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Month: April 2007

Taxi Zum Klo (1981)

Taxi Zum Klo (1981)

“I’m your normal, tired, neurotic, polymorphously perverse teacher.”

Synopsis:
A sexually adventurous gay schoolteacher (Frank Ripploh) resists monogamy with his new partner (Bernd Broaderup).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this humorous cult film by German writer/director Frank Ripploh (who essentially plays himself) is a “self-indulgent”, “crudely made, disjointed, but intriguing autobiographical account.” Ripploh isn’t afraid to portray himself as a bit of a jerk: he’s the kind of guy who, lacking toilet paper, wipes his bum on a guest towel, then nonchalantly puts it back on the rack. Later, when he openly cheats on his new partner (the good-looking yet frustratingly passive Broaderup), we’re disturbed, but not all that surprised — and, at the very least, we respect Ripploh’s honesty about his need for sexual adventure.

Taxi Zum Klo (which translates into “Taxi to the [Public] Toilet”) is especially effective at showing how Ripploh was able to keep his sex life completely separate from his career as a schoolteacher. In one particularly overt instance, Ripploh cross-cuts between innocent shots of his tutoring session with a young male student, and his transvestite friend commenting disparagingly while watching a cautionary school film about a pedophile. It may be a heavy-handed message, but it’s an important one — and it works within the context of the film’s unabashed presentation of explicit gay male sexuality (surely an eye-opener for many at the time).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A no-holds-barred look at male gay life in 1980s Berlin
    Couple

Must See?
Yes, both for its status as a cult film and as a cultural window into a unique subculture.

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“10” (1979)

“10” (1979)

“She was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.”

Synopsis:
A middle-aged composer (Dudley Moore) in a steady relationship with a singer (Julie Andrews) becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman (Bo Derek) he spots through a car window.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Although “10” immediately evokes images of cornrowed sex goddess Bo Derek running across a beach (see the poster above), it’s not her story; instead, the film centers on a man (Moore) who has fame, money, and a beautiful lover, yet suffers from the incurable sense that the grass is always greener — sexually speaking — on the younger side. Unlike the obnoxiously dissatisfied schmuck played by Albert Brooks in Modern Romance (1981), Moore’s restless composer makes for an unusually sympathetic protagonist: he’s someone we care about even though we immediately recognize the folly of his desires.

Andrews is fine as Moore’s long-suffering girlfriend, and gets to sing a couple of nice Henry Mancini songs — but her too-perfect British accent quickly becomes distracting. More impressive, believe it or not, is Derek, who — once she finally becomes a three-dimensional character rather than simply the distant object of Moore’s lust — gives a natural and appealing performance. Though director Blake Edwards tries a bit too hard for laughs with his repeated attempts at slapstick humor (as when Moore tumbles down a hill and struggles to climb back up again), overall this remains a surprisingly honest look at middle-aged male sexuality.

P.S. When watching the amusing running gag about Moore’s use of a telescope to spy on his neighbor (Don Calfa) — who has a constant stream of semi-nude, sexually available women roaming through his house — one can’t help thinking about the notorious swinger lifestyle of Edwards and his wife, Andrews…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dudley Moore as the lust-struck composer
    Moore
  • Beautiful Bo Derek in her first significant screen role
    Bo Derek
  • Moore’s constant voyeurism through his telescope
    Spying

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply to see Derek in her infamous breakthrough role.

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Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

“There’s a giant on the beach!”

Gulliver's Travels Poster

Synopsis:
When a sailor named Gulliver washes ashore on the island of Lilliput, he finds himself in the midst of a rivalry between the King of Lilliput and the King of Blefiscu.

Genres:

Review:
Gulliver’s Travels holds historical distinction as the first feature length animated film made by a studio other than Disney. Unfortunately, the heads of Fleischer Studios (responsible for Popeye and Betty Boop) were pressured into trying to repeat the success of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and this film comes across as a mostly pale imitation. The narrative is irredeemably weak, the songs are instantly forgettable, and — as in the Fleischer Brothers’ second and last animated feature, Hoppity Goes to Town (1941) — there isn’t a strong central protagonist: none of the Lilliputians are particularly appealing, and Gulliver himself doesn’t even speak until nearly halfway through the movie. On the other hand, there are a few redeeming elements in the film, including the unusual rotoscoping process used to animate Gulliver himself, and the sequence in which the Lilliputians collectively work to haul Gulliver off the beach. Ultimately, while Gulliver’s Travels falls short of status as a true classic, it remains must-see viewing simply for its place in animated cinematic history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The Lilliputians using remarkable teamwork to tow Gulliver off of the beach
    Gulliver
  • Interesting early use of rotoscope animation
    Rotoscope

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical status.

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Hurricane, The (1937)

Hurricane, The (1937)

“No jail can hold Terangi very long — if it has a window in it, he’ll fly away! If it has water around it, he’ll swim away!”

Hurricane Poster

Synopsis:
A South Pacific native (Jon Hall) working as a sailor on a tall ship is unjustly jailed for hitting a white man; when he tries to escape, additional years are added to his sentence. Meanwhile, his beautiful wife (Dorothy Lamour) waits at home for his return, while his island’s by-the-book governor (Raymond Massey) refuses to intervene. A massive hurricane finally brings the entire situation to a dramatic conclusion.

Genres:

Review:
The Hurricane (directed by John Ford, and based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall) bears an uncanny resemblance to Ford’s film of the previous year, The Prisoner of Shark Island: both deal with an unjustly accused man attempting to escape from prison, and John Carradine even reappears as a sadistic warden. Yet The Hurricane remains the less compelling of the two films in terms of sheer narrative and characterization, with a primary problem one of lead casting: although blonde Jon Hall is hunky eye candy and not a terrible actor, it’s simply impossible to imagine him as an island native. Indeed, when he’s ordered to “get up when a white man tells ya to!”, one almost wants to laugh, since Hall is undeniably a white man himself!

Equally problematic is the film’s overall portrayal of the South Pacific islanders as happy, naughty, naive children lacking any ability to reason rationally. In the first scene of the movie, for instance, even a sympathetic white character (Thomas Mitchell) is heard making the disparaging comment that “a sense of honor in the South Seas is about as useful — and often as silly — as a silk hat in a hurricane.” And Terangi — though he eventually becomes somewhat of a folk legend — is ultimately shown to be unthinking in his ceaseless, animal-like attempts to escape, without concern for the consequences.

The performances as a whole in The Hurricane are unexceptional. Though Mitchell was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor, his work here playing a drunken doctor isn’t especially impressive. Mary Astor is wasted in a thankless role as Massey’s loyal wife, while Massey himself comes across as one-dimensionally stubborn. Dorothy Lamour — never a great actress, but undeniably beautiful — gives perhaps the most appealing performance, managing to pass as a native without too much trouble.

But the primary selling point of The Hurricane (which received excellent reviews upon its release) was and is its final climactic sequences, directed by an uncredited Stuart Heisler. Heisler’s ability to simulate a ferocious island hurricane is nothing short of phenomenal, and represents a true masterpiece of early special effects in cinema. Indeed, the entire narrative arc leading up to these final scenes seems superfluous in hindsight. The titular hurricane itself makes this must-see viewing for serious film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The phenomenal hurricane sequences
    Hurricane

Must See?
Yes — but only for the final 20 minutes, which are a masterpiece of early special effects wizardry. Peary lists this movie in the back of his book as a film with historical importance and a personal recommendation.

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Naked Prey, The (1966)

Naked Prey, The (1966)

“Man — lacking the will to understand other men — became like the beasts, and their way of life was his.”

Synopsis:
A safari leader (Cornel Wilde) in 1800s Africa is captured by a tribe, set loose with no clothing or weapons, and hunted by a group of warriors.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “brutal adventure movie” — which bears resemblance to The Most Dangerous Game (1932) in its tale of a man hunted as human prey — is indeed an “unusual, exciting, often frightening film”, with very little dialogue or plot. Although director/producer/star Cornel Wilde pushes the metaphor of “kill or be killed” a bit too far (the extraneous footage of African fauna in battle quickly becomes repetitive), it’s still remarkably exciting to see Wilde outrunning his captors, and using his substantial wits to survive.

What Peary curiously neglects to mention in his review, however, is the sticky issue of how the African natives are portrayed. On the one hand, Wilde respects the warriors as individuals, showing them stopping to mourn each other as they’re killed. And it’s undeniably refreshing to see Africans gaining a sort of revenge against the whites who so brutally invaded their culture. On the other hand, they’re still clearly posited as The Exotic Others: the women dance around without shirts on, the warriors are essentially portrayed as savage and uncivilized, and Wilde (The White Man) is the undisputed protagonist. On the whole, however, I would still vote for The Naked Prey as a rare mid-century American film which at least attempts to humanize Africans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cornel Wilde as The Man
  • Plenty of exciting action sequences

Must See?
Yes, to see Wilde in his most iconic role.

Categories

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Eyes Without a Face / Yeux Sans Visage, Les (1960)

Eyes Without a Face / Yeux Sans Visage, Les (1960)

“My face frightens me; my mask frightens me even more.”

Synopsis:
A renowned surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) hoping to graft a new face onto his injured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) enlists the help of his loyal assistant (Alida Valli) in kidnapping unsuspecting young women with similar features.

Genres:

Review:
Georges Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage remains one of the most haunting and memorable horror films ever made. As in Val Lewton’s early RKO films, Franju relies on atmosphere rather than gore and violence to tell the creepy tale of a young woman trapped in a web of paternal love. Scob is effectively ethereal in the title role; the imagery of Christiane moving through the halls of her prison-like house are guaranteed to hold fast in your memory — as is the infamous surgery scene, when Brasseur methodically slices off a girl’s face. Surprisingly enough, the film contains some levity as well, thanks both to Maurice Jarre’s carnival-like score, and a critical subplot about a naive shoplifter (Beatrice Altariba) who becomes an important catalyst in solving the mystery of the disappearing girls. The final scenes of this must-see horror film are both satisfying and devastating.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Edith Scob as Christiane
    Edith Scob
  • Alida Valli as Dr. Genessier’s loyal assistant
    Alida Valli
  • Stunning b&w cinematography by Eugen Schufftan
    Cinematography
  • Dr. Genessier surgically removing a girl’s face
    Surgery
  • The final powerful sequences
    Birds
  • Maurice Jarre’s haunting, carnivalesque score

Must See?
Definitely. This horror classic — which merits repeat viewings — will remain in your mind long after you’ve watched it.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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Breaking Glass (1980)

Breaking Glass (1980)

”I don’t like the way life is for the majority of us — I don’t say I can change it, but I can sing about it.”

Breaking Glass Poster

Synopsis:
An anti-establishment punk singer (Hazel O’Connor) rises to fame and sells out.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Breaking Glass tells the familiar story of an idealistic artist who discovers, lo and behold, that fame and fortune come at a price. While the film’s screenplay doesn’t cover much new territory, it nonetheless serves as an effective vehicle for charismatic punk New Waver Hazel O’Connor, whose music is raw and seductive. Peary notes that this is a “sad, thematically bewildering” film, but I think that’s exactly the point: we’re supposed to mourn Hazel’s gradual loss of political and artistic autonomy, and to empathize with the angry confusion she feels by the end. The scene in which she defends herself during a radio interview is particularly poignant. Who ever said punk was upbeat?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hazel O’Connor as Kate
    O'Connor
  • Phil Daniels as Kate’s manager
    Daniels
  • O’Connor’s increasingly bizarre outfits and make-up
    Outfit
  • An eclectic, often enjoyable soundtrack of New Wave punk

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for its erstwhile status as a cult favorite.

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On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfront (1954)

“I’ve been on the docks all my life, boy, and there’s one thing I’ve learned — you don’t ask no questions, you don’t answer no questions.”

Synopsis:
A longshoreman (Marlon Brando) stands up to his corrupt union boss (Lee J. Cobb), against the advice of his brother (Rod Steiger).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
I’m in complete agreement with Peary’s assessment of this “terrific film”, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time. As Peary notes, On the Waterfront — which won eight Oscars — possesses “great acting, a fascinating premise, strong direction by Elia Kazan, tough dialogue by Budd Schulberg, and many classic scenes.” Marlon Brando (young and sexy) is nothing short of brilliant as Terry Malloy; nearly as impressive (Brando’s hard to top!) are Eva Marie Saint in her award-winning screen debut as Edie, and Rod Steiger as Terry’s protective yet misguided older brother.

On the Waterfront has been criticized on multiple fronts over the years: by those upset about its portrayal of the longshoreman’s union in the 1950s as corrupt; by those who claim On the Waterfront is essentially anti-union (I disagree); and — most famously — by those who believe Kazan was trying to offer Terry’s story as an apologetic for his own name-spilling to the House of Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC). Ultimately, however, I choose to view the film as a fable-like character study about personal redemption, rather than a polemic on unions, corruption, or Kazan himself.

The film’s primary flaw (as noted by Peary) is the fact that “too much Christian morality is expounded by the overacting Karl Malden” — indeed, the scenes with Father Barry are a major distraction. Fortunately, there are enough memorable moments in On the Waterfront — Terry walking with Edie in the park; Terry’s poignant talk with Charlie in the taxi cab; the final climactic moments on the docks — to make up for those which don’t quite work. Also noteworthy are Leonard Bernstein’s majestic score (his first), and Boris Kaufman’s luminous black-and-white cinematography. Ultimately, On the Waterfront remains a glorious example of collaborative filmmaking, and merits multiple viewings by film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy
    Brando
  • Eva Marie Saint as Edie
    Saint
  • Rod Steiger as Charley
    Steiger
  • The touching romance between Terry and Edie
    Romance
  • Terry and Edie’s first walk in the park together
    Walk
  • Terry and Charley’s taxicab scene
    Contender
  • The final climactic showdown between Brando and Cobb
    Final scenes
  • Boris Kaufman’s evocative b&w cinematography
    Cinematography
  • Leonard Bernstein’s soaring score

Must See?
Absolutely. Despite its flaws, this remains both a personal favorite and a genuine classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Just Imagine (1930)

Just Imagine (1930)

“If you make this trip successfully, you’ll be the most distinguished person in the world!”

Just Imagine Poster

Synopsis:
In 1980, a young man named J-21 (John Garrick) is unable to marry his girlfriend, LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan), because another man (Kenneth Thomson) has been voted a better candidate. In order to distinguish himself as worthy of LN-18’s hand, J-21 travels on a historic flight to Mars with his friend RT-42 (Frank Albertson) and a man from 1930 who has been brought back to life (El Brendel).

Genres:

Review:
This early sci-fi oddity tries to cram as much as possible into its overlong 109 minutes — including a love triangle, music and dance sequences, aliens, a space voyage, time travel, a race against time, a courtroom drama, and lame comedy (courtesy of the insufferable pseudo-Swedish comedian, El Brendel). The most effective elements of Just Imagine are its futuristic sets (which are reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), and the glimpse it provides of a hypothetical future society in which both food and drink come in the form of pills, letters and numbers have replaced names, individuals jet around in private planes, and eligibility for marriage is determined by a court.

Much less effective are the tedious musical interludes, which seem like they belong in a different film entirely. At a certain point, Brendel sings a song during which he frantically puts on a series of different hats while mimicking various characters — it’s mildly creative, but so out of place! With that said, the Busby Berkeley-inspired dance sequences on Mars (not to mention the Martians’ outlandish costumes) are just surreal enough to be campily hypnotic. And you’ve got to give director David Butler credit for taking on such an enormously overinflated script — though one can’t help wishing it had been trimmed back to a slightly more manageable (and enjoyable) size.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The lavish art deco sets and over-the-top Busby Berkeley-esque dance sequences on Mars
    Busby
  • An intriguing vision of what 1980 might have looked like, from a 1930s perspective
    New York
  • A bizarre, if not entirely successful, pastiche of nearly every possible movie genre — including comedy, science fiction, romance, and musical

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as a truly surreal cinematic hybrid.

Categories

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Stripper, The (1963)

Stripper, The (1963)

“When I was a kid, did you used to kiss me goodnight?”

Synopsis:
After her abusive boyfriend (Robert Webber) leaves her stranded in a small town without money, stage-show actress Lila Green (Joanne Woodward) stays with some acquaintances: a woman (Claire Trevor) she used to babysit for, and the woman’s grown son (Richard Beymer), who — despite having a pretty girlfriend (Carol Lynley) his own age — is deeply attracted to Lila.

Genres:

Review:
Franklin Schaffner’s adaptation of William Inge’s play (originally titled A Loss of Roses) suffers first and foremost from one of the worst re-titlings ever. Though Lila does become a stripper in the final ten minutes of the movie (hence the provocative image on the video cover), this isn’t what the movie’s about. Rather, it’s the story of a woman who once hoped for a legitimate career as an actress but knows this will never happen, and who has accepted that she will have to eke by on small-town performance gigs — but draws the line at stripping. Even more importantly, however, it’s the story of a woman who has learned not to expect much from men, yet — given her innate sensitivity — is bound to get her heart broken yet again when callow Kenny (Beymer) insists he’ll “treat her right”.

The Stripper is ultimately not one of Inge’s best stories — Beymer’s character in particular is especially underdeveloped — but the performances make it enjoyable to watch nonetheless. Woodward is excellent in the lead role; as noted by Peary in his review of Rachel, Rachel (1968), Woodward “has specialized in playing women who are warmhearted, maternal, vulnerable, victimized, and confused about the harshness of the world” — a description which fits Lila to a T. Also noteworthy is Claire Trevor as Kenny’s mom — a well-meaning woman who wants to be kind to Lila, but can’t help feeling concerned about Kenny’s growing attraction to her. It would have been easy for her character to come across as a shrew, but, thanks to both Inge’s writing and Trevor’s performance, she never does.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joanne Woodward as Lila
  • Claire Trevor as Kenny’s concerned mom

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for fans of Woodward or Inge.

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