Classic Movie Quest: Empire of the Sun

Sunday 23 February, 2014

I know this probably sounds like a broken record, but this was another film on my Must See Classic Film list. It is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, by a man called J.G Ballard.

Not having read the book, I can’t compare how closely the film follows it. But to me, it would be strange to take something which is based on experiences, but dramatised to make it fiction, to be further dramatised and fictionalised for the sake of a film…

But anyway, about the film. It stars Christian Bale and John Malkovich. In fact, this was the film that apparently boosted Christian Bale’s career. From what I saw, because this was another film that didn’t make it past the 40 minute mark, it’s based in the times of the Pacific war in the 1930s, and is about a child, Jamie Graham, who becomes an orphan after being separated from his parents during a mass evacuation in Shanghai.

Here’s my first problem with… well, it’s not so much the film, it’s the character’s actions which brought about the film’s rolling plot point. I simply can’t stand a character who ignores instructions and falls victim to their own mistakes.

First he sees a boat in the harbour, opposite his bedroom window, flashing it’s light in a form of communication (light Morse code?), and flashes back with his own torch! He’s not that young of a child to not have any form of common sense. He should have known that that was not a good idea.

And then there’s an explosion. I’m not sure whether that’s coincidental or whether his light flashing back created a signal for the boat to fire at them, but either way, it was not a smart move and could have ended up with him being killed. He was lucky he moved away from the window when he did.

And then there’s the mass evacuation. There’s people everywhere, the crowd crush just by itself is dangerous, but these are desperate people just on the edge of rioting. Jamie and his parents have to leave their car and escape on foot. He’s meant to keep tight hold of his mother’s hand… but then he loses his toy aeroplane, and let’s go of his mother’s hand.

There’s a war going on, there’s mass panic, there’s a real danger they all could be killed just by being on the street, and he thinks his toy plane is important enough to risk not only his life, but the life of his mother’s as well!?

He doesn’t listen to his parents and he doesn’t do what he’s told. I know, that doesn’t mean he deserves to lose his parents or end up in a prisoner of war camp, and there was no way of knowing what exactly the outcome of his actions would be, but surely even a child of his age should have known that doing what he’s told = good and clever, and not doing what he’s told = unknown but definitely negative consequences for him and all else involved!?
Pretty much straight off the mark, I wasn’t liking this child and his precocious ways, but this plunged me even further to not like this character. And it makes it hard to concentrate on the bigger picture of the film when you have so much trouble even sympathising with the main character.

At least he had the common sense to listen to his mother when she told him to wait for her back at their house. But unfortunately all damage was done by then. The house was in disarray, especially his parent’s bedroom. All signs pointed to his mother being there but being taken, and to add to everything, the servants were looting the furniture.

He stayed in the house for some time, surviving on whatever was left to eat and drink, but eventually he ran out and had to flee onto the streets to find the Japanese had taken over.

I think his aim was to be taken prisoner by the Japanese, going by his exclamations of surrendering. But not even they wanted him.

I gave up shortly after John Malkovich’s character came into it and tried to sell off Jamie’s teeth.

I think, whilst part of my dislike of this film is obvious, I also find it very hard to sit down and enjoy films that you can’t really say you enjoy at the end of it. I know I say I can dislike a film for some reason, but appreciate how good the film is anyway, but a film like this… where I can’t appreciate how good the film is anyway, because of it’s focal point, and I dislike it for the same reason… It’s almost pointless in me trying to stick with it.

Because I’m not going to be able to get to the end of the film and say “Well, as much as such and such annoyed me, it was really enjoyable! It had a great message!”.

Because I can’t see past the barriers of this child’s lack of common sense. It would have been a very different story if he’d have acted a different way in the first place, and on the downside, that could have made for an even more sad story. But at least it might have been a story I could say “Well, I didn’t like the topic, but what a film!” about it, like I could with Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse, Now!

And it’s a shame, and I know it says more about me than it does about this film, because this was based on a novel, which was loosely based on a man’s life. And you can’t really critique a film’s depiction of actions which could have really happened. You just end up critiquing the person’s actions.

So, for that reason, I say if you’re more of a sympathetic type of person who likes to see a character grow and learn during difficult times, this film might be worth giving a go. It is, after all, considered a classic.

But for me…
I give it a 1/10. And that’s just for the acting.


Classic Movie Quest: Doctor Zhivago

Monday 10 February, 2014

Before I begin properly, let me just say that getting a comprehensible review out of this film was, for me, more difficult than the clichés of getting blood out of a stone and pulling teeth combined.

Which is why this review will be so short! You could either have comprehensible or short, or unintelligible but long. I went with the former and trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

And now without further ado:

Doctor Zhivago is one of those films that almost everyone considers to be one of the most bittersweet romantic films of all time, along with Casablanca and Gone With The Wind. It stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alex Guiness and Tom Courtenay, and it’s set during the times of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Here’s what I got from the first watch, before I gave up in a fit of mass confusion:

A young woman by the name of Tonya is meant to be Yuri’s daughter, even though they’re of similar ages. Her Aunt Lara/Larissa is having an affair with the same man her mother is having an affair with, all the while Billy Liar (Aka, Tom Courtenay, but I couldn’t remember his name at the time of the first watch) is starting the Russian Revolution.

You can see where I got horribly mixed up. At least, I sort of did on a second watch. Unfortunately whilst a second watch did help with what I’d got confused over, it didn’t change the film from being boring and still difficult to follow for me.

So, what I got from the second watch was this: Yuri Zhivago’s half brother is searching for his niece, who may or may not have the same name as the girl Yuri Zhivago grew up with, after he became an orphan.

Yuri Zhivago grows up to be the eponymous Doctor Zhivago. Tonya returns from Paris, and her and Yuri Zhivago get married.

Tom Courtenay’s character takes part in a protest that turns violent after involvement from the Coassacks, and he get’s stabbed for his troubles. He goes to the woman he’s in love with, Lara, to be looked after, and also to hide his gun.

Unfortunately for Tom Courtenay, Lara’s having an affair with her mother’s “friend”, who on second watch I’m still unsure whether she’s also having an affair with him or not. She get’s found out, the mother attempts suicide, Doctor Zhivago comes to the rescue.

To make matters worse for Lara, and I don’t mean that lightly, when Lara realises she wants out of the affair, the mother’s friend attacks and rapes her. There’s a whole avenue of a sexist, patriarchal society rant that I could go down from this part alone. But I won’t, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. That man thought he had the right to do that, and he didn’t, and times haven’t changed even today.

I think that’s about where I stopped, both times. You can see how just one small detail made the difference for those fourty minutes, the story of who was who to whoever was a bit clearer.

But it is a very involved sort of film. It’s not one you can watch lightly. From what I saw, I’m not even sure how people could even call it romantic, especially seeing as if the scene with Alec Guiness is to be believed, Doctor Zhivago went and had an affair whilst he was married. Is it that affair that’s meant to be romantic? That’s not very nice for the other parties involved.

So yes, a very heavy film. Maybe the acting and the directing is what got it put onto The List, but I’m a bit lost on the story, in more than one ways. And I say that as someone who knows that sometimes, these films are just on the list because, despite the convoluted plots that can be their ruin, or the hit and miss dialogue which make them difficult to stick through, they’re a golden well for media analysis. The fun of analysing can come from the very things than can make films unwatchable.

This film isn’t one of them. Or at least, not for me.

2/10.


Classic Movie Quest: Seven Samurai

Tuesday 7 May, 2013

This is one of the very few Classic Films on the list that I went in knowing the basic story of due to it’s stint on the TCM channel, which was a channel left on in the background quite a lot in my house. I never sat down and watched it, but I was always informed of the plot whenever I asked about it.

So, now I have watched it, what do I have to say about it?

Well, it’s good. It’s very good, in fact! But it is on the longer side of running times. It has the total time of 207 minutes, which is three hours and fourty-five minutes in lamens terms. That is just on ten minutes longer than the extended version of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. It’s not unusual for the era, hell Gone with the Wind is a full half an hour longer, but given the slow pace of the film and the use of subtitles which need your full attention, pitched against my own short attention span, I could really feel the length.

The basic story is about a poor village being under attack by bandits, who plan to come back at the end of harvest season in order to give them (the village) a chance to successfully flourish so that they (the bandits) will have more to raid.

Does that plot sound familiar to you, too? It took me a while, but it suddenly hit me when drafting this review:  The Three Amigo’s, A Bug’s Life, The Magnificent Seven, to name but a few.

But back to The Seven Samurai.

During the reprieve from the bandits, the villagers manage to round up hungry Samurai warriors who are willing to work for food. It adds to the strain on their already dwindling stock, but the villagers stick to eating millet so that the Samurai can eat the best of the rice.

It’s hard to tell whether the Samurai are ever truly respected without any trace of fear the villagers had for them when they were finally rounded up, but one thing’s for sure, they’re afraid of the Bandits a lot more. They listen to the Samurai and they learn from the Samurai, and in the end, they try to protect each other, they fight together, and any loss is mourned together.

