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Archive for February, 2011

The following are moreso ramblings than thought out reviews. Either way, I’d like to share them with you. I posted them before somewhere else. These are just some of the movies I’ve watched this year.

Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010)
Excellent acting from the entire cast, superb script that is subtly multi-layered, and tight direction that is never flashy nor boring. Lesley Manville is PERFECT in her role and her character comes off effortlessly sharp. My only problem is with the ending: the scene between her and the friend drags on a bit too long. Otherwise, a fantastic film well deserving of its accolades. 4/5

Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997)
Wonderfully underrated film. One of the few lesser violent films that Scorsese had made. The film has such a great power to it that it had me in tears multiple times. Very sad, but never heavy handed. Some of the editing got repetitive, though, and thus boring. But overall, a solid film. 4/5

Pi (Darren Aronofsky, 1998)
Deliriously weird debut film from Aronofsky shows just how much talent he really has. I think this may just be the most provocative of his work. It is definitely his most interesting script. The direction feels a bit amateurish at times. The film has a lot to owe to Lynch’s Eraserhead – at times it feels like a straight homage to it. While fun, it’s also a little shallow and kind of forgettable. 3.5/5

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
This is the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece I’ve been waiting for. Rear Window exudes brilliance in every shot and the story of voyeurism is surprisingly deep and reflective. I like how Stewart’s character is always in the same room and always watching people across the way to another apartment complex. It’s half talkie half silent film! And Hitchcock shows his genius as a director by creating a ambiguous sense of suspense that never goes away until the final few minutes of the film. James Stewart gives a strong, believable performance as a man slowly becoming swallowed whole with his obsession with other people. I love this movie. 5/5

The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
I have to admit – I’m a bit disappointed with this one. After all the hype, I would have never guessed that the film’s real titular story wouldn’t start until 45 or so minutes in. For those first 45 minutes, I was rather bored and disinterested. The character’s actions seemed rather unrealistic. They don’t really stand out. But once the bird hits her while she’s in the boat, the film begins a slow descent that ends in something resembling a bird-apocalypse. The ending to the film is spectacular up until the last 20 seconds when you realize that the film doesn’t continue, but just ends. THAT was a annoying. But the rest? Every leading up to and of the birds attacking are incredible and really make the movie. 4/5

The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956)
This film would not be as good as it was if it weren’t for the lovely screen presences and performances given by James Stewart and Doris Day. They are the film’s unsung heroes, providing excellent, very believable characters who go looking for their son once he’s kidnapped during a vacation. What follows is a wild ride that isn’t as strong, visually, as Hitch’s other flicks, but nonetheless moving. The scenes in the church are tense as well as heartbreaking. The 12 minute wordless Albert Hall sequence is a slow burner as you watch Doris Day become more and more nervous about the impending doom. 4/5

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
I hope I don’t get banned for this! I didn’t like this that much. HUGELY disappointed after all the hype. I just feel that the film should have ended with Janet Leigh dying? Because the film just isn’t all that interesting afterward. Not only that, but I definitely predicted a lot of the ending, so that the film ends with characters explaining the ending – the film just didn’t do much for me. But the entire Janet Leigh storyline? Perfect. Anthony Perkins? OMG, AMAZING. But the film itself is just not that great beyond the general suspense that Hitchcock has done better in other films. 3/5

High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952)
What a great film idea! Taking place all in one day (over a, what, two hour span?), High Noon is cinema verite before the French claimed it. Gary Cooper is wonderful here as the lawman with a regretful conscience. The film deserved the win for editing: it is expertly paced, never missing a beat, always building tension. The last shoot out is definitely one of the best of all time. A really solid flick all around. 4/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
Ugh, that bicycle scene!!! So cheesy, so dated. Wonderful performances given by Newman & Redford (I prefer Redford here more), but the film is pretty shallow and even a bit boring. It feels like a hokey comedy when these guys seemed pretty menacing and odd at times. The dialogue was weak as well. The film just didn’t have the necessary weight to have a effect on me. 3/5

A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)
This is practically Yojimbo with cowboys. I love Yojimbo, it’s probably Kurosawa’s second best film, in my opinion, so seeing Fistful not changing much of the material feels as needless as the Let Me In remake last year. Sure, both films are great in their own right, but the retread in plot is just not as fun as the first time, nor is it as artistically interesting. I didn’t care much for this installment. I’m sure the next two are good though. 2.5/5

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
As some of you may know, Andrei Rublev has become my favorite film ever since I watched it about six months ago. It was so great that I had to stop what plans I had to watch all of Tarkovsky’s films in a chronological marathon-like way over the course of a month. The film was so powerful that I was still processing it until a couple of weeks ago. Finally, last week I continued with his next feature, Solaris. In short, I was disappointed, but I still did enjoy it. Solaris is the True Grit to the Coen Bros’ A Serious Man. It’s well written, tightly directed, but it doesn’t feel as passionate as other films. It’s a solid studio picture, but not a Tarkovsky picture. What I’m trying to describe is very difficult. True Grit and Solaris have their respective director’s paw prints all over them. But both films feel relatively safe in relation to others in their respective filmographies. I do like the things Solaris explores – guilt, loss, regret – but the film does this in a very expected way. There is a overall sense of eeriness to the film and I see why it’s so inspiring (you can see that this was a big inspiration to 2010’s Inception). But whatever complexities the film may have – they are all exposed. There are no real questions at the end. Out of the three films I’ve seen, this is Tarkovsky’s most shallow, if most entertaining, film. I would be torn up with how to rank it if it weren’t for the haunting, beautiful performance Natalaya Bondarchuk gives as the past wife of the film’s protagonist and the very assured direction which creates a incredibly memorable atmosphere on the quiet, lonely, space station. 4/5

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
Kicking off my mini Kubrick-a-thon, was this shocking little film. I’ve always been ashamed not telling people that I haven’t seen this. Well, shame no more! A Clockwork Orange is campy, scathing, hilarious, and absolutely horrifying. At times, it’s all four at once. Kubrick’s bold statement on violence and violence association is genius in the way that it takes a beloved song like Singin in the Rain and redefines it to us. It’s cruel and it helps us sympathize with the unsympathizable – Alex (played by a brilliant young Malcolm McDowell) – by putting us to his level with the accidental Beethoven association to sickness. That stylistic choice was one of many genius ones Kubrick made with this one. But herein lies the central problem with the film: the direction. By the film’s final scene, I didn’t care for what the Prime Minister had to say to Alex, primarily because the themes and ideas of how cruel and odd the government is wasn’t explored enough. Or the constant flashiness of the direction distracted me from grasping any real depth to the film aside from its commentary on violence association. Did I miss something? 4/5

The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
For the next feature of this mini Kubrick-a-thon, I traveled back to the 50s where I found one of Kubrick’s first big features that would later inspire pictures like Reservoir Dogs. This pulpy film noir tells the story of a racetrack heist and puts on display one of the best edited heist scenes in all of cinema. The slow boiling nature of the film does get in the way of its overall pacing and the heist scene later in the film, but luckily, the film is filled with beautiful black and white imagery and fascinating characters. One of the best things about the film is the performance given by Marie Windsor as the evil femme fatale that pulls all the stops in order to manipulate herself towards the big bucks of the heist. The Killing is a superb debut feature, brimming with life, if lacking in any subtlety whatsoever. It’s shallow, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun. Perfect ending too. “What’s the difference?” 3.5/5

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
Ending the trifecta of Kubrick films I saw over the week is a film I might consider to be his best. Paths of Glory is a thrilling war film as it is a courtroom drama. Kirk Douglas turns in a passionate performance as a Colonel who won’t allow his crooked government to kill three men as a example to show them what the country does with cowards. It doesn’t turn out so well is all I can say. This is definitely one of the more conventional stories Kubrick has filmed. It serves him well, though. He shows a assured hand throughout every scene. He lifts the plot’s weaknesses with cinematography that makes you feel as if you’re there with the soldiers as they run through the battlefield or sitting in the courtroom with the other jurors. Nothing in the film feels forced – everything, from the fantastic cast to the well paced editing feels exactly as it should, if not better. Just, perfect. 5/5

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958)
I’m still waiting for a true film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ works. Like most play adaptations, Cat is treated like a play, not a film. Thus, the direction is minimalist and gives actors enough room to give excellent performances. Which is fine, but I would have liked a bit more creativity, a bit more visual pizazz in how the film was directed. Just because it’s written for stage doesn’t mean you should stage it when working on film. Anyway, my little rant aside, Cat has a excellent cast from all players, but it was Burl Ives and Paul Newman who stole the entire show for me. Every time they are on screen together, they bring such raw power to the film that it feels like a crime that both were overlooked for Oscars the year of 58. Newman, in particular, is electrifying and the perfect choice for such a complex character of Brick. I’m unconvinced that I will ever see a better Big Daddy too. Ives just fills the screen with his pleasantness that when he goes for the darker scenes, the contrast is sharp and the result is shattering. Liz Taylor does a fine job, but sometimes comes off a bit stiff. Another annoyance for me is the ending – it’s upbeat when the play is not. But, honestly, that’s a minor quibble. As is my little rant about the difference between plays and films. But both minor quibbles holds this movie back from a 5/5. The acting is too brilliant to ignore and because of that, I’m giving this one a 4/5

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