Sunday, May 1, 2016

The May the 4th Be With Audrey Hepburn Blogathon

So Diana over at Flickin' Out has gotten fed up with a particular day of the year being associated with Star Wars. In response to this, she decided to honor another significant event that occurred on the fifth month's fourth day: the birth of Audrey Kathleen Ruston, better known to moviegoers as Audrey Hepburn.

Of course with Hepburn being a popular name amongst classic Hollywood fans, many of her titles were claimed by other bloggers for this event. So what I decide to discuss?

(1959, dir. Fred Zinnemann)

Lesser known than the most noted works for both Hepburn and Zinnemann, it's a film that I claim as one of my favorites. And I'm not sure how many of you have seen it but I hope by the end of the post you'll be seeking it out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Born to Be Blue

If there's one thing that various names of the music industry have shown the masses, it's that being a musician isn't as cracked up as it appears. It's very rare to find a musician both past and present that didn't have a history of substance abuse, and more often than not it affects their talent. (At least a few of them wrote songs about it once they've cleaned up.)

Granted it was more prevalent before drug laws became more strict throughout the world, and many times it was with musicians now hailed as the greatest to ever perform. Such is the case with Chet Baker, the subject of Robert Budreau's Born to Be Blue. Baker was one of the biggest names in jazz but like his musical contemporaries, he couldn't resist the vices that came with fame.

Being part fictional/part factual, Born to be Blue focuses on Baker (Ethan Hawke) as he tries to go straight. With the help of girlfriend Jane Azuka (a composite of several women in Baker's life played by Carmen Ejogo), he tries to maintain steady work as well as staying clean. But will Baker give into temptation?

Born to Be Blue admittedly follows the familiar formula for biopics though Budreau does coax out some solid work from Hawke. The actor, who's had his fair share of hits and misses over the years, shows the strength in his abilities. Hopefully awards voters will remember it by year's end.

All in all however, Born to Be Blue is average at best. It does try its best to achieve the same ranks as Walk the Line but it falls short. Still, Hawke's performance makes up for it in the long run.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, April 24, 2016

My Darling Clementine

John Ford is the undisputed great when it comes to westerns. His collaborations with John Wayne are the ones that have stood the test of time. Sure, there have been the likes of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood in the years to come, but Ford is frequently the first name that comes to mind when westerns are concerned.

My Darling Clementine sometimes isn't held in the same regard as Stagecoach or The Searchers. (Probably because it doesn't star Wayne.) Perhaps it's because the film's easily the most human of the entire western genre, a trait seldom applied to others.

Being the first post-war production for both Ford and star Henry Fonda, My Darling Clementine also displays a sense of maturity frequently found in works from this time in Hollywood. Both established and emerging names were coming home from the war, and they wanted the movies they worked on to be real.

My Darling Clementine doesn't rely on the violence so much as other westerns did in the years to come. Instead, Ford focuses more on the myth of the Wild West as it slowly builds up to the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. (That's a detail you can only find in a Ford film.)

It doesn't take much to see that My Darling Clementine is another of Ford's many great films. Gorgeously shot by Joseph MacDonald, it's the kind of picture you need to see at least once in your lifetime.

My Rating: *****

Friday, April 22, 2016

Midnight Special

As proven by his previous films, Jeff Nichols has showcased his abilities as a director. With only three prior films to his name, Nichols proved his status as a rising name in Hollywood. (And no, he has no relation to the director of The Graduate.)

So how has Nichols' latest film Midnight Special fared? Indeed it has themes previously featured in his earlier work but they're under a different light here. (And it's clear that Nichols got a bigger budget for this.)

Much like Nichols' previous feature Mud, Midnight Special is set within the backroads of America, itself a character in its own right. And like Take Shelter (another Nichols title), it has Michael Shannon encountering things of an otherworldly nature. Nut again there's more to the film.

In a way, Midnight Special could be viewed as a metaphor for raising an autistic child. You have to protect that child with caution, making sure their surroundings don't harm them in any way. Now you may not see the film in this light but others might.

But overall, Midnight Special is lacking compared to the one-two punch of Take Shelter and Mud. The majority of its heft is in the second third and even then it doesn't feel like much. Hopefully Nichols' next film will be a touch better.

My Rating: ****

Eye in the Sky

What motivates us from going through a certain action? Is it our conscience that stops us? The lingering sense of guilt that follows in the aftermath? Whatever the reason, it's within human nature to have second thoughts before following through.

Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky has this as its main theme. Revolving around drone warfare (hence the title), it focuses on the tough decisions one faces when at war. Is the effect of one action worth it as a result?

Similar to The Ox-Bow Incident decades earlier, Eye in the Sky lingers on the characters' consciences before and after their actions. Some view what they're doing as simply doing the right thing while others acknowledge that innocent lives are at stake. What matters is if their gut instincts are the right ones.

As is frequently the case for war-themed films, the cast of Eye in the Sky is solid. Featuring the likes of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, the recently departed Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi, Hood ensures that this quartet of actors delivers. And boy, they do.

Eye in the Sky is a very solid film though it does start to lose steam towards the end. Regardless of that detail, Hood does make a thoroughly effective thriller, the kind reminiscent of those from the Cold War era. In other words, it's worth a look for those curious.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Presenting Lily Mars

It's established pretty quickly in Norman Taurog's Presenting Lily Mars that the titular leading lady (Judy Garland) so wants to become an actress. Her persistence is so strong, she starts annoying director John Thornway (Van Helfin) to give her a chance. But will she succeed?

Much like A Star is Born the following decade, Presenting Lily Mars has Garland as the promising talent just waiting to be discovered. Of course suspicion of disbelief is in effect for both films since everyone by now knows of Garland's abilities as an entertainer. (C'est la vie, perhaps.)

And of course with this being a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios production, Presenting Lily Mars relies a bit more on the musical numbers than, well, anything else. (Hey, a little escapism doesn't hurt every now and again.) Though when the film does decide to focus on the plot, it's either hit or miss.

However, there is some good comedy within certain moments of Presenting Lily Mars. Both Helfin and Richard Carlson dish out their fair share of reaction shots. (Marta Eggerth meanwhile has a glare that could cut clean through you.) And Garland gets in on the comedy as well.

All in all though, Presenting Lily Mars isn't anything too remarkable. Yes, the actors have good chemistry but once you read the plotline, you can tell what path it'll be going down. It does provide some entertainment but not much.

My Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Golden Boy Blogathon

Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema is doing a blogathon on birthday boy William Holden. (Okay, she's been doing it for a few days but still.) My subject of choice? I decided to tackle Holden's three Oscar-nominated performances. Those performances (and whom he lost to) are:

(1950, dir. Billy Wilder)
Lost to José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac
(1953, dir. Billy Wilder)
(1976, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to co-star Peter Finch

(More after the jump!)