Full Metal Jacket: Stanley Kubrick Goes To War – Amazon Review (Day 30)

I take a look at one of the most famous Vietnam War movies.

SUMMARY

This film is divided into two distinct parts.

The first starts when a group of Marine boot camp recruits arrive at Parris Island, South Carolina. Their drill instructor, Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), is brutal, constantly attacking and humiliating the recruits. Among the recruits are J.T. Davis (Matthew Modine), nicknamed “Joker” when he makes a wisecrack during the opening lecture, and Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), nicknamed Gomer Pyle due to his ineptitude, weight, and joviality. Pyle proves to be incompetent, but eventually starts to improve when put under Joker’s care. Unfortunately, he still messes up and Hartman institutes a policy that punishes everyone but Pyle for his mistakes. Eventually the squad beats him in his bed, after which Pyle starts behaving perfectly, but having a mental breakdown. The recruits graduate, including Pyle, but on the last night on Parris Island, Joker finds Pyle on the toilet loading his rifle and doing drills. Hartman confronts Pyle and Pyle kills Hartman and himself in front of Joker. 

There’s a lot of very strange scenes that are apparently fairly accurate.

The second starts in 1968 as Joker, is a war correspondent in Vietnam. Joker claims he has gone into combat, which most of his fellow Marines seem to doubt, aside from Pvt. Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard), Joker’s photographer. Despite Joker talking about the potential for the Tet Offensive, he is ignored, leading to the Marines having to defend their base from the attack. The next morning, Joker is sent to Phu Bai, where Joker is reunited with “Cowboy” (Arliss Howard), a member of his recruitment class. Joker accompanies Cowboy and the Lusthog Squadron through the Battle of Huế, where platoon commander “Touchdown” (Ed O’Ross) gets killed. After the Marines hold a funeral, they declare the area secure and are interviewed by American journalists, giving their various opinions on the war and Vietnam. 

Welcome to Vietnam, but… like pretty handsome.

The next Squad Leader, Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis), is killed by a booby trap, putting Cowboy in charge. The squad gets lost and Cowboy orders squad member Eightball (Dorian Harewood) to scout the area. Eightball and Doc Jay (Jon Stafford), the field corpsman (medic), get shot by a sniper who intentionally wounds them. Cowboy tries to bring in tank support, but it’s too far. The angry machine gunner, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), defies Cowboy’s orders and tries to save the wounded, discovering there’s only one sniper. Cowboy gets killed by the sniper, leaving Animal Mother in charge. He leads a charge on the sniper. Joker discovers that it’s a small Vietnamese girl. Rafterman shoots her, but she begs to die. Animal Mother refuses the mercy kill unless Joker does it. He kills the girl, and the Marines head home to the Mickey Mouse March. 

END SUMMARY

I almost wish I’d kept this as a surprise, because when the prompt said “Film with a Character with Your Name in It (Joker),” I wanted to find a movie that didn’t include the Batman villain, because it was too easy. Plus, I was going to do Mask of the Phantasm yesterday. So, I wracked my brain to think of a movie that had a character named Joker, and, lo and behold, I got a Kubrick film. Unless there’s a movie of Persona 5 that I don’t know about, this was my best option.

Let’s put a smile on that face.

So, my recollection of this film was that the first act was clearly the superior one, and I don’t think that’s changed. I will say that I do appreciate the second half more now, but it can’t quite keep up with the unbelievably tight film style of the training. For starters, R. Lee Ermey’s performance as Hartman is one of those iconic roles that you can’t ever forget, like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector or Julia Roberts as Vivian in Pretty Woman. When I think of a drill sergeant, I will never think of anyone but R. Lee Ermey screaming at the top of his lungs at a group of terrified youths. To tell you how good he is, R. Lee Ermey ad-libbed some of his lines in a Stanley Kubrick film. Stanley Kubrick was one of the craziest directors of all time and a consummate perfectionist, meaning he did not suffer deviation from his vision. The only other person he ever allowed to ad-lib was Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, and that’s because Sellers was just as crazy an actor as Kubrick was a director. Ermey was originally just supposed to be a technical advisor, but when he provided an instructional video of how to berate privates to the actor who was supposed to play Hartman (Tim Colceri), Kubrick instead gave him the role. No one can blame him, because Ermey nailed it so hard that Kubrick often only asked him for 2 or 3 takes. For context, Kubrick made Tom Cruise do 90 takes of walking through a door.

He is the ultimate weapon of destroying psyche.

However, Ermey’s almost completely matched by Vincent D’Onofrio as Private Gomer Pyle. D’Onofrio plays a character who is basically too stupid to realize that he should quit. As Pyle, we constantly see him broken down by Hartman, berated, almost to an inhuman degree, but he makes it through a bit with Joker’s help. However, after the rest of the recruits, including Joker, join in on a “Blanket Party,” Pyle just completely breaks. So much of it is focused on D’Onofrio’s eyes. D’Onofrio’s look goes from “mostly not understanding, but kind and yearning” like a puppy, to “empty, focused, and ruthless” like a starving timber wolf. Pyle doesn’t even speak that much throughout the movie, which makes D’Onofrio’s transformation even more stark, because it’s mostly non-verbal. When the final scene comes and we realize how thoroughly Pyle has been broken, you know what’s going to happen. You’ve watched the creation of a complete sociopath from a normal, if dim, human being. Even worse, you’ve been told that this is what made him a good soldier, until the end. It’s a demanding portrayal, but D’Onofrio stepped up.

This look. This. Look.

The second act doesn’t contain any of those stand-out performances. Not that Matthew Modine or Adam Baldwin or any of the other actors are bad. In fact, they’re really good performances, but they can’t keep up the intensity of the two from the first act. Adam Baldwin tries, but part of it is that we’re introduced to a number of characters in the second half and they just don’t get enough time each to become stand-out. Instead, the movie focuses more on what war is supposed to be like for the people who are involved in it. It feels a bit disjointed at times, especially compared to the first act’s linear nature, but I think that was supposed to reflect the disjointed and confused nature of the war. It’s mostly focused on character studies. 

And a lot of moments that did NOT age well.

Joker, in accordance with his name, wears a peace sign on his jacket and writes “born to kill” on his helmet. He says it’s a statement on the duality of man. Most of the soldiers get offended by the peace symbol, despite the fact that peace is supposed to be the endgame of war. I think it’s supposed to be a commentary on the fact that, pursuant to the training they’ve undergone, these men are designed and focused solely on war. Without war, they lose purpose. Ultimately, though, the entire group is just caught up in something larger than their comprehension, and they’re just trying to get through it the only way they know how. At the end of the film, we see them marching to the Mickey Mouse Club theme, which I think is supposed to be a commentary on them being but children manipulated by the forces behind the war. Or maybe it’s just catchy.

Fun times on fire.

Overall, this is a great movie, and I think everyone should watch it. Also, yes, I’m aware that Kubrick did Paths of Glory before this movie, so he had already done a war film.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: An Overlooked Classic – Netflix Review (Day 29)

I take a look at what might be the best Batman film.

SUMMARY

A group of mob bosses, including Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller), are planning to launder a bunch of fake bills through a casino. They’re ambushed by Batman (Kevin Conroy), who takes out most of the thugs as Sol escapes to his car. He’s met in the parking garage by a different figure, the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), who appears to be an embodiment of Death itself. Sol tries to kill the Phantasm, but ends up driving off of the edge of the garage and dying. People at the scene see Batman looking out over the wreck and assume he was responsible. Local politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) tells the media that Batman is a menace, despite Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) saying that Batman doesn’t kill people. Later, the Phantasm murders another mob boss, Buzz Bronski (John P. Ryan), and Bronski’s goons believe Batman did it. 

Your angel of death awaits.

At the same time, Andrea Beaumont (Dana “I was Lois Lane” Delaney), one of Bruce’s oldest flames, returns. We see in flashbacks that Andrea met Bruce when he was first trying to start his career as a crimefighter. The two grew close, to the point that Bruce even asked her to marry him and thought about abandoning his quest to be a vigilante. However, Andrea left the country with her father, Carl (Keach), and broke up with Bruce via a letter. Believing that he has lost his last chance at a happy life, Bruce finally becomes Batman. While investigating Bronski’s death as Batman, Andrea sees him next to the Wayne grave, leading her to realize that Bruce is Batman. Bruce later discovers a photo linking Andrea’s father to the two dead gangsters and a third mob boss, Sal “The Weezer” Valestra (Abe Vigoda).

Yes, Abe Vigoda plays a mobster who is on Oxygen. It’s great.

Valestra sees the reports of Batman killing the mobsters and goes to seek help from the Joker (Mark Hamill). The Joker tells Valestra that he’s going to help him, but when the Phantasm arrives at Valestra’s house, Joker has killed the aged mob boss and used his body as a bomb after strapping a camera to the corpse. When the building blows up, Batman meets the Phantasm, who escapes and leaves the police to chase Batman. He narrowly evades capture with the help of Andrea, who admits that she left with her father because he stole from the three mobsters. Batman now believes that Carl is the phantasm, but also discovers that there is one more target: the man who later became the Joker was Valestra’s chauffeur. Joker, now aware that the murderer isn’t Batman, goes to confront Reeves, who used to work for Carl Beaumont, and gasses him with Joker toxin after suspecting that Reeves might be the Phantasm. Batman confronts Reeves, who reveals that he leaked Andrea and Carl’s location to the mob after they refused to fund his first campaign. 

Why would you think asking the Joker for anything would work out well?

*** MASSIVE SPOILER. THIS IS ON NETFLIX, YOU MIGHT WANT TO JUST WATCH THE MOVIE, BUT IT’S STILL GREAT EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE TWIST***

The Phantasm tracks Joker to his hideout, where the Joker reveals he’s figured out the identity of the killer: Andrea. She intends to kill all of the mobsters as vengeance for killing her father, something that the Joker apparently did personally when he was still “normal.” Batman, who has also figured out that Andrea is the Phantasm, arrives as the Joker has her on the ropes. After saving her, Batman and the Joker fight to a stalemate, with the Joker revealing that his lair is wired to blow. Andrea grabs the Joker and holds him, telling Bruce goodbye as flames erupt around her. Later, Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) consoles Bruce, saying that he walks the edge of darkness, but hasn’t fallen in, while Andrea fell long ago. Bruce finds Andrea’s locket in the cave. Meanwhile, Andrea, who survived, leaves the country on a boat. 

END SUMMARY

I picked this one as my choice for “A Film Based on a TV Show” for three reasons. First, because this movie got screwed over and it needs to get all the respect and viewership it can get. Second, because Batman: The Animated Series was amazing. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the minds behind it, revolutionized superhero shows. Last, because most other films based on TV shows suck unless they’re comedies.  

The show gave us Harley Quinn using a bazooka against chauvinists. ‘Nuff said.

If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably remember Batman: The Animated Series. It was one of the darkest cartoons that was on TV at the time, both literally and figuratively. The animation was so dark that they frequently found it cheaper to buy black paper and draw the white parts over it. In terms of content, it frequently dealt with themes of mortality, loss, the nature of evil, and the general unfairness of life, things that children’s TV shows just flat-out didn’t address back then. It also had great action sequences, great writing, and an abundance of imagination in characters and plotlines. It still holds up as being one of the greatest animated series of all time, and I put one of the episodes on my list of the greatest television episodes of all time. This film was their attempt to bring that creativity to the big screen and it should have been the Batman movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite get its due, losing money at the box office.

Dark as it gets for a kids show.

When the team started making the film, it was supposed to be a direct-to-video release. Soon, Warner Brothers decided to make it a theatrical film. Moreover, they decided that it was going to be released on Christmas Day of that same year, 1993. This meant that they had eight months to make the movie. For perspective, Disney typically gives four years to make an animated film. Moreover, Warner Brothers decided, after dumping a ton of money into making the film to compensate for the short time frame, to save money by cutting the marketing budget for the film. This is generally considered a stupid, stupid move, especially when the movie already had been rushed so much that it hadn’t really had time to generate buzz. Despite the fact that it was a Batman movie based on a massive hit show right after the show’s first season ended, only a year after Batman Returns had been one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, this movie was promoted for less than two months at less than half the rate of other films. Coming from someone who was a Batman-obsessed kid at the time, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS MOVIE WAS COMING OUT. Hell, Siskel and Ebert missed it. Moreover, they rushed the toys from the film into development so fast that they accidentally released a figuring of the Phantasm in November… marketed with the secret identity on display. Yeah, they destroyed the great mystery of the movie a month before it even came out. Great job, WB. 

One of the best Batman suit-up sequences on film, and no one saw it.

The key to this movie is that it’s really the one threat that we never see Batman deal with: Happiness. Batman always is depicted as a dark, wounded soul who is trying to seek justice and vengeance upon the world as a way to deal with his pain. But, in this movie, we see him actually question his vow and whether it’s worthwhile because he actually finds himself being happy with Andrea. There’s a climactic scene in which he is at his parents’ grave, telling them that he can’t be Batman if there’s someone to go home to. He offers to help the city financially instead (gee, what an idea), but he can’t risk his life, and doesn’t want to, if he’s not miserable. It’s a great way to show that there are really layers between Bruce Wayne and Batman and that the interplay between them is part of what makes the character so strong.

She also is the only girl he dates with solid burns.

Possibly the greatest decision in the movie, though, was including the Joker. Mark Hamill’s Joker is usually considered to be the best iteration of the character, and adding him in during the second act, despite him originally seeming to be unconnected to the central conflict, was a master stroke. None of the mobsters or the Phantasm could possibly have justified the magnificent set piece of the “City of the Future” for the final fight sequences, and only the Joker could have provided the comic relief to off-set the violence. Plus, the final shot of the Joker laughing as he awaits his death by explosion is amazing, particularly since it’s accompanied by a powerful choir crescendo. 

Overall, this movie is amazing and I really wish it got the respect it’s due at the time, but you can at least relive your childhood with one of the few parts that will hold up well by watching this. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Perfect Blue: The Face in the Mirror Might Not Be You – Amazon Review (Day 28)

I take a look at a movie that has aged unbelievably well. 

SUMMARY (Warning: This movie has a decent mystery that should be watched if possible)

Mima Kirigoe (Ruby Marlowe/Junko Iwao) is a member of “CHAM!” a mid-level J-pop group. Desiring to change her career up, she leaves to become an actress on a television drama called “Double Bind.” Her manager, Rumi (Wendee Lee/Rica Matsumoto), is hesitant about the change, but her agent, Tadokoro (Gil Starberry/Shinpachi Tsuji), believes this will jump-start her acting career. Unfortunately, her role in “Double Bind” is very minor, only getting a few lines each episode. Many of her former CHAM! fans are upset about the move, including Me-Mania (Bob Marx/Masaaki Ōkura), an obsessive stalker. Mima soon receives angry messages and even a letter bomb. She also discovers a fan-site called “Mima’s Room” which purports to be written by Mima herself, containing diary entries that are so accurate that they frighten Mima. Rumi tells her to just ignore it.

Mima’s the one in the middle and she’s adorable.

Mima eventually manages to get a bigger part in “Double Bind,” but it involves her character being raped violently during an episode. Mima is not comfortable with the role, but ends up going through with the scene, completely destroying her former “good girl,” image. Additionally, despite the fact that everyone in the scene was trying to be professional, the experience of the rape scene is extremely traumatic. Between the stalker, the trauma, a nude photoshoot, and the increasing insanity of the author of “Mima’s Room,” Mima starts to lose her mind. She sees a reflection of her former “CHAM!” persona start talking with her and she becomes unable to distinguish between reality and her work on the show. 

Yes, her own image is a critic.

Meanwhile, several people associated with damaging Mima’s reputation are murdered. Mima’s J-Pop persona starts talking to her again and Mima discovers evidence that she committed the crimes while under the influence of her other side. Mima finishes the final episode of “Double Bind,” in which she is revealed to be a character who killed her twin sister and stole her identity, with the new identity being strikingly similar to Mima. After everyone else leaves the studio, Me-Mania attacks her, claiming he was told to kill her by the “real” Mima. Mima knocks him out and escapes. Someone else soon kills both Me-Mania and Tadokoro. Rumi finds Mima and takes her to Rumi’s apartment.

That ain’t no prop knife.

Waking up at Rumi’s place, Mima quickly discovers that Rumi is obsessed with her. A former J-Pop Idol herself, Rumi resented Mima leaving the group and started “Mima’s Room,” as well as killing all of the people who damaged Mima’s pure image. She finally attempted to kill Mima using Me-Mania, then killed him for failing. It turns out that Rumi now has a split personality and believes herself to be the real Mima, the one who was the innocent good girl in CHAM! Rumi, now claiming to be Mima and envisioned by Mima herself as her double, attempts to murder Mima, but after a long chase Mima ultimately stops her, even saving Rumi’s life from a car. Later, Mima, now a successful actress, visits Rumi in a psych ward, but Rumi is completely overtaken by her “Mima” persona. Nurses see Mima and wonder if she’s a lookalike, but Mima says she’s the real thing. However, in the Japanese version, she says it in Rumi’s voice.

END SUMMARY

I honestly have no idea why this was the movie that immediately came to mind when the prompt was “Anime Film You Love,” because I think I’d only seen this movie twice before last month. It’s definitely not the anime film I’ve watched the most, which is probably Akira or Princess Mononoke. However, this was the movie that I thought of first, probably because I rewatched it in 2010 in order to demonstrate to someone that it was clearly the inspiration for Black Swan. So, maybe it’s because I associate this movie with being right. Ultimately, though, this is a movie I love, because it is a movie that completely changed meanings between my first and second viewing. 

This scene got much creepier as I aged.

The first time I saw this movie, I was in high school, probably in 2002, and it was on a (poorly-subbed) ripped-dvd that someone else from my school had brought in. Naturally, I was deeply uncomfortable at the thought of getting caught watching it during certain scenes. At the end of the movie, I thought that it was a really good psychological horror film, but in a way that reflects the price of fame. When I rewatched it in 2010, though, this movie felt completely different, because in the interim Facebook, Reddit, and other social media had started becoming widely used, to the point that even my late-adopting self was on it by then. Suddenly, this story had changed to be about the nature of public persona versus the individual. With the advent of Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest and TikTok, this film has only grown more relevant. 

Stalking now requires fewer photo developers, though.

Mima’s primary conflict in the film comes from the growing gap between her old public persona, her new public persona, and her true self. Because of her being pulled or forced into different directions, she starts to lose a sense of where each one ends, resulting in her literally seeing her previous self in the mirror. The more you watch it in the modern day, the more it seems to speak about the gap between who we represent ourselves as online and who we really are. Our online selves are often curated or only show a facet of our real selves, but those are increasingly becoming the face by which we present ourselves to the world at large. Similar to Mima’s conflict between her personas, the pull between who we say we are and who we really are and even between who people say they are and who they really are, is an ever-present issue nowadays. Moreover, Mima finds out that someone out there is presenting a “true” version of her that isn’t really her. As that is the most public version of her, someone is changing her public image against her will. It’s identity theft writ large.

But even her own image says that it’s more Mima than Mima is.

The stalker, Me-Mania, is one of the most disturbing parts of the film. Early in the movie, his obsession is visually represented by the great shot of him holding his hand in front of his face so that it appears that Mima is dancing on the palm of his hand. Throughout the film, we see him being driven mad by people talking about Mima’s slow descent into an actress that destroys his perception of her as a pure and innocent singer. Similarly, we discover that Rumi’s breakdown is related to her inability to keep projecting herself onto the image of Mima from CHAM! As Mima started to drift further away from her J-Pop image, Rumi became so obsessed with maintaining the innocent Mima that she started to envision herself as the true version. This refusal to accept that people aren’t their public image, and the desire to “eliminate” or cancel them for not living up to it, has been a big issue over the last few years. 

This is one of my favorite shots in any film.

The film itself is a great work of psychological horror as we watch the slow descent into madness of our main character. The murder mystery aspect of it is compelling because we really only get a look at Me-Mania and Mima as the film goes on, and it becomes increasingly possible that either of them was behind this. The film starts to blur the lines between reality and imagination to reflect their declining sanity. It sometimes feels like it might go a little overboard, but I honestly think it’s a great use of the medium, particularly when we see the imagined version of what’s happening but also see a mirror reflecting the reality. 

The reality in the back is very different.

Overall, it’s a great movie and I recommend it to everyone, because it’s one of the few movies that seems to have become more relevant since it was made. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Virgin Spring: Bad Things Happen to Good People – Amazon Review (Day 27)

Max Von Sydow tears down a tree with his bare hands as a prelude to commit murder.

SUMMARY

In Medieval Sweden, Per Töre (Max von Sydow) was a very prosperous Christian. His wife Märeta (Birgitta Valberg) is extremely pious, to the point of burning herself with candles as a form of mortification of the flesh. Their daughter, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), is less dedicated to the faith, often staying out with boys at dances and sleeping through morning prayers (yes, this movie is set in the 1200s, not the 1950s). She loves her father very much, and he loves her, but she is colder with her mother, who is seen seeking her affection. Karin is sent on an errand to take candles to the local church, because only a virgin is supposed to deliver them. She is accompanied by Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), the family’s servant. Ingeri has recently become pregnant out of wedlock and is seen praying to Odin secretly. 

Bidding his daughter farewell.

As the two ride towards the church, they have a conversation about sexuality, in which Karin says she’ll be a virgin until marriage. Ingeri asks what she’ll do if a man tries to force her, and Karin says she’ll fight him off. They get to a river mill and Ingeri insists they turn back, panicking. She waits at the mill while Karin goes forward and the one-eyed mill keeper (Axel Slangus), who appears to be Odin, tells her he knows things others can’t. He offers her cures for her problems and powers in exchange for sexual favors, but she runs away. Eventually, Ingeri catches up with Karin, who has met two herdsmen (Axel Düberg, Tor Isedal) and a boy (Ove Porath). Karin invites the three to share her lunch, but after a bit the two older herdsmen rape her, then kill her to stop her crying. They leave the boy with the body, and he tries to bury it, but stops and chases after the men. 

It’s only sadder because she clearly doesn’t see it coming until the last second.

The three then end up asking to spend the night at Per Töre’s house. He allows them in and feeds them, but one of them ends up trying to sell Märeta Karin’s clothing. She waits for them to fall asleep and locks them in the dining room before telling her husband what she suspects. Ingeri returns to the house and reveals what she had seen, confessing that she had done nothing to intervene because she secretly was jealous of Karin. Enraged, Per Töre goes outside to tear down a birch tree, breaking off branches to use to clean himself. After he has cleansed himself, he orders Ingeri to give him a butcher’s knife. He then stabs one of the men to death, burns the other one alive in the fire, and kills the boy by throwing him against the wall. Only afterwards does he regret killing the boy. Ingeri leads the household to where Karin’s body remains. Per Töre breaks down, asking God why this happened and vowing to build a church on the site in Karin’s memory. When he lifts her body up, a spring emerges from the ground. 

END SUMMARY

This category was “Foreign Film You Meant to Watch but Never Did.” There weren’t a ton of these because, for the most part, all the foreign films I have wanted to see have made it to streaming somewhere at some point, so I’ve watched them. I’ve seen pretty much all of Kurosawa’s movies, Godard’s movies, Fritz Lang’s movies, and Fellini’s movies, so I’ve gotten through most of the critic’s choices. But, despite the fact that I’ve always been a fan of Ingmar Bergman, including putting The Seventh Seal as one of my favorite movies, I never watched this one before. I knew it was influential, and I’ve seen The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven’s film that was inspired by this one, but I’d never seen The Virgin Spring before. So, now was the time. Got to say, it’s a really good movie, albeit not what I was expecting.

There’s more frogs and goats and picnics, for example.

For starters, I’d heard in a class once that this film was subject to censorship when the rape scene was brought to the US. Naturally, I expected it to be graphic. However, it wasn’t particularly graphic compared to, say, Game of Thrones, but it was disturbingly effective. It’s very brief and not overly explicit, but the performance by Birgitta Pettersson combined with the stark focus on her attempts to fight them off and the lack of ambient sound at the time make you really feel how horrible the experience is. Similarly, the murder is mostly offscreen and consists of one of the men hitting Karin with a branch, but the way the scene plays out makes it seem so much more real and therefore so much more impactful. It really stands out compared to The Last House on the Left, which went much more over-the-top with the violence in both acts. I think it’s a sign that Bergman wanted you to feel what happened through empathy, rather than shock value. 

Empathy is a powerful force in this movie.

Similarly, when Per Töre goes on his revenge spree, despite the methods, the shots are relatively bloodless. He stabs a man, but we don’t see any kind of heavy blood spurting. Similarly, while we see Per Töre lay on top of the other man as the man is, presumably, being burned alive, we don’t see any kind of burns appear or anything that actually physically suggests that he is being harmed. I think this is because those things would distract the audience from the people involved. Instead, we are mostly facing Per Töre, seeing that, in addition to rage, he is experiencing some level of joy in killing these men. That kind of satisfaction and mindless anger continues until after he kills the boy, at which point, Per Töre is finally able to realize what he’s done. It’s more about us following the journey of this man’s anger and his guilt over what he has done than us enjoying his violence. I almost feel like this is surprising, because the “gearing up” scene includes Per Töre tearing down a tree with his best hand, smacking his naked body with branches, and sitting in a chair with a skull-inlaid butcher knife overlooking the three before he moves to kill them. It’s like Bergman wanted us to feel ready for what was coming, but instead we focus on the man rather than the acts, so that we understand when he regrets killing the boy right afterwards.

He tears down a tree as a warm-up.

Guilt and regret are two of the biggest themes of the movie. Per Töre regrets killing the boy, his wife regrets not being closer with Karin, both of them regret sending her to the church, and Ingeri regrets not throwing a rock to try and stop the rape and being jealous of Karin. The boy also clearly regrets not stopping the two older men, as well as his inability to give the girl a proper burial. At the end of the film, the spring allows Ingeri to start to wash away her guilt, as it allows Karin’s parents to try and wash away her shame and their regret. 

Ingeri, holding the rock that she never threw, letting Karin die.

The film’s plot is apparently based on a 13th Century ballad. In it, Per Töre’s three (or seven, in some versions) daughters are riding to the church and are accosted and killed by highwaymen. That night, the highwaymen stay with Per Töre, who discovers what they did, then murders two of them. When he asks the third where they came from, only to find out they were his three sons that he had sent away when they were young, meaning he brought this fate upon his daughters when he forsook his sons. He vows to build a church where the three girls died, where three springs burst forth. So, even from the beginning, part of the story always included regret. 

And here we see the embodiment of a Swedish legend.

Bergman’s style often resembles recording a play more than making a movie, but his cinematographer Sven Nykvist typically managed to balance that out by giving shots an extra ethereal element or a stark, realistic look depending on what the scene calls for. The performances in the film are excellent, particularly Max von Sydow. Most of the people in the movie worked with Bergman on multiple occasions, so he clearly knew their ranges and adapted accordingly. 

This shot is not as iconic as chess with Death, but should be.

Overall, this is a great movie, but it is not a pleasant one. Glad I saw it, though.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

One Cut of the Dead (Kamera o Tomeru na!): Noises Off! + Zombies = Comedy Gold – Shudder Review (Day 26)

I take a look at a work of absolute low-budget genius.

SUMMARY

A small group is trying to film a low-budget zombie movie called One Cut of the Dead at an abandoned water filtration plant. After failing to get a shot on the 42nd take, Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) calls for a break. The leads, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) and Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), take a break and speak with the make-up artist Nao (Harumi Shuhama), who informs them that the water filtration plant was actually abandoned due to experiments by the Japanese government in trying to raise the dead. They soon discover that there is an actual zombie outbreak happening outside. Moreover, they find out that the director is the one who caused it so that he could film the perfect zombie film. The three are soon on the run from the undead and the director, while the cameraman never stops rolling. Eventually, Chinatsu ends up killing the director and an infected Ko… at which time the director yells cut.

