#230: Castle in the Sky – Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta. The first of only a handful of animated Japanese movies that made the list. Pazu, a young boy from a mining town picks up an unconscious girl who literally fell from the sky, the magical amulet she is wearing around her neck having spared her from ending up as an unsavoury splat of gore on the rocks. She is called Sheeta and after telling him of a floating castle in the sky that is supposedly her home, the two of them start out to find it, all the while chased by sky pirates and a secret agent who has a whole army at his disposal. With all its contraptions and airborne machines, Castle in the Sky is an imaginative treat on its own, but it’s the prospects of speculation that make this movie a gem for me. The floating island is called Laputa. Hoping that it’s not meant to be a Spanish pun, I’m going to assume that they are actually referring to Swift’s island in the sky in Gulliver’s Travels. In the novel, Laputa is inhabited by a congregation of scientifically learned people who are, however, too spaced out to put their skills to any practical use and who you can only start communicating with after hitting them hard on the head to wake them from their deep thoughts. This might be nowhere near the film crew’s intentions, but I like to think that the movie features what has become of Laputa after its inhabitants got themselves killed through a failed experiment. Sheeta and Pazu don’t encounter anyone up there but a marginally functional robot servant, which might just be the last remnant of their civilisation to have survived over the ages and it is still performing the tasks it had been programmed to do.
#229: The Big Sleep. This film will eat up about six hours of your life if you let it. It’s actually only just under two hours in length, but the plot becomes so complicated that you might end up watching it a second and a third time. The aging general Sternwood hires the private detective Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to investigate the bookmaker Arthur Geiger who is blackmailing the family with the gambling debts of Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. Well, that’s not complicated at all. Two minutes later, another daughter of Sternwood, Vivian, voices the suspicion that her father’s true motive for hiring Marlowe is to find his confidant Sean Reagan who had mysteriously disappeared earlier. Okay… Marlowe tracks down Geiger in his home but the owner is shot shortly before he arrives, while Carmen Sternwood is snoozing on his couch, drugged up to her eyeballs. Marlowe pursues the trail to the house of Joe Brody, who might shed some light on things but then suddenly gets shot, and – okay, you might as well forget about the plot as it has really nothing to do with why this film is still #229 almost seventy years after its release. The strong points of The Big Sleep are Lauren Bacall as Vivian and Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe, his character in particular being revolutionary for a motion picture detective story from 1946. He’s a hardboiled antihero who doesn’t just solve petty crimes, but has been exposed to violence so regularly that he has become cynical towards his own emotions. She is a seemingly farouche woman, trapped in an unhappy marriage, and appears jaded and unaffected, yet they develop a trust that runs deeper than they want to make it seem. That being said, the interaction between the two is neatly written but I’d recommend reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler rather than watching a movie adaptation that cannot contain its plot.
#228: A Fistful of Dollars – Per un pugno di dollari. Clint Eastwood is the mysterious Man with No Name who comes to a small town where – actually, we do know the bloke’s name. It’s Joe. First, he’s called Joe by the town’s undertaker and besides, that’s how he’s referred to in the credits. So, Clint Eastwood is Joe who comes to a small town where two families are locked in a blood feud that can’t be ultimately settled by either party. Instead of joining one of the factions, Joe decides to play both ends against the middle and willingly accepts money from either side. This movie’s nature is multifarious. It’s a representation of how mercilessly a conflict might be decided when neither party is restrained by any legal or societal order, with an array of hard, grim faces and the squinted eyes that became Eastwood’s distinctive feature. It’s also a reminder that, no matter how cool you once might have looked with your hat and poncho and that cigar in the corner of your mouth, you’re going to grow old one day. Finally, it’s a prime example of a lack of communication. The crew decided to change the movie title three days before the release, without bothering to tell Eastwood, and it then took three weeks for someone to point out to him that the movie everyone was talking about actually featured him.
