Friday, May 14, 2010

Trailer Impressions: Inception

The newest film by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Momento, Insomnia) called Inception has been pretty mysterious to say the least. Over the past few months all we have seen of the film has been a few surreal scenes involving the lead Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can, Blood Diamond, Shutter Island). However, after the most recent trailer a lot more of the films plot has been revealed. First, the film seems to center around a not-to-distant future organization which specializes in invading the dreams of the sleeping. Up until this most recent trailer all we have really seen was DiCaprio in the film. However, this most recent trailer has highlighted the supporting cast. Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are highlighted in particular. It seems that Ellen Page is playing the new recruit to the dream catcher organization (hired right out of college it seems). Gordon-Levitt seems to be the hotshot second in command. I was very surprised to see both of these actors in the trailer since I was not aware of the fact that they were even in the film. I was excited to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt working with Nolan since I believe Levitt is one of this generations best actors and Nolan is one of the best working directors of this generation.
The plot of the film seems to revolve around DiCaprio's character training Page's character at first. There is also a mention of DiCaprio "finding a way home" after "this last job."
One of the things that struck me about the trailer were its visuals. A film that deals with dreams would have a tendency to go in the way of the bizarre (think the dream sequences in Terry Gilliam's Brazil) however, it seems that Nolan is going for a much more real look at our dreams. DiCaprio's character mentions that "Dreams feel real while we're in them, it's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange" and it seems that that statement is the theme of this film. While the visuals of Inception look to be interesting they are all very real. We see office buildings, snowy mountains, and hotel hallways. There are no psychotic clowns running around and there are no strange nightmare creatures. It seems that Nolan is going to take a real look at the reasons why we dream and how it alters our perception of reality.
So as you may have guessed by now I am really looking forward to this movie. This is probably the one film I am very excited for this whole summer and it's probably the only film I'll have any interest in seeing at midnight.

Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Film Is Like Food

Film is like food. Surprise surprise right? Let me explain what I mean by breaking up the different kinds of film into different kinds of categories based on different food categories. Let us begin.

1. Junk Food

Junk food is something that is a lot of fun and while it might not have any real nutritional value it does briefly put your hunger pains to rest. When you're young you think junk food is amazing. You'd rather have a bag of Doritos than a steak. However, as you grow older junk food begins to lose its hold on you. Slowly but surely you desire something better, something with a bit more substance. This is the category where a lot of action films, such as the entire filmography of Michael Bay and McG. While the works of these men aren't great or even good by any stretch of the imagination they are something that can be watched and enjoyed. They usually involve a lot of explosions and attractive females. The stories will be basic and usually are nothing more than an overblown McGuffin quest. These films will not even attempt to challenge any of the viewers ideals or beliefs however they will try to shove some sort of moral about the film that is usually at the most preachy and at worst totally counter to what we've seen in the rest of the film (in the end the hero learns the value of human life after blasting his way through hundreds of "baddies" to make it to his end goal). After junk Food what's next?

2. Hors D'Oeuvres

Hors D'Oeuvres are basically classy snacks. These delicious treats have a bit of depth and aren't very easy to prepare but they still leave you wanting more.Many times they're simply something to wet your appetite for the main course. These are just like high end action films such as The Terminator. These films closely resemble the Snack Food category but they have a little something more. Usually you can't quite describe it but they're always just a step above most action films you watch. I also put good short films (such as the famous Pixar Shorts) in this category. They're good but you just need something a bit more to truly satisfy your appetite.

3. The Entree

Finally! Something you can really sink your teeth into! Entree's (if you've ordered the right one) are a filling and delicious meal. There's plenty on your plate to chow down on to satisfy all but the biggest of appetites. There is usually a good amount of skill involved in making these great dishes and, if you're a true connoisseur, you'll try as many different varieties as possible. If you're truly brave, you'll eventually move on to foreign cuisine. It may take you awhile to get used to the strange flavors and different textures but in time you'll learn to love the variety. Good/great films with a lot of depth are just like this. Whether it's classics such as The Godfather, Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind or modern great films such as Fight Club, Up In The Air, and Fargo these films are worth trying. Many times you will have to expand your film pallet before attempting to consume and fully appreciate these films. However, the more films you watch the more you begin to understand and appreciate what these films have accomplished. Eventually you can move on to the great foreign cinema masterpieces. Most will start with the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s or the Monty Python films. From there they will flow into mainstream Italian and French cinema. Slowly but surely you will begin to understand and appreciate the subtle difference between our own film style and those of our European cousins. Eventually you will flow out even further to encompass the entire world's cinematic experiences then finally you will be ready for the fourth type of film food.

4. The Delicacy

Not many are ready to brave these strange waters of culinary consumption. Here you will find some of the oddest things imaginable. Things like live squid, fish eyeballs, and raw intestines. You will usually only eat these things initially because a friend of yours loves them and insists you try it. You'll fake a smile as you try your best to eat what is put before so as to not seem rude. At first you will absolutely hate it. You will think it's garbage, it's crap, it's absolutely not worth putting into your mouth. However, if you're given the food enough you'll begin to understand it. Slowly but surely you'll start to comprehend the intricate flavors and complexities of these rare food finds. What are commonly referred to as "Art House Films" are much the same. You will absolutely hate them at first. You'll think "This is a stupid film, why the heck am I watching this!?" However, given time you'll begin to truly understand these films. Films like 400 Blows, Brazil, or Diary of a Country Priest. Soon you'll love these kinds of films and they'll be one of your favorite types of films to consume if for no other reason then their uniqueness.

Now, you're probably thinking "Isaac, you sure seemed to cover every kind of film there is!" Well, imaginary question asker, you are almost right. There is one last category that is truly unique and that only the real film fanatic can appreciate. That type of film is...

5. Garbage

Garbage is absolutely gross. There is no redeeming qualities to it at all. It stinks, it tastes bad, and the only reason you've ever gone near it is to fulfill a dare of some kind or to have a good laugh with your friends. To the commoner trash has no real value but to someone who truly understands trash it can be a recipe for some of the greatest comedies ever made. Film trash is, once again, exactly the same. Almost no one watches these terrible movies such as Quest For The Mighty Sword, or Troll 2 except those who just can't get enough of horrible movies. The dialog is terrible, the acting sucks, the (what I laughingly call) cinematography is beyond bad, and the production values are less than that of a single coffee break of Lost. So why watch these? Why consume these terrible pieces of media at all? Simple. They're absolutely hysterical! Trashy films will produce amounts of laughter on par with the best comedies ever made.

So that's all of it! All five categories of film (in my personal opinion).

A Written Review: Ordinary People

Ordinary People is one of the better character pieces I’ve seen in a long time. Robert Redford shows his particular brand of direction, which I believe he later perfected with A River Runs Through It. The acting in this film is absolutely sublime. From Mary Tyler Moore’s Oscar nominated performance to Timothy Hutton’s absolutely stunning portrayal of Conrad all the acting in this film is phenomenal.
One of the things I enjoyed about most about Ordinary People are the subdued visuals. Very often a director, when doing a piece of suburban life, tries to making everything look picture perfect, like something out of a Tide commercial, so that it is easier to see the corruption that lies beneath this “perfect” exterior. However, Redford doesn’t use such simple tactics. He shows a real family living a real life. Most people would consider the family to be perfectly normal which makes their problems all the more effective. We see ourselves in this family, we don’t judge them (unless you’re Greg Beck who seems to hate this movie simply because Raging Bull lost to it) and we want to see how everything comes out in the end.
Something else worth mentioning is Timothy Hutton in his role as Conrad. I have seen many teenage performances before. Never before have I seen a role played with such layered complexity and genuine emotion as Hutton. His acting in this film is nothing short of stunning and he easily deserved the Academy Award he got for the role.
So, in the end Ordinary People is an amazingly crafted film. From the well conceived visuals to the stunning performance by Hutton this film is amazing. Redford would make many great films after Ordinary People but I believe this is far and away one of his absolute best.

A Written Review: The Godfather

The Godfather is quite easily one of the best films ever made. It certainly defined almost an entire genre of film and nearly created a sub-genre itself. From the dark script, moody lighting, fantastic cinematography, to the incredible acting, this film blow most other films out of the water.
One of the best parts of The Godfather is the stark realism used in the film. Up until this point, even in the famed gangster era of Universal Studios back in the 30’s and 20’s, the gangster genre was always somewhat on the mythical side as opposed to true realism. The Godfather took a true, gritty, and real look at the mob and what they do. The writing also was able to create real characters and interesting characters without having any of them turn into caricature.
Also, the performances in this film are iconic. Marlon Brando in the role of Don Vito Corleone was absolutely incredible. He won, and famously refused, the Oscar for best actor. However, even though Brando made the film, every single actor from Al Pacino to Diane Keaton did an incredible job and played their various parts to perfection.
The cinematography in this film was also amazing. This was one of the first films of the time that made the camera almost a character itself. This also helped the lighting enormously, which once again helped tell the story.
This film is going to go down in history as one of the best films ever made. It’s incredible acting, wonderful cinematography, and amazing technical prowess helped put this film in its place as one of the greatest films ever made.

A Written Review: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a very good film. It had some excellent writing, good acting, and all around good cinematography. However, the film’s main focus isn’t on any of these more technical aspects. The main defining feature is, of course, the way the film deals with the issue of racism. While this film’s accomplishments in the area of racism are still dwarfed by its predecessor, To Kill A Mocking Bird, it still managed to strike a chord with middle America.
The acting in this film was very good. This was due to, in large part, to the all-star cast. From Spencer Tracy all the way to Katherine Hepburn, the casting in this film was top notch, reminiscent of 12 Angry Men in the way that every single actor played their part beautifully.
The script in this film was also quite good. While I do feel parts of the film could have been trimmed down, the screenplay felt real. In real life people tend to repeat things to drive the point home and while I do feel that some of the recap and rehashing of previous events by certain characters was excessive I do feel that almost all of the characters felt like real people to me.
All-in-all, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a good movie and close to a great movie. With performances by some of the top actors of the day and a hard hitting story, this film has continued to reverberate its message through its decades of release. While I wouldn’t call this one of my favorite films of all time, I will say that it’s one I’m glad I watched.

A Written Review: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I seem to be one of the few people who still thoroughly enjoy the old style of the spaghetti western. Most people see them as boring and the characters as undeveloped. Some don’t see the point to them or just plain don’t get them. I on the other hand love them to death. Everything from A Few Dollars More to Once Upon A Time In The West, I just love this genre of film. The Good The Bad And The Ugly is my favorite of the genre. Everything from the absolutely breathtaking score by Ennio Morricone to the fantastic subdued acting, to the amazing cinematography makes this film a movie worth seeing.
Firstly, many people may criticize the admittedly shoddy dubbing job done in this film. What many might not know is that the term “spaghetti western” refers to a western film that was directed and produced by the Italians. These films were usually shot in southern Italy or Spain so as to make cost of producing them much lower. The film’s cast usually consisted of Italian or Spanish actors and usually an up-and-coming Hollywood star, such as Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, or an older Hollywood star, such as Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West. So, most of the actors were speaking Italian so what may look like a terrible ADR job is actually very good for the time period it was shot in (this was the same time as the famously terrible Godzilla films from Japan).
You cannot talk about The Good The Bad And The Ugly without talking about Ennio Morricone’s absolutely breathtaking score. The film’s iconic Il buono, Ill cattivo, Ill brutto would become one of the most iconic pieces of music associated with the old west. Whenever one thinks of a song they would want to dual to the death to, this would be it. Also, the final song L’estasi dell’oro (The Ecstasy of Gold) would be considered among Morricone’s best work.
One of my favorite parts of The Good The Bad And The Ugly is the acting. While many may find the acting cheesy and over the top or in the case of Eastwood, extremely subdued, I absolutely adored the acting. Eastwood’s amazing portrayal of The Man With No Name, a role he would later deconstruct in Unforgiven, is so iconic. The stoic unflinching, unmoving, and unchanging character is one of my favorites. This doesn’t make The Man With No Name a useless character though. He does go through situations that he hadn’t planned for, like the time he is captured by Tuco. However, it always seems that Blondie is a step ahead of everyone else. It is a great role, and one any actor could have had a lot of fun with.
Finally, the cinematography for this film was absolutely amazing. From the huge sweeping landscape shots to the up close and personal close-ups this film looks amazing. While many may not like the long takes on the actors face I really am impressed that an actor was able to hold that kind of expression for so long.
While I don’t think The Good The Bad And The Ugly is a perfect movie I still thoroughly enjoy it and it easily tops out my list of best spaghetti westerns and is in my top five westerns period. Everything from the music to the cinematography made this movie a joy to watch. I can understand why some don’t understand or like this style of western but there’s something about it these films that I just love. Maybe it’s every man’s desire to conquer an untamed land or to dual at high noon or maybe it’s just me but I adore these tales of the old west.

A Written Review: The Seven Samurai

The film Seven Samurai was an extremely important film historically. The base storyline for Seven Samurai would be reused in various films for years. Also, the techniques used inside of this film would be echoed in both Japanese and American cinema for years.
The story for Seven Samurai has been recycled and reused for years. Whether it’s the western adaptation The Magnificent Seven or the animated film A Bug’s Life, Seven Samurai has been the inspiration for many films. The story of the few standing up for the many and finding hidden strength inside themselves to do it, has resonated in the human spirit for hundreds of years and Akira Kurosawa was one of the first to tap into that with Seven Samurai.
Another, major contribution that Kurosawa gave to film was that of the techniques used in Seven Samurai. Using things such as a large ensemble cast with mini story arches within the main arch and many expansive sets were executed so well inside of this film.
The Seven Samurai is one of the most influential films ever made (just look at almost any list of influential films by any major director within the past half a century). From the magnificent story to the perfected techniques this film deserves as one of the best in history.

A Written Review: Open City

Open City was a great film. Whether it was the new kind of cinematography that was developed for the film, the use of natural lighting and actual locations, or the use of actors who had a grasp of subtlety and realism all contributed to how good Open City was.
As an actor I saw real leaps made in the craft of film acting for this film. Up until Open City, even in great films such as Casablanca or Citizen Kane, the acting was never quite up to par with later films. The craft of film acting was still in its infancy and much of film acting up until Open City was flamboyant and overdramatic. The choice by the director to use non-actors in this film was a brilliant one and helped show how a realistic performance, as opposed to a theatrical one, could be used.
The use of actual footage that the Nazi’s left as they fled Rome was an absolutely brilliant move on the director’s part and the new style developed by Open City would be used for years to come.
Also, something must be said of the director himself: Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini was able to put together real puzzle of cinematic genius. Every part of Open City slid into place so easily that only a great director could have pulled off so successfully. After seeing this film Ingrid Bergman “Fell in love” with Rossellini, even though they had never met. She then proceeded to divorce her husband, fly to Italy, and marry the director (Those crazy European girls!).
Open City is a great film that will be studied and talked about for years to come. It’s newly developed film, acting, location selection styles would usher in a new age of filmmaking.

A Written Review: Les Miserables

This less than perfect, but still enjoyable, adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel has its good and bad qualities. From Liam Neeson and Geoffry Rush's excellent portrayal of Jean Valjean and Javert to the excellent set design and camera work, this film is very solid.
Now, as some may have noted, I did not rave about this film as some of my fellow students have. You may ask "Why is this?" Well, it's quite simple. I was raised on the novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I remember reading the, extremely thick book, for the first time when I was about 12 or 13. It is, literally, my favorite piece of fiction ever written. I, being an ex-theater major, also adore the musical and find that it's probably the best adaptation of this classic novel all-around. I have also seen, quite literally, half a dozen adaptations of this book. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages but none of them seem to quite capture the spirit of Hugo's novel. There's always something missing and I am going to tell you right now what is missing from the Neeson/Rush adaptation:
Thénardier. This character is consistently shafted in all adaptations of this book. The character is either downsized to where it can barely be called a character or is taken out completely. This is a huge mistake on the parts of the those who have written the various film adaptations because Thénardier serves a vital role in the narrative (even aside from his role as a plot driver). Where as Jean Valjean serves his purpose to show us how mercy can change a once cruel man into a good man, and Javert is there as an example of following the law to the letter, neither of these characters are ever "evil". Valjean at the beginning of the story is simply angry and misguided and Javert, who is normally painted as the "bad guy", is simply doing his job. Thénardier on the other hand is a true blue portrait of evil. His actions show us another great lesson on life. When this character is removed we lose something in the lessons we can learn from it. This is why I think the musical was so successful.
All-in-all I think the film could have benefited immensely from an extra hour or hour and a half of run time. Too many of the plots felt rushed or passed over completely, especially that of Thénardier. However, the film does a lot right, I just feel that it still isn't a great representation of the beautiful novel by Victor Hugo.

A Written Review: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is probably the definition of classic 2D animation (being the first feature length animated feature can do that I supposed). Whether it’s the breathtaking hand drawn animation, bubbly musical numbers, and the clever writing this film deserves its place in history.
One of the defining features of Snow White is of course the absolutely breathtaking animation. It’s hard to believe that this film was released in 1937 because of how amazing the animation does look. Compared to today’s animated films, which have over 70 years of technological advancements, this film still stands up as being one of the best looking 2D animated films ever.
You can’t talk Snow White without talking about the music. Snow White’s ridiculously high soprano, while annoying at times to our modern sensibility, is beyond impressive. The Seven Dwarfs amazing harmonized songs, such as “Heigh-Ho”, are still classics that almost every child knows.
Also, something can be said of the writing for this film. While many may not find it to be particularly outstanding for the time in animation the film is quite impressive. Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story of Snow White, which in its original form is quite a dark, sexual, and all around scary tale is quite good and he made something the whole family could, and did, enjoy.
So in the end, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic among classics in the 2D animated arena. From the great songs to the amazing animation, this film is one that should be studied by any animation lover worth his salt.

A Written Review: West Side Story

West Side Story is one of the better musical film adaptations ever made. While West Side Story as both a film and a musical is not one of my favorites it is an amazing accomplishment considering the subject material contained within the film, and the incredible sound design are quite impressive.
One of the most impressive things about West Side Story is the content of the film itself. The early 1960s was still an unsafe time for more mature themes to be used in films. Several times in West Side Story various drugs are referred to and the idea of the street gangs being the kings of the city was also something most films from this era would tend to shy away from. However, Broadway was always a step ahead of Hollywood in the social issue arena.
Another aspect of West Side Story is its wonderful sound design. West Side Story had some of the best dubbing I’ve seen in a musical for this era. However, a lot of this film was shot on a sound stage, making the sound a lot easier to manipulate and use. The end result is that all of the songs are crystal clear and the dialog sounds incredible.
West Side Story was an amazing film that moved both musicals and the film industry forward in many aspects. From the edgy source material to the amazing sound design, West Side Story is absolutely revolutionary.

A Written Review: Hill Street Blues

Hill Street Blues was a very unique series for its time. While it might seem very cliché to our modern sensibility Hill Street Blues practically invented many of the clichés that are common in most police dramas. Also, the use of a long for story was quite unique to a show made in this period. The acting was also very good.
I really enjoyed the acting in Hill Street Blues. Acting in this era of television (the early 80’s) tended to be fairly awful and not that nuanced or complicated. Not quite so much as more modern police dramas.
There was some fairly good camera work done for this show, once again, especially considering the time it was made. The 1980s are known for having some very shoddy camera work. Other cop shows of the period (such as later seasons of Hawaii Five-O) didn’t have particularly amazing camera work.
Also, the idea that there were several on-going arcs between the various seasons of Hill Street Blues in a time period where one episode story arcs were the norm was a brave move on the series producer and directors.
All-in-all, Hill Street Blues was an interesting series. Even though I only saw four episodes I am very interested in the rest of the series. As much as I love modern cop dramas such as Life or The Shield I do love some of the older, cheesier, cop shows such as Hill Street Blues. I would suggest anyone who does enjoy cop shows you should see Hill Street Blues.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Written Review: Gentleman's Agreement

The film Gentlemen’s Agreement was a great film. It was one of the first films to really deal with the ideas of anti-Semitism and, by extension, racism in general. The film is also acted extremely well, had some awesome cinematography, and was shot in several beautiful locations.
Due to the film being set in New York Gentlemen’s Agreement had some wonderful indoor sets. One of the great things about filming a movie set in New York is that you can have an amazing set for almost every single restaurant, home, or hotel. Whether it’s the slummy homes or the upper crust restaurants all of the set pieces in this film look fantastic.
Also, the acting in this film was great. The work from the lead, Frederick Peisley, was fantastic as was the work from his female opposite Vivien Leigh. Both were able to pull off a degree of realistic simplicity that most films made in the 1930s completely lacked. There wasn’t a lot of blown up drama and none of the characters were one dimensional (a real problem for studio system movies during this time period).
Also, the cinematography in this film was absolutely wonderful. Some of the shots composed for this film are wonderful even though most of them try not to draw attention to themselves. The cinematography really served the script. It did what it was supposed to do and nothing more.
All-in-all, Gentlemen’s Agreement was an extremely good film. It was one of the first films that began to really deal with the idea of racism and specifically American racism. It would inspire films such as To Kill A Mocking Bird later on.

A Written Review: On The Waterfront

The film On The Waterfront is one I have been wanting to watch for a long time. I had heard a lot about it since I was very young but somehow I hadn’t ended up seeing it till now. This film was of course the birthplace of such great lines such as “I could have been a contender!” and “I could have had class!” This film had some of the most impressive creative and technical aspects of any film I have seen. The acting, especially from Marlon Brando, was impressive as was the cinematography and lighting on the film was good.
One of the best parts of On The Waterfront is of course the acting by the great actor Marlon Brando. This was one of Brando’s early great roles and it earned him the Oscar for best actor in 1955. Brando’s subtle simplicity was one of the things I enjoyed most about this film. Most actors would simply dramatize everything. Brando decided to instead make his character of Terry Malloy a very real person. Also, the entire cast does some amazing things with the material they’re given such as Lee J. Cobb of 12 Angry Men fame.
Also, there is some absolutely beautiful black and white cinematography in this film. I am absolutely in love with B&W photography and this film has some of the best I’ve seen in years. Also the lighting for this film, as is par for the course on good black and white films, was absolutely fantastic. The director of photography really knew how to use shadows and had some very obvious influence from German expressionistic films.
All-in-all On The Waterfront was a great film that painted a vivid picture of America during the depression. It was well made and well acted, to just name a few of the areas of achievement.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Written Review: Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the most unique of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Whereas the last two films of the series fall into the epic genre, Fellowship is more of an ensemble adventure film. When this film premiered I was blown away by the technical and creative aspects of the movie and I have those same feelings to this day.
As a fan of the book series by Tolkien long before the movie was even announced I was skeptical as to whether or not a film version could be pulled off. The writers, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, pulled off this adaption with expert skill and craft. When I dreamed of adapting the Lord of the Rings series into film as a kid I made many of the same decisions that Jackson made when it came to what to cut and what to change. Considering Tolkien had the habit of jamming his books with so many vital plot points, side characters, and sometimes chapter long descriptions what Jackson and Walsh did is to be commended.
The acting in this film is also top of the line. From Elijah Wood’s underplayed Frodo, to Sir Ian McKellen’s almost perfect Gandalf (I still think Michael Hordern’s voice is a bit more “Gandalf-y” thank McKellen’s) this cast as able to hit all of the emotional highs and lows of their characters. Also, the chemistry between the entire cast is outstanding. There isn’t really a single character I would say seems out-of-place in the world or in The Fellowship itself.
Probably one of the most impressive feats of Fellowship however is on the technical side. Whether it was the massive miniatures (referred to as “Bigatures”), the amazing make-up, the handmade armor and weapons, the expansive sets, or the amazing CGI Fellowship still looks amazing almost a decade after its initial release.
The cinematography was also quite impressive. The staple of the series were the sweeping epic landscape shots which, if sitting to close to the screen, can give the viewer a sense of vertigo.
Someone could literally talk for hours about this film, and if you watch the Appendices on the special edition disc they do, and it’s so hard to boil the movie down to a few simple paragraphs. However, one can say this: Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest accomplishments in modern cinema. It will forever be held as one of the great epics along with others like Braveheart, Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With The Wind, and Birth of a Nation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Written Review: Casablanca

The film Casablanca is actually my second favorite movie all time. If there is one film every film major must see before they are to be taken even remotely seriously, it’s this one. Whether it’s the fantastic acting from both Bogart and Bergman, the beautiful cinematography, the stunning lighting, dead on direction, or the indescribably good writing this film is about as close to perfect as a film can get (besides my favorite film of all time Sunset Blvd. of course).
Firstly, while I mentioned Bogart and Bergman whom this film belongs to something must be said about the supporting cast of this film. Every single cast member, no matter how small a role they might have played, played their respective characters to perfection. From Claude Rains’ humors turn as Captain Renault (Who steals almost every scene he’s in) or Dooley Wilson’s amazingly understated role as Sam the entire ensemble cast of this movie deserves respect that most lead actors in modern cinema do not. However, while the ensemble is fantastic the film does belong to Bergman and Bogart. Both play the emotional highs and lows of this film without crossing the line into melodrama. I’ve never seen a woman look as beautiful as Ingrid Bergman did in this film and never have yet to see an actor be able to play understated charisma like Bogart.
Next, the cinematography in this film was beyond belief. The director of photography was able to do everything from the extreme close-ups of Bergman and Bogart to the sweeping city and landscape shots of Casablanca itself. Also, the film pulls of the transition from the dry desert of Africa to the bustling cityscape of Paris, France so easily that until later viewings I never even realized what an accomplishment this was (especially considering the time period this film was made).
Also, aside from the cinematography itself the lighting for this movie blew me away. The style was constantly changing from an almost German Expressionistic look during Rick’s darker, sulkier moments to an almost classic American style piece at the more lighthearted moments. Of course, you can’t talk about the lighting without speaking about what was done to make Bergman look almost angelic in all her scenes. The soft lighting that always surrounded her even during long shots with other male characters amazed me. I would not have been surprised if a halo suddenly appeared over Ingrid’s head at any point during this film.
The direction of Casablanca is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The entire film flows together so perfectly watching it reminds me of looking at an amazing painting for hours. This comes, of course, from a good director who knows how to pick his crew and actors and put those people where they belong. There isn’t a single aspect of this film I can say that could have been improved and this goes to show what an amazing director Michael Curtiz was.
Finally, the script, penned by Julius and Philip Epstein, is one of the best in film history. Both of these masters of the craft were able to take what many would consider to be a brooding story and naturally inject comedy and real humanity throughout the entire film. Some of the best writing is given to the character of Captain Renault. I have yet to not laugh when the character says the line “I am shocked, shocked, to find out that there is gambling going on in this establishment!” and then is handed his gambling winnings by a servant whom he quickly thanks and then continues to close down Rick’s. This is just one of the many scenes of humor sprinkled expertly throughout the film. This isn’t even mentioning the amazing lines such as “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and, of course, “Here’s looking at you kid” (which was actually adlibbed by Bogart so it doesn’t actually count as writing). Also, the intense scenes between Bogart and Bergman are literally tear inducing each time I see them.
All-in-all, Casablanca is simply one of the best examples of film out there. Every aspect of this film is as close to perfect as possible. Whether it’s the acting, cinematography, lighting, direction, or lighting this film nails all aspects of production. It’s so hard to talk about such an amazing film in such a short length of time. However, if there’s one thing I can say about Casablanca it’s this: This film is easily one of the most important films ever made and everyone should see it many, many times! If you haven’t seen it then why are you even reading this!? Go out and watch it! Now!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Written Review: Mutiny On The Bounty

The film Mutiny on the Bounty was an interesting film. The plot, loosely based on historical events, was interesting and the acting and technical aspects of the film were very impressive.
One of my biggest complaints of this film was the fact that the film was supposed to take place with the Royal Navy. However, many of the main actors had obvious American accents. Most notable among these was the character of Christian played by Clark Gable. From the moment Gable walked on screen to the final shot of the film he was so obviously American that it was difficult for me to take him seriously throughout the film. It was almost as ridiculous as seeing Tom Cruise trying to pass off as a German in Valkyrie.
However, the acting itself was very good. I especially liked Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Bligh. Clark Gable also did a good job but, as previously mentioned, his accent (or more specifically his lack of an accent) really bugged me.
The cinematography in this film was also very good. The shots of the ship pulling into port and the final shots the ship being rammed into the island and then being burned are impressive.
While I wouldn’t called Mutiny on the Bounty one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the last century it was an enjoyable movie. The technology developed to show a ship at sea more cinematically would be used for years and while the accents took away from some of the actor’s performances there were more than a few well played roles in this film and it is a film I would suggest watching.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Written Review: The Green Mile

The Green Mile was one of the most fascinating supernatural films based off of a Stephen King novel I’ve ever seen. The expert writing, beautiful technical execution, and amazing creative talent made this film a must-see experience.
The technical aspect of this film was awe inspiring. One shot in particular sticks in my head. The opening shot of the film where we see the various members of the community slowly walking through the fields looking for the two missing girls. The shot literally breath-taking and I watched it several times just to let it sink in. The lighting was also impressive. The use of shadows was in the prison was absolutely amazing.
The writing of this film was also extremely impressive. I myself have never read the novel The Green Mile so I cannot honestly say how closely the film follows the book. However, the film’s adaption was absolutely impeccable. If it weren’t for the fact that I had prior knowledge of the novel’s existence I would not have known this film was adapted from a book (which is, in my opinion, the mark of a truly great adaption).
Finally, the acting was absolutely superb. Michael Clark Duncan gives the performance of his career and Tom Hanks, as always, brings a real humanity to a role that some other might have found difficult to pull off.
I enjoyed the film The Green Mile to such an extent that I actually didn’t turn off the film until after the credits have rolled out of sheer reverence for the film I had just witnessed. This films aesthetic value was beyond explanation and the film should be viewed by anyone in love with this great art we call “Film.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Written Review: Frankenstein

The film Frankenstein is probably one of the most iconic films of the 1930’s. The line “It’s alive” is probably one of the most instantly recognizable lines in film history and has been used in countless other films and TV shows such as the recent action figure sketch comedy show Robot Chicken.
The creative aspects of Frankenstein were extremely good (especially for the time). It was great to see a good script finally come about due to the fact that this film was one of the newer “talkies.” The acting was also impeccable. Boris Karloff’s Monster sticks out in my mind as one of the more impressive sections of film acting out of this time period. One of the things that works so well about the time period that Frankenstein was produced was the fact that talking films were still coming into their own so actors like Boris Karloff were still trained on communicating with body language and facial expressions. I believe this was a huge plus to Karloff’s role as The Monster. Except for maybe Peter Boyle’s comic portrayal of The Monster in Young Frankenstein no one has been able to match Karloff’s silent beast.
In the technical aspects Frankenstein also scored high. From the impressive and expansive sets, to the absolutely beautiful cinematography, this film dragged you into the world of the story (even if you were kicking and screaming the whole way). The final scene where the angry mob burns down the barn where The Monster is taking shelter particularly stands out in my mind. Whereas most modern films would simply use a miniature or a digital set, in Frankenstein it’s quite apparent that an actual building was burnt. The way that the camera captured the flames licking high into the sky and being surrounded by the silhouettes of the various members of the mob is a stunning piece of camerawork.
My only issue with the film is that it ends abruptly with many lose ends still hanging in the balance. This is due to the fact that there is a direct sequel: The Bride of Frankenstein which I will be watching very soon.
Frankenstein is a classic and it deserves that title. The film impressed me in both its technical and artistic achievements. This film was yet another great stepping stone in film history.

A Written Review: Picket Fences

From the beginning of the first episode of Picket Fences one thing was extremely clear: This show was made in the 90’s for a 90’s audience. The opening titles alone made me remember the days of my youth watching things like 7th Heaven and Boy Meets World.
One of the problems I had with the show (or at least the episodes I saw of it) were some of the issues which were supposed to create tension in the series were a bit contrite. I remember the very first episode when the female character met her favorite musical artist and some of the dramatic tension was built on the fact that the musical artist would be playing at a bar and that the female lead didn’t know if she’d be able to go. While this might have seemed like a weighty issue back in the 90’s it isn’t quite relevant to us now. This is the age of the indie artist. I’ve been to more concerts in bars than I have been in actual venues. So while I’m sure the story held some dramatic chutzpah for its time, it doesn’t hold much water in our modern mind. Also, a lot of the acting had that 90’s cheesy over-dramatics that I’ve always hated about shows in that era.
Creative aspects aside, the show was very well made for its time. The sets were impressive and most of the costuming was dead on. The music was, once again, very 90’s (especially the opening theme). When I was looking up information for this show I’ve noticed that it has quite the cult following, is quite highly rated, and won several Emmy’s and Golden Globes when it aired. I am assuming that most of the problems which I had with the series initially probably dissipate later on.
While I can’t say that I adored Picket Fences I could see that there was a lot of potential in the series. The cast was strong and the idea of a community centered television show has always worked out well (Smallville, 7th Heaven, Arrested Development, to just name a few). So, while I won’t be personally recommending the show to any of my friends, I won’t critically condemn the show either.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Written Review: Living in Oblivion

The film Living in Oblivion was one of the best, and most realistic, looks at low-budget filmmaking I’ve ever seen. From the cinematography, to the acting everything was a perfect representation of what it’s like to film something with no budget.
I absolutely loved the way that the simple camera movements during the behind the scenes sections highlighted the absolutely fantastic dialogue and yet when the perspective changes to the film within the film, they give the film a much more cinematic look.
The acting was also fantastic. I’ve always love Steve Buscemi work with the Coen brothers and even some of his less critically acclaimed work with Adam Sandler. His performance in Living in Oblivion rivals that of his great work in Fargo and Barton Fink. Also, all the other actors played their parts perfectly. Whether it was the awesome character of Wolf the DP or the fantastic performance of Catherine Keener as the downtrodden actress, all the actors brought a sense of realism and fantastic comedic timing to their various performances.
Of course, you cannot say anything about this film without talking about its writing which was far-and-away the centerpiece of this film. The writing of this film literally made me jealous of writer/director Tom DiCillo’s skill with the pen (or in our modern-age, a keyboard). This film had one of the most hilarious scripts I’d seen in awhile. However, this wasn’t just some talentless parody, this film held up a comedic mirror to the low-budget film industry (and self-parodies are always the best parodies).
Living in Oblivion was by far one of the best movies I’ve seen that was about the art of film itself. It’s creative cinematography, great performances, and superb writing made it a fantastic experience.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Written Review: Wild Strawberries

I was very surprised that I had never seen, or even heard of the film Wild Strawberries. While I can’t say I’ve seen much of Bergman’s work outside of The Seventh Seal I have always been meaning to dig further into his work, so to speak. Bergman’s dreamlike style and absolute grasp of complex human emotions is something that’s always fascinated me. This is especially true in his film Wild Strawberries.
Wild Strawberries is one of the better looking black and white films I’ve seen. Bergman’s incredible use of subtle shadows was something I loved. He used them to texture the scene as opposed to making them take over the scene as is more commonly done in the German expressionistic work such as Nosferatu and M. I love the way the shadows were used to specifically when the character of Isak was feeling distraught (especially during the dream sequences).
Also, Bergman’s themes and story pieces were extremely complicated. Whether it was the way Bergman used the journey of the three young friends starting out life without a care in the world to show Isak’s coming to a close or seeing the disintegration of his child’s marriage, Bergman knew how to make his audiences think and think hard.
All-in-all, I think Bergman’s film is absolutely beautiful. From his bizarre dream and flashback scenes to his fantastic road-trip type story Wild Strawberries is a film that anyone who loves film should see.

A Written Review: Gold Rush

The film The Gold Rush was one of the better silent films I’ve seen. Both the technical and creative aspects of the film meshed extremely well and gave the viewer a great experience.
The cinematography in the film was very good. You could see massive improvements in terms of the look of film then. The film didn’t jump frames like other films such as Intolerance and Way Down East tended to. Also, you could really see elements such as set design, props, and even animal training start to make their mark on the film industry. The scene where Chaplin’s character and Big Jim eat the show sticks out in my mind as one of the more creative prop designs I’ve seen in a silent film. Also, the scene where the house teeters on the edge of the cliff was absolutely amazing and I still wish I could figure out how that gag was done.
Also, Gold Rush really highlighted the absolutely pathetic state that slap-stick comedy is in now-a-days. Back in the silent and golden era of film it took talent to do slap-stick. Scenes such as the wind scene in Gold Rush or “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Singing In The Rain make the crotch smacking, head banging, and floor slipping antics of the modern era just seem like toddler piano recitals next to professional orchestras. One would have thought that filmmakers would have tried to better perfect this genuinely funny art form. I remember a time when I seriously thought that slap-stick was a very immature type of comedy but as I explored the masters of slap-stick, such as Chaplin, I suddenly realized that it’s merely our 21st century version of slap-stick that is childish.
Another thing must be said of the acting in Gold Rush. I found that even more often than the various physical gags, Chaplin’s expression was what made me laugh hysterically. Chaplin was one of the king’s of dead pan, up there with the masters of the art such as John Cleese and Bill Murray (or more appropriately they belong in that category with him). I remember the first time I laughed out loud at this film was when Chaplin set his walking stick into the snow and fell down to his shoulder and then quickly tried to recover himself. While the gag itself was hilariously funny, Chaplin’s reactions were what made it an amazingly brilliant shot.
All-in-all this film is historically important because you can see how Chaplin began to really refine the art of comedy. Many of the building blocks to the average comedic film we see in our modern-era were beginning to be developed and refined in this movie (and all of Chaplin’s work).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Written Review: Greed

Greed was a very good silent film. I thoroughly enjoyed the direction from von Stroheim and the cinematography. The acting was also much better than any silent film I’ve watched so far. All-in-all this was another surprisingly enjoyable silent film.
One of the best parts of Greed was the acting and, by extension, the direction. Since von Stroheim came from Germany, where the filmmaking was in a further state of maturity than in America, he knew that having actors flail around like mentally handicapped children trying to get your attention was not the always the best choice. Many of the actors used subtle body language and facial expression to convey emotion. I could see the evolution of film acting beginning to gain traction.
In addition, the cinematography was fantastic. Von Stroheim and his cinematographer obviously brought over what they had learned in the German expressionist movement to American cinema. They use of shadows in Greed was, just like Nosferatu, was a beautiful thing to look at.
In addition to all of this the “script” was actually tolerable. Most of the time I found the text slides in most silent films are written with the skill of a toddler. However, one can see Stroheim moving towards using more real text as opposed to the absolutely atrocious dialogue Griffith used in Intolerance. I actually didn’t wince each time a slide was presented.
The story itself, an adaptation of Frank Norris’ novel McTeague, was fascinating. I found that while most films, such as Intolerance, had a rather uninteresting and bland plot, Greed’s story actually sucked me in at many points.
I think Greed was a very important film because it made great steps forward for filmmaking. It brought German expressionism to the American cinema, made vast improvements in the craft of film acting, and made great leaps in the area of writing in film.

A Written Review: Way Down East

Way Down East was one of the better silent films I’ve seen. From the much simpler story to the absolutely stunning ice flow chase scene, this was a film that I actually enjoyed watching.
One of the things that I loved about Way Down East was the orchestrated score. This relatively small change helped me to enjoy the film infinitely more than other silent films which relied on absolutely horrible sounding midi based soundtracks.
Also, unlike Intolerance, which tried to tell about four separate stories in the space of its over three hours of run time, Way Down East focused on a single storyline. This helped to focus my attention on the story at hand. When I watched Intolerance I was often very confused when the film would jump between the four narratives. It would take me about a minutes or two to reorient myself and remember the who’s and what’s of whichever storyline Intolerance was telling (this was especially difficult considering many of Intolerance’s storylines, dress, and settings were very similar). Way Down East did away with multiple narrative storytelling and decided to just tell one main story which had several well done subplots.
The acting in Way Down East, while still not cinematically perfect, was a vast improvement over most silent American films. Actors were able to convey emotion with more subtle body language as opposed to flailing their arms around as if they were a tumble weed being blown around in the wind. Many of the actors and actresses were able to convey so much raw emotion just with their faces. The scene where the female leads first love tells her that he will not marry her was a heartbreaking scene.
Of course, I can’t talk about Way Down East’s accomplishments without talking about the ice flow chase scene. I don’t like throwing the term “epic” around but this scene was truly epic. Not even the stunning visuals of Avatar were able to make me interact with what was happening on-screen like this chase sequence. Seeing actors actually put their lives in legitimate danger was a pretty impressive feat compared with the sterile and safe environments we have now-a-days.
I would say that I did enjoy Way Down East. I doubt I’ll ever willingly watch the film again but I am very glad I watched this well made and significant film.

A Written Review: Intolerance

I know the title may seem a bit harsh but to my modern-day, film educated mindset, it was very difficult for me to really enjoy the film Intolerance. I found that I always had to tack on the phrase “…For the time” whenever saying anything positive about the film. Being that this is a film and television history class I guess that is the perfect thing to say about the movie.
Some of the techniques and storytelling ideas used in this film are extremely influential and still used to this day. The idea of having multiple story arches in a single film, the epic battle scenes, and even certain cinematic techniques were all brought to light in this film.
Some of the most impressive accomplishments of this film are the sequences in Babylon, specifically the battle scenes. I am assuming that this film came along before miniatures could be used effectively in film (or had even been conceptualized). I would love to see a documentary on how they pulled off some of the truly epic scenes in this film (I’d probably enjoy the documentary more than I actually enjoyed Intolerance). In comparing this with some other silent films of that era (and even in later eras) the sets are truly stunning. When it finally hit me that all of those sets were built (so far as I am aware) to scale I was floored. It makes what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings series seem a bit less impressive considering Jackson had about 80 years of technological advantage over Intolerance and some of those film’s sets were equal to some used in Lord of the Rings (Though I’d watch Lord of the Rings over Intolerance any day).
Also, some of the shots used in Intolerance caught my eye. There was a scene in which one of the character was having her child taken away and was knocked to the floor. The shot where all the camera sees is the woman’s hand reaching for something (I can’t remember what it was due to my almost comatose state at this point in the film) was a truly beautiful shot.
The lighting used on a few of the Bethlehem scenes where all the camera shows is Marry and the cradle where baby Jesus is asleep were quite good.
All-in-all, while I can’t say I particularly enjoyed Intolerance I can say I’m very glad I watched it. Yes it was extremely difficult keeping my eyes open for over three hours of actors looking like dying fish gasping for air, yes most of the shots were bland and lacked depth, and yes the dialogue written for the film’s captions make Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer look like writing Gods. However, the film is still an extremely important one to watch because of what it was able to accomplish with what it was given.