Merry Christmas to all my followers on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. I hope you’re all having a special time today with loved ones, getting merry on too much drink and filling up on tonnes of food. All the best for next year.
I’ve been struggling to get The Tree of Life (2011) off the shelf again, wanting to revisit this more recent Terrence Malick film which I heard being talked about at the time, even recommended that I watch it whilst at art-school. I got hold of the film and really didn’t understand it. Making connections with Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which today seem unfounded really, having seen more of the directors work I have a far better understand of what is going on here. There aren’t half as many dinosaur sequences that I first remembered, although that could be a short on its own.
As the title suggests its all about life, from birth to death and how we cope and live with that life in between. Focusing on the life of one Texan family, I’m particular a father son relationship that is rocky at best, son Jack (Hunter McCracken) and father known simply as Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) an authoritarian figure in his and his families life. A father who wants his sons to be strong, able to defend they’re self’s, before understanding what effect he is having on them. Whilst almost passive mother Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) almost watches on, as she too is feeling a strain on their marriage, parenthood as we see is not easy for the father. More maternal instincts are needed.
I think what got me last time were the lingering wandering shots of nature which are commonplace in a Malick film, work as part of a child’s perspective before we leave the known for the unknown wonders that made life on earth possible. Everything is crisp and clear. The sound advice at the beginning of the film was to increase the volume which I actually followed, able to pick up more on the whispering monologues, the lingering thoughts. To the ripples in the streams and the wind that blows by, our senses are awakened.
Coming back down to earth from the heavens we are also seeing the long-term effects of this childhood on Jack now an adult (Sean Penn) who for once isn’t shouting at the top of his voice with poetical passion. Instead he is wandering around aimlessly. His part could easily have been filmed over 10 days as we see little of him to be honest. When we do he’s in a lift or in a far off barren landscape trapped with only his thoughts and memories, that become more clear at the end of the film.
The plot itself is quite loose, and with confusion too, as a brother dies at the start, aged 19, who we see much younger drown in a pool. That’s the only real issue and a few bad cuts. It’s visually flawless, left open to interpretation how adult Jack comes to terms with his fractured childhood and the memories that play out in suburban Texas. Both at home and with friends shaping who he is today which changes over the duration of the film in the brief time that we have with him. Interspersed with incredible visuals that you can get lost in. This was indeed a well deserved revisit that fits far better into my understanding and appreciation of one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood today.
- Growing The Tree of Life: Editing Malick’s Odyssey (ebiri.blogspot.co.uk)
- “The Tree of Life” #8 – Text and Images from Viewing July 7, 2011 (inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com)
- MOVIES: “TREE OF LIFE” (hellburns.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) (armchairc.blogspot.co.uk)
- Terrence Malick’s Song of Himself V – The Tree of Life: Los Demiurgos (nilesfilmfiles.blogspot.co.uk)
I’ve still got a long list of films that I have to revisit, not really giving them the attention respect they may deserve. Passing judgement on them too quickly or not understanding them. The Missouri Breaks (1976) I found to be flawed just over two years ago, focusing on the killings at the end of the film, It just didn’t work for me. The second time around with an understanding of westerns from that period I went into this film with more of an open mind, one that I hoped would expand my appreciation (or even produce one) of this film which is only remembered because it stars to heavy-weight actors Jack Nicholson and the unpredictable Marlon Brando who really shows he does’ really care about the role, just having a good time as infamous regulator (assassin) Lee Clayton who is as eccentric as we imagine Brando has become. Who by the late 1960’s was seen as unemployable, only Francis Ford Coppola dared take a chance with him, and it paid. Only ever having larger than life mysterious parts during the decade. Whereas Nicholson, a man who could do no wrong creatively, working with everyone of the time practically.
Arthur Penn who before directed Little Big Man (1970) a spoof of the genre takes on a darker view of the genre. The frontiers of America have almost been tamed law is strengthening all the time, making it harder for bandits to have success. Something that has yet to properly reach this part of the county for Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his men who are in the business of horse rustling. The premise is pretty straight-forward, he and his men want to steal horses and sell them on.
It’s not your straight-forward western, having more of an off-beat feel, the comedy between the men in a love-hate relationship. Whilst over the civilised part of the country self-proclaimed law-man David Braxton (John McLiam) who rants nearly as much as Peter Finch‘s Howard Beale in Network (1976) having seen and done it all in the west, he believes he knows best. Carrying out justice from the beginning with a hanging of one of Logan’s friends. Something that horrifies Braxton’s daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) a woman who was really meant for the civilised East.
The rustling of sheep is main threat to John McLaim who has already lost 7% per annum of his stock that year, yes he’s that accurate. Hiring renowned regulator (in other words assassin) to track down the rustlers who are operating in the area. Brando is in his element, just being himself which at times alienated me, flipping from one persona to another. He’s not trying to live up to his reputation, he’s just having fun with this character which in this film doesn’t fit. Again larger than life unlike Logan who feels threatened by men who are killing his friends unjustly, unlawfully and unfairly, there is away about dealing out justice and this just isn’t right. He can see everything around him slip away.
It’s the dynamic between the two leads which doesn’t really work for me as they play their odd game of cat and mouse. Clayton is a cunning character who knows he’s good at killing, a skill we see time and again to grisly effect. It’s still that last encounter as the men are killed one by one in quick succession, you don’t have time to really take it in, to know they are dead as the next one falls. He is indeed a fast worker. Then it’s the comeuppance the final kill that was not even worked up to, it just happens, its cowardly, not of the west, there is no honour in the kill, calculated too wait until Clayton is asleep. Maybe I’m reading the film wrong, that scene lacks the build-up, its all done before we know whats happened.
So I’m still sitting on the side same side of the fence I was a few years back. It’s a different kind of western, modern in the respect that all murders aren’t as we see them in the west, they are devious and cold, not these staged show-downs that we are used to. That is what it’s about which doesn’t sit with me.
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) (crazyfilmguy.blogspot.co.uk)
- Old Movie of the Week: The Missouri Breaks (1976) (glasswalking-stick.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Missouri Breaks Love ’em or hate ’em (myfavoritewesterns.com)
- THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976) – Arthur Penn (cashiersdecinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) dir. Arthur Penn (poppeelings.wordpress.com)
- The Missouri Breaks Syndrome (hmssweblog.wordpress.com)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) (geekvsgoth.wordpress.com)
I’ve been keeping an eye out for this little film about the life of the painter J.M.W. Turner brought to the screen by Mike Leigh a pet project Mr.Turner (2014) that has been in the works for a few years with Timothy Spall already cast in the role of the cockney hobgoblin of a painter whose performance delighted me the other night. His years of character roles have allowed him to breathe real life into a man I knew little about. Partly because I’m not a painter and his work has never been an influence to my own. Always being in awe however at the scenes he created for generation of the British public to enjoy and love. Opening up a whole new world for us to explore.
Set in the later life of Turner the romantic landscape painter who has lead the life that all artists want to lead, one of pure creation of work, being immersed in his practice and everything else practically falling away. Here we find the man very close to his father William Turner (Paul Jesson) who is a long devoted assistant, living well into old age, after a life of a barber. The relationship at times goes beyond that of father and son to two men who have a deep love and respect for one another. Turner sr. is by far the closet male relationship he has, having an effect on him as the film progresses past his own death.
Also focusing heavily on his relationships with the women in his life, from his estranged daughters and ex-wife who be-grudgingly is part of his life, if only for their daughters sakes, having only but contempt for Turner who cares little for them all. Being merely courteous to the ladies, thinking little of them otherwise. It seems that Turner is a man who has many strands to his life which he hides projects to everyone he meets. Personas and identities that allow him to have the life he wants to lead. Spall gives a comic performance that is subtle and clever in the guise of an edwardian language which is eloquent for the cockney painter who otherwise grunts to great comic effect. Who needs words when a grunt can express your emotions.
He has none of the airs or graces that his fellow painters have that we meet throughout the film, that even put shame to my own art-history. I will surely be researching them in the coming days. It’s the relationship between John Constable (James Fleet) and Benjamin Robert Haydon (Martin Savage) that we see on-screen. Seen not so much as rivals but as lesser artists who he respects to a point. To be rivals in the art-world can become quite an un-healthy mind-set, which we see with Haydon who fights the Royal Academy for the respect he believes he deserves. Whilst Turner treats him as he sees him, helping him to a point, knowing that anymore he would not shake him loose. His contemporary painters see him as very much a genus, who respect him also, whilst seen as an outsider who comes and goes, which he seems to like, just being very much himself, come and going as he pleases.
An important aspect in the film is the other women besides the non-existent family we have the house keeper/assistant Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) a relationship that is built up creatively by the director more for entertainment, to find a sexual relationship that is not seedy but quietly consensual, that builds up to become a quite fire that burns within her. Whilst over in Margate, the spiritual home of Turner we have Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) who becomes Mrs. Turner that lasts for the rest of the film.
The look of the film is not trying to find the locations of the paintings, instead it creates the atmosphere of them, grand operas of romanticism, the looseness of the painting. Which is far better than going for a “this is where he was inspired for this one” Instead placing us in the moment where inspiration struck for him, cutting then to see them being painted. Brought to life by two years of painting tuition by Spall which adds another valuable layer to his performance. If you’re going to play a painter, learn to paint, more likely than not you’ll be seen painting. Its expected of you. It’s a very physical act that we are given, not these carefully made strokes of the brush, more violent and visceral, spitting, blowing powder onto the canvas. The biography of Turner is very much brought alive, not just in Spall but the world he inhabits which is rich and at the same time quiet and contemplative. I found myself wanting to clap after a singing recital finished, I was that relaxed by it all. All this is what Mike Leigh has created for us to enjoy, to discover Turner and the world he inhabited.
- Mr Turner (2014) Review (thecraggus.wordpress.com)
- Mr. Turner: A Film by Mike Leigh (madeleineemeraldthiele.wordpress.com)
- “Remember me, but forget my fate.” Review: ‘Mr. Turner’ – Mike Leigh (2014) (behindtheseens.wordpress.com)
- Mr. Turner  (frdennismoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- Mr. Turner (2014) (bettinasimpressions.blogspot.co.uk)
- Mr. Turner (2014) (imthecautionarywhale.blogspot.co.uk)
I first watched Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) when I discovered Sam Peckinpah properly at art-school, like most of the western films I have reviewed. Another which I had not fully understood apart from Pat Garrett (James Coburn) is given the badge of sheriff with one main objective in mind, to bring in Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson). Along with a very quiet and aloof Bob Dylan as aspiring bandit Alias who also provided the melancholic soundtrack which really struck a chord in a few scenes. Which has really made sense this time around as a cast of new and old actors, two generations of men and women are in the old west, a west that is fading in the 1880’s which reflects the state of the western genre, as actors from the golden age are retiring or dying, making way for fresh talent to make it’s own mark.
The older generation lead by James Coburn who wasn’t really that old at the time of film, in his mid forties, it was only a matter of hair and make-up, along with his years of experience that allowed him to take on this iconic role of America’s gunfighter past. Whilst Kristofferson a young country singer turned actor represented the new blood that was ready to take over the reigns. It was for Peckinpah to see the baton was passed on with a real sense of loss, the passage of time marked between one generation, a new way of thinking, a generation outmoded and outdated. Having to only think about surviving and trying not to die.
At the heart of this however is a friendship between two men who once rode together, building up a reputation of fear, death and gunfire, creating legends wherever they went. Part of the fabric of the west before it was tamed, fenced off and regulated to ensure its prosperity as a nation. These two men were a dying breed. Throughout we see friends of both men fall before the gun, in timely Peckinpah violence, allowing us to see how dangerous it really was, not quite glorified, using fake blood that wasn’t far off tomato ketchup, the action is more real than the blood that leaves the dying man.
My focus was on the older members of the cast from Slim Pickens, Jack Elam and Katy Jurado who had all made their mark on the genre as character actors creating more depth around the leads they supported for years before. All meeting horrible ends, each having their moment. I still get a little choked up when Sheriff Baker (Slim Pickens) goes off to the river to die, joined by his wife Mrs Baker (Jurado) who watched him drift off to the next world. Two very different figures who have met age head on, accepting their mortality, accompanied by Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door that only plays for a moment, being both an obvious choice and spiritual, paying respect to the dying who made their mark on the land.
Whilst the younger men are showing their age, the skill with the gun, is something to show off, cocky to an extent that they don’t respect the older gunfighter who have the upper hand still whilst they are still around. Brought down by Garrett who reluctantly sees the job through, his duty to the men who elected him during the age of the cattle baron. He may have the upper hand which ultimately costs him more than his life, a friend who he rode with for years. To ask anyone to kill a friend is a terrible and impossible thing to ask of anyone. Made hard still by the pressure of responsibility and age which bears down on him. A conflicted man, unlike the less complicated Billy (William H. Bonney) the Kid who as much as he respects his friend still has a confidence only the young can carry.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a landmark film in that is marks the beginning of the end really of the classic genre, the older man are hanging up their gun belts and seeking the easier life. Whilst the younger more violent driven genre which is rewriting the past, becoming more honest. Peckinpah as I have said before loves this genre, coming into it at a point when it’s worn out, needing to be regenerated to carry on, making the end of something that was once glorious. Which all his westerns deal with, never positive, full of death and despair. Violence a trademark of the director is very much their, with an absence more so of the slow-motion which is held restrained for stable scenes, to mark the passage of time, something that is growing ever more between the past and the present for him.
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) ** (1001moviesblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (wondersinthedark.wordpress.com)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- 1973: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah) (goodfellamovies.blogspot.co.uk)
Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.
Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.
You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.
It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.
Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.
A few years ago I reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) not really understanding what was really going on in this early neo-western. With my ever-growing knowledge of the genre I was hungry to re-watch this short but ever so sweet and tense western that gets to the point and scratches it like a rash until it bleeds allowing the truth to come out of the town that John J Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), the first stranger to step off a train into this tumble weed of a town that has stood still.
From the first moment that Macreedy steps off the train he is met with cold opposition from nearly everyone he meets. All he wants to do is find a Japanese man named Komoko. Is he investigating him for a crime, the strangers purpose is not fully explained until the last act, We and the town are left guess who this guy is, what does he want? We are all on tenterhooks as to what is going on.
A town led by Rene Smith (Robert Ryan) who is hot on the tail of a man who won’t b budged in his search for a man we soon learnt no longer lives out on adobe flats. Smith is a cold calculated man who has everyone under his thumb, able to incite fear in them, reminding them of four years ago, the last time that they saw Komoko who we are told was taken to a relocation centre in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. 4 years on there is still a strong hatred for the enemy who they have been fighting for four years. Mostly in the form of Smith’s resentment for not being accepted into the forces. Feeding out into the town taking the form of fear that pits the strong against the weak.
The weak don’t stay down for long, with the local doctor Velie (Walter Brennan) who has had enough of the strangle hold on this old western town that has been lost to the ravages of time. Kept alive by a few, some of the old ways never die. It seems that the silent and weak won’t take anymore. Glad to see someone shake things up for them and boy does Tracy shake things up, even a veteran with only one arm can still stand his ground in this masculine world that seems to be lost in the wake of the recent horrors abroad.
We have all the regulars of the west transported to not so distant period in modern history, with as shirt, jeans and that classic hat we are back in the west, out in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for the truth to be hidden. Made at a time when the fear of communism was at a high, livelihoods in Hollywood on the line in the “witch hunt”. The atmosphere of fear to speak up or stay quiet was at its height. Changing the themes to fears of Japanese Americans, fearing they were once the country’s enemy.
You can feel the tension in the classic western, with tight acting from all of the cast, a broad spectrum of character to represent the nation in a state of fear, The truth is a powerful weapon in the hands of both the weak and strong. Its how we handle it is what matters, making for a film that is on fire as we wait to see who will crack under the pressure of a stranger just wanting to do the right thing.
- GSK Faces a Bad Day at Black Rock (tfoxlaw.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges (twentyfourframes.wordpress.com)
- Two screen-specific scenes from Bad Day at Black Rock (filmschoolthrucommentaries.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1001films.wordpress.com)