July Summary














ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Chronicle
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Big Red One

Best: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Worst: "The Big Red One"



COMEDY:
Muriel's Wedding

Best: Although it's not entirely satisfying, "Muriel's Wedding" is likable and emotional.



CLASSIC:
A Star Is Born
All That Heaven Allows
Babes in Arms
Henry V
Little Caesar
On the Town
The Seventh Victim
Top Hat

Best: "Top Hat"
Worst: "On the Town:



DOCUMENTARY:
A Brief History of Time
The Times of Harvey Milk

Best: "The Times of Harvey Milk"



DRAMA:
A Single Man
Monsters
Short Cuts
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Year of Living Dangerously

Best: "Monsters" and "The Royal Tenenbaums"
Worst: "Short Cuts"



FOREIGN:
Fitzcarraldo
Le Million
Orpheus

Best: "Orpheus"
Worst: "Fitzcarraldo"....I just don't get Werner Herzog.



HORROR:
An American Werewolf in London
Cheap Thrills
Repulsion
Scream

Best: "Scream"
Worst: "Repulsion"




WESTERN:

Best: "Dead Man" and "High Plains Drifter"



???
Performance
Walkabout
Wanda

Best: "Walkabout"
Worst: "Wanda"




Orpheus (1950)
















The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has not been told once on film. The Oscar winning "Black Orpheus" proved that a modern interpretation could be fun and enjoyable as well as emotional; but before the Brazilian-set film could win acclaim, the tale had already been told by master French director Jean Cocteau.
Our film opens with the thought of legend. We are told that we are about to see the story of Orpheus, but not in its original sense. When and where does our story take place? It doesn't matter and though the streets and scenery look like 1940s France, the story itself is pretentiously called timeless. Taking the original story and modernizing it in a much greater sense than even its successor "Black Orpheus" did, "Orpheus" manages to work as both an allegory of the Greek myth and its own story.
Orpheus (Jean Marais, Cocteau's lover and muse) has the power of absolute charm. In the old tale, he was seen as a very energetic and almost too perfect character, but his perfection and charm are what caused his wife to suffer. Cocteau makes very certain that there is no such perfection to this Orpheus. Though he is at the peak of his success as a poet (not a writer), he is hated by his contemporaries and he fawns to the public. He is, in essence, very flawed.
The film begins as a fellow poet stumbles out of a car near a cafe, accompanied by a princess (María Casares), who is supposedly the reason for his success. Barely eighteen and full of himself, it doesn't take much to provoke a fight between the other writers present. He is hit by two motorcycles and quickly placed in the back of the princess' car. She demands that Orpheus come with her and he does, mainly because she is a bewitching figure.
Along the way, Orpheus asks questions and is shot down every time he tries to speak. The surreal permeates the screen and we get a sort of magical realism: the reason for which cannot be explained except by the mysticism of the original story. In many ways, this seems like the follow up piece to the Swedish silent film "The Phantom Carriage" for its state of the art special effects and the suffocating ambiance of it all.
Really, the work that it most closely parallels is Cocteau's own "Beauty and the Beast". What differs here is the main characters flaws, and boy, are there quite a few.
Orpheus is never once likable, and yet we have a movie based on him, surrounding him alone...if that doesn't speak volumes for how talented Cocteau is, then nothing will. Beyond its deserving of admiration for how well the characters are constructed, "Orpheus" is a glory to behold just for its technological aspect. It's preservation has been noteworthy and it still looks crisp and clean after over half a decade.
The camera sweeps, provided by Nicolas Hayer, are spectacular and the simple way the lens favors certain moments can take the breath away from you.
Now there are moments here that drag, but the rest of the movie is so wonderfully magical that it doesn't matter. The tragedy, the romance, and the thievery of life..."Orpheus" is so good that it's almost cosmic.








Score: ★★★★

Wanda (1970)
















Ah, American realism, how I hate thee. There is nothing pleasant about the works like "Wanda", which serves as Barbara Loden's only feature film that she wrote and directed. It resembles the works of John Cassavetes and that is enough to turn a whole section of viewers off of it. Perhaps it's best to see "Wanda" as a work that could walk hand-in-hand with "A Woman Under the Influence", which would debut four years after the release of this film.
Beginning with Wanda living in a coal mining town of Pennsylvania (I never heard mention of a state, but later research states it so....for whatever that's worth) the film takes a very apathetic look at our main character. She suffers from lethargy and indecision, much like the three teenagers in "Stranger Than Paradise". The first thing we see her to is hike a few miles to hit up an older man for money. He gives her a small bill and then sends her along her way. She shows up late to court where her husband is waiting so that they can divorce. While he waits for her, he tells the judge of her sins: she's lazy, a drunk, completely incompetent at raising children, uninvolved, and possibly even negligent. Once she finally arrives, rollers still pinned up in her hair, she doesn't say or do anything that will help her out...simply agreeing that the children should go with their father.
If there are three chapters to the movie, the first one is the one that meanders the most, the one that forces us to watch as Wanda slowly lets her life slip through her fingers. For as trivial and frustrating it is to watch Wanda blunder into bad decisions, Barbara Loden is very careful that we never completely condemn the character, that some inkling of humanity be left inside her. For a director who also plays the lead (and wrote the screenplay), Loden is very unflattering to herself as Wanda. She gives a good performance and seems a little more than unstable. Her portrayal is less crazy than Gena Rowlands in "A Woman Under the Influence"; but it could be seen as similar. Both women are suffering in a delusion world where their actions (they think) are completely normal.
Out one night to drink her cares away, Wanda stumbles into a bad situation: she tries to use the bathroom at a bar and walks in on a robbery. She doesn't exactly realize what is happening until a few days later; but that much can be understood.
The man who is the criminal, Norman Dennis (Michael Higgins), takes Wanda along for the ride. He objectifies her and uses her for food and sex. It's very Freudian, these two's relationship. Wanda doesn't seem to get anything out of her company, besides having a strong voice tell her what to do, which may be what she has wanted all along.
Wanda's beauty often gains her the attention of many men, but her quirky almost psychotic clinging makes the men balk. Dennis, however, is just as crazy as she is...crazy in a normal way. He seems compulsive about the way he jumps from job to job, larceny to larceny. He never commits anything terribly serious until he gets the idea to rob a big bank: the quintessential goal for a gangster-in-training. But remember, this is American realism, so we might not get a fairytale ending.
The ending isn't really an ending, and how could it be. This genre doesn't like to tie things up in a bow, because what's the sense in that? There's no truth in that.
"Wanda" sees an oddity in director and lead actress. It has powerful performances and achieved exactly what it intended to do; but that doesn't make it enjoyable. There is power to it, however.










Score: ★★★

The Naked Spur (1953)
















"The Naked Spur" is another of the pairing between actor James Stewart and director Anthony Mann. It's not a western in the strictest sense, but it certainly has all the tell-tale signs of one: the law, the criminal, the unrest, the Indians, and the scenery. The fact is that "The Naked Spur" comes across more as a thriller than anything else, and I'm completely fine with that, because it works on that level too.
Howard Kemp (James Stewart) is traveling through the mountains when he comes across Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), a prospector whose luck never strikes gold. After a brief conversation, Kemp lets the gold-searcher know that he's looking for an outlaw, Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). This criminal killed a man in Kansas, but Kemp doesn't think he's in Kansas anymore...sorry.
He's been pursuing the man through many states and he offers money to Jesse for the knowledge of a trail that Ben might have left. Jesse takes him to a few dead fires that he came across and before you know it, they've gotten Ben cornered on a cliff and he keeps sending rock slides down their way when they try to climb up.
Along rides Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker), a lieutenant who has gotten dishonorably discharged pending questionably morality and sanity. He's pretty unstable and he wants to join in on the action of catching Ben.
It's only a few minutes into the movie before Ben gets captured. He has been shacking up with a young woman named Lina (Janet Leigh) who seems to have taken some sort of Stockholm syndrome relationship with him. A woman in the mix shakes, not stirs, things up.
But the truth soon comes out: Kemp is no law man. To be fair, he never claimed to be a sheriff, but he never contradicted Jesse's assumptions. The truth is that there is a $5,000 reward on Ben's head, dead or alive. Now there are three men who want to collect on the reward and they agree, reluctantly, to bring in Ben together and split the reward money into thirds.
Yet they, and we the audience, know that the money would travel farther if there were less people to share it with.
Perhaps the most enjoyable character here is Ben, who ruthlessly stirs the pot with his words. He can manipulate almost every character with simple sentences. His commentary, his self-preservation, and his smarts make him a worthy adversary for the "morally superior" Kemp.
"The Naked Spur" devotes the entire length of the film to a quest of sorts: bringing Ben Vandergroat to justice.
The question arises: what is justice? Certainly there are moment in the film when we would like nothing more for Kemp to shoot everyone and there are other times when we are glad that he has some sort of self-control.
"The Naked Spur" has a lot of faults, most of all how it meanders and has many useless scenes like an Indian attack; but the characters are all enjoyable and colorful enough to make us forgive this.
Filled with cliches, but still having some space left for genuine surprises, "The Naked Spur" never reaches the insanity level of "The Searchers", but it is the grandfather of movies like "The Fugitive"...it's quite fun.









Score: ★★★

The Big Red One (1980) (R)
















"The Big Red One" rather stupidly tries to encompass all of World War II in a single movie. Its dates range from the very last day of the first World War, to the very last day of the second. It's anti-war sentiments aren't clearly seen (understandably so, as it happily dispatches its characters with humor rather than empathy) until the very last frame and we are left with the cheerful attitude and a sour last phrase...living is for those alive.
Starting off in black-and-white, "The Big Red One" has a pretty good prologue which gets completely ruined with the introduction to our main youthful characters and color. Ready to land and storm the French, an unnamed Sergeant (Lee Marvin), the man who survived the first World War, is confident that his new boys will not be shot down on the beach because of literature that a plane has dropped overhead, explaining that the Americans are not their enemies. After a few shots are fired and we realize that one of the men is not okay with killing, the French and Americans rush to each other with open arms (literally) to embrace each other as comrades...um...okay.
Surrounding the sergeant and four members of his battalion, "The Big Red One" hops, skips, and jumps from one situation to the next, never letting us truly grasp what's going on. Its editing is so spastic that sometimes we don't know which side is shooting which and in a war film, that's kind of important. At first, I assumed that it was Samuel Fuller's commentary on how chaotic war was, but as the movie continued in the same way I realized that, no, it's just bad.
Although Zab (Robert Carradine) is our narrator and a writer wannabe (the typical protagonist for such a film), it's Griff (Mark Hamill) and the sergeant who are our two main guys. It's through them that we see whatever point Fuller (the writer and director) is trying to make. Unfortunately, the film can't decide whether it wants to be a gripping war story, the jingoistic pride of a nation, or a comedy. Some scenes are straight-up drama: consider the discovery of a concentration camp or Griff's character going through drastic changes when we realize that war has turned him insane. Other scenes are kind of odd: now consider the storming of the beach at Normandy, where not that many people die and everything works out great for our guys, the marching band music that cheerfully accompanies this scene seems out of place as well. But for the most part, there are some scenes that just defy explanation: a woman giving birth in the belly of a tank while the men use condoms for rubber gloves and mispronounce French words to sound like the names for genitalia; or the discipline of a young, German boy who murdered one American—he doesn't get shot, just spanked until he stops yelling to Hitler and starts crying for his father; or the storming of an insane asylum and the resulting Fuller-madman-acting thereof.
These odd opposing types of story telling make "The Big Red One" laughably bad and hilariously fractured. At times it would seem that the movie is passing as another addition to the Monty Python franchise, and at others, it tries its damnedest to be 'serious drama'.
The main villain of the movie is the uncouth and relentless German sergeant (Siegfried Rauch) who speaks perfect English, as do all the foreigners in the movie. There are no subtitles to be seen and we are to assume that the languages translated to English for us, the viewer, to benefit. The result of doing this only adds to the humor of the movie, because English actors with fake accents is not the kind of thing that makes us take war seriously.
But maybe we're supposed to take an ambush seriously when the sergeant just tells his men to "play dead"...maybe further, we are supposed to take the befriending of a Jewish boy who survived a concentration camp seriously—but we don't.
"The Big Red One" lops off extra characters so quickly and with so much glee that if it were filmed differently, it could pass as a psychotic horror movie. It loves to kill its extras and sometimes we can't help but chuckle at the ways it does. Consider an awkward boy who no one likes going to fetch water and tripping over a landmine. He is not comforted by his sergeant who tells him that he may have lost his penis in the explosion. Now terrified, the wounded man searches (and finds still attached) for his genitalia and then exclaims his relief to the world. Wow, that's hardcore drama.
The odd situations keep building up and our main guys seem more and more invincible with each scene gone by. They manage to hit all the highlights of WWII, all the fun, none of the horror, with plenty of cute smiles and witty one-liners to spare.
If there is a more insipid and pointlessly dumb movie, please don't let me see it, because this was bad enough. I'll give it this, the movie is entertaining in the way it moves its scenes along, but if any actual thought is put into it, we realize that it is grossly exaggerating and perhaps the most insensitive film ever made.
In poor taste...well, actually pretty tasteless altogether.








Score: ★

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) (R)














"The Royal Tenenbaums" is Wes Anderson at his most adult, his most mature, his most emotional, and his most frustratingly Wes Anderson. If a stumbling block is to be seen in the director's career for the average viewer, this is it. Almost Chaplin in the way it sees tragedy and comedy as a breath away from each other, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is the story of a family, a curiously odd family.
Assembling one of his legendary casts, it would be very easy to think that Wes Anderson must have had issues with both his mother and his father. The closest related film to this one in Anderson's own oeuvre is "The Darjeerling Limited". The tragedy, the odd relationship between siblings, and paternal/maternal issues are present in both films.
Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Houston) have three children: Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson), and their adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a few cheating spells, Gene and his wife become estranged and remain this way for twenty two years.
After his children have all grown up and become increasingly more bizarre with each year, Royal realizes that there may be something missing from his life. Proclaiming that he has a terminal disease, Royal tries to reunite with the family; but most of them don't want anything to do with him because of his absence.
Margot stands as the oddest of the children. She was a playwright in her early years, but slipped into apathy and has married a psychologist named Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Raleigh is focusing on one child who has peculiar attributes...Margot and his relationship seems volatile at best. Margot spends most of her afternoons locked up in the bathroom, smoking, painting her nails, taking a bath, or watching TV.
Chas is the most high-strung of the kids and the one who is most impacted by Royal's leaving. He always wears a red tracksuit and is the most lucrative of the three children. Starting his own business when he was only eleven or twelve, Chas quickly took the reigns of the family revenue over. His wife died after a short few years of marriage, leaving Chas with two boys—Ari and Uzie—to take care of himself.
Richie was the most average of the three, but still excelled in certain areas. He and Margot were the closest siblings, just as he and Royal were the closest. Richie is giving of himself, and rarely selfish. He was a tennis superstar, but on his last game, had a nervous breakdown. Contenting himself to travel the world on a boat, Richie hasn't seen his family in a few months.
Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) was a childhood friend of Richie's and always hung around the Tenenbaum house. He is now a successful writer of pulp novels and he is having an affair with Margot. For being so apathetic and so uninvolved, Margot finds herself at the center of most of the inner conflicts of the Tenenbaum house.
As Royal returns to the house, sick and dying, the Tenenbaums reassemble with the most caustic of results. The movie has the opportunity for the most outrageous of comical moments and some part of the film are funny; but this is Wes Anderson being very serious. This is a family drama about a dysfunctional unit above anything else. While colorful and vivid, the movie is quite dark and the moments of sheer drama sneak up on you.
Through its curiosities and its quasi-unnecessary soundtrack, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is remarkably genuine. It's filled with star-performances, the most notable being Anjelica Houston and Luke Wilson.
Wes Anderson's darkest hour is still very optimistic and it leaves us with a warm feeling in our hearts, even if we don't know why.
Even by his own standards, this Wes Anderson work is not for the easily bored or the faint of heart. For those who care to see it, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a Wes Anderson masterpiece.












Score: ★★★★

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) (PG)
















"The Year of Living Dangerously" is, again, a reason to respect Peter Weir. This little remembered director is a powerhouse when it comes to emotion and characters. He has influenced cinema greatly and made huge hits; yet unless you are a cinephile, his name may not be known to you. Weir is one of the first few breakouts of Australian cinema. His success made him a credible Hollywood name and with pictures like this one, it's no surprise why.
Set in Indonesia in the 1960s, right as political unrest was sweeping across the country, "The Year of Living Dangerously" tells the tale of crumbling facades. Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is an Australian journalist, working on his first job abroad. While there is a lot to report in Jakarta, the listeners and readers back home don't really care about the same thing over and over. A deep gloom hangs over the city and country, one that seems as thick as a fog and ready to suffocate at the slightest provocation. The only characters unfazed by this foreboding are the reporters, who live in a blithe and unrealistically fanciful world of their own creation. Weir is careful to convey that each one is as misguided as the next.
One of the first characters that Guy meets is Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt in an Oscar winning role), a curiously ever-present man. He is the one that gets Guy the stories, his influence seems to have no bound; and he is not above suspicion.
Most of the movie is narrated by Billy, whose voice-over is deliciously noir and enigmatic. He is a dreamer, more than anyone else...yet his faith is something that changes over the course of the movie.
Guy meets an aide working at the British embassy named Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver). Jill is the source of every man's affection, including Guy's.
What is most fascinating about "The Year of Living Dangerously" is how it ranges from genre to genre, reaching out and grasping for as much as possible. It's a political commentary, a character piece, a thriller, and a romance; bust most of all, it's a film crafted by Peter Weir. "The Last Wave" should be reason enough to suspect that Weir forms his own genres when he films. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" also confirms this.
With "The Year of Living Dangerously", Weir gives us his most accessible of his films made in the early years of his career (excluding "Gallipoli"). He gives us the most beautiful moments in the most horrible of conditions.
Shot in Australian, "The Year of Living Dangerously" manages to look and feel like Indonesia. It's a film that never treats its source material more important than its characters and the earth-shattering events that our people have to go through never overshadows the process of them moving through it. When you place this film next to a similar modern version, "Argo", it's easy to see who the more mature director is. No offense to Ben Affleck, but Weir's film seems to nail every aspect of the caged thriller with aftertastes of political unrest. It's the solution to every problem I had with "Argo".
True, the film is a little bizarre at moments and its editing seems to gloss over huge gaps in time, the surreal often sets it; yet it all adds to the feeling that Weir evokes from his viewer.
With his track record, "The Year of Living Dangerously" may be one of Weir's less known films; but it shouldn't be.
All it performances are perfect, most of all Linda Hunt's gender-reversing performance, which should just be seen as great, not just for its transformative nature.
The insanity, the romance, the glory, the greed, the fame...what's not to love?









Score: ★★★★

High Plains Drifter (1973) (R)













"High Plains Drifter" starts off feeling like every other western made. It's dry, dusty, and reaffirms that idea of the overly sexual cowboy—women are incredibly susceptible to his charms.
A unnamed man (Clint Eastwood) rides in the town of Lago where is greeted with suspicious looks an hostility. He goes to the bar to get a bottle of whisky and a beer, and the local men posture around him, trying to scare him...because the west. It's so cliche and it's been done so many times, it's almost impossible not to roll your eyes at "High Plains Drifter's" first few scenes.
Within the opening twenty minutes, the stranger has killed three men of Lago and calmly raped one of the women. Now this takes us back to James Bond and the notion that if the man is masculine enough and sexual enough, he can have his way with any woman and she will enjoy it. They fight at first, but after a few rough kisses, they submit and experience great ecstasy. What sets "High Plains Drifter" apart is that, even though she liked it, we don't forget about the female character or see her as some sort of sex charging station; and she comes back with a vengeance. She tries to kill the stranger for raping her and demands that something be done about him...this is a curious for a movie that "High Plans Drifter" appears to be.
Yet here we start to realize that this is not your average western, nor is it even a western. It's a revenge piece, a cerebral thriller, and one of the most original of the genre to come out of the 70s. I made the comment that I had yet to be impressed with any quasi-modern-western made in the 70s or 80s; but here I have to correct myself. "High Plains Drifter" is in a class all by itself.
As the stranger stays in town, post-murder-and-rape, the townspeople realize that they could use his help. Three outlaws are about the be released from prison and they have a bone to pick with the people from Lago. The town fears that the three will descend back down onto the town with fire and brimstone and they will be left dead and penniless. They ask the stranger for his help, out of fear. He agrees, on the condition that he gets whatever he wants from the town. This means that he can drink as much as he wants, buy as many shoes as he wants, take guns, rearrange the town, etc. etc. For all intents and purposes, he is a god now and this is a power that he abuses with glee.
He monopolizes the entire town and makes the macho men squirm as he stands over the, looking down. He tears down barns, he sets up a picnic, he pains the town red, he forces the guests out of the hotel...all the time, we are spiraling downward.
As the intensity to the picture grows and the ideas start to form under our feet, the depravity, the insanity, and the grotesque beauty of the movie overwhelms the audience.
"High Plains Drifter" is shockingly good.
It's Clint Eastwood's sophomore feature film and it proves his worth. Certainly, it's one of his most showy movies, with the most emotional flashbacks and the most inferno-related imagery; but this is what sets it apart. For being a director known for crafting dramatic situations with minimal special effects, "High Plains Drifter" may be as explosive as Eastwood has gotten and will get.
So it holds a very special place in the director's canon and this is a movie that you should not miss. It's gloriously inventive and horribly fun to watch. Intense, brutal, and wonderfully twisted, it's just a short stop away from being a horror movie, and it would make a wonderful one at that.
Eastwood is a master behind the camera.









Score: ★★★★

A Star Is Born (1954)


















George Cukor seems like the master of the lumbering, epic musical. I have a love-hate relationship with the director; but you can't deny his influence on cinematic history. With "A Star Is Born", he takes Judy Garland and makes her a viable lead for her last truly great role (one that almost won her an Oscar). For the entire movie—though it could be a seen as a commentary on Hollywood—belongs to Garland alone.
Norman Maine (James Mason) is a real drunk, not a fake one (in case there was any confusion). He's a star near the peak of his fame and he can't keep the alcohol out of his system. When a benefit gala comes around, he is not to be found; and as the acts pass in and out, the managers find Norman as drunk as he's ever been. He stumbles on stage while Esther Blodgett (Garland) is performing with a few other singers. She tries her best to salvage the situation by dancing with Maine and courting him offstage. He is eternally grateful to her...or at least, that's what he slurs at her. He demands that he be allowed to take her to dinner, but she has another engagement and manages to duck out of dinner with the actor.
Maine is taken home and left to sleep off his stupor. He wakes up a few hours later, sober as the day he was born and decides that he should be kind to the woman who saved him from utter embarrassment. He scouts the town, looking for the mystery woman and finds her singing in a bar near closing time. Her voice resonates with him and he takes it upon himself to make her a star. Promising her the world on a silver platter, he asks that she give her job up and trust him implicitly...which is something that we both do and don't want her to do. We don't want her to trust him because he's a lush and his word means nothing; but we also want her to trust him because we want her to be famous...and let's face it, we know it's going to happen because of the title of the movie.
So she gives it all up, as we knew she would; but it's not as easy as all that. Maine is taken away for a job the next morning as he's asleep and Esther is left by herself, waiting on her prince to come and save her from the misery of everyday life.
We expect Maine to forget all about her, but he doesn't. He fights for his people to find her and make her a star...something easier said than done.
"A Star Is Born" employs odd techniques here, using still photographs to tell its story, which makes me think that some of the original footage got lost; but whatever, it still works.
Eventually Maine tracks Esther down and gets her to sign with his studio. Instead of being a star, now she is an extra in many movies, an un-faced body just there to fill the space.
But her break is coming and it's thanks to Maine that it comes. He pulls all the strings that he can and manipulates the system...but it comes down to Esther's undeniable talent that gives her the edge over everyone else. Garland has never sounded better than she does in "A Star Is Born".
Cuckor is unsteady with the camera in the movie. He likes to take loads of time to found certain characteristics of the movie and then briefly touches upon others...it's uneven. Yet the movie itself, as unromantic as it is, is a great and resounding success. Garland is mostly to thank for this.
James Mason gives a good performance as the aging man who is easily taken aside by the drink; but there is no comparison with the performances here. Judy Garland gives an epic turn as the girl who wants to be famous, but never loses her virtues.
Looking back on the picture itself, it's a long movie and it doesn't say much; yet it never feels too long, Cukor is in good form here, but the movie isn't perfect.









Score: ★★★½

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) (Not Rated)
















"The Times of Harvey Milk" is a documentary of staggering effect and relevance. Consider it like a time bottle that you jump inside and transport yourself back to the 1970s, when homophobia was much more prevalent than it is today. What you hear from those interviews for the movie are the same thoughts that register today...except these people were still the minority back then. I'm not saying that everything is peachy keen for the LGBT community, because I consider the opposite to be true; but consider the fact that the man the documentary is about was assassinated. The results of his murder (I hope) would receive different judicial actions should he have lived twenty years later.
My pointless thoughts aside, "The Times of Harvey Milk" is one of the best documentaries ever made, and not just for the relevance of it. The story is compelling, educational, and it is near impossible to watch with a dry eye.
Rob Epstein won an Oscar for the film and it's no wonder why.
The movie begins with the archival footage of Diane Feinstein telling reporters that Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk had been killed and that the suspect was Dan White. This means nothing to someone who is unfamiliar with Harvey Milk's story.
But the movie that assumes we either don't know, or we are already invested in the story...and it quickly spells everything out for us. "The Times of Harvey Milk" isn't a long movie, but it packs as much as it possibly can into its hour-and-a-half running time.
As most would expect, the documentary emphasizes quickly that Harvey Milk was just a man, yet he aspired to be so much more. One of the first voices that we hear of the movie is Harvey's himself, reading his will that was to be played on the possibility that he was assassinated.
If you don't already empathize with Harvey, you will by the end of the movie. We come to view him as the interviewees do, as a man, as a lover, as a role model, as a friend, and as someone who fought for what he believe...a feat which is more than most people could say.
In this way "The Times of Harvey Milk" is also inspirational because it gives us some reason to go out and change the world. Don't be afraid to change the world.
It sounds cliche, yet if we look back on cinema, these kinds of movies are the ones that originated the "feel good—do good" vibe that is so prevalent in today's film and literature.
It's easy to complain about unfairness, but Harvey did more than complain, he attempted to force the government's hand. Harvey was elected to city council and was one of the first openly gay officials After three unsuccessful elections, Mayor Moscone decided that city council should be elected by district instead of city-wide. This new method gets Harvey elected to one of the most diverse city council for the time. Now he starts fighting for the little men, the small people, the minorities, not including his own.
The movie itself I can't find fault with. Mark Isham's score can be a little too sentimental at times, but that is being so picky as to almost seem like a sourpuss. "The Times of Harvey Milk" is faultless as no documentary I've seen before is. Every second of it is engaging.
It's hard to find someone to consider a great role model without being too redundant: Gandhi, Jesus, the Buddha, etc. Yet (though I don't consider him of the same impact of those previously mentioned) Harvey Milk deserves some mention here. He is not perfect, nor is he portrayed to be in "The Times of Harvey Milk", rather as an ordinary superhero who fought and fought and died for his cause.
Is that not worthy of Greek legend?












Score: ★★★★

Short Cuts (1993) (R)


















"Short Cuts" feels like a movie about intersecting lives, much like "Magnolia" was. Yet instead of it all building up to some grand climax (see here "Crash" and "Disconnect") or the abstractly bizarre ("Magnolia" again), the film just slowly slips away to nothing, pondering on the meaning of life and life itself.
What gives us our value, and do we truly have any? Robert Altman's film has been classified as a black comedy and, per usual, I don't find anything funny about it. The situations are too stifling and too weird for me to truly care about them. Altman elicits strong performances from a star-studded cast; but the end result of a movie that tackles the three hour mark is the question why?
Instead of try to synopsize (totally a word) the plot, which would be a fruitless waste of my and your time, perhaps it's just easier to say that there are a lot of characters in a lot of situations. The cast includes Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey, Jr., Bruce Davinson, Jack Lemmon, Lily Tomlin, France McDormand, et. al. It's impossible to list all the characters without writing a novel about them. They are as varied as a cellist to a phone-sex operator to a doctor to a pool guy. Each of them touches the other one in their lives—some have great contact with others and some barely notice as the other passes by.
What is more infuriating about "Short Cuts", which feels like it's making some grand point about life, is how pointless the whole thing is. There are characters that seem unnecessary, but aren't...but they are as well, because this is not a plot based movie.
This is a character movie, true and true. What doesn't matter are the plot "twists", the dead bodies that are found, the cheating spouses, the romantic gestures, the murder...it doesn't matter. What matters are the characters that have to deal with these situations or these people...and that makes me angry.
Take a policeman for instance. He's cheating on his wife and children with a woman who also has a child; but she's cheating on him with another guy who takes her to exotic places because he's a pilot. Her ex destroys her house while she's out on her trip; and the policeman gets jealous, in doing so, he breaks a window to her house.
The question now becomes: why do I care?
With so many intricacies within the plot and with so many layers upon layers of complexity of the characters, you would think that it would all lead up to something; but it doesn't.
"Short Cuts" manages to lull you into its butt-numbing three hour plus length. It's not a long movie, or at least it doesn't feel long; yet, like all movies in this sub-genre of determined realism, it's not a movie with any sort of satisfaction dealt to the viewer.
It makes us feel cheated of spending our precious time watching something completely pointless, yet here again we hit a wall...this is all the point of the movie. "Shorts Cuts" is designed to present us with the most bizarre of situations, to allow us to be a fly on the wall as we witness families break about and form back together.
It's not a movie I'd like to recommend, but it's a movie that achieves exactly what it intended do, so it succeeded within itself...I suppose.











Score: ★★½

All That Heaven Allows (1955)
















"All That Heaven Allows" is the shining and shimmering queen of the melodrama. It's a work invested in its emotions and its characters and though not much happens in the film, it is a work complete and successful.
Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a widow who thinks of herself only in terms of what other people say. Her social life has crumbled since her socialite husband died and now she serves as an arm fixture for people to make comments about. She goes out with some of the only "eligible bachelors" in town who all appear to be men several times her age. A woman with two grown children, she is constantly hearing the phrase "a woman your age" in reference to another marriage.
Her children are peculiar: Ned (William Reynolds) seems content with his scholastic achievements and always returns home with a new venture in the world of academia. Kay (Gloria Talbott) is another story entirely. She is obsessed with psychology and forever rationalizes every conversation for a hope to look deep into the subconscious tendencies of humanity. She's young and naive and the film makes a point of quickly allaying all her theories and thoughts about men and women by having her date a football jock who doesn't understand a word she says.
Under pressure from her best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead), Carey tries to step out a little more into the world of the sociable and instead finds that she enjoys the company of her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) more than the rich and famous.
Ron is another peculiar sort, the kind of man who knows himself better than most characters we will see in such a drama. With people trying to find great truths about life and themselves Ron serves as the emotional rock (forgive the pun) at the center of it all.
A pupil of Thoreau, Ron sees life in its bare necessities. He lives with his trees and watches them grow. He has an obsession with the living plants and devotes his life to them. Carey finds him fascinating and quite romantically available.
Their interest in one another slowly blooms into love, but there's is not a romance that is supposed to have a happy ending. The judgmental eye of the upper class looks down on Ron because he comes from "humble birth" and he's only a common gardener. The idle tongues of the rich wag ferociously as word begins to spread about the two's affairs and soon Carey is drowning in all the disapproval and the condemnation.
She has to make a choice: love or social stature?
"All That Heaven Allows" is a movie about gossip and the lies we tell ourselves. As overly dramatic and loud as it comes across at points, it is also deeply perceptive and quite moving.
Shot in lovely Technicolor with all the tenderness one can imagine, the film pulls out all the stops to be as sentimental as possible; and yes, I do realize this...but I can't help but love it.
The film is unique for several reasons: it makes the uninteresting interesting. We have long since be subjected to movies about the unordinary ordinary. Dramas about conflicts in family and social life have long since ruled cinema and continue to rule. But "All That Heaven Allows" is one of the few that feels like it surrounds truly ordinary people living ordinary lives. It presents complex emotions from complex character who do selfish acts and think only of themselves. They masquerade as though they care, though we can all see that they don't.
"All That Heaven Allows" also gives us a great leading couple with Wyman and Hudson and their chemistry is instantly felt. It's such a tender movie and such a relentless one. It's influence is so great on the viewer that the simple appearance (and slight self-referential poke) of a television can change the complete dynamic of the movie.
It's wonderful cheesiness and gloriously romantic.











Score: ★★★★

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) (R)
















Sam Peckinpah is one of the oddest figures in cinema. His style is not completely recognizable and his choice in movies is questionable if anything. With "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" we get the rebuttal to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of "Butch Cassidy..." so with "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid", it wasn't exactly a picnic for me either.
The key difference between the movies is the relationship between the two title characters. In "Butch Cassidy..." the rebels are friends and communicate with witty one-liners and quick gunfire. In "Pat Garrett..." the two main characters are not friends, though they were at one point, and the movie devotes itself to seeing who kills who first.
Pat Garrett (James Coburn) cuts an imposing figure. He doesn't get pushed around and he's a terrific shot with a rifle. One of the first scenes proves that he is feared among men of...well...everywhere. His reputation precedes him. Billy the Kid (Kris Krisofferson), on the other hand, just seems kind of average. He is not as smart, not as ruthless, not as crazy, and not as fun as Pat Garrett so it's a real shame that half the movie is dedicated to him.
The set up takes some time, but when it's spelled out, it's actually fairly simple: after being outlaws together, Pat Garrett becomes a sheriff and arrests Billy the Kid who then escapes from prison. The movie becomes a cat and mouse game that spans acres of dusty terrain and encompasses weeks if not years. Pat Garrett becomes obsessed with finding Billy the Kid, and his obsession eventually leads him to see Billy as more than just a victim. Though they were friends at first, we get the idea that Billy occupies Pat's mind completely. Without Billy, there is no Pat.
It should be said that the original form for "Pat Garrett..." doesn't exist, at least not entirely. The film was a box office flop after it was drastically edited by an MGM studio head. The film was restored as much as possible to Peckinpah's original cut, but we may never know if it is exact.
Much like "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Pat Garrett..." tries to employ the use of a famous musician to win over some of the more churlish viewers. Bob Dylan proves the soundtrack for the movie, but it is not successful at all and has the same odd time difference that "Butch Cassidy..." suffered from.
Our setting is quite antiquated yet our music is nothing if not modern. The only movie I've seen pull this off was "Dead Man", but that movie tried to excel at the bizarre and somehow succeeded.
Peckinpah uses as much violence as he can in the most dry ways possible. Men are shot on horseback on in the middle of a field. There are times when we see both Pat and Billy as children who would just like to gleefully play with death. These are two individuals who aren't quite sane.
"Pat Garrett..." brings us a great performance from James Coburn and a not-so-great performance from Kris Kirstofferson. Coburn embodies the brutal man with just the right amount of screw loose that you believe in his obsession; but Kristofferson is so boring to watch that it makes us wonder why Pat bothered to obsess over someone like this. There is nothing to Billy's character that makes him interesting. He's Batman, essentially. He helps out those he can and he always wins. His morality is questionably, but he's an outlaw, so what should we expect? He will defend himself and he usually doesn't kill for pleasure (though one scene suggests otherwise)...for all this complexity, you would think he would be tolerable to watch...think again.
Perhaps it's the pretentiousness of it all which rings true of "Little Big Man"; but I find these 1973 cow-poke attempts at westerns to be terrible. "Bonnie and Clyde" set the standard and I have yet to see anything in the 70s or 80s that came close to matching it.
Though "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" is enjoyable for how dark it is. It's nice to see a movie that takes itself seriously, even if it's not completely successful.











Score: ★★½

Top Hat (1935)


















One of cinema's most iconic couples delivering one of their finest performances, "Top Hat" gives us the reason that musicals can be fun. It's smart, witting, wickedly twisted, brimming with false pretentious, and above all else, painfully aware of itself.
The movie begins as Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is taken in by his manager Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). Horace is having some trouble with his valet, Bates (Eric Blore) and he wants Jerry to stay the night to help smooth things over. Jerry is a dancer and singer and is opening a new show that Horace hopes will be a smooth success. In his blithe stupor, awaiting further instructions, Jerry begins to dance in the hotel where he and Horace are staying. His quick feet and smooth moves are fun, but they keep a certain young Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) awake downstairs. She goes to tell him to be quiet and finds Jerry very charming, if a bit forward.
The next day, Jerry is in a daze over the girl that he met last night and does everything he can to procure more time with her as Horace prepares to head to Italy to meet with his wife.
But there's more complications here: Dale is being courted by the rich fashion designed Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a man full of talk and not that much action. Beddini hopes to win Dale's heart, but she is made of tougher metal than he is used to.
Jerry has the charm here, and he has it in ten-fold. He and Dale have a rainy dance together in the middle of the park and that pretty much seals the deal. This could easily close out the movie, if it weren't all so complicated...alas.
Dale becomes convinced, through various complications, that Jerry is actually Horace and that he's married. This leads her to slap him in the face for being such a vagrant character.
Now we get to the meat of the story. "Top Hat" consists of increasingly desperate situations that aren't helped by snippets of conversations misheard, misconstrued, or made up. Each scenario leaves us with one of more characters missing from the room, thus leading to more confusion and more volatile relations.
"Top Hat" not only gives us great comedy, but it gives us an effortless performance by Astaire, a worrisome turn by Horton, a beautifully snide cameo from Blore, and some terrific dancing.
It's a movie that really doesn't leave much to the imagination. All its innuendos are so obvious that it makes us wonder how the film ever managed to be a success.
The thinly veiled (or not veiled at all) homoeroticism is one thing; but a quiet modern view on a cheating husband is something else unexpected.
Marriage doesn't hold the same revere that it does in most movies from this time period. It's simply seen as a token of love, maybe something a tinny bit sacred, but not worth all the fuss...gasp!
Ginger Rogers is almost Mae West snide here and Fred Astaire feels right off Broadway with his almost too genuine and loving performance. If there is any fault in the movie it's that it lets the time stretch on too long between moments that the two leads are together.
"Top Hat" is merciless fun, completely and totally unpredictable, filled with the most sane set of situations handled by the most insane of characters.









Score: ★★★★

Little Caesar (1931)



















One of the first credible gangster movies, "Little Caesar" is a work in characters and pride. It's the predecessor to such classics as "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" and it may surprise you how approachable this movie remains even still today.
The story concerns a man named Rico (Edward G. Robinson) who just wants to make it big as a crime lord. He has seen the success of Diamond Pete Montana and he thinks that he could be just as good wrecking havoc on the tax-paying world. Tired of knocking off little gas stations and small diners, Rico enlists himself in the service of Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), one of the underlings of Pete Montana. His convinces the man of his bravado and wins himself the nickname "Little Caesar" though most of the time he's referred to as Rico.
One of the first jobs that Rico participates with the gang is a hold up at a night-club where Rico's old pal Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) works as a dancer. Joe was in the gangster squad but left the scene when he met a girl. Now he's being pulled back in for this job and he doesn't like it; but Rico's ruthlessness doesn't let him turn yellow before the big day.
As Rico gets more responsibility, he also gets more arrogance and starts to go against Sam, who considers himself to be the mastermind. If Sam didn't think of it, the gang won't do it; yet Rico is proving himself to be a more worthy boss to follow and some of the gang's mood is changing.
"Little Caesar" is very much a movie of highs and lows, or hubris and the fall, it's very much Scorsese's influence, though it possibly exceeds some of that director's work.
As Joe struggles with the ropes that tie him to the work that Rico does, Rico is rising to the top of the food chain, and he loves it here. He is a glutton for the fame, he is prideful beyond prideful, and we all can see how this might end.
Rico's rival is Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson), the policeman who thinks that he is going to pull the mob's curtains down and shed light onto the underbelly of the city.
"Little Caesar" is short, vicious, and sweet. It's brutal with its violence, for such an early picture, and it doesn't seem to shy away from painting a very complex picture of our main character. He is an anti-hero, and yet he is also the villain of the piece. We somehow sympathize with him as he rises to the top of the world, yet we all know that it will be to his eventual downfall. These things just don't work out well for the underdog.
Edward G. Robinson is spectacular here and, in fact, most of the performances are quiet modern. It's very dramatic at moments and also very unsentimental. There are no huge orchestras here or brash crying scenes...in fact when "the end" title card scrolls up, it doesn't even get the swell of music that is so common from movies of this day and age.
What "Little Caesar" excels at it providing you with just the right amount of intrigue into all the characters while establishing the tropes that have become so well known throughout the gangster genre.
It's certainly a boys' party here, with only one lead female character who just acts as a plot device; yet it never strove for gender equality. "Little Caesar" is true to its time period, true to its story, and true to its characters. It's very entertaining and very engaging.











Score: ★★★★

Monsters (2010) (R)













Before "Godzilla", Gareth Edwards had another monster movie under his belt: "Monsters". This conveniently named picture was not that popular and managed to tip-toe the line between action-thriller and indie film: the result was a limited release phenomena that caught the eye of many a critic and not that many audience members. Yet it was enough to place Edwards in the position to become a credible, main-stream director and his treatment of the king of the monsters had indicated that he will stay there for a while. Still, it's good to go back and witness the evolution from indie to mainstream; but only so that we can see for ourselves that "Monsters" is a credible, fun, and almost faultless movie.
Beautifully shot in the most exquisite lighting and depth of field, brimming with the hipster nonsense angle; "Monsters" is a survival story. Six years after NASA discovered the possibility of extra-terrestrial life in the solar system, one of their ships crash landed in Mexico with a possible stowaway. The entire lower United States and Mexico became a quarantined zone and at present day, the government is trying to contain the aliens.
"Monsters" begins in Central America where photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is looking for his boss' daughter. He doesn't want to be the baby-sitter for some rich brat and wants to get his prize winning photograph of the devastation caused by the monsters. He finds Samantha (Whitney Able) in a hospital and (after seeing that she's really cute) decides that the best thing for them to do is stick together. But catching a bus or ferry outside of the quarantined zone is not as easy as it sounds. Each trip will cost the odd couple thousands of dollars and safety is not exactly guaranteed.
First you have to realize that "Monsters" works so well because it grounds its character so well for the audience that it becomes a character piece and not a monster movie, though its title would like you to think that.
Again, we see how clever Gareth Edwards is because "Monsters" is a misleading title about perceptions. The movie, like most sci-fi films, has a political statement; but thankfully it doesn't hammer it into you head like Neill Blomkamp's movies do. The film's commentary is about immigration and government involvement, though you could turn it to anything involving fear.
Edwards never wants to preach, instead making an enjoyable movie with preachy aspects present. "Monsters" is a movie in which we rarely see the aliens. The times they appear on screen is fairly rare and the characters don't operate in fear of them constantly. It's more of a relaxed atmosphere, which I find the most realistic. People would have realized that things might have been pointless and resigned themselves to the monster-ridden world.
Also nice to see is the necessity for bilingual speech. The film doesn't have everyone speak English because the audience does, nor does it white-wash its cast, though our two main character are Caucasian.
"Monsters" involved such a small crew that they were able to get through villages without their extras even knowing they were being filmed...or so says works I've read on the movie.
Whether or not they were stealthy when it came to shooting the the movie or whether everyone knew it is irrelevant. "Monsters" is an entirely emotional, successful, and intriguing work that shouldn't be as good as it is.
It has many dimensions, fully realized characters, and the ability to transcend itself in the simplest of moments.
It's beauty is what is most surprising.









Score: ★★★★

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) (PG)















I should like to make this disclaimer before I get into the thick of things: I usually hold my SPOILER warning in check unless I spoil something that's not in the trailer for the movie. Unfortunately, the entire movie is contained within the trailer of "How to Train Your Dragon 2"...so if you've seen the commercial, read on—if not, think twice.
I was and am a huge fan of the original "How to Train Your Dragon" and like many others was not looking forward to the sequel in a year that exceeds only is belaboring series that make studios money. So let me get all my negative stuff out of the way first and foremost: "How to Train Your Dragon 2" isn't as good as the original. Some of the joy of the first movie was the sarcastic narration and discovery of a new world...well, this movie takes itself more seriously and that is both its glory and its downfall. The script has some huge issues that range from simple plot holes to glaring dialogue issues. One of the key features of the original was John Powell's glorious score, and here it's not up to snuff. We get a brief hipster song and some refrains from the first movie; but the theme builds up by the end, so that placated me. Powell is good, but he reached his peak with the first movie. The bad guy is also not that great because his motive is so trite as almost to be transparent. World domination? Really? He's not convincing. So parts of it are corny, awkward, and it doesn't flow as nicely as the first.
That's the bad....
The good is that "Dragon 2" is a sensational film and not for its dragons, for its animation, for its special effects, or for its voice actors...it's great because of its characters. This is a movie that saw the rise of the cheap blockbuster and the internet obsession of "Game of Thrones" in between its predecessor and itself. Those influences are clear to see, but Dean DeBlois (who also wrote "Mulan" and directed "Lilo & Stitch" and the first "Dragon" movie) makes "Dragon 2" solely about its characters and this makes it an anomaly in the children's animation genre.
Let me do a quick plot synopsis: It's five years after the close of the first movie and the vikings are quite content. They live life peacefully with the dragons now, but there is trouble brewing. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless are experimenting with flying when the stumble across a mysterious sight. Accompanied by his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera), Hiccup goes to explore and finds a group of dragon catchers, led by a young man named Eret (Kit Harington aka Jon Snow). Eret explains that all dragons must be captured and taken back to the dragon rider and supreme dictator Drago (or...Khal Drogo?...the "Game of Thrones" references are almost too much here—voiced by Djimon Hounsou). After stumbling across the plot to rule the world with the aid of dragons (again, for no apparent reason), Hiccup decides that it must be up to him to confront this Drago and change his mind. Hiccup trusts his own negotiation skills very greatly. En route, Hiccup bumps into a mysterious dragon master/warrior queen...and the rest, they say, is history.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is so hyper sensitive with all its characters that it borders the line between animation and live-action better than any movie I've ever seen. Though some characters are poorly animated, the larger sequences and the majority of the movie is so flawless that it rivals and surpasses everything done in the past, including any Pixar movie and anything Disney has done.
The family dynamic is something that kids' movies have tried to nail down for a while; but here we have a clear winner. "Frozen" tried, "Brave" got it right; yet "Dragon 2" blows both out of the water. In fact, every relationship here is staggeringly genuine. That's why "Dragon 2" is stunning. Amidst the dragon battles and the possible drinking games you could play (How to Drain Your Flagon—take nine shots every time you see a dragon), "Dragon 2" is an art house movie and that is something I find most curious. It is grossly severe which will please its adult audience and it also contains fart jokes for the younger crowd. It is one of the few kids' movies that actually gives loss of life its proper severity.
"Dragon 2" excels with its characters, even if their lines aren't always perfect. It is so grounded in the thought behind each one that it defines them with outward characteristics. It does this so well, that I caught myself thinking which characters were good actors. You believe in the humanity of the people, even while they are flying on the backs of dragons, and that is a feat grander than anything I've seen in a while.
There are dazzling sequences here and if "Dragon 2" wanted to be defiantly plotless or meander as a Malick film, it would have been perfect; yet the plot is needed and is where it suffers.
The animalistic, friendliness of the dragons is captured perfectly and this time they seem both more like feral animals and more like a human counterpart. They are seen in this movie as naive and trusting, stupid even.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" has a good cast, a good story, and a good execution. It was a short burst of flames away from being perfect; but you can't fault it for trying as valiantly as it did to make us love the people more than their scaly friends.










Score: ★★★½

On the Town (1949)














I really just don't have it in me to review this movie...but we're going to try anyway. "On the Town" is not so disgusting as to rival "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" as the epitome of horrid and insulting musicals; but its mindless and spectacle-laden antics make it a close second if there ever was one.
An innocent and equally insipid movie, "On the Town" is the story of three men trying to get lucky throughout the course of one day on shore-leave.
Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (that other guy) are three sailors in the navy who have twenty four hours in New York to sightsee and have sex before they return to the boat. Keep in the mind the year, everything is in innuendos.
Miraculously, in three and a half hours, the trio manages to see all of the sights worth seeing in New York. Only Chip remains unsatisfied with the landmarks visited, but the other two have women on the mind and they decide that now is as good a time as any to start looking for tail.
Bingo! On a train, a poster is put up for "Miss Turnstiles" a woman randomly selected as a rider of the train every month. This month's edition: Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen). Gabey immediately falls in love with the blonde-haired and blue-eye beauty and thinks that he has a chance with her if he ever got to meet her in person. After a fleeting moment, he becomes determined to track Mrs. Smith town and date the crap of her....creepy.
Meanwhile, in just as ridiculous fashion, Ozzie has met an anthropologist at a museum who is attracted to him because she thinks he looks like caveman and it takes her a seven minute tap dance number to explain that to us, the nonplussed and uncaring audience.
As far as idiocy goes, musicals have it hard to convince you that people would burst out in song without the aiding of a psychedelic drugs.
Chip has met the girl of his nightmares in the form of a cabbie driver who wants nothing more than to get Chip's pants off and insists on them returning to her house so they can...you know...whatever.
"On the Town's" musical numbers consist of blithe and overly cheerful pieces of puff nonsense that are supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside and instead made my stomach turn sour at the sight of them.
It's boring, childish, immature, unfair, cheap, and above all else...just plain stupid. My opinion meaning not much, I won't hold back.
"On the Town" insists that these men are real men and these ladies are actual ladies. What I see is a cookie-cutter formula for pumping out one cheap musical after the other. There is some Cinderella-esque trope that has our lead man loosing his lady just before midnight. The thoughts of others are given way too much weight and the humor of the movie consists of making fun of an ugly girl with a cold...wow, that's like beating a three-legged dog to death with a baby....funny!
As much as I hate "On the Town", you do have to admire Gene Kelly's perky athleticism which somehow comes across as effortless in all his movies. As part of the director team here, Kelly does give himself more of the spotlight and a dancing, fanciful, re-interpretation of the whole movie wasn't a necessary ten minutes that I needed to waste out of my life. I sat through the movie, I don't need a can-can to remind me of what I just saw.
"On the Town" won an Oscar for its score and has remained in the canon of musical lore and I cannot understand why. If you're just itching for a nonsensical and hilarious musical, watch "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"...it's much better.
This is just....bad.







Score: ★

Chronicle (2012) (PG-13)
















"Chronicle" is a curious movie because it is not exactly what it seems, thought what it seems is arguably muddled as well It's a superhero movie, a loss of innocence drama, the story of friendship, a warning against bullying, and the change of mindset in a teenager.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is not a popular kid and pretty much has everything going badly for him. He has a mother who's dying (of what disease, it doesn't matter, only that it is an expensive disease), a father who's abusive, a cousin who doesn't care for him, and a highschool full of people that wouldn't notice if he disappeared. Matt (Alex Russell), Andrew's cousin, gives him a ride to school almost every day. When the movie begins, Andrew has bought a really nice camera and has vowed that he's going to start recording "everything". We're not sure what has pushed him to start making a video journal of every day of his life, but it provides the viewer with a point of view. We never see a floating lens, a camera that pretends it's not there. "Chronicle" is very interesting because it makes pains to show that there is a camera. It's this kind of filming that stemmed from "The Blair Witch Project" and other such movies, but "Chronicle" is very clever with how it manages to manipulate a camera into every scene so that we don't miss a crucial part of the plot (these little devices include a video blogger and security cameras). What is most shocking is how genuine this all feels. I'm not saying that the movie feels real, because just the opposite is true for me—as the movie continues, it gets more ludicrous—but rather that the style (as it jumped from here to there) never feels anything but coherent.
Trying to get Andrew out of his shell, Matt brings him to a rave, where he calmly sits in the background and films everyone and, naturally, gets picked on by a bully. Going outside to have peace and quiet, he gets approached by one of the most popular kids in the school, Stephen (Michael B. Jordan) who tells him that he needs the camera. Andrew follows Stephen into the forest, where he finds Matt staring into a hole in the ground. This round cavern is making noises and they want to get it on camera. Like any highschool-testosterone filled people, they decide to go spelunking. Under the extreme protest of Andrew, they go down into the cave and they find a big shiny room filled with big shiny rocks that look like they fell off of Superman's spaceship. So after a big earthquake and some blackout on the camera, we see them...presumably the next day...with powers.
Now they have the ability to move objects with their mind: telekinesis....that's cool.
As much as the movie would seem like a superhero flick, it absolutely is and is not. We are seeing "normal" highschool students go through a transitional period their life...whether that it is symbolic or not, I'll leave that up to you.
What is certain is that (like "X-Men" and "2001: A Space Odyssey), those shiny rocks down int he cave act as an evolutionary jump. Andrew, Matt, and Stephen become "more" than anyone else. They have the ability to manipulate matter, to move objects to their whim...that's enough to make everyone a little high or their respective horses (forgive the terrible butchery of an idiom).
For someone like Andrew—isolated, abused, and emotional—this new ability may not be the best thing.
"Chronicle" has fairly good performances, though sometimes everything gets too ridiculous and the acting cast is too immature to pull it off convincingly. Director Josh Trank has a unique way of introducing new camera techniques to keep us motivated in the movie.
By the end of it all (the last minutes of the film are its worst, regrettably), "Chronicle" seems to be asking what defines a person. Is it their talents? their friends? or rather something else entirely that is as elusive as defining the soul?
These are big questions that arise from a fairly innocent appearing movie...but they are questions that need to be asked and addressed. "Chronicle" may not have the answer to them, it may not know how to save a life; but it never tries to be more than itself.
For what it is, for how quasi-unique it is, "Chronicle" is a very entertaining and smart movie.









Score: ★★★

A Brief History of Time (1991) (G)




















Errol Morris is the name of documentary filmmaking. He is not necessarily the biggest success of the loudest (read "Michael Moore") but thanks to critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, his name has become synonymous with excellent documentary films.
Though it's not his most famous or his most celebrated work, "A Brief History of Time" sees Morris at his most intimate, optimistic, and methodical. Based on the work of the same name, the movie seeks to both encompass the life of Stephen Hawking and attempt to explain his theories regarding the creation of the universe and wormholes to the average viewer.
This works as a one-two punch to the audience. As we hear of Hawking's childhood and then his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) it is accompanied with his theories. We begin to see why it was done like this. As Hawking began to recognize his mortality, he began to become furiously dedicated to his work. When it was said that he only had two and a half years left to live, the creation of the universe became something that he had to know about. If you know the beginning, you might have a better way of understanding the ending.
"Which came first: the chicken or the egg?"
Beginning in 1942 with Stephen's birth, the film tracks his childhood and his college years. These are the more personal moments of the film, when we see Stephen's mother and family talking about his history and his quirks. Certainly smart, Stephen was also somewhat of a prankster through his college years and the stories here are a delight to listen to.
"A Brief History of Time" allows plenty of time for Stephen to talk. He is the most interviewed personality of the movie and rightly so, after all, it is his movie. Morris doesn't let the stories of friends and family infringe on the bigger picture: the meaning of life.
As we near Stephen's mid-twenties, when he is diagnosed with ALS, we see the turning point in his career. He begins to study cosmology because the theories are attractive to him.
When the discover of black holes occurs, Stephen has a mental breakthrough that he thinks will help him nail down the beginning of life.
If we assume that the inverse of black hole is possible then the Big Bang must have been something like that. Mind you, this is mostly theoretical, but "A Brief History of Time" never claimed to be absolute fact...yet absolute facts comprise most of it.
It is pointless here to mention all of the theories and deconstructions of those theories here. "A Brief History of Time" isn't a long movie and certainly doesn't bore, though its subject material would seem catered to put certain people to sleep.
By the end of the movie, we realize what it has been all about: the tenacity of humanity. We may not be able to tell if there is a god or not, we may not be able to rationalize the existence of a black hole, and we may not even be able to tell if the chicken came before the egg; but what we can do is ask questions, with a fervor and a passion, and try to answer those to the best of our abilities.
To do any less, would be lethargy.











Score: ★★★½

Dead Man (1995) (R)
















Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" is a western unlike any others. It takes the wannabe hipster style of "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and transforms it into a dusty, operatic, and virtually flawless masterwork of the most pretentious and glorious level.
I have huge problems with the movie...that should be out in the open first of all. Jarmusch is not one of my favorite directors and I find that he always over-emphasizes the actions of his characters until they feel unreal. This is no exception with "Dead Man", where the name of the game is "oddity". There are so many outrageous characters that the work begins to feel like a Tim Burton movies...the added presence of Johnny Depp doesn't help that feeling.
Yet before I get into the plot, I think it should be said that the key facet of the movie that works beyond anything else is the music. Neil Young's score with his rock guitar music that blends in and out of distortion is absolute perfection. It makes the movie achieve a level that it couldn't have without it...one of the best scores I've ever heard.
"Dead Man" begins slowly, as William Blake (Johnny Depp) is on a train, traveling to the small city of Machine. He is heckled and sized up by the caricatures on the bus. These are rough men and rougher women. It's assumably sometime before the turn of the 20th century, though no date is given—the frontier is mostly occupied.
This opening train scene which fades in and out as William sleeps his way all the to the end of the line feels like the beginning of a dismally boring movie. Jarmusch's tendency to fade to black is present and in abundance, which made me nervous.
After reaching the town of Machine, William tries to find his new job. He was sent a letter with the promise of an accounting job if he made his way to Machine. After the funeral for both of his parents, William sold everything he had and made his way from Cleveland. Alas, when he gets to the Dickinson Mining Company, the job vacancy has already been filled. Understandably a little miffed, William demands an audience with John Dickinson, the company's head (played by aging star Robert Mitchum). When he gets the chance to talk, he gets a gun pointed at his head and instructions to scram.
Great, now he's stuck in a town where everyone treats him like an outsider.
At a bar, he meets Thel Russell (Mili Avital), a young girl who brings him back to her place. After a night of passion and romance, their room is broken into by Charlie Dickinson (Gabriel Bryne), the ex-fiancee. He kills Thel and William kills him, then fleeing the town.
Ah, what a great setup.
William was hit by the bullet that killed Thel and he gets taken care of by an Indian named Nobody (Gary Farmer) whose English is astonishing. He keeps referring to William Blake as "stupid, f**king white man". This adds to the slight black humor of the movie.
John Dickinson is now irate at the death of his son and possible future daughter-in-law so he hires three mercenaries to track down William and kill him. These three are an odd trio. There's Johnny "The Kid" Pritchett (Eugene Byrd), Conway Twill (Michael Wincott), and Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen) and each is more unpleasant to the next.
Jarmusch's usual trope of sitting back and watching is here for most of the movie, but he does shock you with his violence. As the movie goes on, the acts of degradation increase until it becomes a thriller of the highest caliber.
William and Nobody roam across the country, not realizing that there is bounty on William's head.
Poetic, romantic, and visceral: "Dead Man" is shot in crisp black-and-white. It's wholly original and almost Coen-esque with its quasi-implausible feeling.
The acting here is sensational, though overstated with gaudy cameos (including Iggy Pop playing a transvestite).
As a whole, "Dead Man" is an experience and one that should not be missed. It's Jarmusch's finest hour and one of Depp's best performances.










Score: ★★★★

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) (PG-13)















Man and ape. Two sides of the same story: survival.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" begins right where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" left off, with a group of highly evolved, super-monkeys retreating into Muir Woods after having a stand-off with the humans on the Golden Gate Bridge. Post-chimpanzee frenzy, the population of Earth has dwindled rapidly because of a spreading virus known as "simian flu". The disease is so rampant that within the space of a few years, the human race is all but eradicated.
Our movie makes long pauses to hover over the ape family, it's them we are supposed to empathize with, it's them we're supposed to care for.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" sees our main monkey man Caesar (Andy Serkis dazzling once more) in control of the primates. The alpha-male of the group, he asserts himself with quiet restraint and deep thought. For much of the first third of the movie, we simply watch the apes in their "natural habitat". We see them as they hunt, as they quarrel among themselves, as they have children, and as they talk about the humans.
It's been two years since they have seen hide nor hair of a man or woman...they think that they may be alone in their paradise. But their Eden will soon be disrupted when man comes back to the forest.
A group of survivors who are genetically immune to the simian flu are on a quest to turn the power back on....here I resist making the obvious jump to the show "Revolution".
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" grounds itself in rigid dichotomies for the first part of the movie. We have man and ape, good and evil, greed and complacence, etc. The movie's first act shows us all these opposing forces and for the rest of the film, we slowly see them transform into new dichotomies, ones that aren't quite so rigid and are much more complex to define.
Man wants power so that they can have air conditioning. The co-leader of the men, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), thinks that without power, the humans will dissolve into complete and total chaos. I don't exactly see his point because these are a group of lone survivors who have watched the world literally crumble around them. Are we supposed to expect that without a few lights and some cold beer they will be uncontrollable?
Anyways...
A group of researchers, scientists, and stupid people go into the woods to try to find a dam, the only credible power source left since the nuclear generators and the diesel fuel burned up. When in the woods they come face to face with a surprising reality: there are monkeys!
Not making the best first impression, they are spared from a grisly death by Caesar, who commands them to leave the forest.
Now we have a conundrum: the humans want the dam turned on because they want power and the apes want to be left alone.
The other co-leader of the humans, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) thinks that he is the ape-whisperer and decides to take it upon himself to try to reason with the primates to let him turn the dam back on, he is warned by Dreyfus that if he doesn't get the power on in three days, Dreyfus will storm into the woods and gun down all the apes.
What "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" really suffers from is its human actors. If the whole movie was just about the apes, I would have been fine with that. It's their more evolved counterparts that sink the movie down to a disappointing level. There are genuinely, cinematically great moments in the movie; but then we have Jason Clarke and Keri Russell trying to be emotional...it's a terrible mess.
The only actor who does a good job is Gary Oldman, but that's to be expected. Using motion capture technology, we reap the benefits of actors pretending to be apes, and all of them do a better job than any of the "real people".
Another problem that arises is "the CGI-look". You can always tell when something is digitally recreated, it has an artificial look, no matter how great it is. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" never looses this fake feeling, even though its special effects are amazing. It does nothing to rival "Life of Pi" or "Gravity" in terms of VFX alone.
Yet we must all hail Andy Serkis for being so accessible and so willing to tackle these kinds of projects. He makes us believe that he is Caesar.
As the movie progresses we get a lot of imagery concerning apes and man—the apes start to walk upright like men, they ride on horses, they start to speak more, they start to cry...compare this to the men who are increasingly more susceptible to panic that they are almost uncontrollable.
But above everything else, the superb character changes and wonderful moments of sheer terror, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has an astoundingly good villain, the best one I've seen in a few years.
The movie doesn't cater to the younger age bracket. It's an intense movie with surprising violence.
Although the acting and script are just absolutely horrid at times, the rest of the movie is good. What is left for us is a credible, entertaining thriller.











Score: ★★★