Archive for the Reviews Category

UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2018 by cdascher

Unforgiven_2Allow me to pose a question. Is there any mode of storytelling more fundamentally American than the Western? Not just movies, but literature, visual arts, anything. The cowboy is nearly synonymous with America itself. And so my second question. Why is it that in the 90 years of Academy Awards- largely a celebration of the American film tradition- has that most uniquely American of film genres been awarded Best Picture only three times? In the Awards’ fourth year, Cimarron took the prize, and while I maintain for the record it isn’t as bad as its reputation, I think Cimarron is seen nowadays as a Best Picture in name only. A full 51 years passed before another Western took the Oscar (Dances With Wolves), then Unforgiven two years later. Since then, nary a Stetson has been seen on the awards podium.

In Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood (who also directs), plays William Munny, a reformed outlaw now widowed and struggling as a farmer. He is coaxed out of retirement by a young man seeking to carry out a contract on two cowboys who participated in the facial slashing of a prostitute. They’re joined by ex-outlaw Ned (Morgan Freeman) and run afoul of sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) on their way to the job.

You love Cimarron so much, hehe. I think it may still rank as one of my least favorites of the films we’ve watched, but I am glad to have seen it. I have to say I have long held a prejudice against westerns, and this one wasn’t half bad. It’s hard to not despise Eastwood from my perspective because I think he has abhorrent political views, but his character is a compelling one in this film. The scenes where he is with his kids before he sets out on this expedition are my favorite; they tug at the heartstrings, and when you see that he is a bit frail and out of it, you almost feel like you should look away. This is the sort of feeling I got as a kid when my dad would trip or something – there was a sense of not wanting to witness him feeling any embarrassment, though maybe that is connected to some toxic and dangerous ideas we as a society have about masculinity. Continue reading

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AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2018 by cdascher

American_Beauty_posterI put off watching this movie for a while – I won’t lie. A movie I deeply loved when it came out and several times subsequently. It was quite honestly daunting and disturbing to me to think about sitting down to watch a film in which Kevin Spacey, an actor we now know (through the bravery of fifteen people and counting) to have sexually assaulted and violated people in their teens and early twenties throughout his career, lusts after a teenager.

In the era of #MeToo, silences are being broken and people are feeling less afraid to name behavior many of us as survivors have known for decades. People in positions of powerful often abuse that power and prey on others. #MeToo and #TimesUp are helping to shed light where it has been desperately needed.

This cultural moment sadly made me remember all the experiences of sexual assault and abuse I’ve had, particularly as a woman who ran a label and played in bands for years. I am heartbroken to say that more than once I have been sexually assaulted or abused by men within the world of music I have treasured so completely. I know what power imbalances look like. I’ve been public in some cases, and kept it quieter in others. Hearing all of the people currently coming forward has flooded me with memories – and in some cases I’ve chosen to revisit some of those past violations with those who perpetrated them. I often feel like it is a wonder I wasn’t run off from music completely – and I know I am not the only one.

As you can imagine, I might not be in the mood to watch Spacey drool over his teenage daughter’s friend amidst the tedium of his life in the suburbs. Drab and gray, his character Lester Burnham hasn’t felt alive in years in this film until he encounters his teenage daughter Jane’s friend Angela. Annette Bening is Spacey’s co-star in the film, playing his materialistic, Type A wife Carolyn. Their marriage has become miserable and loveless at the outset of this depiction, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Continue reading

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2018 by cdascher

12 yearsIt was like a scene from middle of the previous century, like something from an old civil rights documentary. A column of angry marchers – mostly male, uniformly caucasian – carrying torches and chanting racist slogans, converging on an American town. But this wasn’t dusty archival footage; this happened in 2017, five months before I write this. The animus behind this gathering of far-right groups was the planned removal of a statue from a local park, a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee. So just what sort of society was it that these extremists were so intent on venerating the memory of?

12 Years a Slave is the story of a real man, Solomon Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a 19th century resident of New York state who was lured by a false promise of employment, kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery in the American South. He is purchased by a man named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), then, after an altercation with Ford’s overseer, sold to the sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), all the while struggling to find a means to communicate his situation to his contacts in New York.

12 Years a Slave is a breathtaking work – literally. I could barely breathe throughout most of the film. It is painful to watch, but necessary – highlighting a time in our nation’s history that has set the stage for the enduring structural racism we see today as well as the cultural and individual racism. Ta-Nehisi Coates often writes about how we are a nation based on “pillage and plunder” – this powerful cinematic work brings that squarely to light. The film was directed by Steve McQueen, who I recently learned spent time in Iraq as an official artist documenting the horror of the war there. I mention this because I think McQueen is deft at depicting endless, brutal violence as both horrific and somehow mundane – the fabric of everyday existence under slavery.\ Continue reading

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2018 by cdascher

bridgeOur most recent Oscars winning movie was The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957 British-American war film directed by David Lean. The film stars Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the senior British officer; Sessue Hayakawa as Japanese Commandant Colonel Saito; William Holden as survivor and US Navy Commander Shears; and Jack Hawkins as British Major Warden. The film starts when a train full of British soldiers arrives at a Japanese labor camp under Saito’s control. Saito informs the group that regardless of rank, they will all have to perform manual labor to build a bridge over the nearby River Kwai to connect Bangkok and Rangoon.

This does not sit well with Nicholson, who explains repeatedly to Saito that the Geneva Conventions expressly exempt commanding officers from manual labor. However, Saito is having none of it. The two begin to engage in a battle of wills – with their men looking on. Shears is already at the camp, observing from afar and quite often trying to get out of as much work as possible.  

The David Lean streak continues here at Red Carpet Roulette. And we can’t have a David Lean movie without Alec Guinness. And while William Holden’s name is at the top of the poster, this really is Guinness’s show. (His name, by the way, is an anagram for ‘genuine class’.) I find Colonel Nicholson to be one of cinema’s more compelling characters. He refuses to legitimize Saito’s disregard for the laws of war with his own cooperation – even in the face of torture and possible death – and Guinness sells this as a sort of ultra-British stolid fanaticism. If on the homefront they are adopting an attitude of “keep calm and carry on,” Nicholson faces his captor with a strategy of “decline to submit and politely remind the enemy that he is a war criminal.” It’s impossible for the audience, like the men under his command, not to cheer him on as a righteous warrior. The scene where Saito concedes to Nicholson’s terms is gold. Saito ‘magnanimously’ rescinds his demand that the officers work under the pretense of a patriotic holiday and Nicholson stumbles out into the arms of his cheering men. Cut back to Saito in his office – crying. Continue reading

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2017 by cdascher

Lawrence_of_arabia_ver3_xxlgIn Oxford England, home to some of the oldest higher learning institutions in the world, is the Bodleian Library’s Treasury, where they display important and historical books to the public. Among the blackletter parchment texts and First Folios, you can see the manuscript for the memoirs of a British intelligence officer from the First World War and Oxford alum, T.E. Lawrence. An archaeologist; like many of his generation his career was interrupted by service in the war. While certainly not the only literary figure to emerge from the Great War, writers like Siegfried Sassoon and Ernst Junger described an experience harder to attach a narrative: the misery of trench life and futile battlefield draws that went on for years. Lawrence served in the Middle East, aiding the Arab Bedouins in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire, taking not only  the role of battlefield commander, but adopting the Bedouins’ dress and aspects of their culture. He stood out as an almost swashbuckling figure, leading a small army of robed fighters on camels and horses across the desert. Romantic as he may have appeared, in no way did his dashing image insulate him from the horrors of war, and his role as a bridge between two nations left him in a deeply conflicted position.

Over the course of our project, I’ve realized that many Oscar winning pictures are about war. As someone who is a staunch anti-militarist, this was off-putting at first; however, as the daughter and granddaughter of veterans I am also grateful for it. If anything, seeing tell of the horrors of war and the individual lives impacted solidifies my convictions.

Lawrence of Arabia is a powerful film on a host of levels, not the least of which is its visuals. The film has gorgeous landscapes as our protagonist spans the globe; the scenes in the desert are stunning and made me wish I could visit soon. One error I think we made in watching this film was neglecting to find time and space to see it on the big screen. That’s a little hard to do with a three and a half hour film though, especially when you have a toddler. Continue reading

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2017 by cdascher

P00292H.jpg“My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”

I can’t tell you how many times I watched this film as a child with my sister. We were obsessed with every actor, every plot twist, and every song (well, maybe not the one the head nun sings – “Climb Every Mountain” was an awkward skip track in the movie for us and we would giggle at the weirdness of delivery as we would fast forward our way through). It was a treat to get to watch this with Mouse for the first time. Even David seemed to get excited for some of the songs – he recognized “Do a Deer” from his Rhythm Babies music class which was an added bonus!

I don’t know how you talk about this film without just saying it is a must-watch classic. I will say, though, that I did recently read a piece on “Edelweiss” that posed some questions about potentially troubling connections it could have to nationalistic white identity. In the film, that song plays the role of a beautiful, defiant protest anthem, so it was sad to grapple with. I still need to do a little digging on that. However, my heart exploded watching the Captain, father of the Von Trapp family, tear up a Nazi flag. Very appropriate for the world we currently live in.

I want someone to make me a GIF of Christopher Plummer pulling down the Nazi flag tearing it apart so I can watch it over and over. Get on it, readers!

I signed off our last entry expressing gratitude we’d ‘sort of’ pulled something lighter from the Randomizer. And yes, The Sound of Music is easier to take in than Platoon; a family oriented musical about finding love and happiness, photographed in beautiful bucolic locations. But there is an unmistakable dark current through the movie: the rise of National Socialism, culminating in the film’s third act concerning Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich and the von Trapp family’s escape.  A few years ago, Nazis seemed like stock baddies from a bygone time. Now their presence in the movie feels a lot closer to home. It may be unrealistic to think America is going to turn into Nazi Germany sometime soon, but we have seen the rise of political movements that embrace scapegoating, contempt for democracy, fawning servility toward authority figures, and overblown macho personae – the characteristics of the worst modern governments, like the one depicted in the film. Continue reading

PLATOON (1986)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by cdascher

Platoon_posters_86Long before I was born, my grandfather crossed the ocean to join a war that had already been ongoing for years. Nations had allowed authoritarian strongmen to take control of state, and they in turn waged war on their neighbors. From what I understand, the fighting had pretty much ended by the time my grandfather arrived, but judging by the photographs my grandmother showed me, he was able to see the awful results of these criminal states. With its global scope, good vs. evil narrative and large set piece battles, screenwriters found the Second World War readily adaptable, and movies about the conflict appeared early and often. When the subsequent generation went to war in Southeast Asia, putting it onscreen was a more complicated affair. The films that did appear focused less on battlefield heroics than on the moral and psychological complexities of the conflict. Then, a decade after Saigon’s fall to the communists, Hollywood produced perhaps that generation’s definitive statement on the Vietnam War: the unsettling Platoon.

The movie starts with Private Chris Taylor (Sheen) arriving in Vietnam to take his place in an Army infantry platoon. With an ineffectual lieutenant in command, de facto leadership falls to the platoon’s NCOs, particularly the brutal Barnes (Berenger) and compassionate Elias (Defoe). After Barnes’ crimes bring the two into open hostility, the men of the unit align with one or the other, initiating a war-within-a-war; combating the enemy while distrusting one another.

I think this is the most I have ever liked Charlie Sheen. In fact, this may be the only time I have liked Charlie Sheen. His character, Private Taylor, is relatable, human and engaging. I had a hard time getting excited about watching this film. The world has felt so heavy and violent and defeating, and the idea of sitting down to watch a movie about a grueling, devastating, unwinnable war did not exactly feel like how I wanted to spend my free time. However, Platoon did a good job of showing the confusion and desperation that militarism breeds. The characters are interesting and strong. None of them are perfect; they are engaging in large part because of what they bring out in each other. As awful as he was, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Barnes, for example. Continue reading