Movies: The Official "Movie of the Week" Club Thread III

Discussion in 'Entertainment' started by TP, Oct 17, 2018.

  1. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    In the year of its release, Unforgiven pretty much swept all of the major awards out there in the States, and did exceptionally well with international critics and critics' associations, too. If we are collectively in error about this one, we have a lot of company.
     
  2. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    The Innocents (1961) dir. Jack Clayton

    Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) gets hired by a London society bachelor, who is far too busy enjoying the company of various women, to take care of the niece and nephew left in his custody after the death of their parents. The previous governess died an untimely death, so the services of Miss Giddens are greatly needed. She travels to the large country estate where the two young kids live. Shortly after arriving, she starts sensing that there might be more going on at the estate that she initially thought, and concludes that kids have been possessed by ghosts.

    The innocents is a very effective horror. There's lots of unease from the moment that Giddens comes to Bly, perhaps even beginning with her job interview, where her future employer has a cold detached demeanour about the whole ordeal. And the unease rises steadily all the way through the movie. There's no big scares in the movie, and in that way it might not satisfy all kinds of horror fans. But I think it delivers plenty, even if it isn't scary, it has plenty of suspense and unease. I also really like that the audience experiences the movie through the point of view of Giddens. So there's the constant wondering whether what she's experiencing is real or not. I often went back and thought maybe she isn't actually crazy. I also think Deborah Kerr does a really good job as Giddens. She plays her role straight and very convincingly. There's no question that Giddens is 100% convinced that what she's seeing is real, and Kerr plays her exactly like that. I have one problem with Kerr as Giddens though. Giddens is supposed to be young and inexperienced, and this is her first job as governess. Kerr was 40 when the movie was made, and you can see that she's 40 and not 20 or 25. It's not a big problem, but there's a couple of times where Giddens youth is referenced, and it took me a bit out of the movie each time. I'd rather have Kerr than a lesser but younger actress. Kerr also plays the inherent naivety about the world that Giddens has that comes with her youth and repressed upbringing perfectly, and that's more important than looking young.

    In the end, Giddens is utterly bonkers and sees ghosts and pervertedness everywhere, even though everything is perfectly fine. She even sees it in the title characters, the two young children, who were in lack other parental figures, bonded with Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, two young horny staff members, who had a very sexually active affair, perhaps too active as they didn't exactly hide it, and would even do it plain sight, perhaps even where the children could see them. Sadly both of them perished young. This of course forms the basis of Giddens' delusions. She imprints her own sexual thoughts onto the children, and believe they've been possessed by Quint and Jessel, so the two can continue their affair through the children. Having lived a repressed life, Giddens is filled with sexual thoughts and feelings she has no way of getting an outlet from, and no idea how to interpret, and thus she starts all these delusions instead. It's not often that a movie could been resolved peacefully if the main character had just had a good **** instead. But that would probably be the case here. Hell, a bad one would probably suffice just as well in this case. At least in terms of the logic of the film, at least the way I see it. Freudianism can be fun to play around with as is the case here. But the relevance to the real world might be questionable.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
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  3. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    As far as documentaries go, Harlan County USA--which chronicles a Kentucky coalminers' strike in the 1970s--doesn't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking in its technique, yet it still regarded as a classic. It could be considered a landmark in feminist cinema, produced, directed and edited by female filmmakers, Barbara Kopple bagging an Academy Award a full year before Lina Wertmuller made headlines for simply being nominated. Maybe or maybe not coincidentally women play a huge role in this story. The miner's wives prove to be fighters too, as tough and committed as they come; yet no mention of "women's lib", they are liberated simply by having nothing left to lose (to quote Janis Joplin). From writing their anthems to packing heat in their bras, their role in supporting the strike seems to be central to its success. That Kopple's Oscar win flew under the cultural radar reflects the bias that documentaries are a B-list achievement, not to be considered on the same level as, say, Rocky, the heartwarming David vs Goliath story that the Academy gave its highest honour to that year.

    This movie too gets to the viewer's heart, and does so by maintaining a strict focus on its subject, i.e: the strikers themselves and their families. It's not meant to be an information session, it's not even meant to be particularly balanced. Mention is made of how strikers' demands eventually lead to higher consumer prices, but we don't go too deep into economics. Mention is made of the affluent lifestyles of the executives who live off the backs of workers who risk their lives for them daily, but we don't go too deep into politics. These story angles are noted, but briefly: we always come back to experience of the people on the picket line, to walk a mile in their shoes.

    Part of the appeal is the freak show spectacle. It is mind-boggling to see that as this late in US history there still were communities so crushingly poor and backward. "When daddy gets his new contract we're going to get hot runnin' water and a big ol' bathtub." And unkind as it is to say, these are some of the ugliest people you will see in your life. Harlan County USA is in some ways a descendent of Las Hurdes and could be subtitled "Land Without Dentists". Ha ha ha. Well, these gap-toothed slack-jawed yokels have been the butt of jokes forever but after seeing Harlan County USA I feel like I'll be going to hell if I ever make another wisecrack at their expense, because this movie uncovers a courage and humanity in their spirit that is inspiring. It's a classic David vs Goliath story. The little people don't get any littler than the striking miners, and the big guys don't get bigger than the oil companies that control the coal mining industry. The odds against them are enormous, with their part-of-sixth-grade education trying to negotiate head to head with The Powers That Be. The deck is stacked against them, local laws prohibit any weapon on the picket line more dangerous than a whittling knife and a maximum of six men only can picket at a time. Yet there are no similar laws for the scabs and goon squads of professional strikebreakers who show up with guns and numbers. Nothing metaphorical about class warfare in Harlan County.

    And I do hope y'all are partial to some good ol' Kentucky bluegrass pickin' and singing.
     
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  4. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    Next pick: Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute.
     
  5. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    [​IMG]

    Harlan County USA
    , directed by Barbara Kopple

    It is hard to imagine that any documentary could be both depressing but also hopeful at the same time. Harlan County USA is depressing because the battle the miners and their families wage, and by extension, the poor in general, seems to be Sisyphean in nature--the miners keep rolling the stone up the hill but then it always rolls back down over and over. The struggle is constant, the odds are stacked against them, corruption exists everywhere, and, yet there is no other way to better their lot and that of their loved ones. What makes the movie relevant still today is that the Darwinian capitalism on display here has only strengthened its hand in the nearly five decades since the events that take place in the film. Unions everywhere have been largely weakened beyond recognition and the one-sided power dynamics on display in Harlan County USA have become even more entrenched in North America now than they were then. Without money nor education nor collective clout, miners and so-called unskilled workers in general are only marginally better off than slaves.

    On the other hand, the movie gives cause for hope as well. If people can join together in a common cause, they cannot only hope to improve their material lot but they can achieve an important sense of accomplishment about their own actions. It is interesting to note in this documentary the emergence of women as power brokers in their own right. Obviously, the long strike and the inequities forced upon their families has provided them with a virtual necessity to protest, and many use the opportunity not only to make their voices heard but to take leadership in the fight for a better union and better contract. For many of the women, their action likely represents an important transformation in the way they see themselves and their relationship with others. It is also hopeful to see blacks and whites working together with no visible animosity to achieve better lives for one another. The issues that emerge during the strike seem to trump (for once, no pun intended) racism if only for a short time. It may be possible to better one's existence, but it is hard to do it alone--people need one another--and picking and choosing your side based on skin colour is a losing proposition as the miners seem to realize instinctively.

    Ultimately, though, the scorecard is revealed early in the movie, Since the previous contract:

    Mining company profits: up 170%
    Minor's wages: up 4%
    Cost of living: up 7%

    Harlan County USA
    remains a great documentary all these years later because it animates one particular struggle for fair and just conditions but also, more generally, it speaks to greed and power and how those things can warp all sorts of different people's lives in all sorts of different ways.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  6. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    You'd hope wrong in my case. If I had to listen to one more note of that stuff, my head would have exploded.
     
  7. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    :laugh:

    Well shut my mouth, I do apologize!

    I'm sure you'll take a shine to that there Mowzart fella tho, some right purty tunes I hear tell.
     
  8. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    Harlan County USA (1976) dir. Barbara Kopple

    Harlan County Kentucky is mining country. Basically everything that happens in that county is mining related. Once the site of the Harlan Country War, a violent mining strike in the 1930s. Now it's the 70s and the miners of Harlan County are on the barricades again together with their wives. Mining is an outright terrible job. It's dangerous, not just from accidents in the mines, but also the danger of Blacklung, which often strikes coal miners who breath in coal dust. The pay is appallingly low. It doesn't take many seconds to recognise that the people of Harlan County are not well off at all. But if you are a man born in Harlan County, you probably don't have much choice but become a miner. And if you are a woman born there, you will probably end up married to a miner. The rest of the country will probably never hear your plight. Good thing you have a strong union willing to support you against the corporate overlords, oh wait... That sure would have been nice. Sure the miners are unionised, but the UMWA is highly corrupt and basically in bed with the mining companies. The miners of Harlan County ends up striking for more than a year before they reach a deal with mining company, a tough year for them and their families. Not just do they have to survive on significantly less money than when they were working. They also have to deal with goons hired by the mining company threatening violence and shooting at their houses. The confrontations between the striking miners and the 'Scabs' trying to breakthrough the picket lines also grow closer and closer to something that might end up as a tragedy.

    Kopple was initially working on a movie about the organisation Miners for Demoracy trying to usurp the corrup head of the UMWA Tony Boyle, when the strike started in Harlan County, and she shifted her focus. The initial movie idea is still here as a subplot. It helps put the Harlan County conflict into a larger perspective, where you get a feel for how the relationship between the union, the mining companies and the union members are. A big point here is the distinction between union and union members. Because there seems to be a large discrepancy between the two things, when really they should be one and the same. Instead the head of the union is more like a mafia or a 3rd world dictatorship. Rigging an election and killing your opponent sounds like something from a bad film, but it happened here. Luckily the guy didn't get away with it in the end. Sadly for the miners however, the new guy perhaps wasn't the knight in shinning armor they had hoped for. Sure he didn't go around killing folks, but he wasn't very fond of being a hard liner against the mining companies, and for the miners, maybe that's just as bad.

    Kopple doesn't say anything at all in the whole movie. And that's not actually correct, in one instance hear here talk from behind the camera, as she's being confronted by the head scab. But other than that she is completely removed from the final film. For the most part she lets the people of Harlan County do the talking for her, and they do a good job at that. Harlan County USA is extremely well edited. There's an overall structure to the film. But over the course of the film, it's somewhat unorganised by design. There's many different subplots in this whole story, and it takes a while before everything comes together in a coherent fashion, but eventually it does. After the movie is finished it feels like a strong well told story. That it comes together so well really speaks to how good the editing is. Harlan County is for me a top tier documentary. Yesterday I might have been inclined to call it one of the best edited documentaries I've ever seen. But before writing this I saw Dawson City: Frozen Time, and that movie is just something else in regards to editing. I don't think anything I've ever seen comes close.

    There's no question where Kopple's allegiance is in this conflict. She doesn't care for the mining companies. She doesn't care for the scabs. She cares about the unionists. Even if a bigger part of the movie is dedicated to show how rotten the union is, she's definitely pro-union. The stats at the end of the movie clearly shows why. Mining company profits up 170% percent. Cost of living up 7%. Miner wages up 4%. Truly depressing numbers. But when you look at these numbers it's clear to see why the mining companies can't find the resources to protect their workers against Blacklung, despite the Australians being able to. Where would they ever find the room in the budget?
     
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  9. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Day of the Jackal
    (1973) Directed by Fred Zinnemann

    When a far right group in France decide to hire an assassin to kill the great general Charles De Gaulle, the conspirators choose The Jackal (Edward Fox), an intelligent, clear-headed hitman who has had previous successes and one can see why. First, he doesn't look the part. He looks more like the Danish school teacher that he pretends to be later in the film. He certainly doesn't look like a killer, which in turn is perfect camouflage for his line of work. He dresses impeccably, wastes few words, acts decisively when necessary, and is meticulous to a fault in his preparations to assassinate De Gaulle. The movie shifts back and forth between the Jackal as he gets ready to fulfill his assignment while avoiding police scrutiny and the French officials desperate to catch him despite the fact that they have virtually nothing to go on. His chief pursuer is Inspector Label (Michel Lonsdale), a man who is as calm and thorough as his adversary. What follows is a suspenseful cat and mouse game between pursued and pursuer, all leading up the eventual climax when the Jackal and his nemesis finally meet.

    Along the way, the Jackal has no reservations about using people, killing them when necessary if he feels the least threatened. These murders are always models of quiet efficiency (so simple that they seem a little far-fetched, to be honest). But the emphasis in The Day of the Jackal isn't on action so much as on suspense. The movie builds cumulatively scene by scene and works flawlessly despite everyone in the theatre (at least, when it was released) knowing for a fact that De Gaulle wasn't assassinated but died at the ripe old age of 80. However, under Zinnemann's conscientious direction, which mimics its central character in terms of attention to detail, it becomes very easy to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the story as it unfolds. Much of what makes the movie fun is how it well it explores its central character. We never get deep beneath the surface of the Jackal, but everything on that surface is presented with wonderful detail and insight. The Jackal doesn't seem to be a political animal. Even on his mission he spends sometime sightseeing. Though he is also scouting Paris and possible places where De Gaulle might appear, he seems to have taste and interest in the world around him. Fox plays him perfectly as a dapper man who can be quite charming and smiles easily, but who nonetheless is as cold-blooded and single-minded as they come. Watching his purposeful, well thought out plan progress, forces the viewer not to like him but to admire his competence and sense of professionalism. The whole sequence of scenes from the point where he designs his own weapon, to getting that weapon made, to testing it on an unfortunate watermelon, makes for wonderfully absorbing cinema. Of course, the Jackal meets his downfall in the end, but it is rather witty that this most meticulous of men neglects a tiny detail at the moment of truth and that slightest of miscalculations dooms him.

    The movie seems dated if only by the fact there is little outright action and way more attention to character and small details than is usually evident in today's espionage movies. The Day of the Jackal gives the impression that this is an entertainment movie deliberately made for an intelligent audience who possesses an attention span as well as an interest in fine film making. It comes from a period when a lot of directors of entertainment movies held similar assumptions about their audiences, and it is no doubt one of the main reasons why so many Hollywood and British entertainment movies from this period possess such a high quality as well as a sense of maturity (Chinatown; Five Easy Pieces; A Clockwork Orange; One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest; McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and so on).
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2018
  10. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    My next pick is a documentary from 2014 Maidentrip, about a 14-year-old girl who wants to sail around the world solo.
     
  11. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Sorry for the lateness, some work travels put me behind on my writtin'.

    Harlan County USA

    Kopple (1976)
    “Which side are you on?”

    Harlan County USA is a harrowing document of the modern version of “Bloody Harlan” an 13-month miners strike in the rural Kentucky community where the company, A subsidiary of Duke Power, not only enlisted scabs, but also “gun thugs” to both carry out business and use violence as a means to get its way. Miners wanting safer working conditions, better labor practices, better pay. The company wants status quo.

    I’m not anti-business. Go back to my Roger & Me write-up, for example, for a snapshot of my personal struggle with human needs versus business reality. All that said, the actions and tactics depicted here are abhorrent. It’s an evil company being supported with evil people and it’s hard to feel any other way. As if the individual acts aren’t shocking enough there’s a level of unabashed blatantness to it that is galling. The crew itself is attacked directly at one point. The menace is oddly good natured at times, approaching the filmmaker, kindly asking for press cards and IDs. Of course the same people are willing to run people over with a car.

    All of this is soundtracked to a series of plaintive protest songs.

    The access is amazing. It’s an immersive experience. Koppel is clearly sympathetic to the laborer side and gets into their homes and meetings, seeing the squalor first hand, getting direct accounts of the challenges presented both by the work and the employer. Many of the featured interviews are women who’d taken a strong stance on the front lines of the fight, most notably, Lois Scott, who at one point brandishes a pistol she keeps secure in her bra. They’d need it. On the opposite side is Basil Collins, leader of the so-called gun thugs. The fact that he’d even engage with crew indicates a certain level of frightening arrogance. I wonder what became of him? The film touches on the UMW presidency battle between Joseph Yablonski and Tony Boyle, an election Boyle would win amid shady circumstances. Yablonski and his family would later be murdered. The crew actually captures gun violence including clear shots of the perpetrators. And in the most horrifying act, a man is shot in the face and killed. We don’t see the event itself, but we are privy to the aftermath — his shattered skull, hunks of brain on a sidewalk. That death leads to a contract. But another strike is soon afoot. Short term victory for the miners, but we know the added tragedy that the company always wins in the long term. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the lawyer who argues that Black Lung ain’t that big of a deal too.

    An added appeal for me: I’m a huge fan of the TV show Justified, which takes place in a fictionalized Harlan of more modern times. The history of these real event looms over much of the story though and many of the characters. Interesting real world color to a fictional story I like.
     
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  12. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    The Day of the Jackal
    Zinnemann (1973)
    “You simply can’t be emotional. That’s why you made so many mistakes.”

