Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All That Heaven Allows

In 2002, Todd Haynes released Far from Heaven. It was his tribute to director Douglas Sirk. The two movies of Sirk's that were influences on Far from Heaven were Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows.

All That Heaven Allows may have a trite plot (a widow in a love affair with a younger man) and a flimsy script, but Sirk has us look over these small details for the much grander ones of the film. It's a bold move, but Sirk has done it frequently in his career.

The grander details in question are what Sirk toys with constantly: lighting, color and framing. All three are applied to Cary (Jane Wyman) throughout. After her affair with Ron (Rock Hudson) starts, she goes from wearing dull shades to vivid colors. When the affair ends, she's shot in the shadows frequently. Also, she's framed in many objects (mirror, doorway, window pane) to show she's trapped to the conformities of her town.

All That Heaven Allows isn't just about a love affair that is frowned upon. It's about one's desire to break free of the hypocrisy they face from those closest to them. After all, haven't you had that desire?

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Ox-Bow Incident

In old movies especially, morals are questioned on a regular basis. At first, some decisions were smart. But after more facts come in, those decisions don't look as smart.

A situation like that is shown in William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident. In the aftermath of a shooting, the townspeople are searching for who did it. They're hungry for justice and spilled blood. When they find the men (Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Francis Ford), the only voice of reason in the posse (Henry Fonda) tries to convince the others the men are innocent.

Of the actors, I particularly liked Fonda and Andrews. Fonda because he is always the ideal choice for the voice of reason. (Anyone who has seen 12 Angry Men can agree with me.) Andrews, an underrated actor of the time, because he conveys fear without overdoing it. The close-up of him as he's told of the crimes shows the amount of worry within him building up. (That extra beam of light across his eyes in that shot is a nice touch.) Both are great and should have earned some form of recognition.

The Ox-Bow Incident could be viewed as almost a Western version of 12 Angry Men, however the outcomes for both are vastly different. It may be far from the Hollywood ending most movies of the time had, but there's no denying that the ending for The Ox-Bow Incident is a memorable one.

My Rating: *****

Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Tango in Paris

There are always those movies that get a slew of controversy upon their releases. Most of the time the controversy still lingers years later, but it manages to gloss over what the movie is actually about.

Such is the case with Bernado Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. It's infamous for its frank depiction of sex. (It's infamous for a few other things, but you know what those are.) In reality, the scenes of intimacy between Paul (Marlon Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) are mere backdrop to the real heart of the story.

Brando is frequently dubbed the greatest actor of all time (even if we can't hear what the hell he's saying most of the time), and Last Tango in Paris shows as to why. In comparison to some of his earlier roles, Paul could be viewed in a similar vein to Terry Malloy, someone who shuts himself out from what's going on around him. That's only for the first half. The second half showcases Paul as a more brutish Stanley Kowalski. Paul could be viewed as a blending of previous Brando roles but either way, he is from a different part of Brando's range of acting.

Brando's most powerful scene in Last Tango in Paris (and perhaps his best scene in general) is when Paul speaks to his deceased wife. It starts off like a normal conversation, but soon Paul's inner anger starts to boil to the surface. He furiously questions her on she killed herself before he falls apart and tearfully apologizes. A scene like this has been done countless times by numerous actors, resulting in them overdoing the scene. With Brando, he makes the scene his own.

Last Tango in Paris is not what it seems. It isn't an erotic vision in the vein of In the Realm of the Senses. It's a tale of loss and longing, and Bertolucci weaves this tale beautifully.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Johnny Guitar

The best thing about Nicholas Ray is that he takes genres that are immensely popular and turns them around on their heads. Bigger Than Life made social dramas of the 1950's look like bad soap operas. In a Lonely Place and They Live By Night added new perspectives to film noir.

Like Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo five years later, Ray's Johnny Guitar shone a new light onto the Western. Both focus on the principle characters more than the action. Both have characters that capture the audience's attention. Both are made for those not that into Westerns, like yours truly.

What makes Johnny Guitar unique is its use of role reversals. The bandits are actually good guys, the townspeople are villains, and the women wear the pants in this show. After all, we learn early on that Vienna (Joan Crawford) and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) are two dames you shouldn't cross.

God, I love what Ray has offered me so far. Rebel Without a Cause, In a Lonely Place, Bigger Than Life, They Live By Night, and now Johnny Guitar. What I like about them the most is that they're unconventional from other movies of the time. That is also why I love Ray in general.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Medium Cool

1968 was a hell of a year. There were countless riots because of the Vietnam War, as well as civil rights. The biggest news of the year were the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Many books and movies were inspired by the events of 1968.

One such movie is Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool. Wexler, better known for his cinematography in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, presents the events of 1968 not as a focal point but as a minor detail to the story he wrote and directed. (And, yes, did the cinematography for.)

Robert Forster, more familiar to today's audiences from his Oscar-nominated turn in Jackie Brown, I particularly liked here. He works for a Chicago news station, but isn't interested in most of the stories he covers. He's more into the human interest stories than the ones on politics. This is why RFK's assassination is treated as something unimportant in the story.

Medium Cool is a very well done movie. It's not a political thriller in the vein of The Manchurian Candidate but rather as a retrospective of the 1960's. I admire that a majority of the movie is shot in documentary-style, which adds to how hectic the time period was.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 25, 2011


During the late 1940's, anti-Semitism was unfortunately on the rise in the United States. Even after what happened earlier in the decade in Germany, there was still much discrimination towards people of Jewish faith.

Hollywood took note of it. In 1947 alone, Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire were released. The plots for both were different, but both were strictly focused on anti-Semitism. Gentleman's Agreement was about a man posing as Jewish; Crossfire was about a man who was murdered because he was Jewish.

Crossfire is based on a book written by Richard Brooks (later famous for directing such movies as Elmer Gantry and In Cold Blood), however there was one major difference between the book and Edward Dmytryk's movie. The murder victim in the movie is Jewish; in the book, he was a homosexual. (It was changed to appease the censors.) Either way, both could make someone an immediate target of a hate crime.

Crossfire is quite good. I particularly liked the work by Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame, all familiar faces to film noir. However, the flow of the narrative is a little flawed throughout, but that doesn't stop me from recommending it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 24, 2011


With all of the recent family friendly movies being released, it's hard to find one right for the whole family. So naturally it would be surprising that the best came from the least likely of names in the field: Martin Scorsese.

Surprising as that may sound, Scorsese captures what many movies in the same spectrum try so hard to contain: the wonder seen through a child's eyes. So many directors have tried to achieve that feat. Only a few have succeeded.

Hugo has to be Scorsese's most personal entry. What other contribution of his to the world of film conveys his love of film? This is more than just a movie for kids. This is a movie made for those who are as deeply devoted to the early years of film as much as Scorsese is.

Hugo is one of this year's best. Scorsese can do no wrong here. (Then again, when doesn't he?) He masterfully blends fantasy and realism within each scene. Also, if you're going to watch this (which you should), see it in 3D. It will enhance your viewing experience to a new level.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Barton Fink

Joel and Ethan Coen are one of the most compelling duos in the film industry. Their movies are different from others'. I don't mean that in a bad sense; it shows their work is memorable.

Barton Fink depicts the life that was 1941 Los Angeles, which by all accounts wasn't as glamorous as it was cracked up to be. Around that time, established writers and playwrights were being commissioned by studios, and were disappointed by the Hollywood treatment. They thought they would be getting more out of what they were being paid.

John Turturro, a frequently underused actor, stars in the title role of the Clifford Odets doppelganger. Through his bouts of writers' block while cooped up in a Los Angeles hotel, he encounters a mysterious salesman (a villainous John Goodman).

Barton Fink conveys the many themes of the Coen brothers, however it's much darker than some of their other work. The performances by Turturro and Goodman are great. To those wanting a glimpse of Hell on earth, you'll find it in the form of Barton Fink.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eyes Without a Face

After seeing Diabolique, I knew the French mean business when it came to horror movies. I realized that even more after seeing Eyes Without a Face.

Any movie that contains surgery scenes will always have me turning away. It doesn't help much that Eyes Without a Face has a segment where demented Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his even more demented nurse Louise (Alida Valli) remove a girl's face in one piece. (Can you say "gross"?) All of that to repair the face of Genessier's daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Isn't that sweet?

Of course, there are the small details of Eyes Without a Face that make it even more horrifying. There's Georges Franju's direction, which could be compared to Hitchcock or Clouzot. And that score by Maurice Jarre (more famous for Lawrence of Arabia). It sent chills up my spine like Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho.

Eyes Without a Face is one of the more unnerving horror movies. The most unsettling part of this has to be Christiane's mask. The blank and expressionless face she wears to hide her real (and heavily damaged) face just flat out scares me. Also, don't be surprised if it reminds you of another mask of similar traits.

My Rating: *****

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Purple Rose of Cairo

You ever been in a low mood and your first solution is to watch a movie? It has and always will be the best way to forget your problems.

This is the case with Cecilia (Mia Farrow). She has good reason for her moviegoing. She's stuck in an abusive, loveless marriage, she has been fired from her job, and she's looking for an escape from the poverty throughout her neighborhood in Depression-era New Jersey. What better escape than going to the movies?

I've always liked Woody Allen's work (mainly Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters), mostly because he knows how to capture the movie's mood. With The Purple Rose of Cairo, he blends the feel of the 1930's with the ambiance of a comedy from that time. Not many movies can do that successfully.

I absolutely love The Purple Rose of Cairo. Farrow and Jeff Daniels have magnificent chemistry together. In fact, the movie acts as though it's from the 1930's. The ending just about crushed my heart, but that didn't stop me from adoring this movie.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, November 20, 2011


A common theme in some independent movies is sadness. Usually it's because the main character(s) lost a loved one, ended a relationship or it's just within their nature.

In Beginners, we're already told of what has happened with Oliver (Ewan McGregor) within the first few minutes. Shortly after his mother passed away, his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) comes out and embraces the gay lifestyle before he dies. Oliver accepts what Hal has told him, but there's that look of uncertainty on his face.

As he tells his new girlfriend Anna (Melanie Laurent) about his father, you can pick up on the touch of sadness in Oliver's voice and eyes. He's clearly upset over his father's passing, however he's starting to embrace life without Hal. It's a tough task, but he has to do it sooner or later.

I really liked Beginners, mainly for the work from McGregor and Plummer. The simple addition of flashbacks is a nice touch. The low lighting also gives us a glimpse of what's inside Oliver's mind. The thing is though is that the movie is stuck in the same mood for the whole duration. That small flaw aside, Beginners is worth checking out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winter's Bone

As for usual Hollywood standards, most female roles tend to cross into degrading territory. That's mostly for studio movies, mind you. At least independent movies are more focused on character examination rather than making money.

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone does have character examination, mainly in the roles by Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes (fittingly the two Oscar nominees). Lawrence may be the principle character, but I feel that Winter's Bone loses something when Hawkes isn't on screen.

Winter's Bone is also successful at depicting the rugged life some people have to face. Some will do anything to save or earn money, but they stop at desperate measures. The bleak weather and lack of light adds to the moody nature of the movie.

If you think this would be a positive review, think again. The narrative for this was so dense, I was certain I was going to fall asleep. The only things keeping the movie afloat are Lawrence and Hawkes. Everything else is weak.

My Rating: ***1/2

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Big Heat

Although I've only seen M and The Big Heat, I know enough that Fritz Lang had a certain style of directing. He had his movies burn slowly to excitement and a hell of an ending.

Glenn Ford is someone I've encountered before in Gilda and Blackboard Jungle. In both, he barely has enough of a spine to stand up for himself. In The Big Heat, he looks as though he's about to rip out someone's spine. Nice to see a man get tough every now and again.

Gloria Grahame was the quintessential femme fatale back in the day. However in The Big Heat, she does somewhat of a variation of the role. Her Debby Marsh doesn't want to harm Ford's Dave Bannion but rather help him with the cases that are slowly consuming him. The only people she wants to harm are those who harmed her. (That pot of coffee to the face had to hurt.)

The Big Heat gets up there as one of the best noirs I've seen. Ford and Grahame deliver their best work in this. Lang also manages to deliver the goods. A must for noir admirers.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wild River

It's really sad that after his near-fatal car crash, studios were more than hesitant to cast Montgomery Clift in their projects. It wasn't just because his good looks were destroyed, but his mental state was as well.

Elia Kazan trusted Clift enough to cast him in Wild River. After all, Kazan had previously worked with Method acting pioneers Marlon Brando and James Dean, but Clift was different both acting-wise and mentally. Clift had a slow simmering type of acting, which he showcases in Wild River.

Wild River also stars Lee Remick, whom I also like. She is someone who I dub an "underactor" meaning her performances are so subtle and nuanced, they feel more like she's being herself rather than acting. Her work in Wild River is such an example.

Although the title implies otherwise, Wild River gets on the slow side more than once. It's a good movie, but I wouldn't generally rank it among On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire or A Face in the Crowd. I will say, however, that Clift and Remick some fine work.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Imitation of Life

With some directors, I usually associate them with the things and/or themes in their movies (ie, Fellini's religious imagery, Tarantino's cuss-filled dialogue, Hitchcock's mysterious blondes, Hawks' fast-talking women, etc.). It can lead to problems however.

Take Douglas Sirk for example. In the way critics and film lovers describe him, Sirk is viewed as making overly dramatic "women's pictures". After seeing Magnificent Obsession, I went with that for some time. When I saw Imitation of Life, that stereotype of Sirk was thrown out the window.

The main characters of Imitation of Life are two mothers and two daughters. Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a stage actress who tries to be a good mother to Susie (Sandra Dee), but her career constantly interferes with her family life. Lora's maid Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) tries to regain the love of her daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), but it's impossible because Sarah Jane refuses to accept that she has mixed blood. Turner and Dee are the bigger names, but it's Moore and Kohner that make Imitation of Life what it is.

Imitation of Life is a lot better than I originally thought, however I thought it was a little mushy in a few scenes. All in all, this was a fitting send-off for a director like Sirk.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Marry a Millionaire

I usually like comedies from the classic era because the jokes were what the jokes in today's comedies are not: funny. Older comedies relied on jokes with wit rather than today's comedies relying on jokes with bad taste.

How to Marry a Millionaire I like because, as mentioned, the jokes are actually funny. They still work after nearly sixty years, so that's good. (I personally like when Lauren Bacall making reference to husband Humphrey Bogart as "that old fellow what's-his-name from The African Queen".)

I really liked the performances in How to Marry a Millionaire. Bacall possesses a New York attitude that has her in charge. Betty Grable, whom I'm not too familiar with, did manage to grasp my attention with her work. William Powell is his debonair self as the beau and eventual fiance of Bacall. (Who wouldn't want to marry him?) But my favorite performance came from Marilyn Monroe, whom I'm starting to like more with each passing movie. She showcases the typical ditzy blonde persona, but she gives a new take on it.

To sum things up, I really liked How to Marry a Millionaire. It gets a little silly in some scenes, but it's a very clever comedy. It also makes me long for a new comedy that mirrors the classics.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 14, 2011

Out of the Past

As popular as film noir was back in the 1940's and 1950's, sometimes the more famous titles weren't as successful upon their release.

That wasn't the case with Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past. It was heralded as one of the greatest noirs ever made, and upon seeing it I can understand why. It has many common elements of noir that flow with immense ease.

Jeff Bailey best captures Robert Mitchum's screen persona of the laid back anti-hero. He's willing to find Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) for Whit Sterling (the first glimpse of Kirk Douglas' devious screen persona) but upon seeing her, Jeff has almost met his match.

My opinion on Out of the Past is a bit different than perhaps that of others. I thought it was quite good, and I particularly liked the work from Mitchum and Douglas. However, I thought the narrative was a little jumbled. I still think it's good though.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peyton Place

During the 1950's, the melodrama was a popular genre among female audiences. The more popular ones were made by Douglas Sirk, but some were made by others.

Peyton Place by today's standards contains every personal tragedy in the book (rape, suicide, abortion, illegitimacy). After all, these were subjects that were "hush hush" in mixed company back then. But thanks to Mark Robson, he makes this less Douglas Sirk and more dignified soap opera.

Of course like most soap operas, the pinnacle of Peyton Place has to be the actors. The best work came from the actors who were nominated for Oscars: Lana Turner, Diane Varsi, Hope Lange, Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn. I found it amusing that Turner, a victim of many scandals, was cast where her character has a secret that would destroy her reputation.

All in all, I really liked Peyton Place. The time might be a shock to some (over two and a half hours), but surprisingly the times flies right by though it drags a little in the third act. Again, I just love the performances. This is for those who want a non-Sirk melodrama.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Postman Always Rings Twice

There have been many famous femme fatales in movies. Some of the more notable ones include Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Ava Gardner in The Killers. They were proven to be poisonous to Fred MacMurray, Glenn Ford and Burt Lancaster in their respective movies.

Another on is Lana Turner's Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She wears nothing but white throughout (she wears black in one scene where she contemplates suicide), however she doesn't become a true femme fatale until the lovesick Frank Chambers (John Garfield) suggests to get rid of her husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway).

It's hard to distinguish who is the root of all evil, Cora or Frank. On the one hand, it's Frank who suggests murder. But once Nick is done away with, Cora becomes more defensive about her behavior, almost to the brink of getting of anyone who gets too close or knows too much.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is very good, but there are some moments that could have been improved or kept out all together. Doesn't mean I didn't like it though.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 11, 2011

Run Lola Run

Every time I see a movie that has received nothing but high praises, I have to be cautious. It can't always be as good as others say. (I learned that after seeing Citizen Kane.)

Good thing Run Lola Run is as good as everyone says it is. The concept has been done a bunch of times in other movies that don't generally work. Run Lola Run presents the concept that is so simple as something fresh.

This was made during the MTV era of the 1990's, so naturally it would feel that it was made for the MTV crowd. In reality, Run Lola Run is made for everyone. It's not targeted at a specific audience but rather at those who want to get their money's worth from a movie.

Run Lola Run is a very good movie, but I had a problem or two with the narrative. I found it a bit jumpy in spots, but that's a minor detail. All in all, Run Lola Run is worth checking out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Bother to Knock

Marilyn Monroe is known as the quintessential sex symbol. Anyone who's seen The Seven Year Itch or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes can see why, But being me, I'm trying to watch some of her more professional work.

So far I've seen Some Like It Hot and The Misfits, as well as her small part in All About Eve. I have also seen her fantastic work in Roy Ward Baker's Don't Bother to Knock. Instead of being the sultry blonde, Monroe's Nell Forbes is someone who is distant from the rest of society. Her mind works differently than everyone else, and you wonder what runs through it.

In a sense, Nell shows tints of Monroe's psyche. She's clearly unhinged just from her own being. Nell is a femme fatale, but not in the same vein as Barbara Stanwyck or Gloria Grahame. In a sense, the only true victim in Don't Bother to Knock is Nell herself.

Don't Bother to Knock is still effective after nearly sixty years. Along with Monroe, there's also some great work from Richard Widmark and a fresh-faced Anne Bancroft. Definitely worth checking out.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Breakfast Club

Even after his passing several years ago, I still haven't seen much of John Hughes' work. The only titles I can brag about are Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Doesn't mean I'm not trying.

As most everyone knows, Hughes captured the many awkward moments in a teenager's life. (Who hasn't gone "That was so me in high school!" when watching one of his movies?) Ferris Bueller's Day Off made me realize I need to live life to the fullest while I'm still young. (I didn't steal my dad's Ferrari though. Or in reality, his Porsche.)

The Breakfast Club shows the many types of teenagers you'll find in the average high school: the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the athlete (Emilio Estevez), the princess (Molly Ringwald), the criminal (Judd Nelson) and the basketcase (Ally Sheedy). I knew these exact types of people in high school, so I could understand them and their problems. (For me, I'm a weird mix between Nelson and Sheedy.)

I got a good kick of nostalgia from this. (I'm only a college freshman, but whatever.) Of course high school was hell for me as I'm sure it was for everyone else, but one thing is for certain however. It's about the people you from then.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


By the time the 1960's rolled around, there were a lot of movies that were considered groundbreaking, most of them released during the 1960's.

Decades before Brokeback Mountain, Victim was released when homosexuality was still considered a crime in both the United States and the United Kingdom. It was a daring move for director Basil Dearden, an even more daring movie for star Dirk Bogarde who had established himself as a leading man (and was also gay).

Bogarde gives one hell of a performance as Melville Farr. A number of his shots has a beam of light focused on his face, mainly his eyes. Bogarde was one of those actors who acted his eyes as much as he did with his words. That's what makes that beam of light important. He shows a wounded nature within, especially early on.

Victim is a really great movie, however it gets a tad crammed after a while. I love Bogarde's work as stated earlier. This was perhaps responsible for movies of similar themes released within the last thirty or so years. Because after all, one thing can have a big effect.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blackboard Jungle

There are movies that showcase prominently what period of time they're from. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.

Blackboard Jungle practically screams out that it was made in the 1950's. Don't get me wrong. It's a good movie, but it's just that the subject matter is something that could only be pulled off in the 1950's. It wouldn't have worked in any other decade.

Compare Blackboard Jungle to Rebel Without a Cause, which was released the same year. Both focus on the subject of juvenile delinquency, but they're from different perspectives. Blackboard Jungle is from the adults' point of view while Rebel Without a Cause is from the teenagers' point of view. Either way, both movies depict how misunderstood teenagers during the 1950's were.

Blackboard Jungle, as I mentioned, is good but it's too 1950's. What's shown isn't relevant to today's standards, however one could view this as an exploitation movie (or something of the sort). All in all, it's worth checking out to those who are curious.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The China Syndrome

You know how some manage to predict events in life before they happen? The most recent example is the Chilean miners and the media frenzy surrounding it. Billy Wilder covered an almost identical story fifty-nine years earlier with Ace in the Hole.

With The China Syndrome, it was released just in a matter of weeks before the Three Mile Island incident. Both the storyline for The China Syndrome and what happened at Three Mile Island are startling similar. Just imagine what it was like back in 1979 when it happened.

The China Syndrome stars Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, three actors I call favorites. It's amusing with Fonda and Douglas because both exhibit traits their fathers were known for in their work. Fonda shows determination in getting the right facts while Douglas raises hell in his wake. But this show belongs to Lemmon. He adds the touch of experience within the trio. He also displays what happens when you thought you knew everything about something.

The China Syndrome is one of those movies that grabs you and doesn't let go until the very end. Your nerves will become taut as the movie progresses. Plus, who doesn't love a conspiracy thriller?

My Rating: *****

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Look Back in Anger

The subject of marriage has been examined countless times. Some occasions show why the subjects fell in love, but it's not the case every time.

In Look Back in Anger, the marriage of Jimmy (Richard Burton) and Alison (Mary Ure) is so estranged you wonder what made them fall in love in the first place. (That theme would also be examined in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, another work of Burton's.) They have moments of passion early on, but it's all downhill afterwards.

Jimmy is so dissatisfied with his life with Alison, he will spew his discontent onto her, regardless of what she thinks. Jimmy is also physically abusive towards Alison, as well as other women. He doesn't hate women however. If he did, he wouldn't have gotten married in the first place.

Look Back in Anger is good, but it pales in comparison to Room at the Top, which was released the same year and focuses on similar themes. I like Burton's work, but it looks weak next to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, again similar themes. It's still good though.

My Rating: ****

Friday, November 4, 2011


Every now and then, a musical biopic gets released. The more notable examples (and subjects) include Walk the Line (Johnny Cash), Ray (Ray Charles) and The Doors (Jim Morrison).

Control is about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Both names aren't as well known today but back in the late 70's, both were some of the biggest names in the music world. Ian is portrayed by Sam Riley, and he's great in this. He has this little boy lost look on his face, mostly because everything has happened to him so suddenly. His marriage, the success, all occurred when he was still young.

One scene I really liked was when Ian is confronted by his wife Debbie (the always great Samantha Morton) about his affair. She voices her opinion on the matter, but he remains quiet. It isn't until after she leaves the room that Ian falls apart. He tells Debbie that he loves her, and I love Debbie's response: "What does that mean?" Cold but honest.

Control is such a great movie. Anton Corbijn, a photographer before becoming a director, makes this appear as though he's been making movies for years rather than for the first time. Control looks like a living photograph, chronicling the struggles of a man whose life slowly consumed him.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Odd Man Out

Carol Reed is famous for two completely different movies: the film noir The Third Man and the musical Oliver! He has made a variety of movies, but he's known for those two.

Odd Man Out was made two years before The Third Man, and from watching it you can foretell what is to come. Like The Third Man, Odd Man Out is shot within the many dark corners of the city. The city is a character in itself.

Odd Man Out stars James Mason, a fine actor who I consider underrated by today's standards. I continually forget that he was in The Verdict and North by Northwest, but his work in A Star is Born and Bigger Than Life has stuck with me. So has Odd Man Out. He's slowly suffering throughout, but he isn't left alone to suffer. The city and its inhabitants won't let him be.

If you compare Odd Man Out to The Third Man too much, it makes it clear that The Third Man is the superior one. That doesn't mean Odd Man Out isn't as good. There are certain aspects that work better in The Third Man, but Odd Man Out is a fine film in its own right.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Bob Fosse is famous for his association with musicals, whether it be directing them (Cabaret, All That Jazz) or acting in them (Kiss Me Kate). But he has also done straight-up dramas.

In this case, Lenny. This biopic is about comedian Lenny Bruce, who preceded George Carlin when it came to lewd comedy. Bruce is portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, who is fantastic here. He goes through the plights the average person would've faced then (drugs, infidelity), but Hoffman also shows what's running through Bruce's mind.

Bruce was one of the most outspoken names in the entertainment business (his acts are solid proof). Hoffman shows that underneath the crass persona, there is a person scared of society. In the scenes set in the courtroom, he's constantly looking around the room. He's looking for a way out, mainly through the jury giving him an acquittal. Take note of the scenes after his first arrest. His acts criticize how society judges others, including himself. He's trying to confront society, but it's a losing battle.

Lenny is one of the great movies of the 1970's. Each actor plays their part excellently. If you haven't seen it, then you're in for a treat.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Snappy dialogue. That's one thing I relish. Whether in books (High Fidelity, Slam) or movies (numerous film noirs, comedies from the 1940's), I just love it.

Elmore Leonard is one of the more prolific authors whose works have attitude. (Why else would Tarantino have wanted to adapt Rum Punch into Jackie Brown?) Thanks to Scott Frank's script, Leonard's mood is abundant in Get Shorty, which is just as good as Leonard's book itself.

Just a little bit more on Leonard, then I'll move on. His writing style rubbed off on me. It's easy flowing, which can somewhat describe my writing here. That's probably why I liked the book so much. My writing and Leonard's writing are practically one in the same.

The movie itself is a lot of fun. You just can't resist John Travolta's ice cool attitude. Think of his Chili Palmer as a more laid back Vincent Vega. Gene Hackman (who was mentioned in the book) is just a joy to watch. (He played the part straight as recommended by director Barry Sonnenfield.) Danny DeVito is just downright funny as semi-Method actor Martin Weir. (Leonard based Martin off Dustin Hoffman.) Bonus are a pre-The Sopranos James Gandolfini as a supposedly bumbling hood and Harvey Keitel in an awesome cameo.

It's hard for me to say which version I like more since they're practically identical. They each have their own perks, so it makes harder for me to pick favorites. So I won't.

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