Tuesday, April 30, 2013

970. Hable con ella/Talk to Her (2002)


Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Pedro Almodovar
Written By: Pedro Almodovar
Main Cast: Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores
Click here to view the trailer

WATCH OUT FOR THAT GIANT HOLE!

Yes, that's the best subtitle I could come up with - sorry if it's too low brow.

In high school, I took Spanish, because you were forced to take a language as one of your electives (with Spanish and French being the only two choices) and I can still remember seeing a picture of Pedro Almodovar in my Spanish text book. At the time, I had no clue who he was, only what it said beside his picture. Now, looking back, I think it's kind of cool that they'd include him in the text book. I wonder if Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg show up in any English text books, in foreign countries?


"Talk to Her" revolves around four different characters. First up, there's Benigno (Camara), a male nurse at an institute specializing in coma patients. Benigno is a little confused about his own sexuality, but admits that (he thinks) he sways more in the direction of being sexually attracted to men, rather than women. Benigno's main patient is Alicia (Watling), a patient who has been in the hospital for four years, after a car accident left her in a vegetative state. Benigno stays with Alicia most days and nights, reading to her, doing her nails & hair, massaging her, bathing her and talking to her, in addition to countless other tasks. We learn through the use of back story, that Benigno may not be as homosexual as most people think, as it seems he actually knew Alicia before her arrival at the hospital. Alicia was a dancer and the dance academy where she trained was directly across the street from where Benigno lived. He used to watch her from his window and was completely infatuated with her. In fact, he was so infatuated with her, that he booked himself appointments with her father, the psychiatrist, in hopes of having an encounter with her. The other two characters in the story are Lydia (Flores), a bullfighter who gets gored & is also put into a vegetative state and admitted into the same hospital as Alicia, and her boyfriend Marco (Zuluaga), a journalist. Since he's at the hospital everyday anyway, visiting Lydia, Marco begins to strike up a friendship with Benigno.

SPOILER ALERT!


Movies have a way of really messing with you, if you think about it. Some of you may remember a while back, when I reviewed "The Celebration", I mentioned how odd it was that I actually felt sympathy for the pedophile, rapist father at the end of the film, when his family drives him away from the table. It was such an odd feeling, which is why I spoke about it and Almodovar kind of does the same thing to me again, with "Talk to Her". If any of us were to be watching the news and hear a story about a male nurse who raped and impregnated a coma patient, we would be disgusted and appalled. However, in "Talk to Her", that very same situation plays out and at the end, we're almost in tears for the Benigno character, feeling for him...at least I was. That's one of the really special things about cinema - when done right, it can totally twist your emotions, feelings, opinions and personal stances and make you totally second guess how you would normally view a situation. Did Benigno have issues? Certainly, however, the way Almodovar unfolded the story and told it to us, it wasn't that bad of a thing that he did. The sign of a truly great filmmaker, when they can literally play with your emotions and then make you wonder why you viewed something the way you did.

After the film ended, I asked myself: Should they have filmed the rape scene - between Benigno and Alicia? It only took me a moment to denounce the idea, thinking that anything they filmed would've come off as despicable and would've totally shattered our opinion of the Benigno character. I have to assume that the moment that took place between Benigno and Alicia was actually, probably a beautiful one (at least from Benigno's point of view) and I think it would be impossible to film a male nurse raping a female coma patient and make it look beautiful and touching. Instead, Almodovar tells us a short story, within the movie, about a shrinking man...must be seen to be believed, that's all I'll say.


Anyway, enough theorizing and idea slinging. The film was really great and the two hours seemed to fly by. The entire cast turned in fine performances, especially Javier Camara. The story was magnificent too; very down to earth, dealing with normal people but with a little twist, which I liked. I'm given to understand that this is Almodovar's most normal film, which is disheartening, because that leads me to believe that his other films are a little oddball-esque, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. I'll be watching "All About My Mother" soon, so we'll see how that goes. I think this would be a REALLY good film for anyone wanting to get interested in foreign films. If you're like I used to be and you don't watch a lot of foreign titles, this one is really easy to follow, really good and I think it would appeal to an audience of purely domestic moviegoers. The only thing I really didn't like about "Talk to Her" was the end. Am I really to believe that after all that's happened, now Marco and Alicia are going to have their own little part of this story? I mean, why else flash their names across the screen and elude that the end of the film is only the beginning for these two. It wasn't awful or anything, just a nitpicky thing, but I would've preferred it if they'd just tacked on ten or fifteen more minutes and did a scene with Marco and Alicia talking...about everything.

RATING: 9/10  Can't go all the way, just because, but a '9' is good too. I really can't wait to see "All About My Mother" now and see what it's like.

MOVIES WATCHED: 672
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 329

April 30, 2013  3:44pm

Monday, April 29, 2013

947. GLADIATOR (2000)


Running Time: 155 minutes
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
Main Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi
Click here to view the trailer

GLADI-HATER

I'm watching things from the new side slightly out of order because my wife and I happened to both be off today and she wanted to watch this with me. I'd only seen "Gladiator" once before and I've never been as gaga over it as others apparently are. This viewing didn't do much to change that either.


The plot revolves entirely around Maximus Decimus Meridius (Crowe), a Roman general, who pledges his allegiance to Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), emperor of Rome. The film opens during the end of Rome's war with the barbarians, at Vindobona. Maximus successfully leads his men against the barbarians, with his famous battle cry to "unleash hell". Following the battle, Maximus has only one goal: to go home to his family (wife and son) and his farm and live a peaceful life. Before being granting his release, Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus that he's the son he never had and asks Maximus to take the throne when he relinquishes it. Maximus is hesitant, but it doesn't matter because when Aurelius breaks the news to his son, Commodus (Phoenix), he is so upset that he kills his father and assumes the throne. Having knowledge of his father's plans to appoint Maximus as new emperor, Commodus has Maximus removed from the city and killed. However, Maximus gets away, but not without injury. He rides toward home, but when he gets there he finds his family murdered. He is then captured and sold to a gladiator trainer, where he must fight for his life in dingy arenas, alongside other slaves and makeshift warriors. When Commodus announces his intention to hold gladiator games, Maximus sees his chance at revenge, realizing that his chance to come face to face with the man responsible for his family's murder is upon him.

SPOILER ALERT!


You know, I really wanted to like this movie. With yesterday's glowing review and 100% acceptance of another epic, action-adventure movie ("Apocalypto"), I thought that maybe "Gladiator" had a chance to get into my good graces. I won't totally bash it, because there are aspects of it that were quite good. Mostly the aesthetical elements: set pieces, costumes, glorious camerawork. Furthermore, you also have Joaquin Phoenix in their pouring his heart out and further making a name for himself and the supporting cast was all fine too, I guess. However, the majority of this review will probably be a negative one, so if you're a fan, it's nothing personal. 

For starters, I hate Russell Crowe. I just don't see talent in him and any movie of his that I have liked, it's most likely not been because of him. Okay, maybe "hate" is a strong word, but I just don't care for the guy. In "Gladiator" there were far too many cheesecake shots of him and at times, the film came off simply as fodder for the women in the audience; giving them something to gawk at and dream about. Also, he just has this air of cockiness about him, that just isn't appealing. My other major criticism is the extreme length and lack of story to back up such an extended running time. You've got a movie that's twenty minutes shy of being three hours and what have you got: Maximus is general, Maximus is exiled, Maximus is gladiator, Maximus is vengeful, Maximus is dead. The end. When you hand me a film called "Gladiator", I expect there to be a prevalent use of battle scenes, and while there was, I think the feeble story really bogged them down and ultimately buried them. Speaking of the gladiator/battle scenes, those were good too and the sight of the Roman Coliseum, filled with spectators was a nice sight to behold.


Ultimately, this is yet another film to add to the "not for me" pile. If you're a fan, I have nothing against your opinion and honestly, I can understand why this film has so many fans. It's something that IS going to appeal to the majority of audiences. However, it didn't work for me. At times, it just came off as a desperate attempt to create a "Spartacus" for the 21st Century and we all know how I felt about that movie. If you're not into this kind of thing, but trying to watch it anyway (perhaps, for you BOOK doers), then drink a few Red Bull's beforehand, because "Gladiator" has that unique ability to bore it's unwilling viewers into the lulls of sleep.

RATING: 5.5/10  Like I said, not all bad and if you're a lover of great visuals, then you'll go ape for this. If you like good stories and movies that DON'T make you snooze, then take a pass.

MOVIES WATCHED: 671
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 330

April 29, 2013  3:17pm

Sunday, April 28, 2013

988. Apocalypto (2006)


Running Time: 138 minutes
Directed By: Mel Gibson
Written By: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
Main Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Mayra Serbulo, Morris Birdyellowhead
Click here to view the trailer

THE GREAT GIBSON?

I was hesitant to watch "Apocalypto", because...well I don't really have an acceptable "because" - I was just skeptical, that's all. One thing that may have led to my skepticism is the lack of faith I have in Gibson as a director. Despite turning in a near masterpiece with "The Passion of the Christ", I felt as though that work was ready made to succeed and didn't really chalk the success up to Gibson's direction. With "Apocalypto", I now have no choice but to give Gibson the credit he's due.


As far as I could tell, the film is segmented, quite nicely, into four distinct pieces. We start out with the introductions and establishing the characters. In this case, the characters are members of the Mayan civilization and more specifically, in this case, a small Mayan village, where the residents know one another, respect their boundaries and are grateful for what they have. This particular Mayan community is a civilized lot, where families live and flourish and ancestry is respected. One morning, however, all of this is disrupted when the village is attacked by a band of outsiders. The outsiders kill some, capture and hogtie the rest and burn the village to the ground. With their captives, the raiders tie them together and lead them through the forests, bound to a bamboo pole. The captives have no idea where they're going and most are tied and beaten. Having just seen members of their family killed, most are also emotionally drained, not knowing where they're going or who's taking them there. It is eventually revealed that the captives are being taken to be ritually sacrificed to the God of the sun, Kukulkan. After killing two of the captives in brutal fashion, the crowd that has gathered and everyone else witness a solar eclipse and therefore, the men doing the sacrificing declare that Kukulkan is satisfied and to "dispose" of the rest of the captives. The final part deals with the escape of Jaguar Paw (Youngblood), one of the captives, as he tries to escape the band of original captors and get back to his pregnant wife and son, whom he hid in a pit before being captured.


It took a little bit before my skepticism was quenched. When the film started, several feeble attempts at comedy were made and they were those kinds of feeble attempts at comedy that, kind of, make you roll your eyes - the very unfunny kind. However, Gibson didn't waste any time and quickly put the kibosh on the comedy and started rolling the ball on an absolutely FANTASTIC movie. For me, the skeptical one, it was a film that built and built and built until I couldn't help but embrace the film that was being laid out before me. At first, as I mentioned, I wasn't crazy about it. Then, the village is attacked and I start to get a little more into it, but not too much. The mini war scene when the village is attacked was some pretty great stuff, but I still wasn't sold. Then we started walking and I began to wonder when we'd stop walking. Was the entire film going to be the leading of the captives to their destination or were we going to get there in time to see what happens and then some? That question was quickly answered though, when we did arrive at our destination and the cinematography started to pick up a notch. Immaculate sets,  thousands of extras, camera angles that squeezed every drop of beauty out of the surroundings and the blues of the painted bodies, the sacrificial lambs being led to their slaughter. But it was too soon for all of our main characters to die and if the sacrificing wasn't enough to get you "oohing" & "aahing" and gasping & groaning, you still had the whole final act to go - the escape of Jaguar Paw and to see whether or not he'd survive a band of worthy hunters. By the end, I was exhausted. Going from a skeptical viewer to a 100% hooked one is hard work, ya know?


So with all this glowing praise, I'm forced to ask myself the question: Is Mel Gibson a great director? Well, I'd have to say he is. Now, I'm as surprised as any of you to hear myself say that, because up until about an hour ago, I wouldn't give have dared to lump the terms "Mel Gibson" and "great director" into the same sentence. But, if you look at his directing career (with the exception being "The Man Without a Face"), you see some very passionately done stories. Gibson is one who gets an idea in his head and either goes whole hog with it or doesn't do it at all. I mean, Gibson (once an A-list Hollywood actor), with his last two pictures, has broken the cardinal rule of a Hollywood filmmaker and that is: never make a film with subtitles. Gibson could've just as easily had his actors speaking English, in this and "The Passion", but he went whole hog, used Hebrew and Mayan dialects and did it right, lest he didn't do it at all. I applaud that. All I know is this, if it was announced tomorrow that Gibson had announced his next big directing gig, I'd be excited to hear the details, see the trailer and eventually see the movie. He has officially crossed that threshold of directors, where I'm literally looking forward to his next project and speaking of his projects, as you can tell, they're few and far between. I'd call that another credit to his abilities, as he doesn't simply grasp at anything that's thrown at him, but rather waits for something that he wants to do, that he feels passionate enough about to direct. Gibson is one who obviously directs just as much with his heart, as he does with his mind.

RATING: 10/10  Screw it, I'm going all the way. This was a great, great movie. Great action, beautiful cinematography, great direction, perfectly acceptable acting and a fantastic story...this is what going to the movies is all about.

MOVIES WATCHED: 670
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 331

April 28, 2013  9:45pm

Saturday, April 27, 2013

989. The Departed (2006)


Running Time: 151 minutes
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: William Monahan, Siu Fai Mak, Felix Chong
Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen
Click here to view the trailer

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED MARTIN

This is kind of a special review, because it's the first time on the blog that I'm going to get the chance to talk about Martin Scorsese - a favorite director of mine, one that I discovered slowly, on my own, without any real coaxing by anyone else. It's also the first time I'll be discussing the work of Leonardo DiCaprio, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.

To detail the full plot of "The Departed", would take far too long because there are too many tiny intricacies that discussing every character, their motivation and specific role would be ridiculous. However, just covering the basics may be too short, so I'll try my best to find a happy medium. The film is set in Boston and revolves around big-time mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson). Frank is a made man and at his age, he still reigns supreme over the criminal underworld of the Irish-American communities of Boston. At a young age, Colin Sullivan (Damon) is hand-picked by Frank to be one of his number one men, with the mindset being; treat him well at an early age and he'll always be on your side. Fast forward a lot of years and Colin is all grown up and being planted into the police force, via Frank, to be his man on the inside. Colin goes through the years of training that it takes to become a police officer and is almost immediately promoted to a plain clothes Sergeant. Meanwhile, William Corrigan Jr. (DiCaprio) is legitimately one of the good guys and is also going through police training. Coming from a sketchy, ghetto frequented background and a family with a pride-less history, William hopes to shake away the bad examples set by the family that came before him. Once a member of the State Police, William is approached with the opportunity to go undercover, into Frank's organization. His superiors figure that with his tumultuous past, Frank won't think twice when William approaches him about becoming a member of the criminal underworld. Now, we've got two rats: one good rat mixing with bad company and one bad rat mixing with the boys in blue. It all heats up very fast and provides the audience with one intense movie going experience.


SPOILER ALERT!

I feel like I was born to nitpick, so let's go with that first and then segue into the good stuff. My biggest complaint, and I really hate admitting this, is that, at times, the film is a LITTLE too confusing. It's not the fact that you've got to keep everyone's roles in order: Matt Damon is a bad guy pretending to be a good one, Leonardo DiCaprio is a good guy pretending to be a bad one, etc, etc. It's more when they start talking about micro processors, deals between Frank and the Chinese and all this mumbo jumbo. In a perfect world, Frank's specific activities would've been kept as simple as possible, because the real meat of the film lies with the two moles. The other thing that confused me a little bit...just a little bit, was the ending. Matt Damon's character opens his apartment door to find Mark Wahlberg standing with a gun pointed on him. Dignam (Wahlberg) is dressed in shady attire, complete with shoe covers on his feet. What's that all about?? Is it supposed to be implied that Madolyn gave the envelope to Dignam, which contained the truth about Colin, and therefore Dignam went, on official police business, and murdered Colin? Why wouldn't he just arrest him? Or are we meant to assume that Dignam was also working for Frank and because Colin killed Frank, Dignam was there to kill Colin? The rat at the very end of the picture would signal that the latter is very possibly true - the fact that rats exist everywhere. My other nitpick is SOME of the acting. Here's the rundown on the acting in this movie:


DiCaprio - shines, stands head and shoulders above all of the other talent. I truly think that when I'm older (much older) Leonardo DiCaprio will be the actor that me and my elderly peers talk about, much like people today talk of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

Nicholson - good, but showing some wear & tear. This SHOULD HAVE been Nicholson's swan song, as he passed the great actor torch onto brighter stars, namely Leo. It pretty much was, but he did "The Bucket List" and one other movie since, so technically...not a swan song.

Damon - Good and almost great, but not quite. I think if he hadn't been opposite DiCaprio, his star may have shined a little brighter. 

Wahlberg - Well I always give credit for trying and Wahlberg certainly tried to shine next to the big boys, but proved he's destined and probably much more suited for Michael Bay films.

Sheen - Proved to be just as good a veteran actor as Nicholson. I was impressed that this old dog still had a couple of good tricks up his sleeve.

Baldwin - I love Baldwin when he's a supporting player. If he's the star, he usually fails, but he does great when the pressure's off and he was fine here.

Farminga - I think she's a pretty decent actress. I think she's been given some big opportunities, early in her career (this and "Up in the Air") and has done well with that. I think she'd benefit by doing some smaller roles and honing her craft.


So that's the acting scorecard and you really can't sneeze at much of that, as it all ranges from good to great, with Leo outshining the lot of them. Of course, the story is the real star of the show, as you've got a truly original idea (other than the fact that this IS a remake of a Hong Kong film, thus deeming it quite unoriginal...but I mean the original, original idea), that people are going to obviously get into. At the very same time mob decides to put a mole in the police force, the police force decide to put a mole in the mob and the intensity and suspense of it all is, sometimes, to much to bear. "The Departed" comes complete with those "sit on the edge of your seat" moments, not to mention those moments where you just cannot help but try and communicate with the fictitious characters, through your T.V. If you're watching this movie and not yelling "Get out of there!" or "Oh my God, he's gonna' catch him!!", then you're not getting into the full experience that this motion picture has to offer. Martin wants you to have fun and he knows how to make an audience have fun, all the while making a high quality movie. That's what I love about Scorsese, because first and foremost, he's a fan and knows what we want to see.

RATING: 8/10  So a pretty good score, but I've seen Martin do better and we'll get the chance to review some of those better outings, down the line. By the way, "The Departed" really SHOULD be Scorsese's swan song to the gangster genre, as I think he's said everything he needs to say, with the use of blood and excessive violence.

MOVIES WATCHED: 669
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 332

April 27, 2013  10:15pm

147. High Sierra (1941)


Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Raoul Walsh
Written By: John Huston, from novel by W.R. Burnett
Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Henry Travers, Joan Leslie, Alan Curtis
Click here to view the trailer

GEEZ BOGEY, GO AWAY!

My (seemingly) never ending quest to find an, at least suitable Humphrey Bogart picture will not end today, with the reviewing of "High Sierra" - a film that I did not like...not in the slightest.


This time around, in my seventh Bogart movie from THE BOOK, Bogey is Roy Earle, a notorious gangster, who has just been pardoned from prison, via a phone call a gangster friend of his made to the governor. Once on the outside, it's back to his criminal ways, as Earle wastes no time getting back into the life of a professional thief. This time around, he'll be leading the charge in a heist against an upper-class California resort. As he drives across the country, headed for California, Earle meets a poor family, consisting of an elderly man & woman and their granddaughter. It turns out that there headed about to the same place he's going and when he gets to his destination, he looks them up again and again...and again, securing his sights on the granddaughter, Velma (Leslie), a looker in her own right. Of course, there's work to be done too and Earle meets up with the gang of guys he'll be working with: all rookies and all new faces to the veteran Earle. There's two guys: Babe (Curtis) and Red and a woman, Marie (Lupino). They take the time (what seems like forever) to case the place and get all their plans in order and meanwhile, the Earle character spends the rest of the film visiting Velma, a cripple, whom he plans to pay for surgery and babysitting a dog. End of story...


This was Humphrey Bogart's big break in Hollywood, as he doesn't even get top billing in this one, as that honor goes to Ida Lupino. Could Humphrey Bogart be the most overrated actor EVER?? That's a question that I pondered as I watched this film and knew that the sole reason for it's inclusion was THE BOOK'S obvious infatuation with Bogey.  Believe it or not, there are, by my count, four Humphrey Bogart films still remaining in THE BOOK, which will make a grand total of ELEVEN Bogey pictures in all!! And as far as I can tell, the only one worth anything is "Angels with Dirty Faces" and guess what...it's the only one of the eleven he's not the star of. There's just something about the guy that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest...kind of like the problem I had with Cary Grant, during my early blogging days. These days, I'll take Cary Grant any 'ol day of the week, over Bogart. Oh well, I'm still bound and determined to find ONE picture, starring Bogart that I like.


As for "High Sierra", it just went on for what seemed like forever and literally NOTHING happened. There's one heist in the whole film, which we hear about five minutes into the film and they don't pull that heist off until over an hour into the movie. The rest of the time is total down time, with Bogart proving that he can be a bad ass AND have a heart of gold, getting estimates for Velma's club foot surgery and visiting old, dying gangster friends. Give me a break! It's also a really odd movie, in that Bogart's character doesn't get the girl he wants and ends up having to settle for his second choice, Marie. That's just weird and probably has a lot to do with the fact that Humph really wasn't the star and therefore, could be made to look a little weaker than he could when he hit his starring days. There's a pretty sweet car chase near the end and the ending is pretty decent, but it wasn't nearly enough to save this train wreck and I'm just glad it's all over.

RATING: 3.5/10  '4' just seemed too high, so a '3.5' should do just fine. That will take care of the first half of what I have remaining and now we'll jump to the end and knock out five from that side.

MOVIES WATCHED: 668
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 333

ON DECK
The Departed (2006 - Martin Scorsese)
Apocalypto (2006 - Mel Gibson)
Talk to Her (2002 - Pedro Almodovar)
In the Mood for Love (2000 - Wong Kar-Wai)
Gladiator (2000 - Ridley Scott)

April 27, 2013  1:18pm

Friday, April 26, 2013

117. La femme du boulanger/The Baker's Wife (1938)


Running Time: 127 minutes
Directed By: Marcel Pagnol
Written By: Marcel Pagnol, from the novel Jean le Bleu by Jean Giono
Main Cast: Raimu, Ginette Leclerc, Fernand Charpin, Robert Vattier, Charles Blavette

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD

The single most hard to find film of the entire "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, has finally come into my grasp and into my field of vision and I have to say, while it was very hard to find, I think it's going to be a lot easier to forget. Of course, I'm talking about "The Baker's Wife".


Aimable Castanier (Raimu) is the new baker in a small village. The previous baker ended up hanging himself in the basement of the bakery, because he was a miserable drunk and so, the villagers are happy to have what seems like a very competent and friendly new bread maker in town. We also establish early on, that despite the quiet nature of the village from the outside, within the village their actually exists many feuds between the inhabitants. For example, one man doesn't like another because his large trees produce shade on his property, taking sunlight away from his prized, giant spinach plants. The baker is a married man and the villagers pretty much agree that the baker's wife is a very attractive woman. Her name is Aurelie (Leclerc) and when the Marquis comes to the bakery and brings his strong, handsome shepherd, Aurelie is stricken with lust. In fact, she's so stricken that the following morning, she ends up running off with the shepherd. In her absence, the bakery nearly burns down, because she wasn't there to wake Aimable at the right time, causing all the bread to burn. When Aimable realizes that Aurelie is gone, he denies it at first, refusing to believe that she ran off and rationalizing it by telling himself she's only gone to her mother's, for a visit. Later, he drowns his sorrows in a bottle and slowly starts to come to the realization that his wife has left him. Not getting any of their daily bread, the townspeople forget their petty feuds, band together and make it their mission to bring the baker's wife back to him, so that they can get back their bread.


Right away I question THE BOOK'S true intentions for including this movie, as they're sure to note that Raimu was one of Orson Welles' favorite actors. Now, did we include "The Baker's Wife" because it's truly a "must see" film, or did we include it because it's Raimu's best film and because Raimu was one of Welles' favorites? I really don't know, but what I do know is that "The Baker's Wife" certainly isn't one of the 1001 most must see pictures that has ever been made. Let me tell you that, kind of like "Me and My Gal", there wasn't a lot of substance to work with in this one. However, unlike "Me and My Gal", the director doesn't, in my opinion, make very good use of his time and the picture ends up running about thirty - forty minutes too long and I was left being bored for a big chunk in the middle. You've got a very distinct beginning, middle and end, and while the ends of the whole are fine, it's the middle where I'm left trying to salvage my connection to this picture. The beginning, which establishes the characters, their feuds, introduces the baker to the town and sees the departure of the wife, is a fine beginning and a set-up for what could certainly be a very acceptable picture, at the very least. Then, the middle, where Aimable spends what seems like a gargantuan amount of time stewing over the loss of his wife, sees the townspeople trying to console him and trying to think of ways to help him. Then, the end, which is also perfectly acceptable.


It all just seems so silly: a group of villagers trying to get the baker's wife back, because they simply can't live without him baking bread. I mean, the whole plot, sort of, hinges on bread! Okay, okay, so maybe there's a lot more to it than that. In fact, I was getting the sense of some very serous religious undertones in there and I'm thinking that there was a LOT of symbolism that I just wasn't picking up on. You had a lot of references to the town curate, the Lord's prayer (daily bread) and other such things. In fact, you may even be able to compare the baker's wife to God, like a priest losing his faith. When Aurelie wasn't there, Aimable couldn't go on making the bread, he'd lost the one he worshiped and therefore was left with no motivation. I don't know and I don't really want to get into a whole theorizing thing, because as I watched it, none of these symbols or undertones were prevalent enough to pick up on and it wasn't until afterwards that they kind of struck me. I watched the film for what it was, which was a baker who wasn't baking and the wife who stepped out on him and THAT wasn't good enough of a picture to be included amongst the 1001 best.

RATING: 5/10  I'll call it right down the middle, because for all my negativity, it wasn't THAT bad. Usually with average films, it's hard for me to focus on one side or the other and I end up having to either rant about the negative side or the positive side, but not both. Also, for the interested, this spot should've been "L'Atalante", but it's on a "short wait" from Netflix, so I skipped it...for now.

MOVIES WATCHED: 667
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 334

April 26, 2013  1:46pm

Thursday, April 25, 2013

77. Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933)

Running Time: 27 minutes
Directed By: Luis Bunuel
Written By: Luis Bunuel, Rafael Sanchez Ventura
Main Cast: (voice): Abel Jacquin

BUNUEL TO PETA - "SCREW YOU"

Another one that I initially had to skip, during my days of moving in strict chronology, "Las Hurdes" finally stopped eluding me when I tracked it down via the interwebs, sometime last year. The film is a short documentary by Luis Bunuel - one that wasn't awful, as I kind of expected.


The film was shot in the village of Las Hurdes, a small impoverished village in Spain, where the the inhabitants literally have to struggle just to eat, drink, stay healthy and ultimately survive. It's only twenty-seven minutes long, so we get shots of the village's only drinking source - a small stream, used by everyone for drinking and bathing. The title, "Land Without Bread", comes from the fact that, at the time of shooting, the village had just been introduced to bread and a sequence of children eating bread that they got from their teacher, at school, is included. It shows the villagers as a very primitive people, who literally use sticks as kitchen utensils and are forced to eat unripe cherries, risking dysentery.


Bunuel, who killed a calf and cut it's eye open in "An Andalusian Dog", is up to his "death to animals" tactics once again. According to the Wikipedia page for "Las Hurdes", he literally smeared a donkey with honey and allowed it to be stung to death by bees - a hard scene in the movie to watch, I won't lie. There's also a scene where a goat falls off a cliff, tumbling to it's death. You really can't blame Luis for that one, because it's not like he pushed the goat or anything...it just fell. Otherwise, the film wasn't terrible. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a must see film, but at only twenty-seven minutes long, it wasn't that difficult to sit through and most of the time I was fascinated by the primitiveness of the villagers. The copy I had, had an Englishman doing the narration, so subtitles weren't necessary. Bunuel was obviously someone who was fascinated with many different kinds of culture and ideas and that shows in "Las Hurdes". Personally, I liked it better when Bunuel started making real movies, complete with plots and everything, such as "Belle De Jour" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie". Nonetheless, you can't say that Luis Bunuel wasn't a versatile film director, making short, experimental films, documentaries and purely fictional pieces, later in his career.

RATING: 4/10  Like I said, definitely not a "must see", but it's okay for what it is. If you're on the same journey I am and having trouble finding this one, just do a Google search and I'm sure you can track it down, as it's all over the place on the net.

MOVIES WATCHED: 666
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 335

April 25, 2013  12:16pm

69. Me and My Gal (1932)


Running Time: 79 minutes
Directed By: Raoul Walsh
Written By: Philip Klein, Barry Conners, Arthur Kober
Main Cast: Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Marion Burns, George Walsh, J. Farrell MacDonald

DON'T BE A "BEZARK"...SEE THIS MOVIE!

Continuing right along with my new format (watching the five oldest films that I have left to watch, before jumping to the end and watching the five newest), we come to "Me and My Gal", a film I was forced to record off of Turner Classic Movies last October, as part of their Spencer Tracy tribute, as I was unable to find it elsewhere.


Spencer Tracy is Danny Doyle, a new cop on the beat in New York City and while he isn't the slickest or keenest copper on the force, he gets by. We open with about a twenty minute piece of Doyle walking through town; getting into numerous interactions with the town drunk, chasing down some kids who break a window with their baseball and flirting with a waitress he calls "Red" (Bennett)...due to her blonde hair. Then we start to get into the little plot that this movie does have, as Red's a.k.a. Helen Riley's newly married sister, Kate (Burns), is dropped in on by her old beau, Duke (Walsh), a gangster who wants to rob the bank she works at and wants her help. Kate denies the offer and luckily Duke is picked up by the police and sentenced to prison time. However, he busts out and of course, calls upon Kate to help hole him up, while his gang set plans in motion to knock off the bank. Meanwhile, Doyle starts courting Helen and the two get along swimmingly, despite the fact that they're both smart-asses, which is okay because it suits them well and they play off of each other nicely. Danny is then upgraded to detective and finds out that if he can track down the recently escaped Duke, he could earn himself a cool $10,000 reward - dead or alive. It shouldn't be too hard for Danny to get his hands on that reward money, considering Duke is hiding out in the apartment of his girlfriend's sister.

SPOILER ALERT!

Yeah, like I mentioned in the synopsis, there's really not much plot to speak of here and what little plot there is just acts as fodder to give Tracy and Bennett more time to play off one another, which they do superbly. It's a shame that I've never really taken to a Spencer Tracy movie, because he's a marvelous actor and I really enjoyed him here, proving that he can do comedy with the best of them. There are so many little running gags and physical comedy situations in this movie that it's literally impossible not to be tickled, at least a few times throughout the picture. The town drunk, at the beginning of the movie was hilariously played by Will Stanton. You've also got the radio salesman, who shows up for literally like one minute of screen time, but kills it. Everyone, whether they're onscreen for one minute or one hour, knows their part and plays it well...except Marion Burns who seemed to be lost in there. I also liked the idea of having the paralyzed father-in-law (Sarge), who could only blink his eyes and hear and who tips off the Danny as to Duke's whereabouts. I knew as soon as he showed up, he'd play some sort of integral part in the climax. I also liked the little bank robbery heist scene, with the gangsters breaking into the apartment of a mild mannered family that lived above the bank, cutting through their floor and then dropping down into the vault...clever stuff from Walsh.


Walsh realizes that he doesn't have much of an idea to play with, so wisely keeps the picture to a short running time and packs a nice punch with what he does give us. This is a really fun, little picture and since it's debut on Turner Classic Movies back in October, I've seen them replay it, at least, two more times, so you should really keep your eyes peeled for it, because it's not available anywhere else (in the U.S. anyway). If you're a fan of Spencer Tracy, this gives you a chance to see him early in his career, before he became a Hollywood mega star and he and Joan Bennett have a great chemistry together, just as good as Tracy and Hepburn, in this reviewers opinion. Fans of Tracy will also surely be thrilled to see him at being a goofball and at such a baby face age. It's fun; it's funny; it features greatness from the duo of Tracy and Bennett and the direction of Walsh, keeping things short and tying them up in a nice bow at the end, gets this one a thumbs up from yours truly!

RATING: 7/10  Maybe that's a smidgen too high, but I'm gonna' go with it and if need be, I can adjust at recap time. It's at least a very strong '6.5' anyway and what's a half a point to quibble over?

MOVIES WATCHED: 665
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 336

April 25, 2013  1:17am

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

60. La Chienne/The Bitch (1931)


Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Jean Renoir
Written By: Andre Girard, from novel by Georges de La Fouchardiere
Main Cast: Michel Simon, Janie Mareze, Georges Flamant, Magdeleine Berubet, Roger Gaillard

Note: This review will begin the initiation of a new format here at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die. Feeling the need to shake things up a bit, just to add a little spice to my journey, I've decided to start moving in a new order. Previously, I was moving in random order, but keeping each season (group of 100) focused on a specific decade (the current season was previously packed with films from the 1950s). Henceforth, the new watching order will be as follows: I'll be watching the five oldest movies I have left from THE BOOK, in chronology. After I've watched those five movies, I'll then jump to the end of THE BOOK and watch the five newest movies I have left, backwards in chronology. I'll continue this trend, jumping back and forth, watching the five oldest then the five newest, until I meet in the middle. In addition, I've also selected twenty-five movies and set them aside and these twenty-five movies are to be my grand finale, when I reach the end of my journey. The twenty-five movies I have chosen are either personal favorites of mine or movies that have been deemed classics. For now, I'll keep those twenty-five titles under my hat, but if you're playing along at home and paying very close attention, you might just be able to spot which movies I skip and therefore which movies are part of the grand finale.

NEW FORMAT!

Okay, now with that business out of the way, we can get down to the business at hand and that is the first Jean Renoir film from THE BOOK, one that I was forced to skip so long ago.  In case you weren't following above, this is officially the oldest film I had left to watch from THE BOOK, as everything pre-1931 had already been watched and reviewed.


The film stars Michel Simon as Maurice Legrand, a timid cashier, who is bullied by his co-workers and his wife, whose only solace is painting. His co-workers bully him for being spineless and a "wet blanket" and his wife (Berubet) is constantly comparing him to her late husband, Sergeant Alexis Godard. One evening, while on his way home from an office get together, Maurice witnesses a pimp, Andre (a.k.a. Dede) (Flamant) abusing his "girl", Lucienne (a.k.a. Lulu) (Mareze) and steps in to make the rescue, knocking down a very drunk Dede and seeing the girl home safely. At the end of the evening, Lulu and Maurice make plans to see each other again and he tells her to write him via the post office, so his wife won't find the letters. Fast forward a month later and Maurice is head over heels for Lulu, buying her anything she wishes and maxing out his own pockets in the process, even resorting to stealing money from his wife's secret stash and even further, at his workplace, from the till. Maurice even goes so far as to set Lulu up in a pretty cushy little apartment, giving her his paintings (that his wife told him to get rid of or else), in order to decorate the flat a bit better. Meanwhile, Dede is sore. He's broke and he's getting tired of resorting to the kindness of his pals to pay for his drinks and spot him money when he loses a game of poker. One day, while visiting Lulu, Maurice gets the idea to try and sell some of Maurice's paintings, passing them off as being painted by a Clara Wood. After taking them to a pretty well renowned art critic, the critic loves them and knows he can get a good price for them. Therefore, Dede starts selling paintings and soon steps up in the world, masquerading Lulu off as Clara, the painter and making huge profits. Lulu keeps Maurice on the string, so he can provide him with more paintings, but really she wants Dede, who barely gives her the time of day. It all boils down to an unbelievable conclusion, complete with murder and zombies...kind of.

SPOILER ALERT!!

First of all, you've got to hear the story that comes out of the "La Chienne" production: So apparently, while filming, Michel Simon fell in love with Janie Mareze and meanwhile, Janie Mareze fell in love with Georges Flamant. Renoir and his producer actually encouraged the fling between Mareze and Flamant, because they felt it would only add to their performances. After shooting wrapped, Flamant (who apparently wasn't a very good driver) too Mareze out for a ride and wrecked the car, killing her. At the funeral, Michel Simon had to be held up as he passed the casket, nearly fainting and ultimately pulling a gun on Renoir and blaming him for her death. Man, talk about some serious off-screen drama, my God! Anyway, I found that to be an interesting tidbit that I wanted to share with you all.


The movie was great and surprisingly, I really really liked it...a lot. Honestly, having not gone gaga for "The Rules of the Game" or "Boudu Saved From Drowning" and only really liking "Grand Illusion", but not in excess, I didn't expect to take to "La Chienne", Renoir's least known film in THE BOOK. The storytelling that goes on here is the work of a masterpiece maker, as Renoir builds and builds, until we can't wait to see how everything gets wrapped up. Think of it like this: I was so unengaged at the start of the picture, that at the sixteen minute mark, I decided I needed to step outside for a cigarette. I came back, restarted and at about the forty minute mark, I started to lean on my fist a little bit and scooted my butt to the edge of my seat. By the time the climax came around, I couldn't wait to see what happened to all of these characters and what crazy little, clever twist would be thrown in next. This was great fun, sad at times, funny at times and just a good, old fashioned time at the movies. From Dede selling Legrand's paintings as his own to the "resurrection" of Alexis Godard to the murder of Lulu, this film just kept adding things and adding things, until you just couldn't predict what was going to go down next.


This is actually a picture that I could totally see Woody Allen remaking and putting his own little twists on. Apparently in 1945, Fritz Lang remade the film as "Scarlett Street" and actually, that's a film that has been on my watch list for some time now. Watching Edward G. Robinson in the Maurice role would be interesting, but I just can't imagine Eddie G. playing such a timid character, as he's always been someone with a strong, onscreen voice. Anyway, back to my point about Woody Allen, as it seems to be right up his alley, filled with lots of little, unexpected happenstances; just the sort of thing Woody likes to give us. Also, after "Match Point", we know he's no stranger to playing a little rougher around the edges, when need be, so filming the murder and court scenes with a serious lens wouldn't be a problem. Oh well, this is just wishful thinking and probably would never actually happen.

RATING: 7.5/10  Great great filmmaking from Renoir and I think my enjoyment of this film is a good omen for the new format I'm trying out. I'm really excited for the new format and am positive that it will go off without a hitch.

MOVIES WATCHED: 664
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 337

April 24, 2013  1:46am

Monday, April 22, 2013

778. ARIEL (1988)


Running Time: 74 minutes
Directed By: Aki Kaurismaki
Written By: Aki Kaurismaki
Main Cast: Turo Pajala, Susanna Haavisto, Matti Pellonpaa, Eetu Hilkamo, Erkki Pajala

SATURNINE

Even though I'm due at work at 7:00am and it's currently twenty minutes till midnight, I've decided to pop in and write up my thoughts on the film I've just finished: "Ariel". This movie had been sitting near the top of my Netflix queue for some time now and finally, after being on a wait, the red and white film distributing company decided to send it to me.


This is my very first Aki Kaurismaki film and since I've heard a lot of great things about him, as a director, I went into the film with hope and I'd say I got my money's worth. The main character is Taisto Kasurinen (T. Pajala), a coal miner who inherits his father's convertible, just minutes before he (the father) takes his own life. Before his suicide, Taisto's father is filled with dread about the world they're living in and tells Taisto to get out of town and try to find something better for himself. Taisto takes his now deceased father's advice and splits, but not before withdrawing 8,000 marks from the bank. Once on the road, Taisto is soon robbed of his savings and left with no tender to live by. He gets a temporary job at the docks, loading sacks of grain onto wooden pallets and that gets him by for a little bit, giving him enough money to get a room at a local, Red Cross-type place. After a while, he meets Irmeli (Haavisto), a woman whom he picks up right away and strikes a relationship with. Irmeli has a son and holds down several different jobs, just to make ends meet. Later, Taisto encounters the man who robbed him of his 8,000 marks and in an attempt to try and beat it back out of him, he is arrested and sent to prison for twenty-three months.


I wasn't totally blown away with "Ariel", by any means, but nor was I disappointed. I found his atmosphere to be one that I'd normally embrace - somber and droll. However, I found his characters to be completely devoid of any sort of emotion - almost like the types of characters you'd find in a Hal Ashby feature. In fact, I kind of like that Hal Ashby reference, so I think I'll run with it, because the story even fits into a, sort of, Hal Ashby mold as well. Had the film been filled with just a little more emotion and a director that coaxed "just a little more" out of his actors, this could've been a grand slam with me. As it is, I'd call it a nice double play (damn, I really need to lay off the baseball; either that or just keep the damn references out of my movie reviews). The film certainly didn't sour me on Aki Kaurismaki, as I'd be totally up for taking in a few more of his movies and really getting a taste for what he's all about. I almost wish THE BOOK had included a couple of more, because just one taste and I can't decide whether he's a genius or not. If anyone has any good suggestions for a second Kaurismaki film, that would be a good follow-up to "Ariel", drop me a comment and I'll see what I can do.


Anyway, this was kind of one of those movies that I can neither praise, nor beat down, because it deserves neither. Therefore, the review suffers because I really can't take one side of the fence or the other and I'm left babbling on, trying to pick a side: thumbs up or down. After a while (days, weeks), I may sweeten a little bit on "Ariel", but for now, I'll call it a slight success, as it introduced me to Kaurismaki, a director who seems to have potential - at least as far as MY personal tastes are concerned.

RATING: 6.5/10  Maybe once recap time rolls around I can up that to a '7' or better, but for now that seems like a fine number to give "Ariel".

MOVIES WATCHED: 663
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 338

April 22, 2013  12:01am

Sunday, April 21, 2013

419. My Fair Lady (1964)


Running Time: 172 minutes
Directed By: George Cukor
Written By: Alan Jay Lerner, from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Main Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF CUKOR: 2 of 2

From an analysis of Quentin Tarantino's work & an extra long "Pulp Fiction" review to the second part of a George Cukor double shot & "My Fair Lady" - Welcome to 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die!



Let's see here: Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is a "street urchin", a girl with a wicked cockney accent, who sells flowers in the street and was brought up with a less than classy upbringing, to say the least. Her clothes are tattered & torn and her manners are virtually non-existent. Enter Henry Higgins (Harrison), a professor of linguistics who hears Eliza's speech and deems it cringe-worthy and deems Eliza herself a draggle-tailed guttersnipe! Henry, boasting about how good of a professor he is, tells anyone who will listen that, if given the chance, he could turn Eliza from a bum into a duchess and no one would ever be able to recognize the dirty girl with the cockney accent. Everyone goes about their ways, but Eliza thinks about what the professor told her and decides she wants more for herself ("Wouldn't It Be Loverly"), therefore, she takes herself to see the professor and there, she begs him to teach her how to talk properly. Higgins, at first, laughs at the idea, but then accepts the challenge to transform the vagabond Eliza Doolittle and present her at the Embassy Ball, the swankiest of swanky events, which will go down in six months. Can Eliza overcome her own voice or will Henry Higgins and his assistant, Colonel Pickering (Hyde-White) go mad trying to help her.


In "A Star Is Born", George Cukor shied away from the musical numbers and well choreographed numbers and focused more on the story. In "My Fair Lady", Cukor more than made up for that lack of musical flair, by cramming as many songs and numbers into this picture as he possible could. Now, this would usually be a surefire turn off for me, because as much as I like musicals, I like it better when there's not a big Broadway number around every turn. However, despite a staggering FIFTEEN musical numbers in "My Fair Lady", I nearly enjoyed every second of it! I'd attest my enjoyment, partly, due to the high quality of the songs, as I found myself tapping toes and whistling along to over half of them. My personal favorite, you might care to know, was "With A Little Bit of Luck", because for some reason that song just went into my head and refuses to come out. In fact, "Get Me to the Church On Time" is also great, proving that Stanley Holloway knew how to add that extra bit of showmanship to his numbers and really make them pop.


But the real star of the show here is Rex Harrison, who was incredible as Henry Higgins. I won't go so far as to say that Audrey Hepburn shined, because I don't think she really did. However, her flaws weren't too obvious and the talent of her supporting cast helped to prop her up and make her look a bit better. Hepburn's performance was too fake, not genuine enough and I didn't for a second buy her as a "draggle-tailed guttersnipe". She did okay, but we'll leave it at that. Otherwise, the film is GREAT fun and I think even musical haters will find a few songs that they can tap toes too. The story is good enough (supported by the music) and the cast (sans Hepburn) is stellar. I'm really shocked at how well I took to it and I think you'll be to. Give it a chance!

RATING: 8/10  After a super long review yesterday, I decided to keep things short and to the point today. Apparently "Pulp Fiction" got the ball rolling though on what hopefully becomes a nice string of great pictures.

MOVIES WATCHED: 662
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 339

April 21, 2013  4:36pm

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

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