    A dissident group of former French officers wants French President Charles DeGaulle dead due to his stance on Algeria. We’re privy to an early attempt, a coordinated drive by resulting in a seven second, 140 bullet failure. The terrorists turn to a man known here only as The Jackal, an intriguing moniker that is as much of a feint as everything else about the man ... He’s an Englishman, a fact that, once known, adds another level of tension to the matters at hand. As the Jackal’s plans come together, the government is foundering in its attempt to thwart the plot. He remains a maddening step or two ahead of them at every turn, across multiple countries. That is until the arrival of Lebel, who not only sussess out who the Jackal is (kinda...) and how his scheme will unfold, but also who the informer in their midst is. In a great reveal, it turns out it isn’t one of their own directley, per se, but rather his libido that’s been giving the Jackal the jump. His lover is a spy. And despite all that, the Jackal’s brilliance still nearly wins him the day with a particularly uncomfortable (but quite clever) disguise and a small bit of crack timing and a little spot of bad luck as DeGaulle leans into to pin a medal on a soldier.

    The Day of the Jackal is a process movie. How does a lone wolf go about plotting an assassaination? How does an organized entity go about finding just such an idealless, countryless mercenary? There aren’t really any characters. There are jobs — acts that have human form. Several of the characters, in fact, are only even identified in the credits as the job (the Minister, the Gunsmith, the Interrogator, the Forger). We get a little bit of inspector Lebel's life, but other than that, we don’t know much about any of these people beyond their function in the narrative. The human element comes from the couple of (mostly) innocent bystanders who end up dying as pawns in the Jackal’s plot.

    On the Jackal’s side, there’s forging documents, acquiring advanced weapons, testing those weapons, creating disguises. Military medals acquired at a second hand shop early in the film are a key element in the end. All of this is depicted in detail. Meticulous or tedious? I am the former. Once I caught on to the rhythm of the movie — exacting, deliberate rhythm — I was quite into it. It takes until about half way through the movie before we’re even introduced to a compelling counterpoint to the Jackal in the form of Lebel, a clever opponent and a welcome bit of levity to the proceedings thanks to Herbert Lom’s droll delivery. My kingdom for the ability to coolly drop the hammer the way he does when his roomful of bosses ask him exactly how he figured out where the leak was!

    The Day of the Jackal is a thriller, but it doesn’t exact thrill, if you know what I mean. I’d say it is almost novelistic in its approach and commmittment to detail but that sounds like I’m giving short shrift to the filmmaking. Zinnemann is a patient pro for most of the proceedings here, spending the necessary time on scenes like the Jackal’s target practice, but he’s a deft hand with action too including the opening assassination and the climactic discovery and shootout, much of which unfolds wordless with a brass band and overhead airplanes providing the soundtrack. Prior to that, there’s a stretch where the camera somewhat frantically surveys the crowd as if the movie itself has lost the Jackal.

    I enjoyed the task-focused approach. There are plenty of films (too many in my mind) where we’re shoehorned into the private lives of our predator and prey because the powers that be decree that we need to have someone to “care about” so we need to show that Det. So-and-So has rheumatic kid or something. But sometimes all you need to know is someone is going to do something bad and someone else wants to stop them. You don’t need detail or color or reasoning beyond that. This is a particularly cold approach here. The assassin isn’t a zealot. He just wants paid. Our hero? He just really wants to get a good night’s sleep. And really, what’s more human than that?
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018
  13. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    Day of the Jackal (1973) dir. Fred Zinnemann

    In August of 1962 Charles de Gaulle survives an assasination attempt by OAS, a paramilitary group opposed to the Algerian fight for independence, and Algeria's recent independence is the reason for the attack. de Gaulle however survives, and the OAS is in large part arrested by the French police. A few top brass OAS members escape and hide in Austria, and they haven't forgotten about their goal. They hire the best contract killer they can find, an Englishman who only wishes to be called "The Jackal". The Jackal is calm, cool, and meticulous in his preparations, and he doesn't leave anything to chance during his preparations. He's also not afraid to get rid of anyone who threatens to get in his way. The French authorities however get word of the operation, and they put their best investigator, Lebel, on the case. Lebel is just as meticulous in his work as The Jackal is in his, and Lebel is soon on his tail, but The Jackal manages to stay half a step ahead.

    Day of the Jackal builds on a real assassination attempt aimed at de Gaulle in August of 1962, which he narrowly escaped. From there the movie departs from reality, at least a little. But not so much that de Gaulle dies. And that's one of the interesting things about this film. It's a suspense thriller, where you know the ending. At least you did in 1973. Today, maybe not everyone is intimately familiar with de Gaulle's life and fate. Usually a bit part of the allure of a suspense movie is how will it end. So how do you keep the suspense up when everyone already knows the ending? It even takes quite a while before the cat and mouse play between the Jackal and Lebel really forms. Instead an unknown ending being a driving force, The Jackal is the big driving force in this movie. Who is The Jackal, and how will he fail? The Jackal is a very alluring character. He's incredibly cool, he's the best in the business, and everything is planned to the tiniest detail. How will he ever fail this? Who could possibly best him? Lebel is that man, but only in part due to luck, as The Jackal missed his shot at de Gaulle when the president leaned down just as the trigger was pulled. Sort of a way to say that The Jackal was good enough. He was chased by half of France, but he still got a shot off a de Gaulle. A shot that would have been perfectly placed, had de Gaulle not made an uncharacteristic move. Had the shot hit de Gaulle, no one would have known who and from where it had come, and The Jackal would have escaped calmly without anyone suspecting a thing. If not for Lebel on the other side of the door, The Jackal's equal, or opposite perhaps, depending on how you look at it. Of course The Jackal was not who we and the police thought he was. Who he was remains a mystery to everyone. An unsatisfying and perfect ending to the movie.

    The Jackal reminded me quite a bit of Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, the coolest man ever in his coolest role ever. Edward Fox does an admirable job for me to even make that connection. But there's a distinct difference between the two characters. Delon in Le Samouraï is much like a man pretending to be a super cool assassin from an American film. He's very cool for the sake of being cool. With The Jackal you don't get the sense that he's cool just to be cool. He's cool because being cool gives him the best chance of succeeding, and because he has taken every eventuality into account, and he's ready for everything. So there's no need not to be cool. There's an air of German efficiency to the way that Fox portrays The Jackal. While Delon plays Jef Costello as a mix of all American noir stars dialled up to 11, yet understated. Two radically different approaches, that both work wonderfully in the movie they are in.

    Michael Lonsdale has the unfortunate task of playing Fox' counter piece. Claude Lebel is everything but cool. he's a greying man with an unfortunate moustache and a bit of extra cushioning. Physically as well as morally he's the opposite of The Jackal. But in terms of wits they are each others equals, and perhaps Lebel is the superior here. Lonsdale does a very good job though and easily goes toe-to-toe with Fox.

    I'm not sure if you can call a four time Oscar winner underrated. But Fred Zinnemann is not one of the first names that springs to mind when you think of big Hollywood directors of the 50s and 60s. Maybe because he doesn't have a discernible style of his own. We've watched The Nun's Story and The Day of the Jackal here recently, two very different films. But Zinnemann excels no matter what style he needs to make his movies in, and I think he's certainly in the top tier of American filmmakers of that period.
     
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  14. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) dir. Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell

    Amidst the Second World War retired Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) is a big part of the British Home Guard, and has been instrumental in getting it set up. He's a dinosaur. The Army wouldn't take him anymore, and the Home Guard was the only place he could be useful. Candy is a proper British gentleman who plays by the rules, even in war, and even when the enemy doesn't, a type of man no longer useful in war. Prior to a training exercise, a Lieutenant in the Home Guard captures Candy hours before the exercise even begins, because that's what the Germans would do, they wouldn't wait for the proper start time. The causes a scuffle between the two, which prompts a flashback into Candy's life. His first military accomplishments came in the Boer war where he earned himself a medal. On leave in London Candy is contacted by a young British woman in Berlen, Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), who tells him about a German officer spreading anti-British propaganda. Even though he is told not to be his superiors, Candy travels to Berlin to intervene. Unfortunately he causes a minor diplomatic scandal when he insults the Imperial German officer corps. He is challenged to a duel against a German officer chosen by lot. His challenger is Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). During the duel both get injured and are sent to the same nursing home. During their stay they become good friends with great respect for each other, which develops over many hours of card games together with Edith and German woman. Edith and Theo fall in love, and on the last day in the nursing home decide to stay together. Candy is ecstatic upon hearing that, since it absolves him of any responsibilities towards Edith. However immediately after departing Berlin it becomes clear to him that he also loved Edith, he just didn't know it. In the First World War Candy has been promoted to Brigadier General. On the last day of the war, he eats in an impromptu hospital in France. There he sees a Nurse, Barbara Wynne (Kerr again), who catches his eye. He tracks her down and courts her back home in England. The only woman he has been able to love since Edith.

    There's no Colonel Blimp in the actual movie, the title being derived from a satirical cartoon character, with whom Candy shares some resemblance, especially in old age, both in his appearance and in his actions. Time has passed him by, and his opinions and morals are perhaps not fit for the world he now finds himself in. Maybe they weren't even fit for the time he came from, but men of his stature didn't need to concern themselves about the common folks. They weren't even a part of war back then. Of course they took part, but mostly as cannon fodder. It wasn't like they were able to make actual decisions, that was left to the Gentlemen. That is Clive Candy, loud, boastful and wilt full confidence that acting like a proper gentleman is all it takes to win a war. As such Candy is a fun character to watch, and Roger Livesey often plays with just the right amount of overacting required for such a character. Candy is allowed a few quiet introspective moments as well, and Livesey tunes it down appropriately for these scenes as well. Showing that Candy has some resemblance of an actual human being. Which is nice with him being the lead character and all.

    The most interesting character by far however is Theo. Anton Walbrook is often the antipode to Livesey in this movie. Prior to the first world war the two are perhaps more alike. But after that Theo's character has a noticeable chance. The war changes him. Not just the war itself, but also what happens afterwards. He's forced out of the army. He's a military man through and through, and a military man with no army is not a pretty sight. When he arrives in Britain in 1939 he's broken man. The country he once loved has turned into something truly unbelievable. His wife has died. His children have joined the Nazi party. He has one friend left in the world, and he hasn't seen that friend in 20 years. Walbrook hardly has to tell us these things. We can see them clear as day just by looking at him. As good as Livesey is a playing Candy, Walbrook is even better at playing Theo.

    Walbrook and Theo is what gives this movie proper depth. While it pokes fun at Candy and the type of person that he is and how they view Britain. I feel it stops short of poking at Britishness and British self-awareness. The movie is still distinctly pro-British despite it's main character being a parody and British. And I think could have done the movie well to broaden its satirical horizon a little bit. Not by a lot, just a little. I don't want it to be an anti-British film. But I would like to see it not just go the easy target all the time. It's a fun movie, and Anton Walbrook brings a lot of humanity to it as well, but I have this feeling that there's just something that it lacks to make it great.
     
  15. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    My next pick is John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle
     
  16. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    I finally caught up with Unforgiven and together with The Day of The Jackal they make a good double bill, given that both are about assassins going about their work. It is the differences between the two rather than the similarities which make the pairing most interesting. Unforgiven, set in the wild west when concepts of law and order were fluid and the judgement of right and wrong was often settled by guns; a sheriff would be wise to disarm any troublemakers before laying down the law. The Day of The Jackal, based on events that happened about a decade before the movie was released, is set in modern times where laws and due processes are the foundation of civil society, presenting a whole new set of obstacles and expenses: borders must be crossed, identities faked, and world-class forgeries aren't cheap. Pro tip: cut your costs by killing any supplier who asks too many questions.

    What motivates these guys? In the Jackal's case, it's professional satisfaction. Here's a man who takes pride in doing a good job. Even with the heat closing in on him, knowing the secrecy of his mission has been compromised, he has the chance to bank a hefty advance and walk away. But this is a dream assignment for him, big game, and so he can't resist seeing it through. And why not shoot the President, as English Bob would say in Unforgiven. Jackal and English Bob would probably get along very well. Jackal is one smooth badass. Bombing around in his sports convertible with secret compartments hiding his custom-made weapons, he's like the anti-007, a James Bond for bad guys. Smarts, swagger and sex appeal comprise his toolbox. (Lebel too recalls a 60s franchise film character, he's like a competent Inspector Clouseau).

    William Munny is a different animal, not on top of his game at all, swimming in the pig****, firing at and missing a tin can from ten paces. Where did redemption get him? Question now is can he find his mojo again. The Schofield Kid has the ambition and Ned has the skills, what exactly does this old guy bring to the gang? A true professional, he finds the nerve and the eye to finish the job when Ned suddenly finds he can't get his rifle up (the link between virility and killer instinct is in play throughout Unforgiven.) But he really connects with his inner homicidal berserko when he discovers that Ned paid with his life for the killing he didn't actually do. Killing the cowboy was business. Killing Little Bill and his deputies...those were "free ones".

    In each movie there are scenes which make their point despite not being particularly dramatic or pivotal. In Unforgiven a cowboy brings his best horse to give to the prostitute who was violently assaulted. The other ladies find the offer offensive and outrageous and they chase him away with rocks, mud and insults. The actual victim is not consulted or given a chance to respond to the gesture. Not that the ladies were entirely out of bounds: justice denied to one member of the group puts all the other members at risk, so they certainly have a stake in the matter. There are levels of victimization and sometimes the question of what is fair is decided by those who are most vocal, not necessarily those most deeply affected. Deserves got nothing to do with it.

    In The Day of The Jackal a key moment in the investigation occurs when Madame de Montpellier is found dead. The case can now be officially classified as a murder investigation and thus gives Lebel and his team more latitude in their pursuit of the Jackal. It may be a tragic end for Madame but it's good news for Lebel, a lucky break. Losing a battle to win the war. Her pillow talk may have saved the President's life.
     
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  17. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp
    Powell & Pressburger (1943)
    “You can laugh at my belly, but you don’t know why I have it. You can laugh at my moustache but you don’t know why I grew it.”

    “War starts at midnight!” Several characters decree. It’s an Army exercise. The troops decide to not follow the directions though. Who can truly put parameters on war? They “attack” early, storming into offices and eventually a sauna in search of Maj. Gen. Clive Wynne-Candy, a bloated and mustachioed characature of a military man preterbed that the soldiers are not following the command to start at midnight. The physical confrontation between Candy and the upstart young lieutenant leads us back into time — 40 years to be exact to when Candy was an upstart himself fresh from a successful stint in the Boer War. He’s much more similar to the young soldier than he remembers, immediately disobeying orders in one of the first scenes we see him.

    He’s off to Germany in a self-appointed mission to investigate propaganda in pre-WWI. He’ll meet both Theo and Edith, who will become two of the most important people in his life. Though it takes a near fatal duel with Theo to bring the trio together. It’s a hell of a meet-cute. While recouoperating, a friendship forms and though we spend most of our time with Candy and Edith, she and Theo have been seeing each other off camera. They’re to marry with Candy’s blessing. He grows a moustache to cover his facial scar. Life continues into WWI. He’ll meet a woman of his own (suspiciously similar looking to Edith ...). Theo becomes a POW and he’s resistant to meeting his old friend Candy. More life: Candy’s wife dies, Theo is ejected from the service. Candy retires. They meet again years later with WWII dawning. The world has changed and most people have changed ... but has Candy?

    Regarded by some critics as posssibly the greatest British film ever made, I feel it certainly is one of the MOST British. Col. Blimp adds a three-dimensionality to the image of the stodgy, stiff-upper-lipped stereotype of the British. Time moves in Col. Blimp, but Clive Candy doesn’t move nearly as fast. Yes, he was young and brash once (aren’t we all), but even then there were rules, you see. Witness the negotiations and execution of the duel, which verges on comedic absurdity. Clean fighting, honest soldering. It’s a time when men were gentlemen, even when they were trying to kill each other. By the end, Candy remains deluded about what the world’s become and stubborn about the many personal warnings from friends and confidants. It isn’t that Candy doesn’t realize a sneak attack is posssible, it’s that he feels it isn’t necessary. There’s more than a litttle of the might of right in him. He’s taught an embarrassing message in the end. But he does learn.

    The movie doesn’t mock or scorn this man. It loves him and understands him. It’s easy to see why Churchill hated the film and had it first banned and then cut down and re-edited. Made during WWII, it’s a time when leaders surely would want their on-screen heroes portrayed as powerful, flawless and uncomplicated. It wasn’t a time for nuance. Of course, beyond Candy himself, there’s ample criticism of the world that led to WWII as well, which the British attitude had a hand in. Theo is charged with most of this (correct) commentary. “You didn’t win it. We lost it.”

    There’s a lot of filmmaking tricks here that made me warm and fuzzy. The panning transition in the early steam room scene of an old Candy fighting the lieutenant to a young Candy emerging from the other end is lovely. The crane shot pulling out of the gymnasium where the duel is occurring and out into the snowy night and Edith’s car is great — I actually thought this was going to signal another shift in time, alas it’s only a nice little flourish to create some added tension as to the end of the fight. My favorite scene, however, is probably Theo’s soliloquy in the back half of the movie, with the camera pushing in slowly on Anton Walbrook’s sad, tired face. The best special effect in the movie is the twinkle of tears in his eyes. They never fall. A remaining bit of pride from a man who’s had so much taken away from him at this point.

    Then there’s Roger Livesy. He gets to be a charmer early and then big and blustery later. But it’s his physical transformation that always sticks with me. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen in film. And the movie’s 75 years old! Converting younger actors to older characters is one of my big movie pet peeves because the makeup and effects are often so phony and hacky (even today). But here, Livesly, hardly looks like the same man at either end of the 40 years.
     
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  18. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
    (1943) Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is almost a contradiction in terms--a warm, fuzzy propaganda movie, one designed to lift British spirits and strengthen British resolve in the middle of World War II. The central character, Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, a good-natured, well meaning relic of the Boer War, is captured in a training exercise by some young whippersnapper who has a lot of initiative but little sensitivity toward old fashioned niceties. With time to kill, Candy reminisces about his past and about a love long lost but still achingly remembered. In some respects Candy is a pathetic figure; however; he has served his country selflessly through three wars. As a result, his character is gently poked fun of as embodying a certain kind of dated but still laudable British stereotype. Indeed, the movie makes clear that directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger view this old man with great fondness. He is a comic figure, but like Falstaff, he is not a figure of ridicule. Filtered through his bearing and sensibility, many homely British virtues such as resolve, pluck, fair play, and patriotism are paraded out with their medals on for the wartime audience to behold. All in all, it is a decidedly odd kind of romantic movie.

    I really got the sense that this is how Powell and Pressburger and a huge chunk of their audience liked to think of their country. The movie plays down the colonizer bit, but plays up the jolly old England bit--seemingly as a way of impressing on its audience just what it is fighting for. The reality of this England is similar to the reality experienced in Agatha Christie mystery novels. It's not real but it is comforting--at least to those of a particular class who have bought in to the illusion. Perhaps it is the curse of English-speaking peoples--to feel a deep nostalgia for something that was always more myth than reality in the first place. While I enjoyed this movie, it has the smell of moth balls.

    A tip of the hat to Anton Walbrook, though. He plays Candy's friend and occassional nemesis, Theo. Walbrook spent much of his career playing variations of the same role: the slightly-accented central European who can mix charm and menace with ease. He is actually an amazing actor, totally relaxed and natural in front of a camera. Somehow he can hang in the background and be astoundingly charismatic at the same time. He communicates wit and intelligence--when his characters aren't speaking lines, I always wonder what they are thinking. I would have put him in Casablanca way ahead of Paul Henreid, trading Walbrook's self-aware ambiguity for Henreid's stiffness and dullness in the process. You could see Ingrid Bergman falling for this guy, and he would be a worthy challenger to Humphrey Bogart in her heart. Henreid seems like a clammy fish in comparison.

    And, oh joy, a young Deborah Kerr in not one but three roles--though she doesn't actually explore a lot of range. Still, she shows sufficient star quality to realize that it is no surprise that she went on to bigger and better things.

    I have a sudden urge for tea and crumpets.
     
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  19. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Hollywood Shuffle
    Townsend (1987)
    “There’s always work at the post office.”

    Bobby is an actor with some low-level success, just the sort of jobs that make one want to continue in the business, but not enough to actually make it a career. He’s got an opportunity that could be his big break, the role of Jimmy, a pimp and a gangster in the delightfully dumb-named Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge. But he’s got reservations. The role is an offensive and cheap stereotype, something his family members, everyone auditioning for the part and just about everyone working on the movie knows. That is, except for the the white director, writer and casting director. While he has this internal struggle (depicted multiple times with sketch comedy-style parody dream sequences), there’s the external battle with people like his coworkers at Winky Dinky Dog who think he’s a little too big for his britches and he should ditch his dream for a more realistic life of work. He lands the role. But is he willing to compromise himself to keep it?

    I remember watching this multiple times as a kid. It was in the late night cable rotation and the dream sequences, which included parodies of Indiana Jones and 1950s noir and even Siskel & Ebert, felt kinda wild to me at that time. I hadn’t seen anything quite like that. It was silly and zany and funny. The satire and the significance of the predominately black cast and the writing and directing of Robert Townsend didn’t mean much to me. I was a kid. Funny was all I needed. I read an article recently where a comedian was talking about how important this movie was to his life (and the lives of other black comedians of a certain age). That was my inspiration to pick the film, which has hung around in cult-level status since its release.

    Watching it today was an interesting experience. Really drove home the passage of time, both for the film itself and my own self. I have to say almost every one of the parodies and dream sequences were duds for me. Black Acting School still works and hits the overall point so susinctly that I almost wish the skit was it. The Dirty Larry clip made me laugh but only in that I can’t believe they’re still stretching out this joke way where something is sorta funny, then not funny, then funny again. Sorta. But overall most fell flat. Is it time? Speaking of time, watching this with a modern eye, it’s hard not to notice while it’s progressive toward race, it doesn’t hold homosexuality in the same regard, making it the subject of a handful of cheap jokes.

    I probably got a little too wrapped up on the logic here with the dreams too. Bobby’s daydreaming roles, but many of the roles are the same stereotypes — criminals, pimps, Kung-fu gangsters. Is that the point? Can Bobby not even imagine a world where black people aren’t in these generic, demeaning roles? He isn’t really thinking of a better future here. Maybe the answer is they just liked these assorted skits and thought they were funny. Those elements all wound up sorta muddled to me.

    All that said — the real life parts, the parts that a young me most assuredly thought were boring were effective and, at times, even a little moving. Certainly more so than I expected out of this “wacky” comedy. The interactions with his grandmother and his adoring brother hit home. There’s a running joke about working at the post office throughout and in the end, Bobby finds a compromise fitting his beliefs. He is acting still, but just in a public service announcement for the post office. It’s a bittersweet laugh. Speaking of laughs (this is a comedy afterall), the biggest, most uncomfortable laughs Hollywood Shuffle generates come from the trio of white bosses on the film searching for an “Eddie Murphy type” to fill the role and routinely insisting they’re the authenticity authority on black culture. Again, these moments were far more pointed and effective than some of the skits.

    I wanted to throw us a bit of a curveball. Disappointed this didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. A notable movie in may ways though I’m not sure it’s actually a good one.

    Addendum: I'd written this up a few days ago, but was waiting to post it. By sheer coincidence, in the days in between I watched Sorry to Bother You and I'd be remiss not to mention it here. It worked as a nice, unintentional double bill. Here too we have a comical satire (though this one a bit more complex and bizarre and, honestly, much funnier) written/directed/predominantly staring actors of color about striving for success in a society that doesn’t value you. There's a character with zero qualms selling out his race for a buck. There’s even a scene where the black protagonist is asked to act black to entertain a white crowd. It’s a wild film that touches on race and perception (and many other things), but I wonder if it could exist today in all its odd glory were it not for something like Hollywood Shuffle a few decades before. Townsend's DNA is there.
     
  20. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Though I know we've covered him a few times already, I am compelled to honor the recently deceased Nicholas Roeg with his swinging rocker gangster freak out Performance (1970), co-directed with Donald Cammell.
     
  21. WhiskeySeven*

    WhiskeySeven* Expect the expected

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    How can I see the volume I thread? Is it gone forever?
     
  22. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Gone forever, as far as I know.
     
  23. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Hollywood Shuffle
    (1987) Directed by Robert Townsend

    From one perspective, Hollywood Shuffle really looks its age (maybe it's a little frightening to realize just how long ago 1987 was, too). Satires of a topical nature tend to have uncertain shelf lives. However, the topic of Hollywood Shuffle, how Hollywood movies perpetuates and promotes racial stereotypes and easy assumptions to the detriment of black Americans, hasn't gone away. So the movie retains a certain currency that makes it fascinating to examine in the present context. Obviously a movie doesn't have to be a masterpiece to make its points. Hollywood Shuffle boils down to an ongoing series of Saturday Night Live-type sketches and dream sequences to which Townsend tacks on a simple narrative about the experience of one particular black actor named Billy (played by Townsend himself) who becomes increasingly alienated from not just the scripts he must consider but with the whole intrinsically racist nature of the movie business itself. Billy has a little brother who dotes on him, and he increasingly feels very uncomfortable reinforcing a very negative stereotype about black behaviour that could poison the little kid's attitudes. While Townsend, as both director and actor, uses humour to make his points, he takes on a lot of targets in no uncertain terms. When the movie is funny--as when two black characters send up Siskel and Ebert sitting in a balcony critiquing movies--it is very funny. When the movie is not so funny--which is a lot of the time--it still makes its points, and these points have a cumulative impact. I gained a better understanding of the marginalization that comes with an industry that too often reinforces the worst excesses of a culture without even thinking twice about doing so or even bothering to attempt to understand that culture. I should add, though, that Townsend also targets black attitudes and the tendency of some to accept the status quo because they don't think they have the power to change institutional inequities of long standing. That this acceptance is sometimes hypocritical--one black actor who chides Billy for accepting a demeaning role is the first actor to volunteer for the part when Billy eventually declines--spreads the purposeful jabs around a little.

    After watching the movie, I certainly had greater respect for Robert Townsend. He took a topic that no major studio would ever touch, produced the film himself, wrote, directed and starred in it. He channeled his wholly understandable anger into a comic framework that I think helps the audience to see the validity of his points in a way that a more serious film might not have accomplished. As an actor, he is a very attractive and likeable presence in the film, a fact that also tends to make it easier for him to make his points. I could see, say, director Spike Lee, taking a far more acidic approach to similar material and, though he would be totally justified in doing so, the resulting critique might not be as readily palatable, at least to a big chunk of the white audience. (My grandmother loved the platitude that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, which I guess is still true--if you want to catch flies anyway). Why is that big chunk of the white audience important? Black audiences will get the point and enjoy the satire and the attitudes that it pokes fun of. But, as well, the film is directed toward the entire hierarchy of the film industry, not just one particular group. Amidst the humour there is a serious attempt to examine the destructive nature of an industry controlled almost exclusively by white people who, until very recently, were oblivious to both the negative experience of black artists and to how the exploitation of black culture only reinvigorated a larger, more cancerous social problem.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2018
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  24. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    In 1902 a young career British army officer and Boer war hero named Candy finds himself called to the carpet before a superior officer who tells him the facts of military life: diplomacy and politics are not a soldier's concern. This is meant as a warning to not pursue a confrontation with an anti-British propagandist in Berlin. He goes anyway. Hilarity, heartbreak and humility ensue, more or less in that order. Next time someone's giving him a reality check it's 40 years later and the life lesson is coming from a BBC producer in a swivel chair: a 360 degree perspective is now necessary to understand and navigate the modern world and Candy's blinkered old-school values won't cut it alone. Blimpism is dead.

    From England's funny pages to the big screen, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp comes out of the gate like gangbusters, like the motorcycle couriers in its opening scene: plenty of zip and confidence in its course, taking an absurdly comic premise--the possibility of fighting a clean war--and exploring it with anarchic Marxist zaniness. "Well, sir, I have a friend" Candy tells his C.O. who interrupts "Good! Not many people can say that! Continue." I can just hear Chico and Groucho in that exchange.

    It bogs down when we get into the romantic story line...does anyone really care about Candy's love life? Should we, when both of his love interests are killed off for no reason that I can see other than to give the female lead extra screen time without having to load on any old-age makeup…Deborah Kerr remains forever young. It's a bit of a mess, old chap. It has the makings of a good screwball comedy with Candy and Miss Hunter being brought together by an international incident, but ultimately it's Candy's friendship with his rival Theo which is more relevant to the anti-Nazi theme. The jokes get less funny but more ironic and poignant: "in Germany, the gangsters finally succeeded in putting the honest citizens in jail."
     
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  25. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Candy's personal life didn't resonate much with me either (despite Kerr's as always solid work), though I'm kicking myself for not noting earlier that Miss Hunter's portrait hangs amongst all those hunted animal -- at the end of the day, just another trophy.
     
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