Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lady Killer

Like I said a few days back, pre-codes were the most entertaining type of movie. Perhaps they were so carefree solely because they were released during a time when people were straining to forget their worries.

In 1933, Roy Del Ruth made Lady Killer, an amusing tale of crime and Hollywood. The combination of the two kept me entertained from beginning to end. Not many movies can boast a feat like that.

The star of Lady Killer is James Cagney, whom I realized from this that he had a real firecracker of a personality. I have a feeling he had fun with his role of a theater usher turned small-time hood turned movie star. After all, this was made a whole two years after his star-making turn in The Public Enemy.

I'm not sure, but I believe Lady Killer was one of the first movies to show the behind the scenes/on the set action in Hollywood. Bear in mind this was years before Sunset Boulevard, Singin' in the Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful. Hey, there's a first for everything.

More than once while watching Lady Killer I found myself chuckling at the many antics. Hey, why not? It's a really good movie. It also contains my favorite performance of Cagney's. In all honesty, I might be watching this again, perhaps in the very near future.

My Rating: *****

Monday, January 30, 2012


With Ingmar Bergman's Persona, viewers are offered a glimpse into the minds of two different women. One talks about her personal life, the other remains quiet.

I knew of Bergman's depiction of human behavior and nature from The Seventh Seal. With Persona, he provides a more in-depth glance on both topics. (On a different note, why do most foreign films focus on those two mainly?)

It's hard to say which of the two leading ladies gave the better performance. Bibi Andersson's Alma tells of every detail of her life, many of them she never told anyone before. She soon starts speaking for both women, and her transition from each personality is astonishing.

On the flip side, Liv Ullmann's Elisabet Vogler speaks volumes by barely speaking at all. She clearly has a perplexing personality, yet we still wonder about her after we've learned everything about her. Every emotion of hers is played across her face yet she is devoid of any. (Well, except for an early scene.)

Persona really makes you think about one's identity, who we are in society. It also captures two of the best female performances I've seen. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to understand Mulholland Drive a little better if at all.

My Rating: *****

SAG Winners

Underlined means my prediction, bold means the winner.

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris

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

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

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

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

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    The Motorcycle Diaries

    You ever get that urge to get away from it all? Just drop everything and hit the road?

    Such is the case with Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), the lead protagonists in Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries. Both are studying medicine, but both strive for that one last escape.

    What de la Serna puts in his work as Granado is a zest for life. He is rarely concerned for what his future holds. He wants to live the moment. I also love the final shot of him, his face expressing an uncertainty as to what his fate will be.

    Bernal is different. He possesses a silent intensity, a skill only a few choice actors have. Many of his thoughts are expressed with his face rather than his words, again a rare skill among actors. In all honesty, this is a very bold performance.

    Along with the acting, the technical aspects of The Motorcycle Diaries I just love. The main factors being Eric Gauntier's cinematography, Gustavo Santaolalla's music, and Salles' direction. The lush locales Guevara and Granado venture make them appear to be Argentinian versions of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the protagonists of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    The Gold Rush

    I had seen two Charlie Chaplin films prior to The Gold Rush. Both were essentially social commentaries (Modern Times, The Great Dictator), but The Gold Rush provides pure entertainment.

    What's best about The Gold Rush is that the simplest of gags can still be funny even after almost ninety years. Not many films can boast a feat like that.

    Such gags include Chaplin eating his shoe, the cabin on the edge of the mountain an d my personal favorite, the dinner roll dance. Just watching those gags makes it clear as to why they're so iconic.

    What The Gold Rush also captures is heart. Bear in mind this was made several years before City Lights, a film I am in dire need of revisiting. Still, Chaplin was and always will be one of the few names that could have comedy and tragedy in one film, and make it work.

    The Gold Rush is one of those films that will always stand the test of time, as with many of Chaplin's other films. If you haven't seen it, you are most definitely in for a treat.

    My Rating: *****

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    Dancing Lady

    This is a known fact: pre-codes were the most entertaining type of movie. Hey, they were sometimes riskier than today's movies.

    Joan Crawford is someone I am really starting to like with each passing movie. She's a very lively actress and such a trait is shown in Dancing Lady. As Janie Barlow, she shows a determination that is lacking in most film characters today. It may also be my favorite performance of Crawford's.

    As Patch Gallagher, Clark Gable gives a performance with a lot of gusto. How to describe Patch? Frankly, my dear, he doesn't give a damn. (Sorry, I had to.)

    Franchot Tone I only knew of for two reasons: his Oscar-nominated role in Mutiny on the Bounty and his marriage to Crawford. (Both happened in 1935.) As Tod Newton, he possesses a bit of a sly aura within the role. You don't see roles like that very often nowadays.

    I just adore Dancing Lady. It's so carefree and I just love it. Oh, extra bonus of Dancing Lady is seeing Fred Astaire in his film debut.

    My Rating: *****

    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    The Little Foxes

    With William Wyler's The Little Foxes, we see the many shades of human nature. Some light, some dark, all compelling.

    Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) by appearance is a very sociable woman. Behind closed doors, it's a whole other matter. Along with her brothers, she aspires to gain a good chunk of money from the business deal they want to act out on. However, there is one small problem.

    That problem is Regina's husband Horace (Herbert Marshall). They need his money to go through with the deal. But Horace, a man that's weak both physically and mentally, refuses. Naturally they aren't pleased.

    Between all of this is Regina and Horace's daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright). She temporarily becomes a pawn in the scheme to get the money, but she clearly wants no part in any of it.

    Regina, Horace and Alexandra are all completely different people. To think they live under the same roof. Their morals and beliefs vary and it's obvious that the Giddenses are a very fractured family.

    My Rating: *****

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    You know that saying "third time's the charm"? That can most definitely be applied to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

    The main trio for Sergio Leone's film just compliment each other fantastically. Clint Eastwood is completely aloof but at the same time incredibly tough as "the Man with No Name". Lee Van Cleef's "Angel Eyes" (more like "Devil Eyes" in my book) is evil clad in a black hat. Eli Wallach is the perfect candidate as the greedy bastard that is Tuco. I can't see anyone else in the roles.

    As I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I saw many elements that Leone would later use in Once Upon a Time in the West. Both captured the nature of a dying Wild West, as well as focusing on three pivotal characters with a similar goal. Many directors have tried to connect their films, but I think Leone was one of the few masters that could do such a thing.

    I can't finish this review without talking about Ennio Morricone's score. I just can't. The whole score works in every scene, but there were three specific pieces that I adored. Those are the main theme, the piece playing as Tuco searches for the grave (and damn near loses his mind), and the piece playing during the Mexican standoff. (The second piece I promptly bought off iTunes afterwards.)

    Saying that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the best Westerns ever made is an understatement. Seriously, how many Westerns are there that perfectly balance action, character study and the affects of battle in one film? No wonder Quentin Tarantino dubbed it "the best-directed movie of all time".

    My Rating: *****

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    For a Few More Dollars

    Usually sequels are expected to match up or even surpass the original film. It doesn't happen very often, mind you. When it does, it stands out as much as the original.

    With Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, it doesn't generally have the same bite as A Fistful of Dollars. It's just the flow isn't the same. Don't get me wrong. It's good, but there are flaws within the narrative.

    Clint Eastwood still proves that he's a badass here, but he didn't have the same edge he had in A Fistful of Dollars. I still liked him regardless. Let's face it, who doesn't like Eastwood?

    Lee Van Cleef I encountered before in two other films. No surprise that both of them were also Westerns (High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), so I knew the man could handle a gun. And damn well too.

    So For a Few Dollars More didn't match up with A Fistful of Dollars. I wasn't surprised in all honesty. All I hope for is that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly will be better.

    My Rating: ****

    Academy Award Nominations

    Ho hum. Not even sure why I still pay attention to the Oscars. I say this because they completely shut out two of my favorite films from last year (Shame and Drive) for major categories. Underlined means my prediction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Artist
    Margin Call
    Midnight in Paris
    A Separation

    The Descendants
    The Ides of March
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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

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

    The Artist
    Jane Eyre

    The Artist
    The Descendants
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In Darkness
    Monsieur Lazhar
    A Separation

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

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

    The Shore
    Time Freak
    Tuba Atlantic

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    A Fistful of Dollars

    It was inevitable. Sooner or later I would see the trilogy Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood. So I started off with A Fistful of Dollars.

    Having seen Once Upon a Time in the West, I had a good sense as to what Leone shows in a Western. I also had a sense of what the two main characters would are like. Those characters are the aloof but determined anti-hero and the villain who is the epitome of ruthless.

    Eastwood introduced his iconic "Man with No Name" here and boy, does he make the most of it. His presence is most definitely felt, especially during the final shootout. No one does badass better than Eastwood.

    A Fistful of Dollars is Leone's take on Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. I myself haven't seen Kurosawa's film, so I can't have my say on if Leone stayed true. I will say I plan to seek out Yojimbo in the near future.

    I really liked A Fistful of Dollars. I finally realized how much of a BAMF Eastwood really is. Also, I anticipate what the two other films hold for me.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Sunday, January 22, 2012


    I have mixed feelings towards Steven Soderbergh. On the one hand, I was very much impressed by Traffic (though it rubbed me the wrong way in parts). On the other hand, Contagion, which was more than effective in the first two acts, completely fell apart in the third act. (And don't get me started on that ending. Ugh.)

    His newest movie Haywire falls somewhere in between those two. It possesses a plot where government conspiracy and covering the truth are involved. However, Soderbergh doesn't focus on those topics of interest long enough. It appears he's much more interested in guns going off and necks being damn near broken.

    Of the three Soderbergh movies I saw, it's clear he likes working with an ensemble. Many of the actors he has worked with range from popular stars to award winners. The cast for the mostly male-dominant Haywire includes Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton and Michael Fassbender.

    The star is Gina Carano, who is nothing more than a plot device. Indeed she kicks serious ass, but she isn't given much else to do. Then again, that is usually the case with most action movie leads.

    All in all, Haywire is an okay movie. My opinion would probably be different had it been a little longer. The performances sans Carano and Channing Tatum are good. The only thing that really stuck with me was David Holmes' music. Oh, and it ended on a much more interesting note than Contagion.

    My Rating: ****

    Saturday, January 21, 2012

    The Nun's Story

    It's a daring move to have a film focus primarily on one character. It's usually several primary characters are introduced and focused on. Only a few films can make it work.

    The amusing thing about Audrey Hepburn is she's usually viewed as an image of glamour. Not many people acknowledge that she was a fine actress. Her skill as an actress is as natural as her eternal beauty.

    As Sister Luke in Fred Zinnemann's The Nun's Story, Hepburn gives perhaps the greatest performance of her career. Through her years in the church, she becomes worn out by the rules and restrictions. She tries to keep others happy with her behavior, but she herself isn't happy.

    With a running time of over two and a half hours, it could have fallen apart early on. But Zinnemann makes sure such a thing doesn't happen. The film practically glides with every passing minute rather than get stuck every ten minutes. Again, not many films can make that work.

    In toll, The Nun's Story is an excellent film. Hepburn is luminous in her role, a type that comes around every now and again. Conflict in the church is almost a cliche by today's standards, but Zinnemann's film shows the depths that so many fail to achieve.\

    My Rating: *****

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    The Women

    It's ironic once you think of it. George Cukor is noted for his "women's pictures" (particularly the ones he made with Katharine Hepburn), and he made a literal women's picture. Why literal? I'll explain.

    The Women starred only women. (Even the animals showed are female.) Upon hearing the dialogue, it was clear that it was written by and for women. This wouldn't have worked if it was written by men, mainly because they don't know what goes on in a woman's mind.

    The cast has some of the biggest names of the time, most of them I've seen in other movies. Such names include Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine. I loved the performances from all four of them, but Russell and Goddard stood out the most for me mainly because they have attitude (and most of the movie's best lines).

    Prior to this, I hadn't seen anything with Norma Shearer. After seeing her in The Women, I now desire to see more of her work because she possesses an aura very few actors have. This aura shows she's the kind of person you support no matter what.

    The Women just works wonderfully. Cukor shows that he knows how to work with actresses, all of whom play their roles vibrantly. And is it any surprise that this great movie was released in the great year of 1939?

    My Rating: *****

    Thursday, January 19, 2012


    Bette Davis was and always will be a firecracker of an actress. She always made an impression on audiences, co-stars and directors (even if the latter two were mostly negative). Hey, she didn't get ten Oscar nominations and two wins just by being a good actress.

    In William Wyler's Jezebel, Davis' character of Julie Marsden makes Scarlett O'Hara look like Melanie Hamilton. Her first scene alone proves it. She appears at a party wearing her riding clothes, gets a drink made strictly for the men, and basically shocks everyone there. You think they would rarely be surprised by Julie's attitude. It seems she's like this all the time.

    Julie's fiance Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda) is one such person accustomed to her behavior. However, he has his limits with her. Particularly in one famous sequence. Julie causes a stir at a ball by wearing a red dress instead of the required white. Preston keeps his opinion silent, but it's clear he's furious at her decision.

    As aloof and carefree Julie may seem, her emotions towards Preston are genuine. She cares more about him than anyone else, even herself. Even after he leaves her, she still holds a torch for him. (Well, not in the same sense of Scarlett with Ashley.)

    Jezebel is really like a watered down Gone with the Wind, but not in a bad sense. After all, I find Julie much more bearable than Scarlett. (Yeah, I said it. What about it?)

    My Rating: *****

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Night Moves

    With Arthur Penn's passing back in 2010, I was compelled to see some of his films (as with the case of other names in the business that have died recently). But what to watch? I had already seen Bonnie and Clyde and The Miracle Worker within a month before his death.

    Then I discovered Night Moves, his film from 1975. It's an underseen entry year because, let's face it, 1975 was loaded with great movies. Like the other releases of the year, Night Moves is damn good.

    Gene Hackman, who worked with Penn on Bonnie and Clyde, stars as detective Harry Moseby. He's stuck in a faltering marriage, but he doesn't let that affect him too much. Comparing him to other film private eyes, he shares similarities with Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye.

    In relation with Bonnie and Clyde and The Miracle Worker, Night Moves focuses more on character development than it does on plot development. I'm saying it not as a bad thing but as merely an innocent observation.

    All in all, I really liked Night Moves. The flow of it kind of bothered me considerably, but the performances made up for it. Either way, it's an underrated entry of the 1970's.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Purple Noon

    It's no surprise that there are similarities between Rene Clement's Purple Noon and Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Both are based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, but their styles are completely different.

    Same goes for the actors' personalities. Alain Delon is more elusive than Matt Damon. Maurice Ronet is as much as a bastard as Jude Law. Marie Laforet isn't as suspicious as Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, Delon, Ronet and Laforet are on a completely different level of acting to that of Damon, Law and Paltrow.

    Purple Noon isn't as swank and posh as The Talented Mr. Ripley. It's more down to earth. It rarely focuses on the luxuries surrounding Tom. It focuses more on Tom trying to conceal the crimes he committed. Both films have their advantages but when it comes to hiding the unlawful acts, that goes to Purple Noon.

    One aspect of The Talented Mr. Ripley was its homoerotic subtext. Of course with this being released during the final years of the Production Code era, it isn't as abundant in Purple Noon. In fact, there isn't even any hinting that Tom wants Philippe, not just his money and life.

    Purple Noon is a very well-crafted film, even though it loses its way towards the end and has a resolved ending (much to the dismay of Highsmith herself). Still, it's just as seductive as Minghella's film.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Golden Globe Winners

    Looks like my predictions were way off in some categories. Underlined means my prediction; bold means the winner.

    The Descendants
    The Help
    The Ides of March
    War Horse

    The Artist
    Midnight in Paris
    My Week with Marilyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Artist
    The Descendants
    The Ides of March
    Midnight in Paris

    The Adventures of Tintin
    Arthur Christmas
    Cars 2
    Puss in Boots

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

    The Artist
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    War Horse

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

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Mala Noche

    There are very few directors that, regardless of how well their films do, continue to work in Hollywood. One such name is Gus Van Sant. His filmography has been a mix of studio productions and independent features.

    His debut Mala Noche falls into the latter category, and conveys many themes seen later in his work. (If you've seen any of his later works, you know what those themes are.)

    Much like My Own Private Idaho and Good Will Hunting, Mala Noche features a lead character who's on the fine line of being out of place in society and belonging in it like a normal person. Throughout the film, he wavers on that line, staying on each side for some time.

    In a similar vein of Milk and To Die For, the lead has aspirations he plans to achieve. He won't let anyone or anything get in his way, regardless of what others might think.

    Mala Noche has you thinking about aspects of society, something Van Sant most definitely did with Milk. What's right with it? What's wrong with it? These are questions that are raised constantly when watching this transfixing film.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    The Moon Is Blue

    Of the films I saw that were directed by Otto Preminger, they were dramas and controversial ones at that.

    In between his many successes (and failures) of the 1940's and 1950's, he made an unconventional film: a comedy. Like his other films, it too garnered its share of controversy upon its release back in 1953. What with the use of shocking words like "virgin" (which the female lead is), "mistress" and "pregnant". Of course, the mention of those words isn't that big of a deal nowadays.

    The three main actors of The Moon Is Blue are William Holden, Maggie McNamara and David Niven. Holden and Niven I'm the most familiar with, though McNamara I knew of faintly. They're fine in their roles, but McNamara came off as too talkative.

    Of the trio, the one that stood out the most was not Holden (the biggest name in the cast) nor McNamara (who got an Oscar nomination for her work here). It was Niven. His pithy commentary makes the film a little more bearable.

    Back then, The Moon Is Blue was one of the most scandalous films ever released. Now, especially watching it after seeing Shame, its once-infamous controversy has faded considerably. Still, you can tell it's an Otto Preminger film.

    My Rating: ****

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Grand Hotel

    Even during the early years of Hollywood, ensemble acting was big. I personally like it. It shows that studios were willing to focus on more than one or two stars.

    Grand Hotel features several actors I have either heard of or seen in other films. Here, I want to focus on three that stood out for me. The first is Greta Garbo's worn out ballerina who gets a new view of life after meeting John Barrymore's "baron". You gotta love that immortal line of hers: "I vant to be alone."

    Lionel Barrymore's dying man also got my attention. Once mourning not living his life up enough, he soon makes up for lost time. To think this is the same man who played Mr. Potter fourteen years later.

    In the film's best performance, Joan Crawford as Wallace Beery's stenographer is perhaps in her most natural performance. None of her lines feel forced, her actions aren't contrived, and she appears to be a normal person. And personally, I adore it.

    Grand Hotel describes itself within the title. It's a grand film. All of the actors play their parts magnificently, none of them feeling out of place. I usually gripe about AMPAS choosing the wrong films for Best Picture. Not here.

    My Rating: *****

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    The Letter

    The opening moments of William Wyler's The Letter shows a scene of peace and serenity. And then, gunshots.

    The shots were fired by Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis). She vehemently claims that the shooting was in self-defense, and all evidence supports it. Everyone else believes her...well, almost everyone.

    Many of the movies I saw Davis in had her in charge even with a personal flaw within her character. As Leslie, she convinces almost everyone that there was reason behind the shooting while at the same time hides some secrets of her own. It's a hell of a role for Davis.

    Leslie is also very concerned on what others might think of her if the titular letter is revealed to the public. Of course, the whole outcome of the trial will be completely different than what she hopes for.

    It ends with an expected Production Code-required ending, but The Letter is a hell of a film. As mentioned, Davis gives a powerful performance in it. Bear this thought as you watch it: looks can be deceiving.

    My Rating: *****

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012


    Costa-Gavras' Missing raises many questions on politics, war and society. Can any of the three be trusted?

    To Ed (Jack Lemmon) and Beth Horman (Sissy Spacek), their views on the Chilean government constantly change throughout as they look for his son and her husband Charles (John Shea). What they thought was a reliable government turns into uncertainty towards that so-called reliability. Even the U.S. government's reliability comes into question.

    Throughout Missing, the violence within Chile gets dangerously close to everyone. Gunshots fill the air. Bodies lie in the streets. Panic rises within everyone. It's a dog-eat-dog world in Chile, and every day is a fight for life.

    As they search for Charles, Ed and Beth have to come to terms with their own personal differences. Beth supports Charles' job as a journalist; Ed believes that's what got him arrested. Despite their differing opinions, they agree they won't leave Chile without Charles.

    The physical turmoil of Chile mirrors the emotional turmoil of Ed and Beth, devastated and in ruins. Seeing the country's conditions makes a question Ed asks at one point all the more resonant: "What kind of world is this?"

    My Rating: *****

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    That Hamilton Woman

    What is it about the 19th century and illicit affairs? They seem to be the main focus in films and novels.

    An example of this is That Hamilton Woman, which stars then-newlyweds Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Both actors I'm fairly familiar with, and both give good performances as lovers Admiral Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton, who eventually became pariahs among English society.

    Leigh I was familiar with from A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone with the Wind, the two films that earned her Oscars. As Emma, her personality lies somewhere between Blanche's and Scarlett's. She's a very independent woman yet she feels lost without Horatio by her side.

    I was more familiar with Olivier from a later career film (Spartacus), his Oscar-winning film (Hamlet), and two films that got him nominated (Marathon Man, Wuthering Heights). As Horatio, he possesses the same traits that make Hamlet and Heathcliff who they are: tortured and doomed.

    That Hamilton Woman is a gorgeously shot film, but the story leaves a lot to be desired. Not exactly Gone with the Wind or Wuthering Heights, but it's close enough to satisfy someone who loves a good romance.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Monday, January 9, 2012


    There's just something about Marilyn Monroe that's absolutely mystifying, but what is it exactly? Is it the screen persona that views her as glamorous, even though she was the opposite in real life? Or was it when she was on screen, she became the prime focus? Either way, she has captivated audiences for decades.

    Ever since I saw her in Some Like It Hot, I became curious as to what else she had to offer. Four more movies later, I saw her in Niagara. This was different from the other movies I saw her in. Rather than being a dumb blonde, her Rose Loomis is a calculating dame.

    Rose is plotting to kill her husband George (Joseph Cotten) at, ironically, the honeymoon capital of the world. It's an airtight scheme and mistakes are rare. But it's once the crime is committed that the scheme falls apart at the seams.

    What Monroe offers here is a new meaning on the saying "looks can be deceiving". She wears a welcoming smile and is very sociable, but don't let that fool you. Underneath the smile is a mind that's dark.

    Niagara in itself is a good movie but as with the case of other Monroe movies, it lacks something when she's not on screen. There's also a good performance out of Cotten. It's a good story too, but I felt there should have been more.

    My Rating: ****

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

    With the release of Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we are given a glimpse into the world of espionage. Don't expect James Bond; this is the real deal.

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based on John le Carre's famed novel. Having never read it, I was curious to see what it was about. At the same time however, I was reluctant since the last two le Carre adaptations I saw (The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) weren't as impressive as I thought they would be. I had almost the same problem with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but just barely.

    Alfredson's previous film was the excellent Let the Right One In and like that film, he captures the many curiosities and uncertainties of the many characters. With the introductions of new information in almost every scene, the curiosities and uncertainties of the characters (and the audience) grows.

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boasts an impressive (and mostly British) cast. The stars range from experienced (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt) to rising (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy). All of the actors play their parts extremely well, especially Oldman. I won't generally say he deserves an obscenely overdue Oscar nomination, but it would be nice.

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a damn good film, but I was left wanting more out of it. I also felt that the ending was trying to quickly tie up all of the loose ends. Still, a good story and fine acting makes up for the slow spots.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    The Fortune Cookie

    For over two years now, I have been an unapologetic admirer of Billy Wilder. How could you not like him? The man had enough humor and wit to shame anyone who dared to upstage him.

    His 1966 film The Fortune Cookie stars regular/favorite actor Jack Lemmon as a TV cameraman injured from filming a football game. Like many of his other roles, you support him because of the many hardships he endures. Besides, who doesn't like Jack?

    The Fortune Cookie is notable for being the first of many movies between Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and for good reason too. Their scenes together are just some of the best comedy captured on film. And Matthau is particularly a scene stealer as Lemmon's brother-in-law/lawyer. No surprise on how he got the Oscar.

    This was Wilder's last big success (though not his last movie), but you can still tell that he had that stamina within him. This was also made when the Production Code was on its last legs, and there are the expected sly jokes (and then some). All in all, this has Billy Wilder written all over it.

    The Fortune Cookie is undoubtedly one of Wilder's best. More than once I caught myself laughing out loud. It definitely gets up there among the ranks of Some Like It Hot and The Apartment.

    My Rating: *****

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Dangerous Liaisons

    Whoever said the late 1700's were a time of civility clearly never saw Stephen Frears' adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons. Trust me, civility is the last thing on the characters' minds.

    Glenn Close has always been a great actress. (And yet no Oscar to prove it!) This and Fatal Attraction show how heartless her roles can be. She's as cold as a block of ice, and she's damn effective. The last few scenes of her show the extent of her being.

    John Malkovich, like Close, knows what he's doing here. He too is cold, but not as cold as Close. It's a hell of a performance from him, perhaps the best of his career.

    Michelle Pfeiffer is different from Close and Malkovich. Unlike their very present frigidness, she provides the only warmth in the whole film. She isn't false in any of her emotions like Malkovich clearly is. Another great performance out of Dangerous Liaisons.

    Dangerous Liaisons is a great film, but I found the storyline a tad disjointed. Along with Close, Malkovich and Pfeiffer, there's also some great work from a young Uma Thurman. (Also, what the hell is Keanu Reeves doing in this?) This is for those craving a darker view on the 1700's.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    The Lusty Men

    With Nicholas Ray, his films are usually thinly veiled character studies. His 1952 film The Lusty Men provides such an example. The three major roles showcase the effects of the dangerous sport that is rodeo.

    Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum) is an ex-rodeo rider who becomes a mentor to Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). Early on, it's clear that Wes has potential, much to the dismay of Wes' wife Louise (Susan Hayward).

    By the time Wes makes it big, his personality takes a change for the worse. All that matters to him is making more money off rodeos and keeping it all to himself, a far cry from the original plan between him and Louise. Wes' transformation mirrors that of Midge Kelly from Champion (which also co-starred Kennedy).

    Wes' behavior change shocks Louise, but it barely fazes Jeff. He has probably seen it happen before. Maybe such a thing has happened to Jeff himself. Who knows? The script doesn't specify much on Jeff's past, leaving us to wonder...

    The Lusty Men is one of those films you can tell was made by a certain director. I don't view that as a bad thing, mind you. Many themes of Ray are easily detectable. Mitchum, Kennedy and Hayward are at the height of their careers in this underseen Nicholas Ray gem.

    My Rating: *****

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    The Magnificent Seven

    The funny thing with Akira Kurosawa was that sooner or later, his work was going to get remade just in a matter of years. I mean, just look: Sergio Leone gave Yojimbo a Western twist and called it A Fistful of  Dollars, and George Lucas set The Hidden Fortress in space and named it Star Wars.

    And John Sturges turned Kurosawa's magnum opus Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven. What? A samurai epic made into a Western? Sounds ridiculous, but it works.

    In anyone else's hands, this would've failed spectacularly. But Sturges made sure that the masses (and Kurosawa) were appeased. They were. (Kurosawa reportedly rewarded Sturges with a samurai sword.)

    Sure, there are a few differences between Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, but it doesn't matter much. All that matters is that Sturges gets the viewer's attention and keeps a hold on it until the very end.

    Saying The Magnificent Seven is one of the best Westerns out there is barely scratching the surface. There are just so many aspects about it that make it work. My personal favorites are the ensemble cast and Elmer Bernstein's score. Who doesn't like either one of the two, or even the movie for that matter?

    My Rating: *****

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Talk to Her

    What is it about foreign films that has them capturing emotions and feelings better than American films? It's something that makes them stand out.

    I was familiar with Pedro Almodovar's work, but hadn't seen any of it. At least until the mesmerizing Talk to Her entered my life. I really had no idea what I was in for.

    What I got was a very hypnotic tale of love and obsession. Not many films can cover topics like that with ease. The only two I know of are Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Johnathan Glazer's Birth.

    Like Hitchcock before him (and Glazer later on), Almodovar shows how love and obsession actually go hand in hand. One doesn't just fall in love; there are many different aspects to being in love. It isn't just the heart involved but also the mind.

    Talk to Her is one of the best foreign films ever made. It's as spellbinding as it is heartbreaking. It never lands on a false note at any point. As of now, I have a preconceived notion that seeking Almodovar is in my future.

    My Rating: *****

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Include Me Out

    When most memoirs are published, they're usually those written by some of the biggest and/or more recognizable names in the business. Of course, the lesser known (but equally talented) names get published too.

    One such name is Farley Granger. He is best known for the two movies he did with Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train and Rope. Granger isn't as known by many today because his true calling was on the stage rather than the screen, silver or small. He passed away last year but like his career, it got overlooked by many. (He died just days after Elizabeth Taylor.)

    Granger wasn't particularly fond of the spotlight when he was still in Hollywood, but that didn't stop him from writing Include Me Out, his 2007 memoir. Not much was known about his personal life prior to the publication.

    Like many actors of the time, Granger speaks of his discontent of Samuel Goldwyn's treatment of him. (However, Granger isn't too bitter; the title is one of Goldwyn's sayings.) He also speaks of his many productions, both screen and stage, and his meetings of some of entertainment's most talented names. (He also recollects the highly tumultuous friendship he had with Shelley Winters.)

    Include Me Out contains some of the best descriptions I've read. Granger speaks of his ability to remember all of his lines if not the whole script. The same ability was used when he speaks of his experience making Senso (which, in my opinion, contains his best work as an actor). He repeats sometimes in his writing, though Granger shows that he had one hell of a life.

    My Rating: ****1/2

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    BOOK VS MOVIE: To Kill a Mockingbird

    With the releases of Harper Lee's sole novel To Kill a Mockingbird and Robert Mulligan's film, they raised questions about one's beliefs towards race. Also bear in mind both were released at the beginning of the civil rights movement.

    The fact that it's told from a child's point of view gives the audience a sense of naivete. Scout, the narrator, is as unclear of the many events in Maycomb as much as the audience. Apart from the folklore surrounding him, no one knows much about Boo Radley. Scout, as well as us, barely knows of the case her father Atticus is defending in until the actual trial.

    That's what makes Lee's writing so effective. We learn of major points in the story when Scout learns of them. And if you're wondering about the significance of the title, Atticus mentions that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (Mockingbirds are mentioned as symbolism for innocence.)

    Mulligan's film is just as great as Lee's novel. There are only a few minor changes, but Horton Foote's script stays true to what Lee originally wrote. You just can't imagine anyone else but Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Seriously, you just can't.

    Now comes the challenge of choosing which is better. It's really hard to say, even with a metaphorical gun to my head. In all honesty, I just can't. Both the novel and the film have their own certain qualities, hence the challenge.

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