Saturday, December 31, 2011

Run Silent, Run Deep

A common theme in some war movies is that of revenge. Mostly if one of the characters lost something dear to them in battle, like a ship, a plane or a close friend.

In the case of Cmdr. Richardson (Clark Gable) in Robert Wise's Run Silent, Run Deep, he wants revenge on the Japanese who sank his submarine and several others. The thought of revenge almost consumes him.

Lt. Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) and the rest of the crew notice Richardson's eccentricities. Richardson's behavior can't exactly be compared to that of Capt. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny or Capt. Powell in Mister Roberts, but tints of Capt. Ahab are present.

The contrasting acting styles of Gable and Lancaster is an interesting touch. Both have a natural style of acting, but Lancaster's style has more power within it. Since I consider both personal favorites, it's hard to say which of the two gave the better performance though Gable has an experienced edge for the role.

Run Silent, Run Deep is a really great movie. Wise captures the right balance of suspense, as well as actors at the top of their game. Considering this was released during the somewhat busy year of 1958, it's safe to say that it is an underrated entry of the year. It also means you should really check it out.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Pink Panther

Since his passing last year, I managed to catch up on Blake Edwards' work. This year alone, I saw Operation Petticoat, Victor Victoria and Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I also saw what is considered Edwards' best known comedy: The Pink Panther. I wouldn't generally say that it's his best comedy, period. (That probably goes to Victor Victoria.)

The cast for The Pink Panther is recognizable by my standards. It stars David Niven, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, and, of course, Peter Sellers. No surprise that Sellers is the focal point here, but he did have more leeway than the others.

And knowing Edwards' sense of humor, I knew what to expect. Basically it involves a somewhat silly concept getting blown out of proportion. Look, after a while, you start picking up small things.

To sum things up, The Pink Panther is entertaining but it gets too silly in parts. Also, the movie starts losing steam when Sellers isn't on screen. But if you need something to watch as a means of relaxing, The Pink Panther is the way to go.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Auntie Mame

In most movies, the characters that are full of life are usually the supporting roles. Not that common with lead characters.

Well, except Rosalind Russell's Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame. She has more life in one finger than most people do in their whole bodies. Who wouldn't want to meet a person like Mame?

Of course, the fun doesn't last for very long, what with becoming the guardian of her nephew. Sure, she manages to squeeze in time for herself, but all of her attention is focused on him. (Okay, so her first of schooling for him wasn't the greatest, but you can't blame her for trying.)

You've got to admire the fact that Mame is trying her best. Most people in her situation would've given up. Not Mame. With all that life in her, she has to prove her status in the working society.

Auntie Mame is a really entertaining movie. Yes, it gets silly in some parts, but that's what makes it more fun. The gowns by Orry-Kelly are just gorgeous, and Russell's performance is still lively even after all these years. (The movie also shows a great way to get rid of pesky future in-laws.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Black Orpheus

Amid the chaos of festivities, one can find their own form of activity. Such is the case with Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus.

Set in Rio de Janiero during Carnival, Black Orpheus chronicles a romance that was doomed from the very beginning. A few films depict such an affair and do it successfully. Black Orpheus is one of them.

Black Orpheus is based on a Greek myth. I myself hadn't heard of the myth but after seeing what Camus presented, I realized how great of a myth it is.

It's the small details of Black Orpheus that work. My favorite aspects were the music and the gorgeous cinematography, as well as the vivid and vibrant colors. Hey, if you don't think so, watch it for yourself.

Black Orpheus is a fantastic film. The story gets a little disoriented, but no matter. Just soak in everything Camus has to offer. I will add this though: this is only for the true film aficionados.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I've rarely seen a film as hypnotic as Jonathan Glazer's Birth. There hasn't been a film that captivates as well as Birth.

Many elements of the film could be allusions to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. After all, both films revolve around the longing of someone who has passed on. Also in both films, the supporting characters are appalled at the actions and beliefs of the lead character.

In Birth, the lead character is Anna. She is played by Nicole Kidman, perhaps one of the finest actresses working today. As Anna, she delivers possibly the performance of her career. Many of her emotions are conveyed with not her words but her expressions. One lingering shot of her at a concert solidifies this concept.

The main star of Birth is not Kidman, nor is it Danny Huston or Lauren Bacall. It is Cameron Bright, whose eerie presence is felt when he's not on screen. Bright's performance is probably one of the few examples of where the work from a child actor is neither annoying or irrelevant to the plot.

Birth is one of the most neglected films I have ever seen. Everything about it is so nuanced yet so mesmerizing. It sucks you in and never lets go until the end credits start to roll. It's just that good.

My Rating: *****

Monday, December 26, 2011

My Cousin Rachel

Henry Koster's My Cousin Rachel is different from most costume dramas of the time. Rather than focusing on a romance of some sort, it's a fine thriller.

In a sense, My Cousin Rachel is sort of a reversed Jane Eyre. It focuses on a mysterious person and another person who falls madly in love with them. Just keep that in mind as you watch it.

In his first Hollywood production, Richard Burton makes one hell of an impact. As Philip Ashley, he showcases a bravura that can be manipulated by the right kind of person. His performance is also the foundation of many great performances to come.

As the title character of Rachel Sangalletti, Olivia de Havilland possesses a side of her acting ability that no one had seen before My Cousin Rachel. de Havilland at that time was known for playing the good girl. Here, she's in a darker role. And I must say, it's a great one.

My Cousin Rachel is a great movie. It starts off rather slow, but it picks up just as quickly. Burton and de Havilland give some of their best performances within this film. And to think this is was made by the same man responsible for Harvey.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Holiday

I always love it when I see a movie I originally thought I wouldn't like and I end up really liking it. (Not usually to the point of loving it.) Who doesn't love surprises?

This is the case with Nancy Meyers' The Holiday. From the fragments I saw, I figured it would be the usual tasteless romantic comedy. What I got instead was a movie that was really, really cute.

Among the actors in The Holiday are Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black (and Eli Wallach in an awesome supporting role). Diaz and Black I normally like in very small doses, but I did like them in The Holiday. I liked Black more because he was more dorky than loud as he usually is.

This was a nice transition for Winslet and Law. Both did a number of serious movies prior to The Holiday, so seeing them each do a light comedic role is a subtle touch. Their work here proved they are more versatile than originally perceived. (That, and Law is freaking adorable here.)

The Holiday, as stated, is a very cute movie. My main complaint is that the script focused too much on Diaz and Law, and not enough on Winslet and Black. All in all, I liked it more than I thought I would.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Love Actually

"Love is all you need.." So goes the song, but is it true? Is love all you need? Richard Curtis' Love Actually proves that yes, it is.

Set in England in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, Love Actually chronicles how one searching for love can find it. Either it can involve a lot of searching or, in the case of many of the characters, the love of your life is right in front of you. (Being single myself, I rather have the second option.)

Curtis, whose most notable credit prior to Love Actually was writing Four Weddings and a Funeral, provides a certain charm within the characters and dialogue. It's not heavily British as you might think. In fact, it could be made set somewhere in the United States and it would still work (though I would advise against such a remake).

There are many notable names in Love Actually, British and American, Oscar winners and Oscar nominees. Of the stories in the movie, my favorites were those on Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney and Martin Freeman. (I also liked the Liam Neeson story, but it feels tragically ironic now.)

Love Actually just works on so many levels. It's not contrived like many other modern romantic comedies; it's clever. I love the work from all of the actors. My only complaint is that it didn't focus enough on some of the characters. Boy, was I missing out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 23, 2011

Knock on Any Door

Nicholas Ray, in a lesser style to that of Billy Wilder, captured an air of cynicism in his films. Yes, some of his films would take an uplifting turn. but then they would soon turn into something more of a nightmare than a dream.

Such is the case with Ray's sophomore effort Knock on Any Door. Lawyer Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) is faced with the task of proving his client Nick Romano (John Derek), who is charged with killing a police officer, innocent.

Morton claims that Romano wasn't given a chance at having a life of his own. Living in the slums made Romano turn to a life of crime. But did it persuade him to murder?

Much like Gloria Grahame's Laurel Gray in In a Lonely Place, Morton is suspicious of Romano regardless of what Romano said. Did he actually pull the trigger? Or was there some dark urge boiling within him? It's a question that continually surfaces as the movie progresses.

Knock on Any Door is a pretty Ray movie, exploring many themes he would develop in the next decade. Bogart gives an effective performance, as does Derek. The problem with the movie is that the script doesn't generally hold up. If it did, Knock on Any Door would probably be ranked among In a Lonely Place, Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life. In all honesty, this is for the true Nicholas Ray devotees.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen has always brought out the magic in his movies, especially with The Purple Rose of Cairo. In recent years, some of his entries lacked that magic. His newest movie Midnight in Paris brought the magic back and then some.

The first four minutes of Midnight in Paris shows shot of the City of Lights, which is reminiscent of the opening moments of Manhattan. You have to admire Allen for paying homage to his own work. Only he can display the glamour of a city without overdoing it.

Our protagonist Gil is played by Owen Wilson, who I considered one of two actors that perfectly captures the Woody Allen persona apart from Allen himself. (The other actor is John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway.) Gil is clearly unsatisfied with how his life is going. He's constantly around people that you yourself wouldn't want to be stuck with at a party, including his fiancee. (They're at that stage that makes you wonder what made them fall in love in the first place.)

But then at midnight, Gil finds himself transported to his ideal location: Paris in the 1920's. Over several nights, he encounters prolific names of the lost generation. (Of the people Gil meets, my favorites were Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway and Adrien Brody's Salvador Dali.)

Much like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris masterfully blends fantasy and reality. Almost immediately, I was swept up in the tale Allen had crafted. If you haven't seen one of this year's best...well, why haven't you?

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Last Tycoon

Elia Kazan is always known for making making movies where the main character has society against him. Look at Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Look at Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. Look at Philip Green in Gentleman's Agreement.

Also look at Monroe Stahr (Robert De Niro) in Kazan's swan song The Last Tycoon. Monroe is a movie producer, but recently he's losing interest in his work. He wants to focus less on his professional life and more on his personal life.

I admire Kazan going all out with the cast. Along with De Niro, the cast for The Last Tycoon includes Robert Mitchum, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Tony Curtis, Jeanne Moreau and Jack Nicholson. I'm not saying this because I like him more, but I think Curtis gave the better performance out of all these actors. He gives us what his role offers him, perhaps because he was a struggling actor like his character Rodriguez. (I love the one shot of Rodriguez as he sees a picture of his younger self hanging in Monroe's office, making him smile and remember his past.)

The Last Tycoon is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel. I'm not sure which parts were from Fitzgerald's mind and which from screenwriter Harold Pinter's, but I will say there are a lot of underdeveloped issues. It's just so many of the characters don't move forward.

All in all, The Last Tycoon is decent on many counts. Decent acting, decent direction, decent script. It could have been vastly improved, but what's presented is all right by most standards.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day for Night

There are many movies that revolve around the production of another movie. Such examples include Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain, Richard Rush's The Stunt Man, and Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.

Another example is Francois Truffaut's Day for Night. It chronicles the many (and I mean many) complications that happen on a movie set. Such problems could be an actor being stubborn, someone on the verge of a breakdown or a relationship blossoming (or ending) on the set. In Day for Night, all three of those examples happen.

Other scenes in Day for Night reminded me of real-life accounts of what happened on movie sets. The opening scene was almost like what happened on any Stanley Kubrick movie. An actress requiring her lines to be pasted all over the set reminded me of Marilyn Monroe and her line "Where's that bourbon?" in Some Like It Hot. A set hand's always present, always suspicious wife mirrors when Zsa Zsa Gabor was on the set of All About Eve as then-husband George Sanders filmed his scenes with Monroe.

That doesn't mean Truffaut is making fun of the world of film. In fact, he's paying tribute to it. (It is dedicated to Lillian and Dorothy Gish after all.) This was a man truly devoted to the craft he loved. Not many people have such devotion.

Day for Night is one of the most insightful glimpses of movie production. Truffaut doesn't mock any of the characters but rather shows them as conflicted people. Definitely worth a look.

My Rating: *****

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Barefoot Contessa

Tales of Hollywood became more popular during the 1950's, appropriately when big names had become disillusioned by the studio system. Can you blame them? They practically sell their souls to a studio for seven years (or however long their contract is).

By the late 1940's and early 1950's, Humphrey Bogart appeared in movies where his characters were more world weary than tough. In The Barefoot Contessa, he stars as a writer-director whose attitude could be matched to that of Joe Gillis. (William Holden in Sunset Boulevard to those that don't know who the hell I'm talking about.) However, under the cynical exterior, he possesses a caring heart. (Corny, I know, but it's true.)

Ava Gardner co-stars as the unknown nightclub singer turned Hollywood star. Once she becomes famous, it's clear she has no interest in what Hollywood has to offer (in a similar vein to Gardner herself). She doesn't let the bright lights of Hollywood blind her from remembering her roots.

Along with Bogart and Gardner, another actor that stood out was Edmond O'Brien. He plays a publicity agent who's not as ruthless but just as effective as Sidney Falco. (Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success to those that don't know who the hell I'm talking about.) O'Brien is good, but I don't think he deserved the Oscar. (It should have gone to Karl Malden or Lee J. Cobb.)

The Barefoot Contessa is good, though the story goes off track a bit. I particularly liked the work from Bogart, Gardner and O'Brien. If you want a movie that's anti-Hollywood but not as cynical as Sunset Boulevard, look no further.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jane Eyre

Cary Fukunaga's take of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre was different than I thought it would be. I had a preconceived notion of sorts that it would be the typical costume drama we get every year. In reality, it was a step up from what the studios usually make, but just barely.

Mia Wasikowska, whom I'm more familiar with from The Kids Are All Right, stars in the title role. As much as tried, I couldn't shake the feeling that she was miscast. She felt too modern to be a period piece.

Michael Fassbender, however, feels right at home as the mysterious Mr. Rochester. In fact, he seems at ease in most of the movies he's in. (This is from someone who has four other movies of his this year alone.) Like the late, great Greta Garbo, Fassbender possesses an allure that makes people notice him. That, and also one hell of an acting ability.

Along with Fassbender's acting, two other aspects of Jane Eyre I loved were Dario Marianelli's score and Adriano Goldman's cinematography. Both of what Marianelli and Goldman contributed to the film add much to it. I think the film would have been missing something had the score and cinematography not been as effective as they were.

As stated before, I had a few problems with Jane Eyre. I will say it's one of the better titles of the year, but it could have been improved. But still, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I always manage to neglect watching certain actors. A poor excuse, I know, but I can't help it. There are too many out there I want to discover.

One of the more glaring entries until now was Greta Garbo. I wanted to that mysterious allure of hers in action, but I kept putting it off. Was it because I couldn't find an appropriate film to watch her in that best shows her allure? Or was it because I just couldn't handle the beauty she possessed? It's one or the other, and I have no idea as to which.

Another actor I unintentionally shirked off from watching was Robert Taylor. Knowing him mainly as Barbara Stanwyck's ex-husband, I read several comments on him that he had a certain charm to him. As with the case for other actors, I had a feeling that Taylor's looks and charm would go together hand in hand.

I finally saw both of them in action in the form of George Cukor's Camille. To my surprise, the personalities of Garbo and Taylor work wonderfully. Garbo's passion for the high life and Taylor's passion for her compliment each other. (In a way, they reminded me of Holly and Paul in Breakfast at Tiffany's.)

Camille is probably one of the few love stories that doesn't feel contrived. It could told even by today's rules, and it could still work. (Like I said, it reminded me of Breakfast at Tiffany's.) The costumes designed by Adrian are absolutely gorgeous, as with the work from Garbo and Taylor. I won't say anything else about Camille for I want others to watch it.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Leopard

I'm not much on foreign films in all honesty. It's mostly because I want to, you know, watch a movie, not go through the hassle of reading subtitles as well. Mind you, it also depends on the film's quality.

Usually when I do finally see a foreign film, it's usually made by one of three directors I like: Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa or Luchino Visconti. In this case, I saw Visconti's The Leopard. It intrigued me because two of its main stars weren't Italian; one was American (Burt Lancaster), the other French (Alain Delon). This doesn't mean I'm viewing it as a bad thing. In fact, The Leopard contains some of their best work.

Lancaster's work here reminded me that of his work in Atlantic City. Both films have his characters witnessing change in a society they knew by heart, their statuses slowly becoming meaningless. Once towering figures now shifting to a lesser role. Also with both roles, you can see the wear and tear the changes have made on them just by looking at their faces.

Knowing Visconti, I could sense his meticulous eye for detail would be used here. Boy, is it ever. The ball scene alone will make your eyes dazzle. (Such care in details can also be seen in Senso.) The plot is interesting because it doesn't particularly focus on one topic. No matter. Just bask in what Visconti has to offer.

The Leopard has to be one of the most gorgeously shot films made. That is thanks to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. In fact, everything in The Leopard is to die for. The acting, Visconti's direction and eye for detail, Rotunno's cinematography, Nino Rota's score...everything. If you don't believe me, see it for yourself.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wuthering Heights

Edward Fairfax Rochester, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Heathcliff...the similarities between these three literary characters? All are considered Byronic heroes, meaning they have certain traits that would rub people the wrong way. Yet women find these traits irresistible. (Confession: I'm one of those women.)

Another woman that can't avoid those traits is Cathy Earnshaw (Merle Oberon) in William Wyler's take on Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights. The man in question is Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). They're madly in love, but Cathy is reluctant at the thought of marriage. She cringes at the thought of being married to a stable boy.

That doesn't make Heathcliff fall out of love with her. He wants Cathy to love him for who he is, not hate him for what he isn't. Unfortunately for Heathcliff, that is what drives Cathy away from him.

I haven't read Bronte's novel but from what I've heard, Wyler stays mostly true to the novel. I say mostly because the film covers barely half of the novel, and a few pivotal characters are omitted. But what's left is a romance story for the ages.

I just loved the work from Olivier and Oberon, as well as Gregg Toland's Oscar-winning cinematography. It's the simplest of touches that counts. (Side note: am I the only one who thinks the score is a few notes off from sounding like the Gone with the Wind score?)

My Rating: *****

Golden Globe Nominations

An improvement from the SAG nominations yesterday, but not by much. Underlined means my prediction.

The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March
War Horse

The Artist
Midnight in Paris
My Week with Marilyn

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

The Artist
The Descendants
The Ides of March
Midnight in Paris

The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots

The Flowers of War
In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Kid with the Bike
A Separation
The Skin I Live In

The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
War Horse

"Lay Your Head Down", Albert Nobbs
"Hello Hello", Gnomeo and Juliet
"The Living Proof", The Help
"The Keeper", Machine Gun Preacher
"Masterpiece", W.E.

What are your predictions?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


There's one shot in George Cukor's Gaslight that I feel I must point out. Confronted by her husband Gregory (Charles Boyer), the lighting on Paula's (Ingrid Bergman) face shows her weariness from her constant persecutions of her husband. It emphasizes the dark circles under her eyes, a nice touch from cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg.

Paula was tormented long before this scene. She lives in the house where her aunt was murdered. The event haunts her for much of Gaslight. But there's more that torments Paula's mind.

It's clear Gregory is hiding something from Paula, but what? When he's hiring Nancy (Angela Lansbury) as a maid, he's quite friendly to her as well as in later scenes. Could he be attracted to her? After all, Nancy is shown to be a lively girl. (The fact Paula doesn't like could be another reason.)

Enter Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten), a police officer who becomes transfixed by Paula's beauty. (Not to the point of obsession, mind you.) He also becomes transfixed by her marriage to Gregory. They appear to be a loving couple, but it's a whole different story behind closed doors.

Gaslight is a great movie. The work from Bergman, Boyer, Cotten and Lansbury is great, especially Bergman. She slowly falls into the depths of insanity, a daring task both then and now. It's something that has to be seen to be believed.

My Rating: *****

SAG Nominations

It's that time of year again. Below are who's nominated; underlined means my prediction.

The Artist
Bridesmaids (really?)
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris

Demián Bichir – A Better Life
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
George Clooney – The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

    Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
    Viola Davis - The Help
    Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
    Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn
    Tilda Swinton - We Need To Talk About Kevin

    Christopher Plummer - Beginners
    Armie Hammer - J. Edgar
    Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
    Jonah Hill - Moneyball
    Nick Nolte - Warrior

    Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
    Bérénice Bejo - The Artist
    Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
    Jessica Chastain - The Help
    Octavia Spencer - The Help

    What are your predictions?

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    The Believer

    What causes someone to fall into an unsavory group? Peer pressure? Their own decision? Either way, their choices can shock those closest to them.

    Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling) expresses his hate towards people of Jewish faith quite openly. But there's something about him that could get him killed by his colleagues. What is it? Danny is Jewish himself.

    As The Believer wears on, you can tell Danny is getting pangs of conscience. He wants to despise his religion, but he can't bring himself to do so entirely. One powerful scene is where he performs a combination of the Nazi salute and Jewish prayer. The scene shows the type of conflict Danny is facing.

    Danny is in a similar vein with Derek Vinyard in American History X. Both have strong prejudices, however we get a more in-depth look from Danny. Derek is already a reformed man when we first see him in the present day. (It's in the flashbacks we see his evil side.) With Danny, the seeds of his evil being planted are what we see in the flashbacks.

    The Believer is quite good, but I think it wouldn't have done as well had it not had a daring actor like Gosling. The script is good, though it has its faults. To sum things up, it's worth a look.

    My Rating: ****

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    In the Name of the Father

    Wrongful convictions is one thing in our society that never ceases to provoke me. It shows how misinformed the legal system can be.

    Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father shows one of the best example of a miscarriage of justice. Set during the 1970's in Belfast, it displays the many hardships of the time. Hey, no one said life in the 1970's was pleasant.

    The main driving force of In the Name of the Father is in the form of Daniel Day-Lewis. He appears confident and sure of himself early on, but you can clearly notice the scared look on his face throughout. This is also one of Day-Lewis' best performances. (Then again, does he ever have a bad performance?)

    Another great performance comes from Pete Postlethwaite, a fine actor who sadly passed away earlier this year. He was always a bit of a scene stealer (as shown in his penultimate film The Town), and such is the case with In the Name of the Father. He tries to re-connect with Day-Lewis, trying to salvage the father-son relationship they once had. It's a heartbreaking performance from him. (It's also another reason for why I hold a grudge at Tommy Lee Jones for winning Supporting Actor that year.)

    In the Name of the Father is a great movie, but the pacing bothered me a bit. It was like it was slow, then it sped up, and then it slowed down again. Bothersome, but thankfully the work from Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite managed to have me overlook that irksome detail. All in all, worth a look.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Singin' in the Rain

    Before any of you give me a hard time, I have seen Singin' in the Rain before. However, this was years ago and long before I became dedicated to movies. Anyway, onward with the review.

    Singin' in the Rain is named one of the best musicals ever made. And this was a movie made when studios were cranking out musicals every week. What makes Singin' in the Rain still remembered nearly sixty years later is that it doesn't depend solely on the musical numbers. It also relies on the characters and their development.

    Of course with musicals, everyone has their favorite numbers. For me, my favorites are "Make 'Em Laugh", "Moses Supposes", "Good Morning", and, of course, "Singin' in the Rain". You didn't think I could pick just one, did you?

    By all accounts, making Singin' in the Rain was no bed of roses. After shooting the "Make 'Em Laugh" number, Donald O'Connor suffered from exhaustion and carpet burns, and was in bed for a week. (Can you imagine his response to having to shoot that number again after the initial footage was accidentally destroyed?) Debbie Reynolds said making Singin' in the Rain was one of the two hardest things she's ever had to do. (The other thing was childbirth.) And the most famous complication was Gene Kelly shooting the "Singin' in the Rain" number with a temperature of 103. When you take into account all the turmoil the three leads went through, it makes the final result an ultimate payoff.

    It's movies like Singin' in the Rain that show why I'm so in love with them in the first place. What better way to forget your troubles than by watching a movie? In closing, I think Singin' in the Rain is now among my favorites. Scratch that. It is now among my favorites.

    My Rating: *****

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Seven Days in May

    In the aftermath of JFK's assassination, a new genre sprung up within the media: the political thriller. They became immensely popular during the 1960's, and still remain so to this day.

    One of the few geniuses of this genre was John Frankenheimer. After all, his magnum opus is The Manchurian Candidate, made just a year before (and shares startlingly similar aspects with) JFK's assassination. He also made the excellent Seconds, whose main theme was trust no one. Between those two, Frankenheimer made Seven Days in May.

    Seven Days in May was released in 1964, the same year as Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe. In those three films, JFK's assassination and the Cold War could still be felt. They're felt the most in Seven Days in May, mainly how our own government was close to having similar events as in the film.

    There are many aspects of Seven Days in May that make it excellent. Naturally Frankenheimer's direction, but also the performances. Both Fredric March's President Jordan Lyman and Kirk Douglas' Col. Martin "Jiggs" Casey won't back down when the going gets rough. Burt Lancaster's Gen. James Mattoon Scott is ruthless and spews venom when he speaks. Ava Gardner's Ellie Holbrook is still healing from her past with Scott (they were former lovers), but that doesn't stop her from wanting revenge. The true star of Seven Days in May isn't March, Douglas, Lancaster or Gardner; it's Rod Serling's script. How the Academy failed to nominate it is beyond me.

    Seven Days in May is still effective after all these years. To those that think otherwise, view it instead as a retrospective of 1960's politics. Nerves were frayed during those times, and Frakenheimer encased those feelings in his work.

    My Rating: *****

    Friday, December 9, 2011


    What would you do if your time on earth was to run out in a matter of time? Some would live their lives up in the little time they have. Others try to do something they'll be remembered for. In the case with Kanji Wantanabe (Takashi Shimura) in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, he does both.

    Upon finding out of his stomach cancer, his life starts to spiral out of control. He tries to live up what's left of his life, but that doesn't fill the widening void within him. If you notice, he feels good when he makes someone else happy. That sets something off in his mind.

    Wantanabe doesn't tell anyone of his cancer. Well, he tries to tell his son (he has a Mildred Pierce sort of relationship with him), but is shut out when he does almost speak up. In fact, Wantanabe is viewed with contempt by his relatives. Can you blame him for keeping his cancer secret because he didn't want to hurt anyone else?

    The previous Kurosawa movies I saw (Seven Samurai, High and Low, Rashomon) all move at a fast pace. Not Ikiru. It moves at a pace slower than the rest. It might be a bother to some, but not to me. Plus, the slow pace gives us time to develop feelings for the characters.

    In short, I loved Ikiru. It captures many emotions and feelings that so many movies try so hard to get. Also, if you don't feel anything from that shot of Wantanabe on the swing, don't even talk to me.

    My Rating: *****

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

    With Westerns, there's always that certain theme running throughout. Most of the time, the theme involves the main character(s) and their morals.

    Such is the case with John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. When Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) first arrives in the town of Shinbone, he's shocked at the lack of backbone against violent bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard is fresh out of law school, so he's looking to have Valance thrown in jail.

    The only person in Shinbone that's both for and against Stoddard's ideas is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). He agrees that Valance needs to be put behind bars, but claims (as with the rest of Shinbone) that Valance is impossible to capture without a fight. Like that's going to stop Stoddard.

    It's interesting with Stewart and Wayne cast alongside each other. For someone who has seen enough movies with each of them, they both have a different way of creating an understanding between them and others. With Stewart, he'll use talking and logic as a way to understand the heart of the matter. Is it the same with Wayne? Hell no. With him, it's either agree with him or get slugged.

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance shows how one's morals can either stay put or shift, especially when the going gets rough. Ford has done such a theme before, particularly in The Grapes of Wrath. Here, he has mastered the theme.

    My Rating: *****

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Dead Man

    The Western has been varied countless times. It can focus on characters more than action (Rio Bravo), action more than characters (The Wild Bunch) or both (Red River). Each time they manage to gain a new audience.

    Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man isn't a Western in the strictest sense of the word, but rather a neo-Western. It's not set strictly in a dusty little town or the plains of the west, but rather in the wilderness of the west.

    Our hero of Dead Man is William Blake (Johnny Depp), a bookish accountant from Cleveland (and not to be confused with the poet). Early on, it's clear he's unprepared for what is to happen with him. Once everything falls into place, Blake becomes one with the wild.

    From his arrival in Machine to his trek in the wilderness, Blake encounters a motley group of characters. Of them, the ones that stood out the most for me were Alfred Molina's bigoted trader and Robert Mitchum's gun-toting businessman. I think it was mostly because both go by their own rules and question anyone that questions them. (That, and they're both badasses. Mitchum especially.)

    Dead Man has many aspects I approve of. The acting, the cinematography, the script all work. The narrative, however, bugged me a bit. No matter. Jarmusch's direction kept Dead Man afloat.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011


    Akira Kurosawa is one of the most prolific foreign film directors out there. For good reason too. He knew how to convey the many different personalities the human race has.

    Rashomon, one of his most famous films, is one such example. Four people are involved in a crime, and all provide insights on the crime. Who is right about what has happened?

    However, all four do agree on one aspect of the crime. The other aspect is what's up for debate. This is what makes Rashomon interesting. The film doesn't agree or disagree with any of their stories. It just rolls with them.

    As with the personalities, Kurosawa showcases several of them: the (supposedly) honest working man, the damsel in distress, and the cocky troublemaker. Knowing Kurosawa, he blends these roles in to work wonders.

    Rashomon is both one of the best foreign films and one of the most influential. After all, there are so many movies and TV episodes that owe a thank you to Kurosawa. One to miss? Think again.

    My Rating: *****

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    American Prince

    When celebrities have their memoirs published, it allows their fans to learn more about them. (Well, at least the stuff they keep out of interviews.) Then there are the names whose personal lives were exploited for most of their careers.

    One such name is Tony Curtis. Being more than aware of his reputation as a womanizer who spoke his mind often, I was more than a little reluctant to read his memoir American Prince, which was published a few years before his passing in 2010. I had a preconceived feeling that it would be nothing but sex and smut on every other page. But once I started reading, I realized that he had a complex sort of personality.

    Curtis, like most other stars of the Golden Age, didn't exactly have the best of upbringings. He went from the slums of the Bronx to the bright lights of Hollywood thanks in part to his good looks. In a span of nearly sixty years, he appeared in over 100 movies.

    He tells of his many antics on the set (he was the target of many pranks early in his career) and off (the occasional get together among Hollywood's elite). There are several moments in the book that could raise some eyebrows (apparently Marilyn Monroe did too good of a job during their intimate scene in Some Like It Hot), but it's all good.

    American Prince is one of the most sincere memoirs out there, however I didn't like how Curtis blamed his ex-wives for their failed marriages. (Because of that, I'm now tempted to read Janet Leigh's memoirs to see what she had to say about their marriage.) The words glide across the pages as he remembers pivotal scenes of his life and career. (His description of his brother Julius' death just shattered my heart.) Definitely a must-read.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Sunday, December 4, 2011


    It's impossible to control one's demons if you're the only one who knows of them. Such is the case with Brandon (Michael Fassbender) in Steve McQueen's sophomore triumph Shame.

    Brandon is addicted to something more physically debilitating than alcohol or any drug: sex. As the film progresses, you can see in his face that it's taking a toll on him. Matters only get worse when his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up.

    There are many long takes within Shame, much in the same vein as McQueen's previous film Hunger. There are also several shots of Brandon in pure silence. It's within those shots you wonder what's running through his tormented mind.

    We never do find out what caused Brandon and Sissy to be who they are. Was it because of a traumatic event? Were they always like this? All we know is that they're in New York City to start over. (This makes Sissy's rendition of "New York, New York" in one scene all the more poignant.) By the end, we still know very little about them.

    Don't turn away because of the rating. It's much more than sex. It's about raw and honest feelings. Think of it almost as McQueen's take on Last Tango in Paris. Fassbender is in a role so bold, daring and powerful that comparing it to Brando's role is practically an understatement. Mulligan possess much of the vulnerability and naivety as Schneider did. In short, fantastic performances, fantastic film.

    My Rating: *****

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    The People vs. Larry Flynt

    Apparently freedom of expression is an oxymoron. For crying out loud, it's in the Constitution. Some freedom.

    Such a feeling is expressed in Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt. If you couldn't tell by the title, it focuses on Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. Flynt is portrayed by Woody Harrelson, a fine actor in his own right. Harrelson, in a fantastic performance, shows the many plights Flynt encountered with his wife Althea (Courtney Love, really effective) and his lawyer Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton, always good).

    After Flynt gets shot and paralyzed, he starts to slip into Howard Hughes territory, shown both in and out of the courtroom. But earlier, he shows he's competent. One scene in particular where Flynt gives a speech comparing sex to war. It's one hell of a speech.

    The People vs. Larry Flynt reminded me of Bob's Fosse Lenny. Both are about two men who were game changers in regards with the First Amendment. (Larry Flynt with publishing his magazine, Lenny Bruce with his comedy.) Though in a sense, they never wanted to conform to the morals of their times.

    The People vs. Larry Flynt shows how expressive one person can be. (Then again, this is directed by the same person who made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. ) The performances were great, as was the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. However, I thought it focused too much on some scenes and not enough on others. Still a damn fine film though.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    BOOK VS MOVIE: Sweet Bird of Youth

    Being the admirer of Tennessee Williams that I am, I have picked up on the many common roles in his plays: the woman on the brink of self-destruction, the young man striving to make a name for himself, and the small posse determined to keep everyone's morals intact.

    These characters are showcased in Sweet Bird of Youth. All of them long to have their met, but of course that isn't always the case. Knowing Williams' sense of nihilism, he never goes for the happy ending. (Well, with the exception of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.)

    With Sweet Bird of Youth, all of the characters long for the past. They want to find a way to remember their glory days, but it's no use. They also want their futures to contain tints of their pasts.

    Richard Brooks' adaptation of Williams' play stars Paul Newman and Geraldine Page, both the stars of the original stage production. Both are at the top of their game here. Newman's Chance Wayne strives to be famous, Page's Alexandra Del Lago wants to be forgotten. Both are fantastic in their roles.

    Of course knowing Hollywood from this time period, they demanded a happy ending. (The play's ending was much more violent.) However, comparing the two endings, I liked the movie's ending more. Also, apart from the ending change and an added scene or two, the movie's very true to the play.

    What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the movie.