Thursday, April 18, 2013
#45 - Shane (1953)
The first time I saw Shane was for a film appreciation class about 10 years ago. We started it during one class and finished it in another, then had a discussion. I'm not the biggest fan of Westerns, and after watching the beginning of this one, had pretty much decided to skip the second class with the discussion and come back ready to watch whatever film was next in the syllabus. What really got to me about the beginning was when Shane and Joe Stork are digging out a tree trunk. They're chopping away at it, and finally end up pushing it over to liberate it from the earth. The music is rousing and inspirational, and I was so bored by this artificial bonding scene with absolutely no bearing on anything.
Something happened after that scene that made me decide to come back and watch the rest of the film. Honestly, I don't remember what that was because whatever it was didn't strike me as particularly compelling this time around. Actually, I found myself most closely relating to young Joey, who wants to see Shane as a ruthless, gun-slinging anti-hero, who lives by his own rules. Maybe I didn't want Shane to move so far from his role as the hero, but some action on his part would have been welcome. As is, the characters all feel too archetypal. We have the hero and the villain, and that's about as complicated as those characters get. We get the sense that Shane has a lot of experience with gun-slingers, and probably that he's killed a lot of people in his time, but that backstory isn't explored in a satisfying way in my opinion. And Jack Palance may be a flat, narrow-minded villain, but damn he's an effective one. There is something so completely terrifying about Palance's performance here. He's like a rattle snake poised to attack, and as long as you convince yourself it's going to happen, it doesn't, but as soon as you relax a single muscle in your body, he sinks his fangs into you.
I like the stork character too, in that he's the leader of this community that's trying to beat back the heartless businessman who's trying to run them all off their property. He may be a little twitchy and rash in the opening of the film, but he falls into a good rhythm with his family, friends, and Shane, and serves well as the film's main character, if not the titular one. As much as I like the character of the kid, the actor was awful. I find it hard to believe they couldn't get a more talented ten year old to play this child, and wonder if he was played by the director's son or something because he is really very not good. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the character, but I would think a stronger actor would deliver a performance worthy of what that character represents.
DVDs Left to Buy: 10
Next Film: The Philadelphia Story
Monday, March 18, 2013
#74 - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
It's time once again for one of my redux posts in which I take a look at an updated release of a film I've already viewed. I could post a link to my first post about The Silence of the Lambs, but I don't want to, and I believe you're smart enough to follow the clues and find it yourself. Hint: they're in numerical order.
I'm a big fan of this film. I saw it right before its sequel Hannibal came out and while it's disturbing and genuinely gets inside your head, I was able to distance myself from the film as I watched it, so that I could just enjoy the drama unfolding, and the remarkable characters here.
This of course is my first time watching the film on Blu-ray, and I don't know if I can recommend upgrading to blu-ray on this one if you already have the DVD. It's a clean transfer, and looks good, but since Silence of the Lambs is already such an ugly film, there's nothing visually stunning to heighten with the HD picture. It reminds me of my Blade Runner blu-ray, which I think is important because while the world there is ugly and disgusting, the blu-ray calls attention to the time and energy that went into making those settings so awful. A lot of care and love went into that film's ugliness, and the blu-ray is necessary to fully appreciate that.
The one thing that excited me about the Silence of the Lambs blu-ray was I thought I spotted a William Petersen cameo, which would make sense after his turn as Will Graham in Manhunter. I would have sworn that Petersen played the father of the first victim, who has a few lines with starling late in the film, but couldn't find the listing on Petersen's IMDB page. Turns out it is someone else, and my excitement was in vain, but honestly I just enjoyed revisiting the film again.
DVDs Left to Buy: 10
Next Film: Shane
Friday, March 1, 2013
#46 - It Happened One Night (1934)
It feels right watching this in the days after this year's Academy Awards because we have come to the second of three movies in history who have taken home the 5 top Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It's got to make you wonder: If Annette Benning won in 1999, would American Beauty make the AFI's top 100 list? I think so. Coming to It Happened One Night also has me thinking that I should take this opportunity to go back and revisit Silence of the Lambs on Blu-ray, since it also one what I've come to call The Royal Oscar.
I've seen It Happened One Night before. During a film class at Southwestern Michigan College, we had to write an essay that compared three films that had something in common, and I wanted to look at the three films that won the Royal Oscar, but my professor thought that since the Academy Awards are little more than a popularity contest, that there wouldn't be much to cover in my paper. I still disagree, but ended up writing about three Kevin Spacey movies instead.
I like the film very much, but it's not one of those classics that I get the urge to watch every once in a while. I could possibly go the rest of my life without seeing it again, but I doubt that I will. Easily my favorite part of the film is Clark Gable's performance. I haven't seen a lot of his work yet, but he's a very smooth actor, and I noticed here that he has a great ability for separating his verbal performance from his physical performance; doing something that has been intricately blocked while interacting with another character. Another example of this that comes to mind is Jack Lemmon making pasta in The Apartment.
I also really like Claudette Colbet's performance, but find it hard to believe there wasn't a better performance by an actress in 1934. I haven't seen the other 3 performances nominated. I like that Ellie Andrews is quite confident and capable in the real world because she has so much experience running away, but also that she's rather spoiled and naive. It's a good balance in her character and feels believable. Even things like her willing to spend her last few dollars on candy and non-essentials makes sense because we get the distinct impression that while she has travelled a lot in secrecy, this is the first time she's been forced to do so without money.
I think my one big criticism of the film is that the evolution of the relationship between Peter and Ellie jumps from friendship to romance really quickly. To the point where it feels almost incestuous for them to get together. When they first meet, Ellie keeps referring to Peter as "young man," putting the image in my mind that she's a much older, maternal figure. It doesn't help that Colbert is not the most attractive woman. On the other hand, Peter's hard-handed caring for Ellie; budgeting her money, bossing her around, etc makes him feel like a father figure or older brother. So, when Ellie confesses her love, it's really awkward to me. I would have preferred they stayed companions, traveling the country together. Maybe went into business together. Not every movie needs a forced love story, Hollywood. Of course, it's adapted from a short story, and very likely the characters hook up there too, but I don't care for it.
DVDs Left to Buy: 10
Next Film: Shane
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
#47 - A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
I recently read the stage play of A Streetcar Named Desire. For a few reasons: 1) it's one of those classics that I'd never read before but needed to, 2) I'm a huge fan of the other Tennessee Williams play I've read - The Glass Menagerie, and 3) I knew I would be coming up on the film version soon for this blog. Now, there are three types of plays: those meant to be performed, those that can be appreciated on stage or as literature, and those that are only meant to be read. A Streetcar Named Desire is very much a play that needs to be performed. Reading it, I was very bored, and had a hard time justifying many of the actions of the characters. However, seeing the script come to life in the capable hands of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh really steps it up.
In movie form, I still have a hard time figuring out everything the characters do here, like what sparks some of Stanley's bursts of rage, and why Blanche feels the need to exaggerate all the time, but it doesn't bother me as much as when I was reading the play. It makes the characters feel more realistic to not be able to figure them out all the time. Real people don't walk spectators through their more confusing quirks through exposition.
Beyond the fantastic performances, this is good looking film. I love watching black and white movies on blu-ray and the use of light and shadow throughout gives the film a menacingly cool aesthetic. My one big criticism is that it feels long. This was a problem I had with the play too, is that it seemed to just keep going. It's better as a film, as it embodies a nice energy that builds over the course of the story, but still, by the final scene I was starting to get eager for it to end. Not that the last scene is bad; it's vital. But, I think it could have been tightened up throughout to create a better flow.
DVDs Left to Buy: 12
Next Film: It Happened One Night
Friday, February 1, 2013
#48 - Rear Window (1954)
As I've said, I'm not the biggest Alfred Hitchcock fan. I think he's an effective director, but I'm not as in love with his body of work as most people. That being said, I love Rear Window. It is not only one of my favorite films, but it's one of the few films that I truly appreciate the director's work. I'm a fan of several directors, but not so much for their directorial style. I pay much more attention to a film's screenplay and cast, but Rear Window is a well-directed film. Plus, it has the script and acting chops to back it up, so it's all around fantastic.
Now, since I was a kid, I've seen a few different Rear Window parodies. Tiny Tunes and The Simpsons both stand out in my memory. However, I didn't see the actual film until I was 18 or 19 years old. So, the whole time I kept expecting there to be a perfectly innocent explanation for Thorwald's actions. Either way, it's a great story because if Thorwald didn't kill his wife, the thriller aspects of the film still manifest in Jefferies' paranoia and obsession. Hitchcock is at the top of his game here, not only keeping the audience on the edge of their seat, but also managing to make a film that seems to emanate heat right off the screen. The summer setting of the film makes the audience physically uncomfortable, and makes me forget that we just had a huge snow storm outside. Grace Kelly does her fair share of turning up the temperature too. Not to mention Miss. Torso...
There are so many fantastic thematic elements to this film that it's difficult for me to focus on any one of them long enough to say anything meaningful about it. I love the voyeuristic aspect of the film, and how that makes it seem more theatrical than cinematic. I like how all of the few things we know about Jefferies come together to drive his arc in a way that isn't forced or artificial. I completely believe at every step of the way that he would get this crazy to figure out what's going on across the courtyard.
I'm also blown away by all of the little minor characters here, and how they each contribute very different emotions to the film. Again, in a way that feels organic to the overall tone of the film. I imagine it must have been a lot of fun to play these little roles, and basically live in your character's apartment for the shoot and figure out what that character would do when he or she thought no one was watching. It raises some interesting questions about the nature of privacy, and how each of us approaches our public life vs. our private life.
I know that all of the little elements that I love about Rear Window couldn't have come together so perfectly if it weren't for Hitchcock. His capacity to direct a dozen little scenes at once in any given moment of this film is astounding to me. This community is a living organism, achieving absolute realism through Hitchcock's vision.
DVDs Left to Buy: 12
Next Film: A Streetcar Named Desire
Friday, January 18, 2013
#49 - Intolerance (1916)
Holy shit I hated this film!
With all of the films on this list, I've made an honest attempt to sit through them in one sitting, and with a couple of exceptions, I've managed it without difficulty. The only other one I can think of that I had to split up was Ben-Hur because I didn't have time to watch the whole thing. I had to break my watching of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance into four separate viewing sessions because I just couldn't handle more than 45 minutes at a time. This is one of the worst movies I've ever forced myself to sit through. And I like bad movies. Bad movies are fun, especially when sitting around with your friends riffing on them. Intolerance isn't good bad, it's just bad. It's terribly boring as it tries to tie its four separate story lines together.
The only thing that ties the different stories together is the theme of Intolerance, but the four stories do not contribute anything new to Griffith's analysis of Intolerance. Mostly we're dealing with religious persecution. So, the film only hits on this one idea over and over again for 2 1/2 hours. Also, it's ironic that Griffith was unable to see his own intolerance towards African Americans, so it makes his epic diatribe against those who would try to undermine his faith a bit heavy handed.
I'm sure this must have been a very difficult film to make in 1916, and maybe that's why it's earned such a high spot on the AFI's list. I'm sorry, but personally I need a little bit more than effort to sell me on a film. I'm sure a lot of directors try really hard to make a good movie before they fail miserably, and if we're rewarding effort, why stop at Griffith? Surely Plan 9 From Outer Space has made a significant contribution the cultural zeitgeist. Alien Vs. Predator is at least fun. Where does the insanity end?
Visually, it's an ugly film. This mostly comes from it being nearly 100 years old. The film print is degraded and scratchy, and the light fades in and out between too bright and too dark with only rare moments of acceptable balance. The light problems are so bad that it's often difficult to read the text frames. Though, some of the blame here definitely goes to Griffith. About half of the text frames are white text against a black background and are very easy to read. However, the other half are white text set against the image of an open book, and are near impossible to read. Maybe if they someday put this on Blu-ray and clean up the visuals, I'd feel obligated to watch this again make sure I'm understanding everything before judging it so harshly, but I can't imagine I'll ever be struck with such a powerful sense of obligation. Also, I hate the music. Well, it's not so much that I hate the music. It's classical, and I like the songs themselves, but they often have nothing to do with the tone of the film. If I had muted the film and simply turned on the classical music Pandora station, the effect would be largely the same. If I played the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, then we might really be onto something here.
Bottom line, I resent the AFI a little for making me own this. Fortunately, there's some really good stuff coming up.
Next Film: Rear Window
DVDs Left to Buy: 12
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
#50 - The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring
And thus begins the second half of my blog. Feels like I've been doing this forever, but I'm going to strive to do a new post every two weeks so that there are no more month or longer long gaps. For the first time on this blog, I had the opportunity to see my next movie on the big screen. About a week before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Celebration Cinema ran The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Extended Cuts) back to back. It takes about 14 hours to watch the extended cuts of all three films, but I was surprised that I wasn't exhausted at the end of it. I may try to watch all three films again in one day when I finally get around to watching my new Blu-ray set.
Now, I don't see the point in only looking at Fellowship of the Ring. That's like people only analyzing the first half of Full Metal Jacket. Technically, these are three separate films, and thus only Fellowship has earned a spot on the AFI list, but in point of fact this is one long film with Fellowship serving as merely the setup; the first act. If one of these films had to be on the list, I personally would have gone with The Return of the King. The climactic final chapter of the series is worthy of a spot on this list if the entire series can't share the slot.
Looking at Fellowship alone, Merry and Pippin are fairly interchangeable characters, and Frodo is too weak to carry a storyline all on his own. Plus, the monologue of exposition at the opening of the film starts us off on a very boring note. When looking at the complete trilogy, these things become unimportant. The characters all grow in amazing ways and the expositional opening is barely remembered; like ripping off a bandaid.
I had forgotten how much I really enjoy these films. As a trilogy, I'd say it's about as close to perfect as you're going to get. Others might propose Star Wars or maybe even The Dark Knight as superior trilogies but those both have serious unforgiveable flaws. You may not agree with the choices Peter Jackson made, but every moment of every film is gorgeous and works to push the plot forward.
Now, as adaptations, the films are a different story. I'm of the philosophy that a film version of a book should be allowed to be its own artistic expression, and not necessarily rely heavily on the source material. It can't be exactly the same, and I would argue that I don't want it to be. That being said, I have often complained about The Two Towers as an adaptation, because it is by far the best book in the series and for the films, they took all the best stuff out of Two Towers and put it in The Return of the King. This really bothered me in high school, but now I see that they had to make The Return of the King function like a film, pushing the climax of the ring's distruction to the end and forgetting about things like the burning of the Shire.
Rewatching the trilogy has made me want to go back and read the books, so I can enjoy the novels once again as novels, and let the films exist as separate entities.
DVDs Left to Buy: 12
Next Film: Intolerance