Film Club: Rififi (1955)

Written by Auguste Le Breton (original novel and screenplay collaboration) Jules Dassin and René Wheeler

Directed by Jules Dassin

Cast

 

Jean Servais…                    Tony le Stéphanois

Carl Möhner…                   Jo le Suedois

Robert Manuel…              Mario Ferrati

Janine Darcey…                 Louise

Questions

  • What do you think of the infamous thirty-two minute long ‘heist’ scene? Is the decision not to include dialogue or music an effective one? Why? How does it compare to heist scenes in more recent and commercial films such as Snatch, Ocean’s Eleven, Inception? Why do you think it is placed roughly halfway through the film rather than at its conclusion?
  • How much of the film would you say now feels outdated? How much does the film suffer from cliché? Is this the fault of the filmmakers or because films which have followed afterwards have borrowed from it?
  • What does this film have to say about the subject of morality? Does it have a moral message? How are we supposed to feel about the film’s criminal leads?
  • What did you think of the film’s treatment of its female characters? Do what extent is this film sexist or misogynistic?
  • What elements of the film make it ‘noir’?
  • To what is extent is the setting of Paris in the 1950s also a character in the film?

Trivia

‘Rififi’ refers to a ‘macho’ style of brutal violence perpetrated by criminals and thugs.

How central is the violence and ‘rififi’ to this movie? Is it offensive?

Film Club: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast

Sheila Vand…                     The Girl

Arash Marandi…               Arash

Marshall Manesh…          Hossein (The Junkie)

Mozhan Marnὸ…             Atti (The Prostitute)

Dominic Rains…                 Saeed (The Pimp)

Rome Shandanloo…        Shaydah (The Princess)

Masuka…                             Masuka (The Cat)

 

Questions

  •  Why do you think the decision was made to name a lot of the characters as archetypal figures, for example ‘The Girl’ or ‘The Cat’? Likewise, what about the decision to set the story in a place known only as Bad City? Is there perhaps a fairy tale or fable quality to this story?
  • How does this fit into the canon of other vampire stories? Consider the fact that the word ‘vampire’ is never even mentioned.
  • The film was made in California, but how does the strong Middle Eastern influence change the way we watch the film? How does the setting relate to Western ideas of vampires as ‘exotic’ and ‘other worldly’? How about the political and gender political context of the film?
  • What do you think of the ‘relationship’ which is formed during the course of the film? How do we know they are in a ‘relationship’?
  • What did you think about the (slow) pacing of the film?
  • What did you think about the soundtrack and use of music and references to musical culture throughout?
  • How much of this film is ambiguous? Do you enjoy ambiguity in a film?
  • How attractive was the film to look at (cinematography)? Why do you think the film was made in black and white?

 

Trivia

 A series of graphic novels have been produced to accompany this film.

In what way does the film remind you of a graphic novel? How does it compare to other films with a similar visual style?

Anomalisa (2015)

Written by Charlie Kaufman, Directed by Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman

Cast

David Thewlis…                 Michael Stone

Jennifer Jason Leigh…    Lisa Hesselman

Tim Noonan…                    Everyone else

 

Questions

This was originally written as a ‘sound play’ and was later adapted for the visual medium. What is the role of sound and voice in this film? Are the accompanying visuals fitting and successful?

  • Why was it important to make this film with stop-motion animation rather than flesh and blood actors? What do you feel about this style of animation? Is this a beautiful film?
  • What about the voice casting decisions? Assess the performances of Thewlis and Leigh, as well as the decision to have Tim Noonan voice every other character.
  • How would you sum up the ‘atmosphere’ created by Kaufman in one word only?
  • What do we want from a film? Do we need to feel good and the end to feel we’ve had a worthwhile cinematic experience?
  • Why do you think Kaufman chose to set this story in a hotel?
  • To what extent did some of the sexual elements in the film jar with the fact that it was an animation?
  • A quotation from the main character, “Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.” To what extent do you think this is true of Anomalisa? Is it a film without a lesson?
  • How would you compare this film to Lost in Translation?

Trivia

 The hotel where Michael stays is called the Fregoli. The ‘Fregoli delusion’ is when someone believes different people are all actually the same person in disguise. How does this relate to Michael’s state of mind? Is this what he believes is happening?

Film Club: Send Me No Flowers (1964)

Based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore, Screenplay by Julius Epstein

Directed by Norman Jewison

Cast

 

Rock Hudson…                  George Pemberton Kimball

Doris Day…                          Judy Kimball

Tony Randall…                   Arnold Nash

Paul Lynde…                       Mr Atkins

Edward Andrews…          Dr Ralph Morrissey

 

Questions

 

  • Which character did you enjoy watching the most and why? To what extent did you ‘like’ George, our main character? Is this important?
  • To what extent are the 1960s negative stereotypes in the film offensive? To what extent are they funny? Consider presentation of: women, homosexuals, hypochondriacs, alcoholics…
  • Compare the gender politics of the film with other movies made in 1964, for example Goldfinger, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and Straight Jacket. What are the different perceptions of women being represented?
  • Which elements of the film did you find funny and why? How does it compare to 1964’s iconic ‘Dr Strangelove’ in terms of comedic style?
  • This film was originally a play. Is this apparent?
  • Apparent, Rock Hudson did not like this movie, feeling that the film’s morbid subject matter was in bad taste. Do you think it’s important for comedies to deal with taboo subjects? What examples can you think of where questions of taboo and taste have been well and truly pushed in recent times?
  • If you could change the ending, would you? What would be your alternate ending?

 

Trivia

 

Although Rock Hudson and Doris Day are often remembered as a famous double-act who made countless films together, this is actually their third and final movie outing. The actor Tony Randall (who played Arnold in Send me No Flowers) is also in all three. You may wish to compare this film with Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Both of these films also depict Hudson and Day in a fraught love/hate relationship, played for comedy value.

Film Club: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Written by Nancy Oliver, Directed by Craig Gillespie

Cast

Ryan Gosling…                   Lars Lindstrom

Emily Mortimer…             Karin

Paul Schneider…               Gus

R.D. Reid…                          Reverend Bock

Kelli Garner…                     Margo

Patricia Clarkson…            Dagmar (Bianca and Lars’ doctor)

 

Questions

  •  Is this film a love story? What types of love do we encounter is this film?
  • Does this film fit easily into a specific genre? How does it fit into the context of ‘quirky’ comedies? Is this film funny? If so, does the comedy come from the ‘cringe’ factor, the shock factor, out of sympathy/pathos or from somewhere else?
  • How does this film deal with the issues surrounding ‘growing up’? Think about invisible friends, comfort blankets/teddies, playing pretend. Consider the fact that Gosling apparently improvised the teddy CPR scene… would the film lose something without this?
  • How would this situation be dealt with in ‘real’ life? To what extent is the audience being asked to suspend their disbelief? Think about the representation of a small town community and the Church (not to mention medical bills.)
  • Consider representation of gender politics, sex and sexuality. Does any part of us condemn Lars’ purchase?
  • How much does the success of the film rely on the strength of Ryan Gosling’s performance?
  • How do we deal with mental health issues? If someone is happy and they are not hurting anyone else, is their mental health issue a ‘problem’?
  • Just for fun – Discuss the variety of sweaters worn by Lars and Margo.

 

Trivia

 Listen out for Ryan Gosling’s weird and wonderful singing voice. For more of this, check out the Dead Man’s Bones self-titled album. It’s perfect for Halloween.

A Boy and His Dog (1975) Written and Directed by L.Q. Jones, based on a novella by Harlan Ellison

 

I came to this film with no expectations because, well, I didn’t really know what it was about. Initially, I saw a short and rather odd clip when I had fallen down the endless rabbit hole we folks call YouTube and it was odd enough to make me want to investigate from whence it came…

There are plenty of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films out there and in some ways this is no different. There’s the dystopian depiction of the future as hot, dusty and unpleasant; of civilisation circling the toilet bowl; of lawless loners; gangs and a societal divide. Seeing this in the same week I was reading Stephen King’s 11.22.63, there’s also the not unfamiliar ‘what would have happened if Kennedy hadn’t died’ trope. There’s also the utopian dream in the face of adversity, hopes of what lies “over the hill.”

The main partnership in the film is between, as you may have guessed from the title, a boy (well… a man…) and his dog. Again, this isn’t that out of the ordinary, it’s a device used so that the loner character doesn’t have to spend the whole of the film talking to themselves, or shop mannequins. For example, it’s used in I am Legend (2007, based on the Richard Matheson novel of 1954.) In this instance though, the dog talks back, kind of like Adventure Time (2010-present) if Finn was trying to find and ravage Princess Bubblegum and Jake was helping him track her in return for food.

Vic (Don Johnson) is a human with shady morals, who can communicate telepathically with Blood (voice provided by Tim McIntire), a smart but creepy shaggy dog. The exposition is delivered as Blood gets Vic to repeat back to him the facts of the recent political upheavals and wars, while berating Vic for his general idiocy. It is seeing a cuddly-looking dog and simultaneously hearing McIntire gruffly saying things like, “I hope the next time you play with yourself, you go blind” which is so disconcerting.

This is a society where the women are few and far between and Vic is horny. After finding, stalking and capturing Quilla (Susanne Benton) who then escapes, Vic follows her home, underground to a place described as ‘Downunder.’ Then things start to go in an even stranger direction. The Downunder dwellers are like sinister 1950s townsfolk, parading and picnicking in a sunless world. They also hold committee meetings. The Committee, however, is constantly shipping troublesome citizens off to the Farm, in a parody of small-minded, small-town America.

It is clear from the start that something is a little off in this underground society. The film contains a lot of creepy details which are not contained in Ellison’s 1969 novella. For instance, the residents of Downunder all wear ‘whiteface’, with pink blush on their cheeks and a 1984 style series of loudspeakers are constantly blaring out unavoidable public service announcements and recipes for domestic harmony.

Vic, incidentally, has been lured into a trap. He is required for his precious free-range sperm. In the novella, this means the promise of sleeping with a lot of women. The film includes a short but arresting scene in which Vic is tied up and mechanically… ahem… milked for his produce… while being simultaneously married off to a succession of women in big puffy dresses. Incidentally, it was this scene which bought me to the film in the first place. I wondered what was going on…

Women don’t come off that well in this film. Quilla is initially depicted as beautiful and naïve but is soon revealed to be a bit of a deceitful temptress (although good for her, in the circumstances.) She also comes across as the ultimate ‘high maintenance’ woman when she continually purrs to Vic about their love for each other and her plans for their lives together. How much of this is Quilla simply being manipulative is up for interpretation. She also features heavily in the film’s rather remorseless final little twist.

The enduring relationship in the film is that between Vic and Blood. Vic explains that for the telepathy between Blood and himself to work, the two of them must “have a feeling for each other.” I would argue that they don’t seem to care for each other particularly, in fact neither character is really very likeable. Harlan Ellison himself, however, will never win any charm-school awards, so this is perhaps unsurprising.

This film did not do well at the box office. This does not surprise me. I thoroughly enjoyed A Boy and His Dog it for its quirkiness, for the unsettling contrast between the over and underground worlds and its bald refusal to try and force me to like anyone. At ninety-one minutes long there’s no fat to trim away from this film and it is well worth a watch for its novelty value, seeing a common sort of story told with uncommon components. Ultimately, the film is unpleasant and darkly comedic in equal turns and that’s just fine with me.

“Momma, Just Killed a Man” Suicide Squad (2016, Written and Directed by David Ayer)

 

I’m laying my cards out on the table before we even begin. Jokers and all. I’m not really all that into comic books. I’m as nerdy as the rest of them and I know the basics, but I’m not a hard-core fan by any stretch. I’ve also had enough of comic book movies; the last time I went to see a Marvel or DC film I genuinely enjoyed was back in the time of the original X-Men trilogy (2000-2006). Ah, those were the days. For the most part, I’ve started to keep my distance from a genre of films which is doing, re-doing and re-booting itself to death and enjoyed the occasional graphic novel-inspired piece of loveliness every now and then instead. In terms of previous knowledge about Suicide Squad, the story arcs involved and the main characters, I knew enough about Harley Quinn to know she was always going to be my favourite comic book character and that was about it.

Despite my genre-orientated misgivings, I wanted to see this movie the moment I saw the first trailer. When the film started getting panned a bit by critics, I wanted to love it even more, because it’s always fun to go against the flow. For the most part: I really, really liked this film.

The plot was bodacious and horrendously far-fetched and the time spent characterising some of the more central bad guys meant you weren’t entirely sure who some of the others were (there was a sewer-dwelling crocodile-man and some Australian bloke and I never really got a handle on who they were…) It was hyperactive and silly and about halfway through, the pacing and exposition became muddled and rushed, but none of these things really mattered to me.

There is an attempt to clearly establish each character from the outset. Each of our anti-heroes are introduced to the audience in the style of a fast paced music video, each song intended to provide a short-cut summary of who these people are. Harley Quinn’s introductory song, for example, is Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’. Within the first few minutes, the film I was thinking of most was Sucker Punch (2011) and both films just about manage to keep the balance between style and substance.

The women in this film are phenomenal. I’ll be honest, I hardly noticed the male actors who were in it at all. This was the first film I had seen Margot Robbie in (I’m previously accustomed only to seeing her in Neighbours whenever I visited my parents for dinner.) Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was pretty darn fantastic, using the right combination of upbeat and down-and-out. Harley bounces off the walls, oscillating between depraved acts, relentless optimism and random acts of friendship. She holds her own against trans-dimensional ooze-beasts, but deep down just wants to set up house with The Joker and have his babies. She also reminded me a lot of singer-songwriter Emilie Autumn.

Karen Fukuhara is both kick-ass and tender-hearted as the Japanese Katana, though she is underused and never gets the chance to speak the same language (and therefore converse with) the members of the Squad. Cara Delevingne gives an innocent performance as June Moon and a racy turn as Enchantress, the Witch who takes possession of her. Now, it’s true, these powerful and dark-hearted women are often scantily (or at least tightly) clad. In the case of Delevingne, the Enchantress character could not be wearing any less clothes and she is constantly swaying and gyrating. I know a lot of women have not been happy about the fact that the female characters are very underdressed and the male characters look overdressed by comparison. As a female (hi! hello!) I didn’t feel that any of these portrayals were outside the reasonable bounds of what you might expect from each character. Viola Davis also gives a coolly spot-on performance as the sociopathic Amanda Waller: the woman who tries to wrangle this Suicide Squad and keep them all in line.

It is inevitable that Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker is going to be compared to Heath Ledger’s (for which Ledger won a posthumous Oscar) and it’s weird that it still feels ‘too soon’ to be making that comparison. My view is the performances are simply different. Both played The Joker in very different ways, as if both diagnosing their version of him with a different mental illness. Both leave an equally unpleasant impression and both are, I feel, very strong performances.

Will Smith’s character Deadshot easily falls into the cliché of a struggling father who above all else just wants the love (and custody of) his child. Think Robert Carlyle in The Full Monty (1997) but with shooting instead of stripping. Smith made the decision to do this film instead of Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) and, all things considered, I think it was a wise move.

The plot may have wandered into coherency occasionally but one of the things that helped to tie it together was the overarching theme of love. Awwww….  Let me explain. Deadshot is motivated throughout the film by the love he has for his daughter. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the Special Forces operative, falls desperately in love with June and the two of them must fight to stay together while she is torn apart by the Enchantress inside of her. Harley would die (and live) for The Joker and this is part of what makes her so likeable. When these monstrous and evil characters are depicted as capable of love and self-sacrifice, the lines between good and evil become blurred; the line which DC adaptations have been playing with for a long time. It’s a dark film, but it’s still a PG-13; dark like a Nightmare Before Christmas fangirl at Halloween. My favourite touch was when Batman (Ben Affleck, who gets seconds of screen time rather than minutes) pulls Harley out of an underwater car wreck. He has acted on the side of moral right, as you would expect, but the unexpected moment comes as Harley lies unconscious in his arms, he can’t help but kiss her.

The other noteworthy element of this film is its soundtrack. Before I even left the cinema, I wanted to be on Amazon and buying the album. The music choices go from the sublime to the ridiculous; Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ to Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ – and of course the greatest band in existence, Queen and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ The music compliments, juxtaposes and underlines key moments, it’s used well and every new song that rung out made me smile. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of these amazing songs are on the official soundtrack. The album looks to be made up predominately of cover versions… and no one needs to hear Panic! At the Disco doing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Such a shame!

Suicide Squad started strong, it carried on well enough, yet became more shambolic and less well constructed as it drew to a close. This didn’t really upset me the way it does with a lot of other films. Despite its problems, I sincerely hope for more antics from the Suicide Squad and am thrilled that there’s already a Harley Quinn film in the pipeline.  Silly and serious… big, bold and darkly beautiful, this film is like a twisted League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) or a bubble-gum version of Watchmen (2009). You should make time to see this film and, with any luck, the DVD release will herald an extended Director’s Cut which makes slightly more sense.