Category Archives: Drama

The Birds (1963)

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Writers – Daphne du Maurier (original story), Evan Hunter (screenplay)

Alfred Hitchcock, it is known, was not always very kind to the women in his life; The Birds could well be seen as a commentary on that issue.

It almost feels as if the real birds in the film are a manifestation of the state of mind of the female characters within it. The shreiking hysteria that erupts as a swarm of canaries squawk down a chimney and out of the fireplace (perhaps some kind of symbolic opening or another) is echoed by the women who squeal in fright and despair as the birds flock around them, clouding their views. This is not an outlook that I share, but it is a perception of the content of the film.

The birds slowly congregate at a children’s playground, a place also often frequented by women. The male lead, Rod Taylor, is frightened and cautious when he passes, taunted by the calls and cries of the birds. Perhaps it is a rise in feminism itself that underpins the film? The male figures do not seem to like it very much when the women speak out, but instead feel attacked and trapped by the shrill calls. To suppose that Hitchcock is criticising women because of this does not take into account that he could also be sympathetic to their cause. His female lead, Tippi Hedren, of course, was adored by him, and a they step carefully around the caustic cawing crows, they creep around the very concept of women’s liberty, but also maintaining a social order and sense of gender roles. Nature itself is responding to the imbalance that industrialisation has imposed upon it, and it is clear that if you push too hard, the opposing side will push back. Tread carefully, and don’t get your feathers in a flap.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

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Director – Stanley Kubrick

Writers – Terry Southern, Peter George, Stanley Kubrick

For me, Peter Sellers is the best British comic actor of all time. Chaplain was perhaps more charming and elegant, Rowan Atkinson perhaps more dexterous and refined, but Sellers has a versatility and brio that is unrivalled. In Dr. Strangelove, he manages to show us just how brilliant he is by playing three vastly different roles. He doesn’t rub his performance in our faces, showing off with wild abandon as some would, he just does it subtly downbeat and straight. As the effete British officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Sellars gives a charming performance, having to think and act quickly and rationally in a bid to avert global disaster. As the US President Merkin Muffley, he asserts natural leadership qualities, giving a conscientious performance full of presense. (If only real presidents were this noble, but I suppose that’s the point. This is a satire, after all!)

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Dr. Strangelove himself is Sellars’ piece de resistance, or not, as a resistance is probably the last thing that Stranglove would agree with. Clouseau was an iconic film character, but his cheeky, confused persona are dwarfed in movie history by the imprint of Strangelove. The film is named after him, predominantly, after all, with the added title ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. This is Mutually Assured Destruction at its most scabrous and scathing. See it before the world goes up in flames!

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Slacker (1991)


Director – Richard Linklater

Writer – Richard Linklater and cast (improvised)

Richard Linklater is the current golden boy of Hollywood, garnering massive attention with the success of his film Boyhood, but we knew that way back when he released his seminal opus Slacker, didn’t we? Slacker is a cultural artifact that helped to define 1990s culture, in both its look and horizontally laid back attitude. The goofy, garish 1980s died with this film, and the wry, sardonic 1990s found its husky, stoned out voice.

This isn’t just a time capsule of snapshot vignettes though. It features deeply perceptive characters and a free flowing style that gives it a real floating and dreamy Austin, Texas feel. Linklater commented that the film was all about the city itself, how it lives and breathes, and that’s really what comes across in the film. Linklater represents Austin in all its burnt out glory. The philosophy of mistrusting authority and bumming around instead seeps out of the film and into the minds of the generation that absorbed it. Smart, urbane, earthy and quirky, the film sets the standard for realistic cinema verite, and completely restructures film narrative while it’s at it.

Here’s one of the many highlights:

Apparently a lot of this Austin has disappeared now, so Linklater did well to capture the spirit of the time and the place in his film. An irreverent classic.

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Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985) Poster

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Some films are so finely detailed that they require repeat viewings to appreciate  the extent of their content. This is more than true of Brazil, which manages to squeeze an entire retro-futuristic city into its compact time frame, replete with hallucinogenic dream sequences featuring giant samurai warriors, talking brickwork, and other flights of fancy, along with a serious message behind the wickedly grinning facade.

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You could consider Brazil to be ‘Monty Python Does 1984’, but there are many essential differences between it and those elements. There aren’t any knights who say “NI!” or giant feet crushing anybody from above, for starters. 1984 itself is a critique of blind obedience to authoritarian regimes. Instead, Brazil mocks the mayhem of tangled bureaucracy. People are chewed up by long working hours, an oppressive political system, and excessive red tape. There are certainly bullying security to enforce the rules, keep people in their place and suppress the rebel terrorist threat, but these are nothing compared to the web of repression woven by emotionally blackmailing management. Desk clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is in charge of the thankless task of processing data concerning suspected dissenters. He discovers an error in the system that has led to a wrongful arrest, and seeks to do the right thing by rectifying it. This, in itself, causes problems, something that the regime does not like. Everything must run smoothly and according to the rules. As one domineering technocrat bawls at Sam when he goes to express his concern about a mishap, “Mistakes?! We don’t make mistakes!” In as unbending a system as this, people get swallowed whole.


Sam is disillusioned and also becomes enamoured by a woman who he has dreamed about, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), but who he weirdly happens to then meet. She takes him away on a voyage of discovery, sprinkled with danger and adventure along the way, as well as meeting the actual dissenter, a rebel plumber by the name of Harry Tuttle (a riproaring Robert de Niro at his very best), and invoking the disapproval of his best friend Jack Lint (a wonderfully malevolent Michael Palin). We explore the very nature of escapism, and how our daydreams can become reality, but we have to be very careful about how we pursue them.

Brazil is a truly haunting film that reveals some bitter truths about the modern condition (and the ending is to die for!).

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The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director – Bryan Singer
Writer – Christopher McQuarrie

Once in a while, a film comes along that takes you, and the world, completely by surprise. It creeps up on you without fanfare and then pounces on you unawares. The Usual Suspects is one of those films.

It has an exceptionally good line-up, but at the time, the actors were relatively unknown. Gabrielle Byrne plays a moody, no nonsense, yet moral criminal Dean Keaton. Benicio Del Toro is the husky, messed up Fred Fenster. Stephen Baldwin gives us a pithy Michael McManus. Kevin Pollack is Todd Hockney, a creeped out crim always watching his back. Chazz Palminteri is the irascible, irritable Dave Kujan of US Customs and Pete Postlethwaite puts in a magnificently malevolent performance as Kobayashi. They are all on top form, giving the film a great collaborative feel. However, the guy who steals the show (and that’s not all) has to be Kevin Spacey as the humble Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, who pins all of the pieces of this jumbled tale together, and makes it into the convincing, if (perhaps deliberately) confounding hit that it is. The premise is that one of the five criminals in a police line-up has wronged the legendary master criminal named Keyser Söze. Söze takes his revenge by setting up the criminals in a heist that takes them out one by one, each one suspecting the other of being the elusive Keyser Söze himself, but we never quite find out if they’re right. Or do we?

It is all eminently engaging, fun and cool! But who is Keyser Söze?

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A Taste of Honey (1961)

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Director – Tony Richardson

Producer – Tony Richardson

Writers – Shelagh Delaney

Manchester in the 1960s was a place of poverty and upheaval. Young schoolgirl Jo (Rita Tushingham) and her flashy yet poor mother Ellen (Dora Bryan) have to move to a new residence, run down and replete with peeling wallpaper and a single, unshaded lightbulb. Here they try to get by in the cramped, claustrophoic conditions. Jo is cynical about her mother’s string of unsuitable boyfriends, and is despondent because she can’t afford nice clothes to go out to meet boys herself. Underachieving at school, she harbours artistic aspirations, but keeps her creative light under a bushel. She happens to meet an endearing ship’s cook named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) while walking alongside one of the canals, and a sweet romance blossoms. This is counterpointed by her mother’s more lurid relationship with the flirtatious Peter (Robert Stephens). An affectionate connection between Jo and Jimmy grows, bleakly set against the grim, gritty northern backdrops. The issue of racial prejudice and tensions arises, since Jimmy is black, although was himself born in Liverpool, and is dealt with in a considered, sensitive and tactful manner for the time. A trip to Blackpool with her mother and Peter arises, but Jo is unimpressed by the tacky, tawdry tedium. Tempers become frayed, and Jo eventually throws a tantrum to berate Peter, but in turn gets rejected by her mother and is made to go home by herself, which she does distraught. She meets up with her boyfriend Jimmy again, but after a brief rendezvous, he tells her that he has to leave on his ship.

Jo’s mother plans to marry Peter, and leaves Jo to her own devices, who herself finds thankless work in a shoe shop. While watching a street parade she meets a new friend named Geoff (Murray Melvin), who she spends her spare time with. They become close, but Jo has an important confession to make. Geoff is considerate enough to help her out with her dilemma, conscientiously finding out how to care for and comfort her, but this is seen as effeminate and soppy, and there are questions about Geoff’s sexuality, another taboo that is delicately dealt with.

Fears about the future frustrate the Jo and her mother. The turbulent relationship between them, doomed or blessed to make the same mistakes, is beautifully depicted in its raw, tender way, that doesn’t embellish or romanticise, it is given an honest, brutally accurate representation. We see a young girl coming of age in the real world, and some of the difficulties that she has to face. This film asks many tough, serious questions, and reveals them with a mesmerising, heart-felt poignancy.

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The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) Poster

Director – Luis Buñuel

Producer – Gustavo Alatriste

Writer – Luis Buñuel

A quiet uprising of servants is fomenting as they talk about leaving while a banquet for the decadent upper middle classes is held. The everyday quirks and eccentricities of the stuffy rich elite slowly emerge, as do their hidden desires and prejudices. Windows are smashed, trays are dropped by discontented servants who promptly leave, and what’s that under the table?

The guests of the feast comment on the rude behaviour of the servants, and each other, chattering and sniping with some cracklingly witty, barbed lines, and then more mysterious matters begin to occur. The dinner guests find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable situation, unable to free themselves, frozen by some strange compulsion. Their encumbered state means that they become desperate and competitive for survival, cantankerously pecking at one another for status and authority. The smarter and more sympathetic of the group attempt to fathom the circumstances of the mystery, but it evades their wits, and some even end up losing them.

The group becomes sequestered in its own tempestuous world that exists within the confines of the stately mansion, not considering any of the activities happening outside. Their closed world offers them no sanctuary, it is just a stale, stagnant pool to listlessly stew in. Some may be affronted by the delineation of the upper classes in such a clear, unfettered way, which was just what Buñuel intended. He pulls no punches, and exposes the rotten core of their empty, hypocritical existences in a highly original and innovative way. Recommended to those who don’t like to be spoon-fed with obvious, predictable slush.

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