Saturday, January 30, 2010

review: Dodge City

Flynn and deHavilland together again, but this time in the notorious Dodge City. Directed my Michael Curtiz, Flynn is the town hero who, after a tragedy, takes on the role of sheriff to clean up the town. Mostly warring against one man in particular, who is the center of most the vice in Dodge. It's hard to explain who deHavilland is without telling too much of the story, so let's just leave it at: she's his girl. Ann Sheridan hardly has a role in the movie, although she does have a couple snippets of singing - which she isn't amazing at anyways. Why she got third billing is beyond me. It has a really great cast of supporting characters - no kidding, they are top notch, and they include my favorite "old man" of the movies, Henry Travers. It also includes Flynn's constant sidekick Alan Hale, and Donald Crisp, Ward Bond, and Bruce Cabbot and Victor Jory. Also, the technicolor cinematography is quite beautiful - wonderful and fantastic to see in a movie from the 30s.
I'm pretty sure this came out after Stagecoach became such a huge hit. Suddenly, people realized that westerns would be more than just "B" pictures. This movie was epic in the sense that it was in color which was rare in 1939, it had the Flynn/deHavilland team, and it includes most of the devices that make westerns classic: cattle, trains, law, shootouts, fights, the essensial good vs. bad. Especially the barroom brawl scene, which is fantastic! EVERYTHING gets torn apart! It is kinda interesting to consider that this movie was made before the western cliche was established, but this movie is almost entirely a western cliche - in a good way. Watching the special features of the film, they talked about the premiere of this movie in Dodge City as a huge publicity event, which it was. They had rodeos and a parade, and it became almost a festival surrounding the showing of this one movie. Hearing about it, you can't help but wonder how amazing that would have been.
But, all in all, it was good with lots of action and mularky.
3 out of 5 stars

Review: Public Enemies

For the most part, I love this movie! Holy Cow, do I!
Story: basically a somewhat fictionalized view of the final days of John Dillinger - a famous Bank Robber during the Depression and "Public Enemy No. 1" Since he is a historical figure, I don't think I will be giving too much away by saying that.
Dillinger is played by Johnny Depp - and I can't tell you how amazing he is. I love Johnny Depp because he is a bit of a chameleon. He is known for these wierd Tim Burton roles, but if you look over his entire span of work, he has a wide variety of experiences under his belt. He's just brilliant, that's all.
Melvin Purvis is played by Christian Bale, and it was nice to see him outside of the Batman movies. I haven't seen much of his work outside of those, but he seems to be also very good. Very meticulous about portraying a character, down to the mannerisms and habits. He's the "bad" guy, but he's not, and you can see the lines that he doesn't want to cross as he crosses them.
Cinematography in this movie is AMAZING. There are some really beautiful shots and quite interesting ones too. The artistic team did an amazing job recreating both the high class and the low desperation of the 1930s. I'll say it again: we need to bring back those fashions (and many other things), at least them men's fashions. There is something about it that is so suave. I will say that the modern love of violence, bullets, and action is quite present. I can't really complain, because this is a more realistic way of portraying these stories, and this is probably what it was really like, but for me anyways, I just get riddled from the constant noise and the fast action of those longer shootout sequences. That was really my only real complaint. Also didn't need the sex scene in there. But that is a whole other thing, which will be this whole other paragraph.
Okay, so I don't want to slam on the recent generations fascinations with sex scenes, but most of the time, I find them unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I like romance, and I understand that sex is a natural part of the human existence as well as an expression of romance (sometimes), but (sometimes) its more ugly than it is beautiful, and again, most of the time, a waste of screen time. I'm old fashioned, but I like the old hints into the fade out into the morning after. You don't have to show it, we know what goes on in between. And we used to be satisfied with that too. Plus so many movies now use it as a cheap device. I just think it is an easy way out now. Back in the day, directors/writers/actors could make the audience feel the "sex" (as a feeling, not the action) without having to show it. Have we deteriorated so much that this is not possible anymore?
Back to the movie: It was great!
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Theatre Review: CSFAC Sweeney Todd

Playing at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center until Feb. 14th.

The Space: I normally don't include this in reviews, but its a new space to me, and I just have to say something about it. First of all, it is in an Art Deco late 30s, early 40s style - gorgeous! Secondly, the entire building got a facelift about 4 years ago I guess, and the theatre was no exception. Apparently, we are talking billions of dollars here. The house itself is a pretty good size with only ground seating, but with a very nice rake. The stage is also not too big - not really a backstage unless you make one. The wings are also limited, and if the set wasn't so huge, I could probably tell you more about sightlines. The thing that does suck about this place is storage - specifically set storage. I haven't been able to wander around a bit, but apparently there is very little. Aside from that, storage is pretty good. Costumes has a couple of nice areas, and, if it wasn't such a mess, props would have a wonderful space too.
Back to the show:
Set: "Wow" is all I can say. I saw the space before it had the set in it and ooking at it then I could not believe they were going to be able to do it. With the help of taking out two rows of seats to build out, they managed quite well. It is a two-level set of course, with the core of it being stable. The top back is made to look like colored frosted glass - which is where Fogg's Asylum is played. To stage right via bridges is Turpin's area. Basically a door leading "in" to the house and a door into a room, which can be made into specifically Johanna's room by a skid with a sofa on it. Stage left up top is a door and a stairway. Top center is the barber shop Which has, obviously a hatch that can be removed for the uh ... "falls"
On ground level stage right is mostly entrances - 2 of them. this is also where the roving stair unit lives when it is not on stage. Taking up the center and to the stage left portion is the Lovett area. This is the wonder of the set. This is an area of three. There is a skid that can be re-set for either the parlor, or the pie shop. There are layers of wall options from the bakehouse with a small door for the "victim shoot," the street, the pie shop with a wooden door, and the parlor with a curtained doorway. Also, the side of the shop is a moveable wall that can either be closed for most of the show, or opened to be the wall and oven in the backhouse. It's terrible to describe, but really interesting to see.
What else you ask? Well there is the boat for the opening sequence (which, if you ask me is more of a pain that it is worth it for that 5 minutes or so. But its interesting enough). There is also the fold-up Pirelli's wagon. There is another wagon laden with fruit and such for the market bit, but I completely fail to see why that is needed for all the minute is on stage. Don't get me from, it looks good, but there really is no reason for it.
Painting wise, it is done very well. Their color mixing is spot on. Their stone work is amazing. The only problem I have is the floor. I don't understand why they didn't fresh black the floor. And for that matter, I don't understand why the crew didn't mop the damn floor for the first week or so. Sorry, bit of a pet peeve of mine. Can't stand dirty floors. Eventually they started cleaning every night, but I decided to go ahead and do it since I get there earlier than they do.
Oh yeah, forgot downstage. Dowstage left and right are two very tall pillars. I'm gonna go with 12'-14'. I'm not sure of the exact height. On top of those pillars are 2 spots. It's really neat to see, but I am kinda glad I was not one of the Spot Ops chosen to go up there. They have to wear harnesses and sit on little boxes, and from what I hear it is quite uncomfortable. But the pillars look amazing. They really do look like parts of brick archways. Smack dab center is a sectioned pit. There are three sections, with a two "bridges" seperating them on top. Down Center is the grave. At about 10 minutes to Top of Show they have two guys come out a dig a grave. I don't know what is used for dirt, but I was definately told that is was expensive and hard to find. This grave is on a lift, so that at certain times, they lower it a couple notches, which makes it look as though they are digging deeper and deeper. Nice effect. Then at the start of the show, the lift is dropped down completely, the "grave" is removed, and Sweeney makes his entrance in the opening when the lift is brought up - they also repeat it at the end with Sweeney and Lovett. Kinda creates a nice effect.
Props/Set Dressing: Normally I am quite picky about this, but in this case, I really don't have too much to say. Most everything works really well, looks appropriate and looks historically accurate.
* The rig up for the grinder looks a little thrown together, and too small, but it works well, and if it was a home instead of a business, it would have worked better. But the idea is good.
* For some reason I was delighted with what they used for the pies. I thought they would just make edible dough minus the fillings, but they were kind. They started off with Hot Pockets, which worked, but did look a little too much like what they were. Then they switched to Cutie Pie Fruit pies. Which worked wonderful as far as looks go. And the actors were happy too.
*I guess the only thing I have a problem with, and it is a big problem to me, is the chair looks like something out of the 1950s. They painted it back with red vinyl for the seat. Drives me crazy! I mean, I now that it is the center piece of the who second act, and you want it to kinda stand out, but this is terrible! I also get that vinyl is easily washable, and therefore is easy clean-up with the blood, but It doesn't fit at all!! I just want to go up there and recover and repaint the darn thing. Oh, it just irritates me!

Lights: Let me tell you, there are some sexy light ques. But there are also some problem spots. *Well, there are hot and cold spots that appear in certain ques that don't blend together like they should, and make for sore spots - as well as a couple really terrible follow ques with the intelligent lights. Seriously, you're watching a scene, and then a square of light comes shooting across the scene. Then flashes of color that look like a UFO appearence on the stairs just as the lights go down for a scene shift.
* The spots are also problems. There are four - the two in booth and the two on the pillars have completely different tones and intensities. And between the two in the booth, one is much brighter than the other. There is no consistancy. More often than not, two totally different spots will be up in the same scene and you have one person singing in a warm pool while the other is in a cold, crisp spot.
*Now, I don't really mean that I hate spotlights, because they can be really useful and appropriate in the right show, but they are also a real pain in the ass. I don't like the convention of "a person is singing, they need a spot" especially not in Sondheim's work where several layers of singing are happening at once and going on and off a character as they start/stop singing. Again, there are moments when it is incredibly appropraite, but most of the time they're just not neccessary.
*The moment of "My arm is complete again" is beautiful! An Intelligent light puts a small, cold spot on the razor, and then as the scene goes into the "Ballad," the spot opens up to include Todd as it fades out. Wonderful!
* "Ballad(s)" have the most interesting lighting. But there is not consistancy, which there should be something that ties them all together. (This could be a director thing as well.) Side light works well, as well as direct overhead light, but using the footlights is the best. Footlights are sexy!
* the lights flooding out of the grave is amazing, but more on that later.
* the final Ballad has a bit in there with purple (bordering on blacklight look) and red gobos of window pane shadows and cobbled streets. Again, another sexy light que. The overall effect is ravashing!
*The end of "Epiphany" is a gorgeous moment with light - all lights are down except for a orange spot right overhead of Todd - but it happens too soon. Rather than a gorgeous button to the song, they put it near the end of the song, right in the middle of one of his lines. It works, but it doesn't quite fit.
*There is a bit in "City on Fire" when the entire chorus runs out on stage with lanterns. It is a great idea, and if they toned down the enviromental light even more, that moment would be so much more effective.

Sound: Awesome! The sound engineer mixes a great a show. There has only been two incidences of slight feedback, and one of a bumping sound when Todd's mic fell out of his pack. He is also great at engineering the echo when Todd and Lovett are in the bakehouse. Runs so smooth, and you always hear the things you need to. The Design is amazing. Enviromental sound is perfect. Not too loud, but just enough so that occassionally you notice it. His mixed ques are brilliant. You never realize how important simple sound is until you hear really good ques. Although I will say that he really should have had a hand at a bird death sound. Without it, the Beadle killing the bird is a little unclear. The best/creepiest is the sound of pounding coming from inside the oven after Lovett goes in.
Costumes/Make-up: Overall brilliant. Everything looks period and appropriate. Again, only a few critiques.
*Turpin making a comment about what kind of gown Johanna is wearing doesn't work when she is not wearing that gown, and is wearing the same gown when he makes another comment later. Don't get me wrong, I love the costumes of this show, and I think the designer did a good job, but that is an incredibly obvious mistake there. But I will say that Johanna's dress and her wig are amazing! Just gorgeous!
*Pirelli goes to visit Todd without a coat or a hat. Now granted, I don't know a whole lot about fashion and outer wear in industrial England, but I do know that a dandy like that would not go out without a coat. Maybe without a hat, but NOT without a coat. It just looks odd.
*The blood work in this show is brilliant. I haven't been able to see the work myself, but it seems like it is done by packets hidden in neckties, scarves, and in the neck pieces of the barber sheets. They are opened by pressure from a pump. Quite effective. Depending on the wholes and how hard you squeeze you get a nice range from trickle to squirt to open floodgates.
*Now, I understand why this is the way it is, but there is still a problem. In the party scene at Turpin's place, the ensemble members are the guests, but they are dressed int their street clothes with capes and masks. The problem is that thier clothes are destressed and dirty - those are not the people that would be invited to Turpin's party. He dislikes those kinds of people. But like I said, I understand limits of costumes and limits of time to change. That is just mix of budget, people, and time limits. But the masks in that scene are amazing!
Acting/Direction: I'm going to combine these because I don't know which is to be praised/critiqued
*overall, the singing is amazing - no real weak link. Anthony, Johanna, and Todd really stand out as amazing. And no one else falls below "great" So, vocally, this show is incredibly strong. I especially LOVE the ending "Ballad." Seriously, it just rocks the air with it's intensity!
* the opening ballad ending is powerful. Basically, once the grave is out, Todd gets on the lift, bright lights flood from the hole, the lift is started up, and Todd "crawls" out of the grave. It's an amazing moment - BUT - the lights out of the hole is called too soon, there is a good couple of beats with empty light from the grave, which just tells the audience what is coming. It would be so much more effective if they would have planned for the lights coming up the moment his hand appears. It would freak out the people in the first row!
* the Beggar Woman is so effective at playing crazy without being ridiculus. She has a raunchiness to her character that is so great to see. The only thing I don't like is her death. It's too easy, there is no fight, she just sits there while he "preps" everything. Aside from that, she's great - And her parts in "City on Fire" are goosebump raising!
*Anthony is too quite amazing. His voice is fantastic, he has great comic moments and everything he does is believable. His heart and soul go into those "Johanna" parts. Everything he does and all of his reactions are genuine, not as silly as he is sometimes played, which makes him all the more funny when he does/says something funny.
*Johanna: amazing voice, great costume choreography. She's not as annoying in the part as some other people have played her, which is great, but she is too serious and too old. Johanna is supposed to be 16, and like it or not, the character has some of that teenage melodramaticness. It helps the character be believable. Our Johanna is just a little too mature from the beginning. There is no growth there.
*Johanna and Anthony work well together, but there needs to be more of the giddiness of first love. But I will say that their first moment together with the birdcage between them is just beautiful. It's a gorgeous picture!
*Lovett is amazing. Great voice of course. She has a wonderful balance of evil and hilarious. Although she needs more real "feeling" for Todd. Also, she has to understand action as implied by the script. If you sing about someone being "warm in my hands" you need to touch them by then. Also, you're supposed to see something happen, you should be onstage to see it.
* There is a shared problem between Lovett and Todd - I can't believe that they have an "understanding." There is no sense of the affair between them that Lovett talks about in By the Sea, which makes her seem a little on the pathetic side.
* Sweeny is powerful, but sometimes lacks at passion. Great voice. He does not discover things much as an actor either - he seems to expect everything, except for the one great moment when he learns that Tupin took Johanna. But sometimes I just want to shake him and say "FEEL DAMN YOU!" He is so controled, and I just don't think Sweeney is at all. He also needs to let other actors get thier laughs in. There are two moments when he bowls over a possible laugh section. Drives me nuts!
*Pirelli is good. Nice voice, but he has an annoying habit of spreading his arms out for every long note that he hits, which is a lot, and it gets a little silly.
* Toby is wonderful - great character work, physical presense, comic portrayal, and voice. Just rips your heart out when he sings "Not While I'm Around" and when he is screaming in the bakehouse.
*Turpin has got a damn powerful voice and presence. This character is a lot more believable than most of the old men that look and sound angry but somewhat feeble. This makes more sense to me. Although, I do think he is not as developed as he should be. He leaves you wanting more. I actually would love to have seen him as Sweeney Todd.
*ensemble members have some amazing character moments - I love watching them when they're being smart, but as always a couple that go in for corny.
* "Epiphany" needs more - it is the shit hit the fan moment - and it is good, but it is not up to the full potential.
* "Little Priest", "God That's Good", and "City on Fire" is so GOOD. Enough said, I leave it there - you can't understand unless you see it.
Other: A couple things that REALLY bother me - a LOT!
* This is a big thing with me: I do not think that a director should be in the show. At least, not in a significant role, and Certainly NOT in the lead. This is our case. The man playing Todd is the director. As far as I can tell, he is good at both jobs, but you can't do them both and have it work. There are so many moments where things are just wrong on the stage, and it would have been the director's job to see it, but you can't step off the stage and see the whole picture if you are part of it. There isn't even an assistant director! It just irks me. I'm not saying this is what the guy is, but it makes him look like a spot hog. It just doesn't work.
*Second thing: I guess I am spoiled in that I have worked with some very reliable people before. I'm not saying that these people aren't but it just doesn't seem that way. An SM should be able to trust her crew to know their business and not explain it to them everynight. I can understand confusion during Tech, of course, and during the first week of runs, especially if things change or you don't have a stable crew. But this crew is contracted for the full run, and this is going into the 3rd week of the show. Granted, I know you want to cover your bases and give reminders just to be safe, but this ridiculous. I'm not blaming any party, and I understand the "why," but it would be a much smoother show if everyone just knew thier business and knew it well enough to be do it on their own. I maybe a little bit of a hypocrit here, but the SM needs to just give stand-bys, Gos, and Stops, not long explanations.
Okay, so this is a little long, but hey, when you watch it every Thurs, Fri, Sat, and Sun for a couple weeks, you notice things more and have more of an opinion about it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: "M"

Wow! Really wow!
This film is amazing! Written by Fritz Lang and his wife, and made in 1931 - this movie is Lang's first sound film and a classic work. It's german, so you'll have to watch it in subtitles, but that doesn't bother me in the least bit.
The story revolves around a series of murders of local children - mostly girls. The town is in an uproar because of these unsolved crimes. The police are doing their best, but they can't find him. So what happens? The criminals of the streets step in. Mostly because this is bad for thier business, but also because they too condemn this monster and his deeds. It's kind of interesting to see how the "low lifes" have their standards. Children are off limits. Wish more people thought that way.
Peter Lorre is the criminal who is marked by a young man when he is first discovered - this the title of the film. Lorre is fantastic! He's downright creepy, but also has an interesting suffering side to him. There are moments when you see him being tormented by himself mostly. Although you still hate the man, he is not just a monster, but a monstrous man. What more can I say? The man is brilliant in this film!
This film is really interesting in its use (and non-use) of sound. There is no underscoring here at all, so many of the moments are quite silent - you notice it. It's all for the better though, because the moments where there is music - mostly the whistling of the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt is so powerful. The tune as a mark of a character is a move taken from opera, and Lang uses it superbly in this film.
Artistically, it isn't beautiful, but there are some very powerful moments, and some striking shots.
The thing that really gets me about this film (aside from Lorre's acting) is the question of it all. It has a little bit of sociology in it. You see people going crazy, turning against each other in thier search for this murder. A man could not be nice to a child on the street without being suspected. And of course, when everyone is a suspect, people get nervous no matter how innocent they are. Then you come to the killer himself. They hint at him being a pedofile, but never outright say it. You are disgusted, but also intrigued by this man. There is a need to know that never gets satisfied. Who is he really? Why does he do this? What is he haunted by? What does that song mean to him? And most of all, the question of justice. Do you kill the man and rid the world of his vice? He is a self-admitted compulsive killer - he HAS to kill, and he can't control himself. So, wouldn't it be better to just stop him once and for all? BUT, he is also remorseful. He does not like or want to do what he does. You can see he is tortured by it, and disgusted by it. So do you kill a man who can not help what he is doing? Or really the question comes down to this as well: does he mean this remorse, or is he acting out of terror?
There is also the question at the end of the film. Will revenge be enough? Even if he is killed, that won't bring back the children. Is this a case of an eye for an eye? What would be a just punishment? What is a just punishment for something like this? I certainly don't have an answer, but it really makes you think.
Great film! Great moral!
5 out of 5 stars


Review: The Guns of Navarone

Not your usual war flick. I kinda liked it.
Plot: a specialized group is formed to do the impossible: get on to the island of Navarone undetected and disarm the incredibly large guns that the Nazi's have built there.
Peck plays the man initially brought in for transportation because in order to get on to the island without being detected, they have to scale a 500 foot cliff, and he once was a champion climber. Brought in to do the job is also a friend/enemy of Mallory's (played by Quinn), a professor of chemistry who is a genius with bombs (played by Niven), a trained killer, and a relation of their resistance contact on the island, and the leader of the group who is "lucky"
Its full of its ups and downs and the last 10 minutes leaves you on the edge of your seat.
Acting wise, it is ok. Niven and Quinn both really earn their roles. They are great. Peck is Peck. Don't get me wrong, I love him, but he is just so mellow. Even the scene where he does loose his temper and threatens one of the men is just not powerful. It just doesn't seem real, although it is quite a shift in character, and I'm not entirely convinced that he (the character) means what he says, or he is just trying to scare the man. So, if that is the case then I will retract my above statement.
Overall, okay:
3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Review: Broken Blossoms

The first thing is for me to tell you that this poster is quite misleading.
This movie was made in 1919 by the amazing DW Griffith. It was taken from a group of stories about Limehouse Nights. This particular story/poem was called "The Chink & the Child"
It is about a Chinamen, Cheng (Richard Barthelmess) who travels to London to spread the peace of Buddha. He ends up working in a shop there. He comes to notice a young girl, Lucy (Lillian Gish), a waif if ever there was one. Her "father" is a boxer called Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) with a sadistic attitude, and poor Lucy is his punching bag most of the time. After a particularly bad beating, the girl stumbles into Cheng's shop and he cares for her. Then trouble begins.
The thing I liked about this movie the most has to do with why the poster is misleading. There are no love scenes between Lucy and Cheng. Lucy is only 12 years old, and while Cheng loves her, it is in a strictly adorational way. Platonic really. It is as simple as he sees her, he helps her; he is the only person to be kind to her.
This film deals mostly with abuse and cruelty. The interesting thing to note is that you only see Lucy being physically abused once. With a whip, but everytime Burrows is near her, you share her fear of what he might do. Apparently it made the critics sick to watch this kind of thing. Griffith himself is said to have had trouble with the closet scene (which is kind of a pre-cursor to the bathroom scene in The Shining). Isn't it interesting how things like that used to bother us, but now we hardly notice it? Sad.
Acting wise - it's pretty good. I have a hard time judging silent film acting. Mostly because it is less realistic and more presentational. That aside, it is very effective. You fear for Lucy, you're scared of Burrows, and you feel for Cheng. Although I will say that the way they tried to make Barthelmess look like a Chinamen made him look high most of the time instead. Although, in some scenes that was appropraite.
Overall, it is an interesting movie, and certainly significant, especially for its time.
3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (movie)

Can I gush? I love, Love, LOVE this movie! I can't pick favorites, but I know this one one of the contenders for my #1 slot.
Tennessee Williams. The basis for this whole thing is his play of the same name. I have a love/hate relationship with his works. I love them because they are so richly written, and I hate them because they are so brutal. When reading his plays I would throw away the book if I wasn't dying to read the next page. Just gorgeous. Now, I know there are a lot of differences between the play and the movie, so you really can't compare too much. There are a couple of things that were not included in the play that I think really should have been - it would have made the movie even better. But there are some things in the movie that I really wish would have been in the play. So it evens out. And it's true, I think I even love this movie more than the play. Yes, I do!
We'll start with the story (remember, this is for the movie, not the play): focuses on Brick and Maggie's relationship. They are married, but they're not exactly on marital terms lately. They have come back to Brick's family home, as well as Brick's brother and his family, for the celebration of Big Daddy's birthday - or at least, that is what they say. Truth is (and that word is used a lot in this movie) that they are there to hear if Big Daddy is dying of cancer or not. I'll stop there. But what really you need to know is that this is a family crisis drama. And it is fabulous!
The music and sound design in this movie are very intense. There is a little bit of the stage play in this movie. At key moments, thunder is sounded, and that gives it a very planned feel. But that doesn't bother me at all for some reason. It's appropriate, and only helps to enhance the feeling of the moment. Aside from that, the score music is so sensuous. It's hot.
As far as other design goes, the settings are perfect. Southern plantation house of a RICH man. I love the obvious white used in Brick and Maggie's room. A subtle hint at their sexual relationship at the moment. I don't know how, but you can just feel the heat. I don't know where all the credit goes to for that, but it is there. The costumes are well done and appropriate, and everything looks like it should be.
Now, acting. Nothing but praise here. Elizabeth Taylor is at her best, in my opinion. She plays the character well with very appropriate switches between her southern belle charming act and the "cat" that she is so aligned with. But that is not all there is to her. There is also sadness, fear, desperation, and love. She is so vivacious and sensual. She's got a certain fire to her performance that so perfectly works. Paul Newman is a contradiction. He sizzles, but he is also so cool. This has to be a signiture role of his. Through most of it he is aloof, cool to the touch, icy, but so calm. He gives the sense of just flowing through his emotions as he downs his liquor. But there are cracks in the character's exterior and he can lash out better than anyone. I know I have said this before - and it still goes. His emotional bursts are so real and so effective. Oh! It just tugs at you. I don't think there is anyone on earth who can do that better. The big surprise of this movie for me was Burl Ives. Now this is probably because I grew up knowing him for his christmas album and his kids songs. But this is completely different. You like and you hate Big Daddy. He is not a nice person - but he is straight forward, and a force of life. Which is funny, considering he is the one most likely to die. He is big and bombastic, and he answers to no one. he is the center of everything, and he owns everything. You may not really like him much, but you have to admire him. And Burl Ives does such a fantastic job. He grabs you and makes you pay attention to him. Judith Anderson as Big Mama is ... well, let me say this, if I could get my hands on any role in the world, I would want to get my hands on this one. Big Mama is a bit of a pathetic character. She's doting and a little annoying, but she's real. There is nothing fake about Big Mama, and she is loyal as they come. You can't understand how she could love Big Daddy after the way he treats her, but you see it in her performance. And if seeing is believing, there you have it. The other two main characters as Gooper and Mae are right on. You don't really like them much at all. I never get to like Mae, but I do get sympathy for Gooper. He has a speech to Big Mama that just tugs at you. They're both brilliant in their roles.
How this film is not more acclaimed than it is, I will never know. It was nominated for several Oscars, but did not recieve any. Apparently, Tennessee Williams did not like the movie at all. This is owning to the fact that the movie is quite a bit toned down from the play. This mainly has to do with the subject of whether or not Brick is homosexual. I'm borderline about that. Considering the time and the film industry, I can see why some of the dialouge was cut, but I also think they were cowards because the play never says that Brick is homosexual - just dances around the situation between Brick and Skipper. In the play Maggie even admits that she knows nothing happened between the two men because Brick is so pure. In that sense, and in the fact that Hollywood was so hush-hush about homosexuality and bisexuality, I say shame on them. But that still doesn't stop me from loving this movie.
If I could go above the 5 star rating I would, but since I can't:
5 out of 5 stars

Review: The Blue Bird 1918

This was such a beautiful movie! I had seen the Shirley Temple version when I was young, and I had also read the play it was based on, so I picked this one up to give it a whirl. I am so glad I did!
It was made in 1918, and was apparently found in the George Eastman collection suffering badly from negative damage. They were able to save it somewhat. I mean that there are still problems with the negative, but overall, the film was saved.
And thank goodness it was. This is a little gem of a film. You can tell that it was either influenced by, or a precursor of the Expressionist movement in films. The special effects, the lighting, the direction of it and the design are all just beautiful.
Basic Plot: a brother and sister (who are not very nice children) are visited one night by a fairy who tells them that they must find the Bluebird (legendary for being the essence of happiness). "Things" are brought to life to aid them on their journey. The go into the Palace of Night, into the Past, the Palace of Joys, and even the future to try and find the Bluebird. Again, I will stop there because you HAVE to see this film for yourself. I can't do it justice. The Shirley Temple version is pretty good too, and apparently there is another version with Elizabeth Taylor in it as well.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars!

Review: The Last Picture Show

I feel kinda bad saying this, but I don't really know why this film is on AFI's Top 100. I mean, it's okay. I liked the movie enough to watch it once, and if asked, I might watch it again. I wouldn't own it or anything. It just kinda is. It's a not so pretty portrait of people in a small town. It's a kind of coming of age story of two boys in this town. The mistakes and follies of youth, I guess.
It was an okay story, an okay script, okay cinematography (B&W which was unusual at the time), pretty good design, and okay acting. Nothing that I would say was amazing. This is kind of like a slice of life movie. It constantly made me think about Rimers of Eldritch though, so it was useful.
It just didn't impress me at all.
3 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: Do The Right Thing

Well ... It's a terribly brilliant film. I mean those words. The subject covered and the events of the film are terrible. However, it is a film that has a reason, a point, a statement that needs to be made. In that sense, it is brilliant. Talking about subjects like these leave everyone on unstable ground. You can hardly say anything without insulting someone. That being said, I am going to go on with this review and hope that no one takes offense to it.
Basic Plot: The hottest day of the year in a Brooklyn neighborhood. The locals are quite varied, and it seems the heat is either helping to fuel the tension, or just a symbol of it. It centers with Mookie, a young African American man who works at the local pizzeria. Normally I wouldn't mention race, but in this movie it is incredibly revelent. The pizzeria is run by an Italian man, Sal, and his two sons, Pino and Vito. Mookie is quite popular in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone. Most of the residents are African American, but there are also Hispanics (I think, specifically, I don't know where they come from, so sorry, I have to use the umbrella term), there are some Caucasians - the most prominent in the film being the Italian family. There are the Koreans who own a store across from the Pizzeria. I think I got everyone there. Needless to say, there is racial tension. Just a bit through most of the film. It seems like everyone is going on their day to day routine. But then things start to go awry.
This is a film I would love to have a discussion about with other people. It begs to be discussed, because a one-sided review will never do it justice.
I have to say that there are so many things about this film that I do not like. Mostly it has to do with the intense anger in it. From almost every side. I will admit that I am niave, but I just don't understand why everyone is so angry all the time. Even their jokes are angry. Kindness is suspicious, and its a view of a terrible world. It takes a while to see it though. Like I said, it seems like business as usual with normal skirmishes here and there, but overall, the idea is that these people may fight, but like a family, they are there for each other. And it is not just racism. There are so many conflicts in the film. Conflicts in families, in different generations, social classes, etc. Like I said, there is just so much anger.
The acting is quite good. From everyone. No weak link, which makes the story all the more powerful. The thing is, everyone is so good that no one character stands above the others. It is not a star vehicle, and although the story does revolve around the Mookie character, he is not the focus. The focus is the bigger picture - and that makes for a classy film.
The thing that bugs me (not the most, but just bugs me) is the title. It implies that the right thing is going to be done in the film. And that has led to and will continue to lead to a controversy. What is the "right thing" in the film? Who does it? And where you think the "right thing" happens will completely change the film for each person. There is no clear-cut moment for me in this film. I have an idea of what I think it is, but from what reviews I have read, everyone else thinks it is something quite different. It's hard for me to see the right in this movie because so much of it is wrong.
It just makes me uncomfortable. I'm not saying it is bas because of this, I'm just stating a fact.
I do recognize it's intensions, and I see how good it is. Everyone should see this movie and take something (hopefully good) from it. But it is different from person to person what they will take. I can see how this film can add to a person's hate just as easily as it can inspire a person to love - and I think that is what makes me most uncomfortable about it.
It is an ugly film in a sense. People die. Dreams are burned. Neighbor turns against neighbor. The ugly side of every human is shown in a blinding spot. But it is powerful.
4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Blade Runner

Well. It's on AFI's Top 100, so it has to be good, right?
I don't know if it is. Apparently it bombed when it was initially came out. And then it became a cult classic. Me? I wasn't thrilled. The bottom line of this movie for me was: a few moments of brilliant don't make up for an hour or so of "...ok"
Basic Plot: Humans have gotten a kind of God complex and we've started creating robots that are incredibly human-like (except that they don't have human emotions) We made them to do the dirty work in our off-world colonies. They have been banned on earth because they revolted against us. Blade Runners are the special cops that take care of these resky Replicants. Harrison Ford plays a semi-retired Runner who is pulled back into the job. I'm not going into it too much more.
The whole idea presented is what makes us different from them? Apparently the emotional response, but that is evidently wrong, because they develope these feelings, which is why they are limited to a 4 year lifespan. The message is clear: we shouldn't have made them in the first place, they are also people. The film also presents questions: What is it to be human? Where do we come from? How long do we have? That side is brilliant. It's a wonderful way to make people think of these things.
However, there are certain things you lack in the film to make it really effect you. Feeling for one. Strangely enough, you don't get a lot of feeling from anyone in this film, except for the head Replicant (Roy) in the very end. Right next to him in feeling and above him in sympathy is the JF Sebastian character who is a very human person who has the same problem as the Replicants (a minimal lifespan). The rest of the characters you just don't feel anything from - not even the humans or the new-and-improved Replicant with Emotions and Memories.
Design wise, its interesting. It's futuristic, but it is also very 1940s. Which is a common theme in design of similar films (why is that??) But it is also a product of its time (the 80s) One look at Rachel's shoulderpads will tell you that. And why is the future always so dirty and junky?
The film is an interesting neo-noir type. It has the typical voiceovers, the femme fatale, the detective character, the underground world, the dark places, etc. So, in type it is very interesting.
Overall, I just didn't like it much. Like a said, there are a few moments of brilliant, but not enough.
2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mutiny on the Bounty 1962

I can't help but compare and contrast with this review a little, as I have just recently watched the 1930s version. I'll try not to compare too much though. I will also try and get it all out of the way right now. There are good and bad things in this film, just as there are in the other film. If there was a way to marry the two verions, it would certainly be a 6 out of 5 stars. Especially in the dialouge. There are gem exchanges in both films - really superb writing. Aside from the core story, there is little about the two films that are the same. Consider that each film is a product of its time, and then watch these two versions side by side. 30 years difference is a lot - not just in technology and style, but also representation. It is especially apparent in the endings of the film, and in the character of Fletcher Christian. Two different things for two very different times.

It is in these differences that I want to dwell, which will in turn lead on to other aspects. First of all the character of Christian (as played by Marlon Brando) I will try to stick to the character himself. In this version he is seen at the beginning as a bit of a fop. A gentlemen, but that is not a compliment here. He seems to be a dandy, and right away this sets him as an odd person. He doesn't seem to belong on the ship at all. This does, of course, gives more of a reason for Captain Bligh to be at odds with him. This Christian is a good man, but more of a dormant one. Obediant in spirit and action, although a little defiant in inuendo. At first, he manages to laugh or charm his way through - just stepping almost over the line at points, again, giving Bligh plenty of reason to dislike him and to continue to do so. It takes a while for him to break out of his courtly shell. You hardly even see him fume, and then all of a sudden Bligh goes too far by kicking something out of his hand and then - boom! - he explodes and it becomes like a tragic course, one thing right after another. It takes goading from his shipmate - which is actually very effective (the man counts out load the dead count to Christian, like a grim reaper) This does something to the character. He no longer is a revolutionary, but a reactionary. Then he broods about it, he struggles about it, and he comes to the conclusion that he must make amends. This is a different man alltogether than the one in the 1930s version. Case in point: in the 1930s, the revolutionary spirit was embraced by the people who were so discontent with the established systems. Bligh was the unfair treatment, the Fletcher was the happy hero. In the 60s version, Bligh is still the same, but Fletcher has become the reluctant criminal with a heart, who eventually realizes that the only way is in compliance to the law. Says something, doesn't it?

Good film. A little long, but good. As far as Art Direction and Production Design goes, it is wonderful. MGM outdid themselves for this. This is the first film to have a historically accurate ship built for the specific purpose of a movie. Shot on location for the most part, so everything has a very authentic look to it. Not to mention beautiful. Especially the sunsets on the islands. Breathtaking.

I like the other version better, but this one is pretty good too.
4 out of 5 stars

Hud

Yet again, I have been proven wrong. I read about this movie and expected to not like it. The story is pretty grim. But again, at the end of it, I find exactly the opposite. Just goes to show you - never judge a movie by its story. The story takes place on a 3 generation ranch. The old man (Melvyn Douglas), his youngest son (Newman), and his grandson (Brandon deWilde). It evolves around the discovery of one of their cows dead - with no apparent reason. A vet is called in and he thinks it is foot and mouth disease. He test the whole herd to be sure. This puts them in a bit of a spot, because if it is this disease, all of the cattle on the ranch have to be killed. That is the outside story - the inside story is about family. This movie is more than a western. It just uses the majesty and the setting of a western while having a theatre-esque family crisis drama.
The old man is pretty much the hard, tough, good man of old. He is a man of principle, of quality. He may not be very loving, but he is good, wise, and above-all, hardworking. He's a common, everyman hero of old. He build everything he has and holds on to it with a tight fist. Douglas portrays this character so well. The clashes between father and son are quite real, and above all, understandable. There is no problem in understanding his reasons for not caring for his son.
Newman is as good as you expect him to be. He just ... lashes on film better than any other I have ever seen on screen. He is so abrupt in his switches between persona. On one hand is the calm, cool, devil-may-care type, but pushed so far he lashes out with such passion. Even his subtle mood switches always have the charge in them, if that makes any sense. He plays the "anti-hero," but you can't hate him. He is almost a no-good guy with as many vices as you can imagine. However, he is sensible, smart, and what he cares for, he protects. The trouble is, you don't know what he really cares for most of the time. It comes out though, in very important ways. He fights endlessly with his father, and there seems to be no love lost between them, but when an outsider questions his father's sincerity, Newman very cooly suggests the man better back down (I can't explain the scene, or it would ruin the movie). Or anytime the old man is in trouble, Newman drops the cool facade and reacts with only the instant care that family can have for one another. He is not a good guy, but he is a savory character with a very intriguing soul. You connect to that, and at the end, more than anything, you feel for him. You know he will make out, his kind always does - but at what cost?
The grandson (of the older brother, who long ago died) as played by deWilde is kind of caught between the two. He admires them both. He is only 17, so the spirit, thrill, and strength of his uncle are quite attractive to him. He also is able to see the good inside him. But he also was raised by his grandfather, and has distilled in him that same integrity. He is in the go-between of the two. DeWilde plays the part well with that delicate balance between being the niave youngster, and a real man.
Patricia Neal plays the housekeeper and the object of both Hud and the grandson's attractions. She is really something to see. I have only really seen her work in movies with more glamour. In this movie she plays a character with none. She's a girl of the hard knocks. She isn't beautiful, but a honest to god real woman. Her levels of attraction to Hud are so multi-leveled. Most of the time, it is just harmless banter back and forth, but as the attraction grows on Hud's side, her hesitance goes up, and you can partly see her scared of him and her attraction to a guy like him.
The writing in the film is great, especially in all the sexual banter and the fights. But there is a line in the movie that I think explains a lot about the world we live in today: "Lonnie, little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire." The old man said that to the grandson after he takes up on Hud's side, telling him that everyone is like Hud in one way or another. I just love that line - it says so much about the situation.
As far as Producton Design and photography go, this movie is top notch. Everything is believable. This isn't a fancy town, or an ordinary town made to order, it looks lived in, worn, old, small. Just like the family ranch. You can tell the family has worked hard, but it doesn't lead to leisure. It is wonderful when the design of the story can tell you just as much, if not more than the acting does, or compliments it. Looking at the place you know that this is a working family.
That is another thing. There is a shot that is my favorite in the movie. It is simply the three men. These men, each standing in their own way, has quite a significance to him. There's the old man standing firm, hard, planted. He is a little bowed and he is work-worn. His face is lined and his body is old from all the years of hard work. Then there is Hud. Standing as strong as his father, but casually, leaning back with a little slouch. As if carefree, but not. His body is lean and hard and muscular from his work. But he is still young, quite able-bodied. In his prime I guess. Then there is the grandson. Again, standing strong, but he is alert, straight. He stands as though ready to jump into action, even when he is standing casual. He is also muscular, but he is still tall and skinny, a little gawky, not quite filled into mature height and weight, but getting there. It is the three of them, standing there against the backdrop of the western sky on their land. Three generations of ranchers, of men, standing by each other. This is the story of the film; in one shot, is the essense of this movie. That is beautiful - and that is teamwork. As much as it seems like the actor's glory, it is not. You have to commend everyone from the director to the lighting designer, to the costume designer to the production designer and the cameraman and the lighting guy. Everyone worked together to make this moment mean something. That is a movie.
As far as honors go, I believe that it was nominated for a slug of Oscars. Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Art Direction (B&W), and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won for Patricia Neal as Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography (B&W).
4 out of 5 stars

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Interesting. I will admit from the get-go that this was not my cup of tea. It's not my kind of story, mostly. Everything else is. Acting: fantastic, Production Design and Shooting: wonderful, Story: well, interesting, but overall very downbeat.
This movie started off as a book by a writer whose identity is pretty much a secret. There are theories, but nothing definate. It was first released in Germany because the author refused to publish it in a capitalist country. The story is definately about greed and money and power, and mostly corruption.
The story (of the movie specifically) 3 Americans (Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt) band together while in Mexico to search for gold. That is pretty much all you need to know to start of with. You also should know that it is not a happy movie. This is not your typical Western or a typical anything as far as genre goes. So, it is kind of hard to sell to an audience. However, the one thing it does have going for it is that it is brilliant. That is undisputed.
John Huston directs this, and apparently this was a pet project of both his and Bogarts. Huston also has a cameo in the beginning of a well to do American that Bogart's character keeps asking money from. Bogart is exceptional. I can understand how a fan of Bogart's would not be too keen on this part. It is certainly a departure from anything else he had done. This man is not a gangster, a tough romantic, or any kind of decent. Whatever the character is, Bogart does it brilliantly. His slow drive towards greed and a little bit of madness is fascinating to watch. This is good acting! That also goes for Walter Huston, John Huston's father, who plays the"old man" in the trio. I did not recognize him in this role until I watched the special features and realized that this was the same guy who played George M Cohan's father in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Talk about a switch. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year - and it is well deserved. Tim Holt is also quite good in a role that was supposedly softened for the film. He plays the mediator, a kind of niave young, go-between. But more than that also. His character is able to stand up to Bogart's in a particularly brilliant scene (I think).
As far as other honors go, this movie also won John Huston Best Director and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay (he did both writing and directing). It was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Hamlet that year. It is rated as #30 in the original AFI Top 100 list, and #38 on the 10th Anniversary list. A line from this film has also been rated #36 on AFI's top quotes list "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" And on top of that, it also is #67 on their Top Thrills list. Aside from those, this movie is very easily seen to be a American classic.
So, I will say that the rating is mostly because I appreciate the skill and the historical significance of the film, but again, its not my cup of tea, and its not one I would ever own.
3 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 15, 2010

"The Big Sleep"

You know, I think I am beginning to get a movie crush on Bogart. And this movie only fuels that. Bogart plays a private detective hired by a man who thinks he is being blackmailed. All because of his floozy of a daughter (Martha Vickers). There's another daughter too (Bacall), and if you can figure her out before the movie has only 20 minutes left, than you're good. That is by way of saying that she is as complicated and twisted as this story (that is a compliment). His first night on the job he follows the suspected blackmailerer to his home. Suddenly a gun goes off - and this is how the whole thing gets started. Just when you think you've got it figured out and everything is done, something else happens. Most of the time, you're just trying to figure it out. It's not easy. A great detective story. I love Bogart's character in this one. He's got a little bit of a comic in him, and he's something of a lady's man. At least, all the women in the film seem to find him engrossing - well duh - it is Bogie we're talking about.
Acting wise, it's pretty good. Bacall is one of the best at playing the mysterious woman. She doesn't give much away to the audience, but Bogie's character reads her like a book, which is a great way of saying something about both characters to the audiences. You know, this movie has just reaffirmed something about Bogart for me. Yes, he gets cast in the same type of roles over and over again (that's the studio system for you) - but I have begun to notice that his characters always seem to have a little something different. Bogart is not playing the same person - same type maybe, but not the same person. His performances are somewhat studied. Look at him in Petrified Forest, specifically how he carried himself. Arms bowed out, I mean. And look at him in this film; his character is always tugging on his ears when he is thinking, and he is always holding on to his belt - resting his hands there. Granted those are only two example, but consider. These are marked character traits that the actor will use to make their character's distinct. It's a mark of an actor. And another thing (You're going to think I am ridiculous for noticing this, but) he never kisses the same way. Aside from the top two - the rest of the cast is believable, but nothing too special - although I will say that Vickers is quite interesting. Her character is pretty distinct too - and she plays the part well. (It's always a good sign that the acting is good if you are disgusted by or you hate a character) I can honest;y say that she is someone I would like to have seen more acting from - but looking at her work, I haven't hardly seen or heard of much of her work. It's a shame - she had talent - or she was type cast, in which case it would be easy to understand why she didn't go further.
The Story... well the story is. It's a little convuluded and you jump so much that it just kinda leaves you confused. However, it keeps you raptured. Some of the dialouge is quite suggestive -although it is only a 1940s suggestive (no dirty here folks!) There are a couple of back and forth exchanges between Bacall and Bogie that are really interesting to listen to; so back and forth, witty, and the words snap. That's the best kind of writing. As much as I love meaningful speeches, a good quip and comeback conversation is pricless!
This is a good one!
4 out of 5 stars

Review: The Bishop's Wife

I read a review about this movie before I began it. It was not a favorable review, so I was prepared to not like it. I will admit that this movie does kind of flirt with a line. You have to be a little cynical to see it and very cynical to look for it. Plot: A biship, who is trying to raise money for a cathedral sends a prayer to God. The answer to his prayer: Dudley - an angel from heaven. While the bishop continues to work after the money, Dudley goes to work on those around the bishop - especially the bishop's wife. He sort of fills in to where the husband should be. Never anything improper, but like I said a line is flirted with - and the lady as well. It is a good story - and it ends well. I think the person watching the movie was hoping for something a little more dramatic (if that is what you are looking for, see the star vehicle of a remake) If you want something simple and sweet with some comedy in it, watch this. I'm not saying which is better, but this one was made for its time and the remake was made for its time - I guess it just depends on which time you like better.
I find this one as charming as Grant is himself - and this role seems to be written for his particular charm. The overall message is the point of the thing, and it is near the end that the most beautiful moments occur. Finding faith, finding love, and finding the miracle of the simplicity of human life.
My favorite and not favorite part happen to be the same thing strangely enough. It occurs at a skating pond. I don't like it because it is all rather fake (they did a terrible job on the skating double for Grant) and I think they over-played the miracle a bit too much - it would have been more fun to just show them having a good time at the rink without all the fancy moves. But, then again, I also love it because there is a simple beauty in the entertainment of going skating - the whole scene seems like something out of the beautiful remembered past. Everyone of all types and abilities mixing together on the ice: the young, the old, the professionals, and those new comers. It's nostaglia at its best.
The special effects are really quite fun to watch - espeically because they are so dated. Not realistic at all, but they have a certain magic to them that modern effects don't have. I guess that is just has to do with my affection for the primitive ;)
All in all, a delightful film. 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: The Bad and the Beautiful

The Bad and the Beautiful: Apparently this is a night for good movies because I love this one! Plot: A once great movie maker has asked his business partner to gather together 3 top talents in the business to see if they would work for him just one last time. The problem: all three hate him. Through a series of flashback we see the rise, the work, and each fall of a motion picture man and the people who came and went and stayed with him. Really, this movie is phenomenal. Kirk Douglas again shocks me with his performance. A charming bastard if ever there was one. Turner also is fantastic - and even manages to play a bad actress for a portion of her story - which is harder to do than you think. Everyone in this film is great - and if you look at the cast list you will see a who's who of character actors, and a list of to be made famous as well. And with the wonderful direction of Vincent Minnelli. Since it is all about making movies, there is incredible variety in the sets, the costumes, and all the different stories within the story. No kidding, it is great!
It is selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won for 5 of them.
5 out of 5 stars!

Review: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Mutiny on the Bounty: A wonderful movie! Gable is magnificent, Laughton - although you hate him - is fantastic. Everything is so well done. The supporting cast is excellent, the costumes, the ship and the overall look of everything is perfect. The only thing I don't like is that justice never is really done - or at least not by this movie. I mean, I've never read the book, so maybe it's cleared up there, but the Captain gets nothing but a bad rep - which he had before they began. And of course, they spare the life of the officer, but not of the other sailors. I can't help it, but it burns me up a little. Aside from that, I just adore this movie!
5 out of 5 stars!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Mrs. Miniver

Please pardon me if there are any mistakes in the following - because my eyes are still stinging with tears, and sometimes the vision gets a little blurred.
5 out of 5 stars.
I can't really see how this film might be improved. The story, the art, the acting, the itention; they all come together to create a viewing pleasure.
Basic Plot: It begins in England in 1939 - war is brewing, but still life is happy for the Miniver family. Blissfully happy. Then war is declared, and their world changes.
I can't really think of why it should be titled after Mrs, Miniver - even though it is told from her point of view, Really it is about the people of a small villiage in wartime; each doing their own part. The characters and the cast playing them are all top notch. There is a quaintness about the coming and goings of their humdrum lives. Simple pleasures and content people. And their spirit is so strong, so sustaining.
A couple of shining moments (without giving too much away): Thebomb shelter sequence. It wonderfully shows a group of people being used to having to hide away and going about the usual: knitting, stepping outside for a smoke - and then the bombs really start to fall. And suddenly it's load an noisy and frightening. The kids are crying and screaming and everyone clings together in such a small space, it almost makes you feel claustrophobic watching it. And then the lights are out and you can only partially see them huddled in the darkness, which makes the space seem even smaller.
The Flower Contest: In spite of everything, the town is able to keep its annual flower contest. The choir sings, the band plays, people mingle in the beautiful spring air - the men drink beer with their pals, and the children lounge on the grass. It is a perfect day. All the more potent because of the enduring spirit. Men in uniform from the local airfield also dot the crowd, as a kind of reminder that still we are ever watchful. And then the announcement of the planes coming. The Lady's speech has such a powerful effect. Go home if you can, if not come into my cellars and we will all be together and safe. It's just such an enduring spirit - I was moved to tears.
The rest I really can't go too much into detail about. But I have to say it again - it is such a beautiful story - so full of the things that make us so proud of the human race. All are to be commended who worked on this film. It is beautiful!
It won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. It has been selected for preservations by the Nations Film Registry.

Reviews: Detour, The House on 92nd Street

Detour: The ultimate story of a guy caught in the bad. Pianist is hitchhiking to California to see his girlfriend. He gets picked up by this guy - and it is all downhill from there. Again, not your typical film noir, but it does have one thing that modern audiences most associate with the genre (although it is only in some of the film noirs): the voice over, the narration of what a person did, was doing, or was going to do or what he was and is thinking. The lead lady was a pretty good actress. She played a manipulative, scheming woman with a bad drunk side. You certainly hate her alright. It was okay to watch once, but I wouldn't care to see it again.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The House on 92nd Street: Not your typical film noir. This movie is basically a glory story for the FBI. It tells the story of how the FBI managed to keep the secret of the atomic bomb out of Germany's hands through "The Christopher case" Interesting enough, although nothing about it was phenomenal. I do know a lot more about the FBI now. This one didn't impress me at all, but I do think the FBI deserves a great big thank you.
2 out of 5 stars

Review: "High Sierra"

High Sierra: The movie that made Bogart into a leading man - and this was a breakout picture if you ever saw one! Also introducing Joan Leslie starring with Ida Lupino. I gotta say it: I love this movie! Basic Plot: Roy Earle (Bogart) just pardoned out of jail is back at work again, pulling a robbery of a hotel in California. He meets up with 2 fresh crooks who happen to have a girl with them (Lupino). I won't get into the story too much, because this is one you have to see for yourself! It is amazing! Bogart is at the best I have seen him (aside from Casablanca) and that is saying something! Really, I can't gush enough! All the actors are superb (for the most part), the story is top-notch, and some of the photography is really interesting. There is even an under the car shot, which is something I have hardly ever seen in movies from this era.
Wonderful! 5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reviews: 'Irma La Douce', 'The Harder They Fall', 'The Sheik', 'The Son of the Sheik', 'Intermezzo', 'The Public Enemy'

The Public Enemy - Well this was certainly a different kind of film. It starts off like a little like Reefer Madness does - warning about the danger of the people in this story. And how it is real - although the names and dates are all fictional. It essentially follows the crime life of two friends from their early mischief making days as boys and how they first started sneaking and stealing through to their ends. Cagney is just okay through most of the movie - nothing quite special, but there is a moment in the rain with him - and let me tell you, you take one look at him and you know the shit has hit the fan! He's awfully powerful in that moment, and all he is really doing is standing there, then walking. It's all in the face, and it is amazing. Harlow is in it, I don't know why. She makes an appearance playing a role I don't think she has ever played since; certainly not in any role I have seen her in. She plays a classy girl in this movie, and her fake british tells you plain enough that she is a bit of an elite character. I was not at all impressed. She was too fake. Again, maybe I am missing something; maybe watching it again might do some good, but just this once wasn't enough to wow me - although it is significant to note that this was THE film of the genre - not the starting point, but certainly one of the top of the early films.
So, 3 out of 5 stars.
Intermezzo: Ingrid Bergman in one of her first American films, and Leslie Howard. A very beautiful love story. Usually, I don't like stories about cheaters, but this one tugs at the heart strings. Howard is a violinist who is finally coming home from a long tour - he's also looking for a pianist to take the place of his old friend who has decided to retire. While he is at home, he meets his daughter's piano teacher (Bergman) who turns out to be a very talented pianist. They fall in love rather passionately and suddenly. Again, I will stop there so as not to ruin it. It is beautiful. Bergman is so ... readable in this role. You see her every emotion, no matter how small or big it is. When she is playing the piano, you see everything in her face and her motions, it really is beautiful. Leslie Howard is as wonderful as always. It is so touching - and so sad at times, and so incredibly happy at others. It is a wonderful movie. The young girl who plays Howard's daughter is so adorable. This is not one I had heard of until I saw the movie sitting on the shelf, and I must tell you that you should see it - especially my fellow saps!
4 out of 5 stars
The Harder They Fall: Bogart's last film. Too bad, he was as good as he ever was. This time he plays an out of work sports writer who is hired by a boxing manager to be the press agent of his latest discovery. Problem is, the latest discovery can't box, and can't take a hit. So, everyone "fixes" every fight, telling the world how amazing the discovery is. Boxing meets mafia meets corrupt businessmen. With Bogie in the middle. The acting is pretty good in the film on all sides. The boxer (Mike Lane) is a pretty sympathetic character, the manager is as good a rotten man as I've seen in films. The story is an okay one, and the drama is medium. There wasn't much to take from this performance, except for the last fight of the film. I can't say I understand why B&W boxing films are so much more effective than color - especially considering the look of the wounds - which you can expect to be impressive in any movie with boxing in it. Their make-up guy knows their stuff. For all of it's so-soness, it is a good film to see.
3 out of 5 stars
The Sheik: starring the original male sex symbol, Rudolph Vanentino. I really don't know about this one. For it's time, it is certainly racy. I can see how women went crazy about this picture. Rugged, mysterious, powerful man captures and eventually wins the love and admiration of a beautiful woman. The acting was a little melodramatic, but that was how it was done then, so it was appropriate. Photography was sketchy at points, but they got the close-ups on the ladies wonderfully. You can't really mess up close-ups of beautiful women, I guess. This is pretty much a female fantasy film of the time, and if you expect that, you're going to be pleased. I do have one thing to really criticize. The writers or director did a bad job with Diane (the woman). From the beginning she is presented as a strong-willed, spirited, determined girl, but she spends more than half of her time on screen crying and lamenting. That just doesn't work to have it both ways. Some character development needs to be worked on there.
It's not my cup of tea, but maybe after another viewing, I just might appreciate it more. I will say this: watching this movie is watching a piece of cinematic history, and there is a certain allure about it - and interest.
3 stars out of 5
The Son of the Sheik: And guess what it's about! Not very imaginativly titled; It's the son's chance to fall in love, fight it, then fall in love again. Now we are concerned with the story of a young dancer who has met and fallen for the young man. Unfortunatly, she works with a rather dubious gang. When they find out about the pair, they capture him, torture him, and tell him that the dancer does this for a living, and that he is not the first to fall prey to her charms. Once he escapes, he is bent on revenge. He gets his, and like his father before him, captures the girl. Everything gets sorted out and the young lovers end up happily together (I am going to assume that is not much of a spoiler). This film was the more traditional B&W instead of the shades of blue, yellow, and sepia that the original was. The photography was better, the close-ups were better, and overall, you can see what a difference a couple years makes in the film industry when it first was getting going. Still, it's not much but a pretty good sequal, although I like Vilma Banky as the dancer in this one a little more than Agnes Ayres in the last. Character-wise, at least, the dancer has more spunk and spirit than the lead girl in the first film, which I think was a better choice.
3 out of 5 stars.
Irma La Douce: Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Initial reaction: Oh for cute! That is pretty much this film. It's cute. Lemmon and MacLaine work wonderfully together. I've seen some of Lemmon's comedies before, but until this movie I never realized just how good of a comedian he is. Basic Plot: an idealistic cop is promoted to work in a shady part of town. He gets fired on his first day after raiding the rent-by-the-hour hotel there. He meets Irma - a streetwalker. When he returns to the neighborhood and stands up to Irma's current "manager", he wins the right to be her manager - and her heart. Pretty soon he realizes that he doesn't want her working on the streets anymore, so he comes up with a plan to disguise himself as an English Lord and pays Irma to be his solely. Obviously things get complicated. Like I said, it's a cute film - definately not something you'll want to watch if you're looking for real life drama, but a good time comedy. It almost gets to be too much at a point or two, but all works out in the end.
Solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reviews: "Stand Up and Cheer" and "Good-bye Mr. Chips"

Good-bye, Mr Chips: Good film. You know, I think there should be a whole sub-genre of films called Teacher films. Think about it: this one, Dead Poet's Society, Mr. Holland's Opus, The Emporor's Club, etc etc. And I don't think that there isn't a single one I haven't liked.
Basic Plot: The very old Mr. "Chips" is recalling his time at a english school for boys. From his first day with out of control boys all the way through his retirement on the grounds of the school. There is also a love story in there.
All in all, it is good. Robert Donat is genuine in his portrayal of a shy schoolmaster. Greer Garson was perfectly wonderful as his love interest in this film. Their relationship is so simple and so sweet - it makes quite an impression. You can see the change in Chips after he has met her, and it's a beautiful statement of what being loved can do for a person.
I think the most effective part was the montages of time moving on. They always began with the line of boys giving thier names. How appropriate it must be for a teacher's life to be seen in passing that way.
Beautiful, meaningful film.
3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars



Stand Up and Cheer: This is definately not what one would call an impressive movie. It is entertaining enough, and once you're finished, you're not unhappy or mad. It's kind of like a early Broadway play - a lot of song and dances and specialty acts very loosely connected to a very thin story. The story being this: A theatrical producer has been put in charge of the government's new Department of Amusement, with the hopes of raising people's hopes during the Depression. He gets to work, with the help of his cabinet members including the Children's Program Head (a very attractive young lady whom he falls for). Unfortunately, he gets some trouble from industrialists. It's not giving much away to say that eventually everything goes well in the end, boy gets girl, and everyone is happy because in the end, a man comes running in, gleefully proclaiming that "The Depression is Over!" Shows you just how much people wanted to believe it could happen like *snap* that.
Okay, so it is silly, but consider for a second this: This was made in 1934 - a couple of years into the depression. Things were not going well at all for the people. Movies houses had cheap prices, special give-aways, and were widely available, so many people went. It was important in those times for movies to be an escape - and this one is that. It's upbeat and positive with a "everything is going to be alright" attitude. There is a number early on in the film and the whole message is "If I can smile, so can you" In the film, it is set up as a series of different working class people singing the message of sustained hope. It was inspiring, and I can only imagine how much it meant to the people of the time.
Shirley Temple is in it, but only very briefly, and without a significant part. Playing her father is James Dunn, who went on to star with her in a number of her films. She's charming as ever, even in her very small role.
One of the things I was not shocked by, but certainly interested to note was the role of race in this movie. It is the 1930s, keep in mind, so the sterotypes of blacks were very much present. One of the roles in the movie was a man who played the stereotype of the dumb ex-slave well. His stagename was Stepin Fetcit - although his real name was (get this) Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry. Apparently, this man became a millionaire playing these kinds of roles, and he was the 1st African American actor to get screen credit for his work. He's also in the group with Willie Best, who also played many of these roles, and their work is pretty controversial. I know it is wrong, but it is interesting to see these portrayals.
Sorry, but I wasn't that impressed enough - even though I do appreciate the meaning.
2 and 1/2 out out of 5 stars.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review: White Heat, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Asphalt Jungle, and the Posieden Adventures

The Poseiden Adventure: Wow. That's mostly what I got: wow! Basic Plot: A boat in the middle of the ocean gets hit by a huge tidal wave, which appropriately tips it over. This is the story of the survivors. A stellar cast with so many names in it that I can't really begin. Everyone - the names, the no-names are all wonderful! I can't even begin to imagine how this was shot - and my appreciation goes to every single person in this cast and crew.
Strangely enough, I love disaster films. They all follow a basic plot line (unless based on true events) and most of the time, everything comes out in the end. You've got the mix of people, the tension of disaster, the fight for survival, and of course, danger, adventure, and above all, hope. One thing this film has taught me is that if you are going to survive a disaster film, you have to have sporatic to no use. Think about it as you watch it. Once a person has served their purpose, they are more than likely going to die. It is inevitable. And I don't say that to be mean, it is just how it is. I cried, no I bawled at a couple of the death scenes. It's not so much the actual death as it is the effect the death has on those left behind - now THERE is where most of the drama lies. My only problem with this film is that it ends so abruptly. They're out, the end. Wait! I want to know what happens to them - are they going to be all right? What will come of this event? How (other than the obvious) has it changed their lives?
Stellar movie - 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars!
The Asphalt Jungle: A pretty good heist film - except that nobody gets away with anything, and I'm pretty sure that is the message it wanted to send. Kind of like if Ocean's Eleven were to happen in real life. It's a pretty gritty world - trust no one and keep your nose clean or you'll regret it. This is a pretty typical look at 1950s crime films. It's entertaining enough. Doesn't blow you away, but it keeps you interested. Acting is pretty fair - including a role for a young Marilyn Monroe playing the girl toy of a "rich" lawyer. Sad, that she usually never leaves that persona. Even typical is the speech at the end - you know, the hard city filled with crime bit by the commissioner - pretty sure this is the epitome of that. Interesting enough, you don't really care for the commissioner or the coppers - you're routing for the criminals - except for those who double cross the team. They don't want to kill anyone, so they're completely sympathetic. One man just wants to support the family, one dreams of returning home, one is an old man looking for funds to "retire" in Mexico, and one is a crooked back man who owns a diner and is always there for his friends. A very likeable lot. It makes you wonder why people make films like this. Why do we like to like criminals??
An average 3 out of 5 stars.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: I should have liked this film. I love Gregory Peck, I love when things work out in the ending, and I love good stories, but I did not like this film. I don't exactly know why. Acting was not brilliant, but it was good. Peck as the father figure (which is what almost all of his roles are - whether he is playing a father or not.) Jones (as his wife) did a good job - and even the children (who were little snots) played their roles well. I will say that the set decorator did a marvelous job on the first house. It was so plain - it perfectly fit a family like theirs, so Cudos!
What I think really drove me away from this picture is the overall depressing feeling it gives. Like I said, it is a story that ends happily, but from the get-go there is a feeling of let-down, of trouble, of inability and marred circumstances. And it pervades the whole picture. You're sympathetic to almost everyone in the picture, but its too much. You never get over feeling sorry for this man. It's a terrible view of the post-war, corporate world. Working business man oppression. Having to watch everything you do so the Big Boss will approve. And materialism. The kids drove me crazy - it wasn't that they were bad so to speak, but they ignored their father. They shut almost everything out - and no one but that darn nanny would disapline them for it. And most everything got worse and worse as the film went on. By the time things were straightened out (somewhat) you were too exhausted with the weariness of it all that you didn't care if it turned out okay.
I'm sorry, but 2 out of 5 stars.
White Heat: "Made it Ma! Top of the World!" James Cagney at his very best. I don't know why this movie isn't more acclaimed than it is - and it is somewhat acclaimed within its own genre.
Basic Plot: Somewhat psychotic gangster (Cagney) who has a mother fascination admits himself into the Illinois State Pen. for a false crime to get away with a bigger crime. While inside the shit hits the fan so to speak, and Cagney goes crazy. To tell you more would be to ruin it, so I will stop.
Cagney is BRILLIANT. He plays his character so well. He really seems insane. The moment he gets some bad news in the prison, he goes crazy. And it's terrible to watch, but its so pawerful! You feel for him, even though he is a cold-blooded character. Not to long after you see him shoot up a guy in the trunk of a car and laugh about it. His performance is so strong, so intense. You know, I take it back, he is not completely cold-blooded because you can see it when he finds out he has been tricked by a guy he trusted. He laughs, but you can hear the disbelief in his voice as well as maybe a tear or two.
Cagney kind of outshines everyone else in the picture, but if nothing else, they hold their own. Mayo as his wife is so perfect - and Hutchinson (as the mother) is pretty great. The man playing Hank is also very well ept to his role (both of them!)
It's a great film noir/gangster picture with an ending that will blow you away!
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars!