Saturday, August 31, 2013

913. The English Patient (1996)


Running Time: 162 minutes
Directed By: Anthony Minghella
Written By: Anthony Minghella, from novel by Michael Ondaatje
Main Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Kristen Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe, Juliette Binoche, Naveen Andrews
Click here to view the trailer

AND THE 69TH OSCAR FOR BEST PICTURE GOES TO...

Oh "The English Patient", how I've dreaded thee. Much like Elaine Benes in the Seinfeld episode entitled "The English Patient", I've never understood the hype or the nine Academy Awards behind this epic 1996 film. However, I'm here to tell you that today I had a slight awakening and was actually able to find SOME redeeming qualities in the movie.


The plot is long and takes 2 1/2 hours for the filmmakers to get through, but I'll try to take only a few minutes away from you to recap it. The film is set during World War II and begins with a severely burned man being cared for by a nurse, Hana (Binoche). The burned man is also suffering from amnesia and can't remember anything about himself, including his name. After she finds out her husband has died in battle and watches her best friend drive over a land mine, Hana decides to take the burned man to a secluded area and care for him, so he no longer has to be moved. The two end up in an abandoned Italian monastery where the burned man's past begins to come back to him and be revealed to the viewers. It turns out that the burned man is named Count Laszlo Almasy (Fiennes), a cartographer, who was mapping the Sahara Desert prior to the start of WWII. Along with his partner Madox, the two are joined in the desert by Katherine (Thomas) and Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth). The Count becomes taken by Katherine to the point that the two end up having an affair, one night during a sandstorm. Later, Katherine ends the affair, but the Count cannot bear to be away from Katherine and their relationship is rekindled. The film bounces back and forth between the present day, with the Count being tended to by Hana and the past; the tale of Katherine and Laszlo.


After doing a little research on this movie, I've found that, in fact, it is one of the most detested of all the Best Picture winners. Perhaps it's just people being persuaded by the Seinfeld episode, but there seems to be a lot of Elaine's influence on much of the cinematic public, as I've found multiple comments of people trashing the movie and declaring it "boring" and "too long". I'd have to agree with them on the running time, as the film is way too long and had Minghella been able to contain his would be epic inside of two hours and cut the fat off, I think this could've been a blow away picture. As it is, by the end it is obvious that there are bits that just need to be trimmed and lots of unnecessary scenes. I'm of the opinion that every single shot and scene of a film should be essential to driving the plot, developing the characters or being of some value. There are clearly many scenes in "The English Patient" that serve no purpose. I'll also admit that I'm just not the love story type of guy and that I think this film appeals more to women than men, kind of like a much more advanced, poetic and artistic Nicholas Sparks film, minus the barely out of high school actors.

SPOILER ALERT!!


Speaking of the actors, you've got a real crop of great ones here with Ralph Fiennes totally impressing me and making me realize that someday we'll be looking back and remembering him as one of the truly greats of my time. I also can't forget Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe (a favorite of mine), Kristen Scott Thomas and Colin Firth, who all do spectacular things with their characters. It's not hard to see WHY this film won Best Picture, as it just looks like something that would make the Academy start drooling, even though "Fargo" was CLEARLY the better film and better choice that year. It's not a film that made me desperately stare at the clock, even though there were times when it was blatantly obvious that the film was just running far too long. I enjoyed many bits, like the beautiful scene in the sandstorm; the passionate, classy shots of love making and the heartbreaking scene of Laszlo carrying Katherine out of her tomb, her dead body hanging over his arms, him sobbing.

RATING: 6.5/10  Shoulda' been "Fargo" by a long shot, but this wasn't as bad as all that and deserves a look. It's not gonna' blow you away or anything, but it's a "must see" for Academy Awards scholars and even curious Seinfeld fans.

MOVIES WATCHED: 721
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 280

August 31, 2013  8:15pm

Friday, August 30, 2013

907. Independence Day (1996)


Running Time: 145 minutes
Directed By: Roland Emmerich
Written By: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Main Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia
Click here to view the trailer

LET FREEDOM RING

If you wanna talk about Hollywood and I mean HOLLYWOOD, then this may very well be the most modern Hollywood film on the entire 1001 list. This film oozes everything that gives every major Hollywood executive tighter fitting pants (*wink*). It's the 38th highest grossing film of all-time, revived the big budget, special effects way of making movies and made a star out of Will Smith.


Despite it's nearly two and a half hour running time, "Independence Day" only requires about a fourth grade level attention span and the story probably could've been told in half the time. Basically, it's your run of the mill aliens story. The film begins on July 2nd, when an enormous unidentified flying object orbits Earth's atmosphere, before entering it and sending out dozens of smaller, destroyer ships, which remain immobile over some of the World's largest cities, including Washington DC, NYC and L.A. David Levinson (Goldblum), a genius, satellite technician figures out that eventually the mothership will send out a signal, commanding all of the smaller ships to attack. It seems that the aliens are hostile and are positioned to blow up many of the world's major cities. David gets into President Thomas Whitmore's (Pullman) ear and finally convinces him to evacuate the cities. Meanwhile, any attempt to attack the mothership is halted, by way of a shield that completely encapsulates the alien craft. Captain Steven Hiller (Smith) manages to be the sole survivor of an attack mission and in the process, manages to capture one of the aliens. Later, it is revealed that the aliens want to absorb all of the resources of Earth that they can, before moving on, thus why they want everyone disposed of.


Yada, yada, yada and this & that and the other thing....it's a huge mess of a plot and honestly, I think if I think about it too much more I may self induce a migraine headache. However, with that being said, I wouldn't go so far as to call this film awful and actually if you're able to look past the god awful dialogue, the swiss cheese plot and the too long running time, it's actually a better than average, big budget picture; at least as far as big budget epics go. I've read other comments that criticize the acting, but honestly I think MOST everyone involved did the best with what they were given, which was a script filled with corny cliche lines; the types of lines that just beg the Wayans brothers to make fun of them. I'm a big Jeff Goldblum fan and thought he did the best he could here. I'd also go so far as to say thumbs up to Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia. In fact, the relationship and dialogue between Hirsch and Goldblum was probably my favorite thing about the whole film. I'd say that Will Smith was still terribly "green" here (another way of saying inexperienced) and honestly, later on in his career, he'd develop the skills needed to turn in a halfway decent performance. I'll end my cast notes by saying I despise Randy Quaid with a passion...that is all.


I really don't even think I need to elaborate on the bad, because the bad will be blatantly obvious to anyone that sees this film and has a semi knowledgeable movie palate. The dialogue IS god awful and it's obvious. The plot is full of holes and there's a handful of things that just flat out don't make sense. Lastly, the film is just too long. It wasn't a clock watching film, but I will tell you that by the end of the picture, my eyelids were getting mighty heavy and I was so ready to just check out. However, I didn't mind it THAT much. Perhaps it's the fact that I was eleven/twelve when this came out, thus the perfect age to be preyed upon by this kind of garbage (and, damn it, I LOVED it when I was a kid), but I didn't mind it as much as a film snob probably SHOULD mind it. I'll happily admit that it's garbage, while also admitting that it's the kind of garbage George Costanza would find lingering near the surface, pick up and take a bite out of.

RATING: 6/10  There's no chance of the TOP 20 list in this film's future, but at least TRY it and you MIGHT be surprised. Go in expecting nothing and you may get something.

MOVIES WATCHED: 720
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 281

August 30, 2013  10:34pm

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

236. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)


Running Time: 122 minutes
Directed By: Albert Lewin
Written By: Albert Lewin
Main Cast: Ava Gardner, James Mason, Nigel Patrick, Harold Warrender, Sheila Sim
Click here to view the trailer

THE MOVING FINGER WRITES; AND, HAVING WRIT, MOVES ON

Noticing that "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" was one of the many films that Netflix lists as "SAVED", meaning that it's more than likely out of print, I skimmed through the TCM listings many, many months ago and discovered that this was to air and thinking ahead, recorded it. The VHS tape (yep, still using those) has been sitting on a shelf since then, waiting for me.


The plot, to my surprise, was very similar to "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", in that a woman falls in love with a ghost. This time, the woman is Pandora Reynolds (Gardner), the object of many men's deisres, yet she isn't interested in any of her suitors and really only keeps them around for her own amusement. The suitor with the most brownie points is Stephen (Patrick), a race car enthusiast, who is in the process of building a car, in which he'll attempt to break the land-speed record. The film focuses on what one is prepared to give up for the one they love. Stephen, for example, pushes his prized, hand built speed racer over a cliff, simply because Pandora asks him to; wondering if he'll actually do it. Then one day, Pandora meets Hendrick van der Zee (Mason), when she wanders onto an anchored sea vessel; finding the ship's captain (van der Zee) painting a portrait of, what seems to be Pandora. The two become chummy, with Pandora not realizing that van der Zee is the Flying Dutchman. From there, we learn the legend of the flying dutchman, in which the dutchman in question is condemned to sail the seas for eternity, unless he can find a woman who loves him enough to die for him - again returning to the "what are you prepared to give up for your lover" theme. There's also a matador who is also infatuated with Pandora, yet meanwhile, Pandora and Stephen are engaged to be married. That's the gist of it - a big, love triangle/quadrangle.


It's easy to surmise that, with the exception of "Winchester '73", I have been less than impressed with the current handful of 50s flicks. "Rio Grande" was, without a doubt, the worst film I saw this season, thus far; "Los Olvidados" was far inferior to later Bunuel works; "All About Eve" was just shy of being really, really good and now "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" which I'd put at about the average marker. Let me first say how much I've come to really appreciate James Mason since starting this project. He's been in quite a few of the "1001" movies and he's just a treat to watch, as he's an absolute professional, never acting, but rather becoming his role, no matter how goofy the script - like this one. I'd say "Bigger Than Life" has been my favorite of his thus far, but I think "The Reckless Moment" and "Lolita" will need to be rewatched someday, in light of my new found appreciation for this master actor. I also want to take the time to praise Jack Cardiff, who's cinematography on "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" made this movie elevate above the level of "clock watcher" and despite it's flaws, at least it was a terrific LOOKING picture; filled with magnificent, sometimes gloomy shots that dazzled the eye!


Otherwise, this was just goofy to me. It wasn't necessarily a period piece (except for the middle part, when recounting the legend of the Flying Dutchman), but it just felt like it was meant for a different generation, other than my own. I think I established during my "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" review that I'm not into the whole woman falls in love with a celestial being storyline and despite the wonderful camerwork, the beautiful Gardner and the master Mason, this one just didn't appeal to me in the slightest. Speaking of Gardner, I'm of the opinion that she's more suited to be wearing black gloves that go to her elbows; silky, black dresses and a string of pearls, giving "tough guy" gangsters a run for their money. In other words, she belongs in the confines of film nor, not in silly ghost ship tales.

RATING: 5/10  Slice it right down the middle. The majority of this season is going to be comprised of films from the 50s and 90s (split equally). I really hope some of the 50s movies can win me over, because I really don't want a TOP 20 list comprised exclusively of 90s flicks. That being said, I'll be glad to hop back to the back side of the "1001" book for a five film stretch.

MOVIES WATCHED: 719
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 282

ON DECK:
The English Patient (1996 - Anthony Minghella)
Lone Star (1996 - John Sayles)
Gabbeh (1996 - Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
Independence Day (1996 - Roland Emmerich)
Breaking the Waves (1996 - Lars von Trier)




Monday, August 26, 2013

230. Los Olvidados/The Young and the Damned (1950)


Running Time: 76 minutes
Directed By: Luis Bunuel
Written By: Luis Alcoriza, Luis Bunuel
Main Cast: Roberto Cobo, Alfonso Mejia, Alma Delia Fuentes, Stella Inda, Miguel Inclan

THE ART OF BEING A HOODLUM

Myself and Luis Bunuel have had a real love/hate relationship going on ever since I started watching my way through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" text. It has become apparent that he is, as it pertains to my personal tastes, a real hit or miss director and it's obvious that I'm partial to his later works, such as "Belle de Jour" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", as opposed to earlier works like "Las Hurdes", "The Age of Gold" and "Los Olvidados".


The film isn't long and is probably one of the first of a theme/idea that would go on to be quite prevalent in the cinematic world and I'm talking about the idea of a thug/hoodlum/criminal trying to turn his/her life around and go down the path of righteousness, only to be pulled back by their hoodlum cohorts. Jaibo (Cobo) is a juvenile who's just been released from prison. Upon his release he immediately hooks back up with his gang of misguided youth. Together the group wastes no time getting back into trouble with Jaibo, first attempting and later succeeding in robbing a blind man. Jaibo's best friend is Pedro (Mejia), who wants nothing more than to be good and to make his mother proud, but for one reason or another can't escape the path of villainy. His mother (Inda), on the other hand, has given up on Pedro, no longer concerned for him, like a mother who has finished mourning for a the lost soul of a son she once had. Meanwhile, Jaibo takes it upon himself to track down the boy responsible for ratting him out and sending him to jail, Julian and kills him. When the news of Julian's death breaks, Pedro and Jaibo are the only two who know the truth about Julian's murder.


Ya' know, I read that plot synopsis that I just wrote and I think to myself, "Now, why didn't you like that? It sounds so good!". However, there was just something about the picture that repelled me and honestly, even at seventy-six minutes, I was doing a lot of clock watching with this one. In his early days, Bunuel seemed to be more concerned with making poetic statements, so much so that he threw plot & story to the wind. Granted, this one has a viable plot, it's just that it's obvious that Bunuel's modus operandi is to send a message and not tell a story. Not only does he harp on the "criminal escaping the path of villainy" plot line, but he also aims to tell us that youth brought up in impoverished circumstances are more likely to become criminals. Sure, that's true and honestly, I don't think Luis was really telling us (even the "us" of the 1950s) anything we didn't already know. So why do the youth of less wealthy homes turn to from the path of righteousness? Honestly, I don't know and the film really didn't urge me to think it over any further, not did it even try answer the question itself. It simply spoke to us, made it's statements and "FIN".


I feel like I'm rambling more than usual here, so I need wrap this up. All I can tell you about this one is that it's short and there seems to be a spark of something there, yet I just didn't take to it at all. I liked the themes that were explored and the ideas that were set forth, however I had major problems with the execution and ultimately I chalked it up to Bunuel being a little too "out there" in his younger days, as far as his mindset.

RATING: 4.5/10  I'll give it some points, but in the end it's something that will probably, easily be forgotten. Either I'm getting a lot pickier, or this has just been a rough start to the season. I REALLY need something stellar to come along....like soon.

MOVIES WATCHED: 718
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 283

August 26, 2013  10:49pm

Friday, August 23, 2013

228. All About Eve (1950)


Running Time: 138 minutes
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from the story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr
Main Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill
Click here to view the trailer

AND THE 23rd OSCAR FOR BEST PICTURE GOES TO...

With the watching of "All About Eve", I get to check another unseen Best Picture winner off of my list of Best Picture winners I've never seen. For the curious, there are still twenty-six films on that list, but hopefully someday (soon) I'll be able to say I've seen 'em all. Anyway, the movie is "All About Eve" and so should be the review.


The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing (I wonder how many people went into this movie SURE that Davis played Eve?), a forty-year-old, semi-talented, very popular actress who is used to being at the center of the spotlight. The film begins at an awards ceremony where Eve Harrington (Baxter) is being honored for her exceptional acting talents. We hear a narration from theater critic Addison DeWitt (Sanders), who begins to fill us in on the essential details. We see the characters that we'll soon know very well: playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), his wife (Holm), director Bill Sampson (Merrill) and of course, Margo. We then flashback and get the story from Karen Richards' point of view (the playwright's wife). The story picks up several months prior when Karen met Eve Harrington hiding in the shadows, outside the theater where Margo had just given a performance. Eve goes to see every Margo Channing performance and practically worships her. Karen invites Eve up to meet Margo and long story short, Margo eventually hires eve as her personal assistant. As it says in the film, Eve does virtually everything for Margo; she's her mother, her sister, her friend, her admirer, her assistant and her maid. After a while, Margo becomes less and less thrilled with the presence of Eve and really begins to get annoyed by her when she feels that Eve is stepping on her toes and moving in on her man & her friends. The caca really hits the fan when Eve is positioned to be Margo's understudy, at a time when Margo thought she'd conjured up a plan to unload Eve. One evening, when Margo doesn't make her performance, Eve is forced to go on and is a huge success.


I liked "All About Eve" well enough, but I didn't like it as much as I'd expected to. I think it's another case of hype building me up and reality letting me down. I'd always heard great things about "All About Eve", as you normally do about any film that wins the coveted Best Picture Oscar and for some reason, I was really expecting to take to it. However, the film left me a little flat and once and for all made me realize that I am not a fan of Bette Davis. I just don't like her, to be blunt and can't really understand why she's so praised. In my view, she's overacts most of her performance and doesn't become her part, but rather, makes it blatantly obvious that she's an actress, playing a part and nothing more. In the great debate/battle of who's better: Crawford or Davis, I choose Joan Crawford any 'ol day of the week...twice on Sunday. Crawford was a much classier actress, who seemed to hold more in during her performances and let it seep out like cigarette smoke through tight lips, when needed. Davis, on the other hand, lets it all hang out from the get go and almost annoys me. THE BOOK ends it's write-up on "All About Eve" by stating that the film's only flaw is Anne Baxter. On the contrary, I actually enjoyed Baxter a lot more than Davis here. I know, I know, I'll accept the hate mail graciously and read every piece. Seriously though, that scene on the bed, near the end of the film with George Sanders yelling at her was just great and Baxter crossed a fine line between overreacting and just reacting and stayed on the right side of said line. Speaking of Sanders, what a freakin' actor he is! This is my fourth film with him, but I really only noticed him for the first time in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir". Man, did that guy bring the acting chops to the table or what. In fact, there really wasn't a bad supporting actor in the bunch here as I enjoyed Holm, Marlowe and Merrill too.


It's just that I kind of expected the script to take a different path. I expected the film to get a little darker, and expected Eve to have a more evil streak, doing whatever it took to ensure she was the next toast of the town. As it is, it just sort of happened and yes, Eve was a bitch, but she was talented so what of it? They never really went into WHY Margo didn't like Eve. Eve waited on her hand and foot, did whatever she asked and one day Margo wakes up and just decides she wants Eve to get lost and never look back. The film was a little on the long side as it is, yet there were still some things that needed a little more embellishment. Don't get me wrong, I would've trimmed the fat elsewhere and kept the film at a nice, solid two hours. The overrun was just unwelcome to the viewer and I was ready to call it a picture, raise the lights and wipe the gum off my shoe about twenty minutes beforehand. In conclusion, call it a mixed review. Brilliantly acted, yet a script that wasn't as succinct as it could've been. Details left out that should've been included and a little bit more of an evil edge in Eve would've done wonders, I think.

RATING: 6.5/10  Lingering in the dead zone of not great/not bad movies. I wish it would've delivered more, but after the disaster that was "Rio Grande" it was a breath of fresh air.

MOVIES WATCHED: 717
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 284

August 23, 2013  6:39pm

Thursday, August 22, 2013

227. RIO GRANDE (1950)


Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: James Warner Bellah, James Kevin McGuinness, from the story Mission With No Record by James Warner Bellah
Main Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr., Harry Carey Jr.
Click here to view the trailer

BOOOOORRING!

It seems like every season at least one movie comes along and makes me take a second look at the title of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and make sure it's not the "1001 Movies You Must Avoid At All Costs in Your Lifetime". The title hasn't changed, but I'm here to tell you that "Rio Grande" was tough watch #1 of the season.


This film, like many John Ford films, centers around John Wayne, who this time time around plays Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, a Union officer, who lead his men into and out of battle in the Civil War and is now stationed in Texas, where he must defend a group of settlers against an Apache tribe. The film opens with a group of new recruits being assigned to Yorke, one of which is the son he hasn't seen in fifteen years, Jeff Yorke (Jarman Jr.). Enter the lieutenant Colonel's estranged wife, Kathleen (Yorke), who wants nothing more that for her son to discharge himself from the army, but we're in the midst of a fictional war dammit and of course, he won't do that. Later, after an Apache attack, the lieutenant Colonel is ordered to lead his men across the Rio Grande, where they'll mount a counter attack on the Apaches. There's also this whole side plot involving Trooper Tyree (Johnson), another of the new recruits, who is wanted for manslaughter, but, to be honest, I kind of mentally checked out of this one at the halfway mark, so I'll leave you to discover the rest for yourself.


Man, I'll be honest, I'm REALLY starting to hate John Ford. Not only did he serve me this dish of cold soup, but he was also responsible for "How Green Was My Valley" and "The Quiet Man". Couple those two with "Rio Grande" and it's enough to make me forget just how good "Stagecoach", "Judge Priest", "The Grapes of Wrath", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "My Darling Clementine" were and send me down the path to remembering John Ford as someone who bore me more often than he excited me. Now normally I HATE it when people use the word boring to describe a bad movie (a pet peeve), but I'll let it slide when it comes to detailing "Rio Grande". I mean, this film was coma inducing! I'm not a John Wayne fan, nor am I fan of these old rolling hills, traditional westerns and that's just the kinds of western that this is. Like I said in my "Winchester '73" review, if I have to watch a western, I'd rather it be a B western, because that's when plot usually takes rank over traditional, formulaic westerns, which is what Ford seemingly excelled at. Trust me kids, "Rio Grande" is very of it's time and was probably even behind it's time in 1950. By then, I'd like to think that film noir and crime stories were all the rage, hence the success of Billy Wilder, John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock around that time. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "Rio Grande" is that type of film that you'd expect to walk in on your grandparents watching, as they huddle under an old, knitted afghan and remember the "good 'ol days". It's boring and as much as I love old films, in 2013, this just isn't working anymore, not on this reviewer anyway. If I had to pick one redeeming quality, it would be the scene where the new recruits ride two horses, one foot on the back of each horse and even jump a fence while doing so. That was pretty fun to watch. Otherwise, take a pass here.


RATING: 1/10  Yep, gotta' go as low as I can go on this one, because I hated it that much and couldn't stop staring at the DVD clock on this one, hoping it'd just END!

MOVIES WATCHED: 716
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 285

August 22, 2013  4:56pm

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

226. Winchester '73 (1950)


Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: Anthony Mann
Written By: Borden Chase, Stuart N. Lake, Robert L. Richards, from story by Stuart N. Lake
Main Cast: James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Stephen McNally, Millard Mitchell, Dan Duryea
Click here to view the trailer

ONE IN ONE THOUSAND? NOT QUITE, BUT STILL REALLY GOOD!

Ahh, how nice it is to revisit the great Jimmy Stewart after such a long time. I was beginning to think that the endless supply of Humph' Bogart movies would never end. The duo of Jimmy Stewart and director Anthony Mann produced eight Westerns and this is my first and it was quite good.


The film revolves around, get this, a Winchester '73, repeating rifle, said to be a one in one thousand gun. Upon the movie's opening, it is the Fourth of July and we're in Dodge City, where a shooting competition is set to be held, where the winner will receive said rifle as a prize. The favorite to win it all? Dutch Henry Brown (McNally), the outlaw of the hour. However, that's before Lin McAdam (Stewart) rides into town, alongside his sidekick High-Spade Frankie Wilson (Mitchell). It seems that McAdam knows of Dutch Henry Brown and is even anticipating his participation in the shooting contest, knowing that Dutch Henry wouldn't miss competing for such a prized rifle. From the minute they set eyes on one another, Lin and Dutch Henry are like two rabid wolves being held at the collar by town Marshall, Wyatt Earp. It becomes obvious that the two men have a history, but the details are yet to be revealed. The shooting competition comes and goes and when it's all said and done, Lin McAdam shoots a hole through the center of a postage stamp to claim the Winchester. However, before he can have his name engraved on the butt, Dutch Henry steals the gun and makes off with it. From there, it's a horse race through the wide open plains, as the gun falls from hand to hand, including an Indian trader, an Indian chief and another skeevy outlaw. Meanwhile, the Indians are all riled up & ready to scalp and Lin is hot on tail of arch nemesis Dutch Henry Brown.

SPOILER ALERT!



Can I just give a sarcastic "way to go" to Netflix for putting on the synopsis sleeve to this movie that Lin and Dutch Henry are brothers. I mean, that's kind of a big spoiler and becomes a big reveal at the end of the film and they just slapped it on there, as if it was no big deal. Had I watched the movie without knowing that, it would've given me a little extra added interest in the final act. As it is though, I was pretty into this movie! The movie kicks off with a fantastic hook: a shooting competition. It serves to get the viewer invested in the picture, sets up a strong hero in Lin McAdam and a worthy villain in Dutch Henry Brown. I think as long as we're talking about the characters, I might as well go ahead and start gushing now about the STELLAR cast, half of which I'd never heard of. I'm not only talking about Jimmy Stewart, who was great, but also Stephen McNally (Dutch Henry Brown), Dan Duryea (Waco Johnny Dean), John McIntire (Joe Lamont), Will Geer (Wyatt Earp), Millard Mitchell (High-Spade Frankie Wilson) and Jay C. Flippen (Sgt. Wilkes). These were all FANTASTIC supporting players and did their part to make this movie one to remember. I mean, even the character names are outstanding, as names like Waco Johnny Dean, High-Spade Frankie Wilson and Dutch Henry Brown could only exist in the confines of a Hollywood Western. Oh and I haven't even mentioned the fact that this movie comes complete with Tony Curtis in a very early role and Rock Hudson as an Indian Cheif!! I think I've realized that nine times out of ten, I'll take a B Western over popular, mainstream Western any day. It seems that the ones where the story is a little bit toned down and simplistic are the best ones and I'm thinking of this and "Silver Lode", among others.


The script was also really good and if I'd have to complain about anything, it'd be that the movie DID, sort of, lose a little bit of steam in the second act. I also wasn't crazy about the Steve Miller character or the actor portraying him. It's not that the actor was bad, but he was definitely overshadowed by better talent. I also really, really dislike Shelley Winters for some reason and NEVER buy her as a beautiful lady, coveted by multiple men. I think I always remember her character in "A Place in the Sun" and how annoying she was. That was a great performance by her, that ruined her for me in all other films. But anyway, back to the script, which was indeed a little piece of gold. It was filled with little subtleties, things that the characters never mentioned, yet somehow we just knew what they were talking about. For example, Lin giving Lola the gun and telling her (without saying it) that the last bullet need be saved for herself, in case she was captured by Indians.

RATING: 7.5/10  When I finished this last night, I was thinking '9' initially, but I think '7.5' is more suitable. A definite one to consider when TOP 20 time rolls around.

MOVIES WATCHED: 715
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 286

August 20, 2013  1:01pm

Saturday, August 17, 2013

915. Mononoke hime/Princess Mononoke (1997)


Running Time: 133 minutes
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Main Cast: (voices): Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, John DeMita
Click here to view the trailer

NOT MIYAZAKI'S BEST WORK...AS YOU MAY HAVE HEARD...

This will wrap up the new side of things and from here, we'll swing back to the front half of THE BOOK, as I work my way a little closer, from THAT end of the spectrum. Gotta' say, despite loving "Spirited Away" (a TOP 20 film), I wasn't looking forward to "Princess Mononoke", as I'd seen it once before and remembered really disliking it. My speculations weren't far off...


If you'd want to sum up "Princess Mononoke" in a few words, you could say that it's a very fantasy driven film (as are all Miyazaki's films), that takes the man vs. nature story to a whole new level. The main character is NOT Princess Mononoke, but rather, a prince named Ashitaka, who, while fighting a possessed boar (covered in worm-like creatures, complete with spider legs), becomes infected with a curse, which will eventually turn him evil and ultimately kill him. Ashitaka is sent away from his village and into the forest, where his only hope is finding the spirit of the forest, who MAY be able to save him. Along the way, Ashitaka realizes that the curse has also given him superhuman fighting abilities, allowing him to use his bows and arrow to decapitate (among other things) his enemies. Eventually, Ashitaka lands in a small village called Irontown, where he meets with Lady Eboshi and it is revealed that the demon boar that Ashitaka fought (and killed) was formerly the boar God, Nago and that Lady Eboshi is responsible for his transformation. It is here that Ashitaka also learns of Princess Mononoke, a girl named San who was raised by wolves. It is Ashitaka's plan to find the spirit of the forest and see if his curse can be lifted. Meanwhile, Jigo, a monk, is hot on the tail of the spirit of the forest himself and plans to behead the spirit and present the head to the emperor.


It goes on from there, but that's the basics. When I wrote my "Spirited Away" review, I wrote how astonished I was that I ACTUALLY liked that movie, as I just wasn't someone who normally took to such fantastical stories. However, there was something about "Spirited" that just grabbed me and didn't let go until Chihiro's final words. Perhaps it was the fact that we were watching a girl from outside the fantasy world, enter it and interact with spirits and such and here, with "Mononoke", we were just placed in that world from the get go. I don't know - all I can tell you is that I "Princess Mononoke" just didn't do a thing for me and really left me staring at the clock, wondering when this was all going to be over. Speaking of that, this one just runs a little on the long side and honestly, with a little snipping in the right spots, this could've been sped up and possibly been a bit easier to get through. Also, and this is going to sound really petty, but I never dug the whole talking animals thing. Don't ask me why, but that's just somewhere my imagination can't go and it's always been something that's almost immediately turned me off to a story. I realize how ridiculous it is, but it's just one of my quirks, I guess. There may have even been talking animals in "Spirited Away", but i know it wasn't nearly as prevalent as it was here.


All I know is that "Mononoke" wasn't my cup of tea and left me wondering whether or not I loved or hated Miyazaki. I guess it's all going to come down to a third film from the master animator, for me to be able to decide a definitive "yay" or "nay". And yes, I still do consider him a master animator, as "Mononoke" LOOKED like a million bucks. There were times when I completely forgot I was watching an animated film and then the rich greens and blues would grab me around the collar and refresh my memory. Some of the images were simply awesome, such as the "night walker" (the form the forest spirit takes at night) and a tree full of demon eyed monkeys. If I were simply judging the animation, I'd be going a full blown '10", no doubt. However, it's the story that I was more concerned with and as much as I'm sure it gripped and engaged millions of you, it just didn't have the same effect on this reviewer. However, if anyone out there has a good suggestion for a third Miyazaki film, the one that will help me decide whether I love or hate him, drop me a comment.

RATING: 4/10  And that's really stretching to get it all I can. I wouldn't be surprised if that rating went down another half point or maybe even a whole point come RECAP time.

MOVIES WATCHED: 714
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 287

ON DECK:
Winchester '73 (1950 - Anthony Mann)
Rio Grande (1950 - John Ford)
All About Eve (1950 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Los Olvidados (1950 - Luis Bunuel)
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951 - Albert Lewin)

August 17, 2013  10:40pm

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

917. The Butcher Boy (1997)


Running Time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Neil Jordan
Written By: Neil Jordan, Pat McCabe, from novel by Pat McCabe
Main Cast: Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, Alan Boyle, Aisling O'Sullivan
Click here to view the trailer

CHOPPED!

Yep, this is one of the handful of films they cut out of the 6th Edition (U.S.) of THE BOOK. Speaking of BOOK editions, I've been notified by Barron's that they will be sending me a review copy of the 7th Edition of THE BOOK and that it should be arriving by the middle of September, so that will be something to look forward to. Anyway, onto the business at hand - "The Butcher Boy".


Francie Brady (Owens) is the main character - a twelve-year-old boy, who has a best friend named Joe (Boyle) and a wild imagination. Truth be told, Francie is a bit of a bully, teaming up with Joe to single out and continually pick on fellow youth Phillip Nugent. Phillip's mother, Mrs. Nugent (Shaw), tries her best to protect her frail son, but Francie isn't afraid of a her, just because she's an adult. At home, Francie is forced to deal with his alcoholic father (Rea) and depressed mother (O'Sullivan), but leans on Joe - his blood brother for life - to get him through the tougher times. After Francie shows an act of defiance that turns into an act of vandalism on Mrs. Nugent's home, he is sent away to a Catholic reform school. This all comes after the suicide of his mother. At reform school, Francie begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary, is molested by a priest, is visited by his remorseful father and decides to trade in his bullying ways to take a shot at the "Francie Brady: Not a Bad Bastard Anymore" diploma. He is eventually released from reform school and returns to his father; although is father is at the end of his rope, near death.

SPOILER ALERT!


You know, as easy as this was to get through, I can very easily see why they chopped this one from the 6th edition. I'd call it average at best and average does not a must see movie make. Before I get into the bad, however, let me take a moment to recognize the talents of Eamonn Walker. Now, I've noted on the blog in the past that I'm allergic to films with kids in them (as frequent commenter Ray puts it), but this kid was fabulous! I mean, even near the end of the film, I still found myself in awe of how insanely, uniquely good this kid's performance was. I'd even go so far as to say he upstaged Stephen Rea, who I consider to be a fine actor in his own right. Alan Boyle was also VERY good too and it makes you wonder what they're feeding the kids overseas to get them to be such superb actors. I'll go so far as to say that Eamonn Walker turned in the greatest child performance I've EVER seen. Now, I hate kid actors, so that's not really saying much, but he was THAT good. The story was so-so, however. Sometimes engaging and other times forcing me to question: "Why do I care?", "What are we building toward here?", etc, etc.


I'm not sure, am I supposed to be questioning whether or not Francie ACTUALLY killed Mrs. Nugent at the end of the picture or is it possible that this final act was all in Francie's head and that he spent the a very long time in, not prison, but a psychiatric ward, coming out as an adult and looking EXACTLY like his father. Speaking of that, just get another actor to play adult Francie! Don't parade the same guy out there in a duel role. I don't know what we were supposed to think really, and that's kind of the tone for the whole movie. What are we supposed to be building toward? Is the film about a boy and his feud with his adult neighbor and her son? OR is it about the mental stability of a young child, who was forced to deal with bad parents and some other rough shit? It was just sort of all over the map and didn't seem to have a really clear direction. I wanted to like it, especially after loving the kid's performance so much and the camerawork, which seemed to be shot for a much better film. However, in the end, I just had a *meh* feeling.

RATING: 5/10  Split it right down the middle and call it a day. Perhaps a re-watch or some time to reflect will help the case of "The Butcher Boy", but for now call it a good decision on Mr. Schneider's part to cut the fat.

MOVIES WATCHED: 713
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 288

August 14, 2013  11:33pm

Sunday, August 11, 2013

914. Cheun gwong tsa sit/Happy Together (1997)


Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Wong Kar-Wai
Written By: Wong Kar-Wai
Main Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Leslie Cheung, Chen Chang
Click here to view the trailer

"I CAN'T SEE ME LOVIN' NOBODY BUT YOU..."

Just so everyone's aware, I had myself a nice, little four day weekend this week, which is why I've been able to bang out these movies so quickly. I'm back to work tomorrow and therefore, the pace my lessen. Also, while we're on the subject of my work schedule, I USUALLY work at 7am and get home around 4pm. What I usually end up doing is watching movies at night, after my wife goes to bed and writing the reviews the following day, when I get home from work. Don't think I've ever specified the details of my schedule before...Anyway...


Caught "Happy Together" this morning via the streaming portion of Netflix. The film is directed by Wong Kar-Wai ("In the Mood for Love") and tells the story of a gay couple, on vacation in Argentina, trying to sort out their relationship and "start over". It's a rocky relationship. There's definitely love there, but with the love comes a fair share of arguments, fights and disagreements. There's the more responsible Lai Yiu-fai (Leung) and the more flamboyant, childish Ho-Po Wing (Cheung). Once in Argentina, they plan to see Iguazu waterfalls together, but they break up before they make it there. Fai settles in Buenos Aires, where he gets a job at a nightclub. One evening, Ho visits the nightclub and memories are dredged back up. Ho has a new boyfriend and Fai, still not healed from the break-up, is forced to deal with an overflow of emotion all over again. After a while, the two begin talking and it becomes apparent that Ho's new boyfriend is abusive. One evening, Ho shows up at Fai's door, severely beaten and Fai can't help but help him. At the hospital, Ho's hands are bandaged to the point where he must rely on Fai to help him with everything. Ho stays with Fai at his dingy little apartment and Ho is hopeful that the two can, once again, start over. Fai stays strong and resists the temptations of Ho, however. Fai eventually gets a job at a restaurant where he meets Chang (Chang), a straight man who becomes a good friend.


"Open Your Eyes' was really good and "Return of the Jedi" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" were good enough, but finally something stellar comes along this season, after watching eleven movies. Of course, I'm talking about this movie - "Happy Together" - an absolutely fantastic piece of work by a director who's proving he's worthy of me keeping my eyes on - Wong Kar-Wai. I'll even say that this is EASILY better than my last viewing of a Kar-Wai film, "In the Mood for Love" (which landed on the "Ten Worth Mentioning" section of my last TOP 20 list). It's might be hard for me to explain why I actually took to this movie so well, but I promise to try my best. As movie fanatics, we all know that wonderful feeling we get when we're watching something we really like. That feeling, where we're able to detach ourselves from the dialogue and action for just a millisecond, long enough to say to ourselves, "This is REALLY good". If you've seen a lot of movie and if you're picky, like me, then you know that feeling doesn't come along THAT often and when it does, it's one of the greatest feelings a movie fan can experience. It's the special feeling of seeing a movie that you just know is going to become a favorite, that you just know you're going to see dozens and dozens more times, for the first time. It's one of those movies that makes you want to consume as many more movies as you can possibly find, so that you can experience that feeling all over again and hopefully find another one and another one. "Happy Together" gave me all of these feelings.

The film was beautifully shot, flawlessly scripted, perfectly cast, provided a unique mood/atmosphere and transcended cultural barriers. It doesn't matter where you live, be it Hong Kong, Argentina, Pennsylvania, London, British Columbia or Los Angeles, this is a movie that didn't speak to a certain cultural consortium, but rather spoke to everyone, because we could all relate to the characters. Within literally minutes, Wong Kar-Wai forced us to care for these characters as if they were our personal friends, made it easy for us to feel their pain and relate to their situations. We understood every tear that our characters shed, every smile they cracked and just by looking at the faces and listening to the perfectly scored notes, we could feel every sad thought and disappointed reaction. We've all been in relationships, most of us know what it's like to have our hearts broken and even if you've never been involved in a bad, argumentative relationship, you've been privy to one and those feelings and actions are very familiar. "Happy Together" puts those feelings, reactions, actions and emotions to film flawlessly.


I'm glad that Wong Kar-Wai didn't harp on the gay thing too much, like "Brokeback Mountain" did, for instance. In Ang Lee's movie the fact that the two men were gay was half the story, whereas in Kar-Wai's picture, it's never really brought up. We just happen to be watching a film about a relationship, where the two members of said relationship happen to be both men. Speaking of the two men, how amazing is Tony Leung? I've only seen two movies with the guy and already I'm prepared to put him on a list with the rest of my favorite actors. He's too good to be true, yet he is true; pouring out true emotion after true emotion and playing it all so perfectly. The score was great too and I love how Kar-Wai always seems to pick a certain theme for his movies and allows it to play over and over (like "In the Mood for Love"). I really can't wait to see the rest of his filmography after watching this and I can say that "Happy Together" is definitely a "must see" movie. See it...now.

RATING: 10/10  Finally a big '10' and I can tell you now that until something better comes along, THIS is the #1 spot of my next TOP 20...hands down.

MOVIES WATCHED: 712
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 289

August 11, 2013  4:46pm

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...