#673 Alien (1979)

Alien’s visceral, distinctive design are at the forefront of Ridley Scott’s serious sendoff to the monster shockers of the 1950s. It’s a gritty, bloody addition to both the science fiction and horror genres. Awash in a decade of great (and terrible) science fiction, Alien stands out as an exception to the glut of mediocre Star Wars clones (no pun intended).

We…. Actually, only one of us watched the one hour, fifty-seven minute extended director’s cut on BluRay.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_(film)

Jennifer

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, noooooooope. Nope.

Garrett

So, this is the first of several that I know are on the list that Jenn will simply refuse to watch. She offered an exchange: she’ll watch some of the less enthralling kids’ movies on the list alone…but my thought was that she should just watch SOME of the films of this caliber to the extent that I choose what parts were innocuous enough that she wouldn’t have bad dreams for a month.

I lost this battle when it came to Ridley Scott’s Alien. As you can see in the pictures, I simply recounted the entire story to my wife in an oral retelling of costumed PG-detail, and let her draw her own visibly distraught conclusions about what she missed. Obviously, she concluded it was the right decision to sit this one out.

I am probably one of the few Americans to consider themselves a film connoisseur who has never seen this film. I have seen Prometheus, one of the sequels, before this one as a matter of fact. Even though Prometheus was widely panned, I enjoyed the story but knew I was missing something. After looking up some interpretations online, it was clear that it made sense why I was a little lost. After watching Scott’s film, it was also clear that there were many aspects of popular culture (the ending of Spaceballs, a facehugger plush at a friend’s house, and a variety of other things) that I was clearly uninformed about considering I had never seen this piece. I’m glad that I now know what that was all about.

On to the film.

So I have a few thoughts about what I saw. First, aside from the fact that I am not living in the 1970s, this film was relatively tame and boring for me. Once I figured out that it was a “boo!” movie, I recognized exactly where the boo moments were ahead of time and (even though I was watching it by myself) saying aloud, “and of course here is where it pops out.” It did, every time. Now, that is not to say that I can’t get into a film like that…as a matter of fact, I can brush aside disbelief in a second – I’m a geek – but in this case, I felt there was very little holding the story together. I didn’t care about the characters at all, and they were practically sculpted from an outline of Conrad’s archetypes – that is, two-dimensional and without personality. The only one I could get behind was Bilbo Baggins – the scientist crew member had a directive and everything, and there’s a twist about that, and then another, but when he ends up only making it halfway through the film and I am left with characters I don’t care about… Well, at one point I was just running down the clock.

My favorite part of the whole film was the ending for a variety of reasons. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was unsure (at the escape point) about how the resolution would play out once Weaver was on her own. What happened was pretty cool, and it felt genuinely satisfying when she did it…. As for the cat, well…

So back to my original sentiment. Is this considered so great because it was made in the year it was made, and audiences had different expectations? I have a feeling that is likely. Ultimately, I was bored. The tension, while dialed up, wasn’t that exciting for me. This was likely because the characters had nothing for me to care about aside from “will they get out?”  but it appears that is the main point.

The design of the film was incredible, however. The scenes where we were only allowed glimpses of the horror through the darkness, blending in, and the extensive use of strobe lights were terrifying, and H.R.Geiger’s creature and environment were truly intoxicatingly terrible… But if these are to take a backseat to good writing, that is where I feel cheated. I am glad I watched it, but I am more interested in hearing more about why people love it so much. I am not convinced it is simply the phallic monster stalking the beautiful, waifish woman, but if it is, the sexual imagery is absolutely ridiculous and overpowering. If it is the writing, well, I will have a hard time being convinced that it is actually effective – I’m sure Robert McKee would roll his eyes at the suggestion. I totally get the piece in the context of the year it came out, collecting legions of people enthralled with the production value and execution for the time. But, if it isn’t that…What IS it, then?

I am interested in the sequel, that I have already noticed is on the list. Let’s hope I care more about that one. After giving this two hours, I am sure I will care a little more – and also, that must be the one where Weaver comes face to face with it, right?

#599 Amarcord (1973)

Amarcord is one of Fellini’s later films and is a semiautobiographical sendoff to the small Italian community of his youth. The structure of this film is a darting, weaving, ocean of actors whose roles come on and off the screen in waves, completely ignoring any central plot but seemingly just documenting a year in this tiny, sleepy community.  We travel through the seasons of the year as much as the seasons in life to view a melancholic and nostalgic faux reality in every character and every feeling. “A triumph of artistic form,” Amarcord has “direct and affecting” emotions that are “streamlined…into a pure, exalted poetry of mist, flowing camera movements, pastel colors, and lightly artificial set design” (Schneider). This was an engaging and enjoyable film that we ate up as Fellini’s story was woven into the fabric of a community, young and old, whimsical and real. A beautiful film.

We watched Amarcord on Criterion DVD, #4.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amarcord

Jennifer

I totally do not remember watching this movie at all.  Maybe too sleepy from a glass of wine?  I simply don’t know.

This movie received international critical acclaim when it debuted.  It is Federico Fellini’s  memory of daily life in his Italian village of Rimini during the reign of Mussolini (Amarcord means “I remember”).   It won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.   Chock full of humor, this movie was touted for its realistic portrayal of the everyday “characters” one would find in their own neighborhood or village – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the fantastic sort of everyday people not always portrayed on the big screen.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film. Rife with this bizarre narrative and dreamlike imagery that jumps between little vignettes and tied together by a few community-member narrators, it resembles more of a memory-driven oral history than it does a straight narrative film. The characters that come on and off the page are hyperrealistic community members that captivate one’s attention as a brilliant little slice of life that never comes together as one whole but remains a wholly amorphous ensemble  – sort of like a Russian novel where everyone isn’t always important, but there are many, many characters that construct a vivid setting-character.

The score was completely beautiful, and the biggest success was perhaps the camera work and gorgeous editing that took these disparate elements and tied them all together through effective transitioning, color, music, costuming, and presentation. Here we have a community member narrating again, and here we follow the prostitute and get some fun sophomoric comedic relief before the big family fight scene. It is pastoral, and it is city, and it is the strangely artificial sea. It is happiness and it is sadness. It is beauty, destruction, resurrection, and life. It is a film that is difficult to characterize because there is so much going on that it reminds me almost of a successful execution of the fictitious play that Hoffman’s character was trying to construct in Synechdoche, NY but then somewhat deconstructed in memory like Eternal Sunshine.

It really reminded me of some elements of one of my favorite directors Wes Anderson in many ways – in the production, the color palette use, the strange and effective editing and camera work, and the dramedy that is all woven together to create this picture of a community. Granted, this film that was larger than life and ridiculous, but in many ways, there is a rock solid truth in it that that can be more effective than documentary-style storytelling. It is almost more real because of its elements that seem too much, and in that sense, more real. There is truth in the dreamy super-fiction of Amarcord, and it created a truly wonderful and enjoyable film.

#677 All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz is a stream-of-consciousness commercial-art-film semi-biopic of the life and career of its Broadway-famous writer and director, Bob Fosse. The film is strange, bouncing around from event to event and topic to topic, yet it is impeccably edited to make sense centrally structured around the life, work, relationships, successes, failures, and desires of its director. Bizzare in its striking self-prediction of Fosse’s own death ten years later, this brilliant film is “savagely witty on backstage life and thrilling in how well it conveys the obsessive, all-consuming excitement of those passionately committed and driven in their work.” We couldn’t agree more. We especially enjoyed all of the little Broadway cameo nods throughout the cast.

We watched a special edition of this film, but in doing a little research, learned that there was a Criterion released, and will likely rewatch with the commentary and supplements.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_That_Jazz_(film)

Garrett

What a surprise this film was. Sincerely, a truly magical, exciting, enthralling surprise that I was almost unsure I even wanted to watch. What I was expecting was that uncomfortable, creepy soft-touch film of the seventies that is awkward in its execution and style, bizarre in its narrative structure, overtly sexual for no apparent reason (there is one part), and a strange back-to-basics performance style that is a renaissance of a time that never existed where people are doing things that people never did in a way that is supposed to be edgy and is really just kinda disgusting, sweaty, and earth-toned like a bad porn but on purpose. But what I got was a beautiful commentary on life, work, and the theater, and it was presented in a truly remarkable postmodern edgy way from beginning to end. It was, simply put, a great film that did a lot of cool new things in a cool new way.

Full of great music and engaging performances, this take on Fosse’s life really reflects the life of an artist that mirrors my own and that I am familiar with. Fosse was able to capture the constant struggle for the energy of creation, and how difficult it is to manage balance that with your own expectations and the expectations of your audience. It also showcases the struggle of creating material, deadlines, a variety of outside influences and expectations, and finally, the toll it takes on your happiness, relationships, and health. Being a performer and artist myself, there was a lot that I saw in this film that really reflected my exhaustion and efforts in much the same way that the protagonist struggled to see in his own drug-addled morning reflection.

Most notable scenes were that oft-imitated morning routine set to Vivaldi, which I have seen in countless other films. The postmodern, compartmentalized scenes with death and former lovers and relatives were really cool – a little on the soft-touch seventies vibe, but easy to ignore with how cool it was executed. I thought the train ride of the film was really neat – a few times as I watched, I felt like I was ready to go to bed, but the way the film is edited you really just want to stay on the train and watch to its conclusion. it sincerely got better, more engaging, and entertaining as it went along, and the final hour didn’t even seem like an hour. The postmodern fifth wall open-heart surgery and dance sequences were absolutely mindblowing but only as much as the beautiful and intimate dance sequence of his daughter and (second wife?) in the living room of his house.

A spectacular and beautiful meditation on life and artistic work, I really thought this film blew my expectations out of the water. It easily solidified Fosse’s contribution to the world in his art, but it was also sadly a testament to his work and his death that he outlined on the screen for us all to watch in glorious celluloid. An incredible film.

 

Jennifer

“It’s showtime, folks!”

I was feeling a bit of trepidation about all the sketchy seventies dance numbers and costume sure to be an essential part of the film from 1979. Let me reassure you, this movie delivers on Seventies Swagger. Some of the dance sequences seemed really dated to me, but others were literally magical. The film picks up speed at the very beginning and practically sprints to the ending with no pause or break in between for you to catch your breath, and then screeches to an abrupt, grim ending.

And that ending… that ending number is so fantastically amazing.  I feel like the movie was really ahead of its time for the way they occasionally used flashbacks, music, and dance together, but then individually at other times, to propel the story forward.

The cast of this movie was sensational.  As a musical, this movie really stood out with significant dialogue between the characters to move the story along unlike a traditional musical where the music and dance tell the story.

#620 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an excellent film that won many awards in 1975. The film features incredible performances by Will Sampson, Louise Fletcher, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito, and many others all working as a tight ensemble to deliver a powerful and beautifully paced piece. Forman’s direction has rarely failed throughout his illustrious career, and this movie is no different; any scene between Fletcher and Nicholson is mesmerizing as one can literally see static electricity building between their silent eyes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo%27s_Nest_(film)

Garrett

As a reader, I am really looking forward to the films on this list that are based on books I have read. As a matter of fact, I am looking forward to reading some of the books that I haven’t read before seeing the film and experiencing both pieces independently. There are a lot on the list that I have already read, so that helps.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was a film that I saw in high school and ended up reading the book a lot later. It is somewhat of an urban fantasy and is told in the point of view of the Chief as he tries to make sense of the senselessness of his surroundings. It was a great book, and it’s most memorable elements were its use of fantasy elements and Beat Generation narrative in the face of telling a compelling story about domination, social complacency, and the importance of self in a world that doesn’t care.

This film  is excellent but leaves out a great deal of what makes the book great. As a work of art on its own, it manages to evoke some incredible performances from some new actors (Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, and Brad Dourif). The fact that this studio film is able to captivate the audience using only one set most of the film as if we were watching a play (it was also a play, of course) is a testament to the power of the performances and the script over anything else. It is rare today that original performances by original actors are a chance that studios take, and it worked so perfectly in this film. Furthermore, Forman’s understanding of a good performance when he sees it, and his ability to zoom into the performer’s face uncomfortably close brings a shocking beauty to their performance. Dourif’s close reactions to Fletcher’s questioning about halfway through the film is one of the greatest compositions between actor and camerawork that ended in something absolutely beautiful.

A great film whose script and theatrical execution appear to be its strongest points. As an adaptation of a book, it misses some of the books more important elements and only focuses on plot and theme. Largely misses the tone and narrative of the piece, but it is beautiful on its own as a separate work of art.

 

Jennifer

I have never read the book or seen the play.  I thought the movie was great.  This is another film where we get to discover the early work of some of the actors we grew up watching ( Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd). The actors actually lived on the psych ward of the Oregon State Hospital during the filming, and several of the staff and actual patients of the ward were featured as  background actors during several scenes.

The rights to make a film adaptation were obtained by actor Kirk Douglas in the 1960s, who had starred as McMurphy in the play.  However, by the time the movie began production, 10 years later, he was too old to reprise his role as McMurphy. His son Michael Douglas continued to work on adapting  the novel and play into a film.

Jack Nicholson gave a flawless performance, as his characters goes head to head with the terrific villain Nurse Ratched. The supporting cast all deliver equally compelling performances, many of them unknown actors or in their Hollywood debut.