June Summary

Ah, the month that saw the beginning of summer—which I spent watching movies...naturally. Once again, here are the links to the reviews this month, broken apart by genre and alphabetized. Since I like to talk (or more appropriately, 'type') I have given my needless opinion on the best and worst of each genre

Batman Begins
L.A. Confidential
Man of Steel
Stand Up Guys

Best: "The Impossible"
Worst: "Man of Steel"—it should have been an easy success

Being There
Moonrise Kingdom
Pitch Perfect
Play It Again, Sam
This Is the End

Best: "Moonrise Kingdom"
Worst: "Being There"


Best: "Cool Hand Luke"
Worst: "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

Gimme Shelter
Night and Fog

Best: Both of these movies are good
Worst: ?

Good Night, and Good Luck.
Fair Game
Robot and Frank
Safe Haven
The Land Before Time
Up in the Air
Upstream Color

Best: "Good Night, and Good Luck.","Up in the Air", and "Upstream Color"
Worst: "Safe Haven"

The Intouchables

Best: Moving and heart-warming

Let the Right One In

Best: Artistic and intriguing, but boring

Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Meshes of the Afternoon
Sherlock Jr.
The Great Train Robbery
Un Chien Andalou

Best: "Meshes of the Afternoon"
Worst: "Un Chien Andalou"

Let the Right One In (2008) (R)

"Let the Right One In", a Swedish vampire movie, is a moody and heavy piece that you will either love or hate. It's artistic almost to a fault and very beautiful to look at.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), is a twelve-year old boy who likes the dark side (we're not talking about 'the force'). He clips out headlines that bring news of gruesome and/or peculiar deaths and saves them in a scrapbook. Blond hair, incredibly white skin, and as skinny as you can imagine—he is the recipient of the attention of bullies at his school, in particular a boy named Conny (Patrik Rydmark). 
In the opening scene of the movie, Oskar fantasizes about beating the bully up. Squeal like a pig he demands of his imaginary victim. This young boy has no power and would love to have roles reversed.
A next door neighbor has just moved in, a man with a little girl—father and daughter...maybe.
Oskar lives with his mother—his father is elsewhere and Oskar only gets a few days to spend with his dad. 
The film, near the beginning, has decidedly no real plot. It floats around and cements a few themes: Oskar's need for violence, a gap between parents and children, the hunger of those who cannot feed, and dedication bordering on obsession. 
To escape the adult world, Oskar likes to take nighttime walks around the courtyard of the apartments where he lives and that's where he meets the girl next door, Eli (Lina Leandersson). Eli is very bizarre and other-worldly. She only comes out at night and whose appearance declines when she doesn't eat. 
It's very soon that we figure out that Eli is a vampire, but the film is insistent on never using the word "vampire"—I think that it only appears once in the entire movie. 
Eli is a slave to her own body, she has to feed and if she doesn't she'll die or become so ravenous that she will slay several people.
Oskar and Eli become great friends and soon Eli starts giving Oskar advice about how to deal with the bullies. Their friendship blooms and they are soon spending most of their time together.
"Let the Right One In" is not a vampire movie, nor is it a horror movie—those just happen to be the canvases on which the real story is painted. The core of the movie isn't a love story, but it's close. It's the young adolescent, unknowing version of love.
The film has a way of not talking—it's very similar to "No Country for Old Men" in that respect. It's also a very quiet movie—it allows you to hear simple noises like the smacking of lips or the grumbling of stomachs.
Now these vampires aren't "Twilight" friendly, model blood-suckers. They're real, fragile in a way, and haunted. I would argue that "Let the Right One In" portrays vampires in a different light than any other work preceding it.
Hedebrant has to be commended, because he carries the movie. I do think that some choices with the script hurt the film regarding his character. The lines are too drawn out and they aren't crisp enough to feel real. The emotion that the film wants to have is what sinks it.
It's quite boring in parts.
That being said, as previous stated, it's great to look at. This film would have been a knockout if it were based on looks alone.
There is also a strength in the intelligence of the script—most notably the aversion to the cliche moments that vampires usually have.
Leandersson is stunning as Eli—a fine performance. She embodies the age and maturity of someone older than her, while still being true to her young form.
All-in-all, "Let the Right One In" is good but not great.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

This word springs to the screen when "Cool Hand Luke" begins. Not only is it foreshadowing, but it is also condemning the actions of the drunken main man, named Luke (Paul Newman). He is intoxicated and has decided that it would be a good idea to cut the tops off of parking meters. He has cut down three or four and then collapses to the curb as policemen pull up.
This little adventure has landed Luke two years in jail. Luke is sentenced to be part of a Southern chain-gang—he will have to work as well as be in the adult version of timeout.
Upon arrival at the prison, even the Captain (Strother Martin), a warden figure, seems skeptical of the reasons for why Luke is here. Luke is standing next to accidental murderers, thieves, and arsonists—his crime seems somewhat trivial in comparison. But the Captain is determined that everyone will be treated as equals...there is a severe form of government in the jail.
A night in the box—the punishment that suits every occasion and is the one that you certainly don't want put upon you. The box is a tight little outhouse-looking building. It's tall and too narrow for a man to lay down in, it probably heats up when the sun is at its peak.
If you don't hang on to your spoon, if you mix your sheets up, if you complain too much, if you seem begrudging, if you don't follow orders—all of these infractions will land you a night in the box.
The rules and regulations are spelled out for Luke on his first night. He smiles and shakes his head at the absurdity of all the strict rules.
The men of the jail are a community, not the guards but the inmates. They have a leader, Dragline (George Kennedy), who says what goes. No man is called by his real name—he is given a nickname that Dragline will determine. Because of Luke's stand-off attitude, he doesn't immediately receive a prison name. Instead, the nicknames vary and fluctuate as Dragline tries to figure out Luke, a task that seems quite impossible.
As the days wear on, the labor increases. The men have to work on the roads, clearing weeds and digging ditches. Out in the real world, they are overseen by a mysterious man named Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward) who always wears a hat and aviator sun glasses. He never speaks and has an errand boy run back and forth to fetch him his gun whenever he needs it.
In the prison, men are to refer to any one of their superiors as "boss", a title that looses its charm very quickly. The prison is incredibly well-worked. It's meticulous and vigorous only because those are the methods that seem to work the best.
The men have to have permission to do everything. They need to ask if it's okay to take their shirts off, to take a drink of water, to walk around a truck, to smoke a cigarette—nothing goes unnoticed or unregulated.
The Captain seems like a Big Brother character, he tells the men that their punishment and treatment will be dependent on their behavior and that (much like a parent) chastising the prisoners hurts him as much as it hurts them.
Luke is a calm person, methodically contradicting those in authority. During a game of poker, through bluffing and collected-ness, he receives his moniker of "cool hand Luke".
"Cool Hand Luke" feels like "Bonnie and Clyde" because of the bleak landscape and the few central characters. There's also a level of humor in "Cool Hand Luke" which is very similar to the dynamic-duo film.
The style is very natural, breaking a few times for more artistic shots.
This film is not afraid to show the dark side or prison, though "Hunger" which would come decades later would expand upon this to horrifying ends.
Paul Newman is sensational as the leading man, he is everything that he should be and not and iota more or less.
Prison movies are a very common favorite of critics and viewers alike...just look at the success of "The Shawshank Redemption". But "Cool Hand Luke" is one of the best, it's gritty, smart, and human.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

At not even fifteen minutes long, "Meshes of the Afternoon" is hardly a daunting task to watch. Yet, I've been hurt before by doubting short films's power (see "Un Chien Andalou"). I had no idea what to expect with this film, I had not known anything about it only that it was supposedly one of the best short films to date...and it is.
It's easy to shrug it off as something that is experimental, but "Meshes of the Afternoon" has a very involved plot, sometimes a little hard to follow.
A woman is walking home and she sees a flower on the road, this flower fell from the sky earlier. She picks up said flora and continues walking up the steps to her door. When she tries the handle, it's locked. Fishing the key out of her purse she opens the door and goes into her house.
Her house is filled with unusually placed items: a knife that is still in the bread and falls out when the woman enters the room, a phone that is dangling from the base, and a curtain blowing in an open window. It appears like someone was just in the house, but after a quick perusal of the rooms, the woman retires to a couch and falls asleep.
In her dreams she sees her house again. There is a figure, cloaked in all black with a mirror for a face , carrying her flower. This figure walks along the path next to her house and she tries to run after it, but can't catch it. She goes back into her house and there she finds some of the same items: a key, a phone, a curtain, and a knife.
From there several complexities bloom into an almost baffling finale.
There is no doubt in my mind, "Meshes of the Afternoon" is unbridled brilliance. If anything was a precursor to "Inception"—it was this...right down to an eerily familiar hallway scene.
"Meshes of the Afternoon" plays with the idea of dreams and nightmares—reality versus perception. It's too dark and too simple to be Kaufman, though he may have drawn some inspirations from this film.
It was made by a husband and wife team: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. It feels very intimate, like a movie made for just the sake of artistry...and what a film it is!
I may not understand every aspect of it, and the end scene could be more disturbing than originally thought. But it revels in its mysteries and is incredibly watchable.
"Meshes of the Afternoon" may be a simple horror story, making something frightening about afternoon naps. It could also be the story of a woman who was simply crazy. Or it could be something deeper—surrealist and psychological.
The film allows for multiple opinions, all or none of which could be truthful.
It's brilliant, creepy, and demanding.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

George M. Cohan was more than just a triple threat. This man could literally do everything involved with show business. He was on the stage, behind it, under it, beside it, and in front of it. Composing, acting, writing, directing, producing—some people take all the talent.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" is a film dedicated to the life of Cohan, showing him grow up on stage with his family—father, mother, and sister helped make "The Four Cohans"—and gradually make a name for himself.
George Michael Cohan (James Cagney) was born on the Fourth of July, cementing the boy's fate that he would grow up and do drastically patriotic things. When he was just a wee one, his father added him on to the act that up until then, just consisted of mom and dad. Young George (Douglas Croft) was a natural on the stage, he would play the violin on his head while he tap-danced. His props were American too...a flag would shoot out of his cane near the end of the act as he was dancing his way off the stage.
George soon had a sister, Josie, who was the young dancer of "The Four Cohans". The two siblings and their parents played everywhere that they could find, but instead of showing a family that was struggling to pay the rent, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is all fun and games and more musical numbers.
Young George gets a break when he plays a rapscallion in Peck's Bad Boy. Suddenly, he thinks mighty high of himself and a dreaded ego swells his prepubescent head. He talks down to the stage managers and thinks that reporters are there to congratulate him (in reality, these 'reporters' turn out to be local boys who teach Young George a lesson).
This little boy becomes incredibly hard to be around and even jeopardizes the family's career, for which he gets a few pats on the bottom and a finger is shaken at him. But does that stop this young rogue from being the downfall of his family? No, if anything it fuels the flame of his egomania...Freud would have had fun with Cohan.
As the years pass, Cohan matures (a little) and soon starts writing his own material. His original scripts and songs come off somewhat folksy, like a big-band Stephen Foster. There's nothing too complicated about his work, it's the charm of the music that affects people.
We see the hardships of George's rise to stardom, when no one would publish his music, nay, even touch the compositions. At this point we are supposed to be empathizing with Cohan, but I felt myself being frustrated with the celluloid version of the man.
There is no point when he actually is in any financial straits. There's always food on the table and a warm house to return to—the rent may be piling up but right when the landlady reaches into her pocket to fetch an ultimatum, he gets a breakthrough.
The first plays that Cohan starts making are brash and loud pieces that involve lots of singing and lots of dancing. Instead of giving us a bite of the action and then returning to Cohan the man—we get "Cohan the Musical". We see several numbers of George on stage, all the way through.
Then there's the patriotism, which is fine until it's overdone; and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" overdoes it until it looses all of its power.
Cohan reminds me of Buster Keaton from "The General" because he wants so desperately to serve his country, but he's unsure of how to do so. When he tries to go into the military (for World War I) he is told to stay home...he's too old. At 39, he thinks he's plenty spry and tells the men so—watch, he'll prove it with a quick tap-number.
Naturally, he accomplishes more for America at home then at sea and sees this near the end of his life, when he thinks he's fading from common thought.
So this is a man that lived through WWI, the Lusitania incident, the Titanic sinking, the Great Depression, and the beginning of WWII—yet, you would have thought that these dark times never existed from the cheeriness of the movie. Yes, Cohan was lightening American's spirits, but surely he was more tormented backstage then the movie would imply.
As Cohan, James Cagney (in an Oscar winning role) is very likable and charming. He can dance lightning fast and his wit is sharp. But there is no troubled-ness to his acting. He seems effortlessly peaceful—something that he contradicts with his words.
The film is told in a flashback method. Cohan is sitting in the Oval Office with Franklin Roosevelt and is telling the President about his life.
The very end scene of the movie works—it's reminiscent to "It's a Wonderful Life". But on second thought, isn't it just adding to the man's ego instead of filling him with purpose? Who knows if Cohan ever felt truly justified with his life's work? This film assumes too much.
But apart from the problems with the way the story was portrayed, this film can't escape the fact that it's simply boring. Actually, to say that this film is "boring" is an insult to boring movies. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is a tedious task to watch.

Score: 1 and a half stars out of 4

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Ernest Hemingway's interesting titled work, once converted to screen, is one of the most exciting and fun pictures from this time period. It resembles "Casablanca" in more than one way: the time period and the implosion of political violence, the need to escape, the non-American setting....they all pile up and the one thing that should stand out the most as a similarity between the movies actually starts to fade: Humphrey Bogart.
Captain Morgan, having nothing to do with rum, is a man for hire. More appropriately, his boat is for hire. He rents out the vessel to men who are wanting to fish and partake in other sea-faring activities. One such man has been out several times for the course of a few weeks and hasn't caught anything, mostly due to the fact that he is completely incompetent at fishing; but he still owes Morgan a great deal of money.
Henry Morgan has a friend named Eddie, who is an alcoholic. The man is somewhat of the comic relief of the picture, tottering around, just wanting another drink and talking profusely—most of his jabbering is unnecessary questions: Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?
When Morgan returns from a boating trip one night he is confronted by the manager of the hotel at which he is staying. The man wants to know if Morgan can sneak a few men (enemies of the law) out on his boat.
But Morgan is in a position of never risking his neck for other people, and only helping those who pay him. The manager tells Morgan that he will be paid, not much...but it's still money. Yet Morgan's code (he's very similar to the other Bogart characters Sam Spade and Rick) prevents him from helping, and it makes sense this way.
Hold on, there's a seductress yet to be seen. The lady across the hall who first introduces herself by asking for a light for her cigarette. She captivates the room when she walks through. Although her name is Marie, Morgan takes to calling her "Slim", a nickname that she detests.
When the officials catch wind of the plan of sneaking defectors back and forth, they storm the hotel and shoot a few of the men, but one gets away.
Morgan is left with no money and teams up with Marie in order to scrape up a few dollars, plus he's kind of falling in love with her...wow, no one saw that coming.
Marie is a spit-fire woman, combating the "Slim" name, she calls Morgan "Steve" though he is less irked than she is.
Although both Morgan and Marie need money, the captain refuses to receive donations of any kind—he's going to earn his money or he's going to starve.
As Captain Morgan, Humphrey Bogart gives one of his finest performances. He's not as over-the-top as he is in "The African Queen" (coincidentally, the only work that won him an Oscar) and he's more relatable than in "Casablanca".
He is opposite Lauren Bacall's Marie, who is simply stunning in this film. I have not seen any actress command the screen like she does. Although her singing voice leaves something to be desired, she is never flustered, never falters, and is always one step ahead.
The way she can deliver a line is staggering—it's this character that gives the famous line about whistling.
The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is really great, this would not be the only picture they would make together.
The screenplay was worked on by William Faulkner (yes, the novelist guy) which I found quite interesting because it was based on a Hemingway work.
All-in-all, "To Have and Have Not" is hugely entertaining. It's more exciting than "Casablanca" and sexier than any of the Oscar winning movies from the 40s.
Sexual innuendos pile on top of each other, this isn't graphic material, mind you...it's simply a shade off racy.
The movie has a surprisingly modern look, particularly in the boat scenes. It reminded me of "Jaws"...always a good thing.
I liked "To Have and Have Not" a great deal. My problems with the movie were few and my enjoyments were many.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)

In English, the title is simple: "A Voyage to the Moon"; yet it conveys so much about one of the first movies ever made. For Georges Méliès to craft such a unique, adventurous, fun, and thrilling tale about a place that wouldn't be visited for another 67 years after the film was released, is quite an accomplishment.
In short, the plot is thus: a professor convinces a group of students and colleagues that it is possible to visit the moon and soon he assembles a team of men who will do just that. Using a rocket that looks like an oversized bullet, the men are shot from a giant cannon into outer space, towards the moon. The rocket flies right into the face of the man of the moon, square into his left eye—much to his annoyance. Then the explorers come outside and view the wonders of the moon. But the trip has tired them out, and they grab a few blankets and go to sleep. 
In the night celestial beings see them sleeping and make it snow which drives the travelers underground (literally).
Under the surface of the moon lies a world that is jungle-like: large mushrooms and flora bloom and thrive. But there are other creatures here: the natural inhabitants of the moon who will fight to keep their territory. It's convenient because when they are killed they vanish in a cloud of smoke.
You would think that the death-by-steam aliens would be easy to vanquish, but there are few men and many of their adversaries. The aliens take the men to their king and one of the voyagers breaks free and overthrows the king. Then, the all have to escape back to their rocket with a brigade of creatures on their tails.
There is silliness to "Le Voyage Dans La Lune", like the simple anti-scientific facts that the men can breathe on the moon, or the plant life, or even the aliens to that end.
But it would seem that this movie is deeper than what first thought. It raises questions about what is exploration and if it is good or not.
Certainly similarities are awoken in my mind of European settlers and the American Indians.
The end scene is haunting in its implications.
Although, this film is quirky and imaginative, it also has guts and determination. I find it hard to believe that the final shot was accidental in the message that it conveys...but if so, what a happy mistake.
"Le Voyage Dans La Lune" is mostly famous for the image of the rocket sticking out of the face of the moon; but it should be for much more than that.
Glorious in every way, this film is powerful and beautiful.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

1950s cinema works that won Best Picture have a recurring theme: spectacle. It starts in 1950 with "All About Eve" which is possibly the most calm of any of the Oscar winning pictures from this decade. After that there's "An American in Paris" and that's followed by "The Greatest Show on Earth" which embraced the notion of a crowd-pleaser perhaps a little too heartily. But in 1956, a film that was based off a Jules Verne novel made its way to the screen and eventually, to the podium at the Academy Awards: "Around the World in Eighty Days".
Verne was no stranger to bizarre ideas, but this is possibly the work that time hasn't treated as well as the others. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still frightfully odd and fantastic. Journey to the Center of the Earth is as implausible as it ever was, yet there's a science fiction aspect to the fantasy. But Around the World in Eighty Days is about a journey that is no longer a feat...it's quite possible to do in less than a week, and that's assuming that you are on a vacation.
Phileas Fogg, from the very British society, is a man who is very calculated. He burns through man-servants like no one's business. He is so meticulous and rigorous that it's impossible to live with. Enter Passepartout a person who has done almost everything. From gymnastics to waiting on rich people, there seems to be nothing that he can't do. He becomes Fogg's valet, but isn't given much time to practice.
When the Bank of England is robbed, Fogg and his rich cohorts who like playing cards discuss the matter. Some of the men are certain that the culprit will be caught, after all traveling is not that fast. Fogg then comments that it's quite possible for a person to circumnavigate the world in no less than 80 days. Preposterous, you might say—that is, if you were these men.
So when money is wagered, it seems inevitable that Fogg will attempt to travel around the world in....yeah you know the rest.
At the heels of a hasty getaway, disasters always happen. The trains won't run because the passage is blocked by snow—no problem for Fogg and Passepartout, they just buy a hot air balloon and fly over the mountains. Land in Spain rather than France?—no sweat, they'll just coax a boat out of a rich man.
The events line up against them like dominoes and once they pick up speed falling, they never cease.
Bull fighting, princess rescuing, offending natives, surviving attacks, British vs. American jokes—yes, all of these are found within "Around the World in Eighty Days".
If this were a two-hour movie, it would be fun and exciting, but it's not. The film is three-hours, thus giving lots of time for long sequences of nature shots.
This movie skips around in cultures as the characters travel from India to Hong-Kong to San Francisco...so and and so forth.
What I liked about the movie was how it was somewhat loyal to the different countries. Not everybody speaks English and the music changes to suit the stylistic tendencies of the home country in question. There is a certain amount of whitewashing, but hey, it's a good step in the right direction. One larger problem was that of an Indian princess who is played by....Shirley MacLaine...what? Yes, that's right; it's one of the larger examples of American-izing (or should I say "British-izing"?) the movie.
The movie has a smarter script that some of the company it keeps. Self-reference jokes and over the top acting all work in favor of humor. But David Niven who plays Fogg just isn't likable enough to do anyone any good.
The film also tends to drag sequences out, like a matador scene which eats up a lot of unnecessary time.
When the company gets to America, the gloves start to come off. Americans are brutes, uncivilized, and sleazy...it didn't surprise me to find out that Michael Anderson, the director, was British. Although two of the three screenwriters are American, the "friendly" jabs seem a little too bitter.
One cameo appearance lines up after the other—Peter Lorre, Frank Sinatra, and Buster Keaton just to name a few. It is more important to squeeze a big name in here and there then to continue with the story.
"Around the World in Eighty Days" is a fun adventure, sensationally boring in parts and surprisingly funny in others.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

"The Great Train Robbery" helps mark the beginning of cinema as we know it. Decades later and many masterpieces after and we could hardly tell that we trace film's origins back to movies like this one.
Age hasn't treated "The Great Train Robbery" kindly. In fact, it would be a complete falsehood to say that this movie is spine-tingling or chills-worthy. Yet, it predated the works that were and helped fashion them.
When the famous scene from "The Great Train Robbery" appeared, people were frightened. It depicted a man pointing a gun at the audience and firing. The reaction was astronomical—people jumped out of the way and screamed. It was one of the scariest movie moments for a long time.
It's hard to think that this film and others like it began the obsession with action that would lead to movies like "Ben-Hur" and even "The Lord of the Rings" movies.
The plot is fairly straightforward: four men rob a train—yes indeed, hence the title. They tie up a man and wait until the train is stopped and then hop aboard. Pulling all the passengers out at gunpoint, the rob everyone and speed off.
The law is not far off though, and soon they have men on their tails.
For being only 12 minutes long, it's hard to expect anything else but simplicity. There are signs of age in this movie: the low quality film on which it was shot, the was the camera shakes when the train approaches, a random film splice that replaces a man with a doll, etc.
It's hard to imagine "The Great Train Robbery" making any sort of money in today's cinematic climate.
But there was a time when this was new, this was fresh and exciting.
It's been 110 years since this film was made and yet we still have some of the same structured narrations as this does: the bad guys, the good guys, the chase. This movie could be the harbinger of "The General" or "Ocean's Eleven". Who knows if we're supposed to cheer for the villains? That secret is locked up in silence.
You would be somewhat remiss if you didn't see this picture, if only to know how far we've come.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

The circus, as we are told by the narrator, is a glorious time of fun and festivities on the outside. The clowns smile and the elephants dance around—the ladies look beautiful and the men, handsome. But this is all a facade, for the circus is no...ahem...circus.
That's right ladies and gentlemen, the circus is a vigorous lifestyle that demands that you always stay on your toes and no one knows this more than Brad Braden (Charlton Heston), a man who is described more than once as having 'sawdust in his veins'. He lives and breathes the circus, no one could possibly manage it better than he.
The circus is also home to Holly (Betty Hutton), a high trapeze artist who is also romantically involved with Brad.
At the beginning of the movie, the men with the money want to cut the circus back to just major towns and leave out small cities, therefore eliminating the chance of loosing money. Brad doesn't like this idea and voices this to the men. He thinks that children of all economical status should be able to enjoy the circus as if they were no different...he really lays the drama on thick. The men all refuse but Brad has a card up his sleeve, The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), a daredevil, sexy trapeze artist who sets the ladies ablaze. He is a rumored destroyer of circuses, going through so many women that it jeopardizes the show itself.
But Sebastian is a big money maker, people love to come see him. So the men with power agree to take on Sebastian...ah-ah-ah, not so fast. Brad makes them agree to a full season and in return, they get Sebastian.
"The Greatest Show on Earth" seems like a big advertisement for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey; because it's those combined circuses that Brad oversees, and what spectacles they produce.
There is showing off and then, there's showing off and Cecil B. DeMille goes way beyond the lines of normal hubris.
The circus—although we have been told that it's a hard place to work and live—is a picnic. It's easy going and most people get along with each other. There's no blood, no blemishes, and certainly no cliche 'hey-you're-new-go-scoop-the-elephant-poop' scene...because there's no elephant poop to be seen. This circus is rather immaculate.
The animals are all treated well, Brad makes sure of that, and the performers love what they do.
My biggest issue with the film is how it treats the animals, circuses were notoriously evil to animals (this was made famous by Sara Gruen's novel Water for Elephants). But in this film, we don't see what goes on behind the curtain—everything seems pleasant. Most of these animals were probably abused but all we see is a menagerie, loud and fun.
Okay, I'm off my soapbox now.
Animal cruelty aside, the film doesn't really give the politics and the hardships of the circus its due. Although it was the 50s and everything needed to look nice on film, it could have been a little deeper. I got the feeling that DeMille wanted to make a circus picture, and an epic one at that and then later decided that throwing some plot in here and there wouldn't be a bad idea.
The amount of time that is eaten up on screen from just watching people watch the circus is quite staggering. I felt like the movie should have been renamed "Watching Children Eat Ice Cream".
But the time not devoted to the people watching the big top is filled with the parade itself. So many acts and side acts appear on screen that it no longer is about the plot—which has promptly disappeared in these scenes that can stretch up to twenty minutes long.
The actual plot is filled with cliche items, such as: a man with a shandy past, a man who loves his job more than his girl, and any number of several forms of a love triangle.
Yet, there is something powerful about watching elephants stand up on their hind legs and seeing people balancing on each other's heads.
It's more about the spectacle than the characters, and the melodramatic tendencies of the script and the actors only helps sink this picture.
The only notable exceptions to the acting are a sassy-mouthed Gloria Grahame and a clown-faced James Stewart.
"The Greatest Show on Earth" is too long, too flashy, and too predictable.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Warning: this review may contain graphic or unpleasant descriptions.
"Un Chien Andalou" or to give it its English title "An Andalusian Dog" is a grossly bizarre and impossibly difficult short film. A brain child of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, this film rejoices in having no cemented plot nor limitations to the narrative. 
The film opens with a man sharpening a razor and then testing it on his thumbnail. He looks out the window and the moon is shining outside with only one or two clouds in the sky. Then the film cuts to a woman sitting in a chair calmly looking straight ahead, right into the camera. She has a perplexing expression on her face, it seems smug. Then the man quickly holds her left eye open with his fingers and slices her eyeball horizontally all the way across with the razor. 
If that isn't disturbing enough for you, I'm not sure what would be.
Randomly, the movie jumps to a man riding a bicycle down the street wearing a suit and over that, frilly clothing that looks like it was made for women. The woman from the 'razor incident' is now (thankfully still in possession of both her eyes) reading a book and she hears the man on the bike coming.
Through circumstances that don't make sense to me, a version of the man becomes trapped in the room with the woman. Things start to turn evil and the man's mind travels to sexual perversions.
The film has a way of confusing the viewer until it's practically impossible to understand. Perhaps the film is wanting to exhaust the viewer's mind and force it to submit to the oddity—that seems reasonable because that's the reaction I had.
There is much to analyze in "Un Chien Andalou": misogynistic tendencies, what constitutes as true masculinity, a dual nature of man, and the surrealistic essence of a dream.
There's a phrase in French which translates as: "ants in the palms" which means that someone is wanting to kill someone else or to molest them violently in some way. This is shown literally in "Un Chien Andalou", the man in the room has a hole in his hand from which come ants. He rushes towards the woman who hides in the corner, then he grabs to ropes and pulls, and a variety of objects appear on the ropes: two men, two pianos, and two dead donkeys on top of the pianos. 
There are random fade outs, like the ants on the palm fading into a bush of armpit hair and then into a sea urchin. 
To glean from this film, you might have to be out of your mind, or high...I'm not sure which. 
It's graphically and mentally disturbing, yet it seems more like an experiment in film than an actual movie. It also seems to be the thought of two young men taunting the world, provoking, and daring the censors. 
This film purposely doesn't make sense, following a dream pattern. But unlike other movies that don't quite have it all there ("To the Wonder" or "Upstream Color" to name a few modern examples) this film was neither enjoyable nor captivating enough to merit watching in the first place.
This film is hard to grade because by all rights, it achieved what its purpose was...but does that make it watchable? Not in my case, no.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

The Intouchables (2011) (R)

"The Intouchables" is a sweet movie, not relying on many plot devices to get its simple story across. A man named Philippe (François Cluzet) has suffered an accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. He has to be cared for by an assistant who will be with him essentially all of the time. 
Driss (Omar Sy) is a man whose determination is off-putting at first. He goes to an interview for the job of taking care of Philippe, not really knowing what the job is, but just needing a signature. He needs three signatures (assuming that Philippe's makes the third, he will have all of them) to prove that he applied for jobs and that he wasn't hired in order to receive a benefit of some kind.
After waiting for hours in a room with other applicants, he storms into the interviewing room and demands a signature. Philippe seems something in him right away that strikes the right chord. He tells Driss to come back the next day and he will have his paper signed.
Driss and Philippe couldn't be more different, at least coming from an economical standpoint. Driss and his family live in a cramped apartment and struggle to make ends meet. Some of Driss's younger siblings get into trouble, not the friendly neighborhood kind. Philippe on the other hand is very rich and has been for a while. He enjoys the luxuries that his money can afford him, like a painting that costs over 40,000 euros and is simply a white canvas with a red splotch on it. This kind of behavior baffles Driss but it is just second nature to Philippe, he is a man who enjoys the arts.
When Driss comes to get his signed paper, an offer is made: work here for one month, if you can, and see how you feel after that.
The two men bond right away, it's hard not to when you're spending all of your time together. They realize that though they may come from different backgrounds, they are very similar people.
This movie is very smart because it doesn't try to make you over-empathize with Philippe. Take a scene with dancing for instance: it's Philippe's birthday party and he is trying to win over Driss to classical music, a feat that is not working at all. After exhausting a mini-orchestra that the rich man has at his disposal, Driss whips out his music and demands to be heard...after all, that's fair. For Driss, music is something to be enjoyed and danced to, not emotionally and philosophically studied. He turns on the stereo and starts dancing to his music, soon everyone is joining in. Philippe just has to sit there and watch people do something that he used to be able to do. Cluzet does a fantastic acting job as Philippe because just for a second you could swear that he was envious, resentful, and sad. But then that moment passes and you realize that this man has long since dealt with his constraints and moved on...that doesn't mean that old emotions dont' flare up, it's only natural that they would.
Unlike "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" which has the character struggling with the immediate loss of his motor skills, Philippe has been this way for a while...he's used to it.
The movie is upbeat though...it has a warming sensation that you can't help but smile at.
Not much happens in this movie as far as plot is concerned, but a whole deal occurs in characters and character development. You feel for both Driss and Philippe.
Ludovico Einaudi's score is similar in places to Thomas Newman's score from "American Beauty" and Dario Marianelli's from "Pride & Prejudice"...beautiful and sensitive.
I'd say that "The Intouchables" is a great success, perhaps not the greatest movie, nor one of my favorites but filled with subtle emotion, great performances, and tender moments.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Pitch Perfect (2012) (PG-13)

Following the success of the hit show "Glee" and the (maybe not so) hit show "The Sing-Off"; a cappella singing groups have been getting more and more respect and air time. Entire channels on Youtube are devoted to this style of music, that is, using your voice to make all the sounds necessary to perform a song. A cappella singers must have either been really happy or insanely mad to see that their style of song was being portrayed in a movie: "Pitch Perfect".
Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a girl who knows exactly what she wants to do with her life: she wants to make music, to DJ. She makes "mash-ups", combining two or more songs to make one. She is a freshman at Barden University, though she would rather not be going to college at all. Her father is a professor at Barden so she receives free education and at the constant nagging of her father, decides to attend.
Barden has a few a cappella groups who competed in the finals of a singing competition, one of the most prestigious in this art form. Last year, while the Barden Bellas were competing, Aubrey (Anna Camp) one of singers had a little....um....accident.
Her shame following the, er, nauseating incident was huge; but not as big as her determination to return to the finals and wipe off her name.
The Barden Bellas are opposed by the dominant champions of Barden University, the Treble Makers, whose persistent mockery is another factor in Aubrey's determination.
Aubrey and her friend/fellow singer Chloe (Brittany Snow) decide that they are going to recruit many more beautiful and big breasted singers to help their....image.
But it soon becomes clear that they are not going to find 'perfect 10s' ready for a cappella singing. They decide to "branch out" and seek many more girls and soon have encompassed a large gathering of unique individuals. They try to get Beca to sing, but she thinks that these competitions are "lame" to which Aubrey has to say this:
A-ca-scuse me? Synchronized lady dancing to a Mariah Carey chart topper is not lame
Yeah, she's not fooling anyone.
Adding on to this cast of characters is Fat Amy (the perfect Rebel Wilson) who gladly accepts the invitation to audition for the group. She calls herself "Fat Amy" so that no one will do it behind her back.
Then there's Jesse (Skylar Astin) the cute, sensitive, movie-fan boy who is immediately drawn to Beca; the loner girl. He voices this the first time he sees her while he's in a passing car—he sticks his head almost out the window and serenades her while playing air-guitar...this guy knows how to woo women.
Beca is perfectly content not auditioning for the Barden Bellas; but changes her mind when Chloe practically molests her in the shower and refuses to leave until Beca sings for her...that's a great start for a friendship.
But for some inexplicable reason Beca does sing for her and does audition for the Bellas (enter the famous "Cup Song"). So the rag-tag teams of girls lead by the increasingly dictatorial Aubrey are stuck singing old songs that were performed exclusively by women. When Beca suggests a change, Aubrey shoots her down (because she's not titanium).
There are many things that work in this movie: the cutesy relationships, Rebel Wilson, some of the songs, and the funny bantering between John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks. But the things that don't work in the movie outweigh those that do: the overacting and emotionally frustrating Anne Camp, some of the songs, a girl who speaks evil whisperings quietly that no one can hear her, and the need to be politically correct. Yes, the script does have its off-color moments but those are ridiculous and outlandish and they always results in everyone getting along. It's a very safe piece and doesn't take very many risks.
This movie makes a cappella singing seem very easy, which I would wager is not true.
I know I've mentioned it before but I'll say it again, Rebel Wilson is so funny, she has such a unique comic style.
"Pitch Perfect" isn't perfect, it drags but has its funny moments too. It doesn't have the heart, humor, or the quirk of Tina Fey—always a disappointing thing.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Oblivion (2013) (PG-13)

"Oblivion" is the sophomore work of director Joseph Kosinski, whose previous work "Tron: Legacy" was nice to look at but maybe didn't dazzle in the way that it should have. Although I did enjoy his first work, I was hoping that he would expand his reach and encompass something a little more mature...and with "Oblivion" I feel that he did.
Earth is a thing of the past. Humans are now living on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Nuclear war has ripped the earth apart leaving almost no life and radiation pockets that are deadly and silent. But Jack and Victoria are still on earth and they are extracting the last of the resources. They have two weeks left before they will be shuttled off to Titan.
The Scavs are the alien race with which earth was engaged in the nuclear war. Jack, in a voiced-over narration makes it clear to the viewer on more than one occasion that earth won the war...but at what cost?
Having to relocate an entire planet is no easy feat.
The year is 2077, the war started in 2017. Sixty years have been dedicated to the permanent migration of earth's people and the final touches are being made.
"Oblivion" is a sleek picture. The art direction, cinematography, and score are all almost beyond critique. The way that "Oblivion" is shot, the sweeping and tracking, unflinching shots give the viewer enough reason to stick with the movie. This is one movie that is so hard to look away from because it is almost hypnotic to watch.
Tom Cruise plays Jack, a man who doesn't always play by the rules. He is opposite Andrea Riseborough's Victoria, a woman who is defined by the rule books. Victoria is looking forward to the trip to Titan, her work will be complete; but Jack has his reservations. He's not entirely won over by the idea of moving—he likes to think of earth as his home.
Even though it's been over half a century since earth was obliterated, he still holds onto some relics like his Yankees hat.
But somethings are starting to not add up: missions that randomly have to be aborted and malfunctioning drones. The Scavs are still on earth, though their numbers are few and they're trying to outwit Jack and Victoria. It's basically two against an unknown number. Our pair have the fire power but the Scavs have the knowledge of the land.
Whenever the Scavs have an opportunity they destroy whatever they can get their hands on that Jack and Victoria are in charge of, they do so with pleasure.
"Oblivion" seems to tackle a number of different genres: conspiracy, mystery, romance, and action—but I'm not sure that it managed to master even one of these.
The script, while better than Kosinski's last picture (he had a different pair of writers), isn't a perfect piece of art. Tom Cruise isn't the best actor in the film though he gives a fair performance.
The biggest fault with "Oblivion" is the treatment of Olga Kurylenko who is a great actress but just stands in almost silence for the entire movie. She could have been experiencing so many emotions but is given no opportunity to do this.
"Oblivion" brings thoughts to my mind of the 2009 "Star Trek" and of "District 9" though it is not half as gritty as that film.
As I said before, this film is really great to look at. I'm not sure any other film has been this attractive.
I liked "Oblivion" a surprising amount. It may become silly in parts but it does hold its own as entertaining and thrilling, if not all the way through.
It's worth seeing if just for the visual aspect.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

This Is the End (2013) (R)

"This Is the End" comes in the middle of the end of the world movies of 2013, there was "Oblivion" and then "After Earth" (neither of which did incredibly well in the box office) soon there will be "The World's End" and recently there was "World War Z". Yet "This Is the End" provides fresh air for those who feel that they need twinkies and bottled water just to survive until the end of the apocalypse movies. Alas, no more twinkies...
This movie takes a page from "Being John Malkovich" because it has all the actors playing themselves. Now, there is no portal inside their minds, but they do seem to play an accentuated version of themselves.
The film begins with Seth Rogen waiting at an airport for Jay Baruchel. When Jay arrives, the two embrace and set off to find something to eat (harder than it sounds, since Seth is on a "cleanse"). Right away, the film sets the viewer up for the type of dialogue that will be continued until the end (of the world). It's rapid fire, filled to the brim with obscenities, and above all quite hilarious. Not many people can make a conversation about gluten funny, but Rogen and Even Goldberg who wrote the screenplay, manage to do just that.
They go back to the house and smoke pot and watch television before Seth drops the ball on Jay—they're going to a party at James Franco's house. Jay feels out of his element in California and would prefer to just stay with Seth and 'chill', but no amount of whining will get him out of it. Once at the party the unfortunates just keep piling on top of each other, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson are both there. Jonah Hill in particularly plays such a caricature of himself—it's quite enjoyable to watch.
But then....the end of the world—yes, just like that.
It's drastically unexpected and altogether explosive, but the apocalypse happens.
A group of survivors are left to fend for themselves and try to comprehend what happened with their planet. Jay for one thinks that Judgement Day is occurring (yes, the Biblical one).
This film has so many cameos of actors playing themselves that it's almost more fun to pick out who's who than actually see the plot develop. There's Michael Cera (who plays a drunk, high, and vulgar version of himself), Rihanna, Emma Watson, Danny McBride (hilariously annoying), Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr, and Paul Rudd. There's also a surprise cameo from an unlikely source but I won't ruin that for you.
All the actors are immature and foolish, getting high rather than formulating a plan. But this is what the appeal of "This Is the End" is. Self-deprecating humor is the best.
The relationships that form and break between all the men (for this is a man's movie, through and through and rarely do the girls get to make a joke) give the movie something more than just foul humor and gross-out moments.
"This Is the End" is disgustingly, offensively comical. It's hugely entertaining and rarely contains a dull moment. Not only does it not take itself too seriously, but it goes over the top time after time and sometimes in just spoken word. Take for instance a argument between James Franco and Danny McBride about what is and is not allowed in Franco's house. It keeps building upon itself, barreling past offensive until you can't help but smile a little.
Jay Baruchel seems to soak up most of the spotlight whether intentional or not. I would argue that he is the main character even more so than Seth Rogen, who also helped direct the film.
"This Is the End" isn't perfect, but it doesn't try to be. It attempts to be funny, and with that criteria in mind, it is. It's absolutely not for all, but for those twisted individuals (myself included) who get their kicks by watching movies like this...look no further.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Batman Begins (2005) (PG-13)

"Batman Begins" marks the beginning (irony absolutely intended) of Christopher Nolan's rise to stardom. Before this film he had made the much overlooked "Following", the crime drama with the star cast "Insomnia", and the mind-blowing mystery "Memento"...you'd think that he would have had a better time at the box office with his already glowing record. But it wasn't until he redesigned the Batman saga that he caught the popular eye.
"Batman Begins" makes no qualms about being on origin story, and it's one of the first. Before this film there was buzz about recreating the famous superheroes, "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" had both appeased the need for masked crusaders. But "Batman Begins" showed what comic books could be turned into and defied the "nerdy" definition that was tacked onto the paper equivalent of the movie.
Bruce Wayne is a man that knows fear. This concept was even portrayed in Tim Burton's underrated "Batman", where our hero had to face down his parents's killer. This same idea is used in "Batman Begins" but to new levels that could not have even been imagined.
What this film does more than anything else is give the viewer something to think about if he wishes to and if not, hey! explosion! The script (as is mostly true of Nolan) is sensationally smart and has his typical philosophy in it. There are allusions to obsession, insanity, and the mind.
Gotham is a city that was once a pinnacle of goodness (maybe not morality but a nice city nonetheless). Bruce's parents were near the top of the ladder of success and he enjoyed the luxury of living with a family that had much wealth.
But if you know that Batman story you know what's coming next. Bruce's parents are brutally murdered in front of him and he is left in the care of Alfred, the butler. Alfred raises Bruce like his own child, but Bruce will never be the same again.
He flees his home city of Gotham to find some way to attain and administer justice, for that's what he seeks. Justice seems like an intangible idea that lies just out of reach.
Bruce's search leads him to a mysterious cult-ish society called The League of Shadows who are, coincidentally, all about justice. Lead by a enigmatic man named Ra's Al Ghul and supervised by a martial arts specialist named Ducard, Bruce starts the training that ends up being the backbone behind Batman.
Batman/Bruce Wayne are the two opposite sides of the coin. Batman stands for justice while Bruce couldn't care less. It's clear that the man behind both characters is more Batman than Bruce but he is not entirely one or the other. Nolan really succeeded with this movie and its characters because they are all incredibly human and realistic.
Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne and although he wouldn't have been my first choice, it's hard to think of anyone else in the role. He really embodies the idea behind Batman quite well. Michael Caine, a Nolan regular, is Alfred and is effortlessly amazing. Morgan Freeman appears as a technically savvy genius who helps Bruce with the gadgets that help him become Batman. Adding on to big-named stars are Liam Neeson (one of the best in this movie) and Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes who isn't perfect but does a respectable job. Gary Oldman is great as Jim Gordon, whose character is Batman without the mask.
But for me, the acting in this movie belongs to Cillian Murphy as the villainous Dr. Crane. His eyes are so captivating that it's almost hard to look away. He knocks his role out of the park, and paves the way for more great villains in the rest of the Nolan Batman movies.
"Batman Begins" could have been just a prequel, all about story; but it is much more than that. It stands on its own feet without any assistance.
This movie deserves all the praise that it received.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Land Before Time (1988) (G)

Okay, I'll admit that "The Land Before Time" was a childhood favorite of mine. What child doesn't like to see family friendly dinosaurs having a merry little adventure that rarely ends up with peril and always excludes gruesome deaths with gallons of blood?
Many, many years later and re-watching "The Land Before Time" I realized how non-subtle its point is.
Littlefoot is a Long Neck (this movie isn't scientifically accurate) and he's one of the last of his kind. The land around his family is drying up so Littefoot's mother, grandmother, and grandfather decide to journey to "the Great Valley" which is an Eden-esque place with so much life that it could never be destroyed. It sounds too good to be true, but hey, they're talking dinosaurs.
On this journey, Littlefoot runs in to Cera, a Three-Horn and immediately the film makes a point: Three-Horns don't play with Long Necks (or as a more racist term "Flat Heads"). Yes indeed, this film is about racism and tolerance...but more on that later.
Then a giant quake shakes the earth and great chasms open up and all our youthful characters get separated from their parents...and in Littlefoot's case something a step further happens.
Littlefoot is left separated from the adults in his life and gets very, very lonely. He decides that he will try to make it to the Great Valley and hope that the rest of his family has done the same as well.
But there's a evil character in "The Land Before Time" the T-Rex which the characters refer to as "Sharptooth". There seems to be only one, a rouge if you will that is hell-bent on eating little dino-kids.
From the amount of times that the characters interact with Sharptooth it's startling how none of them get eaten (oops, I mean, uh SPOILER)...seriously did you think that a kid's movie was going to have its protagonists becoming hors d'oeuvres? If Wes Craven made this film maybe, otherwise, our little munchies are safe.
So Littlefoot begins his trek towards the Great Valley and tries to convince Cera to come with him; but alas, Three-Horms don't socialize with "Flat Heads"....more anti-racism sentiments here.
Littlefoot continues on his own and soon runs into more characters that form a posse: Ducky, a Big-Mouth; Petrie, a Flier; and Spike, a mute Spike Tail.
"The Land Before Time" doesn't use the correct scientific names for the dinosaurs like triceratops and brontosaurus not because it doesn't think that its children viewers can handle the words (though that might play a part of it) but because it attempts to show how the dinosaurs (were they capable of sophisticated logic) would think of themselves.
This movie is both dark and deep for a kid's movie. It keeps reminding the viewer that tolerance and teamwork is the best way. There would be no way that the characters could have survived without each other and working together. It's nice and cute and a good point but it might have been hit too hard.
After probably more than a decade since I have seen "The Land Before Time" I was struck by how good the score was—it's almost epic and would be at place in any live action movie, maybe even a David Lean picture. The film does bring you back to the time of dinosaurs and creates real peril that the characters have to face.
Under heavy scrutiny it might fall apart, but holds its own as entertaining for both kids and adults.
The animation can be jaded in certain action scenes but must be applauded in others for its artistic and realistic portrayal.
"The Land Before Time" isn't great, but it is a fine try.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Easy Rider (1969) (R)

"Easy Rider" is a curious movie, balancing between poignant and pointless. Dennis Hopper's explosive directorial debut is heralded as one of the best debuts, but "Easy Rider" just didn't measure up.
The film follows two friends, Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper respectively), who enjoy traveling without much baggage (both physical and emotion) on the backs of their motorcycles. They travel from here to there, supporting themselves with drug trafficking. They seem to represent the average hippie—deep and philosophical, yet unable to communicate quite articulately and always put down because of angry and dangerous stereotypes.
Near the beginning of the film the friends make a drug trade and soon find that they are in possession of a large amount of money and decide to make a meandering path towards Mardi Gras, where they think they'll have a great time.
On this journey, the pair runs into some interesting people including a colony of like-minded stereotypical hippies. Wyatt and Billy stay at this colony for a while and then decide that they would enjoy being at Mardi Gras much better so they head out again and run into George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) who accompanies them for another leg of their adventure.
What "Easy Rider" seems to be saying is simply "Hey, be nice to each other." This would make sense because of the two main characters both being put down on more than one occasion because they are different and because of the time in which the movie was made. "Easy Rider" was the same year as Woodstock and as the 60s were coming to a close, "Easy Rider" tried its best to remind everyone of tolerance.
But there is an adolescent immaturity to the way that the film is scripted and directed. Both protagonists are jobless, likable, and incredibly logical and not prone to any side effects from all the drugs that they are taking. Only one scene does not glamorize the drugs, but soon after the scene is completed Wyatt and Billy shake off the experience and go about their merry business.
Wyatt and Billy are youthful characters who are more knowledgeable about the world than their adult counterparts. When the posse encounters Southern prejudice, they journey will not remain the same.
There is also a level of Americanism in the film, Wyatt dresses in American flag-clad clothes and his motorcycle has the stars and stripes painted on the side. Are they really searching for what is "American" on their journey. If so, then the film was even more preachy than I first thought.
"Easy Rider" doesn't really go anywhere. It meanders and tries to pluck a few emotional strings, having more than one "Bonnie and Clyde" moment; but it really is quite flat. I would rather not watch a movie about two guys who just walk around and look at landscape. I failed to connect with any of the characters.
Jack Nicholson is the best actor in the movie, he seems the most well-rounded and capable of pulling off an accent without seemingly trying.
The scenery and the cinematography are both beautiful. The stylization is pleasant to look at, minus one psychedelic scene. Yet, the story itself is what I see as filled with holes.
Not moving or enthralling by any means.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Hamlet (1996) (PG-13)

"Hamlet" is officially the longest movie that I've ever seen. Throwing all caution to the wind, Kenneth Branagh drives this film over the daunting four-hour mark. But does it deserve to be as long as it is, or is it just pretentious?
The only other film version of the Shakespeare play that I had seen was the 1948 Laurence Olivier version which I did not love. But the older movie certainly has it abridgments, editing out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely; much to the anger of the hard-core bard fans.
To those of you who are enormous Shakespeare lovers, look no further, this is the movie for you. For everyone else, you might want to look elsewhere.
For what "Hamlet" is, you simply have to admire the tenacity of Branagh and his team of film makers.
The movie begins as did the 1948 film, with the apparition of a ghost and the madness that ensues afterward. Regrettably, what I was thinking all during what was supposed to be a frightening opening scene was "Hey, is that Jack Lemmon? That is Jack Lemmon! I didn't know he did Shakespeare. That's weird! Okay focus!" Yes indeed, the cast that makes random cameos (Hey, Robin Williams!) distracts from the actual plot and the emotion of the film (What? Richard Attenborough—where did you come from?).
The ghost is the father of Hamlet, hell-bent of revenge and determined to make his son just as obsessed as he is. After two nights of appearing to some guards (Jack Lemmon playing one of them), one of Hamlet's friends witnesses the ghost and tells Hamlet about it.
Meanwhile the incestuous nature of a royal family has plagued Hamlet's kin. His mother has married her brother-in-law after the passing of her husband (ghost man, for those who are curious).  Hamlet has no trouble feeling the anger of his father's ghost and swears allegiance to the wispy remnant of his dad.
What Branagh's "Hamlet" does that Olivier's "Hamlet" doesn't, is portray the madness of the character. Kenneth Branagh is sometimes over-the-top as the iconic main character. He's surrounded by a huge cast that includes Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon (yes, I was surprised too), Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet, Charlton Heston, Rosemary Harris, Judi Dench (in an incredibly short cameo), and Nicholas Farrell (a Shakespeare regular, the best actor of the movie).
The 1996 "Hamlet" is very true to the play, determined to give each and every character all their lines with all the emotion tacked on to it. With this movie being as long as it is, it begins to be overkill with every character screaming and crying within five minutes of the other one.
Kate Winslet disappoints as Ophelia, she's really not that great in this movie.
Also, every scene drags on too long. Take for instance a scene where two men plot Hamlet's demise: it goes on for close to twenty minutes.
I have to admit that "Hamlet" is ambitious...boring, but ambitious. You have to admire its guts.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Robot and Frank (2012) (PG-13)

There have been many famous robotic figures from films over the decades. Even from back in the silent film era, artificial intelligence has been filling our screens. The most notable robotic personalities are HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey", WALL-E, GERTY from "Moon", Sonny from "I. Robot" and perhaps the robot from "Robot and Frank" should be tacked on to the end, not because the robot itself anything original, but because of the way the characters treat the machine.
"Robot and Frank" is the debut full-length film from Jake Schreier who should be complemented for picking such a unique project to make. It comes from Christopher D. Ford, his biggest script yet. The men behind the scenes are all virtually unknowns, but the actors in front of the screen are not.
This film tells the story of Frank (Frank Langella) who is not getting any younger and suffering from some sort of memory disease—whether it is dementia or Alzheimer's or just old age, we are not told and it is not relevant to the point of the story.
It's the near future and Frank is an ex-theif whose habits are not dying. He finds himself breaking into his own house, trying to relive the glory days in the opening scene of the movie. But he doesn't know that it's his house, and when he finds out it makes him angry, frustrated, and possibly scared.
Frank's children both care for him but find it inconvenient to be with him all the time. His son, Hunter (James Marsden) has to take 10 hours out of his weekend just for traveling time to come visit his father, but he does it every week anyway. His daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler) is out of the country doing some sort of relief work.
Hunter finds that his frustration is growing with his father, who can forget pretty much anything in a matter of days. He's always getting into trouble, like visiting a small shop and shoplifting there to keep his inner thief at peace. Hunter buys him a robot to keep him company and clean up after him.
Frank rejects the idea of a nanny, because he doesn't feel that anything is wrong with him.
The way that this film treats the loss of memory is quite accurate from my own personal experiences with it.
The robot and Frank soon form a quirky relationship, Frank teaches the robot how to pick locks and they have small adventures together, many of which involve a local library and the librarian there, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).
The renaissance of information is plowing through the town that Frank lives in and he is staying on top of it rather well; but the robot sometimes gets to him. The robot is a personality that acts as a health trainer. It makes him good meals and reminds him to take his medicine, keeps him on a schedule and forces him to take walks. Unlike many of the other robots envisioned in movies, this robot is not bound to a moral code, nor does it mince words about it.
The script has clever nuances like a scene when the robot quotes Descartes: "I think therefore I am". He says that this is how humans are, but he does not think, and therefore he is not. He knows that he is not alive, and he is fine with that. There are no pockets of emotion hanging around in the robot, yet he can bond with Frank and care for him, because that's what he's programmed for.
Also, this film is original because of how humans treat the machines. There's a certain amount of respect, but no wonderment. The fancy lights have already faded, the magic trick, revealed. Robots are just machines.
But some people don't like robots like Frank's daughter who has a form of philosophy against them.
"Robot and Frank" could have been great, but it tries too hard to be funny. If it kept itself as more of a drama, the impact could have been greater.
Still, the acting is good, the effects are fun, and the story is surprisingly touching.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Gimme Shelter (1970)

"Gimme Shelter" is a curious documentary because it starts out and seems like it's going to be a straight forward concert film, yet it turns into something much more poignant than that. This is arguably one of the most famous rock documentaries and surely one of the most critically acclaimed. When it begins, the film doesn't hold back or shy away from showing whole songs without edits to other scenes. It seems cemented in showing the Rolling Stones's songs in their entirety. That's fine, but it doesn't have a purpose besides being a form of music video.
The Rolling Stones are one of the most famous rock bands in history, period. I'm not a huge fan of their work but I can say that they influenced generations and are still touring...that's impressive. By definition they have a right to be documented just because of the music they made. But this film is not just about the Stones, but rather the fading impact of Woodstock, the changes in the rock audience, and the insanity of people.
"Gimme Shelter" opens with the Stones playing at Madison Square Garden, they are having fun and the crowd is too...generally a really good time. But then we cut to an editing room where the Rolling Stones's members are sitting in front of a television screen watching the precursors, the actual event, and the aftermath—what is this event? The free concert they hosted in San Francisco know now as "Altamont".
There's one scene in "Gimme Shelter" where the Stones are traveling via helicopter over to the venue and they are looking down at the thousands upon thousands of cars lining the sides of the road. The vehicles seem to stretch on to infinity and if that doesn't boost your ego, I don't know what will. But as soon as they step out of the helicopter and start making their way through the huge crowd (300,000 people is the number that's thrown around in the movie) they start to be harassed and Mick Jagger is even hit at one point. Then they make it to their trailer and they don't witness the riots that are beginning outside.
The crowd has been there awhile, they want to have the best seats and they are prepping as if Altamont is going to be the next Woodstock—everyone's saying, praying, and thinking that. There are drugs and booze and the cultures clash, but the music is supposed to be one of the uniting forces of the people...this audience may not see it that well.
While most of the movie is leading up to the concert—the planning, preparing, and deal making—the concert itself is the final note of the film and what gives it its power.
By simply letting the camera observe the people, the film's three directors (Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) capture the event and show the viewer a different side of rock 'n roll.
I have to say that I admired the camera operators for their work because some of the things that they must have had to endure were sure to be frightening.
As the night rolls on and the Stones are getting ready to play a group of Hell's Angels bikers take over the stage as impromptu bodyguards. They pull people who keep throwing themselves on the stage over to the side, and deal with them there. It's from here that things will take a dark turn.
The hindsight that "Gimme Shelter" shows up is haunting. It was far more impactful than I was expecting.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Up in the Air (2009) (R)

Ryan Bingham is a man with no baggage. He travels the United States as a man who is hired out to fire people when executives are too emotional and scared to do it. He has a heartless job, but you know what? He loves it. Not necessarily because of the way he has to treat people, but because of the travel. The slight dizziness that accompanies the motion of an airplane and the way the cramped seats feel—these are the things that he enjoys, he even tells us that they make him feel at home. He is similar to Lester from "American Beauty" in the sense that he is...."a loser". He doesn't know that he's a loser, but his actions and his beliefs lead me to think this way.
Mr. Bingham is excessively organized, he knows how to get through an airport with minimal holdups. He's racist (he advises a colleague to always travel behind Asians) but he sees it as stereotyping...because that sounds nicer to him. He really doesn't care how he comes across to people—this could be a side effect of the job that he has. Imagine traveling every single day to find different people, stare them in the face, and tell them that they are going to be better off elsewhere.
Ryan Bingham is the main man of "Up in the Air", a flawed protagonist is there ever was one. His need to always be up in the air (yes, ironic since that's the title) may be his ways of escape. He thinks that he's running from something, but from what, we are never really sure and I would argue that neither is he.
Enter Alex, a woman who is the female equivalent of Ryan. She is his mirror—naturally, they get along splendidly. They start a quick affair and soon keep each other as a go-to partner for passion. But both Alex and Ryan travel all the time, they have to coordinate their romances in layovers.
Then we see Natalie, a young woman with a large amount of ambition. She is taking Ryan's company to a whole new level. She's introducing a cyber component of the corporation. If you could fire people via the computer (using a similar product to Skype) then what's the point in flying so many people out to fire the people that have already been fired? It would cut down of travel expenses by an exponential amount and it would be more timely for everybody involved. She surmises that most people will be happy for the change, they'll get to spend more time with their families—they'll be at home more.
Yet Ryan's home is in the air, so he's not thrilled about the change. Everyday that he's not traveling he feels like he's imprisoned, that a weight on his shoulders is pulling him down.
For the sake of being important, he's working towards a goal; a goal that he's very reluctant to share with anyone else. This goal, if ever succeeded, would land him in the elite class of people....it doesn't accomplish anything it would just be nice to have—and he wants in.
Natalie needs to see what happens "out in the field" so Ryan takes her along on a road trip of sorts, they fire people and form a bizarre, mentor/pupil relationship.
"Up in the Air" is so timely and current that it's almost a wake-up call watching it. It deals with futures and successes and families and (the film favorite) love.
George Clooney plays Ryan and the role suits him very well. He has a natural smugness that embodies the character so fantastically; but he also is missing something. The way the film shows the naked left hand of Ryan is shockingly biographical of Clooney's own life. Vera Farmiga plays Alex and Anna Kendrick plays Natalie. All three (Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga) got recognized at the Oscars. The acting in this film is quite good.
Jason Reitman (of "Juno" fame) directs this film and I realized while watching that I have enjoyed everything I've seen done by this man. He's so quirky and brilliant and all of his films (that I've seen) are remarkably human in idea and execution.
"Up in the Air" is powerful, sneaking up inside and sometimes becoming devastating. Clooney gives one of his best performances and the film itself is shot with restraint and intelligence.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Firemen's Ball (1967)

Milos Forman's "The Firemen's Ball" is something of comical history. It's been long forgotten by today's immediate access generation, being replaced with faster, lewder, cruder, louder, and flashier pieces. Yet even after the decades of time that it had to survive, "The Firemen's Ball" is still ridiculous, funny, and remarkably poignant.
The setting of the story is preposterous enough, filled with characters who are sensationally ignorant and naive. The film opens with one man looking over a table set with prizes (some statues, dolls, and cakes) for people to bid on. This auction of sorts will take place right in the middle of the ball that the local fire department is throwing as a fund raiser and as a final farewell to their old chief, a man who's dying of cancer but doesn't know it.
As the man peruses the table, he notices that one item is missing, he runs over to another man and instantly blames him, simply for being the closet in proximity. The two men argue and soon the opening titles interrupt their squabbling and when they finish, we are thrown into the middle of the ball.
Irony piles upon incompetence as the night wears on.
The ten or so men who are coordinating this event decide that they want to host an impromptu beauty pageant with some of the girls in the crowd. But they're are chauvinistic and materialistic and (on top of that) unintelligent, so getting girls to agree to the pageant is hard enough. Harder still is finding the girls that everyone agrees should be in the show.
After a ten minutes of searching, they still don't have anything to go on and they scramble to assemble a team of willing girls in order to crown a winner.
Meanwhile, one of the firemen is guarding the table of paraphernalia and finds that items keep disappearing. his frustration grows as do his irritable health symptoms.
"The Firemen's Ball" could be a movie about a couple of firemen who really don't know what they're doing. Or it could be about organizations in general, which is what I think. This movie comes across very satirical, in the right way—possibly offensive, never compromising, and always maniacal.
Milos Forman filmed this movie in his home country of Czechoslovakia and had to flee the following year after the film was prohibited from playing anywhere in the country indefinitely. Though the film saw some success, gaining one Oscar nomination for foreign language film, it wasn't a huge hit and gradually faded from the common mind.
But Forman's later works, in particularly "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", are progressions of the artist that began with films like "The Firemen's Ball".
If it is allegorical, which I think it is, it's hilarious. If not, it's still funny. It works either way. This film could be analyzed for its political connotations and social commentary; or it could just be seen as a fun comedy.
The night goes on and drunken panic sets in everywhere, and I watch in utter amusement. "The Firemen's Ball" does have a significantly heavier ending than beginning; but all-in-all it's really lighthearted.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars