Thursday, May 30, 2013

934. The Thin Red Line (1998)


Running Time: 171 minutes
Directed By: Terrence Malick
Written By: Terrence Malick, from novel by James Jones
Main Cast: Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin
Click here to view the trailer

LIFE AND DEATH, BEAUTY AND UGLINESS

Right now the current goal is to put in a little extra effort and finish up this season on Wednesday. Whether or not I get to that point will have to be seen, but I did knock off the longest picture I have left last night and from here on out, it's basically smooth sailing.


Terrence Malick's first feature film came in 1973, with the release of "Badlands" and his third feature came in 1998 with the release of "The Thin Red Line". In the span of those twenty five years Malick made one other picture; "Days of Heaven", and then disappeared for about twenty years. Apparently during his absence, he was off somewhere in the boondocks pondering the meaning of life, because while "The Thin Red Line" is a war film, it's just as much a philosophical examination of life, nature and spirituality. The film is set during World War II and starts out with an inner monologue by Private Witt (Caviezel), an American soldier who's gone AWOL and has holed himself up on an island, inhabited by natives in the South Pacific. He ponders a bunch of stuff - ideas and dialogue that totally lost me and left me with an "oh my God, this is going to be a long movie" feeling. From there we get some other inner monologues, from different characters - really deep stuff, that usually doesn't come up in basic conversation and just came off as mumbo jumbo to this viewer. Then we get into the real meat of the picture, as C Company is commanded to take control of a hill - a hill that is being heavily guarded by Japanese troops, where they've placed a bunker, barricaded themselves up and have machine gun artillery at their disposal. Any attempt to climb the hill can easily be seen by the Japanese. It's a scene that lasts well over an hour and is really well done, as Malick mixes the ugliness of war, with the beauty of nature: blood streaking across blades of green grass;  dozens of men climbing a hill, while swaying grass envelopes them and the sky, filled with smoke, half orange and half blue.


I guess I sort of delved into my own opinions while writing that plot synopsis didn't I? Oh well. Like I said, the beginning and end is a bunch of crap. Sure, there are some moments tucked away in there and the film has the tendency to sort of drag your ears in, whether you want to hear what's being said or not. But all in all, I can tell you that this film lost me before we even got into the taking of the hill. Once we got there, I had mentally prepared to dislike this movie, but they started to slowly win me back. There's no denying the beauty of the picture. Malick obviously knew what he wanted and worked in conjunction with his director of photography to get the shots that would transform this film from just your typical piece of WWII fodder into something really special. Yes, I'm admitting this film is something special, despite not fully being on board. The photography is gorgeous, the cast is brilliant, the score is moving and the action in the middle is really well done. Had they been able to fill the beginning and end with something more engaging, I'd have been gaga over this movie. It's my own fault, as I guess I'm just not your philosophical type. I don't ponder the meaning of life or the relationship between man and nature. No, I definitely don't do that. I also don't buy that soldiers do that, as a matter of fact. Listen, I don't want to knock any soldiers with this review, but usually these guys are a lot more gruff and gung ho. They're not your life pondering types.


The film was a good war film and one that I could give a moderate seal of approval. I didn't love it or anything, but nor did I hate it. It really made you wonder about war and life, I guess and wonder how many of these little moments were created on the battlefield. How many men drew their last breath, while being held by their brothers in arms? How many men begged their fellow soldier to write home to their wives, knowing that they were done for? How many men died alone, with no one to tell their final secrets to? Maybe it goes a little way in helping me to understand why there are so many war movies, because maybe I'm finally starting to realize how many war stories are out there and yearning to be told.

RATING: 6/10  Can't go any higher than that and I highly doubt (unless I have a severe change of heart) that it'll be making any TOP 20 list.

MOVIES WATCHED: 693
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 308

May 30, 2013  12:19pm

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

932. There's Something About Mary (1998)


Running Time: 119 minutes
Directed By: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Written By: Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Main Cast: Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans
Click here to view the trailer

CRUDENESS + HEART = *MEH*

We're getting down to the wire here ladies and gentlemen and I am officially within ten movies of wrapping up this season, making a new TOP 20 list and having only 300 movies left to go before my journey comes to an end.


The movie starts out in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1985, as we zoom in on a 16-year-old Ted Stroehmann (Stiller). Ted is far from a ladies teenager, sporting braces and a awkward haircut. It's nearly time for the prom and while Ted gets shot down from one girl, he's surprised when Mary Jensen (Diaz) asks him to the dance. Mary is one of the popular girls at school, but she doesn't act like it, as she's actually nice and when she asks Ted to the dance he's shocked, but obviously accepts. On the night of the prom, however, a mishap that involves him accidentally peering into Mary's bedroom window while she's undressing and him catching his manhood in his pants zipper, sees Ted being loaded into an ambulance and his dream prom date canceled. Fast forward to present day and Ted is a struggling novelist who still thinks about what could have been with Mary, as he realizes he still has feelings for her. His friend Dom (Elliott) urges Ted to hire a private investigator and gives him the number of Pat Healy (Dillon), a sleazeball who offers to go to Miami (where Mary now lives) and track down Mary for Ted. When Pat arrives in Miami, he tracks down Mary fairly quickly, but ends up falling for himself and when he comes back to Rhode Island he tells Ted the worst facts he can possibly think of to detract his attention away from Mary. Pat then moves to Miami and begins a relationship with Mary. Having stalked her for a few weeks, he's found out what kind of man she's looking for and pretends to be her ideal suitor. Ted, however, still can't get Mary out of his mind and decides to take the leap anyway, heading to Miami to see Mary and tell her how he feels.


The Farrelly Brothers arrived on the scene in 1994, with the release of "Dumb and Dumber" and became a staple of 90s comedies that paved the way for guys like Judd Apatow to carry on the legacy of crass, crude comedies. "There's Something About Mary" was their third film (after "Kingpin") and due to heavy promotion and an image of Cameron Diaz running a handful of semen through her hair, the film did big numbers and put the Farrelly's on the map. I had mixed feeling about the film. On one hand, the film does have some heart, the principle actors are pretty funny and if we're talking about cast, the real shining star of the show is Matt Dillon, who turns on a performance not unlike Kevin Kline's performance in "A Fish Called Wanda (except not as good). The film is a little on the long side for a comedy, but it flows along quite nicely and provides a suitable number of laughs to keep things chugging along. However, its the type of film that I'll laugh at while it's playing, but then kind of feel guilty/silly for even finding humor in such ridiculousness after it's over. Like I've said before on the blog, as I grow older I'm just having a harder and harder time accepting these comedies, even though they were films I would've howled at when I was a teenager, when they came out. It kind of makes me proud of myself for growing out of such silliness and being able to go back and find that comedies used to be movies that could stand on their own two legs without any trouble. Guys like Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields who made a living making people laugh and didn't need bodily fluids or a multitude of curses to do so. I'd really like to see someone come along and make a really funny comedy that didn't involve nudity, fart jokes and the F word in every scene. Come on Hollywood, surely there's someone out there that can do this, even if only for an experiment to see if it can even be done in the 21st century.


In most people's opinion the Farrelly's never did better than "There's Something About Mary", although I have a soft spot for "Me, Myself & Irene" and "Stuck On You", the latter of which I actually saw in the theater (went to see "The Two Towers" and it was sold out, so what was a guy to do?). "Irene" is incredibly crass, but blends in an equal amount of heart and it works better and "Stuck On You" tones the crudeness way down and actually has a decent cast to back up the work - Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon. Despite Stiller's decent performance and Dillon's great one, "Mary" just doesn't have the cast or the story to back up the promotion that went behind it and in my eyes, it really all hinges on the shock value: a guy zipping his "bits" into his fly, Mary streaking semen through her hair and Dillon catching a dog on fire, while trying to shock it back to life with the frayed ends of a lamp cord. While you may go so far as to howl while watching it, I think true film fans are either going to feel guilty for doing so or write it off as a movie that they had fun with, but would never take seriously. I did a little bit of both and can deduce that it had absolutely no place among the likes of "A Clockwork Orange", "Once Upon a Time in the West" or "Manhattan", among hundreds of others.

RATING: 5.5/10  FUN FACT: The words to the tune that plays when Ted is pleasuring himself to the brassiere advertisement are "beat out that rhythm on the drum" and is from "Carmen Jones". Great touch!!

MOVIES WATCHED: 692
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 309

May 29, 2013  9:49pm

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

929. Lola rennt/Run Lola Run (1998)


Running Time: 81 minutes
Directed By: Tom Tykwer
Written By: Tom Tykwer
Main Cast: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri, Armin Rohde
Click here to view the trailer

WHAT IF...

Hoping to knock out a couple of movies tonight and wrap this season up as quickly as possible. First up for the evening is "Run Lola Run", which I bought on Blu-Ray years ago (my very first Blu-Ray purchase, in fact) and just got around to checking it out tonight. Let me clarify that: I had seen the film before, just not this particular copy. Now then...


The film is a product of the 90s and all you need do is watch it to realize that, as you hear the techno beats thumping in the background and characters that look like they've been pulled directly from MTV occupying the screen. The film begins with a phone call. Lola (Potente) picks up her red, ringing phone to hear her boyfriend Manni's ecstatic voice on the other end. It seems that Manni is involved in some pretty crooked activities and on this day, he was supposed to deliver 100,000 German marks to a crime boss. Everything went as planned, but when Lola didn't show up to pick him up and escort him to the drop point (her moped was stolen, hence the upcoming running), he was forced to take the subway. Aboard the subway, Manni is followed by police and through a series of unfortunate events, Manni leaves the bag of money aboard the subway and it falls into the hands of a bum. Manni knows that the crime boss will surely kill him if he can't produce the 100,000 marks. Lola tells him to stay cool and that she'll figure something out. As Manni listens to his girlfriend try to calm him, he looks upon a grocery store and tells her that if she can't do something by noon (it is now 11:40am) he plans to rob the grocery store to get the dough. From there, it's off to the races for Lola, as she runs, runs, runs and tries to figure out somehow, some way to get 100,000 marks. The film is told three separate times, with each telling having a different outcome.


The first time I saw "Run Lola Run", I loved it and this time wasn't too much different. It's actually one of those movies that seeing it for the first time has it's benefits over all the other times you'll see it. When you're first watching it and Lola is shot at around the twenty - thirty minute mark, you have a, sort of, "what the fuck" moment, as you realize the red-haired maiden from the front of the DVD case has just died. Then you realize what the director is going for and that this is a very unconventional film. It's really a very basic idea, as Tykwer examines the idea of "what if". What if Lola didn't run into the lady pushing the baby carriage, what if she did? What if Lola didn't talk to the man on the bicycle, what if she didn't? What if Lola didn't make it to Manni by noon and what if she did? It examines the idea that if you change even one minute detail of a given series of events, the entire duration and outcome of the events will also change. THE BOOK is quick to note that "Run Lola Run" is a product of the 90s and a product of a generation brought up on MTV. It also points out the music video style editing, which I really liked. Not only does the movie have an exhausting sounding title, but it is a little exhausting too. It's a very high intensity film that will keep you on your toes.


At only eighty minutes long, "Run Lola Run" actually feels like the shortest movie in the whole book, as despite it's eighty minute run time, the film seems like it's over in the snap of the fingers. It's kind of a nice change of pace, especially after all the long movies I've watched this season. Tykwer keeps everything succinct and really, he only has twenty minutes for each run, plus the time it takes to transition into each run and the few minutes of over run in each run (Lola usually arrives to Manni right at noon, so there's always another few minutes to wrap up the story). Tykwer also uses a few animated sequences and a techno beat that plays almost nonstop, throughout the entire movie to keep things interesting and upbeat.

RATING: 8/10  Don't really have a whole lot to say about this one. I really like it and something that's all I know. Sometimes I just don't have a reason why, except (in the case of "Lola") that it's original and interesting.

MOVIES WATCHED: 691
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 310

May 28, 2013  11:30pm

923. TITANIC (1997)


Running Time: 194 minutes
Directed By: James Cameron
Written By: James Cameron
Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart
Click here to view the trailer

GRANDIOSE

Yes, I'm watching backwards a little bit out of order, because my wife wanted to watch this one with me last night and so I jumped around a little bit. Don't worry though, even if I'd gone in perfect order, I'd have still gotten to "Titanic" by the end of this season.


I think, by now, we all know the story of the RMS Titanic, which set sail from England in 1912 and was billed as the "unsinkable ship". Therefore, I won't worry so much with detailing the part of the film that deals with the sinking and instead focus on the fictional part of the movie, which deals with a romance between socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet) and drifter Jack Dawson (DiCaprio). After the prologue, which details a crew of men scouring the Atlantic Ocean, sifting through the rubble of the Titanic and searching for the Heart of the Ocean (a diamond that's worth more than the Hope Diamond), we get narration from a now 101-year-old Rose Calvert, as she recollects the few days she spent aboard the RMS Titanic. Upon boarding the massive vessel, Rose is engaged to Cal Hockley (Zane), a wealthy businessman who is looking for a wife that will compliment his wealthy status and will obey him to a tee. Rose isn't particularly happy with Cal or their engagement, but her mother is hopeful that the relationship will work out, mainly because the Bukater women are broke. Enter Jack Dawson, a drifter who wins his Titanic tickets in a poker game and board the vessel on the 3rd class level. One evening, while taking in the night air, Jack sees Rose standing on the edge of the Titanic, ready to jump. He talks to her and gets her to come down and a romance is born. The two continue to see one another, despite Cal forbidding it. The romance buds and blossoms as the movie rolls on and as Titanic rolls toward the iceberg.

SPOILER ALERT!

You know what I really hate about the "Titanic"? The fact that 50% of it is a completely made-up story. I mean, look, I know that there had to be a certain fictional element to the story, so that we, the audience, could connect to some of the characters when it came time for the Titanic to sink. However, that doesn't mean I have to like it! Have you ever looked at the figures and particulars on Cameron's work to make the Titanic and the movie "Titanic" look genuine? It's fascinating! The set of the ship was built to 90% scale to make it look as realistic as possible and according to THE BOOK, the replica was 775 feet and the real company, that provided the actual Titanic's furnishings, was hired, so that EVERYTHING down to the last chandelier was just as it was on the 1912 maiden voyage. So, in my head, to go so far out of your way to make this movie as authentic as possible and then to just make up two characters and throw them in there, is nonsense. And another thing...THE LENGTH!! Did "Titanic" actually have to have such a titanic running time? A part of me suspects that Cameron didn't want all of his hard work to go to a film that lasted any less than three hours long and so for the sake of making it all worthwhile, he made sure to produce a long picture. I really think that something around two to two and a half hours would've made everything a lot more succinct and lead to my further enjoyment of this movie.


Then again, maybe a part of the reason I didn't like "Titanic" (at first) was the fact that it is the most mainstream of all mainstream movies. For a long time, it was the highest grossing movie ever and I'm sure it still holds a lot of records for being this "titanically" big budgeted, grandiose, masterpiece. You see, the thing is, I see right through that Hollywood gloss. I don't usually like movies that do big box office numbers and commercial movies like this just (usually) don't appeal to me. But can I really hold that against this movie? What if we lived in a world where things in the movie industry were reversed? What if people went out of their way to see independent features and big budget movies like this were the ones that had a smaller, pickier audience? Then would I be more accepting of "Titanic"? I don't know...maybe, maybe not.

But the fact is, I did like this movie...when the ship started sinking. When Cameron actually gets into filming the actual sinking of the Titanic, that's when my attention got more focused. I mean, there are a few stories that I think EVERYBODY is at least somewhat interested in and the sinking of the Titanic is one of those stories. We've all heard the story. Hell, I remember reading passages in my grade school books about the Titanic. It's kind of like that special, unusual excitement you feel when you watch a movie that you've read the book to. You have a certain expectation, things you want to keep a lookout for and "Titanic" is kind of like the story that we've all read and I think we all had certain expectations for this movie that could have never been met. Maybe I'm rambling, I don't know. Anyway, the sinking of the ship is what the movies is all about. It's big, it's amazing, it's fascinating, it's a sight to behold and it's as close to actually being on one of the lifeboats and watching it really happen in 1912, as you can get. Say what you will about special effects and James Cameron, but he really put on a show in the second act and if you can watch that hour and a half piece of the boat's sinking and still have the gall to say "meh, it's so-so", then I don't know what to tell you.


