Monthly Archives: June 2013

#197 Brokeback Mountain

(2005, Ang Lee)

“I wish I knew how to quit you”

It’s that time of year where, in honour of the Stonewall Riots that acted as a the catalyst for much of the gay rights movement, Gay Pride festivals are celebrated around the world. And as I post this, historic steps were taken only a few days ago towards legalising gay marriage in the US. In respect to all of this, here’s a movie about gay cowboys, in fact the movie generally considered to be the best movie about gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain.

In 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired to herd sheep over the summer. During their time working together, the two develop a sexual relationship. Due to the time and the location (Wyoming), the two cannot pursue this relationship publicly for fear of persecution, so they go their separate ways at the end of the summer. This leads Ennis to marry his long-term fiancée Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and Jack to meet and marry rodeo rider Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway).

However, over the years the two meet for infrequent “fishing trips”, where they journey back to Brokeback Mountain, the place their relationship started, and deal with the emotional turmoil of their relationship being so difficult to pursue.

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#196 Solaris

(1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“We seek contact and will never achieve it”

SPACE! Many movies have talked about, many have visited it for extensive periods of time, but very rarely do we have movies pondering the very nature of space itself. But in 1972, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky made Solaris, a movie that looked into space and then asked “what the hell is going on?” Which is the very same question that much of the audience will be asking while watching the movie.

Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is a psychologist about to embark on a mission to a remote space station orbiting the distant ocean planet of Solaris. The crew has apparently lost their minds and it’s up to Kelvin to head up there and use his psychology powers to save them. Before he leaves, he’s visited by an astronaut from a previous mission, Henri Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), who brings tapes of his report on his time on the station, where he reported seeing a 12-foot child emerging from the oceans of Solaris, and was dismissed as a lunatic (surely not?).

However, when Kelvin gets to Solaris, he discovers that things really are pretty weird up there. He begins to really freak out, however, when his dead ex-wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) turns up on the station and starts being all spooky.

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#195 Louisiana Story

(1948, Robert J. Flaherty)

We’ve seen the work of Robert J. Flaherty before with Nanook Of The North, a film often credited with being a documentary despite being almost entirely fictional. Here’s another one, Louisiana Story, often credited with being another of Flaherty’s documentaries, although this is more overtly fictional. Is it still as interesting as Nanook?

Louisiana Story is about a young Cajun boy named Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Le Tour (Joseph Bordreaux), who lives out his days in bliss on the bayous of Louisiana. Adventure comes in the form of oil drillers who set up shop in the inlet behind Alexander’s family home.

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#194 The Killing Fields

(1984, Roland Joffe)

“Here, only the silent survive”

The Cambodian Genocide is one of those major world events that rarely gets brought up much in movies, with the conflicts in neighbouring Vietnam typically getting a greater focus in the wider world of fiction. But it’s an event that should be talked about. Following a civil war in the 1970s, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime took over the country, and proceeded to reconstruct the entire country as they saw fit. Thousands were killed, including the educated and those associated with the previous government, all in the name of restarting the country from scratch, making those who remained into mindless slaves.

One man who helped bring all of this to the attention of the Western world was Sydney Schanberg, a journalist for the New York Times who was in Cambodia as a foreign correspondent for the Vietnam conflict next door, and he witnessed the Khmer Rouge takeover and reported it to the world. The Killing Fields is his story, and the story of his friend, Dith Pran.

It’s 1973, and Schanberg (Sam Waterston) is travelling to Cambodia to meet with Cambodian journalist and NYT interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), who leaves because of a miscalculated American bombing run that has hit a Cambodian town instead of a Vietnamese target. During the course of the movie, the Khmer Rouge seize control and all foreign nationals are forced into the embassies, including Schanberg and fellow journalists Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and Jon Swain (Julian Sands). The result is a chaotic drama which never lets up for one moment.

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#193 The Queen

(2006, Stephen Frears)

“Nowadays people want glamour and tears, the grand performance. I’ve never been good at that”

For the British, one of the most infamous events of the nineties was the death of Princess Diana. Diana was a popular figure, winning the hearts of many of the British public, resulting in a huge outpouring of emotion following her death. This is a movie about that time, told from the perspective of the titular royal figurehead, Queen Elizabeth, known as Lizzie to her friends or simply The Queen.

It’s 1997, and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) has just been appointed prime minister, and the nation is celebrating, although Queen Liz (Helen Mirren) is sceptical of him. Then tragedy strikes when news comes in from France that Diana Spencer, ex-wife to Prince Charles, has been killed in a car crash. In line with tradition, the royals head up to their residence in Balmoral, Scotland for a period of private mourning, refusing to acknowledge Diana as an official royal and therefore feeling no need to make a statement on her death or hold a state funeral.

However, the princess’ popularity with the British public is putting Elizabeth under pressure to go against this, and demand for a public statement and a state funeral is high. Blair is using this to his advantage, attempting to maintain his public position as a popular PM (haha, nope, can’t take that sentence seriously…), which isn’t helping the royal position. It’s now up to Liz to try and decide whether to bow to public pressure or stick to royal protocol.

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#192 Shame

Skammen
(1968, Ingmar Bergman)

”How do you think someone who dreams about us would feel when he wakes up – shame?”

Ingmar Bergman is well-known as the biggest name in classic Swedish cinema, most known for The Seventh Seal due to how much its famous chess-playing Grim Reaper scene has been parodied over the years. Because of this, he was bound to turn up on this blog. We look at Shame, a speculative fiction about war and strained relationships.

Eva (Liv Ullmann) and Jan (Max von Sydow) are a couple living in a small house on an isolated island, in the midst of a civil war that’s rampaging through Sweden in the near-future. They live off the land, running a small farm and trying to live a normal life despite the growing concerns the war may come to them. As the film progresses, we witness them struggle to hold their relationship together and remain apolitical in an increasingly hostile environment.

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#191 American Graffiti

(1973, George Lucas)

“Last night in town… you guys gonna have a little bash before you leave?”

There’s something awkward about films based on nostalgia. There are times when they can feel massively overindulgent, with a director making a movie simply to relive his or her youth; the last refuge of a director who has no real imagination or original ideas, leading them to just trawl through their past. To be fair, if they do it well, they can give a great insight into what it was like to live at a certain time and take the audience back to them as if they grew up with them. If they do it badly, well…

Enter George Lucas, who’s built an entire career of the back of paying homage to 1930s adventure serials, so he knows all about a lack of ideas. And so, this is his nostalgia movie, American Graffiti.

American Graffiti tells the stories of four friends on their last day before they venture into adulthood. How they spend their last night varies. Steve (Ron Howard) is planning to head off to university and is trying to convince his girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Williams), to enter into an open relationship while they’re away from each other, which she doesn’t take well. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is having doubts about going to university, and then spends most of the evening trying to track down a mysterious blonde girl he finds sexy. Toad (Charles Martin Smith), the geekiest of the group, gets to look after Steve’s car, and he uses it to clumsily win the affections of a rebellious girl called Debbie (Candy Clark). John (Paul Le Mat) goes cruising around and ends up with an underage teenage girl, Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), in his car who insists that he drive her around and show her a good time.

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#190 Stand By Me

(1986, Rob Reiner)

“I had never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve”

Stephen King is an author best known for his horror work (and we’ve seen him before with the likes of Carrie and The Shining) but sometimes he likes to branch out. This was most obvious in his 1982 novella collection, Different Seasons, which brought together four non-horror stories under the vague theme of changing seasons. Three of these were adapted into movies, and we’ve actually seen one already – Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption – and now it’s time to talk about the second, originally called The Body, but adapted for the screen into Stand By Me.

The entire film is a flashback narrated by Gordie Lachance (narration provided by Richard Dreyfuss), a writer (if you’re playing the Stephen King drinking game, take a shot now). In his flashback, he remembers growing up in Oregon (don’t take a shot, it’s not Maine) back in 1959. Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is part of a group of kids from dysfunctional backgrounds. Following the death of Gordie’s older brother Denny (John Cusack), his father resents him. His friend Chris (River Phoenix) has an alcoholic father, Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is overweight and timid, and Teddy (Corey Feldman) is mentally unstable following abuse from his father, currently locked up in an insane asylum.

Vern one day overhears news that a couple of local bullies may have found the body of Ray Brower, another kid in the area who’s recently gone missing. Vern passes this information onto his friends, and together they journey along the railroad tracks to see the body for themselves before news reaches lead bully “Ace” (Kiefer Sutherland).

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