The zombie makeup is top of the line.

We’re then taken back a month to see how exactly this happened. It turns out that this show was intended to be a live broadcast to promote the new Zombie Channel. The gimmick pitched to Director Higurashi was that the movie will be about a director who goes crazy while trying to film a zombie movie and summons real zombies and that it will all be done in one single take. We then see the casting of the movie and how the director is trying to deal with the insane task of shooting a live single-camera zombie movie. The actor playing Ko is a celebrity who has difficulty taking orders, another is a drunk, and another has a sensitive stomach. On the day of the actual shoot, the actors set to play the director and the make-up artist get into a car wreck, forcing the director and his wife to step into their roles. Unfortunately, everything starts to fall apart, with a drunk zombie, a knocked-out cameraman, broken props, and an actress who goes crazy and forgets that she’s acting. Ultimately, the director manages to pull off the impossible, with a little help from his aspiring director daughter, Mao (Mao).

END SUMMARY

I have to start this off with a funny story. I thought I’d seen this movie. Really, I did. I had watched it all the way through once and I had turned it off at the credits. At the time I thought it was really short, only like 40 minutes, but it had been one single take, so I was super impressed anyway. Well, as it turns out, I had literally only watched the first act of the movie. When I signed up for a free week of Shudder in order to watch this movie, I noticed that the runtime was like 90 minutes, so I kept watching through the first credits sequence and finally saw the rest of the movie play out, and it was amazing.

I thought this was near the end. It’s only 1/3 of the way through.

The prompt for this entry was a “Great Low-Budget Film.” Even having only seen the first third of this movie, I was impressed with it, because, again, it is a single take film that ends up being pretty funny even if it’s cheap. Apparently this movie was made for about $25,000 and has grossed over 1000 times its budget in addition to receiving a heavy dose of critical acclaim. While the movie does look cheap and the acting often looks ridiculous, the movie’s script, and its very nature, makes that appropriate. The fact that it’s a cheap movie within a cheap movie within a cheap movie makes almost anything that seems “off” work on one of the levels. Then, add in the multiple levels of meta humor and even the things that don’t work end up working. Bad acting? It’s improv during a live show. Weird moments? It’s someone dealing with a drunk or a crazy co-star. What’s funnier is that, even though I’ve only been in a handful of productions, most of the stuff that happens in this movie has happened to me (minus the axe-wielding).

I mean, the axe wielding is a big thing.

It’s really the third act where we watch the behind-the-scenes of the first act and we see how hard everyone was working to keep it going and how much it was going off of the rails. Since the movie is ostensibly about a production going awry because of a director, it’s balanced in the end by the directors being the heroes who keep solving the problems. Moreover, it drives home exactly how insane an accomplishment the first act is, even if it wasn’t really a live production. Apparently the 37 minute long-take actually took six tries to pull off, but actually doing it as a single take when, like Birdman, you could probably have used editing to make it look like one is an amount of dedication that’s hard to ignore. Making this movie probably looked a lot like the making of the movie found within the movie: A bunch of people working their asses off. 

These people. These wonderful people.

I will say that the big difference between the movie and reality is that in the film, the director is given this task by someone else and is basically told to make it work, whereas Shin’ichirô Ueda, the actual director of this movie, brought it all upon himself. I wonder if he actually enjoyed putting the blame on someone else for this difficult task within his fictional construct.

He also got to vicariously live the dream of throwing zombies at actors as motivation.

Overall, this movie is a combination of a pretty fun zombie film with a really fun, almost zany, comedy. It’s worth signing up for a free week at Shudder to watch it. And no, they’re not paying me, I just like the movie and the service. If they would like to give me a free subscription in order to review their films, though, I wouldn’t say no (hint hint).

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: I Took a Chance on It and It was Super, Trouper – Amazon Review (Day 25)

I watched the sequel to one of my least favorite musicals and, wow, this was better.

SUMMARY

Meryl Streep is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever, about that. I considered this a surprise, as I thought she was marketed with the film, but if advertisements were always true indications of a film, I might have liked Suicide Squad

Yes, one of these women is dead the whole time.

Yes, Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, is dead and her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is set to reopen the hotel now under her management. While she is being helped by the manager Mr. Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) and her father Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), she is upset that her other fathers, Harry and Bill (Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård), are not able to make the grand re-opening. This gets even worse when her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), reveals that he will not be able to come either. As Donna’s band members Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) show up, the film flashes back to tell the story of how a young Donna (Lily James) left Rosie and Tanya (Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn) behind to go explore Europe and meeting young Harry, Bill, and Sam (Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine). Also, we get to see Cher.

END SUMMARY

 So, I saw Mamma Mia after it originally came out and I did not enjoy it. I thought it was an amazing travel commercial for Greece, but in terms of being an effective musical, even a Jukebox Musical, I felt like it fell short. Honestly, I didn’t think Meryl Streep was as focused and flawless as she usually is and I thought that the songs didn’t really add much to the story, a common problem with trying to do a musical based on one band’s catalogue. The film always felt too grounded in reality for a musical, too, which seemed partially because it had to focus on the leads over the spectacle. Moreover, it sometimes felt to me like an example of why you should not cast certain actors (names have been changed for the sake of the victims) like Bierce Prosnan as leads in a movie like this. They’re great performers, but it’s completely different to pull off a musical number. 

This movie apparently read the notes from that one, because they fixed almost everything I didn’t like. 

But they kept the fun group shots, so great job.

First, it is not at all grounded. Scenes in this range from “over-the-top” to “insane” and I mean both of those in the absolute best way. In order to find justifications for some of ABBA’s more outlandish songs, the musical was forced to venture to situations far outside of a Greek hotel. For example, “Waterloo” is set at a Napoleonic themed restaurant in Paris, and all of the wait staff perform elaborate choreography designed to echo famous portrayals of the French Emperor. It starts to feel like you’re really in the kind of world where people are always on the edge of bursting into song. It also helps that more random bystanders get wrapped up in the music, like when a Vice Chancellor (Celia Imrie) goes from “well, I never” to “well, I always” in the middle of “When I Kissed the Teacher.” 

Waterloo was probably my favorite scene.

Second, the flashback cast is unbelievably good. Lily James really nails being a wild, young Donna, because she captures all of Meryl Streep’s joie de vivre without the regret we see for her circumstances in the first film. Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn (from Ed Wynn’s family, no less) both have the same comedic timing as their modern counterparts, but also have the requisite energy to keep up with Lily James. Hugh Skinner, the one playing young Colin Firth, was so spot on that I realized what character he was supposed to be immediately. Given how good he was on Fleabag, I suppose I should not have been surprised. While the other two young bachelors are also excellent, I will say that they didn’t really come off as young versions of their older counterparts as much as he did. Still, they were solid and believable as people that young Donna would want to have a romantic adventure with. Also, they’re much better singers than their aged counterparts, sparing us some performance issues. It did bother me that Young Stellan was not played by one of his ~25 children, but I got over it.

Wait, was this the 1970s? Because then Amanda Seyfried would be almost 50.

Third, they added Cher. I didn’t actually list this as a problem in the first movie, but, let’s be honest, every musical that DOESN’T have Cher in it is inherently inferior. While the movie does not have her in a ton of it, when she does show up and perform, it’s a powerful boost to the third act. 

God, you diva, you deserve everything you want.

Last, they definitely bumped up the dialogue for this film. I’m not saying that it’s deeper or more sincere; in fact, the opposite is true. This movie has more quips and funny one-liners that better suit the nature of a jukebox musical. There are some sincere moments, to be sure, but most of what keeps the film going are humorous interactions between the cast and this movie takes that up a notch. Admittedly, most of the good lines went to Christine Baranski, but she uses them to their fullest.

That woman has more sass in her eye shadow than most people do in their bodies.

Overall, I was amazed how good this movie was and how much of an improvement over the last film. I don’t know that you can watch it without having seen the first one, but if you already suffered through the first one, this is a must-see.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Duel: Hell on Wheels – Amazon Review (Day 24)

I take a look at the movie that started one of the biggest careers in Hollywood.

SUMMARY

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a traveling salesman on the road in the Mojave Desert in the early 1970s. While out on a long stretch of highway, David encounters an old Peterbilt 281 tanker truck driving on the road. Trying to avoid the smoke coming out of it, David passes the truck, only for it to immediately pass him. David finally passes it another time, leading it to honk angrily at him as he leaves it behind. The truck catches up at a gas station, with the driver unseen except for his hands and boots. The attendant tells David he needs a new radiator hose, but David declines, thinking it’s unnecessary. David calls to apologize to his wife for a fight the night before when she was accosted by a “friend” of David’s, before setting off again.

The tanker truck blends in with the desert, David’s car stands out. Great visuals.

The truck catches up to David, goes around him, then blocks any of David’s attempts to pass. Eventually, the driver waives David past at a curve, only for David to almost hit an oncoming car. David, in a hurry for an appointment, passes the truck using an unpaved turnout, with the driver seemingly giving up. A few minutes later, though, the truck comes roaring back and tailgates David at an absurd speed, eventually causing him to spin out and crash into a fence. He goes into a nearby diner, then sees the truck outside. He tries to figure out which of the people in the diner is the driver, but when he confronts one, they hit him and drive off in a different truck. The Peterbilt 281 then starts up, revealing that the driver was never inside the diner. 

It’s not idling. It’s lying in wait.

David takes off again, now believing that he’s following the truck, only to be flagged down by a stuck school bus asking for a push. He tries to push it, but gets caught underneath just as the truck arrives. David panics, fearing for the school kids, and manages to get the car unstuck, but the truck pushes the kids back on the road. David starts driving, confused, and ends up at a railroad crossing. The truck comes up behind him and tries to push him into the train, but David barely avoids it, letting the truck finally get completely ahead of him. David slows down to let the truck get more distance, but the truck just waits for him beside the road. David stops to call the police and the truck destroys the phone booth just as he gets out of it. David tries to hide, but the truck is again waiting for him. He tries to get help from strangers, but the truck threatens them and they run. The truck starts flat-out chasing David just as his radiator hose finally gives out, overheating the car. He loses speed as the car dies, but manages to coast down a hill in neutral before crashing. He ends up restarting his car and uses his briefcase to send his car into the truck. When they collide, David’s car bursts into flames, blinding the driver, who goes over a cliff, roaring as the truck descends. David sits on the edge as the sun sets and throws rocks into the canyon. 

This is how you end a movie, people.

END SUMMARY

This category was “First Film By A Great Director,” and I knew I was going to pick this film from the start. The only other contenders were Reservoir Dogs, because I love that film, and Piranha II: The Spawning, James Cameron’s first movie, because it’s hilariously bad. However, Duel has the rare distinction of being made at just the right time and for just the right budget that it shows everyone what Steven Spielberg was going to become, rather than just showing Steven Spielberg as we would come to know him. For those of you who would point out that the first “feature-length” thing directed by Spielberg was an episode of The Name of the Game or that, since Duel was made-for-TV, his first “theatrical feature” was The Sugarland Express, I say to you: The former was a TV episode, not a movie, Duel was released in limited theaters both domestic and abroad, and you suck. Sugarland Express is a good movie, though. 

Sugarland Express didn’t inspire an iconic shot in Jurassic Park, though.

The key to Duel, much like Jaws, is in the mystery. You never see the driver of the truck. That was explicitly the intent of the script written by Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and sixteen episodes of the original The Twilight Zone. Because you never know what the person behind it is thinking or doing, you instead start to fear the truck itself and the honking associated with it. You get the same experience from Jaws when you hear the musical score and see open water. You don’t know where the danger is, but you know it could be there. To emphasize the nature of the truck as the true enemy, Spielberg actually selected the Peterbilt truck seen in the film, because it appeared to have a face. Stephen King would later decide to throw out all subtlety in his directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, by just putting a face on the truck. There’s a reason Spielberg is the one with the Oscars. 

Turns out “Cartoon Face” doesn’t make things scarier.

The film has almost no dialogue, with most of the words in the film being David’s “inner voice.” We never hear a single word from the driver, only the honks and the roaring of the engine. The most David speaks to another person is in the diner, and even then much of the dialogue is in his head. What we do here is mostly natural conversation or stream of consciousness. That means that the film relies on a lot of visual storytelling, without much in the way of exposition. This makes us relate very strongly to David throughout, and, by only giving us his thoughts, putting us in a vulnerable position the same way that he is. It makes his ultimate triumph all the greater for the viewer. Dennis Weaver was a great casting choice, because he can play normal and also crazed well, giving us a nice range between how he is at the beginning and how he slowly mentally devolves through the horrible experience of the film.

The man can play crazy (check out Touch of Evil)

There is one more major thing in the movie that really, to me, tells of how well Spielberg understands filmmaking, and it’s easy to miss. At the beginning of the film, we’re in a POV shot of a car driving out of a city and random, changing, radio transmissions. Right before David catches up to the truck, however, we hear a radio discussion of a man talking about his insecurities of not being the head of his household. He reveals that he wears a house dress and slippers while his wife is the breadwinner. As David listens to this, he finally decides to pass the truck, setting off the events of the movie. We later find out that David had previously fought with his wife over the fact that David wasn’t willing to stand up for her recently. So, as David hears about this man who is afraid of appearing emasculated, that’s when he, as a man who has also recently been emasculated, tries to reclaim his manhood by passing the truck. As a result, he ends up drawing the eye of an apparent serial killer and being victimized for the rest of the movie. It’s that subtle motivation that most movies would miss, but Spielberg nails.

The man has a gift.

Overall, you really need to see this movie if you haven’t. It’s a hell of a film and it’s been referenced in video games, other movies, television (including Tiny Toons), music videos, and even anime (Lupin III had a reference to it in the 1970s). All despite originally being a movie of the week on ABC. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Third Man: Who Wants A Harry Lime? – Amazon Review (Day 23)

I take a look at one of the best entries into the film noir genre. See. This. Movie.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for a movie that is 70 years old)

In post-WWII Vienna, the city has become divided by the four powers currently occupying it: The Americans, the French, the British, and the Soviets. American author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has been invited to the city by his old friend Harry Lime, who promised him a job opportunity. Unfortunately, when Martins arrives, he finds out that Lime is dead, having just recently been killed in a car accident. At Lime’s funeral, Martins meets two British policemen, Paine and Calloway (Bernard Lee and Trevor Howard), who tell him that Lime was a criminal, though Martins accuses them of just trying to pin unsolved crimes on a dead man. The Brits try to get Martins out of Vienna, but he is invited to stay in the city by a local book club. 

A multinational police force in a war zone. Nothing bad can happen, surely.

Martins goes to meet a friend of Lime’s, Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), who claims that he and another friend named Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) were present at Lime’s death. However, Kurtz’s account, and Popescu’s, are both contradicted by Lime’s porter, Karl (Paul Hörbiger), who says that he saw a third man near Lime’s body after the accident. Lime’s doctor, Winkel (Erich Ponto), says he only saw two men, but cryptically refuses to say more about the accident. Meanwhile, Martins meets with Lime’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who is being investigated by the police. In the process, they find out that she has a fake passport, because she’s really Soviet. Martins starts to become attracted to her. 

She was listed as the most beautiful woman in Europe in the 20s.

The porter offers to give Martins more information, but he’s murdered before he can. The crowd believes that Martins murdered him and chases after him. Martins escapes the crowd and ends up at the book club where he is completely unprepared to make a presentation, but when confronted by Popescu, tells him that he’s writing a story called “The Third Man,” about the events. Popescu advises him to stick to fiction and sends two goons after Martins. Martins escapes and sees the British police again. Martins demands they investigate Lime’s murder, but the police reveal that Lime was stealing penicillin and diluting it to re-sell, resulting in a large number of deaths from the tainted medicine. Martins refuses to believe it, but they show him an immense amount of evidence until he is convinced. 

Popescu. Funny name, menacing demeanor.

Martins goes to visit Anna before she is sent to the Soviet sector, where she reveals that she was told about Lime’s crimes but refuses to believe them. Leaving her apartment, Anna’s cat goes to someone standing in the shadows. Martins, drunk, yells at the figure, assuming it’s one of the locals, only for a light to reveal that it is Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime runs away and escapes into the sewer. The police excavate Lime’s coffin and find the hospital orderly who stole the penicillin for Lime. Martins meets with Lime the next day on a Ferris wheel. Lime threatens Martins, but when Martins reveals the police know Lime’s alive, Lime offers Martins a job and leaves. Calloway asks Martins to help catch Lime, and he agrees if they help Anna leave the city without having to go back to the USSR. Anna, however, refuses to leave, believing that Martins is betraying Lime. She warns Lime of the police, so Martins and the officers give chase through the sewers, eventually cornering Lime, who is shot by Calloway and wounded. Lime tries to crawl out, but cannot make it, so he asks Martins to kill him. Martins does. At Lime’s second funeral, Martins risks missing his flight out of Vienna to meet with Anna, but she ignores him completely.

END SUMMARY

The prompt for this film was “Film with Favorite Last Scene.” There are a number of films I love with iconic last scenes, ranging from Anthony Perkins looking into the camera in Psycho, to the unforgettable fist-pumping of The Breakfast Club, to Casablanca’s start of a beautiful friendship. However, when I thought about it, I had to pick this film, because the last scene is so simple, but so subversive at the same time.

Mr. Bates wouldn’t hurt a fly.

This film is a masterpiece of noir because throughout the first two acts nothing in it ever quite fits. Everything in the film is designed to throw you off just a little bit, from the heavy use of Dutch angles giving the movie an off-kilter look to the zither music that populates the film to the characters. The dialogue was written by Brighton Rock author Graham Greene, adding to its quick and pointed nature. The Baron and the Doctor, who are apparently a couple, both come off as deceptive. If you do read it as them being together romantically, then it adds a layer as to WHY they might seem like they’re trying to hide something, aside from just their work with Lime. The only people who seem to be conveying everything they know are the Porter and Anna’s landlady, both of whom don’t really speak English at all. In fact, much of the film relies on the characters speaking German without translation, leaving the audience, and Martins, completely oblivious to what’s being said. So, you have odd angles, odd sounds, odd performances, and an inability to understand much of the dialogue, all of which starts to correct itself once Harry Lime is revealed and the entire plot is now more clear. 

His kinda “shucks, you got me” look is priceless.

Orson Welles, a huge name at the time of this movie’s premiere, is not featured in the first two acts of this movie. However, despite his limited screen time, he is the perfect villain. He is threatening, he’s always in control, but moreover, he’s very appealing. He takes Martins up on a Ferris wheel and asks him if he’d care if any of the “dots,” the people below, disappeared in exchange for $20,000. “Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.” Moreover, Welles improvised some of the dialogue, including his famous line “in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” It’s that exact justification for horror and violence that makes him such a perfect character. 

He’s hard to hate even after he tries to kill you.

Throughout the movie, we are shown how much Anna loved Harry Lime. She keeps mementos of him everywhere, she gets sad at the times when he usually would come by, she drinks heavily as she thinks about his passing, and she basically treats his room as a shrine. When told of Lime’s crimes, she doesn’t seem to ever consider whether he’s guilty. Moreover, she might just not care one way or the other. She loves him and she wants to be with him. We’re shown that Lime doesn’t really care about her, something he makes clear to Martins during their conversation when he shows no concern for her deportation. It might be that he’s hiding it a bit, since he nonchalantly draws her name in a window, but Lime’s willingness to let her think he’s dead seems to indicate he doesn’t care. When Martins tries to help Anna, she instead rejects him as a traitor and mocks him. She loves Harry, she doesn’t really care if Harry loves her.

She longs to hear his voice again.

In the final scene of the film, we see Martins getting ready to finally leave the city. Everything is done. However, when he sees Anna, he can’t help but try to talk with her. He wants to connect with her, the way he hoped he had before. But the fact was that she never really saw him that way, as evidenced by the fact that the one time she flirted with him, she called him “Harry.” So, when Martins gets out, we are forced to watch Anna walk directly towards the camera, forcefully, for over a minute, before she just walks past Martins without acknowledging him. Martins, shocked for a moment, then lights a cigarette, realizing his mistake. 

Possibly the best thing about this is that it’s the absolute right thing to happen in the scene, but it’s still a subversion. People expect a happy ending for the good guy. Martins worked to help Anna out even when it was risking his own ability to leave the country. At the end, he gives up his other chance to leave (which was tough in 1949) to try and meet with her. Calloway even looks at the scene and drives off, not waiting to see how it plays out, supposedly believing that it will take time. Yet, at the end, she never was interested in him, and nothing about him killing the love of her life has changed that, so she just ignores him. There’s no yelling or screaming at him turning into a kiss, no, it’s just complete disdain. It’s made only the better because we’re forced to wait so long as she walks straight towards the camera in order to find out. 

Never even thinks about looking back.

Overall, this is a fantastic movie. Spend the money. See the film. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Grosse Pointe Blank: A Perfect Dark Comedy – Amazon Review (Day 22)

The final audience selection happens to be one of my favorite movies. 

SUMMARY

Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a professional hitman whose latest job was botched by a rival killer named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who wishes to form a hitman’s union. Martin’s assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack), lets him know that he’s been invited to his 10 year high school reunion, which he rejects. Martin finds out that his next job is going to be in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, at the same time as the reunion. Martin sees his therapist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who convinces him to go as a way of dealing with his growing apathy towards contract killing. 

Two stone-cold killers.

In Grosse Pointe, Martin meets his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) and his ex-girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver), who is now the local DJ. Martin had left Debi at the Prom their Senior Year because he freaked out and joined the Army. He goes to visit his mother (Barbara Harris), who is suffering from dementia, and finds that his former home has been bulldozed and replaced by a mini-mart. Grocer discovers that his clients have given the Grosse Pointe job to Martin, so Grocer leaks Martin’s whereabouts to two NSA agents (K. Todd Freeman and Hank Azaria). Also, due to Martin accidentally killing a dog during a previous job, a hitman named LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez) arrives in town to try and kill Blank. Despite all of this, Martin repeatedly postpones the hit, or even opening the folder to learn his target’s identity. Whenever anyone asks what happened to Martin, he tells them that he’s a hitman. They always believe him to be joking.

The old flame still burns hot.

Martin meets up with Debi again and asks her to go with him to the reunion. When he picks her up, he meets with her father, Bart (Mitchell Ryan), who mostly ignores Martin. At the reunion, Martin and Debi meet with some old classmates and exchange fun moments. After the pair have sex in a private room at the school, Martin is attacked by LaPoubelle, whom he kills in self-defense. Debi finds Martin with the body and leaves, but Paul helps Martin dispose of the corpse. Debi later confronts Martin, who reveals that when he joined the Army, they said he had a special “moral flexibility” which made him attractive to the CIA. The CIA then made Martin an assassin until he left. Martin’s attempts to rationalize his work only drive her away.

“I swear, it’s not what it looks like. I just killed him.”

Martin has an emotional breakthrough after talking to Debi and decides to quit, having Marcella destroy the office. He finally opens the target information and is shocked to find that it’s Debi’s father, Bart, who was set to testify against some of Martin’s clients. Grocer tries to kill Martin along with his union assassins, but Martin kills them all, as well as the NSA agents. Martin proposes to Debi, who doesn’t respond. Later, it’s revealed that the two are leaving Grosse Pointe together, trying to give their relationship one last shot.

END SUMMARY

This was narrowly the most nominated film of the final audience poll, which was also the poll with the most nominations (totalling 140, including duplicates). Unfortunately, Grosse Pointe Blank was also, originally, going to be my choice for Best Soundtrack, so I had to replace that day with Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which worked out fine. This way I got to do two of my favorite films and support democracy in the process. 

Democracy and guns. The American way.

I consider this film to be one of the pinnacles of dark comedy and it sets that tone immediately. The film opens with the song “I Can See Clearly Now” playing while Martin is having a casual conversation with Marcella, only for him to reveal a sniper rifle. It appears that Martin is supposed to kill a person leaving the building, only for him to actually be protecting that person, having him kill another assassin when the song crescendos to “Bright, Bright Sunshine-y Day.” Immediately after this, Martin, confident that the job is done, turns away from the window, only for Dan Aykroyd to come out and murder the target anyway. It’s a series of humorous, albeit dark, subversions that are only elevated by the soundtrack choice. That’s pretty much the entire movie wrapped up in a nutshell, and it works amazingly well. Later, you get the same feeling from a shootout to “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead.

Because of the tone, this film constantly had to walk a fine line. You had to make Martin Blank simultaneously likable enough that we want to root for him, but also the kind of person that would become a contract killer in the first place. That’s what makes Doctor Oatman such a great element to this movie (aside from giving us an excuse to see Alan Arkin), because it allows Blank to try and speak honestly about how he justifies his career to himself. He tries to constantly talk his way around it, including cliches like “what a person does for a living is not a reflection of who he is,” but Oatman always treats Martin’s job like what it is: Killing people. The fact that Martin keeps going back to him shows that Martin is actually trying to force the reality of what he does onto himself in an attempt to quit. With anyone less charming or less able to deliver the lines with sincerity than John Cusack, this movie would fail completely, but Cusack constantly represents both a cold and calculating murderer and also a sad human being who is wracked with regrets that he covers up with quips.

Including this masterpiece.

Minnie Driver’s performance as Debi is almost equally nuanced. She’s the person who has never quite gotten over the one that got away. She’s been hurt, and we find out that she’s even tried to get past it, even being married briefly, but that she never had the connection with anyone else that she had with Martin. When he comes back, she is conflicted between her desire to give him another shot and her undeniable attraction to him. If it weren’t for Driver’s ability to look like she’s always trying to restrain herself throughout the film, it wouldn’t work. Instead, we understand when she gives in and kisses Martin, but also when she’s trying to keep herself from doing so. 

Plus she has great taste in music.

The supporting cast is also amazing. Joan Cusack, whose banter with John is colored just a little in just the right way by their real-life familial relationship, plays the perfect assistant, never judging her boss, but always wanting to help him as both a hitman and a person. Dan Aykroyd brings a comic flair to an antagonist, so much that you almost can’t hate him for what he does. The concept of a hitman who wants to unionize the profession seems laughable, but Aykroyd’s off-kilter performance makes you believe that if there was a person who would try it, it’s him. Jeremy Piven’s character almost seems like a predecessor to his role as Ari Gold on Entourage. He’s always trying to make himself seem bigger and more interesting than he is, but when you need someone to help you move a body, he’s there. Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman are great as a pair of Federal agents with differing opinions about how the justice system works, and who also just enjoy messing with Blank. Alan Arkin is a treasure as always.

I wouldn’t have thought Aykroyd had it in him if I hadn’t seen this.

The script is amazing. Just like with Cusack’s performance, it has to walk a thin line, but it does it beautifully. It’s filled with great lines that reveal more about our characters while also deepening the portrayal. Most of Blank’s lines are dark jokes referencing his past or present, including making quick threats against Doctor Oatman or trying to tell everyone he meets about the truth of his circumstances. The movie trusts its audience to follow along at a fairly rapid pace, but it gives you just enough time to breathe before the gunfights to catch up.

Such a great source of fun lines.

Then there’s the soundtrack. The soundtrack was composed by Joe Strummer from the Clash and includes a great mix of 1980s and 1990s hits. Pretty much the entire movie has some contemporary song playing either in the background or over the scene, resulting in so many songs being featured that there are two soundtrack albums with a full baker’s dozen left unreleased. Throughout much of the film, the music complements the scene, including an amazing use of “99 Red Balloons” during an almost slapstick-esque body disposal. It both evokes the same nostalgia that the characters are feeling throughout the events and also heightens the ironic tone of many of the scenes.

Overall, this film is just brilliant. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t. It’s worth the $3 rental. Or wait for it to come back on Netflix.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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