In conclusion, if they'd just cut the love story between Jack and Rose in half and gave us only a spoonful of what we needed to feel an attachment to these characters and then got into the actual tragedy of the sinking boat, I think I would've taken to it A LOT more. Having Zane's character chase DiCaprio's character through a water filled ballroom, with gun in hand was just a little too overboard and proved that Cameron was really grasping at straws to add drama to a movie that came with the drama already included. I think I've rambled long enough.

RATING: 7/10  Is it possible that the battle for the "Ten Worth Mentioning" spots, in my next TOP 20, will be just as poignant as the actual TOP 20 list? There are approximately fifteen really good candidates for that section of the list and I'd call "Titanic" one of them.

MOVIES WATCHED: 690
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 311

May 28, 2013  11:45am

Monday, May 27, 2013

935. Three Kings (1999)


Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: David O. Russell
Written By: John Ridley, David O. Russell
Main Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Cliff Curtis
Click here to view the trailer

IT'S NOT THE THREE MARK WAHLBERG MOVIES IN THE BOOK THAT BOTHERS ME, IT'S MORE THE TWO JAMIE KENNEDY MOVIES...

No, wait, I thought about and yes, three Mark Wahlberg movies in THE BOOK is also a little troubling. Not to mention two Cameron Diaz movies and one Ice Cube movie. Ugh. Oh well, surprisingly "Three Kings" didn't turn out to be too bad of a night at the movies and all in all I was pleased with how this one played out.


The setting is Iraq and the time is 1991. The Gulf War has just ended and everyone is gearing up to go home. Sergeant Troy Barlow (Wahlberg) is one of the thousands who can't wait to get back to the states, knowing that his wife and baby daughter are waiting for him. During a routine search of surrendering Iraqi soldiers, Barlow and his crew discover a rolled up piece of paper sticking out of the hind quarters of one of the Iraqi's. After a quick look over, Barlow realizes that the piece of paper is actually a map, which may or may not be leading to Saddam Hussein's bunkers, which are said to house millions of dollars in gold bullion. Barlow takes the map back to his Staff Sergeant, Chief Elgin (Cube) and the two deduce that it is, in fact, a map to the gold. Before they can make further plans, they're intruded on by Major Archie Gates (Clooney), who overhears the conversation and wants in on the action. Archie is two weeks away from retirement and knows that if him and the men could get their hands on the bullion, they'd be set for life. So, we're off on an adventure, but, of course, it isn't as easy as all that. Along the way the guys go from being greedy and naive to actually developing a conscience and a heart. When they see a group of Kuwaiti refugees being mistreated, Archie can't help but interject himself into the conflict, despite a ceasefire that has been agreed upon by both sides. Eventually Barlow, Archie and Elgin do get the gold, but that's only half the battle as they have to try and figure out how to get back unrecognized, not get arrested for disobeying the ceasefire and get a group of refugees across the Iranian border.


Maybe it's just the fact that I actually recall the Gulf War, but I'd have to say this is ONE OF the best war movies I've seen. Now granted, that's not really saying a whole lot because I usually detest war films and this is just one in a hundred that I actually took to. I have plenty of complaints, but ultimately I was shocked at how decent this was. If I had my way, I'd have replaced Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube with more talented actors, but you win some, you lose some. I absolutely despise Wahlberg and try to stay as far away from his movies as possible. Why he constantly gets decent scripts after decent scripts is beyond me. I much prefer the way Scorsese used him in "The Departed" - as a supporting player. Ice Cube was okay, I guess and George Clooney is a solid enough actor to at least have one person for a film buff to latch onto. Also, if I had my way, I'd have toned down the action sequences substantially AND the comedy. A few action scenes are fine, but they were bordering on overkill and something that would come out of Michael Bay's wet dream. Also, the incorporation of comedy was just too eye rolling, at times and had they cut back a little on those two elements and maybe added a touch more drama, I think you'd have had a real "must see" movie. As it is, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "must see", but I'd definitely call it a "worth seeing". It's something that A LOT of people are going to take to, especially in the states, as people here tend to LOVE their action/comedy vehicles.


Otherwise, David O.Russell, who kind of snuck up on me (with a little research I realize that he's the one who directed "Silver Linings Playbook", one that I've been wanting to see), did a fine job and really added a uniqueness to something that could've just been another Hollywood affair. He uses techniques that were, at the time, new: quick, dirty editing and the types of eye grabbing visuals that are usually reserved for more "award worthy" films. The story chugs along nicely and while it doesn't always make total sense, you're easily able to suspend your disbelief enough to just sit back and have a good time with it. If you're someone who takes your movies TOO seriously, you're probably going to find dozens more things to complain about. However, if sometimes you just like to have a good time, then "Three Kings" does the trick.

RATING: 6.5/10  A '7' would just be getting into a whole other echelon of movie and this one didn't quite get there.

MOVIES WATCHED: 689
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 312

May 27, 2013  1:19pm
Happy Memorial Day

Sunday, May 26, 2013

177. Les Enfants du Paradis/The Children of Paradise (1945)


Running Time: 190 minutes
Directed By: Marcel Carne
Written By: Jacques Prevert
Main Cast: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, Maria Casares
Click here to view the trailer

FRENCH ROMANTICISM

It took me a while to get around to this one, as it's been sitting here on my desk for over a week. After watching "Henry V" and "Ivan the Terrible", I think it was the running time that intimidated me the most and possibly getting into another seemingly endless movie. However, "Children of Paradise" proved to be a very easy watch and a pretty decent one at that.


The film is split into two parts. Part One starts out by introducing us to the characters that we're to spend the following three hours with. The film takes place in Paris and begins on the day of Carnival, on the Boulevard of Crime. During the festival, many street performers and theater troupes converge on the town and that's where we meet our first characters. Frederick (Brasseur) is a wannabe actor, who wants desperately to get a job with the Funambules Theater. On his way to the theater, to talk to the manager, Frederick meets and flirts with Garance (Arletty), a beautiful actress, who blows him off. At the theater a spat breaks out between the crop of current stars and the manager has no choice but to hire Frederick as a last minute replacement and to put in a lesser member of his cast, Baptiste (Barrault), a pantomime, whom everyone disregards. The performance ends up being a huge success and two new stars are born. Meanwhile, another member of the troupe, Nathalie (Casares) is madly in love with Baptiste, but he doesn't feel the same way. Instead, Baptiste is madly in love with Garance, yet she's an uncatchable fish, a notorious tease and one who knows the true power of her beauty and how far it can get her. There's also Lacenaire (Herrand) who considers Garance a "good friend", yet covets her for himself and Count Edouard de Montray who also falls in love with Garance, while watching her perform one evening. This, the love hexagon that I've just laid out for you, is all set up in Part One and Part Two is set a few years after the events of Part One, when everyone has (sort of) gone their separate ways, yet are brought back together.


If this film had anything going against it, it was definitely the running time and the fact that Part Two doesn't do Part One justice at all. Like I said, I was hesitant to get into this one because it simply didn't look like a film that was going to end up being my cup of tea. It was a little slow to start, but once things got rolling, I was definitely on board with what was being laid down. There was a very intriguing, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking web of love, deception and heartache being weaved and it was all so poetic and romantic, that it couldn't have been set anywhere but in the heart of Paris. When I finished Part One, last night, I didn't have time to watch Part Two right away, so I saved Part Two for tonight and I was actually excited to finish it off, see what roads these characters would take and see how this all got wrapped up. It was French and very, at times, overly dramatic, so I kind of figured it'd end badly for everyone involved and I was right. However, Part Two just isn't up to snuff and just really didn't do anything for me. The characters were not where I saw them being and there were no surprises. Even Part One had a few surprises here and there (nothing shocking or huge, but a few moments of mild surprise) and Part Two, which should've been the climax, did nothing for me.


Had Part Two been able to hold up to the standards set by Part One, this could've been lurking somewhere around the '7' or even '8' range, but it didn't, so I can't get it that high...no way. I will say that I did, for the most part, enjoy myself though. Jean-Pierre Barrault was great. Think Buster Keaton meets Pagliacci. Oh and speaking of Pagliacci, Baptiste has a line in the film where he talks about going to the doctor because he's depressed. The doctor tells him it's nothing serious and that the best medicine would be to go see Batiste at the theater that night. For any comic books fans, isn't that eerily similar to the joke found in Rorschach's journal about Pagliacci?...

"Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears. Says 'But, doctor...I am Pagliacci.'"

Maybe Alan Moore was a "Children of Paradise" fan. Anyway...where was I?

The rest of the cast was very fine as well and Arletty was a beauty to behold. She had this quality that really made you hang on every word she said, really examine her lips as they formed words and then sentences and seemed to always spew something romantic, poignant or just plain sexy. That's really it, I guess. A great story, a great cast and a great set-up, let down by a very mediocre conclusion that just didn't support it's first act. While many people consider this the crowning achievement for Marcel Carne, I still stand beside his 1939 offering "Daybreak", which is much shorter and packs more of a punch.

RATING: 6.5/10  I just cannot go '7', even though there were aspects of this film that I really, truly enjoyed. Maybe a rewatch someday and I can come around to liking the second act, but for now call it a mild success.

MOVIES WATCHED: 688
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 313

May 26, 2013  1:14am

Thursday, May 23, 2013

201. Ladri di biciclette/The Bicycle Thief (1948)


Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Vittorio De Sica
Written By: Cesare Zavattini, Oreste Biancoli, Suso d'Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gerardo Guerrieri, from the novel Ladri di biciclette by Luigi Bartolini
Main Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci
Click here to view the trailer

WHO KNEW A STOLEN BICYCLE COULD BE SO COMPELLING?

Technically this wasn't supposed to be the next movie I watched, but since I canceled my Netflix account today, I needed to watch this yesterday, via their streaming service, so as not to miss out on it. It's also worth noting that I only have six more movies from the 1940s left to watch and I'll have watched everything from the beginning of THE BOOK through to 1950!


Antonio Ricci (Maggiorani) is an unemployed man, living in postwar Rome, with his son Bruno (Staiola) and wife Maria (Carell). When the film opens, workers stand outside an unemployment office and wait to hear their names get called and Antonio's does. It seems that Antonio has the skills required to hang movie posters and at whopping wages that would allow him to feed his family and then some, he's ecstatic. There's only one hitch: he has to have a bicycle to do the job and because his family needed the money, he recently had to pawn his bicycle. He offers to do the job on foot, but the unemployment agent insists he have a bicycle or else he'll find someone else. Antonio takes the job, promising to be there the next morning, come hell or high water. When he gets home and tells Maria about it, she offers to hock the bed sheets so that they can get the bike out of the pawn shop and so that's what they do. The next morning, Antonio has a new lease on life and is more than ready to start his new job. However, he's just getting started when a teenage, hoodlum steals his bicycle. He tries to chase down the bike-napper, but to no avail and eventually he loses him in the hustle and bustle of the city. Now, he's back to square one and he's crushed. He vows to spend as much time as it takes trying to find the bike and so that's what he, his son and some friends do. The film takes place over the course of about thirty-six hours.

SPOILER ALERT!!


THE BOOK is quick to note that this is a fine example of Italian neorealism, but you know what? I really didn't know that when I was watching this movie. THE BOOK also notes that the intended themes were mostly lost on American audience, which would explain why "The Bicycle Thief" (or "Bicycle Thieves" which is the literal translation) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. I think that second fact holds very true for me personally, because as I said I didn't give two hoots about it being a neorealist film or that it was a communist film and instead formed my own ideas and themes throughout the picture. I formed many thoughts on this film and what it meant to me and in order to clarify them more clearly and accurately, I'll break it down paragraph by paragraph:

FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS
I found that the bicycle, for Antonio, represented freedom and happiness, as he'd be able, through the use of his bike, to provide for his family with this new job. Look, work is a drag, but the money we earn is what keeps our lives moving. It's how we're able to provide for our family and buy the things we want. I kind of wish they'd shown more of Antonio doing his job, before the bike was stolen, because we could've seen a man starting to reform his life, getting into a new work routine and viewed him, if only for a short time, as a happy person. I feel that a lengthier beginning would've only hammered home the impact of what having his bike stolen meant to Antonio and how everything he'd dreamed about for the past twenty-four hours, was now gone. Look at how happy Antonio is when he gets his bike back and even when he and his son are fixing it up the next morning. How happy he is when he's handed an omelet by his wife, tells her goodbye and heads out for his first day on his new job, his new life. It's something we can all relate to, because we all get up everyday and go to work and sure, most times we're not as gaga about it as Antonio was, but we realize it's a necessity and when you look at it from Antonio's point of view, it's something to be proud of - having a job.

THE THIEF
To me, the thief represents a group of people that are always going to be there to ruin what you work so hard for. This world will always be full of assholes, who do what they want, when they want to do it, with no regard for anyone else. Had the thief known how much the bike meant to Antonio, would he have still taken it? Sure he would've, because what does a common street thief care about Antonio, as long as he can make a buck or two. The other thing I want to say about the thief, is how I really didn't know, toward the end, if that was the same man that stole Antonio's bike or not. Was I really not supposed to know or was it just me, who couldn't recollect what the thief looked like? See, I liked not being sure, because that kind of put us in Antonio's shoes, because really, he wasn't sure either.


THE ENDING
How many of you urged, through your screens, for Antonio to steal the bike at the end? Once he did, how many of you hoped he'd get away with it? I did, on both points.

Did you ever ask someone an ethical question and they say something like, "Well I'd have to be put into that situation to provide an accurate answer?" That's kind of what "The Bicycle Thief" does to it's audience, at the end. It puts us in Antonio's shoes and if you root for him to steal the bike and root for him to pedal faster and elude the people who are trying to chase him, then maybe that's what you'd do in that situation. I mean, I hope I wouldn't stoop to stealing someone else's property, I don't think I would, but none of us know the feelings that were inside that character, how desperately he wanted that job and to be able to provide for his wife & son. Even when he tries to just forget about the bike and have lunch with his son, he can't help but be drawn back to thinking about all the money he'd have made and all the things he and his family would've been able to do. He gets sucked right back in and in his moment of despair, he thieves a bike of his own.

---

Anyway, screw the communism and the neorealism and just watch this movie for what it is. Don't try reading too far into it and trying to understand the intended themes, because it's not worth it and a fabulous movie is provided, without all that mumbo jumbo tied into it. Sure, it wasn't the best movie I've seen this season or anything, but it was very good and whether or not it'll make the TOP 20 (in a season with a multitude of contenders) will have to be seen, when the time comes. It's a movie that makes you think, feel and really makes you ache for it's characters.

RATING: 7.5/10  Now I'm kind of itching to see more De Sica movies, as I feel, just through this one picture, that he really knew how to speak to his audiences, while at the same time making movies that meant something to him.

MOVIES WATCHED: 687
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 314

May 23, 2013  4:02pm

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The FINAL 15...and other notes

It's become sort of a tradition here at the '1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die' for me to swing in when only fifteen films remain in a season and tell you what those films are and give you any other notes that you may need to know. First, a few notes...

1) I think it goes without saying (well I've said it plenty within my reviews) that when these fifteen films are done and the new TOP 20 is compiled, I'll be taking a hiatus. I don't expect to last too long, because I'll only have 300 films remaining and I'm sure I'll be chomping at the bit to take care of them and put this baby to bed. I'd say before the leaves start changing colors, I'll be back to reviewing movies.

2) Because it was set to renew tomorrow and I only needed like nine more movies from them, I went ahead and put my Netflix account on hold. I just didn't want to have to pay for a month's service, only to use it to get a handful of films. I figure between what I have here, what I'll still have from Netflix and what I can rustle up online, I can still do the final fifteen that I want to do, without any hitches. However, please know that this final fifteen is TENTATIVE and if need be, I'll simply replace where I have to, using stuff I already have around the house.

3) I won't have a sneak peek video for you guys at the end of this season, since I changed to the "5 old/5 new" format, but I can already tell you that I'll be kicking off the next season with "Star Wars", "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi". I wanted something sort of special to kick the season off with and apparently a lot of people think those movies are sort of special. Do I? Well.....you'll see.

By the way, speaking of the "5 old/5 new" format, I hope it's working as well for you guys as it is for me. I'm really digging it and finding that it's a good way to really mix things up and keep things interesting & fresh. Now then.........what we came here for......

In no particular order, these are the FINAL 15 films I'm planning to watch, this season:

1. The Children of Paradise (1945 - Marcel Carne)
2. Beauty and the Beast (1946 - Jean Cocteau)
3. Three Kings (1999 - David O. Russell)
4. The Thin Red Line (1998 - Terrence Malick)
5. There's Something About Mary (1998 - Farrelly, Farrelly)
6. Happiness (1998 - Todd Solondz)
7. Run Lola Run (1998 - Tom Tykwer)
8. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
9. The Bicycle Thief (1948 - Vittorio De Sica)
10. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948 - Max Ophuls)
11. Force of Evil (1948 - Abraham Polonsky)
12. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 - John Huston)
13. Open Your Eyes (1997 - Alejandro Amenabar)
14. Titanic (1997 - James Cameron)
15. Taste of Cherry (1997 - Abbas Kiarostami)

The reason I say these are in no particular order, is because I'm flirting with the idea of just watching all of the 1940s stuff first, followed by all the 1990s stuff. Still flirting with that idea, but I can tell you that "The Bicycle Thief" will be the next movie I watch, because it streams on Netflix and since this is the last day I'll have that, I need to get it done.

That is all. Hopefully I can wrap this all up soon. I know I've been moving at a snail's pace, but maybe I can muster up the time and energy to start movie a little faster and get that new TOP 20 put together.

May 22, 2013  1:24pm

186. My Darling Clementine (1946)


Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: Samuel G. Engel, Sam Hellman
Main Cast: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Cathy Downs, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan
Click here to view the trailer

EARP AGAIN

For the curious, I'm going to try and squeeze in a couple reviews today and start to get this train rolling toward the finale. Last night I was able to take in John Ford's 1946 western offering, "My Darling Clementine" - a movie that I had actually seen before and one that I feel is kind of *meh*.


The plot highly resembles a movie I watched earlier this season, "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" and tells the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and their adventures in the town of Tombstone. This time around Henry Fonda plays the Wyatt Earp role and when we start out, him and his brothers (Virgil, Morgan and James) are driving cattle out west. Along the way they pass the Clanton gang, consisting of Old Man Clanton (Brennan) and his four sons. Clanton offers to buy the Earps' cattle, but they decline and instead get directions to a nearby town, which just happens to be Tombstone. Later that night, the older Earp brothers leave the younger James behind, riding into Tombstone to see if they can rustle up some grub and maybe a shave. When they return to James, later in the night, they find him killed and the cattle stolen. Wyatt and his brothers ride back to Tombstone and Wyatt is offered job as town Marshall, with his brothers serving as the deputies. Wyatt makes it his mission to find the men that killed his brother James, even though it's really no secret that it was the Clanton's. Meanwhile, Wyatt restores order in Tombstone, prompting decent people to come outside again and driving out the miscreants. Wyatt also meets and develops a friendship with Doc Holliday, the gambler of the town and a very sick man, which we see due to his violent bouts of coughing. Like most westerns, it all leads to a big showdown, this time at the O.K. Corral.

SPOILER ALERT!!


Well this is the third John Ford I've watched in just this season alone and I can say that I am definitely not a fan of his. Don't get me wrong, "My Darling Clementine" wasn't bad...but it wasn't great either and with Henry Fonda as part of the cast, that's rare. For starters, I'm just not that thrilled with the Wyatt Earp story as, apparently, everyone else in Hollywood seems to be. Honestly, there's just not much substance to it. Wyatt and his brothers are good, the Clanton's are bad and Doc Holliday fits somewhere in the middle, but mostly he's good. Then, in the middle act somewhere, there's a couple of girls fighting for Doc's attention and throughout the whole thing, the bad guys break stuff and the good guys try not to use their guns. All of the characters seem to fit in these predetermined molds and there doesn't seem to be any room for straying from that. There's just no surprises and it all gets wrapped up just the way we thought it would in the first five minutes of the picture. The Clanton's turn out to be the bad guys, Wyatt takes the Marshall job in Tombstone and in the end, it's the Earps (plus Doc) battling it out with the Clanton's at O.K. Corral. No fuss, no muss.


But, then again, Henry Fonda is in there and how can you beat down a Henry Fonda picture. He's probably my favorite actor of all-time, so when I see one of his pictures, I really expect something special and as much as he tried, this picture ultimately just didn't fully deliver. The camera shots were pretty amazing too and I spotted dozens of images that were really capturing magic, mostly far away shots of Earp as he walked in the rain or sat, with his foot propped on a bannister, on the porch. And let me just say this, I really thought the whole cast did a fine job, not just Fonda. I liked Ward Bond, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell and even Walter Brennan. I mean, who'd have thought this guy could actually play a decent villain, but he totally pulled it off. I cannot believe this is the same bumbling idiot from those Howard Hawks movies.

RATING: 6.5/10  Not good, not bad, but just sort of easing into the dead zone. However, after "Henry V" and "Ivan the Terrible", seeing Henry Fonda bust out his acting chops was a breath of fresh air.

MOVIES WATCHED: 686
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 315

May 22, 2013  12:57pm

Monday, May 20, 2013

171. Ivan Grozny I i II/Ivan the Terrible, Parts One and Two (1944)


Running Time: 187 minutes
Directed By: Sergei M. Eisenstein
Written By: Sergei M. Eisenstein
Main Cast: Nikolay Cherkasov, Efrosinia Staritska, Vladimir Staritsky, Malyuta Skuratov, Alexei Basmanov
Click here to view the trailer

TERRIBLE? PRETTY MUCH!

No, I didn't like this movie much at all, but it didn't come as any surprise to me and shouldn't come as any surprise to you, because Sergei Eisenstein was one of the guy's, early on, that I bashed on a weekly basis, during my watching of "Strike", "October" and "The Battleship Potemkin".


Again, like "Henry V", I'm just not going to go into detail on the plot synopsis, because for the most part, a lot the plot went over my head and honestly, I couldn't be bothered to give two hoots about the history of Russia or the rule of "Ivan the Terrible", as it was presented in an extremely bland manner. With "Ivan", you're simply getting the history of a man, Ivan IV, who ruled Russia with an iron fist (and a killer goatee). Let's be honest here, based solely on that, you're going to be able to decide whether or not this movie is for you or for someone else. Are you a history buff? Do you like learning tyrannical czar's and the history of Russia? Those are questions that, if you answered 'yes', then this may be the film for you. I, on the other hand, am not a history buff and (in most cases) would much rather be told a fictional tale, a made-up story, one that can be bent and shaped as the filmmaker sees fit. In the rare occasion when I do enjoy or want to see a film about real world history, I prefer it to be a topic that I have, at least a little bit, of prior knowledge on (U.S. history and Holocaust movies, for example). Trust me, my dislike for this movie and the topic of world history is my own fault, because I live in a bubble, in Pennsylvania, USA and 95% of world topics are going to go way over my head.


However, unlike "Henry V", there was one redeeming quality in "Ivan the Terrible" and that was the camera work. Eisenstein seems to have a thing for filming close-ups of his actor's faces, seemingly directing his photographer to get in tight and capture reactions and expressions. I loved those facials, which actually reminds me that I've been meaning to bring this up. This journey has made me realize many things about my relationship to films. One of the many things I've learned as that I will always go nuts for a really good, tight, close facial expression or reaction. Cagney at the end of "Angels with Dirty Faces", Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liaisons", even the eyes of Sister Ruth in "Black Narcissus", a film that I didn't care for, but have never forgotten that crazed close-up of Kathleen Byron. In "Ivan", there are dozens of close-ups and really great ones of Nikolay Cherkasov, his goatee casting distinct shadows on the wall and a great use of a foreground/background shot, with Ivan peering over the armies.


RATING: 2/10  However, the camera work was just a hint of goodness, in an otherwise completely dreadful time at the movies. I REALLY REALLY REALLY need something fantastic to come along, especially after two HUGE stinkers.

MOVIES WATCHED: 685
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 316

May 20, 2013  6:17pm

Saturday, May 18, 2013

170. HENRY V (1944)


Running Time: 137 minutes
Directed By: Laurence Olivier
Written By: Dallas Bower, Alan Dent, from play by William Shakespeare
Main Cast: Laurence Olivier, Max Adrian, Harcourt Williams, Felix Aylmer, Robert Helpmann

V IS RIGHT OUT!

If you followed me on Twitter (@adduvall1984) then you'd know that I had a hard time getting through this one. I tweeted about it last night, when I was midway through it and today, citing that the review was coming and "wouldn't be pretty".

Look, I'm not even going to try and fool myself or anyone reading this. I have absolutely no freaking clue what "Henry V" was about, except to say that it was, indeed, about Henry V. So instead of trying to fake my way through a plot synopsis, let me just get right into the criticism and I'll just pull the trigger on this one quick and get it over with. First and foremost, why don't I know what this film is about, if I watched it last night? Well, for starters, the actors are talking with a Shakespearean tongue and I hate to admit it, but the language was Greek to me. I don't want to come off as uncultured, unintelligent or anything like that, but I barely understood a word of what was actually being said or what was going on. All I can tell you is that Henry V is played by Olivier, who is, no doubt, a great actor and for some reason or another, he leads the English into a war against the French - The Battle of Agincourt. Then there's my mind and how it so wanted to wander and how I just didn't care to stop it. I've never had a such a severely wandering mind as I did watching "Henry V"...I just, for the life of me, could not focus.


This film is the very definition of a boring film. Sure, the acting is top notch, I can't take that away from them and I won't even try to. They're British talent for God's sake, of course they can act and most certainly in a Shakespeare adaptation - it's what they were born to do. Acting aside and unless you're a Shakespeare fan, I'm begging you to tell me the appeal of this film. It's nothing without it's great acting (and it's not like great acting is ultra rare - they're a hundreds of movies, with hundreds of A+ performances) and it's appeal to Shakespeare fans. I just can't imagine someone who doesn't dig Shakespeare sitting down to this one and being anything but utterly and completely bored to tears. Let's put it this way: One of the most interesting scenes in the film and perhaps the one I understood the best, is the scene where Princess Katherine is being taught English by Alice (her assistant or whatever she's called). What's so bad about that? The entire scene is in FRENCH!! Think about it folks, the scene I understood the most was a scene that was in a language I do not speak, nor understand! And if ever there was a point in the film where they had my full attention, it was this point.


See, this is why I'm not a professional movie reviewer and why I probably never will be. Because this is the type of movie that they'd crucify me for not loving. Sorry kids, but I can promise you that I will never watch this film again and DAMN THE BOOK for making me watch it in the first place. This is literally ONE OF the worst movies THE BOOK has put me through and I'm so glad it's behind me. Again, I don't want to come off as ignorant or unintelligent, but this was just mind numbing.

RATING: 1/10  Probably the worst film of the season or at least tied for the worst of the season with some other piece of garbage. "Ivan the Terrible" is next and the return of Sergei M. Eisenstein to the blog...God be with me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 684
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 317

May 18, 2013  10:39pm