Tuesday, November 29, 2011

819. Pretty Woman (1990)

Running Time: 119 minutes
Directed By:
Garry Marshall
Written By: J.F. Lawton
Main Cast: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo
Click here to view the trailer

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A GIRL NAMED JULIA

Tonight, once again, I let my wife do the picking for us and upon her return from the DVD shelf, she wielded a copy of "Pretty Woman". It's the movie that turned Julia Roberts into a mega star and me into a swallower of pure Hollywood entertainment.

Edward Lewis (Gere) is in Los Angeles on a business venture, as he looks to purchase the company of an aging businessman. Lewis has a reputation for being able to woo the ladies, but an even stronger reputation for not being able to hold onto them, as business always interferes with his pleasure. Vivian (Roberts) is a street smart prostitute who needs money. One evening, when Lewis is lost on Hollywood Boulevard he pays Vivian $20 to give him directions to Beverly Hills. Hopping into the car with him and even taking over the driver's seat, it doesn't take long for Vivian to win Edward's interests. When Edward invites Vivian up to his room, one thing leads to another and Edward spends $300 to purchase Vivian's services for the entire night. Except, Edward doesn't want what Vivian's normal customers usually want and it seems the only turn on Edward is concerned with is companionship. The next day, Edward makes an even heftier proposition - $3000 if Vivian will spend the week with him. She accepts, being whisked into a world that could only be feasible in fairy tales and quickly falling in love with her gentlemanly benefactor.

You know, I might get some flack for this, but I really enjoyed myself with this one. It's a movie that allowed me to kick back, relax and just have a good time at the movies. "Pretty Woman" (I think intentionally) reminded me of some of the earlier, screwball comedies that I watched for this journey. In fact, I couldn't help but be reminded of "My Man Godfrey" - the story of a bum who is brought into a wealthy residence to be their housekeeper - a favorite of mine, if you'll remember. I also kept getting flashes of Cary Grant and all the vixens he wooed on the big screen. All of the classic "date movie" elements are intact. Women can sit back and be envious of the Vivian character, wondering when their Prince Charming is going to come and carry them off to the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Men can gawk at the sexy Julia Roberts (and she's never been sexier, not before, not after) and slowly, but surely even the most brutish of male may succumb to the sappiness of this Hollywood romp. You also have key moments and more than a handful of quotable lines ("In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight" says Vivian before the evening begins).

It's one that is going to have a lot of fans and one that the film snobs are going to tear to shreds, more than likely calling it "too cliche". For me, it's the cliches that make it work, the fact that it's a modern fairy tale, being told with real characters and even adding in a bit of spice to give it that extra kick (the scene where Roberts and Gere make love on the piano is pretty steamy and hey, even Julia's breast makes a cameo at another spot in the picture). However, this film aficionado is going the positive route and imploring everyone to, at least, give this one a try. It may not be your cup of tea, you may be more into foreign art films or backyard indy pictures, but give this one a shot. Open up your mind and let your softer side run rampant for a couple of hours and you may even surprise yourself. You may have a hell of a time!

RATING: 8/10 Man, I really didn't even write why I liked it did I? Or did I? Who the hell knows. I just know that I DID like it. That's enough for me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 356
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 645
Link
Note: Someone sent me an e-mail, asking me to plug an article that they wrote entitled "The 10 Greatest Movie Villains of All-Time". Click here to check it out.

November 28, 2011 11:21pm

Sunday, November 27, 2011

494. Hsia Nu/A Touch of Zen (1969)

Running Time: 187 minutes
Directed By: King Hu
Written By: King Hu, Songling Pu
Main Cast: Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Roy Chiao, Tien Ping

MORE WUXIA "FUN"

As I mentioned the other day, at the end of my "Come Drink with Me" review, I moved "A Touch of Zen" to the top of my Netflix queue, so that I could treat King Hu like a band-aid and rip him off with one, quick motion. I wish that motion had been a little quicker...

With a running time of over three hours, "A Touch of Zen" tells the tale of several key characters. The film starts out following Ku Shen-chai (Jun), a less than ambitious scholar, who spends his days at his studio drawing portraits and doing calligraphy. His mother hounds him day in and day out to make something of his life and become a well respected official, but Ku brushes off these notions. When a young woman, Yang Hui-ching (Feng) moves into the supposedly haunted mansion near Ku's house, he becomes almost obsessed with her. When Ku's mother tries to set-up a date between Ku and Yang, she denies the offer. Eventually Ku and Yang do become "friendly" though and this forces Yang to tell Ku her history and how her family was brutally murdered by imperial enemies. Yang is the last of the family to escape execution and she's on the run. Now, Ku feels obligated to help her and with the enlistment of a few allies, Yang and Ku try to fight back against enemy.

One could argue that I probably already had the opinion formed that I wasn't going to like this movie, before I even popped it into my DVD player and watched it and honestly, that may be kind of right. The film "Come Drink with Me" was so far from being "up my alley" that it was just really hard to get excited for another King Hu film, one that had a similar plot (a woman out for vengeance). When it arrived in the mail from Netflix and I got a look at it's length, I was really dreading it, but like I've had to do other times on my journey, I sucked it up and went on with it. At times, in the past, when I've had to suck it up and watch something I didn't want to, it worked out in the end. This time - not so much. I will give King Hu a little credit, as this time I could really see the effort being poured out on to the screen. As much as "A Touch of Zen" also wasn't up my alley, I still found the three hour running time to go by at a nice pace and there weren't too many "watch the clock" moments.

I can say that no other director has had the ability to put me to sleep quite like King Hu does. There were numerous times throughout the picture that I nodded off, only to wake up, having to rewind the film and catch what I missed. The story was, at times, extremely drawn out. The first forty minutes of the film go something like this: Ku awakens, goes to his studio, comes home, gets nagged by his mother and spends his night inspecting the haunted next-door house. That cycle runs through at least twice and nearly eats up forty minutes of screen time! If you want to bring up the great cinematography, then I'll tell you that it was "so-so", unless you're talking about the fight scene in the woods, then I'll tell you that it was brilliant. I had heard so many gushing stories about the "beautiful camerawork" in this movie and really that's the only scene that wowed me, the rest looked it's age and was unimpressive, in my opinion.

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have watched the two King Hu movies back to back. I know when I look back on them, both this and "Come Drink with Me" are going to get confused in my mind and their both going to end up getting balled together and placed in the round file of my filmic brain. I give the film a few points for not totally boring me into oblivion, but ultimately this gets added to that long list of "not for me" movies. Otherwise, if this type of thing is your cup of tea, then I'm sure "A Touch of Zen" would be a great film for you.

RATING: 4/10 Well, I can't say I'm sad to see King Hu films finished, as far as my journey is concerned.

MOVIES WATCHED: 355
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 646

November 27, 2011 8:20pm

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Four WISE Choices - COMING SOON




November 25, 2011 10:04pm

422. A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Richard Lester
Written By: Alun Owen
Main Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell
Click here to view the trailer

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN...THE BEATLES!

In a couple of weeks, the world will once again be forced to remember that horrific day in history when legendary Beatles front man John Lennon was gunned down and killed. Today, I take a look at a much happier time in the life of the "Fab Four" - their early days and the height of "Beatlemania".

