Blind Spot 77: Barry Lyndon

There’s always something intimidating about a Stanley Kubrick film. You know you aren’t going to get something run-of-the-mill or mainstream. It’s going to challenge me and be fresh and inventive. He’s an impressive director because he tackled so many different genres from comedy (Dr Strangelove) to scifi (2001: A Space Odyssey) to the film we are talking about for this blind spot choice Barry Lyndon– a historical period piece.

To be honest, as a big fan of period pieces I expected to like this film more than I did. I came away from it feeling it is handsomely mounted and well-made, but emotionally distant and bland.

I’m not saying Barry Lyndon is a bad movie. It just didn’t do a lot to excite me or draw me into the story. I think it is one of those classics I’m glad I’ve seen but can’t ever imagine watching again.

It tells the story of Barry Lyndon who is a rogue in 18th century England who fights in war and then woes a rich widow to take advantage of her social status and connections.

Barry Lyndon is over 3 hours which usually isn’t a problem for me with period pieces. I recently watched the 2006 Jane Eyre and the 1995 Pride and Prejudice which are both over 4 hours with enthusiasm. The problem was I just didn’t feel that attached to Barry or any of the other characters. Again, it wasn’t bad. Just not that engrossing or interesting.

I can see why it won Oscars for score, costumes, art direction and cinematography. All of that is exemplary and very well done. The acting is also excellent by Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, and more.

I appreciated the intermission, and I did enjoy the second half more than the first because war movies aren’t my favorite but again the characters and story left me flat. Someday they should do a movie from Lady Lyndon’s perspective because she is treated terribly by Barry and others. The narrator (Michael Hordern) sometimes gives us insight into her and other characters, but I could have used even more.

I had read Barry Lyndon is “one of the best and most influential films ever made” so maybe my expectations were too high? I guess I can see production-wise but the characters and story were nowhere near on that level in my opinion. If it’s a favorite of yours let me know why and what I missed.

6 out of 10

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Blind Spot 73: Clerks

Hey everyone! I am going to take a break from Sundance 2022 to talk about one of the classics of the festival, 1994’s Clerks. This film was directed by Kevin Smith and really captures the raw quality of early indie films from the 1990s. It doesn’t work well as a modern comedy simply because it doesn’t have many laughs but I can see why it was fresh and appealing in 1994.

In the movie Brian O’Halloran plays Dante Hicks a man who manages a convenience store that’s next to a video rental place where friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) works. One morning Dante gets called in when he isn’t even supposed to be working and interacts with a variety of wild characters.

Of all the people who come in and out of the store my favorite were the 2 women, Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer) and Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti. While I didn’t think Dante was worthy of either of them they had some good lines.

Given they inspired an entire franchise Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) aren’t in the movie that much. They were ok I suppose but didn’t make much of an impact on me.

I did enjoy the black and white of Clerks and its authentic lived-in feeling. We have all been in this type of store before and we’ve all had that kind of boring repetitive jobs before. They are the worst!

I just wish I had laughed more at Clerks. I chuckled off and on but nothing major. Maybe I missed something or maybe the jokes have fallen out of favor over time but it wasn’t a very funny movie.

Have you seen Clerks? Do you think I am underselling it as a comedy or maybe you like it for other reasons? Let me know in the comments!

6 out of 10

Blind Spot 71: The Gold Rush (1925)

I have a lot of Oscar contender movies to catch up on this site but before that I want to give my thoughts on the November Blind Spot pick. Speaking of which if you have any suggestions for movies I haven’t ever reviewed please let me know in the comments. I will be coming up with my 2022 picks soon!

the dance with the dinner rolls is iconic

For November my selection is the Charlie Chaplin classic: The Gold Rush. What’s really interesting about this film is there are 2 versions (both on the Criterion Channel). There is the original film from 1925 and the re-release in 1942. It’s fascinating to watch them back-to-back as I did but I prefer the original film. They are pretty close but the 1942 film has Chaplin narrating the film which comes off as corny.

The Gold Rush tells the story of The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) and his love for a beautiful woman named Georgia. Of course other townspeople are interested in Georgia any trying to impress her. He dances with her and invites her on a date for a party, which of course goes disastrously wrong.

I am always impressed by Chaplin’s facial expressions and how he uses his whole body to sell a scene. Without dialogue it is essential the actor amplifies his emotions and feelings or it will lay flat and Chaplin is a master at this. I love this scene from the movie. In fact, all the actors stood out in the film:

The whole cast is strong here with a nice chemistry and great comedic timing. The idea of the cabin over the cliff is so well executed and Chaplin’s responses are hilarious.

The Gold Rush has a madcap energy that is terrific and hilarious. We start out seeing Chaplin go through cold, blizzards, and fighting other men for the gold and for Georgia. The action is shot with such pizazz. It still holds up quite a bit.

Whether you watch the 1925 classic or the 1942 re-release you are good hands watching The Gold Rush. It’s engaging,funny, romantic, touching (it’s great!).

8 out of 10

Smile Worhty

Blind Spot 70: Frankenstein 1931

I think because I have never been a big horror movie person I have a ton of blind spots in that genre including the Universal monster movies. This is why I really wanted to include Frankenstein 1931 in my blind spot this year. Strangely I have seen Young Frankenstein which is a parody of this film but not seen the original. I have also read the book several times and seen the Kenneth Branagh version from 1994 (and I’ve seen Frankenweenie!). Now I have seen the1931 film and I loved it! It’s an extremely well made film with several scenes that really got to me.

Frankenstein 1931 is directed by James Whale and stars Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. It’s a simple story and at 71 minutes it doesn’t waste much time. Dr Frankenstein creates a monster and that monster is misunderstood and mayhem results.

The film starts off with the iconic image of lightning bringing the monster to life. We of course get the doctor calling out ‘It’s alive! It’s alive’. I love the black and white in these scenes and the way director Whale uses light and shadow to create mood.  They are scenes so often parodied they lose some of their impact but if you think about what it must have been like to see for the first time it is very exciting.

Karloff is great as the monster. He plays it almost like a zombie unaware of what he is doing but with just enough alertness to be cognizant of his actions. The most tragic scene is when he is playing with a girl named Maria and in the game he drowns the girl. That scene combined with the farmer bringing his dead little girl into the town is so sad. Devastating.

Like I said, Frankenstein 1931 is not a long movie so its elements are simple. However, I found it effective and very well made. It’s violent, tragic and exciting all at the same time and it has something to say about playing God and how we treat things we don’t understand. Is it a monster just because we are unfamiliar with it? Maybe? Maybe not?

I did think the film ended rather abruptly and I wanted a little bit more. I suppose I will need to watch the sequels one of these days.

8 out of 10

 

Blind Spot 67: The Wild Bunch

The whole point of this blind spot series is a chance to push me out of my comfort zone and finally watch classic films I’ve never seen before. Each year I try to select a variety of films just to keep things interesting for myself and you wonderful readers. One genre I have many blind spots in is Westerns and I’ve enjoyed a fair number of the classics like The Magnificent 7, Stagecoach, High Noon and last year’s blind spot pick The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

This year I picked the 1969 classic The Wild Bunch and I must own I did not enjoy this one much at all. It was incredibly violent, which would have been fine, but I didn’t like the story or any of the characters. It felt really long and I will definitely never watch it again.

The Wild Bunch is directed by Sam Peckinpah and stars William Holden, Ernest Borgine, Robert Ryan and Edmond O’Brien. It was highly praised upon its release and was nominated for best screenplay and best score at the Oscars.It tells the story of a gang of outlaws in the Old West along the Mexican border. They want to make a big last score so they can retire but their attempt leads to one stand-off after another.

I think the reason this movie didn’t work for me is it has no heroes. I was craving a John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart to come and fight for truth and justice. These men are all so decrepit and terrible I grew weary of their antics and surly ways. The violence is strong and unending with even women getting shot at point blank and innocent civilians getting caught in a outlaw shout-out.

It’s weird because I always think of these Westerns as being wholesome but they really are not. Even one’s I like such as Liberty Valance are very violent. The women are also treated terribly here and often shown topless for no reason. It was too much especially at a long 145 minute run time!

I know this movie is highly praised for its editing, music and cinematography and I can see why. They are very well done. I just didn’t care about the story or any of the characters. I think I will stick with the Westerns I have enjoyed like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or even The Cowboys. Those films have charismatic performances and are about people I understand or enjoy spending time with. The guys of The Wild Bunch are pigs and the warfare in the Old West gets old fast. Not for me!

 

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

What about you? Do you like The Wild Bunch? I know it is a classic for many so please share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks! Yeehaw!

For a children’s western I had a lot of fun reviewing An American Tail: Fievel Goes West for Family Movie Night

Blind Spot 65: Bonnie and Clyde

Part of the purpose of the Blind Spot series is to challenge myself to watch classic films outside of my comfort zone. These are usually films I’ve heard great things about but have been hesitant to watch for one reason or another. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde definitely fall into that description. A landmark of its time Bonnie and Clyde is a film that changed cinema with its grounded feel and shocking violence and sensuality.

Of course, Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of the outlaw couple in Depression Era America. Bonnie is played by Faye Dunaway and Clyde by Warren Beatty. Gene Hackman and Estelle Parson also play notable supporting roles (Parson won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). Burnett Guffey also won an Oscar for the incredible cinematography.

The best thing about Bonnie and Clyde is its realism. Even though I know it plays fast and loose with the real story of the couple, when you are watching it feels real. It feels like what it might actually have been like stealing and scrounging for food and lodging- learning to dodge bullets along the way. Nothing feels clean or glossed up for the movies.

As you are watching you feel the exhaustion from the actors as if they were actually experiencing the events of the film. And by the time you get to its very graphic ending it is a relief for the chase is finally be over. I can see why critics like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert were so drawn to such a visceral piece of work.

All that said, the film could do a better job in helping us to get to know Bonnie and Clyde as characters better. They are always kept at a distance and that’s a weakness in the script. Also, this type of violence just isn’t my cup of tea so I don’t picture myself ever watching Bonnie and Clyde ever again.

Still, I’m glad I saw it once to see a turning point in film and to broaden the scope of the films I have seen.

Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde? What did you think of this classic?

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 64: Two for the Road

I always like to have a variety in this blind spot series, so for April I decided to watch the 1967 romantic comedy Two for the Road. As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan this is one I had heard about but never seen and was excited to check off my list.

It’s interesting because this film was made 2 years after Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou which we just reviewed for The Criterion Project (my podcast with my friend Conrado about films on The Criterion Channel. We had guest artist Esther Ko on and it’s a fun listen!). I mention it because both films feel very similar. They are both about couples going on road trips in France and their relative tumultuous relationships. I don’t know which one I like better but they are both unusual romances to say the least.

Two for the Road is about a couple (Hepburn and Albert Finney) and their relationship over 12 years all told with their road trips in France over the years. It’s an experimental film like Pierrot le Fou and goes in and out of non-linear storytelling without any notice of a changing time (you have to tell by what car they are suddenly driving). It’s all very creative and the script is well done.

All that said, this is one of those movies I admire more than I like. I found both of them to be very unlikable and cynical takes on romance just aren’t my thing. I can see it is well done and understand why it was given an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

However, I like my romances more on the fluffy-side (big shocker coming from the Queen of Hallmark movies). Even when they were supposed to be young and in love it still felt cynical and I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Hepburn and Finney.

Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen with style and I can see why Roger Ebert said it was a ‘romance for grown ups’. Like I said, it’s well done but just not for me. This makes giving it a grade difficult (these are the hardest reviews to write) but I will go with…

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy barely

BLIND SPOT 60: REMEMBER THE NIGHT

I’ve said many times on this blog the hardest reviews to writer are for ‘just ok’ films. Movies that inspire a strong feeling either of praise or repulsion are easy to write about. The words flow through the keyboard. It’s the movies that are passable entertainment but nothing special that are a challenge to critique. Or at least challenging for this critic. This ambivalence is how I felt about the holiday classic Remember the Night. It has its moments but I definitely didn’t love it.

Remember the Night has a lot going for it. It’s written (but not directed) by the great Preston Sturges. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray who’ve I liked in other things including teamed together again in movies like Double Indemnity. From what I’m reading the the production of Remember the Night was messy and Sturges had his script hacked up and “was one of the main reasons fueling his determination to direct his own scripts thereafter, which he did beginning with his next project The Great McGinty

Learning about these problems with the film doesn’t surprise me and it is perhaps incredible it is as coherent and enjoyable as it is. In the film Stanwyck plays a woman who is arrested for stealing an expensive bracelet. She then goes on trial and MacMurray’s character is assigned to prosecute her. This would all be fine but there’s a lot of pieces which don’t fit. For instance, a long speech by her defense attorney claiming she was hypnotized and it is an example of the injustice against the poor for her to even be prosecuted. It’s full of theatrics and moral gravitas and then the script does nothing with it. We don’t get to know this man and the themes he mentions are rarely brought up again.

Another out of place scene is when she visits her Mother in Indiana. It feels cold and out of place given the witty banter and road trip shenanigans we’ve been experiencing for most of the picture. There’s lots of scenes like that and it leaves the viewer (or at least this viewer) feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

All that said, Remember the Night does have positives. The long segments of banter are entertaining and MacMurray and Stanwyck have a spark in those scenes. The script from Sturges has brilliant moments which had me laughing. I particularly enjoyed the buttoned up MacMurray getting frustrated by the brazen rebel in Stanwyck.

Instead of Remember the Night I recommend a very similar movie also from 1940 His Girl Friday. Both movies are enemies to lovers stories with 2 people forced to work together with snappy banter as they of course fall for each other. I also recommend Bring Up Baby from 1938 which has a similar energy although Kathryn Heburn is more innocent in that role than either Stanwyck or Rosalind Russell are in their films. Or instead you could watch other better films by Sturges like The Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve (also starring Stanwyck).

In the end, Remember the Night is too uneven to recommend. I liked some of the banter and performances but all involved would go on to do better things and so I would just check out those projects instead.

4.5 out of 10

Blind Spot 59: THE LAST UNICORN

When I included The Last Unicorn on my blind spot list for 2020 a lot of people were surprised I have never seen this classic animated film. This is probably especially surprising since I did an entire series on the creators Rankin Bass back in 2015. Well, the truth is I never saw this film because it never really interested me. I’m in general not that into fantasy stories and a story with unicorns, wizards and beasts didn’t look like my jam; however, the entire point of blind spots is to get me out of my comfort zone so I decided to go for it this year and watch it. Now I have seen it and my feeling is… it’s fine but not really my thing.

The first thing I will say is that the animation in The Last Unicorn is gorgeous. This is without a doubt the most beautiful film I have seen from Rankin Bass and I particularly loved the way it used color. We recently reviewed the hungarian film Son of the White Mare for Obscure Animation and that came out the year before The Last Unicorn and they struck me as very similar in style and feel (although I prefer White Mare personally).

It must have been a trend in the 80s because The Secret of Nimh also uses colors beautifully. And even the much maligned animated Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bakshi from 1978 has some bold color choices. I could use more of that in contemporary animation. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is one of the only recent animated films to use color in an interesting way (maybe Klaus as well).

Anyway, all those technical achievements are fantastic in The Last Unicorn, and I enjoyed watching it as an animation fan. On the other hand, the story wasn’t very compelling. It’s about a unicorn on a quest to find the rest of her kind who have disappeared. Along the way she meets an evil witch, an incompetent magician and briefly gets turned into a human and falls in love.The voice work is all good with the likes of Ala Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow but I didn’t connect with any of the characters or feel much for what was happening.

So often in fantasy I enjoy the world-building more than the actual story and that’s definitely the case here. It’s not the dullest of the genre but I was tempted to fast forward on a number of occasions especially when she turns into a human. That love story was really treacly and plodding.

Still, I’d recommend watching The Last Unicorn especially if you are an animation fan. The story isn’t the best but it’s not awful either. It’s just a little slow but the music is beautiful,voice acting well done and the again the animation is stunning.

6 out of 10

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