Sunday, November 27, 2011

American Beauty (1999)

Look at me! I'm so hot I make grown men drool!

Nominees: "Cider House Rules" "Green Mile" "The Insider" "The Sixth Sense"

He Said: American Perverts

I watched this one back when it first came out, it had a lot of buzz about it. Ultimately I was fairly disappointed by this supposed Oscar winner, I mean it was a good movie and all but not great and it was filled with all the high school love creepiness.

First off, sorry about the delay between reviews. We went on vacation for a couple weeks and did a lot of house/yard work. Then I was on call for an insane amount of hours and then other things took over our lives, including morning sickness, work, visitors, but hopefully now we will be back on a semi-regular basis again.

This was an interesting movie, but as I stated already, it was ultimately disappointing. It felt like a movie that I was supposed to understand on a more deep level, but I just didn't “get it.” At first it seems much like another Kevin Spacey movie, The Ref, at least for the first half, with the angry parents who hate each other and are emotionally separated from each other, and the angsty teenager that hates both parents and the parents who don't understand their teenager. Not sure how Spacey won for best actor, he seemed to play his usual character, the monotone somewhat emotionally distant character/spouse, we have seen this many times before, and although he may do it well it has gotten tiring by this point.

Directing was quite nice with very interesting angles, and pull aways, long frames, etc. but nothing to write home about. I guess I just don't get it and don't understand the movie or why it was apparently so good to have won the best picture Oscar.

As for the other pictures, The Green Mile was good, but not Oscar worthy in my opinion and the same goes for The Sixth Sense. The latter being more of a ploy of plot than an actual brilliant movie. I haven't seen either The Insider or Cider House Rules, but from what I have heard Cider House probably should have won. As for best actor, Denzel Washington got cut out for some unknown reason (possibly race) as his performance in The Hurricane was utterly amazing and beyond Spacey's performance in American Beauty by 1000 fold.

This review feels quite disjointed, and I apologize for that but I just couldn't get into the movie and understand, and part of this review was written some time ago and now I can't quite remember the movie very well. It had a predictable plot (we know who will turn out to be gay and who will die and how) about suburbanites and stock characters, so nothing special here. I think we can agree this was an interesting movie but shouldn't have won best picture, although not sure what should have won, perhaps just a poor movie year in 1999.

Next movie, A Beautiful Mind, we have already seen it so no big surprise ending for us this time around, I guess we will see if it truly is a great movie or just a great twist.

She Said: Pretty but pointless.

Okay, so it's all my fault. I'll admit it. First, I couldn't decide what I thought about this movie. Then I was too sick to remember what I thought about it. Then I forgot about it completely, and finally, i've just been too lazy. But with the next title looming over my head (not to mention the fact that it's now November), here I go:

Visually beautiful, but too predictable. Of course he doesn't actually sleep with her, and of course she's a virgin. Of course the wife has an affair. Of course the neighbors dad is a homophobe because he's gay. It all just seemed... too pat. I mean, I get the whole idea of the mid-life crisis and life not turning out the way you wanted it to, but really. Lots of peoples lives don't turn out they way they want them to, and they deal with it. I wish it had been... a little less pretty and more substantial. I don't really see that any of the characters dealt with their problems, and i felt no sympathy for any of them. They just let themselves get carried away with their issues, until finally going "Oh! My life sucks because I've messed it up. I guess I'd better do something about it"... The End. Without ever DOING anything.

And as for the dancing plastic bag, I must admit- I just don't get it.

PS: I've seen both "The Green Mile" and "The Sixth Sense" and both were better than this (though "The Green Mile" is WAY better as a book.

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Godfather Part 2 (1974)

"You're my brother. I love you. But I'm still going to kill you. Sorry."

Nominees: "Chinatown" "The Conversation" "Lenny" "The Towering Inferno"

He Said: This is a movie you can't refuse

Okay, first off I must say this will probably be a somewhat biased review. I love mob movies, and love the first two Godfather movies, the third one is best missed,although it does tie up some loose ends, but not worth the three hours of confusion.

Basically this movie comes down to Michael Corleone (the Don of the Corleone family) trying to legitimize the family but a hit narrowly misses him and he goes around trying to figure out who it was and take revenge on those responsible (read: lots of dead bodies at the end of the movie). There are also a few lengthy parts of his father, Vito Corleone, as a young man in New York and how he was able to make it from a nobody child immigrant to The Godfather.

Overall it is a very good movie, with good acting and an interesting portrayal of a crime family and their inner workings, and excellent characters that you can't help but get attached to. The only thing that I didn't like is how the basic story is such a small part of the overall crime family, it really comes down to a revenge movie, which I find surprising that it is so good and an Oscar winner when it is basically a rather simplistic plot.

The parts with young Vito Corleone were good, especially for me to see where he came from having watched the original some time before. They leave out some of the more specifics in the young Vito parts, like how exactly he went from nothing to the big wig. They show small parts of this but not enough specifics and this is what I am wondering about. But like most things perhaps it is better left unsaid and it just leaves our imagination to work its magic. I find it odd how much we develop a caring relationship for these characters and how we like them in spite of all of their heinous crimes and lying, but for some reason they come out looking like the good guys. Perhaps the only real criticism is the quiet talking/whispering in many scenes as they are trying to plot against each other, and the quiet talking combined with babbling on about various names of characters leads to some confusion, though not enough to really disrupt the movie (unlike The French Connection or Godfather Part 3).

So that's pretty much it, sorry for the uninspiring review. It's a really good mob movie that stands on its own completely separate from the first one. I haven't seen any of the other Oscar nominees from this year, I know Chinatown is supposed to be really good, but I can see why Godfather Part 2 won, and I would have to agree until I see the other nominees.

Another thing about this Oscar movie review blog is how I feel I watch movies differently than before. Before I would just sit back and enjoy them without too much concern for critique and what have you. But now, I am constantly critically looking at what is good and bad about the movie and what the story ultimately boils down to. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, bad thing, or no thing at all, just something I noticed in the last couple weeks.

Next up, American Beauty; Kevin Spacey at his creepiest.

She Said: Never Go Against the Academy.

Okay, so that has nothing to do with the movie. It's not even a parody of a line from the movie (it's from Part 1, I think). But I thought it was funny. Maybe The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will come after us for this blog...

But I'm supposed to be reviewing the movie. For starters, I've never seen Part 1, and hate Mob Movies in general. We had a big debate as to whether or not we should watch Part 1 first, but then my good friend Annabelle of The Year of Shoppig Detox pointed out that the movie is supposed to be THE BEST OF THAT YEAR. It's supposed to stand alone as a GOOD MOVIE in and of itself. So, I watched it, fully expecting to be lost.

But I wasn't. Underwhelmed, yes, but not lost. Except for the odd time where I had to check with Kurt as to who was who (which seems to be a reoccurring thing lately), I found I didn't really need to know what had happened before. Sure, maybe I would've had some greater understanding of the characters (especially Michael Corleone), but it didn't really matter. The movie stands well on it's own, without needing to summarize the whole story of the first one.

{As an aside, I hate it when books/movies do that. If I'm reading/watching the 2nd or 3rd one in the series, I've probably read/seen the first one. In fact, I'm so anal that if I go "Hey! I want to read "The Order of the Phoenix", I have to start at "The Philosopher's Stone" and work my way through them. Pathetic, I know, but true, hence the fact that I've read the first 4 Harry Potters 24 times)... but I digress. Besides I obviously don't stick to that, because we just watched Godfather Part 2, but trust me: a little bit of me died when we did it.}
Where was I?? Oh yeah, underwhelmed. The movie was beautifully shot and it depicted both time periods (the 10s and the 50s) quite nicely. I didn't really see the connection between Michael's and Vito's story, though. I kind of wish it had just been about Vito, cause I'd like to know more about him. Then Part 3 could've been about Michael, and they could've made a Part 4 with the stuff from Part 3, which I haven't seen and won't have to, because it didn't win (though it was nominated). I guess that means Part 2 and 3 would've won and Part 4 nominated... so what movie would have lost???... my head's starting to hurt.

The acting was pretty good, though I kept thinking both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were Christian Bale (especially DeNiro). Which is impossible, because he wasn't alive when it was filmed. But they all have the same looking lip. I like that lip. It's weird: I think Christian Bale is hot, but I don't like Pacino or DeNiro, and not just because they are old now.

Umm... this review makes no sense. The movie was good. I wanted it to be better. I think The Academy was probably right. And I'm not just saying that so they don't order a hit against me.

Verdict: The Academy was right. We guess.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The French Connection (1972)

"I'm Popeye. This is pretty much what I do: stand around and look surly like everyone else in this movie. But aren't my cars cool?"

Nominees: "A Clockwork Orange" "Fiddler on the Roof" "Last Picture Show" "Nicolas and Alexandria"

He Said: No Connection Here

First off I just wanted to write about how I am finding myself rather disillusioned with these Oscar winners, and we are only 7 movies into this thing. I think I am more excited about the anticipation of finding out what the next movie is rather than actually enjoying the movie that we are currently watching. Incidentally if no one knew we randomly choose the next movie after finishing one.

So here we are at The French Connection, a classic old-school Gene Hackman film that I am ashamed to say I haven't actually watched all of before, although I have seen part of the chase under the above ground subway numerous times. In the end I would have preferred not watching it and doing something else for 104 minutes.

Wow was this one boring as hell. This has almost next to no dialogue, the dialogue that is present is mostly mumbled so it can be hard to actually know what is being said and thus what is going on. Basically this movie is about a few cops following the drug trade from France by following around the various drug dealers and staking out their hotels and homes and walking/driving around New York City after them. This movie just didn't grab me, and has no grab factor at all. All it comes down to is watching a couple people drive around following other people or walking around New York following people with the occasional running chase scene and of course ending in the classic subway chase. There is the odd moment that something happens outside of this, mainly focusing on Popeye Doyle and his personal life, but that is rather rare.

I have no idea how this won best picture, let alone best actor for Gene Hackman. I guess he won for looking angry and frustrated and running, lots and lots of running. Doyle tends to be a bit of a Dirty Harry kind of cop, the smug, take it in his own hands kind of cop with a dash of sexual creepiness. That being said, I think the directing was interesting with some nice long no-cut shots and interesting camera angles, but there just was no story. And the chase scene with the subway really wasn't all that good after actually watching it start to finish and knowing the context of it, perhaps it was interesting for the time but too simplistic, and I have seen better chase scenes filmed in the sixties and seventies so this is nothing to sneeze at.

Overall this movie is confusing, hard to follow, and has no real dialogue at all. Kind of the opposite of All About Eve which was all dialogue and no action with women being the focus, this was all action, no dialogue and barely had a woman speak in the movie. I can summarize my feeling of this movie like this: the cops kind of knew what was going on and following the drug dealers to figure out everything, the drug dealers were just there and the audience isn't let in at all, we have no idea what the cops know and we never feel compelled to root for the cops or the dealers.

The only other nominee that I have seen is A Clockwork Orange. I didn't really like that movie, but the book is fantastic, and the movie is maybe a bit better than The French Connection. I think The French Connection is pretty close to the bottom, although I would place it just above Oliver!

Next up, the fantastic classic The Godfather Part 2. We decided to watch this one even though Shannon hasn't seen The Godfather, because part 2 won best picture so it was supposed to be the best movie of that year and therefore should be a good movie in and of itself as a standalone product. I haven't seen the Godfather movies for quite some time but I do remember liking the second one more than the first and the second one can be enjoyed without having seen the first one, but you might need the context of the first one a bit, but Shannon will be the judge of that.

She Said: um... what?! ...

There are many things I don't know about this movie, like almost everything. But here are a few things I DO know:
  1. Popeye Doyle is a cop (yes, that's his name) trying to crack a drug ring.
  2. The drugs come from France (hence the title).
  3. There's a brown cadillac involved, in which the drugs are smuggled to the states. It gets torn apart at the police station, then put back together in record time.
  4. There's lots of cars in this movie. I hate movies with lots of cars.
  5. Detective work looks boring. Too much standing around in the cold.
  6. It's based on a true story. I would've rather seen a documentary.
  7. The movie would've been much better if one of the cops (preferably Popeye) had been dirty. I decided this halfway through and kept hoping my dreams would come true right up until the end.
  8. All men in 1970's New York look the same. I kept having to ask Kurt "Who is that?"
  9. All the cars look the same, too. Did I mention there were a lot of cars?
  10. Police chases on foot (of which there were many) are not as exciting as police chases in cars, which aren't very exciting either when they involve the Subway. You'd think they would be, but they are not.
And that's all I have to say about that.

PS: "Fiddler"?!? How did "Fiddler on the Roof", one of the greatest musicals of all time, not win??!! Granted, I haven't seen the movie version, but come on!! It's "Fiddler"!!

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All About Eve (1950)

She's got Bette Davis eyes.

Nominees: "Born Yesterday" "Father of the Bride" "King Solomon's Mines" "Sunset Boulevard"

He Said: All About a Manipulating Conniving Bitch

First off sorry it has taken so long to get the next movie up. We started watching this one a few weeks back but then life got in the way including visitors, a nasty stomach illness ran through our family, and general life chores. But we finally found the time to watch it this past weekend so here are our thoughts. I've never heard of this movie before. I read the little blurb on about it before watching it, and it sounded boring as hell, and it turned out to be just as boring as I feared.

It started off with Eve Harrington getting an acting award, and I must say that it is rather ironic that she got this award considering how poorly acted her role was by Anne Baxter. As she gets the award a group of people are hating on her and that is when we are transported back in time something around one year earlier to find out how we came to be at this spot of this young lady receiving an award and the hatred felt towards her. Going back in time we end up focusing on Bette Davis's character, Margo Channing, a highly skilled and sought after Broadway star. Shortly afterward Eve makes her entrance as a shy fish out of water who is following Margo's every move almost like a stalker, but that this point she simply seems to be a sweet young woman who is a huge fan of Margo's.

At the start of Eve's relationship with Margo, it was like a stalker, and sort of creepy in a way, then it turned into a sort of girl crush which, although titillating, was almost more creepy. It was as if she wanted nothing more than she herself to be Margo. Slowly over time we find out how Eve is really a manipulative person who is manipulating all these different people, actors, directors, producers, in an attempt to become the next big Broadway star and replace Margo Channing, her supposed hero/mentor.

I will give this movie kudos for being almost entirely about women and being female driven, this is a rarity today and I imagine it would have been even rarer in the 1950s. So to be female driven in a male driven industry and time period, and to win the Oscar for best picture is certainly an achievement. Although I don't need to endure this movie the first time or again to understand what kind of an achievement this is. All this is good to be female driven, however keep in mind that it is female driven from the standpoint of a manipulative conniving woman, and the drunkard starling, so it doesn't exactly put the nicest spotlight on women or showcase them from the best standpoint. So it is somewhat unfortunate that it wasn't a female driven movie with a few more positive viewpoints of women. But that being said, it might be hard to find a lot male driven movies that portray men in a positive light and not as abusive alcholics, or other stereotypes.

Overall the movie was boring and somewhat predictable. The entire movie is simple scenes of prolonged dialogue, which I don't mind in and of itself, I just don't appreciate it when the dialogue is not written well and not acted well. Although I will say that Bette Davis acting the part of drunk Margo at her boyfriend's birthday party was actually quite well done.

At any rate, I would say this is only slightly better than Oliver! for the worst movie so far on this list and the Academy must have had something better to pick from in that year; The Father of the Bride (not the Steve Martin version but that is definitely Oscar worthy) and the original King Solomon's Mines, never seen it but I'm sure it can't be better than the Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone version.. As an aside, The American Film Institute has this as the 16th best film on their 1998 list of the top 100 movies and then dropped to number 28 in the 2007 list, so maybe I missed something.

