Twelve Monkeys (1995)
In the year 2035, what remains of the human race is living underground, following a catastrophic and unexplained plague in 1996. Scientists are trying to use time travel to find a cure for the virus: they send a convict named James Cole (Bruce Willis) back to the 90s to collect useful data – unfortunately, poor confused Cole has a great deal of trouble getting anyone to believe or help him. After all the character-based films I’ve watched this year, it felt refreshing to get a more story-based one. I liked plenty of things in it: the future setting, with its grungy design and animals roaming a deserted cityscape; the themes regarding human excess and how we take what we have for granted; the bewildering impact of time travel on Willis’s character, and how his role and that of his reluctant ally Dr Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) are eventually reversed; Brad Pitt’s riveting performance as a mental patient; and the ending, which appropriately keeps you asking questions.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
A platoon of US soldiers returns home from the Korean War, believing that they narrowly escaped from enemy captivity – when in fact, they were subjected to a brainwashing experiment. One soldier, Bennett Marco, is haunted by nightmares of what really happened and tries to investigate; meanwhile, his staff sergeant Raymond Shaw is intended for use as an assassin, in a plot to help communists seize power in the United States. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this film; it’s pretty good as a political thriller, but maybe not as extraordinary as the poster would have you believe. I wasn’t too engaged with any of the characters, especially Janet Leigh’s character who seemed almost completely pointless even though she gets third billing. But the whole use of brainwashing in the film’s plot works well, making for some very chilling and tense scenes.
8 1/2 (1963)
This Italian film, directed by Federico Fellini, centres around film director Guido Anselmi, who is struggling to make creative progress on his latest film, while also juggling a complicated personal life. When watching this film, my overwhelming feeling was that there must be some kind of inside joke which I wasn’t privy to. It was easily the most confusing film I’ve watched this year; the sudden movements into different sequences, and even frequent changes in the language the characters were speaking, were headache-inducing. I couldn’t see the point of a lot of the talk, or the flashback sequences.
There is little sense of story and no resolution for most of the characters by the end – and yet the film seems to point out its own flaws, with characters commenting on how Guido’s complex script needs to be clearer, and somebody asking “Do you like movies where nothing happens?” Even when Guido has an extended dream sequence where the other female characters in the film make up his personal harem, the fantasy goes wrong when they acknowledge that it’s being produced by his imagination. It’s definitely a clever film, with some complex thoughts on artistic honesty and the nature of film in general, like how the director is not actually in total control and sometimes has to surrender much of their vision. But perhaps it’s ultimately a bit too clever.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
This film involves a whole web of London-based criminals, but centres around four friends who find themselves in massive debt to the local crime lord; with mere days to come up with the money, they decide that their only option is theft – and the obvious target is a gang of drug dealers. This film has the same director as Snatch, Guy Ritchie, and ultimately feels very similar to that film: not just because it’s based around crime, but because of the number of links in its plot. With a huge number of characters – the four main characters, the crime lord, drug dealers and producers, a debt collector, and some other petty crooks – everything becomes interconnected. Nobody knows the whole story of who’s working for who; plenty of tension is generated, and the whole tangled mess comes to a head about as badly as you’d expect. It’s a well-written and funny – though of course, violent – film.