August Summary
















ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Guardians of the Galaxy
Inglourious Basterds

Best: "Inglourious Basterds"



CLASSIC:
12 Angry Men
Cat People
Gone with the Wind
Written on the Wind

Best: "12 Angry Men"



COMEDY:
Annie Hall
Big
Clerks
Clueless
Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Best: "Annie Hall"
Worst: "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"



DOCUMENTARY:
The Celluloid Closet
Tongues Untied

Best: ? These are both pretty level.

DRAMA:
A Man for All Seasons
Philadelphia
Kinsey
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Schindler's List
The Breakfast Club

Best: "Schindler's List"
Worst: "Kinsey"



FOREIGN:
Cronos
Downfall
La Grande Illusion
No Man's Land
The Kid with a Bike

Best: "No Man's Land"
Worst: "Cronos"



HORROR:
13 Sins
Horror of Dracula
Ringu

Best: "Ringu"
Worst: "Horror of Dracula"



THRILLER:
Klute
The Departed

Best! Both of these are fantastic.



?????
Scanners
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Best: "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"



Gone with the Wind (1939)




















Standing as an essential piece of film history and the most iconic drama ever created, to tackle "Gone with the Wind" in anything less than novel form would almost seem unjust to the picture. Yes, you could talk about the oddities of Margaret Mitchell (her death is most curious), you could talk about how the movie flip-flopped between Victor Fleming and George Cukor as the director, David O. Selznik's presence as producer, or the fact that Vivian Leigh (the actress almost inseparable from the role) was not the first choice as Scarlett O'Hara and there were fights about the lead actress casting decision. You could talk about all that; but I think it all boils down to being in the right time at the right place and the right movie for an era.
"Gone with the Wind" begins on a Southern plantation named Tara. Scarlett (Leigh) is the daughter of two successful plantation owners/philanthropic parents. Her father is an avid horseback rider (he broke his knee that way) and her mother is a woman of great heart. But Scarlett seems to have missed all the virtues that her progenitors display in such wealth. She's spoiled, bratty, manipulative, and never satisfied until she has what she wants.
Right before the outbreak of the Civil War, Scarlett's last thought is of war, which is on everyone else's tongue. Instead, she's more concerned that the man she considered to be her beau is now engaged to his cousin (remember the time frame, people). Enraged and betrayed at this man's infidelity, Scarlett is sent into a jealous rage and—after proclaiming her love to the man, getting reciprocation of love and then rejection—she marries his brother to make him mad. The poor brother then promptly dies of pneumonia in the war. This is the first of many tragedies that the war will claim on the characters in "Gone with the Wind", though the film is never a 'war movie'.
Now widowed, Scarlett has the questionable pleasure of bumping back into Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) at an event. She had met him before back home and his impression on her was not very good. Scarlett likes men to treat her like a goddess and Rhett is not one of those men. His quick-fire insults and witty comebacks to her tongue lashings don't get her in the most jovial of moods.
But then Scarlett moves to Atlanta when the war gets worse and finds herself at the mercy of the Yankee army as Sherman marches into Georgia after the turning point of Gettysburg. Scarlett is separated from her homeland of Tara, and now she is set in charge of caring for the wife of the man she is in love with, the woman is very pregnant.
So you can see the complications that might arise from this.
But that hardly does the plot a just synopsis, because that takes you not even to the intermission point, there's three hours of film after that, and it just spirals downward with as much intensity as Scorsese even managed to muster from his characters.
"Gone with the Wind" may seem like a melodrama in today's eyes; but this is a hell of a nervy piece, if only for the aspects of the movie. You have the word "damn" used, which had to be approved by a special board. You have a true antihero, nobody to really cheer for, the brutality of death, and fake blood—murder!
It's all so soap-opera-esque that in the hands of lesser men and women, the film would have been fumbled. But no, "Gone with the Wind" is given its emotional due and the grand view it deserves to occupy.
There are many things in the movie that make it compelling, most of all is Vivien Leigh's deceitful and perfect performance. Her batting eyelashes and rouged cheeks, fake Southern accent, are enough to make anyone want to reach through the screen and smack her...and yet...and yet we all have some sort of vindictive pleasure when the camera zooms up close to her and she sets her jaw. You go girl! Show them bitches how it's done.
But seriously, Scarlett O'Hara is the original gold-digger, the femme fatale and this is her story! "Gone with the Wind" such an abnormality, it's a phenomena. It's so dark and so twisted, and yet at the same time filled with the same puffy drama that fueled every piece of the time.
It's the first movie in color to win the Best Picture Oscar and its record 10 Oscars would go undisturbed until "Ben-Hur". This is also the first movie that saw a black woman win an Oscar. Hattie McDaniel blows me away because she's smart, sassy, and gives perhaps the best performance in the whole movie. The power she carries isn't quite evident until the last few scenes.
There is so much to say about "Gone with the Wind"; but not enough time to say it. It stretches the space of a decade, makes you care about those who shouldn't be cared for, and is just as dramatic as Shakespeare.
It's fairly cosmic and a feat is rarely replicated in cultural impact alone.










Score: ★★★★

Schindler's List (1993) (R)















"Schindler's List" is probably both Steven Spielberg's best known piece and the quintessential Holocaust film. It culminated at the peak of Spielberg's career and stands as his last greatest work (with the possible exception of "Catch Me If You Can") , yes, I am including "Saving Private Ryan". Certainly filled with the complexity of the situation itself and gaining tidbits of knowledge from movies like "Shoah", "Schindler's List" is a movie about loss and the triumph of the will (please note the irony, you cinephiles). Kubrick is quoted for saying that "Schindler's List" is a movie about success while the Holocaust was about failure. His point is valid, yet how can you deny the success amidst failure? How can you pretend that it doesn't exist? Anyways...
Opening in 1939, the movie spans the time of the entirety of the plight against the Jewish people. From the time that Poland was invaded to the very end of the war to present day "Schindler's List" is one movie that certainly merits its running time.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson in his best role), is a man with many faces. He's attempting to be a lucrative businessman, ladies' man, and friend to the Third Reich. He belongs to the Nazi party, though his actions, even at the beginning of the film, suggest that their demonstrations and his ethics don't always line up. Still, this is no saint, he is a flawed man and Spielberg rightly shows him as just such.
Deciding to capitalize on the war, Schindler opens a metal-works factory that manufactures pots and pans. He uses a Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help him keep his head on his shoulders. As the war progresses and the demise of the Jewish people becomes more imminent, Schindler has to start to struggle to keep his business because the Germans are constantly towing his work force away and killing them.
It's important to note that Schindler first employs all Jews because they get paid less than Polish workers. This is one of the only reasons that he is allowed access to the ghetto Jews who are across the street from his factory.
Itzhak recruits the workers, and saves many people's lives from being taken away. He forges papers and gets his friends and family to safety in Schindler's factory. Oskar isn't keen on the idea of being a safe haven for those to come to ease their burdens; but he does have a heart. After a young woman implores him to save her family from the camps, he begins to realize that it's not all about money, that human life has some sort of intrinsic value.
Enter Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a German officer who runs a camp with an iron fist. He is so cruel and seems to relish in his cruelty. One scene in which Goeth and his fellow Germans round the Jews out of the ghetto proves it. He's drunk and cheerful at the beginning and near the end of the day, he's just ready to kill all the Jews so he can get some rest. He holds no value in their life, once saying to his maid "you're not a real person".
Yet to Goeth too, there is a human underneath and although both Fiennes and Spielberg play him with as much villainy as possible, the humanity can't help but slip through for the briefest of brief moments, as if he knows what he's doing is wrong.
And therein lies the problem with "Schindler's List", the fact that it is almost too optimistic in the way it views humans. However, I don't think Spielberg could have won this: make the Germans too evil and its hyperbole, make them too sympathetic and you're not telling history. The truth, which the film realizes, is somewhere in between empathy and tyranny, and it gives this middle ground such a dazzling and heartbreaking portrayal.
The plot of the movie itself feels very historical, though some of the fact were no doubt smudged a little. Schindler ranges from likable to hated, Goeth pretty much always stays the same.
Shot in black-and-white with few, poignant exceptions, "Schindler's List" is an emotional journey, one that has become essential viewing since its release. Sweeping the Oscars, "Schindler's List" is so personal for Spielberg. It's so loving, it's so hard to watch. You can feel the passion, the love, and the anguish with every frame of the film.
It's a great looking movie, and its violence is never celebrated.
Here, Spielberg gives us his masterpiece, in every sense.









Score: ★★★★

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)















"Fast Times at Rdgemont High" marks the beginning of Amy Heckerling's career in fame, which promptly ended with "Clueless". Although her career was short-lived in the limelight it provided us with some of the most unique and hilarious views on American teenagers that we have yet to see duplicated. If John Hughes' style means anything, Heckerling's should be considered just as recognizable and twice as quirky.
Based on the book by Cameron Crowe, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" seeks to encompass all of one highschool. We have the pretty girls, the jocks, the sleeky bookie-wannabes, the nerds, and the stoners. While it never tries to sympathize with them as much as "The Breakfast Club" does, it also doesn't portray them as victims in an adult-run world. Heckerling instead slyly hints that the generational gap between adolescent and adult may not be that great, rebellion is just something that we all have to do.
The main girl of our story is Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who works as a waitress at a pizza place at Ridgemont mall. She and her best friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) have many, many chats about boys; and it's a goal for Stacy to lose her virginity.
Sex is careless in "Fast Time at Ridgemont High"...at least at first. As the teens start realizing that their actions have consequences, we see maturing begin. It's very subtle and very enjoyable...much like "Juno" which would follow on many years later.
Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) works at a fast food place and has been steadily dating his girlfriend for a few years. He's a senior and thinks that it may be time to break up, just so he can fool around a little in his last year.
Then there's Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), the school's resident stoner. He wants to be a surfer and have as many babes as he wants, unfortunately, most of his time spent in school is used up butting heads with the history professor, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).
Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) is they guy to go to if you want tickets for something. He thinks that he's a cool cat, able to woo any girl he wants, and mostly he's right. The bad boy routine is something that the girls at Ridgemont seem to enjoy.
Mark Ratner (Brian Baker) is a lonely nerd who gets all his answers stolen from him during tests. On the first day of school he sees Stacy and immediately falls in love with her, trying to think of someway he could introduce himself.
Mike decides to help Mark out with love as Linda tries to coach Stacy into losing her virginity. The result of which is a complicated mess that Jeff sometimes finds himself in the middle of, for no apparent reason.
For a debut piece, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is really nervy. It shows teenage sex, smoking pot, rock 'n' roll, and all the things that your parents wouldn't want you to know existed when you were these kids' age. Highschool is a really messed up time in life, and this film isn't saying anything to the contrary. Your future is riding on what you accomplish and decide your future might be, your relationships start to become serious, etc.
The severity of the situation could and sometimes does weigh the movie down; but for the most part, the teens seem oblivious to everything around them.
My one problem with the movie is that it doesn't have any cohesion. It doesn't mesh together, there's nothing about the stories that makes them truly interconnect with one another and so for that "Fast Times" occasionally rolls out like a series of vignettes. The ending is disappointingly dull, but maybe it didn't have a right to be flashy and gaudy.
Whatever the case, Heckerling is very sympathetic towards her subjects but never over indulges in their trials. For being so wacky, "Fast Times" is actually a very natural work, something close to realism.
But it's a movie that's better know for its individual aspects than the sum of all its parts.
Very influential in terms of what movies were made after it, but nothing extraordinary.








Score: ★★½

No Man's Land (2001) (R)













There are staples in war movies, like Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; but mostly there are staples in anti-war movies. From Malick to Kubrick (twice) to Stone, the biggest names in American cinema usually all say the same thing: war is bad.
So you have anti-war movies and then you have really anti-war movies and "No Man's Land" is one of the latter; but hold your judgement because it does deserve to be in with the best of the best when it comes to war movies.
Set in the time of the Serbia-Bosnia conflict (which was only 20 years ago), "No Man's Land" begins as a group of Bosnian soldiers gets lost in the fog on the way back to camp. They decide to spend the night, whispering quietly, not smoking, just trying to avoid being detected; yet when they wake up the next morning and they find that the sun had cleared away the fog, it's to their dismay that they find themselves right next to the Serbian line.
They run and try to escape and are gunned down, only one of whom survives. Ciki (Branko Djuric) is the only member of his group to survive, and he's been shot in the shoulder. He sits and tries to form a plan.
Meanwhile, the Serbian militia decides that it would be a good idea to go down to the trenches in between the lines and try to find out what's going on. Their commander wants to know why a Bosnian outfit managed to get as close to the line as they did.
So two soldiers get elected to go down, one of them being newbie Nino (Rene Bitorajac). Once down in the trenches, they don't realize that they are stumbling onto the hiding place of Ciki, who has a longing for revenge. The two Serbians think they're alone and they goof around a little, taking one of Ciki's dead friends and setting him on a bounce mine, so that if he is moved, a deadly explosion will kill anyone within close proximity.
But it doesn't all end well and Ciki shoots the older man and wounds Nino in the stomach. He doesn't kill him so that he can pump him for information, but being the newbie, Nino doesn't know a great deal about anything.
The situation gets more tense as the two square off and suddenly they realize that the man they placed on the mine isn't actually dead.
"No Man's Land" is a thriller and a nail-biter; but also a keen piece of work, highly measured and never more emotional than it has to be. It's a movie filled with the most honest of performances and the simplest of ideas.
The two men have to deal with each other and try not to get killed as they think of a way to get out of the trenches and back to their respective sides. Things start to take unexpected turns as the peace corp is called in, but finds itself immersed in red tape.
Possibly the greatest movie made about a war that very few films touch on, "No Man's Land" doesn't try to placate to its viewer by making a likable and friendly, relatable war. To most American eyes, this is a new experience, and that's a shame.
All preaching aside, "No Man's Land" has an angle as all anti-war movies do. With "The Thin Red Line", we saw war as a rape of nature, with "Platoon", war is a systematic failure, with "Paths of Glory", it's a greedy and self-righteous act that robs us of our decency, with "Full Metal Jacket", war turns men into monsters, with "All Quiet on the Western Front", war destroys youth, and with "No Man's Land", war is seen as the least human act of all.
I—like it or not—am surrounded by people who are convinced that war is an answer...I disagree. Without expounding upon my personal beliefs, it's a movie like "No Man's Land" that proves the point that war (it sounds so childish, yet you'd be surprised how many people disagree) is bad. It's hard to argue with a movie like this, not that you'd want to or should.
Writer and director Danis Tanovic provides us with a deeply frustrating, multi-layered, tour de force, a rarity in the film world, and something that everyone should see because it will floor you. The emotions are not the characters' but the audience's..."No Man's Land" is gripping and just about damn perfect.











Score: ★★★★

Kinsey (2004) (R)















Let's talk about sex.
What is so dreadfully unfortunate about "Kinsey" is how good it could have been if it hadn't tried too hard. The problem with biopics is that you have to be shown what made the person famous, and what they were like in real life. "Kinsey" is more interested in the man rather than the work he did, which by all accounts is more interesting. Still, the film doesn't neglect the reason for the title character's fame; but it does make vast assumptions about the man's life that are clearly just there for plot details.
I should make note that because of the nature of the movie, scientific sexual terms will be used here...
"Kinsey" begins with flashbacks and black-and-white, the telltale signs of someone who is trying to impress. We are introduced to Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) as he is in the middle of his great sex census. He has recruited a group of three men and a number of others to help him get the sex history of as many people as possible.
But that's not exactly how it works. "Kinsey" is much more about the man behind the camera, the man himself. So we get to go back and witness Albert's childhood as he grew up Methodist, under the almost tyrannical hand of his father, a preacher.
Now here I have to break because I think the film overplays many of its cards, the most obvious one being the relationship between Albert and his father. Alfred Kinsey (John Lithgow, almost in an exact duplication of his "Footloose" role) is a prude, short and simple. He's a horrible person, a bigot, and a hypocrite. But the film makes him so villainous that it makes us wonder where the real Alfred begins and where this fabrication ends.
Brought up with the idea that sex isn't something you talk about, sex is something you shouldn't know about, and sex is entirely out of the ordinary, Kinsey spends his time believing such myths like if you have a wet dream, you've lost the equivalent to 40 ounces of blood, masturbation will cause blindness and impotency, etc.
Growing up, he defies his father by going to school and getting a degree in biology and then studying wasps. In school he meets his wife Clara McMillen (Laura Linney) and the two get married, still virgins. After many horrible nights of attempting to make love, they go to the doctor and get a very simple explanation for it all.
But sex still is a taboo subject and after the revelation of how wonderful it is, Kinsey, or Prok as he's called by his students, thinks that everyone should be as enlightened as possible. He begins to campaign for a sex education class at the university that he teaches at, but he is shot down by prudes.
So he decides to start his own cult following which demands an education and Kinsey begins to address some of the simplest issues like oral sex, homosexuality, and orgasms.
Because the film is about something revolutionary and because I am of the same opinion that sex should be something that is discussed, you would think that I would like the movie...but not so. It's interesting enough because it deals with a great scientific shift in culture and that is fascinating. What's not acceptable is the daddy issues that Kinsey has that are never fully addressed. Because of his upbringing and because his son is more interested in sports than biology, Kinsey treats his son much like he was treated...but this is never resolved.
Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) is one of Kinsey's assistants who helps Prok begin his census, starting with homosexuals. Their relationship is odd, and the result of which, though accurate, can be easily predicted; and stands as another huge rift in the movie's emotion power.
The problem that the movie seems to address is love. With all this sex, shouldn't there be a place for love in there somewhere? Love is not measurable, therefore, cannot be recorded; but it is as real as sex. The movie's gap between science and emotion is there on paper; but in reality the film is much more emotion rather than science.
In its pre-graduate-thesis readiness, "Kinsey" clearly spells out the daddy issues and the psychological problems with Kinsey with more ease than if he were a case study. But the man was much more complicated and we rarely see that, though is does show up in a few scenes.
Liam Neeson does a good job, but it's a role that comes across almost vaudevillian.
"Kinsey" loses all credibility because of how it treats its people like puppets instead of with respect. The real Albert Kinsey was a great mind who shifted a nation towards openness, and we just don't understand that by the time the movie is over.











Score: ★★

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
















Perhaps the most underrated and intelligent of all the Best Picture winners, "A Man for All Seasons" exemplifies that no matter what setting you drop your viewers in, there is power to a film if you have a great script and a good cast. Fred Zinnemann (an Academy favorite) proves here that there is no need for any fuss except that of the spoken word.
Robert Bolt's script, based on his stage play, is in a class of its own for how it presents its material without preaching or condemning. Because the crux of the movie pivots on the Christian/Catholic philosophy and ethics of Thomas Moore, you could have swung several ways. Bolt makes the right decision, and shows up Moore as a zealous believer, but never thinks of his belief as ludicrous and never damns those who don't believe...it's quite refined, much like the picture.
The movie beings as Sir Thomas Moore (Paul Scofield) is summoned to Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles). The Cardinal has been placed between a rock and a hard king. Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) wants a divorce from his first wife Catherine, but the church is unwilling to give it to him. This is a huge problem because as bishops and cardinals, these men are both servants of the state and the church. They must obey God's laws as well as the king's word...so when the two differ, who do you chose to side with? Eternally, it should be God—which is how Moore views it—but this God only works so many miracles and martyrdom is an almost certainty if they do chose to side with the divine law instead of the sovereign one.
The Cardinal wants to know what will happen to the king's dispute with the church once he has passed on and has called upon Thomas Moore to see if he is the man of integrity that people say he is. As a lawyer and judge, Moore doesn't accept any bribes and provides the fairest of fair trials to those who come before him. He exemplifies what it means to live by your beliefs, and that, even if you don't agree with his religion, is universal.
After the Cardinal passes away Thomas Moore is elected as chancellor and paid a visit by Henry VIII. The king is ready to separate himself from the Catholic church, to start his own (this is where the Church of England came from) and he hopes that his threats and large talk will frighten Moore into making his move for divorce unanimous, but he's unsuccessful at that.
Going against his whole family including his wife Alice (Wendy Hiller) and his daughter Margaret (Susannah York), Thomas Moore campaigns for righteousness even in the face of such great adversity, and it is almost no time before Henry VIII strips the title from the man. Now in poverty and social disgrace, things can't seem to get any worse for Thomas Moore and his family, but he still refuses to cave in to peer pressure and when the question of oaths begins, Moore is a steadfast as always.
"A Man for All Seasons" is one of the most measured of the Academy's honored, maybe up there with "The King's Speech". For all it's posh and vibrant recreations of the 16th century, the most notable of these being the costumes, "A Man For All Seasons" actually resembles the modern day thriller more than anything else; and for that it is exciting.
A story that shouldn't be interesting and a grandeur that should be even less so, "A Man for All Season" is a movie designed for the drama-crazed snob; but at that, it is king.
The movie has just the right speed, just the right drama, and just the right amount of betrayal.
Paul Scofield here is also a great reason to watch the movie, because it's his performance that remains in your mind after the movie ends. It's also a movie that exemplifies the power of words and the theater quality it has makes you long to speak those magnificent monologues for yourself. Scofield is a revelation, one of the best performances committed to film, it's wonderfully restrained and filled with sincerity.
"A Man for All Seasons" is just great, but not for everyone.









Score: ★★★★

Horror of Dracula (1958)
















Dracula is one of film's most universal figures. He's the original vampire daddy and he is tough as nails. One of the first horror villains, he has made appearances is many versions of "Nosferatu" (the 1922 and 1979 being the most famous) and we can track the progression of madness through film cinema. Appearing first as a mindless vegetable of types that just eats people to survive, Werner Herzog's version of "Nosferatu" in the 70s is what gives us the change in character. Then, Dracula was a slave to his own vampirism. But things quite hadn't gotten to that point of empathizing in 1958 when Christopher Lee made an iconic turn as the elusive and deadly vampire count.
"Horror of Dracula" or "Dracula" as it was originally titled, differs pretty severely from the other big three renditions of the tale (being the 1922, the Bela Lugosi one, and then the Herzog film) because the plot differs greatly.
We have added characters, mystery and intrigue, some genuine horror instead of the faux wannabe stuff, and the stilted feeling of drama that hadn't quite left yet. What sinks the movie past being great is director Terence Fisher's choice of using humor in the piece, it doesn't belong there and because it appears only once or twice, it ruins the creepy atmosphere that builds up the rest of the time.
Still clinging to the horror style of the early years of cinema, "Horror of Dracula" is big on the screechy score and paused moments of characters seeing something off-screen. Surprisingly, it works rather well because it blends campy and suspense into something edible.
The movie begins as a young man goes out to Dracula's castle. In the early renditions of the story, he was tricked into going, being served up to the Count as an entrée, but that's not the case here. This young man is a vampire hunter and he wants to make Count Dracula his victim. He has gone to the castle with the sole intention of killing the vampire.
But he is bewitched by a female at the castle who begs him to help her escape from the clutches of Dracula and the man, foolishly, obliges her persistence. Turns out that she's a vampire too and she bites the kid and he...well...he gets turned into a vampire.
Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is now looking for the young man because he was a friend. He gets a hold of the man's diary and realizes that the worst is true. As he is about to make it to the steps of Dracula's castle, a hearse with a white coffin tears away from the castle.
Now Dracula has made his way into town and he's trying to find a replacement woman to be his trusty side-kick/killing machine. His attempts are repeatedly foiled by the good doctor who finds it his responsibility to tell the man's fiancee, Lucy (Carol Marsh) that her lover has died.
Trying to do what's right, the doctor is met with resistance by Lucy's brother, Arthur (Michael Gough) and his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling). They don't want Lucy knowing because she's sick and the don't want to risk her condition worsening on account of the news.
It's clear that Dracula wants to get to Lucy and it's up to the doctor to convince Arthur and Mina that he has everyone's best intentions in mind.
"Horror of Dracula" establishes some of the vampire tropes that would be used in the years to come, while ignoring others that come back in modern cinema (see "Let the Right One In"). It's not the most influential piece of vampire cinema, at least not as much as Bela Lugosi's "Dracula" was; but what the film is remember for (rightly so) is Christopher Lee's rendition of the vampire, and its practical special effects, sure to inspire "An American Werewolf in London" years later.
The feel of the film is crisp and it's so short that it's offenses don't became too horrible to bear. All-in-all, it's a nice film; but nothing spectacular, though chilling in moments.












Score: ★★½

Inglourious Basterds (2009) (R)


















My opinion of "Inglourious Basterds" and what most people think are two different things. Sure, it's another piece in Quentin Tarantino's ever-expanding and ever-one-upping-itself body of work; but is there anything that really sets it apart? The obvious answer to this would be the Nazis, because that's an area of history that we certainly didn't predict Tarantino to tread upon. Then there's the multi-lingual effect which the director rarely did before, but it seems with "Inglourious Basterds" we've finally come to the point in Tarantino's career where he doesn't care about his audience anymore. That's not to say that he's distant or cold, but he makes movies that he himself would like and that is the key difference. Even with "Pulp Fiction" Tarantino made sure it was approachable and that, for lack of anything else, it had a happy ending. So is the case with "Kill Bill" or even "Jackie Brown"; but with "Inglourious Basterds" for the first time since "Reservoir Dogs" do we see the director not really care about what happens, who gets hurts, who dies, or how much shit hits the fan.
"Inglorious Basterds" begins in 1941 with the introduction to one of the most recent chilling bad guys to come to screen. Colonel Hans Landa of the SS (Christoph Waltz) is a man of peculiar abilities to find Jews. He has been assigned to find the last remaining group of Jewish escapees and kill them. This assignment, which Landa seems particularly giddy about, brings him to a dairy farm in France. His tactics seem to work, but one Jewish girl, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) manages to slip through his fingers. Meanwhile, a group of rebels who call themselves "The Basterds"—led by Nazi-scalp hungry Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)—are the self-appointed bringers of justice. They don't steal from the rich, but they do kill every single Nazi in sight which is a fair cry from Robin Hood.
The movie skips ahead a few years and soon we catch back up to Shosanna as she poses as a French citizen who owns a cinema. She is greeted with great cordiality by a recent German war hero, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) who seems smitten by her appearance and her love of cinema. He is so enamored by her that he goes out of his way to make sure that her cinema is promoted in the most interesting of ways.
But before it's all over, the Basterds, Landa, and Shosanna will have to face off and the Third Reich, as history tells us, will topple.
"Inglourious Basterds" is chilling and memorable for many reasons. It's the least comic-booky of Tarantino's work thus far, it's his most measured work, and it's completely and totally unafraid to make a mockery of history. Portraying real life figures like Hitler and Goebbels, Tarantino fashions "Inglourious Basterds" out of myth rather than historical mystery. 
Its time spent building suspense is one thing that I love about it, but the unashamed use of multiple languages is another. The film is shot in French, German, English, and some in Italian....the majority of this being French and German. A film that appeals to the intellectual and the inner revenge-seeking-Nazi-killing assassin, "Basterds" may be one of the insensitive of Tarantino's work, purposely so.
There are a few characters that seem redeemable who are also part of the German militia, but Tarantino rarely spares those characters mercy. Instead, he seems to believe as Traudl Junge did: your excuses are hollow because of the horrors you did.
Tarantino's story is one of vigilantism (which is something that I don't agree with, personally; but hey, movies are movies) and revenge. To the most empathetic of viewers, it may seem callous the way that life is dispatched in "Basterds"; but I find this much more revealing of Tarantino himself. He is so sincere with his hatred for Nazis that he crafts these misfits to take over his rage for him. It would seem that Tarantino is passionate about something else than film. It's the most intimate we see him other than "Jackie Brown". 
But "Basterds" is also a love song to cinema and if you know the propaganda directors, you'll find subtle references that pop up. Tarantino, naturally, did his homework. For its complexity, for its sensational cast and acting, for its style, for its audacity, "Basterds" is great.
And here is where I differ from most, because I don't just consider "Inglourious Basterds" to be one of Tarantino's best films, I consider it to be his best.









Score: ★★★★

Clueless (1995) (PG-13)



















On its surface level, it doesn't require much thought to enjoy "Clueless" which seems like a dumb-rich girl movie. Essentially, it's "first world problems" in a cinematic setting; but what Amy Heckerling's movie does is give us an example of those who might not have appeared on film before. We got the pretty princess in "The Breakfast Club"; but never a whole movie devoted to rich socialites that wasn't a complete and utterly ridiculous satire on that class. "Clueless" does have its commentary, but it may not be what you expect. Teenagers in film up to the 90s were mostly the underprivileged or somehow abused, living off the angst and emotion of adolescence. With "Clueless" we get a shift towards, dare I say it, realism in that now every facet of highschool was now represented. Now don't get me wrong, the film isn't some renaissance in film making, but it is much smarter than you would assume.
Based on Jane Austen's novel Emma, "Clueless" transports the match-maker tome to modern day highschool. The real star here is Heckerling's script which dazzles with memorable one-liners and zingers: "You're a virgin who can't drive".
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is a girl who's just trying to make it through highschool. She is the daughter of a very effective lawyer Mel Horowitz (Dan Hedaya) and she seems to have all the money in the world. Her house, her car, her friends, they all glitter and some of them are actual gold.
Her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Dionne's boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison) round out some of the other stereotypes in highschool. Cher likes to file people away in categories, and she often enlightens the audience to these thoughts. Her voice-over narration is one of the movie's more enjoyable aspects.
Ah, but highschool is complicated, particularly when everyone is falling in love. When Cher's ex-step-brother (it's complicated) Josh (Paul Rudd) comes back into town for a few weeks away from college, Cher finds that she begins competing with him and vying for his approval, even though she knows she's ridiculous. Perhaps she just doesn't want to be superficial, or at least, thought of as superficial.
Cher spends her time setting up her teachers with each other so that they will be happier and she can get a better grade in debate...illogical, but clever. Living the high-life as the most popular girl in highschool, her world is turned a little when a new face emerges.
Tai (Brittany Murhpy) enters into the picture as the new girl on campus. She's not exactly rich-snob material but Cher sees an opportunity to use her social stature to help a sister out. She goes make-up and lipstick crazy and soon Tai looks completely different in the Sandra Bullock mode that these things can take. But Cher goes about turning her into a bona fide snob, subtly (and not so) pulling Tai this way and that, telling her who to pursue and who to not date, etc.
It all seems to be going well until Cher's own love life comes into question. That is something not so easily fixed.
"Clueless" is a movie that seems to get better with every new viewing. The first thing you notice is Alicia Silverstone's heartfelt-meets-ditzy performance that has since landed her in pop culture's mind. This movie is still as popular as it ever was, inspiring pop stars today and certainly paving the way for movies like "Mean Girls".
What I love about it is how it balances drama so easily with its comedy that you don't recognize it as an intelligent movie until near the end. And, thank the heavens, it never loses its tone. Never once does it present us a facade, these are real people and though they change a great deal, their essence remains in tact.
"Clueless" exemplifies great movie making by being hyper-aware of itself. Tongue-in-cheek remarks, pop culture references ("He's a Baldwin"), and the most off-kilter sense of humor ("Oh, Snickers!") punctuates the entirety of the movie.
It's the kind of movie that you wish could be made today so you could witness it first-hand. I'm surprised at myself, but "Clueless" tip-toes so many lines so well, I can't think of it as anything but sheer perfection.








Score: ★★★★

The Departed (2005) (R)















"The Departed" is one of the few pictures in the Academy history that hasn't been a straight-forward drama and still has managed to win the Best Picture. No real other thriller has managed to claim the title, the closest we can come is "The French Connection" and that's blurring pretty much all the lines.
It's also unique because it is the only Scorsese movie to win Best Picture and the director's only win for Best Director. Yet seen only as a movie that the Academy chose to honor because they felt sorry for Scorsese and his previous losses, you lose much of what makes the movie great.
"The Departed", with its macabre title in tow, is based on the Chinese thriller "Infernal Affairs" and was adapted for American theaters by William Monahan.
What remains is the story of men searching for justice, men in it for themselves, and the collapse and rise of the justice system.
Set in Boston, a city of rats, where corruption thrives, "The Departed" is so manically quick and ruthlessly lax about its time frame that it takes a few minutes to get a coherent narrative.
So we have Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), the biggest and baddest crime boss in Boston and the one that the local police are trying to topple, unsuccessfully. They have been fighting that war for many years with no fruits for their labor. No men are more keen to try to put Costello behind bars than Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) who run the undercover section of the police force and are tight lipped about their agents, to the point where they rub some of the other officers the wrong way, namely Ellerby (Alec Baldwin).
Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) grew up on the streets under the guidance of Costello and has since been in his pocket, even throughout the police academy. Now that he is assigned onto the force with Costello in cahoots, he quickly climbs the ladder and soon oversees a small team of men.
Then we have Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a nobody and another graduate of the police academy. Bullied into submission and with the thought that he is doing some amount of good, Billy decides to be Queenan and Digman's man undercover. He has to go to prison and then he slowly makes connections to try to infiltrate Costello's nest.
We see the differences in suffering and the unfairness of it all. As Billy slaves away for what is "right" in the end, often breaking his own bones to make his name known, we also see Colin gliding along on the good life, earning nothing and winning everything.
As the audience, it's hard to empathize with Colin, near impossible, but the rapid editing and quick scene changes from one character to the other leaves no room for boredom. In fact, there's so much going on in "The Departed's" two-and-a-half-hour running time and still the story feels somewhat incomplete. But make no mistake, the story is finished, and the resulting questions you may have only emphasize what Scorsese has made his movie about.
It's nice to have a break from a character study and with this one, Scorsese firmly sets himself up above the rest of his contemporaries. Though the die-hard fan will tell you that "Taxi Driver" or "Goodfellas" marks the top of the director's oeuvre, you have to consider "The Departed" for its sheer joy and pleasure to watch. It's certainly the most approachable of anything Scorsese has done that fits into his crime category.
As we dance from one character to the next, tensions running high, it becomes about the relay of information. Who knows what and why? As it becomes clear that moles sit in both camps—the police and the mafia—Costello and Queenan are both trying to figure out the other one's head.
Yet for all its depressive and unexpected turns, "The Departed" is quite optimistic with the idea of justice, though that doesn't seem evident at first.
"The Departed" features strong performances from it's all boys cast, with an unexpected turn by Vera Farmiga who plays a psychiatrist that falls in love with Colin. It's all a mess of information, a rapid turning rat's nest that is the most fun you could possibly ask for in a movie.
It's not for the faint of heart, but Scorsese never was. With the Boston accent thick in the air and corruption so strong you can taste it, watch "The Departed" for its plot...a rare thing to see in Scorsese.












Score: ★★★★

The Celluloid Closet (1995) (R)


















Rob Epstein's heart is never far away from the LGBT community. In the 80s, he won an Oscar for his work on "The Times of Harvey Milk" and in the 90s, he stirred the pot again by looking back on the film industry's history and searching for gay characters who might have snuck in under the censoring radar. Along with co-director Jeffrey Friedman, Epstein pulls in actors and producers who have worked on some of the game-changing movies that Hollywood has allowed since the age of film making.
One of the earliest experimental films that was shot by Thomas Edison depicts two men dancing to music, cheek-to-cheek as it were. Then we jerk forward to the 20s where homosexuality was never properly addressed by we begin to see the appearance of such figures as "the sissy" and the woman who dresses in men's clothing. Now to the carefree observer, these scenes might not come across as the beginning of any gay figures in cinema, but to the repressed and very often represented homosexual (which most of the interviewees are) these scenes speak volumes.
We watch as the progression of the gay character becomes more and more bold up to the 30s, and then censorship kicks in. From the 30s to the 60s, we get nothing, or at least, we almost get nothing. Film makers were still smart and screenwriters who wanted gay characters put into their movies would find ways to write around the issues and let the ambiguity speak for itself.
From Tony Curtis to Whoopi Goldberg, the movies ranging from "Wings" (picture above, the first Best Picture Winner" to "Red River"; "The Celluloid Closet" isn't a perfect documentary, but it is as fun as it can be given the source material.
As the humor is taken out of the situation and the gay character is no longer seen as a source of cheap laughs, movies began to villain-ize the homosexual character and we get such creations as "Rebecca" and "Rope", both Hitchcock movies. Interestingly enough the film doesn't address certain movies that I would have thought to be a dead giveaway like "Top Hat" and "Strangers on a Train"—Hitchcock again.
"The Celluloid Closet" seems to be focusing mainly on the biggest hits that you might have heard of and the stories behind them. The most interesting of these is Gore Vidal's story about "Ben-Hur" and the gay romance that lies beneath the surface of that film. But for all its attempts and grand gestures, "The Celluloid Closet" isn't a complete success because it ignores vast works that have gone on to become classics in their own right like "Scorpio Rising" or "Tongues Untied". These underground works perhaps illustrate the film's point: you shouldn't have to look too far to find a gay character in any movie or show and they shouldn't be objectified. We shouldn't have butch lesbians who prey on the virginal or sissy queers who are just out for cheap sex. Yes, we shouldn't have to look far to find honest, homosexual characters, but the film is ignoring the people who risked whatever careers they had to make these smaller films...I digress.
"The Celluloid Closet" isn't as extensive as it could have been and has an air of finality to it, as if this was the nail in the coffin and the final word to everything that has been made. Part of me wishes this weren't so because remarkable changes were made to cinema in the decade following "The Celluloid Closet's" opening such as "Brokeback Mountain" (there is still soreness that this movie didn't win the Best Picture Oscar) or the decade after that where the explosion of indie filmmaking gave us more and more vibrant, gay characters in movies like "I Killed My Mother", "Weekend", or "Blue is the Warmest Color".
The progression of the homosexual character is viewed quite intensely and that's the movie's downfall. It hasn't aged well so at the end, we are left wanting more. This documentary could use an updated version.
For what it is, I appreciate it and think it does a wonderful job; but by today's standards it's only educational, never emotional, though very enjoyable.









Score: ★★★

Downfall (2004) (R)
















The power to "Downfall" isn't evident in its first scene, which somehow comes across as a little bit like an SNL skit. Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) arrives in the dead of the night in 1942 to apply for the position of Hitler's personal secretary. Obviously a little frightened and flustered by the man's reputation, she is picked up by Hitler (Bruno Ganz, in an iconic role) and reassured by his demeanor.
Two and a half years later, Berlin is under attack.
This odd and very realistic way of shooting makes the narrative a bit stand-off-ish, to the point where we're not sure if we are supposed to laugh or cry. The emotions are kept at bay for most of the picture, letting us see the most notorious monsters in history as simple human beings...which they were.
You could criticize the picture for being too pretentious or too anti-this or pro-that; but the fact is that "Downfall" was the first conventional narrative about Adolf Hitler to come from Germany. To say that respect for the man still lived in the mind of the German people is preposterous, director Oliver Hirschbiegel proves that in the first few scenes.
Based in part of the personal story of Traudl Junge (the film opens to an interview with the real-life Frau Junge), "Downfall" is entirely about the last few days, hours, and minutes of the rule of Adolf Hitler. We see all sides of the argument, those who want desperately to be loyal to their leader, those who feel that self preservation is more important, and those who have begun to disagree with the Führer. 
Hitler has his many quirks, including twitches and what may only be considered as drastic mood swings. Bruno Ganz does a terrific job here, though he is not the heart and soul of the movie. It takes a brave man to tackle such a historical figure and play him with just the right amount of humanity and just the right amount of insanity.
As moody as Hitler is, his wife, Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) is even more charismatic. She swings violently from cheerful to manically cheerful. She is living in denial, hoping that the storming of Berlin will soon dissipate and her life of riches and opulence can continue. Hirschbiegel accurately doesn't portray Braun as a gold-digger, instead just letting the audience know that the world of the rich is all she ever experienced, she has no other frame of reference.
As the degradation of Berlin continues, the minds of the German officers begin to get tested. Their allegiance, dedication, their morale—all if it is put under question as Hitler begins his final descent.
Though a movie about the fall of the Third Reich, mirrored by Hitler's own path into the utter recess of pitiful resistance, "Downfall" focuses more on the "average people"—a small child, Traudl, and then a doctor. Each of these three are the victims of their circumstances, but that doesn't make them any less or any more guilty.
Traudl Junge, at the end of the movie, lets us know that she was considered to be a "young convert". That is, her place in the Nazi world was forgivable because she was only 22 at the time. She later realized that age is no excuse, and she has come to deal with the horrors that she helped commit, whether knowingly or not.
Shot beautifully viscerally with just the right amount of string pulling to make us cry, "Downfall" is an exhaustive work. It feels too long, yet I don't know how to cut it off at any point.
You feel like Dante, treading down into the inner most parts of Hades while watching "Downfall" (forgive the snobbery); but what is most surprising is how human every is in the film. They are terrible people, yes, but terrible people convinced of an idea. Maybe that's what makes "Downfall" so powerful, we can somehow empathize with the actions of a mother who kills her children, because we know how infectious a corrupt idea can be...and how deadly.
It's not a pleasant movie to watch, nor a necessary one to see; but one that was necessary to make.









Score: ★★★½

12 Angry Men (1957)
















It's ironic that one of the most famous (if not the quintessential piece itself) courtroom dramas does not take place in a courtroom. "12 Angry Men", written by Reginald Rose after he was a juror, instead examines the twelve men who hold someone else's life in their hands. It's a story mainly concerned with ethics and performances and from its mans-only cast, it brings forth the most memorable of turns, each actor besting the next.
An ensemble cast tour de force, "12 Angry Men" is also a work of extreme genius in writing. Because only the first scene is shot in court, we do not get to know about the case itself. The opening scene gives us the bare basics: it's the end of a six day murder trial. The jury has heard all of the evidence and now they must decide whether the defendant is or is not guilty of pre-meditated murder. If they convict the defendant, he must be sentenced to death, the court will not accept anything less.
With this in mind, the twelve men enter a back room and start by a preliminary vote. The overriding thought of the men is that the boy is guilty. This eighteen year old slum kid is accused of stabbing his father in the chest with a switchblade.
With so much evidence, including two eye witnesses, piled up against the boy, it would seem that this is one of the easiest cases to call...or so it would seem.
Juror #8 (Henry Fonda, also the producer of the movie, one of the chief reasons it got made) is the only man on the preliminary vote who doesn't want to immediately vote "guilty". His reasons? He thinks that there is a reasonable doubt that the boy didn't commit the crime, and therefore, he doesn't want to quickly sign the boy's life away.
The room starts to take a tense shift as the jurors, one by one try to convince #8 that he's wrong. This is how the script manages to recall the exact details of the crime without making us sit through the defense and prosecution arguments.
Yet as they start to argue and the room heats up, it becomes clear that each one of them brings their own sort of prejudices and baggage with them. Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb) is the biggest of all the bullies in the room, clearly feeling empathetic towards the victim in this situation because of a personal relationship between he and his son. Then there's Juror #10 (Ed Begley) who is just an old racist, ready to condemn the boy just because he's Hispanic.
Juror #9 (Joseph Sweeney) is the only man who lends a listening ear to #8. He begins to rationalize the case, to think about how easy it would be to send the boy to the chair, and he realizes that he too doesn't think all the points of the case line up.
But the arguing continues and the tempers flare even more as the case continually gets scrutinized into the night.
Much like "Dog Day Afternoon" or "Do the Right Thing", "12 Angry Men" is all about how crazy people get in the heat. On a blistering summer day, the twelve men don't exactly have the most comfortable of circumstances, yet they all try to keep a level head. The heat and humidity is infused into the movie, it makes the jurors uneasy.
"12 Angry Men" tackles a large array of issues from strained paternal relationships to justice to racism. What makes the film so iconic is that none of its original potency has been lost through the years. Somehow director Sidney Lumet managed to stop time for a moment. This is one film that doesn't seem to have aged a day since its release over 50 years ago.
Though the film managed to get three Oscar nomination, it was a box-office flop. It's only in the years that followed it that the film has grown into a classic and landed a permanent place in the canon of cinema.
"12 Angry Men" partly succeeds because of Boris Kaufman's incredible cinematography including an opening shot that is six minutes long with no cuts. The technical savvy of using camera and lights to make one room with twelve men stuffed inside interesting is beyond compare. The camera never idles and the technique here is what makes the movie beyond great.
"12 Angry Men" is a powerhouse of a film and one of the greatest dramas ever made.









Score: ★★★★

La Grande Illusion (1937)

















Another film about the World Wars. "La Grande Illusion" has a reputation that precedes it. From word of mouth to "best movies ever made" lists to references in other films like "Annie Hall", it's not easy to avoid when you tackle the history of cinema. It's one of the first foreign movie that got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and when France was occupied for the second World War, the film was thought to be lost forever, deemed as inappropriate and banned by the Nazis. But negatives were found and the film lives on, and "La Grande Illusion" gives us perhaps one of the most insightful looks into WWI.
It doesn't take long for the movie to get rolling. Captain Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) get shot down by German officer Captain Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) and become prisoners of war. Instead of being treated with disdain, the two are greeted with the utmost civility one can have after being captured by the enemy. They are fed, kept warm, and cleaned. But their times of merriment will soon end and another officer comes to take them away to a prison.
In the prison camp, Boeldieu and Maréchal are still treated nicely, as are all of their cohorts. As long as they don't step on any toes, they should be fine.
But the men are itching to fight, they are longing to get back out and fight for France against Germany once more. Alas, escaping from prison is not as easy as it looks.
The men try to dig a tunnel, much like "The Great Escape". After completing it, on the night they plan to escape, everyone is boarded up and shipped off to a new camp.
The men try and try again, seeing the walls of the prison as only a hurdle to vault over. Surprisingly, no one gets killed doing this, even though the threats remain constant and are hurled towards the prisoners time and time again.
Eventually the group of men find themselves back in the hands of Captain Rauffenstein, who considers himself and Boeldieu to be best of friends, simply because of their family names. But the men still want to escape and that is becoming something that seems more and more impossible with each passing day.
There's a lot going on in "La Grande Illusion" from racism to the simple duty of serving in the army during war time. The film isn't anti-war, yet it never gives us the battle scenes that affirm of reject the ideas of war. Instead, it's more of a pro-people movie. This is why the film makes pains never to mock the Germans, though it does slightly chide them, simply for being on the wrong side of history.
Duty and valor are always honored, no matter what side they are seen on in "La Grande Illusion".
In a way Rauffenstein and Boeldieu are very similar character, just separated by their patriotism. The film is trying to show that in another setting, the two probably could have been the best of friends.
Though it has no real main character, the movie is most sympathetic to Maréchal as the soldier who is most ready to get out of prison.
"La Grande Illusion" is not an escape movie in the strictest sense. It parallels "The Great Escape" quite a lot, though this film is much better. It's not quite cerebral and grueling enough to be "Papillon"; but the film wasn't trying to be about the escape, rather the spaces in between the attempts, when humanity is revealed to be strong and resilient.
It's a very optimistic film for such a bleak concept and no doubt its warm heart won it the love it has today.
It drags on a bit too long for my taste and its third act is its weakest; but "La Grande Illusion" is a classic, true and true.










Score: ★★★½

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)














"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" is an exemplary piece for being so contradictory to itself. It doesn't belong to the French New Wave movement, and yet, if anything is to describe it, that is. It is so intent on viewing its flawed characters that it never stopped and wondered if it should have or not. The result of the confusing combination of anti-hero and teen rebel in one man leads us to hold Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) at a distance. But maybe we were supposed to do that...then again, who knows?
"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" is a film about pleasure. It's about nihilism in the sense that Arthur doesn't really care what happens to other people so long as he gets his kicks from situations. The fun ends justifies the mean means as it were.
The movie begins in a factory, where we have a voice-over narration from Arthur about the pointlessness of it all. He only works so that he can get a paycheck and he only wants money so he can have some cheap thrills.
The title implies a binge of sorts, whether sexual, drinking, or just nefarious activities. At the end of the week, Arthur is keen to get away from everything and the first time we see him in the bar, he's having a drinking match with another man. Passing out down a flight of stairs, it's clear that Arthur has some booze-related issues; but don't consider him to be an alcoholic because I think he could stop at any time...he just wants to have fun.
Arthur is mixed up with a married woman named Brenda (Rachel Roberts) whose husband works with Arthur. Now this is getting messy. Arthur, though many years her junior, enjoys his sexual relationship with Brenda and the two of them meet as many times a week as possible.
One Saturday morning, Arthur meets the lovely Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), a girl his age whose prudish upbringing only makes her that much more desirable.
Scoring a date with Doreen, things seem quite pleasant for Arthur who nonchalantly balances the two women on either hand, never letting on about the other one.
So as a rapscallion (the film does condemn his actions, though it is sympathetic towards him) and a womanizer, Arthur is just run-of-the-mill; but we know there has to more to it than just that, and we'd be right.
Questioning the idea of ethics all together, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" is all about the progression of responsibility within Arthur. When Brenda comes to him and says that she's pregnant with his child, things start to go south. Another problem arises when Brenda's husband may find out about the pregnancy as Brenda and Arthur struggle to find someone who can give them an abortion.
"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" may refer to the carefree time spent living the high life and the cruel realization that you may have gone to far later on. Personally, I find it a little too heavy handed at times and the other times too boring to be great.
Yet there is still an aspect of the movie that makes it enjoyable and that's the film aspect itself. The movie is wonderfully made from its cinematography to its score to its acting. The movie, just as a looks, performance, and sound piece, is pretty flawless. One section on a roller coaster proves that Karel Reisz knew what he was doing.
Yet the poignancy of the film is lost in the long sections of building characters. "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" is a good movie, but maybe it's too haughty for its own good. Maybe it's too smart.
Whatever the reason, it's a hard movie to empathize with; but I commend it for trying so hard.










Score: ★★★

Klute (1971) (R)
















"Klute" turned Jane Fonda into the fashion statement/rights activist/controversial figure that we can recognize her as today. Though her view points may seem a bit jaded in today's world, the Vietnam War having come and gone, her presence itself is still enough to send some people off the deep end—as exemplified in "Lee Daniels' The Butler"—which proves her star power. But more than just a turning point in the career of an actress (Fonda would win an Oscar for her role in "Klute"), this movie is a prime example of a suspense thriller.
"Klute" has the look of "All the President's Men" (this would make sense because Alan J. Pakula directed both the pictures) and the feel of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation". It is about paranoia, abuse, misconceptions, secrets, and how far you would go to maintain your integrity. With this movie, "Klute" establishes some of the tropes of the thriller, though I doubt you will see them done any better than here.
A man named Tom Gruneman has gone missing. After a brief introduction to him and his family/friends, we see a policeman interviewing his wife. Tom's disappearance is remarkably uncharacteristic of him, though as the police get further into the investigation, they learn that Tom may not be so well adjusted as everyone assumes.
They find multiple, sexually explicit letters written to a woman in New York City, presumably, someone that he had met before. After meeting with the woman to whom the letters are written, the police find out that she is a call girl and has no real recollection of Tom at all.
Assuming that Tom has run away from home to stalk the girl of his sexual fantasies, Tom's wife is left bewildered and searching for answers. Not completely convinced that Tom would do such a dastardly thing, John Klute (Donald Sutherland) a family friend, is hired as a private investigator to track down Tom and uncover the truth. He is hired by Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi) one of Tom's business partners who helps John make the connections he needs to track down Tom.
Once in New York, we run into Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda), the girl who the letters were written to. She has been in and out of prison and questioned by the police about Tom Gruneman numerous times. She's not looking to divulge any more information. While trying to make it as an actress and a model, Bree still gets set up with men from time to time. Hey, a girl's gotta eat.
Bree sees a psychiatrist regularly and her talks on the couch give us insight into her complex life. She likes being a call girl because she likes having the power in a situation. She likes the fact that some of her "Johns" (irony is heavy here) need her and seek her out regularly; but mostly she just likes the brief connection she feels with her men. They see her and she sees them and for a brief moment, there is truth there.
Still claiming ignorance on the knowledge of Tom Gruneman and suffering from growing paranoia that she is being followed, Bree's life is changed when Klute walks in. The first time they talk, Klute notices a man spying on them through the roof window and a chase scene ensues. Bree's life becomes threatened when the man keeps coming back and doing more and more daring acts. Soon, it's just a matter of time before Tom's disappearance and deaths that have been lining up meet in the middle to give us an answer.
Without giving too much away, "Klute" never operates as a whodunnit, because the answer becomes obvious to the audience half way through the movie. We know and the characters don't and that's what gives the movie its suspense.
As the title character, Donald Sutherland is silent and meditative. He always gives wonderful performances. But Fonda really blows everyone else away with her turn as Bree Daniel. It was a well-deserved Oscar win and a performance that has landed her a place in film lore. She's sassy, emotional, wounded, strong, and tenacious.
"Klute" has a magnificent score, a wonderful neo-noir look, and perhaps the most enjoyable thriller sequences that I've ever seen. It's simply a great movie.












Score: ★★★★

Philadelphia (1993) (PG-13)
















Jonathan Demme had achieved great critical acclaim with "The Silence of the Lambs" which took the director out of his wheelhouse. Though he manned one of the most influential horror movies to date, it might seem that Demme wasn't completely pleased with his project. Outrage from the LGBT community at the depiction of Buffalo Bill (though it was the same in the book) probably went beneath the director's skin. This is all conjecture, but it would make sense because the very next feature film that Demme directed was "Philadelphia".
The city of brotherly love—this movie begins with many encompassing shots of the streets of Philadelphia, the good and the bad. We see lawyer Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) going head-to-head with Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), another lawyer. Their ludicrous and hyperbolic arguments over something relatively meaningless proves to us, the viewer, that they are both tenacious and brilliant at their jobs.
Andrew seems to be sick, though it isn't quite clear in the first few minutes what his illness is. Later on, it's revealed, quite matter-of-factly that the disease is AIDS and this is the point that the movie pivots on.
Andrew is given the keys to one of his law firm's biggest cases and told not to screw up. He delivers and files his report, leaving it for his secretary before collapsing in a fit of nausea. While at the hospital, Andrew is called and told that his paperwork has gone missing and the deadline is fast approaching in a matter of minutes.
Months later, Andrew walks into Joe's office and proclaims that he wants to sue his law firm, one of the most prestigious law firms in all of Philadelphia.
"Philadelphia" is part court room drama and part fluff piece of about civil rights. It has its moments of wonderful distance from sentimentality, though it does indulge in the John Williams string strumming tendencies. Howard Shore's score is a complicated mess that is incoherent at best and the film is structured with most actors looking directly at the camera as if the audience is a passerby, Joe Miller, Andrew Beckett, and a jury all at once. Basically the film shouldn't work.
And yet it does work and it works so remarkably well because of the things previously mentioned. Its style is a little hard to get used to, but by the end of the movie, we understand why it was chosen for "Philadelphia" to be shot in hyper-close-up with eyes diving right into the lens of the camera.
Though AIDS is the topic of conversation in the courtroom, the movie itself is much more about prejudice. Joe Miller is a self-admitting homophobe, so imagine how much he has to grow as a character to represent Andrew Beckett, a job that he turns down on first pass because he realizes that he would be biased.
What the film does is slowly show Andrew's decay into a gaunt, hallow figure with lesions and faded hair color. It's not pleasant, but even so, Demme was criticized again for being told that he was sugarcoating the symptoms of AIDS and the side effects of the drugs used in that time to treat the disease.
While having a lead (who won an Oscar) portraying a gay man in a committed relationship (Antonio Banderas plays Andrew's lover Miguel), the film itself isn't very gay. It makes the conscious effort to show homosexuals as people, but does allow them to keep their distance from the camera. The amount of homophobia is quite something in the movie (always seen as bad), but the number of actual gay people seen who get to speak and say something important...hmm, not so much.
Don't get me wrong, there are moments that go beyond anything else attempted so far in "Philadelphia"; but then again sometimes it goes on just too far. Take a scene in which Andrew tells Joe his appreciation for opera...it's a nice scene, but it extends just too long, barely.
The moments in which the ideas are more prevalent than the emotions are the moments in which "Philadelphia" is great. The string-pulling moments can be a little distracting.
The drama itself is quite good because it plays out like a courtroom drama instead of the character and relational work that it actually is.
In the end, we do have to wonder about certain plot holes in the script; yet Tom Hanks and company are so good at their jobs that it's easy to forgive much of the dialogue and plot issues. Though Hanks won the Oscar for the movie, he is never outdone by any of his co-stars.
And yes, "Philadelphia" is a tender movie. It is sweet and almost too sad to cry at, but the tears do come and without much shame.
It's a teary, wonderful piece, and it will live on for a long time...not just for its performances; but for how it bravely tackled an issue that no other mainstream movie had done.
It would seem like Jonathan Demme's penance is much more than just that.











Score: ★★★½

Cat People (1942)




















It could just be that writer DeWitt Bodeen had a problem with cats as many people do. Maybe he just liked dogs...whatever the reason, he gave us the script for one of the most sensational horror movies of the early years of Hollywood. Riding on the success of a film like "The Wolfman", "Cat People" tried to better the suspense by making a mystery rather than a slash-fest.
There are two styles to "Cat People", the cutesy, cutesy romance side and then the mysterious, unexplained thriller side.
Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a Serbian sketch artist. We first see her (after reading the title card about how ancient sin permeates society like a thick fog) in a park, watching a black panther. She is a fashion sketch artist and the few times we are privileged to see her work, it's quite stunning and sleek...much like the feline-imagery that she chooses to surround herself with. For as evident as cats are in "Cat People", the amount of times we actually see a domestic kitty is fairly rare. Instead, we see cats in paintings, sculptures, and we hear them too.
Irena is frustrated with her work at the park and she runs into Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), an all-American nice-guy. He seems so average that the couple's immediate connection seems very odd to the viewer. Perhaps something ordinary is just what Irena wants.
Invited up for tea, Oliver gets his first look at the oddity of the woman. She has a sculpture of King John (the Serbian king) spearing a cat victoriously over his head. When he asks about it, he gets an elusive answer. The truth of the matter is that there is a legend about the Serbian people.
When they were a pagan country, worshipers of Satan, the women were witches. They possessed the ability to morph from cat to human and back again. After King John Christian-ized the country, a few of the heathens escaped. The legend says that any embrace from a lover will turn the woman into a cat, blind with jealousy and she will kill her mate.
As Irena and Oliver's relationship continues to evolve, their physical relationship stays on the back-burner. They don't even kiss and yet Oliver feels some sort of great attraction towards this weird, superstitious woman.
For most of the movie, Irena is afraid. She's frightened of the legend, frightened that she might be one of the cat people, and worried of what this might do to Oliver.
She is pressured into seeing a psychiatrist by Oliver, who eventually becomes her husband. Though their marriage is never consummated, it seems that their love is still strong as ever and it's with the preservation of this in mind that Irena goes to see Dr. Judd (Tom Conway). Dr. Judd, as most pragmatists facing this situations, doesn't believe in Irena's myth; but he does find certain psychological truths in her story. He thinks that she's simply afraid of commitment. After many musings and hypotheses, Dr. Judd tells Irena that she's just a curiously overly worried girl. Realizing that this man would never believe her Irena doesn't attend any more sessions and her "condition" starts to deteriorate.
"Cat People" is a marvelous thriller because it doesn't have the special effects to back it up. It lets the viewer invent more of the situations, which I've always found to be scarier see here "Jaws" and "The Blair Witch Project".
Jealousy turns Irena from a subtle house-wife into the monster that may be metaphorical and may be physical.
"Cat People" is genuine enough to make us all intrigued in it, suspenseful enough to keep us watching, and weird enough to be original.
It's wonderful, cheesy, and stands above other thrillers of the time—"The Seventh Victim—as one of the quintessential pieces in horror cinema.










Score: ★★★½

Cronos (1993) (R)
















Guillermo del Toro's directorial debut is something of myth, of fantasy, of humanity, and of faith. It exemplifies the tropes that the director would return to over the course of his career; and it provides the viewer with a complex and interesting look at an old story.
Though everyone, including del Toro, involved with the making of the movie will tell you that it's a very subtle vampire movie—don't get me wrong, it is that—I find it much more about the ever present fear of dying and the sacredness of the soul.
Maybe I'm being too pretentious. The point is that the movie has so many layers to it that if you just want it to be a simple movie about vampires, go ahead. If you want to read more into it, be my guest. Operating as just a vampire movie, the film does manage to be more entertaining than pretty much anything else within the genre (including the critics' darling "Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night", though that itself isn't hard). Guillermo del Toro's unique blending of genre anywhere from fantasy to comedy to religious commentary (there is a large similarity between religious figures in "Cronos") gives the film its own taste. It's quite something; but that doesn't make it perfect.
Beginning with an pre-industralized-world alchemist who is struggling to make a device that gives its bearer eternal life we see the quasi-steam-punk style that has almost become synonymous with some of del Toro's work. A clockmaker and a scientist, the alchemist manages to create something called "the Cronos device" and around the 1930s, a building collapses, spearing the man in the heart and killing him. Though his apartment was remodeled and sold, its gruesome contents never shared with the public, the Cronos device was never found and went undiscovered for the years following. Until one day...
"Cronos" opens in Mexico to a normal-ish family. A grandfather, grandmother, and granddaughter round out our main family. Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) owns an antique shop on the corner of the street. The first day we see him and his granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath) open the shop, a strange man comes in a starts poking around. After peeling the packaging off of an angel statuette, the man quickly runs out.
Intrigued by the man's odd behavior, Jesus and Aurora take the statue home and play around with it. Underneath the base is a hidden compartment where a small, heart-sized bauble is found. It is gold and has intricate designs on it, almost as if it's a puzzle box of some kind.
Meanwhile, Angel De Le Guardia (Ron Perlman) is being harassed by his uncle, De La Guardia (Claudio Brook) into searching for these angel statues. His uncle has a whole collection of them, but they're never "the right one". The audience quickly assumes, and it's a good assumption, that the statue in Jesus' possession is the one that is important.
The little gold bauble turns out to do some incredible nasty things, like growing legs and piercing flesh without warning. "Cronos" tip toes as close to the horror line as possible before finally dissolving into a complete catastrophe of physical transformation. Though family plays a large part in the movie, the physical side of the film is perhaps almost Cronenberg and it certainly is more prevalent.
What we are left with, when all the hypothesizing and odd surreal moments are over, is a movie about itself. It never deals too emotionally with its characters while never holding them away from its viewer. It never tries too hard, but it never had to. It's so curious that "Cronos" does and does not work on many levels that ultimately the picture can be a bit too confusing at times, if only from an emotional point of view.
Time isn't conveyed very well with the piece; but perhaps that's its greatest achievement. It feels frozen. Stuck in its own world, and whether the movie was perfect or not, it was entertaining enough just being stuck in that world with it.








Score: ★★★

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) (R)
















The biggest cult movie of all time, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" stands as a complicated and beloved mess of a film that has baffled and enlightened thousands of viewers over the years since its release. The fervor surrounding this film is so incredible that it's almost a little nerve-wracking trying to place ideas on paper about the movie. First of all, it's a lot to take in. For those uncomfortable with any sort of "absolute pleasure", you probably won't like the flick. For the rest of us, the movie is high-octane, mercilessly funny, sexually provocative, evocative, and perhaps the most perfect of all entertainment movies. It grips you by your throat, throttles you into submission and by the time it's all over, you may find yourself wearing fish-net stockings and black stilettos.
The movie begins as two love birds get engaged. Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) are traveling out in the country and they lose their way. With a flat tire and no where to spend the night, they try their luck at an old castle that appears to be hosting a motorcycle rally. Greeted by an Igor-type character, Riff Raff (Richard O'Brien, the man behind the penning of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), the two seem vastly uncomfortable in this setting, and it only gets worse as they are introduced to the guests who start dancing "The Time Warp".
All of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is told to us in a flashback form with The Criminologist (Charles Gray) giving us information about the castle and letting us know what means what. One would assume that in a perfect setting, O'Brien would have chosen to omit this character completely; but since this is a very controversial movie, we are given a little more conservative implications from this character. Though he probably isn't necessary to the film, he is one of the more enjoyable aspects of it.
As Brad and Janet try to find a telephone to call for help, Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry all gussied up in this iconic role) drops in on them. With rapid singing, quick dance moves, and a screw-you attitude, Dr. Furter doesn't give the couple that much time to think before he gets his servants to remove their clothing. Now in their underwear, the good doctor escorts them to his laboratory where he shows them his creation. A super sexual, well-built, blonde muscle boy emerges from a mummy-like wrapping, clearly only there to provide certain....services...for the doctor.
But nothing ever goes according to plan and so the situations devolves into utter, sexual madness. We have thrown at us with no hesitancy or shame pansexuality, bisexuality, orgies, transvestism, and the thought that the sexually "loose" are often happier.
You can imagine how improper this might be to viewers, even to critics (who most always try to keep an open mind). The film was not a great success upon its first release but has won the hearts of many a waster-pistol-squirting theater everywhere.
This movie is to the film world what The Mousetrap is to theater.
So how can it be likable? It just is. Tim Curry gives a star performance as the manic doctor and his supporting cast seem just as involved in this odd little picture as he does. What makes it so unique and so...itself, is the trust all the actors place in the hands of director Jim Sharman and he doesn't fumble. The brash, colorful, vulgar way that the film jumps from scene to scene is nothing short of electrifyingly entertaining. I can't recall a single boring moment in the film.
Mocking old B-movies, references are made to "King Kong" and "The Forbidden Planet", "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is a musical slice of madness.
If you like that sort of thing, you'll love this...I did.









Score: ★★★★