Tag Archives: Classic

Movie Review: Duel (1971)

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Rating: B/ Steven Spielberg’s feature film debut is a high concept thriller focusing on the world’s worst case of road rage leaving a man fighting for his life. Essentially two people (one almost entirely unseen throughout the entire film) and one long car chase, with a few intermittent breaks for the introduction of a few new minor settings or characters, Duel is the mostly compelling story of the worst day of a man’s life. It doesn’t have a huge budget, and you don’t entirely care what happens to the smug protagonist, but the use of clever cinematography and Weaver’s tense performance cut past the budget restraints and the viewer’s lack of sympathy for the main character. Continue reading Movie Review: Duel (1971)

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Movie Review: Shane (1953)

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Rating: B/ There are some people who come unexpectedly into your life and, for better or for worse, change it forever. This is the case  for Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde,) the young son of homesteaders Joey Sr. (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur,) who is blown away by the arrival of a mysterious gunfighter and drifter, Shane (Alan Ladd.) Shane embodies all the qualities that Joey Jr. is endlessly impressed by and wants to emulate, and Shane changes the lives of the entire family as well as the community at large when he butts heads with some landowners who are trying to get rid of the homesteaders by any means necessary, led by lead baddie Rufus Ryker (Emile Mayer.) Continue reading Movie Review: Shane (1953)

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

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   The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is a very strange movie that raises more questions than it answers, confounds even the most open-minded viewer, and is insistently vague throughout. That said,  it is worth watching for it’s unique portrayal of it’s titular hero and, by extension, the whole of the human race. It’s a secular fable for the cinematically adventurous, written and directed by the king of weird and polarizing art house films, Werner Herzog.

I have to admit, I’m not that familiar with Herzog’s directorial work. I’ve seen a couple of his films, but I mostly know him as the weird guy in Julien Donkey-Boy who chugs cough syrup while wearing a gas mask and sprays Ewen Bremner down with cold water while bafflingly screaming “Stop your moody brooding. Don’t shiver! A winner doesn’t shiver!” As you might have guessed, my experience with Herzog has been strange and surreal, and while Kaspar Hauser does not reach the heights of outlandishness of Julien Donkey-Boy, it’s got plenty of unnerving to go around. It’s allegedly inspired by a real case that took place in the 19th century, very closely based upon a series of letters written on the subject around that time.

Kaspar Hauser (Bruno Schleinstein) is a misfit. He’s spent his entire life in the basement of a man (Hans Musäus) who calls himself his ‘daddy,’ where he is only given a toy horse to play with and is beaten frequently. The only word he knows is ‘horsey.’ He eats nothing but bread and water and is virtually unable to walk or move in a typical human manner. I immediately drew parallels between Kaspar and Nicholas Hope’s character in Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby, but poor Kaspar has it even worse than the titular Bubby, having been shackled to a wall for seventeen years.

Even more disturbing is the fact that it is never explained why the man is keeping him there. Is he incarcerated for sexual purposes? Is his captor just batshit insane? Is the sick appeal of keeping a man chained to a wall his whole life a turn-on in of itself? We really don’t know. And that makes the final moments of the movie even more insanely cryptic. But for whatever reason, the man gets sick of having Kaspar around and dumps him in a small German town to fend for himself, standing stock still and without purpose with a letter in one hand and a holy book in the other.

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When Kaspar is ‘rescued’ only to be placed in a local jail for lack of anything better to do with him, they assume he is both utterly mentally deficient and incompetent. A kind man named Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast) gets custody of Kaspar for the time being and begins to teach him how to function in society. The irony in this is that Kaspar soon begins to seem wiser and more genuine than any of the hoity-toity high society dandies who superficially observe his story.

He’s prone to be a bit of a philosopher, despite his odd appearance and slow halting speech. Kaspar is a delightful character, because he makes all the religious and moral authorities angry by taking all the demands that he be a proper human and a God-fearing Christian at face value. He’s a wise fool, someone whose ignorance actually lends him a less biased, more realistic view of life. He displays a soul by weeping at music that strikes him as beautiful, yet his elders can’t put him in a tidy box or clearly define him.

I have several problems with this movie, including the lead actor being portrayed as a teenage boy. Seventeen years old? More like a middle-aged Hobbit lookalike! (in fact, Schleinstein, a bit of a social outcast himself, was forty-one at the time of filming.) Jests aside, though, Scheinstein gives a effective, if somewhat one-note, performance. I also have to say that I was simply baffled by the ending. It was quite sad and, furthermore, was totally out of the blue. I think I would have preferred an ending that wasn’t so infuriatingly cryptic.

This is my favorite Werner Herzog (having seen My Son My Son What Have Ye Done and Signs of Life, neither of which struck me as particularly outstanding or memorable.) I don’t love this movie, but for better or worse, I think I’ll remember it.

In creating a unique and memorable character in Kaspar Hauser, the movie allows us to see life through an unbiased, unprejudiced lens- a lens truly untainted by worldly experience. Kaspar is like a blank slate onto which other characters try to project their beliefs and opinions, but, as inert and seemingly mindless as he is, he refuses to be a sheep for other people to control. He’s strong in a way that seems unlikely for someone of his kind, someone without influence, experience, or familial love. And we love him for it. Unsentimental and brazen, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is, in essence, an enigma, and one that might warrent repeat viewings. It might not be a particularly palatable film for the mainstream, but it has it’s astonishing moments.

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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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So, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for the first time yesterday. For better or worse, it is magnificently unique; you’re unlikely to see anything else like it in your entire life. What really struck me wasn’t the story, though it was good, but the visuals and sets, which were outstanding. The backdrops to this bizarre tale are somewhere between Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, and 70’s decor from hell.

Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell,) the antihero of “A Clockwork Orange,” likes to hurt people. It’s that simple, he rapes, assaults, and kills not for personal or fiscal gain, but simply because he can. What better way for a Ludwig Van Beethoven loving youth with an insatiable appetite for ultraviolence to spend his nights and weekends?

Delarge lives in a dystopian Britain filled with rot, decay, and futuristic gangs that like to rape women and beat the shit out of people. Alex is a proud member of such a gang: the self proclaimed leader of his ‘droogs’ (Alex and his friends speak in a slangy imaginary language which incorporates English and Russian,) he is simply content raising hell and causing trouble.

When Alex’s life of crime finally catches up with him, he is sent to prison (transitioning the film’s psychedelic backdrop, temporarily at least, to a more standard Borstal setting) and eventually winds up participating in a traumatic aversion therapy to cure him of his criminal impulses, winding up as timid as a puppy, an emotional eunuch repulsed by the very thought of violence.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a very long movie, 137 min., but it doesn’t seem to contain a bit of filler. It just has a really long story to tell. Malcolm McDowell (hard to believe he’s in his seventies now!) is chilling and creepily charismatic as a unrepentant sadist. His parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) don’t beat him or deprive him of his rights, but they really could care less whether he goes to school or what sadistic new pastime he picks up.

Is Mom and Dad’s bored apathy what has turned Alex into a monster? Children pick up quickly on whether they’re cared about or not, whether their teachers and parents legitimately give a shit about them or how they choose to wheedle away their days. But is the ultimate self absorption of parents and authority figures enough to make a psychopath? Alex, ever the charming beast, would be unlikely to care about these matters.

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Furthermore, Alex lives in a spectacularly self absorbed society that mirrors our own. This is taken to darkly comedic heights when the ‘cat lady’ (Miriam Karlin) tussles with Alex with a obscene phallic statue that’s apparently ‘an important piece of art.’ Alas, the poor wretched woman is crushed by it. What is it  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said? ‘The things you own end up owning you.’ And sometimes you’re bludgeoned to death by your own porcelain penis. An absurd demise you’d be unlikely to see in any other movie, ever.

Ironically, the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley,) for all his off putting talk of fire and brimstone, is the only one in this world besides the sharklike, predatory Alex himself with any sense whatsoever. It is Quigley’s character who supplies the film’s message; you can’t coerce or manipulate anyone into being good. “Goodness comes from within.” They have beaten and brainwashed Alex into submission; what have they accomplished? You act in a kind and morally generous way because you want to, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

This lesson could be applied to organized religion; even if you tantalize a bad apple with tales of heavens’ spoils and frighten them with stories about a fiery hell, they will eventually show their rotten core. And naturally, Alex gets the last laugh, even while both political parties use him as a puppet for their own personal gain.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a culturally significant work, but it’s not for the extremely sensitive or those with weak stomachs. Furthermore, it’s definitely not for kids or impressionable teens. A triumph of visuals and sound mixing, it can be a little bit disturbing at times and deeply puzzling at others, but it’s become a cultural icon for a reason. Malcolm McDowell’s maniacally inspired performance seals the deal that though “A Clockwork Orange” is not a perfect movie, it’s a pretty damn good one.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.

Watership Down (1978)

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This animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel proves to  be a slightly unnerving experience, since the anthropomorphic rabbits and early-Disney-esque visuals seem to say “Yeah, this is totally legit for kids,” while the subject matter tells you a decidedly different tale. I was intrigued by various online accounts of people being totally psychologically fucked by watching this as children. Oh the blood! The screams of the dying rabbits! I was sold. I had to check it out.

I had previously tried to read the book along with Adams’ ‘The Plague Dogs,’ but they were thick volumes with long chapters, and my interest in literature is admittedly a fluctuating thing. So I rented the movie, and I am pleased to report that this movie is a work of art, particularly in the visual sense. The watercolor-created landscape framing every shot is gorgeous and genuinely a masterpiece. This isn’t the cheap animation being flaunted in modern children’s films and Saturday Morning cartoons.

The artists had a vision, and they carried out that vision to stunning effect. The animation of the rabbit characters is impressive too. But damn, “Watership Down” is not only a grim movie and absolutely inappropriate for anyone under thirteen, it’s downright eerie at times, portraying the hostility of nature and the finality of death in a dark, unsettling way. This isn’t the kind of movie where a hip, sarcastic talking rabbit voiced by an A-list actor is seemingly injured, jumps up unharmed, and cracks a joke to a chorus laughs from the audience. It is dark, dark, dark. It portrays it’s rabbit protagonists with the grim earnestness of players in a Greek tragedy.

Rabbits Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his timid brother, Fiver (Richard Briers) live out a peaceful existence in a warren of coexisting bunnies. That is, until Fiver, who has the gift of foresight, declares that a catastrophe will shortly take place, causing the two siblings and a group of others to flee toward an uncertain future. Turns out, he was right. Real estate developers fill in the warren with piles of dirt, killing all the remaining rabbits except for one.

And with the only female in Hazel’s group promptly snatched up by a hawk, the weary travelers need women. Quite literally. But the Efrafans, a hostile, fascist warren of rabbits, are not willing to give up their dames, or come to a settlement, for that matter. The leader of the Efrafans, the frankly terrifying dictator General Woundwort (Harry Andrews,) tortures his subordinates to keep them compliant and in constant fear of their leader. Who knew seemingly docile bunnies could be such fucking assholes?

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I don’t know, maybe it’s different with rabbits (who screw around and thereupon breed like, well… rabbits,) but the Efrefan’s essential rape and prostitution of their women (they pimp out their ladies to bucks who wish to partake) paired with the protagonist’s blase insistence that women are needed to reproduce and continue their legacy (no mention of whether the girls want them) reminded me of the military men in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (” I promised them women.”)

Hazel and the gang can’t exactly be faulted- we are dealing with rabbits after all, who are more interested in procreation for the sake of procreation than wining and dining does. However, the treatment of women as babymakers is slightly disturbing (realize that by no means am I calling “Watership Down” a sexist film- the main priority here is survival, not romance.) As a modern woman watching it, it was a little creepy, although you definitely have to take it in context, as well as realize that “Watership Down” is basically a commentary on survival and warfare, and Warfare and rape and prostitution are often a package deal.

The inclusion of rabbit religion and a bunny political system was pretty awesome and creative and as mentioned before, the film was visually stunning but I wasn’t quite so enamored with the plot. It was not really so much what was wrong with the plot as that it didn’t transport me the way the world-building and animation did. The voice acting was excellent, with Richard Brier sporting a fittingly cagey inflection as the perpetually nervous Fiver while John Hurt provides sturdy backup as the strong, hearty Hazel.

On a final note, let me beseech you not to perpetuate the cycle of terror and adamantly avoid renting this movie for your kids. There is a scene where a rabbit, Bigwig, is caught in a snare and he is bleeding and foaming from the mouth and it is frankly extremely disturbing and gruesome. The movie is harrowing and sometimes downright off-putting, with lots of (animated) blood and rabbits killing and torturing rabbits. The BBFC (what’s up with them) rated this U for all ages, which is absolute insanity considering the children who were scarred (not joking) by this movie.

For adults, “Watership Down” is a contemplative and inventive film. But, not even kidding, kids who watch this are going to have a fear of rabbits for the rest of their lives. Going in a pet store might be tricky, and paying your kid’s therapy bills for the rest of your natural lives is no fun either. I credit all my remaining sanity to the fact that I never watched “Watership Down” as a child. I recommend “Watership Down” to adults who are interested in films with a slightly different and uncanny vibe that are visually stunning and thematically unsettling.

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The Other (1972)

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Life on an 1930’s Connecticut gorgeous family farm is idyllic… or is it? Twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) share more secrets than most- but can those secrets kill? To find out, I highly suggest you read the book by Thomas Tryon, rather than bothering with this schlock-fest. To say that the film adaptation by Robert Mulligan in a misrepresentation seems like an understatement, because while the movie is technically a faithful adaptation in many ways, it can’t hold a candle to it’s book in terms of quality scares.

This movie is considered a classic by many, but my God is it cheesy. One of the reasons the film is unconvincing is the acting. The performance of Uta Hagen as the Perry boy’s Russian grandmother is laughably ham-fisted. Her ‘accent’ consists mostly of screwing up her face and crying “Babushka!” as she gesticulates wildly. Mrs. Rowe, as a lonely spinster lady (Portia Nelson)  who was very likable in the novel gives one of the worst acting performances I’ve seen in a critically-acclaimed film. The movie unwisely changes her cause of death from ‘ambiguous’ to include a ludicrous sequence of her dying from a heart attack while the film’s little psychopath wields a rat.

While the child actors gallivant around in pedobear-approved short shorts, the film reaches new levels of unintentional hilarity as the one kid acts as effeminate as fuck while his twin brother tries to be a bad-ass, and all the Gothic suspense Tryon strove for comes to naught. While the big reveal was chilling in the book, the twist simply doesn’t work here, neither does 99% of the acting. I actually found the literary equivalent  of the scene where the boy visits his paralyzed, veg mother to be disturbing, but now all I could do was laugh at at the mother (Diana Muldaur)’s overacting attempt at a glazed stare contrasted with the boy’s manic, exaggerated cheeriness.

“The Other” might of been a chilling viewing experience at one time, but calling it outdated is putting it mildly. There isn’t a scare to be had; there is, however, a whole lotta laughs. Get your money’s worth of hilarity as the kid plays the ‘game’ that was so haunting and memorable in the novel, sweating and screaming “I see it, Grandma, I see it!” like he’s going to jizz his pants.

View for your enjoyment as Uta Hagen tries to cover up her utter ineptitude at a Russian accent by adding ‘Babushka’ to the end of every sentence. “Ya, ya, Play de game, Bbbaaabbbusshhkkaa.” Combine this with the worst attempt at a foreign accent you ever heard, and you’re getting close. If unintentional humor is your forte, than by all means, see this film. But if some real scares are what you’re hoping for do yourself a favor and  read the book.

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