Perhaps one of the most well done war films of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is a stunning film. An all encompassing film about World War One, All Quiet on the Western Front has been preserved by the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and seen as “historically, culturally and aesthetically significant.” While all this information praises the great film I think even more talking is my opinion of it. I believe my opinion is important not because I have a big head but because I generally dislike war films but I thought this film was fantastic.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows a group of young men that enlist in the German Army during World War I. The film goes through all aspects of war, beginning with basic training where they meet the strict training officer Himmelstoss (John Wray). After training the group is sent out into the field. Paired with a platoon of veteran soldiers, the young group finds a mentor named Katczinsky who helps them find food and learn how to take cover. Despite Katczinsky’s help, the group loses a man during night patrol and their numbers continue to dwindle as they delve further and further into the war. We watch as the fresh recruits become veterans as they fight their way through battles and are forced to deal with losing their friends and comrades.
This film manages to analyze more aspects of war than most war films have time for. Hunger, living conditions, the battles, dealing with loss, insanity, war hospital’s and returning from the war are all covered. For most of the film the soldiers are desperate for food, not eating for days on end. When they do get food they only get a small amount and they must battle away the rats if they have any extra food to store. There is a lot of death in this film and the men deal with it differently. Some men cannot handle the constant death and pressure and start to lose their minds. Others have trouble accepting the death, risking their lives to bring back corpses or carrying a dead body to the medics, not able to accept it as dead.
If you haven’t seen the end of this film you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph. The end of the film is an example of cinematic genius. During the devastating end of the film, in which one of the only living characters is killed after going back to the front lines, each character that has passed during the film is honored. The scene begins with a crane shot of a graveyard filled with white crosses. Juxtaposed over the graveyard is a shot of the main characters marching with their backs to the camera. As they pass the camera, each man looks over his shoulder directly into the camera. Juxtaposed over the graveyard, giving the walking men an almost ghostly effect, this was an outstanding ending honoring all the men we had lost during the film.
Again, All Quiet on the Western Front taught me not to judge a film based on the year it was made. I did not have much faith in a war film made in 1930 but it ended up being the best war film I have ever seen. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Writing. Director Lewis Milestone took home the Oscar for Best Director and the film beat The Big House, Disraeli, the Divorcee and The Love Parade for Best Picture. This film is an example of cinematic brilliance. I give this an A+, a film that everybody should see at some point in their lives.
You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie
The 1971 Oscar Best Picture Winner, The French Connection, was not only based on a book but it was also based on a true story. Taking a look at a narcotics smuggling operation in New York and the detectives that are obsessed with stopping it, the French Connection was an outstanding film.
Throughout the film, three main parties surface as the important players. The first and most important group is the detectives working the case, Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Detective Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). The case is not originally given to the two main characters but they go out of their way to investigate and involve themselves. On the other side of the case is the main narcotics smugglers, the man bringing the drugs over from France, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) and the men he is in contact with in America, Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and Weinstock (Harold Gary). The final player is a federal agent named Mulderig (Bill Hickman) who is assigned to the case. Using a naive actor Henri Devereaux (Frederic de Pasquale) and a car he is transporting to the United States, Charnier smuggles the drugs into the country. The film follows a mental game of chess between Charnier and Doyle as Charnier tries to successfully complete his drug deal with Doyle doing everything he can to catch him.
In an effort to avoid simply retelling the plot of a film, this paragraph marks the start of my attempt to analyze each film I watch. During the 1970’s, as the French Connection came out, the cinema world saw a revival in cop-films, with the French Connection in the lead. With quick, rough transitions, the film plays out by juxtaposing two extremely different worlds. The films starts with its largest comparison, showing with the gritty, tight streets of New York only to jump to the clean and spacious city of Marseilles. As the main focus of the film moves to just New York the film splits the city in half, juxtaposing the rich Manhattan with Brooklyn, an area flush with junkies and street cops. It is the continued juxtaposition that fuels the film, showing two different worlds collide and interact.
Beyond the careful construction and comparison of different worlds while showing how the police fit into each one, the film also has its own well-known chase scene. While Charnier’s man attempts to escape Doyle on an elevated train, Doyle speeds through the streets under the train, trying to keep up to catch the man as he gets off the train. The chase mirrors the feel of the film, long and drawn out with a quick, to the point ending. The long chase, which should have yielded big rewards, is certainly not a failure but does not payout like it should. This idea can sum up the entire film from the beginning all the way up to its famously pessimistic ending.
Taking home the 1971 Oscar for Best Picture over A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, the Last Picture Show and Nicholas and Alexandra, The French Connection also won four more awards. Gene Hackman took home a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar with William Friedkin winning for Best Director and Ernest Tidyman taking best screenplay. The film also won for Best Editing. I truly believe that this film deserved to win Best Picture and give it a 9 out of 10. It is gritty and at times depressing but it is also an outstanding film.
The topic for this post this week is a movie called Mary and Max, chosen by the creator of this lovely blog, Rainbowchair himself. Classified as a comedy under Netflix’s Instant Queue, this film was truly one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. Done entirely in Claymation, this film took a depressingly comedic look at friendship, mental illness and loneliness. Even a full twelve hours after seeing the film I’m not quite sure what to make of it but you know as well as I do that I’m sure as hell going to try.
As odd as it for a claymation movie to be based on a true story, Mary and Max opened by telling the audience that it was. As suggested by the name, Mary and Max is the story of two people, Mary and Max. At the film’s opening, Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette) is a young girl living in Australia with her alcoholic mother and a father who spends all his spare time working on his hobby, taxidermy. Teased at school because of her birthmark and even forced to make her own toys, all Mary really wants is a friend. One day while at the post office with her mother, Mary picks a random address out of an American phone book and pens a letter. Using the address she found, Mary gets the letter across the ocean to the address’ inhabitant, a man named Max Jerry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Max Jerry Horovitz is a man over the age of forty living with a number of different mental disabilities in New York City. Eventually diagnosed with Aspergers as well as a number of anxiety issues, Max deals with his problems by over eating and continuously gaining weight. As friendless as Mary, Max spends his time going to over eating anonymous meetings (which don’t help) and seeing a therapist (who is only mean and condescending to him). A man’s whose number one goal in life is to make a friend, Max immediately responds to Mary’s letter.
The film does not have much dialogue in it, just a number of voice overs by the narrator (Barry Humphries), Mary as she reads her letters aloud and Max as he reads aloud the letters he returns to Mary. The bulk of the story is told through the letters that the title characters send to one another. As each character reads their letter, the letter’s author provides the voiceover for the words that they wrote. When the characters aren’t reading their letters, the narrator tells the story leaving only a few lines to be said by the characters in real time.
While there were many funny lines in the film, I would not classify this is a comedy. I believe that this is more of a drama. As the letters continue between Max and Mary and their friendship is tested time and time again, they are forced to confront and face their problems while helping one another do so. The two develop more than a friendship, they end up relying on one another to accept and forgive them for the weaknesses. The film is filled with some highly depressing and dark moments. Some of the bite is taken away from these moments due to the filmmaker’s choice to make the film Claymation but the material is dark nonetheless.
Overall this film surprised me; I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The voice acting was very well done and color played an important role in the film. Everything in New York City was in the black and white and everything in Australia was in color. As the two got to know one another better and send each other items, blotches of color appeared in New York City and black and white items show in Australia. Mary and Max was a very interesting film that proved that even the seemingly hopeless can find hope in the oddest of places. I give this film a 6 out of 10 and while it clearly is not for everybody, if you are an adventurous film watcher I certainly recommend it.