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Angel Heart (1987)
Angel Heart will have you gasping for air.
There's enough broken down fans, chickens, dark allys, twists, and seedy characters in this thing to keep you glued to your seat, contemplating the film, for hours after its concluded. Quite frankly, you'll be too terrified to even move. If anyone has played the excellent Sierra adventure game, "Gabriel knight: Sins of the Fathers", you'll see a clear inspiration with this movie. Angel Heart is a nightmare of a film-noir flick with a little of the horror genre mixed in. Truly one of the most involving films I've ever seen and by the end of it, the audience will feel as though they've been taken through Hell. Mickey Rourke plays Harry Angel, a small time private investigator in New York City. Most of his clients are jealous lovers and that sort. Angel gets a call one day by Louis Cyphre, a clergyman of a strange religion, asking him to track down a man who is in dept to him. Angel Heart moves like a detective drama with the pacing. But the film is so much more than just a gather clues and evidence type of thing. There's a real psychological horror that builds up as Angel nears closer and closer to his man and as he begins to question the validity of his employer, Mr. Cyphre. Mickery Rourke is brilliant in the movie. He plays a detestable and dirty chainsmoking hustler who will do almost whatever it takes to find the person he's after. Yet the character is also likable because of Rourke's charm, which allows for us to care about him. Robert DeNiro is creepy and downright disturbing as Louis Cyphre in all his subdued glory. The production is amazing. Angel Heart feels like a dark moody blues and jazz number. The story starts in New York and ends up in New Orleans. Lisa Bonet and Rourke have one of film's most notorious moments, a sex-scene that got her kicked off "The Cosby Show" and almost landed the film with an X-rating. Parker's movie ain't for the squimish or faint of heart, that's for sure. Many of the voodoo scenes with chickens are freaky enough, let alone several of the films' gruesome murders. Alan Parker directed the film perfectly. He's vowed to work in every genre and made one hell of a flick with Angel Heart. Michael Seresin did the cinematography for the movie. He also shot Parker's earlier film, Midnight Express. Trevor Jones composed the film's score. Overall just a damn fine piece of movie making. You'll be hard pressed to find a more surreal and nightmarish movie than this with such great acting and storytelling. The ending will leave you gasping for air, yet somehow you will have seen it coming all along.
Rio Bravo (1959)
Great story, great script, great acting, beautifully shot. What more could you ask for?
Famously made and inspired by director Howard Hawks' and actor John Wayne's contempt for the western High Noon, Rio Bravo similarly features a frontier lawman waiting on pins and needles until someone can arrive. In High Noon it was the bad guys. In Rio Bravo the bad guys are already in town, it's the U.S. Marshall the sheriff is waiting for. But make no mistake about it. That's nearly all these two movies have in common. High Noon was a dark, cold, and desolate black and white six-shooter melodrama and political commentary. Rio Bravo is a warm, exciting, joyous, and bright technicolor ode to male camaraderie and the old west. Howard Hawks' film contains all of his trademarks. Hard drinking men, fast talking women, enough hidden sexual innuendo to get you kicked out of Church, and of course the dialogue. Sharp, funny, and biting. John Wayne was in fact never much of a talker. He's no Cary Grant. But he is the Duke. Hawks' surrounds him with a colorful assortment of characters to react to and interact with, which is when Wayne is in his element. Walter Brennan is the yappy and big mouthed old codger, Dean Martin is the down-on-his-luck drunk, Angie Dickinson is the insecure but headstrong gambling dance hall girl, and Ricky Nelson is the quiet but youthful rebel gunfighter. Those are the main characters. Ward Bond offers good support as a do-gooder cattle rancher. Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales provides plenty of comic relief as the hen-pecked and stereotypical Mexican who runs the hotel and acts as a go-between for Dickinson and Wayne and their uncertain romantic relationship. Each of them too proud to express their true feelings and emotions. John Russell fills the shoes of the villain, a rich and ruthless cattle baron who hires men to do his killing for him - 50 silver dollars a head. Russell sees very little screen time, but other than the fact that his character is there and we the audience know he's there and so do the characters, he doesn't serve any real purpose. In fact he functions in a similar fashion to what Hitchcock describes as the Maguffin. The good guys need somebody to fight against and he's it. But that's just an excuse to get the ensemble together and have them talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more. You'd be hard pressed to find a movie with more masculine male-bonding and men being men than what's in Rio Bravo. The movie is comprised of one classic scene and entertaining moment after the other. Angie Dickinson throwing the flower vase through the window, the gang sitting around and singing "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me", the seven minute opening without a word of dialogue, Dean Martin pouring the whiskey from the glass back into the bottle, John Wayne going up to see Dickinson at the film's conclusion, and on and on and on. Great story, great script, great acting, beautifully shot. What more could you ask for?
The Dreamers (2003)
An open love letter to the cinema
It isn't surprising that many people have been thrown off or wierded out by Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. This is the man who directed the great 1972 film, Last Tango in Paris, which threw out the rule book concerning what could be talked about and shown regarding sex in a non-pornographic film. The Dreamers isn't as revolutionary or shocking for it's day as Last Tango in Paris was, but it's every bit as daring and provocative. It is Bertolucci's homage to the movies themselves and the people that spend an infinite amount of hours in darkened rooms watching them. For us psychopaths out there where movies are more than a religion, myself included, The Dreamers lets us know we are not alone, however it also informs us just how alone we might be. Film is the greatest art form because it can be the most collaborative with many people's vision or the most individual. It combines music, sound, photography, acting, politics, religion, entertainment, fun, and everything into one package. What else other than the movies allows the beauty of a person who's been dead for a hundred years to shine forever? Long after all the Presidents are dead and long after the frescos of Michaelangelo have tarnished away, and long after the pyramids have eroded, we'll still have film. We'll still be able to watch Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, and James Dean as though they were still alive. In fact as long as people watch their movies, they are alive. It's this sory of mentality and obsession that Bertolucci both praises but also warns the dangers of in his film The Dreamers. Michael Pitt (Matthew), presumably summoning up Leonardo DiCaprio with his performance, plays an American exchange student in Paris in 1968 during the student riots. He is pretty much a loner, an outcast, and misfit - both free and restrained by his undying love for film. In Paris he meets a pair of French siblings, a brother and sister played by Eva Green (Isabelle) and Louis Garrel (Theo), who share his affections towards the cinema and immediately befriend him and adopt him as one of their own. It's ironic that they choose to coronate him with the lyrical quote "He's one of us! He's one of us!" from Freaks. Perhaps they see themselves as freaks. It's a deep movie and it throws many curves at the audience which will push people's ideas of what is morally correct and incorrect to the extreme. The Dreamers breaks many taboos. Mostly the incestuous relationship between a brother and sister, who feel as though one another are their only true companions in life. It doesn't shy away from nudity, both male and female. Together the three of them, Matthew, Isabelle, and Theo form an emotional and sexual bond through their love of movies and their common feelings of being misplaced in the world. The Dreamers is a damn fine movie that might be difficult to appreciate because of its content. Something I really enjoyed was seeing the clips of the different movies in the film when the characters talked about them and played games revolving around the films. Breathless, Top Hat, City Lights, and Scarface are a few of the movies that are featured in The Dreamers.
Perfect blend of sci-fi and fantasy. Light years above the other Star Wars pictures.
How do you follow up the most successful science fiction/fantasy film of all time? Make a sequel that's bigger and better than the original. Not only is The Empire Strikes Back better than A New Hope, but it completely blows it out of the water. The first Star Wars film started it all and paved the way for the second installment, but essentially it was a fairly bland and simple space adventure with great special effects. Return of the Jedi, which followed The Empire Strikes Back, was also a weaker film. Empire is clearly the best film of the original trilogy. So much in fact it transcends the other films and it's easy to appreciate the film out of the context of the Star Wars universe. While the first film was too cartoonish and the third too unbalance, the second hit exactly the right note. The story picks up several years after A New Hope. The Death Star is destroyed and the rebels are hiding at their base on the ice planet of Hoth. The Empire is hot on their trail with a zealous Darth Vader combing the galaxy in search of them. From the very start of the movie it's one big giant chase. Unlike the other two films, Empire gets the big battle out of the way in the beginning so that it can slowly build down until the climax. It's a reversal of the typical adventure film arc and it works perfectly. In Empire all of the characters are fleshed out and become as real people, whereas in A New Hope they just served the storyline. There's the classic Greek mythology pathos going on with the battle between good and evil. There are also many shades of gray in the film, as the characters drift in out and of good and evil, and face difficult decisions. Out of the entire trilogy the middle film also features the most impressive and elaborate sets. Over the course of two hours we are taken into four different worlds, the ice planet Hoth, the swamp world of Dagobah, an asteroid field in space, and Cloud City. All four locales are entirely impressive. The lighting is another key factor in the film's vibrant look. Lighting becomes the most flamboyant towards the end of the film during the dusk looking scenes at Cloud City. Finally something must be said of the epic lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader that makes up the film's climax. It's the best duel in any of the films. Storywise there's a lot on the line, but it's choreographed and filmed so well it wouldn't matter how it ties into the story. It's the dirtiest and grungiest of all the duels. It's nice to actually see the physical effects of fighting for a change. In the other films the characters are pretty much stoic but here we get to see Luke grow out of breath, tire, bleed, and have his cloths torn. He stumbles around, expresses emotion, and even gets a few nice on-uppers on Vader when he's underestimated. Ultimately it's a wonderful way to finish a great film. Also I should mention the good performances from Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
The Red Shoes (1948)
Film, dance, ballet, beauty, and music come together
The Red Shoes influenced a great number of filmmakers, actors, and inspired many dancers and those in the ballet. The Red Shoes combines the beauty of film, music, dance, ballet, and the human form. The story is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Moira Shearer plays a young and beautiful ballerina named Victoria Page. Anton Walbrook is the zealous and tyrannical ballet impresario who sees a great talent in her and is determined to forge her into a great dancer and to make her a star in the ballet "The Red Shoes." Rounding out the leading trio from which the conflict revolves is Marius Goring, a young composer who gets a chance to compose the music to the ballet. When Goring falls in love with Shearer, both their careers are put on the back burner. Walbrook and his ballet are threatened and he becomes more domineering than ever. Shearer becomes torn between love and dance and must ultimately choose between them. The story is done very stylized instead of realistically. The romance is very operatic and is right out of a tragic faerie tale. One of the most noticeable elements of the movie is the color of it. Jack Cardiff did the cinematography and it's absolutely gorgeous. The beautiful landscape shots work well juxtaposed with the matte paintings. The color red is prevalent and is a metaphor for love, passion, and jealousy. We see the vibrant color in Shearer's hair, her lipstick, the shoes. We see red in Goring's hair. All the lighting has a red tint to it with the gorgeous technicolor. Some of the special effects are absolutely miraculous and very innovative considering the release date. One of the most impressive things about the movie is how it offers both cinema and the ballet. The ballet sequences are spectacular and authentic. Shearer as well as the supporting dancers were actual performers of the ballet. In a stroke of genius director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger cast dancers and had them act instead of casting actors and having them dance. This is obvious during the ballet numbers in the film. The initial performing of "The Red Shoes" is a 15-20 minute sequence that is some of the best stuff ever caught on film. What the audience sees is an actual ballet performed and filmed, as opposed to just recreating and staging a fake ballet. Many of the special effects and backdrops during this dance number will leave the viewer in awe. If any criticism could be directed towards The Red Shoes it has to be the acting. But this isn't an actors movie. It's theatrical and doesn't demand realistic and down beat performances. The magic of film and dance make the audience forget the somewhat bland characterizations from the actors. The influence of this movie can be seen and hinted at in other movies. The storyline carries heavy tones in Moulin Rouge! There is a dancing newspaper, which no doubt inspired one of American Beauty's most talked about scenes. Since much of the film takes place at the ballet and the behind the scenes rehearsals it might be difficult for some movie-goers to get involved in the movie. But stick with it and let the beauty of it all slowly sink in.
Audrey Tautou is magical
Amelie is a film that struck a certain chord with me. Every now and then movies come along that speak out to you and emotionally touch you in some way. Amelie is one such film for me. I related to its innocent charm and delightfully shy protagonist played by French sensation Audrey Tautou, the way very few films have. Part of the reason we watch movies is to learn something about ourselves or recognize characters that are remarkably similar to us and the way we are in real life. For all of us shy, introverted, quirky, and odd-ball eccentrics out there who have trouble relating to "normal" people, Audrey Tautou in this film is our personal hero. Instead of going into much detail about why the film works, I'll instead try to explain what it meant to me personally. Sure I guess this means I have to open up maybe more than I'd like to about myself, but oh well. The way Amelie's childhood was presented is similar to my own. I am an only child to divorced parents and very rarely had friends as I was and still am very much a loner. As a child much of my time was spent alone so I entertained myself in all kinds of silly ways. Just like Amelie does in the film. Of course I gained my fixation with films at an extremely early age, but also did stupid things like give my stuffed animals personalities and have conversations with them, draw pictures and create stories to go along with them, and laid in bed listening to the radio with the windows open on a lazy summer day imagining creatures out of the cloud formations. Apparently there are legions of us out there. Even today I enjoy solitude far more than the company of most people and still use my imagination to think of stupid little things. Amelie did an amazing job in capturing what the world is like through the eyes of a person who doesn't really fit in, but finds joy in the simple things in life. Like the fresh spring breeze on your face, the sound of the rain, the chirping of birds, the touch of fur, and popping bubble wrap. Actually popping bubble wrap was always an exciting and rare treat during my youth. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film also has a marvelously fun nifty view of sex. For Amelie sex is not something that is intimidating, temptingly desirable, sinful, adult, or lustful. It's just another of the many silly things that people do in this world that make us human. Two people taking off their cloths and rubbing up against one another. How sweet! In fact many people have insulted the film for it's unique view and open attitude towards sex. For shame really. Sure there's a lot of it actually. Amelie's first sexual encounter, the orgasms, the object of her affection working in a porn shop with a stripper and putting price tags on didoes. But it's all in good fun and filmed with the naivety that a character like Amelie would view sex as. Anyways the movie really works. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel does an excellent job in filming Jeunet's crazy vision and Audrey Tautou with her funky hairdo, wide brown eyes, and whimsical voice and kitten like mannerisms and shyness brings the movie to life. As I said I relate to this movie and understand the character the way I do with few other movies simply because it is frighteningly very much like I tend to be in real life.
"You mean she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her?"
Hmm, so would I sometimes. Audrey Tautou's been a more reliable friend than most people and has put a smile on my face and lightened my day at the thought of her more times than one. And I still say I'll marry her one day.
Classic Cinderella story, Audrey is amazing
Audrey Hepburn, Billy Wilder, Hubert de Givenchy, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Charles Lang. With names like that attached to a project, do you even need a movie? Fortunately we got one. A great one! Sabrina is a charming and moonlit romantic comedy from two masters of the genre. Billy Wilder and Audrey Hepburn. It's essentially a retelling of the classic Cinderella story. The girl who is poor but falls in love with a prince and is made over beautifully to get his attention. There's no wicked step-sisters in Sabrina and no-magical faerie God-mother, but who cares. Hepburn is Sabrina the daughter of a chauffeur to a rich family named the Larrabee's. The Larrabee patriarch has two sons played by Bogart and Holden. Bogart is the older and more business savvy brother. He is realistic and practical and regards the family's name and fortune with the utmost care and regard. This is contrary to Holden who is more of a careless playboy seeking fun and women in life. He's been married three times, always falling in love or at least confusing lust with love. Hepburn at the start of the film is desperately in love with Holden and watches him at a ball from up in the tree under the moonlight. To help her get over her crush she is sent to refining school in Paris where see learns how to cook, speak, and dress. Basically she becomes a lady. What emerges is a swan from the ugly duckling and for the first time Holden sees her and falls in love. However time has passed and Sabrina doesn't exactly feel the same way anymore. Plus Bogart expresses his own interest in the elfin' and glamorous chauffeur's daughter. Watching all this play out in such a romantic and funny way is pure cinema. All the elements come together in this film. Hepburn looks magnificent in Hubert de Givenchy's gowns and dresses. The scenes on the racquetball court are whimsical and absolutely priceless. Frederick Hollander's musical score is breathtaking and haunting, sending the audience far away from their problems and allowing them to become completely involved in the characters and story. Really to tell the truth there isn't much plot, but the story is good because it's so simple. Sabrina isn't a complicated movie at all, nor is it very in depth in exploring what true love is. But at the heart it's a faerie tale. It doesn't need to be realistic or profound. If you're looking for answers about the true nature of love and self-sacrifice then you won't find any in Sabrina. However if you're looking to be swept off your feet and taken to a far away place where naive, blind, and moonstruck romantic love are the rule then this is the movie for you.
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
It will break your heart
Warren Beatty made his screen debut in Hollywood with this treasure of a film. One of the best ever made. For me, I can barely make it through without shedding a tear. It's probably the most emotionally devastating film I've seen and somehow struck a chord with me like few other films have. The Shootist and The Bridges of Madison County are two other movies that bring out the Kleenex, but not the way Kazan's film can. The setting is a dim rural Kansas farming community in the days just prior to the Great Depression. Yet things are good in the beginning. The Stamper family is making a fortune off their stocks and the Loomis family has recently invested and stands to make money as well. Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood play two of the children of the families who go together in high school and are desperately in love. Beatty is Bud Stamper and Wood is Deannie Loomis. Both are in their teenage years and their hormones are raging. Sexual repression and it's consequences are examined in the film and why such conservatism and restraint exists. Bud and Deannie do not have sex, though both feel extremely uncomfortable from the tension that arises when they mutually suppress their instincts. Deannie is told by her mother that good girls don't do things like that, nor should they enjoy it. Bud on the otherhand is told by his freewheeling father, played excellently by Pat Hingle, that there's two kinds of girls in the world. Those that put out and those that don't. His only advice for his son is to not get into trouble, by which he means get a girl pregnant. Bud knows all too well about the "other" kind of girl, as his sister has become one of them. Bud fights pressures on all sides of his life including sports, his relationship with Deannie, finding a college, and sexual repression. Yet he is emotionally stable enough to take it. Deannie on the otherhand makes an altar to Bud and her entire existence seems to revolve around him. What makes the film so compelling is watching these wonderful characters who are not cliché' even if their problems sometimes are. Warren Beatty plays his role naturally sensitive but conflicted with his father and peer's advice that he "man-up." Deannie is quiet, shy, beautiful, and sensitive. When Bud's need can no longer remain in check he sleeps with another girl. This news sends Deannie into complete shock. Natalie Wood brings so much depth to the character. I can vision a thousand places where her scenes could have gone wrong, but somehow it works. Even the most difficult and infamous scene in the movie where Wood is soaking in the tub and then stands up screaming at her mother before running out of the bathroom. Deannie's mother only wants the best for her, but it's the old fashioned values, restraint, and the pain of Bud with another girl, which eventually snowball into Deannie being sent to a mental institution after a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt (ironically Wood attempts suicide by drowning in the movie, years later the real life Wood died from drowning. She carried a fear of water with her through her entire life). From this point in the movie the stock market crashes and Bud moves past Deannie but fails college before continuing his personal dream of becoming a farmer. William Wordsworth wrote the poem from which the film takes its name. The film deals with first love in a way few other films have. Certainly a movie of today examining the issue would not be so foreboding. One might think the film is unrealistic because of the outbursts and almost too fragile teens. It is easy to laugh and say how stupid and ignorant love is at that age, but for those who've lived and felt it, I think it'd be difficult to see this movie as far fetched in anyway. Or even scoff at the characters and their desperate behavior. Afterall, we're dealing with an age and time where suicide is among the leading causes of death for teenagers and 20-year olds and one of the major factors are breakups with first loves. Natalie Wood gives one of the finest, most powerful performances in all of cinema. She'll break your heart and make you feel as much for her character as possible with the medium. Warren Beatty is also good as Bud, the confused and repressed young man who just wants things to make sense. There are few films as fine as Elia Kazan's 1961 picture that tackles these subjects and can deal with them in such a sincere and emotional way.
Le locataire (1976)
Bizarre film from Polanski
Roman Polanski worked on both sides of the camera in The Tenant, which completed his loose trilogy about the horrors of urban dwellers and apartments. Repulsion (1965), Rosemary's Baby (1968), and finally The Tenant (1976). This film is probably the weakest of the three, but that's no excuse to dismiss it. I consider it great in its own right. Polanski is fine as an actor. He is Trelkovsky, an inconspicuous man who at the start of the film is looking for an apartment. The one he finds is ran by landlord Melvyn Douglas and the Concierge played eeriely by Shelley Winters. Like Polanski's other two films, The Tenant is a survey of paranoia and claustrophobia. As we learn the previous occupant of his room committed suicide by throwing herself out the window. While Trelkovsky does seemed to be a bit disheartened by the room's history he generally puts it on the back burning. However he does visit the critically ill occupant in the hospital before she finally passes. Trelkovsky comes in contact and attempts a relationship with the beautiful Isabelle Adjani in a fine, but small supporting role. Through the movie she will be his only voice of reason in his slow descent to madness and obsession with the girl who killed herself. There's a wonderful scene towards the beginning with Polanski and Adjani where she is pleasuring him in a movie theater. This is just one of many such scenes that catch the viewer off guard. The Tenant is a slow and tedious film, but it needs to be in order for it to question Trelkovsky identity. The bickering of the neighbors, the non-stop complaints about the noise, bizarre guests who urinate in the sink, and other such freakishly odd people all chip away at Trelkovsky's grip on reality. Comedy is subtly thrown into the film. Polanski is a shrewd individual and knows that many of the occurrences in the film might be too over-the-top so he intentionally teases the boundary between horror and comedy. Is Trelkovsky insane, is he the victim of a scheme by the occupants and landlord (ala Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight), or is it a genuine case of haunting and possession? Who knows. The film is left ambiguous and that's probably a good thing. I don't really want an answer and I don't get one. There is however a wonderful conclusion and depending on who you are you'll either be laughing your ass off or running as quickly as you can to puke in the toilet.
The most mature and exciting Bond film
I've always liked the James Bond films. The formula, which is loosely modeled after Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest seems to never wear its welcome. Even today with the latest installment of one of cinema's longest running franchises, there's still fun to be had in watching the British Secret Agent with his license to kill foil the plans of a black hat menace with eyes set upon world domination, while still finding time to bed down the most beautiful creatures under the stars, drive the best cars, and toy with the coolest gadgets. Yeah what's not to like about the Bond films? That said however many of the Bond films don't really work outside the franchise as stand alone movies. Entertaining sure, but not really a quality product on their own. Goldfinger and From Russia With Love are generally considered the two best movies of the series. Sean Connery in the staring role is to many the only true Bond. However there are a few Bond cultists out there, who'll make the argument for On Her Majesty's Secret Service as being the best 007 film. I'll join that small group. For the sixth Bond film unknown actor and Australian model George Lazenby stepped into Connery's shoes. It's the only Bond film he would be in and as an actor he might be the least talented of all the Bonds, but in regards to the film itself, Lazenby plays Bond very well. Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas play the supporting roles. Rigg as the love interest and Savalas as Bond's arch nemesis Blofeld. The story of this Bond film is relatively simple when contrasted to the others. Bond has been hot on the trail of Blofeld for several years and to no success and he's thinking about retiring. However he meets Rigg and must abandon the British Secret Service and work for a rival crime syndicate in order to penetrate his way into the secret fortress of Blofeld and SPECTRE nestled away atop the Swiss alps near a skiing resort town. What sets this film apart from every other Bond film, besides Lazenby, is the maturity of it. We still get the suave, womanizing, gambling, and charming Bond, but with a hint of vulnerability and seriousness lacking in the other films. It's a very well paced and consistent film. We get the sense that none of it is filler. Every moment either serves to push the film along story wise, provide great action, or to supplement the realistic romance between Lazenby and Rigg. As a stand alone film it would work extremely well, but within the context of being a Bond film, I'd stake the claim in describing it as great. It's the one time we can actually view Bond as a human being, who is really capable of falling in love or losing a battle. There is little double-cross and few gadgets that trademark the series but it contains just enough of the quintessential Bond flick to please both Bond enthusiasts and those just wanting a darn good action film. The romance is believable and tender. Much could be said of the chemistry between the two leads. This is not a whirlwind fling, as is in most other Bond flicks with the mandatory female. In the other movies the girl is simply part of the formula. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service the girl is an essential part of developing Lazenby's version of the Bond character. By having Lazenby meet up with Rigg even before the title sequence and staying with her through the picture until the final tragic and mature ending, the writers have done a great thing. On Her Majesty's Secret Service also has some of the best action sequences of the Bond films, and like everything else in the movie it's semi-grounded in reality. The escape from Blofeld's trap on the skiing cables is brilliantly staged and followed by a remarkably well edited and choreographed chase down the mountain ski slopes. The speeding bobsleds, the two-fisted hand to hand battles, the bell shed and the helicopter attack, are handled with great care and believability. Telly Savalas is the least cartoonish of all the Bond villain portrayals. The most human. All in all On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one helluva of a ride and a solid film. Goldfinger is the most celebrated of the Bond movies, but the one and only time Lazenby stepped into the character's shoes shows the most mature Bond film.
White Men Can't Jump (1992)
Woody and Wesley when dey was cool
Undeniably Hoosiers would get the win, if they ever polled film buffs and critics asking what the best movie is revolving around basketball. Hoosiers, the movie about a failing Indiana high school basketball team being led to success by their new coach played by Gene Hackman and the drunken assistant coach (Dennis Hooper) has enjoyed its fair share of the spotlight. Granted the field of movies about basketball isn't nearly as deep as say movies with plots concerning baseball or boxing, Hoosiers still generally beats out what little competition there is.
However in my opinion the best movie to ever capture the game of hoops is the criminally underrated and underseen White Men Can't Jump, by director Ron Shelton. Shelton also brought us the more popular baseball film Bull Durham and the golf flick Tin Cup. But I'd argue White Men Can't Jump is his centerpiece. The story revolves around two street court b-ball hustlers. One new in town, smooth, and white (Woody Harrelson), undoubtedly to his advantage. The other man, a black, a veteran of the LA courts, and fast-talking (Wesley Snipes). After Harrelson hustles Snipes the two form an unlikely partnership "ebony and ivory" but as always it is on edge and lacks a required amount of trust.
For a film that was released in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots and just before the O.J. Simpson debacle, White Men Can't Jump is surprisingly mature, witty, light hearted and open-minded in its approach to the race issue. Ron Shelton's dialogue is amazingly rapid fire and smart. It bites and certainly has a sting to it, but it's all in good fun. The multi-flamboyant personalities on the outdoor L.A. street courts hustler each other, crack "yo-mama" jokes with one another, and try to look better than the other. This is the movie that really put Wesley Snipes on the map and showed that Woody Harrelson was far more than just another face in the "Cheers" ensemble. Both provide excellent work in not only playing the characters but also learning how to play basketball and talk like actual street hustlers. There's very few standins here. Both Snipes and Harrelson learned to play the sport as well as any actor could be expected to. Rosie Perez is good as Harrelson's annoying and overbearing Puerto Rican girlfriend. If any one word can describe White Men Can't Jump, that word is "fun." The movie tackles serious issues like hustling, family, relationships, race, life in poverty, and gambling debts. However if Robert Rossen's pool hall film The Hustler presented the dark side of the life, Ron Shelton's White Men Can't Jump shows the flip side of the coin. How hustling can be fun and games.
King of the Hill (1993)
Spielberg eat your heart out, this is a real feel good movie
Not to be confused with that T.V. show thing. King of the Hill is one of the most vivid film experiences I remember as a child. No, I wasn't lucky enough to catch it on the big screen. Instead I rented it and watched it one night and was totally absorbed into it. Jesse Bradford, despite his current film career, did a damn fine job as Aaron Kurlander, a young boy struggling to survive during the Great Depression. He uses his wits and imagination to make the best out of the worst of times. Bradford was 12 or 13 years old at the time he filmed the movie and as an actor it must've been a heavy burden. The main focus is on him as its his story and shown from his point of view. Bradford doesn't let the ball drop once and more than carries his weight. It's another one of those rare great child performances. Jeroen Krabbé plays Aaron's (Bradford) father who is a struggling traveling salesman. Lisa Eichhorn plays his mentally unstable mother who goes in and out of various institutions. Rounding out the cast of the interesting people that fill Aaron's life are Karen Allen as the warm and understanding school teacher, Cameron Boyd his younger brother, Adrien Brody as the "cool" big brother figure, John McConnell as the fat and troublesome patrol cop, Elizabeth McGovern as a prostitute working in the same hotel Aaron lives at, and Spalding Gray as her creepy, manipulative, and suicidal pimp. So yes the film is filled to the brim with worth while supporting players adding so much depth and dimension to Aaron's world.
Soderbergh had double duty as writer and director. He scripted the novel by A.E. Hotchner and I think it's his best film. As I mentioned it takes place during the Great Depression in St. Louis Missouri. Watching Aaron fight for survival is one of the best charms of the film. It's done realistically. The audience is able to believe his methods. There's a nice mix of drama, dark somber humor and dire situations, but there's also enough humanity and hope in the movie to send an uplifting message. For those who enjoy Andy Dufresne's message of hope and persaverence in the more widely known The Shawshank Redemption, seek out this film. I would argue it's even superior to Frank Darabont's movie. It's one of the great and underrated modern films and ranks with the best using the Great Depression setting. Sadly King of the Hill isn't released yet on DVD and it's not very likely that you'll be able to find it at your local video store. Especially if all you have is the local communist Blockbuster near you. Anyway, King of the Hill should be regarded and known far more highly than what it is. It's a sin for a movie this great to not get its due.
Paris, Texas (1984)
A tale of redemption
Paris Texas is a slow, moody, and delicate study about a man who once ran away from everything and now is coming to terms with himself and learning to forgive himself, by finally facing he people he turned his back on. The Wim Wenders directed movie still today rests in a fairly under recognized status, which doesn't stretch the term "cult classic" when applied to it. Paris, Texas is about redemption, the road, family, and the bleakness of the American Southwest. It contains one of the most memorable and unusual openings ever. We hear Ry Cooder's lonely single note twangy guitar on the soundtrack with cinematographer Robby Müller (Barfly, To Live and Die in L.A. , Dead Man) capturing the majestic vistas, rock formations, and the open desert in his camera. Actor Harry Dean Stanton walks out of the dry and desolate landscape, wearing a wornout black sports jacket and dusty red baseball cap. It's a beautifully staged opening sequence. A perfect start to a perfect movie. This man is lost and in need of being found. It's his brother played by actor Dean Stockwell ("Quantum Leap", Blue Velvet) who gets word of Stanton's whereabouts and goes after him, which begins the journey of redemption. Nastassja Kinski plays Stanton's young x-wife and the true love of his life. Kinski, the daughter of legendary German actor Klaus Kinski, doesn't make her entrance into the film until the later reels, but her lingering presence is felt throughout. It's almost the same type of thing that Coppola did by not having Brando appear in Apocalypse Now until the conclusion. The scenes that Kinski does have in the end with Stanton are some of the best moments ever captured on film. They're highly emotional and will cause even the most hard-hearted to shed a tear. Both Stanton and Kinski are very subtle and understated in their acting. It's true to their characters. Eight year old Hunter Carson plays Stanton's biological son, who was raised by his uncle (Stockwell). Carson certainly deserves mention in any conversation about great child performances on film. Paris, Texas is a masterpiece. There's no way around it. It's a movie that slowly reveals itself putting the audience right in the shoes of Stanton, who also is trying to remember his past and face it. The story was penned by playwright and actor Sam Shepard, though he doesn't appear in the film. Shepard, a very good playwright, has outdone himself with Paris, Texas surpassing his perhaps more well known, True West. Paris, Texas is a film that must not only be seen, but experienced. Sure the pacing is extremely slow, but as an audience member, use that to your advantage to suck in the picturesque orange southwest desert against the deep blue skys, and the poignant acting, and haunting soundtrack. There's no reason not to treat yourself to this uniquely American masterpiece meditation. It would make a great nightcap for a triple feature with two other simular themed American films, The Searchers and Taxi Driver.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
A rare gem of a movie
Sophia Coppola's feature film debut in the director's chair is a unique accomplishment. The movie is extremely stylized both in look and subject matter. It follows the lives of several young sisters coming of age and a group of neighborhood boys who become fascinated with the enigmatic and youthful beauties living next door. The movie takes place in the 1970's and it's obvious a labor of love for Sophia Coppola as she paints the film along with Edward Lachman's gorgeous cinematography as a sort of dreamscape walk through a distant memory. It's an enchanting and surreal vision of the moment in time, which these sisters and their infatuated neighbor boys grew up in. Kirsten Dunst is remarkable playing one of the Lisbon sisters, who is the only of the bunch who dares to defy their wicked mother played by Kathleen Turner. Turner is good as the ridiculously strict mother who wants to keep her girls locked away and virginal for seemingly an eternity. James Woods plays the well to do hen-pecked father, who also happens to teach. Teaching is his only means of communicating. In any real conversation or situation he is extremely awkward and uncomfortable, as he is when trying to side with Josh Hartnett when he pleads his case to court Dunst. Woods is a highly versatile actor and shows how good he can be outside of his typecast tough guy roles. The Virgin Suicides showcases him at the top of his game. Oh and of course, the suicides. And this is where the movie does an excellent job. It shows the traumatic day-to-day struggles of what it might be like to be a teenage girl when your emotions and hormones are firing on all cylinders and each day is a monumental struggle just to keep your sanity. Kirsten Dunst is a revelation in her role as Lux Lisbon and recaptures the brilliance she showed at an early age in Interview With the Vampire. Dunst is a true combination of talent, instinct, and beauty. The surreal film is done with so much style and grace that it's breathtaking. It's beautiful movie to look at and has a way of speaking to the audience through the hazy mind state of dreams and memories as few films can.
One of cinema's most under-appreciated
Jean Seberg is absolutely captivating in this film. Yes despite the wig she wears, due to the fact her hair was cropped short for her previous films, she is as lovely as ever. One of my favorite films of all time and certainly the best one that deals with insanity in and honest and true way, not only avoiding the cliché' but completely reversing it and debunking the stereotype. Robert Rossen is a great director, one of history's most under-appreciated and few others could helm this story the way he does. Based on the novel by J.R. Salamanca, the story is of a young war vetern who returns home and seeks a job at the local mental institute. There he gets too involved with several of the patients and learns much about their past, which reflects the tragedy in his own life involving his mother.
It's true Warren Beatty does play the role blandly and stiff. While that's a turn off for many people watching the film, I think they fail to understand that just like Ryan O'Neil in Barry Lyndon, it's the character they're playing. Not the actor and certainly not the direction. Wonderful supporting cast from Kim Hunter and Peter Fonda as well as a brilliant cameo by Gene Hackman, which oozes of a marriage gone sour in his bit part.
It's a very hard film to figure out because so much is left untold and rightfully so leaving the audience to decide what happened. Playing on the fable of the past coming back to haunt us it plays deeply on buried memories and traumatic life experiences that were covered up rather than confronted. There is so much positive to say about this amazing film, but even so it's actress Jean Seberg that is the crown jewell in this picture. Criminally underseen, now that it is on DVD anyone interested in deep character studies should make it a point to watch this ASAP.
Forget the silly remake and the fact it was made into a real sport. This is a good movie.
Sadly when people hear the word Rollerball, there may be a stigma attached to it. Reasons may either be the association with the awful movie released several years ago and the silly stuff on TNN. However before it was a lame attempt at being a "hip" and "cool" LL Cool J movie and before it was the second favorite sport of rednecks nation wide, behind Nascar of course, it was a darn good film from 1975. James Caan stars in Rollerball and if you can forget the silly remake and the fact that audiences completely missed the message and that the thing was adapted into a real "sport" then you're in for a treat. This another one of those movies that dabble in the future with a utopian or dystopia (depending on your view) world. The setting is 2018 and big cooperations have taken over the world and left countries and nations a thing of the past. There's no violence or war, but there is rollerball.
Rollerball is a brutal sport where almost anything goes and the players are expendable, but it does draw huge crowds. Jonathan E. a 10-year veteran of the sport, rises above the norm and becomes an icon, bigger than the game itself. The cooperations don't want the individual player to be the important thing nor to advance into upper "executive" social class, so they scheme to get him to retire. Rollerball doesn't pull any punches. James Caan is great as the weathered veteran. The action sequences are tight and thrilling and the set pieces and futuristic designs still look fresh today.
It's not only a fun action movie, but it does have a message warning against violence in sports and the danger of commercializing them. Unfortunately it's all too clear that the message of the film was all but ignored. A real sport came of it, companies are paying millions for a few seconds of time during the Superbowl, the commercials are as important as the game, and championship boxing fights can only be seen on payperview. Yeah this movie wasn't far off.
Eastwood proves he's one of America's best directors. Simply brilliant.
A dark and atmospheric biopic on jazz legend Charlie Parker, who with his fast improvisational style formed the sub-genre of bebop. Clint Eastwood directed this movie with a heart and passion that reflects back to his own love of the music which he has carried with him all his life and played a role in all his work. Eastwood himself actually was fortunate to have seen Charlie "Bird" Parker play in when he was alive. The film chronicles his life and has a tight focus on his self destructive behavior and the music itself. Bird explores the highs and lows of his journey. Playing to a sold out house in Paris, playing alongside Dizzy Gillespie, and earning a respect that few other musicians have matched. In contrast we see his heroine addiction, his suffering and depression resulting in several suicide attempts, the death of his daughter, and his wife's loving struggle to help save a man who's ill-fate was inevitable and irreversible.
Forest Whitaker plays Bird with a lot of heart and soul. Even though I have no idea if it was an accurate portrayal in capturing the man's nuances, Whitaker's interpretation was superlative. Equally as good was Diane Venora as Bird's wife, who found enough strength for the both of them and tried to hold the family together in an un-winnable battle. There's lots of rain, lots of dark nightclubs, lots of street lamps reflecting the soaked streets, and lots of feeling in this one. Having just watched another biopic, that one on Ray Charles, it's clear to see Eastwood's was the real deal, whereas Ray was merely decent.
Bonjour tristesse (1958)
Jean Seberg weaves her magical charm on the viewer like none other.
Jean Seberg is an absolute joy. I just wanna give her a big fat hug and kiss... well that's just two things anyway. What makes Otto Preminger's film so wonderful is that Seberg is the right age to play the part of a spoiled rich girl coming of age. Also the film is given an authenticity and heart because it was written by Françoise Sagan when she was the same age as Cecile (Seberg). That's right, this amazing and brilliant work was penned by a 17-year old.
The plot is fairly standard. A young girl living with her playboy father becomes jealous of his new love and when marriage is proposed she does her best to break it up. Gee nothing remarkable there. What is remarkable is the characters and their relationships. They have an extra amount of depth and the situation between Cecile and her father, Raymond (David Niven) borders on the incestuous. This gives it an added dimension and depth when Anne (Deborah Kerr) threatens to "steal" her father away. Another place where it avoids clichés is dealing with Anne. Kerr plays her magnificently and with a warm passion. She is not the wicked step mother here, but a sympathetic and self sacrificing woman who wants to bring love and stability into Cecile and Raymond's morally ambiguous and flighty lifestyle. This film while a modest success in America was a huge hit in Europe and inspired Jean-Luc Godard to work with Seberg.
Bonjour Tristesse also foreshadowed the films dealing with the idle rich that quickly popped up in its wake including two masterpieces, Antonioni's L'avventura and Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Preminger directs Bonjour Tristesse with a sure hand and I love how the flashbacks are in color and the present day scenes are in a somber black and white to fit with the mood. Oh and yes the story is told in flashback for the most part and the technique along with Seberg's narration gives a heightened sense of loss that Cecile and Raymond feel towards the events that transpired concerning Anne. Remarkable film and Seberg is so delightful and hot running around in her bathing suit practically the whole time.
The Horse Whisperer (1998)
Robert Redford whispers to horses. For about three hours he whispers to them, which really isn't so much whispering as it is looking them in the eye like he's trying to seduce and bed them down. It's a silly plot about a horse healer or some such thing and a mother and a child who moved from New York to Montana to see him. The child (Scarlett Johansson) and the mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) are facing a difficult time. Johansson was in an accident during a horse riding adventure and hit by a semitruck. Johansson ends up losing her leg, while the horse losses its sanity and has an apparent mental breakdown. Yeah that's right. It's a movie about a horse with mental problems. About that and the "deeper" meaning of a mother reconciling with her daughter. Yay! Luckily Robert Redford who plays the down home, living the simple life on a ranch guro comes to their rescue after they seek him out.
The movie has some great scenery and photography but so do all them commercials that advertise that you should go to Montana on vacation. Lots of mountains, grass, and cloudy sky seen time and time again with panoramic shots let us know what a great place Montana truly is. As I write this now, I'm tempted to say to hell with all this technology rubbish, toss out the computer and head out to Montana to find myself by working on a ranch, talking to disturbed horses, riding in slow motion on the prairie, and shoveling horse s**t, not worry about getting too smelly cause I can always go bathe in the crystal clear steam which conveniently runs through the backyard which happens to consist of about 1,000,000 acres. Yes the city and even the rural areas are great. But living in a town you can't shovel horse s**t or talk to them.
The Horse Whisperer is 3 hours long but it really should only be about 80 minutes. Since much of the movie is landscape shots, horses running around in slow motion, and just about everything else in slow motion... I figure there's only about a little more than an hours worth of actual movie. It reminded me of another Redford film, A River Runs Through It, but unlike that movie this one really doesn't have a set course. And naturally we have a love story. Robert Redford is in this thing ya know. Kristen Scott Thomas falls in love with him even though she's married to Sam Neill's character. You remember Sam Neill right? He's that actor doomed to the Jurassic Park franchise, three equally as boring films. The Horse Whisperer manages to be about the most melodramatic and soap operaish thing you've ever seen and does so without any "Quite frankly my dear" scenes. Instead it follows the pathetic formula of the worst lifetime movie falling in love story. We get the looks across the room, we get the slow dance set to a sad country music song, just about anything that applies to the word "sappy." So I don't know what's worse the horse story, the little girl/mother story or the married woman falling in love with Robert Redford story. Pick any of em' and they're equally clichéd to hell. This is one movie that just goes on, and on, and on and nothing really moves forward. Just lots of uninteresting sentimentality, slow motion, closeups, and mountains. I'd rather shovel horse s**t. That'd be less boring.
Grade: D -
Decent, but certainly has its flaws
Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles in this biopic and along with Collateral, it's his one-two punch, knocking his way into dramatic roles. With Ray, since he worked with the man himself it's difficult to determine whether he's creating something here or doing an excellent job of interpreting. And that's really the age old question of acting, is it a creative art or an interpretive art. If it's in interpretive then Foxx does a good job playing the man, because he mimics his voice, pronunciations, movements, and mannerisms down to a T. It doesn't hurt much either that when wearing a pair of sunglasses he looks exactly like him to. Surely he'll get an Oscar nomination out of this one and the film might to. It can be argue that he should get one, but not that the film should get one.
The movie has its ups and downs, but feels too rushed and gives an equal amount of attention to the 17 year span it covers from 1948-1965. Meaning there are certain things that could have been given more focus (the music itself) and there are other things that were given too much (the soap opera, connect the dots, marriage and affair, juggling the two women). One thing I do like is how the film showed his foray into heroine as a gradual thing taking place throughout most of the film instead of having a big dramatic revelation that he's been doing it all along, but only now are we shown it. I also appreciate the old time film transitions such as the closing and opening of the iris. It's a decent film, but it's not what a movie about Ray Charles should be. It's more like a conventional drawn out VH1 behind the music episode than it is about the music and the man themselves.
There were too many things going on at once and much of the film was unfortunately dedicated to the business side of his career going from one record company to another. Perhaps the worst thing about the movie was that his blindness was everybit as much of a character as he was. The fact Ray Charles was blind is the backbone of the entire film and everything completely revolves around that condition of his. Ray could be used more appropriately as a source of motivation for blind people than it can be used as a good example of a biopic. Ray should tell the story of a great musician who happened to be blind instead of a story of a blind man who became a great musician. Leaving the film I can't hardly tell you any more about the man's music and how he changed that world than before I went into it. Grade: B-
Scorsese and Paul Schrader have a real passion.
Of the four movies about Jesus that I've seen, Nic Ray's King of Kings, George Steven's The Greatest Story Ever Told, and that Mel Gibson thing -- this is easily the best one. Instead of just cataloging the event's of Jesus' life, while it does do that, it also gets down to the psychological aspects of Jesus. It's not truly a Jesus film in the sense that it follows the Bible as it is based on the Nikos Kazantzakis novel and adapted by Paul Schrader. Yet even so it stays close to the subject as told by the Bible with extra attention given the emotional burden and terror of a man forced to carry the weight of the worlds sins. Amazing film, which I think anyone who considers themselves religious should be absolutely required to see. A different viewpoint and it did stir up quite the controversy, but it's the ultimate homage to the Christian religion because it gives a meaning to the sacrifice and shows how horrible it must have been to suffer. Do watch Scorsese's film, but don't even bother with that Mel Gibson pornography.
October Sky (1999)
He wanted to go into space, I wanted to leave the theater.
Come see Jake Gyllenhaal, before he hit his stride as cult hero wonderboy in Donnie Darko and boyfriend of Kirsten Dunst! *Sigh* What this one boils down to is Rudy with bottle rockets. More worn out and silly motivation garbage preaching how your dreams can come true it you work really hard enough, believe, and maybe even tap your heels together in your ruby slippers and say... whatever. He's meant to be coal miner like his pa played by Chris Cooper. "I wanna go into space!" This is really paint-by-numbers inspirational after school special material. A few decent performances but they ain't given much to work with.
Southern Comfort (1981)
Wow this is one hell of a movie. Not to be missed. Although certainly an unknown gem, dont let that turn you off as this has some of the creepiest cajuns ever captured on film. Its like a cross between Rambo, Delieverance and the Predator except it takes the best eliments from all three films and combines them into one until the gruesome and brutal conclusion.