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.”