Thursday, April 28, 2011

797. BATMAN (1989)

Running Time: 126 minutes
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren, Bob Kane
Main Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle

"WAIT 'TILL THEY GET A LOAD 'A ME"

Jack Nicholson has eleven (yes, eleven!) films in the "1001..." book and while this isn't my first one (that would be "Broadcast News"), this is my first one where he has a major role...and what a role it was. "Batman" is leaving the streaming portion of Netflix on May 1st, so I decided to go ahead and knock it out, while I still has easy access to it.

I think we all know the story of Batman, but for those of you who don't, I'll recount it and his antics in this film. Batman (Keaton) a.k.a. The Caped Crusader of Gotham City, is at first thought to be a vigilante. He swoops in at night, at the mere breaking of crime and saves the innocent, leaving the guilty shaking in their boots. He wears a cape, mask and body armor and has a bevy of "toys" that he uses to catch the wrong-doers of Gotham City. In reality, Batman is really Bruce Wayne, billionaire who spends HIS free time throwing gala events at his home, Wayne Manor. In the meantime, Jack Napier (Nicholson) is the kingpin of all criminals, only second in command to Carl Grissom, the crime boss of Gotham City. When Grissom gets word that his girl is two-timing him in favor of Jack, he sets Jack up, sending him out to raid the Axis Chemical plant. When a shootout ensues at the plant, which also involves Batman, Jack takes a tumble into a vat of chemicals and The Joker is born. Also in the meanwhile, Vicky Vale is in town, a prize winning photographer who wouldn't mind getting a couple shots of Batman and who's sharing a bed with Bruce Wayne - unbeknownst to her, they're the same person.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been the brother of an avid comic book reader and aficionado and with that, came a little comic book reading of my own. Now anybody who partakes in a little comic book reading here and there has probably read a Batman story and that applies to me too. So "Batman" has always been a fun movie for me to watch, as I believe it to be the greatest superhero/comic book movie ever made and yes, I still think that today in 2011. I've always loved this version of "Batman" and think that director Burton nailed everything on the head as far as sets and mood go. Burton's films have always kind of been off in another world of their own, with "Batman" being no exception and Burton's world really houses the comic book characters brilliantly. If you were a comic book reader pre-1989, this is exactly what you should have picture Gotham City to look like, if ever portrayed on film.

And what about Nicholson? He was in his early 50's when "Batman" was being filmed and you'd think he wouldn't have the gusto to play a maniacal, comic book villain, but he totally nails it. I was in the theater the night "The Dark Knight" opened in 2008 and I heard all the praise that Heath Ledger got regarding his portrayal of The Joker, but (and not to take anything away from Ledger's fantastic performance) Nicholson, in my opinion, was just as good as Ledger and maybe, in some ways, even better. Without a doubt, Nicholson's Joker was the best part of "Batman" and I enjoyed every second that he was on the screen, as I ate his performance up with a spoon and asked for seconds. And honestly, Michael Keaton wasn't bad either as Batman. I know he gets a lot of flack sometimes for being a less than perfect Caped Crusader, but I thought he held his ground very well and did a fine job. The whole film just clicked with me and for my money, this is the ultimate comic book film, for which all comic book films should be compared against.

RATING: 8/10 Great film and not just a great comic book film. Nicholson is fantastic and Burton provides an immaculate setting.

MOVIES WATCHED: 265
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 736

April 28, 2011 11:39am

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

612. NETWORK (1976)

Running Time: 121 minutes
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Written By: Paddy Chayefsky
Main Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty

TRIBUTE TO LUMET: PART THREE

I bet you thought I forgot about the "Tribute to Lumet", as it's been several days since I watched "Serpico". I actually kind of did forget about it, but while browsing my Netflix instant queue today, I saw "Network" and realized I'd yet to finish Lumet's tribute. Unfortunately, I wouldn't call "Network" a fitting end to any tribute.

Howard Beale (Finch) has just been told that in two weeks time, he will no longer be the news anchor of the UBS Evening News. Howard Beale is kind of a "Cronkite-esque" personality, that old, reliable news man that people turned to to get their daily fix of goings on. However, with UBS wanting to change their direction and go with a more "out with the old, in with the new" motif, they've decided that Beale must go. After hearing the news, Beale proceeds to go on the airwaves during one of his last broadcasts and announce that before his time is up, he'll shoot himself on live television. The outburst garners considerable attention and Diana Christensen (Dunaway), eager to grab every last ratings point she can, capitalizes on the attention. She suggests that UBS keep Howard Beale on and revamp him as an "angry man" character, having him go on the air every night and raise his voice and create tirades. Beale grabs the opportunity because he doesn't want to be jobless and later he seemingly loses his marbles as his actions become madder than ever. William Holden also stars as Beale's old time friend in the news business, who hates to see his friend reduced to a circus act and ultimately loses his job because he won't play ball. Robert Duvall rounds out the stupendous cast as Frank Hackett, the hard nosed top executive in charge of UBS Studios.

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna' take it anymore!!"

That's the token line from "Network" and anybody who's even remotely interested in film, whether they've seen "Network" or not, has heard it. It's also the line that I felt compelled to yell at about the halfway mark of watching this pile of rubbish. Now, I already know what you're thinking: "How dare this lowly blog writer condemn the greatness that is Network!" There's just one problem though, I find absolutely nothing (except the acting) great about "Network". When I first started this blog, I said that I wasn't going to go easy on a film just because society has deemed it a classic. If a film came up, whether it was "Citizen Kane" or "The Black Cat", it was going to get my true opinions tacked on to it and I wasn't going to go soft and let public opinion scare me into going easy on a film. And honestly, I think there have been instances in the past where I've let it happen, but not this time. I cannot tiptoe around my true feelings for a film - "Network" is a terrible movie. Now remember folks, that's just my opinion and luckily when it comes to opinions not everyone is forced to share them - you can have yours and I'll have mine.

What is "Network" about? Is it merely a satire on the television industry? Is it merely trying to hammer home the fact that television and the people that determine what airs on television are basically people void of any real emotion? I don't know and I can't decide. Now, sure I could make my way to a number of websites and do a little reading and try to find someone who seems really smart to point me in the right direction and tell me what the ultimate message in "Network" is, but I don't want to do that and shouldn't have to do that. I'm a smart guy, yet the message of "Network" seems to be bogged down and may be a lot of little messages rolled into one. In fact, I think the most appealing idea, is that "Network" is a movie about the changing of the guard in terms of what was appropriate on television. You can look at television now and look at television forty years ago and there's obviously been a change. What is acceptable now, certainly wasn't acceptable back then and what was considered entertainment back then, would flop like a dying fish today. Maybe that's what "Network" is about. Maybe it's simply a film about the changing of generations and the invention of shock television. I don't know - whatever the ultimate, underlying theme/message is, I didn't like the film and in fact, I'd go as far as to call it one of the worst films ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Now then, there is SOME good in "Network" and that is the cast. They all shine and really make you wonder what it was about Sidney Lumet, that made his actors come to work with their game faces on. Peter Finch, Robert Duvall and William Holden are all fantastic. Faye Dunaway wasn't bad either, but there were some instances where she really seemed to be over selling the point that her character was a ruthless bitch. Peter Finch really shines and it's kind of appropriate that his character is the symbol for anti-establishment, when Finch's acting skills are anti-bad movie. It's also a shame that Finch never lived to accept his little gold statue. And while we're on the subject of the Oscars - Beatrice Straight wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress? Really? According to Wikipedia her character only had about 5 1/2 minutes of screen time and somehow she nabbed the award. WTF! I think if I were Jodie Foster or Piper Laurie, I'd be pissed...or maybe even so mad, that I'd refuse to take it anymore!

RATING: 2/10 I'll give it two points for acting, but even the acting was all a waste in my opinion, as it was fueling a dying engine and in the end, "Network" just wasn't my kind of flick.

MOVIES WATCHED: 264
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 737

April 26, 2011 9:02pm

Monday, April 25, 2011

643. Real Life (1979)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Albert Brooks
Written By: Albert Brooks, Monica Mcgowan Johnson, Harry Shearer
Main Cast: Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin, Frances Lee McCain, J.A. Preston, Matthew Tobin

A FAKE LOOK AT REAL LIFE

I randomly moved this movie to the top of my Netflix queue last week because I thought it looked interesting and have always been somewhat amused by Albert Brooks. After watching it this morning, I can tell you that it's inclusion in the "1001..." book is a big head scratcher.

The film is a satire of the PBS documentary "An American Family", which apparently aired in the 1970s and was an actual series that documented the life of a real American family. In "Real Life", a "mockumentary", Albert Brooks attempts to do the same thing setting out to film a year in the life of the Yeager's. Hundreds of families are put through dozens of different tests and in the end, the Yeager's of Phoenix are chosen over another family from Wisconsin, due to nicer weather conditions. Albert Brooks (who plays himself) moves to Phoenix, next door to the Yeager's and begins his film. Warren Yeager (Grodin), the father of the group, immediately begins to try and be as pleasant as possible and tries to make his family (a wife, one boy and one girl) follow suit. Later, problems arise as Warren, a veterinarian, kills a show horse, Mrs. Yeager (McCain) loses her grandmother to a stroke and the media starts to stick their nose in as well.

I'll try to keep this short and sweet, as my complaints far outweigh my praise. There have been a number of films in the book that I've liked less than this one, but nine times out of ten, I've been able to chalk those dislikes in the "not for me" column. With "Real Life" however, not only did I not like it, I just cannot understand the appeal or why it is included in a book that has the sole purpose of providing us with a list of "must see" films. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing "must see" about "Real Life" and while Albert Brooks is funny in it, the rest of the film has absolutely no appeal for me.

I understand the experiment and I appreciate the originality, but it just didn't work for me and it's a real shame that there are dozens of films that I can think of, off the top of my head, that are more suited to be praised in this book, other than "Real Life".

Let's just bottom line this and get it over with: Albert Brooks is somewhat funny, Charles Grodin is somewhat funny, but as a whole the film just didn't have me in stitches or anything and for the most part simply had me scratching my head at it's inclusion. If it had been a film that I had just come across and said "Hey, I'll give this a shot", then maybe I could've appreciated it more, but as a film that is supposed to be one of the 1001 greatest films ever made...I'm left speechless.

RATING: 3/10 '3' for the comedic efforts of Brooks and Grodin, but definitely not one of my favorites and a definite recommendation to avoid.

MOVIES WATCHED: 263
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 738

April 25, 2011 7:51pm

Sunday, April 24, 2011

994. The Queen (2006)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Stephen Frears
Written By: Peter Morgan
Main Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

So I watched "The King's Speech" the other night and while I stave off my opinions until the monthly recap next week, I will say that it got me interested in the royal monarchy and the history of the throne. Alas, I went to the book and what better film to follow up that rising interest than "The Queen", so here we go...

Tony Blair (Sheen) has just been elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and his first step is to seek the Queen's approval. The Queen, in this case, is Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren), whom despite her qualms about Blair, gives him well wishes. Her qualms rise from Blair's promise to modernise the nation, although he plans to stay respect the Royal Family. Some time passes and August 31, 1997 arrives and with it, brings the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. From here the film shows how both sides, the Queen and Blair, deal with the tragedy. The Queen chooses to ignore the hubbub and decides it best to take Diana's sons, Harry and William, on a vacation so that they will not be consumed by the media circus, as well as choosing to hold a private funeral. Tony Blair, on the other hand believes that the funeral should be public and that the nation needs a chance to get closure and grieve for the "People's Princess", as Diana is dubbed. Blair, always keeping utmost respect, urges the Queen through several phone calls, to return to England and be with the nation in their time of grief. The Queen wants no part of the frenzy, mainly because she wasn't a supporter of Princess Di and was still holding ill feelings toward her at the time of her death.

The film seemed to flow along nicely and there was never a time when I was staring at the clock and wondering if this film was near end. However, even in retrospect, I'm left pondering if they even had enough material to make a film out of all this. The film deals very little with the actual car crash that ultimately killed Diana and spends the majority of its running time dealing with the aftermath. It just doesn't seem "film-worthy", but then again, I'm an American and I'm really not familiar with the circus that arose following the Queen's death or how big of an impact it had on the U.K.

Other than that, I thought the film was fine. It quenched my thirst for some more British history and served its purpose in providing me with a good film to sink my teeth into. It also quite changed my opinion of Tony Blair, whom I've always considered George W. Bush's lackey. I can still see images of Blair and Bush in my head, from the news as the second Iraq war was being waged and always thought Tony Blair looked like a bit of a rat. If the film portrayed him accurately, then he was obviously a stand-up P.M. and deserves credit for holding England together in the crisis that took place in 1997.

Looking over the nominees list from the Academy Awards ceremony of 2007, it seems that Helen Mirren did deserve the Oscar, based on the list of other potential winners. I wouldn't say Mirren blew me away or anything, but she did a fine job of transforming herself and holding herself in such prominence as to portray a Queen. Otherwise, this is a fine film, with not a lot of substance, but an unbiased look at the aftermath that would occur following the death of Princess Diana. The film never asks us to choose sides, but simply presents the story, as it were, and lets us make our own opinions about how certain people behaved.

RATING: 7/10 A fine film, that neither blew me away or left me bored. That is all.

MOVIES WATCHED: 262
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 739

April 24, 2011 3:24pm
Happy Easter


Thursday, April 21, 2011

570. SERPICO (1973)

Running Time: 130 minutes
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Written By: Waldo Salt, Norman Wexler, from book by Peter Maas
Main Cast: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Tony Roberts, Bernard Barrow, M. Emmet Walsh

TRIBUTE TO LUMET: PART TWO

Continuing on with our three film tribute to the late Sidney Lumet, we come to "Serpico". Actually we go back to "Serpico", as I should have actually watched this one prior to "Dog Day Afternoon", but it's all good. I had only seen "Serpico" one time prior to today and this time around my opinion pretty much stayed the same.

Al Pacino is once again our main man and is once again portraying a real life figure, this time Frank Serpico. Frank has just graduated police academy and wants nothing more than to be a stand out cop. Serpico starts where all cops start, in a uniform, doing shift work and chasing down collars. Soon he becomes a plainclothes officer, wearing funky outfits and sporting a massive mustache and beard, trying his best to blend in with the street life of New York City. When Serpico does move to plainclothes he makes a discovery that shatters his idea of what an officer of the law is supposed to be. He finds that a lot of the men on the force are taking paybacks and Serpico doesn't pussy foot around in making it known that he wants no part of it. He falls under heavy criticism from his fellow officers and is constantly ridiculed for being an honest cop. Frank makes several transfers, but can't seem to shake the corruption that seems to follow him everywhere he goes. Frank has to look over his shoulder at every turn and can count on no one, as he has no friends on the force.

I feel the same about "Serpico" as I did about "Dog Day Afternoon", in that Al Pacino makes this film and without him this would have been a prime contender for the "not for me" pile. I was always a big fan of Pacino and this is really a great outing for him, as he gets the chance to have a few outbursts and otherwise really shine as Frank Serpico. I wasn't all that into the story, as the passing of time has made the story of the dirty cop a cliche one. The book points out that in 1973 this was potentially risky subject matter and cops were always portrayed, for the most part, in a positive light. Now, in 2011, dirty cop stories are a dime a dozen and as a whole they're just not for me. However, "Serpico" shines a little brighter than some of the more recent ones and all in all it kept me interested enough to really want to see how things turned out for Frank. The book also points out that the only downfall of "Serpico" is the score, which I couldn't disagree with more, as it totally worked for me and really made me feel sympathy for our hero.

I should also point out that in a week filled with the watching of this and "The Thin Blue Line", my faith in the justice system (both the law and the order) are getting totally marred. I mean, here all you had was a man who wanted to be a cop, protect and serve and like the boy who found out that Superman was nothing more than a tight wearer with rocket launcher on his back, Frank's dreams are totally dashed. In a way, this film kind of reminded me of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", which pretty much deals with the same type of character (a man who believes in the system, only to find out that the system is corrupt) and had me feeling about the same amount of sympathy. If only our White House was filled with Jefferson Smith's and our streets being protected by Frank Serpico's, then we'd be in business.

RATING: 6.5/10 That's a total knee jerk rating and by the time the end of the month rolls around, I can definitely see this one climbing in the ratings via the monthly recap.

MOVIES WATCHED: 261
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 740

April 20, 2011 9:17pm

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

590. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Written By: Frank Pierson, from article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore
Main Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, James Broderick, Chris Sarandon

TRIBUTE TO LUMET: PART ONE

Eleven days ago Sidney Lumet passed away and in honor of his legacy, I've decided to watch his three remaining films in the book. Of course, last month I watched "12 Angry Men" and it immediately became one of the major contenders for the top spot of my next TOP 20 list. "Dog Day Afternoon" is another old time favorite of mine and a film I've seen at least a half dozen times.

The film is based on a true story and stars Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik. Wortzik, needing money for his lover's sex change operation, enters a bank a few minutes before closing time, with his accomplice Sal (Cazale). It was a simple robbery and Sonny knew all the ins and outs of the banking business, especially the details that had to do with tripping alarms. What should have taken only a few minutes, started to go awry when the groups third accomplice chickens out at the last minute. Furthermore, Sonny soon finds out that the bank had a scheduled pickup on this particular day, so they only stand to get away with about $1100.00. Suddenly the phone rings and the man on the other end tells Sonny that the police have the bank surrounded and there's no way out. Sonny and Sal shuffle to figure out what to do next, as the hostages (including a group of women and the bank manager Mr. Mulvaney) sweat it out inside, on this hot, August afternoon. Eventually Sonny and the hostages become friendly, to the point that Sonny even teaches them army maneuvers with his gun, letting them hold it and practice. Sonny soon makes a list of demands to the cop in charge, Detective Moretti (Durning), that include a limo to take them all to the airport (hostages included) and a jet to take them out of the country.

To be honest, this was much better the first time I watched it - however many years ago that was. It seems like every time I watch "Dog Day Afternoon", my opinion of it gets worse. First of all, there's no doubting that acting capabilities of Al Pacino, as he totally makes this film what it is and without him this could have been a disaster. I like how they weave in a little bit of comedy (my favorite line coming when Sonny picks up the phone and answers, "W-NEW, we play all the hits!) and Pacino delivers them so well that looking back I wished this guy would have been given a legit chance to make a straight up comedy. I also thought Cazale and Durning did great jobs too, Cazale lingering in the background and forcing us to wonder about the real life Sal and was he really that Lurch-looking. Durning is just as good too, bringing in the fire and having some intense back and forths with Pacino's Sonny.

But, as time goes by in the film, it honestly starts to get a little boring and that's even hard for me to admit, but it's true. In fact, this film would have prospered by being about a half hour shorter, as I think it would have served to keep the picture flowing and let's be honest, there were definitely some scenes in there that could have been cut. Once you get past the initial bank holdup and the police arrival, we're pretty much just sitting in a bank with a group of characters as the ring leader runs to the door every five minutes to chit chat with Moretti and yell things at the crowd that gathers (most notably, "ATTICA, ATTICA!!...). Maybe because I've seen it so many times, it just doesn't work anymore, once you know the fate of the main characters. Although, I'll admit, every single time I watch this, I still think Sonny and Sal are going to get out of the bank without being caught and I'll be damned if they never do.

RATING: 7/10 It's hard to shake old time favorites and if I hadn't seen this so many times, I doubt it would even garner a '7', but my repeated viewings and the awesomeness of Pacino give this a thumbs up.

MOVIES WATCHED: 260
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 741

April 20, 2011 3:16pm

39. The Docks of New York (1928)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: Josef von Sternberg
Written By: Jules Furthman, from the story The Dock Walloper by John Monk Saunders
Main Cast: George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook, Mitchell Lewis

SLIDING BACK INTO THE SILENT ERA

In a perfect world, I would have watched "The Docks of New York" back in October of 2009, when I was still going in chronological order. However, it wasn't available on DVD at the time and it wasn't until recently that the good folks over at Criterion released a silent set commemorating Josef von Sternberg, that included this film.

Bill Roberts (Bancroft) is a stoker (those guys that shovel the coal into the furnace of a steam engine) on a ship and as our tale begins his ship is docking. Bill is a rough and tough type, with tattoos of ladies names and naked ladies on his arms and a guy who likes to knock back a few cold ones when he's not shoveling coal. When Bill's boat docks and he begins to depart, he spots a lady who has thrown herself into the water. Bill jumps in after her, saves her life and then takes her to the local saloon, to be treated. She is eventually revived and Bill takes an immediate liking to her, even stealing her a handful of fancy new "duds". The newly introduced couple make their way to the bar and have a good time getting to no one another. Bill and Mae (Compson) flirt with the idea of getting married and what starts out as a joke, ends with the retrieving of "Hymn Book" Harry, the local minister and a couple of "I Do's".

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I gotta' say it was great seeing a silent film again. I haven't seen any silent cinema since I watched my last one for the "1001..." book and even though it wasn't that long ago, watching this one brought back memories of Keaton, Chaplin, "La Roue" and "Greed". It's just too bad that "The Docks of New York" wasn't even half as good as some of the previously mentioned titles. I just couldn't get into this one, at all. It was nice finally seeing George Bancroft in the leading role of a silent picture, but I wasn't crazy about him. On the plus side, I did like Betty Compson, as she added a ray of sunshine to the whole production and made a good "baby" to Bancroft's Bill. To me, this film was much too predictable. I saw the fairy tale ending coming from a mile away and while I appreciate the little twist with the stolen clothes, it still wound up being pretty much the ending that I had pegged.

The way I see it, "The Docks of New York" needed to have just a little bit more tragedy involved. I mean, here you got these two down on their luck characters and fate throws them into each others arms. However, I really never felt any pity for the characters and for my money, when you have characters like this, you kind of have to let the audience feel sympathy for them. Never once did I say anything to the effect of "Man, that Bill - he acts tough, but he's hurtin'." There was never any reason for Bill to go back and reclaim Mae, because he was a loner all of his life and he was going to keep being a loner and for me, the money ending would have been the more tragic one, where Bill stays aboard the ship and the two spend the rest of their life wondering, what it would have been like if things had worked out.

RATING: 4.5/10 That was a lot of grumbling and ranting, sorry. Anyway, it gets some points for some catchy scenes and Betty Compson, but all in all I can't even get it to that average marker.

MOVIES WATCHED: 259
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 742

April 20, 2011 2:26am

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

779. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Errol Morris
Written By: Errol Morris
Main Cast: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson, Marshall Touchton

CORRUPTION IN JUSTICE

I was browsing through my Netflix instant queue last night and "The Thin Blue Line" caught my eye, so I said "What the hell" and gave it a go. I was left with many thoughts following the film, the most trivial one being, why don't I watch more documentaries?

The documentary was directed by Errol Morris and delves into a crime that took place on the night of November 28, 1976. The murder involved the fatal shooting of police officer Robert W. Wood and the resulting arrest of Randall Adams. The story (according to Adams) is that he ran out of gas while driving through Dallas and while walking to a gas station was picked up by David Harris. The two struck up a conversation and wound up getting a few beers and going to the movies. Later that night, Harris dropped Adams off at his hotel, Adams caught the end of "The Carol Burnett Show" and went to sleep. Adams claims that he knew nothing about a shooting and stuck with the story even when he was arrested and threatened by Detective Gus Rose. The next day, eyewitnesses reported that David Harris visited them and bragged about killing Robert Wood and was later picked up by police. Harris told the police that he was just bragging and that he really didn't do it, but fingered Adams as the shooter. The film makes a point of stressing the argument that Adams was arrested because he was an adult and therefore could be put to death, whereas the 16 year old Harris could not.

Note: While the film is a documentary, I'm still going to put "spoiler alert" in case you want to watch it, not knowing the fate of Randall Adams and David Harris.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I guess, in short, the film was fantastic. I knew before I even watched it that it would be something that would appeal to me. I've always had an interest in true crime stories and what drove men to commit the heinous crimes they did. The film uses reenactments to show what may have happened on the night of November 28, 1976. The reenactments kept coming, showing every possible outcome and every witness story. It really hammers home the ambiguity of that night and reminds us that no one, except the real killer, will ever know what happened on that fateful night, as we never see what is labeled a faithful reenactment, only what is thought to have happened.

If you are someone who has faith in the justice system of the United States, then you may want to steer clear of "The Thin Blue Line" unless you want that faith tarnished. The film will, without a doubt, make you question the motives of the detectives, judges and lawmen who make up our system. As stated above, the film makes a pretty compelling argument that Adams was sent to trial because he was old enough to be electrocuted, if convicted. It seems as though that the Dallas County lawmen wanted someone to die for the death of one of their Officers and that no matter how much incriminating evidence pointed to David Harris, they were going to convict someone that they could put to death. If you think about it rationally, you can see their motives - they wanted to show the public that they were able bodied and they wanted some vindication for their fallen Officer. However, it still doesn't make it right and the fact that an innocent man, who was more than likely sleeping when Robert Wood was gunned down, spent 12 1/2 years in prison.

In fact, it's scary. It reminds you how true that "wrong place at the wrong time" adage is and how if Randall Adams car had not run out of gas, he may have been able to salvage 12 1/2 years of his life. You really have to feel sorry for a guy who spent that much time behind bars, knowing full well the entire time that he was innocent. I guess he should count his lucky stars that he didn't get put to death. The film states that he was extremely close to death, before the Supreme Court changed the decision to a life sentence.

Anyway, the film played a huge part in freeing Randall Adams and David Harris was later put away for another crime. At the end of the film, Errol Morris basically, in not so many words, coaxes a confession out of Harris for the killing of Robert Wood. Great film, great score and even a little scary.

RATING: 10/10 The film is great and makes me want to check out more of Errol Morris' stuff. I wonder how many more innocent men are sitting in prison and how many thousands of stories, just like Randall Adams', could be made into a documentary.

MOVIES WATCHED: 258
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 743

April 19, 2011 6:30pm

Monday, April 18, 2011

796. Neco z Alenky/Alice (1988)

Running Time: 86 minutes
Directed By: Jan Svankmajer
Written By: Jan Svankmajer, from the novel Alice in Woderland by Lewis Carroll
Main Cast: Kristyna Kohoutova

ALICE IN WONDERLAND - THE F'D UP VERSION

I mentioned yesterday that one of the films leaving the streaming portion of Netflix this week is "Alice", Czech director Jan Svankmajer's interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. At a running time of only 86 minutes, last night I decided to give it a look and as hesitant as I was, it actually wasn't TOO bad.

We all know the basic premise of Alice in Wonderland - a little girl named Alice chases a white rabbit through the looking glass. In Jan Svankmajer's version, there's still a little girl named Alice, but here she follows a stuffed rabbit (filled with what seems to be sawdust) through a desk drawer. Once through the "portal" that is the desk drawer, Alice continues to chase the white rabbit and get his attention. However, every time she calls out to him, he gets scared and runs away. Alice eventually stumbles over a bottle of ink and some tarts and has a drink and a bite (yes, she drinks ink), but with every bite she goes from being a real girl to a small, china doll. As a china doll, the white rabbit recognizes her as someone he knows, but as a real girl the rabbit continues to be scared. Later, she comes across some sock-a-pillars (socks used as caterpillars for the sake of this version), with teeth and eyes. Oh yeah, there's also a cut of beef that crawls out of a pot and around the floor, a rat that sets up camp on top of Alice's head (complete with skillet and fire) and this is all before she meets the Mad Hatter and the March Hare (a brown rabbit, with a loose eye, who has wheels for legs). And even after all that she's still to meet the king and queen, which here are cardboard cutouts from playing cards. Whew...this film is stuffed (no pun intended).

No "spoiler alert" needed, because you simply have to experience this film to see all the crazy stuff for yourself. I've been eyeballing this one on my Netflix queue for the longest time and every time I passed it, I said to myself that it looked too strange and almost convinced myself that I'd hate it. Even after it started last night, I was already waiting for it to end, but once it got rolling I realized it wasn't that bad. I mean, the content is so off the wall that you can't help but be at least somewhat amused/interested by it. I think they really hooked me when Alice started crying and she cried so much that she flooded the room she was in, forcing her to swim around and find a tart so that she could eat it and become a life size girl again. Once she's life size a sewer rat climbs out of the water and on to her head and sets up camp, cooking himself a meal by chopping off a few locks of Alice's hair to start a fire. I mean, once you see that you can't deny the absolutely unconventional nature of the film.

There were still some things I didn't like though. I'm not a big animation guy and for all of the positives this film had, most of the negatives would be chalked up in the "not for me" column. I also hated the girl who kept popping up and speaking for the White Rabbit. It was absolutely annoying to the point that I dreaded the White Rabbit even talking, because surely the closeup of the girls lips would return and break the flow of the movie.

SPOILER ALERT!

Maybe there is a reason to include a spoiler alert, now that I think of the ending. I'm not sure about the original story of Alice in Wonderland, but in this one Alice wakes up in the end and realizes that it has all been a dream. I liked that, because the film is so out there that explaining it as a dream makes a lot of sense and actually allows you to rewatch the film and remember that it's all the dream of a little girl named Alice.

RATING: 5/10 We'll split it down the middle and call it average. There were definitely parts that weren't for me, but I'd still recommend it based on the unconventional nature...a "you have to see it to believe it" kind of deal. .

MOVIES WATCHED: 257
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 744

April 18, 2011 12:52pm

Sunday, April 17, 2011

958. Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain/Amelie (2001)

Running Time: 122 minutes
Directed By: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written By: Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Main Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, Rufus, Clotilde Mollet

COAXING MAGIC OUT OF REALITY

"Amelie", along with three other films (Sherman's March, Alice and The Cow) will be departing the streaming portion of Netflix this week, so I'm trying to watch what I can and decided to pick this one off first. I had always wanted to see "Amelie", as it always looked like something unusual and original...I was right.

It's no surprise that the main character of our tale is Amelie Poulain (Tautou), whom we learn about via a narrator. The narrator tells us tales that seem to be coming from a fairy tale as he recounts Amelie's childhood. Amelie is a normal little girl who is kept from going to school because her parents believe she has a heart defect. She is home schooled and when she is still a young girl, her mother is killed when she is landed on by a suicidal jumper. Like all little girls, Amelie grows up and leaves her childhood home, taking an apartment of her own and waitressing at a restaurant known as the Two Windmills Cafe. On August 31, 1997, Amelie (like all the rest of us) hears the news of Princess Diana's death, which leads her to drop a bottle cap, which leads the bottle cap to roll and knock loose a kitchen wall tile, which leads Amelie to find a tin box containing the toys of a child. Amelie finds out that the box belonged to a boy who lived in her apartment in the 50s and decides to track him down - If he is grateful for the return, she'll continue to do good, if he's not..."too bad". She delivers the box and the recipient is glad to have his possessions back, stating that he may give them to his estranged grandson. From that point on, Amelie makes it her personal mission to turn the frowns of the people around her upside down.

While I wouldn't cite it as my favorite or anything, I would say that "Amelie" is a fantastic film for various reasons. I love how the film blends reality and fantasy into one film. I believe "Amelie" gives us all a chance to relive our childhood a bit, as I believe that "Amelie" is just a child who never grew up...or possibly a child who didn't get to act like a child when she was young, so now she's making up for lost time. I loved the narration and while I've never said it about any other film, I could've listened to the narration through the whole movie, if need be. I was amused by the likes and dislikes of all the main characters at the beginning of the film. The entire film is filled with intricacies that really allow you to gawk in wonderment at the screen. There are times when the film resembles the innocence of a children's movie, but then our main character finds herself in a porn shop and that all gets busted. It's that total blend of different themes and genres that make "Amelie" stand out.

(That's two reviews in a row I've used the word 'wonderment'. Someone needs a thesaurus.)

The film presents us with a handful of characters and also provides us with dozens of loose ends that all get tied up into a nice little bow by the time the credits start rolling. You have "The Glass Man" who sits in his flat all day, because his bones are as brittle as glass and he cannot risk being bumped. "The Glass Man" paints the same picture every year, yet cannot seem to get a handle on one young girl in the painting. It's characters, conditions and situations like that, that make "Amelie" stand out. What a fantastic script this is and what a nurturing movie maker Jean-Pierre Jeunet is, as he obviously put a lot of thought and care into his "Amelie".

I couldn't help but smile when the film actually nailed a few of my own eccentricities, like the fondness that Amelie had for putting her hand into a sack filled with grain and feeling it between her fingers or how she wondered how many people in her city where having intercourse at the exact moment that she had her thought (believe it or not, I've also thought that...surprised I admitted it though).

RATING: 7/10 Man that was just a lot of randomness. Sometimes I just can't find words and therefore I ramble and admire. Sorry. The film is great, by all means see it and if you're a Netflix streamer, you have until the 21st.

MOVIES WATCHED: 256
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 745

April 17, 2011 6:30pm

Saturday, April 16, 2011

520. Zabriskie Point (1970)

Running Time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Michelangelo Antonioni
Written By: Michelangelo Antonioni, Franco Rossetti, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe
Main Cast: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor

ANTONIONI WEEK: THE FINAL CHAPTER

You know as much as I disliked some of Antonioni's films, I think that it's awesome that I get to end out his series on a high note, with an amazing film like "Zabriskie Point". I went in expecting to hate it, but instead I was treated to ONE OF the most beautiful pictures I've ever seen.

Cast-wise, this is pretty much a two person film and first up we meet Mark (Frechette), a college student who takes up with a group of radicals and cites that he's "willing to die for the cause". During a student protest, many students are arrested and when Mark tries to bail some of his cohorts out of jail, he only lands himself in the clink. Upon their release, Mark and his roommate's arm themselves with guns in preparation for the next protest. During a standoff between students and police, Mark gets a clear shot at a police officer, but before he can fire, someone beats him to it. Mark runs, figuring he'll be framed for the shooting otherwise. He ends up stealing a helicopter and fleeing the scene. In the meantime, Daria is a secretary working for Mr. Lee Allen of Sunny Dunes real estate. Daria's story begins with her driving from Los Angeles to Phoenix for a business conference with her boss. Along the way, she is sidetracked by a low flying helicopter, who ultimately forces her to pull over. Inside the helicopter? - Mark.

I wasn't looking forward to "Zabriskie Point" in the slightest. I popped it in and for the next two hours was taken back to the 60s via some absolutely gorgeous photography. I was born in 1984, but I've always been fascinated by the era of the 60s. To me, there always seemed to be something magical about that time period, when some of the best musicians, filmmakers and people were rocking it in their prime. "Zabriskie Point" really gives you a peek inside the era of the "flower children".

To be honest, "Zabriskie Point" is one of those films I liked, but it's hard for me to explain why. Everything just sort of seemed to mesh together really well for me and keep me interested. I thought the scene in Zabriskie Point where Mark and Daria make love was one of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed and one of the most tactful sex scenes I've seen also. To me their was a type of freedom associated with this film. Seeing sprawling deserts and open roads, I could almost smell the fresh, dusty desert air as I watched in wonderment. It was also a movie where not everything was laid out plain as day, but I just didn't see any need to start drawing conclusions and interpretations, but rather just let the film overtake me and enjoy it for what it was on the surface.

A WORD OR TWO ABOUT MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI

I went into this series of six films with excitement, hoping that I'd come out with a new found favorite director. Unfortunately that wasn't the end result and what I came out with was actually a bit of jealousy. Jealousy for the people who appreciate Antonioni's films. I said in an earlier review, I wish, just for a few hours, I could borrow the eyeballs of the people that appreciate Antonioni's work and take in these films, see what they see. However, everything isn't for everyone and we all have different tastes. What I label as masterpieces, you might label as garbage and vice versa. I think the saving grace in the entire Michelangelo Antonioni watching was that I really liked one of them (Zabriskie Point) and maybe someday when I re-watch "Zabriskie Point" and like it even more, I'll say to myself, "Hey, maybe I should give his films another shot." and maybe then, with time, I can appreciate them.

RATING: 8.5/10 Beautiful film and my obvious choice for best Antonioni film of the six.

MOVIES WATCHED: 255
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 746

April 16, 2011 6:06pm

Friday, April 15, 2011

448. BLOWUP (1966)


Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Michelangelo Antonioni
Written By: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Edward Bond, from story by Julio Cortazar
Main Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin

ANTONIONI WEEK: CHAPTER FIVE

We're coming to a close on the "Antonioni Week" festivities and today I watched the most anticipated of the lot, "Blowup". I had heard so many great things about this film and was totally ready to let it engulf me, but as Antonioni's films have come to do, it only disappointed.

The main character is Thomas (Hemmings), a hip, London photographer who has a penchant for snapping scantily clad, stick thin models. Thomas is getting ready to publish a book of his photos and heads to a nearby park in London to see if he can capture the grand finale shot that will appear in the book. While strolling through the park and taking pictures of pigeons and landscapes, he spots a couple who seem to be enjoying an intimate day out. Wanting to capture their romance, he follows them, hiding behind trees and fences and snapping away like a skilled marksman. He is eventually caught by the woman and when she begs for him to hand over the photographs, he refuses. Later, she shows up at his apartment, again requesting the photos and after some flirtation between the two he hands over a fake film canister, making her think she has the photos. However, Thomas still has them and upon developing them, he notices that there may have been someone else in the park that day. He notices a man, behind some bushes, who appears to be wielding a gun. After blowing up the photos, he also notices the dead body of the man whom he snapped in the park and he soon realizes that he's inadvertently photographed a murder.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

What a HUGE disappointment Michelangelo Antonioni has turned out to be. I realize we're not done yet, but why even hold out hope that the final Antonioni film will be anything short of dull? Here, Antonioni gives us a fantastic premise: A hotshot photographer inadvertently snaps a murder. It's as simple as that. However, we don't even get into that until a full hour of the film has gone by. Taking up that first hour is a whole lot of pointless drivel, that never really tends to amount to anything. Even when we do get into the thick of things, Antonioni makes sure to stop the flow by having Thomas roll around on the floor with a couple of naked, giggling girls.

When I finished the film, I did a little research and found that the whole plot may have just been a part of Thomas' imagination and that in reality there was no murder and that Thomas simply dreamed the whole thing up. If that's the case, then it was totally lost on me. See that's the thing about Antonioni films though, you have to pay extra special attention, because the man isn't going to give the meaning to his films up willingly. You're going to have to latch on to every single clue you get and when the film is over, you have to put those clues together and try to make sense of the picture as a whole. I guess this one just didn't entice me enough, because I obviously missed some things if the film is meant to be an imagining. Of course, you can never really be too sure, when it comes to Antonioni. Michelangelo is a very ambiguous filmmaker and maybe the film was an imagining or maybe it wasn't. Antonioni leaves that up to the viewer to decide and the only thing that I decided was that the film didn't do a whole lot for me. If I was forced to decide as to whether or not a murder actually occurred in the confines of the film, I'd say "yes", I think a murder did occur and here's why:

Up until the point that Thomas finds the clues that lead him to believe there has been a murder, he is a very pompous fellow. He drives his Rolls Royce, tells models that want his attention where to go and screams at the models that do work for him. In the simplest for, he is an asshole. Then he starts to conjure up this murder business and for a good stretch we get a very limited amount of dialogue. Following that, Thomas actually discovers a corpse in the park and by the end of the film, he seems to change. I see a man who, for the better part of his adult life, has hid behind the lens of a camera. I found it odd that Thomas didn't take his camera with him and snap the corpse he found or the mimes that he saw "playing tennis". I think that Thomas did uncover a murder and that being that close to death, made him appreciate the world around him even more. Thomas was a guy who forced himself to hunt for interesting things to take pictures of, when in the end, I think he realizes that there are interesting things all around him...like mimes playing pretend tennis...and instead of exploiting their innocent romp, in the end Thomas simply sits back and watches things unfold with his own eyes.

RATING: 4.5/10 For all my griping there was something there, but not a lot. I'll definitely have to watch this one again someday, but for now consider it a big thumbs down. Next and last in the Antonioni series: "Zabriskie Point"

MOVIES WATCHED: 254
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 747

April 15, 2011 5:33pm

899. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge/The Brave-Hearted Will Take the Bride (1995)

Running Time: 192 minutes
Directed By: Aditya Chopra
Written By: Aditya Chopra, Javed Siddiqi
Main Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Amrish Puri, Farida Jalal, Anupam Kher

AN EPIC, ROMANTIC COMEDY? REALLY?

When I saw "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" on the Netflix instant queue, and more importantly saw that it had a running time of three hours in length, I certainly wasn't expecting it to be a romantic comedy. However, while my writing so far may resemble grumbling, this movie wasn't bad and I consider it a nice introduction to Bollywood cinema.

Simran Singh (Kajol) is of Indian descent, living in England, as is the boy who will soon win her heart, Raj Malhotra (Khan). Under different circumstances, Raj and Simran, who are total strangers, convince their parents to let them go away on a European holiday for one month. In Simran's case it will be her last month of freedom, before being married off as part of an arranged wedding. In Raj's case, he's just a young man, looking to sow some wild oats and then return home to join his father in the family business. Of course, as in any romantic comedy, the two paths of Simran and Raj cross and the immediately despise one another. When Raj causes Simran to miss her train and thus separating her from her friends and throwing her whole trip off course, she is forced to join Raj as they try to hunt down their parties. Raj is a consummate prankster and is rarely serious, causing Simran to dislike him more and more. Over the course of their journey, however, the two grow fond of one another and Raj falls in love with Simran. It isn't until Simran returns home and must face the prospect of her new, strange husband, that she realizes she too is in love with Raj. Once home, Raj is determined to find Simran and tell her how he feels and when he finally tracks her down it is just days before she is to be married to her new husband. Simran begs Raj to take her away and elope with her, but Raj refuses, stating that he must get Simran's father's permission.

Within the first half hour of this movie, I was almost convinced that I'd hate it, but that was just me being stubborn. When I finally realized that it was a comedy, I was thinking of all the nasty things I'd come here and write, complaining that no romantic comedy needs to be three hours in length...but again, I was being stubborn. When I relaxed and allowed myself to get taken in by the film, I realized that it actually wasn't bad at all. I had never seen a Bollywood film before and am glad that I finally have. Word is that Kajol and Shahrukh Khan are a screen couple in the world of Bollywood cinema and actually I'd love to see more of their films. The two had some amazing chemistry - the type of chemistry where you hope you'll go to the computer and find that they're actually married in real life. The songs were entertaining and fun and despite me not being able to sing them, they definitely have me going around the house and humming their tunes. The plot took some twists and turns and with a three hour running time, they actually had time to really pursue a well thought out comedy, that came off as clever, heartwarming and a whole lot of fun!

Now granted, I still stand beside the fact that this thing COULD HAVE been wrapped up inside of two hours and I still have a few minor gripes and groans. The characters (especially Raj) were a little too silly - in fact they were extremely silly and I had a hard time believing that a goofball like Raj would turn out to have such moral fiber. The same guy who conned an old shopkeeper into allowing him buy beer would also be the same man who would be moral enough to ask for Baldev's permission to marry his daughter? It just didn't seem accurate, but since when are comedies altogether always accurate? The important part is that I had fun. When I finally "chillaxed" and accepted the film for what it was, it was a really good. End of story.

RATING: 7.5/10 A little too long and a little too silly, but otherwise a great film and one that I'd recommend for anyone wanting to check out some Bollywood cinema.

MOVIES WATCHED: 253
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 748

April 14, 2011 10:20pm

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

342. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Running Time: 160 minutes
Directed By: Otto Preminger
Written By: Wendell Mayes, from novel by John D. Voelker
Main Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Arthur O'Connell

STEWART vs. SCOTT ON THE COURTROOM FLOOR

I've had "Anatomy of a Murder" sitting at my desk, from Netflix, for the better part of the past month, but kept putting it off because other movies seemed to be more pressing. "Anatomy of a Murder" has been a film that I've wanted to see for the longest time and today I was finally able to check it out...I wasn't disappointed.

Paul Biegler (Stewart) is a former district attorney, who now spends his days fishing and handling mostly divorce proceedings. When Biegler returns home from another weekend fishing, his colleague Parnell (O'Connell) informs him that there's a case he simply must take. The case involves Frederick Manion (Gazzara), a U.S. Army Lieutenant who is being held for the murder of Barney Quill. Manion's excuse for killing Quill, is that Quill raped and beat Mrs. Manion (Remick) and that in a state of "irresistible impulse" he murdered Quill without having no definite recollection of the events a.k.a. temporary insanity. Biegler eventually decides to take the case and gains a bit of confidence when he and Parnell find a precedent of irresistible impulse. However, any confidence that the defense had, goes right out the door when the prosecuting attorney brings in a big shot lawyer from nearby, big city Lansing to assist, in the form of Claude Dancer (Scott). Once the film establishes the facts, it's time for us to sit in along with the fictitious jury and develop our own ideas (as viewers) as to whether or not Mr. Manion is guilty, not guilty or insane.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I remember when I was a kid and a night would come where my Mom and Dad would get up the desire to watch a movie. We'd all head down to our local video store and we'd spend the next half an hour or so flipping over cellophane covered, VHS cases in search of that great film that we'd take home and watch. I remember my Dad used to LOVE courtroom dramas and usually whatever he picked, I'd end up watching as well. I watched a lot of courtroom dramas when I was a kid and whether I understood them or not was irrelevant. Too bad my Dad wasn't a fan of older movies, or this one would've been a top contender to take home on one of those evenings.

This is probably one of the best courtroom dramas I've ever seen and I'm glad that we get right down to it when it comes to getting inside the courtroom, calling witnesses and yelling objections. I like the structure of this film and how we spend about an hour or so getting all the facts, basically following Biegler around and getting as much information as he does, uncovering things right along with him. We're not sure, just as he's not sure if his own client is guilty or innocent, but as viewers we form our own opinions. I, for one, would like to think that Mr. Manion was guilty and that he had control of all of his faculties when he killed Quill. Laura Manion never really seemed to me to portray a woman who has recently been sexually violated. The two as a couple really didn't even seem all that close and sometimes Mr. Manion would give her little glances that seemed to say, "If I ever get outta' here, you're in for it!"

Or maybe Frederick Manion was innocent and for that short period of time when he killed Quill, he was "out of it". That's the beauty of "Anatomy of a Murder", you basically get to experience what it feels like to be on a jury and because it's a movie, it's going to be more exciting than any real life court case. You're going to be treated to surprise witnesses and judges who make little comical comments at random times throughout the case. Stewart and Scott both did excellent jobs, in my opinion. Stewart seemed to break his "aw shucks" persona, just a little bit and threw words like panties around and banged on table tops with the palm of his hand. Scott, while his role wasn't huge, also delivered a dynamite performance and was even intimidating me a little, as he'd get two inches away from a witnesses face and assault them with a barrage of questions.

If there was anything I didn't like about the film, I'd have to say it was the ending. As far as I'm concerned, the film should've been over when the jury read their verdict. Instead we get a scene that really feels tacked on and irrelevant, as Biegler and Parnell go to The Manion's home to collect their debt and find they'd skipped town.

RATING: 7.5/10 Not perfect, but very good and how can you knock a courtroom drama that allows George C. Scott and Jimmy Stewart to verbally duke it out and show off their acting muscle.

MOVIES WATCHED: 252
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 749

April 13, 2011 5:13pm

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

423. Il deserto rosso/The Red Desert (1964)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Michelangelo Antonioni
Written By: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra
Main Cast: Monica Vitti, Richard Harris, Carlo Chionetti, Xenia Valderi, Rita Renoir

ANTONIONI WEEK: CHAPTER FOUR

Moving right along with "Antonioni Week", we come to Michelangelo's first color feature and one that didn't make me cringe as much as its predecessors. While I wasn't able to fully comprehend the meaning of "Red Desert", I was still just as intrigued.

Relaying the plot of "Red Desert" is going to be hard for me, because to me there really wasn't much of a plot here and what I took away from the film was more of an emotional experience than anything else. Giuliana (Vitti) has recently been released from the hospital following an attempt to commit suicide. The film opens with images of factories and smoke stacks and as the film progresses, we gather that there must be some sort of factory strike going on. Giuliana lives with her husband, Ugo (Chionetti) and their son. Ugo is a factory director and when his colleague Mr. Zeller (Harris) comes to town to negotiate a deal, he and Giuliana form a connection, although as far as I can tell the connection is never validated and takes the form of friendship and sexual as the film progresses. Giuliana still isn't 100% stable and still seems to be in a deep state of depression as she ponders things like the meaning of life and worries about seemingly nonsensical things.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I haven't done any research on this film, as I write this, so I'm writing to you as someone who has only seen the film and been given an hour to toss different ideas and theories around his head. It's rare that a film perplexes me so much, that I can't decide whether I like it or dislike it. I guess if I even have to ask, then it must have been intriguing enough to be considered a positive experience. I don't mean any offense to Antonioni fans, but to me his films are very pointless and its almost as though he's making films to satisfy fantasies or ideas that he himself had and that he is the only one who truly understands every aspect of his own films. I just have a really hard time wrapping my head around his films, comprehending them, figuring out his metaphors or figuring out the motives of his characters. It's almost as if these films are being birthed in some fantasy world, where logical thinking isn't a must. While I didn't hate "Red Desert" I'd still classify it as pretty as a pretty pointless film. There were so many things that were happening, scenes that were playing out that I just couldn't make heads or tails of and didn't know why they were happening or what they meant.

However, the film really pulled me in and I was definitely intrigued. Why I was intrigued, I have no idea. There's not really something that I can put my finger on and say, "I liked this film or was intrigued by this film, because...". It just had an element about it that made me want to know what the outcome for Giuliana was going to be. I kept waiting for the ending to come and waiting for Giuliana to succeed in her attempt to kill herself. I was drawn to the character, but can't tell you why. I felt so sorry for the character when she goes to Zeller for help and he takes advantage of her, basically raping her, in her moment of severe distress.

I'm going to wrap it up there, because I have a feeling a lot of my thoughts aren't coming together very clearly and that I'm not making a whole lot of sense. Suffice it to say that I was deeply intrigued by the film, but still had a hard time understanding it. That's not a bad thing, in my book.

RATING: 6/10 I give it definite points for at least keeping me wrapped in it for the duration, unlike Antonioni's other films that just seemed to lose me at certain points and never regain my interest. Next up: "Blow-Up".

MOVIES WATCHED: 251
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 750

April 12, 2011 6:33pm

Monday, April 11, 2011

250. High Noon (1952)

Running Time: 85 minutes
Directed By: Fred Zinnemann
Written By: John W. Cunningham, Carl Foreman, from the story The Tin Star by John W. Cunningham
Main Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Ian MacDonald

250!

Approximately one quarter of the way through the book and in recognizing that achievement, I've decided to watch the 250th entry in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" text, "High Noon". If I had gone from the beginning, without skipping ANY films, this is the film I'd be up to.

Will Kane (Cooper) has just married his Quaker wife, Amy (Kelly) and is ready to turn in his "tin star" and resign as Marshall of Hadleyville. He and his new bride seal the deal with a kiss, Kane turns over his badge, but before the two can board their carriage out of town, Kane is given the news that Frank Miller (MacDonald) has been pardoned and that he's due in on the noon train. Miller is described as a psychopath and we learn that Kane is the man that put him away. Kane receives the news just prior to 11:00am and has just over an hour to round up a posse, so that together they can drive Miller out of Hadleyville for good. Amy wants nothing to do with the mess and urges Kane to just forget the whole mess and come with her, out of town as they had planned. Kane, feeling morally conflicted, feels he owes it to the town and to himself to stay behind and keep Hadleyville safe from the clutches of Miller and his gang. Amy leaves, telling Kane that she won't stay around and be privy to her husband's violence. In the meantime, Kane tries his best to round up a posse, but no one wants anything to do with it. They either have a problem with Kane or just don't want to end up staring down the barrel of Miller's gun. The film is told in real time and the seconds continue to tick away. Will anyone stand beside Will Kane?

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I've seen this film once before and I remember liking it a lot more than I did this time around. I had some problems with it, a lot of which I really can't put my finger on, but I'll try my best. For starters, thank God the film has a short running time, because the thing really drags right up until the big showdown. I think that's why it drags too, because we all know that there's going to be this big showdown at the end of the film and we only hear about Frank Miller, but never get a look at the man described as a psycho, until the end of the movie. It's kind of like waiting for Christmas morning, in that you really don't care about the time leading up to it, you just want to get to the meat and potatoes - the big showdown. Also Kane's character, in my view, isn't very well defined. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to admire the guy for sticking around and fighting or dislike the guy, because everyone else in town seemed to. A lot of characters didn't want to fight Miller for their own safety, but there were a lot who seemed to praise Miller and want nothing to do with Kane or his posse. To me, it is never really explained why some of the townspeople like Miller and why some of the townspeople fear him.

The casting was fine, I guess and I sure did like seeing Thomas Mitchell again. Haven't seen him since my days of going in chronological order and I always thought he was a brilliant supporting actor. Grace Kelly really seemed out of place though. When I think of Grace Kelly, I think of her attending balls, wearing beautiful gowns and being her princess-like self. I just really never pictured her in a Western and seeing her in "High Noon" just didn't seem right. I was never a really big Gary Cooper fan either, but I guess he did an okay job here...nothing offensive, nothing outstanding.

Of course, the clock does finally strike noon and Frank Miller and his three goons finally do make their way into the heart of Hadleyville and it's an exciting fifteen or so minutes, as the film becomes dialogue free and we hear only the sounds of firing pistols. We root for Kane, and hope that at the last second SOMEONE will show up, wielding a gun and stand beside Will and help him fend off the threat. But no one, save for his wife, does and Kane pretty much takes care of the boys by himself, saving the day and riding out of town, like any good Western hero. Not a terrible film, but I definitely had issues and like I said I have/had trouble putting my finger on them.

RATING: 6/10 Still hoping the "1001..." book provides me with a really great Western that I can slap a '10' rating on and call my favorite Western.

MOVIES WATCHED: 250
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 751

April 10, 2011 11:54pm

Friday, April 8, 2011

434. The War Game (1965)

Running Time: 48 minutes
Directed By: Peter Watkins
Written By: Peter Watkins
Main Cast: Michael Aspel, Peter Graham

WHAT IF...

"The War Game" is currently streaming on Netflix and due to the fact that that's the only way to watch it, I decided to get it done before they took it down.

This shouldn't take too long, as the films is only 48 minutes in length. The short, documentary style film basically shows us what would happen if Britain were to fall under nuclear attack by Soviet forces. The film really gets terrifying when we're given a time and date and the narrator tells us the events that are happening as a nucl
ear bomb lands some twenty five miles from the site that the camera focuses on. It gives staggering statistics, stating that a blast (even one twenty five miles away) would still give off a light 30 times brighter than the midday sun and could cause severe damage anyone's retina that saw the blast. Even more so, the film gathers statistics from other, real blast sites (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc.) and basically plays out the vicious chain of horror that would follow. The film states that police would probably be called into assist doctors in putting patients, that were too injured for medical care, out of their misery. Furthermore, police and military personnel would be given bonuses of food rations and that the public would lash out, creating riots. Basically, I'll stop there and summarize the whole thing by saying it's a short, yet horrific tale of what would happen if nuclear war were to break out in Britain.

In fact, the film basically (in not so many w
ords) states that by 1980 (the film was made in 1965) the probability of a nuclear attack is high. Let's not stretch this out, as that pretty much tells you the premise of the film. What are my thoughts on it? Well the whole film is a pretty tough pill to swallow and I defy anyone to watch the film and try to stop your mind from wandering. Personally, I started thinking about the probability of nuclear attack in today's society and I broadened my thoughts by asking myself the question, "Why do nuclear weapons even exist in the first place?". Should you see it? Yes. I mean, the film is forty eight minutes, so if you can get your hands on it, by all means take a look at it. Let your mind wander, let your thoughts crop up and see the horror that could take place and has taken place in certain parts of the world.

In closing, I think one of the strongest, saddest moments of the film comes when the narrator tells us of his interview with a group of young children orphaned due to the attack. He asks them, post-nuclear war, what they want to be when they grow up and they all, without hesitation, answer, "I don't want to be nothing".


RATING:
--- I'm not going to rate "The War Game", simply because to me it was more of an educational film (although fictional). I could pull a rating out of my ass, if hard pressed, but I'll just say that I would recommend seeing it and that it is a powerful film. Bottom line: The first film in 249 reviews that I deem un-rateable.

MOVIES WATCHED:
249
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
752

April 8, 2011 4:12pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #61: The Cable Guy (1996)

Running Time: 96 minutes Directed By: Ben Stiller Written By: Lou Holtz Jr. Main Cast: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann...