Movie Project #42: Withnail & I [1987]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Withnail & I [1987]

Withnail & I [1987]
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Bruce Robinson
Country: UK
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
Running Time: 107 minutes

On paper, Withnail & I sounds like a film I would absolutely love. Two downtrodden actors, both of whom are drunk more than sober, take a road trip out to the country where they struggle to fit in with the country folk. This all takes place in 1969, the end of “the greatest decade in the history of mankind”, as one character states. Throw in some intelligent, well-crafted dialogue and a few spot-on performances, and it sounds like my kind of film.

Yet Withnail & I is missing something, and I can’t quite place what it is.

Withnail & I

The main characters in the film, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and “I” (Paul McGann), have basically hit rock bottom. Both are unemployed and struggling to get by, mostly due to their love of the bottle. Withnail, in particular, is especially hard up. At one point, out of desperation, he begins chugging lighter fluid. He seems to have a death wish, with little regard for his wellbeing. “I”, also known as Marwood (though it is never stated as such in the film), is basically just along for the ride.

When the two of them decide they need a change of scenery, they hit up Withnail’s rich homosexual uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), who loans them his country cottage for a quick holiday. Their getaway is less than extravagant, as the cabin does not have proper heating, and they have little in the way of food and supplies. Monty comically (and unwantedly) shows up and hits on Marwood, making their miserable vacation even more uncomfortable. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot.

Withnail & I [1987]

In many ways, it feels like we are just witnessing a random week in the lives of two washed up blokes where nothing of any real substance happens. They drink, they talk, they complain of their situation, and then they drink some more. The two characters are clearly intelligent, as evidenced by their oft-witty dialogue, but they are difficult to connect with. While many of this cult film’s fans find their banter to be very quotable, nothing really stuck with me afterward.

The performances are quite good, especially that of Richard E. Grant, but they are not enough to elevate what is a mostly dry film overall. Perhaps I just don’t get this sort of British humor, or maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the film. This is one that I truly wanted to love, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.


Movie Project #25: Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]
Director: Louis Malle
Writer: Louis Malle
Country: France/West Germany
Genre: Biography/Drama/War
Starring: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette
Running Time: 104 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Louis Malle film.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Writing), BAFTA Film Award for Best Direction + three other nominations, César Award – Best Film + six other wins, Golden Lion Award at Venice Film Festival

(This review discusses the film’s big “secret”, and thus contains possible spoilers.)

Based on director Louis Malle’s own childhood experiences, Au revoir les enfants is a subtle, tragic tale of friendship set in war-torn 1944 France. Technically, it is a war film, but one that is staggeringly different from most set during this period.

Gaspard Manesse stars as Julien Quentin, an 11-year-old student at a Catholic boarding school in occupied France. After returning from a much-welcomed vacation, Julien and the other kids are introduced to a new student: Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). It doesn’t take long for the other children to make fun of Jean — after all, boys will be boys — and even Julien gets in on the action. Hell, at first Julien downright despises the new kid.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

It isn’t until Julien learns Jean’s secret that two of them are drawn together. You see, Jean’s real last name isn’t Bonnet — it’s Kippelstein. The boarding school, like many others in France, has been secretly harboring Jews under assumed identities in an attempt to provide them safety from the omnipresent Nazis. This is a huge risk for the school’s headmaster, and close calls with German soldiers (and French fascists) keep everyone on their toes.

Once this secret is revealed to the audience, the film grows in suspense. Nazis are continually in the picture, though surprisingly they aren’t always shown in a negative light. During one scene, Julien and Jean become lost in the woods. They eventually wander into a nearby country road where they see headlights coming in their direction. The two boys are ecstatic — at least until it is clear that these are enemy soldiers. Jean immediately takes off running — a natural impulse, to be sure. The boys are quickly caught, but rather than being tortured or worse, they are given blankets and driven back to the school. It’s rare to see Nazis portrayed positively, especially when the Holocaust is a focal point of the film.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

Of course, there are plenty of evil Nazis as well, and much of the film feels like it is a matter of when — not if — they will discover the hiding Jews. Through it all, the friendship of Julien and Jean is tested. While it is fun to watch their playful behavior throughout, this makes the seemingly inevitable conlusion even more heartbreaking to watch.

I was most impressed with Au revoir les enfants‘s absolute subtlety. Malle never forces emotions onto his audience, instead opting to just show everything as it happens. Everything feels authentic, almost certainly because Malle himself went through a similar experience as a child. As such, this is a beautiful piece of cinema, a story that will move even the bleakest of hearts.


Cult Movie Review: Miami Connection [1987]

Miami Connection [1987]

Miami Connection [1987]
Directors: Y.K. Kim and Woo-sang Park
Genre: Action/Crime
Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch and Joseph Diamand
Runtime: 83 minutes

Every now and then, the stars align to create a film that is so ridiculous that it just begs to be seen.

Miami Connection, the latest cult movie sensation that is hitting the midnight theater circuits, is a prime example of this. I dare you to name another film that features motorcycle-riding ninjas, middle-age thugs and an 80s New Wave band that also happen to be experts at Tae Kawn Do.

The mastermind of this film, director/writer/lead Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, gathered a group of his friends (including one who is a dead-ringer for Michael Phelps), all of whom had no prior acting experience, to create a film that serves as a ringing endorsement for Tae Kwon Do.

Kim plays Mark, a member of the New Wave band, Dragon Sound, that seems to have exactly two songs to their name (and yes, we hear both of them in their entirety more than once). The band is a tight-knit group, performing night-after-night while also living together. They are BFFs, yo.

Dragon Sound gets a gig as the house band of a local night club — “somewhere in Miami” — but soon find themselves entangled in gang warfare after the band they replaced seeks revenge. Our heroes are continually harassed by random groups of thugs — including a scene in which the bad guys dump perfectly good beer over their heads — before finally they have had enough and start using their Black Belt Tae Kwon Do expertise to fight back.

There are a couple of other inane subplots, including a band member searching for his long-lost father, but they are just diversions from the amusingly choreographed martial arts scenes. It’s clear that Kim and his buddies are quite talented in Tae Kwon Do, and it’s fun to watch them destroy countless bad guys. Watching the four of them annihilate endless waves of thugs never gets old.

Miami Connection [1987]

This movie has all the makings of a camp classic, and it’s full of bad acting, poorly dubbed dialogue, terribly improvised lines, and cheesy special effects. Throw in the ridiculously catchy tunes of Dragon Sound and this is one of the best experiences you can have in the theater this year.

I was a little skeptical about Miami Connection at first; after all, how could it live up to other cult hits like The Room or Troll 2? But as soon as the characters just started talking, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Seriously, this post doesn’t do the film justice at all. If you’re into “so bad they’re good” movies, this is a must see.

Rating on a normal scale: 2/10
Rating on an entertainment scale: 9/10

See for yourself what this is all about with this hilariously awesome trailer:

Hamburger Hill [1987]

Hamburger Hill [1987]

Hamburger Hill [1987]
Directors: John Irvin
Genre: Drama/War/Action
Language: English
Country: USA

As one of countless late 80’s Vietnam War movies, Hamburger Hill unfortunately became overlooked by many. Employing a cast of relative unknowns at the time, including many first major roles for some later established stars (Don Cheadle, Dylan McDermott, Courtney Vance, Steven Weber), John Irvin’s directorial effort tells the tale of a U.S. Army platoon’s battle to obtain control of the mountain known as Hill 937 (also: ‘Hamburger Hill’). This is a true story of what became a bloody 10-day assault, one that caused massive casualties for both American and North Vietnamese forces. This portrayal has frequently been named one of the most realistic war movies ever made.

While many similar genre movies at the time were about the broad scope of war, Hamburger Hill focuses entirely on the soldiers themselves. There are fourteen men in this platoon, and although character development is kept to a minimum for most of them, the film effortlessly shows the strong sense of camaraderie amongst the troops. These are men who are fighting off racial tensions that are increased by the stresses of war, all the while trying to keep morale as high as possible. This is painfully difficult to do, however, when the soldiers keep hearing what’s happening back home. “Long haired hippies” are throwing bags of dog shit at returning soldiers, parents of deceased troops are receiving hate mail, and one soldier’s girlfriend has told him that she will no longer be sending him letters because her college friends told her it is immoral. I found the tales of stories back home to be fascinating, although some may be quick to dismiss this as “anti-anti-war.”

Hamburger Hill does a great job of making you feel like you are there in the middle of the action, and it truly excels at showing the brotherly bond inside the platoon. While the movie overall does not really break any new ground, the banter and stories told by the characters are well-written enough to keep interest in between the grueling action scenes. Although a step below the top tier of Vietnam War classics such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill is definitely still worth seeing.