Friday, February 28, 2014

285. Guys and Dolls (1955)


Running Time: 149 minutes
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from play by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and the story The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown by Damon Runyon
Main Cast: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye
Click here to view the trailer

Note: As it pertains to the "COMING SOON" list I posted at the end of the "Ikiru" review, I'll be replacing Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" with David Lynch's "Eraserhead". It turns out that the link that I was going to use for "Don't Look Now" isn't working properly. However, Youtube has it up for $2.99, which I'll get next week instead of this week. That's all of today's new business. Carry on...

"LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT!"

I was off today, which meant I could stay up a little later last night (as late as my eyelids would allow anyway), therefore I knew it would be the opportune time to take out one of the longer films in my current pile. That meant either "Das Boot" or "Guys and Dolls" and since I wasn't feeling particularly submarine like last night, I went with the singing & dancing.


The year was 1955. My mother was born, Robert Mitchum transformed into satan himself - in the form of a preacher for "The Night of the Hunter" and Marlon Brando laced up his dancing shoes and did a cool, saltwater gargle to tune up the pipes for "Guys and Dolls", alongside 'Ol Blue Eyes. The film really doesn't have much of a plot and relies more heavily on the musical numbers. Set in New York City, Sinatra plays Nathan Detroit, operator of NYC's oldest running, permanent floating crap game and all he needs is a location and 1,000 smackers and he can get the game running and hopefully make a pile of dough. He has several problems: for one his fiance of fourteen years thinks he's quit the crap game and for two he doesn't have a nickel to his name. Enter Sky Masterson (Brando), a man who once bet another man which rain drop would slide down a window faster. Detroit schemes to make a bet with Masterson that he can't lose - enter Sarah Brown (Simmons), a sister at the Save a Soul Mission. Sky bets Nathan that he can take any "doll" to Havana with him the following night and even allows Nathan to pick the dame. Nathan, scheming hard, picks Sgt. Sarah Brown and follows the progress as Sky tries his best to woo her. That's the blueprints for the film and honestly, it's as predictable as it sounds, so you can go ahead and fill in the rest of the blanks for yourself, I'm sure.


Honestly don't have a lot to say regarding this one, so we'll keep it short today. Any redeeming qualities this film had began and ended with Marlon Brando. While I wasn't crazy about watching him sing & dance, I'll admit that he did fine with the role and was one cool customer. He really is as good as they say he is - believe the hype! Seriously, forget "The Godfather" (the film I always knew Brando for), as Brando was at his prime long before that in films like this and his roles under the direction of Elia Kazan. I'm still looking for that definitive Brando favorite, but have no doubts that I'll eventually find it. As it is, I tend to love him in everything I see him in (while not always loving the film itself) and just have a lot of fun watching him, marveling at his talents. On the other hand, I think I'm sick to death of Frank Sinatra. I honestly had no idea he had so many film roles, furthermore, so many that could be considered "must see". This has gotta' be like the fourth film he's been in for THE BOOK and honestly, I just don't like him as an actor. As a singer - well that's another story, as I do quite enjoy the man belt one out.


Here, the songs are infectious, but that's about it (besides Brando, of course). My personal favorite being "If I Were a Bell". I also liked the one with the girls doing the cat number too - that was cute. Upon further reading, I find out that Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly were considered for the roles of Adelaide and Sarah respectively and honestly, that may have made a difference. Honestly, I didn't care much for Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine seemed to just be playing Marilyn Monroe anyway. I think watching Brando lust after Kelly would've been much more appealing. Also, what was with the way they talked in this movie, using "cannot" instead of "can't" and "will not" instead of "won't" - speaking very square like that all the time. Who knows...

Anyway, this one gives fun in small increments, kind of like the neighborhood kid wailing snow balls and hitting only half the time. You've got Brando and the solid songs on the pro side, but the dull, very predictable plot and the tiresome acting of the rest of the cast on the con side. You may like it, you may hate it - count me in the middle somewhere.

RATING: 6/10  Very *meh* film that I could've done without. But, hey, I've seen it and it's now in the history books so let's move on. I really could go for another great one right about now.

MOVIES WATCHED: 810
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 191

February 28, 2014  5:44pm

Thursday, February 27, 2014

246. Ikiru/To Live (1952)


Running Time: 143 minutes
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Written By: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Main Cast: Takashi Shimura, Shinichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki, Bokuzen Hidari
Click here to view the trailer

Note: Please take a few moments to check out the BlogRoll!, which has been on the sidebar of my blog for years now. I've recently updated it and really, there's a ton of good reading to be discovered just by clicking those links. All of the people manning the helms of those blogs, know what they're talking about and they're all putting in hard work that deserves your attention. Now then, on with the show...

LIFE IS BRIEF

I started "Ikiru" on Monday night, to no avail, as I'd been up since 6:30 and dozed off on it. On Tuesday night, I tried again but didn't get any further than the previous night - about twenty minutes. Luckily last night was the season premiere of Survivor, which meant my wife was occupied for two hours, which gave me just enough time to finish this one off. Read on...


This actually wasn't the first time I'd seen "Ikiru", as my wife and I started watching the movies on the IMDB Top 250 list, about seven years ago and it just so happens that, at the time, this movie was near the bottom. It actually took us quite a while to track this one down and I believe we finally found it on the computer. As we huddled around the monitor - in our very first apartment, which was more than likely sweltering hot, all those years ago - we watched the story of Watanabe-san (Shimura), a city official who leads the most mundane of lives. Within the first twenty minutes of the film (believe me, I'm an expert on the first twenty minutes of this film - I watched it twice in twenty four hours) he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. He wanders home, nearly getting run over by a car as he probably ponders his mortality and his years on this Earth and upon arriving, hears his son and daughter-in-law planning to scheme him out of his life savings. From there, Watanabe-san decides that if he's only got six months to a year to live, he better start living. He spends his first night touring a city he'd never seen after dark, with a drunken novelist, who shows him the town and pities him. He introduces him to women - one of whom steals his hat, prompting him to by a new one - and liquor and they end the night with Watanabe singing a sad song called "Life is Brief". From there, Watanabe becomes friends with one of his co-workers and learns that around the office, everyone referred to him as "The Mummy", because that's exactly how he acted - drained of life, robotic motions, no desire. Later, Watanabe-san decides that he wants to accomplish something, so sets out to clean up a local cesspool and replace it with a children's park.

SPOILER ALERT!


My reaction to "Ikiru" is kind of like that of a child being forced to eat his peas by his mother. It sat on my desk for about a week - I didn't want to watch it because I had seen it before and I didn't remember caring for it THAT much. However, soon I opened up and took my peas. Like the spoiler, bratty child, however, I didn't much care for it and while I didn't spit it out (stop the DVD), I decided I didn't like it, despite the fact that I knew it was good for me. I can see the greatness in "Ikiru" and even see why people herald it, as they do, but that doesn't mean I have to like it! (he said folding his arms and making his "I'm mad" face). I really wanted to like it too and for a while I did. The basic story is a good one. Man gets diagnosed with stomach cancer and decides it time to start living. However, there's something about Kurosawa, as he has this way of turning synopsis' that I'd normally be very into and making me dislike them (see "Rashomon") - not the greatest quality to have. Perhaps he's just not my style and that's okay. In fact, I know he's not my style, but I'm still determined to find one of his that I like, so we can add him to the list with Bogart.

One of the things I really hated was - bear with me here - Shimura's performance. He didn't show quite enough emotion if you ask me (God, they're gonna' crucify me for this one - oh well, won't be the first time). His performance, to me, was just SO robotic. Take for instance the scene where he sings "Life is Brief" in the bar. When the camera pans in tight, just showing us Watanabe's tear filled face, notice that Shimura doesn't blink the entire time. I also had a problem with the fact that he barely delivered his lines audibly, but rather grunted them. Now, granted, there was a language difference, so maybe I'm wrong, but his voice seemed very grumbly and it was annoying and again, emotionless. I realize that for a while, this would be the desired attributes for our character, but once he starts living his life, going out with the girl from his office, his reactions and emotions should have slowly gotten more filled with life, slightly anyway. I don't know, maybe I'm just grasping at straws here, but it was something I thought of while I was watching and wanted to bring it up. I also hated everything after Watanabe's death - the WAY TOO LONG scenes with the city officials talking at Watanabe's wake. It was boring and at that point, I wanted it to just end.