Next up The French Connection, classic Gene Hackman.

Lastly, here is my list of the 6 movies so far and what order I would put them in best to worst:
Crash followed closely by The Great Zeigfeld, Casablanca, Around the World in 80 days, All About Eve, Oliver!

She Said: All About Nothing.

Okay. So I didn't find this movie as boring as Kurt did. In fact, I even quite enjoyed the second half, once Eve starts acting creepy and the everything falls down around Margo. But I can't say I really liked it, either. I was hoping I would, but I just found it all.... a little much. Eve was TOO perfect, and then TOO evil, Margo TOO damaged, Karen TOO caring, Bill TOO earnest, and Addison DeWitt TOO unlikable. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about any of the characters, and as the movie has no real plot, if you don't connect with the characters, it's hard to get into the film.

Don't get me wrong- I don't think a movie needs to have a plot. Not every movie needs non-stop action, and this one certainly doesn't have it (unlike "Around the world in 80 Days", which tried too hard to be non-stop action interspersed with pretty landscapes). And I did find Anne Baxter's portrayal of Eve quite interesting, even if I wasn't all that interested in Eve herself. I liked how we echo Margo's changing opinion of her, but faster because we have all the information whereas the characters obviously do not.

I also appreciated that this was a "woman's" movie, in that it was primarily about woman and their relationships with themselves and other women. The men seemed mostly there as props and pawns to be used by Margo, Eve, and Karen, with I guess the exception of Addison DeWitt. I think I would've enjoyed the movie more, though, if it was just "All About Margo," with her facing her own doubts and insecurities about aging and herself without the Eve to pounce on them. I know Eve's the impetus for that to happen, but its was all a little too predictable. Of course Eve HAS to be not who she says she is, or else Margo is just being ridiculous and can't ever change... then again, what if Eve Harrington WAS exactly who she said she was? Would that have changed Margo's reaction and transformation? I dunno.

All in all then, this movie was draggy in parts, over-acted in others, and intriguing not for the story presented, but more for my own imaginings of how it could have gone. I wish they'd made my version instead.

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crash (2005)

The worst part of the whole movie.

Nominees: "Brokeback Mountain" "Capote" "Good Night, and Good Luck" "Munich"

He Said: Crash, Bang, Boom

I had initially watched this movie when it first came out. I thought it was a fantastic movie back then with a good story winding all over the place, with good characters and even a good moral. Now is the time to see if I have changed and if I will see this movie differently.

A brief story overview goes something like this. It opens with Don Cheadle's character investigating a murder in L.A. and it then jumps back about 24 hours before that point and we find out how we arrived there through short 1 to 10 minute scenes of various characters going about their daily lives. This sometimes means criminal activity, political/lawyer work, police work, and just regular old life for the other characters. The overarching theme of the movie is that race and racism is the cornerstone of almost all the interactions and conversations that occur in our world, it clouds over and pervades everything that we think, do, and say. Ultimately this movie is about race relations and simply uses a multitude of characters of various races to show how pervasive racism can be. I think the interconnected nature of the stories and short scenes is simply something the director/writer Paul Haggis (yay Canadians!) likes to use to tell a story.

I love the interweaving stories in most movies, and this one has interweaving galore, with timed events moving around and little snippets of scenes of each character and how they all seem to meld together in one way or another. This is exactly what I love about Tarantino's movies (of course Tarantino likes the long drawn out scenes versus these short scenes, but the idea of the interweaving stories stays the same) and I love this one for this reason too. Okay, so the acting isn't always stellar (here's looking at you Brendan Fraser), although Matt Dillon did wonderfully as the creepy cop.

One criticism I was thinking during the movie is how is it possible that all these people had such a crappy day and how they are all interconnected. Yes L.A. is a big city, but I doubt it would be possible that all these people are having such a bad time of it and most of them end of somehow being connected to each other (a la Kevin Bacon's six degrees of separation). Nevertheless it is a very good film and it shows us at our worst and most vulnerable. I also feel conflicted over the short scenes. They work well to move the stories along and help the movie move along without it feeling too long and boring, but sometimes the scenes are too short and it doesn't give the viewer a chance to really connect with the characters. I only really felt connected to a few of the characters and can't help but think this could be a reason, it could also be the lack of excellent acting for many of the actors. I mean most are average to above average with a couple really good performances and a few fairly bad performances.

Overall this movie is very powerful, and at times very difficult to watch, but all around very good. I felt myself tearing up a few times, but if you stick with it, it is a very good emotional film. The oddest thing about this movie is while watching it I couldn't ever really remember what happened next, but during the scenes I could remember having watched the scene and it felt like I had just seen it a few months ago, not six years ago. I guess this speaks to the powerful nature of the movie, the raw emotion and how it leaves a lasting impression. It doesn't tie things up nicely in the end, which is something else I like, the people's lives just keep going on just as they were (I hate fairy tale endings, sorry folks, life is far from a fairy tale and doesn't tie up nicely at the end). We just got to eavesdrop on a brief glimpse of 24 hours of their lives and it sucked for some and wasn't quite as bad for others. In some ways I think this could be considered stream of consciousness for the movies; and no I still haven't finished Ulysses yet, but I do plan on it some day.

Admittedly I haven't watched any of the other best picture nominees, but I could see why this one won, certainly a good movie and worth a couple viewings.

Next up, All About Eve. Never heard of it, the short description sounds boring but we will see.

She Said: I hated it.

It's sad and depressing and hopeless and made me cry. Nobody is good and everyone is bad, but at the same time, no one is bad and everyone is good... maybe. We are all racists, or are we?

But it deserved the Oscar. Cinematically, visually, and emotional, it is... I don't even know. But if I ever have to watch it again, I might shoot myself. And I wish I could forget that I watched it in the first place. I'm going to have nightmares for a month.

Verdict: The Academy was right.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

"SHE is not good enough for MY follies!"

Nominees: "Anthony Adverse" "Dodsworth" "Libeled Lady" "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" "Romeo and Juliet" "San Francisco" "The Story of Louis Pasteur" "A Tale of Two Cities" "Three Smart Girls"

He Said: Great for 1936, Great for 2011

So, a friend happened to be in Regina this past weekend (thanks again Mr. G) and he picked up a copy of The Great Ziegfeld for us from the library, helping me maintain my cheapassness and thus not having to buy the movie; here's hoping I am able to continue this trend as we watch these best picture flicks. Although, as shall soon be revealed, I wouldn't have minded actually owning this movie in the end. So, due to these circumstances we have postponed Crash in lieu of The Great Ziegfeld. And now on with the review.

I think I can sum this movie up with one word: fantastic. I was going into this movie thinking I would hate it. First of all, it is an old movie which I tend not to like as they are slow paced, have poor film and sound quality, and tend to have boring stories. Secondly it is about a man and his big Broadway musical productions, I generally hate Broadway musicals and anything to do with them. Lastly, it is about a man I have never heard of and don't really care about. Boy was I wrong on all accounts. This just goes to show you that you don't always need to keep an open mind, if the product is good enough.

So here is the plot briefly. It is about Florenz Ziegfeld. He starts off producing a small nothing strong man show at the Chicago fair. Then he hits it big when he lets a female audience member touch the strong man's arm and she nearly faints (yes this apparently actually happened in real life, at least according to the special features, see below) so he gets it in his head to change his strong man show a bit and off he goes on a round the country tour with his strong man Sandow. After this works for a while he then heads off to New York to start big time musical shows. Over the course of the three hours he constantly finds himself in dire need of money, in spite of his shows being a huge success. He is somehow able to procure the money from various sources, typically his friend and competitor Mr. Billings, but then wastes his earnings on extravagant gifts for the various women he is always trailing after. He gets married, divorced, and married again. And ultimately loses it all in the 1929 stock market crash. The odd part is how he repeatedly takes advantage of Mr. Billings, steals his girls multiple times, steals the limelight, and borrows tons of money and yet Mr. Billings is always by his side lending him money any time he needs it. Mr Billings even shows up at the end when Ziegfeld is on his death bed offering companionship and hope. As this is based on real life I can't help but admire their relationship in a way, and how in spite of the constant competition they are able to remain relatively close friends. Somehow I doubt this exists in life today with any friendly competition amongst bigwig businessmen.

The start of the film has this interesting heading during the opening credits: “Suggested by romances and incidents in the life of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.” Romances is definitely a good word to describe his womanizing, if my life was anything like his I think my wife would kick my ass a few times over. Having seen a few of these older films recently, I decided that I definitely prefer the credits at the start of the movie, for some reason it makes the film seem tighter or better, not sure how to put it, but it is something that I prefer, perhaps quaint is a good word for it, maybe it conjures up a time of simpler days and more formal days without being too stuffy. Like I said, I like it but can't quite explain why or how.

The acting was terrific, writing was good, directing and editing terrific, the huge set pieces and 7 minute one take spiral staircase showpiece was utterly amazing. Amazing for now and certainly amazingly outstanding for 1936. This film is almost worth watching just for this one single piece, it is just so hard to fathom how they were able to do this some 70 years ago. Apparently this one set took months to build and cost some $200,000 and then shot in one fluid shot. I really do love the way they shot this movie and other older films and some of the new ones (think Tarantino); with long shots and single long takes. It really makes you feel like you're there and more like the feel of a play rather than a movie, and maybe that's what they were going for in this film since it is loosely based on a Broadway producer. This is so much easier to watch and more appealing than the quick shots and quick edits of the films in the past decade or so. I think those quick edits just feeds into our ever increasingly short attention span society, and frankly more often than not I find them headache inducing. Even the sound quality was amazing for the time, and I don't know how Oliver's! sound quality was so bad compared to this one and and yet Oliver! was filmed some thirty years later.

There are small points of criticism, like how Florenz Ziegfeld seems like such a manipulative so and so who but always seems to get his ways and in spite of this everyone likes him including the audience, charm I suppose. The French actress and first wife of Ziegfeld, Anna Held was a somewhat annoying character, being way too melodramatic at times. And then there is this little girl at the start of the movie who is his pretend wife just as a game, and then he appears later on all grown up and still in love with Ziegfeld. This is simply a bit of an ew moment, but luckily our hero Mr. Ziegfeld does the right thing and distances himself from her.

The only real big criticism I have is that I think the film somewhat assumes you know the general time frame history of Ziegfeld, as the movie never has any sort of dates attached to the events even though you clearly see him and the other characters age and the only real date qualifying event is the 1929 stock market crash. We ended up having to go onto Wikipedia afterwords to actually get a feel for when different events in his life happened just so I can put a context onto the time during the movie. It turns out, the movie starts when he is in his thirties in the late 1800's and ends just after the stock market crash. I think this would be worth a second watch, and definitely worth it even if you know the history of Ziegfeld, the production shots are amazing and it truly is a movie about the journey rather than the end.
Also on the DVD was a special featurette about the real Florenz Ziegfeld and how it compares to the movie. This was a very interesting added feature that shows how closely to real life the film is, of course with some dramatic changes here and there. But the neat thing is that in essence the film showed his life and what some of his Broadway productions were actually like.

This movie is excellent and I really do encourage everyone to watch.

Next up, this time Crash for real this time, yes Jesse the good crash.

She Said: Great Zeigfeld!! This movie rocked!

Okay, maybe rocked is a bit strong of a word, but I really liked it. Right away, I was totally intrigued by Ziegfeld, the womanizer with crazy dreams of dancing girls and stairs right up to heaven. He was just so charming: I kinda wanted to be a Zeigfeld Follie's girl too.

His favorite Ziegfeld Girls are as follows:
  1. A little girl who takes piano lessons at his father's music school who calls him "her fella" and shows up later to kiss him and beg for a job... a little freaky, but at least he resists her advances (though you do wonder for a bit if he will, the hound dog he is).
  2. Anna Held, a French singer played by a German starlet who he steals away from his arch rival/best friend, carts off to New York, turns into a big star, marries, and then 'cheats' on, causing her to leave, not because she doesn't love him (she does!) but in hopes that he will come back to her.
  3. Audrey Dane. The star he 'cheats' on Anna with, mostly by wooing her so that he can have another big hit broadway show... except she's a drunk and leaves him right after Anna does because he keeps telling her not to drink.
  4. Billie Burke, his 'true love', whom he meets and woos after Anna leaves him. He eventually marries her, has a daughter, and stays with her until he dies, after spending all their money and forcing her to work as a Broadway star to support him
  5. Fanny Brice, played by Fanny Brice. I love her nose. He's not really in love with her, but he does sign her as a Ziegfeld girl and help make her a star. Did I mention I love her nose?
  6. Me. I wish.
Kurt's already gone into all the fancy sets and dance numbers and stuff, which frankly, I found visually amazing but a bit boring... the middle part of the movie kind of dragged a bit for me. As impressive as the sets were, and totally Oscar worthy, I wanted to get back to the story of these people. Thank goodness it ends firmly in the story, with Florenz Zeigfeld penniless and dying, but surrounded by people who thought he was pretty great.

Verdict: The Academy was right!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Casablanca (1943)

"Of all the gin joints in all the world..." I want to go to Rick's!
Nominees: "For Whom the Bell Tolls" "Heaven Can Wait" "The Human Comedy" "In Which We Serve" "Madame Curie" "The More the Merrier" "The Ox-Bow Incident" "The Song of Bernadette" "Watch on the Rhine"

He Said: Here's looking at you eyelids.

Now I will admit I was going into this one with a bit of a prejudice. I am really trying hard to watch each movie with an open mind and see ones that I have already watched with a new light, but Casablanca is a movie that I remember being boring as hell. However, that was back in my University days when I was busy chasing girls and not caring about the finer things in life, let's see if things have changed a bit for me between then and now.

So what can I say about Casablanca? Well for starters you can find better acting in high school drama classes, the story is nearly non-existent and drags on for the first hour or so, and the writing is certainly sub-par at times. The pluses? The art direction and film noir is actually pretty good and the music is fun at time and sets the mood nicely. But I think I can summarize my thoughts on this film in one word: boring. This movie was just so damn boring, nothing going on here, no good story, just nothing. Thus the title for this review...I found myself actually almost falling asleep at least three times. I guess I didn't connect with the characters and the bare-bones “romance” story that was being told.

Overall, nothing glaringly awful as opposed to the first two movies we saw, this one is just sort of blah. Nothing amazing. I bet you if something similar was made these days it wouldn't even get a sniff of an Oscar, so I can only assume that the competition was light that year or people were suckers for sappy movies back then. I can't say that it doesn't deserve the 1943 best picture since I haven't seen the other films (frankly I haven't heard of any of them except For Whom the Bell Tolls), but either this was a dry year or the academy saw something that passed me by. The best thing to come out of this movie are the few quotes everyone knows: “Here's looking at you kid,” “This is the start of a beautiful relationship,” “Play it again Sam.”

I think I would rather watch the leaders debate again rather than this boring boring movie.

Next up, finally a modern movie, 2005's Crash, no not the sex Crash, the good Crash.

She Said: The Little Movie That Shouldn't Have Been Made. Literally.

It's funny how life works. Just the day before we finally sat down to watch Casablanca, I was listening to "The Age of Persuasion" on CBC Radio. The show was all about marketing movies, and it started off with... Casablanca. Apparently, this was the movie that should never be made. The script was being re-written as it was shot, the original writers quit, there were problems with the location, and Bogart and Bergman wanted out... the studio thought it was going to be a flop. The only person who believed in it was the director, and, as it turns out, he was right.

I loved this movie. It was campy, over the top, predictable, and not very action packed, but I thought it was great. It captured a certain time, and, more importantly, certain people. The world may not care a hill of beans for the problems of 3 little people, but I did. I didn't expect too: I wanted to be bored so we could go 0-3, but despite myself, I found myself actually caring about them. Sure, Ilsa is TOO tragically beautiful, Victor Lazlo TOO perfect, and Rick TOO stoic, but I couldn't help myself. The relationships between all of the characters just sparkles.