There’s a bit more to the villagers than what I might be making out. They aren’t a hiveminded community. There is one member so afraid of the reputation the Samurai have, he shaves his daughter’s hair and has her stay as far out of the way is possible, so that the Samurai don’t lure her in and take her innocence. It doesn’t work, she falls in love with the youngest Samurai and that all causes a bit of a scandal…

All in all, it really is a very good film, but it’s quite slow going. It’s a story that draws you in on an empathy factor, but there’s not much a person can relate to. There have been remakes in other forms, many times, and I think they might tell the story a bit better.

I’d recommend this film if I knew them to like this type of indepth, drawn out type of movie. I understand why it’s considered a must-see, but there’s no point seeing it if it’s not your type of movie or you can’t appreciate it for it’s slow pace. I won’t be watching it again, though.

5/10


Classic Movie Quest: Some Like It Hot

Monday 22 April, 2013

This is really another film that I went into blindly, and that hasn’t worked out well for me so far, if I’m honest. And of all the people I mentioned this film to, only one person had both seen it and liked it.

Well, maybe that’s the key, because I can honestly say that of all the films I’ve watched so far for the Classic Movie Quest, I enjoyed watching this one the most! I actually properly laughed at the bits people are meant to laugh at. That hardly ever happens with me!

It’s very loosely based on a French “drag comedy” called La Cage aux Folles, a film which has a closer American remake in the form of a film called The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Hank Azaria. That’s another film which never fails to make me laugh every time, for the record.

And alright, it’s not the most politically correct of films in this day and age. If two men dressed up as women and successfully infiltrated a woman’s band in order to escape the mafia after accidentally witnessing a mass execution – talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in real life, it’d be, quite frankly, very weird and worrying, especially for the women involved.

But it would still have the air of so surreal, you have to laugh to it, if you disregard the seriousness of the Saint Valentines Day Massacre… And built on that, you have this comedy.

It stars Tony Curtis (Joe), Jack Lemmon (Jerry) and Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane). Like I said, it’s about two men, both talented musicians, who accidentally witness the Saint Valentines Day Massacre and have to go on the run to avoid being killed by said Mafia. They dress up in drag, join a women’s band, one catches the eye of a womanising millionaire with a yacht, and hilarity ensues.

Some parts do come off as skeezy, which is unavoidable. Both Jerry and Joe compete to gain the affections of talented ukulele player and solo singer, Sugar, and, Jerry more than Joe, struggle to remember that doing so would put their disguises at risk. Which is why Joe takes up yet another disguise as a millionaire with a yacht, taking advantage of the fact that a real millionaire with a yacht named Osgood Fielding III has not only docked at the beach, but is vying for Jerry-in-drag’s attention.

This film is nothing more than a farce, it is meant to be seen as nothing more than a comedy, but for the time it was done and set, it’s actually quite a “modern” story. I mean this in the most positive way, but it borders on Carry-On-Film territory for most of the film. And for a farce, it makes for a good example of the social conventions that are only being questioned today.

Of course, all good films have to go wrong before they end on a happy note. The Mafia make another appearance, there is a chase which is just as funny as it is life-threatening, and poor Sugar is left chasing their tails as they end up on Osgood’s boat, safe from the Mafia once again.

Luckily, she can jump really well, but unfortunately for the now less-than enthusiastic Jerry, Osgood still wants to marry him despite knowing he’s a man. Talk about modern!

I really did like this film. It is dated, but there’s no getting around that fact, considering it’s a black and white film from 1958 based in 1929. It is not for anyone a part of the Social Justice Warriors or take Political Correctness to the extreme, but I would recommend it to those who know a good laugh when they see it, and I definitely would watch it again.

8/10


Classic Movie Quest: All About Eve

Monday 25 March, 2013

I don’t know if this will surprise anyone or not, but I genuinely liked All About Eve. I really liked it!

Despite figuring out the twist of Eve lying about her life and how it lead to her latching on to Bette Davis’s Margo almost as soon as the character starting tell her story to the whole group, I still found the film interesting enough to keep watching through to the end. Just knowing that one piece of information didn’t give the rest of the film away (As apose to something like the 6th Sense, which I figured out half through the film and spend the other half hoping that it wouldn’t end in the cop out I was imagining it could be. Predictably, it did), especially as we’re already shown the ending at the beginning and the rest of the film is shown in flashback form.

I think what kept my attention despite my brain already spoiling the big shock for me, is the fact that by now, it’s a common plot twist found in many television series and films by now, regardless of genre, on top of the sheer fact that I like these sort of twists when executed well. A La Folie Pas Du Tout, for example, is one that is executed very well and a must see if you’re a fan of either All About Eve or Play Misty For Me.

And that’s because there’s a whole story to unravel besides the twist. I might have known Eve was lying, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what was the truth, I didn’t know how it lead to the end scene, which we saw first, and I certainly didn’t know how I’d feel about the characters as the story progressed.

It’s very easy to see Bette Davis’s character as a bitter old woman, resentful of a younger fresher face on the scene, paranoid to the highest degree over her friends finding a place in their group for this young up-and-comer who started out as a lowly fan. It’s very easy to see her as the rest of the group see her and the situation, that Margo is anticipating the fall of her career after reaching forty and can’t handle aging, and sees anyone younger as the enemy, and anyone helping anyone younger is also the enemy.

But the thing is, is that even if you know the twist or not, the audience sees the manipulation side of it too. Eve is an opportunist and she carries around a kicked puppy look wherever she goes. Margo’s friends have taken her under her wing, they give her opportunities because they feel like she deserves them, and she eats them up because she knows the worse she makes it for Margo, the easier it is for her to take her place. After all, she is a very good actress.

We see as she moves in on the characters, one by one, from Margo to her friend Karen, wife of the Lloyd Richards, who writes the plays that Margo stars in, to Lloyd himself. She orchestrates situations where she has to fill in for Margo, with a theatre critic watching.

It’s mesmorising. Watching it all unfold is honestly mesmerising.

And doesn’t it say something about the ignorance of the acting industry that a woman hitting forty is just as at risk of losing grip on her career in today’s society as she was over fifty years ago? Alright, so it’s got better over the last couple of years, we are seeing more genuinely older ladies on the screen and in theatre, I think that’s down to the way we percieve middle age these days. But older women actors are few, far between, and in the majority. The parts aren’t as varied as for other dynamics, that’s for sure.

But back to All About Eve. I can’t fault it at all. Bette Davis, Anne Baxtor, Celeste Holm and the rest were amazing. This film deserves it’s place on the list of Must See Classic Movies. I would watch it again and I would recommend it.

10/10


Classic Movie Quest: Casablanca

Sunday 17 March, 2013

Casablanca, the film that originally sparked the idea for the Classic Movie Challenge, due to everyone’s surprise, shock, horror and disgust of my never having seeing this film before.
“What? Never!?” They’d ask in disbelief.
“Nope, never” I’d reply, “It’s not really my kind of film.”

But they’d insist that there’s no such thing, that this is a film that has something for everone, and that I must absolutely watch this film some day in the near future.

Well, six months later since it was last suggested to me, that’s exactly what I did.

I’m afraid to go against the grain on this, but whilst this is a good film and the acting is excellent, I don’t get the fuss. In all honesty, I found this film to be caked in overhype.

The story is basically about an American man, Rick Blaine (Bogart), who is stranded in Casablanca, which is in the temporarily pro-German Vichy French “protectorate” of Morrocco and runs a secret illegal casino frequented by a large variety of people who otherwise wouldn’t normally share breathing space with each other. In lamens terms, Casablanca is a town in the middle of nowhere, Morocco, and has a population dynamic made up of Nazis, locals, and refugees of various Occupied Countries who are waiting for tickets out to safer places.

The tickets (called transport papers in this) aren’t just expensive for those in poverty, they’re impossible to get. The only way seems to either be to pass on information to the corrupt police or to steal them from someone who already did, which was the method of poor old Peter Lorre’s character Ugarte. Ugarte only lived long enough to pass them on to Rick for safe keeping, he was taken in by said corrupt police shortly after and later died in custody.

Poor old Peter Lorre.

Admittedly, this isn’t sounding too much of a bad story so far. Not the strongest of films to keep me entertained, but not bad. Unfortunately, all of that was established and took place within the first twenty minutes, and it all went downhill from there.

No matter what anyone says, this film is absolutely, 100%, a love story that just happens to be set in the specific equivalent of Occupied France. (See the whole Protectorate thing above.) Rick has held a candle for his long lost love Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, for far too long. He has banned his piano man and possible best friend Sam (the famous Sam!) from playing “As Time Goes By” within his hearing for fear it’d remind him of the heart ache, and unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what Ilsa wants him to play the second she sees him. I don’t know if we’re meant to sympathise with Ilsa’s so called tragic love story or not at some point in the film, but I certainly didn’t. Mostly because it’s not really a tragic love story, it’s a love story set during what was a very oppressive, very stressful tragic time. Really, considering everything, I’d say she of all the characters had it the most easy. Unlike her husband who was a known fugitive needing a way of escape, and unlike Rick who’d already risked his life for the good cause and ended up in Casablanca.

