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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

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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

#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

#320 The Big Heat

(1953, Fritz Lang)

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better”

Today I’m reviewing a film noir! Awwwww yeaaaaaah!

The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a police detective investigating the death of fellow officer Tom Duncan. After a woman named Lucy (Dorothy Greene) tips him off that the case may not be as open-and-shut as it first seems, she soon turns up dead. Bannion begins investigating further, and finds himself receiving threatening phone calls, and a confrontation with a local mob boss results in the death of his wife. Now Bannion is on the trail of the truth, both for justice and for revenge! 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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#318 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

(1956, Don Siegel)

“They’re here already! You’re next!”

Imagine if you will, an ordinary day, with an ordinary man, wandering through the streets as if everything is as ordinary as can be. But this ordinary man is not an ordinary man. He is something else. He is a facsimile of a man. A duplicate of a man who had his body snatched. What you are imagining is the scenario presented in Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

One of the most well-known, influential and well-respected movies of the 50s alien invasion b-movie canon, Invasion of The Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr Miles Bennell, a doctor who has recently returned from a trip and finds his hometown acting a little strange. Numerous people are coming to him claiming that their relatives aren’t who they say they are, the normally buzzing diner is devoid of customers and a resident reports a mysterious body appearing on his pool table. Something fishy is going on in Santa Mira, and Miles intends to find out what.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is definitely a b-movie, although it is one with slightly better production values than the average alien invasion flick. That said, it’s still a very ropey and slightly cheesy movie that falls flat on an awful lot of things.

First of all, the acting. While certainly a step up from the acting you typically came across in 50s b-movies, it’s still shaky as hell at times. Characters often feel a little too stoic where they really should be shocked or scared, and the square-jawed emotionless hero kind of got a little silly after a while, especially as it began to become difficult to tell the difference between the emotionless clones and the hero. At least until the end when he starts freaking out.

Also, the plot is really not consistent. Certain things move too quickly, meaning there’s never really a strong sense of dread going on. Miles and his lady-friend wander through the town experiencing weird thing after weird thing, spending very little with each weird thing until eventually there’s a body on a table slowly growing features and I feel like I skipped a few pages of build-up.

And when it’s not doing that, the movie has an alarming tendency to over-explain itself. Quite often we’ll be told of extra weird things, or we’ll get frequent summaries of the movie so far. Very rarely does the movie just stop and let the tension build. And it definitely makes the experience feel weaker. There are also some logistic issues with the way the “body snatchers” operate. There are times when the clones are created separately from the original, but other times it feels like the original body is taken over, and there’s a constant clash on this front.

But that’s not to say Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is an inherently bad movie. Far from it, in fact. The central concept is definitely intriguing and it plays itself out nicely. We get reveals at appropriate times and despite the general lack of tension, there are scenes where tension does pop up briefly, and these are probably some of the stronger scenes in the movie. A scene late in the movie where the whole town moves in sync with one another is eerie and particularly notable.

The effects are also surprisingly good for an old sci-fi b-movie. Okay, admittedly this mostly stems from the pods and the resulting pod people, but these are still things that worked fantastically well. The pods looked creepy and organic, and the unfinished clones were creepy and unpleasant in all the right ways.

I think perhaps the monster being other people also worked in the movie’s favour as it allowed it to keep its effects minimal and create a sense of paranoia instead of the shock of seeing plastic flying saucers floating in on strings. It’s easy to see how the movie was taken as a McCarthyism allegory, since the fear of other people is strong here.

Overall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a ropey and somewhat shaky movie that tells an interesting story in a flawed way. It’s a low-budget sci-fi b-movie that sits firmly at the higher end of the quality scale for the genre. It’s clear why this has endured the way it is. It has moments of tension and action, while also remaining somewhat charmingly silly at the same time.

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan & Carolyn Jones
Written by Jack Finney (novel) and Daniel Mainwaring
Produced by Walter Wanger
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen

Favourite Scene: The town moving in unison and preparing to deliver pods out of town is easily one of the more unnerving sights in cinema history.
Scene That Bugged Me: There was something very silly about the pod people casually explaining their whole plan and then gathering in a separate room expecting Miles to sit still.

Watch it if: You like cheesy 50s alien invasion movies, because this is one of the best
Avoid it if: You like your alien movies to be full of spaceships and little green men