It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case we is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list. We’ve frozen the list as of January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 37th update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
Blade Runner (1982) – No. 109 8.2
When four human form ‘Replicants’ go off the reservation, a world weary Blade Runner by the name of Deckard is reluctantly pressed into service to hunt them down. During his investigation, he meets a Replicant by the name of Rachael, who astonishingly is initially unaware of her true nature. As Deckard’srelationship with Rachael develops, his hunt raises more questions about the nature of humanity, and whether artificial human beings are less sentient than their creators.
I’vewatched BladeRunner so many times over the years, it has become hard to re-assess it afresh for this type of review. As far as an exercise in world building, BladeRunner is incredible. The mixture of compelling visuals, incredible musical scoring and the combination of contemporary lifestyles withfuturistic technology combine to make the world in which Blade Runner takes place so realistic that it is easy to completely immerse yourself in it. So many movies set in the future, such as I, Robot, Minority Report etc.. display it as a very sterile, white plasteel environment with flawlessly pristine technology available to all. Deckard visitingdingy shops and noodle bars in a flying car, chasing human form robots. The contrast between the progressive technology and the continuing poverty and decay of a big city is used to great effect to create a realistic vision.
The story, on the other hand, comes across now as a little mundane. The tale of a human chasing down artificial intelligence gone wrong is no longer fresh or original, and regardless of whether it was when the film was originally released, it makes it harder to get excited about now in the present day. The philosophicalquestions posed, about humanity, self-awareness and playing God, are very well posed however, and combined withthe unique atmosphere of the created world givea very unique feeling to Blade Runner that has never been surpassed.
For me, the performances aren’t great. Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is clearly unhinged, which just about justifies his larger than life performance, but everyone else just come across as adequate. Even Harrison Ford, though displaying great screen presence, and a vulnerability refreshing for a male lead, doesn’t sparkle in the same way as he does in the Indiana Jones movies, for example.
I’ve never really been sure if i like Blade Runner all that much. I clearly enjoy watching it, as i have done so more times than i can count, but there does seem to be a simplicity to the sequence of events, leaving me wanting that little bit more on every viewing. For its unique atmosphere, and the thought provoking ideas behind the story, Blade Runner is definitely still one of the true greats, and despite my misgivings i can’t really argue with its position in the IMDb250 list on that basis.
The Green Mile (1999) – No. 96 8.3
The Green Mile follows life on the Green Mile, a death row section of a penitentiary. The prison guards are there to make their charges last days as comfortable as they can reasonably be, but the status quo is upset by bloodthirsty guard Percy Wetmore, the arrival of ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton, and gentle giant John Coffey, who it is discovered holds a very special gift.
The Green Mile has a very odd feel to it. Most of the movie is set within one very small set, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily look cheap, it does create a very contained atmosphere. This doesn’t detract from some very good performances, particularly from Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill Wharton and Doug Hutchison as Percy Wetmore. The story doesn’t suffer from it either. The Green Mile is a touching tale really, of a simple man suffering for God’s work, and of good men trying to make the best of a job essentially working as caretakers of monsters. Hanks as Paul Edgecomb and David Morse as Brutus Howell come across as genuinely likable, personable characters.
My problem with The Green Mile is that there is a dark, sinister edge to it, which seems at odds with the lightness and charm of many of the characters. Every story needs a villain, and Wetmore does display some truly reprehensible behaviour, as does Wild Bill. But the ending they both meet, due to the actions of a man doing ‘God’s work’ seems to contradict the message that all men, regardless of their behaviour, deserve a degree of civility that is threaded throughout the rest of the story. The wardens show great care and sensitivity towards their charges, making their final days as comfortable as reasonably possible. We seem to be being told that all men deserve respect, even if they are on death row. Then we are shown the vengeance wreaked by Michael Clarke Duncan’s John Coffey, and those final actions seem so out of character with the rest of the movie.
These macabre events, combined with the botched execution that leads to them, lend a grotesque tone to a story that starts out so genteel. This may be a completely intended switch, but it leaves the film feeling very off balance. It also means that when we witness Coffey’s final moments at the end of the movie, the impact is dampened by what has gone before. The Green Mile was perfectly watchable, but nothing more. Having now seen it once, i don’t imagine a scenario in which i’ll choose to watch it again. For me, not deserving of its place.
Fight Club (1999) – No.17 8.7
A white collar insomniac finds his Ikea-loving lifestyle turned upside down when he meets shady soap salesman Tyler Durden. They start up an underground fight club, a group therapy session that allows the common man to de-stress after a hard day at the office. The insomniac discovers, however, that Durden has grander ideas, and as events quickly spiral out of the narrators control, he finds that the biggest shock has been saved til the very last.
From the outset, it is not obvious what kind of movie Fight Club is. Comedy, drama , thriller? It starts out as a truly odd tale of a man who cannot find his place in the world. As you follow Ed Norton’s ‘Narrator’ through his adventures at support groups, and his first meeting with Marla, it is impossible to tell where the story is headed. Then Norton’s world is blown to pieces, literally, and things just get weirder.
Throughout Fight Club, you’re never really sure whether to laugh or be appalled. Norton’s character isn’t really likeable, and is actually a bit of a jerk, particularly with regards to his interactions with Marla. Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden has become an icon of cool, but really, he isn’t any more likable than Norton (which i guess actually makes perfect sense). Still, you feel hopelessly compelled to continue watching the car wreck to see the outcome.
Really, it isn’t the characters that you find yourself rooting for, it is the story. The anti-establishment, anarchic ideas of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing are what makes the story relevant and vital. The mischief and mean spirit of Durden’s army should be abhorred, but he makes a convincing argument. Sadly, by the end of the film, its biggest failing is that you can’t really care what fate befalls the protagonists. Whilst Durden’s rage against the machine is compelling in theory, the reality is that no real face is put on the villain of the piece, meaning that when his plan comes to fruition, it can only be seen as senseless. He has effectively waged war on an anonymous evil.
Are we supposed to sympathise with either Durden or Norton? You’d have to ask director Fincher. The talented director’s filmmaking ability is beyond question. The soundtrack and visuals are unique and striking throughout, and the stellar cast mean that you never question the believabilityof the madness that unfolds on screen. The only real issue with Fight Club is that it leaves you feeling emotionally cold. A story of reprehensible characters watching their lives unravel, there really is no emotional anchor to it. An entertaining film, by one of the best directors of his generation, but lacking that intangible something that would make it great. A good movie, but one whose reputation far exceeds its skills.
The Wages of Fear (1953) – No. 177 8.1
In a rundown South American town, the large mob of unemployed denizens are given the opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to drive a cargo across country to a remote oil field for a huge payday. The catch? The cargo is dozens of barrels of highly unstable nitroglycerin, and the vehicles are not built to withstand even the smallest pothole in the road. There are two trucks, and the first to safely reach its destination will win the big prize. It is the most lethal of races, but there are no shortage of men willing to take the chance for a better life.
The Wages of Fear starts off so slowly, that you’d be forgiven for giving up early on. The story of paupers in a run down town, with nothing better to do but make nuisances of themselves isn’t greatly compelling, and in truth this period of character establishment runs far too long. By the time the offer of a job, literally career suicide comes along, you find yourself desperate for a bit of pace. Strange, then, that the slow deliberate journey the protagonists embark on turns out to be one of the most compelling, sizzlingly tense tales ever told in cinema.
Four men, two trucks, and a whole lot of nitroglycerin make The Wages of Fear one of the greatest action movies of all time. The set pieces are inventive, and the performances are pitch perfect as the desperate men risk it all for the promise of a route out of the miserable poverty they live in. None of the characters have shown so far to be particularly noble or nice, but you can’t help but pull for them, even with the cruelty they so often show towards each other, as they race to be the first to get their payload to its destination. Some fantastic shocks, that in retrospect are all obvious but never feel so at the time, and perfect pacing of the second half of the movie make watching the wages of Fear an unforgettable experience. One of the best films i’ve watched for the project, it is just a shame that many have probably given up a third of the way into the movie. It is works of art like this that are the reason i took on the project, as i probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.
Memento (2000) – No. 27 8.6
Leonard suffers from a rare condition that means he is unable to create new memories, the result of an assault that left his wife raped and murdered. Despite his handicap, Leonard follows the trail of the man responsible, using a unique method of notation to piece together his investigation as every few minutes his short term memory is wiped. He thinks he has the perfect method to keep track of his situation, but we discover that Leonard is in fact very confused, and at the mercy of the people around him as they make use of his circumstances for their own benefit.
From the opening scene of a Polaroid developing backwards, Memento catches your attention, and arouses your curiosity. The unique decision to unravel the storyline backwards perfectly complements the memory bending storyline. In truth, with a little bit of re-jigging, the movie would have worked if it had been played forwards in sequence. The story is interesting enough to captivate you either way, as the story of Leonard’s quest, and the discipline he shows as he tries desperately to keep track of his investigation compel you to continue watching. It helps that, despite the fact that Leonard is a vengeful, violent character, Guy Pearce’s charm and sympathetic portrayal makes him a likeable lead character. That is the brilliance of the backwards chronology – you’re pulling for Leonard all the way until the end (or beginning), when you find out exactly who he is, and what he has done.
Having watched Memento several times, the gimmicks don’t hold up quite so well on repeat viewing. Each scene overlaps, showing part of the same scene in the next so you can see how it links up. a useful tool, but it starts to feel very repetitive upon subsequent views. The same problem also exists as with any film that relies on a twist. Though the subtle humour and intricacies of the plot shine through when watched again, by knowing how it all ends, what the big finish involves, a big part of the pull of the movie is taken away. On first watch, Memento is, for me, one of the best films i have seen. It is just a shame that it suffers so much the second, third or fourth time. The curse of not being unable to unsee a movie. A curse, i guess, that Leonard never has to fear…
Come back next Monday for update 38. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_