Sunday, October 31, 2010

713. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Main Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, John Saxon

"ONE, TWO, FREDDY'S COMING FOR YOU!"

The festivities for Halloween 2010 continue with "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and the efforts of Freddy Krueger to kill a group of teenagers in this 80s teen slasher flick directed and written by Wes Craven, a director I've come to like less and less as I grow older.

Out of the group of aforementioned teenagers, we first meet Tina (Wyss), who, upon the films opening is awakened by a nightmare. The nightmare consisted of a man with a red and green sweater, black fedora and who had knives for fingers. He also had a burnt face and chased Tina throughout her dream, slashing at her body right before she wakes up. When she does awake her night shirt is slashed and she is screaming. The next day at school, Tina tells her friends, Nancy (Langenkamp), Glen (Depp) and Rod, about the dream. Nancy later admits that the dream is very similar to a nightmare that she had, where she also dreamt of the man in the green and red sweater. They write it off as a simple nightmare and get on with their lives, having a little "get together" while Tina's parents are out of town. However, later that night, as Tina and Rod lie in bed together sleeping, Tina begins to be thrashed and thrown around the room, as if she is being murdered. Rod awakens, but is too frightened to do anything about it and can't see anyone else in the room. Tina is killed, lying in a pool of her own blood. Rod is the next to go, as he lays sleeping in a jail cell, being held for the murder of Tina, since he was the only one in the room. Now it's up to Nancy and Glen to figure out the origin of the mystery man in their dreams, who they identify as Fred Krueger, a former child murderer, released from jail on a technicality and killed by the angry parents of Elm Street. Nancy and Glen need to stay awake, because remember...If they don't wake up screaming, they won't wake up at all!

SPOILER ALERT!

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" being in the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" is like a drunk guy with a mullet showing up to a bourgeoisie party. Sure the snooty party goers will have their fun with the drunkard, but in the end he just doesn't belong there. I had fun with "A Nightmare on Elm Street" especially on Halloween, as it's a very fun film to watch to get you into the spirit of the holiday (Is Halloween considered holiday?). I'll actually admit that the plot is a pretty intricate and smart idea. A killer who can only kill you in your dreams. Now that sounds pretty cool to me. The makeup artist obviously showed up in a creative mood, as Fred Krueger looks pretty messed up, to say the least. Also, I should also give kudos to whoever was in charge of making the fake blood, as they obviously had their work cut out for them, as there was quite a bit of it, especially when it spewed up and out of Glen's bed.

I'm not even gonna' touch upon the acting, as it is non-existent and why not? Because this isn't the place to be scouting potential Academy Award nominees and we all know that. This movie has one purpose: to scare or frighten young kids who happened to sneak out and sneak into the movie theatre back in 1984. It also has the purpose now of being a piece of nostalgia, as it's fun to look back on the films of our youth and laugh at what we used to consider good film making. This isn't good film making, but again, we know that going in. I didn't care too much for "A Nightmare on Elm Street", but it served it menial purpose, to get me into the spirit of Halloween, so I'll give it some brownie points there. Otherwise, this movie has no place within the pages of the "1001" book.

RATING: 4/10 About as high as I can go for this 80s slasher flick.

MOVIES WATCHED: 178
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 823

October 31, 2010 8:26pm

336. DRACULA (1958)

Running Time: 82 minutes
Directed By: Terence Fisher
Written By: Jimmy Sangster, from novel by Bram Stoker
Main Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh

"I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD!"

Yet another "Dracula" movie makes it's way into the pages of the "1001" book, and this time it's your typical Count Dracula affair, except this one has an outstanding performance by Peter Cushing.

I'm going to omit the plot synopsis portion of this review, as we ALL know the story of "Dracula" and if you don't, you can read my previous review of Tod Browning's "Dracula" from 1931. I'll use the normal plot synopsis paragraph to, instead, draw some comparisons to the Browning version. We might as well start with the man himself and I'll say flat out that I think Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the blood sucker from Transylvania was better than Christopher Lee's. Honestly though, the character of Dracula in this film really didn't have much screen time and it was almost a treat to see him appear on camera. The real star of Fisher's version is Peter Cushing who plays Dr. Van Helsing and knocks one out of the park, in my opinion anyway. Having never really seen a Cushing movie (or at least not one that I can think of), I was pleasantly surprised by the guy, as he was a total intellectual bad ass and was the definite shining actor of this movie. In fact, with the exception of Lugosi, I really don't remember any great acting coming out of Browning's version. So despite Lugosi's epic portrayal of Dracula, this one still gets the acting points, as Cushing was amazing and Lee wasn't bad either. Although Michael Gough was pretty freaking annoying as Mr. Homewood.

SPOILER ALERT!

I also liked the ending of this version better. If I recall correctly, Browning's version has Count Dracula being staked at the ending and we don't even see it, but rather just hear the screams of the Count coming from the castle. In this version we get a pretty suspenseful little tussle between Van Helsing and Dracula, which leads to drapes being drawn and some nice special effects to show the withering of Dracula's body in response to sunlight. I enjoyed how this one kind of went it's own way and made some very minor changes. In fact, just enough minor changes that we weren't just seeing the same movie rehashed thirty years later, although still sticking to the basic plot points of the original novel.

Let's face it guys, as good as "Dracula" was, this entire story just isn't my cup of tea. I've now watched three versions of this film and all three have only managed to get mild approval out of me at the most. I liked this version, but in my opinion, the creators of the "1001" book should've picked one definitive Dracula story and put it in, omitting the rest. I can say that this version was probably the best I've seen, but even it wasn't anything to write home about and without Peter Cushing it probably would've been a big failure with me.

Have my reviews been getting shorter? I think they have. Maybe it's just the horror movies and usually it doesn't take much to sum up a scary movie.

RATING: 6/10 I gave the Browning version a '7/10' and in hindsight that was way too generous and really it should've been like a '5' or '5.5'.

MOVIES WATCHED: 177
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 824

October 31, 2010 4:02pm

933. RING (1998)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Hideo Nakata
Written By: Hiroshi Takahashi, from the novel Ringu by Koji Suzuki
Main Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka

CIRCLE OF DEATH

The Halloween 2010 festivities continue as I take in "Ring" (I know the film is actually called "Ringu", but the "1001" book refers to it only as "Ring") and have a good time doing so. This was a great one to check out on Halloween and I enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed the American remake.

The plot is pretty simple. "Ring" tells of a cursed videotape, that when watched gives the viewer only seven days to live. When high schooler Tomoko watches the video with a group of friends and dies exactly one week later (to the minute), it raises the suspicions of her aunt Asakawa (Matsushima), a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth about the infamous "videotape". She checks into Tomoko's background and in the process watches the videotape herself and after seeing the images on the tape, is convinced that the tape is for real and that she only has one week to live. Wanting to break the curse, especially for her young sons sake, Asakawa enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji, who also watches the tape and then begins to help her figure out the origins of the tape and a possible way of breaking the curse and saving their lives. The clock as ticking as Asakawa and Ryuji follow a line of clues and try to find someway to break the curse and the situation becomes more desperate when their son, Yoichi, also watches the video.

I'm probably going to use a lot of comparisons to the American remake in the following paragraphs, so bear with me.

SPOILER ALERT!

While the plot seems kind of silly on the surface (a cursed videotape that can kill you), everything actually meshes together quite well to provide us with a fairly chilling little horror movie. Sadly, I saw the remake first and actually the remake is a pretty accurate depiction of the original, so there were no surprises in store for me. I would say that the remake has a more pale look to it and thus provides us with a more bleak film, while this one seems just a tad more sunny, but still gives off a feeling of doom throughout. The acting was good in this one too and I quite enjoyed the two main actors, especially the beautiful Nanako Matsushima. Hideo Nakata relies more on sound, music and atmosphere to provide the eeriness of the picture and less on the actual visual horror, although the scene where Sadako crawls out of the television set and kills Ryuji is pretty freaky.

Despite owning it, it's been a while since I've seen the remake, but if I remember correctly it has more details that this one. Of course, that could be a bad thing, as there are more loose ends to tie up and more room for plot holes. "Ring" actually keeps the plot as simple as possible and gives us a clear cut directive: The main characters must do anything they can do to break the curse and save their lives and their main idea is to find the origin of the videotape, that's it. We get some back story about the characters that appear on the video, but it's kept to a minimum, at least more of a minimum than I remember the remake keeping it to. Also, while the remake title of "The Ring" refers to the sunlight creeping into the well as the lid is being placed on, thus being the last thing that Sadako (or Samara, as she is called in the remake), I think the title of "Ring" here refers to the vicious circle that must be carried out to save ones life after viewing the video. Also, if you think about it, this is one of the few horror movies where evil prevails. In order to break the curse, the viewer must copy the videotape and then show it to someone else, which will keep the cycle (or ring) continuing on and on.

RATING: 7/10 Now I'm very interested to see the sequels and prequels of this one and am hoping that they're better than the American "Ring Two", which was god awful.

MOVIES WATCHED: 176
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 825

October 31, 2010 1:19am
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

154. Cat People (1942)

Running Time: 73 minutes
Directed By: Jacques Tourneur
Written By: DeWitt Bodeen
Main Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph

CAT SCRATCH FEVER

Well Halloween is tomorrow, so I figured I'd better kick off the festivities, if I hope to get in all the movies that I have planned. When looking to the forties for a horror film, I decided upon one of the "classic" Jacques Tourneur films...I guess I picked the wrong one. "Cat People" did absolutely nothing for me and was probably the worst film I've seen from the book since "The Black Cat" back in January.

Irena Dubrovna (Simon) is spotted by Oliver Reed (Smith) at the zoo, as she is sketching a black panther. They strike up a conversation and wind up back at her place for tea. While chit chatting over tea, Irena tells Oliver of her ancestors who were forced to turn to evil and witchcraft when they were forced to be slaves by the Mameluks. When King John of Serbia drove the Mameluks out, he had the evil villagers killed, however the most wicked of the bunch escaped into the mountains. Irena believe that she is a descendant of these extra wicked mountain dwellers and that if drove to passion, she fears she will turn into a cat. The relationship between Irena and Oliver takes about ten minutes of film time to end up in marriage, however there marriage isn't all roses. Irena still refuses to kiss her new husband, for fear that she will turn into a cat and kill him. The relationship is rocky and Oliver turns to a colleague at work, Alice (Randolph), who tries to console him and in the midst of said consoling, they fall in love with each other. Oliver tries one last ditch effort to help Irena, by sending her to see a psychiatrist, a psychiatrist that she only visits once. Seemingly Irena becomes more aggressive throughout the film, stalking Alice in the movies ONLY attention grabbing scene, as Alice walks down the sidewalk to catch a bus, the clickity-clack of her high heels snapping against the concrete. The climax is very anti-climatic and I won't spoil anything here, for non-seers of this terrible movie.

I don't know if I picked the wrong Tourneur film, or if they're all on par with this one. I just didn't like this movie. My theory is this: In the spirit of Halloween any movie that is classified as horror or has anything to do with something supernatural, can be enjoyed. I guess this one fit in with my Halloween weekend viewing plans, but it was just not enjoyable and flat out not good, and even the spirit of Halloween couldn't change that fact. I found Simone Simon to be very annoying as Irena and Kent Smith was a total pushover as Oliver Reed. I mean, this guy didn't kiss his wife, although they were married, and he was okay with it. Do you think Cary Grant or Garey Cooper would stand for that crap? See, this film has me saying good things about Cary Grant, now you know I didn't like it!

The whole plot was just silly and hinged on some silly made up fairy tale that means nothing to me. I didn't care about any of the characters (except for maybe Alice, a little) and wasn't interested in anything that was going on. Outside of that one scene that I mentioned in the plot synopsis above and maybe the old, female pet store owner (who I thought was charming and hilarious) this movie was a complete and utter failure, in my opinion. I think we'll end it there.

RATING: 2/10 Yeah I'm going that low and haven't been that low in a long time. I hope when I get around to watching "I Walked with A Zombie" and "The Seventh Victim", that they're better.

MOVIES WATCHED: 175
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 826

October 30, 2010 1:57pm

Thursday, October 28, 2010

862. The Piano (1993)

Running Time: 121 minutes
Directed By: Jane Campion
Written By: Jane Campion
Main Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin

A BEAUTIFULLY TRAGIC FILM

Never have I witnessed so much beauty, yet so much tragedy all in the span of two hours, than I did when I watched "The Piano" last night. Although I wasn't expecting much from Jane Campion's third feature film (especially having never seen a Campion film), I got a lot more than I bargained for and was extremely surprised by my own reaction the movie.

Holly Hunter is Ada McGrath, a Scottish born, mute woman who is sold into marriage by her father to a New Zealander. Ada has two prized possessions in life: her daughter, Flora and her piano. Upon arriving in New Zealand and meeting her new beau, Alistair (Neill) on the beach, she is transported to her new home. The relationship gets off to a rocky start, when Alistair proclaims the piano too large to transport right away and leaves it on the beach. After settling into her new digs and longing for her piano, one day Ada calls upon the help of Alistair's friend, Baines (Keitel), to guide her back to the beach so that she can play her piano for a little while. Baines reluctantly obliges, and music is soon made on the beach, with Anna playing the piano and Flora dancing and playing...Baines watches, seemingly in ecstasy. Later, Baines proposes a swap to Alistair: a piece of land that Baines owns for the piano. Alistair accepts the swap and suggests that Baines take lessons from Ada. Thus the lessons begin, with Ada beginning her trips to Baines. There's only one small hitch and that is that Baines doesn't want to play, but simply watch Ada play. As Ada plays the piano during the first day of "lessons", Baines tries to kiss her...Ada pulls away. Baines suggests that if Ada allows him to do anything he wants to her as she plays, then he'll give her back the piano. Ada agrees to the stipulation of one visit for every black key on the piano. At first, Baines doesn't want much. A simple touch of here skin through her torn stockings, kissing, to smell her jacket...Baines has fallen in love and Ada soon realizes that she loves Baines and one day lets her lust get the best of her and submits her body to the hands of Mr. Baines.

What a tragic, bleak story "The Piano" was. Even though there were some scenes of happiness in the film, there was still a damper over the whole film and believe me folks, that's not a complaint. I loved the atmosphere that this film presented and I was really able to lose myself in the dark, passionate, beautiful, tragic story. With a title like "The Piano" you'd expect a great score and it was a great one, a score that really added to the dreariness of the entire movie. Jane Campion immediately earned herself a mental note in my head, and I can't wait to check out more of her films, as she seems to have a knack for delivering the types of tragic stories that I appreciate, but that others might call too depressing. The scenes on the beach, with Ada playing the piano and Flora dancing on the shore were marvelous and the cinematographer needs a kudos too, as he was really able to capture some beautiful shots. I didn't keep track enough to notice, but thinking back, I think that the entire movie has an overcast to it - very dark, rainy, dreary - except for the scenes where Ada is playing the piano, drawing some connections to the point that Ada is only truly happy when her fingers are tapping the eighty-eight keys.

Let's chat about the cast for a bit. I was happy for my old favorite Harvey Keitel, as he isn't your typical cast choice to play the object of desire to a married woman, but he pulled it off well and he and Holly Hunter had a great deal of chemistry, in my view. Who knew Holly Hunter had this performance in her? When I think Holly Hunter I always think of Ed from "Raising Arizona" and never associate her with the type of actress that she turned out being in "The Piano". She is a great actress and no doubt deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. The sex scenes between those two, while moderately graphic, were still handled in a very classy way, in my view and really stirred up a feeling of passion in this viewer.

SPOILER ALERT!

The ONLY thing that I'll gripe about is the ending and as cold as it might sound, I wish Campion had killed Ada at the end. Campion had her in the river, her foot tied to a piano and she was moments from drowning and she escaped and was pulled to safety. To me, the ending didn't fit in with the rest of the movie...a movie that I took as a very tragic story. In my opinion, for the ending to fit in, Ada should've died and it would've been a heartbreaking, yet amazing movie. But that's just my opinion and the movie still managed to shock me, as I had absolutely no hopes for this one and it turned out to be a top notch contender in the "1001" book.

RATING: 9/10 Yep, I'm deducting one point for the ending, otherwise this movie was brilliant and I can't wait to see more Campion film. Please suggest any in the form of comments, if you have a favorite.

MOVIES WATCHED: 174
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 827

October 28, 2010 5:50pm

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

153. To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Written By: Melchior Lengyel, Edwin Justus Mayer
Main Cast: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman

THE BEST COMEDY ABOUT NAZI'S!

Seeing as how it was leaving the streaming portion of Netflix as of tomorrow, I figured I'd catch "To Be or Not to Be" while I still could, without having to get it in the mail. I didn't have high hopes for this one and even within the first quarter of the film, my hopes weren't being heightened. However, the film actually turned out to be a really funny comedy and helped me to discover two new gems...Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.

The film's plot is quite intricate, especially for a comedy, so bear with me as I try to explain it. Benny and Lombard play Josef and Maria Tura, a married couple that are also a part of a troupe of actors who work out of Warsaw, Poland. They put on various shows as part of their troupe, including Hamlet. The married couple constantly quarrel and in the midst of one of their quarrels, Maria receives flowers from an anonymous gentleman. She eventually gets word to the gentleman to meet her in her dressing room, in the middle of the play, right as her husband is to give the famous "To Be or Not to Be..." speech. Maria and her anonymous caller meet and he is revealed as Lt. Stanislav Sobinski. They continue their meetings, every night as Josef begins his speech and while Josef's self esteem is hurt when he sees a member of the audience leave every single night as he is performing, he knows nothing of the rendezvous with Sobinski and Maria. Soon war is declared in Warsaw, as the Nazi's invade and Sobinski is sent off to war. Later, we meet Professor Alexander Siletsky, a man first introduced to us as the leader of the Polish resistance. When Siletsky announces to the Polish division of the British Royal Air Force that he'll be returning to Warsaw, the rest of the men jump at the chance to find out if their loved ones are okay. All of the men give the names of their families to Siletsky and beg him to bring back word of their safety. Sobinski also confides in Siletsky, giving him the name of Maria Tura. Later, Sobinski suspects Siletsky of being a Nazi spy and informs his superiors, who send him into Warsaw to retrieve the names of the families of all the Polish pilots. Let's suffice it to say that the acting troupe winds up getting involved and it's a romp from there on out, as the acting troupe along with Sobinski must retrieve the list of names and help further the resistance's plans.

Like I said above, the movie wasn't exactly grabbing me at first. I did love the beginning though and the very amusing anecdote about the seemingly impossible appearance of Hitler in Warsaw in 1939. From there it goes downhill, but not for long, once the character of Siletsky is introduced and arrives in Warsaw the fun meter is turned back on full blast and Jack Benny is cut loose to grab us by the funny bones and not let go until the end. I was enamored with both Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, but especially Benny, who really strut his comedy stuff and showed that it's the little things (mannerisms, the precise delivery of his dialogue, etc.) that made him a comedic genius. Lombard, who's beauty didn't strike me as much in "My Man Godfrey", shines here and makes the story of her real life death, a more tragic one.

I feel that the genre of comedy is the most inviting genre that there is. This is a genre that doesn't want anything from us, except for our laughter and happiness. Most great comedies invite us to cuddle up, relax and be entertained and that's exactly what this one does. This film, for me, had sort of a warm quality, even though it was dealing with questionable subject matter. However, it still managed to convey a feeling of warmth and hilarity throughout. Also, speaking of the subject matter, you can complain all you want that laughter shouldn't be brought on by the tragedies that were committed by the Gestapo, but I will argue back and say that there was nothing here that should be taken very seriously and in the end, it's the Jewish man who really saves the day for the acting troupe. There are so many terrible films that remind us of the horrors that took place during Nazi times, but this one reminds us that the Nazi's were terrible men, with the added pleasure of allowing us to laugh at them, without feeling guilty for about it.

RATING: 7/10 It's not a '10' film, but it's a hilarious one that gets a recommendation from me. I immediately added Charley's Aunt to my "watch list" for more Jack Benny fun.

MOVIES WATCHED: 173
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 828

October 27, 2010 2:09am

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

817. Dances with Wolves (1990)

Running Time: 181 minutes
Directed By: Kevin Costner
Written By: Michael Blake, from his novel
Main Cast: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd Red Crow Westerman

INDIAN SUMMER

I hadn't seen "Dances with Wolves" in ages, before today, and after watching and slightly enjoying it, it is still hard to believe that this is the film that beat out "Goodfellas" for a Best Picture win. More so, it is hard to believe that Costner won a directing award, especially when he was nominated in the same category as Martin Scorsese.

The movie starts smack dab in the American Civil War, as Lt. John J. Dunbar (Costner) is, seemingly, about to have his leg amputated. He manages to get up and ride through the plain on a suicide mission, between soldiers of the north and south. He manages to escape with his life and his actions rally the Union soldiers, getting Dunbar recognized as a hero. His reward - he can have his choice of any post that he wants. Dunbar requests a transfer to the western frontier, where he dreams of seeing the western plains, before they cease to exist. He arrives at Fort Sedgwick and finds that it has been abandoned and is nothing more than a desolate shack. Dunbar decides to stay and try to make the most of it, taking his new assignment very seriously and trying to make the most of his new post. Dunbar begins to keep a record of his thoughts in a journal, which we hear by way of Costner narration. Dunbar soon realizes that he's not alone on the plains, as he encounters a tribe of Sioux Indians. At first he is terrified of them, but quickly realizes that they are of no harm to him and decides that he will make friends with his new neighbors. After many visits and encounters with the Sioux, where they share in each other's cultures (Dunbar introduces the Sioux to sugar, and is in turn introduced to many of the customs of the Sioux). The main Sioux tribe members that Dunbar befriends are Kicking Bird (Greene) and Wind in His Hair (Grant), and later Stands with A Fist (McDonnell), who acts as a translator between the white man and the Sioux, as she is really a white woman, taking refuge with the Sioux tribe. Now Dunbar (who is dubbed Dances with Wolves due to the friendship that he strikes up with a lone wolf on the prairie named Two-Socks) and the Sioux can freely communicate with each other, hunt buffalo together and battle the rival Indian tribe, the Pawnee. Dunbar becomes great friends with the Sioux, learning their language and eventually marrying Stands with A Fist. But all is not well when word of the coming of the white man comes.

In my opinion, the movie is very plain (no pun intended). The film itself isn't great, nor is it bad. The length wasn't an issue for me either, as the three hour running time seemed to flow along quite nicely and there was never a time where I was watching the clock or hoping for it to end. The cinematography was pretty brilliant, but nothing that you wouldn't expect from a 1990s western and cinematographer Dean Semler did a fine job capturing the look and feel of the old western frontier. The relationship that is struck up between Dunbar and Stands with A Fist, pales in comparison to the heterosexual relationship that is formed between Dunbar and Kicking Bird and their final farewell at the end of the film is a nice, sincere moment. I've always enjoyed stories that explored the idea of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of places, and this is that kind of a story, as Union soldier Dunbar befriends an entire tribe of Sioux Indians. I'll even go as far as to say that the character development was pretty fleshed out too, as Dunbar was a deep character and Costner's narration adds to that deepness. Instead of getting one or two members of the Sioux tribe to focus in on, we're actually introduced to many of them, although some are more relevant than others.

With all of those good things being said, I still stand by the opinion, that nothing really stood out or screamed "great movie" to me. Everything was pretty mediocre and only really mildly enjoyable. There are no outstanding scenes, in my opinion and everything just seems to glide along that imaginary rail of mediocrity. The acting - average, the story - average, the score -a little bit better than average, but again, seemed to be just right for an epic western and nothing outstanding or anything. Pretty average film in my view folks, and I guess I'll stop repeating that sentiment and end it there.

RATING: 6/10 Not bad, not great. We'll leave it at that.

MOVIES WATCHED: 172
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 829

October 26, 2010 7:02pm

340. North by Northwest (1959)

Running Time: 136 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Ernest Lehman
Main Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

HITCHCOCKTOBERFEST!: PART X

After watching "North by Northwest", I'm positive that Cary Grant and James Stewart should've swapped roles, letting Cary Grant play Scottie in "Vertigo" and putting Stewart into the corn field, running from a crop duster as Roger Thornhill. I think both movies would've turned out worlds better. But I digress...

Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive, but try telling that to the latest crop of Hitchcock villains, who are quite positive that his name is George Kaplan, and that he's a spy. The confusion comes when Cary Grant summons a hotel attendant, who at the same time, is paging Mr. Kaplan. Thornhill is kidnapped and taken to the Townsend masion, meeting who he can only assume is Mr. Townsend. It later turns out that the man he met is not Mr. Townsend, but rather Phillip Vandamm (Mason). The crime syndicate in the one is headed up by Vandamm and his sidekick Leonard (Landau). Thornhill is liquored up in an attempt to get rid of him, but he valiantly escapes, getting himself arrested, but out of harms way. Thronhill tries to track down the real George Kaplan to no avail and when he tries to meet back up with Mr. Townsend, he realizes that he never actually met Mr. Townsend in the first place. Mr. Townsend is quickly killed and the murder is pinned on Thornhill. Now, Thornhill is evading police and villains to save his life and clear his name and he's accompanied by Eve Kendall (Saint), whom he meets on the train to Chicage, where he hopes to find Kaplan. We quickly find out that Kaplan actually doesn't exist and instead he is an imaginary agent drummed up by U.S. Intelligence to take some of the attention off of their own agent who is working right under Vandamm's nose...the agent? You guess it...Kendall.

I have a lot of problems with this Hitchcock effort too, so step on up and I'll tell you what they are...

SPOILER ALERT!

I'll start out by saying that the first forty minutes are awesome and I actually was enjoying Cary Grant a little. I loved the scene where he calls his mother from prison, as he's still feeling the effects of the glass of bourbon that was forced on him. Then, we start to get into the wild plot, where we find out that Kaplan doesn't exist, we're introduced to Eve Kendall and it goes downhill from there...for me anyway. My first major gripe is that I don't believe that an advertising executive, mama's boy could survive for two minutes doing the things that Thornhill does. He's transformed into Superman almost immediately, as he's running from crop dusters, climbing on ledges, scaling Mt. Rushmore, etc. It's just too unbelievable. It's also never made 100% clear what the villains motives are. I mean, think about it, we never really find out what they're being investigated by U.S. Intelligence for. I mean, I guess it's because of the micro-films that they're smuggling out of auctions, but then again, we never find out what the micro-films exactly are. All we know is that they're bad and that's all that we're told and that Roger Thronhill is being targeted by them, because they think he's some imaginary spy named Kaplan. It just doesn't seem to me that it's a clear story and it loses me.

Now I'll share some of what I liked. I'll start with the score and follow it with a question: Is Bernard Hermann the greatest film composer of all-time? Music in film has never had an effect on me like his does and it really makes uninteresting scenes and movies, more interesting and gripping. I'll also continue with my small amount of praise for "North by Northwest", by applauding the chemistry that existed between Grant and Eva Marie Saint, as I truly believed that these two were made for each other. As they sit in the dining car of a train, exchanging witty, flirtatious banter, you know that Grant is just being Grant and that Eva is meeting his match. As good as their chemistry was, if Saint's character had been left out, or at least not turned out to really be a government agent, complicating things, I think the movie could've kept some of it's flow and turned out to be something better than it was. Had Grant's character been left in the dark about things, as much as we were and we, together with Thronhill, had to piece together the mystery, I think it could've been a wildly fun movie. Instead it's a plot that's too confusing and a movie that's too long and ultimately a Hitchcock failure for me.

RATING: 5/10 A '5' for a Hitchcock movie is like a '1' for any other movie. I'll leave it at that. Next up is "Psycho".

MOVIES WATCHED: 171
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 830

October 26, 2010 1:07pm

334. VERTIGO (1958)

Running Time: 128 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Samuel A. Taylor, Alec Coppel, from the novel d'Entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Main Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST!: PART IX

After watching "Vertigo", I've determined two things: The first thing I determined is that it is actually difficult for me to watch Jimmy Stewart kissing on and ogling over women. The second thing I determined is that for as much as it is heralded, "Vertigo" is actually mediocre compared to other Hitchcock films.

The plot kicks off by introducing us to John "Scottie" Ferguson (Stewart) by way of a pretty exciting opening scene. The movie quickly makes us aware of Scottie's acrophobia which, in turn, leads to his bouts of vertigo. Scottie is a police detective and after watching one of his colleagues fall to his death from the top of a building, he retires. Soon after, Scottie is contacted by an old college buddy of his, Gavin Elster, who wants him to tail his wife, Madeliene (Novak). It seems that Madeliene has been blacking out recently and almost being overcome by another spirit, the spirit of her great grandmother, Carlotta Valdes. After some hesitation and convincing Scottie takes the job and begins tailing Madeliene. The first scene where Scottie tails her is quite riveting, considering that not much is really going on, as there is no dialogue and we simply see what Scottie sees, and we are almost turned into detectives as we peek around corners at the beautiful Madeliene. To make a long story short, Scottie soon finds himself in love with Madeliene, but the love is cut short when the spirits that are overcoming her get the best of her and she takes her own life. Scottie is thrown into a state of melancholia and can't seem to get over it. Even his old pal Midge can't seem to get him out of his depression. Later, Scottie meets Judy Barton, a dead ringer for Madeliene and Scottie falls in love with her. It doesn't take him long before he's fallen in love with her and becomes obsessed with transforming her into Madeliene's exact look-alike, dying her hair and buying her new clothes.

SPOILER ALERT!

My biggest problem with "Vertigo" is the plot, which is too intricate and doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. The plot hinges on the fact that Scottie's old college pal, whom he hasn't seen in years (maybe decades) phones him up and asks him to tail his wife, somehow knowing about Scottie's acrophobia. He hires a girl who is a dead ringer for his wife, a wife that he wants killed, and has her pretend to be, for lack of a better term, a bit "out there". The look-alike girl is Judy Barton and once her and Scottie fall in love, Gavin devises to have her run to the top of a bell tower, knowing that Scotty won't be able to make it to the top, and then throw off his real wife, who is already dead by way of a broken neck. Now come on! That is WAY too intricate and contrived. There is no way that Scottie's old college buddy would have any way of knowing about his acrophobia and furthermore, the entire scheme hinges on so many things to actually make it work, including Scottie falling in love with "Madeliene".

Also, the ending is very anti-climactic in my opinion. A random nun, who happened to hear Scottie and Judy in the top of the bell tower approaches, Judy is startled and falls to her death. Instead of it being a random nun, I felt that they should've used the moment to incorporate Midge into the plot, who seemed to have a bit of an obsession of her own with Scottie. It is believable that Midge could've been following Scottie the whole time and in fact, she is shown outside of Scottie's apartment at one point, the morning after he first meets Madeliene face to face. Anyway, it is believable that after she realized that Scottie was in love with another woman and not her, that she would begin to follow him, letting her obsession take the best of her. Following Scottie and Judy to the bell tower at the end of the film and seeing a chance to be rid of Judy, she would climb the stairs to the top of the tower and either startle or push Judy from the top, proclaiming that she is the woman for him. It would really tie up the whole obsession storyline quite nicely and may have even provided a better title to the film..."Alfred Hitchcock's Obsession!"...although that sounds more like a perfume than a film, but it could've worked.

My one last gripe is Jimmy Stewart, whom you all know that I love. However, he just didn't fit in here for me. I can't believe I'm saying this but I think this movie could've benefited by having a different lead...say...(swallows heavily)...Cary Grant. I don't like Grant, but it is more believable that Grant would be the type of person to immediately fall head over heels for "Madeliene" and vice versa. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy Kim Novak becoming romantically involved with Jimmy Stewart...that's almost as absurd as Jack Black and Kate Winslet falling in love in "The Holiday".

For all of my gripes, the movie actually wasn't that bad and made great use of it's score and it's camera. Some of the scenes are so riveting. It never drags and is never boring and really flows along quite nicely. There are dozens of scenes that really do draw you in and swallow you into that Hitchcockian world. The opening scene, the entire first segment where Scottie tails Madeliene, the scene in the woods with the sequoia's and really the entire part of the film where Scottie tries to transform Judy is just so unsettling and almost scary, when we're forced to watch our "good guy" Jimmy Stewart go a bit nutso. It's certainly not my favorite Hitchcock movie, by far, but it's still worth a look. However, there are other Hitchcock films that deserve some of the attention that this one normally gets.

RATING: 6.5/10 I was going to give it a '7', but that would be putting it into a different class and thus, wouldn't be fair to the better Hitchcock movies that were able to get to that '7' mark.

MOVIES WATCHED: 170
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 831

October 25, 2010 9:27pm

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coming Soon: 10/24/10 - 10/30/2010

Back again for another "Coming Soon" post...Here we go...

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST! CONCLUDES
*Vertigo (1958)
*North by Northwest (1959)
*Psycho (1960)
*The Birds (1963)
*Marnie (1964)
*Frenzy (1972)

I did a little calculating and sadly it doesn't look like I'm gonna' be able to finish Hitchcocktober Fest! within the month of October and will have to run over into the first couple days of November. But that's okay...we'll manage.

ANG LEE OR 1980s MONTH in NOVEMBER
I can't decide whether or not I want to feature another director in the month of November or make the entire month an 80s month. If I do feature another director, I'll pick one week out of the month and I'll be doing "Ang Lee Week"...which would consist of Hsi Yen (1993), The Ice Storm (1997), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005).

I'd like to eventually boil down the decades so that I have a fairly equal amount of movies left to watch from each decade. Currently the decade with the most movies remaining is the 1980s, with a total of 149. Voice your opinions in the form of comments, if you have a preference on what you'd like me to do.

HALLOWEEN DAY
Don't forget these are my Halloween picks and I'm going to try to squeeze in as many of them as possible next Sunday...

*Cat People (1942 - Jacques Tourneur)
*Dracula (1958 - Terence Fisher)
*The Haunting (1963 - Robert Wise)
*Halloween (1978 - John Carpenter)
*A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 - Wes Craven)
*Ringu (1998 - Hideo Nakata)


The only other thing I can tell you about the upcoming week is that I'm going to try to squeeze in To Be or Not to Be (1942 - Ernst Lubitsch), as it is leaving streaming on Netflix as of 10/27/2010.

However, before I go I would like to direct your attention to another blog. It's called Tales of the Easily Distracted and is written by a great girl and great movie fan Dorian. Check it out...Also check out I Shoot the Pictures, another blog written by a friend of this blog's. They're both great blogs and I'm sure you'll find them a good read.

The "Vertigo" review should be up tomorrow afternoon.

October 24, 2010 9:29pm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

650. Being There (1979)

Running Time: 129 minutes
Directed By: Hal Ashby
Written By: Jerzy Kosinski, from his novel
Main Cast: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden

"LIFE IS A STATE OF MIND"

With no Hitchcock movies to watch, I once again spun the imaginary wheel of randomization and decided to watch "Being There" (which is currently streaming on Netflix, if you're interested). I've wanted to see "Being There" ever since I saw "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" starring Geoffrey Rush, back in 2004. In the end, I wasn't disappointed.

The tagline to the film is "A story of Chance" and that's exactly what this is. The story tells of a man named Chance (Sellers), who works as a gardener for the "old man", and is basically retarded. One morning, as Chance awakens and goes about his morning routine, which mostly consists of watching television (a device of which he is obsessed with) and tending the garden, he is soon informed by the maid, Louise, that the "old man" has died. Later, some lawyers come by and inform chance that he must leave so that the estate can be settled. Chance doesn't really know the concept of "leave" as he has never been outside the house, and thus his only knowledge of the outside world, is that of which he's seen on t.v. After wandering the streets for the entire day, Chance's leg is accidentally run over by Eve Rand (MacLaine), wife of millionaire Benjamin Rand (Douglas). Instead of taking Chance to the hospital, Eve invites him to her home, where doctor's are on hand to look after the dying Mr. Rand. When asking Chance's name, Eve mistakenly hears "Chauncey Gardiner" instead of "Chance the gardener". What follows is really just a story of chance...as the tagline says. Through a series of misunderstandings and people taking Chance's simple mutterings for much more than he means them, Chance is quickly befriended by Ben Rand, later meets the President of the United States (Warden) and by the end of the film is a high candidate to become the President himself. Really the plot is so screwball and out there, that explaining it isn't the easiest of tasks, so I'll leave it at that.

As I was watching the film, my impressions of it weren't that high. In my opinion, the film didn't know whether it wanted to be taken seriously or taken as a comedy and not in that good way where it could be interpreted as both. While the plot certainly drew me in and interested me, I just felt that the film didn't really have a voice and thus wasn't making too much of an impact on me, outside of the average experience. In fact, the plot was kind of silly, and it seemed I had seen this before in a cheaply made comedy, although I couldn't put my finger on which one. The device of misunderstanding the main character until he is drummed up as something powerful and great, seemed to me like it had been done and just seemed cheap. The characters were certainly interesting enough, although I certainly didn't buy Jack Warden as the President. I thoroughly enjoyed Sellers', MacLaine's and Douglas' performances, but there was just something missing and the total appeal wasn't there.

I believe that appeal came at the end of the film. I believe that the end of the film was saying "In case you didn't realize, this WAS a serious film and here's something serious for you to chew on!". Let's take care of some business first...

SPOILER ALERT!

Okay, now that we're alone...The ending of the film sees the death of Benjamin Rand. At the funeral, as Benjamin is being carried to his final resting place, Chance begins to scour the grounds of the Rand estate, where Ben is being buried. He stops to tend to a failing little tree and then continues to mosey around. He comes to a small lake and walks across, right on top of the water. He stops for a moment to dip his umbrella in, to test the depth of the lake, and then continues to walk away from us, as we hear the President, who is giving the eulogy say: "Life is a state of mind".

I really didn't have any initial interpretations and all I kept thinking was "Damn, this movie is gonna' stick with me for a long time", not that that's a bad thing. I took a little time before writing the review to pop into IMDB and read some other people's opinions on the ending. Of course, the Jesus Christ interpretation came up and that certainly is possible. Maybe the film is saying you don't have to be brilliant to be great, or you don't have to be a genius to make an impact. Or maybe the film is saying that the key to life is simplicity, a characteristic that Chance unknowingly had. Or maybe, as one IMDB user wrote, Chance simply didn't know that he couldn't walk on water, and because of that he was able to. Since Chance had absolutely no knowledge of the outside world, maybe water was just another surface and in his head HE COULD walk on it. I'm just not sure guys and that's okay. It's okay to not understand every little aspect of every film you watch, because it gives you something to discuss with your fellow movie heathens and something for you to toss around in your head. Certainly if anyone has any interpretations of the ending, feel free to post them in comment form.

In the end, I did enjoy this movie. I know that there was something deeper there and I think the film not having a voice through the entire film, was almost a good thing, because it made the ending that much more powerful. After reading the story of Peter Sellers' and how he wanted to get this movie made to show off his acting chops, I'm happy for him and really, this is a great movie to go out on. I think that image of Sellers walking across the water and out of our lives is symbolic of Peter Sellers' walking out of our life, the life of the film lover.

RATING: 8/10 Yes only an '8' after all that babbling, but I'm sure I'll toss this film around in my head until I'm forced to up that to a '10'.

MOVIES WATCHED: 169
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 832

October 23, 2010 11:43pm

EDIT October 24, 2010 2:19am
After thinking about the film for most of the night, I felt compelled to pop back in here and add some more thoughts on “Being There” and more specifically the ending. In my opinion, the ending can be interpreted in two different ways, the interpretation inside Chance’s mind and the interpretation of everyone else (ie. The people that drummed him up to be something he wasn’t and even the viewer’s supposed interpretation, after witnessing chance get away with all the misunderstandings that he did). In Chance’s mind he could walk on water because he didn’t know he couldn’t (I mentioned that above). Maybe Chance saw someone on television walking on water and in his mind it was something that could be done, because he didn’t know any better. In fact, I think this idea explains a lot of the film. Chance got away with everything that he got away with because he was ignorant as to the ways of the world. He really had no emotions, therefore he could go on a television talk show and pull it off, because he didn’t have any idea why he was going on the talk show and thus didn’t have a story to come up with…he was just going on television because someone said “We want you to come on television.” I think another reason Chance could walk on water (within the terms of the movie) is because the only thing that he fully understood in life was gardening…or nature. Gardening/nature gave him a reason for being for his entire life, right up until the point when the “old man” died. He understood and respected nature so much, that he could become one with it. I think that’s why, right before he walks on water, he takes a moment to pamper a little tree that looks frumpy. He cared so deeply about nature and thus could connect with it like no one else…ie. The way Rain Man understood numbers and could do amazing things with them.

The other interpretation, is that of everyone else (including us, who were lead to believe Chance could build himself up, through essentially nothing but mutterings). He was built up so much that everything about him was appealing. He went from being a simple, retarded, almost invalid, gardener to being the object of women’s (and men’s) desires, befriends millionaires and presidents, speaking six different languages and having intellect beyond belief. He was built up to something he wasn’t and people saw him almost as the second coming of Christ. Now some people might take that as an atheist-like quote, but I think even a Christians from a Christian’s perspective, we could see that he surely wasn’t Jesus Christ, he was just built up to be God-like.

Maybe I’m wrong…maybe Chance was, in fact, Jesus Christ. Maybe the “old man” was symbolic of God. I don’t know. But that’s the fun thing about ambiguous endings…the discussions are endless and the interpretations are to.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

311. The Wrong Man (1956)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Angus MacPhail, Maxwell Anderson, from the novel The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson
Main Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST!: PART VIII

It wasn't until fairly recently (I'd say within the last couple years) that I realized that Alfred Hitchcock and Henry Fonda made a film together. Back then, I wasn't much into old movies, but the names Hitchcock and Fonda certainly struck my fancy. I immediately took a mental note of the film and vowed to see it as soon as I could. Ever since starting the "1001" book, becoming more enamored with Hitchcock and still admiring Fonda's acting chops, my anticipation for this film grew even more and today I finally got the chance to flop down on my bed and check it out. Oh yeah...I wasn't disappointed.

The film is based on a true story, a concept that Hitchcock had never pursued and tells the story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero a.k.a. Manny (Fonda). Balestrero's story starts out quite simple as we learn that he's a pretty simple fellow. He is a musician, where he can be found most nights working at the Stork Club as part of their in house band. We also learn that Balestrero is a married man and has two children, all three of which he loves very much. We see a good slice of this love as Manny returns home one night and consoles Rose, his wife (Miles) as she suffers with a toothache. In fact, speaking of the toothache, it is that particular pain in his wife's jaw that causes Manny to visit the insurance offer to inquire about borrowing money against Rose's policy. Upon entering the office, the lady behind the counter seems to become startled and quickly consults with her co-workers. The ladies at the insurance office are quite certain that Manny is the man who previously robbed the office, months prior. The police are phoned and Manny is picked up, taken to the precinct and questioned regarding the robberies, not only the one at the insurance office, but a string of robberies that have been being committed throughout town. All the witnesses point to Manny as the perpetrator and Manny is arraigned and thrown in jail. His bail is put up the following day and now it is up to Manny to prove his innocence. Let's just hope he gets a juror as open minded as Mr. Davis ;)

When I watch a Hitchcock film, I find it fun to compare the villains, in possibly a continued effort to identify the most villainous of them all. In "The Wrong Man" there doesn't seem to be one clear cut villain, but rather a group of them, headed up by the police. But it's just so easy to see how everyone and everything seems to be conspiring to put Manny behind bars. Fonda's Manny was such a likeable character, a character that I think a lot of people can identify with. A man who works for a living and loves his wife and kids. A man who doesn't have a lot of money, but still keeps his head about him and rears through the difficult times. Henry Fonda has always been a favorite actor of mine and how can you not love the guy after watching him in "The Wrong Man". After watching this movie, I truly believe that the word "innocence", in the dictionary, should have a picture of Henry Fonda beside it. Not only for the innocence he portrays here, but also for his fight for innocence in films like "12 Angry Men" and "The Ox-Bow Incident". In fact, this would be a spectacular film to watch in conjunction with "12 Angry Men", in one Fonda plays an innocent man on trial and in the other Fonda plays a juror, a juror who stands alone in believing that the accused could be innocent.

Can I just take a minute to recognize the camerawork in "The Wrong Man"? I think it really stands out above other Hitchcock movies as having some really sweet shots and I'd never think that Hitchcock would have it in him to capture a city, the way he captured New York City in this movie. The shot of Manny and Rose getting out of their taxi and entering a building, with the view of the Brooklyn Bridge behind them nearly took my breath away. I also particularly loved the shot of Manny being ushered into the back of the squad car. He looks out the window, longing for his wife, who's silhouette he can see in their kitchen window. He gazes at that, while he also can't help but notice the profile of the cop who has taken all that away from him, at least for the time being.

I guess if I had to gripe about anything, I'd gripe about the turn for the worse that the character of Rose took. I was so consumed by this movie and then Rose goes a little over the edge and is forced to be committed to a mental institution. I guess you can't complain too much about true stories not appealing to you, as all their doing is simply telling you the facts. It did make the ending a little more heartbreaking, I'll give it that. I guess it shows that Manny's life was effected, not just in being accused of something he didn't do, but in turn directly effected the lives of those around him and that simply by being a good man and doing his daily duties, he was accused and had his life altered forever...or at least for a long time.

RATING: 8.5/10 I can't go the full monty on this one, simply because I enjoyed "The Man Who Knew Too Much" a little bit more. But make no mistake about it, this is a good film. I recommend watching it in a double feature with "12 Angry Men". Next up is "Vertigo".

MOVIES WATCHED: 168
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 833

October 21, 2010 5:43pm

307. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, John Michael Hayes
Main Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda De Banzie, Bernard Miles

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST!: PART VII

I saw "The Man Who Knew Too Much" years and years ago and prior to watching it this time around, the only thing I could seem to remember about it was Doris Day belting out "Que Sera, Sera". I'm not sure why that's all that I was able to remember, because this was a very memorable film and in my opinion, a highly underrated Hitchcock movie.

The plot follows Dr. Ben McKenna (Stewart), his wife Jo (Day) and their son Hank, as they vacation in Morocco. While traveling on a bus, the McKenna's begin chit chatting with a Frenchman, who identifies himself as Louis Bernard. The stranger is, for some reason, very interested in the McKenna's, asking them various questions about their background. Later, Ben and Jo become suspicious of the man and even more suspicious of him when he breaks dinner plans with them. At the restaurant, where they were supposed to dine with Mr. Bernard, the McKenna's continue their befriending ways and strike up conversation with a couple seated beside them. The couple introduce themselves as the Drayton's and the two couples dine together. The following day in the marketplace in Morocco, as the McKenna's and Drayton's spend the day together, they witness the murder of Louis Bernard and just before he dies clutches for Dr. McKenna, telling him that a man, a statesman, is to be murdered. He gives him a few more clues before dying. The next thing that the McKenna's know, their son is kidnapped and the Drayton's may be the culprits. As Dr. McKenna pieces together clues and tries to locate the whereabouts of his son, he is eventually drawn to London, where he thinks Hank might be being held.

I loved this movie! Actually I'm quite surprised by that statement myself, as it had some elements to it that I'm usually not attracted to. I've never been one for movies about spies and espionage or even political thrillers for that matter, but that seems to be in the background here, as we follow the McKenna's who are the innocent ones who only want to get their son back. James Stewart was great and reminded me that an aging Jimmy Stewart is just as good as a young Jimmy Stewart. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Doris Day movie, outside of this one, but she was really good too, and fit right in with Hitchcock's famous string of blond leading women.

SPOILER ALERT!

This movie did what "Spellbound" and "Notorious" should have done, in that it took the suspense and strung it throughout the entire film. The whole movie is engaging and really just wraps you up and allows you to get lost in the plot. Just when you think things are about to be wrapped up, Hitchcock throws in another monkey wrench and strings the plot out a little longer, but it never seems unnecessary and everything in the film seems very relevant. I also loved how Hitchcock toyed with us a bit before he revealed who the bad guy really was. In the beginning we're lead to believe that Louis Bernard is the villain. We then meet a very charming and polite older couple - The Drayton's. The Hitchcock throws us for a loop when it is revealed that Louis Bernard is actually a government agent and the the Drayton's are the Hitchcock heels this time around. The whole movie is able to provide that feeling of "shit is going down" and I allowed myself to fully get swallowed up by the movie and have a lot of fun with it.

Guess I'll keep it short for "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and end by saying that in my opinion, this movie doesn't get near the attention that it deserves and shoots right to the top of my personal fav' Hitchcock films.

RATING: 10/10 Yep, that's right...I had to go the full monty here, as I had so much fun with this movie and on a personal level, everything just seemed to click with me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 167
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 834

October 21, 2010 12:28pm

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

823. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson
Main Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Arkin

A VERY MAGICAL FILM

"You can't buy the necessities of life with cookies"
-Bill Boggs (Alan Arkin)

With my wife asleep, thus rendering the Netflix streaming to our bedroom television useless, I trotted off to our DVD room, which also houses a television and had my pick of the ninety-two movies that we own, that are also within the pages of the "1001" book. Tonight I picked "Edward Scissorhands", a film that I haven't seen in ages and one that we own due to my wife's infatuation with Johnny Depp. But then again...who's wife isn't infatuated with Johnny Depp?

The film tells the story of Edward Scissorhands (imagine that), who is one day discovered by Avon saleslady Peg (Wiest). Edward is not a human being, but rather a creation of The Inventor, who created Edward before his death. Edward was complete, save for his hands which The Inventor never had the time to finish, and thus Edward is left with scissors for hands. Peg being the kind hearted person that she is, offers to take in Edward, who has never been out of the giant castle atop the hill that he calls home. Edward is then whisked away to the suburbs, where he begins living with Peg, her husband Bill (Arkin), their son Kevin and their daughter Kim (Ryder). At first the nosey suburban neighbors welcome Edward with open arms, seeing him as a change to their routine lives. Edward returns the favor of the neighborhood hospitality by showing off his "handy" talents, which include trimming hedges, pet grooming and hair styling. Eventually Edward falls in love with Kim and this presents a conflict with Kim's arrogant boyfriend, Jim (Hall).

SPOILER ALERT!

As I mentioned above I hadn't seen this movie in ages and what I remembered as an innocent film, actually had some deep themes involved in it and it got me to thinking about some various aspects of it. The first thing that popped out at me while watching "Edward Scissorhands" was the fact that it was almost like a reverse "Frankenstein". Instead of escaping the castle where he was created, like Frankenstein's monster, Edward was rescued. Instead of having nothing but cruel intentions, Edward's intentions were all good and instead of being feared by the townspeople/neighbors, Edward is, at first, accepted by the community and welcomed.

The other thing that really grabbed my attention about this film was the underlying theme of violence. When Edward comes off of the hill and out of his castle of solitude, he knows nothing of the outside world and Peg pretty much takes it upon herself to teach him the ways of the world. Edward, already previously receiving a few lessons in etiquette and manners from The Inventor, is already a polite and gentle soul, but Peg build his politeness and gentleness up further. The community welcomes Edward and Edward shows gratitude to the community, keeping up with his gentle and altogether nice demeanor. When violence and hate are shown to Edward in the form of Jim, Edward at first tries to ignore it, but ultimately turns to violence himself and eventually kills Jim when his hand is forced...no pun intended. It kind of mirrors society, in the way that I think most people who are characterized as violent are ultimately pushed to that violence by another force, be it another person, or an event that makes them so upset that they feel violence is their only way out.

I think another theme we have on display in "Edward Scissorhands" is how people who are different will ultimately always be ostracized. The film is so heartbreaking, not to the point of tears for me personally, but just to the point where you really feel for Edward. I love the line in the film where Kim asks Edward to hold her, in which he has no other choice but to reply with..."I can't". Anyway, let's get onto the specifics here. The acting is fine and I particularly loved Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest. The music is a must and really creates an aura and atmosphere that really fits in with the entire movie. Tim Burton has never been one of my favorite directors, and actually until tonight I really only acknowledged one of his films as a favorite and that is "Big Fish". Sometimes his style works for me and sometimes it just doesn't and this is one instance where everything clicks and it's that Tim Burton rub that makes the film exceptional and really drives all the points home while still having the outlandish sets, costumes and characters.

One more thing that I want to mention quickly that the book pointed out, that I actually didn't notice on my own. The book makes mention of the fact that most of the actors in the film are cast against their type, with Johnny Depp, the usually cool heartthrob, playing the awkward outcast and Anthony Michael Hall, who we all know as the nerd from "The Breakfast Club", playing the popular guy. Something I didn't notice that is definitely true and may be one more reason why this film is a bizarre Burton masterpiece.

RATING: 8/10 I really can't see anyone disliking this film, but hey...I've been wrong before. Bottom line - I enjoyed the hell out of it and am glad that it sits upon my DVD shelf.

MOVIES WATCHED: 166
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 835

October 20, 2010 2:22am

Monday, October 18, 2010

Coming Soon: 10/17/10 - 10/23/10

Alright, well now that the "Salo" viewing and review is out of the way...lets look ahead.

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST! CONTINUES
*The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
*The Wrong Man (1956)
*Vertigo (1958)
*North by Northwest (1959)

I don't own anymore of the Hitchcock movies that I have to watch and thus have to rely on Netflix for the remainder of them. Furthermore, none of the remaining Hitchcock films are streaming instantly right now, so I'll have to receive them by mail and I'm not set to receive anymore Hitchcock films until Wednesday...so expect randomization at its highest until then.

I really have no idea what I'll be watching between now and Wednesday. I should be able to fit something in Monday night and possibly Tuesday night, so I'll just let those be surprises.

I did find out yesterday that I'm going to be off on Halloween and with no other plans made, it means a "1001 Horrorfest" that day (and possibly the night before). I tried to pick something from each decade and the tentative schedule for Halloween viewing looks like this...

*Cat People (1942 - Jacques Tourneur)
*Dracula (1958 - Terence Fisher)
*The Haunting (1963 - Robert Wise)
*Halloween (1978 - John Carpenter)
*A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 - Wes Craven)
*Ringu (1998 - Hideo Nakata)

Nothing from the 2000s because there really aren't any horror movies in the book from that decade. Also after some consideration and realizing that the 2000s only have 54 more movies in the book, I'm trying to sparse them out.

October 17, 2010 11:20pm

601. Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma/Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Running Time: 116 minutes
Directed By: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written By: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Sergio Citti, Pierre Klossowski, from the novel Salo ou les 120 Journees de Sodome by the Marquis de Sade
Main Cast: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto

THE HARDEST REVIEW I'VE EVER HAD TO WRITE

I was able to finally squeeze in "Salo" (we'll call it that for short during the course of this review) last night and when I finished watching it I immediately had it pegged as a '1', as far as a rating goes. I didn't have the time to write the review last night and had to work today, so didn't get to it until now. This movie consumed my thoughts as I worked this entire day and now, even as I write this, I'm still flip flopping on my opinion of it. But...here goes.

SPOILER ALERT!

The movie is based on the writing of the Marquis de Sade and tells the story of eighteen Italian youths who are captured during Mussolini's reign in the Republic of Salo, in Northen Italy. The youths who are captured are taken to a remote palace and it is there that they endure 120 days of torture. The men in power of the entire operation are four strong and are: The Duke, The Bishop, The Magistrate and The President. The four leaders are also accompanied by four middle aged prostitutes and guards. The story is broken up into four parts: Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. The first part shows the capturing of the youths, the arrival at the palace and the reading of the rules. The Circle of Manias is mostly stories told by Mrs. Vaccari (one of the prostitutes). The stories are pretty graphic and detail the escapades of the prostitute when she was just a young girl. The Circle of Shit hits the stride of disgust in the film, as the stories turn to defecation and the eating of excrement. Once the stories are told the characters go the distance and act out the stories, forcing the captives to eat the shit of the four leaders. The film ends with the final torture and eventual killing of the captives in some pretty heinous ways, including: burning their nipples, scalping, cutting out their tongues and cutting out their eyes.

I guess we'll have to break this review down into two parts, the part where I state what I hated and the part where I argue against my own hatred. Let's start with what I hated...

My initial thoughts were that I never, ever want to see this film again. I understand the fact that Pasolini had some points to get across, but honestly I think he took it a bit too far and really went over the top with some of the things that were depicted. I will never be able to erase the images from this movie from my head and I'm not really sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I'm not really understanding how anyone can classify this movie as artistic, because as far as I'm concerned this is the furthest thing from art that there is. But then again maybe this is art...

I realize that this movie is fiction, but can't stop thinking about how real this movie COULD be. For all we know, this very same scenario could've played out during the holocaust. I've even thought of the events that took place at Abu Ghraib, which may not have been to the extreme as the events depicted in "Salo", but certainly along the same lines. I keep thinking about those things and trying to put myself into the shoes of the victims. If I was a victim of something this heinous and horrific and they told me that they were going to make a movie about the things that I was forced to endure, I certainly would want them to tell it like it was. I wouldn't want them to "rose it up" for the sake of the emotions of the people who might see this film. I don't think that that's what Pasolini was thinking when he made this film and really I think a lot of the things in the film are symbolic, such as the eating of shit symbolizing the bullshit that they were fed by the fascist government. If the film is mostly symbolic, then I guess that puts my theory to bed and then I'll say that in making his point, Mr. Pasolini went too far and certainly there were more tame ways to get the same point across.

I also keep thinking about how graphic the film was and how terrible and telling myself that, "Hey life isn't always a bed of roses and there are graphic and terrible things happening in real life everyday". And while that is true, I, once again, think that there are more tame ways to get that point across. Look at "The Pianist" for example, a film that made it very clear how horrible the Nazi's were, yet "The Pianist" didn't contain human beings being literally treated like dogs, being forced to eat out of bowls on the floor and tied to leashes.

I don't have a problem with controversial, original film making, but did this movie go too far or was the graphic content that was depicted just a slice of life that, while we may not want to, have to swallow and realize that it happens? There are cruel and evil people that exist in the world and while we may not want to admit it, they're out there. I consider this a horror movie, as I believe Pasolini did a great job of creating an atmosphere that was almost claustrophobic and inside the walls of the palace some of the most horrific things were being played out. In fact, this was the worst type of horror film, as it depicted events that could, in reality, actually happen.

I DO NOT recommend this movie and I only watched it because it was in the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", when actually it should be in the "1001 Movies To Avoid at All Costs During Your Lifetime". While I don't recommend it and don't necessarily like it, I'll give it some credit. Pasolini didn't hold back and made the film that he wanted to make. I'm sure there were people in his ear during the entire production saying things like "You can't film that!" or "There is no way we can do that!", but he went for it, and I admire that. The film creates a terribly scary atmosphere that you do not want to revisit, but that you won't be able to stop revisiting in your own mind, once you've seen it and it takes a special type of film to really make you think about things and it's a special type of film when you CANNOT stop thinking about it, no matter how hard you try.

I hope some of that made sense guys. I know it was a lot of babbling. By the way, for anyone who likes this film or finds it artistic or great, please post your comments, I'm very interested.

RATING: 5/10 I'm giving it a '5' simply because I can't decide what to give it. I could easily give it a '1' and wouldn't condemn anyone who does so. But there was something there that intrigued me and really made me think about the state of things...in the past and in the present.

MOVIES WATCHED: 165
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 836

October 17, 2010 10:58pm

Saturday, October 16, 2010

610. ROCKY (1976)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: John G. Avildsen
Written By: Sylvester Stallone
Main Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

WHO DOESN'T LOVE AN UNDERDOG STORY?

Well for the time being I'm tapped out on Hitchcock films and don't expect another one in the mail from Netflix until Wednesday, so expect some real randomness until then. Tonight I decided to head to the DVD shelf once more and grab "Rocky", a movie I've seen a few times and one that always struck a chord with me.

Much like "Rear Window", anybody who's reading this surely knows the story of "Rocky", but I'll retell that story because that's the way I run shop. Sylvester Stallone wrote the script and stars as Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa, a debt collector for a loan shark by day, and semi-pro boxer by night. The film opens with Rocky fighting Spider Rico in a small, rundown, little shanty of a place, with smoke filling the air and a heckling audience. Rocky wins the match and walks off with the winner's purse - $40. From there we get a taste of day to day life for the unintelligent, brute Balboa, as he makes his rounds for his boss Tony Gazzo, chasing down crooks who don't pay back what they borrowed, making twice a day rounds to the pet store where Adrian (Shire), his love interest, works and basically bumming around the town in his leather jacket and fedora. In the meantime, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed doesn't have an opponent for the big bicentennial fight that is set to go down on New Year's Day. When all of the major contenders to the title decline the offer to be ready to fight on just five weeks notice, Apollo makes the decision to give one underdog the opportunity of a lifetime and let an unknown challenge for the heavyweight gold. I'm sure you can put two and two together and realize that the chosen contender is Rocky Balboa and it'll be the fight of his life.

I guess I've just always been a sucker for an underdog tale. I love watching a story about a man who has nothing, who scrapes to get by, who works hard and who fights when fighting needs to be done. I love watching that same guy finally get that grand opportunity to have all of his hard work payoff. "Rocky" is exactly that. The character of Rocky goes from fighting in smokey bars to standing in the middle of a roaring crowd and challenging the heavyweight champion and it's a movie you can really get behind. Now I know this movie has a lot of harsh critics and I think a lot of it has to do with Rocky's upset Best Picture win over "Taxi Driver", which I am in complete agreement that it was certainly not a better picture than. But when you take away the awards that it won, "Rocky" really is a good movie and serves its purpose. It's not meant to be a artsy picture, it's not meant to have some deep, hidden meaning...it's just a regular movie about a regular guy...plain and simple and it does a great job of being that.

Certainly the acting wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't bad either. You may put down Stallone, but he served his purpose too and fit the fighter stereotype to a T. Burgess Meredith was great as the cranky old grizzled trainer. Talia Shire did a good job a the shy store clerk, who despite her resistance to Rocky, can't resist his brutish charm. Burt Young played the drunkard Paulie very well too and in my opinion, everyone was given a pretty simple job to do and they did it. I don't know, maybe I'm trying to hard to defend the movie, instead of just saying that it is a great movie and stating why I think that. It has a few flaws, but really none to important to speak of and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a simple, inspiring story and I think that story flowed along quite nicely. There wasn't really anything that dragged or slowed down the pace of the movie and every scene seemed to be a pivotal one. I also loved some of the photography, as I feel the film did a great job of showing off the city of Philadelphia, from Rocky's housing complex, to the infamous scene where he runs the steps.

RATING: 8/10 Not a perfect '10' but still a good flick and one that I'll certainly enjoy rewatching again someday.

MOVIES WATCHED: 164
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 837

October 16, 2010 8:49pm

274. Rear Window (1954)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: John Michael Hayes, from the story It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich
Main Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Wendell Corey

HITCHCOCKTOBER FEST!: PART VI

The only one of the Hitchcock movies in the book where I could go to my DVD shelf, instead of having to call on Netflix is "Rear Window". I've always been a fan of this movie, a fan of Jimmy Stewart and a fan of the suspense that this movie evokes. I think that it's a very relateable movie, as well, but we'll get into that in a little bit.

I'm sure many of you who are reading this have seen "Rear Window", but I'll go over the plot anyway, because I'm a nice guy like that. Our main character is L.B. Jeffries a.k.a. Jeff (Stewart), a photographer who's been incapacitated due to an accident during one of his shoots. The accident has left him with one broken leg and as a result he's confined to a wheel chair, staring out the rear window of his Greenwich Village apartment, which overlooks a courtyard and several other apartments. His girlfriend is Lisa Fremont (Kelly), a beautiful, wealthy woman, for whom Jeff isn't quite sure of his feelings for. But all of the relationship problems that Jeff and Lisa endure seem to be thrown out the "rear window" when Jeff happens upon some suspicious activity coming from the apartment of The Thorwald residence, where Lars Thorwald and his wife Anna reside. Well...where Lars and his wife Anna DID reside, because Jeff has noticed that Anna has suddenly disappeared and combining that with the unusual activity of Lars, in Jeff's mind it can only point to one thing...murder!

Boy, where do you even begin when it comes to discussing a movie like "Rear Window"? I guess I could start with the cast, and I'm not talking about the one on Jeff's leg. You all know how I feel about Jimmy Stewart, that he's a pleasure for me to watch. In "Rear Window", James seems to throw out his "aww shucks" demeanor for a more voyeuristic persona. He's a bit more gruff and it just doesn't seem like good 'ol Jimmy Stewart to be cradling Grace Kelly in his arms and passionately kissing her. But it is Jimmy Stewart and he's as good as ever. Grace Kelly is just that...graceful...and beautiful and everything you would want in a leading lady, proving that Alfred Hitchcock had an eye for beauty and knew just how to pick his leading women. I also enjoyed Thelma Ritter as the mouthy nurse to Jeff and Raymond Burr, who had almost no lines, yet still managed to scare the bejesus out of you. I just hope to God that no one even resembling Raymond Burr ever lives next door to me, or I'll certainly be forced to move...or buy a good pair of binoculars and a venetian blind.

SPOILER ALERT!

I think the reason that this movie is so loved, is because it is so relateable. How often have you and I looked out our own windows and wondered to ourselves what our neighbors were up to. Maybe we never suspected them of murder, but I'm sure that every single one of us have wondered what they were up to, at some point or another. We see the people around us, our neighbors, and yet often times do not form any relationships with them, so that when they do things that may seem odd to us, we begin to wonder about them. We're surrounded by all these people in our daily lives and for all we know any one of those people could be the evilest of the evil people, doing ungodly things when their blinds are pulled. That's the intriguing thing about "Rear Window", that's the type of thing that I think about when I watch this movie. I also think about the little things, meaning Jeff's broken leg. I mean, think about it, if we think about this story in terms of real life, then if Jeff hadn't broken his leg, Mrs. Throwald's murder would've gone unsolved, Lars Thorwald would have been a free man and Jeff and Lisa would probably have broken up, because they wouldn't have had that extra excitement that they both were intrigued by to patch the bruises in their relationship. Hopefully that all makes sense.

I think Hitchcock excelled the most when he was dealing with relatively simple stories, with simple characters. This movie was quite experimental. We see almost the entire film from the P.O.V. of Jeff's binoculars (or photo lens) and we're constantly staring at a cast of characters that we never really get to know. The characters that we, the viewer, have interest in are, for the most part, the ones behind the binoculars, and so we get interested in what they're interested in. Hitchcock weaves it all together nicely though. It's movies like this one, "Dial M for Murder" and "Rope", where Hitchcock takes interesting characters puts them in one or two locations for the duration of a movie and is able to slip in something special that only Hitchcock had, to make us all intrigued, terrified or interested in the whole story. Hitchcock knew how to give us seemingly a little and leave us with the feeling that we got a lot and he knew how to give us all kinds of obvious suspense and action (IE. "Strangers on a Train") and make that work too.

RATING: 10/10 It's an old favorite and it's an obvious '10' picture. I'll always have a good time while watching this film...always. Next up is "The Man Who Knew Too Much".

MOVIES WATCHED: 163
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 838

October 16, 2010 4:34pm