Tuesday, September 23, 2014

591. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Running Time: 133 minutes
Directed By: Milos Forman
Written By: Bo Goldman, Lawrence Hauben, from novel by Ken Kesey
Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, Brad Dourif
Click here to view the trailer


I'm ashamed to admit that it took me three days to watch this. I started it Friday night and got sucked in immediately. However, as the clock approached midnight and knowing I had to get up the next morning at 5:30, I decided to throw in the towel and hit the hay with an hour and fifteen minutes of movie to go. The next night, I tried to finish it, but with only five hours of sleep in my system, I tapped out at about twenty more minutes in. FINALLY, the next afternoon I knocked off the final forty-five minutes of this movie I'd seen dozens of times before. Actually, had I not seen it many times prior, I probably would've restarted it at some point instead of spreading it over so many sit downs. Anyway....lets get to it...

The film begins with Randall P. McMurphy (Nicholson) arriving at a state mental institution. He was previously serving time at a prison work farm, but wanting to have him evaluated he was sent here. We learn early that he was sent up for statutory rape ("She was fifteen going on thirty five, Doc", ....when you get that little red beaver right up there in front of you, I don't think it's crazy at all...") and that he's probably not really crazy, just trying to avoid the labor of the work farm. After the opening introduction to Mac, we meet the rest of the crew: a stuttering mama's boy Billy Bibbit (Dourif), the man-child Charlie Cheswick (Lasssick) and a giant deaf/mute Indian who Mac just calls Chief (Sampson). Early on, Mac butts heads with the head nurse on the ward he's assigned to, Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) (I always used to think it was Nurse Ratchet, like the tool). The feud between the two builds slow with Mac simply not wanting to take his meds, but heightens when Ratched won't allow him to watch the World Series. Some of the best scenes take place during group meetings, with the guys gathered in a circle along with Ratched, as they share feelings and goof off. Later, Mac learns that most of the men "committed" to the state hospital aren't committed at all, but simply voluntary cases. Along with this information, he learns that his normal prison sentence ending won't apply here; basically they can keep him as long as they feel it necessary to evaluate him. With this information coming to light, Mac starts thinking of escape.


I wasn't supposed to watch OFOTCN yet. It was a movie I was actually saving to be the big grand finale of the whole project. It was one I'd seen many times, one I knew I liked and wanting to end on a high note, it was to featured at the end of everything with the tagline, "1001 Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". However, with it being the last movie I'd seen from THE BOOK AND knew that I really liked, I needed desperately to pull it out THIS season and spice things up. Sure, we've just done the Fassbinder flicks which I really dug, but other than those we've had a real "blah" line of films and after looking over everything I've watched I realized I still needed something to accompany "The French Connection", "The Conversation", "The Night of the Hunter", "A Man Escaped" and "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" into the TOP 10 of the next TOP 20 and this was just what Nurse Ratched ordered. Now we have the start of a TOP 10 worth flaunting and while I realize that we're only at the halfway point and still have fifty-one films to go before I make that list, I just felt it necessary to pull out the big guns now, rather than later.

Anyway, yeah, I love this movie. Who doesn't, really? I don't knock anyone's tastes but is there anyone who doesn't like this movie? I mean, what's not to like? Remember when you're a teen and you start to really get into films? I remember when I did. I was a big movie fan all my life, but when I was really young (I'm talking 10 - 12 years old) I was way into comedies. I'd go the store and rent things like "Wayne's World" and Eddie Murphy movies. I'd see the classics - The Godfathers and the Scorsese's and the Spielberg's - but I'd never rent them. Then one day, you decide to take the plunge, to see The Godfather maybe and you realize everything you've heard was crap because this movie was crap. No I'm not calling The Godfather crap, my twelve - fourteen year old self is. Anyway, my point is, Cuckoo's Nest is different. It's a classic that is also really easy to love and really hard to dislike. It's the one time I think the whole world can agree that the Academy actually picked the right movie to give their awards to, as I don't know many who can't find SOMETHING to love about Cuckoo's Nest.

So many memorable scenes, probably too many to go over here. The group meetings are always a blast, the scene where the boys finally get to "watch the baseball game" is unforgettable, the scene where Mac teaches Chief how to play basketball is great and most of the scenes in between come together to make up a nearly flawless picture. The one thing I really didn't like about the movie was the scene where Mac escapes with everyone else and they go fishing. I would have preferred the action stay contained within the hospital, but you can't always get what you want and really even that scene is good and I guess put in place to continue to give the film a light and humorous quality, as opposed to a cooped up, claustrophobic one. I realized during this watching that after the big Christmas party where Mac pays off Scatman Crothers and brings a couple ladies into the joint, when they awake the next day, Mac never speaks another word in the film. Am I right? If he does, it's only during the commotion when he's strangling Nurse Ratched, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't talk then either. What a great touch and a testament to Nicholson as an actor. Look at the look on his face when Billy starts punching himself, almost a disgusted look. And the intensity when he attempts to murder the Nurse whom he's feuded with the entire film's duration. What a great feud between them too, which builds and builds and builds until that final culmination where Mac takes her neck between his palms.

Ya know, I've always wondered why Michael Douglas produced this, if there was a story behind it or something. THE BOOK has taught me that apparently this was a pet project of Kirk Douglas' and that by the time it came around to making it, he felt he was too old to play the part. Man, what a different movie this would've been if it had been made in the 60s with Kirk Douglas in place instead of Nicholson. It could've been just as good, but it also could've been worse. It could've been one that I would have never take to, as it seems I just can never settle into Kirk Douglas movies. You realize that we would have never even known of the Jack Nicholson version, that it wouldn't have existed and it's almost scary to think of how close we came to no Cuckoo's Nest starring Jack. It makes you wonder how many other films came close to being made, but fell through. One thing's for sure: It may have been worse and it may have been equal, but one thing's for sure, there's no way it could've been better than this.

RATING: 10/10  Honestly, I really didn't even think about that rating. It was just a '10', like water is wet and fire is hot. It's Cuckoo's Nest dammit and it's a great great movie and if you haven't seen it already, you simply MUST!


September 23, 2014  8:58am

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

465. Week End (1967)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard
Written By: Jean-Luc Godard
Main Cast: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Paul Gegauff, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Blandine Jeanson
Click here to view the trailer

Note: Long time readers may remember January 2012 and my Godard tribute week. I was wrapping up a season of movies and had chosen Godard as my last big tribute before wrapping up another one hundred and making another TOP 20 list. You may also remember that Godard Week was never officially finished. After watching "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her", I called that film a temporary conclusion to the Godard Week festivities and vowed to one day finish it all up, when I could find "Week End". Well, I've finally found it and I now present the conclusion to Godard Week...nearly three years later...


Boy oh boy, it only took three years but I somehow managed to forget how alienating Godard films can be. When thinking back to Godard I remember a few things: the unique and original, although ultimately not for me qualities of the sci-fi/noir, yet very French/Godardian ALPHAVILLE; that shot of Anna Karina sitting in a (was it a diner?), the city of Paris sprawled out over her shoulder in VIVRE SA VIE and pretty much the entirety of CONTEMPT, a film that got the honor of having a shot from it grace the top of my blog for years now. I will say that I've never flip flopped so much on one particular man's work as I do on that of Godard. I can remember CONTEMPT so well and still count it as one of the best films I've been introduced to via THE BOOK. While at the same time finding films like PIERROT LE FOU and this one, WEEKEND, to be incredibly mind numbing. You could also take for instance films like ALPHAVILLE, MASCULINE-FEMININE and 2 or 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER and I find those films to be very average, possessing flecks of brilliance, yet ultimately not appealing to me. So, to sum up my feelings on Godard, I really run the gamut of opinions: some I love, some I hate and others I found downright average. In certain circles, I could talk about his work in a good light, at other times I could really bash him. He was both brilliant and awful all in the same breath. In a way he made too many statements (mostly political ones and ones that had to do with class), while on the other hand he knew how to tell a story and knew how to write dialogue. He COULD do everything right, yet sometimes manage to do EVERYTHING wrong. Wow, what a director...and I don't know if I mean that in a bad way or a good way.


This is the scene I was talking about with Corinne detailing a menage a trois she had with another couple. Just brilliant dialogue and the way Godard framed the actors and made use of the shadows is brilliant.

I'll do my best to sum up this film for you. It starts out by introducing us to a couple: Corinne (Darc) and Roland (Yanne), who are both having affairs. Corinne talks to her MISTERess (is there a proper name for the male cheating partner of a woman?) and the two wish that Roland would die. Roland talks to his mistress and the two plot to get money out of Corinne, which she'll inherit from her father who is apparently dying, by killing her once she's got the dough. From there, we go to a ten to fifteen minute scene of Corinne sitting on a desk, while a man sits behind the desk (couldn't tell if it was her husband or her lover) and listens to her tell him about a menage a trois  she had with a man named Paul and his wife Monique. It goes into graphic detail of the three's sexual escapades, but is actually the best scene in the whole film. The lighting silhouettes the actor and the actress, as Corinne, hesitant but determined, spills her story. From there, the weekend of the title begins, as Corinne and Roland hit the road, headed to her father and mother's to get the inheritance. When the trip begins, the two hit a traffic jam, which is being caused by multiple accidents on a country road. Here, the tone changes from a serious film (a couple, both cheating, on their way to get inheritance from a dying father) to silly, as we view many oddities during the car crash, including two drivers who have gotten out of their car to strike up a game of chess on the road, while they wait. THE BOOK tells me that this tracking shot of the car wreck is a very famous film in the history of cinema and I'll give it that, it was pretty decent. However, from here, the film slowly started to lose me until I was totally tapping out by the midway point and had completely lost interest by the end. The film contains various monologues expressing Godard's political views and is, at times, downright weird. The characters admitting they're part of a film, running into Emily Bronte in the woods, burning up in car crashes and then being fine in the next chapter. Oh yes, the film is broken down into many little episodes with handy dandy little title cards breaking up the action.

I will never like this film. You know how I always say I'd give any film two chances? Well, I'd give WEEK END two chances to, but I guarantee I'd still hate it after two viewings. There are things contained in this movie that I'll never be able to grasp - let's just say it - because I'm not smart enough. There's one point where someone in a passing car asks Roland if he preferred Johnson or Mao, to which he replies, "Johnson, of course!". The driver and passenger of the car call him a fascist and drive away. I have NO IDEA what that means. And I'm not ashamed (although maybe I should be) to admit that it's simply because I'm just not brainy enough to get those things. I'm sure that was a joke, but one that I'll never be laughing at. And the thing is, I just don't care enough to put in the work to find out what it means. I'd rather be oblivious and go one with my life, than to spend a minute finding out what this tripe is trying to tell me. I'm sure there's a brilliant movie in there somewhere and if you life it, good for you - you're probably smarter than me. But I'll stick with things that I enjoy, rather than movies that make powerful statements and political exclamations.

RATING: 2/10  There's really not much else to say. I've said why I didn't like the film, I even included a paragraph summing up my final feelings on Godard. I would see more of his films, but I would approach them all with caution. I'm sure there are others that I would love and others that I would absolutely despise, but if any other resemble the quality of CONTEMPT, it's a gamble worth taking.


September 17, 2014  11:14am

Sunday, September 14, 2014

297. The Phenix City Story (1955)

Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Phil Karlson
Written By: Daniel Mainwaring, Crane Wilbur
Main Cast: John McIntire, Richard Kiley, Kathryn Grant, Edward Andrews, James Edwards


Okay, now that we got all that blog birthday stuff out of our system, let's get back to business. I taped The Phenix City Story off of TCM years ago (after I first started the project) and it's been waiting on me ever since. I still have probably a dozen and a half tapes, with two or three movies each recorded on them and am trying to spread them out sporadically throughout the rest of the 150 and change I have left.

The film begins documentary style with newsman Clete Roberts (apparently a real news reporter) interviewing subjects from the real town of Phenix City, Alabama. Phenix City is Anytown, USA, except in this town, crime is king and it's gotten out of hand. Murders have become commonplace, the sounds of gunshots as frequent as the call of the robin and gambling joints, run by crooked personalities. The film gets going in the fictional sense by introducing us to Rhett Tanner (Andrews) the Al Capone of this small town. A man who runs gambling joints (crookedly, I might add) and whose money lines even the pocket's of the police. Vigilante's have taken to trying to stop Tanner and his band of hoodlums and in the middle of it all is Albert Patterson (McIntire), who is being urged to side with both the good and bad entities. However, Albert wants no part of either side and would be content to simply run his law practice and have peace. When his son, John Patterson (Kiley), returns home from war with his wife and two kids, John decides that despite the corruption, he'll plant his families roots in Phenix City, where he and wife Mary Jo grew up. Later, however, when he's attacked by some of Tanner's goons, he urges his father to run for state Attorney General and give a good effort at cleaning up the town they love. After some coaxing from his son and other notable townsfolk, Albert agrees and from there, it's an out and out battle of good vs. evil as Tanner and his men rebel against the man whom they know has a good shot at sorting out the city.


I get why it's in THE BOOK. It was brutally violent in a time when brutal violence wasn't commonplace, it was shot on location in the real town where everything REALLY went down as opposed to Hollywood, where most 50s directors would've opted to shoot it and it is unique in that it has that initial thirteen minutes of newsreel, making it part documentary and part film noir. It's all unique and it all probably lead to the big cult following that this film supposedly has and I'm sure the audiences in the 50s were flabbergasted by the originality....but....

...and I hate to be insensitive and perhaps close minded, it just isn't THAT unique anymore. Sure, I can admit that throwing a dead child's body from a moving car and having it land eyes straight at the camera was a pretty hardcore touch for 1950s, but in 2014, it just doesn't have the same *oomph* as it did in 1955. How long do we have to recognize these movies that have been one upped time and time again. When can we finally call a spade a spade and say, "Well yeah, it was good FOR IT'S TIME, but better styles & ideas and more provocative films have come along since". I hate to make myself sound like that guy who is against everything old school (because I'm not, I promise) but this is a case where the old school has been surpassed. And hey, I liked the movie just fine. It wasn't up there with my favorites of the season or anything, but it was an average venture and even managed to keep me awake, despite it being 10pm and me having just put in a grueling eight hour day. All I'm saying is that everything THE BOOK points out as reasons for the film's inclusion just don't hold up anymore. I'll gladly admit that the movie was ahead of it's time, but by 2014, it just isn't making waves anymore and thus, there's one more spot that would've been better suited for something else, something more important, something flat out better!

I don't even know why I try to argue with THE BOOK'S logic anymore. I realize I'm wasting my breath, but I feel that's kind of a part of my project: To point out where THE BOOK made a wrong decision and to state why I think said wrong decision shouldn't have been included. Like I said, a perfectly average outing at the movies, with top notch performances from pretty much everyone involved, except maybe Kiley, who seemed to be overacting a bit. John McIntire on the other hand was brilliant and the scene where he gets shot is really a big downer, because you realize that the best character just ate it and there's like thirty or so minutes of screen time left.

RATING: 5.5/10  Probably just centimeters away from a '6/10', but that just seems to high to make that call official.


September 14, 2014  5:13pm

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Years Later...

I almost wasn't going to do this post this year, because they always sound so repetitive. I end up basically saying the same things every year and that's forty minutes of my time I could be devoting to a movie or something more constructive. But, I looked back and it turns out I've done a post like this every year since this blog's inception, so what they hey...let's make it five!


*party whistles blowing*

I DO love taking this time to just thank everyone who has given me encouragement and opportunities. I started this blog five years ago (yesterday, to the day) and it was never meant to get attention. I simply only meant it as a diary (hence the signature at the bottom of all my posts, reminiscent of signing a diary at the end of everyday) to keep track of the movies I'd see, many classics that I'd never seen before. I wanted to do more than just WATCH the 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die, but I wanted to brand them into my brain and a blog where I'd write about each and every one seemed a good way to do that. Even when I started, I guess I probably didn't think I'd last. How could I? I'd had several failed attempts at previous blogs - blogs I'd started because "it'd be cool" and then gave up on after a dozen or so posts. However this one has lasted five years and nearly 1100 posts (it really makes me realize what a wind bag I can be, seeing as how I've only watched about 850 movies, yet have nearly two hundred more posts than that...geez!). Anyway, I guess this is a huge pat on my own back that I've lasted this long, but I can't take all the credit. Frequent commenters (I'm looking at you Ray), collaborations, podcast invites and the opportunity to write in successful newsletters has all done wonders in stroking my ego and keeping me going.

This is where all the "magic" happens - my desk. Ray, if you look close you might see something familiar - the picture you sent along with the movies last year. Everything else hanging on the wall is just random pictures, mostly of my wife. The framed one is our wedding day photo. The desks (side and main one) are cluttered, as usual.

So a very hearty thank you to Ray Milner, the man who shows up nearly everyday to see what I've written - someone who lives on the other side of the world as me. It means a lot that he stops by everyday. I also thank him immensely for, last year, letting me borrow a few of the movies and trusting me to return them safe & sound. It's appreciation that I could never express by clickity-clacking on the keyboard.

Thank you to Karen Burroughs Hansberry, as always, for not only being a frequent supporter of the blog, but also for allowing me not one - but two opportunities to write for the fantastic newsletter The Dark Pages. If you have a few bucks to spend, it really is a fantastic hard copy (or electronic) newsletter that is completely devoted to film noir. I just received a copy in the mail yesterday - my second contributing issue. Information can be found by clicking the banner in my sidebar.

I also thank everyone else who has ever encouraged or supported the blog, the ones who have nominated me for awards, the ones who have taken the time to read something I've written - you are all appreciated. I'm talking about Tommy Wishloff, Brittani Burnham, Larry Antoskiewicz, William Burrow, Jenna & Allie of Flick Chicks, all 83 of my followers and probably a host of others I'm forgetting. Thank you, thank you, thank you all!

Despite coming to the realization about a month ago that I was losing some of my passion for this project, of course I'll be finishing. I'm trucking along at the best pace I can muster, despite a heavy work load by day and a wife to keep appeased by afternoon/evening. I think it also had a lot to do with a bunch of bland movies hitting me all at once and it took a few good ones to really snap me out of my slump. I love this project and all that it has showed me, the countless movies that I would never have watched had it not been for THE BOOK, the countless named I'd have never heard.

So keep reading em and I'll keep writing them (as Stan Lee would say). Oh and don't forget, I'm not just confined to movies anymore. I'm also the 1001 Albums guy now too, as you can see by perusing the top bar and clicking on the appropriate link. Oh and yes, I also have a Twilight Zone fan page that I'll get around to adding more entries too SOMEDAY. I'm a busy man dammit!

Anyway, I realize for my five year anniversary I should've had something a little more special planned. A list of some sort or perhaps an extra special movie review. I was contemplating doing ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST as my anniversary movie, but I'm sort of saving that one for a rainy day. I highly doubt anyone was expecting anything significant to mark this occasion, but if you were, I'm sorry - this is about all you're getting. As I write this I've just put in eight hours, my feet are aching and I'm ready to chill on the bed with the season premiere of Hell's Kitchen which is waiting for me on the DVR. Again, to everyone who has journeyed with me for the past five years, I thank you. If you were a supporter, you're awesome for supporting this faux film critic. Goodnight and good luck! (that one's not in THE BOOK by the way).

September 12, 2014  6:28pm

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

642. Die Ehe der Maria Braun/The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pea Frohlich, Peter Marthesheimer
Main Cast: Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Lowitsch, George Byrd, Ivan Desny, Gisela Uhlen
Click here to view the trailer


Today was mine and my wife's Sunday. As we prepare to head back to work tomorrow, relaxation was the word of the day and it was nice to chill out on the bed and pop in a DVD. The DVD just so happened to be the conclusion to Fassbinder Week - The Marriage of Maria Braun - and while I wish it had been better, it was still a relaxing afternoon. Read on...

The film opens by establishing two points, right off the bat: 1) Maria (Schygulla) - our main character -  has JUST married Hermann Braun (Lowitsch) and 2) World War II is ON! The film, like most of Fassbinder's stories, is set in Germany and after those principal facts are cemented and following the opening credits, we learn that Maria and Hermann only got about two days out of their nuptials before Hermann was whisked off to war. During war, Hermann goes missing and Maria dedicates her life to wearing a sandwich board bearing his picture, accompanied by the words "have you seen Hermann Braun?". When the husband of a friend returns from war, he brings news that Hermann was killed in action, thus prompting Maria to move on with her life despite her grief. She goes to see a man about a job and lands one as a "hostess" in a bar frequented by American soldiers. I say "hostess" with the quotations, because it seems that without using the exact words, Maria has become a prostitute. She infatuates an African American soldier named Bill (Byrd) and the two begin a fling: him teaching her English and her teaching him anatomy - if you get my drift. During an afternoon romp, the two are walked in on by none other than Hermann and when the returning soldier strikes her down, Bill attacks him. Happy to see her long lost hubby come home, Maria acts quickly, striking Bill in the head and killing him. Maria stands trial, but during the proceedings, Hermann gives himself up as the man who killed Bill and is sentenced to a prison term. While incarcerated, Maria then strikes up a relationship with a successful French businessman named Oswald (Desny) - becoming both his professional assistant and his mistress. The Frenchman comes to fall in love with Maria, but Maria vows to wait for Hermann and that she could never marry any other man. Over time, Maria becomes wealthy while waiting for Hermann, who is later released but goes away to Canada so that he can become a better man for Maria.


Those looking to THE BOOK to get a plot synopsis on this one, beware! This is another case of the writers of THE BOOK writing as if they hadn't seen the film in ages and thus, giving misinformation. THE BOOK states that Bill attacked Maria and tried to rape her when she accidentally killed him, which isn't what happened at all. It not only makes you wonder about the other plot synopsis' (there are TONS of errors, trust me) but also the second paragraphs, which usually give personal opinions by whichever critic is writing that particular entry. Are they examining these films correctly or just guessing, because they actually haven't seen the film in a while? I haven't read the newest edition cover to cover, but I really hope the errors are kept to a minimum. Anyway...

I wasn't as crazy about this one as I was the other three Fassbinder flicks. I hate to keep pointing to World War II as the source of so much of my personal displeasure from THE BOOK, but lets just say that if I hated war films coming into this project, I hate them even more going out. In all honesty, I can handle a bit of war and even here it's simply the backdrop, but it's not particularly a world I found nearly as interesting as other worlds explored by Fassbinder, in the other three BOOK works I've seen. The characters and themes explored here weren't nearly as intriguing either. In fact, what exactly were the themes being explored here? I didn't have near as much fun analyzing this one, as I did say "Petra Von Kant", because I just didn't find that much analytical material. You had this character of Maria, who at times was fascinating, yet she wasn't really fascinating enough. What were her motives, her true desires, her endgame? I had trouble putting my finger on anything this character represented and ultimately, there were more than a few times during the picture where I was just flat out bored and ready for FIN.

On the other hand, the sexual tendencies and escapades of Maria were worth the audiences time and exploration and Hanna Schygulla was MAGNIFICENT! How have I not heard of this actress more? She was, for the two hour duration of this picture, sex appeal in female form! That red lipstick that managed to hypnotize me into hanging on every single syllable that she uttered. That hairdo that seemed to change in every scene and the lavish costumes that accentuated her as an object of desire. Seriously, sexy is an understatement!

I was with the picture for a while, but in the end I was just disappointed that it wasn't AS good as the other Fassbinder films I've seen in the past week. I liked it up to a point, but then the characters just seemed to go too astray for me and ultimately, they lost me. I really wanted to like it, but now that it's over I can say that it was just above average and that's all. Perhaps a rewatch someday will do in making me see the greatness of this one, but for today I say that there's much better Fassbinder's to behold.

RATING: 5.5/10  Well there you have it, the conclusion of the Fassbinder flicks and with it, the passing of four of my most anticipated films from THE BOOK. I will say that Fassbinder did not disappoint and as I've already noted in past posts, he was someone that I just somehow KNEW I'd take to. I look forward to seeing the rest of his forty-something filmography and hopefully finding more favorites.


1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
2. Fox and His Friends
3. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant
4. The Marriage of Maria Braun


September 10, 2014  5:15pm

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

588. Angst essen Seele auf/Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Main Cast: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, Irm Hermann, Rainer Werner Fassbinder


When I watched Fox and His Friends last week, I managed to talk my wife into watching it with me since her goal was to spend the day together and my goal was to watch a movie. It just so happens that she ended up really liking it and thus agreed to watch the other two Fassbinder flicks with me. It's so much easier to watch these things when my wife agrees to do them with me, because otherwise I usually end up waiting until she's asleep. Anyway, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul...

If you've ever seen the film Far From Heaven, then you basically have the plot of "Ali". The film opens in a bar, where an elderly woman, Emmi (Mira), decides to take refuge from a storm, citing that she passes it every night on her way home but has never stopped in. She orders a cola, while some Arab customers eye her from the bar - one of them Ali (Salem), a thirty-something Moroccan living in Germany. On a dare from his friends, Ali asks Emmi to dance and the two chat it up, ending the dance and heading back to her table to finish their conversation. When the time draws late, Ali offers to walk Emmi home and once there, Emmi returns with an offer of her own - "come up for coffee". When Emmi hears that Ali shares a room with five other men, she is aghast and asks Ali to spend the night. Ali accepts. One thing leads to another and two find love for one another, except it's not a love that will come easy. Ali is of Moroccan decent and thus the relationship will have to overcome obstacles of prejudice from friends and relatives. When Emmi's landlord stops in and warns her about having lodgers, she thinks fast and says that Ali isn't just a lodger, but the man she plans to marry. This actually leads to the two getting married and now the racial tension really heats up. First it comes from Emmi's three children (two sons, 1 daughter) and son-in-law (Fassbinder), all of whom can only see the color of Ali's skin and not the smile on their mother's face. One son reacts by kicking in Emmi's television screen and storming out - the others just storm out. Add to the list Emmi's co-workers, neighbors and even the grocer downstaris, of whom Emmi has been a customer of for years and thus the words that appear on the screen at the beginning of the film come true: "happiness isn't always fun".


The thing I think I found the most interesting in regards to this picture is the fact that no one is a saint. Think of all the movies you've seen about racial tension - USUALLY, the oppressed gain all of the audiences sympathy and the oppressors are 100% bad. Sure, that's still true here, but even Ali and Emmi aren't immune to harsh judgement from the audience. At one point, the once happy couple begin to have problems and Ali steps out on Emmi, finding love elsewhere in the arms of a blonde barmaid. One might say that Emmi is completely immune, that she does no wrong in this picture, but just watch as she shows off Ali to her friends, as if he were a brand new washing machine - Ali probably not fully understanding that he's being made to look like just some object. The whole film is really one big downer and Fassbinder wouldn't have it any other way - one of the reasons I've really come to enjoy his work. I've always hated tacked on, sappy endings to movies that yearn to be left on a dreadful note. Fassbinder apparently did to. Look at Fox and His Friends for example, Fassbinder's character left dead in a Subway and poor, poor Petra Von Kant, left utterly and completely alone. Fassbinder had a reputation of being a harsh director and harsh lover and he obviously didn't stop with real life, subjecting his characters to his most brutal harshness.

Emmi, widowed and alone, finally finding someone she can just share a conversation with. I don't think it would've mattered if he was black, white, Cuban or Asian, she was just a lonely old soul who needed someone there when she went home at night, someone to eat breakfast with and ride the tram with. Then you have Ali, somewhat ignorant to the ways of German society and even the language, perhaps taken advantage of by Emmi. Sure, she was putting him up in a decent apartment, but she didn't even ask him if he wanted to get married - simply blurted out to the landlord's son that it WAS happening and then it did. I think eventually he learned to lover her, but at first I got the sense that he was just going along with whatever she said, making an old woman happy. I think it's obvious that he wasn't attracted to her, thus why he stepped out on her for the embrace of Barbara. Yet, what he had with Barbara was just a sexual affair and once astray, he realized that what he had with Emmi was true love. The sexual part of it played second fiddle to the fact that she was kind to him and that their lives needed each other. Perhaps if we were to peer deeper into the future of this couple, Ali will continue to cheat on Emmi, but Emmi will understand. She'll understand that she can't satisfy this young, viril man sexually and know that he'll always come back to her, because she satisfies him in a deeper, more soulful way.

If I had to crack on the film for anything, I'd say that I could've used something different for an ending. I wasn't crazy about the whole ulcer revelation and really didn't get the significance of Emmi sitting by Ali's bedside, crying to end the film. I didn't hate it or anything, I just felt like there was another ending there, a better one. Other than that, it's kind of hard to crack on this movie at all, as so many elements are executed to perfection. I mean, what about that camera work?! I loved how Fassbinder stayed back during many of his shots, keeping a distance, eyeballing his subjects from afar. It made for some mesmerizing visuals, the types of images that you just don't get in your run of the mill motion picture. The acting was fine, as was the plot. The characters were fleshed out and developed and the whole film had an heir of greatness about it - you just felt as if you were watching something that was going to be great. Fassbinder is shaping up to be one of my favorite director's from THE BOOK and it just goes to show that sometimes you just KNOW what you're going to like. I was worried that perhaps I'd waited to long, that perhaps my interest in Fassbinder built up too much that disappointment was inevitable. But, so far, he's living up to everything I expected - maybe even a bit more.

RATING: 9/10  Can't go full monty, just because of that ending that didn't sit 100% well with me, but a '9' is right up there with some of the best movies I've watched all season. We're talking The French Connection, The Conversation, The Night of the Hunter type stuff here. If all goes as planned, I'll be back later with the conclusion to Fassbinder week. Stay tuned...


September 9, 2014  3:58pm

Saturday, September 6, 2014

501. High School (1969)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: Frederick Wiseman
Written By: Frederick Wiseman


I'm really in no mood to be writing reviews tonight, as I put in a full day today and am dog tired. However, seeing as how I watched this movie two nights ago, I figured I'd better get my rear in here and get er' done. I honestly didn't plan the coincidence of watching this during back to school week. I just needed something to fill the gap while waiting on Fassbinder movies to get to me, so I plugged this in. Plus it was short and I was tired that night too...

I honestly could've watched an entire doc about this guy. What a character!

It's a documentary, so there's really not a lot to sum up - synopsis wise. Basically Wiseman and his crew went to Northeast High School in Philadelphia, PA (my home state) and shot for five weeks to show a portrait of the American educational system and more importantly the ones running these joints. Of course, it wasn't difficult for me to relate to this picture, as I was an American high schooler myself once and not much changed between 1968 and 1999 (the year I began as a high school freshman). I have to be honest, the whole hypocritical element from the adults in this picture really went over my head. It wasn't until I read THE BOOK entry that I really realized what awful people some of these teachers were. The disciplinarian who tells the student that it's the right thing to do to take punishment for something you're innocent of! The gynecologist who welcomes applause when he announces to the students that "he gets paid" to put his fingers in female vaginas! The hippy literature teacher who puts on Paul Simon seemingly for her own personal pleasure and to shill their latest record, rather than to teach a lesson! Back to the disciplinarian and how he hands out a suspension for someone claiming to have a doctor's note excusing them from gym class. WOW! How did all of that go over my head? Is it possible that the teachers were just as clueless and hypocritical back when I was banging and that for me, it was all sort of normal. I've come to expect this type of behavior from the ones placed into power positions and therefore, I had to have it specifically pointed out to me via THE BOOK that, yes, there was definitely some shady behavior on display.

I really did like this doc though. It was easy to watch and made seventy five minutes feel like ten. If anything, this BOOK has really helped me to come to appreciate documentary filmmaking, going back as far as Nanook of the North, one of the first movies I saw from THE BOOK and one of the first ones I gave a '10/10' to. There was something about these characters that you just couldn't create; it was reality on display and it makes you realize why there was such a reality TV movement so many years ago that still carries on today. Of course, the reality TV that we watch is all semi to fully scripted, but you know what I'm saying. There's something fascinating about watching real life unfold and especially if there's a story and a message behind it. This movie was really easy to watch and each time the segment changed, you wondered what sort of conflict the camera was going to zoom in on next. It was all so intriguing, fascinating and I thought this was top notch documentary filmmaking.

RATING: 8.5/10  Great stuff here and I'll be happy to include this one on my next TOP 20 list...if there's room. Fassbinder Week contines next....be there!


September 6, 2014  10:47pm