May Summary

















ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Godzilla
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best: "Godzilla"
Worst: "X-Men: Days of Future Past"



CLASSICS:
Great Expectations
Gun Crazy
High Society
Mildred Pierce
Murder, My Sweet
The Magnificent Ambersons

Best: "Mildred Pierce"
Worst: "High Society"



COMEDY:
Bull Durham
Good Morning, Vietnam
The Nutty Professor
The Pink Panther

Best: "The Pink Panther"
Worst: "Bull Durham"



DRAMA:
Gallipoli
Hannah and Her Sisters
Restless
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Manchurian Candidate

Best: "Gallipoli"
Worst: N/A



FOREIGN:
Ariel
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Chungking Express
La Strada
Night of the Shooting Stars

Best: "Night of the Shooting Stars" and "Chungking Express"
Worst: N/A



HORROR:
Audition
The Fly
The Hills Have Eyes

Best: "The Fly"
Worst: "The Hills Have Eyes"



WESTERN:
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Red River
The Big Sky

Best: "Red River"
Worst: "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"



?????
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Last Wave

Best: "The Last Wave"
Worst: N/A



Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (PG-13)
















I wasn't having a great day when I saw "Hannah and Her Sisters" which is probably why it hit me so hard. You have to keep in mind that while people (myself included) try to look at a film objectively, there is a percentage and perhaps it's the lion's share that is just personal response to the movie. For instance, my own morbidity was kicking in and my personal life was just a mess...what better way to spend the day than with a Woody Allen movie?
Allen is an extremely talented director and with "Hannah and Her Sisters" he makes perhaps his most cheerful piece. It's a messed up movie that deals with inter-family relationships and the lies we tell to one another. It's full of truth but even more full of deceit. As always, Allen is able to congregate the most extraordinary cast and to list all of the players would seem a bit crass. Unusual for a movie starring himself, Allen is not afraid to share the spotlight or even give it away to others.
The movie begins at Thanksgiving when a family has gathered together to celebrate. There are odd personalities here, typical with the average functioning family ready to fall apart at the seams—the alcoholic mother, the drug-addicted sister, the blissfully unaware sisters, the cheating husband...etc.
The movie's first lines acknowledge that Elliot (Michael Caine in an Oscar winning role) is in love with Lee (Barbara Hershey) who is the sister of his wife, Hannah (Mia Farrow). Already we are shown the darker side of family life, but what is unexpected is the mental process of each of the characters. We hear the voice-over narration of them speaking to themselves so we get to know how each one of them functions. Elliot thinks too much and too little. He takes things to their logical conclusion, but sometimes his more crass side wins over and he blunders into awkward situations without realizing it.
As Elliot's longing for his wife's sister continues, Hannah's ex husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is battling with his own mortality.
A hypochondriac, Mickey goes to the doctor frequently to consult, seeing if he has caught anything life-threatening lately. He returns to the doctor, inquiring about the loss of hearing in one ear. Mickey loves to complain about his symptoms but he doesn't love it when things don't turn out great. The doctor seems a little concerned and sets up another test at the hospital which launches Mickey into a tailspin.
Lee is living with an older painter, Frederick (Max von Sydow) who is the most depressing and singularly unattractive character in the movie. He's an intellectual snob who enjoys making vast commentary on the degradation on society. Clearly, he thinks of himself as a prophet, yet he is too arrogant to share the truth with anyone but Lee.
Told somewhat in flashbacks with a jazzy score to accompany, "Hannah and Her Sisters" explores the possibilities within one family. It's almost cultish the way that the same characters keep popping back up in different scenarios and it most definitely tip-toes the line between outrageous fiction and insightful truth.
Holly (Diane Wiest) is the third sister and the one whose life really is falling apart. She had some substance abuse problems and then there's the whole career thing. She battles with her frenemy April (Carrie Fisher) over fairly much everything—men, jobs, happiness.
But though there is all this drama happening, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a very optimistic movie that seems to be saying—it's okay. It could just have been the mood I was in, but I didn't buy that sentiment. The movie plays out like a gigantic shrug of the shoulders. Hey, life's complicated, let's deal with it. It's a comfortable thought, but it doesn't challenge the viewer like the rest of the movie does. Its resolution is weak, though undeniably charming.
It's a class act and would bring home three Oscars, including one for Diane Wiest. Needless to say, the acting is sensation.
It's a very good movie.










Score: ★★★½

Audition (1999) (R)




This review contains SPOILERS!
I must say that I almost wish I didn't know the turn "Audition" makes before I saw it...almost. For much of the movie, in fact, the overwhelming majority of it, there is a sense of happiness with just the slightest hesitancy. That inkling, the premonition if you will, that something may get ugly is thrown wide open for the last twenty or so minutes of the movie. It becomes a bona fide freak show.
Perhaps what doesn't work for "Audition" is how slow it is to get moving—I could feel this way because I knew something bad was going to happen so for the entire movie I was worrying.
The movie opens as a drama, with the death of the maternal figure. Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is the husband and father. He grieves his wife's loss and raises his son by himself.
Seven years after the death of his wife, he has turned into a workaholic and a person who isn't that fun. Under the somewhat teasing instruction of his son, he decides that he will start looking for love again. But it has been a while since he's been in the dating pool, yet, as always, there seems to be an abundance of fish in the sea (forgive the metaphors).
His friend hatches a scheme. They will hold auditions for potential dates. Masquerading as a film studio looking for actresses, they get hundreds of girls to send in their resumes with cover shots and Aoyama pours over them. He is told that he gets to pick thirty. He becomes obsessed with a girl named Asami (Eihi Shiina) who is almost too demure. She doesn't impress Aoyama's friend; but that doesn't matter to him. She is the apple of his eyes, consider the auditions closed.
Somewhere in this first hour, there is a deadly apprehension that slowly creeps in. It manages to sink beneath your skin, exemplified by the way that Asami's neck bones jut out of her nap as she hunches over in her room, waiting for a phone call.
Part of the movie is what we do in our personal lives when no one is watching, and the other part of the film is the facade that we wear when we are out in public.
For being a film with only four or so characters, "Audition" meanders too much with how it sets up everybody. There is a brief plot stealing tangent that suggests that Aoyama's secretary is in love with him. Perhaps then the movie is about being content with what you have; but I somehow doubt it.
As "Fatal Attraction "did, "Audition" reaffirms the thought that a woman is the most dangerous and vile creature imaginable. A woman spurned would be an unrestrained force of nature. Unlike the Glenn Close movie, "Audition" never makes it enjoyable to see the chase and the evasion. It's a movie that is almost too unbearable to see and leaves you feeling cold, unloved, and freaked out.
The sadistic way that bodies are tortured and cut apart, rarely leaving anything to the imagination of the viewer, is a little hard to choke down. I get the feeling that "Audition" was made just because it could.
Yet amidst the horror, "Audition" holds its own as a cerebral, mind-trick movie. You are never quite certain if everything you are seeing is the truth and some characters make comments about dreams. The way that one scene melts into another and characters replace one another, history backtracks and time distends, it's all so ambitious; yet it never quite feels perfected.
The movie makes a large stylistic jump from its first part to its second. For much of the beginning (in fact, the majority) of the movie, it is shot with long static shots. Wide angels, nothing fancy. When it changes to shaky cam and rapid cuts, it's a bit off-putting.
"Audition" is creepy, but it is also fascinating to a certain extent. It's a movie that deals with our worst fears and though it may be just a tad more than a little sexist, it is a very innovative and bloody mess.









Score: ★★½

Gallipoli (1981) (PG)













I just can't get over Peter Weir...and I can't believe that it's taken me this long to discover this director. He jumps from one genre to the next without so much as a hiccup in his career and each and every work seems to improve upon his last one. For the Australian cinema, it was "Picnic at Hanging Rock" that made Peter Weir a star; but it wasn't until he directed the war saga "Gallipoli" that he truly became well-known in Hollywood and would go on to make some of the most memorable movies of  each continuing decade like "Dead Poets Society" and "The Truman Show".
"Gallipoli" starts in the vacant plains of Australia where Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is a runner. He is coached by his uncle and he's gotten his 100 yard sprint time down to under ten seconds. It's 1915.
The war with Germany rears its ugly head and even though he's only eighteen, Archy wants to sign up to fight. His parents and uncle don't see his point of view, so he plans on running away.
The first scene in the movie reestablishes why Peter Weir is a genius and an enormous risk taker. Archy works on a farm and one of the more annoying men there challenges him to a race back to the house—him on horseback and Archy on foot. Archy agrees and then runs barefoot back to the house, bloodying his feet three days before an important race.
Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) is also hearing of the war, though he has no interest in fighting. He sees the war as a fight between England and Germany, he has no interest in getting involved since it's not his war, or even his country's war.
Frank is a runner too, a sprinter who decides to enter the same race that Archy has been training for. He enters on the day of the race and places a large bet that he will win, imagine his surprise when the cheerful and skinny Archy wins the race. Now out of money he mopes around town, trying to think how to get back to Perth.
Archy tells his uncle that he won't be returning home and goes to join the army, but is stopped by the same annoying man on the farm. Now Frank isn't the only one who's moping. Archy lingers around town, deciding what he should do and Frank becomes friends with him. He suggests that they travel back to Perth and try to enlist there...Frank is still adamant about not joining; yet every time that Archy brings up enlisting, he seems to be considering the possibility with more severity.
Hopping on a train that takes them to the middle of the desert, Archy shows his determination to joining the army by walking fifty miles across the desert in "Lawrence of Arabia" fashion. Frank comes along just for companionship, and the two stumble into a wandering man who helps them out. They both explain the war to the man, who shares Frank's view.
"Gallipoli" is terribly clever with how it presents the war and the men. It's not a movie about a historical event—though the events in the movie did happen—but it is a film about two men and war itself. The film seems to be saying that war is a pointless act; yet half of its main actor duo thinks that war is a heroic act. Frank and Archy are incredibly human people and they each make mistakes and triumph in certain circumstances.
They become close friends but have to split up just before Archy enlists. For being a movie about war, there is nor much war in the movie. Weir makes conscientious efforts to not show the fighting scenes. There is one moment in particular that reflects this, as the shot is serenely on the observers of the war the noises fill the audience's ears.
Perhaps one of the most digestible of Weir's films, "Gallipoli" proves that great war movies don't have to have a lot of violence. The plot meanders slightly, but I never lost interest. War is just the backdrop. Frank and Archy are in the spotlight the entire time.
Still, there are moments that the oddity of the director pop back up, most notably with the electronica inspired score.
This movie was released the same time that "Chariots of Fire" was and dwarfs the Best Picture Winner in comparison. It's a masterpiece, a fully-realized work of pain and art and I consider it to be one of the quintessential war movies.
Russell Boyd's camera work is as stunning as ever...the movie is just hypnotic.
"Gallipoli" will remain with us for a long tiem.









Score: ★★★★

The Last Wave (1977) (PG)
















There is absolutely no reason for "The Last Wave" to work. It is a jumbled mess, a horrid tale of apocalyptic times told in such an overly dramatic and completely impossible way that it just comes across as idiotic...yet the movie is evocative, thrilling, and completely engrossing. It is the narrative form of what the process of making "Jaws" was.
Peter Weir may have played with the idea of the unexplained with "Picnic at Hanging Rock"; but here he throws the curtains wide open and shows us just how melancholic and suspenseful the unknown can be. Using Richard Chamberlain as his main actor, Weir presents many dichotomies throughout "The Last Wave".
A disaster movie like none you've ever seen, "The Last Wave" is based in Weir's native Australia. The movie begins with a stunning sequence of a storm raging into a small town. Thunder rolls across an arid plane, but no rain clouds can be seen. Then rain starts cascading from the heavens and huge chunks of hail start breaking through the windows.
We cut to David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) leaving his office and returning home. He is traveling through the heavy rains and has to wait in traffic while everything clears up. When he gets home, he is adorably ambushed by one of his daughters and the family gathers around the dinner table for their meal. The rain keeps coming down outside and water starts pouring down the steps of David's house. The water from the bathtub has been left on and has now flooded a great deal of the house.
In the meantime, a young man runs through the sewers with a bundle in his hands. He seems to be escaping from someone; yet we don't know who. Leaving the tunnels, he makes it to the clear air and goes to a bar, where a few men hunt him down. He is leaving when they not-so-cutely ambush him.
He evades them for a while before being confronted by an old man in a car who points a stick at him and he falls down dead.
The coroner rules that he drowned, even though there was not that much water in his lungs. David is a tax lawyer and has no experience in the courtroom; but his name was mentioned because he supposedly has dealings with the aboriginal people before. Untrue as it was, David now finds himself pressured into helping out with this case; but the five men involved will not speak about what happened that night, they only proclaim their innocence in the matter.
Dreams come. David's nights become filled with enigmatic and haunting dreams of mysterious figures creeping into his house. The watery imagery and the predator in the house theme makes me think of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" though this came seven years before and is much scarier than Wes Craven's film.
The suspense is one thing; but the poetry plus the suspense is another. I don't think "The Last Wave" ever lets you go, though it does have its dull moments. The unbearably confusing plot is what keeps you hooked and it's films like this that surely inspired some of the more creative moments to follow, chiefly Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" comes to mind for obvious reasons.
Surrender is key to the movie. You cannot be thinking about how ridiculous everything is, because that will only make you angry. Instead, consider the beauty of the movie, captured by Russell Boyd. Consider the stellar acting, and consider the story itself. Is it that much more ridiculous than "The Exorcist"?
"The Last Wave" is a movie that exists completely in of itself. It makes no pretenses nor does it self-refernce how odd it might seem.
It's a glorious movie, one that you should try to get your hands on.
For as gloomy as the movie might seem, with the constant doom hanging over everyone's head, it is entertaining beyond reason.
Absorbing and wonderful, "The Last Wave" makes you want to re-watch it the second that it's over.










Score: ★★★★

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) (PG)

















Undoubtedly one of the oddest movies ever made, "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is set in the bush of Australia where mystical things can happen for no reason. On the backdrop of the turn of the 20th century, the movie involves a couple of girls who went missing at Hanging Rock (a real place in Australia) when they where having a day out.
An all girls' college decides that in honor of St. Valentine's Day, they should have a picnic. The college is ruled under the austere gaze of a certain Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), who seems to believe that every girl should be pried out of the college's mold. The posterity of the characters and the facade of the movie is tangibly cheesy, which is in part what makes the film so odd. For "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a coin and this is one of the most obvious two-sided movies. One side is the prim and proper, the lace and corsets. The other side is the unknown, the magical power that stops clocks at noon and puts everyone to sleep.
Both the most frustrating and gratifying aspects of the movie is the trust that Peter Weir places in his audience's hands. They are privy to things the characters are not; and we're smarter than anyone in the movie. We ask the questions that no one else does: why don't they just climb to the top of Hanging Rock? Does anyone else notice the identical wounds on two victims? Is there a way to reunite two siblings? etc.
On this holiday, the group of girls (minus one, who is being punished for not knowing all the stanzas to The Wreck of the Hesperus) are allowed to even take off their gloves once they get past the main town.
En route to Hanging Rock, they are captivated by the story of the place. Its history stretches back well over a million years when it was a volcano. The girls are given strict instructions not to climb the mountain because it is dangerous...but we all know that's a rule that no one is going to obey.
It takes only a few minutes of picnicking before three girls ask permission to go exploring and a fourth tags along with them. They are seen walking over to the base of the mountain by two boys who are from a different party.
Once near the mountain, they start to climb and soon succumb to the weirdest experiences. They all lie down and fall asleep in a geometric shape and then they all recede into the mountain. They make adult and pondering statements on life, as if drawn to Hanging Rock by a supernatural power.
Indeed, the ending of the movie is so ambiguous that it makes you feel annoyed at the whole movies; yet it also feels sensationally smart.
We keep returning to an image of one of the girls, Miranda (Anne Lambert) and the movie's cerebral and unashamed moments give us many visual metaphors ranging from Alice in Wonderland to white swans and back.
The biggest pill to swallow is that "Picnic at Hanging Rock" makes its audience feel smarter than the characters; but itself is much smarter than its audience. There is sure to be something in here, in fact, I'm almost sure of it; yet that does not mean that we can clearly see what it is. You get the feeling, after Mrs. Appleyard peers her head out the window and sees fowls pacing back and forth, that Peter Weir placed everything in this movie for a reason.
The eeriness, the borderline insanity, the cruelty, and the unexplained.
"Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a class act, because it feels like one. It cages a beast inside a corset; and for that, it will remain unforgettable and undeniable.
Shot with yellows and soft light, large white costumes fill out most of the screen. Colors are important here, as are hair styles. The slightest disheveled coif is evidence of the most marginal of character changes.
The score, the style, the aura—"Picnic at Hanging Rock" is sublime.









Score: ★★★½

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) (R)
















Whores!
Oops, I'm sorry! Was that offensive? How silly of me, I should have known better. This is actually how I meant to start my review:
Whores.
Dammit! There I go again.
To be fair "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is much less about prostitutes and much more about the odd pair of main characters and their interactions. Ah, who am I kidding? The movie's about whores.
Entering the movie with wind blown sound effects and cute hipster guitar music (provided by Leonard Cohen), McCabe (Warren Beatty) rides into a town out West in the dead of winter. He wears a great fur coat and has a very mumbled way of communicating. Parading into a bar he starts a game of cards up between the men there and then we are suddenly supposed to like this man. Infamous as a gun slinger who kill Bill Roundtree (well, actually not infamous or famous for this...this is part of the film's odd sense of humor), McCabe starts to make a name for himself and he decides that he wants to start building a whorehouse.
Fresh off success from their respective careers, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" seems like an easy win for the director, Robert Altman, and his two stars: Julie Christie and Beatty.
McCabe can't really judge the landscape of business very well and he finds himself overwhelmed by only three whores and an overload of men. While he still constructs his whorehouse, he keeps the wenches outside in whoretents; but this doesn't go that well, considering that one of them tries to stab a man to death.
Enter Mrs. Miller, a whore who is proud of being a whore. She is smart, quick witted, and more tenacious than McCabe in every sense. She has the stomach for the job and she decides to make herself a business partner with McCabe, though he seems somewhat flummoxed by a woman who can speak.
She runs the business for him, while he stumbles around drunk in the night, rejecting important men's business offers.
After a few weeks of doing sensational prostitutional business, McCabe is approached by some very important men who offer him $5,500. He slurs at them drunkenly and waddles off in the night. Later he learns that he probably should have taken up their offer, because these particular men have a tendency of killing whoever turns them down...it's good for business, you see.
So that's basically the entire movie.
The last twenty minutes of the movie are masterfully suspensful, but my question is: what right did it have to end as a thriller? "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is so sporadic that it never nails down what it wants to do—this is opposed to movies that bounce from style to style and always excel.
Are we supposed to like the two main characters? Because I don't. They don't seem like nice people, which isn't to say that they are evil.
Surprisingly enough, the most offensive part of the movie isn't the constant whore references. No, it comes with a random murder that does absolutely nothing to help the rest of the movie out...it's just there for show.
The movie is odd, I'll give it that, and it is quite beautiful. The shots are eloquent and the acting is nice; but "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a film that never really goes anywhere. It, like a wagon stuck in icy mud, spins its wheels desperately and fails to gain any traction.









Score: ★★½

Chungking Express (1994) (PG-13)

















"Chungking Express" by Kar Wai Wong (or Wong Kar Wai) is a ferocious and quite pleasantly frazzled story that seems conjured up on the spot. It meanders from one story to the next, leaving certain moments unfinished; yet the end result of everything included is a blinding masterpiece.
Beginning with a psychedelic prologue, we are introduced to a very young cop who is trying to rekindle his romance with his ex-girlfriend, May. This young cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has a birthday that is coming up on the first of May and he has decided, irrationally, that the best way to handle things is to buy a can of pineapple that expires on May 1st, thus proving his love to his ex. This is an odd thing to do and his old girlfriend has moved on by then—he vows that he will fall in love with the next woman that walks into the bar that he's occupying.
Enter the mystery woman with a blonde wig and a rain coat.
Sporting sunglasses and a hectic temperament, she is part of a drug racket that blends into the rest of the stories. She has been recruiting people to help her smuggle drugs through the airport; but something goes wrong and she is left out on her own, hiding from the long arms that don't belong to the law.
It's sickly ironic that this is the lady that the young cop should try to fall in love with. He hits on her at the bar, but he gets nowhere, though she doesn't dismiss him totally. The two get drunk and fall asleep at the bar before getting kicked out.
The second part of the movie segues to a different story. This one deals with romance and attractive.
A young girl works a small restaurant and a police officer, number 663 (Tony Chiu Wai Leung who would later do "In the Mood for Love", reuniting with Wong Kar Wai) often comes and orders the chef's salad. 
She is an odd sort of girl. She plays "California Dreamin'" so many times during the movie that anyone would get sick of the tune. She likes to dance and shout, it helps her stop thinking. She is a fidgety girl who doesn't like to stay still for too long. Her name is Faye (Faye Wong).
She falls in love with the cop, but he doesn't realize her affection towards him.
As beautiful as it was, "In the Mood for Love" is a very bleak picture that doesn't indulge in romanticism. Thankfully, this movie has the irrationality to give us a little sweet love.
It's a crime movie, a hectic druggy, romance.
While it would be easy to get swallowed up by the visual aspect of the film alone, "Chungking Express" is fueled by its actors, characters, and its plot. Even as random as it seems, the plot is razor sharp and often makes several self-referential comments...it's almost too good to be true.
But the style is amazing.
Predating movies like "The Celebration" and "Slumdog Millionaire", there is no wonder that the digital sweep would come just a few years after "Chungking Express". It's a blend of everything—visuals, sounds, sound effects.
The result is kaleidoscopic and comprehensive.
"Chungking Express" is a movie that never oversteps itself and leaves you breathless.
A spine-tingling, thrill ride and a sweet, sweet movie.
This is entertainment at its best.










Score: ★★★★

X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13)


















The "X-Men" franchise has been spinning its wheel in the mud for a little while. Ever since "X-Men: The Last Stand" the series has lost a whole lot of steam; but leave it to returning director Bryan Singer to reunite everything in a very entertaining, if totally ridiculous and unsatisfactory sequel.
The biggest question that rode on my mind as I went to see the movie was the necessity of seeing the other "X-Men" movies. Would you be lost if this was your first one? I think the answer is yes. To be fair ,if you're familiar with the characters and the approximate timeline of everything you should be fine, I'm not sure what would happen if you weren't.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" begins on a wind-blow mountain top. A group of mutants are there and are being hunted. Without  divulging too much of the gory details, huge robot transformer-like creatures have been created to hunt down and exterminate mutants. As the last of the last are snuffed out, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) hatch a plan using Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page).
Kitty's abilities involve being able to walk through walls and transport someone's consciousness into the past...what? That's a convenient little side power that I don't remember from the previous movies, but maybe I'm just being forgetful. Anyhow, they decide to send a mutant back to stop a crucial moment in history from happening. Unfortunately, the only mutant that can survive the trip back to the 70s is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) because of his unique ability to heal quickly.
But to prevent the event from happening, he's going to need help from the two people who couldn't hate each other more at the moment: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). Reuniting the two of them and bringing about world peace is not as easy as it sounds.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" has many things going right for it, the most obvious one is the Evan Thomas as Quicksilver and the resulting graphics that give us some of the best scenes in the movie.
Another good decision is the casting of Peter Dinklage as Dr. Bolivar Trask, the man who invented the robots that hunt mutants. The graphics are all solid and the loss of life is given its full respect.
But the movie is rife with bad decisions as well, the way that Charles teeters back and forth from empathetic genius to tormented soul really doesn't fit into the action movie.
The most obvious and unforgivable sin of the movie is how is treats Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I'm not talking chauvinistic terms here simply because she's naked and blue; I'm talking about using her as a plot device. Everything important revolves around her character and I for one preferred Rebecca Romijn as the iconic baddie. Lawrence is fine here, but the movie gives Raven/Mystique way too much power and screen time. Instead of a movie about overcoming prejudices (which, to be honest, is the whole purpose of the franchise) it becomes a slightly off-kilter, spotlight hogging orgy of weird.
Also, don't think about the timeline too much, because there are holes that are sure to be found there.
All that being said, Bryan Singer evokes a certain amount of class within the movie. There is a continuous momentum to the film which almost never lets up, this is helped along by the constant pulling in and out of the camera.
The beginning ten minutes are spectacular and the last three are really great. The time in between is full of drug commentary, gay rights commentary, and James McAvoy losing his mind.
Fassbender is a great actor, we all know that; but surprisingly it's Hugh Jackman who commands this movie with a calm and much less Wolverine-ish presence. It's good to see some of the angst get cut down in the series.
So yes, I have big problems with the movie and how overly sentimental it is, how its cheesy dialogue punctuates the important parts, and how historical figures get placed into the movie.
But the movie is very entertaining and a high-action thriller above all else. Including all its faults, the movie's message rings true of the series: be yourself; and I find that a very important message and worthy of all the fancy fireworks and high explosions.










Score: ★★½

Mildred Pierce (1945)




















In the dead of night, gunshots are fired and a man stumbles to the ground, riddled with bullets. He looks up and is only able to say one word before he dies: "Mildred". The resulting minutes in "Mildred Pierce" are devoted to the investigation of the dead man's murder; but mostly they revolve around the title character played by Joan Crawford.
For those of us who have had the displeasure of seeing, "Mommie Dearest" it's hard to erase the image of Joan Crawford lying neurotically in her bed as she wins the Oscar for "Mildred Pierce". Even harder to erase is Faye Dunaway wielding a coat hanger and screaming like a banshee...but that's beside the point. The point is that in an era where woman were not treated well in film, "Mildred Pierce" is at least a solid decade ahead of its contemporaries.
As the police question the various members that knew the dead man, we float back in time for a long flashback that encompasses most of the entire film. Mildred is a woman who knows her way around the kitchen. She makes a comment that she felt that she was born in a kitchen and lived her entire life there, pausing only to get married and to have children...what a wonderful prospect!
While this might seem like the perfect recipe for chauvinism—add one Joan Crawford and wait for temperatures to reach crazy lady levels—Mildred bakes pies and cakes and uses her spare money to buy nice things for her daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). When her husband loses his job, she is left as the sole cake baker and bread winner and her husband is not happy about this. He thinks that every time she orders a new dress for her daughter (or which she and her husband have two, though one couldn't care less about nice things) that Mildred is rubbing his unemployment in his face. Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) is a man of pride, but he still has some rational thought within his swollen head. After an argument that stemmed from the dress—in the course of the row the name of a mistress is brought up—the two decide that it would be better for them to separate.
Now left as a single mother with a daughter whose daughter's tastes careen far past opulence, Mildred has to pull herself up by her apron strings and get back in that kitchen. She tries to find work and is turned away because every place wants experience, but luck smiles down on her and she grabs a job as a waitress and soon is earning enough money for her daughter to be indulged.
But it's not enough...
Mildred caters her actions for Veda's pleasures...this is the reason that she decides to start her own restaurant.
Operating as just a family drama, "Mildred Pierce" would be a fine drama—the added fact of a cadaver just makes things a little spicier. In this movie we see a woman in the full grasp of her sanity who climbs the hierarchical ladder run by men and stands high above them. She has to be a good woman, she has to give the world a balancing act. Mildred must be an owner, a mother, a lover, a boss, and an ex. For a movie to give a female lead this much complexity is really astonishing, even in today's films.
As great as Mildred is (and as great as Crawford is as her), Veda is the antagonist of the film. This brat is never satisfied and could just be viewed as a parable of greed. High society doesn't always give us the best creations...Veda is proof of that.
Mildred has to work, really work, for her money; but she isn't motivated by it.
Then we have the murder. "Mildred Pierce" manages to never feel boring, even in its most tedious moments. It is remarkably unsentimental; but some of it feels underdeveloped....alas.
Still, the majority of the movie is a cinematic and stunning film that has stood the test of time this far.








Score: ★★★½

Murder, My Sweet (1944)




















Probably one of the most "noir" noir pieces of film you could find, "Murder, My Sweet" has a tangible grittiness and also a pleasant abruptness to it that never blinks as the film barrels from complicated circumstances to the obscure and back.
Beginning in a police station under interrogation, "Murder, My Sweet" is told almost entirely in flashback form, with a cigarette stained narration that rivals the bleakness of Martin Sheen's narrative tone from "Apocalypse Now". There is a simplistic and unfussily, simultaneously romantic, way that the film paints a picture. Our main character has simple statements like: "My feet hurt and my head felt like a plumber's rag."
Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is a private investigator who gets in too deep and has to solve a case to escape with his dignity, his girl, and his life...wow, haven't seen that before. There is nothing incredibly inventive about the film, but it is possibly one of the most enjoyable piece of noir cinema. It may be based on a pulp novel, but then again, a lot of classics were.
Marlowe is being held by the police and questioned about murders, lots of murders. He takes us back a couple of days so that we can see his version of events and how he came to be sitting in a dark police station in the middle of the night.
Sitting in his office, nearing the heat of the night, Marlowe is confronted by a large man looking for his ex. The man introduces himself as Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) and his quick temper and dull mind do the talking for him. Marlowe doesn't want to refuse because he doesn't want to have his head caved in, so he goes along. Moose is looking for a girl he knew eight years ago, Velma. This elusive woman appears to be hiding, dead, or out of the country...inaccessible to Marlowe.
But something else is brought into the picture—a mission statue of a bird, oh I'm sorry that's the wrong movie. A jade necklace of a immense value (the characters estimate the cost at $100,000) has been stolen from the wife of a rich man...but more on that later. Marlowe is approached by an eccentric man who wants to hire him as a bodyguard. Marlowe accepts the offer and then feels bad when he gets bumped on the head and his employer gets his face beaten in. 
Now his curiosity has been awakened and Marlowe attempts to follow the trail of bread crumbs back to their origins. He meets Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) and her family. Her step-mother (Claire Trevor) was the one who had the necklace lifted off her in the first place.
Marlowe is lost in the sea of people as is the viewer for most of the movie. It's possible to understand the structure of the plot, but there were times that I found myself just not caring. Blackmailers, drug dealers, singers, prisoners, sadists...it's all too much to take in at some times.
"Murder, My Sweet" does give in to some pretty sensational moments, most of them coming in dreamcscape form with Marlowe's sanity being put on the line. Characters divulge information too easily, Marlowe is too sure of himself, and the film may be over-complicated. That being said, it's almost a non-sensical amount of fun to watch the movie, just for how entertaining it is. It never drags and the scenes flow nicely throughout its entirety. 
Sure, it has its problems; but accuracy wasn't exactly the point of the movie. "Murder, My Sweet" is all about the messy, side-effects of a case gone bad; and on that point, I think the film succeeded greatly.










Score: ★★★

The Fly (1986) (R)
















David Cronenberg has never been one to shy away for the sake of placating the censors or his audience. You should know what you're getting into when you go into one of his movies. Most of his movies have a transformative nature, and I mean that in the most physical sense. In "Videodrome"...well, let's not revisit that. Let's just say that when you're dealing with classic Cronenberg horror (and "horror" seems like the most applicable word), you should probably go in on an empty stomach.
"The Fly" as with some of Cronenberg's other movies, has an almost unbearably sweet beginning that opposes the gritty and visceral, nauseating end scenes.
I find that most of Cronenberg's movies (at least the ones that I have seen) seem to exist only in the movie. This means that we get no backstory, no character background before we enter into the story— for example, we are thrown to the middle of a conversation in "The Fly". The two characters talking are right in the middle of nothing important. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a quirky and likable scientist is flirting with a woman at a convention of some sorts. He tells her that he has an invention that will change humanity as we know it. She blows him off, but he's persistent enough to bring her back to his apartment, a dingy looking building that holds his laboratory. The woman, later known as Veronica (Geena Davis) is a journalist, though Seth is too naive to realize this.
So he shows her his miraculous invention—a teleportation machine. He takes her hose and transports it. Naturally, she is skeptical to the idea of teleportation and even when confronted with the evidence, she has a hard time defining it in her head. But she flips on her recorder and then starts asking him questions and he realizes that he's hit a wall. He has awoken a journalist's curiosity and that is something that won't die. Try as he might to plead with her, she goes to her editor—who also happens to be her ex—Stathis (John Getz) and tells him about her transporting lingerie. He doesn't believe it and calls Seth a con man.
Seth calls on Veronica and buys her lunch and then presents his problem to her—he can't transport anything alive. If it's an inanimate object, no problem; but when it comes to a live animal—like a baboon that is cruelly tested on in the movie—it has...reversal effects. It turns the poor thing inside out and explodes its guts over the place, which reminds us of a scene from "Galaxy Quest" that was much more comical than this.
That being said, there is a dark side of humor to "The Fly" that makes us laugh because we don't know how else to handle the situation.
Veronica is addicted to fame as Seth is. He wants the Nobel and she wants to be famous for breaking the story on teleportation; yet it isn't hubris that motivates both of them...there is something more...fleshy here. The long talks about flesh make me think of "Videodrome"—long live the new flesh.
It only takes copulation a few times before Seth realizes what he's been missing in his code and plugs that in. Then he tries it out on that poor baboon's brother and nothing bad happens. After a few drinks of alcohol and isolation, he decides to try it out on himself...but he doesn't make it into the telepod by himself. He is accompanied, without his knowledge, with a fly.
The result is very, very nasty, increasingly so with each passing scene.
But what Cronenberg is makes us sympathize with the victim and the aggresor. The human is a monster, but the monster is not human.
"The Fly" won the Oscar for makeup, mainly because it still looks almost flawless. You can hardly find any mistakes, though I'm not sure you'd want to look too hard for it.
Yet the movie is functional beyond its makeup. It tells a tale of a man obsessed and although it was based on a 50s movie of the same name, Cronenberg drastically alters it into a doomed romance and reminds us that he should never be questioned behind the lens.











Score: ★★★½

Godzilla (2014) (PG-13)


















I don't think that I would be spoiling anything if I said that there is a giant monster-like creature in "Godzilla". In case you weren't paying attention to one of the most enduring franchises in film history, 'Godzilla' has become synonymous with cheesy and stupid remakes. Imagine everyone's surprise when the series got a reboot; but I think that this was a smart move. It introduces the character to a whole new generation too young to remember the puppets of the previous decades; and it also gives the writers a chance to re-indoctrinate us in the art of nuclear obsession.
The movie opens in 1999 and follows the original movie. See the 2014 "Godzilla" as a sequel to the 1954 film. To really get into the mindset of the movie, you have to remember when the original was made. It was one of the first commercial successes to come out of a nuclear crippled Japan and its implications are far from subtle. Nuclear war, literally, awakened a monster.
Anyway, it's right before the turn of the century and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has journeyed to the Philippines with his assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) to investigate the mysterious radiation leakage from underneath a mine collapse. The ground fell through, revealing a huge cavern that houses a mammoth skeleton and what appears to be an egg, hanging from the ceiling, menacingly preserved. There appears to be another egg, but this one has already hatched....dum dum dum.
Near the same time a man named Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is going to work at a nuclear power plant on his birthday. He seems to have forgotten about his special day; but his wife (Juliette Binoche) reminds him with a shower of affection.
At work, the seismic activity is showing large tremors that are thought be leftover from the Philippines "earthquake". Yet the tremors seem remarkably steady and predictable, soon they are overtaking the power plant. Radiation levels reach critical levels in a matter of seconds and the plant is breached. They shut it down, mirroring an incident that happened in Japan not too long ago (I wonder if that was intentional or not).
Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, riding what I hope is the last wave of his "Kick Ass" fame) is in the army now. He's returning home to San Francisco and he finds his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) waiting for him with their son. It's doesn't take long before Ford gets a call telling him that his father has been arrested for crossing into the containment zone in Japan. So it's a long plane flight and grumpy local police to deal with before Ford can talk to his father again, who in the decade plus from when we've last seen him, has become obsessed.
Joe is certain that the earthquake was no earthquake and that now Japanese (and American) officials are covering something up...but what could that be? Joe's discoveries will lead us on a merry and quite unexpected chase.
There's not a whole lot you can do with "Godzilla"; but screenwriter Max Borenstein, a virtual newcomer, and Dave Callaham bring many surprises to the table and this monster movie becomes actually unpredictable....and I love that.
Yet director Gareth Edwards is never too pretentious to think himself smarter than his audience. He gives us just enough nuclear commentary to appease the die-hard original fans and just the right amount of monster action to appease everyone else.
To be certain, the film you can liken "Godzilla" to the most is last year's "Pacific Rim" which I really didn't care for. "Godzilla" is not only smarter than "Pacific Rim"—dabbling in the ideas of man's futility—it's also more entertaining. You know why? Because we actually get to see the giant dinosaurs, unlike "Pacific Rim" which shot everything up close, personal, and with great application of the shaky cam.
The weakest link of the movie is Taylor-Johnson, who operates best when he's pretending to sleep or be unconscious. Elizabeth Olsen is a talent denied here. The man who holds it all together is Ken Watanabe who is the only character who uses the word "Gojira" which is one of the easter eggs hiding in "Godzilla".
There is nothing spectacular here in the form of characters, interactions, drama, or acting...but who cares? For the visuals alone and Alexadre Desplat's percussive score "Godzilla" is worth seeing.
The graphics are applied with just the right amount of restraint and the suspense is surprisingly real. "Godzilla" is a monster success, it roars out with triumph.
Simply put, it's a butt-load of fun.













Score: ★★★½

High Society (1956)
















I don't think I made it any big secret that I didn't care for "The Philadelphia Story" so imagine my great surprise when I find out that "High Society" is just a remake of the Cary Grant movie....but it's a musical. Lovely.
The plots are fairly similar—the two movies are actually virtually the same, except one has songs and one doesn't. C.K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby) and Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly) were married at one time; but they aren't anymore. Tracy now hates Dexter and he is still in love with her which is a nasty situation no matter how you look at it. Tracy is remarrying a man named George (John Lund) who, by all rights, is only a character present for comedic and narrative purposes.
So here's the setup: on the week of her wedding, Tracy descends into a world of chaos while three men vie for her attention and her cheating father returns to her, all while she tries to make sense of her own life and become less offensively rigid. It all culminates at a ball where everyone has too much to drink and true feelings come spilling out painted on bad decisions.
No one in "High Society" or "The Philadelphia Story" acts rationally and it is never enjoyable for me to see these people's lives torn apart by their own stupidity. Why is it that Tracy's father, who has run away with a stripper, gets to lecture her about being a better person? Why is that? Tracy raises the question and her father brushes it off; because, after all, he's a man and she's a woman.
Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) enters the picture as a reporter who's doing a story on the wedding for a tabloid magazine that's blackmailing the Lord family with a scathing piece about the dad running away with a stripper.
Yet it would be impossible for Mike to be an unattractive person with a terrible voice...no, he has to be another guy that Tracy wants to bang.
"High Society" is just as edgy as "The Philadelphia Story" was, but neither of them are that interesting. It's like watching "Dangerous Liaisons" without all the sex...and who wants to do that? What's aggravating about both pictures is how the characters interact. Tracy swoons from high priestess to lush in one scene and Dexter can't help but stir the pot and rile everyone else up...and then there's the ending which is 50 shades of terrible.
I'm already against "High Society" because it's the same story I'd seen before and didn't like.
Yet the music is good and one odd facet of the movie has Louis Armstrong playing Louis Armstrong and whether the gaudy cameo is likable or not, he is the best part of the movie.
The most glaring aspect of the movie that I despise is how the photographer Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm) is treated. She and Mike appear to be a couple, but as soon as Tracy shows her well-groomed face it's lights out for their relationship. Then again, by the end of the movie, we're supposed to believe that Mike has grown up so much more by drunkenly swimming with Tracy and taking a punch from Dexter.
What the heck?
"High Society" is shot in vivid colors and time has been very kind to the movie; yet behind its fancy look, I find it very hollow.









Score: ★★½

The Pink Panther (1963)













Part screw-ball comedy, part mystery, part con-movie, partly pink—"The Pink Panther" is a movie that works incredibly well because of three people—Peter Sellers, Henry Mancini, and Blake Edwards. Most of the film succeeds because of Henry Mancini's unbelievable catchy and jazzy score, which punctuates the entirety of the film. Peter Sellers is remarkable here because, for appearing as little as he does on screen, he makes Jacques Clouseau a name that is remembered. But Blake Edwards is the man who should probably be credited the most for how good "The Pink Panther" is.
Beginning with the introduction of the title object, which turns out to be a priceless diamond with a small flaw that looks like a panther, we get the main titles. I am convinced that these main titles are the best that I've ever seen...though the credits for "Skyfall" run a pretty close second. I know it sounds weird, but the beginning of the movie is almost worth seeing just for the main titles...nerd, yes, I know.
The movie begins with the acknowledgement of a cat burglar, perhaps the best in the world. Known only as The Phantom, this man (or woman) was nearly captured once by Inspector Clouseau and one of the first scenes of the movie has the figure making a narrow escape from the law. He leaves a white glove with an embroidered "P" on it as his form of calling card, much to the annoyance of his victims.
The jewels that are stolen from a safe are then channeled through multiple hands and often fall into the police's lap; but quick minds evade them and the jewels are safely transported through the correct, criminal avenues.
At a venue in Europe, a wealthy princess is supposed to attend a party and in her care is the pink panther. Clouseau and his cohorts agree that The Phantom will most likely try to steal from her and if not from her, from some nobility at the festivities. Trying to take as many preventative measures as possible, Clouseau decides to pay a visit to the party.
Meanwhile...
Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) seems to be up to something. An infamous ladies man, he has taken it upon himself to get closer to Princess Dahla (Claudia Cardinale) who is known commonly as "The Virgin Queen".
It's clear from moment one that Charles is involved with the jewel-stealing business; but what makes the movie enjoyable is watching how easily he gets away with it. Clouseau is no Poirot figure, in fact he seems like a spoof of the fictional, unassuming detective. Clouseau is just an idiot, but a likable one at that. He, in Chaplin fashion, is oblivious to all that is around him. He doesn't realize that he wife is cheating on him (with Sir Charles, one might add) or that The Phantom is living right under his nose the entire time.
Most of the film works, like slapstick moments or very thinly concealed sexual innuendoes; but some moments are just awkward. Princess Dahla getting drunk is funny, her romantic saga is not...nor is if interesting.
Yet this is a movie that you should see for the score and for Peter Sellers and, yes, for those main titles.
"The Pink Panther" is perfectly entertaining.











Score: ★★★

Beauty and the Beast (1946)




















It's easy to forget about how many times "Beauty and the Beast" was told on screen when Disney's juggernaut of a film (and it is quite something, to be fair) holds the place in most people's mind as the original. The animated version is a force in of itself, but it was made in a time when fairy tales and magic stories were accepted easily. The far more audacious and haunting picture, Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" or "La belle et la bête" is something of a mystery, existing in its own slightly melodramatic and quite eerie world.
Made in the thick of WWII with practically no budget, this is one of the few classic films to escape France from that time period, and possible the most well know besides "The Rules of the Game".
"Beauty and the Beast" begins with a Cinderella-like story. Belle (Josette Day) is the youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family. She doesn't get to go out to trip the lights fantastic with her two sisters. She has to stay home and scrub the floors; but this doesn't really bother her and she is liked better than the other two girls anyways. She has more attention from male suitors...one of them actually proposes to her; but she refuses because she thinks that her father needs her around. 
After his ship comes in, literally, Belle's father goes off on a voyage into the woods, which are quite confusing and frightening in the dark. He comes to a foreboding castle that seems magical. Doors open before him and candelabras are held out of the wall by human arms that move. He finds a dining area and is served wine by a hand that sticks through the table.
The way that the castle moves is quite surrealist, until you remember that everything is magical. The castle is shot in a dream-scape fashion, sometimes in slow motion and not allowing the characters to walk...it's quite an achievement.
When you conjure up the Disney rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" and compare it to this, there is much more personification happening. Jean Cocteau's version shows how magic doesn't always have to have a face or a voice. 
Belle's father goes out into the garden and calls for the owner of the house, who doesn't answer him. He sees a rose on a bush and plucks it for his youngest daughter and that's when the beast appears. Fuzzy, ferocious, and fuming—the beast (Jean Marais) appears from behind the bushes and claims that because he loves the roses so much he will kill Belle's father for picking them; yet he's generous enough to give the father fifteen minutes to prepare for death.
After much sobbing and begging, the beast says that if one of the man's daughters will take his place, he will spare the man's life...but will probably kill the daughter.
Belle's father returns home and tells his family this, who are somewhat distressed at the news. Belle had asked for a rose before her father left and she feels partly guilty because of it, so she decides to steal away in the dead of night and go to the castle. Riding the magical horse, Magnificent, she returns to the castle and faints upon sight of the beast. The first glimpse that we have of the castle is a slow-motion scene in which Belle dashes down the corridors while the magic of the building mystifies her...it's eerie and effective.
But then, we start to see some of the old resemblances. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and curses of ugliness that fade away don't hurt the situation.
"Beauty and the Beast" is almost too much; but I think that's the point of it. It's a glorious tribute to fantasy and love and the fairy tale has never been quite so hypnotic.









Score: ★★★★

The Big Sky (1952)













"The Big Sky" is an adventure tale, simple and sweet. It's the story of one of the first voyages up river towards the American northwest. A group of men are going there to trade with the Indians and they will meet many perils along the way—this much is told to us before the movie even begins, so it comes as no surprise when everything pans out the way it does.
Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas) is cheerfully going across the country with a corpse in the back of his wagon. His inquisitive mind gets the better of him when he spots something in the bushes and he just has to go investigate. What he finds there is Boone Caudill (Dewey Martin) a rough-tough-no-nonsense pretty boy. After saving Jim's life and punching him twice in the face, Boone decides to tag along with Jim as they head into town, looking for Boone's uncle, Zeb.
They trade their mules, they drink whiskey, their flirt with the bar maids, they dance around, they sing, and they get in a fight that lands them both in jail...convenient seeing as that's exactly where Zeb is. Call it fate or luck, but now Zeb is teamed up with the two men and he shares his plan with them—go upstream, past the fur traders and trade directly with the Indians.
This sounds like a good idea to them, so they come along with him. He has a boat and a large crew...everything seems to be in order and running smoothly...until.
There's a woman on board! Gasp!
Just like "King Kong", "The Big Sky" has this horrid notion that a woman on board will corrupt the men's minds. Just being sexual creatures who want to bang everything they see, these men are told to back off the girl, because she happens to be a very prominent member of the Black Foot tribe...you see, she's an Indian.
This isn't good, because Boone has a vendetta against Indians...you see, he's a racist.
Yet the girl is vital to the whole plan. Without her, there is no certainty of trading so she must be kept around.
We seem to already know what happens—the men make their way up river, dodging obstacles. Although it is sort of the opposite of this movie, "Aguirre, Wrath of God" was brought to my mind. In "The Big Sky" there are a lot of victories whereas in "Aguirre" there are a lot of losses...but moving on.
As the men get further up the river, the climate because more dangerous, metaphorically speaking. Everything now seems to want to kill them and they aren't even in Australia.
Kirk Douglas is likable as Jim Deakins and Dewey Martin is a little unbearable; but they both do respectable jobs. My problem with the movie is how unexciting it is. It's a tried and true motif, there is nothing brought here that hadn't been done before in better ways. Women are treated poorly, which gives us reason to trace back the thought of acceptable sexual violence to films like this...yet "The Big Sky" just doesn't merit enough intelligence to be worthy of analysis. It's just a movie, and a somewhat entertaining one.
It's kinda sorta maybe good....I guess?










Score: ★★½

Ariel (1988) (Not Rated)















I've often said that a movie can not be defined by genre because of how it happily skips from style to style. It's true of many movies, though none so cheerfully employ it as "Ariel" which I see as one of the chief and rarely seen movies that formed the indie film as we know it today—hipster guitar music and all.
Aki Kaurismäki wrote and directed this piece which does seem like a hot mess when you first get into it. 
Starting off when a mine is closed and its workers fired, the movie follows the doings of a man named Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala) who seems to have the worst luck in the world. After he gets laid off, he returns home to his dad, who gives him the keys to his convertible and then goes into the other room and kills himself. Kaurismäki is very keen that there is no sentimentality with this and a word I came across when I was researching the film that seems very applicable is "droll". Taisto takes the car and leaves town, withdrawing all of his money from the bank before doing start. The movie doesn't tell us what his motivations are so we have to assume for ourselves. It would make sense that he's trying to start over, to wipe the slate clean. With the money he got, he could get a nice place and hopefully a nicer job...but things don't always go according to plan.
When ordering a hamburger, he gets attacked by two wannabe-thugs who take his money and leave him with a headache. He passively resigns himself to his lot and goes to work the next day at the docks, vying for a job.
His car brings him a lot of attention, including the advances of a woman who writes tickets. Her name is Irmeli Pihlaja (Susanna Haavisto) and she says that she will gladly rid him of the ticket if he shows her a nice night...which he does his best to do.
Irmeli has a son, who is probably the most rational and adult character in the film, obviously predating some of Wes Anderson's creations.
As the days go by, Taisto's luck continues to plummet until his finds himself between a rock and a iron bar. He gets sent to prison for trying to bring justice to the world, which, he finds out, doesn't sit well with Justice herself.
"Ariel" seems like the saga of the underprivileged and the middle-lower class. Irmeli has a least four jobs and she seems to be content with this. "I need the money" she tells our main character, not complaining, just informing.
A comedy too funny to laugh at and too sorrowful to cry, "Ariel" is a movie about failure and self-righteousness in the face of terrible situations. It's about trying to right the scales.
Above all, it's a quest-like adventure movie that somehow blends its odd style into a cohesive, and very well thought-out film.
The jarring cuts are very reminiscent to the hipster movie of today; but "Ariel" is much more than a movie known just for its influences. It's a movie that demands to be seen, simple because it's a delight to watch. Silent, sullen, and humorous—it is essential.










Score: ★★★½

Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) (R)


















"Night of the Shooting Stars" may just be the one of the most original and daring movies made about the WWII era. The reason being, because audiences have practically seen everything made about the subject. We've seen the POWs exemplified in movies like "The Bridge on the River Kwai". We've seen Holocaust movie after Holocaust movie. Then we've seen the other side of the coin with film like "All Quiet on the Western Front" or "Das Boot"; but have we really seen a movie about the common folk. The most likely film you can conjure up is "Life Is Beautiful"; but there again you have the solitary tale of a lone person.
"Night of the Shooting Stars" is never so crass as to make you believe that its story is about one person. It is both grossly sentimental and unflinchingly resolved—the two come as a one-two punch to the gut. The film makes you question cinema as a whole. It makes you angry. It makes you sad. It makes you sit back and surrender yourself to it, as I've found that all true masterpieces do. Above all else, it tells a story as fancifully, realistically, touchingly, lovingly, and beautifully as it can and I find that I buy it.
The movie is not without its critics, evidenced by the fact that even though the film got accolades at the Cannes Film Festival it went completely unloved at the Academy Awards, though some of the aspect of the film like its score and the cinematography should have gotten nominations.
I had a problem with Fellini's "Amarcord" because I felt like it didn't condense an entire town the way it should have, the way that most people believe that it did. With "Night of the Shooting Stars", my arguments fall to the ground. Just when you think that the film has gone too far—or even not far enough—your qualms are alleviated...at least, mine were.
Set in the late years of WWII in Italy—San Martino to be precise—a village is under duress, a story of heartache and survival unfolds. There is a desperation, a hurried neediness that the film captures so well. The people rush everywhere in the day, trying to get from place to place as quickly as they can. The reason for this is up to the viewer. They could be running from the Germans, towards loved ones, from ideas rather than people...who knows?
At the movie's opening, we are privy to a wedding ceremony where a priest marries two people who have previously been living "in sin". After the wedding, the group shares some bread before parting their ways.
A young man has returned home and he finds that his house has a green cross painted on it. That means that the Germans will blow it up, the time of the demolition is unknown. He is taken to a shelter were a larger group of people are hiding.
After much deliberation, some of them decide to fell San Martino in the hopes of finding the Americans.
Though the film is narrated by a woman who is remembering her time when she was six, the movie transcends its narrator. It never cements the style, often swaying from character to character without the presence of the young girl. Still, life through a young girl's eyes can be rather entertaining at times, and rather horrifying at others.
"Night of the Shooting Stars" is one of the best movies made about the time period, simply for how devastating the story is. It's a happy story also, the two conflicting sides compliment each other.
Simply put, it's quite masterful.









Score: ★★★★

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
















"The Manchurian Candidate" is a nasty picture. A hopelessly irreverent movie that preyed on the fears of a nation during a time of distress. It is also a masterpiece, a visionary tour de force that balances that hilarious oddity of its source material with a deadly precession and ruthless determination.
During the Korean War, men are taken prisoner before the main titles run up. They seem to have been kidnapped, though the lack of dialogue makes it subjective for the viewer for the time being. Later on, everything is explained; but for much of the first half of the movie, the viewer is two steps behind.
Major Bennet Marco (Frank Sinatra) is having nightmares. He dreams of his time spent in Korea. He dreams of monstrosities. He dreams of death. He is not alone in his dreams, another soldier is having the same dreams...the exact same. These dreams involve Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey with cheek bones and chin that look as sharp as a knife) a man recently decorated with the Medal of Honor. A narrator tells us some of the facts concerning the Medal of Honor with a voice that copies the noir paranoia perfects, and then the voice mysteriously disappears, fading out of the film. While I usually have complaints for people who don't use a narrator the entire way through a film, in "The Manchurian Candidate" you can't help but think that everything has a purpose. The fading narrator was intentional, this much is my opinion.
Raymond Shaw is not a pleasant man to get along with; but his mother and step-father (his biological father makes no appearance in the film, so we are to presume that he ran away or is dead) are even less pleasant than he. Returning home a hero with the Medal of Honor draped around his neck, Shaw is attacked by the press; but his mother's presence doesn't help the madness. She brings banners and paparazzi to takes pictures of Raymond with his stepfather Senator John Iselin (James Gregory). The senator is trying to capitalize on Raymond's military heroism to earn him more votes. After all, it's almost nearing the time of elections.
Raymond despises his stepfather and doesn't spare himself the opportunity to unleash terribly horrid sentiments at the man at every opportunity. But as much as Iselin is an odd figure, who lets the world know that Communism is alive and well even within the American government (his accusations are what actually bring him into contact with Marco) it's Iselin's wife and Raymond's mother, Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who seems to be pulling all the campaigning strings.
Marco's nights get worse and Raymond's day become hazy.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is by far the oddest and most cerebral picture to come to theaters in mainstream fashion in the early 60s. The tagline for the picture—If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won't know what it's all about! When you've seen it all, you'll swear there's never been anything like it!—although very pretentious, is undeniably true. "The Manchurian Candidate" gives us a rare glimpse of originality. There is nothing ground-breaking about the film; but it does nail down each one of its emotions rigorously.
The story is a little hard to choke down, considering how blatantly goofy it may appear when all revealed; but I assure you that "The Manchurian Candidate" never falters.
The thought of Communism is high, the susceptibility of the mind of man is at question and the bad guys seem to have an easy win.
Frank Sinatra is probably the reason the film saw some success, though not as much as it does now. He was the big name that helped usher in other big names like Janet Leigh (who is remarkably non-present for most of the film). But it is Angela Lansbury who is stunning in the film. She is chilling and the most formidable character in the film.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is celluloid gold.














Score: ★★★★

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (R)
















Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" is a supremely disappointing horror movie, mainly because there are moments in it that seem genuinely inspired...yet most of it comes across as cliche. Beginning in a rural town in an unnamed western area, "The Hills Have Eyes" is all about cults and a little cannibalism.
A family is moving out to California and they have decided to stop in Creepy Town, because what better reason do you have to have that wanting to see the sights? Oh, you want a motive? Okay, on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary a couple and their adult children decide that it would be fun to visit a barren wasteland in search of a silver mine. The colorful natives warn them of the area, you say? No need to worry, they won't pay attention to the great advice and plow into the desert where they surely won't wreck their car because a bunny got in the road. Oh, wait, that does happen! I think the only applicable words here are "face palm".
Horror movies are so much scarier when intelligent people make intelligent decisions and the villains are too crafty so that they get the better of them.
This family, played by unknown actors, get wrecked in the middle of Creepy Town and the natives aren't too happy to see them...or are they? The native group of people, who look down on the trailer through binoculars in stalker fashion and communicate with each other via walkie-talkie, seem to think that the family might turn their desert into dessert.
The first night, as the sun is setting, the dad decides to take off as does the son-in-law. They walk in opposite directions, leaving one of the guns with the remainder of the family—a younger brother and the rest of the women, one with a baby.
We are privy to the point of view of the aggressors for a great deal of the movie, which might be original; but doesn't make for suspense or anything frightening. As the night begins to descend, only a few odd things happen like the disembowelment of a dog which should have been the first red flag, but, no, there must be more male posturing to happen before anyone can figure out that there are in deep desert dust.
Honestly, there has never been a stupider family in a horror movie...well, they're stupid, let's just leave it at that.
To be fair, "The Hills Have Eyes" is a movie that looks fantastic. It's made around the same time that "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" would hit theaters and resembles Tobe Hooper's film in many ways. There are both independent films with a low budget (as opposed to "The Exorcist" which is probably the most famous mainstream horror movie of the 70s).
The most famous person to escape the movie (figuratively, not literally) is Michael Berryman as one of the cult family members. He's on all the posters. Why? Because he looks a little weird. He's a minor character who doesn't have much screen time.
Wes Craven's film is never suspenseful and rarely satisfies the guilty pleasure of being frightened. It's full of characters making wrong decisions. For the amount that we are supposed to be scared, there is not enough carnage to provide such a feeling.
Yes, if anything, "The Hills Have Eyes" needed to be bloodier and more graphic...it's a horror movie, for heaven's sake, let's kill some people.













Score: ★★

The Nutty Professor (1963)
















"The Nutty Professor" is Jerry Lewis' best attempt at a fairy tale, a moral tale that conveys all the rights elements of a fable. It's a hot mess, but it's also lovable and overstated...but most of all, yes, a hot mess.
Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a socially awkward professor of chemistry. When he's not trying to blow up the classrooms, he's lisping his way through terrible lectures to students who couldn't care less. The opening scene has him destroying his classroom and the first department rushing in and then tripping up and falling over themselves.
Professor Kelp is sent to the principle, Dr. Warfield (Del Moore), who scolds him for using the lab equipment for personal use. He is slapped on the wrist and told not to do it anymore. Perhaps it's the scolding that puts him in such a foul mood because the next day he yells at a football student for wanting to get out of chemistry class. The jock puts him into the closet, literally. Shoved into the shelves, Professor Kelp dismisses his class; but the beautiful Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) stays to see if he's okay. Much of the humor of "The Nutty Professor" is physical; but sometimes it just doesn't work because Lewis draws it out too long.
Embarrassed because of how he was manhandled, Kelp finds an article in magazine advertising a gym where he thinks he can bulk up. The trip to the gym doesn't end well and Kelp is still a weakling and a socially unacceptable figure at the end of six months. He decides that he will take up the quest for masculine pulchritude in a different way—through science.
Concocting a brew of various and complicated chemicals, Kelp finds something that will transform him not only in physical appearance but in his mannerisms as well.
"The Nutty Professor" is a nice movie that reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously and that we have to love ourselves before anything else. After all, we're going to be spending the rest of our lives with ourselves, we might as well get along with us....there were a lot of pronouns happening in that sentence, but I think we all got the gist.
Lewis is a very funny man, but his comedy is muted here. I think he's funny in his live performances, when he can have free reign of the screen. Scripted Lewis isn't as likable or as funny as unscripted.
The one figure in the movie that is very interesting is Stella Purdy who seems to contradict the stereotype of the typical lead woman in a comedy. She is attracted to intelligence and not macho male posturing.
Then again, when you think back to what the movie is actually saying, no wonder the modern day male has a hard time figuring out how to not be a chauvinist. When there's a hundred years of men deserving women because they're men...there's a lot of room to improve. Yet I appreciate the sentiment of the movie nonetheless.
Shot in bright colors and with lots of overacting, there are moments of the film that work very well like a transformation scene that seems to be mocking the monster movies of decades prior; but there are moments that don't work like a talking bird eating a complicated formula.
"The Nutty Professor" has everything typical in it and not quite enough to make it special.









Score: ★★½

Restless (2011) (PG-13)















Gus van Sant's "Restless" is a work in sorrow and love, but mostly love. It captures the adolescent doomed romance saga almost better than any film in the past has done, or any work in recent years. The most notable item that you can liken the film to is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; but here's the problem...this came first. It will get overshadowed by the teen-frenzy surrounding the other picture and will most likely disappear into the background; but it doesn't deserve to.
The movie, which plays to its hipster audience strongly and without regret, is almost too simple for its own good.
"Restless" begins in "Harold and Maude" fashion with a boy visiting funerals. It lacks the charismatic, dark humor of the cult classic; but the sweetness is here. Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper with hair all askew in typical "oh, did I just wake up this good looking?" fashion) is a disturbed young man. He likes going to funerals, but we never quite know why. We know that he's been to a dark place in his emotional life and that suicide is implied in a few moments; but that doesn't really justify his obsession with death.
Along comes Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska, the shining light of the picture) the girl with the incredibly sunny disposition and only three months to live.
The only other character to the film is Hiroshi (Ryô Kase) the ghost of a kamikaze pilot who died and now haunts Enoch. This much is all told in the trailer, so I don't feel like I'm spoiling. 
Even if you didn't know what you were getting into, the film's cheerful dreariness gets you in the very first few scenes. It doesn't hold back, but then again, it doesn't indulge either.
Perhaps the best aspect of the movie is the teenager's dialogue which blunders from "you knows" to "likes" to "whatever" and never feels contrived. It never feels like some begrudged adult writing the script in anger towards his younger cohorts, nor does it feel like the immature work of an author too young for his years. The script comes from Jason Lew, who really hasn't done that much...which is surprising because of the artistic flare he has.
I don't know how much of the story telling is Gus Van Sant's doing, but I would guess that it is the lion's share.
Enoch is removed from his sullen hours by Annabel's cheerfulness, but she tells him before they get into anything serious that she is going to die in a few months. They decide to being a romance anyway, one they know that they cannot finish. But what is finishing a romance? Does that mean that we shouldn't try for love at all?
"Restless" doesn't seem to think so. 
It turns the ruthless non-believer into a soft centered lover, and we enjoy watching that because it feels natural. The film does have an ethereal quality to it, the appearance of the ghosts are enough to cement this. 
The film makes The Fault in Our Stars seem somewhat crass, just by how the characters speak. The characters in John Green's book are not real, the characters here are. I'm not saying that the book isn't good, because I liked it; but this is better.
The passion of the film isn't as smutty as some other works. Annabel and Enoch's kisses are soft and tender...much like the movie itself.
It's awkward, lovely, imperfect, and ultimately very satisfying.










Score: ★★★½