Selma (2014) (PG-13)


















We hear him breathe.
"Selma" is a movie that could have been overblown so many times. It's about a radical moment in history, it's about people fighting for what they belief, it's about a man whose ideals are sometimes too perfect for his own life, and it's about political struggle.
The film comes from Ava DuVernay who in the past has only made small budget indie movies; but here she proves her worth with an interesting and uncompromising look at a slice of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo).
The movie begins as King is looking for a place to start a revolution. His quiet demeanor in everyday life moves aside when he begins to speak and here the film makes it certain that we know that King was also a preacher. From the pulpit, he shouts and rails on the injustices of the time and the audience responds, both in the film and in the theater. Still never in these scenes does it feel stiff or fake, and that's mostly to do with Oyelowo's performance. As Martin Luther King, he speaks softly and keeps his justified rage bottled up until it can no longer be contained.
Proponents of non-violent revolution, the movement in Alabama is not opposed heavily at first because Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) realizes that without King at the head of the "riots", the fight might turn bloody.
But people in this part of the south are bigots and DuVernay makes no qualms in showing this, to the point where it's beyond sad that this is where part of American history stemmed from, it's revolting. When scouting for a place to hold a protest, to demand that legislation be written about voting regulations, the first person to greet King in Selma punches him in the face. After that, the decision has been made. Selma is perfect.
Martin's wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) is one of the more unexplained figures of the movie. She's loyal, jealous, betrayed, and at the same time the amount of screen time that we see her in doesn't add up to the weight that she holds over her husband. It's clear that their marriage is a rocky one, the film taking the time to let us see that Martin Luther King was no saint; but it is an institution that both of them belong to and for that, they cannot shake it.
One story that gets forgotten in the middle of the movie is that of Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey). This is the first person we see try to register to vote, she is denied. Although originally Cooper stands as an embodiment of the injustice served, she eventually gets forgotten throughout the story, randomly popping back up for little moments. Strangely, this works for the film and it proves that even though the star power is present, it never steals the lime light.
As the protests start to heat up in Selma and the native Alabamians start to voice their objections in more physical ways, King is called up to the White House a few times for talks with Johnson. The president is furious that King is trying to force his hand with legislation. He and advisee Lee White (Giovanni Ribsi) are trying to get the movement to stall out so that they can all get re-elected.
King and his followers are met with a strong opposition from the local sheriff, Jim Clark (Stan Houston) who is getting scrambled orders from the powers that be. The governor of Alabama George Wallace (Tim Roth) is both slightly sympathetic with the movement and also deeply apathetic. He's mostly concerned with his reputation as a public figure and a politician.
With all this going on in "Selma", we are also introduced to J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) who is assigned to study King and try to find any dirt on him that can be found. The FBI starts to tap the leaders' phones and scene transitions are often paired with transcripts of reports filed by the FBI.
It gives the uncanny sense of being stuck in a pressure cooker.
"Selma" is an explosive movie, sometimes literally. Although very violent at times, the camera never shies away from showing the brutality, not to the point of senseless action. Every time there is violence on the screen, it is for a purpose. DuVernay constructs her more high-action moments with such ease that you would have thought she had been doing this for years.
Everything looks wonderfully period, and Oyelowo gives a performance that will be remembered for years to come.
At times, "Selma" reminds us that it is a representation of one of the major turning points in the civil rights movement and it had to occur on the face of so much death and violence. It shows us the fiery determination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how passionate he was about this cause.
But at other times, the film is blisteringly intimate, and it's those deep refrained pauses that we hear him breathe.











Score: ★★★½

Birdman (2014) (R)















I wonder if Hitchcock, in his wildest sexual fantasies while filming "Rope" ever thought of something as incredibly technical as Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". It's crafted by a critics' darling who takes his canvas and uses it against himself, for the art and preservation of film and ideas...and it's also about him himself.
The film is rife with references to pop culture which sort of distends the feeling of fantasy that those moments don't encompass, it's confusing from an emotional stand-point from the beginning. "Birdman" is magic meets (to borrow a phrase from the movie itself) "super realism" and we can see our main character's facade start to crumble and Iñárritu begin to take his place in both aspects of the character. The movie is about the preservation of a name, self-preservation into infamy or fame...whichever will be more influential on the years to come. For me, "Birdman" plays (hah, punny) as a movie encircling a plethora of ideas that never even get fully realized. It dissolves into love letters to cinema, scathing hatred of the machine of Hollywood, and a kind of mockery that is itself detrimental to the movie because it knifes its own beating heart.
The rising star of the movie itself is Emmanuel Lubeski who as director of photography has made his name known to the world. Although his collaborations with Terrence Malick have been unloved for far too long, his branching out into "popular" cinema has gained him a following that is rightly deserved. For in "Birdman" he is pushed to the limit, but he doesn't falter and the result is almost too beautiful to look at, the film's highest achievement is how it is portrayed and not what it says...which brings us to a large problem.
Iñárritu is, by this time in his career, one of the most well-respected directors and writers in the business. He makes Oscar worthy pictures and fosters award grabbing performances from all of his cast—he is no stranger to the limelight of applause. He is a master of ideas and "philosophical bullshit" (as one of his characters would tell us) but in a narrative form, he struggles so greatly that it's only on his intellect that his movies can stand. "Birdman" can be seen as a culmination of this for it not only presents a glorious and terribly original movie; but it also manages to demand something of itself that it cannot deliver. It's hateful, loving, moving, depressing, percussive, masterful, and also lackluster; but it is never dull and never lets you think for a second that you are in control.
The movie begins with Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) putting on a play. This man saw success in his glory days as a 90s superhero called Birdman, something that has branded him ever since. Dying to break the mold of his typecast, he has written, produced, directed, and is acting in a play set for Broadway. The film opens on one of the dress rehearsals and takes us up through opening night with literally next to no camera breaks in between. It's a faux feeling of real time that suspends us in Iñárritu's world.
Riggan is having personal problems with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as well as with his actors. One of his lead characters isn't what Riggan wants, so an "accident" happens and in comes a big-name-super-snob-ultra-pain-in-the-ass actor Mike (Edward Norton) who is involved with one of the other actors, Lesley (Naomi Watts). The power dynamic shifts immediately and Riggan is put as the lesser educated actor while Mike assumes the role (literally) of the veteran determined to bring authenticity to the stage as a matter of personal triumph.
But the problems with Mike begin to bud as the actor becomes too outrageous with his stakes in the process, to the point where he jeopardizes and ultimately destroys one of the preview showings and nearly topples the next one.
Riggan starts to be put on edge by his attorney Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and his daughter's post-rehab behavior, all this time trying to place the legacy of his superhero movies behind him...which is incredibly hard since he has a little voice in his head that overpowers everything else named Birdman. His former self haunts him literally and we begin to see the damage of a success obsessed mind. But the tensions reach their breaking point and Riggan is pushed to a mental state beyond even himself as the movie spirals into an inferno of well-timed cues and altruistic ideals.
Narratively, the movie suffers. One of the most key moments that the movie positively hinges on is that a highly influential critic (played perfectly by Lindsay Duncan) is given all the power. It's her voice against everyone else's. If she hates a play, it will die in the theater. Her power is too much and although it's a terrific performance by Duncan (my personal favorite of the movie), it's no surprise that she is the embodiment of the conflict.
Iñárritu's success is mostly because of Lubeski. Because without the amazing trick of "hey look, it's one continuous shot" I don't think the movie would float as much as it does.
That all being said, the movie is amazing. I only am picking apart its faults because it was so close to perfection that the ideas are what Iñárritu tries to use to push "Birdman" into something transcendent.
Here we see a trigger happy "snob gun". Iñárritu fires the right bullets at the right time for a critic to think "this must be intellectually stimulating" instead of "this guy has no clue what to do here". The targets include vast self-references, unexplained forces, women who kiss women, and seeing double.
"Birdman" is a great movie and one that will reveal incredible gems on repeated viewing. It's a testament to how far film has come; but it also inhibits itself by being so hateful to its brethren. It wants to be its theater critic, to have all the power. Here Iñárritu is both Riggan and God; but his earthly creations don't reflect what I think he was trying to accomplish.
In the end, I see "Birdman" as a highly successful movie that breaks boundaries and sets new limits for how critics can use different fancy words to extol its virtues. It is a movie designed for snobs, not popular audience...which is probably why it has 9 deserved Oscar nods.
But Hitchcock might have had something on this, because "Rope" was made for both the critical and popular audience...Hitchcock was about the art of watching and Iñárritu is about the art of creating something original. That's the key difference and that's what makes "Birdman" so frustratingly pretentious.
But it's also a work that will be studied for years and years to come. One might call it an instant masterpiece.












Score: ★★★½

Life Itself (2014) (R)


















Pretty much any American movie critic or amateur critic has a long way to climb before the reach the peak of the most famous. Not that it all is about fame or money or the like...Roger knew that. I'm sure he could have written a much better review than what this one is starting out to be.
Roger Ebert casts the longest shadow in critics' history. He's the first movie critic to be awarded the Pulitzer and his name was almost so well-known that his figure became a household discussion piece. People love to talk about movies, people love to argue about movies and Roger Ebert knew this better than most.
"Life Itself" is a movie about Roger's last days and his beginning days in journalism. The movie spends no great amount of time dwelling on the childhood of the boy, besides portraying a somewhat typical yet still slightly dysfunctional family dynamic. Instead, it focuses on Roger's love affair with words, journalism, and movies.
Not starting out as a movie critic, it was just a position offered to him, Roger quickly became a credible critic of Chicago and even more so when he and partner in crime Gene Siskel started their television program.
"Life Itself" is interested in the behind the scenes of the shows and moments that you may already know quite well. If you think you know the Siskel & Ebert show, maybe you don't know how much they fought together. Albeit, that knowledge is somewhat common, but it's another thing altogether to see the outtakes of the two fighting and mocking each other while talking head interviewees state how much they grew to love one another.
"Life Itself" doesn't present the prettiest side of Roger Ebert, often drawing the words straight from his autobiography itself, which shares the title for this film. The movie talks about Roger's alcoholism and the fact that he was very open about his struggles. It also takes time to pity Roger and salute his courage for the way he received the news of Siskel's death and what happened when he himself was diagnosed with cancer.
Perhaps the most intimate moments of the film are shot in the hospital with Chaz and Roger. As much as the movie is an ode to an old soul lost from the world of film, it is much more about the power of finding your soulmate. Love, if you will. There is nothing so heartbreaking and simultaneously heartwarming as seeing Chaz Ebert talk about her late husband with all the emotion and dignity that one can muster. Their love is so evident.
Roger's early days were wild and his latter days were filled with one set-back after the other. Director Steve James often places himself into the movie by asking Roger direct questions. It's clear the both Roger and James wanted the movie to be brutally honest about what he had to go through and where he had been.
The movie doesn't paint an idealized version of the man, in fact you may come away from it thinking about how Roger was just another guy with an unfair amount of problems. Maybe that's the point of it all. Maybe we are supposed to realize that Roger Ebert promotes the idea of finding love, being loved, and doing what you love.
Maybe it's too much love....and maybe this is where I have an issue with the movie.
Everyone is so careful of what they say, so meticulous in the words they choose that you can't help but wonder if they're really being genuine or if they're just honoring one of their heroes.
Roger Ebert left behind a huge legacy, but "Life Itself" is sadly not it. It's a good movie; but it is never interesting enough to make the viewer earnestly invested and it never really tries to answer the hardest questions.
It is an emotional movie; but it's a celebration above that; and for that, you can't really fault Steve James.
Good-bye, Roger.













Score: ★★★

The Godfather: Part III (1990) (R)
















Coming almost two full decades after "Part II", "The Godfather: Part III" sees the conclusion to one of cinema's most famous and acclaimed series in supposedly despicable form. Though the movie gained some seven Oscar nominations, including "Best Picture", it won none and would go down as the low point in the series; but that's now how I see it, naturally.
"The Godfather" was a film about family and empire, "Part II" was genesis and infrastructure as well as racism, "Part III" brings us the most personal take on the family: religion, retribution, and redemption. For the first time in the series do we see the weight that the Corleone family feels and only now do we fully appreciate what it must have been like to live in a family such as this.
"Part II" served as a prequel and a sequel to "Part I" so in this way "Part I" is "Part III's" "Part II" and "Part II" is actually "Part III" to "Part II"...maybe that didn't make sense. The point being, we had to have seen the previous two movies for this one to work and the severed timeline in "Part II" makes for some interesting scenes in which we explore Vito Corleone's childhood in a much more detached sense than seeing Robert De Niro act them out.
"Part III" begins much later, as godfather Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is trying to wrestle with the idea of making "the family" legitimate. In the previous installment, he had to go up against the law and after many court hearings, he finally succeeded in gaining over them, once again proving that this family is virtually untouchable.
You can view "Part III" as the final moment in the downfall of the empire. "Part II" brought around its share of screw-ups, but nothing that was this intensely awful. Michael is competing with his father's way of doing business while he is also trying to pacify new blood that demands vengeance for every wrong move. Michael is struggling and the foundation he built himself up on is slowly crumbling out from underneath him.
Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) is a hot-headed young Italian who is Michael's nephew. He is so slick and so cool, or he thinks he is, that he begins to resemble someone who is almost dangerous to be around, as his lovers soon find out.
Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola, Frank's daughter and the sole reason that people hate this movie so much) has stepped out in the limelight from Michael's shadow and now is instructed by her father to head up a charitable cause, which really has no place in the movie.
Michael wants the family to end on a high note, if it has to end at all, so he tries to pull a few strings and make legitimate money, but a lot of it. This dealings bring him face-to-face with God as he shakes hands and writes checks with the Catholic church.
Although the film is by far the most approachable of the three "Godfather" movies, it's also the wackiest. It doesn't seem to enjoy entertaining the possibility that the reach of the family is not infinite and not absolute. The most notable moments being a helicopter shoot-out and a plot to assassinate the Pope...ouch, maybe we shouldn't have done that.
But the direness and the darkness of it all is nothing if not partially convincing and Coppola's strength as a director never falters, even if he does scramble with the writing material a little bit.
But the "Godfather" movies always were a little bizarre, right? I mean the courtroom scenes, the massive shoot-outs, the police in the pocket, the connections...it's almost too fantastical to believe at some point. I don't care if it mirrors real life, it doesn't feel like real life to me. I'm not convinced. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow with a horse's head in my bed...we'll never now. It's a tiny bed, so I doubt it.
As Michael beings to understand that things might not work out in the best possible way, his health start to plummet as well, leaving the family in a bind without a head. Vincent becomes the person to step up; but will his determination sink the family?
I think that the final thirty minutes of "Part III" are enough to forgive many of the faults with the movie, the stand-off nature and the length being still problems with the films. The ending is beautiful, operatic (If you'll pardon the pun) and filled with wonderful emotion. It's impossible for me to not be impressed with the final frames which, to my mind, close out a series in the best possible way.
It's not a perfect movie, not even good sometimes; but it does have a hell of a finish.










Score: ★★★

The Godfather: Part II (1974) (R)
















"Not with this Sicilian thing that's been going on..."
Francis Ford Coppola has said that he wasn't keen on the idea of a sequel to "The Godfather" but screenwriter (and novelist) Mario Puzo came to him with the idea...so it is said. Whether or not that's true, it would make sense because "The Godfather: Part II" is by no means a true sequel. It is more of both a follow-up and a prequel to the original movie, providing us with the story of Vito Corleone before he came to America and the story of Michael, after he assumes power as the head of the family.
"Part II" begins after the turn of the century in Sicily, where Vito Andolini has survived as the last remaining male in his family. After his father insulted a Mafia boss, he was killed and then he brother vowed vengeance and was also murdered. Vito's mother tries to reason with the boss, but he doesn't hear her pleas. Vito escapes barely and travels to America and starts a family.
Meanwhile Michael (Al Pacino) is struggling with the inner workings of his new family. Now that the business has moved to Las Vegas and enveloped the casino and gambling of the local cities, Michael sits tall as one of the most powerful men in all the country; but does that buy him any friends? In the most famous moment from the film, Michael says "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" and by all rights it seems like he takes his own advice. The closest people to him are all evil and he is oblivious when loved ones turn on him...maybe because he didn't have them under scrutiny.
Michael warps into someone bitter by the time the movie is over, someone who is hell-bent on vengeance and someone who believes in his father's way of viewing the world. Considering that "Part II" is the longest of the "Godfather" movies, it's also surprising that this film doesn't feel nearly as long as the first one did.
"Part II" marries the past and the present and while there really is no parallel between the two (unless you can somehow construct the character progressions of Vito and Michael as unanimous, which I don't think you could) yet the interest remains from each story as we jump back and forth.
Coppola has more deaths, more oranges, and more Italian in "Part II" which makes for an all-around better film. Does it at sometimes resemble pulp fiction? Perhaps, and not in a good way. There is something a little stereotypical about the way that Coppola dances his characters around, but for the film time in the franchise, they actually feel human.
Maybe it's the omission of the Sonny-like characters that bring around this genuine feeling of humans stuck in a world out of their control. Or maybe it's the way that the script constantly throws something at Michael, just to watch him dodge. This man is not his father's son, though he desperately wants to be.
Michael screws up, lots of times, but has enough chutzpah to keep going. Maybe he's just hell-bent on it.
Vito (Robert De Niro) begins to understand that there will always be a mob boss in New York and he elects himself one after dealing with a prior. His ascension to power is honest and rather amusing, something the film plays these scenes out for comedic effects, which doesn't always work.
For me, the mobster epic doesn't really exist purely. If you look at "Once Upon a Time in America" or "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" or a number of other movies, I have issues with each one. They stereotype (maybe accurately, maybe not), they are distant, and they take too long. "Part II" alleviates some of those concerns because we are meant to sympathize with the characters more. We feel for Michael because of Kay (Diane Keaton) and his brother Fredo (John Cazale, who always played opposite Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon"). Michael's plight is not entirely interesting; but it does prove better watching than the first.
What can I say? It's kind of boring too.











Score: ★★★

The Godfather (1972) (R)
















So here we go, me against the biggest film. Well, it's really not the biggest film ever; but this is the curious movie that will turn everyone into a snob. What's the best movie ever? Well, it's "The Godfather" of course! Why? Well, because Francis Ford Coppola, and the minority, and actors and stuff.
Yeah, I'm not buying it.
I had an immense distaste for "The Godfather" the first time that I saw it and I vowed that I would return to it and give it another shot, just to see if I was wrong. For my money, I wasn't. Francis Ford Coppola crafts an immense piece and it spans many years; but therein lies its biggest problem. For a movie trying desperately to prove to you that at its core it's really all about family, "The Godfather" pledges a loyalty that it cannot keep: to be entertaining for three hours.
The movie begins introducing us to Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), as if you didn't know that. This is a man who values connections above materials. He likes having friends who will do him friendly acts, not people in debt, just friends. Religious, emotional, and tightly-woven together—the Corleone family doesn't let any apples fall far from any tree and they all have each others' backs. It should also be mentioned, that they're the mafia.
Perhaps this is what strikes us so keenly between the eyes and what has hypnotized so many people about "The Godfather" franchise...they are actually humans. Coppola, and deftly he does so, humanizes what should be the villains. And that's where the magic ends. There is no actual connection we have with them, we are not privy to the mental anguish or joys that they receive. They view killing as a job and we are never given insight into what this might to do their psyche. Instead, when moments of domestic abuse climb onto screen, it's somehow chalked up to being "an Italian" thing, which would continue in works of Scorsese. So they seem oblivious to what they're doing, which is not something that Coppola has done before or after. "Apocalypse Now" states that the war-time killing machine turns men literally insane. If this is the parallel, then insanity has a very suited look; and this would make for an intensely watchable movie, but that gets lost in all the mumbling and all the family love.
The Don, Vito, has a family to fend for on his hands and as a few inner city rivalries start rearing their heads, when drugs are introduced to the crime scene, he has to make a few very hard deals to walk away from. But that's not the end, he wants to be God and to have all the knowledge, so he sends out a few goons to watch the streets for him; but there are eyes everywhere and soon bodies start to roll.
Doesn't that sound interesting?
It's actually much more fascinating to play the "orange" game with "The Godfather. That is, whenever you see an orange, something is about to go down. Turns out, this actually falls apart when you look carefully enough because the orange factory was in surplus and the fruits bedazzle each set.
Moving on...
Vito has two sons important to the plot, Michael (Al Pacino) and Sonny (James Caan). Sonny is the more tempered of the two, resorting to violence most of the time, while Michael has been away at war, becoming a hero and staying away from the "family business".
At times it may seem like every person in the history of cinema is looking over your shoulder as you watch "The Godfather" ready to make you an offer you can't refuse if you don't like the movie. View it just as another movie and if you love it, good for you; but it will always be a snoozefest to me.
To be honest, it's a well-done movie, it's beautiful to look at, and it will always have a firm place in cinematic history.
For me, "The Godfather" will always remain a slightly campy look at a family's life that never interests me because I can't engage with any of them. Like "Citizen Kane" we are left out in the cold and this doesn't sit well with me.
Still, with many famous lines and a history of lauds to prove its worth, it really doesn't suffer from my criticism. Just think about how close it came to getting dethroned by "Cabaret" at the Oscars...maybe then its years of celebration will dull a little.








Score: ★★½

The Green Mile (1999) (R)
















After the huge success of "The Shawshank Redemption", Frank Darabont returned again to prison, to Stephen King, and to a boy's movie. The similarities in setting alone are striking between the two pictures and many would argue that "The Green Mile" is just a recycled version of "Shawshank" but I'll let you in on a little secret: I never liked "The Shawshank Redemption". *Gasp*
Yes, I know it's shocking to not appreciate what could be referred to as the most beloved film ever but it didn't do anything for me and my problems far outweighed any good I found in it. So imagine my surprise when "The Green Mile" turned out to be a spectacularly emotional and whimsical movie that never indulged its three hour-plus running time.
This movie concerns the guards more than the prisoners. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is a man in a nursing home who likes to take long walks, even though he's not allowed to. He only eats stale bread for breakfast and will walk, rain or shine. One day, when the fight for the television gets some channels changing, "Top Hat" comes on and Paul is sent spiraling back to his earlier years as a death-row prison guard. "The Green Mile" serves as one long flashback for Paul and it is one of the better frame narrative pieces of cinema (as compared to things like "Little Big Man".
Paul serves on Block E, nicknamed "the green mile" for the color of the floor. The first scene we witness in Block E is the arrival of a new prisoner. Very efficient and official, the guards work together like clockwork to bring in the new man, checking all the right boxes and making sure everything is in order. This new inmate is named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) and to say that he's a big man would be an understatement. Coffey towards head and shoulders above the rest of the men and he is approximately as broad as two of them. Paul and his cohorts are immediately intimidated by his sheer size, but they soon find out that this is a true gentle giant. He's scared of the dark and has a passion for all things small and cuddly.
For a few weeks, the only person that Paul has to worry about is a fellow guard named Percy (Doug Hutchinson). This boy has a lot of government connections and an attraction for the violent and sadistic. He's often seen making situations worse by spouting his mouth off and doing what he wants and not what's best.
The struggles between Percy and the rest of the guards are only worsened because of an intense bladder infection that Paul has that forces him to be incapacitated easily.
The situation comes to a head when a new inmate nicknamed "Wild Bill" (Sam Rockwell) comes in and does not seem suited for the calming environment that Paul has established.
Tempers flair, emotions rise, and John starts to display some unusual and almost magical properties.
"The Green Mile" reeks of Stephen King's affair with the supernatural and his quest to make a nice piece of drama. It's not scary like the horror King, but is probably the best adaptation of the dramatic King. It far surpasses "Stand By Me" and "The Shawshank Redemption" which are probably the two most lauded pieces of dramatic King's career.
Frank Darapont is seen in top form here, even if his screenplay could have used a little trimming. There is too much happening with Percy for us to care about other characters, minor guards are not given enough time, and soon we notice that all the inmates have disappeared but two. How does that happen unless all the others were already gone?
Tom Hanks is pretty awesome here, but it's Michael Clarke Duncan and Sam Rockwell who really shine in polar opposite roles. Duncan is childish and sweet while Rockwell is vile and twisted. Both are thankless roles and both are quite good.
"The Green Mile" serves as a meditation on life and death at its very core with the themes threaded through the film so often; but it doesn't quite fulfill every aspect of itself and maybe that's because it tries to hard in moments that it doesn't have to.
But all that being said, the movie is powerful and great.











Score: ★★★½

Spartacus (1960)


















Kirk Douglas stands tall and center in one of cinema's most enduring classic epics. What sets "Spartacus" apart from the rest of the inflated dramas is its never wavering stance on tragedy. It never promises us a happy ending and along the way there are many horrid things that happen to our group of main characters; but that's only to be expected, because as our narrator tells us, it would take another 2,000 years before slavery was "outlawed".
Douglas plays the titular character who is almost killed in the first few seconds of the film because he was audacious enough to bite a guard on the leg. Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) rides in looking for gladiator material and decides to take the rowdy slave with him.
Spartacus is trained to be a gladiator, to kill without mercy, though the spectacle surrounding his training is rather interesting. The only plot device worthy of mentioning from this portion of the film is the introduction of the woman: Varinia (Jean Simmons). She is a servant girl, another slave, at the training facility where Spartacus is being held. He first meets her when Batiatus sends her in to have sex with him; but he refuses because he's a virgin and because "he's not an animal".
From this chance meeting and this weird act of kindness, the two fall in love with each other without even speaking a word, which is really hard because every time they glance at each, they are mocked or punished.
One day, a man named Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives with a few women in tow. They demand to be shone a gladiatorial fight to the death, something that is normally forbidden at the camp. But they pay plenty and Batiatus has no choice but to let them select four men to fight. Spartacus is among these men and loses his fight; but when his opponent turns towards Crassus and the nobility with murder in his eyes, that's when something interesting awakens in Spartacus: the idea of rebellion.
He stages a coup and is successful at overturning the camp.
Soon he is amassing slaves from all over Italy to join him in the fight for freedom.
Back in Rome, things aren't going quite so well. The Senate is bent and twisted with money flowing from its pockets and corruption breeding in its heart. Gracchus (Charles Laughton) is one of many politicians who seek their personal gain; but this is a man who is also quite level-headed. He knows what's best for country and what's best for him. To put it in modern day perspective, this man is the equivalent to Lord Varys.
In fact George R. R. Martin seems to draw a lot of inspiration from this movie, with its themes matching his own so meticulously. But that's beside the point.
Spartacus starts a revolution and brings in slaves by the thousands; but back in Rome, Crassus will not sit idly by and he starts plotting Spartacus' demise.
What is most curious about "Spartacus" is how mega-director Stanley Kubrick's name hardly gets mentioned at all when you're talking about the film, even though it was a mile-stone in his career and reaffirmed him as one of the superstars of Hollywood. Maybe it was because of the drama surrounding getting the picture made, but no matter.
The picture is more graphic than you might expect for 1960, even though it's a far cry from anything you will see in today's cinema.
The largest issue I had with the movie was the score by Alex North, which went from fanfare to experimental and back and hardly ever did any good.
Still, "Spartacus" remains an illustration of a wonderful script and a big budget. It could have fallen apart at so many places; but it thankfully doesn't. This is one of Kubrick's least lauded films, but probably his most epic, in sheer size alone.








Score: ★★★½

Breaking the Waves (1996) (R)


















For Lars von Trier, "Breaking the Waves" sees him at his most pathetically sentimental. For a man who once claimed he understood Hitler, von Trier obviously lives for the shock and awe and I usually find that those films of his are his best. Yet sentimental von Trier is a man who is not so determined on throttling the audience by the neck as much as trying to make the cry for the sake of seeing their tears. He is cruel to character, abusive even; yet they are his and no one else's do with as he pleases. In von Trier's movies, he is God. You should understand this before you head into "Breaking the Waves" but also understand that beneath the stonewall of his preposterous and often too stretching grasp, there is a human heart waiting for you to love. Yeah, that got weird...oh well.
In extreme close-up, we are introduced to Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) who announces to her church that she wants to marry "an outsider" named Jan (Stellan Skarsgård). The elders at the church are not happy with her decision and even find a way to work a little guilty preaching into the wedding, and that was hard enough to arrange.
"Breaking the Waves" is mainly a character study of Bess and how she changes her mind about her faith, and love, and about morals. Lars von Trier fashions a very misogynistic town that Bess has to be contained in, it becomes a prison of sorts. Yet there is this odd dichotomy between the misogyny of the town and the misogyny of Lars von Trier. The town does not allow women to speak in church nor be at funerals (one of which ironically sees cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle sentenced to hell) and so the audience is supposed to react negatively to that. Women should have power, naturally! 
Yes, I agree with this sentiment, but it's hard to digest when it's spoon-fed from von Trier himself, the man who loves nothing more than making an irrational woman. Look at the most sympathetic of his characters in either "Breaking the Waves" or "Dancer in the Dark". What happens to them? 
Then look at "Antichrist" and you get the firm stance of von Trier's—he's confused, frightened, and a bit hateful towards women. But I think he doesn't want to be purposely hateful, he just can't help it.
Once Bess and Jan are married, there is a long montage of sexual awakening and we have to commend both the lead actors for their amazing performances and total determination.
Bess is unstable, we see this when Jan has to go back to work on the oil rig. He is leaving in a helicopter and she freaks out and storms up to the doors, flinging them open and sobbing until he calms her down.
Without Jan at home, Bess unwinds and becomes increasingly emotional and here we see von Trier literally annihilate religion.
There is no God in "Breaking the Waves" because Bess fills both roles, not figuratively. She has conversations with herself and herself as God. She doesn't see this as a look inward, but as an actual communication with some deity. She believes completely in the power of her faith and what prayer can do, though von Trier is always skeptical.
Eventually, unable to keep herself from doing do, Bess prays that God bring Jan home immediately and her prayers seem answer; but it's not what she expected.
The result of her answered prayer send Bess deeper and deeper into an emotional tailspin.
What ensues is an almost three hour long saga of love and heartbreak and struggling.
"Breaking the Waves" is by no means a pleasant movie to watch and von Trier makes keenly sure that we hate and love pretty much everyone in the movie.
As splendid as Emily Watson is, I found that Katrin Cartlidge is even more spectacular as a more level-headed character. It's not as flashy, but I find it truer.
"Breaking the Waves" is von Trier crying, laughing, and pulling the wool over our eyes. It's still spectacular to look at and evocative, but proves again that he is a director who may be too damn odd for his own good.









Score: ★★★

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
















It has to be said of the film that something must be right for how long it endured. "It's a Wonderful Life" not only fueled a generation of movie goers to be "better people" but it continues to inspire today and reflect the pinnacle of everyone involved: Frank Capra, Jimmy Steward, and Donna Reed. Never has such a movie had such a massive impact for such a sustained period of time in cinematic history. Look at "the greats", you have films that are epic in scope like "Gone With the Wind" still watched and loved today; but your average drama will be harder to keep around. "It's a Wonderful Life" is perhaps the most enduring film and endearing film...it stays for a reason.
At the beginning of the movie, people are praying to God to help a man named George Bailey because they are concerned for him. An angel in training, Clarence (Henry Travers) is summoned to be assigned to George as his guardian angel. But before he is sent down to help out, he has to see what has led George to the point where he might need this assistance. For most of the movie, we see flashbacks with commentary provided by the angels.
In the small town of Bedford Falls we are introduced to George (Stewart), one of the nicest guys and always pitching in. There is some minor backstory to how he became a more well-known name around town, but you probably already knew that.
The magic that happens in the film is that it isn't afraid to go dark immediately. From near drownings to a man mad with grief almost poisoning a family and back. Frank Capra's initial scenes are some of the most haunting in the film.
George is ready to start heading out into the world, leaving ol' Bedford Falls behind him. He wishes to spread his proverbial wings and travel the globe before becoming a famous architect. The one thing that may be holding him back is the people. His family still lives in Bedford Falls and...well, there's this girl. Although the town beauty is a flirt named Violet (Gloria Grahame), George is enamored with a girl named Mary Hatch (Donna Reed). She is poised and beautiful and brainy and she knows that George likes her. Lucky for him, she likes him too.
Eventually it seems like romance will bloom between the two until an unfortunate set of circumstances leads George to be coerced to stay in Bedford Falls. His father owned a bank and now the town crook, the meanest and richest man named Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), is out to seize complete control. George is the only domino that hasn't fallen yet.
The stress of staying open added to WWII puts George in a virtual tailspin and as much as he keeps trying to help people, it always seems to come around and hurt him in the end. But Clarence's work isn't done yet.
"It's a Wonderful Life" is a beautiful example of the golden era of cinema, on visuals alone. Beyond it's physical appeal, it tells a very simple but extremely relatable. Though its antic may seem to optimistic for the nihilist or the realist, the fact is that the movie has stood the test of time and its cultural influence can still be seen today.
You know the "Sesame Street" characters Ernie and Bert? Yeah, their origins are in this movie, seen in the driver and the cop. Perhaps it's too preachy for its own good about the dangers of material possessions, booze, and money; but I don't find this to be true.
Frank Capra's piece is filled with eccentric and believable characters, beautiful dialogue, and it gives the audience perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie to date.
Just look at the backlash the announcement of a long-forgotten sequel got. They pulled the movie and we all could breathe a sigh of relief.
Don't touch this movie because it is a classic, because it is perfect, and because it continues to move us.









Score: ★★★★

Nashville (1975) (R)
















So you've heard of "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca" and every other classic movie, but the one that remains so aloof and yet so engrained in people's minds is Robert Altman's "Nashville". If you start looking into "the best movies ever made..." type of lists, you won't go very far before this one pops up and say hi. Well...that's curious. Who's even heard of this movie? Apparently a whole lot of people have and they all think it's the bomb. Well how do you get to watch it. You don't is the simple and ugly answer. What? Until recently when the Criterion Collection released it, "Nashville" was nearly impossible to find and now that that tangent has wound to a halt, let's talk about it.
The movie is so impossible to chronologically or narratively describe that I won't even bother. At almost three hours long, the film takes its sweet time in talking about everyone in Nashville, the city that can make or break you. There are so many different characters that pop up and so many self-referential jokes that are made that it literally would be a waste of your time if I tried to condense it all. Mainly I just don't think I can, it feels that immense.
But at the same time it's intimate. With each character having their own story arc that criss-crosses everyone else's and about a dozen main characters, it's hard to say which ones are more important than other and I think that's exactly the point.
The music is the life of the picture and what gives the music its special feeling are the characters that sing and play it. The characters care so much about the music that we have to, anything else would be a complete disaster.
We have stars and starlets, people trying to make it onto the stage, killers, adulterers, and rock stars. There are politicians, musicians, poets, and waifs...it's practically like Altman was trying to encompass an entire nation...or a city. Ah!
I can't say what the attraction for "Nashville" is, because I find these long Altman epics (see "Short Cuts") with intertwining stories to be kind of fruitless. Even at its close, "Nashville" doesn't have a lot to say besides its rather bland story...if you choose to look at it that way.
An ensemble cast, a heart breaking ode to music and country, a blistering satire, a hateful letter to America...what isn't "Nashville"?
I can't really go into detail because I'll lose myself to it.
Just know this:
"Nashville" is "Nashville". It's about the everyday and about the conversation. It's about the unique and the letdowns, the success and the bizarre.
It's about life; but that doesn't make it the best movie ever.
It is hypnotic.













Score: ★★★½

Throne of Blood (1957)




















Akira Kurosawa often drew inspiration directly from "western culture" with his salutes to literature and genres in his films. From "Ran" to "Seven Samurai", there isn't much in between that Kurosawa himself hails as the genesis for his films that doesn't stem from something western. Take "Throne of Blood" for example. It is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Macbeth and it becomes even more wildly chaotic than "Seven Samurai" ever was.
"Throne of Blood" sees Washizu (Toshirô Mifune a long time Kurosawa collaborator) as the unhinging focal point of the story. He is riding in the woods one day when a spirit is revealed to him and tells him that it will not even be a day before he is promoted to master of the North Castle. His traveling companion Miki (Akira Kubo) is prophesied to be commander of Fort One. Both of them are shaken by this experience but neither of them completely doubt the words said. There is the minor disbelief when they return home and their lord fulfills the prophesy, promoting both the men.
Now that the spirit world has some sort of hold on them, Washizu's wife (Isuzu Yamada) starts to nag him to do more with his elated position. She wants more power for both of them and more power means that blood will have to be shed.
Conspiring to murder the lord, the couple descend into something insane and unrivaled. Quietly, Kurosawa lets the emotions build and the logic fall apart until we are completely convinced of both the man and his wife's mental status.
Because that's really all "Throne of Blood" is: a character study about two humans losing their grip on what is real and what isn't. It's deadly fascinating and scenes rise up in which Washizu hallucinates the ghost of his friend and tries to challenge him to a fight...or when he returns to the forest to demand to speak with the spirits once again.
Kurosawa knows how to make a film look good; but sadly that isn't enough to make this a masterpiece for me. I can see the attraction and the classic foreign feel that Kurosawa can so easily pull off makes this nothing if not interesting. There are gaps in between dialogue and the overacting of Toshirô Mifune has never sat right for me.
Is it personal? Well, perhaps; but I could argue my dislikes for the movie quite ardently.
"Throne of Blood's" plot isn't its strong point. Instead it relies entirely on Washizu and when that character isn't completely convincing, it becomes hard to take the rest of it seriously.
Kurosawa uses fog and tracking shots to help booster the suspense of his movie which works fairly well.
There's always this disconnect between the image and the story for me. Sometimes it feels like he's just trying to make something look nice in order to prove a point instead of using the beauty as the story (hence why I find Malick so inspiring and so poetic).
The criticisms of pretentiousness (which, how do you determine if something is pretentious, since it's all subjective? I never understood that) seem to hold true; but "Throne of Blood" belongs higher than its petty issues.
Above all, it's entertaining.













Score: ★★★½

While You Were Sleeping (1995) (PG)
















There is something of a tradition surrounding "While You Were Sleeping" in my house. It's one of my dad's favorite movies, odd considering that sci-fi movies usually round out his usual picks...but that's beside that point. I've seen "While You Were Sleeping" so many times that I could probably recite it backwards while I am...um...sleeping.
The story surrounds Lucy (the charmingly adorkable Sandra Bullock) who works in Chicago for the transport system. A child raised by a single father who has recently died, Lucy's only consolation is the cat that she owns and the fact that she can always turn down the romantic moves of her landlord's loser son.
One day, everything changes.
While working—on Christmas Day of all days—Lucy's crush comes in and wishes her happy holidays.  Peter (Peter Gallagher) has never spoken to Lucy nor her to him, but she just knows that they would be perfect together. So when Peter gets mugged and thrown into the train tracks, Lucy does the only natural thing: jumps onto the tracks to save his life...which she does.
Rushing to the hospital, she is denied access to see him—he is now in a coma—and one of the nurses mistakes something, the first in the longest sense of miscommunications ever: she thinks that Lucy is engaged to Peter.
Now enter the family.
Peter's family rolls in and the masquerade of Lucy being Peter's fiancee is still rearing its ugly and hilarious head. Mom and Pop (Micole Mercurio and Peter Boyle respectively) are the two forces of the family and they are just as odd as the rest of them. Then there's the next-door neighbor and Peter's godfather, Saul (Jack Warden) and finally the grandmother Elsie (Glynis Johns).
The family swoops down and scoops Lucy up in their arms and she is left speechless by their bizarre anecdotes.
But the plots twists some more before its all done. Peter's rugged brother Jack (Bill Pullman) arrives back in town for the holiday and when Lucy sees him it's all like whoa!
And there's the setup, fun isn't it?
What "While You Were Sleeping" manages to do is to not offend anyone involved. Unlike some crasser romantic comedies it doesn't tread on any toes with its characters. The solution leaves no one out in the cold, though it does seem to be unrealistically optimistic about the dichotomy of good and bad characters.
Yet it is funny and Sandra Bullock manages to do the "down on your luck/unsure" character to a tee. It's so funny, so amazing.
There are some minor faults that you can find with the direction; but all-in-all, it's effortlessly entertaining.
Sure, you could pick it apart; but why would you want to do that?









Score: ★★★½

Big Eyes (2014) (PG-13)


















"Big Eyes" is perhaps the most "normal" of all of Tim Burton's movies and I do use that word knowing exactly what it implies. It is and it is not at the same time. Surely, the antics of the director are kept at bay long enough for us to enjoy what seems like a pretty straight forward narrative; yet the story itself is anything but normal and typical. What Burton does is manage to make the art world seem complex and fascinating and that in of itself is kind of an accomplishment, mainly because Burton doesn't focus on the intricacies of the world he views and instead makes sure that the story and the main character is the pivotal point.
Margaret (Amy Adams) is the first person we see and she starts the movie by leaving her husband. With her daughter in tow, she moves to California to be with her sister DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) and to escape. In the sunny state, she spends her time trying to find a job and painting. Much like the title implies, the paintings that Margaret brings to life are just children with big eyes. She's essentially a one-trick-pony in that respect; but that doesn't stop her from painting constantly.
While out in the park on a show day, Margaret meets the charming and smarmy Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who is so enamored by her and her work that he demands an audience with her, which she gives to him. It's only on the first date that he declares his undying love for her and she is left wondering whether she's made a huge mistake or not.
But it doesn't take long before Walter has worked his magic once again and she is swept off her feet by his words. When her ex threatens to take her daughter, Jane, away from her, Walter swoops in and marries her so they won't have to part. What a romantic!
Still, we all now that this won't have a happy ending, mainly because the tagline for the movie tells you the whole story without much shame.
Luck strikes the Keanes when one day Margaret's paintings are noticed for their eerie quality. Walter unwittingly claims himself as the painter of Margaret's work and then receives some money for her work. This isn't a lightbulb moment like the trailers might imply. There is a lot to the thought process of Walter that we are privy to. He struggles with his own inability to paint what the masses want and with being married to someone far more talented than he is.
The movie begins with "based on a true story" which makes you think "yeah, right..." I mean "Lee Daniels' the Butler" was based on a true story and look what that did to the man's life. But the movie opens with a quote from Andy Warhol praising Keane's work. That makes the viewer pause and wonder. Now yes, there is a lot of creative liberty here. but it is just the right amount that the end result feels truthful.
Okay, moving on....
Walter beings to gain notoriety for Margaret's work and by this time it's become almost too late to do anything about it. Margaret is such a naive character and so trusting that she lets him walk over her and take the one thing that means the most to her: her art.
"Big Eyes" is rather straight forward (as previously mentioned). There are no splendid claymation moments or a dark song thrown in for good measure. Instead, Burton relies on his actors and their performances which can only be described as stellar. Amy Adams gives one of her best turns here, supplying the emotional core of the movie. A likable, natural, and entirely relatable character, the whole movie builds to a moment in which Margaret can stand up for herself and we all cheer when she does so.
But what makes it good?
The film looks effortlessly good and feels natural to the time period. It has strong performances (Waltz tends to go too far sometimes) and a wonderful score by Danny Elfman.
It's so easy to watch, a near perfect viewing experience. Not too taxing, yet not paper-thin.











Score: ★★★½

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (PG-13)



















