Sunday, March 20, 2011

#318: High and Low

1963, TSPDT Rank #325

Parts of this film are so brilliant, so suspenseful, and so obviously trail-blazing and influential that's it's a shame that as a whole it doesn't exactly achieve what it should. For today's jaded audiences, with many similarly done kidnapping/ransom movies behind us, we need to put the release date into context to realize what an original kind of film this was. The first half is excellent, an unbeatable ransom dilemma - complete with the most intense shower I have ever seen, courtesy of Toshiro Mifune, and an expertly shot and edited dropoff scene from a train. However, roughly the next hour really loses momentum for the film, as Mifune's explosive (or implosive?) presence is out of the picture for far too long, and the action switches to straight technically adept but dramatically hollow police procedural, that is rather clumsily handled by Kurosawa. But he picks it up for a dynamite ending reel that rattles your bones and abruptly comes to a stop. Worth watching and taking 143 minutes for, but not perfect, no matter how much you might wish it were.

(Rating: 8/10)

#317: La Strada

1954, TSDPT Rank #52

Fellini has two distinct periods in his filmography - the early neorealist films, and the later autobiographical and/or dreamlike films. La Strada is very much a bridge between these two periods, as well as prime Fellini. There's a sense of magic that hangs over this film, and it's really the ultimate tragicomedy. Fellini's wife, Giuletta Masina, plays an amazing role as the Italian girl who gets sold to a brutish traveling strongman, who uses her for his act, abuses her and disregards her until it's too late. Really, the "partnership" cycle they continually go through probably would have continued indefinitely if it had not been for the appearance of The Fool, the strongman's longtime rival, whose less serious approach to life will undoubtedly prove fatal. What makes Masina's performance so fascinating and central to the movie though, are her great childlike facial expressions, indelible pathos, and the way she always leaves the audience wondering how much her character understands about her feelings or the way other people act. On a side note, if you watch Martin Scorsese's introduction from the Criterion Collection DVD, you'll get some insight into what a huge influence this film in particular was on his work, and much the characters in all of his movies are drawn in some way from the three central characters here. Definitely recommended, a must-watch on a variety of levels.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

#316: Dead Poets Society

Directed by: PETER WEIR
1989, TSPDT Rank #741

Peter Weir is a director of whom I have been largely unaware of up to this point. However, this will not be the case after seeing Dead Poets Society. It's basically a top-tier artistic film with mainstream sensibilities and fairly widespread appeal. As much as I (usually) like Robin Williams, most of his roles fail to break out of his comedian persona and become something more. This film definitely proves an exception, and this performance, along with his strong performance in Good Will Hunting, will cement his place in film history. I think the film itself earns its place as one of the great youth-centered films. It is inspirational in its message against the disease, still plaguing today's youth culture, that is conformity - at times heavy-handed and sentimental in its approach, but not as much as you would expect. The cinematography is brilliant, and draws on the film's poetic, serene, nostalgic, and haunting aspects. I could say a lot more on this film, and although it's not perfect, it's definitely worth checking out.

(Rating: 9/10)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

#315: The Maltese Falcon

Directed by: JOHN HUSTON
1941, TSPDT Rank #162

This is one of the first true film noirs, dark crime films that began appearing in the 1940s. It focuses on hard-boiled detective Sam Spade, which in my opinion is one of Humphrey Bogart's greatest film roles, and his search for something, usually a precious figurine of a falcon once owned by the king of Spain, but possibly "the stuff dreams are made of" in general. The fact that the mystery going on is pretty unclear for a lot of the film is a common occurrence in the film noir of this period, but it is not a detraction to the film at all. In fact, this elusiveness of plot adds to the mystique and feel of the movie. With plot of little importance, the movie focuses on its characters, the feelings surrounding the mystery that truly make it a mystery, and the appealing style in which the film is made. The second half is better than the first, and I personally feel has some of the most brilliant film-making of this era. And Bogart's performance is incendiary. (As a side note, it also might be of interest that this was John Huston's debut film.)

(Rating: 9/10)