Archive for Oscar winners

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

MY FAIR LADY (1964)

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

my_fair_lady_posterToday’s Red Carpet Roulette is brought to you by the letter ‘H’.

A night in London, some time after the introduction of automobiles and electric lighting. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), an unrefined flower girl with a pronounced cockney accent, notices someone surreptitiously recording her words. It is linguistic professor Henry Higgins, making notes on her pronunciation, which draws the attention of Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), himself an expert on languages of the Indian subcontinent. Snobbish Higgins decries what he sees as the degradation of English. After Eliza requests instruction in refining her speech, Higgins wagers Pickering he can pass her as a lady, and begins a grueling crash course to purge her street-level mannerisms.

This story is loosely based on the Greek myth Pygmalion, as many of you probably know. Pygmalion tells the story of a man who falls in love with a sculpture he has made, which then comes to life. In My Fair Lady, Higgins similarly takes on the task of “sculpting” Eliza – molding her in the image of a woman of high society, retraining her speech and even dressing her. He takes on a bet that he can eventually pass her off as such high society and that her history will not be detected. Throughout the course of his “training” of her he is often arrogant, dismissive and downright rude – though from time to time, in large part due to her unbreakable spirit, they manage to have a little fun along the way. As Eliza progresses and can sense her own achievements, particularly as concerns formal English, a rapport grows between the two of them.

OK, so it seems that My Fair Lady is a film adaptation of the wildly successful stage musical, that was itself an adaptation of a 1938 film, which was in turn an adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion.  I haven’t been this confused by a film’s lineage since Chicago. Continue reading

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2016 by cdascher

mutiny_on_the_bounty_xlgFrom the second we drew this film, I just kept singing the Beastie Boys’ lyric – can you blame me? Had that sweet drum beat in my head too – isn’t that the Zeppelin sample? I digress.

Clark Gable plays Fletcher Christian, Acting Lieutenant on the Royal Navy vessel the HMS Bounty under captain Lieutenant William Bligh. The ship is sent on a mission to the South Pacific to retrieve breadfruit trees to take to the West Indies to serve as food for slaves there. The film depicts a hostile, abusive Captain in Bligh – who I grew to despise within minutes. He orders flogging for the sailors left and right, and one man early on is beaten to death. As the story progresses and the ship nears its destination of Tahiti, Christian’s disgust at his superior continues to grow.

I myself did notice an almost total lack of rhymin’ and stealin’. Had Netflix sent us the wrong disc? No, this is it; 1935’s highly romanticized retelling of a real incident in the Royal Navy.

The first half of the movie is a study in contrasts between Bligh, who exercises cruelty on the crew seemingly as an end in itself, and the compassionate and upstanding Christian, until the latter reaches his inevitable breaking point. On the moral fulcrum sits Midshipman Roger Byam, a protege of Christian who is compelled by duty to oppose the mutiny and is stung by the personal estrangement it brings about with his friend and mentor. The other character I found interesting is the character of Hithiti, leader of the Tahitians, who functions largely as a foil for the odious Bligh. Hithiti, based on the archetype (or perhaps stereotype) of the noble savage, personifies the welcoming atmosphere of Tahiti and is everything that the English captain is not. He is generous, kind and fatherly. Whereas Bligh deprives his crew of basic necessities in order to pad his own expense reports, Hithiti is unburdened by even the knowledge of money.
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

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