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Five Easy Pieces

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I’m way behind writing up my thoughts on Five Easy Pieces since I watched it God knows how many months ago, but here goes…I knew very little about the film except for the famous diner scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character Robert Dupea simply wants a piece of toast, but finds there’s no easy way to obtain it:

Going by this scene, I think I had expected a movie high on drama and black comedy, but it’s actually a rather meandering story trailing along after Dupea as he avoids settling down in any way, whether it’s back home with his wealthy artistic family or with his sweet but “trailer trash” girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black).

Dupea with his country star wannabe girlfriend, Rayette.

There’s a cringeful clash of worlds when Rayette follows Dupea back to his family home and dying father, and they are both worlds which Robert now wishes to escape because, as he admits to his now mute father, he’s always “getting away from things that get bad if he stays”. You find yourself piecing together reasons for Dupea’s behaviour and his need to keep moving on in life; certainly there seems to have been tension between himself and his father, who no doubt would have expected his son to pursue his musical gift (it turns out Dupea was a very talented piano player). Then there is the simple fact that there are people in the world who are just not suited to family life, fatherhood or marriage, all of the things that those around Dupea want him to embrace. Those hoping for a nicely wrapped up ending will be disappointed, yet the film surely stays true to Dupea’s character right down the closing credits. Unless he himself decides to put down roots, nobody else is going to make him do so. This is a movie definitely worth a look if only for Nicholson’s great performance. You will be humming Tammy Wynette songs for days afterward however. All together now: “Stand by your man…”

On the Waterfront

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Tittle:  On the Waterfront

Director: Elia Kazan

Release Year: 1954

Trivia: The only film that wasn’t a musical for which Leonard Bernstein wrote the incidental music

Sam Spiegel forgot to pay for rear-projection equipment, hence the reason why the cab where Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger play out the film’s most famous scene has blinds.

On the Waterfront (1954) is widely known to be an act of expiation on the part of Elia Kazan for naming names to HUAC during the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s.

The film won eight Oscars

Runtime: 108 min

Review:

I could have been a contender I could have had class .One of the most famous and oft parodied lines in cinema if  you have not seen on the waterfront I would be hard to avoid those lines .They seem to crop up in the strangest of places. The film directed by Elia Kazan follows Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy from his involvement with the murder of by the mob. We follow Brando as he sees the errors of his ways falls in love with Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle the sister of the man he helped to be killed and finally stands up to the mob. A very important supporting character is Karl Malden playing Father Barry he gives a wonderful performance as the priest who is trying the help the workers break the cycle of corruption on the docks.

The film itself feels like a mix between neo realism and a gritty noir we see a non-idealised view of working class conditions the bars are sad and seedy with revellers in various states of intoxication. And we see first-hand the powerless felt by the poor working class in the face of the mob .Some of the dialogue is really pulpy one line by the priest he says “You know who the pistols are “a great line another that stands out is when Brando is talking about keeping his pigeons safe and he says the city is full of hawks. It is not much of a jump to take pigeons for the people who inform on the mob as that is a common term for informants. And the hawks being the mob that prey on everyone picking the meet clean from the bone of the working class people. The film has a positive message about overcoming the odds and beating the gangsters.

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Of course the scene in the car is very effective a heartfelt discussion between two brothers who are now on different paths .But another scene stands out to me as a major moment in the film a very eloquent and heartfelt speech next to the body of a murdered dock worker in the hold of the ship. Given by the priest who was trying to get the man to inform. After he has given the last right he speaks from besides the corpse to the assembled dock workers and to the mob who watch from there perch.

 But it is very hard to watch this film about overcoming oppression with what happened with the director Elia Kazan he informed during the communist witch hunts tarnishing his name and reputation .When he got a life time achievement award he was booed at the ceremony he was a strange choice for the honorary Oscar as he had two best director Oscars already. In the film Marlon Brando is described as a rat but is the hero because he is ratting on the bad guys and bringing back justice to the docks .But there is a big difference between the mob murdering innocent dock works and the people Kazan informed on who happened to hold political views that were not in step with the climate at the time. The film is a classic and well worth a watch 

8 1/2

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Tittle:  8 1/2

Director: Federico Fellini

Release Year:1963

Trivia: The title refers to the number of movies Federico Fellini had directed up until that point – six features, two short (1/2) films and “half a picture” (Variety Lights (1950) his first, co-directed with Alberto Lattuada), for a total of 7 1/2. So this one is number 8 1/2.

Federico Fellini attached a note to himself below the camera’s eyepiece which read, “Remember, this is a comedy.”

Often cited by Federico Fellini himself as one of his favorite films ever, even considering other directors’ works.

Runtime: 138 min

Review:

The history of  Italian cinema is varied from high art to low end sleaze  one filled with beautifully shot murders  as in the Giallo pictures to the everyday lives of people captured in interesting and provocative ways as in the neo realism movement with films like bicycle thief and other classic .It would be hard to look at the host of classic Italian  films  made in the last 100 years without having to come across one man’s name time and time again .Of course fedirno fellinin has a large accomplished filmography with different theme and idea’s  expressed .

One of  his films I would have to mention as a must watch for film fans is La Dolce Vita (the good life) another of  Fellini films masterful story telling with a brilliant eye for character. I had heard of 8 ½ before but had somehow managed not to see it till now .The story follows a director who is preparing for his next film while also recuperating in a spa .It is in no mean an easy film to watch its run time is over two hours and it is full of symbolism and interesting ideas. Then realm of the dramas and the fantasy of the director character meld together and flow into the everyday life of pre-production.

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Of course as the subject are a director and the film making process it would be hard not to compare the character to the director himself. It seems to be very self-referential and the dialogue with actors especially will give anyone who has directed a bit of a laugh as it is so over the top and pretentious intentionally . The story is much fractured mixing dreams and fantasy together with the real world of the film. The visual are strong and the score worked great with the film .The dialogue  does have the very dubbed effect even for the Italian actors the whole film sounds like it was dubbed by different actors than on the screen this is done in post-production that is not that strange but could throw off people unfamiliar with the style.

Overall it is a very interesting film but at time s does feel over indulgent in some of the fantasy scene. Also the narrative of the films pre-production the anchor the rest of the madness revolves around is poorly done .It jumps around and is not very linier one day he is in the spa the next the costume designer is in one of the suits and this sets are being build. This of course could be the directors intention to throw off the audience and make them feel the same disorinatation as the director as he hurtles towards his next film project. I though with  the subject I would really enjoy this film but it was a very mixed bag for me .But never the less worth a watch Fellinni is undoubtedly one of the masters of cinema and in this he  is given free rein to explore.

Saturday Night Fever

I swear if Simon Cowell says something mean I will cry

I swear if Simon Cowell says something mean I will cry

After watching Saturday Night Fever I realised two key things:

1) John Travolta was a lot less creepy when he was younger and skinnier and;

2) I want to build a time machine and go to a disco. Not an Irish ‘disco’ (or ‘hop’ as my grandfather once tried to call it) but a real bonafide disco complete with disco floor, disco ball, dance-offs, and flares.

My first revelation led me to enjoy the film a lot more than I thought I would. Travolta is entertaining as the petulant 19-year-old Brooklyn native, Tony Manero, whose life revolves around dancing and Saturday nights spent his local disco.

After spotting the talented Stephanie on the dance floor one night, his life soon starts to revolve around her, in particular, around trying to persuade her to pair up with him for a dance contest. Stephanie has one foot in Brooklyn but her sights set on Manhattan, and while prattling on about how she is bettering herself, shows up everything Manero chooses to ignore in his own life: his bickering parents, boring job, and pack of immature friends who bring him more trouble than good.

Look Ma, no hand.

Look Ma, no hand.

What’s interesting about the film is how it fits into where we are now as a culture. Tony tells Stephanie he doesn’t need to be aspiring, he’s only 19, and listening to him, I couldn’t help but agree. In 70’s Brooklyn, a 19 year old in a dead end job, living at home, whose only focus is dancing, hanging out with friends, and trying to get with girls on the weekend, might have seemed unambitious. Now it just seems like – you know a 19 year old who knows what he wants to do with his life, really!? At least Tony can dance (boy can he dance!) and he’s passionate about it – to the extent that he wants to acquire acclaim, not for belonging to the certain race but for having the right moves. He may not be dreaming big enough by setting his sights on a local contest, but at least he’s focused on something other than the shortcomings of the world in which he lives, hoping his achievements will transcend it.

However, while Tony tries to escape into dancing, it’s his friends who drag him away from the sparkle of the disco to face harsh reality. As the dark side of the film emerges, it becomes apparent that Tony has control over his carefully choreographed moves on the dance floor, but little else.

Saturday Night Fever reveals a kid who doesn’t know who or what to take his cues from when the music stops playing. Living a deadbeat lifestyle with a dream isn’t such a bad thing, but acquiring your principles piecemeal from the people and life that surrounds you is. And I suppose that’s a message relevant even today.

PS: even if he is less disturbing, there are too many lingering shots of Travolta in his underwear in this film.

PPS: the Bee Gees are great.

Boogie Nights

I thought Boogie Nights was a movie about a bunch of good lookin’ kids, down on their luck, who dance (or boogie) their way from rags to riches at a popular LA nightclub called Boogie Nights.

Misleading title. Misleading single dance club scene I watched where Mark Wahlberg and company do indeed put in a very fine 70’s dance performance, although dance (as I discovered) is not his character’s biggest talent.

Innuendos aside, this movie is actually about people being misled…both by themselves, their ‘dreams’ and by the people they find themselves surrounded by.

The story follows Eddie (Wahlberg) as he carves out a successful life for himself as a porn star, blessed with an impressive physique, an unfettered earnestness, and admirable determination to excel, a combination which immediately earns him a coveted spot in the porn ‘family’ headed up by director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) along with his two leading ladies, Rollergirl (the ever sweet Heather Graham) and Amber (a wonderful, emotionally brittle Julianne Moore). It’s a life full of beautiful objects, some can be bought, others can be watched. Paul Thomas Anderson lets us into this life with a camera that stops and starts at the moments which matter, follows its characters unchecked through corridors and crowds, and stalls beside conversations and sometimes…simply…observes.

The film obviously comments upon the nature of the Californian porn industry of the 70’s – it’s immorality and hollow glamour are flaunted with as much vigor as the sparkling disco balls, glinting champagne glasses, flashing sequins and satin. However, while the cycle of drugs and despair, of self-doubt and shame (which spirals in different directions for each character) is played out within the porn industry, it is not unique to it. Horner fills his ‘family’ with people looking to be misled, and looking for someone to lead them. He represents any one individual of this kind who spots pawns and keeps them right where he needs them, even if that’s not where they need to be.

And so we keep watching the film, hoping for evidence of a character’s learning curve, which creates an unheady feeling of curiosity mixed with weariness. Not unlike the feeling which develops as you find yourself semi-trapped at a house party of someone you don’t know very well: watching repetitive behavior you’ve seen before but hoping for a break in the cycle, hearing scraps of inane conversation and trying to decipher it while knowing it’s indecipherable, slightly spacing out while wondering will this ever end, occasionally tasting the vague uncurrent of unease.

In summary, having watched Boogie Nights I can safely say the porn industry is not for me. It looks tiring.

DUEL

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Tittle:  Duel

Director: Steven Spielberg

Release Year: 13 November 1971 (USA)

Trivia: During the chase, a parked sedan resembling a squad car is seen, briefly raising Dennis Weaver’s hopes, but it turns out to be a service car for a pest exterminator named Grebleips… “Spielberg” in reverse.

Was shot in 13 days.

There are seventeen notches on the headlights of the truck.

Spielberg has said that this is because he feels there is a “kinship” between Duel and Jaws, as they are both “about these leviathans targeting everyman.”

Runtime: 90 min

Review:

The second feature from Spielberg and the first to get a theatrical release .This was really the film that broke Spielberg into the main stream with its success in financially and the series of awards it won. The film is a very simple set up and story it follows a man called David Mann played by Dennis Weaver on his way to a meeting on the way he antagonises a trucker who just happens to be a crazy killer who uses his truck as his murder tool .What follows is a series of cat and mouse chases through beautiful desert scenery as the hero tries to get away from the relentless unstoppable killer. The film feels very much like a slasher film with a stalking killer on the loose.

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The film have sparse dialogue and the whole story is carried by the main protagonist .The film is beautiful shot with great moving camera shot tracking shots and well placed mounted cameras for the truck and the car. It very easy to analyse the film and imagine that it is an allegory for confrontation that is the main theme he is chastised by his wife for not confronting a man at a party the night before. And he does not confront the trucker either before it escalates out of control. At one point while I watched the film I felt that maybe the trucker as not the bad guy and the driver  David Mann was over reacting and building things up in his head and giving meaning to where there was none .

Till the trucker just says to hell with subtlety and starts demolishing a small garage to kill the lead. For me although the sound track was award winning it was a low point some elevator music at time and what is clearly the psycho theme at one point I thought it was a psycho esq theme and near the climax they give up on imitation and just play the psycho theme. This is only one of two films that Spielberg did not have John Williams. This shows a very young Spielberg paired down from his huge budget and stars and talented collaborators and it reveals that he is an amazing directors with a visual flair and a understanding of driving a story forward and how to build tension. A simple well executed story well-acted looks fantastic and well worth a looks .But will the hapless driver escape the mad trucker well you will have to watch it to find out .

Upcoming Reviews

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The next few reviews from me on the list of shame are listed below with a brief description of what If anything I know about them. Just going from the tittle i will try to come up with a alternate story for the film.

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8 ½

This film follows the trials and tribulations of the world smallest man? Really interested in seeing this film I read it is a semi biographical take on Fellini’s own life. I have seen some of Fellini other films and always enjoyed his takes on subjects this should be a real cinematic treat 

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Duel

A about a man obsessed with having two of everything? The first film for Stephen Spielberg I know the basic plot and also that apparently it started out life as a made for TV movie that was so good it was given a cinema release. It is defiantly a film for people who are fans of Spielberg and if you like his films or not he is still a giant in the film world whose films are probably some of the most successful and most well know film of all time. 

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On the waterfront

A ROM COM film about waterfronts and the people who live on them? As far as I know it follows the struggles between a worker and the corrupt union boss also there is a legendary performance from Marlon Brandon who gives heartfelt speeches about his failed Boxing career he could have been a contender.

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Chungking express

No idea a runaway train called the Chung king express? A delivery service with a wacky talking dog sidekick ? It is supposed to be about two police officers in love. I have it read it is visually stunning.

 

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