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