Friday, August 31, 2012

Sweet and Lowdown

Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown is sort of different from the director's other work. I say sort of because this shares a few elements with Allen's earlier film Zelig but it's still a different film entirely.

The star of Sweet and Lowdown is Sean Penn, perhaps an unusual casting choice for a Woody Allen film. Surprisingly, it works. Perhaps it's because Penn is a loose cannon at times in real life that makes his character's impulsive behavior more believable. But that's just my perspective.

Samantha Morton in my eyes is a terribly underrated actress working today. Her work here is just one of several reasons for why she should be on everyone's radar. Allen told her to use Harpo Marx as an influence for her character and boy, does she follow through. (Best scene as proof? The moment she's listening to Penn play his guitar.)

It's sort of a known fact that almost all of the non-Quentin Tarantino films Uma Thurman is in are bad. I say almost because this was pretty good. (So was Dangerous Liaisons.) In her first scene, she gives off a sort of Dietrich vibe. (Probably because she's wearing a tuxedo.) Still, she also gives an amusing performance.

Sweet and Lowdown is very amusing. Not as great as some of Allen's other work but it's still very entertaining. Penn, Morton and Thurman are great, but Morton is my personal favorite. All in all, it's very much worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Innocents

Just the opening moments of Jack Clayton's The Innocents prove that this film means business. (Well, what else do you expect for a film co-scripted by Truman Capote?) And yet, it's perhaps one of the most unjustly overlooked films out there.

Starring Deborah Kerr, The Innocents looks like the kind of film Alfred Hitchcock would take pleasure in making. (Can you imagine Kerr in a Hitchcock film?) Yeah, it's one of those films in all the right ways.

To me, a great horror film doesn't rely on blood and gore. It relies on suspense and a hell of a lot of it. You don't know if what Kerr is seeing is real or not. (I sure as hell don't know.) That's the genius of suspense.

You know what else makes a horror film great? The way it looks. Freddie Francis' cinematography is practically a textbook example of what horror films should look like. You literally can't see what's going to happen and it works.

Hell, everything in The Innocents just works. Clayton, who made the fantastic Room at the Top a few years earlier, clearly knows what he's doing. Kerr as per usual is at the top of her game here. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go and watch this.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas

Addiction is a very ugly thing. It's painful to watch someone dig themselves into a hole they can't get out of.

You can only imagine the emotional pain Sera (Elisabeth Shue) endures as she watches Ben's (Nicolas Cage) rapid downward spiral in Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas. She has encountered a number of different people thanks to her career choice. But she had never met someone as self-destructive as Ben.

Yet both are sort of one in the same. They both know life isn't perfect and try to make the most of it anyway. (Well, Sera is at least.) It's all the more hard to watch when they get thrown out of places and get banned from them for minor infractions.

Cage and Shue are just fantastic. Cage is mostly lambasted nowadays for his some of his projects. His work in Leaving Las Vegas will definitely shut the haters up. Shue is in the role of the hooker with a heart of gold, which by now is a cliche. But she gives the role a hardened edge yet still keeps a gentle nature. No surprise on why AMPAS bestowed Cage an Oscar and Shue a nomination.

Leaving Las Vegas is a fantastic film but it will leave you numb to the core. Figgis doesn't make this strictly a film about addiction. He also makes it about a romance doomed from the very beginning. And boy, this would make for a very depressing triple feature with Requiem for a Dream and Shame. (I'm a sadist, I know.)

My Rating: *****

Monday, August 27, 2012

Open Thread

(There'll be a slight hiatus from reviews and such for a few days. I have writing and reading to do. Oh, the plights of being a writer.)

What's on your mind?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hot Fuzz

I'm fairly certain that Edgar Wright is slowly becoming a favorite. After all, just this summer I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Shaun of the Dead, and pretty much loved them both.

Was the third time also the charm when I saw Hot Fuzz? You bet it was. Featuring Shaun of the Dead duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it's perhaps even better than their previous work with Wright.

Pegg and Frost are basically the British modern day equivalents of Lemmon and Matthau. (You know it's true.) Every scene of theirs just radiates comedy gold. Pegg tries to keep the peace while Frost has all hell break loose. They ain't kidding when they say opposites attract.

It's the small details that make Hot Fuzz all the worthwhile. There are those small references to Shaun of the Dead. There's the fact there's a superbly sly Timothy Dalton among the cast. (He ain't James Bond here.) But I think my favorite aspect is that the guy who did the music for this also does the music for Sherlock.

It takes a while to warm up but when it does, Hot Fuzz is damn funny. (The final half hour is all sorts of ridiculous perfection.) Oh, I need to venture into the comedic minds of Wright, Pegg and Frost more often. They're good at what they do.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premium Rush

Ah, New York City. One of the most filmed cities in the world. It's hard to say precisely how many titles were filmed or set in the Big Apple, but it's definitely among the hundreds.

David Koepp's Premium Rush is a new movie set in this city. It's an interesting concept to be honest, but you might be wondering if it delivers. (No pun intended.) To answer your question, yes, it does.

Premium Rush stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has really come a long way since his days on 3rd Rock from the Sun. In these last few years, he has displayed his abilities as both a movie star and an actor. He mainly fits into the former category here, but he still displays the quiet charisma that's evident in any role he does.

Another name in Premium Rush is Michael Shannon. Here, he displays James Cagney's snarl mixed with a bad impression of Edward G. Robinson's voice. It's not among his best work but as he always does, Shannon makes his role one that leaves a small impact in the movie.

Premium Rush most likely won't get ranked among the best of this year, but it's still entertaining. It starts off slow, but the pace picks up gradually as the movie wears on. Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are clearly the highlights, but there might be something else for other people that see it. It's good, but it's more suitable for rental.

My Rating: ****

Friday, August 24, 2012

True Romance

You gotta love it when certain names in Hollywood have a very distinctive style. It makes them recognizable.

Now Quentin Tarantino has possibly the most distinct style in Hollywood in the last twenty years. Even during the opening credits of Tony Scott's True Romance (which he scripted), his style is just oozing out. Though because Tarantino wasn't the director of the film, his manic filmmaking is visibly absent. Thankfully Scott keeps the script's insanity intact.

The way Christian Slater (who, let's be honest, is playing Tarantino) and Patricia Arquette play Clarence and Alabama isn't exactly like Romeo and Juliet or Bonnie and Clyde. To be honest, their relationship is more Sid and Nancy than anything else. Not in the sense that they're self destructive, but rather they're an unlikely couple who happened to cross paths one day.

And like most films whose origins come from the depths of Tarantino's possibly disturbed mind, the supporting cast is fantastic. Among the names are Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini. Each provide an interesting light to their characters, Oldman and Pitt especially.

True Romance has to be the most insane film in existence. (Or at least at the moment.) Scott's slick directing keeps it from getting too insane, even though said insanity seeps out pretty easily. Still, I personally look forward to future re-watches.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Hunger

With Tony Scott's sudden and shocking death this past Sunday, we lost  a true visionary. I'll admit I haven't seen any of his films prior to his demise (I'm more versed with his brother Ridley), but I knew I had to see some of his work sooner or later.

For starters, I opted for his debut The Hunger. Perhaps not the strongest of Scott's overall work, but it does provide amusement for the most part. (Some might interested in an infamous sequence between the two leading ladies.)

Who else but Scott would cast French beauty Catherine Deneuve and British music star David Bowie as chic vampires? (No one, that's who.) It seems fitting since both of them have ethereal looks. I mean, who could portray something so sinister and seductive as well as them?

Storywise, the film crumples pretty quickly. From a visual standpoint, it's a masterpiece. It may look like footage from a fashion shoot in some scenes, but I think that was intended by Scott. (At least that's what I read.) Boy, if most films could look this slick, that'd be super.

The Hunger in toll is amusing in some scenes but not particularly memorable in the long run. Deneuve and Bowie just radiate pure cool. So do certain scenes, especially that killer opener. But all in all, it's all right.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Puncture

There are a number of films out there focusing on the justice system. It's either from the viewpoint of the client or the lawyer, usually in a positive light despite their vices.

Now Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), the protagonist of Adam and Mark Kassen's Puncture, isn't exactly Atticus Finch in the way of morals. He's covered in various tattoos, fortunately all hidden by his suits. But Mike's main flaw is that he's an addict. He pops pills, snorts coke and shoots up. Yet his mind remains sharp.

I think that's what makes Mike an interesting person. He's fully aware of his demons and he doesn't let them control his life. However, he doesn't think about controlling them. In a nutshell, he's the definition of an anti-hero.

And the way Evans plays him is truly fascinating. Bear in mind this is someone who's more recognized for his work in comic book movies, so seeing him actually being an actor instead of a movie star is hypnotizing. Here's hoping to more solid roles for him because he's pretty damn good at his job.

The film itself is very transfixing, especially in the knowledge that it's a true story. The script has a few flaws, but those can be easily overlooked thanks to Evans' stellar performance. In fact, this would make for a great double feature with The Insider.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A River Runs Through It

It seems throughout the 1990s there were films that didn't earn the recognition they deserved. (Some of my favorites include Gods and Monsters, Shallow Grave and Topsy-Turvy.)

Another film is Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It. Released a few years before his second Oscar darling Quiz Show, the film is a quiet observation of rural life. It's a lovely little film.

Brad Pitt may be the main draw for the film with Tom Skerritt and Brenda Blethyn providing solid supporting work, but the star of A River Runs Through It is Craig Sheffer. He watches the many changes of his life go by, solely as a witness and so rarely as a participant. (He does chronicle his memories of those days.)

Another main focus of A River Runs Through It is the Oscar-winning cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. (It's very clear as to how it won.) Gorgeously capturing the Montana wilderness, it's as much of a character in the film as the Maclean family.

A River Runs Through It is quite good, though not as great as Ordinary People or Quiz Show. The four main stars are also quite good. It's worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pitch #4

Oh, this is what happens when you have an active mind. You're always thinking of a good story to tell. (Well, this is also the result of watching too many movies as well, but whatever.) Recently, I started a new screenplay which I pray to God I hope I'll finish, and, being the slight braggart that I am, I'm going to share with you what it's about. The title: Greatness Thrust Upon Them.

Set in 1946 London, Greatness Thrust Upon Them chronicles the rehearsal of a play. (A fictional one, mind you.) The looming complications lie not within the script; they're within the people working on the play. (I'm also including whom I've mentally cast in these roles.)

THE CHARACTERS
Alfred "Alfie" Fletcher The director. He has a charismatic air to him that makes actors eager to work with him. He always keeps his cool even when working with the most stubborn of actors. (Played by: Ian McKellen)

Richard Avery An actor. Everyone he has previously worked with despised the experience because of his indifferent behavior (and his drinking), but they all agree that he's a very good actor even though he keeps appearing in bad plays. (Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch)

Maurice Kingston An up-and-coming actor who is looking for his big break. He has recently discovered that the world of theater isn't as cracked up to be, but he still remains optimistic about his career. (Played by: Tom Hiddleston)

Stephen McDonald A Scottish playwright who is a twitchy shadow of his former self because his last few plays were flops. He's constantly smoking to calm down, but the nicotine has no effect on him anymore. (Played by: David Tennant)

Olivia Whitfield The young leading lady. She is the living definition of perfectionist and has garnered a notoriety for her persnickety behavior on every play she's worked on. It comes as no surprise that she's verbally sparring with Richard constantly (with Alfie breaking up their fights). She also has taken a shine to Maurice. (Played by: Carey Mulligan)

Elizabeth Humphreys A veteran actress and Alfie's muse. She has seen everything that is likely (and sometimes unlikely) to happen during a production so nothing surprises her anymore. She is also the only one during rehearsals that stays under control and doesn't fight with anyone else. (Played by: Emma Thompson)

Jane McDonald Stephen's wife. Because of her husband's behavior, the life within her has drained. It's when she attends one of the rehearsals that she notices Richard, the complete opposite of Stephen, and a glimmer of hope reappears for her. (Played by: Samantha Morton)

So what do you think?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The backstory that opens the finale of Peter Jackson's trilogy showcases that anyone can be corrupted by a simple thing. It's a running theme throughout the film, but don't focus strictly on that. There's so much more.

It's interesting because usually the final film of a trilogy is the weakest of the three. (Remember The Godfather Part III?) Once again, Jackson blows that theory out of the water, and gives us perhaps the best of the three. (Though The Fellowship of the Ring probably ranks as my favorite.)

Again, the actors are great. (What else is new?) Though my personal favorites among the cast for this one are Sean Astin and Miranda Otto. (Hey, favorites change with each progressing film. It's a known fact.)

Oh, and those battle sequences are amazing. They rival those in a war film (yeah, I went there) because they are just gorgeously choreographed. The blending of live-action and special effects is lovely. If only battle scenes in other films were like this.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is bloody amazing. I honestly never would have thought it got better with each film. And oh, did I tear up from that ending. And I got four little words to solidify my opinion: bring on The Hobbit.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

It's interesting. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second entry of Peter Jackson's trilogy, doesn't get as much love as the two films it's bookend by. I don't know why.

I mean, it's just as good as the previous film, even better perhaps. (I'm probably in the minority on that.) However, you can feel that it's a middle film. No matter. Jackson keeps the action moving.

Like The Fellowship of the Ring, none of the actors are out of place. Naturally, I have to speak a little bit about Andy Serkis. For a motion-capture performance, it is really good. (Wonder if I'll see such a thing in December?)

As expected, the technical aspects of the film are just stunning. The cinematography? Gorgeous. The score? Gorgeous. The makeup for the various creatures? Wonderfully hideous. Like I said, it's just stunning.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is still awesome. Perhaps not as much as the first film, but no matter. Just watch it and enjoy the show. (I hope The Return of the King is just as good if not better.)

My Rating: *****

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Okay, let's get a few things out of the way. Yes, prior to yesterday, I had not seen any of The Lord of the Rings films in their entirety. (I have seen them in snippets years ago.) I don't want to hear anything else about this, all right? Okay, moving on.

The first part of Peter Jackson's trilogy struck me as interesting. This was branded for years as unfilmable (is that a word?), and Jackson blew that theory clear out of the water. (Gotta love it when that happens.) Mind you, that's only one of several things I'm talking about here.

Another aspect of the film that caught my fancy was that none of the actors felt out of place. If I had to pick favorites though, I'd choose Ian McKellen because he dominates the screen, Viggo Mortensen because of sexy reasons, and Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd because they're just hilarious together. (What? Everyone has favorites and reasons.)

Okay, there are two more things I want to talk about, then I'll be quiet (for now). Andrew Lesnie's cinematography and Howard Shore's score are just gorgeous. Like Freddie Young and Maurice Jaffe's contributions to Lawrence of Arabia, they define what an epic should look and sound like.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is all sorts of awesome and beautiful. It also left me wanting more. Thank God for the two sequels.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Free Soul

Clarence Brown's A Free Soul contains everything that made a film from the pre-code era famous. A respectable member of society falling in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks. A scandal just waiting to happen. Murder.

Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer) is the daughter of prominent but alcoholic lawyer Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore). She's engaged to Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard), but she has no intentions of marrying him. Instead, she carries on a fling with Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable), a gangster and Stephen's client.

Brown most definitely got some great performances out of his actors. Long before they were Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes, Gable and Howard wonderfully represent the bad boy and the perfect gentleman in Jan's life. Barrymore represents Jan's crumbling pillar of support, getting weaker from age and drink.

But this show belongs to Shearer. Her character goes through a number of events that any other actress in the role could have easily overdone it. Shearer, however, knows what she's doing. And boy, does she nail this role.

A Free Soul is one of those films that made a bit of an impact upon its release but over eighty years later, it has somewhat been forgotten. It's hard to see why: stellar actors, an amusing story...how has it been forgotten?

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The 7x7 Link Award

Okay, so even though I got this award exactly five months agoRuth decided to give this award to me anyway. Eh, whatever. Let's get on with it.

Tell everyone something that no one else knows about.
Umm...oh! Here's one: I may not show it as often as I should, but I always like stumbling across a new blog.

Link to one of my posts to that I personally think best fits the following categories:

  • Most Beautiful Piece
  • Most Helpful Piece
  • Most Popular Piece
  • Most Controversial Piece
  • Most Surprisingly Successful Piece
  • Most Underrated Piece
  • Most Pride-Worthy Piece
Let's see if anything changed in the last...five months.

Most Beautiful Piece Swiping a page from the previous post, I'm going with a post about physical beauty. (Oh, hormones are a bitch sometimes.)

Most Helpful Piece Still standing by all of the BOOK VS. MOVIE posts.

Most Popular Piece As of late, the 100 film facts about yours truly.

Most Controversial Piece Again, it's either this one about the Oscars or this one about Hollywood.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece I'm going with my review of The Deep Blue Sea. (I wrote it when still not many people have seen it.)

Most Underrated Piece About a week ago, I wrote a gentle musing on Marilyn Monroe in commemoration of her death. Nothing flashy, just me wondering what would've happened had she lived past 36 years.

Most Pride-Worthy Piece Oh, that's easy. My classic re-casting of The Talented Mr. Ripley. That was really fun to do.

Pass this award onto seven other bloggers.
All right, shoo. Go annoy the other seven blogs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cache

I think what makes Michael Haneke's Cache so interesting to watch could be because of what it's about. What I found so bewitching about it was how the film was constructed. (I like the technical side of film sometimes, so sue me.)

The more appealing factor of Cache is that it's not like what you would expect as would with an Alfred Hitchcock film. We get thrown into the story long after it started. The tapes delivered seem pointless as they capture nothing of significance. But they hide something of importance.

Like any good suspense film, actors are key. The stars of Cache are Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, both fine actors of French cinema. Think of them as the French versions of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Rebecca. He's hiding a secret while she is blissfully unaware of what it is. Well played, Mr. Haneke.

I'm not sure if it was Haneke's idea or cinematographer Christian Berger's, but the numerous uses of long takes is remarkable. The unflinching camera records every moment as if hidden from the characters' gazes. Even Hitchcock couldn't think of something that clever. (Okay, that famous zoom shot in Notorious is pretty good.)

Cache is just really mesmerizing. Apparently French films know how to capture true suspense. (Diabolique and Eyes Without a Face also confirm this.) If you haven't seen this, answer this question: why?

My Rating: *****

Monday, August 13, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger

With the release of The Avengers earlier this year, it marked a possible shift for future superhero movies. It was also a collaboration of previous Marvel titles from the years before, including Jon Favreau's Iron Man movies, Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk and Kenneth Branagh's Thor.

The last related movie released before The Avengers was Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger. Much like the other pre-The Avengers movies, this provides a certain amount of entertainment without steeping too far into ridiculousness. (Though it does do that in a scene or two.)

A key thing casting directors have to keep in mind when casting the lead role of a superhero movie is you need an actor who's likable and charismatic. That can definitely be applied to Chris Evans. The way he plays Steve Rogers is practically effortless and at the same time you just can't imagine anyone else in that role. Another win for the casting director.

The supporting cast is pretty stellar too. Hayley Atwell is dynamite in her role. I love Stanley Tucci's small part (and the reason for why he accepted the part). Sebastian Stan and Dominic Cooper provide some amusing moments. My favorite supporting actor, however, is Tommy Lee Jones just for his wiseass remarks. In all honesty, this is Evans' show.

Captain America: The First Avenger as mentioned above is entertaining but that's kind of it. It has its share of peculiarities (set in the 1940s and technology is heavily advanced for its time), but no matter. Just watch it for fun (and Evans' performance).

My Rating: ****

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Warrior

Gavin O'Connor's Warrior is both similar and different from other films about martial arts. On the one hand, it shows the fighter as someone with a bad life outside of the ring. But on the other hand, Warrior is more emotionally involved than those other films.

And the characters prove it. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is closed off from the people around him. Brendan (Joel Edgerton) struggles with money problems. Their father Paddy (Nick Nolte) tries to reconnect with his sons to no avail.

Of course O'Connor chooses the right actors to play these parts. Hardy, who has really made a name for himself these last few years, displays a quiet impact in his role. Edgerton does much of the same. Nolte, the more experienced of the three, shows a weathered nature in his part.

There's a peculiarity in the fighting styles of the brothers. Tommy fights his opponents in a brutal manner, possibly as if he's letting out some inner anger. Brendan, who was a fighter before settling into a domestic life, is only doing it again for some extra cash. He's sort of more of a punching bag in comparison to Tommy's punching machine.

You know how I said every year hidden gems are released? Well, that's exactly what Warrior is. In fact, it's probably one of the best films from last year. Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte are just fantastic. Be sure to check this out, preferably soon.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shaun of the Dead

Who doesn't like a good comedy? It can either be in the story, the script or the actors that can make it hilarious.

In the case of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, it's all three. It's also a spoof of the films that made George A. Romero a household name, so that's a nice touch. You need a good spoof every now and again.

Wright I was already familiar with from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and star Simon Pegg from Star Trek. I figured I should see an earlier work of theirs sooner or later, so I opted for Shaun of the Dead.

I think one of the best things about Shaun of the Dead was that the zombie infestation isn't treated as a big deal for the first half hour. News reports get ignored, odd behavior in people is viewed as drinking too much, things like that. It's a sneaky move by Wright.

It loses its way towards the end, but Shaun of the Dead is still funny as hell. There are a few moments that might make weak stomachs ill, but I suppose that's a good thing for a zombie movie. Oh, and Pegg is damn hilarious. (Why didn't I discover him sooner?)

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ninotchka

Social commentary in film was very common during World War II. Try as the audience might, they couldn't escape what was going on in the world outside of the theater.

One such film was Ernst Lubtisch's Ninotchka. It provided a depiction of conformity in a particular country yet showed a lighthearted tale set in another more independent country, all while showcasing that trademark charm of his.

But the charm of Ninotchka isn't entirely from Lubitsch. One of the film's writers was Billy Wilder. (And y'all know my thoughts on him.) Sure, the film feels more Wilder than Lubitsch at certain points, but the amount of class throughout is pure Lubitsch.

The stars of Ninotchka are Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo, both fine actors from back in the day. Douglas displays class that was common among leading men of that era yet he has an aura that was different than that of, say, Gary Cooper. Garbo naturally showcases her exotic beauty while at the same time proving she can do comedy with ease. (You probably never would've thought that after seeing Camille, would you?)

Ninotchka is very clever, but that's expected from a script co-written by Wilder. Douglas and Garbo are great in their roles, being classy but not overdoing it. Released during the great movie year of 1939, it's clear to see why Ninotchka is one of the best of that year.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Waitress

There are always those hidden gems released every year. Many times they usually get the love and recognition they deserved once they're on DVD. At least then they got easier access to audiences.

One such film is Adrienne Shelly's Waitress. If you judged the film by the trailer (which is a stupid thing to do at times), you would have thought it was a quirky, lighthearted comedy. Well, yes and no. Yes because it's a comedy but not in the strongest sense of the term, no because it's anything but quirky and lighthearted.

After all, the story is about a woman (Keri Russell) with an abusive husband and an unplanned (and unwanted) pregnancy. Her friends and co-workers (Shelly and Cheryl Hines) are supportive of her, but they openly admit they're glad they don't have her life. Throw in a handsome new doctor (Nathan Fillion) in town, and her life is in a whirlwind.

The actors are great. Russell displays that her character has flaws (and there are many). Fillon, whom many consider an underrated name in the entertainment industry, showcases charm amongst his role. There's also a scene stealing performance out of the recently departed Andy Griffith. Every performance just works.

Waitress is a very well done little film. Shelly captures a wonderful essence in her script and direction. (her supporting role is also lovely.) However, a feeling of sadness looms over this in the knowledge that Shelly didn't live long enough to see the release of this great film. Not to be avoided.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller from some of the director's later work. It doesn't rely on the ensemble cast Altman is famous for. Instead, its stars are a Hollywood playboy and a British beauty.

Now that might sound odd, but it surprisingly works. The film is a western, but not like the westerns John Ford is famous for. It's more of a glimpse of what America became.

Julie Christie I already knew was a fine actress, but Warren Beatty took a little more persuading. The films I previously saw him in (Heaven Can Wait, Bonnie and Clyde, Bugsy) portrayed his character as that of a carefree ladies' man. (Or, more specifically, as Beatty himself.) Is he like that in McCabe & Mrs. Miller? Not in the least bit.

Along with Beatty and Christie's acting and Altman's direction, the cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is to die for. It captures the ruggedness of the film's nature while also displaying a sort of beauty amid it all. How the hell did Zsigmond get snubbed?

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is dubbed as an essential of Altman's, though I fail to see the big picture. It didn't particularly grab me as a stunning piece of cinema as some film snobs might say. A re-watch in the near future is inevitable, but I'll stay with these musings for the time being.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Star Trek

I'll admit it: sometimes I'm a geek. (It doesn't restrict to film in general.) Okay, not that much of a geek, but I am one.

Now in regards to the immensely popular franchise Gene Roddenberry created so many years ago, I'm only faintly familiar with it. (The only episode I saw was "The Trouble with Tribbles".) So I figured, what the hell, I'll watch J.J. Abrams' film anyway.

It turned out to be better than I thought it would be. (And this is coming from someone who's not much for sci-fi.) It's even more interesting considering the bad rap Abrams sometimes gets. (Lens flares, anyone?) That didn't really stop me from liking it however.

The cast is great. Chris Pine captures the cockiness of Han Solo yet stays true to William Shatner's original portrayal of Capt. Kirk. Zachary Quinto shows that Spock has a vulnerable heart beating under that cold shell of a body. The supporting cast of Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin provide amusing moments throughout. Eric Bana excellently displays the ruthlessness of his villain. But my favorite was Simon Pegg because you have to love his British silliness. (Added bonuses: Leonard Nimoy cameo, Chris Hemsworth as Kirk's father, Winona Ryder as Spock's mother.)

Star Trek is perhaps one of the best sci-fi films of the last ten years. Nothing feels overwhelming, not even those infamous lens flares of Abrams'. Basically, I just loved it. Bring on the sequel!

My Rating: *****

Monday, August 6, 2012

Design for Living

The pre-code films of Hollywood always got the raciest subjects on full display. Many of them were bold displays long before they were expected features in today's films.

Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living focuses on a subject that is fodder for comedies today: the menage a trois. Of course, this was when risky material was still allowed more or less on screen. Lubitsch gets it without getting too risky.

The stars of Design for Living are Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. All three play their parts wonderfully simply because they are their characters. Cooper and March possess charm like no other while Hopkins is wise-cracking and clever. Again, like their characters.

Personally, it comes as surprise that Design for Living has a divine balance of comedic timing among its stars. Then again, this is a Lubitsch film after all. It's practically expected. That's why it's called "the Lubitsch touch".

Design for Living is quite a clever little film. The actors are great, the story sizzles and it just flat out works in a short running time. Graciously, the Criterion Collection gave it an upgrade, so be sure to check it out.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Legend of a Hollywood Beauty

August 5, 1962. That was the day Hollywood found out that Marilyn Monroe, the "Blonde Bombshell" herself, was dead at 36 from a drug overdose. Her death was ultimately ruled a "probable suicide", but many speculate it was an accident or even murder. Now fifty years later, Monroe's legend has grown, even more than when she was alive.

Though viewed as a cherished name in Hollywood now, Monroe wasn't exactly like that during her years as a movie star. She tried hard to be accepted by her colleagues. It was easier said than done. Her directors resented her for showing up late on the set and fumbling her lines. Her co-stars felt the same way. Yet there was one thing they always agreed on: she just radiated on screen.

She was mainly cast as a sex symbol (or, simply put, a "dumb blonde") when she did a movie, but not many people appreciated (or perhaps acknowledged) that Monroe could actually act. She had excellent comedic timing, wonderfully shown in How to Marry a Millionaire and Some Like It Hot. Don't Bother to Knock and Niagara displayed her ability to play a bewitching femme fatale. But it was when she did dramatic roles like Bus Stop and The Misfits she shined the brightest.

The reason? Her characters usually led a tumultuous life, much like Monroe herself. Her own life was littered with memories of a bad upbringing, failed marriages and personal demons. With the 1950s being a "wholesome" period in Hollywood, studios made sure to cover up anything involving their stars' personal lives. It's likely the studios that hired Monroe had to do that often, but sooner or later the truth would be revealed.

There have been many portrayals of Monroe throughout the years since her death. But there was only one person that could portray Monroe the best and that was Monroe herself. After all, she went through many personal tragedies that only she could express. Only she could depict her true feelings on the events of her life because she was there, not the actresses who have portrayed her.

Who knows what would have happened had Monroe lived more than 36 years? Would she have burned out or faded away?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Movie Confessions Blogathon

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. There are some dark secrets I carry within me, secrets I cannot bear to tell another living soul.

Be calm, my child. You can tell me.

Well, all right.

Which classic movie don't you like/can't enjoy and why?
It was Citizen Kane for a while, but I think Gone with the Wind takes that honor. If Scarlett wasn't so much of -- what's the phrase I'm looking for? -- a bitch, I probably would have liked. But frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Which ten classic movies haven't you seen yet?
Classic films I'm set with for the most part. It's the newer titles that I'm lacking with.
  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  4. Fight Club
  5. Metropolis
  6. Apocalypse Now
  7. City Lights
  8. The Green Mile
  9. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
  10. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?
Nope. Don't plan to either.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?
Keira Knightley. I mean, she was good in Last Night (probably the only performance of hers that I've seen and liked), but she made her performance in Atonement overwrought, and she doesn't really do much in Love, Actually and The Duchess.

Which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?
Jane Campion. Yeah, I know. I need to see The Piano and Bright Star, but I simply got caught up with other directors. (Come to think of it, I need to catch up on the work of female directors in general.)

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?
Well, I didn't particularly love it, but I sort of have a soft spot for The Mirror Crack'd. It's not good, but it's amusing.

Have you ever been "one of those annoying people" at the cinema?
Good heavens, no. I don't talk during a movie. I don't text during a movie. (I might turn my phone on briefly to check the time, but I turn it off just as quickly.) I'm a fucking saint when it comes to going to the movies.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?
Oh God yes. (Who hasn't done this?) There was a movie called Sex and the Single Girl starring four classic actors I like: Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Man, it was worse than I thought it would be.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?
There are dumbasses that do that?

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?
I've had Amadeus and The Cider House Rules sitting on my shelf collecting dust for some time. Not exactly five years, but for several years.

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?
Here's the thing: when I have DVDs I don't want anymore (especially ones I saw once and am not particularly crazy about seeing them again in the distant future), I put them somewhere else. (More specifically, a box.) The only reason I still have them is because I don't know who to give them to.

Do you have confessions about your movie watching setup at home?
I like watching movies on my laptop with its 14" screen, something most other people would be going "ugh" about. But if I have something on the DVR I want to watch, I got a 26" flat screen TV to watch it.

Any other confessions you want to make?
Sometimes I buy a DVD without having seen the movie beforehand. (Which would explain my answer two questions earlier.)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Liebster Award

Oy, another award? I like 'em, but not as much as I should. Anyway, thank you EthanKyleTrevorToby and Diana for giving me this award. Okay, rules (there's always a catch to these things):
  1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the person giving the award has set for you.
  3. Create 11 questions for the people you will be giving the award to.
  4. Choose 11 people to award and send the a link to your post.
  5. Go to their page and tell them.
  6. No tag backs.
And because I got tagged five times, I get 55 questions to answer. (I hate you all.) Okay, enough whining. Let's get this over with.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Silent films are a major blind spot for me. It's not that I don't like them; it's just I get more caught up with films from the 1930s onward.

I opted to watch perhaps the most famous silent film ever made: F.W. Murnau's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. What Murnau offers is a story that just radiates on screen. You have to love a film that's eighty-five years old and it still resonates to whomever watches it.

With this being a silent film, naturally there is no dialogue. It requires actors of great skill to say so much without saying anything at all. Murnau enlisted George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor to do such a task and boy, does it pay off. (Gaynor won an Oscar for her work; O'Brien should have at least earned a nomination.)

Like all great films, it's the technical aspects that are on full display alongside the actors. In this case, it's Charles Rosher and Karl Struss' cinematography and Hugo Riesenfeld's score. Both are haunting, beautiful and will echo in your mind. Ah, older films always have those.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is a gorgeous film that which breaks your in every other scene. It's very possible this inspired many other films in the years to come, but who knows? Maybe no one dared to rival the beauty Murnau captured.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Grifters

Crime is never a good thing in real life, but it provides excellent material for fiction. (This is coming from someone who likes a good film noir every now and again.) It's just very bewitching to see good people go bad.

The protagonists of The Grifters are just bad people getting worse. The leading man is a con artist, his mother works for the mob, and his mistress uses her wits and body to get what she wants. The very people that reside in a good noir.

Jim Thompson's novel displays dialogue that's simple yet speaks volumes. You can just pick up the pulpiness within every word Thompson wrote. It's different from Hammett or Chandler because what's written is much more grittier.

Stephen Frears' film captures that seediness of Thompson's novel. Frears even gets some great performances from Anjelica Huston, John Cusack and Annette Bening. They knew how to show the nasty side of their characters.

Of course, both are different in regards with certain aspects. The film omits a few scenes from the novel. The novel is a bit darker than the film. But all in all, Frears stays true to what Thompson wrote but with a modern twist.

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

Goodness.

Has it really been three years since I started this blog? If so, holy crap.

I'll keep this short, sweet and to the point. I got to know more bloggers in the last year, but that's expected if you're as devoted to blogging as me. I managed to hone the way I write. Who know where I'll be in a year.

I thank those who have been reading what I wrote, whether since last week or the very beginning. Does this mean I'm slowing down? Don't even think about it.