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A new look at some old classics

Molly Griffin | Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Author’s Note: Instead of spending my break getting tan or rollicking on a tropical island, I stayed here at good old Notre Dame. Over the week, I naturally watched a lot of DVDs (as a good Scene writer should), and I have chosen to review some of my favorites. I have found that the more distractions you can find, the easier it is to avoid your work, so hopefully this might help some of you with your transition. Enjoy!

Reservoir Dogs: Ten Year Anniversary Special Edition

Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough movie asserts the fast-paced and violent style that would become his trademark, complete with snappy dialogue and erratic storylines that all eventually converge in the last moments of the film. The film follows the exploits of a group of criminals put together to pull off the perfect crime. None of them know who the others are, as they are known only by monikers like “Mr. Pink,” “Mr. White” and “Mr. Blonde,” but when their caper goes awry, they realize that they have a police informant among their ranks. The most famous and most disturbing part of the film is the infamous “ear scene,” set to the Steelers Wheel tune, “Stuck in the Middle With You.” This scene highlights Tarantino’s penchant for combining violence with a strange kind of comic irony, as well as his frequent use of somewhat quirky music selections in his films to highlight key moments. Reservoir Dogs marked the beginnings of “indie” films having debuted at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. It truly shows that a good movie doesn’t need to cost a lot. The combination of a great director, a tricky film noir plot and great actors like Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel produces an interesting and unusual movie.

Tigerland

Now a major star of cinema and the tabloids, Irish actor Colin Ferrell got his start playing a young soldier from Texas in director Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland. Ferrell plays Roland Bozz, a soldier in constant battles with his commanding officers. His refusal to follow orders and his tendency to overtly help his fellow trainees escape using his knowledge of the military system gets him into trouble. The other soldiers soon turn against Bozz because the consequences of his actions fall on them as well. When his unit is sent to Tigerland, a camp in Louisiana that closely resembles Vietnam war scenes, he is forced to assume a new mantle of leadership. The movie deftly combines concerns about the war with the ethos of the military, and this movie proves that Ferrell has what it takes to be a star. He completely carries the movie, and he portrays the strange combination of defiance and fear that keeps Bozz from willfully bending to the military rules. The Texas accent he bears in the film is a big plus as well. The movie shows only men on their way to Vietnam, not actually there or on their way home, so it gives an interesting perspective to war in general and how it affects the young men who must face it.

Casablanca

Even if you have never seen Casablanca, it is more than likely that you have heard of it, or at the very least have seen it quoted or parodied at some point in your life. It has become more than just a movie – it has become a classic, and a part of our collective conscious as a society. The film follows Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American ex-patriot who owns a bar in pre-World War II Morocco. The bar has become a haven for people fleeing the nefarious forces collecting in Europe. He is a man, who in his words “sticks his neck out for nobody,” but his continence changes when the woman who broke his heart, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrives in Casablanca. She has come with her new love, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), who is a Czech resistance leader fleeing his pursuers. In the midst of a difficult love triangle, Rick must choose between his own desires and the lives of others who depend on his decisions. The film captures an atmosphere of desperation and isolation that marks the people who live in Casablanca, and reveals that in the scope of war “…the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” The movie has everything going for it including great dialogue, a great story, fantastic cinematography, elegant costumes and perfectly cast actors. The features included with the Special Edition include original trailers and a documentary about the movie’s origins and its far-reaching effects on the films that followed it. Casablanca achieves a kind of cinematic perfection that films rarely achieve. Age does nothing to diminish enjoying the story or the impact it will make.

Goodfellas

Hollywood loves to make Mob movies, but it is rare when one distinguishes itself from the pack and strives to be more than a mere Godfather rip-off. Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas earns its own merit by taking the often mythologized world of the mafia and putting it in the harsh perspective of reality. The film follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) through three decades of life in the mafia, revealing the effects of the lifestyle on himself, his fellow mobsters and his family. Hill rides the peaks and valleys of mob life, living from one job to the next, all of which ultimately takes a huge toll on himself and those around him. Hill must ultimately turn to being an FBI informant to avoid prison or the victim of a mob hit, and living a normal life proves to be the hardest challenge of all. The portrait Scorsese paints is not a flattering or particularly glamorous one. He shows the tenuous nature of the business and lifestyles that the men leave, as well as how it can devastate families and friends. The movie is full of great performances from Liotta, Robert De Niro (as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway), Joe Pesci (as the homicidal Tommy DeVito, for which won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance) and Lorraine Bracco (as Hill’s long suffering wife, Karen). Scorsese vividly presents the violent and desperate lives the men lead in the mafia, but also the sense of family and power that attracts them to the lifestyle. It is a long film that requires patience and commitment to watch, but it is a deeply moving and interesting film, as well as an example of great direction.

Chocolat

Chocolat attempts to throw a new light on the season of Lent by showing the need to balance self-denial with a spirit of joy. This film will be somewhat painful for anyone who may have given chocolate up for Lent, but it does provide an optimistic view of the season. The film follows Vianne (Juliette Binoche), a free-spirited wanderer who opens a chocolate shop in a secluded French village during Lent. The town turns its back on the non-conforming woman, but her open and accepting mind helps some of those suffering under the façade of perfection and conformity that the town constructs. Judi Dench plays an older woman estranged from her daughter who finds comfort in chocolate and secret meetings with her grandson, and Lena Olin plays a married woman who finds the courage to leave her oafish husband and venture out on her own. Included in the supporting cast are Alfred Molina, Carrie Anne Moss and Johnny Depp. The townspeople learn to be more accepting and less rigid from Vianne’s unique ways, and she, after a lifetime of wandering, finally joins a community and finds love. The film lags in parts, and is occasionally a little heavy-handed with the allegorical elements of the story, but it is nonetheless a charming and funny story.

Saving Silverman

Saving Silverman is one of those movies that is so unabashedly dumb and silly that you just have to laugh in spite of yourself. It follows the exploits of three best friends, Darren Silverman (Jason Biggs), Wayne Lefessier (Steve Zahn) and J.D. McNugent (Jack Black), who have known each other since childhood and perform together in a Neil Diamond cover band. Their friendship is torn apart when Silverman starts dating the catty and controlling Judith (Amanda Peet). Silverman’s two friends concoct a plan to kidnap Judith so that they can set their friend up with a past love of his from high school who is about to become a nun. Centering a comedy around a kidnapping, which is a tragic and dangerous, not to mention illegal undertaking, makes it hard to suspend belief enough to laugh at some of the jokes. The movie adds a few scenes and storylines that really aren’t necessary, and a more streamlined story would have helped the movie out. The actors in the film really deserve a better film, because all of the actors, particularly Peet and Black, are skilled in comedy. The film definitely has some funny moments, and the cast works surprisingly well together, but the movie as a whole is kind of a stretch. Saving Silverman is okay, but it could have been better. There are certainly a lot of better dumb comedies out there.

Contact Molly Griffin at mgriffin@nd.edu