Tuesday, July 30, 2013

188. La Belle et la Bete/Beauty and the Beast (1946)


Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Jean Cocteau
Written By: Jean Cocteau, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Main Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair
Click here to view the trailer

TALE AS OLD AS TIME

For the new arrivals to the "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die" blog, I'll be resuming an idea that I started last season. It's basically where I watch the five oldest movies I have left from THE BOOK and then the five newest and so on and so forth, until I meet in the middle. I've also taken the liberty of excluding twenty-five films from this practice, to save for the finale. As it is, "Beauty and the Beast" WAS the oldest film I had yet to watch.

Note: Tonight I'll also begin the practice of playing a little classical music as I write my reviews, on a very low volume. It's quite relaxing and perhaps will serve to stimulate my brain and make for some better reviews. We'll see...


We all surely know the story of "Beauty and the Beast", whether we saw it as children of the 90s, when Disney produced it in 1991 or perhaps we're just familiar with the tale that is indeed, as old as time. The main female character is Belle (Day). She's sort of a Cinderella type character, reduced to scrubbing floors and keeping house, despite her striking physical beauty, while her two snotty sisters are never subjected to such chores and instead take to ridiculing her. One evening while their father is trying to make his way home through a dark forest, he becomes lost and wanders into a castle. Inside the castle he is poured a glass of wine by a lone hand, cropping up out of the center of a table and the room is lit by arms, with seemingly no bodies, that hold glorious candlesticks, illuminating the massive halls. Soon, Belle's father meets the lord of the manor, a beast (Marais) who wants his life. Belle's father begs for his life and the beast makes him a deal: He may return home, only if one of his daughter's will return to the castle the following day and take his place in death. Belle's father leaves and when he arrives home and tells his story, Belle offers to take his place. The next day, Belle rides a glorious white horse named Magnificent back to the beasts castle, where she intends to take her father's place in death. However, the beast falls in love with the beautiful Belle and instead of killing her, asks for her hand in marriage. Belle, despite budding feelings for the beast, cannot seriously acknowledge the beasts proposal and instead asks for his friendship and secretly wishes he were human. When Belle learns that her father is growing very ill, she pleads with the beast to let her go and visit him. He allows it, but tells her that if she doesn't return within one week, he shall die of grief.


So yeah, that's basically it. I'd seen "Beauty and the Beast" once before and while I appreciate the merits of the fairy tale, I have to say I wasn't too impressed with this rendition. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this 1946, Jean Cocteau version of the story was quite boring and severely dated. Of course, I guess it SHOULD be dated, as it is a story that needs to be told from a centuries old point of view. However, this one just hasn't aged well and it's age is prevalent when watching. In fact, it truly feels more like a film made in 1926, rather than 1946. Cocteau fancied himself a poet and therefore "Beauty and the Beast" is quite the over-romanticized little tale, full of all the things a you'd expect to see in a movie directed by a poet/filmmaker. If memory serves me correctly (as I haven't seen it in YEARS) I'd say the 1991 Disney production of the story is a more successful adaptation and works a lot better. It (again, if memory serves) takes the time to build the romantic relationship between Beauty and Beast and also takes the time to detail the character of Avenant/Gaston. I really SHOULD take the time to check that film out, while I still have this version fresh in my mind. Here everything just seems so rushed and nothing is ever elaborated on, as if it's just assumed that we can fill in the details on our own. The character of Avenant really never has proper motivation and is really never established as a villain until the last act, when he and Ludovic decide to steal the beasts riches. Also, it seems like only ten minutes passes between the time Belle arrives at the castle, repulsed by the beast and the time in which she's professing feelings for him. Too rushed, too boring and too dated does not a good film make.


RATING: 4.5/10  Quick and painless tonight, as I just don't have much to say about this one. Two films remain from the 1940s and I plan to have them both capped off by weeks end.

MOVIES WATCHED: 705
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 296

July 30, 2013  9:56pm

Saturday, July 27, 2013

696. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)


Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: Richard Marquand
Written By: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Main Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams
Click here to view the trailer

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST?

Well, here we go, the third and final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, put on the map by George Lucas, co-writer of the third script (along with Lawrence Kasdan) and sole owner of everything Wookie and Jedi related. Little did they know in 1983, that sixteen years later and this would cease to be the third installment and instead be the sixth installment. Little did I know before I started watching it last night, that this would be the installment that turned a part of me into a full blown Warsie.