The only thing I didn't like about the whole movie was the very last scene, with Rick and Captain Renault walking off in the rain. I didn't want it to be the beginning of "a beautiful friendship", because Rick in the end is Noble and Good, whereas Captain Renault is Scheming and Self-Serving. Yes, he shot the Nazi, but big whoop: the Nazi's usefulness to him was over now that the Lazlo's escaped. Rick should've shot him, and walked off in the rain alone.

Maybe if the original writer's hadn't quit...

Verdict: Split Decision.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

No, not the one with Jackie Chan.
Nominees: "Around the World in 80 Days" "Friendly Persuasion" "Giant" "The King and I" "The Ten Commandments"

He Said: Style over least a bit of style.

Oh boy, where to begin on this one. I guess it started off pleasantly with an odd rich businessman making a bet to travel around the world in 80 days alongside his odd and cooky man-servant Passepartout. But it quickly devolved into a parade of cultural stereotypes and borderline racism; and at times, actual parades. The man-servant is clearly the Falstaff here, the comedic piece. He really is the only reason to watch this movie, you really feel for him and get connected to his character and he has a fair bit of comedic value. That being said, he is a total horn-dog and at times it was almost groan-inducing the way he would chase after the women, non-stop all over the world.

Basically this movie was long boring travel pieces with stops at various locations in the world where some sort of accident or blunder occurs. I really could have done without the 6 minute long bull fight that Passepartout was forced into, and the god knows how long balloon ride across Europe, and the lengthy train ride through India with the camera mounted on the train, and the numerous ship scenes. Now the cool thing is, that apparently they did film some of these scenes in the actual locations, which is pretty neat for a 1956 film, but these shots were just too long and drawn out. This 2.5 to 3 hour movie could have been shortened by at least an hour with the proper editing, but if that was the case there wouldn't have been much of a film left in the end.

Now they didn't use black face, but why stop there when you can have brown-face, yellow-face, and red-face. At one point they rescue the poor Indian princess from being burned alive, as we all know Indians can't help but constantly burn their princesses to death. And it took me a while to actually figure it out for sure, but they used a white American actress for the Indian princess, just dressed her up different and slapped on a slight accent. Interestingly they almost never did a close-up shot of the “Indian” princess, I am certain that this is to try and hide the fact that she is in fact white. At another point, in Hong Kong, they have a ship captain who is supposed to be Chinese, but he is just a white man with not so carefully construed camera shots. Then when in America they encounter both the stereotypical peaceful peace pipe Natives as well as the stereotypical train-jacking evil Natives, and I am damn sure that all those actors were not Natives, but no way of knowing for sure, although I am pretty sure they wouldn't have wanted that many Native people acting back in 1956, apparently the same goes for Indian women as well. This movie used almost every stereotype of the different regions they passed through, from the procession of Indian Sikhs and other Indian stereotypes to the Chinese and Japanese stereotype and the Native American stereotypes. Apparently all Indian people are Sikhs, complete with harems too. Sure some of the scenes were filmed on site, but it seemed to be more of a racist display of different cultures than any truths of the cultures. I could probably go on with more examples of stereotypes and racism, but I think I would have to take notes for that, and there is no way I am sitting through this again.

As for the ending, it is rather abrupt and anti-climatic, although I think they were going for the old adage of it's not the end that's important, but how you get there; as well as a gestalt feeling of the whole being more than the individual pieces. All in all, much better and more entertaining than Oliver! but certainly not worthy of a best picture. I am not at all familiar with the other nominees but I suspect something else must have been better than this racist piece of crap.

Next up the 1943 classic Casablanca, another long and drawn out film...

She Said: It should've been called "Around the World in 80 Stereotypes."

I have a few complaints with this movie, but let's begin with most basic. It was boring. The basic plot was kind of neat, and I really like the character of Phileas Fogg as he was set up at the beginning: an eccentric man who likes everything just so, from his papers (unread) to his breakfast (precisely on time). I would've liked more of that and less around-the-world-ing. The movie basically consists of 5 sequences repeated over and over:

  1. The old men at the Reform Club talking about how Fogg couldn't possibly do it.
  2. Passepartout getting into trouble.
  3. Fogg and his counterparts talking about what they need to do next and how fast.
  4. Fogg paying somebody to do what he wants
  5. Beautifully shot scenery of the kind I would skip over if I were reading the book.
And then there are the stereotypes. Oh, the stereotypes. It begins with bull fighting in Spain and a bloodthirsty Tunisian prince no one is allowed to talk to, moves on to the constant bowing and acrobatic acts in Shanghai (where apparently a small Hispanic man blends right in), takes a turn through India, a land of nothing but Sikhs who burn fair maidens on funeral pyres, and finally winds up in America, with the very best line of all...
"Don't worry. Those are the friendly Indians. You can tell they're friendly by the peace-pipes they're smoking."
But don't worry: the bad Indians come soon and ambush the train, but then the Calvary rides out to kill them and save Passepartout before he's burned at the stake: Thank heavens! I don't seem to remember that particular practice from my social studies days... oh, wait! Now I do!! The Puritans (aka white people) did it!

I can see why the film's locations would've impressed the audiences back in the 50s, but nowadays, everything is filmed on location or in front of a green screen, so lots of that mystery is gone. There just wasn't enough plot or action to move the story along: I'm sorry, but 10 minutes of bull fighting just doesn't cut it. I felt like I was stuck in a choose-your-own-adventure book where the adventure was chosen for me.

When are we going to get a "modern" movie?

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oliver! (1968)

Oliver and The Artful Dodger looking forlorn as only orphan thieves can.
Nominees: "Oliver!" "Funny Girl" "Rachel, Rachel" "The Lion in Winter" "Romeo and Juliet"

He Said: Beautiful but no substance.

So we decided to watch all the Oscar winning best picture movies, totally 83, watching on average 1 a week should take us about 2 years. We are watching them at random and the first one that came up on the random generator is 1936's The Great Zeigfeld. Now me being the cheap-ass tight-wad that I am, we found a copy at the Regina library but no where in the Saskatoon library. Next stop online, nope not available anywhere there either. There are DVD copies on Amazon, but who wants to “pay for something that if you apply yourself you just might get for free.” So we have opted to delay watching the first movie, The Great Zeigfeld, until we make a trip to Regina and can pick it up for free, or if I ever check the local Blockbusters and Rogers to see if they have a copy for rent, because I really don't anticipate liking it so much that I would want to buy it.

In that case onto the next movie...1968's Oliver! Yes the title has an exclamation point in it, something they didn't shy away from in the olden days, punctuation in movie titles! Here it is, the 2.5 hour long musical movie adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. The twist must have been lost in translation during the adaptation process. At any rate off we go into the first film. Now honestly I don't like musicals. I pretty much hate musicals. Just the stupidity of everyone suddenly bursting into song and dance simply does not resonant with me. The one exception would be musicals that have music in them because the movie is inherently set in a singing atmosphere such as Cabaret or Moulin Rouge. Now this doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy these musicals, but I am more apt to do so. Cabaret is quite a wonderful musical on stage, I mean how can you go wrong with half-naked people, sexual innuendo up the wazoo, and Nazis? I say you can't.

Oliver! is a story set in the 1830's about a poor orphan boy who ends up running away from the evil orphanage and tries to make it in London. Through a convoluted state of affairs, he ends up with a group of orphans/hooligans who work for some men to steal and rob from the rich and give unto themselves. At first I thought, “oh no, this is going to be like Annie!” but I was wrong, he quickly leaves the orphanage and then things get better, then worse, then a lot worse. The odd thing is, it didn't even seem to centre around Oliver, he seemed to be a cog to show us around the city and all the people in it, the main story were the people running the orphans/pickpockets. I have never read the book, but I did see a stage production of Oliver Twist (notice the Twist returneth when on stage) back when I was in grade 9 thanks to good ole' Mr. Nicholas. I didn't particularly enjoy it back then, I tend to have difficulties following the singing and lyrics and can get a bit lost, but the funny thing is that here I was some 17 years later and those same songs that I haven't heard since, were dancing in my head like it was just yesterday. So I guess it has some catchy tunes at least.

And that is about where it stops. The stage production looked amazing, with giant sets and huge throngs of people dancing in the streets, it reminded me of a Monty Python skit, or scenes from The Meaning of Life. I think the most long-lasting memory will be the chase through the town with the townsfolk dancing and the choreography of the butchers dancing with sides of pork and the fish mongers dancing with fish. The choreography was quite a bit of fun. But that is it. The singing sucked, the acting was iffy at most times, the audio was rather poor even for a movie from the 60's. The writing was uninspired, the story was dull, drab, and cliched (yes it is cliched nowadays and not so much back in 1830). How on Earth this thing ever won best picture is beyond me. My only guess is that 1968 must have some pretty awful movies coming out of it for this to win. But I would be wrong, there are a bunch of quality films to come out this year including, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt (apparently they also didn't shy away from misspelling words back in those days, then again look at the new Iglourious Basterds -although that is just Tarantino's inability to spell), The Producers, and Funny Girl.

So that's that, good production value, good dancing and sets, but it pretty much stops there. I would say pass on this one even for nostalgia's sake. And it still doesn't make me want to open up Charles Dickens' novel.

As a side note: Oliver! won not only for best picture but also for best art direction/set decoration, best director, best music, and best sound. It was nominated for lead and supporting actors, costume, writing, editing, and cinematography.

Next up the 1956 classic Around the World in 80 Days.

She Said: Boring. Boring and Lame-o.

Don't get me wrong: it looks beautiful, for the 60s. I especially love the massive sets: now days, that's all done with green screens and computers. But back then, they really had those massive sets with all those dancers, which was pretty cool. I totally see why it won production value awards, but Best Picture? I don't think so.

For starters, the singing was bad. Especially Oliver. I get that small boys have soprano voices, but his was SO high you almost couldn't tell what he was singing about. Some of the songs seemed to go on and on and on for ever.

Secondly, I couldn't STAND the song "As Long as He Needs Me". Not the song itself, it's fine, but that it's basically an apology for wife beating, sung by the "wife" after her "husband" beats her. I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing. Worse, at the end of the movie, he beats her to death. All this in a family movie.

And, finally, a literary criticism. For a movie called "Oliver!", he has remarkably little to do with his story. Basically, he just gets pushed and pulled around throughout the whole movie. He never DOES anything. It should have been called "Oliver's Friends and Enemies."

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.