Genre Grandeur – The Iron Giant (1999) – Digital Shortbread


I’m a bit late in re-blogging this latest contribution I made to MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur, but hey — better late than never, right? Anyway, click the link to find my take on this month’s GG theme, which was animated/sci-fi/fantasty (non-Disney or Pixar) films. I chose The Iron Giant.


gg may 2015

For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Animated Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Non-Disney/PIXAR) Movies, here’s a review of The Iron Giant (1998) by Tom of Digital Shortbread

Thanks again to S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Kim of Tranquil Dreams.  We will be reviewing our favorite teenage/high school romance movies. Please get me your submissions by 25th June by sending them to  Try to think out of the box! Great choice Kim!

Let’s see what Tom thought of this movie:


iron g

Number of times seen: at least a dozen


Brief Synopsis: A boy makes friends with an innocent alien giant robot that a paranoid government agent wants to destroy. (IMDb)


My take on it: Hogarth Hughes (voice of Eli Marienthal) is a typical kid growing up in an era where paranoia has been running rampant…

View original post 499 more words


Release: Friday, May 8, 2015


Written by: John Scott III

Directed by: Henry Hobson

In defense of a very deliberately paced, melancholic film misleadingly billed as a thriller, Maggie serves as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour (and a half).

Of course, describing Arnie’s role here as the best thing he’s ever done may seem a relative compliment. There has been no shortage of instances in the past where he has invited parodical criticism without trying. Admittedly memorable, if not slightly comic phrases — most lasting no more than five words or so — have come to define the hulking Austrian and his career as an actor.

It’s just as understandable that many would automatically dismiss as fruitless any attempt he might make to go another direction; to not use his accent as a term of endearment or his muscular bulk, now slipping a bit in his older age, as a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Henry Hobson’s directorial debut all that remains of the familiar Arnie is his larger-than-life physicality, but even that is somewhat tempered by Claire Breaux‘s suitably understated wardrobe selection.

Rather than obliging himself as some sort of perceived menace or spectacle he’s simply Wade Vogel, a father who must sit and watch as his only daughter succumbs to a deadly virus that converts the living into flesh-craving zombies. Broad shoulders slump; a tough face wrought with wrinkles brought on by wariness. A spirit broken by the knowledge that the ugliness of this apocalyptic event has hit home since Maggie was somewhere she should not have been.

Triumphing over the ubiquitousness of a zombie apocalypse is the love Wade has for his daughter (Abigail Breslin). The relationship is front-and-center, making the film steadily more challenging to endure. Maggie takes its time in tracking the virus as it takes hold of her, though the slow burn isn’t done any favors by the ‘thriller’ classification. There are as many thrills in Maggie as there are desperate pleas from Arnie for his family to get to a chopper. Still, where there isn’t much in the way of action and excitement there also isn’t really a place for it in this deeply personal examination of a family in crisis.

It almost goes without saying that Arnie’s young co-star delivers a heartrending performance as well. This isn’t quite as memorable a lead as her beauty pageant hopeful in Little Miss Sunshine, yet Maggie is a role she can be truly proud of. Breslin embraces a thoroughly challenging character arc, effecting a personality that’s easy to empathize with. Of course, she is a teenaged girl and this is the apocalypse, so who knows what she’d be like under different circumstances. That’s beside the point, though. Together, Breslin and Schwarzenegger make for a fantastic duo that instantly gives this story heft.

There is something to be said for Maggie‘s relentlessly bleak outlook. This isn’t a happy movie. A conclusion seen a mile away, there isn’t a great deal anyone (least of all Wade) can do except hope to be as prepared as possible when the illness takes over completely. A hauntingly beautiful score permeates deep, draped over many a scene like a dense fog, arguably contributing further to the sense of futility in fighting the inevitable.

Though the scene is a zombie outbreak, the allegory isn’t exactly hiding. Maggie’s torturous transition from human into something less than so — more accurately, Wade’s refusal to turn her over to the authorities, preferring to care for her as long as he can — undoubtedly reflects the strength of families afflicted by cancer and similarly devastating diseases. In that context especially, Schwarzenegger doesn’t seem to be the go-to guy. But he’s brilliant. He carries the burden of this tragedy so well it’s difficult to believe this was at one point (and soon to be again, apparently) the Terminator.

Recommendation: An emotionally devastating piece that doubles as a fascinating spin on the ever-popular zombie genre, Maggie isn’t for the casual watcher. This one takes a little determination, but the reward is watching Arnie transition from a physical to a true actor, and witnessing the chemistry he and the young and talented Abigail Breslin have together. That’s how I’d recommend the film: for great characters. I’d also recommend a couple tissues, they might come in handy. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits:; 


Release: Friday, September 5, 2014 (limited)


Written by: Jon Ronson; Peter Straughan

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Any film that strives to turn Domhnall Gleeson into a thoroughly unlikable character is one I’m uncomfortable watching. Frank is just such a film.

Focusing on an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name (they call themselves The Soronprfbs), this oddball comedy does its best to distance itself from an audience looking to make connections with key characters. Its best is more than enough.

After witnessing a drowning at a local beach, Jon (Gleeson) finds himself being ushered into the band. They have a show to play that night and they need his help filling in on keyboards as that was in fact their keyboardist trying to drown himself. Excited for the opportunity, he shows up for a bizarre display of nonconformist musicianship, the heir apparent to a suicidal keyboardist — what a great guy.

Jon initially assumes his role in the band would be that of a temporary hired-gun. His involvement soon extends to filling in on a more permanent basis as The Soronprfbs seclude themselves in an isolated cabin in the Irish countryside to record a full album. Jon bemoans the fact no one told him this would be more than a weekend gig, citing he has to return to work as soon as possible. His kidnappers don’t much care though, for they have a lot of work to do. Seemingly this is now his job, trying to find a way to fit in amongst a crew of ragtags who themselves don’t fit in elsewhere.

There’s the dude who first offers Jon the chance to play, Don (Scoot McNairy). His determination to become someone he’s not is simultaneously driving him mad. We’ve got the non-English speaking Baraque (François Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar), who don’t do much beyond moping about and remaining wary about Jon’s presence. Then, chief among the antagonists — I’m sure none of these people are meant to be perceived that way but let’s just say these are some talented actors here — is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, a nutcase who takes an instant dislike to Jon and makes life in the band a living nightmare for him. Her role is akin to that of someone you come across in your early grade school years who constantly picks on you, but all along the bullying is that person’s way of saying they dig your vibe.

Unfortunately the only person’s vibe I can really dig in this oppressively odd film is Michael Fassbender and his papier-mâché head/mask. As Frank, Fassbender is simultaneously the leader of The Soronprfbs and the stand-out acting talent. He’s empathetic given the obviousness and severity of his mental condition. He’ll never remove the head/mask, a fact that yields all sorts of questions ranging from his ability to function in social settings to his general hygiene. Answers to a few of these are admittedly provided with a compelling, brutal honesty when Jon is able to convince the band to make an appearance at the SXSW festival, where he hopes their efforts to represent a very . . . different . . . music experience will finally provide them an audience willing to reciprocate their uniqueness. It’s an undertaking that does not at all go according to plan.

Despite few of the members being likable on any level, it’s clear there are sides to be taken in this awkward, personal tug-of-war. Jon’s main purpose is to become the wedge between Frank and the rest of the band. Amidst the hostility and intolerance that defines The Soronprfbs’ dysfunction there exists this competition to be ‘the next Frank.’ It’s a mentality that explains Clara’s treatment of Jon — she doesn’t believe he has any talent or originality whatsoever and is trying too hard to be like Frank; a mentality that also sums up the fates of other members who have stepped out of the band.

Abrahamson’s fourth directorial effort manifests as a sincere reflection of mental illness but sadly this is a production difficult to enjoy or even sympathize with. An hour-and-a-half featuring people arguing and making something akin to music. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Recommendation: If kinky films are what you dig, then maybe Frank will be something you might enjoy. With disagreeable characters, languid pacing and a band that makes no sense, it is a difficult one to recommend to anyone else. Even though the characters are largely detestable, my bigger issue is that it combined that with a theme of social anxiety that didn’t really work. Plus the film feels so much longer than 95 minutes would suggest. I was prepared for a different kind of watch, but maybe not one this repellent. It’s almost as if the film was actively trying not to be enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Stale beer. Fat f**ked, smoked out. Cowpoked. Sequined mountain ladies. I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits:;

Decades Blogathon – Back To The Future (1985)

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner


So here we are; the final day of what has been being a fantastic Decades Blogathon. Thank you to everyone who took the time to help make this such a great event, but thanks most of all to the one and only Tom from Digital Shortbread. Tom has been the perfect blogathon compatriot and I hope to be able to run another one with him again soon. The Decades Blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade and this one is written by yours truly. Thanks again and see you next time!

For a film in which time plays such a central theme, there’s something magically timeless to Robert Zemeckis’ almost perfect summer blockbuster.

Great movies have the power to transcend the movie theatres in which they were projected and instead become a cultural anchor that can help to define not only a time…

View original post 689 more words

Decades Blogathon – Batman Begins (2005)

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 10.17.43 PM

They say all fun has to come to an end sometime. Here we are at the end of the first ever Decades Blogathon and I know Mark has said it already, but I would just like to reiterate how much fun it’s been getting to read everyone’s contributions and seeing the variety with regards not only to genre but to the years in which they came out. It’s been a great time, and Mark and I thank you for participating. We hope to be back next year with another version. Let’s round out this year’s version with a look at 2005’s reboot of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins


Release: June 15, 2005


Distributor: Warner Bros.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

From Wikipedia: [Batman Forever‘s] tone is significantly different from the previous installments, becoming more family-friendly since Warner Bros. considered that the previous film, Batman Returns (1992), failed to outgross its predecessor due to parent complaints about the film’s violence and dark overtones.

Poor Joel Schumacher. Pressured by an industry where — not unlike many others — the bottom line is defined by the dollar bill, he was only trying to expose Bob Kane (and yes, Bill Finger)’s creation to broader audiences. Unfortunately (and naturally) in so doing, he lost the trust of more than a few of the long-been faithfuls. Though everyone regards the variations on cape and cowl as a singular symbol of hope for a city desperately needing it, very few are likely to conjure images of Val Kilmer in the process. Michael Keaton is to this day more often than not understood to be that presence lurking in the shadows, occupying the space between hero and antihero.

How to explain the 2005 re-boot? How do we go from Batman and Robin to Batman Begins? And how did they do it without coaxing Keaton back? Batman Begins, representing a heightened sense of thematic and literal darkness, is on one level a natural progression of a long-running story. Other proposed continuations of the saga (what about a Batman Triumphant, or perhaps Batman: DarKnight?), looking back now, just don’t feel . . . right. On another level, Batman Begins is highly memorable cinema independent of the legacy preceding it throughout the decades.

Call it a culmination, call it enigmatic, call it what you want. Me? I call this film the best thing Christopher Nolan has ever done. He may be a filmmaker by title but what Nolan really is is a magician. Wave a little magic wand and presto! Memories of a family-friendly era of Gotham’s Knight in not-shining armor, who hunts down the vilest criminals from the rooftops and down back alleys — they’re all but gone. Christian Bale is in as the handsome but aloof billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man who has a legitimate fear of bats because of a childhood trauma. And the metaphorical rabbit to be pulled from the hat? Setting the film in our world, our reality — or at least paralleling it with remarkable precision.

Batman Begins operates fundamentally as one of the most celebrated reboots in all of cinema . . . or at least in an era where reboots and revisitations became an acceptable trend. A proper origin story that affords the night-abiding vigilante a plausible and compelling resurgence. The story, and eventually the titular hero, thrives on fear and the instilling of it in others. For Bale’s Bruce (and by extension, in Nolan’s interpretation) fear goes far beyond those nocturnal little creatures. Having lost his parents at an early age and fled to all corners of the globe to seek justice — this isn’t the kind of grief you might mistakenly label as teenage angst in things like Spiderman — Bruce Wayne is afraid not so much of life beyond his parents but of one devoid of meaning or purpose.

That a film — a Batman film, no less — plays so well to people’s fears (you don’t have to have any special powers to deduce the simultaneous death of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne was a pretty horrible event) speaks to the power of good storytelling. Nolan has proven himself a talent in that regard with previous films like the mind-bending Memento and perhaps it was a matter of inevitability that he took the Batman legend and bolstered its image for an entirely different generation, a generation more tolerant (is that the right word?) of violent and brooding imagery and action that fails to become cartoonish.

Passionate requests from reinvigorated fan bases notwithstanding, Nolan’s take could also function as a comic in and of itself. It’s not difficult to imagine an overhauled DC strip based upon this new chapter in Gotham history, one that would see the introduction of Rachel Dawes and versions of Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow that no longer need revamping. Given the way The Dark Knight trilogy eventuates, this too might be a matter of inevitability. This is all assuming such a comic doesn’t exist already.

Batman Begins is a sign of the times. The first installment in one of the most commercially and critically successful trilogies in cinematic history is a challenge to the status quo, at least when it comes to first comprehending and then translating to the big screen such celebrated super-heroic beginnings. 2005 is the year Warner Brothers realized taking a drastic step away from Batman’s more cartoonish roots — no more Bat-turn or Bat-nipples, folks — not only could work, but had to work. Realism blends with the fantastical in Batman Begins in ways that, while not expected, when all is said and done, just feel . . . right.

If it seems a little hypocritical for the same studio that tried moving away from the ‘darker’ side of Batman is now passionately embracing the box office numbers in the same way fans have embraced the gritty new films, it’s because it is. But I don’t know how anyone can blame Warner Brothers for reversing course. Blame is not even the right word. We should, in some ways, be thanking the studio for greenlighting these very dark, very real stories and recognizing the power laying dormant in this legend. Perhaps Warner Brothers ultimately decided the timing just felt . . . right.

Recommendation: Dark, moody and yet unbelievably enjoyable, Batman Begins is the film that started it all (again) for the Dark Knight et al. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have a great time. Of course, fans of the comic version should find even more to latch onto with Christopher Nolan’s stunning attention to detail, and it should go without saying that fans of his directorial CV have this one high up on their list of favorites. For me, personally, a film doesn’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “It’s not who I am underneath . . . but what I do that defines me.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits:

Decades Blogathon – Casino (1995)

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner


As hard as it may be to believe we are entering the home stretch of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the indubitable Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and I are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Fernando at Committed To Celluloid. Fernando’s site is one of my favourites out there in the blogosphere, so do yourself a favour and take a visit!

Casino Poster

It seems so strange that Casino came out only 20 years ago. Martin Scorsese’s 1995 offering seems much older, and yes, I mean it as a compliment.

Arguably one of ole Marty’s best (or my favorite, anyway), Casino, not just because it’s set in that era, truly feels, looks and carries itself like a film of the seventies.


Riveting, stylish and peppered with bursts…

View original post 301 more words

Decades Blogathon – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


Hey all, second-to-last day in the Decades Blogathon! We can’t believe it’s already almost over, but time does fly when you’re having fun! To bring the guest reviews to a conclusion, I would like to feature Rob from the prolific MovieRob and his take on a comedy classic. Anyone who hasn’t given his site a look yet should do so after reading this great review. He’s got so much to offer. Take it away, Mr. Rob! 

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.31.24 PM

“Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.” – King of Swamp Castle

Number of Times Seen – At least 10 times (cable, DVD and 11 May 2015)

Brief Synopsis – King Arthur and his trusted knights of the round table are sent on a quest by God to find the Holy Grail

My Take on it – This is quite a difficult movie to review without spoilers because there are so many classic scenes and jokes in this movie that make sure that this movie works so well.

This movie is basically an amalgam of different skits making fun of life in medieval times strung together to make a hilarious tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

This is my favorite of all of Monty Python’s movie because it is so funny and quotable and can be watched over and over again and again and I’ll never tire of the jokes.

The theme music is short and sweet and is truly the perfect companion for this medieval journey.

The best way to show you how great this movie is, would be to show you some clips of the very very funny scenes in the movie.

If you haven’t seen this movie, be forewarned that these scenes are filled with spoilers.

If you have seen this, enjoy these scenes again!!

My favorites are the Witch and the Dennis scenes even though they are all spectacular

Bottom Line – Hilarious vignettes that properly make fun of the way medieval stories are told.  My favorite MP movie of all time because it is sooo quotable and gets me laughing hysterically every time I watch it. Very catchy theme music that works so well within the framework of a medieval quest. Highly Recommended!

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – During production, the troupe became increasing irritated by the press, who seemed to always ask the same questions, such as “What will your next project be?” One day, Eric Idle flippantly answered, “Jesus Christ’s Lust For Glory”. Having discovered that this answer quickly shut up reporters, the group adopted it as their stock answer. After production completed, they did some serious thinking about it, and realized that while satirizing Christ himself was out of the question, they could create a parody of first-century life, later realized in Life of Brian (1979). (From IMDB)

Rating – Oscar Worthy

Decades Blogathon – Deep Red (1975)

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner


It’s day seven of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the singular Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and I are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Anna at Film Grimoire. Anna’s voice is very distinctive and you could do a lot worse than to check out her great looking site.

I love giallo films – a genre defined as a murder mystery style of film, generally Italian-made, which contains a lot of blood, guts, and eroticism.

Deep Red Poster

So when it came time for the Decades Blogathon, and I saw that Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) would qualify for it, I knew I had to write about it. Deep Red, along with Suspiria (1977) and Tenebrae (1982), is probably one of Argento’s best known films; and for good reason…

View original post 896 more words

Decades Blogathon – The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)


Welcome back to the blogathon everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your weekend (or are continuing to enjoy it this Memorial Day). I have for you today a review from Renlau who runs his own site Kaput, Already — a place that’s dedicated to more than just well-written film reviews. This site has many an interesting post to keep you going so I urge you to give it a look after checking out what he has to say about Woody Allen’s 1985 romantic comedy, The Purple Rose of Cairo


The Purple Rose of Cairo is Woody Allen’s romantic comedy from 1985 about a bored movie character who falls in love with his biggest fan.

Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a dreamboat movie nut who is struggling to keep her head above water in depression-era, 1930s New Jersey. Cecilia is unhappily married to an unemployed brute called Monk (Danny Aiello), who not only mistreats and sponges off her, but also drinks and is unfaithful.

unnamedCecilia works at a diner as a short-order waitress. But she isn’t very good at her job. She is slow, drops things, and generally gets on the owner’s nerves. Cecilia’s mind is always away at the movies she adores, that she lives for, that represent a far more beguiling world than her downtrodden existence.

The film opens with Cecilia stood outside her local fleapit, gazing dreamily at a poster for the new attraction – a romantic comedy called The Purple Rose of Cairo. Until a piece of metal lettering falls off the picture house marquee and almost lands on her head. Back to reality with a bang.


At work, Cecilia smashes a plate and is shouted at by her boss. Walking home, she seeks out her husband Monk and finds him pitching pennies with his rough pals round the back of an abandoned factory – as another day passes waiting ‘for the country to get back to work again.’

Monk is mean, grasping and indifferent. Cecilia wants to go to the first night of The Purple Rose of Cairo. But he refuses to take her; sneering at her offer to ‘forget your troubles.’

Cecilia goes by herself. As she enters the auditorium, her eyes light up and her pallid complexion flushes in anticipation of escaping into fantasy. The lights dim and the titles run for The Purple Rose of Cairo.

The film opens in an opulent New York penthouse, where gilded Art Deco luxury abounds. A handsome, debonair man (Edward Herrmann) in a lounge suit is sat at a grand piano with his cigarette fixed in a long, elegant holder – signally the epitome of urbane sophistication. He looks across to his friend (John Wood), who is busy mixing martinis behind a well-stocked bar, and announces that all this wealth and privilege is quite dissatisfying. ‘Jason, I’m bored,’ he declares. ‘Bored with cocktail parties, opening nights and days at the races.’

Jason has a plan to slay the old ennui, suggesting they take off tonight for a jaunt to Cairo, Morocco, Tangiers – ‘all the romantic, exotic, exciting places in the world’ – returning to Manhattan in time for the opening of Henry’s new play.

Away on their travels, they bump into an American explorer called Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in an Egyptian tomb.

unnamedTom is researching an ancient Egyptian legend called the Purple Rose of Cairo. But, he instantly throws it all in when the socialites suggest he come to New York with them to go nightclubbing.

Next thing, Tom is sauntering into Henry’s penthouse suite, dazzled by the Deco glitz, as he prepares to head off to The Copacabana. ‘I still can’t get over the fact that 24 hours ago I was in an Egyptian tomb,’ says the game, wide-eyed Tom. ‘And here I am now, on the verge of a madcap, Manhattan weekend.’

It is a line he will be seen uttering repeatedly during Cecilia’s many return viewings of the film. As her real life rapidly unravels – she loses her job and catches Monk cheating on her – Cecilia develops an escapist addiction to Tom Baxter and The Purple Rose of Cairo. She sees the movie so often that after a time Baxter’s character looks out for her in the audience. Eventually, Tom becomes so preoccupied by Cecilia, that he abandons the film and comes down off the silver screen to speak with her.


This spectacular breaching of cinema’s ‘fourth wall’ is a post-modern moment for all the ages. The audience is stunned, popcorn is spluttered, a woman faints. Meanwhile, onscreen, the rest of the characters are aghast, telling Tom to come back this instant!

All mayhem breaks loose, but Cecilia rapidly adjusts to this unexpected turn of events and runs off with Tom – out the back of the cinema and off down the road.

The runaways go to ground at an out-of-season amusement park; where they catch their breath and swap life stories. The windblown fairground, with its sleeping dodge’ems and merry-go-round, is typical of the empty, desolate landscape of Cecilia’s world beyond the picture house, underscoring the fact that these are hard, bare-knuckle times. Allen’s depression-era pallete is muted and wintry, with lots of beige, dun and ochre. But at the picture house, the film The Purple Rose of Cairo glows in deep, luminous black and white, as celebrated cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Klute, Stardust Memories) paints the screen with platinum, silver and pearl.

Despite the child wind blowing, Tom still finds his new reality to be a pretty amazing thing. But he’s hungry. He left the film before the scene at the night club where he usually eats dinner. Cecilia donates her leftover popcorn and explains how the real world is currently down in the dumps; that no one has a job; that there are wars, and ‘people get old and sick and never find true love.’

But Tom refuses to be discouraged. He tells Cecilia that he’s in love with her. She rebuffs him, says ‘that’s movie talk’ and reminds him of the fact that he’s not real. And anyway, she already has a husband.


Tom persists, ‘How many times does a man walk off the screen to be with you because he’s so in love,’ and whisks her off for a luxury, slap-up dinner to celebrate.

But when the waiter at the posh restaurant rejects Tom’s fake movie money, the couple are forced to do a runner. Tom jumps in a nearby car and waits for it to drive away by itself, like automobiles normally do in his world. Later, when he kisses Cecilia, he’s puzzled that the romantic moment doesn’t conclude with a fade-out: ‘you mean, you make love without fading out?’

Back at the picture house, with Tom being the only one who can leave the movie, the rest of the onscreen cast are stranded in movie limbo. Incapable, in Tom’s absence, of moving forward, they quickly grow frustrated and confused, mistiming cues and tripping over their lines. The ground beneath their feet has fallen in. ‘I’m a dramatic character,’ bleats Henry, ‘I need action.’ Like the players in Pirandello’s absurdist theatre classic, Six Characters in Search of an Author, the beached protagonists interrogate their roles and begin to question the substance of their identity – as any fictional entity is likely to under such circumstances.

unnamedThis is the kind of an idleness that the idle rich are not built to cope with. Losing all sense of purpose, the cast find themselves hectored by a ‘Bolshie’ political activist agitating for revolution. We’ve come a long way fast from madcap cocktails at the Copacabana.

It’s here in the dramatic and conceptual heart of the film, that Allen has the most play with assorted, connected, mind-bending ideas concerning fiction versus reality, existence, identity, and the nature of being. There’s also destiny, free will, and the silent hand of fate. (Or by ‘fate’, do we really mean the Great Screenplay Writer in The Sky?)

The film buzzes with energy and ideas and an overflow of quips and paradoxes that Allen doesn’t really have the dramatic time or space to fully develop. But this is fine. This is Screwball redux. The droll, playful philosophical flightiness fits perfectly within the rules of social comedy, as Allen channels the suave dizziness of the genre he also affectionately lampoons.

Meanwhile the film’s producers are furious at the chaos caused by Tom Baxter’s vanishing act. Their inclination is to simply switch off the projector. The onscreen cast are appalled at the thought – their fear of the big fade to black is the celluloid version of the death anxiety. ‘You’ve no idea what it is like to be turned off, to disappear, to be nothing, to be annihilated.’

Fearing lawsuits, and the beginnings of a possible red anarchist plot, the Hollywood honchos blow into town with actor Gil Shepherd – who plays the part of Tom Baxter. They warn Shepherd that if he can’t bring his creation back under control, they’ll pull the picture, burn the negative and kill his career.

Gil heads off to find Tom and fix him. He runs into Cecilia, who, naturally, is a big fan of his work. She lavishes him with praise and quickly Gil becomes smitten.

Meanwhile Tom has been lured away from the fairground by Emma, the stereotypically tart with a heart – played by the splendid Dianne Weist. Emma draws Tom into her brothel to fleece him. But soon finds that she and her co-workers are so charmed by his naivete, they offer him a poke on the house.


Tom’s rapid initiation into the way of reality has catapulted him up a steep learning curve. Having encountered examples of poverty, birth and religion, Tom has become gripped by the meaning of life – as all of Allen’s leads are contractually obliged to at some point. While the working girls prepare to take Tom to their boudoir, he’s mainlining profundity: ‘the meaning of everything,’ he bleats. ‘The point to existence… The finality of death. The miracle of life… The sense of wonderment at the very fabric of being.’

In passing, he observes that the ladies in their racy lingerie might be single for now, but it will surely only be a matter of time before they find husbands, given ‘the seductive way you all dress.’ At which point he declines their offer of a group freebie. He tells them he’s saving himself for another: that his heart is only for Cecilia: ‘every breathe she takes make my heart dance.’

And with that, Tom goes looking for his desideratum, who’s been playing the uekele with Gil. Perhaps sensing for the first time a possible doubt over their future together, Tom puts a temporary halt to his exploration of reality, and encourages Cecilia to join him on the other side of the screen, taking her on a joyride through his fictional realm.

For one night only, they get to live out Cecilia’s fantasy of carefree excellence – with cocktails and caviar at the Copa serving only as a prelude to a dazzling tour of the town. The screen becomes a riot of time-shifting effects: with dissolves, overlays and pulsing neon, as the names of numerous exotic night clubs and floating Champagne glasses circle around the delighted smiles of the two lovers.

‘My whole life I’ve wondered what it would be like to be on the silver screen,’ say Cecilia. Well, now she knows.

At the conclusion of a singular night of romance and hilarity, the happy lovers return to Henry’s empty penthouse, to find Gil skulking at the back of the picture house, jealously watching them on the screen. He quickly coaxes Cecilia back down. He says that he is in love with her. ‘Just like in the movies’. Only this is for real.

But is Gil for real, or is he just pretending, so to outflank Tom? And if so, will the the realism ofunnamed his acting be enough to trick Cecilia into rejecting Tom’s fantasy?

This nesting of riddle within riddle is cinematic Russian dolls; and is part of the abiding charm of this comic masterpiece. As Roger Ebert wrote of Woody Allen on the release of The Purple Rose of Cairo: ‘He makes us laugh and he makes us think, and when you get right down to it… those are two of the most exciting things that could happen to anybody in a movie. The more you think about The Purple Rose of Cairo, and about the movies, and about why you go to the movies, the deeper the damned thing gets.’

Gil’s declaration of love puts Cecilia on the spot. She is torn between three lovers. Will it be Tom, or Gil, or will she tough it out with husband Monk? ‘I’m confused. I’m married. I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional – but you can’t have everything.’

This is one dilemma Cecilia can’t dodge by going to the movies. As a minor character observes, ‘The most human of attributes is to choose’; it is what makes us who we are. So, who will she choose?


American cinema’s three lead film-makers of the 1970s were surely Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola. However, each director’s career has long since run aground.

For the last 20 odd years, Scorsese has produced a long string of immaculate, airless ‘prestige’ movies that are quickly forgotten – films like The Aviator and Shutter Island just won’t ever sear a print in the viewer’s mind like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver.

Francis Coppola has pretty much stopped making films; and regardless of his embrace of new digital technologies, the director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now remains an a old-school movie mogul adrift in a new world order.

Meanwhile, Woody Allen continues to release a new movie every twelve months – never a fallow year. But not everybody applauds such fecundity, as a lot of the recent titles have been disappointingly bland. In fact, many wish he’d stop making films altogether. At the very least perhaps he should make fewer. Would anyone really regret the non-existence of Melinda and Melinda, Small Time Crooks, or Scoop? In a sense, Woody Allen is the Prince of celluloid: in that, just like the Minneapolis marvel, he just can’t stop churning out content – having mislaid his personal pause button somewhere around 1992.

There’s a compulsiveness in Allen’s prodigal turnover – a death anxiety perhaps – that makes him plough ever onwards. He seems uneasy, incapable of resting still, chasing perfection, as perfection disappears ever further over the horizon. Or is it simply that the neurotic energy which once propelled him to great things, has degraded with age, to become merely fuel with scant purpose?

The energy on view in Cairo, was back when Woody was running on the good juice. From a far-out realm of fictionality, he manages to make you believe in the human dilemmas faced by these clearly made-up frivolous characters. One is engaged and touched by their existential plight  – even that of  the bored playwright!

From the early 1970s to the mid 1990s, Woody Allen made great films with an incredible frequency – from Play it Again, Sam to Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, and even, at a push, Deconstructing Harry. And then he stopped making great films. And soon came the duds. And though one may regret the many duds that were to follow, perhaps a kinder, better way of thinking, is that the failures serve to throw into even clearer relief, how very, very good the great Woody Allen films were. And not just the ‘early, funny ones‘.

That said, The Purple Rose of Cairo, aside from all all of its many other qualities, is also very funny.

JCR Factor #2

Well here we are with a second edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. Find more like them here and here. Or just peruse the Features menu up top.

Last month we were talking about this and so now I’d like to switch out of that melodrama and move on to . . . well, I guess more melodrama. Melodrama upon the high seas. As always, spoilers ahoy!

John C. Reilly as Dale ‘Murph’ Murphy in Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Adventure/drama

Character Profile: Good old ‘Murph’ is a fisherman with a strong work ethic, often spending long, long days on the open waters trying to bring home that “pay dirt.” He’s struggling to make ends meet, not unlike many a Gloucesterman, on the cusp of divorce while still trying to be around as much as possible for his son. Murph is headstrong and has a hard time adjusting when the crew of the Andrea Gail take on an extra hand, David ‘Sully’ Sullivan — a welder with a rather stand-offish personality and determination to do things his own way.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: firstly the tension between two of the Gail’s more interesting personalities — one brimming between Reilly’s Murph and William Fichtner’s Sully. These two men are at each other’s throats from the get-go and though the clashing doesn’t particularly boil down to much beyond your typical alpha-male antagonism, John C. Reilly makes his character so very believable. It wouldn’t be the same if another actor stepped into this predicament. Besides, the loss of the entire crew is made that much more painful once we’ve established Murph is very much a man trying to make good on his promises to his family back on shore. Reilly sells the tragedy with a soul-bruising sense of empathy for what the real life Murph might have felt in his last moments.

That’s what he said: “This is gonna be hard on my little boy. . .”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: