Sunday, February 28, 2010

212. Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Director: Authur Penn

Starring: Warren Beatty
Faye Dunaway
Michael J. Pollard
Gene Hackman
Estelle Parsons

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"Some day, they'll go down together/ They'll bury them side by side/ To a few, it'll be grief/ But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde"

Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) has just been released from prison, and is turning to a life of bank robbing to avoid the hard times of the Depression. Clyde is very much a Robin Hood type, and he finds his Maid Marian in local Dallas waitress Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway). Bonnie is bored with her life at home, and wants out of her town. At first she doesn't quite believe that Clyde is the outlaw he claims to be, so he holds up a local general store. While fleeing, he grabs Bonnie and high tails it out of town. From this moment on, Bonnie and Clyde becomes synonymous with one another.

At first their robberies are pretty tame, no one is hurt, and it's only the banks that are robbed. Although things become increasingly violent as time progresses. They add a gas station attendant, C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), along the way to add to their gang. Once Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons) join up, it gets to be a very intense operation. They are now constantly on the run from police, and are often woken at night with gunshots flying through their windows. With a Texas ranger fast on their heels, Bonnie, Clyde, and the rest of the gang must elude capture before the law's justice is inevitably served.

What I liked most about Bonnie & Clyde was how beautifully shot and blended the film appears to be. The golds and browns are strikingly apparent, giving the film an almost classic sepia tone look. Much like those old time western photos you can get taken at theme parks. The look of the film also makes the appearance of blood much more bold and shocking. In many gangster films, you literally see buckets of blood thrown against walls, and it just becomes excessive. The way the violence and blood is used in moderation, actually makes the action scenes much more intense with this film. The perfect example of this being the very final scene, which is still talked about for it's shock value to this day. The overall look of Bonnie & Clyde is one of this film's shinning high points.

For the first time in the project, I actually do have a complaint. The soundtrack felt a little off for me. In the films' first sequences the music fits quite well, and doesn't seem out of place at all. Although, as the film goes on, I feel that the light-hearted music strips away some of the more dramatic moments. When one of the main characters gets killed, you don't need to play "Hee-Haw-esque" banjo music as their friend's are trying to escape. It was only in these scenes, that the music really took away from the film. It's small details like this, that will completely derail a film for me. Luckily, there are so many amazing things, that the music problem does seem a little insignificant.

The cast of actors in Bonnie and Clyde is a collective treat for the viewer. Faye Dunaway gives the best performance as free spirit Bonnie Parker, who adapts to a life of crime quite easily. Her comedic timing and abilities made you easily fall in love with her, even though she was essentially a villain. Warren Beatty gives arguably the best performance of his career as the selectively confident Clyde Barrow. I loved how Beatty played the vulnerabilities of Clyde's relationship with women and the law. When it came to rebelling against the law he was a ruthless, fearless, and comfortable. Although he was extremely clumsley and an all together mess around women. You think of Warren Beatty as a ladies man, so seeing him like this was ultimately rather humorous. Great supporting characters are also present from Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, and Estelle Parsons. The genuine performances from these fine actors give these "outlaws" a very human demeanor.

Other than the occasional poorly placed music track, I really liked Bonnie and Clyde. This is one of those movies that you could watch over and over again, and it would be just as good every time. It's beautiful cinematography paints a very gritty feel of old Texas. The cast ensembled for the film all turn in great performances as well. The whole time while watching this film, I was wishing that a film like Natural Born Killers would have relied less on the violence, and more on the story. Bonnie and Clyde is proof positive that you can make a great film about outlaws without the immense amounts of film studio blood.

Friday, February 26, 2010

213. Mystic River

Mystic River (2003)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Sean Penn
Tim Robbins
Kevin Bacon
Marcia Gay Harden
Laura Linney
Laurence Fishburne

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 9

"It's like I told the girls: their daddy's a king, and a king knows what to do, and does it. Even when it's hard, and their daddy will do what ever he has to for those he loves. and that's all that matters."

It's the summer of 1975 in rural Boston, Massachusetts. Sean Devine, Jimmy Markum, and Dave Boyle are writing their names in a patch of fresh cement, when a car pulls up. The gentleman getting out of the car claims to be a police officer and informs the boys that they are in some serious trouble as a result of their vandalism. The man tells Dave to get in the car so that he can be transported home. Dave is very hesitant, but does as he is told. He is then taken to an abandonded basement where he is sexually abused for several days, before finally escaping into the woods.

Twenty-five years later, the old friends are brought back together when Katie Markum, the daughter of Jimmy (Sean Penn), is brutally murdered. Dave (Tim Robbins) is married to Jimmy's wife's cousin, and Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the lead homicide investigator on the case. As the mystery of the identity of the killer begins to unravel, it appears that Dave might be the prime suspect. He was at the bar she was at the night of her murder, and didn't arrive home until much later than usual. Things become even more suspicious when Dave's car is searched and blood is found inside. With the evidence becoming too overwhelming to not believe, Dave's wife tells Jimmy that she believes her husband may have killed Katie. Now Jimmy must confront Dave, to try and get the real answer of what happened to his daughter.

The mature subject matter of Mystic River is handled perfectly by an amazing ensemble of actors. Sean Penn gives his single greatest performance to date. The scene where he bursts into Katie's murder scene is so intense, you can't but feel a knot in the pit of your stomach. It's not often that an actor wins his Oscar in the first fifteen minutes of the film. You often forget that this silent monster is being played by an actor that we have become so familiar with. Tim Robbins is also excellent in their very different role for him. Never have we seen Robbins so reserved and humbled. Although, no one takes advantage of their screen time like Laura Linney. Her time in the film is very limited, but she steals the film with her evil turn in one of the film's final scenes with Sean Penn. If they are ever to make another film version of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Linney should be casted immediately. Mystic River excels as a film thanks in large part to it's amazing cast.

Being the age that I am, I know of Clint Eastwood more as a director than an actor. Of course, I have seen Eastwood's classic westerns and action-packed cop dramas. Although, when I see Eastwood, I think of the incredible films when he was behind the camera. Mystic River is without a doubt his masterpiece. The use of dark blues and blacks casts an appropriate ominous tone over the entire film. Each scene is paced perfectly, whether it be a confrontation in a kitchen or an interrogation at a police station. Eastwood is well aware of his subject matter, and conveys his vision better than most directors today.

I will admit that I am guilty sometimes of liking a film too much. Mystic River is a film that I have thought is grossly underrated for years. Even it's representation on this list does not do it justice. This film should be ranked much higher on this list, but I do understand why some people would rate this film lower. What cannot be denied are the excellent performances and masterful hand of director Clint Eastwood. You owe it to yourself to check out this often overlooked film.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

214. (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb

Starring: Joseph-Gordon Levitt
Zooey Deschanel
Geoffrey Arend

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 9

"This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, this is not a love story."

Tom Hansen (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) is your average hopeless romantic, who fittingly works at a greeting card company in Los Angeles. The moment he lays eyes on the new girl in the office, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), he is instantly in love. The two bond over the English rock band The Smiths on an elevator ride one afternoon, this only increases his attraction for her. Tom attempts to convey his feelings to the oblivious girl of his dreams, but fails to do so just about every time. It isn't until a drunken night of karaoke, that his best friend McKenzie (Geoffry Arend) let's Summer in on Tom's secret. She is ultimately glad to hear that Tom likes her, since she finds him to be very interesting. A few days later in the copy room, Summer kisses Tom without instigation or fair warning. From this moment on, there is no turning back for Tom.

Summer is very up front from the beginning about not wanting a "serious relationship". Tom plays cool, and agrees to just keep it casual. They go to the movies and talk about music like most new couples often do. Almost a year into the relationship, Summer feels that it just isn't working and wants to be just friends. This sends Tom into a spiral of epic porportions full of whiskey and no call-no shows at work. Tom's road to recovery is long and hard, but a chance encounter at mutual friends wedding just might be the spark they need to get their romance going once again. Ultimately, (500) Days of Summer is about having love, losing that love, and once again reclaiming the person that you are.

What sets (500) Days of Summer apart from most romantic comedies is the simple fact that it is good. Scratch that, this movie is great! It takes the ordinary boy meets girl storyline, and gives it a completely new format. The spacing and rearranging of the "500 days of Summer" order, reads like a self help book where we learn new lessons in every chapter. One minute we are at day 290 watching the break-up and then we flashback to other days of happy moments, which Tom can't help but focus on. The film is completely from the view of Tom, and his is ultimately true to how a person's mind works during the fall of a relationship. You jump back and forth between the good, and don't spend nearly enough time focusing on what got you dumped in the first place. The films liberal use of a timeline added that extra bit realism that most romantic comedies are lacking.

Another thing that truly sets this film apart is the plethora of original film sequences. There are quite a few I could talk about, but I really want to focus on two of them. Throwing realism out the window for a second, after Tom and Summer's first sexual encounter, he is on cloud nine. He leaves his apartment and walks down the street with Hall & Oates 80's classic "You Make My Dreams" playing in his mind. He checks his hair in a car window and sees the reflection of *Han Solo. As he continues down the sidewalk, he is subject to high fives from construction workers and business men. All of a sudden, everyone starts dancing with Tom in sequence. This accounted for my favorite scene at the movies this year, and is easily on my list of favorites of all time. Another scene that I found to be incredible was a split screen "expectations versus reality" sequence at a dinner party Summer hosts. On the right side of the screen we see what Tom expects to happen at the party, directly in sequence on the left is the reality of what is actually occurring. If nothing else, this scene completely summarizes Tom's fairy tale of idea of romance and relationships. It's heartbreaking, but all together amazing. It is scenes like these two that make (500) Days of Summer not only an enjoyable movie, but a technically superior film.

There were many people that didn't like this film, mainly do to the last scene with Tom and Summer in the park. Whether you wanted the happy ending or the sad ending, you'll have to watch the film to decide. I thought it ended perfectly, although my first impression wasn't one of happiness. My wonderful girlfriend had to put me in my place to make me see the bigger picture. I may understand movies on some higher level, but I am still a fool when it comes to women. I am getting off track here. (500) Days of Summer breathes life into a genre that has become quite stagnant in recent years. It's unique film sequences and perfectly rearranged timeline takes this out of the class of rom-com, and places it with some of 2009's best films. I believe that this film will turn out to be the Annie Hall of my generation. I highly encourage you to see this film.

*author's note: when I am feeling studly, I often see the reflection of Indiana Jones. How many other Harrison Ford character's do people see when they are feeling sexy? And just for fun, I will take this down after a day or so...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

215. Manhattan

Manhattan (1979)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen
Diane Keaton
Mariel Hemingway

IMDb Rating: 8

My Rating: 8.5

"Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be..."

Isaac David (Woody Allen) is a television writer living in New York City. He is currently writing a book on his love of the city. His second wife has recently left him for another woman, but he is currently dating a seventeen year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Isaac's married best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is currently having an affair with a woman named Mary (Diane Keaton). Isaac and her first meeting does not go well at all. Although, later the two meet at a fundraiser and hit it off very well. They spend the entire evening together talking and strolling around New York, which eventually turns into early morning. They even agree to spend an afternoon together later one day when Yale is previously engaged.

Isaac continues his relationship with Tracy, although he is constantly telling her that she should just move on. Mary and Yale's relationship ends when he wants to make an attempt at making his marriage work. This leads to Yale's suggestion that Isaac should ask her out, which he agrees to knowing that Tracy and his relationship is strained due to the age difference. Isaac then ends things with Tracy, and begins a relationship with Mary that will affect not only himself, but all of the lives around him.

One of the things that I love about this film is the realism in writer and director Woody Allen's story. For instance, Allen's Isaac David is the classic "guy who can never be alone". Without a woman in his life, he just doesn't know how to function. So following his most recent divorce, he goes and finds a naive seventeen year old girl to date. He knows that a twenty-five year age difference at their ages will never work. This allows him to have someone in his life, with little risk of a future just in case the right woman does come along. When Mary shows up, he abandons the relationship with Tracy almost immediately. Allen has always been master at developing characters that are not only authentic, but often reflective of the people watching his films.

New York City has never been one of my favorite cities. I have been numerous times, and always feel rushed and unsafe. Although, this film's New York City is a town that I would never want to leave. The Big Apple's natural scenery allots this film some of the most beautiful backdrops in Allen's grand portfolio. Most apparent is the scene where Allen and Diane Keaton sit on a park bench with the Queensboro bridge in the foreground. It's as if their voices are narrating a thousand conversations just like theirs that have occurred at that very spot. He uses the city much like Frederico Fellini used Rome in his film Roma. There are not many things greater in film, than when a filmmaker takes you on a private tour of the city that they love.

Manhattan might be one of Woody Allen's simpler films, but it's also one of his best. He isn't trying to divulge the meaning of life on us, like I feel that he tends to do in his other films. He is simply telling the story of a guy who cannot be alone and the relationships that enable him to be this way. It's beautifully shot against some familiar and some foreign spots of New York City. The film reminded me a great deal of When Harry Met Sally... So much in fact that if Rob Reiner hasn't sited this film as an influence, he needs to start now. When my project is over, I definitely plan on going back to Manhattan, and maybe I'll give the city another try too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

216. Rope

Rope (1948)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart
John Dall
Farley Granger

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of commiting it. Nobody except us.

Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) are attempting to pull off the perfect murder. So they strangle their friend David Kentley with a rope, and throw his body in a trunk in the middle of the living room. Brandon meets the death with a sense of accomplishment, where Phillip is instantly paranoid. To further boost their pride, the gentlemen throw a dinner party in David's honor, using the chest as the center piece to place all of the food on. They invite David's father and aunt, as well as David's fiancee. Also in attendance is Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), the former professor of Brandon and Phillip, who was the one who's obscure philosophies put the ideas in the mind of the murders. It doesn't take long before Brandon and Phillips suspicious actions catch the attention of Rupert, and he starts to place together the pieces of a puzzle that he may not ever understand.

One of the most remarkable things about Rope is that the entire film takes place in one room. The film is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, and stays rather true to the spirit and material of the play. Director Alfred Hitchcock made the correct choice when he kept the film simple and didn't try and expand it past the walls of one room. By doing this, he kept each and every character within ten feet of the dead body at all times. This provided a consistent state of suspense that only built upon itself until the very end. This idea is very similar to Hitchcock's use of trains in his film, which basically traps his characters in one place with each other for long amounts of time. It's no secret that Hitchcock was the master of suspense, but never did he do so much with so very little.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rope came around the middle of his directing career, and is one of my favorite films from the director. It's one of his most original ideas and concepts. The performances are not particularly amazing, but are not terrible by any means. What really comes through with this film is writer Hume Cronyn's excellent screen adaptation and Hitchcock's amazing vision. It by no means holds a candle to Hitchcock's later, and much larger scale, works like Psycho and North By Northwest. Although Rope still stands on it's own as one of the finest efforts from one of film's great storytellers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

217. La Strada

La Strada (1954)

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Anthony Quinn
Giulietta Masina
Richard Basehart

IMDb Rating: 8
Joey Rating: 8

" I don't know for what this pebble is useful, but it must be useful. For if it's useless, everything is useless. "

Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and her family have been abandoned by their father, and have very little money. Her mother strikes a deal to sell her to a traveling performer Zampano (Anthony Quinn) for for 10,000 lire. Gelsomina is shown a few tricks to help present Zampano to his audiences better, like playing the trumpet and acting like a clown. Even though Zampano is eager to teach her new things, his methods are very cruel. After a while, she cannot take the beatings and womanizing of Zampano, and she runs away. She comes across a high wire act in a crowded town square, and is instantly mesmerized by the tight rope walker Il Matto (Richard Basehart). Zampano eventually finds Gelsomina, and forces her to come back with him. They end up joining a circus that Il Matto just happens to work for. There Il Matto opens the eyes of Gelsomina to her situation and the man that might not say it, but clearly loves her. That man being the prideful brute Zampano.

La Strada's story is one of innocence and wonder, amidst a world of violence and tragedy. I found the character of Gelsomina to be so naive, that I do not believe she ever realized how terribly she was being treated. Her role, up until her final scenes, is completed mostly in silence. I felt an increased sense of empathy for her as the film progressed. No matter what terrible situation arose, she seemed to find something wonderful in it. Also the character of Zampano shows that sometimes even the strongest person doesn't realize the magnitude of their own power. Without giving anything away, his actions lead to more distruction than even he can imagine. Physically and mentally, he seems to damage everyone and everything in his path. He realizes far too late, what his actions in life have cost him. La Strada is a film full of life's lessons through two very different, but eternally bonded people.

The wonderful thing about director Federico Fellini is that his films are really open to your interpretation. No two reviews of a Fellini film will ever be the same. Each person that dives into one of his films, comes to the surface with a different meaning or lesson learned. It is sometimes nice to not have a clear cut explination as to what a film was about. It is often these films, however simple as they seem to be, that never expire with an audience.

La Strada was Fellini's first major exposure to the United States, where it won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It's simple, yet very symbolic story, still stands today as a true cornerstone of Italian cinema. I'll be honest, I was rather bored with the first forty minutes of the film. I found myself wondering in what direction it was headed. Although, once the film gets it's character groundwork laid, it begins to surprise and move you at every corner. I recommend this movie for anyone who liked a future film I will be reviewing, The Bicycle Thief.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

218. Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valarie Faris

Starring: Greg Kinnear
Steve Carrell
Toni Collette
Paul Dano
Abigail Breslin
Alan Arkin

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8.5

"Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, that they don't even try."

Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) has just won a spot in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, after her competitor at a regional competition was disqualified "do to diet pills or something." After much debating between her parents Richard and Sheryl Hoover (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette), it is decided that they cannot afford to fly and must drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California. Sheryl's brother Frank Ginsberg (Steve Carrell) has just been released from the hospital after a failed attempt at suicide, due to a recent firing and lost love. Frank can not be left alone, so he must come as well. Also coming along, are Olive's brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his dream of being a pilot, and her coach and grandfather Edwin Hoover (Alan Arkin), who has the mouth of a sailor and has recently started using drugs because at his age, "you are crazy not to." The often dysfunctional family has a long road ahead, filled with hilarious trials and heart-breaking tribulations.

What makes Little Miss Sunshine such a success is it's eccentric cast of characters. Abigail Breslin will forever be remembered for her role as Olive Hoover, in which she did receive an Academy Award nomination. She is the voice of comfort and the window of joy for everyone around her. Olive is basically the glue that held her whole crazy family together. As her coach and grandfather, Alan Arkin easily steals every scene that he is in. His often hilarious commentary might be crude, but it's his moments of sincerity for his family that complete the man. The performance that sticks out for me the most though was that of Paul Dano. He doesn't say a word until about the hour and fifteen minute mark of the film. Although, when he finally speaks, this supposed unemotional and jaded character turns out to be just as insecure and scared as we all were at seventeen. The performances by Steve Carrell, Greg Kinnear, and Toni Collette were also very good, but it was Breslin, Arkin, and Dano that embodied this film for me.

Little Miss Sunshine is one of my favorite films about family. When I was growing up, we were much more like the Hoover's than the *Cleaver's. So I found this film hitting rather close to home. This isn't a film with amazing visuals and epic sized score. It's simply about the up's and down's of the family dynamic. Whether family to you is your friends or your actual blood relatives, some days will be great, and some will be bad. At the end of the day though, these are the people who will back you up no matter what. This film shows that if you are privileged enough to have this, there are not many things in this world that you cannot accomplish.

*For all of you youngsters out there, The Cleaver's were the family on 1950's television sitcom 'Leave It to Beaver'.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

219. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Director: Julian Schnabel

Starring: Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner
Anne Consigny

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 9

" I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed, my imagination and my memory."

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of Elle magazine, who suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed at the age of forty-two. The film is shot almost entirely through the first person perspective of Bauby. Although, as the film progresses we do get to see Bauby as his friends and therapists see him. He communicates through someone reading the alphabet letter by letter, while he blinks once for 'yes' and twice for 'no'. With the assistance of an interpreter, he begins to write the story of his life and his current situation. We hear his inner most thoughts, see his greatest fantasies, and flashback to some of the moments of his life. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a tragic, yet inspirational story of the abilities of life and the human spirit.

Director Julian Schnabel's vision for the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby is absolutely incredible. The concept of showing the film through the eyes of Bauby was undeniably the correct choice. It makes the scenes later in the film, when we see Bauby through the view of his loved ones, that much more effective and personal. What's more amazing than the concept, is how Schnabel put it into action. The often shakey and blinking camera shots feel truly authentic as the first-person view of a stroke victim. The shakes might take a few minutes to get used to, but they never get too overbearing or distracting. The filming of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is remarkably original and a genuine visual treat for it's audience.

The true heart of this film lies within Mathieu Amalric's incredible portrayal of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Some might argue that there isn't much of a performance here, since he is laying in a bed for a good portion of his time on screen. Yet he accomplishes more from his voice-work and moving one eye, than most actors do in a film. I was surprised to see how a performance with such limitations could move me as much as it did. Almalric gives us one of the most unique and incredible performances of the last few years.

I am actually a little disappointed with myself for not seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly before today. This remarkable film definitely made me want to read the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby. His story leaves you looking at your life and inspiring to do more. The unique vision from director Julian Schnabel is really what sets this film apart from other inspirational stories though. It's very difficult to create an original film these days, but Schnabel achieves this with excellent results. If you liked films like My Left Foot, you would greatly enjoy this truly amazing story and gorgeous visual film.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

220. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat
Michelle Yeoh
Ziyi Zhang

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 9

"The things we touch have no permanence. My master would say: there is nothing we can hold onto in this world. Only by letting go can we truly possess what is real."

Wudang trained master swordsman Li Mu-Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) has decided to give up his warrior life. He gives his 400 year-old sword, the Green Destiny, to Yu Shu-Lien (Michelle Yeoh) with the instruction to turn it to the possession of their friend Sir Te. While staying at Sir Te's estate, Yu meets a young girl named Jen, who is set to be married. Jen (is not happy about her arranged marriage, and is quite envious of Yu's single lifestyle. Late that evening, the sword is stolen by a masked person. The thief escapes from Sir Te's estate, but not before engaging in battle with Yu, who realizes that the masked thief knows the Wudang style of martial arts. Together Yu and Li begin their quest to regain the stolen sword, and possibly finally ignite the romance that has remained dormant in both of their hearts.

When it comes to amazing cinematography, not many films exceed that of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Whether it be sword fights while soaring through tree tops or the vast landscapes of China, every frame of the film is absolutely beautiful. It's not often that you can say that a fight scene was gorgeous, but that is the case with each fight scene in the film. Some people might have found the flying element to be unbelievable, yet it provides the most stunning images of the film. You are mesmerized from the first scene when it appears, a dramatic chase across gorgeous moon lit rooftops. It is without question that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a visual masterpiece.

The film relies heavily on it's martial arts and amazing fight scenes, yet the stories behind the characters might be more appealing to some. Most apparent is the love story between Li and Yu, who was once engaged to Li's brother Meng Si Zhao. When Meng was killed, the mourning brings a bond between the two that leads to their unspoken of mutual attraction. Both Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh do an excellent job of slowly revealing their feelings to each other as the film progresses. It is this story, and a few others similar to it, that make this film about so much more than visual effects.

In my opinion, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the best film of the year 2000. It was of course an honor for a foreign film to be given an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, although I believe it deserved the award as well. It's language barrier seems to be the main reason it didn't win the award. Don't get me wrong, I thought Gladiator was a good film, I just don't believe it was better than Crouching Tiger. While the previous statement can be debated, it would be hard to debate the sheer brilliance of this film. It's stunning images and revolutionary fight sequences are some of the most beautiful in film history. I am a huge fan of Asian cinema, and Crouching Tiger was of the films that brought a resurgence of them to American theaters. If you liked this film, check out other Chinese wuxia films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

221. Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp
Keira Knightly
Geoffrey Rush
Orlando Bloom

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"This is the day you will remember as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow."

Yar, this be a film the likes you land lovers has never seen. Arg! Okay enough of that...

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has just arrived to Port Royal searching for a new ship. Before he knows it, he finds himself rescuing the governors daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) from drowning. Even though a hero of the moment, Jack is still a pirate and is ordered to be arrested. He evades capture and takes refuge in the blacksmith shop where Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is an apprentice swords builder. Will soon notices Jack's presence and the two engage in an exciting sword fight. The fight is pretty even, until the owner of the blacksmith shop knocks Jack unconscious. Jack is then put in jail and set for hanging the next day.

That very same night, Port Royal is attacked by Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and the crew of the Black Pearl, which happens to be the former ship of Jack. Barbosa was alerted when Elizabeth fell into the water, and the pirate medallion around her neck sent out a call to him. When Elizabeth is captured she lies to Barbosa about her last name to conceal her true identity. Barbosa believes that she may be the key to unlocking an age old curse on the himself and his crew. Will soon hears of Elizabeth's capture and persuades Jack Sparrow to help him save her. Jack agrees with his own personal agenda in mind. The two then assemble their own crew of pirates and set out on the adventure of a lifetime.

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of those rare occasions where we get to see an "icon" born before our very eyes. The character of Jack Sparrow is to children and pop-culture what Indiana Jones was to myself growing up. Johnny Depp gives us a hilarious and charming pirate that you cannot help but love. Even when he turns his back on his friends, you kind of give him a pass. The one-liners are all instant classics and are so constant, that you can't catch them all of the first viewing. Depp has said that the character is a fusing of cartoon skunk Pepe le Peu and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. While that might be true, it's obvious that Depp's Jack Sparrow is one of the cinema's great iconic characters.

Where Depp's performance does stick out, the remaining cast members are also superb. Geoffrey Rush gives us one of best grizzled stereotypical pirates, complete with "yars" and all sorts of pirate nonsense. Every great hero needs his great villain, and Captain Barbosa compliments Captain Sparrow perfectly. Pirates was also the major launching point for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly. Both had been in previous film, but Pirates gave them the roles that shot them both to superstar status. Bloom and Knightly also give very solid performances in the film as the destined soul mates Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Pirates is definitely a performance showcase, as the talent assembled is of excellent quality.

The film technically speaking is a marvel, whether it be the amazing soundtrack or incredible special effects. The music for the film by Klaus Badelt is epic in size, yet fits the material perfectly. There is rarely a wrong feeling piece in the entire picture. The special effects still hold up rather well, especially the flesh covered skeletons. Also, the ships looks incredibly authentic. When the Black Pearl shows up for the first time with its black sails and menacing aura it sends a chill down your spine. The technical aspects of Pirates hold up just as strong as the acting and story.

I remember the summer when Pirates of the Caribbean was released in theaters. The general public was going absolutely crazy over it. I remember it being one of the few "summer movies" that not only entertained, but was actually a very strong film. I am glad to say that seven years later, nothing has changed. The characters, story, and special effects have stood the test of time and will be a few of the reasons that Pirates will be viewed as an adventure classic. My only complaint is that is does drag a little at times, although it might just seem that way due to all the excitement the other scenes hold. If you are looking for a laugh out loud fun and exciting film, there are few that satisfy like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

222. Network

Network (1976)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Faye Dunaway
Peter Finch
William Holden
Robert Duvall

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8.5

"I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out and yell I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

Howard Beale (Peter Finch),evening news anchorman for television station UBS, is fired for his contribution to the station's declining ratings. He then goes on the air and announces that he is going to kill himself live on air. Overnight Beale's ratings soar and the station decides to keep him on the air. Through the influence of Communications Corporation Association (CCA) producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), and Beale's own mad rantings, it isn't long before Beale finds himself hosting the highest rated show on television. Beale then starts to use his new found status to make surprising allegations about the CCA that sends shock waves through the company.

With networks like Fox News and CNN both having their own number of "shock jocks", the themes and message of Network are still apparent today. Now I never want this blog to become political, or a statement on my beliefs. It's about movies, and I intend to keep it that way. That being said, I found myself comparing the character of Howard Beale to a few of today's more popular on-air television personalities. The film just has so many similarities to the way news shows are ran now, that it plays like an omen for the future generations of television viewers. The film is just as relevant, if not more, than the day of it's first release. This quality is hard to find in film, but thirty years later, we are still talking about the brilliance of Network.

Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway lead an exceptional ensemble in Network. Finch's performance boarder lines on insane, but never actually goes too over the top. His maddened demenoir is darkly satirical and is really what drives the film. Dunaway turns in a strong female character, in a film about a profession that was mostly dominated by men. I believe that Dunaway's Diana Christense is one of the most underrated female characters in film. She did win an Academy Award for her role, although there isn't much discussion of her anymore. These two bold and raw performances are just a couple of the fantastic performances that make Network such a powerful film.

We live in a very informed world. With more than ten news stations on my cable right now, I have many outlets and opinions to choose from. It's unclear if this film was a bold prediction for the future, or did television aspire to be like Network. What is clear is that a film like Network was really before it's time. It stands stronger today than it did during it's initial release. It's excellent story coupled with top caliber acting brings this film into the class of "classic". If you enjoy dark satires, then this film is definitely geared towards you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

223. The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Directors: Michael Curtiz & William Keighley

Starring: Errol Flynn
Olivia de Havilland
Claude Rains

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 7.5

"I'll organize revolt, exact a death for a death, and I'll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand free men and strike a blow for Richard and England."

When King Richard of England is taken prisoner, his brother Prince John (Claude Rains) decides to take control of England. John raises the taxes on all of the commoners in order to raise the ransom for Richard's release. Although, he intends on using the fortunes to secure his own place on England's throne. Upon hearing of this, Robin Earl of Locksley (Errol Flynn) goes to the castle of John, and informs him that he will stop at nothing to get King Richard back to his rightful throne. Robin then bands together a group of outcasts and misfits, that he calls his Merry Men, to help him accomplish his goal. An early encounter with Prince John's ally Gisbourne, brings the lovely Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) back into Robin's life. Even though their first meeting didn't go well, soon the two see the attractions toward each other growing. With the assistance of Marian and his Merry Men, Robin sets out on an adventure to return King Richard to the command of England.

While watching The Adventures of Robin Hood you have to keep in mind that the film was made some seventy years ago. The fight scenes are not epic battles, rather well choreographed dance sequences. As unrealistic as that might be, it somehow works magnificently. This film never really takes itself too seriously and is a great deal of fun. Errol Flynn is more charming than heroic, in the performance that has defined his career, as well as the character of Robin Hood. The film might not be packed full of action like most of the adventure films of today, but it's story still holds up just as well as it did when it first came out.

The Adventures of Robin Hood paved the way for many of Hollywood's classic action-adventure films. The most obvious comparison that I picked up on, were the similarities between Robin Hood and Indiana Jones. They were both wise-cracking heroes, who's ability to fall into trouble seemed almost inevitable. Also, both men were rarely seen without their signature weapons, a bow for Robin and a whip for Indiana. The way that they handled women was strikingly similar as well. They might seem debonair and arrogant at the start, but the soften up as time goes on. Without a hero like Robin Hood, the Jack Sparrow's and Indiana Jones' of the cinema world might have never existed.

With a film like The Adventures of Robin Hood, we are taken on one of the cinema's greatest and most amusing adventures. The spirit of Robin Hood's quest for the right thing, through morally wrong avenues, is blatantly apparent here. It's fight scenes might seem a little unrealistic and dated, but with a film that is more about the fun than the fight, it all plays out well. This is one of those films that you just can't go wrong with. A good time for yourself, if not your whole family indeed.

224. The Conversation

The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman
John Cazale
Allen Garfield

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"He'd kill us if he got the chance."

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is one of the best audio surveillance technicians in the United States. Even though he makes his living recording other peoples conversations, it is ironic that Harry is an extremely private man. He does not like being asked questions and is constantly leery if someone too is peering into his life. Caul is hired to survey two people (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest) in the crowded Union Square of San Fransisco. With the help of his collegue Stan (John Cazale), Caul goes back to his workshop to decipher the recordings of the couple in the park. At first, much of the tape seems scattered and irrelevant, but soon Harry starts to place pieces of the conversation together like a puzzle. All of his findings lead up to a conclusion that no one could have anticipated coming, including Harry Caul.

The Conversation is one of those films that builds upon itself. The initial recording of the conversation in the park is filmed very well, but lacks any suspense or real mystery. It is only later, when we start to flashback to the conversation in the park, that things start to get interesting. It's slow start is completely redeemed for in the film's final fifteen minutes. The concluding scenes of the film are timed perfectly by Gene Hackman. His performance throughout the film, but especially in the climax of the film, are surely academy award worthy. The Conversation might begin a little slow, but it gives a big pay off at the end.

Francis Ford Coppola took double bill directing and also writing the film. Coppola often gets referred to as an amazing director. Although, few people ever talk about how wonderful he was as a screenwriter. Coppola has written some of the finest scripts in the history of cinema including The Godfather Parts I & II, Apocolypse Now, and Patton. The Conversation, like his other works, is all together intruiging and suspenseful. The character of Harry Caul was written so complex, yet I think we can all see some of our vulnerabilities in him. Some credit of course goes to Hackman's acting, but Coppola's superb writing is what made the character excellent to begin with. The combination of a great writer and director is one of the keys elements to a great film. The Conversation finds itself fortunate that the writer and director are the same person.

The Conversation was released in between Coppola's first two installments of The Godfather, so it has sort of become over shadowed by them. I do recommend seeing The Conversation. It's story might start off a little dull, but that is essential to setting up the character of Harry Caul and the profession in which he is associated. I plan on going back and watching the film again. It's not a terribly complicated film, but after seeing the ending, you will want to see the first ten minutes again. If you enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window or the recent Lives of Others, this film is for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

225. Patton

Patton (1970)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: George C. Scott
Karl Malden
Stephen Young

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country."

General George S. Patton was one of the most successful, yet controversial, military leaders in American history. In Patton, we focus on the time of his arrival in North Africa in 1943, to the days immediately following the German's surrender in 1945. General Patton is best described as a man who lived for his time on the battlefield. He was not a political man, but a ruthless warrior hell bent on victory and glory. Even though the film only looks at two years in the life of General Patton, it is these two years that defined his life. This film captures these two years and the remarkable spirit of an American icon.

This film belongs to one man, and one man alone. George C. Scott turns in the defining performance of his career. His portrayal of General Patton is together shockingly blunt and crude. Yet he captures the heart of a man who admired war with a sense of history and respect. Look no further than the opening scene of the film to see why Scott's performance is so fantastic. With an American flag as his background, Scott delivers an inspiring monologue in the film's signature scene. George C. Scott gives a larger than life performance of a man, who was in fact larger than life.

Even though Patton is a performance driven film, some credit must be given to director Franklin J. Schaffner. He gives us one of the most authentic feelings of war and patriotism on film. Schaffner's greatest accomplishment is easily the success of an amazing war film without gratuitous gore. It's ironic that General Patton's nickname was "blood and guts", yet the film contains very little violence. I am a huge fan of less is more film making, and this is a perfect example of that.

Overall, I found Patton to be a terrific telling of a time General George S. Patton's life. It captured not only the historical figure, but also the man. I come from a very pro-military family. Patton was a film that was discussed at great detail when I was younger. So I already had a good feeling that I was going enjoy it. If you liked the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers or Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, you would really love this film.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

not 250- Orlando Magazine Article

A brief break from the reviews folks...

If you haven't heard, the blog is featured in this months issue of Orlando Magazine. I wanted to thank Orlando Magazine, writer Tyler King, photographer Nathan Dobbins, and (especially) Marie Rodriguez De La Viuda for all of their help. You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore (cough...BARNES AND NOBLE...cough) or you can check the article out here:

Thanks again guys!

Monday, February 8, 2010

226. Changeling

Changeling (2008)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Angelina Jolie
John Malkovich
Jeffery Donavon

IMDB Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"I used to tell Walter, "Never start a fight, but always finish it." I didn't start this fight, but by God am I going to finish it."

Christine Collins' (Angelina Jolie) is a supervisor at her local telephone company. After returning from work one evening, she finds that her son Walter is missing. She reports the incident to the Los Angeles Police Department, who at the time were seen as nothing more than a corrupt mafia. Her story soon becomes an interest to Pastor Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a outspoken preacher and enemy of the LAPD. After a few weeks, the authorities inform Collins that they have found her son. Although, once she sees the boy, she instantly realizes that he is not her son. Police Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffery Donavon) assures her that it is indeed Walter, and tells her to take him home for a trial basis. With the help of Pastor Briegleb, Collins begins a fight for justice and truth that tests her freedom and sanity as a mother and a woman.

Changeling proves to be an extremely heavy film for viewers, including those with children. Be aware that there are some pretty intense scenes of torture involving children, that might be difficult for some to see. That being said, this true story is presented in a very authentic and respectful way. There are no scenes that appear to be gratuitous and just unneeded. It is very difficult to take a subject matter like this, and make it watchable for an average audience. This film succeeds in not shocking, rather educating you on the realities of the situation and time.

Mature subject matter aside, the cinematography is absolutely breath-taking. Director Clint Eastwood has given us a visually pleasing picture of 1920's Los Angeles. The colors blend together seamlessly, never appearing plain or dull. I found myself enamored with the stunning wardrobe and locations just as much as the story and message of the film. It's not a simple task, taking a film with such a heavy subject matter, and making it a pleasing film to watch. Changeling is an extremely beautiful looking film, filled with gorgeous colors and unforgettable imagery.

The performances from everyone in the film are very satisfactory. Angelina Jolie's dominating performance is simply one of her best to date. You can see the passion and hurt in her Christine Collins. It's obvious that her responsibilities as a mother, greatly weighed in on her solid performance. John Malkovich gives us another fantastic performance, which is nothing out of the ordinary for those familiar with his work. Worth mentioning is also child actor Eddie Alderson, who turns in a performance well past his age. The ensemble brought together for this film, is surely a highlight of the film.

Clint Eastwood has once again shown how his talents are not limited to just in front of the camera. Changeling might not be his best directed film, although it is an achievement all on it's own. Angelia Jolie and the rest of the cast give one of the better ensemble performances of 2008. I am not sure how much this film would hold for a second viewing, but it is recommended seeing at least once. If you liked Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone, you would enjoy this film.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

227. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Chris Sarandon
Danny Elfman
Catherine O'Hara

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8

"There's children throwing snowballs / instead of throwing heads / they're busy building toys / and absolutely no one's dead!"

In Halloweentown, things are all about the frightful holiday. The town's ruler, Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, but all songs are performed by Danny Elfman), has grown tired of the holiday and no longer finds the joy in scaring people like he once did. One evening, Jack is taking a walk in the forest with his dog and comes across trees with doors leading to different holidays. He decides to open the door to the Christmas tree, and instantly falls in love with the holiday. He goes back to Halloweentown, and holds a town meeting to explain to them about Christmas. The town's reception of the new holiday is very positive, leading Jack to devise a plan to take over this year's Christmas celebration.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a refreshing alternative view of Christmas that satisfies on many different levels. It is of course an animated children's movie, but merits enough technical achievements to please the most critical of film lovers. It's amazing use of stop-motion animation still looks incredible seventeen years after it's original release. Director Tim Burton's unique vision for cinema provides the perfect amount of darkness, to what could have easily been just another cliche Disney musical cartoon. The voice work is also very solid, including the exception work of Chris Sarandon. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a treat for adults, film lovers, and children alike.

The true star of this film is composer Danny Elfman. Elfman's incredible score and lyrics are the heart of this film. He is truly one of Hollywood's most original music writers and conducters. In addition to filling the role of writer and composer for the film, Elfman also provided the signing voice of Jack Skellington. He gives Jack's character a certain charisma, that makes it impossible to not fall in love with him. This film provided the perfect forum for a talent like Elfman's to take center stage.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those rare animated films that doesn't stop on just trying to please it's younger audience. Director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman again show us what a good collaboration can turn out to be. It might be little short on length, lasting only seventy-six minutes. Although, those seventy-six minutes are full of catchy music and stunning animation. Overall, I really did enjoy this film, as comes with a very strong endorsement.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

228. Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: Charlton Heston
Kim Hunter
Maurice Evans

IMDb Rating: 8.0
My Rating: 7.5

"Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape."

Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crew have crash landed in a large body of water on a unknown planet. After testing the atmosphere, Taylor and his surviving crew members escape from the ship and begin paddling a raft in search of sustainable life. After reaching land and finding a few plants spread across the vast desert land, the men stumble onto an oasis. While swimming in the waters of the oasis, the men's clothes are stolen. They chase the culprits and find a large group of neanderthal-looking humans in a large cornfield. Suddenly, apes on horseback storm into the cornfields. Taylor is shot by one of the apes in the throat, and then is taken to the ape's home community.

Upon arrival, Taylor is placed in a cage and soon finds that the apes that have held him captive can speak. The apes also have a society very much like our own, with a system of government and strictly enforced laws. Taylor soon finds that the gunshot to the throat has rendered him mute and his communication through signing and writing is mocked by all the apes, with the exception of ape scientist Zira (Kim Hunter). When Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), the head of the ape community, hears that Taylor is trying to communicate, he orders that Taylor be guilded. Taylor hears this and tries to escape, but is captured. Upon being captured, Taylor finally regains his voice and utters the infamous line, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape."

The apes then place Taylor on trial to determine his fate. Taylor tells the ape council how one of his crew members was shot during his capture, and is unaware of the status of the other crew member Landon. The apes bring forth all of the captives, and Taylor soon spots Landon. When Taylor walks over to him, he notices that Landon has been lobotomized. Dr. Zaius then holds a private meeting with Taylor, giving him the option of admitting he comes from a forbidden zone. If he does not admit to this, he will face the same fate as Landon. Taylor is then left with the choice of his own sanity or possible slavery for life.

Planet of the Apes is one of the great American a science-fiction classics. It's alternate universe is actually very well structured and believable. Much of their ideals and morals are based off of our society, including one ape's theory that ape evolved from man. The ape costumes and makeup might seem rather dated, but if you remember this film was made over forty years ago, it shouldn't really bother you much. Creating another world that the audience is just supposed to accept can be very difficult, but this film does not have that problem.

The acting is pretty decent in this film. Charlton Heston turns in the films best performance, making you actually feel anger to the race that is discriminating him so much. The rest of the actors are passable.We are on a planet of talking apes, so it's pretty hard to give natural and realistic performances. Although, the actors do a pretty good job of giving the apes enough personality and structure to seem like real individuals. The occasional campy moments such as the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys are a guilty treat. When it comes to science fiction films like Planet of the Apes, Oscar caliber performances aren't necessarily required for the film to still be very enjoyable.

Overall, Planet of the Apes does a good job of entertaining it's audience. It's a definitive film for it's genre, with it's original storyline and truly unique take on a parallel society ruled by apes. The performances might not be Academy quality, but they never really takes away from the film. I recommend this movie if you enjoyed films like I Am Legend or John Carpenter's classic Escape from New York.

229. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Kate Ashfield

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 9

"David, Kill the Queen...what?...THE JUKEBOX!"

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the guy that tries to please everyone, but always seems to come up short. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has just dumped him because their relationship has become stagnant and mundane. His roommate is constantly irritated that Shaun is doing nothing with his life. The only person he seems to have on his side is his best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Realizing that his life is falling apart around him, Shaun decides that it's time to sort out his life. His first task is to get Liz back, but it looks as though a zombie infestation is going to put his plans on hold. Shaun now has to form a plan to save himself and all of his friends, before he loses his chance to fix all his mistakes.

If you know me personally, you know of my love for Shaun of the Dead. You've seen the poster on my wall and the action figures in my living room. This film is more than zombies to me though. This film does an amazing job of creating very realistic relationships, that completely connect with the audience. Of course there is the obvious love story of Shaun and Liz. The relationship that I like to focus on is the friendship between Shaun and Ed. No matter how vulgar and inappropriate Ed may appear to be, Shaun is always there. When Shaun's roommate gets angry with Ed, it's always Shaun that comes to the rescue. It's friendships like these that make life wonderful, and Shaun of the Dead easily captures that.

What is amazing is how this film completely spoofs zombie movies, yet stands on it's own two feet as a defining film of the genre. Music from George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead score is used a few times in the film. This use of the music pays homage to the revolutionary zombie director, as well sets the tone for the entire film. Director Edgar Wright's trademark fast action edits of regular everyday activities, like putting jelly on bread and flushing the toilet, is on display here as well. The writing is full of foreshadowing to future events. For instance, Shaun is walking down the sidewalk and a kid hits him with a soccer ball. Shaun looks at him and says,"You're dead." Sure enough, you can guess what happens to him a little bit later. Shaun of the Dead pays homage to prior zombie classics, just as much as it's makes it's own mark on the genre.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are one of my favorite comedy duos in the history of cinema. Their comedic timing with each other is absolutely perfect. Their hilarious banter is littered throughout the film. Pegg's over the top reactions and Ed's nonchalant attitude blend perfectly together. My favorite moment of the film occurs when the two are sitting on the couch and a zombie comes walking in the front door. Simon's reaction is absolutely hysterical. The two then proceed to throw everything from remote controls to ash trays at the zombie. We are very fortunate that this will not be the last that we see these two working together.

There are a thousand more reasons why I love this movie as much as I do. You can call me a fan boy if you'd like, and I would actually gladly accept the title in this instance. My only complaint would be that they never say what caused the zombie outbreak. Although that is a very minute detail in this otherwise outstanding film. For what it is, a romantic zombie comedy (rom-zom-com), Shaun of the Dead is perfect. It is the best comedy to come out in it's decade. The acting is hysterical and at times touching. For all of these reason and more, I give this film my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

230. Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Director: George Cukor

Starring: Katherine Hepburn
Cary Grant
James Stewart

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8

"I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer."

Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a Philadelphia socialite, who is about to marry her second husband. Lord had sent her first husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) packing two years earlier, when he didn't quite live up to her high standards. The editor of Spy Magazine is very interested in covering Lord's upcoming wedding. So he sends Haven, along with reporter Macaulay Collins (James Stewart) to cover the wedding. Haven arrives and tells Lord that Spy Magazine will run an article about her father's supposed affair if she does not do the story. Lord has no choice, but to agree.

Along the way, Macaulay becomes quite enthralled with Tracy. The night before the wedding, there is a large party. At the end of the night, Tracy and Macaulay end up running off into the night. It is also blatantly obvious that Haven is still harboring feelings for his former wife, as he just so happens to show up around every corner. Soon Tracy finds herself having to choose between a past love, a present love, and a possible future love.

The Philadelphia Story is seen as the pinnacle of romantic comedies. It's haywire story and fast talking dialogue make the film a laugh from start to finish. The one-liners come so fast and constant that I had to rewind to catch all that was said. The screenplay was adapted from the play of the same name, and loses absolutely nothing in it's transition to the screen. You could even say that the film works better without the limits of a single stage. The film's story and script are just a couple of the things that makes it such a classic Hollywood tale.

What is most amazing about this film is the ensemble of talent. Katherine Hepburn's performance is something to marvel. She captures your attention every time she steps on screen. James Stewart won the Academy Award for his role in the film. It is a different type of role for Stewart. He is much more jaded and cocky than he is normally. It goes without question the level of talent of Cary Grant. His performance is my favorite piece of this film. Arguably the three greatest actors in film history in Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart are on display in this talent driven film.

The Philadelphia Story will always be at the top of many people's "favorite movie" lists. It's very rare that three talents such as Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart are assembled for one film. Especially in a genre that has today been reserved mainly for comedians, and not great actors. This was the first film on the list that I actually watched with someone else in the room. It's safe to say that she enjoyed it just as much as I did. With Valentine's Day just a week away, this movie would be perfect for any fun romantic evening.

231. Glory

Glory (1989)

Director: Edward Zwick

Starring: Matthew Broderick
Denzel Washington
Morgan Freeman
Cary Elwes

IMDb Rating: 7.9
My Rating: 8.5

"There's more to fighting than rest, sir. There's character. There's strength of heart. You should have seen us in action two days ago. We were a sight to see! We'll be ready sir. When do you want us?

In director Edward Zwick's Glory, Colonel Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) has been chosen as leader of the first African-American regiment during the American Civil War. He accepts after a little hesitation and then choses Major Cabot Forbes (Cary Ewles) to help him train the 54th Massachusetts for battle. Shaw's childhood friend Thomas (Andre Braugher) is the first African-American to volunteer. Word of the regiment spreads very fast, and soon there are hundreds of men volunteering for service. Joining the regiment are a middle-aged gravedigger named John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) and a brass escaped slave Tripp (Denzel Washington).

After enlisting, the men are trained in the ways of the military. Even though the men are fighting for the North, racism and bigotry exists within the ranks. The men are paid far less than white soldiers and at first are not provided with uniforms or proper footwear. Col. Shaw soon becomes the voice and inspiration of change within the ranks of his fellow and superior officers. The story of 54th Massachusetts, is an inspirational tale that changed the face of the American and it's military forces forever.

Glory is not only a sensational historical piece, but also a technical achievement in film making. Everything from the costumes to the small towns that are passed through, feels truly authentic. The landscapes of the battle scenes look incredible as well. It's appropriate that America's natural beauty is on display in a film about our greatest change. The final beach battle scene is something that you cannot take your eyes away from. Every blazing shot that is fired is beautiful in the darkness of the night time. The blend of accurate historical facts and gorgeous cinematography, is one of the things that makes this film such a success.

The acting in this film is really where the film finds it's heart. Matthew Broderick's portrayal of Robert Shaw is easily one of his greatest to date. He plays Shaw as a typical unemotional military leader in the beginning, which makes his turn that much more poignant. Morgan Freeman stands out as the man that bridges the gap between the soldiers and Colonel Shaw. It's also no surprise that Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for his role as Tripp. His greatest scene comes as he is being flogged after sneaking out the night before. The look on his face as the whip hits his flesh is the one image that sticks in your head long after the film is over.

I had seen Glory years ago during my first semester of college and enjoyed it very much. I was glad to see that the film leaves you feeling just as inspired the second time around. Director Edward Zwick has definitely found his niche in filmmaking. He really excells at taking historical pieces (see also The Last Samurai and Defiance) and giving them an emotional connection that knows how to really draw in an audience. Glory is a must-see film that inspires, just as much as it's entertains.

232. The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Margaret Lockwood
Dame May Whitty
Michael Redgrave

IMDb Rating: 7.9
MY Rating: 7

"I never think you should judge any country by it's politics. After all, we English are quite honest by nature, aren't we?"

While waiting to board a train, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is "accidentally" hit in the head by a flower pot. Her friends help her board the train, where she instantly falls asleep. Upon awaking, she finds herself sitting across from an elderly lady named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty). The two strike up a conversation and decide to have a drink in the dining car. Afterwards, they return to their compartment, and Iris takes a nap. When she awakes, she notices that Miss Froy is gone. Even stranger, no one on the train is claiming to have ever seen Miss Froy. Did Iris hallucinate the whole thing, or is everyone on the train hiding the same secret?

The Lady Vanishes is an early film from my favorite director Alfred Hitchcock. It is definitely lacking on the suspense of his later and more popular works. Although, it is full of his usual mystery and dark humor. The film is never predictable and actually keeps you guessing up to the the very final scene. Hitchcock's ability to unravel a story from every angle is on full display here. This might not be one of his most exciting films, but it's a solid story with great elements of Hitchcock's trademark brand of mystery.

The only place that I feel this film stumbles is with the performances of the actors. Other than Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, the characters are pretty forgettable. Some of the performances actually come off rather amateur and goofy. The most notable folly occurs in a scene where a character gets shot in the hand. He shows no signs of pain or agony. He just sort of shrugs it off. If I got shot in the hand, I would at least have a look of discomfort. Luckily, Lockwood and Redgrave's characters are where the focus of the film lies. So the supporting performances don't leave a sting all that bad.

The Lady Vanishes might not rank high on Hitchcock's long list of films, but it is indeed a must watch. I would call it one of Hitchcock's most subtle films, which is precisely why it works so well. All great mysteries need to be just that, mysterious. If you spell out all of the details, you risk losing the entire tone of the film. With the exception of a few botched performances, there isn't much wrong with this film. I would recommend this film.