Happiness (1998), Todd Solondz

Awkwardly funny for some but definitively uncomfortable viewing for most, Todd Solondz’s 1998 Happiness – this haunting Freudian movie – deals with difficult subjects such as masturbation and paedophilia by cracking open American suburban angst in a non-judgemental way.

happiness-2The themes explored in Solondz’s Happiness are so extremely hard to swallow that these might distract viewers from an obvious thread permeating the entire movie: those seeking happiness will forget about living and thus end up miserable. All the main characters in the film seem to be going through emotional rollercoasters; all of them, deeply unhappy, even the ones faking some sort of normality. It is inevitable that at the core of these characters’ problems sits your typical family, for as Philip Larkin knew well, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

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Rope (1948), Alfred Hitchcock

Tense, clever and with a murder at the centre of the story based on a morally repellent premise, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 Rope showcases two guys – who seem travesties of Nietzsche’s Übermensch – attempting a very misguided and ill-thought show of superior intellectual prowess.

rope-2In the end, what gets them caught is a stupid mistake, a sign of utter weakness: a hat forgotten inside a cloakroom. How ironic then that two supercilious individuals prove to be the perfect representation of their most derided weakness? Wanting to prove a point of a philosophy which is highly critical of the status quo and highlights the intelligence of those pointing the finger, they forget to check their own stupidity. They simply do not get that Nietzsche’s Superman is meant to represent a hypothetical counterpoint to our modern paradigm, and does not require any practical application. Continue reading

Birdman (2014), Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu

Deliriously funny and poignant, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s 2014 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), gradually treats us with small doses of wisdom drugs as it reaches a crescendo of lucid madness, before administering a treatment for life’s meaninglessness.

birdman-2How does a man, on the threshold of madness, between his long gone, careless youth and his dreaded autumn years, solve a grave existential crisis caused by his own poor choices? Obviously, he turns against himself, as Birdman‘s Riggan Thomson does. But as he knows to be the only one capable of extracting himself from the black hole of self-contempt, our (literally!) hero also understands that redemption as the cure for his malaise can only work with the involvement of the people who hurt, and have been hurt by, Riggan. Thus, he embarks on an involuntarily last hurrah journey… Continue reading

Margaret (2011), Kenneth Lonergan

A philosophical hornet’s nest which gradually gets stirred up, Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 Margaret – a film with fine shades of right and wrong – accomplishes in three hours what most of us never do in a lifetime, i.e. it acknowledges the blurred line between the good and the bad guys.

margaret-2Oh life, what a messy business! Some argue that Margaret shares plenty of the same chaos – uneven and brutally unfocused, this three-hour mess of a movie can’t hold on to its emotional core. To me, this is exactly what makes the picture an accomplished piece of film-making. Part of its geniality is this ability to expose life as it is: random and chaotic. As she herself realises, the film’s main character’s ethical dilemma does not stop the world from spinning… Continue reading

The Apartment (1960), Billy Wilder

A poignant and profound study of loneliness and conformism, Billy Wilder’s 1960 The Apartment showcases two actors – who would eventually become stars – at the top of their games, with Lemmon as naïve and vulnerable as much as MacLaine is smart and luminous.

the-apartment-2The two leading actors in this Billy Wilder’s masterpiece – these two great performers and iconic stars – transform two common lives into case studies of uniqueness. C. C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik might be suckers for authority, deeply conformist and self-interested people, but they aren’t your regular guys. Lemmon and MacLaine manage to bring to the fore their characters’ idiosyncratic traits while maintaining the overall feeling that these people are like those office colleagues who annoy us for their unashamedly deference and blind submission. Continue reading

Midnight Cowboy (1969), John Schlesinger

A sad and – on its release date – a shocking film, John Schlesinger’s 1969 Midnight Cowboy, tells the poignant tale of two outcasts, adrift in the urban ocean of isolation, alienation and disenfranchisement of the ultimate great metropolis, who can’t help but dig their own graves.

midnight-cowboy-2Can the outsider succeed in the great cities of the world? There’s a paradox in the movement of people towards the bright lights – the most suited of places to receive them are also the least welcoming ones. New York City, with its myriad of opportunities, is where dreamers start over, and yet, by its very nature and sheer size, it also alienates newcomers. The Big Apple of Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo seems like a private party, in which they have not been invited. Continue reading

The Godfather (1972) / The Godfather – Part II (1974), Francis Ford Coppola

Two superb masterpieces, comparable to the first sequence of films made by Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The Godfather & 1974 The Godfather – Part II are real landmarks in the history of American cinema and turning points in the country’s image of itself.

the-godfather-2In 1945, on his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), who is the boss of a New York criminal clan, hears requests from selected guests. Some want justice; some want a role in an upcoming movie; some just want to pay their respect. As the Don’s third son, Michael (Al Pacino) returns from serving his country in World War II and brings his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to meet the family, we get acquainted with all the family members. These are: first and second sons, hot-headed Sonny (James Caan) and weak-minded Fredo (John Cazale), daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and adopted son, trusted lawyer and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). ooooo ooo godfather-diane-keatongodfather-talia-shiregodfather-john-cazalegodfather-vito-childgodfather-marlon-brandogodfather-robert-de-nirogodfather-al-pacinogodfather-james-caangodfather-robert-duvallWhen a crime lord invites Don Corleone to join him in the emergent drug market and he refuses, an attempted murder fails to kill him. Michael, thus far an openly outsider and the only college-educated of the children, suggests the assassination of the two men responsible for their troubles. After killing the drug baron and the crooked, ‘on his pay roll’ police officer, Michael flees to Sicily, in Italy. When Sonny is killed in retaliation for the previous murders, the Godfather arranges a meeting with the other crime families of New York to establish a cease-fire. As Michael is allowed to return to the USA, he becomes the new Don. Soon after Vito Corleone dies, on the day of his sister Connie’s baby’s baptism, Michael Corleone orders the death of every single of his enemies, the bosses of the other criminal families. Continue reading

Serpico (1973), Sidney Lumet

A classic whistle-blowing and myth-bursting tale, Sidney Lumet’s 1973 Serpico, the agonizing story of an honest cop battling corruption within the New York City Police Department, showcases how greed trumps dignity every time at every level of human endeavours.

serpico-2This 40-year-old tale of one guy against the system is surely nothing new to modern audiences, right? Who really does not know that the police force is a corrupt and self-serving organization? Since the release of the movie, audiences have become cynical and don’t normally buy this idea that cops patrol our cities ‘to protect and to serve’. It would however be a mistake to see the film’s value in such simplistic terms. For the story of Serpico is less about revealing corruption in the police force and more about the struggle one man faces when he chooses dignity and the consequences it has on his self. Continue reading

The King of Comedy (1983), Martin Scorsese

An odd and uncharacteristic entry in his filmography, Martin Scorsese’s 1983 The King of Comedy, a cautionary tale of mediated reality and borderline psychosis, tells the scathing story of one man’s insecurity and his obsessive, unscrupulous and relentless pursuit of fame.

the-king-of-comedy3Rupert Pupkin is a deluded and malicious man, who resides at the edge of morality. But the line that separates him from other, more ‘normal’ individuals is thin indeed. In different circumstances, Pupkin could arguably be a highly successful man – streetwise, determined and flexibly adaptable. In a parallel universe he would not be loathed, but greatly admired. Continue reading

Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese

One of the seminal works of the American New Wave, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver, a noirish masterpiece about loneliness and alienation with a powerful ambiguity at its core, raises morally important issues without ever leaning towards clear-cut or sanctimonious answers.

taxi-driver-2Is Travis Bickle a deranged man with psychopathic tendencies or an avenging angel with noble purposes? Are Bickle’s racism and misogyny utterly distinguishable from the other characters’ or purely a reflection of their time and place? Is he really an outsider or simply an extreme representation of that society’s darker side?

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