Movie Education – October 2011 Update

I was worried this was going to be a sad and weak month of Movie Education. Little did I know I’d have a short story to run from for the last week of October. Avoidance is motivation. Should have written the short story, though. Hrm. Anyway.

Rambo: First Blood

Interesting primarily for the fact that it spawned a franchise with which it shares almost nothing in common. It’s one of those slightly annoying action movies where everything hinges on closed-minded, mean-spirited small town folk doing closed-minded, mean-spirited things.  An unstable Vietnam War vet tries to walk through town, gets arrested, tormented and abused until he snaps, and then spends the rest of the movie killing people. It’s not terribly written or directed, but it never became more than an excuse for Stallone to look ripped and be tough. Viewed in context, it does touch interestingly upon the lingering trauma of Vietnam, but it’s not a good enough film to get that across out of its own time.

Hannah and her Sisters

If I let myself, I’d write an entire month of these things on nothing but Woody Allen movies. I’ve tried to hold onto a few of the movies viewed as his classics, and I fear I may have reached the end of them with Hannah and Her Sisters. What makes Allen such a wonderful director is the way his films work in aggregate.  One Woody Allen movie is good. Each successive film you see, though, is both a departure and an expansion upon his rhythms and themes.  Hannah itself is like his work in microcosm: a series of vignettes that add up to something more before you realize what the film is doing.  There’s a story near the end, involving a character’s attempted suicide, that’s a perfect encapsulation of Allen’s view of the world.  Also: Michael Caine is awesome in it.

Throne of Blood

How I purchased a Kurosawa adaptation of Macbeth and let it sit on my shelf, unwatched, for almost a year will forever remain a mystery to me. This is one of Kurosawa’s two takes on Shakespeare – the other being Ran, which is an amalgam of King Lear and a traditional Japanese work – and it’s as fantastic as I could have hoped. Toshiro Mifune is Washizu, a successful general who receives a prophecy from a forest spirit that leads first to his triumph, then his destruction.  If you know Macbeth, the story will be familiar, but what delights are the many ways Kurosawa integrates the story into its Feudal Japanese setting.  Kurosawa has so defined modern filmmaking that his style still feels fresh, but it never ceases to impress me just how polished his movies are. Throne of Blood (which is actually titled Spider Web Castle) isn’t his best film, but it’s very, very good.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Boy, this movie had to have created an awful lot of unrealistic fantasies for women. A very competently made films that was just not made for me. Holly Golightly is a terror to me; the perfect, Audrey Hepburn-clad apparition of a half-dozen women I pointlessly and foolishly coveted before learning my lesson. She’s selfish and vain, and if the movie didn’t force her to come around in the final minutes, she’d have been a realistic fantasy-girl monster. The girl throws a cat out into the rain mere minutes before the swooning final kiss! George Peppard is great, and Henry Mancini (native of my own home town) wrote a memorable and beautiful score.  I can see why people like this, but I was not its target audience. Also: Hoo boy, was that some racist caricature or what?

The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman’s adaptation and modernization of one of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective novels. It takes the post-war noir setting into the post-hippie 70’s. What’s amazing is the way the movie still feels sort-of authentically Chandler while feeling equally sort-of authentically Altman.  The film’s opening is worth the movie, as Marlowe wakes to find his hungry cat without its favorite brand of food and wanders into the night on behalf of his feline master.  The story was a touch thin, but Elliot Gould makes such a dry and witty Marlowe – and one very different than most other film adaptations – that the movie never stops being fun.  It’s hard to dislike an Altman film (says the guy who, just last month, crapped out a third of the way through Nashville), and this was definitely one of his good ones.

Closely Watched Trains

A Czechoslovakian film from the 60’s about the country’s Nazi occupation (ironically filmed during the subsequent Communist occupation), I chose this movie for one reason: It was assigned to me in a film class a decade ago, and I totally blew off watching it. I always felt badly about that. I liked my teacher and he picked good movies. Some movies I watch are definitely For Film Nerds Only, and this was one. There’s a roughness to the film, the kind you see in movies with a less developed film industry, and it’s mixed with the brand of melancholy you only find in post-WWII European cinema. This is not an era of filmmaking from which I take much enjoyment, but despite that, I found Trains to be an generally gentle and honest coming of age film, and am always fascinated by the art that slips through the cracks of an oppressive regime. Where else will you see the stamping of a woman’s butt with official Nazi rubber stamps used not only for sexual foreplay, but for a running subplot?

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