Week of Movies: 8 & 7

Tuesday 21 November (2006)

Two old movies propping up the back of the list there. Will we find ourselves closer to the present day with movies eight and seven?! Read on to find out.

9. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
10. Vertigo (1958)

My 8th Favourite Moviedr strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb) (1964)

Stanley Kubrick was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest director ever to have walked the Earth. I know that’s a cliche, and in many ways it bothers me, but it’s just a simple fact. The reason for this is that he made a film in almost every genre, from horror (The Shining), to war movie (Full Metal Jacket), to historical epic (Spartacus), to science-fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey) – and they’re all absolutely brilliant. Dr. Strangelove is his attempt at satire – and it’s probably the funniest movie ever made.

The plot is a savage ridiculing of the cold war. Kubrick claimed that he originally wanted to make a serious movie about it, but however he looked at the subject matter it always looked absurd – so he made a black comedy. Basically, an American Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper (played to absolute perfection by George C. Scott) goes around the bend, and orders all of his planes (each of which armed with a nuclear weapon) to attack their Russian targets. Whilst the Government try to figure out how to solve this problem, and whether to recall the planes or try and get away with it, the Soviet ambassador reveals something known as the ‘Doomsday device’. Simply, this machine is a nuclear war deterrent – if any nuclear bomb hits Russia, it will detonate with enough explosive power to kill everyone on Earth. The Russian’s hadn’t announced the device to the world yet, and it cannot be turned off (a deterrent feature) -so as such it becomes absolutely imperative to stop every single plane before it hits its target – or else it’s goodnight Vienna.

The premise is fantastic, but it’s the characters which make the movie funny. Three of them happen to be played by Peter Sellers, and they all cement his status as a comic genius – from Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British officer serving at the base where General Ripper orders the attack, to US President Merkin Muffley, to the titular (ex Nazi) Dr. Strangelove. They’re all wildly different characters, but he inhabits them so completely that you completely forget that it’s actually the same actor.

The film is full of hilarious quotes – “You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!” is an obvious one, but there are many many more, from subtle to absurd, but all genius. Hell, just read this list.

As with many things I find to be excellent, I’m having a hard time explaining exactly why this film is so good. So I’ll leave it at this: it’s the funniest film ever made, and probably one of the cleverest. If you’re remotely intelligent, it’s impossible to watch it and not find it two of the most entertaining hours of your life. I can watch it again and again. It’s… perfect.

 

My 7th Favourite Moviescarface (1983)

Scarface, it seems, grows on me a little more every time I watch it. Every time it finishes I think it was slightly better than it was the last time I watched it – and it’s one of those rare films I actually get cravings to watch again, and find myself going out of my way to set three hours aside to watch it in. This is peculiar, because it’s totally unashamedly eighties – the cars, the clothes, and especially the music are all so of that particular time that they could never be recreated today. This works in Scarface’s favour.

The story is a violent one – Cuban ‘refugee’ Tony Montana (Al Pacino in his own favourite role) comes to America with a lust for power. Tired of working in a seedy burger joint, he takes a job working for some local mobsters – a cocaine transaction. The deal goes bad (it’s the famous chainsaw scene), but Tony manages to walk away with both the money and the coke, and refuses to give it to anyone other than the main boss, Frank Lopez (a great turn from Robert Loggia.) This is his in, and so begins a bloody quest to reach the top of the criminal underworld.

The movie is full of great performances – Pacino obviously excels, even if his accent is a little dubious, as does Loggia. The late Paul Shenar, playing a Bolivian Cocaine Lord, does a good job of playing the charismatic bad guy – you know he’s dangerous, even if he doesn’t look it, and on two or three occasions in the movie you get to see just how dangerous he is. Michelle Pfeiffer is also good, in an early role as Tony’s love interest; the cocaine addled Elvira. Supporting roles as Tony’s best friend and sister (respectively) are played by Steven Bauer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

Watching Tony’s rise to the top is chillingly realistic. In an early scene he walks into a busy street, with dozens of terrified onlookers, and shoots someone who double-crossed him straight in the head. This act, however horrific, requires real balls and sheer ruthlessness, and it sets Tony up as someone to be respected and feared.

Of course, he’s the bad guy, and although you’re rooting for him (testament to Pacino’s portrayal of the character) he has to come undone. The latter half of the movie depicts this well, as Tony breaks one of the first rules of drug smuggling: ‘Don’t get high on your own supply.’ The end sequence is one of the most famous in movie history (‘Say hello to my little friend!’) and serves as a gloriously over-the-top finale to one of cinema’s greatest anti-heroes. As Tony says himself; ‘You ain’t never gonna see a bad-guy like this again.’

What makes the movie stand out above other violent crime thrillers is the subtext. Tony ostensibly lives the American Dream – he arrives with nothing, and ends up with millions of dollars. After one brutal scene when he assumes control of the Miami drug smuggling underground, a blimp is shown in the sky with the flashing message: ‘The World is Yours’. This echoes a statement made by Tony earlier in the movie, and indeed his death is juxtaposed against a globe in his house with the same message emblazened across it.

It serves as a sort of hyper-realistic message: crime can pay. It’s possible to live the American Dream by virtue of bloodlust and fear. But too much of anything is bad for you (especially too much cocaine) and if you are too greedy, you’re doomed.

Scarface is, if nothing else, a brilliantly directed film with superb performances across the board, that’s simply entertaining. I love it, and I know that the next time I watch it I’ll love it a little bit more.

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