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The Apartment (1960)
Romantic comedy with a dark core
I just bought 'The Apartment' on DVD and what a treat it is. There are just so many reasons to like this movie, but there are two aspects which make this a classic in my opinion. For starters, there are the performances of the two leads - Jack Lemmon crackles with nervous energy, and Shirley Maclaine positively glows. The latter gives one of the most beautifully understated performances ever filmed in the $100 bill scene. That look!
Secondly, there's a very dark streak that runs through this film. The themes of loneliness, infatuation, misogyny and suicide are wrapped up in a sparkling romantic comedy, and yet somehow it never loses balance or pace for the whole of its two hours. No film better illustrates the genius of Billy Wilder.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Great film making as well as great music
After getting my DVD player, this is one of the first discs I bought. I first saw this movie in the eighties as a fan of the music and was completely floored by a band at their peak. Since then, I've grown to appreciate good cinema as much as music, and I now look at Stop Making Sense from a slightly different perspective.
The movie stands up by any measure of cinematic quality - the direction, the photography, the lighting, the set design, the editing, the performances of the 'actors'. Everything is unquestionably good. A couple of illustrations -
During 'Once in a Lifetime', the camera holds on David Byrne, framing him from the waist up, and doesn't leave him until the very last moments of the song. His performance is absolutely enthralling. I've been trying to think of a movie where an actor holds one shot for so long, and I can't.
The photography and lighting during 'What a Day That Was' are beautiful. The stark white up-lighting reduces a large auditorium and stage to a claustrophobic collage of shadows. The effect is not unlike some scenes in Charles Laughton's 'Night of the Hunter'.
In contrast to some other views posted here, I think the Tom Tom Club's appearance adds a colourful punctuation to the flow of the movie.
The DVD is one of the very few I've come across where the commentary is worth listening to. It switches between all four band members plus Jonathan Demme, and the anecdotes are constantly interesting and often very funny. As a package, this is one of the most satisfying DVD's I own. All the extras are worthwhile and well presented, unlike most 'Special Editions' which are crammed full of junk you wouldn't normally give a second look.
It's a pity that, by its nature, Stop Making Sense will only ever appeal to a small audience, because it deserves to be revered by fans of cinema as well as music. The rock movie genre has only a handful of classics to its name, but Stop Making Sense is its Citizen Kane, its Exorcist, its Godfather, its Star Wars. It really is that good.
Let It Ride (1989)
A forgotten gem
***Warning - Spoilers***
Nobody else I know has ever seen this film, which I first came across whilst channel hopping - it was the opening 'Can do' song that made me stop and pay attention. I'm glad I did, as it instantly became one of my all time favourites.
Let It Ride reminds me of a 1970's British sitcom, like Steptoe and Son or Rising Damp. I think this is why I liked it so much, and also why it disappeared without a trace when it was released. There's a grimy, seedy feel to this film at times which lends to the pathos. The 70's sitcoms I referred to often had plots dealing with people trying to find their way out of miserable situations, and usually failing. In Let It Ride, Trotter kneels over a toilet bowl praying for God to give him a break, that he doesn't belong with these other bums. If you're familiar with the work of Galton & Simpson (writers of Steptoe, The Likely Lads, Hancock's Half Hour) you'll see the comparison.
The difference, though, is that Trotter finds his way out of the quagmire. If this were by Galton & Simpson, he would have fallen at the last fence, ready to do it all again next week.
It's this somewhat murky aspect to the film that made it less palatable to American audiences, I think. That really is a shame, because Let It Ride contains so many delightfully funny moments, so many nail-on-the-head observations, that it really deserves to be more widely seen. The performances by Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr , David Johansen , Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in Harry Potter) and Jennifer Tilly are all superb. The direction is tight and snappy, and the script is hilarious. What more could you want from a film comedy?
The Devil's Own (1997)
All concerned should be deeply ashamed...
I recently saw this film for the first time on television. Despite a lot of stiff competition, it managed to take the top spot in the 'Worst Ever Film About Northern Ireland' league. You'd think that the tortured history of my country would provide great inspiration for Hollywood, but the number of films about Northern Ireland that have raised themselves above the level of dire can be counted on one hand.
It's the pandering to the most bigoted elements among the Irish-American community that really drags films like this down. If you were to fill the gaping holes in the political accuracy of The Devil's Own, you'd be left with a just about competent thriller. Pitt's accent isn't that bad, the script isn't the worst ever, but let's face it, this is no classic.
Throw in a staggering lack of sensitivity to the issues with which it deals, and you've got one of the very worst films I've ever seen. The so-bad-it's-funny closing line of 'We had no choice, you and I' doesn't ring quite true. Pitt and Ford could have chosen to give this movie a wide berth. I could have chosen to watch something else instead. If only we always made the right choices...
The Hill (1965)
A very british film for an american director.
This film feels very british, and not just because of its cast. This is certainly not a feel-good war film - it's more of a prison drama, and is entirely dialogue driven. The excellent performances and Lumet's direction keep the pace brisk when this film could very easily have been a monotonous dirge. This seems to be Lumet's greatest skill - the ability to keep long, wordy dramas moving at a watchable pace. Often brutal, sometimes disturbing , but always engrossing. Superb!
Get Carter (1971)
Possibly the best british film ever!
As gritty as a sand pit, this is one tough film. Set in Newcastle (industrial city in the North-East of England), this is part gangster thriller and part kitchen sink drama. Michael Caine gives what I believe to be his best ever performance as the mob heavy going home for his brother's funeral. It turns into a hunt for his brother's killer that sets him against local criminals in a seedy world of porn and gambling. Caine basically spends the film being hard as nails and beating people up, and the film comes to a very violent conclusion. If nothing else, it's worth watching just to see Alf from Coronation Street get slapped around. 10/10.