Monday, April 30, 2012

Introduction to Seven Shadows

Greetings and salutations, readers of Andrew’s 1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die! It is a pleasure for me to be occupying this spot today, and a privilege to join with Andrew to welcome you on our film noir journey known as Seven Shadows.
Let me say from the outset that I do not consider myself to be an “expert” on film noir – unless such expertise can be defined by the number of films one has viewed and how much those films are dearly loved! I have been attracted to film noir for years; I saw my first picture from this era, Double Indemnity, when I was about 14 years old. (We won’t discuss how many years ago that was, thank you.) I’d never even heard of film noir before then, and some of the innuendos and subtleties were over my head, but I wasn’t too young to appreciate the fascinating characters, the snappy dialogue, and the exquisite look of the movie. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and I’ve been wild about these films ever since. My love for film noir has been manifested through two books that I’ve written – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir; a bi-monthly film noir newsletter that I edit (offered in both hard copy and electronic form) called The Dark Pages; and my latest venture, my blog, Shadows and Satin, which focuses on film noir and my other cinematic passion, pre-Code film. 


Speaking of cinematic passions, I don’t quite know how or when I discovered Andrew’s ambitious and endlessly entertaining blog, but I do know that two of my earliest comments on his posts were about vastly different movies – not just from each other, but from the kind of feature that usually sparks my interest: Hoop Dreams, an “urban” documentary, and Heavenly Creatures, which marked the film debut of British actress Kate Winslet. Whatever serendipity or kismet led me here, I was instantly engrossed by Andrew’s excellent writing style, fascinating insights, and unique voice. I found that perusing his blog was like eating Lays potato chips – once I’d devoured one post, I wanted to keep reading more and more! As a result, I was deeply honored when Andrew contacted me last year and shared his idea for Seven Shadows.
After Andrew first asked me to team up with him on this project, I’d planned to simply provide him with some articles on film noir movies that I’d already written and posted on my blog – what could be easier? Fortunately, Andrew postponed the launch of Seven Shadows for several months in order to take a much-needed break from watching and writing. It was fortunate because when he recently contacted me again with his idea for a new and improved Seven Shadows, I decided to take the opportunity to write all new posts, rather than relying on retreads. This gave me the chance to re-watch some old, familiar favorites, as well as rediscover some classics that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was a sheer joy!
Seven Shadows focuses on seven features from the classic film noir era: Murder, My Sweet, Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Killers, Out of the Past, Gun Crazy, and The Asphalt Jungle – one picture will be spotlighted on each of the following seven days. Each day, both Andrew and I will offer a post on the film of the day on our respective sites, and on three of the days, we will provide guest posts on each other’s site – so I’ll be back here later this week!
So mark your calendars and join us on this foray inside the dim, desperate and dangerous world of film noir – perhaps you will learn something new about your own favorites, or maybe you’ll discover some features you’re never seen before. Either way, I hope you’ll visit both our sites each day of the week-long blog event . . . like I always say, you only owe it to yourself!
April 30, 2012  12:00pm
by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry

Sunday, April 29, 2012

997. La Vie en rose (2007)


Running Time: 140 minutes
Directed By: Olivier Dahan
Written By: Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman
Main Cast: Marion Cotillard, Gerard Depardieu, Sylvie Testud, Jean-Pierre Martins, Emmanuelle Seigner
Click here to view the trailer

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF EDITH PIAF

 After a brief respite (due to the fact that I'm on a seven day stretch at work), I've returned to shower you all with more of my mediocre movie reviews and pull myself one step closer to my ultimate goal of watching all 1001 of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die". This entry will highlight "La Vie en rose" - a 2007 biopic documenting the life of Parisian singer Edith Piaf.

To detail the plot of "La Vie en rose" would be to detail the life of Edith Piaf. Born in Paris, Edith Gassion, the daughter of a street singer, often neglected while her mother belted out tuned in exchange for coins, or hopefully a piece of two of paper money. When her mother neglected her to the point of Edith developing into a sickly child, her father stepped in and handed the child off to his mother, the madam of a whorehouse. At the brothel, Edith is fawned over by the prostitutes and taken under the wing of a particular girl named Titine (Seigner). Once a bond is formed between young Edith and Titine, she is ripped away from the brothel when her father returns to reclaim her. Her father, a contortionist for the circus, takes her on the road with him, but is fired soon after. When Edith's father takes his act to the street, the crowd demands that Edith be made part of the act and when she belts out a rendition of "La Marseillaise", Edith Piaf is born. From there, Edith takes to the streets well into her teenage years, singing for money. Later, she is discovered by Louis Leplee (Depardieu), the proprietor of a cabaret. Her star continues to soar, as she gains worldwide fame, often traveling to New York to perform. As her star rises, her health deteriorates, as she's involved in an auto accident and gets addicted to morphine. The story is told in non-linear format, shifting back and forth between Edith's life in a linear narrative and Edith in her final days.

In my opinion, there are two golden rules when it comes to a biopic. They are:

1. If you know the subject, prior to seeing the film, it will make for a much more enjoyable experience. You'll be familiar with the subject and be able to see the events that shaped their life fictionalized and it's just a lot more fun if you know what's going down.

2. If you don't know the subject of said biopic, then it is the goal of the filmmaker to interest you in the life of the subject and educate you on the importance of the figure. This is the category I fell in, as it pertains to "La Vie en rose"...


...However, I'm not so sure the filmmaker (in this case Olivier Duhan) enticed me enough into the life of Edith. I thank the film for the education, that's for sure. Prior to watching this film, all I knew about Edith Piaf was that she was a singer and I only knew that because I read the plot synopsis on the Netflix sleeve. The film reminded me of all the great people that were born and died before I was even born. It's amazing to think of the amount of greatness that came and went prior to my birth.

I've got to say that I wasn't all that thrilled with the way the story was told either. I think going in a straight, linear path would have been the way to go, especially when it comes to a biopic, the type of film that basically writes itself. I applaud the filmmaker's for trying to tinker with the recipe for a biopic, but I think, ultimately, it wasn't a successful way to tell the story. I found myself being more intrigued with the life of Edith as the story went on. When the film started, I felt like this would just be another hard luck story about a woman who overcame the raw hand she was dealt to rise to super stardom. However, as the film went along, I realized that Edith's story wasn't a typical story and the events that shaped her life weren't your typical events. For someone unfamiliar with Edith (yours truly) there were surprises to be had and as the film progressed I found myself more and more drawn into the life of Edith Piaf. And do I even have to mention Marion Cotillard's performance. It was phenomenal, nuff' said.

RATING: 6.5/10  A '7' just seems a tad too much, so I'll draw the line at half past six and maybe I'll stew on that for a few days until recap time rolls along.

MOVIES WATCHED: 434
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
567

COMING SOON: 
**SEVEN SHADOWS begins tomorrow, with an introduction from Karen Burroughs Hannsberry. Starting Tuesday, the seven films start flowing, including: "Murder, My Sweet", "Mildred Pierce", "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "The Killers", "Out of the Past", "Gun Crazy" and "The Asphalt Jungle".

Also, coming this week: 
City of God (2002 - Fernando Meirelles)
3-Iron (2004 - Kim Ki-duk)
Traffic (2000 - Steven Soderbergh)
Now, Voyager (1942 - Irving Rapper)

April 29, 2012  10:26pm

Thursday, April 26, 2012

158. Fires Were Started (1943)

Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: Humphrey Jennings
Written By: Humphrey Jennings
Main Cast: Philip Disckson, George Gravett, Fred Griffiths, Johnny Houghton, Loris Rey

I WAS A FIREMAN

Taking in a whole lot of long pictures recently, today I decided to take in something much shorter, in the form of "Fires Were Started", an eighty minute picture by Humphrey Jennings.

Jennings was a documentary filmmaker, however "Fires Were Started" really doesn't fall under the category of documentary, as it's actually a story, with acting and effects. The people doing the acting, however, aren't actually actors, but rather they are fireman with fictional names. The film takes place during one day in the lives of a fire company, during World War II and the "Blitz on Britain" via German bombers. The picture begins with a new recruit showing up to work, meeting his fellow firefighter brethren. The group go through their day, starting off slow, playing pool and singing songs, before the fire alarm rings and they're thrust into the heat of battle, as they wage war with the flames.

I don't want to drag this film down too much, as it was obviously made by a man who wanted to pay homage to the firemen and women who risked their lives during World War II, in an effort to keep the city from burning to the ground. However, it just didn't appeal to me. It baffles me that pictures like this are included in THE BOOK, when ten star movies are left out in the cold. It's also a head scratcher as to why THE BOOK feels the need to include something from every facet of motion picture making, rather than simply including the 1001 best films, in the author's opinion. I would not call "Fires Were Started" a MUST SEE picture and unless you're going on the same journey as me, or have an interest in World War II, the Blitz on Britain or firefighters and their role in the war, then avoid this film. The audio is bad, the "actors" aren't experienced and they do a lot of mumbling through their heavy cockney accents, so it's quite hard to understand them a lot of the time.


I will say, however, that it is a bit of an inspirational picture. It really shows you what these guys risked on a daily basis to keep their city from crumbling. It speaks on brotherhood, pride in country and soldiering through in the face of adversity. The scene where the company sings a song together, before going out to fight fires, is actually quite touching. How they're not afraid when the rumble of a nearby bomb hit shakes their building and cracks their walls and how they keep singing their songs and preparing for battle. I'll give it that much, at least.

RATING: 3.5/10  Can't go much higher than that folks. It's one that I feel shouldn't have been included in THE BOOK and actually a waste of a spot.


MOVIES WATCHED: 433
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 568


April 26, 2012  9:37pm

1001. Atonement (2007)


Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: Joe Wright
Written By: Christopher Hampton
Main Cast: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave
Click here to view the trailer

BOOK END

Oh, how I used to dream of the day when I'd be writing this review. Of course, those were the days when I was moving through the book chronologically and when writing this review would have signified the end of my journey. In hindsight, I'm kind of glad I started moving through the book randomly, because this would not have been a good note to end on.

Our film is set in England and focuses in on the Tallis Family, particularly 13-year-old Briony Tallis (Ronan) and her older sister Cecilia (Knightley). Briony is an aspiring writer and spends her days clacking away at the typewriter, letting her imagination spin tales. The Tallis Family is quite wealthy and employs many servants. One of the servants has a son named Robbie (McAvoy), a man of Cecilia's age, who spends his free time lusting after Cecilia, although she doesn't know it and at first, doesn't seem to share his feelings. However, that all changes when the two have an awkward, yet sexually tense encounter near a fountain. Briony witnesses the encounter and is confused by what she sees - her sister Cecilia climbing out of the fountain in her slip, exposing her bare, wet body to Robbie. Later, Robbie writes a letter to Cecilia, apologizing for the awkward encounter, but also slips in a bit of his fantasies, using a particular word (if you'd like to know what the word is, then I'll Catch U Next Tuesday). He hands the letter of to Briony to deliver to Cecilia and of course, she reads it, seeing the word and having her entire opinion of Robbie, a boy whom she did have a crush on, go south. Later, Briony witnesses Cecilia and Robbie having intercourse and coupled with the dreaded word she saw, ends up fingering Robbie in the rape of her 15-year-old cousin, despite the fact that it isn't true. Robbie is sent to prison and later, to war.


SPOILER ALERT!

So, to clarify, no, this would not have been a good film to end my journey with, but is it terrible? Not at all. Is it hard to see why "No Country for Old Men" beat it to capture the Best Picture Oscar back in 2007? Not at all. In fact, I'd even say that "Juno", which was also nominated that year, was better than this. But I'm straying away from my original point, which is, "Atonement" is not a particularly bad film. It's just something that doesn't necessarily appeal to yours truly. "Atonement" reminded me of a glorified Lifetime movie or something you'd picture Nicholas Sparks penning. It had high points, but ultimately it was the same old love story we've seen a million times, a story about a love that isn't allowed to flourish, about a love that is kept separated. The whole "I'll wait for you while you go to war" scenario has been done to death and even though "Atonement" put a more clever spin on it, it was still the same present, wrapped in shinier paper.


But, man was that paper shiny! What I'm getting at is that "Atonement" looked brilliant. That image of a ferris wheel spinning at Dunkirk beach, while soldiers lie dying was something I won't soon forget. Many images in "Atonement" deserved to be captured and framed and gawked at forever: Robbie in full soldier regalia walking through a field of pink flowers, Briony power walking through an archway constructed of greenery, Keira Knightley and her green dress...need I say more? On top of the photography, I also love the ending. I loved how it was both sad and happy and how it gave the viewer the choice to leave the film believing the real story or the story that Briony wrote. The film ends with Robbie and Cecilia walking on a beach, clearly in love. In reality, we know that Cecilia and Robbie never reunited because they both perished before that could happen. It was actually a brilliant ending to an average film.


Throughout the film, we see themes of jealousy (did Briony finger Robbie because of what she read and saw or because she was jealous of Cecilia and didn't want to see Robbie love another woman?) and the difference that perspective makes. From Briony's window, she had no idea why Cecilia suddenly jumped into the fountain; all she knew was that Cecilia had exposed herself to a young boy. Also, from Briony's perspective, she saw her sister being ravaged by this boy, however, she could not see the pure love that existed between the two, during their moment of passion. The film also speaks about the way we see things from different ages and how at different points in our lives we begin to see right and wrong more clearly. But, the underlying fact is that it came off to me as just another, sappy love story...clever, but cliche.

RATING: 7/10  Okay, so I talked myself into rating it higher than I intended, as I only intended to give it a '6.5'. I'll let it stew for a few more days and we'll discuss it again at recap time, next week.

MOVIES WATCHED: 432
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 569


April 25, 2012  10:32pm

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

973. OLDBOY (2003)


Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Park Chan-wook
Written By: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Joon-hyung Lim, Chan-wook Park, Garon Tsuchiya
Main Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Ji Dae-han, Kim Byeong
Click here to view the trailer

"LAUGH AND THE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU. WEEP AND YOU WEEP ALONE"

 To those of you with the ability to stream content from Netflix, I'd advise you to skip "Oldboy", a film that is offered through their service. Not because of the quality of the film - it's a great film - but because the version they offer is dubbed in English and it really takes away from the experience. Go with subtitles or go home.

