Film review: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

A feel-good drama with fantasy elements. Calling it a Christmas movie is a bit misleading I think.

Arguably James Stewart’s finest performance, he has an effortless charm. Stewart plays George Bailey, a thin, skinny, well-meaning and selfless character, who has much responsibility. He grows up in Bedford Falls in Connecticut and dreams about leaving and exploring the world. At the same time, he feels duty towards the community.

My favourite scene is between Mary and George Bailey after the party, where they talk about the future, and he promises to pull the moon down for her.

 

Much like The Shipping News (2001), it’s a film about community, and what that entails, pros and cons. George Bailey’s struggle of trying to get away from his roots, and if escaping would in fact be more meaningful or not? It’s A Wonderful Life is about how during our lives we touch many more people than we realize.

Probably one of the most uplifting and inspiring films ever made, about seeing goodness in others, and how our society could be better with less greed and more sharing. Placed number one on the American Film Institutes list of the most inspirational American films of all time.

Director Frank Capra: “I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.” In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself,” and that he made it to “combat a modern trend toward atheism.”

David Lynch is a fan of the film, and thinks you don’t have to travel around a lot to get a lot of experiences. The way the world is, you can tap into feelings outside your environment.

A bit of trivia. The original story “The Greatest Gift” was written by Philip Van Doren Stern in November 1939. After being unsuccessful in getting the story published, he decided to make it into a Christmas card, and mailed 200 copies to family and friends in December 1943.

The film was remastered in colour in the 1980s, I have to admit I stuck to the good old black and white original. Only after it lapsed into the public domain in 1973 and became a Christmastime TV perennial did it don the mantle of a holiday film classic.

As another reviewer writes, you’d have to possess a very hard heart not to find something to love in this story. I agree with film critic Roger Ebert that the conclusion of the film makes such an impact. A third reviewer writes: “Maybe it takes a filmmaker so fascinated with the American Dream to see how close it can be to a nightmare.”

A heart-warming movie, but perhaps a bit over-praised for me. I found the film to have some very memorable scenes, particularly towards the end, and at the beginning, but slightly uneven and boring in the middle section. Still, highly recommendable, particularly during December and Christmas.

The film received mixed reviews and weak box office on initial release. It’s A Wonderful Life is ranked #30 on IMDB’s top 250, and received five Academy Award nominations, best picture, best director, best actor (James Stewart), best editing, and best sound recording.

Readers, I’m curious to hear what you think, love it, hate it, let me know in the comments!

Film review: Hunger (1966)


(Revised review with added screenshots) Hunger or the original title Sult is a powerful drama in black and white, with Norwegian dialogue. I saw it with English subtitles. At times felt like a comedy, I laughed a lot! A co-production between Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

Not to be confused with the 2008 prison movie of the same name, or the 1983 movie.

It takes a little while to get going, but definitely one of the best older Scandinavian pictures I’ve ever seen, it still felt fresh. Actually one of the best I’ve seen in 2010, and I’ve seen many different movies. Based on the acclaimed novel from 1890 by the Norwegian Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamson.

The story is quite simple, you might think its a one-trick-story of someone hungry, and that’s that, however there is more to it than just starvation. Set in the late 1800s, a struggling author is wandering around the streets and has no money left for food. A man who has nothing, who pretends he has everything.

I felt sympathy for him, because he is in such pain. The country boy lost in the city having an anger towards the urban setting. I think it’s a story about pride and denial. The hungrier he gets, the more he distances himself from reality.
In an interview on the dvd, the granddaughter of Hamson says the character is looking for himself.

There are many memorable scenes, so its tough to just pick a handful:


On the dvd, the director Henning Carlsen explains how the audience see everything from the subjective point of view of the main character. Something Scorsese also did in Taxi Driver (1976). In both cases, the first person angle means we feel we are in the protagonist’s shoes. The director talks about how they struggled to recreate 1890 in the year 1965. I think they did a great job.

The acting by the main unnamed character is what brings the story alive, Per Oscarsson is very convincing, he deservingly won a best actor award at Cannes for his role. He probably seems desperate or even amusing to the viewers or the people he meets on his journey, to me a bit like the humour in some of Kafka’s stories. Hunger is quite a dark, psychological character study. But also a very powerful story with comedy moments, particularly funny when talking to the guy on the park bench, and when he knocks on people’s doors. It had a lasting impression on me, I’ll never forget Hunger.


Hard to understand why only 1070 people have rated this film on IMDB!!! Kept me glued to the screen, on my 3rd viewing as well! Really drew me into a different world much like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver achieved. I think I’m going to have to add Hunger (1966) to my favourite films ( :

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Anyway, highly recommended foreign language cinema.

7.8 on IMDB

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Film review: Casablanca (1942)


Spoilers may occur. One of the most beloved films ever made, from the “Golden age of cinema”, and often voted the most romantic movie of-all-time, containing some of the most memorable and witty movie quotes from cinema history.

Among my favourite black-and-whites, it has been called a perfect film, capturing the spirit of romance, patriotism, intrigue and idealism. Through the years Casablanca is a film that has been woven into the fabric of our culture.

Takes place in Northern Africa in the 1940s, and especially Rick’s café is a character in its own right in the film, I really felt like I was sitting there among those guys in that smoke-filled room having a drink.

Set during World War Two, the main theme is probably lost love. Humphrey Bogart plays the romantic hero Rick, a cynical, tough, hard-nosed, yet sensitive character, who is reunited in Morocco with an old flame named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). She is now married to Victor Laszlo fleeing from the Nazis.

Humphrey Bogart became a star with Casablanca. Film critic Roger Ebert says on the audio commentary that he thinks the reason Rick has become so beloved is due to him being a mysterious, sarcastic, and detached kind of guy, who is all the more interesting because we sense he has a soft heart inside.


Rick’s motivations for being in Casablanca are unclear, and add to the mystery. A bit of trivia, Bogart never took any acting lessons or went to acting school, he was self-taught. While I personally believe Ingrid Bergman’s performance is stronger, Bogart was nominated for an Oscar for his lead performance in Casablanca.


Castor at anomalousmaterial made a good point in his review, Bogart is playing two different characters in a way, Rick of the past, and Rick of the present. And Bogart pulls it off.

I always found Bogart’s acting style slightly wooden and his delivery of lines monotonous, he has his moments in Casablanca, notably the “of all the gin joints” scene above. Still, for me he has a stone face most of the time in comparison to Ingrid Bergman, she can really express a lot by not even speaking. Why did Humphrey Bogart become such a big star I wonder? Luck? Good career choices? His looks? Who knows. However, you could argue there are no main characters in Casablanca, as the story has an ensemble feel to it.


Ingrid Bergman brought warmth and tenderness to the role. Her character Ilsa was torn between two men, in love with Rick, and devoted to the cause of resistance leader Victor Laszlo portrayed by Paul Henreid. Gives the film an edginess that Ingrid Bergman didn’t know who to love due to scripts changing daily. She was asked to play it “in the middle”. Nobody knew what the ending would be.

As Ebert states, it’s probably on more lists of the greatest films of-all-time than any other film in cinema history, and he has never read a negative Casablanca review (Hmm, well I could probably find one or two on rottentomatoes)
He thinks this is partly due to the main characters being likeable, and therefore reaching a wide audience, it also has elements to please both men and women. There are many ways of defining what makes a classic, one definition Ebert likes and feels he cannot improve on is by London critic Derek Malcolm: “A great movie is a movie I cannot bear the thought of never seeing again”

The quote “play it again Sam” is never spoken, it was actually “play it”. It’s amazing how quotes from Casablanca have become part of mainstream culture: “Round up the usual suspects”, “We’ll always have Paris”, “I stick my neck out for nobody”, etc.


My favourite quotes have to be: “Here’s looking at you kid”, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, and not forgetting “My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters. Waters? What waters? We’re in the desert. I was misinformed.”
Here’s a list of memorable quotes

As explained in the dvd documentary, the audience gains insight into people stranded in Europe trying to escape to the USA. People at the time knew about the real Casablanca from the news, and this gave the film more tension. Casablanca was invaded the year the picture came out.

In a way, America and the world needed the film, the story said there were values worth making sacrifices for, and it told this in a very entertaining way. The idea was, that there are greater causes at hand during the war, and you sometimes had to stand above your own feelings, in this case the feelings of three people.
The ending is very memorable and has left audiences wondering what would happen to the main characters after the credits have rolled, the war was still going on, so there was a lot of uncertainty about the future, not just in the movie, but all around the world.


That song As Time Goes By, so haunting! And Rick’s Café MUST have helped the tourism in the local area!
The song is number 2 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Years… 100 Songs list.

Won Oscars for Best picture, best screenplay and best director. Listed as #19 on IMDB’s top 250.

For me, some of the special effects are dated, but still holds up very well, is a timeless classic for each new generation to discover. A number of the screenshots I’ve shared here have become iconic movie moments.

Have you seen Casablanca? What did you make of it? Do you have a favourite quote? What do you think of Humphrey Bogart’s acting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments

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Film review: The Elephant Man (1980)


A moving story that can bring a tear to your eye about a deformed 21-year-old man, who escapes the circus. He must deal with constant prejudice and rejection because of his looks.

Among other things, the film is about how we focus so much on appearance and it determines how we perceive other people. You can be deformed and ugly, but have a heart of gold. There could be some truth to the theory that ugly people try and have a likeable and friendly personality, because they are unable to charm people with their looks. In a way, it’s a more honest way of charming someone you meet I think.


Based on a true story about a man from London who probably suffered with a condition called neurofibromatosis, which results in cauliflower shaped deformities on your body. It hasn’t been confirmed exactly what disease he was suffering from according to the documentary on the dvd, there have been attempts to extract dna from Merrick’s remains.

The film suggests Merrick fell in with the freak show crowd against his will, in reality, he had hopes they might accept him as a showpiece and thereby give him a means of earning a living.

John Merrick believed his deformity to have been caused by the shock his pregnant mother suffered after being frightened by an elephant. The discovery that his mother and younger sister were crippled however supports the argument for a genetic defect.


The story is also about exploitation, taking advantage of “the freak” at a circus, or to advance your career as a doctor, or as a member of the upper class, who want to mould him into their image. Treves lets us into Merrick’s world, the one that no one saw because his appearance was too frightening.

The scene where John Merrick is at the theatre is powerful, for the first time he is part of the audience instead of being the subject of horror. He is treated with respect and as an equal citizen. But we realize this is just a brief moment of happiness, he can never escape the monster he is.

You can certainly argue that comparisons can be made to the film Freaks (1932), about some deformed humans who perform in a circus environment like animals, but make an escape.


You get the feeling it’s the people around John Merrick and their reception and fear of him, that have made him into a monster, not himself. Inside he seems normal. He is the most sympathetic character. People are often afraid of the unknown and what they don’t understand, and that which they have a lack of knowledge of. Eyes are always on John Merrick, he is constantly the center of attention wherever he goes, and this must be bothersome for him, he can never just blend into the crowd, and never had a choice about being a freak. We are made to feel sorry for him. The theme of voyeurism is something Lynch would later explore in Blue Velvet (1986)

Favourite quote: “my life is full, because I know I am loved”


In the book The Complete Lynch, John Merrick is compared to Victor Hugo’s hunchback, a romantic hero, a beauty trapped in the body of a beast, a monster who teaches those he meets how to be human. As billsmovieemporium writes in his review: humanity that can’t accept him are the real freaks.

According to blogger friend Steve in his review at 1001plus, rumour has it that the make-up didn’t look very good in colour, so David Lynch decided the film should be shot in black and white.

I think this was a wise decision, not least because to me b/w transports us into the past, much like director David Lean in 1946 managed to create the atmosphere of the 1800s in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Spoilers ahead. The ending to me is interesting, Can you only be true to yourself by being abnormal? What is normal anyway, and is it desirable to be like others? John Merrick’s death is a tragedy I think, because he was such a lovely person inside, if anything, other people should have tried to emulate his gentle behaviour, rather than him trying to fit in with there’s. In a way, I think John Merrick was weak at the end, he didn’t go on fighting, perhaps because it was too painful being regarded as a freak. Although, you could also interpret his suicide as a wise decision, if he could only imagine the rest of his life being unhappy. So the suicide was perhaps his only way out, he believed he would join his mother in heaven, so maybe this would be a happier place for him. As Lynch himself says in scene by scene interview 1999 with Mark Cousins on youtube, the shot of the stars indicates that many things remain, it’s just the body that’s dropped. People’s memory of you remains, and your achievements in life.

I think the overall message is not to judge someone too quickly by his or her appearance, but take the time to understand someone’s actions and words. But I couldn’t help thinking if John Merrick had been given an unpleasant personality in the film, then nobody would want to watch, this is what makes it Lynch’s most mainstream film in my mind, the character’s flaws are not addressed. As Roger Ebert suggests, a little sentimental by being emotionally manipulating. That being said, the film can change the way we see ourselves and other people.

My rating 7.5/10

Readers, any thoughts on The Elephant Man ?

Film review: Eraserhead (1977)


This review is my contribution to the LAMB David Lynch director’s chair event June 17th. I will post several more David Lynch film reviews in the next few weeks, as he’s one of my favourite directors.

When people talk about the great films of the 1970s, it’s my feeling Eraserhead often gets forgotten in that conversation. Arguably director David Lynch’s most personal and mysterious film. Rich with symbolism, and creepy to watch.

