Saturday, December 31, 2011

632. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

Running Time: 122 minutes
Directed By: Fred Schepisi
Written By: Fred Schepisi, from novel by Thomas Keneally
Main Cast: Tom E. Lewis, Freddy Reynolds, Rey Barrett, Jack Thompson, Angela Punch McGregor
Click here to view the trailer

CINEMA FROM DOWN UNDER

If I'm not mistaken (which I very well may be) this is the first Australian film I've taken in from THE BOOK. This one's been staring at me for quite sometime, as it sat on my Netflix instant queue and I figured I'd better watch it, before it disappeared. FYI - this is only available to watch via the instant portion of Netflix and IS NOT available for at home delivery.

Jimmy Blacksmith (Lewis) is a half-caste Aborigine, who is somewhat favored by the white settlers of the Australian plain. First, he is taken in by a preacher and his wife and taught a few lessons, as he heads out into the world to find work and make something of himself. Jimmy eventually lands work building fences for several of the white settlers. For the most part they treat him badly, often shorting his pay and degrading him. However, Jimmy rarely shows defiance and is, for the most part, a patient and obedient worker. Jimmy tries his best to distance himself from his Aboriginal family, but is to loyal to totally forget them. Later, Jimmy marries a white woman and she becomes pregnant. During her pregnancy, Jimmy begins working for the Newby family. Again, the Newby family look down at Jimmie and don't approve of the marriage between him and a full blooded white woman. When the baby is born, it becomes clear that the child isn't Jimmie's and after the Newby family try and convince Jimmie's wife to leave him, Jimmie cracks, beginning a violent rampage of revenge against the white people.

There's a lesson to be learned by watching this film, unfortunately it's a lesson that I had already accepted and one that I didn't need to have repeated. If you're so close-minded and ignorant as to be racist toward a particular people, then this is certainly a film that you should be forced to watch. Although anyone that close-minded and ignorant would probably still leave this film, without taking the lesson with them. I tend to hate movies that harp on the idea that racism is bad, but that's simply because I am already aware of that fact. This one kind of reminded me of "Crash", in that it came off as a little bit preachy about the subject of anti-racism, although not nearly as preachy as "Crash". This film was a tedious MoFo and I had a really hard time getting through it, without glancing at the clock about once every ten minutes.

SPOILER ALERT!

It started out good enough, a simple story that resembled international Oscar bait, about an Aboriginal boy who is treated ill. The plot is slow and dull, until the point in which Jimmie snaps, axe murdering the Newby women and children and becoming a fugitive. That's the real climax of the story, because following that, the film once again slips into a very boring and dull state, as Jimmie and his brother Mort are shown wandering through the hills of Australia, escaping their captors. Nothing really ever happens, besides the occasional instance when Jimmie and Mort come across another family that crossed Jimmie and a brief bit of murdering commences. Then it's back to wandering through the forest again, as Jimmie rambles on about starting a war. Once in a while they'll snap to the white side, where the white folks talk about the justice they intend to carry out. I'll stop there, in hopes that you get the picture.

My other main problem is that it was hard to get a grasp on the characters, most notably Jimmie. Was I supposed to be rooting for Jimmie or opposing him? He was the victim of heavy oppression from the whites, but on the other hand, he really didn't have the demeanor of someone who deserved my sympathies. It's not as if this character was such an obedient and timid boy that, when his family was being starved, we wanted so badly for him to stand up for himself. From the beginning, Jimmie seemed to have a short temper and it that much of a surprise when he finally snapped. Yeah, I have no idea whether I was supposed to be for him, against him or neutral. Maybe I was simply intended to view the story and allow myself to form my own opinion of Jimmie, but maybe I didn't care enough to do that.

On the bright side, the cinematography is brilliant and the backdrop of beautiful Australia provides a visual feast for the eyes. The acting is pretty strong too, as sometimes I actually felt like I was watching a documentary, forgetting that these were actors putting on a show. Everything else ranges from average to worse, with the plot and timing be the worst of all. The film didn't make good use of it's allotted time and thus, the film felt like it dragged on forever.

RATING: 5.5/10 Well, the hidden gem that I always hope to find, but some might take to it. As for this guy, it's a thumbs in the middle.

MOVIES WATCHED: 381
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 620

December 31, 2011 1:02am

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bergman Week - COMING SOON

446. De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen/The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1965)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Andre Delvaux
Written By: Anna De Pagter, from novel by Johan Daisne
Main Cast: Senne Rouffaer, Beata Tyszkiewicz, Hector Camerlynck, Annemarie Van Dijk, Francois Bernard

Note: Way back in the latter months of 2009, when my journey first began and I was moving through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book in chronological order, I watched many movies on YouTube. My goal then was stick to as strict a chronology as possible and in not wanting to skip anything, I took to YouTube often. When I started moving through the text in a more random fashion, I had initially made the decision to leave YouTube movie watching as a last resort option. Well, I have come to the realization that it just won't be possible to rule out YouTube and in not wanting to be stuck watching many movies in a row, in front of my screen, at the end of my journey, I've decided that I need to start sporadically searching YouTube for unfound movies and watching them, as such. Thus begins the "It Came From YouTube" series, which you'll see pop up from time to time. This is the first...

IT CAME FROM YOUTUBE

I actually found this online last night, as my wife was watching a television program that I wasn't interested in seeing. I decided to do some random net surfing and as I often do, I found myself on YouTube.

Govert Miereveld (Rouffaer) is a professor at a Belgian school. As the film starts, we realize right away that Miereveld has an infatuation with a girl named Fran (Tyszkiewicz) and as the film progresses we realize that Fran is one of his pupils. During the graduation ceremony at the school, Miereveld is troubled, as he realizes that this could be the last time he ever sees Fran, as she is set to graduate. Miereveld tries his best to work up the courage to speak to her, but ultimately fails and graduation ends with Miereveld still stewing with his own emotions. Unable to cope with his undying infatuation and unable to forget about Fran, Miereveld decides it best to relocate, changing his job and moving his wife Corra (Van Dijk) and their two children to another town, where Miereveld becomes a clerk of the courts. There, he befriends a medical examiner named Mr. Mato (Camerlynck), who, one day, invites him to the country to witness an autopsy. In the country, Miereveld and company decide to spend the night at a hotel, where Miereveld unexpectedly runs into Fran.

The title of this film is one that really makes you take notice and for me, it's one that really enticed me, as I wanted to know what this film, with the unusual name was all about. While I really can't decipher the meaning of the unusual title, other than the obvious reasons (at one point in the film, Miereveld DOES indeed have his hair cut short), I am quite confident that I did understand this, sometimes complicated, film. Since I can't find an explanation of this films plot anywhere online, allow me to share my own thoughts and decoding here...

SPOILER ALERT!

To me, the only logical explanation is that Miereveld is, in a word, insane. Well, maybe "insane" is too harsh a word, maybe "not altogether there" would be a more suitable phrase. If you watch this film and you start to get lost around the last thirty minutes or so, then you've missed a key piece in unlocking the mystery. When the film opens, Miereveld is sitting on his office couch, thinking about Fran and repeating her name over and over in his head. We see a brief glimpse of Fran, her hair mussed up and falling in her face and sitting in front of, what appears to be a window, the light glimmering in behind her. That's your key to unlocking the mystery, because when the film nears it's end and Miereveld "shoots" Fran, we see the same image of Fran, as she sits in the window, after having just been "shot". It eludes to the fact that Miereveld had this image of Fran in his head the entire time. Maybe, he didn't have the "shooting her" idea down pat yet, but he had this visual of Fran, sitting in a window, in his head and we know it's coming from his head, because when we first see it, he's alone. Let's keep digging....

As far as I can surmise, the film drifts in and out of sanity as it progresses. I don't think the ENTIRE film is a figment of Miereveld's twisted psyche, but I do think that a lot of it is. I think there's a very clear point, when Miereveld is in his hotel room and he's dosing off in the chair, where the insanity point-of-view really takes over, at least for a bit. The entire scene where Miereveld enters Fran's hotel room and confesses his love for her, where in-turn she seems to approve of his love and then proceeds to make some confessions of her own, is all a delusion on Miereveld's part. It doesn't happen. When Mr. Mato walks into the room and Miereveld drops to his knees, begging Mato not to cut her up, that's where reality snaps back in and that's why Miereveld ends up in an asylum, because Mato realizes that he's obviously mad. Also, I noticed that the entire time Mato was with Miereveld, he seemed to look at him in an incriminating way, as if he was thinking, "this guy's not all there, I need to keep my eye on him". In the end, as I already outlined, Miereveld ends up in an asylum and later, sees newsreel footage of Fran. Following this, he runs up to the Governor of the place and gets confirmation that "Fran survived the shooting". The Governor, knowing that this is Miereveld's delusion and not wanting to totally upset the applecart, agrees that Fran wasn't fatally wounded and that she did recover, even though he knows that Fran was never shot at all.

I also don't think that Fran was ever really a famous singer, I think this was more of the delusion. I think Miereveld would like to think that this woman who has consumed his psyche and eaten away at him for so many years, is capable of becoming famous, but I really don't think she is. I think the newsreel footage is proof that Miereveld is still not well, as he continues to see her, even in the confines of an asylum theater. However, I think the film does have a happy ending, as Miereveld sits alone in his room, building a stool and he finally starts to think about his wife and children and how he failed them. I think that's a sign that he's getting better and he's learning to cherish the things in life that are real and not the things that aren't.

Anyway, that's my take on everything mysterious about "The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short". There's still some unanswered questions, but it's okay not to have all the answers. As for the film itself, I thought it was a very fine film, one that enticed and lured in the viewer, never being too heavy, but making us realize that there was more than meets the eye, with use of certain camera movements and especially music. It's a film that gives you most of it's meat at the end, when it really asks you to chew on the film and one that you have to totally reevaluate when it ends. I think a lot of modern movie snobs are going to take to this one, because modern movie snobs seem to live on twists and turns and this one certainly has a few. I give it a seal of approval and would invite anyone to go check it out on YouTube.

RATING: 7.5/10 Knee jerk, plain and simple. I could see it rising in a matter of hours though, as it eats away at me and I keep thinking about it and replaying it over and over.

MOVIES WATCHED: 380
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 621

December 30, 2011 1:01am

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

409. Vidas Secas/Barren Lives (1963)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Nelson Pereira dos Santos
Written By: Nelson Pereira dos Santos, from novel by Graciliano Ramos
Main Cast: Atila Iorio, Maria Ribeiro, Joffre Soares, Gilvan Lima, Genivaldo Lima

CINEMA NOVO

This one's been staring a hole through me, from my Netflix instant queue, for quite a while now, so I figured I'd better get to watching it, before the hole got any bigger. As I kind of half suspected, it wasn't my cup of tea.

"Vidas Secas" follows a family of four, headed up by Fabiano (Iorio) and Vitoria (Ribeiro), as they cross the desert on foot, in search of shelter and a place for Fabiano to work. Eventually the family come upon a house, where they take shelter from a rainstorm and the following day, when the owner of the home returns, he hires Fabiano on as a cowhand. The family does pretty good for a while, with Fabiano working steady and Vitoria trying her best to save up for a leather bed, that she yearns so desperately to sleep on. The children (2 boys) get along well too, sometimes helping their father rope in the animals. Things take a turn for the worse when Fabiano's boss double-crosses him on his weekly earnings and later, when Fabiano loses his week's pay in a game of cards. After a scuffle with the police, Fabiano lands in jail where he is beaten and then released the next day and ultimately Fabiano and his family are forced to leave their temporary shelter.

There really is more to it than that, but that's the basic meat & potatoes, as far as the plot is concerned. What I took away from the film is the life lesson that when you're up, back down again is never that far away. Life is full of little spurts - some good, some bad, but ultimately we all have some sort of place in the grand scheme and if we keep on trucking, we may just find it. Those are fine & dandy messages to shoot across, but this film just didn't work for me, not one bit. I don't want to come across as a hard ass, but why should I care about these particular characters? What is so special about THESE characters, that I should suddenly allow my heartstrings to be tugged on and "feel their pain"? There are hundreds of thousands of movies in the world, and all of a sudden this poor, down on their luck family comes trotting across the desert and all of a sudden, their due my sympathies. There's no establishment that I should be caring about these people. The film gets right underway and before twenty minutes has even gone by, we realize that "Oh, I'm supposed to feel for these people, they're having a hard time". I realize this is part of a neo-realist movement and a new age for cinema in Brazil and that maybe the messages and the characters aren't supposed to be up in your face, but I don't mind subtle realism. I just have a problem with a film that's basis is about me sympathizing with it's characters, when the characters are as hollow as a chocolate bunny at Easter.

SPOILER ALERT!

You know who I really felt sorry for, the kids and the dog. The kids were just hanging in there, being drug around, from town to town and job to job and when they spoke out of turn they got slapped for it. And that poor dog and the most heartbreaking scene of the movie, when Fabiano shoots him and we have to hear him yelp and cry, as he breathes his last breath. That's where my sympathies lied. As for the rest of this movie, chalk it up as another film that I will never comprehend how anyone...ANYONE could slap a "MUST SEE" banner around! Trust me, there is absolutely nothing MUST SEE about "Vidas Secas". Sure you might want to see it, or have an interest in seeing it and that's fine, but no one should tell you that THIS movie is something that simply must be seen, because it is not! But hey, as LeVar Burton would say, don't take my word for it, it's currently streaming on Netflix.

RATING: 2.5/10 Okay, so it gets a few points for a few key scenes and because I've sat through worse, but this just wasn't for me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 379
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 622

December 28, 2011 7:30pm

438. Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie/The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

Running Time: 180 minutes
Directed By: Wojciech Has
Written By: Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, from novel by Jan Potocki
Main Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Elzbieta Czyzewska, Gustaw Holoubek, Stanislaw Igar
Click here to view the trailer

ONE STORY CREATES ANOTHER...AND THEN ANOTHER

"The Saragossa Manuscript" has been sitting on my desk for at least ten days, waiting for me to watch and send it back to Netflix. When I received it in the mail and got a look at it's whopping three hour running time, not to mention it's less than stellar sounding plot, I was not chomping at the bit to watch it. However, the thing I love most about watching movies from THE BOOK is the pleasant surprises that always sneak up on me.

To dictate the films plot, in its entirety, wouldn't be impossible for me, but it would be a overwhelming task, so I'll just outline the basic premise and we'll go from there. The main character is Alfonso van Worden (Cybulski), a captain of the Walloon Guard, during the end of the 18th Century. Near the films beginning, van Worden and his troops cross an area of terrain that is said to be haunted. Despite the warnings from his troops, van Worden forges ahead. Eventually, van Worden separates from his troops and winds up at an inn called Venta Quemada, where he is approached by two sisters, Emina (Cembrzynska) and Zibelda (Joanna Jedryka), who invite him to dine with them. Later, they tell van Worden that they are his cousins and that in order to continue the bloodline of the family and produce male heirs, he must marry them. van Worden doesn't seem to concerned with this information, but rather, more concerned to have found two female companions. Eventually the sisters seduce van Worden and at the end of the night, after drinking from a chalice, van Worden awakens, finding himself lying in the dirt, under the gallows. This happens again, the next night and later van Worden finds himself recalling his life story to an elder, religious hermit. Part One ends.

Part Two is much more complex and van Worden becomes less of a focal point here, as the viewer is pleasantly subjected to the stories of an introductory character, a gypsy. Through the use of MULTIPLE flashbacks, another story unfolds and the story takes on an almost slapstick comedy quality, as coincidences, mistaken identity and other mysterious comedic tales unfold, through the recollections of many characters.

To be honest, the film was actually quite confusing and for me to fully digest the entirety of the plot, I'd definitely have to watch it, at least once more. However, every movie in THE BOOK only gets one chance and thus, I'll base my opinions on that one viewing. I've got to say, though, that the film really picks up in Part Two, so as a word of advice, stick it out if you ever give this one a go. In Part Two, as I said above, we hear the stories from a gypsy, who when telling one story, recalls being told a story and so during one flashback, we flashback again. And then within the flashback within a flashback, we end up getting a third flashback and then slowly we start to come back to reality as the tales fold up into a neat little pile. While doing a little research for this film, I read someone comment that the film reminded them of a Russian doll and that's really true. You get into one story and then suddenly, you've got many stories on your hands.

I think any dislike that I harbor for the film, is really just preconceived on my part. When taking into account the time frame which the story depicts and the types of elements it deals with, it just doesn't equal something that is normally my cup of tea. I'm not a fan of films set in previous centuries, nor am I fan of odd tales about princess', ghouls, sheiks, gypsies, noblemen or demons. While all of these words are conjured up during the duration of the film, none of them weigh that much on the actual story. When you strip away all of the fancy 18th Century "garb", what you're left with is a really intriguing and clever tale, that is both a comedy and a mystery. I must reiterate how shocked I am to have enjoyed this one as much as I did, as I really was dreading it and it will be nice to give this one another chance someday, going in expecting something instead of nothing.

Give this one a shot. Don't be hesitant, because there is really a lot to enjoy out of this one. Stick with it though and don't be too hasty to shut it off. I think you'll find that by the time "Koniec" appears, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

RATING: 6/10 Now normally, a '6' isn't the greatest of ratings, but for this film a '6' is FANTASTIC, especially considering I had it pegged for a '1'.

MOVIES WATCHED: 378
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 623

December 28, 2011 12:09am

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bergman Week - COMING SOON

101. DODSWORTH (1936)

Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Sidney Howard, from novel by Sinclair Lewis
Main Cast: Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, Kathryn Marlowe

Note: For those of you playing the home game, I decided to substitute this in the place of "Vidas Secas", as per the tentative list that I posted yesterday afternoon. No reason really, just decided to switch things up a bit. "Vidas Secas" will still be included in this 100. Also, for those of you who have been following me from way back, you may remember the trouble I had tracking this one down, back when I was still moving through THE BOOK in chronological order. It ultimately ended up as a "saved" movie on Netflix, but TCM aired it months ago and I managed to record it. Now then...

GOING BACK IN TIME

I must say it was a nice little change of pace re-visiting the 1930s. As I moved through the book in chronological order, going directly through the 1930s and into the 40s, I developed a bond with that time period and this was another knockout film from the days when Hollywood made films for adults.

When the film opens, we see Samuel Dodsworth (Huston), automobile industrialist, at his last day as head of Dodsworth Motor Company. We soon find out that Sam has sold the business that he built and plans to retire and see the world with his younger, thirty-five year old wife, Fran (Chatterton). Fran is thirty-five, but lives as though she's twenty-one, almost refusing to accept the fact that she IS aging and that eventually she'll be an old woman. As the story progresses, Sam and Fran hop a luxury liner for Europe, where they plan to see England and Paris. Aboard the vessel, Fran gets a bit promiscuous, flirting with other men, while Sam acts his age, filling with the excitement at the mere sight of lights from the shore of England. Months later, when their vacation is about to come to an end, Fran expresses her desire to stay in Europe and "live a little" without being tied to Sam. Sam, wanting nothing but happiness for his wife, obliges her and returns to the United States, a separated husband. Months later, Sam returns to Europe, to retrieve Fran, but finds that she's still not ready to settle down and is devastated when she announces her plans to marry one of her suitors.

SPOILER ALERT!

The book makes note that Wyler was careful here not to make Fran a total villain, but instead allow the audience to sympathize with both characters, at different points of the film. I agree with this, to a point. When Fran initially announces her intent to stay behind, in Europe and basically "sow some oats", you feel bad for Sam, but you also still respect Fran, because she announced her intentions, before actually following through with them. As the film progresses, Fran becomes less and less appealing, until the point that she comes crawling back to Sam, near the end of the picture. At that point, she's lost all her appeal, as her selfishness shines through and you really just want to reach through the screen and choke her! Normally I would argue that the end of the picture is a little too sappy and too cliche, but the character of Sam was so lovable that you just can't help but be glad that things, for him, turned out for the best. There are so many layers to that character and you really get where he's coming from, whether you totally agree with him or not.

At one point, Sam exclaims "old habits are hard to break", when trying to reason with his new girl, Edith (Mary Astor), on why he's returning to Fran, after she betrayed him. You feel so sorry for the guy, because he loves this girl so much so that he'll allow her to walk all over him and he'll still take her back at the end of the day. The scene where he leaves her, at the train station is heart wrenching, his final words to her being "have I told you today how much I adore you?", as he leaves the woman that he loves, but who wants to divorce him. You realize quick, that here's a man who was great at conducting business, but couldn't hold his own when it came to conducting himself socially or handling his marriage. You also realize that Fran was more than likely nothing but a gold digger, who married the head of Dodsworth Motor Company, but when it was sold off, she wanted nothing more to do with the former-head of said company.

"Dodsworth" is a film rife with insinuation. I mean, obviously it was made in the 1930s, so they're not going to come right out and say what Fran is doing behind Sam's back. Hell, I was surprised that they'd even insinuate some of the things they were insinuating. Couples separating and divorcing, promiscuous sex, it was all very taboo for the time period, if you ask me. In fact, this is one classic piece of cinema that I wouldn't mind seeing remade. I think it would really translate well to the screen today, as situations like these occur on a regular basis nowadays and men of a different time act a different way. Men in the 1930s didn't break down into tears because their beloved wife was leaving them. Men were tougher and more hard skinned back then. Today, I think the film could be a little more on the emotional side and I think if given to the right person, this could be remade into a really fantastic film. However, THE BOOK reminds me that the Hollywood of today doesn't really cater to adults, but rather teenagers and this wouldn't be material that a teenager would appreciate.

RATING: 8/10 Surprisingly a really good movie. I say surprisingly, because to be quite honest, I wasn't expecting much. Never expect anything, and you'll always be shocked when you get something.

MOVIES WATCHED: 377
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 624

December 26, 2011 3:02am

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ringing In 2012 with Godard - COMING NEXT WEEK

Just wanted to put up a quick "coming soon" post, letting everyone know that "Godard Week" will be kicking off next week. I have four more films on the radar to watch and then we'll slip right into a week dedicated to one of the pioneers of the French New Wave. For the record, I'm not THAT familiar with Jean-Luc Godard. The only film of his I've ever seen is "Breathless", which I watched about a month before I started this blog and honestly, I don't remember thinking much of it. However, my tastes have drastically changed since I started my journey through THE BOOK, so I'm hoping for the best and maybe, just maybe, Godard will have some sort of impact on my TOP 20.

Scheduled Godard Week films include:
-Breathless (1959)
-My Life to Live (1962)
-Contempt (1963)
-Alphaville (1965)
-Pierrot le fou (1965)
-Masculine-Feminine (1966)
-2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)
-Week End (1967)

Next four films (tentative):
-The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)
-Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
-Z (1969)
-Vidas Secas (1963)

Hope everyone reading this has/had a safe and very happy holiday!

December 25, 2011 3:27pm

693. A Christmas Story (1983)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Bob Clark
Written By: Leigh Brown, Bob Clark, Jean Shepherd, from the novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
Main Cast: Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Jean Shepherd (voice)
Click here to view the trailer

"YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!"

This Christmas, since I had the time to squeeze it in amongst the family festivities, I decided to tackle one of the two legitimate Christmas movies from THE BOOK - "A Christmas Story". By the way, I actually rented this one and did not base my review around one of the twelve showings of this film, today, on TBS.

The time period is the 1940s and the setting is a typical household, in Chicago, as a typical American family gets ready for Christmas. The main character is Ralph Parker a.k.a. Ralphie (Billingsley), who, throughout the film, tries to scheme up ways to con his parents into buying him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. However, while the film takes place entirely during Christmas time and while the child's desire for a BB gun is the main plot, there are other plots too and the whole movie kind of unfolds through a series of subplots or episodes. Ralphie's mother (Dillon), father (McGavin) and kid brother (Petrella) are also dominant characters as well, as we hear about the "Old Man's" never ending battle with the furnace and his acceptance of a "major award" in the form of a lamp, shaped like a woman's stockinged leg. Ralphie's mother washes his mouth out with Lifebuoy soap when he says the dreaded "F dash-dash-dash" word and peels him off of the neighborhood bully when he's finally had enough and decides to fight back. Ralph's little brother Randy is just an odd child, who refuses to eat his dinner, but rather play with it and who falls asleep in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper, on Christmas morning. All of the escapades of a typical nine-year-old boy at Christmastime are chronicled here, in "A Christmas Story".

Is it just me, or is it everyone who can't help but remember their own childhood and maybe even their personal favorite Christmas memory when watching "A Christmas Story"? For me, I don't just think of Christmas, but also my escapades as a young boy and shoot, even my Dad fought with the furnace a time or two. Through the years "A Christmas Story" has become so played out, that when watching it tonight, it was kind of drag to have to pop it in AGAIN! For the unaware, there's a cable station here in the States called TBS and every Christmas they play this movie twelve times IN A ROW!! Every year my television, at some point, for some reason, manages to stop on that channel and throughout the day and in pieces, I somehow manage to catch the whole thing. Anyway, when popping it in tonight, despite the fact that it was Christmas and I was in the spirit, I just didn't want to sit through this one, yet again. However, as the film moved forward and I watched the film consecutively, as it was intended, I realized that it wasn't a half bad picture. Sure, it's played out and sure, it's not the most technically or artistically sound film in THE BOOK, but it does work to propel you into an even greater aura of Christmas spirit and it's a whole lot of fun too.

The film flows along quite nicely and it seemed like no time before the Parker's were eating their Christmas dinner at Chop Suey Palace and the credits were rolling. It's not hard to see why the creators of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book included it as an entry, because really, this is one that everyone should see, at some point in their lifetime. It works for the young and old and again, I defy you not to remember your own childhood when watching this one. The actors do a fine job, but that really doesn't matter, because it's the mood and subject matter of this one that are important, not the quality of the acting chops on the actors involved. I don't have a whole lot else to say, so I won't waste your time droning on. If you have NEVER seen this one, then "YES", give it a go! Of course, for maximum effect you should wait until Christmas or thereabouts to do so. If you have seen it, then you probably either hate it or love it and from there, there's probably no swaying your opinion.

RATING: 7.5/10 I don't know if it's so good that it will make the TOP 20, but for this reviewer on Christmas 2011, it worked and it gave me an enjoyable night at the movies. Merry Christmas everyone!

MOVIES WATCHED: 376
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 625

December 25, 2011 1:04am
Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2011

392. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck, Dorothy M. Johnson
Main Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien
Click here to view the trailer

"PRINT THE LEGEND"

I had only seen "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" one prior time, before tonight. Yet, this evening, when I decided to give it another go for the sake of THE BOOK, I only needed to walk to my DVD shelf, because that's how much I liked it upon first viewing.

Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is riding, by coach, to the town of Shinbone, where he plans to begin a law practice and see what life out West has in store for him. He doesn't even make it off the coach, before it's held up by a gang of outlaws, headed up by the meanest, nastiest one of them all - Liberty Valance (Marvin). Stoddard is beaten pretty good, robbed and left lying in a pile of dirt, as Liberty Valance rides off. When Ransom is finally found, it's by Tom Doniphon (Wayne), who takes him to the restaurant of Hallie Ericson (Miles) to be nursed back to health. Since Ransom is now broke, with no way to establish anything, Hallie and her family allow him to stay at their quarters, washing dishes at the restaurant, until he can get back on his feet. Meanwhile, Tom is busy charming the pants off of Hallie, in hopes that she'll one day marry him. Ransom sets up shop at the building that houses the Shinbone Star, the local newspaper and it's publisher Dutton Peabody (O'Brien). However, Ransom can't forget what Liberty Valance did to him and despite warnings from nearly everyone telling him to buy a gun if he plans to hold his own with Valance, Ransom intends to fight Liberty with the law.

As much as I enjoyed my "tete a tete" with Bunuel, sometimes it's nice to shed all of the surrealism and hidden meanings, kick your feet up and head out onto the open range with John Wayne and enjoy the Old West. John Wayne was such a larger than life personality, that when you throw Jimmy Stewart into the same picture with him, it's almost too much star power for a single strip of celluloid. To even behold these two grandiose actors, showing off their skills in the same picture is a sight to behold in itself and add to that the fact that this is actually a very good movie in it's own right (plot wise). The thing I really like about "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is that it gives us three powerhouse actors to keep our eyes on and three really combustible characters. At no time do these characters/actors step on each others toes and everyone is kept in line, knowing their place in the grand scheme of things. We have John Wayne - the macho, stereotypical, Western hero. He's the guy that makes us get a little giddy when he shows up. He's the one that during his scenes, when he's eye to eye with Liberty Valance, demanding that his Valance remove his steak from the floor, we get goosebumps (or at least I did - great scene!). Then you have Jimmy Stewart and he's the one that I like to watch just flat out be himself. He's the bookworm and he's the one that can make the speeches and get riled up, eventhough he doesn't pose much of a physical threat. He becomes our reluctant hero when John Wayne isn't onscreen.

SPOILER ALERT!

Then you have Lee Marvin, one of the baddest movie villains in the history of cinema, calling people "dude" and wielding a silver baton, which he uses to beat his prey senseless. He's the guy you love to hate and kind of the guy you don't want to see die, because you know the movie isn't going to be quite as fun with him in a pine box. He's also the one that forced John Wayne to step into the shadows, when he gunned him down - now that's tough! Lots of great characters, a love story and then you have a kind of ridiculous plot piece that involves elections, delegates, statehood, open range and a whole lot of other malarkey . This was just an anchor for the picture, as far as I'm concerned, as they had a perfectly good movie in an everyday Joe who wanted revenge on an Old West bad guy and the Old West good guy who gives him a hand. Lee Marvin is really stepping up on my radar and it's getting so that I really look forward to the movies he's in. He's a fantastic bad guy and whether he's wielding that silver baton or throwing coffee into the face of dames, he's just a fun guy to hate.

The film isn't quite as perfect as I thought it to be the last time I watched it, but it still holds up just fine. If you're someone who thinks you might like to give the genre of Westerns a try, this would be an ideal place to start, as it's one of the first Westerns I saw and it made an impression on me. Heck, you even have John Ford at the helm and it doesn't get more Western than John Ford. For me, when I first saw this movie, it worked because it had Jimmy Stewart. At the time, I wasn't much into older films and I especially wasn't much into Westerns, but Jimmy Stewart acted as the friend that you go to the party with, even though you're not going to know anyone there. He made me feel more comfortable and in-turn introduced me to guys like John Ford, John Wayne and the genre of Western in general. Check this one out, whether you're a fan of old films or someone who wants to be.

RATING: 8/10 I hope I can find a home for this one on my TOP 20, but the field is looking hot and there's only 20 spots!

MOVIES WATCHED: 375
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 626

December 22, 2011 10:49pm

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bergman Week - COMING SOON

383. Cleo de 5 a 7/Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed By: Agnes Varda
Written By: Agnes Varda
Main Cast: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothee Blanc, Michel Legrand

DOWN ON THE STREETS OF PARIS

Moving right along and drawing one step closer to my short-term goal of 401 movies watched, I come to "Cleo from 5 to 7", another Agnes Varda film and one that I've been eyeballing for quite sometime. I say that a lot, don't I?

The film revolves around it's title character, Florence a.k.a Cleopatra a.k.a. Cleo (Marchand), a pop singer who, when the film starts, is having her fortune read in an attempt to try and get some good news about some medical tests that she recently had done. Unfortunately for Cleo, the fortune teller doesn't see a bright future, scaring Cleo to death and leading her to believe that she is in for certain doom. In reality, the tests won't be back until around 7pm and when our story begins, it's 5pm (hence the title). The film is told nearly in real time (from 5 to 7 doesn't equal 90 minutes, no matter what country you're in) and takes the viewer alongside Cleo as she awaits the results of her tests, trying her best to cope with the hours ahead of her. She goes around the city, from her home to the backseats of taxis to visit friends and ultimately to a nearby park, where she meets Antoine. Antonie is a soldier in the Algerian War and later in the day, he'll be taken back to the battlefields. He decides to spend the last moments of his three week leave with Cleo, as he accompanies her to the hospital to find out the results of her tests.

You know, this film just didn't do a whole lot for me, to be blunt about it. I'd never seen it before and during the months that I've spent eyeballing this one and knowing the synopsis, I have to admit I was really excited to finally check it out. The premise of a woman walking the streets of Paris as she anxiously awaits the results of her medical tests, just sounded like something I'd be down for. Especially when you add in the fact that the film was a part of the French New Wave and not a Hollywood, sympathy-getter. I knew the story, coming out of France, wouldn't intentionally tug on our heart strings and I expected a filmmaker like Varda to present the film rather bluntly, whereas an American filmmaker (lets say Ron Howard, for arguments sake) would try and draw as many tears out of the faces of the weak minded moviegoers as he could, using every cliche in the process. What I got was about half of what I expected, however, in my opinion, the story was just a little too emotionless. There was never a point in this film (except for maybe the end) when I felt compassion for Cleo. Whether or not I was supposed to feel compassion for her, I don't know, but I'd assume that when you give your main character cancer, you intend to evoke at least a little sympathy for her. I had none for this character.

SPOILER ALERT!

I normally like films where the time frame is kept short and the premise is kept simple and that's what you have here, except there's something missing. For one thing, the dialogue, as far as I'm concerned, is drivel. It just isn't very well written and I often times found myself drowning out the dialogue and found my mind wandering. It just didn't flow as well as it should have. I did, however, enjoy this film for the same reasons that a Parisian might enjoy watching Woody Allen's "Manhattan" and that's for the visual feast of a foreign city that I'll probably never experience in person. Varda takes us right down to the heart of Paris and sticks us in the middle of the city and lets us roam with her main character. The final chapter (Cleo & Antoine) is also a very fantastic piece of this film and it really picks up the entire movie and ends with a bang. The dialogue seems to flow better in this portion and I actually start to somewhat feel for the characters a little bit. The idea of a complete stranger being able to ease Cleo's mind is really heartwarming to me. It shows that sometimes we have to rely on unexpected things to help us through difficult times and that things are always a little easier if you have a companion.

RATING: 6.5/10 Quick review tonight, but I think I hit all the bullet points. It's something that I can't see making the TOP 20, but also something that I could see warming up to with another view.

MOVIES WATCHED: 374
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 627

December 21, 2011 12:22am

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

553. Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie/The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Luis Bunuel
Written By: Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere
Main Cast: Fernando Rey, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Delphine Seyrig, Paul Frankeur, Stephane Audran
Click here to view the trailer

AN UNPLANNED DOUBLE SHOT OF BUNUEL

Well, I sincerely didn't intend on watching another Luis Bunuel film, making it two, back-to-back for the director. However, I was so intrigued by "Belle de Jour", that I just couldn't help but to check out "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", as I knew it was streaming on Netflix.

The plot of the film isn't your run of the mill storyline, so bear with me as I try to put it all down in a paragraph long synopsis. The film opens with a P.O.V. shot, through the windshield of a car and looking out upon a dark road, illuminated by headlights. When the car arrives at it's destination, we find that it carries Raphael Acosta (Rey), Simone Thevenot (Seyrig), her husband (Frankeur) and her sister (Bulle Ogier). The quartet are about to meet their friends, Henri (Cassel) and Alice Senechal (Audran) for a dinner party. When the door is opened, Alice is quite surprised by their appearance, as she expected them the following night and informs them that Henri isn't even present. The couples, instead, decide to go to a restaurant and when they arrive they notice that the place is empty. They are told that the restaurant is, despite this fact, open and they they can be served. Once inside, the couples hear crying coming from another room and draw back a curtain to reveal a corpse. They're told that they corpse is that of the restaurant manager, who suddenly died earlier that day. This motif continues throughout the film, as the couples try, over and over again to have a meal with each other, but each and every time something happens that prevents this from occurring. It's more like an episodic movie, rather than a linear plot. The same characters continue to show up, but the events that occur are entirely different and loosely connected.

It's funny because I actually had to stop the film at one point and look up Delphine Seyrig to see if she was the same actress from "Jeanne Dielman...". It's kind of a testament to THAT film, because when I think of "Jeanne Dielman...", I think of it as a more voyeuristic, reality based affair and words like "actress" don't enter into my head. Oh well, on to the movie at hand...

I actually had a hard time grasping this one, much like I did with "Belle de Jour", but this one was even harder to get a handle on. I actually don't think I'll have a whole lot to say, but I'll say what's on my mind and we'll leave it at that. I can say, definitively, that the film IS NOT boring, in the least. At no time during the picture was I watching the clock or did I want the film to just end. It does have a drawing power that kind of sucks you into this very foreign ("foreign" in terms of different and not in terms of country) environment. Despite all the nonsense that continues to unfold throughout the picture, I kept with it and it's a really easy film to follow, if you pay attention. In the two films of his I've watched in the past two days, I've learned that Bunuel does have the ability to intrigue his viewers, a sometimes rare quality in a director. However, when it comes to the intrigue that Bunuel evokes in me, it's the kind of intrigue that makes me not know whether I like the picture or not. He simply gets my wheels to turning, but when it comes to forming an opinion, I find it sort of difficult.

As to what Bunuel was exactly trying to say with "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", I really don't know. Maybe it reverberates back to what I was saying last night, where he really wasn't trying to SAY anything, but simply making a different brand of picture and giving the viewer the opportunity to dissect it how he or she sees fit. I do know that he's definitely making fun of the bourgeoisie lifestyle. These characters are made absolute fools of and can't even seem to accomplish the simple task of dining together. Maybe, he's saying that often times the charm of the bourgeoisie gets in the way of otherwise menial tasks. When characters say, "Oh we simply can't dine now, I'm not dressed for the occasion" or "I have an important function to get to, we'll have to postpone our luncheon", that theory kind of holds water. Whereas "everyday Joe's" will simply eat when they're hungry, whether all of the members of their party are present or not. I don't know, maybe I'm just grasping at straws and maybe there's no need to do that. Like I said, the film is intriguing and interesting enough now, when I have no clue what exactly was trying to be said or even what was going on and maybe I should just leave it at that. Ultimately, this is going to be one that I'll more than likely feel the need to revisit sometime in the future, but for now, we'll call that a review.

RATING: 7/10 Not sure why it's a '7', but it was certainly better than a '6.5' and a '7.5' seemed too high, so there's your reasoning. Whether or not this film will make the TOP 20 is beyond me at this point. We'll see how time treats it.

MOVIES WATCHED: 373
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 628

December 20, 2011 6:14pm

463. Belle de Jour (1967)

Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Luis Bunuel
Written By: Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere, from novel by Joseph Kessel
Main Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Pierre Clementi
Click here to view the trailer

FANTASY OR REALITY?

Despite the fact that "Belle de Jour" wasn't scheduled to be one of the film's that I watched during this sixties filled 100, something about it caught my eye recently and I decided to slip it in. For the curious, the original plan was for me to do a week dedicated to Luis Bunuel, but because I can't find all of his films, I've decided to bust them up and watch them whenever.

In "Belle de Jour" Catherine Deneuve is Severine, a married, bourgeois housewife whom is quite frigid when it comes to her husband Pierre (Sorel) and their sex life (or lack thereof). However, even though Severine doesn't show any interest in building a sex life with her husband, she often fantasizes about different sexual exploits and fetishes. From the beginning, we get the sense that Severine seems to be very conflicted inside - on one hand she DOES love her husband, but doesn't wish to be sexually active with him and on the other hand she does have a very healthy sexual appetite, one that she is only feeding with fantasies. When Severine finds out that an old friend of hers has become a prostitute at a whorehouse, Severine seems intrigued. After talking with a friend of her husband's, Husson (Piccoli) and inadvertently getting the address of a local brothel, Severine goes for a visit and ends up with a day job. Severine agrees to work at the brothel weekdays, from 2pm until 5pm, when her husband (the doctor) is at work, in an effort to feed her sexual desires. She'll go by the name Belle de Jour when she's at the brothel, in an effort to conceal her private life and cleverly play off the time of day she's available. At first she's hesitant, but she soon slips into the job and becomes comfortable there. However, things become really complicated when her husband starts getting suspicious and one of her "johns" falls in love with her.

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. I'll go on record in saying that "Belle de Jour" probably has one of the best opening scenes that I've ever witnessed. A horse drawn carriage rides closer to the screen and eventually reveals our main couple, Severine and Pierre. I won't spoil the rest here, but trust me it's probably the best hook you'll ever find in a movie and it's something that, once I saw it, I knew I was going to be in for a real treat with this movie. Let me put it another way: If the opening scene of this movie had played out and then all of a sudden the DVD copy of this movie had crapped out on me and stopped working, I would have been a very pissed off individual! Enough about the beginning, let's get into the meat & potatoes of the picture, shall we. To be honest, the film was a little hard for me to grasp onto. I had a hard time settling in and from start to finish, there seemed to be a real feeling of unease going on within me as I watched the afternoon exploits of Belle de Jour unfold. The whole world that these characters existed in, really reeked of something impure & unsettling. Perhaps it was the severe degree of sexual perversions that are examined throughout the film. At different times in the film, things like bondage, necrophilia, pedophilia, domination and humiliation fetishes are hinted at, and those are just some of the ones I picked up on.

SPOILER ALERT!

However, Bunuel isn't blatant when it comes to the sexual part of the movie. There is no nudity, sex is never shown and even the perversions that I mention above are never said outright, but only hinted at (sometimes more heavily hinted that others, but still). And, hey, don't get me wrong, this film isn't a piece of pornography (although in the 60s, I'm sure it was considered as such) and deals with much more than just sexual desires and urges. Bunuel also provides us with characters, most notably Severine, a woman who is conflicted inside because she has urges that she can't succumb to. Perhaps Severine's desires are so extreme that she knows that Pierre will never be able to satisfy her and so that she won't shame him, she just decides to tell him that she's not ready. Perhaps in her mind, the idea of a conventional sex life between a man and wife just isn't taboo enough, but to fit in with society she decided to marry a doctor and live a good life, in a nice home, where she'll shop and welcome guests. Perhaps all the shopping, welcoming guests and day to day life of a doctor's wife has made her feel like she's living a watered down lifestyle and perhaps Severine needs to have a secret, hole in the wall place where she goes to do unspeakable deeds.

There's one thing to say for this film and that's that it makes you think. It also made me realize the obsession that people have with unlocking certain movies, trying their best to get the answers and be told how they were supposed to interpret art. Whatever happened to just sitting back and watching? Just letting things BE and letting movies unfold before your eyes. If you get ideas or interpretations, fine, explore them. If you don't form any ideas, but still find yourself drawn to the movie and intrigued by it, then just let it BE. I wanted answers when this film ended, but I felt more content to just mull it over on my own and let it seep in. Sure, the liens between fantasy and reality are a bit blurred in "Belle de Jour", but I think if you pay attention, it's not a hard movie to unlock. When there is fantasy we hear the jingle bells of a horse drawn carriage (how fitting so close to Christmas). The ending is ambiguous, but there is one idea that I thought was really clever...

The character of Husson is portrayed throughout the film as kind of a sleazy guy, or at least that's how I saw him. In the end, he arrives at the home of Severine and Pierre and tells Severine that he's prepared to tell Pierre everything about her "day job". He rationalizes his idea by telling Severine that if Pierre knows everything then he won't feel guilty about being a paralyzed man, condemning his "pure" wife to a lifetime of taking care of him. He'll know the truth and then his guilt will be eased. Husson enters the room where Pierre sits, but we never find out if he actually tells or not. I think he definitely tells Pierre, no question about it. By telling Pierre, he not only fulfills his own idea, but he also guarantees that Severine will never leave Pierre and that he WILL always have a caretaker. Think about it, we're dealing with a woman who had overwhelming sexual desires, so overwhelming that she took a day job at a whorehouse and hid the truth from her husband. She didn't leave her husband, nor did she ever even tinker with the idea of leaving him and simply becoming a full-time whore. She, in my mind, DOES, sincerely love Pierre. The guilt that she'll feel if she leaves a man, who knows she was unfaithful to him, would be unbearable to her. So, in the end, Husson actually does them both a favor: He ensures that Pierre will always have Severine to take care of him and feel guiltless about it and he makes it impossible for Severine to finally, fully succumb to her sexual temptation and leave the man she loves. That's my interpretation anyway. It's not right or wrong, it's simply how the story goes in my head. Oh yeah and the end is a fantasy and also a bit of a sign that Severine will, from there on, be forced to live in a fantasy world when it comes to personal excitement.

RATING: 8/10 I didn't really grasp it enough to go all the way, but it intrigued me enough to get, at least, an '8'. I actually did a lot of my grasping on this one as I was writing, so what you read above is a man trying to understand a movie.

MOVIES WATCHED: 372
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 629

December 20, 2011 2:06am

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bergman Week - COMING SOON

459. The Graduate (1967)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Buck Henry, Calder Willingham, from novel by Charles Webb
Main Cast: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF NICHOLS: 2 of 2

Our short, but respectable two-film salute to Mike Nichols comes to a close with, probably, his most popular feature ever, "The Graduate". I had seen "The Graduate" several times prior to this particular viewing and it just goes to show you that every time you watch a film, you have the opportunity to see it completely different.

Dustin Hoffman is Benjamin Braddock, and as the film opens he's on a plane, returning home from college, from where he recently graduated. When he arrives at home, he lacks the demeanor of someone who has just triumphantly graduate from school and when he's questioned by his father as to why he seems troubled, he responds by saying that he's unsure about his future. Ben does what is socially expected from him at his graduation party, mingling with guests and allowing his cheeks to be squeezed by old ladies and hands to be shook by elder gentlemen, all of which have known him since he was a child. Later in the evening, Ben is approached by Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft), who requests a ride home, stating that her husband had to leave unexpectedly. Ben drives her home, though he doesn't want to and Mrs. Robinson continues to push the button further, forcing him to come inside, saying that she doesn't feel safe at home, alone. Eventually it becomes clear that Mrs. Robinson IS trying to seduce the young, inexperienced Benjamin, but he resists. However, shortly after his twenty-first birthday and sometime after the graduation party, Ben remembers the seductive qualities of Mrs. Robinson and gives her a call, ready to welcome her advances. They begin an affair with one another, meeting at the Taft Hotel and doing literally nothing but having sex. But things change when Ben is forced onto a date with Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Ross) and ends up falling for her.

SPOILER ALERT!

Let me elaborate on my above statement of seeing a picture differently every time you watch it. I meant that in a negative way, first of all. I've always loved "The Graduate" and when I'd watch it in the past, I'd leave it with nothing but positive things to say about it. However, after last night, I realized a gaping criticism. I watched the film last night and when it ended (and even before it ended), I noticed that it was a lot more comedic than I remembered it. Now, when I say "comedic", I don't necessarily mean in a good way, although there are some good bits of comedy in the picture. When I say "comedic", what I really mean is unconventional. In the film, Ben meets Mrs. Robinson and after some consideration begins an affair with her. Ben spends his summer days lounging in the pool and meeting Mrs. Robinson at the hotel. He later admits that she is really the only thing that he has to look forward to and enjoys her company. Then, despite Mrs. Robinson's objections, Ben meets and goes on a date with Elaine Robinson. He tries to put her off, but when he realizes he's really hurting her feelings, he stops being a jerk and starts being a gentlemen and the two end up having a good time. Then, moments before their second date is to begin, Mrs. Robinson warns Ben that if he continues to see Elaine, the she'll tell her about their affair. Ben, wanting to tell Elaine before Mrs. Robinson does, runs to her room and before he can actually say what's going on, Elaine figures it out for herself and date #2 is null and void.

Now then, my gripe kicks in right about here, as Ben then proceeds to basically stalk Elaine, moving to Berkley (where Elaine attends school) and planning to propose to her. We find out later that Mrs. Robinson ended up telling Elaine that Ben raped her, but Ben tries his best to set her straight. When the ending comes, Elaine has decided to marry another man, but Ben interrupts the wedding, taking Elaine with him. The two hop a bus and ride off into the sunset together. Now...that sounds absolutely ridiculous! Where was this "love" that Ben eventually establishes with Elaine come from. The two have one date, share a bag of french fries and all of a sudden he's in stalker mode, ready to marry her. The first half of the film is top notch, as twenty-one year old Ben and forty-something Mrs. Robinson engage in sneaky behavior, to hide their affair. But then Elaine is added into the mix and all of a sudden everything gets a little too goofy for my tastes. Mrs. Robinson forbids Ben to see Elaine, at first, but we never get a real explanation as to why. She mentions something about Ben not being good enough for Elaine, but then she takes it back and apologizes for it and we never know if she means it or not. And if she doesn't think he's good enough for her, why exactly does she think that. Does she think what they're doing is scummy behavior and doesn't want her daughter dealing with men who would do such things? We never really find out.

Then, Elaine enters and like I said, Ben falls head over heels for her within hours. It would seem to me that realistically, Ben would have more of a connection to Mrs. Robinson, the woman that he just spent the summer having sex with, the woman who brought companionship to his lonely nights, the woman that took his virginity. It just doesn't seem right that he'd give up his time with Mrs. Robinson after one night with Elaine. Also, why would Elaine want anything to do with Ben after her mother told her that he raped her? I don't know, but this whole "romance" between Elaine and Ben just didn't feel genuine at all and when the entire climax builds to their running away together, it's not much of a climax. I realize that this isn't reality, it's fiction and it isn't a drama, it's more of a comedy, but the music and the mood don't feel like a comedy, for the most part. In fact, "The Graduate" doesn't really feel like a comedy, until all of the lunacy in the second half.

Now, I'm not saying I hate "The Graduate" or anything. I still think it's a really good picture and it's probably even a "must see". I'm just saying that it was a big disappointment to finally come to some of these realizations. The acting is great, for the most part. Hoffman carves himself a career in the span of one movie and the woman of few words, Anne Bancroft plays a great cougar, before "cougars" even really existed. However, Katharine Ross was dreadful. The music was a big part of the film too, as Simon & Garfunkel belt out tunes from "The Sound of Silence" to "Mrs. Robinson" and a few others in between and their music really gels with the tone of the film. Some of the editing techniques that were used, were really brilliant and I think this is one of the best and most well put together montages I've EVER seen. I'll quit while I'm ahead. It's a great picture and please don't let my gripes prevent you from at least giving this one a shot. I think, for the most part, that it's well worth your time.

RATING: 7.5/10 I like the movie and I know we're dealing with an adaptation here, but I just wish everything would have worked out differently for these characters, because they were great characters.

MOVIES WATCHED: 371
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 630

December 18, 2011 6:31pm

454. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Ernest Lehman, from play by Edward Albee
Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF NICHOLS: 1 of 2

If you've been keeping up with the blog, then you know I've been in a bit of a slump, as of late. Last night when I popped in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", I was hoping for something that would break me out of my slump and "WOW" me. That's what I got!

The film is based on a stage play and actually only has a cast of four (unless you count the bartender, when the couple go dancing). The primary characters are George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor), a couple in their forties, who rely on games and bickering to keep their marriage fresh. When the film opens, we see the couple arriving home from a party, at around 2:00am Sunday morning. They're both a little drunk (Martha more than George) and they begin cursing at one another almost immediately. You get the feeling that this is normal around their house, as George swallows insults from Martha, as if he gets them on a daily basis. After a few minutes pass, Martha informs George that they'll be receiving guests and that they should be arriving any minute. Not really in any condition to receive, but not wanting to fight with Martha, George puts his game face on. The guests are Nick (Segal) and Honey (Dennis), a twenty-something couple, Nick being a member of the biology department, at a university, where George is also a professor. What follows over the course of the next two hours is a lot of awkward moments, fighting and the bringing to life of a fantastic script by Ernest Lehman, as the film is very dialogue driven, as it follows the two couple until the break of dawn.

I had seen "Virginia Woolf" once before, but I may have been just a hair to young to really grasp how good it was. Either that, or I just have a really bad memory, because I didn't remember this picture being this good. This film incorporates a lot of what I look for in a movie, personally. It has a very small cast, which provided me with a certain intimacy among the four characters and myself. The script is almost nothing but dialogue, which is another factor that highly plays to my personal tastes. The setting moves a few times, but for the most part we're in George and Martha's living room and I love films where we stay put. In fact, if I had to pick one thing to gripe about, in regards to this movie, it would be that I wish we had never left the living room, or if nothing else, at least the premises of George and Martha's home. When the film forces us into the car and into a crummy, little roadhouse, I kept wishing we had just stayed put. But that's nitpicking at it's maximum and really, it's no big deal.

Also, if you want to talk about top notch acting, look no further than Burton and Taylor and their performances in this movie. Taylor certainly deserved her Oscar and as far as I'm concerned Richard Burton was even better than Paul Scofield (who won the Oscar for Best Leading Actor that year, for "A Man for All Seasons"). It's not the best acting I've ever seen, but if I were forced to make a list of, say the Top 50 performances I've witnessed, I wouldn't be surprised to see Burton AND Taylor take two spots. They really laid it all out there and by the time the film came to a conclusion and the characters were finally able to slump their shoulders, it was a bit of a relaxing moment for me as well. The film is REALLY exhausting, in that it provides the viewer with a roller coaster of emotions and rarely turns down the intensity.

This movie really forced me to think, but not about anything but this movie. It made me wonder about the characters, as they took on a real life for the duration of the film and I felt like a third guest at the party. I felt awkward, right along with Nick and Honey, as George and Martha fought, letting obscenities fly and not being shy in front of their guests. For a while, I was able to really connect with Nick, in that I seemed to feel everything that his character was probably feeling. The film made me wonder about George and Martha, much like Nick probably wondered. Was this couple EVER happy? Was there ever a time when they weren't at each others throats? It's funny how this film really takes you around the to each character and for me, there were certain points where I identified and sympathized with each of them. I felt sorry for George when the film first started, seeing Martha as a nag who never gave him a moment's peace. Then Nick enters and I can totally identify with him, as he bears witness to this very strange couple. Then, later, George gets a little more vicious and I started to sympathize with Martha a little more. It makes you wonder why they didn't flesh of the character of Honey a little more, instead of making her a "mousey" wife, who couldn't hold her liquor and spends 90% of the film in a drunken stupor.

This film is very close to being perfect. From the dialogue, to the characters, to the setting, to the ways it makes you feel, it doesn't let up. I loved the little piece of music too, that started and ended the film and how when it played at the end, it kind of warmed me and wound me down a bit. I'm becoming more and more of a fan of films that are based on stage plays, because they almost always seem to appeal to me. Maybe I should actually start going to see plays.

RATING: 10/10 Screw it, I'm going all in! It's hard to give this movie any less than a full course rating, because it's just so good. Consider this one a "slump buster". Next up: "The Graduate".

MOVIES WATCHED: 370
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 631

December 17, 2011 10:12pm

Thursday, December 15, 2011

425. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Roger Corman
Written By: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell, from stories The Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Main Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green
Click here to view the trailer

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED PRICE

Well I was hoping that the old expression, "third time's the charm" would work for me today, as I set out to tackle my third movie of the day and hopefully dig my way out of the slump that I've been in. Unfortunately, "The Masque of the Red Death" wasn't quite what the doctor ordered.

Our man of the hour (or 88 minutes) this time around is Vincent Price, as he's cast as Prince Prospero, a devil worshiping, evil dictator who rules with an iron fist over the people of his village. Prospero lives in a glorious castle and comes out to mock and torture the villagers from time to time. One evening, a man dressed in all red tells one of the villagers that their day of deliverance is at hand. When Prospero is told this, he scoffs at the thought - that is, until he discovers evidence that a plague called the Red Death may be spreading throughout his land. Taking three hostages with him, Francesca (Asher), her father and her lover, Prospero returns to his kingdom and locks the Red Death outside the castle doors, promising his followers inside refuge from the vicious plague. While locked inside, Prospero orders that a masquerade to be held, with the only rule being that no one wear red. The film forges on, as the climax builds toward the masquerade and the impending doom of the Red Death lurking outside the castle doors. There are also several subplots, including Prospero's mistress Juliana and her satanic marriage to the Devil himself.

There's actually kind of a good news/bad news situation here. The bad news is that, ultimately I didn't much care for "The Masque of the Red Death". The good news, however, is that I did enjoy everything that the book cites as reason for this film's inclusion. The book doesn't cite the plot (which is horrible) as reason for inclusion, but rather uses Price himself, Hazel Court and the cinematography (by Nicolas Roeg) as reasons for the picture being included in the text. I had, believe it or not, never seen a Vincent Price film, prior to this one and I was quite excited to finally, actually watch Price act in a film. I think the closest I'd ever gotten to a Vincent Price movie was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, in which Price does a voice over. It was finally time for me to see the man behind that maniacal laugh and I have to admit, he was a true heel. As far as the rest of the cast goes, the beautiful Hazel Court flashes plenty of cleavage to keep the viewer occupied and plays a very wicked female character, who can't help but to succumb to the prowess of "The Fallen Angel".

SPOILER ALERT!

The visual imagery is quite stellar, as the film uses nearly every color of the rainbow to pop the viewer's eyes, nearly out of their sockets. The rooms that Prospero has in his castle, consisting of a yellow, purple, white and black room are beautiful set pieces and the grand ballroom, where the masquerade is held, is yet another gorgeous piece of imagery. During the grand ball, all the colors of the rainbow mingle, as the Red Death (decked out in red from head to toe) prances through the middle, sticking out like a sore thumb. There's also a little subplot involving the dwarf Hop-Frog and the drastic measures that he takes to get revenge on Alfredo, one of Prospero's lackeys - convincing him to dress up in an ape suit for the masquerade and then tying him to a chandelier, dousing him with brandy and setting him up in flames.

With all of that praise being showered upon this film, I really can't, in good conscience, give this film a nod of approval. I realize that this is pretty much a B-horror movie and isn't really meant to be taken too seriously. But as far as I'm concerned, both A and B movies get treated the same on this blog and "The Masque of the Red Death" was really a drag. Nothing really happens and the whole film is obviously a vehicle to adapt a Poe story and showcase Price at his devilish best. Once inside the castle, there's a ridiculous little subplot involving Francesca and her being held captive, at times forced to choose whether her father or lover will be the one "sacrificed". Usually though, she walks with Prospero and they quarrel over the existence of God and the power of the dark side. Had they put a little more effort into the plot and fleshed out CERTAIN characters a bit more, this could've been a piece of horror gold. I'll leave it at that...

RATING: 4.5/10 I know that seems low for all of the good that I said was within this film, but trust me, this film isn't even average. Man, talk about a slump!

MOVIES WATCHED: 369
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 632

December 15, 2011 1:06am

411. Khaneh siah ast/The House is Black (1963)

Running Time: 22 minutes
Directed By: Forugh Farrokhzad
Written By: Forugh Farrokhzad
Main Cast: (narration): Ebrahim Golestan, Forugh Farrokhzad

IRANIAN NEW WAVE

This won't take long, trust me. "The House is Black" is a twenty-two minute short, documentary that covers the everyday life of a leper colony. I must say that as I delve deeper and deeper into the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, I'm finding out a lot about my own tastes. For example, the other day I discovered a disdain for experimental films. Today, I'm starting to think there aren't any good short subjects out there either.

To summarize the plot here would be kind of pointless. Like I said, it takes us inside the gate of a leper colony and shows us some of the unfortunate individuals who are forced to deal with this terrible disease. We see kids who suffer with the illness, playing and gathering at school and adults who go to clinics and try to get help for this curable ailment. The title comes directly from the film, when a boy is asked to write a sentence using the word "house", he comes up with "the house is black" - showing just how bleak these poor souls are. For the most part, the film plays like a poem and I wasn't surprised when I read the entry in THE BOOK and found out that Forugh Farrokhzad was indeed a poet. The narration (mostly from her) is more of a prayer than a narration and only briefly does the poetic language break to actually give us a little bit of info about the lepers themselves. Apparently, Farrokhzad's motive in making "The House is Black" was to erase some of the ugliness in the world and show that even these deformed human beings have personalities of their own and have a future of their own and to shed a little light on a disease that is mostly hidden in darkness.

You know, I'd love to be able to come here and sing this film's praises and say things like, "This film was just a breath of fresh air and it really made me feel for these poor people and the oppression that they have to endure." I'm not saying that those are untrue statements, I'm simply saying that it just didn't hit me as hard as it apparently hit others. I saw a twenty-two minute film that didn't educate or sympathize with lepers, but rather pitied the poor people that had the disease. If I had leprosy and I saw this movie, I think I might be a little offended. I mean, I'm in agreement that these people deserve a little bit of pity and sorrow, but to ramble on for even twenty-two minutes and spout off poetry and prayer, it just makes it that much more bleak.

I don't know, maybe I just didn't take the film the way I was supposed to and I know it didn't impact me as much as it did others (most notably the contributors to THE BOOK). I feel for anyone who has any type of debilitating disease, but "The House is Black" didn't make me anymore sympathetic than I already would have been. If they really wanted to make a film and educate people about the disease and take us inside a leper colony and dropped all the poetic crap, that would have been one thing, but this was something else. Actually had they approached it like Peter Watkins approached "The War Game", it could have been a really special little gem - as it is, it isn't.

RATING: 4/10 I appreciated the education and such, but ultimately this just wasn't up my alley. If it had been a little more powerful and a little more eye opening, I may have gone with the "unrateable" rating, but "The House is Black" is certainly rateable.

MOVIES WATCHED: 368
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 633

December 14, 2011 10:18pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #63: ALADDIN (1992)

Running Time: 90 minutes Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker Written By: Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Bu...