Category Archives: Movies I Truly Love

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): United States – directed by Tobe Hooper

Rated R by the MPAA – contains terror, violence, some language, disturbing content

There have been a few horror movies that have caused a paradigm shift in popular culture’s consumption and attitudes toward horror films.  There were the early monster horror films, primarily courtesy of Universal, in the early 1930’s.  There was science fiction horror in the 1950’s.  Then, in 1960 there was Psycho, and a few other of Alfred Hitchcock’s self-proclaimed “healthy” horror shakeups.  In 1968 Night of the Living Dead [review here] terrified a new generation of youngsters hoping for a sci-fi monster movie.  In 1974 the genre became even more adult with the appearance of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

No film had yet had such an impact on the national psyche.  This was before Cannibal Holocaust caused people to believe the primary cast had been murdered during filming.  This was before The Blair Witch Project had audiences thinking it really was footage found in the woods.  This was a story so terrifying that it absolutely had to be based on a true story (even if it was a loose composite, in reality).  This was a story told in a way that would scar generations of movie-goers, and one that will continue to have an impact despite a low body count and a shocking lack of blood.

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All About Eve

All About Eve (1950): United States – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Not rated by the MPAA – contains wittiness and extreme bitterness

It is quite remarkable how well All About Eve has withstood the pressures and passage of six decades.  It is all the more incredible given that it was nominated for fourteen Oscars and won six.  Neither before nor since has their been such a witty, biting attack on fame, stardom, and the theater.  The fact that the Academy looked so highly on the film makes its themes even more ironic and delicious.

The film is constructed of four strong central characters, and a bevy of supporting acts.  First is Margo (Bette Davis), an aging actress.  She is the queen of the stage, admired by everyone around her.  Her fears of soon becoming old and discarded are not assuaged by the sudden appearance of Eve (Anne Baxter), a young woman who idolizes and attempts to ape Margo’s every move and gesture.  Eve is initially helped by Karen (Celeste Holm).  Karen is a close friend of Margo, and her husband, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) is Margo’s leading playwright.  Lloyd’s role is slightly less substantial, leaving room for theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) to claim the fourth key role.

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Platoon (1986): United States – directed by Oliver Stone

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, war violence, mature themes, drug use, some sexual content

Platoon opens perfectly, with a quote from Ecclesiastes:  “Rejoice, young man, in your youth.”  The movie then launches straight into the story of a young man freshly arriving in Vietnam.  It follows him through the first several months of his year-long tour of duty, through deadly ambushes and boring days at camp, and finally through a frantic and chaotic battle.

There’s not a great deal of exposition in Platoon, merely Charlie Sheen’s narration as Chris, a lowly grunt in the infantry.  He writes home to his grandmother, the only member of his affluent family who still talks to him after he enlisted.  His reasoning is that it shouldn’t just be the poor and the unwanted that fight for society.

There isn’t much of a greater context for the war, though Chris talks about it in an idealistic way.  This, too, is soon swept away by the torrent of war that he faces continually.  The challenge he faces of being the new guy, a man who is more expendable because he hasn’t put in as much time.  The longer a man’s been serving, the more he should be put in cushy positions, in the opinion of many men, including half-crazed grunt Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and the vile Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).  On the other side is the “waterwalker” Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe).  He has concern for the fresh meat, as well as for the innocent civilians the platoon encounters on their maneuvers.

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Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994): United States – directed by Quentin Tarantino

Rated R by the MPAA – contains constant profanity, some graphic violence, mature themes and dialogue, and some graphic drug use

Pulp Fiction has been regarded as one of the 1990’s premiere films for quite some time now.  After Quentin Tarantino blew up the independent film world with his fast talking characters in Reservoir Dogs, he followed it up with another “independent” film, Pulp Fiction.  The $7 million budget and host of huge stars seemed to make the independent label ridiculous, but the point was that smaller studios were now able to pump out quality material that could compete with the big Hollywood studios.  It signaled a change in the way the film system worked.

In the years since, numerous college kids have latched onto the film, often enjoying the frequent profanity and absurd, sudden violence.  The first full-sized poster I bought in college was of Vince Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson).  The movie is often quoted and analyzed, particularly the gold-glowing contents of the briefcase.  But this, too, is just a MacGuffin, like much of the plot.  Pulp Fiction prefers its characters to its events and its dialogue to its actions.

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The Kid

The Kid (1921): United States – directed by Charlie Chaplin

Not rated by the MPAA – contains sad children

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature length film (though at around 50 minutes it treads the line of “feature”) is one of his most heartwarming and touching movies.  The Tramp (played by Chaplin) is humorous and mischievous, the trouble-making poor man with a heart of gold.  An opening title even introduces the film as “A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear.”

As the film opens a young woman (Edna Purviance) leaves a charity hospital with a bundle of joy, and trouble.  For whatever reason, be it out-of-wedlock, an affair, or inability to feed and shelter, the woman knows she must give up the child.  The film does not judge or provide explanations.  The woman is in this position and the audience is encouraged to take compassion on her without blame.  She soon finds an encouraging spot to leave the child: in a fancy car in front of a mansion.  Surely the rich people inside will care for the child.

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His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940): United States – directed by Howard Hawks

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

There is hardly a single flaw with Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday.  Everything, from the sparkling rapid-fire dialogue to the evident chemistry between the inimitable Cary Grant and the empowered Rosalind Russell works together to create a scathing satire, a tongue-in-cheek comedy, and a grandly entertaining movie.

There is a lot of talking in His Girl Friday, more than most movies these days might be allowed.  But it doesn’t get dull; instead, the dialogue is crisp and inundating, with sprightly wit and sly innuendos constantly tossed back and forth.  The two leads are charismatic and delightful, even as they constantly exhibit morally skeptical behavior.  Almost never before had such a strong female character dominated the screen; Russell’s Hildy Johnson is not afraid to pursue the lifestyle she enjoys.

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Memento (2000): United States – directed by Christopher Nolan

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violence, drug content, language, and mature themes

Memento is a tragedy, a cautionary and ironic picture of humanity bookended by murder.  It is also a thrilling and entertaining mystery clouded by a single man’s imperfect memory.

Some might complain that Memento’s narrative technique is gimmicky, glossing over and gussying up a shallow story.  I would have to disagree ardently with this complaint.  Telling a story backward is not unique in cinema, but, just as Pulp Fiction organizes various cliches and stereotypes into an original package, Memento uses its structure in an exemplary manner, underlining some of the intricate themes it presents.

As an exciting and engaging thriller, Memento succeeds admirably.  The story, while straightforward and coherent when adequate attention is given to the movie, plays out like a crime drama/revenge thriller involving a variety of drug deals and nefarious personalities, all revolving around one man’s “condition.”

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Safety Last!

Safety Last! (1923): United States – directed by Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some crazy stunts

Note:  A couple nights ago we had the rare privilege to see Safety Last! alongside Buster Keaton’s One Week at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Toby Theater, accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.  Watching silent classics as they were originally seen, but with a more competent soundtrack, was phenomenal.

Safety Last! is often hailed as Harold Lloyd’s most remarkable achievement, granted the same status in his oeuvre as The General [review here] is for Buster Keaton and City Lights is for Charlie Chaplin.  Lloyd’s style in Safety Last! is distinct, containing neither the frenetic action of some of Keaton’s films nor the heartwarming scenes of some of Chaplin’s work.  He instead relies on meticulous setups, gags requiring precision planning, and intricately woven physical sequences.

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The General

The General (1926): United States – directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton

Not rated by the MPAA – contains a little violence

The General is often regarded as a high point in silent cinema, and rightly so.  The entire production is awe-inspiring, with fantastic set pieces and thrilling stunt sequences, topped with an impressive battle sequence.  At the core, however, is the tale of a small, meek man desperately fighting for his woman, his country, and his train engine.

Buster Keaton, in addition to his co-writing, co-directing, producing, and co-editing responsibilities, stars as Johnny Gray, a train engineer working in Georgia as the war between the states is about to begin.  He loves his train engine and his girl, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack).  His amorous advances take a sour turn when her father learns that Fort Sumter has been fired upon, rushing out with her brother to enlist.  She asks why Johnny doesn’t enlist, so he rushes to the recruiting office, where he is promptly declined; he is too valuable as a train conductor.

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Die Hard

Die Hard (1988): United States – directed by John McTiernan

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong violence, strong language, and brief nudity

Die Hard is often considered among the quintessential action films of all time, and rightfully so.  Rarely has every element of a heist/thriller/action film worked in such harmony to create a type of transcendence rarely achieved in the genre.  Combined with a memorable villain and a pitch-perfect sarcastic cop, Die Hard becomes a film well worth watching repeatedly.

The plot is a bit generic, though it is fleshed out with enough characterization and subtlety to be convincing and engaging.  An opening sequence introduces Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), an executive at a large Japanese company in Los Angeles, and her estranged husband, John McLane (Bruce Willis, back when he had most of his hair).  He’s a New York cop coming to visit his wife and their two children for Christmas.  He lands on Christmas Eve and it takes some time for him to become accustomed to California.

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