Wednesday, March 30, 2011

991. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Running Time: 84 minutes
Directed By: Larry Charles
Written By: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer
Main Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Note: I wanted to jump in real quick, before we get on with "IT" and make a few notes. 1) If anyone, has any idea what in the blue hell is wrong with my blog, please HELP! It seems to be spacing itself and in my previous three posts (and probably this one too) there are spaces where I didn't intend for there to be spaces, notably between "Running Time", "Directed By", "Written By" and "Main Cast" and at the bottom between "MOVIES WATCHED" and "MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH". When I'm looking at the post, prior to hitting publish, it looks exactly how I want it to post, but upon pressing "POST" it spaces itself out and no matter how many times I click "EDIT" and fix it, it reverts back to it's messed up ways. So, in conclusion, please help...if you can. 2) Just so you know where we stand with this whole project, my plans right now are for me to have 301 films watched by June 19th. That gives me two entire months plus nineteen days to watch 60 films...Do you think I can do it?

THIS MOVIE IS A MUST SEE...NOT!

My original plans called for me to come home from work today and watch "Laura". However, after watching about ten minutes and I realized that I was much too exhausted to give the film the attention that it deserved. Furthermore I needed something that required next to no thought at all...and thus "Borat..." became my movie choice.

The plot of "Borat..." is basically non-existent, but I'll re-tell it to you as best I can. Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen), a Kazakh T.V. personality decides to head to the "U.S. and A" to make a documentary and learn the ways of the Western world. Allow me to break away for a second and fill you in, in case you don't know the whole "thing" about "Borat..." - Basically there are only two actors in the film, Borat and his producer Azamat Bagatov (Davitian), and the rest of the people are giving real reactions, to whom they believe to be a real Kazakhi. Borat arrives in New York City and gets humor tips from a humor coach, chases down strangers on the streets in order to greet them and give them a "hello" kiss and gets driving lessons from an instructor. His "modus operandi" is changed when he's watching television in his hotel and beholds the "beauty" that is Pamela Anderson. He changes his plans and convinces Azamat to go to California to continue their documentary, although his real intentions are to find Pamela and make her his wife.

I'll TRY to keep this short. While watching "Borat...", I'll admit that there were times that I DID laugh out loud and I'll admit that Sacha Baron Cohen IS funny. However, this is absolutely NOT something that belongs side by side with the classics that it is rubbing shoulders with in the "1001" book. I won't fault the film maker's of "Borat..." for lack of originality, because the whole concept of the film IS original, but really in the end the whole film is nothing more than an experiment. This isn't the first time I've seen "Borat..." and actually the first time that I did see it, I liked it enough to run out and buy it on DVD. Upon rewatching it today, I'll never understand my initial love for the film, because while it is funny, it's extremely class-less and I honestly feel guilty for even laughing at this movie.

I'm not Jewish, but damn they took some hardcore cracks at the Jewish community, that would have even Mel Gibson up in arms. Aside from the very anti-Semitic tones of the film, the whole thing just feels really cheap and tawdry and pile on the naked wrestling between Borat & Azamat and by the end, it's just too much. I think I've gotten my point across, so no need to ramble on.

RATING: 4.5/10 I laughed, so it gets some credit, but there are PLENTY of other, better films out there that will give you an honest to goodness laugh.

MOVIES WATCHED: 241
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 760

March 30, 2011 8:34pm

790. DIE HARD (1988)

Running Time: 131 minutes
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written By: Jeb Stuart, Stephen E. de Souza, from the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Main Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson

WARNING: IF YOU HAVE A PACEMAKER THIS REVIEW MAY BE TOO ACTION PACKED FOR YOU!

I cannot believe that the father from "Family Matters" just got his name into a blog dedicated to the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die". However, that's not a crack at this film, as I actually had a lot of fun with it and who doesn't love ol' Reginald VelJ.

John McClane (Willis) is an NYPD cop headed to Los Angeles for Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bedelia). Upon arrival at the office building where she works as a top executive, the two have a little tiff, but before they can makeup the building is taken over by a group of terrorists. The terrorists are twelve strong and lead by Hans Gruber (Rickman) and they're after $640 million in bearer bonds that are locked in the office safe, which is secured by seven locks. While all of the people at the office Christmas party are taken hostage, McClane, who was relaxing in his wife's office, is able to escape throughout the building when he hears gunfire and in his own words, becomes a "fly in the ointment" of the terrorist group. One by one McClane begins to pick off the terrorists (NO, that's not a spoiler - It's an American action film folks, of course the hero is going to get at least a few lumps, if not the whole damn bowl) and picks up a walkie-talkie, where he can communicate with both the terrorists and the LAPD. Eventually our trusty, Twinky loving cop Al (VelJohnson) shows up and is McClane's go to guy on the radio, as Al and John talk each other through the ordeal and do their best to save the day.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

This is probably the third or fourth time that I've seen "Die Hard" and every time I watch it, I seem to flip flop opinions on it. I remember the last time I watched it, I didn't like it at all and was actually prompted to sell my DVD copy of it. This time, though, I had a lot of fun and can finally, definitively say that this is a really fun action flick, with all of the cliches that we would all come to know and love from our action flicks.

Of course, like all actions films, this one is REALLY contrived. Everything seems to fall right into a convenient little place so that our two hour "heart stopper" can play out in full effect. John just happens to be in the building at the same time that the terrorists are in the building. John just happens to be barefoot and just happens to be presented with a floor covered in broken glass. Come to think of it, why didn't they play the Christmas card a little more? I mean, if (storyline wise) it was essential that the terrorists do their "job" on Christmas Eve, it would've made a lot more sense for McClane to be in the building at the same time as them, or at least more plausible - but that is never brought up. All contrivances aside, I'm able to suspend my disbelief for a couple of hours to enjoy this. I mean, come on guys, in the end we are watching movies and having a good time is what it's all about and "Die Hard" doesn't make you think a whole lot. It just gives you a group of foreign terrorists, a good guy cop, out of his element and cuts it all loose in a skyscraper. It's fun, it's harmless and it set the tone for all action films to come down the pike since 1988. I also love (to an extent) how John is just this New York cop who didn't even want to be in L.A. in the first place, but EH'...while he's there he might as well save a few lives and pick off a few Germans.

One more little thing I'd like to add and I do mean "little". I wish that they had tweaked the plot just a smidge to eliminate the meeting between John and Holly at the beginning of the film. I think it would have been really cool, had Holly not known that John was in the building. It would have given the hostages a little more to do too, instead of just sit in the background. They would be talking amongst themselves, trying to figure out who escaped and when they finally realized that everyone was in attendance, Holly would overhear John's voice on Hans' walkie-talkie and realize that her estranged husband was back in town, to save the day.

RATING: 7/10 It's fun, what do you want out of me? On this day, I needed a film that I could just watch, without really thinking and this film served its purpose...and then some.

MOVIES WATCHED: 240
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 761

March 29, 2011 9:23pm

Monday, March 28, 2011

473. The Jungle Book (1967)

Running Time: 78 minutes
Directed By: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written By: Larry Clemons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, from novel by Rudyard Kipling
Main Cast: (voices): Bruce Reitherman, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders

"LOOK FOR THE BARE NECESSITIES..."

I wanted to get this one watched before Disney decided to vault it and thus make my time finding it much more difficult.

Based on the Rudyard Kipling novel, "The Jungle Book" is an animated re-telling of the story of Mowgli, the boy who was raised by wolves in the middle of the jungle. He is originally found by Bagheera, the panther, and taken to the wolves for safe keeping. Years later, when it is announced that the feared tiger, Shere Khan is returning to the jungle, Bagheera knows that Mowgli must be taken to the man village, where he will be safe. Surely if he stays in the jungle, Shere Khan, hater of all men, will kill him. Bagheera and Mowgli begin to trek through the jungle, on their way to the man village. Along the way they come across a wide array of characters, including elephants that resemble soldiers, a snake named Kaa and the bone headed bear, Baloo. Mowgli and Baloo hit it off and Baloo decides that taking Mowgli back to the man village would only ruin him and that he should stay in the jungle. Bagheera washes his hands of the mess and only returns when Mowgli gets into trouble. Ultimately Shere Khan returns, signaling a spike in danger for the "man cub" and Bagheera and Baloo, along with some other creatures, shuffle to keep Mowgli safe and get him out of the jungle.

Since I'm coming off the heels of some pretty lengthy reviews, I'll probably use that as an excuse to keep this one short. Honestly, when it comes to Disney movies in the "1001..." book, my expectations are never high and to be even more honest, I'm just not all that into them. Sometimes they can be a lot of fun (IE. Pinocchio), but for the most part I'm just watching them as an effort to further my progress in the book and really don't hold out too much hope that they will greatly impress me or anything like that. "The Jungle Book" was really no exception. Sure it was fun and I was bopping my head during "The Bear Necessities" and "I Wanna' Be Like You", but in the end, it was just another Disney flick and something that I just can't see appealing to too many adults.

Actually, I do wish the ending would have been a little different though and if I'm thinking like that, then surely there was some appeal there. To me, the ending was very anti-climactic. Shere Khan finally gets his sights on the boy and Mowgli is saved by a pack of vultures (who resembled The Beatles immensely) and Baloo. In the end, Mowgli, Baloo and the vultures get the best of Shere Khan and he is sent running with his tail between his legs. That's the end, pretty much. I would have liked to have seen a big battle (IE. Scar and Simba in "The Lion King") between Shere Khan and Bagheera, as they were obviously the intelligent characters of the film. Sorry, I just don't buy a singing and dancing, semi-moronic bear getting the best of a wily tiger. I know I'm putting way too much thought into "The Jungle Book", so lets just call that a wrap.

RATING: 5.5/10 If you like Disney films, then I'm sure you'll have fun with it. I just can't get into them anymore, unless they're extraordinary. Pinocchio still holds up as the best Disney flick from the book, by the way (and that's not counting Pixar's "Toy Story").

MOVIES WATCHED: 239
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 762

March 28, 2011 2:16pm

Sunday, March 27, 2011

308. GIANT (1956)


Running Time: 197 minutes
Directed By: George Stevens
Written By: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat, from novel by Edna Ferber
Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers

ELIZABETH TAYLOR: 1932 - 2011


I'm pretty sure that the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death came as a shock to most people this past week. I know it came as a shock to me and while she certainly lived a long and prosperous life, it's always sad when someone truly great passes away. Seeing as how I have a blog that focuses on potentially great films, I figured I could at least do my small part to honor the great Elizabeth Taylor and watch one of her two remaining films in the "1001" book - "Giant".

Elizabeth Taylor is the leading lady of "Giant" and one of three stars. The film starts out with Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Hudson) traveling to Maryland to purchase a stallion. It seems that he is purchasing said horse from a Doctor, who is the father of a very sassy young lady by the name of Leslie (Taylor). Bick is enamored with Leslie and even though they get off on the wrong foot, when Leslie questions the ownership of Texas (it seems Leslie is of the opinion that "we" stole Texas from the Mexicans), they wind up married. Leslie travels with Bick back to Texas, where he is the owner and operator of 595,000 acres of ranch called Reata. From here it's a real culture clash, as the Northerner Leslie doesn't really seem to fit in in the south and she's constantly doing something to embarrass the straight laced, old fashioned Bick. As time goes by Leslie and Bick have children, three to be exact - twins Jordan III (Dennis Hopper) & Judy (Fran Bennett) and Luz Jr. (Baker). Meanwhile, we also follow the rebel Jett Rink (Dean), a man who starts out working for the Benedict's, but hits it big when Bick's sister leaves him a piece of land and he strikes oil.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I guess even more so than watching "Giant" and realizing that Elizabeth Taylor was no longer gracing Earth with her presence, was realizing that all three of our main characters were, in fact, gone. I'm, of course, speaking of Rock Hudson and James Dean. This was actually my first James Dean film and boy, what a treat! Not only was James Dean a "pretty face" but he was actually a hell of an actor and it's sad to think that he was only able to make three films in his short career. As far as Hudson goes, we're not done with him yet, as we still have more of his films to go in the pages of the "1001" book.

As for the film, I liked it! I wouldn't go all out and say that "I loved it", but it was definitely enjoyable and something that I'm sure I'll never forget. I mean, how could you forget "Giant" - you have outstanding performances from Taylor, Hudson and Dean, among others and you have some absolutely eye popping cinematography from William Mellor. It's a film that will stick with you once you've watched it and I know this, despite just finishing it.

As for the story itself, it was really good and the fact that it spanned over many years, justified the over three hour running time. With the film stretched out over such a long period, it gave us a chance to hit a lot of high points without a lot of worthless filler. We went from one big event to the next and actually "Giant" is one of the smoothest flowing films over three hours I've ever seen. The characters were likable and by the end, I had flip flopped on the character of Bick Benedict so many times, I couldn't remember whether I loved him or hated him. I will say, that for most of the film I didn't like Bick, but that made the scene in the diner, near the end, all the more powerful. Here you have this guy who was as old fashioned as they come, standing up for his Latina daughter-in-law and grandson. I was able to peg most of the big events (ie. Jett striking oil, Luz dying, Jordan III not wanting to inherit Reata), but I thought for sure that Leslie was going to end up with Jett. In fact, in the beginning, the only thing I was really sure about is that Leslie and Bick weren't going to last, because they had such different backgrounds, that it just flat out wasn't going to work. In the end, I came to the realization that they were actually perfect for one another and through the years (through the film) you realize that really they were the only two that could handle one another.
RATING: 7/10 I could definitely see that rating rising in the future, but for now, we'll leave it be. Rest in Peace Elizabeth....and that goes for Mr. Dean and Mr. Hudson as well.

MOVIES WATCHED: 238
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 763

March 27, 2011 3:19pm

Saturday, March 26, 2011

420. Suna no onna/Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Written By: Kobo Abe, from his novel
Main Cast: Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida

SAND, SAND EVERYWHERE

I happened upon this one on Netflix and thought it looked good, so I scooted it to the top of my queue and got it in the mail yesterday. To make a long story short, my eyes did not deceive me when they said to my brain, "Get that one...it looks good!"

Niki Jumpei (Okada) is an entomologist who is off for a three day weekend, from his job as a school teacher, and decides to spend it in an area that is mostly sand dunes, looking for bugs. While talking to one of the local villagers, he realizes that he has missed the last bus out of the dunes and accepts when the villager offers him a place to stay for the evening. The villager tells him that he is taking him back to the home of a woman, where he'll be able to stay for the night. When arriving at the woman's house, Niki is bewildered to find that she lives at the bottom of a massive sand pit and a rope ladder is needed to get to her front door. Niki, needing a place to stay, climbs down the rope ladder and proceeds to accept the hospitality of the woman (Kishida), as she feeds him clams and boils him water for tea. The next morning, Niki awakes to find the woman asleep and decides to silently slip away. However, Niki soon realizes that the rope ladder has been pulled up and that he has fallen for a trap.

SPOILER ALERT!

Note the disappearance of the word "possible", as there will be definite spoilage lying ahead.

I have a lot of thoughts on this film, so let me preface it by saying that I'm going to try my best to keep everything as orderly and legible as possible. While, in my opinion, it isn't blatant, I believe there is massive symbolism going on in "Woman in the Dunes" and I have some theories. Before I get into my theories, let me say that I loved this film. For starters, I've always loved movies with a very small cast and this film is basically a two person gig, with the man and the woman (we don't find out Niki's name until the VERY end of the film, so I'll just refer to him as "man"). To me small casts are great, as it gives the opportunity to gifted actors, who have good chemistry, to just cut loose and see what kind of magic they can create. I thought both leads did an outstanding job and I also loved the cinematography - I've never seen sand look so good. Now on to my theories...

1) My first theory deals with the entire film and what it MAY represent. Early on in the film, it seemed to me that Teshigahara was trying to parallel a marriage between man and woman. Now before I continue, let me preface this by saying that I am a HAPPILY married man and in no way am I trying to say that marriage resembles a prison. However, let me point out some of my ideas and maybe you can tell me if you agree or disagree.

Man enters the sandpit willingly, as does man enter marriage willingly. Once inside the sandpit, everything is great for a little while. Man and woman talk about their lives, she makes him some killer clam soup and he gets his "grub on" in grand fashion. Then, the next day man realizes that he is trapped - that he has gotten himself into a situation that he can't get himself out of. He cares for the woman, but he wants his freedom back. He makes some tries to get away, but fails and in the process hurts the woman, as she wants him to stay. Eventually man accepts his fate for a little while and the two work together as a unit to deal with the sand. Now, if my theory is at all correct, then the sand itself has to represent something and in my view the sand represents all of the problems that a married couple can face: paying bills, etc. If the sand represents problems, then in the end man figures out a way to put a positive spin on his problems, by solving his problems and turning them into something useful. I haven't completely thought it out yet, but I think Kobo Abe was definitely hinting around at something like this.



2) My second theory is my attempt at trying to decipher the ending and why Niki goes back to the pit after escaping. The entire film Niki hangs on the idea that SOMEONE will come looking for him and that if they were to only search his apartment they would find bank books and open schedules pointing them to his exact location. No one ever comes, which leads me to believe that Niki wasn't as important as he himself may have thought. Even at one point, the woman asks Niki is he has a wife and he tells her that it is none of her business and in my view, that's a big "NO". If Niki had a wife, then surely he'd have pictures of her that he'd be crying over all the time and surely he'd want to share stories of his wife with the very woman that he was imprisoned with. By saying "None of your business", he's saying "no" and he's also telling me that there is no one on the outside world that cares enough about him to come and look for him. Also, married men don't spend their three day weekends in the sand dunes looking for bugs. So for this theory I'm assuming that he has no wife and really no close friends and besides his teaching job, his life is pretty meaningless.

With that established for this theory, then why does Niki even want to escape. I mean, the guy's trapped in a sandpit with a pretty good looking girl who sleeps naked, can cook and doesn't mind doing her fair share of the work. All joking aside, Niki wants to escape for the same reason a homeless man doesn't want to go to prison, because he doesn't want to be "locked" up, with no choices. But when he's finally given the choice at the end, he realizes that there's nothing out there for him. Maybe he looks at the vast sea, that we're given a close-up of and everything just feels way too BIG for him and so he crawls back into the comfort of the pit that he's gotten used to and decides to make the most of it. Or maybe it's like Brooks in "The Shawshank Redemption". Remember Brooks? The guy who finally got paroled after spending his entire life in prison, only to realize that he couldn't cope on the outside and that everything he knew was now on the inside.

I mean, on the inside of that pit there was Niki and the woman and Niki was the one who was on the verge of figuring out how to turn sand into mass amounts of water. In that very small community Niki was King. You might as well say Niki had a wife in the pit, a son possibly on the way and he was on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough. Everything he needed was provided. Sure he had to shovel sand, but he had to work on the outside too...work is work, no matter where you are, you pretty much have to do it if you want to survive. In the end, Niki was finally able to embrace his surroundings and fully acknowledge that old saying..."take nothing for granted".

In the end, there were still a few aspects of the film that I didn't fully understand. Where did Niki get all of that material to make the rope that lead to his first escape? Why did they have to shovel every night - I mean, other than the fact that otherwise they'd be buried alive? They did mention at one point that the villagers sold the sand, but there wasn't enough emphasis placed on exactly why they had to shovel every single night and you can sure bet if I was trapped in a pit and forced to shovel sand every night, I'd be asking WHY? Those are just nitpicky things though, because that's what I do...nitpick. Bottom line: GREAT MOVIE!

RATING: 9/10 I had seen "12 Angry Men" before, so this steps up as best thing I've seen for the first time, in a long time. Now I'm going to have to buy that "3 Films by Teshigahara" set that Criterion has out...but I'm not complaining.

MOVIES WATCHED: 237
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 764

March 26, 2011 12:47am

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

328. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Alexander Mackendrick
Written By: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, Alexander Mackendrick, from novella by Ernest Lehman
Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner

MACKENDRICK HAT TRICK: PART THREE OF THREE

Today we wrap up our three film salute to Alexander Mackendrick by taking a look at the film that saw him transition from U.K. Ealing comedies to Hollywood.

Sidney Falco (Curtis) is a slimy little weasel of a press agent who will stop at nothing to get his clients' names in the paper, more importantly into the column of famed newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster). Even though Falco will stop at nothing, it seems that lately he hasn't been able to do anything to get some words into Hunsecker's column. Recently he's cut a deal with Hunsecker - if Falco can break-up the romance between Hunsecker's sister Susan (Harrison) and jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Milner), then Hunsecker will throw him a bone. The first half of the film sees Falco running around frantically during a single night and trying to pull strings and use blackmail to get ahead. He uses a cigarette girl friend of his to seduce another columnist into running a story claiming that Dallas is on marijuana. In the end, we're not treated to a happy endings and character's don't develop and learn lessons, but rather, get what's coming to them.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

The reasons that I liked "Sweet Smell of Success" were probably not the normal reasons that people like this movie. First and foremost I loved the way the film uses the city of New York and accompanies it with a fantastic little, seedy Jazz score. There are some real eye popping images of the city in "Sweet Smell of Success" and I'm not sure I've ever seen a film capture the city as vibrantly as this film did. I didn't really realize prior to watching this that it was a film-noir. I loved the crisp black and white images, the shadows and the close-ups of the faces, especially of Lancaster, when all you could see was his devilish eye peering out from his eyeglasses, hammering home that this character was bad news. Another thing that intrigued me about "Sweet Smell of Success" was the incredibly nasty nature of the entire plot and how the whole thing just felt so grimy and low.


On the other hand, I didn't LOVE "Sweet Smell of Success". There was just something about it that, overall, didn't appeal to me. Maybe it was the content of the film and how I really don't find newspaper columnists and their gripes with press agents all that interesting. Also, the whole plot just seemed to hinge on this beef that Hunsecker had with his sister's fiance. The beef itself is never really explained though. Why does Hunsecker hate Steve Dallas so badly and why does he offer enticing things like words in his column to Falco in exchance for breaking up the romance? Also, did anyone else find the relationship that Hunsecker had with his sister a little creepy? I mean the guy is her brother and he had a picture of her on his desk, where normally you would find a picture of a man's wife and kids. It was almost as if Hunsecker was obsessed with his sister and wanted all of her attention to himself. In fact, that is the big downfall of the Hunsecker character, when his sister up and finally leaves at the end of the film. The look on his face as she walks away is the look of a man who has just been shot in the heart with a pistol, right before he drops dead. Why wasn't their relationship explained a little more and why wasn't Hunsecker's hatred for his sister's involvement with Dallas explained a little more? I mean, if you're going to take me on an hour and a half ride through a film, at least tell me where we're going and why we're going there - don't just throw me into the car and expect me to sit back and enjoy the sights, as beautiful as they were.

I didn't hate it or anything, but I wasn't as thrilled as most people seem to be with it. I can admit the greatness of the gorgeous photography, the performances from Curtis and Lancaster (especially Tony Curtis who I really liked and now want to see more of), the score and the seedy mood of the whole affair. I just wish the script would have been a little bit stronger, because if it had and if it had been elaborated on a little more, this could've been a home run for me.

RATING: 6/10 Not bad, not great, but just kind of lingering somewhere in the middle. Tony Curtis was excellent though!!

MOVIES WATCHED: 236
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 765

March 23, 2011 2:58pm

Monday, March 21, 2011

388. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Running Time: 129 minutes
Directed By: Robert Mulligan
Written By: Horton Foote, from novel by Harper Lee
Main Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, James Anderson

NEVER KILL A MOCKINGBIRD!

"To Kill a Mockingbird" may be the only adapted film in the book for which I read the novel that it was adapted from. I know it's sad, but I'm a movie watcher not a book reader. Anyway, since my wife had this from Netflix, I figured I might as well take the time to watch it so that I could polish it off.

I think most of us are familiar with the plot of "To Kill a Mockingbird", but if you're not, no worries...I'll recap it for you. The film basically follows around Scout Finch (Badham) and Jem Finch (Alford), as their childhood, living in the deep South, during the Great Depression, is recounted for us through narration from a grown-up Scout. Their father is Atticus (Peck), a man who embodies all that is good, proper and patient. Atticus is a lawyer and in his latest case he'll be defending a black man, Tom Robinson (Peters), accused of raping the young and white Mayella Ewell. Atticus takes the case without batting an eye, knowing deep down that he'll come under harsh scrutiny, but stating that if he doesn't defend Tom Robinson then he'll "never be able to walk down the street with his head held up" again. When the film is focusing on Atticus or his defense of Tom, we get to live through the eyes of six and ten year olds, as Scout and Jem develop a friendship with Dill Harris, tell tales of the scary and mysterious neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his screen debut), go to school and dress up as hams.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I don't think I'm going to take very much of your time here, but we'll see what happens when my fingers start pecking away at the keys. I've seen this film many times in my days and in fact, I can remember seeing it for the first time in school, shortly after my class finished reading Harper Lee's novel. Speaking of the novel, I want to interrupt myself here and tell you that none of what follows will be any type of book to film comparison. I've read the book, but it has been years and I've seen the film and all of what follows will be my interpretation and thoughts on the film alone.



One very interesting thing that I noticed this time around is that the ENTIRE movie is told through the eyes of the children. I mentioned this to my wife and she said "Well, yeah...the grown-up Scout is narrating the film." But that's not it, because there are some scenes where Scout isn't present but Jem is, but at least one of them is present in every single scene of the film and never do we hear a word uttered or an action played out that the kids wouldn't have been privy to or delivered themselves. I found this interesting because for me, it kind of changes the entire scope of the film. Whenever I would watch this film in the past I would look at Atticus Finch as not only one of the greatest literary characters that was ever developed, but also one of the greatest hero's of the big screen. Now, realizing that the film is basically us living in the kids' shoes for a couple of hours it makes me think - Is Atticus really as good as he seems or are we merely viewing the film through the eyes of Scout and Jem and looking at Atticus as any young child looks upon their father? Atticus has no flaws in the film because to a child looking up, a father has no flaws to their children and everything they seem to say seems to be a piece of great wisdom, dropped upon their psyche from above.

Atticus Finch is still a great character, no question. I just found it interesting that while I always viewed Atticus as the great man that he is, it seems that the film maker's go to great lengths to make it so that we're viewing Atticus as the children would view him.

Everything else is fine and if I had to change anything, I simply may have trimmed the movie down a bit as it does drag (just a hair) at the end and seems really stretched out. Gregory Peck was brilliant, but the biggest surprise is the fantastic job that the children did. All three of them, including Dill, were marvelous little actors and I could listen to Dill spew the line "My God Aunt Stephanie, you about gave me a heart attack!!" every day and still bust out laughing every time. I also want to mention the score, which seems to really boost this film into that Oscar category that it was able to bounce into. The score is just so warm and welcoming, but powerful too. I love it! I don't feel the need to harp on the racial or social themes of the film, only to mention that they are there and they are well defined. The film (and the book) definitely tackled some hard issues for their time and they did it well, in my opinion.

RATING: 7/10 Good stuff here, no doubt. Despite my relatively low rating, I'd still call this a must see film, as I really can't imagine a film fan who hasn't seen "To Kill a Mockingbird".

MOVIES WATCHED: 235
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 766

March 21, 2011 7:07pm

315. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Written By: Reginald Rose
Main Cast: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Note: I wanted to let everyone know that I have started up a new blog, where I will be doing some DVD reviews. All of the information of the motives of the blog and what I plan to accomplish can be found in the introductory post at Just ADD('s) DVD Reviews. Please become a follower, as I would certainly appreciate it. Thank you.

SOMETHING STELLAR THIS WAY COMES

In my previous review for "Whisky Galore!" I noted that I needed something stellar to come along and save me from the slump that I had apparently fallen into. With the assistance of my DVD shelf, I was able to produce one of the most stellar films I have ever witnessed and every single time I see it, it's as if I'm seeing it again for the very first time. Of course, I'm talking about the film at hand, "12 Angry Men".

The twelve nameless men that make up a jury on a murder trial are sent into a room and told that they will be determining whether or not an eighteen year old boy murdered his father. They are told that the mandated sentence that will be carried out, if they choose to find the defendant guilty, will be death - and just like that "12 Angry Men", possibly one of the greatest films ever made, begins. Once inside the hot, stuffy jury room, the men take their seats, after some chit chatting and opening windows to try and let in a little cool air. They sit around the table in order of jury number and take a preliminary vote to see where everyone stands - guilty or not guilty. One man, Juror #8 (Fonda) stands alone in declaring that he has a reasonable doubt as to the boy's guilt. He is, of course, immediately under fire from the other men in the room, especially the hot headed Juror #3 (Cobb), the intelligent Juror #4 (Marshall) and crotchety, old-fashioned Juror #10 (Begley). He stands alone, stating that five minutes just doesn't seem enough time to decide the fate of a young boy and insists that they take at least an hour. Over the course of the hour, Juror #8 pleads his case, making it clear that he's not certain of the boy's innocence, only certain that his innocence is possible. That's your premise...

The words "possible spoiler alert" are not necessary here, because in my view there are much more important things about "12 Angry Men" other than whether or not the twelve men ultimately find the boy guilty or innocent. I won't spoil it, don't worry, but their are plenty of other factors that supersede that of the final outcome. For starters, the acting is here is, I'm sure, unlike anything you've ever seen. You've got twelve men laying their hearts out in a tiny room, letting it all out on the table and acting their hearts out. Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda are the best, but why quibble over who's best and who's not? Everyone has their spot, everyone knows their spot and everyone plays their spot to perfection.

But even acting, as stellar as it is, isn't the thing that I love about "12 Angry Men", although it certainly helps. The thing I love about "12 Angry Men" is going to be hard for me to put into words, but I'll try and hopefully I'll do this amazing film justice. This film makes me wonder how many real court cases in history have lacked a "Juror #8", who wasn't afraid to stand up for the accused and raise his hand alone when the Jury Foreman asked the question, "Who votes for not guilty?" I wonder how many wanted to be that "Juror #8" and had that reasonable doubt, but when they saw that they would be standing alone, they jolted their hand into the air and sent a possibly innocent man off to die. I'd like to think that if I were a juror on a murder trial and I happened to be that one lone man with that inkling of a reasonable doubt, that I'd take the queue from Henry Fonda's character and raise my hand alone and try to sway the decisions of eleven made up minds.

The passion that these twelve actors are able to evoke is uncanny. Whoever decided to give the script that one little twist of having it take place in the middle of the summer, in a hot room, was a genius. The entire movie gives off a heated, claustrophobic feeling as we slowly get used to the surrounding of the room and when the door finally opens at the end, I myself could almost feel a gush of cool air slap me in the face, as I was finally out of that room, with those twelve angry strangers, who argued and screamed at one another. I love the character study that comes along with "12 Angry Men" and how each individual man in the room has their own distinct personality. I can't help when I'm watching this film but wonder about the backgrounds of these characters and I know it seems silly because it's irrelevant, but I start to picture Juror #7 at that baseball game that he was trying to get to and knowing because I've seen the film so many times, that he never gets to it. I, for some reason, picture Juror #3 and wonder what he's like when he's not being called a "sadist" and trying to convince people that the boy who lives in the slums is a murderer. I feel like I literally know someone who mimics the personalities of every single juror sitting around that table. I'm sure sometime in my life I've come across a man just like Juror #10. Someone who had their opinions pre-formed and nothing (almost nothing) was going to ever change their minds. They were stubborn and they had a certain way of looking at things and that's just the way they were. I feel like I knew a man like Juror #12, someone who was a deep down smart guy, but acted a little foolish from time to time and sometimes got mixed in with the wrong crowd. And if I haven't already, I hope someday I come across a man just like Juror #8, a man willing to help his fellow man and not afraid to stand up for what he truly believes is right. A man who stands his ground and argues for what he believes and isn't afraid to break the rules (or the law) to lend a helping hand.

With the combination of "The Wrong Man", "The Ox-Bow Incident" and most notably "12 Angry Men" you could almost make a makeshift trilogy of films chronicling the silver screens statue of justice and innocence, Henry Fonda. On the surface "12 Angry Men" is simple. Put twelve men in a room and let them decide the fate of a young boy, innocent or guilty. But when you do a little digging it's deeper than that. It's about personal prejudices and issues. It's about fantastic acting and fantastic characters. It's about pivotal, meaningful, intricate movie making. Every single time the camera zooms in on the face of one of our jurors, it means something. When we zoom in on Lee J. Cobb's face about halfway through the film, his facials almost seem to indicate that he knows Juror #8 is right and that he's going to keep on fighting because 1) he doesn't want to admit that he's been wrong the whole time - and not only does he not want to, he's too proud to do so and 2) he needs this kid to go to the electric chair because he was involved in this case and if he can control this kid's fate then maybe, just maybe it will give him the illusion that he was able to control his own kid's fate. Everything means something and perhaps the most meaningful act and the one that brought me to tears this time around, was when Juror #8 takes Juror #3 his coat at the end of the film, as if to say, "I feel sorry for you, I'm sorry I had to break you and I forgive you."

RATING: 10/10 Did you even have to ask what my rating was? Ok, ok so you didn't actually ask, but "12 Angry Men" is a definite '10' and going to be nearly impossible to topple for top spot of the next TOP 20.

MOVIES WATCHED: 234
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 767

March 20, 2011 9:45pm

Saturday, March 19, 2011

218. Whisky Galore! (1949)

Running Time: 82 minutes
Directed By: Alexander Mackendrick
Written By: Angus MacPhail, Compton Mackenzie, from novel by Compton Mackenzie
Main Cast: Basil Radford, Catherine Lacey, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood, Wylie Watson

MACKENDRICK HAT TRICK: PART TWO OF THREE

I've had "Whisky Galore!" sitting here at the house for most of the week now and with my wife off at work today, I figured I'd hunker down in the bed and give it a look. To be honest, I actually had to take a respite about half way through and catch "forty winks", which is sad considering the short running time of this film.

The plot is pretty simple, so I'll try to keep this synopsis short and sweet. The film takes place on the small, isolated Scottish island of Todday, where wartime rationing leads to a dry spell on the island. By "dry", I mean that the whisky has ran out and gloom descends upon the natives of the island, who have learned to go about their daily lives, only if their bellies are filled with the drink. The islanders go about their lives, with their heads hung low, speaking in monotone voices, unable to snap out of their depression over the loss of their beloved whisky. By chance, a boat carrying 50,000 cases of whisky and headed for America, runs aground and the crew are forced to abandon ship and leave it for the sea to swallow. When the natives get wind of what the precious cargo was, they plan to steal it and when the clock strikes midnight signaling the end of the sabbath day, they commence with their plans. The cast of characters are headed up by the brilliant Basil Radford (one of the few brilliant things about "Whisky Galore!) who plays Captain Paul Waggett, the English head of the Home Guard, who, with nothing better to do assigns his men to keep watch over the sinking ship, until it is well under the sea. When the natives succeed in capturing the cargo, Captain Waggett makes it his duty to find the culprits necessary and bring them to justice.



I really need to get out of Britain as far as my movies choices are concerned. I don't have anything against the Brits but their films are just to prim and proper and for my tastes, I should have spread them out and watched them sparsely. Now don't get me wrong, I've really liked some of the British films that I've been watching, but I think it's just too much and we need to make a detour and get into some other period or some other country. I just flat out didn't enjoy this movie and aside from a few short scenes and small elements, there was almost nothing about it I found appealing. Basil Radford was good and provided all of my laugh out loud moments in the film, but even those were reduced to small chuckles. I just didn't find anything funny or amusing about an island that is cleared of whisky and the inhabitants who go into a grand funk over the loss of it. Other than that, I really can't put my finger on why I disliked "Whisky Galore!" so much, I can say, however, that this is a prime example of a movie that really makes me scratch my head and wonder, "How in the hell did this make it into the book, when so many other, great films weren't included." This is NOT, by any means, something that one MUST SEE before they die and I'd say unless you're a fan of classic Britcom films, then it's a must to avoid.

RATING: 3/10 That's a generous rating as far as I'm concerned. "The Lavender Hill Mob" still holds up as the best Ealing Studios comedy thus far. Really need something stellar to come along as I've seemed to have hit a slump of bad - average films.

MOVIES WATCHED: 233
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 768

March 19, 2011 6:20pm

Monday, March 14, 2011

290. The Ladykillers (1955)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Alexander Mackendrick
Written By: William Rose
Main Cast: Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers

MACKENDRICK HAT TRICK: PART ONE of THREE

After watching "The Lavender Hill Mob" the other night and thoroughly enjoying it, I immediately moved the rest of the Ealing Studios' comedies to the top of my Netflix queue, and it just so happens that "The Ladykillers" was the first one I received.

The film is set in England and starts off by introducing us to Mrs. Louisa A. Wilberforce (Johnson), an old widowed woman, who is terribly proper and visits the police station routinely to have a chat with the superintendent. Mrs. Wilberforce has just placed an ad in the paper notifying the public that she has rooms to rent and when she returns home from the police station one day, she hears a knock at her door. The knock belongs to Professor Marcus (Guinness), a seemingly proper man who claims to be a Professor at the University and a man who needs a room. He also notes that he and a group of his friends are amateur musicians and that if she doesn't mind, they would use the room she rents him to practice in. Being the kind old lady that she is, she of course has no qualms about that and the Professor's "friends" are invited. Professor Marcus' friends consist of the equally proper Major Claude Courtney (Parker), the weaselly Harry Robinson (Sellers), the muscle man with the low I.Q. "One Round" (Danny Green) and the quiet hitman Louis Harvey (Lom). What Mrs. Wilberforce doesn't know is that the men cannot play a lick of music and that they are actually plotting a bank robbery, of which Mrs. Wilberforce will unknowingly be their sixth man...or woman. They plan to trick Mrs. Wilberforce into picking up the money for them and delivering it to them back at the house. Of course, things don't go as planned and hilarity and chaos ensue.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

This will, more than likely, be kept just as short and sweet as "The Lavender Hill Mob" review. I'll start out by saying that I liked "The Lavender Hill Mob" better than "The Ladykillers", but not by much. The thing that I think I liked less about this one is that there was far less running around and confusion. In "The Lavender Hill Mob" the crooks are forced to run around the city of London to get their heist pulled off perfectly and then are forced to run around Paris to try and retrieve some of their lost loot. In "The Ladykillers" the heist is over with in the first thirty minutes of the film and then everyone is pretty much stationary for the remainder of the film, as the quintet of crooks and Mrs. Wilberforce quarrel about what will be done with the stolen "lolly". I know, it's a very small and unimportant thing to nitpick about, but I'll be the first to admit that. This movie was also just a bit too dark for me - from the sinister looking Professor Marcus to the desolate and haunted looking house that Mrs. Wilberforce occupied and even some of the camera angles and colors, it just wasn't as jovial as "The Lavender Hill Mob" and I think I may have taken it more seriously than I should have because of these aspects.


However, with all of that aside, the film was a lot of fun. Guinness, Sellers and really the entire main cast did an outstanding job and the script was actually quite genius, which is something you cannot say about any comedy made today in the States. Most comedies have a very cheap feel to them, while "The Ladykillers" felt very smart and thought out. I'll add that, before you ask, I have seen the remake of "The Ladykillers" and yes I did like it. I know a lot of loyalists to the original hated the Coen Brothers remake, but I saw the Coen Brothers version first, and liked what I saw. However, I did like the cast of the 1955 version a lot better and thought that both scripts were equally good, with the remake having enough changes to make it still feel fresh, even in retrospect.

RATING: 6.5/10 That's probably a bit harsh on the rating side of things, but I gave "The Lavender Hill Mob" a 7.5/10 and I liked it better than this one, so it's a just rating.

MOVIES WATCHED: 232
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 769

March 14, 2011 2:31pm

Friday, March 11, 2011

365. Peeping Tom (1960)

Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell
Written By: Leo Marks
Main Cast: Carl Boehm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley, Brenda Bruce

POWELL AND PRESSBURGER WEEK: PART 6 - THE CONCLUSION

Well for the conclusion of "Powell and Pressburger Week" we drop Emeric Pressburger and take a look at a film that Michael Powell tackled on his own. It was a turn for Powell, from his normally much more tame and innocent movies and delved into the world of murder, lust and fear.

The film opens with our main character, a man we later identify as Mark Lewis (Boehm), murdering a prostitute and using his handheld camera to film her as she takes her dying breath to scream. The entire scene is shot P.O.V. and was actually quite effective in roping me in and getting me ready for something very un-Powell. Later we finally see the face of our predator and we learn that he is a photographer/cameraman. He has many different irons on the fire. Sometimes he goes to the local newspaper shop and photographs lurid pictures of models for the owner of the shop to sell in his store. In fact, one of the best scenes in the film is that of a man purchasing racy photos and having them wrapped in a package marked "educational books". When Mark isn't being an amateur Playboy photographer, he works on the film crew of a movie that is being shot, in hopes of one day being a filmmaker himself. Mark lives in a house that he owns and leases out the extra rooms. One day our shy predator is forced into striking up a conversation with one of his neighbors/tenants Helen (Massey) and as the film progresses Mark becomes attached to her. Mark continues to film many different things - from the women he murders, to the police that carry away his victims.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I didn't like it! Sorry for being so blunt, but there's no use skipping around the facts. But don't worry, I can back up my opinion.

After seeing five movies that Michael Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger did together and coming to the realization that these were men who made innocent films, that appealed to a very mature, classy and tame audience, I was really caught off guard when the opening scene of "Peeping Tom" showed a street straight out of "Nighthawks" and a prostitute about to get offed. I was excited, because in all of the P&P films there did lie an element of intrigue for me and in my mind, this was going to be the one that really made me realize what a visionary Michael Powell really was. I was, unfortunately, wrong. This movie was just a bunch of scenes thrown together and there really didn't seem to be any concept of linear storytelling. Not that the film wasn't straightforward, it just seemed to me like there were so many scenes that were just thrown in and made absolutely no sense. Take for instance, the VERY long scene where Moira Shearer dances around a cluttered movie set, alone in a dark room with Mark. It just seemed like a cheap way to write a part in for Moira and while I have no objections to watching the very beautiful Moira Shearer dance, it just seemed so out of place.


Then you have things that just don't make sense on a sense making level. Helen Stephens finds Mark peeping through her living room window and she responds by delivering a piece of her birthday cake to his door. Really? I mean, it just doesn't make sense. She should be frightened of Mark, because she has noticed him peeping at her and though she tries to communicate with him, he seems the type of character who would never allow her to get close to him, let alone allow her into his beloved dark room. Then you have Mark going from a film set to a newspaper shop and doing all these different things and then we get his back story, which is seemingly an effort to garner sympathy for Mark, but it didn't work with me. Mark was entirely too quiet too. I want a movie murderer like the guy in "Frenzy" who worked at the fruit market. It was so frustrating hearing Carl Boehm deliver his lines in a very halting, quiet tone. Anna Massey was annoying too and she seems to be the one that gets through to Mark the most. Honestly the character who finally breaks through Mark's wall should have been far less annoying.

Ultimately, the entire film was way too chaotic and random and unenjoyable. I think there was definite potential and if I had a chance to put in my input, I would've wished Powell would have kept it more simple. Mark kills women and films their dying reactions. That's all you need. Why does he do this? Because he's a sexual predator/pervert who gets off on such things. Don't give me all this mumbo jumbo about his father throwing lizards at him while he's in bed and shining flashlights in his eyes to wake him up. The character, in my opinion, should have been more perverse. I hate to sound like a total sicko, but a little more perversion on Mark's part, a little more nudity and a lot more P.O.V. shots would have given this movie the gritty feel that I felt it lacked big time. Don't get me wrong people, I don't NEED nudity in my films, but this was supposedly the first British film to feature nudity and so obviously Powell thought it was relevant too.

RATING: 3/10 A few scenes were good and it had all the potential in the world, but it was ultimately a MAJOR disappointment and a bad way to wrap up the week dedicated to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

MOVIES WATCHED: 231
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 770

March 11, 2011 9:39pm

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

211. The Red Shoes (1948)

Running Time: 133 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Keith Winter, from story by Hans Christian Andersen
Main Cast: Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Anton Walbrook, Leonide Massine, Robert Helpmann

POWELL AND PRESSBURGER WEEK: PART 5

Fighting some minor personal health issues, I was still able to muster up the commitment to check out "The Red Shoes" via the streaming portion of Netflix. My wife had been telling me since I started on the journey to watch the films of Powell and Pressburger, that "The Red Shoes" was excellent. Somehow I was still hesitant - I mean, come on, a movie about ballet? But, as usual, my wife was the one who was right.

The movie follows the Lermontov Ballet Company, which is headed up by Boris Lermontov (Walbrook). Upon the films opening, hundreds of people are jamming themselves inside a theatre to catch his newest production. Following the production, a party is held, where Boris meets Victoria Page (Shearer), who was hoping to dance for Mr. Lermontov at the party, but he declines the proposal. When he asks her "Why must you dance?", she combats with a question of her own - "Why must you live?". He tells her to come to auditions and that he'll see if he can make a part for her. In the meantime, Lermontov is also called upon by a young man, Julian Craster (Goring), claiming that the composer of Lermontov's previous ballet has ripped him off and used music that Craster himself wrote. Lermontov eases the boy and offers him a job - he accepts. Some time goes by, Craster earns his stripes and the reputation of being a hard worker and Lermontov realizes the greatness that is Vicky Page when he silently attends her rendition of Swan Lake of a much smaller production. Upon realizing the capabilities of his newest attributes, Lermontov begins production on "The Red Shoes", a story about a girl who goes to a ball wearing a pair of red shoes and at the end of the night can't seem to get them to stop dancing. The shoes eventually dance her until she dies. He casts Vicky as the lead role, despite everyone's hesitancy that she's ready and puts Craster in charge of the music.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

You can certainly imagine my hesitancy as I prepared to watch "The Red Shoes". Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have yet to really "WOW" me with one of their pictures and ballet doesn't really get me into an uproar. However, I was totally dazzled by this film! It was probably one of the most colorful, vibrant and energy filled films I've seen, since Fellini's color films. There were images that frightened and images that were absolutely gorgeous. There were images that just made you sit back, clear your head and take everything in, as it came whipping at you through the screen. Moira Shearer was beautiful and watching her twirl and dance around on the stage during "The Red Shoes" ballet scene was a sight for sore eyes. I could have watched an entire film of JUST Moira Shearer dancing the dance of "The Red Shoes" and been completely satisfied. But, no, "The Red Shoes" wasn't just dancing and Moira Shearer wasn't the only standout part of the cast.


Anton Walbrook, in my opinion, was amazing. I love it when actors can really act and really add a flair to their dialogue, as it makes me want to hear every single word that they say and just hear them deliver. I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but when Walbrook spoke in this film, I listened, as he had a voice that commanded attention. Marius Goring was really good too and I didn't even realize until just now (when I looked it up) that he was the same man who played the Conductor in "A Matter of Life and Death". Such a different role he plays here and a much more likable one.

If you want to see some real color, vibrancy, great choreography, a great story, great acting, some tragedy and the beautiful, light on her feet Moira Shearer, then check out "The Red Shoes". The only nitpicking I'd do on it is that it does drag a little in the beginning and a little in the end, but what is sandwiched in between is some great stuff and worth a look from your eyes.

RATING: 7.5/10 I'll go out on a limb and say that "The Red Shoes" is the best Powell & Pressburger I've seen thus far. I enjoyed "A Matter of Life and Death" more, but this one was enjoyable and just flat out quality stuff. Next: We finish Powell and Pressburger week and cut out the Pressburger part with "Peeping Tom".

MOVIES WATCHED: 230
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 771

March 9, 2011 8:42pm

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

235. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Running Time: 78 minutes
Directed By: Charles Crichton
Written By: T.E.B. Clarke
Main Cast: Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sid James, Alfie Bass

EASING INTO SOME EALING

I'll admit that prior to a few hours ago, I had no idea what an Ealing Studios Production was. Now, having watched "The Lavender Hill Mob", a film that I recorded off of Turner Classic Movies months ago, I realize that Ealing Studios produced some very good comedies...well at least one for sure.

Alec Guinness is Henry Holland, a timid and meticulous bank clerk living in London and who has been in charge of gold bullion deliveries for the past twenty years. Making sure that every speck of gold is accounted for, Henry has made sure that his co-workers have noticed his anal retentive ways, as he would like to get rich and if the opportunity should present itself, he wants to make sure he's the last one they suspect, if he should decide to rob them. One day Henry meets Alfred Pendlebury (Holloway) and the two begin to chit chat. Alfred is in the business of making souvenirs and shipping them to foreign markets. One of Pendlebury's more popular items is a paper weight shaped like the Eiffel Tower. When Henry gets a look at the foundry where Alfred makes his small replicas of the Parisian landmark, he gets an idea. He and Alfred will rob the delivery truck and then melt the gold down and use the Eiffel Tower mold to disguise it. No one would ever suspect that a small replica of the Tower would be stolen gold. Once they have it melted down, they'll ship it to France and then go over and pick it up. Not a trace of evidence will be left in London and Henry, Alfred and their two recruited criminal cronies, will be free and clear.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

It wasn't necessarily the comedy, but rather the fantastic script that I loved about this film. Everything seemed to mesh together perfectly and just when you thought that Henry and Al had it made in the shade, another roadblock would pop up and threaten to put our beloved main characters behind bars. Alec Guinness was great here and I really fell in love with his character early on. In fact, I'm hoping that allowing myself to get a little more fond of Guinness will also allow me to enjoy the Star Wars trilogy a little more when I get to it. Stanley Holloway was really great too and honestly guys, there's not a lot left to say about "The Lavender Hill Mob". It's a really funny comedy that has turned me on to the Ealing Comedies and after finishing it, I immediately rushed "Whisky Galore", "The Ladykillers" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets" to the top of my Netflix queue.



If you're in the mood to check out a really terrific comedy, with lots of laughs, a really smart plot and a lot of clever devices, then tune into Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, March 20, 2011 @ 2:15 pm and give it a look. Even if you're not a fan of comedies, it still may strike your fancy.

RATING: 7.5/10 WOW! That was a short one. Sometimes there's just not a lot to say/elaborate on, without sounding like a broken record. Good film, not just funny either.

MOVIES WATCHED: 229
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 772

March 8, 2011 2:29am

Monday, March 7, 2011

194. Black Narcissus (1946)

Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger from novel by Rumer Godden
Main Cast: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Kathleen Byron, Sabu

POWEEL AND PRESSBURGER WEEK: PART 4

Yikes! I know I say this more often than I should, but I'm going to say it again - this film was not for me. For those of you who are still interested, "Black Narcissus" is currently streaming on Netflix, so don't take my word for it, feel free to judge for yourselves.

The plot of "Black Narcissus" begins and ends with a group of nuns. Headed up by Sister Superior Clodagh (Kerr), the group of nuns travel to a remote location in the Himalayas, to a palace called Mopu, where they intend to build a school/hospital. They feel that the people in this part of the world could use the guidance of the nuns. Once they arrive, they are told that the palace is a converted harem. They are also told that everyone who comes to their convent is being paid to do so and that they shouldn't take on any sever cases in the hospital, because failure to save someone who is severely injured would make the people turn on them. Along with the Sister Superior, the nuns that join her are Sister Briony (Judith Furse) for her strength, Sister Honey (Jenny Laird) for her popularity, Sister Philipa (Robson) for her gardening skills and Sister Ruth (Byron) for her instability. The head mother feels that it would do Sister Ruth some good to go and be a part of the project. After spending some time there, the nuns all succumb to some type of temptation, with Sister Ruth being the most notable. Meanwhile, Sister Superior Clodagh is trying to forget an old romance and trying to fight off her attraction to Mr. Dean (Farrar), the local British Agent stationed at Mopu.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

Another thing that I know I say a lot and don't stick to is - "I'm going to try to keep this review short". Trust me folks, I'm really going to TRY and keep this particular review as short and as sweet as I possibly can. Aside from the last twenty minutes or so of "Black Narcissus", where Sister Ruth snaps and we're treated to that magnificent reveal of a woman, who previously was entirely covered by the usual nun get-up, dawned in all red complete with bright red lipstick, this movie was a big wash out for me. It just seems that Powell and Pressburger seem to have their fingers on exactly what I'm not interested in and they're making movies just to spite me. I'm not interested in war, yet I struggled through "Colonel Blimp" ("struggled" is a strong work, that film IS growing on me). I wasn't interested in the slightest in "I Know Where I'm Going!" yet I struggled through that ("struggled" is the perfect word here...that film did NOTHING for me) and now I'm forced to struggle through a picture about nuns, a subject that held zero interest for me and once again reminded me of an "old persons film".


One major gripe I have is that all of the sisters looked the same and thus it was confusing in trying to tell them apart. Now, I hope I'm not uncovering my own unintelligence or ignorance by revealing that fact, but it's the truth. Like I said, all of the nuns were dressed in the usual nun get-up - you know the dress code in that profession - covered in head to toe in clothing with only your face showing, from your chin to the middle of your forehead. Aside from the slightly chunkier Sister Briony, all of the other women were approximately the same age and had facial features that resembled one another. Unless they referred to each other by name, I had a hard time telling who the hell was speaking. It also seemed that there were too many subplots that just never panned out or were possibly forgotten about. It was like "P & P" were foreshadowing to certain things and then forgot to follow up on them. What about the old man who was constantly sitting Indian style on the hill - whatever happened to him. It seemed as though they were prepping us for this character to become an integral part of the story, but he didn't. David Farrar was a good enough actor, but why was he even there, other than to tempt the sisters. He really didn't have a place and just seemed to pop in and out at random points and raise the sexual ire of the nuns. And what about the Sabu's character and his relationship with Kanchi (Simmons). Neither Sabu, nor Simmons' characters seemed to go anywhere and once the two began a romantic relationship they pretty much disappeared. And lastly, all of the flashbacks from Sister Clodagh just seemed unnecessary and seemed to elude to a possible breakdown or departure from "nunnery" for her character, that never came.

I've rambled on long enough. In the end, I am able to chalk "Black Narcissus" as the highest contender in the "not for me" column and write it off as "just another film watched" in a much bigger effort to watch all of the films in the "1001" book. I tried, it just didn't impress.

RATING: 2/10 I know that seems really harsh, but that's about the highest it's gonna' get from me and anything higher would just be me trying to win the hearts of the "P & P" fans.

MOVIES WATCHED: 228
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 773

March 7, 2011 4:08pm

Sunday, March 6, 2011

191. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Main Cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey

POWELL AND PRESSBURGER WEEK: PART 3

The only Powell & Pressburger film in the "1001" book that is not currently streaming on Netflix is "A Matter of Life and Death", and it's also the first Powell and Pressburger film that I really, genuinely enjoyed. Let's jump right into it, shall we?

Squadron Leader Peter David Carter (Niven) is a member of the Royal Air Force and as "A Matter of Life and Death" opens, he is in a bad way. His bomber is severely damaged, flaming and his entire crew has bailed out. Carter himself is about to bail out, as he gets in touch with an American radio operator stationed in England, but he is missing a parachute and plans to bail out anyway. As they talk, in what he believes are his final minutes on Earth, he falls in love with her and before he bails out he tells her to send a telegram to his Mother, telling her that he has always loved her, despite not showing it. He jumps and lands on a beach, destined to be dead. However, due to a mistake by Conductor 71 (Goring) from the "Other World", Carter lands on the beach with a small scratch on his head and that is all. It seems that the heavy fog interrupted Conductor 71 from deeming Carter dead and thus he is given 20 hours of free time, when he should've been in the Other World. Carter awakes, thinking he is in the Other World, but soon finding out that he isn't and immediately finds June (Hunter), the radio operator. Conductor 71 eventually comes back and informs Carter of the mistake, but Carter demands an appeal, stating that during the 20 or so hours of borrowed time, that he has fallen in love and it's not his fault that the Other World made a mistake. June seeks the advice of her dear friend, Dr. Reeves (Livesey) to help Peter deal with his "hallucinations".

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!



I was disappointed to see that this will be the last time that I get to enjoy the acting chops of Roger Livesey in a Powell and Pressburger film, but was able to confirm my suspicions - that Livesey was a fantastic actor, as was this entire cast basically. David Niven did a fine job, but it was Livesey, along with Raymond Massey that really impressed me and especially their scenes as they sparred on the court room floor in a war of words and argued the case of Peter Carter in a world resembling Heaven. There really wasn't much to dislike about "A Matter of Life and Death". To me, it was Powell & Pressburger's grandest achievement so far, at least as far as what I've seen. This was their masterpiece, with absolutely stunning set design and glorious technicolor shots mashed together with beautifully shot black and white scenes. The stairway scene was one of my favorites as the set was just a sight to behold.

There's not much left to say about "A Matter of Life and Death" (re-titled "Stairway to Heaven" for American release). If you're looking for brilliant acting - this film has it. If you're looking for a movie that really looks like an epic movie, without the epic time - this film has it. If you're looking for a mash-up of genres - this film has it, mixing a real life love story with the fantastical world of "the other side". I may dock it a few points for a little down time near the middle, where it may have slightly lost my interest. But in the end, there's no denying that this film was grand. Case closed.

RATING: 7/10 Knee jerk. Currently am feeling about a '7', but that could easily go up with time. On a side note, I'm already regretting my "Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" rating, as it should have been higher. Next up: "Black Narcissus".

MOVIES WATCHED: 227
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 774

March 5, 2011 9:11pm

Saturday, March 5, 2011

181. I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Main Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Pamela Brown, Finlay Currie, George Carney

POWELL AND PRESSBURGER WEEK: PART 2

Next in our week dedicated to the writing and directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is "I Know Where I'm Going!". It's currently streaming via Netflix for those interested, but I'd say it's only for die hard fans of Powell and Pressburger who have yet to see this one. Personally, I was not enthused with it.

The plot is incredibly dry, in my opinion, and revolves around Joan Webster (Hiller), a woman who has always known exactly what she wanted and has made sure always to get it. From her days as a girl when she wrote to Father Christmas and asked him for a pair of silk stocking - "real silk, not imitation!", to her days as a young woman when she would find a man who would take her to the movies at least twice a week and to a nice restaurant once a month. As an adult, she has made up her mind on marriage and is determined to go to the Kiloran to marry a wealthy businessman, old enough to be her father. In fact, the film starts as she breaks the news to her own father and hops a train for her first stop in a number of stops before she finally arrives in Kiloran. Her last stop before catching a boat to Kiloran is the Isle of Mull, where she is forced to wait out the weather, first fog, which later turns to a full-scale gale. While stranded on the Isle of Mull, Joan meets several people, most notably Torquil MacNeil (Livesey), whom she becomes acquainted with. They basically mingle and get to know one another while they're stuck on the island, as MacNeil is also trying to get to Kiloran. Ultimately Joan can't bear to wait any longer and bribes a young sailor to take her to Kiloran, which leads to the films best scene as the young sailor, Joan and Torquil nearly die trying to get to Kiloran.

I've always tried to prevent myself from using the word "boring" when trying to describe the reasons why I don't like a film. I just think it's a very lazy way to sum up reasons for dismissing an entire production. However, I am going to use the word boring, but I will back that word up with some reasoning. This film was boring! There I've said it - now lets examine why, shall we? First of all, the entire plot revolves around a woman who know what she wants and in the end her plans are changed and she is forced to come to the realization that for the first time in her life she is living spontaneously. That's the core of this movie. In the meantime, she meets Torquil and they become friends, tip-toeing around a romantic relationship. I just found everything very dry and very uninteresting. Bearing in mind that I've only seen two of their pictures thus far, Powell and Pressburger seem to be making films that appeal to a much older audience. I can almost imagine my grandparents sitting around and watching the type of film like "I Know Where I'm Going!" on a Saturday afternoon, as it rained outside and they were huddled under afghans. It's not to say that I am not mature enough to realize the interest in a film like this, it's just that it all doesn't appeal to me and in the case of this particular film, I honestly don't understand how it can appeal to anyone. I found myself watching the clock, like a hawk and wanting this movie to just end and thank God it was only an hour and a half.



As for the positives, as few as there are, I think Roger Livesey was a great actor, although I did enjoy him in "Colonel Blimp" more than I did here. I also highly enjoyed the boat scene, where the trio were almost sucked into a vortex in the water. It was filmed really well and provided a little action and excitement in a film where excitement seemed to be banned. In fact, the camera work was all around really solid and there were a couple of really good shots, so kudos on that. That's about it, as far as pluses go. I'll keep this one short and sweet and suffice it to say that I did not enjoy "I Know Where I'm Going!".

RATING: 3/10 I'm not giving up on Powell and Pressburger just yet. Next up is "A Matter of Life and Death" and I have high hopes for this one. Should be back later today for that review.

MOVIES WATCHED: 226
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 775

March 5, 2011 2:58pm

Friday, March 4, 2011

659. Ordinary People (1980)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Robert Redford
Written By: Alvin Sargent, from novel by Judith Guest
Main Cast: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, Elizabeth McGovern

ORDINARY PEOPLE UNDER EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

I know, I know...I should have watched this last week when I was watching all of the Best Picture winners, but I didn't really plan on watching it. My wife got this from Netflix and noticing that it was in the book, I decided to join her. Allow me to join the millions who say, "This should not have beaten Raging Bull at the Oscars!"

The film focuses in on your typical, run of the mill, American family, except the untypical thing about this family is that they've just lost their son, Buck, in a boating accident. The remaining members of the tribe are father Calvin (Sutherland), mother Beth (Moore) and remaining son Conrad (Hutton) and the trio make up the Jarrett family. We soon learn, upon the films opening, that Conrad has recently tried to take his own life, but fortunately failed. The film rolls along smoothly introducing the characters and their attitudes. Calvin is eager to help his son overcome his depression, while Beth doesn't seem to care too much about her troubled son, just so the house is in order and everyone can put on a happy facade when faced by friends. Conrad suffers from a recurring dream, taking him back every night to the night that his brother drowned in the boating accident and the night he survived it. Eventually and to the delight of Calvin, Conrad begins seeing a psychiatrist named Dr. Berger (Hirsch). The two meet for quite some time, before Berger eventually breaks through to Conrad and reveals to him that his is need of forgiveness...for himself. In the meantime, Conrad has quit the swim team at school, tried desperately to get his mother's attention and started dating a girl.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

No, "Ordinary People" shouldn't have beaten "Raging Bull" at the Oscars, in neither the Best Picture or Best Director categories, but that's not to say that "Ordinary People" is a bad film. It's just to say that "Raging Bull" is a better film. I did have a few gripes though, which we'll ultimately get to.


First, the positives. I'm really starting to like Donald Sutherland and while I haven't watched any other films from him so far, for the "1001" book, there's plenty in there and hopefully we'll get to them sooner, rather than later. In fact, I thought the whole cast did a fine job and he knew Mary Tyler Moore and Judd Hirsch had it in them to garner Academy Award nominations and be deserving of them. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Judd Hirsch...I'm just more used to him playing Alex Rieger than a shrink. Enough about the cast. The think I really found interesting about "Ordinary People" was the character study. I thought it was interesting how Beth Jarrett seemed to completely close her eyes and ears to the problems around her and want only to be surrounded with pleasantries. Calvin Jarrett somewhat wanted the things that Beth wanted, but wanted to confront their problems as well. I know people like this, and while I can't put my finger on who, I just felt like I was watching real people. I also found it interesting that Conrad seemed to push his father away, yet tried his best to talk to his mother and get her attention and make her be interested in him. It was interesting because Calvin was the one who WAS interested in Conrad and Beth was the one who really didn't want anything to do with him, yet he reacted to them in the opposite way.

I loved the film's use of Pachelbel's Canon, yet didn't like some of the scenes that they played it over. Having it playing at the beginning was great. But there were some scenes, where Canon would start playing, seemingly for no reason. Also I thought the story was a little dry. Yes, it was good and it was like watching real people play out their most horrific time period as a family, but there really doesn't seem to be any climax to this movie. The entire movie, everyone does their bit. Conrad is the disturbed one, Calvin is the loving one and Beth is the hard ass and in the end, Beth doesn't change her ways, she just moves out. In the end, Conrad gets better, but we barely see him well, because it happens so late in the film. And Calvin doesn't change either, other than separating from Beth. It just seemed to lack some big scene, for example, Beth finally breaking down and crying her eyes out over Buck and realizing the fact that she's been pushing her living son away or, and I don't mean to be grim, Conrad trying to commit suicide again. I don't know, the film was a good one and it provided a sincere, yet not always beautiful into the home of an upper class family, but it just seemed to lack somewhere, mainly in that it seemed to be missing some vital scenes that could've catapulted this one into TOP 20 caliber status.

RATING: 7/10 Like I said, not bad AT ALL, but I definitely had a few issues with it.

MOVIES WATCHED: 225
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 776

March 4, 2011 3:54pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #65: Les nuits de la pleine lune/Full Moon in Paris (1984)

Running Time: 100 minutes Directed By: Eric Rohmer Written By: Eric Rohmer Main Cast: Pascale Ogier, Tcheky Karyo, Fabrice Luchini,...