Easy Rider (1969)

February 25, 2010

It’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the marketplace.

This review contains a huge spoiler. If you haven’t seen this film and think you might ever, don’t read this.

Like Bonnie and Clyde, I’d not only not seen this, but didn’t know much about it. “Denis Hopper, Motobikes, Road movie”, was about as far as my knowledge spread.

All of those things are true, but insufficient. Easy Rider is not a movie I’ll easily forget, and has scenes and moments of brilliance. It is, however, the first film in this project that I’m ambivalent about. Some of it isn’t very good: structurally it’s poor and meandering, and there’s much that’s technically inept or ill-advised (there’s a method of cutting between scenes by flashing to the new one, then back to the old, that’s just irritating). Much of the drugs related stuff, and the “bad trip” scene in particular, is very poor. At the time, I imagine, it was shocking or exhilerating (or both) depending on your outlook, but now it just seems tired and hackneyed.

Jack Nicholson is simply brilliant, doing the Jack Nicholson thing but with a freshness that makes it seem less like a schtick. Also, much of the film is near silent, and so his garrulous arrival seems welcome, and he gets some of the most interesting things to say.

As I said, I didn’t know much about the movie. I didn’t know that Peter Fonda was its centre, his stillness and ability to be enigmatic and, at the same time, reactive carries what story there is and is unfailingly interesting.

And the ending (and here be the spoiler). I didn’t know. Didn’t see it coming, really. With a beautiful pullback shot of Fonda’s flaming motorcycle that mirrors the dislocation of the sudden violence. And in that /genuinely/ shocking moment, the film crystallised for me, and the aching sense of a quest, of a search, doomed and unfulfilled will remain with me for a long while.

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

February 15, 2010

You’ve come to Nottingham once too often…

As camp as Christmas, so far over the top it’s looped back around a few times, shot in unconvincing technicolor with costuming and dialogue so bizarre that you wonder what on /earth/ anyone was thinking about (the “wear an unattractive curtain” competition really gets in full swing towards the end, and Olivia De Haviland at one point introduces bacofoil to the medieval era), making Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves look historically plausible…

When anyone (mostly the aforemention Olivia De Haviland) looks like veering towards acting, the script soon steps in to ensure that they say something sufficiently ludicrous… The actor (Eugene Pallette) playing Friar Tuck has a strong mid-western accent, which is rather out of keeping with the RP of everyone else…The ending is a contrived Deus Ex Machina, with good King Richard promising that all Normans and Saxons will live in harmony…

I loved every second of it.

Bladerunner (1982)

February 12, 2010

I don’t know why he saved my life

It’s the best part of ten years since I’ve seen this, and we watched the “Special Edition” version of the Director’s Cut. It still looks gorgeous, even after nearly thirty years, and it’s played and filmed with such style. With the heartbeat of a film noir and enough flashes of PKD’s ideas to keep it interesting, it’s still a cracking and disturbingly weird film.
There’s some bits that haven’t aged well, though. Everyone smoking, all the time, seems just strange, but the most clunkingly obvious thing is Vangelis’ music. Put down the synthesiser and step /away/ from the score. Whereas, I seem to recall, in the 80’s it felt avant garde and appropriate, the music seems far older than the movie, and somehow the two have moved apart.

Interesting parallel with NbNW – both finish with a climbing scene, and it’s clear the Blade Runner one owes much to Hitchcock. See! There /is/ a point to this project

North by Northwest (1959)

Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then

Alfred Hitchcock in “thriller” mode, though, really, “Spy Caper” is closer to the mark than thriller, as we never /really/ believe that Cary Grant is in danger. The dialogue’s slick, when you can pay attention to it (see the “Woodyard” footnote), the scene with cropduster is cool and deservedly iconic, and the “climbing all over the faces of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore” ending is a triumph of brio over any kind of realism at all. It’s kind of interesting to compare this to “Doctor No”, really, as it’s been described as a Proto-bond film.
Entertaining and light, and done with a swagger that just about hides the crunching improbability of it all.

Woodyard: There is a scene where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint have a charged and flirty conversation on a train. There are serious problems with the back-projected scenery, and also some prop flowers. As we change from shot to shot, first Eva is travelling past a woodyard, and Cary isn’t… then Cary is, and Eva isn’t. Then there’s a bridge, which passes Eva some minutes after it’s passed Cary… then the woodyard’s back with Eva… And all the while the flowers are wilting and springing back to life.