Thursday, December 31, 2009

All About Eve (1950)

Here we are kids, All About Eve, possibly the greatest movie ever made with one of the greatest scripts ever written, and containing one of the greatest performances ever. That's a lot of "greatest"s.

Bette Davis plays Margot Channing, a stage star that is rapidly approaching the age in which actress are put out to pasture. It doesn't help that she has a younger lover Bill (Gary Merril, who would become the 4th Mr. Davis). She also has her best friend Karen, whose husband writes a great deal of Margo's plays, one of which is beginning to go into rehearsals with Margo as the lead.

Enter Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a young fan of Margo who watches performance after performance. One night, after seeing her standing in the rain, Karen takes her to see Margo and Margo takes pity on her, eventually hiring her as a personal assistant. But it becomes obvious that Eve isn't the poor downtrodden creature that she pretends to be, and she's nosing her way into Margo's inner circle to steal the limelight away from the aging actress, eventually making a deal with the devil by siding with acid tongued theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders).

The real star of the film is Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's brilliant script. It crackles with wit and intelligence. It's not natural human speech at all, but it's so smart and such a joy to watch and the actors do such a great job with it that it becomes one of the defining and best characteristics of the film.

Needless to say, the performances are all brilliant. Bette Davis essentially plays herself and allows to show the insecurities of an aging woman of the stage, offering depth, warmth and humor to the role. Anne Baxter is cold, calculating and ruthless as Eve, and Celeste Holm is warm, caring and slightly naive in the role of Karen. Also, George Sanders is brilliant in his Oscar winning performance of the witty and snide Addison DeWitt.

The film really is one of the finest ever crafted, the acting and writing is pitch perfect and the story is one of the best looks at the pressures of someone in show business, the pressure to stay young, to continue playing teenagers on stage when you're almost 40 year old. It's a wonderful movie, one that should be watched by anyone who enjoys classic films, because it's easily one of the best.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

C Me Dance (2009)

I'm going to hell for this one, children.

Yes, it's C Me Dance, which is quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. The trailer was brought to my attention by the magic that is THE INTERNET and it was just recently released on DVD, which resulted in my brother getting it via Netflix.

The film is a poorly acted, poorly written, and overly preachy Christian film that eventually turns itself into a joke and loses any real message it may have been able to depart.

The film follows Sheri, a young girl who loves ballet and stilted dialogue. She lives with her father (Greg Robbins) after her mother was killed in a incident that rips off the movie Duel. Greg Robbins is a bit of an auteur in the Christian film world. He wrote and directed this film, and has had his hand in several other productions including Pastor Greg, the first Christian Sitcom which is preview when you first put the disc in your DVD player. It's visual AIDS. One day, while dancing Sheri falls and is rushed to the hospital where she discovers that she has leukemia that is so advanced that treatment will do absolutely nothing. Despite being able to do everything she could have done before her diagnosis, Sheri is doomed to die.

But, fortunately for her and THE WORLD, God has decided to grant her with telepathy and the ability to turn someone into a Christian by simply touching them. This, of course, as the movie states "ticks off the Devil" so he appears in the form of an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike wearing a black trenchcoat. Right off the bat, we're told that the Devil can't hurt anyone, so any delusions that this film has of being a thriller are completely shattered. Of course, Sheri starts turning people towards God, the world becomes a better place because everyone is a Christian and then Sheri dees on Christmas Morning.

The film really does suck, the acting is so stilted that every single line feels written. There's not an iota of naturalness in this film. And Greg Robbins really had no business in making films, he can't write and her certainly can't act. Plus, the film becomes a joke of its own making. I mean, isn't the idea of faith that we're supposed to come to our own conclusions as opposed to being bewitched into Christianity? And later in the film, when Sheri and her father are trying to do a nationwide broadcast so that Sheri can convert the masses, she simply has to touch the Network Exec. and they'll do whatever she wants. Plus, we're treated to a ridiculous scene in which the effect of Sheri's converting people is shown in various newspapers "Murder and Rape are down such-and-such percent!" one person exclaims. We're also told that the owner of a Porno shop is closing his business because of its sinful nature and devoting money to families that have been destroyed by porn. Also, the next three films up for released have been shelved forever because they go against family values. It's ridiculous. Apparently every issue in the world will be solved if everyone were a Christian.

I know I said I would do Christmas in Connecticut but this film was so awful (in an awesome kind of way, I laughed quite a lot), that I figured I would share it with you. My day-late Christmas present to my wonderful readers (all three of you).

Here's the trailer, which will give you a taste of it's awesomeness.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

I suppose this could be seen as a Christmas movie, since Christmas does occur during the film and it's all snowy and whatnot. But it has Bette Davis, so it doesn't really matter.

Anyway, the film stars Monty Wooley as Sheridan Whiteside a famous critic well-known for his wit and acid-tongued comments. When Sheridan is visiting The Stanleys, a well-to-do Ohio family, he trips on the stairs and hurts himself, and the doctor orders him to rest. Under threat of lawsuit, the Stanleys take him in and he takes over the household. Bette Davis co-stars as Maggie Cutler, Sheridan's secretary who begins a romance with a local writer.

The film is good for three reasons. Monty Wooley, who reprises his role from the Broadway play and delights in delivering the horrible snide and wicked insults that his character spews. The script, which provides him with the necessarily amount of venom with which to spew, and for Bette Davis who delivers a rare comedic performance. Granted, as I said in The Bride Came C.O.D. Bette Davis has the great quality of being able to play comedy straight, which works here as she allows Monty Wooley to cram in as many barbs as he can while she remains unflappable and devoted.

The film has a strong cast with excellent supporting performances, particularly Ann Sheridan as an actress friend of Sheridan's and Billie Burke playing a role almost identical to her role in Dinner at Eight, playing an overworked and anxious housewife.

This is a fun movie that revels in wit and nastyness (which may be off putting for some), but for others it can serve as a dash of spice to any sort of Christmas movie marathon, cutting through the treacle that is usually found during the holiday.

Up next, I'll most likely talk about Christmas in Connecticut. Alright, kids? Behave yourselves now.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sleuth (1972)

Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine play romantic rivals who engage in a dangerous game of wits in this Stage-to-Screen classic.

Laurence Olivier is Andrew Wyke, a wealthy mystery novelist who enjoys games and puzzles, so much so that his house is almost like an amusement park ride. Michael Caine is Milo Tindle, the hairdresser who is having an affair with Andrew's wife. Andrew invites Milo to his mansion one day, hoping to help in providing his wife with a comfortable life once she leaves him for Milo. What results is a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse where each man tries to out do the other.

One of the main successes in the film is the brilliant performances by the two leads. Laurence Olivier is wonderfully witty in the role of the snobby writer who believes that his intelligence and wit are much superior to the lower class Milo. And Michael Caine is equally good as a man who's struggled his whole life and is using his school of hard knocks education to one-up the wealthy Andrew.

The script crackles with wit, offering up zinger after zinger as the rivals attempt to cut eachother down, adding a touch of class-ism with Andrew's view of Milo. Considering that the film largely takes place within Andrew's estate, it's a challenge to keep the viewer interest, but director Joseph L. Mankiewicz keeps the set cluttered with Andrew's possessions so that there is always something to look at, even though the acting ensures that you shouldn't be bored.

It's a great film to see, with two wonderful performances with an equally great script.

And I'm sorry for neglecting you readers, I'll try to be better.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Addams Family Values (1993)

Finals are almost over and a childhood favorite is revisited (Thanks Wal-Mart for finally getting it).

Ok, before you scoff, Addams Family Values is actually a good movie. It's not a Spice World-like guilty pleasure, it's sincerely a good film.

The film doesn't have much of a plot, though. Morticia (Angelica Huston) and Gomez (Raul Julia) have recently added Baby Pubert to the Addams clan. Of course, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Kid I've never heard of and never have since) attempt to kill the little thing until their parents hire Nanny Debby (Joan Cusack) who is really a black widow killer out to get Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd)'s vast fortune.

The film has to tread the line between camp and being serious enough to where the film doesn't come across as self-aware smugness, and for the most part it works, in part because of the casting. Let's get this out of the way, Christina Ricci is awesome beyond belief in this movie. It would have been so easy for a child actor to attempt to turn Wednesday's deadpan delivery into something overly sassy, but Ricci nails it by actually acting (just watch her performances in the play within the film to see how different she makes the two Wednesdays). Also, Joan Cusack is a wonderful addition to the film as the crazed murderess, making line after line hilarious and quotable. Her monologue at the end of the film about killing her previous husbands is brilliant (Just watch the many copycats on Youtube to gain an appreciation for the great Miss Cusack). The rest of the cast is great as well, but Ricci and Cusack OWN the film.

The script is great as well, offering great line after great macabre line. Sometimes it can be a bit too much, but overall the script is smarter than you would expect.

I know I've seen the first film, but I don't remember much of it and I've heard a lot of people say that this film is far superior, so I would definitely recommend this. I know it's not like the usual fare for this blog, but it's just such a fun film.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cabaret (1972)

Here it is, the musical classic Cabaret. It's actually pretty depressing, and a bit light on the whole "musical" aspect.

Anyway, the film stars Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, the daughter of a U.S. ambassador who sings at the Kit Kat Club in Berlin. The Kit Kat Club is a place of "divine decadence", where ladies and "ladies" wrestle in the mud or sing songs about threesomes. All of these wild acts are overseen by the creepy Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey), a little man with painted on cheeks who looks like a marionette. Anyway, Sally meets British writer Brian Roberts (Michael York), who may or may not be gay, and establishes a relationship with him, talking about her relationship with her father as well as her aspirations to becoming a big star. While all of this is going on, the Nazis are gaining power and the political environment is becoming darker and more hostile. It's also interesting to point out that Bob Fosse doesn't make every musical number turn into some sort of cotton candy colored gay fantasia that seems to exist on a limitless stage, instead the costumes are pretty cheap and we see the entire size of the stage, which serves to remind us that the numbers take place in a sleazy little club, that this isn't a happy, magical place.

Being a musical, this film is pretty light on actual musical numbers, there are only a handful of songs, and they're all performed in the context of the Kit Kat Club. Which is one of the main themes of the movie, using the acts of the Kit Kat Club to juxtapose the violence occurring outside its walls. While a Jewish girl is being harrassed, we see the M.C. in drag goosestepping around the stage, mocking the Nazis, or he's singing a ballad about his love for a gorilla, asking the audience to accept their love because no one can choose the direction of their own heart. This theme adds a lot of very sudden, very random shots inserting themselves in the film. You may see a man being beaten to death with a quick flash to girls dancing in the Kit Kat Club, or to the M.C.'s grinning face. For some, I can imagine that it can be very off-putting.

Now, for the performances. Liza Minnelli totally knocks it out of the park as Sally, offering the performance of a lifetime. Sally is a insecure young woman who wraps herself in grand gestures and this overblown mythology about her sex appeal, her ability to shock people, and her own quirkiness. You can see just how deliberate this act is when Sally drops the facade, gone is the campiness, instead leaving a vulnerable woman with dreams that she knows will probably never come true.

Joel Grey (who won the Oscar as well as Minnelli) is brilliant as the M.C. He displays such twisted, impish delight at the ongoings at the club, and the fact that we never see him outside the Kit Kat Club (let alone outside a stage performances) just adds to the mystery and oddness of his character, since we have no idea who or what the hell he is.

This film holds the records for most Oscars ever won without an actual Best Picture win (it won eight), and it's truly deserved. Bob Fosse has crafted a masterpiece that is entertaining, but sad and shocking as we learn that the Kit Kat Club may be the only place in Berlin were people can be truly free, and even that may be coming to an end.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gaslight (1944)

Ingrid Bergman shines in this well-made, albeit predictable thriller.

Ingrid Bergman is Paula Alquist, the niece of the famous singer and actress Alice Alquist. When Alice is strangled one night, Paula goes to live with her aunt's closest friend to study singing, there she falls for Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a pianist, and they wed. But it becomes apparent that her marriage is not what it seems as Gregory attempts to drive his wife insane.

Now, I know that may seem a bit like a spoiler, but to be honest, the film essentially tells you the eventual twist that Gregory is evil right off the bat, so I didn't really find myself thinking "Maybe Paula really is crazy, maybe it's all in her head".

But aside from that small flaw, the film is really good. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her performance, and it was well deserved. Paula is a genuinely sweet person, and its painful to watch her slowly lose her grip on reality as Gregory repeatedly tells her false stories about how she keeps losing things, or how she takes things and then hides them. Watching her doubt her sanity is heartbreaking since Bergman makes Paula's desperation palpable, and once the seed has been blossomed in her mind about her madness, she becomes a shell of her former self, her eyes glazed over and her movements slow and weary.

Charles Boyer also offers some fine work here (and was nominated for an Oscar for it). Whereas Paula begins doubting her self, Gregory becomes more and more assured, his wife's madness becoming a topic he returns to over and over. Also, we see small glimpses of his anger beneath his facade of a caring husband, moments where we see the true Gregory, a violent and rough man, far from the dignified gentleman he pretends to be. He plays the role with such conviction that had the film not spoiled itself, he really would have cast a doubt on Paula's sanity.

We also get Angela Lansbury's first film performance ever as Nancy, the rude housemaid. It's an interesting (and Oscar-nominated) performance, because Nancy seems so heartily disinterested in what's going on. She would much rather go out and flirt with the policeman on his beat, than listen to Paula talk about her sanity.

Overall, the film is really good. It's moderately suspenseful, and Ingrid Bergman really does deliver an absolutely fantastic performance full of desperation that begs to be seen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Lie (1941)

Here we have one of Bette Davis' lesser known films, which happens to be one of her better films.

