Rebecca (1940)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Awards: Academy Award (Best Picture)

As an avid Hitchcock fan, I found Rebecca an enthralling mystery film ahead of its time. Edited in camera, the film is technically sound and expertly plotted with a solid narrative and plenty of unexpected twists and turns.  This was the same studio to produce the Academy Award winning best picture of the year before, Gone with the Wind.

The story follows an unnamed common woman, companion to a rich woman in Monte Carlo. While there she meets a rich widower, Max De Winter. They fall in love, marry and return to Manderlay, Winter’s estate in England. The new wife has big shoes to fill though, trying to live up to the expectations created by the dead first wife, Rebecca, as related by the obsessive and sometimes dangerous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.

Danvers tries her best to sabotage the overwhelmed young new wife, constantly reviving the memory of Rebecca to the torment of Winter. Winter’s grief leads to suspicion though, when the events surrounding his first wife’s death come into question. A multi-layered mystery unfolds with haunting conclusions.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), The 39 Steps (1935), Rear Window (1954), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Director: L.Q. Jones

Starring: Don Johnson, Jason Robards

Awards: Won Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, nominated Nebula for Best Dramatic Writing

Summary: What does Star Trek, Miami Vice, nuclear war, and man’s best friend all have in common? Well, not much really except for a nifty little movie called A Boy and His Dog. Set in the year 2024, the world has become a desolate wasteland after World War IV. Based on the novella written by Harlan Ellison (who also wrote the Star Trek episode: City on the Edge of Forever), this movie stars a very young Don Johnson (Miami Vice) who plays a young man named Vic. In this future, people are forced to fight and scavenge for the few remaining resources such as food, weapons and yes, women! Vic has an advantage over most others through his trusty sidekick named Blood who just happens to be a dog. Even better, Vic has a telepathic bond with Blood giving the pair the ability to talk and understand each other psychically. With a keen sense of smell, Blood helps Vic avoid roving madmen and mutants and yes, even track down women!

For you see, Vic is a lonely man and lonely men have needs. As the story progresses, we learn how these needs eventually lands Vic into hot water as he crosses paths with a secret underground community who are more than they seem. Predating Mad Max and other similar films set in a post-apocalyptic future, this film is a cult classic that is fun and thought provoking. Watch for a controversial ending that had not only the often litigious Harlin Ellison upset but feminst groups as well.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Devil’s Bedroom (1964)


Cache (2005)

Director: Michael Haneke

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil

Awards: European Film Awards: Best European Film, Director, Actor, Editor (2005)

As a lover of film scores, Cache, represented an interesting selection for me, as it has no score. Geniously shot in high-definition, the medium provides a mechanism of storytelling, as the audience is unwittingly and repeatedly placed in the POV of a stalker who leaves videotapes of his victims on their doorstep, causing thrilling and deadly results. The pace of the film never allows the viewer to feel comfortable with what they’re viewing, always second guessing whose perspective they’re viewing the world through.

The tension rises throughout the film as ghastly images and flashbacks plague the protagonist, but a strange amnesia keeps him from remembering what is linking all the things happening to him. A horrific and shocking scene at the end of the second act provides an inciteful metaphor for his hidden guilt, but never do we clearly see who the stalker is, rather like many good thrillers of the like, we are left with questions that fuel after cinema discussions. An interesting commentary on the big brother culture in which we all live. Someone can always be watching, hidden from view…

Other Notable Flms by this Director: Funny Games (1997), Funny Games (2008) – remake


Harold and Maude (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon
Awards: Nominated for two Golden Globes

Summary:  A young man, obsessed with death, meets an old woman obsessed with life and begins an unlikely love affair is how I always describe it. One of the strangest film romances ever made, it’s also one of the most honest and most revealing.  One of director Hal Ashby’s first efforts finds him navigating well worn territory, but in a way not seen before.  I have far too many fond memories of this film to want to spoil them for you here, just take my word for it…if you haven’t seen this you need too.

Other Notable Works by This Director:  The Landlord(1970), Shampoo (1975), Being There (1979)

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Klaus Kinski

“People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”

–Werner Herzog

Aguirre: Wrath of God is one of German director, Werner Herzog’s, most critically acclaimed films following the harrowing tale a doomed band of Spanish conquistadors hunting for the lost city of El Dorado. Though written in just two day and half days by Herzog during a drunken soccer bus trip (eight of the final pages being tossed out the window when a fellow busmate vomited on them), Aguirre combines two actual historic expeditions down the Amazon by Pizarro and Ursua.

In the film, Ursua and Aguirre are dispatched on a mission down river by Pizarro to discover the fate of another conquistador, Orellana’s, mission and confirm the existence of the lost city of treasure. Accompanied by the tasty Helena Rojo, starring as Ursua’s mistress, and Cecilia Rivera as Aguirre’s ill-fated daughter, the expedition embarks on a voyage fraught with peril. Beset on by blood-thirsty Indians, oppressive heat, hunger and disease, and a river that threatens to swallow them all, the group quickly disintegrates into madness. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I will tell you this, there’s a shitload of monkeys.

et tu monkey?

What’s equally fascinating about this 1972 indepedent film is the backstory behind its production, specifically the relationship between director Herzog and lead actor Klaus Kinski who played the mad Aguirre. Fans of Herzog’s movies are familiar with the two’s history (see My Best Friend: Klaus Kinski), having made 5 films together including another great jungle epic, Fitzcarraldo, about a visionary if not slightly insane, explorer who lifted a steamship over a mountain. The two would routinely battle publicly on set and at one point in their collaborative careers each had a contract out on each other’s lives at the same time.

After repeatedly butting heads on how Kinski should play Aguirre, and being deliberately antagonized to the point of insanity by Herzog to bring out a believably psychotic performance on camera, Kinski lost his mind one night and shot three rounds into a rowdy nearby crew hut, blowing the finger off one crewman. Later in the production, Herzog threatened to kill Kinski if he walked off set.

Strange stories abound surrounding other aspects of the production, how the props and crew were constantly plagued by the treacherous Amazon river, how Herzog stole the 35mm camera the film was shot on, how he illegally snuck 400 monkeys through customs for the final scene. No matter how the film was made, it still stands up as a taught, visceral adventure movie that went on to inspire other great films like the Mission, Apocalypse Now, and even the Predator.

Other Notable Works by this Director: Fitzcarraldo (1982), Girzzly Man (2005), Rescue Dawn (2007)

The trailer: