Further to a previous post featuring some reviews in miniature of some enjoyable possibly non-mainstream films, I thought I’d offer up another arbitrarily chosen number of films to promote in this blog. Mainstreamy or not, I simply liked them for their various appeals and wish to advocate their worth here – from classic film noir via experimental german madness to bizarrely bonkers french stop motion animation – a little bit of everything. From the forties to the naughties, I think these films are emblematic of the perpetual diversity of the film-making genre, and are a representation of sorts of the breadth of the spectrum of possibilities.
Charting in chronological order then:
The Maltese Falcon –
(1941) classic film noir, adapting Daschiel Hammett’s memorable tale, it couldn’t be anyone other than Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Faithful to the text, it brings alive the classic tropes of the gumshoe life that here centres around the eponymous object of desire. Sam initially receives the demands of the noirishly named Miss Wonderly ( Mary Astor ) on a case that transpires to be more complicated that first imagined, taking a dark turn following his partner’s murder. Spade is thrown into the mystery as he seeks to establish the truth behind The Maltese Falcon. One of those rare cases where one can genuinely wonder whether the film is actually more enjoyable than the book, though both are great fun. 8.5/10
Laura – (1944) – a celebrated noir, and for good reason as this 1940’s classic spins a complex – narratively speaking – whodunnit where the satisfaction lies in its execution in its entirety, rather than the revelation of who the culprit is. In the tradition of noir, the suspects who avoid arrest remain silently condemned for posession of their own guilty secrets or foibles that get revealed as the chase unfurls and ‘Laura’ is no different. Waldo Lydecker,(the magnificent Clifton Webb) an effete middle-aged bachelor and scribe opens the narrative, affecting an elaborate voice-over as he introduces his relationship with the apparently dead Laura to the the gumshoe in question. The detective is really not the focal point of the film, unlike those featuring a Sam Spade or Phil Marlowe; Macpherson is here instead a pulse that keeps the story circulating among the more interesting supporting characters. There is a campness to the mood of the film, inevitably from the off given Lydecker’s personality, which adds a lighter touch, though it is its extraction of delusion and the darker side from all involved that leads to its success. 7/10
Cool Hand Luke – (1967): Paul Newman is as magnetic as always in this film of existential rebellion, the fine portrayal of Luke Jackson, a man who refuses to conform to the whims of the prison guard system. The narrative set up plays as an allegory for continually refusing to be broken by authoritarian rule, and Jackson’s continual efforts to escape expectation, quite literally in the final act of the film, provides an attractive draw. 7/10
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970): Werner Herzog in his early days produces a baffling piece that requires either close attention or utterly detached viewing. Reading around other opinions after the event can proffer up academic deconstructions of a commentary on the madness of human nature; as seen through a quite literal microcosm of an isolated dwarf community, presumed to be held prisoners by an off-screen foe. Perhaps this is true, the film at least merits a repeat viewing.
There is an undeniable absurdity to some of the scenes which would chime true with a narration that condemns appeals to innate meaning in our actions, where the line between sanity and reason, and cruelty and madness becomes very blurred during some particularly disturbing, and also occasionally amusing scenes. It is a fascinating film, and watching with company will certainly provoke discussion afterwards, but I must admit at this point I cannot offer up a clear cut analysis or description of this film. But that won’t stop me recommending people check it out all the same. Appears to have elements of a Lord of the Flies-esque reductionism about it. Also contains a mock crucifixion of a monkey. Have I sold it yet? Look it’s Werner Herzog. You won’t forget the film, I’ll say that, and frankly that’s what a film generally asks for. ?/10
From the esoteric – to the more straightforwardly accessible:
My Neighbour Taturo (1988) From the popular Studio Ghibli comes one of Hayao Miyazaki’s earlier works, but also one of his most popular. It’s an animated tale surrounding two girls’ – Saskia and May – interactions with forest spirits, including the enchanting eponymous creature, who appears to be drawn up as part teddy-part-bear-part-bunny. The connection with nature and forest spirits is a familiar theme for Miyazaki and the tale here is a joyful concoction of adventure, family bonds and innocence. Very family friendly, it is as enjoyable for adults as it is for the little ones however, as the magical animation is accompanied by an intelligent script brought to life by fine voice acting. One of many great Miyazaki features, and if it’s your first hopefully, it will spark interest in discover many more. 8/10
Dazed and Confused (1993): Another Richard Linklater film here, and another one that condenses its’ focus to a short timeframe – here it is 24 hours of teenagers celebrating the last day of high school. Not that you notice the timeframe at all, as you are always immediately drawn into the characters – a Linklater trademark. I do really enjoy how successful he is at developing an engrossing narrative strand that succeeds regardless of how contained the situation is – a skill he develops brilliantly in the Before Trilogy that spanned the following decade and a half. As a microcosm of growing up within the school complex, and all the attendant male ‘codes’ it is entertaining observation. Also noticeable for a very young Ben Affleck as one of the high school bullies, intent on ‘hazing’ the new intake. Film is rougher round the edges than his later work but solid nonetheless. 7/10
Rushmore -(1998) early Wes Anderson but still replete with the would-be signature motifs and themes relating to growing up and family identities. Charming tale of Max (Schwarzmann), a sensitive ambitious schoolkid who has great designs for the school and an even greater one for an attractive teacher. Rivalry of sorts ensues with the typically hilarious Bill Murray as Herman, playing the avuncular-grouch he can do so well. Complete with a score that is enchantingly melodic and gentle, it is never less than amusing, and soaked in colourful spirit. 7/10
some classic thrills:
The Prestige -(2006) Chris Nolan directing, with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman starring as competing magicians who spend their careers engaged in an increasingly violent game of one upmanship with each other. Jackman is the showman who lacks the intuitive genius, Bale the genius, who struggles to sell his trick. Wonderful suspense and thrilling in the idiosyncratic fashion of Nolan’s with an spectacular finish that left me appropriately satisfied. As usual, featuring Michael Caine in his usual excellent supporting role in a Nolan film. Arguably his best feature for me, certainly on a par with Batman Begins for it’s combination of plot, thrill and character arcs. 8.5/10
and finally – the bonkers:
A Town Called Panic – (2009) – French stop motion film that is as mad as its title suggests it is going to be. The animation has a retro 70’s theme utilising old farm animal toys as the chief protagonists in this charmingly chaotic film for everyone. Centre The adventure and the humour is adrenaline fuelled, with its fair share of mad shrieks, but at about 80 minutes is judiciously kept short enough that the madness doesn’t flow over into irritation. The plot: ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Indian’ wish to surprise the old boy ‘Horse’ with a birthday present. They figure to order 50 bricks in to build a barbeque, but instead accidentally order 50 million, which end up destroying the house. Subsequent attempts to rebuild the house are stalled by the continual theft of the walls. Recovering the walls form part of the plot that also features demented evil scientists and Horse trying to impress a Piano teaching Mare. Completely bonkers, but very funny and full of gleeful absurdism. 8/10