THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969)
In this melodrama, the controversial and charismatic boarding school teacher Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) inspires her teenage girl students to embrace independence, politics, free-thought, and sexuality. But one student, Sandy, (Pamela Franklin) obsessed with Miss Brodie begins to recognize her hero’s flaws, to see the desire to inspire her students as desperate and narcissistic, a way to distract from her own problems. Sandy’s obsession with Miss Brodie becomes competitive and vengeful as she tries to steal all Miss Brodie has. First she goes after the admiration of her students; then she sets her sights on Miss Brodie’s lover.
First of all, there’s a lot of discussion in Hollywood about how hard it is to get people to finance or go see movies about complex women characters and how few interesting roles there are for actresses. This is one of those movies that shows how foolish it is that the movie-world is so man-focused. Maggie Smith is crazily hot and cool and brilliant (as is Pamela Franklin) and Muriel Spark’s story and characters are incredibly interesting and flawed and charismatic and dramatic. These two incredible women battle over this man who isn’t the point at all. He’s a pawn— the battle is about much larger things than romance.

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969)

In this melodrama, the controversial and charismatic boarding school teacher Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) inspires her teenage girl students to embrace independence, politics, free-thought, and sexuality. But one student, Sandy, (Pamela Franklin) obsessed with Miss Brodie begins to recognize her hero’s flaws, to see the desire to inspire her students as desperate and narcissistic, a way to distract from her own problems. Sandy’s obsession with Miss Brodie becomes competitive and vengeful as she tries to steal all Miss Brodie has. First she goes after the admiration of her students; then she sets her sights on Miss Brodie’s lover.

First of all, there’s a lot of discussion in Hollywood about how hard it is to get people to finance or go see movies about complex women characters and how few interesting roles there are for actresses. This is one of those movies that shows how foolish it is that the movie-world is so man-focused. Maggie Smith is crazily hot and cool and brilliant (as is Pamela Franklin) and Muriel Spark’s story and characters are incredibly interesting and flawed and charismatic and dramatic. These two incredible women battle over this man who isn’t the point at all. He’s a pawn— the battle is about much larger things than romance.

2 notes

WISE BLOOD (1979)
In this challenging-to-classify melodrama, dark-comedy based on Flannery O’Connor’s genius novel, a confused fool name Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) who believes himself a prophet attempts to start his own religion in the 1950’s south. In his search for followers, he attracts like-minded lunatics, frauds, and charlatans who drive him deeper into delusion, alienation, self-destruction, and madness.
It’s hard to find a place to begin about how great this movie is. First, John Huston is a truly great director and this is easily his best movie (for me, only competing with The Misfits). The story is one of the most wild and unpredictable and the characters are surprisingly authentic given the extreme eccentric world they inhabit. It’s hard to imagine the emotional lives of mad frauds and fools, but this movie does so with an unflinching intensity and humor only found in writers as brutal and honest as Flannery O’Connor. The ensemble cast is awe-inspiring. Brad Dourif is one of the greatest actors to ever live, though he only had a few great roles to prove it (mainly his Oscar-nominated role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). I still see him in small roles in movies all the time. He was even the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies. He had a weird career. But watch this one and he’ll haunt you forever. But Brad Dourif’s intensity is met by extreme performances by everybody else including the brilliant Harry Dean Stanton as a preacher who has blinded himself for Jesus, Ned Beatty as a desperate man trying to make money in the religion business, and the mysterious Dan Shor as the only man crazy enough to be Hazel Motes’s disciple. And just to say something about Dan Shor, I’ve only seen him in one other movie: he plays Billy the Kid in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s wild to think of these brilliant people who disappear. But Dan Shor’s performance is tragic and moving and hilarious, one of the most memorable parts of this absolutely epic movie.

WISE BLOOD (1979)

In this challenging-to-classify melodrama, dark-comedy based on Flannery O’Connor’s genius novel, a confused fool name Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) who believes himself a prophet attempts to start his own religion in the 1950’s south. In his search for followers, he attracts like-minded lunatics, frauds, and charlatans who drive him deeper into delusion, alienation, self-destruction, and madness.

It’s hard to find a place to begin about how great this movie is. First, John Huston is a truly great director and this is easily his best movie (for me, only competing with The Misfits). The story is one of the most wild and unpredictable and the characters are surprisingly authentic given the extreme eccentric world they inhabit. It’s hard to imagine the emotional lives of mad frauds and fools, but this movie does so with an unflinching intensity and humor only found in writers as brutal and honest as Flannery O’Connor. The ensemble cast is awe-inspiring. Brad Dourif is one of the greatest actors to ever live, though he only had a few great roles to prove it (mainly his Oscar-nominated role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). I still see him in small roles in movies all the time. He was even the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies. He had a weird career. But watch this one and he’ll haunt you forever. But Brad Dourif’s intensity is met by extreme performances by everybody else including the brilliant Harry Dean Stanton as a preacher who has blinded himself for Jesus, Ned Beatty as a desperate man trying to make money in the religion business, and the mysterious Dan Shor as the only man crazy enough to be Hazel Motes’s disciple. And just to say something about Dan Shor, I’ve only seen him in one other movie: he plays Billy the Kid in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s wild to think of these brilliant people who disappear. But Dan Shor’s performance is tragic and moving and hilarious, one of the most memorable parts of this absolutely epic movie.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)
In this sci-fi, horror, existential melodrama nightmare, an innocent man exposed to radiation starts shrinking. At first, his shrinking makes him a freak but it eventually becomes clear he’ll soon be too small to be a part of the human world at all. His life becomes more about surviving in a world of small animals and insects, but whether he can kill a spider or not, his triumphant survival is darkened by the knowledge that his shrinking will only continue. 
This movie should, by all rights, be campy and fun, but it’s seriously moving and heavy. Yes, the special effects are incredibly cool (even by modern standards) and it’s a great action thing to watch a tiny man battle a spider, but this movie is really more about searching for meaning outside of social life and survival, through the inevitability of death, loneliness, and alienation.


THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)

In this sci-fi, horror, existential melodrama nightmare, an innocent man exposed to radiation starts shrinking. At first, his shrinking makes him a freak but it eventually becomes clear he’ll soon be too small to be a part of the human world at all. His life becomes more about surviving in a world of small animals and insects, but whether he can kill a spider or not, his triumphant survival is darkened by the knowledge that his shrinking will only continue.

This movie should, by all rights, be campy and fun, but it’s seriously moving and heavy. Yes, the special effects are incredibly cool (even by modern standards) and it’s a great action thing to watch a tiny man battle a spider, but this movie is really more about searching for meaning outside of social life and survival, through the inevitability of death, loneliness, and alienation.

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
In this horror/comedy/musical for children, a poor child wins a contest with the coveted prize of a personal tour through the famous Wonka chocolate factory led by the reclusive and eccentric chocolate-maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) himself. But as the tour commences, the mysterious and unpredictable Willy Wonka proves himself a sorrowful and tormented misanthrope capable of both great beauty as well as great hatred. Soon enough, it becomes clear that this contest and tour actually serve mostly as means of Wonka’s revenge against the outside world, an excuse for him to ironically punish children he despises.
This movie makes me cry from start to finish. Willy Wonka is one of my favorite characters. I relate to him a lot. I often feel that my life is a beautiful place as long as others aren’t allowed inside. Once Wonka lets people in, he has to endure near-constant stupidity and hatred. One of the most powerful moments of the movie is when Wonka excitedly tells the children on his tour that his wallpaper decorated with images of berries is lickable. “The rasberries taste like rasberries!” he says. “The strawberries taste like strawberries! The shnozzberries taste like shnozzberries!” Veruca Salt, a spoiled child that is easily one of the most entertainingly reprehensible characters in all of literary history, snaps at him skeptically, “Shnozzberries!? Who ever heard of a schnozzberry!” Wonka grabs Veruca’s face violently in his hand and says, “We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.” As a child, I used to fantasize about saying that to those who mocked me. It’s arrogant, but an arrogance I can stand behind. The artists with imaginations should not have to endure derision from fools, just as children should not have to endure the closed-mindedness and blindness of adults. They look at Wonka’s beautiful chocolate factory and don’t understand it. That’s why he shut the world out in the first place. Anyway, all ranting aside, Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka is one of the greatest; he’s somewhere between a loving father, an excited mischevious child, and a sadistic maniac. There’s a gentle sorrow in the voice and eyes of Wilder’s Wonka that moves me to tears when nothing sad is even happening. And the ensemble cast is all brilliant and hilarious, especially the actors playing Veruca Salt and her father and Grandpa Joe. And of course the music is beautiful to the point of magic. The most famous song, Pure Imagination, is about how fantasy is preferable to real life, a rebellious theme song for all the misanthropic artists who retreat into themselves because it’s the only place where they find joy and beauty.

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

In this horror/comedy/musical for children, a poor child wins a contest with the coveted prize of a personal tour through the famous Wonka chocolate factory led by the reclusive and eccentric chocolate-maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) himself. But as the tour commences, the mysterious and unpredictable Willy Wonka proves himself a sorrowful and tormented misanthrope capable of both great beauty as well as great hatred. Soon enough, it becomes clear that this contest and tour actually serve mostly as means of Wonka’s revenge against the outside world, an excuse for him to ironically punish children he despises.

This movie makes me cry from start to finish. Willy Wonka is one of my favorite characters. I relate to him a lot. I often feel that my life is a beautiful place as long as others aren’t allowed inside. Once Wonka lets people in, he has to endure near-constant stupidity and hatred. One of the most powerful moments of the movie is when Wonka excitedly tells the children on his tour that his wallpaper decorated with images of berries is lickable. “The rasberries taste like rasberries!” he says. “The strawberries taste like strawberries! The shnozzberries taste like shnozzberries!” Veruca Salt, a spoiled child that is easily one of the most entertainingly reprehensible characters in all of literary history, snaps at him skeptically, “Shnozzberries!? Who ever heard of a schnozzberry!” Wonka grabs Veruca’s face violently in his hand and says, “We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.” As a child, I used to fantasize about saying that to those who mocked me. It’s arrogant, but an arrogance I can stand behind. The artists with imaginations should not have to endure derision from fools, just as children should not have to endure the closed-mindedness and blindness of adults. They look at Wonka’s beautiful chocolate factory and don’t understand it. That’s why he shut the world out in the first place. Anyway, all ranting aside, Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka is one of the greatest; he’s somewhere between a loving father, an excited mischevious child, and a sadistic maniac. There’s a gentle sorrow in the voice and eyes of Wilder’s Wonka that moves me to tears when nothing sad is even happening. And the ensemble cast is all brilliant and hilarious, especially the actors playing Veruca Salt and her father and Grandpa Joe. And of course the music is beautiful to the point of magic. The most famous song, Pure Imagination, is about how fantasy is preferable to real life, a rebellious theme song for all the misanthropic artists who retreat into themselves because it’s the only place where they find joy and beauty.

THE LIMEY (1999)
In this noir/melodrama, an aging criminal hears about the death of the daughter he abandoned when she was a child. The cops say she died in a car wreck, but he feels certain she was murdered and so goes on a sadistic rampage to avenge her death and learn the truth.
I’m a sucker for a noir/revenge story in which a murderous badass kills with his eyes full of tears. This killing spree is more tragic than usual in that it’s so clearly motivated by the killer’s delusion, self-loathing, and regret. His search for truth about his daughter’s death is just an avoidance of the truth about his own life. But of course his search leads him right to what he was trying to run from. Terence Stamp is one of the best actors ever and this is one his finest performances. Much like Old Boy below, the mystery’s solution is as meaningful and satisfying as they get. I’m not a big Steven Soderbergh fan, but he really started out pre-mainstream making some special stuff and this movie is a great example of what was like in the old days. But be warned: this movie is really sorrowful.

THE LIMEY (1999)

In this noir/melodrama, an aging criminal hears about the death of the daughter he abandoned when she was a child. The cops say she died in a car wreck, but he feels certain she was murdered and so goes on a sadistic rampage to avenge her death and learn the truth.

I’m a sucker for a noir/revenge story in which a murderous badass kills with his eyes full of tears. This killing spree is more tragic than usual in that it’s so clearly motivated by the killer’s delusion, self-loathing, and regret. His search for truth about his daughter’s death is just an avoidance of the truth about his own life. But of course his search leads him right to what he was trying to run from. Terence Stamp is one of the best actors ever and this is one his finest performances. Much like Old Boy below, the mystery’s solution is as meaningful and satisfying as they get. I’m not a big Steven Soderbergh fan, but he really started out pre-mainstream making some special stuff and this movie is a great example of what was like in the old days. But be warned: this movie is really sorrowful.

1 note

OLD BOY (2003)
In this noir/horror nightmare, an average joe middle-aged man wakes up trapped in a hotel room, imprisoned by mysterious captors. He remains a locked alone in this room for twenty years. He spends that time going mad and training for his eventual revenge against whoever is responsible. When he is released without warning or explanation, he sets out on a murderous rampage to figure out who did this to him. But finding out who isn’t enough; he needs to know why.
I tend to have difficulty with stories that depend too much on curiosity and the power of a mystery. You’ll see very few mystery-based movies listed on this blog. I tend to find mystery stories unsatisfying for a few reasons. First, the stories often violate their own logic in order to make the mystery make sense and I start shouting at the screen in frustration. Second, the suspense and curiosity may be fun but the answer to the mystery rarely satisfies. And in the rare cases that the mystery’s answer makes sense, it’s usually not meaningful— all the writer’s energy has been spent making the solution make sense at all! I consider it one of the hardest types of story to pull off. That said, I see Old Boy as one of the genre’s few masterpieces. It not only reaches a level of melodrama extremity only found in extreme horror and Greek tragedy, but its mystery has a meaningful and beautifully clear solution. Chan Wook Park’s direction is stunningly brilliant and bizarre and the performances kill me. Just to give one example of how daring and unique this movie is, having you ever seen an actor eat a live squid for real on screen? That happens in this movie. The squid trapped in his mouth attacks his face as he bites it to death. This is an actor/director pairing that involves things like that. These are crazy people.

OLD BOY (2003)

In this noir/horror nightmare, an average joe middle-aged man wakes up trapped in a hotel room, imprisoned by mysterious captors. He remains a locked alone in this room for twenty years. He spends that time going mad and training for his eventual revenge against whoever is responsible. When he is released without warning or explanation, he sets out on a murderous rampage to figure out who did this to him. But finding out who isn’t enough; he needs to know why.

I tend to have difficulty with stories that depend too much on curiosity and the power of a mystery. You’ll see very few mystery-based movies listed on this blog. I tend to find mystery stories unsatisfying for a few reasons. First, the stories often violate their own logic in order to make the mystery make sense and I start shouting at the screen in frustration. Second, the suspense and curiosity may be fun but the answer to the mystery rarely satisfies. And in the rare cases that the mystery’s answer makes sense, it’s usually not meaningful— all the writer’s energy has been spent making the solution make sense at all! I consider it one of the hardest types of story to pull off. That said, I see Old Boy as one of the genre’s few masterpieces. It not only reaches a level of melodrama extremity only found in extreme horror and Greek tragedy, but its mystery has a meaningful and beautifully clear solution. Chan Wook Park’s direction is stunningly brilliant and bizarre and the performances kill me. Just to give one example of how daring and unique this movie is, having you ever seen an actor eat a live squid for real on screen? That happens in this movie. The squid trapped in his mouth attacks his face as he bites it to death. This is an actor/director pairing that involves things like that. These are crazy people.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966)
In this filmed version of Edward Albee’s melodrama play, a college professor (Richard Burton) and his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) enjoy a comically hateful and combative marriage that is pushed to extremes when they invite over an attractive young couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis).
First of all, this is Ernest Lehman adapting a script from Edward Albee, directed by Mike Nichols— it couldn’t be a cooler collaborative team, and it really pays off. This movie is crazily good. I’m in love with Richard Burton— this performance kills me like almost no other. He’s so hot, it’s crazy. Sometimes I just watch over and over again his monologue about the best night of his life just to hear the way his voice sounds. And the rest of the cast is also acting their brains out— there’s little as clever and intense as this one. And it’s also hilarious. I love a melodrama that’s so shocking you hardly notice how much you’re laughing. I mean, this movie is funnier than most comedies!

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966)

In this filmed version of Edward Albee’s melodrama play, a college professor (Richard Burton) and his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) enjoy a comically hateful and combative marriage that is pushed to extremes when they invite over an attractive young couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis).

First of all, this is Ernest Lehman adapting a script from Edward Albee, directed by Mike Nichols— it couldn’t be a cooler collaborative team, and it really pays off. This movie is crazily good. I’m in love with Richard Burton— this performance kills me like almost no other. He’s so hot, it’s crazy. Sometimes I just watch over and over again his monologue about the best night of his life just to hear the way his voice sounds. And the rest of the cast is also acting their brains out— there’s little as clever and intense as this one. And it’s also hilarious. I love a melodrama that’s so shocking you hardly notice how much you’re laughing. I mean, this movie is funnier than most comedies!


THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (2002)
In this documentary, Bob Evans, the movie producer considered responsible for The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Love Story and more, tells the story of his own life and career through animated photos of his past.
First of all, Bob Evans is one of the greatest raconteurs, an oral storyteller of the highest quality. Second of all, he’s completely unreliable and self-aggrandizing which makes him hilarious and thrilling to listen to. I love unreliable narrators and you don’t get them often in film. I also love the beautiful animated photo style of this documentary, a really hard thing to pull off.



 

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (2002)

In this documentary, Bob Evans, the movie producer considered responsible for The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Love Story and more, tells the story of his own life and career through animated photos of his past.

First of all, Bob Evans is one of the greatest raconteurs, an oral storyteller of the highest quality. Second of all, he’s completely unreliable and self-aggrandizing which makes him hilarious and thrilling to listen to. I love unreliable narrators and you don’t get them often in film. I also love the beautiful animated photo style of this documentary, a really hard thing to pull off.

 

A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965)
In this comedy melodrama, an irresponsible and hilarious rebel (Jason Robards) has raised his child nephew to mock society just like he does. When child services come to see if he’s fit to raise the child, he learns that sometimes when you live outside society, society gets its revenge.
This movie is one of the great tearjerker comedies. Jason Robards is really sexy and romantic and moving and hilarious. There are so many memorable philosophical rants and jokes in this movie that I think of it on a daily basis. And it’s a wonderful question: is this man a good father-figure? Should he be allowed to raise a child? What is a father’s job? And I’m also in love with the ensemble cast on this one. The child services people are very moving and interesting characters too. The moment when the child services man starts to explain what life is like for normal people who follow the rules really breaks my heart.

A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965)

In this comedy melodrama, an irresponsible and hilarious rebel (Jason Robards) has raised his child nephew to mock society just like he does. When child services come to see if he’s fit to raise the child, he learns that sometimes when you live outside society, society gets its revenge.

This movie is one of the great tearjerker comedies. Jason Robards is really sexy and romantic and moving and hilarious. There are so many memorable philosophical rants and jokes in this movie that I think of it on a daily basis. And it’s a wonderful question: is this man a good father-figure? Should he be allowed to raise a child? What is a father’s job? And I’m also in love with the ensemble cast on this one. The child services people are very moving and interesting characters too. The moment when the child services man starts to explain what life is like for normal people who follow the rules really breaks my heart.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)
In this Western thriller horror melodrama, a former prostitute trying to get married and live a quiet life (Claudia Cardinale) gets caught up in the middle of a group of dangerous men with competing interests: a dying railroad baron who will do anything to finish his railroad before his death, a sadistic psychotic mercenary  (Henry Fonda), and a mysterious nameless stranger (Charles Bronson) who can kill better than anyone but no one knows what he’s after.
When reading this blog, you may notice my general lack of interest in Westerns. I like The Misfits and Red River, but general the themes and aesthetics of Westerns do nothing for me. I don’t often like stories of men fighting about things. It often feels pointless to me. But this one is extreme enough to enthrall me. It helps that Claudia Cardinale is inhumanly sexy in this and her presence forces a weird vulnerability out of these monstrous men. The scene when Henry Fonda’s psychopath (one of the scariest ever— incredible performance by Fonda) has a love scene with Cardinale is one of the craziest. It’s so rare that we get to see what a psychopath is like in bed. And I should also mention that this movie probably has the cleverest bad-ass beginning of all time. The first ten minutes really puts to shame all other action/badass movies. I’m not that into Charles Bronson, but he’s terrifying in this. And I’m a sucker for supporting cast too; this movie is full of memorable characters and performances. The railroad baron is an incredible character. I love when he explains to the psychopath that the only thing that can beat a gun is money.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)

In this Western thriller horror melodrama, a former prostitute trying to get married and live a quiet life (Claudia Cardinale) gets caught up in the middle of a group of dangerous men with competing interests: a dying railroad baron who will do anything to finish his railroad before his death, a sadistic psychotic mercenary  (Henry Fonda), and a mysterious nameless stranger (Charles Bronson) who can kill better than anyone but no one knows what he’s after.

When reading this blog, you may notice my general lack of interest in Westerns. I like The Misfits and Red River, but general the themes and aesthetics of Westerns do nothing for me. I don’t often like stories of men fighting about things. It often feels pointless to me. But this one is extreme enough to enthrall me. It helps that Claudia Cardinale is inhumanly sexy in this and her presence forces a weird vulnerability out of these monstrous men. The scene when Henry Fonda’s psychopath (one of the scariest ever— incredible performance by Fonda) has a love scene with Cardinale is one of the craziest. It’s so rare that we get to see what a psychopath is like in bed. And I should also mention that this movie probably has the cleverest bad-ass beginning of all time. The first ten minutes really puts to shame all other action/badass movies. I’m not that into Charles Bronson, but he’s terrifying in this. And I’m a sucker for supporting cast too; this movie is full of memorable characters and performances. The railroad baron is an incredible character. I love when he explains to the psychopath that the only thing that can beat a gun is money.