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+

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Marjorie Morningstar (1958)

Marjorie Morningstar is a piece of cinematic romance from the late 1950's which has been forgotten, and after seeing it I don't believe it has been missed. I'm not saying that it's a particularly bad film; it's just really nothing special.

Natalie Wood stars as Marjorie Morgenstern, a young Jewish woman living with her family in Manhattan. She has been dating a boy named Sandy Lamm for some time, and he is in love with her and wishes to marry her. Marjorie's mother is quite fond of Sandy, whose parents own a department store. Class and business sense is something that is very important to Marjorie’s mother. Unfortunately Marjorie isn't in love with Sandy, or at least she doesn't think so, and their parents are planning a trip in which Sandy and Marjorie could be together all summer. Marjorie isn't too keen on the idea, and her friend Marsha Zelenko (Carolyn Jones) offers to get her a job as dramatic counselor at a girls summer camp.

Across the lake from the girls camp is another camp, kind of a getaway for rich folks. At this camp they have plays, and dances and other types of productions put on to entertain the guests. Marsha has been sneaking across the lake nightly and seeing a musician, and one night she is able to convince Marjorie to come along. It is on this night that Marjorie meets Noel Airman (Gene Kelly) who produces the camps plays, and who will quickly become the love of her life.

After a tumultuous summer of love, Marjorie returns home, single, and finishes college. She is now dating a doctor (Martin Balsam), and pursuing a career as an actress. After returning home one evening, she is surprised to see Noel waiting for her. He has left his job at the camp, and is now working for an advertising agency; and he is still madly in love with Marjorie. Marjorie doesn't plan on anything to happen, but she cannot deny her feelings and the two of them immediately get involved again.

When an old friend Wally (Martin Milner) shows back up, with a new hit Broadway show it really sends Noel off the deep end. He misses his life in show business, and is upset that he never accomplished anything like Wally did. He goes on a drinking binge that ends in an affair, and he calls it off with Marjorie.

Of course it's never really over between Marjorie and Noel, they love each other too much and have too much chemistry. After some period of time, they are back together and Noel is working on a musical of his own and the tumultuous relationship continues. Everett Freeman's script is cheesy at some points, and the film never really challenges Wood or Kelly, and it offers neither of them an opportunity to be great. It's definitely watchable, and it'll get a few good chuckles out of you. If they're showing Marjorie Morningstar on TCM or something and you have nothing else going on, then by all means watch it; but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it unless you are an enormous Natalie Wood or Gene Kelly fan. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gypsy (1962)

I was very disappointed in Gypsy. I went into the film expecting at least slightly interesting characters, and a decent plot line but that is definitely not what I got. The film is watchable, and the last 15 minutes or so are decent but that's about it. A musical based on the life of real life burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. The majority of the film takes place in Gypsy's childhood, where she went by Louise. Louise is part of her mother's vaudeville act starring her sister Baby June; Louise is just background noise for now. Louise's mother Rose (Rosalind Russell) is the typical stage mother, pushing her daughters hard and not listening to anything anyone else has to say. On an audition for an act in Hollywood, Rose meets Herbie (Karl Malden). At the time it doesn't seem important, but when the two of them meet again by accident in Oregon something starts to brew. Herbie quickly becomes quite fond of Rose, and offers to drive her and her children up to her father's house in Seattle on his way to Chicago. While on the road Herbie becomes quite attached to Rose, June and Louise and promises to book them an act in Chicago at the Weber Theatre. It's not long before a telegram comes from Herbie informing them they're booked and they're on their way to the big time; all they have to do is get some boys in the show. Once in Chicago the Baby June show really takes off, they're booking vaudeville circuits weekly all over the country. The success is able to continue for several years, but then the depression hits and people aren't interested in vaudeville any more. The shows are becoming less frequent, and the venues less prestigious. June is getting fed up with playing the same role night after night, and wants to pursue other activities, so she runs off and gets married. The boys are aware that vaudeville is dead, and leave to pursue other interests. The only people left with Rose are Louise and Herbie, who knows vaudeville is dead but is too in love with Rose to leave her. Now with June gone, Rose has decided to make Louise a star, problem is that she isn't talented. Rose, of course, won't accept this fact and is determined, so she hires a group of girls to back Louise and creates the vaudeville act Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes. Herbie does everything he can to promote it, but the only gig he can get is at a burlesque house as something legitimate to keep the cops out. The show is a flop, but it pays and at the end of the run Herbie and Rose are to be married; something Herbie has longed for for years. As Rose and Louise are packing up to leave the burlesque, Rose overhears the owner complaining that he doesn't have a star stripper booked for the next two weeks. Rose is elated, and rushes in insisting that Louise have the job. Louise must be a star, even if it is just burlesque. The men are desperate, so they agree. This infuriates Herbie, and he leaves Rose for good; but Louise won't leave her mother. She goes on stage as the classiest and most beautiful stripper you'll ever see. It is this act of course that leads to her famous career as Gypsy Rose Lee, queen of the burlesque. The story is good enough, but director Mervyn LeRoy takes way too long to get you there. The music for the most part is mediocre at best, there's maybe one song with a slightly catchy tune; the rest you won't remember right after they're done singing it. They don't even give Natalie a scene to show off her acting prowess until near the end of the picture. The only way I'd recommend Gypsy is if you live for Stephen Sondheim musicals, if not then do yourself a favor and skip it. Overall 1.5/4 Stars Grade = C-

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Quai des Orfèvres is a good film, however it doesn't come close to reaching the quality of The Wages of Fear. The film stars Bernard Blier who plays Maurice Martineau, a musician married to a beautiful singer named Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair). Jenny is a very ambitious girl; she loves her husband, but getting ahead in the world is very important to her. Maurice sees the way she flirts with other men, and the way they stare and he is a very jealous man. While doing a photo shoot with their good friend Dora (the beautiful Simone Renant), Jenny meets a rich producer named Brignon. Brignon is a "dirty old man", he tells girls that he wants them for pictures so they will sleep with him and take nude photos. Brignon tells Jenny that he wants to sign her on for a picture he’s doing. He makes a date for lunch so that she can meet the director, but of course this isn’t what he has in mind at all. Dora warns Jenny about Brignon, but she won't listen. When Maurice finds out, he goes into a jealous rage and heads down to meet Brignon where he threatens to kill him if he ever contacts Jenny again. Of course Jenny does see him again, she meets him at his home so she can sign a contract. Of course, there is not contract Brignon is just hoping for some action. When Maurice finds out that Jenny is with Brignon it upsets him immensely, so he gets his gun and heads out to kill Brignon. Problem is, when he gets there Brignon is already dead. Cut to Jenny and Dora. Jenny is very upset, she is crying and confesses to Dora that she has just killed Brignon with a bottle of champagne. Another major problem arises when she realizes she left her fox fur at Brignon's home, so Dora volunteers to go retrieve it. So now we have all three main characters at he scene of the murder, on the night of the murder and the police are about to get involved and investigate. Louis Jouvet plays Inspector Antoine, the man in charge of the case. Through the rest of the film, we go through each character’s torture as some try to clear their name, and all of them try to not be caught. Some excellent acting, and a great story with a magnificent ending you won't see coming. Quai des Orfèvres is quite a good little picture that people shouldn't miss, even if it doesn't match up to the masterpiece The Wages of Fear. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton is an outstanding edge of your seat thriller. George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a lawyer for the firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Michael's job is that he cleans up all the messes for the firm. The film starts out with Michael going to meet a high society client who has just hit a man with his car and left the scene. After leaving the man's house, Michael stops along the road to look at some horses. While doing this, his Mercedes explodes from a bomb stashed somewhere in the vehicle. Flash back to four days earlier. Michael is in big debt, owing $75,000 to cover his degenerate brother's debt. Unfortunately Michael himself is broke due to a gambling problem. His firm is nearing a settlement over a six billion dollar class action suit where they are defending an agrochemical company whose product allegedly killed 486 people. The lawyer leading the case for Kenner, Bach and Ledeen is Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). Arthur is a manic-depressive, who has just decided to stop taking his medication. This causes him to make a scene where he strips down naked during the deposition of the plaintiff. This also leads Arthur to come to the conclusion that the case he's working on and the company he's defending are pure evil. Michael, of course, is sent in to clean up the mess. The more Michael hears from Arthur the more it starts to make sense, and the more desperate Karen Crowder (one of the heads of the agrochemical company) becomes. She hires men to watch Arthur like a hawk, and comes to discover that he is building a case against her company. Of course, knowing that he has a lot of information that could harm her and the company, she panics. This is a great directorial debut from Tony Gilroy, and he is helped out immensely by fantastic performances by Tom Wilkinson, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack. I'm not sure Michael Clayton deserved seven Oscar nominations, but it is definitely worth seeing. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

West Side Story (1961)

When you first start watching West Side Story you'll probably think to yourself "Wow, this is probably the fruitiest movie I've ever seen". But don't worry, it gets better. The story is about two rival gangs in New York, the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets have a small area of land they have deemed as their territory, and the Sharks are trying to take it over. The main difference between the Jets and the Sharks is that while the Jets are white and were born in America, the Sharks are full-blooded Puerto Rican. The Sharks hate the Jets for the sole reason that they are Americans. Ever since the members of the Sharks came to America they have been treated like scum simply because they are Latino, and therefor have a chip on their shoulder. Newer, bigger problems arise one night at a dance in which both gangs are in attendance. Tony (Richard Beymer), who is a co-founder of the Jets but has since left the gang in order to pursue a more legitimate lifestyle notices Maria (Natalie Wood), who is the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (George Chakiris). Another problem is that she notices him. They are immediately drawn to each other, and it is truly love at first sight. Tony doesn't know who Maria is, and Maria doesn't know who Tony is and the thing is they don't care. They just want to be together. This spectacle of course upsets Bernardo immensely, and he now feels he has even more reason to hate Americans and the Jets. There is nearly a fight between the two gangs right there in the dance hall, but instead Riff (Russ Tamblyn), the leader of the Jets, and Bernardo set up a meeting in order to set up a brawl at a later date. Maria and Tony see each other a few more times and fall deeply in love, but the idea of a brawl is very upsetting to Maria and she makes Tony promise to stop it. Unfortunately, both the Sharks and the Jets want to brawl badly and Tony trying to stop it just leads to more violence and even death. Now with the Sharks out for vengeance, Tony and Maria must get away before more senseless deaths occur. Normally I cannot stand musicals, and for the first half hour or so I thought this was going to be the case with West Side Story, but the film really calms down and actually becomes a decent picture. It did bother me that neither Natalie Wood or Richard Beymer actually sing, it is a dubbed voice and quite obvious. I thought the ending was absolutely superb, with a great scene from Natalie Wood as she displays yet another instance of her thespian superiority. Worth watching, especially if you like musicals but even if you don't. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Autumn Sonata (1978)

Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest directors of all time, however Autumn Sonata was not one of his best. That's not to say it is a bad film, quite the contrary, its just saying that it is not quite at the level as some of his other films. The film revolves around Eva, played by Liv Ullmann. Eva lives at her home with her husband Viktor (Halvar Björk) and her invalid sister Helena (Lena Nyman) whom she cares for. Eva has not seen her mother for seven years and after hearing about the death of a close friend of her mother’s Eva sends a letter to her mother inviting her to come visit. Her mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), is a world famous classical pianist who spent most of Eva's childhood on tour. At first Eva is ecstatic that her mother has come, but as Ingmar makes apparent, Charlotte is a very selfish woman with seemingly no true feelings for anyone, so this happiness is not to last. It starts with a few minor issues; comments on Eva's interpretation of Chopin, the obligatory visit to Helena, and the attire worn to dinner. Despite these petty issues, everything seems to be going fine; just the minor arguments common within families. During the night Charlotte has a nightmare from which she awakens with a yelp. She heads downstairs to calm her nerves, but her yelp has also awakened Eva who comes down to see if everything is all right. Unfortunately, with this late hour the two of them end up having a long discussion about Eva's childhood where Eva lets out years of pent up rage and hatred towards her mother. Eva even comes out and blames her mother for Helena’s illness. Autumn Sonata is not quite as depressing as most Bergman films, but it’s certainly not cheerful. Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman put out stellar performances, and Ingmar's direction is superb. Björk is also quite good as Viktor, and Lena Nyman does a great job in the role of Helena. Worth seeing if you are a Bergman fan (Ingmar or Ingrid), but I don't think the average American would enjoy this film. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Missouri Breaks (1976)

Jack Nicholson stars as Tom Logan, a horse thief in the Wild West. He and his gang have recently robbed a train (for the first, and last time) and have some money lying around. They buy a ranch and set up shop. The problem is however that one of Mr. Logan's neighbors, a one Mr. David Braxton (John McLiam), is very concerned with horse thieves in the area and has hired a famous "regulator" named Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) to come in and hunt down and assassinate these thieves. A regulator is a sort of man-hunter. Someone who is hired to come in, locate someone, and kill them. At first Braxton has no reason to suspect Logan, but after Logan starts seeing his daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) he begins to despise Logan and starts to notice things, things that Clayton himself has also noticed about Logan’s character and business. Clayton gets all the evidence he needs after a botched trip to Canada in the attempt to steal 60 of the Mounties’s horses. After the Mounties catch up to Logan's gang, they split up and Little Tod (Randy Quaid) runs into Mr. Lee Clayton. Clayton assumes a false identity in order to extract information from Tod, but Tod won't talk so Clayton drowns him. This, of course, means war between Logan and Clayton. Jack Nicholson is outstanding in the film, and that's the only thing that makes the film worthwhile in my opinion. Thomas McGuane's script has its moments of humor, and Arthur Penn is a good director but this certainly isn't his best. Marlon Brando is ridiculous as an Irish cowboy, completely unbelievable. Fact of the matter is, when Jack isn't on screen the movie drags. The Missouri Breaks is only worth watching if you're a big fan of one of the leads, or director Arthur Penn. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Double Indemnity (1944)

Fred MacMurray is Walter Neff, a slick talking insurance salesman in LA. When he stops by the home of a Mr. Dietrichson to speak with him about his auto insurance he meets the femme fatale of the picture Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson played by Barbara Stanwyck. Mrs. Dietrichson is very eager to talk to Walter about accident insurance on her husband, who is an oilman, which she considers to be very dangerous work. Mrs. Dietrichson seems very concerned about her husband's well being, but all Walter seems concerned with is Mrs. Dietrichson. The more Phyllis talks to Walter about this accident insurance for her husband, the more Walter sees that she just wants to kill him and collect the money. He tries to explain to her that she doesn't stand a chance, she'll got caught and she'll get the chair; but she really seems to have taken a hold on him. The next day when she comes to deliver his hat to his apartment, Walter realizes that he loves her and offers to kill her husband so they can take the money and run away together. Since Walter is in the insurance business he knows exactly how to do it so they won't get caught. It must be done on a train, so they can collect double indemnity on the insurance. And they must work together to do it. It has to be absolutely perfect. After the dirty deed is done, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) who has caught every phony claim to come his way in 26 years doesn't suspect a thing. The head of the company suspects suicide, but Keyes sets him straight. However the smooth sailing doesn't last long, choppy waters are ahead. All of the sudden it doesn't sit right with Keyes. He knows it was murder, he knows it was two people, and he knows one of them was Phyllis Dietrichson. Double Indemnity is a superb film noir, with a great story of seduction, murder and deception. The film has great performances by Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson with a good performance by Jean Heather as Mr. Dietrichson's daughter Lola. A must see film for film noir fans especially, but worth seeing by anyone else who can appreciate good cinema. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a masterpiece of horror in the truest sense of the word. Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a writer who has agreed to be the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel during the winter season. At the interview for the job, Jack is told of a tragedy that occurred at the hotel ten years earlier. A man named Delbert Grady was the caretaker of the Overlook and had lost his mind, murdering his wife and two daughters with an axe and then blowing his brains out. This does not dissuade Jack from taking the job, he assures the gentleman in charge that this will not happen to him. Along with Jack are his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny has a special skill, something which allows him to see into the past and the future. Upon arriving at the Overlook Danny meets the head chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). Hallorann has the same special ability as Danny, and he calls it shining. The first month at the Outlook is smooth sailing. Danny is enjoying himself, riding his big wheel around the hotel and Wendy is keeping herself busy with the upkeep of the hotel while Jack works on his book, but things are about to take a turn for the worst. Jack has a bad case of writer's block, and is becoming irritable and suffering from insomnia. One afternoon, Danny rides his big wheel past room 237, a room which has a bad feeling about it and which Hallorann has warned him to stay away from. The door to room 237 is open, and Danny goes in. At the same time, Jack is screaming in his sleep and Wendy awakens him and he tells her he had a terrible nightmare where he killed Danny and her with an axe. This is really the beginning of the end, as Danny comes down traumatized and bruised. Wendy accuses Jack, and this really causes Jack to go off the deep end. He starts seeing things and talking to people that aren't there, including Delbert Grady the man whom ten years prior had murdered his family and committed suicide. There are many strange things that happen beyond this point which lead you to question whether or not Jack is actually crazy, and whether the things which he sees are illusions or real life. The Shining is the greatest horror film of all time in my opinion; it works on so many levels. Kubrick's direction is a work of art; the scene with Danny riding his big wheel around the hallways is the single greatest piece of film work this reviewer has ever seen. Jack Nicholson gives the performance of a lifetime, and young Danny Lloyd is incredible. It's a shame Mr. Lloyd never pursued an acting career after The Shining. A must see film for any fan of cinema. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Although the 1958 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a bit tamer than the Tennessee Williams play, it is still a damn good film. Liz Taylor plays Maggie the Cat and Paul Newman plays her husband Brick. The two of them are visiting Brick's father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) on his sixty-fifth birthday mainly to find out the tests on whether or not he has cancer. Big Daddy unfortunately does have inoperable terminal cancer, but Big Momma (Judith Anderson) and Big Daddy have both been told by the doctor that the tests were negative; presumably so that Big Daddy could enjoy his last birthday. Also up for the occasion are Brick's older brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) and their five little "no-neck monsters". No one in the family seems too fond of Gooper and his wife; they come across as very self-centered and greedy, only out for Big Daddy's fortune. Gooper and his wife are also quick to point out Brick's drinking problem (which stemmed from the death of his best friend Skipper) in order to prove him irresponsible and unworthy of inheritance, and the fact that he doesn't seem all that fond of his wife who obviously is still madly in love with him. Big Daddy himself doesn't seem to like anyone, except for Brick and Maggie and with Brick's severe drinking problem Big Daddy is wondering whether he can trust Brick with his plantation. Brick has no interest in the plantation, for all he cares Gooper can just have it, however since Big Daddy is not at all fond of Gooper this is not a reasonable solution. As Brick puts it in the film, family crisis brings out the best and the worst in everyone and that is certainly apparent in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Liz Taylor is absolutely superb in her performance; and Burl Ives, Paul Newman and the rest of the cast are spectacular as well. The film completely skirts over the homosexual undertones of Brick and Skipper's relationship, no doubt due to the time it was produced and I felt that that took a bit away from the film, but it is still outstanding. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is definitely worth watching, one of Elizabeth Taylor's greatest roles. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Three Days of the Condor is a well-made thriller by director Sydney Pollack. Robert Redford is Joe Turner, code name Condor, a CIA man who's job it is to read and analyze books to see if they have any new ideas or if they're on to anything the CIA is trying to accomplish. One day upon returning to the office after lunch he discovers all of his colleagues murdered. Turner immediately calls the head offices, and they tell him to meet his supervisor behind an alley so they can pick him up, but upon his arrival the man shoots at Turner and Turner is forced to kill him. Turner isn’t a field agent, so he has no real training in evasion or on how to stay alive, so all he can really rely upon is his gut and what he’s read in adventure stories for the government. Turner doesn't know whom he can trust or where he can hide, so he kidnaps Kathy (Faye Dunaway) in a snap decision and forces her to take him to her apartment. When Turner first tries to explain to Kathy what is really going on she of course doesn't believe a word he says, but as time goes on she begins to realize he is telling the truth and wants to help him. The two of them then roam around New York trying to keep Turner alive and trying to expose the corruption from within the CIA. Robert Redford does a fantastic job, he has many previous collaborations with director Sydney Pollack (This Property is Condemned, The Way We Were and Jeremiah Johnson) and it shows with his performance. It’s always nice to see the great Max Von Sydow as well; he plays the killer for hire and does a fantastic job as usual. A very interesting story that is very suspenseful will have you on the edge of your seat. Three Days of the Condor is definitely worth watching. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alfie (2004)

I have got to think that the original 1966 Alfie was better and more original than this version. Jude Law plays the title character, a British playboy using the island of Manhattan as his own personal playground. Charles Shyer's film documents Alfie in a quasi-documentary style following him throughout his relationships with many different women, all while he looks directly at the camera and narrates. First there is Dori (Jane Krakowski), a beautiful wife of a husband who doesn't appreciate her. Alfie gives her the sexual pleasure her husband has no interest in, but when she starts to fall for him he runs the other direction. Then there's Julie (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei). Julie is Alfie's "glorified booty call". A single mother, Alfie goes to her when the night is done and essentially uses her for a bed and food. Julie is really Alfie’s favorite, but he doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. There's the high class Liz (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon), who Alfie ultimately falls for but since she is the female version of him it is not to be. Then we have the beautiful but crazy Nikki (Sienna Miller) who seems to be a rip-off of Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Nikki is so gorgeous that Alfie totally lets his guard down and becomes involved with her and she moves into his apartment. She’s so nuts though, that it really makes Alfie realize that T&A aren’t everything. Of course throughout the film you come to realize that Alfie really isn't happy in his playboy lifestyle. He is lonely, and really has no friends he hasn't alienated. This is of course what you have probably expected watching this film, because it has been done hundreds of times but with different actors and different characters. Alfie is so full of clichés that it’s ridiculous. The film has its moments of humor, and Jude Law gives a very decent performance, but the movie just isn't all that impressive. If all you want in a movie is a menagerie of beautiful women, then Alfie is for you but if you want an actual decent film then go elsewhere. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

The Last Tango in Paris is a slightly interesting film about two people. Marlon Brando is Paul, a man trying to cope with the recent suicide of his wife. Maria Schneider is Jeanne, a young woman seemingly trying to find herself. Paul and Jeanne’s paths cross one day while they are both looking at an apartment to rent in Paris. They immediately have intercourse, and Paul ends up taking the apartment. For some period of time, Jeanne comes to see Paul for sex and sex alone. He refuses to talk about himself, and wants to know nothing about Jeanne, not even her name. As soon as she brings up anything even remotely personal Paul gets very hostile. Paul and Jeanne truly have a no-strings-attached, entirely sexual relationship. In his personal life, Paul runs a run down hotel that is frequented by hookers and junkies. His mother-in-law has recently come to stay at the hotel due to her daughter’s death and this does not please Paul, they often get into fights about religion and the way to deal with her daughter’s funeral. In Jeanne’s personal life she is engaged to a man named Tom who is a young filmmaker. Tom latest project is a story of love in which Jeanne is the main subject. Tom is constantly following Jeanne around with a camera and crew and Jeanne doesn’t much care for this. It seems that the afternoons of sex is the only escape that Paul and Jeanne have from their stressful and depressing lives. I wasn’t particularly impressed with The Last Tango in Paris, the storyline wasn’t very original and the characters really weren’t that interesting. Maria Schneider is beautiful as Jeanne and gives a good performance, and Brando isn’t bad either. The script at times seems to be needlessly dirty, Bernardo Bertolucci appears to just be going for as much shock value as he can get. All in all The Last Tango in Paris is an okay film, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to see it. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = C

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kings Go Forth (1958)

Kings Go Forth is the story of Lieutenant Sam Loggins (Frank Sinatra) and Corporal Britt Harris (Tony Curtis). On a weekend leave the Lieutenant and his outfit take holiday in Nice where Sam meets the beautiful Monique (Natalie Wood). Monique was born in American, but moved to France as an infant and was raised French. Sam immediately falls in love with Monique, but she is less than receptive. She likes Sam, but only as a friend. After a few weeks of Sam coming down to Nice to see her, she confesses to him that her father was a "negro". Of course because of the way American's viewed interracial relationships in the 1940's she never expected to see him again. Sam struggles with this information all week, but at the last minute he decides that this isn’t as big an issue for him as he initially had thought and heads back down to Nice. Monique and her mother are ecstatic to see he has returned, and it looks as though a romantic relationship might happen between the two. In celebration, Sam takes Monique out on the town where they run into Cpl. Harris. Harris is quite the smooth operator, and Monique immediately shows fondness towards him. It seems that her father being black is not an issue for Britt, and Sam just wants Monique to be happy so Sam and Britt continue to come see her every Saturday. As the weeks go on it is apparent that Monique and Britt are falling in love. After a long night, Britt comes back to the hotel and informs Sam that he and Monique are to be married. Sam seems apprehensive, but ultimately wishes Britt the best. Britt, of course, isn't all he's cracked up to be as you will come to learn and as you will have suspected from the very beginning. Kings Go Forth really isn't that great of a film, it is really very mediocre. Frank Sinatra isn't bad but Tony Curtis definitely doesn't give his best performance and the usually magnificent Natalie Wood is not believable as a French woman. The story isn't very original either, and some of the scenes are really pretty cheesy. I'd only see this if you are an enormous fan of the stars or director Delmer Daves. Overall 2.5/4 Stars Grade = C

Monday, March 10, 2008

Caché (2005)

I was very disappointed in Caché. Throughout the film, you feel that it is building up to some grand conclusion but then is just piffles out into nothing. Daniel Auteuil stars as Georges Laurent, a wealthy television host of some kind of literary talk show. When he starts receiving strange video's at his door that show hours of surveillance on his home he starts fearing for the safety of himself and his family. Georges and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) go to the police, but the police are not concerned until this stalker proves to be dangerous. The tapes start becoming more frequent, and an anonymous caller keeps calling Anne asking for Georges, but the police still do nothing. On the third tape Georges thinks he has figured out who is sending the tapes, and goes to the suspect’s home for a visit. The gentleman is someone Georges knew as a child, someone who may feel that he was treated unfairly by Georges and out for revenge but there is never closure on the subject. There is also a tape of Georges confronting the man that is sent to his wife and his employer, which makes you think that it could be blackmail, but they never really go into depth on the subject and it is dropped without any real explanation. The acting is quite good, and at times there is a fair amount of suspense but the suspense never amounts to anything. Normally I don’t have a problem with films that go unresolved, but Caché just left me feeling completely unfulfilled. I suppose if anything can be said of Caché it is that it is an interesting look into the lives of people who feel endangered. I don't think it's really a film worth watching, it's certainly not terrible but it's not particularly good either. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel Rwanda is an incredibly harrowing and emotionally draining film depicting the genocide of the Tutsi's in Rwanda in 1994. The true story of Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle who got an Academy Award nomination for his role) and his courageous actions to save 1,200 Tutsi and Hutu refugees. Paul was the manager of the Milles Collines Hotel, a four-star hotel in the city of Kigali, Rwanda. Being the hotel manager Paul was able to make valuable connections and friends with many important and influential people including Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) of the UN and General Bizimungu (Fana Mokoena) of the Rwandan army. The Hutus had discriminated and fought against the Tutsis for many years. This is all because when Belgium occupied Rwanda, they classified all Rwandans into two categories based on their height, nose and color of their skin. These two categories were Hutu and Tutsi, and the Belgians put the Tutsis in charge. However when the Belgians left, they left the Hutus in charge and the Hutus sought out revenge on the Tutsis who had been in power for many years prior. The Hutu president of Rwanda had just signed a peace treaty that meant better times for all people of Rwanda, but Tutsi rebels assassinated soon the president leading the country into all-out civil war. At first Paul's only concern was to save his family, but once he realized that there would be no help from the United Nations or anyone else he knew that he could not just let all his neighbors and innocent countrymen be slaughtered in the genocide. Paul then opened the Milles Collines to the refugees, and used his connections within the UN for some protection. He also bribed General Bizimungu to have Rwandan police guarding the entrance. An incredible film by director Terry George that will leave you emotionally wrecked. Outstanding performances by Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, who played Paul's wife Tatiana, lead the film with other outstanding performances by the rest of the cast. Hotel Rwanda is definitely a must see film, if not to just shed light on what happened in Rwanda and is still happening in other African countries today. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass is really an outstanding picture. When I first saw it I was about sixteen, and I did not feel that way at all. I think this was probably due to the very slow pace of the film, because as we all know Mr. Kazan takes his sweet time. Natalie Wood plays Deanie Loomis, a high school girl in the late 1920s. Deanie is dating Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty in his first big screen role) who is the captain of the football team and son of oil tycoon Ace Stamper. Deanie and Bud are madly in love, but Bud is becoming increasingly frustrated with not being able to sleep with Deanie and his father not allowing them to be married. Meanwhile Deanie is also becoming frustrated because of her strong physical feelings for Bud but her mother telling her that nice girls don't feel that way. All of Bud's frustrations take hold of him on New Year's Eve 1928, when he finds his drunken flapper sister in a car with one of Deanie's friend’s date. This incident makes Bud feel that he is not being fair to himself or Deanie knowing that all he wants is sex at this time in his life. He doesn’t want to cheat on Deanie with the local flapper Juanita Howard, so he calls it off with Deanie. This sends Deanie into an emotional downward spiral, eventually leading to her attempted suicide that lands her in a mental hospital Wichita. Natalie Wood gives an absolutely incredible performance that should have won her the Oscar, which went to Sophia Loren instead. Warren Beatty is great as well in the role that made his career. Splendor in the Grass is a great story with even greater characters, definitely one to see if you're old enough to appreciate it. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976)

The 1976 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Laurence Olivier, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and Maureen Stapleton is a lesser-known, yet still outstanding version of this classic play. Natalie Wood plays Maggie the Cat, a middle-aged woman married to an ex football star who is no longer in love with her and has turned to alcohol to deal with the death of a friend. Robert Wagner is Maggie's husband Brick, who just wants some peace and quiet so he can relax and drink his whiskey. Brick and Maggie are visiting Brick's father Big Daddy, played by Laurence Olivier, who has just been diagnosed with cancer on this his sixty-fifth birthday. Big Daddy is a multi-millionaire who owns a 28,000-acre plantation in Mississippi. Big Momma is having a birthday party for Big Daddy so the entire family is at the estate and everyone is creating drama. Big Daddy’s eldest son Gooper and his wife Mae and their five children seem to be the cause of most of the drama. This isn’t their intention of course, it’s just that they are very loud and very brash and don’t exactly keep to themselves and aren’t exactly cordial. Gooper and Mae aren’t alone at fault, as Big Daddy himself has a few outbursts and Brick and Maggie’s marital problems are very obvious whenever they are together. At first it is kept from Big Momma and Big Daddy that Big Daddy has cancer, they are told that his tests were negative in order to let Big Momma enjoy the birthday party. It is inevitable however that they tell Big Momma the truth about Big Daddy’s cancer something that kind of hangs over their heads throughout the story. The film is done with Tennessee Williams' screenplay and has outstanding performances by Olivier and Wood. The film is really shot and acted more like a stage play and not like a movie. What I mean to say is that it is very theatrical and not cinematic. This isn’t a problem of course; it just takes a couple minutes to get used to. I didn't think Robert Wagner was all that great, he is more of a film actor and less theatrical but he got better as the film went on. This version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is definitely worth watching, especially if you're a Tennessee Williams fan. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Darren Aronofsky's disturbing masterpiece Requiem for a Dream is a chillingly graphic film that makes you wonder how anyone could let themselves become an addict. The film opens up with Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) stealing his mother's television to pawn for heroin money, they give you the impression that this is a common occurrence. Along with Harry is his friend and fellow addict Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). While Harry is the brain of the operation, Tyrone is the one who puts the plan into effect. There is also Harry's girlfriend Marian, played wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly, who seems to have the most level head of the three but is drawn in by the junk as well. At first the three of them really seem to be making it work. Harry and Tyrone are distributing and making good money, while Marian is designing dresses and clothing so that she can set up a clothing store. Unfortunately, a rival soon kills their connection and Tyrone ends up in jail and thus thrusts them back to the poorhouse. As you view the film you just sit and watch as the three of them circle down the drain and throw their lives into a living Hell where the only thing that can pull them up is another fix. In the meantime Harry's mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) has found out that she has won a contest and is going to be competing on television. It is very important to Sara to fit into an old red dress she has that her late husband was very fond of, so she goes to a doctor to get diet pills. Unfortunately the only thing that the doctor cares about is getting paid, so he gives her no information about the pills that she is taking and soon she becomes strung out on speed. Requiem for a Dream is a very harsh, very graphic, very disturbing film. It is very hard to watch, but it is most certainly a masterpiece. Ellen Burstyn's performance ranks up there with the best all time, and the music by the Krono's Quartet is magnificent. A definite must see film for anyone that can stomach it. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

La Dolce Vita (1960)

La Dolce Vita is a look into the life of Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a Roman journalist trying to find himself. Yvonne Furneaux is Emma, Marcello's live-in girlfriend who is very insecure and suicidal mostly due to Marcello's playboy ways. Throughout the film Marcello and Emma are constantly at each other’s throats, yet everything always seems to work out in the end between them due to Emma’s undying love towards Marcello. The film follows Marcello during one week in his life while he meets new people, conquers new women, and attends high society parties with the paparazzo always close behind. The first of these encounters is Maddalena, played by Anouk Aimée. Maddalena is an heiress to some kind of fortune, who seemingly bored with her life and spends time with Marcello and ends up sleeping with him in a whore's bedroom. Next is big time Hollywood actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), whom Marcello is extremely attracted to but who is already in a tumultuous relationship with fellow actor Robert, who seems to be a big American star as well. Following a large fight with Robert, Sylvia runs off into the night with Marcello who makes his attempts to woo her but finds her short attention span and high maintenance attitude tiring. He then attends an intellectual party at his troubled friend Steiner's apartment. Steiner is a writer who seems very balanced, but ends up murdering his children and killing himself for no apparent reason. There are many other encounters like these, all just as interesting with characters just as deep and flawed as the ones previously mentioned. La Dolce Vita is a very long and complicated film, so make sure when you watch it you are at full attention and awake throughout so as to no miss anything. Federico Fellini is an amazingly talented director, and this is definitely a beautiful film with some shots that will absolutely blow your mind. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Les Enfants Terribles (1950)

Les Enfants Terribles was a good film by Jean-Pierre Melville, however I feel that if it had had Jean Cocteau's masterous touch at direction and not just the screenplay I feel it would have been much better. The story is about sixteen year old Paul, played by Edouard Dermithe, a fragile boy who becomes bedridden after being hit by a snowball at school. He lives with his invalid mother and psychotic sister, Elisabeth (played by Nicole Stéphane), who looks after their mother. Not long after Paul becomes ill, their mother passes on and it is just the two of them. They bicker constantly, even when company is present (company mostly being Gerard, Paul's friend from school). After a large fight between Paul and Elisabeth, Elisabeth decides to go get a job modeling for Gerard's uncle's high-end clothing store. While modeling Elisabeth befriends fellow model Agathe (Renée Cosima) who moves in with Paul and Elisabeth. This upsets Paul greatly, as he feels Agathe is invading his space. Through this job of Elisabeth's she meets a rich American named Michael, who for some strange reason has fallen in love with her and they are to be married. Michael owns a large eighteen-room mansion, which pleases Paul greatly because it will get both Elisabeth and Agathe out of his home. Unfortunately, however, Michael is killed in an automobile accident directly after the wedding and not soon thereafter Agathe, Paul and Gerard all move in to the mansion with Elisabeth where all kinds of drama ensues thereafter. Les Enfants Terribles is worth watching, especially due to Cocteau's fantastic script and narration. Dermithe and Stéphane give outstanding performances as the siblings constantly at each other's throats, and Jacques Bernard (Gerard) and Renée Cosima are also superb. Worth watching for sure, I just wish Cocteau had directed. This is not a slight against Jean-Pierre Melville it is simply stating Jean Cocteau's mastery behind a camera. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

James Dean stars as Jim Starks, a teenager who has just moved into town and is already getting into trouble. Jim is a rebellious young man, although he is really a good kid. He is just starved for discipline. His father, played by Jim Backus, is a bit of a wimp and doesn't stand up for himself or anyone else and this upsets Jim greatly. Jim is a man who stands for honor and believes you have to stand up for yourself no matter what, and is really quite ashamed of his dad. On his first day of school in this new town, Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), a very popular girl who hangs with the rough kids. Although Jim immediately seems taken by Judy, she as well as her friends sees him more as a "disease". It is not until after a fight with a boy named Buzz, and a run of "chiky" (where two cars speed towards a cliff and the drivers jump out), which goes awry and kills Buzz, that he gains her affection. There is also Plato (Sal Mineo), an effeminate yet seemingly mentally unstable boy, who quickly befriends Jim. Plato really sees Jim as a father figure, and becomes completely dependant on him for approval, and when he thinks Jim has deserted him it really sends him off the deep end. The entire film takes place in one day, from the first meeting, to the accident, to Jim, Judy and Plato running from Buzz's friends who want to severely beat Jim to keep him from going to the police. My only problem with the film is that it seems Judy, who was Buzz's best girl, gets over Buzz's death within a matter of hours and I found that to be quite unrealistic. James Dean and Natalie Wood give great performances, and the direction is really good in this classic story. You should definitely put Rebel Without a Cause on your list. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Nightcomers (1972)

I wasn't particularly impressed with Michael Winner's The Nightcomers, a prequel to The Turn of the Screw, although I can't say I was terribly surprised as I went in expecting a very mediocre film and I got a very mediocre film. The story is about a pair of very wealthy orphans named Flora and Miles who live in a large mansion somewhere in England. The children are cared for by the cook and maid Mrs. Grose (Thora Hird), their nanny Miss Jessel (Stephanie Beacham) as well as Peter Quint, the gardener (Marlon Brando). The children seem to be normal kids, they enjoy the normal things that eleven year olds do, and they are very fond of Quint. They spend much of their day hanging around Quint who tells them stories and teaches them the way of the world as he sees it, which is not always correct but the children believe anything he says. Quint and Miss Jessel in the meantime are having a sadomasochistic relationship, but all the children know is that they love each other. Miles is very curious about sex, but doesn't understand anything about it, and being that it is 1901 no one is willing to explain it to him, so he spies on Quint and Miss Jessel while they explore each other in very unconventional ways. Miles will then go and mimic these actions with his sister. Mrs. Grose is aware of this relationship between Quint and Miss Jessel, and does not approve. One day Miss Jessel and Mrs. Grose hear struggling and screaming from the children, and go to investigate and discover them mimicing in a very dangerous manner one of the encounters they had witnessed between Miss Jessel and Quint. This of course forces Mrs. Grose to fire Miss Jessel, which upsets the children greatly and that's when the story gets disturbing. I can't say I would recommend The Nightcomers, or anything else by Michael Winner for that matter as this is my second Winner film and I have come to discover he is a very sub-par director. The acting is also very poor, especially by Thora Hird and the children. Not worth your time. Overall 1.5/4 Stars Grade = C-

This Property Is Condemned (1966)

At first while I was watching This Property Is Condemned I kept thinking, "wow, this is a really underrated film", but once I saw the ending I understood why it isn't talked about anymore. Natalie Wood is at her best, both aesthetically and with her performance, portraying Alva Starr a young woman in a small Southern town during the depression. Alva lives with her mother and sister in a boarding house they run for all the railroad people that come and go. As Willy, Alva's sister portrayed by Mary Badham would put it "Alva is the main attraction". Because of her beauty, and seeming overall love of life, Alva is lusted after by each and every one of the railroad workers including her mother’s beau. Alva's mother also notices how then men lust after her and is constantly whoring her out to a rich man from Chicago so that she can further herself in life. Alva seems both aware of this and in denial at the same time. One day a man named Owen Legate (Robert Redford) comes to town. Owen is a man who works for the railroad and his job is to figure out who is to be laid off. Alva is immediately attracted to Owen, but he doesn't seem interested in her at all and his "smart alec" attitude seems to enrage her and at the same time multiply her attraction. Eventually, after a big argument about what it is he is doing in town with the layoffs, they end up sleeping with each other and falling in love. The characters are fantastic, and Natalie Wood and Robert Redford put in incredible performances. As I mentioned earlier, this film is great up until the end. They seem to just cut off the main story, and go back to the narrative taking place a few years in the future to tell you what happened. If they had taken the time to go a little further and actually show you, it would have been much more powerful and possibly even become a tear-jerker. If the ending had been done correctly this would have been a four star film. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B+

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

John Huston's The Maltese Falcon is one of the greatest film noirs of all time. The legendary Humphrey Bogart stars as Sam Spade, a private detective who has just been hired by Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), under the false name Wonderly, to tail a man named Floyd Thursby who she claims is running away with her sister. Spade's partner Miles Archer goes on the job, and is murdered, presumably by Thursby. Spade is informed of his partner’s death, and goes down to see the body and shortly afterwards Thursby turns up dead. Spade is obviously the top suspect in the case, so he has detectives showing up at his place at all hours throughout the film. Not long after this, a man named Joel Cairo (played by Peter Lorre) comes into the picture. Cairo is willing to pay Spade $5,000 if he is to come up with an enamel falcon which Cairo claims Miss O'Shaughnessy is in possession of. The film continues on with a lot of great twists and turns in one of the most classic stories of all time. Huston's direction is superb, and I don't think I need to tell you how great Bogart and Lorre are as that is a given, but the rest of the cast is quite good as well. The script is absolutely fantastic and has given us such classic lines as "When you're slapped you'll take it and like it", and "The stuff dreams are made of". Definitely one of the best film noirs, a must see for any film fan. Overall 4.0/4 Stars Grade = A

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Red Desert (1964)

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Red Desert is a very good, yet very deep and complicated film. Monica Vitti plays Giuliana, a severely depressed and co-dependant wife of a factory owner whose plant pollutes the air and rapes the land. Giuliana tries her best to keep her mental illness secret from her husband Ugo, played by Carlo Chionetti, and does so by leading him to believe it is just side effects from an automobile accident in which she suffered severe shock. One day while visiting her husband at the plant with their son she meets Corrado (Richard Harris), one of Ugo's business partners. Corrado is immediately taken by the lovely Giuliana, and sets his mind to wooing her. Throughout the film Giuliana's mental condition seems to deteriorate more and more, and when Ugo leaves for South America and her son fakes Polio to get out of going to Kindergarten it pushes her over the edge which sends her running into the arms of Corrado who is just dying to take advantage of her. Antonioni's direction is outstanding and some of the cinematography is just mind-blowing. Vitti gives an outstanding performance; Harris and Chionetti are also quite good. Worth watching, but pay close attention or you will be lost faster than you can say Antonioni. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B

Father of the Bride (1950)

Father of the Bride is a good film, however it is certainly not Spencer Tracy nor Elizabeth Taylor's best. Tracy plays Stanley Banks, a middle class lawyer with three children. Elizabeth Taylor is his twenty-year-old daughter Kay. Upon arriving home from work one evening, Stanley notices that his daughter seems to be glowing from the inside with happiness. At the dinner table Kay reveals to her father that she is to be married to a gentleman named Buckley Dunston (portrayed by Don Taylor). At first Stanley and his wife (Joan Bennett) are extremely worried about this marriage, with the standard concerns of parents who's daughter is about to be wed, such as finances and whether or not the gentleman is a louse. Upon meeting and getting to know Buckley these fears are alleviated, but new problems are soon to arise. Although both Kay and her father want a small ceremony, it soon comes to fruition that this is not possible. With all the extended family and important business associates the guest list soon reaches nearly 600 people. Throw on top of that all the dresses, tuxedos, rentals, caterers and Stanley has himself a very expensive situation. There ends up being many other problems that arise, and much more drama ensues but as they show you at the beginning everything works out just fine. The script is pretty good, with a lot of great one-liners and there are some good bits of physical comedy from Tracy. All in all it is a good film, but I wouldn't go too far out of my way to see it unless you're a huge Spencer Tracy or Elizabeth Taylor fan. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B