Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In the Mood for Love

Foreign filmmakers always have a way of eroticizing almost everything in their work. It's just a peculiar knack among them.

Wong Kar-wai is one such name. His film In the Mood for Love sounds simple enough with its concept, but it's one film that packs more punch upon viewing.

In the Mood for Love isn't erotic in the sense there are steamy sex scenes. It's more so the longing desire between Chow (Tony Leung) and Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) that makes the film smolder with passion. What the film lacks with physical intimacy strives with emotional understanding.

The smaller aspects of the film work wonders, such as the color scheme and most definitely the music. The use of the Nat King Cole songs "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" and "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" showcases the feelings Chow and Li-zhen want to express but in a language foreign to them. There's also a haunting string piece that displays the contained desire between them.

In the Mood for Love depicts a complicated romance, one not shown often enough in film. It's a beautiful film, both physically and emotionally. Wong Kar-wai captures what so many try to do, which is showing one restraining an unrestrained love.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Snake Pit

I've always liked Olivia de Havilland. She provides bouts of cheeriness in many of her films. However, I had only seen her in costume dramas (The Heiress, Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, My Cousin Rachel) so I wanted to see her in something more...contemporary.

I found that in the form of Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit. As Virginia Cunningham, de Havilland shows the audience what she can do. What does she do? She showcases the fragility of the human mind.

The Snake Pit was a film that was way ahead of its time. Bear in mind this was decades before One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (a glimpse into life in a mental institution) and A Woman Under the Influence (a glimpse into life close to the breaking point). In fact, it paved the way in both Hollywood and real life with this subject.

de Havilland herself is an eye opener here. Gone are her performances as the quiet woman, and here is a part that has all engines running. She teeters on the brink of mental collapse, even when she's on the road to recovery. It almost comes as no surprise that some people had to be told she was acting.

The Snake Pit is a bit of a hard watch, but also a fascinating one. Litvak depicts a hell you can't even begin to imagine, and de Havilland is one of the unlucky occupants. A very bold film for its time.

My Rating: *****

Monday, February 27, 2012

Academy Award Winners

I didn't watch it, but there were a few moments that sounded amusing. And I wasn't bad at guessing...ish. Underlined means my prediction; bold means the winner.

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McNeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

The Artist
Jane Eyre

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Iron Lady

"Man or Muppet", The Muppets
"Real in Rio", Rio

The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar
A Separation

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

Number of right predictions: 12/24

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Le Cercle rouge

The two main characters of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle rouge are both criminals. One is fresh out of jail, the other is on the run. Both are distant from any sense of emotion, but they both know how to calculate the perfect crime.

The newly released prisoner is Corey (Alain Delon). His expression never changes throughout the course of the film. He remains blank, devoid of anything. He possesses a permanent steely stare, surveying everyone and everything around him.

The escapee Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte), however, is the opposite of Corey. He's on edge, watching every move he makes. When it comes to planning the heist, he leaves all the work to Corey. He knows Corey knows what he's doing.

The curious thing about Le Cercle rouge is that Melville doesn't mention what crimes got Corey in jail and Vogel arrested. Not even a slight hint. What could it have been? Robbery? Kidnapping? Murder? Again, no one knows. That adds to the allure of the film.

Le Cercle rouge is very good. Not as great as Army of Shadows, but on a similar level. Again, Melville knew how to capture the criminal underworld, and this is solid proof.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Army of Shadows

Jean-Pierre Melville was an interesting sort of director. On the one hand, he knew how to depict the criminal lifestyle. (Or at least from what I've seen by him so far.) Yet on the other hand, there is that detached aura in his work.

Such is the case with Army of Shadows, perhaps Melville's most highly regarded work. We are introduced to an array of people yet we can't really develop feelings for any of them. This isn't a bad thing, mind you, but rather as a better way to grasp the story of it all.

But what is the story of Army of Shadows? There isn't one specific story but rather many of them. All of them have one major connection: the French Resistance, which Melville himself was a part of. The aura of detachment is also in affect here. Melville was detached by his country's government, so he put that feeling into his film.

Army of Shadows was released barely a year after the student riots of May 1968. (No surprise that the film wasn't much of a success in France.) The politics in the film and those on focus in the protests are one in the same. The power of the government becomes too much for its citizens, so they decide to fight back.

Army of Shadows is neither a history lesson nor a war film. Think of it more as Melville's memories of the Resistance. Also, those 144 minutes just fly by, just as any great film should.

My Rating: *****

Friday, February 24, 2012

Divorce, Italian Style

In a way, one can almost support Ferdinando (Marcello Mastroianni) during his plight of trying to dispose his wife. Can you blame him? His wife has become too overbearing after twenty years, and now he wants someone else in her place.

But alas, there is one tiny problem. Divorce doesn't exist in Italy. So what does Ferdinando think of? The next best thing: murder. Well, not exactly murdering her in cold blood. Something more complex.

Throughout Divorce, Italian Style, we watch Ferdinando plan out every small detail in getting rid of his wife. (He even imagines what his lawyer will say at his trial.) If one thing goes wrong, the whole ploy will fall apart.

What makes Divorce, Italian Style so witty is its script. It's laced with lines worthy of a Billy Wilder film. Ferdinando's observations on life and the society he's in shows he's bored with both, and longs for some change.

Divorce, Italian Style is a very amusing film. Mastroianni, whom I knew previously from weightier films (8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, Le notti bianche), is fun to watch. In all honesty, had Mastroianni not been in it and the script wasn't good, Divorce, Italian Style just wouldn't have worked.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Le Doulos

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos was probably one of the few early films that depicted lives both on the run and behind the badge. Of course, this was before Sidney Lumet depicted such lives.

The criminals take their sweet time in planning their crimes, making sure every detail works in the long run. But as we all know from countless crime movies, not everything pans out as it should.

On the flip side, the police have to be at the top of their game. After all throughout Le Doulos, sometimes the criminals are a step ahead of the police. The other times, however, the police know everything.

The switching from criminal to police is a nice touch. Decades before Martin Scorsese did such a thing with The Departed, Melville does a nice examination of both sides of the track. However, he does tend to focus on one more than the other.

Le Doulos is a fine portrait of the criminal life. It has its flaws, such as underdeveloped characters and a primary focus on violence. Still though, Melville shows his audience the very thin line between law breakers and law makers.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bob le Flambeur

We've heard of countless American directors naming those from foreign countries as influences. (Do the names Bergman and Fellini ring a bell?) What about the other way around?

In this case, it's Jean-Pierre Melville. He was an admirer of all things American. (His surname is, of course, in reference to the author of Moby Dick.) But what he loved most from American culture were its films, Howard Hawks and John Ford in particular.

Naturally, Melville's love of American film would contribute as an influence for his own work. Such is the case with Bob le Flambeur, which many consider the beginning of the French New Wave. The main character of Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne) in a few early scenes wears a fedora and a trenchcoat in a similar manner to that of Humphrey Bogart. The use of seedy locales implicates that Melville had his fair share of film noir.

What makes Bob le Flambeur so interesting (and an influence on films in the years to come) is that it gives the audience time to learn of the characters' personalities. Only bits of the robbery's planning are shown throughout rather than showing the actual crime. Slick move to be honest.

Bob le Flambeur is very good, though it does feel slow in parts. However, one can pick up as to how both the film and Melville are now considered influences. That alone is worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the protagonist of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, is the kind of person one would encounter every now and again. You know, someone who has supposedly no worries in the world.

Of course, not everyone is enamored by Poppy's peppiness. They keep a form view on life while Poppy has a positive outlook, regardless of the situation.

Leigh provides a portrait of an average woman's everyday life. Poppy goes through her day with a smile practically glued on her face. You know the saying smile and the world smiles with you? Doesn't exactly apply to Poppy.

Indeed, Poppy's constant happiness does wear on after a while. It takes time to get used to it. Once you do, she is a nice presence in the film. A far cry from some of the characters in Leigh's other films, don't you think?

All in all, I liked Happy-Go-Lucky. Not as much as the other Leigh films I saw, but still as good. Hawkins is very lively and again, it's a nice change of pace from other films released in recent years.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vera Drake

We've all heard of those stories, the ones about people with ideal lives but also a dark side as well. We ourselves might have encountered such a person.

In the case of Mike Leigh's Vera Drake, it's that of the title character, played by Imelda Staunton. She's a hard-working woman, always caring about those around her. She helps those in need, including women who to rid of their unwanted, unborn children.

The scenes of Vera inducing miscarriages are hard to watch. They were also uncomfortable as well. They aren't the bloody gorefest one would expect. Vera opts for the cleaner solution. And surprisingly, Vera still keeps up with her cheerful demeanor.

Well, at least until the police catch up. That is when Vera completely falls apart. Perhaps she didn't think of the consequences after all this time. That is why her reaction to being found out is so devastating.

Vera Drake just sticks in your mind as you watch it. Not one scene feels false or out of place. (Not bad for a film made without a script.) One more note to mention. As raw and bold Hilary Swank was in Million Dollar Baby, the Oscar that year should have gone to Staunton.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Life in the world of theater isn't exactly the easiest type in the world. One has to remember their lines word for word as they perform for dozens if not hundreds of people.

Theater life has been depicted numerously in the form of film, most famously Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve and John Cassavetes' Opening Night. Another fine example is Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy. Set in 1885 England, Topsy-Turvy showcases a witty behind the scenes look at one of the most famous stage productions.

The production is The Mikado, created by W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner). The concept of a Japanese opera sounded silly at first to Sullivan, then to the actors and finally the audience. But Gilbert was confident enough to go through with the idea (even if he wasn't as confident on opening night).

The most amusing scene was when the actors were being fitted for costumes. The women objected to wearing a costume where their corsets weren't needed, and a male actor was appalled at the length of his robe which was just barely past his knees. Oh, how the times have changed.

For a film clocking in at 160 minutes, it could have fallen flat on its face in the first hour. Leigh makes sure not a minute is wasted. Each scene is a joy to watch and all of the actors play their parts extremely well. A moment to look out for: when Gilbert gets the idea for The Mikado in his mind. The look on his face is priceless.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, February 18, 2012


The first moments of Mike Leigh's Naked shows Johnny (David Thewlis) doing what he does best: abusing women. The use of a (very) shaky camera captures the whole mood of both the scene and the film.

Thewlis plays Johnny as someone who's never happy and always restless. He's not afraid to speak his mind, regardless of what anyone might think. Yet Johnny is as vulnerable and damaged as everyone around him. In short, a hell of a performance from Thewlis.

Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) is someone who longs for someone by her side. She's not picky. She'll take anyone who looks promising. So when Johnny shows up, Sophie thinks he'll become the man in her life. Or so she thinks.

Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell) is somewhere between being a cleaner Johnny and a British Patrick Bateman. He's a sharp dresser and has a tongue to match. He could care less about anyone but himself. In short, he's the kind of guy you want to kick where it matters.

Along with containing strong performances from its principal actors, Naked also gives a glimpse of working class London. It's hard to watch at times (mainly those scenes with Jeremy), but those other times you simply can't your eyes off the screen. Also, the music by Andrew Dickson is to die for. And if glimpses of working class society are what Leigh does best, then I will most definitely continue to watch.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, February 17, 2012

On the Beach

Years before John Frankenheimer made his "paranoia trilogy", Stanley Kramer had audiences on edge with his film On the Beach. Depicting the aftermath of nuclear war, Kramer provides commentary on an era when everyone was on edge, not knowing which country would push the button first.

Gregory Peck possesses a look of dread throughout On the Beach. That's because Towers lost his family from the radiation. He knows what kind of devastation it can cause. In fact, Peck himself was heavily opposed to nuclear weapons, so perhaps his beliefs were put into his work as Towers.

Ava Gardner plays Moira as a woman who accepts her fate but reluctantly. She drinks her worries away, but new ones emerge from each sip. She is worn out by what has happened and wants it all to end. A far cry from her glamorous roles, don't you think?

The two supporting actors are Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire. Perkins plays his part with a sense of uncertainty. Like his famous role of Norman Bates, Peter wants to keep his future bright but each passing day makes it appear darker. Astaire is revelatory in his role. Gone are his days with Ginger Rogers, and here is a new stage in his career. His part of Julian displays a depth not many would've imagined as they watched Astaire dance in the years before. And it took him fifteen years afterwards to get nominated?

Like Kramer's other productions, On the Beach contains excellent work from its principal actors. Saying who gave the better performance is hard. That's because Kramer knew how to get great work from his ensemble casts. And the speech Julian gives on the world going crazy with nuclear weaponry is unsettling because it can be applied today, a whole fifty-three years later.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppola is an interesting director. Like her father, she has made an impact on Hollywood with her films. But unlike Francis, her films convey a balance of style and substance, art and reality.

Her debut The Virgin Suicides showcases the gifts she was given. Through faded coloring and natural lighting, Coppola depicts a time when one was at their most unpredictable: the teenage years.

Coppola also shows a common theme that's among her work: loneliness. The Libson girls have essentially sheltered lives, thanks to their parents. Among people their own ages, they rather stay together as a group than be by themselves. Why? They don't know how to talk to other people.

Like her next film Lost in Translation, the leads are bored with their lives and the paths they're going down. They want something different to happen to them, something that's far from their usual mundane lives. They also realize they have to find that life-changing scenario. It's not going to walk right up to them.

The Virgin Suicides is a very good film, but it pales in comparison to Lost in Translation. However, it does shows that Coppola is definitely following in her father's footsteps. It also proves she's a much better director than an "actress".

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter is a very intense film through its actors. Its depiction of descending into madness could be compared to that of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and Col. Nicholson in David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Michael Shannon has been in Hollywood for years, acting in bit parts and supporting roles. Thanks to his scene stealing (and Oscar-nominated) work in Revolutionary Road, he's now getting the recognition he deserves. Shannon's past roles always managed to garner the audience's attention. His work in Take Shelter proves that he can carry a film on his own.

Jessica Chastain has definitely made a name for herself last year as Hollywood's "it" girl. She bears resemblance to a Persona-era Liv Ullmann, and has acting abilities to match. Many of her thoughts and emotions are played across her face. Saying she has a promising future in Hollywood is an understatement.

Shannon and Chastain having differing acting styles yet they compliment one another. Shannon's style consists of him making his presence clear the moment he appears. Chastain rather let the audience acknowledge her presence then showcase her skill as an actress. And personally in regards to one scene, I'm not sure what left me more speechless: Shannon's meltdown or Chastain's reaction to it.

Take Shelter really lingers in your mind once the credits start to roll. It shows how obsessive one person can become in a certain situation. Oh, and AMPAS? You fail for not nominating two of the best performances of 2011.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Young Lions

Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions depicts the lives of three men during World War II, a character study if you will. A very intriguing one as well.

The first of the three men is Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando), a member of the Nazi Party. At first, he has no complaints with the invasions and bombings he hears about. Once he sees firsthand the carnage and devastation his country was responsible for, he starts having serious personal conflicts. A role like this could have been schmaltzed up if not careful, but Brando makes it work. Not on a grand scale, but it's passable.

The second man is Noah Ackerman, played by Montgomery Clift. Noah is a feeble person, one who keeps very much to himself. That trait is practically scorned upon when he's sent away to serve in the army, and he becomes a frequent target of the other soldiers' tormenting. Much like the role of Christian, the role of Noah could have been an overly sympathetic role if written and/or performed poorly. Knowing Clift, he makes it work wonderfully.

The third of the trio is Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin), a stage performer with an indifferent view on life. He's less than thrilled about being drafted, even more so at the thought of not living to see the end of the war. Yet he manages to form a sort of kinship with Noah, who is the complete opposite of Michael. He becomes a reliable person to Noah, a confidant if you will. Michael's hard edge begins to soften as the war wears on. Martin, impressive with his work in Rio Bravo the following year, is just as impressive here.

The Young Lions has its flaws (like that 167-minute running time), but it's a very good film. Brando, Clift and Martin give strong, fine performances in a film that's worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Artist

2011 has to be the year of confused movie marketing. Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive focused heavily on action when it's really more of a character study in a similar vein to Michael Mann's work. Steve McQueen's Shame hyped about its NC-17 rating rather than showcasing how bold of a film it is.

Then there's Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist. Ever since it got into the public eye, it has been marketed as nothing more than a silent film. Indeed the lack of dialogue and sound effects are in full swing for most of the film, but there's so much more than that. (When will people ever learn?)

I couldn't help but think that Singin' in the Rain was an influence for The Artist. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a mix between Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood (the charismatic leading man) and Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont (the vain movie star) while Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is reminiscent of Debbie Reynolds' Kathy Selden (the young woman aspiring to break into show business). The fact both films focus on Hollywood's transition from silents to talkies also helps.

I admire Hazanavicius for putting allusions to the silent era in his script, more specifically what happened to its stars after the advent of talkies. He must have done his research on the subject because like many silent film stars, George goes through financial and personal ruin following the advent of talkies and the stock market crash.

Recently there has been backlash against The Artist (as with the case of any frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar). Really, is it needed at all? It's a magnificent film. Like Martin Scorsese's Hugo, The Artist depicts an era in film history that still leaves an impact decades and generations later.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Opening Night

There's a brief sequence in John Cassavetes' Opening Night that triggered a slight pang of nostalgia. Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) arrives at the theater drunk out of her mind. At the orders of her director Manny Victor (Ben Gazzara), she stumbles to her dressing room with no help. I couldn't help but recollect the final scene of On the Waterfront, Terry staggering up the docks.

Myrtle is similar to Terry. Both are pretty much on their own with their personal conflicts thought they get some reassurance from their peers, and by the end they're down but definitely not out.

Myrtle is also similar to Margo in All About Eve. Both acclaimed names of the stage, they aren't exactly the type that willingly accepts their age. Yet the thought of youth bothers them even more. Well, more so the lack of it within them.

Both are daunted by both the death of their youth and the presence of another's. For Myrtle, it's that of a young fan whom she witnessed get killed. It's from that incident Myrtle realizes that life is too short and hers is almost over. Like Margo, Myrtle has a personal crisis but hers is much more severe than Margo's.

Did Cassavetes put these allusions in his film on purpose? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for certain: the man knew how to hit the right notes with his troupe of actors. Along with A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night contains Rowlands' best work. (No surprise her best work was in films made by her husband of thirty-five years.)

My Rating: *****

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

What's interesting about John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is that it flips flops between genres. It starts off as a drama, then switching to thriller before blossoming into a character study. Not many directors can pull off this feat; Cassavetes was one of the few that could.

The film focuses on Cosmo Vitelli, played excellently by the recently departed Ben Gazzara. Cosmo runs a small strip club in Los Angeles, and by all accounts has a good life. But he's in debt and as a way to cleat up some of it, he has to kill a Chinese bookie. (Hence the title, of course.)

This is also interesting about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The actual crime is treated as nothing more than a minor subplot. This isn't a complaint, mind you, but merely as something that needed to be pointed out. Cassavetes isn't interested in blood and carnage. He'd rather watch someone's reaction to it.

Like his other films, Cassavetes has his camera linger on the main character, in this case Cosmo. In the aftermath of the crime he committed, he appears calm. But just in the very next shot, he has a panicked look on his face, thinking any move he makes could be his last. It's a hell of a performance from Gazzara.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie shows you don't need violence to make an effective thriller. Oh, and that last shot of Cosmo standing outside his club? Now that is how you do a close-up.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Woman Under the Influence

There's a shot in John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence that captures the whole mood of the film. As he watches his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) resisting getting committed and rapidly loses grips with reality, Nick (Peter Falk) expresses a pained look, realizing Mabel has gone off the edge.

What caused Mabel to snap? Perhaps her mundane life as a housewife could be viewed as a contribution. She's alone most of the day, and she is clearly someone who longs for companionship. So basically she got bored out of her mind.

Another contribution is Nick himself. He tries so hard to keep his family together, he ends up breaking it up more. Nick is a staggering portrait of blind devotion; he wants his wife to stay yet he absentmindedly pushes her away.

Cassavetes was noted for focusing strictly on the characters' movements. More than once in A Woman Under the Influence the camera captures Mabel's many facial and gestural quirks. We're watching her unravel before ours eyes and no one else seems to notices.

A Woman Under the Influence is a brilliant film. Cassavetes gives us a glance of a marriage completely falling apart at the seams. Oh, and one more thing: how Rowlands didn't win and Falk wasn't nominated is beyond me. (Maybe their performances were too daring at the time?)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, February 9, 2012


John Cassavetes' must have been running a mile a minute during those fifty-nine years of his life. So many thoughts appeared in the films he made.

Such is the case with Faces. It's Cassavetes' view on the sexes and marriage in general. It's neither a positive viewpoint or negative, just somewhere in between.

Faces also examines how dissatisfying life can be. The four principal actors (among other supporting characters) are completely unhappy with what life has offered them. Even if they're happy, their sour views on life always overrule them.

That's what makes Faces a bit of a frustrating film to watch. There's so much pessimism in practically every scene, one could frantically try to find any sense of contentment. It becomes more aware as the film wears on.

Still, Faces is a well-done film. Those problems mentioned above aside, there are some great performances out of them. Though I can't shake the notion that Faces is probably the weaker of Cassavetes' essential films.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Independent film made it big during the late 1960's, mainly with Easy Rider. Or so the film historians say. In reality, it started in 1959 with John Cassavetes' Shadows.

1959 was pretty much a big year for the world of film. The entries ranged from funny (Some Like It Hot) to exciting (Ben-Hur) to scandalous (Anatomy of a Murder, Suddenly, Last Summer) to entertaining (North by Northwest, Rio Bravo). Where does Shadows fit in? Simple: none of them.

Shadows was essentially a groundbreaking film because of several reasons. Rather than starring A-list movie stars, it stars actors who perhaps just arrived on the scene. Instead of following a script, many of the actors ad-lib their lines. Nowadays, both of those details are common among independent productions. They've got Cassavetes to thank.

Shadows also doesn't strictly focus on one story. It rather flows through the lives of the main characters. In a sense, we're watching their lives unfold as we hide in the shadows.

What else to say about Shadows? Just this. One can pick up on the directing style Cassavetes would become immortalized for. What is that style? Glancing at someone's life as though you are watching from the outside.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Entertainer

It must be a sad life that Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) leads. Beneath the layers of greasepaint he wears for his act, he is nothing more than a tragic clown.

When Archie is on stage, he possesses a liveliness that could be matched to that of Fred Astaire. Off stage, however, one could become shocked that this was the same Archie Rice that performed with great enthusiasm. The reason for such a remark? His liveliness and enthusiasm are replaced by desperation.

Can you blame him? The only reason he's in show business is to avoid going to jail for tax evasion. He's also trying to get out of the shadow of his father, a famous (and more talented) name in vaudeville. It's a losing battle for Archie; he simply can't upstage or even match his own father.

There's a scene in The Entertainer that showcases what Archie really feels. After his tryst with a beauty contest runner-up, she pours out her feelings for him. The camera lingers on his face, which expresses a sort of happiness that he is unfamiliar with. This is perhaps the only time in the film (and maybe in his own life) where Archie feels loved.

Olivier has portrayed tragic heroes and cold villains, but his role as Archie Rice is a complete departure from his other roles. We can't entirely sympathize for him but we don't hate him either. There's one thing there's no denying about: The Entertainer contains Olivier's best work as an actor.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Descendants

It's funny. For years, there have been names straining to be known as actors rather than movie stars. Hey, just look at anyone that made it big during the 1950's.

It still persists today too. One such example is George Clooney. I know he's a talented man being both an actor and a director, but most of the time I can only see him as a modern day Cary Grant. But much like Grant, he can do wonders when in the hands of the right director.

As Matt King in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Clooney gives the best performance of his career to date. He isn't his suave, charming self here. Instead, he's more down to earth. (He also wears those dorky Hawaiian shirts, but moving on.)

Matt is facing two different dilemmas: he finds himself looking after his daughters, and he's underway in a deal to sell a remaining piece of Hawaiian land his family had owned for generations. Both dilemmas, however, could go hand in hand. One about reconnecting, the other letting go. Towards the end of the film, there's a great shot of Matt, part of his face in the shadows and making him appear older especially after all that has happened.

Along with Clooney's work, I loved the whole film. Mind you, the only other Payne film I saw was Sideways, but I could tell this was a Payne film because of the slight air of cynicism floating within several of the characters. Also, saying Clooney's now my frontrunner at the Oscars is an understatement.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Odd Couple

There's always that unique quirk about dark comedies. It's hard to figure out why that is. Believe me, I've seen enough to ask such a thing.

One good example is Gene Saks' The Odd Couple. It most definitely fits the criteria for a dark comedy. After all, its two main themes are suicide and divorce.

As you probably know by now, Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors. He could do drama and comedy, a true sign of a skilled actor. Here in The Odd Couple, he portrays the sympathetic mensch he was known for. But like C.C. Baxter, you support Felix Ungar practically the minute he's introduced.

Walter Matthau was a great character actor, and The Odd Couple shows as to why. He always worked so well with many of his co-stars, and Lemmon's no exception. After all, I saw how funny they were together in The Fortune Cookie.

All in all, I just loved The Odd Couple. The jokes are still funny, snappy and smart. Though I must add something. I wonder if there was a similar live-in situation between Joe and Jerry before everything that happened in Some Like It Hot?

My Rating: *****

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Rat Race

What Robert Mulligan's The Rat Race shows us is that even if you know what you're going to do, things won't pan out as you want them to.

Such is the case with Pete Hammond, Jr., played by Tony Curtis. A musician from Milwaukee, he aspires to make it big upon his arrival to New York City. But within the same day as his arrival, Pete realizes that some things are easier said than done. Fortunately, he's an optimist.

If Pete is the optimist in The Rat Race, then Peggy Brown (Debbie Reynolds) is surely the pessimist. Her behavior says she has been there and done it twice. She probably had the same attitude on life as Pete upon her arrival to New York City but thanks to people like her boss Nelson Miller (a disturbingly effective Don Rickles), her attitude went sour.

Like Mulligan's most famous work To Kill a Mockingbird, The Rat Race examines society and the people within it. Peggy constantly tries to bring Pete back down to reality while at the same time he tries to lift her out of her dreary frame of mind. It's a losing battle on Peggy's part, though Pete isn't victorious either.

I think what I liked best with The Rat Race is that in a way, Curtis and Reynolds were displaying their own personalities within their performances. He is content with his past but is very uncertain with his future while she is completely disillusioned from her recent past. (Bear in mind this was made when Curtis was still trying to make a name for himself as a serious actor, and Reynolds was in the aftermath of her highly publicized divorce with Eddie Fisher.) Don't believe me? Watch it for yourself.

My Rating: ****

Friday, February 3, 2012

Baby Face

What makes Barbara Stanwyck so memorable is not only was she a great actress, she had attitude. Like James Cagney, she had a real firecracker of a personality. (Must be a New York City thing.)

In Baby Face, she stars as Lily Powers, a woman who charms her way to the top. Like many other Stanwyck roles, Lily is someone who goes by her own rules. The main difference between Lily and the other roles is that Lily won't let anything get in the way.

From her first appearance, one could tell that Lily was someone that can not, does not and will not forget anyone or anything. The same thing could be applied to the men that meet her. She's someone that no one can or will forget.

Lily possesses a glint in her eyes, hinting that she is all too familiar with her own schemes. Indeed her past in brought up in an early scene, but not many details emerge. Her sly smile keeps us wondering if she even likes doing what she does.

Baby Face is one of those films where you can tell what era of Hollywood it was made. (In this case, the pre-code era.) Stanwyck is in a very bold performance, by both today's standards and those of that period in time. This in all honesty is essential pre-code.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Game

Is there a weird requirement that directors names David have to make at least one film that fits into the fucked-up category? Hey, that theory has been proven by the likes of Lynch and Cronenberg.

Another David that tests the theory is David Fincher. His entry is The Game, made between Se7en and Fight Club. In all honesty, I was shouting "What the FUCK?" a lot when I was watching it. Mind you, that's a good thing.

I'm tempted not to say anything about the plot since I'm still trying to piece together the whole thing. However, I will part with some knowledge of it. What The Game focuses on is a conspicuous corporation. There, that's all I'm saying.

There are so many factors to The Game that practically make it Fincher's tribute to both Hitchcock and Frankenheimer. Along with Fincher's meticulous direction, there's also Howard Shore's eerie music. Also, the immense lack of light, natural or otherwise, amps up the creepiness of it all.

Holy crap, The Game is messed up. It drags on a bit in the middle, but it's really effective. If you want to make your brain work a mile a minute, then David Fincher's The Game is your best bet.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

BOOK VS MOVIE: Inherit the Wind

There's always something so appealing about courtroom dramas. The points of view can vary from either one of the lawyers, the defendant or even a bystander.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play Inherit the Wind was written during a time when one's ideal and beliefs must match everyone else's. Like Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Inherit the Wind was written during the height of McCarthyism. This of course was when anyone could be accused of being, for lack of a better word, "inhuman".

The writing style of Lawrence and Lee is very straightforward. Through the dialogue, the characters get their points very much across, and this very thing is still in effect for the film.

Stanley Kramer's adaptation, apart from a few minor additions here and there, stays true to the play. It stars Spencer Tracy and Frederic March as opposing lawyers in the re-telling of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. Both are great in their roles, as with Gene Kelly in an excellent non-musical role. Of the trio, my favorite performances came from Tracy and Kelly mainly for their biting dialogue and their complete disinterest in the Bible.

Inherit the Wind is a great work, both on the page and screen. Lawrence and Lee's writing is fantastic, and Kramer's film garners impressive work from its three big stars. Choosing which is better is next to impossible.

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