Sunday, 6 May 2007

Carmody Wilson reviews her ten favourite films, part 1

Battle of Britain
UK 1969
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenwriter: Wilfred Greatorex, James Kennaway, Derek Dempster and Derek Wood (novel)
Runtime: 133 min
Certificate: PG
DVD Distributor: MGM DVD

Stueckers. Spitfires. Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Michael Caine and Ian McShane. The Battle of Britain is so much more to me than an afternoon rerun. The first time I saw this film I was so disinterested in the subject matter as to be hostile to the person trying to get me to view it. Within minutes, I was hooked. And I have been able to watch it time and time again as it airs on innumerable cable channels looking to fill a few hours in mid day. Battle of Britain is one firecracker of a film. Even now I’m hearing the music for the climactic battle scene…dun,dun,dun,duh duh,dun,dun, dun…and squirming in my seat with excitement.

What I enjoy is spotting all of the “who’s who” that make up the cast. Every time I watch it I notice someone new and am forced to exclaim “That’s Trevor Howard!”, if only to myself. The large ensemble cast is what makes this film, and I always love seeing Plummer barking at everyone and ordering them around. One of my favorite bits is when the always plummy Edward Fox parachutes into a London garden and is greeted by a cigarette-bearing child. “Thanks awfully, Old Chap” he smiles, as he takes the gift and happily smokes it. Laurence Olivier as Dowding is so bored he barely opens his eyes, but this is especially delightful when he, voice dripping with disinterest and ennui, tells off some anxious minister worried about the American press. He puts the phone down and stares blankly into the middle distance. Brilliant!

The movie really owes its backbone to the action sequences, and they’re some of the finest bits to watch, even standing on their own outside of the main film. As the Spitfires roar around, diving and shooting, I clam up into a ball of apprehension, even though I am perfectly aware that the Germans didn’t win that one. The music for the actual battle sequence is just marvelous, from foreboding drums to soaring violins and back again, and the final, terrible climax when poor old Plummer gets burned just makes my eyes water. Battle of Britain is the only real war movie in my list, but it’s long been one that I clamber to watch every time.

Being John Malkovich
USA 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman
Runtime: 112 min
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Colombia Tristar Home Entertainment

Ever want to be someone else? Now you can. John Malkovich, to be precise. Others can avow the superiority of Charlie Kaufman’s other screenplays, and even may subscribe to the superiority of other Kaufman collaborations with director Spike Jonze, but to me, the best of this partnership has always been Being John Malkovich. The comedy in this feels perfect. The first time I watched this, in the cinema, I embarrassed my companions and probably everyone else around me with my enthusiastic guffaws. When watching this movie I always feel as if I am urging it not to be in pace with my weird ideas of comedy, but it always surprises me and I am forced to laugh anew.

I am always surprised at John Cusack in this film. His Craig Schwartz is so dowdy, so nerdy, but not in a typical Hollywood way. He’s on the verge of being an outcast, but fits in on the outer lip of society. He may be flecked with spittle, but he’s hanging on. Schwartz is weird enough to be a puppeteer, but normal enough to seek clerical work. This is why the movie works. Its strange, sad, and inventive plot has such lovely degrees of normality placed into it that I just can’t help but believe it all. And for me, Cusack really does it. When he’s had his first experience in Malkovich, he enters Maxine’s office so full of wonderment and savage excitement that his desire to convince and impress her is palpable. Likewise, when he’s alone in his workshop lovingly creating a Maxine puppet, his tenderness is only matched by his woefulness and creepiness.

The whole absurdity of the plot, and all of the elements; the 7 1/2 floor, the street scene enactment of “Abelard and Heloise”, Orson Bean, transgendered confusion, all centre on a pet love of mine, namely puppets. I have this strange fascination with how macabre they can be with their wooden, unmoving faces, and I have always felt that Being John Malkovich captures the uneasy duality of puppets-dark portent and unencumbered hilarity. When the “Dance of Disillusionment and Despair” is first enacted, it’s overwrought and catastrophic for puppetry. When Malkovich does it later, it’s balletic, beautiful-and overwrought and catastrophic. Being John Malkovich is a dark, mental, and bizarre film and I love it.

Read part 2 tomorrow

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