Top 250 Tuesday – #195 Eraserhead (1977)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #195 on the list,  David Lynchs Erasehead. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

eh1David Lynch’s debut feature, 1977’s Ersaerhead is, at this point, a movie that comes with a certain reputation, and one that seems nearly impossible to come to cold. It’s a film that has been hailed as a surrealist masterpiece, while at the same time being called “murkily pretentious” by New York Times reviewer Tom Buckly. Variety, in it’s initial review, called the movie “a sickening bad-taste exercise”. Therefore any review of the film has to deal not only with the movie itself, but with that reputation.

It’s also a movie that, again, largely because of that reputation, I’ve avoided watching rather purposefully up until this point. For whatever reason I tend to have personal issues with depictions of bodily deformities – other movies that I have avoided include The Elephant Man, Tod Browning‘s Freaks, and most of David Cronenberg’s films. Yes, I know, I’m probably missing out on some very good movies,  but they simply do not appeal to me, and that aversion would just keep me from enjoying them. And of course, that same kind of body horror is one of the major parts of what makes up this film’s reputation.

Nonetheless, Eraserhead is here on the list, meaning I’d eventually, if I were going to complete this little experiment, have to face it, and when my best friend’s daughter wrote to ask my opinion of it, I decided it was time to go ahead and give it a shot.

So, with all of the above stated up front, what was my reaction to the film? Put simply, though yes, it has its moments, and yes, I can easily see where it deserves both the positive and negative aspects of the various reviews it has received over the years, overall it mostly felt like Lynch was simply trying too hard.

eh2I mean, I get it. I understand that the movie is “supposed” to be, thematically, about Lynch’s aversion to and concerns about becoming a father. That’s at least one interpretation that most people seem to agree on, though the director himself, as far as I know, has never come out directly to either confirm or deny it. It also obviously deals with issues of intimacy and social awkwardness, along with the forging and breakdown of relationships. Yeah, I can go with all of that.

Also, Lynch being Lynch (and let me say here that though I haven’t seen all of his movies (again, note that Elephant Man is on the list of movies I’ve purposefully avoided) , I consider myself at least a minor fan – I loved Twin Peaks, and have at least enjoyed the rest of his films that I have seen – I understand that he is never going to approach anything straightforwardly, and that he is going to include shots and scenes that either work to obscure or even mislead the viewer, or that just occur to him and really have no meaning beyond “wouldn’t that look neat?”.

eh6Unfortunately, in this particular instance, too many of the scenes that are cited as examples of supporting the “surrealist masterpiece” verdict accorded to the film feel much more like a first-time film maker attempting to build a reputation for himself and at the same time feeling like he might never get to make another movie, so he’d better throw in everything he wants to so that he can get those things out of his system while he can, and they really don’t work to forward either the plot or the tone of the film.

For example, yes, I was initially jarred and taken aback by the insert shots of the mother dog feeding her pups during the dinner date scene. However, I am willing to accept them as supporting the “parenthood” theme, though it really seems an interpretive stretch. For that matter, I’m even willing to accept the infamous “little chicken” carving scene as a setup for the film’s climax and Henry (our protagonist)’s eventual decision of how to deal with his “child”. On the other hand, the sequence(s) with the “lady in the radiator” and the section from which the movie actually takes its name, where Henry’s head literally pops off of his body and is taken to a factory where pencil erasers are made from it, simply seem out of place and as though they belong in another movie altogether.

eh5In other words, obscurity for its own sake does not always make a movie “surreal”. Sometimes it simply makes it obscure.

So where does that leave me, as a viewer, finally reacting to this film? Well, I am glad that I’ve finally seen it. Do I think I’ll ever watch it again? Possibly. I can see myself eventually wanting to revisit it to see if a second viewing changes my opinion of it, but that won’t come anytime soon. Do I feel as though it deserves the label of “surrealist masterpiece”? No, not really. There’s simply too much in it that either doesn’t work or doesn’t actually fit the film to give it that much acclaim. On the other hand, did I find it “a sickening bad-taste exercise”? Well, again, no. That seems far too much of an overstatement and again gives the movie far more power than it truly deserves.

eh4Actually, the bottom line is that I was neither thrilled nor repulsed by the movie, and there came a point, really where I found myself simply watching it because I had started it and told myself and others that I would, which is never a reaction that I like to have to a movie, and is, I suspect, the kind of reaction that Lynch would hate the most, because what it really means is that after I’ve finished this write-up, I probably won’t have anything more to say about it, and certainly won’t be pushing anyone else to watch it either. Nor, for that matter, will I be emphatically telling anyone to avoid it.

