Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Great Dictator (1940)

Chaplin's The Great Dictator is a superb film with great comedy and a lot of heart. It succeeds in poking fun at a very serious situation without being disrespectful Granted at the time it was made the atrocities of the Nazi's were not known to the extent in which they existed, and had they been known perhaps this film would not have been made.

The film follows two main characters, both played by Chaplin of course. The first is a Jewish barber, a veteran of the first world war. He was injured at the end of the war in a plane crash. He was in a coma a very long time and awakened nearly a decade later into the Hynkel regime. Hynkel is the dictator of the Jewish barber's home country created by Chaplin meant to be a spoof on Hitler.

The barber returns to his shop (which is now covered in cobwebs and dust) and begins to set up when a couple of storm troopers come and begin to give him trouble. Not knowing what the current situation of his country is, the barber puts up a fight. He appears to be getting beaten, but a lovely neighbor girl (Paulette Goddard) gives the help of her frying pan for his rescue.

The second character is the dictator of Tomania, (the fictional country made to represent Nazi Germany) Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel is not as ruthless as the real life Hitler, he is made to seem more like a puppet to his right hand man Garbitsch (pronounced garbage). Garbitsch is Hynkel's top advisor and does almost all the thinking for the dictator (reminded me a bit of the Bush-Cheney relationship as depicted in Oliver Stone's picture W.).

The film is really quite outstanding, with shining performances by Chaplin as usual as well as Ms. Goddard and Maurice Moscovitch as Mr. Jaeckel. You'll get a kick out of Chaplin's German as he often throws wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut into the Hynkel speeches. An outstanding script written by an amazingly talented individual, not since Chaplin has one man been able to do so much for the world of comedic films with the exception of maybe Woody Allen.

If you are a fan of classic films, but are unable to sit through a silent then I would recommend The Great Dictator as your introduction into Chaplin films. You'll certainly get a better since of who Charlie Chaplin was then you will in, say, A Countess from Hong Kong. Also an interesting look into a perception of Nazi Germany right in the heat of the war. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = A-

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lifeboat (1944)

Although I wouldn't consider Lifeboat to be one of Hitchcock's best films, it is still worth seeing. Straying away from his niche of suspenseful mysteries, Hitch goes into an examination of characters and human nature as he sticks seven survivors of a shipwreck on a lifeboat, as well as a survivor from the Nazi U-Boat that sunk them.

Tallulah Bankhead plays Connie Porter, a world famous photographer and reporter who was covering the war in Europe and traveling to Bermuda when the ship was sunk. She is seemingly very self-absorbed and the only thing that seems to matter to her is getting material for her book.

Gus Smith (William Bendix) was a crewman aboard the ship. He was at the wheel when the ship went down, and was hit in the leg with some shrapnel and is very worried about becoming gimpy if his leg doesn't heal. Gus has German heritage, and has changed his name from Schmidt to Smith out of embarrassment and shame of the Nazis. Back home he has a girl named Rosie whom he loves very much, and he is worried that if he returns a gimp that she may leave him for another man.

John Hodiak is John Kovac, an engine room worker and tattooed bad boy. He is a born leader, but his brash personality and attitude make the others distrust his judgment at times. When the Nazi is brought on board Kovac immediately distrusts him and wants him thrown overboard. Kovac also has an immediate strong distaste for Connie and her selfish attitude.

Charles Rittenhouse, or Ritt as he likes to be called (Henry Hull) is a self-made millionaire with many factories stateside. Ritt is friends with Connie from the ship, and they are very buddy-buddy with each other on the lifeboat. He loves to play poker, and passes his time on board the lifeboat by playing cards with Kovac.

Mary Anderson plays Alice MacKenzie, a medical officer in the U.S. Army. For her the shipwreck was a blessing in disguise because the boat was eventually going to take her to London where she had some trouble with a married man. Alice is a very pretty young woman, and there seems to be some kind of romance brewing between her and Sparks (Hume Cronyn). Sparks is a Merchant Marine whom you don't really learn much about. He seems to be a good man, and does a good job of keeping his cool in rough situations.

Joe (Canada Lee) is the last of the survivors from the ship. He is the only African-American on the lifeboat, and is a sympathetic and good-natured character; a rarity in films during this time period. He is an ex-pickpocket who is leading a good life with his wife and children. He also seems to have known Connie and Ritt from before, and spends a great deal of time playing the flute.

Willy the Nazi (Walter Slezak) is the only survivor from the U-Boat that shot down the ship. No one really knows whether to trust him or not at the beginning, or whether or not to even let him live. He seems like an all-right fellow but you really can't trust a Nazi. He is only able to communicate through Connie who is the only one aboard who speaks German.

Lifeboat is worth watching, especially if you're a Hitchcock fan who would like to see something different. Hitch does a great job of giving us unique characters and unique reactions to a group mentality as well as difficult moral situations. William Bendix is the brightest star of the picture in my opinion, he gained my respect as an actor in his debut role in Woman of the Year and he is just as superb in Lifeboat as he is in the previously mentioned.

If you have yet to see a Hitchcock picture, I would not start with Lifeboat, as you will not get a good feel for his directorial style. I would definitely recommend it for future viewing, but I would get you started with Vertigo or North by Northwest (which happen to be two of my all-time favorite films).

Lifeboat is based off of a novella by John Steinbeck, which alone is reason enough to see the film. It is impossible for me to say whether or not Hitch stuck to Steinbeck's story because the Steinbeck story has never been published. I have been led to understand however that if you would like to view a copy of it then you can make an appointment at the National Steinbeck Center in Carmel, California. Worth watching, especially if you're a fan of Hitchcock or Steinbeck. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B+

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Circus (1928)

In The Circus Charlie Chaplin yet again demonstrates just why he is one of the most talented people to ever live. Chaplin was recognized as such for his work writing, directing and producing this film by the first Academy Awards in 1929. They bestowed upon him and honorary award "For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus". Chaplin also wrote the score, and sang the title song in the 1969 re-release.

Chaplin stars as his trademark character The Tramp. The circus is currently in town, and The Tramp is visiting. While he is standing watching a side show a pickpocket is doing his work. When the pickpocket is confronted, he slips the stolen wallet and watch into The Tramp's pocket. Later on, when The Tramp notices is spending some of his newfound wealth the wallet's original owner shows up and attempts to have The Tramp arrested. The Tramp flees, and the police officer chases after him through the circus in a bout of hilarity which is so humorous that the Ring Master (Al Ernest Garcia) offers him a job.

Since The Tramp has no job and no money, he accepts the Ring Master's offer and sets up a tryout for the following morning. Unfortunately since The Tramp was not intending to be funny when he was fleeing the law, he fails miserably at his audition and the job offer is revoked. But when the disgruntled property men quit, the Ring Master must find someone quick and the only man around is The Tramp. However every time The Tramp goes on stage to bring out a prop he fails and ends up flopping around and the crowd goes nuts with laughter. The Tramp has no idea, but he is the big draw to the shows and the big moneymaker for the circus.

The Circus then continues with comedic genius as The Tramp steals the show, falls for the girl (Ring Master's abused step-daughter played by Merna Kennedy) and fights the boss. This is really one of Chaplin's most underrated films. I personally enjoyed it more so than City Lights and almost as much as Modern Times. I certainly don't consider myself a Chaplin expert, but this movie is great. He not only comes up with a wonderful story of love and sacrifice, but he sustains a great amount of humor throughout the picture that is sure to bring a smile to anyone's face young and old, and at only 68 minutes long it's a much better hour spent than say watching an episode of CSI: Miami. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = A

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Free Money (1998)

I went in to Free Money thinking that it was going to be another bad comedy from the nineties, and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. It’s really not that bad of a movie. Admittedly it is very dumb, and rather unoriginal but there was something about it that I really found rather charming.

The movie starts out with teenage identical twins daughters Inga and Liv (Christin and Holly Watson in their only roles, cinematic or otherwise) telling their father (Marlon Brando) that they are pregnant. The soon to be fathers are lifetime losers Bud (Charlie Sheen) and Larry (Thomas Haden Church). Bud and Larry are terrified of the girls' father, who is the warden of the state prison and nicknamed The Swede. The Swede has a reputation for his brutality, and is currently being investigated by beautiful FBI agent Karen Polarski (Mira Sorvino) for the death of an attempted escapee.

They throw together a shotgun wedding, and Bud and Larry are now in it for better or worse (pardon the PUN) with the twins and The Swede. The girls insist they move in with their father, and there are strict rules placed on the new husbands. Bud and Larry end up hating their lives living with The Swede so much that they hatch a plan to hold up a train coming through the area. The train is transporting old worn out money that is being taken out of circulation. The train engineers are local idiots Louis and Dwayne, and Bud is able to get inside information out of them because of their naivety and ignorance. Bud insists that his plan is flawless and that it will have them set for life so they can take Inga and Liv and get as far away from The Swede and humanly possible. Of course everything goes awry.

There are definitely a lot of things that this movie needs to improve on. For example director Yves Simoneau lacks any real directional skill. He has no distinguishing trademarks, he seems to just set up a camera and shoot. Absolutely no artistry. Also, as I mentioned before, the story is completely unoriginal. There are some new aspects to it, like the daughters still being in high school, but for the most part it's nothing we haven't seen before.

I think what really made me enjoy the movie though is the performance by Charlie Sheen. Personally I consider Sheen to be a great comedic actor, as he has proven in such movies as Major League and television programs Spin City and Two and a Half Men. Thomas Haden Church is also quite funny; he really does a great job in this film with outstanding comedic timing and a spot-on midwestern accent.

Free Money really has gotten a bad rap, undeservedly so in my opinion. I think that when people saw Oscar winners Marlon Brando and Mira Sorvino attached they went in expecting something great, but that's not what they got. If you go in to this movie just looking for a fairly good time then you won't be disappointed. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

John Frankenheimer's The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible picture, as I had been led to believe by other reviews and an abysmal 3.9 rating on IMDb. It is merely a very mediocre film, with its good moments and it's bad moments.

David Thewlis stars as Edward Douglas, a man whose airplane crashed at sea and after the two fellow survivors murdered each other, he became the lone survivor. A boat transporting animals to an island picked up Douglas adrift and an American on board the ship then nursed him back to health. The man being an eccentric doctor (or veterinarian) named Montgomery (Val Kilmer).

When the ship reaches Montgomery's destination, Douglas is persuaded to come ashore and stay on the island in waiting to be rescued and returned home. However, it is not long after the ship is gone that Douglas realizes he is captive on the island as he is locked in his room by Montgomery from the outside.

After Douglas picks the lock in his room, he starts doing some exploring. He ventures his way into an old military hanger where he finds lots of cages filled with exotic animals. There is also some kind of surgery going on in the center of the room, and as Douglas gets closer he realizes that it is some kind of half-man half-animal mutant giving birth. Douglas is so disgusted that he allows himself to utter "Oh my God" which attracts the attention of the men performing the operation. You notice that these "people" are also mutations.

Douglas makes a run for it, and he is helped out by Aissa (Fairuza Balk, whom he had met briefly upon his arrival) who tells him that she can get him off the island so long as he doesn't do anything to hurt her father Dr. Moreau. Douglas agrees, and she leads him through the jungle to a community of these creatures living inside old WWII aircraft wreckage. He is lead to the Sayer of the Law (Ron Perlman), and it appears that the Sayer is going to help Douglas when Montgomery and Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) show up in search for Douglas. Douglas is lead back to the main compound where Moreau explains to him exactly what his experiment is and how he plans to save humanity with his results.

As I mentioned before, The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible film. H.G. Wells' story is so strong that no matter what the cast and crew did to try to destroy it there were still remnants of quality left over. The story is so original and compelling that it is my belief that no matter what is done it is not possible to butcher it to the point of being unwatchable.

The make-up work in The Island of Dr. Moreau is superb. If it were not for the arms and legs you would have no way of telling that there was an actual human actor behind some of the creatures. If this film deserved any recognition, it should have been for make-up at the Academy Awards.

There is no doubt that John Frankenheimer has made far superior pictures (ie. The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) and he didn't seem to have any control over the script or the cast of this film. I have read that he butted heads with both Kilmer and Brando who have been known to be very hard to work with and egotistical, and instead of really dealing with it the two of them were allowed to portray their characters in any way they saw fit and run wild on set. This is something that should have been righted, but was not and the film suffered because of it. I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to see this film, but it really doesn't deserve the harsh reputation that it has. It will soon be forgotten (if it hasn't been already), and mixed in with all the other examples of mediocrity in mainstream cinema over the years. Overall 1.5/4 Stars Grade = C-

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Sullivan's Travels is really a wonderful film, it has great writing and direction and it does a fantastic job of mixing intellectuality with comedy.

Joel McCrea is John L. Sullivan, a rich Hollywood director who wants to venture away from comedies and make a serious picture about poverty in America based off of O Brother, Where Art Thou. Problem is though that his producers don't think he has it in him to make a good picture about poverty. They tell him he hasn't had a moment of trouble in his life, and they're right so Sullivan decides to embark on an adventure across the country disguising himself as a transient in order to learn the life of the less fortunate.

The following day Sullivan heads out, but unfortunately the studio heads have decided to follow him in a giant land yacht documenting his adventure. He is finally able to shake them, and ends up hitching a ride in the back of a semi-truck.

Much to Sullivan's dismay, he wakes up the following morning in the back of the truck back in Hollywood. He makes his way into a diner to grab some breakfast, and that is where we meet The Girl, played by the lovely Veronica Lake. She buys him some food, and he offers to give her a ride back home in his "friends" car. Problem is, he forgets to tell anyone he's taking out his car and it's reported stolen so before too long they are pulled over and arrested. In order to get himself out of jail, he has not choice but to reveal his real identity to the girl.

At first she's hostile towards Sullivan for having tricked her, but she quickly grows to like him and insists on joining him for his experiment. Of course Sullivan is against her accompaniment, he tells her to either stay at his house or go home but she is very persistent and ends up joining him anyways. Along the voyage it seems that every time they get into any trouble his people keep coming to the rescue, whether he wants it or not (and believe it or not sometimes he wants it), so he really doesn't get any tough experience at all... not yet at least.

Sullivan's Travels is probably one of the best comedies I have ever seen. It's able to not only show us the world of the less fortunate, but it is able to show us how they are able to get by day to day and their simple pleasures in life that the rich can't understand.

Preston Sturges' writing is absolutely magnificent; he is able to give us just the right doses of comedy and just the right amount of seriousness. His direction is also incredible; he gets the maximum performances out of the bit players and just the right amount of hopelessness from the actors portraying the poor. Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake also give outstanding performances, all-in-all Sullivan's Travels is really a masterpiece. Definitely worth checking out. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

21 Grams (2003)

21 Grams is a very good picture with many strong points, however it was Naomi Watts' performance as Cristina that really shone through and impressed me.

The film is really extremely complex, following three different story lines as they intersect and become one. The director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu jumps in between the three stories as well as many different time zones in order to tell you what is happening, what has already happened and what is going to happen all at once. This is very confusing for the first half of the film, you really don't get a good idea of what is going on, but it all comes together in the second half.

Normally, I give you a fairly detailed synopsis of the plot of a film in my reviews however I feel that that is impossible for this film without including major spoilers. All I can give you is a brief summary of the characters involved.

Cristina is a grieving mother who has recently lost her husband and two daughters and is turning to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with her pain. Paul (Sean Penn) is a terminally ill mathematician who is married to a woman he doesn't love who wants to have his child while he waits for a heart donation and tries to deal with the concept of what's going to happen when the time comes and he actually dies. And then there's Jack (Benicio Del Toro). Jack is an ex-con who has been in and out of prison since he was sixteen for everything from drugs to grand theft auto. Jack has turned his life over to the Lord and is clean of drugs and alcohol as he tries to keep his life in order and raise his family. A freak accident resulting in tragedy brings these three people and their problems together.

21 Grams is really a film that you have to pay extra close attention to, if your mind wanders at all you will get lost and quite possibly never find your way back in. The way the times move around, it will get you wondering if Alejandro just shuffled the scenes together and threw them in. I am being facisous of course, it becomes obvious about an hour into the film that Alejandro knew exactly what he was doing and he knew exactly where he wanted every scene to be.

The acting is incredible, especially by Naomi Watts as I mentioned earlier. The grief she brings to the screen is so powerful and so convincing you'd think she had lost her own family. Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro also give strong performances, not nearly as strong as Watts however but their roles were not as demanding.

21 Grams is definitely a depressing film, I've even heard some people say that it is the most depressing film ever, but I question that. Many of Ingmar Bergman's films alone are much more depressing than this one not to mention some of Lars Von Trier's work. I would recommend 21 Grams to anyone who considers themselves a cinemaphile, however if you consider yourself a philistine then this film is probably far too complex for your tastes. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Freshman (1990)

I can't say I was particularly impressed with Andrew Bergman's The Freshman. Bergman previously showed immense comedic promise with his screenplay work on Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, but The Freshman just doesn't have what it takes.

Matthew Broderick stars as Clark Kellogg, an incoming freshman at the NYU film school. Upon his arrival in New York Clark is promptly robbed of all his possessions by a thief named Vic (Bruno Kirby). This poses a big problem for Clark, he has no money and no clothes and an egotistical professor who insists his students purchase each and every one of his books (a price upwards of $700).

While in the aforementioned professor's office explaining just why he will be unable to purchase the required reading, Clark notices Vic walking down the street across from the room in which Clark is currently occupying. Clark excuses himself, climbs out the window and begins pursuing Vic down the street. After catching up to Vic, Clark demands his money and possessions back. The money, however, Vic has gambled away at the track. Clark threatens to go to the police, but Vic offers him a job with good money working for his uncle in order to keep himself out of jail.

The uncle is Carmine Sabatini, a powerful importer played by Marlon Brando. The character is the same role that Brando played in The Godfather. The film makes light at the fact that Sabatini is the same character as Corleone. There are many references to The Godfather and multiple characters mention the resemblance between Sabatini and Corleone.

Sabatini offers Clark a job picking up packages at the airport and delivering them to their destination. The job pays $1,000 a week for two days of work, and this high amount of money makes Clark nervous that the job is not entirely legal. Sabatini assures him that everything is on the level, and Clark reluctantly accepts.

Clark assumes that he will be picking up and delivering drugs, but on his first assignment he goes to the airport and picks up a giant lizard. After doing a little research that night, Clark comes to find out that the giant lizard, a Komodo Dragon, is an endangered species. Clark is very upset, and goes to see Sabatini to tender his resignation immediately, but before he can say anything Sabatini kisses him tells him he's marrying his daughter (Penelope Ann Miller) and gives him a brand new Mercedes as an engagement present. He tells him that he is now family, for life.

The problem with The Freshman is that it is supposed to be a comedy and it's just not very funny. The concept of the story is actually somewhat original, but since they were writing it as a comedy and not a drama it becomes flat and uninteresting. Bergman spends too much effort trying to add to the comedic aspect of the story, and doesn't spend enough time in character developement or on the reasons why Sabatini is as powerful as he is. Instead there are scenes that are really somewhat useless like the Komodo Dragon getting loose and running through the mall.

The idea of bringing Marlon Brando in to play Don Corleone with a different name is definitely something unexpected, and it actually doesn't fail miserably. Brando is able to play it with a little bit of humor, and his performance is the lone bright spot in the film. I really wouldn't waste my time on The Freshman; if you want some good Matthew Broderick humor go rent Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Election and if you want some good Brando go for The Godfather. The Freshman just isn't worth it. Overall 1.5/4 Stars Grade = C-

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sin City (2005)

Robert Rodriguez's masterpiece Sin City is a stylized montage of violence mixed with art and sex appeal in possibly the greatest action film of the 21st Century. Based off of the graphic novels by Frank Miller this is truly a film that anyone that can appreciate true art will enjoy.

The film follows three stories, that of police officer Hartigan (Bruce Willis), ex-con in pursuit of revenge Marv (Mickey Rourke), and murderer with a new face Dwight (Clive Owen). Although the stories never intersect, the characters involved are present in all three as well as secondary characters important to the story lines.

Hartigan is an honest cop in a force filled with corruption. After saving eleven-year-old Nancy Callahan from Senator Roark's child molester son Junior, he is shot in the back by his partner (Michael Madsen) and set up by the Senator to take the fall for his son in the rape of young Nancy.

Marv is a mean looking thug who has just had the night of his life with a beautiful girl named Goldie (Jamie King). During the sleep after the copulation someone snuck into the room and killed Goldie. It's obvious that this murder was a frame job, as the police are arriving before anyone could know that Goldie has been killed. There's a great fight scene where Marv takes out multiple cops, and he starts on his voyage of revenge to find Goldie's killer.

Dwight is a wanted killer who has returned to Basin City with a new face to resume his life. When his new girlfriend's (Brittany Murphy) ex-lover Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) comes by with his crew and roughs her up, Dwight decides to follow them through town to make sure that they don't kill any innocent women. He follows them into Old Town, which is run by the hookers. The girls have already got their eye on Jackie Boy and his friends, and when he pulls a gun out on one of them they let them have it. Unfortunately Jackie Boy is a cop, and if it is found out by the police that a cop has been killed in Old Town the truce between the girls and the police will be nullified and Old Town will be left open to be taken over by the pimps and the mob.

Sin City is really a masterpiece of modern filmwork. The usage of very few colors on a mostly black and white screen is almost like watching a painting in motion. The way the black and white and colors is used also brings the ultra violence and gore down to a very subdued level. What would normally be almost unwatchable due to the extremity is brought down to a very watchable level where even people that loathe violence in films are able to handle it.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the way Sin City is written and acted. For the first ten minutes or so I always catch myself thinking that the acting is very poor and the script badly written however once you get used to it, it works very well. The stiffness of some of the performances and the novelistic way that the script is written really ends up working in favor of the film. It goes along so well with the colors (or lack-there-of) and the direction that it ads to the style of the film.

The cast of Sin City is really incredible. It is just packed with big names and A-listers; from Jessica Alba to Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel to Josh Hartnett and Rosario Dawson to Rutger Hauer. While not all of their performances are stunning, it's not great performances that make this movie what it is. It is the art direction by Steve Joyner and Jeanette Scott, and the direction and editing by Robert Rodriguez that make this film so great. Sin City is really the film that established Rodriguez as a great director, and I personally can't wait for the sequels to come out. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

When people like Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader and Jason Segel are involved with the production of a comedy you know you're in for a good laugh. That is the reason that I decided to actually spend the money to go out and see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I wasn't disappointed.

Jason Segel (who also wrote the film) stars as Peter Bretter, a musician who writes the score for the crime drama Crime Scene (which is a spoof on CSI: Miami). Peter is also dating the sexy star of the program, Sarah Marshall (played by the beautiful Kristen Bell). However it's when Sarah breaks up with Peter that the film really starts.

Peter has a very difficult time dealing with the break-up, he spends most of his time wallowing in self-pity and going out and picking up random girls for one-night stands. The quick flings do nothing to ease his pain, so taking the advice from his stepbrother Brian (Bill Hader) he takes a vacation to Hawaii to get away from it all. Unfortunately upon his arrival in Hawaii Peter realizes that not only is Sarah also vacationing in Hawaii with her new lover the rocker Aldus Snow (played by Russell Brand), but they are staying in the same resort.

Peter spends the first few days continuing his self-sorrow from back in LA, but with some encouragement from Brian he makes some friends with the staff of the resort, and becomes romantically interested in the gorgeous Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis). He begins courting her, and before long she reciprocates the feelings and they begin a relationship.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another hilarious film from the Apatow boys, and it really showcases new writer Jason Segel's great comedic talent. Although it is at times a bit raunchy, this is not a dirty film. All the sex scenes are put in there for comedic relief and are not particularly graphic. There is a scene where Peter and Rachel are engaging in the act of coitus, and Sarah overhears and becomes jealous and starts a competition for who can scream louder.

Mila Kunis, who previously has been known for her roles on That 70's Show and Family Guy, really has a breakout performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's a role that really lets her display her talent, and she shines so much I am sure that she will be getting a lot more decent roles in the future. It’s really a fantastic transition from the small screen to features.

Russell Brand is also magnificent as the rock star Aldus Snow. He brings in some great physical comedy, and while all the other performances are great they lack the physicality that Brand brings to the screen. In one scene he is teaching a young newlywed how to please his wife that will have you rolling on the floor.

I would highly recommend Forgetting Sarah Marshall for anyone that can appreciate a good comedy. With great performances and even better writing Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes in as the best comedy of the year so far. Richard Roeper said that it is one of the top 50 comedies of all time, and I'm not sure I would go that far but it's close. Definitely worth seeing. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A-

I would highly recommend Forgetting Sarah Marshall to anyone who can enjoy a good comedy. With great writing, and fantastic performances

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Burning Hills (1956)

Although Stuart Heisler’s The Burning Hills has a fantastic story with interesting characters, it is really brought down by poor acting and an abysmal script. Not even the wonderful Natalie Wood can bring this script to life.

The film starts out with a man getting shot in the back on a ranch and his horses being stolen. The man is the brother of Trace Jordan (Tab Hunter), the hero of our picture.

Trace gets word from one of his ranch hands that the dirty business of horse theft and murder comes from the nearby town, so he heads in to investigate. He learns that everything in the town is run by a Mr. Sutton (played by Ray Teal who gives the only noteworthy performance in the film in his small role). Trace goes to pay Sutton a visit, and upon his arrival at his gate he notices some of his brother's horses with their brands changed from JJ to JS.

After forcing his way inside, he confronts Sutton who is very upset to have his people accused of murder and horse thievery. He insists that it was no one from his town, but Trace knows better. Trace informs Sutton that since the town has no sheriff he will be headed out to bring in the US Military to bring justice to the men that killed his brother. Sutton cannot allow this to happen, so he takes a shot at Trace who returns fire, hitting Sutton in the belly. On his way retreating out of town, Trace gets shot in the side injuring him severely. He rides as far as he can, and ends up collapsing in a small creek at the opening of an old abandoned mine.

The small creek trickles down the hill and into the valley below where it is used to hydrate the sheep of the ranch on the property. When the water stops flowing into the valley because it is blocked by Trace's body Maria (Natalie Wood) heads up the hill to see what is going on. She finds Trace lying there wounded, and nurses him back to health.

Maria has a strong hatred for Sutton and his men, as they killed her father, and as soon as she finds out that Trace had shot old man Sutton she vows to herself that she will do anything she can to help him. She helps distract Sutton's men, and tells him of a place to go and hide for the time being until she can join him and help him to go get the Military. Unfortunately Sutton's men, led by his son Jack (Skip Homeier), soon learn that Maria is helping Trace and it doesn't take long to extract his hiding place from her younger brother.

Throughout the rest of the film is an exciting game of cat and mouse as Trace and Maria try to outrun Sutton's men until they reach the Military outpost. It's a shame that The Burning Hills has so many flaws, because with the strong story and the incredibly talented Natalie Wood in one of the lead roles it could have been an all time classic Western. Tab Hunter and Skip Homeier are absolutely dreadful in their roles, and the lines written for Miss Wood (who's character is half Mexican and speaks broken English) are laughable. They keep emphasizing that she is only half Mexican on her mother's side and that her father was a Yankee which leads me to believe that she would have spoken much better English then she was.

I suppose that the majority of the problems in The Burning Hills can be attributed to Irving Wallace the screenwriter. Even though many of the performances were weak, a good script can strengthen any performance. I would have to think that Louis L'Amour's novel would be far superior to the film, especially since the major strength of the film is the story that L'Amour created. I'd only go out of my way to see The Burning Hills if you're a huge Natalie Wood fan, since she's the only real star in the film. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Brood (1979)

David Cronenberg's The Brood is a pretty twisted picture, but if you're familiar with his other work then that won't surprise you. The Brood was made right around the same time as Scanners and Rabid so it's right smack in the middle of when he was making some of his most disturbing films.

Art Hindle plays Frank Carveth, a father of a five-year-old daughter named Candice and husband to a mentally ill wife Nola (Samantha Eggar). Nola is a patient in a facility that practices a new type of psychiatry where the psychiatrist takes on the roles of people in the patient's life in order to get them to express their deep inner feelings.

One day after picking up his daughter from her weekend visit with Nola, Frank notices that Candice has been beaten; presumably by Nola. This obviously upsets Frank greatly, and he storms down to the psychiatry building to tell them that Candice will not be returning for her weekly visits to her mother.

A little later on in the week Frank takes Candice to stay with her Grandmother for the day while he works. Not long after he drops her off, there is a disturbance in her kitchen. Grandma goes to investigate, and is brutally murdered by what seems to be a child wearing a red coat. Candice not only sees the body, but she also sees the killer and it seems to have traumatized her as it would any normal child.

As the film goes on, more people that are either family members of Nola or friends of her husband and daughter are killed by these children who we now learn are essentially mutants. After Candice is kidnapped by these miniature killers, Frank realizes he must hunt them down if he ever wants to see his daughter again.

Although there are very few scenes where the creatures are actually present, The Brood is a very scary film. The brilliant musical score written by Howard Shore really adds to the suspense and elevates the fear factor to the next level. There are many great performances, especially by Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed who plays the psychiatrist Dr. Hal Raglan. Ms. Eggar really brings Nola’s insanity to the next level.

Many films that have a child as one of the lead roles are brought down by poor performances by the child actor. This is not the case in The Brood as young Cindy Hinds does a fantastic job as Candice. Although she has a very prominent role, her lines are few and far between which really works in portraying her inner terror at the horrible things she has seen.

I would recommend The Brood for anyone that loves horror films or early Cronenberg. Personally I thought it was a little too scary for me, so if you get scared fairly easily in movies then I might skip it. Also if you are a fan of Cronenberg's newer work like A History of Violence or Eastern Promises then you should know that his earlier work like The Brood is very different. It's much cruder and grittier and feels a lot less Hollywood. Personally I prefer his newer work, but I certainly appreciate his older stuff. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = B-

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Although it moves at a snail's pace, Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an outstanding film. Dominik's direction is superb, and Roger Deakins proves once again why he's one of the best cinematographers in the business; if not the best.

Even though Brad Pitt is top billed portraying Jesse James, the story actually revolves around Casey Affleck's Robert Ford. Bob Ford is a 19-year-old kid who has idolized Jesse James his entire life. His older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) has recently been recruited by Jesse and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) to join his gang in an attempt to rob a train.

While the gang is setting up and getting ready for the robbery, Bob is keeping himself busy by talking to Frank and Jesse James. Frank is very apprehensive towards young Robert, but Jesse is much more receptive and personable. Bob is told to stay away from the robbery tonight, but he sees big things for himself in the future.

Over the next few days Robert becomes rather friendly with Jesse. He helps him with odd jobs around the house, and he seems convinced that when another job comes along Jesse will want him on the crew. When the work he is needed for is complete, Jesse sends him home to wait until he needs him again.

Robert lives in a cottage with his sister and Charley, as well as various other members of the Jesse James gang who come to stay there while they're in the area. At the current time Jesse's cousin Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner) and Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) are residing at the abode. From the Ford household Wood and Liddil now head to Wood's father's home. Dick is a bit of a womanizer, and Wood's father is married to a beautiful young woman. Wood warns Dick to stay away from his father's wife, but Dick doesn't pay any attention and this leads to a falling out between the two.

A couple of months later Dick is back at the Ford cottage. He's upstairs sleeping one morning when Wood comes looking for him. There is still a lot of bad blood between the two, and either one of them would kill the other given the chance. Wood heads upstairs to shoot Dick, but Dick is sitting there waiting for him; gun drawn. What ensues is a shootout between the two former friends, which ends with Bob shooting Wood in the head in order to save Dick's life.

Not long after this event occurs, Jesse comes by looking for someone to ride with him and help him knock off some banks. The fact that Bob killed Jesse's cousin makes both Bob and Charley very nervous. Jesse is notorious for his wild temper, and they know that if he were to find out that they would be killed. Although Jesse inquired about Wood's whereabouts, he believes the Ford brothers when they tell him that they have not seen him.

After a little while on the road, Charley convinces Jesse to let Bob join them. The more time Bob spends with Jesse, the more his admiration weakens and his hatred grows. It becomes painfully obvious that either Bob is going to kill Jesse, or Jesse is going to kill Bob. You already know which one it was.

No review of this film would be complete without mentioning the homosexual undertones between Ford and James. James is obviously not a homosexual, and I don't believe Ford was either but his admiration for James was so intense that it needed some kind of sexual release, which was obviously out of the question. Without this much-needed release, the admiration turned to extreme hatred.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is really an exceptional picture. You need to know however that it is not an action film. I heard stories of teenagers going into the theater expecting action and actually walking out. I would hate for someone to be expecting something so drastically different from what they get that they would feel that strongly against this picture.

As I mentioned earlier, Roger Deakins' cinematography in this film is absolutely splendid. He also did the cinematography on No Country for Old Men as well as The Shawshank Redemption and many other great films. The way he shoots landscapes is reminiscent of an old David Lean epic. Casey Affleck is absolutely superb in his Oscar nominated role as Robert Ford. He shows great range and versatility taking on the many complex moods of the character. Brad Pitt, as always, is also magnificent. I have yet to see him perform poorly in any of his films, he can truly play any role and have you lost in his portrayal or his character. I would definitely recommend The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with beautiful cinematography, brilliant acting and great direction it should go near the top of anyone’s list. Just please don't fool yourself into thinking you're going to see some fast paced shoot-em up. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

As a general rule I am not particularly fond of Clint Eastwood's directorial work. The only films of his that I have been particularly impressed with have been Mystic River and Play Misty for Me. I can now add Million Dollar Baby to that mix. I don't hold it in as high regard as Mystic River, but it is still very good.

Clint Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, a boxing trainer and manager in the twilight of his career. He owns a gym, and has recently lost a fighter to the current big shot manager Mickey Mack. His longtime friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman) tells him it's because he didn't show enough confidence in the man as a fighter, and Mickey Mack did.

Recently there has been a woman named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who has been working out at the gym. She's been trying to convince Frankie to train her, but he insists that he doesn't train girls. Maggie is very persistent however, and continues to show up at the gym day in day out. Along the way Eddie has been giving her little tips to try and help her out.

After some period of time Maggie's persistence pays off. On her 32nd birthday Frankie finally gives in and agrees to train her, as long as she doesn't ask any questions and does exactly what he says. Of course she is ecstatic and agrees. After about a year of training, it seems Maggie is ready for a fight.

Maggie's already too good once she finally enters the ring. She keeps winning by KO time and time again in the first round. She’s so dominant and the fights are over so fast that she’s not spending enough time in the ring to improve her game. Eventually no managers will let their fighters be embarrassed by facing Maggie in the ring. Frankie doesn't want to take the chance on moving her up to the next league at this point in her career, but since no one will fight her he has no choice.

It turned out to be the right choice, as Maggie continues to be absolutely dominant and before too long she is getting offers to fight for titles. She heads to England for the British title and wins. She continues on to many other European countries and continues to win, and before too long she's ready for the World Championship Fight.

The fight for the Welter Weight World Championship is against a German fighter named Billie The Blue Bear. Billie is a notoriously dirty fighter who wins her fights by bending and breaking all the rules. Think a female Mike Tyson. Maggie puts up a good fight, and just as things seem to be going her way tragedy strikes. Billie The Blue Bear hits her from behind as she's heading back to the corner and she falls and breaks her neck on the stool. This starts a whole new dimension in the film as Frankie must now decide how to deal with the situation and figure out what's right and what's wrong.

Million Dollar Baby is a superb film led by magnificent performances that really carry the film. Oscar winners Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman really strut their stuff in some of their greatest roles. Morgan Freeman narrates the film, something that he can do better than anyone out there. Any movie where Mr. Freeman is listed as narrator is probably worth checking out.

Paul Haggis (who also wrote/directed Crash) writes a fantastic screenplay. He is able to really bring across the father/daughter relationship that develops between Frankie and Maggie without changing the way they speak to each other too drastically. Remember that behind most great performances is a great script. Definitely a depressing film, make sure that you have the tissue box handy for your wife or girlfriend. In my opinion it is worth seeing, even if you find the vast majority of Eastwood's work overrated like myself. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Dry White Season (1989)

I went into A Dry White Season without any prior knowledge of the film and I must say I was very pleased. A Dry White Season is a very good, very powerful film, similar to Hotel Rwanda.

The film takes place in 1976 South Africa, during the apartheid. Donald Sutherland plays Ben du Toit, a schoolteacher. When Ben's long time friend and gardener Gordon (Winston Ntshona) comes to him asking for help because the police had whipped his son, Ben tells him he's sorry but there's nothing he can do. When Gordon comes to him again asking for help after his son has been killed, Ben again tells him he's sorry but there's nothing he can do.

Gordon is obviously very upset at the death of his son, and makes the decision to investigate the matter. Any kind of investigation by a private citizen into the matters of the Special Police is a very risky matter. The way they operate is very secretive, and very shady and they don't want the truth to be known by the white society and they will do anything to keep it that way, including torture and murder.

It's not long before the Special Police take Gordon into custody. They immediately begin beating him, and torturing him in an attempt to find out the names of anyone that gave him information on the death of his son. Within a matter of days he is dead.

The Special Police bring word of Gordon's death to his wife Emily (Thoko Ntshinga). They tell her that Gordon committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. Of course Emily does not believe this to be true, and sends word to Ben by way of a good friend Stanley (Zakes Mokae). Ben has no reason to believe that Gordon would commit suicide, and is now starting to become suspicious of the Special Police and asks Stanley to take him to see Gordon's body. It is very dangerous for a white man to go into the town, but Stanley agrees to take him. Upon arrival at the funeral home and viewing Gordon's body it becomes painfully obvious to Ben that Gordon did not in fact kill himself, he was murdered.

Ben feels absolutely terrible that he did not help Gordon and his family when he had the chance, and he wants to do everything in his power to bring justice to the situation. He employs the great human rights lawyer Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando) to bring charges to the Special Police and especially their captain, a man named Stolz (Jürgen Prochnow). Stolz is one sadistic bastard. He is the man who personally hunts down anyone who he sees as a threat to the Special Police and he personally tortures them and seems to enjoy every minute of it.

McKenzie tries to explain to Ben that it will be of no use to try and bring these sadists to justice, that there is no justice in South Africa, but Ben feels he owes to Gordon to at least try. McKenzie assures Ben that he will do everything he can in assisting him, even though it will be to no avail. Of course McKenzie is correct, they are unable to win the case. They do succeed, however, in exposing a lot of Captain Stolz's inhumane activities to the public.

Despite his loss in the trial, Ben refuses to give up. He and Stanley hire another lawyer from within the black community, and go around collecting sworn affidavits from people who witnessed the capture and murder of Gordon's son. This leads to Captain Stolz's attempt to take down Ben, as well as Ben's alienation from the community that he has lived in his entire life. His friend's and family turn against him, and he loses his job but he keeps on fighting.

It's really a shame that no one seems to remember this film. I only stumbled upon it because I have been watching all of Marlon Brando's films, and I'm glad I did. Director Euzhan Palcy does a very good job of showing us the brutality in South Africa without being too graphic. I cannot say that I am familiar with any of her other work, so I don't know how A Dry White Season stacks up against it but I think it would be safe to assume that it is her best.

Donald Sutherland, who is an underrated actor in my opinion, does a very good job in the lead role. He is such a versatile actor who can do anything from comedy to tragedy and do a great job in either of them. Marlon Brando and Susan Sarandon are also superb in their small but important roles, and I think that the best performance was put in by the relatively unknown Winston Ntshona.

I think films like A Dry White Season, Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda are very important. American's tend to overlook the horrible things that are going on in Africa, and although the problems that the aforementioned films have since been resolved there is still massacres going on in many African countries and these films help bring that into light. I would definitely recommend A Dry White Season, many do not remember it but it is certainly a very good film with great acting and a powerful story and message. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Monday, April 7, 2008

Repulsion (1965)

A lot of people say that Roman Polanski's Repulsion is an extremely disturbing picture. I personally did not find it to be disturbing, but it is certainly a bit twisted. That's something that we have come to expect from many of Polanski's pictures so I don't think one should be surprised.

The film is about a young woman named Carole (Catherine Deneuve) who slowly loses her mind and slips into a state of total psychosis.

Carole lives with her sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux), and works at a salon. Lately her mind has been wandering, and she has been staring off into space seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. She has been sent home from work early a few times because she's been too absent minded to do her work, and her coworkers seem worried about her well-being.

Hélène has been too busy with her beau to notice the change in her sister. The two of them are always going out, and have been planning a trip together to Italy. The idea of this trip is greatly upsetting to Carole, who is afraid to be alone, but Hélène thinks she will be fine.

After Hélène leaves for Italy things really start to go bad for Carole. She starts hallucinating and she thinks that her apartment is falling apart and that there are men waiting around to rape her everywhere. Whether these thoughts of rape are a fear or fantasy is something that the viewer will have to decide for their self. She eventually becomes so paranoid that she turns to violence against anyone that dares come to see her.

Roman Polanski is an absolutely fantastic director who has created many masterpieces; such as Chinatown and The Pianist. I would not go so far as to say that Repulsion is a masterpiece, but it is still very good. The way Polanski pulls us into Carole's dementia is incredible, sometimes it will have you wondering whether it is real or not. The way he sets up the contrast between the elegant beauty salon and the drab apartment is also very impressive.

Catherine Deneuve is absolutely incredible as Carole. She has very few lines in the picture and must express her emotions and thoughts through facial expressions. She really pulls you into her world, and you can almost understand the strange and sick things that she does. The main problem that I had with Repulsion really had nothing to do with the picture, and more to do with the DVD. The film has not yet been released by a major distributor and the audio and video transfer are very poor. As far as I know it is also not available in a widescreen format, so we miss half the picture in fullscreen. I know some people don't care about widescreen or fullscreen, but I can't honestly see those people being interested in a film like Repulsion. I would definately recommend Repulsion, especially if you're a Roman Polanski fan like myself. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Monday, March 31, 2008

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Although Reservoir Dogs is considered an incredibly violent film, it really has much less violence than you may realize. In watching the film this time, I decided to count just how many scenes in the picture actually have violence. I counted just eight, one of them being extremely sadistic (the scene where Mr. Blonde tortures the cop).

The film starts off with the entire crew meeting at a diner for breakfast, in one of the most brilliantly written scenes in film history. We get to listen to Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) explain just what exactly Madonna's "Like a Virgin" is about, as well as a brilliant discussion on just why Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) doesn't tip. It's really a great way to introduce all the characters in the film.

Now we shoot forward to after the job has taken place, and apparently gone wrong. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is driving a vehicle, and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is bleeding profusely and screaming in pain in the back. Mr. White is attempting to keep Mr. Orange calm as they head to the rendezvous, telling him he's not going to die and he's going to be fine and whatnot. They finally get to the rendezvous, a warehouse used to store coffins and hearses, where Mr. White continues to try and keep Mr. Orange calm. Mr. Orange begs Mr. White to take him to a hospital, but Mr. White refuses. He tells him that once Joe (the boss of the operation played by Lawrence Tierney) gets there, Joe will get a doctor and he’ll be taken care of.

Mr. Pink now enters the warehouse, visibly angry and hollering about the job being a setup. Mr. White disagrees, but Mr. Pink has some very convincing arguments. The police were there within seconds of the alarm being set off. The average response time is about four minutes; they were there in less than one. One thing they definitely agree on is that Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) was completely out of line and is a psychopathic killer. Mr. Blonde went on a shooting rampage, killing a lot of innocent people as soon as the alarm was set off. It is felt that if they had known Mr. Blonde's personality they never would have taken the job.

Mr. Blonde shows up at the rendezvous, and after taking a barrage of insults from Mr. White informs them that he has a surprise for them. He leads them out to his car, opens the trunk, and shows them the cop he has taken hostage. They drag the cop inside and tie him up, and start to beat him to try and get information out of him on the setup. They're really about to start laying into him when Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) shows up. He agrees the cop must be killed, but insists they won't get any information out of him by beating him.

Eddie informs the trio of colors that Joe is on his way, and that he's pissed off and if he finds all those stolen cars parked out front he's going to be even more pissed off. Eddie tells Mr. White and Mr. Pink to come with him to get rid of the cars, and tells Mr. Blonde to stay behind and keep an eye on the cop and Mr. Orange. Mr. White protests on grounds that Mr. Blonde is a psycho and can't be trusted, by Eddie insists. As soon as they're gone, Mr. Blonde starts into his now famous torture scene with the cop.

Throughout the film, we are being given background stories on each of the central characters. These scenes that are inserted in sections during the present time show how each character knew Joe, and how they came across the job at hand. This style of shifting between present and past has really become a staple of Tarantino's films and something that his fans have come to expect and love about his pictures.

One thing I love about Tarantino is his ability to get seemingly non-talented or washed up actors to give great performances. In Reservoir Dogs we have great performances by Chris Penn, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. Pulp Fiction has the revival of John Travolta, Jackie Brown the revival of Pam Grier. QT will take a chance on someone when everyone else in Hollywood thinks they're finished, and that's something to be admired. I think the reason he can do this is the strength of his scripts, while he is a talented director it's really the scripts that make his films great.

Reservoir Dogs really thrust Tarantino onto the film scene, turning him into an overnight superstar. It's really incredible how someone who dropped out of school in junior high could write such brilliant scripts, and direct such brilliant movies. It just goes to show you that education isn't everything. Reservoir Dogs is really a gritty masterpiece, and something that anyone who can appreciate great writing should enjoy. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Darling (1965)

I wasn't particularly impressed with John Schlesinger's Darling. Although it was nominated for five Oscars and won three, the film seems uninspired and bored with itself which leaves the viewer feeling bored as well.

The film revolves around Diana Scott (Julie Christie), a beautiful young model trying to work her way to the top. Diana is married to a man who she likes, but feels is too immature. She is obviously getting bored with him, and as soon as the older and more mature Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde) comes around you know her marriage is close to the end.

Robert is a television journalist who reports on such intellectual subjects like literature and the people's view on the moral state of London. Robert is married as well, and has children who he loves very much. However he cannot resist Diana's beauty or her love of life, and soon leaves his wife to start a new life with Diana. Unfortunately, it's not too long before Robert and Diana's relationship is on the rocks as well.

Diana has no concept of fidelity and will seemingly have an affair with anyone who she thinks can help her in her career. That person at this point in the picture is Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey). Miles is an important man within the fashion industry, and has many connections within the entertainment industry. Of course it's not long before it's evident that this relationship won't work out either.

As the film continues, we come to realize it's really the standard plot where the central character is a beautiful yet promiscuous person. They seem to be living the wonderful life, but end up finding themselves depressed and alone. It's been done time and time again, and they will keep doing it probably until the end of time. Darling makes an attempt to tackle such social issues as adultery, homosexuality, abortion as well as others but it doesn’t fare too well. It’s just not daring enough, even for the time period.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think Darling is a bad film, it definitely has its upsides. Frederic Raphael's script is pretty good, it could use a little more tongue-in-cheek comedy to let you know that they aren't taking themselves too seriously but it certainly has its moments. One scene that really stands out as well written is about two-thirds through the film right after Robert has found out Diana has had an affair; there's really some great dialogue there. Shades of John Schlesinger's directorial talent come through as well; he really does a great job of contrasting the big city and the country. However if I were to recommend one of his films it wouldn't be Darling, Midnight Cowboy is a far superior film.

Julie Christie may have won an Oscar for her role in Darling, but I certainly don't think it was deserved. Her acting seems rather wooden and uninspired and she seems bored with her role. Her performances in Doctor Zhivago and the more recent Away from Her show that she is a lot better of an actor than she shows in this. The only actor who really seemed like he or she cared about their role was Laurence Harvey, who puts in a very good performance as Miles. I don't think I would recommend this film, unless you're a John Schlesinger completest. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = B-

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

David Lean's Doctor Zhivago is an absolute masterpiece. From the moment the film starts with Sir Alec Guinness searching for his niece you know you're in for something special. Of course if you're familiar with director Lean's other work such as Lawrence of Arabia or The Bridge on the River Kwai, then you knew that going in.

The film takes place right in the middle of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Omar Sharif plays Yuri Zhivago, a young doctor who, having been orphaned at a young age, grew up with the family of one of his mother's close friends. Yuri is in love with and soon to marry the daughter of this family, Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin).

Lara (played by the wonderful Julie Christie at the height of her beauty) is a young woman working towards a scholarship and living with her mother and her mother's lover Victor (Rod Steiger). Victor has eyes for the beautiful young Lara, and makes it known one night after dinner at a fancy restaurant. This starts a very dominant and tumultuous relationship between Lara and Victor.

Lara is not fond of Victor; he is a very brash and domineering man and has no respect for her. On Christmas Eve, after Victor has raped her, Lara hunts him down at a party and shoots him in a failed attempt to kill him. Victor refuses to have her arrested, because despite his attitude he still cares for her, and she is led off by Pasha (Tom Courtenay), a revolutionary and a man who is soon to become her husband. Yuri and Tonya are also guests at this party, and witness the whole scene.

World War I has now broken out, and Yuri is a doctor on the front lines. While retreating from the battlefield, Yuri and his comrades meet their replacements. When the two groups meet up, insanity ensues and it seems that the revolution has started as the troops attack and murder their COs. There are several that are wounded or killed, and Yuri feels it is his duty to stay behind and tend to the casualties. Also remaining to help is Lara, who is a nurse and was headed out to the front lines to search for her husband. The two of them are then summoned to a military hospital, where there are dozens of sick and wounded that need tending to and Yuri and Lara are the only ones around to do it. Over the next six months the two of them become very close, but the relationship stays platonic.

Upon his arrival home Moscow is now in a state of total communism. Thirteen families are now living in the home that he left, and Tonya and her father and his child have only one room of their own to live in as a family. After a rough night, Yuri finally meets his half brother who advises him to take his family and head to the country.

On the way to the country, Yuri runs into Pasha, who is now a prominent man in the communist party. Yuri had been captured by Pasha’s guards who thought he was there to attempt assassination, and Yuri told him to go get his wife, Lara, who would vouch for him. Pasha then informed Yuri that he had not seen Lara since the war, and that she is now living in a town very near Yuri’s destination.

At first Yuri has no intention of getting in touch with Lara. He loves Tonya and his son very much, and does not wish to betray them. However after a very long winter, the temptation proves too much and Yuri rides into town to find Lara. The chemistry between them immediately sparks up and the two of them start up the relationship that both of them had wanted for so long.

Although the bulk of the film is a romance, the backdrop of the revolution and war is a strong thematic element. In many films you only have the main story that has any quality with the backdrop only there to provide a sense of time and place. For example, in Pan’s Labyrinth, we have the wonderful story of Ofelia and her world of imagination, but then there’s the story of Civil War in Spain, which is much weaker and far less original — necessary, but not up to the quality of the story of Ofelia. We are very fortunate that with Doctor Zhivago both storylines are fantastic.

When this film came out many critics complained that while it was a beautifully constructed picture, the story just wasn’t there and that there wasn’t a point to the film. Although I disagree with them (I thought the story was fantastic), I don’t feel that a film needs to have that deep a story if the characters are interesting enough, which they are. Zhivago is the flawed hero of the film; you really care for him even though he’s an adulterer because you see that he really is a good man. Lara has had so much undeserved trouble thrown her way by each man in her life and the constantly in turmoil government that it is amazing she is able to stay as full of life and wonderful as she is.

The other characters may not have as much to offer as Yuri and Lara, but they are still deep nonetheless. Even if you do feel that Doctor Zhivago is pointless you can still appreciate its beauty. David Lean’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous; the way he is able to shoot landscapes is incredible. It’s like watching a painting in motion. Julie Christie gives an absolutely magnificent performance, really conveying each hardship that comes her way.

The film is long at three hours and twenty minutes, but it really just flies by. The story is so intriguing, and the characters so deep and interesting, that the film could be six hours and you wouldn't get bored. I really admire Robert Bolt’s screenplay. The way he is able to write a romance without any instance of cheesiness is incredible. I really cannot say enough good things about this picture; you'll just have to see it for yourself. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Friday, March 28, 2008

Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang's Metropolis is widely considered the greatest silent film of all time. Now I admit, I have not seen very many silent films, but from what I have seen Metropolis is the best.

Metropolis is a city is divided up into two categories of people; the workers and the thinkers. The thinkers come up with ideas, and the workers put the thinkers ideas into motion. The thinkers cannot work, and the workers cannot come up with ideas. The workers and the thinkers are completely separate of one another, but together they make the city whole.

Gustav Fröhlich plays Freder, who is the son of the leader of the city Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel). Freder has lead a sheltered life, and is not aware of how the city is kept running or what goes on in the city of the workers, until one day when a beautiful woman (Brigitte Helm) comes to him and urges him to see.

Freder is very intrigued by the beautiful woman, and thus heads down to the underworld of the workers in an attempt to find her. What he finds is astonishing to him, the workers working themselves to the bone in an attempt to keep the city running. Freder is truly touched, and offers to trade places with one of the workers. The worker is more than eager, however he promptly violates Freder's trust and goes out on the town spending Freder's money and is caught and sent back down to the city's depths.

After some period of time working the machine, another worker approaches Freder and leads him down deeper into the depths of the city. Down here, all the workers have gathered and are listening to a sermon being performed by the beautiful woman who had come to see Freder earlier that day. Freder is obviously madly in love with this woman who goes by the name Maria. After the sermon, Freder approaches Maria who is apparently very taken by Freder as well, and they plan to meet later on.

Meanwhile, Joh Fredersen has been watching this sermon as well and is concerned that Maria will lead a rebellion among the workers. He was led to his vantage point by the crazed inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Rotwang has created a machine-man that he plans to morph into his late wife Hel, however Fredersen has different plans. Fredersen informs Rotwang that he is to turn the machine-man into Maria, so as to demolish any potential uprisings. Rotwang agrees, however he betrays Fredersen and decides to use the machine-man to destroy the city of Metropolis as well as Joh Fredersen and his son.

How this film was made in 1927 is beyond my comprehension. The sets and the special effects and the cinematography are absolutely mind-blowing. There is a scene rather early on where Lang shows the workers working one of the machines, perfectly choreographed, that is one of the most amazing pieces of film work in it's history.

You are informed prior to the start of the film that the majority of the film was lost around the time of its release in 1927, and there are cards placed in to inform you what you are missing. This is a damned shame, with the brilliance of what has remained you know that what you are missing must be mind-blowing.

The performances are also incredible, especially by Brigitte Helm who is absolutely superb. The facial expressions that Ms. Helm portrays are just amazing. Metropolis is an absolutely wonderful film, and I'm sure it would be even more wonderful if we were getting the entire picture. Fritz Lang (who also directed the masterpiece M) goes to show you yet again why he is one of the all-time greats. Definitely worth seeing. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Allan Dwan's Sands of Iwo Jima is a slightly better than average WWII military propaganda film. I have definitely seen better, and I have definitely seen worse.

Although John Wayne is the top bill in this film, he is not the lead role. That honor goes to John Agar who plays Pfc. Peter Conway. Conway doesn't consider himself to be a military man; he joined for the sole reason that it's a bit of a family tradition.

John Wayne is Sgt. John Stryker. Stryker is a strictly by the books man, and pushes his unit hard. His men don't care for him too much, but they respect him. Stryker knows he isn't a popular man, but that's not important to him. What is important to him is that his men be ready when it is time to hit the front lines.

Conway immediately dislikes Stryker from the moment Stryker informs him that Conway's father was Stryker's CO and the best CO he's ever had. Conway wasn't fond of his father; he was always a disappointment in his father's eyes. Not strong enough. Every time Conway looks at Stryker, or hears Stryker speak it's like his father is speaking.

As the film heads along and as you get to know Stryker better you come to see that he's not as bad a guy as he seems. His tough guy attitude is really just a veneer that he puts on in order to keep his squad on edge and in tip-top shape. Slowly but surely the men start to realize this as they head into battle.

While none of these propaganda films will come close to the quality of today's war films, Sands of Iwo Jima certainly tries and gets a lot of help from John Wayne who puts in a superb performance. Unfortunately that cannot be said for his peers, whose wooden acting is sub-par to say the least. Allan Dwan does his job, there really isn't any style to his direction he just shot the shots his producer told him to. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see Sands of Iwo Jima, but if it's on TV then by all means watch it. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = C

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

After seeing Paul Mazursky's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice I felt inclined to see I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! since it is also written by Mazursky. Unfortunately for me, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! is not nearly as good, or humorous as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Sure, it has its moments but it's just not great.

Peter Sellers stars as Harold, a lawyer in the late 1960s. Harold is a square and he knows it, but it doesn't matter to him (at least not yet). He is engaged to a woman named Joyce, and he is very successful in his profession. He doesn't know it yet, but his life is about to change.

One day at the office, Harold's mother (Jo Van Fleet) comes rushing in weeping about how a man had just died. Harold thinks it's his father, but is relieved to find out it's just the butcher. It is important to his mother that Harold attends the funeral, and brings his brother along. Harold's brother is a hippie living in Venice Beach, and Harold hasn't seen him in three months but he agrees.

When the day of the funeral arrives, Harold goes to pick up his brother Herbie (David Arkin) at his apartment. Upon his arrival Harold is met by Herbie and Herbie’s lady friend Nancy (the lovely Leigh Taylor-Young, who you may recognize as Shirl in Soylent Green). Herbie looks ridiculous, as he's dressed in traditional Hopi Indian funeral garb and this upsets Harold greatly. This is not something a normal person wears to a Catholic funeral, but there's nothing he can do.

The funeral is one of the more humorous scenes in the film. The hearse drivers are on strike, so there is no way to get the body from the funeral home to the cemetery. Harold is the only person in attendance with a station wagon, and it's loaner that he had to take after his Lincoln was hit. The wagon is painted up and down with rainbows and peace signs; it's really a sight. Harold volunteers to transport the body, and the procession goes on its way. Unfortunately, Harold gets pulled over and loses the procession and ends up driving around for hours trying to find the cemetery.

After the whole funeral ordeal is finally over, Harold heads home. On his way he sees Nancy hitchhiking. Harold feels that it is very dangerous for a single girl to be hitchhiking; there are too many sex maniacs out and about so he offers to give her a lift. Nancy doesn't really have anywhere to go, so he takes her back to his place to crash on his couch.

The next day while Harold is out picking up his Lincoln, Nancy bakes him some "special" brownies as a showing of appreciation for his hospitality. When Harold returns, he finds his parents and fiancé waiting. The five of them head in, and Joyce finds the brownies. No one is aware of the groovy ingredient, so they all indulge themselves to their fill. Of course they're all high as a kite now, and go out to enjoy some miniature golf. It is now that Harold realizes he has fallen in love with Nancy, and becomes a hippie himself in order to prove it.

Peter Sellers does a decent job as Harold, but I’ve seen him put in a lot better performances (Dr. Strangelove). I thought that Jo Van Fleet was a bit over-the-top, she made it way too obvious that she was a Jewish mother by pulling out so many stereotypes.

I think that this film was probably a lot funnier when it was produced, but it hasn't aged well. The majority of the jokes don't work any more, and a lot of the references would only be funny during that time period. It is directed by Hy Averback, who spent the majority of his career directing television shows; both before and after I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!. If you were around in the sixties, or just wish you were (like myself) then I would recommend it. However if you are not one of the aforementioned, then you probably won't enjoy this film, as it has no deep meaning that is relevant to today. My other problem with the film is the ending. The ending is very confusing, and you never are really able to figure out whether what just happened was real or an illusion. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = C+

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Superman (1978)

Director Richard Donner's Superman is a classic. The first of all the Superman films, it is far and away the best and I doubt that they will ever be able to reach this quality again. Mario Puzo came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay, and for anyone that's seen The Godfather we know just how skilled Mr. Puzo is.

The film starts on the planet Krypton. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is giving a speech to the council, trying to convince them that the planet is going to explode within thirty days and they are doomed unless they evacuate immediately. Unfortunately, the council disagrees with him and insists he not cause widespread panic by either evacuating, or leaving the planet on his own accord. Jor-El promises the council that neither him nor his wife will leave Krypton, however he mentions nothing of his infant son. Jor-El and his wife load young Kal-El into a spaceship and send him off the Earth, just as Krypton starts to explode.

It takes three years for the ship to reach Earth, and when it arrives it crashes into a field somewhere in Middle America; a town called Smallville. Driving on the road through the field are Jonathan and Martha Kent. The meteor startles them and they swerve causing a flat tire. They stop to fix the tire, and notice the ship. Emerging from the wreckage is a little boy, thus becomes the birth of Clark Kent.

Growing up is tough for Clark, having to hide his special abilities from his peers and upon his eighteenth birthday he takes a glowing crystal from the ship in which he arrived and heads on a quest to find himself and his meaning. This quest ends in what appears to be the North Pole, which is now to become his fortress of solitude. It is here where over the next twelve years Clark Kent learns from Jor-El all the secrets to himself and the universe, and where he transforms into Superman.

When he returns to the regular world he assumes his secret identity, that of Clark Kent, the meek mild mannered reporter at the Daily Planet. This of course is only to hide his true self from his enemies, as he takes on evil genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and saves his true love Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).

One of the things that make Superman great is the special effects. Before the days of CGI directors actually had to try and make things look real, and in my opinion all this CGI is really hurting the films of today. Another great quality is the script. Although it starts out poorly with a few too many clichés from Marlon Brando, it really gains strength upon Kal-El's arrival on Earth, as it becomes less pretentious and the perfect amount of humor is thrown in.

Christopher Reeve plays the part to a tee; he even looks like the Superman did in the comic books. Although Superman was not Christopher Reeve's big screen debut (that honor going to Gray Lady Down), it is most certainly the role for which he is remembered. He was a fine man and will surely be missed. Glenn Ford is fantastic in his small yet important role as Jonathan Kent; he was a great actor in the 40's and 50's and shows here that despite his age he didn't lose a step. As always Gene Hackman is great as the diabolical Lex Luthor, and Ned Beatty gives one of the all time great comedic performances as Otis; Luthor's idiotic henchman.

Superman is definitely worth seeing for anyone who hasn't yet, and definitely worth showing your kids. They will love it, I did when I was a child. I don't hold it in as high regard as Tim Burton's Batman, but they can't really be compared, as Batman is a much darker film. For an action/adventure movie it is a bit long at two and a half hours, but the time just flies by. I've seen 90 minute long films that took at lot longer than this. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cash McCall (1960)

On the surface it doesn't seem that Cash McCall has very much to offer, but it really is a fairly charming little picture. James Garner plays the title character, a very rich businessman who buys up companies, whips them into shape, then turns around and sells them for a profit. Dean Jagger is Grant Austen, owner of Austen Plastics. Grant is getting older, and has decided to sell his company. He thinks it over, discusses it with his consultant Gil Clark (Henry Jones) as well as his daughter Lory (Natalie Wood). Gil tells him that he might have a buyer, and thinks he can get two million for the company. The buyer turns out to be none other than Cash McCall.

Austen and McCall set up a meeting, and Grant asks Lory to come along since she owns 10% of the company. It is now that we learn that Cash and Lory are previously acquainted, and Lory seems to be holding some great animosity towards Cash. Turns out Lory and Cash met one another the previous summer in Maine, Lory had fallen in love with Cash but he rejected her. While Grant is off calling his lawyer, Cash tries to explain that he had made terrible mistake in Maine and that he is in love with her, but she won't listen and storms off.

The sale goes as planned, and Cash is finally able to tell Lory his true feelings for her, but it's not smooth sailing yet. Since Cash is a very wealthy and rather famous businessman (think today’s Donald Trump), there are a lot of dirty rumors going around and a lot of people who want to destroy his credibility. One of these men meets up with Grant Austen, and informs him that Cash has already sold his company for three million, and that he has been ripped off. This sends Grant into a tirade, threatening lawsuit against Cash for fraud. There is also the assistant manager of the hotel in which Cash lives. This woman, a Mrs. Kennard (Nina Foch), is in love with Cash and a very jealous woman.

Cash and Lory have now been seeing each other for a little while now, and Cash has just proposed. Lory is overwhelmed, and of course accepts his proposal. Cash must rush to a business meeting, and leaves Lory at the hotel to wait for him to return. Unfortunately, word has gotten to Mrs. Kennard that there is a woman in Cash’s room. Since she thinks Cash loves her, this sends her into a jealous rage. She rushes up to Cash’s room and feeds Lory some BS story, which sends Lory home in tears.

So now Cash has two problems with the same family. Grant thinks he's been screwed, and Lory thinks he's been screwing around. Cash now must explain to Grant that he’s been on the level, and the only reason he wanted to buy his company was so he could get in contact with Lory whom he is in love with. He also must explain to Lory that there is no other woman, and the blonde is just the crazy hotel assistant manager. Of course he is able to smooth everything out just in time for the classic Hollywood happy ending.

Sure Cash McCall is a cheesy movie, but sometimes that’s OK. The characters are interesting enough, and James Garner puts in a good performance. Also be on the lookout for Edward Platt who plays Harrison Glenn, one of Cash's business associates. I did feel, unfortunately, that Natalie Wood seemed uninspired in the role. I have seen the majority of her films, and feel that she gave one of her weaker performances in this one; also the Barbara Bush hairstyle was less that becoming but that's just my personal opinion. I think Cash McCall is worth seeing, just take it for what it is, a charming yet cheesy slice out of 1950's pop culture. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = C+