Anyway, Bette Davis is Maggie, a young woman living on the plantation full of obedient Negroes. Her former flame Peter (George Brent), has just married concert pianist Sandra (Mary Astor) only to find out that their marriage is legally void. Of course, the only reason these kinds of things happen in old movies is to have poor Sandra knocked up with Peter's baby, and unfortunately for her Peter has returned to Maggie and married her. And unfortunately for both women, Peter's plane disappears over Brazil and he is presumed to be dead (but we know better, right?). So Maggie and Sandra, who have been rivals, come to a truce and Maggie hopes to care for Sandra during her shameful, sinful pregnancy. This leads to a great scene where both women are in a cabin out in Arizona and Sandra basically goes insane.

Anyway, the baby is born, Peter returns from the dead and Maggie claims the baby is hers, an arrangement with which Sandra has no objections. Or does she? Tune in to find out!

The film is an above average soap, and what really makes it memorable is the performances by the two leading ladies (who actually re-wrote the script together). Bette Davis is in the most least Bette Davis-y role you can expect, as the southern good girl aiding the woman pregnant with her husband's child. But she pulls it off with genuine kindness and sympathy.

Mary Astor, however, steals the show as the vain, arrogant, and catty pianist who find herself stuck in a situation that she loathes. She has lost her man, but doomed to carry his child, and Astor gives an Oscar-winning performances full of bitterness and bile.

Luckily, the film never really switches the focus from either of the two women, so it's able to maintain your attention throughout.

It's a nice little film that doesn't really get a whole lot of attention (well, besides an Oscar), and it's also a good show of Bette Davis' range, that she could convincingly play the good girl of the movie. So, I suggest you watch it, especially if you're a Bette Davis or Mary Astor fan.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine deliver some incredibly performances in this Best Picture winner.

Jack Lemmon is C.C. Baxter (though, most people call him Buddy Boy), a everyday Joe who works for an insurance company. But C.C. has discovered a way to get on the good side of his superiors, by allowing them to use his apartment for their torrid affairs. But when his boss Mr. Sheldrake's affair with elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who C.C. has had a crush on for a while, ends badly and leaves the poor girl shattered, C.C. tries to help her and falls in love along the way.

The film was written and directed by Billy Wilder, easily one of the greatest people to ever get into film (He's responsible for Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and Some Like it Hot, for starters), and it shows. The film has a sharpness and a humanity about it that you typically find in a lot of Wilder's work. It also expertly balance the light and the dark, the film can take some heavy turns, but there's always a moment of humor or sincerity to break up the gloom.

The acting here is phenomenal. Jack Lemmon is wonderful as a frazzled everyman who places his own career advancement above his personal life and comfort. He has a lot of frantic mannerisms, but the performance has a lot of nuance to it, watching his heart break when he finds out about the affair between Fran and his boss, and observing him slowly fall in love with the poor elevator girl. He's just a decent guy, and Lemmon avoids adding any real darkness to the role, just a sense of puppydog sadness and weariness.

MacLaine is also wonderful. Fran is a romantic young woman who puts up a facade of humor and quirkiness to hide a lot of pain and remorse over her past romances that haven't ended all too well (she keeps a broken pocket mirror stating it "Makes me look the way I feel"). The role could have easily gone into far too much woe-is-me nonsense, but MacLaine keeps a humorous edge to a lot of what Fran says, even when she's allowing herself to be hurt and vulnerable.

Fred MacMurray is good here as well, playing a total slimeball, who uses the same ploys to land woman after woman, convincing each one that he's in love with them and on the verge of leaving his wife. It's amazing to see the sudden warmth and caring develop when he's turning on the charm, knowing that he's essentially a jerk trying to get what he wants.

The film is a very human story, showcasing two wounded, damaged people who slowly begins to heal themselves by their growing friendship and romance. We see C.C. change from a doormat to a more assertive man, who doesn't allow those to simply boss him around, and we see Fran begin to shift from being satisfied with being "the other woman" to realizing that she deserves someone better.

It's a wonderful film, regarded as one of the best ever, and I can't really disagree with that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

It's a husband-stealing whodunit that features moment of poignancy and insight.

The film (which was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who would win back to back writing and directing Oscars for this film and All About Eve the following year) tells the story of three friends, Deborah (Jeanne Craine), Rita (Ann Sothern), and Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) who are about to take a group of children on a riverboat trip when they receive a letter, informing them that that Addie Ross, a mutual friend/enemy has run off with one of their husbands.

The film then offers flashbacks that give us some insight into the marriage of all three women and the issues that could possibly propel their husbands into the arms of another woman. When it comes to Deborah, a sheltered farmgirl who married her social superior and feels out of place at the fancy outings and parties that her husband loves. Rita writes stories for the radio, which causes friction between her husband since she makes a substantial portion of the family's income and focuses more on the radio station's needs than her husbands. And Lora Mae is married to an older, wealthy man she forced into marriage.

One aspect in which the film works is that neither marriage is shown to be truly broken, in fact, we pretty much get the pros and cons of all the relationships in these little vignettes. While the men all have issues that may drive them away from their wives, they're also shown to love their female partners and be supportive of them. So it adds a great deal of suspense as to who has run off with the never-seen Addie, since it's not really obvious.

The three lead actresses all turn in great performances, with each wife creating a distinct personality and effectively conveying doubt and worry while agonizing over their potentially dead marriage. And the writing is sharp and smart, never bogging itself down in the cliches that could easily arise from the story, which is no surprise since the script was penned by someone who would go on to write what could be considered the greatest screenplay ever written.

This is a wonderful little film that doesn't really get much attention, so do yourself a favor and watch it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

The brilliant Barbara Stanwyck elevates this pretty average thriller into something actually worth watching.

Alright, y'all, here it is, Sorry, Wrong Number. It stars Barbara Stanwyck (obviously) as Leona Stevenson, the invalid wife of Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster). One night, Leona is all alone, her husband is late so Leona tries to find out where he is. Her only means of communication is the telephone, so while waiting for her call to be connected to her husband's office, the wires are crossed and she overhears two men planning the murder of a woman. As the film progresses, we learn that Leona doesn't know quite as much about Henry as she thought, and that the murder being planned may be her own.

Now, that doesn't sound too bad, right? Well it's not, but the main problem with the film arises out of its narrative structure. You see, a great deal of the film consists of flashbacks, as Leona calls person after person hoping to find her husband and we get scenes of what someone observed about Henry the previous day or something like that. Also, we get the story of how Leona and Henry met, as well as the current state of their marriage. We learn that Leona stole Henry from a woman who loved him, and that Leona is a spoiled heiress to her father's prescription drug fortune, we also learn that Henry is frustrated with Leona, having to keep her happy to avoid upsetting her condition, which consists of a heart attack during times of stress.

The flashbacks are a nice way to flesh out the backstory of the film, but it takes away from the suspense, especially since most of the flashbacks concern themselves with the condition of the Stevenson marriage as opposed to the murder plot that Leona overhears, which seemed to be a higher storytelling priority, at least to me.

Luckily, we have Barbara Stanwyck in the lead. She delivers a wonderful performances, making Leona horrible and spoiled in the flashbacks, but adding levels of vulnerability and sorrow during the present, where the life she had constructed for herself falls down around her. She makes the character paranoia and fear totally real, which makes it easy to relate to her and to care about whether or not she survives the film.

Aside from that, the film is a solid thriller with a big hiccup in the story telling department due to the overabuse of flashbacks. But it features one of Barbara Stanwyck's best (and Oscar nominated) performances, which makes it watching simply for that.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Dark Knight (2008)

That's right readers, I'm tackling a new movie, and a giant, huge, money-making blockbuster at that (I have to do something to please the kids, right?).

Anyway, here we have The Dark Knight, the massive hit from last summer, featuring the last completed performance by Heath Ledger, for which he earned his only Oscar.

The film follows Batman/Bruce Wayne as he deals with the higher-ups of the crime world, who are now being led by a mysterious figure known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). He's also dealing with his former flame Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal)'s new relationship with crusading DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

The plot is easily one of the weakest aspects of the movie. Not because it's poorly constructed, but because the overall plot of The Joker is so convoluted, requiring him to have almost-psychic level powers to accomplish what he wants. Now, I know he's supposed to be a master planner, but he performs some actions that would have completely nullified his future plans if Batman hadn't intervened at exactly the right moment. At the time you're watching, this doesn't present itself as an issue, but upon 2 rewatches, you begin to question the structure of the plot and it eventually unravels.

Not to say that the plot ruins the film, it's still good, but it makes the film a bit hard to rewatch.

As for the acting, everyone involved gives great performances, with the obvious standout being Heath Ledger, who totally immerses himself in the role of an enigmatic killer who only desires to create chaos to create chaos, hoping to prove a point that everyone is like him deep down inside, they just need a push. Aaron Eckhart was mostly ignored for his performance as Harvey Dent, which is a bit sad, because he does deliver a much more subtle performance (but no less powerful) than Ledger, having to create a moral man fighting in an amoral world that doesn't fight fair.

The film deals a lot with this idea of order versus chaos. And the question is raised if Batman can truly protect people by limiting himself by certain rules (No killing being the chief one), it brings an interesting question regarding vigilantism and how low are people willing to sink in order to actually do good.

It's that regard that elevates The Dark Knight above standard action fare, it's an intelligent, but still entertaining examination of a moral question that a lot of people pose in post 9/11 America.

That said, director Christopher Nolan does a brilliant job of keeping our interest, and the action sequences are wonderful to behold. As I said, the main issue with the film is the actual plot, but besides that, it's an entertaining ride with some actual brains behind it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

First off, I know that I'm a bad. bad, blog writer. But if you'll forgive me, loyal readers, I had a doggy emergency that's kept me busy and frazzled the last few days. I'll try to be good, I promise I will.

Anyway, here is my much belated Halloween entry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's easily one of the oddest (and possibly gayest) movies I've ever seen, so much so that it spawned a cinematic movement of audience participation.

It's hard to actually evaluate this as a film, since a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show has since become an event, something you are part of as opposed to something you view. But anyway, the film follows two straight-laced kids Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), who have the misfortune of having their car break down in front of the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a pansexual transvestite from the planet of Transsexual Transylvania, who is unveiling his createst creation, a blond muscular man named Rocky who is essentially a love toy for the hedonistic professor. Mayhem, sex, and cross-dressing ensue into one crazy homage to the B-horror and sci-fi RKO films of yesteryear.

Performance wise, everyone is pretty competent, there's not real Oscar level acting on the part of the main cast, except for maybe Mr. Curry. But let's face it, Tim Curry is the main reason to see this film (though the songs are pretty catchy), he just seems to be having a total ball playing one of the oddest cinematic creations in history. He's funny, over-the-top, and generally brilliant, and it's hard to look away, even if he's in full on drag for the entire movie.

But really, this is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I'm talking about. It's risen above any sort of real criticism and has become something to be experienced. Really, regardless of what I say, everyone should see this film. See it to love it, see it to hate it, see it to be offended. It's so out-there, and so bizarre, yet so fun that it's hard to tell anyone to avoid it. You really need to just see it for yourself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

I apologize for being so lazy, dear readers, but school was particularly hectic last week, between two tests and the sudden revelation by a professor that I had to write a 10-15 page paper in a week (There was no procrastination on my part, just so you know).

Anyway, here is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the Tennessee Williams classic about lust and love. The film stars Paul Newman as Brick,a former high school football star who is a bit too fond of the bottle, and breaks his leg one night after attempting to jump some hurdles while drunk. Brick and his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are in Mississippi, visiting Brick's parents because of his father, Big Daddy's birthday. Unknown to Big Daddy, he is dying of cancer, and the birthday festivities, Brick's alcoholism, and the scheming of Brick's brother and sister-in-law to ensure a large chuck of the inheritance once Big Daddy dies brings to light the issue plaguing the family and the marriage of Brick and Maggie.

The acting in the film is phenomenal. I know it's a crime, but this is the only Paul Newman film I've seen, and he's amazing in it, portraying a deep level of bitterness and hurt over his upbringing, which focused more on being spoiled as opposed to being loved. Elizabeth Taylor is also in fine form, showing a woman who is madly in love with a man who is repulsed by her. Burl Ives, who plays Big Daddy is just as good as the leads, he is larger than life and shows the strength and cunning that made Big Daddy the success he is today.

The film largely plays on the theme of truth and lies, mainly in the context of the lies we construct around ourselves in order to function, so that we don't have to face certain truths of our lives. That it's someone's fault that we're so messed up, or that deep down, someone really loves us. It's heartbreaking to see these various lies shatter upon the heads of the characters, leaving them to face the stark reality of the state they're in and the choices they've made.

It's a brilliant film that I completely recommend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

As a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, I was somewhat apprehensive about watching a film adaptation of one of her most famous novels, but luckily, the film is pretty good.

The film (like most mysteries) features a group of strangers on board the Orient Express, a luxury train traveling through Europe and Asia. When one passenger is murdered during the night, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) must solve the case. Of the suspects, we have a Count (Michael York) and his wife (Jacqueline Bisset), a British Colonel (Sean Connery), an annoying American tourist (Lauren Bacall), a missionary (Ingrid Bergman), a timid secretary (Anthony Perkins), and a Russian princess (Wendy Hiller). As you can see, the cast is pretty star-studded.

The film is a lavish production, with wonderful settings and costumes, with adds to the elegance of the whole film, and the direction by Sidney Lumet is tight and slightly claustrophobic, which it should be.

As for the acting, the cast is universally steller, even if some roles are a bit miscast. Lauren Bacall, I love her to death, but she doesn't really fit the frumpy, irritating character described in the books. She seems more like a cool older lady who you want to hang out with. But luckily, Albert Finney is insanely good as Poirot, completely and totally nailing his odd quirks, the body language, his humor, his slight arrogance, as well as his mental brilliance. It's a wonderful performance that was justified in its Oscar nomination.

Ingrid Bergman actually won an Oscar for her role, which really only consists of one brief minute scene, but she totally owns it, creating a character who is scared, saddened, and slightly coming undone due to her surroundings.

The film takes some liberties with the book (some character's roles are shortened to only a few lines), and the overall mystery is a bit easier to figure out, but the film is a lavish production of one of the greatest mysteries of all-time with a wonderful cast. So what's not to love?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paper Moon (1973)

A wonderful homage to depression-era films featuring a brilliant (and historical Oscar-winning performance) by Tatum O'Neal.

Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) is a conman who travels the country, deceiving people out of their money (which is kinda mean, since it's the depression). Anyway, the film begins at the funeral of Addie Loggins' (Tatum O'Neal) mother, a woman who wasn't exactly chaste. This woman once had an affair with Moses, so it's possible that the young girl is his daughter. He is charged with taking Addie to live with her aunt, and along the way finds the man who hit Addie's mother with his car and cons him out of $200, claiming that it belongs to the young girl. Thus, Addie claims that Moses owes her $200 and refuses to leave him, and the two become partners, conning people along their road trip.

The plot of the film is essentially three different "episodes", the forming of their partnership, the disruption of their partnership by the inclusion of Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), a "Harem Dancer" Moses picks up at a fair, and then a con involving a bootlegger in which Addie and Moses may be in over their heads.

The film itself is really good, but the best thing about it is the young Tatum O'Neal as Addie. The character is almost like the anti-child character, because she's like a child. She's not a miniature adult like we see in a lot of films, she's just a normal kid. And O'Neal brings a great deal of cleverness as well as hurt to the performance, creating a fully realized character where there might not have been one in the screenplay, commanding the screen and overshadowing her father.

Another standout is the ever-brilliant Madeline Kahn as Trixie Delight (she also received an Oscar nomination). Like O'Neal, she creates a detailed character in what could have been a one joke role. Trixie is obnoxious, constantly needing to pull over to "go Winky-Tinky", and calling Moses "daddy". But there's one scene that suggests that she hasn't had the easiest life, and Kahn pulls it off without any sort of falseness about it.

Ryan O'Neal is good as well, making Moses a charming, yet slightly slimy character, and he also portrays his budding friendship with Addie quite well. They never become buddy-buddy, instead they rely on each other, and trust each other enough to perform cons together.

The script is sharp and funny, smartly dividing the film into 3 different stories to avoid the overall idea of the film from becoming stale or tired. The direction is great as well, with Peter Bogdanovich using a lot of one-take tracking shots and stark black and white cinematography.

This is a great film, one that I've seen several times now, and I can't see myself growing tired of it any time soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Village (2004)

Ok, for the most part, I've been pretty safe in my movie choices and what I say about them, so I figured it's time to insert a bit of controversy (though, it's kinda mild) into the mix.

I hate The Village.

Granted, this opinion isn't exactly a rebellious one (one look at the Rottentomatoes rating for this film actually puts me in the majority), but I cannot help it.

The film is about a small, 1800's town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dark and scary woods, which are said to be inhabited by "Those We Don't Speak Of", who might possibly be a relation to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Those We Don't Speak of Are Monsters who live in the woods as some sort of bargain between the villagers. They stay out of the woods, and they will stay out of the town.

Living in the town is Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), a blind girl who is in love with Lucius Fox (Joaquin Phoenix), and the film essentially follows their romance as well as the events that lead to Ivy being forced to venture into the woods if she wishes to save the man she loves.

The film itself looks beautiful and the direction is varied and interesting, which is about the only positive things in this film. The acting is generally somber and joyless, everyone seems to have just walked away from a funeral and are incapable of expressing anything other than solemnity. Bryce Dallas Howard is able to inject some sunshine into her role, but everyone else seems so tired and sad.

Plus, the film makes an unforgivable mistake, it lies to you. Now, given that Shyamalan is known for his twists, you're going to expect one in this film, but the problem is that we are instantly established with one fact only to be told otherwise later. I know that there could be an argument made on this, but I'm standing firm. This film lies to you, which is a massive no-no.

In addition, the plot is just dull. Ivy essentally bullies Lucius until he makes some out-of-breath confession of love and instantly we're supposed to care about what happens to these two young'uns, when I didn't give a flying fig. And don't get me started on Adrian Brody as a mentally retarded man, because it's just all kind of ridiculous.

Really, I hate this film. It's so dull, lacking in anything that created a spark of interest inside me, and the film's lie to support its twist pushed it into full blown hatred. It's poorly acted, melodramatic, and franky awful. Don't watch it kids.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Girl From 10th Avenue (1935)

In honor of the recent anniversary of her death (the 8th), I'll make an entry about one of Bette's earliest starring roles.

Bette Davis plays Miriam Brady, a shop girl who discovers the wealthy Geoffrey Sherwood (Ian Hunter) drunk and angry on the streets, yelling at the wedding party of the woman who rejected him for a wealthier man. Miriam takes Geoffrey to a cafe, to avoid the police who may arrest him for being drunk. At the cafe, two of Geoffrey's friends offer Miriam $100 to keep an eye on Geoffrey for the day.

The two wake up the next morning to discover that they had gotten s-faced and married each other. Miriam gives Geoffrey the go-ahead to leave at any time, but he stays with her and she helps keep him sober. But soon Geoffrey's former flame enters the picture, which complicates things.

The film is watchable, only because of Bette Davis. Really, because Ian Hunter is so boring, and so weak that we don't really care about what happens to him. Whereas Bette Davis is dynamic and interesting (though it's a role we've seen from her many times) as a tough, yet sensitive woman who is falling in love with a man who could leave her at any moment.

Plus, the film tries to make Miriam's lower class upbringing and behavior a major factor as to why Geoffrey may leave her, since his old girlfriend is wealthier and refined. The problem with this is that Miriam isn't really shown to be uncouth or anything that would make this such a problem. Her speech isn't really any different from any of the upper class people seen in the film, so the main contributor of the "Will he or won't he stay with her?" conflict isn't even apparent to the viewer.

That said, the film is a decent soap opera, with Bette Davis saving it from total mediocrity, which is common in a lot of her films. So if you're a fan, then see it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn is a widow aided by Cary Grant, who may or may not be who he says he is, in finding a fortune hidden by her now deceased husband.

Hepburn is Regina Lampert, a recently widowed woman who discovers that he now dead husband is not who he claimed to be. After stealing a fortune in American money during World War 2, the deceased Charles Lampert hoodwinked his 4 partners-in-crime and took off with the money, leaving them to face German troops which resulted in the death of one of their number. Now that he's dead, the 3 still-living crooks (Played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) want Regina to hand over the money, which they believe she has.

Unfortunately for her, she doesn't, and she's helped by Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), a man she met on holiday who may or may not be after the money as well.

Grant and Hepburn are wonderful in this film. They have a great deal of chemistry and despite being in his late 50's, Grant is still as charming and suave as ever. Luckily, the film plays up the fact that this is a May-December romance, so it makes the somewhat implausible pairing more believable, especially since they make it clear that Audrey Hepburn's character is pursuing him, not the other way around, so it avoids any sort of creepiness of an older man leering over the younger Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn is gorgeous in the film, and she shines as a woman who was trapped in a loveless marriage who finds herself falling for a man she may or may not be able to trust. The two have great chemistry and their dialogue crackles with wit.

The plot itself is filled with great twists and turns and it always has you guessing until the very end, which makes it all the more enjoyable. Even if you're able to guess a few of the upcoming reveals, I'm sure there are still a few that will take you by surprise.

The film is set in Paris, so it's obviously a gorgeous film at which to look. The settings are lush and beautiful, and Hepburn wears some great and stylish clothes.

It's a wonderful film, entertaining, thrilling, and funny and it features two screen legends reciting a fun and smart script. One to watch.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Letter (1940)

I apologize for not having a new entry recently, but the only movie I've seen of late was Spice World, which is a childhood favorite turned guilty pleasure, and I'm sure that if I did an entry on Spice World, I would soon be chased off by angry villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.

Anyway, here we have another Bette Davis classic, The Letter. Bette Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, a wife of a wealthy rubber plantation owner in Singapore who murders a man in, what she claims to be,
self-defense. Her husband believes her story completely, whereas the family lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) suspects that Leslie may not be telling the truth. This is confirmed when he receives the news there is a letter in the possession of the dead man's widow from Leslie, which sheds some light on the relationship between her and the man she killed.

William Wyler did a great job with directing this film (He's probably made some of Davis' best films), it's very moody and sultry, and he also gets a great performance out of Davis. Leslie Crosbie is someone who is constantly scheming, playing the role of a devoted and pure wife when she's anything but. And Davis portrays this cold, calculating nature perfectly, while also adding the confusion and forced emotionality she would need given her facade of being totally innocent of her crime.

But I must take this time to warn you, dear readers, that the ending of this movie sucks. Now, usually this is the fault of the director or screenwriter, but this movie has a tacked on ending that the crew was forced to add due to the Haye's Code that legislated morality in film. So, if you have an issue with the ending, it's not necessarily the fault of the filmmakers, instead the liability falls into the filmmaking bodies of the time that attempted to control what was and wasn't shown in the movies.

Aside from the ending, the film is fantastic. It's dark, it's moody, it's mysterious, and it has a series of strong performances all around with Bette Davis giving one of her best at the conniving wife. It's really one to see.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Queen Christina (1933)

Greta Garbo gives a wonderful performance in this well-made period piece.

Let it be known from the beginning, that this film requires a large suspension of disbelief, because Miss Garbo is mistaken for a man in this film. And she pretty much looks like she does in the picture to the left when the gender confusion occurs. But anyway, Greta Garbo plays Queen Christina, the Queen of Sweden who took over at a very young age after her father was killed in battle. We jump several years into the future and she's a weary ruler, tired of living her life for Sweden. She's being pressured to marry her cousin, who also happens to be a war hero, but she finds her true love when she is horseback riding in the country side and encounters a Spanish envoy (John Gilbert). He mistakes her for a male, but once the boobs have been revealed, all is well and they fall in love.

Of course, their love can never be revealed, because Sweden is having very strained relationships with Spain, after years of warring with each other, so (as they must do in any sort of royalty romance story) Christina must make a choice between her love and her duty as Queen.

Garbo is great here, she exudes strength and power, but she allows her character to be multi-faceted. When she's addressing her subjects or her advisors, she's very hard, very cold, but when she's with someone she's more comfortable with, we get to see her playful side, her light and happy side. She pulls it off expertly.

The rest of the acting is good, but this is really Greta Garbo's film, I mean "Garbo" is twice as big as the actual title of the film on the DVD, so it's her show to allow to her command the screen with her magnificent presence.

The sets and costumes are all well-made and it appears to be a very lavish production for its time, and it shows, making the palace intrigue and romance more believable and easy to watch.

I should also point out one shocking thing about this movie, it portrays Queen Christina as bisexual. Now, I may be wrong in this assumption, but I was shocked when a female "friend" entered Christina bedroom, only for Christina to greet her by holding her head and kissing her on the mouth before talking about going away together in the country for a few days. Not that lesbians freak me out or anything, but when things like that happen when you're in "Old Movie Watching Mode", you can't believe you eyes.

Of the 3 Garbo performances that I've seen (I've made entires on all of them), this is easily her best, it feels more natural and less "acty" than her other two (not that they were bad), and the character of Queen Christina seems to fit Garbo, a strong woman who also longs for love. It's really one to watch.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932)

A Star-Studded cast perform in this melodrama that chronicles the lives of various guests at the famous Grand Hotel in Germany as they interact, fight, and fall in love.

Plot-wise, the film is essentially divided between the stories of these guests, which eventually merge with other stories and take on new stories and so on and so forth. We have Greta Garbo as The Dancer (her real name is kinda weird, and she's listed under both titles in the credits), a depressed, eccentric ballerina who wants to be both alone and in love. Joan Crawford is Flaemmchen, a stenographer for wealthy business man Preysing (Wallace Beery). Lionel Barrymore is Otto Kringelein, a dying man who is having his last hurrah with his life savings, and John Barrymore is The Baron, a down on his luck nobleman who must resort to some drastic measures to pay off his debts. The "main" plot (if there really is one) is the emerging love triangle between both The Baron, The Dancer, and Flaemmchen.

The acting for the most part, is pretty good. Joan Crawford is actually really likable and natural here, which serves as an odd counterpoint for Greta Garbo's performance. Now, I'm not bashing a legend here, but her performance is just so odd, in a sense. She successfully conveys the necessary emotion, so it's not a bad performance, just an odd one. She does a lot of grabbing her hair and wrinkling up her face and acting pretty tired most of the film. Granted, she's a suicidal ballerina, so that's a license to be out there. John Barrymore is charming and romantic, and it's very understandable why the two women would fall for him. Wallace Beery is essentially a brute, which is exactly what he's supposed to be, and Lionel Barrymore is so tragic and heartbreaking as someone who has been downtrodden their entire life only to still be treated poorly on his final stab at life.

The film is a great melodrama (it won Best Picture), well-made with wonderful sets and costumes, and as I mentioned, the acting is on a high level. It's also surprisingly sad in a lot of ways, but everything works out in a way that makes sense.

It's pretty easy to recommend this movie, especially given its classic status. Plus, it's got a great cast, and could be a great entry-level film into getting into Greta Garbos filmography, or Joan Crawford, or either of the Barrymores. So, watch it, it's a good little film.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Tim Burton adapts the Broadway classic into a brilliantly made, expertly acted, and incredibly bloody film.

Johnny Depp plays Benjamin Barker, a barber who lives with his wife and young daughter. Unfortunately for him, the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts after his wife and has Benjamin arrested and taken away. When he returns several years later, he encounters his former landlord and piemaker Mrs. Lovett (Helen Boneham Carter) where he learns that his wife had poisoned herself after being raped by the judge and his daughter is now being raised as Turpin's ward. He takes the name Sweeney Todd and sets about getting his revenge with Mrs. Lovett as his a partner in crime, disposing of his victims by baking them into her pies.

It's odd for a musical to tackle this sort of subject matter, since for the most part, film musicals have been happy, cheery affairs, but this one is pretty dark, dealing with revenge, lust and obsession. The plot really works as a musical revenge tale, and it has several twists and turns as the story unravels. It's aided by the brilliant Stephen Sondheim's songs, which serve as moments of humor as well as insight into the minds of these characters. Plus, the songs are just great to listen to. Granted, some of the actor's are not really singers, but I think the film succeeds in that they nail their characters so well that the singing really just becomes more of an extension of their own acting.

And the acting is phenomenal. Johnny Depp makes his Sweeney Todd and dark and brooding character, filled with anger and vengeance and not really thinking about much else. Which causes the "humanity" and humor of the film to fall into the responsible and capable hands of Helene Boneham Carter (who probably deserved an Oscar nomination more than Depp) who has to make her Mrs. Lovett vulnerable and darkly funny. She loves Sweeney Todd, and she actually makes you pity her as she falls in love with a man with a mind focused entirely on revenge.

Even if you dislike the story and characters, it's hard to not be taken the the visual feasts that the film presents before you. It's moody and melancholy, with a pallet of blacks, grays and browns, filled with sumptuous sets and wonderfully Gothic costumes.

This is a good idea for someone interested in getting into musicals, but yet ready to dive into the flamboyant, over-the-top campiness that permeates the genre. The "musical numbers" in this film feature no dancing, and no real bombastic qualities, instead it's almost like someone singing instead of talking (though, Chicago is another good starter musical too, I would think).

I can understand why someone could dislike this film, one it's a musical, one of the most reviled genres of the modern filmgoer, plus it's Tim Burton who has become the patron saint of the "Emo" movement. But being someone who has been a life-long fan of Burton, it was inevitable that I would enjoy this film, but it's also a well-crafted and unique film, one that I hope my lovely readers (all 9 of you and even that's assuming) will enjoy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The General (1926)

Yes childrens, today I am writing about a silent movie. But it happens to be a very good movie, probably one of my favorite of all time.

Buster Keaton stars as Johnny Gray, a southern train engineer who loves only two people, his train (The General) and Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), and when both are stolen by Union soldiers, he chases after them, straight into enemy territory.

The film isn't really a "plot movie", the film is actually a set piece for some truly amazing stuntwork by Buster Keaton, who climbs all around a speeding train performing various acts of daring. It's fascinating to watch and made even more amazing by the fact that it's all real. No special effects, no CGI, no stuntmen, it's all Buster Keaton.

He's also a great comedic actor. Given that it's the silent era, you'd expect the acting to be more over-the-top, which is what makes Keaton's stoic performance so funny. He doesn't freak out at a set beck, jumping around and going for a laugh, instead he'll just furrow his brow and get to work.

This is a great entry-level silent movie for anyone interested in getting into the silent age of film. It's not dialogue based at all, so you aren't going to miss any talking, since the film is predominately all action, making it easy to watch without even realizing that it's silent. It was my first silent film, and since then I've added a few silents to my Netflix queue (though I've only watched one more, Sunrise, which I've made an entry about).

This film is cited frequently as being one of the greatest of all-time, and I really can't argue with them. Just technically, it's a marvel to watch Buster Keaton do what he does best, and it's also a very funny and expertly-crafted yet simple story. Regardless of whether it's silent or not, this is really a movie that I recommend everyone see, plus, it may be your gateway into the soundless films of yesteryear.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

I finally got around to watching one of the many films I have blind bought at a local dollar store, which offers some good movies for only $3 a pop. For example, I've bought Anna Christie, Ninotchka, Queen Christina, Capote, Gosford Park, Funny Girl, A Man for All Seasons, My Man Godfrey, Cimarron, and Grand Hotel. The only problem is finding time to watch all of them, but hopefully with this Woody Allen classic, I'll start a habit of tackling the massive venture before me.

Anyway, Hannah and Her Sisters is the story of Hannah (Mia Farrow) and (surprise) her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Diane Weist), as well as Hannah's husband Elliot who is in love with Lee, and Hannah's ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen). The film itself is presented in a vignette style, without a real concrete plot (besides Elliot's love of Lee and Mickey's existential crisis) going throughout the film, instead we are treated to small glimpses into the lives of these three people. Hannah is the backbone of the family, a woman enjoying her life as a mother, wife and occasional actress, she is independent and strong, which unfortunately, causes her family to resent her. Lee is the more emotional, down-to-earth sister, who is in a 5 year relationship with Frederick (Max Von Sydow), an artist who's distaste for people has caused him to practically withdraw from the world, with Lee as his only link to the outside. Holly is the flighty sister, venturing from one vocation to another, she's an actress, a singer, a caterer, a writer, and she's also a former drug addict. She's lonely and Dianne Weist totally breaks your heart as she wishes to somehow obtain what Hannah has secured for herself.

There's also Elliot, Hannah's second husband who has a burning love for Lee, wanting to hold her and "protect her" and watching his clumsy flirtations with his wife's sister is both funny, sad, and awkward. As is Mickey's crisis of faith. After hearing loss in one ear causes a doctor to suspect a brain tumor, Mickey begins a quest to try and find God, determining that he does not want to live in a world with a "Maybe".

The acting in the film is great, with Michael Caine and Dianne Weist giving Oscar-winning performances. So while I don't need to speak much about them, since they deserved the awards. which speak for themselves, I want to talk about Mia Farrow and Barbara Hershey. Mia Farrow is given the thankless role of Hannah, which she excels in, exuding strength and calm. It's easily the least showy part of the film, and Farrow allows herself to become an emotional center to the film and her presence is felt throughout the entire film.

Barbara Hershey has one great scene in this movie, I'm not saying it's because she isn't good, it's because her character is mostly relegated to being the "straight" person, people get to be neurotic and flighty around her without her getting a chance to do much of anything. But in the scene where she breaks up with her boyfriend, she allows herself to be full of guilt and sorrow, leaving a man who needs her and without her will be sentenced to a life on the outside of the human race.

The script is touching and funny, it's never "hilarious", but it's something that can make you chuckle at the humanity and flaws of its characters. Allen is a master at blending sincere humanity with humor and he does it again here, creating realistic people who act like adults, never sacrificing characters for plot or comedy. It's a brilliant script.

The film is something I heartily recommend, especially for those who enjoy Allen's other films like Annie Hall. And for everyone else, it's a touching, human comedy that has become an 80's classic (for the right reasons).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Angels in America (2003)

Ok, so I'm doing a Mini-series, but I really could make the argument that this is simply one long movie. But it doesn't matter because Angels in America is one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

Based on the Tony Award winning play, the incredibly complex "film" follows Prior (Justin Kirk), a gay man in the 1980's who discovers that he has AIDS, causing his long-time boyfriend Louis (Ben Shenkman) to question whether or not he wants to spend the next few years watching the man he loves waste away to nothing. Prior also begins having dreams, telling him of an Angel who is to come to him and give him a message.

There's also a plot about the real life Roy Cohn, a self-loathing, anti-Semitic, homophobic gay Jewish lawyer who also discovers that he has AIDS, causing him to reflect on his accomplishments, mainly using his power to get Ethel Rosenberg executed (she appears to him in visions, where she is portrayed by Meryl Streep).

Also, there's the story of Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), a gay Mormon lawyer who keeps his Valium addicted wife Harper (Mary Louise Parker) at a distance because of his lack of attraction to her. The only real affection they show each other is the "buddy kiss", a quick peck on the lips. His plot follows Harper's mental descent as well as his own self-discovery of his own sexuality.

The storylines all interconnect, and you have actors playing multiple characters, for example, Emma Thompson plays The Angel of America, a homeless woman, and Prior's nurse and Meryl Streep plays a male Rabbi and Joe Pitt's mother. There's also Jeffrey Wright, who plays Prior's friend who is also Roy Cohn's nurse, having to put up with his homophobic, racist remarks. Also, it's very abstract, so for those who demand realism in their movies, please back away. For example, Harper has a drug induced hallucination that clashes with a dream of Prior's and the two meet in this weird dream space. Not mention the dreams where an angel may or may not be visiting Prior.

And while the plot seems very heavy, it's actually quite funny, something you wouldn't expect in a film chronicling AIDS in the 80's, but there are several moments where I laughed out loud. That said, it can also be very sad, breaking your heart in one fell swoop, one scene in particular left me emotionally drained.

It's a very layered piece, talking about politics, the AIDS epidemic, religion, faith, and several other topics all at once and without seeming preachy at all. In fact, you could watch the film straight through and simply take it as is and not try to get into the messages of the film, it's that subtle.

The cast is, of course, brilliant. The film actually won all 4 acting Emmys given out that year, and it's justly deserved, with every single person delivering an absolutely astounding performance. It really says something about the level of acting when everyone is on equal footing with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, but they are. For me to try and explain why each person is brilliant could take all day, and really, you should discover it for yourself.

There is no way I could have even given the film the treatment is deserves, because it's simply one of the most powerful pieces of film/TV ever produced, having a basic human resonance that allows anyone watching it to feel a tug on their very soul, making them connect with every character and pity them, dislike them, laugh with them, or cry for them.

There is nothing else that can be said except that I implore everyone to watch this.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunset Boulevard

Ok y'all, here we go. We're getting into serious classic territory with this one. Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's classic dark comedy/drama about an aging star who is basically loosing her marbles.

The film stars William Holden as Joe Gillis a down-on-his luck screenwriter who stumbles across the home of faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who decides 2 things. 1. She plans on having Joe write her big comeback film, and 2. She is in love with him. Keeping Norma in her delusions of grandeur is her loyal butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), who continues to insist to her that she is still much loved and as famous as she once was. Joe settles into the life of a kept man, living off of Norma's money and hating himself for it, but things become complicated when he falls for Betty (Nancy Olson), a young woman with whom he begins working on a screenplay. Oh, and did I mention that Joe winds up dead? Yeah, that's not a spoiler, for those stamping their feet in frustration, the film actually begins with the police fishing Joe's dead body out of Norma's swimming pool, and the rest of the film is a flashback chronicling how exactly Joe ended up face down in the water.

The flashback is actually a brilliant addition to this film, because it lets us know, right off the bat, that this will get messy. We know that things aren't going to work out and it adds a layer of suspense as to who will kill Joe and why.

The performances in this film are legendary, at this point. The character of Norma Desmond is really something that has become ingrained into our pop culture, and for good reason, because Swanson delivers one of the best performances of all time. Now, the rest of the cast is great, really, but Gloria Swanson has to toe the line between over-the-top and realism. I mean, her character is a crazy former silent movie star, that's really a license to be as over the top as you would like, but instead she keeps herself from making the character a joke, someone to be laughed at because of how melodramatic they are. Instead it's a character that entertains us and breaks our heart as we watch her retreat more and more from reality. She eventually lost the Oscar to Judy Holliday, for Born Yesterday, which I also did an entry on, if you'd like to get my feelings on that one.

The script is also as flawless as the film. Full of intelligence and bite as it serves as a stark indictment of the Hollywood system that raises people up to God-like status, only to throw them away. It really is one of the best films about Hollywood that you can find.

If you like this film (which I certainly hope you will), I also recommend All About Eve, which came out in the same year and was Sunset Boulevard's main competition at the Oscars (For the record, All About Eve won most of them, and it's probably Bette Davis' best film, so watch it!), it's also about aging and stardom (though, focused more on the stage as opposed to the screen). There, you have two recommendations for the price of one (though I really should make an entry on All About Eve), so that should fulfill you for now. Jesus, that's a lot of parenthesis.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Labyrinth (1986)

You get two entries today, lucky readers. If only because I figured if I did a "real" classic movie, I could allow a little self-indulgence and make an entry on the 80's cheesetastic fantasy film Labyrinth, which was a childhood favorite of mine.

It stars future-Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Connelly as Sarah, an angsty teen girl (who favors the phrase "That's not fair!") that spends more time indulging in fantasy than in dealing with the reality of the stepmother she hates and her half-brother Toby who she frequently has to babysit. One night, after a particularly angsty episode, she kind of loses it and asks the Goblin King, Jareth (the always awesome David Bowie), to take her baby brother away. Which he does, taking him to his kingdom in the middle of the labyrinth (a really big maze, for the uninitiated) , and Sarah must rescue her brother before it is too late, otherwise he will be turned into a goblin.

The technical aspects of the film actually hold up quite well (despite one scene involving creatures who dance and sing and are capable of removing their body parts, it's greenscreened to hell), the various creatures that Sarah encounters are all Jim Henson puppets, which works a lot better than attempted CGI that would have dated the film terribly. Instead it actually works and you buy them as actual characters, plus it helps that the actress is actually interacting with something that has a physical presence.

The rest of the film is pure cheese, though. I mean, how else can you describe a movie where David Bowie prances around in leotards (really, his bulge should have a supporting credit for the amount of time it spends on screen), with 80's hair that is mightier than Bono's old mullet, and singing corny songs about slapping babies?

One thing that the film does have is David Bowie, who revels in playing a very creepy, oddly sexual villain. He's in love with a 15 year old girl, and he makes it sick and twisted. It's an odd character that one wouldn't necessarily expect in a Family-Friendly movie, and Bowie seems to have a blast in the role that allows him to be funny, menacing, and outrageous, so much so that his performance borders on drag.

It's really hard to say "Watch this movie" or even say it's a good movie, because it is loaded with nostalgia, and it doesn't hurt that I enjoy some good cheese every now and then (See my entry on Adventures in Babysitting or Troll 2). But if you remember seeing this movie as a little kid, I highly suggest you revisit it, because it really does hold up.

And if you enjoy your movies chock full of 80's gooeyness, or you just love David Bowie, I would also give this movie a watch, because it's just so odd.

And for everyone else, well, it's really up to you.