but little else. The ennui is emphasized by the static situation of the squad. Nobody changes rank, the discussion is largely the same, the jokes run on the same themes. Sure, there are events such as the woman giving birth in a tank, the old women’s party in Sicily or the boy the Sergeant find in Falkenau, but even these events follow the pattern of normal-world events colliding with the war to create a bizarre mesh.

The obvious parallel to “The Big Red One” is the mini-series “Band of Brothers” and it is tempting to consider “The Big Red One” as the inferior in that comparison. Although there is a similar progression through events and the same small group of soldiers, “Band of Brothers of not static to the same decree and it lets us know the characters in a way we never get to know those of “The Big Red One”. I watched the “Reconstruction” version, which adds another 47 minutes and several locations to the story, but it makes little difference. None of those add to the picture of a static state of things. The soldiers are numbed by the war, they become automatons and it is all about fighting, surviving and getting the best out of the breaks they get.

In a sense that makes the movie boring. We get the point early on, we stop caring about new phases, just hope none of the principal characters get shot in some pointless firefight. The battle scenes are realistic and dramatic and very loud, but they are also repetitive at their core to the extent that I just wanted them to be over with, mostly because of the risk to the soldiers having them go on.

I do think this is actually the point and maybe even the reason it is on the List. The ennui and the madness of war is a state that is almost impossible for outsiders to understand. How can being under fire be boring? But “The Big Red One” gives us a window into that, an understanding that takes away all the romance but also does not make its characters monsters. This is an understanding Fuller likely had and this is him offering it to us.

Lee Marvin got so type cast as the weather-beaten soldier that it almost feels like a cliché to see him here, yet he does the job. On the other hand, what is Luke Skywalker doing here? Mark Hamill here was quite a surprise, but the Luke Skywalker chock only lasted a few minutes, then he was Private Griff.

I doubt “The Big Red One” will ever be my favorite. I do like “Band of Brothers”, but for exactly the reasons that make these two different. It is not a bad movie, and it does work as I believe intended, so it is a moderate recommendation from me.    

Wednesday, 12 July 2023

Private Benjamin (1980)


Off-List: Private Benjamin

It may seem like an odd choice to choose a lightweight comedy like “Private Benjamin” as the third off-List movie for 1980, especially considering how many high quality movies were bypassed by the editors this year. I admit it, it is not the greatest movie ever made, but for me it is a nostalgic trip watching it. In my childhood home this was a favorite and on heavy rotation. In those days, my fascination, I believe, was the idea of this little girl going through military training though watching it again so many years later I realize there is a bit more to it.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is a spoiled and pampered girl who has always had people to take care of her. Her rich parents got her out of her first marriage to a professional tennis player and her second husband, a lawyer, died on their wedding night (the opening scene). Judy’s only qualifications are shopping and being a trophy wife. The end of her second marriage throws her so much that she is talked into joining the army (of all things), mostly to do something herself without anybody to take care of her.

To Judy’s surprise, the army is, well, the army, and a far cry from the life she has been used to. She is in fact totally unprepared for the challenges and frankly not really fit for them. Her officer, Captain Lewis (Eileen Brennan) is only too happy when Judy’s parents show up to take her home. This, however, triggers something in Judy. She is not going back to her old life but has something to prove and her effort from then on is much improved. When on the war game marking the end of basic training, she is instrumental in her side winning the game, much to Captain Lewis’ grief.

Eventually Judy meets the charming French doctor (gynecologist, no less), Henri (Armand Assante) and has to choose between married life and the army. Is she ready to lose her freedom again?

I do like Goldie Hawn. She has excellent comedic timing, always had, and this movie is more than anything a vehicle for her. She is in practically every scene of the movie, and we are not suffering for it. Everything that is fun in this movie, is fun because of her.

The basic theme of “Private Benjamin” is taking charge of your life as opposed to having other people run your life. It is so easy for Judy to just lean back and let others lead her. Her parents did it, her (brief) husband did it, Henri does it, and nobody expects anything from her but compliance. But taking charge of her own life is liberating and empowering. It makes her blossom and feel fulfilled even if it is also harder. Judy finds that she can do so much more when she gets the chance and going back, easy as it seems, just does not taste as good.

There are tons of clichés here too of course. The underdog managing to get through military service, the useless girl who can do more than she thinks if she gets the chance, but the most hilarious of the stereotypes must be the charming French deucebag and the disaster of American women getting along in France. That is a hoot, every time.

Yes, this is a lightweight comedy and, yes, it is both formulaic and stuffed with stereotypes, but it is sweet and funny and very easy to watch. And I am transported back to the eighties.

Might not work for everybody though.


Sunday, 9 July 2023

The Elephant Man (1980)



“The Elephant Man” seems like an unlikely follow-up on David Lynch’ “Eraserhead”, being as it is far more mainstream, both in terms of narrative and production value, but it was a bit of a scoop for Lynch to break out of the experimental film circle and access both a much wider audience and the funding to make his projects. Lynch managed to do this while staying true to many of his Lynch-tropes.

“The Elephant Man” is based on the true story of John Merrick (John Hurt), a massively deformed fellow, as told by the surgeon who found and took care of him, Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins). In 1880’ies London, Treves accidentally encounters Merrick being displayed in a freakshow as The Elephant Man. Merrick is clearly being brutalized by his “handler”, Mr. Bytes (Freddie Jones) and Treves removes Merrick to the hospital where he has his practice. Both hospital staff and management are at first shocked by their new tenant, but eventually under their care Merrick is transformed from a dumb circus act into a kind and soft-spoken gentleman.

Treves is excited about his find and displays this extraordinary medical case for his peers, but eventually he has second thought about his motives. Is he really any better than Mr. Bytes, using Merrick as a show piece for his own benefit? The night porter, Jim (Michael Elphick) has no such scruples and sets up his own sideshow, inviting the lower strata of the public in to watch John Merrick at night. Something that eventually turns out disastrous. Actress Madge Kendall (Anne Bancroft) is at first motivated by a similar curiosity for the bizarre, but manages very quickly to recognize the gently soul beneath the deformity and becomes a bit of a champion for him.

Indeed, the theme throughout the movie seems to be whether or not the people around John Merrick take an interest in him for their own profit or gratification or if they do it from sympathy or pity for a fellow human being. Is John Merrick an item or a person? I found a strong parallel to the somewhat later “Edward Scissorhands” movie, which is perhaps even more blunt on this topic. Practically all characters start out seeing Merrick as a freak and because of these deformities he is not quite human. The smarter or more empathic of those he deals with go through the phase where they realize there is an actual person behind the appearance and question themselves for their initial position. In this way John Merrick becomes an agent for these characters to develop. We, as an audience, go through the same phases. Can we not say that we go into this movie to watch the incredible Elephant Man, but only gradually realize there is a real person within where the grotesque appearance actually matters little?

I think David Lynch has a fascination with the aparte. Something akin to Tod Browning in the thirties, but Lynch uses the freakish elements to embody emotions, personalities or themes. Almost all his movies have odd looking characters who look the way because they represent something and so a character like John Merrick is a gift to Lynch. He does not even have to invent a freak. Lynch also added some surreal elements to represent the troubled mind of Merrick. It is difficult to imagine how a person treated like John Merrick would feel, but Lynch’ visions actually help understanding the despair and seclusion Merrick lives in. Lynch also could not help recreating a lot of the space and soundscape from “Eraserhead”. It is a grimy and dark London with a very industrial and impersonal feel to it. An inhuman place, which helps to underline the inhumanity with which Merrick is treated.

Ultimately, John Merrick is recognized as a man as immortalized with the famous quote: "I am not an animal! I am a human being. I am a man." And with that achievement we are done and it is a happy ending, or is it? For John Merrick it is fulfillment, but also the end of the road.

“The Elephant Man” was not an easy movie to watch. It is an emotional rollercoaster, and you cannot not be upset with the way most people get no further than seeing the freak, but the impact of it also feels rewarding even if you feel a bit dirty for at first only seeing the deformities. I recommend it, but I suspect it will be a long time before I watch it again.

A bit of trivia: The real Dr. Treves later pioneered the surgical treatment of appendicitis and saved the life of the British king at the time for which he was knighted. Ironically, Treves himself eventually died from a ruptured appendix.    

Thursday, 29 June 2023

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Star Wars Episode V: Imperiet slår igen

When I did my review of “Episode IV: A New Hope”, I focused on my experience with Star Wars as an entity, so in many ways what I wrote back then also applies to “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”. This review will instead be a bit more movie specific. Not that I think anybody knows this one any less than “Episode IV”, but “Episode V” actually happens to be my favorite in the trilogy and so it deserves a more specific treatment.

It is always difficult to make a sequel and a sequel in a trilogy is even worse because it is “just” a bridge between the introduction and the conclusion. Any climax can only be a minor one and we are sort of done introducing the themes. For Star Wars they (and that means likely George Lucas) chose the “Lord of the Rings” approach. The party split up and get their separate tracks which eventually intersect. We meet the rebels on the ice planet Hoth just as they are being discovered by the Empire. Despite a brave defense, the rebels are overrun, but manage a timely escape. Luke and R2D2 head on to Dagobah to get trained by Yoda, while Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO play a cat and mouse game with Vader’s imperial fleet in order to get away from Hoth.

They think they are successful in outsmarting Vader when they get to Cloud City, but Vader is one step ahead of them and has forced the local leader, Lando Calrissian, into trapping the gang. It is however not Han or Leia Vader is interested in, but Luke as he might be turned into the dark side, especially since Darth Vader has the ultimate argument: “I am your father, Luke”.

Yes, as we all know, at its heart, the Star Wars franchise is about dad-issues.

Episode V feels like a journey. A journey across the galaxy, but more so a personal development journey. Luke faces his personal coming of age rite with his training and facing Vader and Han and Leia develop as characters and develop in their relation to each other. Everybody is at a different place with themselves by the end of the movie and that is their preparation for the final act.

That does not sound particularly exciting, sort of get the pieces lined up for the final battle, but it is the getting there that is all the fun. Star Wars has never claimed to be a high brow series. Its strength is the adventure, the heroic struggle and the imagination and “Episode V” has tons of this. Fortunately, we have no cute or stupid critters, the bane of most Star Wars episodes, leaving the two droids to be the comic relief and that strikes a good balance. We also get an excellent pacing where something is happening constantly. If not outright action, then a lead up to it. There is never a boring moment. Some of the later installments fall into the traps of endless action or complex and confusing setups, but in Episode V the balance is good, and the story is not more convoluted than everybody are following it.

Maybe the fact that Lucas stepped away from the actual production and had other people direct and write the script is what makes “Episode V” work so well. Lucas is clearly the idea guy, but the acting, the dialogue and the character development feel so much smoother that in “Episode IV”.

For me, watching the trilogy is a nostalgia trip. It is my childhood experience, these are the toys I played with, and I watch the episodes uncritically, ignoring whatever flaws they might have had. I watched the theatrical version instead of the renovated one to get as close as possible to that original experience and I do not need any of the “improvements”. This is my little happy place, a bubble of joy.

I think it is quite incredible that this movie was made in 1980.


Saturday, 24 June 2023

The Blues Brothers (1980)


Off-List: The Blues Brothers

"It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses." "Hit it."

When I was a student at the University of Aarhus there were a few of movies with exceptional cult status. At campus, “The Blues Brothers” was likely the movie most often watched, quoted and imitated at parties. Frequently you would see people show up as the Blues Brothers and the soundtrack was always a hit. I cannot say that I was the biggest fan, my taste in music pointed in a different direction, but I was as caught up in the party as much as anybody else. And this was a decade and a half after its theatrical release. That this movie was never included on the List is mindboggling. Did the editors never go to our parties?

Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released from prison and picked up by his brother Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) in his new Bluesmobile, a former police car as he reasonably enough traded the old car for a microphone. They visit the “Penguin” (Kathleen Freeman) at their old orphanage, where they learn that the place will be shut down unless they can produce 5000$ to pay taxes. When Jake and Elwood subsequently visit the church of Reverend Cleophus James (James Brown), Jake is endowed with divine inspiration and realizes they must get the band back together.

This is not easy as everybody got new jobs, but they succeed and head out to make that big show that will produce the 5000$ needed by the orphanage. They are on a mission from God, as they keep telling everybody. In the process they manage to piss off the police, a country and western band and the local chapter of the Nazi party, not to mention a mysterious woman (Carrie Fisher) who seems hell-bent on blowing up Jake. To say they have to run a gauntlet is an understatement, but they are cool. Very very cool.

“The Blues Brothers” is a tremendously fun movie to watch. Both Aykroyd and Belushi were at their comedic peak here and their characters, Elwood and Jake, are priceless. But what everybody remembers “The Blues Brothers” for is the horn of plenty of music. Not lame-ass music for the movie stuff, but some of the best black music America has ever produced. Okay, I will likely get nailed for that statement, but seriously, we have James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles all appearing and singing some of their best-known songs, plus we have The Blues Brothers with their excellent band singing a whole string of classics. Not many movies can boast this. I mean, friggin’ Aretha Franklin singing “Think!” Do you have any idea how many times that very version was played at the parties I went to in the nineties?

You might then ask, what would be so special about two comedians singing blues? The Blues Brother and band with backstory and all was actually formed years before and had a number 1 hit on the album charts with their music and only then did they get the idea of making a movie. This is the real deal, even if it started as a stunt. That they manage to add energy, charm and crazy fun to the music is just add-on.

John Landis managed to take this music and this crazy stunt and actually weave a coherent story around it that is both engaging and fun and I can even forgive that events go completely off the rails in the last chase toward the Cook County Assessor’s office. It is a balancing act with the anarchy threatening to topple the movie and it is mostly successful.

It has been years since I watched “The Blues Brothers” the last time, but it has not lost an inch since then. It is still one of the best music comedies ever made and I still get happy watching it. I just need some shades and a hat.

List editors, shame on you!


Monday, 19 June 2023

The Shining (1980)


Ondskabens hotel

Wow, that was quite an experience. I knew “The Shining” should be good, but I had no idea it was this good.

Stanley Kubrick has an established track record of trying out different genres, but in each case excels in it as if he never did anything else. “The Shining” was his attempt at the horror genre and as usual he nailed it.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as winter janitor at the exclusive Overlook hotel as it shuts down for the winter. With him he brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). The Overlook is an exclusive hotel where they can live in style all winter and Jack can get some quiet time to finally write his book, but it is also built on top of an Indian burial ground, and we all know what that means.

Danny has psychic abilities, so he understands early on that something is off, but for the adults this looks like a perfect deal. Jack never realizes something is wrong, but is sucked into a madness that makes him aggressive and delusional. He sees people in the hotel who convince him that his family is the enemy, which supports an underlying resentment that they are in the way of his glory. Wendy sees her husband visibly change, first to a bad tempered and grumpy man and then to a raving lunatic and obviously she is not thrilled.

At some point Jack completely loses it and chases his family through the hotel with an axe.

There are a lot of things that works in this movie. While the original novel by Stephen King is clearly supernatural, Kubrick’s rendition keeps it more veiled. We are never in doubt that something is badly off, but a lot of the supernatural elements have a strong flavor of psychological effects. Is Jack seeing ghosts or is he getting insane, or are the ghosts making him go insane? Could his aggression be projections of his inner frustrations, now being let loose in the isolation of the lodge?  If this had been a simple ghost story, it would not have worked half as well, but the sense that there is more behind the surface adds so much extra to the movie.

