Monthly Archives: October 2013

#230 The Blair Witch Project

(1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)

“We’re gonna die out here!”

It’s Halloween, which means that yet again I am here to review a horror movie. I already reviewed Halloween itself last year, so I feel that this year I should take a look at another flavour of horror movie, away from the slasher flick. After reviewing Paranormal Activity ages ago, I feel it’s a good time to look at the movie that helped really bring the found footage genre into the mainstream – The Blair Witch Project.

The movie presents itself as the lost footage of a group of student filmmakers who went missing in the woods in October 1994. The students, Heather, Mike and Josh (guess which actors played which character!) were investigating the legend of the Blair Witch, a ghost story in the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. The movie tracks their progress as they lose their way in the woods and increasingly weird things begin to happen to them.

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#229 Babette’s Feast

(1987, Gabriel Axel)
Babettes gæstebud

“Give me the chance to do my very best”

Babette’s Feast is one of very few Danish entries on the Movies You Must See list, and it’s a film that I’ve heard the name of a few times, although I’ve known nothing about it beyond it being set around a large, lavish feast. Is it any good? Well, let’s take a look.

Babette’s Feast is about two sisters living in a small village on the coast of Jutland in the 19th century. Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) are the daughters of the village pastor, who has created his own very conservative branch of Christianity. The movie tells the story of how their lives got changed forever by the introduction of two attempted suitors in their youth, and the impact this has on their lives, and how they came to employ a French woman named Babette (Stephane Audran) as their servant.

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#228 Through A Glass Darkly

Såsom i en spegel
(1961, Ingmar Bergman)

“It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”

We’ve looked at a few films in the past that were based on the works of influential sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick, and it’s time to look at another film based on his works. Through A Glass Darkly is about an undercover cop trying to chase down a drug dealer responsible for spreading a powerful new drug named Substance D, but it becomes apparent that they are the same person and…what do you mean, I have the wrong film?

Oh wait, that’s A Scanner Darkly, which has nothing to do with this film beyond people losing their minds.

Through A Glass Darkly is actually an Ingmar Bergman film set during a 24-hour period, where a young woman named Karin (Harriet Andersson) has recently returned from a stay at a mental institute for schizophrenia, and is on holiday with her husband, Martin (Max Von Sydow), her father, David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and her brother, Minus (Lars Passgård). Over the course of the day, Karin’s disorder escalates while the men all come to terms with their own issues.

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#227 The Bridge On The River Kwai

(1957, David Lean)

“Do not speak to me of rules. This is war, not a game of cricket”

World War II movies continue to pour off the list, and while normally they like to focus on Hitler and the Holocaust, here’s one that’s different. The Bridge on The River Kwai is set during the Burma Campaign, where the British Commonwealth along with Chinese and American forces decided to give those Japanese fellows a right good thrashing.

Although it doesn’t really contain much thrashing. Instead, a troop of British soldiers led by Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) are captured and taken to a Japanese prison camp led by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), where the soldiers are all ordered to work on a new Bridge On The River Kwai. Nicholson stands his ground and demands that the officers are not put to work, because this would violate the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, an American soldier, Commander Shears (William Holden) plans to escape the camp, and later is recruited to destroy the bridge that the British are being told to make. There’s a lot going on here.

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#226 Red River

(1948, Howard Hawks)

“Give me ten years, and I’ll have that brand on the gates of the greatest ranch in Texas”

Oh boy, another John Wayne Western. This’ll be fun!

Red River is about John Wayne being a manly man in the Old West, like all his films, in fact. This one he plays a man who wants to open up a hugely successful cattle ranch in Texas. After fighting some injuns and opening up his ranch, he realises that it isn’t too profitable and decides to move it to Missouri instead. Then there’s stuff about a mutiny in his group and some other things happen and…yeah…

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#225 Dangerous Liaisons

(1988, Stephen Frears)

“You’ll find the shame is like the pain, you only feel it once”

Dangerous Liaisons is a floofy period drama, featuring elaborate outfits and sets, and dialogue that feels like everyone’s read too much Shakespeare for their own good. However, this is a period drama with lots of sex, so maybe it’s not as stuffy and boring as expected from the genre (at least, as far as I’m concerned). Let’s take a look, shall we?

Dangerous Liaisons is set in the 1700s and centres on the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), two amoral French aristocrats who use sex as a weapon to get what they want and to corrupt those around them. Merteuil wants Valmont to seduce her cousin’s daughter Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), fresh out of a convent and arranged to marry Merteuil’s former lover. However, Valmont is more interested in seducing the highly religious and married Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). A deal is made that Merteuil will sleep with Valmont if he succeeds in seducing Tourvel. Shenanigans ensue.

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#224 Reservoir Dogs

(1992, Quentin Tarantino)

“For all I know you’re the fucking rat!”

I don’t like Quentin Tarantino. While I intend to touch on it a little in this review, I’ll be going into greater depth in a much later review (so stay tuned for that!). Instead, today we’re looking at the film that got him famous, Reservoir Dogs, which also happens to be the one movie of his that I’ve actually liked. Let’s take a look at why.

Reservoir Dogs centres on a jewel heist executed by six men who are strangers to one another and operate on codenames. The story kicks off in the immediate aftermath, where Mr White (Harvey Kietel) is driving a horribly injured Mr Orange (Tim Roth) back to the safehouse. Here they meet with a panicky Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi), who has realised that someone in the team has tipped off the police to their whereabouts, and is determined to find out. Meanwhile, Mr Blond (Michael Madsen) decides to do some investigation of his own, and kidnaps a police officer for this purpose.

Reservoir Dogs is a very unique movie. It’s unusual for a jewel heist movie to focus so little on the actual heist itself. Instead, the movie hops around to give us backstory on the various members of the motley crew, and show us the panicky aftermath, where the mystery of the police informant dominates. This unique storytelling makes the movie very intriguing to watch, and puts an exciting new spin on the heist genre (well, new at the time).

The acting is also fantastic, especially from Kietel and Madsen as the cool and calculating Mr White and downright psychotic Mr Blond respectively. Despite his criminal credentials, it’s easy to like Mr White as a character just because of his mostly sensible and logical approach to a tricky situation, and Mr Blond is downright terrifying due to the intentionally emotionless portrayal by Madsen. Buscemi is good as the ultra-twitchy, overly talkative Mr Pink, but then Buscemi is twitchy and overly talkative in every movie he’s in so it’s not saying much.

The central mystery of the movie is drawn out appropriately, and even when we find out who the culprit is, the movie keeps up a good pace showing us his background and the scenes leading up to the heist, where we can see the conflict the character is going through.

It’s such a shame that this strong mystery thriller threatens to be ruined at any given moment simply by the presence of Tarantino as writer and director. The entire opening scene feels unnecessary and overly long, where criminal mastermind Joe (Lawrence Tierney) reads out of some address book that never gets explained while Tarantino literally inserts himself in the movie (he plays Mr Brown) talking about Madonna singing about large penises.

It’s this kind of self-indulgent wankery that makes me hate Tarantino. I don’t want to watch ten minutes of his smug, squinty face talking about sex in the crudest terms, especially when it has absolutely no bearing on the plot, nor is his character in any way important for the rest of the movie. While the tipping conversation that follows this serves to provide character to Mr Pink, the very beginning conversation just sits there and wastes time.

There are other moments of this as we move through the film, but fortunately it’s kept to a minimum. Tarantino thinking it’d be cool to play a song he really likes (“Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealer’s Wheel) at least underscores a scene that helps characterisation, and as such remains the most memorable scene in the film. There are a few questionable lines of dialogue that sound like Tarantino is saying “am I cool yet?” in the background, and far too many instances of the n-word for a white director to be comfortably using, but these instances can typically be glossed over.

Overall, Reservoir Dogs is a reasonably well-plotted and well-paced mystery thriller that only occasionally threatens to be dismantled by its director’s self-indulgence. It certainly holds together than some other Tarantino movies, as I will discuss in a later review…

Starring Harvey Kietel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney & Michael Madsen
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Cinematography by Andrzej Sekula
Edited by Sally Menke

Favourite Scene: It’s really hard to deny how well-done the ear-cutting “Stuck In The Middle” scene is, so it’s that
Scene That Bugged Me: Any time Tarantino inserts himself into the movie. Get back behind the camera, you.

Watch it if: You want context for that ear-slicing scene
Avoid it if: You like your movies to get moving straight away

#223 The Defiant Ones

(1958, Stanley Kramer)

“How come they chained a white man to a black?”
“The warden’s got a sense of humour”

So, yeah, The Defiant Ones. This sure is a movie. It has actors and a plot and stuff. And I have to review it now. Which will be interesting, and you shall soon see why.

The plot involves two convicts, John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sydney Poitier), who have escaped from a prison transport. The problem is, Jackson is white and Cullen is black, and they are chained together. It’s also the 1950s, so everyone’s a massive racist, and the two don’t want to be attached to one another because they’ll get black/white man cooties or something. Cue shenanigans. Serious shenanigans, mind.

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#222 The Last Battle

(1983, Luc Besson)
Le Dernier Combat

Luc Besson is perhaps best known for directing the excellent Leon: The Professional and the not-so-excellent The Fifth Element, but before that, he was making weird French films in the eighties. And here’s one of them: The Last Battle.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the remains of humanity live in ruined buildings in a large desert area, The Last Battle follows an unnamed man (Pierre Jolivet) as he attempts to travel the world in search of a girlfriend. During his travels, he encounters a strange gang, a doctor (Jean Bouise) and a mysterious man known as The Brute (Jean Reno) who wants something the doctor has hidden away.

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#221 Sunrise

(1927, F.W. Murnau)
A Song Of Two Humans

Last time we looked at the influential German silent film director F.W. Murnau here on SvTM, it was with his famous vampire movie, Nosferatu. This time, we take a look at something very different: a romance movie, and one that was made in Hollywood instead of Germany. However, while Nosferatu was a very conventional vampire movie, there’s something very unconventional about Sunrise.

This is immediately obvious when the plot starts. In a seaside town, the Woman From The City (Margaret Livingston) arrives and seduces a local Man (George O’Brien), and convinces him to murder his Wife (Janet Gaynor). When he takes his Wife out on a boat ride, he finds that he can’t drown her, and instead returns to shore, where she flees. However, after he pursues her, they end up spending a rather lovely day in the City together, where they rekindle their love for one another.

Yeah, there’s a bit of a mood shift in that plot, you might notice. Starting out as a dark murder thriller, the movie takes a sudden turn into romantic whimsy, and on paper that sounds absolutely awful. In practice, however, it’s actually very good.

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