#333- Le Samouraï

Quick recap: Jef Costello is either a great hitman or a really terrible one. After completing a job he almost immediately gets picked up by the police and questioned. He manages to weasel his way out, only to find himself in trouble with the guys who hired him. What’s a hitman to do?

maybe start by wearing different clothes than the ones that literally EVERYONE identifies you in.

Fun (?) fact: The quotation about samurai at the beginning of the film is entirely fictional. This movie actually has nothing to do with samurai.

and everything to do with looking cool

My thoughts:  Crime movies are a dime a dozen on this list, but very few of them come from France. And of those, this is the only one where I could’ve kept watching for several more hours and at the same time almost lost my sanity because of the incessant bird chirping.

Director Jean-Pierre Melville borrows much of the aesthetic for Le Samouraï from America at the time- slinky jazz clubs, dapper people running around everywhere. And yet, this is very much a French arthouse film. The first 10 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever and yet, the scene is so enthralling. I also loved that there is a mystery about who this hitman is and who hired him but I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be getting any answers. Le Samouraï exists within himself. It’s even impossible to figure out whether or not he is a ‘bad guy’. I mean, he killed someone, yes, but that guy could’ve been evil or something. So I ended up dividing my time between wanting the guy to come out on top but also wanting him to get caught and pay for his crimes. It was a rare feeling to not know how I’m supposed to feel about characters.

One reason the characters are so confusing is because the audience is just thrust into the story. We don’t know how many years the hitman has operated or what business the people who hired him have. In the first few scenes, the hitman sets out creating an alibi for himself before he commits the murder. He visits a woman, Jane, and expects her to lie for him, which she does, when the police call her into question. It is assumed that these two have some sort of relationship but it could also just be that she works for him specifically for this purpose. And the police themselves make this plot even more complicated. I could never figure out whether the hitman was really bad at his job and that’s why he was caught so quickly or if the police were really good at their job and it was only a matter of time. Once again, it was hard to know who to trust.

But above all, there is that stupid bird. God, I hated that bird. I recently lost some of my hearing due to sickness and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. But watching this movie, I heard every single chirp. EVERY. SINGLE. CHIRP. I’m sure there is a fancy French reason to put that in so many scenes but I don’t have the patience to find out. I’m not a fan of hurting or killing any animal but when the guys broke into the hitman’s apartment to leave a recording device, I half hoped they would put that poor bird out of its misery. I’m sure he hated his life as much as I hated hearing him but enough is enough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Night and Fog

 

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#332- Atlantic City

Quick recap: An aging gangster tries to continue being relevant. He helps a woman with her estranged husband’s funeral, sells coke and gets into a turf war with mobsters.

And starring Susan Sarandon , who likes to take lemon baths

Fun (?) fact: For a movie about gangsters, there’s a surprisingly sparse amount of trivia on IMDb. The best fact I can find is that shortly after filming the movie, Burt Lancaster nearly died from a gall bladder operation.

I spent a good chunk of time thinking Burt Lancaster was Matlock. Turns out that was Andy Griffith, so I guess I can’t tell my old white guys apart.

My thoughts: Hey! It’s good to be back, or something like that. I’ve had a couple of months of constant sickness, including losing my hearing for two weeks so you’d think I would’ve chosen a stronger film to celebrate my return to hearing. Unfortunately, that’s not how life goes.

I actually started Atlantic City with high hopes. The beginning was engaging, although Sarandon felt out of place. That could just be because I’ve seen her in so many other roles. In this one, she plays the estranged wife of a drug dealer who apparently knocked up her sister and then took off with her. While I wasn’t too keen on her placement, the guy who plays the deadbeat husband is SPOT ON:

 

Like, so spot on I could imagine what he smelled like. So anyway, Dave (pictured above) comes back with the knocked up sister to sell drugs. From here, a whole bunch of plot stuff happens that I don’t want to get into because a) there’s too much and b) everything plays out how you expect it to, once you know the characters. The other important character is Lou, the aging gangster. He is introduced in the first scene, secretly spying on Sarandon giving herself a lemon bath. She later claims this is to get the fish smell off of her, but I’m pretty sure soap does that. The next scene is of him taking orders from an old lady and running errands for him. So, early on I got the idea that he has a hear of gold but also a streak in him. Or maybe just a thing for lemon baths.

Skipping ahead to the ending (because I can), Lou eventually shoots and kills two mobsters whom Dave stole coke from. It is revealed that he has a habit of skipping out on friends when their life is in danger, so this is some sort of breakthrough I don’t think most psychologists would endorse. Honestly, the only redeeming part of this movie was the actual setting- Atlantic City. The buildings seemed to have so much character to them and I could perfect imagine this rundown resort city, past its prime but ready for its moment. There’s a scene when Robert Goulet drops by to croon and if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought this was a Lynch film, it was so surreal. There was a part of me that wished I was still deaf so I could just watch the scenes and not have to deal with the wacky plot and subpar characters.

Final review: 2/5.

Up next: Le Samourai

#331- The King of Comedy

Quick recap: Aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin wants nothing more in the world than to be on the Jerry Langford Show and will do anything to secure his spot.

Fun (?) fact: Robert De Niro, a method actor, said anti-Semitic remarks to Jerry Lewis to get a rise out of him during the scene when he crashes his weekend home. It worked.

My thoughts: This movie was a total surprise- from the time I learned it was directed by Martin Scorsese to my first glimpses of Robert De Niro to the ridiculous ending. And I loved it all, even if the embarrassing moments made me want to hide forever.

With a name like The King of Comedy, I expected something hokey and I was a little disappointed that Scorsese would go for such cheap comedy. But from the very first scene as Jerry Langford tries to exit his building through a mob of rabid fans, I knew I was in for something dark. De Niro is perfect as Rupert Pupkin. I found myself constantly wavering between feeling sorry for him and supremely annoyed. The same with Sandra Bernhard as Masha, although she made me cringe much more than have empathy for her. Rupert and Masha are in this microcosm of fans who are obsessed with a celebrity and they feed off of each other. Rupert, as mentioned above, is an aspiring comedian but about the only practice he does is make tapes of himself pretending to be on the Jerry Langford Show. He is so determined to be there that this becomes his focus, instead of actually honing his craft. And Masha is just in love with Jerry and is convinced they deserve to be together.

Rupert’s fantasies of a relationship with Jerry Langford are confusing because they blend in so well with the actual plot. The first one is of Langford begging him to take over the show because he needs a break for a few weeks. It’s very obvious this is a figment of his imagination but the end of the movie has Rupert actually becoming a star because he kidnapped Langofrd and I can’t tell whether this really happened or not. There’s a point in the film about how obsessive the public can be with celebrities and how fleeting that love can be, so it would make sense Rupert lives in infamy just as much as it makes sense he is completely forgotten. Not knowing somehow makes this movie even darker and more sad. And speaking of which, Rupert’s set on tv is so self-deprecating that it physically hurt to watch but the audience loved it. Or did they? I kind of love that I don’t know for sure.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Atlantic City

#327- Drugstore Cowboy

Quick recap: Bob (played by Matt Dillon) and his crew spend their days getting high and robbing pharmacies. It’s all fun and games until dogs are mentioned a someone puts a hat on a bed.

subtlety is overrated

Fun (?) fact: I couldn’t find much trivia for Drugstore Cowboy, unless you are into which celebrities love this movie. I did learn, however, that a hat on a bed as a sign of bad luck is totally a thing and has been for awhile.

also starring Baby Heather Graham!

My thoughts: Movies about drugs educate me in a way the DARE program did not. I always expected saying no was going to be a bigger deal than it actually ended up being. That’s two years of my life spent on learning how drugs are bad when someone could’ve just shown me the toilet scene in Trainspotting or the arm in Requiem for a Dream and would’ve been scared straight. And if I’m being completely honest, that Muppet All-Stars special was pretty damn terrifying.

I’d never want to disappoint ALF

Until Drugstore Cowboy, I never realized how much work was involved to stay high. That was literally all Bob and his crew did: rob pharmacies and get high. And sometimes they got high in order to rob more pharmacies. At one point in the film, detectives get wise as to their illegal operations and so the crew sets out on a cross country trip in order to-you guessed it- get high and rob more pharmacies. But they couldn’t just stash their….stash, so they bagged it up and sent it ahead of them so that there would always be plenty of drugs when they needed them. Director Gus Van Sant never makes a morality call about the crew’s life choices and instead leaves the audience to draw their own conclusion. Once Bob decides to get clean and get a real job, it’s not clear whether his life has improved. The same can be said for his former crew. I appreciated this perspective because I could focus on the characters rather than whether or not doing drugs was a good idea or not.

That being said, for no reason in particular, I just didn’t really like Drugstore Cowboy. The music was good, acting was good, the storyline moved at a reasonable pace, but I never really got into it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. At times it felt like van Sant was trying too hard to get into the indie market with his film, but that’s also just who he is as a director. I wish I had better reasoning as to why this film rubbed me the wrong way, but sometimes that just happens.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Umberto G