#227: Memories of Murder – Salinui chueok. A young woman is found raped and murdered in a ditch near a field. Soon after, a young woman is found raped and murdered in a field. Local detective Park cunningly connects the dots and suspects that there might be a pattern to the killer’s behaviour, but that’s where his brilliance starts to waver. Stumbling from one blunder to another, Park and his assistant Cho almost appear to be characters for comic relief, when in fact, they’re simply overwhelmed by the scope of their task, the cold-bloodedness of the killer, and the ineptitude of their fellow officers who accidentally destroy evidence and lack the forensic skills to conduct proper research. Consequentially, the mood of the film starts to sober fairly quickly. Park and Cho become frustrated when their methods fail to produce results and they resort to torturing their suspects, though again without furthering their progress. Only after a third murder has been committed, special detective Seo from Seoul (…) notices a peculiar detail about the three incidents… This movie is based on the true case of South Korea’s first known serial murders. Unfortunately, police never managed to track down the killer, but even so, the writers did provide semi-satisfactory closure for the film’s ending.
#226: Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? I want to apologise! Never did I say anything bad about films that don’t focus on their plot! It seems that in the world of plot-less movies, criticising The Big Sleep will make it summon his big sister Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? This one is a proper heavyweight and to explain why, I will start with, uh, the plot. George and Martha invite Nick and Honey, a younger couple, over to their house for a few late drinks after a faculty mixer at the university. George and Nick are both professors, while Martha is the daughter of the university’s chairman. Expecting only a few lines of harmless social banter, Nick and Honey soon come to realise that they have ended up in the middle of a fierce household warzone. George and Martha, though joined in mutual emotional dependency, thoroughly despise each other. Not only does the amount of vitriol they spew at each other reach extreme levels, it also maintains a constancy that would be impossible to endure for any other movie couple. Here’s an example of one of George’s least offending remarks: “Martha is 108 years old. She weighs somewhat more than that.” The writing is brilliant in that it shells out blunt insults like this one right at the start. As the evening progresses their attacks turn profusely more hurtful, making the uncomfortable audience wish themselves back to the idyllic times when insults were traded openly but teasingly. Of course, they didn’t invite Nick and Honey as impassive spectators but as participants in their sadistic verbal games. Martha ridicules George by flirting with his much younger colleague Nick while Honey helplessly pretends not to notice anything. George charms Nick into telling him about the base intentions he had when marrying Honey, lavishly relaying these details later in good company to demonstrate that they might not be the happily married couple they thought they were. When it comes to acting prowess, this movie is able to shut, nail, and rivet any other movie I have reviewed so far inside its iron coffin of mediocrity. The cast of Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? comprises only four people, all of whom received Academy Award nominations for their performances. This film will deal you a mental beating, but you will never forget having watched it.
DROPOUT: La dolce vita. La dolce vita, along with Gone with the Wind and Citizen Kane, is the type of film I would label an “elusive classic”. Everyone but myself is perfectly familiar with these three, yet somehow, managing to catch them on any regular channel is a nigh impossibility for me. La dolce vita’s main character is called Marcello, a journalist living in Rome. Being quite the unfaithful rake, his girlfriend attempts suicide. Instead of worrying too much about it, he indulges in the city’s rich nightlife and wanders around quite aimlessly. The movie is stamped for those of over 18 years of age, but bear in mind that this is a very outdated rating. The most infamous scene during its time is one of Marcello frolicking in the Trevi fountain with Sylvia, a visiting actress played by Anita Ekberg, which is something you nowadays could show to your four year-old niece. But above all, the movie is a statement against the Italian glitterati of the time and was vehemently criticised because of it. The Vatican called it immoral (besides the fountain scene, it contains an abundance of suggestive religious imagery) and during the premiere, director Federico Fellini was quite literally spat on. While I did not find the movie impressive, the overcharged controversy it had sparked did intrigue me and I am absolutely willing to relay my excitement for the story around it to my appreciation for the work itself. And to be honest, making a good movie with the pope lurking behind you is about as difficult as convincing the Holy Father that it would be a splendid idea to have a Bloody Mary mixed with goat’s blood for dinner on Easter Monday.
Niklas was listening to Stupid Ducks by Michiru Yamane while writing this article.