Watership Down

criterion_watership-phpWatership Down is the animated movie adaption of Richard Adams’ timeless novel.

The film opens with the mythology of the rabbits. When the sun god, Lord Frith created the world, all the animals grazed on grass. The rabbits quickly multiplied, eating everything in sight. The sun god warned the king of the rabbits, who dismissed the sun god saying his rabbits were the strongest of all the animals. In retaliation, the sun god made the other animals predators with the rabbits being their food. But the sun god bestowed speed and cunning upon the rabbits to give them a fighting chance.

The main story concerns Fiver, a runt of a rabbit, who is a seer and has prophetic visions of his warren’s destruction. His warnings go unheeded by the Chief Rabbit so Fiver and his brother Hazel leave the warren with six other rabbits to establish a new warren. Their journey has many perils in the form of dogs, foxes, badgers, even other rabbits. In fact, other rabbits seem to be the worst enemy of Fiver, Hazel and their companions, particularly General Woundwart.

Despite being animated, this is not a children’s movie. There are many violent, disturbing images and lots of blood. The world of Watership Down is perilous; the predators and other enemies of the rabbits are numerous and there is a palpable sense of fear running throughout the movie. Perhaps most disturbing is the rabbit-on-rabbit violence, which can be taken as a metaphor for human-on-human violence.

Worth a look if you like adventure stories about anthropomorphized rabbits striving to survive in a harsh world.

Skip it if images of cute bunnies maiming and killing each other will upset you.

As an added bonus, the library’s copy is a Criterion Collection release.

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Watership Down

– Steve

Holiday Movies: A Christmas Story

MV5BMTI1NzY1NjkyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjYxNjE0MQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Originally released in 1983, A Christmas Story was largely ignored by theater-going audiences. It wasn’t until its release on VHS that it became a bona fide cult classic.

Based upon the novel by Jean Shepherd “In God We Trust, All Other Pay Cash,” A Christmas Story is Shepherd’s recollection of the Chrismas holiday circa early-1940s Indiana.

The movie chronicles Ralphie’s (Jean Shepherd) attempts to secure  a BB gun for Christmas, his idea of the ultimate Christmas gift. Of course all the adults respond with “you’ll put your eye out with it.”

As Ralphie contends with school, bullies, and adults who don’t understand his desire for a  BB gun, the film is a wonderful slice of life in depression-era America. Particularly funny is when Ralphie drops the f-bomb in front of his father. When Ralphie’s mother asks indignantly where he had heard it, adult Ralphie says:

Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.

But young Ralphie, in a moment of panic (unjustly) rats out a friend, who gets severely punished by his mother. And Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with a bar of soap for his troubles.

The movie is perfectly cast with Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, Darren McGavin as his father and Melinda Dillon as his mother.

Worth a look if you like warm, sentimental holiday movies.

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A Christmas Story

– Steve

 

Holiday Movies: Christmas Vacation

MV5BMTI1OTExNTU4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzIwMzQyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Another holiday favorite of mine, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation stars Chevy Chase again as hapless Clark Griswald. All he wants is to have a perfect holiday, but events conspire to ruin his Christmas. But in the end, Clark is the eternal optimist and is able to make the best of some very disheartening situations.

Chase displays brilliant comedic timing as the various disasters fall upon him: Cousin Eddie shows up, broke and driving a dilapidated motor home;  an over-done turkey; an ignited Christmas tree nearly burns his house down; waiting on a Christmas bonus which never materializes; and stringing up Christmas tree lights browns out the neighborhood.

Beverly D’Angelo plays Clark’s long suffering wife, Ellen. Johnny Galecki (of Big Bang Theory fame) and Juliette Lewis play his  son and daughter respectively. Randy Quaid is very funny as Cousin Eddie, in fact, stealing every scene he is in.

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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Worth a look if you want to see some poor, miserable sap having a worse holiday than you.

Skip it if slapstick comedies are not your thing.

-Steve

 

 

Holiday Movies: Elf

MV5BNjY1NjQ3NDY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODAyMTc3._V1_SX214_AL_Elf is one of my favorite holiday movies. It stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human infant who is inadvertently taken to the North Pole with Santa Claus and raised as an elf. It soon becomes apparent to Buddy that he is not an elf after a growth spurt makes him twice as tall as any of the elves. Buddy finds out from his elf father (played by Bob Newhart) that is real father is in New York.

Buddy leaves the North Pole  in search of his real father (played by James Caan), who turns out to be a heartless jerk with a neglected family. Can Buddy turn his real father around so that he is filled with holiday spirit? You’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen round out the cast as Buddy’s love interest and stepmother respectively. Ed Asner is well-cast as Santa Claus. Look for Amy Sedaris, Peter Dinklage, Jon Favreau and Andy Richter in minor supporting roles.

The movie is very funny in the slapstick vein and plays on Buddy’s elf upbringing. Not having been raised by humans, Buddy has a wide-eyed innocence and often responds inappropriately to situations he finds himself in.

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Elf

Worth a look if you like Will Ferrell and/or slapstick comedy.

Skip it if you are a blackhearted grinch or think Scrooge was just misunderstood.

-Steve

 

 

Cult Movies: Billy Jack

MV5BMTkwNTg4MDYwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjIzMTQyMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Billy Jack is the story of a half Indian/half white ex-Green Beret hapkido expert (played by Tom Laughlin). He was a war hero in Vietnam, but ultimately turned his back on the war.

As the movie opens, Billy Jack interrupts the slaughter of wild mustangs and runs afoul of the rich-guy-who-actually-runs-the- town and his weak-willed, spoiled-rotten son, Bernard.

Billy Jack also protects the “freedom school” run by Jean Roberts (Laughlin’s real-life wife, Delores Taylor.) It is a school for troubled teens, dropouts, and others who do not fit into normal, polite (read “white”) society. Of course, being hippies, the good, decent (and racist) townsfolk do not like them, and are frightened by their liberal ways.

Billy Jack is very much a movie of its time. Released in 1971 when the Vietnam war was in full swing, the movie deals with pacifism, violence, hippie counter-culture, and social consciousness.  Billy Jack is not a good film; the acting is sub-standard, it is overlong in spots, is preachy and its “peace through violence” message is incongruous. But it is a time capsule; a glimpse into a time of civil unrest and American involvement an unpopular war.

The one thing the movie does well is violence. After Billy Jack has beaten the crap out of Bernard Posner and his gigantic buddy, Dinosaur, Billy is confronted in the town park by Posner’s dad and a bunch of racist rednecks. Billy dispatches dad with a single kick and subsequently takes on the rest of the rednecks. At first Billy holds his own, but eventually is overcome by their sheer numbers. I find this to be very realistic. In most movies with martial arts sequences, the hero is usually untouchable, taking on wave after wave of villains and ultimately dispatching them all (although it would help their odds if the villains would attack more than one at a time, but I digress.) Not so in Billy Jack; Billy is no Superman, and although has expert fighting skill, he does succumb to superior numbers, especially after many attach him at once. Billy is saved only through the intervention of the town sheriff.

The fight scenes were choreographed by Bong Soo Han, a hapkido expert and Laughlin’s real-life martial arts teacher. Han even doubled for Laughlin in some of the fight scenes and can be spotted if you watch carefully enough.

Originally under-promoted by its initial distributor, Warner Studios, Tom Laughlin took matters into his own hands and distributed and promoted the film himself. It later became a cult hit due to its being shown on TV and subsequent VHS and DVD releases.

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Billy Jack

Worth a look if you want a glimpse into the turbulent Vietnam era.

Skip it if you don’t like dated films or movies about dirty hippies.

-Steve

 

 

Cult Movies: The Warriors

MV5BMTYzMjE2MzE3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMzUyNDQ5._V1_SX214_AL_The Warriors is the story of New York City gangs. Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York City, calls together representatives of all other NYC gangs for a remarkable proposal: quit fighting amongst themselves and band together to run the entire city as gang members vastly outnumber the police. Things go awry when a rogue gang member assassinates Cyrus and blames it on the Warriors, a gang from Coney Island. Word quickly spreads and unarmed and outnumbered, The Warriors must make their way back to their home turf through wave after wave of enemies.

Apparently the story draws inspiration from  Xeonphon’s “Anabasis” about Greek mercenaries who find themselves stranded behind enemy Persian lines after aligning themselves with Cyrus the Younger in the battle of Cunaxa, which was an attempt to seize the Persian throne. The movie itself was based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick which itself was a gritty, realistic portrayal of gangs and intended to be an antidote to the stylized West Side Story view of gangs. (1)

Released in 1979, The Warriors was controversial at the time. Gang related violence broke out at several screenings and the movie was soon pulled from theaters. Subsequent VHS, DVD and Blu Ray releases have cemented the movie as a cult favorite.

The movie itself is campy; each gang has its own name and costume. For example, the Baseball Furies dress as baseball players with painted faces and fight with ball bats. Despite the camp factor, the movie is hyper violent. And even though the violence is heavily stylized (again, the ball bat fight between The Warriors and the Baseball Furies) but brutal and unrelenting. Definitely not for the squeamish.

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The Warriors

Worth a look if you like hyper violent movies or campy, cult classics.

Skip it if you are turned off by excessive violence or you think that West Side Story is a more accurate representation of gang life.

-Steve

(1) Taken from the Internet Movie Database entry on The Warriors. Click on the link for more Warriors trivia.