Instead, most likely, the next time I’m asked about it my reaction will likely be a shrug of my shoulders and “Eh, sure, go ahead and watch it and see what you think for yourself.”

Which, I suppose, leads as well as anything into the usual trailer preview so that you can have a taste of it and see if you even want to give it that:

 

 

Knock Knock, Knock, Dook, Dook, Dook – Here’s The New Trailer For The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is getting some of the same strong early buzz that The Conjuring (which, despite it’s flaws I wound up liking quite a bit) did before it came out, and if it actually lives up to the unsettling tone set by this trailer, then we just might have a winner here.

Of course, one might wonder why it’s not being released until after Halloween if it really has as much potential as it seems, but I’m really hoping that that’s a sign that the studio thinks it can stand well on it’s own, and doesn’t want it to be just another October horror film to get lost in the shuffle. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Saturday Morning Cartoons #006 – Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids (1975 – 1982)

fa1Okay, yeah, I get it. Obesity is a nation-wide problem and not something to be laughed at. (Hey, this is coming from a guy who has lost, and kept off, somewhere between 80-100 pounds in the past few years and is still working on losing more. I know it’s a problem.) That, of course, is why Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids would never make network Saturday morning airwaves today, unless it was done in some ironic fashion. Because there is a certain segment of the population which has no sense of humor, and they would not be able to look beyond the title character and his depiction, and there would be immediate protests no matter what the actual contents of the show. Throw in the rest of the Cosby Gang, their personalities and depictions, and that would just make matters worse. They’d probably also condemn it on a basis of racial stereotyping.

Which is a shame, because it entirely misses the exact point of the show.

It seems to me ironic, considering what I wrote above, that the show reportedly almost didn’t make the Saturday morning airwaves in 1975 for a completely different reason. In its original incarnation, it was considered too educational. Which also probably accounts for the fact that through most of its run it was usually slotted in one of the latest of CBS’s Saturday Morning timeslots.

Anyway, the point is that the show wasn’t making fun of Albert for being fat, nor of Mushmouth for the way he talked, nor of Weird Harold for being clumsy, nor, for that matter of Rudy for dressing like a pimp and thinking himself generally slick. No, that was simply who these guys were. Sure, at times, especially early on, some of the humor derived from these characterizations, and many of them had nicknames that described them, but then, that’s why they’re called “characters”.

fa1Nor, for that matter, was the show based on its diversity or inclusiveness, making the point that “everyone, no matter how they look or seem, is a person who deserves respect”. Certainly that was part of the underlying theme, but it was never the point of the show, the way it would likely have to be today.

No, instead it was simply a show about kids being kids, playing together, hanging out together, getting into scrapes together, and learning from their adventures together.

And it was those lessons, the ones they learned from what they did or from what happened to them that was really the focus of the show. It was even right there in the theme song as sung by Albert himself: “You’ll have some fun now, with me and all the gang, learning from each other while we do our thing.”

Anyway, enough about all of that. Actually, it’s probably more than enough.

Unfortunately, due to copyright considerations, I can’t embed a full episode of the show as I usually like to do here, though they are available on YouTube for $1.99 each. Instead, just to give you a taste of it, here’s the first part of the first episode entitled “Lying”:

And just as a bonus here’s “Buck Buck”, the track from Bill Cosby‘s album Revenge, which introduced the character of Fat Albert. (Though this particular iteration is apparently taken from his Greatest Hits CD.) And yes, I’ll just go ahead and say if you’re one of those uptight super PC types I described at the top of the post, you might as well skip it. And that’s just fine, The rest of us will just have a really good laugh without you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure It Looks Good, But… – Here’s The New Trailer For Jupiter Ascending (2015)

ja1Ever since the first trailer for the Wachowskis’ upcoming (as in February of next year) movie Jupiter Ascending was released, there’s been no doubt that the movie would look good. Actually, considering they built their reputation on the Matrix trilogy, there likely was no doubt even before that, because no matter how one might feel about the quality of those films (especially the latter ones) it’s hard to dispute that they know how to put together a good-looking movie. Instead the real question was about the plot and how it would play out.

So now we have a brand new trailer, (the third actually), and it finally seems to answer some of those plot questions as it actually spends some time showing us the characters and delving into the story.

The result? Well, at least we know it’s going to look good.

Maybe I’m missing something here. I certainly hope so. Because if you’re going to take one of the absolute oldest storytelling tropes, that of the hidden princess who doesn’t know that’s who she is but has to be told and then reclaim her throne in order to stop the bad guy from claiming it and doing something nefarious, you’d better be ready to do something new and different with it, and I’m sorry, but simply setting it in space and putting the Earth at risk really doesn’t qualify as all that new.

ja3Of course, considering the nature and purpose of trailers in general – at least the way they are put together by studios today – which is to grab the mass audience and put the maximum number of butts in seats, and the easiest way to do that is to appeal to the lowest common denominator viewer and give them a sense of the familiar rather than point out the things that set this particular movie apart from its predecessors it’s altogether possible that there’s much more to this movie than it so far appears and that this is yet another case of what has become known as the “trailer swerve”.

At this point I’m really hoping that’s the case, but then considering that really, once one looked beyond the admittedly innovative effects of The Matrix it also really was a very simplistic variation of the “the reality you see is not the true one” trope familiar to anyone with anything more than a passing acquaintance with the sci-fi genre and mostly brought nothing new to it either,  my expectation that that will be the case is not very high.

ja2For that matter, considering the fact that we’ve seen so many movies with similar looking space battles, ships crashing into buildings, and all the rest, there’s not even much here that looks like the effects are even going to push the boundaries beyond the already-familiar this time around.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Jupiter Ascending will do, as they say, “boffo box office” on it’s opening weekend, and since that’s really all that the studio is looking for, it will have served its purpose. And yes, I’ll probably be a part of that opening weekend crowd just to see if maybe there is something more to the movie than what I’m expecting right now. And I feel sure that I’ll enjoy the experience on a “sit back, eat your popcorn, and just let it happen” level, which is fine.

I just wish I were looking forward to it more.

Here’s the new trailer:

Classic Television Thursday #006 – The Chevy Mystery Show: The Suicide Club (1960)

chev3Ah, the wonders of the interwebs rabbit hole. Just the other day I was relatively bored and decided to check out an episode of the venerable detective series Columbo. Noticing a discrepancy between the episode numbers as they appeared on Netflix and on a YouTube posting, (I was looking on YouTube because I was thinking about running one of the episodes as a feature here, which I’m certain I will do in the next few weeks) I decided to see if I could square the difference by looking at the episode list on Wikipedia.

Well, I did manage to clarify that little mystery, but I was at the same time surprised to find out that Peter Falk was not the first actor to portray the character on television, and in fact that the famed lieutenant goes back much further than I expected. I’m not going to go into the character’s literary origins right now (I’ll save that for the actual feature on his own show), but his first televised appearance was in the mystery anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, which was created as a summer replacement for the The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.

chev1I’ll admit beyond that I didn’t do too much digging (the Chevy Mystery Show apparently doesn’t even rate its own Wikipedia page), but what little I did do turned up this: there were apparently 18 total episodes, and ran on NBC during the 9 – 10pm hour from May thru September of 1960. There was also apparently a 1961 run, but it appears that it likely consisted of repeats from the 1960 series rather than a run of new shows, but the details of that are unclear. Most of  the episodes were hosted by Walter Slezak, but at least a couple of the last episodes, including today’s feature, were hosted by none other than Vincent Price. One reference that I found listed this episode as having been produced by famed radio writer/producer/director Himan Brown, but it is not listed among his IMDB credits (though interestingly, another episode of the series is listed there).

chev2So why, considering the fact that all of this started with Columbo, am I not sharing the episode that featured him here? Well, there are two reasons, really. First off, it appears that that episode is only available for viewing in the archives of the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles – I certainly wasn’t able to find it anywhere else. And secondly, not only is the episode hosted by Vincent Price, but it stars Cesar Romero. who most of you will of course know from his role as the Joker in the Batman television series of the 1960s, though his performance here is decidedly more restrained than his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, direct from 1960 is the Chevy Mystery Show episode “The Suicide Club”:

 

 

 

 

 

Never Leave Your Umbrella At Home – Here’s The New Trailer For Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

kss1I very much liked the first trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service when it debuted a few months back. This new trailer has me even more interested in the comics-to film young-spies-in-training/Bond-at-his-most-gedgety flick if for no ther reason than it points out that besides lead actor Colin Firth, the movie also features both Michael Caine and Sam Jackson in supporting roles. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that the two will actually share any screen time together, which seems a shame. It really is a pairing that should eventually happen.

The only real disappointment in this trailer comes at the end, when I’m reminded that the movie has been pushed back to February of next year. Ah, well, I’ll take it whenever it comes.

Blue Can Also Be Very Cold – Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

***Spoiler Warning: Let me just go ahead and state that I will at least in some ways be discussing the ending of this film here, because it is that ending that shapes a large part of my reaction to it, though at the same time, a large part of the film is more about the experience of seeing it, than about the actual plot, so I will leave it to the reader to decide for themselves whether to wait until after they have seen it to actually read this article.***

BWsBoWPCMAAuceT.jpg largeLet me just be very blunt up front. Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour (or, to use its original French title, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 i.e. “The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2”) is not a very sexy movie.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of sex in the movie. Some of it is definitely very graphic. There is a reason for the movie’s NC-17 rating. However, despite the near-constant emphasis on the sexuality of it’s young actors, despite the frequent display of the female body in various situations, despite all of the sweating, slapping, and bringing together of various body parts, in the end there is something very detached and almost clinical in its depictions both of nudity and sex.

27SUBDARGIS1-articleLargeThe film has been described both as a “coming of age” movie, and as a film about sexual awakening, and in a way, both of these descriptions are accurate. Blue definitely depicts the growing up of its main character, Adele as she advances from a 15-year-old high school junior through her years of struggling to find her place in life as (at least where the film closes) a second-grade teacher. It also takes her from her first sexual encounter through a number of various relationships with characters of both genders, ultimately leaving her at least more experienced, if not particularly either more self-aware nor more enlightened.

Blue AngelThere has, as is to be totally expected, been a lot of controversy around the film itself, from discussions as to whether the movie should be considered pornographic; to revelations about problems on set and with the director; to the author of the graphic novel upon which it is based, Julie Maroh, stating “As a feminist and lesbian spectator, I cannot endorse the direction Kechiche took on these matters. But I’m also looking forward to hearing what other women will think about it. This is simply my personal stance.” Personally, I’m not really interested in retreading that ground, and simply will suggest that if those are the things that interest you, then there are many other easy-to-find articles that you can read.

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color-2Instead, I really want to simply stick to my own feelings after having viewed the film, which, honestly, though I found it very interesting, in the end struck me as far too clinical to be erotic, and, in the end, far too lacking in any real growth for either of its main characters to be wholly satisfying.

One of the main problems I had with the film is that it is shot in a very much in-their-face manner. No, I do not mean in-your-face, I mean that it seems as though 75 percent of the film is shot from what seems to be a distance of no more than maybe eight inches from the characters’ faces. This emphasis on close-ups, while perhaps intended by the director to bring a sense of intimacy to these scenes, instead becomes by the end a source of distraction, and never really gives the audience a chance to see the bigger picture, in a way isolating the characters even in times when they are most trying, or at least should be trying, to become closer and relate more to each other.

Of course, it could be that that sense of isolation is intentional, as, at the end of the film, Adele is just as alone and lost, if not even more so, than she was at the beginning.

I noted at the beginning that the French title of this movie implies that this film is only meant to be the beginning of Adele’s life, and that there might be more “chapters” to come, and that is something I think I’d very much like to see, if for no other reason than to find out if Adele does ever find any true warmth.

Top 250 Tuesday – #008 Man With A Movie Camera (1929) and #011 Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s a double feature, with #008 on the list,  Dziga Vertovs Man With a Movie Camera and #011, Sergei Eisenstein‘s Battleship Potemkin. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

bp1I noticed awhile back, and I’m sure regular readers did too, that I had fallen a bit behind on getting regular posts up in this series. The original plan was to watch and then write about one movie a week until I had them all covered, an effort which, assuming I held to it, would take just under five years. In actuality, however, it’s probably averaged out to more like three posts per month. (No I haven’t actually gone back and done the math, that’s just my gut assessment.)

So, in order to do a little bit of catching up, when I noticed these two Russian silents sitting so close to each other on the list, I announced a few weeks ago on the DMM facebook page that I would be doing them as a double feature.

Actually, that turned out to be a pretty good idea..

You see, the thing is that just about the only thing these two films have in common is the above-mentioned fact that they are both Russian silent films. Beyond that they really have very little in common at all. But that’s not a bad thing.

Let’s begin with Battleship Potemkin. Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and released in 1925, the film, according to Wikipedia “presents a dramatized version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime. ”

bpThe movie is divided into five acts, each one having its own title, and each telling its own part of the story.  Created as a propaganda film, it tells the story of the 1905 mutiny of the crew of the titular battleship against first the tsarist officers of the ship, and then the soldiers of Odessa, where the ship has docked, when they come to retake possession of the ship.

The most famous section of the film, and rightfully so, is Act IV: The Odessa Steps. A true tour-de-force of film-making, it shows the tragedy that takes place when the people of Odessa, who have massed on the steps, get caught between the guns of the Tsarist soldiers, and the return volleys of the ship as it seeks to defend itself against the oncoming soldiers. It is a scene that is full of tragedy and melodrama, emphasizing the fact that often it’s not those who are actually actively engaged in combat, but those who are so often today dismissed with the euphemism “collateral damage” who suffer the most in a battle like this.

bp2Interestingly, the sequence also depicts a scene which never actually happened. Yep, it’s true. While it’s true that the people of Odessa did support the mutineers and the revolution against the Tsar, there actually was no massacre on the staircase. However, the fact that so many people to this day believe that the massacre did occur is a testament both to Eisenstein’s skill as a film maker and to the true power of propaganda.

Here, instead of the usual trailer for the film, is Act IV in full so that you can see the skill that Eisenstein brings and judge it for yourself:

mwmc1In sharp contrast to the narrative propaganda style of Potemkin stands Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film Man With a Movie Camera, and when I say “in sharp contrast”, I mean just that. Man is an extremely non-linear, non-narrative experimental film which serves as a showcase for the various tricks and techniques that Vertov wanted to explore and showcase.

Almost completely eschewing plot (unless one wants to fairly arbitrarily assign to the film a sort-of “day in the life of” plot that I really don’t think Vertov was aiming for), instead the film seems almost random both in sequence and in the effects employed within each sequence. I say that it “seems” random, because, while there may be no real direct connective tissue from scene to scene, and there really is no over-arching “getting from point a to b to c” structure to the film, there still is a sense of design not only within each shot but in its editing and placement within the film proper.

mmcAs far as being a showcase for experimental film-making of the time, there can truly be no doubt that Vertov succeeds in his mission. At various points he employs double exposures, stop motion animations,  fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, extreme close-ups,  jump cuts, split screens, footage played backwards, Dutch angles, tracking shots, footage played backwards, and so many other techniques that it would be hard to list them all.

Obviously, this film is a case of Vertov seeking not only to excite his audience about the possibilities of film, but to push himself to not only employ many already-known techniques, but to create many new ones of his own.

Here’s a short clip which will give you a good impression of the style of – and the variety of styles employed within – the movie:

In the end, I have to say that whatever the circumstances that caused me to watch these two films side-by-side, I’m glad that I did, because I think they truly do serve to highlight not only the variety of film that was being made during the silent era in Russia, but also the diversity that is possible with film in general. Whether the purpose of a film is simple narrative, propaganda, or experimental, in the hands of a true virtuoso of the form and someone who is daring enough not only to see what they want to create but to use whatever they need to to achieve that effect, there are very few limits to what film, even in the early stages of it’s life when creators were still figuring out the possibilities and language of the medium can achieve.

 

 

Banned Books Week DurnMoose Style – Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

f4512This week (Sept 21-27) has been designated – by those who decide these things – as Banned Book Week, a time to raise awareness of the sometimes ridiculous and always offensive censorship and/or challenges to certain books, usually not because they pose any real threat, but because there are certain aspects of them that cause a certain segment of our population to be uncomfortable.

Of course, that’s quite often the entire purpose of certain works of art, whether they be books, paintings or other visual artworks, or yes, even films. Some of the best artistic creations throughout history have been designed solely for the purpose of either challenging the status quo, or simply challenging peoples’ mind-set.

f4511And, it’s usually those who need just this sort of challenge who stand in opposition to the presentation of those uncomfortable ideas, and the excuse that is most often used is that it’s to “protect our children”.

My own personal response to that is that it’s a shame that your faith in your own teachings and your ability to pass those along to your children is so fragile that it can’t stand up to even the slightest challenge.

Anyway, since this is a movie blog, I thought I’d use this opportunity to mention one of my own personal favorite critiques of the entire idea of censorship and what it does to people, and also a classic of film-making, Francois Truffaut‘s 1966 masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. The film is, of course, an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story which sees “fireman” Guy Montag begin to question his future society’s idea that all books are evil and should be burned – that is the job of these so-called firemen, to track down and arrest those in possession of books and to burn their caches before they can disseminate them further – and the effect that actually reading a book has on him.

Both the story and the film are classics, and though some may quibble with the change in ending that Truffaut made in the film, I don’t think that it spoils things at all. It is, as happens so often in a book-to-film translation, different.

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

Also, as an added bonus, here’s a short discussion with the late Mr. Bradbury where he shares his own thoughts about both the story and the film:

I’ll just wrap things up quickly here by encouraging you to celebrate Banned Book Week by reading one of the frequently challenged books. Or, for that matter, watching a film that has been censored or challenged, because there have also been plenty of those. The real point is: fight those who would try to tell you what you (or your children) should or shouldn’t read/watch/think. Challenge yourself and them to explore new ideas, and most especially those that might cause some discomfort or might challenge your way of thinking.

Because it’s only when we are confronted with new ideas, that our minds can truly expand.

You Can Kill A Good Man, But Can You Break His Faith? – Calvary (2013)

*** Spoiler Warning! No, I’m not going to be discussing the ending of the film, but there are specific plot points that I feel it impossible to fully discuss this movie without revealing, the first of which is the blockquote directly below. So, if you have any intention of seeing this film (and I’ll go ahead and say here that I highly recommend that you do) and want to, as I did, and am quite happy that I did, go into it without really knowing much about it at all, then I STRONGLY recommend seeing it first, then coming back here to read my comments. You have been warned. ***

Scene from a confessional. We can see the priest and his reactions, but have no idea of the identity of the other speaker, except for hearing his voice. The character on the other side of the confessional screen begins:

cal1I first tasted semen when I was seven years old.

>Silence<

Nothing to say?

It’s certainly a startling opening line.

What is that, irony?

I’m sorry. Let’s start again. What do you want to say to me? I’m here to listen to whatever you have to say.

I was raped by a priest when I was seven years old. Orally and anally as they say in the court reports. This went on for five years; every other day for five years. I bled a lot, as you can imagine I bled a terrible amount.

Have you spoken to anyone about this?

I’m speaking to you, now!

I mean, have you sought professional help?

Why? So I could learn how to cope? So that I could learn how to live with it? Maybe I don’t want to cope. Maybe I don’t want to learn how to live with it.

Did you make a formal complaint? Did you testify?

The man’s dead.

I don’t know what to say to you. I have no answer for you, I’m sorry.

What good would it do anyway if he were still alive? What would be the point of killing the bastard? That would be no news. There’s no point in killing a bad priest. Killing a good one? That would be a shock! They wouldn’t know what to make of that. I’m going to kill you, Father. I’m going to kill you ’cause you’ve done nothing wrong! I’m going to kill you because you’re innocent. Not right now, though. I’ll give you enough time to put your house in order. Make your peace with God. Sunday week, let’s say. I’ll meet you down by the beach, down by the water there. Killing a priest on a Sunday! That’ll be a good one. Nothing to say to me, Father?

Not right now, no. But I’m sure I’ll think of something by Sunday week.

That’s the dialogue that opens the movie Calvary and which propels everything that follows. And honestly, if reading that doesn’t compel you to want to see the film, I’m not sure anything I’m going to say hereafter will. Of course, that’s certainly not going to stop me writing about it, now is it? After all, that’s what you come here for, right?

cal4There is, at its core, more than a touch of High Noon in Calvary, for like that movie, the foremost question in the film is not “Whodunnit?” or “How?”. It can’t be classified as a whodunnit because although we as the audience (at least upon first viewing) may not know who the killer is, his intended victim, Father James does, because he of course recognizes the voice on the other side of the screen as one of his parishioners. Nor can the question be how because, as you can see from the section above, he tells the Father just when, where, and pretty much how right up front.

No, those are not the questions that writer/director John Michael McDonagh is interested in exploring. Instead, the film is more of an examination of just what effect knowing about his imminent demise will have upon the small-town Irish priest, how that knowledge will afffect him not only personally, but in his interactions with his parishioners (including the man he knows plans to kill him), and what steps he will or won’t take to avoid that outcome.

cal3For the viewer, as much as for the Father, the tension is heightened the closer the deadline comes, because we are never really made privy to the inner thoughts of the priest, but are instead left to interpret his varied actions and interactions on our own.

Obviously, this is one of those films that will actually reward at least one repeat viewing, because, much like, say, The Sixth Sense, with its twist at the end, once the viewer actually knows the identity of the would-be killer and the eventual outcome of the story, there is that desire to go back and re-watch the movie with that knowledge in hand.

Of course, there are other questions that both the audience and Father Gleeson must confront during the week between the opening confession and the assigned day of reckoning. Questions such as: Is the Father truly a good man? How does one even go about defining such a thing? How does much effect can one man really have in other people’s lives, especially when that man is a priest and many of the people he is dealing with are non-believers? Even if one accepts that Fr. Gleeson is good then how does/should he react when ofttimes his words and actions are met with outright ridicule? What is it that keeps him going in the face of all of these things?

cal2And there are also questions that the audience is, its own way, forced to confront, chief among them being how would we react in a similar situation, and beyond that, how do we both expect and wish Fr. Gleeson to react? Do we want him to break the confessional seal and reveal the identity of his potential killer? Do we want him to fight back or defend himself? Do we wnat him to accept his threatened fate?

And in the end, how do we feel about his ultimate decision and its outcome?

As far as the directing of McDonagh and the acting of star Brendan Gleeson as Father James, both rank extremely high in my book. Though this is not the first film I’ve seen with Gleeson in it, it’s certainly his first starring role for me, and I can’t wait to see what he does for a follow-up.. Actually, what I’m really looking forward to is getting a chance to watch The Guard, McDonagh’s first feature film which also stars Gleeson and has received similar high praise as that heaped upon Calvary.

cal5McDonagh also truly takes advantage of the natural beauty of his setting, making the most of the coastline town and the way that it, too, affects the town and its people, and making the the film not only tension-filled, but a wonderful thing to behold.

Beyond that, I’ll simply say that though it’s still relatively early in the year for such statements, there is no doubt in my mind that Calvary will be topping my end-of-the year favorites list and will definitely take a place among my all-time favorites. Yes, I liked it that much.

So I say “Go see it”, but I also include the caveat that once you have you’re likely to want to see it again. Not that that’s a bad thing at all.

Here, as usual, is a trailer, but I’ll be honest, you may very well want to skip it, especially if you’re going to watch the movie soon.