I just don't know what happened. At the close of the last "Hobbit" installment, I was really into it. Smaug was heading down on the villagers with some creepy quotes and it kind of had an episodic ending, reminiscent to "Lost". Heck yeah. I'm in.
At the opening of "The Battle of the Five Armies", we are immediately given something disgusting: a set. Shooting with his new and improved 48 frames per second, Peter "Just-Can't-Seem-To-Get-Enough-You-Greedy-Bastard" Jackson doesn't realize that the supposedly ultra-high-def way of shooting would make everything look like a set, makeup, a fake beard, etc. Particularly in wide focus shots, which is what the entire first part of the movie is composed of. Alright, settle down, we're just getting started.
Besides the visual atrocity which added onto the 3D viewing that I saw made a complete meltdown, "The Battle of the Five Armies" is so rife with mistakes and errors that it destroys whatever good "The Desolation of Smaug" did and returns us to the dismal place of "oh, great. He's ruined another book."
Maybe we should blame Fran Walsh for her contribution, or maybe Guillermo del Toro for his. Actually, no, let's blame Peter Jackson for destroying whatever good there was left in the world.
If I haven't made it clear, the movie sucks.
But why does it suck?
At the beginning of the movie (oh and minor SPOILERS ahead), Smaug is seen raining fire down on the village underneath the mountain. He's being all like "yeah, look at me, I'm a freakin' dragon" and the townspeople are immediately shuffled into caricatures: the bold, the slimy, the weak-hearted, etc. There is nary a glimpse of actual character here as the town leader (played by Stephen Fry) takes all the gold and sets off in the river, trying to escape with his wealth and his life.
Bard (Luke Evans), a human man is the hero of this short miniseries like moment in which Smaug gets it right between the scales and falls to the ground...hmm, okay that was like ten minutes of screen time. What are they going to do for the rest of it?
Oh don't worry, Peter "Just-Pulling-It-Out-Of-My-Butt" Jackson has loads of ideas and we know where he got them from *hint: it's in his name*.
We are given a couple of narratives to follow: Bard and the surviving townspeople who decide to relocate themselves to the mountain. The dwarves, who have occupied the mountain with Thorin (Richard Armitage) as their king who is selfishly obsessed with a precious gem known as "the Heart of the Mountain". In his rage and "dragon fever" (I'm not making this up) induced stupor, he bars the gates to the mountain and forbids that anyone get in...but that's not the best idea. Then there's the orcs, who are assembling a freakin' huge army to march on the rest of Middle Earth; but we're not exactly sure why or who's making this army since it doesn't really seem to have a commander besides the infamous albino orc. Lastly, there's Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who is making his discovery about the genesis of Sauron, which, while actually not bad filmmaking, doesn't really do anything to booster the original series in anyway. All we know is that Sauron is kinda-sorta back; but we don't really get any of the gritty details we wanted.
Now, this is a lot to take in and it only proves how low Peter "Let's-Make-It-Three-Hours-Long" Jackson has sunk if there are incredibly boring stretches of pithy talking. Let's make one thing clear: pithy talking worked in the original trilogy because you weren't bombarded with an orgy of disastrous special effects at every other moment. Plus the pithy talking is just kind of....um....what's the word?....Oh yeah: stupid.
Yet there are sub-plots, the dwarf-elf romance being the most obvious one and probably the one that we cared about the most, even though the dragon fever thing should have taken a higher pedestal.
Okay, got everything? Oh wait, we're missing something. What was it? Oh yeah, BILBO! With all the commotion and events that are transpiring, we kind of feel like Bilbo (Martin Freeman) gets shoved into the background and rarely does he make a front row appearance. Besides the fact that if this was really Bilbo's telling of the tale there is no way he could possibly know things when he wasn't there (Legolas and Tauriel's little orc-tracking trek for example), "The Battle of the Five Armies" just became dull.
I, and every other person who's seen the movies, have made the comparison to video games and it's no wonder. "The Battle of the Five Armies" looks like it belongs on an Xbox and not a projector.
Some of the more grievous of its sins include the posturing. Peter "Just-Making-It-Up-As-I-Go-Along" Jackson seems to be more interesting in a series of images that anything that connects them in a narrative structure. You could view "The Battle of the Five Armies" as a long extended montage of dramatic entrances and exits. The only problem is that the exits and entrances are not dramatic enough and become laughable.
Take the wonderfully bad moment when Thranduil (Lee Pace), the elf-king, makes his appearance. He does so riding on the back of a huge moose-elk thing. The phallic imagery that springs up thereafter is no match for the sheer stupidity of working the stag-like creature into the script more. Then there's the dwarf king who rides the back of a boar, but it looks more like just a pig than anything else.
Where did Bilbo go?
Oh that's right, let's make a corny and not funny ending and then make another reference to the original trilogy.
*sigh*
I guess what makes me the most mad is that I actually saw this debauchery and people are making a profit off of me seeing it.
Don't be me, don't see it.
The visuals alone are enough reason to stay at home. When they look bad enough that it resembles pieces of cardboard with drawings on them being thrown in front of the camera, you may have a mistake. Maybe it was just the 3D; but everything looked so poisonously bad that it almost makes you sick watching it.
The side-plots continue to baffle us with their ignorant stupidity, the most glaring mistake being the struggle between Bard and Alfrid (Ryan Gage), who make the Master of Laketown's assistant. He's a poor substitute for Grima Wormtongue, which is all he really is.
And don't give me that "but it's based off a kid's book" BS, because the amount of decapitations and eviscerations alone prove you wrong.
Am I disappointed? Yes.
Am I surprised? No
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is nothing short of a full-fledged disaster and I didn't bother staying for that stupid end-credit song because I was fleeing for my sanity out of the theater with only the thought of: "thank god that's over" booming in my head.
Let us all take a moment of silence for rejoicing that Peter Jackson can't hurt Bilbo anymore.










Score: ★½

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

















"The Postman Always Rings Twice" is what we would call an erotic thriller if we were living in the 1940s. Though nary a thigh or much of a midriff is bared, the sexually charged movie does its very best to make everything drip with seduction and sweat until the entire film feels like its plastered onto the screen with fantasies instead of projection. Okay, so maybe it's not that hot and in light of more recent movies like "Body Heat" I would say that it's just not that erotic; but it tries its best.
The movie begins as Frank Chambers (John Garfield) happens upon a little burger joint in the middle of a small town. He's been hitchhiking and unwittingly takes a ride with the district attorney before seeing a "help needed" sign and deciding to rest his itching feet for a few months. Frank has the travel bug, he doesn't like to settle down anywhere for longer than a period of time in which no commitment can be given. But he knows this about himself and he tells everyone that he meets, as if he's not trying to get involved...and yet, you guessed it, that's right where the story takes him.
The burger place is called Twin Oaks and it's owned by a rather affable drunk named Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) who immediately puts Frank to work. Not crazy about how things are starting to head towards a commitment, Frank starts to back out until he sees the thing that makes him stay: Cora Smith (Lana Turner).
As far as blonde seductresses go, Cora seems to be at the peak of cinematic history, mainly because she is never, ever given a heart and yet it's so easy to empathize with her. Her Achilles' heel is found in the form of greed for fame. She is often heard saying something similar to: "I'll make something out of myself." Yet she isn't picky with how she does this and the only thing that she manages to have her hands on that will launch her into stardom or the like is Twin Oaks...lovely. But don't underestimate her.
Immediately drawn to this woman, Frank does his macho-man best to try to force kiss her into submission which usually worked with James Bond and didn't work so well here. Cora will not be the one in submission.
Plus she's married.
Ah, but that can be remedied. *Gasp* no! Not murder most foul!
After Frank things that his doings are wooing the aloof Cora, they collectively come up with the unspoken thought, Nick might have to go. After all, Cora really isn't in love with him, so it's all okay if Frank bumps him off during the night. phrasing
Their heinous plans will land them in a world of spinning emotions, shifting allegiances, backstabbing, and the best noir feeling ever.
For the fans of noir, "The Maltese Falcon" seems like the pinnacle of the genre, and yet "The Postman Always Rings Twice" is a little more approachable for its peculiarities and frankly for its simpler story line. It's glorious to watch because the overacting and all of the sins of the cinema work so well for the movie.
It's hugely flawed, but it never attempted to be "Citizen Kane" and I think we can all let out a collective sigh of "thank god" for that.
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" is a broiler and you don't realize it until the final frames of the movie. It hypes up its drastic emotional climaxes until you are left breathless and panting for more.
Okay, maybe it is pretty sexy.










Score: ★★★