THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

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Elizabeth (spoilers!)

After The Magnificent Seven, I was ready for The Great Escape. Like The Magnificent SevenThe Great Escape was a movie I hadn’t seen because it looked long and boring. But both films were directed by John Sturges and star Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. So things started to look up for The Great Escape.

I was dying to see Richard Attenborough in this because my only image of him is from the Jurassic Park/Miracle on 34th Street era. Chris and I tried to spot him, first thinking he was a different British actor, but when Attenborough came on screen it was unmistakably him. It was kind of amazing to watch him so young and to have the same voice, eyes, and mouth as he always did under that white beard. And it’s always nice to see James Garner from this time period, in all of his masculine sexiness. And the more Chris talked about it, the better it sounded. Sexy dudes banding together? Check. Allies fighting and defeating Nazis? Check. That plus knowing the movie wasn’t about actual battles (therefore not being super bloody and sad) really convinced me.

But you want to know something about The Great Escape? There is no great escape. Before you argue, I will counter by asking how great can an escape actually be if you’re murdered immediately after? By Nazis? How about: NOT THAT GREAT.

We spend about 2 hours learning about our characters, American and British soldiers being held in a Nazi POW camp. This particular camp is kind of a camp of misfits; the Nazis seemed to have dumped every POW that’s made an escape attempt into this camp. The Nazi Kommandant in charge of the camp is surprisingly likeable; he’s a career soldier who’s really ready for the war to be over. He thinks he and the POWs shouldn’t have a problem peacefully living among one another while they all wait out the war. Like The Magnificent Seven, all of the POWs we meet are charming and tough. They come up with an elaborate escape plan using tunnels they dig underground, including the necessary documentation to get them out of Nazi territory once they’re on the other side of the fence. They even build 3 tunnels simultaneously in case the Nazis discover one.

When the night of escape finally arrives, the Nazis have already discovered one tunnel. The POWs realize, a little late, that the tunnel they’re using isn’t long enough to safely get them past their Nazi guards. They figure out, using signals to each other, how to escape one by one without getting caught. After a whopping 76 POWs escape successfully, one of the POWs makes noise to alert the Nazis and the escape is cut short. As insanely stressful and tense as the escape was, I was shocked to learn that 76 had escaped because it was kind of hard to keep track on screen. It was awesome! As a viewer, you feel like celebrating. Fuck you, Nazis! Go USA! But what’s strange is there’s almost a full hour of the movie left at this point. But that’s surely to track some of the main POWs in their escape out of Nazi territory. Right?

Ha, ha! Gotcha! After we watch the 76 POWs escape we are fortunate enough to watch 50 of them get murdered by Nazis. And a bunch more get re-captured and sent back to the Nazi camp. Literally only three POWs actually escape. It was one thing when four of the magnificent seven were killed because A.) I mean, you kind of expect it and B.) they died on their own terms, trying to save the village. Both The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape have the same number of good guy survivors. Not. Cool.

I wouldn’t say this movie is bad, per se. Those amazing actors are still amazing in it. And it’s a harrowing true story for sure. I just kind of wanted to curl up and die after watching it.

Christopher

Another John Sturges movie I’ve seen well over ten times. I loved this movie when I was younger and I really wanted Elizabeth to watch and enjoy it as much as I did.
While I still enjoy the film quite a lot, it wasn’t quite how I remembered it. I wish they had taken more time explaining some of the escape routes and showing us all the tunnels. I wish we had a better understanding of how many people did escape. And I really wish there was more Steve McQueen! I totally forgot how much of an outsider he is in this film.
I think the highlight of this film is the scene where the Americans make moonshine on the Fourth of July. Besides celebrating it in front of British troops it’s an exciting scene.
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THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

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Christopher

I’ve seen this movie so many times now but it’s never become dull or uninteresting. The story in this film seems very textbook but I think that’s part of what makes it so great. We become acquainted with the main villain in the first scene of the film. We get to meet our main character in an exciting carriage ride which has us rooting for him from the very beginning. We meet our team and what makes them above average. And finally we get to see the battle unfold and who does and doesn’t make it to the end.
My favorite of the seven is hands down James Coburn’s character, Britt. To me he has the greatest setup of the seven.  He comes off cool when people he works with argue that he can’t do what he says he can: draw quicker with a knife than a pen. Once this is put to the test a man is dead and we know exactly who’s the perfect fit for the team!
I saw this many years before I saw Seven Samurai but finding that connection in high school was my first real exposure to Kurosawa. If that hadn’t happened I don’t know what I would of done if I didn’t have Ikiru to watch a hundred times.
I doubt I would enjoy the remake anywhere close to this but I hope we watch it at some point.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

There wasn’t one main thing about westerns that made me dismiss them when I was younger. In fact, I remember watching Stagecoach sometime in elementary school and liking it. But I hated John Wayne. When I first knew he existed I didn’t know why he was famous; when I found out he was an actor I felt like I got the joke – ohhhh right, that guy’s a HORRIBLE actor, ha ha! The fact that John Wayne seemed to be the epitome of a western actor did not bode well to me. Then I saw The Searchers in a summer camp film class the summer after 9th grade and my fears were confirmed: westerns are long, westerns are boring, women are property in westerns, and John Wayne sucks. That was the last time I wasted time on a western for a while.

In my defense, it would have helped to see cool westerns with cool guys like For A Few Dollars More or The Magnificent Seven. And in fact, The Magnificent Seven combines a lot of movie tropes that I’ve always loved: a good guy posse, male friendships, meeting each member of the posse individually, an unexpectedly bad bad guy, and sexy cowboys.

I admit I sort of laughed when I found out Eli Wallach was the bad guy. Eli Wallach? Of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly AND Keeping the Faith? Right, okay. He even acts jolly! Until he murders a man in front of his whole town for no reason. With that he enters different bad guy territory: an unexpectedly bad bad guy, the scariest kind. Wallach and his posse are terrorizing a Mexican village, pillaging it whenever they need supplies. The men of the town decide to hire guns to defend themselves. Then they meet Chris (Yul Brynner), a very casually sexy cowboy who tells them their money will go further if they hire gunmen instead of buy guns. Chris looks around at the villagers, sees their level of attractiveness, and realizes he must be the one to recruit the gunmen.

It doesn’t happen exactly like that but because of one of my favorite parts of the movie, he may as well have. Along with the main 7 and the bad guys, there are villages and posses full of extras throughout the movie. In any of these larger scenes with lots of characters, any of the 7 stick out like a sore thumb. Why? Because they are gorgeous and no one else is. It’s not even a case of the extras being made to look dirty or grimy; it’s straight up attractiveness. The 7 all look like movie stars, and even though there are ranks of attractiveness within the 7, all of the extras just look like normal people. The contrast was so stark I made up a subplot that included sexy radar that all of the 7 must have had in order to find each other.

Chris, who looks like this:

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picks up Vin, played by Steve McQueen, who looks like this:

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Together they gather Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), who looks like this:

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Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), who, no joke, looks like THIS:

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Britt (James Coburn), who looks like this (cute butt added for good measure):

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And Lee (Robert Vaughn), who looks like this:

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The six men start to get followed around by Chico, a local villager played by the hilariously German-named Horst Buchholz, and they have no choice but to take him along because he looks like this:

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Anyway, each of the 7 has a niche skill that they bring to the good guy posse. I expected there to be one big, final showdown between the 7 and Wallach and his posse, which the 7 would win, which made me think I sort of knew how the whole thing was going to end. There is a big showdown, which the 7 win, but it doesn’t end there. Chico infiltrates the bad posse and finds out that they’re coming back, and soon, because they’re out of food. The 7 ride out to meet the posse and deal with them there, but find the camp abandoned. When they come back to the village they find it overtaken by the bad posse. Knowing they’ve won, the bad posse lets the 7 go, figuring the 7 have just found out that this village isn’t worth dying for. After the bad posse leads the 7 out of the village and gives them back their guns, Britt is immediately ready to go back, pissed off that they were bested. Everyone but Harry agrees to go back and fight; Harry rides off on his own just to come back to the village in the nick of time to save Chris from being shot. In the end, Chris shoots Wallach and all but he, Vin, and Chico of the 7 are killed trying to save the village. The 7 technically win, but as Chris says in the last lines, “We lost. We’ll always lose.”

So, The Magnificent Seven was not only not boring but it was actually cool and full of eye candy in tight jeans. I’m annoyed with myself for not watching this sooner, but I also just blame John Wayne. If this dude was instead the ultimate face in cowboy badassery:

31257629_1300x1733 instead of the lumbering, eternally-an-old-man-who-can’t-act John Wayne, I probably would have wanted to watch this a lot sooner.

HUNGER (2008)

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Elizabeth

I’m going to be totally honest: I was excited to see Hunger for mainly two reasons. A.) Steve McQueen directed it and B.) Michael Fassbender and his dick are in it. Yes, I was very excited for Michael Fassbender nudity. So excited, in fact, that I sort of forgot that a movie about a prison hunger strike probably wouldn’t have sexy nudity. That oversight became pretty clear pretty fast and ultimately I didn’t even want to see Michael Fassbender’s dick because naked wasn’t the best state for his character to be in.

So Hunger actively made me not want to see Michael Fassbender naked. That’s a feat in itself. Aside from all of that, I think if you described this movie to me I wouldn’t have been too excited for it. There is an extreme lack of dialogue, and except for some text in the beginning you’re not told much of what’s going on or who anyone is (which can leave people not very familiar with modern Irish history sort of in the dark at times). But somehow, it worked for me. I usually hate that shit. But I almost didn’t even notice, I think it wasn’t until 15 minutes in that I realized no one had really even spoken yet. There was just so much to watch and understand and the acting was so incredible that you really didn’t even need dialogue, which is something I almost never think.

A lot has been said about Michael Fassbender’s physical transformation, which I admit is really pretty horrifying to see. I never really thought too hard about how a hunger strike works, what it truly does to your body, and I would have been fine not thinking about it had it not been for this movie. But while that transformation was incredible and everyone was on the top of their acting game, that’s not what pushed Hunger over the edge from good to great for me. That, for me, came from one single scene. Bobby (Fassbender) has decided to go on a hunger strike to protest the treatment IRA protesters receive in prison (and for good reason; the wardens at this prison act more like SS officers than people who work in a prison) and is speaking to Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham) about his hunger strike plans. Moran is on his side intellectually but tries to convince Bobby not to go through with the strike because it will likely kill him and the others that follow. But about 10 minutes into their conversation, at a pause, I suddenly realized that this scene had been going on a long time and I didn’t think the camera ever moved. I paid more attention and found that the camera never moved, that this scene was actually a completely unbroken shot of the two men talking. The dialogue was so amazing that the unbroken shot was hard to even notice. I was floored by that, especially considering this was a movie where dialogue was not high on the priorities list. I don’t even know what more to say about this scene, because it literally is just a filmed conversation between two men. But it is incredible and made me completely love the movie.

Hunger was hard to watch at times, especially toward the end, but it is so good.

Christopher

Sadly, this is the first Steve McQueen movie I’ve actually seen. I remember when this came out I really wanted to see it but of course it wasn’t until now that I actually did. We started 12 Years a Slave but realized we weren’t in the mood for such an intense movie at the time so we never got back to it. And Shame, I kind of thought it had to do with incest so I skipped that all together. Having seen Hunger, I really need to see everything he does. This film was so beautiful and well directed. The opposite of an M. Night movie.

What I really enjoyed about Hunger was the silence. Two thirds of this film has little to zero dialogue and it’s more of a collection of scenes following different people around one prison than a straight narrative. We follow prison guards, prisoners, and police officers. You get a good sense of everyone involved and how they all think and feel about the treatment bestowed upon the prisoners. It’s done so well too that you don’t really think about no one really talking.

About a third into the film though there is a scene that is just straight up talking. Just two men at a table, having a conversation, that’s done, in large, with one shot. WHAT A GREAT IDEA!! I mean before this time we don’t really even know people’s names that well but all of a sudden we get to see a prisoner and a priest discuss what’s going on with them, how they feel about the mistreatment, and what they plan on doing to get out. It’s a scene that captivates you, too. It reminds me of the long shot in Atonement. You don’t really know it’s happening until about ten minutes into the scene. Then you realize how this is the most talking in the movie, then, have they even changed camera angles? It very well done and I wish more movies had a similar structure.

This movie is great. If you haven’t seen it, please do. As someone who knows nothing about politics, this movie is still one of the best I’ve seen in a while. I almost hope we watch more Steve McQueen again soon!