Week 7: Chicken Run (2000)

(Source: Deadline.com https://www.google.com/amp/s/deadline.com/2020/06/netflix-chicken-run-sequel-1202967103/amp/)

Overview

Week 7 is here! And by that I mean, of course, that I watched the Week 7 movie finally when, in reality, it has been like 5 weeks since Week 6. Am I ashamed of this? A little bit. Should I be? Absolutely not. And here’s why:

  1. Not sure if you heard about it, but there is a global pandemic. The anxiety from that cataclysmic, world-ending-esque event alone is enough to paralyze me on any given day.
  2. I started a new job, which will always require a lot of focus and time. Oh, and did I mention there is a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. So, I am learning everything and meeting new people remotely. Again, time and focus.

And honestly, those are my only two excuses. I really thought more would come to me once I started the numbered list thing. Regardless, now is the time to move forward.

This week’s challenge was to watch a stop-motion film. I could’ve easily phoned this one in because one of my favorite films of all time is Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and I could’ve written a 4000 word blog about that in my sleep. But, for you, I decided to go back and revisit a film I’d only seen once when I was around 7-years-old, Chicken Run. Let’s get to it!

Film Details

If ever there was a juggernaut in the stop-motion animation space, it would definitely be Aardman and Director Nick Park. The aforementioned collaboration is responsible for creating perhaps the most beloved stop-motion characters of all time, Wallace and Gromit. Chicken Run is a stop-motion, claymation film from the collaborating studios of Aardman Animations and DreamWorks. The film is widely known for being a cinematic achievement in the area of stop-motion as it came out at a time when feature-length stop motion pictures were not common (spoiler alert: they still aren’t common). Additionally, it is the also the highest grossing stop-motion film of all time. According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed north of $224 million combined in domestic and international box offices. In a way, Chicken Run really demanded to be the choice for Week 7, so I was excited to give it another look.

Thoughts

It would be criminal to start a review of any stop-motion film without first addressing the art. Similar to comic books, animated films have to be judged by the quality of the art as much as they are judged by the quality of the narrative. In this case, I am happy to report that the art in this movie – still to this day, I might add – is absolutely jaw-dropping. And what’s really interesting about this is that I am not really a fan of the character design (chickens with teeth? eww.). Usually, disliking something as fundamental as the character design would mean bad news for my thoughts on the movie but, in this case, the quality of animation was so high that the characters themselves were not the focal point.

Which brings me to the crux of my thoughts on this movie. The one characteristic of Chicken Run that makes it a remarkable cinematic achievement is that it wasn’t limited by its medium. It was as if they wrote and designed this movie focused solely on the narrative and all decisions made were agnostic of the animation. The reason I say that is that the filmmakers attempt many things I would not expect in a stop-motion film: legitimate slapstick comedy, storms with lightning, mid-air battle sequences, the list goes on. But they did all of those things and I’d have to imagine that is because they prioritized their story and basically said “we’ll figure it out” on the animation side of things. They clearly took zero shortcuts and it’s extraordinarily admirable.

Now for the rest of the film which, frankly, is slightly underwhelming. Despite great voice acting performances, the narrative is one-dimensional and predictable. And yes, with any kids movie there is going to be a certain level of predictability. But this movie didn’t do anything new with its character builds or inter-character relationships to add a layer of intrigue or uniqueness. For that reason, it struggled to keep my attention.

Additionally, the British-style comedy that often appears in Aardman productions is not my personal favorite. I remember being floored when another Aardman production, Shaun the Sheep, got rave reviews because I found it incredibly boring. So, I’ll just chalk that up as British humor not being my cup of tea (see what I did there?).

Overall

The story itself is nothing of significance in comparison to the artwork and execution. To love Chicken Run is to love the artform of stop-motion animation and I really do think it is as simple as that. It’s also worth noting that the sequel to Chicken Run has been picked up by Netflix and is expected to join their catalog in 2021.

Kernel Score: 7.2/10

Next Week

Week 8’s challenge is to watch a film “Set During a Historic War.” And, because I loved Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods from earlier this year, I’m definitely going with a Vietnam War movie. The question is which one… I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Keep an eye on our Facebook page this week for a chance to help choose which film I’ll watch next. Thanks for reading!

Week 5: ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979)

Overview

Welcome to Week 5…. ish of the 52-Week Movie Challenge (Look all I am saying is please don’t count the days between these posts). This week’s challenge was to choose an early film of a famous actor. For a little bit of fun, I put the choice of actor to a vote on our Facebook page and, unsurprisingly, Meryl Streep (aka The GOAT) won in landslide fashion. With the issue of which actor squared away, I only had one decision left: The Film. For me this was easy. Kramer vs. Kramer has long been on my list despite the fact that I had zero prior knowledge of the plot or who was involved. Do you ever have that happen? Where there’s something you want to do or see and you have no idea why but still the urge persists? Just me? Okay, I digress. Anywho, I chose Kramer vs. Kramer and you can read my full thoughts (beware spoilers) below.

Film Details

Winner of five Academy Awards, Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 drama based on the Avery Coman novel of the same name. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, the film tells the story of Ted (Hoffman) and Joanna Kramer (Streep), a couple who suddenly find themselves on the brink of divorce and a lengthy and nasty custody battle over their seven-year-old son Billy (Justin Henry). Both Meryl Streep (Best Supporting Actress) and Dustin Hoffman (Best Actor) took home Oscars for their performances.

Thoughts

I feel the need to add a caveat at the beginning of this review because it is as if someone built a movie specifically for me. You know by now that I am an absolute sucker for a human story. In my opinion, nothing beats real human relationships. The depth and complexity of human relationships juxtaposed against the simplicity and routineness of everyday life is among the most beautiful narrative tools that exist. When used effectively, I believe it creates cinematic moments that are more emotionally impactful than anything outside of this genre can achieve. So, Kramer vs. Kramer already had a leg up in my book based on its subject matter alone. That said, this movie does a lot really really well. So let’s dive into it.

The first signal that Kramer vs. Kramer is in a different league comes in the first 10 minutes. In the first few moments, it is clear that this film has mastered the art of context. I cannot overstress how important context is in screenwriting. With any given scene, writers are tasked with telling their audiences just enough, not too much not too little. If they tell their audience too much (especially with dialogue), they ruin the authenticity and potentially eliminate the effectiveness of a certain plot device. If they tell them too little, they leave the audience confused and risk them losing interest altogether. Writers must trust the audience to infer (or sometimes even guess) plot points to protect the narrative. It’s an abstract concept and one that I am admittedly struggling to explain, but the best films in the drama category have mastered the art of context and Kramer vs. Kramer no different. Let’s look at an example:

Believe it or not, this is the first scene we get with Ted and Joanna. It happens within the first 10 minutes of the film. Talk about a barnburner! But look at what the writers and director have done here. We know nothing about these characters at this point other than Joanna is a mother (as evidenced by her opening scene putting Billy to bed) and Ted works at an agency of some sort. But what do we learn? We learn that Ted is a chronic workaholic, that Joanna is a career homemaker, that they have a history of arguments like this, that Ted is forgetful, that Joanna has ambitions, and on and on and on. Now, how do we learn all of this? Is it explicitly said? NO! It is implied, and masterfully so. See, these people already know each other very well. So realistically, they are not going to say all of those statements I listed above. Instead, the writers have trusted us, the audience, to infer some of the details in their relationship while keeping the authenticity of the dialogue intact. Kramer vs. Kramer is chock-full of scenes just like the one above, which keeps the movie rock-solid in terms of its realism. But it is not the only way area in which the film excels.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kramer vs. Kramer is also superb thematically. The reason I say “surprisingly” is that realism and themes don’t often naturally coincide. It is much easier to drive home central themes in more avant garde films due to the creative control you have over the delivery of those themes. In dramas like Kramer vs. Kramer, however, it can be difficult to layer in powerful themes without risking the realism of the film. This exact challenge is why a lot of films in the genre tend to be more like portrait pics in nature. But Kramer vs. Kramer tackles a lot of heavy themes. Most notably, the gender role themes are especially prominent and seemingly ahead of their time. In fact, Marriage Story (2019) just came out last year and deals with very similar themes about gender roles. Now, Marriage Story‘s gender role themes are a bit more implicit but it has been FORTY YEARS after all. Needless to say, I was impressed to see a movie from 1979 forcing people to ask themselves questions like “why are women just expected to want to be moms” and “why are men automatically assumed to worse parents?” Historical context is everything in this instance.

That said, I did find it slightly irresponsible to paint a woman and mother as the antagonist in a film at a time when gender equality was even farther away than it is now. That’s not to say that father’s rights weren’t (and still are) an issue. I’m just saying there were perhaps bigger fish to fry at that time. But maybe my biases are showing. Maybe the only reason I think Joanna was an antagonist is that I am a husband and a father and she abandons her role as a wife and a mother. I’m not sure. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Finally, my favorite part of Kramer vs. Kramer is how beautifully it captures parenthood. To be clear once more, the film does not beautify parenthood but rather shows it in all its beauty. These parents are far from perfect. They have angry outbursts in front of their child, they forget him at school, and they even put their needs above their son’s at times. But they love their kid more than anything. As someone with two little boys, this imperfect but perfect depiction of parenthood really hit home and I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry multiple times watching this movie. It even had a scene where Ted ran his bleeding son into an ER to get stitches, something I had to do earlier this year. Again, this movie was practically made for me.

Overall

I was floored by how much I liked this movie. In many ways, it is very similar to Marriage Story from late last year but I would say that Kramer vs. Kramer ran so Marriage Story could soar. Both movies are fantastic and both earn whopping Kernel Scores from me. I cannot recommend this movie enough!

Kernel Score: 9.5/10

Next Week

We are getting in the swing of things now! Looking ahead, Week 6’s challenge is to watch a movie “With Subtitles.” If you are anything like me, every movie is a movie with subtitles (#Captions4Lyfe), but for the purposes of this exercise, I decided to choose a foreign film. Over the next week, watch the Indian epic Baahubali: The Beginning with me and come back here this time next week for the next edition of the 52-Week Movie Challenge Blog. Thanks for reading!

-Cam

 

Week 4: ‘Babe’ (1995)

Overview

Not to be forgotten under the enormous shadow of #hamilfilm, we are in week 4 of the 52-Week Movie Challenge. Okay, but in all seriousness, I did sort of forget about it with all of the #hamilfilm content we’ve been putting out. I joked on this week’s pod that I will indeed watch all 52 movies for this challenge, I may just do it over 70 weeks. But that doesn’t mean that I am not stoked about this week. In all honesty, this was the challenge I was most dreading in the early going: “A film starring an animal.” I mean, that prompt doesn’t exactly conjure up images of great films right away. And let the record show that I threw all of us, myself included, a soft ball by choosing an absolute gem of a film in ‘Babe.’ I could’ve just as easily chosen an ‘Airbud’ sequel or ‘Snow Dogs,’ but I am not that cruel. I’ve got a caffeinated beverage and the background of my 8-week old son cooing and laughing at me as I sing him songs from “Hamilton,” so I am as ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s get to it.

Film Details

Based on the 1983 children’s novel by Dick King-Smith titled The Sheep-Pig, ‘Babe’ tells the story of a young pig who is won by a sheep farmer during a “Guess the Weight” challenge at the local fair. Farmer Hogget’s initial plan was to roast the pig for Christmas dinner, but his fondness for Babe softens his heart and causes him to spare the pig. Under the guidance of Fly, a female border collie and matriarch of the Hogget animals, Babe learns the ropes of sheep herding (shepherding?). Using his kind demeanor to build relationships with the sheep and earn respect from both Fly and her mate, Rex, Babe is able to become one of the greatest “Sheep Dogs” in the country and earns a perfect score for Farmer Hogget at the world Sheep Dog challenge.

Thoughts

If you’ll indulge me, I am going to start this review with a personal note. In fact, this is my blog so I am not even sure why I am asking for your permission in the first place (MUAHAHAHA). There are two reasons why I chose ‘Babe’ for week 4. The first is that, again, it is just difficult to find a film that you could stomach in this category. The second reason, is that this movie means so much to me. I loved this movie as a child. LOVED. IT. I watched it constantly. When I was younger, I had some respiratory issues that landed me in many an uncomfortable medical situation. Finger pricks, IVs, blood work, you get the picture. Through all of that, movies were a comfort, this movie more than most. I can specifically remember being 7-years-old and in the midst of a week-long hospital stay for pneumonia. It must’ve been late because my mom was folded up in one of those terrible hospital chairs asleep but I had woken up for some reason. I would’ve probably felt completely alone at that moment if it had not been for ‘Babe.’ I suspect that is why my mom put it on before catching a quick nap in between vitals checks. I was scared and uncomfortable, but ‘Babe’ was there. And it wasn’t the first time or the last time that this movie was there for me in my time of need.

In many ways, hearing the overture and watching the opening credits roll, felt like reacquainting with an old friend. I felt guilty for not staying in touch as much as I should, but it took just a few moments to pick back up where we left off. And this time, I had my two-year-old son with me, which made the experience all the richer. To prove that I am a true OG, check out this sick dvd two-pack.

All of that said, I want to be very clear: ‘Babe’ is an incredible film. You may not remember but it was actually nominated for Best Picture at the 1995 Academy Awards. What I find amazing about that is that film was trending more cynical in the mid- to late-90s. So, for a film as wholesome and quaint as this one to capture the attention of fans and critics alike is really quite remarkable.

But when you really start to analyze the movie, it makes sense. First of all, I cannot imagine that directing a cast of animals as diverse and wide ranging as this one is an easy task. And they have these animals working OVERTIME. Not to mention, the effects they use to make the animals appear to speak holds up much better than I would’ve ever thought.

From a storytelling perspective, ‘Babe’ is the definition of “short, sweet, and to the point.” At a runtime of 92 minutes, this movie is expertly paced without losing any depth. I mean, the scene where they dig into Rex’s backstory is a perfect example of this. All in, it takes maybe 3 minutes and it deepens our understanding of Rex so much. That’s efficient!

The themes in ‘Babe,’ while familiar and not particularly groundbreaking are sharp and effective. The score is unique and memorable. The voice acting is excellent and the production design is beautifully coordinated.

Overall

If you hadn’t seen ‘Babe’ before embarking on this movie challenge, I hope you agree with me that you are better for seeing it. If there is a purer movie that’s as effective, I don’t know it. I am thankful for the movie challenge as it was nice to be reintroduced to this film. I certainly plan on making it a part of my children’s lives in hopes that it has a similar effect on them.

Kernel Score: 9.2/10

Next Week

Our next challenge is “An Early Film of an Actor.” I legitimately can’t decide so I am taking Kirk’s advice and putting it to a vote. Keep an eye on PFB social media pages for more details. Thanks for reading!

-Cam

 

Week 3: ‘Rocky’ (1976)

Overview

Welcome to Week 3 of the 52-Week Movie Challenge. Or, as I like to call it, Week 3 and half, since I keep missing my self-imposed deadlines. Anyway, this week’s challenge was to watch a “Low Budget, Big Box Office” Film. So, I chose the granddaddy of them all, ‘Rocky.’ This film had a production budget of $1 million and grossed in the neighborhood of $225 Million in the box office. Talk about a good investment!

It has been a long time since I’ve seen ‘Rocky’ and I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever watched it straight through in one sitting. I was excited for the chance to revisit this multi-generational phenomenon and find out what it was that captivated audiences around the country back in 1976.

Film Details

DAH Duh duhduhduh duhduhduh duhduhduh

DAH DAH duhduhduh duhduhDAH duhduhduh

I honestly considered just phonetically writing the full “Theme from Rocky” and nothing more for this week’s blog but that actually seemed harder than the alternative. I’ll spare you the nonsense this week.

‘Rocky’ is a 1976 film written by and starring Sylvester Stallone (that’s ambitious). The film follows 30-year-old Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa who, as his semi-professional boxing career seems to be coming to a close, is randomly selected to fight the greatest fighter in the world, Apollo Creed. Over the last 40+ years, ‘Rocky’ has become synonymous with the city of Philadelphia and an unquestionable symbol of the American spirit. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t able to sing their version of the famous fanfare from ‘Rocky’ on command. Needless to say, I was anxious to get another look at ‘Rocky’ with my critic cap on to get a better sense of why this film, and its subsequent sequels and spin-offs, still live deep within the heart of American pop culture.

Thoughts

Though ‘Rocky’ is the youngest of our challenge movies so far, weighing in at 44 years old, it is still far from “modern.” Pair that with the low production budget and you wind up with a movie that has some good aspects and some bad. We’ll start with the bad so we can end on an up note!

The “Bad”

This movie is unmercifully low-budget. From the very first scene, you can feel a difference in the sound mixing that leaves you with an empty, almost erie feeling as you watch. In some scenes, you can see the camera visibly shaking during certain shots and at times it is too severe to ignore. The screenplay is predictable and sometimes painful when it comes to the more dialogue-heavy scenes. Though, for a screenplay that was reportedly written in three days (!!), you could do much much worse. Even still, at times I found myself mentally checking out because the current scene was a bit melodramatic or not relevant to the overall plot.

Additionally, and this could probably be said with just about any 40-year-old movie, some scenes did not age well. Particularly the nature of Rocky’s first few encounters with Adrian (Talia Shires), which can only really be described as stalkerish. And this includes their first date where Rocky simply will not take “no” for an answer and all but forces Adrian to kiss him. Luckily, things between them smooth out and seem to become much more consensual for the remainder of the film but I was definitely squirming in my seat through a good portion of their scenes.

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The “Good”

What ‘Rocky’ lacks in budget and production value, it makes up for in heart. If you listen to the podcast, you know I love a passion project, and this more a passion project than anything else. Stallone clearly pours everything he has into this character. The scene where he is laying in bed with Adrian the night before the fight talking about how he just wants to “go the distance” against Creed as the camera slowly zooms in, is goosebump-inducing magic. I felt as pumped up in that moment as I did during ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ when Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) gave his famous “But it is not this day” speech.

My favorite scene in the whole film comes somewhere around the halfway mark. Upon hearing the news that Rocky will get a chance to be a world champion, the local boxing trainer, Mickey, visits Rocky at his home. Earlier in the week, Mickey told Rocky he was washed up and gave his locker away to a younger boxer who, in Mickey’s words, “is a contender.” Insulted by the hypocrisy of Mickey, Rocky tells him off. He screams, punches the walls, and orders Mickey to leave immediately, a command that Mickey reluctantly obeys. But then something magical happens. As Mickey descends the stairs leading to Rocky’s apparent with his head hanging, Rocky appears to have a realization. Without a word, Rocky follows Mickey outside, grabs him by the shoulder, says a few inaudible words to him, and shakes his hand before returning the same way he came.

It is a subtle moment but easily the most powerful in the entire film. In that moment, I believe the realization Rocky had was that he and Mickey are the same person. They are both past their prime and chasing their dream at all costs. For Mickey, reaching out to Rocky was an act of desperation. Mickey knew he wouldn’t get another chance at his dream and that Rocky is the closest he’ll ever come to training a boxer for a big fight. Rocky understands this and, in a much deeper sense, understands that dreams are hard to come by in Philadelphia’s inner city, so he agrees at that moment to put their differences aside. In that one scene, there is a socioeconomic message that far exceeds any of the other themes or messages in the film. A message that you don’t have to tear others down (no matter how much they deserve it) to be successful.

Scenes like this are everything for this movie. It is what makes this movie withstand the test of time, even though technically it is not the most well-made film. And again, this movie brings back a theme from last week, which is that simpler is oftentimes better in film. I love a layered and complex story but a simple story can be much more effective if executed properly.

Overall

If it was unclear to me before, it is clear now why ‘Rocky’ has been woven into the fabric of American pop culture. There is, perhaps, no movie that is more American than ‘Rocky’ top to bottom. I wouldn’t say that this movie is my favorite by any means, and I am not sure I would even go as far as to call it great. But I understand why ‘Rocky’ means so much to so many and why it will continue to be one of the most revered movies of all time.

Kernel Score: 7.1/10

Next Week

Our next challenge is “A Movie Starring an Animal.” Selfishly, I am choosing one of my favorite films of all time, ‘Babe.’ If you have not seen this movie, you are in for a real treat. If you have seen it, give it a rewatch and join in on the conversation this time next week. Thanks for reading!

-Cam

 

Week 2: ‘Casablanca’ (1942)

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Overview

Ahh, week 2. Hits ya like a ton of bricks, doesn’t it? Like that second day of your New Year’s Resolution to work out every day when you realize you’ve made an enormous mistake. But that’s okay! You’re here! And I am extremely happy that you are. This week’s film is ‘Casablanca.’ For whatever reason, this is one of the films that you sort of have to see if you want to call yourself a cinephile, and it was one that I hadn’t seen before this week. Let’s get to it! 

Film Details

Filmed and set during the beginning of World War II, ‘Casablanca’ tells the story of an American named Rick Blaine (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) who, after spending some time in France, fled to French Morrocco to escape the German occupation and start his own club. His newfound city, Casablanca, has become a hub to refugees fleeing war-torn areas in hopes of obtaining transit papers and catching a boat to the U.S. Rick, the somewhat jaded, host unto himself, finds himself in possession of some Letters of Transit, which to him have nothing more than monetary value. That is until his former lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca fleeing the Germans, which leaves Rick in a pickle.

Thoughts

If you are like me anytime you dust off a really old movie, you have to mentally prepare yourself for a very different experience. Is this movie going to hold up? Or will it be one of those movies that were great for the time and sort of lives on based on name recognition alone? That especially applies when you go back as far as the 1940s. For example, I loved ‘Citizen Kane’ and I still very much feel that it holds up, whereas ‘The Maltese Falcon’ felt like a movie from a bygone era. Anyway, I often find myself in that frame of mind when I watch older movies and I think that is important to be aware of if I hope to give an honest review.

With ‘Casablanca,’ you know within the first 10 minutes that you have stumbled into something rather magnificent. The film starts with a short narrated montage to set the stage for the story. It’s well-written and takes a potentially complicated setup and smooths it out so everyone feels comfortable. From that point really until the end of the film (which is a crisp 102 minutes by the way), you are hit with plot point after plot point with very little filler. It’s very refreshing! In fact, I really tried to let myself relax and just enjoy the narrative without worrying too much about themes because it is so well-crafted. It’s a perfect example that a story doesn’t have to be complicated to be complex. You can use a story that is easy to follow and still build excellent, deep characters with rich, human emotions along the way.

And frankly, it’s the humanness of this movie that caught me off-guard. I have seen Humphrey Bogart in a few films before this (‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘The Big Sleep’ most memorably) and I was never really impressed. He was always typecast as the carefree, nonchalant but amazing detective type with that signature nasally voice and I was really expecting to get that Bogart once again. And don’t get me wrong, you’ll still recognize Bogie. But his performance this time around is something much more real and his chemistry with Ingrid Bergman is unbelievably powerful.

Additionally, the screenwriting is excellent, even outside of all of the famous quotes. Each joke and jab lands and still earns a snicker nearly 80 years later, which is insanely impressive when you think about it. Not to mention the film has stylish cinematography, excellent set design, and everything else that you would expect a film of this clout to have.

And, just like ‘Casablanca’ itself, my review is simple. There’s so much to love about this movie and very, very little to pick at. I could obviously sit here and gush about ‘Casablanca’ for 1000 more words but I won’t do that to you. After all, it is only week 2. Don’t want to push it too hard. 

All told, ‘Casablanca’ is the kind of movie that reminds you why cinema is so awesome. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and still one of a kind. I find it so cool to watch iconic movies and to immediately recognize parts of the movie that have inspired some of my favorites. Hopefully, you had a similar experience. There is a reason this movie is one that you have to see and I’m certainly glad I now have.

Kernel Score: 9.7/10

On to week 3’s challenge which is a “Low Budget, Big Box Office” movie. Even though, we have technically checked this box with ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ there is no double-dipping in the 52-week Movie Challenge. If you are gonna go, go all out. And the movie I have selected for us is…. ‘Rocky!’ It’s been a super long time since I’ve seen this movie and it is always the first to come to mind when you think of low-budget smash hits. So, please watch ‘Rocky’ this week and come by next week for another post that I think we can all agree…. is going to be a knockout (I’ll see myself out).

In all seriousness, thanks for reading/watching. I’ll see you next week!

-Cam

 

Week 1: ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)

Overview

Before we dive in, a little housekeeping: This is the 52-Week Movie Challenge as seen in the book “Everyone’s a Critic 52-Week Movie Challenge.” (If you’d like to purchase the book to keep your personal notes of each film, here’s the link, but you can still participate in the challenge either way.) Each week, we’ll take the challenge and share our thoughts. I’ll share mine through these blog posts and occasional videos, and you can share yours in comments on the posts and videos. Oh, also, the book suggests some writing prompts for each week, but true to PFB fashion, I’m going rogue and creating my own format. Alrighty. Let’s get to it!

Film Details

Milos Forman directs the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The film stars Jack Nicholson as Randall McMurphy (a role that earned him his third straight Best Actor Oscar Nomination and the win), as a prison inmate whose behavior at the “work farm” earned him a trip to the local mental facility for evaluation. While there, he starts to empower his fellow committees to resist the institution’s rules, a plan that naturally puts him at odds with head nurse, Miss Ratched (portrayed by Louise Fletcher who also garnered a Best Actress Nomination for her performance). The film is largely believed to be one of the greatest films of all time. Hence, why we chose it for week 1!

Thoughts

The first thing you’ll notice when you begin is that this film has all of the hallmarks of a great movie: superb acting, intriguing score, stylish cinematography, creative and realistic dialogue, strong characters, and much more. Now, there are more ingredients in the recipe for “All-time Great Movie,” but it is a strong start and one that validates the hype you’ve undoubtedly heard.

What’s not immediately apparent, however, is the purpose of the film. And it is that unknowing feeling that makes the first two-thirds or so of the movie completely gripping. Each scene is like a non-sequitur, entirely interesting by its own merit but unclear in its contribution to the larger plot. With that in mind and whether intentional or not, one of my favorite early visual cues is that Randall McMurphy (Nicholson) carries a deck of cards with him everywhere he goes. It is a perfect reminder that the film is playing sleight of hand with its audience, attempting to get them to focus on distractors before ultimately revealing “the trick” or, in this case, the purpose of the film. There is a literary medium called “novel-in-stories” in which a series of loosely interconnected stories are collected in novel form to to drive home a central theme or through-line. This movie definitely had a novel-in-stories vibe through that first section.

The through-line in this instance would have to be this theme of the oppressed vs. the oppressors. With the story being set in the early 1960s, the historical context brings into focus why this theme would have been important at the time the novel was written and, frankly, even still to this day. We see the oppressed vs. oppressor theme manifest itself in a number of ways in the film. 

First, when Randall “Mac” McMurphy arrives at the prison, he goes person to person and begins to empower them. Mac empowers Cheswick to question the system, he teaches Chief to play basketball, and helps Billy Bibbit get his confidence back with women. At one point, Mac even busts the whole ward out for an excursion where he steals a boat for them to go fishing. He says to one of them after handing him a fishing pole, “You’re not an idiot. Huh! You’re not a goddamn looney now, boy. You’re a fisherman!”, a line that acts as the perfect microcosm for Mac’s relationship with these men. He always treated each of them as people rather than crazy people.

Next, and perhaps the most obvious instance of the oppressed vs. oppressor theme, is Chief Bromden. Chief is a Native American committee who is described as deaf and dumb. After spending time with McMurphy, however, Chief reveals that he can indeed hear and speak, something none of the experts in the mental hospital has been able to uncover. This revelation elevates McMurphy to a status of “voice of the oppressed” as he is able to literally provide Chief (who as a Native American is a symbol of systemic oppression) with a voice.

Finally, our oppressed vs. oppressor theme comes into full focus at the climax of the film. McMurphy has invited some prostitutes to the mental hospital to enjoy a party with the ward. The party ends with the men encouraging Billy Bibbit to sleep with Candy. Billy does and is discovered the following morning by none other than Miss Ratched, our stone-cold symbol of oppression. Miss Ratched punishes Billy by sending him to the doctor’s office and telling him she will tell his mother what he had been up to. Suddenly, the new-found confidence that Billy gained (albeit through less than moral means) with Mac’s help disintegrated and Billy decides to end his life in the doctor’s office. This incident causes Mac (the voice of the oppressed) to snap and attack Miss Ratched (the oppressor) as our theme manifests in physical confrontation. Appropriately, oppression prevails and Mac ends up presumably lobotomized.

When you break it down that way, our lone theme feels very powerful, and perhaps it is. While watching the film though, I found myself distracted by the themes and more interested in the narrative itself. Maybe it was the fact that I was waiting for that big “all-time great movie” moment or because I was overthinking it altogether. I’m not sure. One thing is for certain though, you should always sleep on it before collecting your thoughts on a movie. Initial reactions are not to be trusted.

Conclusion

I cannot think of a better way to kick off the 52-Week Movie Challenge. This film definitely lives up to the hype and I cannot wait to ride this wave into Week 2, which is (drumroll please) “A Movie ‘Classic.'” For our movie “classic,” I’ve chosen ‘Casablanca.’ ‘Casablanca’ is the definition of “classic” and, having not seen the movie myself. this seems like the perfect time to give it a whirl. The film is available on HBO Max or you can rent on demand. Check it out and join me next week for another edition of the 52-Week Movie Challenge.

Kernel Score: 9.5/10

P.S. The fishing scene was apparently shot in Depoe Bay, Oregon. When I lived in Oregon, my wife and in-laws went whale watching out of that very harbor! We recognized it immediately and turned into the living embodiment of this Leonardo DiCaprio meme. Here’s the picture for proof (not the bridge in the background).

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What did you think of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?’ Drop us a comment below and please consider subscribing to our blog for more posts like this!

-Cam