Week 7: Rotten Wednesday. Is Stalker Beloved by All?

It’s Wednesday, and you all know what that means.  It’s time to check out the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes to get a feel for what is good and bad about the movie of the week.  Of course, this week we’re tackling the Andrei Tartovsky 1979 sci-fi film Stalker.  I’ve never heard of it.  Odds are good you haven’t, either!  It will be the first IMDB Top 250 movie we tackle with subtitles, not that I mind.

How does it fare with critics?  We have another 100%.  The problem?  It’s based on 16 reviews.  Opening the search to other review aggregators doesn’t help.  Metacritic doesn’t know the movie even exists.  IMDB has an overall rating of 8.1 out of 10 for the film based on a larger sample, but that includes viewers.  I prefer to separate critical and general reception of the films.  In this case, Rotten Tomatoes audience members chimed around 25,000 votes in to elect Stalker a 94%.  This suggests that audiences and critics are in agreement pretty nicely, and it’s not an incredibly arty film.  That is quite encouraging, since so far during this week we’ve had a somewhat vague synopsis, a REALLY freaky movie poster to look at, and no trailers in existence to sell us this movie.  The fact that so many people enjoy it actually makes me a little more excited to watch.


“Seminal feature from Tarkovsky, the master of atmosphere and multi-functional allegory is truly affecting, as well as fodder for countless film studies curricula.”

David Parkinson, Empire


“Considering there is little in the way of action and that the plot moves in a slow and epic manner, it is surprisingly tense. The initial scenes in the industrial wastelands of the city are shot in bleak sepia, giving way to the vibrant colour and greenery in the Zone – one thing’s for certain, as they step off their hijacked train wagon, they’re not in Kansas any more.”
Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film


Like all Tarkovsky films it is grounded in finding one’s roots and knowing that one is possessed of an inner freedom-a supposed worldly weakness born out of a moral conviction that provides one’s faith to overcome the seemingly stronger forces in the world. The plot line weaves its way through a necessary spiritual crisis so that healing can begin. For the filmmaker, a spiritual crisis is an attempt to find redemption and acquire a stronger or new faith through the means of discovering the kind of love located in a zone no one can ever take away from mankind.

Dennis Schwartz


So from the reviews I can gather that this movie is epic, dark, and potentially difficult to watch due to some aspect of its atmosphere.  We’ll check that out for ourselves.  I’m not usually one to look for too much symbolism while I’m watching a movie.  There’s not enough time to sit and ponder it before something else in the plot happens.  I’m intrigued by the second review that suggests the film gives you ample time for this by pausing, and this stoppage does not affect the pacing of Stalker significantly.

Well, we’ll see about all that!


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Week 7: Trailer Tuesday. What is Stalker About?

Hello all!  Stalker is on tap for this week.  Judging from movie posters and the like, it appears to be a strange film.  I say judging from those because I cannot, for the life of me,find an official trailer!  If the IMDB site is to be believed, then the trailer is mostly two people riding on a train and then two other people conversing in Russian.
Youtube is no more luck.  Mostly fan trailers, which I’m not terribly interested in watching.  So far we have an odd-looking Russian film without any trailer to tell us what’s going on.  This doesn’t look terribly promising!

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Week 7: Movie Selection. What’s the poison this week?

Further and further down the rabbit hole we go.  What’s the number today?  What lottery ticket have we pulled?


Stalker (1979)!


Yet another movie I’ve not heard of!  What’s it about?  Here’s a synopsis from IMDB.

Near a gray and unnamed city is the Zone, an alien place guarded by barbed wire and soldiers. Over his wife’s numerous objections, a man rises in the dead of night: he’s a stalker, one of a handful who have the mental gifts (and who risk imprisonment) to lead people into the Zone to the Room, a place where one’s secret hopes come true. That night, he takes two people into the Zone: a popular writer who is burned out, cynical, and questioning his genius; and a quiet scientist more concerned about his knapsack than the journey. In the deserted Zone, the approach to the Room must be indirect. As they draw near, the rules seem to change and the stalker faces a crisis.

A sci-fi adventure, apparently.  And look at that box cover!  Holy cow.  It looks relatively terrifying.  Russian, too.  It looks like we’ve got our first movie in a foreign language on the IMDB Quest.  At 164 minutes, we’re also in for a pretty long haul if this movie turns out to be not all it’s cracked up to be.

There we go.  A new week, a new movie.  Let’s have some fun with it over the week and figure out some stuff!

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Week Six: Complete! The Third Man was…Interesting!

Hello everyone.  Just finished up watching The Third Man.  I liked it, but as usual with these older films I felt it dragged in the middle some.  I checked the time remaining often throughout.

It’s no matter.  The film, especially in the beginning, was quite good.  I loved the setup of post-war Vienna.  I loved the characterization, specifically that of the lead Holly Martins.  He displayed the brash American attitude (and ignorance) that we come to expect in the USA.  Stereotypical, almost!  He does not understand the nuance of Calloway and Callahan as name and mixes them up.  He mispronounces Winkel.  He doesn’t speak a lick of German.

I also liked the performances.  Throughout the quest so far the movies in the 50s or so have tended to have somewhat hammy performances save for a few exceptions.  I don’t know why I feel this way about them, but I didn’t have that feeling with The Third Man.  Orson Welles in particular had his own gravitational pull from the second he showed up.  Perhaps that was hype, but I was impressed, nonetheless!  In the scene where Martins is waiting for him is a cafe, I found I was almost as tense to see him again, mostly because I wanted more from Welles.
The zither score was a bit obtrusive for me.  It felt like incidental music similar to “On the Waterfront,” to be honest.  It wasn’t bad, but it’s all you heard for most of the movie, and I just didn’t care for it that much.

It had some awesome lines.  My favorite is one that is probably famous, spoken by Harry Lime.

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”

Love it.  Awesome.  Apparently, it’s not true at all, but it’s awesome nonetheless.

I would recommend seeing this movie.  Have a ball.  You won’t regret it, especially if you like suspense!

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Week 6: Before the Plunge. Will The Third Man hold up after 60+ Years?

Tomorrow we’re going to be checking out the film “The Third Man.”  We’re already aware from Wednesday what the critics have to say about this movie.  At 104 minutes, it should be rather tolerable if it’s not perfect.

Am I excited to see it?  Frankly, no.  I’ve never seen an old noir film, and I’m not so sure I will like it when I do.  I don’t really get the plot from the resources we’ve checked out over the week, and these older movies tend to drag, even if they’re great.  I’m watching this one out of obligation.  I hope my expectations are blown completely out of the water, but there you go!

On the other hand, I have never seen Orson Welles in an acting role to my best recollection.  It’s another opportunity to go in fresh on a legendary actor, something I enjoyed immensely with Marlon Brando and “On the Waterfront.”

I decided to go in without listening to the soundtrack, as well.  Therefore, no post yesterday.  I want to hear this supposedly iconic soundtrack fresh and in context.

So we’ll be seeing you tomorrow!  I hope you’re watching along at home if you haven’t seen it.  The Thiiiiird Man!  (according to the trailer).

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Aside: 6 movies in and no streams

I have been paying attention to this phenomenon since the beginning of the Quest.  Netflix is arguably the largest purveyor of online streaming and DVD rental subscriptions.  I primarily use my account for streaming.  Rather, my wife streams a lot of shows.  I would love to use this service to follow the IMDB Top 250 Quest, but alas!  Not a single movie so far on the journey has been available for streaming.  You can certainly get all the DVDs, so there’s that.  But these are movies, judged by consensus, to be the best of all time.  I just think it’s hilarious to find none so far that have been available to stream.

You can’t even argue that it’s because all the movies have been old.  There Will Be Blood was also not available for online play.  I’ve had to go through other means to get every movie.  We’re not exactly talking Ricky 1 here.  It makes me wonder if there is some kind of running copyright issue or something technical related to getting these on the stream, but I’ve seen a lot of old stuff on there.  You can stream the old X-Men show, silent films, and other things that have no shine of newness.

It’s odd!

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Week 6: Rotten Wednesday, Glowing Reviews for the Third Man?

You know what Wednesday means!  This week we’re tackling another film from generations ago, The Third Man.  The trailer didn’t give us all that much to latch onto, but at 104 minutes this should be a rather bearable ride.  Today, we’re taking a look at some aggregate ratings for this movie.  How does it fare

Critical reception: 100% based on 59 critics

Audience reception: 93% based on 45,000 reviews

The Third Man comes with another glowing recommendation from the critics.  Audiences seem to agree that it’s pretty sweet, too.  So this movie packs a wollop when it comes to popular opinion.

So what do they have to say about it specifically?

“I hate being asked what my favorite movie of all time is. It’s too hard. There’s too many to choose from. But when push comes to shove, I always name “The Third Man.” And so when the idea of starting a monthly movie club came up, it seemed the inevitable place to start. I can only envy the viewer who gets to encounter Reed’s movie for the first time.”

David Ansen, The Daily Beast

David’s review was a little short on substance, but it was glowing.  He loved its noir, especially, and the zither score.

“…a gripping, multi-layered thriller that reflected the ambience of the cynical political arrangements in post WWII Vienna.”

Emanuel Levy, www.emanuellevy.com

Right there is another glowing review, one that I suggest you go check out yourself.  It appears there are plot details spoiled, so keep that in mind!

All in all, the consensus is strong and favors the noir atmosphere of this film.  In addition, everybody seems to be in love with the musical score and the cinematography.  For my sake, I never really notice the visuals of the film and marvel at them.  For me, it will subconsciously steal from the film to have bad cinematography, at best.  I simply do not have an eye for it.  That gets me a little nervous when one of the major praises is the visual aspect of the film.  It goes over my head, normally.   I like to remember the main points favored or disfavored by the critics and incorporate them into my thoughts on the movie after the show.

Apparently, there was not too much worth criticizing here.  A tale of the uneasy relations in post-war Vienna between different nationalities?  Count me in!  I’m quite a bit more psyched to see this movie after Rotten Wednesday.

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Week 6: Trailer Tuesday. What the heck is “The Third Man?”

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of this film, “The Third Man.”  That’s why I’m hoping the trailers can enlighten us a little as to the plot and general tone.  If it’s like the trailers for “On the Waterfront,” though, then I’m afraid we might be out of luck.

Here we go!

He’ll have you in a dither with his zither?  That’s hilarious.  Contrived, but hilarious!

This trailer pretty much sucked.  Is it just that they didn’t have to sell movies as hard as they need to today?  Maybe I’m spoiled, but basically what we found out here was that this movie’s called “The Third Man” about 50 times, and then we find it’s a tale of suspense.

We won’t judge this book by its cover, but the cover, so far, has some wear and tear.  We’ll be checking out some more over the course of the week to see if we can’t pique interest a bit more.  In the meantime, does the trailer get you psyched to watch?  No, not particularly.  Does it convey what the movie is about?  It does, a bit.  We know we’re in Vienna.  We know there is a third man.  We know there is seduction.  I got little else from the trailer.

“On the Waterfront” has taught us to be patient, though.  Its trailer was similarly “meh.”

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Week 6: Movie Selection

So yeah, On The Waterfront was a pretty good flick.  Maybe it dragged a bit here and there, but it deserves a place on the “Oughta Watch This” list.
Now we’re spinning at magic random number wheel again!  What will we land on?

68…The Third Man!  My list tells me it’s from 1949, so we’re walking back even further this week from On the Waterfront.  That’s not something I expected to do.  What’s this movie about?  I’ve never heard of it.


An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins, arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime’s friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.

Synopsis courtesy of IMDB.  And who is playing this so-called Harry Lime character?  Orson Welles, no less!  A towering figure in cinema right there.  Of course, Lime being dead, old Orson can’t have too big a role to play, I imagine.  I can’t say I’ve heard of any of the other actors or actresses.   We’ll begin our exploration of this film starting tomorrow.  Let me know if you’ve seen this film already!

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Week 5: Complete!

On the Waterfront!  Today’s Friday, and as I’ve been mentioning, we’re getting this week’s film done early.  Voila.  I will be without Internet tomorrow, rendering me unable to make a post.  No matter.
How did I like this Brando classic?  It was quite good!  I felt that the beginning transitioning into the middle was a little dragged, but once the conflicts started coming to heads I was pretty well hooked.  I loved the characters presented.  There tends to be a sort of shouty kind of acting that goes on in these old films I’ve seen.  The dialogue will feel forced, stilted.  The script itself is usually weak.  I did not feel that way about this movie.

Was it worth 100% on Rotten Tomatoes?  Maybe not quite so much.  It wasn’t a perfect film.  I felt their soundscaping was well-done, and I’m glad the musical score was used sparingly.  The way the music itself was done just didn’t gel for me very well.  It didn’t feel integrated into the movie, partly due to mixing- something I doubt they had so much control over in the 50s- and partly due to the composition.  It felt more like “music inspired by ‘On the Waterfront'” than incidental music.  For me, the fact that they chose to use silence more often than not made a striking impression.  Movies seem not to do that today unless they’re about to jump something out at you.
Marlon Brando was awesome.  I’m sure you needed to see me say that to confirm what you’ve heard.  Eva Marie Saint was as good as she subsequently was in “North by Northwest.”  On the whole, I liked the performances a lot.  There were a lot of minor players, tough guys who had to be meek.  It doesn’t seem so easy to convey.

Would I recommend it?  Yep!  You bet.  I don’t know that I could sit through it again any time too soon.  It did drag a bit, and the music got a little annoying.

One other thing, I wish there was some resource on the web that could easily put into perspective what kind of money these guys were making.  Charlie pleading with Terry that this job will pay “$400 a week!” doesn’t resonate with us well in the 21st century.  It would be neat to read about how much money that actually was, perhaps from someone who lived at the time.  Ah, well.

Good movie, good time.  Didn’t regret this watch in the least!

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