Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#291: Ace in the Hole

Directed by: BILLY WILDER
1951, TSPDT Rank #669

Whenever I see a movie like this from the "classic age of Hollywood," I wonder how it possibly got made within the system. It definitely didn't have much success with the critics or audiences at the time. But it is glorious, and thanks to the Criterion Collection we can easily experience its greatness from a different perspective here in the 21st century. It's cynical, bitter, and stuffed with dark humor, and featuring big star Kirk Douglas in one of his darkest and least heroic roles ever. A savage vindiction of the media and the way it exploits peoples' trouble and pain for their own gain, it takes no prisoners and nobody leaves unscathed. Even the 'innocent bystanders' are shown as gluttons for tragedy, flocking to the scene of the accident in the cave when the story gets out and leaving as soon as there's nothing to see anymore. Great shadowy, lurid noir cinematography also. No happy ending, but we are left with one golden lesson: "Tell the truth." Wish I could coin 'em like that....

(Rating: 9/10)

#290: Sunrise

Directed by: F.W. MURNAU
1927, TSPDT Rank #12

This late Hollywood silent film (made while sound was making its first popular appearances in movies) is one of the true movie masterpieces of all time. Given free reign by Fox to make any movie he wanted, Murnau made a movie that runs the viewer through an intense and beautiful line-up of nearly all possible emotions in a relationship between a man and a woman. The story is simple on the surface, about a cheating husband who almost kills his wife to escape from his quiet farm life, at the last second reconciling with her as they try to pick up the pieces and start again. There is a lot of emotional depth, which is supported by Murnau's incredible cinematic images. This is one of the main essential silent films, one every kind of film lover should give a chance at least. If you do, you'll take a journey in which you feel fear, joy, love, and much more in between. And just thank your lucky stars that the powers at Hollywood have occasionally recognized the masters of the medium and allowed them to freely create like this.

(Rating: 10/10)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

#289: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Directed by: HOWARD HAWKS
1953, TSPDT Rank #632

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is another example of Howard Hawks' ability to master any genre he put his hand. Here he has a really good musical comedy, which is fast-paced and entertaining, and stars Marilyn Monroe in a stunning role that is one of her most famous. Jane Russell is her dancing partner and friend, but a brunette, and also her complete opposite (doesn't care for rich men, diamonds, etc.). To paraphrase the Dude, there are a lot of ins and outs in this movie, but ultimately we find that the moral is that diamonds are a girl's best friend. But maybe just if that girl happens to be blonde. The movie is now quite dated and campy, but it's a lot of fun to watch, very enjoyable. For a great double feature, watch Scarface and then Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to get an idea of Howards Hawks' incredible range as a director.

(Rating: 7/10)

#288: City of God

2002, TSPDT Rank #620

One of the few 21st century movies to make it onto the 1,000 Greatest Films listing, so obviously you know it's a must see. Maybe it's not as amazing as the hype would have you believe, but still an extremely solid film. It takes a lot of cues from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and could be seen as one of the best tributes to that film (although the director might not admit that). It features quick editing, and narration over a great variety of stories and anecdotes of the semi-organized crime in Cidade de Deus (City of God), Rio de Janeiro's roughest slum. It's extremely well-filmed and realistic feeling, considering it was based on real-life events. Of course that could mean a number of things but it certainly adds some emotional flavor to some of the gritty things we see happen in this film. As one of the more violent, exciting, and well-made foreign imports, one can see how City of God gets so much attention. But if you watch it, which I would recommend, I think you'll agree that it's quite worthy of that attention.

(Rating: 8/10)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#287: Harold and Maude

Directed by: HAL ASHBY
1971, TSPDT Rank #415

One of the great things about video is that it can give movies that failed at the box office a chance at becoming great cult favorites. Harold and Maude is just that kind of film: an odd and hilarious comedy that can only be enjoyed by a certain group of adventurous film viewers. And it might possibly be able to convert a few over to this "group" with its unique charms. It concerns the romantic relationship between a socially inept, death-obsessed young man in his 20s and a free spirited woman in her 80s. If the thought of this "makes you want to vomit," like the disapproving priest later in the movie, then you might want to stay away. But the idea works really well, and is very convincing. The film is filled with hilarious moments, and while the plot can feel pretty uneven, the dark and unique blend of humor is consistent and irresistible. It's a hard movie to describe, but it's worth giving a watch if any of my ramblings here make it sound at all interesting.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#286: The Thin Red Line

1998, Rank #660

(Hello everyone, I'm back due to "popular demand." I was on a short hiatus due to the amount of time school takes from my free time, but now I'm going to try to crank some posts out every now and then. Still don't think it will be as frequent as it is over summer break.)

I think that The Thin Red Line is possibly Terrence Malick's best film, other than Badlands (which I consider his masterpiece). This goes outside the boundaries of most war films, and is a mixture of intense heavy combat scenes, poetic cinematography, and introspection on the philosophy of war. Malick was a former philosophy student, and this film is probably his most philosophical. Various characters narrate their thoughts and questions regarding the horrors of war, and the almost nonstop barrage of battle scenes in the major central section of the movie work really well to support this. The beautiful shots of nature that appear along side these scenes of warfare show the main conflict between man and nature. Really this is such a good movie that although Malick's usually weaknesses (reliance on beautiful images to take the place of story, underusing actors' abilities, heavy-handedness) are still here, they seem to fit well with Malick's purpose here, and are balanced out by the movie's overall quality. Although the movie has an amazing cast and some of the actors give great, striking performances (Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas), some of them are just plain underused (Adrien Brody, George Clooney, John Travolta, John C. Reilly) and made me a little disappointed in this waste of talent. It's kind of a big, exhausting mess of a movie (Malick style) but there's a lot of greatness to be found here, I definitely recommend it.

(Rating: 8/10)