Category Archives: Drama

#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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#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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#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

#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

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#310 Taste Of Cherry

(1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
طعم گيلاس (Ta’m e guilass)

“You want to give up the taste of cherries?”

Last time we encountered critically acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami here on SvTM, I wasn’t impressed and failed to see the critical acclaim. Maybe this time we’ll see something worth praising this time around, as we look at his later film Taste Of Cherry.

This is the story about a man known as Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi), who drives around town looking for someone to help him. As the film progresses, we learn that he’s planning on killing himself, and is looking for someone to bury him in exchange for a fee. The film then focuses on the reactions from the various people he tries to get to help him.

So, this is a film about driving. Lots of driving. Shots of a car driving along winding mountain paths or through quarries or through crowds of people looking for labouring work. More car shots. Shots of a man driving the car. And so on. During all of this, people talk. They talk a lot. About nothing. Talking & Driving: The Movie. Hurray.

This is supposed to be a movie that reflects on the nature of depression and suicide but everything that might help achieve that goal has seemingly been thrown out of the window. We’re supposed to reflect on the nature of suicide through Mr Badii and yet we know absolutely nothing about this incredibly drab and boring man. He converses with at least three people in his attempt to find a gravedigger, but he says little to nothing about himself.

What’s more, we don’t know his background, we don’t know why he wants to kill himself, and we don’t know why he needs a complete stranger to bury him. We spend an hour and a half with this guy, and we end up learning exactly nothing about him. This is bad film-making and storytelling, pure and simple. How are we supposed to reflect on suicide if we don’t know the circumstances that led to it?

What’s more, the attempts to keep the viewer distant and objective really don’t help matters. I know I’ve complained about some movies, especially war movies, overdoing things for emotional manipulation, but this is way on the other end of the scale. The movie works so hard to remove all emotional attachment from the audience that the only thing the audience feels is boredom. This movie is boring. It bores you. It feels twice as long as it actually is.

This distance is clearly meant to represent some postmodern statement on the nature of film, where the director seems to openly laugh at anyone trying to find emotional attachment in a fictional character, to the point of failing to resolve the film at the end, instead panning over to the film crew to say “it’s a movie, you idiots! Stop caring!” The only problem is, this concept was done better in a 30-second advert. For furniture. That actually made us care about its central protagonist in the first place. Who was a friggin’ desk lamp.

And do you what makes this worse? The whole scheme, the central “driving point” of the plot, feels so at odds with how someone actually suffering from depression would act. Suicide is typically an act of desperation, decided on during a depressive episode and enacted with some degree of urgency. It’s not a meticulously-planned action that requires several days of preparation and assistance from others. I honestly felt like Kiarostami had never met someone suicidal before in his life.

This is backed up when the title reveals itself in a story told by one of Badii’s prospective gravediggers, where he states that he almost committed suicide himself once and then he tasted some mulberries and suddenly he felt better about himself and the world. This is not how depression works. This is not why people commit suicide. This is wrong, wrong, wrong! No one in the history of anything was ever “cured” of depression, least of all by fruit!

Ultimately, Taste Of Cherry is a waste of everybody’s time. It’s longer than it needs to be, it fails to understand depression and suicide, and never bothers to tell us anything about its central protagonist. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Starring Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari & Safar Ali Moradi
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
Produced by Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography by Homayun Payvar
Edited by Abbas Kiarostami

Favourite Scene: There was nothing I particularly liked about this movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: While all of it was boring, the part where Badii gets out of his car to literally hang around the house was especially mind-numbing.

Watch it if: You need a sleep aid
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a movie that explores depression

#309 Hannah And Her Sisters

(1986, Woody Allen)

“How can you act when there’s nothing inside to come out?”

So I never particularly liked the last Woody Allen movie I watched for this blog. However, I don’t exactly have high hopes for this one either, especially because Allen himself is in the movie, and everything I’ve seen of the guy himself just feels uncomfortably awkward and not actually all that funny. Does that view stick after watching Hannah And Her Sisters? Let’s take a look.