So we're picking up sometime after the events of "The Empire Strikes Back", but it's never established how much time has passed. We know that Han Solo (Ford) is still frozen in carbonite and that Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is now 100% Jedi knight (he dons black attire in this one, letting us know that he means business). It all stars with Princess Leia (Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Williams), Chewbacca (the wookie and Han's sidekick) and C3PO (the paranoid android) going to the palace of Jabba the Hut, who now owns the carbonite encasing of Han Solo and trying to rescue their friend. Eventually Luke joins them and is all like "I'm a Jedi and you'll be sorry, give us our amigo!" and Jabba's all like....well he speaks jibberish, but he basically tells Luke to go suck an egg and that he likes Han Solo decorating his walls. He eventually captures them all and nearly kills them, but Luke pulls out his Jedi tricks and gets the whole gang out of the mess, including a now thawed out and ready for action Han Solo. Out of that mess, the gang regroup with the rest of the Rebel Alliance and get their orders: They are to 1) send a group of fighters, including Lando Calrissian piloting the Millennium Falcon, to blow up the DEATH STAR that is now being rebuilt and is supposedly unarmed and 2) send a group, including Luke, Han, Leia, C3PO, R2D2 and Chewy, to the moon of Endor, where the DEATH STAR'S battle station is located and deactivate the shields of the DEATH STAR so that the fighter's can blow it up, thus ending the Imperial reign and restoring order to the galaxy. Of course, we wouldn't have a movie if everything went as planned and there's complications. Along the way there's a pretty kick ass speeder chase and more importantly, Luke Skywalker, son of Anakin Skywalker a.k.a. Darth Vader (Prowse), believes that there is still good left in his father and plans to turn himself over to Vader, so that he can lure him away from the Dark Side. The Emperor (Vader's boss) has other plans...

Okay, let's take a look at the bad first and then we'll ease into the good, deal?

SPOILER ALERT!!



Let me first say that "Return of the Jedi" started off REALLY bad. There was an overload of those muppets I was referring to in my "Empire Strikes Back" review, as we went inside Jabba's palace and it was just SO silly and cartoonish. Jabba is one thing, but when you add in his cronies and dozens of other silly characters it gets a bit much. Also, it just seemed silly that here you have this group of Rebels, who blew up the DEATH STAR (it just feels right to capitalize that phrase EVERYTIME) and gave DARTH freaking VADER a serious run for his money and here they can barely escape the clutches of this obese, glorified mob boss of the Star Wars world. It sort of devalues the bad assery that is Darth Vader. What's that say about him if Jabba can pretty much handle (at least for a little bit) the meat & potatoes of the Rebel Alliance. Honestly, if they could have just shortened the whole beginning portion (basically everything having to do with Jabba), we would be talking a seriously high rating for this one. There really wasn't anything else that I loathed enough to really bring up. I will say that I think killing off Yoda was a bit premature. I mean, we could have just as easily written him out of the final script, save for a little pep talk with Luke about how "there is another". Seriously, I don't know how Yoda being such a major part of pop culture when he seriously has probably less than thirty minutes of screen time between all three films. Also, what the hell happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi? I seriously did NOT think he was killed in the first one (Episode IV). Am I crazy or did he not give Luke a little look and then disappear from his robe, right before Darth hit him with his light saber, during their battle at the end of "A New Hope"? I thought he used some Jedi stuff and got out of that and just disappeared. I honestly expected him to show back up.

Anyway, despite all that, "Return of the Jedi" was pretty great! I know, I'm just as shocked as you are to hear those words come out of me. I mean, it had everything that I just wasn't feeling from the first two (especially the second one - "Empire"). And how about that freaking finale? That moment when we're basically yelling at the screen, begging Darth Vader to kick the Emperor's ass and save his son. Even before that, the battle between Luke and Vader - it was great! They even told a story within the light saber battle, with Vader sensing that Luke was thinking about Leia and realizing that there is another and Luke getting all pissed and going full force at Vader. And the whole thing with Darth wanting to lure Luke to the dark side, but Luke thinking he can lure Vader back to the good side. It was all just marvelous storytelling and really clever stuff.


Even the Ewoks were fine by me, despite being the most cartoonish thing in all three films. I'd even go so far as to say I liked them. Speaking of Endor (the Ewoks home moon), the speeder chase was brilliant and the big battle between the storm troopers and the Rebels was long enough to be considered very noteworthy and was really well choreographed. Things just clicked for me heavily in "Return of the Jedi". It occurred to me that maybe the first two films were just laying groundwork for the finale, but that's not it. Every one of these films can stand on their own merits, good or bad and they can all be watched alone, really. You can watch "Return of the Jedi" without ever seeing "A New Hope" or "Empire Strikes Back" and it make take a little extra figuring, but you'd get it. This is EASILY the best of the three original Star Wars movies. It had excitement, great storytelling, acting that wasn't blatantly terrible, clever plot twists, emotion and moments that were fitting of a finale. Heck, I couldn't stand Hamill in the first two, but as a full blown Jedi he was quite tolerable.

RATING: 7.5/10  I'd call this the first contender to the next TOP 20 list, a favorite for the "Ten Worth Mentioning" section. This got me interested enough to get a hold of the prequels and give them a watch. I should have mini reviews for them in the August recap, at the beginning of September OR...OR follow me on Twitter, where I'm sure I'll mention them when I watch them.

MOVIES WATCHED: 704
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 297

ON DECK
Beauty and the Beast (1946 - Jean Cocteau)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 - John Huston)
Orpheus (1950 - Jean Cocteau)
Rashomon (1950 - Akira Kurosawa)

July 27, 2013  11:08pm

Thursday, July 25, 2013

663. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Irvin Kershner
Written By: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Main Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse
Click here to view the trailer

NOTE: So this will be the first post written from my brand new Gateway laptop, purchased earlier today. The new system is running Windows 8 and is going to take a lot of getting used to, especially since I've never really used a laptop, outside of the few times I've borrowed my wife's and the fact that I have absolutely no experience with Windows 8. Anyway, I figured I might as well mark the occasion with a notation...let's get on with the show.

THE ONE WITH THE ROBOTIC CAMELS

A couple of days ago I returned to watching my way through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, with the viewing of "Star Wars". I noted that it was going to be the final chance I gave the original trilogy and that if I didn't like them this time around, I was going to officially deem myself "NOT a Warsie". Well, "Star Wars" wasn't bad, but Episode V didn't do it any favors.


So we're basically picking right up where we left off: The Rebellion has just blown the Imperial DEATH STAR to smithereens and is now holding up on the ice planet of Hoth. The whole gang is there: Luke Skywalker (Hamill), a rookie Jedi who hopes to learn the ways of "the force"; Han Solo (Ford), the cocky pilot of the Millennium Falcon; his co-pilot Chewbacca; Princess Leia (Fisher), one of the leaders of the Rebellion and of course, the droids - C3PO and R2D2. Things begin to go awry when the leader of the Empire, Darth Vader (Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) sends out tracking devices and pinpoints the location of the Rebellion base camp. When they're attacked, the Rebellion get out of it with few casualties, but are then forced to flee Hoth. Han, Leia, Chewy and C3PO board the Millennium Falcon, while Luke and R2D2 board a fighter craft and set their coordinates for the Dagobah system, where they've been instructed to go by Obi-Wan Kenobi (thought dead, but speaking to Luke from beyond the grave...or something) to meet Yoda and be trained in the ways of the Jedi. Once at the Dagobah system and in the graces of Master Yoda, Luke begins his training, despite hesitancy from Yoda, who insists he isn't ready. Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewy and C3PO navigate their way through an asteroid field, looking to lose their Imperial tail. When they finally make it out alive, Han remembers an old friend, Lando Calrissian (Williams), who lives in Cloud City and may be able to help the gang out. Turns out Vader beats them there and is waiting for them, ready to wreak havoc. Luke gets glimpses of his friends in peril and despite being unfinished with his training, insists on leaving to go help them.


I realize that "The Empire Strikes Back" is considered by many to be the finest of the Star Wars trilogy, but I have to say that I enjoyed the original substantially more. In the original, I felt that everything was kept pretty tame & straightforward and I liked that. You had Luke who just wanted to get some adventure in his life, you had Han who was just trying to make a few bucks, you had Obi-Wan who just wanted to take out Vader and you had Vader who just wanted to destroy the world. This time, we're thrown a lot more information and things get a little messy and, at times, a little silly. I mean, what's the deal with the abominable snowman attacking Luke at the beginning of the picture and couldn't that whole piece with Luke and Han nearly freezing to death have been cut out to save a little bit of time and get right into the action. The action that I speak of being the battle between the Rebellion and the robot camels, navigated by the Imperial Army. That was a pretty kick-ass scene, that I enjoyed thoroughly. Then Luke goes to see Yoda, one of the most important characters in the series and he's this laughable little muppet. That's one of the things that really gets me about this series, the fact that it looks as though Jim Henson was a hired hand and provided a lot of the costumes, because, at times, they just look so silly and childish.

From there we basically have two movies going on, as we jump back and forth between Han & company and Luke & Yoda. In the end, it all just comes off as feeling way too long, too tedious and honestly, at times, I couldn't wait for it to just be over. I wouldn't go so far as to call it bad, but I'd go so far as to say that the excitement that I had to watch this after watching Episode IV, is not nearly equivalent to the excitement that I have to now watch "Episode VI". I'll honestly be glad when it's all over, so that I can get out of the galaxies and get back down to Earth.


One of the things that I continually find myself doing, as I watch "Star Wars" is to compare it to "Lord of the Rings", because I'm a Kevin Smith fan (a fan of the man, not necessarily the artist) and he has compared them before, both in "Clerks 2" and in his "Evening with..." series. I can say that the thing I LOVE about "Lord of the Rings" is the fact that it always feels so bleak, as if the end of this fictional world is always just one battle away. It always feels so real and so emotional. The characters, which are products of someone's wild imagination, never feel fake or phony. Even though there are hobbits, elves, dwarves and talking trees, I can always look past that and see the film as a very emotional, very realistic war of good and evil. With "Star Wars", that fictional world never seems threatened and to me, there's never a question that the good guys will prevail. Also, there's just no emotion and the characters are also plucked from someone's wild imagination and it's obvious, as they're all very phony, childish and almost cartoonish. Anyway, I'm rambling...

RATING: 5.5/10  Right around average, at best for the fifth installment of the "grand trilogy". Of course "Return of the Jedi" is next and I should have that review ready by weekends end.

MOVIES WATCHED: 703
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 298

July 25, 2013  11:22pm

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Hey, I'm back babies and even though I've only been gone about a month and a half, I've had a pretty exciting six weeks and I wanted to pop in and give you the details on what I've been into. So, I now present to you a bullet points style list of what has happened to me in the since the TOP 20 list.

1) I quit smoking! I know, I know, it's great right? Well, I had a rough time of it, but ultimately I kicked the habit and as of today, I'm six weeks smoke free. It's going to be a little weird watching movies without the use of cigarettes. Often times when I was feeling a little groggy (I usually watch my movies late at night) I'd hit "pause" and step out onto the porch and light one up, get some energy and then be on with the picture. I also always looked forward to sucking on a cancer stick after every "1001" movie I watched and collecting my thoughts. Oh well, I'm sure I'll adapt without it and I'm quite proud of myself for kicking the habit could turkey.

2) Some of you may remember Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, from our joint "Seven Shadows" venture last May, where the two of us tackled seven film noir films and she guest blogged right here at "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die". Well, Karen has been kind enough to ask for my assistance on her newsletter, The Dark Pages. This December, The Dark Pages will publish their annual giant-sized issue and this year their topic of discussion will be the 1946 film "The Killers". Karen gave me a list of topics to choose to write about and I'm proud to announce that a bio of Burt Lancaster, written by yours truly will be featured in that issue. I'll post more details when December draws closer, but I definitely want to thank Karen for giving me this opportunity. I've already written the bio and I had a great time doing so. I learned a lot and I put a lot of thought & work into what I put down on paper and I hope everyone who reads the newsletter will enjoy it. Be sure to swing by Karen's blog Shawdos and Satin and give her some support. Also, you can like their Facebook page, by clicking here and follow Karen on Twitter @TheDarkPages.

3) Where is the place to be? I'll tell you where. It's Place to be Nation. Place to be Nation is a fairly new website that deals with all things geeky and it's bound to give you a geek-gasm! Yep, I just made that word up. Place to be Nation focuses on movies, television, comics, music, professional wrestling & other sports and more. And you know what makes it even better? I'm a member of the staff! That's right, a few weeks ago I was approached by the founders of Place to be Nation about writing movie reviews for their site and I graciously accepted. I want to thank everyone over there for their invitation and their compliments of the work I've done here.

What I'll be doing over there, primarily, is a weekly (perhaps bi-weekly) column called "1,000 Films You Need to See", where each week I'll list a new entry in this ongoing series. Fans of my blog will find the reviews VERY familiar, as they're simply reposts of what I've already published here, with a few touch-ups and a new intro paragraph. Even though it's recycled material, I'd still appreciate your support over there. Please bookmark the website, follow @Place2BeNation on Twitter and like their Facebook page. Let them know who sent you and give me a little boost of support.

4) I can confirm that I've been in touch with Eric over at Barron's and am in line to once again receive a review copy of the newest "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, due out later this fall. I can't wait to get a look at the new book and give my thoughts. I also encourage you to keep in touch with Barron's via Facebook as well, by giving them a like and following their posts. Thank you to everyone there, they're a great bunch of people.

So a whole bunch of links and things for you guys to check into. I hope you'll take a few minutes and "LIKE" the Facebook links, check out the websites and follow the Twitter accounts. I hope you'll also follow me on Twitter @adduvall1984 If you're not on Twitter, I've added a Twitter gadget to the side of the blog, so you can still check out what I'm talking about. I must say that I was a little disappointed in my "Star Wars" review yesterday, but will chalk it all up to blogging rust and try to produce something a little more up to snuff for you guys next time. I hope you'll continue to follow me as I make my way down the home stretch. I'm at less than 300 movies to go now and I plan to finish by the end of 2014 and look forward to you guys following me to the end. Thank you all, for all of your support.

July 23, 2013  11:56pm

Monday, July 22, 2013

617. STAR WARS (1977)


Running Time: 125 minutes
Directed By: George Lucas
Written By: George Lucas
Main Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing
Click here to view the trailer

A NEW HOPE...LITERALLY

I'm back, I'm back yadda yadda yadda, let's not make a big thing out of it. Do you want to know the real news of this post: I don't like "Star Wars"! There I've said it. Well, let's say I never did like "Star Wars" and in fact, I was excited for this viewing of the trilogy, as it was going to be the final chance I'd ever give these films to win me over. If I didn't like them this time...oh well, because I wasn't going to put myself through them again.


In fact, the plot is quite simple really. You know, I can still remember watching these movies for the first time (I was probably something like thirteen or so) and thinking they were SO confusing. Watching Episode IV last night, I realized that it's plot is really, really simple. Basically you have the Empire, headed up by Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) and they're trying to take over the whole galaxy. One way they plan to do this is with the construction of the DEATH STAR, which can be used to blow up entire planet's with the push of a button. Then you have the Rebel Alliance, which, in this episode, is represented by Princess Leia (Fisher). In the beginning of the film, the Rebel Alliance has stolen blueprints to the Death Star. Darth Vader and company board the Rebel ship and demand the plans be returned. Before they can be discovered, however, Leia loads the plans into a droid (R2D2) along with a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness), a former Jedi knight, telling him the he's the Rebels only hope. Through the use of an escape pod, R2D2, along with fellow droid C3PO free themselves from the compromised vessel and land on the desert planet of Tatooine. There they are captured and sold to farmer Owen Lars, uncle to Luke Skywalker (Hamill). Luke is living with his aunt and uncle, following the death of his parents. While cleaning up the droids, Luke finds the message from Leia and remembers an old hermit named Ben Kenobi and thinks that he may know Obi-Wan. Luke eventually finds out that Ben and Obi-Wan are one in the same. After meeting with Obi-Wan, Luke realizes that the Empire have tracked the droids to Tatooine and when returning home, finds that they've killed his aunt and uncle. Since he has nothing now, Luke Skywalker accompanies Kenobi to Alderaan, Leia's home planet, where she's instructed Kenobi to deliver the plans. The duo (along with the droids) track down and pay a pilot, Han Solo (Ford), to fly them to Alderaan, along with his co-pilot Chewbacca. When they arrive they find that Alderaan has been destroyed (by the Death Star, in fact) and then discover the Death Star and are tractor beamed inside. For a while, they are held captive, but ultimately escape and try to find Leia, while Obi-Wan confronts Darth Vader, his former pupil.


On paper, "Star Wars" really never should've been as popular as it ended up being. I mean, just watch the trailer that I linked to and tell me THAT movie doesn't look like a stinker and a half. However, in 1977, for some reason the entire world went bananas for George Lucas' fictional space world and people flocked to the theaters to get a glimpse of what everyone was surely talking about. Surely this movie had to have been relying on word of mouth to get it's recognition, because that trailer looks like total crap and surely people weren't going on the merits of the advertising alone. People were obviously seeing this, telling their friends and so on and so forth, until it earned a butt-load of dough, got two sequels, three prequels and in fact, three more sequels on the way. Look, I don't know what it was like to grow up and be a part of the Star Wars frenzy, so maybe I will just NEVER really get it. Plus, I'm just NOT a science fiction guy. I just don't care for the genre and the idea of evil empires and rebel alliances doing battle in space just doesn't do anything to peak my interest. However, with that being said, I will say that I enjoyed this viewing of "Star Wars" better than any other time I've watched the film and I can now say, definitively, that it's NOT BAD. I'll even go further and say that I'm kind of looking forward to "The Empire Strikes Back". I wasn't gaga for it and I probably never will be, so all of you "warsies" are just going to have to settle for "not bad".


If I had to criticize (which I do) I'd say that the acting was horrendous, except for Peter Cushing and maybe Alec Guinness (who, honestly, really wasn't onscreen that much). It's easy to see why, despite the success of "Star Wars" Mark Hamill still couldn't get any work. Even Harrison Ford was pretty bad if you ask me, but to be honest, I'm not crazy about the guy as it is, so there's that. The plot was fine, but as noted, I'm just not a sci-fi guy, so it was never going to light my world on fire. I liked the fact that despite being not my type of movie, they still managed to put me on the edge of my seat with scenes like the one in the trash compactor and, of course, the final scene with the air fighters. Darth Vader was pretty bad-ass too and I'm just glad he wasn't killed off too early and am hopeful that he'll have more appearances in the other two installments (I've seen them, but can't remember). I was also quite amused by the antics of C3PO and R2D2 and as prominent as they were here, I hope they continue to be just that.

RATING: 6.5/10  A little blogger rust forcing me to wrap this one up quicker than expected. I look forward to "The Empire Strikes Back" and continuing my journey through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book.

MOVIES WATCHED: 702
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 299

July 22, 2013  7:18pm

Friday, July 5, 2013

June 2013 Recap

June's over, July's starting....it's recap time!

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in June 2013
1) Force of Evil (1948 - Abraham Polonsky) 4/10 - I actually had to stop and think what this was about. Quite forgettable.
2) Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948 - Max Ophuls) 5.5/10
3) Blue Velvet (1986 - David Lynch) 10/10 - Can't believe I didn't go the full monty on this initially. It's a blatant '10' if there ever was one.
4) Carrie (1976 - Brian De Palma) 5/10 - Book reigns supreme over this shoddy adaptation.
5) The Crying Game (1992 - Neil Jordan) 7/10 - Good, but not good enough to make any impact on the last TOP 20 list.
6) Happiness (1998 - Todd Solondz) 9/10
7) Taste of Cherry (1997 - Abbas Kiarostami) 7.5/10 - Looking back this was really good, but I actually struggled in my decision to include it as a "Ten Worth Mentioning" on my latest TOP 20. Good call me!
8) Airplane! (1980 - Abrahams, Zucker, Zucker) 3/10 - I took a beating from you commenters on this one, which is fine (I welcome differing opinions), but I stand by my words.

NON-1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in June 2013

Little more DVD clean-up this month, along with my wife...

1) Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004 - Danny Leiner) 6.5/10 - A perfect example of the Apatow style of comedy actually winning me over. "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is quite crude at times and certainly doesn't appeal to movie scholars, but on a lot of levels, it actually works quite well as a comedy-adventure story about a couple of guys craving food from their favorite burger chain. I brought this into the collection and can't say I'm too ashamed of my choice and I'll even go so far as to say that it earned it's spot on our DVD shelf and will be sticking around. Crude yes, but also hilarious, engaging and clever.



2) The Break-Up (2006 - Peyton Reed) 6/10 - Allright you savages, settle down!! I DID NOT bring this into the DVD collection, but feel a little guilty in saying that I also did not vote to send this one to the "sell" pile. The plot is pretty flat and this looks like a carbon copy of a lot of comedies that are still being churned out of the Hollywood machine, but I think with a some work this one could've been a hit. I like Vince Vaughn and think that the guy is a huge talent. Not only is he spot on with his comedic delivery, but he also has the chops to do some decent acting. Add to the mix Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman and you've got a few guys who can actually deliver comedically, as well as otherwise. Now, Jen Aniston is a different subject, as I can't stand her and that hurt the picture a lot for me. Basically, call this a win in that it totally shocked me at how well it kept my attention, as I didn't expect to like it one iota. Had they gotten a better female lead and buffed up the script a little bit, they'd have had something that may not have gotten massacred by the critics back in '06.


3) Swingers (1996 - Doug Liman) 8.5/10 - Of course, if you want a better Vince Vaughn flick, you can always go for the miles better "Swingers". Ten years prior to Vince Vaughn's nasty "break-up", he and Jon Favreau were together again, this time as wannabe actors and wannabe playboys living in Los Angeles, trying to bag themselves some "beautiful babies". Vaughn is even more stellar here and it's easy to see, by watching this, why Hollywood hooked a rocket launcher to his back and set it for the moon. Favreau is just as good and it makes you wish he'd do more mainstream acting, as opposed to directing atrocious Iron-Man movies and doing bit parts in Vince Vaughn's flicks. Just an all-around really good movie. Not JUST a comedy, but one that also tugs on the heart strings here and there, lightly. Keep your eyes peeled for Favreau's phone call that goes terribly awry.


So of the four movies from the DVD shelf we watched this month, there's three of them and they're all keepers. We also did some other movies this month, that weren't on our DVD shelf...

4) Silver Linings Playbook (2012 - David O. Russell) 7/10 - Ya' know, despite the '7', I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed in this. It made me realize that is just doesn't take much anymore to get a "Best Picture" nod and made me notice how the landscape of the movie industry has changed. If this movie had been made twenty years ago, not everyone would be talking about it, but a group of more educated, well-read movie fans WOULD BE and it certainly wouldn't have been on the Academy's radar. It would've played to smaller houses, in a limited release and you'd have to wait until it came out on video before you finally got to get a peek at it and discover it's greatness, like a hidden gem. Today, it looks basically like any other movie coming down the pike and doesn't have that hole in the wall quality. Sure, it was good, for the most part, but it seems to me that it felt like a hundred other movies I've seen since the turn of the century. Same music; same characters; same independent feel, yet not an independent. Plus it was really predictable, so there's that. Based on what I've seen thus far, "Django Unchained" should've won Best Picture, yet I haven't seen "Argo" yet. Also have yet to see: "Amour", "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "Les Miserables", "Life of Pi", "Lincoln" (tried, couldn't make it through) and "Zero Dark Thirty".


For the following "Saw" reviews, instead of writing new thoughts, I'm posting notes that I took after the viewing of each movie. Prior to watching these seven films, I knew that I'd have trouble distinguishing between them come recap time, so I kept notes in a Word document and vowed to edit them up when recap time rolled around. Because I'm lazy and already tired of typing tonight, I'm just going to go ahead and post the notes. To be fair, they're not that bad and I actually probably could've posted them without even writing this and no one would have been the wiser, but I like to be upfront with my audience. Enjoy.

SPOILER ALERT!!

5) Saw (2004 - James Wan) 7/10 - (Another one from the DVD shelf) Cary Elwes was great! Leigh Whannell (Adam) WAS TERRIBLE! The movie works for the most part, even though it does employ a lot of contrivances to get it’s story across. If you can easily suspend your disbelief, however, you shouldn’t have any trouble enjoying this. Has a really gritty feel, which I liked. Wish we could’ve cut down more on the back stories and kept the majority of the film in the room with Lawrence and Adam. We could’ve done this easily with a little more dialogue added to the script and a few more intricacies added to the sorts of things that could’ve happened to Lawrence and Adam in the room. Really good thriller flick nonetheless. Mention the unpredictability and the fact that the surprise ending was really a surprise, with John rising from the middle of the floor.


6) Saw II (2005 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 6/10 You know, the last time I saw this (which was only once, when it first was released on DVD) I absolutely hated it. However, after this viewing, I can honestly say that it wasn’t too bad a follow-up to the original “Saw” flick. Sure, it wasn’t AS good, it didn’t have that same gritty feel and the presence of less talented actors hurt it, but it wasn’t as awful as I once thought it to be. While I’m sure there are plot holes here, I honestly didn’t pick up on ANY. Of course, I wasn’t really watching this film as a movie critic, but rather as a husband to a wife who wanted to spend a Saturday night watching horror flicks. I will say that the film is super predictable, whether it was the revelation that the characters were all going to be people that Eric (Wahlberg) arrested or the revelation that the feed that the police had been watching the whole time was actually a tape, my wife and I guessed it all. The only thing that actually WAS a surprise was the revelation that Amanda was now working for Jigsaw. Speaking of Jigsaw a.k.a. John Kramer, his whole motive is actually a good one, the fact that the reason he’s doing all this is because 1) he’s dying of cancer and 2) after finding out he was dying of cancer, he tried to kill himself and failed. However, I wish they’d held off on that big reveal until later and this is coming from someone who has no knowledge of the final five “Saw” films and where they actually go with everything. Again, had they put a little more thought into what the characters in the house were doing, the ones who were actually playing the game and left Donnie Wahlberg out of it, I think it would’ve won me over better. More talented actors would’ve also helped. 


7) Saw III (2006 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 5.5/10NEARLY on par with the second “Saw” movie, but due to the fact that this time around the filmmaker’s went for more shock value, even when it meant abandoning the story, I have to say it’s the worst “Saw” yet, which means they’re getting progressively worse. Also, unlike “Saw” and “Saw II”, this time around we’re not really given the classic “two or more people in a room” storyline and instead are given two separate “games”. One involving Dr. Lynn Denlon, who is hooked to a shotgun loaded necklace which will go off if Jigsaw’s heart rate flat lines. The other involves a man named Jeff who has let his life slip through his fingers following the death of his young son to a drunk driver. The shock value here is looking at ridiculous in the rearview mirror. Obviously, by this point, the minds behind the “Saw” franchise have realized who their core audience is and thus have stopped producing clever stories. At this point, I’d say that it’s safe to say that the minds behind the “Saw” franchise had also already made the decision to continue these, whether we wanted them or not and therefore, I’m sure we’re in for some fairly abysmal follow-ups. As it pertains to “Saw III” call it a mild success, but barely. The ending was pretty well put together, as I dug the whole thing with the forgiveness of Jigsaw being Jeff’s final test. However, the “let’s see how many times we can make the audience gag” thing just didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Fun, but not quality. 


8) Saw IV (2007 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 4.5/10 - WOW, at this rate “Saw: The Final Chapter” is going to be getting an embarrassingly low rating, as I’ve watched these movies become progressively worse. Let me clarify, however, that I still am having a lot of fun watching them with my wife and I guess, sometimes, that’s all that really matters. Anyway, it’s 2007 now and the fourth installment of the “Saw” series and they’re really grasping at straws at this point to keep this whole thing churning along. At the end of “Saw III” we saw the death of the series main character, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell – one of the few good actors in the entire series), so you’d assume we’d be just about finished, but you’d assume wrong. The series takes a really confusing turn here and the writing here is as sloppy as ever. I’m almost 100% sure that this thing is just riddled with plot holes and nonsense, but they’re swerving around too much for me to stop and actually think about all the information they’re force feeding me. I do like how they continue to reference the other three movies, obviously not forgetting the history of the franchise and how they even add in little references, like in this installment, when the hooker comes up to John’s car window and asks him if he’s looking for a good time and we realize that it’s the same woman from “Saw II”. The shock value is maxed out again too and what’s with the absolutely STUPID way they sometimes cut from one scene to another, by having the previous scene overlap the upcoming scene…that is so annoying and dumb. At the end of “Saw IV”, Lt. Hoffman is revealed to be the new man behind Jigsaw’s games and while I’m sure we’ll get some sort of explanation as to why he is the chosen one, I’m also sure that it will be a nonsense explanation.  Still fun, but getting way worse. The original “Saw” seems so far away now...quality wise.


9) Saw V (2008 - David Hackl) 6/10Color me surprised! I expected the trend to continue, with these things getting worse and worse until the last one actually made me want to spill my own blood. However, I’m here to tell you that “Saw V” is the best “Saw” film since the original! That’s right, this one was actually really good and all the problems that I’ve been mentioning were addressed. The shock value/gore factor was turned down substantially and the story element was boosted, with a game nearly comparable to that of the original film – with the five participants. And, get this, everything actually, seemingly made sense and I love how they continue to implement flashbacks to build on the entire story and cement the whole “Saw” franchise as a deep story. Oh and they actually got a few decent actors in there as well, with Julie Benz (of “Dexter” fame), Mark Rolston (Boggs from “The Shawshank Redemption”) and this guy Greg Bryk, whom I’d never heard of, but who really poured it all out. I’ll leave it at that, but now I’m actually somewhat excited to see how this thing turns out, as it’s been played out like one, long story. Also, if Cary Elwes doesn’t reappear at some point, I’m going to be uber pissed.  


10) Saw VI (2009 - Kevin Greutert) 5.5/10Good, but slipping a little from the quality of “Saw V”. This one only really feels like it’s filling in a few of the grey areas and almost feels like it would be skippable in the grand scheme of things. Sure, they’re still utilizing their entire history to delve deeper into the story of Jigsaw, however, we’re dealing with a lot of fresh characters here, mainly revolving around a corrupt insurance agent who once had a verbal altercation with John over his policy. There’s still plenty of gore, but in my opinion it’s still toned down quite heavily from “Saw III” and “Saw IV”, so I really can’t complain. Believe it or not, I’m actually quite interested to see how this whole thing ends and based on the depth that this story has gone and the number of characters we encountered, it shouldn’t be that difficult to put together a pretty decent finale. It occurred to me while watching this that perhaps “Saw” would’ve worked better as weekly episodic television show. We have so many characters to deal with and we’re delving SO deep that I think if you toned down the gore A LOT, this would’ve worked really well as a TV series. Just a random thought. 


11) Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010 - Kevin Greutert) 2/10 - Granted, I never really expected much out of any of the “Saw” films past “Saw” (the original), but even the ‘5.5’ and ‘6’ ratings I was giving out to the select few, were still ratings that I considered really good considering the material. Like I said, I thought they had ample material leftover to make a pretty good ninety minute finale to the whole “Saw” franchise. Instead, the final installment of “Saw” sees the gore ratcheted back to the max, new characters introduced (we had plenty of old, surviving characters that we didn’t need to introduce this many new ones, this late in the game) and almost a total abandonment of the history that was established. Sure, they still tie up a few loose ends, but this “Saw” is embracing the history the least of all the movies. Did we ever get a real, full explanation as to why Hoffman was even chosen as Jigsaw’s replacement? I mean, maybe we did, but they threw a lot of information at you over the course of the seven films and I don’t ever really remember getting a full blown explanation. It just seems that John Kramer was way too meticulous and careful to include such a loose cannon as Hoffman. And speaking of Hoffman, the one thing that really irked me about the whole thing was the fact that, in the finale it becomes obvious that not only has he completely abandoned John’s original motto (“cherish life”), due to the fact that by the end of the movie he’s basically killing everyone in sight and at the end trying to get away with a bag full of money. However, he also, for some reason, continued to embrace John’s motto – continuing the games, punishing those who deserved to be punished. Which is it Hoffman? Are you a bad guy trying to squeeze a little justice out of life and teach your victims a lesson or are you just a bad guy who kills? Even the beginning was nonsense. In EVERY other “Saw” film the game that opens the movie somehow becomes relevant later in the picture, even when it seems as though we’ve forgotten about it. In the final “Saw”, the opening game is put in place simply as shock value, as far as I can tell and the characters never reappear (except in one tiny scene, during a group meeting between Jigsaw survivors) and their game is never revealed to be anything more than just killing screen time. I am glad that Cary Elwes showed up, but his reemergence didn’t really make that much sense and it seemed as though he was only brought back to get a reaction from the audience and to see how many “OMG’s” the filmmaker’s could illicit. It was really nothing more than a glorified cameo anyway and surely with a little more effort, they could’ve thought of something more relevant for the Elwes character to do. In a perfect world, the final “Saw” would’ve seen a final game between all of the “Saw” survivors, to ensure that they’ve learned their lessons. The final game would’ve consisted of: Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), Brit Stevenson (Julie Benz), Scott Malick (Greg Bryk), Emily (Larissa Gomes), Shelby (Karen Cliché) and Simone (Tanedra Howard). That’s seven, so if one of the minor ones (Emily, Shelby or Simone) can’t be recast, then you just cut one and six is plenty too. In my mind, Jill is the perpetrator: perhaps she was left final instructions in the box by John to retest the surviving subjects, to see if they have learned how to pass his tests and make the right decisions. Anyway, it’s just wishful thinking. It surely COULD HAVE happened my way and the entire series was definitely on some sort of right track. It was sloppy writing and the apparent need to use shock and awe tactics instead of good storytelling tactics that ultimately lost me and disappointed me.


Did I have a good time with the “Saw” films? Sure, they were a fun bunch of movies and I can confidently say that since this is the horror series of the 21st century, I think it’s the best horror series ever produced. I can tell you for sure that it’s a better series than both “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and while I haven’t seen every single “Halloween” film, I’m sure as a whole the “Saw” series is better than it too. I will say that I can’t recall a single scene of gratuitous nudity in any of the seven “Saw” pictures, so that’s a plus. If this really is the best horror series of all time, then maybe it means they’re (meaning the minds behind these mindless series of genre flicks) are learning and maybe, just maybe, the next horror series that comes along will be even better…doubtful, but a man can dream. If you’re a wannabe film critic, then these probably aren’t going to be for you, but I think it’s safe to say that you get your money’s worth. It’s kind of like when you buy batteries at the dollar store. You know they’re only going to get you so far, but you know that going in and you’re willing to take the risk. “Saw” was a fun series of movies and I can easily say that I had a really fun time watching them. Granted, I was watching them with my wonderful wife and she has a tendency to make things fun that wouldn’t normally be. Don’t go in with the aim of taking them too seriously and you should be fine and in for a fun time. If you’re going to go all Roger Ebert on them though, then you’re going to have a lot to complain about. I fancy myself a movie critic, but I fancy myself a different kind of movie critic: one who knows how to pick apart the true art pieces, the true classics and the not-so classic films. 

RANKING SAW: BEST TO WORST
1) Saw (2004) 
2) Saw V (2008) 
3) Saw II (2005) 
4) Saw III (2006)
5) Saw VI (2009) 
6) Saw IV (2007)
7) Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)

That's it for another month folks. Hope you enjoy this read and don't forget, just because I'm not around doesn't mean I don't still check out new comments and reply. 

July 5, 2013  10:31pm

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...