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is in a phone booth, talking to his daughter on the night of her birthday. When his best friend, Joo-hwan (Ji Dae-han) interrupts him so that he can say a few words, Dae-su steps out of the booth and relinquishes the phone to his friend. In the very next second Dae-su has vanished without a trace, save for the birthday present, intended for his daughter, lying on the street. In the next scene, we see Dae-su locked in a type of prison, a large steel door separating him from humanity. He doesn't know why he's being held captive and although people bring him meals everyday, no one ever speaks to him or answers his questions. Fast forward fifteen years. Dae-su lie in the same room, still being held captive, relying on the television to tell him what time it is and to be his companion and sometimes his lover. By watching the news, Dae-su learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect. After fifteen years a hypnotist walks into his room, puts him into a trance and when he awakes, he finds himself released. Now Dae-su is hell bent on revenge, but he soon learns that he will have to act fast, because his captor is still playing games with him and he only has five days to find out why he spent fifteen years locked up.

SPOILER ALERT!

So, yeah, I watched this film dubbed in English, which I wouldn't normally do, but I had seen it before in the way that it was intended to be seen - with subtitles. "Oldboy" is right up my alley. It's a puzzle, it's dark, it's gritty, it has twists and turns and ones that actually make sense and not just twists and turns for the sake of twisting and turning. Perhaps most importantly, it has a bad ass main character, that you actually sympathize with and want to see get his revenge.

"Even though I'm no more than a monster - don't I, too, have the right to live?"

Of course, the clever aspect of "Oldboy" is that Dae-su really never gets his revenge. Furthermore, it's actually the character of Woo-jin that represents the vengeance aspect of director Park Chan-wook's second installment of the "Vengeance Trilogy". Even after fifteen years of being locked up, when Dae-su is finally released, all he's doing is putting into motion the second installment of Woo-jin's master plan. If you were to show this film to someone who had never seen it, stop it halfway through and tell them that by the end, Dae-su would be barking like a dog and licking the shoes of his captor, they'd probably rip your hand off looking for the "PLAY" button, so that they could see why. Like I said, the twists and turns aren't for nothing, as everything within the film actually makes sense. How about that modern Hollywood? A plot without holes! Even more, an intricate plot without holes! Nothing is contrived, nothing is put in place to make something else make sense, it all flows like clockwork and makes for a highly enjoyable movie going experience, as long as you don't mind a little hammer bludgeoning with your cinema.


Actually, let me just speak about the one inaccuracy that I was able to spot. It involved Mi-do, Dae-su's lover/daughter. Was there a point in the film where they spoke about Woo-jin changing her name? Because I don't remember anything like that and wouldn't Dae-su remember that his daughter's name was also Mi-do and that, perhaps, she resembled his baby girl? They mention that Woo-jin raised her as his own, so that explains why she never really knew Dae-su and obviously at only four years old when Dae-su was imprisoned, she probably wouldn't remember him enough to catch a resemblance, but wouldn't he kind of notice her? Perhaps that's why the bit at the beginning, that suggests he's a drunk was put in. Perhaps he was always too concerned with alcohol to really pay attention to his child.

We can easily root for and sympathize with this character because he's an everyman who realistically turns into a bad ass, fighting machine. He's pent up for fifteen years with nothing to do but think of the day he gets out and think of the horrible things that he plans to do to the people that have held him. He has no companionship and his only solace is knowing that someday he will get out and someday he will get his vengeance. We sympathize with him because he admits that he's not perfect and because he keeps journals that detail all the wrongs he's done. Even if we don't like him, it doesn't matter, because he doesn't like himself.

"Even though he's no more than a monster - doesn't he, too, have the right to live?"

Anyway, it's a great film. It would probably play out even better sandwiched in between "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Lady Vengeance", although I've never seen the latter, so I don't know about that one. However, "Sympathy..." is really good and I'd recommend that one, as well. I think I've said all that needs to be said on this one.

RATING: 9/10  I can't go the full monty, just because, but it's good - trust me. This is shaping up to be an EPIC 100. Just look at the front-runners so far for the next TOP 20: "Oldboy", "Memento", "The Lord of the Rings", "Kill Bill Vol. 1", "Winter Light", "Magnolia" and several of the films that you'll read about next week as part of Seven Shadows. Man, this is gonna' be a tough one to make, I can feel it already and we're not even halfway in.

MOVIES WATCHED: 431
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
570

April 23, 2012  10:32pm

Monday, April 23, 2012

222. On the Town (1949)


Running Time: 98 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Written By: Adolph Green & Betty Comden, from their play
Main Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett
Click here to view the trailer

SINGIN' SAILORS

Who doesn't love to watch Gene Kelly dance and hear Frank Sinatra sing? I know I do! However, this film fell short of my expectations and I'd much rather watch Gene Kelly splash through the rain than see him donning a sailor suit and singing songs about the Big Apple.

Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra) and Ozzie (Munshin) are three sailors who have been granted a 24-hour leave and plan to spend it scouring New York City, taking in the sights and picking up dates. Gabey sets his eyes on a local girl named Ivy Smith (Garrett), whose face he spots on a poster in the subway, as she is the current Ms. Turnstiles for the month of June. Gabey has been shot by cupid's arrow and plans to search the city until he tracks her down. Along the way, Gabey's buddies meet gals of their own, with Chip being chased by a female cab driver named Hildy and Ozzie being seduced by anthropologist Claire (Miller). These five split up to track down Ms. Turnstiles so that they can triple date the night away in NYC and eventually Gabey finds her and the two make a date to meet atop the Empire State Building. However, Ivy feels she must admit to Gabey that she really isn't the hotshot that the posters made her out to be and really, she's just an everyday girl, who happens to hail from the same small town that Gabey does. When she can't admit her true identity to Gabey, she runs away and the chase to find her resumes.


Before I rip this film apart, let me just say that "On the Town" IS a whole lot of fun - there's no doubting that. If you don't smile at least a handful of times while watching this, then obviously you're incapable of being entertained. I was able to have fun with this movie, allow myself to be entertained and come out thoroughly enjoying it, but still having to admit that it was just a little too perky for my tastes. I've seen dozens of better musicals than this, musicals with better music and a better story. There were really only a few songs that I found myself really enjoying, such as: "Prehistoric Man", "You're Awful" and "Count On Me", while the rest just weren't catchy enough, especially the title song, "New York, New York". The story itself wasn't that great either, but I can say the the choreography was quite good, especially the "Miss Turnstiles Ballet" scene and the "A Day in New York" piece. The film also gave me a chance to gander at a new find, as I found Ann Miller to be very enjoyable, very talented and very good looking.

RATING: 5.5/10  Am I short changing you guys with these short reviews? I just don't want to ramble, that's all. Anyway, I've seen a lot of memorable musicals on my quest through THE BOOK, but "On the Town" isn't one of them. Aside from Ann Miller and a few numbers, this film was quite forgettable...fun while it lasted, but forgettable.


MOVIES WATCHED: 430
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 571

April 22, 2012  9:36pm

Saturday, April 21, 2012

961. No Man's Land (2001)

Running Time: 98 minutes
Directed By: Danis Tanovic
Written By: Danis Tanovic
Main Cast: Branko Duric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Georges Siatidis, Katrin Cartlidge
Click here to view the trailer

 IT ALL WENT SOUTH WHEN WE LEFT THE TRENCH

There are currently eleven movies streaming on Netflix that I have scheduled to watch during this chunk of 100 films; this is one of them. I figured I'd better get cracking on some of them, before Netflix starts yanking them and I end up having to have them delivered to the house.

The film takes place in the middle of the Bosnian War, between the Republic of Bosnia and Bosnian Serb's. During a foggy night, a group of Bosnian soldiers get lost while traveling through enemy territory. When sunrise comes, the following morning, they are quickly spotted and attacked by the Serbian Front - all are thought dead. However, Ciki (Duric) has received only a bullet wound in his left shoulder. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself in a trench, his gun intact and his best friend, Cera (Sovagovic), seemingly dead. Meanwhile, at the Serbian Front, decisions are made to send in two soldiers to investigate the trench and make sure all is well. A veteran soldier is chosen, along with a new recruit. Upon arrival, Ciki hides to avoid being noticed. While there, the two Serb's activate a bouncing mine (a land mine that doesn't go off when stepped on, but rather when the weight is removed) and place the body of Cera on top of it. Now, if Cera's allies try to remove his body, they will all be blown to bits. Eventually Ciki ducks out and fires at both of them, killing the veteran and wounding the newbie, Nino (Bitorajac). With both sides keeping eyes peeled on the trench, the two enemies are now trapped together. To make things more interesting, Cera wakes up, revealing that he isn't dead, but unable to move due to the mine.


This one had all the potential in the world, but for some reason, I just didn't take to it as well as I thought I would've. In fact, I'll tell you where it went downhill. It all went south when we left the trench! I realize that when Danis Tanovic accepted his Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, he dedicated it to his country, so obviously he had something to say with this film and good for him for getting to say it and say it with such acceptance. However, if this had been treated like a stage play, with the three characters (two members of the Republic of Bosnia's Armed Forces and one Bosnian Serb) verbally duking it out in the trenches, it would have been gold for this viewer. When we started pulling characters from the U.N. into it and the media, it slowly started to fall down my ratings scale. Most of you know that I don't take politics with my films, so it's no surprise that that's the point where I started caring less about this movie.

SPOILER ALERT!

I can't say that it was awful though. For the most part, we did keep the action in the trench and the actors more than pulled their weight, carrying the ball and turning in fine performances. The cinematography wasn't anything to write home about, but remember, I just got done seeing "Yi Yi", so pretty much everything was going to look pale in comparison. Also, this film has ONE OF the most heart wrenching final scenes in recent memory, as a shot of Cera, still lying on the mine, informed that he cannot be moved, takes us to the credits, as we pan away from him, from above. It's a shot that I'll never forget and probably the one shot that I'll remember this film for.

RATING: 6.5/10  We'll keep it short again for this one. It's one that I can't fully recommend, but one that is worth a look, especially if you like war and politics with your films. I, for one, don't care for either.

MOVIES WATCHED: 429
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 572

April 21, 2012  6:52pm

950. Yi Yi/A One and a Two (2000)


Running Time: 173 minutes
Directed By: Edward Yang
Written By: Edward Yang
Main Cast: Nien-Jen Wu, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, Elaine Jin, Hsi-Sheng Chen
Click here to view the trailer

NOTE: So Blogger is now forcing everyone to use their new template and that doesn't sit well with me, because I really prefer the old one. However, if I have to, I have to. Be aware that the posters that appear at the top of each post will now be MASSIVE, as there doesn't seem to be a way to resize your images anymore. Everything else still looks fairly normal, so I guess I'll get used to it eventually. 

TAIWAN NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD

Although I hate to do so, it took me three sit-downs to watch "Yi Yi". It wasn't the films fault though; it's just that every night when I'd sit down to watch it, I'd get too tired to give it my full attention and would have to stop or risk disliking it based on my sleepy state.

To layout the plot of "Yi Yi" in detail would take entirely too long, as it clocks in at nearly three hours and follows several different characters with several different plot lines. The main character is NJ (Wu), a father and business man, who works for a computer gaming company. Throughout the film his company falls under a crisis where they need to develop new technology and NJ is assigned the task of schmoozing with a high profile game creator, in hopes of partnering with him. The two hit it off, having intellectual and heart to heart conversations, often veering away from business talk. NJ also meets up with an old flame and tries to right a wrong he committed as a teenager. NJ's mother-in-law has fallen into a coma and as a result, his wife (Jin) has a nervous breakdown and leaves him to go live at a Buddhist temple. NJ's son is curious, asking a questions that are more advanced for a child of his age. NJ's daughter (Lee) is a shy teenager, who makes friends with their new neighbor, another teenage girl and gets involved with her boyfriend, Fatty. The other main character is A-Di (Chen), NJ's business partner who is recently married and in debt. The film takes a look at the life of this family and their perils.

SPOILER ALERT!

You know, it's kind of funny that the last film I watched was "Spring in a Small Town" - another film of Eastern Asia - which I cited as having a really strong plot, but lacking in other departments, like photography and music. In "Yi Yi" it's the exact opposite problem, as I'd call the photography and music pretty much flawless and it was the plot that fell short of capturing my attention. "Yi Yi" just seemed to be shooting in too many different directions and lacked the structure that would have normally allowed me to identify with characters and take a vested interest in what was happening and what was going to happen. I cared most for NJ, but really was never able to connect with any of the other characters, as the plot was just too "wonky". Possibly there were too many characters and too many unnecessary storylines going on at once. Each character was involved in different plots of their own. For example, you had A-Di, who was a newlywed with a baby on the way, had a bitter ex-girlfriend, was having the same business struggles as NJ and was facing debt. That's, at least, two too many plot lines for one character, in a film where there were several main characters. Also, what was the point of continually teasing that characters were dying? It struck me as extremely odd that Yang had the characters of A-Di and Yang-Yang fall into situations where it looked as though they perished, only to have them show up in the next frame, unscathed. There had to be reasoning behind that, but I can't decipher it for the life of me. Otherwise, why include it?


Despite all that, I have a feeling that the cinematography alone will have me remembering this film fondly. It was absolutely gorgeous. In fact, I wish I understood Mandarin so that I didn't have to constantly look away from the beauty to read the subtitles. Every frame captivated you, dazzling you with sights from the city, using reflections in windows to provide a unique shot or using long shots to establish perspective and allow the atmosphere to envelope the characters. There was also a soft, piano score that provided the perfect background for this family and helped in allowing me to get closer to the characters.

RATING: 7/10  The plot isn't entirely as bad as I made it out to be, like I said, it's just too much and not as well organized as I'd have liked it to be. To everything else, including performances, I give an A+.

MOVIES WATCHED: 428
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
573


COMING SOON:
La Vie en rose (2007 - Olivier Dahan)
Atonement (2007 - Joe Wright)
On the Town (1949 - Kelly, Donen)
Fires Were Started (1943 - Humphrey Jennings)

April 21, 2012  12:52pm

Thursday, April 19, 2012

SEVEN SHADOWS - April 30th through May 7th


By now you've noticed that glaring picture of Robert Mitchum in the upper right hand corner of my blog, as he points a gun at you every time you try to read my newest post. You've seen the hype for a week called Seven Shadows and now, you'd probably like to know what all the hoopla is about. Well, I've come to fill you all in.

Seven Shadows is a week-long, crossover event that will come to two blogs near you beginning on April 30th and will spotlight seven of the best pieces of film noir that "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" has to offer. For the first time in my nearly three year history of being a blogger, I've finally convinced somebody to share the spotlight with me and that somebody is Karen Burroughs Hannsberry. Karen is the author of two books on the subject of film noir (Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir) and also has her own blog, Shadows and Satin. On selected days, my reviews will be appearing on Shadows and Satin and in their absence, here at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die, you'll be treated to some, sure to be riveting, articles about that day's feature.

And hey, we didn't forget about you guys either. Thanks to Karen, we'll also be doing a book giveaway during the week. I'll be giving away Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir by Sheri Chinen Biesen and Karen will offer Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen by Foster Hirsch. To enter my giveaway, you MUST have a Twitter (I know, everything is always MUST around here). Each and everyday I'll post a link to the day's review (or article) on Twitter, followed by instructions to retweet the tweet. Retweet the tweet and your name will be entered for a chance to win my offered book. Retweet all seven tweets and your name goes in the hat seven times. It's as simple as that. So if you're a follower of mine and you don't have a Twitter account, you may flirt with the idea of creating one, just for the shot at winning the giveaway.

The following is the schedule of events for Seven Shadows Week. Both blogs will feature offerings on the day's movie.

April 30 - Introduction to Seven Shadows
May 1 - Murder, My Sweet (1944 - Edward Dmytryk)
May 2 - Mildred Pierce (1945 - Michael Curtiz)
May 3 - The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 - Tay Garnett)
May 4 - The Killers (1946 - Robert Siodmak)
May 5 - Out of the Past (1947 - Jacques Tourneur)
May 6 - Gun Crazy (1949 - Joseph H. Lewis)
May 7 - The Asphalt Jungle (1950 - John Huston)

Also, as an extra, added Twitter bonus, I'll be shooting out random factoids and such across my Twitter for whatever the day's offering may be, so another good reason to follow me on Twitter: @adduvall1984 Also please take the extra time to follow Karen @TheDarkPages - you won't regret it! She will also be offering the same type of Twitter book giveaway that I am, so there's something in it for you if you follow her.

Join us in less than two weeks as Karen and I lurk on the dark side, mingle with the criminals & vicious dames and salute film noir!

April 19, 2012 5:33pm

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

205. Xiao cheng zhi chun/Spring in a Small Town (1948)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Fei Mu
Written By: Li Tianji
Main Cast: Wei Wei, Shi Yu, Li Wei, Cui Chaoming, Zhang Hongmei

DID THEY REALLY PLAY DRINKING GAMES IN CHINA BACK THEN?

Continuing on with a 100 that will be (and has been) thick with films from the 1940s and 2000s, we come to a lesser known piece of Chinese cinema from 1948 - "Spring in a Small Town". I had no expectations for this one going in and came out with a varied opinion. A very average film, to say the least.

The film follows the lives of a married couple, living in post-WWII China. On a completely unrelated note, I wonder how many films in THE BOOK take place during, just before or just after World War II. My guess is a lot! Anyway, Yuwen (Wei Wei) is facing a sort of depression. She is loyal to her husband, but knows that their marriage is worn out. They don't speak and she feels that perhaps it's "words that separate them". The husband, Liyan (Yu), spends his days sitting in the garden and kicking back medicine at different daily intervals, as he is ill. The couple also live with Liyan's sister, Xiu (Hongmei); she's sixteen and spends her days at school. One day, unexpectedly, Liyan receives a visit from his old friend Zhang Zhichen (Li Wei), now a doctor. It also turns out that Yuwen and Zhang are former lovers. Liyan invites Zhang to stay with them for a while. He accepts and while there, looks after Liyan and his heart condition. Meanwhile, Yuwen and Zhang tiptoe around, trying not to spill the beans about their lost love.

I was all set to come in here and advocate for this film to be remade, but apparently it's already been done with "Springtime in a Small Town", back in '02. I'd really like to see that and see if they were able to improve on some of the things this film was lacking. For example, a more powerful score for this one would have done a world of difference in excelling this film to the next level and really hammering home some of the emotions that were swirling in the picture. Also, I realize that "Spring in a Small Town" is from 1948, but the copy that I watched was very grainy and the cinematography just wasn't poignant enough. If you'd had a guy like Sven Nykvist (a name off the top of my head) to work with the story here, you could've capitalized on the story and really set a better mood, just with some crisper camera shots and a more somber atmosphere.

I'm actually really surprised that Hollywood hasn't remade this, as it seems like the perfect story that they usually bait their hook with to nab an Oscar. Of course, the story (loveless marriage, an old flame returning) has been done to death. It's a story we've seen a million times, but this one was from 1948, at a time when nothing had really been done to death and had they had the aforementioned elements in place, this really would have been a must see. As it is, I'm not really sure why it was included in THE BOOK. I read something about this film being banned in it's home country for years, due to the risque subject matter, so maybe that's why THE BOOK felt the need to include it...I don't know.

RATING: 6/10 To avoid the risk of rambling, we'll keep it short today. Like "The Best Years of Our Lives", this isn't terrible and perhaps with a second viewing (someday) I'll appreciate it more.

MOVIES WATCHED: 427
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 574

April 18, 2012 6:00pm

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

182. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Running Time: 172 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Robert E. Sherwood, from the novel Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor
Main Cast: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright
Click here to view the trailer

YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN

Another epic picture slayed, as I use my day off to take in the nearly three hour film that is "The Best Years of Our Lives" - Best Picture of 1946.

The film tells the story of three soldiers returning home from World War II. When the film starts, it's Captain Fred Derry (Andrews) trying to get a ride home to Boone City. He eventually hitches a ride home on a military aircraft and along the way meets some Boone Citians: Sgt. Al Stephenson (March) and Officer Homer Parrish (Russell), the latter of which lost his hands in the war and now dons hooks in their place. After a long flight the trio arrive back in their native city and share a taxi to their respective homes. Homer is hesitant to return home, fearing how his family will react to his deformity. He doesn't want to be looked at any different and certainly doesn't want pity. Later the trio reunite at Butch's Place, a local bar, where Fred and Al drink to excess and wake up the next morning with foggy memories of the previous night. Fred wakes up at Al's place where he meets Peggy Stephenson (Wright), Al's daughter and a romance is hinted at between the two. Ultimately the three try their best to return to normal life; Al returns to his job at the bank with a promotion to boot. Fred returns to his job as a soda jerk, making $32.50 per week, which isn't enough to spoil his wife (Virginia Mayo), who yearns to be spoiled. Meanwhile, Howard struggles to accept his family's adaptation of his deformity, most notably his fiancee.

SPOILER ALERT!

I actually have fond memories of this film, as the only other time I saw it was at my wife and I's first apartment, during a stretch when we had a broken down car and had to spend a matter of four days holed up in the house. It sounds awful, but it was actually perfect. Anyway, I can remember lying on the bed and watching this movie for the first time and I remember both of us liking it quite a lot. Well, as I've noted many times previous, my tastes have drastically changed since starting this journey and this film just didn't hold up. My first reaction is that it's just WAY too long. The story that is told just doesn't warrant a running time of three hours. Let's take a look at the goings on of this three hour epic, shall we? First you have Al, who returns home from the war, spends his first night getting drunk off his ass, returns to work at the bank and eventually turns into a bit of an alcoholic. Then you have Fred, who also gets drunk off his ass the first night, finds his wife the next day, deals with the embarrassment of having to return to work making $32.50/week and falls in love with Peggy Stephenson. Lastly you have Homer, who really does nothing the entire film but try to deal with the way his family is dealing with his deformity. That's really all that happens. I mean, that's at least the high points of the picture. Just writing it out, it sounds ridiculous to think that so little plot took so much time to tell. This could have easily been wrapped up in a couple of hours. Within the first five minutes of the film, the three men are in the air and headed home and an hour and fifteen minutes later all that's happened to them is they've returned home, left home again, went to a bar and woke up - that's it!

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to shit all over this picture, because it's really not as bad as all that. In fact, I got amusement out of watching Fredric March awake from his slumber, examine his grizzled face and compare his reflection to a dashing photo of himself, followed by jumping into the shower with his pajamas still on. And speaking of March, I really want to see "Inherit the Wind" again now, because I just cannot believe that Al Stephenson and Matthew Harrison Brady are being played by the same person (with more credit going to the Brady role that to this one - he was GREAT in that!). The cast was hit and miss with me actually, as I enjoyed March and thought Virginia Mayo was excellent (and even sexier here than she was in "White Heat"). On the other hand, Teresa Wright was just annoying as Peggy Stephenson and Dana Andrews was average at best. I had to look up and find out that Harold Russell was actually a deformed veteran and a non-established actor, and to his credit, he did a really great job. Apparently there's also a lot of political argument that surrounds this film and I won't get into all that. The movie itself does bring up a fascinating train of thought though, about soldiers returning home from the war and how well they can adapt to a once familiar life, but one that is now very strange.

RATING: 6.5/10 Not terrible, by any means and I almost went with a '7', but I just couldn't be THAT generous. It's worth at least one look, but be warned...it is long!

MOVIES WATCHED: 426
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 575

April 16, 2012 11:34pm

Sunday, April 15, 2012

993. ONCE (2006)

Running Time: 85 minutes
Directed By: John Carney
Written By: John Carney
Main Cast: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova
Click here to view the trailer

MUST SEE, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, MUST HEAR

Well we turn from big budget blockbuster to a film that was made on a shoestring budget and filmed with a handheld camera, "Once". The film is a very good one, but even more noteworthy than the images that appear on the screen, are the songs that back up the story.

The film focuses on a guy (Hansard) who makes his living fixing Hoover vacuum cleaners and busking on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. One day, while pouring his heart out, with his guitar case lying on the street in front of him, he draws an audience member in the form of a girl (Irglova). The two strike up a conversation and next thing he knows, he's fixing her broken Hoover vacuum cleaner and jamming with her in a local music store. Turns out she plays piano and the two hit it off famously. He's just had his heart broken by a cheating girlfriend and she has a child, but is separated from her husband. They hang out over the course of a week, him wanting to take their relationship to the next level, her just wanting to be friends. When he finally gets the picture that she doesn't want to get romantic, he decides to take off for London to find his cheating ex-girlfriend and patch things up. Before he leaves, the two hire a band and a studio and record some songs together.

One could argue that if you strip away the songs from "Once", you're not left with much. In fact, I may even be one of the advocates for that argument. However, there is a pretty solid story going on here too. Yes, it's a lot of singing, but the songs are brilliant and if you can watch the film straight through without rewinding back and re-listening to at least one song, then you have more will power than I do. I watched this film once before and remember not liking it very much. However, this time around I saw it in a different light (this, kiddies, is why you always give a film two chances to win you over). For me, this film is about those connections that we make in our life and then lose in the blink of an eye, never to be seen again - those one time meetings that last a matter of weeks or months and then vanish, without a reunion. Perhaps that's why the film is called "Once". I can remember co-workers that I once knew and considered friends and it's been ages since I've seen them and in reality, I'll probably never see them again. This film reminded me of all of them and the times we shared.

It's not a fancy film, it doesn't have an intricate plot, there's no good guy/bad guy, it's just a movie about a real people, a chance meeting and some great music. Glen Hansard shows that he's not just a musician and that he can actually act. I can't say the same for Marketa Irglova, but she didn't fail completely, so I'll give the musician her credit as well. The handheld shooting only added to the realistic nature of the film and at times, it was easy to forget that you were watching a film. Memorable scenes include "Guy" watching home movies of his ex-girlfriend and singing his song "Lies". Hansard sings with such passion and if there were any more passion in his voice, he'd literally lull your heart into submission.

Did I mention that all the music is original and written by "guy" and "girl"? Listen to these songs and then tell me, honestly, that you don't want to see the film that accompanies them.

Lies
Falling Slowly
When Your Mind's Made Up

RATING: 8/10 Check out the movie, check out the soundtrack. They both deserve your eyes and ears at full attention.

MOVIES WATCHED: 425
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 576

COMING SOON:
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946 - William Wyler)
Yi Yi (2000 - Edward Yang)
Spring in a Small Town (1948 - Fei Mu)

April 15, 2012 12:36am

Saturday, April 14, 2012

964. The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002 and 2003)













Running Time:
557 minutes
The Fellowship of the Ring: 178 minutes
The Two Towers: 179 minutes
The Return of the King: 200 minutes
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Stephen Sinclair (only The Two Towers), based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien
Main Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee
Click the titles above to view each of the trailers

Well here we are. If you count it as a whole, "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the longest films in the book at a walloping 557 minutes. However, it sure doesn't feel like nine hours has passed when you come to the end. In fact, I left the film still salivating for more. Be warned, spoilers abound!

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

Our tale begins with the forging of the great rings, most notably the “One Ring”, forged by the Dark Lord, Sauron. Eventually Sauron is defeated and the ring passes to different bearers – Isildur, King of Gondor and Gollum, the creature. Fast forward sixty years later and the ring finds itself being housed in The Shire, in the home of Bilbo Baggins (Holm), a hobbit. It is Bilbo’s 111th birthday and when the festivities end, he plans to depart The Shire and seek adventure. In doing so, he wills the ring to his nephew Frodo Baggins (Wood), but not without consequences. Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), a wizard is present and comes to the realization that the ring Bilbo posseses is the One Ring. Gandalf informs Frodo that the ring MUST be destroyed, for it carries far too much power to exist. With Sauron’s life force bound to the ring, Sauron still exists in the form of a great eye that watches over Middle Earth from Mordor. Sauron and his forces are drawn to the ring, therefore Frodo falls under attack at the hands of Ringwraiths. Frodo is sent away, accompanied by Samwise Gamgee (Astin), Pippin and Merry, fellow hobbits, where he will later meet up with Gandalf to discuss the fate of the One Ring and Middle Earth. When Gandalf rides to meet his mentor, Saruman the White (Lee), he finds that Saruman has turned to the dark side. Meanwhile, the four hobbits travel to Bree expecting to meet up with Gandalf, but instead are introduced to Strider a.k.a. Aragorn (Mortensen), a ranger, who offers his assistance to the little fellows. Later, when Frodo is badly wounded, the group head to Rivendell, the city of elves, where Frodo is nursed back to health and Gandalf reunites with the hobbits. It is here that the Fellowship of the Ring is formed, a group of nine who will travel to Mordor and destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, the very fires where it was created. The nine are composed of Frodo Baggins (the ring bearer), Samwise Gamgee, Pippin, Merry, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn, Boromir of Gondor, Legolas – an elf and Gimli – a dwarf. Together the nine travel, freqeuently attacked by orcs (creatures who used to be Elves and are forged from trees). The height of the action in this volume comes when the Fellowship travel through the Mines of Moria, where they are attacked by many orcs and a creature called Balrog. Gandalf falls while in the mines and the eight must continue without him. When this installment comes to a close, Frodo and Sam break off from the others, because the six cannot control themselves when it comes to being tempted by the ring. Pippin and Merry are captured by orcs and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli set out to find them.

THE TWO TOWERS

This installment picks up right where “Fellowship” leaves off. Frodo and Sam are still traveling through the hills, making their way to Mordor. Eventually they discover that they’re being followed by Gollum, the creature. At first, Gollum is hostile toward the two hobbits, wanting back his “precious” power ring, but eventually decides to travel with the hobbits, helping them find Mordor. When the hobbits and Gollum do arrive at the gates of Mordor, they find it guarded by thousands of Sauron’s soldiers. Gollum tells them that there’s a back way in and offers to help them get there. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are still on the hunt for Pippin and Merry. They never do find them, but do find tracks that suggest that the hobbits are safe. In fact, Pippin and Merry are safe, being held by the Ents (a race of walking, talking trees), particularly Treebeard. Also while in Fangorn Forrest, Pippin and Merry find that Gandalf survived his fall in the Mines of Moria and is now Gandalf the White. The film also puts focus on the city of Rohan, where their King, Theoden, is being mind controlled by Saruman. Later, Gandalf reunites with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli and together they ride to Edoras and free King Theoden from his spell. Upon Theoden’s awakening, he realizes the dire situation of the times and decides to take his people and flee to Helm’s Deep. Gandalf, fearing Helm’s Deep will not hold and knowing the forces that Saruman will bring, rides to find reinforcements. At Helm’s Deep, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli plead with the King to reach out for help, but the King assures them that there is no help – even Gondor won’t come to their aid. What follows is the Isengard portion of the war, as Saruman sends 10,000 orc soldiers to Helm’s Deep where only the people of Rohan (including children, who are forced to fight), a brigade of elves, Aragorn and his companions stand with swords and bows drawn. As the film ends, Frodo, Sam and Gollum are back on the road to Mordor, after escaping captivity by the men of Gondor. Gollum’s darker side seems to be taking a firmer hold on him, not being able to withstand the temptation that the ring holds. Meanwhile, Gandalf informs us that while the battle for Helm’s Deep is over; the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin!

THE RETURN OF THE KING

The longest of the three installment begins by showing us the back story of Gollum; once named Smeagol, he was a hobbit who was corrupted by the power of the ring. When we jump back to present day, he is still traveling on the road to Mordor, guiding Frodo and Sam. At least they think he's guiding them, but in reality he plans to walk them into a trap. Meanwhile, the Rohirrim celebrate after their victory at Helm's Deep. Their victory is cut short when they realize they may have to come to the aid of Gondor. King Theoden questions whether he'll answer Gondor's call, since Gondor didn't come to Rohan's aid at Helm's Deep. Gandalf and Pippin ride to Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, to warn them that the battle will soon come to their doorstep. At Minas Tirith, Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, welcomes Gandalf with reluctance. Gandalf sends Pippin to light the beacons, signaling Rohan to prepare for battle - Rohan answers the call. On the ride to Minas Tirith, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make a detour into the Paths of the Dead to summon an army from the mountains. There the Army of the Dead are held captive, having never fulfilled their promise of battle to Isildur. Now, Aragorn (Isildur's heir) has the power to release them of their captivity, but only if they join him in battle at Minas Tirith. As war is prepared to be waged at Minas Tirith, with all the essential races and characters in play, Frodo, Sam and Gollum draw closer to Mount Doom. This entire film is basically one giant climax to the entire series, as the intensity here just does not stop!

WHEW! That was a mouthful!

Where do you start with such a masterpiece? Yes, "The Lord of the Rings" (and when I say "The Lord of the Rings" I'm talking about the three films as a whole) is a masterpiece, in every sense of the word. Not only is it a big budget blockbuster, but it's also a beautifully told story - both artistically and otherwise. I don't know about you, but when I hear about the latest big budget blockbusters, I'm not the type to get excited. Visual effects, 3D and James Cameron's magic movie making machines have never been effective in luring me to the theater. In fact, in the last ten years, I've probably only been out to the movies approximately 25 times, but one of those times was to see "The Two Towers". After seeing "The Fellowship of the Ring" and being swept into the created world of J.R.R. Tolkien, I just couldn't resist seeing the next installment. The one thing that really sticks out to me about "The Lord of the Rings" is how quickly it flies by, at least for me anyway. I can't imagine being one of the loyal BOOK watchers and not digging "The Lord of the Rings", for that would be a chore! The time of each film is approximately three hours, with "The Return of the King" being the longest at 200 minutes and it flies by like nothing. Jackson really used his time wisely, making the appropriate cuts, I'm sure and knowing what to include to keep the films chugging along. For the curious, I've never read the books, so I cannot speak on unnecessarily cut characters and storylines; I only speak about the films themselves.

To those of you who think that "The Lord of the Rings" is merely nine hours of a hobbit walking and culminating with a ring toss into a fire pit, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you will never be able to experience this nine hours like I did - with wide eyed amazement, feeling like a child again and getting pumped up during such scenes as Gandalf leading the Riders of Rohan down the mountainside, at the end of "The Two Towers". It's not only a road movie about a ring, but it's a movie about the total collapse of Middle Earth, a very intricate created world, complete with city names, made up races and detailed characters. Apparently Tolkien wrote the books during the years of World War II, so perhaps his vision of a world on the brink of destruction was what he thought was happening to this world. In "The Lord of the Rings" destruction is on the doorstep. There are many scenes where the characters give up hope and prepare themselves for death. In fact, I nearly cried during this exchange between Gandalf and Pippin:

Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path... One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass... And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?... See what?
Gandalf: White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn't so bad.
Gandalf: [softly] No... No it isn't.

It's a film about hope, loyalty, companionship, the choices we're forced to make and the journeys we're forced face, despite not wanting to. It's an epic tale of war and the end of a world. It's a tale of love, as we see with Aragorn and Arwen. It's a tale of a war within oneself, as we see with Gollum. It's everything you've ever wanted in a motion picture. It appeals to the masses; whether you're a typical moviegoer or a film snob, there shouldn't be any doubting the greatness that is "The Lord of the Rings".

RATING: 10/10 If my scale went to '20', I'd give it a '20'. It's going to be hard to dethrone this from the #1 spot when it comes TOP 20 time and if it happens, then I can't wait to see the movie that I deem better than "The Lord of the Rings". No, it's not my favorite film, but it's damn close and it's one of them!

MOVIES WATCHED: 424
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 577

April 14, 2012 2:55pm

Monday, April 9, 2012

146. DUMBO (1941)

Running Time: 64 minutes
Directed By: Ben Sharpsteen
Written By: Otto Englander, from book by Helen Aberson
Main Cast: (voices): Edward Brophy, Verna Felton, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway
Click here to view the trailer

Note: For the curious, my watching of the seven movies that will make up "Seven Shadows Week" is finished. Therefore, I'll be returning to the blog full-time, so expect reviews to be fired at you at a fast & furious pace from here until 501.

TECHNICOLOR PACHYDERM

I figured I'd better go ahead and watch this before Disney yanked "Dumbo" by the trunk and threw him into their famous vault. It's an early Disney movie, so I pretty much knew what to expect going in and I got what I bargained for.

The setting is a traveling circus and the main characters are the animals. When the film opens, the stork is delivering baby animals to all their respective species. Infant tigers, lions, bears and kangaroos fall from the sky, attached to parachutes and into their awaiting mothers' arms. The only expecting mother who fails to receive her little bundle of joy is Mrs. Jumbo, the elephant (funny, there's no Mr. Jumbo). Later that night, as the animals board the circus train and head to the next town, the story, who had been running late, delivers to Mrs. Jumbo a baby boy, whom she names Jumbo Jr. The little guy is later dubbed Dumbo by his elephant peers, due to his extra large ears and when a crowd of people at the circus make fun of him, Mrs. Jumbo loses her cool and winds up in "the clink". With his mother behind bars, Dumbo is all alone. That is until Timothy L. Mouse sees him and decides to help him out. Timothy keeps Dumbo company as he's assigned to become the newest clown in the circus. One night, as they're coming from visiting Mrs. Jumbo, Timothy and Dumbo get drunk when they accidentally drink some alcohol from a washtub. Later, they awaken to find themselves in a tree and are helped along by a group of swingin' crows.

Here's my question: Are all Disney animated features (excluding Pixar) still told in musical form? I always forget when I go to watch one of these old Disney films that not only is it animated, but it's also loaded with songs. I haven't seen a new Disney movie since "The Lion King", perhaps and I know that too was a musical. What can I say about "Dumbo"? I'm a twenty-eight year old film lover and this is something that obviously wasn't meant to get me all giddy. It wasn't made for a man of my age and it's certainly not one that is aimed toward both adults and children. No, this one is strictly for kids or teenage girls who refuse to grow up. However, that psychedelic elephant scene is wild! Whoever came up with the idea to get a baby elephant drunk and then have him hallucinate pink elephants putting on a parade is quite possibly a genius. The only thing that could've made it better is if the scene was set to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. And I'm not even joking when I say that if Disney had cut this down to a short film about the mouse and the elephant getting snockered and then their visions, I'd have given it a '10' and found a spot for it on my next TOP 20.

RATING: 4/10 But, as it is, it's about a '4' from me. I think the only Disney film left in THE BOOK is "The Lion King" and I better get on that one before the vault is opened.

MOVIES WATCHED: 423
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 578

April 9, 2012 3:51pm

Thursday, April 5, 2012

197. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Charles Chaplin
Written By: Charles Chaplin
Main Cast: Charles Chaplin, Mady Correll, Audrey Betz, Martha Raye, Isobel Elsom
Click here to view the trailer

GOODBYE CHARLIE

I must admit that the prospect of a nearly two hour Chaplin comedy didn't really appeal to me, prior to watching "Monsieur Verdoux" last night. However, once again, I am completely wrong in judging this book by it's cover, as this was possibly the best Chaplin film I watched for THE BOOK.

Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) lives in France and up until three years ago, made his living as a bank clerk. It was then that he lost his position at the bank and was forced to find other means for supporting himself and his family. Verdoux lives in the South of France with his wife and young son and in order to support them, spends his time traveling around France, marrying widows and either conning them out of their money or murdering them to collect insurance and their assets. In addition to the wife that he acknowledges, Henri also maintains a second wife through the duration of the film, in the form of Annabella Bonheur (Raye). With her he pretends to be the Captain of a ship and thus has his excuse for being away so often. The film also follows Henri as he works to woo a third woman into being his wife, Ms. Marie Grosnay (Elsom). Add to that the Couvais family, who interact with police in hopes of helping to catch Verdoux, as their certain he's murdered their family member Thelma, another one of Henri's wives.

Perhaps I misspoke above and perhaps this isn't quite AS good as "The Gold Rush" and "Modern Times", but it is damn good and thank God Orson Welles sold the rights to the story to Chaplin (for a generous $5000, a hefty sum at the time) so that this film could be made by Charlie, into the black comedy that he envisioned. Sure, a two hour Chaplin film doesn't sound all that intoxicating, especially since I was used to ninety minutes or less when it came to Charlie's films, but this film uses it's time to perfection and everything makes sense. It's not just another comedy, but also provides a nice dose of suspense, some messages about current world affairs and is just a flat out, really good story. Take this line for example, something so poignant, that I'd never think to hear it in a Chaplin film:

Wars, conflict - it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!

That line was spoken by Chaplin in the film and apparently he fell under heavy scrutiny by the U.S. and ultimately fled the United States completely in 1952, moving to Switzerland. "Monsieur Verdoux" proves that Chaplin didn't hit his peak with movies like "Modern Times" and "City Lights" but that he still had some spunk left in him well into the 1940s. This is a fantastic picture, one that Charlie was rightfully proud of and another reason I'm glad I'm making my journey through this book. It's gems like this that make it all worthwhile. Unfortunately, we're done with Charles Chaplin as it pertains to THE BOOK, but I look forward to seeing more of his films on my own time - "The Kid", "The Circus", "The Great Dictator", just to name a few.

RATING: 10/10 Screw it! I'm going all the way on this one. There wasn't anything bad about it and I this is the kind of movie that makes you glad you're a movie fan. It's one that can really sweep you away, pull you in and tell you a good story, filled with laughs, entertainment, suspense and heart.

MOVIES WATCHED: 422
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 579

April 5, 2012 4:49pm