#331 The Departed

(2006, Martin Scorsese)

“When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

Once upon a time, Martin Scorsese had a tendency to cast Robert De Niro in every movie he made. However, as De Niro got older and more cynical, Scorsese has latched onto another actor to be his lead man – Leonardo DiCaprio. And today, we’ll be taking a look at one of the first major collaborations between the two: The Departed, a remake of Hong Kong action movie Internal Affairs.

In an Irish neighbourhood in South Boston, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), head of the Irish mob, approaches a boy in a local shop and steadily trains him up to be a mole in the police. Cut to several years later, and the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), has successfully made his way into the Special Investigations Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, where he leaks information to Costello to help him resist arrest.

However, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), a fellow new recruit, has been sent undercover to infiltrate Costello’s crew due to his own familial connections with organised crime. Gradually, both men become aware of each other and they race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.

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#330 The Sound of Music

(1965, Robert Wise)

“The hills are alive with the sound of music”

So, my original intention was to get this review up for Christmas, because my usual Christmas review is a family movie that people may sit down to watch for the holiday. The Sound of Music is one of those films. It’s a classic musical that always gets chucked onto Christmas TV schedules because it’s long and it’s family-friendly and it’s feel-good. But I got sick, so this review got delayed. But the sentiment remains. Time to look at this family favourite in a little more detail.

The Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews as a nun named Maria who is trouble for the other nuns because she daydreams and wanders off into the fields to sing and prance around while she’s supposed to be praying and being reverent. To deal with this, she is sent to live with the Von Trapp family to act as the new governess to look after the seven children of Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), who controls them using whistles and makes them wear uniforms as some bizarre way of grieving for his late wife. Maria sets out to bring some joy into the children’s lives again, mostly through singing and prancing about.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly like musicals as a general rule, but I tried to give this one some degree of respect because, well, it is a beloved classic and many of its songs have entered public consciousness for eternity. I tried. Honestly, I did. But my god, The Sound of Music was not the musical to win me over to musicals.

First of all, Maria. Jesus Christ, Maria. She is the epitome of the boring wholesome Mary Sue protagonist. She prances around singing a lot, she goes gooey-eyed over nature, she apologises profusely to the stuffy nuns (who we’re supposed to dislike but quite frankly I sided with) and is all about being sweet and lovely. And oh my god, is she annoying. There are Disney Princesses who look at this girl and think she needs to tone it down with all the twee.

What’s worse, the movie wants us to like her unquestioningly because she’s the assigned protagonist. But she has no real character traits beyond being generically nice, and it’s very easy to feel tired of her within the first 30 minutes.

Not that many other characters are better. Georg is a typical stern military dad who undergoes a massive personality change into the same generic niceness somewhat early in the movie for no real reason. The children are precocious brats who also seem to exhibit the same generic niceness underneath an implied, but rarely seen, love of pranking governesses.

And of course, everyone is singing all the time. I know, I should expect it from a musical, but this takes it to such extremes that it felt like a parody. What’s more, even though I knew many of the songs, hearing them in context and hearing them constantly made me realise that, controversially, I didn’t think any of them were very good. From “My Favourite Things” helping to cement Maria’s rather dull and somewhat air-headed personality (“when bad things happen I think of kittens and instantly feel better tee hee”) to “The Do-Re-Mi” song featuring the laziest lyric in the history of music (“La, a note to follow So”), these songs just got tedious and annoying, much like how I felt about Maria herself.

And then there’s the plot, which is devoid of any conflict because god forbid things stop being generically nice for even a second. There’s a love triangle aspect here, where Georg is engaged to a baroness but falls for Maria, that gets resolved entirely in a five minute conversation between Georg and the baroness, the latter of whom has the reaction “oh okay, carry on then” when faced with the fact her fiancée is dumping her. And that, of course, comes after Georg stops being a grumpy sourpuss when…he hears a song. Yes. He hears a single song and then thaws. Did he never hear a song before?

And then there’s the fact that this movie failed to make the Nazis threatening. Let that sink in. The people behind the Holocaust failed to come across as a threat here. I know I’m not a fan of many World War II movies either, but I’d take more movies that had effectively terrifying Nazis over this. Their attempts to escape from the Nazis look less like desperate innocents trying to escape a fascist genocidal political army and more like a fun family day out in the countryside.

Obviously, many of my criticisms here are those of a self-confessed cynic who doesn’t like the genre, but I tried to find something to like. It’s a film with a huge following and it is a good film on a technical level. But on a personal level, I had too many problems with The Sound of Music to be able to truly enjoy it.

Starring Julie Andrews & Christopher Plummer
Written by Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse (musical) and Ernest Lehman
Produced by Robert Wise
Music by Rogers & Hammerstein (songs) and Irwin Costal (score)
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Edited by William H. Reynolds

Favourite Scene: I tried, but nope.
Scene That Bugged Me: That whole business with “teaching the kids to sing” when the eldest daughter was seen singing exactly two scenes before.

Watch it if: You like twee musical escapism
Avoid it if: You really can’t stand musicals

#329 Pickpocket

(1959, Robert Bresson)

“Perhaps everything has a reason”

So, uh, I have a slight problem. I’m sitting down to write this review because my list says that I’ve watched it. However, this came as a shock to me, since I couldn’t remember watching it initially. So this review may prove difficult and I have to rely on information online as well as my notes to try and remember what it was all about. This probably isn’t the best start.

Pickpocket is, apparently, about a pickpocket. Sorry to shock you, but it is. Martin LaSalle is Michel, who pickpockets someone at a racecourse and is arrested, although the charges don’t stick. Following this, he then falls in with a bunch of professional pickpockets and then shenanigans.

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#328 The Heiress

(1949, William Wyler)

“I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters”

The trailer for this movie (above) is very keen on informing us that The Heiress is an absolutely marvellous piece of cinema that’s going to shape the future of cinema, but the fact that I hadn’t heard of it until now makes me question those studio-appointed accolades. But, it could still very easily be a good movie, even if it didn’t set the world on fire in the way the dramatic announcer above seemed to wish it would. Let’s find out.

Olivia de Havilland stars as Catherine Sloper, the plain and naïve daughter of a rich and successful doctor (Ralph Richardson). She is despised by her father, who constantly compares her to her late mother and finds her physically and emotionally dull, and considers her to be an embarrassment to him. Catherine soon finds an emotional connection in a man named Morris (Montgomery Clift) and hopes to marry him, but Dr Sloper suspects him of trying to muscle in on her future inherited fortune.

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#327 Days Of Heaven

(1978, Terrence Malick)

“Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around”

So, I’ve not heard of this movie. So let’s see what kind of reaction it got on release.

“The film was not warmly received on its original theatrical release, with many critics finding only the imagery worthy of praise”

Oh. Well. That’s not really the best start. Well, critics disagree all the time. Maybe it’s not all that bad? I guess I’ll have to find out for myself and hope for the best. It’ll be okay, right? Right?

So, Days Of Heaven stars Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as Bill & Abby, two lovers living in 1916. To the outside world, they present themselves as brother and sister to avoid people talking about them, and they travel across America seeking out manual work, along with Bill’s younger sister Linda (Linda Manz). While working on a wealthy landowner’s farm, the landowner (Sam Shepard) falls for Abby and asks for her hand in marriage. Due to an unspecified medical condition, the landowner is likely to die within a year, so Abby agrees to the marriage under the intention of claiming his land for herself and Bill following his death.

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#326 An American Werewolf In London

(1981, John Landis)

“Beware the moon”

It’s no longer Halloween, but it appears that today we still have the horror bug, and this is a movie that has it all. Werewolves! Gore! Murder! Yorkshiremen! Frank Oz in a non-puppet role! Today we’re looking at An American Werewolf In London.

Two American students are inexplicably on holiday in the Yorkshire Moors. After David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) wander into a spooky pub filled with terrifying Yorkshiremen, the two end up venturing onto the moors at night, where they’re attacked by a beast. Jack is killed, but David is saved when the scary Yorkshiremen shoot the beast. David is taken to hospital in London (as opposed to, I don’t know, Leeds) where he begins to experience strange visions of a horribly mutilated Jack who tells David that he’ll turn into a werewolf. David also falls for his nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), and the two begin a relationship.

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#325 Network

(1976, Sidney Lumet)

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Network appears to be a film with some degree of minor cult success. You don’t usually hear about it listed in typical Best Films Ever lists, but it does turn up once or twice on some individuals’ lists. It’s a movie that I have been quite intrigued by, so today I’ll be taking a look at it.

Network is the story of the UBS Evening News, and its anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch). After poor ratings, Beale is informed that he is to be taken off the air, which leads him to announce his suicide on-air. His boss, Max Schumacher (William Holden), urges the network to give him a second chance…and Beale immediately goes on air to denounce everything as “bullshit”. However, far from causing an upset, his rant becomes a ratings hit, and the corporate interests at the network take note. This includes programming director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who seeks out anything that can get the network the best ratings, regardless of any moral concerns.

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#324 The Big Red One

(1980, Samuel Fuller)

“By now we’d come to look at all replacements as dead men who temporarily had the use of the arms and legs. They came and went so fast and so regularly that sometimes we didn’t even learn their names”

If you’ve read through my blog by now, you probably are aware that one subject I’m sick of seeing in movies is World War II. Name a battle in that war and chances are there are at least five movies that examine it in great detail from multiple angles. We have movies from the perspective of innocent civilians caught up in horrendous circumstances. And now, apparently, we have a movie set entirely around a specific squad.

The Big Red One is focused on a band of American soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division, aka The Big Red One. During the events of the movie they fight in battles in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. And…uh…that’s it. That’s the movie. Read the rest of this entry

#323 The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp

(1943, The Archers)

“Can’t imagine anything more awful than to be a prisoner of war in England”

In 1930s Britain, a cartoon character emerged in one of the major papers, openly criticising the British establishment by being blundering, preposterous and full of hot air. Colonel Blimp was designed to be a satirical representation of British military officers who spoke with a great deal of authority on topics they didn’t understand and expressed very jingoistic views. In 1943, production team The Archers decided to develop this character further in a movie, exploring his life and expanding him into more than just a stereotype. And thus, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.

The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp focuses on Major-General Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), exploring his life through a series of lengthy flashbacks. Starting with his escapades in the Boer War in the early 20th century and leading through the World Wars, we witness his attempts to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complicated diplomatic incidents and his growing affection for a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), and how this affects his decisions. Read the rest of this entry

#321 & #322 Night Of The Living Dead & Dawn Of The Dead

(1968/1978, George A. Romero)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra”


So while other movie blogs have seen reviewers watch horror movies all through October, I kept up my regular thing of a special horror review on Halloween itself. But I reviewed Halloween last year, so where could I possibly go this year? A quick glance at the 1001 Movies list showed me that two of George Romero’s Dead movies were on my to-watch list, so I figured, how about a double review of these classic zombie movies?

After all, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid zombie fiction lately what with the success of games like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead being one of the most popular shows on TV right now. So why not spend this Halloween taking a look at where the modern zombie image came from?

Night Of The Living Dead, the first in the series, starts out with siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their father’s grave. Soon things turn sour when Johnny is attacked and murdered by a strange, lumbering man. When Barbra runs away, she finds herself trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by more of these murderous people with a man named Ben (Duane Jones), an embittered married couple with a sick child, and a teenage couple who fled when they heard emergency broadcasts. Then shenanigans.

Dawn Of The Dead, released ten years later, is set in the midst of the zombie outbreak, and two SWAT team officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger), join forces with two employees from a local TV station who have stolen the station’s helicopter, Stephen (David Emge) and Francine (Gaylen Ross). Together they journey to a shopping mall for supplies, and decide to turn it into their own personal base to hide out from the apocalypse. Then shenanigans. Read the rest of this entry

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