Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Note: Ironically, the IMDB avg fan rating is 8.4 - I didn't see this until after I ranked it, but that was my original rating, before rewatching it. It's currently #93 on the IMDB 250, but that will probably fall over time as fans are the first to rate these, then they slowly decline to their more proper place. Cameron's Aliens is ranked #53.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Quentin Tarantino, 2009 (8.2*)The world's wildest director has gone B-movie plus with this wild WW2 fantasy, in which he holds his imagination in check until the last reel, then the infamous Tarantino style is in full display.
A miscast Brad Pitt (a Tennessee officer with a bad imitation southern drawl) organizes a group of Jewish soldiers in a scene lifted from the Dirty Dozen, into a group of "Apache" styled renegage killers, who beat Nazis with a bat and take their scalps as well. The idea is to be so brutal in response to Nazi brutality as to send rumors through occupied France that some incarnate devil Jews are creating fear and mayhem while remaining untouched themselves. Along the way they get help from an escaped Jewess named Shosanna who now runs a Parisian cinema, which shows German films regularly, and also an expatriate German actress, now a double agent.
Most of the scenes here are almost painstakingly slow, then erupt in some sort of violent death. There are visual references to many other films, buffs will catch them. There are even more musical references, many stolen from other films outright - spaghetti westerns seem to be the top reference, making it hard to take this as a serious film, but more like a tongue-in-cheek pastische of subtle film homages.
Enjoyable if you don't look to deep, and don't mind some occasional brutality. The film is stolen by the funny and erudite performance of Christoph Waltz, who won the film's only Oscar® and dozens of other acting awards worldwide as the man known as "The Jew Hunter". The film's script also won numerous awards. Fans of Quentin's will love this, others will perhaps be bored and scoff, I was sort of in-between: there are much better WW2 films, but there are worse Tarantino films; in fact, this may be his best after Pulp Fiction.
Currently ranked #86 on the IMDB top 250
Friday, May 14, 2010
Lajos Koltai, Hungary-Germany-UK, 2005 (8.2*)
Based on the true story of 14-yr old Hungarian Jew Gyorgy, played by Marcell Nagy, who was sent first to Auschwitz then Buchenwald by the Nazis. Beautifully shot in b&w, from a novel by Nobel-winning author Imre Kertész. At the time he's coming of age, for a normal teen, Gyorgy is having to both learn to survive and also to learn what it means to be Jewish and persevere centuries of persecution.
Certainly not a pleasant story, but still an inspiring one. Nagy is excellent in the title role, aided by production being shut down for awhile to find new investors, giving the young actor the appearance of being severely aged by the travails of the concentration camps. This is an overlooked holocaust film, and Jewish Heritage Month is a good time to view this one if you haven't, as it's one of the better made films of this genre from a technical basis. Kudos to director Koltai for adapting the novel into a powerful visual statement of man's inhumanity.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Rob Marshall, 2009 (7.7*)
Like a Fellini film, this musical tribute to his classic 8½ is a bit surreal and disjointed, but is still entertaining to watch. The cast, featuring no less than seven Oscar®-winning actors, is very good throughout, even though many are here just to perform one musical number each. In particular, Kate Hudson and Penelope Cruz are surprisingly good singers, and Fergie, Nicole Kidman, and Judi Dench are also better than expected. We already knew that the superb Marion Cotillard, understated here, could not only sing but act.
Perhaps the biggest waste is that Daniel Day Lewis doesn't get to display his skills much, and the ageless Sophia Loren is relegated to a minor role as his mother, though she does deliver her song quite well - who knew she could also sing? Lewis plays filmmaker Guido Contini, who has no script but some exciting ideas in his head, which become this film, individually exciting but no cohesion, just like his life.
