Sunday, February 20, 2011

#314: A Fish Called Wanda

1988, TSPDT Rank #778

This film is usually made out to be a pure British comedy, but that notion is not actually so. It's a very good blend of British and American comedy, which takes a little while to get off the ground, but once it does, it never slows down. The most hilarious scenes in the movie are the ones involving the strange "love triangle" between Jamie Lee Curtis, "brother" Kevin Kline, and John Cleese of Monty Python, who plays a barrister defending the member of a heist group (which Curtis and Kline were part of) whom Jamie Lee was also playing for money. It should be apparent already that Ms. Jamie Lee gets her fair share of action in the movie (wink wink, nudge nudge). Michael Palin is also here as an animal lover and failing hit man with a stutter. It almost feels like a partial Python reunion, er.... plus Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline. There's nothing else I really can say, and I may have said to much. It's a funny movie that speaks for itself.

(Rating: 7/10)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#313: Dumbo

1940, TSPDT Rank #448

Of the early, classic era Disney films, Dumbo seems to be possibly the most forgotten. It's definitely the shortest, strangest, and most surreal. But I think its filled with a unique sort of Disney magic, and it packs quite an emotional punch. It has so many classic and vivid elements: the stork opening, the capture of the mother, the friendship with Timothy Mouse, the clown show, Pink Elephants on Parade, etc. Not to mention the 'Jim Crows', gloriously un-PC black caricatures in the form of crows that will make you seriously wonder why Song of the South is banned and this isn't (I know I do!). There's also this question: Why a film about a flying elephant? Well, why not?! Dumbo's discovery of flight gives him the sense of pride and self-worth that he deserves, and seems to solve all of the horrible problems the poor little elephant has had dropped on his young shoulders. Dumbo is an emotional, wondrous flight of fancy of a film that deserves to be seen and appreciated more. Plus, I'm with Timothy, those ears are beautiful!

(Rating: 9/10)

#312: The Red Balloon

1956, TSPDT Rank #471

This 34 minute French children's film won a Palme D'Or at Cannes. You can't resist its charms. The simple tale of a friendship of a boy and an almost human, bright red balloon is still just as potent today as it ever was. The film needs only a very few words, and so does this review. But watch it. Show it to children. It is accessible for all ages, and always will be. The ending will "lift" your spirits and fill you with wonder.

(Rating: 8/10)

#311: It Happened One Night

Directed by: FRANK CAPRA
1934, TSPDT Rank #197

Before Frank Capra was making heavy-handed "issue" films like Meet John Doe and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, he made a fantastic screwball comedy that was one of only three so far to win all five major Academy Awards (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay - the other two that have won are One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs). And as much contempt as I frankly do have for the Oscars, they sure knew what they were doing with these three films. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are incredible in their parts, with glorious chemistry, and so much great dialogue. The supporting roles only enrich the movie's appeal, and I would say in general this is the most enjoyable screwball film I've seen to date. But I did find the plot element of Colbert "running away from home" at 21, and having the nation working to hunt her down to be pretty ridiculous and weak. Overall though, great film.

"The wall of Jericho is tumbling!"

(Rating: 9/10)

#310: Bringing Up Baby

Directed by: HOWARD HAWKS
1938, TSPDT Rank #94

Bringing Up Baby is widely seen as one of the funniest films ever made. However, not unlike Kind Hearts and Coronets recently, I feel it's a somewhat funny movie, but very overrated in general. This one rates a little higher than Kind Hearts for me because the screenplay is consistently good and doesn't rely on narration at all. The plot is similar to a lot of classic screwball comedies, involving a romance 'accidentally' blossoming while a zany and fast-paced chaos occurs around the characters, who don't realize they are falling in love. The screwball formula had been pretty well established by a number of films by this point in the late 1930s and would be perfected and given a jolt of energy by Preston Sturges in the following decade. But I think this film is so well loved because it is basically a quintessential screwball comedy, played well by popular stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (although with not too much chemistry going on), and is very accessible for beginners to classic films. If you haven't seen it yet, I would recommend seeing it before you've seen a lot of other screwball films for maximum effect.

However, for a greater and more hilarious example of the screwball genre, check out my next post, I have just the thing...

(Rating: 7/10)

Friday, February 18, 2011

#309: Grey Gardens

1975, Rank #669

From what I've gathered online, this is a very misunderstood movie. It's a brief, 95 minute look at Big and Little Edie Beale (aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jackie Kennedy) and their eccentric life in a big, deteriorating mess of a house called Grey Gardens. It is a very intimate and candid film, giving you a very fly-on-the-wall perspective. The problem is, people have jumped to such conclusions such as defining the women as mentally ill, assigning them roles of aggressor and victim, and trying generally to sum up their lives in one clever usage of words. These women clearly lived very interesting and complex lives, and their relationship with each other is obviously not perfect, it is still clearly that this mother and daughter love each other very much, despite the flaws. The film is definitely worth watching, a great look at two fascinating and unique people, but I think the viewer needs to not judge them and just accept them for who they are/were.

For my further ruminations on this film and its treatment, look at the review section for this film on Hulu:

(Rating: 8/10)

#308: My Darling Clementine

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1946, TSPDT Rank #95

John Ford is widely known as one of the greatest film directors of all-time, possibly America's greatest. Ford has more films on the 1,000 Greatest Films list than any other director, at 17 (!). If you are wondering just why he was such a master, look no further than My Darling Clementine. The western genre is a defining American genre, and this is a film that defines the western genre. It's filled with sincere romanticism, relating the story of Wyatt Earp (played by Henry Fonda), and the shootout at the OK corral against the degenerate Clanton clan (headed by Walter Brennan, in incredible and perfectly menacing form). It succeeds at being both a hard-hitting western and a love story. Both of these story elements feel very natural and realistic, the character's motives all seem completely authentic in the story. John Ford was one of the great composers of film shots, and it shows here. Each frame is perfectly painted with rugged beauty, and the film progresses with conviction and grace. The shootout itself is one of the most sublimely orchestrated scenes in film history.

My Darling Clementine may be John Ford's ultimate masterpiece. In any case, I'd say it's a nearly perfect film, one that will stand testament to the power of film as long as film is around. An absolute must-see.

(Rating: 10/10)

#307: Ivan's Childhood

1962, TSPDT Rank #597

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

I watched the first of Tarkovsky's features last night, and I thought it was a very good film. The visuals here are nothing short of fantastic - the stark settings and beautifully composed shots are so rampant and well executed that at times it feels your aesthetic receptors might be blown to pieces. The story line is less impressive, although it truly looks at war realistically and bluntly, and interesting perspective as seen through a child's eyes, I felt it was not as effective as it might have been - more like a bunch of great pieces thrown together to form a piece slightly less than the sum of its parts, instead of one truly solid whole. But as a debut film - WHOA. I feel Tarkovsky's films must only get better from here...

(Rating: 8/10)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#306: Kind Hearts and Coronets

Directed by: ROBERT HAMER
1949, TSPDT Rank #225

This film is known as one of the pinnacles of British black comedy. In other words, it totally sounded like a movie I'd love. Actually though, I didn't think it was all that great - definitely watchable, pretty entertaining, and with some parts that were pretty humorous, but it still didn't live up to my expectations. Alec Guinness plays eight roles in the movie, which are basically the funniest part (his parson being the greatest, and apparently the one he liked playing the most). But what bothered me is how much the movie relied on Dennis Price's constant narration to deliver most of the dark humor. Some of the quips are funny, but a lot of the time I felt the narration was supposed to make up for the humor that wasn't on the screen. But don't take my word for it, if this still sounds like something you might like, I'd encourage you to give it a try and see what you think. At the least, you'll probably get some morbid chuckles and enjoyment out of it, if you go for that sort of thing that is.

(Rating: 6/10)

#305: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1962, TSPDT Rank #72

One of the films from the late period of Ford's career, this was arguably the first film to start forming the revisionist western genre that would come to power over the old-style westerns in the next decade or so. It takes an elegiac and mournful look at the Old West, which had began to fade right in front of these characters' eyes. This being said, it's a really captivating film, it's never depressing or boring. Starring two film giants, John Wayne and James Stewart, the film looks at traditional genre character stereotypes in more modern, realistic terms: the tough hero (Wayne), the bookish tenderfoot (Stewart), the beautiful woman both long for (Vera Miles), and the bad man (Lee Marvin), who here is very bad indeed. The plot doesn't really need to be explained for anyone who's seen a western film, although there are some surprising twists contained, and it's told from just a little bit different perspective. The long shots flow beautifully across, while the short ones jump on and off the screen with perfect rhythm and grace. Ford clearly knew what he was doing, and knew how to tell a story. This one is no exception, and the more modern style and great acting has made it a cherished classic. Indubitably worth checking out.

(Rating: 8/10)