Movie list challenge – A Clockwork Orange

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

A Clockwork Orange

Rank: 37
List Appearances: 7/10
Average Rank: 57
Highest Rank: 35, on Hollywood Reporter
Total Final Score: 4242

I have never watched A Clockwork Orange before. As a child, I was not allowed to watch it, and as an adult, I just never quite got around to it. I knew it was an important film, because it was iconic, was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and was 46th on AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies list. I thought I had seen so much of the movie before ever viewing it that I was certain I knew exactly what would happen.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971 by the amazing director Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess. At the time, it was rated X, and it’s not hard to see why, knowing 70s sensibilities towards sex (and to a lesser extent violence). The movie follows and is narrated by Alex DeLarge, a teen criminal. He leads his group of “Droogs”, three other teen hooligans, as they savagely commit violence against innocents. When an older woman is accidentally murdered, Alex is sentenced to prison for fourteen years, two of which he serves and then undergoes a procedure to “correct” him.

The first hour of the film focuses on their “ultraviolence.” The opening title sequence cuts straight to the zoomed in face of Alex and his one fake eyelash, his face turned downwards, eyes only just visible from under his bowler hat, and a glowering look that shows his calculating nature. The Korova Milkbar (a bar which serves milk laced with narcotics) is his location, and as the focus zooms out, you can see his gang and the milkbar filled with patrons and creepy tables and statues of aroused female forms. The image made me uncomfortable from the beginning (I’ll admit I’m a massive prude), but it certainly helped prime me for the movie I was about to watch.

Alex and his “droogs” are pure villains. They revel in beating a poor defenseless homeless man as much as they do men of their ilk. They drive down in the middle of a country road, forcing unsuspecting motorists off the road. When they come upon a house with a glowing “home” at the front gate, they stop their car to commit more atrocities, this time on a writer and his wife. They beat him within an inch of his life and gang rape his wife, all while Alex dances and bashes and kicks while singing “Singin’ in the Rain,” clearly bastardizing the heart-warming song.

Now I have to admit. I’m still struggling to decide if I loved this movie or not. I know I never have to watch it again, putting myself through the uncomfortable first hour to get to the morality tale is a hard ask. I felt physically ill in parts. Images (and suggestions) of gang rape and cutting clothes off women made me writhe in my seat. But for all of his ultraviolence and overt sexuality, there was an inherent message that was not lost on me. I am supposed to be opposed to the first half because if I wasn’t, I would be a sociopath like Alex.

Midway through the movie Alex talks to the prison chaplain about a new procedure, called the Ludovico technique. He’s interested in the rehabilitation therapy as it means a reduced sentence. The chaplain rightly tells him that being good is a choice, and that the procedure itself removes that choice altogether. Alex catches the eye of the Minister of the Interior’s and is signed up for the procedure. It is an experimental aversion therapy that rehabilitates criminals by making them incapable of committing violence. Alex is forced to watch images of sex and violence, eyes grotesquely kept open while eye drops are dropped into his eyes every second he’s watching. Soon, Alex becomes physically ill at the suggestion of violence, sex, and the most tragic, the 9th Symphony by Beethoven.

These are painful scenes to watch, knowing that Malcolm McDowell did actually end up with a sliced cornea from these scenes, causing Kubrick (notorious for being an obsessive perfectionist) to cut the section short.

When Alex is finally finished with his procedure, he is released back to the world, defenseless to protect himself from harm, unable to perform sex, and incapable of listening to Beethoven. The film pulls no punches to show this either. The question of right and wrong is blurred, as you start to sympathize with Alex after seeing him beaten by his previous victims, and the ongoing subject of social acceptance is explored in a great scene towards the end when he returns home.

As I write this, I can absolutely accept its placement on this list. It is a hard watch, and one I will likely never forget.

 

******

This week, as I wanted to really wrap my head around A Clockwork Orange, I decided that I would only watch and write one review. But next week, I plan to write three reviews, two for movies I have also never seen (The Lives of Others and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and one for a movie I have seen so much I can quote it in my sleep (Star Wars: A New Hope).

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Movie list challenge – Raiders of the Lost Ark

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Rank: 25
List Appearances: 6/10
Average Rank: 21
Highest Rank: 7
Total Final Score: 6150

“When I grow up, I want to be an archaeologist!” I said when I was 7.

“Do you even know how to spell archaeology?” I was often asked. Short answer: yes.

I loved history from an early age, and I reckon it had a lot to do with Indiana Jones. He was my hero. I wanted to be him, finding artifacts rooted in historical significance. I was certain I would find the lost ark or Atlantis. I did realize that I was unlikely to run away from bad guys or own a whip and that the most action I’d see would be a tiny chisel and brush, but I wanted to taste the victory of a great find.

 

Needless to say that I love Indiana Jones, and Raiders of the Lost Ark will always be one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. It seems that position is held by many others, given its placement on this list. I can’t even begin to say which parts are my favorites, because I love every scene, every detail, every quip.

In the opening scene, from the iconic hat and whip, to that bag of sand (that probably was exactly the right weight before he let some out) to the boulder rolling downhill, you are fully transported into Indy’s world. There is no ambiguity about who the villains are, though I’ve realized in recent viewings that Indiana is the villain at the start, taking the local indigenous peoples’ holy relics.

That sentiment aside, this is a good-hearted ride. The action sequences hold to this day, thanks to some great stunt work and practical effects. The car ride, the airplane fight, the chase through the crowded streets of Cairo, and the hilarious sword-fight turned gunshot scene (which was fully an improvised take by Ford). I still cringe incessantly during the Well of Souls sequence; my heart beats faster, worried about both Indiana and Marion as their torchlight fades (even after possibly hundreds of viewings).

I struggle to say which Stephen Spielberg movie I love the most, but Raiders is always top on the list. I can’t think of a better movie that belongs on the top 100 of all time.

Movie list challenge – The Princess Bride

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

The Princess Bride

Rank: 84
List Appearances: 4/10
Average Rank: 64
Highest Rank: 31 on Hollywood Reporter
Total Final Score: 1144

The Princess Bride is absolutely delightful. It can be classified as an adventure, fantasy, romantic comedy, fairy tale. It is endlessly quotable, endearing, and universally adored. Every time I watch it I find myself grinning from ear-to-ear and miming the lines with the actors. Even over 30 years since it’s release, it holds up for new generations to enjoy.

The charm of the movie comes from a certain child-like whimsy. William Goldman, the screenwriter of such great films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, wrote the book in the early 70s for his daughters. Rob Reiner was one in a line of directors that aimed to adapt the book into a movie. It had sat in development hell for years with several actors tagged to play the part of Wesley, but the perfect blend was finally found. Reiner allowed the comedic elements the exact amount of time, instead of lingering on each line. Such as my favorite quote, “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”, being delivered in a quick repetition that could very easily be missed. Reiner found the perfect cast to tell the story, from the grandfather, Peter Faulk, to Andre the Giant as Fezzik (my personal fave character). And he helped start the careers of many of the younger actors (Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin).

I must be honest, though. I have struggled to write anything further about The Princess Bride. It’s just an enjoyable, light-hearted movie that everyone should see sometime in their lives, if not several dozen times.

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Unemployed

“How’d it go?” he asked me.

Before I was down the street, I had called my husband, stopping to strip off my blazer with my briefcase tucked between my legs. The Friday afternoon sun bore down on me, slowly melting the makeup on my face.

“Really well!” I told him, excited. “…Of course, that probably means I didn’t get the job.”

He let out a mirthless laugh.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” I said. “It’s so perfect for me. Honestly, it hasn’t even been two weeks since my retrenchment.”

He paused. Only three days before he had been the symbol of strength, telling me to leave the money worries behind and focus on me.

“So tell me all about it,” he finally said.

Monday morning at 8am, I received the call. “How’d you think you went?” the recruiter asked.

I knew from the question I had won the position.

I was right.

Movie list challenge – Whiplash

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Whiplash

Rank: 88
List Appearances: 5/10
Average Rank: 72
Highest Rank: 43 on IMDb Top 250
Total Final Score: 1050

Whiplash is a movie about jazz! Where director Damien Chazelle celebrated it with the delightful La La Land, in this film, he shows the all-consuming pursuit of perfection.

If I’m being honest, I was surprised to see this one on the list. I watched it last year and admittedly loved it for the powerful and complete performance of the great JK Simmons. I also was uncertain what I could gain from a second viewing, believing, foolishly, that it was a once-off type of movie, like Requiem for a Dream. It leaves a lasting impression, for sure, but it’s a tough watch. It may need to come with a trigger warning.

Whiplash starts with a black screen and the sound of drums building to a crescendo. The screen opens into a hallway outside a drum practice room with our main character, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller), practicing a non-standard drum set. The camera slowly travels closer to him. As it enters the doorway a voice tells us the camera was actually Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), listening to the untapped potential of a freshman drummer. In this first scene, their dynamic as teacher and student is defined. It is a toxic bully-victim relationship.

Fletcher is condescending, foul-mouthed, and aggressive. In the first Studio Band practice session Neiman attends, a trombonist is flat, leading to an explosive scene in which an overweight player is bullied about his weight and his inability to know if he was flat or not. Fletcher’s face is within an inch of his, and you can almost feel the spittle from his tirade on your flesh. Not long after that, he throws a chair at Neiman’s head for not keeping tempo. Because this is the most prestigious music school and Fletcher is the best of the best, these students just take it. When most people would have punched Fletcher out by now, they just cower and accept it.

At home, Neiman sits with family at the dinner table. When they ignore him or his efforts to make the studio band, he’s arrogant and dismissive of them. His pursuit to be one of the greatest drummers alive means he has no time for relationships and friendships, and he drives everyone away. Meanwhile he practices until his hands bleed, tapes them up, and continues.

Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the film, showing a frenetic energy to his editing as shots of drums, cymbals, and close ups of Neiman (sometimes not Teller) help to show real drum play without Teller, who was a rock drummer before the movie but not a jazz drummer. Chazelle loosely based the story on his experience as a young musician. He shows a great passion for the music behind the story and the stories about the jazz musicians that clearly shaped him. It was with Whiplash that he had his breakout success, and he hasn’t made a wrong turn yet. Since Whiplash‘s release in 2014, Chazelle has won best director for La La Land (2016) and First Man was released in 2018, with critical success.

It is a brilliant film and one that should be viewed at least once.

Check in on Friday for my next review on the instant classic, The Princess Bride.