A black and white surrealistic nightmare. Acknowledged as the full-length movie debut by director David Lynch. Technically brillant when you consider the budget.

Henry Spencer is the main character, a young man with unusually tall hair. The line between reality and fiction, and living and dead is blurred. The whole thing might be going on in the main character Henry’s head.


The responsibility of having a baby is clearly a theme, and the anxiety that this can bring with it. Almost as if Henry is seeking an escape from sexuality. Also a guilt of impregnating a woman seems to linger. The dream of escape is Henry’s ambition, which also the title implies, to “erase” himself from his current situation. One of the metaphors of the film is the pencil eraser factory.

I heard Lynch talk in an interview that the atmosphere is based on a period of time he lived in Philadelphia, and he experienced the city as “a sick twisted and decaying place, like living in a small cloud of fear, but it was where I had my first original thought I think.” The city had similar factories that feature in the film. Henry moves around in this world in Eraserhead like a tortured young man being followed, things are too claustrophobic in his room, and too overwhelming outside. The world is a strange place for Henry. Nature seems to have vanished, a picture of a mushroom cloud hangs by Henry’s bed. Chaos is everywhere apart from the dreamlike lady in the radiator, who is a comfort for Henry. The distance between outer and inner is blurred. Henry appears to be attempting to hide from his sexuality and return to a time of innocence, but is this possible as an adult?

Difficult to know what to believe, which adds to the fascination. Is it a dream, and if so, who’s dream? If it is a dream, then there are dreams in the dream, because Henry dreams of the lady in the radiator. Likewise what we usually understand as time is distorted, the baby is born so early, and doesn’t look human. From who’s point of view are we observing the events is also weird based on the opening where we see Henry in a kind of weightless situation.

David Lynch interview on Eraserhead: “Eraserhead doesn’t take place in any known city. It’s on the fringes sort of on a city, and it’s people who live in industrial where after 5 o’clock there’s nobody around. These people are of a certain type, like Henry and Mary, they’ve got caught in the past, they live in their own time, and there’s not a whole lot happening that is normal. A netherworld”


Pretty obvious that Henry is the alter ego of David Lynch with the hair sticking up in the air.
It took around five years to make Eraserhead, they had very little money, and at one point Lynch even has to get a job as a paperboy delivering the wall street journal. crew members had jobs while the shooting went on.

Part of the uniqueness of Eraserhead is that doesn’t fit easily into any category, perhaps being a Lynch film is the only way to categorize a cult film of this nature.

The music is very unusual and adds to the mood, unlike anything I’ve ever heard in film. They opted for an industrial sound, which pretty much is in the background all the way through. The filmmakers stumbled upon the sound by accident while fiddling around with some sound equipment. Lynch on the music: “I’m real fascinated by presences – what you call ‘room tone’. It’s the sound that you hear when there’s silence, in between words or sentences” (Lynch on Lynch, page 72-73)

Lynch was just coming to terms with the unplanned birth of his daughter, Jennifer, in April, 1968.
Jennifer feels that too much has been made between Eraserheads deformed baby and the fact that she was born with club feet. But she does think it was influential. In the interview book ‘Lynch on Lynch’, David Lynch talks Eraserhead, and that it’s a world neither here nor there. To some extent the film is autobiographical, as Lynch became a reluctant art school father, when he had his daughter Jennifer, and a year into the shooting of Eraserhead, he split from his partner Peggy.

Some have interpreted the film in a religious way, the mother of the baby is called Mary, and if she was not impregnated by Henry, then could the baby perhaps be the son of god?

I love the title Eraserhead, it refers to the dream of the eraser factory in the movie, and wanting to erase certain things in you life. The baby is something Henry wishes he could erase, but can’t. Does Henry want to erase himself and live in a fantasy with the lady in the radiator?


Everything around Henry seems dark and strange, and he longs for this sort of clean, pure childhood image before all this happened. Lynch drew the lady in the radiator during the production : “And I thought she would live in the radiator, where it’s nice and warm, and this would be a real comfort for Henry” (the complete Lynch, page 21).
Lynch: “The Lady in the radiator had bad skin. I think she had bad acne as a child (…) But inside is where the happiness in her comes from. Her outward appearance is not the thing” (Lynch on Lynch, page 66).

The movie found its niche as part of the late-night circuit, one of the so-called midnight movies. It played 17 cities regularly once a week for 4 years, but the poster was up all week, so it became a known item.

In my mind, an unforgettable and highly atmospheric film, which invites to discussion. Perhaps the intention by Lynch was for the film never to be fully understood ( :

Readers, any thoughts on Eraserhead?

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David Lynch interview on Eraserhead