The best parts of this film are the art direction, the music, and the cinematography, which is partially done in b&w to simulate the look of Fellini films. There's also a touching scene with Lewis and Dench at the waterfront of a small coastal town. Fans of musicals won't be disappointed at all, as this is at the level of a Bob Fosse production. Though shunned by most critics, it received ten nominations from the broadcast film critics, but only four Oscar® nominations, including Cruz for supporting actress.
Find the video for Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" number, which took six weeks of rehearsal, and is terrific - she's even dressed like her mother, Goldie Hawn, a go-go dancer in the 60's, and who only wished she could sing like her daughter.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Fred Zinnemann, 1955 (7.4*)
This musical is so corny that it actually begins with Gordon McCrae as cowboy Curly riding beneath corn "as high as an elephant's eye" as he sings in the opening song 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning'. Though not a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan myself (too simplistic and childish for me), I'll have to admit that I found myself singing this song for days afterwards, as it's definitely one of their best. In fact, this musical, their first, is probably their best overall, and I'd include 'Surrey With the Fringe on Top' as another of their best songs. Apparently in this obviously 19th century time frame, this was the best transportation available for impressing a woman on a date.
The story here won't hold much examination as it features the odd competition for Shirley Jones' affections (her first role) between McRae and the burly but thick-headed Rod Steiger as farmhand Judd. For some reason, director Zinnemann chose nearly an entire cast of non-singing actors, such as the awful Gloria Grahame (her singing may cause severe spinal pain) and Edward Albert as a traveling Persian salesman - no kidding. An odd choice, given that McRae is perhaps the best musical singer ever - his talent makes the others fairly unendurable, but may give one goosebumps as he hits all the high notes as well.
The pacing is pretty uneven, especially the unending picnic lunch auction-social dance scene, which unnecessarily seems to take up a third of the entire film - a scene which also implies that you can buy a woman for good, given that McRae and Steiger each risk their entire life's fortune for a meal of Shirley's - this also seems to border on the idea of 'women for sale' to the highest bidder. The story would probably have been better if made less serious (such as the final confrontation) and more humorous, for those lighter moments are the outstanding memories of this pleasant if hokey and cornball entertainment. The mouth-watering color in the dvd restoration makes this a must-see for fans of musicals of either the Hollywood or Broadway variety. Winner of two Oscars®
Note: I actually gave this a slightly higher rating than the fans at IMDB, where it's rated 7.1, but by only just over 4,000 viewers. One viewer wrote "a must for fans of Western musicals" - puzzling since the only other one I can recall is the terrible Paint Your Wagon, though I guess one can include The Harvey Girls, and perhaps Seven Brides for Seven Brothers as 'westerns'. Still, it's the tiniest of sub-genres, so this one is clearly tops. "Oklahoma, OK!"
Monday, May 3, 2010
Billy Wilder, 1966, bw (7.8*)
Ok, maybe not Wilder's best comedy, but it may well be the best performance by Walter Matthau, earning him a well-deserved Oscar® for supporting actor, after mostly undistinguished minor dramatic roles. This is also his first teaming with Jack Lemmon, as he plays the shyster lawyer brother-in-law of Lemmon's sideline football cameraman for CBS, injured on a punt return by Boom Boom Jefferson (Ron Rich). You can see the ambulance-chasing wheels turning in Matthau's every move as he seeks to extract a huge financial award from the insurance company for Lemmon's faked back injury.
For his part, Lemmon has to play mostly straight man with morals to Matthau's oily smooth orchestrations as nearly all the comedy comes from the parody of lawyers without any scruples when money is involved. The funniest scenes are when Wilder parodies our overly litiginous society, all the lawyers are hilarious caricatures of men with nothing but dollar signs in mind. The more serious issues injected here, such as Boom Boom's alcoholism, dampen the comedic flow somewhat and keep this from being as funny as it could have been.
Wilder is one of the great directors, here's a small list of his best films:
The Front Page, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Lost Weekend, The Spirit of St. Louis, One Two Three, Ace in the Hole, The Seven Year Itch, Sabrina, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Witness For the Prosecution.