Giant robots, amoral outlaws, and fever dreams: Some movie reviews.

Movies feature few and far between in my consciousness, and many aren’t worth recording thoughts about, but I’ve been watching some good things lately.

I review: Driving Miss Daisy; A Fistful of Dollars; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Unforgiven; The Thin Red Line; Pacific Rim; The Great Gatsby.
I make general comments about the movies, but nothing plot-specific. Should be spoiler free.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989). A film about the relationship between an elderly Jewish lady and her black chauffeur in the Deep South, in the years before and after racial segregation and MLK. This is a superb, if little-known piece of work. If you like character-driven stories, this one is for you. The dialogue is absolute genius; Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy (who was the oldest actress to win the Best Actress Oscar for this role) completely immerse into their characters, and Dan Aykroyd makes a great appearance in a supporting role. The issues of racism and prejudice (against both Jews and blacks) remain in the background and only manifest in gentle ways, but their effect is felt in every part of the plot. It is a feel-good movie, stuffed with witty dialogue, coloured with a little bit of melancholy. It is worth watching.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Clint Eastwood is one of my favourite actors. He was already an old man when I got big enough to watch his movies, so it’s discombobulating (but pleasing) to see him so young and handsome here! I’ve slowly realized that I quite enjoy gritty realistic westerns, so I’m glad to have seen this seminal western. But the story, while excellent, was a relatively small story, and completely eclipsed by…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). At last: I watched it. Magnificent and epic. You know it’s going to be a good movie when the first five minutes are completely void of dialogue, but still effortlessly introduces to the story and draws you in. Superb acting by the eponymous characters and a plot rife with moral ambiguities and pathos. Clint Eastwood’s Blondie defines rugged and monoglot, and I have a soft spot for Eli Wallach’s endearingly nasty Tuco Ramirez. The acting was superb, but the cinematography and soundtrack were as much part of the atmosphere and mood as the acting. Ennio Morricone made an outstanding soundtrack and I could pick out the themes in the music – I especially like the mournful, plaintive theme associated with the Union soldiers. The climactic scene of the story was such a tense cliffhanger! Truly, they really don’t make movies like this anymore.

I’m left wondering what makes Blondie ‘the Good’. The Bad and the Ugly are obvious, but what differentiates Blondie from Tuco ‘the Ugly’, apart from being less vulgar and more monoglot? Something to ponder. Good excuse to watch it again and soak up more of the wonderful filming.

I still have For A Few Dollars More to watch.

Unforgiven (1992). I watched this movie around 10 years ago, and recall being dissatisfied with the ending and not understanding the logic of the morality. Now, some 10 years older, the complex nuances and morality issues are clearer, and I now appreciate the power and impact of this movie. I might do a deeper analysis of Unforgiven in time, but suffice to say that it is brilliant. Excellent acting from all around – I’ll never get tired of Eastwood or Morgan Freeman. The young actor who played the Schofield Kid was also brilliant – I wonder what else he has done.

(I’ve noticed a theme in Eastwood’s western roles. His character always gets badly roughed up at some point of the story, often to the edge of death. Is this a deliberate ‘trademark’, or is it just a ‘requirement’ for protagonists in westerns? I have to see if he does that in his non-western movies.)

Pacific Rim (2013). Not much to say here but: fluff and eye candy. A fun story with not much substance. But lots of eye candy – not just the SF, but also the protagonist. He’s pretty cute. I’m happily surprised (and relieved) that there wasn’t gratuitous romance here. While the movie is of small consequence to me, I do want to find the peripheral media surrounding the setting, I believe there is a graphic novel tie-in somewhere.

The Thin Red Line (1999). Another rewatch of a movie I saw more than 10 years ago. At the time it made a huge impact on me; now is as brilliant as I remember it, and I love it just as much as I did then. I gather that Terrence Malick is an acquired taste; he is actually that rare director whose movies bypass my conscious brain to touch my subconscious. I was amazed at how much cinematography and dialogue I could remember, when I would’ve forgotten much of the detail. The Thin Red Line has virtually no plot, instead is a series of dreamlike vignettes meant to evoke mood and emotion. It does that so effectively with me. The main emotion is melancholy. Oh, the movie is so sad. All war movies are melancholy (that’s why I like them), but this one leaves me with an ache in my heart beyond tears. Apart from that, I’m able to follow individual characters much better, and understand what the monologues telling me. Even so, reminder to self to find a transcript of the monologues, and to rustle up the book it was based off.

A perk: one primary character is played by an actor I’m half in love with: Jim Caviezel. I think this was the film that brought him to my attention, and he plays his role so very well. I haven’t seen his films in a long while, so… Eye candy. Ohhh, he’s so handsome. Swoon.

The Great Gatsby (2013). Baz Luhrmann is the master of decadent and sumptuous, and he pulls out all the stops here. I’ve heard it well praised, and it lives up to those expectations. The acting was splendid: Maguire plays a complex Nick Carraway – naive, starstruck, but thoughtful and loyal; DiCaprio shines and glitters and doesn’t disappoint; the female leads were wonderful. But I think the acting holds half the movie, while the cinematography holds the other half. The movie had a mythic, unreal quality that eschews factual depiction, instead evoking the feel and emotion of the Roaring 20s — no, a memory of the 20s. Indeed, this is a fairytale, but underneath it is actually a fever dream without substance and ultimately disappoints. Telling the story as a series of flashbacks was genius and utterly effective: there is no doubt that Carraway’s memories were of a romantic dream, and his awakening was stark and horrifying. The anachronistic soundtrack of modern genre songs was very effective in supporting this premise.

In all, a superb film. I read Fitzgerald’s novel in high school, and never really understood or appreciated it. This movie explained it all for me, and for that I am grateful, and may try to read the novel again.

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