Monday, July 25, 2011

9. The General (1926) 6/10



Quality - 4/5
Enjoyability - 2/5

Maybe it's my penchant for talking in movies, maybe it's the fact that Buster Keaton influenced every physical comedian to come after him so I feel like I've seen in all before, maybe the critics of the time were right when they lamented that this movie was too long and ambitious for Keaton's shtick, but whatever the reason, I have yet to see a silent comedy that didn't bore me to tears. Sure, at the 1926 "nickelodeon" with throngs of laughing folks who had never seen a guy fall down repeatedly on the big screen this probably would have been a trip. I get the importance of this film, but the problem is that everybody that it influenced did it better. Everyone from Bugs Bunny to Jim Carrey improved on Keaton's slapstick comedy. Also, everything I've read puts this movie's runtime at 75 minutes. I'm not sure which version I saw, but it was just over 90. I assure you the extra fifteen minutes didn't help.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

8. One Day in September (1999) 8/10


When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.

Quality 4/5
Enjoyability 4/5

It's a little hard to call this movie "enjoyable", but it does exactly what any good documentary should. It engages, educates, and expands. I was aware of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics, but I had no idea the complexity of the kidnapping, the ineptness of the West German government and police, and that there was actually a culprit still alive and kicking today. This movie gets points for blowing my mind and interviewing a known terrorist at an undisclosed African location. Bottom line: if you ever get the urge to watch Steven Spielberg's "Munich", skip it and check this out instead.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

7. The Searchers (1956) 5/10


-You wanna quit, Ethan?
-That'll be the day.

Quality - 3/5
Enjoyability - 2/5

Okay, I get it. This movie took a generation of Cowboys vs. Indians westerns and completely turned the genre on its ear. It dared to show extreme character flaws in its protagonist/hero. It laid the groundwork and influenced directors for the next fifty years; everything from "Star Wars" to Eastwood's "spaghetti" westerns to "Taxi Driver". I get it, but it doesn't make it a good film. I have heard people say this about movies such as "Citizen Kane" and "Gone with the Wind". That they were important but did not age well and don't hold up today, but this is something different. Those films don't stack up because movies have evolved and they are overly slow and tedious, but the films are still quality to productions. "The Searchers" is simply a bad movie.

Bad acting, an offensively simple script, a grand total of zero truly likable characters, and an inexcusable amount of racism and sexism even for the mid-'50s. I don't think I'll ever really "get" John Wayne. I guess he's a hero to those that long for the day where their Black servant was fetching them water while they shot Injuns and their subservient wife was busy with housework for fear of being smacked down. The movie's one saving grace is the camerawork and direction of John Ford. This movie is easily one of the prettiest movies ever filmed, both in terms of scenery and framing. Too bad it was wasted on a movie about shooting people in the back, blaming a girl for her own kidnapping and (implied) sexual battery, and scalping a German guy who just happened to be portraying a Comanche chief.

Friday, July 15, 2011

6. Psycho (1960) 8/10


It's not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?

Quality - 5/5
Enjoyability - 3/5

I know it's pretty much heresy to say in the movie community, but I am just not the biggest fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Don't get me wrong, he definitely made a lot of groundbreaking movies, but I usually don't really enjoy them. He is also the Granddaddy of one of my least favorite genres of movies, the horror/thriller. That being said, this movie is pretty much flawless. The acting, set design, camera work, and "twist" ending were all way ahead of their time, and laid the groundwork for murder mysteries for the next century. Janet Leigh was great, but I don't really think Anthony Perkins gets enough credit for this movie. His wild-eyed, crazed but trustworthy psychopath created an entirely new type of character, and Hitchcock's twist would not have been possible without his pitch-perfect performance.

Monday, July 11, 2011

5. The Millennium Trilogy (2009)


I would have never done it, Lisbeth. But I understand why you did. I don't know what you have experienced. But I was about to die in that cellar, and you saved my life. Whatever you have seen, you don't need to tell me. I'm just happy that you're here.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 8/10
The Girl Who Played with Fire 8/10
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest 7/10

These three movies adapt Stieg Larsson's popular books of the same name. The first installment introduces the characters and is an intriguing murder mystery, while the second two delve into the background of one of the most protagonists I have encountered in fiction in quite a while: Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is a punk-hacker-lesbian-bada$$ who just happens to have been taken advantage of by every male figure of authority in her life. She reluctantly joins forces with the editor of the "Millennium" tabloid magazine to solve an old murder, and in doing so discovers a whole world of trouble for herself. While not my usual fare (i.e. there really isn't much of a love story), these movies completely enveloped me in mystery, thrill, and worry for three nights.

Odds are you probably haven't heard of these movies (even if you have heard of the books), and if you have, it's probably from the early ads of the American version from director David Fincher to be released this Christmas. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. The movie already exists. Do we really need to completely remake it for "English-speaking" audiences? Do we really need to throw in James Bond and a cutesy model to play the main characters? Are audiences that lazy that they refuse to read subtitles? This happened before with the 2001 remake of the 1997 film "Abre Los Ojos". You probably know it as "Vanilla Sky". And again with "The Ring", remake of "Ringu". In both cases the films were near shot-for-shot remakes, with English as the main language and recognizable actors and actresses. Wouldn't audiences be better served if David Fincher, Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgaard had spent the last couple of years creating an original piece of cinema instead of sanitizing a perfectly good film for the masses?

Bottom Line: Don't wait for Christmas, these movies are already out (and readily available at your local Redbox or Netflix). You should see them. Note: A central plot point of the trilogy revolves around one particularly gruesome sexual scene. It is not played for thrills, but is pretty tough to watch. I usually don't like to see that type of stuff, but the films taken as a whole make up for it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

4. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) 8/10


George, who is out somewhere there in the dark, who is good to me - whom I revile, who can keep learning the games we play as quickly as I can change them. Who can make me happy and I do not wish to be happy. Yes, I do wish to be happy. George and Martha: Sad, sad, sad. Whom I will not forgive for having come to rest; for having seen me and having said: yes, this will do.

Quality - 4/5
Enjoyability - 4/5

The first movie in history to be nominated for an Oscar in every category it was eligible.  The movie only has two actors and two actresses and all were nominated for Oscars (Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis both won, but it probably should have been all four).  This movie seriously has the best straight-up acting I have ever seen on stage or screen.  The entire film is comprised of a single night of drunken fighting, storytelling, yelling, and crying.  That may not sound too entertaining, but the actors involved transcend a normal argument and turn it into something closely resembling art.  The viewer is forced to decide which parts of the story or true during George and Martha's "games" (as they call them), but it becomes quickly apparent that the separation between truth and illusion really doesn't matter.  The movie was adapted from a play which was adapted from a book.  While I don't really have much desire to read it, I can't imagine what these scenes would feel like live.  The raw power of the emotions would be hard to dodge without the tangible fourth wall of the television screen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

3. Unforgiven (1992) 7/10


Funny thing, killin' a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's gonna have.

Quality - 3/5
Enjoyablity - 4/5
I freely admit that I am not a huge Clint Eastwood fan either the tough as nails gunfighter actor or the most recent incarnation of crotchety director.  That being said, this movie is pretty cool.  It accomplishes something that's pretty hard to pull off in the "Western" genre, a breath of originality.  The only other movie that I can compare this to is (the far superior) "The Ox-Bow Incident".  In both movies, the viewer is asked to question their moral views and sense of justice.  What is very unique about this movie is the plethora of seemingly random things thrown in to allow for character development and symbolism.  While watching the movie, it teetered on the border of a jumbled mess for a while until Eastwood was able to barely able to bring it all back together.  Gene Hackman's performance was definitely worthy of his Oscar as the sheriff attempting to rebuild a house and his image as a lawful man both end up in failure.  While Morgan Freeman also gave a solid supporting performance, the one thing I couldn't quite understand was why no one made a fuss about a "colored" man with a gun in the all white town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming in 1880.  Still, an all-around solid film rife with rewatchable nuggets of non-violence symbolism.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

2. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) 7/10


I am the great traitor. There must be no other. Anyone who even thinks about deserting this mission will be cut up into 198 pieces. Those pieces will be stamped on until what is left can be used only to paint walls. Whoever takes one grain of corn or one drop of water... more than his ration, will be locked up for 155 years. If I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees... then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I am the wrath of god. The earth I pass will see me and tremble. But whoever follows me and the river, will win untold riches. But whoever deserts...

Quality - 3/5
Enjoyability - 4/5

When I started this blog, this movie was an auto-include.  The consensus best movie from one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog.  I love his ability to switch seamlessly from documentary to traditional filmmaking and back.  This was his first big movie, and it definitely foreshadows his ability to master both fields.  Herzog uses historical fiction to invite the viewer into a first-hand account of a doomed conquistador's expedition.  He wrote the screenplay after hearing stories of Pizarro's possibly insane Lieutenant Aguirre.   He also freely admits that the camera used by the 7 person crew to film the mostly improvised movie was stolen from his film school.  The one drawback from this film is the absolutely horrible dub.  Like many movies in the late '60s and '70s the vocal track was completely dubbed in later (many by different actors).  It baffles me to think how amazing Klaus Kinski's performance would be in this movie if I could actually hear his voice in the horrors of the Amazon jungle instead of a random German dubbing it in later.