Kubrick also avoids explaining too much. Calling all this the effect of a violated cemetery is too cheap. There are things going on here we are only partially let into, and that mystery is both fascinating and frightening.

Then there are the basic elements of setting up the horror. The confined space, the ominous corridors, the sounds, the Steadicam moving along with the characters. It is a very submersive feeling and reminded me a lot of Lynch’s rooms in Twin Peaks. We do not need to actually see a lot to feel the evil.

And then there is Jack Nicholson. Few actors can be as expressive with their face as he can, especially along the lines of being mad and aggressive. His evil smile is truly vicious, and yet he can also be completely affable. The most iconic scene must be when he breaks down the door to the bathroom with an axe, sticks his head inside with the line: “Here is Johnny!”. I watched this movie with my son and he rewinded several times, photographed the face and sent it to his friends. But the fact is that all through the film, Nicholson’s face steals any scene he is in.

“The Shining” works at every level it intents to and is one of the best horror movies I have watched. Granted, this is not really my genre, but if even I can see this is great, there much be something to it.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 11 June 2023

The Last Metro (Le Dernier Metro) (1980)


Den sidste metro

“The Last Metro” (“Le Dernier Métro”) is one of the last of Francois Truffaut’s movies and is by many seen as the second installment in Truffaut’s unfinished trilogy about the production process, following “La Nuit Americaine” (about making movies) and which was supposed to end with one about making musicals. I do not entirely agree with that assessment. “La Nuit Americain” had moviemaking as the central element, but “Le Dernier Metro” has more themes in play and the supposed theater themes is more of a setting than the central element.

During the Second World War, the modest Theatre Montmartre is trying to survive the hardships caused by the war. The owner and director of the theatre, Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is Jewish and has presumably fled the country, but is actually hiding in the basement, listening in on everything going on. Instead, it is his wife and lead actress Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve) who runs the theatre according to instructions that her husband “left” before he “fled”. Resources are small so they have to be creative on props and costumes and the Germans as well as the French Nazi sympathizers take a lot of, unwelcome, interest in the theater, especially the Nazi mouthpiece Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard).

Bernhard Granger (Gerard Depardieu before he attained blimp size) is the new lead actor. He has a crush on most women, but especially Marion, and he is affiliated with the resistance, which is rather problematic when you need Nazi approval to run a theater. Bernhard, Marion and Lucas make for an odd and awkward love triangle.

More than being about setting up a show on a theater, this is a period piece on life in Paris during the war. There is a lot of, successful, effort done to make it look and sound authentic. Especially the music and the small mundane elements. They are both more interesting and more in focus than the details around the show they are putting up. The love triangle is also a major theme, which is treated both elegantly and, well, curiously. Maybe it is a French thing, but Lucas seems to be rather okay sharing his wife with Bernhard.

The problem with “Le Dernier Métro” is that it feels too long. It is a long movie, but not more than so many other movies. What makes it feel long is the lack of intensity. Every crisis there is, and there are quite a few, is handled surprisingly fast and easy. You would think Gestapo searching the basement is a big thing, but you just hide and invent a story for the basement. You would think that Daxiant threatening to take over the premise would cause alarm, but it was resolved so quietly that I hardly noticed what happened, not to mention the lack of an explosion in the love triangle. It is a narrative that feels static like a painting with more interest in the portrait than narrative. In a way that is a relief, why should everything necessarily have a crisis with potential for meltdown, but it does make the movie a bit dull. In that sense, the chaos and anarchy of “La Nuit Americaine” was a lot more fun.

“Le Dernier Metro” was one of Truffaut’s more successful movies, especially in France, and I can see why. You feel cozy and warm watching it, people are funny, and bad things are not as bad as that. The lighting and the music is a nostalgia trip and sometimes we need just that.

I could see myself watching it again, at least for the music.