Sunday, January 31, 2010

233. Spartacus

Spartacus (1960)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas
Laurence Olivier
Jean Simmons

IMDB Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8.5

"I'm Spartacus! I'm Spartacus!"

Spartacus is the story of the slave who rose up to lead a revolution against the Roman Empire. In the beginning of the film, Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is sold to become a gladiator. Once at the training grounds, Spartacus begins befriending many slaves. After a few weeks, Spartacus is chosen to battle in front Roman leader Crassus (Laurence Olivier). Spartacus ultimately loses his battle, but his foe, Draba, refuses to kill him. He respects Spartacus too much, and instead heaves a trident into the gallery of observers. Draba is stabbed by Crassus when he attempts to climb into the gallery containing Crassus and his entourage. As Crassus is leaving the grounds, he buys the female slave Varinia (Jean Simmons). Spartacus has been falling in love with her for sometime. Her absence combined with harsh treatment from slave owners, leads Spartacus to overthrow the gladiator camp and escape with a small army of slaves. Thus begins Spartacus' revolution against the ways of Rome.

Men and women from far and wide come to join Spartacus. Many are escaped slaves in search of freedom just like him. Varinia and Spartacus are eventually reunited and the two are married. In seven months, Spartacus turns his followers into a powerful army. Their goal is too sail to freedom with the aid of Sicilian pirates. Crassus hears of Spartacus' plan and buys off the Sicilian pirates. This foils Spartacus' plan and leads to the inevitable battle for freedom between Spartacus' army and the much stronger Roman Army.

Director Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus is one of those rare films that really does have something for everyone. If you want action, the battle scenes are fast and thrilling. The story line of Spartacus and Varinia provides a "classic romance" in every sense of the phrase. Film buffs like myself, will marvel at the amazing cinematography and epic score. The film also leaves you feeling inspired to overcome any obstacle. If you are searching for drama, look no further than the emotional final scene. Spartacus succeeds because of it's ability to appeal to a mass audience.

Kirk Douglas is larger than life as Spartacus. His performance gives the heart and inspiration that is needed to properly portray the historical figure. The greatest warriors in cinematic history have all been played as men with great passion. Kirk Douglas' performance is just that. With a great hero, also comes a great villain. Laurence Olivier is simply sinister as Crassus. Although, their scenes together are few, the tension between these two great men is constantly felt. Jean Simmons is stunning as the object of Spartacus' affections. Her performance grows as the film goes on. She is brilliant in the final scene of the film, which firmly rests upon her shoulders.

I was surprised how much I really did enjoy Spartacus. In recent years, the "epic" films have just dragged on. This film does not have a similar fate. A hefty three hour plus run time keeps you interested and intrigued throughout. The combination of Kubrick's masterful direction, excellent acting, and a grand score makes this film stand high in it's genre. This stands out my favorite of the 250 thus far. If you enjoyed Ridley Scott's Gladiator this is indeed a film for you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

234. His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940)

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Cary Grant
Rosalind Russell
Ralph Bellamy

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7.5

"I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering."

Newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has just found out that his ex-wife Hilda Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is engaged to a new man and is leaving town. To make matters worse, it turns out that Hilda is the newspaper's best reporter. Walter still loves Hilda, and doesn't want to lose her. He decides to make a deal with her and her new fiancee insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Walter will buy a $25,000 insurance policy from Bruce in exchange for one last story from Hilda. Walter then sets Bruce up for trouble at every corner, and throws Hilda into a news story that will remind her of the profession and the man that she is leaving behind. What follows is a fast-paced dark comedy that keeps you engaged the entire crazy ride.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are a fantastic pair. Grant is up to his usual smooth, wise-cracking ways. Grant's character of Walter Burns isn't much different than roles he has played in other films. He is charming, debonair, and utterly hilarious. Although, a style like Grant's never gets old. Rosalind Russell's performance is perfect up against Grant. She brings forth a powerful female presence than dominates almost every scene that she is in. The scenes with both Grant and Russell are the true gems of this picture.

I did enjoy His Girl Friday quite a bit. It is rare that comedies of today are this smart. Grant and Russell are indeed the shinning beacons of this film. Their often hilarious banter really carries this film into it's classic status. I recommend this movie if you enjoyed films such as Charade or It Happened One Night.

235. All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Director: Lewis Milestone

Starring: Lew Ayres
John Wray
Louis Wolheim

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My rating: 7.5

"You think it's beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for your country, it's better not to die at all."

When it comes to anti-war films, there are few greater than All Quiet on the Western Front. The film does more from showing the harsh realities of war, than most films accomplish from just talking about it. The film begins by showing the young men enlisting to be filled with the ideals of glory. As the film progresses, each soldier that lives to see another day, becomes as damaged as his fallen ally. Men that were full of life are now hallowed versions of their former selves. The films visual message proves a valid point by not over analyzing, rather just letting the images tell the story.

Even though All Quiet on the Western Front was made eighty years ago this year, it's battle scenes still hold up as some of the greatest of it's kind in film history. The violence might be at a minimum, but you do get the feeling of being under attack. The scenes are met with loud explosions and gunfire that litter the air. It is too often in today's war films, that unneeded dialogue is inserted. There are of course the usual superiors barking orders. Although, this film really does lets the "battle" take center stage of it's battle scenes.

I would like to talk about one scene of this film. If you have not scene the film (and want to), please do not read on. The final scene of the film shows soldier Paul (Lew Ayers) laying in a trench peering though a hole in the wall. He spots a butterfly and smiles. When he lifts up to reach for it, a french soldier shoots him and he dies. This simple scene could be cut and shown individually and it would send the same message. In moments of peace, sometimes war still prevails. It's an image that easily stays with you, long after the credits roll.

Overall, I did enjoy this film. I remember watching it in high school, and not being too impressed. The film might be dated, but it's themes are still as strong as ever. The grit and realism of the battle scenes is striking and at times shocking. Also, the symbolism and simplicity makes this so much more than a "war movie." Regardless of your personal stance, if you like war films, I would recommend this film.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

236. Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Director: David Lynch

Starring: Naomi Watts
Laura Elena Harring
Justin Theroux

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 9


The first time I saw Mulholland Dr. was at the Enzian Theater in Winter Park, Florida. At the conclusion of the film, something very strange happened. The majority of the theater walked out in just utter confusion. The remaining fifteen or so patrons gathered around a few tables, and began to talk out the film. We all went around and said what we thought the film meant. I knew none of the people before that night, and I have not spoken to any of them since. No one that night had a clear grasp of the film. Although, it is one of my favorite memories at the movies. It wasn't until a week later, that I met with my friend James Brendlinger, and got the explanation I had been looking for. Following this entry, James Brendlinger will be guest blogging his explanation of the film. So please look forward to that.

A car accident occurs in the Hollywood hills. A beautiful woman (Laura Elena Harring) escapes from a destroyed limousine. She does not appear to be seriously injured, but she cannot not remember anything including her own name. She stumbles to the valley below and falls asleep in some bushes. In the morning, she wakes up and sneaks into an apartment to seek shelter. Betty Elmes (Naomi Watts) has just landed in Los Angeles with the dreams of becoming a great actress. She is staying at the home of her aunt, and the very same apartment that the mystery woman has taken refuge. As she is touring the apartment, she discovers the woman in the bathroom. Seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth, the woman tells Betty that her name is "Rita." While looking through Rita's purse, they find a large sum of money and a blue key. Thus begins their journey to discover the mysteries revolving around Rita's identity and strange accident.

Meanwhile, a meeting is taking place between famous film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), his agent, and some producers. They are discussing the casting of his next film. Two men pull a head shot photo from a briefcase, and instruct Kesher to cast the pictured woman, Camilla Rhodes, as the lead. Kesher refuses and leaves the meeting. He retreats to his home, and walks in to find his wife in bed with another man. Kesher then goes to stay at a seedy hotel for the night. He soon finds that all of his funds have been cut off, and his presence is requested for a meeting with a man called "The Cowboy." The Cowboy gives Kesher the same instructions of casting Camilla Rhodes, and leaves Kesher with a eerie warning. Kesher is then left with the delima of casting Camilla Rhodes, or facing the consequences.

What follows is a mind trip of epic proportions. Writer and director David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. is one of the greatest mysteries of our time. The film is layered with many details. Each detail, from coffee cups to the placement of lampshades, matters to decoding the meaning of the film. It asks of it's audience not just to watch, but to decipher and interpret. At the conclusion, the film might seem like a confusing mess. Once sorted through, Mulholland Dr. is a brilliant and original piece of film making.

Mulholland Dr. is a complete ensemble performance. Each character seems to be casted as if the parts were written with that actor in mind. The cast was a virtual list of unknowns at the time of it's release. Naomi Watts has probably gone onto the most success. It is also Watts' that might shine a little brighter than the rest in this film. Her role demands much more depth and the portrayal of a few different personalities. She rarely falters in her finest performance to date. The collective effort of the entire cast is just one of the areas that makes this film so great.

I could really go on about Mulholland Dr. for hours. It is one of my favorite films of the last ten years. It has a style that brings to mind some of the great film noir of the 1940's and 1950's. It's original story and thought provoking plot has found me going back multiple times. The first time viewer of this film must be warned that this is an extremely complicated film. This is not a film for the casual movie watcher. It requires your complete attention for almost every scene of the film. If you liked Christopher Nolan's Memento, you might really enjoy Mulholland Dr. I give this film my highest recommendation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

237. Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Ryan O'Neal
Marisa Berenson
Patrick Magee

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8

"If ever i should meet him again you will find out who is the best man of the two. I'll fight him sword or pistol, captain as he is."

Barry Lyndon
is a film in two parts. An alternate title could have easily been "The Rise and Fall of Barry Lyndon." In Part One, we meet young Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal), a passionate Irishman who only wants to establish himself as a wealthy nobleman. After killing British Captain John Quill in a duel, Barry flees to Dublin. Along the way he is robbed of his money and horse. This forces him to enlist into the British Army to fight in the Seven Years War. Eventually, Barry abandons the British Army, and is forced into the Prussian Army. There he saves the life of his captain, which leads him to becoming a servant for Chevalier de Balibai (Patrick Magee).

The Prussians suspect Chevalier of being a spy, and they assign Barry to verify their theory. Barry learns that Chevalier is also an Irishman, and the two quickly become close allies. The two travel around cheating nobles. Seeing himself changed, Barry seduces the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). This is easy and she easily falls in love with him. The year following her husband's death, Barry and the Countess are married. It is here that Barry's life has peaked and the downturn of his life slowly begins.

I am not a huge fan of "period piece" films. So I met Barry Lyndon with some skepticism. I will say of all the period pieces I have seen, this is by far one of the best. Ryan O'Neal gives us a character that we root for in the beginning and slowly start to dislike as the film progresses. His passion at the beginning of the film, I found very easy to identify with. The language of the film was never too difficult to understand. Historical films have a tendency to lose you in the language. Through a great main character and a script that never goes off course, Barry Lyndon entertains and intrigues the audience.

Stanley Kubrick once again adds to his multi-dimensional talent. It was hard to believe that this film came from the same man who made The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick adapts the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray into a perfectly written script. The film also looks absolutely gorgeous. Kubrick's filming of a classic duel, gives us a genuine feeling of what it was like to have been present at one. Kubrick has once again given us a cinematic film, on which every film in it's genre will have to be compared.

After first watching the film, I wasn't impressed as I was later the next day. As the film settled in, I started to realize how excellent of a film it was. It's run time is a hefty three hours, but there is a lot of story to tell. It rarely feels unnecessary or dragged out. I would recommend the film for anyone who enjoyed Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence or television's The Tudors.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

238. The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Director: Gillo Pontecorvo

Starring: Brahim Hadjadj
Jean Martin
Yacef Saadi

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7

"Acts of violence don't win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act."

The Battle of Algiers tells one story of Algeria's fight against the French during the Algerian War of Independence. The National Liberation Front of Algeria (FLN) has started to act out against the French police force in Algiers. The FLN shoot French policemen in the streets and send women with bombs into public places. These activities cause the French to send army paratroopers into the city to eliminate the FLN.

The Battle of Algiers was actually comminssioned by the Algerian government. Even though it does paint a relatively fair picture of both sides, the French government had the film banned for five years. The film was shot documentary style in the streets of Algiers, using real citizens as extras in the film. This gives the viewer a very real sense of the situation. You never feel as though you are being exposed to a piece of war propaganda. It's realistic guerrilla gilm making approach is really what makes this film succeed.

The score by Ennio Morricone is superb indeed. I would find it difficult to score a film with such realism. Although, Morricone's music only helps paint the picture even clearer. In an early scene, Ali, an FLN rebel, is following a French police officer to assassinate him. The music builds the rension as he stalks the police officer and makes the scene a highlight of the film. Ennio Morricone proves once again, why he is one of the cinema's master conductors.

The Battle of Algiers is a very raw look at a nation in search of their independence. It's use of Algerian citizens as extras, brings a new dimension to the realism of the film. I liked the film, but will most likely not go back for a second viewing. If you liked Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, you would like this film very much.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

239. Brazil

Brazil (1985)

Director: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce
Kim Greist
Michael Palin

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7

"Mistakes? We don't make mistakes."

I can honestly say that I am one who can appreciate a film, even if I do not like it. Tonight's journey into film, is one of those instances. Imaginative director Terry Gilliam's 1985 cult classic Brazil is indeed a vision, the likes you have never seen. The film takes place in a futuristic society similar to that of George Orwell's novel 1984. Although, this world is much more unorganized and inefficient. Do to a "bug" in the system, Harry Buttle has been captured and deemed a terrorist. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is assigned to investigate the error and fix the situation. While interviewing Buttle's wife, he encounters Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the woman who has been inhabiting his dreams. Jill has also been trying to inform the authorities of their mistake with Buttle. During his investigation, Sam is blamed with a series of bombings, which endanger the lives of both himself and Jill.

Terry Gilliam has crafted quite a visually stunning film. Every set and room is extremely original. Whether the scene is set in a busy office or up in the air, it really is a beautiful looking film. The special effects are excellent as well. The face lift scene with Sam's mother is iconic and holds up well after twenty-five years. Visually, there is much to love in this incredible vision of a future society.

My biggest complaint with this film has to do with the script. I just could not follow it. I've tried a couple times in the past to get into this film, and like tonight, I just came up short. I do get the overall plot and what Gilliam is trying to say. I just feel like there are better ways he could convey his message. I feel that in every film Gilliam directs, he tends to go off to places and situations, that just distract from the overall story. I applaud him in not conforming to what people might want, and only bringing his vision forward. His style, for the most part, is just lost on me.

After I complete the 250, I plan on going back and making another attempt at watching Brazil. I am not going to say that this film is bad. It was just not for me. I will say that it is extremely original, which you cannot say of many films of today at all. If you enjoyed the mind-trip of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the futuristic world of Blade Runner, this film might just be for you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

240. Monsters Inc.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Director: Pete Docter

Starring: John Goodman
Billy Crystal
Steve Buscemi

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8.5

"Mike Waszowski!"

Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sully (voiced by John Goodman) are the best team at Monsters Incorporated, the company that supplies power to all of Monstropolis. The power is generated from the screams of children, and when it comes to scaring, there is no monster better than Sully. He holds the scream record at Monsters Incorporated, a record that is desperately wanted by the sinister Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi). One night while Randall is trying to cheat and get a few more scares under his belt, Sully accidentally lets a small girl named Boo into the world of Monstropolis. The entire city goes into panic when she is discovered, and is immediately deemed a national threat. Thus begins Mike and Sully's hilarious, and ultimately touching, journey to get Boo back to her world.

Monsters, Inc. might seem like a simple animated film to some, but it actually has some pretty important messages. The most obvious message is to not fear or judge someone, just because they appear to be different. All of Monstropolis goes into an uproar when Boo arrives. Their fears reside because the preconceived notions and stereotypes of past generations. There is also a subtle message in support of alternative energy sources, when monsters discover that children's screams are not the best source of power. These are great messages for current and future generations a like.

On the surface though, this film has a lot of laughs and a lot of heart. I really love the relationship between Sully and Boo. The automatic bond between the two is really what holds this film together. From their hilarious first meeting, to their final scenes together, everything works just right. My all-time favorite ending to animated film is found in the final moment of the film. Sometimes a simple moment will accomplish more than a well written speech. This is indeed one of those times.

Up until 2008, Monsters, Inc. was without a doubt my favorite Pixar film. Pixar Studios delivers a product that is fun for all ages. It's heart-warming story not only entertains, but leaves a deep impression long after the credits have rolled. It's visually gorgeous to watch as well. If you haven't seen this film, you owe it to yourself to take the time and do so. Monsters, Inc. comes very highly recommended.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

241. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Director: Mike Nichols

Starring: Richard Burton
Elizabeth Taylor
Sandy Dennis
George Segal

IMDB Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7.5

"Martha, in my mind you're buried in cement right up to the neck. No, up to the nose, it's much quieter."

George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) are as dysfunctional as couples get. Arriving home from a college faculty mixer, they are both smashed. They bicker about absolutely nothing as couples usually do. Martha orders George around as they tidy up their house for arriving guests. She has invited over the college's new biology professor Nick (George Segal) and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) for drinks. When Nick and Sandy arrive, George and Martha are in the middle of a huge argument. They continue the argument with no regard to their new guests. The drinks start pouring and the games are just beginning for what looks to be a very interesting night.

If you find couples fighting with sharp one liners funny, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is for you. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton both turn in great performances. They were married at the time of filming, which might explain how comfortable they seemed to be working together. Their often hilarious banter becomes painfully searing near the end of the film. Sandy Dennis and George Segal also turn in performances that build upon themselves with each scene. With only four characters, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an amazing showcase of four unique talents.

I've have seen this film in it's original home, that being on the stage. This is one of the better stage to screen adaptations that I have seen. The film keeps much of the plays original appeal, while still expanding past the limitations of a stage. The Motion Picture Association of America only made minor cuts of certain swear words before distribution. Luckily, the original scripts theme and vision are still intact.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a success in many aspects. The performances are all award worthy. The script is witty, sharp, and quite tragic at times. It also serves as an excellent debut film for director Mike Nichols. Although, the run time is a bit long, but every frame is needed to completely tell the story. Like some stage to screen films, the sets change very seldom. So be aware that this film relies heavily on dialogue. If you liked other adaptations such as A Streetcar Named Desire or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, this film is highly recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

242. Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Director: John Lasseter

Starring: Tom Hanks
Tim Allen
Joan Cusack

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8

"You're right, Prospector. I can't stop Andy from growing up... but I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys are back in the Golden Globe winning Toy Story 2. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and his owner Andy are headed to cowboy camp. Sadly, Woody gets a rip in his arm, and has to be left behind. While Andy is away, his mother holds a yard sale. When she throws Wheezy the Penguin into the box of items to sell, Woody immediately plans a rescue mission. After saddling the family dog, Woody completes his rescue, but compromises his own safety in the process. He is stolen by toy collector Al (voiced by Wayne Knight), who wants to send him to a museum in Tokyo, Japan. When Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) and the toys see Woody get stolen, they plan a rescue mission of their own. What follows is an exciting lesson in the strength and care of good friendships.

I am not sure Pixar Studios has ever turned in a bad film. Toy Story 2 is no exception. Woody and Buzz are icons all by themselves. We almost forget that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are the voices behind the duo. The introduction of new characters, to an already strong stable, works perfectly. Joan Cusack is hilarious as cowgirl Jessie. It's also a touching montage, featuring a look back at Jessie's time with her owner, that steals the film. I was very happy to see that Hamm (voiced by Pixar staple John Ratzenberger) was given more of a role than in the first film. Toy Story 2 blends new and old characters to give us the perfect cast, for a fantastic time.

Toy Story 2 also stands as one of the best spoof films in recent years. Films such as 2001 : A Space Oddssey, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark are all sent up in a fashion that flatters, rather than bashes. My favorite reference occurs when Rex falls out of the Jeep that Hamm is driving. When Mr. Potato Head looks in the rear view mirror, the audience is reminded of another iconic moment when a dinosaur chased down a Jeep. The style, in which the films of the past are referenced, does not steal. Rather, it shows that the creators of the film are appreciative of other past visionary films.

This June the third installment of the Toy Story franchise hits theaters. Watching Toy Story 2 only added to my excitement for this summer. There is not much that I could say negative about the film. It's rare that a sequel will outshine it's predecessor. I am not sure if this is one of those cases, but it's safe to say that Toy Story 2 does not disappoint. It would not surprise me if spin-off films came out of this series. The secondary characters behind Woody and Buzz, are just as lovable. Pixar has really found a way to appeal to families and adult audiences at the same time. This film is a perfect example of that. I do recommend everyone enjoying this film if you haven't already.

*Toy Story 2 won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Original Song.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

243. Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006)

Starring: Daniel Craig
Eva Green
Mads Mikkelsen

IMDB Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7.5

"I'm sorry. That last hand nearly killed me."

James Bond (Daniel Craig) has just been promoted to "00" status. His first assignment is in Montenegro. His mission is to enter the high stakes poker game set up by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre, a known investor of terrorist money, has set up the poker game to win back a large sum of the terrorists' money that he lost. James' goal, with the aide of Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), is to win the poker game. The British government is hoping that if Le Chiffre loses, he will have no choice but the aid them in ending terrorist activity.

This reboot of the James Bond franchise is excellent from start to finish. I am not usually a fan of Bond films. Past installments have been full of nothing but explosions and action movie cliches. Casino Royale is something completely different. Academy Award winning writer Paul Haggis, gives this film the darkness and intellect that the Bond franchise desperately needed. Also, the addition of a blond-hair, blue eyed Bond is a refreshing twist. Daniel Craig adds a sense of mystery to a character, who before, might have been seen as just a playboy with cool toys.

The locations of the film are incredible. The white sand beaches of Nassau and the canals of Venice serve as some of the most beautiful backdrops I have seen in film. The views never seem too distracting from what is going on with the story. The special effects and stunts are all very well put together. There is an amazing chase scene in the beginning through a construction site. Also the building sinking into the waters of Venice was an amazing image.

I can easily say that Casino Royale is my favorite Bond film. It feels much more like a spy thriller, than an over budgeted action film. It still has it's moments of edge of your seat action though. The villains are not stereotypical. The role of James Bond is played with the edge that previous actors lacked. If you have already seen Casino Royale, and are looking for a comparable film, the French thriller Tell No One should be to your liking.

244. Anatomy of a Murder

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Starring: James Stewart
George C. Scott
Lee Remick

IMDB Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 7

"Maybe you're too pure Paul. Too pure for the natural impurities of the law."

Anatomy of a Murder
is your classic David vs. Goliath story set in a courtroom. Paul Beigler (James Stewart) is small town lawyer and former district attorney. He is approached by Laura Manion (Lee Remick) about representing her husband Lt. Fredrick Manion (Ben Gazzara). Lt. Manion shot and killed Barney Quill after he supposedly raped and beat Laura Manion. After meeting with Lt. Manion and his wife several times, Beigler decides to defend them. At the murder trail, Beigler finds that he is going up against high powered big city prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). The trial that follows is heated, and often unpredictable.

The film is based on the novel by John D. Voelker. The novel was based on the Lumberjack Murders which are located just a few miles from the production of the film. Unlike many other court dramas, I did not know which side I agreed with. I found that this made the film much more watchable. Other films, will spell out who is right and who is wrong. The film treats you as a member of the jury, and not as a spectator.

James Stewart is excellent as always. When an actor of his caliber is at work, it's as if everything else around him does not matter. A sarcastic character would normally seem inappropriate in a courtroom drama. Although, Stewart brings entertainment and brilliance to a role that could have easily been played straight. I found nothing special about George C. Scott's performance. He made his character seem unlikable, and that is about it. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, but I contribute that more to a well written character.

Anatomy of a Murder is a great courtroom drama. It serves as a lesson on how the judicial system works in the case of a murder trial. It moves at a very slow pace until we get to the courtroom scenes. So if you don't have patience, this movie is not for you. If you can sit down and invest the time and attention the film deserves, this film does really pay off.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

245. Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Starring: Cary Grant
Josephine Hull
Jean Adair
Raymond Massey

IMDb Rating: 7.9
Joey Rating: 8

"Look I probably should have told you this before but you see, well, insanity runs in my family... it practically gallops."

I spoke of my grandfather in an earlier blog. I feel that story focused on his cruel sense of humor, and not on his huge heart. When I was younger, many weekends were spent at Grandma and Granddad's house. Usually after one of my Grandma's signature breakfasts, we would go into the living room and watch one of "granddad's movies." At least that is what I called them. I would usually groan about watching them, but at the end, I would be in love with his selection. Most of the time we would watch comedies, like It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World and Harvey. One of the movies we loved watching was Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace.

Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) is a notorious bachelor and author living in New York. Mortimer has just caved in and married Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). Before heading off for a honeymoon in Niagara Falls, they decide to stop by their old homes in Brooklyn to break the news to their families. Mortimer's former home is resident to his Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair). His younger brother Teddy (John Alexander) also lives there. Teddy is insane and believe that he is President Teddy Roosevelt. After delivering the news, Mortimer is looking around the house and finds a dead body in the window seat. He finds that his dear Aunt's are the murders. The two ladies have made it their charity to put lonely men out of the their misery.

Mortimer loves his aunts and doesn't want the police ever getting involved. So he goes to Happydale Rest Home, to make sure that should his aunts ever get caught, Teddy would take the blame. While Mortimer is gone, Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha are visited by their other nephew Jonathan (Raymond Massey). Jonathan has been murdering people all over the world, and changing his appearance with the help of his partner, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre). Jonathan and Dr. Einstein decide to stay and begin bringing their luggage into the house, which includes another dead body. Mortimer returns home and finds that the body that was formerly in the window seat is gone, and a new body has taken it's place.

Arsenic and Old Lace is indeed a comedy classic. It's common that today's "comedy films" rely on vulgar language and shocking images to achieve their comedy. This film is a perfect example how a solid script can achieve just as much and more. The dialogue is quick and clever. It does take a little while to set up all the characters and their motives. Although once in place, the film really takes off, and is filled with laughs.

The performances are all great as well. Cary Grant's comedic value is priced just as high as his dramatic. The biggest laughs come from his over the top and hilarious reactions. Jean Adair and Josephine Hull are almost too sweet to be the serial murders of the film. Although, that is what makes them so perfect for the roles. I also enjoyed how almost every character referenced how much "Jonathan looks just like Boris Karloff." It's funny that Karloff played the very same role of Jonathan on Broadway.

I will always have fond memories of Arsenic and Old Lace. My grandfather is now eighty-two years old and is suffering from dementia. That is an amazing thing about film, it really does bring people together. I will of course remember this film as a great comedy, filled with solid comedic performances. For me though, it was also two hours that my grandfather and I could laugh together. Even if I didn't understand all of the jokes then, it was nice just to laugh with him.

Monday, January 11, 2010

246. Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond (2006)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio
Jennifer Connelly
Djimon Hounsou

IMDB Rating: 7.9
MY Rating: 8.5

"A moment of love, even in a bad man, can give meaning to a life."

I am fortunate enough to live in a very nice one bedroom apartment. My neighborhood is mostly crime free. I go into an air conditioned job every morning. If I ever miss a meal, it's because of my own forgetfulness to pack a lunch. Although, I have over ten seperate food vendors a five minute walk away should I forget. These are things that I take for granted on a daily basis. I am blessed to have the life that I do. A film like Blood Diamond is a constant reminder should I forget.

Solomon Vandy's (Djimon Hounsou) village in Sierra Leone has been raided by R.U.F. rebels. He has been separated from his family, and put to work mining for diamonds. When he finds a large diamond, he attempts to hide it, but is caught in the process. His commander is about to kill him, when the R.U.F. rebels are attacked by the government army. The army puts Solomon in prison. When his former rebel commander sees him in prison, he begins to tell everyone of the diamond Solomon is hiding. This catches the ear of diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Once out of prison, Archer proposes aid in the search for Solomon's family, for the location of the diamond. With the help of journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), they find Solomon's family. The tearful reunion is cut short, when Solomon's emotions go out of control. He learns that the R.U.F. rebels have taken his son and plan to make him part of their rebel army. The three continue on together for three different treasures. Solomon seeks his family and son's safety. Maddy wants to expose Sierra Leone's diamond industry's murders and violence to the world. Archer wants Solomon's diamond as his ticket out of Africa.

Director Edward Zwick has a fantastic ability of blending intense action with emotion stirring drama. It's rare that one comes without the other in this film. There are more than a few scenes where the R.U.F. rebels invade areas. In these scenes, the rapid gunfire is meshed perfectly with expressions of sheer terror. Zwick has mastered this technique, almost making it stand alone as it's own individual genre.

The performances are outstanding. Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better. The Academy got it right when they gave him a nomination for Blood Diamond, rather than the more popular The Departed. It could just be the subject matter, but DiCaprio adds a maturity he had never brought forth before. Also his accent is not forced and does seem rather natural. No performance is more impressive though, than that of Djimoun Hounsou. His portrayal of a father who would do anything for the family that he loves, is simply brilliant. His raw emotions were perfectly suited for this film. This is his career defining moment for Hounsou. It is rare to see one performance of this magnitude in a film, let alone two.

Blood Diamond is filmed near perfectly. The war scenes leave you feeling shaken, but not sick to your stomach. Dirt flies in the air as Solomon and Archer run from gunfire. There are also a few serene moments where you get to see Africa's natural beauty. A cheetah slowly walking through the grass is briefly seen. Archer leans on a boulder as the sun is setting across a beautiful green valley. The first sight of the refugee camp where Solomon's family is located, will simply leave you breathless. The visuals in this film are a high point indeed.

I remember seeing Blood Diamond in the theater and being blown away. I am happy to say that it has not lost it's appeal or effect on me. Films with similar subject matters easily can become too depressing for the viewer. This film does have it's depressing moments, but it leaves you feeling inspired. If you enjoyed Hotel Rwanda, you would like this film. I highly recommend that you take the time to see this film.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Fates of Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably one of the best actors to never win an Oscar. He has turned in some really amazing performances over the past twenty years. Although, I am always left feeling rather sad at the end of a Dicaprio film. He just seems to choose roles that leave his characters with the short end of the stick. On the eve of film number two hundred and forty-six, Blood Diamond, I have compiled a list of some of Leo's most unfortunate fates. Warning, there are spoilers.

Growing Pains (1992-TV) : Gets adopted by the Seaver family and has to be brothers with Kirk Cameron. Horrible.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993): After forgiving his brother for the face slapping of a lifetime, discovers his mother dead in her bed.

The Quick and the Dead (1995): Film death number one at the hands of Gene Hackman and a pistol.

Total Eclipse (1995): Has leg amputated due to cancer. Cancer spreads to the rest of his body and he dies.

Romeo + Juliet (1996): The biggest "non-delivered message" in literary and theater history. Leo drinks the poison just as his bride awakens from her long sleep. Death number three.

Titanic (1997): Who can forget Leo's frozen body sinking in the ocean. I guess "I'll never let go Jack" meant about three hours after you die. Death number four.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998): Sent to a dungeon for eternity wearing an iron mask.

The Beach (1999): Okay, so he BARELY makes it out of this one alive, well done Leo! Wait a second, he has to have sex with Tilda Swinton. Not death, but I am sure he wanted to die.

Catch Me If You Can (2002): Married. Ugh. Three sons. Awful. MIDWEST! This could be the worst fate of all.

The Aviator (2004): Not dead, but eighty-nine percent insane.

The Departed (2005): My favorite Leo death. You think he makes it... then BAM! An elevator door opening has never been so eventful. Death number five.

Blood Diamond (2006): An elegant side of the cliff, Oscar nominated, sunset death. Death number six.

Revolutionary Road (2008): Leo's most depressing ending. His wife dies giving herself an abortion after a huge fight.

Shutter Island (2009): judging from the trailers, I have the odds at 2:1 on his eventual demise.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

247. The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Starring: Michael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Hugh Marlowe

IMDb Rating: 7.9
MY Rating: 7

"I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason."

The Day the Earth Stood Still begins with a U.F.O. landing in a Washington D.C. park. For two hours the ship sits dormant. News reporters, military, and the curious public have gathered around the ship to see what will happen. Suddenly, a hatch door opens, and a figure walks out declaring,"we have come to visit you in peace and goodwill." The figure approaches the armed military, and slowly pulls out a strange object. One of the soldiers shoots him in the arm, and he falls to the ground. Immediately after the shot is fired, a large robot exits the hatch door and shoots a beam at all the weapons, disintegrating them. After seeing that this visitor means no direct harm, the military personnel transport him to a hospital.

Once at the hospital we learn that our visitor's name is Klaatu (Michael Rennie). He looks human and speaks perfect English. After leaving the hospital, he is placed in a hotel room under "supervision". Klaatu is visited in his room by a secretary for the President. He tells the secretary how he has a message for the Earth and would like to meet with the United Nations. His request is declined, so he escapes the hotel room. He retreats to a house with a "room for rent" sign. There he meets a young boy Bobby (Billy Grey), and his mother Helen (Patricia Neal).

One morning Bobby takes Klaatu on a tour of Washington D.C. He shows him the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetary. Klaatu is disappointed when he learns that most of the graves are from soldiers killed in war. Klaatu asks Bobby who the most intelligent man alive. Bobby mentions that it is Professor Jacob Barnhardt. Klaatu seeks out and later meets with Professor Barnhardt, and explains his people's fear of Earth's possible misuse of atomic power. Barnhardt invites Klaatu to speak to a group of scientists. Klaatu then explains that if his message is rejected, Earth will be destroyed.

Five minutes into the film, I gathered that this was going to be more than just a science-fiction film. It is actually a commentary on world peace and American's fear of anything foreign during the Cold War. Klaatu is simply the voice of peace, on a soap box disguised as a flying saucer. The film's political message never get too preachy. You can still enjoy the film, without buying into the message.

Michael Rennie gives a rather good performance as Klaatu. His monotone and almost dry performance seems right for the part. *It's appropriate that they chose Keanu Reeves for the role of Klaatu in the 2008 remake. Seeing that he is naturally monotone and dry. The screenplay was very well put together. It never loses touch with a general audience, yet it still gives enough "science-fiction" for cult fans to enjoy.

It's no surprise that film historians and fans alike, refer to The Day the Earth Stood Still as a cornerstone of the science-fiction film genre. I feel as though I have seen parts of it in almost every science-fiction film to date. I wasn't blown away by it by any means, although it did entertain me for a good hour and a half. If you have some spare time, this one is worth checking out.

*note: this served as my first "bashing" of the 250.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

248. Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Eric Tsang

IMDb rating: 7.9
MY rating: 8

"What thousands must die, so that Caesar may become the great"

It is a time honored "Hollywood tradition" to take incredible foreign films and make them even... well worse. Whenever I hear that a film from a far away land is going to be remade, I have to cringe. It's my dream that subtitles will be sufficient for the average movie watcher one day. I know that's the equivalent of "world peace" in the film world though. I can count on one of my hands, where a remake has shown it's original source any justice. Sometimes it does work though. As in the case of Infernal Affairs and it's remake Martin Scorsese's The Departed.

Infernal Affairs tells the story of Chan-wing Yan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau). Two men who have been placed by rival forces to infiltrate each other's worlds. When Yan is in training to join the police force, he quickly gains the attention of Inspector Wong. Wong then sends Yan undercover to become a mole for the police department. On the other hand, Ming has been groomed since he was a young man to join the police department. Once he is apart of the police department, he is to become the Triad societies very own mole within.

Ten years later, Yan has forged himself deep into the Triad society. He is trusted by the gang's leader Hon Sam in all matters. Although, after such a long time undercover, Yan is starting to want a normal life. On the other hand, Ming has become a key figure in the police force. He has been placed directly under Inspector Wong. After a failed drug bust, the Triad and police department are alerted that a mole exists on both sides. It soon becomes a race to see who will uncover who first.

Infernal Affairs does not disappoint. It moves at a very fast pace and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even though I was aware of what was going to basically happen, I was still intrigued throughout the whole film. Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Andy Lau are both incredible as the rival cop and gang member. Their face to face encounters draw you in, and won't let you look away. The films score by Chan Kwong Wing is one of the best I have heard in modern cinema. It brings to mind some of the faster paced music from A.R. Rahman's Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.

One thing this film does not lack is emotion. This is something that I have noticed with Asian cinema. The film really takes it's non-action moments to develop bonds between characters. I particularly like the relationship between Yan and Inspector Wong. The majority of the death scenes are met with a flashback montage. Each death that occurs leaves you feeling remorse, not a sense of a cool death scene. It's nice to see a heavy heart compared to a heavy body count sometimes.

I've often said that the Asians are making the best films right now. Infernal Affairs is proof positive of this. It's easy to see why Martin Scorsese chose it to remake. It is a perfect blend of action and suspense that is rare for a film of it's kind. If you have seen The Departed, you have essentially seen the movie. Although, there are a few differences that I think make Infernal Affairs a must see.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

249. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Nosferatu, eine Symhonie des Grauens (1922)

Starring: Max Schreck
Gustav von Wangenheim
Great Schroder

IMDb Rating: 7.9
MY Rating: 8

"Blood, your precious blood."

The word nosferatu as we know it today, is synonymous with the word vampire. The actual origin of the word is unknown. Some believe that it was a Romanian word meaning directly "vampire". Others believe it was derived from the Greek word nosophoros, which means "disease bearing." We do know that the word gained it's notoriety through Bram Stoker's vampire novel Dracula. Stoker sites British author Emily Gerard as the source for the word. She is said to have first used it in a magazine article in the publication Transylvania Superstitions. She said,"More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Romanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell."

Nosferatu, eine Symhonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, Symphony of Horror) is a German vampire film loosely based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. It tells the story of Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), who is sent to Transylvania by his boss to visit a Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Count Orlock is interested in buying a home in Hutter's town of Wisborg. On his journey to Translyvania, Hutter stays at an inn where he is discouraged from visiting Orlock. When Hutter finally arrives at Orlok's castle, Orlok invites him in for dinner. At dinner, Hutter cuts his thumb with a knife and Orlok walks to his side declaring "blood, your precious blood." Hutter is horrified and moves away from Orlok.

The next day Orlok signs papers to the house in Wisborg. While in Hutter's room, Orlok sees a picture of Hutter's wife Ellen. He is instantly mesmerized by her, and her neck. The next day, Hutter explores the castle. He finds Orlok sleeping in a coffin filled with soil. He retreats to his room in time to see Orlok loading coffins onto a carriage. Orlok climbs into the last coffin, and the carriage leaves. Hutter attempts to escape out of a window, but falls to the ground hurting himself and knocking himself unconscious. Meanwhile, Orlok's coffin travels down a river on a barge and then is transported onto a ship headed for Wisborg. Hutter awakes in a hospital. He soon recovers and heads home. Who will reach Wisborg first? Will Ellen and the town of Wisborg be safe from the creature that is Count Orlok?

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Nosferatu. It is a silent film with no dialogue, other than the occasional word or phrases that appear on the screen. The film almost feels as though you are spying on all of the characters from afar. You can't hear what they are saying, yet you can see what is going on. Max Schreck is incredibly creepy as Count Orlok. It is said that director F. W. Murnau found Schreck so ugly, that only the pointy ears were needed to create the creature. Even though Count Orlok is rarely seen, each time he appears, it is as haunting as the next. The moment that he is found on the ship and rises from his coffin is iconic and chilling.

Since the film was made in the 1920's, special effects were at a minimum. That in no way hurts this film. Most of the film was shot in the daytime, which would normally leave all the day and night shots looking exactly the same. Instead, all of the daytime shots have a sepia-tone filter and the night shots have a blue filter. By doing this, the director achieves a sense of trust from the audience during the daytime. During the night time, you don't know what to expect. This has been a staple of the horror genre for the past eighty years. It is wonderful how something this simple can achieve so much.

It is a nice change to see a film about the vampire-lore that I love. With the recent teenage fascination with a certain film and book series, which will not be named, vampires are becoming a novelty more than anything. Hopefully, with films like Let the Right One In and Chan-wook Park's Thirst, vampire films can experience a true resurgence. In the meantime, we can look back at Nosferatu as one of, if not the best, vampire films ever made.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Many critics and publications have been putting together their top ten films of the decade. I did not want to feel left out of the mix, so here are the top ten films from the last ten years that I absolutely loved. These are the ones that I've gone back to time and time again. I am going sans review on the list, since more than a few of them are going to be in the 250.

Pan's Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Sunshine, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Anchorman : The Legend of Ron Burgandy, and Wet Hot American Summer

10. ONCE










Friday, January 1, 2010

250. Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

Director : James Whale
Starring: Colin Clive
Boris Karloff
Mae Clark
IMDB ranking: 7.9
MY ranking: 7.5

"Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive!"

One of my first memories as a child, is of Frankenstein's monster. When I was three years old, my father and grandfather thought it would be funny to put on masks of The Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster. Their mission was to scare my cousin Jacob and I. It is safe to say that their mission was accomplished. It is a story that is still told today. Jacob and I holding each other for dear life, as my father and grandfather groaned and growled at us. As I remember, they carried on much longer than they should have. My cousin peed in his pants and I was silent for something like two days. Parenting at it's finest folks.

Frankenstein tells the story of Dr. Henry Frankenstein's (Colin Clive) obsession with creating life using the dead. His obsession has separated him from the his fiancee Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), and has him exiled from his former university. With his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), Dr. Frankenstein robs a grave to obtain the body for his experiment. He then sends Fritz to his former school to steal a brain. Fritz is startled when in the classroom, and drops the "normal brain." Without looking, Fritz grabs the next brain that he sees, which is "abnormal." As Dr. Frankentstein is finishing the final preparations, Elizabeth and Dr. Waldman, his former teacher, arrive at his laboratory. They all watch as Dr. Frankenstein raises the body to an opening in the ceiling of the laboratory. Lightning strikes the body and is it is lowered back down. They all realize that the experiment has worked and the body is alive.
For two days the monster is left in darkness. Then Dr. Frankenstein brings it into the laboratory. The monster appears to be calm and curious. Then Fritz comes into the room with a torch, scaring the monster. The monster sees the fire as a threat and becomes violent. They take him to a dungeon where he is chained up. There Fritz terrorizes it with a torch until the monster kills him. Dr. Waldman and Dr. Frankenstein then inject the monster to knock it out. Dr. Frankenstein leaves his laboratory to prepare for his wedding. Dr. Waldman stays behind to conduct tests on the monster. It turns out that not enough sedative was used and the monster escapes to terrorize the mountain side.

Once on the loose, the monster encounters a young girl throwing flowers into a lake. The girl does not appear to be frightened of the monster at all, and immediately invites him over to play. She shows him how the flowers float when you throw them in the water. The monster does as she does and laughs. When there are no flowers left, he stands and picks up the girl. He throws her into the lake where she drowns. The monster flees scared of what he has done. Word spreads back to Dr. Frankenstein on what has happened, and then the entire village joins together in a mob to hunt down to capture the monster.

Frankenstein doesn't thrill and chill as much as I imagine it did in the early 1930's. Although, when you first see the monster enter the room it does send a small chill down your spine. Boris Karloff delivers a great performance, in what is a mostly silent role. Karloff's monster transitions from gentle to distructive seamlessly. This leaves the viewer never knowing what the monster will do next. Karloff played the monster for two films after this one, until Lon Chaney Jr. took over the part. The real star of the film for me, was Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein. His portrayl was not of a mad scientist, but a man determined on playing God. He might be insane, but it is only because his passion is so strong. His ignited performance is where this film shines the most.

Frankenstein serves as a textbook monster movie. It might not provide many scares, but it does hold up as a good film. The characters are all believable and the films dark tone is a pleasure to watch. The only thing that I could say negative about the film, is that it was too simple. It lacked some detail that could have given it a little more authenticity. I did enjoy this film very much though. James Whale's classic shows that sometimes the biggest monster isn't what we create, but what we have become in the process.