Category Archives: Moody/Stylish

Persona (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

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There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

THX 1138 (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where are the schoolgirls?

On Valentine’s Day in the year 1900 a group of Australian schoolgirls and two teachers (Vivean Gray, Helen Morse) set out to a rock formation known as Hanging Rock for a picnic. While there one of the girls named Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) decides to go exploring and three of the other girls follow. They proceed to climb the rocks, which frightens one of the girls (Christine Schuler) who runs back. By that evening the other three haven’t been located and a search party goes out by the local police to find them, which only leads to more questions than answers.

If one is in to mood pieces then this thing will be the perfect fit. The music and director Peter Weir’s ability to capture the rock formations in a way that makes them seem creepy and menacing is very well done. I found myself being strangely captivated most of the way while also impressed that the whole thing gets captured through a camera lens with a piece of bridal veil hung over it.

The story is based on the 1967 best-selling novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay. Despite many rumors to the effect and a follow-up novel called ‘The Murders at Hanging Rock’ this was not in any way based on a true story. Originally Lindsay wrote a resolution to the mystery that had the girls entering into some sort of time warp, but at the last minute that chapter was excised at the suggestion of her publisher, but then later published in 1987 as ‘The Secret of Hanging Rock’.

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The film on the other hand offers no resolution of any kind. Instead like in the book the main emphasis is on how the disappearance affects the people at the school and in the town. Rachel Roberts is a standout in this area playing the strict headmistress Mrs. Appleyard who initially comes off as quite composed and in control, but as the toll of the mystery continues her character unravels in increasingly more shocking ways, which is the film’s highlight.

Despite its cult following and the fact that it is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ I still came away frustrated and feeling like not enough happened to justify having to sit through two hours of viewing. On the technical end it is excellent and watching the different ways people cope and respond to the mystery is interesting, but this could’ve been played up a lot more.

Sometimes movies with vague endings are good as life doesn’t always give us nice and tidy wrap-ups, but this is one instance where it would’ve been better had there been more of a conclusion even if it had just thrown out some clues and then allowed the viewer to come to their own deductions. To some extent it does this as supernatural elements are introduced as well as the idea that it might’ve been a sexual crime, but even this is off-putting because it’s not connected to anything concrete or tangible and thus makes it all the more evasive.

Had this been based on an actual mystery, which for years is what a lot of people thought, then it would’ve been more acceptable and even fascinating, but the fact that it’s all made up hurts it and tears away the mystique that for a long time it relished under.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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This is a 2014 pic of Anne-Louise Lambert, who played Miranda in the film, sitting at the location of where the movie was filmed.

Walkabout (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost in the outback.

A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, but billed as Lucien John) find themselves trapped amidst the harsh climate of the Australian outback. After spending a couple of days walking in the heat they manage to come upon a watering hole, but find to their horror that it dries up overnight. Feeling almost ready to give up they spot an aborigine (David Gulpilil in his film debut) marauding through the desert as part of his walkabout where young men are cast off into the wilderness for several months as part of their journey to manhood. He helps find them water, food and shelter, but eventually the cultural differences between the three and their inability to effectively communicate become a problem.

The legendary Nicholas Roeg makes his directorial debut here and even casts his own son, who is excellent, as the 9-year-old boy.  The way the camera captures the desert by focusing on the different types of animal life and rock formations is impressive.  I also enjoyed the editing which cuts back and forth between the desert and modern civilization while examining how each are uniquely connected and commenting on how our advanced culture has made us regress and less able to survive the savage elements that our ancestors were able to.

There are also scenes of animal cruelty as the aborigine hunts a kangaroo by first injuring him and then, as the animal gives out a whimpering cry, he spears it. Later the viewer is shown scenes involving big game hunters who mow down water buffalo for sport while graphically slitting their throats.

The film was controversial for capturing Agutter, who was only 17 at the time that this was filmed, in the nude while swimming at a watering hole. The actress felt uncomfortable doing the scene and required only the minimum of the crew to be present while it was shot. To me the scene was unnecessary as it didn’t fit the character who was prim and proper and didn’t at all come off like the type of person who would suddenly become carefree and risk being spotted by the aborigine that she really didn’t know or the ‘embarrassment’ of being seen by her younger brother. The camera stays on her naked body far longer than needed and comes off like shameless voyeurism.

I had the same issue with the scene involving researchers at a weather station that resembles footage to a soft core porn flick instead as the men ogle the only woman in their group, become overtly aroused at glimpses of her bosom and in one truly absurd moment even has one of the them sucking on her finger. I realize scientists have sex drives too, but I would think they would be able to behave in a professional capacity when on the job and not act like they hadn’t gotten laid in years and like with the swimming sequence this scene has nothing to do with the main story and could’ve been cut out completely.

The presence of the radio weakens the story as well as supposedly they’re in the middle of nowhere and miles from civilization and yet somehow are able to pick up different radio stations that come in crystal clear without any static, which would mean that they must be much closer to a city than it seems and thus hurts the desolate feeling that the film otherwise tries hard to create.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is based on a 1959 novel of the same name that was written by Donald Gordon Payne under the pseudonym of James Vance Marshall. The script though differs from the book in two major ways, one of which I liked and the other I didn’t.

The first difference involves the reason for how the two children get stranded. In the book they are victims of a plane crash, but in the film it is because their father tries to kill them, which is offbeat and sends the message that this movie will be different from any you’ve seen before, which I liked. Normally I would’ve wanted an explanation for his behavior, but by keeping it a mystery it elevates the intrigue and if anything was a far more creative explanation for their predicament than the formulaic plane crash one.

However, the way the aborigine dies is ludicrous. In the book he is stricken with the flu virus that was inadvertently passed onto him by the boy, but in the movie he ends up killing himself when the girl does not respond to his attempts at courtship, which seemed excessively rash.

Rejection is a part of the human experience and transcends all cultures. Everyone will have to deal with it at some point in their lives. If everyone killed themselves the minute they are rebuffed by someone they were attracted to then virtually no one on would make it past adolescence. The idea that a normal, healthy and otherwise happy young man with no signs of mental illness, and the film does not show him as having any so we must assume that he doesn’t, would suddenly off himself over a girl he has just met and barely knew is absurd. In reality he probably would’ve just gotten frustrated and left them stranded while going back to his own tribe where I presume he’d meet other women who he’d bond better with due to being more culturally connected and most likely would’ve found more attractive anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Petulia (1968)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very brief affair.

While attending a medical fundraiser Petulia (Julie Christie) who is a married rich socialite, decides to come-on to Archie (George C. Scott), a doctor who performed a life-saving surgery on a young Hispanic boy (Vincent Arias) that she brought to him a few months earlier. Archie is still hurting from his recent divorce to his wife Polo (Shirley Knight) and not sure he wants to jump into another relationship so quickly especially with a woman that behaves in such an eccentric way. However, her kooky personality and good-looks get the better of him and the two spend the night together. In the days that follow Archie learns of her abusive relationship with her husband David (Richard Chamberlain), but when he makes an attempt to help her get out of it she resists, which causes him a great deal of frustration as he is unable to get a good grasp on why she behaves the way that she does.

The film is based on the novel ‘Me and My Arch Kook Petulia’, which was written by John Haase who worked as a dentist and wrote his stories between his appointments. What makes this plot stand out from the rest of the romances is that it focuses on the chance meeting between two people who share an immediate attraction, but are unable due to various extraneous circumstances to ever get it into a relationship stage. They become like two-ships-passing-in-the-night and go on with their lives and even other relationships while quietly longing for ‘the-one-that-got-away’. Most movies portray romances where everything falls into line and works out while blithely ignoring the ones that get shown in this film even though these are much more common.

Director Richard Lester, who is better known for his slapstick comedies, shows an astute eye for detail and his fragmented narrative works seamlessly. I enjoyed the quick edits and color detail as well as the subliminal symbolism including showing the David and Petulia characters wearing all-white to display their sterile marriage as well as capturing David’s father (Joseph Cotton) sitting in front of a giant window that looked like a cobweb to help illustrate how he had entangled Petulia into his own personal web. The film, which was shot on-location in San Francisco, features great shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the world famous cable cars as well as an interesting scene at the Jack Tar Motel, which has now been demolished but was famous for its ability to check customers into their rooms without the use of a live clerk, but instead through close circuit TV and a room key that would light up when the person passed by their assigned room.

The two leads give strong performances particularly Scott who for a change doesn’t play a character with a forceful personality, but instead someone who inadvertently gets bowled over by a woman who has an even stronger one than he. Even Chamberlain does well. Normally I find him to be quite bland, but here he is surprisingly effective.

This movie also marks the film debuts of many performers who are seen in brief, but quirky bits including: Richard Dysart as a virtual hotel clerk, Howard Hesseman as a hippie, Rene Auberjonois as a seat cushion salesman and Austin Pendleton as a hospital orderly. Members of the Grateful Dead get some funny moments while inside a grocery store and Janis Joplin can be seen onstage singing during the opening party sequence.

Romance fans will like this, but so will those living in the Bay area during the ‘60s as the city gets captured well. However, fans of that decade will also like it as it expertly exudes the vibe from the period and making it seem very real to the viewer even if they weren’t alive during the time it was made. Also, John Barry’s haunting theme nicely reflects the character’s mood and evasive film style.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Music Lovers (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madness has no bounds.

This is a revealing look at Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and based on his own personal correspondences as he fought his homosexual tendencies by marrying Nina (Glenda Jackson) a woman he really did not love. Her nymphomania becomes something he cannot satisfy and he eventually abandons her where they then both go on to suffer their own personal forms of madness.

Pianists and composers were like what rock stars are today and I liked how director Ken Russell handles the concert sequence by infusing in the thoughts of the people as they listen to the music and therefore allowing the viewer to visualize the experience of a concert goer.

The scenes with Nina in the asylum are a good example of the grotesque imagery, but they are also well orchestrated and quite memorable. However at times it also gets overdone and unintentionally comical especially the sequence involving Chamberlain’s ill-fated attempt at lovemaking to Jackson on a shadowy, bouncing train car.

Russell shows no feeling for the subject and seems more interested in using it only as an excuse to show off his flashy style. The viewer is never allowed to get emotionally attached to the characters as we are only given a fragment of what these people were like and never the whole picture. The emphasis seems exclusively on their dark and self-destructive sides and watching their descent into madness is not very inspiring or insightful.

The casting of Chamberlain was a poor choice as the guy seems to have a very limited acting range. He is good looking, but lacks the charisma and his facial expressions rarely change while he shifts badly from underplaying the part to overplaying it.

Jackson fares far better and this could be considered a real find for her fans because she plays a type of character that she has never done before, or since. Usually she plays strong willed people, but here her character is weak allows herself to be dominated and exploited shamelessly even by her own mother while also taking part in a very provocative nude scene.

Overall if you like Russell’s style then you will enjoy it more than others. Otherwise it comes off as shallow, moody, and fragmented with some real slow spots during the middle half.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 24, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Blood Simple. (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love triangle turns deadly.

Julian (Dan Hedaya) is a jealous and controlling husband who suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him. He hires a sleazy private detective named Loren (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow her around only for Julian to ultimately learn, to his shock, that not only is she fooling around, but it is with Ray (John Getz) who is one of his employees. Filled with rage Julian then asks the detective if he’d be willing to kill both of them for a price. Loren says he will, but then fakes the murder simply so he can collect the cash, which then leads to a myriad of twists.

This marks the Coen brother’s feature film debut and I was surprised to learn that every major studio passed on it and it wasn’t released to theaters until it got a favorable response after being screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The film is filled with the directorial flair that we’ve become accustomed to in their movies. I particularly enjoyed the inventive camerawork with my favorite shot being a tracking one done down a bar top in which the camera somehow leaps over a drunk’s head. The opening shots showing the desolate, dry and heat soaked Texas landscape helps give the film a gritty flair and the brief, clip-like dialogue that seems more like sound bites is quite interesting and helps reveal more by what the characters don’t say than by what they do.

McDormand is terrific in her film debut and her angelic-looking blue eyes help make her character more appealing to the viewer while the rest of them come off as being pretty vile. I was also impressed with how her Texas accent here sounds just as effective as the Minnesota one that she did in Fargo.

Hedaya does well playing the type of part he’s become best known for and I’ll give him credit for allowing himself to be put into a hole and having dirt thrown on him, but when he gets shot it is clear that his eye lids are fluttering and chest moving up and down, which should’ve been equally obvious to his shooter as well.

The story is slick, but the character’s actions not so much. Both Julian and the detective sneak into Ray’s house, but park their cars, which have very distinctive features, right in front of the home in which any neighbor looking out their window could report seeing it later when speaking to the police. Ray’s actions are even dumber as he gets fingerprints all over the murder weapon and then foolishly carries a dead body into his car where it doesn’t take a genius to know that the victim’s blood will most likely seep all over his backseat cushions.

The story appears to take place in the summer as the daytime scenes show the characters sweating, but then at nighttime we see the character’s breath, which makes it seem more like a winter time setting. I also thought the viewer should’ve been shown how the detective was able to doctor the photos to make it look like Abby and Ray had been shot as this was well before the age of personal computers or photo cropping.

There is another scene near the end where Abby, in an effort to escape from her killer, climbs out of her bedroom window and into a neighboring room. However, there was no ledge for her to climb onto making it almost impossible for her to do what she did, which is why I think they didn’t even attempt to show it and was simply something that we are expected to ‘forgive’ in order to enjoy the rest of the movie.

Despite these minor flaws I still found it to be an inventive film and one of the better attempts at creating a modern-day film noir that should be considered the standard for all others that followed.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Coen

Studio: Circle Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Tenant (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his identity.

This intriguingly odd horror film may well be Roman Polanski’s best work and even better than Rosemary’s Baby as it manages to be scary in a unique way while also bringing to light many of the subtle ugliness of everyday life. Here Polanski plays a tenant who moves into an apartment were all the residents, and even the landlord (Melvyn Douglas), act slightly peculiar. The woman who lived in the apartment before him killed herself by jumping out the window and as he continues to live there he starts to feel a connection towards her while also getting the idea that somehow the other residents are in a conspiracy against him.

The film’s brilliance comes from the fact that the horror and tension is not based on any of the usual devices.  No ghosts, monsters, or psychos here. Instead the viewer gets sucked into the harsh realities of the modern urban world. The feelings of isolation, people who are cold and impersonal and apartments that are bleak and small as well as showing how these urban jungles swallow up our identities until we’re just another face-in-the- crowd.

This amazingly deep and penetrating study gets astutely underplayed with no action and little or any true scares. The tension comes through its psychological implications and the paranoia that only the Polanski character feels. Are these people really out to get him, or is it all just in his head? There are no definite answers, but theme and ideas are quite real. It’s a sort of twisted version of Rear Window and extension of Repulsion that may require a second viewing in order to completely appreciate.

Polanski scores on all levels as his performance is interesting and his ability as a director to make you feel the smallness and bleakness of the character’s apartment is also amazing. You are given a very real sense of the room’s dimensions without any inclination that it was done on a stage, or with the presence of a film crew. The eerie segments are subtle but successful with imagery that is both strange and lasting.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Eraserhead (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple has deformed baby.

In David Lynch’s first feature length film, a movie that took almost 5 years to make and had a good deal of it financed by Sissy Spacek and her husband, we have a surreal almost cryptic-like tale detailing a lonely man named Henry (Jack Nance) and his ultimate descent into a madness as he is forced to take care of severely deformed child while also harboring the dark urge to kill it.

It is hard to say whether one can like or dislike this as it goes so far out of the conventional form of film narrative that it seemingly defies all genres and puts itself into a category all its own. On a sheer technical level it is quite impressive especially when you factor in its shoestring budget and array of production set-backs. Each scene is meticulously detailed with wild and unsettling imagery that on a purely visual level will be more than enough to leave an impact. Overall the film is cold, ugly and unyielding, but helped tremendously by Nance’s presence as a sort of detached everyman who seems as confused and aloof to his surroundings as the viewer.

