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Desert Island Films #78 – William Miller

Desert Island Films

William Miller (or Bill to his friends) has kindly submitted his Desert Island Films. Bill runs two great blogs; The On Deck Circle where he talks about Baseball history, commentary and analysis, and Bill’s Top Ten Lists which is, funnily enough, a site about his Top Tens. Please read on for his choices and reasons, and then be sure to check out his sites.

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Desert Island Films is about choosing 8 films you would take if you were going to be stranded on a desert island and explaining your choices. They don’t necessarily have to be your favourites, just 8 films, no more or no less! You are also permitted to take one book and one novelty item which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.

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Desert Island Films #78 – William Miller

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1) Local Hero (1983)

local hero

Upon first viewing, you may miss the magic. Scottish director Bill Forsyth, however, has constructed a masterpiece of understated, whimsical storytelling. Beginning in Texas, but moving to coastal Scotland, the cast of characters doesn’t know the good fortune that awaits them. Yet the American oil company representative who brings this fortune to them them is utterly transformed by the small coastal village that his efforts are about to change forever. Funny, melancholic and quirky, with a great soundtrack by Mark Knopfler, this film demonstrates that conflict doesn’t have to become confrontation, and success isn’t always sweet.

2) A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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“There was me, that is Alex, and my droogs, Peter, Georgie and Dim.” So begins Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. Seldom has pure, unadulterated ultra-violence been portrayed with such style and reckless abandon. Malcolm McDowell’s performance as the sociopathic Alex is no less outrageous today than it was forty years ago. The scene where his eyelids are clamped open so he cannot look away from the violence he is forced to view on the silver screen metaphorically mirrors the experience we have while watching this film. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony becomes his muse, and ultimately leads to his near-destruction. In conclusion, we are left with the question, how far should society go to protect itself from those who would do us harm, if the “cure” is in and of itself cruel and barbaric?

3) Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

grosse point blank

John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a hit-man going through an existential crisis who is talked into going to his tenth year high school reunion by his secretary (played by his real-life sister, Joan Cusack.) If you’ve ever attended a high school reunion, you already know that is a virtual minefield replete with unseen dangers. Throw in a rival hit-man who wants Martin dead, as well as a couple of federal agents who also have the same goal in mind, along with Debbie (Minnie Driver), a local radio D.J. and the love of Martin’s (potentially short) life, who Martin stood up on prom night and hasn’t seen since, and it’s safe to say that Martin’s return to Grosse Pointe, Michigan will be the turning point of his life. As it turns out, it is the simple experience of holding a former classmate’s baby that undoes Martin, and points him in the direction he’d been seeking all along. Alan Arkin as Martin’s intimidated psychiatrist is perfectly cast, as is Dan Aykroyd, who obviously has a great time as Martin’s rival hit-man. Nice soundtrack, too: “You’re our demographic.”

4) Tombstone (1993)

tombstone

While Kurt Russell does a nice job portraying Wyatt Earp, it is Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday who completely steals the show in this modern western classic. Holliday, slowly dying of tuburculosis, has nothing to lose as he galavants around Tombstone in a haze of whiskey, gambling, piano-playing and vicious sarcasm. Even drunk, he is essentially untouchable to the gang terrorizing the town known as The Cowboys. When the inevitable showdown at the O.K. Corral occurs, it is simply a coda on the eventual annihilation of the gang of miscreants who Holliday has already beaten at just about everything else: “Ike, maybe poker’s just not your game. I know, let’s have a spelling contest!” Wyatt knows how lucky he is to have a friend like Holliday. We should all be so lucky.

5) Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir-Dogs

Before Pulp Fiction, there was Reservoir Dogs. If you never saw a Tarantino film before Pulp Fiction, you were understandably completely mesmerized by the experience. But for those of us who saw “Dogs” before PF, it was already clear that Tarantino was a new, young filmmaker to be reckoned with. Though Dogs is a bit rougher around the edges than PF, (in terms of the quality of film-making), the out-of-sequence shots, the snappy dialogue and the updated film noir bad guys foreshadow much of what was to come in PF. The ensemble cast is perfectly conceived: Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, and the rest of the gang are profane, high-octane and, especially Madsen, just fucking insane. You will never hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” again without thinking of one particular scene in this movie. A cops and robbers film that only Tarantino could have delivered. I would actually sneak PF and Dogs in one DVD case, and take my chances.

6) Buffalo ’66 (1998)

buffalo 66

Perhaps the strangest, most unlikely pair of would-be lovers in cinematic history, Vincent Gallo is Billy, of which only one childhood picture exists. Christina Ricci is Layla, a girl he abducts, lectures about her filthy car windshield, then becomes Billy’s girlfriend. But Billy, at first, doesn’t really want a girlfriend. Billy has just gotten out of jail, which his Buffalo Bill’s fan parents never knew about, and now he wants to bring home a “regular” girl after this long absence from his parents’ lives. The thing is, his parents hardly realized he was ever gone, don’t particularly believe, nor care about, the stories he tells them about his life, and, once they meet Layla, she becomes their (utterly strange) focus of attention. Meanwhile, Billy decides he’s going to assassinate the former kicker of the ’66 Bills, who ruined his parents lives, and, by extension, his own life, by missing what would have been the game-winning field goal for the Bills in the ’66 AFC Championship Game. Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci, as well as Anjelica Houston and Ben Gazzara in supporting roles as Billy’s parents, are all stuck in their own fantasy worlds where the real world only occasionally intrudes or overlaps. Yet, against all odds, Layla and Billy somehow overcome his severe emotional handicaps to find peace and love. A strange and beautiful film.

7) Down By Law (1986)

down by lawWhat happens when you put three ne’er do wells in a prison cell together? You get fistfights, lectures about English grammar, and “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Two of the three are set up by their small-time rivals in New Orleans’ seamiest side. The third one, an Italian felon they call Bob (Roberto Benigni) quotes Walt Whitman in Italian, and is a hopeless romantic and murderer. Then a beautiful Italian girl named Nicoletta (Nicoletta Braschi) enters the fray once the boys make an unlikely escape into the swamps of Louisianna. Tom Waits (Zack) and John Lurie (Jack) partner up, despite their initial revulsion of each other, into a low-class Butch and Sundance as they elude the authorities, rescue Bob, and are, in turn, saved from the baying hounds by Nicoletta. The minimalist style of this film by director Jim Jarmusch keeps the focus on the characters. The plot is not the point. Life is life, no matter how many odd twists and turns it may take. It turns out, however, that even losers can have second-chances, and love can turn up in the most unlikely places.

8) Stake Land (2010)

stake land

Not just another vampire flick. This epic is an American Gothic mini-masterpiece, expertly crafted by co-writers Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, and directed by Mickle. It is an American Road Movie, where the horrors of the road only partly revolve around vampires. America, as a nation, has collapsed. One group, who call themselves The Brotherhood, are an extremist Christian cult who believe the rise of the vampires is God’s Judgment on America. Therefore, they believe that the vampire plague should be nurtured and spread far and wide. Co-writer Nick Damici also plays the role of The Man, a vampire slayer who takes young Martin (Connor Paolo) under his wing as they seek the fabled land of New Eden, a land free of vampires and zealots. The film utilizes the broken down remains of the real Pennsylvania countryside, a land littered with abandoned factories, forgotten towns, and desperate people just trying to get by. The vampires, in effect, simply follow the well-established path of economic and social decline already long in place in this region. It is a land where blood-stained vampire teeth can be traded for the dry-goods necessary to stay alive, and where religion and salvation each exist, but never cross paths.

Book:

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Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, because I might pick up a few survival tips here and there.

Luxury Item: One of those new 3-D copy machines which actually makes tools and other items I would need to survive.

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Thanks again to Bill for taking the time to join the prestigious castaway list. If you would like to submit your choices and add your name to THIS LIST, please drop me an email to – tysoncarter@hotmail.co.uk

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14 Comments

  1. Questionable luxury item but I let you off as you picked Reservoir Dogs 😉 Stake Land is a great film, really nice to see that make it on someones list. Thanks again for doing this Bill, a pleasure to feature you and your sites on here.

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  2. Yay for Gross Point Blank, Tombstone, Reservoir Dogs picks 🙂

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  3. garryarmstrong

     /  October 5, 2013

    I’ll be your huckleberry! “Tombstone” alone makes this a nice list. Hope you’re not too high strung, Bill.

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  4. Tombstone! And hell’s coming with him.

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  5. I just watched Clockwork Orange the other night on IFC, and it never ceases to amuse me!

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  6. Victor De Leon

     /  October 7, 2013

    Tombstone and Stakeland are inspired picks, William. Good job on this list! Glad to see Kubrick get some love, too.

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  7. Great to see some love for Local Hero and Down By Law, Bill. This is one the best lists I’ve came across, actually.

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  8. Abbi

     /  October 7, 2013

    I loved Stake Lake. It’s ridiculously underrated.

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  9. All great choices. Gotta love Stake Land! 🙂

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  10. A great list! I love Grosse Point Blank, any film with both John and Joan Cusack is fine by me, they are hilarious together. I’ve added a few to my LoveFilm list, so thanks for including Stake Land, Buffalo ’66 and Local Hero, they look like great films 😀

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  11. Wow, you might be the first person yet to have picked Tombstone. And a great pick at that! We practically wore the Tombstone VHS out at our house from countless viewings.

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