The film really doesn't have much of a plot too it and is obviously meant as a vehicle to showcase the Beatles, making a few cents off of their success and popularity. The four play themselves and the film takes place during a day when the Beatles are to play on television, later that night. It starts with a train ride, where John, George and Ringo meet Paul's grandfather, John (Brambell), run into a feisty old miser and bang out a rendition of "I Should Have Known Better", before departing the train and escaping through a flurry of frenzied female fans and into a waiting car. The fellows head to a hotel, where their road manager tells them to stay put, but they brush him off to swing with some ladies and do a little dancing. Later the boys field some questions at a press conference before heading to a studio where they prepare for a television appearance. Ringo falls into a funk before showtime, however and leaves the studio, abandoning his fellow band mates and sending us into a climax, as the Paul, George and John are forced to go out and look for Ringo, all the while worrying about keeping an eye on Paul's grandfather.

My opinions on "A Hard Day's Night" are not many, so this shouldn't take too long. If I wasn't a fan of The Beatles, I probably would have hated this film. However, being a fan of theirs made it enjoyable, because you got to hear some good music and see the quartet run around and be a little foolish. Going into the film, I pretty much expected a ninety minute music video and was surprised when the film actually turned out to have some semblance of a plot and a lot of decent comedy. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions, but again that may just be because I like The Beatles and it cracked me up to see them interacting with one another and goofing around.

However, outside of the songs and the bits of comedy, the film really doesn't amount to much. I agree that it should be in THE BOOK, because I think everyone should get a real taste of The Beatles and in movie form, this is a top notch way to do that. The Beatles were musical legends and while the film may not have been the best thing ever committed to celluloid, it's something that everyone should treat themselves to, at least once. Of course, if you don't like The Beatles, then by all means skip this one and go rent "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never".

Songs you'll hear in "A Hard Day's Night" are as follows: "A Hard Day's Night", "I Should Have Known Better", "If I Fell", "Can't Buy Me Love", "And I Love Her", "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You", "Tell Me Why" and "She Loves You".

RATING: 6.5/10 It's really not a film that I can stretch into two full paragraphs, so I'll apologize for the short review and hopefully make it up to you next time. Peace.

MOVIES WATCHED: 354
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
647

COMING SOON:
A Touch of Zen (1969 - King Hu)
Gilda (1946 - Charles Vidor)

November 25, 2011 9:38pm

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

548. Deliverance (1972)

Running Time: 109 minutes
Directed By: John Boorman
Written By: James Dickey, from his novel
Main Cast: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Click here to view the trailer

SODOMY ON THANKSGIVING EVE

Well, here we are on the eve of "Turkey Day", yours truly enjoying a couple of days off from my workplace and opting to curl up in a warm bed with the wife and check out a good movie. And so that's EXACTLY what I did, except the movie far superseded the "good" that I would have settled for.

Here, our main cast is four strong, as a group of thirty-something businessmen head into the wilderness to enjoy the raging rapids of a mighty river, before the river valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. The mastermind behind the canoe trip is Lewis (Reynolds), who goes against his friends wishes to just spend the weekend playing gold and opts to spend the weekend connecting with nature and being primitive. Joining Lewis is Ed (Voight), Drew (Cox) and Bobby (Beatty), as the quartet head into the wilderness. The plan is for the four to head downstream and end up in the town of Aintry, where they plan to find their cars, courtesy of a couple of local hillbillies that Lewis paid off. The first day goes off without a hitch and when the quartet awaken the next morning, they head back to their canoes and back down the river. This time, it's Bobby & Ed pairing up in one vessel and Lewis & Drew in another. When Bobby & Ed fall behind their friends and stop to rest their arms and wash their faces in a stream, they get taken hostage by two hunters. When Ed is tethered to a tree with his belt, one of the hunters forces Bobby to strip down and what follows is a very uncomfortable rape scene. Lewis & Drew eventually find their two mates, but the damage has been done and it's just the beginning of the quartet's weekend nightmare.

SPOILER ALERT!

What you have in "Deliverance" is really three films all crammed into one. You have a story of man vs. nature, a story of man vs. man and a story of man vs. self. The man vs. nature aspect of it is pretty self-explanatory and when the film starts that's really all this film is. You take four men and you pit them against the wilds of the river rapids and leave them to survive in the wilderness and you have basis for many movies that have been made on that plot alone. Then you throw in the two hunters and it turns into man vs. man, again self explanatory and again a plot that can stand on it's own two feet. Then you throw in the moral dilemma of a man who questions covering up a murder, even if the murder was justified. You force these four men to wrestle with themselves and while maybe never verbally saying it, you get something in their eyes that makes you think they feel guilty, especially Ed. You take all of those elements and you weave them together and you have the makings for a fantastic piece of cinema and a sensational picture and that's what "Deliverance" is. The acting is top notch too, with even someone like Burt Reynolds, whom you wouldn't think could ACTUALLY act, turning in a really great performance. I think Voight and Beatty steal the show though, they were both marvelous.

I just want to talk for a minute about the rape scene itself. It was an extremely uncomfortable scene, but they did do something that kind of took the edge off a little bit. They have the hunters tethering Ed to a tree and basically forcing him to watch as his friend gets sodomized by a Georgian hillbilly. In doing that, the audience, no matter how uncomfortable we get, have someone that we can really relate to at that moment. In a way it really works to transport the audience to THAT moment. In a way, we're the ones tethered to the tree and we're the ones being forced to watch as this helpless man is victimized. It's a very well done scene, despite the uncomfortableness. Speaking of Ed, I also loved the scene, near the end of the film where he sits down to eat something, after just getting out of the river. Once his plate is loaded up and before he eats, he breaks down for just a second. Bobby changes the conversation and soon we're hearing the head of the table, an old woman, talk about an extra large cucumber that she grew. Ed laughs, realizing in that moment that life goes on, that despite the seriousness that the four were forced to face that weekend, things have a chance at normalcy again...someday.

RATING: 9/10 I really don't have any gripes, so we'll call that a review. No '10' because it just didn't feel like a '10', but nonetheless it's a fantastic film and one that is really easy to get gripped by.

MOVIES WATCHED: 353
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
648

November 23, 2011 4:41pm
Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

451. Da Zui Xia/Come Drink with Me (1966)

Running Time: 95 minutes
Directed By:
King Hu
Written By: Ye Yang
Main Cast: Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-lit, Lee Wan-chung, Yueng Chi-hing
Click here to view the trailer

EVERYBODY WAS KING HU FIGHTING

Well my streak of good movies comes to a crashing halt here at the blog. My last seven reviews written have all been positive reviews, but "Come Drink with Me" would have had to serve me up something A LOT better to get anything even remotely close to positive.

While traveling in a caravan, a general's son is kidnapped and held hostage in exchange for the release of a bandit leader, who is to be put to death. The bandit gang of kidnappers agree that they'll give the opposition four days to release their leader, or else they'll kill the general's son. The only thing that they must worry about now is Golden Swallow (Pei-pei), the general's daughter, coming at them, in retaliation. Of course, she does and we find out soon that their fears were legitimate, as we see Golden Swallow showcasing some pretty fancy sword work and throwing pieces of money as if it were daggers. On her mission to free her brother, Golden Swallow meets up with beggar, Drunken Cat (Hua), a man who turns out not to be a beggar at all, but another warrior and wielder of the Green Wand, a magic wand that turns Drunken Cat nearly invincible. Ultimately Drunken Cat agrees to assist Golden Swallow and an all out war is waged as we head into the climax of the picture.

If you'll remember my "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" review, then you'll remember me filing that film into the folder entitled, "not for me". "Come Drink with Me" is basically "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" thirty years earlier, except the cinematography isn't as flashy and the special effects aren't as poured on. It's a film that looks like it's age and in my opinion, that's a big drawback. The story in "Come Drink with Me" just wasn't very interesting and ultimately I just didn't care about the heroes or the villains that were battling one another or the outcomes of their situations. I'll give them a few brownie points for some mildly exciting action sequences and some attention grabbing swordplay scenes. This is something that if it had a much stronger story and had just a little bit more flamboyancy, it could've really been a home run. Instead, this film just feels so mundane and unimportant. I haven't seen a whole lot of kung-fu films, but I have a strong feeling that this is just another in a plethora of cookie cutter martial arts flicks.

Also, this is apparently another case of the book just throwing something in for historical value, rather than a movie ACTUALLY being a must see. A quick trip to the IMDB page for "Come Drink with Me" and you'll find a message board post claiming that this is King Hu's worst film, where many supposed martial arts buffs denounce this film, recommending that everyone take a look at anything but "Come Drink with Me" when it comes to King Hu cinema. Not good enough for ya? The book also says and I quote: "...despite it's great charm, this is still early King Hu; his mastery of all aspects of the medium, especially his inimitable approach to editing, would only be perfected in later masterworks such as A Touch of Zen." Okay, so THE BOOK is basically flat out saying that, "Yeah this movie's okay, but if you really want a treat check out A Touch of Zen". Must I see something from a director who has yet to perfect his style, according to this book? Really? Nevermind, I've scratched my head over this one long enough.

RATING: 3/10 Not the worst thing I've seen from the book and a few, minor pieces of interest get it a '3', but still a recommendation to avoid. I've moved "A Touch of Zen" to the top of my Netflix queue, so that I can rip this band-aid right off, in one quick motion.

MOVIES WATCHED: 352
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
649

November 22, 2011 7:10pm

Sunday, November 20, 2011

876. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Running Time: 142 minutes
Directed By: Frank Darabont
Written By: Frank Darabont, from the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Main Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown
Click here to view the trailer

"GET BUSY LIVING OR GET BUSY DYING"

At exactly the halfway mark, on my way to "401 films watched, 600 films to go" and my 4th TOP 20, I decided to slip in a personal favorite, just to sweeten the pot - "The Shawshank Redemption".

The year is 1947. Andy Dufresne (Robbins) hears the bang of a judge's gavel and a sentence of "guilty", for the murder of his wife and her lover. Andy is sent to Shawshank Prison, as our film opens, where he is to serve two consecutive life sentences - one for each of his victims. Upon his arrival at Shawshank and for the first month or so, Andy keeps to himself, strolling around the yard like a free man strolling through a park. After some time passes, Andy approaches Red (Freeman) to request a rock hammer - for carving rocks. Seeing as how Red is the "man who knows how to get things", Andy knocked on the right door and Red agrees to help out Andy. Some more time passes and Andy & Red form a friendship. Andy also makes his usefulness known to the guards, letting them in on the fact that he was a banker on the outside world and helping many of the guards with their finances. When Andy begins helping the corrupt Warden Norton (Gunton) of Shawshank it initially seems like a good move toward getting on the good side of some of the higher-ups. Later, when some information that could free Andy comes to light, the Warden refuses to acknowledge it, knowing that if Andy were to ever be released it could spell trouble for the scheming, scamming, dirty Warden Norton.

I saw "The Shawshank Redemption" for the first time back in the mid-1990s. I can still vividly remember watching it for the first time, as once again it was my brother showing me the good films, that would ultimately form the backbone to my interest in movies. I remember I remember seeing the name "Stephen King" flash across the screen, during the opening credits and initially thinking that this must be a horror film. I remember thinking that no matter what the movie I was about to watch, was about, that it would SURELY scare me. Trust me, in my very early days, I let my eyes gaze upon Stephen King adapted movies, such as "It" and my sleep schedule would ultimately pay the price for it. So, as "The Shawshank Redemption" started and despite my brother's insistence that it wasn't a horror movie, I still convinced myself that I would surely, somehow, get a fright from something. And so, "The Shawshank Redemption", for the longest time (though no longer) held a certain aura about it. It was a movie that wasn't scary at all, but for some reason would always give me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, one that was almost unnoticeable to me. Just a certain haze would hang over me and when I stared up at the walls of Shawshank Prison, along with Andy Dufresne when he first walked in, I would get a chill. Even tonight, as I watched the film for the first time in quite a while, I got goosebumps when the powerful score played and a bus carrying Andy and his fellow inmates rounded the turn and drove through the gates of Shawshank.

"The Shawshank Redemption" doesn't give me that aura of uneasiness anymore. Tonight, when I viewed the picture for the umpteenth time, it was like visiting an old friend. I knew what was coming, I knew all the surprises, but I was still glad to see it again and when the credits rolled at the end I said "farewell", yet again, as the tears strolled down my face. "The Shawshank Redemption" has always had the ability to make me cry. I usually start tearing up when they show a shot of Red holding a magnifying glass and laughing as he looks at a map and envisions Andy crossing the border in his car, with the top down. From there, the tears come and go until Andy and Red reunite on the beaches of Zihuatanejo.

Also, like an old friend, I've learned to overlook the flaws, as few of them as there are. The good always outshines the bad when it comes to me and "The Shawshank Redemption". Maybe I only love this film because it's been a part of my curriculum for so long. It's been a film that for years and years has been brought up anytime I get into a conversation about films with a "commoner". In fact, "Shawshank" is the one film that I think EVERYONE loves. It's the one film that can be the favorite of a film snob or a film imbecile, which may be why it currently sits atop the IMDB TOP 250 Movies of All-Time list. I always have the hardest time writing about personal favorite films of mine. Sometimes, it just comes to the point for me, when I forget why I fell in love with a movie and I just know I love it. Why do I like "The Shawshank Redemption"? I just do! It portrays a beautiful friendship, taking shape in the most unlikeliest of places. It has fantastic acting and a Morgan Freeman narration (which is always good for at least a few brownie points). It made careers, in my opinion, for both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and honestly, I don't think we'd still be talking about either of those actors today (especially Robbins) if it wasn't for this film. "Shawshank" has a commanding, powerful score that knows when to lay low and knows when to come up blazing. It provides a plethora of memorable scenes and even has a few key, intelligent twists and turns. Darabont proved here, with one film, that he is a master storyteller. He understood the source material to such a degree that he was able to sculpt a perfect film to immortalize that story and to keep the audience captivated.

RATING: 10/10 Fifty more films to go before I make my 4th TOP 20 and the pot just got a whole lot sweeter. FYI: this, "Jaws", "Once Upon a Time in the West", "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "The Shop on Main Street" are all battling it out, in my head, for the #1 position of that list. Whew!

MOVIES WATCHED: 351
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 650

November 20, 2011 1:47am

Saturday, November 19, 2011

468. Point Blank (1967)

Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: John Boorman
Written By: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, from the novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake
Main Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Vernon, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor
Click here to view the trailer

LEE MARVIN IS ONE COOL CAT

I actually started watching this a couple of night ago, but just didn't have the energy to give it my full attention. As I started and watched the first five minutes of "Point Blank", I kind of got the feeling, for no reason at all, that I wasn't going to like it. First impressions can be deceiving.

Lee Marvin is Walker, an everyman with, what we can only assume, is a criminal background. When his best friend Reese (Vernon) asks for his help in doing a job, Walker agrees. The job is to take place on Alcatraz Island and involves heisting a large sum of money from an organized crime organization that uses the island to make drops. When the deed is done, Reese turns on Walker, shooting him twice and leaving him to die in a prison cell. Well, the bullet wounds don't kill Walker, but they might have made him a little bit stronger and they definitely make him more determined to get vengeance on his former partner and his wife, who also turned on Walker back on Alcatraz and sided with Reese. However, it seems that Reese has used the money he lifted to buy his way back into the organized crime business. Now, if Walker wants to regain the $93,000 that he "earned" alongside Reese, he's going to have to go through more than a few gangsters. Angie Dickinson co-stars as Walker's sister-in-law Chris, who somehow gets herself involved in this whole mess.

This shouldn't take too long, so I'll try my best to keep it short and sweet. Well, my first impressions turned out to be wrong and I actually ended up liking "Point Blank" a good deal. But let's tackle the bad first, shall we. I have a strong hunch (and don't ask me why) that this is a prime case where the book is a lot better than the film. It just seems like this was a pretty cut and dry story, however there were certain parts of the storytelling here that I wasn't fond of. Certain uses of colors and the way things were photographed sometimes just didn't match up with the type of story that was being told. This is a story that could have stood just fine on it's own merits, but instead I think one too many artistic liberties were taken and AT TIMES, the whole production came off as a sort of statement of the times, rather than a cool gangster/revenge flick, which is what it was when you stripped away the fact from the fancy. Certain shots, like the one in the storm drain river bed, worked REALLY well for me (I'll never forget that entire sequence - such a nice wide open space and a real beautiful shooting location), while others just didn't - certain dream sequences involving Walker's dead wife Lynne, the use of color in Reese's penthouse - these are examples of shots and images that just didn't seem to quite fit in.

Otherwise there's not much more to nitpick over. Lee Marvin is quickly turning into a favorite of mine and I'll have to be sure and make a note of him for future reference. While I'm touching on cast, I have to say it was a real treat seeing Carroll O'Connor emerge as a figurehead of the criminal underworld. I've always been a fan of "All in the Family", but I don't think I've ever seen O'Connor out of his Archie Bunker regalia. Angie Dickinson was quite the little find as well - beautiful and a good enough actress. The story is great and just when you think the climax is coming, the film loads up another one and fires it at us and we follow Walker along like obedient puppies, hoping that he ices a few more thugs along the way. They keep the film, as a whole, short and to the point (at just around ninety minutes), which is good, because everything is kept nice and concise and there's not a lot of room for unwarranted scenes.

SPOILER ALERT!

On a final note, I will pose a question to anyone who may be reading this. I've got to admit that I was a little confused by the end of the picture. At the end, Walker is to accompany Brewster (O'Connor) back to Alcatraz Island so that he can collect his $93,000. The ending happens and when the film comes to a close, the frame pans up to reveal Alcatraz Island off in the distance. WTF? I thought we were ON Alcatraz already. It seems like some sort of twist that I just didn't pick up on.

RATING: 7/10 All this talk about Alcatraz has reminded me of another, even better movie, "Escape from Alcatraz" (1979 - Don Siegel), another film that could have EASILY been included in THE BOOK. As for "Point Blank" - recommended. By the way, I may do "Deliverance" soon, as sort of a John Boorman follow-up.

MOVIES WATCHED: 350
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
651

November 19, 2011 12:17am

Thursday, November 17, 2011

492. Ma nuit chez Maud/My Night at Maud's (1969)

Running Time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Eric Rohmer
Written By: Eric Rohmer
Main Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Francoise Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault, Antoine Vitez
Click here to view the trailer

A MORAL TALE

In fact, there were six "moral tales" directed by Eric Rohmer, but "My Night at Maud's" happens to be the only one included in THE BOOK. It's a shame really, because this film really peaked my interest in Eric Rohmer and makes me excited to discover more of his hidden gems, of which there's bound to be many.

Jean-Louis (Trintignant) is a Catholic, living in Clermont in France. He is new to the area, working as an engineer and spends his free time studying mathematics and keeping to himself. He attends Sunday services and is enamored by a cute, young blonde whom he sees there every Sunday, but has never mustered up the courage to approach. One day, Jean-Louis runs into an old friend, Vidal (Vitez), whom he hasn't seen in fourteen years. It is just after Christmas, but before New Year's and the two old chums sip beverages at a coffee bar and talk as if they've never missed a beat. At the end of their conversation, Vidal persuades Jean-Louis to join him in visiting a lady friend of his, Maud (Fabian). Jean-Louis reluctantly agrees. The evening between Jean-Louis, Vidal and Maud and their conversations, ranging from religion to love to philosophy, takes up a major part of the film. Eventually Vidal has too much too drink and excuses himself, leaving Jean-Louis and Maud alone together. When Maud persuades Jean-Louis to spend the night, so he won't have to drive in the snow, Jean-Louis is faced with some difficult decisions of morality.

SPOILER ALERT!

I kind of have to argue whether or not this is really a "moral tale". In my opinion, "My Night at Maud's" was not so much a tale of morality, but rather a tale of the decisions we make and the finality of those decisions. It also speaks volumes on the relationships that we kindle as human beings and how sometimes, so easily, they get extinguished. Let's take the main character of Jean-Louis and dissect him. For starters, he was a very complex character. He touted devout Catholicism, yet he had a very repugnant demeanor, at times. During the conversation scene, between Jean-Louis, Maud and Vidal, he seemed so cocky and smug and not the type of person you'd expect to be harping on about religion and morality. As the film goes on he becomes more relateable, but we'll get into that in a second. Here you had a guy who seemed to have his entire life thought out. He somehow knew that he was going to marry the mystery woman from the church, he knew that he wanted a Catholic girl, if nothing else and he often times, throughout the film, claimed that "he knew he wasn't wrong" or "i know I'm right". For him, everything was so final and his life seemed to depend on these solid, structural choices he'd made for himself.

So then you get to the point of the film that actually makes this a "moral tale" and the scene where Jean-Louis is confronted with the beautiful Maud, as they lie in bed together - her nude and him wrapped in a blanket and trying hard to stick to his guns. And, what do you know, Jean-Louis sticks to his guns and when the carrot is dangled in front of him, so to speak, he doesn't go for it. He resists. BUT...he still feels guilty about it. To me, that's fascinating and rings true to life. The reason I say he still feels guilty about it, is at the end of the film, immediately after he runs into Maud at the beach, he's tripping over his own tongue, trying to explain everything to Francoise, who is now his wife. He still feels like he has to explain her, as if she actually is an old lover of his, when in reality, nothing happened between them. They DID have a very deep bond, as short as it lasted, but sexually - nothing happened.

And let's talk about that bond between Jean-Louis and Maud for a moment, shall we. I think we all have people in our lives that we've happened upon, spent a very short amount of time with and then parted ways with, never to see them again. It's so sad really. In the film, when Maud and Jean-Louis are in her apartment and they part and promise to phone one another, it was, to me, a very sad scene, because you kind of knew that they were just going to forget about one another. For me this really hit home, because I've had so many friendships in my life that have blown away like dust in the wind. It's truly heartbreaking if you stop and think about it. You meet someone and for the time that you know them, they're special people to you, but then they go away, for one reason or another and soon they're nothing to you. To go from something to nothing is just heartbreaking. It was also very interesting how Francoise, at first, was completely uninterested in Jean-Louis, yet he was enamored with her. Maud, on the other hand, all but threw herself at Jean-Louis, yet he had already made up his mind that Francoise was the girl for him. It's something that I can't fully understand, yet am fascinated by and can understand on some levels.

As for the bad, I'm not sure I could really relate to the subject matter that existed in the dialogue. I'm just not the type of guy who enjoys sitting around talking about religion, Blaise Pascal and destiny. They're conversations, at times, made me feel like a child in a room full of adults. Not that they made me feel inferior or unintelligent, just that they made me feel bored and uninterested. I was more thought provoked by the actions of the actors and the ultimate outcomes, than the dialogue. However, the dialogue was such a major part of the film, that it was hard to simply overlook it and concentrate on the big picture. I'm not so sure that the subject matter within the dialogue was very important though. I think as long as you were able to grasp the overall message and themes of the picture, you were just fine.

RATING: 7.5/10 I'm not really sure what to make of this one, at this time. I know that I admire how much it made me think and that I think I'm going to be tossing it around in my head for many weeks to come.

MOVIES WATCHED: 349
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
652

November 17, 2011 2:45am

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

415. Goldfinger (1964)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Guy Hamilton
Written By: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn, from novel by Ian Fleming
Main Cast: Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Shirley Eaton, Harold Sakata
Click here to view the trailer

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED BOND...JAMES BOND

Well, well, well...long time, no see. Yes, it's been about a week or so since I've stepped into the pages of the "1001" book, but I've returned and am ready to immerse myself in so-called classic cinema, yet again. This time around we take a look at the one and only 007 movie from THE BOOK, "Goldfinger" - a movie that I highly underestimated the first time I saw it, years ago.

The appeal of the 007 movies really isn't in the plot, but I'll relay it to you nonetheless. James Bond (Connery) is a British MI6 agent (code designation: 007) with a license to kill and a tendency to thrill. In this particular film, Bond's latest assignment is to infiltrate and gain information on the nefarious Auric Goldfinger (Frobe). For his entire life, Goldfinger has been entranced by the color gold and in his latter years, has become more infatuated with the type of gold that is worth something. His grand scheme is called "Project Grand Slam", where Goldfinger plans to break into the Ft. Knox, Kentucky gold depository and set off a radioactive bomb, thus rendering the gold useless for a period of 58 years and making Goldfinger's own gold more valuable. As Bond learns more and more of Goldfinger's scheme, his mission becomes more dangerous, but also more personal, when Bond's "girl of the night" - Jill Masterson (Eaton), is killed via skin suffocation, when her entire body is painted gold. Along the way, Bond must also contend with Goldfinger's villainous cohorts: the hat throwing, muscle-man Oddjob (Sakata) and the vivacious Pussy Galore (Blackman).

Before I start reviewing, a story: Many years ago, when I was just starting to become interested in film, I made the decision that James Bond films were essential viewing. At the time, I had never seen a Bond film and so I decided to acquire a list of his movies and watch my way through, one by one, from the beginning. I started with Dr. No and if memory serves me correctly, made it all the way to "GoldenEye" (starring Pierce Brosnan) before I decided to give up, because I simply couldn't take anymore Bond. For years, I would consider the entire Bond film franchise to be nothing but rubbish, and tonight I can finally lay those misconceptions to rest. Tonight I realized that the Bond films (well "Goldfinger" anyway) is almost exactly the opposite of rubbish, it's actually very good and taps into a certain excitement, that subconsciously, we all want with our movies. I mean, this is the ultimate, stereotypical male movie. You have explosions, car chases, car crashes, half naked women, guns, gadgets, cars, heists, bombs, evil villains and one, martini swilling hero that every guy wishes he could be. I mean, you have everything just shy of a straight up shot of testosterone.

In all seriousness, this usually isn't my kind of picture. I'm not big on spy flicks for starters, whether they're directed by Alfred Hitchcock or featuring 007. However, "Goldfinger" packs a punch and it's not an easy film to dislike. It actually has a really good story behind it, which kind of had me surprised at about the halfway point. The plot is followable, though I think for the most part, all you really need to know is that Bond is the super-hero and Goldfinger is the bad guy and you'll be just fine. And hey, if you want to talk about acting performances, I think we all know the credentials of Mr. Connery. Hell, it was that same year (1964) that he starred alongside Tippy Hedren in Hitchcock's "Marnie" and I think we can all agree that Alfred wouldn't cast a slouch. There's also the not so obvious Gert Frobe, who did an absolutely amazing job as Auric Goldfinger, making himself very convincing as someone who would be the mastermind of a gold heist. I'll bring this to a close by emphasizing just how much my watching of THE BOOK has done for my tastes. No longer do I write films off without, at least, giving them a fighting chance. Tonight, I say "sayonara" to my old opinion of the Bond films being rubbish and embrace them (well, at least this one) as a true classic and a really fun movie!

RATING: 8/10 I'm shocked by that rating, I truly am. If memory serves me correctly, "Dr. No" was not a bad movie either. I may just have to re-watch the Bond films...at least the Sean Connery ones.

MOVIES WATCHED: 348
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
653

COMING SOON:
Point Blank (1967 - John Boorman)
My Night at Maud's (1969 - Eric Rohmer)
Come Drink with Me (1966 - King Hu)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994 - Frank Darabont)

November 16, 2011 2:35am

Thursday, November 10, 2011

UPDATE - November 2011

I'm going to be away from the blog from now until probably Sunday night or Monday, so I figured I'd drop in and give you all a little update. I'll be watching some non-BOOK movies over the next few days, including working on a couple of reviews for my DVD review blog. This weekend, I'll be spending my movie watching time with my wife, as she's finally convinced me to check out the Twilight Saga. Keep your eyes on the DVD review blog and as always you can hear my opinions on anything, non-BOOK related, at the end of the month at recap time.

While I'm here, I figured I'd give you guys (and girls) a tentative schedule for the remainder of this 100 films. We're quickly approaching the halfway mark of this current 100 and when we get there, I'll be reviewing "The Shawshank Redemption". I intend for that movie to be watched at exactly the halfway mark of this 100 (or at 350 films watched).

At somewhere on or around 360 films watched, I'll be doing a four film tribute to Robert Wise, which will include: "The Day the Earth Stood Still", "West Side Story", "The Sound of Music" and "The Haunting".

At somewhere on or around 380 films watched, I'll be doing my tribute to Jean-Luc Godard with "Godard Week". That tribute will include all eight of Godard's films that are contained in the BOOK and they are: "Breathless", "My Life to Live", "Contempt", "Alphaville", "Pierrot le Fou", Masculine-Feminine", "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" and "Week End".

Also in the remainder of this set of 100 films, I'll be continuing my effort to make this set rife with films from the 1960s. 27 films have been selected, by yours truly, to round out my 60s project and I plan to stick to this schedule.

There are also 14 "open spots", which means that for the remainder of this 100, I'll have free range when it comes to certain choices - 14 to be exact.

So, to sum everything up, here's how the rest of this 100 will go:

*The Shawshank Redemption
*4 Robert Wise films
*8 Jean-Luc Godard films
*27 random films from the 60s
*14 open spots or totally random choices

Add that all up and you get 54, which is exactly what we need to hit 401 films watched and thus make my 4th TOP 20. I hope you'll join me as I continue my journey. As always, thank you to those who follow me, send me comments or even take a few moments to read something I've written. I'll see you next week folks!

November 10, 2011 12:41am

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

707. Once Upon a Time in America (1983)

Running Time: 227 minutes
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Written By: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone, Ernesto Gastaldi, from the novel The Hoods by Harry Grey
Main Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, James Hayden, William Forsythe
Click here to view the trailer

SERGIO LEONE HAT TRICK: PART THREE OF THREE

From the dusty settings of the old west to the dirty streets of prohibition era Brooklyn, Sergio Leone's hat trick of films comes to a conclusion with "Once Upon a Time in America".

Despite it's epic length, the film's plot is actually fairly simple as we follow a group of Jewish youths on their rise to power in the criminal ranks. Our main character is Noodles (De Niro) and as the film opens we seem him as he nears the end of his criminal run, hiding out in a Chinese theater as detectives interrogate his closest allies. Eventually the cops beat some information out of one of Noodles confidants, Moe, but Noodles gives the detectives the slip and heads for the train station. On the way, Noodles stops to survey three dead bodies and we watch as tags are are fastened to the body bags, reading the names of "Max", "Phillip" and "Patrick". Noodles slips out of the crowd, gathered around the bodies and proceeds to buy a ticket for the first train out of town. He makes a detour into Coney Island and then says "goodbye" to New York City. Suddenly, the film flashes forward and we see a much older Noodles arriving back in the Big Apple, renting a car and going to "Fat Moe's" restaurant, to visit his old friend. Moe offers to put him up and later that night Noodles begins to reminisce over his life.

Well, where do you start with a movie the caliber of "Once Upon a Time in America"? I guess I'll start by saying that I thought it was an absolute masterpiece. There were things about it that I didn't like (which I'll get to), but in the end, these things are easy to overlook when you take into account the entire picture and how ultimately fabulous it all was. "Once Upon a Time in America" is much more than your typical gangster flick. It's about life, but more specifically it's about the loss of youth - at least that's one of the main themes that I took away from it. On top of all that, there's also a very beautiful, sometimes very complicated romance story lying underneath it all. As the icing on the cake, Ennio Morricone returns to accompany Sergio Leone yet again, belting out an absolutely impeccable score. The camerawork, as usual for a Leone picture, is top notch and there are certain scenes and images that I won't soon shake from my mind. The acting is superb, with De Niro proving, once again, why he's the recipient of so many accolades and here he's surrounded by the great performances of James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Larry Rapp, Burt Young and William Forsythe.

SPOILER ALERT!

You know, silly me, but I kept expecting Steven Spielberg like moments to crop up as this film progressed. Let me explain... For example, when Noodles reunites with Deborah, near the end of the film, I kept expecting him to apologize to her, for raping her. And maybe she would resist the apology, kicking him out of her dressing room and sending him off to never be forgiven for the vicious sin that he committed. But those moments never came and in retrospect, I just don't think Leone was that kind of filmmaker, to serve up those moments to his viewers on a silver platter. He just let everything loom in the background. Sure, he wanted us to think that Noodles or Deborah was going to mention the rape - I mean, how could they not? It was the most uncomfortable scene in the whole picture and yet, during their reunion, it's never mentioned. In a way, I wish it had been brought up. As far as I'm concerned, Deborah greets Noodles with to warm of a reception, when she should have been terrified of Noodles for turning out to be someone vicious enough to rape her. And as far as the rape scene itself, I thought it was a great scene. It was one of those scenes that really set this movie apart, as other filmmakers wouldn't go the brutal route and I think it only helps to make us ponder the character of Noodles even more. Uncomfortable, YES, but in my opinion it worked.

Apparently there are a lot of theories going around the net as to why Noodles' smiles at the end of the movie. For starters, NO I don't think that everything after he took opium was a dream. I love (sarcasm) how every time a moviegoer can't understand something, it simply gets chalked up as a dream sequence and then we all feel smart for "cracking that mystery". Anyway, throughout the whole movie, there are several scenes where Noodles' eyes seem to be welling up with tears. You can notice it when he returns to Fat Moe's, at the beginning of the movie and takes a peek through his old peephole. As the camera pans in toward his eyes and right before the film flashes back, he seems to be right on the brink of tears. This happens again at the end of the movie, as he lays down on the bed at the Chinese theater. Noodles seems like he could burst into tears at any moment, as he takes the pipe and smokes the opiates. He finishes his toke and there seems to be one final moment of reflection and possible, emotional breakdown before he forms the big smile to end the movie. In my opinion, Noodles smiled as a way of containing himself and not breaking down in tears. This is a man who was brought up on the streets of Brooklyn and someone who would have had the mindset that crying is a sign of weakness and you just don't do it. When Noodles felt the tears about to come, he simply put a big smile on his face as a way of tricking the tears back into his eyes. That's just my opinion, of course.

As much as I loved this movie, I have to say that the ending was a real letdown. Is it just me or does Leone have a slight problem with ending his pictures? I'm not really talking about the very end of the film as the subtle, smiling Noodles ending was a fine one. However, what I'm talking about is the resurrection of Max and how absolutely stupid it was! For starters, if we MUST bring Max back to life, then the first revelation of this should have come when Noodles enters the room. The camera should have been positioned firmly on the back of Max's head (the audience and Noodles still thinking that it's Secretary Bailey) and then he turns around, revealing to us and to Noodles that it's actually Max. Instead, he peeks out the window as Noodles arrives to the party and for a moment, I was as confused as hell! I just wish that Max's resurrection would have been left out. It just seemed like a cheap thrill to throw in there, a moment maker and for me it didn't work at all.

But, it's really hard to deny this movie the praise that it deserves. I loved it and I won't soon forget it and I'm sure it's one that I'll be tossing around in my head for the next few weeks or even months. It was a visual delight and something that really comes off almost flawlessly. It makes an impression on you (if you allow it to) and it sucks you in.

RATING: 10/10 Going lower than a '10' just wouldn't feel right, so I'll give it the full monty and call it a day. I'd say that after a few days of reflection, that both "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West" were also '10's'. Three absolute MUST SEE pictures.

MOVIES WATCHED: 347
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
654

A WORD ABOUT SERGIO LEONE

Just a quick couple of words about Sergio Leone. In his short career, Leone only managed to direct a handful of films (seven to be exact), but with less than half of his body of work, he's managed to turn me into a much pickier film junkie. As I've made my way through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", I've seen a lot of fantastic pieces of cinema history and my tastes are becoming more and more refined. With the "Sergio Leone Hat Trick", I've managed to accentuate my tastes even further and I have no doubt that from here on out I'll be much more fussier when it comes to ingesting films. Leone's films felt like films. When you were in the midst of experiencing them, no matter where you were, you felt like you were sitting in the middle row of an empty theater and being personally entertained. I'll also tip my hat to Ennio Morricone, who has, single-handedly made me much more appreciative of film scores.

November 9, 2011 3:33pm

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

COMING SOON


November 8, 2011 6:27pm

479. C'era una volta il West/Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Running Time: 165 minutes
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Written By: Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sergio Donati, Mickey Knox, Sergio Leone
Main Cast: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Gabriele Ferzetti
Click here to view the trailer

SERGIO LEONE HAT TRICK: PART TWO OF THREE

Continuing on with my three film salute to Sergio Leone, we come to "Once Upon a Time in the West", a beautiful, intense epic that has played a huge role in recharging my zest for this journey through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book.

Like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "Once Upon a Time in the West" focuses on three men, crossing paths and kicking up dust in the old west. Frank (Fonda) is the meanest of the mean and is hired by wealthy railroad tycoon Morton (Ferzetti) to "take care" of anyone who might have reason to stop his railroad from being built. When Brett McBain buys a piece of land that lies right in the path of the railroad track, Frank and his boys pay a visit to Mr. McBain and remove him from the equation. That day Mr. McBain's new wife, Jill (Cardinale), arrives from New Orleans, to meet her new family, but finds them all slaughtered. Wanting to make a go at a new life in Flagstone, she stays put and tries to establish herself. Meanwhile, a man dubbed Harmonica (Bronson) has recently strolled into town and while he keeps his words few, he speaks with his musical mouthpiece and his six-shooter and seems to have a score to settle with the vicious Frank. Also there's Cheyenne (Robards), a mild-mannered guy, who is being framed for the murder of Brett McBain and aims to find out why the McBain family was killed in the first place.

Despite the fact that it's a Western, I honestly believe that if "Once Upon a Time in the West" had been released in 2010, as opposed to 1968, it would still be received very well. It, in my opinion, is a film that was/is way ahead of it's time. The thing I'm already beginning to love about Sergio Leone is that he was a very confident filmmaker. It comes across in the two movies of his that I've watched in the past two days. You can see confidence shining through on the screen. Leone knew for a fact that he had something special with "Once Upon a Time in the West". It oozes through in the music, in the cinematography and in the way Leone treats his characters. The score of Ennio Morricone is an absolute classic and probably one of the best soundtracks that I've ever heard accompany a movie. The camerawork is also absolutely AWESOME, in every sense of the word.

SPOILER ALERT!

To be honest, the plot of "Once Upon a Time in America" leaves something to be desired. I'm big on plot in my movies and maybe as my cinematic tastes mature a little bit more, I'll be able to watch a visually striking, musically enhanced picture, like "Once Upon a Time in the West" and that will be enough to curb my appetite for a good picture. However, I haven't reached that point yet and I'm still someone who likes to have a good storyline accompany all of that other detailed greatness. For a nearly three hour film, not a whole lot is ever really going on and if you take the plot itself, it's one that could have easily been told in half the time that Leone took to tell it. Everything kind of centers around that one important scene where Brett McBain and his family are murdered and from there on, we have these three characters staring holes in one another, until finally we're brought to a major, epic duel at the end of the movie.

And speaking of the end of the movie, what was up with the end of this movie? The ending should have and easily could have been Harmonica and Frank's duel, but instead we carry the film out for another fifteen or so minutes, as Cheyenne and Harmonica ride off into the sunset together, only to discover that apparently Cheyenne has been shot, falling from his horse and dying. It was a very weak ending if you ask me, one that wasn't needed, as they had a perfectly brilliant ending in the Frank/Harmonica duel. That duel, by the way, is one that I rewound three times to rewatch, as it was really a PERFECT scene and one that I won't soon forget.

For all the nitpicking I'm doing, it's really hard to deny that "Once Upon a Time in the West" is really a MUST SEE movie. Even if the plot is a little stale and the ending is all wrong, the film is still absolutely brilliant and sometimes breathtaking. Seeing Henry Fonda play a bad guy is something else that must be seen to be believed. I wondered how they were going to get me to believe that my personal symbol of cinematic justice, Mr. Henry Fonda was an evil outlaw...and then he shoots a young child in the face and I knew he wasn't Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes anymore. Here's another little fun fact: I had never seen a Charles Bronson picture prior to this one. In my mind, he was always kind of lumped into the Steven Segal, Chuck Norris macho club, but I'll be damned if he wasn't a pretty good actor and a suitable successor to Eastwood's "Man with No Name" persona. And yes, Claudia Cardinale is still GORGEOUS!

RATING: 8.5/10 I'm sure this, along with "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" will see a change in their ratings come recap time, but for now an '8.5' seems suitable. Had there been a stronger plot and had they lopped off the Cheyenne dying ending, then it could have been an easy '10' and probably a shoo-in for the #1 spot of my next TOP 20.

MOVIES WATCHED: 346
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
655

November 8, 2011 12:52am

Sunday, November 6, 2011

449. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Running Time: 177 minutes
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Written By: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Main Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
Click here to view the trailer

SERGIO LEONE HAT TRICK: PART ONE OF THREE

NOTE: The book cites "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" as a 166 minute feature. However, the version that I took in was the Extended, English dubbed version, which clocked in at 177 minutes. It's the only version that Netflix offers and thus, the only version that I was able to retrieve, so I guess it will have to do. Now then....

I had never seen "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", prior to this morning. Of course, I had always heard about it, heard excerpts from the score used in multiple places and heard tale of "The Man With No Name". I've seen the IMDB Top 250 Movies (as voted on by it's users) and noticed how "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" has held steadfast at around the #5 position for as long as I've known about that list (it's currently #4). However, I had just never had the urge to see it. So, what follows is a first-timers review of "Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo" or "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".

The films plot, despite it's length, is actually fairly simple. First, we're introduced to three characters: The Good takes the form of Blondie (Eastwood), the Bad is Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) and the Ugly is Tuco (Wallach) - all three existing somewhere in the United States, during the time of the American Civil War. During the film's opening moments, Angel Eyes is told of $200,000 in gold that was stolen from the confederacy by a man named Jackson, later dubbed Bill Carson. Angel Eyes makes it his mission to track down the gold, but first he must track down the thief. Meanwhile, Blondie and Tuco are running a scam, which involves Blondie turning over the wanted Tuco to the authorities in exchange for the bounty. When they're about to hang Tuco, Blondie shoots him down, the two split the bounty and wait for the bounty to rise, so they can do it all over again. After a while, Blondie double crosses the weasel-esque Tuco and leaves him, hands tied, in the desert to fend for himself, while he makes off with the whole sum of a recently acquired bounty payment. Tuco eventually gets back to town, captures Blondie and tries to drag him across the desert, but is eventually halted by a runaway horse carriage. When Tuco stops the carriage, he finds a group of dying confederate soldiers, one of them being Bill Carson. With his dying breath, Carson tells Tuco that the gold has been buried in Sad Hill Cemetary, in a grave. However, when Tuco goes to get Carson some water, Carson tells Blondie the name on the grave and then dies, before Tuco can return. Now, Tuco and Blondie must try to settle their differences, as they each know one half of a $200,000 secret: Tuco knows the name of the cemetery, Blondie knows the name of the grave. And don't forget about Angel Eyes, who also has his eyes on the prize.

I wasn't TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY, I'll tell you that much right now. Now before all of you die hard Leone fans send me death threats, let me also say that I thought the film was very, very good and I'm really glad I finally got the chance to watch it. Prior to even popping the DVD into my player, I was very excited to finally be watching this iconic film and finally being able to say that, "Yes, I've seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". I knew, from the opening shot (a close-up of an extreme outlaw's face and a coyote walking across his/our field of view) that this was going to be something special. It only took me about ten minutes to see where Quentin Tarantino got a lot of influence out of Sergio Leone. I'm a big Tarantino fan, so that went a long way in helping me to feel more comfortable with a spaghetti western, a genre that I'm almost completely unfamiliar with. The score was legendary and it's no wonder that it became so memorable and so often imitated/stolen. The camera shots were also quite unforgettable and did a huge part in branding this film into my mind and I doubt that I'll soon forget this one.

As for the actors, a huge, enthusiastic thumbs up to Mr. Eli Wallach, my favorite character from the whole movie. Sure, Eastwood was bad ass, but not quite as bad ass as I always thought he would be as "The Man With No Name", but a bad ass nonetheless. Lee Van Cleef did a decent job too, but as far as I'm concerned, "Ugly" stole the show. Wallach was just so slimy and weasely, yet also portrayed as a bit of a bad ass himself - I just couldn't help but fall in love with his character. I wasn't necessarily rooting for him, I just very much enjoyed the scenes that he was a part of.

As for "not being totally blown away", I think a lot of it was simple hype. You know, when you hear about a film for so many years and then you finally see it, it's hard for a single movie to live up to so many years of praise, from so many different sources. Also, the film did drag in a couple of parts, not many, but a couple. However, I guess I did watch the "extended" version, so maybe that could account for some of the scenes that seemed to go on forever, like the one where Blondie and Tuco meet up with the drunk Union Captain, right before they blow the bridge. That scene was just slow and dull. I know I seem to say this A LOT, but this is yet another film that could easily transform into a '10' with a little bit of retrospective thinking on it and maybe another viewing. I won't continue blathering on and on, I think I've made my points.

RATING: 8.5/10 Not a '10' yet, but maybe someday. I'm REALLY excited to see "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America" though. Those will both be reviewed, probably by mid-week.

MOVIES WATCHED: 345
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 656

November 6, 2011 3:18pm

Friday, November 4, 2011

478. Gaav/The Cow (1968)

Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Dariush Mehrjui
Written By: Dariush Mehrjui
Main Cast: Ezzatolah Entezami, Firouz Behjat-Mohamadi, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Parviz Fannizadeh, Jamshid Mashayekhi

BEEF...MORE THAN JUST DINNER

There are currently four movies streaming on Netflix, that I've scheduled myself to watch during this 100 movies, that I'm really dreading. The reasons why I'm dreading them are probably nonsensical, but "The Cow" was one of the four. While it wasn't anything that knocked my socks off, it certainly wasn't worth the dread.

Hassan (Entezami) is the proud owner of the only cow in his small, Iranian village. He loves the cow very much, constantly obsessing over the cow - making sure she always has plenty of water, giving her baths in a nearby stream and being very proud to be her owner. When Hassan is away, in the city, for a few days, the cow dies. It is suspected that marauders from the nearby village of Bolour are to blame for the death of the cow, but nonetheless the villagers know that when Hassan returns he will be devastated. Instead of telling him that his cow has been killed, the villagers band together and decide to go with the story that the cow simply ran away. They figure this will cause less of a blow and at least give Hassan a little hope, for the time being. The villagers dump the dead cow down a well and go so far as to tie up the village idiot, in an abandoned tool shed, so that he won't spill the beans. When Hassan returns home they tell him that the cow ran away, but he refuses to believe it, citing that the cow wouldn't do that. Hassan begins to drift into madness as the heartbreak over the loss of his prized cow washes over him.

Like "Daisies", this is another movie that I'm having a hard time making up my mind about. It wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting to be and actually did a fine job of keeping me engaged throughout. While it was quite hard for me to imagine such a bond between man and cow, that would drive this story to it's extreme lengths, I soon realized that this was a different kind of story and one that, to my knowledge, has never really been delved into. It's a unique type of story, in that, it's something you couldn't tell without using man and animal. Reality and fiction seem to be playing tug of war in my head, with reality saying that the movie was absolute nonsense because what man loves a cow as much as Hassan and what man would go into madness over the loss of that cow. On the other hand, fiction is fighting back with the facts that Hassan was the only man in the village to own a cow and with the village being a poor one, that fact allowed him to carry a certain pride.

I really think that this is a film that everyone is going to look at differently. I think you'll be on either side of the fence. Either you'll be able to empathize with Hassan and feel his heartbreaking, or you'll just call it all poppycock and wonder how any man could love a cow as much as him. Me, I haven't really decided which side I'm on yet. I'm probably more prone to the side that empathizes with Hassan. I really felt for the guy, up until the point where he went totally crazy and started acting like a cow, having to be pulled on a rope, to the hospital to get checked out. For me, that was just going a little too far and if they'd have kept everything on a more realistic rope, I could've bought into it a little more. Also a sweeter, softer score could have helped to maybe even coax a few tears out of me and maybe even a little empathy from the other characters toward Hassan. The other characters just seemed to be too cold toward Hassan and not really that understanding of his situation, thinking that he could merely snap out of it and be their "old Hassan" again.

On a final note, there was a particular scene that I want to make note of. When Hassan is first informed that his cow ran away. He doesn't quite understand what Eslam (the one who's telling him) is saying at first. He gets the news as he's taking water to the cow and when he realizes that Eslam is saying, he drops the pail and we watch as the water pours out over the dry Earth. For some reason as I watches the patch of water grow and witness the silent emotion that was playing out on the screen, it all hit me as a very powerful scene. I liked certain aspects of the film, a lot, but on the other hand, it didn't work on some levels either.

RATING: 6/10 Not great, not bad and one that I'll need to do some thinking about.

MOVIES WATCHED: 344
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 657

November 4, 2011 1:26am

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

450. Sedmikrasky/Daisies (1966)

Running Time: 74 minutes
Directed By: Vera Chytilova
Written By: Vera Chytilova, Ester Krumbachova
Main Cast: Ivana Karbanova, Jitka Cerhova, Marie Ceskova, Jinna Myskova, Marcela Brezinova
Click here to view the trailer

COUNTERCULTURE

Well last night was SUPPOSED to be the start of my three film tribute to Sergio Leone, but the old VHS copy that I had, didn't have any sound and thus, I went to a backup movie - "Daisies", in a continued effort to expand my knowledge of 60s cinema.

It's going to be quite difficult for me to write a plot summary for "Daisies", but, as always, I'll give it the old college try. There really isn't any clear plot, but rather the film uses symbolism, vibrant colors and even experiments with sound effects, to tell it's story. The film centers around two young girls, both named Marie, who decide that since the world has "gone bad", then they will also go bad. Their exploits include frolicking in a meadow and picking fruit from a tree, probably symbolizing the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, scamming old men out of free meals, dancing at a nightclub and using scissors to cut up many different objects, mostly phallic symbols. I'm just going to stop there, because any further attempt to describe the happenings of the film, will simply turn into boring blathering.

As far as my personal thoughts go, that's kind of a hard one too. I will say that from the opening scene, I was really dreading the next seventy-four minutes. However, as the film progressed, it actually had kind of a hypnotic effect on me. The mixing of colors, alternating between many different tones and using black and white for certain scenes, really seemed to lull me into this movies' submission. There are MANY absolutely gorgeous scenes and the way that they're cut together and put on display, is sometimes quite magical. There's a certain sexual arousal that comes along with the film too, as we're forced to watch two young ladies frolic around in next to nothing, barefoot and fancy free. In fact, while we're on the subject of sex, I often wondered throughout the film if these two young women were meant to be portrayed as lesbians, or simply two foot soldiers for the cause of feminism, getting across the point that men are the Devil.

On the other hand, the film, at times, seemed very pointless and nonsensical. There wasn't a plot and if you take a look on the special features of the DVD, you'll see that the Czech authorities actually used this film as an example, when citing that many of the Czech films being produced around this time were too confusing and made no sense. It's hard to disagree with them, as there really isn't a whole lot of sense to be made here...or is there? If I were able to watch "Daisies" another time or two and really get a grasp on what the message was and what Chytilova was trying to say, I think it would help me to really appreciate it a lot more and maybe....maybe even consider it a favorite. It certainly appealed to me, in some ways. It interested, engaged, hypnotized and aroused me also and that's certainly nothing to sneeze at. However, it also bored me, at times, and usually made no sense. This is a prime candidate for a film that I would have really loved to watch a second time, but I have an unwritten rule: Films that I watch for the book only get one chance to impress.

RATING: 5/10 We'll call that a review. I know it's short, but the last one was really long, so it evens out, right? I'm going to watch this again someday and I'm certainly going to keep it at the forefront of my mind. Don't be surprised if you see that rating jump two or three notches come recap time. As for now, since I can't decide, we'll slice it down the middle.

MOVIES WATCHED: 343
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 658

November 2, 2011 1:20pm