Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) by Werner Herzog

This movie is something of a curiosity, as it doesn't really go anywhere and features an absurd situation.There's an asylum

for patients who happen to be both mentally ill and dwarfs (although I suspect being the latter helps the powers that be characterise them as the former).There is a day on which all of the staff except one seem to be absent, and the one staff member on duty has an inmate, Pepe, tied up as some sort of hostage to good behaviour of the others.

The problem is that they simply do not seem to be concerned for his welfare. They have their freedom and they're going to enjoy it. It has to be said, he doesn't seem too worried, either: we see him frequently during the movie and he is generally smiling, and never says a word.

Oddly enough, although town is nearby and they have a vehicle, they never leave the environs of their insitution.Instead, they revel in their freedom. Some of what they do is kind of sweet, innocent even, like arranging for Hombre to get "married", which seems to be no more than putting him in a room with a woman (there is no account of what sort of feelings they might have for each other - this movie doesn't do backstory):
Unfortunately, he finds getting on to the bed a bit elusive:

even with the large number of magazines he uses as a platform, which turn out to feature pictures of naked women, so they all have a good time
Even sweeter is the inmate who has an entire wedding party, comprised of various bugs, which she shares with her fellow inmates

A lot of what they do is fairly harmless, like setting the vehicle to run in circles all day in the compound, and surf on top

or practice bull-fighting techniques with it
They also ransack the kitchen, but the food looks inedible (presumably this is the slop they've been fed) and so they have a food fight with it instead and have great fun throwing the crockery at the van as it passes by.Various objects are broken or burnt (although not the asylum itself).

Not all is fun and games, however. There are two blind dwarfs, who are normally kept separate for their own good but today they're out with the others and are periodically tormented. I think its mostly in fun, like sneaking around them and taking some food
but as the day wears on, the actions of the inmates darken - I actually think they do away with one of the blind dwarfs. Every so often, they get the person on duty out on the balcony and harrass him to the point he goes mad
Even though that was sad, I had to laugh at one of their ways of tormenting the person on duty, which led to him chasing around his office after a bunch of chickens
 There is even a form of crucifixion scene (apparently it is a live monkey on the cross)

This is not a movie which comes to any sort of point or has any sort of lesson, save the simple celebration of freedom. Perhaps that is why Herzog saw fit to conclude the movie with the most unlikely of images

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu

This is a movie with quite a reputation, showing up in various best films ever made lists, so I thought I should watch it. Although I did enjoy it, I don't quite get why its such a big deal, although I can see it is a kind of film-maker's film. It was very carefully paced and I noticed several recurring images, such as the way characters were often posed in lines.

This was a movie about family, and yet it was very noticeable how they never touched each other and how there were recurring images of empty rooms.

The basic set up is quite simple: an elderly small town couple go to Tokyo to see their adult children, who have very little time to spend with their parents. The next generation seems worse - the son was portrayed as incredibly selfish and set permanently to whine mode:

They feel guilty that their parents are sitting upstairs doing nothing, so send them off to a beach resort (Atami - just out from Mt Fuji) to do nothing. The parents get a bit fed up with this, decide to go home - not before their kids let them down one more time and they find themselves "homeless".

They find a solution: dad catches up with an old mate and has a big night on the town, getting absolutely plastered
 and has to be taken to his po-faced daughter's

house by the Police.

She is very unamused to find he has brought a mate home and neither can stand up:

Mum, on the other hand, visits with their deceased son's wife, the lovely Noriko,

and is well looked after for the night.
Both parents have a good talk with Noriko, saying that she has to move on, that they won't be worried if she finds someone new to marry, which was kind of sweet - these were among the few times that there was any sort of conversation in which the people connected with each other.

There seemed to be something going on with small town values versus big city ones. The movie is framed by appearances of a cheery neighbour, initially wishing them a happy trip to Tokyo, and then giving Dad a sort of cheery welcome home (although she may not have cheered him as much as she could have, by pointing out how lonely he will be. The parents themselves are particularly dignified

and here, at least, there is one of their children who will stay home and look after them, despite having a job which is just as important as those of her her cityfied siblings

Since the movie is on so many lists of best movies, I am glad I've seen it, and I enjoyed its sombre investigation of the breakdown of family. Unfortunately, some of the characters came across as caricatures - Mum and Dad were incredibly slow moving, although they seemed like decent uncomplaining people.I had thought that maybe the trip to Tokyo was made with knowledge that Mum would not live much longer, because there was talk that they wouldn't be able to make it back up to Tokyo, but I don't think they expected death to come quite so soon. When I think about it, with the effort it took for them to get to Tokyo and their knowledge it was probably not going to happen again, the way their kids acted was rotten: I don't buy Noriko's story that this is what to expect, that kids develop their own life and abandon their parents.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Leave Her to Heaven

Another movie watched solely on the basis that someone said the female lead (Gene Tierney) is beautiful - not really my style, however.
She plays Ellen Berent Harland: as she is returning by train to her father's funeral, she spots a young man,

Richard - they talk, she says he reminds her of her father, there's a bit of humour where she says the book she's reading is terribly dull,

he agrees and then it is revealed he is its author and before you know it, she's dumped her fiance (Vincent Price) and is marrying Richard, saying she'd never let him go.

He's a nice enough fellow, loves his disabled brother (Danny), gets on well with Ellen's sister, Ruth, and all could have ended happily. Problem is, Ellen is screwed up, can't handle competition so those who appear to love Richard have to go - there's one cold blooded scene in which she watches Danny drown. When it looks like Richard might like Ruth more than he should (he dedicates his book to her), we're led to think that Ellen is about to poison her, but Ellen is more subtle than that, as well as more damaged.

The movie tended to move fairly slowly through these waters, but then the pace and tension picked up remarkably at the end, with a murder trial. Ellen's former fiance is the prosecutor, and he's like a dog with a bone - going way beyond merely badgering his witnesses - his questions were intense and repetitive (spoilers after the photos):

So, as I said, Ellen's plan was a bit more subtle than just killing Ruth: she killed herself and framed Ruth. She might have got away with it - Ruth confesses to being in love with Richard. If the fiance hadn't been a bit bitter and twisted about losing Ellen to Richard, he might have stopped: instead, he recalled Richard to the stand in order to force him to confess to being in love with Ruth. Only then does the truth spill out.

On a completely unrelated point, I liked the look of the club car of the train:


I've just joined Fatso, and already have a queue of movies lined up to watch. Because my membership is just $3 for two months, I feel no need to be particularly discriminating in what I watch, which is how I came to watch Bug - someone on the net said Ashley Judd was beautiful in it and that was enough for me. I didn't even know who Ashley Judd was. Maybe if I'd known that the movie is directed by William Friedken and that he also directed the Exorcist, I would have known better what to expect.

In Bug, she plays a bit of a loser - a waitress in some out of the way place,

living in a run down motel in an even more out of the way place.

Part of her backstory is that she has a child, who was taken from her a few years back, just stolen from a supermarket trolley. She has a husband who has been locked up for violence and has just come out of jail. While he is a jerk and does beat her up a couple of times, he is the least of her problems.
 Her friend introduces her to Peter, he seems nice, he never once hits her, even protects her from her husband - she gives him a place to stay.

The inevitable happens, and the initial part of their story is sweet - he does seem kind and she's in need of someone, too much so, because when he turns out to be more than a little deranged, she buys into it, totally. His story is one of a grand conspiracy, that he has been part of some Army human testing programme which has seen him injected with some form of bug (an aphid) which allows him to be the subject of central control. There's some pretty articulate statements from him as to how it is done and what they are up to - of course, he is probably nuts and there are no bugs: the point is, she believes him, enters his paranoid world where the Army is out to get him. First the motel room is decorated with bug strips, but ultimately it is lined with tinfoil - it stops the bugs communicating.

The movie is more of a psychological thriller than violent, although there are a couple of disturbing scenes, such as when Peter wrenches out his own teeth, or becomes convinced that a Government agent who comes into the room is a machine. I have to say, the fellow playing Peter (Michael Shannon) was pretty convincing.Ashley Judd was even more so, as she goes from a normal sort of person to someone who totally believes her house is infested with bugs deployed on some sort of Governmental secret mission.