Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Die For

There are a number of movies based on real-life crimes (Zodiac, Monster) and there's a handful of movies where a crime is a major influence on them (Psycho, Dog Day Afternoon). If you're wondering, To Die For falls under the latter category.

It's based on the Pamela Smart case. Smart seduced her teenage lover into killing her husband, which he did. It's a juicy case to read up on, so I don't blame screenwriter Buck Henry for having a desire to turn it into a movie.

Nicole Kidman's Suzanne Stone is determined to get on TV, even if it means working as a weather girl for the local TV station of the aptly name town of Little Hope, New Hampshire. Her wardrobe looks like the 1950's threw up on her (same goes for her sense of decorating) and she always has a smile on her face as though she's forever on camera. Too bad neither her husband Larry (Matt Dillon) or her teenage lover Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix) could see through her phony facade.

Oh man, To Die For is really funny. A tad too dark in some scenes, but it was fun to watch. Kidman's delightfully wicked performance is definitely the highlight, but I also liked Phoenix (though it looked like he was trying to channel his brother River). All in all, I liked it.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


What would it be like to start your life with a new identity? Your past is erased and your future is presented with a clean slate.

That is exactly what Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is presented with early on in Seconds. He is taunted by phone calls in the middle of the night, making him think about leaving his family and steady job to start a new life. Does he deserve to fake his death for the sake of starting his life anew?

One moment in Seconds I adored was the reveal of Hamilton's new identity Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson, quite effective). His scar-covered face is exposed and Hamilton gets a glimpse of who he will be. He sees a vision of youth that he probably never had. His reaction and expression to the changes are flawless.

Seconds is an excellent movie. It gets muddled in the middle, but that aside it is very well done. The main contributors are John Frankenheimer's meticulous direction and Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score, but I want to say something about James Wong Howe's cinematography. The use of distorted imagery and close ups to capture a person's sense of uncertainty increases the paranoia the viewer might feel. And that makes for a damn good thriller.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Damn you, Irene!

Due to Hurricane Irene passing through the east coast (and the possibility that I'll lose power), I'm holding off blogging until the weather clears up.

Blogging will resume on Tuesday.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Now, Voyager

Being a woman, I'm not entirely crazy about today's "women's pictures". Most of them aren't well made. Another reason as to why I prefer the classics.

Now, Voyager stars Bette Davis, a Hollywood legend I'm starting to like. The other movies I saw her in, All About Eve and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, have her in charge. In Now, Voyager, she's under the suffocating control of her heartless mother.

Because of her poor upbringing, Davis' Charlotte Vale hasn't had chance to become a woman, one that's independent and full of life. Once out of her mother's grip, Charlotte blossoms into the woman she has longed to be and captures the eye of Jerry (Paul Henreid), who is stuck in a dead marriage.

I may be a tomboy, but who says I can't enjoy a good romance movie? Now, Voyager is a very lovely movie and I admire Daivs' work to no end. Maybe because I can somewhat relate to Charlotte.

My Rating: *****

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Misfits

The Misfits is noted for being the final movie of both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. It's also considered the last major movie in both Montgomery Clift and John Huston's careers. Those factoids aside, The Misfits is a very good movie.

Not long after her divorce is finalized, Rosalyn Tabor (Monroe) meets three men, each one different from the last: Gay Langland (Gable), an aging cowboy; Guido (Eli Wallach), a widower; and Perce Howland (Clift), a drifter rodeo rider. Of course, all three men eventually fall for Rosalyn.

At first it would appear that Gay, Guido and Perce like Rosalyn for her curves. But as they get to know her better, they realize they just want someone trusting to talk to (especially Perce). We also view Rosalyn not as a dumb blonde but as a martyr because of her complicated past. That's because the script by Arthur Miller (Monroe's soon-to-be ex-husband at the time) has some events of Monroe's life as parts of Rosalyn's.

As mentioned above, The Misfits is a very good movie. It has its four principal actors in some of their finest work. It may have been neglected upon its release, but that doesn't mean it should be fifty years later.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Room at the Top

During the late 50's and early 60's, British cinema had a flux of realism dramas. Most of them haven't aged well, but those that did are relevant to today's audiences.

Laurence Harvey is better known by modern crowds for his work in The Manchurian Candidate but he is also stellar in Room at the Top, which he did three years earlier. It got him his only Academy Award nomination, but that's an understatement as to the scale of his performance. Like in The Manchurian Candidate, his Joe Lampton isn't a very likable person yet you sympathize for him because he falls under the spell of a woman.

Joe becomes interested in two women: Alice (Simone Signoret, who was wonderfully evil in Diabolique) and Susan (Heather Sears). Of course, both women are complete opposites and have their flaws. Alice is married and older but brings out what remains of Joe's warmth; Susan is dull but comes from a family of wealth and high class, something Joe wants to be a part of.

By the end of Room at the Top, Joe has reached his goal. But he realizes something: he's not happy. The final shot of Joe captures what he's feeling, a look of hopelessness. That shot, as well as the performances by Harvey and Signoret, is what makes Room at the Top so memorable.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A History of Violence

Escaping your past is the method to use when you have more than a few skeletons in the closet. Usually it's related with an affair or something that occurred during childhood, but sometimes it's something more taunting.

This is the case with Tom Stall, played wonderfully by Viggo Mortensen. Before having an idyllic life, he was Joey Cusack, a hitman for an Irish mobster. His family is shocked by the realization, even after he vehemently denies such claims. But soon, he goes back to his violent past.

Mortensen's transformation from mild-mannered Tom to brutish Joey is both an eye-opener and evident during his two sex scenes with Maria Bello's Edie. The first encounter is somewhat of an awkward role-playing experience, lacking that certain spark. The second encounter takes the phrase "banging" to a new level.

Having also seen Eastern Promises, it's clear that Mortensen and David Cronenberg are excellent collaborators. I look forward to their next movie together. A History of Violence is very well done, but there's something missing to it. I can't place what it is though.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We've seen descents into madness depicted in movies countless times. But what about when the person's already insane?

Ralph Fiennes, an actor I have always admired, gives one of his finer performances. He doesn't show the traits of Hollywood's regular take on schizophrenia (basically a LOT of twitching and breakdowns). His performance has him lost in his own world, trying to piece together his past with what little of his sanity remains.

David Cronenberg blurs the fine line between hallucination and reality. He also blurs how serious of a condition Fiennes is afflicted with so we can understand him better. Pretty freaky stuff if you ask me.

Spider is well-acted, but the pace bothered me a bit. I found it too slow more than once. That slightly annoying factor aside, I thought that Spider was a good movie.

My Rating: ****

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cinema Paradiso

It's amazing to discover people with similar interests. They're usually the most unlikely of people.

In Cinema Paradiso, the residents of a small Sicilian town gather at the local movie theater to forget their problems. They laugh, cry and cheer from watching movies, completely forgetting their problems outside of the theater.And it's there where they connect.

The center of Cinema Paradiso is Salvatore, or Toto as he's called by those at the theater. Like many of the town's residents, he goes to the movies to escape the abuse he faces at home. It would become an everlasting love with all things film. After all, a love has to start somewhere.

Cinema Paradiso is one of the more entertaining foreign movies I've seen in recent memory. It captures memories of one's childhood perfectly. And if you didn't feel the slightest pang of emotion from the ending, there's something wrong with you.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Liebster Award

Thanks to Meredith at Forever Classics, I now have something to get me out of this writer's funk.

Reportedly, liebster means "beloved" in German. Must be a popular meme floating around in Germany then.

Rules are simple: link back to the blog(s) that tagged you (check), and pass along to five blogs that have under 300 followers. Here are my five.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I need a break.

I solely blame the "end of summer" blues on this. I feel unmotivated to really write anything, so I'm taking a break from blogging this weekend.

Will resume on Monday when I feel inspired.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rachel, Rachel

When you reach a certain age in your life, you realize that something is missing. Usually it's love, other times happiness. But sometimes, it's both.

That's the case with Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward). She's 35, single and still lives with her mother. By now, she longs for a meaningful relationship to fill the empty void in her life. Will she find one?

Rachel isn't the type of person most people would notice. She's just an average person just going on with her life. It seems like a simple role to play, however Woodward excels in that type of role. Thanks to her and director (and Woodward's husband) Paul Newman, they show that Rachel isn't a complicated woman. Just a restricted one.

Woodward is just fantastic in Rachel, Rachel. Like her Oscar-winning turn in The Three Faces of Eve, we see her transformation from sheltered to self-assured. And can you believe a movie this good is only Newman's first run as director? It feels like he's been behind the camera for years rather than in front.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

They Live By Night

Bowie (Farley Granger) is a marked man when the movie opens. An escaped prisoner, he's one of the conspirators of a bank robbery. But it's also clear that Bowie's a framed man as well.

The press continually call him the mastermind of the crimes he's involved in, but Bowie's no more than an unfortunate witness. He merely watches the actions of his two partners in crime rather than the other way around. If you look at his expressions during those scenes, you notice that he wants to save the victim before realizing that could be him next.

Enter Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), perhaps Bowie's escape from a life of crime. After all, on their first night on the run, they get married. They both care for each other, as clearly shown when the movie opens. However, the opening text reading "This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in" shatters that image like a rock to a mirror.

Nicholas Ray's debut shows the essentials of noir without overdoing it. And, like many of Ray's later movies, relies more on character than plot. Worth checking out by a mile.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray is definitely one of those directors who didn't get the recognition he deserved during his run in Hollywood. He's considered an influence to many notable directors. And he made some pretty damn good movies.

Ray stood out because the characters in his movies didn't overplay their emotions or actions. They acted like regular people. They weren't the perfect people as portrayed in other movies. They had visible flaws, ones that most everyone had.

Ray is also noted for directing actors into excellent performances (ie, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place). With Bigger Than Life, he has James Mason in an indelible performance.

Mason's transformation isn't overdone like most other movies on the subject. He shows early on that his personality has taken a turn for the worse while at the same time shows his physical and emotional pain through body language. It's an amazing performance by him, though I'm appalled at the fact that he didn't receive an Academy Award nomination for it.

Bigger Than Life lives up to its title. I don't mean that in a bad sense, but more so in the sense that Ray knew how to live up one's expectations from a glance at the title. Here's something for you to chew on: if the themes presented in Bigger Than Life still hold water, just imagine what it was like when it was released back in 1956.

My Rating: *****

Monday, August 15, 2011

La Strada

Foreign movies are an acquired taste. It's mainly for those who don't mind reading subtitles when they watch a movie.

As for me, I'm half and half. I do like foreign movies, but only those done by certain directors (Kurosawa, Visconti). And if you're wondering, yes, Fellini is one of them. His sense of imagery makes him stand out from the rest.

The two leads of La Strada, Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn, give excellent performances. Masina represents one's innocence where as Quinn is presented as the brutality of man. There is also a certain charm to Masina that makes us like her immediately, while there is a certain aloofness to Quinn that makes us dislike him.

There are so many things of La Strada that I like outside of the performances and Fellini's imagery. The main thing is Nino Rota's haunting score. Just a few notes and I get chills. The other thing is those final two shots of Quinn. If this isn't good filmmaking, I don't know what is.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Great Dictator

Satire is always tricky to tackle. It can either work or flop. Most times it doesn't work. It's only those rare examples that stand out.

In this case, it's Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. It's clear early on that it's a jab towards Hitler and Nazism, and yet it's still amusing. No surprise that it got banned in Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries.

This was also Chaplin's first sound film. And boy, does he use it well. Whether it be Hynkel's gibberish German or the barber's impassioned speech, Chaplin knew how to capture the essence from a good scene.

The Great Dictator, although not my favorite Chaplin, provided enough amusement for me. Chaplin wanted to make a statement with this film and he succeeded in doing so. A film that has stood the test of time.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Modern Times

Being the classic film freak that I am, you'd think I've seen a number of silent films. In reality, that's the one area I'm lacking in. Well, I saw City Lights several years ago, but I barely remember it.

That doesn't mean I'm not trying to watch them. After all, I continually hear how excellent they are. But considering there are so many out there, it's hard to choose which one to watch first.

So I chose to watch Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin's last silent film. I do love a good laugh every now and again. Most comedy I like is verbal (ie, Billy Wilder), but then I realized the best comedy is physical.

Afterwards, I realized that I should venture into Chaplin's films more. After all, when discussing comedy, Chaplin's one of the first names brought up. Modern Times captures the struggles of the Great Depression but adds humor to lighten the mood. In short, comic genius.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, August 11, 2011


For every movie, there are a thousand imitators. In this case, it's Diabolique. Without this movie, there'd be no PsychoPeeping Tom or Repulsion.

Early on, it's clear as to why Christina (Vera Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) want Michel (Paul Meurisse) dead. Both are shown early on as victims of his abuse (Christina emotionally, Nicole physically). In many cases like this, the victim becomes the victimizer.

The plot reminded me a bit of Rope. Two people commit the perfect murder, but one of them starts to crack under the pressure of keeping the crime a secret. The other, who is clearly the mastermind of the scheme, is not concerned about getting caught. Maybe not the smartest move for the latter.

As stated above, a lot of movies have to give Diabolique credit. After all, if it wasn't for that, the horror genre would be beyond lackluster; it'd be a complete joke. Thankfully Diabolique proves otherwise for it has an intense kick that I assume 1955 audiences weren't ready for just yet.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


With Roman Polanski's work, we get glimpses of different locales. Such locations include New York City (Rosemary's Baby), Los Angeles (Chinatown) and Poland (The Pianist). With Repulsion, we see London.

Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a young woman appalled at the mere thought of physical contact. She has to listen to her sister's constant lovemaking. Carol is so disgusted by intimacy, she will brush her teeth after being kissed.

A notable symbol of Repulsion are cracks. Carol finds herself fixated upon them because they represent her state of mind. As the movie progresses, the cracks (literal and metaphorical) get deeper. Deneuve's performance and Polanski's direction ensure that Carol isn't the only one going mad. So is the audience.

Throughout Carol's slow descent into madness, many of the shots used reminded me of the nightmare sequence in Rosemary's Baby. The claustrophobic feeling in the movie practically engulfs you. It will scare the daylights out of you if you're not careful.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

High and Low

Not to offend Ryan, but I haven't seen much of Akira Kurosawa's work. But believe me, I'm trying really hard to catch up.

Having seen only Seven Samurai beforehand, it was interesting to see Kurosawa make a movie in a modern setting. (In this case, 1960's Japan.) We get a glimpse of the country at that time. And, boy, is it gritty.

High and Low also features several Kurosawa regulars, including Toshiro Mifune. They give immense depth to their performances as they try to find out who is responsible for the crime that is so unthinkable.

OKay, now I'm starting to see why several movie lovers I know love Kurosawa so much. And being the criminology freak that I am, I was bound to love it. Indeed I did. After all, it showcases perfectly the anatomy of a crime.

My Rating: *****

Monday, August 8, 2011

Upcoming Blogathons

There are a few blogathons happening in the next two months that I show great interest in. Here they are.

  • Cinema Viewfinder is hosting their annual Labor Day blogathon. This year's subject is Nicholas Ray, who would've turned 100 yesterday.
  • The Hollywood Revue will have a Fashion in Film Blogathon on September 24th.
  • Carole & Co. will host a blogathon for what would've been Carole Lombard's 103rd birthday from October 6th (Lombard's birthday) to October 9th.
Those are the ones I know about. Let me know if there are any more. I'll be happy to promote them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Have you read any celebrity biographies/autobiographies? If so, which ones?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I love this.

From time to time, I get into a conversation with an older movie aficionado. I bring up a certain movie, and they admit they've never seen it. And I'm like, you're older than me, have seen more movies than me, but you haven't seen that one and I have?

I'm not referring to just the classics, mind you. (Or maybe I am. Who knows?) I always get a small sense of triumph if I've seen a movie that a professed movie lover hasn't. I still get taken aback by their confession.

This is has been another pointless rambling by me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Back in the 1950's, a popular genre was going around: the melodrama. It was a favorite genre for Douglas Sirk, but it wasn't restricted to just the United States.

Luchino Visconti, a somewhat forgotten name of Italian cinema by today's standards, directed Senso back in 1954. Already aware of Visconti's sense of style with Le Notti Bianche, I watched the movie he did prior to the latter title. It's a tale of romance, war and politics. Normally not something I'm big on, but it's pretty good.

The two stars of Senso are Alida Valli (famous for The Third Man) and Farley Granger (famous for Rope and Strangers on a Train), both unconventional stars of the 1950's. Visconti wanted to have Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando for his movie. I think the movie's fine with Valli and Granger. After all, they manage to add depth to their characters' personalities.

Senso I wasn't too crazy about, but I did love several things about it: the cinematography, the score, the costumes, and Valli and Granger's performances. Not among the great I've seen, but pretty damn good.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pickup on South Street

Pickup on South Street is the definition of what noir should be. Dark settings, compelling characters and one hell of a MacGuffin. Seriously.

Like most great noirs, Pickup on South Street is set in the underbelly of New York City. Thanks to Leigh Harline's music and Joseph MacDonald's cinematography, they give the movie a true feeling for what noir should be.

The main performances are from Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter. All three are aware that what they do is dangerous, but they're willing to take the risk. Of the three, my favorite's Ritter. She merely sells out information in order to save up for when her information doesn't please certain people. Again, she knows it's a dangerous business but she's willing to take the risk.

Pickup on South Street, as said before, is one of the best noirs. I've seen. It's gritty and gripping at the same time. It also captures the politics of that time. Not one to miss.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wings of Desire

Once in a while I come across a movie where I have to think considerably over it. Recently, that movie is Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.

It's one of those movies that both confused and compelled me. It has you thinking about concepts of life and death, wondering about mortality. I've read about people who have seen Wings of Desire several times still don't know what to think of it. Personally I don't blame them.

The cast of Wings of Desire act their parts well but if I had to choose my favorite from them, I'd go with Peter Falk as himself. He just acts like a person going through their day, simple as that. It's also for his soliloquy. That soliloquy is why Falk is someone who had a certain charm when on screen.

Although meddling sometimes, Wings of Desire is a very good movie. As I mentioned, it has you thinking of the meaning of existence. Though I liked it, a re-watch is imminent in the  distant future.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, August 1, 2011


Another year has gone by. This blog is now two years old. If you noticed what happened last month, it appeared that I was starting to lose interest in writing. It wasn't that; it's not easy writing with a deadline every day. You need a break every once in a while.

In the past year, I got acquainted with other bloggers, both rookies and veterans of the online critic world. Most of them I introduced to movies I saw (and sometimes books I read), others I had similarities with in the sense of movies. All in all, I met new people that I wouldn't have met had I kept my mouth shut.

Anyway, I thank those who stop by on a regular basis to comment, those who I talk to on Twitter periodically, and those who supported my work since the beginning or have just started to. I hope I'll be around for a while.

(Oh, one more thing. There won't be a BOOK VS. MOVIE feature this month. Sorry.)