Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt, 2010 (8.6*)
Independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt makes sparse and esoteric films that will appeal to the more artistic and discerning cinephile rather than the average cinemaniac. This is not your typical western.

In this western taking place in 1845, a small wagon train of three families on their way to farm in Oregon has hired a mountain man named Meek (Bruce Greenwood) as their guide. Promising them a shortcut to a pass in the Cascade mountains, the group basically becomes lost in the high, arid eastern Oregon desert. With their water running out and food low, the group becomes increasingly split over which direction to proceed, whether to continue trusting their guide or simply head north toward the Columbia River.

Along the way they begin to see a lone Native American almost stalking them. Fulfilling their stereotypical paranoia, some men go capture him and bring him back. Meek especially seems to keep inferring they are little more than animals, and are much better dead, and the living are much safer with them gone. However, deferring to the women, especially a gun-toting and headstrong Michelle Williams, the men decide to keep him alive, but tied up as their prisoner.

Now the group has another dilemna – can this wilderness survivor help them survive? For a western, this is a pretty existential story, from Jonathan Raymond, who often pens Reichardt’s films – and who has also used the name Slats Grobnik. Yo, Slats!

This story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s still a beautifully shot western, subtle and tasteful, with ethereal and sparingly used music by Jeff Grace . The cast is perfect, they all even look like dirty, smelly western pioneers, even veterans Bruce Greenwood and Will Patton.

Director Kelly Reichardt


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Spiral Staircase

Robert Siodmak, 1945, bw (8.8*)
Even though this now looks like a film of scary movie cliches, back in its time, it was one of those few films that made true cinema suspense and made it artfully. You might call this film an archetype of the modern psycho-killer film, and now it's been remastered.

A serial killer is targeting women around town that have various types of afflictions. A very young Dorothy McGuire, in the performance of her lifetime, plays a mute women, who, alone in a large house during a storm, begins to feel a hidden menace, as if she is perhaps the killer’s next target.

This is Siodmak’s best directing job to me, as it’s a beautifully shot early film noir, with lots of darkness and shadows casting eerie shapes across the living, as if the darkness itself is somehow grasping at the innocents. It’s not often that a film can maintain fear and suspense with any veracity, yet this film manages to and to also be re-shown often over 60 years later and after perhaps a hundred-thousand less artistic imitations.

The entire film was shot on a soundstage, which makes it even more amazing. It had the look of a small film, but it wasn’t - this was a David O. Selznick Production (Gone With the Wind), and co-starred George Brent and Ethel Barrymore.

It’s more often what you don’t show that is more menacing, our greatest fear is the unknown. I think Siodmak’s film is a very good example of that for most of these modern ‘horror’ filmmakers.

It's amazing to me that this film didn't make any of the film polls in our compendium, at all. At IMDB, it's average rating is 7.6, about .4 away from the top 250, so it's likely in the top 1000 there, which they don't post. Our compendium came up with almost 2300 films mentioned in all the polls put together and this wasn't listed once.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Third Man

Carole Reed, 1949, bw (8.6*)
Grand Jury Prize, Cannes
[Our 800th film review]

Classic mystery-suspense film from an often overlooked director, who also directed the classic films Odd Man Out, the Oscar®-winning best picture Oliver! (1967), and my favorite, Joseph Conrad’s Outcast of the Islands, a moody and emotional existential drama about white men among tropical Pacific islanders in a hard to reach eden surrounded by ocean reefs.

In this story based on a Graham Greene novel, Joseph Cotton travels to post-war Vienna after hearing of the death of a friend, Harry Lyme (Orson Welles). In his search for exactly what happened, he begins to uncover a web of deceit, and perhaps finds out more than he bargains for when first starting out.

Beautifully shot in noirish black-and-white, it features a chase in the sewers that is reminiscent of that in the novel (and subsequent films) Les Miserables. I can’t reveal too much without spoiling an important part of the mystery for new viewers.

Probably the only negative here for me is the incessant zither music that is more akin to an outdoor café in Istanbul than a mystery – I found it totally intruding on the suspense of the film and also totally unnecessary, not adding anything positive to the experience of this film.

