Tag Archives: Classics

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Rating: B/ Celie isn’t a slave, but she might as well be. At the tender age of fourteen, Celie’s abusive father passes her off to an equally abusive man in an marriage the two have already arranged. Celie’s only joy comes from her younger sister, Nettie, so when Nettie is sent away and becomes a missionary in Africa, Celie is understandably devastated and writes her sister hundreds of letters in order to keep in touch. The Color Purple is written in epistolary format, and the narrative comes either in the form of letters Celie writes to God attempting to reconcile with her horrid living situation or notes that Celie and Nettie write back and forth to each other, attempting to provide comfort in sad and desperate times. Continue reading Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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)

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)

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

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Rating: B/ Good, but over-rated. Those are the words I’d use to describe George Orwell’s hugely influential dystopian novel, 1984. There’s plenty of bright spots here, and many moments of  brilliance, but parts of this book can be hard to read due to heavy info-dumping and scenes that hit you over the head with it’s themes. It’s definitely worth reading, to ponder, as well as to see what all the fuss was about, but it definitely pales compared to Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite books. Continue reading Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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Rating: A/ I haven’t read a Roald Dahl book in ages, but I remember them being among my favorites when I was a small child. I liked The Twits so much, in fact, that I read it twice- once to myself, once to my brother. Dahl is a bit of an enigma; he’s a brilliant storyteller but at the same time it’s hard to picture his children’s books being published in this politically correct day and age. He spins tales that are dark, often frightening, and sometimes venomously mean; fables to curl the toes of sensitive children. Continue reading Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

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Rating: B-/ While the title of this film is The Bad News Bears, it could also easily be called How Not to Coach a Little League Team: The Movie. Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthieu) is a alcoholic loser and professional swimming pool cleaner who’s made a total mess of his life. Hoping to make a little money on the side, he signs up to coach a team of foul-mouthed misfit kids, with no intention whatsoever of being a good role model. Continue reading Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

Movie Review: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

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Rating: B+/ The ironic thing about the title of Ivan’s Childhood is that the nightmare twelve-year-old Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) is living out as he works as a scout for the Soviet army during World War II scarcely counts as a childhood at all. Ivan has had to grow up incredibly quickly following the murder of his family by the Nazis, and for all of us whose childhoods weren’t completely fucked up, it’s sometimes hard to remember that some people aren’t allowed a sense of relative safety and security as they come of age. Continue reading Movie Review: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Movie Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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Rating- A / Even though it seems fairly tame by today’s standards in terms of violence, language, and sexual content, it’s easy to imagine Midnight Cowboy making waves in 1969. Both controversial and extremely daring for it’s time, the film, based on the novel of the same title by Leo James Herlihy, deals with hot-button issues such as prostitution, rape, homosexuality, and childhood sexual abuse. And it transcends the constraints of time and setting to tell an incredible story of innocence lost and outcasts eking out a hardscrabble urban existence that is both archetypal and vitally original. Continue reading Movie Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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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Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

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Johnny Got His Gun is a cinematic rarity- a motion picture featuring a perfectly likable and sympathetic protagonist who you desperately hope will die by the film’s conclusion. There are some fates worse than death, the filmmaker reminds us. Although novelist/screenwriter/first-time director Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 classic is bound to be controversial for it’s strong pro-euthanasia and equally fierce anti-war statements, it is as important a movie as it was when it first came out over forty years ago, even partially due to the fact that it is willing to make you squirm and think about time-worn issues of patriotism, God, and man’s duty to himself Vs. to his country, In other words, not a light watch. But worth seeing and discussing by serious film goers.

Joe (Timothy Bottoms) is a good looking, All-American kid with his entire life ahead of him. That is, until he fights in the trenches of the first world war and gets mangled beyond all recognition by a grenade attack. An undetermined amount of time later, Joe is trapped in a kind of living death; a blind, deaf, horribly disfigured quadruple amputee imprisoned in his own head. With absolutely nothing to do set out on a steel table like a slab of meet and  confined to a sterile hospital, Joe drifts in and out of a drug-fueled haze and dreams of his past life; his parents (Marsha Hunt and Jason Robards,) his high school sweetheart (Kathy Fields) and his own expansive helplessness and misery.

Johnny Got His Gun is Trumbo’s directorial debut, based on his novel by the same name, and it is notable for trying to get into the main character’s head through dreams, hallucinations, and memories. In this way, it is as interesting and immersive as a novel. Timothy Bottoms plays the doomed soldier, and although I don’t necessarily think he was the best man for the job (he seems to flounder at times in an exceedingly difficult role,) he has a innocent quality that lends credibility to his character. The message is sort pf obvious and states itself in a somewhat didactic way, there’s a not a huge amount of subtlety to a script that all but outright tells you that ‘war is hell’ in a dark and thoroughly depressing manner. That said, the movie has not lost it’s power since it’s release in 1971 and it’s intelligent stylistic choices and primal sense of horror (the horror of being trapped within yourself. unable to see, hear, or communicate and treated by your doctors as brain-dead) still rings true.

Johnny Got His Gun will make you think about a state between life and death where suddenly, being alive isn’t worth the trouble anymore. We see a decent, clean-cut, likable kid in a harrowing situation that God willing, none of us will have to face, and we see the bullshit of war and the hypocrisy of  warmongers and politicians who send kids in to die for a conflict most of them don’t fully understand. In one of the film’s earlier sequences, Joe and his girlfriend Kareen share a sweet moment while a enlistment officer talks a line of bunk about the glory of war.

The scene of the couple’s genuinely sweet moment juxtaposed against the officer’s never ending speel is particularly memorable. For a boy going to war, what is gained? More importantly, what is lost? Potent, raw, and sometimes downright eerie, this movie is worth watching when considering both the Euthanasia and wartime debate. If I myself was in Joe’s position, there’s no question about it. I’d want to be put out of my misery as quickly as possible.  Living for the sake of living, despite horrible quality of life, just isn’t worth it. This isn’t a rousing movie with lots of hyper kinetic battle scenes. It’s a quiet, serious kind of film, and should be viewed as such. It is also one of the most effective ant-war films I’ve ever seen.

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