Sunday 31 December 2023

Happy New Year 2024

 


Happy New Year 2024

It is New Year’s Eve again. I would have loved to have been able to say that the past was a great year, but, alas, it was not. Personally, I am doing alright, life carries on as it usually does, but the world looks bleaker than it has done for quite some time. It is no secret that my six years living in Israel make me take special interest in what happens there, but although it is hard not to, I try to keep politics out of the blog. Cannot say I am always successful at that, after all, my blog is my window to say what I want, but I want this to be about movies and books and not about politics.

This year was also the craziest weather I ever experienced, and I think most of us know what that means for the future. Let me just say that I have never felt this good about working in renewables. To actually be able to make a difference on something this important is special.

I could list up a lot of terrible things going on, but today is supposed to be a celebration, a good riddance to the old year and the best of hopes for the coming year. I do sincerely hope there will be good things in store for us all. If there is one particular wish for the new year from me, it is responsibility. That people, high and low, governments and organizations, take on responsibility themselves instead of blaming everybody else. Half the problems in the world could be solved if everybody took a hard look at themselves rather than blaming somebody else for their misery.

Anyway, during 2023 I watched and reviewed 62 movies, which is more than I have done in a while. 12 of these were off-List movies, leaving 50 movies on the List. I went from 1978 to 1982 and I am now well into what I consider the golden era of cinema: the eighties. The past two months I have been through a streak of classics that would please me any day and although I am looking into a series of more mundane movies, there are lost of highlights to look forward to.

On my book blog I have done 9 titles this year, which I consider an acceptable achievement, considering my target is just five books per year. I have gone through the period 1811 to 1822, a period known for romanticism and the post Napoleonic years. Jane Austen was a wonderful acquaintance and I really liked E.T.A. Hoffmann’s book about his cat.

I wish everybody a happy new year and all the best for the time ahead. May 2024 finally be a good year.


Thursday 28 December 2023

Yol (1982)

 


Yol

When I popped in the “Yol” DVD, I learned that my copy had only French subtitles. I also quickly learned that my French is not really that good and even though it is better than my non-existent Turkish, it had a massive detrimental effect on my experience watching this movie. It is likely a lot better than what I got out of it and the fault is on me, so my apologies up front. Luckily there is a decent summary of the plot on Wikipedia without which I would have been entirely lost.

“Yol” takes place in contemporary Turkey. A group of prisoners get a much longed for leave to return to their families and we follow a handful of them. I am not entirely certain of the names so I will try to leave that out. One does not get far. At a checkpoint, he cannot find his papers, so back he goes. Another one travels through the snow to get home, only to find that his wife is held prisoner because she has dishonored the family (prostitution?). The guy is supposed to kill her and seems intend on leaving her to die in the freezing cold, but changes his mind when it is already too late and so she dies. A third is really bad friends with the in-laws but gets away with his wife. Just as they seem safe, they are hit by a double whopper: an angry mob want to lynch them for having sex on the train toilet (presumably this is a crime against morality, though I would rather say it is a crime against hygiene. That toilet is really disgusting) and they get shot by one of the in-laws. Yeah, very bad friends. A fourth returns to his Kurdish village only to drop down into a civil war affair. The village is under siege by government forces and his brother is killed. Tradition dictates that he then marries the widow and leave this girlfriend with a long nose. Presumably there is a fifth guy, but I somehow missed that. Or got him mixed up with the others.

Obviously, this is a political movie, raging against the political system in Turkey at the time. I sense it to be just as much a cultural critique as most of these men are in trouble, not so much because of the regime but because of cultural dictates of honor and tradition. For anybody with even peripheral experience with the Middle East, such problems should not be a surprise, although from a western perspective they feel medieval and heartless. Such a critique is a lot more difficult to swallow for those being criticized so I guess calling it a regime critique makes it more palatable. Then it is not the fault of the people but the fault of the elite, and who does not despise the elite?

Reading about the movie, I learned that the actual making of the movie was quite an adventure in its own right as the director was imprisoned during filming and escaped and fled to Switzerland and edited it from there. All direction was done through written instruction. That is a story I would like to watch!

There is no doubt the filming and acting is of high quality. It looks very naturalistic. As I could not get much out of the dialogue I instead focused on the images, and they were stunning. Stunning and very depressive. The sense of dirt and smell and poverty is all around. Poor houses, insufficient cloth, noisy and dangerous traffic, it is hard to imagine this is a country on the doorstep of Europe forty years ago. There were only two uplifting elements: The smiles on children’s faces, always a blessing, and the pictures of wonderful food. No matter how poor these people seem to be, the dinners, even casual snacks, look like feasts. I am familiar with Middle Eastern food and what these people were eating is everything I love about it.

It is obviously a clear miss that I got very little out of the narrative and that the script was largely wasted on me. Obviously, I ought to find a copy with subtitles I can actually understand and for that reason I would have to wait with my recommendation until then.


Wednesday 20 December 2023

Tron (1982)

 


Off-List: Tron

The third off-List movie of 1982 is “Tron”. “Tron” is one of my son’s favorite movies, both the original and the sequel, and he has watched it countless times. Thus, he was invited for last night's rewatch, or was it him inviting me? hmmm…

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), usually known just as Flynn, is a programmer who got expelled from the Encom corporation and now runs a gaming arcade. He is keen to access the Encom computers to find evidence that the CEO Ed Dillinger (David Warner) stole his software (some games) and used it to power his career. Flynn is visited by his friends and current Encom employees Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) and Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) who warns Flynn that Ed is on to him, and that people are getting locked out of the system. They agree to let Flynn into the building so he can gain access.

It turns out that the Encom computer system has been taken over by a program called the Master Control Program (MCP). It has even locked out Ed and is now bent on world domination. When Flynn tries to access the system, MCP retaliates by using an experimental laser to dissolve and digitize Flynn and he thus becomes another program inside the strange computer world.

This is a really weird world built on vector graphics where programs are personified through avatars. Blue ones are free, red ones are controlled by the MCP. Flynn is the only “user” on the system and meet with Tron and Yori, avatars of Alan and Lora. Together they venture on an odyssey through the grid to fight the MCP.

The basic story of “Tron” is fairly simple. It is essentially “Star Wars” inside a computer world. Or “The Lord of the Rings” (The lord of the disks?). That story is classic and not super interesting. What is interesting is the world building going on here. In my youth cyberpunk was a big thing (not certain if it still is) where the idea was that inside the computer network, you can be an avatar venturing around to meet and fight programs personified as other avatars. “Neuromancer” comes to mind as a classic book in this genre. This entire concept comes from “Tron”. In this sort of world, you are not planting code or searching libraries, you are analoging it and fire guns and drive imaginary bikes. Today reality has sort of caught up and you can play games in virtual worlds and with a VR headset, pretty much get the “Tron” experience, but it is still different because the “Tron” world is not a program, it is more like a network operative system hosting programs. “Tron” is the internet before that was even a word. This is where it slowly dawns on you how far ahead of the time “Tron” was.

It is easy to forget though. As a twenty first century viewer, the visuals are clunky and primitive. Everything consists of straight lines and simple graphics. The avatars are filmed in black and white and then (hand) colored. The result is… weird. But then, again, go back to 1982 and we are ages before CGI. There was never any movie before “Tron” that used computer generated images to even close to the extent it was used in this movie. This is an age where the household computers would have been an Apple II or, if you were really ahead of the curve, the newly released Commodore 64. What “Tron” did, stretched processing capacity to the extreme and according to “Tron” lore set limitation on the actual design. To complicated designs simply could not render.

These two elements, the conceptualization of cyberspace and the pioneering work in CGI are the cornerstone contributions of “Tron” and reason enough to watch it. It does help that it also has that classic eighties vibe that feels so familiar for fans of eighties movies (like me). The optimism, the endless possibilities, the jargon. In many ways, this picks up on so many eighties themes that it is absolutely worth watching, also beyond the special contributions. Of course, there is no harm in having Jeff Bridges being the lead, he rarely does a poor job, and he does bring charm and humanity to something which could easily become too flat and mechanical.

“Tron” is a nostalgic trip back to the eighties, pleasant and easy, but also super important for its contribution to popular culture and CGI. That is really enough to recommend it. Lots of recommendations from my son too.

If you are in the wind industry MCP means something entirely different…


Friday 15 December 2023

Tootsie (1982)

 


Tootsie

The good streak of great 1982 movies continues with “Tootsie”, a romantic comedy from a time where it was possible to make them intelligent and fun, dramatic and sweet, all at the same time.

Dustin Hoffman is an actor, Michael Dorsey, out of work. He has got a, well earned, reputation for being difficult to work with and his opportunities have dried up. It takes his agent, George Fields (Sydney Pollack, who also directed the movie), great effort to get this through to him. Even playing a tomato he cannot do without arguing with the director.

Dorsey lives together with aspiring (but way too unconventional) scriptwriter, Jeff (Bill Murray), and sees a lot of, usually unemployed, actor friends. One of them, Sandy (Teri Garr) is trying to get a role in a soap opera but is refused for not being stern enough. In desperation, Michael dresses up as a woman to try his luck at the audition… and gets the part.

Now follows a strange and increasingly complicated double life where Michael Dorsey juggles a romantic relationship with Sandy, another with fellow cast member, Julie (Jessica Lange), and a third with Julie’s father, Les (Charles Durning) while successfully becoming a star on the soap as Dorothy Michaels. In her character, Michael is asserting against the director and the male cast and that wins over the viewers, especially the female ones, and Dorothy Michaels becomes an icon. The only ones in on the scam are Jeff and George and both are really worried.

“Tootsie” has at least three themes going. The most obvious is the gender switch, which is also the source of most of the comedy. It is seriously hilarious, probably the funniest gender switch role since “Some like it hot”, but it also tries to drive some points on how it is for a man to experience what it is like to be a woman in a male dominated world. This is way before MeeToo and the men in the business have no restraint.

The second theme is the romantic element. It is of course closely linked to the first and is what makes it a romantic comedy. Michael as Dorothy is admonishing exactly the treatment, he himself is subjecting Sandy to. Which is both funny and terribly sad. Or would have been if Teri Garr had not been insanely funny in her own right.

The third element is the surprise and may at first feel like a clash, but I think is what makes the whole thing work. This is a social-realistic element of unemployment and the humiliation the actors must go though to make ends meet. This could easily have been rather hypocritical, considering all these suffering actors are played by A-list actors, but there is a serious tone here, so familiar from the seventies and early eighties social-realist TV, that we buy it. As Michael says: “I don’t believe in Hell. I believe in unemployment, but I do not believe in Hell.” Getting a job, any job, is serious business for these people. This could easily be a party killer, but it benefits the movie in two ways. It provides the motive for Michael to do what he does and it works as a frame for the hilarity. Funny stuff is only funny if played against something serious. The Marx Brothers were only that funny because they played up against Margaret Dumont and “Tootsie” is only as fun as it is because of its recognizable reality. Something modern comedies, especially romantic comedies, have largely forgotten.

“Tootsie” is a feast of great performances. Dustin Hofman is very convincing, both in his serious parts and in the comedic ones. His usually hyped persona fits brilliantly for the role. Bill Murray is unusually subdued and it is Sydney Pollack’s achievement that he prevents him from stealing the scenes. He is funny, but restrained, just firing off his usual VERY dry jokes. The real star for me though is Teri Garr. She is actually stealing her scenes and a lot of the comedy is due to her. For a supporting actress she has a mighty impact on the movie and had I not watched this movie (multiple times) before, I would have rooted for her. She is a far more amusing character than Julie.

“Tootsie” is a favorite of mine. It is one of the best gender switch comedies ever and one I do not get tired of watching. It avoids getting moralizing, but also evades the silliness swamp of the opposite ditch. Keeping that balance is a major achievement of this movie.

Favourite scene: Les and Van Horn (George Gaynes) realizing Dorothy is a man. Priceless.

Very highly recommended.

 

Sunday 10 December 2023

The Evil Dead (1982)

 


The Evil Dead

“The Evil Dead” franchise is one of the most iconic horror franchises in existence. Even I am familiar with it and horror is not really my jam. At campus we would watch the movies a lot, though mostly the second and third installment while the first one generally went under the radar. Certainly, watching it now, I realize I have only ever watched extracts from it. We tended to prefer the third Evil Dead movie because of its slapstick elements and while that is certainly an element in the first movie as well, it is less of a thing. What is very visible is that “The Evil Dead” was made on a marginal budget compared to the later movies.

Five young people are vacationing in a cabin deep in a forest in rural Tennessee. It is clear, to us at least, that something is wrong right from the beginning. There is a strange entity swooshing through the forest, represented by a point-of-view camera sailing through the forest with an ominous low frequency rumble. The youngsters are happily ignorant though, but that is soon going to end. In the basement they find a strange looking book and a tape recorder, telling them that the book is an ancient Sumerian book-of-death and that a certain incantation will bring on evil demons. Somehow the tape actually makes the incantations.

Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is the first victim. When she goes into forest to find out what is calling her, she is captured by the trees in what might best be described as a bizarre rape scene. Desperate now to leave, she and Ash (Bruce Campbell) find out the bridge is trashed. They are trapped. Cheryl now becomes possessed and changes her appearance for the worse, so they trap her in the basement. The other girls, Shelly (Theresa Tilly), the girlfriend of Scott (Richard DeManincor), and Linda (Betsy Baker), girlfriend of Ash, fall in rapid succession, while Scott in an attempt to get out gets so badly mangled by the forest that soon he too becomes possessed. Eventually, Ash is alone, trying to fight off his former friends who just refuse to die and stay dead.

In this sense, “The Evil Dead” is similar to the sequels. Ultimately, this is Bruce Campbell as Ash fighting off a horde of zombies and demons in a wild and gory ride. The setting owes a lot to “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), with an isolated house under siege by zombies, and the possessed truly look and act like those zombies, though without the sluggishness. The difference is that the possessed are already in the cabin and it is a single guy trying to hold them off while being attacked from all sides. So, it is still an under-siege movie, the siege is just personal rather than the place.

Of course, in this genre it is all about the jump scares and the goriness. On the first account, “The Evil Dead” does very well, but I am also a very easy target. The second is not as convincing. It is clear that it really wants this to be a point and the demon possessed do look freaky. Some of the violence is also gory to the point of the nauseous, but there is a point where the play-doh animation takes over when it loses all credibility and just look amateurish. My guess is that it was this more than anything that encouraged a sequel with actual funding. “The Thing” was a good example of what was technically possible at the time. Combine that with the talent and enthusiasm of Sam Raimi’s team and this would be awesome (and so it was!).

Despite the flaws in production value, “The Evil Dead” works very well and it founded not just a very successful franchise, but also a horde of movies heavily inspired by it. The haunted cabin in the woods is now a movie trope and Peter Jackson started out making movies made to resemble “The Evil Dead” long before “Lords of the Rings”. I only felt a little disappointed that Ash would not wield his famous chainsaw, but that of course is only in the sequel.

“The Evil Dead” is extremely famous and rightfully so. As a movie to watch I do prefer the sequel, but then again, I have a history there. You get really far on enthusiasm, but sometimes a bit of funding does the trick. Still, this is a recommendation from me.

 


Sunday 3 December 2023

48 Hrs. (1982)

 


Off-List: 48 timer

The second off-List movie of 1982 is “48 Hrs.”. This is one of those movies I would have watched quite a few times back in the eighties, but probably not since, so finding it on the list of eligible 1982 movies, I thought it was time to revisit it. Also, Eddie Murphy had quite a streak in the eighties and those movies are generally worth watching.

Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) is a police inspector in San Francisco who, somewhat coincidentally gets involved in a shootout between escaped convict Albert Gantz (James Remar) and Billy Bear (Sonny Landham) and two of Cates’ colleagues. Both policemen are killed and now Cates wants to hunt them down. To help him Cates seek out Ganz former partner Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) who has six months left of a three-year sentence. Turns out Hammond is more than willing to get Ganz busted.

Cates and Hammond are a very unlikely duo. There is very little sympathy between them and absolutely no trust. A fist fight and a number of near misses with Bear and Ganz change that to a grudging respect as they both prove very resourceful.

“48 Hrs.” is considered the founder of the buddy-cop genre, a genre that became immensely successful throughout the eighties and nineties. At least quantitatively if not qualitatively. It created a format that has been copied and imitated ad infinitum. You would have a white and a black guy, a wild one and a lawful one, a screaming police chief (preferably black) and a case that is about to explode and probably does. If the policemen do not lose the badge it is a close call. The duo will intensely dislike each other, but through the dangers of the case they will learn to trust and respect each other. Did I forget anything? Oh, there will always be some girl/wife/daughter trouble, something about job vs. paying attention to the home front.

We all know these clichés and they all come from this movie. “48 Hrs.” did not invent the police movie and some of those tropes were established at the time it was released, but the format was definitely set by this movie. That means, watching it now, forty years later, it feels dated and predictable, almost comically so, and it is easy to forget that “48 Hrs.” is not a recipe movie, but the movie that made the recipe. For this reason, I did not enjoy it as much as I remember, which is, honestly, unfair of me.

Nolte is almost comically gruff and tough. A bit of an alcohol problem and fighting with everybody including wife, boss and colleagues and driving around is a car that is both too big and too trashed. Murphy is, well, Murphy. He is not pulling out all his guns as he would later in “Beverly Hills Cop” but there is enough of his roguishness to make him both sleek and amusing. His introduction, singing Police’ “Roxanne” in prison sets a high bar which he cannot quite reach for the rest of the movie, with the possible exception of him busting a country and western bar.

As we have come to expect from Buddy-cop cop movies, there is a lot of action. Shootouts, car chases, hostage scenarios and really badass villains. “48 Hrs.” is fine of all these accounts and would still be if we had not become accustomed to even wilder fare. One can argue there is a special charm here, but Nolte is not my favorite actor, and his performance is just a tad too hammy to win me over.

Still, “48 Hrs.” must get credit for being first and considering how may tropes it fathered I find it rather surprising it is not on the List. For this reason (some may argue only for this reason) it is a must-see movie.    

 


Wednesday 29 November 2023

Blade Runner (1982)

 


Blade Runner

Before I started this project, if anybody asked me for my favorite movie, my default answer would have been “Blade Runner”. Some 700 movies down the line and some amazing movies under the belt, I am not so certain anymore and yet, “Blade Runner” continues to have that special in my heart. Last night’s revisit confirmed that. As if I needed confirmation. I doubt there is any movie I have watched as many times as “Blade Runner”. I know the dialogue line for line and there was a period where I would put the soundtrack on every night before going to bed. Yeah, I am a fanboy.

For those who have watched this less than a hundred times, “Blade Runner” takes place in 2019, yup, four years ago, but also 37 years into the future as seen from 1982. The Earth is a messed up place, ruined, presumably, by pollution, and humanity has gone into space. Artificial humans, replicants, have been constructed to cope with hardships in space, but on Earth they are outlawed. A special unit of policemen, blade runners, seek them out and retire them. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is such a blade runner.

A group of replicants have returned to Earth and are trying to gain access to the Tyrell corporation, the company who makes the replicants. For safety reasons replicants have a lifespan of only four years and this group is trying to do something about that. Deckard is tasked to find them and retire them.

The first impression is that “Blade Runner” is a neo-noir. A classic private eye story with femme fatale’s, uncertain plots and a dystopian world. The cinematic version even had the cliché voice-over. Something later editions thankfully ditched. This narrative is actually the least interesting thing about the movie. Philip Marlowe cyberpunk.

A level below this narrative we find a number of allusions to what it means to be human, a religious fable of the children of God seeking out their maker to challenge him with their lot and a paradise lost tale of Eve biting the forbidden fruit and losing her place in Eden. The wonderful thing about “Blade Runner” is that it is so open to interpretation and leaves clues everywhere. My personal favorite is the sub-plot around Rachel (Sean Young) who start out as an aloof and almost mechanical human, but as she discovers she is herself a replicant, she loses the disciplined surface and reveals her humanity, symbolized by letting her hair out and allowing Deckard to come in. The lost son motif featuring the replicant Roy (Rutger Hauer) is also very strong with him using a “saint” (J.F. Sebastian, Wiliam Sanderson) to gain access to his creator, who is a lonely creature in the forbidding and aloof Tyrell headquarters, i.e. God.

Yet, the element I love more than anything in the movie is the ambience. Yes, it is dystopian, but there is a deep pervading melancholia that gets deep under the skin, strongly driven by the soundtrack and a phenomenal cinematography, This has never ever been done better. Period. When you watch the movie over and over, you discover all these small gems, pieces of music, décor, ambience, a mystifying scene here and there, an ambiguous exchange of dialogue, and everything is so loaded. With meaning, with emotion, with anguish. It is a candy store for the movie lover and it represents everything that science fictions can do when it is great and not just an excuse for special effects.

Talking of special effects, a lot have been made of the special effects in “Blade Runner”, but they are different from the usual effect feast. In “Blade Runner” they are subdued and primarily serve to enhance the ambience of the scene. There are remarkably few explosions and stunts, but every scene has that little special effect that takes us to this terrible, hostile and yet very familiar world of “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner” has been formative for me. I would not be the same person had it not been for “Blade Runner”. The best assignment I had in high school was to analyze “Blade Runner” as a post-modernist type case, for which purpose we watched it five times in the school’s basement. When I read or watch science fiction, “Blade Runner” is the golden standard. To me it is not Han Solo chasing replicants, it is Deckard flying the Millenium Falcon.

Yeah, this may still be my favorite movie of all time.

 


Sunday 26 November 2023

Poltergeist (1982)

 


Poltergeist

I am continuing my trip down memory lane. 1982 was crammed with movies that have had vast influence on me, one way or another. “Poltergeist” is another such movie and this, I am afraid, not for anything positive. Mind you, I was barely nine years old when it was released and E.T. figures were the greatest thing in the world (right after pocket sized video games) and even the little I actually saw of this movie scared the shit out of me. Some of the scenes from “Poltergeist” haunted my nightmares for the better part of a decade after that and even the mentioning of the movie or references to it was enough to trigger anxiety. My relationship to this movie is a very good argument for age limits on movies. This time is the first time I have watched “Poltergeist” since back then. I am facing demons here.

In hindsight it feels rather silly. Although “Poltergeist” was directed by Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Hooper, this is very much a Steven Spielberg movie and that softens the impact of it quite a bit. At least now it does. It lets us know with some certainty that the principal characters will come out on top and there will be some sort of closure. We will also be looking at this with some sort of childish wonder, even when things get scary. Nobody told me that as a child, but watching it now it is rather easy to dispel the power this movie has had over me all these years. That does not mean this movie is not a scary experience or in any way fails to be convincing. Horror movies have just gotten a long way, especially in terms of jump scares, since then. A movie like “Smile” freaked me out a lot more than this rewatch of “Poltergeist”.

In this house, it is my wife who is into horror movies. She fell asleep about two-thirds in.

Steve (Craig Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) live in the suburban community of Cuesta Verde with their three children Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and little 5-year-old Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Carol Anne talks to what she calls the TV people. She hears them when the TV is showing statics and she is not really afraid of them. That changes when they come out of the television and start redecorating the house. One fateful night Robbie is almost eaten by a tree (!?) and Carol Anne is sucked into the spirit world through a portal in her closet. Now she can only communicate with her family through the static signal on the TV.

Understandably upset, Diane and Steve get help from paranormal investigators from the local university (Ghostbusters, two years before that became a thing). Clearly in over their head, they seek further assistance from a medium, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), who looks and sounds like something straight out of a David Lynch movie. Together they seek an explanation and embark on a risky rescue mission.

The deeper explanation? Well, as everybody should know by now, never build your home on top of a cemetery.

The two things that stand out in “Poltergeist” are firstly how successful the cinematography is. The setting, the special effects and the characters are believable and convincing and the hair-raising effect of seeing the little girl talking to the television is very powerful. Especially if you are yourself a child. I can vouch for that. Production value is top notch here and I think Spielberg would not have settled for less. The spirits have an uncanny similarity to those from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and that is likely not a coincidence.

Secondly, the human (or “living”) side of the equation is not powerless. Combined, they are resourceful, and they can and do fight back. It is a VERY uphill battle, but there is something they can do and be successful about. Something modern horror seems to have forgotten. This hopeful element, which definitely comes from Spielberg himself, changes the movie from bleak disaster to something almost uplifting. It is still scary as hell, but it is not despondent. The child in me does appreciate that and it earns it extra points from me.

It was good for me to watch it again. The jump scares still have me on edge (jump scares always do, I am SOOOO easy), but the demonic grip this movie had on me have been dispelled. I would even rate this as a good movie, but please please keep it away from children.

 

Friday 24 November 2023

First Blood (1982)

 


Off-List: First Blood

1982 was a year of movie legends, specifically movies that may have come out to modest success or appreciation but over the years have gathered a large following and, and in many cases, founded a franchise. “First Blood” is one such movie. It did well at the box office, but less so by the critics. To posterity, however, it is known as “Rambo I”, founder of the Rambo franchise.

I was not in it to begin with. Rambo is not really for nine-year olds, and my first experience was with the computer game and the later movies. In retrospect, though, “First Blood” is by far the best of the series and works perfectly well as a stand-alone feature.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is travelling through the Pacific Northwest, searching for one of the few survivors from his unit in Vietnam, only to learn he died from cancer he contracted while in service. Leaving the homestead of his friend’s family, he approaches the town with the ill-fitting name of Hope. The sheriff of Hope, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), does not like drifters and see it as his duty to keep his town clean of them. He therefore gives Rambo a ride to the other side of town and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome. The fact that he is a veteran carries no weight at all. Rambo figures he will go into town to eat anyway so Teasle arrests him for vagrancy.

The staff at the police station do their best to humiliate Rambo, especially Deputy Sergeant Galt (Jack Starrett). For a while Rambo stoically eats it, but eventually he snaps, knocks down the officers and escapes on a hijacked motorbike into the mountains.

What follows next is a manhunt getting larger and more intense with every setback it encounters. It does not matter how many men get hurt, Teasle will not yield, Rambo is going down. Rambo’s commanding officer in Vietnam, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up, telling Teasle he is wasting his men in a hopeless chase, but that just pisses off Teasle even more. Meanwhile, we are getting a 101 in jungle asymmetric warfare by Rambo, who pulls off one amazing stunt after the next on his pursuers.

“First Blood” can be seen for exactly that, one man’s fight against superior forces, one good man who is able to outsmart the bad guys even though they hold all the advantages. And it is good at that. It is intense, inventive and clever. Compared to the later installments of this franchise, everything is within the human possible and Rambo stands as an example of a single elite fighter against a bunch of redneck Sunday warriors. Well, a slightly contrived example admittedly, but the point is that Rambo is not a superhero, he is exactly what America created to fight the war in Vietnam and now the same country has declared war on him.

And that is the second way to look at the film and where this becomes interesting. This is really about the ingratitude of the country to the veterans. Teasle and his gang feel no appreciation for Rambo. To them, he is a hobo and later a menace. They have locked their door for returning veterans. Zooming out from the local community, John Rambo is a tool that has been discarded and the only difference from him and other discarded tools is that he is highly capable. So rather than being appreciated for what the country has made him become, he is chased or in the best case ignored, getting jobs like parking cars.

“First Blood” was one of the first, and really started a wave of, movies about returning veterans and while this wave was specifically aimed at Vietnam veterans, a string of wars since have made this subject relevant until today and not just in America.

Whether you see this as an action movie or a social conscience movie, it works amazingly well. Compared to the fare of the early eighties on both accounts, it stands out as having aged surprisingly well. Sylvester Stallone was already an established star at this time, but for my generation he is more associated with the Rambo character than the Rocky character. Rambo became a by-word for super soldier the world over.

My rewatch of “First Blood” confirmed everything I remembered about the movie and in a very strong year, I still think the List made a mistake leaving this one out. Recommended.


Monday 20 November 2023

The Thing (1982)

 


Det gruesomme udefra

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is one of those movies that have always flown under the radar for me. That is, until I watched a documentary series by James Cameron a few years ago on science fiction movies that made a lot out of this movie. It looked like a total miss that I never watched it and, knowing it would come up on the List, I braced myself with patience.

Now, I have finally watched it and I can see why a lot of people like it, it has a lot going for it. The reason I am not jumping up and down is that “Alien” was there already three years before and did it better.

The peace on an American research station in Antarctica is disturbed when a dog on the run from some crazy Norwegians seek shelter at the base. The staff find the Norwegians a lot more disturbing than the dog, so they kill the Norwegians and take in the dog. Bad choice. The dog turns out to be a shapeshifting monster from outer space (the “Thing”), which kills and then imitate its victim. It is impossible to tell who is human and who is a space monster and consequently paranoia runs amok.

The helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) takes charge and even device a method to recognize who are humans, but as more and more die, it becomes clear that no one will get out of this alive and, more importantly, the alien must be kept away from human civilization.

Bleak stuff.

“The Thing” is essentially a “Ten little Indians” story. One by one the staff is taken out and the focus of the movie is partly on the paranoia everybody gets caught up in and partly the gory attacks of the monster. And it is really a focus to the extent that there is little else to the movie. Most of the characters are rather flat, there is room for no other topic, but who is next? On the upside, those two elements are done brilliantly.

The monster itself is alien, awful, gory and cunning and the special effects displaying all this are nothing less than amazing. This is a tour de force on what was possible before CGI and even the most outrageous of the displays look real and believable and for that reason so much scarier. I am neither a big expert nor a fan of horror movies, but my amateurish guess is that this is up there among the best when it comes to the monster.

Paranoia always works best in an enclosed space with a limited number of people and here we get both. It is quite amazing that it is possible to fill so much of the movie’s running time with people circling each other with ever increasing madness, but there you are, and it is quite successful as that.

The problem, as I wrote above, is that “Alien” did much the same in 1979 and both Nostromo and the Xenomorph were cooler than the Antarctic research station and the Thing. There is a strong element of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” here as well, but again, it becomes a reboot of something that was itself hugely successful. Combining those two stories may be inspired and my guess is that this will be enough for many viewers, particularly when done with this intensity. My problem is just that I keep thinking about the movie I would rather watch, missing that dark, quiet, sneaky threat. That sense that if you turn around, it is right behind you.

Ultimately, this makes “The Thing” good, but not great for me. I understand why it is liked, if not loved, but I cannot give it that last appraisal. Something about it is just too thin.

  


Saturday 18 November 2023

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

 


E.T.

I remember when E.T. came out. Not because I watched the movie at the time, going to the cinema was not something we did a lot, but the E.T. figures were the rage. Like in frenzy rage. Most of my classmates would have a figure or a doll, the bigger the better. Some with light in the finger and some who would say the famous line “E.T. phone home”. The fad did not last, none does in second and third grade, but while it lasted, there was nothing else in the world.

E.T. is a classic movie that holds up well, here 41 years later. I watched it last night with my wife and son and it still keeps us engaged, we still feel that lump in the throat and my son would grip my arm and not let go. Mind you, we have all watched it before and not just once. It is the quintessential family movie.

E.T. is an extra-terrestrial botanist who gets left behind on Earth when his spaceship must leave in a hurry. He seeks refuge in the shed of a suburban house and is discovered by ten-year old Elliot (Henry Thomas). Elliot lives in the house with older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and recently separated mother Mary (Dee Wallace). E.T. and Elliot befriend each other and are soon linked on a mental level, sharing their emotions. The children keep E.T. as a secret and Mary only late discovers the alien, ignorant mostly through her own distraction.

The alien needs to go home and while learning to communicate with the children, he builds a communicator to call his spaceship, which they rig up in the forest. It is during this excursion we get the famous shot of Elliot and E.T. on bicycle, sailing past a full moon. It is almost too late for E.T. though. Something on Earth does not agree with him and he turns very ill. Through their link Elliot shares the illness. At this point agents of, presumably, a government agency, enters and takes over E.T. In their hands E.T. finally succumbs. Or does he? Will his spaceship arrive in time to save him?

Steven Spielberg famously explained that the story of Elliot and his family is based on his own childhood and how he dreamed of meeting an alien. A fantasy he also lived out in “Close Encounters”. This connection with Elliot and his family is clearly felt in how fleshed out they are in the movie. This looks and feels like a real family with none of the glamour or crisis of most other movie families. The biggest issue for them is the absent father and the very mundane stresses of just getting along. The ordinariness of this family is what makes the encounter with the fantastic being which is E.T. work so well. We feel it is us meeting the creature and experiencing the adventure. There is nothing spectacular about these children beyond the love they share with E.T. and each other and that love we feel as well. This is what makes this so solid a family movie.

It is amazing how well E.T. holds up after all these years. Look past the dated haircuts and it looks and feels very modern. Part of that can be ascribed to Spielberg’s very talented team, but a large part is also that E.T, the movie, has been admired ever since and has stood as the beacon of what a family movie should be like. A lot of this movie has been imitated, copied or inspired countless times ever since. Make it look and feel like E.T. and you have done it right. Even Spielberg himself has used it as his golden standard. This admiration runs the risk of making the original look cliché, but it is so good that it stands above that. 41 years down the line, E.T. is as effective as it was back when we all ran around with a doll with a light bulb in the finger.

I should mention the most famous actor to come out of this movie, Drew Barrymore. We all know what an astonishing career she has been having, and there, as little Gertie, we can see where it all came from. I think few people can watch E.T. and not fall a bit in love with that little girl.

1982 starts very strong and I have a wonderful program ahead of me for the next few weeks.


Tuesday 14 November 2023

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981)

 


Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I am struggling with my review of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Or more precisely, I am struggling with my opinion of this movie. It sounds like something that should be great. A teenage movie about high school children going through all those awkward things teenagers deal with: friendships, sex, jobs, school and an undefined future. Irresponsibility and doing things for the heck of it. Since “American Graffiti” this has been the recipe for fun, if juvenile, movies. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” has a cast that is sort of a who is who of the eighties and a very neat production value. Why do I then sit back with a “meh” feeling?

I have spent a few days contemplating that and my best answer is a complete anachronism: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” must have been made by an AI!

The AI was fed with all the ingredients such a film should have: A stoned surfer dude, the shy, inexperienced guy, a know-it-all, the neighbors daughter, the experienced girl, a bit of school, but only enough to present the really intolerable teachers, a bit of sex, not too much mind you, just some breast here and there, as few parents as possible, a party and some sport game to bring the school together. Preferably use some up-and-coming actors, but for heaven’s sake not real teenagers. You cannot miss. Problem is, it is not funny, and I care only minimally for the characters. I think I smiled once (when Brad wanks off to a dream of Linda and she walks in on him, very juvenile), but instead of developing the joke, it just stops there.

It is a fairly chaotic movie, mostly based on vignettes, so a summary can only be sketchy. We follow a group of high school students from Ridgemont High, but since almost all of them work at the local mall, most of the movie takes place there. Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda (Poebe Cates) are friends and spend their time at their food stand discussing boys and particularly sex. Stacy has a one-night stand with an older guy who immediately after disappears and Stacy then hooks up with Mark “Rat” (Brian Backer). Rat has a biology class with Stacy and a serious crush on her. He works as an usher at the mall cinema and after some coaching by his dodgy, know-it-all friend Damone (Robert Romanus), he works up the courage to invite her out. When he does not want to have sex with Stacy, she is disappointed and jumps on Damone instead. He makes her pregnant and then ditches her. Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) messes up a number of jobs until he comes into his own saving a 7-11 from a robbery. Surfer dude Spicoli (Sean Penn) makes poor friends with the tough history teacher, Mr. Hand (!) (Ray Walston), but they make up in the end. Also, he wrecks football star Jefferson’s (Forest Whitaker) car.

Yeah, that is sort of it. The vignette format means that it is all a bit disjointed and I had some difficulty working out the point of some of the characters, until I realized that the characters or the scene is there because it is part of the formula. There is no true rebellion anywhere, very little development of character, most scenes are so exaggerated they lose resemblance anything I would recognize, but worst of all, it is not funny.

In many ways this all sounds very much like “American Pie” around 20 years later, but despite being not less juvenile, it was actually fun and, crazy as it sounds, it saves it. No such mercy for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

The most amusing element of the movie is the game of spot-the-star. Half the characters went on to have great careers and even those who did not are quite recognizable from other movies in the eighties. There is even a short part for Nicolas Cage.

I keep coming back to how similar and yet completely different “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is to the previous movie I watched, the Danish movie “Kundskabens træ”. Despite taking place in the fifties, it was completely recognizable, it used real teenagers who were hardly actors and had both a deeply sincere story to tell and the hilarity of teenage pranks that were actually funny. Everything “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” does not even though they cover exactly the same territory.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was disappointing, but probably mostly because I expected so much more. It is a movie I wondered why I never heard of it and now I know why.

  


Wednesday 8 November 2023

Kundskabens træ (1981)

 


Kundskabens Træ

When I was looking for a Danish addition to the 1981 group of movies, I immediately thought of “Kundskabens træ” and went ahead to acquire it, only to shortly after realize that this movie is actually included on the Danish edition of the List. There are not that many local additions to the Danish List and sometimes they are not even Danish, but “Kundskabens træ” is one of those special movies most people my age will know or know of. It made quite an impact and was watched by one million people in the cinema, which amounts to 20% of the country’s population.

“Kundskabens træ” (literally The Tree of Knowledge, referencing Genesis) is a movie by Nils Malmros about a school class of children from 1958 to 1960. During that period the children grow from around 13 to 15 years old and we therefore follow them into early puberty with all the awkwardness and confusion that entails. While the camera does follow all the children and exposes a lot of the dynamics between them, we particularly follow Elin (Eva Gram Schjoldager). Elin is to begin with a full member of the social circles, but, maturing earlier than the other girls, she gets frozen out. She gets popular with the boys, but when Helge (Martin Lysholm Jepsen) attempts to take it to the next level, Elin turns him down. She is not ready. A feeling largely driven by Elin’s unfeeling parents. Helge, his pride hurt, starts telling stories about her and combined with the envy of the other girls, she soon find herself very much alone. There is very little Elin can do, there is support from nowhere, least of all her parents and she passes from one humiliation to the next.

There is no happy ending to the core story, it really is very depressing and while there is a lot of comedy in the general portrait of the children and their awkwardness, it is always colored by the sad feeling of being outside, such as when Elin, pressured by her mother to host a party, gets told on the phone that they cannot come after all because they had forgotten there was to be a party at another girl’s home. Or when her former friends form groups in class to keep her out. Elin internalizes it all until the end where it boils over, but we feel that pain all the way.

Although this is a movie that takes place in the late fifties, it is all very familiar. Most people will recognize these scenes from their early youth, and I suppose most people will find somebody to relate to in the movie. I think they were a bit earlier out with the dancing and kissing than I remember from my youth, but the dynamics is certainly very recognizable. It is also very particular for “Kundskabens Træ”, and Nils Malmros’ movies in general, that it takes place in Århus in Jylland. From those not familiar with Danish Geography, Århus is the second largest city in the country and very much represents the province. All the actors, particularly the children, have this very distinct Århus accent and quite a bit of the mannerism is different from what you would see in Copenhagen. I took my masters in Århus and spent six years there and when the class goes on a school trip is to Rold Skov, 15 km from where I grew up. This is very much my home turf. If anything, it made me feel even more at home with these children.

Movies that depend on child actors are always problematic. Children are not professional actors, and their acting is often too much or too little, but this is never the case in “Kundskabens træ”. If this movie stands out for something special, it is how natural it all looks. I never got that feeling that they are acting, but bought into the story 100%. That is an achievement.

Nils Malmros was compared to Truffaut, with reference to his “The 400 Blows” and there are a lot of comparisons, but “Kundskabens Træ” is also uniquely Danish, and Malmros managed to tap into this in an uncannily recognizable way, and you cannot watch this without feeling a bit guilty yourself for the Elins you do not help in your childhood. If you were not an Elin yourself.

“Kundskabens Træ” is one of the best movies ever produced in Denmark and is well worth the watch. It did get international recognition and I think an international audience will also get a lot out of it. Highly recommended.


Wednesday 1 November 2023

Diva (1981)



Diva 

I watched “Diva” yesterday and have since spent quite a few hours trying to work out this movie. The narrative is complicated, but at the same time ridiculously simple and I understand most of it well. What baffles me is how all those threads and components actually mesh into a coherent movie. The short answer is that they do not, which may actually be the point.

The central character of this movie is Jules (Frédéric Andréi). He is a young postman who lives in a workshop of sorts. Here he has built a temple for opera music with all sorts of technical equipment, especially for the soprano Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhemenia Fernandez) with whom he is completely infatuated. One night at the opera he clandestinely records her performance (and steals her dress). This is significant in two ways: Hawkins has never allowed any recordings to be made of her, making Jules’ recording the only one in existence and, secondly, sitting right behind Jules, two Taiwanese music pirates notice the recording and now they want it.

A second storyline concerns a gangster ring dealing in trafficking and drugs. One of the prostitutes has a recording incriminating the ringleader and she is killed just after dumping her tape into Jules’ postbag. The twist here is that the boss of the policemen investigating the gangster ring and the ringleader is the same person. Not really a spoiler, we learn that early on.

Jules is now hunted by three parties: The Taiwanese for the opera tape, the police for being a witness to the murder of the prostitute and two gangsters, known as “The West Indian” and “The Priest” (Gérard Darmon and Dominique Pinon), for the incriminating tape. Fortunately, Jules receives help from a very odd couple, the wealthy and eccentric Serge Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) and his girlfriend, Alba (Thuy An Luu).

Frankly, this is a mishmash. There is the odd love story between Jules and Cynthia, the weird but terribly clever Gorodish and the three chase groups. There seems to be a social critique of corrupt authorities, a praise of pure art and a big nod towards film noir. As a crime thriller it is almost a joke as the big reveal comes very early (the identity of the kingpin) and the chases are almost comical or at least stylized with Gorodish outsmarting everybody James Bond style. The point, I suppose, is to not be so focused on the narrative, but the appearance of the movie.

This is indeed what this movie is famous for and the alleged reason for including it on the List. It has been celebrated as the movie that started the “Cinéma du look” genre, which is supposed to emphasize style to content. This I understand means to look terribly cool without too much concern for what is actually going on. If that is indeed so, it would explain a lot in the movie. It is both a visual and audio feast. Everything looks and sounds spectacular. The workshop Jules lives in, the apartment (and the lighthouse) of Gorodish, the chase scenes and so on. Both the Taiwanese in their sunglasses and the gangsters look awesome. I bet Travolta and Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” were referencing Pinon and Darmon. On the audio side, we get to hear a lot of opera and in a good way (opera can be unpleasant, but not here) and when it is not opera, the music is either sorrowful and pretty or high-speed cliché action movie tracks. Everything for the senses is loaded high.

As a viewer, this is a bit challenging. You want to go for the narrative and there is enough narrative that you do follow it. It is not obscure as Godard would have done it, but then you are thrown off by the odd set of pieces it consists of. It seems to me that the way to watch it is to step back and enjoy the elements rather than the narrative. Tarantino made this his trademark, but a decade before “Reservoir Dogs”, this style was already practiced in France. In that light, “Diva” gains a lot more value and meaning. It almost begs a repeat viewing, wearing those glasses.

“Diva” has allegedly become a cult classic, and I can see why. At first, I was ready to dismiss it, but the more I consider it, the better I like it, so I guess that makes it a recommendation from me.

 


Saturday 28 October 2023

Man of Iron (Cxlowiek z Zelaza) (1981)

 


Jernmanden

Andrzej Wajda’s “Man of Iron” (“Czlowiek z zelaza”) is a movie that is more interesting than good. It is a movie that drags and confuses, yes is enormously relevant and important.

Back in the eighties, the Polish “Solidarity” (“Solidarnosc”) movement was continuously a big story in the news media and Lech Walesa was a household name. If you could only name one Pole, it would likely be him. Denmark is close to Poland and although on the other side of the Iron Curtain, what happened there felt very important. “Man of Iron” sets out to tell that story, or rather the story as it was formed by 1981 when “Solidarity” seemed to have finally won concessions and recognition from the Polish communist government.

“Man of Iron” is however not a story about Lech Walesa, but of a proxy character, sharing many of the character features of the famous Walesa. This character is Maciek Tomczyk (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), the son of Mateusz Birkut. And yes, if that rings familiar, it is because “Man of Iron” serves as a continuation of Wajda’s earlier movie “Man of Marble”. In that we learned that Birkut ended up at a shipyard near Gdansk and the film journalist Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda) found his son there. In “Man of Iron” the observer is no longer Agnieszka, but a radio journalist, Winkel (Marian Opania), who usually do government scripted radio pieces. He is sent to Gdansk by the authorities with the assignment to create a smear piece on Tomczyk. To that end, he is introduced to various people acquainted with Tomczyk who can tell his story from the late sixties to the present day. These are his student friend, Dzidek (Boguslaw Linda), Tomzcyk’s grandmother (?) and finally Agnieszka, who is herself in prison now.

Each story is told in flashback: how the students were beaten up in 68, how Birkut was killed in the strike in 70 and how, in the late seventies, Tomzcyk was arrested as a troublemaker and barred from the shipyard. All parts that mirror the story of Walesa himself. Winkel is a nervous guy, caught between the police state and the just cause, he is supposed to sabotage. The opposite pulls take a toll on him so when he finally takes side, it is a great relief for him, the feeling of freedom.

It is rare that a filmmaker catches a moment as it happens as well as Wajda does here. He is literally telling a story of history in the making. The movie includes clips from the actual strikes in both 1970 and 1980 with the actual Lech Walesa and the signing of the agreement with the government. It even includes the prophetic warning from the Party official in the closing moments, that the agreement is just a piece of paper. Shortly after the movie was released, the Polish government rolled back the agreement, outlawed “Solidary” and banned Wajda’s movie. Lech Walesa and “Solidarity” did not give up but were instrumental in the fall of communism less than a decade later and Walesa became the first democratically elected president of Poland since the Second World War.

One of the details that come through very clearly in the movie is that the strike slogans and demands are socialist at heart. This is a socialist rebellion against a socialist government, who cannot crack down on the strike without going up against its own stated policy. By doing so, it reveals itself as being the less socialist of the two, a simple police state. Therefore, this is most of all a fight over the narrative and the journalist is the foot soldier in that war. Wajda was extremely perceptive there.

What works less good for me as an outside viewer is the confusion of people, places and functions as well as the many references to past events. Elements that would make perfect sense to a contemporary Polish viewer, but had the effect on me to lose the thread several times. Add to that, that it seems as if we get the same story told several times without learning that much new and it feels like an unnecessarily long movie. Finally, every time the movie delves into the actual politics, we get a lot of socialist dialectics which is just so much mumbo-jumbo, talk with very little apparent content that I am left in some confusion on what the conflict was really about.

Thus, the odd combination of interesting but not great.

In 2016 I was in Gdansk for a conference on noise from wind turbines which took place at the “European Solidarity Center” (“Europejskie Centrum Solidarnosci”), the imposing and impressive exhibition and conference center commemorating these very events. Humbling and evocative.


Saturday 21 October 2023

Three Brothers (Tre Fratelli) (1981)

 


Tre Brødre

“Three Brothers” (“Tre fratelli”) is the second movie on the List by Italian director Francesco Rosi. Critiques may, with some right, claim that this is a boring movie with not much happening, but I found it engrossing and blissful to watch.

In a southern Italian village, an old man, Donato (Charles Vanel), has lost his wife. He telegrams his three sons to come for the wake and the funeral. The oldest of the three, Raffaelle (Phillipe Noiret), is a judge in Rome and involved in cases against terrorists, much to the chagrin of his wife. The second son, Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), is a social worker and runs a ward for troubled children in Naples. He never married, but has devoted his entire life to other people’s children. The youngest is Nicola (Michele Placido), a worker’s right activist in Turin, involved in strikes and disobedience in factories. He is separated from his wife (she was unfaithful) and arrives with his daughter, a child of 8-10 years.

The three brothers live each in their own reality, which in turn represents different versions of Italy: The sensible, the progressive and the humanitarian. This would and probably should be a basis for intense conflict, but Rosi takes a different view and tries to bring them together instead. All three have lost touch with the world they come from, the south Italian village, and returning to that place show them just how far they have moved and what they have lost. None of them feels at home anymore and they all feel deeply the loss. There is more at stake here for them than the loss of a parent.

A central scene in the movie is a bedroom where each brother lies on a bed dreaming. The dream of Raffaelle is of being assassinated and how it devastates his wife. Rocco dreams of becoming a hero of the children, wiping away all the threats to their existence (literally) and Nicola dreams of going back to his wife to be reconciled. His dream also formulates the alienation he feels with his past and the rootlessness that is the result for all emigrants.

I am still not entirely certain what is the conclusion of the movie and what Rosi’s message is. This has a lot to do with him not going the obvious way to create conflict, but to merely show how far away these people are from each other and yet be united in something that may be bigger. They do argue, it would not be an Italian movie if they did not, but it seems more like they are trying to explain themselves to people who have difficulty understanding their position. Especially Raffaelle comes through strongly, trying to explain that the judiciary system is by no means perfect, but a hopeful means to improve things and that the alternative is an abyss of anarchy. This is an interesting position given that Rosi has a reputation of left leaning activistic movies.

A lot of the juxtaposition is between Raffaelle and Nicola and that leaves Rocco as the third wheel. It is a bit difficult to see where he comes in, in a conflict which is bipolar and as a character he is far less developed than the other two. My guess is that in the conflict between the established and the progressive, humanity should not be forgotten. Maybe the church position?

The lasting impression however is one of beauty and peace. The cinematography is stunning and the pictures are crisp and soothing. It is a movie that gets me down in gear and leaves me content, even if I am not entirely certain what it is I have been watching. If you are looking for the Hollywood story arc, you look in vain This is not a movie to be experienced as a crisis and a resolution, but is rather an image of a microcosmos of Italy, sad, beautiful but also hopeful as the picture of old Donato and his young granddaughter left behind on the farm at the funeral.

I liked “Three Brothers” a lot more than I expected to and recommend it to anybody with the patience for this sort of movies.


Saturday 14 October 2023

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

 


An American Werewolf in London

“An American Werewolf in London” is one of those movies I missed in my early childhood. I only developed an affinity for horror comedies at a much later age, and at that time this was already off the radar again. It is, however, one of those movies you “know” even if you have never watched it, if, for no other reason, than that it founded the horror comedy genre.

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are American young men, backpacking through Europe, who find themselves lost on the North England moors. At nightfall they seek shelter at the pub of a small village. The locals are not exactly friendly and the name, “The Slaughtered Lamb” and the pentagram on the wall, should probably have warned the two boys. In any case, they are impolitely turned away, only to be attacked on the moors by a wild creature. The locals show up, shooting the creature in time to save the life of David but too late for Jack. The creature is seen to be a man.

David wakes up in a hospital where nobody believes his story. Not the police, nor the doctor or the nurses. Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) does take a liking to David, so when he gets released from hospital, he moves in with her. David is starting to get visitations from the undead Jack, who tells him that David has become a werewolf and when a full moon comes about, he will start killing people. The only way out is for David to kill himself. True enough, at the first full moon, David turns into a big-ass wolf and goes on a rampage. Is there any way for the doctor and Alex to save David from himself?

Director John Landis apparently brewed on the idea of a horror comedy since the late sixties, but found little understanding for this combo and although this has since become a very successful staple, “An American Werewolf in London” shows clear signs that this was a difficult match to make. There are periods of the movie where we are very clearly in the horror genre and others where it gets downright silly, such as with the inept assistant detective. But there are also periods where Landis got it right, such as David waking up naked in the zoo or the choice of the porn cinema for David’s final rampage. Jack in advanced decay and his other victims accusing him of their murder and shortly after his killing of all the patrons of the cinema to the sound and images of this cheap-looking porn movie. The juxtaposition is inspired. It also adds well to the horror-comedy mix that there are probably more people getting killed in the stampede to see the monster than are killed by the werewolf itself. It is a dark sort of humor, but that is the essence of horror comedy.

It still felt a bit uneven as if the script was half finished or if half the planned shots were ditched. The ending is sort of abrupt, though it is difficult to see it ending any other way, and I do not think it is up to the standards of Landis earlier movies, which are landmarks even today. Still, “An American Werewolf in London” was an instant hit and generated a flood of horror comedies. “Gremlins” probably would not have happened, had it not been for “An American Werewolf in London”.

The standout element of this movie is the transformation of David into a werewolf. In an age before CGI, this seamless and frightening transition is nothing less than astonishing and it earned “An American Werewolf in London” a well-deserved Academy award for Best Makeup.

I was not carried away by “An American Werewolf in London”. It did not manage to absorb me, but it is not a bad movie either. Today it has a high status, but I think it deserves it more for being a pioneer than for its qualities as a great movie. It was not scary enough or funny enough, but it is still worth watching.

   


Thursday 12 October 2023

700 Movie Anniversary

 


700 Movie Anniversary

With “Zu Früh, Zu Spät”, I have reached the 700 movie mark and I am in the habit of making a post marking these corners. It is not that I am in the mood for celebrating, though. Since Saturday I have been following what is going on in Israel and we are concerned for family and friends there. Fortunately, none of them are hurt, but the next few weeks are going to be hard.

I was of a mind to skip my usual top 10, but then I thought of making a top 10 of movies that deal with the fight of evil incarnate. I know it is a bit too early, some of the most notable movies on that theme belong to later periods, but although there was in earlier years of cinema a reluctance to deal with evil, the seventies started to change that, and I actually found movies enough for a top 20.

Star Wars

                Darth Vader and the Evil Empire is a classic, but maybe also a bit cartoonish. Certainly, he is evil, he kills an entire planet, but it be a bit too remote for us to be truly scared of it.

Alien

                “Alien” on the other hand is truly scary. The Xenomorph is evil because it is a top predator. It is also an invader of space and fighting it off requires extreme measures. Again though, the futuristic space environment is sufficiently remote to protect us.

The Searchers

                This might be an odd choice, but I was struck by the story of a home being raided and the children abducted and how difficult it was to track them down and rescue the survivors. It is a smaller scale evil, but absolutely relatable.

The Exorcist

                An evil demon with the sole purpose to destroy and torment and the almost hopeless struggle against it to stay sane and human. This is truly evil, but with the aid of the supernatural

The Shining

                That is also the case for “The Shining”. Possession may be an excuse, but the resulting terror and barbarism is no joke.

Halloween

                We do not really need the supernatural to be evil and I never entirely worked out if the murderer in Halloween is possessed or simply evil beyond anything, but scary he is.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I know this is a slasher movie, but the barbarism is almost Hamas level.

To Be or Not to Be

                Maybe an odd choice, but fighting indescribable evil by playing theater seems like a very heroic thing to do.

Night and Fog

                This could have been any Holocaust movie, really, but “Night and Fog” does not pull any punches and leaves you exhausted.

Apocalypse Now

                The journey into the Heart of Darkness is a journey into the insanity of human depravity when the barriers that make us humans fall down. No animal, alien monster or supernatural entity is as evil as a human with no humanity and that is why “Apocalypse Now” wins the title.