It’s a odd choice, as the only other music I remember in any Reed film was in the actual musical Oliver!, in which someone had the crazy idea of setting Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist as a Broadway musical! (“One boy, one boy for sale!”) It worked in a bizarre modern psychosis kind of way, but did win a directing Oscar for Reed himself, long overdue for better films. Still, all his work is worth seeing, he’s a master.

This is now 23rd all-time on our top 1000 in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls, and is #68 on the IMDB top 250 (so the critics liked it even more than the public, it's higher on our compendium of polls).This was the Grand Prize winner at Cannes, and won an Oscar® for the cinematography of Robert Krasker.


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fireman's Ball

Milos Forman, Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia back then), 1967, bw (8.2*)
I found Fireman’s Ball to be hilarious, it’s like the “fireman’s ball from hell”. A small town fire department decides to have both it's annual ball as well as an 86th birthday celebration for the former fire chief at the same time.

One main attraction is a big group of door prizes, as one's entrance ticket is also a raffle ticket for these. However, as the film progresses, the door prizes slowly go missing one by one. Another big attraction is the annual beauty pageant. Unfortunately there are no beauties, and even those few are unwilling and flee. The elder firemen resort to drafting reluctant participants from the dance floor.

Nothing really goes according to plan in this comedy of errors. There's a hilarious climax that I can't reveal here, but suffice to say it's more irony-laced humor in this early comic classic from Forman. It's not a big-budget major film like his Oscar® winners shot here (Amadeus (1984) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)), but it was a nominee for best foreign language film in 1969.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The General

Buster Keaton, 1927, bw, silent (9.2*)
For me, Keaton was the real silent film master of comedy, not Chaplin. Keaton’s ingenius stunts and nearly constant movement defined the word pace, his films seemed to speed by like the title subject in this film, the famous Confederate locomotive known as The General, stolen by Union troops in this story based on a true incident. Keaton the engineer is determined to get his train back and the real winner is the audience in this perfect example of a brisk silent comedy.

A classic of the decade and one of the best comedies of all time. Ranked #35 all time on our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Beaver

Jodie Foster, 2011 (8.2*)
I liked this bizarre psychological study, that starts out funny but soon turns serious. Mel Gibson is at his best here, if you can get over his personal issues, and there is some gallows humor in the beginning for those who hate him, they will be smiling. He is also allowed to use his real Aussie accent, or maybe what he thought Americans would like to hear as a smart-ass Aussie, in this case speaking as a character called simply The Beaver.

He plays a chronic depressive, married to an exasperated Jodie Foster. Somewhere along the way he manages to get a beaver toy on his hand and it starts talking back to him but in Mel's Aussie voice, rather than his character Walter's real American accent - and he actually makes sense, so this intelligence is within Walter somewhere. Jodie even asks "and what's with the accent?", which alone was pretty funny. The two worked well onscreen together, likely due to both her professionalism and her direction here.

This story is hard to describe without giving too much away, but there is a sidebar story with Walt's unhappy and distant son (Anton Yelchin), who's becoming friends with local high school beauty and class valedictorean Norah, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who was Oscar®-nominated for lead actress in last year's crime mystery Winter's Bone (2010). They become friends in an unexpected way that I won't reveal, only that this part of the film was perhaps a little disjointed from the rest of the story, it seemed to have very little to do with Walter and the Beaver, while the rest of the film revolved around little else.

Still, this film didn't make me angry at times like Forrest Gump did, which I felt was taking advantage of someone's mental state. The difference is that in this film Walter is the CEO of a toy company with a sharp business mind, who seems down for little reason, or at least reasons we aren't privy to know - it's something from his past and his parents that we can only guess at. Foster's delicate direction (this is her best at the helm) kept this from going overboard in any direction.

Even if you're a Mel hater, you may be surprised by his acting here, it's far better than all the revenge films, where he's out for vengance on some criminal that kidnapped his kid or wife or killed one or more - that seems to have been at least half his storylines from Mad Max to Braveheart to Payback to Ransom to Edge of Darkness, maybe even The Patriot. At least this is a psycho CEO with a beaver puppet on his hand doing all his intelligent talking. Were this a little funnier, it would be a cult classic like Heathers (1989) or Repo Man (1984).


About Me

My photo
Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

About This Blog

This is our new template: ProBlogger.

These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

Author at EZines

  © Blogger templates ProBlogger Template by 2008

Back to TOP