Hannah And Her Sisters is a movie with an ensemble cast, featuring the titular Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne West), all of whom have their own personal and professional dramas. Support characters include Hannah’s husband, Elliot (Michael Caine), who secretly has a thing for Lee, Lee’s much older partner, Frederick (Max Von Sydow), and Hannah’s neurotic ex-boyfriend Woody Allen who…is in the movie for some reason.

So, a movie with three plots all intertwining. Possible scandalous family drama. A rather splendid cast of top-notch actors. It’s a potential recipe for an awesome movie. Sadly, the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts. And here are many reasons why.

First of all, the movie has a tendency to jump around a lot, struggling to stick with any character for any length of time. As a result, we never really learn much about anyone, and this of course leads to us not particularly caring about anyone. Everyone feels so distant from the audience, and since this is largely a character piece, that spoils the whole movie.

What’s more, what we do know about the cast does little to warm the audience to them. Much like The Big Chill, unless you’re a certain type of mid-1980s, middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road person, this film feels alien. Everyone talks big about art and literature and how oh-so-cultured they are, in a way that feels false and dull and pretentious. I feel like none of these people are people I’d spend any amount of time with, but the movie’s asking me to spend 2 hours with them.

Worst of all, Woody Allen gives himself way too much screen-time. His character doesn’t need to be there. His connection to the other characters is tenuous at best, and he’s so goddamn annoying. He’s a ball of neuroses and hypochondria and spends 99% of his time whining about how shitty life is to be a successful TV producer with a decently sized apartment in New York. Oh boo hoo for you, Woody. Boo fucking hoo.

And no, he wasn’t funny. Nor was anyone else in this hipster movie before hipsters were even much of a thing. This is supposed to be a comedy, but not once did I laugh. Not even a chuckle. Not even a smile. This isn’t comedy. This is Woody Allen farting out a script and then filming it, somehow convincing a bunch of decent actors to help him laugh at his own self-satisfied jokes.

There also isn’t really anything holding this movie together. Ostensibly, everything’s supposed to come back to Hannah in some way, but she gets barely any screen-time compared to the director. She’s often relegated to background character status and when she does become the focus she just comes across as bland and featureless, which seems to be a common thing for Woody Allen to do with Mia Farrow for some reason.

Oh, and the movie ultimately descends into everyone bitching at each other and failing to have any kind of proper adult discussion with each other. And any interaction between Allen and Farrow feels painfully uncomfortable considering the real life drama that transpired between them.

Hannah And Her Sisters is ultimately a pretentious waste of time on top of being a tremendous waste of talent with most of its cast. I have nothing positive to say about it.

Starring Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Lloyd Nolan, Maureen O’Sullivan, Daniel Stern, Max Von Sydow, Dianne Wiest & Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Cinematography by Carlo Di Palma
Edited by Susan E. Morse

Favourite Scene: None of it.
Scene That Bugged Me: All of it.

Watch it if: Seriously, don’t
Avoid it if: You’re not an aging hipster

#308 How Green Was My Valley

(1941, John Ford)

“They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.”

Oh good, a John Ford movie. As evidenced by previous reviews of his movies that I’ve done, I’ve not been too fond of most of his work. But wait, most of that involved the bland acting of Mr John Wayne, who I’m definitely not fond of. But he’s nowhere to be seen in How Green Was My Valley, set in a Welsh coal-mining village. So perhaps I might be okay with this one? Let’s see!

The movie follows several years in the life of the Morgan family. Father Gwilym (Donald Crisp), along with his elder sons Ianto (John Loder), Ivor (Patric Knowles) and Davy (Richard Fraser), work in the surrounding coal mines, along with many other villagers who depend on the mine for their wages. Conflict comes when the miners find their wages being reduced, and when local preacher Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) falls in love with the Morgans’ daughter Angharad (Maureen O’Hara). Events are viewed mostly through the eyes of youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall), with an older version of him narrating many of the events.

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#304 Hiroshima Mon Amour

(1959, Alain Resnais)

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?

Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.

Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?

Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.

Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.

Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.

In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.

So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute

Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.

Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima