FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2016 by cdascher

From_Here_to_Eternity_film_posterDid you ever watch a movie and think to yourself “I wonder if severed horseheads played any role in casting decisions?” Probably not, unless the movie in question is 1953’s From Here to Eternity.

From Here to Eternity is the story of several career soldiers in an infantry company stationed in Hawaii during the last days before American involvement in World War II. There is tough First Sergeant Warren (Lancaster), Private Prewitt (Clift), a bugler and former boxer, and his friend Private Maggio (Sinatra). As the company’s commanding officer Captain Holmes has little interest in the company other than as his personal boxing stable for inter-regimental matches; Warren is the person actually running the unit. Noticing that Holmes likewise neglects his wife Karen (Kerr), the first sergeant takes over in that department, too. Meanwhile, Prewitt – a middleweight boxer of some renown – has transferred into the company. Holmes is disappointed when Prewitt states his refusal to box – having blinded a friend in a sparring accident – leading the captain to push the company NCOs to harass him into boxing again. Between punishments, he falls for Lorene (Reed), whom the movie doesn’t specifically identify as a prostitute, but let’s not be stupid.

Perhaps I was stupid – I honestly didn’t assume she was a prostitute. I thought Lorene just kept the company of men, got paid to do so, and gave them the illusion of a relationship without much effort on their parts. Reflecting now, though, I imagine Mouse is right here. I had the criticism of this film that I do of most, especially from this era – the two main women characters were not fully realized or well developed. Karen seemed to have quite a backstory – the loss of a baby, ostensibly coinciding with a neglectful husband, a sexless marriage, and a prior extramartial lover. She seems to hold a sadness that is deep, but we don’t hear enough about what she thinks and feels for my liking. Continue reading

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2016 by cdascher

A_Beautiful_Mind_PosterThis film was both wondrous and painful for me to watch. I was in tears for pretty much the second half of it. Some of it hit too close to history and to home for me. The film tells the story of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economic, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and delusional episodes. I didn’t know anything about Nash, and the story of his life was fascinating to me. I have read some criticisms centered on a few key pieces left out, which were also interesting. What caught me so off guard about this film was the reveal. It took me quite a ways into the film to fully grasp that we had started the beginning of the movie seeing things as Nash himself would see them. The line between reality and the imagined was quite blurry, and Russell Crowe did an impeccable job portraying this character.

It is difficult for me to watch any film where someone struggles so much to fit in. Where someone is so different that even day to day life is a painful slog. In this story, Nash’s wife Alicia Larde (played by the brilliant Jennifer Connelly of Labyrinth fame) also shares in the struggle. Despite an enormous love between them, his afflictions are in a number of scenes more than she can grapple with – more than anyone could, truly. I found myself curious about some of the specifics of how Nash handled his illness. It is a striking notion to me that the very medication that would help him function in the world would also strip him of some of his most powerful gifts, and truly brought to mind a phrase I’ve held dear when thinking about these kinds of issues – the notion that Nash is “touched by fire.” This is a concept I encountered when I first learned of the great group The Icarus Project, a DIY, grassroots effort to reconceptualize mental illness. I would recommend checking it out here: http://theicarusproject.net/.

The main strength of A Beautiful Mind is it’s ability to portray mental illness from the perspective of the afflicted, a difficult task because it is based around beliefs and states of mind that by their very nature do not correspond to rational thought or logic. I understand that the exact nature of the hallucinations in the film don’t correspond to the symptoms experienced by the real Nash. I can grant this license in that the film achieves its goal, which is not being a psychiatric case study. Rather, it takes the viewer inside the mind of a delusional individual. While the cloak and dagger intrigue of rogue Soviet spies may clue the audience in that we are not watching an objective reality (especially for those of us who went in familiar with the movie’s premise), Nash’s relationship with Charles sets us up for the big revelation at the film’s midpoint. What has seemed entirely real to Nash – and to us – is devastatingly revealed to be illusory. We have to be brought along with Nash’s delusions one way or another. Continue reading

THE STING (1973)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by cdascher

StingredfordnewmanThe first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the film we just watched for our blog (The Sting) is how fun it was. It was engaging and light in a way most of our other films haven’t been. Kind of had a whodunit feel. This was also my first time seeing a young Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The film won in 1973, and it basically tells the story of a young con man named Johnny Hooker (Redford) who sets out to grift a corrupt banker named Lonnegan to avenge the death of his longtime friend Luther. He partners with Henry Gondorff (Newman), renown con artist now wanted by the FBI, in order to pull this off.

Like Newman and Redford’s previous pairing, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting takes a lighthearted approach to the subject of career criminals. It does stick out among winners from its era with its absence of pessimism or morose worldview. The past reconstituted on screen here is not the blood-soaked, MacBethian underworld of Don Corleone. It’s something a little easier to digest.

And the filmmakers obviously did put considerable effort into recreating the Depression era city, with numerous street scenes and various settings. Still, the film left me with the impression of a stylized, fictional 1930s, one where the amazingly elaborate confidence scheme the characters create actually seems plausible and one where the twisty plot works well enough that I may be willing to overlook a plot hole or two. Continue reading

Best Picture 2015 Added

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1, 2016 by cdascher

Funny thing about awards shows, is that they seem like the most insular, venal affairs- until someone you like wins. So on that note, congrats to Ennio Morricone for his first competitive Academy Award. Well done, sir. And congrats also to Best Picture winner Spotlight, which I hear is a movie that came out this year. Its been quite a year for your bloggers here at RCR, what with going through with a wedding and giving birth to a son (our other collaborative project), so we may have gotten a little out of touch. Speaking of getting married, we did get off to a little honeymoon in NYC. A short walk down Third Avenue from our hotel was this, filming location of previous subject The Lost Weekend.

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And of course we have a new Best Picture to add to the Randomizer.

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Thanks for reading and hope you all had a great year. What’s that? Sylvester Stallone lost? The Oscars are a bunch of crap.

ANNIE HALL (1977)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2016 by cdascher

AnniehallposterThe bad news has been confirmed by researchers from Scotland’s Heriot Watt University: watching romantic comedies is bad for our love lives. This validates the therapists who tell anecdotes about frustrated individuals coming in expecting to encounter in life a quasi-magical special person who will know their desires and feelings innately, without being told. We all know the familiar rom-com formula that has been an industry staple since the golden age of Hollywood: two people meet in the most novel of circumstance, they go through a phase of misunderstanding or mutual hostility before realizing how right they are for each other and achieving True Love. A successful template for a movie plot, yes, but as the researchers point out, it can distort our perception of reality and belie the hard work of communication and the development of trust and rapport that characterize successful relationships in reality. But people love their romantic movies! So what to do?

Perhaps this blogger can suggest to the Scottish researchers an antidote of sorts: 1977’s Annie Hall. In it, the protagonist, Alvy Singer, contemplates his failed relationship with the title character and we follow him through a series of remembrances in his attempt to make sense of it all. These vignettes aggregate to tell the story of a romance that follows an arc much more similar to real world relationships, but is nonetheless funny and ultimately heartbreaking.

Also, the guy who made it turned out to be a despicable deviant.

It’s really hard to watch this for the first time as someone who has great disdain for Woody Allen. The film is an easy, pleasant, enjoyable watch, but I couldn’t turn my brain off entirely to its creator. I found myself at times wishing we were seeing the film more through the eyes of Annie, played by Diane Keaton. Continue reading

PATTON (1970)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2016 by cdascher

pattonI’m not a huge fan or aficionado of military history – but I’ve been exposed to it all my life, through my grandfather, my father, and now my partner. I’ve heard a lot about battles and generals over the years. But I had never heard that General George S. Patton believed in reincarnation. I might have taken a stronger interest in him long ago if I had.

Stuck in the snowstorm, we watched the 1970 Best Picture winner Patton a few days ago. I had told Mouse that I wanted to mention how closely I have been following the very rightful #OscarsSoWhite discussion when we next spoke about a film. We will say more about this when we get to our 2015 and then 2016 films, but I couldn’t bring up an Oscar winner at this moment in time without mentioning this. In studying the format for choosing nominees, I can see how this unjust and embarrassing reality has unfolded. I think we as the general public have very little understanding of who chooses nominees and how. I admire folks like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee for opting to sit this year out (in a style of resistance that as my friend Bomani pointed out calls to mind Marcus Garvey’s philosophy – if folks of color aren’t recognized by this ritual and institution, perhaps it’s worth a concerted effort to not care about it and focus instead on other things). The rub, though, is that there is money connected to winning an Oscar. There are parts offered as a result. And Hollywood had better contend with the fact that over 40% of seats sold to theater goers are to people of color. It’s time for better, more complex roles and real recognition.

Another awkward factor in this #OscarsSoWhite conversation is that the current President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is a Black woman. Another dear friend of mine pointed out how often Black people are placed in positions like this where they are essentially having to publicly hold up and justify racist practices. In media, she has spoken of her desire for the Academy to do better, and has said that she is heartbroken. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch and hear. As host, I really wonder what Chris Rock will say about it all this year – also a strange position to be in.

In Patton there is one actor of color who has a small role towards the end of the film. When it becomes clear that after stepping out of line and allowing his big mouth to get away from him Patton will not receive a significant promotion in post, this character consoles him. Not a particularly complex or interesting role, but sadly I was shocked that there was even a Black character at all in this film.

The movie tells the story of a man who lives for combat. Patton was a tank commander in World War II, and our story begins with his role in North Africa, progressing through the invasion of Europe and the fall of the Third Reich. He is blistering, pushy and loud – and we see in several scenes that he believes he is a warrior from past battles reincarnated. Other characters seem to think he is kidding around when he asserts this, but apparently his belief in reincarnation was deeply held. Another interesting fact about Patton, which I learned from this film, was that of all the Allied Forces military leaders at the time, German High Command seemed to hold him in highest regard. It’s an interesting thing to think about when remembering his life.

With all this talk of industry people staying home from the Oscars, it’s interesting to watch this movie now. At the 43rd Academy Awards, there was a conspicuous no-show: George C. Scott, nominated for his role as George Patton, refused to accept the Best Actor award, becoming the first person to actually decline an Oscar. However, he wasn’t protesting any exclusionary practice, rather he objected to the entire idea of a competitive award for acting in the first place. I can’t say I object to the sentiment, although if I were somehow to find myself in his shoes, I doubt I would have the stones to pull such a stunt. Continue reading

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