Thursday Screener

Catch-22, Good Time and Fitzcarraldo
Film+TV | 6 May 2021
This article is part of HERO Dailies – Essential culture, curated daily and also part of Thursday Screener

HERO DAILIES: Essential culture, curated daily
THURSDAY SCREENER: Three films that should be in your watchlist

Catch-22 by Mike Nichols, 1970

Based on the cult-novel by Joseph Heller, Catch-22 is the story that precipitated the phrase. Set on Pianosa, the Mediterranean island turned military base during the Second World War, bomber pilot John Yossarian is desperate to escape the fate of his many fallen comrades. But when the number of missions required to rotate home is increased, Yossarian discovers he’s trapped by a self-perpetuating piece of legislation designed to keep him flying missions indefinitely.

Catch-22 means that a pilot would have to be insane to want to fly more missions meaning he’d be unfit to fly. But if that pilot refused to fly more missions it would suggest he’s sane, meaning he’d be fit to fly more missions. This is one of several mutually conflicting plot devices used by Heller to emphasises the futile capriciousness of war and those in charge. With a cast that includes Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel (in his screen debut), Orson Welles, Martin Sheen and Jon Voight among many others, Catch-22 is a rare example of a film that does justice to its literary precursor.

Catch-22 is now streaming on YouTube

Good Time by the Safdie Brothers, 2017

Much was made of the Safdie Brothers’ most recent film Uncut Gems, but in our opinion their 2017 film Good Time is the real diamond. Both are pulse-chastening and visceral experiences but in Good Time, the Safdie’s spin their yarn within the space of 24 hours without ever coming up for air, delivering an update on the ‘doomed-from-the-beginning’ heist sub-genre.

Based on the relationship between two brothers in New York, Good Time opens with a botched bank robbery that sets the tone for what follows: 90 minutes of anxiety cut with fleeting moments of dread. Unlike similar examples within the genre, Dog Day Afternoon or Victoria for example, the rest of the film centres on the robbery’s two perpetrators trying to re-unite with one another. This is complicated by the fact that one suffers from severe learning difficulties and spends the majority of the film locked up in Rikers. With a genuinely unforgettable performance from Robert Pattinson (who blindly emailed the directors in 2014 with a plea to appear in their next film) and a superb score from Oneohtrix Point Never, make sure this is the next film you watch.

Good Time is streaming on Netflix. 

Good Time by the Safdie Brothers, 2017

Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog, 1982

Deep within the hostile Amazon Basin, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald is determined to erect a most ambitious opera house. The character – dreamt up by Werner Herzog for his 1982 film of the same name – is a figure of wild dreams and uncompromising ambition. For him, the only thing standing in the way of his idyllic venue is his desire to succeed. Faced with a path blocked by treacherous rapids, he draws up a plan to sail a steamer loaded with building materials up the river and then drag the 320-ton ship over the hillside to his intended destination – like Sisyphus with a penchant for Enrico Caruso.

Taking over two years to film, the project proved as ambitious as its plot, with Herzog poetically mirroring his stubborn protagonist. During production, original cast members Jason Robards and Mick Jagger quit the project and locals set fire to the filmmakers’ camp, while Robards’s replacement, German actor Klaus Kinski, was prone to fits of violent rage so eruptive that two Indian chiefs approached Herzog with offers to murder him – Herzog declined as Kinski still had scenes left to film. Both Fitzcarraldo and Herzog’s aligned stories investigate the fine line between seizing one’s dream and losing one’s mind.

Fitzcarraldo is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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