Movie Education – April Update

Bullitt

You’ve probably heard of this film because of its classic car chase and little else.  That’s because the car chase is literally the only reason to see this movie.  It’s a brilliant scene wrapped in an utterly pedestrian police procedural.  There’s a mystery, but it’s nothing to write home about.  Or even write about, for that matter.  Fast forward to the car chase, then hit stop.

Play Misty For Me

The daddy of modern “I dated a woman and O Noes she’s psycho” films.  It’s also Clint Eastwood’s first film behind the camera.  He plays a radio DJ who’s getting calls every night from a woman who wants him to – see if you can guess – play Misty for her.  Then one day he runs into her in a bar, and the dating and sex begins.  Only the woman is unstable, and when Clint tries to break off the relationship, the stalking and terror begins.  Unlike later films in the genre, the film never hops the rails of reality and keeps its characters mostly plausible.  Also, it’s got a great sequence at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  Worth seeing for education reasons, but it’s not exactly a classic film.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

On the other hand, this is definitely a classic.  Deservedly so.  There were a lot of science fiction films in the 50’s, but most of them were cheesy horror romps made for quick double feature business.  The Day the Earth Stood Still is an exception. Directed by Robert Wise, with an honest to god SF story at its core, the film is a must see.  An alien and his robot come to Earth to deliver a message: Stop your warlike ways, or we will destroy you for the good of the galaxy if you try to leave your own planet.  It never becomes a mindless action film, but instead stays a quiet, contemplative film about a peaceful alien here on a mission of necessity.  Also: Klaatu Barada Nikto!

The Mouse That Roared

I was so impressed by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove that I decided to grab another one of his films as soon as possible.  Why The Mouse That Roared? I think someone mentioned it once and it stuck in my head. So, no reason, basically.  It’s about a miniscule nation in Europe whose entire economy is based on selling wine to the United States.  When California wineries start making a cheap knockoff, the nation devises a plan to save the economy.  They’ll go to war with the US, lose, and in surrender will be economically rehabilitated by the nation on which their economy depends.  Hijinks ensue.  Not brilliant, but funny and cute, and it’s got Jean Seberg, for whom I crush hard.

La Chambre / Hotel Monterey / News from Home

I’m lumping these all together because they all came on the same DVD and I watched them all at once.  All three films are directed by Chantal Akerman, a Belgian director who moved to the States in the 70’s.  All three films are semi-experimental (ok, some of them are full out experimental) works made during that period.  La Chambre is a 10 minute pan around a single room.  Hotel Monterey is an hour of mostly silent shots of an old hotel in NYC, from the people moving through its lobby, to its rising and falling elevators and finally out the windows as the sun rises.  It’s amazing how, by the end of the film, the hotel has become a real, tangible place.  Finally there’s News From Home, in which the director reads letters from her mother over shots of NYC.  Since we never hear Akerman’s responses, just her mother’s letters, we can only speculate at how her time far away from home is affecting her.  If you’ve ever moved far away, there’s a lot in this film to recognize.  Its final shot, shot from a ferry of Manhattan slowly receding into the mist, has stayed with me since seeing it.

High and Low

Akira Kurasawa is best known for his period films, but his modern pieces are easily as strong as his best known Samurai epics.  High and Low plays almost as two films, linked by the same central plot.  The first half tells the story of Gondo, a business executive who’s staked his entire fortune on a bid to take of his employer.  But when kidnappers mistakenly abduct his chauffeur’s child, he’s forced to choose: does he pay the ransom and ruin himself, or deny responsibility for the kidnapping even when his own child was the target?  The second half of the film follows the police as they attempt to find the kidnapper.  The first half is the more compelling, but the second is a detailed and effective procedural investigation that gets downright intense by the time the police descend into the underworld of Tokyo.  Especially effective is the horror of Junkie Alley, which plays more as a vision of the underworld than a real place.  Like Ikiru, it’s a film with a challenging structure but is a brilliant film because of it.

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