Argo

In the last days of the 70s, Iranian militants take over the US Embassy in Tehran taking everyone inside hostage. Unbeknownst to them, six Americans managed to escape, and were able to covertly make their way to the Canadian ambassador’s house (after being turned away by the New Zealanders and those pesky Brits). After hiding out their for weeks, never going outside for fear of being seen and executed on sight, it soon becomes clear that the CIA must make a move to ‘exfiltrate’ these citizens. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), their top exfiltration specialist, comes up with a plan to pull them out, by pretending to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a new sci-fi B-movie called Argo, and to make the story more convincing, Hollywood needs to get involved.
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Quills

The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has been imprisoned by Napoleon for writing sexually explicit novels Justine and Juliette. Whilst in prisoned at the Charenton Insane Asylum, de Sade uses a laundry maid (Kate Winslet) to smuggle out his scripts. The Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who runs the asylum, battles constantly with the rebellious de Sade, until eventually Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a conditioning expert, is brought in to ‘cure’ the man.
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Top 5… Movie Cars

 Two weeks ago, Aisha and I bought a car. It’s her second, but it the first one I’ve ever put some money towards, and it’s our largest joint purchase to date, so it’s something of a noteworthy milestone. It would have inspired last week’s Top 5, but then my sister went and got engaged, so I had to postpone this one a week, but in tribute to our new powder blue Nissan Micra (named Ellie after the wife/house from Up), here is my list of the Top 5 Movie Cars. Now, I’m not much of a car guy, so don’t expect long diatribes about how fast Cameron’s Dad’s Ferrari 250 GT from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off can go, or just how sexy Bruce Wayne’s Lamborghini Murciélago is, because I had to look up what both of those cars were, and I’m still doubting the spelling of Lamborghini. Instead, these are the cars that, for whatever reason, are generally my favourite, be it due to character, coolness or how much I’d like to own one.
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The Graduate

Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has returned home from university a star scholar, with his parents and all their friends keen to voice their high hopes for him and his future, but Ben is more uncertain with what he wants to do. Amidst this despondency, Ben finds himself the reluctant object of the affections of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner, and the pair begin a secret and sordid affair, which becomes complicated when Mrs. Robinson’s husband (Murray Hamilton) has plans to set Ben up with his daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), obviously against the wishes of Mrs. Robinson.


This is one of those films that has become famous for a few significant moments that have become integral to pop culture. Moments like Anne Bancroft trying to seduce Dustin Hoffman, him framed in a doorway behind her strategically cocked legs in the foreground, or the ending, which gives way to one of my favourite final scenes in cinema (featuring the second time I’ve seen a crucifix being used as a weapon in recent times, after Liam Neeson cracked skulls with his in Gangs of New York). The first time I watched this film, as I’m discovering is the case with so many films, I didn’t understand it that much or in fact take any of it in, and the true meaning of the ending was lost on me. This time around I’m pretty sure I got it. Maybe I’m the right age now. Maybe it’s because I’ve now finished my studies and, only a few years ago, was briefly adrift in an ocean of directions I didn’t want to pursue. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen (500) Days Of Summer, in which the ending is discussed and potentially ruined for anyone who hadn’t seen it or couldn’t remember it (like me, for example).

That’s the problem with such a culturally significant film; it’s been discussed and dissected not just on film blogs such as this one (and probably a few better ones too), but in many other areas of pop culture. The more famous sequences have been riffed on in the likes of
Starter For Ten, American Pie and several times in The Simpsons, whereas the overall plot can be heard in The Player (in which a sequel is pitched, set 25 years later), and in Rumor Has It (which I’ve not seen, but my knowledge of the plot led me to expect certain scenes in The Graduate that never actually came about). Fortunately, even though the basics of the plot have been in the public eye for some time now, there are a great many more charms which this film can rely upon.

Firstly, the acting. I’m starting to think that Dustin Hoffman could well be one of the most under-rated actors of his generation. Now, I know that he’s received two leading actor Oscars from seven nominations (the first of which came from this very film), but he’s always seemed overshadowed by the likes of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro from actors of that age. It hasn’t been helped by his far-from-stellar later work, but then Pacino and DeNiro are hardly innocent of that either. You can pretty much guarantee Hoffman will be the focus of a future Film-Makers series. In The Graduate, Hoffman takes a character who should be sympathetic and runs in the opposite direction, making him quite unlikable; someone who’s been handed everything but couldn’t care less. The true genius of the performance shines when Ben is at his most nervous. His subconscious, subtle nod when Mrs. Robinson asks if he knew she was an alcoholic;
his unintentional little whinny and half-swallow whenever he’s put upon the spot or caught off guard. You completely believe, despite the ten year age difference between Hoffman and the character he was playing, that he could be this bright young scholar, the former big man on campus, who now finds himself in the submissive role of a relationship he has no control of. Anne Bancroft is also noteworthy as the woman Ben was completely unprepared for. She retains a steely demeanour, forever in control of every situation she is in, usually because she pulled the strings to instigate it in the first place. 



The cinematography and editing were surprisingly good too – surprisingly because I didn’t remember them being very memorable the first time around. The brilliant opening, following Ben as he glides down an airport’s moving walkway, has been shamelessly ripped off by Tarantino in Jackie Brown, but it’s the cuts that really impressed me. Whether it’s Ben getting dressed as he leaves the swimming pool and walks through a doorway cutting to him walking into a hotel room and being undressed by Mrs. Robinson, or his mounting a lilo cutting seamlessly to mounting her on a bed. The editing from In The Heat Of The Night must have been superb to have beaten this at the Oscars.


The main detracting factor is the soundtrack. I was pleasantly surprised when Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence opened the film, for it’s a song I’m happy to listen to. However, they perform the entirety of the soundtrack, which unfortunately is comprised of only about three of their songs, repeated over and over again, and I became truly sick of it all the second time Scarborough Fair was played in the space of a couple of minutes. I don’t normally mind the haunting, melancholic feel of their songs, but after too long I felt like I was drowning in cold syrup. The main problem is that they always sound bored of singing their own songs, and I’m certainly now bored of hearing them.


There were a couple of uncomfortable moments, but they were played out masterfully, particularly the initial encounter between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, who have known each other all of his life, just not in that present light. After giving her a lift home in his shiny new graduate-present car, Ben is requested to accompany Mrs. Robinson indoors, as she is frightened of entering an empty, dark house alone. He is plied with alcohol and music and led upstairs, torn between intense awkwardness and the desire to be polite and not offend his parents’ close friend. Just as you think things cannot possibly become any more excrutiating for Benjamin, after Mrs. Robinson has all but thrown her naked form at him, of course Mr. Robinson comes home and encourages young Ben to enjoy himself that summer, making sure he has a few flings. This is an embarrassing situation far beyond anything you will find on Curb Your Enthusiasm.


The script is also wonderful, and any film that can feature the lines “You’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends” and “I don’t love your wife, I love your daughter sir,” can do no wrong by me.

Choose film 9/10

Top 5… Movie Proposals

Earlier this week, I discovered I was going to become a brother-in-law, as my sister’s former-boyfriend-now-fiance finally popped the question atop Edinburgh castle. My tribute to them (congratulations Rachel and Sparrow!) is this little rundown of the top proposals in the movies. I’d also like to give a special mention to this video here, which had it appeared in a film would probably be on my list. Anyway, it turns out that a majority of movie proposals happen in rom-coms (I was shocked too), most of which I unfortunately (or fortunately?) haven’t seen, so this is list is far from complete. Just like all my other Top 5s really. Oh, and not all of these are strictly proposal scenes, but that’s the general gist, so let me off on a couple, OK?
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The Wicker Man

Devout Christian police officer Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter telling him that a young girl, 12 year old Rowan Morrison, went missing a year ago and hasn’t been seen since. Armed only with the letter, a photo and his unbreakable religious beliefs, Howie sets out to the secluded island of Summerisle, where he is met by hostility from the locals, who do not approve of a mainlander on their soil, and all deny any knowledge of Rowan’s existence. As Howie investigates further, he is met by obstructions at every turn, and discovers the islands inhabitant’s rituals and ideology may have a more sinister cause for Rowan’s disappearance than the policeman could ever have imagined.

First things first, I’ve not seen the 2006 Nicolas Cage remake, so I can’t really discuss that film here, which is fine, because this post isn’t about that film, it’s about the 1973 original. I have seen a few of Cage’s clips online, and I was glad to see that at no point did Edward Woodward (who, by the way, has the greatest name ever, I can’t stop saying it) explode into a torrent of “How’d it get burned?!?”, have a cage of bees strapped to his head, or perform a running punch whilst dressed as a bear. I had, however, seen this version before, but I now realise it was a heavily edited-for-TV cut, as although I watched it some years ago, I cannot remember nearly as much of the frankly disturbing goings-on that occurred in this film.

Even though it is essentially about a cult, and it’s seen through the eyes of an outsider, there is a lot of this film that’s difficult to fully come to terms with, particularly the downright infuriating manner in which the children of the island are taught. For example, with their forthcoming May Day celebrations, the lessons focus on the maypole, and how it symbolises the penis. Strips of flesh are hung by gravestones, one of which reads ‘Protected by the Ejaculation of Serpents’. Oh, and graveyards are apparently appropriate places to breastfeed children. The children are also encouraged to sing, which I’ve got no problem with, unless the lyrics contain such gems as “On that bed, there was a girl. And on that girl, there was a man. And from that man, there was a seed. And from that seed, there was a boy.” Bear in mind these children are all pre-teen, maybe even by a fair few years in some cases. 

Oh yes, the singing. I’ve decided that if I ever revisit my Top 5 Films That Should Be Musicals, this film is a prime candidate for the sub-list of ones that already pretty much are ones. There are far more songs here than I had expected, and their diversity was something of a surprise. You’ve got a group of naked women prancing around a stone circle singing about pregnancy, and elsewhere there’s an impressively impromptu pub-wide rendition of The Landlord’s Daughter, which must have taken rather a lot of choreographing, seeing as no-one steps on anyone else’s lines. Britt Ekland, who plays Willow, the aforementioned innkeeper’s spawn, even gets her own solo (though I think she was dubbed by someone). Her song, creatively named Willow’s Song on the soundtrack, plays out like a pornographic music video, as Ekland, naked of course, sings directly to the camera as she gyrates ferociously around her room, slapping herself and beating on the wall in an effort to entice the neighbouring Howie to come and attend to her. Understandably, this is one of the more memorable of the film’s scenes, but the breaking of the fourth wall was distracting, and it felt like it went on for far too long.

I very much approved of how we as the audience are kept as much in the dark as Howie is as he goes about his quest, only realising something’s up when he does, at which point of course it’s too late. Woodward also does a good job with Howie’s character, establishing a hero who is something of a dick, and definitely not a people person. I don’t want to get into a debate about religion (in short, it’s not for me), but I’m glad that I’ve never met someone who is quite so steadfast in their beliefs as Howie, who is utterly appalled when he discovers the island education system doesn’t contain anything to do with the teachings of Jesus, as the only religion he even acknowledges the existence of is Christianity, proving he is possibly just as obsessed or bigotted as the islanders themselves.


Even with so many distubing aspects – the thought of the beetle slowly crawling around the desk until it strangles itself still upsets me a little – I can’t help but appreciate this film as being a thoroughly engaging mystery, with an enrapturing plot that, even though I had an inkling of a memory as to what the ending was, I couldn’t wait to see pan out to find out exactly what was going on. Also, Christopher Lee is generally brilliant in anything, here appearing as the charming Lord Summerisle. I’d have appreciated a little less music and a lot less insanity, but I’m still very pleased to have seen it again. Oh, and I’m fairly sure the Salmon of Knowledge was from a lost Monty Python sketch.

Choose film 7/10

3-Iron

Tae-suk (Hyun-Kyoon Lee) has no home, few belongings and leaves no mark on the world. Essentially, he has no life, but why would he need one, when he can borrow other people’s for a few days at a time? Leaving pizza menus taped to the front doors of houses and apartments, he establishes who is away for a while, breaks in and makes himself quite literally at home, making a quick exit before the inhabitants come home. But in his latest domestic intrusion, Tae-suk neglected to ensure the house was empty, as abused housewife Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee) is still home, and when she discovers him he flees, but he returns to find her husband not being overly kind to her. Tae-suk lures him outside and pelts him with golf balls, prompting Sun-hwa to run away with Tae-suk, joining him on his adventures.

I’m guessing that the main reason this film was included amongst the hallowed ranks of the 1001 Movies book is due to it’s sense of poetry, and the fact that the two leads barely even utter a sound for the entirety of the film, but the main reason that the film is no longer a part of the book is because it’s all inherently stupid, with far too many plot issues than I can justifiably overlook, and which ruined the film for me.

Let’s start with the obvious. Tae-suk’s plan is to stick takeaway menus to people’s front doors in the morning, and then come back in the evening to see which one’s have been removed. If a menu is still in place, he assumes that the occupant’s are away for a while. Has he never heard of anyone working late? Or popping out for a drink after work, maybe going for a meal, nipping to the shops or even seeing a film at the cinema? And even if the inhabitants are on holiday, he has no idea how far into it they are, other than on the rare occasion that someone’s outgoing voicemail message announces their return date. For all he knows, they’re due back that evening. It’s not the most well thought out of schemes. Also, he puts an enormous amount of faith in sticky tape. I don’t know about you, but I find the stuff to be wildly ineffective in terms of it’s adhesive power, even when not exposed to the elements. And what’s with the woman who was terrified of the missing photo in an apartment she’s never been in before? The ending, too, is ludicrous, and though the final shot is beautiful and pignant, it doesn’t hold up when even the slightest amount of logic is applied, for example, are there no mirrors in the house? But even though the resolution is downright silly, it was still oddly poetic and smile-inducing, in spite of just how ridiculous it was.

Basically, for the most part I found this film infuriating, so much so that it’s quiet beauty and simplicity was almost lost on me, so great was my annoyance level. There was a real sense of inevitability to many of the scenes – I was waiting for the drilled golf ball to come loose, and for the breaking and entering to all go horribly wrong as soon as the elements were established – and even at a scant 88 minutes I was regularly checking the clock. The prison-set scenes were nice, but unless I’m really missing something blatant, I just didn’t get this film. Whilst I appreciated the unspoken romance between the two characters – some things are easier said through looks than words – and the performances cannot be criticised in either case, I just can’t get behind a film with such irritating issues.

Choose life 5/10