Category: 1968


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(A quick aside before I begin my actual review. Two main points. One, I watched this film in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It is now the wee hours of Thursday morning, and I’ve only just now had the chance to write this review. I’ve had to work many more hours this week than I had originally intended, and I stupidly kept putting off writing this review. So, I apologize if it is not my most well-written piece because this excellent film deserved a proper review. Second, we’re on a bit of a hot streak here on my blog. For this particular 50 film set, of which there are only 13 or so films left to watch, I’ve only given away 5 “A”s, counting the movie I’m about to review. And four of those five have been within my last ten reviews. So, it’s been a good time for me to write about the films I’m watching because otherwise this particular set has been mostly underwhelming to mediocre.)

There are two types of “sad” films. There are films that are sad because there is virtually no other way to approach their subject matter. These films involve genocide (Schindler’s List), terminal cancer (One True Thing), or the death of children. Other films are sad because they present truths about life and the human condition that we would rather ignore or look past. Synecdoche, New York is almost overwhelmingly depression for a variety of reasons, but perhaps, the most clear reason is the way it forces viewers to face their own mortality and the ultimate meaninglessness of our lives. A Single Man‘s portrayal of loneliness, isolation, and desperation are truly haunting, and I could tick off dozens of other films that I’ve reviewed that are overwhelmingly sad without being melodramatic about it. 1968’s Rachel, Rachel is one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen that falls into this latter category.

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It’s rather shocking that I find Rachel, Rachel as moving and soul-crushing as I do because I am clearly not the film’s target audience, and Paul Newman’s (The Color of Money) directorial debut does not seem like an easy candidate for a film that would age particularly well.  A movie that is very much the product of its late 1960s heritage as well as the obvious political sympathies of Paul Newman, Rachel, Rachel should, by all counts, come off as terribly naive and dated. It doesn’t; it doesn’t in the slightest. Never has the existential dread that comes from being stuck in a small town and controlled by the not necessarily malevolent but rarely benign machinations of others been so well-displayed. If you have ever felt lonely or like your life is rushing by with you as a mere observer, the powerful portrait that Rachel, Rachel paints may be overwhelming. It was for me.

Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward) is a 35 year old schoolteacher that lives under the thumb of her overbearing mother. A virgin with absolutely no excitement in life, Rachel’s quickly approaching middle age and knows she has nothing to show for it. The summer is approaching and when Rachel isn’t turning down invitations for social activity from her best friend, Calla (Estelle Parsons), or dinner invitations from her school principal, she’s dreading the end of the school year because she knows it means she will have nothing to do but pass the time at home with her widowed mother, making sandwiches and running errands and having no life of her own. It isn’t until Rachel meets a man from her childhood that she begins to make any decisions for herself, though her affair with the rakish Nick (James Olsen) proves to be anything but a fairytale romance.

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Easily, part of the reason why I thought I would find this film unappealing based on Netflix’s barely accurate plot description was that it is almost the archetype for countless, lesser films that followed. These are films that follow “wound tight woman learns to live when she meets a gregarious and young suitor with a true joie de vivre.” That’s more or less an entire subgenre of romantic dramas/comedies. What the other films fail to capture is the unerring vision of reality that Rachel, Rachel exudes in every scene (though it also indulges in the fantasies of the heroine but those are usually used for subversive reasons). Rachel, Rachel is a dark and unyielding look into the life of a woman whose path has been decided without her say from the start, and she may have reached the point where it’s too late to fix things. Any optimism in the film is tempered with healthy doses of unvarnished suffering, not just from Rachel but from nearly every person around her.

But, as insightful as the writing is, what truly makes Rachel, Rachel an under-appreciated and now obscure classic (but a classic nonetheless) is the frighteningly fierce and heartbreaking performance from Joanne Woodward. Without her, this film isn’t half as good as it is. With every line of her face and subtlety of expression or gesture, you feel the immense pain and sorrow that has totally consumed Rachel’s life. With the exception of Synecdoche‘s Caden Cotard, I’m not sure if I can think of a film character who seems so totally miserable,  but in a way that’s relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with depression. And when Rachel lets her guard down, Woodward ensures that the audience knows how difficult this is for her (and the writing makes it clear that opening herself up to Nick is a mistake). It is a truly masterful performance and it’s a shame that it hasn’t become iconic of powerful female acting.

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As I said earlier, I watched this nearly four days ago now so I’ll draw this review to a close. I feel like if I write any more, I’ll just muddle what I’ve already said. My recommendation for Rachel, Rachel is as simple as this. If, in your life, you have ever experienced the intense pangs of loneliness or isolation or existential desperation, Rachel, Rachel has the potential to become a profoundly moving experience. Though I did not cry any during the film, the sadness I felt during this film wasn’t of the crying variety. It was of a powerfully drawn picture of a spectrum of the human condition that most cinema would rather avoid. If you like your films with window dressing that obscures the sadder realities of life, Rachel, Rachel will not be your cup of tea. But, if you can brave its stormy thematic waters, you will discover a haunting and spiritually piercing film.

Final Score: A

 

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As someone who’s written one full-length screenplay (though I haven’t sold it yet) and that has also written about 30 pages or so of several other screenplays that I haven’t actually finished, I understand quite acutely the challenge of balancing attention-grabbing pacing with solid character development. It’s not an easy task and focusing too much on action or “plot spectacle” makes characters seem paper-thin and boring whereas a deficiency in action means the audience is going to fall asleep. You can’t ignore one for the other. And with 1968’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, the first hour of this satire of the snobbery and incompetence of the British aristocracy had me bored nearly to tears and it wasn’t until the doomed heroes went off to fight the Crimean war that the movie began to find its bearings and the right mix of character and spectacle.

The titular charge of Britain’s light cavalry brigade during the Crimean war remains one of history’s most famous tactical military errors that resulted in the annihilation of virtually the entire brigade as they charged head-long into oncoming artillery fire (and anyone who’s ever played Empire: Total War knows that’s a dumb idea). And The Charge of the Light Brigade focuses on the forming of the soon to be doomed cavalry, their training, and their eventual excursion to Turkey to face off against the Russians simply because England felt the need to go to war for appearance’s sake. And from the opening moments of the film, the arrogance of men such as Lord Cardigan (Trevor Howard) and Lord Lucan (Harry Andrews) let you know that even the noble intelligence of the few decent men such as Captain Nolan (David Hemmings) will be subsumed by impractical and ultimately fatal notions of honor and class standing.

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I must admit that perhaps part of my struggles with the early portions of the film is that I found a healthy portion of the dialogue to be completely incomprehensible. The accents are thick enough that any non-native Brits would have trouble understanding certain characters (particularly Lord Cardigan) but when the period slang is thrown in for good measure, the film becomes far more dense than you would expect. And while I could applaud the film’s decision to spend such a large chunk of the movie focusing on the lives of the members of the Light Brigade before they are called off to war, most of the time spent in Britain feels repetitive and over-blown. While I recognize that the film is meant to be a darkly comic satire of class snobbery, those themes have been handled better by others (Gosford Park) and The Charge of the Light Brigade never generated any real emotional connection early on (except for perhaps moments with Captain Nolan). There was simply a cavalcade of characters and little reason to care for any of them.

And to add to the film’s overly theatrical nature from the first half of the movie, virtually all of the performances were totally ham-fisted. Trevor Morgan turned the incompetent and tyrannical Lord Cardigan into a cartoonish figure. There was no nuance or subtlety there. Although Captain Nolan is likely meant to be the film’s sole sympathetic figure (except for perhaps Vanessa Redgrave’s Clarissa), David Hemmings too turned his part into more of a caricature than a real human being. With his thousand mile stare, Nolan seemed like a warrior poet spouting off Shakespearean nonsense rather than a sensible man forced to follow insensible orders. The only performance with any real heart was Vanessa Redgrave’s Clarissa which is a shame because her character was so shallow and peripheral to the main parts of the film.

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The film isn’t without its moments though. The animated interludes that begin the film and then occur periodically throughout are brilliant and really hit home on the idea that though the film serves as a satire of British class machinations, The Charge of the Light Brigade also shows historic parallels between the catastrophic decision to go to war against the Russians in the Crimean war and the calls during the 1960s for military action against the Soviet Union. In certain ways, this film is almost the anti-Alexander Nevvsky in that it uses a historical disaster to deflate current nationalism (rather than the other way around). And once they do finally get to Russia, the film brutalizes any notion of military honor or the glory of war by a graphic (for its time) depiction of the actual horrors of war and the price the British paid for such a foolish venture.

It is truly a shame that the film becomes a cross-section of an almost excruciatingly slow first half (though still with the great animated sequences) and then a truly brilliant and scathing denouement. One could make the argument that the last half wouldn’t carry the same weight without the first half, but there’s just no excuse for how dull and meandering the beginning of the film seemed. It took nearly twenty minutes before any character felt truly distinguished from the rest so even as it focused on character, the film showed no knack for crafting unique and engaging characters to attach yourself to. If you’re a fan of military epics, stick around for the final half but everybody else can probably find a better way to pass their evening.

Final Score: B-

 

With 1965’s Repulsion, Roman Polanski proved himself to be the master of psycho-sexual horror. While the film took a while to get off it’s feet (apparently a trademark of Polanski pictures), few films have left me feeling so completely disturbed. With the unsettling subversions of Freudian sexual iconography (let’s not get into the hand’s extending from the walls) as well perversions of Catholic imagery, Repulsion transcended Catherine Deneuve’s stilted acting to scare the holy hell out of generations of viewers. Polanksi’s 1968 classic, Rosemary’s Baby, is far more well-known although ultimately less satisfying. It can be genuinely eerie and Polanski’s stylistic direction is as memorable as ever. But even more so than the tepidly paced Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby tests the patience of its viewers and Mia Farrow’s performance is underwhelming to say the least.

At a conceptual level, Rosemary’s Baby could have even eclipsed the psychological mind-games of Repulsion. It was only in the actual execution where it really faltered. Struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his stay at home wife Rosemary (Radio Days‘ Mia Farrow) have just rented a room in a fancy apartment with a dark and storied past in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They have two neighbors on their floor, the kindly but eccentric Castavets, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer). Guy and Rosemary want to have a baby, and after Rosemary has a nightmare where she’s raped by a demon as naked occultists (including her husband and the Castavets) watch. Shortly thereafter, Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant and slowly comes to the conclusion that her husband and neighbors are conspiring to hurt her and her baby. Is it real or is it all in her head?

One can applaud Polanski’s attempt to delay the introduction of any of the horror or thriller elements to the story if it meant he had spent the beginning of the film developing the characters in a meaningful way. That isn’t what happens. Although the film makes liberal use of foreshadowing (Rosemary’s old landlord detailing the history of their new apartment building, eerie chanting at night, the sudden suicide of a younger neighbor), the film makes you wait for any real plot development. And that time isn’t spent making us sympathize or understand Rosemary and Guy. Though it’s obvious Guy is a bit flippant and sarcastic, all you really learn about Rosemary throughout the entire film is that she’s willing to go to extreme lengths to take care of her unborn child. Compared to Polanski heroines like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, she is as one-dimensional as you can imagine.

However, from the second that Tess has her nightmare involving her rape by Satan, you realize you’re still in the world of Roman Polanski (pre-the murder of his wife by Charles Manson). During Rosemary’s multiple dream sequences (the film has Rosemary dream multiple times so that you are never really sure whether her nightmare was real or a dream), the film gains a surreal, Lynchian quality (though I suppose, since Polanski came first, it’s insulting to compare him to Lynch) that breaks the monotony of much of the rest of the film. Whether it’s a sudden stylistic shift where the film looks like it was shot on home video, or using hand-held cameras (Polanski was highly influenced by the French New Wave), Polanski infects the viewers with the same unease and paranoia that’s gripping the young and increasingly unhinged Rosemary.

Mia Farrow comes off (similar to Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls) as slightly touched in the head and not quite in the way the role calls for. With her high-pitched voice, affected manner of speech, and general obliviousness to the world around her, you sometimes wonder if she’s a little disabled mentally. Although you innately sympathize with Rosemary’s situation (her doctor ignores her severe pregnancy pains, her husbands claims that the night of her demon nightmare he had sex with her while she was asleep), her performance alienates you because she seems so detached from the situation happening around her. It’s almost as if Mia Farrow doesn’t realize the severity of what’s going on in Rosemary’s world as her two modes are passive obliviousness or campish over-acting. She never finds a balance between the two.

Thankfully, the rest of the supporting performances are top-notch. Ruth Gordon excels as the nosy, talkative, and flamboyant Minnie Castevet. When she whirls into a scene, you may not catch every word out of her motor mouth, but you’ll certainly know she’s acting circles around everyone else in the scene. I’ve heard some call her performance “hammy” but it’s what the role called for. I haven’t seen any of the other nominees but Ruth Gordon’s Oscar seems well-deserved. John Cassavetes is a proto-Don Draper (with an even darker side) as the glib and narcissistic Guy. Sidney Blackmer also nails the difficult part of simultaneously being a kindly grandfather figure as well as an ominous, foreboding menace. The interplay between the three lead supporting stars is wonderful and nearly makes up for the non-presence of the actual star.

The film’s decision to wait until the very last scene to reveal whether Rosemary was crazy or actually at the center of a Satanic conspiracy was well-played (and assuages the primary complaint I have with The Exorcist). Although I would have certainly preferred the film to come down on the other side of conclusion it followed through on, the film’s last twist at least made the ending more bearable. While the film gives Rosemary plenty of evidence that she’s part of some plot, most of it sounds like crazy conspiracy theory talk if you look at it too deeply. Polanski gives you ample reason to believe that perhaps Rosemary is just got a few screws loose (and with Mia Farrow’s addled performance, it’s easy to believe it). Although the film can get a little too heavy-handed with its occult symbolism (666 makes numerous appearances), the film will leave you torn as to what’s real and what’s imaginary.

For classic horror fans, Rosemary’s Baby‘s place in the established canon makes it required viewing. It’s fans often see an undercurrent of feminist commentary (which would be in line with Polanski’s body of work) on the isolation and mistreatment of modern women, but I didn’t really catch that. I can see why people believe it’s there, but I don’t necessarily buy that was Polanski’s plan all along. At the end of the day, Rosemary’s Baby is a psychological thriller with enough truly inspired moments to warrant recommendation but at the same time, it is burdened by enough troublesome flaws that it doesn’t come whole-heartedly.

Final Score: B-

 

I’m one of the bigger Beatles fans I know. I’ve got physical copies of all of their studio albums. I have in-depth (though constantly shifting) opinions about where each album and/or song fits in the Beatles pantheon, and I’ve seen the Beatle’s Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas (it was amazing). I could listen to them all day long and never grow tired because they have such a depth of sounds. It’s one of the great shames of the era that I was born that I will never get to see them perform live. However, I honestly think that Joe Cocker’s soulful rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends” is simply superior in every way to the original song. Hearing his earthy and bluesy delivery, it’s impossible to not be turned into an emotional trainwreck, and his interpretation of the number just completely alters the emotional impact of the song (so that it actually has an emotional impact). My sister and I were debating which version is better (she prefers the Beatles) and that inspired me to make this my Song of the Day. So, without further ado, check out the footage below of Cocker performing this number at the very first Woodstock (and forgive him for his epileptic seizures/fits).

Well, in today’s sad news, Levon Helm, the drummer/vocalist for classic rock legends the Band, has passed away after finally succumbing to his battle with throat cancer. It was just two days ago that his family had reported that he was in the “final stages” of his cancer, and it seems that they were tragically correct. My song of the day yesterday was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by the Band as well, but Levon Helm is enough of a massive figure in American music history (if not in terms of public recognition then at least in terms of continued influence) to merit the Band making this list two days in a row. The entire world of alternative country wouldn’t exist were it not for the Band and Southern rock would have never been anything more than a regional phenomenon. The Band will always be legends and Levon Helm’s voice provided much of our memories with the Band. I woke up to “The Weight” on my alarm clock every week day during high school for over two years. I’m a self-described agnostic but “The Weight” remains a spiritual palate cleanser and just hearing it makes me feel uplifted. R.I.P. Levon Helm. We’re all going to miss you.

Is there anything more frustrating than a film with honest moments of pure brilliance and a gorgeous aesthetic that is dragged down by the complete lack of a keen editorial eye? It’s become almost a recurring theme on this blog that there are movies I want to love but can’t because they are either A) excessively long (Das Boot,Inland Empire although I still love those films. Their interminable length simply kept them from receiving perfect scores) or B) prone to absurdist and pretentious flights of fancy that seem to have no place in the film (The Shop on Main Street, Stroszek man I keep talking about movies I really do love regardless of their flaws. I’m sure their are films that frustrate me like this. This review will be one of these films!). Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most beloved films in all of science fiction and considered a masterpiece by many. While it assuredly has a unique and distinct visual style with special effects that have stood the test of time and a brilliant sound track, the moments of the film that truly work are more often than not offset by the moments that make you wonder if Stanley Kubrick had ingested large amounts of acid (and not in that good Hunter S. Thompson kind of way) or had any idea what kind of story he wanted to tell while dragging the film on a good 30-40 minutes than it should have lasted.

Describing the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a little bit tricky as it is a mostly episodic affair with recurring themes and symbols tying the episodes together. Beginning with the “dawn of man,” the film chronicles early human-like ancestors exposure to a black monolith that bestows intelligence upon them. This of course leads to the discover of weapons as a tool for violence and the film suddenly fast-forwards to 2001 where man is in space. The moon (which is now some sort of colony) has been quarantined from the rest of humanity for initially unknown reasons. It turns out that another of these black monoliths has been discovered and its effects are so powerful and potentially dangerous that its existence is kept a secret from the public. The meatiest plot of the film occurs next when 18 months later, two astronauts (and three scientists in hibernation) are on a spaceship to Jupiter alongside the artificial intelligence, H.A.L. 9000, when HAL suddenly decides to kill everyone on the ship. The last segment of the film goes “beyond the infinite” and to be completely honest, I still have no clue what that section of the film was about.

The film remains an almost unparalleled visual delight. Were it not for Kubrick’s attempts to shoehorn a Arthur C. Clarke story into things, I would almost be willing to simply look at the still gorgeous effects of the film and be okay. Whether it’s the film’s soundtrack which makes expert use of many classical music tracks (“Also Sprach Zarathustra” is the most obvious example) or the stellar sound design which really draws you into the film’s world, the movie combines technical wizardry with aesthetic pleasure. Anyone who has ever seen a Stanley Kubrick film knows that he is one of the undisputed masters of style, and 2001: A Space Odyssey could very well be exhibit A for these claims. The color palette is rich and evocative, and when the vast majority of pre-Star Wars science fiction has aged so bad to the point of being absurd, Kubrick’s vision of a near future doesn’t seem that unrealistic and the effects that brought it to life will likely age far better than any of the computer graphics of today’s so called cutting edge films. To boot, the film’s transfer to Blu-Ray was simply stunning.

The film’s problems are legion however. It’s only 2 and a half hours long (which while lengthy is nowhere near the marathons that are Das Boot or Lawrence of Arabia) but it seems like it lasts an eternity. The only section of the film which can be said to contain an actual plot that progresses somewhere is the section with HAL (which is by far the most interesting section of the film and the scene where Dave [one of the astronauts on the ship] essentially murders HAL as HAL begs for his life is the best scene of the film). Too much time is spent on mind-numbingly slow sequences of little to no import of the actual story of the film. For the most part, they help to create the setting of the film and establish Kubrick’s theory that humanity has changed very little over its existence, but there have to be ways to do that and keep the film entertaining. The film’s biggest sin though is its final section, “Beyond the Infinite,” whose meaning is completely beyond me. I enjoy David Lynch mind screws but I can always theorize as to what his films are about. I have no clue what was happening there and that to me seems to be a problem. I can’t even begin to guess as to what Kubrick was trying to achieve.

Only devoted cinephiles should sit through this. The average movie-goer will be even more bored than I was because they won’t be interested in devouring the technical and aesthetic aspects of the film. However, if you are a cinephile, the odds are that you’ve already seen this film. It remains one of the most polarizing films of an already polarizing director. I’ve gotten to the point with Stanley Kubrick where I’m convinced that his only two masterpieces are A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. With every other film, he is simply a master of style over substance, and 2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps his most pretentious undertaking because he wants you to believe so completely that there are higher meanings to this film when it seems apparent to this viewer that those higher meanings simply aren’t there or aren’t as profound as many of this film’s fans seem to believe.

Final Score: B

I’m already regretting my decision to preface my review of the video game, El Shaddai: Ascent of the Metatron, with a series of quotes that I associate with the 1960’s psychedelic movement. I don’t regret that decision because I’ve decided that El Shaddai wasn’t “trippy” enough to warrant that introduction but because I’ve come across a book that is so inherently psychedelic and acid-soaked in nature that only the product of that time could ever really introduce the book’s contents. I recently finished Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction novel, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and it has instantly become my new favorite nonfiction book that I’ve ever read, it is simply in competition for one of my favorite books period. Channeling the manic energy and hallucinatory nature of the era, Tom Wolfe has fashioned the ultimate account of the hippie generation with language and details that immerse you so deeply in their world, you may leave the book with a contact high.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a chronicle of one very specific subset of the hippie movement of the 1960’s. Actually, you could say that this story follows the progenitors of the entire San Francisco hippie scene. Beginning with the release of noted author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) from prison for a marijuana charge and at the height of his reputation as the Godfather of the West coast psychedelic movement, the book is mostly spent in flashbacks to Kesey’s founding of a group known as the Merry Pranksters. After being exposed to LSD as part of a government experiment in the 1950’s, Kesey became an immediate disciple of the powers of “mind-expansion” and began to introduce it to his circle of literary friends and eventually to a whole generation of “heads”. Recruiting a group of fellow “believers”, Kesey embarked on a cross-country bus ride in a multi-colored Day Glo bus named “Furthur” on a trip to experience America and spread the word. Known for their elaborate costumes and aggressive promotion of acid, the Pranksters gained a reputation across the entire country that put them in touch with the law, Hells’ Angels, and was responsible for the success of the Grateful Dead.

The book is absolutely chock full of memorable characters and incidents. Ken Kesey will instantly draw you in with his sheer charisma and eccentricity, contrasted with his general down-to-Earthness (relatively speaking) as conveyed through Wolfe’s engaging writing style. For fans of beat generation classic, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of the principal protagonists of the book has his real life inspiration in Neal Cassady, the bus driver and hyper-active perpetual motion machine. There’s the arrogant acid manufacturer Owlsley, who ends up having a bad trip on his own acid. You get Mountain Girl, the youngest (at first) of Kesey’s devotees who isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with the Hells’ Angels and earn the respect of the most bad ass group of bikers in the country. You’ll meet Sandy Lehman-Haupt, the young sound engineer who will forever revolutionize all of the noises and sound effects you associate with the “acid rock” era while simultaneously battling his own inner demons under the influence of a not inconsiderable amount of acid. And this list is only really beginning to scratch the surface of all of the crazy and colorful characters who inhabit Wolfe’s pages.

Wolfe’s biggest strength, besides the simply fascinating nature of his true story, is the way, much like Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that he places you in the mindset of his characters through beautifully descriptive language. This isn’t a cut and dry account of a bunch of hippies going on a road trip across the country. Through extensive interviews with the participants of the trip as well as substantial access to their large vaults of recordings of the trip, Wolfe uses his language as a way to let you know what this trip was like for those on the trip. You read it, and you almost get an idea of what it’s like to be these characters and be zonked out of your mind on LSD. He describes both the visual effects of their drug use but also the spiritual and emotional effects in such vivid terms, that you can’t help but feel as if you were there. By the end of this book, you feel as if you’ve ingested everything the characters ingested and that you’ve been on this massive spiritual and physical journey across America. Honestly, if you can read this and not feel a little bit curious about what was inspiring all of this madness, then you might be about as square as they get.

For any one who was part of the 1960’s social upheaval or any kids my age who just always felt they were born in the wrong era, this is a must read. Tom Wolfe writes in a simple and unpretentious prose so you don’t feel a need to constantly reach for a dictionary; yet that doesn’t stop his diction and vocabulary from being exquisitely beautiful and/or evocative. For those with more right-leaning political beliefs, this book will probably offend you and just re-confirm every negative suspicion you had about the hippies, but for those of you who are a little more open-minded and curious, you could find your long-held beliefs and presuppositions about the era challenged and bettered through Wolfe’s hard-hitting journalism. It’s one of those great books that isn’t too difficult to get through, as compared to Gravity’s Rainbow, but it still leaves you with so much to think about and analyze when you’re done. It’s a classic deserving of the title.

Final Score: A+

Watching this blog affords me the opportunity to watch a large number of movies that I would have never seen before, and quite often, those films turn to out to be spectacular movies that I would have been sad to miss if I had known how good they were. The Girl With the Pistol is not one of those movies. In fact, it’s easily a movie that I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing and I regret the loss of nearly two hours of my life that I spent watching this film. To be completely honest, after about an hour, I stopped watching it solely and began looking over my Netflix queue praying that the next films on my list will be more interesting than this film. While a glaring and technical problem (that I’ll get to shortly) caused some of my vast irritation, it was mostly that this was an incredibly boring and unfunny movie that I really wish hadn’t been on my list.

The plot of the film is such. Asunta is a young and beautiful Sicilian woman (she looks like a Sicilian Barbara Streisand) who is kidnapped by local mafiosi Maccaluso Vincenzo whose cronies think she is a different woman. They have sex on the promise that Vincenzo will marry Asunta. However, Vincenzo flees the next morning to England. In order to reclaim her lost honor, Asunta follows him with the titular pistol hoping to kill him. Nothing funny happens the whole film. God it was so boring. Also, for God knows what reason, this film was dubbed. So it was like watching a cheesy kung fu without the awesome kung fu. The only reason this isn’t getting a straight F is the possibility that the terrible dub job covered up good writing in the original Italian. Otherwise, this film has legitimately no redeeming factors and is easily the worst film that I’ve watched for this blog and one of the worst movies that I ever watched.

Final Score: D

For the last ten years or so, the zombie apocalypse scenario has been in vogue, so to speak. Starting with Zak Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead to Shaun of the Dead to Zombieland to one of the most criticallly acclaimed shows that is currently on television being a zombie drama, The Walking Dead, making quality zombie pictures is a pretty decent way to turn a profit. Hell, you can even write humor books about zombies and make money like The Zombie Survival Guide which I have purchased for zombie-loving friends in the past. I mentioned his name a second ago, but this genre would not exist today and would not be so over-whelmingly popular if it weren’t for George A. Romero. He is to zombie films what Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper are to slasher flicks. He’s the godfather of the genre. And his original zombie film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, is in all probability the first great zombie film ever made that rose above it’s B-movie origins.

The movie is about a group of survivors who are caught in the middle of the zombie uprising. They are holed up in a little farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. From this group of people, you have pretty much every archetypal figure in zombie movie lore. The shell-shocked survivor. The infected survivor. The bad-ass black guy. The couple in love. The asshole control freak who does more harm than good. This film created the stock characters of the genre but did those characters better than its copy cats ever would. Duane Jones plays Ben who becomes the de facto leader of the group and much like this film’s desires to not simply be a B-horror film, Duane’s performance is quite good, especially by horror movie standards. I applaud the film’s decision in 1968 to cast a black performer as the lead of the film in a film that is in no way about race, but it simply chose to make a black character the strong leader/bad ass figure.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is how well it was made for how obviously small its budget was. The only real special effects in the film are for the zombie make-up and even that isn’t anything particular special beyond making the people paler. The film is primarily shot all in and around one house. There aren’t many action sequences. In reality, the film is very much a drama that just happens to be a zombie horror film. The character’s biggest enemies often aren’t the zombies but the other survivors themselves. And when things inevitably become even more catastrophic, it was their inability to work together and cooperate that kept them from success. Romero’s films generally have some sort of social message in them such as Dawn of the Dead‘s strict anti-commercialism spiel. I’m not entirely sure what the social message of this film was. However, it is easily one of the first horror films that tried to be equally a character study, and in that area it succeeds quite well.

The movie has one of the darker and more ironic endings of any of the horror films I’ve seen. It’s really quite good. Alright, here’s the low-down. Even if you don’t like horror movies. Even if you especially don’t like zombie movies, I think you simply need to watch this one and give it a chance. There’s a reason why, even 40 years later, Romero is still one of the kings of the genre. Along with the original Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead stands to me as one of the greatest zombie films ever made.

Final Score: A-