I kind of wish they hadn't killed Watanabe though, to tell you the truth. Normally I'm all for character's dying, as I usually loathe happy endings, but here I think the film should've ended with Watanabe on the park swing and we should have heard nothing of him passing away. That way, we could be left to interpret whether he died or not. Because had they done that, we could have assumed that he actually never had stomach cancer. Think about it - he was told by the doctor it was just an ulcer. The only way he (and we) know he has cancer is because of the old coot in the waiting room who correctly predicts what the doctor will say and tells him what that really means. We could have interpreted the whole movie as Watanabe never actually having cancer and just looking for some excuse to start living his life. I think that would've been a better way to go and while I'm down on "interpret your own ending" endings lately, I really think it would've worked wonders here. Also shave off about forty minutes (preferably the forty minutes at the wake) and this could've been miles better. As it is, I'll stick with Yasujiro Ozu when it comes to getting my human, Japanese films, as he seems to appeal to my tastes much better than Kurosawa and "Ikiru".

RATING: 5.5/10  I guess I should say I didn't HATE it or anything, just disappointed I guess. Kurosawa still has plenty of chances to win me over though and I'll probably do "Ran" before too long.

MOVIES WATCHED: 809
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 192

COMING SOON
Guys and Dolls (1955 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Earth Entranced (1967 - Glauber Rocha)
Das Boot (1981 - Wolfgang Petersen)
Shaft (1971 - Gordon Parks)
Don't Look Now (1973 - Nicholas Roeg)

February 27, 2014  10:22pm

Monday, February 24, 2014

691. De stilte rond Christine M./A Question of Silence (1982)


Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: Marleen Gorris
Written By: Marleen Gorris
Main Cast: Edda Barends, Nelly Frijda, Henriette Tol, Cox Habbema, Eddie Brugman

MEN ARE SCUM?

Thank you to the few who tracked me down in iCheckmovies - hopefully we can spy on what each other watched and have fun doing so. I took in "A Question of Silence" last night (which you would've known if you were following me on iCheckmovies.com), but needed an extra day to think about what I thought of it. All in all, it was okay I guess.


The film is a feminism piece and much like when I watched "Do the Right Thing", I got the feeling that I wasn't invited to this party. The film begins with three women being arrested. The women are strangers to each other and one by one, the police go to either their workplace or their home, draw their handcuffs and place the ladies under arrest. We soon learn that the three women were involved in a murder. The murder took place in a local boutique, when the shop owner (a man) catches one of the women, Christine (Barends) shoplifting. He tries to stop her, but is then confronted by the other two women, Annie (Frijda) and Andrea (Tol) and the three proceed in punching and kicking him, even going so far as to violently butcher his penis with a broken coat hanger. We see all of this in three flashback scenes and never actually see the murder, only hear it. The main story revolves around psychiatrist Janine van den Bos (Habbema), who is assigned to determine whether the women are sane or not. Along the way, Janine forms her own opinions of the women and her husband, a lawyer (Brugman), writes all three of them off as insane.

SPOILER ALERT!

That's the long and short of it, kiddies. The movie is fine, lingering somewhere in the average rating range. There weren't any particularly bad elements, nor were there any particularly good ones. The film mixes courtroom drama, psychological character study and feminist propaganda together nicely (not that I'd really know anything about a feminist piece) and works fairly well. The acting is solid from all involved and I especially liked Henriette Tol, who managed to mix scary and sexy seamlessly. How about that scene where she's picked up by a guy mistaking her for a prostitute and she has the most cold sex with him I've ever seen portrayed on film. Brilliant and creepy. Honestly though, the film doesn't really go that far. The whole thing revolves around one character's perception of the whole thing and it's a lot of dialogue and not particularly riveting dialogue either. I will laud the score though, which added something to the whole mix and the technique of showing us the crime in flashbacks and actually never SHOWING us the crime. That only made our imaginations run a little more wild, which always works better than anything that could be shown.


I was convinced that the psychiatrist would kill her own husband at the end of the film, but Gorris went for the "everybody laughs hysterically" ending. I'm not sure I really got that, nor am I sure I was supposed to. It wasn't a particularly good ending, was it? And what was with those other four or five women, the ones who were in the boutique, but never did anything? It was as if there was some sort of female cult that we were never told about and they all belonged to it....

Anyway, it is what it is. It's worth a look, just don't go expecting too much and you may come out loving it, as there are elements to love. You also may come out disliking, as there's plenty to get frustrated over too. However, you may be like me and feel very indifferent toward the film, because it is a tough nut to crack.

RATING: 6/10  Not bad, not bad at all. Just a tough one to get a good reading on and another viewing, sometime down the line could be in order.

MOVIES WATCHED: 808
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 193

February 24, 2014  6:36pm

Saturday, February 22, 2014

300. The Night of the Hunter (1955)


Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Charles Laughton
Written By: James Agee, from novel by Davis Grubb
Main Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce
Click here to view the trailer

Notes: Thanks to the few of you who took the time to swing by icheckmovies.com and befriend me! I feel so loved! Anyway, for those of you who missed the posting, I AM over at iCheck, under the username adduvall84. There's a link of the sidebar too, for those of you who don't feel like doing the work of typing in the address and searching me. You guys can also find my frequent commenter Ray over there (few visible scars) and some more of my friends, all people worth following. Just click the "friends" link under my name and give them a whirl. Let's connect with other movie fanatics and make these sites a little more fun! Also, I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again - I AM on Twitter and am looking to use that service more frequently. I need some more movie people over there, so take a moment and follow me on Twitter too @adduvall1984 or just simply click the "Follow" button, on the Twitter gadget, on the sidebar of this here blog. Now then...

"LEANIN', LEANIN'..."

This has been sitting on my desk for nearly one week, as it arrived from Netflix sometime around last weekend and has been waiting for my viewing ever since. It may go down in history as the longest someone let such a good movie sit on their desk, without breaking down and checking it out. Shame on me.


The film stars Robert Mitchum as Reverend Harry Powell, an impure man of the cloth (most places tend to write terms like "Reverend" and "man of the cloth" in parenthesis, suggesting that Harry may not actually be a real preacher. However, I don't think it's ever said that he isn't, just that he's a corrupt one) who is only out to serve himself, rather than the good Lord. The film begins with Powell being arrested for being caught in a stolen car. Meanwhile, Ben Harper, the patriarch of a small town family, has robbed a bank and made off with $10,000. In the process, Ben killed a couple of people and as he arrives home with sirens blaring behind him, he hands the loot to his young son, John (Chapin) and makes him and his sister, little Pearl (Bruce), promise to hide the money and swear never to reveal it's location. John promises just as the police ride up and arrest Ben, hauling him to prison to share a cell with the Reverend. In his sleep, one night, Ben begins to mumble something about $10,000 being hid, but before he can get out the whereabouts, he's awoken by Powell, who's been listening in. He stuffs socks in his mouth, so as not to accidentally reveal the whereabouts during his slumber and goes back to sleep. Days later he's executed for murder and all Powell knows is where the man is from and that he has a family. Being the greedy, evil man that he is, Powell sets his mind on tracking down that money, any way possible, driving to the small hometown of Ben Harper and wooing his widow, Willa (Winters). Eventually the two marry and later, Powell realizes that the children know where the money is hidden. That pretty much brings you up to speed.

SPOILER ALERT!


They call "The Night of the Hunter" a film noir and I suppose it is, but my definition of "film noir" is a little different than yours. See, I like to self apply my own definition to that term and my definition brings to mind the likes of police, investigators, detectives and ragtag groups of bank robbers, running the streets and chasing each other down. Those are the sorts of things I think of when I hear the term "film noir" mentioned. This - "The Night of the Hunter" - well, this is a whole different ball game. As far as I'm concerned, this movie is a tried and true horror movie, one that will surely have you checking the deadbolt twice before heading up to bed. You could've added Robert Mitchum to the list of actors who have wowed me by their BOOK performances way back when I watched "Out of the Past", in May 2012. Now, you could etch his name in granite and hang his picture in the actors Hall of Fame that exists in my own head, in the personal preferences section of my brain. I'll just go ahead and say that I think his performance here can be considered one of the most evil villains in all of cinema; I mean this guy was creepy! More on that later...

I'll go ahead and nitpick now, because there is definitely some nitpicking to do. First and foremost, the ending was - I hate to say it - awful! Man, really? REALLY!? You're going to leave me with a powder puff ending, with Ms. Cooper celebrating Christmas with the children? What a drag, man! In fact, Mitchum is hauled off like Sylvester at the end of a Tweety Bird cartoon and what he just spend over an hour establishing as one of the great characters to grace cinema, is nearly ruined! The way I see it, John fingers Powell in court, sending him to be hung. We cut to the gallows, where the Reverend is standing with a noose around his neck. John is in attendance, as Ms. Cooper thought it would do him good to get a little peace after the nightmare he's just lived through. As the noose is tightened, Powell begins to sing - "Leanin', Leanin', Leanin' safe and secure from all alarms....", staring a whole through John. The noose drops and Powell dies with a crooked, evil grin on his face. That's your ending right there and while I haven't found any evidence, I just have a strong feeling that Laughton was forced into the powder puff ending that we got. I mean, what was with John having a conniption, when the police finally arrest Powell, beating him with the doll and telling him to take the money? I didn't get that. Another thing I didn't care for was the intermission like middle portion, where nothing really seems to happen, Powell disappears for about fifteen minutes and the kids sing songs on their way down the river, while we're "treated" to National Geographic like shots of wildlife! WTF?! What was the meaning of showing all the animals? I will say though, that sending Powell away for fifteen minutes only made it THAT much more tense when he showed back up, riding a stolen horse across the landscape, singing his trademark song. It kind of throws ahead to Quentin Tarantino's Elle Driver and her trademark whistling, doesn't it?


Speaking of influences, the German expressionism is very present, as one can't help but think of films like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Nosferatu", especially during the scene where Powell stands over Willa's bed, switchblade in hand, while shadows of pointy sets linger behind him. Brilliant, beautiful and haunting! As far as future influences go, I couldn't help but be reminded of Stephen King's "The Stand", when observing the character battle between the Reverend and Ms. Cooper, comparing them to Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail. I'd like to think that it's a very accurate observation and that I can't have been the first to notice that. I wonder if Mr. King was influenced at all by this film. You see, in my eyes, Powell is actually Satan and really, there seem to be a bunch of clues confirming this. There are dozens of instances in the film where he does NOT appear unless he's preceded by a shadow. How about that monstrous yell he gives, just as the children escape the cellar and close the door behind him, catching his fingers in the door (Seriously, if you don't remember the yell, go back and listen - it's scary!). Or what about the way Powell seems to disappear when Pearl turns the light on, during the scene where he's waiting outside Ms. Cooper's house, her with a shotgun in hand? Such a complex character that you could really study and take notes on and Mitchum brought it all to life. You could tell he was having fun up there too and that he knew just how to play the character. I'm not saying that Mitchum can relate to the evil that was Powell, but Mitchum controlled the character much like a puppeteer controls a marionette.


Ummm...in case you missed it in all that - I loved this! I could probably go another few paragraphs, but I won't just because. If you're one of the ones who aren't convinced that they were making great movies in the 50s, then here's your proof. I promise, it's nothing like any old movie you've ever seen and it kind of breaks a lot of the unwritten rules of the times, does it not? I mean, I was pretty freaking shocked when they actually killed off Shelley Winters (a notable star at the time, I think) at the HALFWAY MARK! I couldn't believe it. By the way, while I LOVE most old movie posters, this one is pretty crappy. If I was going to see this movie based solely on this purpose, I'd be expecting a film about marital unbliss and that's all. It should have been a much darker poster, with a sole shot of Mitchum and his love/hate hands, with the tag line, "Would you like me to tell you the little story of right hand/left hand?" Man, I just love it when a movie effects me so much that I start playing armchair filmmaker!

RATING: 8.5/10  Would've been an easy '10/10' had there been a better ending. That's probably the longest review I've written in a while and that's a good thing!

MOVIES WATCHED: 807
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 194

February 22, 2014  2:32pm

Thursday, February 20, 2014

511. WOODSTOCK (1970)


Running Time: 211 minutes
Directed By: Michael Wadleigh
Main Cast: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker
Click here to view the trailer

THREE DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC

This is another one where the running time becomes somewhat of an issue. THE BOOK clocks "Woodstock" in at 184 minutes. However, I watched the director's cut, which most sites clock in at 224 minutes. I added up the two discs of footage that I watched to total 211 minutes, so that's what we'll go with and hopefully that clarifies for anyone else out there who may have been questioning the true duration.


We all know Woodstock right? The August 1969 concert to end all concerts, where the most momentous musical acts of the time came together to play their instruments and sing their songs for the benefit of promoting peace, love and rock & roll. Well, if you still don't know what I'm talking about then you truly MUST check out Michael Wadleigh's documentary chronicling the three day long music festival, just to see what all the hubbub is about. The film begins before the crowds even arrive in Bethel, New York, to a 300 acre piece of farmland, where soon strumming guitars and loud voices (like those of Janis Joplin or Country Joe) would overtake the melancholic sounds of nature and the last big battle of a generational war would be waged.  Richie Havens kicks off the music, tapping his feet and strumming his heart out, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Acts like Joan Baez, The Who, Country Joe, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin and Jimi Henrix would follow, all of them hopefully realizing that they were a part of something special. Of course, the acid and marijuana were flowing like Niagara Falls, so maybe they didn't realize anything. In between the music, we get to meet a few of the concert goers, many of whom weave in and out of the sometimes 400,000 plus crowd, with nothing more on than their smiles. We hear of babies being born, marriage proposals being issued and bad acid being circulated, all just another day in the life of a 60s, American hippie.


It really was a generational war, wasn't it? The entire decade of the 60s was one big war of words & actions and if that's the case, could we consider people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin the generals of this war, fighting on behalf of the younger combatants? It was a time when music truly inspired people, I think and musicians actually sang about things that meant something to them. It was a time when it would've been easy to confuse one of the musicians with a peddler on the street. Look at Country Joe for instance or the members of Canned Heat - they look like anybodies. They didn't need flashy attire, smoke machines or fireworks, but instead, they let their music be their music speak for them and what set them apart was the fact that they knew how to express themselves through instrument and through songwriting. I'm going off on a tangent, let me back up.


Was this film a must see? Sure, see it, by all means. Did I REALLY enjoy it though? Not really. It was fine, I guess and honestly, it made me realize I should be listening to more old music and rediscovering some of these old bands, but judging it as a movie, I can't say it was very enthralling, as it relied more on listening than watching. I enjoyed watching the performances (especially Joe Cocker, my favorite of the bunch) and witnessing the the people of the times, but judging it strictly as a documentary, I can't get too giddy about it. That being said, I enjoyed myself, for the most part and at nearly four hours, it was a super easy watch. Seeing actual documentary footage of Hendrix on the screen was just great and I think I'd compare it to watching "Triumph of the Will" and actually seeing real footage of Hitler. Not that I'm comparing Hendrix to Hitler, in any way other than actually seeing real footage of these figures. I'm not sure how Michael Wadleigh actually put out a concert film without including clips of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, but he did and it was a travesty, as I was wanting to see both. I would've included The Grateful Dead in there too, but with some research I found out that Jerry Garcia was displeased with the band's set and insisted that the footage not be used. Instead, footage of a Garcia interview is included.

An interesting footnote: Woodstock's two featured acts - Hendrix and Joplin - died just over one year later, both of apparent drug overdoses. It's just so tragic to watch these performers doing their thing and knowing that in about a year they'll be dead. They had no idea, but I do. Weird - to me anyway. With all that being said, I'd say most are going to enjoy this, but as a documentary, I've seen much better and as a movie, I'd rather watch something else. That's not saying I didn't enjoy the time spent with this film, because I did.

RATING: 5/10  Let's just slice it in half and call it a day. There's apparently an even more restored version that was just recently released that actually does include some of that CCR footage.

MOVIES WATCHED: 806
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 195

February 20, 2014  11:53pm

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

331. Bab el hadid/Cairo Station (1958)



Running Time: 77 minutes
Directed By: Youssef Chahine
Written By: Mohamed Abu Youssef, Abdel Hay Adib
Main Cast: Farid Shawqi, Hind Rostom, Youssef Chahine, Hassan el Baroudi, Abdel Aziz Khalil

Note: I wanted to remind everyone that I'm on icheckmovies.com and can be found under the username adduvall84. I'm reminded of this because my frequent commenter Ray has also recently joined and can be found under the username "few visible scars". We'd both like to connect with more people over there, which is why I'm putting both of our user names out there. Look us up and start checking movies! I even have my "245 Movies You REALLY Must See Before You Die: A Personal Ongoing Canon" list posted there, so sign up and see where you stack up when it comes to some of my fav flicks. Now then...

FLAT

This was on a "very long wait" via Netflix, so I took to the interwebs last night, to see if I could track it down and thus delete it from my Netflix queue, so I didn't have to worry about it any longer. I managed to track it down and at only seventy-seven minutes, knocked it out in no time.


The film is an Egyptian drama (the first Egyptian film from THE BOOK?) and takes place in a busy Cairo train station. Among the frequenters of the train station is Qinawi (Chahine - also the director), a lame man who works for a newsstand owner, selling papers. Qinawi is not only lame, but also very sexually frustrated, hanging posters of scantily clad women around the room that he occupies. Qinawi is obsessed with Hannuma (Rostom), a voluptuous woman who sells cold drinks to overheated patrons. There's also Abu Siri (Shawqi), Hannuma's fiance and a man who is looking to unionize the workers of the train station. In reality, Hannuma is actually fascinated with Abu Siri and takes offense to her girlfriends teasing her about a prospective relationship with the lame and possibly not all there Qinawi. Despite his best efforts and his offering of a gold necklace, Hannuma does nothing more than play Qinawi like a fool and lead him on, fully aware that she'll never actually be his. After a while, Qinawi realizes this and snaps!

SPOILER ALERT!


Not much to say about this one really. Unfortunately, it just didn't do anything for me and I may still be able to chalk it all up to the lingering effects of watching "The French Connection" and "The Conversation", two that blew my socks off and deserved higher ratings than they got. Because of those films, now everything is looking worse in comparison, which didn't bode well for the already flat "Cairo Station" - a film that resembled an deflated balloon. Perhaps it was my own fault, but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't cozy into this one last night. It's not that there was anything particularly wrong, it's just that the film wasn't loud enough and needed more "oomph" to really drive home it's bullet points. The story was simple & harmless, yet the whole thing (even at 77 mins.) seemed to take forever to get to the meat & potatoes. Is it just me or should they have had Qinawi snap a little earlier, so as to give us more to chew on? I think so. Had they had him kill Hannuma's friend earlier in the film, maybe at the thirty minute mark, then we'd have had a little more suspense and a little more to build toward. As it was, that didn't happen until nearly the end anyway and they took a character that we were meant to sympathize with and turned him into the bad guy. Or was he the bad guy? Or were we actually supposed to continue sympathizing with him, even when he was threatening to kill Hannuma? I don't really know and in fact, I don't really care. The film just didn't do it for me and I may even have to take some of the blame on this one. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood last night, although I think the film deserves a little blame too for flat out failing to win me over and get me attached to the story and characters.

RATING: 3.5/10  Yeah, I think I even took to "The Cool World" a little more than this. Perhaps I'll take a night off to let the effects of the Hackman double shot wear off. Man, those movies are still weighing heavily on the forefront of my mind!

MOVIES WATCHED: 805
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 196

February 18, 2014  10:12pm

Sunday, February 16, 2014

399. The Cool World (1963)


Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Shirley Clarke
Written By: Shirley Clarke, Carl Lee, Robert Rossen, from novel and play by Warren Miller
Main Cast: Hampton Clanton, Carl Lee, Yolanda Rodriguez, Clarence Williams III, Gary Bolling

"IT WASN'T HARD TO MAKE HARLEM LOOK LIKE HARLEM..."

THE BOOK, as well as several other sites list this movie as being 125 minutes. The copy that I watched online last night, however, clocked in at 101 minutes and didn't seem to have anything missing. It was complete with beginning and end credits and everything in between seemed to be present, so I'm putting a check next to it and considering it done.


The film is a very gritty looking, early piece of independent cinema from the eyes of Shirley Clarke. It chronicles what life may have looked like for a young teenager, living in Harlem, in the 60s. The film's main character is Richard a.k.a. Duke (Clanton), a teenager who has aspirations of starting his own gang. Early in the film, Duke meets up with a local man named Priest (Lee), a pimp and gangster in the neighborhood who shows Duke a gun and wants to sell it to him for $50. Duke just knows that if he could get a hold of the "piece", that'd be the keystone of starting his own gang. Meanwhile, Duke gets together with the rest of his fellow gang members and schemes to get rid of Blood (Williams), the gang's current president. The boys establish a clubhouse and put up a prostitute named LuAnne (Rodriguez), whom Blood introduces to the group. The rest of the film pretty much deals with Duke and him trying to come up with the money to buy the Colt .45 from Priest.

Yeah, that's just about it. I can't say I hated it or anything, because in fact, I was kind of shocked that it had as much of a plot as it did. For some reason, I was thinking that this was a documentary about jazz music (not sure where I got that idea), so when I saw that it simply had a jazz score and was about the unfortunate lives of Harlem youngsters, I kind of perked up (although would a jazz doc have been all that bad?). On the other hand, I can't really say I loved it either, as the audio/video of the whole thing was extremely low quality and there were sentences here and there that I couldn't even make out (sound wise). Also, while I didn't hate it, it's another one of those situations where I just don't get it's inclusion. I mean, I'm sure it was a big deal in 1963, but does it still hold up today? I don't think so.


All in all though, I guess I should count my lucky stars that it wasn't another 60s, experimental Jack Smith film and honestly, I've sat through MUCH worse than this. Compared to other experimentals that I've had to sit through, this was down right Kubrickian. Had I not watched after watching two stellar movies, I  may have even liked it a bit more, but a part of me kept yearning for a third dose of Gene Hackman. Anyway, it was good that I watched this during black history month and call it a, somewhat nice surprise, although still nothing worth going out of your way to see. THE BOOK does note that the film is one of the more hard to find films, so if you're on the same journey I am, good luck. It can be found online though, just look hard.

RATING: 4/10  I'm feeling a bit generous today, so let's call it '4' and be on with our lives. Don't expect much and you may be pleasantly surprised.

MOVIES WATCHED: 804
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 197

COMING SOON
Woodstock (1970 - Michael Wadleigh)
Ikiru (1952 - Akira Kurosawa)
The Night of the Hunter (1955 - Charles Laughton)
A Question of Silence (1982 - Marleen Gorris)
Cairo Station (1958 - Youssef Chahine)

February 16, 2014  6:28pm

Saturday, February 15, 2014

579. The Conversation (1974)


Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola
Main Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF HACKMAN: 2 of 2

You know, I was thinking, I really need to watch the other four Dirty Harry movies, the other two "Mad Max" movies and "The French Connection II" NOW, while I still have the originals in my head. It's not that I'm dying to see them, because I'm sure the originals hold up better, it's just that it would be nice to be able to say I've seen them. Anyway, that was my random thought of the day and now we move on to my first Francis Ford Coppola film from THE BOOK - "The Conversation".


Let's see, let's see, where to begin....The film open with a shot of a public square, in San Francisco. You know the type, the place where people go for lunch, where street performers hone their craft and where couples sit around the fountain and make lovey dovey. It is revealed that we're meant to be focusing on a certain couple (Williams and Forrest), who are under surveillance via Harry Caul (Hackman) and his team, which consists of Stan (Cazale) and another man. Harry Caul is the best bug man on the West Coast, or so say the people in the business of bugs. Harry makes it a point not to get involved in the conversations that he records, thus being one of the more professional surveillance men in the biz. Once the conversation between the couple is through, Harry makes the tapes, with the intention of delivering them to "the Director", the man who hired Harry. When Harry goes to deliver the tapes, however, the Director is out of the office and the assistant to the Director offers to take the tapes and pay Harry. Harry, being the professional, refuses to hand over the tapes to anyone but the Director and thus decides to leave. Before leaving, he is warned that keeping the tapes could put him in danger. Upon leaving the building, Harry notices the couple that he's just bugged around the office, realizing that they work there. This leads Harry to take a closer listen to the tapes, realizing that the couple are being targeted for murder. A particular line in the conversation tips him off - "He'd kill us if he got the chance". This puts Harry into a question of integrity: does he stay out of his clients business or does he interject himself and try saving the couple? Along the way, Harry (a very private man) is bugged himself.


This was a situation where I went into the film dying to see it and expecting to love it, but having this odd feeling that I'd be disappointed by it. Well, it turns out, I wasn't disappointed and actually really liked this movie. This is another one (like "The French Connection") where I have to ask the question: "What's not to like?". You've got Gene Hackman, whom I personally love, as he always brings the goods and knows when to be intense and when not to be. In "The Conversation" we see a very reserved, very subtle performance by Hackman, where rarely a raised voice comes into play. Hackman knows just what he's doing, with all the control and intricacy as the surveillance man he's portraying. The thing I really admire about Hackman here, is that there is absolutely ZERO trace of Popeye Doyle, proving that Hackman knows how to be a different man on each and every set he graces. The character is probably one that you could write a thesis on and I loved him. THE BOOK makes note of his comfort level in listening to conversations from hundreds of yards away, comparing it to his comfort level while in a room with his friends and how different they are. You've got a man that I can really, kind of, relate to, as I'm also a very private person who doesn't really do well with others. I mean, I get by and I'm not as bad as Harry, but I think I'd be more comfortable watching from afar, than interacting face to face - I know I would.

SPOILER ALERT!


You've also got a plot that's easily followable, intense, interesting and just plain great. Okay, so maybe it's just me, but I've always been fascinated with voyeurism (not that I'd participate in it - I'm no peeping Tom!) and surveillance stuff and that's what this movie revolves around. I just love that this entire film relies so heavily on one, five minute exchange between Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest and that the whole twist of the entire picture relies on the emphasis of ONE WORD!! That's insane, yet it all makes sense and in the end, we're left with that "OH SHIT!" moment, just like Harry.

I may rate it a few notches below a '10' today, but I think when I think back on this movie it's really going to dawn on me just how perfect it was. And what about that score - brilliance! It was just perfect and honestly, the combination of that music coupled with this film, makes it the best composition I've heard in quite sometime. It portrays the eeriness of being watched, coupled with the paranoia and guilt of our main character and it just suits the film so well. Have a listen. I think whenever I hear that piece, all of the details of this film are going to come flooding back: Hackman's master class performance, the beauty of the camerawork, the near flawlessness of Coppola's writing & direction and the way the plot perfectly appealed to me.

RATING: 8/10  I think I liked "The French Connection" more, which is why I just can't go higher, but what a way to kick off this season. Now that I've watched a couple of heavy hitters, expect a few rarities in the days to come.

MOVIES WATCHED: 803
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 198

February 15, 2014  12:53pm

Friday, February 14, 2014

534. The French Connection (1971)


Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: William Friedkin
Written By: Ernest Tidyman, from novel by Robin Moore
Main Cast: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi
Click here to view the trailer

Note: So here's how it's going to work for these final two hundred films. Basically what I've done is taken the films that remain and divided them in two. In each pile, I tried to put an equal number of mainstream and rarities, as well as divvying up the decades; ie. making sure each pile had an equal number of films from the 50s, 60s and 70s (which is really all that's left, besides a handful of 80s and about six from the 90s). With that being said, I pretty much know what I'll be watching during this season, so expect me to jump around quite heavily between the decades. I think that's all that need be said...now then...

A DOUBLE SHOT OF HACKMAN: 1 of 2

I hope everyone who read it, enjoyed the latest TOP 20. I put a lot of hard work into it, as always and there were some tough choices that I had to make, but ultimately, I was pleased with the finished product. Anyway, it's time to make my way toward "901 watched" and that starts with Gene Hackman and "The French Connection".


The film's plot is pretty much your standard good guys vs. bad guys, as two NYC detectives take on a band of drug dealers. The detectives in question are Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Scheider). One evening, when they get off duty, Popeye convinces Cloudy to accompany him to the local watering hole, where he doesn't hesitate in pointing out a shady character and noting that he has a hunch the guy is into some drug deals. The shady character is Sal Boca (Lo Bianco), a store owner, who indeed IS involved in a drug deal with a group of Frenchmen and a local tycoon. Although, Popeye and Cloudy don't have any proof of this yet, they go on Popeye's hunch and tail Sal for days, even managing to get a wire tap on his phone, in hopes that they'll catch him with his hands in the cookie jar. Enter Alain Charnier (Rey), the Frenchman and the man with the heroin who plans to bring into the States and make a killing. He relies on the assistance of French actor Henri Devereaux, a French actor who won't be questioned as much due to his stature in the entertainment community. Eventually, Popeye and Cloudy are assigned a couple of feds, to help them, which doesn't make Popeye very happy - especially considering he knows one of the feds and is at odds with him.


I mean, that's it really and even that's probably too much information. All you really need to know is that it's a 70s cop flick about a few drug smugglers and a kick ass car chase. I suppose we could talk about that car chase, since I just brought it up. Well...it was amazing, was it not? The beauty part is that it's not technically even a car chase (which I'd define by one car chasing another), but rather it's one car chasing an elevated train. If you've ever read the particulars on it, it gets even more amazing as you realize that Friedkin and crew didn't even have the proper permits to shoot, thus there were times during the chase where actual, civilian cars were involved. In fact, there's a certain story about a guy getting sideswiped by the stunt driver and later having his car repair bills paid by the production. It's really something else and if you've never seen the scene, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. In fact, let's forget the car chase for a second, as there are dozens of other memorable, well filmed scenes filling up "The French Connection", including the scene with Hackman and Rey where Charnier tries to outsmart Popeye and lose the tail.


Seriously people, what's not to like? Seriously!? Because I couldn't find anything that I didn't like and all in all, I had an amazing time watching this last night. In fact, after getting up at 6:30am yesterday morning and not popping this in the DVD player until somewhere around 10pm, I didn't even begin to doze off and even when I laid down (which was past midnight), I just laid there for about ten minutes, thinking about what I just watched. What a great movie and I know I've said it before, but dammit, they just don't make them anymore, like they did in the 70s. Imagine a picture like this even getting nominated for a Best Picture Oscar nowadays, let alone winning! It would never happen. The 70s had a certain grit, a certain independence and filmmakers who knew what they wanted and would do anything to get it, like William Friedkin sitting in the backseat of the car, during the chase scene, to film it himself. Great, great stuff here people and this should've been at the top of your Netflix queue yesterday, so that you could have spent your Valentine's Day today with Popeye!

RATING: 9/10  I really wanted to go '10', but I just didn't get that '10' feeling when I was watching and that's something I require when giving out a '10'. Oh well, a '9' is still great and there's always a chance for an upgrade.

MOVIES WATCHED: 802
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 199

February 14, 2014  8:10pm

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TOP 20: #702 - #801

It's hard to believe that when I watch one more movie, I'll only have a "hundred and some" movies left to watch. It seems like only yesterday when the tables were reversed and I'd only watched a hundred and had 800 to go. It really is a wonderful feeling to know that, barring my sudden demise, I WILL finish this journey and be able to flip through the book, throw my finger down on a random title and remember seeing that movie and be able to give my opinion on it. Anyway, let's not harp on all that. There's still 200 movies to be watched and what we're here to focus on today is the 100 that I just finished watching. That's right, it's TOP 20 time again!! For the newcomers, I'll explain what's happening. Every time I watch 100 movies from THE BOOK, I take the time to make a TOP 20 list. There will also be a section at the bottom of ten honorable mention films, called "Ten Worth Mentioning". When all is said and done, I'll take all thirty films from this list (the actual TOP 20 and the "Ten Worth Mentioning") and add them to my personal, 1.000 greatest films list and that's that. It's worth noting that this my 1,000th post on the blog, which is also kind of surreal. That means that on 1,000 different occasions, I've come to my computer to write something. Just unbelievable!

I want everyone to know that, like always, I put a lot of thought and effort into this TOP 20 list. I didn't just throw it together haphazardly. I actually put thought into what movies I wanted to be included (not just on the TOP 20 list, but also on the "Ten Worth Mentioning") and where they should place. Like the past few times, I've decided to just copy & paste segments from my old reviews, instead of writing twenty new paragraphs. However, this time around I MAY add in a new sentence or two under that, in italics. Let's be honest, that's a lot of work for me to rewrite twenty new paragraphs and I think what everyone really wants to see is the placing of the movies anyway. I think that's all that needs to be said, let's get down to business!

CLICK HERE TO SEE A COMPLETE LIST OF THE LAST 100 FILMS I'VE WATCHED FOR THE "1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE" BOOK, INCLUDING MY INITIAL RATINGS OF THOSE FILMS

Note: I've revised some of the ratings for the following 20 films, as some of them needed a bit of tweaking.

20. Dirty Harry (1971) dir. Don Siegel  7.5/10
This is a seriously good movie, not just a popular one. It's amazing that back in the 70s what was popular is what was also good. Nowadays the mainstream, popular stuff is usually the worst stuff and it's the independent flicks that end up wowing us. Damn, do I love the 70s! It seems like anytime I watch something from that decade, I love it. What a great year that must have been to be a film fan.

It's interesting because, I don't think a '7.5' has ever made it to the actual TOP 20 list, which would make you think that this list is inferior to others. However, this is a damn fine list of films, so that isn't the case. Don't forget about Andy Robinson when watching this movie too, the guy you've never heard of who comes extremely close to upstaging Eastwood.


19. Three Colors: Blue (1993) dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski  7.5/10
Keep peeled eyes for the outstanding performance from Binoche, who performs a seminar on how to BECOME heartbreak and depression. There are some other people in there too, but let's be honest - this is a one woman show and that show is named BINOCHE. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the name Slawomir Idziak, the cinematographer of the picture and a brilliant one at that. You know you're watching the work of someone who knows what they're doing and not just some schmuck that had a degree.

Again a '7.5'. Both of these movies WERE great, I just couldn't bring myself to re-rate them at an '8', just because. In my review, I stated that "Three Colors: Blue" was a "tough nut to crack" and that I couldn't decide whether it was a masterpiece or a just really boring. What an outlandish remark for me to make, as this movie is FAR FROM boring. Might not go so far as to call it a masterpiece, but how about mini masterpiece?


18. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) dir. Pedro Almodovar  8/10
THE BOOK tries to downplay the farcial/screwball aspects of this film, but that's what it is, plan & simple and I loved nearly every minute of it! Sure, it's also an Almodovar film, which means it also has unique, gorgeous cinematography; top notch writing/directing, fantastic dialogue and a story that not only serves the purposes of hilarity, but is also quality stuff. I may not have liked it as much as "All About My Mother" and I definitely didn't like it as much as "Talk to Her", but it's an early work from Almodovar and it's still really, really good.

I was surprised that something I just watched this past week also happened to make it to my TOP 20, but I just couldn't deny this movie. I loved it and when I thought about it, I just knew that multiple more viewings would be not only welcome, but wanted. Carmen Maura is gorgeous here and the story is just so ridiculous (in a good way), it has to be seen to be believed.


17. The Long Goodbye (1973) dir. Robert Altman  8/10
Elliott Gould appeared in twenty episodes of the sitcom Friends and I can tell you now that I'll never look at those twenty episodes the same again. Who knew that Mr. Gellar was such a bad ass? Well, a lot of you did, apparently - but I didn't! I have to say, I have to give a lot of credit to the opening hook of Marlowe trying to track down some cat food. I guess it made Marlowe seem more human and therefore, more relateable. I mean, we never saw Bogart going out of his way to try and fool his cat into thinking he bought the right brand of cat chow. Speaking of Bogart, was it just me or did Gould even seem to bear somewhat of a resemblance to Bogey? I think so. Bottom line, any enjoyment I got out of this film began and ended with Elliott Gould and he can kindly make his way to the list of actors that I want to see a lot more of, preferably his early work, as I'm sure now he's just phoning in here and there roles, cameos and what not.

One other Altman film will appear further down the list, but let's talk about why the others were omitted for a minute. After some thought, I didn't think quite as much of "Nashville" as I initially did and really, it was only the FABULOUS Henry Gibson performance that I took away from that one. I ALMOST gave "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot, but in the end decided to give it to something else. "The Player" was another one that came really close to nabbing the honorable mention, but again, I just had to go with other movies. I'd still consider all three of those films really good and recommendation worthy though.


16. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) dir. John McNaughton  8/10
Boy, I gotta' tell you, watching this after watching a handful of foreign films probably wasn't a good idea. For starters, I really liked this and because I really liked it, I kind of felt like a miscreant. I mean, the film really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, both in subject material and in production values and is probably the polar opposite of the beauty that Kieslowski and his cameraman were able to capture. Of course, the subject matter that we're dealing with shouldn't be told in the same way that Kieslowski's subjects should be, so I guess making a comparison between the two is unfair. With "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" we're talking about a film that had a $110,000 budget and inexperienced actors. I'm always fascinated by films with small budgets, the kinds of movies that turn chump change into a real life, moving picture - it's amazing. The acing, in my opinion, isn't that great - but again, the bad acting almost lends itself to the deplorable storyline and it all seems to make some sort of odd sense.

Just too gritty and memorable for me to not include here. I love Michael Rooker and let's face it, he knew how to pull off homicidal maniac. And Nanni Moretti, if you're reading this, I'm really sorry your "Dear Diary" now has to share a spot with this, on my personal 1,000 list. If you don't understand that comment, go watch "Dear Diary".


15. The Great Escape (1963) dir. John Sturges  8.5/10
I mean, the cast is great, the plot is outstanding and the excitement & suspense haven't been this present in a BOOK movie in quite sometime. I LITERALLY jumped when the guys were escaping and the air raid horn began to sound. I felt like I was at the other end of Hilts' rope, waiting for my turn to play groundhog, peek my head out and run to freedom. The film clocks in at just under three hours, but it's the easiest three hours you'll ever spend watching a film, I guarantee it. I defy you to find someone who doesn't like this movie, because everything I'm looking at, has everyone singing it's praises. Favorite member of the cast? Either McQueen or Garner, I loved them both. In fact, Garner's character's little back and forth with the guard Vernor was ONE OF my favorite moments in the film, but as THE BOOK points out, almost every scene is a memorable one. Oh and I loved the theme song too!

I'll gladly welcome any and all escape movies on to my personal 1,000 list, with open arms. This is one of the great ones, although I still consider "Le Trou" to be a better example of what it takes to bust out of the big house.



14. Crumb (1994) dir. Terry Zwigoff  8.5/10
Growing up and still today, my brother was a self professed comic book nerd, so I'd actually heard the name Robert Crumb mentioned a few times (not that my brother read any of Crumb's stuff - strictly superheroes for him). Also, gracing my DVD shelf is a copy of "American Splendor", a biopic starring Paul Giamatti, about the life of Harvey Pekar, who wrote the comic book of the same name, which was sometimes drawn by Crumb. With all that being said, I took to the subject matter and loved what I saw. Not only was it a straight up documentary about one man's rise to fame and his refusal to sell out, but also a portrait of his childhood, what sculpted his eccentric personality and the troubled lives of his two brothers. You don't have to have an interest in comic books to come out of this film with a positive critique. All you have to have is an interest in people and their - what can be sometimes considered weird - behavior.

This was the season of the documentary, as not only did this make it to #14, the highest spot a doc has ever taken, but you'll also find one floating around in the "Ten Worth Mentioning" section. Is this my favorite documentary of all-time. Well, I'd probably give that honor to "Bowling for Columbine", but I'm fine with calling this a close second.


13. Smoke (1995) dir. Wayne Wang, Paul Auster  8.5/10
Look, this is just a really easy to watch movie that I think a lot of you are going to love if you give it a shot. It's not one many of us have heard of, I don't think, so it's also got that hole in the wall factor, the kind of film that you can spring on people and make them think you uncovered this rarely seen, little gem. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Harvey Keitel's big, at least ten minute monologue at the end, entitled Auggie Wren's Christmas Story, which is just a beautifully written piece. Whenever you can set a camera in front of someone and just let them go and they have the chops to pull it off, you know you've got talent on your hands and that's Keitel for ya.

I still absolutely LOVE that Keitel monologue. In my final thought for "Smoke", I said that the film wasn't "stellar or anything", but I think I was really wrong. It is pretty stellar, in fact, stellar enough to make it to #13 out of 100 films, which is pretty good.


12. Back to the Future (1985) dir. Robert Zemeckis  8.5/10
While looking over this film, I saw a comment that said "If you didn't like this film, then you just must not be ready for it yet. But your kids are gonna love it!". I say, if you didn't like this film, no matter your age, I'm flabbergasted, as it has elements that can easily appeal to both young and old. I mean, the story alone is so intricate and so clever that I just don't see how anyone couldn't at least get a kick out of it, let alone adore it. You've got the initial half hour or so, which sets up a lot of what we'll hear more about later - the meeting story of George and Lorraine, Mayor Goldie Wilson, Biff and his bullying of George, Uncle Joey - jailbird, the whole thing with the clock tower, etc, etc - there's just tons of stuff crammed into that first thirty  minutes, that we get to see played on later and stuff that you don't even think about that ends up either being a big plot point or just a subtle "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" moment. The film is filled with little subtleties. For instance, the news report at the beginning with the reporting of stolen plutonium and then a quick shot of the plutonium under Doc's furniture. I just can't go on enough about how genius this movie is and it totally sweeps me away every time. Not only is it clever, but it's also SO FREAKING SUSPENSEFUL. I still question whether or not Doc Brown is going to get that plug plugged in before Marty reaches the trip wire, at the end of the film! That's the sign of a good "edge of your seat" moment; when you've seen something countless times and still wonder what's going to happen.


11. Total Recall (1990) dir. Paul Verhoeven  9/10
You know what I really love about this movie? The fact that you can actually make a case for why it's so cliche and Hollywood. You see, in my opinion, nothing we view past Doug's visit to Rekall is actually really happening. It's all a part of his virtual reality vacation and the special, added secret agent feature. Therefore, since everything we're seeing is manufactured (fake), we have a reason why Doug, an ordinary man, is suddenly transformed into a super hero - because that's what he paid for. It also accounts for all the over the top special effects, excessive gun battles and the heroic ending. It's perfect. It's a loop hole that allows you to NOT roll your eyes at things that would normally be eye-rollable. Also, was it just me or did the plot to this remind anyone else of "Open Your Eyes"/"Vanilla Sky"? Man is unhappy with everyday life, so he goes to an agency that replaces reality with something more appealing. I'd have a hard time believing that the original author of the "Open Your Eyes" screenplay wasn't influenced by this, at least a little bit.

Still can't believe an Arnie movie won me over this hard. Oh well, because I stand by what I said about this one and am not ashamed to stick it at #11 on this list. Just a great movie and a lot of fun, which is what it's all about sometimes.


10. Forrest Gump (1994) dir. Robert Zemeckis  9/10
Who doesn't love "Forrest Gump", at least a little bit? Oh, I'm sure there's someone out there who can't stand Hanks' performance, the fact that it beat "Pulp Fiction" and "The Shawshank Redemption" for Best Picture or the overly sensitive directing of Robert Zemeckis. But it's such an easy picture to get lost in. Was Tom Hanks brilliant? I think so. Did it deserve the "big award" over the two aforementioned films? Nope. The honor should've gone to "Pulp" in my opinion and then "Shawshank", but I think we can all agree that 1994 was just a kick ass year for movies. Did the film go overboard on the sensitivity, just a little bit? Yes, it sure did...but, like I said, just a little bit. Actually, it didn't even bother me, but I can admit that it was just a little too sappy. I liked it, as I embraced the water welling up in the corners of my eyes during so many scenes. However, I think we all can admit that there's a big audience out there for sappy films like this and in that respect, it did what it set out to do. Not only did it blend comedy and drama perfectly, but it also scored home runs with it's score and it's performances. It also gave everyone something to identify with, with it's frequent uses of placing it's main character into the center of pop culture and U.S. history, with clever camera tricks that saw Forrest Gump sit side by side with the like of Lennon and Nixon. It made you feel each decade, not only with it's use of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, but also through the images on the screen. I wasn't born in the 70s, but the film gives me a little taste of what it might have been like.

This was originally given a '10', but in retrospect I had to cut it down just a little bit. Actually, I think it was everyone making me realize what a bitch Jenny was that made me drop it a little. Thanks a lot people for ruining this for me!!!! Just kidding :) No, the film is just a tad too Hollywood for me to go whole hog on, but hey, it still nabbed a top 10 spot, right? My wife was mildly pissed when she saw that I downgraded this one, but she got over it.


09. Heat (1995) dir. Michael Mann  9/10
It's a crime flick, ladies & gentlemen - need I say more. There's cops, there's bad guys and they play like cowboys and Indians in the street and that's really all you need know. Plus it's got Pacino and De Niro; that should be more than enough to skyrocket this classic to the top of your Netflix queue, especially if you haven't seen it. Let's talk about Pacino and De Niro for a second and who comes off as the better actor. Well it may be the recent intake of "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull" and other fantastic De Niro films, but I tended to lean more toward the De Niro performance here. Granted, I used to be Camp Pacino all the way, but, like I've said a thousand times before, THE BOOK will do wacky things to your cinematic taste buds and sometimes flip you to the exact opposite opinion. De Niro's Neil is a lot more reserved, cool, held back than Pacino's sometimes over the top Det. Hanna. De Niro knows when to turn up the volume and when to get a little more rambunctious and I liked that self control on his part.

As far as the story, like I said in the plot synopsis, the film never leaves you waiting for the next piece of the puzzle. It paces itself like a marathon runner, so that the viewer always gets a little something to tide them over until the next big rush of excitement. You've got the opening armored car heist then we get some story, then at about the halfway mark you get the bank robbery and the death of some key characters up to that point and then you get the rest of the story. It's beautifully paced and as someone who as seen a lot of long movies that haven't been well paced, I appreciated that.


08. Happy Together (1997) dir. Kar Wai-Wong  10/10
It 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.

It's worth nothing that all season, I only gave out three '10' ratings. This, "Forrest" and "Taxi Driver". Luckily, my feelings toward movies tend to change in retrospect (not always for the better) and thus, there are now eight movies that I'd consider flawless from the last 100 BOOK films I watched.


07. The King of Comedy (1982) dir. Martin Scorsese  10/10
The film also examines the expectations we put upon celebrities, that they have to be nice, polite and always sign our autographs, even if they're clutching their chest and claiming a heart attack. The lady who praises Jerry on the street and then seconds later wishes cancer on him always cracks me up, but also fascinates me. I feel sorry for celebs at times, how they're almost forced to live as prisoners, just because they wanted to pursue something that they were good at. How they can't even buy a gallon of milk without getting bombarded for a signature, a picture or a hug - something they probably once dreamed of, now just a hassle. The film explores a lot of fascinating ideas, holds great acting from both De Niro and Lewis, but also manages to be a laugh out loud riot. Scorsese proves with this and "After Hours" that not only can he make classics, but also classic comedies. That's versatility.

I'll never forget the first time I saw this, lying on the couch, at our very first apartment and knowing I was taking in something special. Back then, I wasn't as much of a Scorsese fan, so this was really my eye opening to the talent that Scorsese possessed. I have no problem upping this one to a '10' and calling it perfect.


06. Short Cuts (1993) dir. Robert Altman  10/10
Hell, there's even a few more characters, but I figure you're getting the picture by now. The film is a slice of life picture from the mind of Robert Altman, who doesn't paint Los Angelans to be a very noble people. What was my favorite story? Well, that's a toughie. I truly liked most of the stories equally as well, but if pressed to choose favorites, I'd rather choose favorite scenes. Perhaps my most favorite scene is the one that uses a substantial amount of Jack Lemmon, where he delivers a monologue to his son about the time he cheated on his son's mother. It's so brilliantly played by Lemmon, who manages to make clear the regret contained within his character. Perhaps, despite his cheating ways, Lemmon is the most noble of all the characters in the film, as he at least feels regret and TRIES to make amends for losing his son in the process. Other scenes that really stood out to me include: Chris Penn's character standing over a woman, a rock hoisted above his head, letting out a lifetime's worth of frustration; a character played by Lyle Lovett, a baker, becoming enraged that a customer hasn't come to pick up a cake they ordered, not realizing that the cake customers are the parents of the dying child who was hit by the car or perhaps the moment when you realize that two marriages are seemingly being repaired after a night spent having fun, drinking and letting loose. It's a beautiful film, filled with ugly characters and a world that I wouldn't want to live in, yet also coming with the realization that we all do live in this world.

I initially went '9.5', which is total bullshit. Why I didn't just pull the trigger and call it a '10' is beyond me, but I guess I do some nutty things sometimes. This one and everything that follows is so easily a '10', that it hurts! This is the easiest three hours you'll ever spend watching a movie, I promise. This should've been on the top of your Netflix queue yesterday!


05. Goodfellas (1990) dir. Martin Scorsese  10/10
This film was just FAR more interesting. The Ace Rothstein character of "Casino" did absolutely nothing to capture my interest, whereas I actually found myself, many times, wondering what it  must've been like to be Henry Hill, to live in that era, doing what he did, leading the life he lead. Oh and while we're talking Hill, let's not forget about Liotta, who has never really impressed me before, but this time really stood out to me. That one scene where he beats up the guy that tried to rape Karen - watch his face after he smashes the guy's face in and he's walking back across the street. He just looks like a killer. His facials are so brilliant, they're scary. Here's a guy - Liotta - who found himself shoulder to shoulder with one of the all-time greats (De Niro) and decided that he just had to bring his A game and that's just what he did. Kudos to Liotta! Bracco wasn't bad either, but tell me she doesn't look like Debra Winger's twin! I half kept waiting for the scene where we found out she had cancer and Shirley MacLaine showed up to give Henry guff about cheating on her.

Yeah screw "Casino", man! I, at no time, considered putting "Casino" anywhere on my list and looking back I almost want to cry at what a travesty that film was, despite such talent involved. Anyway, we're talking "Goodfellas", another one that I should have my head examined for not going full monty, '10' on. WHAT WAS I THINKING!?


04. Raise the Red Lantern (1991) dir. Yimou Zhang  10/10
Seriously, why couldn't THIS have been the film that ran for four hours?! I totally would've been down for even more of this and if I had to make one complaint it would be the ending. I know I shouldn't have expected a happy ending, but I really wanted one to emerge, somehow, some way. The mood and atmosphere are so bleak and dreary, however, that a happy ending here may have felt really artificial. Although, a faux happy ending, may have totally worked. By that, I mean just killing Songlian, because that's what she really wanted. Having her just go mad and wander around the palace for, seemingly, the rest of her days was a bit of a letdown, but I guess I can swallow that ending. Anyway, the film is pretty close to flawless, with some outstanding visuals that will surely leave your eyes thanking you for feeding them such beauty. The plot is totally there too and I was beginning to wonder if Chinese filmmakers even knew what an intriguing plot was. It was a breath of fresh air to see a Chinese film that didn't harp on the governmental oppression or the impact of historical changes on society and rather, just fed us a great film that I personally really feasted on. It was one that I gave a fair chance to, thank God, during a time when I had just watched a bunch of Chinese films that did absolutely nothing for me. It proves that you should NEVER short change a movie and always give a film a fair shake at winning you over.

Man, past me is such a bitch, isn't he? Pretty close to flawless? PRETTY CLOSE TO FLAWLESS??!! It is flawless you picky bastard!! Oh well, I'll be okay, I promise.


03. Chungking Express (1994) dir. Kar Wai-Wong  10/10
The thing that I love about "Chungking Express" is this: Just when I got used to the characters in the first story and not remembering that the film was split into two parts, the first story ends and the second one begins. It was at this time that I was kind of disappointed, as I wanted to continue to explore the detective and the criminal and see where things went. So then, the film has an obstacle: to make me forget about the first set of characters and make me fall in love all over again with the second set. It succeeded! In fact, as I said above, the second story was actually my favorite of the two and it wasn't until the film was all said and done and I reflected, that I realized that as much as I loved both stories, neither had enough meat to make up their own, full length movie - as much as we may have wanted them to.

This is one where I don't so much regret my initial rating (an '8'), but where I am happy to announce that this one just grew on me over time. I'm fine with the initial '8' and am also fine in saying that as time went by, I couldn't get this out of my head. I kept thinking about it and even wanted to re-watch it (which I didn't). A great movie that I think most will love and would work really well as an introduction to foreign cinema.


02. Raging Bull (1980) dir. Martin Scorsese  10/10
While it isn't quite as thought provoking or even as good as "Taxi Driver", I really think that this is the movie that put Scorsese on the map, thanks to the cinematography, the score and the subject matter. When you put "Raging Bull" side by side with "Taxi Driver", this is the one that looks a lot more professional and when watched, shows off memorable scene after memorable scene and just feels like something that should be lauded & praised. Whereas "Taxi Driver" looks a little more gritty and a little more underground; something that was made on a more personal level, "Raging Bull" looks like something that was made for the intention of turning heads and winning awards. Whether or not that was the intention or not, I do not know, but that's how it looks.

However a question came to mind while watching this: Would De Niro have been as successful without Scorsese and vice versa? Look guys, there's a reason some people call De Niro the greatest actor to ever grace the big screen and it's performances like this and "Taxi Driver" that prove those people right. With these two films, you get a chance to see two, completely different De Niro's and see what a versatile actor the man is. In "Taxi Driver" he creates a developed character, with inner torment and in "Raging Bull" he pours his heart out, no to mention the physical changes that must've been rough on him. Now then, take "Raging Bull", "Taxi Driver" and the rest of the Scorsese pictures out of De Niro's filmography and do we still have an actor that people worship? Maybe, but there's also a big "maybe not" on it too. Does Scorsese get the director acclaim that he's gotten without De Niro bringing the acting chops to the table for him? I think this one is a much easier to fathom "what if", because Scorsese IS talented, but I think he makes his name with other pictures and not TD and RB.


01. Taxi Driver (1976) dir. Martin Scorsese  10/10
 It's not a movie that really gives a whole lot to detail, but rather gives a whole lot to think about when the lights come up and you start filing out of the theater. The first time I saw "Taxi Driver", I didn't care much for it. It was definitely one of those films that, for me, took repeated viewings before I was finally able to peel back the layers and it's become one of those movies where every time I watch it, I get new ideas and pick up on new things. I've come to realize that the film isn't just about a nutty hack who cruises the streets. That it's probably the creation of one of the most interesting characters in all of film - Travis Bickle, of course. Not only is "Taxi Driver" a fantastic piece of character development, but also a superbly written (by Paul Schrader) inner conflict, probably the best inner conflict ever committed to celluloid.


Well, there it is. "TD and RB" are the big winners, not to mention Martin Scorsese who took four of the top 10 spots and cements himself as one of my favorite directors. From the moment, I re-watched "Taxi Driver", I said to myself "this is the #1 spot of the next TOP 20, until something better comes along". Well, nothing better came along. Some came close, but nothing managed to make me think as high of it, as I do of "Taxi Driver". What a film, what a performance and what a character to ponder! I already can't wait to watch this movie again and develop new ideas and new theories. Is Travis insane or is he the only sane one in a completely mad society? That's up to us to decide.


TEN WORTH MENTIONING: Mean Streets (1973), Prizzi's Honor (1985), Sherman's March (1985), Drowning by Numbers (1988), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Babe (1995), The Usual Suspects (1995), Breaking the Waves (1996), Open Your Eyes (1997)


SINS OF OMISSION - ENTRY #4: BEFORE SUNRISE (1995) AND ENTRY #5: BEFORE SUNSET (2004)

Yep, so I decided to take this opportunity to add these two gems to my personal list. True, I haven't done formal, full length reviews for them yet, but we'll let that be something for me to do on a rainy day. For now, we'll rely on the mini reviews from the January recap to tide us over and be done with it. These two stuck with me so well, that I couldn't help but go ahead and just include them. I omitted "Before Midnight", however, because it's actually on my next list, so it will get another chance to make my list.


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Well, boys and girl, that about does 'er. I hope you guys enjoyed the eighth presentation of a TOP 20 list. This is the only time of year where I actually ask for comments, so feel free to let your thoughts fly and tell me where I went wrong and where I went right. I welcome any and all opinions, so don't be shy. I WILL NOT be taking a hiatus this time (as I normally do after making a TOP 20), as I just took one about a month ago. So expect reviews to be forthcoming as early as tomorrow. I think I will take the rest of the day off though, to get caught up on some DVR stuff that I've been neglecting.

It's worth noting that the next 100 will kick off with A DOUBLE SHOT OF HACKMAN, which will feature "The French Connection" and "The Conversation". I'm definitely looking forward to those two and who knows, they could both be key films in the next TOP 20.

February 12, 2014  1:31pm



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...