To me the most jarring image is the baby, which is incredibly lifelike. Had it came off looking fake, or like some puppet or Claymation attempt the film would’ve been a failure, or deemed laughable, but this thing is freaky looking to the extreme and Lynch spares no expense in getting the camera close up to it, which could force some viewers to turn away. Supposedly it was made from the embalmed fetus of a calf, but no one knows for sure and the crew was forced to blind fold themselves when Lynch set it up, so the secret would never come out. Either way it is effective and it manages to move its eyes and mouth almost like it were real and coming off as far more authentic than any computerized effect.

Spoiler Alert!

Of course the most confounding thing about the film is its story and symbolism’s that can be interpreted in a million different ways depending on the viewer’s own perspective. For what it’s worth I’ll give you my interpretation, which isn’t that complicated. To me the deformed baby symbolizes Henry’s soul, which has been mangled by the soulless world that he lives in, which would explain why he is so extremely passive because he is simply a walking zombie. The scene where his head pops off and the ugly child’s head pops into its place only reinforces this. The lady that he sees in the radiator is an angel from heaven and the beautiful lady that lives across the hall from him is the devil who entices him with sex, but when she realizes he has no soul to take, just an ugly mangled remnant of one, which gets exposed to her when she sees him standing in the doorway, she quickly loses interest and moves onto someone else. When he finally kills the baby he is essentially killing himself, which then explains why he ends up in the final scene in heaven with the lady in the radiator.

The man in the planet that we see at the beginning represents Henry’s own subconscious as he quarrels within his mind at the thoughts of killing the child. The man could also represent the world at large and how it controls everyone with its levers, which when Henry finally kills himself they start to have sparks fly from them and the man struggles in containing them, which shows that Henry has now ‘broken free’ from the man and this world by taking his own life.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Some consider this a horror pic, but I found certain parts of it to be quite funny in a darkly humorous way particularly the segment where Henry goes to visit his girlfriend’s parents. To me the most horrifying thing about is the way it challenges the viewers to question their own morality by forcing them to face the difficult quandary or what they would do if put into the same situation as Henry and forced to care for a hideous looking baby that some would consider would be better off dead.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lynch

Studio: Libra Films International

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Mickey One (1965)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comic hides his identity.

Warren Beatty plays a successful night club comic who’s living the good life until he falls into disfavor with the mob. He decides to go on the run by burning his social security card and getting a new one with a Russian name on it that is so hard to pronounce that everyone just calls him Mickey One. After spending time on the streets of Chicago he finally gets himself another gig at a club run by Ed Castle (Hurd Hatfield), but the better things get for Mickey the more paranoid he becomes convinced that he is being watched and followed at every turn and unable to relax for even a second.

This film marks the first pairing of Beatty and director Arthur Penn and their next project, Bonnie and Clyde, was a great success, but the results here are only so-so. The idea of trying to replicate the artsy French New Wave films of the late ‘50s and early 60s is intriguing, but poor pacing and a lack of consistent style hurts it. An early scene taking place inside an automobile junkyard has just the right combination of crisp editing and camerawork to give it an enticing visual quality, but then the film veers off into too many talky segments. It manages to recover at the end by giving the viewer a strong sense of the paranoia that the main character is feeling, but wide shifts in the film’s dramatic tone hurts it overall making this more of an interesting curio than a classic.

Beatty is okay, but he tends to be a bit too detached and his attempts at stand-up comedy are unfunny despite the many shots of audience members laughing. Hatfield is terrific in support and his presence significantly helps. Franchot Tone is also quite good in a part that features no lines of dialogue.

The film does have some unique and memorable moments. Tone’s strange art exhibit that he names the Yes Machine that he constructs on the ice rink of the Marina Towers is engaging particularly when he sets it on fire only to have it put out and ruined by the Chicago fire department. The best moment though is when Beatty tries to do a stand-up routine in an empty and darkened room with only a bright spotlight shining on him and a mysterious, unseen man sitting behind it, which has the perfect blend of mood and style and a scene I wished had been extended.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 27, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video