#225: Barry Lyndon. A Kubrick movie that has nothing in common with The Killing. Barry Lyndon is an 18th century Irish rogue forced to leave his native soil and make a living as a soldier in the Seven Years’ War for both opposing factions in turn, then as a gambler, and finally by marrying a rich widow. It boasts a runtime of over three hours and, if you do have the patience, it will be everything that you can ever want it to be, ranging from comedy to drama, to war film, to romance, to picture book advertisement (“How pretty, we should move there”). If you do not have the patience, it will run as slowly as molasses in January. Irritatingly and rather fatally, Barry Lyndon himself appears to be anything but a rogue in character. He is homely and fairly considerate of others, making me question whether his adventures should have ever happened to him. Occasionally, he is so evidently lacking edge it becomes downright depressing.
#224: La Strada. This is reportedly Pope Francis’ favourite movie. With that in mind, it’s probably worth mentioning that La Strada was directed by Federico Fellini who’s also responsible for La dolce vita. La Strada is the story of Gelsomina, an urchin who is sold by her mother to the traveling street performer Zampano. He wants to train her as an announcer for his best and only trick: By expanding his chest, he breaks an iron chain wrapped around his torso with what seems to be great effort. My personal excitement for such feats is kept within rather limited bounds and the crowds gathering to see him perform usually share my sentiment. The little money he is able to make is spent on wine and pleasurable company, and Gelsomina is regularly treated with disregard and brutality. Regardless of his base demeanour though, Gelsomina can’t help being attracted to him. The film is about her tribulations and doubts just as much as it is about the changes that her affections cause in Zampano, who I consider to be the far more interesting of the two characters. Even though Giulietta Masina’s performance as Gelsomina has been met with excessive praise, I can’t see any reason that would justify a supposedly under-age girl being played by a woman who is clearly older than thirty.
#223: Monsters, Inc. Sulley and Mike are two monsters in the workforce of this movie’s eponymous corporation which is generating the electricity for their city Monstropolis. Their daily routine consists of opening portals into children’s bedrooms to frighten them, harnessing their screams to convert into power. They are, however, exorbitantly fearful of human children themselves and at an unfortunate moment, Sulley accidentally lets a small girl transgress into their world, whose presence then plunges the city into chaos. Being one of the earlier Pixar animation films, Monsters Inc. doesn’t quite manage to bridge the age gap of its audience yet. Its jokes and situational comedy aren’t tailored for mature viewers and most of the monster designs are simplistic and anything but frightful, faintly resembling some of my clumsier attempts while using the Spore Creature creator. The only exception to this is Waternoose, the corporate crab in charge of the company. More than anyone else, Sulley was designed to appear exorbitantly cute and fluffy. Every frame he appears in took almost half a day until it was fully rendered because all of his 2.3 million strands of hair had to be animated individually.
#222: La haine. Question time: Is a film maker who simply names his characters after the actors who are playing them an artist or just lazy? The film is set in an impoverished Parisian suburb, home to the three friends Saïd (Taghmaoui), Hubert (Koundé) and Vinz (-cent Cassel). During a riot, their friend Abdel is seized by the police and a lost police gun finds its way into Vinz’s possession. When Abdel is beaten to a pulp in custody, Vinz vows to avenge his death by shooting a policeman, his anger at the responsible officers quickly transforming into general hatred against virtually every officer in the country. His two friends struggle to keep him in check, as he starts to viciously backlash at anyone who he doesn’t feel is paying him the respect he deserves. He might seem like a shallow sketch of a gangster character, but it gradually turns out that the role of the coldblooded killer is not what he was born into and he even becomes the tragic antihero of the movie at the end. However, La haine isn’t a story about three teenagers from a banlieue at all, since none of them is doing more than filling an exemplary role. It’s a post-plot movie trying to explain the psychological background of the riots in Paris’ suburbs during the 90’s – in that respect, the cover art for the film is to be taken quite literally, with “Hatred” obliterating the friends’ faces. Come to think of it, might that be the reason why none of the characters was bestowed with a name of their own? Probably not just lazy.
#221: Dog Day Afternoon. In an operation with barely any financial success but high entertainment value, Sonny and his two accomplices attempt to rob a bank. Having arrived the day after the safe has just been emptied, the criminals find themselves the new owners of a thousand dollars and some traveler’s cheques. Dissatisfied with their meagre reward and having lured in a considerable police force by burning the bank’s register and producing large billows of smoke, they only have their freedom left to bargain for with the lives of their hostages. This story is based on the real events of a 1972 bank robbery in New York. Three men, only one of which had any prior criminal experience, carried out a heist to pay for one of their lover’s sex reassignment surgery. Their lack of expertise was meant to be compensated by a plan based on scenes from The Godfather and in fact, Sonny and his companion Sal are played by Al Pacino and John Cazale, both of which appeared in the first and second part of the Mafia saga. A large part of Dog Day Afternoon consists of the media circus surrounding the robbery and the publicity figure Pacino’s character turns into. The police, unaccustomed to the extent of media attention, act rashly in their negotiations with the robbers and the crowd outside and inside of the bank building soon starts to favourite Sonny as a selfless reject of society who simply wants to help his boyfriend. Dog Day Afternoon was shot in 1975, a time when Al Pacino was at the peak of his acting abilities and the film has no flaws that I could pick apart. It being based on real events does mean that it lacks the pacing we are used to from fictional stories, but none of the time ever seems to be wasted.
Daily dose of trivia: This is the first movie title that needs some explanation in my opinion. Periods of maddening heat between July and August are sometimes called the dog days because these months coincide with Sirius, the Dog Star, rising and setting with the sun. Though still quite frequently used in 16th century and neoclassical literature, the term gradually disappeared – along with the notion that the luminaries might have substantial influence on our everyday life.
#228: Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Every once in a while, a movie suffers such an ill-timed drop that it basically falls in between two weeks and misses its spot in my regular articles. Thanks to the impact Interstellar had made way further up, this is what happened to former #222: Pirates of the Carribean.The pirate Jack Sparrow and William Turner, a blacksmith’s apprentice, embark on a mission to save the governour’s daughter Elizabeth Swann. Their interests collide with a crew of spectral pirates, who have been responsible for madam to be in need of rescuing in the first place, and are now hell-bent on completing a ritual with her blood to lift the curse of undeath they suffer from. Later instalments of the franchise tend to overcomplicate their plots with shifting pledges of allegiance in an attempt to forcefully forge a tale of epic magnitude, but The Curse of the Black Pearl is telling its story on a rather small scale. There’s only one antagonist, played by Geoffrey Rush, but his character and Johnny Depp’s are the two personalities elevating the movie to become excessively enjoyable. Captain Barbossa alternates his roles of skeletal swashbuckler and well-spoken charmer, while Jack Sparrow is constantly causing everyone to underestimate him by feigning tipsy ineptitude and flinging abstruse sentence structures at whomever might or might not be willing to listen to him. The movie could be a lot better (the hysterical theme park vibe surrounding Tortuga is ridiculous, for instance, even for a movie that isn’t meant to be realistic), but at least the plot is not inviting the audience to brainlessly munch away on popcorn all the way through, as the twists in the storyline periodically punish inattentiveness.
Niklas was listening to Sancho de los Panchos by Yoko Shimomura while writing this article.