I did like the battle of the the national anthems, though. Not just that the everyone in the bar sung along to a national anthem that might not have even been theirs to spite the Nazis, but it also showed that Rick wasn’t as neutral as he was making out to be. He nodded, he gave the orchestra permission, he didn’t stop them overpowering the voices of those singing Die Wacht am Rhein. For as bland as the rest of the film was, on a whole, that part wasn’t.

And for an extra bit of trivia, I looked it up to see whether Hornblower borrowed the idea of having the little boy singing La Marseille to the Marquis in the episode The Frogs and The Lobsters, which was set during the French Revolution, and apparently they did.

And my problems with this film doesn’t cloud my judgement – it is a very good film for those who like these sort of films. People can think deeply about it if they’d like to, or they can stick to the more shallower levels and just admire the supposed tragic love story. The acting is fantastic, the music is perfect. It might not be pitch-perfect to those perfectionists out there, but the singing and the instruments all have that natural sound for it that doesn’t need to be pitch-perfect.

But I can honestly say that my favourite part of the whole film was when it ended. The story tied up and Rick got away.

I’m aware that as a generalisation, I might be that one exception, but there really isn’t something for everyone in this film. There’s better love stories out there, there’s better films about war oppression. I’m only glad I watched this film to put an end to the recommendations that follow the shocked faces.

2/10


Classic Movie Quest: Apocalypse Now (Redux)

Tuesday 5 March, 2013

This is not a film for the faint-hearted. I am not faint-hearted, but I’m also not that keen on war films. My one exception so far is Full Metal Jacket, which is coincidentally another film about the Vietnam War. Both of them aren’t my usual cup of tea, but it’s like I’ve said before: I can recognise a good film when I see one.

I don’t know how much of a difference there is between the Redux version and the original release, other than the running time being 202 minutes against the original’s 153 minutes. I’m assuming that the film narrative, plot and ending stays the same. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong…

So, yeah, the topic of the film is rather grim. The main character played by Martin Sheen (Willard) goes on what can only be described as a suicide mission to kill a crazed, rogue Special Forces Officer who went AWOL (Kurtz) and set up his own renegade army in cambodia. But you can’t deny it catches the bleakness if war quite well, along with the extremes of relief you’ll find at war:

The Cabin Fever an action-hungry soldier feels when waiting for orders after sitting stagnate for too long, shown at the very beginning of the film, and the levels of insanity some soldiers go through to get some normality back in their life in the middle of a long, endless mission.

Obviously I’m referring to the Surfer Soldiers. To the normal person, accepting a mission based on the ability to surf might seem ludicrous, but to the Lueitennant Colonel in charge (Bill Kilgore), meeting with Willard to take him to the Veit Kong River, it’s a fantastic idea! And not just that, but when the proverbial hits the fan, he’s still expecting his men to surf through the waters even under enemy fire.

I don’t know if we’re meant to believe so many years of active service has made Kilgore crazy, or if he signed up and lasted so long because he was crazy from the very beginning, but either way, his name says it all…

The thing is, this being a war film, I expected it to be like the others I’ve seen. Bridge on th River Kwai, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Dirty Dozen, films like that, where, alright, the characters might not be perfect angels but there’s a very set Good vs Evil, Us vs Them feel to it. Our good side can do no wrong because they’re defeating the evil enemies. This is another film I went into blind, not knowing much about the film other than it being set during the Viet Nam war.

This film is not as clean cut. If there’s one thing that hits you throughout all the film it is that The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few, like many other war films. But the enemy in the other war films are very much portrayed as being in with the side of the enemy (All Germans Are Nazis, All Ally Traitors are Nazis, switch relevance to the relevant national enemy etc etc). With Apocolypse Now, the further along the movie got, the more desperate Willard got and it meant there was a wider definition of Enemy. He was to complete his mission using any means necessary, and if that meant he’d have to kill people getting in the way of his mission because they were, for all intents and purposes, enemies, so be it. But their deaths lead to him completing his mission sooner, which meant the death of the main enemy, which meant The Many could survive and live.

I think if he’d have been part of a group of soldiers, it would have been easier to see them as good actions, but for some part of the film, it felt like it was just one desperate man who’d lost all of his morals just to see an end. And that’s probably intended.

That’s probably how war really is.

Personally I… well, enjoyed seems the wrong word so I’ll go with “remained interested for the whole film”. I won’t go out of my way to watch it again, because it really isn’t my usual cup of tea, but this film was good. The acting was amazing, the camera work was fantastic and I found the plot, although difficult to stick with at times, was rolled out with perfect realism. It’s no wonder this film is critically acclaimed.

It is very much worth at least the one watch for those people like me who are missing out on the classics.

9/10